From the Programme of the RCP,USA

The Revolutionary Process

Proletarian revolution requires the armed seizure of power and continuing struggle by the masses to overthrow and finally eliminate the capitalist system, the bourgeoisie and all class distinctions

Revolutionary Worker #1048, March 26, 2000

The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA announced last year its plan for forging a new Programme--a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Programme--for making and winning revolution in the United States.

The RCP is calling on people to help produce this new Programme. The Party wants to work with people to do research and investigation into the class structure and social fabric of the U.S. It wants to engage people in discussion, wrangling, and debate: about issues of analysis, about its vision of a new society and about its strategy for creating such a new society. The Party wants to hear people's opinions and observations about the current (1981) Programme, and their suggestions for the new one.

To assist people in taking part in this project, the Revolutionary Worker is starting a special reprint series. The idea is to provide a background and grounding in certain Marxist-Leninist-Maoist principles, and in the Party's developing analysis of society and the revolutionary process.

We will be publishing excerpts from the current Programme, from writings by Bob Avakian, and from articles that have appeared in the Party press.

We begin the series this week with an excerpt from the current Party Programme on historical materialism. Historical materialism is the theory which enables oppressed people to understand human society and how to change it.

"A revolution," wrote Mao Tsetung, "is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." This expresses in concentrated form a fundamental truth of human history. Since classes first emerged with the development of exploitation out of the old primitive communal conditions, society has been propelled forward by class struggle and has made the leaps from one form to another, higher, form only through violent collisions and confrontations, and marked by twists and turns, leading to the replacement of one ruling class by another which, at that time, is capable of organizing the economic foundation and the corresponding political and ideological superstructure of society on a more advanced level. As Karl Marx graphically summed it up, "Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new."

So long as society is divided into classes, in whatever form, the economics and politics as well as the ideas, culture, etc. of society will be dominated by one class or another--they cannot serve all classes, exploiter and exploited, oppressor and oppressed, master and slave, equally--and whichever class can in any period organize society in such a way as to most rationally utilize the productive forces at hand will ultimately come to power and prevail during that period. But these productive forces are continually being developed--new tools, machinery, technology and with them new skills and knowledge--and therefore the old ways of organizing productive activity, the old forms of relations among people in production, are transformed from the most appropriate means for developing the productive forces into fetters on their development. Along with this, a new class which has developed within the old form of society, but which represents a higher form of organizing production to utilize the new productive forces, is propelled into struggle to realize this and seeks to reorganize society accordingly. But in doing so it comes directly up against the fact that the old form is enforced by the political domination of the ruling class, and that this ruling class, whose political institutions and ideas correspond to the old mode of production, cannot and will not recognize that its time has passed and that its system must be replaced by a higher one. Thus, in such periods the new and rising class assumes the leadership of the resistance of the oppressed masses and carries out in this way the revolutionary overthrow of the old ruling class and the replacement of the old system by a new one which corresponds to the outlook and interests of this rising class--and, for the time, to the further development of society. In this struggle both the rising and the reactionary class are led by the most conscious representatives of their class--and in particular the role of the leading force of the revolutionary class is of tremendous importance in making it aware of and galvanizing it in action around its own interests in opposition to those of the old ruling class.

Such has been the actual history of human society and its advance from one epoch to the next. And it is a universal truth that never has the old ruling class willingly stepped aside, but on the contrary it has always used the most vicious and desperate means to preserve its dominant position and could be swept aside only by violent revolution. In short, all forms of governing class-divided society, whatever their outer shell, have always in essence represented the dictatorship--the political domination backed up by armed force--of one class or another; and the forward, upward march of humanity has, since the time classes and states emerged, taken place only through the overthrow of the old state--the dictatorship of the old ruling class--and its replacement by a new state--the dictatorship of the new ruling class.

This fundamental principle certainly applies to the revolution of the present epoch--the proletarian revolution. The capitalist class, which arose within feudal society and ultimately led the struggle to overthrow it in past centuries, has beyond all doubt outlived its historical usefulness and can only act in this period as an obstacle to further progress--its mode of production strangles the development of the productive forces and repeatedly hurtles not only individual countries but increasingly the whole world into ever more paralyzing and destructive crisis. Whatever development it does achieve in its thrashing is only at the price of continued immense suffering. Yet the capitalist class certainly does not recognize or accept its demise--it not only regularly brings down murderous repression against any serious resistance and systematically terrorizes especially those from whom it most fears rebellion, but it time and again plunges millions of people into war in the attempt to save its system and protect its dominant position. What is the history of the United States of America, if not this!

And this has become all the more pronounced since the turn of this century with the development of capitalism into its highest and final stage--imperialism--capitalism which has come to be marked by the domination of monopolies and international finance capital, not only living off the exploitation of the working class in a few "home countries" but parasitically sucking the lifeblood out of peoples and whole nations throughout the world. Imperialism is capitalism in decay and on its death-bed, when it has become even more a fetter on the development of the productive forces and society as a whole and therefore becomes all the more violent. Imperialism, even more than the earlier, competitive stage of capitalism, means war--war to suppress the resistance of the colonial peoples and oppressed nations, to enforce imperialist plunder and ensure imperialist superprofits; and war among the imperialists themselves, who have already carved up the world and must repeatedly hurl the entire world into military conflict in the battle to redivide it. How can reforms or "peaceful change" bring an end to all this? Where or when have they ever done so?

The revolution of this era, the revolution led by the proletariat, though it will assume different specific forms and proceed through different stages in different countries, depending on the concrete conditions, can and will succeed only through the mobilization of the masses of people to carry out an armed uprising to overthrow the dictatorship of the imperialists (and allied reactionaries) and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, the one class which at this stage can reorganize society in every sphere in conformity with the development of the productive forces. This need to violently overthrow and replace one class dictatorship with another is true of the proletarian revolution certainly no less than any other, previous revolution. But the proletarian revolution is, on the other hand, fundamentally different from any previous revolution: it aims not at the replacement of one system of exploitation by another, though higher, system of exploitation, but at the abolition of exploitation in any form; and its historic mission is fulfilled not merely through the overthrow and replacement of one class dictatorship by another, but through the final abolition of any form of class dictatorship with the elimination of class distinctions themselves.

All prior transformations of society, though they advanced it from a lower to a higher level and made possible the further development of the productive forces, nevertheless took place on the foundation of relatively backward and more or less slowly changing productive forces. But capitalist society, within which the proletariat emerges as the main productive force itself and the revolutionary class, is characterized by highly developed productive forces which constantly undergo rapid change. This is especially so during the early, vigorous period of rising capitalism. In its later, imperialist period, the changes capitalism stimulates are far more convulsive--growth in particular sectors and countries is more spasmodic and uneven while decay and ruination is more pervasive in other sectors and countries, all of which fundamentally weakens the imperialist system--with increasingly devastating periods of crisis resulting from imperialism's basic contradictions. Thus, capitalism has laid the basis for an unprecedented development of society, without scarcity and without therefore the basis for antagonistic social conflict. But capitalism itself, especially in its imperialist stage, has become the very force that stands in the way of the realization of this potential, and the longer capitalism prolongs its existence the deeper become the antagonisms within it, and especially its basic antagonism between highly socialized production and private appropriation of social wealth in the hands of fewer and more bloated exploiters and parasites.

But, at the same time, this very process means the growth of the proletariat, carrying out this socialized production and representing the potential of socialized ownership of the means of production to conform with it. This lays a stronger material basis for the proletariat to become conscious of the role and historic mission of its class and to lead the masses in socialist revolution. And, too, capitalism in its early stages was necessarily accompanied by vigorous, tradition-challenging advancement of the natural sciences. This, along with the progressive splitting up of society into two basic camps--the proletariat, representing the majority, and the bourgeoisie (capitalist class), a smaller and smaller minority--made possible for the first time a thoroughly scientific view of society and the world, the recognition of class struggle as the motive force of society's development and of the ultimate outcome of that class struggle--the achievement of classless society, communism, through proletarian revolution. This science, then, the science of Marxism, is both objective and partisan--it corresponds both to the actual development of nature and society and to the interests of the proletariat, which is an agent not just of revolution in this period but of a revolution unprecedented in human history and leading it to a whole new and qualitatively higher era.

For all these reasons, the way in which the proletariat wages the revolutionary struggle both to win power and then to transform society under its rule--its class dictatorship--cannot help but be qualitatively different than in any prior revolution. While previous historical classes, in their rising period, were forced to mobilize the masses in order to overthrow the old ruling class, they had neither the need, the interest, nor the capability of enabling the masses to consciously grasp the essence of the revolutionary process and their own role in it and to consciously take hold of and transform society in their own interests. In fact, this was impossible in those earlier periods of human history. But the proletarian revolution of this epoch is impossible without this.

In past societies, the productive relations characteristic of the new society would begin to appear spontaneously and alongside the old ones within the shell of the old society--for example, capitalist workplaces in feudal society. But this is impossible under capitalism, because exploitative relations can only be abolished by abolishing them and their basis throughout society. There can be no such thing as socialism in one factory, or in one part of society. This is another aspect of why the socialist revolution has to be a conscious act whereby the proletariat takes control of the superstructure through a political revolution and only then can begin to establish the new socialist productive relations.

Further, unlike all previous revolutionary classes, the proletariat, upon coming to power, cannot simply consolidate its political rule and economic system and then fortify them against further change. Quite the opposite: it must continue to transform society and the people, including its own ranks, in every sphere, material and ideological, fostering, strengthening and advancing the economic, social and political relationships representing the future communist society and developing and achieving the dominance of communist consciousness and its scientific outlook and method in opposition to those of the bourgeoisie and all other classes. As Marx and Engels expressed it in the Communist Manifesto, the proletarian revolution involves the most radical rupture with all traditional property relations and with all traditional ideas as well. And all this also establishes and emphasizes the fact that the conscious leadership of the proletariat, its vanguard party, plays an even more crucial role in the proletarian revolution than in all previous ones.

What will be the measures taken by the proletariat in this country, once having won political power? What follows can only be a general outline, conditional on vastly changeable world events. But the basic first step of the proletariat, having won political power, is to take into its hands, through its state and the leadership of its party, the decisive levers and lifelines of the economy. It quickly expropriates the factories, land, machinery, etc. of the overthrown bourgeoisie, beginning with the largest concentrations of capital, and exercises firm control over finance and trade. On this basis it is able to take great strides in rationalizing the productive process and begin eliminating the mad anarchy of capitalism with its frenzied chase of a competing handful for profit and such criminal absurdities of capitalism as unemployment. In short, it socializes ownership of the major means of production, and institutes basic overall planning of the economy in accordance with this, through the proletarian state. And all this constitutes a tremendous leap forward, laying the basis for and opening the way to both a tremendous development in the economy and further transformation of society in its economic foundation and its political and ideological superstructure.

But this is precisely the beginning, not the end, of socialist transformation. With regard to the many small producers and traders, the intellectuals of various kinds and others--the middle strata of society--the proletariat in power must apply a long-term policy of both unity and struggle, with the aim of transforming their economic position, political stand and ideological outlook through a protracted, step-by-step advance. While the proletariat can and must exercise ruthless dictatorship over the overthrown bourgeoisie and other outright enemies of the revolution and socialize their vast holdings almost in one stroke, it cannot and must not apply this policy to the middle strata. Instead, it must lead and organize them to develop forms, depending on the conditions (such as cooperative ownership and collective labor as possible steps) through which to progress to socialized state ownership--and to take part in the political movements launched by the proletariat and remold their world outlook in accordance with the socialist revolution and the ultimate advance to communism.

Because of all this, and more generally because upon overthrowing capitalism and the bourgeoisie the proletariat will inherit the divisions and inequalities left over from the old society--between mental and manual labor, between the city and the countryside and workers and farmers, as well as between different nationalities, men and women, etc.--for all these reasons, and even more because it is a worldwide struggle, it is impossible to make the advance to communism in one leap or in a short period of time. Communism can only be finally realized on a world scale, and this has profound implications for the struggle of the proletariat, including in those countries where it comes to power. For one thing, the proletariat in such countries will still find itself confronted and perhaps surrounded by hostile imperialist and reactionary states which will attempt every means to crush, subvert or otherwise destroy the socialist states. But even beyond this, between capitalist and communist society there lies a long transition period of socialism in which the proletariat in the various socialist countries must adhere to proletarian internationalism, actively promoting and supporting the world revolution, must maintain and strengthen its dictatorship and the socialization of ownership of the means of production, strike at, restrict and move toward eliminating the differences and inequalities left over from the old society and transform the thinking of the people according to the scientific principles and outlook of Marxism.

Thus the socialist transition period is not a smooth, broad freeway leading directly and quickly to communism, but a tortuous path, full of twists and turns and marked by sharp struggle. Within each socialist country, the remnants of capitalism will continually give rise to a new bourgeoisie that will repeatedly attempt to seize power from the proletariat and restore capitalism, and in so doing it will seek to make use of the contradictions within socialist society to mobilize a social base of more privileged strata and play upon backward sentiments within the working class itself, as well as seeking support from and alliances with imperialist and reactionary states.

The experience of the proletarian revolution and socialist society, both the historic victories and advances as well as the temporary defeats and setbacks, has shown not only all this but even more specifically that the heart of the new bourgeoisie engendered in socialist society lies within the party of the proletariat itself, especially at its leading levels. Under these conditions, where the party is both the leading political center of the socialist state and the main directing force of the economy--in which the state is the decisive sector--the contradiction between the party as the leading force and the working class and the masses under its leadership is a concentrated expression of the contradictions characterizing socialist society as a transition from the old society to fully communist, classless society. This can be resolved in the interests of the proletariat only by developing the forms of mass struggle and mass organization to draw the millions of working people into the administration of society and the determination of political questions and affairs of state as well as culture and all other spheres of society, in accordance with the revolutionary outlook and interests of the proletariat, while involving the intellectuals, and especially party officials, in mass political struggle as well as productive labor and other activities together with the masses and developing mass movements to promote the study of Marxism and the remolding of the world outlook of the people. But inevitably, until the transition to communism is carried through worldwide, there will be repeated attempts to restore capitalism by bourgeois elements, and most dangerously by leading Party officials who have betrayed the proletariat and turned their position of leadership into private capital but continue to claim the mantle of Marxism and communism.

This emphasizes all the more that the proletariat cannot rest content with the first great steps of seizing power through armed force and then socializing ownership, beginning with the major means of production. It must continue the struggle under these conditions to revolutionize all of society and not only defeat attacks, subversion and pressure from external enemies but actively assist and support the revolutionary movements of the workers and the oppressed peoples and nations throughout the world against imperialism and reaction. Further, as a crucial part of this continuing class struggle within socialist society, the party itself must be continually revolutionized--which means driving out those die-hard party members, especially within its top ranks, who are determined to take the road of capitalist restoration, but more fundamentally it means linking the party as a whole with the masses in the continuing and deepening struggle to transform all of society and the world, including the thinking of the people, and advance along the socialist road toward the historic mission of communism.

That the new conquers and supersedes the old, and that this happens only through repeated and intensifying struggle, and through twists and turns in a spiral-like development--this is a basic law governing the development of all things. It is a fundamental truth in the history of human society no less than in nature as a whole. Capitalism and the bourgeoisie represent only what is old and dying at this stage in history; regardless of what resistance they put up and how much violence they unleash in the attempt to hang on, they are bound to be overcome and eliminated by what is newly arising, the proletariat. But beyond that, and in fact together with the final victory of the proletarian revolution internationally, the proletariat itself and its socialist society will also grow old in the future and be superseded by communism with the abolition of all classes. What makes the proletariat different, however, from all previous classes is that it has nothing to fear or lose from this future and in fact aspires to and works and struggles for it.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)