From Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That

The Inequality Behind "Equality Under the Law"

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1065, August 6, 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 running a special reprint series which includes excerpts from the current Programme, from writings by the Chairman of the RCP, Bob Avakian, and from articles that have appeared in the Party press. 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 continue the series this week with an excerpt from the book, Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? by Bob Avakian.


Equality under the law is one of the foundation stones of the bourgeois concept of democracy. The law is presented as a neutral force, affecting everyone equally, regardless of their place in society, and moreover as originating ultimately in the will of the people because it is legislated by their chosen representatives. In addition to what has already been shown about elections--which clearly refutes the notion that laws are legislated by the representatives of all the people and indicates that instead they are legislated by representatives of the ruling class--the reality is that in any case laws must reflect and serve the underlying economic relations and the interests of the class that is dominant in those relations. Otherwise, if the laws were in conflict with the fundamental property relations, the economic basis of society would be completely disrupted and society could not function.

Imagine, for example, if the basic necessities of life continued to be produced as they are now in capitalist society --overwhelmingly through a process where workers exchange their labor power for wages and are employed in facilities owned by capitalists who then appropriate the things produced and sell them at a money-price--but at the same time the laws stated that no one had to pay for such necessities, that anyone could just take as much of them as they needed. That such a situation immediately strikes one as absurd, as absolutely unworkable, is an expression of the basic truth that the underlying production relations of society (the economic base) must and will determine the nature of the ideological and political superstructure, including the laws. To have a situation where people would actually be able to have the things they needed without having to pay a money-price for them requires a fundamentally different economic system, a radically different society corresponding to such a fundamental change in the economic system--a whole new world--which can only be brought about through the international proletarian revolution. But so long as the relations of capital continue to dominate society, the laws of that society will reflect and reinforce those relations.

That is why "in the real world" of capitalist society, it is quite legal for a company to refuse to hire people for the reason that it cannot profitably employ them, even though it may mean that these unemployed people (and perhaps their families) will go hungry and homeless; whereas at the same time it is completely illegal for these people to occupy part of that company's property for shelter, or to take food or clothing from other businesses without paying for them--even though they and their families may starve or freeze without them. That is why it is legal for a finance company to repossess someone's car if they have fallen behind in their payments, even if they need the car to get to work to earn their livelihood; why it is perfectly legal for a utility company to shut off people's heat in the dead of winter if they have not paid their bills, and on and on. And all this is leaving aside the ways in which what is written down as law is actually interpreted and applied by the police, the courts, and those in authority generally. In reality, for example, even where the law might theoretically allow a poor Black person to carry a gun and even to use it for self-defense, he is extremely likely to pay with his life if he encounters the police, and the odds are overwhelming that the police killing of a Black person will be declared "justifiable homicide," regardless of the actual circumstances. In fact, police in the U.S. murder hundreds of Black people every year, and the overwhelming majority of the victims are unarmed (even though it is a common ploy of the police to plant a weapon near the victim after he has been killed, or to claim they thought he might have had a weapon, etc.) Nor is such legal murder of the oppressed the exclusive province of the police: recent times have seen the state sanction and encourage "vigilantes" and other reactionaries out to rid the streets of those they see as threats to the established order, whether they are engaging in conscious political activity or just being generally unruly. Similarly, the bombing of abortion clinics in the U.S. can be declared by the government not to be terrorist--and in effect the perpetrators of these bombings are not repressed but encouraged from the highest levels of government--while people who "invade" weapons production facilities and pour blood on weapons of mass destruction are arrested and branded as "terrorists."

Finally, there is the broader sphere in which the law codifies the power of the state to force people to become part of its armed forces, and when ordered to do so, to kill other people, in some other part of the world or in the "home country" itself. In the final analysis, this legalized violence too is for the purpose of protecting and reinforcing the basic property relations of capital and furthering capitalist accumulation--which, in this era of imperialism especially, is an international process and is battled out in a worldwide arena.

In sum, then, the apparatus of the state --the armed forces in particular but also the courts and the legal system, the bureaucracy, and so forth--are in the hands of a class, the class that is dominant in the economic relations of society. This state is not and cannot be neutral. Nor is it the instrument of particular private interests or specific powerful individuals (though of course there are individual leaders of any class at any given time). Rather, this state apparatus is an instrument of class rule, a machine for the oppression of the economically exploited and dominated classes: it enforces the dictatorship of the ruling class over the exploited and oppressed classes, and will be used by the ruling class to suppress any real resistance to its dictates, any serious challenge to its interests and to the established order which reflects and serves them, regardless of which particular individuals are in office. As Raymond Lotta has incisively summarized it:

"The state is an objective structure of society whose character is determined not by the class origins of its leading personnel but by the specific social division of labor of which it is an extension and the production relations which it must ultimately serve and reproduce."

In a society based on bourgeois production relations--with the fundamental class antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat--it is impossible for the superstructure (including the laws and the courts, the police and the army, the bureaucracy, and the whole apparatus of government and also ideas, values, morals, etc.) not to uphold and enforce such production relations and the division of labor that characterizes and is indispensable to this society, even though this means exploitation and oppression for the masses of people and the massive violence that is required to defend and perpetuate such a system and the interests of its ruling class. To eliminate such madness and destruction, to change the conditions that give rise to them, it is necessary to thoroughly transform the production relations and the division of labor--the economic base of society. This, however, can only be done through a revolution in the superstructure--the struggle to seize political power from the ruling class through military means--the revolutionary warfare of the proletariat, in alliance with other oppressed masses, to defeat the armed forces of the bourgeoisie and smash and dismantle its state apparatus, replacing it with a new and radically different state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a transition to the abolition of class divisions and of the state.

There can be no such thing as a "peaceful revolution." Revolution means the transformation of the economic base and the superstructure of society; it requires the replacement of one ruling class by another. And no ruling class has ever voluntarily "stepped down" to make way for the class that was rising up to replace it. Not only was this true of society and its transformation in previous epochs, when revolution could only mean the replacement of one exploiting class by another. It is all the more true of the revolution of this epoch, the proletarian revolution, which aims at the abolition of all relations of exploitation, of all oppressive division of labor, and of all political institutions and ideological forms which reflect the division of society into classes. To think of carrying out such a revolution peacefully --particularly when it is up against the massive machinery of violence and destruction that is controlled by the bourgeois states in this era and up against ruling classes that have repeatedly demonstrated their absolutely ruthless determination to remain in power regardless of the cost in carnage and human misery--is the height of folly, at best. To promote such a notion as a political program and to oppose it to the necessity for violent proletarian revolution is deception of the greatest magnitude.

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