From Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!

Two World Outlooks — Two Opposing Views of Freedom

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1070, September 17, 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 by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian, Phony Communism Is Dead… Long Live Real Communism!

In the world today, there are only two classes capable of running society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The present era of world history is marked by the struggle between these two antagonistically opposed classes, and this era will only be superseded when that struggle is resolved through the triumph of the proletariat and the advance from the epoch of capitalism to the epoch of communism worldwide. This is a struggle without precedent in human history. This is so because the proletarian revolution represents a leap beyond the situation where people’s material conditions and corresponding social relations and ideas have made it impossible for them to enter into voluntary association on the basis of a conscious grasp of the real motive forces and fundamental relations in nature, in society, and in the thinking of people. This revolution represents, as Marx and Engels put it in the "Communist Manifesto,’’ the radical rupture with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. And the bourgeoisie stands as the last barrier to making that leap, the last shackle holding back those radical ruptures.

For all these reasons, the struggle between these two forces is bound to be a monumental one, battled out in every sphere. And the ideological struggle is a crucial field of battle, exerting a great influence on the overall conflict. On every decisive question, from the nature of human beings to the nature and content of freedom, bourgeois and proletarian ideology are fundamentally in opposition. These ideologies reflect radically different worlds: one passing, amidst massive convulsion, into extinction; the other experiencing the painful pangs of birth.

The bourgeois declares his system and values eternal—but that is merely a tautology—because he cannot see beyond the boundaries of bourgeois society. The bourgeoisie cannot recognize or acknowledge that its hallowed ideals have already become hollow because they are the expression of material conditions and social relations which have become historically, if not yet actually, obsolete. Let us examine how this is so.

First of all, there is the whole domination of commodity relations that characterizes bourgeois society, and with it what Marx described as "commodity fetishism’’ and, along with that, bourgeois individualism. These are all made guiding and sacred principles by the guardians of the old order, by the upholders and defenders of capitalism and imperialism.

What Marx meant by "commodity fetishism’’ in particular is that the underlying relationships among people that are at the foundation of society—the whole basic reality that is revealed by historical materialism, the fact that social labor carried out by people entering into definite relations of production is the foundation of society and of its institutions and ideas—this is disguised in commodity-producing society. People confront each other through the commodities they own. Things are in relationship to each other—money is being exchanged for a particular thing, which in turn is being exchanged for money, and so on and so forth—it appears that this is the essence of what goes on in society. In these relations, people appear to be just so many individuals who just happen to have this or that commodity—their possession of particular commodities appears to be accidental or at any rate the product of their own individual effort or enterprise. The fact that they are part of a larger social division of labor and that the particular way in which they earn their livelihood (or accumulate wealth) is ultimately determined by that social division of labor and by the process of production and exchange in society, and ultimately the world, as a whole… this is obscured, concealed.

Along with this goes bourgeois individualism, the notion that each person has to look out for her or himself first and above all and in opposition to everyone else. This outlook of "look out for No. 1’’ is in accord with commodity relations, where people are involved not simply in exchange with others through the medium of their commodities, but also in competition with each other, a competition in which some prosper and others lose out (this is an expression of commodity production’s inherent anarchy, which stems from the fact that commodities are things produced not for immediate use but for exchange, but no one can be certain how much demand there will be for a particular commodity).

The relation of individuals as equal commodity owners—equal at least in the sense that they all share the common status of being commodity owners in a society where commodity value is the uniform measure of exchange relations—this is still only the outward appearance. And this is even the outward appearance of the relation between the workers and the capitalists. But, in fact, this is camouflage over the actual inner essence of capitalism and its process of accumulation—the relation of exploitation and oppression of the working class by the capitalist class.

Correspondingly, the bourgeois notion of "freedom’’ involves the appearance of individuality—the appearance that the individual is sovereign, that the individual and her or his rights are the highest priority and the object of politics and law. The essence is that individuality is subsumed in class relations—class relations of exploitation and oppression. And even in its outward appearance, bourgeois individuality and the corresponding notions of freedom are cast in negative terms: in terms of the rights of one not impinging on the rights of others; in terms of the rights of individuals being protected against infringement by other individuals, as well as by the state.

This view of freedom, while on the one hand it involves an aspect of illusion—in the way in which it conceals the more fundamental relations and inner essence of capitalist exploitation—at the same time does reveal something of that inner essence, of the social antagonism bound up with capital. This is related to the fact that, although commodity relations in and of themselves do not necessarily involve social antagonism and class exploitation, nevertheless they contain the seeds of this antagonism and exploitation.*

As we have seen, commodity relations are not simply relations of equality (based on the principle of exchange of equal values) but also contain an aspect of competition and rivalry. Thus, even the notions of individuality and freedom that correspond to commodity relations in their outer appearance and general form, and not specifically to relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, still find expression in terms of the clash of individual interests and "wills.’’ In this respect, there is a real identity between such notions and the actual nature of capitalist society. Further, commodity relations contain the germ, or hold the potential, of relations in which labor power itself has become a commodity. And, to a certain degree at least, there is a conscious recognition of this fact in bourgeois society generally, particularly in the understanding that in order to get rich it is necessary to go beyond being a mere owner of commodities, beyond even a self-employed owner of means of production, and become an employer (and in that capacity an owner and user) of the labor power of others—in short, to become a capitalist exploiter. Here is the deeper meaning of the expression: capitalism is a dog-eat-dog society and it has a dog-eat-dog philosophy.

Bourgeois society and its rulers, through their media, their educational system and culture and in other ways, focus attention on the few who are wealthy and privileged: this is what is held up for the masses to emulate or to worship from their lowly position. The fact that this wealth and privilege are directly related to, are at the expense of, the many who are poor and oppressed throughout the world—the fact that the domination of bourgeois private property in the world means conditions of privation for the world’s great majority—this profound fact is covered over. The present production and social relations in the world are declared to be eternal and the prevailing system is proclaimed the best of all possible systems. The "loftiest’’ goal that is promoted is to rise within the corrupting confines of the system, in ruthless competition with others.

The class-conscious proletariat and its outlook and culture focus on the masses of people, worldwide—on their conditions of subjugation and suffering, but more than that, and above all, on their revolutionary struggles and their potential to turn the bourgeois world upside-down (or rightside-up), to completely transform the world and the condition of humanity as a whole. On this basis, the appeal is made to the broadest ranks of the people to unite with the political program of the revolutionary proletariat but also to take up its viewpoint and vision and remold their world outlook, rupturing with the whole mentality of surviving (or prospering) through cut-throat competition and profiting at the expense of others. The truly lofty goal that is held up is not to "rise within’’ the prevailing system but to rise up and overthrow this system and put an end to all systems, and all relations, in which the fortune of the few means the misery of the many: to replace this with a human society in which people realize their interests in common, in which cooperation will be as "natural’’ as competition seems to be now.

Thus, the proletarian-communist vision of freedom is radically and profoundly different from the bourgeois. The communist vision of freedom involves fundamentally and essentially the abolition of conditions of enslavement of any kind—the abolition of all exploitation and oppression and, indeed, the abolition of all class distinctions and social antagonisms. It envisions, yes, the freeing of individuals from these relations of exploitation and oppression, but it does not envision a situation where each individual independently pursues her or his own individual interests divorced from or over and against society. Communism continues to recognize that individuals must and will come together in society in order to realize their collective interests (and their interests as individuals). And that it is only in and through society—and fundamentally in and through the process of producing and reproducing the material requirements of life—that people can realize an increasing dimension of freedom. This fundamental principle will continue to apply in communist society, though it will apply there in a radically different way than in any previous human society.

In communist society there will be freedom for individuals on a whole new level, and there will be a broadened scope for individuality, but there will not be individualism—that is, it will not be a significant social problem. People will not be bound within the limits of the individual struggle for existence, nor motivated by the drive to acquire wealth at the expense of others. People will consciously, voluntarily subordinate themselves to the higher interests of society as a whole. They will grasp their true relations with each other in society and with nature, through society. They will act in accordance with the understanding that people’s freedom to engage themselves in spheres other than work, as well as the nature of work itself—whether it is alienating or fulfilling, a negation of people’s will or an expression of it—depends on the character of the social (and above all production) relations and the overall development of the productive forces. They will be conscious of the fact that the basis exists, and with it the necessity, to continually elevate the material, social, and cultural conditions of the members of society in common. They will grasp that everyone’s interests are realized through the transformation of society, to expand the sphere of freedom for all. This is the profound point that Marx made in his succinct statement that "Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby’’ (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Peking, FLP, p. 17).

Mao spoke to this question in giving a concise description of communism: "The epoch of world communism will be reached when all mankind voluntarily and consciously changes itself and the world’’ (Mao, "On Practice,’’ SW, v. 1, p. 308). The meaning and implications of this are discussed at some length in the final chapter of Democracy: Can’t We Do Better Than That?. There it is pointed out that communism understands the essence of freedom as the recognition and transformation of necessity; that this process—involving the dialectical relation (contradiction) between necessity and freedom —is a never-ending one, though it finds different expression in different circumstances; and that in communist society this will find a qualitatively new and different expression, because there will not be the obstructing and obscuring effects of class division, social antagonism, and the lack of common abundance. The following passage from that chapter gives a basic sense of what is said there concerning the essential character of communist society and its guiding principles:

"There will still be contradictions among the people, and indeed the struggle to resolve these will be a driving force in society, but there will not be contradictions between the people and the enemy...there will not be people who are enemies. There will still be compulsion, in the sense of necessity, but there will not be social compulsion in the sense of the political domination of one part of society over another or the domination of one individual over another. In the absence of such antagonism and compulsion, people will voluntarily unite—and struggle, often sharply no doubt, but nonantagonistically—to continually confront and transform necessity....

"The abolition of social antagonism and political domination, and the unity of people around the basic principles of dialectical materialism—together with the struggle over how to apply and further develop them—will make possible, for the first time, the voluntary association of people in society on the basis of a fundamentally correct and ever-deepening understanding of the laws of motion of nature, of society, and of the relation between the two—it will make possible and involve the recognition and transformation of necessity on a whole new and far higher basis than humanity has previously been capable of.’’ (Avakian,
Democracy, pp. 265-66)


* Mao, in "On Contradiction,’’ quoted Lenin, from "On the Question of Dialectics,’’ on how in the exchange of commodities "‘analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all the contradictions) of modern [bourgeois] society.’" (See Mao, SW, v. 1. p. 319.)

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