From Dictatorship and Democracy, And the Socialist Transition to Communism
Revolutionary Worker #1254, October 10, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from the edited text of a recent talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. This talk was given to a group of supporters of the RCP who are studying the historical experience of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, and preparing to take up the challenge of popularizing this experience and engaging in discussion and debate with others about it, particularly on campuses but also more broadly.
The entire talk is online at rwor.org. Footnotes and subheads have been added to this excerpt.
Now, returning to the principle that you can't use just any old means*--that any old means aren't justified by the ends--the kind of dictatorship that would actually serve the process of uprooting these relations of exploitation and oppression has to be very different than any previous form of class rule, any previous kind of dictatorship. So, while it has in common with all these previous forms of class rule, or dictatorship, the fact that it does represent the rule of one class, and is enforced by the armed power representing that class, it has to at the same time be vastly different in what that means and what it does.
First of all, on a very basic level, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the rule that represents the interests of the proletariat, has to involve the broad masses of people in all the different aspects of ruling and transforming society, which is not a short-term thing but a long and very wrenching process of overcoming inequalities--which even as they exist are working to undermine your advance toward a new form of society. They are constantly pulling things back and reasserting the old relations of inequality, oppression and exploitation. So this is a very acute contradiction that you have to deal with under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Not only is there a question of extending formal rights and equality to the masses of people in a way that never can happen under any form of exploitative rule, but there is the question of the masses of people actually having the right to concern themselves with and to influence and to play a decisive role in affairs of state and the direction of society, as well as to organize themselves to carry out all kinds of political activity--even political activity independent of, and in some ways even opposed to, the state (this is something I will come back to).
Even more fundamentally than that, the dictatorship of the proletariat, even as it is strengthening itself and carrying forward the struggle to achieve its objectives, has to be guided by the aim of eventually abolishing itself. And this is another acute contradiction, because when it is said you have to do this and you have to do that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, who is "you"? That's a very acute contradiction. Again, is "you" simply the political leadership of the proletariat as organized in the most concentrated way in its vanguard? Or does "you" have to change as you go through this process? Does "you" have to involve more and more of the masses? And does the role and relation between the party and the masses itself have to undergo changes, as you advance together with the whole revolutionary struggle throughout the world toward the abolition of classes and oppressive social divisions and inequalities?
These are very big questions and pose very acute contradictions at various stages, and, in an overall sense, these are profound contradictions all along the way. All the way through, you are trying to change the "you" who is ruling and transforming society and making the decisions about society. But you are living in a world, which constantly tends to reinforce the division between "you" who is actually making decisions and the broader masses who ultimately and fundamentally needed to be included in this "you."
So democracy is different under the dictatorship of the proletariat, it serves different interests and aims, just as that dictatorship itself is radically different and serves different interests and aims than bourgeois dictatorship. But so long as there is democracy among one part of society, that will inevitably be part of a dictatorship exercised by that part of society, even if "that part of society" represents and increasingly draws in the great majority of people. It still represents a division where some people are excluded from rule and excluded from democracy, or do not have the same rights as others. That will apply to the overthrown exploiters and active counter-revolutionaries who will be attempting to organize, to seek each other out, to form associations, etc.--not just to criticize or to raise disagreements about the direction of society, but to actively seek to overthrow the rule of the proletariat.
So, to put it in very short, concentrated form, wherever there is democracy, there is also dictatorship. The question is what kind of democracy, what kind of dictatorship. If we wanted to be provocative and develop a provocative slogan with all the intoxication and infatuation with democracy in the world these days, we could say: "democracy--it's just a form of dictatorship." But obviously the question is more complicated than that. I'm all in favor of saying that just to be provocative [laughter]. I generally like to be provocative anyway. But then you have to have some substance, to go into it deeply.
Of course, all this goes against everything we are taught in a society like this and through the whole machinery and process of indoctrination with bourgeois ideology. And there is in a society like this a powerful pull of spontaneity in favor of bourgeois democracy, particularly in a country like the U.S., which not only dominates and parasitically lives off much of the world, but also as a consequence, or in relation to that, has a very broad middle strata, who occupy a relatively privileged position in relation to the masses of exploited people in this country, and especially in relation to the masses of people in the world.
But this also exerts a powerful influence even among the proletariat itself. Notions of democracy in one form or another constantly reassert themselves. The idea that, for example, the highest objective and what we are really aiming for is simply equality. There is that Peter Tosh song, "Equal Rights"--we've got to have equal rights. Well, there is something to that. But, as we have seen, formal equality masks and embodies inequality as well. It's not that we don't need to abolish institutional inequality--we do. The ways in which people are overtly and directly in form treated as unequal--we need to abolish those, that's part of our struggle. But that's not the be-all and end-all, or the final objective or the fundamental character of our struggle.
For example, take two people who work at the same job. As long as people are paid in the form of wages, on the one hand there is equality: You do the same job, you get the same wage and salary. But, on the other hand, there is inequality built into that. Not everybody does literally the same quality of work. So already there is inequality, because formally we are both equal and we are getting the same wage, but I am doing less quality work than you are. You are actually doing more than me, even though we are both in form doing the same job, because your work is better than mine. Furthermore, you have a family with three kids, and I have a family with no kids. Well, your wage doesn't go as far as mine does. I can buy things that you can't buy, as long as things are produced and distributed in the form of commodities to be bought and sold with money, I have an unequal position in relation to you, because I can buy things you can't buy, since you have to "feed more mouths" than I do with the same wage.
So, while ending social inequality is an objective of ours, it isn't the fundamental objective. We have to go deeper and further than that. We have to get beyond the system where things are produced and distributed as commodities. We have to get to where we can implement the slogan of communism: "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs," so that we move beyond the calibration, or calculation, of formal equality, even while we have abolished formal inequality.
Marx talked about how one of the objectives, ideologically and practically, of the communist revolution is to cross beyond "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right." Now, what did he mean by that? "Bourgeois right" refers to things like the right to an equal amount of pay for an equal amount of work. You put in a certain amount of work, then you have the right to get paid back in a certain amount, and anyone who does the same job should get the same amount. Bourgeois right also includes things like formal equality before the law.
In order to uproot all relations of exploitation, we have to get beyond the point where those kind of rights have to be calculated and entered into the equation. We have to get beyond the horizon where we are merely concerned about or implementing formal equality. In the material basis of all this, in the underlying economic foundation of all this, we have to get beyond a society where things are produced and distributed as commodities to be bought and sold, or exchanged for other commodities. In order to get beyond these calculations of "I did this much work so I should get that much income," and everything that is bound up with that, we have to remove the fetters that are placed on an economy and on a society by having it organized around the production and distribution of things as commodities. As long as things are produced and distributed as commodities, then we can't get beyond the inequalities that are masked--and are even embodied--in formal equality. You can't give people according to their needs in capitalist society. You can only give people according to how much they earn, to put it simply.
And, in a larger sense, in how you approach the development of the economy you can't proceed from the larger needs of society and of the people who make it up, so long as the principle of producing and distributing things as commodities is in command. Now, this is another thing that takes a while to move beyond. Even in the early stages and for quite a while in socialist society (and in socialism as it has actually existed) things still get produced in the form of commodities to a very large degree. But there is a constant struggle to remove things from the realm of commodities.
For example, health care that is provided free removes that from the sphere of production and exchange of commodities. To the degree that it can actually be provided free, it no longer is something that you take the income you earn from your job and pay for. Or, if you remove things like food from the realm of commodities, by having public distribution of food, or public cafeterias, or whatever, where you are no longer selling things, but giving food to people according to their needs. To the degree you can do that, you are moving those things beyond the realm where they are produced and distributed as commodities. And eventually, not only do items of consumption have to be moved beyond that, but so do the means of production--in other words, the things used to produce other things. The machinery, the land, the factory buildings, the computers--all that eventually has to be produced and exchanged not through the use of money, but according to calculations based on what the society and the total labor of society is capable of producing and according to decisions, which have to be made by the people through various forms, about which things to produce in what quantity in order to accomplish which ends.
Right now that is decided by a small group of people, who are themselves the expression of the accumulation process of capital. They have minds and consciousness, but they cannot entirely or fundamentally step outside of the dynamics of capitalist accumulation itself. They cannot make decisions that, in a fundamental and essential way, run counter to those dynamics, or they will go out of business.
This is an extremely important point to understand, and also a focus of some struggle, even among communists--to correctly and fully grasp that in the operation of the capitalist economy, while it rests in one sense on the exploitation of the proletariat, the propertyless wage workers, by the bourgeoisie, it is also driven, and in a most fundamental sense is driven, by the anarchy of production that inevitably results from production being carried out in the commodity form. Because, calculate as you will, you still can never know, when you throw things into the market, how much of them you are going to sell. You can calculate and you can attempt to make your best estimate, but once you throw your capital into the production of things and put them into the market--in other words, once you enter into the overall process of production and exchange under capitalism--what comes back to you goes through a whole process of competition between different capitalists, in which they are each intensifying their exploitation of the proletarians who are enslaved by them, in effect, in order to be able to more profitably sell and realize a profit on the things they produced.
Now, the wealth is not produced in the sale, but it is realized in the sale. The wealth is produced through the exploitation of people. The more intensely you can exploit them, the more work you can get out of them for the wage you pay them, the more potential wealth you can accumulate. But that's only potential wealth. And I don't care what scale you are on--you could be Ted Turner or whatever--you can get eaten up by a bigger shark. Because at any given time, even on the level that he was operating on, in order to further expand, you have to go out and either borrow (get credit), or you have to merge with some other capital. And for any capitalist, no matter what scale, the smallest scale or the largest scale, once they put things into production, whatever capital they had has been converted into a form that is no longer directly under their control. A lot of this is highly rarified and parasitic, so it is not literally money changing hands. It's just crediting and accounts and things like that. But nonetheless, there are days of reckoning [laughter]. And if your ship doesn't come out the way it is supposed to, you will go under. I don't care how big you are. Or you will get eaten up by someone else.
In this form of production and exchange of commodities, you invest your money, and in that sense you alienate it from yourself. You give it up and it then has to go through this whole process of exploitation through which wealth is produced, and then it has to be realized in the form ultimately of selling whatever it is you are producing. And if anywhere along the way something goes wrong, or someone else develops a more "efficient" way of doing that, you may not recoup what you have put into it.
And this is where the anarchy comes in. You have no choice, not only to compete with other capitalists, but to find ways to intensify the exploitation of the people that you are employing at the time.
The capitalists will actually tell you this, if people have ears to listen. Take, for example, the argument about raising the minimum wage. Many political representatives of the system--especially the Republicans, but not only them--will say, "If you raise the minimum wage you are just eliminating jobs." And there is a certain truth to that under the capitalist system, and it's not just that they are mean-spirited. It's that the capitalists will export production to some other country, like Vietnam (what an irony that is), or Indonesia, paying people a much lower wage to produce the things. And if, as a capitalist, you are paying a higher wage here you are going to lose out. They may be as mean-spirited as they are, but that is not what is driving this. What is driving this is the fact that their money has entered into this commodity form. It represents a form of commodity itself, but it's invested in the means of production. Things like the raw materials you use in production have to be paid for. The factory building is usually bought over time and has to be paid for. The means of transportation and communication have to be paid for. The Internet is not free either. All of these things have to be paid for. You have to invest in these things, and if you can't, as they say, "recoup your investment," you go under.
So even the capitalists are not free to act outside of the dynamics of this, in a fundamental sense. That's why they need political representatives, or one of the reasons. They have representatives who stand above the interests of particular capitalists, and try to exercise some wisdom on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole. For example, Roosevelt in the 1930s came in at a time when the economy was completely in the dumpster. The unemployment rate was 25% or higher for the society as a whole. The whole thing was grinding to a halt and going in reverse gear. And the laws of the free market were not getting them out of this. So what did they do? They intervened with the state. They had all these programs to intervene with the state, to spend money and reallocate certain capital through taxation and other means, in order to employ people. Or they put in certain regulations limiting what particular capitalists could do, in the interests of the capitalist class in the larger sense, the capitalist class as a whole, to keep this system going.
Ultimately none of these things really succeeded. It was the war, World War 2, that pulled them out of it. But, to use an analogy to Rome, Roosevelt acted like a patrician senator, who looked beyond the narrow interests of the competing capitalists, and brought forward programs to save the system as a whole. Of course, he had a lot of help from the Communist Party, which wasn't acting as a real communist party and didn't implement a revolutionary program, didn't seize on this crisis to try to make a revolution or move toward one.
In any case, what Roosevelt did was very important from the point of view of the ruling class. He intervened to make certain changes that the capitalists on their own would not have made, and weren't able even to see in a full sense, even while Roosevelt did get backing from certain sections of capitalists who recognized the need to do this. But with all that, it's still not possible for either politicians or the capitalists themselves to stand completely outside of--or to be entirely or essentially independent of--this accumulation process of capitalism itself.
So as long as this kind of a process is going on, or as long as there are significant remnants of it even under socialism, you can't get completely beyond the horizon of bourgeois right. You can't move completely beyond the relations and the corresponding ideas that are characteristic of this system.
And so we see constantly, over and over again, especially while we are living under this system, the pull of the illusions of democracy--that somehow if everybody could have democracy we would get rid of the ills of society. That pull will constantly assert itself, because it is reinforced by the whole functioning of the system, not only what you are propagandized with, but the way in which people have to live.
People have to compete with each other for jobs, for housing, for all kinds of things. And they have to somehow find a way to fit into the overall functioning of the system in order to be able to survive, let alone to try to "improve their position." So because of these material necessities, as well as the whole ideological offensive and the educational system and everything else, people are constantly pulled back within the narrow horizon of bourgeois right. They are constantly conditioned to think of things only in terms that ultimately amount to, or correspond to, the exchange of commodities. This is true even if the exchange of those commodities takes the form of the circulation of ideas. This is a very strong current among the intellectuals--"the free marketplace of ideas" is a phrase you hear very commonly. Well, that, right in itself, reflects the whole capitalist system of production and exchange, in which things are produced and circulate in the form of commodities.
It's not that we don't want a lot of free exchange of ideas, but the idea of the free marketplace of ideas is as much an illusion as the free market is itself an illusion. The free market, in the literal sense of the functioning of the economy, is not really free. It is actually a system based on the exploitation of wage labor. So there is not freedom in that sense. There is not equality between those who are in a position of exploiting others, and those who are exploited. Those who own or control the major means of production, and those who own or control little or none, are not in an equal position. And the free market does not work out so that the interests of all are best served. It works out in the realm of ideas the same way it works out in the practical realm of the economy. It works out with some dominating others. Because we are not starting in this society from an equal place. So all ideas don't get equal promotion.
In fact, to be honest, it is never possible in any society, even in a communist society, for all ideas to get equal promotion. To think that is possible is an illusion. If you think about it there are only so many trees. And even if they develop other ways of making books and disseminating information than we now have, it still takes material things to do that. Computers are made out of real things, not out of air. So, the dissemination of information always will have limits on it, no matter what stage of the society you are in, or what kind of world you live in. You cannot literally disseminate, on an equal basis, every idea that anyone comes up with. So there will always have to be decisions made about which ideas will be given more priority to be disseminated at a given time in any society, even in a communist society. Then, the people, through various mechanisms they will work out, will make these decisions. And even then, there will be a lot of struggle. These things will get resolved through struggle, not through some magical process of some mythical society where there is no contradiction and struggle.
Even under communism there will be tremendous contradiction and struggle about all kinds of things. And probably groups and even "factions" will form. The "park faction" will form--groups of people who want more parks will form and fight it out with the people who want to have more hospitals, let's say. How do you resolve that contradiction? People will struggle over that. It's just taking place in a completely different context where one part of society is not dominating and essentially shutting out the rest of society from taking part in the struggle and decision-making over that.
But there will always be this struggle over those kinds of things. How can you not have struggle? You are always dealing with necessity. You are always dealing with material conditions that are confronting you. You are always dealing with nature and how you interact with nature. And there will always be different ideas about how to do that. But as long as you have a society divided into classes, then one class or another will dominate in that process and in the decisions that are made. This is true even in a society where the proletariat dominates, and it does things in a radically and vastly different ways than exploiting classes that have dominated society.
It is never possible for "the free marketplace of ideas" to really be free and equal. Because, even if all ideas got equal funding, let us imagine, some ideas are more in line with the prejudices that exist already, and some have to go up against all that. Lenin once said it takes ten pages of truth to answer one sentence of falsehood. That's because you are not starting out with everything equal. Right now, for example, when somebody says something about communism which fits in with all the popular misconceptions, you have to start way back at the beginning and go through all this shit before you get back to their question.
So even if somehow all different ideas were equally circulating and funded, they are not equal. They are not existing in a vacuum. So even in that sense "the free marketplace of ideas" is an illusion.
And of course, all ideas don't get equal funding and backing. Some get much more. You want to write a book denouncing communism, you can find a publisher. You want to write a book upholding it, good luck! These are the realities.
So, "the free marketplace of ideas" is an illusion, just as the free marketplace itself is an illusion in the way it is presented. The free marketplace in the economy does not lead to everyone being equal, or to the greatest interests of the greatest number being served. It leads to polarization in society, where some control and monopolize wealth and power, and exploit and dominate the great majority who do not. That's what the free market leads to. Just look at the world. That's what is operating in terms of what is dominating economically and politically in the world. It's the "free market" of the capitalist system that is operating.
What does it lead to? It leads to exactly what Marx said. And if you look on a world scale you can see that very clearly: the accumulation of wealth among a small number at one pole, and the accumulation of agony of toil and exploitation and suffering among the great majority at the other pole. That's what the world looks like. Investigate it if you don't think so. That's what you will find. Half of the population of the world is living on $2 a day. You don't really need to know much more than that. There's a lot more to be learned and struggled over, but that captures something very fundamental about the nature of the world. This is what the "free market system" leads to and will always lead to.
Nevertheless, these illusions, which correspond in one way or another to the limitations of the horizon of the bourgeois system and bourgeois right, will continually reassert themselves, so long as there is a base in the underlying economy and in the corresponding social relations, and in the corresponding form of political rule, and consequently in the ideology and culture that dominates in the society.
People are constantly pulled back to these ideas: "If we could just limit the corporations, then we wouldn't have the problems we have." "The problem is that corporations have too much power." You can listen to Ralph Nader, for example. The problem is not, according to him, the very nature of the capitalist system, it's just that corporations have too much power. Washington is "corporate-occupied territory," he says. Well, there is a certain element of truth to that. But why is that? What is the fundamental reason for that? And what is it all part of?
One challenge I would say to people like that is: name a time in the history of this country when it wasn't dominated politically and every other way by a small minority of wealthy landowners and other wealthy owners of means of production. Name a single time. When is that time? The founding of the country? I don't think so! The time when all the big trusts were forming at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century? I don't think so! There's not a single time--that's always been the way it is.
So this is not a new phenomena that the corporations have too much power or influence. This is the nature of the system, and in fact it has grown to where there is more and more wealth controlled by a smaller number of capitalists. We don't have literal slaveowners any more. Most of the land is now owned in the form of capital, not in the form of slave plantations or even in some feudal form, like sharecropping. But it is still monopolized by a small number, and in fact that monopoly is more accentuated, more pronounced than ever.
But you can see how all these illusions continually reassert themselves. If we could just somehow limit the power of the corporations, or if we could somehow just have real democracy, where for example, we didn't have private corporate wealth funding the campaigns. If all the campaigns were financed, for example, out of public funds. Well, first of all, who controls the public funds? [laughter] Then you get back to the same thing. Second of all, even if you could have all campaigns financed by public funding, you would still have all the reality that I have been talking about operating. You would still get the same polarization in society--or the society would grind to a halt--or would have to be overthrown. And therefore you would confront the question of whether you wanted this society or a completely different one. So these same things are going to reassert themselves, no matter what changes of that kind you would make.
And there is something very relevant to all this that I quoted in a polemic I wrote against K. Venu, who was an Indian Maoist who deserted Maoism and retreated into bourgeois democracy. He literally ended up running for office as part of some bourgeois party. But before that he presented his retreat into bourgeois democracy in a communist guise. What he was arguing for was basically adopting bourgeois-democratic forms under the dictatorship of the proletariat because, according to him, the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat has been one disaster after another, where the people have been actually oppressed by the party. It's not really a new argument. It's an old argument, but he presented it in a slightly new form.
And one of the things I quoted in that polemic was a statement from Marx in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte , which was examining what was happening in France in the second half of the 19th century. He made a very insightful comment where he said that one must not think that the democratic intellectuals, whom we have an abundance of in this society --you can listen to Amy Goodman, or, some very progressive people even, but they are still within the narrow confines of bourgeois right--one must not assume, Marx cautioned, that people like this, the democratic intelligentsia, are, in their everyday life, similar to the shopkeepers. However, the essential point is that the democratic intellectuals do not get beyond the bounds in their thinking that the shopkeepers do not get beyond in everyday life.
That is actually a very complex but very profound point. What he is saying is that you take a stratum like the shopkeepers, who are completely caught up in the daily operation of commodity production and exchange, and in the position where they are not the great accumulators of capital, but neither are they the people who are exploited to produce that capital, that wealth. They are in between, squeezed, but constantly trying to improve their position within the confines of the operation of this commodity system, and being thwarted in doing so at just about every turn. So in practical life they are completely caught up in this commodity competition, and all the vicissitudes, the ups and downs, of this; they are always scrambling to improve their position, and their horizons are very narrowed and constricted by this operation of the actual commodity production and exchange. And Marx's point is that the democratic intellectuals, those people who try to perfect democracy, ultimately end up in the same place as the shopkeepers--even though they live in a very different world, and if you went to someone like Amy Goodman and said "you know you are just like a shopkeeper," she would justifiably be very outraged, and would say "I'm nothing like a petty shopkeeper."
That would be true on one level. But Marx's point is that ultimately, until you break out of the confines of seeing the question as being essentially one of democracy, in a "classless" sense--until you break out of the confines of not recognizing that within the very workings of the system that takes this democratic form, there are inevitably not only profound inequalities, but fundamental relations of exploitation--until you break out of those confines, you will end up getting drawn back into the same world, in how you are conceiving of how society ought to be, that the shopkeeper gets drawn into in everyday life. You are still thinking in terms that are objectively limited by the material reality of the production and exchange of the necessities of life and of all of the things of life in the form of commodities. You are still thinking in terms of equality, in terms of eliminating only the formal political distinction between the rich and poor, and this will leave intact the relations and the functioning of the economy, which inevitably produce tremendous polarization between rich and poor, and powerful and powerless.
Until you get beyond seeing things in terms of improving or perfecting democracy within the confines of this system, you will inevitably be driven back in your thinking to the confines of commodity production and exchange. You will not be able to escape them. Your thinking will not be able to rupture beyond them.
This is a profound point that Marx was making. I know from my own experience, you can keep going back to it and getting more and more out of it, the more that you actually look at experience and think about this statement in relation to experience.
But these illusions and these limitations are like a magnet that constantly pulls people back. And this is not only true in a society like this. In the struggle internationally, and among people in many different countries who are trying to get out from under oppressive rule, the lure of bourgeois democracy, of the ideal but unrealistic and unrealizable goal of a society where inequalities are eliminated but it is still operating on the basis of capitalism, ultimately--this pull continually reasserts itself.
For example, look at Iran. I was just reading this book Reading Lolita in Tehran,which is written by this woman who was a professor. Now, in my opinion, the novel Lolita (by Nabokov) is not a good book. I don't know how many of you have read it, but I don't think it's a good book. She tries to make something better out of it than it is. But the significant fact is that it is a subversive act in Iran, under the rule of what our comrades in the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) call the "filthy Mullahs." Under the rule of the filthy Mullahs in Iran, the religious fundamentalists, to read a book like Lolita is a subversive act. As is reflected in Reading Lolita in Tehran there is a very strong pull to this "anti-totalitarianism" among people who have lived under the theocratic, religious rule of these religious fundamentalist authorities, and have been terrorized, in really horrendous ways, for stepping out of any of the confines of that. You can just see the outlook coming through that "we don't want anyone telling us what to think." Or, more than that, they don't want anyone ruling in the name of an official ideology--whether it's religious fundamentalism, or Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. They don't want communism, or theocracy. They don't want anyone telling them that they know the truth. And among people with this outlook there is a tendency not to draw any distinctions between people who uphold different ideologies. There is a world of difference between life under the "filthy Mullahs." and life in a revolutionary, vibrant, socialist society. But two things have to be said about that. Spontaneously, people don't see that. And second of all, we have to do better at making that a reality even more fully than has been the case in the past. And I will come back to that later.
So it is very important to bring forward a scientific understanding of these questions, grounded in materialism and dialectics, understanding the decisive role of the actual economic base--the functioning of the process through which things are produced and distributed, and wealth is accumulated and distributed, and the relations that people enter into in that process--and understanding the social relations that develop and the political relations and political power that develops on that basis, and the ideology and culture that arises on that basis, understanding that in a dialectical and not a mechanical way.
Is it true that every movie that is made in this society is sort of a crude commercial for capitalism? No. There are oppositional things that come through in the culture. There are things that promote resistance and criticism of the established order. But that doesn't change the fact that, overwhelmingly, what gets generated and what gets selected out to be promoted is that which reinforces and serves the system.
If you want to look at something right around us, look at rap. When it first came forward it had a lot of nonsense in it, with groups like the Sugar Hill Gang, although even before that it had some better stuff. But mixed in from the beginning was contention. You had people talking about the conditions of the masses and promoting resistance to that right alongside of a lot of macho bullshit and just a lot of nonsense. And then you had people like Melle Mel come forward at a certain time. I don't know if any of you ever heard his song "World War 3," but it's a really interesting song. It was done in the mid or late `80s, I think. And it's really got a good line, that's very relevant today, talking about these people who go fight wars for the system. Then, he says, when you come back, what are you fighting for?--a silly ass medal, a stupid parade. It's very timely. And then you had Public Enemy and things like that, which had their limitations but also had a lot of rebellion involved. What got promoted? Is it all equal? Were all the things circulated equally? No! You had NWA and they did "Fuck tha Police," but that's not what gets selected out to be promoted. You listen to the rest of that album and it's got a lot of bad shit on it. [laughs]
And through all this process, what got considered to be commercially viable? All this "bitches and ho's" and big cars and money and all the rest of it. All that shit is what got promoted. And overwhelmingly that's what it's about now, in terms of what's "commercially viable" rap. Not because, abstracted from the system that exists, things putting forward a very different message wouldn't have found an "audience." They did! But that's not what the people who run things, including those who run the big companies that produce and promote this shit, got behind. For ideological reasons, even beyond mere economic concerns, they got behind other shit and made it "commercially viable."
This is the way things actually work in this society. Now it is a dynamic process, it's not a narrow, mechanical process, whereby what gets promoted in the culture gets selected out. But through all this process there are definite interests that come to dominate and get served. And the prevailing relations of exploitation, the prevailing social relations of inequality of all kinds--between men and women, between nationalities and so on--get reinforced through the culture, as well as through the political rule. We have to understand this, and we have to bring this understanding to other people.
TO BE CONTINUED
I was reading an interesting comment from someone-it was actually someone in the international movement-and they made the point, "I uphold very firmly the experience of the socialist revolution so far, but I don't want to live in those countries" [laughter]. In other words, we have a lot of work to do, to do better the next time around. That's a very dialectical attitude. And a materialist attitude: we should uphold these things historically, there are great achievements; but we also have to build on it and go farther and do better in certain areas, or else people won't want to live in these societies-and probably we won't either.
The dictatorship of the proletariat, even as it is strengthening itself and carrying forward the struggle to achieve its objectives, has to be guided by the aim of eventually abolishing itself.
Even under communism there will be tremendous contradiction and struggle about all kinds of things. It's just taking place in a completely different context where one part of society is not dominating and essentially shutting out the rest of society from taking part in the struggle and decision-making over that.
This is an extremely important point to understand, and also a focus of some struggle, even among communists-to correctly and fully grasp that in the operation of the capitalist economy, while it rests in one sense on the exploitation of the proletariat, the propertyless wage workers, by the bourgeoisie, it is also driven, and in a most fundamental sense is driven, by the anarchy of production that inevitably results from production being carried out in the commodity form.
* See " Part 4: A Historical Thought Experiment : What Would It Have Taken To Enforce Forty Acres And A Mule?" RW #1253, October 3, 2004.