COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE——A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Despite what is constantly preached at us, this capitalist system we live under, this way of life that constantly drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity, does not represent the best possible world—nor the only possible world. The ways in which the daily train of life has, for centuries and millennia, caused the great majority of humanity to be weighed down, broken in body and spirit, by oppression, agony, degradation, violence and destruction, and the dark veil of ignorance and superstition, is not the fault of this suffering humanity—nor is this the “will” of some non-existent god or gods, or the result of some unchanging and unchangeable “human nature.” All this is the expression, and the result, of the way human society has developed up to this point under the domination of exploiters and oppressors…but that very development has brought humanity to the point where what has been, for thousands of years, no longer has to be—where a whole different way of life is possible in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, in all parts of the world, can throw off the heavy chains of tradition and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined.
此处the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA译为美国革命共产党，它与美国共产党有区别，美国共产党为：CPUSA，全称：the Communist Party USA。中间的god or gods理解为一神信仰和多神信仰的区别，不然没必要这样表达，g大些God才是上帝的意思。
I.The Long Darkness— and the Historic Breakthrough
Exploitative economic and social relations, including the systematic domination of women by men and the division of human society into different classes with conflicting interests, have not always existed among human beings. A situation in which a small group monopolizes not only wealth but the very means to live, and thereby forces far greater numbers to slave under their command, in one form or another, while that small group also monopolizes political power and the means of enforcing this exploitation and dominates the intellectual and cultural life of society, condemning the vast majority to ignorance and subservience—this has not always been part of human society. Nor is this destined to remain the way human beings relate to each other, so long as human beings continue to exist. These oppressive divisions arose thousands of years ago, replacing early forms of communal society, which themselves had existed for thousands of years, and which were made up of relatively small groups of people holding in common their most important possessions and working cooperatively to meet their needs and to raise new generations.
The break-up of these early communal societies was not due to some “natural inclination” of people to seek a superior position above others and to “get ahead” at the expense of others, nor to some supposed “genetic predisposition” of men to subjugate women or of one “race” of people to conquer and plunder other “races.” No doubt there were conflicts at times when people in early communal societies encountered each other and were not able to readily reconcile the differences between them, but these societies were not characterized by institutionalized oppressive divisions with which we are all too familiar today.
To people in those communal societies the idea of some people within these societies establishing themselves as the masters over others, and seeking to acquire wealth and power by forcing others to work for them, would have seemed strange and outrageous. Rather, the emergence of class divisions and oppressive social relations among people was owing to changes in the ways human beings interacted with the “external” natural environment, and in particular changes in the ways these human beings carried out the production of the material requirements of life and the reproduction and rearing of new generations.
means to live仿造means of production译为生产资料的模式，译为“生活资料”；communal society译为公共社会，不知是否妥当，且将就如此。
In particular, once the organization of this production and reproduction began to be carried out in such a way that individuals, instead of society as a whole, began to control the surplus produced by society, above and beyond what was necessary for mere survival, and especially once people settled more or less permanently on specific segments of land and began to carry out agricultural production on the land they settled, then the long night was ushered in, in which human beings have been divided into masters and slaves, the powerful and the powerless, those who rule and those who are ruled over, those whose role is decisive in determining the direction of society, and those whose destiny is shaped in this way, even while they have no effective role in determining that destiny.
Throughout these thousands of years of darkness for the great majority of humanity, people have dreamed of a different life—where slavery, rape, wars of plunder, and a lifetime of alienation, agony, and despair would no longer constitute “the human condition.” This yearning for a different world has found expression in different forms of religious fantasy—looking beyond this world to a god or gods who supposedly control human destiny and who supposedly will, in some future existence, if not in this life, finally reward those who have endured endless suffering during their time on earth.
But there have also been repeated attempts to actually change things in this world. There have been revolts and uprisings, massive rebellions, armed conflicts, and even revolutions in which societies, and the relations between different societies, were transformed in major ways. Empires have fallen, monarchies have been abolished, slave owners and feudal lords have been overthrown. But for hundreds and thousands of years, while many people’s lives were sacrificed, willingly or unwillingly, in these struggles, the result was always that the rule of one group of exploiters and oppressors was replaced by that of another—in one form or another, a small part of society continued to monopolize wealth, political power, and intellectual and cultural life, dominating and oppressing the great majority and engaging repeatedly in wars with rival states and empires.
【备注】a lifetime of alienation中的alienation译为“异化”，因为记得马克思爷爷好像经常提这个概念。
All this remained fundamentally unchanged—the light of a new day never appeared for the masses of humanity, despite all their sacrifice and struggle… Until, a little more than 100 years ago, something radically new emerged: people rising up who embodied not only the desire but the potential to put an end to all relations of exploitation and oppression and all destructive antagonistic conflicts among human beings, everywhere in the world. In 1871, amidst a war between “their” government and that of Germany, working people in the capital city of France, long exploited, impoverished, and degraded, rose up to seize power and established a new form of association among people. This was the Paris Commune, which existed only in that one part of France, and which lasted for only two short months, but which represented, in embryonic form, a communist society in which distinctions of class and oppressive divisions among people would be finally abolished. The Commune was crushed by the weight and force of the old order—with thousands slaughtered in a valiant but ultimately vain attempt to keep the Commune alive. But the first steps had been taken toward a new world, the path had been opened, the way shown, if only fleetingly then.
Even before the events of the Paris Commune, the possibility of a radically new world, without exploitation and oppression, had been scientifically established through the work of Karl Marx, together with his contemporary and collaborator, Frederick Engels, the founders of the communist movement. As Marx himself put it, only a few years before the Commune:
”Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice.1 ”
And that is what Marx had done: He had scientifically excavated and brought to light not only the “inner connections” of the system of capitalism, which had become the dominant form of exploitation in Europe and was increasingly colonizing large parts of the world, but also the “inner connections” between capitalism and all previous forms of human society—and in so doing he had shown that there was no “permanent necessity” either for the continuation of capitalism or for the existence of any other society based on the exploitation and oppression of the many by the few. This was a profound breakthrough in human beings’ understanding of reality, which established the theoretical basis for a world-historic breakthrough in practice, for an unprecedented revolutionization of human society and the relations among people, all over the world.
俺水平有限，头段最后一句if only fleetingly then比较纠结，暂且这么理解：if only为“要是…就好了”，then指the new world到来的那时，fleetingly表示时间飞快。如此理解的意思是：“要是能疾驰到这一天该多好”，似乎与前面不协调，因此全改意译了。
The most fundamental discovery that Marx made was that the character of human society, and the relations among people in society, is not determined by the ideas and the wills of individuals—either individual human beings or fantastical supernatural beings—but by the necessity people face in producing and reproducing the material requirements of life and the way in which people come together, and the means they utilize, to meet that necessity. In today’s world, with the highly sophisticated technology that exists—and, in particular, for those who are more removed from the actual process of producing the basic requirements of life—it can be easy to forget that, if the productive activity is not carried out to meet these basic requirements (food, shelter, transportation, and so on), and if human societies are not capable of reproducing their own populations, then life will soon come to a standstill, and all the things that go on in society, whose functioning is more or less taken for granted so long as things are proceeding “normally,” will no longer be possible. To penetrate beneath all the complex layers of human historical development and social organization to this underlying foundation and essential core of human social functioning was a great achievement and invaluable contribution of Marx.
But Marx also showed that, at any given time, whatever the means are with which people carry out the production and reproduction of the material requirements of life—whatever is the character of the forces of production (the land and raw materials, the technology, whether simple or more complex, and the people themselves with their knowledge and abilities)—will basically and ultimately determine the way in which people are organized, the relations of production into which people enter, in order to best utilize the productive forces. Again, Marx showed that these relations of production are not a matter of the will, or the whims, of individuals, no matter how powerful, but must, of necessity, basically conform to the character of the productive forces at any given time. For example, if the information technology and related processes of production that are pivotal in today’s modern economies were introduced into societies made up of small groups of people foraging and hunting over large areas (relative to the size of their populations), which was the way of life in early communal societies, the introduction of this technology would bring about dramatic changes in the character of those societies: their way of life would be disrupted and changed in significant ways. Nor, for example, could modern technology be efficiently utilized in the plantation agriculture that was the backbone of the way of life in the southern United States, during the period of slavery and for nearly a hundred years after literal slavery was abolished through the Civil War in the 1860s. That plantation agriculture was marked by a low level of technology but very labor-intensive work carried out, first, by large numbers of slaves and then by sharecroppers and farm laborers: back-breaking toil from “can’t see in the morning till can’t see at night.” And in fact, in the period after World War 2 in particular, the introduction of new technology into southern agriculture—especially tractors and mechanized planting and picking machines, on an increasing scale—undermined the old plantation system and was a major impetus in driving many Black people, who had been formerly chained to the land in one form or another, off the land and into the cities of the North as well as the South.And this, in turn, constituted an important part of the material basis on which the struggle was waged to end legal segregation and open terror by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists—a struggle which, through tremendous sacrifice and heroism, brought about very significant changes in U.S. society, and in the position of Black people in particular, even while it did not, and could not, put an end to the oppression of Black people, which has been, and today remains, an integral and essential element of the capitalist-imperialist system in the U.S.
This illustrates another crucial fact brought to light by Marx: On the foundation of the existing production relations at any given time, there will arise a superstructure of politics and ideology—political structures, institutions and processes, ways of thinking, and culture—which in a fundamental sense must and will correspond to, and in turn serve to maintain and reinforce, the existing production relations. And Marx further demonstrated, since the time that changes in the productive forces led to the emergence of production relations characterized by subjugation and domination, society has been divided into different classes, whose position in society is grounded in their differing roles in the process of production. In class-divided society, it is the economically dominant class—that group in society which monopolizes ownership and control of the major means of production (technology, land and raw materials, etc.)—which will also dominate the superstructure of politics and ideology. This economically dominant class will exercise a monopoly of political power. This monopoly of political power is embodied in the state—particularly the instruments of political suppression, including the police as well as the army, the legal system and penal institutions, as well as the executive power—and it assumes a concentrated expression in the monopoly of “legitimate” armed force. So, too, the dominant ways of thinking that hold sway in society, including as this is expressed in the culture, will correspond to the outlook and interests of the dominant class (as Marx and Engels put it in the Communist Manifesto, so long as society is divided into classes, the ruling ideas of any age are ever the ideas of its ruling class).
此处superstructure of politics and ideology中的ideology不直接译为“意识形态”，而是译为“思想”。貌似上层建筑分为政治上层建筑和思想上层建筑，思想上层建筑一般便是指意识形态，所以不好再译为 意识形态的上层建筑。
Then what is the fundamental basis, and what are the underlying, driving forces, of change in society? Marx analyzed how, through the activity and innovation of human beings, the productive forces are being continually developed, and at a certain point the new productive forces that have been developed will come into antagonism with the existing relations of production (and the superstructure of politics and ideology that corresponds to those production relations). At that point, as Marx characterized it, the existing production relations have become, in an overall sense, a fetter, a chain, on the productive forces; and when this situation emerges, a revolution must be carried out whose fundamental aim is to revolutionize the production relations, to bring them into line with the productive forces, to bring about a situation where the production relations are now more an appropriate form for the development of the productive forces, rather than a fetter on that development. Such a revolution will be driven forward by forces representing a class which embodies the potential for carrying out this transformation of the production relations, to bring them into line, essentially, with the way in which the productive forces have developed. But this revolution must, and can only, take place in the superstructure—in the struggle for political power over society, through the overthrow and dismantling of the old state power and the establishment of a new state power—which then makes possible the transformation of the production relations, as well as the superstructure itself, in line with the interests of the new ruling class and its ability to more fully unleash and utilize the productive forces.
Of course, revolution is an extremely complex process, involving many different people and groups with a diversity of views and aims, and those who carry out such a revolution may be more or less conscious of what are the underlying contradictions—between the forces of production and the relations of production—whose development has established the need and given rise to the dynamics that make such a revolution possible, and necessary. But ultimately the influence of these contradictions and dynamics will bring to the fore those who can and do act essentially in accordance with the need to transform the production relations to bring them into line with the development of the productive forces. This is what happened, for example, in the French revolution of the late 18th century and early 19th century, the most radical of all bourgeois revolutions: Many different class forces and social groups took part in that revolution, but in the final analysis it was political forces who proceeded to establish the capitalist system, in place of the old feudal system, who were able to entrench themselves in power, fundamentally because this transformation of the economy, and of the society as a whole on that foundation, represented the necessary means for bringing the relations of production into line with the way in which the productive forces had developed.
The American Civil War also provides an illustration of the basic principles and methods that Marx developed and applied to human historical development. This Civil War came about fundamentally as a result of the fact that two different modes of production—characterized by different systems of production relations: capitalism and slavery—had come into antagonistic conflict with each other, and could no longer co-exist within the same country. And the result of this Civil War was that, with the victory of the capitalist class, centered in the North, the slave system was abolished and the capitalist system became dominant in the country as a whole—even though, especially after a brief period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, the southern landowning aristocracy and developing capitalists in the South were re-integrated into the ruling class of the country as a whole, and in fact have had a major influence within that ruling class, while the former slaves were subjugated once again, in forms of exploitation and oppression hardly less onerous than slavery (and some forms of actual slavery continued to exist, particularly in the South, long after slavery was legally and formally abolished).
From these historical examples, it can be seen how, in the revolutions that have brought about qualitative changes in society but have nevertheless only led to the establishment of a new exploiting class in the dominant position, the pattern has repeated itself that the masses of oppressed people sacrifice (or are sacrificed) in these revolutions (for example, 200,000 former slaves fought on the side of the North in the U.S. Civil War, once they were allowed to do so, and they died in much greater percentages than others in the Union army) yet, in the final analysis, exploiters of the masses, new or old, reap the fruits of this sacrifice. This is the way it has been since the time that class divisions, and domination by exploiting classes, have emerged in and have characterized human society. This was all that was possible…Until now.
The most significant, and liberating, thing that Marx brought to light is that the development of human society, as a result of the dynamics which he unearthed, has led to a situation where a radically different world is possible. We have reached the point where, through all the complex development that has only been sketched out here in very basic terms, the productive forces now exist which make it possible to create, and to continually expand, an abundance which, in fundamental terms, can be shared among humanity as a whole and utilized to meet the material needs of people everywhere, while also providing for an ever-enriched intellectual and cultural life for everyone. It is not only that the technology has developed which makes this possible in a general sense, but also that this technology can be—and in fact must be—used by large groups of people working cooperatively. Marx revealed the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist system which dominates the world today, at such great cost and with such great peril for humanity: the contradiction between the socialized way in which production is carried out, and the fact that this process of production, and what it produces, is controlled and appropriated privately, by a small number of capitalists. As the Constitution of our Party emphasizes:
In today’s world the production of things, and the distribution of the things produced, is overwhelmingly carried out by large numbers of people who work collectively and are organized in highly coordinated networks. At the foundation of this whole process is the proletariat, an international class which owns nothing, yet has created and works these massive socialized productive forces. These tremendous productive powers could enable humanity to not only meet the basic needs of every person on the planet, but to build a new society, with a whole different set of social relations and values…a society where all people could truly and fully flourish together.
To achieve this—to resolve, through revolutionary means, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, and to move beyond the division of human beings into exploiters and exploited, rulers and ruled—is the aim of the communist revolution. This is a revolution that corresponds to the most fundamental interests of the proletariat, which carries out, under conditions of capitalist domination and exploitation, socialized production and which embodies the potential to bring the relations of production into line with the productive forces, and to further unleash those productive forces, including the people themselves. But, unlike all previous classes which have carried out a revolution in their interests, the revolutionary proletariat does not aim simply to establish itself and its political representatives in the ruling position in society; it aims to move beyond the division of society into classes, to uproot all oppressive relations, and with that to eliminate all institutions and instruments through which one part of society dominates and suppresses others. As Marx succinctly summarized it, this revolution aims for—and will be concluded only once it has achieved—what have come to be called the “4 Alls”: the abolition of all class distinctions, of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. Marx also succinctly and powerfully captured the essence of this in emphasizing that the proletariat can emancipate itself only by emancipating all humanity.
All this is why the communist revolution represents the most radical, and truly liberating, revolution in human history.
In surveying the immense historical experience that went into the conclusions he drew, Marx pointed to the profound understanding that indeed people make history, but they do not make it in any way they wish. They make it on the basis of the material conditions—and in particular the underlying economic conditions and relations—which they have inherited from previous generations, and the possible pathways of change that reside within the contradictory nature of these conditions. As Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has pointed out in “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” (Part 1):
”We can make an analogy here to evolution in the natural world. One of the points that is repeatedly stressed in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak is that the process of evolution can only bring about changes on the basis of what already exists…. Evolution in the natural world comes about, and can only come about, through changes that arise on the basis of, and in relation to, the existing reality and the existing constraints (or, to put it another way, the existing necessity).”
This provides the basic answer to those who raise: Who are you to say how society can be organized, what right do you communists have to dictate what change is possible and how it should come about? These questions are essentially misplaced and represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of historical development—and the possible pathways of change—in human society as well as in the material world more generally. This is akin to asking why birds cannot give birth to crocodiles—or why human beings cannot produce offspring that are capable of flying around the earth, on their own, in an instant, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and having x-ray vision that can see through solid objects—and demanding to know: Who are you to dictate what can come about through reproduction, who are you to say that human offspring will have particular characteristics and not others? It is not a matter of “who are you” but of what the material reality is and what possibilities for change actually lie within the—contradictory—character of that material reality. The point here is twofold:
For the first time in the history of humanity, the material conditions have come into being that make possible the final abolition of relations of domination, oppression, and exploitation; and the theoretical understanding to guide the struggle toward that goal has been brought into being on the basis of drawing from the material reality, and its historical development, that has brought this possibility into being.
At the same time, this world-historic transformation of human social relations can only come about on the basis of proceeding from the actual material conditions and the contradictions that characterize them, which open up this possibility but which also embody obstacles to the achievement of this radical social transformation; and it requires a scientific understanding of and approach to these contradictory dynamics—and the leadership of an organized group of people that is grounded in this scientific method and approach—in order to carry through the complex and arduous struggle to achieve this transformation through the advance to communism throughout the world.
II.The First Stage of Communist Revolution
The Paris Commune was a first great attempt to scale the heights of human emancipation, and it was a harbinger of the future, but it lacked the necessary leadership and was not guided by the necessary scientific understanding to be able to withstand the inevitable counter-revolutionary onslaughts of the forces of the old order and then to carry out a thoroughgoing transformation of society, in all spheres: economic, social, political, cultural, and ideological. Some who approach the experience of the Commune with a romanticized, instead of a scientific, outlook and method like to cite the lack of an organized vanguard leadership, unified on the basis of a scientific, Marxist viewpoint, as one of the virtues of the Commune. But the fact is that this was one of its greatest weaknesses and one of the main factors contributing to its defeat, after only a very short period of existence. The lack of such a leadership—and the attempt to immediately implement measures which would essentially eliminate any institutionalized leadership—is one of the main reasons why the Commune did not sufficiently suppress organized forces which were determined to wipe out the Commune and to ensure that the specter of communist revolution—so terrible from the standpoint of exploiters and oppressors—would never rise again. In particular, as Marx pointed out, the Communards failed to march immediately on the stronghold of the counter-revolution, in the nearby city of Versailles; and so the counter-revolution was able to gather its strength, march on Paris, and deliver the death-blow to the Commune, slaughtering thousands of its most determined fighters in the process.
But beyond the immediate consequences that flowed, to a significant degree, from the shortcomings and limitations of the Paris Commune, the reality is this: Had the Commune defeated the attacks of the counter-revolution and survived, it would then have faced the even greater challenge of reorganizing and transforming the whole society, and not just the capital of Paris, where it held power for a brilliant but all too brief period. It would have had to create a radically new and different economy, a socialist economy, in a country still made up largely of small farmers (peasants), and it would have had to overcome profound and tradition-steeped inequality and oppression, in particular the chains that have bound women for thousands of years. And here again the weaknesses and limitations of the Commune stand out: Women played a vital and heroic role in the creation of the Commune and the fight to defend it, but they were nonetheless maintained in a subordinate position within the Commune.
In less than 50 years after the defeat of the Paris Commune, beginning in the midst of the first world war among imperialists, a much more sweeping and deep-going revolutionary transformation was carried out in what had been the Russian empire. This revolution overthrew the Tsar (Russian monarch) who was the hereditary ruler of this empire, and then overthrew the capitalist class which attempted to step into the “vacuum of power” and seize control of society once the Tsar had been toppled. Through this revolution, which was led by V.I. Lenin, the Soviet Union was brought into being as the world’s first socialist state; and although Lenin himself died in 1924, for several decades after that socialist transformation was carried out in the Soviet Union, even as it faced relentless threats and repeated attacks from counter-revolutionary forces, inside and outside the country, including the massive invasion of the Soviet Union by the imperialist Nazi Germany during World War 2, which cost the lives of more than 20 million Soviet citizens and brought great destruction to the country.
In leading the Russian revolution, in its first great step of seizing and consolidating political power and embarking on the road of socialist transformation, Lenin proceeded on the basis of the scientific breakthroughs that Marx had achieved, and he continued to develop that living science of Marxism. He drew important lessons from the Paris Commune, as well as from the historical experience of human society, and the natural world, more broadly. Of great importance, Lenin systematized the understanding that a vanguard communist party was essential in order to enable the masses of people to wage an increasingly conscious struggle to overthrow the rule of the capitalists and then carry out the radical transformation of society toward the ultimate goal of communism, worldwide.
Lenin also applied and developed the understanding forged by Marx, on the basis of summing up the bitter lessons of the Paris Commune, that in carrying out the communist revolution, it is not possible to lay hold of the ready-made machinery of the old state, which served the capitalist system; it is necessary to smash and dismantle that state and replace it with a new state: In place of what is in reality the dictatorship of the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie), it is necessary to establish the political rule of the rising, revolutionary class, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as a radically different kind of state, which will increasingly involve the masses of people in carrying forward the revolutionary transformation of society. This revolutionary dictatorship is necessary, Lenin emphasized, for two basic reasons:
1) To prevent exploiters—old and new, within the country and in other parts of the world—from defeating and drowning in blood the struggle of masses of people to bring a radically new society, and world, into being, to advance toward the achievement of the “4 Alls.”
2) To guarantee the rights of the people at every point, even with the inequalities that will remain, to varying degrees, between different sections of the people during various phases of the socialist transition to communism, at the same time as the goal of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to continue to uproot and eventually move beyond such social inequalities and to reach the point, throughout the world, where oppressive social divisions can no longer arise, and the state, as an institutionalized instrument of enforcement of laws and of rights, will no longer be necessary, and the state itself will be replaced by the self-administration by the people, without class distinctions and social antagonisms.
To quote once again from the Preamble to the Constitution of our Party:
All previous states have served the extension and defense of relations of exploitation; they have enforced the domination of exploiting classes, and have fortified themselves against any fundamental changes in these relations. The dictatorship of the proletariat, by contrast, aims at the eventual abolition of the state itself, with the abolition of class distinctions and all antagonistic social relations leading to exploitation, oppression, and the constant regeneration of destructive conflicts among people. And, in order to continue advancing toward that objective, the dictatorship of the proletariat must increasingly draw the masses of people, from many different sections of society, into meaningful involvement in the process of running society and carrying forward the advance toward the ultimate goal of communism throughout the world.
In the few short years during which Lenin headed the new Soviet state, he led it in embarking on the transformation of the economy, and the society as a whole, and in giving theoretical guidance and active support to the revolutionary struggle throughout the world. But, with the death of Lenin in 1924, the challenge of leading this process forward, in a hostile world dominated by powerful imperialist countries and other reactionary states, fell to others in the Soviet Communist Party, and in particular to Joseph Stalin, who emerged as the leader of the Soviet Communist Party. This was an unprecedented historical experience: For several decades, the economy as well as social relations broadly—including the relations between women and men, as well as between different nationalities—and the political institutions and the culture of the society and the worldview of masses of people underwent profound changes. The standard of living of the people improved greatly and in all spheres, including health care, housing, education, and literacy. But more than that, the burden of exploitation and the weight of age-old tradition began to be lifted from the masses of people. There were great achievements in all spheres of life and society, but not surprisingly also very real limitations, shortcomings, and errors—some of them owing to the situation the Soviet Union found itself in, as the world’s only socialist state for several decades (until after World War 2), and some of it owing to problems in the outlook, approach, and method of those leading this process, in particular Stalin. With the necessary historical perspective, and the application of a scientific, materialist and dialectical, approach and method—and in opposition to the seemingly endless emission of distortions and slanders spewed forth against socialism and communism—the conclusion can, and must, be clearly drawn that the historical experience of socialism in the Soviet Union (and even more so in China, after socialism was established there) was decidedly positive, even with undeniable negative aspects—all of which must be deeply learned from.
It was Mao Tsetung who led the revolutionary struggle in China over several decades, culminating in the victory of the first stage of this revolution with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. To understand the immense importance of this, it is necessary to keep in mind that conventional wisdom, including within the communist movement, held that, in a country like China, a revolution could not be made that would lead to socialism and become part of the worldwide struggle aiming for the ultimate goal of communism, in the way this was actually done with Mao’s leadership. It was not only that China was a backward, largely peasant country (this had been true of Russia as well, at the time of the 1917 revolution there), but China was not a capitalist country itself; it was dominated by other, capitalist-imperialist countries, and the economy and the society overall in China were bent to the imperatives of foreign imperialist domination and capitalist accumulation serving those imperialists. Along with that, the revolution Mao led in China did not immediately aim for socialism but instead built a broad united front against imperialism and feudalism (and bureaucratic capital linked to imperialism and feudalism); and this revolution was carried out not by centering it in the cities, among the small working class there, but through waging a protracted revolutionary war, based among the peasantry in the vast countryside, surrounding the cities from the countryside and then finally defeating the reactionary forces in their strongholds in the cities and winning power throughout the country, completing the first stage of this revolution and opening the road to socialism.
Yet, as Mao himself emphasized, as important and historic as this victory was, it was still only the first step in a long march. The challenge had to be immediately faced of moving forward on the socialist road, or even the initial victories of the revolution would be lost—the country would come under the domination of exploiting classes and of foreign imperialist powers once again. But that was not all: As the process of building a socialist economy and carrying out corresponding changes in the other spheres of society was undertaken, and as Mao summed up this initial experience, he increasingly came to the realization that it was necessary to develop a different approach to socialist transformation than the “model” of what had been done in the Soviet Union. Mao’s approach to this gave more initiative to people on the basic levels and to the local areas, and above all it put emphasis not so much on technology—although the development of more advanced technology was recognized by Mao as very important—but, first and foremost, on the conscious initiative of the masses of people. This became concentrated in the slogan grasp revolution and promote production, which provided the basic guideline for carrying out economic construction in a way that would strengthen the basis for the continued advance on the socialist road and would be mutually reinforcing with the revolutionary transformation of the production relations and the political and ideological superstructure.
All this was related to, and part of the process of development of, Mao’s most important and decisive contribution to the cause of communist revolution: the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, toward the final goal of communism, and Mao’s leadership in translating this theory into a powerful revolutionary movement of masses of people, during the course of the Cultural Revolution in China, for a decade beginning in the mid-1960s. Breaking once again with the “received wisdom” of the communist movement, Mao made the pathbreaking analysis that throughout the socialist period there would remain the material conditions that would pose the danger of defeat for the socialist revolution. Contradictions within the economic base, in the superstructure, and in the relation between base and superstructure of the socialist countries themselves, as well as the influence, pressure, and outright attacks from the remaining imperialist and reactionary states at any given time, would give rise to class differences and class struggle within a socialist country; these contradictions would constantly pose the possibility of society being led on either the socialist or the capitalist road, and more specifically would repeatedly regenerate an aspiring bourgeois class, within socialist society itself, which would find its most concentrated expression among those within the Communist Party, and particularly at its highest levels, who adopted revisionist lines and policies, which in the name of communism would actually accommodate to imperialism and lead things back to capitalism. Mao identified these revisionists as “people in authority taking the capitalist road,” and he pinpointed the struggle between communism and revisionism as the concentrated expression, in the superstructure, of the contradiction and struggle in socialist society between the socialist road and the capitalist road. Mao recognized, and emphasized, that so long as these material conditions and their ideological reflections existed, there could be no guarantee against the reversal of the revolution and the restoration of capitalism, no simple and easy means of preventing this, no solution other than to continue the revolution to restrict and finally, together with the advance of the revolution throughout the world, uproot and eliminate the social inequalities and other vestiges of capitalism that gave rise to this danger.
Again, it is hard to overstate the importance of this theoretical analysis by Mao—which cleared up a great deal of confusion as to whether, and why, there was a danger of capitalist restoration in socialist society, and which provided fundamental guidance in mobilizing masses to advance on the socialist road in opposition to revisionist forces whose orientation and actions were leading precisely toward such a capitalist restoration. The Cultural Revolution in China was the living embodiment of such a mass revolutionary mobilization, in which tens and hundreds of millions of people debated and struggled over questions bearing decisively on the direction of society and of the world revolution. For ten years, this mass upsurge succeeded in holding back, and putting on the defensive, the forces of capitalist restoration, including high officials in the Chinese Communist Party such as xxx. But shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, ——————-. This was, unfortunately, a living demonstration of the very danger that Mao had so sharply pointed to, and whose basis he had so penetratingly analyzed.
Imagine a situation in which Christian fundamentalist creationists have seized power, in the academies of science and in society overall, and have proceeded to suppress knowledge of evolution. Imagine that they go so far as to execute and imprison the most prominent scientists and educators who had insisted on teaching evolution and bringing knowledge of this to the public, and they heap scorn and abuse on the well-established scientific fact of evolution, denouncing and ridiculing it as a flawed and dangerous theory which runs counter to well-known “truth” of the biblical creation story and to religious notions of “natural law” and the “divinely ordained order.” And, to continue the analogy, imagine that in this situation many intellectual “authorities,” and others following in their wake, jump on the bandwagon: “It was not only naïve but criminal to believe that evolution was a well-documented scientific theory, and to force that belief on people,” they declare. “Now we can see that it is ‘common wisdom,’ which no one questions (so why should we?), that evolution embodies a worldview and leads to actions that are disastrous for human beings. We were taken in by the arrogant assurance of those who propagated this notion. We can see that everything that exists, or has existed, could not have come into being without the guiding hand of an ‘intelligent designer.’” And, finally, imagine that in this situation, even many of those who once knew better become disoriented and demoralized, cowed into silence where they do not join in, meekly or loudly, in the chorus of capitulation and denunciation.
The temporary defeat of socialism and the end of the first stage of the communist revolution has had many features and consequences that are analogous to such a situation. Among other things, it has led to lowered sights and low dreams: Even among many people who once would have known better and would have striven higher, it has led, in the short run, to acceptance of the idea that—in reality and at least for the foreseeable future—there can be no alternative to the world as it is, under the domination of imperialism and other exploiters. That the most one can hope for and work for are some secondary adjustments within the framework of accommodation to this system. That anything else—and especially the attempt to bring about a revolutionary rupture out of the confines of this system, aiming toward a radically different, communist world—is unrealistic and is bound to bring disaster.
At the same time, in the “vacuum” created by the reversal of socialism and accompanying setbacks for communism, and with the continuing, and even heightening, depredations carried out by imperialism—with all the upheaval, chaos, and oppression this means for literally billions of people throughout the world—there has been a significant growth of religious fundamentalism and its organized expression in many parts of the world, including among the desperately oppressed. Imperialist marauders and mass murderers, and fanatical religious fundamentalists—the former more powerful and doing greater harm, and in so doing giving further impetus to the latter, but both representing a dark veil, and very real chains, of enslavement and enforced ignorance, reinforcing each other even when they oppose each other.
But all this has not done away with reality: the reality of how the world is, under the domination of this capitalist-imperialist system and the daily horror this involves for the great majority of humanity—or the reality of what communism actually represents for humanity and the possibility of making new breakthroughs and advances on the road of communist revolution.
When we examine, with a scientific outlook and method, the rich experience of the first socialist countries and the first stage of the communist revolution overall, we can see that the problem is not, as has been constantly drummed at us, that the communist revolution, in attempting to do away with capitalism, was seeking in vain to overcome some unchangeable trait that causes people to pursue selfish ends as their “bottom line” motivation, a motivation which must be the guiding and driving principle of human society, lest it violate “human nature” and thereby plunge society into catastrophe and subject the people to tyranny. The problem has been that—while it has brought about profound changes, in circumstances and in people, as a result of the increasingly conscious initiative of people taking up the communist viewpoint—this revolution has taken place not in a vacuum, and with people as a “blank slate,” but as conditions and people have emerged out of the old society and with the “birthmarks” of that society (and of thousands of years of tradition embodying and rationalizing oppressive relations among people). And the new socialist societies that have been brought into being through these revolutions have existed in a world still dominated by imperialism, with its still very formidable power—economically, politically, and militarily.
As Marx and Lenin understood in basic terms—and as Mao discovered and explained much more fully—socialism is not an end in itself: it is not yet communism but is the transition to communism which can be achieved not in this or that country by itself, but only on a world scale, with the overthrow of all reactionary ruling classes and the abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations everywhere. And during this entire period of socialist transition, because of the fact that reactionary states will continue to exist and for some time will encircle and threaten socialist states which are brought into being; and because of the vestiges of the old society—in the production relations, the social relations, and in the superstructure of politics, ideology, and culture—which still exist within socialist society itself, even as the advance on the socialist road leads to restricting these vestiges and transforming important aspects of them in the direction of the final goal of communism…because of all this, there remains the possibility that the hand of the past, not yet dead and still powerful, can seize hold of society and drag it back. In short, for these reasons, the danger of capitalist restoration continues to exist throughout the socialist transition period, and this can be combated and defeated only by continuing the revolution, within the socialist country itself, and doing so as part of and while actively supporting and promoting the communist revolution throughout the world.
The reversal of socialism and what is in fact the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and China was not a matter of “the revolution eating its own children”…of “conspiratorial communist revolutionists turning into totalitarian tyrants” once they have power…of “bureaucratic leaders, entrenched in power for life, stifling and suffocating (bourgeois) democracy”…it was not “the inevitable result of perpetuating hierarchal organization of society”…or any of the other fundamentally erroneous and unscientific notions which are so ceaselessly propagated these days in attacking communism. Those who directly brought about the defeat of the revolution in the Soviet Union and in China were in fact people with high positions in the revolutionary party and state, but they were not some group of faceless, and classless, bureaucrats, mad for power for its own sake. They were, as Mao characterized them, people in authority taking the capitalist road. They were representatives not of communism but of capitalism, and in particular the vestiges of capitalism that had not yet been thoroughly uprooted and surpassed—and could not be in the short term and within the confines of one or another particular socialist country.
The fact that these revisionists were high-ranking officials in the party and state apparatus does not reveal some fundamental flaw in communism or in the communist revolution and socialist society as it has taken shape up to this point. It does not point to the need to find a whole other means and model for bringing about a radically different world. The causes of these reversals of socialism lie deeper, and they are consistent with a scientific communist understanding of society, and in particular of socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism: They reside in the contradictions that are, in significant aspects, carried forward from the old society which has been overthrown but whose features and influences have not yet been entirely transformed. These contradictions—including that between mental and manual labor, which is bound up with the division of society into classes and has itself constituted an integral and profound division in all societies ruled by exploiting classes—both give rise to the need for an organized communist vanguard to lead the revolution, not only in overthrowing the capitalist system but then in continuing the revolution in socialist society, and at the same time give rise to the danger of the revolution being betrayed and reversed by people who hold leadership positions within that vanguard. Given the actual historical development of human society and the possible pathways of change this has now opened up (recall the analogy to evolution in the natural world and the relation there between constraint and change), the question—the actual alternatives, in the real world, if we are in fact setting out to radically change this world, so as to uproot and abolish exploitation and oppression—is not leadership vs. no leadership, democracy vs. no democracy, dictatorship or no dictatorship; it is the socialist road or the capitalist road, leadership which takes things in one direction or the other, democracy—and dictatorship—which is in the service of and furthers one kind of system or the other, toward the reinforcement and perpetuation of exploitation and oppression or toward their eventual elimination, and with that, finally, the elimination of the need for a vanguard party or a state, once the material and ideological conditions that make that possible have been brought into being with the triumph of the communist revolution throughout the world.
In sum on this point: The first stage of the communist revolution went a long way, and achieved incredibly inspiring things, in fighting to overcome the very real obstacles it faced and to advance toward a world where all relations of exploitation and oppression would be finally eliminated and people would enjoy a whole new dimension of freedom and would undertake the organization and continuing transformation of society, throughout the world, with a conscious and voluntary initiative unprecedented in human history. But, not surprisingly, there were also significant shortcomings and real errors, sometimes very serious ones, both in the practical steps that were taken by those leading these revolutions and the new societies they brought forth, and in their conceptions and methods. These shortcomings and errors were not the cause of the defeats of the initial attempts at communist revolution, but they did contribute, even if secondarily, to that defeat; and, beyond that, this whole experience of the first stage—with both its truly inspiring achievements and its very real, at times very serious, even if overall secondary, errors and shortcomings—must be learned from deeply and all-sidedly, in order to carry forward the communist revolution in the new situation that has to be confronted, and to do even better this time.