Understand the World, Make History
Revolutionaries need to understand the world in order to change it. We have to understand the laws of change and development that define what’s possible. The content of our time lies in an electronic revolution that makes possible advanced economic communism. By this we mean a society based in an economy that distributes life’s necessities according to need, in which human effort and natural resources are shared in a sustainable process, not plundered for private profit.
Society is in transition from an economy based in labor power as a value-producing commodity to one based on laborless production. Political laws cannot overturn economic laws. We can use this understanding to fight for the kind of society this new law system makes possible. We can unleash revolutionary forces and impulses to change the world for the better, which depends on how we understand the world and humanity’s place in it.
Dialectics defines how change happens. Philosophical materialism recognizes a material world exists outside of our imaginings. Dialectical and historical materialism is a scientific approach to social human development and is fundamental to understanding the revolutionary process.
What have revolutionaries using this science concluded? The world is an interconnected whole; humankind lives interactively with the environment. We need to master the laws of, not over, nature. These laws allow us to define the particular, indispensable stages of historical development.
For most of human history, people have lived in societies without private property. Our ancestors lived with natural production and cooperation about 50,000 years ago, and only about 5,000 years with private ownership of wealth. There is nothing natural about humans and private property.
Humankind is, however, a social, tool-making species. Humankind produces, and uses its physical and mental power to satisfy human needs. Every major leap in human development is marked by a leap in our ability to manipulate our environment, for good and evil.
The tools or technology we create, the way we organize ourselves to use these tools and the human interactions that arise in this process, change and develop both humanity and nature itself. One of the best, most succinct statements from Karl Marx is in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces… .” Progress is a question of progression, of change through time, not a moral thing. In this sense, humankind makes history.
Today, systems of private property have consumed almost all other forms of property. This was not the choice of individuals or even classes. Although individuals or small groupings of individuals can and do separate themselves from this process, the process itself cannot be undone.
With the latest form of private property, capitalism, human labor itself became a commodity, bought and sold on the market. The law of maximization of profit in a capitalist system can function because of the law of value; that is, humans can create surplus value, more value than needed to reproduce the human species itself. As Karl Marx pointed out in Volume I of Capital, labor power is the only commodity “whose use value possesses the peculiar property of being the source of value.”
Through much of the history of private property, appropriation, production and exchange of things took place on the basis of individual ownership and use of tools. With industrialization, production became social.
In industrialized capitalist countries individual capitalists appropriated the value created by human labor, guaranteeing class struggle between the producers and owners of wealth. In those industrial societies where working people used their class power to capture the surplus value of society for the social needs of society as a whole, revolutionaries, relying on the program of a new industrial working class, fought to make whole nations operate collectively; and made government the administration of things rather than the administration of people. The Russian, Chinese and Cuban communist revolutions did this, but before the era of electronic production and abundance, before human labor power as a commodity became redundant.
These valiant experiments have much to teach us. Humans have fought throughout class history to establish collectivization and cooperation among small sub-sets of society. These communist revolutions, however, went far beyond utopian impulses for collective ownership. They won the hearts and minds of generations of revolutionaries around the globe because for the first time they replaced State (class) power based in private property relations with State (class) power based in common public ownership.
But today the objective basis for communism exists. The laws of capitalism are based in the law of value-creating labor. Global investment capital strides the earth, pirating humanity’s inherited wealth while grabbing vast reservoirs of earth’s resources, but the dominance of labor-replacing electronics ultimately means the end of the production of value. Eliminating human labor in production creates a break in continuity with capitalism as well as private property itself. This lays the basis for a social revolution on an entirely new scale.
A new law system is beginning to operate. The growth of fascism today is a result of the rulers’ attempts to protect private property relations without a producing class. It is a time of great danger. But the changing conditions are also creating a new social force, a new class that cannot live with private property. It must break the political power of the capitalists and in doing so break the power of private property in any form. It is objectively communist.
As a species our self-consciousness strives to put us in right relation to ourselves and to the planet we live in. Human consciousness and the creative property of human labor can be applied to the struggle for a society consistent with the new economic realities. That consciousness depends on revolutionaries who will do everything within their power to make this new class realize its historic potential.
Building Block articles help explain a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011