Speaking to the convention of the Ohio AFL-CIO in September, 2014, National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “The landscape is changing. There’s a new story in America. Activism is on the rise. There is something brewing in the United States. There is a pent up populism, a pent up hunger for a better life.”
These words have seen powerful proof in the strikes and demonstrations by low wage workers, the massive uprisings by people across the country against racist police violence, the protests by tens of thousands in the Moral Monday movement in the South against voter suppression, the huge people’s climate change march in New York City, as well as actions for the rights of immigrants, women,Native Americans and the LGBTQ community and on many other issues.
To this must be added the explosive and enthusiastic response to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a socialist. Sanders denounced the greed and destructiveness of “the billionaire class,” mobilized unprecedented numbers of previously inactive people into the electoral arena of battle and received over 12 million votes.
Out of all these movements a new consciousness is emerging. This consciousness understands that the current order fails to meet the needs of the great majority of ordinary working people of our country. It understands that things don’t have to be this way and that fundamental change is both necessary and possible.
This consciousness includes discussion of basic concepts like capitalism, socialism, communism and fascism. These ideas are frequently misunderstood as well as purposely misrepresented. The aim of this pamphlet is to give a clear and accurate, description of these terms that will be useful in the growing progressive movement and help give a vision of the future.
The essence of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of workers who create the wealth. The means of production include the factories, equipment, raw materials, etc. needed for workers to create new wealth. Exploitation occurs since the value of the goods and services created by workers far exceeds their wages. in other words, workers produce the value of their wages in only a fraction of the time they are required to work. For the rest of the time they work without pay. This is why capitalism is sometimes called a system of “wage-slavery.”
Exploitation was more obvious under previous socio-economic systems — feudalism and ancient slavery. Under feudalism, serfs — as farm workers forced to work on a lord’s estate— worked part of the week on land whose produce they kept. The remaining time they worked on land whose produce went to their lord. Under slavery, all the product of an estate or plantation went to the slave holder, who provided only a bare subsistence for the slaves to survive and return to work the next day.
Under capitalism, exploitation is hidden. Workers seem free (to work or starve) and are apparently paid wages for each hour worked, when, in fact they are paid to work for a certain number of hours. In fact, their wages equal only a fraction of the value they add during those hours. The unpaid labor is the source of the employers’ profits. This exploitation is at the heart of the war the capitalists conduct against the working class. As the capitalists seek to maximize profits, the exploitation of workers is only relieved to the extent they are organized in unions or politically. When they are organized they can limit the flow of profits or are able to strike and shut down the whole process of profit generation unless concessions are made.
As Pope Francis recently stated: “Trade unions have been an essential force of human change, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.”
But the war against the workers is not limited to private workplaces. It continues in the public arena as well.The capitalist class obtains additional portions of the workers’ wages by taxes used for various forms of corporate welfare: direct subsidies, research and development grants and military actions to protect overseas profits. In addition, the capitalists are able to get a further cut by artificial monopoly pricing of basic necessities such as food, fuel, home rents, medicine, insurance and utilities.
The wealthy capitalists benefit from tax loopholes so that the burden for necessary public services falls most heavily on the working people. The allocation of the tax burden and the uses to which tax revenues are put are fought out in legislative bodies. These legislative bodies thereby become important arenas of the class struggle. In addition to the tax system, banks and other financial corporations prey on the assets of workers who must pay interest on loans needed to buy homes, cars and education for their children. Thus, the entire capitalist class —employers, lenders and landlords — exploits the entire working class.
Politically, the capitalist class, is the dominant influence in society. It exercises this dominance through its ownership of the means of production, real estate, financial wealth and the mass media. It also exerts its control over universities, foundations, think tanks, many religious and cultural organizations and other institutions. As the dominant influence in society, the capitalist class constitutes a “ruling class,” but corporate power does not govern directly. For this purpose, it generally relies on political parties and politicians it can fund and control.The end result is an enormous accumulation of wealth in the hands of a very tiny portion of the population. Meanwhile, the great majority face continual, growing insecurity and must struggle to make ends meet. American workers are the most productive in the world. Every year they generate close to $20 trillion in new wealth (the gross domestic product). According to the Federal Reserve, the richest 1% of families — one Capitalism uses every other prejudice and form of oppression— male supremacy, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, fear of immigrants and anti-Communism — to reduce wages and divide and conquer the working class majority and seriously weaken its political power. All these capitalist values are defended on grounds that they allegedly derive from “human nature” and there’s nothing to be done about it. In fact, they are values that only arose to justify and sustain class exploitation. Class exploitation is a relatively recent development in the several hundred thousand-year history of human society.
In the latter part of 19th century, capitalism in the most developed countries evolved to a new stage. Giant corporations came to dominate the economy and the small farmers and businesses engaging in “free enterprise” and “free competition” were supplanted and subordinated to monopolies. This stage is called monopoly capitalism or “imperialism.” It is associated with the transnational drive to maximize profits by directly exploiting cheaper labor in foreign countries. It led to sharp conflict and war between competing capitalist powers. This was the fundamental cause of both World Wars, as well as the driving force behind the U.S. invasions of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and other countries. New capitalist “values” of militarism and virulent nationalism are associated with this stage.
Imperialism is the highest and last stage of capitalism.
As General Smedley Butler, one of the most highly decorated commanders in U.S. history, stated in 1933: “I spent 33 years in the Marine Corps…most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short I was a racketeer for capitalism.”
The predominance of giant corporations —monopolies — in a capitalist economy highlights the fundamental contradiction in this system. This contradiction is that production has become social to an unprecedented degree (that is, it requires the involvement of virtually the entire working class), but the appropriation of wealth has become private as never before. This contradiction can only be fully resolved under socialism, when both production and appropriation become social.
This requires progressive taxation of capitalist wealth and socialization of privately-owned means of production. It can only happen if the working people ultimately take over the apparatus of government.
Fascism is not a separate economic system. Rather, it is the form capitalist government takes when the most extremist, nationalist and militarist sections of the monopoly capitalist class take political power and rule through open terrorist dictatorship. Fascist governments outlaw unions and abolish all democratic rights. Wherever capitalism has reached the monopoly stage and unprecedented wealth and power is concentrated in the tiniest number of hands, anti-democratic trends emerge among a section of the capitalists and fascism is a danger.
Under these conditions the unity and mobilization of the people against every infringement of democratic rights and democratic institutions including unions, public schools, the rights of minorities and women, or the right to vote are critical for preventing the rise of fascism and preserving space for working people to defend and advance their interests.
Defenders of capitalism try to equate the U.S. economic system with democracy, but the establishment and defense of democratic rights in our country has actually been a prolonged and very difficult struggle waged by the American people against the owners of private property. This struggle is far from over.
After the Revolution, the American people would not accept the original Constitution written by the founding slaveholders and Northern bankers, merchants and slave traders without the addition of the Bill of Rights. Initially, voting and office holding was permitted only to white, male property holders. Many states also imposed religious tests denying voting rights to Jews and Catholics.
These facts alone give the lie to the claim that the United States was founded on the basis of individual liberty.
Not until 1870, through efforts of the early labor movement, was public education established throughout the United States. After a very painful and difficult struggle, women won the right to vote in 1920.
Only through massive demonstrations, strikes and factory occupations was the right to bargain collectively and form unions established in 1935 after the election of a labor-friendly administration and Congress.
Equal legal rights regardless of race was achieved because of the historic Civil Rights movement with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. The prolonged fight of women for reproductive control over their own bodies was won in a Supreme Court decision in 1973. Marriage equality regardless of sexual orientation has only been won in 2015 through the tireless efforts of the LGBTQ community and its supporters.
Americans continue to push for the defense and expansion of democracy.
All these rights and democratic institutions are under continual siege by the right-wing extremist section of corporate power. Americans continue to push for the defense and expansion of democracy, including rights to higher education, health care, jobs and a clean environment. In short, under capitalism, democracy is a process. It is a central part of the class struggle and cannot be fully secured so long as the lion’s share of the national wealth and the ownership of the means of production is under the control of a tiny minority. it cannot be secured so long as the economic life of society is determined by the corporate drive for maximum private profits.
Far from being inherent in the capitalist system, democratic rights and institutions are only provisionally tolerated by corporate power and, in the case of the extremist section of the ruling class, treated with open hostility and fear. In fact, the fullest extension of democracy would require the abolition of the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression altogether.
The essence of socialism is the replacement of the capitalist class and private corporate power by the working class and allied forces (family farmers and small business people, self-employed professionals, etc.) as the dominant influence in society. The new ruling class of the working people can then begin to reorganize the economy, including social ownership of key industries such as finance, energy, medicine and armaments. It can institute policies to put people before profits and guarantee full democratic rights and economic security for all.
Progressive forces seek to make socialism occur as peacefully and painlessly as possible. This requires building the broadest possible united coalition of labor and all its allies — both at the grassroots as well as among progressive elected officials. Such a coalition must then continually defend and extend democracy so as to weaken and defeat the most reactionary, anti-labor and anti-democratic and violence-prone section of corporate power. This will set the stage eventually to overcome corporate power generally.
Hopefully, this can occur peacefully through the electoral process as has happened recently when socialist-oriented governments were elected in Greece, Portugal and Venezuela and in the early 1970’s in Chile before the government there was overthrown in a right wing military coup organized by the United States.
From each according to ability, to each according to need.
Under socialism, wealth is distributed according to the principle: “From each according their abilities, to each according to their work.” That is, people are compensated according to their contribution to society, their skills and the quality and quantity of their work. This will replace the capitalist principle that wealth is distributed according to one’s capital and one’s ability to own the means of production and exploit workers.
Socialism is still a class society, but one in which working class and trade union values become dominant. These are values related to solidarity, equality, democracy and peace. The trade union slogans of “An injury to one is an injury to all,” and “United we stand, divided we fall” become watchwords for socialism as it defends itself from the residual forces that would restore capitalism.
Historically, the establishment and maintenance of socialism has only been possible when the people have been led by well organized political parties committed to the working class and with a vision of building a new socialist society. This has generally been the role of the Communist Parties, but it is clear that coalitions of Communists with other progressive forces and parties are possible and can guarantee a larger base and greater stability. The possibility for coalition was clearly demonstrated in the government that was elected in South Africa led by Nelson Mandela following the end of apartheid — a government of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions.
Without getting into specifics, it is clear that the socialist states that emerged in the 20th century faced a hellish world. They were generally weak countries with undeveloped economies, huge deficits in health care, education, infrastructure, government services and lacking in democratic institutions and traditions. They faced a fiercely hostile capitalist world determined to crush their fledgling efforts to build just and stable societies by economic boycott and sabotage, terrorism, assassination, invasion and war.
Under these circumstances, the new socialist governments were forced into a prolonged state of siege during which mistakes, abuses and sometimes serious crimes were committed, notably in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Despite all this, achievements of historic proportions were made in all areas and the USSR, at the cost of 27 million lives, including 5 million Communists, played the decisive role in defeating Hitler fascism. The Soviet Union also played the main role in the destruction of the Japanese army based in mainland China, thus ending World War II.
The pressures on the socialist countries continued to mount after the war when the U.S., having a monopoly on atomic weapons and having used them on civilian targets in Japan, picked up Hitler’s fallen banner of anti-Communism and launched the Cold War. Nonetheless, imperialism was unable to stop the working class and people from winning power under the leadership of Communist Parties in China and Cuba, sinking deep roots in Eastern Europe, being poised to take power in Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Afghanistan and winning the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
After the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, President John F. Kennedy, recognized the Cold War threatened to destroy all of humanity. He announced plans to end it as well as to withdraw from Vietnam. Despite fierce opposition from extremists in the military, State Department and Central Intelligence Agency, he conducted secret talks with the leaders of both Cuba and the Soviet Union to implement policies of peaceful coexistence, disarmament and peaceful competition between the two systems. Unfortunately, this was cut short by Kennedy’s assassination, leading to the genocidal war in Vietnam, the mass slaughter of Communists and their supporters in Indonesia and the continued threats and actual plans of the U.S. to launch nuclear war.
Socialism and humanity suffered a tremendous setback when weak, opportunist and, ultimately, corrupt leaders came to power in the Soviet Union. These leaders had lost the will to fight, surrendered to both domestic and foreign capitalist pressure and dismantled Soviet socialism. Lacking any deterrent, imperialism proceeded to destroy socialist governments in Eastern Europe, dismembering several nations and instigating horrendous ethnic genocide particularly in the former Yugoslavia. The door was also opened for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise in religious fanaticism and the spreading chaos in the Middle East and parts of Africa. None of this would have happened but for the destruction of Soviet socialism.
Soviet socialism arose and developed in unique and extremely difficult conditions and therefore cannot serve as the “model” for other countries. The process of building a new society without exploitation depends in each country on the objective conditions in which it arises and on its own history, traditions, level of political, economic and social development. With no significant foreign enemies, a vast, unprecedented economic capacity and deeply rooted democratic traditions, U.S. socialism would not face the challenges that confronted the USSR, but would still have a major struggle to overcome the ideological debris of capitalist society, such as racism, male supremacy and individualism, as it advanced toward communism. Today, governments in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba use a mixture of social and private ownership as a way to accumulate the capital, skills and technology needed to establish a modern socialist economy.
The term “socialism” is sometimes mistakenly used to mean government spending but, under capitalism, most government spending is used to benefit the capitalist class.
Socialism means working class power. It is a necessary intermediate stage following capitalism in which working people become the new ruling class, overcome capitalist structures and values, guarantee the living standards and democratic rights of the great majority and promote the structures and values of an emerging classless society.
Communism has never been achieved under modern conditions. It would be an evolutionary outgrowth of a socialist society. The essence of communism is that it would be a classless society free of want or coercion, a society of material abundance, where there is enough of everything for everybody and wealth can be distributed according to the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need.”\
In such a society coercive government structures that manage people, such as police, courts, prisons etc. could be gradually dismantled. Government could then be limited to administrative bodies that manage the economy and such things as mail, utilities and free and fair distribution of goods. Classless humanistic values could finally triumph and people could live according to the principle of “one for all, all for one.” People could then see that their interests as individuals would depend on advancing the entire society.
One for all, all for one.
With abundant wealth at its disposal, communism could undertake large scientific, cultural and archeological projects.
No country has ever claimed to be communist, but the term is used pejoratively in the capitalist world to refer to countries led by Communist parties. On the other hand, the instinct to live cooperatively is deeply embedded in human biology. Human beings and most likely our hominid ancestors lived for hundreds of thousands of years in conditions of primitive communism where the products of cooperative hunting, gathering and primitive agriculture were shared, but this was a sharing of very limited resources, not abundance.
“Today I have reached the conclusion: Capitalism cannot reform itself; it is doomed to self-destruction. No universal selfishness can bring good to all. Communism — the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute —this is the only way of human life.” W.E. B. DuBois, 1961
The dynamics of human history
With these basic concepts in mind, it is possible to take a deeper look at the main forms of human society and the fundamental forces of change. These forces of change result from the continual growth of human productivity and its interaction with the prevailing forms of property:
Emergence of our species — Primitive Communism
Hominids first appeared in Africa about three million years ago. Our species, Homo Sapiens, arose between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Lacking fangs or claws, humans were able to survive because of physical features and intellectual abilities enabling them to develop and use tools and weapons. A communal social structure and the ability to communicate using spoken language were also critical to their survival. Altogether, these qualities gave humans the ability to survive and exploit nature in a way never previously available to any living being.
Established settlements arose, generally managed by women, since they were tied to raising children while the men hunted. All tools and products of hunting, gathering and agriculture were shared. There was no private ownership and no state or government apparatus. Primitive ideas and magical beliefs emerged concerning nature and society, including tribal origins and identity.
Primitive communal societies continue to exist to the present day in remote areas of the Amazon, New Guinea, Ethiopia, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and on some islands in the Indian Ocean.
Approximately 10,000 years ago tribal territorial conflicts in various locations led to conquests of one tribe by another, the enslavement of the conquered tribes and the emergence of the first class-based societies. Slavery also brought about the subordination of women, who were both economic and sexual property of the slave holders. Coercive state structures arose to enforce class rule. Rulers had absolute power and, in the earliest period, claimed status as supernatural beings with magical powers. Organized religion arose to justify class rule and exploitation of slaves.
Approximately 5,000 years ago written language first appeared. Slave rebellions left the first written records of the class struggle which emerged as the main content and driving force of history.
With the newly found use of organized slave labor, human productivity took a great leap forward. Massive construction projects to build pyramids, palaces, dams, canals, irrigation systems, roads, aqueducts, ships. large scale agricultural plantations and mines were undertaken. By the early part of the first millennium AD, the Romans had established a vast slave empire throughout the Mediterranean, northern Africa, much of Europe and the Middle East.
Slavery has existed in every country and continent, including in pre-Columbian America, and continues, to some extent, generally illegally, in various forms to the present day.
By the middle of the first millennium AD, because of slave rebellions and invasions by so-called barbarian tribes, serfdom began to replace ancient slavery in the Roman empire. This was an advance in that serfs were only part time, mainly agricultural, slaves, but, unlike slaves, had a stake in increasing and improving production. They discovered and developed powerful new techniques and crafts using metal implements, leading to enormous advances in farming, livestock breeding, building construction, production of tools, clothing, furniture, utensils, and other goods.
With little or no contact between them, feudal systems, similar to that in Europe, arose in the same general period and lasted for centuries throughout the world, including in the Middle East, India, China, Japan, much of Africa, Mesoamerica and the Andes.
With the rise of feudalism, new religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, replaced those of ancient slavery and were used to maintain ideological control by promising a happy afterlife in return for submission to serfdom. Priests claimed magical powers to relieve suffering by interceding and communicating with gods through rituals and prayer.
Class oppression was maintained by feudal militia, courts and prisons. Nonetheless, feudalism was continually shaken by serf rebellions.
Surpluses arose leading to trade in local, national and world markets. A crowning achievement of the feudal period in Europe was the invention of the printing press around 1440, but its use in print shops reflected the emergence of an entirely new class system. The new class of capitalists —employing free wage labor and owning means of production, began to arise in Europe in small manufacturing and trading centers that evolved into cities.
Feudalism continues to the present in rural areas of central and south Asia, and until fairly recently in the latifundia system in Latin America and the sharecropping system in the southern United States.
The early stage of the emergence of capitalism was one of the most brutal periods in human history. As Karl Marx wrote in Volume I of Capital:
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation.” He added that: “capital comes dripping from head to foot from every pore, with blood and dirt.”
Beginning in the 16th century in England and spreading over the next several hundred years throughout Europe, manufacturing, involving wage slavery, began to replace serfdom. After dominating Europe for over 1,000 years, feudalism was effectively destroyed by the French Revolution of 1789, the campaigns of Napoleon’s armies and the subsequent revolutions of 1848 in Central and Eastern Europe.
As feudalism crumbled, capitalist nation states arose to manage the affairs, establish the rule of the newly dominant capitalist class and enforce wage slavery.
Racism and white supremacy were new features of early capitalism in America, They were intentionally introduced in the 1705 Virginia Slave Codes. in 1676 Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion which united slaves and indentured servants, Black and white, and quickly overthrew the government, burning the capital, Jamestown, to the ground. The frightened colonial legislature enacted the new law requiring slaves to be Black and overseers white. Thus the poisons of racial division and white supremacy were introduced in our embryonic nation even before the actual birth of the American Republic.
Under the new system with its unprecedented dynamism, the working class and modern industry arose. Production and development of goods of all kinds vastly expanded. New forms of transportation and communication, new sources of energy, new ways of exploiting nature and a vast expansion of world trade emerged. The increase in productivity was so great that it repeatedly skyrocketed out of control and beyond the capacity of the system leading to crises in over-production. These crises forced wholesale destruction of excess goods, including entire factories. Massive unemployment resulted undermining confidence in the system’s viability and validity.
The working class is the most revolutionary class.
The emergence of capitalism in 16th century Europe had an ideological reflection in the rise of a modernized version of feudal religion known as the Protestant Reformation. While initially appearing as a dispute over policies and practices within the Christian church, Protestantism, in fact, rationalized the ideological needs of the rising capitalist class. While social mobility was previously forbidden by the rigid, caste-like nature of feudalism, Protestantism provided space to sanctify individual initiative and promised that, through diligence and devotion to employers, workers could actually “rise” and become capitalists. In addition, Protestantism was closely linked to the emergence of capitalist nation states and the ideology of nationalism, which created a new way to foster the loyalty of workers to their exploiters.
By the end of the 19th century, the growth and concentration of wealth reached the stage where giant private monopoly corporations and financial institutions dominated the national and world economies. This led to division of the world by colonial and imperialist powers, world war, and the rise of fascism.
In the early part of the 20th century women in advanced capitalist societies obtained civil and economic rights for the first time since primitive communal society.
The defeat of fascism in World War II and the emergence of a socialist group of nations, gave an enormous boost to national liberation movements in less developed regions, largely ending colonialism and severely weakening imperialist domination.
The Cold War continued the effort of the capitalist class to destroy socialism. For the first time in history unfettered corporate power acquired the ability to exterminate the entire human race with the development of nuclear weapons and reckless destruction of the environment.
With the spread of scientific knowledge and the rise of socialism to replace wage slavery, supernatural beliefs declined and the capitalist class relied less on religion and more on mass media, universities, foundations and think tanks to exert ideological control.
By the 21st century in the most developed capitalist nations, the lion’s share of the unprecedented wealth, accumulated over the course of centuries, became concentrated in the hands of less than 1 per cent of the population The rest of society was thereby deprived of the abundantly available means to satisfy their needs, develop their potential and live comfortable lives.
The incompatibility of capitalist property relations with human survival is regularly exposed when natural or man-made disasters occur like Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and the poisoning of water in Flint, Michigan. Capitalist governments, out of helplessness or indifference, fail to provide stricken people with basic necessities like water, food and medical care and must appeal for help from private charities. The disparity and inequity of wealth has become so extreme and indefensible that open opposition to the class system has occurred even in the ideological and political institutions the property owners previously relied upon for support. For example, both Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama have sharply criticized capitalism and acknowledge having much in common with Marxism. Similar criticism is rampant in universities and the rapidly growing social media. Together with rising new socialist nations, a new globalized, computer-based scientific and technological revolution has occurred. This revolution allows unheard of means of communication, social organization, economic efficiency, scientific discovery and exploration of outer space. It provides the technological basis for an entirely new, class-free society.
Capitalism is the last in the series of class-divided exploitative systems where the wealth created by unpaid social labor is appropriated by private owners of the means of production. This reality is reflected in the statement Abraham Lincoln made in one of his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858:
“It is the eternal struggle between two principles, right and wrong, throughout the world. It is the same spirit that says ‘you toil and work and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation, and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”
Beginning in the mid-19th century and culminating in the revolution of 1905, feudalism was dismantled in Russia and capitalism arose. In 1917, bypassing prolonged capitalist development, the Russian Revolution established the first state where the working class replaced the capitalists as the dominant group in society. Socialist Russia was immediately invaded by a coalition of capitalist states, including the U.S.,in a failed attempt to preserve and restore capitalism.
This first effort to do away with millennia of private property ownership and class power faced ferocious hostility. In an international environment where the capitalist class continued to prevail, the ability of socialism to flourishes greatly limited. The most serious challenge came with the rise of fascism and World War II. Nazi Germany and its anti-communist allies sought to destroy socialism in Russia and democracy everywhere. Withstanding unprecedented devastation and loss of life, Soviet socialism overcame the Nazi war machine. An entire group of socialist-oriented states arose in Eastern Europe, Korea and China.
With the support of the socialist countries and peace forces in the capitalist world, Vietnam overcame U.S. aggression and in 1975 established a unified country with a socialist government. This coalition prevented the most criminal sections of imperialism from using nuclear weapons once again. However, with unprecedented and genocidal use of napalm, phosphorus, anti-personnel devices and chemical weapons, as well as massacres of entire villages, the Pentagon succeeded in killing three million. Similar support from democratic and socialist forces allowed socialism to arise and survive in Cuba despite U.S.-sponsored invasion and continual attempts to assassinate government leaders and conduct economic sabotage.
Soviet socialism continued under conditions of the Cold War but was eventually destroyed because of both external pressure as well as internal corruption and mis-leadership. With the end of Soviet socialism, capitalist forces regained power in Eastern Europe and Mongolia.
Nonetheless, the other socialist-oriented states survived, began to flourish and new ones continued to emerge, especially in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In the capitalist countries the rise of socialism strengthened the hand of the working class and its allies, especially in Europe, allowing them to greatly expand democratic rights and wrest enough of the national wealth from the capitalists to establish high quality health, education, social services and environmental protection.
Humanity has so far been able to limit the danger of a suicidal new world war. Ideas and institutions like the United Nations promoting international cooperation, disarmament, peaceful coexistence and protection of the world’s environment continued to spread and working class, democratic values have continued to gain influence.
In 1980, right wing forces took power in the United States, the world bastion of capitalism, launching a drive to reverse gains won by working people and aiming to achieve world domination through vastly superior military power, especially after the demise of the Soviet Union. Domestically, the right wing conducted a sustained effort to suppress living standards and curtail democratic rights.
This gave rise to mass popular resistance and the historic election of President Barack Obama, but also unleashed a severe economic crisis. Support for the capitalist system has greatly weakened, as the American people have increasingly demanded that the vast wealth they create be freed from private owners and used to benefit and protect civilized society.
At present, the class struggle in the United States centers on the clash between labor and its democratic allies on the one hand and right wing extremism on the other. The material basis continues to grow for full socialization of the economy, universal abundance and emergence of classless, modern, democratic and green communist society sometime in the future. To end class exploitation working people and their close allies must establish an intermediary system — socialism — where socially produced wealth is socially distributed. This requires progressive taxation of private capitalist wealth. It requires socialization of privately-owned means of production. This can only fully happen if the working people take over the apparatus of government. Whether this occurs gradually or rapidly depends on a number of factors, including the will and ability of the capitalists to resist and the will, organization and ability of the working people to overcome that resistance and take power. In any case, the transformation cannot be stopped. The socialist genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back. The genie is out because governments where the working people hold power, the so-called “Communist“ countries, as well as other socialist-oriented countries, have been established on every continent. in the remaining capitalist world the working people have increasingly adopted socialist goals and are democratizing wealth and power.
Hopefully, the change to a society free of unpaid labor will occur as peacefully, democratically and rapidly as possible. This would be the realization in practical terms of the long-held religious ideal of “the Beloved Community,” the secular ideal of the “Family of Man” (and Woman) and the communist ideal that “The international working class shall be the human race.”
Marxism—A Living Science
This pamphlet attempts to summarize and popularize in a contemporary framework, ideas that have developed since the middle of the 19th century. It was at that time that two great social scientists, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, first realized that capitalism was a continuation of previous class systems where wealth was accumulated in private hands from the unpaid labor of workers. They showed that the class struggle between private property owners and workers was the content and dynamic of human history.
They discovered that while human productivity continually grows and is at first fostered by each new form of class society, it eventually outgrows those forms and revolutionary change occurs that can only be finally ended with the end of class society itself.
Marx and Engels had a strictly scientific outlook. They insisted their ideas were not a dogma, to be memorized or mechanically applied, but a guide to action. Their ideas could only be validated and would have to be elaborated through continual testing, trial and error and experimentation.
Theory must be combined with practice.
You cannot be a Marxist in theory alone. You can only be a Marxist if you are also in the thick of the battle for human liberation. As Marx once stated, “The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Human liberation can only be won by the struggle of the working people themselves.
As they wrote in the Communist Manifesto, revolutionaries, and all progressive people for that matter, have a two-fold role and responsibility: they “fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”
Flowing from the basic principles and outlook that Marx and Engels first set forth, progressive struggles and Marxist ideas for human liberation generally were greatly enriched and inspired by the subsequent development of the working class, democratic, revolutionary and communist movements of the 20th century.
Socialist leaders in France, Germany, the United States and other countries led the fight against rising militarism and World War I. Major theoretical contributions to Marxist science were made by Vladimir Lenin, the outstanding leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, who first demonstrated how an exploitative class system could be ended in practice.
After World War I, resistance to fascism and the renewed rise of militarism were led by outstanding Marxists including Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, in Germany and Palmiro Togliatti and Antonio Gramsci in Italy as well as the Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dmitrov, who developed the strategy of the united democratic coalition against fascism. After fascism took power in Germany and Italy, Spanish Communists including Delores Ibarruri and Enrique Lister led the fight against the fascist takeover in Spain.
When Germany launched World War II in 1939, Communist Parties led heroic resistance movements throughout Nazi-occupied Europe from Scandinavia to Greece. More than one million Communist partisans ravaged the German army in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union. Movements led by Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Mao Tse Tung (China), Kim Il Sung (Korea) and Luis Taruc (Philippines) made major contributions to the fight against Japanese fascist militarism in Asia.
Together with the decisive contribution made by the Soviet Union, the democratic forces throughout the world, including the capitalist Allies, were able to defeat fascism. These allies destroyed the most dangerous, determined strike force against the working class and democracy the capitalist class had ever assembled. Following the war, new contributions to the progressive movement came from new socialist-oriented states, the anti-colonial and national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America led by people like Kwame Nkrumah, Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara as well as from the fight against apartheid led by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
Throughout the 20th century remarkable individuals have come forth to lead and enrich the struggles for working-class and democratic rights in the United States, including Eugene Debs, Lucy Parsons, Mother Jones, Charles Ruthenberg, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Gus Hall, Harry Bridges, Henry Winston, Harry Hay, Gen. Smedley Butler, Cesar Chavez, Delores Huerta, Juan Chacon, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger.
“On many occasions I would publicly express my belief in the principles of scientific socialism, my deep conviction that for all mankind a socialist society represents an advance to a higher stage of life which is economically, socially and ethically superior to a system based on private profit.” Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, 1958
The Communist Party USA
Ho Chi Minh, the great Vietnamese patriot and revolutionary leader once wrote,“To reap a return in ten years, plant trees. To reap a return in 100, cultivate the people.” The CPUSA, now in its 96th year, has exemplified that principle throughout its history.
At its founding in 1919 out of the left wing of the Socialist Party, the CPUSA opposed World War I and welcomed the Russian Revolution. It recognized that the fight for equality for African Americans required special attention and would not automatically result from establishing socialism.
The party actively defended the rights of immigrants during the Red Scare hysteria which began in 1919 and fought against the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti. When the great Depression started, it organized a massive movement of the unemployed demanding “Work or Wages, Now!” It was decisive in building the movement that prevented the legal lynching of nine Black youths falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama in the infamous Scottsboro case.
During the New Deal, the Party played a critical role in organizing agricultural and industrial unions, winning rights like unemployment compensation and Social Security. It played a key role in mobilizing and uniting a broad coalition of the American people against fascism. It organized American volunteers to fight against the fascist coup in Spain and helped mobilize the anti-fascist effort in World War II. In launching the Cold War in the late 1940’s, the U.S. ruling class sought to repress all domestic dissent, cripple the labor movement and mobilize support for an atomic war against the Soviet Union. The aim was to strip organized labor of its militant leaders, its growing social and class consciousness. The aim was to isolate the labor movement from all progressive, democratic and peaceful coexistence trends among the people. The Cold War opened a shameful period of anti-Communist hysteria punctuated by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and continual
“Dr. DuBois was a genius and chose to be a Communist. Our irrational, obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, 1968
Since the 1970’s the Party has played a key role in grassroots movements for progressive trade unionism, in leading the worldwide fight to win the freedom and save the life of Angela Davis, in building the international movement to end apartheid in South Africa, in the movements for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants, for a sustainable environment and against abuse of police power.
Undeniably, during this long and rich history, the Party, like any other organization, has made mistakes and some of its policies have been justifiably criticized. In fact, the Party continually tests and re-evaluates its policies and attempts to correct errors.
Today, the basic policy of the CPUSA stems from recognition that right wing extremism poses the main immediate threat to the living standards, well-being and democratic rights of the American working class and people. From this, flows the need for a broad, united democratic coalition of both grassroots forces and progressive elected leaders to disempower the right and defeat this threat.
We seek to build support for every movement, candidate, public official and legislative initiative that contributes to this goal, which is an essential step in achieving socialism. We do this, not in a narrow, self-serving sectarian way, but rather we work for a united coalition, including Communists and all other progressive forces, aimed at defeating right wing extremism and clearing the path to socialism. Our goal is a society of, by and for the working people —modern, democratic, peaceful and green.
If you would like to be part of this effort, go to the Communist Party website: cpusa.org for further information and check out the online publication: peoplesworld.org. Copies of this pamphlet can be obtained by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credits: Earchiel Lee Johnson and peoples world.org
Rick Nagin is the Ohio District Organizer of the CPUSA. He joined the Party in 1970 after working actively in the movement to end the war in Vietnam and completing a Ph.D. in biology at The Rockefeller University. He worked as a reporter for the Daily World. the Party’s newspaper, and later in the Party’s Labor Department as the National Steel Coordinator working to build the Party and progressive movements among rank and file steelworkers. After running for public office on several occasions, Nagin helped elect Cleveland’s first Hispanic City Councilman and served as his Executive Assistant for seven years. He then worked for the North Shore (Cleveland) AFL-CIO Federation of Labor during the 2004 Presidential election campaign. He subsequently returned to his position as Ohio District Organizer and Ohio correspondent for the People’s World. He is a member of the News Guild (Communications Workers of America, Local 34071) and a delegate to the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, where he serves on the Political Coordinators and Racial Justice Committees. He is the elected Democratic Party Leader in his ward and serves on the Executive Committee of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. He was a Neighborhood Team Leader in the 2012 Obama For America campaign, a founder and convenor of the Tamir Rice Justice Committee and a member of the steering committee of North East Ohio for Bernie Sanders.