The state and the future of socialism / by Michael A. Lebowitz

Wojciech Fangor, “Forging the Scythes” (1954). Image courtesy the Museum of Warsaw.

Reprinted in Canadian Dimension on April 28, 2023

When capital is in crisis, there are always two options—to give in or to move in.

The following essay by Marxist economist Michael A. Lebowitz was first published in the 2013 edition of Socialist Register. Lebowitz, who passed away on April 19, 2023 at the age of 85, was a giant of the socialist left. Over the years, Canadian Dimension published several of his essays. He taught at Simon Fraser University for decades and was the author of numerous books including Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class and Build It Now: Socialism for the 21st Century. He was Director, Program in Transformative Practice and Human Development, Centro Internacional Miranda, in Caracas, Venezuela, from 2006-11.

We are in the midst of a class war. That’s not unusual. There is always class war in capitalism—although sometimes it is hidden and sometimes there is the interlude of an apparent Carthaginian Peace. But the class war has intensified now because of the crisis in capitalism—a crisis rooted in the over-accumulation of capital. And, in this crisis, capital has intensified the class war against the working class. Austerity, cutbacks, the need to sacrifice—these are the demands of capital as it calls upon workers to bear the burden of capital’s own failures. This is a war conducted by capitalist states against workers to compel them to give up their achievements from past struggles. And, in some places (but, unfortunately, not all), we see that the working class is saying, ‘no.’ In some cases, we see that workers are fighting to defend their past successes within capitalism and that they are fighting against the racism and xenophobia which are the default position when workers are under attack but are not in struggle against capital. Such struggles, as Marx knew, are ‘indispensable’—they are the only means of preventing workers ‘from becoming apathetic, thoughtless, more or less well-fed instruments of production.’ But, who will win this class war?

In his recent book, The Communist Hypothesis, Alain Badiou describes the past defeats of May 1968, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Paris Commune as well as those of factory occupations and other such struggles as defeats ‘covered with glory.’ Because they remain in our memory as inspirations, they must be contrasted, he insists, to the ‘defeat without glory’ that social democracy brings. This is certainly true. However, we need to acknowledge that the current struggles against capital’s attempt to make the working class rescue it from yet another of its crises may yet be added to the list of glorious defeats. Of course, it is necessary to try to stop the cutbacks and to communicate to capital how high its costs will be for attempting to shift the burden of its own failures to workers. And, of course, we must celebrate those struggles taking place wherever the working class has not been anesthetized as a result of previous defeats without glory, leaving only what Marx once described as ‘a heart-broken, a weak-minded, a worn-out, unresisting mass.’

But it is not enough to say ‘no.’ There are those who think that an accumulation of loudly screamed no’s can be sufficient—let alone the ‘silent farts’ celebrated by John Holloway. These poets of negation demonstrate thereby that they don’t understand why and how capital reproduces itself. Why is it that after so many defeats so many still cannot see what Marx grasped in the nineteenth century – that capital has the tendency to produce a working class which views the existence of capital as necessary? ‘The advance of capitalist production,’ he stressed, ‘develops a working class which by education, tradition and habit looks upon the requirements of this mode of production as self-evident natural laws.’

Marx understood that capitalism tends to produce the workers it needs, workers who look upon capitalism as common sense. Given the mystification of capital (arising from the sale of labour-power) which makes productivity, profits and progress appear as the result of the capitalist’s contribution, it followed that ‘the organization of the capitalist process of production, once it is fully developed, breaks down all resistance.’

And, Marx added that capital’s generation of a reserve army of the unemployed ‘sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker’ and that the capitalist can rely upon the worker’s ‘dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them.’ Obviously, for Marx, capital’s walls will never be brought down by loud screams or silent farts.

Even with a certain resistance marked by struggles over wages, working conditions and the defence of past gains, as long as workers look upon the requirements of capital as ‘self-evident natural laws,’ those struggles occur within the bounds of the capitalist relation. In the end, workers’ subordination to the logic of capital means that faced with capitalism’s crises they sooner or later act to ensure the conditions for the expanded reproduction of capital. Nowhere is this clearer than in the defeats without glory of social democracy.

And, defeat when capitalism is in crisis means that capital can emerge from the crisis by restructuring itself—as it did internationally with the Bretton Woods package after the crises of the 1930s and the 1970s. As is often noted, there is a big difference between a crisis in capitalism and a crisis of capitalism. The latter requires conscious actors prepared to put an end to capitalism, prepared to challenge and defeat the logic of capital. But this requires a vision which can appear to workers as an alternative common sense, as their common sense.

Like the ‘worst architect,’ we must build our goal in our minds before we can construct it in reality; only this conscious focus can ensure the ‘purposeful will’ required to complete the defeat of the logic of capital. To struggle against a situation in which workers ‘by education, tradition and habit’ look upon capital’s needs ‘as self-evident natural laws,’ we must struggle for an alternative common sense. But what is the vision of a new society whose requirements workers may look upon as ‘self-evident natural laws’? Clearly, it won’t be found in the results of twentieth century attempts to build socialism, which, to use Marx’s phrase, ended ‘in a miserable fit of the blues.’

The ‘key link’ for twenty-first century socialism

‘We have to reinvent socialism.’ With this statement, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, electrified activists in his closing speech at the January 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. ‘It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union,’ he stressed, ‘but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.’ If we are ever going to end the poverty of the majority of the world, capitalism must be transcended, Chavez argued. ‘But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, but a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything.’

There, at its core, is the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century. Rather than expansion of the means of production or direction by the state, human beings must be at the centre of the new socialist society. This marks a return to Marx’s vision—to the contrast he drew in Capital between a society subordinate to the logic of capital (where ‘the worker exists to satisfy the need of the existing values for valorization’) and the logic of a new society, that ‘inverse situation, in which objective wealth is there to satisfy the worker’s own need for development.’ This concept of the worker’s need for development is the culmination of Marx’s consistent stress upon the centrality of the development of human capacity—the ‘development of the rich individuality,’ as the real wealth and explicit goal of the new society. Here was the ‘inverse situation’ which would allow for ‘the all-round development of the individual,’ the ‘complete working out of the human content,’ the ‘development of all human powers as such the end in itself,’ a society of associated producers in which ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’

But this is only one side of Marx’s perspective. A focus upon the full development of human potential was characteristic of much socialist thought in the nineteenth century. What Marx added to this emphasis upon human development was his understanding of how that development of human capacities occurs. In his Theses on Feuerbach, he was quite clear that it is not by giving people gifts, not by changing circumstances for them. Rather, we change only through real practice, by changing circumstances ourselves. Marx’s concept of ‘revolutionary practice,’ that concept of ‘the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change,’ is the red thread that runs throughout his work. Marx was most consistent on this point when talking about the struggles of workers against capital and how this revolutionary practice transforms ‘circumstances and men,’ expanding their capabilities and making them fit to create a new world.

But this process of changing ourselves is not at all limited to the sphere of political and economic struggle. In the very act of producing, Marx indicated, ‘the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and new ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language.’ And, certainly, the relations within which workers produce affect the nature of the workers produced. After all, that was Marx’s point about how capitalist productive relations ‘distort the worker into a fragment of a man’ and degrade him and ‘alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process.’ It is essential to recognize that every human activity has as its result a joint product—both the change in the object of labour and the change in the labourer herself. Unfortunately, that second product is often forgotten.

Marx’s combination of human development and practice constitutes the key link. Taken seriously, it has definite implications for relations within the workplace – rather than capitalism’s joint product (the fragmented, crippled human being whose enjoyment consists in possessing and consuming things), it implies a person who is able to develop all her potential through her activity. Taken seriously, that key link has definite implications for the nature of the state—rather than allowing us every few years to elect those who misrule us as our representatives to a state which stands over and above us, it implies what Marx called the ‘self-government of the producers,’ the ‘reabsorption of the state power by society as its own living forces.’ Taken seriously, that key link has definite implications for the nature of the party—rather than a body that sees itself as superior to social movements and whose members are meant to learn the merits of discipline in following the decisions made by infallible central committees, it implies a party which learns from popular initiative and unleashes the creative energy of masses through their own practice. Taken seriously, that key link has obvious implications for building socialism.

Consider the characteristic of socialist production implicit in this key link. What are the circumstances that have as their joint product ‘the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn’? Given the ‘dialectical inversion’ peculiar to capitalist production that cripples the body and mind of the worker and alienates her from ‘the intellectual potentialities of the labour process,’ it is clear that to develop the capacities of people the producers must put an end to what Marx called, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, ‘the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour.’

For the development of rich human beings, the worker must be able to call ‘his own muscles into play under the control of his own brain.’ Expanding the capabilities of people requires both mental and manual activity. Not only does the combination of education with productive labour make it possible to increase the efficiency of production; this is also, as Marx pointed out in Capital, ‘the only method of producing fully developed human beings.’ Here, then, is the way to ensure that ‘the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.’

The activity through which people develop their capacities, however, is not limited to the sphere of production as narrowly defined within capitalism. Every activity with the goal of providing inputs into the development of human beings needs be understood as an aspect of production. And the goals that guide production must be democratically established so that people can transform both their circumstances and themselves and thereby produce themselves as subjects in the new society. The implication is obvious—every aspect of production must be a site for the collective decision-making and variety of activity that develops human capacities and builds solidarity among the particular associated producers.

When workers act in workplaces and communities in conscious cooperation with others, they produce themselves as people conscious of their interdependence and of their own collective power. The joint product of their activity is the development of the capacities of the producers—precisely Marx’s point when he says that ‘when the worker cooperates in a planned way with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species.’ Creating the conditions in workplaces and communities by which people can develop their capacities is an essential aspect of the concept of socialism for the twenty-first century. But it is only one element. How can the worker’s own need for development be realized if capital owns our social heritage—the products of the social brain and the social hand? And, how can we develop our own potential if we look upon other producers as enemies or as our markets—i.e., if individual material self-interest is our motivation?

Capitalism is an organic system, one which has the tendency to reproduce the conditions of its existence (including a working class which looks upon its requirements as ‘self-evident natural laws’). That is its strength. To counter that and to satisfy ‘the worker’s own need for development,’ the socialist alternative also must be an organic system, a particular combination of production, distribution and consumption, a system of reproduction. What Chavez named in January 2007 as ‘the elementary triangle of socialism’ (social property, social production and satisfaction of social needs) is a step forward toward a conception of such a system.

Consider the logic of this socialist combination, this conception of socialism for the twenty-first century:

1. Social ownership of the means of production is critical within this structure because it is the only way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of producers or state bureaucrats. But, this concerns more than our current activity. Social ownership of our social heritage, the results of past social labour, is an assertion that all living human beings have the right to the full development of their potential—to real wealth, the development of human capacity. It is the recognition that ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’

2. Social production organized by workers builds new relations among producers—relations of cooperation and solidarity. It allows workers to end ‘the crippling of body and mind’ and the loss of ‘every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity’ that comes from the separation of head and hand. Organization of production in all spheres by workers, thus, is a condition for the full development of the producers, for the development of their capabilities—a condition for the production of rich human beings.

3. Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes as the goal of productive activity means that, instead of interacting as separate and indifferent individuals, we function as members of a community. Rather than looking upon our own capacity as our property and as a means of securing as much as possible in an exchange, we start from the recognition of our common humanity and, thus, of the importance of conditions in which everyone is able to develop her full potential. When our productive activity is oriented to the needs of others, it both builds solidarity among people and produces socialist human beings.

These three sides of the ‘socialist triangle’ mutually interact to form a structure in which ‘all the elements coexist simultaneously and support one another,’ as Marx put it. ‘This is the case with every organic whole.’ Yet, the very interdependence of the three sides suggests that realization of each element depends upon the existence of the other two. Without production for social needs, no real social property; without social property, no worker decision-making oriented toward society’s needs; without worker decision-making, no transformation of people and their needs.

The state’s place within ‘socialism as an organic system’

Is there a place for the state in socialism as an organic system? In the absence of a mechanism by which this particular combination of production, distribution and consumption can be realized, it remains purely a vision. Thus, implicit in the concept of socialism as an organic system is a set of institutions and practices through which all members of society can share the fruits of social labour and are able to satisfy their ‘own need for development.’ To produce and reproduce ‘rich human beings’ in a society based upon solidarity requires a conscious attempt to ensure that the necessary conditions for full human development infuse all levels of society.

Consider one possible scenario for a process of participatory diagnosis and planning. At the level of an individual neighbourhood, it is possible for neighbours to discuss directly the kind of community they want to live in and what they see as necessary for the development of their capacities and that of those around them. While this process identifies needs, the discussion also allows this community to explore its own ability to satisfy those needs itself; in other words, it identifies the capabilities of the community. Thus, at the level of the community, there is a direct attempt to coordinate the system of needs and the system of labours. In addition to being able to identify its needs and the extent to which those can be satisfied locally through the labour of community members, this process (which occurs under the guidance of elected neighbourhood councils) has a second product. By sharing and attempting to reconcile views of the most urgent needs of members of this community, there is a learning process—one in which protagonism builds and reinforces solidarity—i.e., the process of participatory diagnosis produces particular people, a particular joint product. At the core of this process, thus, is revolutionary practice—the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self-change.

Of course, the probability of a precise match between capabilities and needs within this community is negligible. The community is likely to have needs it cannot satisfy locally and capacities it does not need. In this situation, autarky supports neither the ability of people to secure the use-values they identify as important for their development nor the satisfaction in meaningful activity that can come from meeting the needs of others outside their immediate neighbourhood. Thus, to satisfy ‘the worker’s own need for development,’ the community needs to go beyond this barrier in order to coordinate with other communities in a larger body.

The commune represents a further step, bringing together the information transmitted by local neighbourhood councils about the needs and capabilities of their communities as well as drawing upon the knowledge of workers within units of production in this geographical area. Do workers have the capacity to satisfy the needs identified by the communities? By exploring this question in their workers councils, workers engage in conscious consideration of production options within their workplaces and focus upon the logic of producing for communal needs; however, to answer this question adequately requires more than responses from individual production units taken separately. By combining their knowledge and capabilities, workers in particular workplaces can achieve results which are greater than the sum of their individual parts taken separately. But, here again, more than a process of producing for communal needs and purposes occurs. Cooperation within and between units of production for this purpose generates solidarity among the combined workers and reinforces their understanding of the goals of production.

Throughout this process, community members and workers can interact through communal meetings and a communal parliament. And, the result of the process is that the commune councils have at their disposal data on (a) needs that can be satisfied from within the commune and (b) the needs which cannot be satisfied locally. Further, there is information on (c) the potential output of workplaces that can be provisionally utilized within the commune, and (d) the potential output of workplaces that is unutilized. Thus, there is both an indication of the level of needs that provisionally can be satisfied locally as well as identification of the excess demand and excess supply within each commune.

To stop here would reproduce the problem of remaining at the level of the individual neighbourhood. To create the conditions for the free development of all, it is necessary to go beyond geographical barriers. Thus, this process is extended to larger areas: the data from communes is transmitted upward to cities (communal cities), to the states or provinces and ultimately to the national level – to bodies composed of delegates from the communes, cities and the states, respectively. At the national level, then, it is possible to identify (a) provisionally satisfied needs, (b) unsatisfied needs, (c) provisionally assigned output and (d) provisionally unassigned output. It is fair to assume that there will not be a balance between needs and capacities at the first iteration.

Accordingly, the process of reconciling the system of needs and the system of labours is an essential requirement of the set of institutions and practices characteristic of socialism as an organic system. If there are excess needs, there are two logical resorts: (1) find a way to increase output (a question for workers councils to explore), and (2) recognize the necessity to reduce satisfaction of some needs. Thus, a critical discussion must occur here—what is to be unsatisfied? Exploration of this question requires a discussion of the relative requirements of different areas and the different types of needs to be given priority. It is only at this level that identification of national and regional inequality occurs as well as a discussion of priorities and choices for the society as a whole. This dialogue needs to take place not only at the national level but at every level down to the neighbourhood. Such a discussion is absolutely essential because, through such a process of participatory planning, people learn about the needs and capacities of others elsewhere in the society. There is no other way to build solidarity than to put faces upon other members of society. Thus, throughout this process, there are two products: development of the plan and the development of the people who participate in its construction.

The result of this scenario is a process of production for communal needs and communal purposes in which protagonism within the workplace and community ensures that this is social production organized by the producers. Obviously, too, the third side of the socialist triangle, social ownership, is present in that there is neither production for capital nor production for any particular group, i.e. a process of group ownership. In each workplace, workers are conscious that their productive activity is for society. In short, begin with communality, and the product of our activity is ‘a communal, general product from the outset.’

How, though, could the concept of socialism as an organic system be made real in the absence of institutions and practices such as these? This combination and articulation of councils and delegates at different levels of society is necessary to ensure the reproduction of a society in which the ‘free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’ And, it is a state—a particular type of state, a state from below, a state of the commune-type. This state does not wither away—rather, it is an integral part of socialism as an organic system.

Of course, some people may not wish to call this set of institutions a state because these are society’s ‘own living forces’—i.e., not ‘an organ standing above society’ but ‘one completely subordinate to it.’ How would designation of this as a state be compatible with the view that, by definition, as Holloway puts it, ‘the state is the assassin of hope’? Like those who conceive of labour as inherently a burden (and thus can think of nothing better than to reduce it to zero), those who reject these institutions as a state demonstrate that they are trapped in the categories of old societies.

Old habits die slowly, though. And, taxonomy should not trump content. So, if some people prefer to call these articulated councils a non-state or the ‘Unstate,’ this should not present a problem—as long as they agree that socialism as an organic system requires these institutions and practices in order to be real.

Michael A. Lebowitz. Photo from Flickr.

Subordinating the old society: Contested reproduction

However, an organic system does not drop from the sky. In socialism as an organic system (to paraphrase Marx’s description of capitalism as an organic system), ‘every economic relation presupposes every other in its [socialist] economic form, and everything posited is thus also a presupposition, this is the case with every organic system.’ Yet, a new system never produces its own premises at the outset. Rather, when a new system emerges, it necessarily inherits premises from the old. Its premises and presuppositions are ‘historic’ ones, premises which are produced outside the system and which thus do not arise upon its own foundations.

In short, every new system as it emerges is inevitably defective: it is ‘in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society.’ Accordingly, the development of an organic system is a process of becoming. ‘Its development to its totality,’ Marx indicated, ‘consists precisely in subordinating all elements of society to itself, or in creating out of it the organs which it still lacks. This is historically how it becomes a totality.’

In the 1920s, the Soviet economist Evgeny Preobrazhensky made this very point about how a new system develops. ‘Not a single economic formation,’ he argued, ‘can develop in a pure form, on the basis merely of the immanent laws which are inherent to the particular formation. This would be in contradiction to the very idea of development. The development of any economic form means its ousting of other economic forms, the subordination of these forms to the new form, and their gradual elimination.’ So, what is to be subordinated? If socialism is to develop into an organic system, social ownership of the means of production must supplant private ownership; worker management must replace despotism in the workplace; and productive activity based upon solidarity and community must subordinate individual self-interest. And, of course, the old state must be transcended, replaced by the new organs which foster the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change.

Obviously, this cannot happen overnight. It also, however, is something that cannot take place in stages. The idea of putting off some questions until a later stage is prepared is alien to a concept of an organic system. The continued presence of elements of capitalism does not simply mean that socialism is at yet incomplete because a few parts are missing. After all, what kinds of people are produced within the old relations? In fact, every moment that people act within old relations is a process of reproducing old ideas and attitudes. Working within a hierarchy, functioning without the ability to make decisions in the workplace and society, focusing upon self-interest rather than upon solidarity—these activities produce people on a daily basis; it is the reproduction of the conservatism of everyday life—indeed, the reproduction of elements of capitalism.

The concept of socialism for the twenty-first century as an organic system theoretically posits what the experience of the twentieth century has demonstrated – the need to build all sides of the socialist triangle. One war, three fronts. In the absence of a struggle to subordinate all the elements of the old society, the new society is inevitably infected by the old society. And, the matter is worse if we choose homeopathic medicine to cure the infection. In short, rather than build upon defects (such as the orientation toward material self-interest that Marx warned about in his Critique of the Gotha Programme), the point is to subordinate them.

Just as capitalism, though, required the development of a specifically capitalist mode of production to be an organic system, socialism also cannot subordinate all elements of society to itself until it develops a specifically socialist mode of production. Consider capitalism before it developed to the point where it produced its own premises in their capitalist form—i.e., when it was still in the process of becoming. That process of becoming necessarily involved the contracted reproduction of the existing relations—relations Marx described as ones in which the producer ‘as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself instead of the capitalist.’ The separation of producers from those means of production and the compulsion to sell their labour-power marked the beginning of capitalist relations. Wherever possible, however, workers attempted to extract themselves and to become independent producers rather than to sell their ‘birth-right for a mess of pottage.’ This possibility was always present as wages increased with the accumulation of capital in the absence of the specifically capitalist mode of production. ‘Two diametrically opposed economic systems’ were present—and not only in the colonies where the problem of non-reproduction of wage-labourers was most marked.

The struggle over the subordination of the elements of production, thus, did not end with the original (or primitive) development of capitalist relations of production. Reproduction of those new relations was not secure until the development of the specifically capitalist mode of production that ensures reproduction of the premises of the system. ‘As soon as capitalist production stands on its own feet,’ Marx noted, ‘it not only maintains this separation [between workers and the means of production] but reproduces it on a constantly extending scale.’ Until capital developed upon its own foundations, however, differing relations and differing logics existed simultaneously.

So, what happens when differing relations coexist? Rather than peaceful coexistence, there is contested reproduction—with each system attempting to expand at the expense of the other. Considering the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Preobrazhensky argued that the state economy was in ‘an uninterrupted economic war with the tendencies of capitalist development, with the tendencies of capitalist restoration.’ This, he proposed, was a ‘struggle between two mutually hostile systems,’ a war between two regulating principles—one, the result of the spontaneous effects of commodity—capitalist relations (‘the law of value’); and the other, based upon the conscious decisions of the regulatory organs of the state (which he called ‘the law of primitive socialist accumulation’). And, Preobrazhensky argued that each of these regulating principles was ‘fighting for the type of regulation which is organically characteristic of the particular system of production-relations, taken in its pure form.’ However, the result of their interaction was that the Soviet economy was regulated by neither in its pure form. There was not a simple combination or addition of the productive relations and their associated regulating principles; rather, they interpenetrated—coexisting, limiting and (significantly) deforming each other.

Preobrazhensky’s insight, in short, was that in the process of becoming of a new system, two systems and two logics do not simply exist side-by-side. They interact. They interpenetrate. And, they deform each other. Rather than the combination permitting the best of both worlds, the effect can be the worst of the two worlds. Precisely because there is contested reproduction between differing sets of productive relations, the interaction of the systems can generate crises, inefficiencies and irrationality that wouldn’t be found in either system in its purity. Accordingly, as is well known, Preobrazhensky argued that rather than search for balance between the two, it was essential that what he called primitive socialist accumulation subordinate and replace the law of value.

But consider capitalism in its process of becoming. How, in the absence of the specifically capitalist mode of production, were capitalist relations of production reproduced? After all, the interaction between what Marx had called ‘two diametrically opposed economic systems’ was definitely producing problems that would not occur outside that combination. This was exactly what was occurring when the labour-intensive accumulation of capital produced a tendency for the non-reproduction of wage-labour as the result of rising wages. Marx was quite clear on what capital’s answer was—i.e., how capital ensured the reproduction of capitalist relations of production under these conditions. He detailed the measures undertaken with the emergence of capitalism—‘the bloody discipline,’ the ‘police methods,’ ‘the state compulsion to confine the struggle between capital and labour within limits convenient for capital.’ In direct contrast to the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist relations once the specifically capitalist mode of production has been developed, he argued that ‘the rising bourgeoisie needs the power of the state, and uses it to “regulate” wages.’

In short, until capital produced its own premises with the development of the specifically capitalist mode of production, it needed what I have called a ‘capitalist mode of regulation’—a mode of regulation which could ensure the compatibility of the behaviour of workers with the requirements of capital. In the absence of what Marx called ‘the sheer force of economic relations,’ that specific mode of regulation relied upon the coercive power of the state to prevent wages from rising and to compel workers (through ‘grotesquely terroristic laws’) ‘into accepting the discipline necessary for the system of wage-labour.’

The necessity of a socialist mode of regulation

Can the associated producers, in their turn, use such a state to support socialist productive relations before the development of socialism as an organic system? Consider the situation described in the Communist Manifesto where the ‘battle of democracy’ has been won (through a revolutionary rupture or a longer process) with the result that a government representing workers exists. At every step in the process of the becoming of socialism, the elements of capitalism and socialism (‘two diametrically opposed economic systems’) will interact and produce systemic incoherence and crisis. For example, when capitalist elements dominate, attempts to subordinate or make ‘despotic inroads’ upon them will tend to generate a capital strike and an economic crisis. If a government is prepared to break with the logic of capital, it will understand (as the Manifesto indicates) that it is ‘compelled to go always further’ and to make ‘further inroads upon the old social order’ and thus to ‘wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State.’ In contrast, the sorry history of social democracy has been that, sooner or later, it yields to the logic of capital and reinforces its rule.

A socialist mode of regulation must achieve consciously what a specifically socialist mode of production will tend to do spontaneously—ensure the reproduction of socialist relations of production. The building and reproduction of those relations (represented by the sides of the socialist triangle) ‘consists precisely in subordinating all elements of society to itself, or in creating out of it the organs which it still lacks.’ Thus, the socialist mode of regulation must subordinate consciously every element which supports the old society—both the institutions and the common sense that supports those old relations. Further, it must create new socialist elements which can become the premises and foundation for the new society.

The socialist mode of regulation, accordingly, must embrace the Battle of Ideas—the ideological struggle oriented toward human development. It must stress how the logic of capital is contrary to the development of our potential, and it must use every example of capital’s response to measures supportive of human development as yet another demonstration of the perversion of capitalism. Further, the acceptance of the logic of capital as ‘self-evident natural laws’ must be challenged by development of a coherent alternative which stresses the importance of democratic, participatory and protagonistic practice in workplaces and communities and emphasizes a new social rationality based upon cooperation and solidarity. Of course, an ideological struggle cannot succeed by itself. Without the creation of institutions like workers councils and neighbourhood councils, which provide the necessary space for human development through practice, the battle of ideas lacks a real basis for the development (‘both individual and collective’) of new socialist subjects. Indeed, this mode of regulation requires a state that supports this struggle ideologically, economically and militarily and thus serves as the midwife for the birth of the new society.

But, what do we mean by the state? Do we mean the old state or the emerging new state based upon workers councils and neighbourhood councils as its cells? How could the old infected state whose very institutions involve a ‘systematic and hierarchic division of labour’—a state which has the character of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism—possibly be part of the socialist mode of regulation?

Marx and Engels grasped that the working class ‘cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and use it for its own purpose.’ At last, Marx proclaimed, following what he saw as the spontaneous discovery by workers in the Paris Commune of an alternative form of state—a new democratic and decentralized state where the legitimate functions of the state were to be ‘wrested from an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself, and restored to the responsible agents of society.’ At last, the necessary form of the workers’ state has been discovered: the Commune (which combined legislative and executive functions) was ‘the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of Labour.’ Here was the state which would ‘serve as a lever for uprooting the economical foundations upon which rests the existence of classes, and therefore of class-rule.’

The commune form represented the destruction of centralized state power insofar as that state stands above society. Marx called it ‘the reabsorption of the state power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it, by the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organised force of their suppression—the political form of their social emancipation.’ With the conversion of the state ‘from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it,’ self-governing producers thus wield the state for their own purposes, continuously changing both circumstances and themselves.

This new type of state, based upon direct protagonistic democracy in workplace and community, is indeed essential for the development of socialism as an organic system. Not only does it permit the unleashing of tacit knowledge and popular energy to link the capacities of people to communal needs and purposes but it has as its joint product new social subjects with new capacities, pride and dignity. With the transparency that is necessary for any control from below, those councils in workplaces and communities can police waste, sabotage and other attempts to reverse the process effectively; and, this too, reinforces the sense that the process belongs to the people and is not alien to and above them.

Yet, that new state does not drop from the sky. For one, given the effects of the ‘education, tradition and habit’ of those formed within the old society, we should not be surprised at the power of the old ideas to undermine efforts to build the new state from below. Although people transform themselves through their practice in workers and communal councils, they do so in small units and the spontaneous focus of these cells of the new state inevitably will be one of localism and self-interest (both individual and collective). The development of solidarity and a concept of community that goes beyond the local to other communities and workplaces (and beyond the self-interest that is manifested as consumerism) will tend to emerge only through practice.

These cells, of course, need to be connected if they are to emerge as the new state. They need to develop horizontal and vertical links with other workplaces and communities (as well as with bodies which consolidate these). But the creation of such links through the delegation of spokespersons on their behalf is not the same as the development of solidarity that transcends local self-interest. It takes time before the concept of the whole develops organically in these units and is internalized. In short, although the course of development of socialism as an organic system requires the creation of links based upon solidarity from below and the acceptance of collective democracy that transcends the particular, that process cannot be instantaneous. Accordingly, the new state is not capable initially of making essential decisions that require concentration and coordination of forces.

In contrast, the old state is more likely to be able to see the overall picture at the outset. With the presence of revolutionary actors in the government of the old state, it is possible to confront not only individual capitals but the power of capital as a whole. This is essential because the process of subordinating capital requires the working class to take the power of the existing state away from capital (and thereby to remove its access to the military forces of the state). This is the strength of the old state; it is well situated to identify critical bottlenecks and places for initiatives that require a concentration of forces (including actions to defend the process militarily against internal and external enemies determined to reverse every inroad). Can we imagine building a new society without taking the existing power away from those who possess it in the old society? In contrast to modern fantasists, Marx understood that ‘the transfer of the organized forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves’ is necessary; he understood that you cannot change the world without taking power.

However, as might be expected from this ‘engine of despotism,’ with its ‘systematic and hierarchic division of labour’ and ‘ready-made state machinery,’ the old state has the tendency to act from above to change circumstances for people rather than to foster revolutionary practice. That state remains above society; it divides society into two parts, one part of which is superior to society and which would bestow socialism as a gift to an underlying population. How could the old hierarchical state—even if made more democratic—foster the key link of human development and practice? Inherent in the logic of representative democracy is the separation of governing from the governed. Thus, rather than the necessary involvement of people which ‘ensures their complete development, both individual and collective,’ the spontaneous tendency of such a state is to reproduce ‘the delusion as if administration and political governing were mysteries, transcendent functions only to be trusted to the hands of a trained caste.’ The faces may change in the legislative branch, but the face of the old state to those below is that of the functionary, ‘an authority usurping pre-eminence over society itself.’ That is precisely why the Commune’s combination of legislative and executive bodies is so central to the development of a state which is society’s ‘own living forces instead of… forces controlling and subduing it.’

During the interregnum when the old state cannot yet die and the new state is not yet able to stand upon its own feet, a great many morbid symptoms appear. Both states are necessary at the outset for the subordination of the old society and the nurturing of the new. However, the inherent tension between the top-down orientation from within the old state and the bottom-up emphasis of the worker and community councils is obvious. In their interaction over a period of indeterminate length, each state will tend to deform the other.

Thus, the desire on the part of revolutionaries in the old state to enact national policies according to a predetermined timetable, for example, tends toward the creation of uniform rules which ignore differences in the history and practices of the cells of the emerging state from below. Both in those cases where organic development is lagging and those where it is more advanced, the effect of demands placed by the old state upon the new shoots will tend to deform their development, as the impatience of functionaries of the old state will either turn the cells of the new into instruments of the old state, or impose a uniformity that tends to reverse unique advances and thereby to discourage initiative and enthusiasm.

Nor, viewed from the other angle, can the old state easily achieve goals of coherent planning, balance and equality when worker and communal councils assert their right to self-determination. As long as these local units insist upon their unique character and the right to pursue their own collective self-interest without interference, the tendency will be to foster relations of exchange (the quid pro quo), inequality and a lack of solidarity. Here, again, the combination of the two states produces incoherence rather than the best of both worlds.

In the context of growing tension and crises produced by the interaction of two diametrically opposed systems, there will be those in the old state who see the solution as the enforcement of power from above. Similarly, there will be those in the new cells who will see the solution as the removal of any authority above the individual unit in order to permit the unfettered pursuit of their particular collective interest. Both those tendencies must be struggled against because each leads to a different deformation of the socialist triangle of social production organized by workers, using socially owned means of production for the purpose of satisfying social needs.

The socialist mode of regulation requires a combination of revolutionary actors within both the old state and the new. Within the old state, it is essential that the policies pursued focus upon both the changing of circumstances and the changing of human beings; this calls for the rejection of capitalist measures of accounting and efficiency and their replacement by a concept of socialist accounting which explicitly recognizes the joint product which emerges from the key link of human development and practice. Within the cells of the new socialist state, on the other hand, the struggle must be against the defects associated with the self-orientation inherited from the old society. In both workplaces and communities, it is essential to find ways to build solidarity with other communities and society as a whole and to develop the understanding that the free development of each has as its condition the free development of all.

In short, the socialist mode of regulation involves a combination of the nurturing of the new state and the withering away of the old. In this process, there is a natural alliance within both the old and the new, not with the goal of achieving a balance between the two states, but unified in the commitment toward building a new socialism oriented explicitly toward human development and defined by the socialist triangle.

The state and the struggle for socialism

This combination of old and new states, however, is not only essential for ensuring the reproduction of socialist relations. A struggle against one-sidedness must be at the core of a strategy to end capitalism and to build socialism. Some people, however, focus only upon the new state (or, if you will, the ‘Unstate’) and reject the idea of using the old state. ‘The very notion that society can be changed through the winning of state power,’ Holloway argues, is the source of all our sense of betrayal; we need to understand, he announces, that ‘to struggle through the state is to become involved in the active process of defeating yourself.’ Why? Because ‘once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost.’ And, why even try? After all, the existing state cannot ‘be made to function in the interests of the working class’ because as a capitalist state ‘its own continued existence is tied to the reproduction of capitalist social relations as a whole.’ The state is ‘just one node in a web of social relations’ and, indeed, is ‘not the locus of power that it appears to be.’

From this perspective, the need to use the state (the armed ‘node’) to rip apart that web of social relations is just so old fashioned—so nineteenth and twentieth century. Forget the military, police, judicial and legislative apparatus now at the disposal of capital. The alternative to capital’s power is already there: ‘ubiquitous power implies ubiquitous resistance. Ubiquitous yes implies ubiquitous no.’ With the Hegelian magic by which things can be miraculously transformed into their opposites (as long as we don’t watch too closely), we come to understand that electoral abstention is victory, lack of leadership is leadership, and the ‘Many’ (the multiplicity of negative struggles against capitalism) is by definition ‘One.’ Negating the existing state through the mind means that it continues in the hands of capital in reality.

The other form of one-sidedness focuses exclusively upon the capture of the old state. Whether choosing the electoral road or invoking glorious victories of the past to support a direct assault upon state power, from this perspective the process of building the institutions and practices characteristic of the new state must be subordinated to the principal task. Social movements essential for the organic development of a new socialist consciousness based upon practice are viewed instrumentally—as fodder for election committees or as the source of cadres for the party. Subordinate, subordinate—that is holy Moses and the prophets! Thus, whether due to the imperatives of electoral rhythm or to the perceived need to rehearse military discipline, the tendency of parties fixated upon the old state is to draw the lifeblood from the incipient elements of the new state and to suppress within their own ranks those who would argue otherwise.

According to Marta Harnecker, this lack of respect for the autonomous development of popular movements was characteristic of elements of the political left in Latin America and brought with it a ‘verticalism, which cancels out people’s initiative’ and a ‘traditional narrow conception of politics’ which ‘tends to reduce politics to the struggle that has to do with political-legal institutions and to exaggerate the role of the state.’ And, the tendency for ‘hierarchization’ is the kernel of truth, too, in Holloway’s argument that the party, ‘whether vanguardist or parliamentary,’ subordinates ‘the myriad forms of class struggle to the overriding aim of gaining control of the state.’

However, rather than inherent in a party as such, this ‘hegemonist’ characteristic is precisely the result of a one-sidedness focused upon the old state. A different left is possible. As Harnecker argues, to build the left essential for socialism for the twenty-first century, we have to change the traditional vision of politics and overcome the narrow definition of power. The new political instrument must grasp the importance of practice for developing consciousness and capacities, needs to learn to listen to popular movements and to respect and nourish them. But it also has a special role—it should not ‘try to gather to its bosom all the legitimate representatives of struggles for emancipation but should strive to coordinate their practices into a single political project’—i.e., to create the spaces where they can learn from each other.

There is an organic link between state and party, and a party which recognizes the necessity for the articulation of old and new state in the process of building socialism differs substantially from one which focuses solely upon the capture of the old state. It is necessarily ‘a political organization which, as it advances a national programme which enables broad sectors of society to rally round the same battle standard, also helps these sectors to transform themselves into the active subjects building the new society for which the battle is being waged.’ In short, the party that is needed is one that learns to walk on two legs.

Two sides, two struggles: a party determined to defeat capital and to build the new state from below must always be consciousness of the danger of one-sidedness. Thus, if crises within capitalism propel a political organization into government, it must not only use that opportunity to defeat the logic of capital and to reduce capital’s power over the old state but also to use the power it has to foster the accelerated development of the sprouts of the new state. And, if conditions are not such as to permit a party to grasp the reins of power in the old state, then it must work to create those conditions by encouraging the autonomous development of social movements through which people can develop their powers and capacities and by building unity among them based upon recognition of difference.

Thus, just as a socialist mode of regulation requires the articulation of old and new state in the process of building socialism as an organic system, so also must we walk on two legs in order to defeat capital and to build collective power. And, at no time is it more possible to demonstrate clearly the gap between the logic of capital and the logic of human development than in the intensified class war when capital is in crisis and the nature of capital comes to the surface. It provides the opportunity to shatter the idea that accepting the demands of capital is common sense. But to show there is an alternative we need the vision of a society in which the free development of each is understood as the condition for the free development of all. And we need to reinforce that vision with more than rhetoric. Unless we are creating through our struggles the spaces which prefigure the new society, we face more glorious defeats.

When capital is in crisis, there are always two options—to give in or to move in. If masses are armed with a clear conception of the socialist alternative, they can turn a crisis in capitalism into the crisis of capitalism. Of course, it is possible that, as the result of our ideological disarmament, the current struggles against the capitalist offensive ultimately may lead to a glorious defeat. It is possible but we must take that chance.

Michael A. Lebowitz (1937-2023) taught Marxian Economics and Comparative Economic Systems at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia since 1965. He was directing the programme in Transformative Practice and Human Development at Centro Internacional Miranda (CIM). His latest book is Between Capitalism and Community (New York: Monthly Review Press 2021). His publications can be found at

‘Whole Process People’s Democracy’ in China: What does it mean? / by David Cavendish

Ethnic minority delegates leave after the closing ceremony for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 13, 2023. | Andy Wong / AP

Originally published in the People’s World on May 9, 2023

The expulsion of two African American representatives from the Tennessee state legislature recently is only the latest in what seems to be a never-ending series of attacks on democracy in the United States. Add to it the endless voter suppression tactics like racist purges of voter rolls, bans on mail-in ballots, restrictive voter ID hurdles, reduced poll hours, and more.

And of course, one need look no further than to the machinations of former President Donald Trump in the wake of his defeat at the ballot box in 2020 to see these attacks underway at the highest level.

Though the United States was founded on democratic principles (“All men are created equal…”), they applied to only a small segment of the population—white men who owned property.

As a result, the last two-and-a-half centuries have been marked by a continuous struggle by the working class, African Americans and other people of color, women, Native Americans, and immigrants, among others, to make those principles a living reality for all people.

The simple fact is that those who exercise power, that is the moneyed class, don’t want to give up what they see as a good thing. Hence, the class struggle.

For over a hundred years, the United States government has set itself up as the arbiter around the world of what is to be considered “democracy.” From Woodrow Wilson’s “Make the world safe for democracy” during World War (1917-18) to Joe Biden’s two “Summits for Democracy” (2021 and 2023), there has been a consistency of message: The United States knows best.

The problem is that what the U.S. government projects as “democracy” is a version coming out of centuries of Western political thought, which it tries to apply to all peoples, in all places, at all times.

Democracy is a common aspiration of all peoples, but not all democracies are identical, even among the capitalist democracies of the West. The United States’ system (the presidential model) is markedly different in many ways from what exists in Britain (the parliamentary or Westminster model). And democracy today is vastly different from that which existed in the “Birthplace of Democracy”—Athens—in the sixth and fifth centuries, BCE.

More importantly, democracy differs markedly in other economic systems. Working class democracy, based on a socialist mode of production, draws on the basic ideas of political democracy, but expands and deepens it to the economy. For example, the idea of Bill of Rights Socialism, proposed by the Communist Party USA, applies this concept to the United States.

Unfortunately, there is little chance for Bill of Rights Socialism being adopted in the near future.

There is today, however, a working-class system of democracy in practice that is growing stronger every day—in China. Called “Whole Process People’s Democracy,” its basic ideas are virtually unknown in the United States. It is vital at this critical juncture in world history that people should learn about it because we can never live and work in peace with China if we do not know the basic facts about how that country functions.

It goes without saying that most Americans would call China an “authoritarian” government controlled and run by the Communist Party of China (CPC). While no one disputes the central role of the CPC in Chinese life, few people know that there are eight other political parties that have roles to play in the government and daily life. Under the Chinese constitution, these nine parties work within a system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party.

The core principles of Whole Process People’s Democracy were expressed in a 2021 newspaper article by Guo Wei, the Chinese ambassador to Seychelles. She explained:

“The most basic criterion for democracy is whether people have the right to participate extensively in national governance, whether people’s demands can be responded to and satisfied. In China, the people participate in the management of state affairs, social affairs, and economic and cultural affairs; they provide opinions and suggestions for the design of national development plans at the highest level and also contribute to the governance of local public affairs; they take part in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight….”

China, much like the United States, is organized on a federal system. There are three basic levels of government: national, provincial (equivalent to U.S. states), and local—cities, counties, towns, and villages. Each level is governed by a congress elected directly by the people. At the national level is the National People’s Congress (NPC), which meets for two weeks every year.

But Whole Process People’s Democracy is more than that. At the local level it is called Community-Level Self-Governance. There is a network of local committees, be they urban resident committees, villager committees, or trade union committees. Today in China there are 112,000 urban committees, 503,000 villager committees, and 2,809,000 trade union committees. All committees are elected by secret ballot with open vote counting (with results announced on the spot).

The villager committees must have between three and seven members, include at least one female, and a member from an ethnic minority (if there are such in the village). The urban residents committees are similar, though they can have as many as nine members. All members serve terms of five years.

All committees are empowered to “carry out democratic consultations on local affairs in various forms, and practice democratic decision-making in handling community issues and public services through committee meetings and congresses.”

The third type of committee is the trade union committee. Found in private enterprises and public institutions, its main roles are to “advocate on behalf of employees on equal footing with employers.” The trade unions have the right to negotiate with their employers [to] seek “corrections” from the employers if they violate employee rights,” such as “deducting or delaying payment of employees’ wages, [or] failure to provide safe and healthy working conditions, extending working hours arbitrarily, infringing on the special rights and interests of female and juvenile employees, [and] other serious violations of employee labor rights and interests.”

These committees are funded through membership dues as well as via “employer contributions (employers must pay a monthly fee equal to 2% of the aggregate monthly wages of all the unionized employees.)” The whole discussion on the role of China’s trade unions, organized in the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is something for another day.

This description of aspects of China’s “Whole Process People’s Democracy” provides only the briefest and most general overview of a vast and complex subject. Yet, China’s ideas on democracy should stimulate a discussion that we in the United States need to have.

In the struggle for American democracy, the working people need a clear vision of what type of future they want, one based not on money but human needs. The People’s Republic of China provides a treasure trove of ideas to study.

David Cavendish is a retired teacher, active in the union movement, the peace movement (many years in an anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War vigil), and other progressive political activities. He is a longtime contributor to People’s World. David Cavendish es un maestro jubilado, activo en el movimiento sindical, el movimiento por la paz y otras actividades políticas progresistas. Colabora desde hace mucho tiempo en People’s World.

Socialism is increasingly popular in the US. So the House of Representatives denounces it / by People’s Dispatch

Photo credit: Party for Socialism and Liberation

Conservatives in the House of Representatives passed a resolution “denouncing the horrors of socialism” and opposing the implementation of socialist policies

On Thursday, February 2, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing “the horrors of socialism.” All 219 members of the Republican party voted in favor. Most Democrats did as well, with 109 voting with the Republicans, 86 voting against, and 14 voting “present,” which is effectively an abstention.

At a time when socialism is becoming increasingly popular in the US despite decades of red-baiting and persecution of the left, the House denounced “socialism in all its forms” and further opposed “the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.”

The resolution repeated widely-debunked allegations of mass murder in socialist countries and accused the revolutionary processes in Cuba and Venezuela of causing great economic harm to the people while remaining silent on the impact of US sanctions which have been the primary reason for the hardships faced by people in these countries.

“The United States of America was founded on the belief in the sanctity of the individual, to which the collectivistic system of socialism in all of its forms is fundamentally and necessarily opposed,” reads the text.

The resolution was sponsored by Cuban-American representative ​​Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami-Dade County. The resolution is now on its way to the Senate.

This resolution also comes at a time when socialism as an ideology has been gaining popularity in the past few years, while support for the capitalist system is decreasing in popularity. Even among Republicans and Republican-learners aged 18-34, an Axios poll showed that from 2019 to 2021, capitalism has dropped in popularity from 81% to 66%. The percentage of US adults overall with favorable views of socialism increased from 39% to 41% in that same time period

Photo Credit: CPUSA

Among the 86 Democrats who voted against the resolution are progressives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Cori Bush, who were all endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, a large socialist organization in the US. Ilhan Omar, Democratic Representative from Minnesota, also voted against the resolution. Omar was recently voted out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by the Republican House majority, due to her previous anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist statements.

This resolution comes at a time of crisis for the working class. 34 million people, including nine million children, are food insecure in the United States. According to the Poor People’s Campaign, almost half of people in the US are poor or have low incomes. After a devastating global pandemic, which led to over one million deaths in the US and generated a national recession, the people of the United States were hit by a record-breaking wave of inflation in 2022. In response to this, the Federal Reserve is pushing to slow wage growth, claiming that this will help alleviate the inflation crisis. This is while rents across the country are skyrocketing, and over 40% of tenants are spending more than 30% of their income on rent.

“I think it’s very telling of how threatened establishment politicians are somehow losing their footing, losing their power, really, where they’re positioning themselves to utterly defend a capitalist system that we see has only caused problems,” Karla Reyes, union leader and socialist organizer in New York City, told Peoples Dispatch. “[This is] In contrast to what they could be focusing on, which is the crises that are afflicting the working class in the United States, which include homelessness, and killer cops who are still murdering Black people with complete impunity.”

“[The House is] trying to perpetuate an ideology that, frankly, is getting old,” said Reyes. “Capitalism has looted countries, has poisoned the world, and has created unsustainable lifestyles that push us toward individualism and toward consumerism…socialism is the complete opposite.”

People’s Dipatch, February 4, 2023,

Socialism is not a Utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity / by Vijay Prashad

Philip Guston (Canada), Gladiators, 1940.

Originally published: Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research on January 5, 2023

Dear friends,

New Year greetings from the desk of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Marcelo Pogolotti (Cuba), Siglo XX o Regalo a la querida (‘20th century or Gift for the loved one’), 1933.

In May 2021, the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, wrote an article urging governments to cut excessive military spending in favour of increasing spending on social and economic development. Their wise words were not heard at all. To cut money for war and to increase money for social development, they wrote, is ‘not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity’. That phrase—not a utopian ideal, but an achievable necessity—is essential. It describes the project of socialism almost perfectly.

Our institute has been at work for over five years, driven precisely by this idea that it is possible to transform the world to meet the needs of humanity while living within nature’s limits. We have accompanied social and political movements, listened to their theories, observed their work, and built our own understanding of the world based on these attempts to change it. This process has been illuminating. It has taught us that it is not enough to try and build a theory from older theories, but that it is necessary to engage with the world, to acknowledge that those who are trying to change the world are able to develop the shards of an assessment of the world, and that our task—as researchers of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research—is to build those shards into a worldview. The worldview that we are developing does not merely understand the world as it is; it also takes hold of the dynamic that seeks to produce the world as it should be.

Our institute is committed to tracing the dynamics of social transcendence, and how we can get out of a world system that is driving us to annihilation and extinction. There are sufficient answers that exist in the world now, already present with us even when social transformation seems impossible. The total social wealth on the planet is extraordinary, although—due to the long history of colonialism and violence—this wealth is simply not used to generate solutions for common problems, but to aggrandise the fortunes of the few. There is enough food to feed every person on the planet, for instance, and yet billions of people remain hungry. There is no need to be naïve about this reality, nor is there a need to feel futile.

Renato Guttuso (Italy), May 1968, 1968.

In one of our earliest newsletters, which brought our first year of work (2018) to a close, we wrote that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism, to imagine the polar ice cap flooding us into extinction than to imagine a world where our productive capacity enriches all of us’. This remains true. And yet, despite this, there is ‘a possible future that is built to meet people’s aspirations… It is cruel to think of these hopes as naïve’.

The problems we face are not for lack of resources or lack of technological and scientific knowhow. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we believe that it is because of the social system of capitalism that we are unable to transcend our common problems. This system constrains the forward movement that requires the democratisation of nations and the democratisation of social wealth. There are hundreds of millions of people organised into political and social formations that are pushing against the gated communities in our world, fighting to break down the barriers and build the utopias that we require to survive. But, rather than recognise that these formations seek to realise genuine democracy, they are criminalised, their leaders arrested and assassinated, and their own precious social confidence vanquished. Much the same repressive behaviour is meted out to national projects that are rooted in such political and social movements, projects that are committed to using social wealth for the greatest good. Coups, assassinations, and sanctions regimes are routine, their frequency illustrated by an unending sequence of events, from the coup in Peru in December 2022 to the ongoing blockade of Cuba, and by the denial that such violence is used to block social progress.

Our institute is committed to tracing the dynamics of social transcendence, and how we can get out of a world system that is driving us to annihilation and extinction. There are sufficient answers that exist in the world now, already present with us even when social transformation seems impossible. The total social wealth on the planet is extraordinary, although—due to the long history of colonialism and violence—this wealth is simply not used to generate solutions for common problems, but to aggrandise the fortunes of the few. There is enough food to feed every person on the planet, for instance, and yet billions of people remain hungry. There is no need to be naïve about this reality, nor is there a need to feel futile.

Milan Chovanec (Czechoslovakia), Peace, 1978.

In one of our earliest newsletters, which brought our first year of work (2018) to a close, we wrote that ‘it is easier to imagine the end of the earth than to imagine the end of capitalism, to imagine the polar ice cap flooding us into extinction than to imagine a world where our productive capacity enriches all of us’. This remains true. And yet, despite this, there is ‘a possible future that is built to meet people’s aspirations… It is cruel to think of these hopes as naïve’.

The problems we face are not for lack of resources or lack of technological and scientific knowhow. At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we believe that it is because of the social system of capitalism that we are unable to transcend our common problems. This system constrains the forward movement that requires the democratisation of nations and the democratisation of social wealth. There are hundreds of millions of people organised into political and social formations that are pushing against the gated communities in our world, fighting to break down the barriers and build the utopias that we require to survive. But, rather than recognise that these formations seek to realise genuine democracy, they are criminalised, their leaders arrested and assassinated, and their own precious social confidence vanquished. Much the same repressive behaviour is meted out to national projects that are rooted in such political and social movements, projects that are committed to using social wealth for the greatest good. Coups, assassinations, and sanctions regimes are routine, their frequency illustrated by an unending sequence of events, from the coup in Peru in December 2022 to the ongoing blockade of Cuba, and by the denial that such violence is used to block social progress.

As we begin the new year, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who works at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, a team that is spread across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Shanghai, from Trivandrum to Rabat. If you would like to assist our work, please remember that we welcome donations.

We urge you to share our materials as widely as possible, to study them in your movements, and to invite members of our team to speak about our work.



Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He has written more than twenty books, including The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (The New Press, 2007), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013), The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016) and Red Star Over the Third World (LeftWord, 2017). He writes regularly for Frontline, the Hindu, Newsclick, AlterNet and BirGün.

The Cuban Revolution: Made by teachers and students / by W.T. Whitney Jr.

Teacher Graciela Lage gives an English lesson at the Cuban School of Foreign Languages in Havana. | Desmond Boylan / AP

Cuban education has long been ground zero for ending inequalities.

Schools on the island are places where doors opened up for all Cuban young people to learn and for students, even of oppressed classes, to prepare for one or another kind of work that would contribute to Cuba’s development as an independent nation.

Cuban literacy teachers, 123 of them, arrived in Honduras on Dec. 20. With Honduran colleagues, they will be utilizing Cuba’s special method, “Yo sí puedo” (Yes I can), to teach literacy. It’s a technique that has found worldwide application.

Dec. 22 in Cuba is Teacher’s Day. On that date in 1961—Cuba’s “Year of Education”—Fidel Castro, speaking before a large crowd in Havana, announced the end of Cuba’s literacy campaign of that year. He declared Cuba to be a “territory free of illiteracy.”

On hand were 100,000 young people who had volunteered to teach the rudiments of reading and writing to illiterate adults living in rural areas. These young people, mostly from Cuba’s cities, lived with families they were teaching and did farm work.

Joining them in the island-wide literacy campaign were tens of thousands of volunteer teachers, unionists, and other working people. In the end, 271,000 literacy volunteers enabled 707,000 Cubans (out of a population of 7,291,200) to learn how to read.

The figure of José Martí, Cuba’s national hero, epitomizes for Cubans the affinity of education and revolution. Introducing Martí’s book On Education (Monthly Review Press, 1978), editor Philip Foner observes that, “Basic to the foundation of liberty, in the eyes of José Martí, was the education of the people. Nothing guaranteed that a government was anxious to serve its citizens as much as the haste it displayed in educating its people.”

Fidel Castro waves at literacy teachers and students in Havana after declaring Cuba free of illiteracy, Dec. 22, 1961. | Cuba Debate

In comments in September 1961 about the literacy campaign, Castro updated Martí’s idea: “One does not conceive of a revolution without also a great revolution in the educational arena … revolution and education are almost two synonymous ideas … [The] Revolution will advance and be successful the more it works in the field of education, the more competent technicians there are, the more competent administrators, teachers, revolutionary cadre it has.”

Foner notes that in 1959, 23% of Cubans were illiterate, the “average school education was below third grade,” and “only a few thousand” children were attending secondary schools. By December 1961, according to Castro, the revolutionary government had created 15,000 schools while converting military installations into schools and building schools for handicapped children.

By 1973, literacy was all but universal. Some 1,898,000 children were attending primary school, and 470,000 were enrolled in secondary schools, according to Foner. By that time, a “second educational revolution” was in progress with the training of 20,000 additional teachers to handle waves of students now attending secondary and pre-university schools.

A third educational “revolution” was underway from 2000 on. Associated with what the Cuban state referred to as the “Battle of Ideas,” it called for teaching that emphasized social justice and equality and was accompanied by moral and social support for students. Education in the arts expanded, and there were new social-work schools. Visual, audio, and computer-based methods were newly available to teachers.

University enrollment increased as authorities extended instruction to students’ own localities while relying on computer-based and televised teaching aids. By 2015, 80% of university students were studying close to home.

Some problems emerged, however. Teaching programs in science and technology lost students to courses in the humanities and social sciences. University teaching was contributing less than before to the country’s economic development. Fewer students were preparing to be teachers, and 20,000 teachers had left their posts for the sake of better-paying jobs.

Reversing course, the government cut back on university teaching at the local level, made entrance exams more competitive, re-emphasized scientific and technical training, and shortened the university course of study. As of 2019, 241,000 students, or one in three Cubans between 18 and 24 years of age, were studying in 50 university centers. Almost 50% of them were taking medical-sciences courses; 8,542 were art students.

All along, the U.S. economic blockade was causing shortages and adding difficulties. A report presented by Cuba’s Education Ministry in early 2022 explains:

  • Under blockade rules, Cuba lacks access to the credit needed for buying goods abroad.
  • Importing is difficult due in part to price hikes resulting from high freight costs for importing goods from places other than the United States.
  • The inflated costs of goods purchased abroad from third-party intermediaries discourage imports.
  • Under blockade regulations, specific items manufactured anywhere with even tiny U.S. components are prohibited.

The list of necessary and often missing items is long: paper, books, notebooks, computers, audio-visual devices, laboratory supplies, laboratory equipment, writing materials, art supplies, sports equipment, special devices used by handicapped students, musical instruments, recording devices, English language texts and books, broadband internet connections, and replacement parts for equipment.

Nevertheless, as the result of sustained efforts over decades, students have been prepared to take on varied tasks aimed at developing Cuba’s economy and building socialism.

  • Between 1960 and 2017, Cuban universities graduated 1.2 million “professionals,” including 80,000 physicians. Women accounted for 64% of university graduates in 2010, up from 3% in 1959. University graduates in 2019 made up 2.2% of Cuban workers.
  • Spending on education in Cuba in 2012 represented 9% of the GDP. The comparable figure in the United States currently is 4.96% of GDP. Cuba in 2018 dedicated 13% of its national budget to education.

In Cuba in 1995, a Cuban woman hitched a ride on a small bus carrying Maine visitors, myself included, from Havana to Trinidad. “We Cubans want producers, not consumers,” we heard her say. Fidel Castro spoke similarly on that first Teachers Day in 1961.

He dismissed fellow University of Havana law students as “all those people with nothing to do but to study to be a lawyer.” At that time, “the ruling class was not teaching the children of workers.” That “half the population, the rural population, had no secondary school” he regarded as a “serious problem for any revolution in an underdeveloped country like ours. What few technical workers there are come from upper-income sectors … from the economically and politically dominant class, which, logically, is opposed to revolutionary change.”

Leftists in the United States and elsewhere often regard reform and revolution as separate projects. Cuba’s experience of preparing young citizens to work at what would become socialism may be relevant.

Small though they may be, certain reforms happening now within U.S. schools, rife with inequalities, could end up serving the revolution on the way, and in that way be revolutionary. Such reforms: the fostering of equality among students, the inculcation of real knowledge about societal problems, and students’ work projects that are oriented to the common good.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

People’s World, January 4, 2023,

Some socialist wishes for the new year / by Zoltan Zigedy

After the Democratic Party brought in legislation to block a national rail strike this month, 2023 may be the year the US left moves beyond the two-party system

From social democratic dreams of coexistence with capitalism, to misunderstandings over the nature of imperialism, ZOLTAN ZIGEDY hopes the left’s confusion can be eased in 2023.

AT this time of year, many people are coming up with their wish lists or sets of resolutions for the year ahead. My wish list follows.

First, I wish that the idea of socialism would again become popular, but I would rejoice if it would at least be discussed seriously in the US.

Now I don’t mean the weak-tea version of socialism associated with the Democratic Socialists of America or with Senator Bernie Sanders.

That kind of socialism is really a cold war relic — a brew of schoolhouse participatory democracy and a minimalist welfare state stirred into a consenting capitalism.

But capitalism doesn’t mix well with social democracy, except when capitalism anticipates an existential threat from real socialism, like the popularity of communism.

The political marginalisation of European social democracy after a diminished communist spectre following the Soviet collapse of 1991 proves that point.

Real socialism — to be crystal clear — cannot amicably coexist with capitalism. There can be no lasting peace treaty between capitalism and socialism, despite the best efforts of many socialists and communists (there have been few if any of the rich and powerful who sincerely advocated coexistence with socialism in the centuries since socialism was first envisioned).

For real socialism to take root, the power of the state must be wrested from the capitalists. History shows no sustainable road to socialism through power-sharing with the capitalist class.

That is not to say that there cannot be a transitional period in which capitalists and socialists struggle for dominance over the state, but that period will not be stable.

That is not to discount the importance of parliamentary struggle in fighting to establish a socialist-oriented state. That is not to preclude a socialist programme that engages with national specifics, class alliances and shifting tactics.

But socialism must be the professed and uncompromising goal of those who claim to be socialists and winning state power must be accepted as a necessary step to achieving any real socialism, where socialism is both the absence of labour exploitation and the ending of the dominance of the capitalist class. Any “socialism” that doesn’t respect these truths is engaged in self-deception.

But what, you may ask, is People’s China? Clearly there is labour exploitation in the People’s Republic of China, where powerful private capitalist companies exist alongside state enterprises.

And it is just as clear that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains a tight grip on state power. For over 40 years, the balance of forces between these two realities has shifted frequently, with the CCP leadership, nonetheless, claiming firm control and a commitment to socialism.

Whether genuine Marxists in the CCP can ride this tiger is yet to be decided. Partisans of socialism must follow this development with a critical eye, but an open mind.

Advocates for socialism — real socialism — are not so naive as to believe that socialism is around the corner or that socialism is likely to solve the immediate problems of the working class.

It is useful, however, to be reminded that when Lenin left Zurich to return to Russia just months before the 1917 revolution, he spoke to young revolutionaries, explaining that he likely would not see socialism, but they surely would. He was spectacularly wrong.

But even a heavy dose of pessimistic realism does not explain the absence of the word “socialism” in the political narratives of progressives, the self-styled left, and even self-proclaimed Marxists living in the US and Europe.

Moreover, in conversation, eyes roll or go glassy when the idea surfaces. Everyone is an anti-capitalist; everyone is against some form of hyphenated capitalism — disaster-capitalism, neoliberal-capitalism, financial-capitalism, etc etc. But no-one is for socialism!

You can see this dismissal in the current debates over inflation raging through the left. All disputants recount the effects of inflation on poor and working people.

All recognise the negative consequences of official policy — raising interest rates — on all. All fumble for alternative solutions, most of which have a past history of failure.

None will pronounce this as a contradiction — an intrinsic failure — of the capitalist system. All are too busy trying to repair capitalism to even hint that there might be a better alternative. Will there ever be a better time than today to inject socialism into the conversation?

We suffer from the leftover fears of communism and socialism in the wake of the cold war. We are suffocated by the limited options allowed by our corrupted two-party system. And we are overwhelmed with cynicism and a poverty of vision.

Surely a frank, honest discussion of socialism is in order.

My second wish would be for left clarity and unity on the war in Ukraine. To a great extent, the left’s poor understanding of the relationship between capitalism, imperialism and war has spawned wide divisions in an already fractious left.

On one hand, liberals and social democrats discount the history of conflict in Ukraine and mechanically apply a simplistic concept of national self-determination to what is, in fact, a civil war.

They see Russian intervention as simply a violation of Ukraine’s right to decide its own future. Using their logic, it is as if the US civil war was construed as a war over the South’s right to self-determination and not a war over slavery.

Or in a 20th century instance, it would be as if the war in Vietnam were viewed as a fight for the rights of the people in an artificial South Vietnam to choose their own destiny.

Both the idea of the South’s right of secession (states’ rights) and the “freedom” of South Vietnam were abusive of any legitimate right to self-determination. Neither took the measure of the desire of the masses; both served the interests of privileged elites or foreign powers.

Leading historian of the Korean war Bruce Cumings reminds us that civil wars are complex conflicts with complex histories and little is gained by pondering who started the war in assigning blame.

Obsession with determining the immediate “aggressor” in the Korean war clouds the understanding of the deeper causes, colliding interests and political stakes at play to this day.

Without a historical context, without understanding the conflict and clash of vital interests within the borders of Ukraine, a defence of US meddling in Ukraine constructed on the facade of self-determination is wrongheaded and dangerous.

There can be no self-determination when the US and its allies undermined an elected government in 2014. That intervention effectively put an end to any pretence of Ukrainian self-determination.

On the other hand, many self-styled anti-imperialists view the Russian invasion as a war of liberation, with Russia removing Kiev’s oppressive government, thwarting US and Nato aggression, or defending the interests of the people of eastern Ukraine.

They both overestimate the selflessness of the motives of the now capitalist, former Soviet Russian republic and underestimate the dangers unleashed by an invasion that opens the door widely to a further reaching, more intense war.

They also fail to see that in its essence the conflict in Ukraine has been a civil conflict since the demise of the Soviet Union. Without the ideology of socialism, that conflict has been driven by a scramble for wealth and power with ensuing corruption, manipulation and crude nationalism.

Foreign powers — East and West — have manipulated this scramble, forcing it to a proxy showdown. Any escalation — whether it is a coup, an invasion, or the continuing arming of belligerents — would further risk pressing the war beyond the borders or at a greater tempo and should therefore be rejected.

Behind some defenders of the Russian invasion is the neo-Kautskyian theory of multipolarity. This view sees US imperialism, and not simply the system of imperialism, as the force disruptive of a peaceful, stable and orderly world order.

It is possible, even likely — according to the theory — for capitalist countries to conduct international affairs benignly if only a predatory US were tamed.

They go beyond denouncing US imperialism as the main global enemy to imagining a viable, co-operative capitalist order without US dominance. Like Kautsky, multipolarity projects an era of “balance” between imperialist powers and the softening of rivalries.

Lenin rejected this view. Like Kautsky’s theory of super- or ultra-imperialism, multipolarity reflects an inadequate understanding of class dynamics — the unlimited drive for competitive advantage by the capitalist state — and a failure to recognise that socialism is the only answer to imperialism’s destructive anarchy.

The carnage of imperialism’s last hundred years since the Kautsky/Lenin debate surely underscores these truths.

Along with the revival of Kautskyism, neo-Malthusianism threatens to confound the thinking of the left in addressing the critical environmental crisis.

No-growth as a facile answer to the abuse of our environment is as misguided today as it was in Marx’s time. The critical question is how the global economy grows and not how much it grows.

My wish is that the left does not ignore the class issues — nationally and internationally — in developing a programme to address this vital matter.

A no-growth solution that freezes in place the internal and global inequalities, or exacerbates them, cannot be accepted. A programme that does not address the connection between imperialism, militarism, and war in despoiling the planet is inadequate.

As the lights go out on the nine-and-a-half-billion-dollar midterm electoral extravaganza, leaving a bad taste and a strong sense of emptiness and disappointment, we can only wish that the US left will take a critical look at the two-party system with the idea of uniting to create some independent presence in electoral politics.

May 2023 be a year of deeper discussion beyond chirping on the shallow platforms crafted for triviality and abasement by the ruling class.

Zoltan Zigedy is a US-based writer. He blogs at

Morning Star (UK), December 29, 2022,

On Why Capitalists Are Guilty of Social Murder / by Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels directing the construction of a barricade in the streets of Elberfeld during the riots of May 1849 in Prussia. (Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Originally published in Jacobin on November 28, 2022

In 1845, Friedrich Engels wrote a scathing condemnation of English capitalism, The Condition of the Working Class in England. In it, he accused the bosses of carrying out “social murder” against workers and the poor.

The following is an edited extract from Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in Englandfirst published in 1845. You can read the full text here.

Atown, such as London, where a man may wander for hours together without reaching the beginning of the end, without meeting the slightest hint which could lead to the inference that there is open country within reach, is a strange thing. This colossal centralization, this heaping together of two and a half millions of human beings at one point, has multiplied the power of this two and a half millions a hundredfold; has raised London to the commercial capital of the world, created the giant docks and assembled the thousand vessels that continually cover the Thames.

I know nothing more imposing than the view which the Thames offers during the ascent from the sea to London Bridge. The masses of buildings, the wharves on both sides, especially from Woolwich upwards, the countless ships along both shores, crowding ever closer and closer together, until, at last, only a narrow passage remains in the middle of the river, a passage through which hundreds of steamers shoot by one another; all this is so vast, so impressive, that a man cannot collect himself, but is lost in the marvel of England’s greatness before he sets foot upon English soil.

Friedrich Engels

But the sacrifices which all this has cost become apparent later. After roaming the streets of the capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realizes for the first time that these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilization which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others. The very turmoil of the streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other, are they not all human beings with the same qualities and powers, and with the same interest in being happy? And have they not, in the end, to seek happiness in the same way, by the same means?

And still they crowd by one another as though they had nothing in common, nothing to do with one another, and their only agreement is the tacit one, that each keep to his own side of the pavement, so as not to delay the opposing streams of the crowd, while it occurs to no man to honor another with so much as a glance. The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest, becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowded together, within a limited space.

And, however much one may be aware that this isolation of the individual, this narrow selfseeking, is the fundamental principle of our society everywhere, it is nowhere so shamelessly barefaced, so self-conscious as just here in the crowding of the great city. The dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here carried out to its utmost extreme.

Hence it comes, too, that the social war, the war of each against all, is here openly declared. Just as in Stirner’s recent book [The Ego and Its Own], people regard each other only as useful objects; each exploits the other, and the end of it all is that the stronger treads the weaker under foot; and that the powerful few, the capitalists, seize everything for themselves, while to the weak many, the poor, scarcely a bare existence remains.

What is true of London, is true of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, is true of all great towns. Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every man’s house in a state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.

Since capital, the direct or indirect control of the means of subsistence and production, is the weapon with which this social warfare is carried on, it is clear that all the disadvantages of such a state must fall upon the poor. For him no man has the slightest concern. Cast into the whirlpool, he must struggle through as well as he can. If he is so happy as to find work, i.e., if the bourgeoisie does him the favor to enrich itself by means of him, wages await him which scarcely suffice to keep body and soul together; if he can get no work he may steal, if he is not afraid of the police, or starve, in which case the police will take care that he does so in a quiet and inoffensive manner.

During my residence in England, at least twenty or thirty persons have died of simple starvation under the most revolting circumstances, and a jury has rarely been found possessed of the courage to speak the plain truth in the matter. Let the testimony of the witnesses be never so clear and unequivocal, the bourgeoisie, from which the jury is selected, always finds some backdoor through which to escape the frightful verdict, death from starvation. The bourgeoisie dare not speak the truth in these cases, for it would speak its own condemnation. But indirectly, far more than directly, many have died of starvation, where long-continued want of proper nourishment has called forth fatal illness, when it has produced such debility that causes which might otherwise have remained inoperative brought on severe illness and death. The English workingmen call this “social murder,” and accuse our whole society of perpetrating this crime perpetually. Are they wrong?

True, it is only individuals who starve, but what security has the workingman that it may not be his turn tomorrow? Who assures him employment, who vouches for it that, if for any reason or no reason his lord and master discharges him tomorrow, he can struggle along with those dependent upon him, until he may find someone else “to give him bread”? Who guarantees that willingness to work shall suffice to obtain work, that uprightness, industry, thrift, and the rest of the virtues recommended by the bourgeoisie, are really his road to happiness?

No one. He knows that he has something today and that it does not depend upon himself whether he shall have something tomorrow. He knows that every breeze that blows, every whim of his employer, every bad turn of trade may hurl him back into the fierce whirlpool from which he has temporarily saved himself, and in which it is hard and often impossible to keep his head above water. He knows that, though he may have the means of living today, it is very uncertain whether he shall tomorrow . . .

Friedrich Engels was a German socialist instrumental to the development of Marxism

Commune or nothing! Venezuela’s transition to socialism / by

Originally published in on November 9, 2022

Amidst Washington’s economic siege, Venezuela’s communes have continued advancing to offer long-standing solutions to the economic crisis in order to build a socialist future where life trumps capital. Communes are, by definition, deeply anti-imperialist and anticapitalist.

Currently, Venezuela has dozens of communes, between rural and urban, some new and others with a baggage of revolutionary struggle. They are made up of people that occupy a shared territory and have historical, cultural, social, ethnic, and economic ties that bind them together. Some rural communes were set up after campesino families took back lands that had historically belonged to them but were seized by landowners for private profit.

Today, communes are a wonderful demonstration of socialism as a viable way to practice substantial democracy and build sovereign production while taking care of the planet.

In his last political address, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez stated that communes were the cornerstone of the Bolivarian Revolution, with the power to truly emancipate the people. He urged cadres and organizations to prioritize the communes with his battle cry: “Commune or Nothing!”

| The Bolivarian Process | MR Online' political horizon got clearer with time, as Chávez set his sights on the construction of socialism and with communes being the "unit cells." Find out more in our latest infographic. (Venezuelanalysis)

The Bolivarian Process’ political horizon got clearer with time, as Chávez set his sights on the construction of socialism and with communes being the “unit cells.” Find out more in our latest infographic. (Venezuelanalysis)

The crisis in US children’s hospitals and the need for socialist public health / by Evan Blake

Originally published on the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), on October 27, 2022

Over the past month, children’s hospitals across the United States have entered an unprecedented crisis. They are being inundated with a wave of infants and toddlers hospitalized with a range of respiratory illnesses, well before the normal peak in December. The most common source of hospitalizations is currently respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), but rhinovirus, enterovirus, adenovirus, the flu and COVID-19 are also implicated, and there are reports of children infected with multiple of these viruses simultaneously.

From coast to coast, pediatric hospitals have reached or exceeded capacity, with three-quarters of all pediatric hospital beds in the US now occupied. Entire states are near capacity, including Rhode Island (99 percent of all pediatric hospital beds filled), Texas (91 percent), Missouri (89 percent) and others.

Seattle Children’s Hospital reports that its emergency room (ER) is now at 200 percent of capacity. At Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, the largest pediatric hospital in California, the past few days have seen a doubling of visits to the ER, with wait times also doubling to up to six hours. Other major cities with pediatric hospital bed and staffing shortages include Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, Detroit, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Austin and more. Many families have had to drive for hours or fly to other states when the pediatric hospital in their region has reached capacity.

At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, officials are considering whether to ask the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to set up a field tent on the hospital’s lawn to care for an overflow of children with RSV. Catherine Morgan, a mother from nearby Meriden whose two-month-old son Grant was just hospitalized with RSV at Connecticut Children’s, told local news, “Once we got inside, there’s gurneys throughout the hallways with families just waiting for a room.”

Speaking on the terrifying progression of her son’s illness, Morgan said, “It’s very scary. Respiratory distress is very concerning. He has such little lungs and can’t really breathe. … Within four hours he was using his whole body to breathe. It makes me tear up thinking about it.”

Throughout the country, thousands of children are undergoing the trauma of hospitalization, which studies have shown can have long-term ramifications. Their parents and caregivers are sitting nervously by their side, holding their children, or turned away from hospitals which lack enough staff.

The only comparable mass child hospitalization of this dimension took place last January, as the supposedly “mild” Omicron variant hospitalized an average of 914 children daily and killed over 200 children that month alone.

Experts warn that in the coming weeks, expected surges of the flu and COVID-19—for both of which most children remain unvaccinated—will cause a “triple threat” that will strain pediatric hospitals past their breaking point.

RSV is a seasonal virus which can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in young children, severely impacting their ability to breathe, and can be life-threatening. It has historically caused an average of 58,000 hospitalizations and up to 500 deaths per year in children under 5 years old, along with 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths annually among adults 65 and older. Collectively, respiratory pathogens are among the worst killers in the world, with the World Health Organization (WHO) finding they cause the highest global burden of disease measured by years lost through death or disability.

Almost all of the media coverage has sought to blame the present crisis on mitigation measures put in place in 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19, including lockdowns, masking, remote learning and social distancing, which built up a so-called “immunity debt” among infants who were not exposed to RSV and other viruses. This unscientific term is a red herring meant to deflect blame from those who bear political responsibility for the current catastrophe.

In reality, the surge of these respiratory viruses is the direct consequence of the “forever COVID” policy now pursued by the Biden administration and every state government, which over the past year have systematically dismantled all anti-COVID mitigation measures. Unlike in 2020 and 2021, this school year began with the lifting of mask mandates in every major school district across the US, allowing all respiratory pathogens to spread unchecked among over 50 million children, most of whom were immunologically naive to many respiratory viruses due to masking and social distancing. Despite numerous warnings, nothing was done to prepare for the present surge.

Immunologist Dr. Anthony Leonardi, who has consistently spoken out against the “herd immunity” COVID-19 policies which have led to the mass infection of children, recently wrote on the concept of “immunity debt,” concluding, “We mustn’t delude ourselves into thinking infections actually confer a benefit or are a debt that must be paid. They are more like a tax we make the children pay for our civilization not being developed enough to prevent viral illnesses that hospitalize thousands of children per year.”

Dr. Leonardi also called attention to the growing body of research demonstrating that COVID-19 can cause significant damage to one’s immune system.

According to the latest estimates from the CDC, 86.3 percent of the US child population has likely been infected with COVID-19 at least once. Even if only a tiny percentage of these 62 million children now have damaged immune systems, it is very likely a contributing factor to the current surge of child hospitalizations. Many professionals have noted that healthy children who normally would not suffer severe disease are being hospitalized by RSV and other viruses.

Map showing the estimated percentage of the child population infected in each US state. [Photo: CDC]

In the winter of 2020-21, RSV, the flu and most other respiratory pathogens were nearly eliminated in numerous countries, a remarkable but unintended byproduct of the limited masking and social distancing then in place. During that winter, only one child died from the flu in the US, and this week in 2020 saw only 10 confirmed RSV infections, compared to over 7,000 last week.

Chart showing the number of confirmed weekly RSV infections in the US, from October 2020 to the present. [Photo: WSWS]

One of the greatest scientific breakthroughs during the pandemic was the early recognition that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is transmitted almost entirely through tiny aerosols that people emit through talking, singing and even just breathing, which then linger in the air for minutes or even hours at a time. Proving that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne prompted further investigation into other pathogens, including RSV, which had been shown to be airborne as early as 2016.

In a rational society, this scientific knowledge would have prompted the largest renovation of global infrastructure in history, in order to modernize buildings with high quality air filtration and ventilation systems. Instead, the science was suppressed and distorted by nearly every government and public health agency in the world, above all, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fundamentally, the science of airborne transmission shifts responsibility for viral transmission from the individual to the social level, placing the onus on governments to clean the air in all public spaces. But under capitalism, even this minimal encroachment on private profit is beyond the pale.

In a remarkable press conference Wednesday, White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha stated that COVID-19 “is purely airborne,” the most open acknowledgment of airborne transmission by any White House official. He then falsely counterposed COVID-19 to RSV, which he implied could be curtailed simply by hand washing and “keeping kids home when they are sick,” an impossibility for most working class families. When asked by a reporter whether parents should give their children masks to protect themselves from RSV and other respiratory illnesses, Dr. Jha evaded the question.

The same processes are unfolding globally. In Ontario, Canada, where all anti-COVID mitigations have been dropped, pediatric hospitals are also being inundated with RSV and other respiratory pathogens, while school teachers are no longer allowed to even report likely COVID-19 infections in their classrooms.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that capitalism is thoroughly hostile to the principles of public health which prove that SARS-CoV-2, RSV, the flu and numerous other pathogens can be eliminated globally through a massive expansion of testing, modernized contact tracing, access to health care, the renovation of infrastructure, temporary paid lockdowns and more.

The “infection tax” on children and all of society is being imposed by the capitalist class, which views the working class as nothing more than fodder for exploitation, whose “nonproductive” lives should be cut as short as possible.

Through their policies, the capitalists have nearly destroyed health care systems throughout the world. In the US alone, an estimated 333,942 health care providers left the workforce in 2021, while a recent survey found that more than one-third of nurses plan to leave their current roles by the end of the year. The same process has unfolded in schools, the key centers for viral transmission throughout the pandemic, with huge shortages of educators across the US and internationally.

In response to the inflationary crisis triggered by the unending pandemic and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the working class is entering into struggle throughout the world. This developing international class struggle must become the basis for the fight to stop the pandemic, end the war, and massively expand public health and all other social services. Only through the socialist overturn of existing property relations can mankind rebuild society and guarantee the universal right to a decent, long life free of poverty and disease.

World Socialist Web Site, October 27, 2022,

Chinese party congress envisions domestic growth and equality, less reliance on exports / by Roger McKenzie

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Xinhua News Agency via AP

Chinese leader Xi Jinping opened the Communist Party’s 20th Congress Sunday promising to reinforce “a new pattern of development” focused on domestic rather than export-led growth and reducing inequality.

Vowing to continue “the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in an address to the congress’s 2,000 delegates, Xi was joined on stage by his predecessor as Communist Party general secretary Hu Jintao, former prime minister Wen Jiabao, and 105-year-old communist revolutionary veteran Song Ping to emphasize the continuity of the Chinese Revolution.

“We must fully and faithfully apply the new development philosophy on all fronts,” he said, referring to changed targets that emphasize “all-rounded development” rather than simply economic growth.

Reducing inequality has been a major theme of Xi’s leadership, with China celebrating the elimination of absolute poverty last year and cracking down hard on corruption in both the party and the government.

Promoting domestic demand and a higher quality of life within China rather than settling into a position as a manufacturer of goods for the developed West has also been a hallmark policy, one accelerated by U.S. economic attacks seeking to cut China out of global supply chains.

The leader attributed the progress China has made to its reliance on socialist ideology in the development of policy. “Our experience has taught us that, at the fundamental level,” he said, “we owe the success of our party and socialism with Chinese characteristics to the fact that Marxism works.” 

Xi said Beijing would maintain its zero-COVID policy, in which coronavirus outbreaks are quickly isolated and suppressed. China, he argued, had “protected life and health” in contrast to Western governments which let the virus rip.

Official state statistics report that China has recorded just 10.38 COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants, a figure far lower than Britain (2,689 per million) or the U.S. (3,099 per million).

The party leader also pledged to stand up to attempts to divide China, praising his administration’s handling of anti-China protests in Hong Kong and saying it would continue to pursue peaceful reunification with Taiwan. He did emphasize, however, that China “will never promise to renounce the use of force” to settle the Taiwan question and said the nation would “reserve the option of taking all measures necessary.”

Xi is expected to be elected to serve a third five-year term as general secretary at this congress.

Since 1993, the general secretaries of the Communist Party of China have also been elected president of the country and chair of the Central Military Commission, positions he is also likely to retain over the next five years.

Roger McKenzie is a journalist and general secretary of Liberation, a UK-based human rights organization which fights for economic and social justice, and opposes neo-colonialism, economic exploitation, and racism.

People’s World, October 17, 2022,