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What Is Communism? Why We Need Marxist Theory | NYC Marxist School 2023

A new communist movement is being born. How can this turn into a force for revolution? How can communism win? Socialist Revolution editor Antonio Balmer explains the foundations of communism and why we need to study Marxist theory to achieve a successful socialist revolution in our lifetime. This talk was part of the NYC Marxist School, which gathered some 200 communists from across the Northeast and Canada on October 7–8 for a weekend of discussions on Marxist theory and revolutionary strategy.

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Welcome to Socialist Revolution podcast, a podcast for communists.

[Theme Music]

This episode features a talk from the New York Marxist School, which was part of a regional series also taking place in Minneapolis, Phoenix—and actually, the Bellingham, WA event is taking place on November 18–19, so next weekend—make sure you don’t miss it if you’re in that region. Now, far from being an academic exercise, the aim of this school of communism is to educate and train the next generation of revolutionaries in the US. In the opening session of the NYC school, Antonio Balmer set the tone for the rest of the weekend with a presentation on “What Is Communism? Why We Need Marxist Theory.”


A communist movement is being born

This weekend, this Marxist school, is not an academic event. This is an event for training: the practical training for an urgent task that we have as communist revolutionaries. Because in this country, a communist movement is being born. It’s trying to be born. We can see it everywhere. And for each of us in this room, there are thousands of others who feel the way that we feel.

Sometimes I think we go through life and we don’t realize. How many people around us every day also hate capitalism? They want to bring an end to this system. And you don’t realize it because we don’t always walk around with a hammer and sickle on our shirts. Maybe we should so we can find each other more easily.
You don’t realize that when you’re crossing the street, the person coming this way is also a communist. And the letter carrier that drops off your mail is also a communist. And so is the crossing guard at the intersection at the school on your block. And the construction worker on the job site that you just walked past—also a communist, and so are some of the office workers in the company that’s managing that job site. And some of the workers who are picking up garbage on your street Monday morning before the sun comes up are also communists.

And if anyone here thinks I’m exaggerating, I was just talking about my branch. Those are the comrades I see every Sunday.

But the best part of it, really the best thing is that we know that we’ve only just scratched the surface. There are so many more out there. And it’s something that I’ve honestly just realized more fully in the last couple of months as well. Putting up the posters, the stickers; putting up this picture of Karl Marx saying “Are you a communist?”, asking that question has resulted in being bombarded with thousands and thousands of people who are writing us saying: “Yes, I’m a communist! I want to fight.” And it’s not this intellectual, like “I want a hobby. I want like-minded people as well to interact with.” It’s, “When I look around at this world, I have to fight.” It’s people who feel a resolve. It’s a revolutionary sentiment that’s developing in society.

And what we’re trying to do, what the IMT is doing –well, we’re doing everything we can think of to try and find that layer and to organize it, to bring it together. The ones who are not just angry. Not just the ones who hate being exploited and they hate what the ruling class is doing. It’s the ones that want to take action. And for lack of a more scientific term, we have a term for this layer of people, those communists who are looking to take action. We call them the golden layer. And it’s not just because we’re talking about tapping into a gold vein, a gold mine, of revolutionary workers. It’s also a way of recognizing what a special layer, what a special segment of society this is.

Here we are, in a country with no mass communist force yet. There’s no mass organization that’s making the case for communism systematically in the day to day. There’s no force that’s transmitting that into society. On the contrary, we’ve been bombarded with anti communist propaganda like no other country has, for generation after generation. And yet, the polls say that there are 30 million people in this country who view communism as the ideal economic system.

And not only that, if you look around at “the left,” at what you see on “the left,” you don’t see a lot of fire. You don’t see a lot of this revolutionary sentiment. You see a lot of pessimism, you see a lot of demoralization on the left, you see the consequences of a postmodern influence in culture.

Postmodernism is a really pathetic philosophy. It’s a philosophy that says there is no point to anything. There is no direction to history. There’s no reason for optimism. There’s no direction. There’s nothing out there for us. So instead, it’s just this mocking irony of everything. And despite that, the communist layer is coming forward. Despite the influence of this doomerism, this apocalyptic view of what’s happening, these dystopian themes that are coming into mass media and into the culture; despite all of that, the golden layer is saying: “I think we can fight for a better world. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m committed to.”

And if out of those 30 million communists out there, let’s say one out of a thousand is really looking to take action. If one out of a thousand isn’t just saying, “I wish we could live under communism,” but instead “No. I’m ready to fight for it.” One out of a thousand would give us a force of 30,000 people in this country. 30, 000 well-organized communists; 30,000 who are determined, who are rowing in the same direction, who have a consistent message– with that, you can win over the working class. And if you win the working class, if you’re an instrument in the hands of the working class, the working class can transform society.

We have a road to changing this system. As individuals, we can do nothing, but if you’re talking about bringing thousands and thousands of communists together, then we can start talking about a vast network of revolutionary recruiters, of communist cells in every workplace, in every union, in every major city, every working-class neighborhood, bringing an implacable, uncompromising, class-war attitude into every picket line, into every strike battle. Once again, the purpose of this weekend is to bring that force together, to prepare our comrades, to give us the tools for that task. Because to be an effective communist, you have to be successful at recruiting other communists. You have to organize people together. You have to be building a force.

And it’s not enough to hate capitalism to do that successfully. We also have to have depth, as John was saying. We need to have explanations. We need to have answers. Not just for our coworkers, our friends, our family, but for other communists as well. The willpower itself is not enough. So that’s what I want to try and tackle with this session: some of the questions that have been coming up.

How we got here: the materials basis of class anger

I think the first one is, why are we seeing this phenomenon in the political landscape where, a quarter of the way into the 21st century, this country–the belly of the beast, the heart of world imperialism–is crawling with millions of people who see a hammer and sickle and say, “Yep, that’s me.” Who see a picture of Karl Marx, “That’s what I want.” How is it that we got to this point?

When revolutionary ideas become widespread like that, it tells you something about the state of the system, the state of the foundation of society. We are walking, living, breathing evidence of the impasse of capitalism, of a system that has reached its limits long ago, that stopped moving forward, that’s now in a period of decline. It’s a system like that that produces especially young revolutionaries, a young generation of people who don’t see a future for themselves under this system.

There was a fragment of a conversation that a comrade reported here in New York a few weeks ago, walking to the train and he overhears a mother and daughter, probably going to school. He said the daughter was probably 10 years old. And this is the little fragment that he recorded: The mom says, “Yep, capitalism’s an economic system.” And the daughter says, “And it’s based on money?” And the mother says, “Yes, well, money is a part of it.” The daughter says, “Then we need to end it!” And the mom says, “Well hold on, now, you need to listen…” But then they walked off into the train, and that was the end of the anecdote. But we printed it in our press!

Another anecdote I heard this week from a comrade who works with third graders, about how their top concerns are: the climate crisis and school shooters. How’s that for a picture of a society in decline? This is the kind of world that produces a generation of revolutionaries.

I also read a couple days ago in the Washington Post –not the wealth gap –they’re talking about “the death gap between rich and poor is widening.” “The United States is failing at a fundamental: mission keeping people alive” It says specifically “working age people are dying at a higher rate than 40 years ago.” Could it have to do maybe with the fact that 112 million people are struggling to afford health care? Could it be the fact that there hasn’t been a raise in real wages in 50 years, that we’ve had 50 years of decline? Could it be the fact that half of the American workforce doesn’t earn enough to rent a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in this country? That a minimum-wage worker can’t afford to rent an apartment anywhere? That you have to work multiple jobs?

This is the condition of the American working class in the 21st century. Actually, it was described very vividly 175 years ago in a text written in 1848. Marx talks in the Manifesto about how on average the worker is receiving just what’s absolutely necessary to keep the worker existing as a worker. It says: “It merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence. The laborer lives merely to increase capital and is allowed to live only insofar as the interest of the ruling class requires it.” So when they don’t require it, that’s, that’s the end. That’s the purpose of being a proletarian in this system.

A third of the workforce is earning $15 an hour or less. Going back to that Washington Post, it said, “America is increasingly a country of haves and have-nots, measured not just by bank accounts and property values, but also by vital signs and grave markers. Dying prematurely has become the most telling measure of the nature of the nation’s growing inequality.” They measured the death rate in the poorest 10% of counties and found that it’s risen over the past four decades by 570%.

So here’s, again, the Manifesto: “And here it becomes evident. That the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in a society and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery. Because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state that it has to feed him instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, its existence is no longer compatible with society.”

This is a hint about why we see the rise of a communist movement more broadly. These conditions that people are living in are screaming out class struggle. And there have been other moments in history when people find themselves in conditions where they realize we have nothing to live on except our ability to work, and we are at the mercy of a boss, we are proletarians. And they realize, that’s not just my individual problem, that’s a problem shared by millions of people. That’s a problem shared by a segment of society. That’s what it means to see rising class consciousness. And you see it coming out. I mean, it’s screaming forward right now. In the 2020s, at this time, with the strike wave, it’s putting it front and center. This is the way people feel. It’s the realization that’s coming to the fore.

This is someone who wrote us, one of these thousands of submissions we’ve gotten, someone in Minneapolis saying: “I’m a communist.” They have to explain why you want to join, we get these little messages of each one. This person says, “Capitalism is fucked. I’m forced to sell myself to survive while those in power keep this system in place. And they don’t have to sell themselves to survive. I’ve been working manufacturing for years and I’m starting to wake up.” That’s how millions of people feel right now.

That’s because, of course, half a century has passed since the end of the post-war boom. The material basis for this illusion that the American dream–one generation is going to live better than the previous generation–that vanished five decades ago, and on the contrary, by every measure, we have a steady decline in the quality of life.

Pessimism of the ruling class

It’s not just the conditions that the working class is experiencing, it’s also that you can see the demoralization of the ruling class. Do you think the ruling class is confident in their chances of continuing this system, the way that it’s going? They have a pretty high bird’s eye view of the trajectory of this system. They’re not very confident. Here’s Maplecroft Risk Assessment, a global analyst. They do these risk assessments to give warnings to the capitalist class. This one’s a warning for the insurance market. It says:

“85% of US cities face high risks of strikes, riots, and civil commotion in the next 12 months. That was published two weeks ago. It says “high levels of income inequality mean that U.S. urban hubs could face an elevated risk of unrest in the next year. The November 2024 election may also be a spark that ignites the U.S. underlying SRCC –strikes, riots, and civil commotion –risk factors. The protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in 2020 resulted…” This is the ruling class talking about the largest mass movement in the history of this country, an inspiring glimpse of what this country is capable of, here’s how they talk about it… “The death of George Floyd in 2020, which resulted in 2.5 billion to 3 billion dollars in insured losses, serves as a reminder that damaging bouts of unrest are no longer limited to territories that have traditionally been deemed politically unstable.”

You’re right. It’s no longer limited. Nowhere is safe. This is the way the ruling class feels everywhere. But that’s the rosy outlook of the capitalists. That’s the ruling class. You see this chaos in Congress, the state of the economy, the global instability. There is no confidence or optimism within the ruling class.

Communism is our future

The first page of the Communist Manifesto, it opens up with “A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of communism.” And it goes on to say, basically, that this movement is on the rise, that the powers of Europe are recognizing communism itself to be a power, they’re acknowledging it. So, they’re saying, it’s high time that Communists should openly, “in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the specter of communism with a manifesto of the party itself.” Marx and Engels were saying, “this thing is on the rise, let’s come out and tell the world what we intend to do. We intend to change this world. We’re not just here to analyze it and interpret it. Our plan is to intervene in the course of history.”

And that’s actually not saying much, because the socialist revolution is not just going to change the course of history. It’s going to usher in the beginning of a truly human history. That’s the way it’s going to be seen. In hindsight, by future generations, they’ll look back at the socialist revolution as the beginning of civilization. As that moment when our species finally took that step from its brutal prehistoric class barbarism and finally began to operate like a human society should. When people finally stopped exploiting and starving each other. When people stopped being forced to live their lives to enrich somebody else and began living life for the sake of enjoying being alive. When people started pursuing, learning, improvement, finding challenges, reaching new heights.

In that sense, what is communism? For us in this room, we can answer that. It’s what we’re going to achieve. Communism is our future.

What about human nature?

It’s also a return on a much higher level to a state that our species lived in for a vast majority of its existence. If you consider that it came out five years ago, right? That they found these human remains, modern human remains, in Morocco from 300,000 years ago. That sent back the timeline of how long we understood modern humans to be existing as a species. For the vast majority of that time, we’ve lived under capitalism 1/1,000 of our existence as a species. And yet they tell us that this is the natural state, that this is human nature, this is the eternal thing. And for the vast majority of that time we had no classes whatsoever. 98% of our existence was lived with no ruling class exploiting the labor of everyone else. No tiny minority enriching itself at the expense of everybody else. No prisons, police, armies, state. No money, no inequality, no rich and poor, no unemployment.

So when people talk to us about human nature and say that capitalism– I mean, you have to laugh when they say that capitalism is the natural thing. The ruling class, of course, always upholds its own system as what’s natural. This is, again, in the Manifesto. Marx said that “The capitalists view their own system as if it were eternal, as if the structure of capitalism were based on the laws of nature and reason.” He says to the bourgeoisie, “this is a selfish misconception which you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. The feudal lords, the absolute monarchs, they assumed they would continue to rule generation after generation forever and ever.” The Tsarist dynasty that was overthrown, the Romanovs, overthrown in 1917, they were in power for three centuries. Before 1917 arrived, they thought it would just continue. And the ruling class today also thinks– well, I’m not sure how confident they are… I don’t think they expect another 300 years.

Using Marxist theory to tackle bigger questions

But to really tackle these questions, I want to dive to a deeper level of Marxism. Because being a Marxist is not just hating capitalism. It’s not just wanting an alternative, wanting something better. It’s also about having the tools, having a way of wrapping our head… Let’s go back a bit. If we were on a time clock, 12 hours, and that’s the existence of our species, we’ve lived under capitalism for around 40 seconds. So, all of us have been born into this world in these last 40 seconds, and, of course, class society, capitalism, is all that we’ve known. If we want to be able to explain, how can our species go to the next step? What is it going to look like to go from this system to a system where we have no classes? We have to be able to think in a long-term view of history. It’s not your everyday common sense reasoning for what this step is going to mean.

We need theory for that. We need Marxist theory. And we’re drawing on the Marxist view of history. It’s called the materialist view of history, which we’ll get into. And this is a key aspect of theory. The birth of Marxism, was the birth of scientific socialism. It’s what separated Marxism from all the utopian communists that came before, many of whom hated capitalism. They hated the world that they lived in, but they basically were trying to develop a schema. “Imagine what could this world be like?” They would come up with these sometimes very detailed blueprints. And they basically thought that the next step, changing society, would be the fruit of inspired imagination.

Marxism doesn’t work that way. Marxism actually emerged in contrast to this kind of speculation. Marx wasn’t about trying to come up with a blueprint of an ideal utopia and say, “This is an idea that can just spread, and then if people see the reason, they see the light, and then we’re going to live in this better way.” That’s not how Marxists think about communism, because it’s not the way history unfolds. One species emerges from a previous specie, it doesn’t just come up with the idea to become another species. It’s actually not a conscious process at all. We’ll get into that. But just to say that the foundations of Marxist theory, on the philosophical level, it’s materialist.

What is philosophical materialism?

When we talk about materialism, it’s philosophical materialism. Just to explain it for the comrades who are starting to dive into Marxist philosophy. This word has different meanings. It’s not the everyday use of the word materialism, “we want to have nice things and we care about possessions.” Although I think we will have nice things under a planned economy. But philosophical materialism means recognizing that there is an objective, material reality, and it exists independently of the way any human thinks about it, any mind thinks about it. Reality isn’t created by the mind. Our mind’s a reflection of a really existing reality that exists independently of the mind. That’s pretty basic, right? And we’re saying that the universe is made of matter, it’s eternal, and it’s one reality. There’s no spiritual plane, there’s no heaven or hell, there’s no god. The opposite of materialism is idealism, the idea that reality is created by the mind. That it’s all being perceived, that the mind is primary. And ultimately, this leads back to a religious view of the world.

Now, a materialist view, it’s a scientific view, it’s rational. I think it could appear pretty straightforward to us today. If you actually look at the history of philosophy, it was a long, torturous journey for humans to arrive at this basic appreciation of reality in a materialist sense.
The earliest Greek philosophers, the Ionian philosophers of the 6th century B.C., they were materialists. They started out by saying, the gods didn’t create this world, so what is this world made of? And that’s what set them on that path. You could say that’s the beginning of this long thread. The Enlightenment, you could say, the 300 years leading up to the French Revolution, would have been kind of the culmination of this history, that was the high point, the triumph of materialism, the age of reason. And that’s basically what prepared the way for the French Revolution.

This wasn’t just an intellectual revolution. This was part of a social revolution in the full sense of the word. When the capitalist class entered the scene of history, It was a rising force. It was actually something that was pushing back against reaction in the form of feudalism. To overthrow the feudal social system, to overthrow that order, they had to destroy the ideological support. All the ideological justification, the dogma of the Christian church, the idea of the divine right of kings, all of that had to be destroyed. Materialism was a weapon in the hands of the rising capitalist class at that point.

Marx studied, by the way, this history of philosophy. He gained an encyclopedic understanding of it. And you could say that Marxism stands on the shoulders of the entire Enlightenment. Lenin said that “Marxism is the legitimate successor to the best that humanity produced in the 19th century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy, and French socialism.” I think we could add to that, it’s the legitimate successor to the entire Enlightenment. Marxism took that from its highest point, the achievements o French materialism, and brought it to the next level.

So, how exactly did it bring it to the next level? I think things get interesting when you start to take a materialist view and apply it to history, apply it to something that’s developing. That’s the thing that Marx and Engels did. In their youth, Marx and Engels were followers of the German philosopher Hegel. And this is another really crucial strand of Marxism. This is another component that contributed to the birth of Marxism. Hegel was also an encyclopedic thinker. He had a mastery of the history of philosophy as well. He approached history as this unfolding process. And this applies to the history of ideas itself, right? One school of thought emerges to contradict the assumptions of a previous school philosophy, and it actually raises new problems and it raises new limitations; and then another school emerges to respond to that, and the system continues to go. That’s the way you actually see a development from lower to higher, a change, an upward development in the way people think. But he saw human history the same way. Here’s the interesting thing. He saw the history of society as this evolving, unfolding thread with a direction to it.

Now, he was a contemporary of the French Revolution. He was inspired by that event. You can see how it had an impact on his revolutionary view of history. Hegel said, nothing is eternal. Nothing stays the same. Everything is in the process of becoming something else. Everything has a rise and a fall, a birth, a life span, a period of maturity, a decline, and an end. And you can see the revolutionary implications of this kind of view. This is dialectics, by the way. This is dialectical thinking: the logic of change, of contradiction, the way that small incremental changes can lead to a tipping point, a catastrophe, a crisis, a complete transformation.

Marx’s revolution in materialism</4>

So Hegel’s great contribution was to look at history as a process that was unfolding. He was himself, paradoxically, an idealist. He thought that this was all moving in the direction of some great idea, some absolute. It was a mystical way of tying together his system. But what Marx and Engels did was, they took that view of history as something that was unfolding, and they put it on a materialist basis. That was the achievement that they made. They looked at human history as materialist, which nobody had ever done in a consistent way before. History isn’t driven by the absolute idea. It’s not driven forward by the mind of God. It’s actually not driven forward by any mind. It’s not driven forward by conscious decisions of humans, even though it’s made up of conscious humans.

Going back to this parallel with evolution, three and a half billion years ago, the only life on this planet was microbes, single-celled organisms. And billions of years of evolution have transformed that level of an organism into all the variety of the plant and animal kingdom that we know today, including Homo Sapiens. But that amazing, mind-blowing process wasn’t consciously driven or planned by any conscious will. It happened independently of the actions of these species themselves. There was never a decision, “let’s make an evolutionary step from this species to another step.” It didn’t have to do with any kind of conscious decision. It was a result of natural selection.

So far so good, right? So, human history is also an evolving process. Human history has also gone through an amazing process of transformation. As I said earlier, 98% of our existence was spent hunting and gathering in small bands, the paleolithic or the stone age kind of existence. You had the Neolithic revolution 10,000 years ago, roughly. Some 6,000 years or so the beginning of settled agriculture, irrigation, large-scale animal domestication, the division of labor, the rise of the first class societies, the rise of the first ruling classes, ancient civilizations, exploitation of slaves, feudalism based on serfdom, and large scale land ownership. You had the rise of capitalism and modern industry.

From each of these systems, you could say these are modes of production, right? From one system to the next, what is it that drove that progress? That’s the question that Marx and Engels asked. It’s actually a question that had not been asked in a materialist way until then. And that’s the question that gave rise to scientific socialism.

What is historical materialism?

What drives forward that progress from one system to another in history, from one mode of production to another? The answer to that question might be familiar to you: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” It became the line of argument of the entire Communist Manifesto. In this rise and fall of one system after another, each system has a life cycle. It has a certain justification for emerging on the scene of history to begin with. And that justification is the system’s ability to develop the productive forces.

So here’s another concept for us. I know we’re throwing around a lot of technical terms here. This is the key to the materialist concept of history. The productive forces are the thread of all progress in human history. If you want to say, what is that continual thread of progress? From the beginning of human history up until the present, it’s that we’ve improved our ability to produce the technique, productivity, technology, scientific advances, division of labor, the methods of production– our ability to meet our needs, to collaborate in a more and more intricate way, and make sure that it becomes more efficient, that fewer humans have to exert an absolute amount of time in order to produce the needs of life. That’s the development of the productive forces. If that is moving forward, if that is improving, then a system is healthy, it’s continuing to move forward. If you have a ruling class on the top of that system, and that system is still moving forward, that ruling class can expect to continue to rule with relative stability until that stops being the case.

And that’s the thing. These systems have an expiration date. They all have a sell-by date. They all have the same arrangement which helps the productive forces move forward at one stage. At a later stage, that same arrangement stops having that result. It starts to become a fetter. It starts to become an obstacle. It starts to become a straitjacket on the productive forces. It no longer helps them move forward. And that’s when that system is curved over the edge of its healthy point. It starts to move into a period of decline, of crisis. That’s when you enter these kinds of periods where people start talking about the end of the world is coming, apocalyptic doom, really it’s the end of a mode of production that’s coming. It’s this period of decline that starts expressing itself in all of these ways where people feel this thing isn’t moving forward anymore.

Sound familiar, by the way? We’re in this phase, we’re deep in this phase of capitalism’s decline. It has long ago stopped developing the productive forces. And when that happens, you have this period of crisis, a revolutionary epoch opens up, and the class struggle again comes to the fore. It becomes the real question: is there another force in society, is there another class, that proposes another way of arranging society that can impose a new social structure on the economy and allow those productive forces to come forward? If that’s true, if that exists, that class is historically justified to come to power, to reorganize society, to allow the productive forces to be unleashed, and a new mode of production begins. That’s the mechanism that has brought us from the Stone Age to the present day. That’s the line of development, just like natural selection is the mechanism that allows one species to go to the next. It’s all been these different stages that have developed the productive forces.

So, going back to the Manifesto, the first part of it is Marx explaining how the capitalist class emerged. They had the same story. They had their day in the light. It unleashed massive productive forces. I mean, capitalism has transformed the productive forces like never before. Actually, that’s the special thing about capitalism. Now that we have this level of productive forces, the market, the thing that produced all of this progress, long ago stopped producing it. Now you have monopolization, you have the concentration of capital, massive debt, it’s not moving forward. You have wars and all this brutality in order to sustain it.

But now there’s another force in society. There’s the working class. That is the class that actually has the historical justification to come to power. But unlike previous ruling classes, here’s what it says in the Manifesto, “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority.” For the first time in human history, you have a class that has a way to reorganize society that would actually represent the vast majority of the population taking conscious control of those productive forces.

The task of the capitalist class was to sweep aside the feudal ruling class, to sweep aside that structure of society, to unleash the productive forces by making the market bloom, right? Allowing free trade, allowing wage labor, dispossessing the peasantry. The task of the working class is now to sweep aside the capitalist class, capitalist ownership of the means of production. But instead of a new minority becoming a ruling class, the working class is going to transform the productive forces into the collective property of all of society. What this means is that our revolution, the socialist revolution, represents bringing about the end of class society. That’s what that means. It means we’re at a point now where we can be at the end of this line. This whole process that I said– 6,000, at the most maybe it started 10,000 years ago– this differentiation, the end of this phase of equality, the rise of class society, we can now bring that to an end. That’s the threshold that we’re standing on today.

So that’s, that’s the historical justification for the socialist revolution.

How can we win?

A question that’s often asked is, how do we win. We should have a whole session just on this topic. We’re actually going to discuss Bolshevism this afternoon, but that’s our model: we are Bolsheviks. The model of Bolshevism.

Let’s assume that we do establish what we were talking about earlier: reaching those 30,000, reaching those communist cells in every major city, in every workplace, sinking roots in the working class and establishing a revolutionary transmission belt of Marxist ideas into every struggle. That’s precisely the way to prepare for a revolution. In normal times, in the lead up to 1917, say, the Bolsheviks were seen as extreme fanatics. Even the vast majority of the Russian population would have thought it was pretty out there, it was pretty unthinkable that the working class was about to take power, that they were going to become the new ruling force, that they would set up a new worker state.

Leon Trotsky, the organizer of the insurrection, said that just two years before 1917, The czarist military officers, the imperial officers, “they thought that the moderate liberals were extreme revolutionaries. Well, the Bolsheviks, in their eyes, belong to the fourth dimension.” I think we belong to the fourth dimension for the Republicans that are talking about communism being the Democratic Party. We’ll show them the real communism.

But the process of consciousness is transformed in the course of a revolution. Once a revolution broke out, all bets were off. Everyone’s way of thinking changed. Everyone’s perspective changed, very rapidly. The Bolsheviks no longer sounded so crazy, actually. In fact, in the heat of events, the Bolshevik Party grew 30 fold. Millions of workers rallied behind their program. From a tiny minority– they started out with just a few thousand at the beginning of that revolution– they won the support of the vast majority of the working class, while the support of the ruling government evaporated.

Obviously, history doesn’t repeat itself in exactly the same way. But if we did have those 30,000 comrades, a 30 fold growth of that would bring us quite close to a million. And the point is, with a force like that, you can win the support of many millions more.

Now, I’m not going to get into the weeds about how exactly a transfer of power could take place, but we did see a glimpse of revolutionary potential in this country in the summer of 2020. Let’s imagine another scenario, like the upsurge of the George Floyd movement, where millions and millions of people are pouring into the streets from coast to coast. But instead of a spontaneous uprising, we’re talking about an organized uprising. A coordinated general strike action that has units of workers that have been preparing for it in every industry and every workplace. That are organized as units preparing to do something more than just paralyze industry, to do something more than just bring society to a halt. You have strike committees, workers’ councils, prepared in advance.

We saw what Trump did. He went underground in his bunker under the White House. But he also threatened to deploy the U.S. Army to go and repress protesters in American cities. And it provoked an outcry from generals, from acting generals in the Pentagon and from a series of retired generals who were openly defying a president. Not something you see every day, because they realize that’s a serious thing. You don’t talk about sending in the troops when you have a mass uprising like this. They understand that’s the last card you can play. When you play the “send in the troops” card, you’re pretty much out of cards, and you never really know how those troops are going to respond when their task is to shoot on unarmed civilians.

When you have a mass uprising that is changing the way everyone thinks, going back to the moment of the first time that the working class took power in the Paris Commune of 1871. That shift of power into the hands of the workers actually took place in a specific moment, you could say. There was an uprising taking place, and you had a lineup of troops with their rifles, and their general is realizing the situation’s getting out of hand. “We need to put an end to this now. We’re going to lose control of this.” And gives the order to aim at the crowd, and to fire. And the soldiers are aiming, and they’re not firing. “Fire!”, and the soldiers are still not firing. And in that moment, something deep inside one of those soldiers comes to life, and the rifle is turned towards the commander. And in that moment, all the other rifles also turn to the commander. And just like that, power was in the hands of the working class. The majority realized, “we are the authority now.” They took care of that commander, by the way, but that was the beginning of that revolution.

A moment like that can happen again. It has happened. It will continue to happen. And when you have a real uprising, whatever modern variant of that happens in the future, guns are not enough. The state is not enough to hold down a working class that is conscious of its power. That’s the question.

What would a workers’ state do?

Now, I’ve heard comrades ask, what could it look like? And again, we don’t know exactly how these things are going to play out, but I don’t think it’s hard to picture. I mean, we saw the drama in Congress this week where, after a lot of “intense debate,” there was a formal announcement that says, “The office of the Speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant.” Well, with a victorious transfer of power, I think we can make a similar announcement when it comes out. It’ll be a shorter one! “The United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant.”

I personally– this is just a detail– but I think it would be nice if we could get a hold of the national emergency system that they tested on Wednesday, and make sure that we blast on every cell phone, every TV, every radio in the whole country and make sure everyone knows this is the end of capitalism right here. We’re going to have to have a lot of red flags, too. I was thinking big ones. I mean, I’m mostly excited for the one that’s going to go on top of the One World Trade Center. But I think the White House is going to look pretty epic as well, a red flag over the White House.

But more importantly, what is a workers’ government going to do? Specifically, a socialist transformation of society would begin by expropriating what Marx called the commanding heights of the economy. We could look at it like the Fortune 500 companies. That’s two thirds of the U.S. gross domestic product in the hands of those 500 companies. That’s $14.2 trillion in revenue, $20.4 trillion in total market value. But we’re talking about all the major banks, the largest industrial monopolies, the utility companies, major retail, warehousing distribution, Walmart, Amazon, big tech, all the private university systems– the Yale comrades will be very happy to see that system come into the hands of the workers’ state–, the entire medical sector, all insurance, hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies, and crucially the entire energy sector. Isn’t it crazy that the grid, something as fundamental as how we power the country, is in the hands of private companies? We’ll put an end to that.

By the way, most of these monopolies are extremely well organized within the company. You have a high degree of planning down to every detail, state of the art systems tracking inventory by the second. The logistics are very well planned. It’s just that you have all this wasteful competition between one monopoly and another within the market. Each one jealously guarding its own research and development, forcing efforts to be duplicated over and over again. A democratically planned economy will consolidate this, and we’ll be sure to establish the most efficient and advanced methods available very swiftly.

We could have a decree of workers control issued immediately to gather assemblies of workers in all of the nationalized industries and have them elect their representatives who would also be revocable by those bodies that elected them to make the day-to-day decisions together with other representatives of the working class. The way they did it in the Soviet Union, the way we would propose doing it, is to have democratically elected boards in every industry that are made up in thirds: one third by the workers that are in that particular workplace or in that industry; another third by the trade unions, representatives of the trade unions of the broader industry; and another third that would be representatives of an overall national plan, elected representatives of the workers’ state. That way, every planning unit is looking at things from a broad perspective. It’s not that the workers become the capitalists and start competing against each other. Everything is now planned in a rational way, according to the needs of the economy.

And if you consider the wealth at our disposal, once the productive forces are freed– in this country especially, but on a global scale– for one, we could end the housing crisis by the end of the week. There are 16 million vacant homes in this country, so we could not only get a roof over the nearly 600,000 people who are living on the streets, we could also provide a much needed upgrade for millions of families who’ve been forced to live in bad homes, in unhealthy conditions– some of them for generations.

By the way, when people talk about the question of reparations, I think this is the best way to envision genuine reparations for centuries of slavery, of colonialism, of exploitation and oppression: expropriating the capitalists and planning the economy and building socialism. After the end of capitalism, I think we will have a proper reconstruction, finally establish real social equality, not on paper, but in real life. Rents could be immediately fixed to no more than 10 percent of income. In addition to expropriating the vacant properties of the large-scale landlords, you could expropriate the assets of the largest corporate landlords. You have institutional investors that own massive– I think a quarter of the housing in the entire country, millions and millions of rental units.

You could have free universal health care, as a matter of fact, access to free lifelong education. These would be basic, basic conquests that we would be able to establish in short order. Free full time childcare facilities, after-school programs. Abolish this state of things where it’s such a difficult thing to raise the next generation. Affordable public laundry services, restaurants that can serve good food, help people be healthy. In terms of employment, we would do away with the situation where people are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Everybody could be given a quality job with a shorter work week. I don’t see why we have to work more than 20 hours. We can share out the work with the available workforce in each industry. We fight for a minimum wage of an annual income of $65,000, which is roughly the median income today. That’s just the minimum. But even the question of wages would be in flux here. Disposable income is a question that would be transformed once so much of your paycheck isn’t going to rent, to student loans, health insurance, and so on.

And with a shorter week, with those basic needs met, with the end of this thing that weighs down on millions of people, this constant desperate feeling of “I’m just treading water,” of financial stress, of trying to survive, when we release that, it’s going to transform the conditions of the working class. People are going to find themselves with more breathing space. They’re going to find themselves more free time, more energy. And I think we’re going to desperately need that, actually, we’re going to need to harness that because we’re going to have our work cut out for us doing what the capitalists have failed to do in relation to the climate crisis. We’re going to have a complete overhaul of the energy grid, protecting all the jobs involved, all the workers’ conditions, in addition to a monumental public works program of mitigation, of repair, of rebuilding, of disaster prevention, redesigning cities, public transportation, entirely new energy infrastructure… That’s exactly what’s required. That’s objectively what’s required by the climate crisis, and it’s objectively impossible for the market to carry it out.

This is to say nothing about the international repercussions. I mean, when we have a revolution in this country, the impact it’s going to have on the rest of the world is practically unimaginable. But a successful socialist revolution in any country would electrify the global political landscape. Just like that, millions and millions of workers, billions of people are going to be inspired. But you’re going to see: people are ready to take action. You’re going to see communist parties, mass parties, rising up, springing up, seemingly out of nowhere, all over the world, in response to an event like that. And if we do our jobs right, we should have the forces ready to greet such an event, ready to take a massive influx into the ranks of the organized communist movement, ready to deploy those communist cells to the urgent work of agitation, of preparation to carry out a revolution here.

The result of rationally planning, democratically planning the economy on a world scale, wouldn’t just be that life gets better, that we have better conditions, a shorter work week. It would mean a state of superabundance. It would mean, we no longer need a state at a certain point– in the sense of an armed force, which by the way, would also free up– the world is spending over $2 trillion every year in armaments. Actually, a huge part of that, 42 percent of that, is the U.S. Military budget alone. That’s going to come in handy when we can free up that amount of wasted resources. At the end of it, we would arrive at a point, the result of planning the economy in this direction would be arriving at communism. Arriving once again at this place where humanity is free, is equal as a species. There’s no state, no ruling class. I think, under these kinds of conditions, living under a situation of superabundance, I don’t think it would take long for all traces of religion, of prejudice, and of violence to also dissipate, to wither away with it.

Is it possible to achieve this?

Now, I know that painting a picture of another world like this, when we’re sitting here in Manhattan, can test the imagination of some people. I know that for some people, it may bring out a bit of skepticism. The point of Marxist theory is not to make a vivid fictional representation in our head of what the future is going to look like. Although I do think that part of being a communist is looking around at this world and being able to see that potential that’s there. To see the next world that sometimes peeks through. Because we’re talking about the evolution from this species to the next species in history, right? One comes out of the other. We’re talking about, we recognize the one that’s waiting.

And what is the point of Marxist theory? It is to help equip the mind of a communist to carry this out, to produce this transformation, that task of changing the world. Because this transformation that we’re talking about, it’s not just something we’re inventing out of thin air. It’s simply pointing out that there is productive potential. Objectively, that potential exists. It already exists. And if it could be unleashed, what would the possibilities be? They would be incredible, once they’re no longer constrained by the absurd narrow limits of private property, private ownership, of the profit motive, of everything organizing just to make a profit for a tiny minority. This is the evolutionary thread that we’re talking about in human history, saying, “Look, we can see what this next step is going to be, and this dystopian hellscape is not the end of history. This is just the end of our prehistory.”

Being a communist and adopting a Marxist outlook means being able to see that long view of history. It means resisting the outlook and the ideological pressure of the ruling class that has come to its end. Resisting the pessimism, the demoralization, the doom, and looking at capitalism– looking around especially, once we get outside, here in Manhattan, this nerve center of imperialism, those imposing skyscrapers of finance capital– and realizing capitalism is not natural. Capitalism is not sacred or eternal. It’s not omnipotent and it won’t last forever.

Comrades, until we reach the day where we can see that task through to the end, it’s our duty to gather together the grave diggers of this system and prepare for revolution.