Note (April 28, 2016): I haven’t had a chance to edit this article in any substantial way since I originally posted it, so I wanted to make an addendum here. While I absolutely still agree that there is a labor aristocracy (the “bought off” subsection of the u.s. working class described in section I of this post), and that this subsection is very disproportionately composed of euro-descended workers, I think my formulation of it below is mechanical.
In short, while nearly all euro-descended workers in the united states do have a short-term interest in aligning with capitalism, their long-term interest lies with the destruction of capitalism everywhere. How the euro-descended working class is split between these two interests at any given time is not set in stone–it depends on many different unpredictable historical factors, including the strength of the communist movement.
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I. Currently, a large majority of the U.S. population is “bought off” to capitalism.
So, there were socialists before Marx and Engels. Most of these early socialists thought that all we had to do to get socialism was come up with a well-thought-out blueprint for how it would all work, it would go viral, and we’d all just switch over because it would be an obviously superior system. That plan did not work.
So then, Marx and Engels came along and recognized that the most fundamental factor that drives history is the economic self-interest of large masses of people. They recognized that historically, those who live off of the labor of others (the ruling class of each era), statistically speaking, tend overwhelmingly to justify and guard their privileged economic situation by any means necessary. Likewise, the main military force that eventually overthrew the government that upheld every previous economic system was always the exploited population—for instance, the laborers and peasants against monarchic feudalism.
So, Marx and Engels took a look at capitalism and observed that the group of people who were exploited under capitalism was the working class—those who have no financial investments and have no way to survive but to work for someone else. So they declared that to overthrow capitalism and bring about socialism, the working class, who have nothing to lose but their chains, must organize and seize governmental and military power.
HOWEVER, modern marxists have noted that a sizeable proportion of people who survive solely on wage labor in the Global North, especially light-skinned and euro-descended workers, do not seem to think of themselves as being exploited. Rather, they seem to overall think of themselves as getting a generally acceptable deal, especially as compared to the rest of the world’s workers. And are they wrong? Materially speaking, they are consuming many times more value than they would be able to if the rest of the world weren’t there to produce it. Whether or not they are technically being exploited, they receive a huge flow of value being created in the Global South by people being paid very low wages. Without imperialism, this flow of value would vanish. Furthermore, because things like stock ownership and so on are promoted among these workers and included as part of their retirement plans, they have a significant ongoing material interest in the success of capitalist enterprise worldwide.
This sizeable proportion of workers in the Global North currently act as though they believe their greatest incentive is to PROTECT their global economic position—and that means protecting global imperialist capitalism and opposing socialism. And historically speaking, that is in fact how they have actually behaved—as the foot-soldiers of imperialist capitalism.
II. Revolutions happen at the weak links in global imperialist capitalism.
By the same token—and this has held true ever since Marx declared his theory—successful socialist revolutions have occurred only in regions where a large proportion of the population is very heavily exploited and oppressed. Hence the people’s wars (that is, armies under the direction of a maoist communist party waging guerrilla warfare against the capitalist government) in India, the Philippines, and to a lesser extent Nepal and Peru.
III. Every country socialists liberate from imperialist capitalism decreases the bought-off-ness here in the Global North.
Every territory that is liberated by socialists rearranges its economy to benefit the people there (as opposed to the people HERE). That means that every territory liberated by socialists is one whose back the Global North can no longer stand on, a territory that is no longer being used to raise the standard of living for people here, including workers. Because it lessens the flow of “free money” to imperialist countries, and thus lessens the total pool of money available to bribe the labor aristocracy, it invariably will shrink the material benefits the labor aristocracy and its allies are receiving, and thus has a good chance of weakening people here’s loyalty to global imperialist capitalism because there’s less to lose, materially speaking.
IV. Every country socialists liberate from imperialist capitalism drives more people in capitalist-controlled areas toward communism.
Relatedly, because the logic of capitalism demands that profits never fall and only rise, once socialists have removed a country from capitalist control, the capitalist class has no choice but to try to get the same amount of profit from their shrinking worker and resource base. This means that the most oppressed sections of the population that is still under capitalist control will face an increased exploitation and oppression, driving people who were previously on the fence into outright support of the communist movement.
V. Every country socialists liberate from imperialist capitalism weakens the U.S. government’s ability to make war.
What makes the U.S. military so powerful and able to strike all over the planet is the vast quantity of economic lifeblood that the Global North sucks from the rest of the planet. The less wealth that imperialism brings into this country, the less military power the U.S. government has to suppress insurgencies, whether here or abroad. It also reduces the number of operating bases and airspace the U.S. can use to launch attacks.
VI. Every country socialists liberate from imperialist capitalism increases the power of socialist and anti-imperialist movements everywhere.
Now, it’s clear that after a certain point for each, the Soviet Union (1950s) and the People’s Republic of China (1978) began to return to capitalism. However, before this point, both of them provided material aid to socialist and anti-imperialist movements elsewhere. That’s what socialist countries do, as much out of the self-interest of having more allies as out of a desire to reach global communism. Additional factors here include the boost to morale that each working example of socialism provides to socialists around the world, the power that it gives their arguments in convincing others that it can be done and is worth struggling for, and the large contribution in theory and knowledge that each successful revolution provides that can be studied and expanded on to make revolution in other places.
VII. The more upheaval and instability there is within an imperialist country, the more difficult it is for that country to impose control and order on another country.
While it is clear that the great majority of the credit for ending the Vietnam War lies with the Vietnamese people for their incredible resistance to U.S. aggression, it is worth noting that the widespread dissent against the war in civilian U.S. society helped demoralize U.S. soldiers, making the military less and less effective as time went on.
Furthermore, as Stokely Carmichael said,
The question may be asked, how does the struggle to free these internal colonies relate to the struggle against imperialism all around the world? We realistically survey our numbers and know that it is not possible for black people to take over the whole country militarily. In a highly industrialized nation the struggle is different. The heart of production and the heart of trade is in the cities. We are in the cities. We can become, and are becoming, a disruptive force in the flow of services, goods and capital. While we disrupt internally and aim for the eye of the octopus, we are hoping that our brothers are disrupting externally to sever the tentacles of the US.
What’s more, seeing large struggles here not only provides disruption, but it also provides morale to revolutionaries in literally the rest of the world, because they see that if it can happen and grow here even in the belly of the beast, then they can feel emboldened that we collectively can take the whole world.
The broader and more radical the dissent of the oppressed and exploited within an imperialist country becomes, the more difficult it becomes for the imperialist capitalist leadership to fight the growing number of upheavals, both domestic and international, all of which become more intertwined as time goes on.
VIII. The fight for socialism in an imperialist country has two parts.
Until there is a protracted people’s war in North America communists will not be taking up arms against the imperialist capitalist government. It would be extremely counterproductive. We live where imperialist military power is at its very strongest. What we can always do is analyze our specific situation in the global context and act accordingly. The most productive work for socialism here has two parts.
(a) The empowerment, defense, and organization of those here who are oppressed and exploited to the point that they actually have nothing to lose but their chains
Probably the most successful communist party in U.S history was the early Black Panther Party. They (and similar revolutionary communist organizations of oppressed-nation people) worked directly among the people by serving people’s unmet needs and organizing them to meet those needs for themselves and resist oppression and police terror. They were operating roughly according to a strategy called the mass line, is very effective, because it produces a positive feedback loop where the party grows because it serves the people and wins their trust and support, and the bigger it gets, the more people it can serve and the bigger impact it can have on society at large and, most importantly, the truer it will be a genuine party of the whole people. The existence of such a group not only improves the daily lives of the lowest and deepest sections of the working class within an imperialist country, but it also necessarily disrupts capitalism’s business as usual, dividing and confusing the imperialist leadership, and, as discussed in (VII), it makes it harder for them to stop the anti-imperialist struggles happening elsewhere. This will all the while be building toward a protracted people’s war.
For a more detailed discussion of what that looks like in the united states today, see Red Guards Austin’s position paper, Condemned to Win.
(b) Total opposition to U.S. military and intelligence operations abroad
We here must use the most effective means possible to block the U.S. government’s attempts to further its own agenda internationally. This means supporting radical anti-war movements and opposing all U.S. military intervention abroad. Because of the effects described in (III) through (VI) above, the more successful we are at blocking the U.S. government from growing more powerful and suppressing socialist and anti-imperialist revolutions elsewhere, the more potential socialists there will be here, the stronger we can make socialist movements elsewhere, and the weaker the forces that oppose socialism everywhere will be. Each new revolution elsewhere strengthens us here, allowing us to increase our organizing, which also helps more revolutions elsewhere, repeating the cycle.
It may seem a long way off, that’s how we can really do it. These factors mean that we can in fact steadily increase our power and decrease theirs until the day comes when we can win even here in the belly of the beast.