In this chapter, we elaborate our understanding of dialectical and historical materialism, social investigation and compositional analysis, and the practice of criticism, self-criticism, and summation. Taken together, we consider these to form the theoretical foundation of the revolutionary communist project.
CHAPTER I: THE WEAPON OF THEORY
1.1.1: If our aim is to achieve the revolutionary transformation of society, then we require a revolutionary theory to guide our practice. Communist theory emerged from the historical development of human society in the age of capital. Arising from the needs of the global working class and all oppressed peoples to establish a scientific basis for their revolutionary challenge to capitalist-imperialism's social domination, communist theory aims to prove scientifically that the prevailing material conditions at the present phase of humanity's historical social development are ripe for a socialist transition to communism, defined as a classless, stateless, decolonized, feminist, ecological, democratic, and free society, and that capitalist-imperialism is the main obstacle standing in the way of social progress in the direction of communism.
1.1.2: Whereas utopian socialists of various stripes overlook the basic facts of historical reality when elaborating their visions of an ideal society, communists are scientific socialists who derive our political orientation and praxis from a critical and objective analysis of humanity's historical social development, situated within the broader context of natural history, and the identification and study of the contradictions and struggles which shape the processes of historical change within a particular social system. Scientific socialism is a living theory, permanently open to adaptation and modification in the face of new challenges and situations. While grounding itself in an objective understanding of material reality, it is an unabashedly partisan theory, firmly adopting the standpoint of the global working class and all oppressed peoples struggling for liberation from all forms of exploitation and oppression, and locating within the people's liberation struggle the hope and promise of social progress and freedom for humanity. "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways," Marx teaches us, "The point is to change it." The theoretical framework adopted by communists has implications not only for the analysis of historical social systems, but for the method of synthesizing a revolutionary communist vision, strategy, and program.
1.1.3: The theoretical foundations of the communist movement were first established by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were themselves shaped by the great social transformations and struggles of their time: capitalist industrialization, European colonialism, the Great Irish Famine of 1847, the democratic revolutions of 1848, the founding of the Communist League and First International Workers' Association, the development of evolutionary biology, anthropological studies of Indigenous societies (specifically the Haudenosaunee people), the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the Franco-Prussian War, and the Paris Commune of 1871. It is a testament to the contributions made by Marx and his comrade Engels to the development of philosophy and social science in general, and to communist theory in particular, that we can situate our political project within the broad tradition of Marxism. However, since the days of Marx and Engels, communist theory and practice has been further tested, refined, and enriched in the numerous battles waged by the masses of working people struggling for liberation in all corners of the world, thereby breaking Marxism free from Eurocentric biases embedded in some of the initial formulations of its early proponents. Armed with the scientific tools of Marxism, the international communist movement has immense historical experience from which we can learn in order to build a revolutionary people’s movement for the twenty-first century. It is only upon such a solid theoretical foundation that a revolutionary socialist transition to communism will be made possible.
1.1.4: According to Marx and Engels, labor is a necessary condition for human existence. Labor power, or the human capacity to labor, consists of the aggregate of mental and physical capabilities in human beings, which are exercised socially in a labor process in order to satisfy human needs. Through the labor process, we appropriate and metabolize elements of nature to meet our needs. These needs are not static, but evolve in accordance with our social development and environmental context. From the outset, the labor process is a social process, through which humans communicate, cooperate, and coordinate in a range of interconnected social activities such as foraging, hunting, cooking, nurturing, healing, migrating, teaching, learning, farming, manufacturing, etc. Through the labor process we encounter and transform the material world, and upon the basis of this practical social activity we accumulate and systematize knowledge about nature and society. By transforming nature, we transform ourselves and develop our capacities. Through practical experience we become conscious of our needs and drives, and identify the means and obstacles to satisfying those needs. It is on the basis of praxis, defined as the process of acting and reflecting upon the material world in order to change it, that consciousness emerges.
1.1.5: The theoretical framework forming the basis of the communist worldview is known as dialectical materialism, which asserts the existence of a material world that is knowable, but which exists independently of our knowledge of it. This material world conditions our forms of life and ways of knowing. Humanity's knowledge of the world and capacity to consciously transform it arises in the course of our struggle to satisfy needs through our metabolic interchange with nature. Knowledge is thus always situated within a specific material context, arising from the historical development of nature and society, and—in the era of hierarchical class societies—corresponding to specific social standpoints shaped by the prevailing structures of class exploitation and social oppression.
1.1.6: Theory is knowledge generated through social praxis, developed to the point that it can be systematized and generalized. Theory is a tool people use to determine what is happening, why it is happening, and what to do about it. Theory accomplishes this by going beyond immediate appearances, attempting to understand the deeper, causal processes at play. In the hands of an organized communist movement, theory becomes an instrument for overcoming exploitative and oppressive social relations and institutions, and for constructing a free life in common. Wielded by the masses of exploited workers and oppressed peoples in the struggle for liberation, theory becomes, in the words of György Lukács, "an instrument of war." Communists use theory to map the terrain of social struggle and identify our movement's line of march.
A People's Science
1.2.1: The aim of science is to produce, systematize, and generalize objective knowledge of our universe. Through scientific inquiry, we can discover the patterns, structures, and processes of various natural and social phenomena. On the basis of this knowledge we produce meaning about our place in the universe. Through investigation and observation, scientists collect data. On the basis of this data, hypotheses are formulated. These hypotheses are then tested through processes of experimentation. On the basis of repeated experimentation, evidence is collected, patterns, laws, and tendencies are identified, and theoretical explanations are formulated. These theories are then subjected to review, interpretation, and critique by the scientific community, as well as the broader public. The cycle then begins anew—but now with a stronger foundation—advancing in a spiral development with a new round of data collection, hypothesization, experimentation, theorization, and review. The results of this research process are then synthesized and systematized, thereby further expanding humanity's base of scientific knowledge. This, in the broadest sense, is the scientific process of knowledge production, moving from the perceptual to the conceptual, and back again, in an endless spiral. Building upon this foundation, a people's science of nature and society does not limit itself to analyzing material conditions, but seeks to address the question: what is to be done?
1.2.2: Scientific theory and practice does not establish natural and social truths once and for all: science is an open project, rooted in criticism, self-criticism, summation, and transformation. To be classified as scientific, the results of a research process must be subjected to processes of verification and falsification, remaining permanently open to new challenges in the form of alternative hypotheses, experiments, evidence, theories, and interpretations. We have seen how the communist movement in the past was plagued by dogmatism, whereby a particular theoretical paradigm within Marxism was assumed to be immune to critique and closed-off to new challenges. In the fields of philosophical and scientific inquiry, we can and must do better.
1.2.3: Science strives for maximum objectivity. However, objectivity is relative, as it is the outcome of human social learning and determined through human social practice. Scientific theories are constantly modified or discarded in light of new scientific developments. The most accurate scientific theories contain intrinsic limitations due to the material context from which they emerge, as well as the material limits of scientific praxis at a given historical conjuncture. There is no endpoint for the scientific process, as the search for truth and the production of knowledge is constant. Furthermore, a theory may be accepted as correct under specific circumstances, but proven incorrect or inadequate in light of new information. Thus development—be it natural, social, or intellectual—proceeds in a spiral motion. Scientific advancements are always partial, but become increasingly systematized, comprehensive, and complex as the process of knowledge production spirals outward, with qualitative advancements achieved through theoretical ruptures or paradigm shifts.
1.2.4: Scientific knowledge cannot be disembedded from society, nor disembodied from everyday human social practice and our metabolic relation to nature. Scientific knowledge is produced through the collective labor of humanity in a specific phase of our historical social development, and is always applied in ways that advance or hinder the aims of a particular vision of social progress. Scientific knowledge thus serves a specific social purpose, advancing or undermining the material interests of specific classes and social groups, and the civilizational projects associated with them. So long as class exploitation and various forms of social oppression exist, the usefulness of scientific knowledge, as well as the ethical and moral principles guiding its production, will be socially determined on the basis of its ability to serve certain material interests and achieve its stated goals.
1.2.5: Subjective motivations, particularly in social science, should not be hidden behind false claims of pure objectivity and value neutrality. Rather, the role of subjectivity in science should be clarified openly. Thus we can speak of the need for a partisan social science, which consciously adopts the standpoint of the exploited and oppressed masses with the aim of serving the communist project of achieving universal liberation for humanity, establishing a sustainable metabolic interchange with nature, and advancing social progress. These are the material conditions and ethical imperatives which should shape the production and application of scientific knowledge today, particularly on the social and ecological fronts, as the imperialist world-system will ultimately undermine the material conditions of complex life itself if it is allowed to continue to dominate humanity and the planet.
1.2.6: While not dismissing the utility of research "from above" for critical social science, the lived experiences of exploited classes and oppressed social groups as viewed "from below" can provide the best starting point for an empirical and maximally objective analysis of society. The social locations occupied by the exploited and oppressed are the best vantage points for understanding the material realities of human social organization at our present historical conjuncture, because they can provide a more objective, empirical, and comprehensive understanding of how a hierachical class society actually functions, and illuminate paths to its revolutionary transformation through the political agency of particular classes and social groups.
1.2.7: There is no such thing as absolute objectivity or value-neutral science. As opposed to weak objectivity disguised as universal knowledge—an act which conflates particularities with generalities—science must strive for strong objectivity and the harmonization of multiple scientific research agendas. Thus objective knowledge of the world is always produced from within a particular historical context and, within our present form of society, by members of specific classes and social groups that occupy structural positions within a matrix of exploitative and oppressive social relations and institutions. The class position, social standpoint, material interests, and political orientation of a participant in a scientific research process thus conditions the process of knowledge production itself. In summary, a people's science aims to be objective in its analysis of the material world and identification of historical patterns, tendencies, and potentialities, but partisan in the questions it raises, the problems it aims to solve, and the political movements for social change it participates in. Furthermore, dialectical materialist research must never cherry-pick data, essentialize social relations, or assume the inevitability of revolutionary change and social progress.
1.2.8: Scientific research and the production of scientific knowledge has both historical and geographical dimensions. Research always takes place within a specific material context, with particular agendas and assumptions operating among the actors involved, all of whom occupy specific class positions and social standpoints which shape their worldview and the research process. This too must be critically examined and demystified. By grounding science in the practice of criticism, self-criticism, and summation, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the world that is maximally objective, while remaining permanently open to further critique and modification.
1.3.1: In the history of philosophy and science, two worldviews have contended: idealism and materialism. The idealists separate consciousness from matter, the mind from the body, humans from nature, the individual from society, thinking from doing, being from becoming. The materialists emphasize that humans—and by extension, our ideas—are products of circumstances. In opposition to idealism, the materialists assert that there is an objective material world, of which humanity—and by extension, human consciousness—forms a part. The organic arises from the inorganic, and the complex from the simple. However, just as idealist dialectics overlooks how material conditions shape our mental conceptions of the world, mechanical materialists overlook how conscious human activity can transform material conditions. According to the mechanical materialist paradigm, matter does indeed shape the conditions for the emergence of natural and social life, but arbitrarily assumes that our present reality is essentially unchangeable, or at least beyond the realm of transformation by the conscious social activity of humans. The resolution of the contradiction between idealist dialectics and mechanical materialism is to be found in the paradigm of dialectical materialism.
1.3.2: Bourgeois theories of nature and society oversimplify material reality in a reductionist fashion. Mechanical materialism correctly emphasizes the material conditions which shape human social life, while eschewing the role of human agency in changing those conditions. Idealist dialectics may correctly recognize the power of the human mind and agency, but ignore or downplay the material conditions which give rise to ideas and shape the possibilities for certain types of action. The revolutionary communist worldview synthesizes these two perspectives as dialectical materialism, emphasizing the relational, developmental, and interdependent character of the material world, encompassing nature, society, and thought. Matter is here understood as vibrant and dynamic, constantly undergoing processes of transformation and assuming ever more complex forms of combination. It is from matter’s perpetual self-movement that complex combinations known as systems arise, and it is from the dynamic interconnections of these systems, of matter in motion, that a web of life emerges. This perspective recognizes that humans indeed make our own history, albeit not under conditions of our own choosing: we inherit from the past particular natural, social, and intellectual forms which condition, shape, and set important limits to purposeful human action.
1.3.3: Dialectical materialism is a theoretical framework that is both a philosophy of science, as well as a method of scientific inquiry and analysis, that is applied by communists to the study and transformation of our objective reality. Dialectical materialism asserts that material conditions are in a perpetual state of movement and flux: change is constant in our universe. From the various forms taken by matter in motion emerges a complex web of life, of which human society forms a part, and from which our mental conceptions of the world emerge. We are committed to the development and application of a dialectical materialism that recognizes the interdependence of nature and society, humanity's metabolic interchange with nature, the shaping of human consciousness by social relations and institutions, the transformation of society by conscious human activity, the dynamic entanglement of multiple spheres of social activity, and the interconnected and often contradictory processes which organize and structure everyday social life.
1.3.4: The first premise of dialectical materialism is that the universe is composed of matter, which is in a constant state of motion. This kinetic matter is self-organizing and self-acting, vibrant and creative. Through matter’s dynamic movements, it attains increasingly complex forms of combination, thereby establishing systems, from which emerges a complex web of natural and social life of which we form a part.
1.3.5: Combined with the ontological insights of materialism, dialectics serves as both an instructive analogy for the complex relational processes which constitute our universe, and a method for investigating the interconnectedness and interdependence of material reality, the spiraling development of life's emerging complexity, and the transitions between phases in the development of matter, nature, society, and mental conceptions of the world. As a theory of change, dialectical materialism assumes that transformative movement is constant: matter is active, creative, and always in a state of motion, generating complexity and diversity in both nature and society. If we understand the dynamics of change—that is, kinetic matter's particular forms of motion—we can more effectively change the world. To do so, we must view the development of nature and society historically. Far from being the monopoly of academic philosophers, dialectical modes of thought and theories of historical change are central to many Indigenous worldviews, which emphasize universal interconnectedness and interdependence, the cyclical flows of nature, the permanence of change, and the emergence of order out of chaos.
1.3.6: Dialectical materialism proposes a holistic and ecological way of studying our material reality by conceptualizing our universe as a multilevel relational network of nesting systems, all of which share certain common properties and exhibit adaptive, self-reproducing, and evolutionary behaviors. We can define a system as an interconnected whole composed of elementary parts, coherently organized in ways that achieve specific functions or purposes. The basic components which constitute a system are complementary and interconnected through complex relational processes. The reciprocal determination of these parts produce organized patterns of behavior, or feedback, which affect the behavior and development of the system as a whole, giving rise to emergent properties: thus the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Every system has a boundary, which places important limitations on the system's internal processes, maintains the system as an integral unity, and demarcates the system's relative autonomy in relation to its operational environment. Finally, systems are scalable, as a whole system at one scale forms an elementary part of a different system at another. By guiding us to think in systems, dialectical materialism focuses our attention on the relational processes which connect the elementary component parts whose mutual interactions and reciprocal determinations produce the constituent systems of our universe.
1.3.7: Dialectical materialism views reality dynamically through the lens of contradiction and transition between phases in the development of complex systems. Dialectical materialism is predicated on several core principles concerning the organization of all natural and social systems. The first principle is the universal interconnectedness and interdependence of matter, or the mutual entanglement and reciprocal determination of all natural and social systems, which forms the basis of our reality. The second principle is the permanence of developmental processes, whereby natural and social systems are in a constant state of motion and transformation, which drives systemic changes to move in spirals, not circles. Through the spiral development of matter in motion, new relations evolve which preserve certain aspects of prior forms while simultaneously advancing towards greater complexity and the emergence of new defining aspects. The third principle is emergence, understood as non-linear and asymmetrical phase transitions or turning points within a system's development, whereby quantitative changes accumulate to produce a rupture, resulting in a qualitative leap forward. Revolutionary ruptures thereby emerge from within a given system's particular evolutionary trajectory. The fourth and final principle is contradiction, defined as the unity of opposing forces. Contradiction is immanent to all natural and social systems, and a central driver of change in the development of nature and society. By identifying and analyzing contradictions, we learn that struggles internal to a particular system can be generative. The struggle between the opposing forces leads to a turning point, which produces a synthesis by resolving the contradiction, ultimately culminating in the transition to a new phase in the qualitative development of the system in question, or the emergence of a new system. On this basis a new unity is established which supersedes the old unity, while still preserving certain aspects of the old unity. In this way, the concept of contradiction helps us to understand the simultaneity of continuity and rupture in nature and society. The new unity arising from this process of struggle inevitably generates new contradictions, and the sequence begins anew: unity→ struggle→ synthesis→ unity.
1.3.8: On the one hand, the constituent aspects of a contradiction constitute an organic relation: they are complementary, mutually influencing and reciprocally determining one another, thus forming a unified whole. On the other hand, a contradiction's constituent aspects constitute a negative relation or polarity: they are exclusive, oppositional forces locked in continuous struggle, thereby producing tension or friction which generate distinct forms of agency and possibilities for change. There is both unity and struggle, and in their dialectical movement these two poles of a contradiction can produce transformations in matter, nature, society, and consciousness. For example, the central class contradiction within capitalism is between the working class on the one hand, and the capitalist class on the other. These two classes require one another, as this relationship defines capital itself, thus constituting an organic relation. Yet they also exclude one another, and are thus negatively related: it is in the capitalist's objective interest to exploit and oppress the workers, while it is in the worker's objective interest to overthrow and abolish capitalism and all forms of class society. This contradiction gives rise to particular forms of class struggle within capitalism, which is a driving force in capitalist social development and a potential source of its ultimate overthrow and abolition. It is because of this contradiction and the struggles it generates that the social structure of the capitalist system undergoes constant recomposition.
1.3.9: Contradictions in nature and society generate two forms of motion. The first is quantitative and evolutionary, which can misleadingly produce the appearance of a stable equilibrium within a natural or social system, as change appears to happen according to gradual, linear, and predictable patterns. The second is qualitative and revolutionary, grasped as a turning point or phase transition, as change is produced by a qualitative leap or rupture. The latter is often the result of the former, as changes in quantity eventually generate changes in quality.
1.3.10: Contradiction is universal, present in all forms of matter, but contradictions are particular, unique to a specific organization of matter in the historical development of nature and society. The specific forms of motion assumed by a particular contradiction will vary in accordance with the unique defining aspects and historical context of the contradiction in question, which in turn generate particular forms of struggle and paths to the contradiction's resolution.
1.3.11: In the particular case of human social development, we must distinguish between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. For example, in a capitalist society, the contradictions between various sectors and strata internal to the working class are of a non-antagonistic nature and can thus be resolved through peaceful forms of struggle, principally dialogue. In contrast, the contradiction between the working class and the capitalist class is an antagonistic contradiction, and can only be resolved through a socialist revolution which successfully overthrows the rule of the capitalist class, establishes the political power of the working class, abolishes capital's system of class exploitation and all forms of social oppression, and builds the social relations and institutions of a communist society.
1.4.1: Historical materialism is the application of dialectical materialism to the critical study of the historical development of human social systems and their metabolic interchange with nature. According to historical materialism, the social relations and institutions which organize and regulate human social life acquire definite patterns over time, and generate particular contradictions. These social contradictions contain developmental potentials which can, under certain conditions, lead to revolutionary social change through conscious human social activity.
1.4.2: Historical materialism asserts that humans are a social species. That is to say, humans only exist within the context of organized social systems composed of other humans. It is through the coordination of cooperative social activity—be it voluntary or compulsory—that the human species has survived, subsisted, developed, and evolved. A social system provides the material conditions within which the dialectical development of humanity progresses. The system of social organization—that is, the particular configuration of social relations and institutions which govern and structure everyday social life and humanity's metabolic interchange with nature—is primary in shaping humanity’s historical evolution. Consciousness is an emergent property of these material conditions, as human self-awareness arises from our direct participation in collective social activity.
1.4.3: According to historical materialism, the development of labor—taken in the broadest possible sense to encompass the purposeful activities of social production and reproduction—is a necessity for human survival, and a condition for the flourishing of human freedom. Humans must participate in a labor process to satisfy our needs. In the course of our metabolic interchange with nature, we deploy our mental and physical capabilities, or labor power, and invent and deploy tools to produce the necessities of life. In turn, human capacities are developed, and nature is transformed. This leads to the further transformation of the labor process itself. In every human social system, labor is the essential means of appropriating, metabolizing, and transforming nature in order to provide society with the necessary means of subsistence. However, the social organization of the labor process greatly determines the precise character of the social system in question, and thus the degree to which human freedom is realized.
1.4.4: When participating in the labor process, we enter into definite social relations, which are structured by particular social institutions. In analyzing the course of humanity's historical social development, we can abstract multiple activity spheres, encompassing kinship, technics, economics, culture, politics and administration, mental conceptions of the world, and society's metabolic relation to nature. Taken as a whole, this assemblage of social forces, relations, institutions, and modes of thought constitutes a social system. At our present historical conjuncture, the development of society has advanced to the point that it is possible to envision a conscious reorganization of the labor process on a global scale in order to meet social needs, develop the capacities of social individuals in an all-round way, and protect our planetary ecosystem's regenerative capacities. However, the dominant social system of capitalist-imperialism stands in the way of realizing this potential.
1.4.5: We can deepen our scientific understanding of humanity's historical development by abstracting from a particular social system its productive and reproductive forces, which are enmeshed with and inseparable from definite social relations and institutions. The productive forces of a society include land, material resources appropriated from nature, technical instruments, machines, infrastructure, logistical networks, knowledge, techniques, and human labor power itself, which are combined in the process of social production. The reproductive forces encompass the ecosystems, natures, social infrastructures, knowledge, technologies, and particular forms of labor power required for the maintenance and regeneration of the social system in question, which are combined in the process of social reproduction, which encompasses procreation, childrearing, socialization, and the provisioning of food, clothes, shelter, education, healthcare, childcare, eldercare, and so on. These productive and reproductive forces are governed by definite social relations and institutions, which organize the processes of social production and reproduction by establishing a division of labor. In the contemporary social context of capitalist-imperialism, this entails the division of society into antagonistic classes and social groups on the basis of property ownership, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, ability, and age. In turn, these social relations and institutions condition our mental conceptions of the world and political standpoints.
1.4.6: At a certain point in the evolution of historical social systems, the prevailing social relations and institutions can inhibit the creative utilization and further development of society's productive and reproductive forces. This is one of the central contradictions driving revolutionary social change in history, for it is only by reconfiguring social relations and institutions that certain potentialities enabled by the productive and reproductive forces can be realized. In the context of contemporary capitalist-imperialism, the prevailing productive and reproductive forces provide a more than sufficient basis for humanity to establish a society of communal abundance on a world scale, based on a free association of social individuals who, working with the means of social production and reproduction held in common—and having transformed labor itself into creative self-expression—rationally, ethically, and democratically regulate their metabolic interchange with nature. Having overthrown and abolished all forms of class exploitation and social oppression—and having resolved the contradictions between manual and intellectual labor, between town and country, between humans and nature—communist society will achieve the direct satisfaction of human needs, the all-round development of human capacities, and the sustainable stewardship of our planetary ecosystem.
1.4.7: Yet by maintaining a system of class exploitation and social oppression, the dominant social relations and institutions of capitalist-imperialism obstruct social progress in the direction of communism, and in fact threaten the very existence of complex life on this planet. In both the core and peripheries of the imperialist world-system, the productive and reproductive forces are generally developed in an uneven, irrational, and ecocidal fashion. In the peripheries, these forces have been developed to maintain colonial and neocolonial systems of super-exploitation in order for the imperial core to extract super-profits, thus preventing the autonomous social development of the peoples and nations of the peripheries. In the imperial core, the development of those productive and reproductive forces which bolster imperialist capital's authoritarian social control and military power have been favored, as evidenced by the massive growth and development of the military and prison industrial complexes. As Rosa Luxemburg teaches us, humanity today stands at the crossroads: either achieve a revolutionary socialist transition to communism on a world scale, or descend into the barbarism of war and ruin.
1.4.8: While making theoretical abstractions can help us understand historical social development and locate possibilities for intervening in processes of revolutionary social change, we must be careful to avoid mechanical conceptions of history, which incorrectly assume historical social development to be unilinear and predetermined. From such undialectical distortions of historical materialism emerged various Eurocentric models of human social history, in which an idealized conception of social development abstracted from a narrow study of the nation-states of the imperial core was generalized as a universal model for the development of all human social formations. Such mechanical conceptions of historical social development only serve to justify the continued oppression, exploitation, and dependent status of the peoples and nations of the global peripheries.
1.4.9: Similarly, we should caution against reducing the scientific analysis of society to the narrow study of economic systems. While it is true that the system of economic organization profoundly shapes social consciousness and the political, cultural, and kinship forms of a specific society, and that without an economic system people's basic needs would go unmet and human social existence would come to an end, it is equally true that the political, cultural, and kinship relations of a society shape the system of economic organization, as does the organization of society's metabolic interchange with nature. It is better for us to conceptualize the historical development of social life dialectically as a process of mutual accommodation and reciprocal determination, in which there is correspondence between structure and superstructure, between the system of social production and the system of social reproduction.
1.4.10: In a similar way, while we can correctly assert that our mental conceptions of the world—our ideas and consciousness—can assist us in transforming the material organization of society, it is equally true that if there is no correspondence between our mental conceptions of the world and objective reality, then we will prove ineffectual in transforming the world. In the final instance, matter conditions the development of nature, nature conditions the development of humanity, and human social organization conditions the development of human thought. As Karl Marx teaches us: humans make our own history, but not under conditions of our choosing. To change the world, we must center the dialectical development of matter in motion when building our conceptions of natural and social history.
1.4.11: The historical evolution of humanity is marked by several important revolutionary ruptures. We can note humans appropriating elements of nature and the invention and deployment of both simple and complex tools in order to develop human social systems. From the development of articulated speech, the harnessing of fire, and the invention of complex tools such as the bow and arrow, to the creation of pottery, the domestication of animals, the cultivation of plants, and the smelting of iron ore. Upon this material basis evolved complex cultural forms. With the production of a social surplus we can observe the advent of patriarchal class societies and the rise of the first systems of state power.
1.4.12: Early human social systems were essentially communal, organized on the basis of common social property and collective social labor. These early communal societies were generally nomadic, matricentric, and met the basic subsistence needs of the population initially through foraging and hunting, and later through various forms of agriculture. As there were no classes or dominant social groups, there was no need for a system of state power. However, with the development of agriculture, social systems developed the capacity to generate a social surplus. The production of a social surplus led to rapid population growth, specialized divisions of labor, and increasing complexity of human social life, giving way to an important contradiction: should the social surplus be appropriated by the community as a whole, or by a specific social group?
1.4.13: It is from the struggles over the appropriation of the social surplus at this historical conjuncture that we can locate the emergence of hierarchical class societies. From the classless, stateless, and matricentric communal societies of early antiquity emerged a range of social contradictions and struggles, from which certain members of society coalesced into a ruling class. Gradually, hierarchical class societies developed certain general features: they were patriarchal, having institutionalized male ownership, domination, and exploitation of women in the household and society, asserting male control over biological and social reproduction; they were based on private property and class exploitation, whereby members of a property-owning class appropriated the fruits of another’s productive activity by means of enslavement, tribute, rent, or the wage relation; and they gave rise to a system of organized social control based on coercive force and violence, or state power, which was necessary to establish, defend, reproduce, and expand the social domination of the ruling class.
1.4.14: During each successive form of hierarchical class society, we observe the coexistence of multiple classes. However, we can identify a dominant class antagonism corresponding to each system of social production. The first class societies of antiquity were based on systems of slavery, in which a ruling class of slaveowners oppressed and exploited a class of slaves. The slave class of antiquity were largely composed of prisoners of war and debtors, and were subjected to a totalizing system of exploitation and oppression. Throughout the period of ancient slavery there were innumerable slave insurrections, such as the immortalized uprising of Spartacus against Rome. With the crises and decline of ancient empires, slave-based systems of class exploitation eventually gave rise to feudalism. While slave systems persisted in many parts of the world in various forms, and feudalism preserved elements of slavery, the dominant class antagonism of feudalism was defined by the social relation of serfdom. Under feudalism, a ruling class of landlords oppressed and exploited a class of peasants. The landlords would collect rent from the peasantry in the form of labor rent (in which the peasants were forced to work for a set period of time, as seen with the corvée and encomienda systems), rent in kind (in which the peasants had to give directly a quantity of agricultural products to the landlord), and money rent (in which the peasants had to pay the landlord a quantity of money equivalent to the product that would be otherwise extracted via rent in kind). The systemic crises and class struggles of feudalism ultimately gave rise to capitalism. Like its feudal predecessor, capitalism preserved and reconfigured earlier forms of class exploitation, including the establishment of a racialized system of global slavery based on the kidnapping and super-exploitation of African peoples, and a range of feudal and semi-feudal relations throughout the colonial and settler-colonial peripheries in which peasants continued to generate an agricultural surplus for both landed estates and cities. However, the locus of class exploitation under the social domination of capital is found in the wage relation. By untethering masses of peasants from the social relations of feudalism, capital creates a class of "free" workers: free to sell their labor power to the profit-seeking capitalist, or starve. In combination with the means of social production owned by the capitalist, these workers produce commodities for sale on the world-market. While not all members of the working class succeed in obtaining waged employment—and capitalist-imperialism relies upon various forms of unwaged labor to reproduce itself—the working class as a whole must relate to the wage as the primary means of satisfying their subsistence needs, given their disposession from all autonomous means of social production and reproduction.
1.4.15: In the context of contemporary capitalist-imperialism, we observe an important contradiction. On the one hand, global increasees in literacy and access to education, the overall development of humanity's scientific and technical capacities, and the rise of popular revolutionary movements among the workers and oppressed peoples of the world, all combine to generate the potential for building a social system premised upon the rational, ecological, and democratic planning and coordination of social production and reproduction. Such a society could be capable of providing communal abundance for all through the direct satisfaction of human needs, the development of human capacities, and the sustainable stewardship of our environment. On the other hand, the hierarchical division of society into classes and social groups, private property, the profit motive, alienation of workers from social decision making, and control of state power by the imperialist bourgeoisie actively inhibit further social progress for humanity. Thus this potential cannot be realized without the revolutionary overthrow and abolition of capitalist-imperialism by a revolutionary people's movement, led by an alliance of the working class and all oppressed social groups.
1.4.16: Historical materialism can inform social investigations and the process of organizing the proletariat and all oppressed social groups for revolutionary struggle. By recognizing the complex interconnection and reciprocal determination between multiple spheres of social activity within a particular social system; the metabolic relation of this social system to its natural environment; the factors which shape the development of human social life (specifically the development of human consciousness, needs, and capacities); and the particular contradictions that shape a specific social system, this theoretical framework has far-reaching implications. Not only can historical materialism shape how we understand the historical development of complex social systems and envision viable alternatives, but it can also guide how we conceptualize the process of transitioning from one social system to another, assisting the identification of the exploited classes and oppressed social groups capable of leading and enacting revolutionary social change.
1.4.17: By studying the contradictions which shape the historical development of social systems, materialist dialectics can help us identify and analyze the dynamics, laws of motion, and tendencies which govern these systems, and inform the summation of lessons learned through past and present cycles of revolutionary social struggle. By applying the theoretical framework of dialectical and historical materialism to the practice of social investigation and the self-critical assessment and summation of our political work, the communist movement can improve its overall effectiveness by identifying strategic sites for the social insertion of communist organizers, and elaborate corresponding programs of action appropriate to the conjuncture encountered. There can be no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory, nor revolutionary theory without revolutionary practice: this is the dialectical meaning of praxis.
Social Investigation and Compositional Analysis
1.5.1: As communists, how do we intervene in the historical process to liberate the immense human potential generated by the development of contemporary society? What is the nature of the dialectical relationship between social structure and political agency? How do dispersed individuals come to recognize their unity as a class or social group in struggle, as members of a people's movement, with a common vision, strategy, program, and methods of organization? Building upon the foundation of dialectical and historical materialism, communists conduct social investigations in order to deepen our collective understanding of the terrain of struggle, as well as to establish an organic link with the masses in order to assist a process of political recomposition and the scaffolding of organizational infrastructure. Through social investigation, communists deepen our understanding of the dialectic of social structure and political agency, as well as identify faultlines in the social formation which could serve as strategic locations for the concentration of political forces through social insertion and mass work.
1.5.2: Social investigation is a means through which the communist movement can establish and maintain an organic connection with the masses, as well as a means for the masses of workers and oppressed peoples to further develop their consciousness of the conditions of their exploitation and oppression, the material possibility of communism, and their latent collective potential to build a system of counterpower and unleash socialist revolution. Informed by the theoretical framework of dialectical and historical materialism, revolutionary organizers conduct social investigations with the aim of using the results of a co-research process to verify and deepen our historical social analysis, identify social contradictions, accompany and support the development of revolutionary consciousness among the people, map the terrain of social struggle, and scaffold the construction of a revolutionary people's movement by organizing and networking autonomous mass organizations, people’s defense organizations, and revolutionary party organizations, culminating in the formation of a revolutionary united front.
1.5.3: By conducting social investigations, revolutionary communists can locate forms of everyday resistance and alternative modes of world-making that emerge organically within the confines of capitalist-imperialism, and ultimately advance the people's struggle to a higher level using the investigation as the basis for a programmatic synthesis. Through social investigation, we situate our political project within the prevailing material conditions, accompany the masses in their everyday lives, elaborate the emancipatory political content implicit in everyday social struggles, connect multiple sectors of struggle into a united front, and articulate a collective revolutionary subject from a multitude of revolutionary subjectivities.
1.5.4: In accordance with dialectical and historical materialism's principle of partisan social science, social investigation makes no claim to pure objectivity or value neutrality. Our research aims are political, consciously situated within the contradictions generated by capitalist-imperialism. The militant co-researcher seeks to identify, organize, and deepen the counter-systemic antagonisms that arise from these contradictions to the point of revolutionary rupture, and assist the masses in constructing first a system of counterpower, and later a socialist commune, in the revolutionary transition to communism. Throughout the co-research process, we apply dialectical and historical materialism to the analysis of complex systems in both nature and society when processing data collected in the field, as raw information is insufficient for the formulation of strategic, operational, and tactical plans: we require an explicitly political framework through which to process, contextualize, and utilize this information.
1.5.5: Through social investigation, we can begin to develop place-based people's histories grounded in local knowledge and map the terrain of social struggle, including an analysis of the local political economy and its corresponding class composition, the basic problems facing the proletarian and popular masses (such as high rent, low wages, police brutality, no healthcare, poor education, etc.), the correlation of forces between the people's movement and the imperialist bourgeoisie, and identification of members of the local ruling class and their allies. Through an initial survey, we can develop plans of action. Investigation can help develop a more accurate picture of our operational terrain and assess the effectiveness of our tactics. Through additional iterations of social investigation, we assess if the terrain of struggle has shifted, and if a new correlation of forces has emerged. Based on new information collected through the research process, we can reassess our plans and modify them accordingly.
1.5.6: Within the theoretical framework of dialectical materialism and the application of historical materialism to the practice of social investigation, the study and analysis of the structure and political agency of classes and social groups enables us to examine more closely social struggles in motion. As we have thus far emphasized, the formation of a collective revolutionary subject—the articulation of a historical bloc based on the dialectical unity of the working class and all oppressed social groups as a revolutionary people, expressed organizationally as a revolutionary united front—is a living process in which the knowledge produced through co-research is combined with the autonomous political organization of mass social struggles. In this section we shall summarize the method of class composition analysis, which explores and intervenes into the dialectic of structure and agency, before proceeding to explore the application of this method to the liberation struggles of the popular sectors arising from the contradictions of race, nation, gender, sexuality, disability, age, and so on.
1.5.7: Exploitation and oppression are not abstract ideas, but concrete social relations which take on particular institutional forms at specific historical conjunctures. Through social struggles, the imperialist world-system is constantly reconfigured: workers strike and capital restructures the production process; colonies revolt and the nation-states and multinational corporations of the imperial core restructure international relations along neocolonial lines; trans people rebel to demand equal rights and access to healthcare services, and the cisheteropatriarchy compels the capitalist state to issue new laws and decrees criminalizing and repressing gender autonomy; new technologies are created and deployed to intensify capital's extraction of surplus value and to reestablish or reinforce authoritarian social control. Thus the terrain of struggle is constantly transformed alongside the transformation of the subjectivity of the working class and all oppressed social groups.
1.5.8: What is a class? A class is a social group formed on the basis of a common position in the economic hierarchy of a social system based on private property and a hierarchical division of labor. On the basis of this common economic position, classes develop common material interests and consciousness of those interests. On this basis, classes take collective action in pursuit of those interests, struggling with the opposing classes. A revolutionary class can be defined as a class whose struggle imparts it with the potential to envision, articulate, and lead the construction of an alternative social system and resolve the central contradictions of the present system of social organization. A class is determined on the basis of its relationship to the means of social production and reproduction, and its position within the processes of production and reproduction.
1.5.9: From the perspective of historical materialism, and adopting the standpoint of the global working class, there are three interrelated components that shape the processes of class formation and class struggle under capitalist-imperialism. The first component is technical composition, which refers to the specific material organization of labor power through the social relations of production and reproduction, mediated via the market, and encompassing technological systems, management systems, and the general design of the production and circulation processes at the enterprise and industry level. The second component is social composition, which is the material organization of working-class social reproduction, which includes the reproduction of gender, racial, colonial, and national divisions within the class, as well as the social relations and institutions governing everyday life outside direct exploitation of labor by capital, encompassing housing, education, healthcare, and social infrastructure in general. The third is political composition, which is formed in dialectical relation to the technical and social composition. The political composition refers to the particular forms of self-awareness or consciousness, self-organization, and self-activity of the working class in its struggle against imperialist capital. The technical and social composition of the class thus forms the basis upon which a particular political composition emerges. Class composition enables us to analyze the particular social structure of capitalist social relations at a given historical and geographical conjuncture, resulting from the data collected via militant social investigation.
1.5.10: The conceptual framework and tools of class composition analysis can be applied to inquiries into the technical and social processes which organize and structure the social life and forms of struggle of oppressed social groups, such as colonized peoples and nations, women, LGBTQI+ communities, people with disabilities, healthcare patients, prisoners, students, youth, and elders. While each of these social groups have an internal class composition and a leading class or classes within them, their social existence and political agency cannot be reduced to strict class categories. For example, in the case of the settler-colonial U.S. empire, the Black community oppressed by internal colonialism is overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) proletarian in its class composition. However, there are distinct interests of this community, which derive from the particular experience of slavery and racial oppression, which require their own solutions: reparations, land redistribution, and the right to self-determination (up to and including the right to establish an independent nation). Like class struggles, decolonial struggles are not static: we should understand the unique technical, social, and political aspects of colonization and anti-colonial resistance. We could apply this analysis to gender oppression, feminist struggle, and the question of social reproduction, examining the technical composition of the family structure, the gendered organization of the social reproduction process, and the corresponding forms of political composition achieved by feminist movements. Furthermore, the conceptual framework of compositional analysis can be applied to particular institutions or territories, as with an analysis of the technical and social composition of a university, prison, or neighborhood, as discrete sites of social struggle and political recomposition.
Criticism, Self-Criticism, and Summation
1.6.1: The application of dialectical and historical materialism to the study and transformation of the world, principally through conscious political interventions into the processes of class and social group recomposition, is an adaptive, reflexive, and self-correcting process. What is the source of this theoretical and practical flexibility? The answer is to be found in the practice of criticism, self-criticism, and summation, which is rooted in the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge and the historical materialist conception of social change. It is precisely the "ruthless criticism of all that exists," to use Marx's expression, that enables both historical materialist social science and the organized communist movement to grow, develop, and adapt to new historical situations. To be critical is to think about one's thoughts, to become conscious of one's consciousness; it is to become aware of the defining contradictions of one's historical conjuncture, and to discover one's place and agency therein. Paulo Freire calls this process conscientização, or critical consciousness. This is not something achieved in isolation, but only through one's participation in the class struggle of the proletariat and the liberation struggles of the oppressed.
1.6.2: It is the practice of criticism, self-criticism, and summation which, in part, supports scientific socialism's claim to the mantle of science: it is not a closed system, but an open project capable of both giving and receiving constructive criticism, summarizing lessons learned through experience, rectifying errors, and changing theory and practice in light of new empirical evidence. Those claiming the mantle of scientific socialism while dogmatically defending unqualified, outdated, or discredited theories are no better than pseudoscientists (racists, eugenicists, climate change denialists, misogynists, transphobes, creationists, etc.) hiding among the ranks of real scientists in biology, geology, anthropology, psychology, and other fields of scientific research.
1.6.3: Politically, the goal of criticism, self-criticism, and summation is to transform the praxis of the organized communist movement and the people's movement it serves in all aspects and on all fronts, encompassing theory and analysis, strategy and program, ethics and morality. On the theoretical front, the goal is to improve the movement's scientific rigor, bringing our theory into alignment with objective reality. On the practical front, the goal is to transform the conduct, character, and effectiveness of participants in the revolutionary process. Ultimately, the process of criticism, self-criticism, and summation aims to achieve the dialectical unity of theory and practice. With every action taken, we must ask ourselves: "Whose material interests are advanced by this action? Which classes and social groups does it serve?"
1.6.4: Criticism, self-criticism, and summation not only provides a method for achieving the ideological and programmatic unity necessary for a movement to be effective in the political struggle, but also a means of both overcoming internalized oppressive attitudes and behaviors, as well as steeling comrades as revolutionary cadre. There are many forms of social chauvinism which must be struggled against and ultimately overcome, such as white, national, male, heterosexual, cisgender, and petite bourgeois chauvinisms. While the edifice which produces such oppressive social relations must ultimately be overcome, we must also learn to forge a new communist humanity in the trenches of the protracted revolutionary struggle itself. Indeed, as Che Guevara emphasized, in order to build communism we must transform ourselves as we transform the world. The material foundation established in the course of the socialist revolution will be of no use if a new people, guided by a communist ethics and morality, have not been forged in struggle. For this, we require criticism, self-criticism, and summation.
1.6.5: We must clarify that criticism, self-criticism, and summation is only to be conducted among communists and the masses of people as a tool for resolving non-antagonistic contradictions. It is not a tool for resolving antagonistic contradictions between exploiter and exploited, or oppressor and oppressed. These contradictions can only be resolved in the course of a global socialist revolution, when the power of the imperialist bourgeoisie is smashed by the counterpower of the masses.
1.6.6: According to the communist worldview, the masses of people play an active role in the transformation of themselves and the world. We should not fear criticism, but embrace it: contradiction is inescapable and struggle moves the world forward by progressively resolving contradictions. Movements that can learn from their mistakes can lead successful revolutionary struggles by continuously improving their praxis and style of work. Movements that ignore their mistakes are easily coopted, led astray, marginalized, or crushed.
1.6.7: On a practical level, revolutionary political work should be rooted in the process of making plans, implementing plans, critically analyzing and summarizing the results of a plan's implementation, and the making of new plans on the basis of knowledge generated through this process of criticism, self-criticism, and summation. The aim of summation is to understand the relational and developmental processes immanent to an experience of practice; to locate and analyze relevant contradictions; and to assess how our actions have been shaped by these contradictions, as well as how they transformed (or did not transform) them. Summation should identify both the positive and negative aspects of an experience, focusing on drawing out political lessons. Summation should be a collective process, and will itself entail struggle in order to determine the precise lessons to be learned from a particular experience.