Overturning Vulgar Third Worldism: A Practical Internationalist Approach to Revolution
23 June 2020
Last updated 14 August 2020
What Is “Vulgar” Third Worldism?
The Roots of the Labor Aristocracy
The Reactionary and Foolish Nature of the Labor Aristocracy
The Many Contradictions of Capitalism
Convergent and Divergent Interests
Privilege, Propaganda, and False Consciousness
The Problems of Vulgar Third Worldism
Establishing an Effective Internationalist Practice
“A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains.” —Karl Marx 
Much has been said about Third Worldism over the past decades. Many criticisms have been leveled at it; some with a level of validity, others with none. Some critics of Third Worldism have, for reasons of emotionalism or a lack of accurate class analysis, failed to see the point of it. On the other hand, some Third Worldists have gone so far as to say that the labor aristocracy is not part of the working class but is instead part of the bourgeoisie, with everything to lose and nothing to gain from socialist revolution. As we will see, this is not only incorrect, but also amounts to a total departure from proper Leninist principles. It is time to set the record straight, to address these issues in such a way as to make sense of all the facts, so that the international communist movement can draw itself out of the swamp and achieve real progress. While some may read this article and begin hurling accusations of First Worldist revisionism, in fact this article is a reaffirmation of Third Worldism, presenting it in a more nuanced fashion within a solid framework of internationalism.
The center of revolutionary activity in the world today is undoubtedly in the poor countries, as it has been for a long time. The rich imperialist countries (the “First World”) exploit the resources and labor of the poor countries (the “Third World”). Workers in the exploited countries live in conditions that are generally much worse than the conditions in the wealthy countries as their wealth is continuously siphoned off through imperialism and transferred to the exploiter countries. Because they have so much to gain from revolution, there is much more of a revolutionary social base in the poor countries, much more of a potential for people to adopt revolutionary anti-imperialist and communist ideologies. This is all common knowledge to communists who hold a Third Worldist perspective. However, while all of this is true, there are still many subtle and not-so-subtle problems with Third Worldism as it has often been promoted and practiced. We will first take a look at these problems and then examine how they can be corrected, how a proper course of action can be ascertained.
What Is “Vulgar” Third Worldism?
First of all, we must start by defining what we mean by “vulgar” Third Worldism. In essence, vulgar Third Worldism is a distorted view of an otherwise accurate analysis, a miscarriage of true Third Worldism. It is a perspective marred by certain problems which can largely be summed up as sectarianism, identity politics, absolutism, determinism, reductionism, and do-nothingism. To understand how these problems manifest as such, it is necessary to take a deeper look at the underlying causes of confusion within the realm of Third Worldist thought.
According to vulgar Third Worldism, workers in the wealthy countries only gain from the capitalist-imperialist system and lose nothing. Vulgar Third Worldism makes exaggerated claims that there is no working class in the wealthy countries and that there is no productive labor. Vulgar Third Worldism exaggerates, to some degree, the benefits enjoyed by workers in the wealthy countries; likewise, it exaggerates the role of the workers in the wealthy countries in determining political and economic policy. It tends to ignore the fact that a privileged section of workers (a “labor aristocracy”) exists in all countries, not just in the wealthy countries. Vulgar Third Worldism also has a tendency to overlook the high cost of living in the wealthy countries. Furthermore, vulgar Third Worldism ignores the role of propaganda in shaping the consciousness of people throughout the world, overlooking this phenomenon especially in the wealthy countries but also in the poor countries. Essentially, vulgar Third Worldism largely ignores the negative effects of the capitalist-imperialist system on people in the wealthy countries, and it ignores the various ways that they too are manipulated and victimized by the system and by the imperialist bourgeoisie.
Of course, workers in the poor countries lose more from the capitalist-imperialist system than do workers in the wealthy countries, have even less of a role in shaping political and economic policy, and are victimized to a much greater degree. Because of the vast amount of wealth that is stolen from the poor countries each year and transferred to the wealthy countries through imperialism to be enjoyed not only by the bourgeoisie, but also by the general population of these countries, it would appear that the workers in the wealthy countries are the enemies of the workers in the poor countries. While First Worldists try to define all workers as part of the same class based only on their relationship to the means of production, this is an extremely problematic and overly simplistic view considering the fact that one group of workers lives at the expense of the other group, and it obscures the exploitive relationship that exists between them based on imperialism. In many ways the interests of the workers in the wealthy countries seem to be directly opposed to the interests of workers in the poor countries, and indeed they are, but only to an extent. In other ways, their interests are very much the same. We will examine this important point in greater detail later on in this article.
The Roots of the Labor Aristocracy
It is vitally important for communists everywhere to understand what the labor aristocracy is and its political significance in the context of the revolutionary struggle. The labor aristocracy is a privileged section of the working class that holds a reactionary, counter-revolutionary, petty-bourgeois mindset. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels observed the initial formation of the labor aristocracy in their time, noting its profoundly negative effects on the proletarian movement, especially in England. Vladimir Lenin observed this phenomenon at a later stage, after the labor aristocracy had grown to include large sections of the working class in multiple countries. Lenin spoke at length in numerous articles about the reactionary nature of the labor aristocracy, its petty-bourgeois tendencies, and its cowardly opportunism. Later Marxists have examined the continuation of the labor aristocracy through the present, noting the obvious fact that its privilege is based upon the exploitation of large sections of underpaid workers from the lower ranks of the working class, primarily those in the colonies and neo-colonies of the imperialist countries.
The rise of the labor aristocracy accompanied the development of highly efficient productive technologies under capitalism. Because fewer and fewer workers were needed to produce the goods needed for daily life, an increasing number of privileged workers could be employed in unproductive jobs. In Chapter 15 of Capital, Volume 1, Marx writes that
“…the extraordinary productiveness of modern industry, accompanied as it is by both a more extensive and a more intense exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, allows of the unproductive employment of a larger and larger part of the working-class, and the consequent reproduction, on a constantly extending scale, of the ancient domestic slaves under the name of a servant class…”
In Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels observes that the existence of the labor aristocracy in England was made possible largely through England’s dominant economic position and exploitation of its colonies:
“The truth is this: during the period of England’s industrial monopoly the English working-class have, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parcelled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had, at least, a temporary share now and then.”
In a letter to August Bebel, Engels notes the reactionary nature of the English working class at the time:
“Participation in the domination of the world market was and is the basis of the political nullity of the English workers. The tail of the bourgeoisie in the economic exploitation of this monopoly but nevertheless sharing in its advantages, politically they are naturally the tail of the ‘great Liberal Party,’ which for its part pays them small attentions, recognises trade unions and strikes as legitimate factors, has relinquished the fight for an unlimited working day and has given the mass of better placed workers the vote.”
Lenin observes the same phenomenon of the labor aristocracy, noting that an entire nation could benefit from the exploitation of other countries:
“The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies.”
In his article “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism,” Lenin explains the concept of “superprofits” (originally mentioned by Marx in Volume 1 of Capital) and how superprofits are obtained through imperialist exploitation of other countries:
“…[W]hy does England’s monopoly explain the (temporary) victory of opportunism in England? Because monopoly yields superprofits, i.e., a surplus of profits over and above the capitalist profits that are normal and customary all over the world. The capitalists can devote a part (and not a small one, at that!) of these superprofits to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance (recall the celebrated ‘alliances’ described by the Webbs of English trade unions and employers) between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists against the other countries…
A handful of wealthy countries—there are only four of them, if we mean independent, really gigantic, ‘modern’ wealth: England, France, the United States and Germany—have developed monopoly to vast proportions, they obtain superprofits running into hundreds, if not thousands, of millions, they ‘ride on the backs’ of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people in other countries and fight among themselves for the division of the particularly rich, particularly fat and particularly easy spoils.”
The researcher and author Zak Cope gives an excellent description of how the imperialist countries extract superprofits in modern times in his book Divided World Divided Class:
“As production processes become concentrated on a global scale, then, the leading oligopolies compete to reduce labour and raw materials costs. They export capital to the underdeveloped countries in order to secure a high return on the exploitation of abundant cheap labour and the control of economically pivotal natural resources. As a consequence of capital export imperialism there is a net outflow of value from the Third World to the metropolis. For every sum loaned to Third World industry by the leading investors, a greater sum returns to them in the form of repatriated profits, royalties, services and the repayment of debt and interest. Moreover, capital invested in the global ‘periphery’ commands far greater supplies of value-creating labour than it does in the global core. As such, a greater quantity of surplus-value is obtained by the leading capitalists through their employment of superexploited labour-power. Monopoly or oligopoly compels rival national capitals to conquer larger markets for their goods and to expand production overseas so as to exploit relatively cheap labour. In doing so, more and more of the imperialist country’s wealth is created abroad and transferred home by a variety of means (debt servicing, profit repatriation and unequal exchange being the three principal ones).”
Thus, it is clear that the labor aristocracy has a material basis in the economic plundering of the oppressed and exploited colonies and neo-colonies of the imperialist countries. The wealth stolen through imperialist exploitation is, in part, shared among the working class of the imperialist countries in order to appease them, to make life easier for them, to cement their alliance with the bourgeoisie.
The Reactionary and Foolish Nature of the Labor Aristocracy
The labor aristocracy often holds a racist, national chauvinist mentality, as the privileged workers in the exploiter nations have a tendency to look down upon the workers in the exploited nations. In a letter to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, Marx explains how such racism and national chauvinism keep the working class divided, enabling the capitalists to maintain their rule:
“And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.
This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.”
In his article “The African Roots of the War,” the writer W.E.B. Du Bois had this to say about the racist character of the privileged workers in the imperialist countries:
“The white workingman has been asked to share the spoil of exploiting ‘chinks and niggers.’ It is no longer simply the merchant prince, or the aristocratic monopoly, or even the employing class, that is exploiting the world: it is the nation; a new democratic nation composed of united capital and labor.”
Du Bois explains the roots of this phenomenon in more detail in his book Black Reconstruction in America:
“That dark and vast sea of human labor in China and India, the South Seas and all Africa; in the West Indies and Central America and in the United States—that great majority of mankind, on whose bent and broken backs rest today the founding stones of modern industry—shares a common destiny; it is despised and rejected by race and color; paid a wage below the level of decent living; driven, beaten, prisoned and enslaved in all but name; spawning the world’s raw material and luxury—cotton, wool, coffee, tea, cocoa, palm oil, fibers, spices, rubber, silks, lumber, copper, gold, diamonds, leather —how shall we end the list and where? All these are gathered up at prices lowest of the low, manufactured, transformed and transported at fabulous gain; and the resultant wealth is distributed and displayed and made the basis of world power and universal dominion and armed arrogance in London and Paris, Berlin and Rome, New York and Rio de Janeiro.”
In his book Fascism and Social Revolution, written in the time between the two world wars, the British Marxist R. Palme Dutt observes that the “new middle class,” i.e. the labor aristocracy, forms a strong social base for fascism:
“What is to happen to the ‘superfluous’ workers? For long the old theory of ‘alternative employment’ was still endeavoured to be put forward as applicable to this situation. The decline in the industrial productive workers was to be ‘compensated’ by the increase of auxiliary ‘services’ and luxury occupations (clerical, distributive, advertising, commercial, and luxury services). Certainly, a very considerable increase in these auxiliary and in the main non-productive occupations is to be traced in the United States, Britain and other countries during the post-war period, thus providing the basis of the rapid expansion of the so-called ‘new middle class,’ which became one of the breeding-grounds of Fascism; just as the growth of the permanent unemployed army provided a further breeding-ground. The expansion of the rentier class on the one side, and of luxury services and endlessly multiplied salesmanship’ services on the other, is a measure of the degeneration of capitalism.”
Certainly, the reactionary racist and national chauvinist nature of the labor aristocracy lends itself to the adoption of a fascist mindset among the privileged workers, especially when their privilege is threatened. Of course, fascism is the most reactionary of any modern political ideology, and its real purpose (largely unbeknownst to its working-class adherents) is to smash the organizations of working-class peoples seeking liberation and to roll back their political gains; in other words, the purpose of fascism is counter-revolution in the interests of capitalism. As Dutt observes, the capitalists at the time had deliberately created large unproductive sectors of the economy in order to keep people employed, so they would not revolt due to large-scale unemployment. The bourgeoisie is well aware that the capitalist system contains the seed of its own potential downfall, the rapid expansion of the productive forces made possible by the reinvestment of profits into the machinery of production to achieve greater efficiency in the workplace. Such expansion of the productive forces renders human labor increasingly obsolete. Marx makes a concise statement about this contradiction in Capital, Volume 3:
“A development of productive forces which would diminish the absolute number of labourers, i.e., enable the entire nation to accomplish its total production in a shorter time span, would cause a revolution, because it would put the bulk of the population out of the running.”
Regarding the creation of such “superfluous” employment and the squandering of human labor for the sake of the stability of the capitalist system, Marx writes in Capital, Volume 1:
“The more the productiveness of labour increases, the more can the working-day be shortened; and the more the working-day is shortened, the more can the intensity of labour increase. From a social point of view, the productiveness increases in the same ratio as the economy of labour, which, in its turn, includes not only economy of the means of production, but also the avoidance of all useless labour. The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets, by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.”
Concerning the efficiency of modern production and the possibilities it holds for society, the book Wealth From Waste by Henry J. Spooner, published in 1918, begins with a foreword by Lord Leverhulme (William Lever) which contains a telling quote:
“…[W]ith the means that science has already placed at our disposal, and which are all within our knowledge, we might provide for all the wants of each of us in food, shelter, and clothing by one hour’s work per week for each of us from school age to dotage.”
The fact that Wealth From Waste is of bourgeois origin clearly demonstrates that the bourgeoisie itself knows that the means of production and distribution could definitely be organized in a much more efficient manner that would free the masses from having to work constantly in order to survive. Thus, the labor aristocracy, by maintaining its alliance to the bourgeoisie, by desperately clinging on to its privilege rather than joining with the broad masses of workers and mobilizing for revolution, is foolishly settling for a life of unnecessary toil and condemning the rest of the world’s workers to a similar, albeit even worse, condition. According to Engels,
“The fools want to reform society to suit themselves and not to reform themselves to suit the development of society. They cling to their traditional superstition, which does them nothing but harm themselves, instead of getting quit of the rubbish and thus doubling their numbers and their power and really becoming again what at present they daily become less – associations of all the workers in a trade against the capitalists. This will I think explain many things in the behaviour of these privileged workers to you.”
Lenin makes a similar remark in his “Preliminary Draft Theses On The Agrarian Question”:
“…[T]he industrial workers cannot accomplish their epoch-making mission of emancipating mankind from the yoke of capital and from wars if they confine themselves to their narrow craft, or trade interests, and smugly restrict themselves to attaining an improvement in their own conditions, which may sometimes be tolerable in the petty-bourgeois sense. This is exactly what happens to the ‘labour aristocracy’ of many advanced countries, who constitute the core of the so-called socialist parties of the Second International; they are actually the bitter enemies and betrayers of socialism, petty-bourgeois chauvinists and agents of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement.”
Since 1918, when Wealth From Waste was first published, the technology of production has increased immensely. There is absolutely no need, other than the artificial one created by capitalism, for the workers of any country to work as much as they do to support themselves and their families. There is no need for war or the catastrophic environmental destruction we see today. It is all a waste of labor, a squandering of resources, and an ongoing tragedy on a mass scale which could be avoided by establishing socialism and instituting a proper planned economy. Such is the foolishness of the labor aristocracy.
The Many Contradictions of Capitalism
Capitalism contains within it many contradictions that give rise to instabilities within the system. We have already looked at some of these: the contradiction between capital and labor, the contradiction between the increasing efficiency of production and the creation of unemployment, and the contradiction between the imperialist countries and their colonies and neo-colonies. But there are other important contradictions as well, including the contradiction that exists between imperialist countries struggling against one another for control of resources and markets, and the contradiction between production and the integrity of the Earth’s ecosystems. Understanding how contradictions arise and how contradictions can be resolved is paramount to advancing the class struggle.
In The Foundations of Leninism, Joseph Stalin outlines in a very concise way three of the most important contradictions: the contradiction between labor and capital, the contradiction between the imperialist countries and their colonies and sources of raw materials, and the contradiction between the imperialist countries themselves as they struggle against one another for a greater share of the world’s resources. Since we have already examined the first two, we will focus here on the last one, which Stalin explains as
“…the contradiction among the various financial groups and imperialist Powers in their struggle for sources of raw materials, for foreign territory. Imperialism is the export of capital to the sources of raw materials, the frenzied struggle for monopolist possession of these sources, the struggle for a re-division of the already divided world, a struggle waged with particular fury by new financial groups and Powers seeking a ‘place in the sun’ against the old groups and Powers, which cling tenaciously to what they have seized. This frenzied struggle among the various groups of capitalists is notable in that it includes as an inevitable element imperialist wars, wars for the annexation of foreign territory. This circumstance, in its turn, is notable in that it leads to the mutual weakening of the imperialists, to the weakening of the position of capitalism in general, to the acceleration of the advent of the proletarian revolution and to the practical necessity of this revolution.”
It is this contradiction primarily that gave rise to the First World War, contributed significantly to the Second World War, and which today could give rise to a Third World War, a war that holds the possibility of ending all human life on the planet if nuclear weapons are used. However, besides the obvious implications for the continued existence of humanity, the struggle between superpowers must also be understood in the context of how revolutionary movements should operate within such conditions and how they should relate to one or another superpower in seeking support or mounting resistance to imperialism.
The contradiction that exists between production and the integrity of the ecosystems is one that has been sharpening ever since the development of industrialization. While Marx did not witness the massive environmental destruction that we see today, he did see the beginnings of it, and in Capital, Volume 1 he comments on the tendency of agricultural production under capitalism to deplete the soil of its nutrients:
“Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an ever increasing preponderance of town population, on the one hand concentrates the historical motive-power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil… all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the labourer.”
Engels, too, comments on the potential for the processes of production to come into sharp conflict with the health and integrity of the ecosystems, to such an extent that the ecosystems can be rendered unusable for humans. In The Dialectics of Nature, he states:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they were at the same time spreading scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.”
Of course, Engels, like Marx, did not see the extent of the environmental devastation that we witness today. A 2015 article in The Guardian cites two recent research studies which identified several key factors in maintaining Earth’s ability to sustain human life, with multiple indicators that humanity is facing a catastrophic threat to its existence caused by its own activity. According to Professor Will Steffen, quoted in the Guardian article:
“These indicators have shot up since 1950 and there are no signs they are slowing down… When economic systems went into overdrive, there was a massive increase in resource use and pollution. It used to be confined to local and regional areas but we’re now seeing this occurring on a global scale. These changes are down to human activity, not natural variability… We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts… That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change… It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive.”
The environmental problem has become so great that even bourgeois academics and media outlets are forced to admit that it is rooted in the existing economic system. The drive of capitalism to conquer nature for corporate profit has given rise to new problems, new contradictions, which also must be dealt with if humanity is to survive, and which can only be properly dealt with by revolutionary means. Unfortunately, capitalism has firmly established a culture of consumerism and wastefulness, especially within the bourgeois imperialist countries, which blinds people to the dangers posed by the capitalist mode of production and its disastrous effects on the Earth’s ecosystems.
Another contradiction that must be taken into account is the contradiction between bourgeois culture and traditional cultures around the world. As we know, culture provides the social habits, customs, and values that become entrenched in the minds of a society’s inhabitants. In countless ways, bourgeois culture lies opposed to traditional cultures that have existed for centuries or even millennia in some places, threatening those social habits, customs, and moral values that comprise such cultures. As the wealthy imperialist countries attempt to force neoliberal economic policies upon the poor countries in order to exploit their resources and labor, they also attempt to force a new set of cultural values upon them in order to establish and maintain cultural hegemony over them. As Professor James Petras explains in an article entitled “Cultural Imperialism in the Late 20th Century,”
“U.S cultural imperialism has two major goals, one economic and the other political: to capture markets for its cultural commodities and to establish hegemony by shaping popular consciousness… In the political sphere, cultural imperialism plays a major role in dissociating people from their cultural roots and traditions of solidarity, replacing them with media created needs which change with every publicity campaign. The political effect is to alienate people from traditional class and community bonds, atomizing and separating individuals from each other.
Cultural imperialism emphasizes the segmentation of the working class: stable workers are encouraged to dissociate themselves from temporary workers, who in turn separate themselves from the unemployed, who are further segmented among themselves within the ‘underground economy’. Cultural imperialism encourage working people to think of themselves as part of a hierarchy emphasizing minute differences in life style, in race and gender, with those below them rather than the vast inequalities that separate them from those above.
…Imperial entertainment and advertisement target young people who are most vulnerable to U.S. commercial propaganda. The message is simple and direct: ‘modernity’ is associated with consuming U.S. media products… The mass media manipulates adolescent rebelliousness by appropriating the language of the left and channeling discontent into consumer extravagances.
Cultural imperialism focuses on youth not only as a market but also for political reasons: to undercut a political threat in which personal rebellion could become political revolt against economic as well as cultural forms of control.”
The imperialists generally disguise their attempts to force Western bourgeois cultural values on other countries as “liberation” when exactly the opposite is true: these are attempts to politically, economically, and culturally subjugate them—in short, neo-colonialism. This is a very important contradiction to understand because the strength of the political left depends on the psychology and activity of the people who comprise it, and degenerate culture can lead to degenerate thought and behavior such as that exhibited by the fake “left” in the Western imperialist countries. This degenerate thought and behavior only serves to reinforce the capitalist-imperialist system, and the spread of such degeneracy to other countries weakens their ability to resist Western imperialism and capitalism in general. In his article, Petras points out this danger very clearly, explaining that while there has been a strong deterioration in socio-economic conditions in the poor countries (the “objective conditions” that make revolution possible), there has been a distinct lack of a significant radical or revolutionary response (the “subjective forces” that can transform society) which one with a classical Marxist perspective would expect to see:
“Over the past decade progressive movements confront a paradox: while the great majority of the people in the Third World experience deteriorating living standards, growing social and personal insecurity and decay in public services (while affluent minorities prosper as never before) the subjective response to these conditions has been sporadic revolts, sustained, but local activities and large scale protests of short duration. In a word, there is a profound gap between the growing inequalities and socio-economic conditions on the one hand and the weaknesses of revolutionary or radical subjective responses. The maturing ‘objective conditions’ in the Third World have not been accompanied by the growth of subjective forces capable of transforming the state or society. It is clear that there is no ‘automatic’ relationship between socio-economic regression and socio-political transformation. Cultural intervention (in the broadest sense including ideology, consciousness, social action) is the crucial link converting objective conditions into conscious political intervention. Paradoxically, imperial policy-makers seem to have understood the importance of cultural dimensions of political practice far better than their adversaries.”
Understanding the mechanism of cultural control by the imperialist powers is crucial to building a viable revolutionary movement capable of opposing Western imperialism and establishing socialism. As Professor Petras makes clear,
“Imperialism cannot be understood merely as an economic-military system of control and exploitation. Cultural domination is an integral dimension to any sustained system of global exploitation.
In relation to the Third World, cultural imperialism can be defined as the systematic penetration and domination of the cultural life of the popular classes by the ruling class of the West in order to reorder the values, behavior, institutions and identity of the oppressed peoples to conform with the interests of the imperial classes. Cultural imperialism has taken both ‘traditional’ and modern forms… In the contemporary world, Hollywood, CNN and Disneyland are more influential than the Vatican, the Bible or the public relations rhetoric of political figures. Cultural penetration is closely linked to politico-military domination and economic exploitation. U.S. military interventions in support of the genocidal regimes in Central America which protect its economic interests are accompanied by intense cultural penetration. U.S. financed evangelicals invade Indian villages to inculcate messages of submission among the peasant-Indian victims. International conferences are sponsored for domesticated intellectuals to discuss ‘democracy and market’. Escapist television programs sow illusions from ‘another world’. Cultural penetration is the extension of counter-insurgency warfare by non-military means.”
Examples of Western cultural imperialism are found everywhere throughout the world, from Hollywood movies to advertisements for Coca-Cola soft drinks, Gucci fashion clothing, Nike sportswear, and Apple iPhones. Western news networks like CNN have a global reach, promoting imperialist propaganda across the entire world. It is only by becoming aware of this mechanism of cultural control and developing ways of countering it that revolutionary movements around the world can be successful. For this reason, the contradiction between bourgeois culture and traditional culture is among the most important contradictions to consider in regard to developing an effective revolutionary practice.
Of course, there are countless contradictions that exist within the capitalist system, but those we have examined here are highly significant. It is worth mentioning some other contradictions briefly, so that we may keep them in mind while considering the totality of the class struggle. There are ethnic and racial contradictions that exist throughout the world which must be resolved as part of advancing the class struggle. There are contradictions between different religious groups, between different political groups, and between different national groups. There are contradictions not only between these groups, but also within each of them. Likewise, there are contradictions between individuals, and within individuals. The world’s working classes cannot achieve revolutionary effectiveness if they remain divided. It is of the utmost importance for the working classes of the world to unite in spite of their racial, national, linguistic, and cultural differences. Similarly, individuals must be encouraged to “unite themselves” according to the principles which will render them most effective in the class struggle, and to dispel bad habits and bourgeois degeneracy as unhealthy, undesirable, and anti-social tendencies.
It should be pointed out that contradictions do not magically disappear once socialism has been established. Socialism is the transition to communism, and the goal of socialism is to resolve the contradiction between labor and capital once and for all. However, as we have seen in history, socialism can give rise to new contradictions which must be dealt with—in particular, the contradiction between the Party bureaucracy and the masses. This is something that was not fully anticipated during the Bolshevik revolution, and it was improperly and inadequately addressed not only in the Soviet Union, but also in China and other socialist countries, resulting in bureaucratic revisionism and capitalist restoration. While a full appraisal of this problem is outside the scope of this article, it remains an important issue to be addressed. For now, however, we must remember that the social contradictions that exist within capitalism will persist under socialism unless active and significant steps are taken to resolve such contradictions.
In order to resolve the contradiction between labor and capital globally, it will be necessary to resolve the contradiction between the exploiter nations and the exploited nations, i.e. the contradiction between the imperialist powers and their colonies and neo-colonies. This is most likely to be achieved by first organizing for national liberation and socialist revolution in the exploited countries, as the people of those countries have so much to gain in the immediate sense from socialism, and because it would cut off the imperialist countries from their cheap sources of labor and raw materials. The loss of such superprofits would deprive the imperialists of their ability to gain strong economic leverage over other countries, and it would mean a loss of material privilege among the workers of the imperialist countries, bringing them closer to the economic level of the workers in the exploited countries. Such a loss of superprofits would result in a reproletarianization of the working class in the imperialist countries, transforming the currently non-antagonistic contradiction between labor and capital in those countries into a more antagonistic contradiction. Liberating the colonies and neo-colonies of the imperialist countries would thus create conditions more favorable to revolution in the core of the empire, while the formation of a united socialist bloc within the former colonies and neo-colonies could pave the way for the final defeat of capitalism in the imperialist countries. This is the main point of Third Worldism. However, we should not take an oversimplified view of the situation, for there are numerous ways in which the workers of all countries can, and should, work together based on their shared interests.
Convergent and Divergent Interests
It is an undeniable truth that the working class in the wealthy imperialist countries derives material privilege from the oppression and exploitation of the working class in the exploited countries. However, the benefits of such privilege are limited in many ways and cannot be equated with true liberation. The material privilege that the workers of the imperialist countries enjoy is merely a bribe, as Lenin pointed out, so that they will remain loyal to their capitalist masters. While the privileged sections of the working class may not be exploited in a global sense, receiving a significant share of the superprofits derived from imperialist exploitation of the poor countries, they are still oppressed because their interests are still subjugated to the interests of the capitalist ruling class. Thus, we can say that the privileged workers are oppressed but not exploited, while the overwhelming majority of the workers in the poor countries are oppressed and exploited.
In many ways, the workers in the wealthy imperialist countries have an interest in maintaining the oppression and exploitation of the workers in the poor countries, as they derive a level of material privilege from such exploitation. However, the reality is that life under global socialism would be immensely better in countless ways for the working class everywhere. The fact that the workers in the wealthy imperialist countries occupy a privileged position within a system based on slavery, exploitation, and violence against the poor does not mean that their lives are good, only that their lives are better than those of the workers in the exploited countries. As long as capitalism remains, there is some logic (albeit perverse) to maintaining one’s privilege within the system. However, considering the acceleration of the destruction of Earth’s ecosystems due to industrial pollution and over-extraction of resources combined with the other existential threats facing humanity, one begins to wonder whether the continued existence of the capitalist system is in the interests of anyone! Of course, billionaires and other extravagantly wealthy individuals can afford such things as deep underground bunkers, large stockpiles of food and water, and other necessities of life (and even luxuries) in the event of a global catastrophe, but most people, even relatively wealthy people, cannot even begin to consider such things. Thus, it becomes clear that it is in almost everyone’s long-term interests to protect our global ecosystems from destruction, which necessarily means eliminating the market forces of capitalism that lead to such destruction (i.e. establishing socialism and instituting a planned economy).
It is necessary here to briefly examine the various ways in which the working class in the wealthy imperialist countries benefits from the capitalist system and from the continued exploitation of the workers in the poor countries before considering the ways in which both sections of the working class would benefit from socialist revolution.
Today under capitalism, workers in the wealthy imperialist countries enjoy much higher wages than workers in the exploited countries. While the cost of living is significantly higher, these higher wages still allow for much more consumer spending and access to a wide variety of goods not available or not affordable to workers in the poor countries. A wider variety of foods, electronics, vehicles, tools, luxury items, and raw materials are available to the working class in the wealthy countries. Workers in the wealthy countries generally enjoy more leisure time and more freedom of movement than workers in the poor countries. They are able to travel more, not only because they can much more easily afford it, but also because of the privileged political status of their countries within the global system. In general, the working class in the wealthy countries enjoys better access to healthcare, transportation, and vital infrastructure such as electricity and clean water supplies than does the working class in the poor countries. Labor conditions are generally much better in the wealthy countries than in the poor countries where laws protecting workers are often lacking, and where sweatshops are common. People in the wealthy countries enjoy greater access to education than do people in the poor countries. Under capitalism, better access to education generally translates to higher wages and more comfortable jobs with more leisure time and other benefits. Because of the severe poverty that exists in the exploited countries due to the imperialist pillaging of their resources and economies, rampant crime and corruption exist throughout all layers of society. Many people in the poor countries live in fear of being victimized not only by street criminals, but also by corrupt police and officials within their governments (although this happens in the wealthy countries as well, but to a lesser degree). In general, workers in the wealthy countries do not suffer the horrors of war, they do not face starvation or severe malnutrition due to a lack of access to food, and they do not suffer from preventable diseases caused by lack of access to clean water. Women are generally much better off in the wealthy countries, where there is a much higher level of social and economic parity with men, and where women and men alike can go to the mall and buy luxury items and fashion clothing made by sweatshop workers (mostly female) in the poor countries. In regard to sex work, women in the wealthy countries are extremely better off than women in the poor countries, where working as a prostitute, for example, carries an extremely high risk of AIDS, and where women and children are often forced into such a role by severe poverty conditions. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, there is a stark contrast between the lives of workers in the wealthy countries and those in the poor countries.
While keeping in mind the various ways in which the working class in the wealthy countries benefits from the capitalist-imperialist system, it is important to look at the limitations of these benefits.
Because production is organized in the interests of the capitalist class instead of the working class, technology and technological infrastructure are not being used to eliminate the need for labor. There is no continuous reduction in the average workweek, which one might expect from advances in the technology of production as these should reduce the average amount of labor necessary to provide for the needs of society. Thus, for the workers, there is no brighter future to look forward to. While workers in the wealthy countries enjoy more leisure time than workers in the exploited countries, they do not have nearly as much leisure time as that which would be possible under a global planned economy, a socialist economy. Massive numbers of workers in the wealthy countries are stuck working in meaningless, unproductive jobs in order to pay their bills. Jobs in the service industry, sales, and advertising generally fall into this category, as do many clerical and accounting jobs. As we examined earlier, the capitalists need to maintain a level of stability in employment in the wealthy countries in order keep the system functioning and the population from revolting; additionally, workers with too much free time pose a potential threat to the system as they might start reading, thinking, and organizing to liberate themselves from capitalism. While working conditions are generally much better in the wealthy countries, it does not mean that the workers are not still subjected to many sources of stress and misery such as pressure to work faster, pressure to work overtime, being called in on days off, being required to work when sick, erratic and unpredictable work schedules, unsafe working conditions, degrading or dehumanizing tasks, being assigned tasks outside one’s job description, being treated with disrespect by management, and countless others. These things, while seemingly minor in themselves for the most part, can add up to a significant degradation in a person’s overall happiness and well-being, and they are largely unnecessary, occurring only because of capitalism’s prioritization of profits over decent working conditions. Workers who try to organize unions are often faced with reprisals, as union-busting tactics are not only used in the poor countries but are also quite commonplace within the wealthy countries. Most, if not all, of the large unions themselves are run by corrupt union leaders who are mere stooges of capitalism.
Alienation exists in various forms within the capitalist system, affecting both the privileged and the more highly exploited sections of the working class. First of all, workers are alienated from their labor. As workers do not own the means of production, they are forced to sell their labor power to the capitalists, a form of servitude that entails a loss of freedom while on the job. As the products of their labor do not belong to the workers and they do not sell what they produce to directly benefit themselves or anyone else, instead working only to make money in order to buy the necessities of life (and among the privileged workers, luxuries), the workers are thus alienated from the products of their labor. Even the machines of production themselves are a source of alienation for workers under capitalism, as the machines have the potential to completely eliminate the need for workers at all. The recent advent of self-driving cars and trucks is a clear example of this, as millions of workers who drive for a living will soon be out of a job. In addition to labor alienation under capitalism, there exists consumer alienation. This is fundamentally based upon capitalism’s drive to artificially create demand for products which are wholly unnecessary and would not exist without the profit motive. The artificial creation of demand for products revolves around making people feel dissatisfied with their lives and with themselves so that they will buy products which, through advertising propaganda, are presented as a solution to their problems. It is highly profitable to the capitalists to make people feel insecure. This, of course, ends up manifesting as personal and social misery, including mental illness. The highly individualistic culture perpetuated by capitalism results in widespread psychological and social alienation. Of course, alienation exists between classes as their interests, and therefore their social perspectives, are largely opposed. However, alienation exists even between individuals of similar class status, as everyone works only to benefit themselves and not society as a whole. The phenomenon of relative deprivation also exists as yet another form of social and psychological alienation under capitalism. In some ways, alienation is even worse in the wealthy countries as there is a more intense culture of individualism, a stronger allegiance to the capitalist system, and less solidarity among the working class.
While the workers in the wealthy countries generally have better access to education and healthcare, there are still many problems that they face in regard to such things. In some countries, such as Iceland, there is universal healthcare provided by the state. In many European countries such as France and Germany, healthcare is largely subsidized by the government, but individuals are still required to pay for some of the costs of their treatment. In the United States, healthcare can be extremely expensive, especially in the case of surgery or other major operations, but also in regard to pharmaceutical drug prescriptions and even routine health examinations. The United States is notorious for having one of the worst and most expensive healthcare systems of any of the wealthy countries, epitomizing the problem of unfettered privatization under capitalism. Health insurance often doesn’t cover, or only partially covers, certain procedures which, while necessary to maintain a person’s health, may be prohibitively expensive. Because there is no limit to what pharmaceutical companies can charge for drugs, sometime the prices of medications can be absurdly high, as in the case of insulin which almost tripled in price between 2002 and 2013 in the United States, causing great hardship among many diabetics and even leading to deaths. Medical expenses can often drive people into debt, sometimes to the point of declaring bankruptcy. The lack of a universal socialized healthcare system in the US contributes to unnecessary suffering among many elderly people, as even with government-provided health coverage they often cannot afford necessary medications or proper care. In regard to education, many countries in Europe offer free or extremely low-cost college education to their citizens and even to foreign students. In the United States, however, education costs can be extremely high, and most college students are forced to take out student loans and go into debt in order to pay for their education.
Despite such widespread and low-cost access to education in most of the Western countries, there is a serious problem that exists which must be pointed out: the education system is being deliberately “dumbed down” in order to further diminish the class consciousness of the general population. Although bourgeois propaganda has always existed within Western academia, it has never before approached the level of irrationality that we see today. Education in the West, especially in regard to the social sciences, is becoming little more than brainwashing on a mass scale, with a cowardly adherence to political correctness and bourgeois false narratives on the part of professors and academics taking the place of logical and rational analysis based on demonstrable historical facts. Liberal postmodernist ideological trends including identity politics and “intersectionalism” as well as absurd narratives about so-called Russian “aggression” are becoming increasingly commonplace within educational institutions in the West, helping to propel the intellectual and cultural degeneracy of these countries and their respective populations. Of course, it would be a mistake not to look at the connections of Western intelligence agencies to academic institutions in this regard, as education plays a fundamental role in the development of society and in the class struggle in general. As the bourgeoisie controls the institutions of education in bourgeois society, it necessarily operates such institutions in its own interests, and the imperialist bourgeoisie operates the institutions of education in the interests of imperialism, not in the interests of the global working class. The result of the weaponization of education in the Western countries is the elimination of any real class consciousness among Western workers and the further division of the global working class, as workers in the West are thus pitted against the workers in the rest of the world politically, culturally, and morally.
The poisoning of the Western education system goes hand-in-hand with the literal poisoning of the food supply. While people in the West rarely, if ever, face starvation or severe lack of nutrition, the food they eat is increasingly contaminated by toxic agricultural chemicals and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) produced by the “Big Ag” corporations that dominate the agricultural industry in the Western countries and in other countries as well. These chemical and biological contaminants can cause cancer, birth defects, and a multitude of various illnesses. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, as a probable carcinogen. The use of glyphosate as an herbicide is widespread in the United States and in other countries, and the Monsanto corporation, which originally developed the chemical, has also developed various GMO crops that are resistant to it, including some crops that are engineered to produce their own pesticides. Another chemical widely used as an herbicide, atrazine, is known to disrupt the endocrine system and cause hormonal changes in vertebrates including humans. Atrazine and other pesticides can contaminate surface water and ground water, poisoning the inhabitants of agricultural areas through their drinking water. Other endocrine disrupting chemicals include BPA, found in many plastics and can liners, and organophosphates, commonly found in pesticides, as well as dioxins, phthalates, lead, mercury, PFCs, DDT, perchlorates, PBDEs (found in fire retardants), and PCBs, all of which are used in agriculture or industry. High fructose corn syrup, a commonly used sweetener in the US and other countries, appears in many foods including soft drinks and can lead to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes when excessively consumed. Other food additives that can have adverse health effects include aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG), trans fats, many types of food dyes, sodium nitrate and nitrite, BHA, BHT, azodicarbonamide, sulfur dioxide, and bromine, among others. It is not just Western countries that experience such toxic contamination of the food supply, but many others as well whose governments have enacted neoliberal economic policies allowing Western corporations to exert hegemonic influence over their agricultural and food production industries.
Although starvation and malnutrition are still problems in the poor countries, there is a rising epidemic of obesity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While the stereotype of the fat, lazy American has existed for a long time, the problem of obesity can no longer be constrained to the Western imperialist countries. It is becoming a global problem, as people across the world are engaging in less physical activity and eating more junk food than ever before. The development of new production technologies plays a role in the lack of physical activity; the fact that people must work the same amount of hours despite advances in production efficiency, although now at less physically-demanding jobs, means that they suffer from an overall lack of physical exercise. Diets containing a lot of sugars, fats, and highly-processed foods also play a large role in the obesity epidemic, as traditional ways of life and eating habits have been disrupted by integration into the global capitalist economy and the introduction of Western-style diets. There has been a strong increase in the number of people living in cities as opposed to rural areas, which also has an effect on people’s lifestyles. It would appear that the rise of obesity accompanies the rise of the labor aristocracy, as members of such a class that can afford a diet high in sugars, fats, and processed foods while still having to work for a living, even if not at physically demanding jobs, often find themselves overweight and out of shape. Only such an inhumane, impractical, and inequitable system as capitalism could lead to the starvation and malnutrition of vast numbers of people on the one hand, while at the same time fostering obesity among many others. The lack of proper nutrition, whether due to a lack of adequate food or an overabundance of junk food, not only causes physical problems but also psychological problems in people across the world.
Under capitalism, energy production takes a great toll on the environment. As capitalism prioritizes corporate profit above all else, environmental concerns are pushed aside to make way for the most profitable forms of energy production, while clean forms of energy production such as solar, wind, wave, tidal, and geothermal are only marginally implemented, if at all. It is much more profitable to extract, process, and sell fuel and components for fuel combustion than to provide widely available clean energy at little to no cost. Coal power plants are a major source of pollution, most notably mercury, sulfur dioxide, and soot. Mercury is toxic to humans, harming the immune, digestive, nervous, and endocrine systems. Mercury bioaccumulates in fish and other wildlife, poisoning the food chain with increasing concentration towards the top and leading to high levels of mercury content in larger animals such as tuna. Sulfur dioxide is a primary component of acid rain, and it can lead to the acidification of lakes and streams, upsetting ecosystems and damaging crops. Air pollution in the form of soot, or carbon particulates, can cause asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, and cancer. While Chinese industrial centers such as Guangzhou are notorious for their heavy air pollution due to their reliance on coal plants, particulates from Chinese coal combustion have been observed as far as the West Coast of the United States, highlighting the fact that such pollution is an international problem. Coal burning is not the only major source of soot; it is also released through petroleum combustion from power generation, heavy industry, and motor vehicles. The petroleum industry is a significant source of pollution. Oil drilling releases large amounts of toxic substances into the surrounding environment and can contaminate groundwater as well as marine ecosystems. Oil spills can occur in both the wealthy countries and the poor countries, leading to massive devastation of local ecosystems including marine life, poisoning the food and water supplies of large numbers of people, and spreading highly toxic chemicals which can cause neurological problems, respiratory illnesses, and cancer in those who are exposed. As with coal combustion, the combustion of petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and diesel contributes greatly to air pollution. Another major cause of environmental destruction is “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing), a process by which large amounts of water and mixtures of chemicals are injected under high pressure into holes drilled deep into the earth in order to extract oil and gas from shale rock. Fracking has been known to kill birds, fish, and other wildlife, contaminate rivers and drinking water supplies, and even cause artificial earthquakes.
Nuclear pollution is another deadly form of contamination that affects not only the people living in the vicinity of nuclear power plants, but people all over the world. The 2011 earthquake and tidal wave that devastated the Fukushima region of Japan led to the world’s worst, and still ongoing, nuclear accident, with countless millions of gallons of water contaminated with radioactive materials continuing to flow into the Pacific Ocean on a regular basis. The catastrophe at Fukushima and other nuclear accidents have resulted in massive releases of radioactive materials into the environment which have led to a sharp increase in cancers, birth defects, and other ailments in people who have been exposed to such substances. These nuclear accidents have poisoned untold countless numbers of people including unborn children and have led to suffering and death on a large scale while those responsible for managing the nuclear industry have gone to great lengths to cover up its deadly legacy. Even nuclear plants that have not suffered accidents often release radioactive substances into the surrounding environment which have led to higher rates of cancer and birth defects in people living in close proximity to such plants. The number of nuclear power plants that exist today without proper safety precautions, without adequate funding, or in earthquake-prone regions is terrifying, and another major earthquake, tidal wave, or other disastrous event such as a war could unleash an even worse nuclear catastrophe than those that have already occurred. The nuclear power industry was spawned by the nuclear weapons industry, and as the United States first developed nuclear weapons and demonstrated its willingness to use them on civilian targets with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it has prompted countries around the world, especially those outside the grasp of the US empire, to develop their own nuclear industries and nuclear weapons for self-defense. While nuclear weapons pose a serious threat to the existence of humanity, the threat of severe nuclear contamination of the Earth’s ecosystems due to nuclear power plant accidents should not be overlooked, as many more nuclear plants are currently being built across the world, with several under construction in China and India alone. Capitalism, by putting the pursuit of profits above all else, has created an incredibly dangerous situation for all of humanity.
In the West, it is quite impolite to point out that the capitalist system poses serious existential threats to humanity. The political landscape in the West has been thoroughly wiped clean of any substantive discussion of systemic issues, with political debate now constrained to quarreling between liberals and conservatives about how the capitalist-imperialist system should best be managed. In the Western countries, very few people talk about replacing the capitalist system, and when they do their ideas are often clouded by false understandings of history and science. Nearly all discussions of “socialism” in the imperialist countries revolve around reformist notions of “taxing the rich” and implementing social welfare programs, ideas which do not stray from the “safe” political line of social democracy (and which, by their nature, enable social fascism). The real political left in the United States is nearly non-existent, as most self-professed “leftists” are heavily preoccupied with liberal identity politics and reformist or anarchist dogmas while leading degenerate, hedonistic lifestyles with a complete lack of personal discipline and intellectual activity. Reading books has largely been supplanted by toying with smartphones, watching television, or playing video games, while those who still read books usually read fiction; Marxist literature has been all but forgotten. A relatively new phenomenon called “extended adolescence” has emerged in the United States and other countries in which young people no longer aspire to the responsibilities and commitments of adulthood such as finding stable employment, getting married, having children, planning for the future, or engaging with their communities. Instead, they seek immediate gratification in the form of social media, video games, pornography, drugs, and mindless entertainment. They are unable to approach, much less solve, serious problems; neither are they capable or willing to comprehend the political reality in which they live. A culture of overwhelming individualism, nihilism, and political apathy has taken hold in the West, especially in the US, with consumerism as its core value, fostered by the major corporations in their pursuit of profit and global hegemony. The Enlightenment ideal has disappeared from Western culture; the vision of a better future and the elevation of humanity has been replaced by individualistic desires for bigger houses and more gadgets and mindless entertainment.
The negative social effects of this toxic culture are quite obvious in the United States: since 1999, the rate of suicide has been steadily rising along with an increasing rate of depression, especially among teens; in 2016, it was reported that one in six Americans takes antidepressants or other psychiatric drugs; and tens of millions of people in the US abuse alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs including illegal narcotics and the numbers are increasing. In addition to the US, two bourgeois countries that stand out in regard to their consumerist tendencies and high levels of social misery are Japan and South Korea; indeed, both countries are often described as having cultures of “hyperconsumerism.” In order to support the economic “success” that enables the realization of such a consumerist dream, hard work is considered a very high priority in both Japan and South Korea. South Korea has an extremely high rate of alcoholism as well as suicide; children and adults alike are expected to work extremely hard for long hours at school or at their jobs, expectations which contribute to enormous amounts of stress and misery. A similar situation exists in Japan, where there is an actual word (karoshi) for death by overwork, and where suicide is a very serious problem. Social isolation often plays a significant role in depression and suicide; ironically, social media has led to increased depression among its users. A 2017 study revealed that regular use of Facebook increases the likelihood of depression as it replaces genuine social interaction with a highly artificial and low-quality substitute. The rise of such “social” media has been accompanied by the rise of internet censorship in the West as technology companies such as Facebook and Google collaborate with the US government to filter the information that people receive. However, this internet censorship campaign is purely political; internet pornography remains freely available despite its harmful effects. Studies have shown that the use of pornography can lead to depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction while destroying personal relationships. Internet pornography use, an integral part of the toxic culture of consumerism spawned by capitalism, has become so common throughout the world that it is now a global problem creating greater misery for humanity.
As with internet pornography, the other aspects of this toxic culture of consumerism have been spreading throughout the world like a plague. The modern culture of consumerism initially developed among the labor aristocracy of the Western countries, as these privileged workers formed the primary consumer base needed for the continued operation of Western capitalism. Today, with the rise of a labor aristocracy in all countries (albeit smaller and less significant in the poor and exploited countries), we see the culture of consumerism taking hold. This consumer culture is based upon a petty-bourgeois mindset according to which the individual seeks only personal material gain and does not value collective struggle for a better world. While the labor aristocracy of all countries is certainly guilty of maintaining such a narrow and degenerate attitude, it is important to note that this petty-bourgeois mindset is also shared among vast numbers of poor and downtrodden workers across the world, despite the fact that their class interests would be better served by maintaining a revolutionary proletarian mindset and prioritizing the class struggle above all else.
The toxic consumer culture spawned by Western capitalism contains within it some very disturbing elements. While responsibility for the generation of the toxic culture of consumerism in the West lies with all the major corporations, the media and entertainment corporations generate the bulk of the propaganda that dominates Western culture today. One does not have to look very far to see the disgusting level of degeneracy represented in Western mass media. Movies, television shows, and music videos regularly glorify violence, drug abuse, and sexual debauchery while portraying women in hypersexualized roles. Perhaps even more disturbing are the positive depictions of pedophilia and the sexualization of children that have appeared in Western media. Celebrity worship has become commonplace not only in the West but throughout the world; vast numbers of people look to celebrities as role models, a destructive tendency considering the role that celebrities play in promoting such bourgeois degeneracy. Largely through mass media, the imperialist bourgeoisie has managed to alter the existing moral framework of Western society, introducing a type of liberalism that not only tolerates but embraces utter moral depravity, normalizing things that were previously considered taboo.
The replacement of traditional moral values by liberal values and consumerism throughout the West has been accompanied by a rise in sexual libertinism, as sex is viewed increasingly as a simple means of pleasure rather than for its role in procreation and family life. Besides the objectification of people based solely on their sexual attributes (a common theme of both pornography and online dating), this has also contributed to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases as well as falling birth rates in most of the wealthy countries, to the point where many of these countries now have a birth rate below the 2.1 children per woman rate required for the reproduction of their existing populations. There are other socioeconomic factors that contribute to this phenomenon as well, including positive factors such as higher levels of education and increased health allowing people to have children later in life, but also negative factors such as economic distress and workplace difficulty, even discrimination, faced by women who get pregnant (a common occurrence in the United States and especially Japan, among other places). A declining population can cause serious economic and social problems for a country as its society increasingly struggles to find ways to support an inordinately large elderly population. In the poor countries, birth rates tend to be very high, often so much so that such countries struggle to support their populations economically (due in large part to imperialist exploitation of their resources and economies). It is clear that the global capitalist system has led to an extreme imbalance in regard to reproduction and the maintenance of stable societies.
Another aspect of such instability is unemployment, which has always been a serious problem under capitalism. As people are required to work for money to live in capitalist society, maintaining steady employment is very important. However, the capitalist system provides no guarantees of employment, allowing great numbers of people to slip into poverty, often severe poverty, for lack of work. While some countries have developed better social safety nets than others, providing social welfare programs to help people who have fallen into poverty or are at risk of doing so, in general there is only a limited amount of support, if any, for people who have lost their jobs under capitalism. Whereas a socialist planned economy provides guaranteed employment or, if an individual cannot be employed for whatever reason, guaranteed welfare, capitalism provides neither. Under capitalism, those who are unemployed risk losing their homes, possessions, personal relationships, and human dignity, while those who are lucky enough to maintain stable employment must give up a substantial amount of freedom while at their jobs, including the freedom to speak freely about the problems of their workplace and of the capitalist system in general. Workers generally have little to no say in how their workplaces are run, being dependent on existing labor laws, unions (where they exist), and the mercy of business owners and management for decent working conditions. However, despite the wretchedness of wage slavery, those with jobs must consider themselves “blessed” as the alternative, unemployment, is much worse. The nature of employment under capitalism has an ugly and coercive character, especially in the poor countries but in the wealthy countries as well.
While the cost of living relative to wages is indeed higher in the poor countries than in the wealthy countries, it is true that the cost of housing and other necessities in the wealthy countries is very high even while luxuries are often quite affordable. According to Joseph Cohen, a sociologist at Queens College in New York, “America is a place where luxuries are cheap and necessities costly.” This does not only apply to America, but to the rest of the bourgeois imperialist countries as well. An article in the Washington Post explains that the reason for the affordability of luxury items such as widescreen televisions is a combination of “technological improvements” and production “overseas, where labor costs are cheaper” (in other words, exploitation of workers in the poor countries). The reason for the high cost of necessities in the bourgeois countries is that things like housing, medical care, and education cannot be “outsourced” to poor countries, but are subject only to the domestic market (as well as price-fixing by the bourgeoisie). Thus, the situation in the bourgeois imperialist countries is such that the price of necessities has been rising while the price of luxuries has been falling, a phenomenon which explains the rising levels of homelessness in the United States and Europe as well as the paradoxical fact that many homeless people in such places own smartphones and depend on them to maintain social contacts. Indeed, it would appear that a certain level of reproletarianization is taking place throughout many of the bourgeois countries, although the workers in those countries still enjoy a significantly higher standard of living than the workers in the poor countries do.
According to a 2018 report by FEANTSA, a European NGO whose stated goal is to end homelessness, the number of homeless people has been rising over the past several years in all European countries except Finland. Although there are many factors behind homelessness, a sharp rise in the cost of housing compared to wages is largely to blame for the recent increase in homelessness not only in Europe, but also in the United States. Besides facing threats such as disease and exposure to extreme temperatures, homeless people often face severe mistreatment at the hands of police and city authorities. In November 2016, police in the city of Denver confiscated tents and blankets from homeless people in freezing temperatures. This behavior is unconscionable; a 2010 article in the German publication Deutsche Welle entitled “Winter Freeze Takes Toll on Germany’s Homeless As 10 Perish in Cold” makes it clear that the homeless already face a great risk to their survival without being harassed by the bourgeois authorities. A 2018 UN report acknowledged multiple human rights violations by the city authorities in regard to the homeless situation in San Francisco. In the same year, the city of Los Angeles declared an outbreak of typhus whose victims were mostly homeless people but also included a city employee, a result of the vast buildup of waste from homeless encampments along with an increasing number of rats roaming throughout the city. While homeless people face severe deprivation and social alienation, homelessness also creates problems for wealthier people who, as much as they would like to consider themselves above such troubles, find themselves surrounded by toxic social and environmental conditions.
The widespread proliferation of car culture forms another aspect of the toxic conditions that capitalism has created in its never-ending drive for profits. While motor vehicles definitely serve a purpose, and while some individualized transportation is necessary for certain tasks, there is an overabundance of, and a severe dependency on, cars in many places due to the high profitability of such a form of transportation under capitalism. At the same time, public transportation is often slow and inefficient due to a lack of funding despite its potential to be fast, highly efficient, and much cleaner than individualized car transportation. The heavy traffic and air pollution caused by an overreliance on cars not only contributes to asthma and other respiratory problems for people who live in large, crowded cities such as Los Angeles, but also to increased stress, wasted time, and endless money spent on fuel and maintenance. People who do not own cars are often forced to rely on slow, inefficient public transportation to commute to their jobs and other places, transportation which itself is often slowed by heavy traffic. The obvious solution to heavy traffic and its attendant problems is the development of fast, efficient, clean, and streamlined public transportation systems such as the Moscow Metro, a subway system which was originally constructed under Soviet socialism in the 1930s to provide efficient, low-cost transportation to Muscovites but has been expanded since to include more stations and lines. During rush hour, when many people are going to work or returning home, the trains arrive up to once per minute—putting to shame most of the public transportation in the West. It is fortunate for the people of Moscow that the restoration of capitalism has not interfered with their ability to commute quickly and cheaply without owning a car, but it is quite clear from the Western model that, in general, capitalism seeks to profit as much as possible from transportation. The sale, maintenance, and fueling of cars and other personal vehicles is incomparably more profitable to the capitalists than fast, efficient public transportation despite the large social and environmental costs of individualized motor vehicle transportation.
Waste is a huge problem of the capitalist system, with social, environmental, political, and cultural implications. In the workplace, capitalism seeks efficiency and frugality, as wasted capital equates to lower profits. However, outside the workplace, wastefulness in many forms is highly profitable. It is much more profitable for products to wear out, break, or become obsolete than to last indefinitely, because consumers must then pay to replace such products. Many corporations specifically design their products to last only a short time, a phenomenon known as “planned obsolescence.” Of course, this results in a massive waste of resources and labor as well as increased environmental destruction and personal stress. The problems that capitalism creates require solutions which are often profitable, such as medical treatments for health problems caused by stress and unhealthy, consumerist lifestyles, or bottled water sold as a substitute for contaminated tap water. Thus, it is in the interests of capitalism to artificially create problems which have profitable solutions. As most production takes place in the poor countries, the bulk of wasted labor and resources comes from these countries, and most of the environmental destruction associated with production and resource extraction occurs in these countries as well. However, the wasteful nature of capitalism has global implications. Even consumers among the labor aristocracy of the imperialist countries must work more to pay for necessary products whose obsolescence has been planned by the corporations that manufacture them. The situation is made worse by the toxic consumer culture which encourages people to buy things they do not even need. The effects of environmental destruction due to planned obsolescence may have greater consequences for those living close to where resource extraction and production occur, but the overall degradation of Earth’s ecosystems affects everyone in the long term. The squandering of resources by the capitalist system leads to an increased drive for further resource extraction, thus providing an even greater impetus for imperialist military aggression and exploitation of resource-rich nations.
Capitalism has a tendency to turn everything into a commodity. Human beings are no exception. Under capitalism, the objectification and commodification of people themselves exhibits itself through pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking. Even in the wealthy countries, where conditions are generally much better than in the poor countries, prostitution and human trafficking are serious problems. It should be pointed out that not all human trafficking is for the purpose of sexual exploitation; some victims of human trafficking are exploited for labor such as agricultural work, although many are forced into prostitution by their captors. While it is difficult to estimate the number of victims of human trafficking due to the covert nature of the crime and the threats victims face if they speak out, it is estimated that tens of thousands of people are trafficked into the United States each year, often from Mexico, the Philippines, and other poor countries, although many human trafficking victims are born in the US and trafficked within the country. Of the many victims of trafficking born in the US, a large number of them have been in the foster care system at some time in their lives; homeless youth and those with drug addiction problems are also at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. In Europe, a similar situation exists: it is estimated that there are tens of thousands of victims of human trafficking, and while many are trafficked into Europe from poor countries, a majority of those trafficked in Europe are EU citizens, and a significant number are children. Approximately 71% of human trafficking victims in Europe are female, while the remaining 29% are male. According to estimates, just over half of all human trafficking in Europe is for the purpose of sexual exploitation. According to an article on the South EU Summit website, “The majority of EU human trafficking victims originate from Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania, while most of the victims from non-EU countries come from Nigeria, China, Albania, Vietnam, and Morocco.” The aggressive military actions of the United States and European NATO members make the situation even worse, as refugees fleeing war zones such as the one in Syria often become victims of human traffickers in their desperate attempts to escape the poverty and destruction of their home countries by NATO bombing campaigns and NATO-supported terrorist proxy armies. Furthermore, the recent high-profile case surrounding Jeffrey Epstein as well as the Marc Dutroux case in Belgium, the Franklin case in the United States, and the infamous Jimmy Savile case in the UK serve as glaring reminders that members of the bourgeoisie are personally involved in human trafficking, pedophilia, and covering up such crimes. It is clear that sexual predators and human traffickers within the highest levels of power in the West operate above the law in carrying out these horrible crimes. It is also clear that, while those in poverty are much more vulnerable and susceptible to such abuse, these kinds of crimes can affect those who are relatively affluent as well.
Perhaps the worst aspect of life for the privileged workers, despite their material wealth, is their spiritual poverty. Among the labor aristocracy (and bourgeoisie, and petty-bourgeoisie) there is no sense of brotherhood. The intensely individualistic culture and mindset propagated by the capitalist system has left everyone fending for themselves without concern for the well-being of their fellow human beings. Of course, there are countless ways in which capitalism attempts to cover up this reality; minor recycling campaigns, charity drives, empty slogans about equality or diversity, and endless amounts of propaganda about “green capitalism” are just a few examples of such fraudulent nonsense. However, the truth remains that capitalism is destroying the Earth, leading humanity into perpetual wage slavery and endless warfare, and paving the way for a very dark future. The petty-bourgeois mindset of concern only about oneself and one’s own selfish gain ends up manifesting itself as personal and social misery. This mindset is not universal; even under extremely adverse conditions such as war, a spirit of brotherhood can exist which brings people together and makes them appreciate the beauty of life despite overwhelming suffering and hardship. This phenomenon is explained quite clearly by Daniil Bezsonov, the head of the press service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, in an interview about his experience defending Donbass from Ukrainian fascists:
“…the most memorable period was in Slavyansk. Two and a half months that I spent there felt like three years… Despite all the horror, there was an atmosphere of brotherhood between militiamen, our backs were glued together. And there was a special connection with the locals. Locals were treating us as if we were their children… Civilians were giving us food, bringing us food constantly… I don’t know how to explain… the emotions I had there. On one hand, it was despair, because we were sure we would die. But on the other hand, this emotional warmth from each other and from local people… And at the same time, there was an epic danger all the time.”
Due to the absence of such a spirit of brotherhood among the labor aristocracy, people feel isolated, alone, and cut off from the “emotional warmth” of having a community of people that care about each other, despite their comfortable living situations and electronic gadgets. The happiness they experience is tainted by the knowledge that poverty, war, and environmental destruction exist; they cannot avoid the reality that something is deeply wrong with the world they live in. Their privilege carries with it an unavoidable sense of guilt. They know that their children and grandchildren will inherit a world that is even worse than the one that exists now. Their lives have become meaningless and robotic; as they shuffle around trying to earn more money to buy more things, the beauty of life is forgotten.
Thus, it is quite evident that there are serious limitations to the extent of the privilege enjoyed by the labor aristocracy. The capitalist system is a bloodbath; the negative effects of capitalism can be felt by everyone, even those who are privileged and those who do not consciously comprehend the countless horrors of the system. We must ask: Would privileged workers, like their superexploited counterparts, not benefit from shorter working hours, better working conditions, more stability of employment, and more vacation time that a socialist planned economy would offer them? Would they not benefit from having a streamlined, efficient system of production, distribution, and waste management that is designed to meet everyone’s needs? Would they not benefit from better protection of the Earth’s ecosystems and cleaner air, water, and food under global socialism? Would they not benefit from universal healthcare provided free of charge to the individual? Would they not benefit from universal education, real education that is in the interests of the workers, not the capitalists, provided free of charge under socialism? Would they not benefit from reduced housing and transportation costs, as well as reduced stress and misery from worrying about such things? Would they not benefit from cleaner, safer streets and an end to poverty and homelessness? Would they not benefit from world peace and an end to the squandering of resources on imperialist military adventurism which threatens to cascade into a global war? Would they not benefit from the removal of psychopaths from high levels of power who continue to perpetrate atrocities against not only those in the poor countries, but against vulnerable people in their own countries as well? Would they not benefit from the development of a healthy culture that embraces the good side of humanity, a culture that elevates mutual respect, true social equality, personal integrity, discipline, and strength of character while promoting a healthy lifestyle? Would they not benefit from an atmosphere of brotherhood, cooperation, and peace between nations? Would they not benefit from knowing that their children and other people’s children alike can grow up in a better world, a world with a bright future?
The answer, of course, is obvious.
It is clear that the privileged sections of the working class currently derive a significant level of material benefit from the oppression and exploitation of the lower sections of the working class. This is undeniable. However, it is also clear that even the privileged sections of the working class would have much to gain from a socialist reorganization of society. While it is true that this would require a reduction in the overall level of material consumption for the privileged workers, the benefits of living in a healthier society would far outweigh the negative aspects of such a reduction in material consumption. Owning a widescreen television, a fancy smartphone, a large house, and a large automobile does not lead to a happy, fulfilling life; these are merely comforts and conveniences that can lull a person into complacency within an otherwise miserable system. The ability to consume more than one’s fair share of resources does not make a person happy. The primary factors in a person’s happiness include cultivating healthy relationships, enjoying leisure time, avoiding stress, getting exercise, maintaining physical health, having fun, engaging in creativity, and being kind and generous to others. Under capitalism, society and production are not organized to maximize human health and happiness, but rather, to maximize profit for the capitalists. Whatever enjoyment of life workers may experience is incidental; it is not the goal of capitalism. Under socialism, however, the interests of the working class are prioritized and society and production are organized to benefit everyone with the goal of maximizing human health and happiness. Furthermore, as it is in the interests of the working class to protect the global ecosystems we need to survive, environmental sustainability is a primary concern under socialism. It becomes obvious that all working class peoples, whether privileged or highly exploited under capitalism, would gain tremendously from a socialist reorganization of society, despite the necessary reduction in material consumption that would be required for the privileged workers.
If the workers in the poor countries were to wage a successful revolution against capitalism and establish socialism in their countries, it would mean a loss of privilege for the workers in the wealthy countries, at least in the short term, as the source of superprofits that the imperialist countries depend on to maintain their inordinately high standard of living would be diminished. The imperialist bourgeoisie would no longer be able to bribe the workers as much. In this sense, within the context of the continuation of capitalism in the imperialist countries, it is in the interests of the workers of the labor aristocracy to maintain the capitalist system and their privileged position within it. However, the longer global capitalism exists, the more likely the existential threats facing humanity will come to fruition, and the more the imperialist bourgeoisie will continue to degrade life for the working class everywhere. Thus, we must conclude that it is in the long-term interests of all working-class peoples, privileged or not, to strive for the overthrow of the capitalist system and its replacement with a socialist planned economy.
Privilege, Propaganda, and False Consciousness
Why are the workers of the labor aristocracy so reactionary, so anti-revolution, when it is quite obviously against their long-term interests? Is it merely because they are privileged, and if so, then what is the point of all the propaganda fed to them by the bourgeois media and educational system? What is the point of state-sponsored intelligence operations aimed at infiltrating and disrupting activist movements in the wealthy imperialist countries? Are privileged workers fully aware of the nature of the capitalist system and the destructive nature of their class privilege and patterns of consumption? Are they fully aware of all the benefits they would receive from a socialist planned economy which they do not currently enjoy? Vulgar Third Worldists claim that privilege alone is the reason that the workers of the labor aristocracy are so reactionary. However, if it were so simple, then there would have been no Frederick Engels, no Vladimir Lenin, no class traitors who joined with the poor and oppressed despite their own bourgeois or petty-bourgeois backgrounds. Obviously, there are more factors than just privilege and comfort behind the passivity and reactionary political nature of the labor aristocracy.
People’s behavior is a product of the interaction between their psychology and their environment. While conditions that are intolerable will drive people to seek ways of changing their situation, conditions that are comfortable will have the opposite effect: those experiencing such conditions are likely to become complacent and accepting of their situation. At the time of the February revolution in Russia in 1917, the First World War was still raging and millions of poor Russian peasants were being sent to the front while their families struggled to pay the rent, often being kicked off their land by the landowners. Millions had already been killed in the fighting. The economy was failing, working conditions were terrible, and many people were starving. People faced severe and violent repression from the Tsar’s forces if they protested in the streets. The Chinese revolution occurred against the backdrop of the Japanese military occupation, severe oppression and exploitation of the people by the Chinese bourgeoisie and landlords, factional infighting between various warlords vying for power, and the poor leadership and highly reactionary politics of the KMT nationalist forces. The Chinese people faced extreme poverty and deprivation in the period before and during the revolutionary seizure of power by the Chinese Communist Party. It is not difficult to see why such large-scale revolts took place in Russia and China, culminating in full-scale social revolutions. The other revolutions that have occurred throughout history were also born out of conditions intolerable to the great majority of people, in which the ruling classes lost their grip on society. As Lenin explains in Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder,
“The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realise the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. It is only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want to live in the old way and the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way that the revolution can triumph.”
Of course, not all social upheavals end up as full-scale revolutions; large-scale protests demanding political and economic reforms are a much more common occurrence. However, even large-scale protest movements can cause significant problems for the bourgeoisie, potentially forcing it to adopt unwanted policy changes, if not destabilizing the entire state apparatus. Thus, the bourgeoisie seeks to suppress and disrupt large-scale protests and political organizing that threaten the establishment. While large-scale protests are more common in poor countries where conditions are much worse, even wealthy imperialist countries sometimes experience large protests such as the Occupy movement or the French Gilets Jaunes “Yellow Vests” movement. However, while the Occupy movement did contain some radical elements, the movement in general was not a revolutionary movement, and it did not force any major changes to the system before it dissipated. Similarly, the Gilets Jaunes movement is not a revolutionary movement as it seeks only reforms and does not aim for the complete overthrow of the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie.
The labor aristocracy is obviously very comfortable and very complacent due in no small part to its material privileges. Wanting to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for oneself, however, is not the only motivating factor behind people’s behavior. There are other motivating factors which, if allowed to operate without interference, could pose a problem for the bourgeoisie. Empathy plays an important role in human behavior. People have a strong, innate tendency to want to help one another and relieve suffering. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which struck the southeastern United States in August 2005, 13 million Americans are reported to have made charitable donations to relief organizations. Obviously, this natural human empathic response lies in contradiction to the overwhelming violence and injustice of the capitalist system. Cultures and subcultures also have a large impact on human thought and behavior. People are social creatures, and they have a strong tendency to conform to group norms. Even among the labor aristocracy, political movements have formed in the past that have posed a significant threat to the status quo; these have included the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the environmental movement, among others. These movements have suffered serious infiltration and disruption, including assassinations, at the hands of US and other Western intelligence agencies, as demonstrated by the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO operations. The group subcultures and alternative social norms that accompany such radical movements are based upon serious emotionally-driven concerns regarding various forms of injustice, and these concerns can often override whatever life comforts the participants may enjoy as individuals in motivating them to take action. Such subcultures can reinforce a radical, intellectual mindset within individuals that can lead them to develop stronger organizational structures and tactics in pursuing their aims, a phenomenon which poses an obvious threat to the establishment. Finally, there is the tendency of people to consider their long-term interests and the interests of their children and grandchildren. It is an evolutionary tendency, not unique to humans, to protect one’s offspring. Looking at the long-term effects of capitalism on the planet and on human society could easily lead one to adopt a revolutionary mindset, absent the distractions and intellectual misdirection provided by the capitalist system.
We should not overlook the psychological manipulation that has been carried out against the political left on behalf of the imperialist bourgeoisie. While the FBI’s COINTELPRO activities have played a large role in infiltrating and disrupting the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and other radical movements in the United States, the CIA has also been active in attacking the left, relying largely on psychological warfare to do so, but also resorting to targeted assassinations at times. The impact of the CIA’s Project MK-Ultra on the political consciousness of the left and on the general public should not be overlooked; neither should the impact of Operation Mockingbird, the CIA’s program to control the news media, or the CIA’s infiltration and political manipulation of academic institutions and institutions of art and culture.
Although Project MK-Ultra was an extremely broad program to research and develop various ways of controlling people’s thoughts and behavior, it is perhaps most notorious for its use of the powerful hallucinogen LSD, also known as “acid.” While a number of books and articles have been written about the subject, an excellent analysis is put forth in the book Drugs As Weapons Against Us, in which the author John Potash examines in detail how the CIA covertly distributed huge amounts of LSD among youth, musicians, actors, and activists in the 1960s and ‘70s in order to firmly establish a culture of drug use among those who opposed the Vietnam War and supported civil rights and social justice causes. Covert CIA operatives organized numerous “acid test” parties in which LSD was distributed freely to anyone in attendance. People were often dosed without their knowledge or consent, including famous musicians and activists who were specifically targeted by CIA operatives. As Potash explains,
“Evidence shows that the CIA’s MK-Ultra operations first dosed various leaders in politics and the arts, then had their media assets spotlight these leaders in a sophisticated way to make them well-known counterculture figures. They often coupled them with undercover agents in propaganda campaigns to promote LSD to leftists.”
These types of covert CIA activities played an overarching role in the creation of the hippie subculture which would be epitomized in acid “guru” Timothy Leary’s motto “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” (Leary himself acknowledged his role as a CIA asset in distributing LSD.) By targeting the youth and their role models with massive amounts of LSD and other drugs, the CIA effectively normalized drug use among the political left in the United States. The use of LSD and other drugs severely disrupted the lives and thought processes of countless leftist activists, rendering them politically ineffective and leading many to quit political activism altogether. Musicians, actors, and activists who could not be controlled were often targeted for assassination by the CIA and FBI. Such practices were not constrained to the United States; the CIA colluded with British and other European intelligence agencies to employ similar tactics against the left in Europe. In the US, a suspicious number of musicians with military-intelligence backgrounds appeared on the music scene in the 1960s and ‘70s, during the time of the Vietnam War, playing music of a notably apolitical character despite the turbulent political atmosphere of the time and becoming widely popular with the help of the corporate media apparatus. Their arrival on the music scene coincided with the emergence of the hippie subculture in the West, and they played a large part in promoting the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” craze that would take hold among the youth, helping to depoliticize the Western left at a time of potentially significant political upheaval. It is clear that by fostering a culture of drug use and degenerate behavior among Western leftists while eliminating their strongest leaders and diluting the radical subculture with apolitical themes, the ruling class would render the Western left largely ineffective.
In addition to engineering a degenerate drug culture among the Western left, the ruling class also aimed to carefully control the information received by the general public. While the bourgeois media has always lied to the public about the nature of political phenomena, today the level of deception is unprecedented. This can be largely attributed to Operation Mockingbird, initiated by the CIA in the 1950s to control and coordinate the news media and ensure the dominance of pro-US propaganda. In the mid-1970s an investigative committee known as the Church Committee was formed in the US Senate to investigate abuses of power by the CIA and other agencies. Led by Senator Frank Church, the committee found that the CIA was employing journalists to spread propaganda throughout newspapers and television networks in the US and other countries. In 1977, investigative reporter Carl Bernstein published an article entitled “The CIA and the Media” examining in detail the role of the CIA in infiltrating major news outlets in the United States. Bernstein found that hundreds of journalists had carried out activities on behalf of the CIA and that executives from various news outlets had colluded with the CIA to provide cover to CIA operatives posing as journalists while facilitating the spread of CIA-generated propaganda through their news networks. Bernstein writes that there were
“…more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty-five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go-betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
According to Bernstein, the CIA did its best to conceal the details of its use of journalists from the Church Committee. In addition, Bernstein explains that “A similar decision was made to conceal the results of the staff’s inquiry into the use of academics.” Another detailed exposé of Operation Mockingbird has been written by author and researcher Alex Constantine, appearing as the first chapter of his book Virtual Government: CIA Mind Control Operations in America, in which he examines the various activities and connections between the CIA, corporate foundations, elite think-tanks, newspapers, magazines, television networks, radio stations, Hollywood, and the mafia. In a 2014 interview with RT News, a German journalist named Udo Ulfkotte revealed that he had published propaganda pieces written by the CIA and the BND (German intelligence) under his own name for a considerable period of time. He describes how Western intelligence agencies approach journalists and manipulate them into publishing phony propaganda stories, expressing his guilt for participating in such shady activities. Ulfkotte’s revelations confirm the ongoing manipulation of the Western news media by the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
In addition to promoting drug use and manipulating the news media during the time of the Cold War, the CIA also sought to manipulate Western art and academia in order to seriously weaken the left. As journalist and historian Frances Stonor Saunders explains in her book The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters:
“During the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government committed vast resources to a secret program of cultural propaganda in Western Europe. A central feature of this program was to advance the claim that it did not exist. It was managed, in great secrecy, by America’s espionage arm, the Central Intelligence Agency. The centerpiece of this covert campaign was the Congress for Cultural Freedom… At its peak, the Congress for Cultural Freedom had offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and features service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances. Its mission was to nudge the intelligentsia of Western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism towards a view more accommodating of ‘the American way.’
Drawing on an extensive, highly influential network of intelligence personnel, political strategists, the corporate establishment, and the old school ties of the Ivy League universities, the incipient CIA started, from 1947, to build a ‘consortium’ whose double task it was to inoculate the world against the contagion of Communism and to ease the passage of American foreign policy interests abroad…
…Whether they liked it or not, whether they knew it or not, there were few writers, poets, artists, historians, scientists, or critics in postwar Europe whose names were not in some way linked to this covert enterprise. Unchallenged, undetected for over twenty years, America’s spying establishment operated a sophisticated, substantially endowed cultural front in the West, for the West, in the name of freedom of expression. Defining the Cold War as a ‘battle for men’s minds,’ it stockpiled a vast arsenal of cultural weapons: journals, books, conferences, seminars, art exhibitions, concerts, awards.
Membership of this consortium included an assorted group of former radicals and leftist intellectuals whose faith in Marxism and Communism had been shattered…”
As Saunders documents in The Cultural Cold War, the CIA aimed to steer Western political thought away from communism and support for the Soviet Union by co-opting the culture and discourse of the Western left through the Congress for Cultural Freedom and other associated projects. This included using Trotskyists and others who held anti-Stalin, anti-Soviet views to promote a “different version” of leftism to the masses in the West. This cultural war was not only waged in Europe, but in the United States as well. As journalist and writer Caleb Maupin explains:
“The project involved indirect CIA funding of ‘cultural leftism.’ Across the United States and western Europe, Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, as well as artists, musicians, academics and film-makers started getting CIA money. Many of them were unaware of where this money came from.
The CIA’s website confirms that it subsidized the New York-based Trotskyist magazine called ‘Partisan Review.’ The magazine presented itself as representing the genuine socialism of Karl Marx, Max Shachtman and Leon Trotsky, while opposing ‘Stalinism’ in the USSR. The CIA also promoted the works of Sidney Hook and other ‘socialist’ college professors.
The project went beyond just political activism, and included funding for art galleries, experimental film-makers, and most especially, left-wing academics. The CIA funded the printing of George Orwell’s writings, as well as concerts by left-wing musicians.
…The CIA intentionally promoted “cultural leftists” hoping to divert people with leftist and dissident instincts away from Soviet Communism.”
Saunders explains that the CIA had identified books as a particularly important type of media in this culture war, as the power of a book to change the opinion of its readers was unmatched by any other type of media. She writes that “The New York Times alleged in 1977 that the CIA had been involved in the publication of at least a thousand books.” These included everything from novels and biographies to travel guides and encyclopedias. Saunders also mentions the creation of Radio Free Europe in 1950, “which was set up that year by the CIA (its participation shielded from public view by its front organization, the National Committee for a Free Europe)” in order to spread anti-communist propaganda throughout Europe as well as monitor broadcasts from Eastern bloc countries. According to Saunders,
“A separate budget of $10 million was set aside for Radio Free Europe (RFE)… Within a few years, RFE had twenty-nine stations broadcasting in sixteen different languages… It was also soliciting the services of informers behind the Iron Curtain, monitoring Communist broadcasts, underwriting anti-Communist lectures and writings by western intellectuals, and distributing its ‘research’ internationally to scholars and journalists (including those affiliated with the Congress for Cultural Freedom).”
CIA-sponsored radio broadcasts were not limited to Radio Free Europe; the CIA also operated Radio Liberty, a project to direct radio broadcasts directly into the Soviet Union, as well as Radio Free Asia, Free Cuba Radio, and many others. According to a New York Times article from 1977, “Free Cuba Radio, established in the early 1960’s, did not broadcast from its own transmitters but purchased air time from a number of commercial radio stations in Florida and Louisiana.” Thus, it is admitted by the New York Times that the CIA has purchased air time from radio stations in the United States. Researcher Alex Constantine has pointed out Pacifica Radio’s repeated broadcasts of disinformation propaganda by known CIA shills in a series of articles on the subject, bringing attention to the fact that the CIA does not just use radio broadcasts to propagandize foreign populations, but to propagandize Americans as well.
Of course, Hollywood and the corporate entertainment industry play a central role in Western culture, and they have powerful effect on the political consciousness of their viewers. The CIA makes heavy use of movies and television shows to propagandize the masses. In an article entitled “Cultural Imperialism and Perception Management: How Hollywood Hides US War Crimes,” writer and researcher Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya explains that
“The perceptions of most people in the US and Western Europe are influenced by Hollywood and the entertainment industry and not history textbooks or scholarly works…
…The recognized establishment of ties between Hollywood and the US government began with the production of the silent war movie Wings in 1927. The silent movie was about the First World War and relied heavily on the United States Army Air Corps, which [was] the aerial wing of the US Army. Ever since the making of Wings in 1927 there has been a close partnership between the Pentagon and Hollywood that has expanded and blossomed to include other government bodies and agencies, including members of the sixteen-member US intelligence community, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). This has led to the vertical integration of Hollywood and the entertainment industry into the military-industrial complex, which has in essence reduced Hollywood movies to tools of cultural imperialism and camouflaged US propaganda.”
As an article from Vice News reveals, the CIA has been involved in the production of several recent movies, television shows, and BBC documentaries. It is clear that Hollywood has a long history of collaboration with CIA and Pentagon on the production of movies, including highly popular films. The history of collaboration is so extensive, in fact, that now the relationship is openly acknowledged, at least to a certain degree, although the details and true level of CIA involvement are not made public. As Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham explain in an article entitled “Lights, Camera… Covert Action: The Deep Politics of Hollywood,”
“The Department of Defense… has an ‘open’ but barely publicized relationship with Tinsel Town [Hollywood], whereby, in exchange for advice, men and invaluable equipment, such as aircraft carriers and helicopters, the Pentagon routinely demands flattering script alterations…
…Such government activity, whilst morally dubious and barely advertised, has at least occurred within the public domain. This much cannot be said of the CIA’s dealings with Hollywood, which, until recently, went largely unacknowledged by the Agency. In 1996, the CIA announced with little fanfare the dry remit of its newly established Media Liaison Office, headed by veteran operative Chase Brandon. As part of its new stance, the CIA would now openly collaborate on Hollywood productions, supposedly in a strictly ‘advisory’ capacity.
The Agency’s decision to work publicly with Hollywood was preceded by the 1991 ‘Task Force Report on Greater CIA Openness,’ compiled by CIA Director Robert Gates’ newly appointed ‘Openness Task Force’…”
The list of movies and television shows involving CIA collaboration includes some surprising titles which might cause one to wonder why the CIA would be interested in producing them, as they are not overtly political at all. As a Sputnik article explains,
“Some of the projects that boast covert state involvement are perhaps predictable — sci-fi blockbusters such as Transformers and War of the Worlds — others baffling.
For instance, since 2005 the Pentagon has worked on dozens of reality TV projects, including Cupcake Wars, American Idol and Top Chef. The CIA also worked on an episode of the latter series, as did the State Department…
…Other revealed examples of CIA scriptural meddling are more surprising than troubling — for instance, the CIA were involved in the production of yuletide-themed comedy Ernest Saves Christmas, and blockbuster romcom Meet the Parents (and sequel Meet the Fockers).”
The Sputnik article rightfully points out that it is impossible to know the true extent of tampering by the US intelligence apparatus in regard to movies and television shows. All that we know for certain is that the CIA and Pentagon do have a role in manipulating entertainment media, and that it includes more than a few productions. The notion of a CIA “liaison office” in Hollywood is certainly a limited hangout, a partial admission to avoid acknowledging the actual level of CIA involvement. It is quite possible that the US intelligence apparatus is involved in the production of a majority of movies and television shows—perhaps even all that appear on television or in major theaters. The patterns of propaganda and the utter mindlessness and anti-leftist bias of the mainstream media certainly suggest this possibility.
Social media, a relatively new phenomenon compared to the other existing forms of media, has become another tool of imperialist intelligence agencies to manipulate the consciousness of the masses. It is well-known that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google all engage in censorship of media they deem to be unacceptable for one reason or another; while liberals and conservatives each claim that they themselves are the victims of such censorship, the real targets of censorship are those who promote political lines and narratives which run counter to the lies and false narratives of US imperialism. Accusations of “fake news,” “conspiracy theories,” “hate speech,” and “Russian agents” are commonly used by these social media platforms to justify censorship of people and organizations who defy Western mainstream political narratives. As reported in a December 2019 episode of the CBS show 60 Minutes, the CEO of YouTube said that the social media platform has recently “cut down the amount of time Americans watch controversial content by 70%” by introducing changes in the algorithms used to recommend videos to its users. Not only do such social media platforms engage in censorship, but they are used by US intelligence agencies to actively collect massive amounts of data about people’s internet search terms, social media posts, voice conversations, online purchases, and social networks. The “Big Data” information technology corporations involved in the development of these popular social media platforms have close ties with Western military and intelligence agencies. It is publicly acknowledged that the CIA invests money in technology startup companies that hold potential for increasing its espionage capabilities through its “technology investment arm,” a venture capital firm called In-Q-Tel. The US military-intelligence apparatus not only invests money in such companies, but actively staffs them in some cases; an article on Wired entitled “Ex-Darpa Head Regina Dugan Leaves Google for Facebook” provides a glaring example of this phenomenon.
In the information age, with the advent of digital technology and artificial intelligence, autonomous electronic information systems are becoming an increasingly common tool in the manipulation of human cognition. Not only are people becoming increasingly reliant on, and passively accepting of, information and bourgeois news propaganda obtained from search engines such as Google, “Voice AI” systems such as Siri and Alexa, and social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter, but their cognitive processes are also being heavily manipulated using “brain hacking” techniques developed for marketing purposes through the application of neuroscience principles to digital information systems, resulting in widespread addiction to smartphone and social media applications. These social media applications are designed to manipulate the psychology of their users by employing algorithms tailored specifically to each user based upon the data collected about them. Once set in motion, these algorithms can function continuously and largely autonomously. This is all made possible by the proliferation of personal computers and especially smartphones, technologies which are widely used in the wealthy imperialist countries but are becoming increasingly common in other countries as well. Even the authorship of news articles is starting to become automated, as AI systems are now being developed and implemented which use compiled data to produce news articles that appear as though they are written by humans. The growing potential of such technology to manipulate mass psychology is chilling. As billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has said, “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess… what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that… With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.” The large corporations and intelligence agencies of capitalism seek ever broader methods of implanting their propaganda into people’s minds. With the development of widespread digital surveillance and advanced artificial intelligence systems for filtering information and manipulating human psychology on a mass scale, the imperialist bourgeoisie is indeed “summoning the demon.”
As the educational system plays a large role in the psychological and political development of the population, it is a prime target for infiltration and manipulation by imperialist intelligence agencies. As with the production of movies and television, the true extent of manipulation of the Western educational system by the CIA and other intelligence agencies is unknown, but there are indicators that it is widespread. While the Congress for Cultural Freedom played a large role in the initial CIA infiltration of academic institutions, the level of involvement of US intelligence agencies in Western academia has expanded since then. As anthropology professor David Price explains in a 2005 article entitled “The CIA’s Campus Spies,”
“…even before the events of 9/11 expanded the powers of American intelligence agencies, our universities were quietly being modified to serve the needs of the intelligence community in new and covert ways. The most visible of these reforms was the establishment of the National Security Education Program (NSEP) which siphoned-off students from traditional foreign language funding programs such as Fulbright or Title VI. While traditional funding sources provide students with small stipends of a few thousand dollars to study foreign languages in American universities, the NSEP gives graduate students a wealth of funds (at times exceeding $40,000 a year) to study ‘in demand’ languages, but with troubling pay-back stipulations mandating that recipients later work for unspecified U.S. national security agencies…
…while many academics reacted with anger and protest to the NSEP’s entrance onto American campuses, there has been no public reaction to an even more troubling post-9/11 funding program which upgrades the existing American intelligence-university-interface. With little notice Congress approved section 318 of the 2004 Intelligence Authorization Act which appropriated four million dollars to fund a pilot program known as the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program (PRISP). Named after Senator Pat Roberts (R. Kansas, Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), PRISP was designed to train intelligence operatives and analysts in American university classrooms for careers in the CIA and other agencies. PRISP now operates on an undisclosed number of American college and university campuses…”
Furthermore, Price states that based on his research using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it is a “certainty that these PRISP students are also secretly compiling dossiers on their professors and fellow students.” He also states unequivocally that “There are also unknown thousands of university professors who periodically work with and for the CIA.”
Just as the CIA eventually came to publicly acknowledge, in at least a limited way, its involvement in Hollywood through its Media Liaison Office, a similarly public acknowledgment of CIA involvement in academia exists on the website of Southern University, which describes a “partnership” between the university and the CIA, announced in 2019:
“The Southern University System and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Monday entered into an unprecedented partnership to benefit students and faculty. President-Chancellor Ray Belton, Executive Vice President-Chancellor James Ammons, and representatives from the CIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will serve as the foundational framework for the university system’s participation in the CIA’s recruitment and workforce development initiative, which is part of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The Southern University System Board of Supervisors will ratify the agreement at Friday’s board meeting on campus.”
It is clear that US intelligence, particularly the CIA, has been heavily involved in shaping American and European culture through the production and manipulation of various types of media, including books, magazines, newspapers, movies, documentaries, television shows, radio broadcasts, and social media platforms, as well as employing artists and academics to spread ideas favorable to the imperialist bourgeoisie as widely as possible. It appears that the CIA has continued and expanded its control over the Western media apparatus and educational system since the time of the Cold War, as there has been no significant force to oppose such a takeover, no resistance in the West to this course of action. It is not only the CIA and US intelligence agencies that have been actively involved in shaping Western culture; other intelligence agencies and organizations have also played a significant role, including the British Tavistock Institute and MI6 intelligence agency, the German BND, and many other European intelligence agencies.
As Lenin makes clear, “Freedom of the press and assembly under bourgeois democracy is freedom for the wealthy to conspire against the working people, freedom for the capitalists to bribe and buy up the press.” As all major media networks and social media platforms under capitalism are owned by the bourgeoisie and all military and intelligence agencies of capitalism are organized by the bourgeoisie to serve its interests, it should come as no surprise that the bourgeoisie uses its media apparatus and intelligence agencies in tandem to propagandize the masses and manipulate their psychology for its benefit. The ability of mass media to normalize perceptions, ideas, and values among the general public enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to covertly influence and steer public opinion in the interests of imperialism. It is important to note that it is not only in the imperialist countries where bourgeois propaganda has a significant negative impact on the culture and the political consciousness of the working class; bourgeois propaganda also negatively affects the working class in the poor countries, reducing revolutionary potential where material conditions would otherwise be favorable to revolution.
The political passivity of the Western labor aristocracy has played a significant role in allowing the imperialist bourgeoisie to thoroughly dominate Western culture with its vile propaganda. Of course, the working class in the United States has a very long history of being reactionary and politically backwards. According to the great revolutionary journalist John Reed in his article “Bolshevism in America,” published a century ago in 1918,
“The American working class is politically and economically the most uneducated working class in the world. It believes what it reads in the capitalist press. It believes that the wage system is ordained by God… When the Democrats are in power, it believes the promises of the Republicans, and vice versa. It believes that Labor laws mean what they say. It is prejudiced against Socialism.”
Unfortunately, the American working class today, along with the European working class, is even more uneducated, more reactionary than it was a hundred years ago. The power of the imperialist bourgeoisie over the media and educational system has led to an even greater level of political backwardness among the working class, not only in the West but in other parts of the world too. As the great civil rights leader Malcolm X is famously quoted, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” The truth of his words carries more significance today than ever before, considering the advanced level of control the imperialist bourgeoisie maintains over the psychology of the working class in the West and elsewhere through its massive propaganda apparatus. Furthermore, such vast control over the media allows imperialist intelligence agencies to perpetrate highly sophisticated psychological operations against the general public without risk of large-scale media exposure. Whatever exposure imperialist intelligence agencies face from real investigative journalists is constrained to alternative media outlets which are already highly marginalized and drowned out by corporate and fake “alternative” media propaganda. With such power over the minds of the Western masses, the imperialist bourgeoisie is able to advance its agenda and perpetrate endless atrocities against humanity and the Earth without encountering any significant domestic resistance. The labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries largely accepts the victim-blaming, pro-imperialist propaganda promoted in the mainstream media, to such a degree that there is no longer any significant anti-war movement despite ongoing US and NATO military aggression against countries that defy Western imperialism, and despite the increasing potential for another world war to break out.
As Marx makes quite clear in his appraisal of the relationship between the English and the Irish workers, the worker who maintains allegiance to his own nation and its bourgeoisie at the expense of the workers of other nations “becomes a tool of the… aristocrats and capitalists… thus strengthening their domination over himself.” This carries extreme significance in regard to the idea of “false consciousness,” a concept which vulgar Third Worldism distorts wildly.
While workers in the bourgeois imperialist countries enjoy shopping, drinking alcohol, and watching mindless entertainment, they are largely unaware of the deteriorating political situation facing themselves and the rest of the world. They sacrifice their long-term interests for their short-term interests, their children’s futures (and those of others) for their own gluttony and selfishness. The existential threats facing humanity continue to mount along with other problems rooted in the capitalist system such as poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and healthcare, increasing rates of mental illness and addiction, etc. Although many among the labor aristocracy will acknowledge that these problems exist, at least to some degree, there are very few who take such problems seriously enough to study the details of them, and even fewer still who are willing to engage in any sort of meaningful action to solve them. Meanwhile, the ruling class in the Western countries grows stronger through its acquisition of ever greater wealth, its consolidation of power over media and education, and its expansion of mass surveillance. While the workers of the imperialist countries remain distracted by petty squabbles between liberals and conservatives, the imperialist bourgeoisie continues to increase its power over them, “summoning the demon” with its development of ever more advanced technology and methods of social control. Lulled to complacency by privilege and propaganda, the workers of the labor aristocracy foolishly believe in the façade of democracy that is presented to them while their self-determination withers away in the midst of the construction of an invisible prison of digital surveillance and psychological warfare aided by advanced artificial intelligence. We are reminded of the words of the famous German writer Goethe: “No one is more a slave than the man who thinks himself free while he is not.”
Vulgar Third Worldists claim that the workers of the labor aristocracy do not suffer from false consciousness, but instead that they are aware of their privileged position above the other sections of the working class and that they consciously strive to maintain this privileged position at the expense of the more highly exploited workers. On the other hand, First Worldists claim that there is no fundamental difference between the privileged workers and the superexploited workers; they only see one homogeneous working class. Of course, both of these positions are flawed. While there is certainly more truth in the position of the vulgar Third Worldist, such a position lacks nuance as it does not take into account all the ways that the workers of the labor aristocracy are lied to, propagandized, and forced into maintaining a narrow, distorted view of the world. It does not take into account the reality of state-sponsored psychological operations aimed at disrupting movements in the imperialist countries that have the potential to build genuine proletarian internationalism and class consciousness among the workers. Vulgar Third Worldism overlooks the ways in which global capitalism acts against the long-term interests of the labor aristocracy. While there is certainly some truth to the notion that the privileged workers are aware, to a degree, of their privileged position within global society, and perhaps even aware that their privilege is based upon the exploitation of other workers and the destruction of the environment, it is a mistake to disregard the shortsightedness and outright political stupidity of the workers of the labor aristocracy in supporting a system which, in the long term, is against the interests of almost everyone, including their own children and grandchildren.
While all Third Worldists acknowledge the fact that the privilege enjoyed by the workers in the imperialist countries is, in effect, a bribe from the imperialist bourgeoisie in order to maintain a bourgeois class alliance between those workers and the ruling class, the vulgar Third Worldists lose sight of the fact that this bribe turns the privileged workers against their own long-term interests. If one is only considering the short term, it would appear that the privileged workers are acting according to their interests; when examining the bigger picture, however, it becomes clear that the privileged workers do indeed suffer from false consciousness as they are acting against their long-term interests. This is an important distinction between vulgar Third Worldism and real proletarian internationalist Third Worldism, as the latter takes into account both the short-term and the long-term interests of the workers while maintaining a realistic view of the possibilities for revolutionary organizing within the existing conditions.
The Problems of Vulgar Third Worldism
Third Worldism has often been maligned by people calling themselves Marxists; the common tendency is to dismiss Third Worldism in favor of varying forms of First Worldism including (but not necessarily limited to) Trotskyism and First Worldist Maoism. However, it is quite clear that First Worldism contains fatal flaws; indeed, it is self-evident. It is undeniable that the bourgeois lifestyle enjoyed by the privileged sections of the working class is environmentally unsustainable and based upon the severe exploitation of vast numbers of workers in the poor countries. It is also undeniable that there are a much larger number of communists in the poor countries and much more of a willingness of people in those countries to take up anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics. It is clear that the labor aristocracy is thoroughly reactionary and does not constitute a viable revolutionary social base. Striving to make revolution under conditions which are objectively anti-revolutionary is unrealistic and doomed to failure. Furthermore, striving to make improvements to the lives of the privileged workers at the expense of the rest of the world’s workers is not a valid solution to the world’s problems, nor is it revolutionary. First Worldism is, at its core, opportunism, as it means seeking an unprincipled unity with reactionary forces, a rightist deviation from the tenets of Marxism. It is also a form of social-chauvinism. Lenin describes this phenomenon as such:
“Social-chauvinism and opportunism are the same in their political essence; class collaboration, repudiation of the proletarian dictatorship, rejection of revolutionary action, obeisance to bourgeois legality, non-confidence in the proletariat, and confidence in the bourgeoisie. The political ideas are identical, and so is the political content of their tactics.”
We should not dismiss First Worldism, however, only to fall into the trap of vulgar Third Worldism; it is clear that vulgar Third Worldism also contains serious flaws which have the potential to do (and which have already done) significant damage to the global revolutionary movement. Like First Worldism, vulgar Third Worldism also misleads the working class, although in a different direction. While the essence of First Worldism is opportunism, the essence of vulgar Third Worldism is sectarianism. Vulgar Third Worldism is an ultra-leftist deviation from Marxism, creating needless division among the forces of the proletariat. It manifests in various ways, primarily as identity politics, absolutism, determinism, reductionism, and do-nothingism, promoting a distorted view of actual global conditions.
As a form of identity politics, vulgar Third Worldism encourages hatred and chauvinism toward people in the bourgeois countries based solely on their identity as “First Worlders,” in a similar manner to liberals who maintain chauvinistic attitudes toward White people and men (despite often being White and/or male themselves). Identity politics only serves to obscure the true nature of class oppression, focusing people’s attention on identity rather than on actual, concrete political roles. Those who engage in anti-White identity politics overlook the true systemic nature of racism and its basis in class, instead overgeneralizing all White people into the category of “oppressors” and marginalizing or dismissing them completely (including, ostensibly, those who have dedicated themselves to the cause of ending racial and other types of oppression). Similarly, those who engage in anti-male identity politics overlook the true nature of sex-based oppression and its relationship to capitalism and class division, instead overgeneralizing all males as “oppressors” and then marginalizing or dismissing them completely. Those who engage in such liberal identity politics cannot acknowledge the reality that Black people in the bourgeois countries derive a level of material privilege from the oppression and exploitation of the working masses of the poor countries; neither can they acknowledge the reality that women in the bourgeois countries derive a significant level of material privilege from the oppression and exploitation of men and women in the poor countries. Such realities threaten their self-righteous liberal worldviews and their absurd notions of identity-based purity. Just as liberals proclaim that all White people and men are oppressors, vulgar Third Worldists loudly proclaim that all First Worlders are oppressors, overgeneralizing all people in the bourgeois countries into one category and overlooking the various ways in which they, too, experience class oppression. Overgeneralization is a common characteristic of all identity politics, leading to the marginalization or exclusion of individuals based on their identity who might otherwise prove to be valuable allies. Marginalizing or otherwise rejecting people from revolutionary organizing based on their status as “First Worlders” is an error as it hinders a principled unity based on proper political line in favor of an unprincipled unity based on identity.
The tendency of vulgar Third Worldism to promote anti-First World identity politics is closely related to another major error, that of absolutism. Vulgar Third Worldism promotes an absolutist view of the world in various ways, including absurd claims that no production takes place in the bourgeois countries, that workers in the bourgeois countries are not actually workers but part of the imperial bourgeoisie, and that there is no false consciousness among the labor aristocracy, among other things. Of course, all of these notions are demonstrably incorrect, derived from sloppy analysis and a distorted perception of reality. It is necessary to examine the basis for such claims and eliminate the vulgar exaggerations and distortions in order to maintain a clear understanding of reality.
There are, of course, farms, factories, mines, oil wells, and construction projects in the bourgeois countries, and while these countries do indeed acquire a large amount of resources from imperialist exploitation of the poor countries, the reality is that the wealthy countries do engage in various forms of production even if they consume more than they produce. Such absolutist claims that no production takes place in the bourgeois countries are silly exaggerations and should be dismissed as vulgar distortions and reductionism.
The notion that workers in the wealthy countries are not “workers” at all is another silly exaggeration promoted by vulgar Third Worldism. In order to avoid sleeping on the streets, most people must submit to employment of some form or another, whether they live in the wealthy countries or the poor countries. It is not a matter of personal choice for such people how production is organized in their countries; they must find a job and go to work in order to pay their rent. While it is certainly accurate to deny that someone who trades stocks for a living is a real worker, it is not a fair assessment to say that janitors, service industry workers, truck drivers, and others who toil for a living in the bourgeois countries are not workers. While it is true that the hardest, most dangerous, and most physically demanding jobs are largely performed by highly oppressed and exploited workers in the poor countries, it is also true that many people in the poor countries are employed as janitors, service industry workers, truck drivers, etc. just as people in the wealthy countries are. Work is work, whether it involves production, distribution, or some other sort of service. Of course, not all work is productive or even worthwhile, and not everyone who works is paid a fair wage for what they do. As we know, under global capitalism, some workers receive more of the social product than they produce, and a great many receive less. However, it is quite absurd to label people who toil for a wage as something other than what they are: workers. Thus, we can dispel any absolutist notions that only the poor countries have workers.
Similarly, the ludicrous notion that the workers of the labor aristocracy are somehow part of the imperial bourgeoisie is an absolutist claim that does not make sense of the facts. Such an error reflects a distorted interpretation of a statement made by Engels in a letter to Marx written in 1858: “…[T]he English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat.” It is one thing to be bourgeois, to have economic and social privilege and to hold a bourgeois mindset, but it is quite another thing to be an actual member of the bourgeoisie. Of course, Engels did not mean that the English workers were part of the bourgeoisie; he very clearly stated that they would stand alongside the bourgeoisie as a separate class with some bourgeois characteristics. It is important to keep in mind the obvious differences between the bourgeoisie and the workers in the imperialist countries. First of all, the workers in the imperialist countries (and elsewhere) are drowned in propaganda in order to keep them utterly unaware of political realities and to suppress their class consciousness, while the bourgeoisie maintains a keen awareness of global politics and its class interests. Secondly, the workers are not involved in the process of formulating government or corporate policy, and their parliamentary representatives are overwhelmingly bought off by corporate interests. Even those workers who are part of labor unions in the wealthy countries often find themselves unable to effect changes to their workplace, much less high-level government policy. The workers of the labor aristocracy, while highly privileged in relation to the superexploited workers of the poor countries, still do not enjoy the vast luxury and decadence of the bourgeoisie. They must go to their day jobs and follow their bosses’ orders in order to pay rent and buy food. While it is true that the privileged workers enjoy better working conditions and can afford things such as cars, large televisions, and fancy smartphones, this does not qualify them as part of the bourgeoisie. It is an error of reductionism to oversimplify the global class structure into “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat,” as the actual political realities are much more complex. While we must certainly avoid the First Worldist tendency to categorize all workers across the world as one homogeneous class, and while we must acknowledge the obvious bourgeois and reactionary tendencies of the workers in the imperialist countries, we can safely dismiss the idea that the workers in the imperialist countries are part of the imperial bourgeoisie.
While it is generally acknowledged within Marxism that non-revolutionary workers suffer from false consciousness, vulgar Third Worldism maintains that only the workers in the poor countries can experience false consciousness, failing to acknowledge the reality that workers in the imperialist countries also experience false consciousness as they, too, are subject to the effects of imperialist propaganda and psychological manipulation. We have already examined the various ways in which the workers of the labor aristocracy are propagandized and brainwashed in order to suppress their class consciousness. To say that only highly exploited workers and not privileged workers can experience false consciousness is an error of absolutism. This mistake stems partly from the reductionist tendency of vulgar Third Worldism to only focus on short-term class interests as a motivating factor in people’s behavior. Of course, if people were only motivated by their short-term interests, there would be no environmental activists in the bourgeois imperialist countries; however, as we see, there are plenty of environmental activists (mainly liberals who, despite their lack of true political understanding, are certainly passionate about environmental issues and worried about the future). People can be motivated by their long-term interests as well their short-term interests, although their economic privilege, political consciousness, and the surrounding culture all play a role in influencing their actions. While many liberals may indeed be passionate about wanting to “save the planet,” they cannot see how the fundamental logic of capitalism leads to severe environmental destruction, or why the only valid solution is revolution and not reformism. The ideological contradictions in liberal environmentalism serve as a reminder that privileged workers, like superexploited workers, can experience false consciousness. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that many workers across the world are neither part of the labor aristocracy nor superexploited, but are somewhere in the middle. It becomes problematic, then, to draw a line between one section of the working class and another in attempting to determine who can experience false consciousness and who cannot. Obviously, everyone who promotes a political line against their own long-term interests holds some form of false consciousness.
Vulgar Third Worldism has a tendency toward economic determinism, overemphasizing the role of economic conditions and underemphasizing the role of information and culture in human behavior. Both the privileged and exploited sections of the working class are subjected to massive amounts of propaganda promoting capitalism and whitewashing imperialism. Such propaganda conveys false information and encourages degenerate tendencies among the masses. Imperialist intelligence agencies do their best to infiltrate and disrupt leftist movements both in the bourgeois imperialist countries and in the exploited countries, using various types of covert tactics and dirty tricks in pursuing their objectives. The continued infiltration and disruption of leftist groups, including those in the imperialist countries, is clear evidence that the imperialists consider such groups a threat. Similarly, the massive amount of propaganda generated by the imperialists and their attempts to censor truthful information, including in the imperialist countries, clearly demonstrate that the imperialists view such information as a threat. If level of economic privilege alone were the only determining factor in rendering a class reactionary or revolutionary, then we could expect almost all the workers in the poor countries to be ardent communists already. However, as we can see today, that is not the case. Furthermore, if level of economic privilege were the only determining factor, there would be no need for the widespread infiltration and disruption of leftist groups in the imperialist countries, and no need to saturate the privileged sections of the working class with such massive amounts of propaganda. It is obvious that economic privilege alone is not the sole determining factor behind the reactionary nature of the privileged workers, but one of several factors. Economic determinism is a reductionist error, as it is an oversimplification of a more complex problem.
Another reductionist error made by vulgar Third Worldism is the overemphasis on comparing standards of living between the bourgeois countries and the poor countries under capitalism, instead of considering the countless ways that all workers, including the privileged, would benefit from a socialist reorganization of society. While it is certainly true that some level of reduction in material consumption for the privileged workers is necessary to achieve an egalitarian and environmentally sustainable global society, the reality is that a high level of material consumption does not equate to individual happiness and well-being. Socialism offers an entirely different way of living than what is possible under capitalism. A socialist planned economy, prioritizing the interests of the masses, would streamline production, distribution, and waste management while eliminating the overconsumption of resources and needless environmental destruction that occur under capitalism. Furthermore, socialist construction also entails the development of a healthy culture which embodies positive values and promotes the health and well-being of all members of society, a culture which rekindles the Enlightenment ideal and embraces a positive trajectory for the evolution of humanity. Vulgar Third Worldism focuses only on the short-term interests of the privileged workers while neglecting to address their long-term interests which, in many ways, align with the interests of the superexploited workers. Furthermore, while there is certainly a desire among many members of the labor aristocracy to have a bigger house, a nicer car, and more luxury items, there are also many who want environmental sustainability, global peace, and a healthier society for themselves and their children. There are both reactionary and progressive tendencies among the privileged workers just as there are reactionary and progressive tendencies among the more highly exploited workers, but it is the duty of communists everywhere to educate the various sections of the working class and unite them according to their shared interests, their long-term interests. Although it can be useful to compare standards of living between the bourgeois countries and the exploited countries under capitalism in order to demonstrate the parasitic, exploitive nature of imperialism, doing so merely to reinforce the incorrect notion that the privileged workers could never benefit from socialism while focusing only on their short-term interests is sectarian and destructive to the international communist movement.
It is also necessary to point out the tendency of vulgar Third Worldism to neglect the increasingly high cost of living in the bourgeois countries and the increasing difficulty with which many workers struggle to pay for rent and other necessities. It is obvious that, while conditions in the poor countries are much worse, even the wealthy countries experience serious social and economic problems due to the nature of the capitalist-imperialist system. The rising levels of homelessness in the United States and Europe are a testament to this fact. It is a mistake to overlook this glaring reality. The tendency of vulgar Third Worldism to avoid looking at social and economic problems that affect people in the wealthy countries is problematic as it presents a distorted view of reality. Such reductionist thinking leads to an overly simplified, one-dimensional view of class relations, according to which there are only two mutually exclusive categories—oppressors and oppressed. Of course, in reality, a group can be oppressed and oppress others at the same time. Such is the nature of the privileged workers who derive material benefit from the oppression and exploitation of the superexploited workers, even while their own interests are subjugated to the interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie. Only by taking a nuanced approach to analyzing global class relations can we come to a full understanding of the realities of the capitalist-imperialist system and of the possibilities for revolutionary organizing.
Vulgar Third Worldism seems to forget that communism cannot be achieved without the liberation of all workers, including the privileged, from capitalism. While most workers among the labor aristocracy cannot be immediately won over to the cause of socialist revolution, it is counterproductive to avoid the reality that they, too, must be liberated as part of the global transition to communism. It is certainly possible that some imperialist countries with stubbornly reactionary populations, such as the United States, may need to be forced into submission by external forces loyal to socialism, but the fact remains that communism cannot be achieved without the end of all class division everywhere, including within the imperialist countries. Vulgar Third Worldism tends to downplay or ignore the threats facing the workers in the imperialist countries, focusing only on the problems of the superexploited workers. However, some problems, such as ecological collapse and the threat of a third world war, have implications for all of humanity. Vulgar Third Worldism forgets that the privilege enjoyed by the workers of the labor aristocracy is merely a bribe meant to secure their allegiance to capitalism, to turn them against their own long-term interests. A successful mobilization for global revolution requires an accurate appraisal of the situation facing both the privileged and the exploited sections of the working class which does not needlessly alienate anyone from the revolutionary struggle.
Finally, vulgar Third Worldism has a tendency to promote do-nothingism within the bourgeois countries, despite making the occasional explicit statement to the contrary. The sectarian nature of vulgar Third Worldism tends to alienate people in the bourgeois countries, including leftist activists who are potential allies in the global struggle. Through its lack of nuanced analysis, its anti-First World identity politics, its absolutist claims, and its economic determinism, the general message of vulgar Third Worldism to the masses in the bourgeois countries is that they have nothing to win and everything to lose from supporting revolution against capitalist-imperialism. Whatever explicit statements vulgar Third Worldism has made against do-nothingism are drowned out by its loud insistence that nearly everyone in the bourgeois countries is an enemy of the revolution. When confronted with the brash, anti-First World identity politics of vulgar Third Worldism, one who might otherwise agree with its basic tenets is left with, quite literally, nothing to do. It is not enough to make hollow statements against do-nothingism in the bourgeois countries; the proper course of action is to present the fundamental arguments for revolution in such a way as to appeal to the workers of all countries based on their shared interests. Only by doing so can Third Worldism genuinely avoid promoting do-nothingism.
We have thus examined all of the major errors of vulgar Third Worldism. It is clear that just because some workers are reactionary and live upon the exploitation of others does not mean that they themselves would not also benefit in many ways from socialism. We must maintain a proper perspective: workers everywhere would have much to gain from socialism, although the superexploited workers in the poor countries would have even more to gain, especially in the short term, and they constitute a significant and viable revolutionary social base whereas the privileged workers currently do not. This is the fundamental principle of true Third Worldism, which is both proletarian and internationalist in its perspective. We must remember that although a class may be reactionary, there may be individuals from such a class who nonetheless seek revolutionary change. We must also remember that material conditions can change, and that those with a level of privilege today may find themselves on the streets tomorrow. While we should always maintain a realistic assessment of existing conditions, we should also be prepared to re-examine the situation in order to maintain a current and up-to-date analysis of global class relations so as not to exclude genuine possibilities for revolutionary organizing in different parts of the world.
Activists in the bourgeois countries who see the potential benefits of socialism for the privileged workers but are turned off by the sectarian tendencies of vulgar Third Worldism are often driven toward First Worldism. This is perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of vulgar Third Worldism. While First Worldism is a much more obvious and common error than vulgar Third Worldism, both First Worldism and vulgar Third Worldism hinder the progress of the international communist movement. The true path to victory lies between these two deviations; as revolutionaries, we must strive to uphold the correct political line at all times, and to follow that line with proper action. As we must always avoid engaging in opportunism, we must also avoid engaging in sectarianism as well as identity politics, absolutism, economic determinism, and all other forms of reductionist and revisionist thinking. We must not alienate potential allies in the revolutionary struggle. All who can be won over to our political line should be won over, as long as a principled unity can be maintained.
Establishing an Effective Internationalist Practice
It is the aim of the Leading Light Communist Organization to provide the necessary leadership for the next great wave of revolution, to organize the global masses to achieve the monumental task of overthrowing capitalism and initiating the socialist transformation of society with the goal of reaching worldwide communism. Considering the analysis put forward in this article thus far, it is necessary to outline our general strategy and tactics in order to provide the reader with a basic understanding of how the LLCO operates.
In The Foundations of Leninism, Stalin explains that “The front of capital will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, for the proletarian revolution is the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front at its weakest link…” Third Worldist revolutionary theory is based upon this central idea; all practical considerations of organizing must follow from this point. We must direct our resources and our best efforts at fomenting revolution where imperialism is the weakest, where conditions are the ripest for a revolutionary seizure of power by the working class. However, this does not mean that we should neglect to organize among the working class in other parts of the world, but merely that we should make the weak point of imperialism the primary focus of our organizational activities.
In “The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” Lenin writes that
“Socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation—and this demand in its political expression signifies nothing more nor less than the recognition of the right to self-determination—but must render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their rebellion—and if need be, their revolutionary war—against the imperialist powers that oppress them.”
Thus, national liberation and the self-determination of oppressed nations are central to our theory and practice, and we must support movements which may not be fully socialist, but which are certainly anti-imperialist, as part of our overall revolutionary strategy of targeting imperialism where it is weakest. Furthermore, such support should be aimed at the “more revolutionary elements” of such national liberation movements with the goal of pulling them farther left, toward socialism. An essential element of the struggle for national liberation and the self-determination of oppressed nations is the united front, a broad coalition of classes organized to fight imperialism. It is the duty of communists to lead the struggle of the working class in attaining a position of leadership within the united front in order to pursue the path of socialist construction once victory has been achieved against imperialism. As Zak Cope explains,
“In the Third World, the absolute sine qua non for development and progress in all social spheres is the construction of a united front bringing together all classes who can be brought together to combat imperialism. To help ensure the oppressed nations effectively disconnect from imperialism and end its parasitic global division of labour, the central political organisations of the exploited workforces of the Third World must struggle with their anti-imperialist allies in the united front (those organizations representing other classes) to place themselves in the vanguard. The alliance of workers and peasants against imperialism, in particular, remains a central focus for national liberation efforts in the Third World, particularly insofar as it lays the political foundations for the socialist development of industry in the countryside.”
Our primary strategic task is to organize the working masses of the exploited countries for revolution through the construction of New Power—a new structure of power arising from the oppressed and exploited masses and controlled by them, the precursor to a truly socialist state. The New Power must be built by the people themselves while the bourgeois state still exists, as it is the means by which the people can eventually topple the bourgeois state and establish socialism. Lenin first described this phenomenon as the “dual power” in revolutionary Russia:
“The basic question of every revolution is that of state power. Unless this question is understood, there can be no intelligent participation in the revolution, not to speak of guidance of the revolution.
The highly remarkable feature of our revolution is that it has brought about a dual power. This fact must be grasped first and foremost: unless it is understood, we cannot advance…
What is this dual power? Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing—the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
What is the class composition of this other government? It consists of the proletariat and the peasants (in soldiers’ uniforms). What is the political nature of this government? It is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power. It is an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the usual type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America. This circumstance is often overlooked, often not given enough thought, yet it is the crux of the matter. This power is of the same type as the Paris Commune of 1871. The fundamental characteristics of this type are: (1) the source of power is not a law previously discussed and enacted by parliament, but the direct initiative of the people from below, in their local areas—direct ‘seizure’, to use a current expression; (2) the replacement of the police and the army, which are institutions divorced from the people and set against the people, by the direct arming of the whole people; order in the state under such a power is maintained by the armed workers and peasants themselves, by the armed people themselves; (3) officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control; they not only become elected officials, but are also subject to recall at the people’s first demand; they are reduced to the position of simple agents; from a privileged group holding ‘jobs’ remunerated on a high, bourgeois scale, they become workers of a special ‘arm of the service’, whose remuneration does not exceed the ordinary pay of a competent worker.”
This concept of dual power, or New Power as we call it today, is central to communism. We communists differ from all liberal reformists and social democrats in this regard, as we do not consider bourgeois parliamentary elections or legal reforms to be an effective method of achieving fundamental social and political change, of ending class oppression. We also differ from anarchists on this matter, as we consider the most effective method of achieving the liberation of humanity to be the organization of the working masses into a cohesive revolutionary movement with the aim of capturing state power, rather than focusing on individual struggles and minor, isolated acts of rebellion. As communists, we must strive to cultivate a mindset favorable to New Power among the workers. We must dedicate our resources to building and expanding the New Power, always paying close attention to political conditions so that we may maximize our effectiveness in this task of tremendous significance.
We must keep in mind the difference between objective conditions and subjective conditions to avoid engaging in wishful thinking and wasting our time with pointless activities. The small handful of people who comprise the revolutionary vanguard cannot “create” revolutionary conditions any more than we can stop the Moon from orbiting around the Earth. However, as an organization, we can further develop our theoretical framework, analyze current conditions, carry out agitation, recruitment, and political education, and organize events within our existing capacities to do so. We can actively build coalitions with other organizations while expanding our own in terms of membership and organizational capacities. We can develop and propagate various forms of media in order to reach the masses. The stronger our organization grows, the greater the effect we can have throughout the world. A common error of First Worldism is to assume that revolutionary conditions exist where none are present; however, it is possible to make an error in the opposite direction, to assume that no revolutionary potential exists where it actually does. We aim to avoid both errors, to maximize our organizational effectiveness by correctly identifying revolutionary and non-revolutionary conditions where they exist and carrying out our activities accordingly. In the poor countries, where conditions may be ripe for revolution, we must actively organize among the masses for such a possibility; in the bourgeois countries, where revolutionary conditions are clearly not present, we must organize among the minority of people who, for whatever reason, see the need for radical opposition to the capitalist-imperialist system. We must also be wary of change; revolutionary conditions can develop where none previously existed. A significant reproletarianization of the working class in the imperialist countries, for example, could constitute a major shift in conditions and open up new possibilities for revolutionary organizing. In such a case, we must be ready to alter our approach, making the best possible use of the resources we have within the existing conditions. In general, however, we organize for revolution in the poor countries while organizing support networks and anti-imperialist resistance in the bourgeois countries.
In the poor countries, it is necessary to organize among the broad masses of workers with the aim of building a strong branch of our organization in each country. Each branch needs an office and the necessary equipment to print fliers, posters, and pamphlets for distribution. In each branch, our comrades must perform various tasks including recruitment, political education, agitation, media development, fundraising, coalition-building, and mass line (“serve the people”) programs. Our comrades must reach out to various sections of the working class in order to win their support, develop their political consciousness, and organize them into a force for proletarian revolution. It is important to recruit people in both urban and rural areas, as the factories, warehouses, and technological infrastructure of the cities are critical to socialist construction, but so are the farms and agricultural areas of the countryside. The more organized the workers are everywhere, the more likely the revolutionary seizure of power by the working class will be successful when the time comes for a full-scale revolutionary uprising.
An important part of organizing the working class into a force capable of seizing state power is the formation of organizational coalitions to achieve specific aims. The creation of anti-imperialist coalitions is an integral part of uniting the working class in the exploited nations to wage the necessary struggle against imperialist domination. Other types of coalitions are also necessary, including coalitions against the exploitation and mistreatment of workers by the domestic bourgeoisie, as well as coalitions against racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Such coalitions necessarily include organizations of various political orientations; in general, it is our duty as communists to steer these coalitions as far to the left as possible, even to gain leadership of them if the opportunity arises. In some cases, we may establish such coalitions ourselves with the aim of bringing together other organizations to further the class struggle. By engaging in class struggle through organizational coalitions, the working class learns valuable lessons not only about its enemies, but also about its own power to effect change through class solidarity and organizational unity. Our presence and influence within these organizational coalitions can demonstrate to the working class the correctness of our political line and win over larger numbers of workers to the cause of socialist revolution.
Sometimes it is necessary for communists to operate through front groups. This can facilitate the political development of people who may have an initial aversion to communist ideology due to early or intense exposure to anti-communist propaganda. Front groups can also allow communists to exercise stronger political influence, as the participants in a front group are thus organized to advance the class struggle according to communist direction, at least in certain ways, even if this reality is not grasped by all of those involved. Although such front work must be conducted with the utmost care, if done properly, front groups can be highly effective tools in the class struggle.
It is essential to maintain a strong and effective media apparatus in order to reach people all over the world, in both the imperialist countries and the exploited countries. Such a media apparatus involves a variety of different media, including both online and print media. Of course, translating our work into different languages is a necessary and vital part of maintaining an effective media apparatus, as it allows us to reach people in different countries and unite them according to our political line. It is necessary to maintain a central theory website and a website dedicated to news and analysis of current events, in addition to using various types of social media in order to promote our political line as widely as possible. Along with written articles, it is important to produce images and videos to convey our political line in a clear and simple way to the masses, and to propagate these materials widely across social media. Radio and television broadcasts are another effective way to promote our political line. Distribution of print media such as fliers, pamphlets, posters, magazines, and newspapers is essential for our comrades to organize local branches of the LLCO in their regions. The combination of print media and online media significantly boosts the effectiveness of our media apparatus. It is critically important to promote internationalist solidarity and to show people everywhere how their struggles are all connected to the global struggle against capitalist-imperialism; this is the central focus of all our media work.
Rather than dismiss the bourgeois countries entirely as encouraged by vulgar Third Worldism, we organize in such a way as to make use of the availability of resources in such countries. Such resources can include money, technology, education, and leisure time, among other things. While very few people in the bourgeois countries can be won over to a communist political line at present, especially a Third Worldist line such as that of the LLCO, it is still possible to win over a number of people sympathetic to the cause of global revolution who can provide assistance to those organizing for revolution in the exploited countries. Such assistance can include media development, recruitment, fundraising, political education, and various other tasks required to maintain an effective and functional organizational apparatus. One of the most important ways that communists in the imperialist countries can assist the liberation struggles of those in the exploited countries is to develop ways of funneling money and resources from the imperialist countries to support the development of New Power in the exploited countries. It is possible to raise money from liberal donors in the bourgeois countries in order to fund serve-the-people programs and other New Power projects in the poor countries which ultimately serve revolutionary aims. To properly make use of the resources available in the imperialist countries requires a level of creativity and innovation on the part of our comrades, but it is well worth the effort.
In order to recruit comrades in the bourgeois imperialist countries, it is necessary to appeal to them based on their shared interests with the people of the exploited countries and to firmly demonstrate the need for revolution in the exploited countries first. Political agitation can be used to generate interest in our political line, but once a potential recruit is determined to be sufficiently anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, a more nuanced approach should be taken based primarily on political education. The agitational approach is reserved for situations where reactionary political ideologies are present; comrades must avoid engaging in militant agitation against those who already generally agree with our political line, as such agitation can be construed as hostile and aggressive and can be counterproductive in regard to recruitment. In the bourgeois countries, it generally requires a great amount of repeated emphasis on the exploitive relationship between the imperialist countries and the poor countries before a new recruit will internalize the principles of Third Worldism. While patience with new and potential recruits is necessary, our comrades should also be wary of wasting too much time and energy on people who only show limited interest in our political line, or on people who stubbornly cling to forms of First Worldism despite firm and repeated lessons about the parasitic nature of imperialism. However, once new comrades have been successfully recruited, they must be thoroughly engaged with our international work and given regular updates about our progress and accomplishments. Such engagement is essential to maintain the morale of our comrades in the imperialist countries who otherwise find themselves socially isolated and immersed in a highly reactionary culture.
Our comrades may engage in various types of organizing activities centered around different types of struggles, but all types of organizing should be carried out with the aim of linking local struggles with the overall struggle against global capitalism and imperialism. Such activities may include organizing to oppose imperialist wars and militarism, corporate crimes and labor exploitation, police brutality, state surveillance, media censorship, and prison abuse, as well as organizing against racism, discrimination, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, domestic abuse, and other injustices. It is necessary to organize among various types of workers as well as students in order to promote our political line; such organizing must also be carried out among union workers. Self-defense training is another type of activity that our comrades may participate in which can present opportunities for meeting and recruiting other leftists. Revolutionary study groups are a useful tool for the political education and potential recruitment of leftists who are interested in the class struggle, and these can be locally organized and promoted by comrades through social media and distribution of printed fliers. While serve-the-people programs are a necessary part of New Power development in the poor countries, such programs can also be implemented in the imperialist countries as long as they are not a significant drain on our resources; the entire point of organizing in the imperialist countries is to support the development of New Power in the poor countries. Serve-the-people programs should only be implemented in the bourgeois countries if they provide a net gain of resources (i.e. provide a steady stream of recruits who can help support our New Power projects in the poor countries without costing too much locally). In the bourgeois countries, organizing is undertaken primarily with the aim of recruiting a small number of dedicated individuals who can help with fundraising and other necessary organizational tasks, while in the poor countries, organizing is undertaken with the aim of recruiting large numbers of comrades to begin building mass organizations, implementing large-scale serve-the-people programs, and initiating the revolutionary transformation of the entire society.
As our revolutionary movement grows, there will be a need to build cross-cultural institutions which bring together people from different parts of the world who live in different cultures and speak different languages. Such institutions are a vital part of creating internationalist solidarity among the global working class, as they are a remedy to the narrow-minded consumerism and individualism promoted by capitalism. Cross-cultural institutions hold the potential of linking together the struggles of the working class in different parts of the world. While it may be a difficult task to build such institutions, it is entirely necessary in order to achieve the level of working-class unity that will make global revolution possible. Cross-cultural institutions will facilitate the linkage of New Power projects in different parts of the world, creating a stronger and more cohesive global revolutionary movement.
The development of New Power will not take place evenly throughout the world or within countries. Some areas, primarily the poorer areas, will be the places where people readily take up the cause of socialism and begin building New Power. These areas will become red zones, bases of New Power, where the institutions of a new socialist society will begin to take shape, and from where the revolutionary movement can grow. The beginning of a socialist reorganization of the economy will take place in the red zones with collectivization and land reform. A new culture based upon collective values will also begin to emerge as the revolutionary masses free themselves from the old habits and customs of capitalism. It will be necessary to establish people’s committees to manage and oversee the development of New Power and the collectivization of the new society. As the development of New Power progresses, it will be necessary to replace the institutions of capitalism which are run by the bourgeoisie with socialist institutions run by the workers themselves. Such institutions include schools, clinics, media facilities, courts, government offices, and countless others which serve the people and are necessary for a socialist society to function. Among such institutions of the people is the red army, a people’s army that defends the New Power and the interests of the poor and oppressed. As the working class becomes more organized, the time will approach for a revolutionary uprising in which the means of production and distribution including the factories, warehouses, highways, railroads, power plants, and all other major production centers are seized by the revolutionary workers themselves to be collectivized and assimilated into the New Power. At the same time, the organized working class must also seize state power. However, the seizure of power by the working class will undoubtedly provoke an extremely violent response by the bourgeoisie and the reactionary supporters of capitalism who will do their best to smash the revolutionary uprising and drown it in blood. Therefore, the people’s army and the revolutionary workers must be well prepared to fight and defeat the counterrevolutionary onslaught in a people’s war of liberation. With proper discipline and organization, and with the proper scientific leadership, the working class will be successful in seizing state power and fully initiating the socialist transition of society. After the consolidation of power, a successful revolution must be followed by an outpouring of support for revolutionary movements elsewhere so that the revolution may spread across the world. Individual people’s wars must be linked together into a global people’s war against imperialism, as the strength of the working class is in its international unity.
In organizing for global revolution, we must be prepared for various possibilities including global financial crises, ecological disasters, large-scale wars, and other crises which can have devastating and wide-ranging effects throughout the world. Such calamities could result in the reproletarianization of large sections of the working class in the bourgeois countries, which would create new opportunities for large-scale revolutionary organizing in such countries. We must maintain a flexible approach based on a realistic and up-to-date assessment of material conditions. It is an error to try to organize the masses for revolution where revolutionary conditions are not present, but it is also an error to disregard revolutionary conditions where they exist. Thus, we must be wary of changing conditions and willing to alter our approach accordingly in order to take advantage of the existing conditions as effectively as possible.
We must also take advantage of opportunities created by inter-imperialist rivalry and conflicts between regional or global powers. While capitalist states generally seek to maintain capitalism at home and abroad, it is possible that socialist movements which threaten to weaken certain capitalist states may be seen as advantageous, at least to a degree, by other competing capitalist states. For example, socialist movements in Africa, Latin America, or elsewhere which threaten US political and economic hegemony in their respective regions may be seen in a positive light by countries such as Russia, China, or Iran which seek to avoid being dominated by US imperialism themselves. It is even possible that such socialist movements could receive external support from regional or global powers seeking to dislodge US imperialism from its entrenched positions around the world by destabilizing US puppet regimes. Of course, the danger exists that such regional or global powers could become paternalistic and domineering in their relationship to such revolutionary movements, and this possibility must be taken into account. However, such support could prove to be useful and perhaps even vital at certain times, and in such situations a very cautious and calculated approach will be necessary.
Finally, we take it upon ourselves as individuals to become the most effective agents of revolutionary change that we can possibly be. We maintain a firm culture of discipline within our own organization, and we seek to establish such a culture of discipline among the revolutionary movement in general. We lead by example, demonstrating to our comrades and those around us that we have the capability to provide strong and effective leadership, to stay organized and on task, and to apply the correct political line to our practical work. We work to purge ourselves of all bourgeois tendencies and bad habits. We strive to avoid degenerate behavior at all times, and we help our comrades do the same. Every comrade must adopt a clean and balanced lifestyle including proper diet, exercise, hygiene, sleep, study, social contact, and time management. While it may be difficult to pull oneself out of a bourgeois lifestyle, it is entirely necessary in order to become an effective comrade. This may include distancing oneself from people who are a constant source of bourgeois degeneracy. We support our comrades in their personal struggles to eliminate bourgeois tendencies and degenerate habits within themselves. Life under capitalism often leads to a bleak worldview and a sense of hopelessness and defeat, but we do not allow ourselves to fall victim to such a mindset. Our source of power is in the collective struggle for a better future for humanity and the Earth. By purging ourselves of bourgeois degeneracy and helping our comrades do the same, the veil of darkness is lifted from our minds and we are transformed into strong and proud revolutionary warriors who are prepared to carry out our revolutionary tasks successfully.
Global capitalism continues to move toward greater consolidation and centralization of wealth and power into the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie at the expense of the working class. According to Lenin, “There is no doubt that the development is going in the direction of a single world trust that will swallow up all enterprises and all states without exception.” Lenin also points out that this will be accompanied by various contradictions and crises within the capitalist system, something that we can clearly see today. The implementation of increasingly advanced automated production systems will inevitably lead to the unemployment of millions and eventually billions of people. The massive and unprecedented levels of debt which have been created through the usurious practices of the major financial institutions of global capitalism cannot be sustained indefinitely and will lead to an economic collapse of immense proportions. The Earth’s ecosystems continue to deteriorate due to capitalism’s constant drive for profits. Tensions between the US and other imperialist powers could easily lead to another world war, with the possibility of various simmering regional conflicts cascading into a global conflict. While such contradictions and crises could provide a potential opening for socialist revolution, revolution can only succeed if the masses have developed a sufficient level of revolutionary proletarian consciousness and organization. The imperialist bourgeoisie will stop at nothing, employing the most ruthless, sophisticated, and depraved tactics to suppress any potential resistance by the working class. It will require a great level of struggle and sacrifice on the part of the working class, as well as proper revolutionary leadership, to achieve revolutionary victory.
The material privilege enjoyed thus far by the workers in the wealthy countries has made them blind and complacent, blunting their class consciousness considerably and giving their capitalist masters an ever-increasing level of control over them. As Marx aptly pointed out, “A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains.” However, the phenomenon of complacency based upon material privilege is not constrained to the wealthy countries, occurring also in the poor countries, albeit to a lesser degree. Propaganda also plays a significant role in creating complacency, and the imperialist propaganda apparatus targets the populations of all countries, privileged or not, with its hypnotic messages. The imperialist bourgeoisie is tightening its grip on the throat of humanity, using divide-and-conquer techniques to pit some sections of the working class against others as it pursues its diabolical agenda. It is time to bring the imperialist war machine to an end, to liberate humanity from the chains which have bound it for so long. It is time for global revolution!
Inculcating a revolutionary proletarian mindset among working-class people is one of the challenges faced by revolutionary communists today in all parts of the world. With the proper approach, it is possible to build a worldwide proletarian movement comprised of people in both the poor countries and the wealthy imperialist countries who can see past their short-term interests and find common cause to unite and fight for global revolution. It is essential to unite as many people as possible across the entire world into a cohesive and effective movement that can oppose imperialism and lay the foundations for global socialism. It is necessary in all parts of the world to organize the workers based on their shared interests, to politically educate and mobilize the masses for revolution. In the bourgeois countries, there will be more ideological resistance to the ideas of socialism and communism. In such places, a patient and calculated approach is needed by which our comrades must educate and recruit those who demonstrate a firm level of ideological opposition to capitalism and imperialism. By pursuing a more targeted approach in the bourgeois countries, a solid support network can be built to help support the development of New Power in the exploited countries. Fundamental to uniting the global working class is the development of a strong and effective media apparatus which appeals to workers in different countries and brings them together based on their long-term shared interests.
Real Third Worldism is just the proper application of Marxist analysis to the current global conditions, leading inevitably to a solidly internationalist, anti-imperialist practice linking the working class of all countries based on their shared interests while targeting opportunism in all its forms. It is clear that the workers of all countries suffer because of capitalism, and while those in the bourgeois imperialist countries enjoy a level of material privilege not shared by the vast majority of workers in the poor countries, this privilege is, in reality, a bribe to maintain the allegiance of these workers to the imperialist bourgeoisie and to the capitalist system. While the privileged workers may not be exploited, they are still oppressed, as their interests are still subjugated to the interests of the bourgeoisie. As such, all workers, privileged or not, have a shared interest—a long-term interest—in overthrowing the imperialist bourgeoisie and establishing socialism. It is our duty as Leading Light Communists to lead the workers of all countries to this understanding. First Worldism is an obvious deviation from genuine Marxism, as it obscures the true nature of class oppression and exploitation while opportunistically promoting unprincipled unity with reactionary and bourgeois elements of society. However, as we can see, vulgar Third Worldism is also a deviation from genuine Marxism, an ultra-left error which manifests as a destructive sectarian tendency to maintain unnecessary division among the working class. As we have examined, the problems that comprise vulgar Third Worldism including anti-First World identity politics, careless absolutism, economic determinism, reductionist logic, and do-nothingist tendencies all inhibit the organization of a strong global communist movement by disrupting true internationalist solidarity among workers. By avoiding both First Worldism and vulgar Third Worldism, Leading Light Communists can proudly uphold the principles of genuine Marxism and provide the proper leadership for the world’s poor and oppressed to achieve global revolution successfully.
Long live internationalist solidarity among workers everywhere!
To victory, comrades!
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