Response to Simoun Magsalin‘s letter.
Any critique of communist concepts should be warmly embraced. A communist ought to view criticism as a chance to refine these suggested concepts and be open to acknowledging theoretical errors if any aspect of the proposal lacks a solid foundation. However, the path toward progress involves confronting opposition and contradictions. It is through these failures, conflicts, challenges, paradoxes, and even fleeting successes in the realm of communist endeavors that we can effectively engage with and manifest the authenticity of communism’s essence.
Commodification as the form and essence of capitalism
I emphasize once again the pivotal role of commodification in my reconsideration of capitalism, which concurrently gives rise to a fresh perspective on communism. By “commodity form,” I refer to the inherent attribute of each commodity to undergo continuous production and reproduction, driven by an unceasing aspiration to be sold. Upon each sale, it engenders a cycle of reinvestment and further capital infusion. It becomes imperative to arrest this perpetual capital movement by gradually undermining the essence of commodification itself.
What is the essence of “de-commodification”? This concept strives to achieve two main goals simultaneously: firstly, it seeks to lower the price of commodities, while secondly, it undermines the perpetual self-reproduction of commodities. This is achieved by weakening their profit-generating capacity and diminishing their addictive content that fuels unceasing consumption.
Let us consider the health and food industry as an example. In the event of communist leadership in the Philippines, a crucial step would involve the implementation of measures to de-commodify these sectors. This would entail analyzing the underlying factors behind the country’s top five causes of death from January to September 2022 (in 1,000s): Ischaemic heart disease (77.17), Cerebrovascular diseases (42.89), Neoplasms or cancer (42.5), Diabetes mellitus (26.77), and Hypertensive diseases (23.97).1Yin Huang et al. “Dietary Sugar Consumption and Health: Umbrella Review,”BMJ 2023;381:e071609, doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-071609; Cohen JFW et al. “Associations of Prenatal and Child Sugar Intake with Child Cognition,” 2018 Jun;54(6):727-735. DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2018.02.020. PMID: 29674185; PMCID: PMC5962431; Emmanuella Magriplis et al. “Dietary Sugar Intake and its Association with Obesity in Children and Adoloscents,” Children (Basel, Switzerland). 8. 10.3390/children8080676.[/note] Existing research has frequently highlighted sugar and carbohydrates as the primary culprits behind these ailments. This implies that current dietary habits contribute to these fatal conditions. To corroborate these findings, experimental studies should be conducted on both afflicted and healthy individuals. Those participants would adhere to a substantial period of low-carb and sugar-free diets to draw definitive conclusions. Should these studies confirm the efficacy of such dietary changes in preventing and curing diseases, communists must advocate these findings and propose legislative changes that hold the state accountable for promoting healthier eating habits. Implementation within a significant segment of the population would lead to reduced sugar and carbohydrate consumption, thereby impacting the pharmaceutical and medical industries. A substantial reduction in medicine consumption and hospitalization rates can be anticipated due to fewer people requiring treatment. It is important to note that the scope of de-commodification extends beyond these industries; its principles would be expanded to encompass various sectors. This underscores the overarching objective of de-commodification – a resounding call for comprehensive transformation.
The Transformative Politics of Communism
Hence, the endeavor to dismantle capitalism through the strategy of de-commodification necessitates a transformative political approach for its realization. This implies a fundamental shift in our perspective on communism, viewing it not merely as a future societal construct, but rather as an ongoing movement or revolutionary process. This movement establishes its universality and disrupts the circulation of capital while simultaneously weakening the mechanisms of commodification and capitalization. To bring this vision to fruition, communism must actively engage with the state and possess the capacity to implement its political principles and governance. This underscores the paramount significance of my reinterpretation of communism. No longer an abstract and distant future, communism emerges as a tangible, vibrant movement dedicated to instigating transformative change.
I’ve encountered two interpretations of the term “vulgarization.” One entails rendering something crude and unsophisticated, while the other involves making it appealing to the broader public. I believe both these definitions apply in my case. When I contemplate refinement, my thoughts inevitably gravitate towards the bourgeoisie, who revel in opulence and all manner of sophistication. The journey of reimagining Communism that I embark upon will undoubtedly entail setbacks and further setbacks. However, each failure will be a step towards improvement until success is achieved. The latter definition squarely aligns with my objective. As the theory and experience of Communism become more accessible to the masses and begin to reshape their everyday existence, they will wield it as an ideological tool. Their unceasing struggle against capitalism will evolve into an overarching narrative that shapes their lives.
Transcending really-existing socialism
How can we transcend the confines of existing socialism? Let us commence by defining the essence of transcendence. To transcend signifies surpassing the boundaries or limitations of a given entity. Now, how can we surpass the bounds of existing socialism? How can we truly grasp the significance of the Russian Revolution? Initially, we must concede that the Russian Revolution constituted a genuine endeavor towards emancipation. However, it also stands as a poignant tale of unfulfilled aspirations. Hence, to effectively surmount the legacy of the Russian Revolution, we must acknowledge that its failure was inherent to the underlying theory itself. This recognition underscores the imperative of pinpointing this failure, enabling us to rejuvenate and reimagine the ideals of communist emancipation. It is within this context that I endeavor to trace its origins to the teachings of Marx, the architect of scientific socialism. The methodology and perspective I employ are influenced by my exploration of the works of Zizek and Hegel. Consequently, I have deduced that the specter of commodification persisted even within the realm of existing socialism, compelling me to advocate for a comprehensive reevaluation of communism.
The Universality of the State
The capitalist state operates in service of capitalism’s overarching interests. However, in order to maintain its legitimacy and garner public support, it must profess a commitment to the well-being of the populace. This proclamation of serving the greater society necessitates the implementation of specific initiatives that create the façade of societal service. Yet, these outward manifestations of universality inadvertently create a space for the emergence of universality in its revolutionary form—communism.
Among these initiatives are ostensibly pro-people public programs, such as state-funded healthcare initiatives, public education endeavors, and the maintenance of roads and highways. Concurrently, pro-capitalist initiatives are also set in motion, particularly within the economic realm, encompassing actions like the privatization of public assets and policies affecting trade unions. While these “pro-people” initiatives coexist alongside explicit capitalist pursuits, their potential to evolve into authentic communist programs hinges on genuine political intervention and engagement by communists. Within the framework of the capitalist state’s programs, a persistent tension persists between pro-capitalist endeavors and “pro-people” initiatives. Consequently, the capitalist state, despite its inherently capitalist nature, engenders initiatives that run counter to such purity.
Another form of impurity within the capitalist state lies in its internal mechanisms. Primarily, elected officials and high-ranking state officers often have ties to capitalism. This implies that they not only enjoy substantial salaries but also engage in various financial dealings with companies that reap benefits from their governance. Moreover, they have ready access to public funds for their own enrichment. Conversely, a significant portion of government personnel lacks capitalist affiliations. They lack ownership of capital and the authority to access substantial public funds. Examples include public school teachers, healthcare workers, and rank-and-file government employees. These individuals belong to the proletarian class, aligning their interests with the de-commodification agenda of communism. Thus, within the state bureaucracy, a formidable potential exists to rally the proletarian class around the communist cause.
Another paradox emerges when the Left mobilizes its forces to press the government for pro-people stances on various issues. In essence, this endeavor calls for the government to adopt a certain universality. In effect, the Left expects the capitalist government to respond to popular pressure. However, communist transformative politics shift the dynamics. It is the Left that assumes responsibility and accountability for creating the conditions required to legislate and implement laws that bring about beneficial changes for society at large. This encapsulates the dialectical relationship between communist electoral politics, governance, mass mobilization, Party development, ideological cultivation, internationalism, and other related aspects.
However, from an objective standpoint, capitalism exercises significant control over society at large. This implies that capitalism possesses a certain degree of universality in this context. Consequently, the capitalist state logically operates to uphold this specific form of universality. Nonetheless, the universality of capitalism is not without limitations. The mere presence of the Left, despite its relative weakness, presents the opportunity to establish an alternative universality through transformative politics. This potential arises from the fact that the very existence of the Left demonstrates its capacity for transformation. The Left, having evolved into its current state, embodies the transformative process it underwent.
The reconceptualization of communism as a transformative revolutionary process must be coherent with the scenario wherein communists achieve a majority in the government, and a significant portion of the economy is already under the control of the communist state. In this context, the entire society undergoes a process of de-commodification.
This state can be referred to as a communist state, and its distinctive political structure can be labeled as “communist democracy.” Having already outlined the communist process as the de-commodification of society, the subsequent step is to elaborate on the transformation of capitalist democracy into communist democracy.
Certainly, there appears to be a paradox, as communism is often associated with dictatorship, a term often linked with the absence of freedom. However, with our redefined understanding of communism and its political strategy for attaining power, the process of acquiring this power entails the transformation, enhancement, and enlargement of the existing framework of bourgeois democracy.
Take electoral politics, for instance. How can we reshape the electoral process? Communists can realize the process of de-commodification by depending on labor-intensive methods of persuading the masses and mobilizing them to embrace our communist cause. These methods encompass activities like door-to-door campaigns and recruiting campaign volunteers, which stand in contrast to the bourgeois approach that relies on monetary means and commodified tactics to sway votes. Through participation in these struggles, communists can establish their presence and must exploit this opportunity to construct and expand the communist organization. Consequently, the mere engagement in the electoral process sets the stage for the transformation of a political democracy founded on monetary influence into a communist democracy centered on the actual everyday concerns of the masses.
Once electoral victory is achieved in any governmental position, communists must utilize every available moment and exert maximum effort to mobilize the populace, establish direct and widespread participation in governance, extend networks within the bourgeois state to advance their own communist governance, and so forth. This constitutes an unceasing endeavor to propagate, implement, and broaden the scope of communist governance, which serves as the pivotal means to effectively convert bourgeois democracy into communist democracy. Gradually, as sections of the state come under communist leadership, they will no longer remain isolated from the people; instead, they will become interwoven with the populace, as unity with the people is imperative for weakening and dismantling the capitalist state through transformation.
We avoid the term “proletarian dictatorship” for several reasons. Firstly, the proletarian class aspires to enhance its own condition within the parameters of capitalism rather than seeking to transcend it. Consequently, we refrain from labeling it as proletarian. Moreover, we steer clear of the term “dictatorship” since the transformative essence of the communist revolution involves harnessing bourgeois democracy and elevating it to a revolutionary level of democracy, which we term as communist democracy.
The Struggle for Communism
Members of the communist party who embody the essence of rethinking communism are in the process of metamorphosing into individuals devoid of class distinctions or individuals embodying communism. However, during this transformational phase, many of these members continue to engage in employment as part of the proletariat. Consequently, for a certain duration, the employed proletariat caters to both the interests of capitalism and their own class. After this involvement in production, the same proletariat ardently orchestrates the recruitment and organization of fellow co-workers, propelling the execution of their communist responsibilities. This activity constitutes a communist endeavor, or rather, a classless endeavor in this specific context, as it epitomizes an engagement in the struggle for communism.
Naturally, for our communist organization to wield relevance, it is presupposed that a significant portion of our members will emanate from the proletarian class. While this may seem reminiscent of a conventional Marxist interpretation of class struggle, it substantially differs. As earlier emphasized, the classes within the realm of capitalism, even the proletariat, do not inherently embody a revolutionary inclination. Hence, we must institute a form of struggle that is intrinsically revolutionary from the outset—the struggle for communism. This is a systemic battle, a confrontation between two distinct systems, namely communism and capitalism.
However, why not term those individuals from the proletarian class who align with the Communist party as the revolutionary proletariat? This choice would maintain a connection to the Marxist framework of class struggle and uphold its presence within the communist narrative. Nonetheless, a pertinent question arises concerning those who opt not to join the communist party. How should we refer to them? I contend that it is more accurate to label those who become members of the communist party as communists. Their class status is concurrently undergoing transformation, contingent on their individual engagement in the communist struggle and the potency of the communist movement, intertwined with the participation of these members in the quest for communism. For instance, at a specific stage of communist progress, an entire industry may have already undergone transformation into a state communist enterprise. In this scenario, the party could decide to expand its workforce within this industry, while simultaneously halving the working hours—perhaps reducing them from eight to four hours. Given that these workers now operate within a communist enterprise, these four hours inherently contribute to the communist revolutionary process by fostering de-commodification within the industry. As the working hours have been diminished, the party will delegate additional tasks and responsibilities to these workers, bolstering and extending the reach of the communist movement.
Negation and Transformation, Unbecoming and Becoming
Let us once again delve into the realm of these philosophical concepts and examine their role within the communist movement. Consider a scenario in which a housewife, wedded to an employed proletariat, embraces communism by enrolling in the party and engaging in its endeavors. In doing so, she transcends her identity as a mere proletariat to a certain extent. In her previous routine, she primarily attended to domestic chores, cared for her children and husband, and occasionally engaged in conversations with neighbors—culminating in a nearly identical routine each day. However, upon affiliating herself with the communist organization, she not only managed her household tasks but also persuaded her husband to take over cooking duties on his days off, mastering organizational skills along the way. She successfully orchestrated the establishment of a party chapter within her community. Her journey in organizing prompted her to study Party documents, enhancing her revolutionary skills and their integration with the growth of her chapter and the entire Party structure. In a sense, she remains a proletariat, yet she has also, to some degree, disavowed her class’s primary purpose of serving capitalism’s interests. Within her housewife role, capitalist society dictated that her sole significance lay in that capacity—ensuring her husband, the employed proletariat, continues generating surplus value, and tending to the health of her children, the potential future proletarians. Through her revolutionary path, she found her own purpose within capitalism via the communist struggle. This transformative journey shapes her identity. She is in the process of shedding her former housewife persona and metamorphosing into a communist revolutionary. Envision thousands, or even millions, of proletarians, enlisting and actively partaking in our party’s efforts. However, to bring this vision to fruition, it becomes essential to, to some extent, challenge and reshape the state, as it is crucial to substantially reshape the lives of the masses. The commitment of these individuals to enact change mandates their efforts extend across society as a whole—acknowledging that true transformation remains elusive unless these shifts reverberate through society’s entirety.
Decommodification of Labor
Decommodifying labor is an integral facet of the broader communist revolutionary journey. To start, let us explore how capitalism transforms labor into a commodity. Does it not stem from the very commodification of the labor power’s possessor—the proletariat itself? This stems from the fact that the proletariat is bought and sold as a commodity. Furthermore, the capitalist’s capability to purchase labor-power contributes to the proletariat’s commodification. To fully remove the commodification from labor, the capitalist relationship must be dismantled. But how can this capitalist relationship be eradicated? I persist in asserting that only through revolutionary transformation can this be achieved.
I previously delved into the section concerning the struggle for communism, explaining how the ability to curtail working hours can contribute to the revolutionary transformation of the entire proletariat. We can expand our conceptualization by envisioning the complete triumph of the communist system. Naturally, working hours would still exist, albeit significantly reduced—perhaps to a mere two hours per day. This achievement would result from harnessing all available labor forces and appropriate technology. Another crucial distinction arises in terms of production. These products would no longer resemble commodities in the capitalist context, as they would not be manufactured for profit-driven motives. Instead, they would be crafted out of necessity, and their accessibility would be unrestricted. Although they would be systematically distributed, money and capital would largely cease to exist. However, to establish this efficient communist system and embrace its freedoms, the presence of a communist state becomes essential.
Within the confines of capitalism, any transformation into communism by its classes can be deemed an act of betraying their respective allegiances, for both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat’s interests are constrained within the realm of capitalism. In essence, communism calls upon individuals to become disloyal to capitalism. However, I am not inclined to use the term “traitor” to label a class undergoing the process of becoming communists or transitioning into a non-class entity. This term implies rigidity, a lack of adaptability, and a dearth of imaginative thinking. I still prefer to describe this process as transformative, as it embodies the essence of change. Both a worker and a capitalist have the potential to support a communist endeavor, albeit to varying degrees. In this initial show of support, they are in the process of transforming into communists while simultaneously retaining their respective income sources as a capitalist and a worker.
For instance, consider a scenario where a worker and a capitalist sign a petition advocating for state ownership of water and electric utilities. This proposition aims to lower costs, employ government resources for transitioning from coal to sustainable energy sources, enhance water supply through desalination and reforestation, and so forth. These measures collectively work towards establishing sustainable and eventually cost-free electricity and water supplies. The workers and capitalists who endorse such a petition—presumed to eventually evolve into communists to some extent—express support for the communist cause. Granted, it’s plausible that the particular capitalist owning an electricity and water company might not back this legislation, and even some of its workers may not sign. However, the crux lies in the transformative nature of communism as a revolutionary process, altering everything in its trajectory through the fight for de-commodification. Should this petition come to fruition, it wouldn’t merely serve a specific class interest; rather, it would actualize communist or classless interests. The de-commodification of water and electricity proves advantageous for the entire populace, with the exception, in the immediate sense, of the capitalists and workers in private utility companies.
Communism as a real movement
Let’s delve into the significance of the passage by Marx. Communism does not represent the current status quo; rather, capitalism embodies the prevailing system. According to Marx, the establishment of communism doesn’t involve aligning capitalist reality with communist ideals. This notion brings to mind the Utopian Socialists who establish communes within the framework of capitalism, hoping for their ascendancy. If this is the essence of Marx’s reference, then I wholeheartedly concur. Additionally, Marx posits that communism constitutes a tangible movement. In my interpretation, movement signifies a process—consequently, communism engenders this movement within the confines of the existing capitalist structure. I maintain that this passage doesn’t negate my conclusions; rather, it reinforces them. With that in mind, I’ve taken the liberty to rephrase Marx’s passage, elucidating my line of thought. Here’s the revised version: “The only possibility of abolition of the present state of things, which is capitalism, is precisely by transforming it. Through the process of transformation, communism in certain degrees is formed. Communism as a real movement creates conditions from the premises now in existence, wherein the communist idea becomes established in reality.”2
A Socialist Minister
The inclusion of a communist elected official, as a consequence of a communist movement centered on de-commodification, signifies a figure capable of instigating partial transformations within the bourgeois government to embrace communist policies. However, any active Communist party member receiving an appointment under the jurisdiction of a bourgeois official is precluded. If such an appointment is accepted, their status as a communist is forfeited. The sole scenario wherein communists can assume executive positions is when they themselves, or elected officials endorsing the decommodification agenda, hold the reins of command.
On corruption and abuse
Naturally, de-commodification inherently opposes corruption and abuse. Its objective is to disrupt the very flow of money. Naturally, elected communist officials are expected to lead modest lives, and the party will enforce policies to ensure adherence to this principle. However, of greater significance is the aim of the communist movement operating within the bourgeois government: to undermine the foundation of capitalism itself. As long as this endeavor persists, attempts by bourgeois officials to bribe our representatives will be met with resistance. In fact, any such bribery attempt will only serve to fortify our commitment to the communist cause, effectively deterring such actions.
Again on the withering away of the State
Given that I’ve reconceptualized communism as a transformative process rather than a future society, it follows logically that the communist movement, as a dynamic force, must directly engage with the state. As it progressively gains control over state power, the communists are effectively reshaping the state into a highly functional tool that serves the collective interests of society at large.
I refrained from labeling it a proletarian state because the proletarian class inherently serves capitalism. Instead, I term it a communist state, embodying the concept of universality. Thus, in a certain sense, communism also signifies the process of universalizing the state. It becomes an instrument aimed at dismantling capitalism and consequently eradicating the class divisions inherent within capitalist societies.
Once more, it’s crucial to note that class interests remain confined within the limits of capitalism. Consequently, class struggles primarily focus on elevating one’s position within the existing capitalist framework. Hence, I propose a shift from the notion of class struggles to a new concept: the struggle between systems. This signifies the conflict between communism and capitalism. As the notion of communism I’m advocating is centered around a dynamic, transformative, and revolutionary movement, this is precisely where the process of de-commodification comes into play. It serves as the critical element to gradually erode and ultimately dismantle the foundations of capitalism.
On revolutionary experience
Revolutionary ideas don’t simply emerge spontaneously; rather, they are shaped by the successes and setbacks of humanity’s quest for liberation. The revolutionary concepts put forth by Marx and Engels, the collective journey of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions up until their dissolution, the ongoing efforts of the National Democratic Movement in the Philippines, as well as the steadfast commitment of various Filipino Left factions in their struggle—all of these contribute to a valuable reservoir of knowledge and experience that can guide the pursuit of freedom more effectively. It falls upon Communist revolutionaries to harness these ideas and experiences, distill the essence of what led to their initial triumphs and eventual setbacks, and determine how best to wield this insight for the advancement of their cause.
The Dialectics of Transformation
Capitalism, like any other entity, is susceptible to change. However, effecting change necessitates a shift in the consciousness of the agent of change regarding the nature of transformative possibilities. The capacity of the agent to change underscores the potential for change within the object. This interplay between subject and object reflects how the subject’s involvement is integral to the functioning of the object.
The communist endeavor serves as a critical evaluation of capitalism—a framework established by Marx in its scientific manifestation. This underscores that despite capitalism’s pervasive influence across all aspects of society, this project of liberation has managed to emerge. This implies that communist concepts can germinate and evolve within the framework of capitalism, without precluding revolutionary communist agents from putting these concepts into action and testing their viability.
And indeed, we have subjected these concepts to scrutiny. We’ve witnessed their immense potential for liberation, as well as their pronounced limitations that have led to considerable tragedy. To comprehend the causes of these tragic outcomes while retaining our revolutionary zeal, we must revisit and reassess this emancipatory doctrine. In essence, this doctrine prompts us to interrogate itself, thereby preserving its relevance. Hence, the entire process of revolution undoubtedly unfolds as a process of transformation.
Liked it? Take a second to support Cosmonaut on Patreon! At Cosmonaut Magazine we strive to create a culture of open debate and discussion. Please write to us at CosmonautMagazine@gmail.com if you have any criticism or commentary you would like to have published in our letters section.
- “Leading Causes of Death in the Philippines from January to September 2022 (in 1,000s),” statista.com, February 13, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1120528/philippines-leading-causes-mortality-by-disease/.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), 57.