by Bob Avakian
July 24, 2023
In a recent report, about revolutionary work in Chicago, one of the people there drawn to the revolution indicated that he did not know what the word “exploitation” means. Because this word “exploitation” describes something very basic about the system of capitalism that we are now forced to live under, and because many people do not have a clear understanding of this, it is important to explain what is meant by “exploitation.”
In the most general sense, to “exploit” means “to take advantage.” More specifically, it can mean taking advantage of—using—other people. And in terms of a scientific understanding with regard to the economy, “exploitation” refers to a situation where one person, or a group of people, accumulates capitalist wealth that is created by the labor of others. Capitalism is a system in which a relatively small number of people, the capitalists, own and control the major means of production (factories, land, raw materials, machinery and other technology, and so on), and are therefore in a position to force other people, who do not own or control means of production, to work for them. It is the labor of those exploited by the capitalists—and not the “brilliance” or “entrepreneurial genius” of the capitalists—that actually creates the wealth that the capitalists appropriate (take for their own profit and use).
Once again, the capitalists are in a position to appropriate wealth that is produced by others, whom they exploit, because the capitalists own and control the major means of production—means of production which themselves were created through the labor of people exploited by capitalists. (For example, in a capitalist-owned factory, the machinery that people work on was produced by people, in other factories, working on raw materials to create that machinery; and those raw materials, in turn, were mined by people also working under conditions of capitalist exploitation.)1
Under the capitalist system, there is always a “surplus population”—people who are unemployed because they cannot be profitably exploited. (And the existence of people in this position is something which the capitalists take advantage of in exploiting those they do employ—“if you don’t want this job at the wage I am paying you, there are plenty of other people out there who are desperate for work…”)
Today, this system of capitalism has developed into a highly globalized system of exploitation, capitalism-imperialism, in which a relatively small number of capitalists own and control means of production on a massive scale and appropriate huge amounts of capitalist wealth, on the basis of exploiting billions of people throughout the world, including hundreds of millions of women and more than 150 million children who are most viciously exploited (super-exploited), especially in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia).2
Once again, these billions of people are in a position where they can be viciously exploited because they do not own means of production (many of them, particularly in Third World countries, are people whose families previously owned small parcels of land on which they farmed, but they have been forced off the land, no longer able to survive by farming, in large part because of the domination of the politics and the economy of their countries by capitalists centered in imperialist countries like the U.S.).
It is this system of capitalism-imperialism that is the root cause of all the horrendous, unnecessary suffering and madness that people throughout the world are subjected to, and the growing threat to the very existence of human beings as a whole.
To get rid of exploitation—and all the oppression that goes along with it—it is necessary to get rid of the system of capitalism-imperialism. And that means making revolution to overthrow this system, and replacing it with a fundamentally different and far better system, based on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.
What this revolution and this radically new system are all about… why this revolution is possible… and how to carry out this revolution—all this is made clear in a number of works of mine, and others, at revcom.us, including the proclamation WE ARE THE REVCOMS, and the declaration from the revcoms WE NEED AND WE DEMAND: A WHOLE NEW WAY TO LIVE, A FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT SYSTEM, as well as the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America. This is also brought alive on the YouTube RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show.
And here is the challenge:
Everyone who can’t stand this world the way it is… who is sick and tired of so many people being treated as less than human… who knows that the claim of “liberty and justice for all” is a cruel lie… who is righteously enraged that injustice and inequality go on, and on, and on, despite false promises and honeyed words from people in power (or those seeking power)… everyone who agonizes about where things are headed and the fact that to be young now means being denied a decent future, or any future at all… everyone who has ever dreamed about something much better, or even wondered whether that is possible… everyone who hungers for a world without oppression, exploitation, poverty, and destruction of the environment… everyone who has the heart to fight for something that is really worth fighting for: YOU need to be part of this revolution.
Especially at a time like this—a time when big things are up in the world, affecting the whole future of humanity…when those big-time exploiters and oppressors who rule over us in this country are bitterly divided among themselves and increasingly unable to hold things together as a “unified” ruling class…when there is not just an urgent need but a real possibility to seize on this situation to overthrow them altogether—if you are NOT getting with the revcoms (revolutionary communists) who are working every day for this revolution, if you are not part of working to bring about this revolution, then what the hell are you doing?!3
Notes, by Bob Avakian.
1. The bitter effects of being part of the exploited class—the proletariat—under the capitalist system is something people experience in their everyday life. In the book The New Communism, I spoke to this:
You may be on the bottom of society—either you have no job and you’re scuffling the way you can, or you get a job and somebody exploits you. And to get that job, you have to go and sell yourself. That’s what you do. You go in for a job interview and they say, “Well, now, let’s get into your history,” and all that. Sometimes they want you to piss in a bottle, and sometimes they want to know everything about your personal history, they want to know if you have ever been arrested, or do you have a felony conviction. And you can’t say, “What the fuck, just give me the job, goddamn it, I’m hungry!” You’re out the door. You can’t even more politely say, “Excuse me, but that’s kind of a personal question, don’t you think?” No, because the person interviewing you is…working for the people who own the means of production, and you don’t own any, so you’re in a powerless position, because if you don’t satisfy them, they don’t hire you. (This is from “Introduction and Orientation, Foolish Victims of Deceit, and Self-Deceit,” pages 31-32, in The New Communism.)
As for the foundation of the capitalist system, this was built up with a lot of violence. For example, in Europe, several centuries ago, large numbers of peasants (small-scale farmers) were driven off their land and forced into the position of proletarians, having to sell their labor power (their ability to work) to capitalists developing in the cities on the basis of their role as merchants, as the heads of early manufacturing associations, as money-lenders, etc. In the Americas, huge numbers of the original inhabitants, who had managed to survive the wars and disease brought by European invaders, were forced to labor, often under literally life-stealing conditions, to enrich exploiters who came to the Americas from Spain and other countries. And, let us not forget, the foundation for the wealth of this capitalist country—the “good ole USA”—was, to a very large extent, based on slave labor.
As Karl Marx, the founder of communism, pointed out, with biting irony: The “rosy dawn” of capitalism was marked by the enslavement of massive numbers of Africans; literally working to death conquered people in South America forced to mine precious metals; and other monstrous means of accumulating wealth.
It is a fact that some of the earlier societies in the Americas—such as the Inca empire in South America and the Aztecs in Mexico—were themselves based on exploitation of masses of people by the ruling classes in those societies; and it is true that there was slavery within Africa itself for some time before the invasion of that continent by European exploiters. But all this took on much greater and more horrific dimensions, beginning several centuries ago, with the conquest and colonization of these continents, the development of the international slave trade and the relentless machinery of capitalist exploitation, through which generation after generation of people, in the millions and millions, have been ruthlessly used up and killed off, quickly or more slowly, in the manic capitalist quest, and merciless competition among capitalists, for profit and more profit. [back]
2. Besides those who are directly involved in exploiting people in the process of producing the wealth of the capitalist system, there are also other capitalist exploiters. For example, there are the banks and other financial institutions that make profit through loans to the corporations and other businesses that directly exploit people. (These loans have to be repaid, with an additional amount of money—the “interest.”) Plus, often these financial institutions themselves invest in the corporations that are directly exploiting people. And, in turn, large-scale corporations also become involved in financial transactions. Finance capital becomes woven together with capital directly used to exploit people in the process of production. There are also merchant capitalists—for example, those who sell clothing, or food and other basic necessities. And then there are those who invest in the stock market—but that just amounts to a kind of gambling—betting on which capitalist enterprises will be more successful in exploiting people.
Here is the most fundamental point: the source of the wealth that these different capitalists accumulate is the exploitation of people who are forced to work for one or another capitalist (or capitalist corporation, etc.) in the process of producing the things that people use. [back]
3. Why this is a rare time when revolution, even in a powerful imperialist country like the U.S., becomes more possible, is examined in a number of works of mine, and others, at revcom.us, including Revolution: Major Turning Points And Rare Opportunities, as well as Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility Of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed, A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution; and Organizing for an Actual Revolution: 7 Key Points. And, again, this is also brought alive on the YouTube RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show. [back]