Discussion questions: The Specter that Still Haunts: Locating a Revolutionary Class Within Contemporary Capitalism-Imperialism

The following are discussion questions for all four parts of The Specter that Still Haunts: Locating a Revolutionary Class Within Contemporary Capitalism-Imperialism.

Part 1

What is the difference between communist analysis of the strategic role of different classes and social groups in the revolutionary process versus postmodernist identity politics analysis of various forms of oppression and identity groups?

What processes and social and production relations generate the proletariat as a class? What makes the proletariat different from other exploited classes?

Why, to communists, does the proletariat matter?

What is bourgeois right? What is the difference between a communist society and a society governed by bourgeois right? Did Marx consider the exploitation of labor to be unfair?

What is the fundamental contradiction under capitalism? What forms does that fundamental contradiction take? Is there a difference between these forms and the fundamental contradiction itself?

What is the reserve army of labor (or surplus populations)? Do its conditions of existence make is a strategic force for communist revolution?

Is there a contradiction between theoretical abstractions, on the one hand, and reality and practice, on the other? If so, how do we deal with that contradiction?

By what criteria does Kenny Lake suggest we gauge the revolutionary potential of different social forces? Are these criteria correct? What’s the difference between these criteria and those given by others? Why does Lake give so much emphasis to processes?

What processes did Lenin identify as developing the socialization of production and labor under capitalism? How do these processes take shape today?

What’s the difference between socialization of production on a macro vs. a micro scale? Which is more important for generating revolutionary possibilities, and why?

Has capitalism-imperialism created the conditions for proletarian revolution and beginning the socialist transition to communism in every country? Why or why not?

Who is the labor aristocracy and how has it been constituted as a class? What strategic role does it play in relation to imperialist rule?

What did Lenin mean when he said to go lower and deeper to the real masses? Why does Lake think it is important to also pay attention to the forms of motion that dispossess and proletarianize people?

How was the proletariat in 1917 Russia different from that in Western Europe? Did these differences make the Russian proletariat more amenable to communist revolution? Why or why not?

Besides factories, what other sites concentrate large numbers of proletarians? What might their respective favorable and unfavorable factors for communist organizing be?

What’s the difference between proletarian class-consciousness vs. the consciousness that arises out of the immediate conditions and struggles of proletarians?

Why do we as communists need a keen grasp of the constantly changing dynamics of and conditions created by capitalism-imperialism?

Part 2

What is the bourgeoisie?

What is finance capital? What role does it play within the capitalist-imperialist system? How has its functioning changed in recent decades? How does finance capital affect the oppressed nations?

What are imperialist nations vs. oppressed nations? What are the strengths and limitations of this categorization? (See footnote 11.)

What is the relationship between centralization and decentralization within the global economy?

What are global cities? What is their function within the capitalist-imperialist system? What is the class structure of global cities, i.e., who are the different classes within them? How do global cities differ from other cities within imperialist countries?

What are the implications of global cities for revolutionary strategy? What ideas can we brainstorm for how to organize the proletariat under communist leadership in global cities?

What are export processing zones (EPZs)? What role do they play in the capitalist-imperialist system?

How did structural adjustment programs (SAPs) create the conditions for EPZs?

What characterizes the proletariat in EPZs? What strengths can it potentially bring to the revolutionary struggle?

What ideas can we brainstorm for organizing the proletariat in the EPZs for communist revolution? What’s the relationship between class-consciousness and revolutionary objectives, on the one hand, and the raw experiences and struggles of the proletariat in EPZs, on the other?

What is the relationship between slums and the labor needs of capital?

What conditions do slum-dwellers live and work in? What class analysis can we make of slum-dwellers?

Why are slum-dwellers in antagonistic conflict with capital?

What strengths do slum-dwellers potentially bring to the revolutionary struggle? What ideas can we brainstorm for how to organize slum-dwellers under communist leadership?

Why and in what ways have slums been and will be sites of military conflict?

What is the importance of land acquisition and resource extraction to capital accumulation? What role does finance capital play in that acquisition? What effects does that acquisition have on the oppressed nations and on the environment? What future consequences of land acquisition and resource extraction can we anticipate?

What does it mean for sections of people, whether or not they are proletarians, to be brought into antagonistic conflict with capital in relation to land acquisition and resource extraction? What role might this antagonistic conflict play in the revolutionary struggle? What ideas can we brainstorm concerning ways that communists can organize masses for revolution amid conflicts that emerge due to land acquisition and resource extraction?

What is the difference between a revolutionary strategy based on organizing a social base for revolution beginning now versus a strategy that relies principally on the emergence of a revolutionary crisis?

From a communist strategic viewpoint, what is more important to organizing forces for revolution: dispossession and dislocation or exploitation? Why?

By what criteria should communists evaluate which sections of the proletariat and masses hold the most potential for revolutionary struggle and leading the socialist transition to communism? Why?

What’s the difference between proletarian class-consciousness and linking different struggles of the proletariat together?

What are centrifugal forces pulling the proletariat away from class-consciousness, theoretically and practically?

How does the economic activity of slum-dwellers foster petty-bourgeois ideology among them? What strategies has the bourgeoisie implemented to promote petty-bourgeois economic activity and ideology among slum-dwellers? What can we learn from El Alto about contending with petty-bourgeois ideology and dealing with social conflicts among slum-dwellers?

What is our class analysis of the illegal economy? Among those involved in the illegal economy, who holds potential to be organized for revolution? What social and class antagonisms and forms of oppression make that possible? How can communists go about contending with gangster ideology, and why it is important to do so?

What does Engels mean by religion offering an explanation for first the natural forces that dominate people and then the social forces that dominate people? How does the social anarchy of capitalist production dominate people? How and why does religious fundamentalism offer an explanation and practices for dealing with this social anarchy in the slums? How can communists contend with religious fundamentalism in the slums?

Part 3

What have been the weaknesses within the international communist movement in summing up and analyzing the experience of Maoist-led people’s wars in recent decades? What are better methods of summation?

How did Sendero Luminoso go about escalating the people’s war in Lima from the early 1980s to the early 1990s? What tactics did it employ? What is your assessment of the efficacy of these tactics?

Who was the main social base for revolution in Lima? What factors created this social base (i.e., what brought them to Lima)? What were the conditions of existence of this social base (i.e., where did it live, how did it make money, what was its cultural and social position)?

What’s the difference between structural and conjunctural contradictions? Does it make sense to use these two different categorizations? If so, how are they related to one another?

What structural and conjunctural contradictions did Peru experience in the 1980s to early 1990s? What was the effect of these contradictions on the masses? What opportunities did these contradictions create for advancing the revolution?

How did Sendero Luminoso go about organizing the masses for revolution in the Central Highway Region east of Lima? What tactics and forms of organization did it employ? How did it divert struggles over labor and land towards revolutionary objectives? What was its relationship to Leftist organizations in the area?

How did Sendero Luminoso go about bringing new shanty towns under revolutionary authority and mobilizing the masses in them for revolution?

How did Sendero Luminoso go about organizing the masses in Villa El Salvador for revolution? What conditions independent of Sendero’s work aided in this process? How did Sendero maneuver to diminish and defeat the IU’s authority in Villa El Salvador?

What lessons can we draw about class formation and organizing for revolution from the escalation of the people’s war in Lima in the 1980s and early 1990s? How can we apply these lessons to our own circumstances?

What conditions and factors made Davao City a favorable place for revolutionary advances in the early 1980s? What were the conditions of life for the masses in and around Davao City at that time? What is an accurate class analysis of these masses?

What strategies and tactics did the CPP employ in Davao City in the early 1980s? What was successful, and what was not? What difficulties are posed by waging people’s war in an urban setting?

What criticisms did the CPP central leadership make of the early 1980s Davao City experience? Do you agree or disagree with these criticisms, and why?

What does it mean to apply the orientation of advancing the world revolution as the fundamental goal rather than the revolutionary struggle within your own country? What actions might communists take on the basis of this orientation? Is it crazy to suggest that another Paris Commune-like event might be necessary to make communist revolution a viable option in the 21st century?

How did the then CPI(ML-PW), now CPI(Maoist), go about building a mass base and guerrilla zones among Adivasis in the Dandakaranya forest area? What lessons can we learn from this about establishing rear base areas, getting rid of local oppressors, and class differentiation among oppressed peoples (including as a result of revolutionary advances)?

What are the consequences of resource extraction (bauxite mining) for the Dandakaranya forest area and for the Adivasis?

What’s the relationship between finance capital and the mining industry?

What does it mean to say a section of masses is set in motion against or in antagonism with the anarchic motions of capital without necessarily becoming proletarians? How are the Adivasis in the Dandakaranya forest area an example of this? Are masses in this position a potential social base for communist revolution? Why or why not?

What are the ramifications of resource extraction, the motions of capital in rural areas in relation to this extraction, and the bourgeois state’s defense of resource extraction for the strategy of protracted people’s war? What can we learn from the CPI(Maoist)’s experience in this regard?

What’s the relationship between the potential for revolutionary advances and the risk of defeat?

Part 4

Is it correct to insist, as Lenin did, that communist organizations first focus on building a mass base and organization among the proletariat?

What is the relationship between white supremacy and the class structure of the US?

How have the structures of white supremacy and the oppression of Black people changed throughout US history up to the present? How do these structures relate to the needs of capital?

What are surplus populations and/or industrial reserve armies of labor? Why does capital need them? What difficulties to they present to the bourgeoisie? How does the bourgeoisie deal with those difficulties?

How and why did a large section of Black proletarians in the US become a surplus population? How does the regime of mass incarceration deal with this surplus population and simultaneously become the new leading edge of the oppression of Black people in the US?

Are Black and other proletarians who have become surplus populations and subjected to mass incarceration an important social base for revolution in the US? Why or why not?

What are the opportunities and challenges for communists to organize this social base for revolution? Can we brainstorm strategies and tactics for doing so?

Why did capital turn to immigrant labor in recent decades?

In what industries is immigrant labor concentrated and why?

What’s the relationship between US immigration policy and politics and the needs of capital?

What is the “special relationship” between the US and Mexico and how does it shape the immigrant proletariat in the US?

How is the immigrant proletariat changing the demographics and social geography of the US?

What are the contradictions and antagonisms immigrant proletarians have with the bourgeoisie? What forms of oppression does the immigrant proletariat face? How are these similar to and different from other sections of the proletariat?

What strengths does the immigrant proletariat potentially bring to the revolutionary struggle?

What practical activities would communists have to take up to realize these strengths?

Why has the motion of capital from cities to suburbs reversed in recent decades?

What is the standard process of gentrification? What economic, social, cultural, and political forces are involved and what role do they play? What are the effects on the proletariat? How is this taking shape in your area?

What are the implications of gentrification and “demographic inversion” for revolutionary strategy? What ideas can we brainstorm for communist organizing efforts in your area?

What errors did the Maoist movement coming out of the 1960s make in analyzing who the proletariat was? What was the source of these errors? How can we do better in making class analysis that is in line with current conditions?