On Primitive Communism and Capitalist Individualism
“You must teach that socialism-communalism is as old as man; that its principles formed the basis of mostly all the East Afrikan cultures (there was no way to denote possession in the original East Afrikan tongues). The only independent Afrikan societies today are socialistic. Those which allowed capitalism to remain are still neo-colonies. Any Black who would defend an Afrikan military dictatorship is as much a fascist as Hoover.”
- George Jackson
No one in history ever possessed a greater skill set for individual survival than the primitive hunter-gatherer warrior, yet ey was a deeply committed communalist who put the interest of eir tribe, eir village, and eir extended family above his own. The warrior believed that eir life was not eir own, but belonged to the people; and ey considered it a great honor to live a life of service to the people and if need be to sacrifice eir life in their defense. This is the warrior’s ethics, and it doesn’t matter which group on which continent we are talking about because such are the roots of humyn social evolution.
There have always been individuals, and in a sense there has always been individualism, but it wasn’t always regarded as a virtue. In primitive societies, it was seen as dishonorable – like lying or cowardice. There were few things that could get one thrown out of the collective and be made an outcast. Rampant individualism was one. To be cast out was worse than a sentence of death. We are social beings, and it is in society that we find fulfillment of any emotional needs. In prison, when the kaptors want to try to break us, they put us in solitary confinement.
Capitalism promotes individualism because everyone is set in competition with everyone else. People must compete for jobs, promotions, and for status. Every capitalist is in competition with every other capitalist. That’s why it is called a “rat race.” People suffer from “alienation” and seek some substitute for tribal belonging. People will join gangs and kill or be killed just to have this sense of belonging. Is joining the marines any different? People become ardent sports fans to have some group identity and wear their team’s colors and share their glory. Belonging is a need under capitalism: everything is commodified.
Bourgeois critics often make the charge that socialism sacrifices the interest of the individual for the collective; but are the individual and the collective really in contradiction? This is what Stalin had to say in his interview with H.G. Wells in 1934:
“There is no, nor should there be, irreconcilable contrast between the individual and the collective, between the individual person and the interests of the collective. There should be no such contrast because collectivism/socialism does not deny but combines individual interests with the interests of the collective. Socialism cannot abstract itself from individual interests. Socialist society alone can most fully satisfy these personal interests. More than that, socialist society alone can firmly safeguard the interests of the individual. In this sense, there is no irreconcilable contrast between individualism and socialism.”
Unless the individual’s interest is to do harm to the collective, to exploit its members for personal gain, or subvert its freedom, it is in the collective interests to give full play to the individual’s initiative and creativity. Mao’s famous call for individual freedom of expression in the arts of science was in contrast to certain dogmatic and bureaucratic tendencies that has arisen in Russia and China:
“The policy of letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend is designed to promote the flourishing of the arts and the progress of science.”
Some would later complain bitterly that Mao had lured them into a trap when they were subsequently criticized for their ideas. But freedom of expression is not freedom from criticism. Ey never said to let the poisonous weed to bloom.
The democratic method is to allow people to speak their minds, but this is a two-way street. Others have the right to disagree and criticize you as well. The collective interest will best be served when people are above board and say what they think, at the risk that it will be picked apart and rejected by others and even ridiculed as rubbish by the majority. No one is obligated to tell you your opinions are great. On the other hand, your opinion might find favor and change everyone’s views for the better. That is the risk of free expression. New ideas always start with someone who thinks for themselves and may not at first be popular or well accepted.
In this way a revolutionary organization/collective pursues its inner collective democracy while maintaining unity in action. There is a time for free discussion and time for united action and this is the basis of democratic revolutionary praxis. The collective protects the rights of the individual who serves the interests of the collective.
The comrades of your collective should be like your family – even closer than that. Your very lives may depend on each other. The comrades will each have different strengths and weaknesses and should complement each other using their own strengths to help the others transform their weaknesses into strengths. Comrades should not be competitive with one another. Recognition and advancement are fine, but one should be happy to serve in whatever capacity the collective feels would be best. It is all about what we can accomplish together – whether one is high or low in rank is insignificant. To be a comrade is important.