“You must teach that socialism-communism is as old as man; that its principles formed the basis of mostly all the African cultures (there was no word to denote possession in the original East African tongues). The only independent African societies today are socialistic. Those which allowed capitalism to remain are still neo-colonies. Any black who would defend an African military dictatorship is as much a fascist as Hoover.” – George Jackson, Blood In My Eye (1971)

No one is history ever possessed a greater skill set for individual survival than the primitive hunter-gatherer-warrior, yet he was a deeply-committed communalist who put the interest of his tribe, his village, and his extended family above his own. The warrior believed that his life was not his own but belonged to his people, and he considered it a great honor to live a life of service to the people and if need be to sacrifice his life in their defense. This is the warrior’s ethic, and it doesn’t matter which group on which continent we are talking about, because such are the roots of human social evolution.

There 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 fulfilment of our emotional needs. In prison, when the guards want to break you, they put you in solitary confinement.

Capitalism promotes individualism, because everyone is set in competition with everyone else. People must compete for jobs, for 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. Kids 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, wear their team’s colors and share in their glory. Belonging is a need and under capitalism, everything is commodified.

Bourgeois critics often make the charge that socialism sacrifices the interests of the individual to those of the collective, but are they really in contradiction? This is what Comrade 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 interests of 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 harm to the collective, to exploit its members for personal gain or subvert its freedom, it is in the collective interest to give full play to the individual’s initiative and creativity. Mao’s famous call for individual freedom of expression in the arts and sciences was in contrast to certain dogmatic and bureaucratic tendencies that had 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. He never said to let poisonous weeds 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 aboveboard and honest 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 “brain farts” smell lovely. 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.

The principle of democratic centralism acknowledges this and provides for the right of dissenting individuals to reserve their opinions if they are out-voted and bring them up again later so long as they submit to the decisions of the majority and sincerely work to implement them in the meanwhile. In this way a revolutionary party preserves its inner party democracy while maintaining unity in action. There is a time for free discussion and a 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.

In a revolutionary party, everyone belongs to a collective, from the central committee on down to a local party unit in a shop or neighborhood. 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 Party 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.



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