A Materialist Conception of Power

Comrade Lenin is widely reputed as having said something to the effect of “All except for power is illusion.” This quotation is frequently raised as a slogan by Maoists, especially the PCP (in whose principal language of Spanish it comes out as “salvo el poder, todo es ilusión”), to mean that the only meaningful concern for communists is the revolution, the seizure of political-economic power for the people, and all other issues are secondary. Of course, the quotation must be taken as a hyperbolic espousal of this principle, not as a frank and strictly literal ontological theory; it would not make sense to take as fact that nothing but power exists. After all, Marxist ontology is materialist and would actually tell us (in grossly simple terms) that what exists is the material universe, all of it, material objects and their qualities and interactions, and nothing more. But, this, actually, provides a key clue to the interpretation of Lenin’s quote and the Marxist view of power generally: if power is ultimately real and important, and Lenin tells us it is, it must be something that exists totally within the material universe and is firmly grounded in its most fundamental aspect, the purely physical. Power, then, is a quality/interaction of tangible objects; for a materialist, power is control, control by material means over material objects and their interactions. The central concern of history is power, more specifically the dialectical struggle between classes for political-economic power, power over economics, production, labour, resources, nations and countries, and ultimately society. The way in which a class exercises this power in a class society, furthermore, is state power: the use of the state, the state being a set of mechanisms of force (prisons, armies, legislatures) by which one class represses others, brings to fruition its interests, and asserts societal control.

It is obvious that this materialist conception is incompatible with any other. A truly committed materialist- and a communist must be such- cannot be a believer in divine power, magical power, spiritual power, or the Foucaultian theory of power. Furthermore, we cannot be against power; power is not good or evil, but rather it can be used in many ways and only its uses can be ethically judged. The power to kill is neither good nor bad; the use of that power to prevent harm by killing a serial killer is good while the use of it to commit harm by killing an innocent is bad. The communist attitude to power is not concerned with whether it is in itself good or bad; it is concerned with its uses, with who wields it, and how, and why (or to what ends and with what effects for whom).

Right now, political-economic power is wielded by the bourgeois class and especially the bourgeois class in the imperialist countries, through capital and the state power of the bourgeois state, for the purpose of maintaining and growing sums of capital owned by said capitalists through the exploitation of the working classes, chiefly the proletarian majority. It got this way because they took power away from the feudal nobility of various countries (or, in some countries that were colonized by foreign bourgeoisie before they developed feudalism, from slaveholder classes or pre-state pre-class tribal authorities), who had themselves wielded it through feudal estates and feudal state power. The objective of the communist movement is to unite and gather together the proletariat to seize political-economic and state power, so it may be used by the proletarian majority, through a newly established Dictatorship of the Proletariat (a democratic arrangement of a workers’ state, soviet-democratic production administration, United Front mass organizations united behind a vanguard Party that can lead the ideological progress of the D. of the P., etc.), for the goal of running society generally and political-economy specifically for the common good of all who contribute their labour to it, with the ultimate goal of uniting all humanity together in common management of their lives and labours for the common good without any exploitation. Once this ultimate goal is achieved, the state social order of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat can and must be abolished or abolish itself by “withering-away” of the state and class divisions, and we will have a communist society. This is the trajectory Marxist science has plotted through history; it is the goal of the communist movement to carry this trajectory forward from its past in capitalism, feudalism, etc. into its future in socialism and global communism, and the conquest or seizure of power by the masses in every country through revolutionary war is how we do this.

Liberals and anarchists would like the masses to be afraid of power. Idioms like “absolute power corrupts absolutely” sum up their messages and echo from their pulpits. The notion that power itself has some corrupting essence is of course nonsensical metaphysics, and furthermore the whole phenomenon of warning the masses away from power must be regarded as hypocrisy of the worst sort. The same imperialist presidents who rail against the “absolute power” of their opponents hold it themselves over their armies, armies that massacre children for the profits of these presidents and their masters, the imperialist bourgeoisie. All that matters about power is who has it, what they do with it, and how. Really, even the “how” is secondary, from a perspective of a materialist consequentialism (which communist ethics is). Its degree is as irrelevant as anything. Absolute political-economic power wielded by the People through the institutions of a democratic proletarian class-dictatorship can only be good and progressive; so it was in the USSR, Tuva, Mongolia, Albania, China, etc. etc., and so it shall soon be in every country in the world! A plague on the liberals who try to frighten the masses away from liberation with the bogeyman of “dictators,” of a “Stalin” and a “Mao” who are entirely alien to the true Stalin and Mao; a plague on anarchists and libertarians who try to abolish all power/authority, not understanding that it is only by the exercise of authority that any social goal can be achieved!

It is important to understand, also, that state power is not the only exercise of political-economic power/authority. State power is how a class uses this power in class society, be it the bourgeois class using it to exploit others or the proletarian majority class using it to unite and proletarianize a whole country. But pre-class society had its own forms of political-economic power, and so too will post-class post-state full-stage communist society. The final obsolescence of the state does not mean the abolition of authority; indeed such a thing cannot be seriously conceived of- if there is no political-economic authority, how precisely is the production of use-values organized and carried out? No, the communist’s vision is not of the abolition of authority but of a world in which all the people in a community hold authority over their lives together, and thus in which each individual- as long as they are a fair contributor in their own way to their community- holds themself a share of authority. This is communism, the only truly free way of living. Even in full-stage, post-state communism, it is absurd to talk of abolishing all power or being “against all authority,” for the communist community must still by way of some form of post-state deliberating assembly, some soviet or similar body of assembled working/economically contributing community members (which should, under communism, be all community members save children and those unable to work), orchestrate itself, organize collective projects, assign meaningful jobs to its members when they come of age, and punish those who wrong it- all of these are communal exercises of authority or power.

Of course, political-economic authority is not the only kind of power. This makes it all the more absurd to be “against all authority.” The parent has authority over the child, the educator authority over the student, the physician authority over the patient, the actor of violence power over its object, et cetera. All of these forms of power can be brutally and grotesquely misused, yet all of these misuses fundamentally are issues of the manner and context in which power is exercised rather than problems with power/authority itself, and all of these forms are similarly in many circumstances absolutely necessary. The power of the parent over the child is used wrongly when it is used for abuse and rightly when it is used to prevent infants from inadvertently swallowing household poisons; thusly the power itself is neither good nor bad, rather one must try to use it in ways that are good and not in ways that are bad. The same is true of all these other forms of authority, and this reinforces the above-made point: power is a tool and a weapon that can be used for good or for ill. Power is neither corrupting nor purifying, neither good nor bad. It is the ways in which it is used that are these things, and we must always try to use power in ways that are good as much as possible. One should not be “against all authority,” one should be committed to putting authority in hands that will use it right. Those hands are the hands of a socialist proletariat united behind a proletarian and communist vanguard Party.

The communist movement, the proletarian movement to seize state power, is not like the movements of other classes to do so that have preceded it, not like the rise of the feudal or capitalist master classes. This is because it is the final stage of class struggle; the historical age of proletarian uprising that is now underway is the age that will finally close the book on class contradictions, with cultural revolution and continuing struggles under socialism to bring about full-stage stateless classless communism, and as such where other historically important class struggles have been vague and incomplete in their understandings of the problems they address and the contradictions they resolve, the communist revolution must be guided by an exact and scientific ideology- only then can its grand tasks be accomplished. The ideology of capitalist bourgeois revolutions like the French revolution or the Meiji Restoration was vague, eclectic, and confused; the earlier feudal risings that crumbled apart slave society didn’t even know what they were (indeed, looking at the most well known example thereof, the so-called Fall of Rome, we find that many of the feudal rulers who ultimately drew power from its legacy, like Charles “the Great” of Francia, claimed to be continuators of Roman power even as they embodied and led an entirely different economic model which had, by the revolts of the slave class and especially of slave-soldiers of the Germanic tribes, destroyed the actual Roman one). But the proletarian revolution is an altogether different animal; it is an animal with a mighty brain and that brain is the exact, all powerful, scientific ideology of the proletariat: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the universal ideas of Gonzalo Thought, MLMism-GT. And this ideology must be taken up by great leaders and vanguard Parties in every country, to hone into a weapon and a tool that can produce that country’s guiding thought and guide its People to socialism on the path of People’s War, that can guide the masses in the seizure of power. Only with power wielded right: by the socialist proletariat, through the D. of the P. and the three weapons of revolution, for the goal of establishing communism, can humanity be freed. Power to the Proletariat!

Power is not to be feared, it is a weapon to wield for the masses’ good!







Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political-economic philosophy, from a perspective mainly regarding the movement for revolution in the US.

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Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political-economic philosophy, from a perspective mainly regarding the movement for revolution in the US.

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