Contents

Glossary

A collection of important concepts and concise definitions.

Alienation

As human beings, labor is our conscious life activity. We are the only species that can think of an idea and then create it through labor. By working jobs we don't even like or care about in order to survive, we alienate ourselves from our human nature to create what we want at will1.

We experience alienation from the products of our own labor. We don't own— much less have a say— in the labor we perform at work. What we do at work doesn't make us personally feel enriched or valuable as a person because we are doing the work to someone else's benefit

We are alienated by a lack of control over the labor process. At our jobs, we are told what to do and we must do exactly that. Our purpose has been reduced to fulfilling needs of the capitalists.

We alienate ourselves from others as part of the capitalist system. This is manifested as hostility or competition between ourselves and other members of society.

1Under socialism, labor is viewed as a constructive socio-economic activity that is part of the collective common effort performed for personal survival and the betterment of society.

Dialectical Materialism

Dialectical materialism is a philosophical approach to reality. Materialism means the material world (that which is perceptible to the senses) has objective reality independent of mind or spirit.

It asserts that change is an endless process because anything at any stage always consists of contradictory aspects. Things by their very essence are in the process of constant change. Nothing is permanent except change.

To determine the basic operation of a process is to determine the principal contradiction and secondary contradiction. In this way, contradiction can be solved one after the other; and the solution of the primary contradiction or problem leads to the solution of the secondary one.

Contradictory aspects are bound either in cooperation or in struggle, under given circumstances. If and when the secondary aspect replaces the primary one from the ruling position, strength merely passes from the former to the latter.

Three Laws of Dialectical Materialism

Truth4 is both absolute and relative. It is absolute only in the sense that certain ideas are basically correct in applying on a certain set of conditions. But because conditions keep on changing, truth and correct ideas are also relative. There is no final, cut-and-dried formula for social transformation.

4Truth can be derived only from facts. Without letting the ideas rise to a higher level through social practice, these ideas remain narrow, one-sided and fragmented. This is the error of empiricism. On the other hand, correct knowledge or proven theory can become rigid, lifeless and false when it stops developing in accordance with changing conditions, or when new conditions and new facts are simply construed to fit old ideas in the manner of cutting the feet to fit into an old shoe. This is the error of dogmatism.

Theory of Knowledge

Social practice is the basis and source of knowledge. Knowledge is the reflection and approximation of social practice. However, knowledge gained from social practice leads to a higher level of practice, which in turn leads to a higher level of knowledge. The spiraling process is endless.

Social practice embraces three things:

  1. Production (the struggle to transform nature)
  2. Class struggle
  3. Scientific experiment

The Process of Understanding:

  1. The perceptual or empirical5
  2. derived from gathering raw data or facts through sense perception or social investigation.
  3. The cognitive or rational

Even basically correct solutions lead to new problems at a new and higher level of development. There is no such thing as a society of final perfection. Such a utopia is an impossibility.

Division of Labor

Division of labor is assignment of smaller parts of a larger task to different people in order to improve efficiency1.

It requires a particular degree of skill and knowledge for one person to accomplish a single task such as building something completely on their own. The work these types of roles require is often compensated with high-pay.

Dividing a high-skill job into a bunch of smaller lower-skill jobs allows capitalists to justify paying workers less, because less skill is required. As work becomes more specialized, less training is needed for each specific job, and the workforce, overall, is less skilled than if one worker did one job entirely.

1One of the most famous examples of the division of labor was the creation of the assembly line by Henry Ford in 1913. The Ford Model T was previously manufactured with parts over the floor with an employee putting it together. Ford divided the process up into 84 distinct steps, training each employee in one specific task. One employee would put the bolts on the wheel, another the steering wheel, another the gear stick, etc.

Historical Materialism

Historical Materialism is the application of dialectical materialism to the study of the various forms of society and their development from one form to another. It focuses on the part of nature or material reality where the conscious, social activity and development of man is involved. It delves into the social sciences, rather than into the natural sciences.

It shows the most essential laws of motion that operate in all and in each of human societies and that govern their development, from their initial growth through maturation to decline and either replacement by a new and higher form of society or retrogression to a lower one.

The material base of any society is its mode of production or economic system. This includes the tools of production, available natural resources, and the people involved in production. It takes into account division of labor.

Under historical materialism, forms of society generally take place in an ascending order:

  1. Primitive communal society (production via hunting/gathering)
  2. Slave society (production via slave labor)
  3. Feudal society (production via agricultural labor e.g., serfs and landords1)
  4. Capitalist society (production via wage labor)
  5. Socialist society (production that meet needs of people)
1 In the early period of feudal society, the serf was given the illusion of owning the piece of land he tilled, especially when he was the one who cleared it. Thus, he was encouraged to put more land to tillage. He paid rent in the form of labor service, by devoting certain days of the week to work on the land of his lord.

Individualism

Individualism is the social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over the collective.

Individualistic mindsets cause people to misunderstand the structural causes that gave rise to them. No one is an "individual" in the way individualism often claims. Everyone came from somewhere, and underwent external influences. There's no one who exists without the help of some sort of family, community, or collective.

The only individualistic tendencies or "freedoms" that are frowned upon or actively discouraged under socialism are those that impede or extract freedom from others. Other than that, you are truly free to spend your time as you wish because our labor isn't a commodity to be bought low and sold high.

Capitalist societies use individualism as a tool to drive a wedge between people. It shifts the focus from what is best for all, to what is best for the individual, at the expense of others. In fact, capitalism makes it difficult to 'succeed' without employing an individualistic mindset.


Labor Power

Labor power is the abstraction of human labor into something that can be exchanged for money. It is a mistake to try and assign a monetary value to labor itself. It's not the same as anything else that is bought and sold. The correction is to think of labor power as what is bought and sold through labor.

The value of labor power in capitalist society is determined by the value of the necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain and perpetuate the laboring power, as is seen in the 'get paid just enough in order to scrape by' conditions of the working class.

Two features distinguish the value of labor power from the value of all other commodities:

Nationalism

As a movement, nationalism tends to promote the interests of a particular nation, with the aim of gaining and maintaining the nation's sovereignty over its homeland.

Nationalism seeks to preserve and foster a nation's traditional cultures. Cultural revivals have been associated with nationalist movements.

Whether nationalism is good or bad depends on the country practicing it. For example, modern Germany has a complicated relationship with nationalism because of its history of fascism, especially during the Holocaust. In the US, nationalism is also controversial because of imperialistic rule.

Imperialist countries are by their nature oppressors of other nations and people. To be a nationalist in such a country is to support the actions of such a country. On the other hand, in an oppressed country like Haiti or Cuba, nationalism is viewed in a more positive light.

Opportunism

Opportunism is the art, policy, or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for principles or consequences. It is the error where individuals or a group support short term gains over long term goals for the working class. The usual example is elected officials.

Opportunist ideas embrace labor-aristocratic and petit-bourgeois politics in an effort to widen its appeal.

The issue with opportunism is that it causes people to act irrationally or immorally to jump on self-benefiting opportunities, leaving behind those who helped them get so far. Opportunism potentially allows someone claw their way up with greed rather than altruism.

Opportunism is encouraged by individualism.

Petit Bourgeoisie

The petit (or petty) bourgeoisie is a ‘transitional class’, in which the interests of the major classes of capitalist society (the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) meet and become blurred.

Members of this class position usually still have bosses, have to work for a wage, and lack control over most their work-- just like proletarians.

It also refers to members of the class structure who, on the basis of ideological, political, and economic criteria, are unproductive wage-earners but are none the less carriers of ideological domination. They support opportunism.

They are at risk of becoming proletarians due to the increasing power of the bourgeoisie, who centralize wealth and influence the government to pass laws in their favor, pushing everyone else downward economically.

They are usually not interested in overturning the hierarchy and joining hands with the poor. They see themselves as inherently above the poor and they want to keep them down below them, even as they themselves are pushed downward.

The petit-bourgeois can fall behind the workers or behind the bourgeoisie, whether it does or not is entirely dependent on the workers movement. If the workers movement has the strength and leadership to succeed, the petit-bourgeois will likely look to them.

Members of the petit bourgeoisie mistakenly support and defend capitalism, even though it's not in their best interest. Members of this transitional class might hope to climb the ranks and become a fully-fledged member of the bourgeoisie.

The State

The State refers to the apparatus that performs those functions of the government that are not purely administrative in nature. This includes operating an organized military, police force, taxation, law, and ideological apparatuses like schools.

The most important consideration in characterizing a State is what class rules the state. To the rulers, the State is the special instrument of class coercion over another class in order to achieve a certain kind of society.

In capitalist society, the consists essentially of the army, police, the courts and the prisons—the very same apparatuses that the bourgeois political theorist would point to as the guarantee to law and order for the common good.

When the bourgeoisie rule the state, the the attitude of the army, police, prisons and law reflect bourgeoisie interests1 On the other hand, when the people rule the state, their votes directly determine the actions of the State.

1 This usually consists of choosing the path which makes as much money gains as much power as possible, rather than the good of the State's people.