“The danger of conceit. Don’t play the braggart. Our cause depends on the many for its success and the few play only a limited role. While the few, that is, the leaders and cadres, play a role that should be recognized, it is not a role of signal importance. The role of signal importance is played by the masses. The correct relationship between the cadres and the masses is such that, necessary as the cadres are, it is the masses who do the actual work, with the cadres giving leadership, a role which should not be exaggerated. Would things be in a mess without you? Things can get along without you, as history and many facts of life can testify.... Confucius has been dead for ages and today we have a Communist Party in China, which is surely wiser than Confucius; this goes to show that we can do better without Confucius. As for good people, they are not indispensable either. Would the earth stop turning without them? The earth will go on turning all the same. Things will proceed as usual or perhaps even better.” —Mao, “Speeches at the National Conference of the Communist Party of China: Concluding Speech” (March 31, 1955), SW 5:166.
Concentration camps made their appearance with the advent of capitalist imperialism. Where there is imperialism, there is the resistence to it on the part of the subjugated peoples. This always presents a serious problem for the conquerors, to find some method to keep the oppressed masses of people under control, docile, and unable to organize and fight against the imperialists. One method imperialist powers everywhere have learned to use is to force the people to leave their homes and villages and to live within concentration camps. These are essentially big prisons, where the inmates activity can be continuously monitored, and where the people can be kept away from revolutionary ideas and organizers.
In addition, since imperialist wars are always, in essence, wars against the people of the subjugated country, concentration camps have very frequently functioned as death camps in actual practice, and even purposeful genocidal mass extermination camps at times (as by the Nazis).
Concentration camps are of undoubted use to imperialists, and certainly do make organizing the people to struggle against their foreign oppressors more difficult. And yet, the use of concentration camps by the imperialists is also a self-exposure. And the experience of anti-imperialist struggles over the past century and more shows that a determined anti-imperialist revolutionary movement can overcome not only the enemy’s use of concentration camps, but all their vicious tactics.
“The laws governing warfare and conflict make no reference to
concentration camps. But for more than a century, concentration camps have been a
venue for wholesale war crimes and the symbol of the worst abuses against civilians
“It was a Spanish general, Valeriano Weyler, who established the first reconcentrados or ‘concentration centers’ in Cuba in his drive to suppress the 1895 rebellion. Britain introduced concentration camps on a massive scale during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. To deny the Boer guerrillas food and intelligence, Gen. Lord Kitchener ordered the British Army to sweep the Transvaal and Orange River territories of South Africa ‘clean.’ Civilians—women, children, the elderly, and some men of fighting age—were herded from their homes and concentrated in camps along railway lines, with a view to their eventual removal from the territory. The Boers, to whom these camps became a symbol of genocide, called them laagers.
“The Nazis developed a vast network of Konzentrationslager, using them at first to hold political prisoners, later slave labor, and finally to annihilate European Jewry and to kill large numbers of Poles, Russians, and Gypsies. Of the nearly 6 million Jews killed under Hitler’s ‘Final Solution,’ 2 million died in Auschwitz, the main extermination camp.”
[The writer then describes over a number of paragraphs the wretched humanity he personally witnessed when he and others from the British TV network ITN arrived at an Serbian concentration camp for other ethnic groups in Bosnia in 1992.]
—Ed Vulliamy, “Concentration Camps”, in Roy Gutman, et al., eds., Crimes of War (2007), p. 121.
[There have been many other horrible examples of concentration camps over the past century, including those used by the Japanese imperialists in World War II in China, the Philippines, and other countries; and by the United States in its long imperialist war against Vietnam. In Vietnam some of these were given the euphemistic name of “Strategic Hamlets” by the U.S. military.]
CONCENTRATION OF WEALTH
See: WEALTH DISTRIBUTION—U.S.
CONDILLAC, Étienne Bonnot de (1715-1780)
French philosopher and economist who was a follower of Locke.
CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND, THE [Engels]
An important early book by Engels (1845) which exposed the extreme misery of the English working class of the day and put forward the revolutionary idea that only socialism could truly end, once and for all, the misery of the workers living in capitalist society.
“Engels got to know the proletariat in England, in the center of English industry, Manchester, where he settled in 1842, entering the service of a commercial firm of which his father was a shareholder. Here Engels not only sat in the factory office but wandered about the slums in which the workers were cooped up, and saw their poverty and misery with his own eyes. But he did not confine himself to personal observations. He read all that had been revealed before him about the condition of the British working class and carefully studied all the offical documents he could lay his hands on. The fruit of these studies and observations was the book which appeared in 1845: The Condition of the Working Class in England. We have already mentioned what was the chief service rendered by Engels in writing ... [this book]. Even before Engels, many people had described the sufferings of the proletariat and had pointed to the necessity of helping it. Engels was the first to say that the proletariat is not only a suffering class; that it is, in fact, the disgraceful economic condition of the proletariat that drives it irresistibly forward and compels it to fight for its ultimate emancipation. And the fighting proletariat will help itself. The political movement of the working class will inevitably lead the workers to realize that their only salvation lies in socialism. On the other hand, socialism will become a force only when it becomes the aim of the political struggle of the working class. Such are the main ideas of Engels’ book on the condition of the working class in England, ideas which have now been adopted by all thinking and fighting proletarians, but which at that time were entirely new. These ideas were set out in a book written in absorbing style and filled with most authentic and shocking pictures of the misery of the English proletariat. The book was a terrible indictment of capitalism and the bourgeoisie and created a profound impression. Engels’ book began to be quoted everywhere as presenting the best picture of the condition of the modern proletariat. And, in fact, neither before 1845 nor after has there appeared so striking and truthful a picture of the misery of the working class.” —Lenin, “Frederick Engels” (1895), LCW 2:22-23.
CONDUIT [Contemporary Capitalist Finance]
A “special purpose vehicle” (dummy corporation) set up by a bank or financial corporation in order to: 1) keep risky assets and deals off of their own books (to circumvent the legal requirement that they keep larger reserves on hand, which would cut into their profits); and/or 2) for the purpose of engaging in misleading or fraudulent financial maneuvers and shenanigans. There are various financial deals that banks and financial corporations want to profit from, but which are too risky for them to engage in under their own name, so they set up these dummy corporations to do the same thing under a different name and to conduct the profits back to the mother corporation.
Conduits typically hold asset-backed debt (such as mortgages and car loans), credit card receivables, etc., and often borrow money from third parties (most commonly in the form of “commercial paper”) in order to buy these risky assets. Structured Investment Vehicles (SIVs) are one particularly devious type of conduit.
To revise or fill in gaps in one’s own memory of events through unconscious fabrication. Confabulation is not the same as conscious lying, and is something that people are completely unaware that they are doing. There is, however, extensive scientific proof that virtually everyone does do this, to one small degree or another. We all tend to at least slightly rewrite our own personal histories within our own minds—generally in a more favorable direction. We not only “lie” to ourselves in this way, we are completely convinced by many of those lies! We human beings are complex and not wholly admirable creatures.
The fact that people are capable of confabulation, especially with regard to revising the story of their own role in incidents which are painful for them to remember in the way they actually did happen, has to be kept in mind when comrades collectively review their political practice. Even when we know very well that a person did something that they staunchly deny, we should not necessarily assume that they are consciously lying. On the other hand, we should not always view what we recognize as a totally honest statement by a comrade as necessarily being the real complete truth of the matter, either. For reasons of confabulation as well as the basic weaknesses in the reliability of the individual human memory in general, the real story about some event is much more reliable when it comes from multiple sources including contemporary documents.
CONFESSIONS — False or Insincere
Often in bourgeois society arrested people are brow-beaten by the police, or even physically beaten or tortured, until they confess to crimes which they did not in fact commit. Of course this is an extreme form of injustice, which is much more common in contemporary capitalist society than some might suppose.
Unfortunately, similar injustices have also sometimes occurred in socialist society, especially in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. This too we condemn.
A variation on this sort of thing (though not normally as the result of physical abuse or beatings) also sometimes occurred within the Communist Party of China during the Mao era. There was often heavy social pressure put on comrades who were viewed as making errors to write self-criticisms. This in itself is not wrong! But what was very wrong was that to some extent a political culture arose where cadres who were criticized began to too readily criticize themselves in an insincere manner when they did not really believe that they were in error or had done anything wrong. This was done in order to “take the heat off” or to retain one’s office or political position by pretending to accept and agree with the criticism.
It is a disgusting and unprincipled thing to criticize yourself when you actually do not think you are in the wrong! Marxists need to have the courage of their convictions and refuse to do such a thing. Wasn’t it Mao who said that communists need to have the spirit of “going against the tide”?
Of course, when we are criticized or disagreed with we should listen carefully to those criticisms and disagreements and modestly try to see if there is some good basis for them, either entirely or perhaps only partly so. It is certainly wrong to dismiss criticisms or differences without really trying to see if there is some truth in them. But if you do carefully listen to criticism and are still not convinced that you are wrong, you owe it to the revolution not to change your mind! And this is true even if you are in a minority of one. Of course if the political party or organization establishes a policy or view which you disagree with, you may well have to publicly defend and promote it as part of the requirements of democratic centralism. But even in that case you should hold to your own opinion until you are convinced it is wrong, and not pretend otherwise to your comrades.
“In his Oct. 23, 1966 self-criticism, Deng Xiaoping repeatedly
admits that he (and Liu Shaoqi) opposed the masses and the mass movement, and opposed,
violated and failed to use the mass line. He admitted that ‘In this present movement
of the Cultural Revolution, comrade [Liu] Shao-chi and myself are the people in the
Party and the Central Committee who represent this bourgeois line.’ However, in light
of the fact that Deng returned to these very same bourgeois policies when he later
regained power we may legitimately question the sincerity of his self-criticism. His
criticism reeks with toadyism not only towards Mao but also towards Lin Biao and Chen
Boda. In fact it’s so disgusting that even his own apologists had to excise part of
it about Lin Biao. It seems clear that already in his self-criticism he is working to
return to power someday. All in all there is no doubt that Deng was merely feigning
agreement with the judgment rendered on him by the masses and the CCP.”
—Scott Harrison, The Mass Line and the American Revolutionary Movement, chapter 37, online at: http://www.massline.info/mlms/mlch37.htm [Deng’s 1966 “self-criticism” is available in: Chi Hsin, Teng Hsiao-ping: A Political Biography (1978), pp. 54-64.]
CONFUCIUS (551-479 BCE)
[To be added...]
“There cannot be two suns in the sky, nor two emperors on the earth.” —Confucius. [This was originally a comment made in support of the feudal system in China. In today’s capitalist-imperialist China it is used to promote their goal in what is termed the “Hundred-Year Marathon” of replacing U.S. imperialism with Chinese imperialism as the top dog in the world. —Ed.]
CONFUCIUS SHOP, The
A term used in China to describe Confucius and the reactionary political and cultural ideology he represented. The slogan “Down with Confucius’ Shop”, which became especially prominent in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, meant breaking down the worship of Confucius and criticizing Confucius and the reactionary ideology associated with him.
See also the article, “Ghost of Confucius’ Shop and Actual Class Struggle”, by Chi Fan-hsiu, in Peking Review, #50, Dec. 12, 1969, pp. 18-21. Also available separately online at: http://www.massline.org/PekingReview/PR1969/PR1969-50-ConfuciusShop.pdf
“[I]t requires roughly ten pages of print to untangle and popularly explain ten lines of confusion.” —Lenin, “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism” (August-October 1916), LCW 23:48.
CONGRESS — United States
Almost all U.S. government and national institutions are appropriately in ever lower esteem in the eyes of the American people. But as the results of a series of Gallup polls over the years show (see graph below), this is especially true of the United States Congress. Although most Americans still have a very low class consciousness and do not at all currently understand just why Congress does not work in their interests, they certainly do recognize more and more clearly that this is the actual situation. The “Non Sequitur” cartoon at the right shows a glimmering of recognition of the source of the problem by the masses.
“There was a tenfold increase in corporate federal lobbying by the 1980s [as compared to 1972]—such that it eventually became a $9 billion industry by 2014—and K Street became synonymous with this burgeoning major industry, much like Madison Avenue or Wall Street. Where better to find insider lobbyists than from former members of Congress? In the early 1970s, 3 percent of retiring or exiting members became lobbyists; by 2013 the figure was more like 50 percent, often earning seven-figure incomes after their stint in ‘public service.’ Washington, DC, accordingly, went from a sleepy middle-class town of bureaucrats to a booming metropolitan area of high-rolling lobbyists and fat cat government contractors.” —Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready (2016), p. 196.
[To be added...]
See also: Nikolai KONDRATIEV
The internalization of morality within an individual to the degree that it becomes an automatic response, akin in some ways to an emotion. (The physical location of the conscience within the brain has been found to be in the prefrontal cortex.) [More to be added...]
CONSCIOUSNESS [Philosophy of Mind]
Consciousness is today often proclaimed by those who are totally imbued with philosophical idealism to be “the great mystery” or the “puzzle of our age”, if it is not instead completely dismissed as a totally unsolvable enigma. In reality it is no such thing! In fact, consciousness is quite easy to understand in its essence, though as with most philosophical or mentalistic terms it can always be dug into further. (Mentalistic terms, such as thinking, recognizing, remembering, happiness, despair, consciousness, etc., are high level summary ways of describing the exceedingly complex neurological functioning of the brain, and the various brain states that develop as the brain fairly quickly undergoes its internal changes.) The first thing to recognize here is that there are a number of different levels of description of consciousness, or different things that people are getting at by the term, or which they are concerned with. We will just talk about some of them.
First of all, to be conscious of something simply means to be aware of it. Certainly no big deal! To be conscious that it is raining is simply to be aware of the fact that it is raining. Consciousness, in this simple and straightforward sense is therefore a close synonym for awareness. And it is something that everybody understands, at least if they have managed to graduate from the third grade in elementary school.
However, the remark that consciousness just means awareness will likely seem pretty superficial and uninformative to a neuropsychologist studying the brain. What such a scientist wants to know is exactly what is going on in the brain when it is correct to say that a person is conscious of something, or is aware of it. And how neural activity “gives rise to consciousness” (as it is often quaintly put). These are obviously considerably tougher questions, which are concerned not with giving a high-level gloss of one mentalistic word in terms of other mentalistic words (which is what philosophers of mind have sometimes limited themselves to), but rather with a scientific investigation of the brain itself, its structures, sub-regions and their interactions, and the sorts of internal changes it undergoes as people become conscious of something. This could obviously get extremely complicated, and in theory even involve the states of billions of neurons and their varying connections and firings. But that complete neural story would be way too complicated to grasp and make sense of. So what is really needed in the discussion of consciousness is something much less complicated than that, but nevertheless deeper and more informative than simply defining consciousness as awareness. What we actually need is a higher level summary of all that neuronal change and complexity, or in other words, a comprehensible general description or two about what is actually going on in the brain. There have been a number of such hypotheses, some of them more plausible, insightful, and better supported by scientific experiment than others.
One of the very best of these provides a general high level description of what is going on in the brain at the moment when a person becomes immediately conscious of something. This is the “global workspace” theory, that there is a particular region of the brain (now known to be located in the prefrontal cortex) which has access to a huge amount of the stored information in the brain (though not absolutely all of it), and when one piece of that information enters this global workspace region the person is then thinking about that thing (or is immediately conscious of it). In other words immediate consciousness is a process of brain-wide information sharing which is enabled by activating the global neuronal workspace with the appropriate data. There is now some very considerable scientific evidence for this theory, which is presented quite well in Stanislas Dehaene’s 2014 book, Consciousness and the Brain. This now seems to be the best and leading scientific theory about what it means to say that a person is immediately conscious of something (in terms of what is actually happening in the brain).
However, the word ‘consciousness’ is even more commonly used in a more general sense to talk about not what a person is thinking of right at that very moment, but rather about the things that they know or understand or believe. When we ask someone whether they are conscious of the existence of the capitalist ruling class in present-day society, we are asking about how they view the world in general but not necessarily about what they are thinking of at that particular moment. So we need a high level description of what consciousness means in this more general sense as well, which will have to be something different than having a piece of information enter the person’s global neuronal workspace.
The best overall explanation of what consciousness means in this general sense is that it is simply a matter of having an internal mental model of the world which includes all the information we are conscious of. Similarly, the supposed riddle of “self-consciousness”, is easily explained. We have self-consciousness if our internal models of the world include a model of our own selves, including not just many of our physical aspects such as our appearence, but more importantly many of our mental aspects (our knowledge, ideas, opinions, memories, etc.). Insofar as a person’s internal model of the world and of themself corresponds with the actual reality (and it never does so totally), the person truly understands the world and themself.
Another way to think of consciousness (both immediate consciousness as well as having an internal model of the world) is as a key part of an internal monitoring program of the brain. Every self-sustaining complex system needs some considerable internal monitoring in order to keep functioning. In the human body there are many such systems, some of them quite automatic and often based on cybernetic principles such as negative feedback. These include the lungs and breathing system, the systems which internally regulate the oxygen, glucose and numerous other chemicals in the blood, and many similar sorts of systems within individual cells. But the brain itself also needs an overall internal monitoring system. A crude analogy might be with the operating system of contemporary personal computers, though the monitoring system of the brain must of necessity be much more sophisticated than current PC operating systems (and include, for example, extensive semantic components). Some philosophers have argued against the notion that there must be monitoring system within the brain on the grounds that this is the homunculus idea (that there is a little guy in the brain directing things, who then needs a little guy in his brain to direct him, and ad infinitum). However, monitoring systems by no means generally require their own internal monitoring systems. PC operating systems, for example, do not require their own internal operating systems reaching back to infinity. The higher “executive functions” of the brain are well known to reside in the prefrontal cortex, and the brain areas which constitute (or “create”) human consciousness in both its primary senses should be viewed as important parts of this internal brain self-monitoring system.
Thus consciousness is pretty easy to explain and to comprehend. It is not at all an inexplicable mystery involving qualia, or some such thing, as some idealist philosophers maintain. Yes, we can always dig deeper. We can investigate further the nature and precise organization of the brain and the organization of its global workspace and precisely how that region is massively connected to the rest of the brain. Similarly, we can investigate the internal model of the world which we have in our mind/brain, precisely where it is located, how the information is stored and how it is organized. We can come to more deeply understand how the brain’s own internal monitoring system works. But, for us materialists, the basic story of consciousness has never been the supposed perplexing mystery that idealists claimed it to be, and the more detailed scientific understanding of consciousness in human beings (as well as in other animals) continues to grow rapidly. —S.H.
See also below, and: SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS
CONSCIOUSNESS — In the Labor Process
“We pre-suppose labor in a form that stamps it as exclusively human.
A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee conducts
operations that puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But
what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect
raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of
every labor-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the
laborer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on
which he works, but he also realizes a purpose of his own that gives the law to his
modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is
no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands
that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with
his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of
the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys
it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his
attention is forced to be.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, ch. VII, sect. 1,
(International Pub. ed., p. 178; Penguin ed., pp. 283-4).
[This passage deserves much closer attention and careful reflection than it is usually given by readers. Marx seems to be suggesting that not only is this conscious intent and purpose in the labor process the thing that distinguishes human labor from the activity of spiders, bees, etc., but—in the context of his conception of the labor theory of value as whole—he seems to be implying that this somehow explains why human labor, and only human labor, can create surplus value in the capitalist production process. But Marx does not explain here, or elsewhere, why this difference in labor consciousness allows human labor alone to create new value. Why does this matter? Moreover, if this difference nevertheless does somehow explain why human labor power can generate surplus value, then we would be forced to admit that some future computer consciousness controlling machinery might also be able to create surplus value in a capitalist system of production. In other words, labor which was definitely “exclusively human” on this definition in Marx’s era may not always be so! (This idea is explored further in Android Thought Experiment and in Labor Theory of Value—Revised Form.) —S.H.]
General agreement; much more than “mere” majority agreement, and often pushed close to meaning near or total unanimity.
Social change requires struggle, and by far the greatest part of social change must occur when a strong majority favors it, even though there may still be at that point a significant minority that opposes the change. If changes can only be made when there is near or total unanimity, then most changes cannot be made at all. This is a point that infantile anarchists are unable to appreciate. The demand for a consensus before any changes are made is an anti-democratic stance. It obstructs the will of a majority, and even of an overwhelming majority. It is also undialectical from a philosophical perspective.
1. The view that only the consequences of an act are relevant in determining its moral justification, not the motives or intentions or “duty” of the person performing the act. Marxist ethics is an example of a consequentialist ethical theory, while Kant’s ethics is an example of one which is not.
See also: DEONTOLOGY
“In examining the subjective intention of a writer or artist, that is, whether his motive is correct and good, we do not judge by his declarations but by the effect of his actions (mainly his works) on the masses in society. The criterion for judging subjective intention or motive is social practice and its effect.” —Mao, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art” (May 1942), SW 3:88.
A theory that a secret conspiracy existed (or continues to exist) which led to some event, most often some well-known event such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Generally conspiracy theories are foolish nonsense cooked up by individuals who may or may not be right in being suspicious about some event, but who often construct elaborate stories to explain the event which are based on little or no evidence or investigation. Thus, while an occasional conspiracy theory might turn out to be true, in general such theories are a triumph of suspiciousness over investigation.
Sometimes young or naïve revolutionaries will construct or adopt conspiracy theories about capitalist society. Thus when first learning about social classes and the dictatorship of the ruling capitalist class, they might jump to the silly conclusion that this means that there are periodic secret meetings of all the important capitalists in a big room somewhere where all the important decisions are made. Such folks are not sophisticated enough to understand that all the ordinary public institutions of American society, including the Presidency and executive branch, the Congress and the judicial system, are themselves the means by which the capitalist class makes its decisions and rules. While there may indeed sometimes be secret meetings of important big-shots, for the most part the mechanisms of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie are quite open and public. However, the fact that this system of rule is actually the dictatorship of one class, the bourgeoisie, is something that is almost never openly admitted, and may not even be fully understood by all of those who are actually exercising that class dictatorship.
The sum total of the value of the means of production: the factories, machines, raw materials, fuel, electrical power, and other necessary products and material inputs used up in the production process, but not including labor-power which is placed in a separate category, variable capital.
[The above description is the standard definition of constant capital, as presented by Marx. However, on another interpretation still within the Marxist milieu, machinery can also be considered to be variable capital. For discussion of this point see the entries for variable capital and the Labor Theory of Value.]
Properly speaking, a parliament, congress or Convention elected for the purpose of drawing up a constitution. Often the difference between a constituent assembly and an ordinary parliament is quite blurred, as in the case of Nepal in the period from 2008 on. The Nepal Constituent Assembly has been unable to agree on a new constitution, and so has merely functioned as an interim parliament.
CONSTITUTION — United States
A remarkably reactionary and undemocratic document which most Americans have been indoctrinated to absurdly believe is the basis for a supposed system of genuine democratic government. In its original version it even upheld slavery! And, as it is interpreted today by the capitalist ruling class and their Supreme Court, it still upholds the total domination of the country by the richest 1% and their corporations.
See also: “TYRANNY OF THE MAJORITY” [Wilson quote]
“Late in his life, as [James] Madison prepared his notes on the constitutional debates for publication, he wrote that his views on suffrage had matured and changed in the intervening years. ‘The right of suffrage,’ he now wrote, ‘is a fundamental Article in Republican Constitutions.’ He reasserted his belief that, for the republican system to succeed, the government needed to reduce the great wealth of the few to benefit those without property. He no longer thought of the Constitution as primarily necessary to protect the few from the tyranny of the majority. Instead, Madison changed course and now defended majority rule as the single ‘vital principle of republican government.’ After reviewing this and other evidence, [Robert] Dahl writes, ‘I have little doubt that if the American Constitutional Convention had been held in 1820, a very different constitution would have emerged from the deliberations.’ That same year, noting the Constitution’s complicity with slavery, future president John Quincy Adams wrote, ‘The constitution is a compact with Hell, and a life devoted to its destruction would be a life well spent.’” —Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready (2016), pp. 161-2.
A very influential modernist school of painting, sculpture and architecture during the period of the Russian Revolution and in the early Soviet Union, which itself was influenced by the slightly earlier modernist school of literature and art known as Futurism. Constructivism strove to create a three-dimensional version of Cubism using modern industrial materials such as steel and glass. It rejected traditional easel painting, and realistic representations of people and nature. Its “constructions” were instead abstract and non-objective. One of the most prominent artists involved in this artistic movement was Vladimir Tatlin, who designed a huge tower, “The Monument to the Third International”, which, however, was never built.
Although the Constructivists opposed “art for art’s sake”, and sought to promote the revolutionary reconstruction of Russia, their works tended to appeal much more to the bourgeois intelligentsia than to ordinary workers and peasants. Trotsky was the most influential political patron of Constructivism, even though he was hostile to the Proletkult movement which was closely connected to it. Constructivism remained very influential in the Soviet Union until around 1934, when the major promotion of Socialist Realism began.
See also: POST-CONSTRUCTIVISM
CONSUMER PRICE INDEX (CPI)
An index of the change in the cost of living in the U.S. which is issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics each month. (The CPI-U is for urban areas, and is the one most commonly referred to.) If the price of a weighted basket of goods and services of the sort that the “average person” supposedly regularly buys goes up by 1.5% from the month before, the CPI is said to rise by 1.5%. This figure is distorted by the government in a variety of ways, including in the selection of which goods to include in this “basket”, the mathematical weight given to each item, and so forth. Up until the 1990s this index was somewhat more reliable, though even then no separate statistical series were kept for different classes and class strata. (Thus the true cost of living can be going up much faster for the poor than it is for the rich.) But starting in the Clinton Administration the statistical distortions became qualitatively worse. More recently, with the “chained CPI” technique now being used, cheaper goods are regularly substituted for more expensive goods in the basket, making the published CPI even more phony.
The graph at the right, for the years 2001-2007, compares the official CPI increase percentages with what they would have been if the method used up until the Clinton years had been continued. As you can see there is a difference of roughly 3 percentage points between the two! [This graph is taken from Kevin Phillips, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008), and is based on calculations by the Shadow Government Statistics website.] A good rule of thumb, therefore, is to add 3 percentage points to whatever the government claims the CPI inrease rate is.
See also: ECONOMIC STATISTICS—Distortion Of, INFLATION
“The U.S. consumer price index continues to be a testament to the art of economic spin. Since wages, Social Security cost-of-living increases and some agency budgets are tied to it, the government has a vested interest in keeping it as low as possible.” —Columnist John Wasik, Bloomberg News, 2007.
CONSUMER SPENDING (Consumer Share of the Economy)
It is frequently claimed that consumer spending constitutes about 70% of the U.S. economy (i.e., 70% of GDP). Upon closer inspection, however, this claim does not hold up.
“We often hear consumer spending is 70% of economic activity since ‘personal consumption expenditures’ total $10 trillion out of $14 trillion in GDP. But this overstates the importance of consumers to the U.S. economy. PCE includes imported goods such as consumer electronics, which mainly stimulate foreign production. It also includes nonconsumer items, such as spending by religious groups. All told, household ‘out-of-pocket’ spending drives roughly 40% of U.S. economic activity.” —Michael Mandel, “Reconsidering Consumers’ Impact on the U.S. Economy”, Business Week, Sept. 28, 2009, p. 17. [The 40% estimate is based on the consumer outlays for domestically-produced goods and services, plus half of import-intensive goods, plus 15% of health-care services.]
As that article also notes, the official “personal consumer expenditures” (PCE) portion of
U.S. GDP includes:
• Operating expenses of private organizations, such as religious groups, and other nonprofit organizations (NGOs) in excess of sales of goods and services (2% of GDP): However, most of this expenditure is actually controlled by boards of directors or government funders rather than by households.
• Imputed services (10% of GDP): Items like the “rental of owner-occupied nonfarm housing”—what, according to idiotic bourgeois economic theory, you “pay yourself” to live in your own home! But imputed services do not actually represent household cash outlays or any direct support whatsoever to U.S. economic activity.
• Import-Intensive Goods (12% of GDP): Includes clothes, electronics, motor vehicles and parts, gasoline, and other goods with large import components. But half or more of this expenditure supports foreign production rather than U.S. production.
• Health-Care Goods and Services (15% of GDP): Includes almost all health-care outlays by not only consumers, but also by HMOs and government programs like Medicare. Only about 15% of this category comes directly from households (though they pay for it all through wage deductions, taxes, or other types of ripped-off value that workers create).
• Domestically Produced Goods and Services (31% of GDP): Any consumer good or service produced mainly in the U.S. for sale here. This category does directly feed into domestic economic activity.
Thus while all wealth comes ultimately from workers acting on the natural resources of the world, the direct contribution of consumer-controlled expenditures to the U.S. economy is only in the neighborhood of 40%.
A term often used by both leftists and bourgeois commentators to describe the current mania in capitalist society for accumulating material possessions. Often, the term will be used when the commentator in question is too timid (or ignorant) to use the other ‘c’ word. The term conveniently lets the basic relations of production of capitalism off the hook, because it makes it seem as though the drive towards commodification and endless buying and selling is a pathology deriving from outside capitalism (perhaps emanating from “human nature”, a lack of religious values, or some such. Proposing that capitalism itself should be done away with is clearly too scandalous for many of these commentators); it also instills the notion that capitalism is sustainable, so long as people employ “sensible” consumption. Those who push such notions seem to want to feel that they are “doing something” to alleviate the horrible damage that capitalism does to the planet and the people on it, while leaving the basic relations of production, which provide the objective conditions out of which consumer mania arise from, intact.
Corollaries of consumerism have also been identified, for example the “marketing orientation” as elucidated by the late Swiss psychoanalyst and socialist Erich Fromm. He wrote of how the structures and habits of thought associated with the production and sale of commodities has seeped into human-to-human relations, affecting even the most intimate aspects of human existence. These are in fact organic extensions of capitalist production (not simply by “allowing”, as Fromm suggested, “our means to become our ends”), for capitalism must, by necessity, always seek new ways of converting capital into more capital and henceforth breaking down every barrier to capital’s expansion. One of the most insidious examples of the utter depravity of consumerism (i.e., the current mode of capitalism as it relates to human psychology and social life) is the modern advertising industry, which constantly aims to find new ways of exploiting personal vulnerabilities and fears—indeed, engendering such pathologies which it then promises to “fix”—as a means of cajoling the target audience to buy the product in question. As the writer and activist Noam Chomsky has remarked, the current system aims to make people as stupid as it’s possible for a human being to be. Consumerism is part-and-parcel of a society that has reached such extremities of sickness and filth that many people are even willing to riot over Nike shoes, as happened recently across the United States when the company released a line of “special edition” sneakers! Providing a systemic critique of this alienation and bringing it to the masses is one of the most urgent tasks for revolutionaries, within the broader and more long-term framework of fighting against material incentives as primary motivations for work.
Material possessions are one of the things that capitalism has dangled in front of the proletariat to trick them into thinking that they have a fundamental, objective stake in maintaining the system. Unfortunately, this has worked quite effectively for a long time, though this is perhaps reaching its limits as the negative aspects of work under capitalism (such as longer working hours, psychological problems, and stress and work-related illnesses) have become overtly associated with the self-evidently mindless and destructive drive to subjugate all of life towards the production of more stuff. Many people are increasingly turning towards job security and quality of life rather than money as their ideal reward system for work. Under socialism, there would be a clear drive to improving the overall material state of the society (in particular in oppressed and poor parts of the world), but this would be geared towards facilitating cooperative human relations, eliminating hunger and disease, emancipating work, and bringing culture and intellectual fulfillment to the masses. —L.C.
“A man should work in many fields, have contact with all sorts of people. Leftists should not only meet leftists but also rightists. They should not be afraid of this and that. I myself have met all sorts of people; I have met big officials and small ones.” —Mao, “Speech at Hangchow” (Dec. 21, 1965), SW 9:228.
CONTAINER [Shipping Container]
See: LOGISTICS REVOLUTION
A broad categorization of the sorts of bourgeois philosophy typically engaged in in modern European countries. It finds its primary precursers in Hegel and Kant, especially. It is generally highly speculative and “metaphysical” (in the worse sense of that word). It also strongly tends toward esoteric terminology and obscurity, often with coinages of new terms which are rarely adequately defined. It often seems that philosophers in this milieu are more concerned to obfuscate than to clearly state anything, perhaps because if they were to make things really clear the vacuity of their work would be all too obvious.
Continental philosophy has a bad reputation even within other areas of bourgeois philosophy, such as analytic or linguistic philosophy (which has been much more common in English-speaking countries).
Virtually no one describes themselves as a “Continental philosopher”; instead they are much more likely to characterize themselves as being within one of the many specific sub-areas or schools encompassed by it, such as French philosophy, absolute idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, structuralism, deconstructionism, and so forth. But bourgeois philosophers in general dislike being pinned down and categorized. They consider that demeaning.
However, some of the well-known philosophers who we can quite clearly place in the Continental Philosophy category are (in addition to Hegel and Kant): Nietzsche, Croce, Heidegger, Jaspers, Collingwood, Adorno, Husserl, Sartre, Foucault, Lyotard, Habermas, Derrida and Badiou.
Analytic philosophers sometimes consider Marxist philosophy to be another variety of Continental philosophy, in part because some Continental philosophers have been superficially influenced by Marxism (such as Althusser and Badiou). Adherents of genuine Marxist philosophy (dialectical materialism) consider this inclusion to be a total insult.
The ever-growing section of the working class in contemporary capitalist society which is made up of part-time workers, day laborers, contract workers, free-lancers, self-employed service workers, and the like. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek “an estimated one-third of the labor market” is now made up of contingent workers. [May 25-31, 2015, p. 49.] The growth of contingent labor is an important aspect of the rapidly increasing job and life insecurity of the working class, and a major part of how the working class as a whole is being driven downward in the current long-developing capitalist economic crisis.
See also: GIG WORK, CYBERTARIAT, PRECARIOUSNESS OF THE PROLETARIAT, PRECARIAT
See: UNINTERRUPTED REVOLUTION, PERMANENT REVOLUTION
1. The set of real numbers including both the rationals and irrationals.
2. [More generally and abstractly:] A compact set which cannot be separated into two sets neither of which contains a limit point of the other.
CONTRACEPTIVE PREVALENCE RATE
The percentage of women who are practicing, or whose sexual partners are practicing, any form of contraception. As defined by the World Health Organization, this is usually measured only for married women of ages of 15 through 49.
CONTRADICTION — Antagonistic
CONTRADICTION — Dialectical
[To be added...]
See also: DIALECTICS, ONE-INTO-TWO, PARTICULARITY OF CONTRADICTION and Philosophical doggerel about dialectical contradiction.
“The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics.” —Mao, opening sentence in his famous essay, “On Contradiction” (Aug. 1937), SW1:311.
CONTRADICTION — Fundamental
In any entity or process there is (according to Marxist dialectics) always one contradiction which is the most fundamental, and which determines the fundamental nature of the thing or process. [More to be added... ]
See also: FUNDAMENTAL CONTRADICTION OF CAPITALISM, WORLD CONTRADICTIONS (Fundamental)
CONTRADICTION — Logical
[To be added...]
See also: Philosophical doggerel about logical contradiction.
CONTRADICTIONS — In Nature
The dialectical contradictions which exist in nature (the physical world) itself. According to Marxist dialectics, there are contradictions not only in human thought and human society, but also in the physical world. Those who don’t understand the basic idea of dialectical contradiction often fail to understand this. Thus Engels quotes Eugen Dühring as saying “Contradiction is a category which can only appertain to a combination of thoughts, but not to reality.” [Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:110.] Engels responds by pointing out that Dühring incorrectly identifies contradiction with absurdity, and therefore says that contradiction cannot occur in the real world. In short Dühring is not talking about dialectical contradiction at all, but rather about logical contradiction. Dialectical contradiction is a matter of oppositions (or conflict) within things and processes, while logical contradiction is simply a matter of simultaneously affirming a statement and denying it. Yes, it is unfortunate that the same term, ‘contradiction’, is used for these two very different things, but we are stuck with this situation for historical reasons. An educated person must come to understand that the term ‘contradiction’ means something different in different contexts. In speaking of contradictions in nature we are of course talking about dialectical contradictions, and not logical inconsistencies.
[More to be added... ]
CONTRADICTIONS — Within Socialism
See: SOCIALISM—Contradictions Within
One of the most important works by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was published in Amsterdam in 1762. The full title is Du contrat social; ou, Principes du droit politique [The Social Contract; or the Principles of Political Law]. The central theme of the book is the claim that every society should be the result of a social contract between the people. This is obviously a bourgeois perspective, and a philosophically idealist conception. But in the context of feudal France in the 18th century this ideology played a very progressive revolutionary role. It put forward the demands for bourgeois equality, the abolition of the privileges of the land-owning aristocracy, and the establishment of a bourgeois republic to replace the monarchy. It thus helped prepare the ground for the great French Revolution of 1789.
CONVICTIONS [Of Crimes]
Being convicted of a crime under a bourgeois legal system does not always mean that the person is actually guilty of anything; there are many false convictions in the contemporary American “justice” system, for example. Furthermore, there are many actions which bourgeois governments call crimes which should not be so called. This often includes people “illegally gathering” to protest wars, racism and other forms of injustice in society, “illegally speaking out” at times and places where they are not allowed to do so, “illegally” attempting to stop people from harming them (such as scabs crossing a picket line or employer’s goons sent to attack them), etc., etc.
“More than 2,000 people [in the U.S.] who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled by two law schools. The most common causes of erroneous convictions were false testimony, mistaken eyewitness identification, and the planting of guns and drugs by police.” —Associated Press news report, quoted in The Week magazine, June 1, 2012, p. 16. [Of course most people who are falsely convicted are never fortunate enough to be exonerated.]
“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” —Anatole France, Le Lys Rouge [The Red Lily] (1894), chapter 7.
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