How Do People Get the Flu?
Right now there is an epidemic of influenza in the U.S. The government reports about 4000 positive flu tests per week and many go untested. Scientists have known since the 1930s that you can only get the flu by being exposed to a virus. Many people are exposed, but do not get sick. Thus the external influence—contact with the virus—is not the main thing that determines who gets sick. An exposed person’s general health and the state of their immune system—including whether they have had a flu shot—determine whether they become sick at all, and how sick they get. People can’t get the flu without contact with the virus, but what is inside them is the primary cause of being well or sick.
Catching the flu is one example of a general principle of communist dialectics. Its core idea is in the slogan “Internal contradictions are primary.” “Internal” means what goes on inside some system or process. The system could be an atom, a person, world capitalism, the solar system, and so on. “Internal contradictions” means the conflicts inside a system that steer it in certain directions.
Workers and bosses, and rival imperialist bosses are at war inside capitalism. These internal contradictions direct events in certain directions. U.S., Russian, Chinese and European capitalists maneuver to control the most labor and resources across the planet, and prepare for wars to keep what they have and get more.
According to old-style materialism—before Marxism— the external causes are the main things that make systems change. Communist materialism shows the opposite is true. The effect that external forces have is modified or canceled by internal contradictions. External factors are sometimes essential—like a virus—but the effect they have depends on what is inside.
Sometimes people object to this conclusion this way: Suppose a small, weak army fights a battle with a big, strong one. Won’t the strong external force always defeat the weak one? Size and firepower certainly do count in a war, but you have to ask, why did the weak side fight the battle at all? About his experience of guerilla war, Mao Zedong wrote “If we could win, we fought; if not, we ran.” Getting into a hopeless fight is a serious internal weakness of the leadership of a guerilla movement.
Organizing for communism is a lot like a guerilla war. Capitalism, our enemy, is a strong force external to our movement, but capitalism’s internal contradictions give it critical weaknesses, too. Capitalism creates misery for the masses and luxury for a few. It generates racism and sexism, organizes terrible wars and can’t avoid deep economic crises. Like guerillas, we organize where people are best able to see that communism is the only answer for them. But it often happens that our own internal contradictions hold us back and prevent our movement from growing.
What Holds Us Back?
Different internal conflicts hold back our work in different places. Comrades in San Diego recently started up two new Red Flag distributions, at a second shipyard and at a college campus. The immediate result was that the number of Red Flags they got out more than doubled. This could have been done several years ago, however. So why wasn’t it?
The answer is that the comrades didn’t understand or face up to several things. One is that many workers, students and sailors in their area are ready to hear that capitalism must be replaced, and are willing to consider communism. The comrades learned this from the positive response to Red Flag at mass marches during the last year.
The San Diego masses showed that they were ready to consider communism, but understanding that mobilizing for capitalism is urgent is a different issue. Many of us have expected only slow and gradual changes as capitalism gets worse, but dialectics teaches us differently. Internal contradictions often make changes take place “by leaps, and via catastrophes and revolutions in nature and society,” as Lenin said. (See Lenin article here: icwpredflag.org/lde1.html)
Let’s Grasp the Internal Contradictions of Capitalism
There are many signs of capitalist crises on the horizon. The turn toward more racist and pro-fascist politics is clear in many countries. The U.S., Russia, China and India are spending huge amounts on new weapons for war. It’s been nine years since the last economic recession and a new one is overdue. Rising interest rates and government deficits will soon make many people’s debts harder to cope with. Deaths from drug addiction, police murders and school massacres are in the news every day. Comrades and friends need to take to heart the fact that developing contradictions of capitalism are driving toward fascism, and use this knowledge to motivate our mobilizing the masses for communism.