All members of Unity and Struggle are guided by this common set of principles.
Our principles provide a foundation for our work together. Drawing on a shared philosophy and method, we can craft concrete strategies for different contexts, and grapple with further theoretical and practical questions.
This document was written collectively by everyone in our group, through a year of in-person and online discussion, writing and editing. It also builds on the work of past members whose efforts shaped the organization and its direction. We honor all these contributions.
If you want to discuss these principles or learn more about us, hit us up on social media or the contact page.
Capitalism is a social system in which our labor is turned against us. All human beings express ourselves through living labor, the cooperative capacity to create ourselves and the material and social world. But under capitalism this capacity is bought and sold as a commodity, labor-power, and directed by capitalists who employ it. The commodification of our life activity transforms labor into something alien to us. We are alienated as the product of labor is expropriated by capitalists, whether in the form of commodities in their warehouses or profits in their spreadsheets. But we are also alienated as our activity becomes individualized and one-sided, severed from our relations with others and our many-sided needs. We experience labor not as collaboration but as a means of individual survival, not as creativity but as shitwork.
This happens because we are separated from the means of production, those tools and abilities we would otherwise use to satisfy our needs and create ourselves. As a result of this separation capitalism continually generates two classes: a class of proletarians coerced to sell ourselves piecemeal in return for a wage, and a class of capitalists who purchase labor-power to work the means of production they own. The wage becomes the medium through which we interact, indirectly, with all the other kinds of labor in the world. As isolated wage earners, we are reunited with the means of production and each other only by the capitalist who directs our activity. The more we labor in this arrangement, the greater the scale on which it expands. This system of separation and mediation is called capital: a social relation that exists outside our control and dominates us. In capitalism, labor continually reproduces capital and therefore the social relations of its own exploitation and alienation.
Capitalism renders all commodities exchangeable, imbuing them with a common capitalist “value” expressed in terms of money. The value of a given commodity is determined by the labor time necessary to produce it for exchange. When capitalists employ our labor-power, we add value to their capital beyond the cost of our reproduction, thus giving them a surplus value which they appropriate as profit. As this process deepens, our needs come to assume the form of value. Our qualitative labor is degraded to a one-sided activity, interchangeable with all others as a quantity for exchange. Our needs––including our need to interact socially––come to be met only through buying and selling. Humanity itself is rendered incidental to capital, the only aim of which is self-expansion.
Capital depends upon value-creating labor to exist, but also constantly revolutionizes the forces of production. In the process, it expels labor from production, strangling its own source of surplus value. To sustain accumulation, capitalists are further compelled to lower costs by cheapening, degrading and destroying labor-power and the means of production. An immense contradiction emerges as a result: while the productive forces expand, massive wealth accumulates alongside an exploited proletariat ever less able to access it. Proletarians as a whole grow alienated––from our labor, the products of our labor, the means of production, and one another––with many of us driven into unemployment, incarceration, migration, and super-exploitative sectors like sex work. Our position in the national and international division of labor shapes not only the work we do, but also the conditions in which we live, and the social meaning ascribed to our lives and bodies—branding us with a racial, gendered, and national essence. Against our alienation, the proletariat struggles not merely to improve wages and working conditions, but to abolish the system of wages itself, and thereby, our existence as a class. This struggle for the abolition of the present state of things is what Marx calls “communism.”
Communism is not a type of government or economy, or a blueprint for a future society to be put in place. Rather, communism is a tendency inherent within capitalism itself. The proletariat continuously renews the tendency toward communism as it seeks to overcome alienation and resolve the contradiction between living labor and its existence as capital. This proletarian self-activity is the “real movement” that reveals the theoretical questions and strategic impasses we must confront. It provides the starting point for all communist theory and strategy.
Communism arises as the proletariat’s self-activity works to reunify labor with the means of production, and abolish the mediation of the wage and the existence of classes. Communism frees the productive forces from the confines of capitalist accumulation and profit-making, which imposes scarcity on the majority of humankind, and periodically stifles or destroys the productive forces themselves. In communism, human needs become the purpose of production, and the self-creation and expansion of human capacities become an end in itself. Communism does not simply maximize our free time outside of work, but erodes the distinction between necessary and surplus labor, work and play. In this way, the one-sided, alienated bourgeois individual—a product of the capitalist division of labor—is transcended. Race and gender are negated not by imposing colorblindness or androgyny, but by enabling the free creation of selves and cultures beyond systems of oppression. Communism allows the emergence a self-determining, many-sided, universal, and social individual: a common humanity in which each person lives by free association, “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”
Communism does not simply redistribute profits more fairly, but is a new mode of life. It abolishes alienation, which separates us from our creative power and turns it into something that dominates us. In a free communist society, therefore, no state or party will manage accumulation, redistribution, or wage labor. Communism is the birth of a stateless society in which the means of production are directly controlled by humanity as a whole, and are no longer the property of capitalists or governments.
The state arises from class society, but its form and function changes depending on the type of class society in which it is situated. The modern state is not simply an administrative institution with a monopoly on legitimate violence. It is also a product of capital, and works to maintain the political and social conditions necessary for capital accumulation. It reproduces the logic of capitalist social relations as a whole, whether by shaping labor markets, managing forms of money, or exercising armed force to extract resources from communities and nature.
The capitalist state arises from our separation from the means of production and existence as labor-power. On the one hand society exists as concretely unequal classes, in which we are compelled into exploitation. On the other hand it exists as a collection of atomized individuals, all formally equal with abstract bourgeois rights, free to buy and sell commodities. The latter aspect of our lives comes to define a “political” sphere, mediated by the state, distinct from an “economic” sphere of production. Each seems to operate independently of the other: the state does not directly coerce us to labor, and even acts like an objective arbiter between competing interests in society. As our relationships become mediated through systems of rights and laws, we relinquish our power to act collectively to institutions which seem to represent our one-sided interests and act in our name. Thus the state appears to be a neutral object that can be wielded by any interest, including the working class (or a party acting on its behalf). But in essence the state is a social relation, perpetually reconstituted in the struggle between capital and labor. All “socialist states” in the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and elsewhere generated new forms of state capitalism, reproducing the wage system and the alienation and exploitation of the working class.
Communist revolution abolishes the machinery of the state: its police forces, its military, its bureaucracy. In its place, the working class self-organizes to define and carry out the tasks of social life, inventing new forms of cooperation which dissolve the distinctions between politics and economics, conception and execution. These new forms require defense against the bourgeoisie and other counter-revolutionary elements who seek to undermine revolution and re-impose class rule. Thus the machinery of the state must be replaced by the people armed and organized in a directly democratic fashion, to defend and expand the new forms of social organization. The kernel of a new classless, and therefore stateless, society will emerge within the shell of the old, but what that will look like will arise from the self-activity of the working class; it cannot be imposed from above.
In a universal sense, there is no division between humans, animals and nature: we are a part of nature, engaging with it in a continuous metabolic interchange. Yet under capitalism we are alienated from the the natural world, and we objectify it as a mere means of value creation. Nature is warped into a thing to be dominated and used, existing outside of, and antagonistic to, everyday human interaction. Capital’s domination is both qualitative and quantitative: it qualitatively transforms ecosystems and bodies, the world around us and within us; at the same time, it depletes the sheer quantity of resources to unsustainable proportions.
Earlier phases of capitalism treated the natural world as an unlimited resource. To sustain itself, capital commodifies and accumulates nature and labor at exponential rates. Yet as capitalism descends deeper into crisis, this strategy is becoming impossible. Ecological catastrophe now threatens the existence of humanity and many of our fellow species, while the world around us appears as an enemy. The terms “anthropomorphic” climate change and “anthropocene” obscure this dynamic by placing the blame for climate change on human consumption in general. Capitalism is the cause of the destruction of the biosphere, and the annihilation and torture of animals. Technological fixes and climate accords proposed by NGOs, nonprofits or “green” capitalists cannot resolve this conflict. These so-called solutions only remake capitalist relations, perpetuate capital’s domination and proletarian misery, and reproduce the antagonistic division between nature and ourselves.
Working class struggles today are faced with a new and distinct challenge: preventing ecological ruination. The capitalist class cannot resolve the contradictions inherent to its own existence. Only the proletariat can recreate humanity in unified harmony with the natural world, re-linking nature to itself. This unity frees the expansion of human potential and creativity, and enriches the world as a whole.
Gender hierarchies existed in many pre-capitalist societies, but they were absorbed and reworked with the emergence of capital, and made to serve accumulation. Capitalism renders some labor productive (and therefore waged) and other labor reproductive (and therefore unwaged or under-waged). Gender reproduces this division by embedding it in distinct categories of people with perceived bodily differences and sexual roles, historically organized through the family.
The gender relation reduces our entire social existence to an object for others, defined by others’ perceptions and needs. It fetishizes features of the human body, which come to represent our material conditions and history, and in an inverted way appear to cause them. Like all forms of alienated labor, gendered relations appear as a relation between things: our physical bodies are infused with social meanings, and assumed to have natural, static, biological relationships to one another. For a gendered person, the world confronting us is patriarchy. Patriarchy is not merely a sum of individual prejudices or acts, but is rather the system of objective relationships through which we are reproduced in this gendered hierarchy.
Gendering is subjective, in the sense that we actively shape our bodies, perform gender roles with greater or lesser enthusiasm, and participate in the gendered division of labor. But it is also objective, imposed on us through violent means such as rape, abuse, or the genocide of black transwomen. This objective domination enlists our activity through an array of seemingly benign choices, such as consumerism, gendered language, or binary frameworks. As with our labor-power, we experience a doubly free, coercive gender relation: we have the ability to liberate our bodies for our own enrichment, yet are free only to gender ourselves. Our creative capacities denied, we exist as a contradiction between a self-making subject and an alienated object.
We cannot understand labor, including gendered labor, outside of the mode of production in which it takes place. We must therefore reject “dual” and “triple” systems theories that see gender, race and class as parallel systems which intersect ahistorically. We must also reject class reductionist theories which ignore the particularity of gendered oppression, and the need for autonomous struggles against it. Capitalism is a totality of alienated social relations, and patriarchy is reproduced as part of the logic of capital. Therefore, we cannot abolish capital without attacking the gendered dimensions of class existence. Instead, we must struggle as women, femme, trans, and gender non-conforming people, as an essential aspect of the communist movement to abolish all alienated social relations.
We cannot know concretely what gender liberation looks like in a communist society. But fundamentally, we envision a world that breaks through the fetishization of bodies and sexualities, centers our human creative potential, and unleashes endless possibilities for gender and sexual expression. This world can only be made concrete in the self-determined struggle of women, femme, trans and gender non-conforming people.
Race, like gender, is a social relationship that reduces us to objects with a fixed essence, and alienates us from our capacity to create and define ourselves. Race similarly renders us an object for others, and fetishizes our bodily features––mainly skin, but also other physical and even cultural traits––so they appear to cause social conditions. While different forms of ethnic, religious or cultural oppression have existed throughout history, race emerged intrinsic to capitalism and provides the conditions for its reproduction. Race is continually remade through the logic of the capital relation itself, and its abolition only becomes possible through the extinction of capital.
When we labor under capitalism, we not only reproduce our physical bodies and populations, but also the social context that imbues them with meaning. Throughout the history of capitalism we have reproduced ourselves as racial beings through enslavement, unfree or low-wage labor, and exclusion from the wage itself, all of which are necessary for accumulation at different times. Capital emerged by commodifying and accumulating nature, and in the process rendered indigenous, African, and other colonized peoples part of the non-human world––objects to be displaced, genocided, or commodified as slaves. Where this division of labor was upset by resistance and capital’s own expansion, it incorporated racialized groups as low-wage labor power, constrained by legal and extralegal means to remain as second-class citizens. Today as capital expels labor from production, it relegates racialized communities to surplus populations, consigned to unfree labor under border regimes and mass incarceration, or excluded from the wage altogether.
While race reduces some of us to non-human status, it simultaneously renders bourgeois humanity as white. White supremacy organizes consent for the rule of capital and divides the proletariat against itself. It places white workers in a position of dominance that assumes different economic, political and ideological forms over time. As long as capitalism survives, racial categories remain counterpoised, antagonistic and unequal. Therefore, struggles against racism do not merely bring racial identities together to “unite and fight.” Rather, they tend to negate our existence as non-humans, and in the process abolish whiteness which chains workers to their existence as labor-power. Our struggles also impose reforms on capital that allow some racialized people to gain access to wealth and power, even joining the ranks of the bourgeoisie. These individuals escape the forms of labor that reproduce race, but are still perceived by society through the race fetish. Their relation with the racialized proletariat takes different political forms over time––talented tenths, national bourgeoisies, patronage politics––but grows increasingly contradictory as our struggle against the race relation makes class-wide unity possible.
The race relation does not exist separately from the other relations that make capitalist accumulation possible, such as class or gender. Rather, they all mutually create one another in an unstable and evolving totality. Yet because these relations alienate human creative capacities, they appear as distinct elements external to one another. Thus bourgeois civil society aims to solve racism and sexism by granting political and cultural representation to interest groups that bear these one-sided identities, and redistributing a portion of surplus value to each. Class reductionism similarly understands race as external to class, reducing it to a reflection of class relations rather than a condition of their existence. Only communism, by contrast, abolishes class, race and gender by reuniting labor with the means of production, and so unleashing our capacity to create new selves and a new humanity.
As long as we are reproduced through the wage system, we will be compelled to unite against capital’s attacks at the point of production. Unions are associations of workers that arise through these struggles. On the one hand, unions perpetuate our commodified existence. They fight for better terms in the sale of labor-power, and represent us as members of a given job category, workplace or industry; thus they reproduce our existence as labor-power and obscure the nature of class domination. On the other hand, unions express our collective rebellion against alienation and exploitation, and reproduce our creative living labor. In combat with capital, unions can transcend the limits of their own form, unleashing class-wide unity that threatens the wage system as a whole.
Class struggle assumes different forms with the changing organization of production. The relationship between labor and capital shifted with the transition from handicrafts to manufacturing, and then to large-scale industry, each time recomposing the working class and prompting new kinds of associations. Yet in the process, unions which began as illegal organizations were gradually legalized and regulated by the state, to secure the reproduction of capital and the labor-power it required. Unions developed an administrative bureaucracy, with interests separate from the workers it claimed to represent, and the word “union” came to refer to these bureaucratic entities. Consequently, workers throughout the 20th century often fought not only against capitalists, but against the “union bosses” as well. Today bureaucratic unions accept concessions to maintain their own institutional existence, and thereby legitimize the erosion of wages and working conditions. They present an obstacle that workers must overcome.
Capitalists are now organized on a global scale, but find it difficult to sustain accumulation and so resist even minimal demands with extreme violence. Thus workers are compelled to create broader forms of association and direct action––new unions––which reach beyond single workplaces or industries, and which take both legal and illegal forms. Driven to class-wide confrontation by practical necessity, workers develop an awareness of the historical situation of our class as a whole, and confront the political power of the capitalists and their state. These battles tend to overflow the union form and generalize struggle across all areas of working class life. Union activity thus presents the possibility of transcending our existence as labor-power, and in turn the union form itself.
In order for the working class to emancipate itself, it must organize itself. Class existence is not confined to the workplace, but is reproduced in every facet of society, from the home and neighborhood to the classroom. We form organizations accordingly in all these realms to confront capitalists and the state, as well as the bureaucratic unions, nonprofit organizations and parties which claim to act on our behalf. This self-organization is both inevitable and necessary. It arises from our need to resist alienation, exploitation and oppression, and it transforms us and our relationships in the process.
Organizations can win temporary or even long-lasting reforms. However, so long as capitalism survives, reforms and organizations themselves will tend to be incorporated into capital and the state, altering the relationship between labor and capital while enabling new forms of accumulation. Organizations will cease to express the needs and aspirations of workers, and begin to constrain our independent activity within limits acceptable to capital. We must therefore continually push our organizations to their limits, and supersede them when they no longer serve our needs. Our self-organization may take mass forms, but may also generate smaller groups, even within existing forms. As struggles ebb and flow, small numbers of people tend to arrive at common outlooks and repertoires of practices, and continue to collaborate even after mass struggles subside. These minority organizations of militants may take the form of rank-and-file workplace committees, networks of tenant leaders, study circles or media platforms. Acting together, they carry over experiences from past movements, and provide the nuclei to coordinate future ones.
Class struggle also advances the need for revolutionary communist organizations. These differ from other forms even though they remain closely linked. When class struggles encounter their limits, they implicitly confront the fundamental relations of capitalism. Yet these relations do not appear directly: we confront the capital relation, at first, only through struggles with particular capitalists, men, or white people, fighting as a particular workforce, gender or racial identity. From within these struggles, revolutionary organizations draw connections between the concrete situation we face and the fundamental relations we must overthrow. By uncovering this connection in the form and content of class struggle itself, communists articulate strategies to help the proletariat overcome fragmentation and achieve unity and coordination with itself. Like other forms of minority organization, revolutionary communist organizations work to shape the course of struggle and disorganize the institutional power of capital. However, they do so uniquely by drawing on theory derived from past struggles and renewed in present ones.
Communists play a distinct and integral role in the self-organization of the proletariat. We cannot create mass movements at will, substituting ourselves for the self-activity of the class as a whole. Nor do we build organization to seize power and rule on behalf of workers, as was the case for most revolutionary organizations throughout the 20th century. This would be to act externally to the proletariat, imposing on it theory and consciousness from somewhere outside its own experience. In reality, the need for revolutionary organization is part of the needs of the proletariat as a whole, and revolutionary organizations are shaped by the experiences, problems and challenges faced by the proletariat in each period of history. Communists work from within this experience to strengthen the proletariat’s position against capital and the state, and prepare it to take power and transform society. As the proletariat abolishes itself in the course of revolution, the need for revolutionary communist organization will be abolished along with capitalism as a whole.