„Why did Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs get to go into their garage and tinker around with computer things, and eventually end up founding Apple Computers, while someone their age in places like Pakistan, Honduras, Thailand, and Egypt had been, for 10 years already, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, producing some of the commodities that these two guys, and millions more like them, use for everyday life?
I have told people: If you don’t believe this is an imperialist system, if you don’t see how the seal of parasitism is set on this whole society by imperialism, go home to your closet and throw out every piece of clothing except those made in the United States—which, in reality, means every piece of clothing that is made under conditions of not ’normal‘ but extreme exploitation, including exploitation of little children, all throughout the world. Throw all those out and keep only the ones that aren’t made that way—and see if you can go out your front door. See if you will have anything to wear. All you have to do is look at the labels on your clothes to see what kind of system this is—to see a reflection of the fact that it is an international system of exploitation, with the most extreme forms of exploitation, including of children, throughout the Third World. This goes back to the relation between imperialism and bourgeois democracy (and social democracy), which I spoke to in an earlier part of this talk.
Lenin also pointed out that capitalism and commodity production and exchange force people to, as he put it, calculate with the stinginess of a miser: What do I have, compared to what you have, what do I get for what I give up? This is the way people are forced to calculate, not because of unchanging and unchangeable human nature, but because of the conditions in which people’s lives are embedded and the forces that shape those things—and the ideas that this in turn gives rise to and reinforces—within the confines of the capitalist system and its worldview.
A petty bourgeois outlook cannot see beyond commodity fetishism, beyond viewing the relations between people as essentially a relation between things, between commodities. It cannot get beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois right; it cannot get any farther in its theoretical conceptions of society and how it ought to be, than our old friend, the shopkeeper, can get in everyday life. And this is why you need a proletarian revolution, understanding that with all the complexity that I have been speaking to, and not in some linear or mechanical and economist sense.
But there is a basic point here: You are not going to make revolution—communist revolution—by trying to base it on scattered petty entrepreneurs (and other people in the middle strata). Yes, we need to win as many of them to this revolution as we can, but we’re not going to make this revolution by trying to base it on them, and by upholding their material interests and their outlook in opposition to big capital (the corporations and so on), which is what a lot of “the left” is obsessed with and absorbed in these days. And you are not going to realize communism through some loose interaction of atomized individuals. Communism and the communist revolution will not be a grand flea market or a grand worldwide bazaar. I’m resisting the “Shakespearean temptation” to say: that would be a bizarre notion. [laughter] I guess I didn’t succeed in resisting it [laughter]. But, once more, that notion has more to do with Adam Smith than it does with Marx. So this emphasizes, yet again, the importance of a materialist, a dialectical materialist, as opposed to a utopian-idealist view of revolution and of communism.“