RW #591, February 3, 1991

Serving the People vs. Serving Yourself, Being Down for Revolution vs. Being "Out for No. 1"

by Bob Avakian

I have read in some reports recently about how, when we go out to the youth with the word about revolution, some of them come back with some shit like, "Well, how is this going to make me some money, how is this going to put some of that green in my pocket?" Now these are some of the more backward youth, talking some of that backward nonsense that they get from the system. But it does touch on a very important question.

What is money? That might sound like a silly question, and a lot of people think the answer is simple--something like this--money is what you need to get what you want; or money is what you get paid in and what you got to pay with to get those things you need or want. But in reality money is something more than that. In today's world, money is a sign that somebody is being robbed. It is an expression of a social relation--a relation between people, or groups of people--in which there are exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed.

Money has not existed always and everywhere. Money comes into being when and where things produced in society take the form of commodities. Commodities are things to be bought and sold (or traded). And as commodity production and exchange develops, money comes into being to stand as the generally accepted means of exchanging different commodities.

Under slavery, the slaves themselves are dealt with as commodities--they are bought and sold, just like other things that are commodities. Under the modern system of slavery, wage-slavery (capitalism), the workers (the proletarians) are not commodities themselves, but their labor power is dealt with as a commodity. Your labor power means your ability to work, and it is this ability to work that you have to offer to sell when you go looking for a job (and that's why a job can be called a "slave"). And, if you can find a job, then in exchange for letting some capitalist use your labor power--in exchange for slaving for that capitalist--you get paid in wages, which you use to buy other commodities.

Capitalism is the most developed, most generalized, system of commodity production and exchange, and in this system money plays its most developed and important role. That's why money seems to be the key to everything. But, once again, money is only the outer form, the outward expression, of a set of economic and social relations, a system in which the value of everything and everybody is measured in terms of what kind of commodities they own and how much (or how little) commodities they own. And most basically, capitalism is a system where one class, the bourgeoisie (capitalists), enriches itself by exploiting another class, the proletariat.

Capital is not just money, nor is it the things that money can buy--capital means domination over others, it means having command over the labor power of others and using it to enrich yourself while those who labor remain poor. It means refusing even to let people work if they cannot enrich capital by working. Capitalism means untold misery--needless suffering--for the masses of people in the world. It means, as Karl Marx said, the accumulation of wealth and power for a few and on the other side the accumulation of oppression and agony for the many, worldwide.

All this is why we communists are not motivated by the drive for more and more money. Worshiping money is like worshiping the image of the very system that exploits and oppresses our people, the proletarians. Communists are the vanguard of the proletariat in rising up to rid itself of these social relations of modern-day capitalist slavery.

We are not "out for No. 1"--that is the dog-eat-dog outlook of the dogs that exploit and oppress us, and we won't beat them by learning to bark and bite like them! We are exploited as a class, as proletarians, and it is by uniting as a class and putting the interests of our class above our own selfish interests--it is only in this way that we can overthrow this system and move on to make a much better world.

The guiding principle we Maoists live by is to serve the people. What does this mean? It means to live and die for the cause of the people--for the cause of freeing the people from all forms of exploitation, from all oppression, from all inequality between sexes, races and nations. It means making revolution: To put an end to a situation where there are slavemasters and slaves. To put an end to the division of society into different classes where some are more privileged and more powerful than others and where all humanity is held back by this cruel and backward way of ordering society and the world

Such a world-historic change can only be accomplished by the masses of people rising in revolution and ever more consciously struggling to change the world. As Mao said, the people and the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history. The masses need vanguard leadership, but they need vanguard leadership that bases itself on this understanding of the role of the masses in emancipating themselves. Understanding this is also a key part of what "Serve the People" is all about.

To be a revolutionary communist means to fight for the people, not for personal gain. Our lives are not devoted to "putting more green in our pockets." Our lives are devoted to putting an end to this system, and all systems, where money is the measure of worth, where not only things but people themselves are treated as things to be bought and sold. We are dedicated to moving society on to the point where money will no longer be necessary. Where things and people will have gone through such a radical change that society will put into practice the great communist principle: everyone contributes according to their abilities and receives according to their needs.

In this light we can recall the words of the great reggae musician/rebel Peter Tosh and give them their deepest meaning: "The day the dollar dies, things are gonna be better.... The day the dollar dies...won't need no pockets."