Putting An End to `Sin'

What is Communist Morality

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #981, November 8, 1998

"From whatever vantage point one looks, it is unmistakable that there is what could be called `a moral crisis in America.' There has been, to a significant degree, `a breakdown of traditional morality,' But the answer to this--at least the answer that is in the interests of the majority of people in the U.S. and the overwhelming majority of humanity--is not a more aggressive assertion of that `traditional morality' but winning people to a radically different morality, in the process of and as a key part of radically transforming society and the world as a whole. It is not the tightening but the shattering of tradition's chains that is called for."

Bob Avakian

In light of the power struggle now threatening to bring down a president, the 1996 essays by Bob Avakian on the `crisis of morality' in U.S. society are both timely and insightful. These important essays include: "Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones: The Reality Beneath William Bennett's `Virtues,' Or We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality"; and "Putting An End to `Sin' Or We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality (Part 2)." In the following excerpt from "Putting An End to `Sin'" he discusses communist morality.

Other selections from Avakian's essays will follow in future issues and the entire series will soon be available on our website at http://rwor.org

The basis for communist morality is contained, in a concentrated way, in what Maoists refer to as the "4 Alls." This is drawn from the summary by Marx of what the communist revolution aims for and leads to: the abolition of all class distinctions (or "class distinctions generally"); the abolition of all the relations of production on which these class distinctions rest; the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production; and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that result from these social relations. (See "The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850.") This provides the basic principle underlying communist morality and the basic standard for determining what is and what is not in accordance with communist morality: Whatever conforms to and contributes to these "4 Alls" is consistent with communist morality; whatever does not is opposed to, and opposed by, communist morality.

This, of course, does not mean that whenever someone claims to be a communist, and says that anything she or he does is in pursuit of these "4 Alls," then that automatically makes their actions an expression of communist morality. It does not mean that "anything goes" so long as it is presented as an expression of "communist morality" and a part of achieving communist aims. While the "4 Alls" sets the general standard for communist morality, how that must be applied in different circumstances is a matter of concrete analysis and application--as indeed it is with all morality (which is why, for example, there is such continual dispute among those who uphold the Bible and "traditional morality" about just what it means and how it should be applied in different situations).

One of the main accusations from those who oppose communism is that communists believe "the ends justify the means"--that anything is permissible so long as it can be said to be helping to move things toward the attainment of communism, eventually. This is not only untrue, it is an inversion of the truth. It is a principle of communism that the means must be consistent with and must flow from the ends (or aims). It is often necessary, and desirable, for communists to struggle for goals that are short of the final aim represented by the "4 Alls"--since this can contribute to the ultimate achievement of those "4 Alls"--but it is never acceptable for communists to uphold or fight for things, or to use means and methods, that are in basic opposition to that final aim. Communism demands the most determined and daring search for the truth, even if that truth should make one uncomfortable in the short run, because the more one grasps the truth--the more one has a correct and as comprehensive as possible an understanding of objective reality--the more possible it is to transform objective reality in a direction that best serves the interests of humanity.

In fact, it is the bourgeois exploiters who uphold and apply the notion that "the ends justify the means." This is particularly evident with the U.S. ruling class, whose "American pragmatism" makes a philosophical principle out of denying the existence of truth apart from its practical usefulness--and in particular its usefulness in effecting and defending the worldwide exploitation and plunder carried out by this class. It is precisely with such a philosophy, in the service of such exploitation and plunder, that means and ends become tautologically equated: whatever strengthens the position of this ruling class and its ability to enforce its oppressive rule, whatever enhances its "bottom line" of capital accumulation, is by definition true, good, justified and virtuous, and there is no truth, goodness, justice, or virtue outside of (or opposed to) this. ("Beauty is truth, truth beauty--that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," the poet Keats once, mistakenly, wrote; the pragmatic morality of the U.S. ruling class produces a perverse twist on this which could be rendered as follows: "We are truth and goodness, truth and goodness are us--that is all you need to know on earth.") If such people search for and then reveal the truth in anything, this is never as a matter of principle but is merely coincidence--a matter of their believing that, in this instance, such truth is useful to them and their ends.

This pragmatic outlook is the essential reason why representatives of the U.S. ruling class--including those who are themselves, privately, atheists or agnostics --incessantly insist upon "traditional morality" and promote the Bible and religion: they understand that this is useful, indeed very important, for them ideologically and politically, in reinforcing their rule and perpetuating their system (when was the last time an American President did not end a speech with something like "God Bless You, and God Bless the United States of America"?).

Here one is reminded of the scene in Spartacus where two members of the Roman ruling class are talking and one asks the other, "Don't you believe in the gods?"--to which the reply is: "Privately I believe in none of them, publicly I believe in them all." What is expressed here is the same understanding that Napoleon (himself a skeptic, personally, when it came to religion) enunciated, setting forth a principle that has been found useful by exploiting classes throughout history: "Society [Napoleon declared] is impossible without inequality; inequality [is] intolerable without a code of morality; and a code of morality is unacceptable without religion."

In direct opposition to all this, communism is based on the understanding that humanity has reached the point where inequality is no longer necessary or tolerable; that it is impossible for human society to advance further without abolishing all social inequality; and that the accomplishment of this historic goal requires a radically new "code of morality"--communist morality--which gives expression to and serves the struggle to abolish all social inequality and oppression. In accordance with these principles, communism rejects pragmatic rationalization and the notion that "the ends justify the means"--it demands that, in the struggle for the final aim represented by the "4 Alls," the aims and methods, the ends and means, that are adopted at every point along the way toward that final aim must be in fundamental unity with that final aim.

This is not to say that everyone claiming to be a communist has always adhered to this principle--or to deny that genuine communists have fallen into pragmatism and other erroneous tendencies at various times. But the point is that this principle--concerning the fundamental unity of communist ends and communist means at every point in the revolutionary struggle--provides a standard for waging and leading that struggle and for distinguishing genuine communism from phony communism and other principles and practices that are opposed to the fundamental interests of the great majority of humanity.


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