Putting an End to 'Sin', Part 3

Revolutionary Moral Standards

Thoughts on Revolutionary Violence

By Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #984, November 29, 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 around the impeachment of Clinton, 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 www.mcs.net/rwor.

Let's take a more particular political question that is posing itself very sharply these days in the U.S.: how do communist principles and communist morality apply to the death penalty--executions carried out by the state? As with the question of political power generally, communists do not evaluate this abstractly, but in terms of the rule of one class or another and fundamentally in relation to the achievement of the "4 Alls."

Communists oppose the use of the death penalty by the bourgeois state because this will be used overwhelmingly against people from the oppressed masses and will be wielded to reinforce the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, fortifying its repressive apparatus and forging a more repressive political atmosphere which, again, will be overwhelmingly directed against the oppressed masses and those who oppose the status quo. This finds concentrated expression where the bourgeois state seeks to execute political and especially revolutionary opponents of its rule.

On the other hand, communists recognize that, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the execution of some people--and in particular those representatives of the old order who have committed outrageous crimes against the people--is positive because it is a necessary part of enabling the masses of people to fully raise their heads, to smash the old state machinery and establish and develop their own forms and organs of political power, and to carry forward the revolutionary transformation of society. This is especially so in the early stages of the new society, when the proletarian state is just being consolidated and the old bourgeois state machinery--which has held the masses down for so long through intimidation and terror--is being thoroughly shattered and dismantled.

This differing stand toward the carrying out of the death penalty in two radically different kinds of societies--under the rule of fundamentally opposed classes--represents a consistent application of communist principles, of communist ethics and morality.

Making a Distinction Between
Reactionary Violence and Revolutionary Violence

And, more generally, communist principles and morality do not lead to opposition to violence and war in general. Rather, communists oppose reactionary violence and war--which in this era is defined by the fact that it flows from and has the effect of serving imperialist domination, bourgeois dictatorship, and the all-around exploitation and oppression that is the essence of this system.

One of the most striking, and sickening, features of the much-ballyhooed discussion among the "mainstream" politicians and media in the U.S. over the question of violence and the cause of its frequent eruption in the U.S., is the fact that there is seemingly endless debate about whether rap music and movies, or the ownership by individuals of assault rifles, is the problem, while the role of the U.S. armed forces in carrying out almost untold carnage with weapons of mass destruction--and the speeches of presidents, military officials, and other representatives of the ruling class justifying and glorifying this carnage and destruction--is somehow overlooked in these "debates" about what promotes violence in America! Who, more than these instruments and mouthpieces of the ruling class, is really "teaching our youth that the way to resolve problems is through violence"--and reactionary violence at that?

What does it mean when these bourgeois political hacks rush to express their horror at what happened recently in Oklahoma City (the horror is very real, but the expression of horror by these politicians, et. al., involves the height of hypocrisy) when these same politicians and media "talking heads" supported, and helped "sell" to the American people, bombings of Iraq by the U.S. armed forces, which caused destruction and the death of people, above all of children, on a scale at least a thousand times greater than in Oklahoma City?!

In opposition to all this, communists support revolutionary violence and war--which flows from and serves the struggle to overcome and ultimately eliminate imperialist domination, bourgeois dictatorship and capitalist (and all other) exploitation and oppression, and to finally achieve the "4 Alls."

Standards of Revolutionary Justice

At the same time, communists oppose the carrying out of acts of revenge and of violence which run contrary to the achievement of the "4 Alls," even if those acts are carried out against members of the ruling and exploiting classes.

This calls to mind another scene from Spartacus: At a certain point, after Spartacus and other gladiator-slaves have broken free, they return to the site of their former enslavement, and a number of them begin to drag their former owners and overseers into the arena, forcing them to engage in a "battle-to-the-death." But Spartacus, their leader, steps in and puts a stop to this--not out of sympathy for the oppressors but because of the effect this is having on his comrades. Spartacus has no problem understanding that the acts of violence by himself and other slaves, in their initial uprising and the battles they have carried out against the Roman armies, are necessary, and liberating, but this "battle-to-the-death" in the arena does not serve but undermines that liberation--it does degrade the liberated slaves themselves.

(The principle involved here applies not only to decisive questions like the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women and of oppressed nations but also to such things as the question of so-called "animal rights" that has become something of a phenomenon, particularly among the more privileged strata in bourgeois society. While the concept of "animal rights" has no real foundation, since "rights" are a phenomenon of human social organization and have no meaning outside of the social relations of human beings [animals other than human beings do not consider the question of "animal rights"]!, there is a question of the effect, precisely on human beings and human society, of the way animals--and, for that matter, plant life and the environment as a whole--are treated by people.

Like all other species, human beings always have and always will--they cannot help but--approach everything from the vantage point of their species; but precisely from this vantage point, the infliction of suffering on animals, or the destruction of plant life, which is not motivated by and does not serve the overcoming of suffering among human beings and the advance of human society overall, but instead is simply the expression of the desire to demonstrate cruelty or exercise power or is dedicated to no higher purpose than such things as luxury consumption for the parasitic and self-indulgent privileged strata--all this is degrading of humanity and should therefore be opposed.)

Communist morality is also opposed to the use of drugs and alcohol in a way that results in the physical and ideological degradation of the people, and to violence and brutality as well as such things as robbery and theft in which the oppressed masses victimize each other, because all this can only strengthen the hand of the oppressor and divide and demoralize the masses, making it more difficult for them to recognize their real interests and unite to fight for them.

At the same time, communists never fail to condemn and expose the system--its social relations and institutions and its ideology--as the root cause of these contradictions and antagonisms <%1>among the people; and communi<%2>sts consistently oppose the attempts of the ruling class--which has carried out robbery, slaughter, and destruction, including the use of nuclear weapons, on a massive scale and a continual basis, in the service of its reactionary interests--to use acts of violence and crime among the people as an excuse and a vehicle for strengthening their repressive rule over the people, which is already carried out in a most violent and degrading manner.

At all times, it is necessary to draw a firm distinction between the people and the enemy--based on determining which class represents the social conditions, relations, institutions, and ideas that must be swept aside, which class on the other hand represents those which must be brought to the dominant position, and which classes and groups must be won over, in order to make the next great leap in achieving the liberation of the masses of people and ultimately achieving the "4 Alls." The strategic objective must be to unite all who can be united against the actual enemy. And, even in dealing with the enemy, it is necessary to act in accordance with the fundamental interests of the people, and to be guided by the communist principles and morality that represent the highest expression of those fundamental interests.

For example, such things as rape can never be condoned and must not be tolerated in any circumstance and regardless of what class the victim belongs to or what they have done. In the course of the revolution, it will be necessary for the masses to mete out revolutionary justice to those who have accumulated blood debts through their crimes against the people, but meting out revolutionary justice must never include rape, because rape itself is a brutal, concentrated expression of the oppression and degradation of women and can only contribute to strengthening that oppression, and oppression in general.

Similarly, racist attacks on people of color can never be condoned and must not be tolerated--even if they are directed against individuals who have served as major functionaries of the bourgeois state and have committed crimes against the people--because such racist attacks themselves would only embody and extend the whole history of atrocities, including lynchings and other wanton and barbaric murders, that Black people, and other oppressed peoples, have been subjected to throughout the entire history of their experience in America, under the rule of slavemasters and of capitalists. Again, it is one thing for the masses to mete out revolutionary justice to those, of whatever race or nationality, who have committed crimes against the people, but racist attacks could never be part of such revolutionary justice--they could only strengthen the hand of the exploiters and contribute to the all-around oppression they represent.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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