Dictionary of Revolutionary Marxism

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CENSORSHIP — via Economics



A theory of the social world today which focuses on the exploitation and/or oppression of the “peripheral” countries of the world by the “central” dominant countries. It sometimes seems that the purpose of using this terminology is to avoid the word ‘imperialism’.
        See also:


The most important of the many intelligence and covert operations agencies of the United States government. It is notorious for overthrowing elected governments in other countries (such as in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954), for assassinations, torture and virtually every other crime that can be thought of, all in the service of U.S. imperialism.
        The CIA is also notorious for its incompetence and stupidity when it comes to actually gathering intelligence! It failed to foresee the collapse of the revisionist Soviet Union or the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda, for example. It failed to take seriously China’s repeated warnings that it would enter the Korean War if U.S. troops pushed close to the Chinese border. One ex-CIA analyst noted that “In 1979, the CIA’s highest-ranking analyst, Robert Bowie, testified to Congress that the shah of Iran would remain in power, that Ayatollah Khomeini had no chance to take over, and that Iran was stable.” Its faulty intelligence and planning led to the abject failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba which attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961. One of the major reasons for its continual intelligence failures is that the CIA is comprised of people who actually believe much of the endless political propaganda and wishful thinking put out by the U.S. government and the ruling class media.
        The death toll incurred by CIA activities and by governments that have been installed with the help of the CIA runs into the millions, with covert operations ranging from Indochina, Indonesia, Latin America and Africa which include horrific episodes of torture and political persecution. A recurring CIA specialty seems to be to support forces that later turn against the U.S. government and that must then be “neutralized”. This phenomenon is part of the more general category known as “
blowback”. For example, Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. in 2001 was originally funded and trained by the CIA as part of its covert war in the 1980s against the Soviet social-imperialist occupation of Afghanistan.
        CIA activities are occasionally “investigated” when some information about them comes to light, with some minor reforms or reprimands enacted. But these are at most cosmetic and invariably totally ineffective, as demonstrated by the revelations of still more nefarious activity later on. The CIA has been nicknamed “Capitalism’s International Army” (among other more unflattering titles, like “Cocaine Import Agency”, for its purported role in starting the inner-city “crack” cocaine epidemic) and the operatives of the agency (at least of its covert activities wing) are highly indoctrinated servants of American capitalism who see themselves as its guardians. The CIA is currently involved in activities throughout the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, where it is busy trying to subdue local Islamist militias and terrorist groups (i.e., those who threaten U.S. strategic designs on the region). One particularly ugly aspect of this activity is the kidnap and torture flights known as “renditions”, where suspects are flown to countries where torture is routinely practiced. —L.C.; S.H.

All theories in science are constructed for the purpose of organizing and explaining a diverse group of data, and as such all theories may be viewed as organizing theories. However, in any specific sphere of science there is usually one central theory, or at least only a very few such theories, without which the whole subject has little coherency and makes little overall sense. This is what we mean by a central organizing theory. In biology, for example, the theory (or fact) of evolution is often appropriately considered to be the central organizing theory. In geophysics, the theory of plate tectonics is now the central organizing theory. In the science of revolutionary Marxism the central organizing theory is
historical materialism.

In his magnificent work,
Anti-Dühring Engels presented the reasons why we hold that each class in class society has its own separate morality. And each class morality is based on the interests of that particular class; that is, on those things which collectively benefit the members of that social class. The question then arises, however, what makes one class morality—that of the revolutionary proletariat—better than that of another class morality, such as the morality of the bourgeoisie? This question is what has been called (especially by bourgeois critics of Marxism) “the central problem of Marxist-Leninist ethics”. Although this question is relatively easily answered, because of its importance in fully understanding MLM ethics we will present a fairly long discussion of the issue here:

There is one little puzzle which often serves as a road block for people considering communist morality, and which is sometimes called the “central problem” of Marxist-Leninist ethics by bourgeois philosophers. (It is not just anti-Marxist philosophers who raise this point however; I’ve heard it from the masses as well.) The gist of it goes like this: “You say each class has its own morality, its own ideas of what is right and wrong, and that such questions can only be answered in terms of class moralities. But then you say that communist morality is better than bourgeois morality, a moral judgment which can only be made convincingly from outside any specific class morality. (After all, the bourgeoisie can claim that their morality is “better” too.) Obviously you haven’t thought out your position very well.” This little conundrum can be fairly easily dealt with, but I have yet to see any fully satisfactory resolution of it in print.
        In Anti-Dühring, for example, Engels attempts to resolve the problem this way (after introducing the three main European moralities of the age, Christian-feudal, bourgeois, and proletarian):
        “Which [morality], then, is the true one? Not one of them, in the sense of absolute finality; but certainly that morality which contains the most elements promising permanence, which, in the present, represents the overthrow of the present, represents the future, and therefore the proletarian morality.” [Peking, 1976, p. 117]
        There are really two, somewhat incompatible, principles here: 1) That morality is best which has the largest number of lasting elements, and 2) That morality is best which represents the future. Note first that both these ethical principles are extra-class; that is, neither really has a class basis. And in fact it is completely true that no principle for choosing among class moralities can be class based. If it was, it would be begging the question. Note secondly, that no real argument is given for either of these two principles. Why in fact should we accept them? How do we know that some other principle is not superior? Actually, I can’t accept either principle as it stands, though I recognize that there is an element of truth to each.
        Consider the first principle, that the best morality today is the one which has the largest number of lasting elements. If that were really true then the best morality today would already be the morality appropriate in the future. But the best morality today (proletarian revolutionary morality) is not in fact identical to the morality of the communist society of the future. To mention just one example, one that Avakian also alludes to, I am sure that in communist society, capital punishment will not exist; it would be wrong. But as Avakian correctly notes, the masses will not be able to advance to that situation unless some of the worst bourgeois representatives are executed in the course of the revolution. Once you recognize that present-day proletarian morality is not identical to the morality of communist society of the future, you are already implicitly granting that Engels’ first principle cannot be fully correct. If it were, we would have to try to do the impossible—implement today a form of morality appropriate to the future.
        Engels’ other principle isn’t completely correct either; the best morality is not necessarily the one that “represents the future”. The future is not always preferable to the past; Nazi Germany was not preferable to the Germany of Engels’ day. And bad as the bourgeois morality of Engels’ day was, Nazi “morality” was clearly worse. At this point in history, it is not even possible to be absolutely certain that humanity has a long-term future. Until capitalism is completely overthrown the serious possibility remains that it will destroy humanity completely, quite possibly in some future nuclear Armageddon, or perhaps through some environmental catastrophe. It is no longer possible to have the unqualified long-term optimism that Marx and Engels showed. The reality of today is much more desperate (even with the temporary respite due to the collapse of one of the two major imperialist superpowers [Soviet social-imperialism])—which makes proletarian revolution all the more necessary and urgent.
        Lenin suggested Engels’ approach when he said: “Morality serves the purpose of helping human society rise to a higher level and rid itself of the exploitation of labour.” [LCW 31:294] This of course is true, but it apparently fails as a principle for choosing among class moralities. The reason is simple: saying one form of society (communism) is “higher” or better than another form (bourgeois) seems to just be expressing a class attitude of the revolutionary proletariat, and not an extra-class judgment.
        So what then is the answer? On what basis can we choose among class moralities? We can turn to Marx and Engels for a hint. In The Holy Family, they remark (in pointing out the limits of the great French materialist philosophers of the Enlightenment) that “If correctly understood interest is the principle of all morality, man’s private interest must be made to coincide with the interest of humanity.” Carrying this idea a step further, in class society, the interests of one class must be made to coincide with that of humanity as a whole. Fortunately, this can in fact be done: any immediate selfish interests of the proletariat (yes, there are some) must be discarded, and the resulting long-term, true interests of the proletariat then do coincide with that of humanity. Lenin once remarked (I forget where) that even the interests of the working class must give way whenever they really come in conflict with that of humanity as a whole. The class interests, and thus the morality, of the proletariat, properly understood, do in fact represent the interests of humanity. Of all the classes and strata that exist today, only the revolutionary proletariat seeks to abolish all classes, including itself, and restore the harmony of interests among humanity that is necessary for there to be a single human morality. That’s why proletarian morality is better than any other class morality.
        Although many well-intentioned people imagine otherwise, in class society the interests of humanity can only be championed via the interests of a class, the one class whose interests can be made to coincide with those of humanity as a whole, and that is the revolutionary proletariat.
        The key concept in resolving this conundrum of choosing among class moralities is once again that of interests, but now the interests of humanity as a whole. As I said before, it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the concept of interests in ethics. But some Marxists may still be a bit uncomfortable with my resolution of the conundrum. Lenin insists, in The Tasks of the Youth Leagues, that “We reject any morality based on extra-human and extra-class concepts.” [LCW 31:291] But here I am using an extra-class principle (though not an extra-human one) to decide among class moralities, and even insisting that only an extra-class principle can accomplish this—if the reasoning is not to be circular.
        I have found that it is helpful to recall the general overall history of human morality at this point. Morality first arose in primitive-communal society where there were no classes, and at that time it was based on the common, collective interests of the whole group (tribe or whatever). Class moralities arose later when, with the advent of slavery, most of those common, collective interests ceased to exist. When common interests were split asunder, morality had of necessity to be split asunder as well. Only when humanity completely regains all these common, collective interests will it be possible to once again have a unified human morality. And this is only possible if one single class gains total ascendancy and transforms itself, along with the remnants of all other classes, into a unified classless humanity. No exploiting class, of any variety, can possibly do this, because obviously every exploiting class needs another class to exploit. No exploiting class wants for one minute to get rid of social classes! Only the modern exploited class, the proletariat, can accomplish this, because only the proletariat truly has an overriding interest in getting rid of all classes, transforming even itself.
        Moreover, it is useful to think about what must have happened when the common, collective interests of primitive-communal society were split. Did this mean that humanity then had no common interests whatsoever? No, the split-up was not that extreme. When slavery arose, the once common interest in seeing everyone in the group prosper no longer existed; the slave owner no longer gave a damn about whether his slaves prospered; his only concern for his slaves was that they remain healthy enough to work hard for him. The slaves, in turn, had no interest in seeing the slave owner prosper; their interests lay more in seeing him dead. But both the slave owner and the slaves did have a residue of some common interests. Both had at least some common interest in the continued health of the slaves, though for drastically different reasons. As another example, both had an interest in the continuation of humanity as a species.
        When we say that in class society there must be separate class moralities because there are basically incompatible sets of class interests, we are not denying that there is also a slight residue of abstract universal (above-class) human interests common to all classes. It is because such a residue of abstract universal interests still exists that we can talk about such things as the “common elements” in various class moralities (as Engels does). Thus all class moralities say that murder is wrong in the abstract; but slave owners did not believe that killing a slave was “murder” or morally wrong, nor did any enlightened slave think that killing a slave owner was murder or wrong. Similarly, the modern bourgeoisie does not really believe that killing rebellious workers in the home country is wrong, nor do they view it as wrong to kill rebellious people of any class in foreign countries under their thumb. And the revolutionary proletariat does not view it as wrong to kill some of those bastards if that is what it takes to get rid of their rule. In short, the prohibition against murder is a “common element” of the two hostile class moralities only if expressed in the abstract, and not when you get down to the specific content involved. So what good then is this abstract residue of common interests, and common morality, that all classes can agree on? It is of no use whatsoever in practice, and that is why there needs to be separate class moralities. The abstract residue of universal human interests, and a universal human morality, has in fact only one valid use—namely, in deciding which of the various competing class moralities is the best, or in other words, which class morality comes closest to the abstract ideal now (here is the echo of Engels’ view), and much more importantly, which can eventually lead to a universal merging of all the most basic interests of everyone, with a new universal human morality erected on that base (here is the echo of Lenin’s view).
        This so-called “central problem” of Marxist-Leninist ethics, does in fact provide a serious obstacle for many who might otherwise accept our class-based point of view. That is why we need to get clear on just why this is not really a genuine “problem” for MLM ethical theory.
        —Scott Harrison, adapted from his “Review of Bob Avakian’s We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality”, Jan. 23, 1996, which is available in full at: http://www.massline.org/Philosophy/ScottH/Avaketh.htm

[In Marxist usage:] Views and positions which attempt to find a “middle ground” between revolutionary Marxism, on the one hand, and liberalism or
revisionism, on the other hand. In other words, centrism is in practice usually a weaselly form of revisionism itself.
        It should be noted, however, that merely from the fact that one holds a view which is in between two extremes, it does not follow that one is a “centrist” in the Marxist sense. For example, revolutionary Marxism itself holds a view in between pacificism and the sort of wild-eyed anarchism that views violence as always being appropriate, no matter what the circumstances.
        See also: IDEOLOGICAL STRUGGLE—Within the Revolutionary Movement [Lenin quote];   KARL KAUTSKY

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