Georg Lukács 1919

The Role of Morality in Communist Production

First Published: in Hungarian in Szocialís Termelés, 1/11, 1919
Source: Georg Lukács. Political Writings, 1919-1929
Published: N.L.B. 1972
Edited: by Rodney Livingstone
Transcribed: by Brian Reid

The ultimate objective of communism is the construction of a society in which freedom of morality will take the place of legal compulsion in the regulation of all behaviour. Such a society necessarily presupposes, as every Marxist knows, the end of class divisions. For, whether or not we think it possible for human nature in general to permit a society based on a moral code (and in my view, the question cannot be put in these terms) – the power of morality cannot become effective, even given a decisively affirmative answer, as long as there are still classes in society. Only one mode of regulation is possible in society: the existence of two, one of which contradicts the other or even merely deviates from it, could only lead to a state of complete anarchy. If, however, a society is divided into several classes, or if – to put it another way – the interests of the human groups who make up society are not the same, it is inevitable that the regulation of human behaviour will conflict with the interests of the indubitably decisive group, if not, indeed, of the majority of human beings. But human beings cannot be induced to act voluntarily against their own interests, they can only be compelled to do so – whether this compulsion be of a physical or of a spiritual kind. As long as there are different classes, therefore, it is inevitable that the function of regulating social behaviour will be fulfilled by law, and not by morality.

But such a function of law does not end with the imposition of a mode of behaviour on the oppressed classes in the interests of their oppressors. The class interests of the ruling classes must be enforced even vis-ŕ-vis the ruling class itself. This second source of the necessity of law, the conflict of individual and class interests, is of course not exclusively a consequence of the division of society into classes. It is true, however, that this conflict has never been as acute as under capitalism. Moreover, the very conditions of existence of capitalist society – the anarchy in production, the constant revolutionizing of production, production based on motives of profit, and so on – make it impossible from the outset to unite individual and class interests harmoniously within one class. However self-evidently individual and class interests have coincided whenever the capitalists confronted other classes (either the oppressed or other oppressors, e.g. agrarian feudal classes or capitalists of a different country) – whenever, that is, the class is obliged to adopt a position to ensure the general possibility and direction of the oppression – it has nonetheless always proved impossible to unite individual and class interests once the realization of that oppression has become concrete, once the question has been posed: who is to become the oppressor, and whom, how many and to what extent is he to exploit? Class solidarity in the capitalist classes is only possible when they look outwards, not when they are concerned only with themselves. This is why, within these classes, morality could never have replaced the power of law.

The class situation of the proletariat, in both capitalist society and that which will emerge from the defeat of capitalism, is exactly the opposite. Properly conceived, the interest of the individual proletarian cannot be realized in its abstract potentiality, but only in reality itself through the victory of his class interests. The very solidarity propagated as an unattainable social ideal by the greatest bourgeois thinkers is in fact a living presence in the class interests of the proletariat. The world-historical mission of the proletariat manifests itself precisely in the fact that the fulfilment of its own class interests will entail the social salvation of mankind.

This salvation, however, will not simply emerge as the outcome of a merely automatic process determined by natural laws. The victory of the idea over the egoistic will of individual human beings is of course clearly implicit in the class-dominating nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat; it is possible that the immediate aim of the proletariat is likewise a class hegemony. Nevertheless, the consistent implementation of this class hegemony will destroy class differences and bring into being the classless society. For if the class hegemony of the proletariat is to become truly effective, it can only liquidate class differences economically and socially by – in the final analysis – forcing all human beings into that democracy of the proletariat which is only an inner form of the manifestation of the dictatorship of the proletariat within the framework of the class. The consistent implementation of the dictatorship of the proletariat can only end with the democracy of the proletariat absorbing the dictatorship and making it superfluous. After classes have ceased to exist, dictatorship can no longer be exercised against anybody.

The state, the chief cause of the exercise of legal compulsion, the cause whose removal Engels had in mind when he said that ‘the state withers away’, thereby ceases to exist. The question is, however: what is the pattern of the development within the proletarian class? This is where the question of the socially effective function of morality becomes problematic. It certainly played an important part in the ideologies of the old society, but never made any substantial contribution to the development of social reality itself. Nor could it, because the social pre-conditions for the development of class morality and its validity within a class – namely the same orientation of individual and class interests – are present only in the proletariat. It is only for the proletariat that solidarity, the subordination of personal interests to those of the collective, coincides with the interests, erectly conceived, of the individual. That social possibility now exists, inasmuch as all individuals belonging to the proletariat can subordinate themselves to the interests of their class without detriment to their personal interests. Such freedom of choice was not possible in the bourgeoisie, were order could only be enforced by law. For the bourgeoisie, morality could only mean – assuming that it exercised any real control over behaviour at all – a principle that went beyond class divisions and the existence of a class: in other words, individual morality. This kind of morality unfortunately implies a level of human culture which can become a general factor, effective for the total society, only in a much later epoch.

The gulf between behaviour based on merely selfish interests and pure morality is bridged by class morality, which will lead humanity into a new spiritual each, into, as Engels says, the ‘realm of freedom’. But I repeat: this development will not be a consequence of the automatic necessity of blind social forces – it must be a consequence of the free decision of the working class. For, after the victory of the proletariat, compulsion will be necessary within the working class only insofar as individuals are unable or unwilling to act in accordance with their own interests. If compulsion, the organization of physical and spiritual violence, prevailed in capitalist society even within the ruling class, it did so of necessity, because the individuals who comprised a class had been led by the exorbitant demands of their individual interests (greed for profit) to the dissolution of capitalist society. In contrast, the individual interests of eve single proletarian, will, provided he assesses them correctly, strength society. What matters is the correct understanding of these interests, the attainment of that moral strength which enables one to subordinate inclinations, emotions and momentary whims to one’s real interests.

The point at which individual and class interests converge is in fact characterized by increased production, a rise in productivity and a corresponding strengthening of labour discipline. Without these things the proletariat cannot survive, without them the class hegemony of the proletariat disappears – without them (even if we disregard the disastrous consequences entailed in such a dislocation of the class for all proletarians), no single person can develop fully, not even as an individual. For it is clear that those aspects of the power of the proletariat which are most oppressive and whose immediate consequences every proletarian feels most keenly – namely, shortage of goods and high prices – are a direct result of slackening labour discipline and declining productivity. To effect a remedy for this state of affairs and thereby raise the level of the individuals concerned, the causes of such phenomena must be removed.

There are two possible remedies. Either the individuals who constitute the proletariat realize that they can help themselves only by voluntarily setting about the strengthening of labour discipline and thereby raising productivity; or, where they as individuals are incapable of doing so, they create institutions which are in a position to carry out this necessary function. In the latter case they create for themselves a legal order by means of which the proletariat compels its individual members, the proletarians, to act in accordance with their class interests. The proletariat then exercises dictatorship even against itself. Where the interests of the class are not correctly perceived and voluntarily adhered to, such measures are necessary if the proletariat is to survive. They also, however – and we must not disguise the problem from ourselves – involve great dangers for the future. If, on the one hand, the proletariat creates its own labour discipline; if the labour system of the proletarian state is built on a moral basis; then the external compulsion of the law will automatically cease with the abolition of the class structure of society. In other words, the state will wither away. This liquidation of the class structure will of itself create the beginning of true human history – as Marx prophesied and hoped. If, on the other hand, the proletariat adopts a different course, it will be obliged to create for itself a legal order which cannot be abolished automatically through historical progress. In that case a tendency could evolve which would endanger both the physiognomy and the achievability of the ultimate objective. For if the proletariat is compelled to create a legal order in this way, that legal order must itself be overthrown – and who can tell what convulsions and sufferings will be caused by the transition from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom via such a circuitous path?

The question of labour discipline, therefore, does not relate simply to the economic existence of the proletariat; it is also a moral question. Which in turn makes it clear how correct Marx and Engels were when they asserted that the epoch of freedom begins with the seizure of power by the proletariat. Progress is already no longer governed by the laws of socially blind forces, but by the voluntary decision of the proletariat. The direction, which social development takes depends on the self-consciousness, the spiritual and moral character, the judgment and altruism of the proletariat.

Thus the question of production becomes a moral question. It depends on the proletariat whether or not ‘the pre-history of man’, the power of the economy over men, of institutions and compulsion over morality, will now only to an end. It depends on the proletariat whether or not the real history of mankind is beginning: that is, the power of morality over institutions and economy. True, social development created the possibility in the first place, but now the proletariat has actually in its hands not only its own destiny, but the destiny of mankind. The criterion for the readiness of the proletariat to take the control and leadership of society into its own hand is thereby given. Until now the proletariat has been led by the laws of social development; henceforth, the task of leadership is its own. Its decision will determine the development of society. Every individual in the proletariat must now be conscious of this responsibility. He must feel that it is he himself, his everyday work performance, which will determine when the truly happy and free epoch begins for mankind. It is inconceivable that the proletariat, which, under far more difficult conditions, has so far remained true to its world-historical mission, should now abandon this mission at the very moment when it is at last in a position to fulfil it through deeds.