Marxist Ethics, Lukacs & Negri

andy at andy at
Wed Sep 28 12:43:34 MDT 1994

On Sat 24 Sept, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:

>How would one distinguish ethics from (bourgeois?)
>morality--which Marx and Engels consistently attacked for its hypocrisy
>and as a superstructural effect.
>Andy's post seemed to suggest that the only possible mode of ethics is
>individual--and his contrast was between the collective (non-ethical) and
>the individual (ethical).  I'm not sure how that relates to the
>distinction between theory and practice: is theory individual and
>practice collective?

I'm still not sure about this myself, but I suppose the direction I am moving
in is toward claiming just what Jon says: that the ethical dimension of
Marxism should be essentially individual.
	This must sound strange, but it is not a matter of saying the
individual establish an ethic on a priori or transcendental grounds. I suppose
what I am saying is that, however we decide to derive an ethic,  the
individual has no way of orientating themselves other than through recourse to
their own sense of integrity. This idea is perhaps not so foreign to marxism
as it might sound - think of the sort of metaphysics implicit in Victor
Serge's writings, which sustained him in his opposition to Stalinism. Serge
gets his moral sense from nature (along the lines of Shelly's Ozimandias;
tyrants will all one day fall), while a materialist ethics could only be
derived from forms of class struggle. All the same, if more marxists had
shared something of Serge's sense of integrity, maybe they would not have
fallen so easily into mouthing Stalinist banalities.
	Incidently, Jon, I am not familiar with Negri's work in this
connection, but it sounds similar to Trotsky's position in _Their Morals and
Ours_. Any comments?
	Jon is also right in supposing that there is a connection with
the question of the relation of theory and practice. The idea is that theory
always has an ineradicably individual dimension, while practice is always
essentially collective (forget about Althusser's talk of 'theoretical
practice' for a moment). Again, this isn't as strange as it seems. It is not a
matter of denying the social nature of all thought, just that all (abstract)
thought is necessarily mediated by the individual, concrete thinker. The truth
of a proposition cannot be proved for anyone by appeal to authority, party,
class, or whatever; but only by looking at the evidence, the logic of the
argument, etc., and there is no way of getting around this.
	This is not the case with practice - whether or not one engages in any
kind of political act ultimately depends on the possibilities of collective
struggle. Individual action that has no possibility of being generalised is
always necessarily a failure. One can have moral integrity, speak one's mind,
etc., but it is hard to see what the analogy is in terms of practice.

Andy Wilson
Middlesex Uni
andy at


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