Morality and ethics: a provocative post

glevy at glevy at
Tue Jun 6 19:46:17 MDT 1995

On Tue, 6 Jun 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:

> Does Jerry mean, in referring to what is moral in capitalism, to endorse
> relativism in ethics?
I'm not sure I understand this question.  Does it ask if I endorse a
set of ethical and moral values that are viewed as "universal" and
"absolute"?  If that is the meaning of your question, then I'd have to
say that I am indeed a ethical relativist.

I don't accept any ethical belief as "universal" or "absolute."  For
instance, I don't oppose capital punishment because I view it as morally
repugnant, but rather because, in the context of capitalism, it is used
in a discriminatory way by the state.  A practical class-based objection
rather than an ethical principle.  In other contexts, I might support
capital punishment.  For instance, I would say that from a proletarian
perspective the killing of the Czar (and the Czar's family!) was a
practical necessity.

What about gun control?  I'd say that question depends on who has the
guns, how they are being used, and who is planning to take them away and
for what reasons.  So, I don't support gun control because of a ethical

To shock list members even more I'd have to say that I am not absolutely
opposed to ... murder ... theft (redistribution; expropriation) ...
violence (a force which can be used, under certain circumstances, for
progressive purposes) ... lying (something that can be used to great
advantage for workers) ... or even coveting my neighbor's wife.  Those
who are universally opposed to these actions tend towards idealism (in
the Hegelian sense) or religion  (with religious codes of absolute moral
and ethical values), or both.

Of course, I do have ethical values.  For instance, I am opposed to any
form of state or corporate-sponsored racial, sexual, religious or national
persecution or discrimination.  I am opposed to murder, theft, lying, and
violence BY THE RULING CLASS.  If these tools can be used by workers to
advance their class interests against capitalists, then my main concern is
practical rather than ethical.  Will they get caught?  What will be the
consequences for workers of any particular action?

I read most of the works you suggested, but believe that Trotsky's is the
most on the mark.  The title of the book is suggestive:  THEIR
(capitalist; ruling class) morals or OURS (proletarian).  Of course, I am
very well aware of how proletarian morality can be confused with PARTY
morality -- but that is another question.

I would have to say that any absolute or universal morality or ethical
values are an impediment for revolutionary proletarian actions and
"justice."  Call me "ruthless" if you will (Lenin, for instance, was
quite proud of his ruthlessness when applied to his class enemies).  I
would say that I have TWO sets of moral and ethical values  -- one set
for my class (and I'll admit, family and friends), and another set for my
class enemies.

Now if this post doesn't bring some responses, then nothing will.


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