marx and morals
uburoi at panix.com
Thu Jun 8 12:17:05 MDT 1995
Jerry wanted me to elaborate on the differences between marx(ists) and
anarchists concerning 'class morality.' This is a complex question
because there are many types of anarchists, as there are of marxists.
Some of the anarchists in the 19th cent. did not share Marx's view of the
industrial proletariat as the primary agent of revolutionary change.
Bakunin, for example, tended to uphold agrarian radicalism of the
peasants, especially the *obshchina* in Russia (village commune).
Bakunin's followers in the First International were strong in Spain and
Italy, countries not at that time heavily industrialized.
Anarcho-syndicalism, which emerged later in the century, did share Marx's
emphasis on the industrial workers, but not the deterministic elements of
Marx's Weltanschauung. They believed more in the importance of human will
and agency. The chief theoretical exponent of syndicalism, Georges Sorel,
attempted the marriage of Marx and *Lebensphilosophie*, with
some...interesting results. He finished his career as a simultaneous
admirer of Lenin and Mussolini. Syndicalism in Spain took a distinctly
anarchist direction, but there were elements of syndicalist ideology
elsewhere (FRance and Italy) that fed into fascism.
The principal moral issue between marxists and anarchs revolved
around the question of the state. Anarchists routinely accuse MArx of
being a statist by principle. This is not quite fair. Marx's goals and
those of the anarchists were almost the same. The problem of marxist
etatisme has more to do with Marx's method (historical materialism) than
with his values. If development of the productive forces increases the
ranks of the proletariat, it must be good, therefore whatever advances
the growth of productive forces is good. So Marx looked to the
bourgeoisie to advance the productive forces--at least until the
proletariat could take over the process.
The optimism that Marx had about science (which was shared by
many anarchists such as Kropotkin as well as 'utopian' socialists such as
Saint-Simon) brings up a moral/ethical problem: how do you derive an
ethical stance from scientific method? The answer: you don't. Science can
give answers to all sorts of how, what, when, and where questions. But
the world of value judgment lies outside the scope of science. Science
shows how to achieve an end (the Means) but it cannot help us decide what
end we want. If socialism really is 'scientific' then it still needs
values that are human, not determined by iron laws of history.
Dwight Macdonald, who was along with C.L.R. James a member of the
Workers' Party in the 1940s, dealt at length with questions of marxism
and ethics in his essay "The Root Is Man." He came to the conclusion that
MArxism was obsolete because it failed the ethical problem, relying on a
fetishism of science and the masses. To him, the basis of the formation
of values had to be the individual; an appeal to History or Class was
abstract. To be a real materialist you have to start with yourself. It
seems to me, although Macdonald didn't say it, that this goes back to the
As an example of an ethical failing of Marx's, Macdonald points
to his Critique of the Gotha Program. The critique itself was a good
one--Marx lambasted the program of the German Workers Party which his own
closest followers, Bebel and Liebknecht, had come up with, for its
nationalism and statism. But then, for reasons of tactical pragmatism,
Marx and Engels did not make their disagreement with the program public
because they apparently feared it would play into the hands of the
bourgeoisie. So the Critique had to wait another 16 years to appear in
its entirety. In the meantime, the Gotha Program served as the basis for
the later timid respectability and reformism of the German Social
Democracy. Macdonald says that Marx threw away an important opportunity
for the sake of Realpolitik.
The only other thought I want to add here on the subject of communism and
morality concerns human communities in the state of nature ("primitive
communism"). These people do not have a morality as we know it,
presumably because their societies are/were without class divisions.
There is a kind of law that operates according to custom. Crimes,
particularly violent ones, are exceedingly rare, but should they occur
provisions are made to punish offenders, usually through ostracism or
banishment. I think that an authentically communist or "future primitive"
society, there would likewise be no morality as we know it. Our problem
is still how to get from here to there. All discussions I've seen,
though, about what should constitute 'socialist morality' look like a
different version of Christianity (this is also what Nietzsche thought)
in that the individual, rather than being integrated harmoniously with
the community on the basis of self-regulation and self-government, must
adhere to and sacrifice him/herself to an abstractly prescribed code.
That's all I have time for now. Hope this adds something juicy to your
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