Revolutionary "morality"

jwalker jwalker at
Fri Jun 9 07:01:24 MDT 1995

Matt --

On Thu, 8 Jun 1995, Matt Davidson wrote:

> Point well taken.  Violence by the system against the people is omnipresent
> and unceasing.  Violent reactions against that violence are inevitable.  We
> shouldn't, it seems to me, spend too much time handwringing over whether
> that counter-violence is "right" or not.  Rather, we should address whether
> or not in a given specific instance it advances the revolution (broadly
> speaking, including oppressed people getting a sense of their own power to
> act--ideally, collectively--against those who hold us down), is harmful to
> the revolution, or has no net impact.

OK -- I believe I'm getting a sense for where we stand, respectively, on
this matter, and I think we're not very far apart. If I'm reading you
right here, it's not that you think the moral question -- is violence
justified in the course of revolution? -- is irrelevant.  It's that you
think it's got an *obvious* answer, namely yes. And instead of getting
bogged down, tinkering with explanations of why, we should get on with
the business of bringing about good social change.

Tell me if you think this is right...

> I'd argue that consciousness need not preceed rebellion.  Rather, in the act
> of fighting back, we come to consciousness--at which point our struggle
> takes on a dialectical character, "praxis" vs. practice, etc.

I think this is interesting and true -- to take an example from a different
context, it's often the case that young women don't come to consciousness
of the fact of women's oppression until they find themselves fighting
back against the sexual harassment in the workplace, the glass ceiling,
the belittling attitudes of men.

Perhaps sometimes it takes this sort of shock to break through the false
consciousness produced by decades of media bombardment.

> If we believe that we're correct, then not only can we, but we _must_ be
> willing to employ any and all means.

I'm still uncomfortable with the "any means" idea, though.  For instance,
I think it'd be wrong to boil children in oil to achieve the socialist

> What moral standards would you propose?

Well, if we're going to tinker...I'd say we need a coherent explanation
of why the capitalist order is unjust, evil, bad, or otherwise worthy of
being opposed. Marx certainly gives us the kernel of such an explanation,
though of course whether he thought capitalism is to be condemned morally
is controversial.

Then we need an account of what means it's permissible to use in the
pursuit of a more just social-economic order.  I'm intrigued by the idea
of a class-based self-defense model (see Mr Chodos' recent post), or
perhaps a contractarian model would do.  Some have used the contract
device to explain the "rules of war."

John D. Walker

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