The problem with moral indignation

Patrick Bond pbond at
Tue Dec 7 22:18:14 MST 1999

Comrade Phil,

As I conceded at the outset, your points are partially correct,
especially about the ANC. (I make them at length and with
scurrilous detail in a Pluto book that will be out in a couple of
months.) On Hume's banal truths, he hasn't been to Africa, Russia,
Southeast Asia or Latin America recently, or his units of analysis
would not be the world-economy or the 20th century, that's fairly
obvious isn't it. For much of contemporary Africa (just to take the
worse case), suffering civil wars under conditions of neo-liberal
imperialism, people's lives are objectively shorter, sicker and more
relatively impoverished than a century ago, and that's before we
talk about ecological destruction.

The point here is that the regression associated with the structural
power-shifts and crisis conditions of the last quarter century,
especially, has got to be at the centre of our analysis of capitalism,
lest we allow this new round of anti-systemic frustration to elide
into single-issue reformism, or worse, the defeatist rejigging of
once-radical (albeit groupuscule) politics into a critique mainly of
PCism. For just before making the contrast between two different
perspectives (Hume and ANC) on the state of the world, I was
rereading LM's take on the Sardar Sarovar struggles in their
"Against Nature" video transcript (as I am doing a great deal of big
dam techno-critique right now). The self-satisfied, technology-
loving, movement-hating character of these London yups, as
witnessed merely by that anti-Seattle screed and their thoroughly
unprincipled attack on our comrades fighting dams in the Narmada
Valley, is quickly driving me towards a boycott position on
discussing LM. Were Russell not such an interesting, cheeky and
charming host when I wander through East London, that is. I think
I'll save my worries for then.


On 8 Dec 99, at 12:56, Philip L Ferguson wrote:

Date sent:              Wed, 08 Dec 1999 12:56:09 +1300
From:                   Philip L Ferguson <PLF13 at>
Subject:                Re: The problem with moral indignation
To:                     marxism at
Send reply to:          marxism at

> I found Patrick Bond's criticisms of Mick Hume's piece on the 20th century
> extremely odd.  Hume - with whom I would have serious political
> differences, by the way - is undoubtedly right in saying that humanity is
> better off in the twentieth century than we were in the past.  I can't see
> how any Marxist could possibly object to such a basic statement.  And I
> can't imagine that Patrick would really prefer to be living the life of an
> impoverished, illiterate peasant at the mercy of the ravages of the local
> sheriff or baron, and at the mercy of 'acts of God', in medieval Europe, as
> I presume his ancestors were.
> Hume's conclusion:
> >There have been plenty of setbacks and tragedies over the past century,
> >and there is no shortage of problems left to deal with in the world today.
> >But for all that, the fact is that people now are living longer, healthier
> >and
> >wealthier lives than ever before in human history. And if we were to raise
> >our sights a little, we could be doing a lot better yet.
> When Hume says it is the best time to be alive ever, this is also true.
> This is so true it is positively banal and unexceptional, something I would
> assume Marxists take for granted, so again I am mystified that Patrick
> finds this politically disagreeable.  The fact is that humanity is now in
> the position that, for the first time in human history, we have the
> resources and know-how to create a world of freedom and plenty.
> Whereas in the past such a world was impossible due to the low level of
> development of the productive forces, the only obstacle now is capitalist
> social relations.  (The weakness of Hume's case, far from being the one
> Patrick pointed to, is actually Hume/LM's abandonment of pointing to
> capitalism as the obstacle to us "doing a lot better yet" and instead
> focussing exclusively on subjective obstacles such as pessimism and fear.)
> Patrick is also wrong when he contrasts LM and ANC/Alliance positions to
> show the latter are to the left of LM.  The point about LM positions is
> that, however disagreeable some of them might be, they are all genuine
> positions.  For better or for worse, the LMers mean what they say.  The
> ANC/Alliance documents Patrick quotes from, by contrast, are totally
> dishonest and not worth the paper they are written on.
> Although it's nice that the Alliance document understands 'overaccumulation
> and declining profitability' (ie the law of the tendency of the rate of
> profit to fall) as driving capitalist crisis and globalisation, this is
> just empty rhetoric to keep up a left face and thereby allow the trade
> union leaders to keep the rank-and-file onside.
> Similarly when an ANC document contains stuff like, "If in the past the
> bourgeois state blatantly represented the interests of private capital,
> today its enslavement is even the more pronounced", this is just totally
> cynical when the ANC is administering this state and making sure it
> continues to operate in this way.
> Philip Ferguson

More information about the Marxism mailing list