Sunday, 9 March 2014
Socialist Freedom, Liberty, Justice & Morality
“… justice… [is] relative or internal to specific historical modes of production. It is not merely that they are generated by these… they are only applicable to and valid for them.”
– Alex Callinicos, of the Socialist Workers Party –Unite Against Fascism. (He’s also a member of the SWP’s Central Committee; possibly its ‘chairman’.)
“According to the German socialist and philosopher Karl Vörlander writing in the early twentieth century, ‘The moment anyone started to talk to Marx about morality, he would roar with laughter.’”
- Author unknown
Marxists today, as well as Marxists historically, don’t believe in equality, liberty, justice, reason and morality. Or, rather, they do – but not in the way the rest of us do. More correctly, they believe that these concepts were originally “bourgeois concepts” and, in many respects, still are.
Thus if a Marxist believes in equality – it must be Marxist equality. If he believes in in liberty – it must be Marxist liberty. And so on. Basically, all this means is that it’s your class which determines what you take the terms “equality”, “fraternity, “reason” “liberality” and “morality” to mean. If you are a middle-class non-Marxist (most Marxists are middle class or upper-middle-class), you will take all these words in their middle-class or capitalist way. The working class, too, take them in a middle-class or capitalist way because they are the victims of “false [non-Marxist] consciousness”. (The working class can transcend such false consciousness by reading Marx or Noam Chomsky, or by speaking to Weyman Bennett of the SWP-UAF.)
Nonetheless, these notions are deemed, by Marxists, to have been “progressive’… once. That is, during - and slightly after - the “French Bourgeois Revolution” of 1789. But sometime after that, when capitalism became more developed, and the numbers of the working class increased and thus became more exploited (so the theory has it), then these notions, in the hands of the bourgeois, were no longer deemed to be progressive at all. In fact they became “reactionary”. Then it was the job and duty of the Marxist revolutionary to substitute bourgeois liberty, equality, fraternity, reason and morality with Marxist versions of these notions. (This was much less so with the notion of ‘morality’.)
You can easily argue that if the concepts/notions above are so thoroughly middle-class or “capitalist”, or at least that they began that way, then why don’t - and didn’t - Marxists dispense with them altogether? Why bother substituting them with Marxist alternatives? Would Marxists substitute “bourgeois hedonism” or “bourgeois paranoia” with the Marxist versions of these things?
Many 20th Marxists in the 20th century did dispense with them altogether – or at least some of them. For example, the Cambodian Khmer Rouge dispensed with “morality-talk” and talk of “freedom”; and the Stalinists weren’t keen on speaking about “liberty”. Some Marxists even questioned the notions of truth and Knowledge. In fact, many talked about “capitalist” or “bourgeois truth” and “capitalist knowledge”.
In the specific case of morality, Marxists have always been highly suspicious of it and have hardly ever offered a Marxist morality or even a Marxist ethics. Morality itself is thoroughly bourgeois, or middle class, or capitalist. Marxists never talk about right and wrong, or what moral imperatives motivate them to fight for the working class or, today, for Muslims and Islamists.
Why do they care at all? They neither ask nor answer that question or questions like it. Perhaps they are bourgeois questions. But, again, if the Marxist says he helps the poor because “they are oppressed” or “exploited”. You can ask him:
Why do you care? Why does it matter to you that they are exploited or oppressed?
Marxists tend not to answer these questions. They don’t recognise the legitimacy of such questions because, again, they are “bourgeois questions” or they include “capitalist assumptions”.
As you can see, Marxists, in these cases, are arguing in a circle. Or at least they are cocooning themselves from any criticism – as is often the case. Any questions that fundamentally challenge them, as in the case of whether there is a Marxist ethic or morality, are neatly dismissed as “capitalist questions” based on “capitalist assumptions” and various other Leftist soundbites.
Nonetheless, Marxists, both today and historically, have indeed thoroughly embraced the (former) bourgeois notions of justice, equality, liberty and whatnot. But, again, how can notions born in bourgeois sin be adopted - or even be changed - by Marxists? Would Marxists create their own version of “capitalist racism”? (Well, they have! But not always explicitly or knowingly.)