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Tag: morality

The Controversy About Marx and Justice


by Normas Geras (1989)

In this essay I review a fast-growing sector of the current literature on Marx and the controversy that has fuelled its growth. During the last decade or so, the keen interest within moral and political philosophy in the concept of justice has left its mark on the philosophical discussion of his work. It has left it in the shape of the question: did Marx himself condemn capitalism as unjust? There are those who have argued energetically that he did not; and as many who are equally insistent that he did — a straightforward enough division, despite some differences of approach on either side of it. To prevent misunderstanding, it is worth underlining at the outset that the question being addressed is not that of whether Marx did indeed condemn capitalism, as opposed just to analysing, describing, explaining its nature and tendencies. All parties to this dispute agree that he did, agree in other words that there is some such normative dimension to his thought, and frankly, I do not think the denial of it worth taking seriously any longer. The question is the more specific one: does Marx condemn capitalism in the light of any principle of justice?

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Telling the Truth about Class (Tamás, 2006)


by G.M. Tamas (Socialist Register 42) 2006


One of the central questions of social theory has been the relationship between class and knowledge, and this has also been a crucial question in the history of socialism. Differences between people – acting and knowing subjects – may inuence our view of the possibility of valid cognition. If there are irreconcilable discrepancies between people’s positions, going perhaps as far as incommensurability, then unied and rational knowledge resulting from a reasoned dialogue among persons is patently impossible. The Humean notion of ‘passions’, the Nietzschean notions of ‘resentment’ and ‘genealogy’, allude to the possible inuence of such an incommensurability upon our ability to discover truth.

Class may be regarded as a problem either in epistemology or in the philosophy of history, but I think that this separation is unwarranted, since if we separate epistemology and philosophy of history (which is parallel to other such separations characteristic of bourgeois society itself) we cannot possibly avoid the rigidly-posed conundrum known as relativism. In speak­ing about class (and truth, and class and truth) we are the heirs of two socialist intellectual traditions, profoundly at variance with one another, although often intertwined politically and emotionally. I hope to show that, up to a point, such fusion and confusion is inevitable.

All versions of socialist endeavour can and should be classied into two principal kinds, one inaugurated by Rousseau, the other by Marx. The two have opposite visions of the social subject in need of liberation, and these visions have determined everything from rareed epistemological posi­tions concerning language and consciousness to social and political attitudes concerning wealth, culture, equality, sexuality and much else. It must be said at the outset that many, perhaps most socialists who have sincerely believed they were Marxists, have in fact been Rousseauists. Freud has eloquently described resistances to psychoanalysis; intuitive resistance to Marxism is no less widespread, even among socialists. It is emotionally and intellectually difcult to be a Marxist since it goes against the grain of moral indignation which is, of course, the main reason people become socialists.

One of the greatest historians of the Left, E.P. Thompson, has synthe­sized what can be best said of class in the tradition of Rousseauian socialism which believes itself to be Marxian.1 The Making of the English Working Class is universally – and rightly – recognized to be a masterpiece. Its beauty, moral force and conceptual elegance originate in a few strikingly unusual articles of faith: (1) that the working class is a worthy cultural competitor of the ruling class; (2) that the Lebenswelt of the working class is socially and morally superior to that of its exploiters; (3) that regardless of the outcome of the class struggle, the autonomy and separateness of the working class is an intrinsic social value; (4) that the class itself is constituted by the autopoiesis of its rebellious political culture, including its re-interpretation of various tradi­tions, as well as by technology, wage labour, commodity production and the rest. Whereas Karl Marx and Marxism aim at the abolition of the proletariat, Thompson aims at the apotheosis and triumphant survival of the proletariat.

Thompson’s Rousseauian brand of Marxism triggered a sustained critique by Perry Anderson, one that is now half-forgotten but still extremely impor­tant. Although his terms are quite different from mine, Anderson sought to show that Thompson’s conviction that he was a Marxist was erroneous.2Thompson had participated in a number of movements and intellectual adventures inspired by Marxism, and his delity to radical socialism – under twentieth-century circumstances – meant loyalty to Marxism’s revolution­ary legacy. But Thompson had to ignore the Faustian-demonic encomium of capitalism inherent in Marx, and so he had to oppose ‘critical theory’, and then theory tout court.3 Anderson later described this decomposition of ‘Western Marxism’ – away from class to ‘the people’ – in conceptual terms,4 a diagnosis that has been proved right by events since.

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Fire to the Houseprojects!


Fire to the Houseprojects! A Manifesto For Berlin

“In spite of its tremendous potential, struggles in Berlin seem everywhere to get stuck in dead-ends. At the risk of provoking indignation, we seek to identify some obstacles that block the self-overcoming of the present situation, and in this way to open up a genuinely strategic and tactical discussion about how we might begin to move again.

The biggest obstacle to such a discussion is the prevalence of a moralistic approach to power and resistance. The latter is most clearly visible in the discussions we’ve encountered around the refugee struggle, but it is by no means limited to them, and seems to affect anarchists and other autonomous folks as often as it does mainstream leftists. We will therefore begin by drawing critical attention to a two-pronged gesture that we routinely encounter in Berlin: a moralization of questions of strategy, and a strategization of morality. Though perhaps well-intentioned (for whatever that’s worth), this perspective too often generates only paralysis, isolation, and self-neutralization.

The critique of this political-strategic moralism raises fundamental questions about the relation between anti-racism, privilege-politics, and capitalist crisis. Specifically, it challenges conceptions of anti-racism based either on a pure negation of an outside enemy (antifascism) or else on a self-congratulatory ‘recognition’ of our lesser-privileged neighbors motivated ultimately by white guilt. In each case, we fail to extract ourselves from a leftist ‘posturing’ that never asks the question of what it would take to increase our collective power of acting, thinking, and living.”


Hausprojeckte abfackeln! Ein Manifest Für Berlin

Trotz ihres gewaltigen Potenzials scheinen die Kämpfe in Berlin allerorts in Sackgassen fest zu sitzen. Auf das Risiko hin, Empörung hervorzurufen werden wir versuchen, einige Hindernisse zu identifizieren, die der Selbstüberwindung der gegenwärtigen Situation im Wege stehen, um so eine tatsächlich strategische und taktische Diskussion darüber zu eröffnen, wie wir wieder in Bewegung kommen können.

Das größte Hindernis einer solchen Diskussion ist die Dominanz eines moralistischen Zugangs zu Macht und Widerstand. Letzterer wird am deutlichsten in den Diskussionen sichtbar, die uns rund um den Kampf der Flüchtlinge begegneten, bleibt aber auf keinen Fall darauf beschränkt. Von daher möchten wir zu Beginn die kritische Aufmerksamkeit auf jene doppelte Geste lenken, der wir routinemäßig in Berlin begegnen: das Moralisieren von Fragen der Strategie und das Strategisieren der Moral. Wenn auch vielleicht in guter Absicht (was auch immer das bringen soll), erzeugt diese Perspektive allzu oft nur Lähmung, Isolation und Selbstneutralisierung.

Eine Kritik dieses politisch-strategischen Moralismus wirft grundlegende Fragen zum Verhältnis von Antirassismus, einer auf Privilegien fokussierenden Politik und kapitalistischer Krise auf. Genauer gesagt stellt sie antirassistische Konzepte in Frage, die entweder auf der reinen Ablehnung eines äußeren Feindes (Antifaschismus) oder der sich selbst beglückwünschenden ‚Anerkennung‘ unserer weniger privilegierten Nachbarn aufbauen, die letztlich von weißen Schuldgefühlen getrieben ist. In beiden Fällen gelingt es nicht, uns einer linken ‚Haltung‘ zu entziehen, die niemals die Frage stellt, was wir brauchen, um unsere Handlungsmacht zu vergrößern.”