Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ends and Means (1959)

From the July 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE ETHICS OF MARXISM (2) (See Part 1 here.)

One of the difficulties of Mr. Taylor's pamphlet, Is Marxism a Humanism?* is that he never seems quite sure of what he means to say and consequently we are not quite sure that he is saying what he means. His indulgence—one might say over-indulgence—in dialectical and philosophical jargon adds to the difficulty.

A conclusion he reaches, if one can say he does anything so definite as that, is that Stalinism is a distortion of Marxism but nevertheless there are elements in Marxism which lend itself to this distortion. The class morality of Marxism, he contends, is defective. Negatively it assumes a mechanistic and amoral approach for the sake of the struggle. Positively, and this is the more truly Marxist view, he further adds, its goal, which is socialised humanity, is in conflict with its own attitudes of hatred to those who oppose or refuse to associate themselves with Marxist doctrine.

It is true that the debased political morality of communists include hard lying and physical and moral liquidation, and that "the end justifies the means" is integral to the Communist ethic. But this cannot be inferred from any elements in Marxist political doctrine. Marx never suggested the personal liquidation of capitalists. Neither did he adumbrate in any way, hatred of capitalists, as a political tactic. Hate, to be effective, must to a very large extent be personified. That, and the attributing of motives to individuals, has been an important part of communist propaganda technique. Against this, Marxism as a social theory has, perhaps that any other social theory, made motives an integral part of its doctrine. Indeed it was no other than Marx himself who stated in the preface to the first edition of Capital:
To prevent possible misunderstanding, a word. I paint the capitalist and landlord in no sense, couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personification of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests. My standpoint, from which the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.
For Marx it was not the negative emotion of hate but the positive value of moral indignation which constitutes the dynamic of the Marxist ethic. 

Love and Hate
As Marxists we do not hate those who are opposed to us. We do not even make bad intent or insincerity the basis of our evaluation of their ideas. It is the logic and claims of their views which we rigorously and consistently oppose. Not to do so would be a highly unethical practice.

But although hate is not and has never ben part of our ethic, we do not share Mr. Taylor's view which enjoins everybody to love everybody. Love and hate are not, as Mr. Taylor seems to think, abstract categories. It is only in a given historical context that it becomes possible to give them an ethical evaluation. Love, like any other sentiment, is a question of human relations whether it arises from sex, friendship, or mutual service and co-operation. In the vast impersonal organisation of capitalist production, where the ruling motive is ruling class profit, the impulse for genuine co-operative effort and mutual service finds no adequate human outlet. One cannot even talk about love as a positive social value between men and men in a world of buyers and sellers and where the buying and selling of men's productive capacities is the major social transaction out of which accrues private gain and advantage. Man it is true does not live by bread alone but he cannot live as truly man in a world of commodity production where the relations between men take on the aspect of relations between things.

Perhaps history's greatest indictment of capitalism will not be what it has done to men economically but what it has done to them emotionally. No other social organisation has so impoverished man of his rich many-sided endowments. In the historic development of its private property relations and institutions, it has progressively stolen from human nature its powers and thoughts, tenderness and affections.

Little wonder that such deprivation made men emotionally susceptible to the fierce hates of nationalism, anti-semitism and race prejudice. That is why when Mr. Taylor talks of dealing with race-prejudice on its own terms, he fails to see that the division of labour which which alienates man from his full productive and intellectual capacities and from others of his kind, makes him a means instead of an end to the productive process with all the anti-social consequences which follow. Race prejudice, like other social prejudices, is not an isolated thing which can be treated on its own terms. Capitalism produces a vast range of prejudices which feed into each other. Given a system which offers no full development of men's productive powers and their mental, aesthetic and emotional corollaries, little wonder that unfulfilled personal development, finds compensatory outlets which often take on an anti-social character.

To call upon men to practice tolerance, goodwill and love as Mr. Taylor suggests is to utter hollow abstractions, in a world of class conflicts, national rivalries and hatred where subterfuge, chicanery and power politics are the normal way of conducting world affairs. Like the Christian's "God is Love" it is inhuman because in existing society it has no human roots.

That is why the sugary piety of abstract ethics which claim to transcend all social conflicts, serves to veil the objective nature of social reality. For that reason it is delusory, deceptive and dangerous.

Even when dealing with hatred and violence it is impossible to say, when considered in the abstract, whether they are good or bad. For one cannot say what hate or violence is in the abstract. These things, like love, can only be evaluated in a social context. Thus if people were being oppressed by a rapacious minority, hate for the oppressors would be a normal and human emotion. To love their oppressors would be an abnormal and inhuman feeling. If anyone suggested that love, non-violence and humility were the only answer to the social situation, it would be a servile and bad viewpoint. Such a viewpoint, however has always enjoyed considerable favour in the Christian ethics. If, on the other hand, hatred born of oppression produced violence, of a degree that led to a relaxation of oppression, then the means would have been consistent with the end, i.e. a lessening of the yoke of servitude.

The Marxist does not advocate violence or hatred because they are inconsistent with the end in view—a classless society of free labour and production for use. The end itself, however, determines the means.

Ends and Means
The function of the means is to overcome the obstacles which separate us from the end. Thus the real significance of any goal can only be understood in relation to the means necessary to attain it. An intelligent choice of ends can only be made when the consequence of the use of our means has been taken into consideration. If the end is a classless society consciously brought into being by the vast majority, then the means can only be helping to bring this consciousness to the required majority. Hate and violence are in this context inconsistent with these ends. To substitute then as means would mean to change the ends. That there can be no basic separation of ends and means is integral to Marx's doctrines.

Mr. Taylor's second point is what about those social elements who would have no share in a socialist society and against whom recriminatory methods would be adopted? This, he argues, is consistent with Marx's doctrine. One can only say, and this was also the view of Marx, that no one would be excluded from freely participating in socialist production. Neither did Marx say that certain social elements would be proceeded against in the event of the social revolution forthwith. He did say, and at that time there were pretty good reasons for so saying, that counter-revolutionary action would, in the interest of the vast majority, have to be vigorously dealt with, and that is quite compatible with democratic procedure.

But this is where we came in. Mr. Taylor never discusses Socialism at the Marxist level or indeed at any level. For him Russia remains the archetype of the social revolution. He appears to think that Socialism à la Communist and Trotskyist will be directed by an elite—social engineers who will blue print and shape the raw human potential into the manufactured Socialist article. On such premises, Mr. Taylor goes in for a lot of soul-searching as to what might happen to this raw material in the manufacturing process, and he discovers that it falls short of a true humanism. But his dilemma has no basis in Marx or Marxism, it is rooted in his own assumptions.

Socialist society cannot begin until the vast majority of the dispossessed realise that capitalist property relations and the division of labour which arises from it are the real barriers which hamper and frustrate the development of the individual in the widest sense, out of the energising of their knowledge and experience they will act accordingly. Mr. Taylor is wrong when he thinks that Marxists, along with Marx, hold that the basic thing is the overthrow of capitalist relations and the devil take the hindmost. In a fundamental sense, the abolition of capitalist property relations is merely the necessary condition which makes possible the releasing of men's energies, capacities and will to re-integrate themselves in the new society.

But there will be no enlightened few, politically and economically directing the uninitiated many, because the many will have gained the social experience to direct society along the path it wishes to go. There may be in the building of socialist society much to learn, and some things to unlearn. One thing history will have taught, however, is that love, goodwill, the rights of the individual, can only have real meaning in an equalitarian and humanist society.

The Rights of Man
Mr. Taylor's concern for the individual seems to spring from the idealisation of the rights of man, as put forward by Kant and others. But the rights of man, no matter how idealistically they are framed, can never in a truly human sense be realised in capitalist society: only a socialist society can make the individual free, and this becomes possible because, in the self-conscious act of abolishing itself as a class, it abolishes all other classes. Thus, it makes possible a reversal of the historic process. In all previous epochs the individual can only assert himself through a social class. But the working class has no interests itself as a class. Their only interest is to abolish classes and become classless individuals whose free association constitutes socialistic humanity. Only in and through socialism will the individual truly come into his own. Freedom of the individual constitutes the social, one might say the moral basis of socialist society; as such it will be an enduring element in all further social development.

In spite of Mr. Taylor's wanting to fight for colonial freedom, his main position, in ambivalent contrast to these vague phrases, seems to be the advocacy of the classless ethics of Kant and Christ. We shall in another issue examine the social validity of such ethics and the place of ethics in the Marxist scheme of things and his assertion that there are more fundamental cleavages in society than class division.
Ted Wilmott

The Discomfiture of Lawler Wilson. (1908)

From the June 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard


On the 3rd ulto, the debate arranged between J. Fitzgerald of the S.P.G.B., and Lawler Wilson, probably the ablest platform opponent of Socialism, duly came off. The proposition discussed was—
Does the Capitalist Class live upon the robbery of the Working Class?
The Battersea Town Hall, capable of holding 1,700 people, was packed, and the arguments of the disputants were followed with the closest interest.

Although Mr. Wilson came with something of a reputation for sustaining his case against representatives of various bodies claiming to be Socialist, Fitzgerald had no difficulty in tearing that case to tatters. As the S.P.G.B., according to the most generous allowance of Mr. Quelch, and others who are concerned to belittle the Party upon the score of its numerical weakness, consists of no more than a dozen or two members; and as 1,700 doesn't go many times into a dozen or two; and as a large proportion of the audience frequently gave expression to its endorsement of the Socialist position as set out by Fitzgerald, it follows that our view of the result of the debate is not shared among ourselves alone. After the comparatively easy task that, according to report and to his own statement, Lawler Wilson had in previous bouts with alleged Socialist champions, it is probable that he is himself a little surprised at his failure to convince his audience in Battersea.

The reason for our easy victory consists, of course, in the fact that our representative stood upon the impregnable rock of Marxian economics, understood the exact position of the working class, as a class, in the economy of capitalist production, and was not to be shifted a hair's breadth from the direct issue of the inevitability of the exploitation of labour — given private ownership of the means of life — by any manipulation of figures, however dexterous, that his opponent thought proper to indulge in. To our man, the question of immediate moment was not as to the extent of the robbery of the workers, but the establishment of the fact of the robbery. Once that was fixed, Lawler Wilson's case went to the winds, and Lawler Wilson knew it none better. Therefore we had most entertaining feats of high-class jugglery, of intellectual gymnastics of a quite amazing order, and all the other artifices by which a clever debater may sometimes cover his discomfiture and divert attention from the material point in dispute, which, to face directly and frankly, would mean his inevitable defeat.

To do Mr. Wilson bare justice, it has to be confessed that he is a red-herring trailer of the very first class. Which is the reason for the measure of success he has achieved in his discussions with those other champions of Socialism whose equipment, unfortunately, consisted, as to nine parts, of good intentions, and as to one part only of Socialist science. Even in the case of champions of wider knowledge attached to one or other of the parties misnamed Socialist, Mr. Wilson, being an exceedingly 'cute and ready-witted person, is able to easily score debating points based upon the vacillating policy and general political ineptitude of their organisations. So he is able to require of them that they shall defend the multitudinous inconsistencies of their parties' actions to the confusion of the pivot issue.

Up against the S.P.G.B., however, he found himself robbed of his thunder. The obscurantisms and political thimble rigging of the other parties are the subject of our consistent denunciation. We had to be dealt with, therefore, on our own record, which was unfortunate seeing that our record does not lend itself either to odious comparison or gibing criticism. Clearly it was a case with us of facing the issue, or—verbal pyrotechnics in conjunction with expert figure-fuddling. Mr. Wilson did his best in the latter department, but his pyrotechnics were very damp and sorry squibs, while in the end he as unhappily for himself, obliged to swallow his own political hotch-potch.

Fitzgerald gave no rope. He nailed his opponent down upon the fact of working-class robbery first, and then proceeded to an examination of the celebrated figures. It is notable that Mr. Wilson, grown hold by the inability of other opponents to deal with them, had written to Justice daring the S.D.P. to prove these figures false. It is not less notable that the S.D.P. through Justice made no endeavour to do so, Fitzgerald flatly refused to accept the figures and denied their authenticity. Time and time again he challenged Mr. Wilson to name his authorities. But the wily Wilson evaded the challenge, as he had endeavoured to evade the central issue. In the last speech of the debate, however, relying upon the fact that his opponent would have no opportunity of further reply, or goaded by the stinging irony of Fitzgerald's last speech, he proceeded with sublime effrontery, to quote his authorities. The result was an effect of quite dramatic intensity.

Mr. Fitzgerald, he said, has asserted that I will not give you my authorities. I will do so. They are the "Statistical Abstract of the Board of Trade," the Fabian "Facts for Socialists," Chiozza Money's "Riches and Poverty" — Here Fitzgerald leaped to his feet. Mr. Chairman, he shouted, here (producing the books) is the "Statistical Abstract," here are the "Facts for Socialists," here is Money's "Riches and Poverty." With these in my hand I again challenge Mr. Wilson to justify his figures. He got no further. The audience rose at him with a great roar of cheering, and the famous figures went the way of the anti-Socialist case. Notwithstanding cries from all parts of the hall, Mr. Wilson preferred to accept the discomfiture of the denouement rather than touch the books flung on the table before him.

Altogether the debate was most successful from the Party point of view and will doubtless be productive of much good. The Battersea boys are to be congratulated upon their organisation of the meeting, and have the satisfaction of knowing that their work, by making the meeting possible, contributed largely to the result.

Marx on Alienation (1973)

From the September 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

The fact that Marx devoted a great deal of his energy in his younger days to the theme of alienation is a relatively recent discovery, dating from the publication in English in the 1950's of certain of his early texts, in particular the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, and later of the Grundrisse of 1857. There has followed something of a re-examination of Marx, with a shift in emphasis from his well-established economic works to the philosophical and humanist outlook of his earlier works.

Alienation can be defined as a state in which man fails to realize himself either as an individual or as a species—in which man is not himself. This necessarily involves a definition of what man's nature consists of and of what man's life ought to be. For Marx, what distinguishes man from other species is that man has the ability of self-creation. While an animal can never see beyond its immediate physical needs, and is governed entirely by instinct, man has the ability to produce in excess of these needs and to do so consciously, thereby creating his own environment:
The animal is immediately one with its vital activity. It is not distinct from it. Man makes his vital activity into an object of his will and consciousness. He has a conscious vital activity . . . It is this and this alone that makes man a species-being. (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).
Man's essence therefore lies in his conscious and creative activity in creating a world of objects:
Men themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence . . . In producing their means of subsistence, men indirectly produce their actual material life. (The German Ideology).
It can be seen, therefore, that Marx's ideas on the nature of man were in total contrast and opposition to the mechanical materialism whereby man is seen as an object of nature whose behaviour is determined in a one-sided way by sense-impressions received from the environment and is given no active rôle in creating the society in which he lives. Such a mechanical behaviourist doctrine was expounded by Feuerbach, in common with the ideas of the French Enlightenment. Here the real need was seen to be an Educator who was over and above society and who would change men's behaviour by creating the right environment to bring about a society based on harmony. Marx attacked this view: man, by consciously acting upon and transforming nature, also transforms himself. There is a two-way relationship between man and his environment, and between his consciousness and his activity. Therefore "circumstances are changed by men and the educator must himself be educated" (Theses on Feuerbach). Man makes his own history and makes himself in the process.

It is man's ability to labour, to objectify his creative capacities in the world of things, which makes him human. Under the capitalist system, the labour of the worker becomes a means to an end instead of an end in itself, an activity carried on not for the satisfaction and fulfillment it gives, but as a means of maintaining physical existence. Marx's critique of capitalism is not simply that the wage-worker is economically exploited, but that he ceases to be a human being.

Alienation, however, was a concept which had previously been used with regard to religion by Feuerbach, and Marx recognized this. For Feuerbach (in The Essence of Christianity), the powers and qualities which religion attributes to God are in fact those of man himself, objectified, and contemplated and revered as a distinct being. Man alienates himself from himself by making God the creator of the world, thereby destroying his own self-fulfillment as a species-being. In other words, man creates God in his own image. Feuerbach, however, only conceived of alienation in the religious sphere, failing to see that religious self-alienation is only part of a much wider social alienation. 
This state, this society produces religion's inverted attitude to the world because they are an inverted world themselves . . . Thus, the struggle against religion is indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion (Towards a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Introduction)
For Marx, then, man's alienation was a result of the totality of social relations which exist under the capitalist mode of production. This alienation takes on four forms:
  1. The alienation of the worker from the product of labour.
  2. The alienation of the worker from the act of production.
  3. The alienation of man from his species-being.
  4. The alienation of man from man.
With regard to the first of these, the object which labour produces confronts it as an alien and hostile being exercising power over the worker who created it. Furthermore, just as in religion the more power man attributes to God the less he retains of himself, so in work the more the worker externalizes himself, the more powerful becomes the alien, hostile world he creates opposite himself. The greater the product of the worker, the less he is himself:
Labour establishes itself objectively, but it establishes this objectivity as its own non-being or as the being of its non-being—of capital. (Grundrisse)
Capital is accumulated dead labour, the objective manifestation of the fact that man is lost to himself. The very physical existence of the worker is a commodity, just like any other; "he has no existence as a human being, only as a worker" (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).

Alienation shows itself not only in the result, but also in the process of production. Because labour is external to the worker, he does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself. "The worker only feels at home outside his work and in his work he feels a stranger". Labour is not the satisfaction of a need but only a means to satisfy needs external to the self. And the labour of the worker is not his own, but is somebody else's — the worker therefore belongs to somebody else in his labour.

The result of this is that man feels himself freely active in his animal functions — eating, drinking, procreating — while in his human function — labour — he feels himself to be an animal. It is in the working-over of inorganic nature and the practical creation of an objective world that man confirms himself as a species-being. Man duplicates himself in reality and contemplates the world he has created:
Therefore when alienated labour tears from man the object of this production, it also tears from him his species-life, the real objectivity of his species (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).
Man's productive activity represents his species-life; it is this which distinguishes man from animals. But the wage-worker works out of necessity, not choice; his species-life is turned into a means of maintaining his physical existence. Capitalism "alienates species-life and individual life and . . . it makes the latter into the aim of the former".

The alienation of man from himself, man from nature and man from the product of his labour is expressed in the relation between man and man. If the product of labour does not belong to the worker, but stands opposed to him as a hostile power, this can only mean that it belongs to another man. The alien power above man can only be man himself. Therefore "the relationship of the worker to his labour creates the relationship to it of the  capitalist . . . Private property is thus the product, result and necessary consequence of alienated labour" (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts).

The supreme form of alienation under capitalism was for Marx the existence of money. Money is the universal commodity, alongside all other commodities. The mediating activity between man's products, and human activity, becomes the characteristic of a material thing, money, which is outside and above man.
Whereas man himself should be the intermediary between men, man sees his will, his activity and his relation to others as a power which is independent of him and of them. (Economic Studies from Marx's Notebooks, 1844-5)
Marx therefore saw Socialism as a society in which men could relate to each other as human beings. Under capitalism they only exist as workers or capitalists — political economy does not recognize any relationship outside this one. Man's alienation can only be ended with the abolition of private property, exchange and money — but Socialism (or Communism) was for Marx more than simply an economic abstraction, it was the creation of a genuinely human society, the beginning of real, human history. It involves "the complete development of human domination of natural forces, both those of so-called 'nature' as well as those of his own nature", "the absolute elaboration of his creative dispositions", "the development of all human powers as such . . . into an end in itself", "a situation in which man . . . produces his totality" (Grundrisse).

Socialism, while preserving the gains of previous historical development, is above all a society in which man realizes his full potential as a human being.
Brendan Mee

Further articles on Marx and his ideas from the same special issue of the Socialist Standard:

Brutal and violent means (1996)

Book Review from the March 1996 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Ambiguities of Power: British Foreign Policy Since 1945. by Mark Curtis (Zed Books, London & New Jersey, 250pp. Paperback 14.95.)

This is an important book. It is a well-documented and researched critique of post-World War II British foreign policy, based mainly on formerly secret  government documents and independent sources, showing how all British governments, Conservative and Labour, have been concerned not with promoting democracy and human rights but with defending capitalist profits and spheres of future investments, often using the most brutal and violent means, mainly in what has been termed the Third World. Moreover, Britain has also largely acted as the willing partner of United States imperialism.

Following the War, the Labour government fought a long and vicious war, in an attempt to retain control of Malaya and, of course, the country's rubber plantations. Later, this time a Conservative government, fought to defend white minority rule in Kenya. When a democratically-elected government of British Guyana came to power, it was first suspended and, later, with assistance from the American CIA, was overthrown. And, during the 1950s, Britain, again in co-operation with the CIA, overthrew the Iranian government of Dr Mussadiq, this time on behalf of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, in which the British government was a part-time owner.

In 1956, Britain, in an alliance with France and Israel, invaded Egypt because that country had nationalised the Suez Canal; and in 1957, British forces came to the support of the barbaric regime of the Sultan of Oman. In this instance, Shell owned 85 percent in Omani Oil. Much the same occurred in Kuwait in 1961, in which British Petroleum owned 50 percent of the Kuwaiti Oil Company, again in co-operation with Shell. As later, in 1990, the villain of the piece was Iraq.

In 1966, Britain signed a defence deal with the United States, leasing the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to the US for 50 years, on the condition that the people living on the island be removed. They were then forcibly sent to Mauritius where they were left to exist in extreme poverty.

And so it continued.

Curtis shows how Britain has supported such terrorist movements as RENAMO and UNITA, in co-operation with South Africa, in Mozambique and Angola; and has often given active or passive support to the United States in Chile, Guatemala, Grenada and Nicaragua. He also gives detailed evidence regarding both the suppression of news, and propaganda on behalf of British intervention by such as the Times, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph. The Guardian generally escapes such criticism.
Peter E, Newell