Friday, May 27, 2016

Marxism and Morality---Part Three

(This will be an evolving series with short posts. If you're interested in this topic, please keep checking back to see how our views are evolving. Please see the first post in this series and then check out the second post.)

Readers will be excused if they're feeling a little dizzy. I'm deliberately mixing "morality" and "ethics" and importing them into Marxism in a kind of shorthand and I'm tying these to hoped-for revolutionary advances. It will take a bit of work for readers to see how morality and ethics relate directly to revolutionary political economy and to see how and why we use dialectical materialism to understand and move forward with both.

Let's cut to the closing points and list out what our morality consists of in concrete terms.

1. Our concern is with progress and building socialism, and so our morality prizes all that builds progress and rejects all that obstructs it.

2. Our morality is based on the "sciences" of dialectical materialism, class struggles, struggles against oppression and for human freedom and socialism. The "laws" of motion and change discovered through dialectical materialism and scientific methodology effectively chart the "sciences" of class struggle and the fight for human freedom.

3. Our morality prizes collectivism, collective work and mutual aid as necessary paths and as the means to human freedom and agency.

4. Our morality rests on mutual respect and rejects everything which undermines such respect---racism, sexism, ableism, chauvinism, ageism, prejudices---since these attempt to reduce the human being to something less than human and turn human relationships into transactional relationships.

5. Our morality prizes simplicity and modesty because in socialist hands these are the expressions of a healthy rhetoric of the whole person.

6. Our morality prizes honesty and insists that contradictions between people be solved in revolutionary ways, frankly recognizing differences and resolving them in ways which build the capacities needed to liberate the oppressed.

7. Our morality rejects the objectification of people as a reactionary mindset common to capitalism. We project a nuanced, historically-based and humanistic approach to understanding others.

8. Our morality is internationalist. We seek to take something from the progressive and working-class cultures of every people and integrate these into our world understanding because we know that no people and no nation have the corner on morality and ethics.

9. Our morality rejects nihilism and anarchism because we seek to raise human experience above the principle of negation. Negation has its necessary and scientific place in the real world, but it is one principle among many and is not a code of conduct.

10. Our morality prizes work and creativity as a the fundamental tasks of human beings and as the starting points of knowledge.

11. Our morality links education, the arts and physical and mental well-being and ethics to the development of full human beings. The segmented, compartmentalized, privatized and overly-specialized person belongs to a past which required an oppressive division of labor and matching social roles. These conditions came with capitalism and created people constantly tempted to do poor work, cut corners and break social solidarity or to live as victims.

12. Our morality does not accept the proposition that human nature is inherently bad or given to particular evils. We see instead an unfolding history of human development, progress and the growing realization that human beings perish when we do not live cooperatively with one another.

13. Our morality does not deny spirituality, but it takes this up by looking critically at the connections between consciousness, reality and the human capacity for making change and arguing that our necessary goal is to make humanity both the subject and object of human endeavor.

Some readers will object to these notes on the basis of religious or ideological prejudices handed down from capitalist institutions. We can argue our points based on logic, but perhaps the most fruitful work will be done with our coworkers and neighbors who are sincere believers or hard working people who experience class, race, gender or national oppression. We all have much to do together in the fight against oppression and for justice and peace, and it is in these fights that we prove the validity of our views. We note the overlap between some religious views and our own, and especially those of liberation theology, even if our starting points are necessarily different. This is the place where the common desire for a safe and human future draws everyone into one joint effort and so the willingness to engage must be fully respected. We should take a moment to review this famous quote from Marx:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself.

It is, therefore, the task of history, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world. It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.

Other readers will object that what has been written here is reformism, a bad distillation of Marxism, revisionism. We invite their criticism.

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