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Marxism and ethics – International Socialism - Marxism...

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Marxism and ethicsIssue: 120Posted on 6th October 2008Paul BlackledgeIn place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shallhave an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the freedevelopment of all1.2There is a widespread myth that Marx either rejected ethics altogether or that hiscomments on ethics and morality are at best incoherent.3These claims have a superficialplausibility. For instance, he could argue that the emergence of a contradiction betweencapitalists and workers “shattered the basis for all morality, whether the morality ofasceticism or of enjoyment”,4yet he used moral language to condemn the “vampire-like”nature of capitalism and the “hired prizefighters” who attempted to justify it, while heapingmoral praise on the honesty of the British Factory Inspectors.5Such apparently contradictory statements have been seized upon to suggest not only thatMarx’s criticisms of morality are incoherent but also that his use of a fairly standard moralvocabulary in Capitalundermines the scientific pretensions of this work. As we shall see,these criticisms miss their mark.It is true that Marx did aim to escape the “impotence”6of the moralistic forms ofanti-capitalism he encountered in the 1840s. But this did not involve an outright rejectionof ethics.7His criticisms of morality should be understood as a more limited rejection ofthe modern liberal assumption, perhaps best expressed by Immanuel Kant, that moralbehaviour involves the suppression of natural desires that are seen as selfish andindividualistic.8The starting point for Marx’s alternative ethics is the collective struggles of workers againsttheir exploitation. He argued that these struggles expose the limitations of freedom in acapitalist society while simultaneously engendering virtues of solidarity that point beyondthe limits of liberal conceptions of morality.It is from this perspective that he revealed the historical and political biases that areassumed by modern moral theory while pointing beyond it to a justifiable ethical critique ofcapitalism, and from which we are able to differentiate between what Leon Trotsky calledLike us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterMarxism FestivalMarxism is a four day political festival hosted bythe Socialist Workers Party. This year it takesplace in London from 6-9 July.Themes:Donald Trump, the US and resistanceJeremy Corbyn, Labour and the fight forsocialismResisting the racist backlash100 years since the Russian Revolution: whatcan we learn today?Fighting oppressionIslamophobia todayWar, imperialism, the Middle East and PalestineSearchLatest issue|Back issues|Links|Resources|Translations|Subscribe|AboutMarxism and ethics – International Socialism1 of 255/11/17, 11:25 AM
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