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Peter Binns
Marx, Tony Skillen correctly tells us, spoke with
contempt of morality while at the same time condemning capitalism as an utterly evil system.

‘Why is this attack on capitalism reconcilable
with the rejection of “the moral point of view”?’

Tony asks. His answer is: ‘Because morality is
one of the (real) evils of class society, and
especially of capitalist society’. (‘Marxism &
Morality’ RPB pll). Emphasising the point, he

Marx called the whole established notion and
practice of ‘morality’ into question. He regarded
it as he regQrded religion, as inherently ideological, mystifying and repressive
(RPB p12)

A similar point of view is presented by Andrew
Collier (‘on the Production of Moral Ideology’

RP9). Morality, he tells us, represses libido.

It exists to enforce the hegemony of the ruling
classes. It is therefore in the interests of the
exploited to thrust it aside. Our principles
ought not to guide our desires but the other way
about – we ought to change our principles to
accord with our natural inclinations. Andrew
Collier and Tony Skillen may differ in the relative importance that they eaoh give to Freud, but
they both agree that morality must give way to
natural inclinations this side of the socialist

Revolutionary Socialism is PremoraI
The bizarre thing about Andrew and Tony’s ‘antimoralism’ is how extraordinarily moralistic it isl
Certainly if you are going to have moral principles
what these two have to say might play a useful
role, but this is beside the point. For the
cogency of the revolutionary point of view does
not at all depend upon adherence to moral naturalism or Freudianism, or any other substantive moral
point of view. For instance look at the polemic
which Marx launches against the moralistic cant of
the bourgeoisie in the Communist Manifesto:

You are horrified at our intending to do away
with private property. But in your existing
society, private property is already done away
with for nine-tenths of the population; its
existence for the few is solely due to its nonexistence in the hands of those nine-tenths.

You reproach us, therefore, with intending to
do away with a form of property, the necessary
condition for whose existence is, the nonexistence of any property for the immense majori ty of society.

In one word, you reproach us with intending to
do away with your property. Precisely so; that
is just what we intend …

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does
is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the
labour of others by means of such appropriation.

(Moscow edition pp74-5)
No question here of confronting one set of moral
ends with another I Bourgeois moral principles are
not set against some abstract and idealised standard and shown to be lacking in intrinsic merit.

Df course this could be done, but if it constit~
utes the main thrust of one’s argument, one never
gets beyond a purely idealist critique of bourgeois morality. Instead Marx utilises the abstract and universal principles of bourgeois moral~ty as a powerful means of condemning the reality


of capitalist society. Bourgeois society therefore stands condemned by its own moral principles
– we don’t have to invent or espouse new moral
points of view to draw the conclusion that we must
smash capitalism. Those workers who believe in a
strict adherence to the ‘fair’ and ‘universal’

application of bourgeois moral principles certainly do not have to be disabused of these principles. On the contrary, the fact that they believe
this may be one of their strongest reasons for
wanting to disabuse themselves of the reality
which is so palpably at variance with these

The best and most effective way of confronting
those who have illusions in bourgeois sociOety is
thus to show the contradiction between the idealised theory and the stark reality of capitalism.

A good example of how to do this, is Socialist
Worker’s coverage of the Lambton affair:

Not a peep of protest can be heard from the antiporn merchant, bord Longford, one of whose
closest friends is Lord Lambton. Not a splutter
of indignation from Mary whitehouse or Malcolm
Muggeridge or the Festival of Light.

These people and organisations know perfectly
well that prostitution – the subordination of
human relationships to cash – is an indispensable part of the social system which they support.

people are bought and sold on the factory floor
so that shareholders of the Lambton and Jellicoe
breed can grow rich and indulge themselves, among
other things, by buying and selling prostitutes.

Shares and whores, in short, are both essential
to the lives of an entire class whose other main
preoccupation is telling hospital workers, miners
and engineers to restrain their wage demands in
the national interest.

(SW 325, 2/6/73)
Now of course all codes of moral belief derive
their currency in a given society from its structure of social relations. Any more to change
society will therefore inevitably undermine such
a moral code in so far as it succeeds. What this
shows is that when and if universal bourgeois
moral principles can be successfully utilised to
provide reasons for smashing the status quo, they
are unlikely to survive but will instead wither
away. Even so they may still be able to provide
us with powerful weapons in the struggle and
therefore cannot be ignored.

As Marx’s thought matured, so too did his premoralism develop further, and by the time he was
writing Capital it was complete. He had by then
completely changed the emphasis from that of the
outrage and horror at the barbarity of capitalism
to be foqnd in the Paris Manuscripts, to the
fuller scientific understanding of how capitalism
works as a system. This did not make him the
slightest bit less out~aged, but it did mean that
outrage ceased to be the starting point for how
capitalism was to be concevied of as a whole.

The key to understanding this change of emphasis
is given by the form of the dynamic of the development of capitalism to be found in Marx’s later
writings. Therefore he specifically spells out
the contradictory nature of capitalism. Capitalism is self-destructive – its own development
progressively ~aralyses, subverts and tears apart
oits own structure. Thus it is completely incapable of fulfilling the aims of any. :O,t the universalised moral systems which have atte~ted to
make capitalism acceptable to its victims. Conceived of as a whole, therefore, it is nonsensical
to be in favour of it. To be in favour of capitalism is to be in favour of its dynamic, which is
at the same time to be in favour of its destruction. That is why Marx does not share the moral
naturalism and libertarianism of skillen and Coll-

ier. He goes one stage further: seeing that
capitalist reality cannot satisfy any universalised ends, the crucial division becomes that between those prepared to fight against capitalism
and those who are not. To pretend otherwise, to
imagine that we must all be cleansed of ‘morality’

first of all, can only encourage needness moral
sectarian; The revolutionary alternative to
this is to seize upon people’s moral sentiments
whenever and wherever they can be used in the
process of developing the will and the understanding to smash the system and create socialism.

Hence the term ‘pre-moralism’, for it is a precondition for the fulfillment of any coherent and
universal set of moral aims that capitalism be
smashed first of all.

Against Ulopianism.

Marx distanced himself from moralism for another
reason too. He was not just concerned with utilising moral feelings against the capitalist status
quo, but in addition it was important to demonstrate the fruitlessness of the moral approach
within capitalism. Utterly wrong conclusions
about what to do will be drawn if we simply look
at our aims and aspirations and try to solve them
within the system. The reason for this is that
capitalism is a system which proceeds according
to its own laws – it is not subject to rational,
conscious control. So there is no way we can
take it as a whole and move it in the direction
we choose. The formulae of capitalist Political
Economy thus
.•• bear it stamped upon them in unmistakeable
letters that they belong to a state of society.

in which the process of production has the
mastery over man, instead of being controlled
by him •..

(Capital Moscow 1961 Vol 1 p8l)
The only way society can be subjected to human
rational control is by terminating its sUbjection
to the laws of capitalism, and this remains true
whatever direction one would like to choose for
society as a whole, and not simply the direction
of Freudian-naturalism which Collier and others
have favoured.

What distinguishes scientific from utopian social
ism, is that it refuses to have its strategy
dictated by what appears as the most important
thing, as seen from one or another moral point of
view. As Engels put it in ‘socialism: Utopian
and Scientific’:

The growing perception that existing social
institutions are unreasonable and unjust, that
reason has become unreason and right wrong, is
only proof that in the modes of production and
exchange changes have silently taken place· with
which the social order, adapted to earlier
economic conditions, is no longer in keeping.

From this it also follows that the means of
getting rid of the incongruities that have been
brought to light must also be present, in a
more or less developed condition, within the
changed modes of production themselves. These
means are not to be invented by deduction from
fundamental principles, but are to be discovered in the stubborn facts of the existing
system of production.

(Selected Works Moscow 1962 Vo12 p136)
From a purely moral point of view few people of
any political persuasion would rate the degradation and exploitation of the industrial working
class as more important than say, the starv~tion
of thousands of millions in the Third World. Undoubtedly, they would say,’ the latter is a·wgrse
evil of capitalism. Yet for all that revolutionary socialists are correct when their strategy

orients them to the former. It is overwhelmingly
obvious that the form of labour which produces and
reproduces capital is to be found in the productive
activity of the industrial working class. So the
only way of attacking capitalism’s domination over
the Third World is in the fight by industrial
workers (who are predominantly situated in the
developed world) against their own exploitation in
the factory. Moreover, capitalism has created the
working class not only as the unique agent for the
abolution of capitalism, but also as the unique
agent for the creation of socialism. That is why
Marx characterises the working class as
•. , a class always increasing in numbers, and
disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter
upon the mode of production, which has sprung up
and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they
beeome incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder.

(Capital Vol 1 p763)
So it is certainly not moral outrage which determines what one’s political orientation ought to
be, but one’s knowledge of the unique role and
potentiality of the proletariat as a revolutionary class. It is in this sense that Engels is
absolutely right about the irrelevance of moral
principles here – and this remains true whether
the moral principles involved are those of the
puritan-bourgeois whom Tony Skillen and Andrew
Collier take as their stalking horse, or for that
matter, the ‘anti-moralism’ and Freudian-naturalism in whose name they conduct their criticism.

The Collective Self
Tony Skillen, to his credit, certainly recognises
the insufficiency of mere criticism of bourgeois
morality. Without developing ‘socialist forms of
struggle’, he argues, we shall be left with ‘the
mere erosion of bourgeois morality’ which ‘is
compatible with lumpen cynicijiID – a passive precondi tion of fascism’ (RPB plO). No such caution
is to be found in Andrew Collier’s paper – indeed
he draws exactly the opposite conclusion (In his
terminology bourgeois morality appears in the
personified form as the superego): ‘As long as
the superego is strong, frustrations imposed by
the present structure of social reality will reinforce moral ideology; weaken the superego and
they will be seen as intolerable restraints, to
be resisted and. if possible abolished by the overthrow of that structure.’ (RP9 p12)
Such a conclusion i~ not at all borne out by
history in the one-sided manner that Andrew suggests, and nor could it be unless the most mechanistic theories were correct. After all what constitutes ‘the structure’ which our newly liberated
ego is going to ‘overthrow’? Is it perhaps the
World Zionist Conspiracy against which the Nazis
launched their crusade? Or the blacks and debit/
credit financing which the National Front see as
the scourge of the Western world today? The problem is not what the structure r~ally is, but what
it appears to be to those who, as the crisis
develops, perceive that whatever it is it fails to
meet their own needs and aspirations. How it will
appear does not at all in general depend upon
individual psyches, but ~pon the episodes which
bring about the perception that the system can’t
deliver the goods. Workers who have experienced
years of collective and successful militant
struggle, whose consciousness has in an important
sense been formed in the struggle, act instinctively along class lines. Revolutionary socialism


can appear as natural to them precisely because it
makes their own previous acts intelligible and
significant. Equally they will only have been
capable of class unity against the boss if they
have succeeded in developing a certain immunity
against the usual ruling-class ploys of dividing
one section of workers against another. And this
is the best vaccination against fascist ideas that
there is.

This is hardly a novel conclusion in itself.

After all we have merely reasserted that one’s
conception of social reality is a product of
social conditions and the struggle against those
conditions. But it is an important reminder because it enables us to put Andrew Collier’s recommendations into a proper perspective, and to
contrast them with some other (and in my view
better) alternatives. To do so other than in the
most schematic way would take us way beyond the
bounds of Radical Philosophy, for it depends upon
a highly concrete analysis (and therefore a
relatively unphilosophical one) of the nature of
contemporary capitalism. All ·the same some generalisations are to the point. Inevitably as
capitalism’s current crisis develops, more and
more of its victims will find it incapable of
delivering the goods, and will for this reason
be inclined to question the moral ideology which
supports and justifies it. In general, the deeper
the crisis, the more rapidly will this process
develop. Consequently th~ role of revolutionaries is to aid and participate in the development
of this process. This process is predominantly
an objective one, that is to say it proceeds so
long as workers successfully fight off attacks
on their standard of living, independently of
what they, individually or collectively, believe
themselves to -be doing. Secondly, revolutionaries
have to show that the answer lies in workers’

power in the factory and above all in the state.

This can only be done if something objective,
namely a mass revolutionary party, is built within
the working class. But even so this process is
predominatly a subjective one, because it only
succeeds if sufficient numbers of workers consciously strive to create revolutionary socialism.

These are linked processes, for in the long run
the only way for workers to escape capitalist
rationalisations is to smash capitalism and create
socialism. But we can still look at them separately to assess the factors that influence them,
and to see the relevance of Andrew Collier’s remarks in this respect. First of all then, does
his analysis point to ways of developing workers’

real and effective resistance against the demands
of capitalism? Of course notl For· the ur”gent
need of the British working class today is to
build forms and organs of struggle capable of
linking and generalising the spontaneous and isolated struggles of, for instance, the local government and health service workers. To do so
the spontaneity of individual sections of workers
has to be developed into the collective response
of the whole working class. The material conditions for a class-wide disaffection from bourgeois
ideas are thus advanced only by those measures
which develop a collective class-wide response of
the proletariat itself. It follows that such
conditions can only suffer if marxists encourage
a form of Freudian-ego-gratification in its place.

Precisely this renders such ideas incapable of
helping at the subjective level either. For as
individual egos, the workers will never conceive
of themselves collectively – they will never
achieve a class consciousness. To achieve this,
we need forms of thought and action which stress


the ‘we’ in place of and against the ‘I’, exactly
the opposite therefore of what Andrew Collier
suggests. Of course the various repressive apparatuses of bourgeois society like the bourgeois
family repress and stunt the development of the
individual. All the same it is a mistake to
concentrate attention on this point, and to do so
can easily lead to reactionary politics. Firstly
this is because it leaves out the most crucial
point: man is a social being. We live in societies not merely -as H~bbes and Locke believedto satisfy pre-existent individual needs and
wants, but because our very needs themselves are
overwhelmingly collective and social – they could
neither be fulfilled nor created without society.

One of the chief ideological functions of contemporary moral and political philosophy is to obscure this point, and by doing so it has covertly
underwritten and endorsed laissez-faire Liberalism. Society, this theory informs us, exists
solely to give the pre-existing ‘individual’ more
elbow room. It therefore sees any attempt to use
society to cr~~t~ collective satisfactions and
freedoms as an unjustifiable encroachment on the
‘rights’ of the ‘individuals’.

We reject this theory. It falsely identifies
self-fulfillment with the satisfaction of the’nonsocial self. It completely ignores, and therefore
in practice it can only repress and stunt, the
potentiality that mankind has for collective selfrealisation. More concretely we need a theory in
its place which not only expresses the collective
as against the individual, but does so in ways
which ~llow the working class to understand both
the nature of their relationship to capital and
also the means of cbanging it. At the moral level
this means that the theory must legitimate the
struggle of the workers against capital and also
underwrite the moral urgency of their task. To do
so there is no doubt that the theory will have to
encourage some virtues and condemn some vices.

Certainly this will not t-ke the form of Categorical Imperatives, because these principles apply
to proletarians only and not members of the bourge01s1e. But neither could they be the purely
pragmatic rationalisations of self-interest that
Andrew Collier suggests. He is certainly right
to stress the importance of making society and
its rules change so as to fit the people that it
contains rather than vice-versa, but this does
not mean that people in general, or the working
class in particular, must not subordinate selfinterest to socialist principles on some occasions
t09. It is not sufficient to rely upon a ‘practical reason of a non-moral kind’ which just
‘involves understanding one’s own needs, developing them in such a way that their most satisfying
form of satisfaction is possible •.• selecting the
best means for the satisfaction of needs, etc.’

If this were literally true there could be no
working-class heroes and certainly no workingclass martyrs, for within Collier’s theory there
is no room for acts of supererogation, and especially not when they lead to the agent’s own
death. If all acts are to be judged by the mechanical operations of Andrew’s felicific calculus
many of the courageous acts which have inspired
millions of workers, from the Paris Commune to the
1905 st Petersburg Soviet would have been mistakes
– pure and simple. Yet in spite of the fact that
from the point of view of many individuals involved, ‘self-interest’ could never have justified
their action, who could doubt the value and the
correctness of what they did?

We value such actions because they bear witness
to the ability to place the interests of the work-

ing-class Clbove one’s own as an individual.

only is it a form of moral philistinism to construct a theory in which they must be excluded,
but it can only devalue an important (though subsidiary) weapon in the working-class armoury for
use in the class struggle.

The Valu~ of Morality
Morals, or rather moral principles and actions,
only become possible or intelligible under certain

In our present discussion for instance they arise in and through a conflict between the interests of the worker as an individual and as a member of the proletariat.

We have
characterised his action as ‘moral’ on occasions
when he opts for the latter and against the former, and we have done so for the following reasons: (1) It is against his self-interest, (2) It
is in the interests of his class, (3) The interests ef his class are, ultimately, the interests
of mankind.

In situations where the proletariat
has a very real chance of defeating capitalism,
self-interest becomes (in general) the interest
of the working class too.

The arena of the specifically moral act diminishes accordingly on
these occasions.

Working class moral activity is of course less
important tharr the non-moral or self-interested
actions of the class, but its significance is for
all that a real one, certainly shows
Andrew Collier to be wrong or confusing when he
claims that ‘There is no moral basis for socialism, no such thing as “living as a socialist” in
capitalist society … How a socialist gets his
money or his kicks is politically irrelevant’.

For it is precisely proletarian moral considerations, embodied in the concepts of class solidarity, cooperation with one’s work mates and
struggle against the bosses, that makes the best
militants reject the seductive offers of cushy
managerial posts or other attempts to buy them

‘How a socialist gets his money’ can thus
be of the utmost importance.

So it is a believe that all correct actions can be validly derived from one’s needs and
interests, for sometimes these must be overridden by actions derived from considerations
which concern one’s very-authenticity as a socialist.

Interests don’t always have to be confronted
by other interests therefore. Correct actions
follow from what one is as much as from what one

So, in conclusion, we don’t need morality to demonstrate the necessity for revolutionary socialism. To understand the real and contradictory
nature of capitalism is to appreciate its incompatibility with both bourgeois and socialist moral
thecries. At this level it is therefore superfluous and idealistic t . opt for Freudian naturalism.

However the wo~}:’.ng class, as the only
agents capable of smas’,~;,ij capitalism, will need
moral principles to gu:..

an individual’s action
when such action comes into conflict with his
self interest.

But in that case too, what is
needed can hardly be summarised by Collier’s programme of combatting the superego in the name of
the ego. For in reality it is the ego itself
which stands in need of suppression to the
collective subject ‘we’, to solidarity, and to
fighting against the capitalist class.

In all
these areas Andrew Collier is going in the wrong
direction. ,…


Recluclionism and Ihe
‘Uniqueness of man’

I want to examine here some of the arguments used
by John Lewis in The Uniqueness of Man [Lawrence &
Wishart, 1974], an eminently readable polemic against the crude reductionism employed by such
notorious characters as Desmond Morris, Jacques
Monod, H. J. Eysenck and B. F. Skinner.

In Lewis’s
main thesis (that man is more than a collection of
molecules, mechanical interactions, or a ‘naked
ape’ that has acquired a few tricks) I find muchto
agree with. Moreover Lewis’s exposition of the
reactionary and anti-social nature of these views
is beyond dispute.

However, in putting forward
arguments to demonstrate the ‘uniqueness of man’

Lewis commits himself to certain dubious assumptions concerning the relationship between a philosophical standpoint and a moral or political

These invite the following questions:

does a particular political attitude inevitably
follcw from a philosophical standpoint? What is
the relationship between the metaphysical assumptions which underlie the theories of Morris,
Eysenck et aI, and the reactionary and manipulative political attitudes associated with them?

Does a manipulative attitude inevitably follow
from reductionism, as Lewis suggests?

According to Lewis reductionism, or to use his
expression, ‘the philosophy of nothing but’, has
expressed itself in three main forms: (i) in the
modern materialism of Francis Crick and Jacq~es
Monod, who reduce man to physical and chemical constituents; (ii) in the theories of scientists,
such as Minsky and Turing, who regard the computer
as a model of the human brain, and (iii) in the
‘ethological and genetic’ myths of Konrad Lorenz,
Robert Ardrey, and Desmond Morris, who reduce man
to the level of the predatory carnivore or the
laboratory rat, ‘ineradicably aggressive’ and
‘motivated by a territorial imperative’. [pIS]
Though held by the BBC and the press as great
works of science very few of these theories have
any genuine scientific merit, and what is more,
argues Lewis, they rest on very shaky metaphysical

By concentrating on their philosophical weaknesses it is therefore possible,
Lewis maintains, to refute them without postulating the existence of further metaphysical entities,
or ‘vital principles’, which have been held to
determine the difference between organic and inorganic matter. Vitalism, however, has been dead
for over half a century.

Little would be gained
by its resurrection.

Yet, if there is no ‘vital
principle’ which distinguishes man from computers,
apes, or a chance collection of molecules, what is
unique about the human species? In the absence of
any ‘vital force’ the following view, put forward
by Monad, must seem very plausible:

… everything can be reduced to simple, obvious,
mechanical interactions. The animal is a machine
and there is no difference at all between men and
animals. 1
It must be recognized that science can, in principle at least, explain everything about physical
phenomena, but explaining everything from the
standpoint of a particular science does not include an explanation of how things are seen from
another standpoint.

The company’s accounts explain
everything to the accountant about the running of
the company, but they tell us nothing about the
‘goings on’ in the canteen.

Physics and chemistry


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