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Marxism and Morality

Tony Skillen
You just about need a pass to piss. Tha t’ t
no joke.

You raise your little hand i f you want
to go wee-wee. Then wait maybe half an hour ’till
they find a relief-man. And they write it down
every time too – cause you’re supposed to do it
in your time, not theirs. Try it too often and
you’ll get a week off.

General Motors worker

The other root cause of our present difficulties
with the workforce might be termed a general
lowering of” employees’ frustration tolerance.

Many employees, particularly the younger ones,
are increasingly reluctant to put up with factory
conditions, despite significant improvements we’ve
made in the physical environments in our plants.

Ford Director
(see The Lordstown Struggle Solidarity Pamphlet,
Marx spoke with contempt of morality, is said to have
burst out laughing at the mention of the word, and
claimed (in The German Ideology) ‘The communists
preach no morality at all’.

Yet it is obvious that
Marx knew capitalism to be a vicious social order, at
best transitionally necessary, which would in favourable conditions be replaced by a better one, socialism
and finally by a communist society. Most commentators
have seen inconsistency here; even the orthodox have
offered psychological explanations.

Thus some say:

‘Of course ethics is at the root of Marxism, but Marx’s
own bewitchment by a p:)sitivistic ideology of science
led him to conceal i t . ‘

others say: ‘Of course moral
principles have nothing in common with Marxist science
and politics whose objective role is simply to advance
the objective interests of the working class’.

others say: ‘Of course, as a science, Marxism is
value-free; but Marxist praxis presupposes extraempirical commitment to socialist ideals’. And so,
scholastic refinements regularly emerging, the debate
among professional Marxists goes on.

(See Goldmann
in Radical Philosophy 1).

But along lines indicated
in this journal by Andrew Collier and Richard Norman
(Radical Philosophy 5, 6] it is possible to see the
strength and coherence of Marx’s view – as far as it
can be known, since he had little to say on the
subject. As to its complete adequacy, however, I
shall later suggest some questions and suggest what
may themselves prove merely scholastic refinements.

Hopefully, discussion will help me find out.

Unlike Kautsky (Ethics and the Materialist Interpretation of History) and Engels (at least in AntiDUhring), Marx did not see ‘morality’ as a generic
concept embracing the ‘norms and values’ of all
societies, however different. For him, it seems,
morality was an historically specific ideological
institution functioning to mystify and discipline
people in accordance with the oppressive and exploit-

ative needs of class society. The communist movement’s
outlook, by exposing this, ‘shatters the basis of all
morality’ (German Ideology).

To the class-conscious
proletariat ‘law, morality and religion are … so
many bourgeois prejudices behind which there lurk
in ambush just as many bourgeois interests’.

(Communist Manifesto)
But clearly, whether ‘immature’ or ‘mature’, Marx
saw capitalism as an evil social order despite its
‘progressive’ aspects.

In Capital,l, p645 he writes:

Within the capitalist system all methods for
raising the social productiveness of” labour are
brought about at the cost of the individual
labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination
over, and exploitation of, the produGers; they
mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man,
degrade him to the level of an appendage to a
machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his
work and turn it into hated toil; they estrange
from him the intellectual potentialities of the
labour process in the same proportion as science
is incorporated in it as an independent power;
they distort the conditions under which he works,
subject him during the labour-process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they
transform his life-time into working-time, and
drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the
juggernaut of capital.

But all methods for the
production of surplus value are at the same time
methods of accumulation; and every extension of
accumulation becomes again a means for the
development of those methods.

It follows, therefore, that in proportion as capital accumulates,
the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or
low must grow worse.

Why is this attack on capitalism reconcilable with the
rejection of ‘the moral point of view’? Because
morality is one of the (real) evils of class society,
and especially of capitalist society.

‘Jhat 1s the
nature of this evil?

Three idealist accounts
The first point I would make here is that it is
not the specific content of specifically bourgeois
moral ideas that is at the heart of the matter.

I mean ideas about the sanctity of private property,
the family and the state. Obviously ;,1arxists are
going to debunk such ideas as mystical masks over
the inhuman face of capitalism.

But if this were
what is at issue we could simply strive to work
out a system of moral principles which is free
from the invidious imperatives of bourgeois

In a Kantian way, then, universalistic imperatives
– ‘treat no one as a means’, ‘tell the truth’ might
be suggested.

But such left-liberal philanthropisr.1 assumes that, perhaps with Divine Jielp,
obedience to such imperatives would in fact serve
il. common good.

!1Ovever, whereas, unlike ‘do not
take what another owns’, such imperatives do not
have their invidious character stamped all over
them, blanket obedience to them, here and now,
supports oppression and deception.

to refrain on principle from harming or lying to
the bosses or the state is for ther’1 to be Ol,en to
exploitation – there is scant common interest;
the good of the exploiters is typically the harm
of the exploited.

To Lelieve the call for ‘us
all to make sacrifices in the interests of all’

is to be ready to be plil.yed for a sucker.

So is
Kantian absolutism the target of ~!arx’ s attack?

Trotsky in ‘I’heir .”‘1orals and 0urs, makes these
points and puts forward in place of ](antian principles, a set of moral imperatives supposed to be
geared to revolutionary politics.

lIe advocates,
in fact, a socialist utilitarianism – advocating
duties sacrifices etc subservient to the end of
‘increasing the power of man over nature and


abolishing the power of man over man’.

Thus what
-is altered is the content of moral ideas – socialist principles instead of bourgeois principles.

(See also Lenin’s address to the Third All-Russian
Congress of Communist Youth 1920 – an important
biblical source of Soviet Moralistianity) .

But as has been indicat2d, Marx did not suggest
this road. Marx called the whole established notion
and practice of ‘moyality’ into question.

He regarded
it, as he regarded religion, as inherently ideological,
mystifying and repressive.

In 1, 2 and 3, moral
systems are rejected in favo~r of others.

We need
to clarify what they typically have in common.

The Bureaucrat in the Psychopath
The Dualism of Moral Theory
Moral thought characteristically rests on an assumed .

‘individualism’ – egoism, selfishness, antisociability, at the core of human nature. Morality’s
function, then, is precisely to inhibit this natural
selfishness and guide us in some sort of modus vivendi
with ‘others’.

By virtue of our conscience we have
a poW’;;!r to regulate our naturally rampant lower self.

As Profes~
Peters puts it: ‘A person’s character
rp-presents his own achievement, his own manner of
imposing regulation on his inclinations’. (Ethics and
Education, pS7)
since ‘individualism’ is the basic characteristic
of human beings, ‘the individual’ is seen as what
morali ty has to control.

Thus the psychic split in
moral theory typically has as its secular corollary
in a split of ‘Individual’ and ‘Society’; for it is
as ‘:;oci(,ty’ s’ agent that the conscience whispers to
us (i t speaks loutler when representing a Higher

There is evil in the world, we are to
believe, because there are un-moralised individuals
in the world – inside agitators and evil will be kept
down to the extent that these bad agents are
suppressed or caused to suppress themselves (reformed).

Thus is the social location and background of people’s
lives taken for granted. At whatever level, state,
factory, party, family, the existing social order is
the implicit framework in whose official but unspoken
terms people’s actions are understood and assessed as criminal, disruptive, disloyal, naughty or whatever.

Thus social institutions’ validity, let alone
their role in producing the sinner and his sin, is
not at issue – there are good bosses and there are
‘some’ bad bosses; the exceptions prove the rule that
bosses as such are all right.

Thus it is ‘up to the individual’ to measure up
to ‘what is required’ and to control himself accordinqly.

If he is guilty of failing to do this, it
signifies cl fault in him; that is, it is his fault,
and he is to blame. ls the cause of his own shortcoming he must change himself so that he might deserve
a fair day’s reward for a fair day’s virtue.

So we
have the whole voluntaristic claptrap that amounts to
a terror is tic demand that people are ‘responsible
(answerCl.blel for pulling themselves up by their own
spiritual l.Joot laces.’

In other words the high tone
of moral language masks the social mobilisation of
fear, (this ‘lol.Jilisation l.Jecomes quite explicit in
backwoods calls to end ‘permissiveness’ etc where
‘morality’ becomes reduced to meaning external conformity – all that can be expected of the lower
The moralist educator says: ‘the child
must be held responsible before he is responsible
so that he may come to attain responsibility.’

Removing the puns on ‘responsibility’ we might say
that the individual is punished before he understands
what is going on so that he will come to obey voluntarily. As Nietzsche said: ‘men were treated as
‘free’ so that they might be judged and punished so that they might become guilty’. (Twilight of the

We shall return to the question of what morality
‘amounts to in practice’ later.

lfuat I am now
~mphasising is the double split that is basic to
moralistic thought: the split among people and the


split within the person. What human nature pulls
asunder it is Morality’s mystical function to join
together; Morality, rational, disinterested, universal, enters as a Deus-ex-machina, as That-WhichOvercometh our arbitrary selfish, particularistic
defects, as a mysterious internal cement which holds
all together by holding each down.

(From Kant to
Warnock this pattern is clear despite warnock’s
sound criticisms of Kantianism). Only some of the
more economistic utilitarians, Hume (to a degree) ,
Bentham, Paley and Baine, with their businesslike
contempt for nonsense on spiritual stilts were
consistent enough to see that if people are selfish,
their conscience has to be seen, not in its own
mysterious contrary-ta-nature terms, but in terms
of the same selfish principle – i.e. in terms of

Bentham himself was concerned, on behalf
of the general interest, that the masses remain unconscious of this, lest the morality’s secret should
leak out and away. And Hume, whose discussion of
chastity should be familiar to all young ladies,
writes of the need to instil sexual ‘repugnance’ in
‘the ductile minds of the fair sex in their infancy.’

(Treatise Ill, 2, xii).

Bernard Harrison has portrayed the shamefaced egoism of other British Horalists (Radical Philosophy 6). And from Burke to Devlin
and now Hampshire, British Letters boast an honourable
tradition of ‘realists’ emphasising the legal and
‘constitutional’, i.e. politically enforced, character
of morality – as the inner barrier, sustained by fear,
against the natural rapaciousness and/or corruptibility of the human individual. Liberals, on the other
hand, emphasising that ‘enforced morality’ is a
‘contradiction-in-terms’ (T H Green), but excepting
children from ‘the principle of liberty’ (J S Mill),
are precisely those who emphasise education to instil
voluntary self-subjection in the people during childhood.

On the whole, then, the British philosophers
have done their duty; it was left to poets, such as
Blake and Lawrence, to penetrate the temple courts of
official ideology.

Critical-Critics of Moral Ideology:

‘Wheels in the Head’

German moralism received its metaphysical crown from
Kant who exposed the bejewelled isolation of the moral
life: ‘ … if none of us ever did any act of love or
charity but only kept inviolate the rights of everyman, there would be no misery in the world except
sickness and misfortune, and other such sufferings
as do not spring from the violation of rights.’

(Lectures on Ethics). Kant tried to validate morality;
to do so he had to elevate the human will above the
crass sweaty causal order; to split man into a celestial bureaucrat and a capricious psychopath, to
postUlate an individual dignity, freedom and rationality quite independent of worldly ‘contingencies’,
and to postulate a divine wage and penalty structure
in the afterlife.

Kant’s strained dualism, highlighting the contradictions in moral ideology itself, came under attack
from Hegel.

In his early writings he compared the
loyal subject of the state with the conscientious
paragon of virtue: ‘the former have their lord outside themselves, while the latter carries his lord
within himself’.

fuereas morality involves a legalistic heteronomy, love, ‘the spirit of Jesus’, ‘is
a spirit raised above morality.’ (Early Theological
Writings). The young Hegelian, Max Stirner, depicted
moral precepts as ‘wheels in the head’. For Stirner
morality was a secular by-product of religion – the
internalised residue of the Divine Father’s commandments. As such its oppressiveness is greater than
overt religion since, through morality, authoritarian commandments ‘entwine themselves all the more
inextricably with me.’

‘To expel God from heaven
and to rob him of his ‘transcendence’ cannot yet
support a claim of victory, if thereby he
is only chased into the human breast and gifted
with indelible immanence.’ (The Ego and its Own).

But as Harx pointed out, stirner accepted the

dbstract dualism of moralistic thought and simply
asserted morality’s antithesis, egoism.

It was left to Nietzsche and Freud to explore
this intra-psychic subordination more deeply.

Nietzsche regarded moralism, with its ‘intercourse
between imaginary beings’ – God, the soul, the ego,
the will etc, as ‘mere symptomatology’, the deceptive surfacing of anti-life forces deeply embedded in
society. Freud largely followed this view (see, for
example, ‘Civilized Sexual Morality and Modern
Nervousness’, 1908). Considered as authoritative
Knower of Right and Wrong, the conscience is an

Scientifically described, what we have
here is an internalised, socially formed force funded
by the spontaneous love and hate the little child
feels for his needed but frustrating and humiliating

In Civilization and its Discontents (1930),
Freud came to focus on basic aggressive rather than
libidinal forces – aggressive competition is now
‘human nature’.

What means does civilization employ in order to
inhibit the aggressiveness which opposes it, to
make it harmless, to get rid of i t perhaps?

What happens in the history of the development
of the individual to render his desire for
aggression innocuous? Something very remarkable
which we should never have guessed but which is
nevertheless quite obvious. His aggressiveness
is introjected, internalised … directed back
towards his own ego. There i t is taken over by
a portion of the ego which sets itself over
against the rest of the ego as super-ego, and
now, which, in the form of ‘conscience’, is ready
to put into action against the ego the same
harsh aggressiveness that the ego would have
liked to satisfy upon other extraneous individuals.

Thus we ‘feel’ guilt and seek punishment.

Despite the criticism that Freud’s ‘natural’ man
seems peculiarly tailored to the needs of the internal
sovereign, Freudian theory shatters the illusion of
the autonomy of the mature conscientious man (KantKohlberg) – shifting our perspective from a rationalist, voluntarist and idealist one to one which is
psychopathological. The morality-compelled man
relates to his fellows because he ‘must’; he is
estranged from them, from himself and from his
activities and achievements.

The unquestionable
character of his conscience merely echoes the
authoritarian character of the social demands he
has grown up to embrace. As Marcuse says of western

Duty, work and discipline serve as ends in themselves, no longer dependent on rational justification in terms of actual necessity. Renunciation
becomes an integral part of the individual’s
mental household, (part of his constitution as it
were) transmitted from generation to generation
through education and the social climate.

(Soviet Marxism, p263)
Morality in this sense then, is a sort of
suppression, rationalized as the necessary subjection
by a higher power of what is base – whether the enemy
is presented as ‘the flesh’, ‘the self’, ‘the false
self’, ‘impulses’, or ‘petit-bourgeois tendencies’.

The moral ‘must’ is the individualistic form of
socially inculcated demands. To act ‘rightly’ then,
is to relate to human beings through the institu~
tional medium of duty – the direct interactions of
sympathy and antipathy will be alien to one’s second

Cheap Government!

The Political Economy of Bourgeois Virtue
In examining morality’s critics, I have so far
focused on the psychological structure of traditional
morality. Generally speaking this is as far as the
non-Marxist critics go.

stirner, for example, seems
to have thought that sheer insight could roll the
wheels out of the head. Nietzsche, though he stressed

in The Genealogy of Morals the social labour which
produced, over time, the calculable and docile moral
man, tended to divide the human race into the strong
and the weak. And Freud saw neurotic guilt and
repression as necessary to advanced culture.

Now ~larxists, following certain vulgar remarks
of their patrons, have often poured scorn on psychologism, to the extent, as Sartre says (in The Problem
of Method), that they tend to think as if workers
were born at the factory gate.

But Marxists need not
deny psychology; as Nilhelm Reich saw, the problem is
to locate it. Thus we should examine now, although
it constantly generates ‘immorality’, capital needs
morality in the sense outlined. Further, since
morality doesn’t function in practice as a body of
‘ideas’ but as an institutionally produc~d structure,
we should examine these institutional productive
forces, especially the family and the school.

Capitalism is a repressive social system in which
the mass of the people are forced to work at hard,
boring, debilitating and oppressive jobs to credte
surplus value for the monopolists of the means of
production – the capitalist class. The principal
mechanism of this domination and exploitation is the
market and particularly the labour-market.

necessarily functions not only to force people to
offer themselves for work at a price, but to compete
for work.

Since this work is, in general, drudgery,
this competition is, to the worker, a means of obtaining commodities whose value lies outside and in
contrast to the work activity itself.

To the extent that capital dominates society,
social forms of life are broken up. Co-operative
relationships, patterns of reciprocity, are destroyed
and commodity – relationships replace them – the
cash nexus imposes itself on all activity; (‘ .,. their
own social action takes the form of the action of
objects, which rule the producers instead of being
ruled by them’ (Marx, Capital Vol.I, p75).

capitalism divides and rules. To the extent that
capital dominates, then, market-orientation is the
norm – and the egoistic, envy dominated, mutually
hostile, competitive personalities that go with it.

Crudely, the bourgeois compete for aggrandise~ent,
the proletarians for a ‘decent’ standard of existe!1ce,
that is a standard in accordance with the worker’s
ideologically formed and ‘workerist’ conception of
his ‘worth’ – ‘I’m only a common old working chap’.

Capitalism involves competition and repression dividing and ruling.

It is not simply a contest among
self-asserting individuals; in different ways it
requires repression of the bourgeoisie as well as of
the proletariat (capitalism is a structured system of
relations, it is not the recurrent brain-child of a
number of pig-gods). Marx emphasised the asceticism
of the capitalists – they had to forego consumption,
lest they squander their surplus- value, fail to
invest, fail to accumulate, and go to the wall.

More recently, the ambitious executive has to restlessly advance the corporation by restlessly advancing
himself to rest in an early grave. And it is even
more obvious that workers have to learn to submit to
the ‘natural’ rules of the ‘free’ market in which
their ‘bargaining position’ is so weak.

By its very logic capitalism generates the threat
of mutual strangulation among competing capitalists
and capitalist groupings and non-participation and
rebellion among the exploited and oppressed.

wage system plays a key maintenance role, but clearly
what is crucial is the state, as the guardian of
private property, the atomiser of society whose
‘common functions’ it appropriates as its own speciality – in ‘the general interest’ – and the conflictmanager among capitalist sectors and~between antagonistic classes.

But schematically we can see, as
lIegel did (not to mention Thrasy Machus) that the moral
conscience’s role (and hence moral training’s role)
is analogous – as the internal suppressor of untoward
tendencies, as an imposer of ‘lawful’ pacification
(hence passivity) in the soul. Thus morality, like
the external state institution and in general subordination to it (and when most successful, seen as
its validation and voice) represents an alienated


enforcer of community in a social order devoid of real
community – an order which needs external and internal

(If the state is the march of God on earth,
Morality is His parade on the spirit). The two
aspects of moralistic theory’s individualism mentioned
earlier are thus seen in a practical context: morality
is the missionary advance party of capitalism’s
divide and rule attack.

Morality, then, gets its driving force from antagonistic (and li.terally hate-generating) relations
in society, the very relations it is ordained to
order. But orie of its functions is precisely to
conceal these social antago;isms through the ideological form of an antagonism between ‘individual’

and ‘society’ and between ‘inclination’ and ‘duty’.

It thus buries class struggle in a fog ‘self-denial’

and concern for ‘fair play’. (‘The better off are
having to make sacrifices too’). Thus moralism
defines and even helps to generate the conflicts it
is morality’s appointed task to heal – a structural
hypocrisy. In the absence of co-operative ties
embedded in the very structure of relationships,
centrally in the ‘mode of production’, the capitalist
division of labour dictates specialist forces of
control: ‘bodies of armed men’ and the scary spiritual ‘voice of conscience’. Morality, then, is such
a specialized alien power (for an historical study,
see for example Chapter XI of Thompson’s Making of
the English Working Class).

The Production of Morality: the Vanishing Hand
Morality rests on and reinforces human isolation.

social virtue is a means of avoiding a guilty con~
science – the earthly wages of sin. The production
of this conscientiousness, in turn, is the specific
function of the family and the school, as well as
the old mother church. Parents and teachers are the
judges of ‘acts’ and the administrators of rewards
for goodness and punishments for naughtiness – the
conscience and the whole servile habit surrounding
it is their introjected shadow. In the monogamous
nuclear family, however liberal, the child .is at the
mercy of her family, deprived of responsibility
(determining agency) or choice of friends, and denied
the opportunity for full, wide and many-sided relationships with peers and older people. Thus are
reinforced the isolated, anxiety-ridden, competitive
character structures of the boureoisie and as well,
the tamed law-aspiring proletarian.

(See Vajda and
HelIer’s ‘Family Structure’ in Telos, Spring 1971
and also Maria Rosa Della Costa’s The Power of Women
and the Subversion of the Community (Falling Wall
Press). Isolation, egoism and submissiveness are
structural consequences of the family unit. Such is
its grip that even the child’s anti-authoritarian
rebellion is typically trapped within the family
perspective, remaining ‘oedipal’ and lacking a wider
politics; hence the family medium acts as both
channel and buffer for the capitalist order.

The universal school carries on the family’s
general task; indeed one of its purposes was to
compensate for the transmissive incapacity and unwillingness of ‘many parents’. Barry Sugarman, in a
recent revealing book, The School and Moral Development (1973), emphasises the depth-character of the
school’s function:

Impulse- control and deferred gratification is
highly institutionalized in the school, which
therefore plays an important part in further
developing these patterns of control in the
children on top of the beginning which their
families may llave made. In school the pupil is
usually required to spend most of his time sitting
in an assigned seat, most of the time not allowed
to talk or freely interact with his peers,
required to wait his turn before joining in a
discussion in the lesson, and so on. Intrinsically attractive activities are supposed to be
put aside in favour of others whose purpose is
hard to see, but which are demanded by teachers.




The child, then, is isolated and taught to be
‘good’ by being taught to be ‘responsible’ to adult
authorities as the source of evaluation and retribution. Thus the intensely anxious self-surveillance
and self-preoccupation of the conscientious: (Item:

a child hits ang hurts her friend. Parent turns on
the offending child and scolds her, ignoring meanwhile [and hence teaching the ‘naughty’ child to
ignore – save as a signal of guilt], the distress of
the other.) Moral Education takes the focus away
from a direct concern with the good or harmful social
consequences of actions. In what can well amount to
a wholesale rat-race of virtue, children are encouraged to compete for praise. Hence they acquire
a profound concern for telling tales and putting eacq
other down. Forbidden to co-operate rn school on
pain of ‘cheating’, their budding moralism precisely
takes the form of cheating or putting themselves in
the right against others in order to appropriate
privately the badges of goodness. Thus an uneasy
self-righteousness becomes the pathetic payment,
eagerly sought from their disarmers, by children
deprived of real s””olidari ty., power, or prod’¥=tive

‘The political economy of ethics is the opulence
of a good conscience, of virtue etc; but how can I
‘live virtuously if I do not live,’ (1844 Manuscripts)
Morality then, like the State, is part of the bourgeois market system of ‘civil society’; it does not
stand disinterestedly ‘above it all’, but operates
on the same principle. Morality is a medium of
social exchange, relations are mediated through it
and for the specific rewards and punishments it
represents; it rests on and enforces a break-down
of directly motivated relations of co-operation and
reciprocity. The moral man acts for the sake of a
‘good conscience’, not for the sake of his fellows.

(In general, then, the critique of the ‘superego’

must entail a critique of the ‘ego’.)

‘Contradictions among the People’:

Virtues and Limits of the ‘Amoral’ Perspective.

This analysis, I suggest, enables us to see how Marx
could scorn morality yet assail the evils of capitalism.

(It is outside the scope of this paper to
enquire into Marx’s underrating of the superstructure
in general and moralistic culture in particular.)
At no time has any fact/value dichotomy been mentioneQi
indeed its absence has been assumed. Nonetheless, it
seems to me, something is lost in the drift of what
has been said so far; most immediately, it appears
as if morality has been defined and objected to in
excessively narrow terms – ‘Kantian’ terms, it might
be suggested.

I have already indicated that, from a psychopolitical viewpoint, I do not see such a contrast
between the practical dynamics of Kantian (‘deontological’) and Benthamite (‘teleological’) morality,
the differences are in their way of grounding their
content, and in their interpretation of moral motivation – they ‘interpret the world in different ways’.

Nonetheless, there is a point to the objection and
to doubts about handing over ‘the (which?) language
of morals’ to the bourgeoisie.

(These doubts would
also hold for the accounts of Collier and Norman).

For, if we start from a different point, it is
possible to see ‘morality’ in the sense I’ve discussed it, as a kind of alien~tion or perversion of
what socialists might want to call ‘morality’.

(Compare my ‘The Statist Conception of Politics’

in Radical Philosophy 2).

The issue here is not simply a verbal one; not
even a matter of saying ‘this creates a lot of verbal
confusion in practice’. We have emphasised the way
morality functions to batter people into acquiescing
in their own oppression and impoverishment, and the
way it domesticates people into a subjected kind of
‘sociability’. But if we started in another way; if
we began, not with the moralist’s myth about ‘human
nature’ but with the necessity for human co-operation
in conditions of at least relative scarcity, we could

prevent a cQnception of morali~y as the mode of this
co-operation seen in terms of good and bad. For
‘scarcity’ means that some human dispositions are
. restrained or underdeveloped; it entails ‘limits’,
‘organization’. And it is possible, it seems to me
to understand this, and the ‘contradictions among
the people’ connected with it, even in conditions of
communism in terms acceptable to socialists and
libertarians (Compare Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid), so
that the critic of Morality is not left helplessly
mouthing platitudes about the natural goodness of man
in opposition to the misanthropy of the Moralists.

To talk of morality in this ‘non-moralistic’

sense, it seems to me, would not be to talk, in terms
of a ‘higher power’ controlling our inclinationsetc
(and this model includes I think the ‘true’ and
‘false’ self that Richard Norman was inclined to
counterpose). Rather it would be to talk in terms of
the relations among our activities (‘inclinations’/
‘impulses’/’passions’/’dispositions’) as embodied
in, formed and ‘disciplined’ by our way of life.

Thus, for example, ‘restraint’ would be understood
simply, not as the actions of a ‘higher’ being on
another but as the ‘blocking’ of one activity by
another stronger tendency with which it is incompatible. And ‘socialist restraint’ – and even
‘communist restraint’, would be, very crudely and
generally, the preponderance of communal productive
loving and communicative motives over divisive,
including moralistic! ones. But in any case we would
not be out to reduce all conflict to a ‘society
versus individual’ model, recognizing all kinds of
conflicts at all levels, some ‘antagonistic’, some

We may then need a radical-materialist ‘conception of morality’. And if we are to get beyond a
moralistic philosophy, we have to make sense of the
sorts of activity that moralism mystifies.

(I would
suggest, for example, that in Bernard Harrison’s
illuminating article ‘Fielding and the Moralists’ in
Radical Philosophy 6, we get no social critique of
what seems to me Fielding’s very nativist and individualistic moral theory, a theory which is therefore trapped within the moralists’ frame of reference).

In this attempt I rely heavily on John Anderson’s
philosophy, especially ‘Determinism and Ethics’,
1928 (in Studies in Empirical Philosophy).

In The German Ideology Marx writes, ‘This mode of
production •.. is a definite form of activity of these
individuals, a definite form of expressing their life,
a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals
express their life, so they are. What they are,
therefore, coincides with their production, both with
what they produce and how they produce’. (p42, Arthur’s
Edition) .

Forms of social life can be ethically, or if you
like ‘morally’, characterized; they can be, for
example, co-operative or divisive and exploitative,
free of compuls~ve/authoritarian/oppressive, openhearted or envy-ridden, communicative or repressive.

And generally we can argue that there are disjunctions
between good and bad ways of living. Moreover, these
terms point to characteristics of our ways of life that
are ‘independent of the individual will’; or rather
they characterize our individual wills and can be
contrasted with the way we see ourselves and ‘resolve’

to be (with idealist, rationalist and voluntarist
ideology). Thus for example, Marx stresses the
V1C10usness of the bourgeois life and hence of bourgeois people, especially in The Holy Family. But it
is not merely a quibble to question whether he is
‘moralising’. For Marx’s critique realistically
locates these vices in a different way from the
upside-down perspective of the moralist; and so it
is also for Marx’s beliefs about the brotherhood and
class solidarity that he saw as developing in the

The materialist view of this is well outlined in
Marx’s famous description of the French peasants in
the Eighteenth Brumaire. He locates their mean
reactionary and authoritarian narrowness in their
constricted form of agriculture. A form whose stagnation their ‘morality’ in turn reinforced.

Returning to the earlier remarks about the fun~­
tion of morality in class society, I think it is now
easier to see their one-sidedness. Fo~ in stressing
the official morality and its hidden meaning, we did
not bring out the kinds of conflicting forces it is
opposing. Even in the best regulated nations the
dominant order is threatened; and official morality
is itself one mark of that threat. The oppressed
associate, organize and resist. Certainly, as is so
clear in the case of trade unions, these organizations
can incorporate precisely what the oppressed classes
are up against – thus the puritan politics of ‘a fair
day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. But people organize at a more spontaneous level, on the job and in
the neighbourhoods, through the experience of common
suffering and resistance rarely glimpsed or understood by the bourgeoisie (see G A Cohen’s ‘Bourgeois
and Proletarians’ in Journal of the HistQry of Ideas
for a discussion of Marx’s treatment of this). No
wonder the bourgeois paternalists are so concerned to
rescue the decent individual workers from mob rule
(when, that is, they aren’t concerned to rescue the
moderate majority from the few ‘politically motivated’

extremistsl). Nor are the even best regulated
families or schools the seamless moral webs they are
sometimes held to be. To the extent, for example,
that there are affectionate and communicative relations within the nuclear family – positive ‘moral
education’ goes on through the informal medium of
sympathy and example – as for instance when the
child is aware of ‘something wrong’ between her
officially ‘happy’ parents and seeks to understand
it and intervene. As for example when the child
becomes aware of the gap between her parents’ sermons
and their actual way of living. And since similar
bonds develop in the school the same can be said.

. But in both cases and especially in the latter, the
fact that children develop active relations with each
other (especially hard with the more circumscribed
and controlled bourgeois family) independent of and
often critical of adult hegemony, means that direct
social experience evolves a more or less autonomous
(but often more or less compensatory) ‘morality’ and one which the herdsmen of Big-M Morality with
their divide and rule onslaught on ‘bad company’

etc have to contain and crush.

(Ironically, this
preoccupation with breaking up groups sits uneasily
with the official theory of the need to ‘socialize’

‘the individual’). This ‘problem’ is especially
great in working-class schools where more and more
kids are refusing to accept the rules of a competitive game in which they have to play the role of the
failures, the losers. And it is no longer an easy
task to raise pillars of society among the children
of the ‘upper’ classes, the moral blinkers of both
capitalism’s ‘heroic’ period and its ‘corporate team’

period having been jolted loose as students consider
alternatives to the lonely obedience-career path
their parents and teachers have sweated to lay down.

We are told ‘we’ are going to have to tighten our
belts and roll up our sleeves for Britain. The working class, like the miners after the war, are being
informed of ‘their’ social contract with the labour
. government. ‘You’ve never had it so good’ and
‘Swinging London’ are in the record library. But it
was the post war consumer boom and the consequent
erosion of the ‘die now live later’ philosophy of the
moralists of bourgeois scarcity that played a crucial
role in undermining working class quiescence and law
and order among ‘the young’.

(For a prophetic discussion of this, see Marcuse’sl’On Hedonism’ in
Negations). Now the ruling class needs to cut back
living standards and reassert control precisely at a
period when the British masses’ aspirations in all
directions are higher than ever. It is certain in
this situation that Morality is going to be re-charged
for an assault, into the homes and into the schools.

It seems to me important that socialists confront
this and do not repeat the economistic-moralistic
errors which Reich attacked in the ’30s.

The dominant ‘moderate’ ‘modest’ and ‘moral’

culture of British society is an insurance policy

Cant. on page 10




great faith in the power of education as a liberating
force as opposed to an agent of domestication.

However, to achieve this end, the dispossessed
require their own pedagogy.

It is through such
suggestions and through positing other models of
teaching and learning that Freire advances radical
alternatives to existing narrative forms of education.

His thesis may indeed be interpreted as

However, those who reject Freire’s perspective in that it is naive and unrealistic, might
perhaps consider the substance of the nature and
faith upon which their own optimism and idealism

For to argue that his views are acceptable in
theory ‘but not in practice is to admit one’s own
failure to exercise control over such relationships.

scientization”, , translated by Manuel Vaquerizo,
in Hard Cheese, 1971, Liverpool Free Press.


Pedagogy of the Oppressed.


I. !1eszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, Merlin,


M. Greene, ‘Curriculum and Consciousness’, Teachers
College Record, Vol.73, No.2, December 1971.


Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Preface’ to Franz Fanon’s
The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 1967.



Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Cultural Action for Freedom.


‘A Few Notions about the word “Conscientization”‘.




‘1y thanks to Edwine Connell for her help in preparing
this paper.


Cultural Action for Freedom.


A Gouldner, The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology,
Heinemann, 1971

Mao quotation from Jerome Ch’en, Mao Papers, London,
0xford University Press, 1970, pp2l-2/


R. Dale, ‘Phenomenological Perspectives and the
Sociology of the School’, Educational Review
(socio.logy and teaching) vo1.25, No.3, June 1973.


p. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin,


P. Freire, Cultural Action for Freedom, Penguin,


‘A Few Notions about the word “Conscientization”‘.






C. Jerez and I. Hernandez, unpublished paper,
1971, University of Chicagn, ‘Analysis of
Cultural Action for Freedom.’


J. Da veiga Coutinho’s preface to Cultural
Action for Freedom.

Richanl Schaull’ s foreword to Pedagogy of the

P. Freire,


‘A Few Uotions about the word “Con-


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Cont. from page 15
ilgainst economic breakdown; a ';arranty that everything
precious Vill be looked after for the future.

revolutionary oppositionist culture is necessary,
:lOt in the sense of a number of subscribers to New
Left Books or Radical Philosophy, but in the sense of
a materially subversive movement with positive open
bonds of socialist friendship and solidarity. For
this reason at least, it seems to me very important
that the left does not over the coming ~2riod go right
over to an exclusive and opportunistic preoccupation
with wages, but promotes, develops and spreads
socialist forms of struggle, forJ1″,s which already
have an obvious ‘spontaneous’ basis. After all, the
mere erosion of bourgeois morality is compatible with
lumpen cynicism – a passive precondition of fascism.

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