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Remarks on Revolutionary Perspectives

his way of obviating the “victories of an excessive relativism”
was to resort to the possibility of explaining diverse views.

But if ‘explanation’ is to be understood as legitimation, he is
no better off. The ‘relativist’ is perfectly prepared to admit
differenc&,f of legitimation and characterisation co-ordinate
with differences in moral view.

Finally, he might say that the particular conception was
interesting because it was curs. But this is like saying that
I should be content with my own rationalisation of an action
because the action iS,after all, mine. The point is: the effort
to understand and explain one’s own behaviour, or views, as
opposed merely to rationalising or legitimating them, may always
be a prelude to (perhaps even a necessary condition of) changing

Has Warnock any alternative ways of arousing interest in
programme (c) and so, possibly, of keeping the ‘relativist’ at


He might say that a characterisation of the particular
conception of morality was interesting because that conception
was in some way superior. But, independently of the actual
characterisation, he has given absolutely no grounds for
believing this to be true, or for thinking (if it were true)
there could not be a better one.

The echo in the last sentence is intentional. Warnock’s
theme is, as he says himself, not a new one, either from the
point of view of characterisation or from that of explanation.

The explanation, however, need not be functionalist (which tends
to legitimation). Marx is one philosopher who took up the theme
in a non-functionalist way.

Nietzsche is another example. But
their-approach is not quietist in the way that Warnock’s is and for the very reason that it is a non-functionalist approach.

For to explain a particular conception of morality which is a
feature of one’s own society and to explain it in a non-functionalist way, is to condemn it. To assume its functionalism is to
legitimate it. Warnock has therefore, only interpreted his
particular conception of morality; the point, however, may be
to change it.

He might say that it rested on objective grounds: that is,
Warnock’s beliefs about the ‘human predicament’ are true,
whereas the tribesman’s beliefs about the supernatural (for
example) are not. But this would only be of interest if indeed
the respective beliefs constituted an adequate explanation of
the respective moral views. This Warnockhas made no attempt
to show.

Remarks OD B8IOIutionarJ Perspectives
To be revolutionary in a capitalist society entails
holding at least the following beliefs: (1) that it is both
desirable and possible to abolish the wage-system, the circumstance that the majority of people live by the sale of labourpower to others who employ it in a manner alien to the interests
of the sellers and their dependents; and (2) that tpose with a
stake in the wage-system, the employers of labour, are so powerful and so well-protected by established institutions that
militant methods must be used to abolish the system.

These two
beliefs comprise what may be called the fundamental reVOlutionary

Among subscribers to the creed we can identify contrasting
attitudes to the wage-system. Two attitudes will be distinguished
in the sequel.

For one attitude, the revolution represents a rupture with
all earlier human history. For the other, it represents a continuation of that history. I shall argue in favour of the second

For those who have the first attitude the condition of being
a wage-labourer is just the most recent form that slavery, in a
broad sense of the word, has taken in history. Other forms have
been slavery proper and serfdom. The differences between these
conditions are largely juridical and incidental. They do not
mean that a proletarian enjoys a status superior to that imposed
on members of previous labouring classes. The roles of master
and men have been articulated differently, but they have remained
the same in essence. The mass of mankind has always been enslaved.

The object of the revolution is to abolish slavery forever.

One who embraces the second attitude will respond as follows
to the above formulation of the revolutionary position.

The transition from slavery to serfdom, and from serfdom to
wage-labour, entailed important accretions of dignity, freedom
and welfare £o~ the masses of the people. The series of subordinate class roles constitutes a progress, which to a significant extent has been broughf about by the oppositional struggle
of the people themselves •. ‘To adopt the first attitude is
therefore to slur their historic achievements. It is, morever,
implausible to suppose that men who have always been complete
slaves are now going to be made completely free. The best
reasons for thinking that men can escape proletarianhood is that
they have already escaped other conditions. To regard earlier
escapes as having accomplished no substantial change is to
nourish the suspicion that any future reVOlution will result only
in the invention of yet another form of subordination.

Advocates of the second attitude, who conceive the revolution as an extension of victories already gained, face a
difficult question. Why is it supposed that men can become
completely free, that a society of equals without subordination
is possible? Does not history teach that while it is possible
to increase further the rights and liberties of ordinary men, it
is gratuitous to hope for their total emancipation?


One reply to this challenge is that one need not know. that
complete liberation is possible in order to be a revoluti6naiY~’

One need know only that more freedom than now prevails is possible,
and that the ruling class is now, as ever, concerned to inhibit
and arrest th growth of freedom. These things have always been
true, and they have meant that struggle, sometimes involving
violence, has been necessary for progress, and there is no
reason to believe that they have become false. A reVOlutionary
posture is therefore defensible even if the socialist ideal
cannot be fully realised. And if it is realisable, the first
step in approaching it is to increase the amount of freedom
presently enjoyed. One can therefore pursue a reVOlutionary
policy while being agnostic about the feasibility of socialism.

A different and more ambitious reply to the challenge is
to argue that a relationship which has made subordination (in
decreasing measure) necessary now enables the elimination of
subordination. The relationship is that between human needs
and the apparatus of production (technology) employed to
satisfy them. When the apparatus is relatively undeveloped,
men must spend the major part of their energy and time in
labour. Because of the state of the apparatus in history, the
types of labour men have had to perform to secure their existence have been so onerous that a class division has been
necessary between those who carry out unattractive tasks and
those who see to it that they do so. Improvements in the
status of the labourers were made possible by developments in
the apparatus which reduced the amount of drudgery required by
the labour imperative, though the possibilities_of improvement
had to be actualised through struggle, since they always entailed
an assault on the existing privileges of the supervisory class.

When productive power becomes so extensive that labour need no
longer be the focus of men’s lives, subordination in any form
becomes unnecessary. The exploitation of man by man recedes as
the curse of Adam is lifted. Therefore the view that the anticapitalist revolution continues rather than begins the emancipatory process, when combined with an explanation of’ that
process in terms of progress in productive power, supports the
hope that the revolution will not only continue the process but
complete it. But the completion must await the accumulation
of massive productive power which liberates men from toil. This
is what Kllrl ~1arx envisaged when he insisted that abundance was
an indispensable requisite of a fully socialist society. For
the essence of abundance is not a maximum ‘of goods, but a minimum
of unpleasant effort required to produce a sufficiency. The bias
of capitalism is to check labour-reduction and pro.mote goodsexpansion (hence planned obsolescence, feve~i.S’h:·1>roduct-innovation,
.huge investments in advertising, etc) since only the latter
option preserves profitability. The ruling class continues to
have an interest in resisting the further extension of freedom.

personally believe in the doctrine expounded in the· last
paragraph; but .1 should like to emphasise that the first rep~y.

which i.s far more modest. suffices to render the revolutionary
intellectually respectable. It is important to see that one
carl be a consistent revolutionary without advancing ambitious
claims which are difficult to prove about the possibilities for
men in society.

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