The next international congress of the ICC should discuss and probably adopt a Text of Orientation on the question of morality, whose title is Marxism and Ethics, of which the International Review 127 has published large extracts.
The adoption of this text would be dramatical and would represent an additional step in the theoretical and political drift that this organisation lives now since some years.
As fraction of this organisation, but above all as communist militants of the class, we think it's our responsability to fight against such a text which introduces, within the Proletarian Camp, an ideology which is non-marxist and which is opposed to the proletariat's interests.
That's why we present in the followings a contribution, Proletarian morality, Classes Struggle and Revisionism, that we present as an alternative Text of Orientation for the next congress of the ICC. And that's why we propose it to the discussion, not only in the so-called Current, but above all in the whole Proletarian Camp.
In our next bulletin, we'll publish a complement to this text which will go back to the article of the International Review.
Some months ago, when the ICC published a balance-sheet of the 17th congress of Révolution internationale (its section in France), we learnt that since two years, a debate about morality and ethics existed within the organisation which was considered as "crucial" for the working class and its revolutionary minorities. We learnt too that the resolution adopted on this subject had only decided to "pursue this debate" because the "risk of a certain fragmentation" (according to the invited elements of the group called OPOP), because "some dispersion" (according to the writer of the balance-sheet) which had reflected during the congress. Nevertheless, the balance-sheet maintained a complete silence about the questions raised in the debate and only justified this "fragmentation" as "the reflection of the immensity of the theoretical task to be undertaken" 1. Weeks later, a text in french appeared on the ICC web site which, despite its title Marxism and Ethics (internal debate of the ICC) 2 and despite the affirmation that "certain aspects of our debate have matured", left again fully secret the questions discussed in this famous "debate" ! It just offered us "extracts of the orientation text which seem to us the most accessible to the reader" and which has been written at the beginning of the debate. All in all, up to now the only thing the ICC offers us as result of "this huge and crucial theoretical task" is a half digested porridge, a mixture of kantism, of toltstoaïan christianism and revisionism dredged with a small pinch of watered down marxism.
Facing this, we can wonder whether there is a true debate within the present ICC, it means a political struggle which opposes to this "orientation" of the present liquidationist leadership ? We don't know. But in any case, the duty of our fraction is to participate to this fight. Not only because we carry on denouncing and openly opposing to the present process of opportunist degeneration of the ICC but above all because it's indispensable to defend the proletarian camp as a whole - specially the searching elements and the groups in formation - against the attemps to make pass opportunist and revisionist positions as "deepening of marxism". Therefore, as long as the ICC doesn't deign to make us know the questions raised in "its" debate, we will content with the criticism and with the denunciation of this "text of orientation".
Given the confusion that presents, not the subject, but the ICC text itself, we think necessary to previously expose our own position, it means what are for us the basic aspects of marxism on morality, on the struggle against bourgeois morality and the characteristics of proletarian morality. Let's put at ease the reader by informing him that, for our part, it's not a matter of presenting a "huge" theoretical work as the ICC claims, but simply to resume the thread of some revolutionary marxist texts of the past which had already clearly and deeply treated this question.
All along the history of the working class struggle, marxism had to take up in various occasion the question of morality at the theoretical fight level, the struggle against the ruling ideology, as well as at the level of the practical political fight of the proletariat, in particular in the decisive moments of its revolutionary class struggle.
At the level of the theoretical fight, marxism had to demonstrate that the present "official" morality, far for being an expression and an incarnation of a supposed eternal or natural morality, isn't but an historically limited morality corresponding with a mode of production - capitalism - which is itself historically limited too and that in addition, it isn't but a part of the ruling ideology. It has also scientifically based, from the point of view of historical materialism, the origin and the development of morality. Thus, it has lifted the mystical, religious, supra-natural veil with which morality is covered by showing that moral feelings have their origin on earth, in the gregarious instincts of the primates which gave rise to man.
"Everything that applies to the social animals applies also to man. Our ape-like ancestors and the primitive men developing from them were all defenseless, weak animals who, as almost all apes do, lived in tribes. Here the same social motives and instincts had to arise which later developed to moral feelings. (...) The difference is only in the measure of consciousness; as soon as these social feelings become clear to men, they assume the character of moral feelings" (A. Pannekoek, 1909, Marxism and Darwinism, The sociability of man, marxist.org - all english quotations of this text are from marxist.org).
Therefore morality has an animal substratum common to all human beings : the social instincts. Nevertheless, social instinct isn't identical to morality since the second is a specific product of human society. Morality appears and develops in relation with the development of human society, it means, in the last instance, in relation with the changes which take effect in the mode of production.
"In the animal world, the range and nature of the social group is determined by the circumstances of life, and therefore the group almost always remains the same. Among men, however, the groups, these social units, are ever changing in accordance with economic development, and this also changes the social instincts.
The original groups, the stems of the wild and barbarian people, were more strongly united than the animal groups. Family relationship and a common language strengthened this union further. Every individual had the support of the entire tribe. Under such conditions, the social motives, the moral feelings, the subordination of the individual to the whole, must have developed to the utmost. With the further development of society, the tribes are dissolved and their places are taken by new unions, by towns and peoples"( (idem 3).
The fact that the development of human society has been up to now based on the increasing division between different groups (tribes, peoples, classes...) also determines that, even though social instinct demands for the cohesion of society as "species", morality constitutes a corpus of precepts which govern the relations between the only individuals of a determined social group for its cohesion and its preservation, included to the detriment of the other social groups.
For instance, while the animal instinct poses a limit to violence within each species according to the needs for its preservation (for example, the struggle between males is only mortal by accident), on the contrary morality, if it strenghtens the links of union and solidarity between the members of the same group, fulfils at the same time the purpose of justifying the mortal and massive violence towards other groups of the same species, it means war which appeared very soon in the development of human society with the creation of the first weapon-tools and which goes with it since.
"A further means beside community in work and language to strengthen the social impulses, is formed by the social development through the rise of war. We have no reason to suppose that primitive man was a warlike being. (...) That changes so soon as man becomes a hunter, who has command of tools, which are directed in killing (...). In this way technical progress lets loose struggles, which the ape man did not know, fights not with animals of other kinds, but with the members of his kind themselves" (K. Kautsky, 1906, Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History, ch. War and Property). 4
Finally, the social development has led to the appearance of social classes and, with it, to the appearance and to the existence within the same society of different, and even antagonistic, moralities.
"But when we see that the three classes of modern society, the feudal aristocracy, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, each have a morality of their own, we can only draw the one conclusion: that men, consciously or unconsciously, derive their ethical ideas in the last resort from the practical relations on which their class position is based — from the economic relations in which they carry on production and exchange. (...)
We therefore reject every attempt to impose on us any moral dogma whatsoever as an eternal, ultimate and for ever immutable ethical law on the pretext that the moral world, too, has its permanent principles which stand above history and the differences between nations. We maintain on the contrary that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed" (F. Engels. 1878. Anti-Dühring, ch. Morality and Law, Eternal Truths).
So, in the present capitalist society, the notion on the existence of a morality with a general and independant value above the classes isn't but a mystification perpetuated by the bourgeoisie itself in order to impose its own morality on the proletariat and on the other exploited classes. This mystification is an additional ideological mean for justifying and strenghtening its class domination and, also, a mean to put a brake on the appearance and the diffusion of the moral feelings of solidarity and rebellion proper to the proletariat. That's why the struggle of marxism, at the level of morality, has always had as main axis the denunciation of this mystification and of all the quibbles utilized by the ruling class ideologist to maintain it.
But why the idea of the existence of a morality with a general value - whose present morality would be the incarnation - has so much implanting, so much the strength of a "common sense" idea, of a prejudice ? For one part, because bourgeois morality takes up as its own, modifying them more or less, the moral values which have appeared since society is divided in classes in such a manner that they appear as having existing of all eternity.
"[We'll be told :] "There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc., that are common to all states of society. But Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality (...). What does this accusation reduce itself to? The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms (...). But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms. The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas" (K. Marx and F. Engels, 1847, The Communist Manifesto, ch. Proletarians and Communists).
"At similar or approximately similar stages of economic development moral theories must of necessity be more or less in agreement. From the moment when private ownership of movable property developed, all societies in which this private ownership existed had to have this moral injunction in common: Thou shalt not steal. [Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19. — Ed.] Does this injunction thereby become an eternal moral injunction? By no means. In a society in which all motives for stealing have been done away with, in which therefore at the very most only lunatics would ever steal, how the preacher of morals would be laughed at who tried solemnly to proclaim the eternal truth: Thou shalt not steal!" (F. Engels. 1878. Anti-Dühring, op. cit.).
On the other hand, the ideologists of bourgeois order has raised too a serie of "scientifical and philosophical" systems for justifying bourgeois morality as the only possible and definitive "human" morality. Marxism has destroyed them one after the other. Amongst these systems, we note, for the influence they could get, included within the workers movement, "social darwinism" and Kant's theory.
Under "social darwinism", we regroup the theories which establish an analogy between animal biology and human society for justifying the order and the morality presently established. For one part, there are those which, for the transference to society of a vulgar interpretation of Darwin's theory of natural evolution - according to which life is reduced to the "predominance of the strongest" - justify the bitter struggle between men and the absence of solidarity link that capitalist mercenary competition provokes. Marxism has exposed how "naturalist"and "social" doctrines have feed themselves one the other in order to "certify" themselves as absolute truths :
"The whole Darwinists teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbes’s doctrine of bellum omnium contra omnes [from Hobbes’s De Cive and Leviathan, chapter 13-14] ["the war of all against all"] and of the bourgeois-economic doctrine of competition together with Malthus’s theory of population. When this conjurer’s trick has been performed (...), the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved" (F. Engels, 12-17th Nov.1875, Letter to Piotr Lavrovich Lavrov).
In the same manner, marxism has showed the falseness of the symmetrical darwinist theories, the ones which pretend, to the contrary, to prove the possibility of universal harmony, of collaboration between classes, in the framework of capitalism itself. In this sense, they consider morality as a mere biological product, they identify it with the social instincts leaving aside, one more time, its eminently social and historical character :
"The “evolutionary” utilitarianism of Spencer likewise abandons us half-way without an answer, since, following Darwin; it tries to dissolve the concrete historical morality in the biological needs or in the “social instincts” characteristic of a gregarious animal, and this at a time when the very understanding of morality arises only in an antagonistic milieu, that is, in a society torn by classes.
Bourgeois evolutionism halts impotently at the threshold of historical society because it does not wish to acknowledge the driving force in the evolution of social forms: the class struggle. Morality is one of the ideological functions in this struggle. The ruling class forces its ends upon society and habituates it into considering all those means which contradict its ends as immoral. That is the chief function of official morality. It pursues the idea of the “greatest possible happiness” not for the majority but for a small and ever diminishing minority. Such a regime could not have endured for even a week through force alone. It needs the cement of morality" (L. Trotsky, 1938, Their Morals and Ours, Jesuitism and Utilitariasm).
In regards to Kant's moral theory, it constitutes the most achieved, the most general and abstract, form of the theory of bourgeois morality. It is presented as a serie of principles valid for each intelligent being - human or not - beyond time and real world. The "fundamental law of the pure practical reason" of Kant is : "So act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as the universal law" (Critique of Pure Reason).
"This principle is by no means startlingly new. It forms only the philosophic translation of the ancient precept, to do unto others as we would be done by. The only new thing is the declaration that this precept forms a revelation of an intelligible world; a revelation which with the greatest application of philosophic insight was to be discovered as a principle which applied not only for humanity, “but for all finite Beings who possess Reason and will, nay even including the Infinite Being as the highest intelligence.” " (K. Kautsky, 1906, Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History, ch. Ethic of Kant, Moral Law). 5
Some variations of kantism - appeared in more than one occasion up to some political currents of the workers movement itself such as reformism and revisionism - consider the classes struggle as "negative" and advocate, in exchange, the conciliation between them. Their premise is the existence of a morality which must govern, "despite all opposition", the normal, daily, life of human beings and this precisely "above the classes struggle".
"But do not elementary moral precepts exist, worked out in the development of mankind as an integral element necessary for the life of every collective body? Undoubtedly such precepts exist but the extent of their action is extremely limited and unstable. Norms “obligatory upon all” become the less forceful the sharper the character assumed by the class struggle. The highest pitch of the class struggle is civil war which explodes into mid-air all moral ties between the hostile classes. (...)
The so-called “generally recognized” moral precepts in essence preserve an algebraic, that is, an indeterminate character. They merely express the fact that man, in his individual conduct, is bound by certain common norms that flow from his being a member of society. The highest generalization of these norms is the “categorical imperative” of Kant. But in spite of the fact that it occupies a high position upon the philosophic Olympus this imperative does not embody anything categoric because it embodies nothing concrete. It is a shell without content.
This vacuity in the norms obligatory upon all arises from the fact that in all decisive questions people feel their class membership considerably more profoundly and more directly than their membership in “society”. The norms of “obligatory” morality are in reality charged with class, that is, antagonistic content. The moral norm becomes the more categoric the less it is “obligatory” upon all. The solidarity of workers, especially of strikers or barricade fighters, is incomparably more “categoric” than human solidarity in general.
The bourgeoisie, which far surpasses the proletariat in the completeness and irreconcilability of its class consciousness, is vitally interested in imposing its moral philosophy upon the exploited masses. It is exactly for this purpose that the concrete norms of the bourgeois catechism are concealed under moral abstractions patronized by religion, philosophy, or that hybrid which is called “common sense”. The appeal to abstract norms is not a disinterested philosophic mistake but a necessary element in the mechanics of class deception. The exposure of this deceit which retains the tradition of thousands of years is the first duty of a proletarian revolutionist" (Trotsky, 1938, Their Morals and Ours, ch. Moral Precepts Obligatory upon All).
Well, but what are precisely the norms of this morality of the bourgeoisie ? We don't plan here to relate all the moral code of the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, we could synthetize it with the old device "freedom, equality, fraternity" which embraces two concrete aspects which are, in our opinion, the basics of the specific bourgeois morality : individualism and patriotism.
To the conditions of capitalist production which dictate, for one part the industrial and trade competition between private capitalists and for the other part the "free" salaried worker, correspond an individualist morality, the exalting of personal qualities to "triumph" (capacity and individual strength, ambition, audacity, competitiveness), and the individual aggressiveness against the others for the existence. As if the individuals didn't depend anymore of the social links for surviving and as if society was a jungle only governed by the "law of the strongest".
"To triumph to the detriment of everybody else", "to go over the other", doesn't only become something morally accepted but is also converted into a general moral norm to which the individuals are educated since their childhood.
"It is for this reason that, under capitalism, the human world resembles mostly the world of rapacious animals, and it is for this very reason that the bourgeois Darwinists looked for men's prototype among animals living isolated. To this they were led by their own experience. Their mistake, however, consisted in considering capitalist conditions as everlasting" (A. Pannekoek. 1912. Marxism and Darwinism, ch. Capitalism and Socialism).
For the capitalist class, "the field of labour became a battle-ground. (...) The war did not simply break out between the individual producers of particular localities. The local struggles begot in their turn national conflicts, the commercial wars of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Finally, modern industry and the opening of the world market made the struggle universal, and at the same time gave it an unheard-of virulence. Advantages in natural or artificial conditions of production now decide the existence or non-existence of individual capitalists, as well as of whole industries and countries. He that falls is remorselessly cast aside. It is the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from nature to society with intensified violence. The conditions of existence natural to the animal appear as the final term of human development. (F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, ch. Socialism - Theoretical).
For the proletarian class, "individual freedom" has a double sense. For one part, each proletarian is "free" in relation to the means of production, it means that he completly lacks them, and for the other part, he presents himself "free" on the work market, it means he is isolated and in competition with the other workers in front of the capitalist.
"The workers must have free command over themselves and not be tied up by feudal or guild duties, for only as free workers can they sell their labor-power to the capitalists (...) Formerly the people were not isolated; they belonged to some corporation; they were under the protection of some lord or commune, (...) They were a part of a social group to which they owed duties and from which they received protection. These duties the bourgeoisie abolished; it destroyed the corporations and abolished the feudal relations. The freeing of labor meant at the same time that all refuge was taken away from him and that he could no longer rely upon others. Every one had to rely upon himself. Alone, free from all ties and protection, he must struggle against all" (A. Pannekoek. 1912. Marxism and Darwinism, ch. Capitalism and socialism).
Nevertheless, what precedes doesn't mean that the capitalist class did without the moral recourses of social cohesion. All the contrary. Historically, the defence of its own class interests had led the bourgeoisie to its political unification through national States, firstly against the old feudal power, then as a mean to confront the competition on the world market with the other national bourgeoisies ; and always as a mean to confront its ennemy class : the proletariat.
"To this modern private property corresponds the modern State (...). the bourgeoisie is forced to organise itself no longer locally, but nationally, and to give a general form to its mean average interest. Through the emancipation of private property from the community, the State has become a separate entity, beside and outside civil society; but it is nothing more than the form of organisation which the bourgeois necessarily adopt both for internal and external purposes, for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests" (K. Marx et F. Engels, 1846, The German Ideology, ch. The Relation of State and Law to Property).
This way, every bourgeoisie covers its national ideology with a "general" form. It appropriates all history and all the culture of the ancient peoples, mystifying them in such a manner that the national State appears as their sum and their final goal. It converts the language, the religion, the customs, the school education... in as many means to reinforce the social links around the bourgeois State. At the level of morality, it adapts or creates its own feelings of social cohesion such as the "love of the native soil", the "defence of family", the "blood fraternity", by imparting them the mark of patriotism ; it aims at imposing at any cost national identity above all other form of social cohesion, in particular above the belonging to a determined social class ; finally, the bourgeoisie reaches the highest point of its work when it is able to lead all the other social classes, in particular the proletariat, behind the defence of its own national interests in the name of moral feelings such as honor, heroism and spirit of sacrifice up to require the supreme sacrifice... in the name of the "defence of the country".
As all other ideological forms, bourgeois morality has also its own history. In the course of the revolutionary rise of the bourgeoisie as a class, the moral ideal of equality and individual freedom constituted a powerful lever to throw off the inherited traditions of feudalism which represented hindrances for capitalism advance.
"The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" (K. Marx et F. Engels, Communist Manifesto, ch. Bourgeois and proletarians).
The epoch of capitalism expansion to the whole world, of the set up of national States and of world trade, expresses itself in the vigour of a conquering as well as individualist and patriotic morality. This morality reaches its summit when the epoch of capitalism rise gets to its completion, in the democratic countries of capitalism center, and when it synthetizes itself in the "democratic citizen" : the individual who "progresses", who reaches the "well-being" from "its own effort", and who fulfils its "civic duty" by voting to elect his governments. It's in this period of apparent social well-being and of apparent softening of class contradictions that bourgeois morality presents itself, with the greatest strength, as the expression and the achievement of an eternal human morality.
"In order to guarantee the triumph of their interests in big questions, the ruling classes are constrained to make concessions on secondary questions, naturally only so long as these concessions are reconciled in the bookkeeping. During the epoch of capitalistic upsurge especially in the last few decades before the World War these concessions, at least in relation to the top layers of the proletariat, were of a completely genuine nature. Industry at that time expanded almost uninterruptedly. The prosperity of the civilized nations, partially, too, that of the toiling masses increased. Democracy appeared solid. Workers’ organizations grew. At the same time reformist tendencies deepened. The relations between the classes softened, at least outwardly. Thus certain elementary moral precepts in social relations were established along with the norms of democracy and the habits of class collaboration. The impression was created of an ever more free, more just, and more humane society. The rising line of progress seemed infinite to “common sense”" (Trotsky, Their Morals and Ours, ch. The crisis in Democratic Morality).
But capitalism has reached its historical limit. Free competition and trade world expansion have given way to monopolies, to imperialism, to State capitalism and, finally, to generalized wars between all imperialist powers for the sharing out of the globe and, with the latest, to human slaughter (the 1st world war), to an unprecedent misery and barbary in history. And so, with capitalism system decline, has arrived as well the decadence and the putrefaction of the bourgeois morality itself.
"Instead [of democracy, social peace, progress], however, war broke out with a train of convulsions, crises, catastrophes, epidemics, and bestiality. The economic life of mankind landed in an impasse. The class antagonisms became sharp and naked. The safety valves of democracy began to explode one after the other. The elementary moral precepts seemed even more fragile than the democratic institutions and reformist illusions. Mendacity, slander, bribery, venality, coercion, murder grew to unprecedented dimensions. To a stunned simpleton all these vexations seem a temporary result of war. Actually they are manifestations of imperialist decline. The decay of capitalism denotes the decay of contemporary society with its right and its morals" (idem).
Presently, when the bourgeoisie, pushed by the economical crisis, embarks itself again, and every time more openly and quickly, towards another world imperialist war, its morality begins to bring to the fore its putrefaction and all its content appears as an ideological mean to take off the proletariat to massacre. As simple example, it's enough to recall the destruction of the New-York Twin Towers in 2001 : Bush's government - the highest representative of world bourgeoisie - exhibited the greatest cynicism and the most ignoble hypocrisy when he was expressing its "surprise and indignation" - as we know today, he was at least the passive accomplice of the terrorists - and when he feigned the noblest feelings of pain and solidarity to the victims. While the latest actually gave him the ideal mean to justify his drive to war and, concretly, the sending to slaughter of the "boys" in Afghanistan and in Iraq 6. As the same time, using all its means of ideological propaganda, the bourgeoisie has engaged an overwhelming campaign whose spearhead was precisely the moral manipulation of the population. This one developed themes as "human solidarity" with the victims of "terrorist barbarism", as "national pride" against the "foreign ennemy", as the struggle of "democracy against fundamentalism", "security against threat", "good against evil", etc. This campaign had no other goal than to lead the proletariat and the other exploited to "unite" behind bourgeois State and to passively accept, in the name of morality, all the politics (and each measures it needed) engaged by the bourgeoisie in its preparation for war, since the restriction of individual "liberties" through repression, torture, murder and the set up of the internal state of urgency, up to the launching of a "preventive war" - with the massacre of entire populations it results from it - against any "suspect" country. And it's all the bourgeoisies of the world, firstly the great "democracies", which follow the path of the American bourgeoisie by provoking or exploiting any event which moves the emotional feeling (since the terrorist acts and natural catastrophes up to the sport spectacles) in order to inject, thanks to the fear so provoked, this poisoned morality : the most exacerbated patriotism, the mortal hatred for the "foreigner", the acceptance of "security" behind the sinister repressive and military apparatus of bourgeois State. Thus, today, the more the bourgeois morality introduces itself insidiously as a mean of "social cohesion" at the national level, the more it's a mean in view to the very destruction of human society as a whole.
[But] "the essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable" (Communist Manifesto, ch. Bourgeois and Proletarians).
The proletariat is thus at the same time an exploited class and a revolutionary class. As "class for capital", the proletariat only exists as a simple sum of atomized individuals who are dominated by bourgeois morality - and by bourgeois whole ideology - and who are permanently in competition between them, firstly to get a salaried work and later to keep it. But the very development of capitalism - which concentrates the salaried workers in great companies and in cities to exploit them and throw them into misery during the economical crisis, makes appear the class struggle of the proletariat. Then it appears as a "class for itself". It leads its struggle against wage exploitation up to the questionning of the entire capitalist system. It creates its organisations - of mass and of vanguard - and it forges its class consciousness, it means the consciousness of its own revolutionary interests and aims. It's precisely in this process that appears, as an integral part of class consciousness and in rupture with bourgeois ideology, a specifically proletarian morality. It ensues from this essential characteristics :
Proletarian morality is the first one which openly declares in a definite manner its specific class character. Insofar as the proletariat class struggle represents the only possibility of humanity survival, the proletarian morality is more promising, "more human" in a certain way, than bourgeois morality. Nevertheless, the proletarian morality isn't "THE human morality" finally found - as neither were the other class morality
"Which, then, is the true [morality] ? Not one of them, in the sense of absolute finality; but certainly that morality contains the maximum elements promising permanence which, in the present, represents the overthrow of the present, represents the future, and that is proletarian morality. (...) That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life" (F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, ch. Morality and Law, Eternal Truths).
Moreover, History has already sanctioned as "dead ends" the attempts made by various political currents of the workers movement, to include in their program the imposing of a kind of "proletarian moral code", as human morality, to the whole society, and this in the very framework of capitalism. At first, this had been the case of utopian socialism which preceded marxism and which ended up in the formation of mystic and counter-revolutionary sects on the fringe of the proletariat movement ; later, there had been those of reformism and revisionism at the end of the 19th century which begun to advocate classes collaboration and which ended up betraying the working class when 1st world war broke out.
Thus proletarian morality doesn't ensue from the daily life of the isolated workers since, as such, they remain under the domination of bourgeois morality. Proletarian morality ensues from the workers activities as "class for itself", it means from their class struggle.
Of course, proletarian morality have influence too on the daily life of the proletarian masses outside open struggles, but only as their product. It's so that, in the ascendance phase of capitalism when the working class succeeded in dragging some durable economical demands to capital, and as far as the mass proletarian organisations could exist permanently, the class had been able to promote some aspects of solidarity, of help, of cohesion at the level of daily life (mutual help funds, schools, cooperatives...)
Still today, in the decadent phases of capitalism - in which the attempts of permanent organisations of the workers masses are quickly absorbed by the bourgeois State machine and the advances at the level of economical demands are rapidly overcome by new capital attacks -, we can still observe, in periods of rising class struggle, and as far as the proletariat tends to break off with bourgeois morality, how this rupture also affects daily life at least partially and momentarily (women acquire an equality status in relation to men, family violence and alcoolism reduce, the life in the workers neighbourhood become animated and solidarity links develop...).
Nevetheless, given the predominance of bourgeois ideology and morality in capitalism, the influence of proletarian morality in the daily life of the workers has a limited and secundary dimension. Furthermore, the proletarian morality isn't only a reflect of the proletariat class struggle but above all a powerful weapon to develop it.
As an integral part of class consciousness, proletarian morality generally follows the same dynamic than class consciousness. The proletarian class consciousness is a process with a particularly determined dynamic for the permanent collision with bourgeois ideology which dominates in a general manner ; for one part it tends to extend more and more massively in the class with the flux and reflux in relation to, particularly, the rise and the withdrawal of the movement itself of the proletarian masses ; it reaches its maximum extension in the revolutionary periods, but disappears almost completly in the periods of defeat and counter-revolution ; on the other part, class consciousness is not a mere reflection of the spontaneous immediate struggles of the proletariat which appears and disappears with them, but on the contrary it knows a continuity all along the history of the proletariat struggle and expresses itself in the existence of its political program as well as in its permanent revolutionary organisations - organisations which, beyond the up-and-down of the class struggle, have the responsability of safeguarding, deepening and passing on this consciousness to the whole class.
In a similar manner, if through history of classes struggle, the proletariat has forged an own moral "tradition", this one survives above all - and with a constant struggle against the ruling ideology - within its revolutionary organisations and govern the relation of solidarity and trust between theirs militants. On the other hand, such a morality isn't a permanent acquisition of the proletarian masses but it tends to extend and to extinghuish amongst them also in relation to the periods of rise and withdrawal of the classes struggle.
"Idealization of the masses is foreign to us. We have seen them under different conditions, at different stages and in addition in the biggest political shocks. We have observed their strong and weak sides. Their strong side-resoluteness, self-sacrifice, heroism—has always found its clearest expression in times of revolutionary upsurge. During this period the Bolsheviks headed the masses. Afterward a different historical chapter loomed when the weak side of the oppressed came to the forefront: heterogeneity, insufficiency of culture, narrowness of world outlook. The masses tired of the tension, became disillusioned, lost faith in themselves—and cleared the road for the new aristocracy. In this epoch the Bolsheviks (“Trotskyists”) found themselves isolated from the masses (Trotsky, Their Morals and Ours, ch. Dialectic Interdependence of End and Means).
"But the masses are by no means identical: there are revolutionary masses, there are passive masses, there are reactionary masses. The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralized organization of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves. To invest the mass with traits of sanctity and to reduce one’s program to amorphous “democracy”, is to dissolve oneself in the class as it is, to turn from a vanguard into a rearguard, and by this very thing, to renounce revolutionary tasks" (L. Trotsky, 1939, Moralists and Sycophants against Marxism).
What are today the specifically proletarian moral values ? From what we have developed up to now, we can obviously conclude that it's not a matter of defining a new "moral code", an abstract dogma, which would prejudge the validity of any action of the proletariat independantly of each concrete situation. We can only present the fundamental principles which ensue from the historical experience itself of the proletariat struggle against the bourgeoisie, from the tasks which its own revolutionary program imposes. These moral principles can be summarized or synthetized through the two followings : international solidarity and revolutionary resolution.
"The class struggle within the bourgeois States against the ruling classes and the international solidarity of the proletarians of all countries are the two indispensable rules of conduct that the working class must apply in its historical struggle for freedom. There is no socialism without international solidarity of the proletariat, the socialist proletariat can't renounce to class struggle and to international solidarity, whether in time of peace, nor in time of war : this would be equivalent to suicide" (Rosa Luxemburg, 1916, Thesis on the Social Democracy Tasks, published as annex to The Junius Pamphlet - Crisis of Social Democracy, translated by us from french) 7.
International solidarity means proletariat's cohesion in its existence as world class with the same interests and confronted with the capitalist class. It's firstly the antithesis of competition between workers.
"This concentration of capital undermines capital itself, for it diminishes the bourgeoisie whose interest it is to maintain capitalism, and it increases that mass which seeks to abolish it. In this development, one of the characteristics of capitalism is gradually abolished. In the world where each struggles against all and all against each, a new association develops among the working class, the class organization. The working class organizations start with ending the competition existing between workers and combine their separate powers into one great power in their struggle with the outside world. Everything that applies to social groups also applies to this class organization, brought about by natural conditions. In the ranks of this class organization, social motives, moral feelings, self-sacrifice and devotion for the entire body develop in a most splendid way. This solid organization gives to the working class that great strength which it needs in order to conquer the capitalist class. The class struggle which is not a struggle with tools but for the possession of tools, a struggle for the right to direct industry, will be determined by the strength of the class organization" (A. Pannekoek, 1912, Marxism and Darwinism, ch. Capitalism and socialism).
In the same time, the international proletarian solidarity is also the antithesis of the bourgeois patriotic morality and it specially implies the rejection of imperialist wars which are the only "solution" that the bourgeoisie has to face the crisis of its system and in which it attempts to take off the proletariat precisely by means of nationalist ideology.
"Class action of the proletariat of all countries must, in times of peace as in times of war, fix itself as main goal to fight imperialism and to hinder war. (...) Global activity of the workers movement must be subordinated to the following goal : opposing in all countries, in the sharpest way, the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, underlining at every step the political and spiritual opposition between the two classes, as well as bringing out and demonstrating the commune belonging of the proletarians of all countries to the International.
The first goal of socialism is the spiritual liberation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie's domination which expresses itself through the influence of nationalist ideology. The action of the national sections (...) must aim at denouncing the fact that the traditional phraseology of nationalism is the instrument of bourgeois domination. (...) The proletarians's homeland whose defence prevails everything, is the socialist International" (Rosa Luxemburg, Thesis on the Social Democracy Tasks, op. cit, translated by us).
In regards to revolutionary resolution, it means the moral aptitude of the proletariat to use all means needed to carry on successfully its struggle up to the complete overthrow of the capitalist system. This implies, for one part, the deepest break possible with the ruling moral prejudices which condition the social "order" preservation as well as the respect and the defence of capitalist private property and, for the other part, the willingness to use the needed means of class violence to reach the revolutionary objectives.
"“We are to understand then that in achieving this end anything is permissible?” sarcastically demands the Philistine, demonstrating that he understood nothing. That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind. Since this end can be achieved only through revolution, the liberating morality of the proletariat of necessity is endowed with a revolutionary character. It irreconcilably counteracts not only religious dogma but every kind of idealistic fetish, these philosophic gendarmes of the ruling class. It deduces a rule for conduct from the laws of the development of society, thus primarily from the class struggle, this law of all laws.
“Just the same,” the moralist continues to insist, “does it mean that in the class struggle against capitalists all means are permissible: lying, frame-up, betrayal, murder, and so on?” Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle. Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say that the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organization, replacing it by worship for the “leaders”. Primarily and irreconcilably, revolutionary morality rejects servility in relation to the bourgeoisie and haughtiness in relation to the toilers, that is, those characteristics in which petty bourgeois pedants and moralists are thoroughly steeped.
These criteria do not, of course, give a ready answer to the question as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in each separate case. There can be no such automatic answers. Problems of revolutionary morality are fused with the problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics. The living experience of the movement under the clarification of theory provides the correct answer to these problems" (Trotsky, Their Morals and Ours, ch. Dialectic Interdependence...).
The lessons of the insurrectionary movements of the working class - which revolutionaries as Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin or Trotsky has lived and described - show us how the moral aspects relative to class solidarity and revolutionary willingness, such as devotion to the class, spirit of sacrifice, audacity, initiative, courage in the class fight, doesn't constitute a mere reflect in the spirits, but a true and indispensable material force of the working class. Their accumulation or weakening in the course of the movement itself is one of the factors which push it forwards or make it withdraw, giving to it the characteristic form of "zigzag".
the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth
century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt
themselves in their own course, return to the apparently
accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel
thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their
first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter
may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more
gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite
colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created
which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions
themselves call out:
Therefore, the moral force the proletariat must accumulate, can only be measured in relation with the "enormity of its own goals", it means with the tasks that its own revolutionary movement imposes to it. But nothing would be more erroneous than to think that this moral force of the class can reach its necessary level in a simple "instinctive" or "biological" manner, to say so, in the very course of the insurrectionary movement. As an integral part of class consciousness, a proletarian morality which is at the level of an insurrectionary movement, can't be but the result of a process of "learning", of acquisition and accumulation of experiences - above all in regards with the manouvers, the blackmails and the threats of the bourgeoisie the proletariat will have to learn to confound - all along classes struggles. It's a process which begins since the first signs of economical resistance against the most brutal effects of exploitation.
[Because]"by cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they [the proletarians] would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement. (K. Marx, 1865, Value, Price and Profit, ch. The Struggle between Capital and Labour...).
Of course, this process of acquisition is not only necessary for the proletarian masses but also for the revolutionary organisation. As vanguard of the class, it must also have a profound revolutionary morality in order to be able to pass on and "contaminate" the masses. On the contrary, an undecided vanguard, timorous at the decisive moment, can constitute a determining factor for the defeat of the movement.
So, we can understand why, within the workers movement, there have always been the reformist and opportunist currents which had always liked to insist on the proletariat's "morality", which reduce it to some aspects of "solidarity" and which "forget" or relegate to an uncertain "future" what concerns revolutionary willingness. They occult the fact that in the end, the essential function of proletarian morality is to serve as a powerful lever in order to give impulsion to the revolutionary struggle of the working class. This lever can even be, at certain moments, decisive.
"Two classes decide the fate of modern society: the imperialist bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The last resource of the bourgeoisie is fascism, which replaces social and historical criteria with biological and zoological standards so as thus to free itself from any and all restrictions in the struggle for capitalist property. Civilization can be saved only by the socialist revolution. To accomplish the overturn, the proletariat needs all its strength, all its resolution, all its audacity, passion and ruthlessness. Above all it must be completely free from the fictions of religion, “democracy” and transcendental morality – the spiritual chains forged by the enemy to tame and enslave it. Only that which prepares the complete and final overthrow of imperialist bestiality is moral, and nothing else. The welfare of the revolution that is the supreme law!" (L. Trotsky, Moralists and Sycophants...).
[The second part of this work will be dedicated to the criticism of the "orientation text" on the morality recently published by the ICC].
1. See : «17th Congress of RI: The organisation of revolutionaries tested by the class struggle» http://en.internationalism.org/wr/297_ricongress [« 17e Congrès de RI : l'organisation révolutionnaire à l'épreuve de la lutte de classe ». http://fr.internationalism.org/ri370/congres.html].
2. See its english version on : http://en.internationalism.org/ir/127/marxism-and-ethics
3. All the underlining in the quotations are ours.
4.Furthermore, present anthrophological studies tend to demosntrate the probability that, between the origin of hunting with weapons and war between human groups, there would have also existed wars for the habitat between different species of primates [hominiens] who, in parallel, were beginning to get features of human kind (division of work, setting up of weapons, language...). The last of these wars would have only been 28 000 years ago and would have led to the extinction of the European "Man of Neanderthal".
5. The reader will find a more detailed theoretical critic of these philosophical currents in Kautsky's book quoted as well as in Pannekoek's, Marxism and Darwinism.
6. According to the international press, at the end of 2006, the number (2983) of Americain soldiers dead in Iraq since 2003 already exceeded the number of dead (2973) provoked by the bombing against the World Trade Center in New-York, September 11th 2001. And this, without counting more then 22 000 wounded American soldiers. Of course, Bush, the most representative of the bourgeois hypocritical morality, considers with tears in the eyes that "every life lost is very precious and that he suffers for each one" (El País, December 26th 2006). By the way, the iraquis dead and injured don't seem so "precious" up to the point where the medias don't even count them so precisely. Nevertheless, the most moderate calculations speak of at least 40 000 deaths amongst the Iraquis. A scientific study recently published in the mediacal review The Lancet estimates to 650 000 (sic) the deaths provoked up to now, directly or undirectly, by this war.
7. We publish these Rosa Luxemburg's thesis in this issue of the bulletin. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be available in english, at least in the marxist.org web site.
Internal Fraction of ICC - Communist Bulletin (Nš 38)