The hidden legacy of the left of capital (IV): Their morality and ours

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The series we are publishing on the radical differences (class differences)[1] between on one hand the left and extreme left of capital and, on the other, the small organisations which claim the heritage of the Communist Left, has so far had three parts: an erroneous vision of the working class; a method and mode of thought at the service of capitalism, and a way of functioning that is against communist principles[2]. This fourth part is given over to the moral question in order to demonstrate the abyss that separates the morality of the parties which pretend to defend the exploited and the proletarian morality that any real communist organisation has to practice.

The proletariat has a morality. Arising from this, its organisations must have one that is consistent with its historic combat and the communist perspective that it carries. Whereas amorality, the absence of scruples, pragmatism and the most abject utilitarianism is rife in bourgeois organisations, within a proletarian organisation a coherence between programme, functioning and morality must necessarily exist.

Morality within bourgeois organisations

What sort of morality prevails in a bourgeois party? Quite simply "anything goes": manoeuvres, coups, stabs in the back, intrigues, lies and the worst hypocrisy. Stalinism gives us a striking example with its demands upon its militants to commit the most disgusting acts in the name of ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, the ‘defence of socialism’, etc. Just like Stalinism, the Trotskyist groups extol the same moral pragmatism and a blind and unscrupulous support for the theoretical errors made by Trotsky in his book Their morals and ours which otherwise contains valid reflections and elements.

For their part, the ‘Socialist’ parties are presented as the champions of positive feelings: ‘solidarity’, ‘inclusion’, the ‘historic memory’, ‘political correctness’ and ‘good sense’.

All this verbiage is radically contradicted by their actions within government where they pitilessly attack the working class, repress strikes with a ferocity that has nothing to learn from the right, and take measures such as those against immigrants for example which show a pure racism[3]. As to their internal functioning, they show a pattern of the most refined intrigues, subtle changes of alliances, and wars of clans. The Socialist parties are experts in the worst tactics of infiltration, of destruction from within, creators of Trojan Horses etc. Similarly, their proverbial know-how concerning the management of ‘dossiers’ which affects both their ‘friends’ of the high-command as well as their enemies who they try to tie-up with false alliances or evict from places of power.

What moral baggage has been imposed on militants who have been in bourgeois parties in general and more specifically the left and extreme left?

1. Blind obedience to the leaders.

2. Pragmatism and abject utilitarianism.

3. The absence of scruples in the name of the ‘cause’.

4. Unconditional submission to the imperatives of the national capital.

5. Accept the carrying out of actions which deny the most basic morality.

6. Specialisation in manoeuvres and disguised intrigues through ‘brilliant tactics’[4].

All this is justified with a hypocrisy which belongs to a bourgeoisie which defends the worst barbarity and the most outrageous wrongs in the name of the ‘highest morality’: solidarity, honesty, justice... It's the famous double morality: the politicians and the leaders have their morality which consists of enriching themselves through all sorts of sordid trafficking, getting rid of rivals (party comrades included) and maintaining themselves in power at any cost without hesitating to commit the most reprehensible actions. At the same time, they defend ‘another morality’ for their subordinates, for the members, for the shock troops of the party who, as we said earlier, must practice rectitude, sacrifice, obedience, etc.

Is all morality bourgeois or religious?

In order to destroy the proletarian instinct of morality in militants, they strongly insist on the fact that all morality is ‘bourgeois or religious’ and that, from this, the militant can only rely on ‘political considerations’ to orient their conduct and behaviour. This argument is based on the fact that: "It's clear that in all societies divided into classes, the dominant morality has always been the morality of the dominant class; and this to such a point that morality and state, but also morality and religion, have almost become synonymous in popular opinion. The moral sentiments of society as a whole have always been used by the exploiting class, by the state and by religion in order to sanctify and perpetuate the status quo so as to submit the exploited classes to their oppression. The 'moralism' thanks to which the dominant classes have always used to break the resistance of the labouring classes through the installation of a guilty conscience, is one of the great scourges of humanity. It is also one of the most subtle weapons of the dominant classes in order to ensure their domination over the whole of society"[5].

Moralism engenders in us a feeling of guilt. They make us feel guilty about eating, fighting for our needs, wanting to feel good. This, according to moralism, expresses an exclusive and egotistic sentiment. How can one dare to eat when people are starving in the world? How can one drink and bathe in water while every day the environment degrades still more? How can you sleep on a comfortable mattress when immigrants sleep on a hard floor?

The morality of the bourgeoisie is rather that of the decadent bourgeoisie of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries which consists of making workers think that the minimal means of subsistence available to them (somewhere to live, food, clothing) or the conveniences that they have (electrical goods, TV and internet, paid holidays) are insolent luxuries obtained from the backs of the poor of the world, a ‘privilege’ in a word, obscuring that these are the very means for the pursuit of their exploitation.

Moralism and its advocates of the left and extreme left want us to feel guilt for all the woes in the world caused by capitalism, making a social problem a problem of individuals. Thus, the scourge of unemployment is individually caused by the 212 million unemployed individuals in the world.

In general guilt destroys conviction and combativity. This society propagates the feeling of guilt as a way of life and makes accusations against others a means of individualist struggle, of some against the others, making some feel culpable at a given moment then looking to make others responsible at another time. It's not contradictory to feel guilty at one moment and to make accusations against others the next; that makes up part of an inhuman and individualist morality which always circles around someone's ‘fault’. The fight against this, whether it comes from capitalist propaganda and its party specialists or whether it springs from relations between militants as a form of individualism, is a central combat of proletarian morality.

The fight against bourgeois moralism should not lead us to reject morality. We have to make a distinction between moralism and morality: "the perversion of the morality of the proletariat in the hands of Stalinism is no reason to abandon the concept of proletarian morality, in the same way that the proletariat must not reject the concept of communism under the pretext that it has been recuperated and changed by the counter-revolution in the USSR. Marxism has demonstrated that the moral history of human society is not only the history of the morality of the dominant class. Exploited classes have ethical values which are their own and these same values have had a revolutionary role in the history of humanity. Morality has nothing to do with the notion of exploitation, the state or religion; the future belongs to a morality which goes beyond exploitation, the state and religion".

"The conception of morality in the workers' movement, although, let us say, it was never the centre of attention, of debates or theoretical preoccupations, has nothing to do with the version given to us by leftism. Morality is not an ‘idealist’ or scholastic question which only interests the imitators/continuators of the philosophies of the Byzantine Empire who debated about the sex of angels while the Ottomans attacked the defences of Constantinople. Morality, as any social product of human beings, is by definition one of the main characteristics of the social relations with which we have provided ourselves.

"A reality that could be summed up as meaning, collectively calibrated, of whether the form and orientation that we give to the relations we have with each other is adequate or not... Should it be foreign to the proletariat, a class which is both the fruit of determined social relations but which is equally the bearer of other types of relations, an otherwise much higher form of organising our social existence? If the question hasn't really been raised in the past it is because the workers' movement counted on a long and rich tradition of organisational life in which the majority of its militants observed certain rules for debate, addressed each other as comrades, lived with each other and were ready to give assistance as well as confidence and solidarity when that was necessary; in other words, they obeyed the very nature of the proletarian class: the class of solidarity, confidence, carrying the real creative capacities of humanity and a real human culture"[6].

Double Morality

In reality, the individual bourgeois wants a morality for the exploited majority (the morality of slaves as Nietzsche said) and ‘another morality’, much more ‘supple’ and free from any scruples, for the dominant class. For capital, all means (including murder) are fine if they allow an increase in profits or the advance of power. As Marx said, capital was "born in muck and blood" and all means were used in its expansion: massacres, slavery, sordid alliances with the feudal classes, state assassinations, conspiracies... Don't forget that one of the first ideologues of the bourgeoisie was Machiavelli and the word Machiavellianism is used to define moral degeneracy and the scandalous absence of scruples[7].

Double morality is the habit which is best fitted to the ideology and methods of capital. It is the mirror of the ferocious competition of each for themselves which reigns in the relations of capitalist production: "In all the business of speculation everyone knows that one day the collapse will come but everyone hopes that it sweeps away their neighbours after he himself has collected the rain of gold and safely put it away. ‘Après moi le deluge!’, such is the slogan of every capitalist and all capitalist nations"[8].

The proletariat firmly rejects double morality. In its struggle its means must be in line with it aims; you can't fight for communism by using lies, rumours, manoeuvres, duplicity, feelings of guilt, the thirst for notoriety, etc. Analogous attitudes must be energetically fought and rejected as being radically incompatible with communist principles. With these ‘moral shortcuts’ one doesn't move forward a millimetre on the difficult road to communism; the contrary is true and one finds oneself tied hands and feet from a conduct that belongs to the capitalist system; it's to allow oneself to be contaminated by the laws of its functioning and becoming detached from the revolutionary perspective.

For the ICC, proletarian morality has a central role: "One finds in our statutes (adopted in 1982) the living concretisation of our vision on this question. We have always insisted on the fact that the statutes of the ICC are not a list of rules defining what is or isn't allowed, but an orientation for our attitude and our conduct, including a whole coherence of moral values (notably regarding relationships between militants and towards the organisation). That's why we ask from everyone who wants to become members of our organisation a profound agreement with these values. Our statutes are an integral part of our platform."

The moral combat

But developing an organisational functioning and relations between comrades based upon the moral criteria of the proletariat is not an easy task; it needs an assiduous fight. Today the proletariat is suffering from a serious problem of identity and confidence in itself and this, in the general historic context of what we call the decomposition of capitalism[9], increases the difficulties of the living and daily practice of a proletarian morality not only within the working class as a whole but also within its revolutionary organisations. What present society exudes from all its pores in a widespread and deadly way is the absence of scruples, dishonesty, scepticism, cynicism... an endless attack on proletarian morality.

Contrary to the idea that Stalinism has given of communists as individual fanatics capable of anything in order to impose ‘communism’, they have always shown a solid moral attitude[10] and with that they have expressed the importance of the question of morality for the workers' movement[11].

A prejudice exists against marxism which makes it difficult to understand its solid anchorage in moral criteria. Faced with Utopian Socialism, marxism defended the necessity to situate communist positions not in moral positions but in a scientific analysis of the situation of capitalism, the balance of forces between the classes, the historic perspective, etc. However, one mustn't deduce from that that Marxism must be solely based upon scientific principles while rejecting moral ones: "Marxism has never denied the necessity or importance of the contribution of non-theoretical factors in the ascension of the human species. On the contrary it has always understood their indispensable character and even their relative independence. That is why it has been capable of examining their connections in history and recognising their complementary nature".

Marxism is not a cold ideology (as the Greek author, Kostas Papaioannon made out in the 1960s) seeing militants as pawns of the ‘Central Committee’ manipulated at will in a game of chess against the dominant class. In their relations between themselves and towards the organisation, as towards the proletariat, militants carry themselves with the strictest moral rectitude.

This last point is vital for understanding that, in our epoch, social decomposition makes morality within the revolutionary struggle all the more important. "Today, faced with 'each for themselves', the tendency to the disintegration of social tissue and the corrosion of all moral values, it will be impossible for revolutionary militants - and more generally a new generation of militants - to overthrow capitalism without clarifying the question of morals and ethics. Not only the conscious development of workers' struggles but also a specific theoretical struggle towards a re-appropriation of the work of the marxist movement on these questions, has become a question of life or death for human society. This struggle is indispensable not only for proletarian resistance to the manifestations of the decomposition of capitalism and its ambient amorality, but also to re-conquer the confidence of the proletariat in the future of humanity through its own historic project".

The difficulty that revolutionary generations meet today is that, on one side, a proletarian morality based on solidarity, confidence, loyalty, conscious cooperation and the search for truth, is more than ever necessary, but however, the historic conditions of the decadence and decomposition of capitalism as well as the difficulties of the working class make this appear more utopian, more impractical and more senseless.

As our text on ethics said: "the barbarity and inhumanity of decadent capitalism are without precedent in the history of the human species. It's true that it's not easy after the massacres of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, and faced with genocides and permanent and generalised destruction, to maintain confidence in the possibility of moral progress (...) Popular opinion confirms the judgement of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) according to which man is by nature a wolf for man. According to this vision, man is fundamentally destructive, a predator, egotistic, irredeemably irrational and his social behaviour is below that of most of the animal species".

There is however another element which adds a supplementary difficulty to the development of morality: the gap between the natural sciences and technology and the still more accentuated lateness of social sciences as Pannekoek observed in his book Anthropogenesis: a study in the origins of man: "Natural sciences are considered as the field in which human thought, in a continuous series of triumphs, has developed with the greatest vigour, the conceptional forms of logic... On the contrary, at the other end of the scale there remains human actions and relations in which action and thought are principally determined by passion and impulses, by arbitrariness and unpredictability, by tradition and belief... The contrast which appears here, with perfection on one side and imperfection on the other, signifies that man controls the forces of Nature but doesn't control the forces of will and passions that are inherent in him. Where he stands still, maybe sometimes going backwards is in the manifest lack of control over his own ‘nature’. Evidentially this is the reason why society is so late behind science. Potentially man possesses domination over Nature. But he still doesn't have domination over his own nature".

This situation of ignorance and incomprehension of these profound aspects of the human condition make it very difficult to confront this phenomenon that social and ideological decomposition constantly makes worse: "the development of nihilism, suicides among youth, despair (such as that expressed by the ‘no future’ of urban riots in Britain), hatred and xenophobia which animates ‘skinheads’ and ‘hooligans’, ... the tsunami of drugs which is becoming a mass phenomenon and powerfully involved in the corruption of states and financial organisations, spares no part of the world and particularly hits the young, who express the flight into chimeras and more and more, madness and suicide... the profusion of sects, the re-emergence of the religious spirit, including in some advanced countries, the rejection of rational, constructive and coherent thought, including in certain ‘scientific’ areas ... ‘each for themselves’, marginalisation, atomisation of individuals, the destruction of family relations, the exclusion of the old, the smothering of affection and its replacement by pornography"[12].

The unity between aims and means: the ends don't justify the means

Whereas all bourgeois parties (whether of right or left) have the objective of managing the present so as to conserve capitalism, the revolutionary organisation is at a point between the present and the communist future of the proletariat. For this it cultivates the moral qualities that have already been mentioned and which will be the pillars of a future world communist society. These qualities are constantly threatened by the weight of the dominant ideology and capitalist decomposition. To defend them requires a permanent effort, a tireless critical spirit and vigilance alongside a constant theoretical elaboration.

For revolutionary organisations, this culture has a place as much inside the organisation (internal functioning) as to the outside (intervention). It's not a matter of isolating the organisation from the world and enclosing oneself in small self-managed communities (which is the reformist error of anarchism) but within itself exists a permanent struggle for the development of these principles. As Lessing the seventeenth century German poet said: "There is something that I love more than truth: the struggle for truth". In a revolutionary organisation, principles are as important as the struggle for them.

The struggle for communism can't be reduced to a simple question of propaganda: explaining what a future society is; showing the proletariat's historic role in overcoming the contradictions of capitalism, etc. That would be a unilateral and truncated concept. Contrary to the modes of production that preceded it, communism cannot emerge from outside the proletariat, but only with the full consciousness and the massive subjective engagement of the proletariat. In the revolutionary organisation, the struggle to live in a coherent manner with communist principles is still more decisive. The struggle for communism is impossible without permanent vigilance and a response against behaviours of envy, jealousy, lies, intrigues, manipulation, theft, violence towards others.

In one of his polemical excesses, Bordiga affirmed that one could arrive at communism even from the basis of a monarchy.

Through this he wanted to demonstrate that the important thing was to get to communism’ whereas ‘the way of getting there’ mattered little, any method would do. We categorically reject such a way of thinking: in order to get to communism it's necessary to know how to reach it, the means must be symbiotic with the communist end. Against the pragmatism of Stalinism and Trotskyism, who blindly follow "the ends justify the means" maxim, the proletariat and its revolutionary organisations must maintain a clear coherence between ends and means, between practice and theory, between action and principles.

Morality and the individual/society conflict

The dominant morality oscillates between two alternatives which appear to be opposed but which gravitate around the conflict between the individual and society, which not only doesn't permit a resolution of the question but rather aggravates it.

On one side we have exacerbated individualism in which the individual does ‘what's good for them’, at the expense of others. On the other hand we have the submission of the individual to the ‘interests of society’ (a formula behind which is hidden the totalitarian domination of the state), which, fundamentally, is presented under two forms: that of a collection of anonymous and impersonal individuals (the form preferred by the Stalinists and Trotskyists) and that of the Kantian moral imperative which leads to individual renunciation and sacrifice for others (Christian morality is also found in this tendency).

In reality, these two moral poles are not opposed. On the contrary they are complementary since they reflect two aspects of the dynamics of capitalism. On one side, the utilitarianism of Bentham is an idealist vision of the ferocious competition which is the motor force of capitalism. Here, each individual struggles for their own well-being without any consideration for others and this is supposed to be for ‘the good of all’, that's to say the ‘good’ of the good functioning of the capitalist system (against feudalism), not respecting privileges or acquired positions other than submitting to the functioning of a cut-throat society of competition.

A second component of the utilitarian and amoral pole is the deformation of the theory of Darwin which is turned into ‘Social Darwinism’. According to this vision natural selection is the result of a ferocious and pitiless war in which the ‘fittest’ triumph and the weak’ are eliminated, thus allowing ‘the amelioration of the human species’. We can't develop here a defence of Darwin's materialist concept of evolution[13] but what is clear is that this moral vision of ‘Social Darwinism’ constitutes an idealisation dressed up in pseudo-scientific clothes, giving the stamp of approval to the very existence of capitalism which is effectively the war of each against all, a reality which is exacerbated by the decomposition of the system.

Faced with this barbaric moral impudence, Kant and other theoreticians glimpsed the result of the chaos and destruction that capitalism carried within it. From this basis it advocated another moral pole that, in all appearances, was opposed to it: the famous moral imperative. The latter constituted a type of ‘restraint of unchained egoism’ in order not to destroy social cohesion. It is a ‘critical’ acceptance of the barbarity of competition while trying to put limits and rules on it so as to avoid its destructive excesses. Capitalism leads to the destruction of humanity because within its DNA it carries the annihilation of the social character of humanity acquired throughout the many millennia of its existence. The Kantian moral imperative, which wants to put a brake on this tendency, is nothing more than an idealist version of the role of a ‘regulator’ and guarantor of the minimal social cohesion that the state assumes, a role which is accentuated under decadent capitalism through the chaos and self-destruction that its contradictions let loose. Kantian moralism is the other side of utilitarianism. The tendency which developed within Social Democracy from the end of the nineteenth century under the slogan ‘return to Kant’ wasn't content to attack and demolish marxist materialism, it also attacked a proletarian morality which has nothing to do with the moral imperative.

Stalinism and Trotskyist groups have propagated the idea that communist militancy is the blind sacrifice of the individual to the moral imperative incarnated by the superior interests of the ‘Party’ or of the ‘Socialist fatherland’.

The rejection of this barbaric morality which lead to blind submission and the self-destruction of militants have, in numerous cases, led to the other extreme of bourgeois morality: the excesses of the cult of individualism which is characteristic of the petty-bourgeoisie, one of the most exacerbated expressions of which is anarchism.

Proletarian morality: a fight to overcome the conflict between society and individual

The proletariat carries within it the solution to the conflict between individual and society. As the Communist Manifesto said, under communism, "in place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, comes an association where the free development of each one is the condition for the free development of all". Under capitalism, associated labour at the world scale of the proletariat has the perspective of going beyond it: if labour in common goes much further than the sum of individual labour, the contribution of each one is unique and indispensable for the result of labour in common.

Revolutionary organisations are under constant attack through the individual/society conflict under the form of individualism. Already, in numerous texts, we have looked at the problem that we have briefly raised here[14]. This individualism which makes out it is ‘free’, ‘rebellious’ and ‘critical’ is, in reality, a prisoner of all the destructive impulses incubated by capitalism (competition, egoism, manipulation, culpability, rivalry and the spirit of revenge) and exercises a heavy weight of the life of revolutionary organisation. Its ‘revolt’ goes no further than the blind and stupid polarisation ‘against all authority’, which leads it to be a direct factor of disorganisation and tension between comrades. Finally, its ‘criticism’ is based upon distrust and rejection of all coherent thought, replacing it with speculation, prejudices and the most extravagant interpretations.

This individualism is diametrically opposed to solidarity, which is not only one of the vertical pillars of the proletariat but also of the functioning of revolutionary organisations. We have amply treated this issue in our text of orientation on confidence and solidarity in the proletarian struggle[15].

C. Mir, March 1st, 2018


[1]  For a more global analysis of these differences see our article in Spanish: “What are the differences between the Communist Left and the IV International?”

Also see in French “Revolutionary Principles and Revolutionary Practice” and in English “The Communist Left and the Continuity of Marxism Also, in English, “The International Conferences of the Communist Left (1976-1980). Lessons of an experience for the proletarian milieu” (International Review no. 122, 3rd quarter 2005).

[3]  The German Social Democratic Party (SDP) gives a perfect example of this behaviour which it said had nothing to do with – a pure lie. It was the SPD which repressed the revolutionary attempts of the proletariat in Germany in 1918-1923, causing a hundred thousand deaths and it also ordered the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (1919). More recent was the actions of the Social Democratic government of Schröder in 2010, which brutally attacked the living conditions of the workers, implementing for example the junk contracts of 400 euros a month.

[4]  Trotsky himself defended an ambiguous position on these manoeuvres.

On the one hand he recognised that "for the dominant classes, propertied, exploitative, educated, their experience of the world is so great, their class instinct so exercised, their means of espionage so diverse, that in trying to fool them, by making out one is something one is not, one is drawn into a trap not by enemies but by friends". At the same time however, he says, "the auxiliary subordinate value of these manoeuvres must be strictly used as means in relation to the fundamental methods of the revolutionary struggle" (The Third International after Lenin).

This theorisation of the manoeuvre in general, without clarifying the fact that it can only be used against the class enemy but never against the working class, nor its revolutionary organisations, has helped Trotskyist organisations justify all sorts of manoeuvres against the working class and against its own militants.

[5]  “Marxism and Ethics”, International Review 27 and 28; (unless mentioned otherwise, quotes come from this text).

[6]  “Marxism and Ethics

[7]  “Machiavellianism, the consciousness and unity of the bourgeoisie”, International Review no. 31, fourth quarter, 1982.

[8]  Marx, Capital, Volume 1, part 3, chapter 10.

[9]  “Decomposition, the final phase of decadent capitalism”, International Review no. 107, fourth quarter 2001.

[10]  This doesn't mean that there haven't been differences in the conception of morality, some more utilitarian as in the case of Lenin and others more coherent as in the case of Rosa Luxemburg. It's a question that should be deepened.

[11]  We can give two examples here: in 1839-42 probably the most important mobilisations in the history of the proletariat in Britain and their principal motive was indignation and the horror aroused in sectors of the proletariat of the terrible exploitation that their class, men, women and children were suffering, particularly in the textile industry. The second is the spontaneous strike that broke out in Holland in 1942 against the deportation of Jews by the Nazis.

[12]  “Decomposition, the ultimate phase of decadent capitalism”, International Review no. 107, fourth quarter 2001.

[13]  For example, see the text of Anton Pannekoek “Marxism and Darwinism(parts one and two published in International Review no. 137 and 138.

[14]  “Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation”, International Review no. 33, (January 1982).

[15]  International Review, no. 111, fourth quarter 2002.