Author Unknown 1938

On Their Morals and Ours

Source: Victor Serge & Leon Trotsky, La Lutte Contre le Stalinisme, Maspero, Paris 1977.
First published: in Bulletin of the Opposition, No.68-69, September 1938 and included in the French edition of Their Morals and Ours.
Translated: for 2005 by Mitch Abidor.
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

It’s a question here of a book recently written.

For Trotsky there is no morality in and of itself; no ideal or eternal morality. Morality is relative to each society, to each epoch, above all relative to the interests of social classes.

At the current time, most countries live under bourgeois morality. In bourgeois democratic countries the interests of the bourgeoisie are masked under an ideal morality, in conformity with the well-understood interests of the bourgeoisie.

True morality should defend the interests of humanity itself, represented by the proletariat. Trotsky thinks that his party, formerly in power and now in opposition, has always represented the true proletariat, and himself the true morality.

From this he concludes the following: executing hostages takes on a different meaning according to whether the order is given by Stalin or by Trotsky or by the bourgeoisie. This order is morally valuable if it has for goal and tactical effect the revolutionary victory of the proletarian class. Thus, Trotsky defends the decree he issued in 1919 that authorized the system of hostages (wives and children of the adversary) but he judges abominable this same system when it is applied by Stalin (who, for example, when he wants to force a diplomat to return to Russia, threatens his family) because Stalin acts in this way in order to defend the bureaucracy against the proletariat.

Trotsky, leaning on Lenin, declares that the ends justify the means (as long as the means aren’t vain. For example, individual terrorism is in general vain). There is no cynicism in this attitude, rather, the author says, a simple statement of fact. Trotsky declares that he takes from these facts a heightened consciousness, which constitutes his moral sense.

The content of this work is doubtless not entirely new, but it has never been expressed with such clarity and so neatly formulated. For a whole category of intellectuals and writers of the Left ruse and violence are, in themselves, always bad and can only engender evil. For Trotsky ruse and violence, if they are put at the service of a justified goal, should be employed without hesitation and, to the contrary, represent the good in this case.

Last updated on 15 April 2010