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Alasdair MacIntyre

Marx and Morals

(Autumn 1963)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.14, Autumn 1963, p.35.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Ethical Foundations of Marxism
Eugene Kamenka
Routledge and Kegan Paul. 30s.

This is one of the most valuable books yet written about Marx. It makes use of a far wider selection of Marx’s writings than commentators on Marx usually avail themselves of. It displays no fear of complexity. It fails to be the book which we need because of two serious faults. Like almost all other books on Marx it abstracts Marx from his social environment; when looking for explanations of why Marx or Engels thought this or that Kamenka does not look often enough at the social life which surrounded them. Thus he fails to, see that Marx’s errors are often the product of his sensitivity to capitalism; sometimes he reflected it all too faithfully, and what Marx says of men or society in general is in fact something only true of men under capitalism, or only true of how capitalism envisages men. Moreover Kamenka writes about Marx from too external a standpoint and one that is itself seriously confused. The late John Anderson, Professor of Philosophy at Sidney, himself a one-time Trotskyist sympathiser, elaborated a social philosophy too little known in Britain. Anderson was a total determinist and in ethics had views which I find it difficult to criticise because they remain so obscure, even in Kamenka’s exposition. Both Anderson’s confusions and his obscurity infect Kamenka.

I mention Kamenka’s failings only to put them on one side. His enormous merit is to see the contradiction between what he calls Marx’s ethical criticism of society (I would prefer to call jt Marx’s sociological criticism) and Marx’s later economism. For the early Marx the clue to bourgeois society is in the analysis of its freedom and unfreedom; for the later Marx the clue is in poverty. Of the later Marx, Kamenka writes that he was not prepared ‘to see socialism as the extension and culmination of the freedom and enterprise already displayed by the worker. Essentially he stuck to his negative view of the proletariat as the most suffering class; a class whose future was determined not by its character, but by its deprivation.’ These words contain the germ of a critique of Marx which would not only be philosophically sophisticated, as Kamenka’s is, but politically revolutionary too.

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