Re: [OPE-L] Review of Allen Wood _Karl Marx_ (Phil Gasper)

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Nov 03 2005 - 13:34:41 EST

oops typo corrected in capitals; SHOULD have
said Wood's ammoralist rather than immoralist.
But Wood surely sets up Marx's proletariat to
be a positive immoral force, a destroyer
root and branch of Recht, a kind of Nietzschean
transvaluer of values if not a veritable
anti Christ. There is
not much emphasis in Wood's readings (and
before him Pashukanis) for a dialectical
overcoming of Recht. Which may put partly on Marx's
shoulders the horrors of Stalinism. Charles
Bettelheim seems to have reached this conclusion
in his third or fourth volume on the Soviet Union.
Yet are Marx and Nietzsche  the two great modern

On Thu, 3 Nov 2005 09:25:29 -0800
  Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU> wrote:
> In Marxism and Morality Lukes argues that Marx developed
> a critique of Recht but depended implicity on a morality of
> emancipation. The first makes Marx appear as Wood's AMORALIST;
> the latter makes sense of scattered seemingly normative comments.
> I don't find Lukes' argument persuasive, but it is a serious and important
> effort to make sense of the debate kicked off by Allen Wood.
> rb
> On Thu, 3 Nov 2005 11:09:11 -0500
>  glevy@PRATT.EDU wrote:
>> ---------------------------- Original Message -----------------------
>> Subject: Review of Wood
>>From:    "Phil Gasper" <pgasper@NDNU.EDU>
>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>> International Socialist Review 44
>> November-December 2005
>> Allen Wood
>> KARL MARX, Second edition
>> Routledge, 2004
>> xlii + 302 pages  $34.95
>> Review by PHIL GASPER
>> In July, listeners of the BBC radio program "In
>> Our Time" voted Marx the world's greatest
>> philosopher by an overwhelming margin.
>> Ironically, Marx himself was rather contemptuous
>> of philosophy, famously declaring, "The
>> philosophers have only interpreted the world in
>> various ways; the point is to change it." Most of
>> his mature writings are on political economy and
>> contemporary events, and he rarely addresses
>> philosophical questions explicitly.
>> Yet in a broad sense of the term, Marx clearly is
>> a philosopher. As Allen Wood notes in his
>> introduction, "Marx is   a systematic thinker who
>> attaches great importance to the underlying
>> methods and aims of his theory and the general
>> outlook on the human predicament expressed in
>> it." Marx also explicitly acknowledges his debt
>> to both eighteenth-century Enlightenment
>> materialism, and the tradition of German idealist
>> philosophy that culminated in the work of Hegel.
>> Anyone who wants a better understanding of Marx's
>> philosophy can do no better than to begin by
>> consulting Wood's book, originally published in
>> 1981. This second edition includes an additional
>> chapter (on capitalist exploitation) and a
>> marvelous new preface in which Wood explains why
>> Marx's ideas remain relevant in the twenty-first
>> century, and why the collapse of the Soviet Union
>> and its Eastern European empire (which he
>> describes as "experiments in rapid
>> industrialization under ruthless state
>> capitalism") in no way refuted them.
>> Wood, an eminent Kant and Hegel scholar now
>> teaching at Stanford, addresses five main topics:
>> alienation, Marx's theory of history, morality,
>> materialism, and the dialectical method. Despite
>> the complexity of the material, Wood's
>> discussions are models of clarity in which the
>> central issues and the debates about them are
>> lucidly explained. (This is especially noteworthy
>> since many discussions of Marxist philosophy are
>> impenetrable to the non-specialist, and sometimes
>> to most specialists as well.) Wood has a wide
>> knowledge of Marx's writings and quotes from them
>> frequently, often noting similarities and
>> differences with the ideas of other major
>> philosophers.
>> But Wood's book is not simply a work of
>> exposition. He frequently defends his own
>> interpretations of Marx's views, which are often
>> novel and sometimes controversial, but always
>> worth considering. His discussion of alienation-a
>> central concept in Marx's early works, which Wood
>> explains as "the failure (or inability) to
>> actualize one's human essential powers"-is
>> particularly clarifying. Wood argues,
>> convincingly I think, that Marx began by
>> mistakenly thinking that alienation is the
>> underlying explanation of everything that is
>> wrong with capitalism (for instance, the fact
>> that workers don't own the product of their
>> labor), but later came to regard it not as an
>> explanation but as simply a symptom of deeper
>> problems.
>> The most controversial of Wood's interpretations
>> concerns Marx's views about morality. Wood argues
>> that Marx does not criticize capitalism on moral
>> grounds, never saying, for example, that it is
>> unjust or that it violates workers' rights.
>> Indeed, according to Wood, Marx regards the
>> exploitation of wage labor by capital as just
>> when judged by the only applicable historical
>> standard, since "justice" in any society merely
>> means functional for the existing mode of
>> production. On Wood's view, Marx believes that
>> his historical materialist framework, in which
>> social existence determines consciousness,
>> implies that all morality-not just bourgeois
>> morality-is an ideological illusion. Rather than
>> making moral criticisms of capitalism, Marx
>> condemns it on the basis of what Wood claims are
>> non-moral values, such as its tendency to
>> frustrate "self-actualization, security, physical
>> health, comfort, community, freedom" for most
>> people.
>> After Wood first published these views in an
>> article in the early 1970s, a virtual academic
>> sub-industry emerged to debate and contest his
>> interpretation. Some argued that Marx does make
>> explicit moral criticisms of capitalist
>> exploitation (which he sometime describes as
>> "robbery," for example); others that while he
>> explicitly rejects such criticisms, he is
>> implicitly committed to them anyway; still others
>> that Wood's conception of morality is too narrow
>> and that on a more reasonable understanding, Marx
>> does judge capitalism to be morally deficient.
>> Setting aside the issue of how to interpret what
>> Marx actually says, is it true that historical
>> materialism entails that morality is an illusion?
>> Sometimes tracing ideas back to their material
>> roots is sufficient to debunk them-this, for
>> instance, is why Marx is a critic of religion.
>> Religious beliefs, he thinks, can be fully
>> explained in terms of the material and social
>> circumstances that give rise to them, without
>> supposing that there is a supernatural reality to
>> which they correspond.
>> But Marx also thinks that scientific ideas can be
>> explained in the same general way, and this
>> rightly does not lead him to reject the notion of
>> scientific truth, even though science under
>> capitalism is frequently distorted by the
>> interests of the ruling class. In principle,
>> something similar might be true about morality,
>> as Wood acknowledges. This may have been what
>> Engels had in mind when he wrote, "there has on
>> the whole been progress in morality," but a
>> "really human morality   becomes possible only at
>> a stage of society which has not only overcome
>> class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in
>> practical life." On this view, while morality in
>> bourgeois society is systematically twisted, this
>> is not a reason for rejecting the moral point of
>> view in its entirety.
>> In fact, as a practical matter, it would be very
>> hard to do so. Should socialists try to drop such
>> concepts as "social justice" and "women's rights"
>> from their vocabulary? Marx rightly viewed mere
>> moralizing about capitalism's defects as a waste
>> of time, but a moral critique coupled with a
>> class-based analysis of how to change things, can
>> be a powerful force. People fight more
>> passionately for their interests when they
>> believe that justice is on their side.
>> The debate on Marxism and morality is far from
>> over, and I recommend anyone interested in
>> pursuing it, or any of the other topics mentioned
>> above, to read Wood's fine book. It helps to show
>> why Marx's ideas continue to resonate-which is no
>> doubt why he won that BBC poll.

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