From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Thu Nov 03 2005 - 12:25:29 EST
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 immoralist; 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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