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

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.

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.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Nov 04 2005 - 00:00:01 EST