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Analytical Marxism and Morality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Sean Sayers*
University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NY, England
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Marxism has probably been the most influential philosophy of this century. Until recently, however, it was either ignored or dismissed without serious consideration by the great majority of English-speaking philosophers. If the situation is now changing, that is thanks in good measure to the development of analytical Marxism.

I Analytical Marxism: Revival or Betrayal?
Copyright © The Authors 1987

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1 See, for example, Miller, R. W., Analyzing Marx (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1984)Google Scholar, Introduction.

2 Useful brief summaries of the history of these controversies are contained in Lukes, S., Marxism and Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1985),Google Scholar and in Kolakowski, L., Main Currents of Marxism, 3 Vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1978)Google Scholar. Geras, N., ‘The Controversy About Marx and Justice: New Left Review 150 (1985), 47-85Google Scholar, surveys the recent analytical debate.

3 This view is usually associated with the name of R. Hilferding. Recently, a version of it has been defended by A. Collier, ‘Scientific Socialism and the Question of Socialist Values,’ in Mepham, J. and Ruben, D.H., eds., Issues in Marxist Philosophy, Vol. 4 (Brighton: The Harvester Press 1981) 3-41Google Scholar, and Nielsen, K., ‘Coming to Grips with Marxist Anti-Moralism,’ Philosophical Forum 19, (1987) 1-22Google Scholar.

4 Lukes, S., Marxism and Morality, 3Google Scholar

5 Wood, A.W., Karl Marx (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1981), 43Google Scholar

6 Wood, A.W., ‘Marx on Right and Justice: A Reply to Husami,’ in Cohen, M., Nagel, T. and Scanlon, T., eds., Marx, Justice, and History (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1980) 107Google Scholar

7 This case is well made in Wood, A.W., ‘The Marxian Critique of Justice,’ in Cohen, al., eds., Marx, Justice, and History, 3-41Google Scholar.

8 Marx, K., Grundrisse (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1973) 705Google Scholar

9 Husami, Z.I., ‘Marx on Distributive justice,’ in Cohen, al., eds., Marx, justice, and History, 42-79Google Scholar

10 Greatly over-optimistic ideas about how rapidly the state will ‘wither away’ under socialism have, I believe, been largely responsible for the disregard of issues of legality and rights by many Marxists. See Sayers, S., ‘Marxism and Actually Existing Socialism,’ in McLellan, D. and Sayers, S., eds., Socialism and Morality (London: Macmillan 1989)Google Scholar.

11 Geras, N., ‘The Controversy About Marx and Justice,’ 58, 77Google Scholar; d. Cohen, G.A., ’Freedom, Justice and Capitalism,’ New Left Review 126 (1981), 13Google Scholar.

12 Geras, N., ‘The Controversy About Marx and justice,’ 70Google Scholar; cf. Cohen, G.A., ‘Freedom, justice and Capitalism,’ 12Google Scholar.

13 Cohen, G.A., Review of Karl Marx by Wood, A.W., Mind 92, 367 (July 1983), 443Google Scholar

14 Lukes, S., Marxism and Morality, 3Google Scholar

15 For further elaboration see Sayers, S., Reality and Reason (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1985),Google Scholar Ch.6; see also). McCarney, , The Real World of Ideology (Brighton: The Harvester Press 1980)Google Scholar.

16 Marx, K. and Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto, in Collected Works, Vol. 6 (London: Lawrence & Wishart 1975-), 498Google Scholar

17 Engels, F., Anti-Dühring, in Collected Works, Vol. 25, 87Google Scholar

18 Marx, K. and Engels, F., The German Ideology, in Collected Works, Vol. 5, 45Google Scholar

19 Engels, F., Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in Selected Works, Vol. 2 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House 1958), 362Google Scholar

20 See Sayers, S., ‘The Actual and the Rational,’ in Lamb, D., ed., Hegel and Modern Philosophy (Oxford: Croom Helm 1987), 143-60Google Scholar.

21 Bradley, F.H., Ethical Studies 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1927), 190, 192Google Scholar

22 Engels, F., The Housing Question, in Selected Works, Vol. 1, 564Google Scholar. The view that capitalism initially resulted in a decline in living standards has been recently the subject of an extensive debate among historians: see Hobsbawm, E.J., Labouring Men (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1968), Ch. 5-7Google Scholar.

23 Marx, K. and Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto, Collected Works, Vol. 6, 496Google Scholar

24 Hegel, G.W.F., Reason in History (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill 1953), 71Google Scholar

25 Marx, K. and Engels, F., The German Ideology, Collected Works, Vol. 5, 49Google Scholar

26 Marx, K., Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Selected Works, Vol. 2, 23Google Scholar

27 These ideas are more fully explained in S. Sayers, ‘Marxism and Actually Existing Socialism.’

28 This argument goes back to the debates at the beginning of the Century: see Lukes, S., Marxism and Morality, Ch. 2, and Kolakowski, L., Man Currents of Marxism, Vol. 2Google Scholar. The most influential presentation of it at present remains Popper, K.R., The Open Society and its Enemies, 5th ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1966), Vol. 2, Ch. 22.Google Scholar

29 Marx, K., The Civil War in France, in Collected Works, Vol. 22, 335Google Scholar

30 Hegel, G.W.F., Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1952), 34-5Google Scholar

31 Lukács, G., ‘Tactics and Ethics,’ in Political Writings 1919-1929 (London: New Left Books 1972)Google Scholar; Kolakowski, L., Main Currents of Marxism; Popper, K.R., The Open Society, Vol. 2, Ch. 22Google Scholar. Indeed, Popper raises important difficulties for this whole approach, to which there are no clearcut answers, either in Marx’s work or elsewhere. I make this point explicitly, lest I be accused of ignoring it. However, an exploration of these issues is beyond the scope of this paper.

32 Marx, K., Capital Vol. 3 (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1971), 776Google Scholar

33 N. Geras, ‘The Argument About Marx and Justice,’ 77; cf. also Husami, ‘Marx on Distributive Justice,’ 50.

34 A.W. Wood, ‘The Marxian Critique of Justice,’ 29

35 Marx, K., Grundrisse, 159Google Scholar

36 See S. Sayers, ‘Marxism and the Dialectical Method: A Critique of Cohen, G.A.,’ Radical Philosophy 36 (Spring 1984) 4-13Google Scholar.

37 Lukes, S., Marxism and Morality, 10Google Scholar

38 Ibid., 29

39 Wood, A.W., Karl Marx, 128Google Scholar

40 Marx, K., Capital, Vol. 1 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House 1958), 177Google Scholar

41 Marx, K., Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 in Early Writings (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1975), 386Google Scholar

42 Ibid., 355. Some of the problems and confusion caused by the language of ’dehumanization’ are evident here. For despite what Marx appears to say at the end of this quote, it is quite clear that he does not mean to suggest that the impact of industry is entirely negative. Marx’s idea of socialism would be an impossible utopia were it so.

43 Wood, A.W., Karl Marx, 127Google Scholar

44 Even then, however, what constitutes ‘subsistence needs’ is by no means an unproblematic or self-evident matter.

45 See Braybrooke, D., Meeting Needs (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

46 Hegel, G.W.F., Philosophy of Right, 128Google Scholar. See also Sayers, S., The Need to Work,’ in Pahl, R.E., ed., On Work (Oxford: Blackwell 1988) 722-41Google Scholar; and ‘Work, Leisure and Human Needs,’ in Winnifrith, T. and Barrett, C.J., eds., The Philosophy of Leisure (London: Macmillan 1989) 34-53Google Scholar.