Ethics and Marxism

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Ethics and Marxism

Prior to the Jena Party Congress, the central organ of the German Social Democratic Party was headed by a group of rather talented publicists who understood the tasks of the Social Democratic newspaper somewhat differently than was customary in this party before them. Karl Kautsky characterized this trend, new for the Social Democracy, but rather common for the bourgeois radical press, as follows:

“In the first years after the repeal of the law against the socialists, the scientific and economic direction dominated Vorwärts. His policy was directed by people who felt at home in the field of national economy and economic history, who had a great interest in the connection between politics and economics, and who were able to illuminate this connection with deep understanding. Their thinking was predominantly scientific, because for a Social Democrat to think scientifically means to think historically and economically. Now in Vorwärts ethical-aesthetic thinking prevails. The point now is not so much about understanding , but about appreciating. The aim is to evoke as strong an ethical or aesthetic emotion as possible. This is the socialism of feeling in the sense that the center of gravity is transferred here from scientific explanation to the excitation of feelings.

Kautsky greatly disapproved of this state of affairs, but he immediately declared, however, that he recognized certain rights also for ethical-aesthetic thinking, but only in the case when it was under the strictest control of scientific thinking.

A polemic flared up between Kautsky and the editors of the central organ, which, thanks to the excessive vehemence of the latter, assumed very unpleasant forms. Since the general direction of the editorial board led to a whole series of major blunders and, finally, to an obvious split in its composition, the Jena Party Congress updated the entire editorial board, undoubtedly in the spirit of Kautsky.

However, the famous scientist did not want to confine himself to this external victory. Compelled in the course of the polemic to repeatedly approach the establishment of a distinction between rigorous science and feeling in socialism, Kautsky, in his excellent habit, decided to approach the question closely and devote an entire thorough treatise to it. This is how Kautsky's book Ethics and the Materialist Understanding of History came into being.

Ethics can be discussed in two ways and from two points of view. Firstly, it represents a certain totality of social phenomena: the so-called altruistic instincts, feelings, judgments and actions with all the apparatus of internal and external coercion related to this in the form of conscience, public opinion, etc. This band of social life is the moral connection between people and the moral precepts are an undoubted fact - which must be explained in its origin and further modifications up to the present day. Thus arises the purely scientific problem of ethics. In resolving it, several directions were sharply defined: criticism of them, again in their origin and in their connection with social evolution, constitutes an important part of the science of morality.

Kautsky's book has already appeared in a Russian translation, and we do not need to expound what the author himself has expounded so brilliantly and simply. As a critique of various forms of idealistic and materialistic theories of morality, as well as an exposition of Marxist theory based on Darwinism, it must be recognized as extremely successful, and this, of course, gives the main value to Kautsky's new work.

But the posing of another question is hardly less valuable.

Morality also appears to us in another form, namely, in the form of a set of convictions and criteria for evaluating living and real groups and classes, and finally in the form of my own convictions, which I want to critically elucidate and put in order.

Needless to say, how much light the scientific-historical study of ethical forms sheds on this problem as well. But here we meet at the same time with a phenomenon very different from those previously considered by us.

Past morality, its origin and development, are mere facts, but my moral ideal is a living force that will act in the future, which I involuntarily consider in the splendor of the realm of freedom.

Kautsky himself says about this: “The two worlds in which man lives are the world of the past and the future. The past lies before man, or rather behind him, as an inexorable necessity. It cannot be changed to Iota. The world of experience, the world of knowledge, is also the world of necessity. Another thing is the future, about it I have no experience, I do not have to explore it as a knower , but to win a place in it as an actor . To act is to choose between different possibilities; the act of choice presupposes a distinction between good and evil: a moral judgment impossible in relation to the past, to a world of experience where iron necessity reigns, inevitable in relation to the future in a world of freedom .”

But it clearly follows from this that while the dispassionate scientific attitude of the researcher to the entire past of morality is the only legitimate one, in relation to the class ideals of the present, criticism, the evaluation of all ideals and values ​​from the point of view of good and evil, is equally legitimate. Kautsky, speaking of the moral ideal, recognizes its great social significance. According to him, the ideal is: "a weapon in the social struggle for existence, a special weapon suitable under the special conditions of the class struggle." Kautsky also admits that the moral ideal inevitably arises in every revolutionary struggling class.

In one of his articles against Vorwärts, Kautsky speaks out even more decisively, he writes: “Can a class get along without the devotion and enthusiasm of its fighters? Especially such a class as the proletariat, which opposes the economic and political power of opponents only its own unity.

Kautsky also recognizes that the moral ideal of the proletariat coincides in form with the ideals of all the revolutionary classes of the past, although it differs significantly from them in essence, raising them to a higher level and introducing a new profound content into the old ideals of freedom, equality and fraternity.

But at the same time, Kautsky warns against being too carried away by the idealistic side of the labor movement. He says: "The direction which the development of society actually follows does not depend on our moral ideal, but on given social conditions." This leads the bearers of the ideal, who believe excessively in it, to a whole series of disappointments. “The new society often did not correspond much to the moral ideal of those who worked to create it, and therefore the moral ideal has so far turned out to be constantly an illusion and caused only a feeling of bitterness after it fulfilled its role of stimulus in the destruction of the old system to the end.”

In a word, strong hope in “truth is justice” and a secret hope that the stubborn “truth is truth” will eventually bend and give way to the pressure of the fighters of justice is a mistake that is committed and fraught with sad consequences. Bearing in mind that the future depends on the general laws of the development of society, scientific socialism is concerned only with "truth and truth."

All this is, of course, quite true; However, it remains true that "the moral ideal is a powerful instrument of victory over the existing order, acting as the driving force of the class struggle, as a means of uniting and inspiring all the forces of the revolutionary classes to fight."

And if this is so, then a complete understanding of the class ideal and criticism of those pseudo-ideals that oppose the ideal of the fourth estate to the ideologists of the propertied classes is, for example, a secondary, but still important task of the ideologists of the proletariat. Kautsky said in one of his articles: "The conclusions of the future, which scientific socialism draws, have as little in common with ethics as the conclusions drawn by hygiene from scientific data."

Let us disagree that ethics and hygiene have nothing in common. If by ethics we mean not the science of the emergence and development of forms of morality, but the systematized ideal requirements imposed, for example. conscious proletariat to the social system, we will see that there is so much in common between this kind of "ethics" and hygiene that all social hygiene is wholly included in the proletarian "ethics" and at the same time is completely dependent, in the sense of fulfilling its requirements, on implementation of the proletarian social ideal as a whole. Hygiene, based on scientific data, speaks of the conditions under which a society could be freed to the highest degree from such a scourge as illness and early death, and see in its members individuals full of health, strength and beauty. And since everythingwill turn his scientific conclusions into requirements . The ideal of scientific socialism, what Kautsky calls its conclusions about the future, expresses from the scientific point of view simply a well-known prediction, based on a study of reality, regarding the further path of social development; but since it is stated that the moribund capitalist system, which has played an enormous role in the development of the productive forces of mankind, is currently fettering them and hindering their further growth, and the socialization of the instruments of production is a necessary condition for the further endless victories of man over nature, then this prediction, this conclusion turns into a requirementnot only of the proletariat, but also of all impartial and sincere friends of mankind, who, by the way, according to the conditions of our social system, are relatively few outside the working class.

Kautsky says: “The content of the moral ideal is not always sufficiently clear. It is not generated by scientific knowledge of the laws of the social organism, about which the creators of the ideal often know absolutely nothing, it is born out of needs, out of burning longing, out of a passionate desire for something other than the existing one. That is why the moral ideal is purely negative.

Illness and early death can cause a passionate desire for the opposite, i.e., for health and longevity. Expressed in the most general form, such wishes are really vague, as are the general wishes for liberty, equality, and fraternity; it is simply a protest against existing evil. But when hygiene, based on a precise knowledge of the laws of the human organism, puts forward a program of broad public health, does the passionate desire for health cease to play an essential role?

Is it not clear that scientific conclusions in this case can become the core around which the hygienic ideal can finally take shape, infinitely gaining in its strength and in its certainty?

From the fact that up to now the content of the moral ideal was “not always” clear and “not always” derived from the knowledge of the laws of the social organism, it by no means follows that it will continue to be so, that this also applies to the ideal of the socialist proletariat.

We said above that from the formulation of the question of the "kingdom of freedom" which Kautsky will give us, follows the complete legitimacy of criticizing existing moral tendencies and judgments as forces acting in the future, from the point of view of good and evil.

But how is this possible? Are there unshakable absolutes - good and evil? To evaluate the moral judgments of various classes and schools is precisely to evaluate their good and their evil. Good and evil are changeable, ideas about them are themselves ultimately determined by the clash of class interests. No class can claim to base its assessments and criticisms on true knowledge of the absolute good. When such assertions are put forward by the ideologists of the Black Hundreds or the progressive bourgeoisie, we see them as conscious or semi-conscious quackery.

However, in the change of ideas about good and evil, always with any sharp clash of class interests - poverty, ignorance , slavery and exploitation are painted in the most intense color of evil; "Science, general welfare, liberty, equality and fraternityshine with the sparkling light of the desired good. Science states with certainty that the main sources of all suffering are 1) the power of dead nature over a rational and feeling person and 2) the power of the irrational social elements, the productive forces escaping from the hands of man and the resulting discord - over the mind and fate of people. In the process of growth of productive forces, man gradually conquers the elements of nature. In the same process, humanity comes to the real possibility of the complete destruction of classes and the establishment of universal human solidarity. But the harmonization of society means the power of the human mind over the productive forces, and, through their mediation, over nature, it means, according to Engels, "a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom." Therefore the idealthe growth of man's power over nature and the growth of the inner harmony of the social life of mankind, this deeply scientific ideal can serve as a focus for the proletarian system of assessments and a criterion for reassessing all bourgeois values. The importance of works devoted to such an assessment should not be exaggerated, the control of science should be preserved in this area in full force; but the significance of creative work in this direction should not be weakened either.

Having given a summary and excellent elucidation of ethics as the science of the origin and modification of moral forms, Kautsky, in spite of his somewhat emphatic negative attitude towards practical idealism, essentially provides a mass of points of support for further work in the field of scientific socialist idealism, in the field of systematization of demands. and aspirations of the most creative class of our time.

It only remains for us to warmly recommend Kautsky's highly interesting book to the widest circle of readers.

Alexander Barsov.