Socialism From Class, Not From Morality
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to self-identify as an anarchist, once said that “Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.” Within this current of “socialism-as-justice”, many other socialists follow. Many have defined socialism as seeking “the most just” distribution of production, often saying that its ultimate goal is equality. In fact, the definition of socialism as seeking “equality” has become so pervasive that today people believe that any instance of seeking economic equality is defined as socialism. And yet, this is not socialism, not Marxist socialism, at least. To argue from moral ideals like justice, which are shaped by the material conditions around them, is as to try to use a river for the foundation of one’s house. Social conceptions, ideals, as that are never fixed, and as a result are a poor basis for one’s analysis or tactics. Morality shifts with time like sands in the wind, and, while it is partially influenced by a simple need for regulating collective social interaction, it is also strongly influenced by the interests of the dominant class. “Socialism-as-justice” is no foundation for success. It is, in fact, utopian socialism. We Marxists, being materialist, do not argue for socialism from morality, justice, or even equality. We argue for socialism from class interests, the interests of the proletariat and its adjacent classes. We do not strive for socialism out of a greater enlightenment, out of a true understanding of some objective justice. We strive for socialism because it is in the class interests of the proletariat to destroy the present order of socialized production conflicting with private appropriation and management, and in its place establish socialized production with socialized appropriation and management. The proletariat will not seize production, which is socialized in nature, and attend to its social needs due to any moral realization, but because it is in its class interests.
Now, why exactly can’t we argue from socialism with morality? Don’t most people agree that murder, theft, and abuse are immoral? Can’t we all agree that hurting others is immoral? Sure, societies tend to have some moral values in common. They tend to have prohibitions of murder, theft, and so on, largely to preserve social coexistence and cooperation. But they make exceptions. There is always someone who that society’s moral system makes an exception for in their death or abuse. Who that is, why they are killed or abused, and by whom they are killed or abused depends on the structure of that society. Those determinants are established according to the interests of the dominant class. For example, capitalist society, which strongly values private property, killing or abusing violators of said private property isn’t seen as immoral, for the most part. The bourgeoisie must make exceptions for this, or else they cannot prevent the seizure of their property. They rely on violence to enforce their private ownership, because without such organized force, they would easily be outnumbered by those who actually live by the sale of their own labor to said bourgeoisie. While, sure, in modern day capitalist society the proletariat does have traces of its own morality, largely based in a value of cooperation born of their participation in socialized production, it is contradicted by their placement as competitors on the market for labor-power. Further, it is no basis for a movement, not only because they’re still influenced by the dominant ideology of the bourgeoisie, but because their morality comes from their class position as those who live off their own labor. Their class position as proletarians is the basis of all their ideology separate from the dominant order. While we can, and should, appeal to their proletarian morality, we shouldn’t make it the very basis of our movement, and should use it for supplementary material to building a movement for the class interests of the proletariat. We cannot abolish morality, because it naturally develops in any situation where human beings interact, which is an inevitable condition due to the social nature of human beings. We are, after all, a social species. The question is not abolishing morality, which is yet another utopian goal, but to not subjugate the worker’s movement to it. Rather, to subjugate it to the worker’s movement.
Now, allow me to confront the idea of “equality” as a political goal separately. It is not a current arising from the proletariat’s material interests. That is a misidentification of their interests in socializing the appropriation of the fruits of social production and in socializing the management of said production. That isn’t seeking “equality”, but seeking social needs to be met by social production. Equality, as a political goal, is utopian idealism. I am not speaking of it as such as a reactionary, “traditional-hierarchies-are-natural” clown. I am speaking of this as a materialist and realist. Equality is a very nebulous term. Explaining what you mean in terms of “equality of what” is far more useful. Equality of political and legal rights is easy to understand, though it fails. Political equality means nothing when the ability to exercise that freedom is hindered for some by poverty and lack of control over the socialized production which they engage in and rely upon. Economic equality is usually what these people are referring to. This is also impossible, at least in terms of actually making everyone economically “equal”. In money terms, if you gave everyone the exact same rate of income, like $20 an hour, the people who had the physicality to work longer hours would still make more money, and there would be economic inequality. If you gave everyone, say, a $40,000 a year income, there would still be inequality, because that money would be more helpful to some, in conditions where the cost of living is cheaper, either because the environment requires less clothing, firewood, food, water or anything else, or simply because prices are lower. Even in terms of production for direct immediate consumption, as would exist in a society without money, economic equality isn’t possible. Give 2 people in different environments 10 gallons of water a week and it will have different use-values to each. Say one is in a moist environment. That water will go much further in use-value for them, and they will be satisfied with that amount. Now say the other is in a hot, dry environment. That water won’t go as far for them, and they will desire a greater quantity. Equality would only be possible if there was complete uniformity of conditions. In that situation, the same standard for everyone would work. Those conditions, however, don’t exist, and could never, because even ecological differences lead to differences in human conditions. Thus, it is better to focus on meeting social needs rather than equality not only to reject idealism and embrace class interests, but because it is workable within reality. We do not seek “equality”, but the abolition of all class differences. This means that all shall labor, and all shall have their needs met by that labor, not that all will be economically equal. It means the free development of the individual through social appropriation of social production.
Socialism from class interests is far stronger than “socialism-from-justice”. Class interests are not influenced by socialization of ideology into people. Class interests are inherent. Thus, they are far stronger as a basis for a movement. We Marxists advocate for socialism not out of a path for moral fulfillment, but because it is in the interests of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie opposes us not out of moral ignorance, but out of class interests. These two class interests are irreconcilable. And so, we fight for our class.