Monday, 30 December 2013

Dreams of a Black Christmas.

The American Right have long been engaged in the fight to defend Christmas from the imaginary threat posed to it by secular progressives. The tenth box on your advent calendar marks the day of the Slate article by Aisha Harris on the assumed white-skin of Father Christmas. The following week was filled with the usual hysterical commentary from Fox News in its bid to deflect the ‘liberal agenda’ to destroy Christmas and drown puppies at birth. This is a part of the kulturkampf waged by conservatives since the end of the Cold War and anti-Communism no longer provided the impetus of social hypochondria. The snow had not yet settled in the wake of the spat when the anti-racist campaigner Tim Wise offered some insight:

Now don’t get me wrong, if there were a Santa Claus, there is very little doubt that he would have to be white. After all, no black man could manage to work only one day out of the year and not be called lazy; and surely no black man could get away with breaking into millions of homes, even if he was bearing presents. Some cop or neighborhood watch captain would surely have taken him down long ago, convinced that the red suit he was wearing signified gang colors. So, and let me be the first to admit it: in a world where Santa actually existed, along with unicorns, pixie dust and the Lorax, Megyn Kelly would have a damned good point. Note, this is how one can make a joke about Santa being white, without reinforcing white racial normalcy: but of course no FOX personality would choose to make the joke this way, because such a joke would require, first, an acknowledgment of the reality of racial profiling and anti-black racism, neither of which conservatives can afford to countenance. This is why conservative race humor isn’t funny, just racist; please take note of it. Thank you.

The liberal pretentions of colour-blindness forgo all challenges to the normative claims of the white male power-structure in the US and elsewhere. The racial consciousness of white people remains intact with all of its trappings of ressentiment and anxiety about what the future may hold. The barriers are up against any critical reflections on what white normalcy amounts to in seasonal symbolism. The paucity of the liberal framework leaves open the possibility of coercion clouded by consent and by sameness. As if coincidentally Black America just happens to be poorer and more prone to be incarcerated than White America. The assumed white-skin of the meritorious, intelligent, beautiful and articulate individual so prevalent in contemporary society is not to be disassociated from these patterns. The disparities of class and race are these patterns, and they are anything but natural. The campaign to keep Christmas white fits with the anxiety washing over the Republican Party since they lost the 2012 election.

The entitlement to govern for white people has been challenged by the election and re-election of Barack Obama. And a lot of white people have a problem with this, they feel they're losing their country. There’s some truth in it as anyone can see from the birth-rate of Hispanic-Americans which has outpaced European-Americans. As Mike Davis has suggested, 2012 may have been the last white election. The decline of the angry white male phenomenon may well be underway, the only hope of the GOP is to back-off on immigration and pursue the policies which would appeal to Hispanic-Americans. But the anxiety over this loss is not to be indulged in. It demonstrates that white privilege is real and that it has been a major force in American life for much more than the last decade. The historic construction of a white racial identity has been a means for the class tensions inherent to capitalism to be managed and controlled.

It’s apt then that the reactionary behind the ‘War on Christmas’ phenomenon was the racist columnist Peter Brimelow. Max Blumenthal found Brimelow was first unsettled by receiving ‘Happy Holidays’ greetings from retailers in place of the traditional ‘Merry Christmas’. Around the same time Peter Brimelow had churned out his book Alien Nation (1995) bewailing mass-immigration as undermining the ethno-cultural core of White America. He claimed Clinton’s victory in 1992 was the result of a Black, Hispanic, Jewish and minority white coalition of voters. He suggested that the expansion of this coalition (especially the non-white segments of it) could’ve created the social basis for Jesse Jackson to become President. Brimelow would go on to be increasingly marginalised for his advocacy of a racially-conscious body politic. But the Christmas campaign would be taken up by Fox News in the early years of this century.

In the wilderness Brimelow found new allies in race-baiters of all kinds (neo-eugenicists, white nationalists, cultural conservatives, even eco-racists and racist feminists) and with them he established It would become the leading anti-immigrant web journal, its name a reference to the first English child born in the New World. By 2010 Brimelow was much less careful in his words in describing the Obama administration as a ‘minority occupation government’ given its lack of ‘deep ethnic roots’. He claimed the immigration policies of the US are aimed at population displacement in the pursuit of radical economic and social change. This fits with the Buchanan theory of immigration as an objective of the cultural Marxist plot to vanquish white Christian male society. In concluding that it would be natural for whites to pursue their racial interests he compared white nationalism (although he didn’t use the term) with Zionism and Black nationalism to claim the same legitimacy for its aims.

VDARE continued the War for Christmas and, as Blumenthal has noted, began to be more specific about who was responsible for the attacks on Christian society. Of course, it turned out to be the age-old enemy of Christendom - namely, the Jews - as VDARE readers would find from reading the obscene scribbles of Kevin MacDonald and Steve Sailer. When Blumenthal pushed Brimelow on this matter he found the aging English reactionary ambivalent and insistent that “It’s an argument”. The need for a racial explanation of social ills is necessitated by rightist criticism given its priority in externalising all failures of the system to disruptions of its mechanisms. The assumptions of white success run with this to emphasise what is at stake, whereas the normalcy of being white has to be emphasised against those who are looking to excavate the disavowed record of racial oppression. Any troublesome talk of racism can be attacked as the liberal agenda going after everything white people hold dear.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

'Wishing You a White Christmas'.

Exhibit 1: Race Bait.

The latest move has been to post a Christmas card bearing the BNP message through the internet to as many people as possible. Subtlety has never been a refined capacity of Britain's neo-fascists. A few years ago Nick Griffin made an appearance online telling the nativity story by a fireplace. It's all in line with Griffin's mission to take the BNP on a 'moderate line' of identity politics, complete with appeals to free-speech, democracy, culture and values. This is at the same time as the party trying to maintain its basis as a racist party, while expanding the appeal to other electoral blocs. Historically, Fascism has been a movement focused on stealing the working-class base of the Left, as well as the conservative middle-classes, and ultimately the support of the industrial bourgeoisie. To accomplish this there has to be sufficient economic chaos for the Fascists to subsume these bases of support and stomp the guts out of the Left.

Fortunately, these efforts have been thwarted by the malfeasance and incompetence of the party leadership, as well as its inability to capitalise on the gains made in 2009. All the while the party has faced a lot of opposition from dedicated anti-racists and has had to endure the same ideological crisis as the rest of Britain's political parties. The result has been a fragmentation of the far-right in Britain, with the BNP in financial disarray and new competition arising from the EDL and even new fascist parties springing up such as the BDP set up by Andrew Brons and Paul Weston's Liberty GB. The UKIP has benefited from this fragmentation in pitching itself as the leading right-wing alternative to the Conservative Party. Tommy Robinson has left the EDL headless to pursue his agenda in another form. So the impetus of the far-right has shifted to pushing the Establishment to adopt much more reactionary policies. But this is not the road to a Fourth Reich.

Under Griffin the BNP has been active in attempting to carve out a position of right-wing populism with its own self-sustaining momentum. To this end Griffin has set out to normalise the party as a modern cultural nationalist group standing up for the little guy. The enemy is defined as a coterie of multiculturalist liberals, radical leftist infiltrators and an assortment of foreigners. In plain speaking, the Left (and, of course, the Jews) have triumphed over Western civilization and mass-immigration is their tool in destroying the 'white race'. The assertion of a white racial consciousness combined with a cultural notions of traditions and values. In this way the Other is distinguished in negative terms with no need to distinguish them in somatic references to 'black' or 'coloured' people. If the populist appeal is to culture then the Other can remain opaque. Yet the line is no different to the one Nick Griffin expressed in 1996 when he exclaimed at a rally: "The capitalist free-traders, the Marxists, and organised Jewry, have declared war on the White Man!"

It is enough for 'us' to be defined in order to distinguish 'them'. So the message of a 'White Christmas' with the Aryan folk imagery comes in conjunction with an anti-PC message. The target is the British Muslim population. To all detractors the BNP has a prepared response: Islam isn't a race, so it can't be racist to hate Muslims. The response to such nonsense should be clear, the Jews aren't a race either. Of course, race as a concept of 19th Century biology and anthropology has no validity today. The problem is that the somatic reference of race to pigmentation and even hair colour remains pervasive. As Richard Seymour has pointed out, the move to cultural racism over scientific (or somatic) racism on the European Right has been followed by efforts to pilfer the tactics of American conservatives in the 'culture war' against liberalism. As we can tell from looking at the BNP's more adept rivals race can remain a force as an even more slippery concept in these 'culture wars'.

The call to save Christmas from the purveyors of politically-correct Winterval comes with the message to keep Britain 'white' by keeping its culture 'white'. The assertion of racial consciousness and appeals to white resentment against multiculturalism, political-correctness, and, of course, the foreigners. It's built into the counter-revolutionary motivations of Fascism to assert race. The necessity to block all class opposition to the system creates the need for a means of binding together the classes against a common enemy. The 'white race' has to be understood as a formation of social control. It transcends class and appeals to it presuppose a collaboration of the classes: whites together against the non-whites. Racism is the mustard gas pumped into the trenches of the class war. For this reason Nick Griffin, and his fellow travelers, can't get away from the 'white race' even if they can resist talking too much about categories of 'black' and 'Asian'. The priority is to expunge the contradictions inherent to the system and wipe out its opponents (both real and imaginary).

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Autocritique: Race and the Riots.

In the wake of the 2011 riots David Starkey appeared on BBC Newsnight in a set clash with Owen Jones and Dreda Say Mitchell. It was pure spectacle of course. I wrote an article on the media spectacle not long after. I wanted to deal with the comments by Starkey, such as "the whites have become black", but in retrospect I feel I didn't do so sufficiently. My conclusion from the outset is that we have to engage critically with the pervasive notions of racial identity with which we still live.

The historian made some nondescript comments and described the riots as 'extended commercialism' and 'shopping with violence' (actually not a bad way of summing them up) before injecting race into the discourse. The segment was swung into a discussion over Starkey's comments. Neither Jones nor Mitchell made their positions clear as they were put on a reactive game. It was another success for the Right in terms of obfuscating the lines of debate and pushing the bounds of acceptable opinion. Starkey wanted to ward-off any criticism of the market society in which we live, as well as any commentary from a black perspective on the riots. The debate became a matter of whether or not Starkey's comments were 'really' racist instead of the serious questions that should be asked in times of unrest: consumerism, poverty, police brutality and institutional racism. I made this point at the time and I stand by it.

The use of the terms 'white' and 'black' in Starkey's remarks required much more rigorous critical evaluation than what I originally mustered at the time. He identifies a 'nihilistic gangster culture' with black people, particularly Jamaican Patois, all the while insisting that it is not about 'skin colour, it's cultural'. Starkey said that David Lammy, the black Tottenham parliamentarian, "sounds white" if you hear him talk on the radio rather than speak on telly. So of course he could agree with Mitchell's come-back that there is little homogeneity across the black community, not one black culture but many cultures. Yet Starkey overtly equates respectability with being 'white' while projecting criminality onto a 'black culture'. It's the same reason people are surprised by 'articulate' black people in the public arena. The conception of race slides into cultural dimensions rather than biological in these words.

The little historian can even nod his head to the comments made by Owen Jones in regard to the socio-economic conditions that Black Britons face: higher rates of unemployment, discrimination in and outside of work, and a lower share of the national income. These symptoms of social deprivation, as well as racial and class oppression are perfectly compatible with the kind of cultural racism peddled by Starkey. The cultural reconfiguration of racial categories can leave the same assumptions of scientific racism intact. In cultural terms Starkey reasserted a white racial identity in the clean-cut, well educational and socially mobile figures such as David Lammy, an 'archetypical successful black man' who "sounds white". This is not unprecedented. In colonial Brazil a man could buy his way into the 'white race' regardless of his pigmentation. The objectivity of race is in social relations, not in cultural or biological terms.

However, this is not the full story as we have to critically engage with the social constructs we take to be neutral in common parlance and interaction. The presupposition in Starkey's comments is towards a collaborative relation of classes as 'white people' against the nonconforming hordes engulfed by 'black culture' as he puts it. The 'shopping with violence' is externalised to the difficult classes who aren't really 'white' anymore even if they look like it. It's not linked in with the class society of 'aspiration' and 'hard work' fetishes of a self-aggrandizing elite. If consumer culture is endemic to capitalist societies then so is the violent underbelly of consumerism. Appeals to race in this way are necessary to turn systemic aspects of the economy into aberrations. The exactitude of the distribution of the social product, the ownership of the means and the relations which uphold them are cleared from the field of discourse.

The common interests of the working-class are obscured in this way, class-consciousness is blocked by a white racial-consciousness. Months after the riots there was another race scandal worthy of excavation. It was in January 2012 just after two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence were finally sent down (not an insignificant coincidence). It was a Twitter storm over the comments of Diane Abbott, the first black Labour MP, who tweete"White people love playing 'divide & rule'. We should not play their game." Abbott was attacked by many conservative moralists as a 'racist' and eventually she apologised. Really the only problem with her tweet is that it was imprecise, it's the existence of 'white people' which is about social control. As Noel Ignatiev puts it "whiteness does not exempt people from exploitation, it reconciles them to it. It is for those who have nothing else." The hubbub over Abbott's comments further proved the case as so many white commentators and tweeters were dying to play the victim.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Moral Objectivity in History.


2.1 The Means to an End

In the instance of the American Civil War it isn’t particularly difficult to take Marx and Engels as being on the ‘right side’ by their own analysis of the world-historical situation. The pre-conditions for socialism are generated by the capitalist system, in its creation of a material surplus, as well as the development of democratic institutions and civil liberties. Capitalism would develop to such an extent that it would further its own demise, its crises would become more and more destructive each time. Yet the destructive capacities of capitalism are what lead to the revolutionary change, which is itself based upon the material advances made under capitalism.  It is this teleological model which raises a troubling question of historical development as constituted by a succession of stages, each one necessary and justifiable in its own terms. As if the means necessary to bringing the end into fruition will be justifiable in those terms. It would seem as though injustice now is necessary for justice later, as Terry Eagleton puts it.[1]

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels are sure to criticise the utopian socialists in relying on claims of ‘justice’ and ‘morality’ to chastise the social order for its ills. This is a current found elsewhere in Marx’s work, for instance, when he scolds Karl Heinzen for appealing to ‘humanity’ in his vision for a socialist republic.[2] As Hobsbawm notes, the point of these polemics was anti-utopian as part of the overall project to develop a scientific socialism.[3] To this end Marx set out to demystify the economic system and its inner-workings to release the socialist movement from its ensnarement and thereby get beyond the petty moralistic rhetoric rather than theory. For Marx the trouble with moralism, in Eagleton's words, is that “it abstracts ‘moral values’ from the whole historical context in which they are set, and then generally proceeds to hand down absolute moral judgements.”[4] This is far from irrelevant, as we will see, in Marx’s analysis of British-ruled India.

In Marx’s eyes British rule in India was creating the necessary pre-conditions for the colonial shackles they had imposed on the country to be thrown-off.[5] We find this when he writes “When a great social revolution shall have mastered the results of the bourgeois epoch, the market of the world and the modern powers of production, and subjected them to the common control of the most advanced peoples, then only will human progress cease to resemble that hideous Pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.”[6] The hierarchy presupposed here – capitalism over pre-capitalist formations, communism over capitalism – brings us back to the distinction between political emancipation and human emancipation that was made in the Jewish Question. Marx recognises that the “misery inflicted by the British on Hindustan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindustan had to suffer before.”[7] He takes this to be a revolutionary transformation of India, namely the huge costs to bear, in ‘blowing up’ the material basis of its mode of production. The British were only moved by the ‘vilest of interests’ to change India in this way and Marx concludes that the British behaved as “the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution”.[8]

In this moment it would seem as though Marx finds that the consequences of grotesque actions may be progressive. He goes on to describe the Indian mission of the British as a duality: regenerative in one way, destructive in another.[9] Cohen makes the point that injustice can have extrinsic value even as it has intrinsic disvalue.[10] He notes that the disvalue of slavery is to be abolished, while the pyramids hold intrinsic value and should be preserved. Yet the latter may not have emerged without the former. We find the same with capitalist class society, as Cohen writes that Marx found socialism “necessary to preserve the fruits of civilisation against the ravages of capitalism.”[11] Socialism is to be the advance upon the achievements of capitalist society, the level of productive forces is not to be diminished nor is the process of wealth creation to be abandoned. It’s to do with the technical distribution, ownership and control of property and the means of production rather than a primitivist rejection of all those elements. This might be a part of the reason that Marx seems to use ‘civilisation’ as a synonym for capitalism, and ‘barbarism’ for its less advanced predecessors: considering the British as ‘superior’ to all previous conquerors whom he deems ‘barbarian’.

We may say that Marx overestimated the ‘revolutionary potential’ of capitalism to overturn all pre-existing forms of hierarchy and domination. Britain is a good example of a capitalist society where the remnants of the feudal past remain intact in the continuation of the monarchy, lords and the state-church. Likewise the caste system of India has survived the explosive development of capitalism in that country. Not all pre-capitalist formations are strictly incompatible with capitalist development. Far from it, some appear to be complimentary. It would appear contradictions can be sustained for a long time in this way. It may be that in his haste to throw-out the baggage of evaluative judgements (of claims to morality and justice) it would seem as though Marx can’t help but bring on board his own. The evaluative implications of these points on India seem to place Marx among the ranks of liberal apologists for empire. What differentiates Marx from this crowd is the awareness of the huge human costs of historical development. The means and the ends are askew.

According to Alasdair MacIntyre, there are at least two ways in which Marx uses morally evaluative language: to simply a) help describe actions and institutions adequately as no words could rise to provide an account of slavery without condemnatory tones, as well as to b) explicitly criticise the system on its own standards, terms and values.[12] The first application is consistent with the precepts of Marx’s theory of history, in that it takes events in a historic context. Slavery is taken as an institution of a different time, pre-capitalist and transient it should be superseded by the rising dynamism of capitalism. The second point seems more of a tactical application to turn the standards of the period against itself whenever possible. No doubt it is more about the maintenance of an oppositional standpoint. This would take the historical modes of production to constitute self-containing epochs wherein an array of values can be encapsulated. In describing slavery there is no appeal to transcendent standards except insofar as we are looking at slavery as part of a historic linear pattern.

MacIntyre argues that this is consistent if you begin at the same point as Marx, e.g. that there is a class conflict situated in material-historical conditions.[13] It doesn’t seem as though any appeals to social justice can be made within this framework. As that would lose sight of the bourgeoisie as a class in its role as incapable of moving beyond the system to which they belong. The appeal to moral principles always presupposes a shared moral vocabulary within the existing state of affairs. The moral values of the bourgeoisie make sense, for they are values moulded to fit with the structures of class oppression and exploitation, of which they are the beneficiaries. No amount of philanthropy will suffice as it necessarily takes place internal to class hierarchy; it requires the processes of accumulation and dispossession as its starting point. By analogy we may look at social democratic reform as a means of taming the system’s excesses, its answer is to conserve the system by improving it.

In the terms of the bourgeois period of development, as Marx would insist, exploitation is not an unjust means to an end; rather it is – apart of the means of production, distribution and exchange – when held to the standards of its own historical epoch.[14] In this way Marx rejected the claims that the mode of exploitation was ‘unjust’ in that it is consistent on its own terms. In his lexicon ‘exploitation’ designates a technical aspect of the productive process, in that through the extraction of minerals we exploit them. It carries little in the way of moral connotations in this way. This is not the position of an amoralist or a relativist, as we shall see. The ways in which the bourgeoisie have shaped the world may have more than the intended consequences. The spread of the nation-state model around the world through European colonialism created the basis for national liberation movements to emerge. Perhaps it may be possible to salvage Marx on India in this way. For there to be a resistance first to colonialism and then to capitalism, there has to be the entity to resist against in the first place. The opposition to ‘civilising missions’ may be found to be dialectical: the process by which pre-capitalist modes are overcome creates the basis for the emergence and eventual fall of capitalism.

This is not inherently anti-imperialist on its own, though it is possible to shift to an oppositional position insofar as the negation of certain conditions can't be accomplished without such an element. We’d do better to scrutinise the language of historical inevitability and necessity. It is in the conditions of the existing order wherein the future can begin to emerge. In the actions undertaken to build socialism out of capitalist crisis it is the bourgeois order that provides those actions with a starting-point. On these grounds Marx found good reason to write “The bourgeois period of history has to create the material basis of the new world.”[15] The emphasis on ‘has to’ rather than ‘will lead to’ seems not to imply that the stages of colonialism and capitalism will inevitably lead to emancipation. Given that the period of bourgeois rule is transient rather than permanent ‘it has’ to be superseded by an emancipatory epoch. The hope seems to be that the advent of socialism can make up for the enormous suffering under the preceding modes of exploitation.


2.2 Historical Inevitability and Necessity

The necessity of particular conditions for the advancement of material development does not amount to inevitability. Contingency is not removed an impossibility in the transience of these epochs. For the possibility of socialism arrives under conditions of a highly advanced capitalist system, wherein contradictions and crises can coalesce with the movements of the day to facilitate the construction of socialism. In this way Marx claimed that each crisis of capitalism would be worse than the last and this in turn makes socialism increasingly feasible.[16] The feasibility of the socialist project does not equate to its automatic appearance upon the collapse of capitalism. Decades later, Rosa Luxemburg argue that the capitalist system is limited as its own accumulative capacities run up against the scarcity of plundered resources, its own death knell perhaps contained in its inability to turn back from perpetual expansion.[17] Just as Rosa Luxemburg was not putting forward the case for a passive proletariat neither were Marx and Engels. Whether or not socialism ‘has to’ happen matters not, history may still culminate in barbarism. Marx briefly acknowledges this in the Manifesto when he notes the plausibility of this process amounting to the ‘common ruination of all classes’.[18]

On these grounds we may say that Marx did not view socialism as a strictly inevitable stage in history which would supersede capitalism in automatic succession. This interpretation would fit much better with the early emphasis on human agency and praxis against the determinism that may be read into his work. It was a reasonable assumption that we may overthrow capitalism before it exhausts the basis for its own perpetuation. In these terms socialism seems more like a necessary step, rather than an inevitable one in this understanding of history. It would appear that there was space for human agency within Marx’s framework. In the Brumaire Marx famously writes “Men make their own history, but not of their own free will; not under circumstances they themselves have chosen but under the given and inherited circumstances with which they are directly confronted.”[19] The actions undertaken freely by a class-conscious proletariat are made in accordance with particular circumstances, where the proper conditions may facilitate a revolutionary leap. The system may have the potential to destroy itself through a terminal crisis but that alone wouldn't bring on socialism automatically. The development of the productive forces under capitalism may prepare the ground for socialism, but it's up to the workers to take action.

In line with this emphasis on human agency there is the possibility of applying a moral vocabulary which does not presuppose the existing order we’re living in. MacIntyre speculates that it may be found in the expression of wants and needs which cannot be satisfied within existing society.[20] This would almost make moral values into a set of ‘transitional demands’ that the market system cannot meet and thereby necessitate the establishment of a new order.[21] Socialism enters here as a competing model able to meet the wants and needs of the proletariat under capitalism. There seems to be a problem here, as a moral vocabulary which does not presuppose the existing order may appeal to non-relative standards and values as transcendent to the historical process. It is a possibility that Marx rules out as a necessary part of his theory of history. But if moral values cannot be taken as universal, in a trans-historical or even ahistorical manner, then it would seem that the Marxist historiography is at risk of collapsing into a form of descriptive relativism without much to offer in normative terms.

By the 1870s Marx had attracted attention from radicals far and away; one of them was the Narodnik theoretician Nikolai Mikhailovsky who found fault with Marx’s thesis. In his nostalgia for primitive communalism Mikhailovsky found Marx’s thesis of a historically inevitable shift to capitalism untenable.[22] The Narodnik movement saw the peasant commune as a means of bypassing capitalist development.[23] In response Marx emphasised that the path of capitalist emergence he laid out in Capital was unique to European history and not necessarily universal.[24] Historical materialism is not a historico-philosophical theory encompassing all possible paths under all conceivable circumstances. The contours of Russian historical development may differ enormously due to radically differing conditions and variables. Marx clarifies the application of his thesis to Russia:


…if Russia tries to become a capitalist nation, in imitation of the nations of western Europe, and in recent years she has taken a great deal of pains in this respect, she will not succeed without first having transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once brought into the lap of the capitalist regime, she will be subject to its inexorable laws, like other profane nations.[25]


This is the reason why appeals to universal principles of justice and morality were to be resisted. It seems consistent with the self-contained view of history, which MacIntyre elaborates, as well as open to a multi-linear conception of historical development. Yet if the materialist conception of history amounted to a relativisation of epochs then it might only be descriptive and lack any capacity to advocate a position. This seems to be contradictory. As the Marxist project is an analysis directed towards certain political ends it cannot be cut-off and read just as a theory of capitalism. Towards the end of his life Marx would correspond with another Russian radical Vera Zasulich, this time directly on the question of the model of the peasant commune. Once again Marx would emphasise that ‘historical inevitability’ only really applied in Western Europe where the transition from feudalism and slavery had been made much earlier than in Russia.[26] And that the transition to capitalism was undertaken through the transformation of common property into private property. He notes that it may be possible through the peasant commune to acquire “a new skin without beginning by its suicide.”[27] By developing the land as commonly owned it can lay the basis for future development without privatisation and the ‘capitalist regime’ may be bypassed, albeit with the use of resources which can hardly be taken to be socialist. In this we may see a less rigid framework, as Marx seems to open to the possibility of synchronous rather than sequential development. Marx seemed to adjust to particular developments in the world-historical situation.

It may be argued that Marxism doesn’t have a moral approach to history, but it does have a historical approach to moral questions. As Sean Sayers argues, the problem may be the dichotomy of relativism and universalism.[28] Marx's position fits neither in his commitment to moral realism at the normative level and historical relativism at the descriptive level of analysis. Sayers argues that the existing social order holds within it the forces which not only sustain it but the forces that oppose it.[29] Society is contradictory, its changes are driven by these contradictions and it seems possible that the moral critique of society can come about within that society. This understanding of morality as historical is the basis on which a moral and political position may be predicated.[30] As the class struggle is historically situated we might adapt Trotsky’s point that the means may be justified by the end, but the end in its turn has to be justified in turn.[31] It is the historical interests of the proletariat which are the criteria in such case.[32] The presupposition being a rejection of the rigid fact-value distinction to hold that the objective and the subjective cannot be disentangled with ease. In this way the Marxist tradition may be taken as a kind of naturalism, it is not simply ‘confusing’ judgements of facts with those of evaluative content – it is that there is no strict separation of values from facts.[33] In similar spirit Trotsky writes Marxism “does not know dualism between means and end. The end flows naturally from the historical movement. Organically the means are subordinated to the end. The immediate end becomes the means for a further end.”[34]

There is no need for transcendent standards, or even trans-historical principles, as the objectivity of moral values cannot be separated from historical contours which are relative and contingent.[35] Yet the capitalist system may be an advance upon its predecessors in relative terms, the historical approach must hold some normativity for one mode of production to be seen as a progression on another. Socialism is inseparable from the conditions created by capitalism, its objectivity is rooted in the critical-historical analysis of political economy. Capitalism can be criticised from a post-capitalist standpoint, with the objective claims as a necessary part of the analysis.[36] Moral criticism is not merely immanent or tactical then, it is almost prefigurative. In that the analysis of the capitalist system necessarily leads to longstanding goals and the alternative. The Marxist critique of capitalism is neither ahistorical nor relativist, as Marxism is not welded to the capitalist system nor is it transcendent in absolutist fashion.  Once capitalism has been superseded and the socialist transition accomplished Marxism may hold little relevance in its analysis of the existing order.

With all of this in mind there is another distinction worth making. Marx may view moral claims as ideological, but he accepts the moral claims of emancipation.[37] Perhaps this is because such claims may lead towards a post-capitalist morality. After all it is the case that the Marxist project is to overcome the conditions of subjugation which hold women and men in constant toil for the enrichment of others in a denial of their species-being. As Terry Eagleton writes that Marx's moral inquiry “refuses to divorce human values, behaviour, relationships and qualities from the social and historical forces which shape them.”[38] Before going on to add that Marx “belonged to the great Aristotelian tradition for which morality was not primarily a question of laws, obligations, codes and prohibitions, but a question of how to live in the freest, fullest, most self-fulfilling way.”[39]

If we accept that there is no inevitable link between capitalism and socialism. That isn’t to say that post-capitalist society is not external to the historical process, the lower phase of communism develops from capitalism as its starting-point. Communism is not a ‘moral ideal’ but the product of the same historical line. It is the abolition of the present state of things to paraphrase Marx in the Manifesto.[40] It constitutes the break with ‘pre-historic’ modes of exploitation after which history proper can begin. But it must begin then with premises set within capitalism, as Marx reassures us in the German Ideology “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”[41]



Overall there is no one implication to be taken away from all of this. What we have looked at is still far removed from the recent developments in discourse around interventionism. Rather the implications of Marx’s historiography may hold more sway in the analysis of the world-historical situation. There may be no definitive answer on interventionism yet, and certainly not to be uncovered in a project such as this. Nevertheless, I think we may take a few modest points from all this.

We saw in the first section that taking capitalism as a historical mode of production can have positive implications with regard to conflict. This invokes evaluative claims that take capitalism as an advance on feudalism and slavery. The language of human rights and civil liberties may well serve as a means of progression from conditions of pre-capitalist servitude, or even authoritarianism, but it shouldn’t be taken as the end itself. Human emancipation won’t be hastened just by granting rights and freedoms to individuals, it requires a major transformation of the means of production and the relations within those means in order to move towards a more meaningful form of emancipation. In this way the progressive leap from one imperfect form of society to a more perfect form, in that the barriers to greater self-realisation are circumvented.

In the second section we looked at Marx’s more controversial writing on the consequences of British colonial rule in India. Here we find Marx taking a similar position to the liberals of his day, except for different reasons; he doesn’t take the British Empire to be munificent to its colonial subjects. Rather it is a case of unintended consequences arising from grotesque actions. Progress as achieved by its ‘bad side’, with the flaws of ‘Asiatic society’ swept away for capitalism to take hold Marx sees the chance for India to move not just beyond British rule but beyond capitalism as well. The more nuanced positions may be to acknowledge the advances possibly achieved via colonialism, while retaining an oppositional stance. By comparison, Lenin was right to oppose the First World War, and yet he acted upon the basis of the coordinates defined by that war to achieve his ends. It is dialectical to at once oppose the very coordinates by which advance might later be attained.

If we are going to go ahead with these presuppositions we may move to the third section. The multi-linear conception of historical development may well mean that we have reason to shed a great deal of doubt on Marx’s position regarding India. It may be right to insist upon a multi-linear account to address this issue in order to analyse societies outside of Europe’s own shift from feudalism to capitalism in terms of their own developing path. In the recognition of the possibility of socialism in Russia Marx acknowledged that the stages of development may be leaped or compressed. The resources of capitalist production could be used to supplement the shortcomings of the peasant commune. In that sense then we may say that there are possibilities for synchronous modes of production rather than sequential epochs. Consistently Hegelian the universal is to be reached through the particular.

In contrast to the directionality of linear stages it may be possible for an open-ended conception of historical development to be constructed. The certainty of a closed teleological sequence would be diminished in this way; leaving open a much greater account for the possibility that history may culminate in barbarism. In synoptic terms we may still maintain the view of capitalism as an advance upon feudalism, yet the communist project still stands as a necessity rather than a strict inevitability. This isn’t inconsistent with the position that it may be best to try and establish socialism on the basis of a massive surplus leftover by capitalism. That’s even if it is not the case in every society.

[1] Eagleton, T; Is Marxism a Theodicy? (2010)
[2] Marx, K; Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality (McLellan, D; Karl Marx: Selected Writings | Oxford University Press, 1977) pg.216-218
[3] Hobsbawm, E; On the Communist Manifesto (How to Change the World | Little Brown, 2011) pg.109
[4] Eagleton, T; Why Marx was Right (Yale University Press, 2011) pg.158-159
[5] Marx, K; The Future Results of British Rule in India (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.319-320
[6] Marx, K; The Future Results of British Rule in India (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.322-325
[7] Marx, K; The British Rule in India (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.301-303
[8] Ibid. pg.304-307
[9] Marx, K; The Future Results of British Rule in India (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.320-322
[10] Cohen, GA; Conservatism and Embodied Value (Oxford, 2004) pg.2
[11] Ibid. pg.34-36
[12] Macintyre, A; A Short History of Ethics (Routledge, 1991) pg.210-214
[13] Ibid.
[14] Miller, R; Analyzing Marx: Morality, Power and History (Princeton University Press, 1984) pg.90-91
[15] Marx, K; The Future Results of British Rule in India (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.324
[16] Cohen, GA; Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (Oxford University Press, 1978) pg.203-204
[17] Kolakowski, L; Main Currents of Marxism (Norton, 2005) pg.407-415
[18]Marx, K; The Manifesto of the Communist Party (The Revolutions of 1848 | Verso, 2010) pg.68
[19]Marx, K; The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Surveys from Exile | Verso, 2010) pg.146
[20] MacIntyre, A;  A Short History of Ethics (Routledge, 1967) pg.210-214
[21] Ibid.
[22] Marx, K; Letter to Mikhailovsky (McLellan, D; Karl Marx: Selected Writings | Oxford University Press, 1977) pg.571-572
[23] Hobsbawm, E; Marx on pre-Capitalist Formations (How to Change the World | 2011) pg.162-164
[24] Marx, K; Letter to Mikhailovsky (McLellan, D; Karl Marx: Selected Writings | Oxford University Press, 1977) pg.571-572
[25] Ibid.
[26] Marx, K; Letter to Vera Zasulich (McLellan, D; Karl Marx: Selected Writings | Oxford University Press, 1977) pg.576-577
[27] Ibid. pg.578-580
[28] Sayers, S; Analytical Marxism and Morality (Marxism and Human Nature | Routledge, 1998) pg.119
[29] Ibid. pg.116
[30] Ibid. pg.121
[31] Trotsky, L; Their Morals and Ours (1938):
[32] Ibid.
[33] Sayers, S; Analytical Marxism and Morality (Marxism and Human Nature | Routledge, 1998) pg.116
[34] Trotsky, L; Their Morals and Ours (1938):
[35] Sayers, S; Analytical Marxism and Morality (Marxism and Human Nature | Routledge, 1998) pg.117
[36] Ibid. pg.121-122
[37] Sayers, S; Analytical Marxism and Morality (Marxism and Human Nature | Routledge, 1998) pg.125
[38] Eagleton, T; Why Marx was Right (Yale University Press, 2011) pg.159
[39] Ibid.
[40] Marx, K; The Manifesto of the Communist Party (The Revolutions of 1848 | Verso, 2010) pg.80
[41] Marx, K; The German Ideology  (McLellan, D; Karl Marx: Selected Writings | Oxford University Press, 1977) pg.171