Marxism - Politics - Morality

By Meszaros, Istvan | Monthly Review, June 1993 | Go to article overview

Marxism - Politics - Morality


Meszaros, Istvan, Monthly Review


There is a morality of politics--a difficult subject and never clearly treated--and when politics must betray its morality, to choose morality is to betray politics. Now find your way out of that one! Particularly when the politics has taken as its goal bringing about the reign of the human.--Jean-Paul Sartre

In its November 4, 1989 issue Soviet Weekly published an article with the title: "A Farewell to the Primitive View of Socialism." It was written by one of President Gorbachev's advisers, Oleg Bogomolov, a member of parliament and the head of what was called at the time in Moscow (perhaps in jest) the "Institute of Socialist Economics." The reference to "the primitive view of socialism" summed up with great accuracy the author's position, even if not in the intended sense. For this was his conclusion regarding the state of the world and the historical realization of the socialist project: The convergence theory--under which capitalism and socialism get closer as they progress and will eventually meet as a single system--in no way looks as primitive as it did. The West is moving towards a better society, which it refers to as "post-industrial" and "information-based." We usually refer to that kind of society as the first stage of communism. In this way President Gorbachev's trusted adviser embraced not only the values implicit in Daniel Bell's "post-industrial" reveries but also their crude corollary made explicit in Robert Tucker's assertion according to which, "Marx's concept of communism is more nearly applicable to present-day America, for example, than his concept of capitalism."(1)

Thus, through its capitulation to some very old thinking in the capitalist West, the so-called "new thinking" of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev tried to define its peculiar new value-orientation. The former rulers and propagandists of the Stalinist system, with constant references to the "irreversibility" of their "new course," were eager to demonstrate to Reagan, Thatcher, Bush, and others like them, the rock-solid finality of their conversion to an enthusiastic belief in the virtues of the (socially unqualified) "market economy." As a proof of their good faith, they appealed to the idea of a universal consensus and to their, from now on, unshakable belief in the effective predominance of "universal human values."

Naturally, in reality all this amounted to no more than "singing in the dark," since nothing could be brought forward to sustain the proclaimed Gorbachevian position other than its repeated proclamation. Consequently, in order to find self-assurance in their negotiations with the White House, as well as some kind of justification when presenting their case at home, the ideologists of the new Soviet wishful thinking postulated the fiction of a materially well-grounded consensual East/West value system. In this spirit Gorbachev's last "Ideology Chief" (as he was officially called), Vadim Medvedev, declared--disregarding all historical evidence to the contrary--that the capitalist commodity-money relations and the market were the instrumental embodiments of universal human values and, "a major achievement of human civilization,"(2) insisting that for this reason in the policies pursued by the decision-makers of perestroika the "class approach," must be replaced by "the universal human approach."(3)

This approach to values--characterized by the grotesque belief that they can be plucked out of thin air, without any reference to their social foundation--was adopted by leading Soviet bureaucrats in all walks of life, from international diplomacy to ethnic relations. Thus the eventually ill-fated Foreign Minister, Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, announced the triumph of the "pragmatic approach" over the "ideological approach"(4) by declaring that, the essence of the new thinking [in international diplomacy] is to bring to the foreground not egoistic, but increasingly altruistic interests. Altruism ceases to be an attribute of the romantic school of diplomacy. …

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