Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Misquoting Marx


At a recent meeting, I was picked up by someone for getting the following quote the wrongway round:
[Communism is] an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
In fact, I hadn't, but my accuser thought it was
we shall have an association, in which the free development of all is the condition for the free development of each.
Not so much of a distinction, really, since they both mean roughly the same thing - and I myself had misquoted that same phrase myself for a few years (Oh, you can read it in situ in the Communist Manifesto - it was thought provoking to go back to that, I may have to comment further at some point).

The significance of Marx's formulation is that it places the individual before the collective, the collective is about solidarity with and the development of the individual.

The other way round could be consonant with utilitarianism. A seemingly egalitarian and attractive - even communistic - philosophy in which it purpoorts to treat each as one and only one. This is a lie, since it treats those ones as sums when it does its calculus of utility - the ethics of the accounts book - and decides that it is rational that some must suffer so that the rest may prosper.

That is the philosophy which socialism strikes at the heart of. Instead it affirms, to use a military metaphor, that the cavalry charges at the speed of the slowest horse - no one is to be left behind.

Contemplate that. That is my answer to Labour Sleaze, War on terror, and leftist calculus of deaths for anti-imperialism.

Each is to count as one, and is an end in themself.


Blogger DespairToWhere said...

Hey Bill,
Came across this, in an introduction (by Eleanor Burke Leacock) to Engels's "The Origin Of The Family, Private Property and The State":

"... [I]n the case of the Eskimo, there is an implied equation [in the ethnographic literature] of "individualism" with "competition" and little awareness of the way in which a fully cooperative society can enable the expression of individuality. Something of a Freudian assumption is commonly made, that man innately possesses some essential measure of aggression that must be expressed through competition, and that cooperativeness demands a bland, muted type of personality (as is often the case, apparently, in religious communities that adhere to a communal ethic in conflict with the competitive mores of the surrounding society). However, from my own field work experience among the Naskapi hunters of Labrador, it was beautiful to see the lattitude allowed for personal idiosyncracies."

She then gives an example from her own field work where the nuisance and problems caused by a mild alcoholic in the group she was studying was not only tolerated, but his right to continue as he pleased defended. She then gives a counter example from the Peublo Indians, where excessive individuality is liable to be accused of witchcraft. This, however, had to be understood in the context: the Peublo Indians had been "fighting for four centuries to maintain their autonomy and cooperative society".

Which is a long and roundabout way of agreeing with you and adding a proviso. Individual expression and autonomy need not be a barrier to communism and to communal life. But where it *is* such a barrier, then it will have to be fought, and decided in favour of the collective, not the individual. This principle is well demonstrated by the practice of your own party: broad toleration of individual expression and eccentricity; majority rule with disciplinary sanctions where necessary.


9:35 PM  

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