Light From The Pit

This discourse on historical and moral philosophy was first published as a pamphlet by ‘Reargard Action’.  ‘Rearguard’ is an occasional magazine which appeared in 1996 as a platform for unorthodox-left views, culture and satire and has developed an increasingly Anarchist slant.

In 2011 it was adopted as the house journal of the Huddersfield Anarchist League (HAL).



These Socratic dialogues for the 21st Century are set against the background of the late 20th Century.  The scene is a coalmine somewhere on the edge of the West Yorkshire coalfield in a triangle bounded by the towns of Barnsley, Wakefield and Huddersfield.  The time is the early 1970s during the period of industrial militancy which resulted in the strikes of 1972 and 1974 – a setting which is authentic and semi autobiographical but not tied to a specific historical situation.

The dialogues did not take place, but they could well have done so, since the views expressed certainly existed at that time.  But then, as now, the orthodox left in Britain had little time for what were considered abstract philosophical debates.  Unlike some European countries, in Britain there was wide gulf between those who saw themselves as working class revolutionaries, and regarded Marxism as merely a weapon of class struggle, and the academics of the New Left who had the interest and leisure to explore the deeper roots of dialectical materialism.  One exception was the Socialist Labour League (Later Workers Revolutionary Party) which used philosophy as a means of esoteric mystification of the idiosyncratic and elitist domination of Gerry Healy.  This ‘Trotskyist’ sect showed as effectively as any Stalinist state how a philosophy of liberation can be perverted to an instrument of authoritarian control and complete negation of any ethical foundation.  More recently disastrous projects such as the Socialist  Labour Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, the  Socialist Alliance and the Respect Party have clearly shown where the absence of any moral compass, or personal ethical values, leads .

The author’s experience of this and other left groups is expressed through the views of Arthur, a well meaning but dogmatic individual, who is reluctant to abandon the comforting haven of received ideas for the unknown and turbulent waters of original thought.  (Any resemblance to a well known NUM leader of that name is purely coincidental).   Will’s views reflect those of the author as they have evolved since that time, particularly over the past quarter century of seismic political upheaval and rapid economic and technological change, which has thrown the left into defeatism, disarray and demoralisation to a large degree of its own making.  The need to assimilate the lessons of this disastrous time and reappraise the whole record of the left over the last two hundred years provides the backdrop to these dialogues.  Obviously this task can not be done in a small pamphlet and these dialogues are only a tiny contribution to that process, raising more questions than they answer – questions which hopefully future pamphlets will deal with.

As far as the language used goes, in reality it would have been in dialect, of which just a hint is given in the opening passage. To write it all in dialect would have been both too tedious for the writer and probably incomprehensible to many readers.  The message not the medium is the main thing.  I hope that message is clear enough.

Park Mill Colliery, Clayton West.c. 1980.

Park Mill Colliery, Clayton West.c. 1980.



In which it is asserted that the struggle for a Socialist society is a moral struggle the aim of which is the good of humanity as a whole.

The conveyor belt slid quickly to a halt. The clattering of joints and squeaking of pulleys ceased and the primal silence of the pit reigned again.  Will, engaged in the Sisyphean task of cleaning up, – shovelling spilt coal back onto the belt- , threw on a few more shovelfuls.  The motes of coal dust glittered in the beam of his cap lamp as he worked.   There was obviously a breakdown, or blockage, in the system, and there was no point overloading an already loaded belt.  He might as well have his ‘snap’.  He walked a few yards to a manhole, a recess cut in the wall of the roadway as a retreat from passing pit tubs, and took his donkey jacket and khaki snap bag from the hanging place on a girder.  Donning his jacket he made himself as comfortable as possible on a rustic seat of pit props on the floor of the manhole, unwrapped his pork dripping sandwiches from their newspaper and unscrewed the top from his flask of tea.  Savouring the simple meal as if it was a feast and having eaten the last crumb, (even the crusts he had held in his dirty hands), as there was still no sign of life from the conveyor he turned off his cap lamp and curled up for a snooze.  He enjoyed the utter impenetrable blackness and palpable silence of the pit. It seemed to embrace him and invite sleep, or was that just the lack of oxygen.  But no sooner had his thoughts begun to dissolve than he was roused by the vibration of the haulage rope which ran down the centre of the rails.  Footsteps were approaching.  He had already been hauled into the under manger’s office once, accused of sleeping on the job and the excuse that he was “just resting his eyes” would not wash again.  Peering down the roadway he saw, in the distance, the light of a cap lamp swaying towards him.   Switching on his own lamp he poured another cup of tea as the footsteps, resonating along the rails, drew nearer.

As the figure drew level with the manhole he saw with some relief that it was not an official but Arthur, the NUM branch delegate.  They exchanged greetings and Arthur squatted at the entrance of the manhole with his back to a girder.

“Just my luck,” he complained, “I get to leave t’pit early on Union business and t’ belt stops !  I’ll miss meeting wi’ management if I ha’ to walk all t’way to t’ pit bottom.”

He would also have some explaining to do thought Will, since it was illegal to ride on the belts so it was no excuse for lateness.  Arthur should have gone out on the authorised route using the ‘paddy train’.  “What’s meeting about ?” he inquired, more out of politeness than real interest.

“There’s problems wi’ water on t’new face.” Arthur replied, “ We’re trying to get some water money for t’ men, or at least permission for ‘em to leave t’pit early.  Wi’t’ national dispute brewing, p’rhaps management’ll want to keep us on side and be a bit flexible.”.

Mention of the national dispute roused genuine interest in Will.

“How do you think a strike ballot will go?” He inquired.

“Given the mood of them men I think we’d get a majority for it, even in this pit.”

“And would we be able to win a strike ?” asked Will.

“If t’other Unions back us, why not ?  It’s in their interest to do so.”

“Well, I’m not so sure about that.” said Will, “It may be in the interest of the members but certainly not of the Union leaders.  They’re terrified of appearing political and our strike will mean taking on the Tory government, since we are challenging pay restraint and anti union laws.  Anything which threatens to bring real change, the TUC will run a mile from.  Also I’m not convinced that most rank and file workers will risk what they have to help themselves, let alone other workers. They are too content and seduced by consumerism, or shackled by HP debts and mortgages.”

“That’s because you don’t have any faith in t’working class.” Arthur replied curtly.

“It’s not a matter of faith,” said Will, slightly irritated by the well worn cliché. “It’s a matter of objective reality.”

“And that objective reality means that the workers have to take on capitalism whether they want to or not.” said Arthur, “Class struggle has its own dynamic.  Workers can’t go on burying their head in the sand, however comfortable that seems.  They have to fight to maintain their wages and conditions and even their jobs. In the course of that struggle they will be led to the conclusion that Socialism is the only solution.”

Will, while inwardly amused at the image of someone head down in the sand being at all comfortable, replied sternly, “So, we are telling workers, in effect, that they have no choice about becoming Socialists ? It’s an imperative of history ?”

“Exactly !” replied Arthur.

“And do you consider that you yourself have become a Socialist, just because you are an agent of historical change ?”

“Yes,” said Arthur emphatically.

“Oh, come of it,” chided Will, with a smile, “You didn’t wake up one day with a revelation, or even after years of thoughtful consideration over a full and active life simply decide that ‘I must become a Socialist.  As a worker it is my historical role to be a midwife of Revolution.’”

“Well of course, it wasn’t as simple as that,” said Arthur, hesitantly.  He paused, as if briefly reviewing his whole life. “But objective circumstances, my own experiences and struggles, which arose from the nature of capitalism, plus the conscious theoretical understanding I came to – reading books, listening to people, thinking hard about things – gave me a realisation of my task and what I should do in life.”

“But nevertheless, it wasn’t an automatic response?” Will’s tone was more statement than query. “You made a conscious choice.  And I bet it wasn’t just a cold rational decision that you should devote your life to Socialism.  Dare I say it ? Emotions and feelings probably came into it !”

“I suppose they did – and they do,” admitted Arthur, who was beginning to squirm slightly as if he was on a psychotherapist’s couch. “I hate what capitalism has done and is doing to people.  I feel tremendous compassion and empathy for its victims. I know the direct and indirect impact it has had on my own family for instance. We’ve been miners for generations.  The 1893 strike, the 1912 strike – they are as vivid to me as the ‘26 General Strike is to some still living, because of my father and grandfather’s involvement in them. I know what it meant for the women and children.  And then there’s the world wars caused by imperialism and all the horror of that.”

“Then you believe becoming a Socialist is the right thing to do ?,” Will asked gently, moved by Arthur’s uncharacteristic display of emotion.

“Definitely ! No doubt about that !” Arthur’s aroused sense of outrage and pity at the suffering of his class spoke for him.

“Then, that is the result of a moral choice, not something merely dictated by the dialectics of history ?” continued Will.

“I suppose it is a moral decision at a personal level,” said Arthur, before reverting to a less disturbing form of discourse,  “But I still contend it is one made in the context of the class struggle, of the historic need for the working class to destroy the existing social relations so that the productive forces can be carried forward and mankind liberated from class society.”

“You concede that at an individual level it is a moral choice whether to become a socialist.  Why do you not see that the aspiration to Socialism at the level of society, of humanity, is not mere necessity, but also a moral choice ?”, inquired Will.

“Because that would be pure idealism – Utopianism.  Aiming to shape society according to what we think is a good end, not according to a scientific analysis of the forces at work in history.  Marx and Engels criticised Weitling, Owen, Fourier and the ‘True Socialists’ for exactly that moralistic view of Socialism.” replied Arthur, feeling a little smug that he had in reserve a small arsenal of direct quotes from the founders of scientific socialism to back up his argument if needed.

“This is what I don’t understand about Marxism,” said Will, feigning a confession of bewilderment that belied his only too clear views on the matter. “It seems to me that Marx threw out the ethical baby with the Utopian bathwater. Of course some of the utopian schemes of Owen and Fourier were unpractical, crackpot, reactionary even.  But Marx and Engels could still have developed a scientific critique of capitalism, argued there was a historic trend towards Socialism AND retained the moral force of their beliefs, a conviction apparent in the writings of the younger Marx. Though, even here, there is more about what capitalism does to deny and degrade humanity than any vision of what liberated humanity will be like, or why that liberation is desirable.”[1]

“How do you mean?”, asked Arthur, who, like many of his generation of revolutionaries, had only a vague knowledge of anything written prior to the Communist Manifesto.

“Well, Marx’s analysis of capitalism rests on the enlightenment view of progress. He believed the bourgeoisie had played a historically progressive role in destroying feudalism and that the working class was to play an historically progressive role in destroying the bourgeoisie and establishing Socialism.”

“That’s right.”, said Arthur, still unsure where the argument was going.

“So, the idea of progress, while quantifiable in economic material terms, ie, the ability to produce wealth, is meaningless if just seen in such term of the productive forces of mankind?  Progress must imply that this development of the productive forces, and the new kind of social relations which accompanies it, entails the replacement of something bad by something better?  In this case, ending exploitation and alienation in all its forms and creating a liberated society ?”

“Undoubtedly”, replied Arthur, resisting the desire to add that this was stating the bleeding obvious.

“Then true socialism or communism signifies the end of class rule and oppression and the dawn of the best form of society we can achieve?”

“Yes” replied Arthur, no longer able to refrain from remarking, “But that’s stating the bleeding obvious.”

“The point I am making is”, said Will, seeing the coup de grace in sight, “that explicitly stated or not, there is a moral underpinning to the idea of progress and the Marxist concept of Socialism.  However much we couch it in scientific terms, we want socialism because it is a better form of society, one which is for the greater good of humanity. It is morally desirable.  It is a Utopian vision.  That being the case, why don’t we emphasise that.  We have abandoned the ground to liberal democracy, which claims to be the champion of individual freedom as well as of economic security.  We should make clear we are fighting for the only form of society which can achieve those things and which is really founded on justice, equality, altruism and the good of our fellow humans, the only form of society in which individual freedom and relationships, – dare I say it ?-  relationships of love, uncorrupted by selfishness and greed, predominate.  We should have a vision of what a society without exploitation and alienation of man from man, and man from nature[2], can accomplish, and we should appeal to workers on the basis of this vision and the moral force of our ideas. This is far more powerful than efforts to raise consciousness through a combination of material self interest and historical rationalisation. If we did this we could also distance ourselves more clearly from Stalinist political movements and forms of society which claim to be socialist on that very basis of cold, ruthless, scientific rationalism.  We can show that they are hostile to all the moral values of true socialism and have done more to kill the dream than all the capitalist propaganda has ever done”.

While Will was speaking, Arthur took from his pocket a small round silver-coloured tin of snuff.  He carefully opened it and offered the contents to Will who, without pausing from his monologue, declined with a slight shake of his head.  There was a brief silence while Arthur placed a pinch of the brown powder on the back of his hand and inhaled it, using the opportunity to collect his thoughts.  The pungent aroma briefly concealed the damp mustiness of the pit.

“Well, that sounds OK in theory, except it’s not a theory, it doesn’t have any scientific basis, and that’s what’s wrong with it.” he replied dismissively. “It sounds like you just want to appeal to people’s better nature without considering the real power structures in society.  It’s utopian.  It’s anarchist because it relies on transforming the individual not the class.  It owes more to John Lennon than Lenin.  What would the slogan be?  ‘Make Love not Class War.’  Jesus Christ tried that one and look what happened to him! You need to take power – then create the conditions to change people.”

Will, a seasoned enough debater to know that ridicule was a sign his opponent was foundering, did not go on the defensive. He had nothing to loose by throwing all his cards onto the table.

“Do we need to think merely in terms of power ? Do we need political organisations as the left usually conceives of them – a Bolshevik type party or a social democratic party – in order to achieve what is morally desirable.  Do we need to think in terms of taking power whether through elected bodies or revolution ?  What is really important is how people struggle against oppression and injustice and the social and political relations they forge in the course of that struggle.  Instead of being guided by slogans they can be guided by a clear moral objective.  Of course, Love doesn’t lend itself to making a good political slogan. The word is so abused and tainted by perverse and trivial uses.  On the other hand, present orthodox political activity could not accommodate it and keep its’ true meaning.  But if Love is made the basis for practical action, then what could we achieve in contrast to all the sordid sectarian strife which bedevils the left at the present ?”

Arthur remained silent, faintly embarrassed by the introduction of such a weak, nay effeminate, concept as Love into something so patently practical, and yet heroic, as the struggle for socialism.

As if on cue to curtail the debate the conveyor rattled back into life.

“Well”, said Arthur, as he stood up, still unable to formulate a reasoned response, yet unwilling to depart without some comment.  “I’d like to hear you propose ‘That this branch resolves to love the Coal Board’ at the next NUM meeting. Or sending a Valentine card to Ted Heath or Vic Feather[3].  They’d think you were either bent or on the wacky baccy!”

Waiting until a length of belt clear of coal approached, Arthur vaulted onto the conveyor. Will watched the gleam of his cap lamp recede into the shadows like a shrinking halo. With a sigh of frustration and resignation, partly at the tedium of the task before him, but mainly aroused by Arthur’s display of narrow mindedness, he again took up his shovel.



In which the question of the existence of Human Nature and its’ defining characteristics are discussed.

It was another week before Will and Arthur had the opportunity to continue the debate.  They met at the transfer point, the junction where underground roadways met at right angles and one length of conveyor belt and haulage rope system transferred to another and where the electric switch boxes that controlled them was situated.  A crude shelter of brattice sheets and seats of wooden bars offered some protection from the constant ventilation draught to the ‘button man’ who operated them.  They had been sent to take supplies up one of the main ‘gates’, to number one face of the Beeston seam.   As datalers they could be sent on any labouring job.  Arthur had been a face worker, until a back injury forced him to give it up.  Will had no desire to work on the face, despite the much better pay.  Laid on your side all day shovelling twenty tons of coal in a two foot seam was not only dangerous and unhealthy but monotonous.  Datalers could be sent to a different job anywhere in the pit from one day to the next.  This might mean labouring for the craftsmen – the electricians, pipelayers or brickies – which was always interesting,  or working with the haulage.   Some of the haulage tasks called for a degree of skill and there was much satisfaction in transporting tubs and trams of pit props, roof bars, chocks, stone-dust, girders and bits of machinery along hundreds of yards of narrow twisting roadway and rickety track safely to their destination.

They began manually shunting back and forth the tubs until a ‘run’ of ten tubs and trams with props, girders and rails had been couple together.  They were clipped onto the haulage rope at front and rear with heavy clamps which held the links of the tubs with their hooked tail and bit the rope with jaws closed by a lever.  An experienced haulage worker could do this with one quick easy movement.  Will went to the front of the run.  Using a broken hacksaw blade  he bridged the parallel copper wires which, six inches apart, ran the length of the roadway on insulators suspended from the arch girders.  The circuit completed, a bell rang at the transfer point.  Two rings signalled ‘Go’.  The button man started the haulage engine, the rope  jerked into life and the run rumbled forward at a steady walking place, up the gentle incline towards the face.  Out of the relative brightness of the illuminated transfer point Will and Arthur  melted into the blackness, lit only by the scything beam of their cap-lamps.  Arthur sat on the rear tub, his legs dangling over the side.  Will too, would usually have risked a ride, but he hadn’t been up this roadway for a while and did not know the condition of the rails.  He walked well in front.  As the run approached the end of the road, where the haulage rope disappeared around the pulley set horizontally in the ground, Will touched the wires with his blade, and held it in position until the rope stopped.  Lockers, foot long tapered wooden sticks were placed in the spokes of the tubs to prevent them running back down the gradient, as the run was unclipped from the rope.  Before the supplies could be unloaded they had to be manually trammed for about forty yards. Then three lengths of rail had to be laid to catch up with the advance of the face.   One of the trams they had brought was loaded with rails and sleepers.  They were dropped on the ground in the pattern they were to be laid.  In some places the floor of the roadway needed clearing away, in others the sleepers had to be raised on wooden ‘lids’, so that the straightest and most level track could be formed.  The gauge of the track was eighteen inches, which Will measured by the length of his arm from elbow to fingertip, like some biblical architect.  Then muck was shovelled around the sleepers as ballast.  When the layout was as satisfactory as possible Arthur began to nail the rails in place with metal ‘dogs’ using his ‘peggy’, or ‘tomyhawk’, a general purpose tool with a double head of which one side was a short pick and the other a straight hammerhead.

The conversation had so far been limited to the immediate task.  Will was reluctant to broach a subject which he felt had caused Arthur some umbrage.  So he was relieved when the opening gambit was made by the older man.

“Lenin says somewhere that the road to revolution is not like the Nevsky Prospekt – broad and straight.  If he was looking for an apt metaphor he could have used a pit roadway.  Uneven, doglegged, rickety and liable to trip you up or derail you when you don’t expect it.”

“I can buy that”, smiled Will, “ But the roadway’s not important so long as we get at the coal.  There’s more than one way to get at it – longwall, retreat mining, opencast, pillar and stall…”

“Yes, but we are still constrained by scientific laws – those of geology and mining engineering in this case”, Arthur replied, without pausing from bashing dogs into sleepers.  He seemed to be relishing it , as if braining some imaginary class enemy.

“But the road analogy is a poor one anyway, if you think it through,” retorted Will, now more interested in getting the dialogue back on track, rather than the idle tubs.  “The material we are working with is human beings – thinking, conscious, feeling humans, not inert matter, which I think sometimes Lenin forgot.”

“Yes,”said Arthur, “I know the quote about men making their own history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. That’s why we need a party and conscious cadres – so that the working class can make its’ own history by taking into consideration the material conditions and interrelation of classes in society. THEN it can pursue the correct tactics and strategy to achieve power.”

Will’s heart sank.  Had Arthur not taken on board anything he had said in the previous discussion.  He was wondering whether to bother replying, or to bash his head against the nearest brick wall, when Arthur continued.

“I know you don’t accept the concept of the party and scientific socialism, but I respect you for being on the side of the workers and oppressed peoples and all the work you do on campaigning over things which, admittedly, don’t seem to me an essential part of the class struggle. But I agree that resisting all manifestations of capitalist injustice is the main thing.  After our last talk I had a look at some of Marx’s early writings.  A lot of it is heavy going – about Hegel and such like.  But it seems as you say, that Marxism IS based on humanist philosophy. Though, whether the old fellah later renounced this I don’t rightly know.”

“You’ve hit the nail right on the head” exclaimed Will with conscious irony, since Arthur’s evident lapse of concentration on the task in hand had sent the last dog ricocheting off the sleeper into the gloom.  “I believe that Marx’s contribution is part of the universal humanist tradition. It complements and is complemented by a vast reservoir of humanist thought which embraces prophets, poets, philosophers, statesmen and scientists throughout history.  Sadly, it’s a reservoir which most on the left today have hardly dipped a toe, though Marx himself was immersed in it.  We can’t understand Marx without reference to this context.  We certainly can’t achieve socialism without tapping into this vast wealth of consciousness.”

“Isn’t that just eclecticism,” replied Arthur, “ a pick n’mix of ideas, an idealist stew ?  A philosophical mess of pottage not worth selling our Marxist birthright for ?”

“It is”, said Will, thoughts of snap time aroused by Arthur’s culinary metaphors. “ – if all you want is a clear cut theory and a few formulae which seem to explain everything we need to know.  If you regard Marxism merely as a scientific theory which enables people to implement objective laws of history, like an engineer implementing the laws of physics, rather than as a Humanist philosophy of Liberation.  But I thought we had at least agreed last time, that both an individual’s and humanity’s aim in achieving Socialism is not merely material advance, but a greater Good ?”

“Yes, I did concede that much.”, replied Arthur.

“Then, in having accepted and agreed that we have a moral aim, should we not clarify what that aim is?”

“Certainly” said Arthur, as the two, without conscious effort, trammed forward the tubs on the new laid rails and began unloading and carefully stacking the pit props and other supplies.

“So,”said Will, “we are agreed that we are ultimately not talking about working class power but about human liberation, the good of humanity as a whole.”

“Of course,” said Arthur, “ a workers state is a means to that end, true Communism, which means human liberation, the end of necessity and realisation of total freedom”.

“But do you not accept that thinkers and activists other than Marx and the recognised pantheon of Marxists have contributed to the good of humanity.”

“If I claimed that privilege for Marx it would be like saying that there was no valid thought before Marx, and, from the many sources he draws on, that’s plainly not true,” said Arthur.

“And after Marx ? Is it possible that there are also valuable thinkers and revolutionaries contemporary with Marx and after him ?” queried Will.

“Yes, I suppose so. But none with a comprehensive theory of social change based on historical materialism.  If they subscribe to this world view then they are influenced my Marx, consciously or not.  If they don’t, then their views on improving the human condition are idealist, flawed and therefore unrealisable.” replied Arthur confidently.

“But you surely can’t be claiming that only Marxists have brought about improvements in humanity over the last 90 years or so since Marx died?  Or that Marxists alone have resisted the reactionary and barbaric trends in human society such as militarism and fascism ?”

“No, but I do think that some, otherwise progressive and genuine people, have consciously obstructed Socialism, or would better have focused their energy and talents if they had joined the struggle for Socialism.  Humanists who don’t involve themselves in the class struggle, on the workers side, are in practice acting as a brake on the revolution and working against the fulfilment of their own ideals.”

By now the pair had gravitated to the nearest manhole and settled down to enjoy their snap, although the intensity of the conversation meant the simple meal didn’t linger around the tastebuds.

“But, let’s get back to the moral good of humanity that we agreed was the goal”, said Will, munching on his cheese and onion sandwich without savouring the flavour.  “Don’t humanists have a role in defining and helping achieve this.”

“Maybe they do. But since I believe that social being determines consciousness, first we need the material conditions under which that Good can flourish.”

“You mean if we carry forward the productive forces, eradicate exploitation and poverty, and create plenty for all, as you say, making the leap from necessity to freedom, then we will achieve also an advance moral state and good human beings.”

“Not automatically, No. It will take generations of a classless society.”

“And the morality governing human relations during that time will generate itself?  Or will it have to be developed by the conscious application of human thought, by cultural values nurtured and propagated by society, through education in the widest sense of the word?”

“Of course”, replied Arthur.

“Then, where will these ethical ideas come from?”

“Well,” Arthur paused thoughtfully, “revolutionary society will generate its own ethics and ethical thinkers.”

“But we have already agreed that Humanist thinkers, including the younger Marx, have something to contribute.  Look at what he and others have to say on alienation for instance.  Those problems will also exist after the revolution.  Surely, if humanist thought in the past has something worthwhile to contribute to revolutionary ethics, it has so today and will do after the revolution.”

“Yes, I have already agreed that such a contribution has been made – subject to certain limitations.”

“So, we are agreed that Humanist philosophy does have a role to play in guiding the ethics of socialism both before, during and after the revolution ?  Do you not agree that it complements the scientific aspect of Marxism, which analyses society’s material nature ?  A humanist philosophy can not be merely conjecture, it must be founded on an understanding of the nature of man – the ‘species being’ as Marx called it.”  Will, was beginning to think the dialogue was, at last, going in the right direction.  Though he knew what Arthur’s response would be, and sure enough…

“I’m not sure I can accept that. It sounds too much like we are talking about human nature.”

“And so we are.” answered Will, trying not to sound too triumphant. “How can we talk about what is good for humanity and where we should be heading for a better future unless we know what human nature is ?”

“But human nature is not fixed” replied Arthur, confident he could quickly demolish what was simply an Aunt Sally, “ For example, under capitalism it is maintained in justification that it is human nature to be greedy, competitive and aggressive.”

“Exactly, but as you point out, that is just an interpretation to justify a particular economic and social system at one stage in history.  That depiction of human nature is merely to serve the status quo.  The real needs of humanity which stem from our inner being are repressed, concealed.  Capitalism, or any other oppressive system, does not want the true nature of humankind to be revealed.  But the fact is, there is a species, Homo sapiens, which has a real nature that can be analysed according to historical materialism, as can any other species.  Just as there is a dog nature which we can try and understand and which enables us to consider the behaviour of dogs and what is good for their well being, so there is a Homo sapiens nature.”

Will smiled smugly at this analogy, knowing it would strike a chord with Arthur who was a keen breeder of Jack Russell terriers.  Arthur did seize on the comparison, but for a different reason.

“Yes,” he replied, pleased that he recognised a reference here, unaware that Will was inwardly congratulating himself on his originality.  “That’s what Marx says in Volume 1 of Capital.  But only as a footnote and he doesn’t develop the theme of human nature there, or in any other work I can recollect.”[4]

“No he doesn’t.  But Engels has something to say about the defining characteristics of Humans in his ‘Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man’,” [5] replied Will who was on home territory now.  He had an ambition to become an archaeologist and had eagerly gleaned all the references to prehistory he could from the work of Marx and Engels.  “Engels shows how all the characteristics which man evolved that distinguishes him from other species are interdependent – the making and use of tools, social relations, language, the growth of intelligence in general.  Man is a thinking, creating being.  Despite the lack of knowledge at that time he gives a scientifically based evolutionary perspective on man which explains the very characteristics referred to by Marx in his Humanist writings.  Based on this we can say what is good for man is that which assists the evolution of his nature as a creative being and a social being.  What is bad, is whatever negates this.  Marx argued that alienation, estrangement, of man’s productive and other capabilities were dehumanizing forces.  Class societies, exploitation and particularly industrial capitalism with all the manifestations of alienation it produces – technology, consumerism, bureaucracy, competition– everything which blocks man’s creativity and intervenes between true human relationships is consequently bad.  I would argue that the goal of a true communist society is not simply the end of economic exploitation but the end of all forms of alienation so that people can realise their full potential and individuals and society as a whole can blossom”.

During this monologue, Arthur munched thoughtfully on his pork dripping teacake and downed cups of strong, sweet, steaming black tea from his flask.

“Well, I agree with you on that”, he said between gulps of tea, “But it’s a long way off and I maintain we have to lay the material foundations first.”

“But the point I am trying to make, “said Will emphatically, “and perhaps I am not doing it very well, is that, if we are aiming at achieving the Good for mankind, then it’s NOT something to be postponed until we consider material conditions are right in some far off future state of society.   The good is something we should pursue now, today, in all our relationships and actions – our Praxis, as Marx called it.  We should oppose everything which perpetuates alienation between individuals, or between individuals and society and, perhaps most importantly these days, between humanity and nature.  We should encourage everything which breaks down those barriers and promotes real creativity, not just the mindless proliferation of commodities, which really enslave people, while giving a spurious feeling of liberation.  Creativity and liberation should be based on the recognition of what is truly valuable.”

“And that is ?”, queried Arthur expectantly.

“Life.” said Will, “the affirmation of that which, as far as we yet know, sets out planet off from the rest of the universe. Life.  If we value that – nay , revere it, and let that guide our relations in everyday life, then many of our problems would be sorted.”

Both fell silent, contemplating the simplicity, and yet magnitude, of what had been said. Only the squeaking and whistling of the conveyor belt pulleys could be heard.

Still not speaking, they threw their jackets, snap bags and tools into an empty tub, finished unloading the rest of the supplies and coupled the empties together.  Arthur clipped the rear tub to the rope while Will pulled out the lockers and fastened the clip to the front of the run.  He sat on the edge of the lead tub while Arthur knelt inside the rear one.

“Ruskin !”, Arthur suddenly shouted, “Ruskin ! That’s where I’ve read about life being true wealth.”

“ ‘Unto This Last’ ”[6]  Shouted Will back.

Two raps of the bell wires and the haulage rope tugged at the clips.  The light from their lamps darted into the darkness and danced along the walls and girders, as the little train of empty tubs and trams rattled and jolted down the gate.



In which it is discussed whether social transformation which benefits humanity can be achieved without a revolutionary transformation of the moral practice of political organisations.

One of the jobs Will most enjoyed was working with the onsetter at the pit bottom.  The onsetter was responsible for sending the cage up to the surface, or unloading it when it arrived from the pit top. bringing tubs, equipment or men. He communicated with the winder by an electronic bell signalling system.  The pit bottom was relatively well lit, so the job was easy on the eyes.  Will had to lift up the metal trellis gate of the cage, haul out the tubs, tram them a few yards along the steel plate to the rails and then sort out the tubs to be sent on their way in long runs down the main board, or roadway, to where the haulage men Ronny and Dougie, waited to take them on the next leg of their journey.  It meant that Will had not to go far from the pit bottom and even, on some days, found an excuse to go to the surface for some fresh air. It was not a deep pit, the shaft was less than 100 yards deep.  In summer the warm air and scent of hay penetrated to the pit bottom, but in winter, when icicles hung down the shaft and the tubs were covered in snow and ice it was not so pleasant.  However, shelter from the piercing draught was provided by a small brick built box shaped cabin, which reputedly had formerly served as stabling for the pit ponies.  Wooden benches ran around the ‘SnoCem’ whitewashed walls and a large wooden table took up most of the centre of the room.  Though it smelt of an acrid combination of unwashed clothes, sweat, chewing tobacco and snuff, it was lit brightly enough to read without eyestrain and quite cosy.  Will could retreat there whenever there was opportunity, although he had to be wary about dozing off because the pit deputies, under manger and sometimes even the manager might drop in.

A few days after the previous dialogue, towards the end of the shift, when all the full tubs had been dispatched into the pit and the empty ones sent to the surface, Will was sat with his feet up on the bench when Arthur came in, slightly breathless having, as usual, illegally ridden up on the main conveyor.  This took some skill and a little athletic ability, since the last belt ran two or three times walking speed and rose to quite a height above the ground.  The vaulting dismount had to be accurately timed and any tubs parked on the rails alongside the belt carefully avoided.

Arthur switched off his cap lamp and unslotted it from his helmet.  After exchanging pleasantries he was keen to resume the discussion.  The byways of thought along which Will’s ideas had led were beginning to stimulate him, though he would scarcely have admitted so to Will.  In the party circles in which he usually moved philosophical debate, even when it took place at all, was circumscribed and did not broach the taboos Will’s unorthodox opinions had challenged.

“Even if you accept that the struggle for socialism is an ethical struggle for the Good of Humanity, and even if you have agreement that this Good is what is good for the evolution of the species by developing the essential qualities of human nature, I don’t see how it affects our practice.  We still need to change society in order to achieve it and I don’t see that you have any theory to do that, apart from invoking this vague notion of Love and reverence for life”.

“The left is not short of theories of how to change society,” smiled Will,” Nor short of programmes, platforms, slogans and manifestos.  But what has it achieved in the twentieth century so far ?  We are no nearer socialism than in Marx’s time. It is a history littered with heroic failures, missed opportunities and perverted victories. The main enemy of the left has been itself.   The endemic sectarianism, the tendency to put the organisation before real life struggles, the self delusion about what the working class aspires to, or is capable of, and the projection of these delusions onto others.  In fact revolutionaries who claim to be Marxists have been guilty of some of the worst idealist utopianism – or dystopianism as it more often turns out to be.”

“So, you’re claiming that the whole of the left is wrong and that you have some miracle solution?” Arthur replied, with the nearest expression to a sneer that his coal blackened and usually kindly face could frame.

“Of course not,” retorted Will, “But I am saying that there are some fundamental flaws in the practice, theory and culture of the left which dooms it to failure.  If it carries on like this, the left as we know it will be reduced to impotent, tattered fragments within a generation.”

“I doubt it,” said Arthur confidently, seeing in such pessimism the fragile basis of Will’s whole view, “I’ll bet my bottom dollar that capitalism will have collapsed before the twenty first century.  Its’ inner contradictions  will ensure that – the left will be in power over most of the globe and even the Stalinist states will be revolutionised by the social upheavals which will take place.”

Slightly amused at the paradox of betting dollars on the collapse of capitalism, Will continued the theme of his own argument. “The left is flawed because it has not grasped the perennial problem of means and ends.  It purports to be either amoral, in that it is merely acting out objective laws, or has a morality which subsumes everything to the victory of the working class – which often, in reality, such as Russia and China, means the victory of the party. It doesn’t grasp the dialectic of means and ends.  If you pursue a certain objective then you have to use certain means to achieve it. Conversely, if you use certain means then they result in a certain end predetermined by those means.  My contention is that both the ends and the means of the bulk of the left can not, and will not, result in either the victory of the working class, nor, more profoundly, the Good of humanity we have agreed is our ultimate goal.”

“Go on” said Arthur, who needed a breathing space to take all this in before even attempting to comment.

“We have agreed in the broad outlines of what is good for humanity, on what is the basis for real freedom.  As well as the end of economic exploitation and deprivation this requires the end of alienating relationships.  Firstly there is alienation within the individual, then between individuals, or between individuals and society and between human culture and nature.  These manifest themselves in countless conflicting combinations in daily life”

“What’s that first one again ?” queried Arthur.

“Self alienation – basically, the inability of humans to be themselves, due to all the social games they have to play, the burden of all the fears and anxieties that perplex them and the forms of repression they have to internalize.  As a result, different parts of an individual’s personality can be alienated one from the other.  It underlies what Erich Fromm describes as the ‘Fear of Freedom’.  Obviously this affects all our external relationships as well.”

“I’ll have to think about that”, said Arthur, experiencing a slight bout of paranoia, suspecting that Will was also directing this at him personally.  It would not be the first time he had been accused of disguising some of his inadequacies in personal relationships by sheltering under his political persona.  “But, go on.”

“The point I am making is – how can we achieve this by indulging in the kind of alienating activity that the left so often does ?”

“Such as ?”

“For a start – the psychological manipulation which goes on in left organisations.  the way people are forced to choose between the organisation and other social or cultural activities, the guilt imposed on those who do have a life outside the group and don’t sell enough papers for instance.  Then there’s the Machiavellian behaviour towards people in other sects.  And, what about repression of free thought, and discouragement of criticism, as disloyal ? You’ve been involved longer than I have. I’m sure you know what I’m on about.”

“Yes” said Arthur quietly.  Will had stirred some unpleasant recollections. He had indeed often experienced such behaviour.  He had even been responsible for some of it in his time.

Will continued, oblivious to the disquiet he had aroused.  “Because I maintain that we can’t attain good ends with bad means, it follows that we can’t promote human good by such methods.  I believe that we on the left have to prefigure the society we are trying to achieve by our behaviour in the here and now.  We have to do this in order to show people the sort of world we want and also because you can’t promote human Good by behaviour which alienates human beings and destroys their authenticity and creativity”.

“But I have been in left groups where there is a lot of warm comradeship as well”, retorted Arthur, defensively, “And the history of the left is full of examples of altruism and self sacrifice for others.”

“Of course”, acknowledged Will, “I’m not claiming that the whole experience of the left is negative.  But neither are many other spheres of social life.  Trade union solidarity brings people together, particularly in a dispute.  You get warm comradeship in the armed forces, or sports clubs or a choir even.  It doesn’t make them effective agents of human progress and social transformation.  The left has to have an impeccable, super-moral authority if it is to become the harbinger of a new social order.”

“But we are trying to make a revolution with human beings, not angels,” replied Arthur, “People bring all sorts of personal and cultural baggage into a party.”

“I’m not calling for a revolution of angels”, said Will, “Human and humane behaviour is exactly what I am advocating, not behaviour marred by vanity, egoism and unbridled aggression, vices which any mature, well balanced person should be able to master.  Instead such traits are given full rein in most groups.  Much of the left viciously anathematises anyone who is seen as a threat.  Look how acrimonious faction fights and splits quickly become. I shudder to think what would happen if some ‘comrades’ got hold of guns.  It would be every bit as bad as the split in the Irish Republican movement between the Provos and the Stickies.  Look as well at the authoritarianism.  So called democratic centralist groups tend to be more centralist than democratic.  As a result of these attitudes the left groups alienate themselves not only consciously from other rival groups but also from the working class they purport to be leading.  They also end up with a leadership alienated from the membership and a constant haemorrhaging of members.  You end up with leaders so alienated from the real world that they are either impotent to influence events or, of they do have some power, seeking to mould the world to their own conceptions by brute force.  The result is a Robespierre, or a Lenin, who feel morally justified in carrying out atrocities in order to defend the revolution.  The Safety of the Republic is the Supreme Law.  How can this presage a future society which promotes the Good of humanity.?”

“But you need discipline to overthrow capitalism”, protested Arthur, “And if beset by powerful enemies, as were revolutionary France and Bolshevik Russia, then you are forced into extreme measures”.

“But, don’t you see, by perverting the revolution from its declared path, which is what happened both in France and Russia, the enemies of the revolution win anyway.  The ethical basis of revolution is destroyed from within as the revolution devours its own children – and with it the hopes of humanity.”

“So you’re saying that all revolutions are doomed to failure ?” asked Arthur, venting the feeling that , however Will tried to rationalise it, his basic problem was pessimism and defeatism.

“No, certainly not”, replied Will firmly, suspecting what was going through Arthur’s mind. “Revolutions which are devoid of a humanist basis and humanist morals are doomed, that’s what I am saying – revolutions that are relegated to bids for political and economic power and are not seen as aspiring to true human liberation.  A true revolution must be deeply rooted in humanist culture and relationships, it must grow organically out of efforts to express that humanism and not be something grafted onto social relations.  Those that lead it must have an authority which does not rely on imposed discipline.”

“And on what should it rely ?”  Arthur asked.

“On moral authority, of course.  On the fact that people see what they do is for the good of humankind and is not achieved by measures which add to suffering, even if they are excused as short term measures to defend the revolution. A revolution of despair which is driven just against oppression and exploitation can not engender that moral authority.  The left’s view of revolutionary consciousness depends too much on exposing the evils of imperialism and abolishing the old order than an understanding of what is to replace it.  Those who do have a vision such as William Morris are dismissed as Utopians, romantics and Anarchists.”

The mention of the ‘A’ word gave Arthur the opening he needed, “Well, if you are saying that disciplined revolutionary organisations can’t bring about social transformation then all you are left with is Anarchism.  You can’t achieve anything without organisation.”

“But I’ve not said anything against organisation,” protested Will.  “I’m criticising the dominant form of organisation on the left.  History speaks for itself.  The left has failed time and again, even with well organised disciplined structures, often beaten not by its enemies but by its internal failures.  The left is a shambles now, despite the widespread militancy against the Tories and messianic pronouncements about the imminent crisis of capitalism.  The left reproduces all the faults of capitalist society within itself – alienation, authoritarianism, hierarchy, intolerance, dogma dressed up as reason and science.  It founds organisations based on mechanical structures and bureaucratic constitutions.  As a result it can not effectively intervene in the real living struggles in which people are engaged and which are important to them.”

“So, what’s the alternative ?” asked Arthur, resisting the urge to add the epithet ‘Cleverclogs’.

“A form of organisation based on non alienating practice,” replied Will. “Organisation which has a clear moral code regulating its modus operandi.  We are back to what is for the Good of humanity, the dialectic of means and ends”.

“And what form does this non-alienating practice take ?” asked Arthur, unable to mentally picture an organisation without at least some of the characteristics condemned by Will.

“Obviously, we must foster the opposite of alienation.  What is the opposite, do you think?”

Arthur racked his brain for an antonym for alienation.  He tried via the synonyms of estrangement and otherness and still could not come up with a single word response.

“I give up !”, he blurted in exasperation. “What is it ?”

“If you think about it, it is Love,” said Will, “It’s not just a concept which is the antithesis of alienation but it’s also the ethical goal we should aspire to.  I remember your reaction the last time I mentioned it and I haven’t had chance since to elaborate what I mean.” [7]

Arthur fought back the faint feeling of nausea he always experienced when Love was mentioned in the context of revolutionary politics, in fact in any context outside of Mills & Boon novels, which he considered the only suitable medium for such a petty bourgeois concept.

Will continued, sensing Arthur’s unease, “Love is one of the most misused, abused and sometimes absurd word in any language.  As a result its’ real meaning is obscure and elusive.  As well as its’ obvious erotic connotations, which cover a wide spectrum of human behaviour, in daily currency it has come to mean mainly a desire, or merely a liking, for something, or someone.  It is too often used just to denote a sense of possession.  At best, it is used to denote selfless feelings or actions towards other beings, human or otherwise.  But used in the context of alienation it means the complete identification of subject and object.  It negates alienation.  If you love another person, a pet, a place, your work, nature, or a piece of art, in the true sense of the word and not in possessive terms, you feel part of the other being and that it is part of you.   Same with self-love.  If this is not used just to mean selfishness but indicates the negation of self alienation, then it is essential for a whole and authentic personality.”

“OK”, said Arthur, who, though still irritated by having to mentally wrestle with such an uncomfortable concept, was forced to inwardly acknowledge that more than once he had admitted to loving his dogs.  “Say I do accept your philosophical definition of Love.  How do we use it as the foundation of political activity, given that you have admitted it is such a loaded word which means different things to different people?”

“We don’t use it in a propagandistic way where the semantic complexity would make it useless, that’s for sure. It has to be the basis of our daily political activity.  We have to realise that raising class consciousness is a limited goal in contrast to a humanist consciousness based on Love.  And this consciousness should embrace all Life, our Love should reflect our interdependence with the Natural world.”

“But how ?” demanded Arthur, in exasperation.  While understanding Will’s words, he could still not see how this could translate into the reality of day to day life. “It sounds just like preaching a form of humanist Christianity without Jesus Christ…”.

As Arthur was speaking a small wiry man entered the cabin.  It was Luke a faceworker and Methodist lay preacher.  Usually a taciturn man, he was reputed to be a hell-fire preacher when in the pulpit.  Arthur managed to resist the urge to say “Talk of the Devil…”, but Luke got his jibe in first anyway.

“I hope you are not taking the Lord’s name in vain.” he said, only half jokingly.

“Far from it,” said Arthur, who had little time for Luke, as he had often been critical of the union.  “Young Will here was just saying how we should all Love one another.”

“We can only really do that if we also love Jesus as the son of God, our saviour who died for our sins. Only then will we be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Luke replied quietly, with no hint of bible thumping in his tone.

“But I am telling Arthur here how I think we can and should live by the principle of Love on this earth, even if you don’t believe in an after life, or expect any heavenly reward.” explained Will.

“I am not saying Christians should only Love in order to get into heaven.  Love should be the basis of a Christian’s life,” said Luke, adding wistfully, “only too often it isn’t.”

“I still don’t see how it gets us any closer to Socialism, let alone heaven,” interjected Arthur.

Just then the door burst open and a dozen or so men crowded into the cabin.  Arthur fell silent as any hope of continuing the discussion was drowned by banter, punctuated by expletives and ribald innuendo, concerning the coming weekend’s activities, revolving around the pub, club, sport matches or shopping expeditions.

For both Will and Arthur the task of raising consciousness of any sort among their fellow workers reassumed a stark reality from which their debate had brought only temporary escape.  Even Luke, who had been down the pit for thirty years and had gathered only a meagre harvest of saved souls, looked dejected.  Despite their ideological differences the three men had more in common with each other than with the majority around them, Will mused to himself,  – a clear vision of the society they wished to achieve, an enthusiasm to embrace struggle, a conviction that a full and meaningful life required action towards a greater end than self, above all, devotion to others.  This also was Love, thought  Will.

The onsetter peered around the door and announced that winding was to begin.  The men rushed into the pit bottom and queued to enter the cage which carried only eight persons at a time.

Arthur, Will and Luke rode up together, the cage hissing and creaking on the guide rods in the darkness.  As it neared the surface and decelerated they felt a brief, illusionary sensation of sinking as gravity took over.  Then the cage gently soared to the pit top into the embrace of the welcoming daylight and fresh air.



Unlike ancient philosophical schools, such as the Epicureans and Stoics, most of the great modern philosophers such as Kant and Hegel have created great systems embracing a world-view but have not formulated a life-view, a practical code by which people can live their everyday lives.[8]

Marx and Engels, in formulating their ideas of praxis, most succinctly expressed in their much quoted ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world…the point is to change it.’, have gone some way in providing such a guide to life, but it is limited only to political and social action.  The ethical dimensions in human relationships has been omitted or subordinated to the goal of praxis – class struggle.   Indeed, in their refutation of Stirner (German Ideology, 1965, p.272) they state categorically:

‘The communists do not preach morality at all, such as Stirner preaches so extensively.  They do not put to people the moral demand: love one another, do not be egoists, etc: on the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much as self sacrifice is in definite circumstances a necessary form of the self assertion of individuals.’

What a contrast to later claims by ‘Marxists’ that individualism has no role in revolutionary struggle.  Unfortunately, this did not lead Marx and Engels to the conclusion that the differing demands of self sacrifice and egoism must also have a moral basis and that this deserved elaboration as an integral part of their critique of capitalist society.  As a result ‘Marxist’ views on ethics veered between amoralism and moral relativism – there was either no moral basis for action at all, or that it depended on the material circumstances of particular societies and class interests.  There could be a capitalist morality and a proletarian morality, but there was no morality rooted in the general human condition.  Lenin provides a classic formulation of this view from the Bolshevik perspective:

‘We reject any morality based on extra-human and extra-class concepts…We say that our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle…Morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat which is building up a new, a communist society.  Communist morality is that which serves this struggle and unites the working people against all exploitation…’ (V.I.Lenin, address to 3rd All Russia Congress of Young Communist League,, 2 October 1920  Selected Works in Three Volumes Moscow 1977, Vol 3, pp. 416-418)

The most detailed annunciation of Marxist ethics is made by Trotsky in his pamphlet ‘Their Morals and Ours’ which is glib in its sweeping rejection of criticism and chilling in its conclusions.  Critics are defeatists, merely emitting ‘moral effluvia’ and any talk of morality is petty bourgeois.  The personal ethics of Tolstoy and Gandhi, moral leaders who have influenced millions of people, are sarcastically dismissed in a couple of sentences with references to drinking goat’s milk.  He defends Lenin against charges of amoralism, since:

‘To a revolutionary Marxist there can be no contradiction between personal morality and the interests of the party, since the party embodies in his consciousness the very highest tasks and aims of humanity.’ (Pathfinder Press, 1973, p44)

These aims are ones which lead ‘to increasing power of humanity over nature and to the abolition of the power of one person over another.’  (p.48)  Since this end can only be achieved by violent revolution, then any means which achieve victory are permissible.  To justify this (and his own record as Red Army commander when he ordered the seizure of families as hostages), he invokes the contemporary situation in Spain.   ‘Civil war is the most severe of all forms of war.  It is unthinkable…without killing old men, old women and children…Whoever accepts the end: victory over Franco, must accept the means: civil war with its wake of horrors and crimes’. (p.36)  He does, however, draw the line at Stalin’s, ‘no greater crime than deceiving the masses,’.  One would have thought that starvation, incarceration and mass murder of the masses was an even greater crime, but apparently Trotsky’s rejection of bourgeois morality extends to silence about these atrocities too.

Trotskyism’s moral bankruptcy is therefore clearly set out by its’ own founder.  He accepts that ‘personal morality’ exists but, other than hiding behind grandiose aspirations to liberate humanity, there is no explanation of how this should govern day to day relationships within the party, or how the party should relate to those outside during the days when it is not engaged in bloody civil war.  And even if the values of the party were governed by the necessity of war, then what of personal ethics during this struggle.  There is still the need for the person pulling the trigger or dropping the bomb to make decisions of right or wrong and not merely be a willing tool of inevitable atrocity.  By his uncritical resignation and impotence before the inhumanity of war Trotsky also accepts its dehumanizing effects.  How can this promote a struggle for human liberation, for a world where one human being does not have power over another ?

Orthodox Marxism, like Stoicism, therefore ends up in resignation as far as the individual’s relationship with the world goes.  Since the dominant form of praxis does not allow for the transformation of the individual in the course of struggle and postpones any such transformation to the future after the Revolution, Marxism, by its focus on the single narrow front of mechanised class war deserts the wider battlefield of human struggle.  It abandons what should be the main weapon in the arsenal of revolutionary change – the un-alienated revolutionary.  The vast, all pervasive, Will to Power and Death that finds expression in, and emanates from, Imperialism, the constant coercion that corrodes and crushes human joy and aspiration at every turn – these can only be conquered by men and women guided by the ethics of a clear vision of the future humanist society, enabled to carry out transformations in their own daily life,  and driven by the Will to Life and Love of the living earth.

TO BE CONTINUED…………………………………………………

[1]  Marx’s early writings, particularly the 1844 ‘Paris Manuscripts’ received a lot of attention in academic circles in the late 60’s early 70’s.  In 1970 David McLellan’s ‘Marx before Marxism’ appeared and was published as a Pelican book in 1972.  Also in 1970 Merlin Press published Istvan Meszaros’  ‘Marx’s Theory of Alienation’. Both these works supported the view that there was no rift between the early Marx of the Manuscripts and the mature Marx of ‘Capital’, but that the early philosophical concepts underpinned Marx’s subsequent work, even if not explicitly restated.  Orthodox Marxists, those whose political horizons focussed on the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, had a vested interest in consigning Marx’s humanist and libertarian views, if not to the dustbin, at least to the archives.

[2]  By ‘man’ is of course mean the species Homo sapiens and is not gender specific, although  due to the absence of any reference to women in these dialogues readers may be excused from thinking it is !

[3] Vic Feather – the General Secretary of the TUC.

[4] Vol 1 p.609. Marx, in criticising Bentham’s Utilitarianism comments:. ‘To know what is useful for a dog, one must study dog nature.  This nature itself is not to be deduced from the principle of utility.  Applying this to man, he that would criticise all human acts, movements, relations etc., by the principle of utility must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch’. Marx’s dismissal of ‘human nature’ applies only when it is used as an abstract ideal.

[5] Those who might regard Engel’s article as derivative, or out of date, should consider the description of it as ‘brilliant’, made by none other than one of the leading evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists of modern times, Stephen Jay Gould. (‘Ever since Darwin’, Pelican 1980. p.210).  He also points out that it carries a warning against separating theory from practice

[6]  ‘THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE.  Life including all its powers of love, of joy, of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy beings: that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.’ (‘Unto This Last’ p.156, Geo Allen 1901)Ruskin, despite, or maybe because of, some of his eccentric ideas on social reform and political economy was one of the main influences on the revival of socialism in Britain in the 1880s and 90s, not least through the impact his aesthetic, as well as social ideas, had on William Morris.

The leading twentieth century advocate of the philosophy of the Reverence for Life is, of course, Albert Schweitzer.  His ethical mysticism was concerned with establishing unity with Infinite Being, but it depended on the practical application of this belief on a daily basis, which Schweitzer’s own life exemplified.  Whether the concept of good can be separated from a quest for the divine and whether a materialist and monist philosophy is compatible with an ethical view of the Universe will be considered in future dialogues.

[7]  Like many philosophical concepts the idea of Love as a unifying force has its roots in Greek philosophy.  Empedocles regarded Love, Eros, as the counter-posing force in the Universe to Strife, Eris, not just in human affairs but in all natural phenomena.  (Of course, in Will’s explanation Love is not meant as an immanent spiritual force, but as a level of human consciousness and a relationship of human beings towards each other and the outside world.  Whether other beings are capable of love and whether it is an immanent force which can be discerned even in atomic forces of attraction is a metaphysical question outside the scope of this present dialogue).  Schopenhauer points out that Eros conveys a meaning of desire and therefore selfishness.  Real love is based on sympathy and therefore the correct Greek equivalent is Agape. (The World as Will,  ‘Living Thoughts’ abridgement  by Thomas Mann, 1946. p.105. Marx and Engels also point out in their lengthy demolition of Max Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigentum that Agape not Eros is the New Testament Greek for Love. German Ideology Lawrence & Wishart, 1965. p.428).  Following Schopenhauer Albert Schweitzer also equates Love with pity or sympathy, although empathy would perhaps be a more accurate English rendition, since this implies a closer interrelation between subject and object, sympathiser and sufferer.

[8] Of course there were ethical philosophers such as Comte, whose views grew out of Utopian Socialism, but Positivism never became as influential as Marxism. It is one of the strands of humanist thought from which Socialism could have assimilated some ethical ideas without following its more absurd pseudo-religious excesses.


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