Marxism, Nihilism, and the Problem of Ethical Politics Today

We have found no way to replace capitalism as an effective mode of production, and yet that capitalist society as it actually functions violates all defensible conceptions of a rational moral order.
Alasdair MacIntyre (1979)2

Marxism and contemporary political philosophy

In a recent and very powerful critique of the social and political irrelevance of much of contemporary political theory, Raymond Geuss made the somewhat idiosyncratic suggestion that if “political philosophy wishes to be at all connected with a serious understanding of politics, and thus to become an effective source of orientation or a guide to action, it needs to return from the present reactionary forms of neo-Kantianism to something like the ‘realist’ view, or, to put it slightly differently, to neo-Leninism”.3 Unsurprisingly, this position is not widely shared within the academy – even amongst that small minority of critics of neo-Kantianism who have read their Lenin. Typically, Lenin is dismissed in these circles as an opportunistic politician who held at best an instrumentalist view of political rationality. For instance, at the culmination of his own aborted attempt to renew an ethical Marxism, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that Leninism tended to degenerate into a caricature of the capitalist managerial pseudo-expertise it was meant to counter.4 Both Leninists and capitalist managers repeated, or so MacIntyre argued, a more general failing of modern politics: an inability to transcend the nihilistic limitations that Nietzsche (mistakenly) claimed were a universal feature of the human condition: “it was Nietzsche’s historic achievement to understand more clearly than any other philosopher… not only that what purported to be appeals to objectivity were in fact expressions of subjective will, but also the nature of the problems that this posed for moral philosophy”.5

Lenin’s nihilism was, or so Simon Critchley claims, a corollary of his Marxism. Just as Marx characterised the class struggle as a conflict between “right against right” in which “force decides,”6 Lenin embraced a form of active nihilism. Following Nietzsche, Critchley argues that whereas the passive nihilist simply focuses on the “particular pleasures and projects for perfecting” oneself, the active nihilist accepts that the world is meaningless “but instead of sitting back and contemplating”, counters the moral crisis with an attempt “to destroy this world and bring another into being”.7 Critchley claims that Lenin’s vanguardism reproduced a form of active nihilism which reflects “the silence or hostility to ethics that one finds in Marx and many Marxist and post-Marxist .gures”.8 If this argument effectively rehearses MacIntyre’s earlier claim that Lenin’s Marxism involved an account of the “ideal revolutionary” which was but a socialist form of the Ubermensch,9 Critchley attempts to point beyond this tragic situation with the argument that we now need “a conception of ethics that begins by accepting the motivational deficit in the institutions of liberal democracy, but without embracing either passive or active nihilism”.10

As we shall see, Critchley’s ethical alternative to Leninism shares an unfortunate characteristic with other works of this ilk: it is politically inadequate in the face of its object. If this weakness has led some, for instance Slavoj Zizek, to discard “boring ‘ethical’ considerations” and embrace a renewed Leninism, this gesture seems to confirm MacIntyre’s and Critchley’s fears that Leninism necessarily reproduces a form of nihilism.

This essay is offered as an alternative to the dichotomy between ethically justified impotence and practical but nihilistic efficiency. Against MacIntyre, Critchley and a number of other commentators, I argue that Marx and Lenin provide indispensable resources for an ethical anti-capitalism which points beyond the limitations not only of modern political philosophy but also of much of contemporary radical leftist theory.11 As we shall see, this ethical Leninism is obscured by a tendency amongst the minority of contemporary leftist theorists who do engage with Lenin’s ideas to one-sidedly caricature his revolutionary perspectives as a form of insurrectionary or Jacobin politics. After critically surveying some of this literature, this paper extends George Brenkert’s claim that Marx held to an ethics of freedom (understood as social self-determination) to suggest that Lenin, through his analysis of (a) the consequences of the uneven nature of the struggle for freedom, and (b) freedom’s institutional form, made a fundamental contribution to Marx’s ethics of social liberation.

Voices within the anti-capitalist movement

It is typical even of the small minority of contemporary theorists who take the ideas of Marx and Lenin seriously that they tend to accept as necessary the need to reassert the ethical core of socialism against the scientific pretensions of classical Marxism. Perhaps the foremost contemporary representative of this tendency was, until his untimely death, Jerry Cohen. He argued that Marx developed what he calls an “obstetric conception of political practice”, in which the role of a revolutionary socialist is, like that of a midwife, not to consider the “ideals” she wants to realise but rather more prosaically to “deliver the form that develops within reality”.12 Cohen identified what he believed were two devastating criticisms of this approach. First, it takes no account of the fact that the inevitability of an outcome does not guarantee its desirability. Second, he claimed that a number of Marx’s most important scientific predictions had been falsified by history. For these reasons Cohen believed that the only realistic contemporary political option for socialists from the Marxist tradition is to embrace what Marx would have dismissed as utopian socialism.

Interestingly, many contemporary theorists who have been deeply influenced by Marx, but who, unlike Cohen, remain optimistic about the possibilities for radical change, tend to share his unease with the scientific claims of classical Marxism. For instance, Tony Negri has suggested that we should snatch “Marxism back from its scientific status and restore it to its utopian, or rather ethical, possibility”, while John Holloway has juxtaposed a more powerful tradition of workers’ self-emancipation within Marxism to what he considers the pseudo-scientific attempts of Engels and Lenin to reduce it to a form of mechanical materialism.13

The arguments of Cohen et al. reflect a general tendency over the last few decades for political theorists to engage with a reinvigorated ethical discourse. And insofar as contributors to this theoretical turn have engaged with Marx, his ideas have generally been dismissed as a variant of mechanical materialism. Marx’s claim that “[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”,14 is typically counterposed to, and found wanting by contrast with, moral theory’s focus on “the recognition of the subjective freedom of individuals”.15

A fundamental hurdle faced by any attempt to forge an ethical politics is, as MacIntyre argued in After Virtue, the degeneration of ethical language in the modern era into a “simulacrum of morality”. Whereas in the classical world ethics had an objective character, MacIntyre argues that the associated imperatives of the various modern moral standpoints can be reduced to a series of more or less persuasive attempts to justify personal preferences.16 Contemporary morality is therefore characterised by “interminable” disagreements which seem immune to rational closure.17 It was precisely to avoid this and other limitations with moral theory that Louis Althusser articulated his anti-humanist reinterpretation of Marxism in the 1960s.18 And if it is true that the left’s “return to ethics” from the 1970s and 1980s onwards reflects in part the defeats suffered by the workers’ movement in that period, it was also a reaction to the breakdown of Althusser’s earlier “return to Marx”.19

If Althusser intended, in part, to guard against the inherent relativism of modern moral theory, his alternative proved inadequate to the task of providing a coherent account either of the mass upsurge in class struggle associated with the year 1968 or the subsequent defeats of these struggles.20 Indeed, the fact that Althusserianism was particularly ill-equipped to make sense of these defeats reinforced the view that Marxism was inadequate to modern conditions.21 It is perhaps unsurprising that as workers’ defeats opened the door to neoliberalism, the feeling of impotence and anger on the left lent itself to an increasingly abstract ethical discourse. Commenting on this tendency, Alain Badiou suggests that for many ex-revolutionaries the turn to ethics was experienced as a return from Marx (politics) to Kant (morality).22

David Harvey has articulated a particularly sophisticated Marxist variant of this trajectory. He argues that although contemporary socioeconomic trends generally tend to confirm Marx’s damning indictment of capitalism, they simultaneously undermine the agency Marx believed would dig capitalism’s grave. Whereas the old forms of capital accumulation depended upon the expansion of wage labour which in turn gave “rise to oppositional cultures”, the new “accumulation by dispossession” leads to the fragmentation of oppositional forces.23 This analysis informs his engagement with human rights discourse. Commenting on the problems associated with this concept, Harvey argues that though “the neoliberal insistence upon the individual as the foundational element in political-economic life opens the door to individual rights activism… by focusing on these rights rather than on the creation or recreation of substantive and open democratic governance structures, the opposition cultivates methods that cannot escape the neoliberal framework”.24 Nevertheless, he argues that it is difficult to conceive of an alternative to the social fragmentation characteristic of neoliberalism without some reference to universal rights. Harvey accordingly suggests that, despite the power of Marx’s criticisms of abstract moral discourse, the ideas of justice and rights could be deployed as a mechanism for forging alliances amongst neoliberalism’s opponents.25

Jerry Cohen’s embrace of egalitarian liberalism was rooted in a similar discussion of Marx’s analysis of class. Cohen claimed that, for Marx, the proletariat was that class of people who “constituted the majority of society”, “produced the wealth of society”, “were the exploited people in society”, and “were the most needy people in society”. It followed from these propositions that workers would have nothing to lose in a revolution and consequently “could and would transform society”. Unfortunately, or so he insisted, while there are today groups of people who .t into one or other of these four categories, because there is none that fits them all there is none that can play the role previously ascribed by Marx to the proletariat.26 It is for this reason that Cohen embraced a form of utopian socialism that, in converging with egalitarian liberalism, unfortunately marked a retreat back to the relativistic culture characteristic of modern (liberal) political philosophy.

Badiou, despite his criticisms of the return to ethics – he insists “the Leninist passion for the real, which is also a passion for thought, knows no morality”27 – has articulated his own ethical perspective; specifically a defence of fidelity to the “truth” of an “event”. As Hallward points out, Badiou follows Lacan in believing that the “real” can only be accessed through singular encounters or events, and that “a truth persists … solely through the militant proclamation of those people who maintain a fidelity to the uncertain event whose occurrence and consequence they af.rm”.28 Concretely, for Badiou, who was a Maoist militant in his youth, this involves his continuing commitment to the idea of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the context of its defeat.29 Interestingly, his affiliation to a variant of Maoism informs his belief that the failure of this project marked the end of the possibility of a revolutionary alternative to capitalism. Consequently, although he continues to call himself a Communist he refuses the signifier Marxist as “the disorganised masses of global capitalism are no longer divided into classes”.30 From this standpoint, Badiou defends the ultimately futile “imperative to ‘Keep going!’” Capitalism might be the only game in town, but Badiou will have no truck with it.31

This general perspective is shared by Critchley. He argues that while “the truth of Marx’s work” is to be found in his analysis of the “emergence and nature of capitalism”, his discussion of the political implications of this critique was far less successful. Against Marx’s (supposed)32 claim that social divisions were becoming simplified into an antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, Critchley suggests that the proletariat has become increasingly fragmented, and that capitalism is now opposed by a “multiplication of social actors”.33 He insists that this situation has had the effect of undermining not only the means by which Marx conceived the socialist struggle against capitalism but also his notion of the ends of communism itself. For, whereas workers’ solidarity was the “condition of possibility for the Leninist withering away of the state”, he points out that “if class positions are… becoming more complex… we are stuck with the state”. Critchley attempts to square this pessimistic analysis with a call for action through the medium of what he dubs “a politics of resistance”, which although condemned to perpetual opposition need not, at least, degenerate into tyranny so long as radicals keep “a distance from the state” – he points to the Zapatistas as a concrete example of this strategy.34

If Zizek agrees with Cohen and Critchley about the facts of the dissolution of the old working class, he disagrees with their respective utopian and perpetually oppositional political responses to this context. He goes so far as to call for a repeat of Leninism: although he is keen to point out that “to REPEAT Lenin does NOT mean a RETURN to Lenin”.35 On the significance of this distinction, Zizek argues that he is not invoking, like the Trotskyists, a project of building renewed Leninist parties which might realise the unfinished business of 1917. Rather, he has the more limited goal of embracing what he calls a “politics of truth”. He insists, against those postmodern relativists whose celebration of difference sits so easily with the contemporary liberal consensus, that to repeat Lenin today means to fight for the idea of truth and to challenge the liberal notion that any struggle for an alternative to contemporary capitalism will lead to a new Gulag.36

Concretely, Zizek’s attempted repetition of his politics both starts from and is intended to end with a negative act of resistance. In a discussion of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, he suggests that just as Bartleby replied to his master’s demands with the statement “I would prefer not to”, today both the negative critique of the status quo and the positive construction of an alternative to it should be founded upon a similar refusal.37 This reference to negativity allows Zizek a medium through which to pass from Critchley’s ethics of resistance to a new political space. As to the concrete shape of this alternative, Zizek criticises those left neo-anarchists such as Critchley who refuse to engage with the state for what he labels their tacit “Fukuyamaianism”. Zizek suggests that though few would explicitly embrace Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, Critchley’s political pessimism effectively involves a tacit acceptance of the claim that varieties of capitalism mark the parameters of modern politics. His moral critique of the state serves to limit his radicalism to a form of perpetual resistance: “the contemporary liberal democratic state and the ‘infinitely demanding’ anarchistic politics are thus engaged in a relationship of mutual parasitism”.38 In opposition to the type of abstract and impossible demands advocated by Critchley, Zizek insists that the left should make concrete demands which cannot so easily be dismissed, and which can be used to mobilise the new proletariat. He argues that Chavez’s capture of the Venezuelan state through a project anchored in the politicisation of the slum dwellers points to politics that is infinitely more appealing than the clean hands characteristic of the post-modern left’s anti-statism.39

Amongst the targets of Zizek’s polemical advocacy of this project are Tony Negri and Michael Hardt. If Cohen’s and Critchley’s variants of ethical politics reflect their pessimism about the possibility of radical socio-political change, Hardt and Negri’s ethical anti-capitalism is almost willfully naive in its optimism. Like Cohen, Critchley, and Zizek, they agree that the old proletariat is no more – though they suggest that rather than dissolving, this class has “been displaced from its privileged position in the capitalist economy”. In place of the proletariat, which they characterise narrowly as the “industrial working class”, Hardt and Negri identify the hegemonic form of production in the postmodern world as the “immaterial labour” of the “multitude”.40 They suggest that this type of labour produces “relationships and ultimately social life itself”, and they consequently view the multitude, rather than capital, as the dynamic force creating the modern world.41 Following this proposition, and against the left’s pessimistic interpretation of the dissolution of the proletariat, they insist that “the hegemony of immaterial labour creates common relationships and common social forms in a way more pronounced than ever before”. This in turn means that, finally, Lenin’s goal of the “abolition of the state” might now be realised in a way that was impossible in 1917. For whereas Leninism, in a reflection of the class structure of Lenin’s age, involved the reduction of this desire to the “objective of the insurrectional activity of an elite vanguard” whose hierarchical structure consequently reproduced a new form of sovereign state, Hardt and Negri suggest that today this desire is expressed through the “entire multitude” which “needs to abolish sovereignty at a global level”.42 So optimistic are they about the potential of the multitude’s role in creating “the common” that they massively underestimate the concrete political difficulties of overcoming divisions within the working class and between it and other oppressed groups.43 In fact, Negri has gone so far as to claim that his model “abolish[es] any difference whatsoever between ethics and politics”.44

The goal of formulating an “ethical project” rooted in “an ethics of democratic political action within and against Empire”45 is welcome. But, as David Camfield points out, the Hardt-Negri analysis of contemporary production tends to underestimate the barriers to building a unified anti-capitalist movement, leaving them with simplistic political perspectives that are little more than “wishful thinking”.46 Developing a similar point, Zizek claims that Hardt and Negri are too Marxist but not Leninist enough.47 Because they do not adequately address either the problem of state power or the mechanisms through which networking can lead to resistance, they grossly underestimate the difficulties faced by anti-capitalist activists, thus condemning themselves, despite their superficial differences with Critchley, to a similar perspective of perpetual opposition.

Zizek is surely right about this, but because he accepts Cohen’s analysis of the dissolution of the proletariat, his politics is perhaps best understood as the flipside of post-Marxist utopianism rather than its realistic alternative. Both sides agree that the state is here to stay, but whereas Critchley, for instance, seeks to wash his hands of this problem, Zizek distinguishes himself by his embrace of its political consequences: the left, he argues, should not fear “directly confronting state power”; in place of “boring “ethical” considerations”, it should “admit revolutionary violence as a liberating end in itself”.48 He justifies this position through reference to Lacan’s claim that “there is no big Other”: that is, there is no ethical standard external to the act by which the act might be judged.49 Like “the Lacanian analyst, a political agent has to commit acts that can only be authorised by himself, for which there is no external guarantee”.50 Consequently, Zizek defends a politics of “pure voluntarism”, which he equates with Bolshevik practice in 1921.51

Alex Callinicos calls this perspective a form of “left decisionism”, and justifiably complains that through it Zizek attempts to defend a return to a variant of what Trotsky labelled, in Our Political Tasks (1904), political “substitutionism” – the tendency of elites to substitute their activity for that of the mass of the working class. Given Callinicos’s claim, made from a heterodox Trotskyist perspective, that this general approach has blighted much of the history of the left in the twentieth century,52 it is perhaps surprising that Zizek has attempted to recruit Trotsky to this perspective. He does this, revealingly enough, through an engagement with what Ernest Mandel described as Trotsky’s “worst book”, Terrorism and Communism. Mandel suggests that whereas Trotsky was generally the most severe critic of all forms of elitism, this text marked an aberration in his career because in it he “justified and defended the practice of substitutionalism”.53

If Zizek’s reinterpretation of Trotsky as a substitutionist involves a fundamental distortion of the latter’s contribution to Marxism, it does tend to .t with his call to “repeat” Lenin without soviets. Against those who have judged both Stalinism and Western capitalism by the standard of the workers’ councils, Zizek suggests that, to them, the “standard Hegelian answer is quite sufficient: the failure of reality to live up to its notion always bears witness to the inherent weakness of the notion itself”.54 This argument allows him to bypass the central importance of soviets to Lenin’s project,55 whilst simultaneously dismissing the reality of workers’ councils as they have emerged at high points of workers’ struggles throughout the twentieth century. This is the backdrop to his idiosyncratic claim that Chavez’s government is “coming close to what could be the contemporary form of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’”.56 Whatever the merits of Chavez’s project, Zizek’s use of the phrase “coming close” in this sentence hides a multitude of sins. Gregory Wilpert has pointed out that although community and labour movement groups push for reforms from below while Chavez pushes for similar reforms from above, between these two forces the old state bureaucracy, which has remained relatively intact, acts as a barrier to continued radicalisation.57 A key weakness in Venezuela, from this perspective, is precisely that there is not a workers’ state (dictatorship of the proletariat), and by suggesting otherwise, Zizek not only confuses changes in government with changes in the state, but also underestimates the powerful barriers that stand between Chavez and the realisation of his most radical goals: the state on which he relies is integrated “into networks of capitalist social relations”.58

A consequence of the way the state is enmeshed in a web of capitalist relations is, as John Holloway argues, a tendency amongst even the most sincere radicals who aim at conquering state power to reproduce the kind of hierarchical thinking and practices that are characteristic of capitalism generally and capitalist states more specifically, in a way that undermines their radicalism because it invariably leads to an “instrumental impoverishment of struggle”.59 This certainly seemed to be the case in 2007 when Zizek dismissed the mass anti-war demonstrations of 2003 as an irrelevant sideshow which merely allowed the protesters to “save their beautiful souls” whilst those in power carried on regardless.60 If this claim is the corollary of Zizek’s suggestion that Bartleby’s “no” should not simply be addressed to “Empire” but also to any forms of resistance that “help the system reproduce itself by ensuring our participation in it”,61 its problem is not that there aren’t faux acts of resistance to capitalism and imperialism, but that the anti­war movement certainly wasn’t and isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, if Holloway’s arguments suggest real problems with Zizek’s statism, his own embrace of the Zapatistas as an alternative model of revolutionary change is, as Zizek notes, no less problematic:62 their refusal to challenge for state power leaves capitalist hierarchies in place just as much as underestimating the capitalist nature of the existing state does.

So whereas Zizek’s concern with politics has the merit of focusing our attention on the practicalities attendant to the anti-capitalist slogan “another world is possible”, his disagreement with Critchley is not about the continued survival of the modern state (and its social underpinning, civil society), but on how to respond to this situation. Similar pessimistic assumptions about the resilience of capitalism and the fragmentation of the working class inform the embrace, by Harvey and Cohen respectively, of human rights discourse and abstract utopian-ism. Despite their differences, Zizek’s dismissal of “boring ‘ethical’ considerations” in the name of a renewed Leninism and Cohen’s, Harvey’s, and Critchley’s engagement with moral theory against the backdrop of Marxism’s “ethical deficit” all assume the continued resilience of those social relations which underpin our modern fragmented moral culture without pointing to any immanent tendencies that might point beyond it. Because each of these (anti) moral positions is situated within the standpoint of civil society they are condemned to be no more than more or less sophisticated defences of personal preference.

Although Holloway and also Negri and Hardt suggest social practices that point beyond this context, they do so on empirically suspect grounds. So, despite Holloway’s formal optimism, the reality of the problems faced by the left is reflected in his paralysis before the question of “what to do?”: his answer, “we don’t know”.63

Beyond the impasse: towards an ethical Marxism

Interestingly, almost all of these writers share a more or less explicit conflation of classical Marxist politics (especially Lenin) with Jacobinism.64 This is an important point because it tends to obscure the ethical core of both Marx’s and Lenin’s thought in ways that are politically debilitating. From his earliest writings, Marx drew on Hegel’s analysis of Jacobinism to criticise the one-sidedly political character of Robespierre’s practice.65 Despite Hegel’s belief that the Terror was the inevitable excess which accompanied the progressive realisation of the freedoms of civil society, he believed that the Jacobin dictatorship did not point towards a freer society because it was the culmination of the abstract political will’s attempt to impose its vision on society from the top down in a way that was not based upon a prior transformation of the nation’s “dispositions and religion”.66 It was because Marx took this criticism seriously that he rooted his politics in an analysis of immanent tendencies within capitalism which provide a solid basis from which to answer the charge of nihilism.

In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx famously argued that “the criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that for man the supreme being is man, and thus with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which man is a debased, enslaved, neglected and contemptible being”.67 While dismissed as a youthful excess by Althusser, Marx’s early ethical concern with human freedom, understood through Hegel’s synthesis of Kantian and Aristotelian themes,68 informed all his subsequent work. So, if the young Marx followed Kant and Hegel to insist that “freedom is so much the essence of man that even its opponents realise it in that they fight its reality”,69 this idea was not dropped but was in fact profoundly deepened in Capital and in his mature political writings.

At its simplest, Marx argued that freedom must be historically grounded, first and foremost, in the satisfaction of our basic needs. Thus in the third volume of Capital he argued that “the realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends…. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite”.70 However, Marx’s model of human freedom is historical in a second sense; not only do increases in the productivity of labour create the potential for people to devote more time to the development of “human powers as an end in itself”, but also, as labour productivity increases so too do human needs expand.71 And as human needs and powers expand through history so does the potential for the realisation of human freedom.72

For instance, Carol Gould points out that the concept of freedom is a major theme of Marx’s Grundrisse where it is understood as a process through which “social individuals” come to realise themselves through their labours.73 This idea is expressed in Capital thus: “Through this movement he acts upon nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature”.74 Freedom consequently is understood not merely as a necessary, negative, aspect of our relationship to nature, but also positively as a process of “self-realisation” through work.75 Gould argues that Marx took Hegel’s conception of freedom as self-realisation and reinterpreted it in materialist language to explain how we not only realise our potential through labour, but also recreate our very nature as our needs and capacities expand through purposeful social activity.76 Similarly, Kain suggests that Marx’s ideal involved the emergence of humans who are rich in needs, such that our essence expands with the expansion of our needs, as at least some wants and desires are transformed through history into “directly felt needs”.77 Sean Sayers writes that because Marx believed that all things needed by humans are part of our essence,78 then he is best understood as embracing “a historical form of humanism”.79 This is evident in the Grundrisse where Marx praised capitalism for creating the potential for a “rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as it is in its consumption”.80 Thus, for Marx, as our needs and capacities change through history so too does our essence. Commenting on this perspective, Allen Wood has argued that while the sixth of Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” does not entail a denial of human essence, it does assert “that this essence is inextricably bound up with the social relationships in which those individuals stand, and must be understood in light of them”.81

Thus historicised, the human essence as freedom is best understood as an immanent force which evolves over time through a process of collective struggles shaped by the development of humanity’s productive forces.82 Freedom, for Marx, is not reified either as one moment of this process, or simply as an attribute of individuals against the social. Instead, it has a concrete meaning which changes through history, as the material parameters for its realisation expand and as groups form through struggle to fight for the realisation of these expanding demands.83 Against a unilinear reading of Marx’s comment that history has moved through “the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production”, Eric Hobsbawm suggests that those stages be understood as a logical, not a historical, progression – a movement towards the growing “individualisation of man”.84 As Gould argues, the importance of this point for Marx cannot be overstated, for Marx insists that “although an individual cannot become free in isolation from others, nonetheless it is only individuals who are free”.85

Nevertheless, Marx’s mature conception of freedom does not end with individual self-realisation – still less with a simplistic utopian understanding of the all-round realisation of our capacities. The claim made in The German Ideology that under communism it would be “possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic,”86 if not simply a witty gibe aimed at the Young Hegelian idealists, is plainly utopian in the negative abstract sense of the term.

Our existence as social individuals presupposes some degree of division of labour as the medium through which society itself is possible.87 This social basis for politics means that it is impossible to develop all of our potential. What we can do, is remove most of the barriers to human self-realisation that are a consequence of the technical or manufacturing division of labour, thus allowing people to flourish to a level that is presently denied the vast majority. Beyond this aim, the necessary (social) aspects of the division of labour are best understood as the historical precondition for our exercise of real democratic control over the product of our social labors. It is for this reason that Marx concretely conceives the struggle for freedom as the struggle to win the battle for democracy. As George Breaker argues, Marx’s conception of freedom does not involve an impossible all-round conception of self-realisation but rather self-realisation that is best understood as social self-determination through democracy.88 This, for instance, is the meaning of Marx’s angry rejection of the demand for a “free state” as presented in the Goth Programmed. Against this nonsensical claim, Marx insisted that freedom consists “in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it.”89 Thus, in volume three of Capital he wrote:

Freedom… can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their common control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.90

This collective control of society from the bottom-up is the basis for Marx’s claim, made in the Communist Manifesto, that communism would be characterised by “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.91 Thus, as Istvan Meszaros argues, “the central theme of Marx’s moral theory is how to realise human freedom” in struggle against the capitalist system of alienation.92

Lenin’s contribution to an ethical Marxism

Rather ironically a core element of the myth of “Leninism” – constructed by the Stalinists from the mid-1920s onwards to justify their own power and accepted by Western liberal intellectuals thereafter for their own ideological reasons – includes a key component of the Bernsteinian revisionism against which Lenin fought from the outset: what Meszaros calls Bernstein’s “patronizing treatment of the working classes”.93 According to Lars Lih, in the “textbook interpretation” of Leninism, Lenin’s contempt for the intellectual capacities of workers underpins his insistence on building a party of professional revolutionaries who would bring socialist ideas to the working class from without and subsequently lead this class in a top-down manner. By contrast with this myth, Lih shows that Lenin’s underlying assumption in the text that is paradigmatic of the myth, What is to Be Done?, was an optimism about the possibility of the growth of socialist consciousness within the Russian working class, combined with scathing criticisms of the weaknesses of Russia’s radical intelligentsia generally and the Russian socialist movement specifically, which, he claimed, were in grave danger of failing the workers’ movement in the coming revolution.94

A crucial constituent part of Bernstein’s revisionism was his rejection of what he believed to be Marxism’s romanticisation of the working class. Against Marx, Bernstein claimed that the working class was “not yet sufficiently developed to take over political power”, and that the only people who disagreed with this prognosis were those pseudo-revolutionaries “who have never had any close relationship with the real labour movement”.95 Similarly, the Russian “economist” Krichevski accused the Iskra group of “being over-optimistic about the possibility of proletarian awareness and organisation”, and insisted that workers were interested only in basic bread and butter issues, not socialist politics. Against Krichevski, Lenin argued (in Lih’s paraphrase) that “worker militancy is not the problem because it is increasing in leaps and bounds all on its own. The problem, the weak link, is effective party leadership of all this militancy”.96 Lenin suggested that socialists who spoke only of bread and butter issues to workers both patronised them whilst simultaneously failing to challenge the hegemony of bourgeois ideology within the working class.97

While often portrayed as the negation of Marx’s claim that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”98 the idea of a revolutionary vanguard is best understood as an essential counterpart to this idea. Lih argues that because Marx insisted that socialism can only come from below he realised that it would necessarily emerge out of sectional and fragmented struggles, and it is the sectional and fragmentary nature of the struggle which creates differences between more and less advanced workers, and consequently results in the emergence of socialist leaders. Lih points out that whereas “[s]ometimes the dictum [socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class] is viewed as the opposite of the vanguard outlook …in actuality, it makes vanguardism almost inevitable. If the proletariat is the only agent capable of introducing socialism, then it must go through some process that will prepare it to carry out that great deed”.99 Concretely, the vanguard could not be a sect of self-appointed leaders, but would develop as different activists took on leading roles within the workers’ movement.

The revolutionary workers’ party, in Marx’s conception, aimed at overcoming both the division between mental and manual workers within its own ranks, and the tendencies towards the fragmentation of the workers’ movement more broadly.100 As Michael Lowy points out, for Marx “the proletariat tends towards the totality through its practice of the class struggle” and this process is necessarily mediated through “its communist vanguard”.101 The role of this vanguard is not to preach “the truth” but to “participat[e] closely in the process of class struggle, helping the proletariat to find, through its own historical practice, the path to communist revolution”.102 This is the practical corollary of Marx’s famous claim that “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”.103

Larry Wilde points out that this argument has been misconstrued by those such as Jerry Cohen who have taken it out of context to claim that Marx was a nihilist who embraced an “obstetric” conception of historical progress. This is not so, for what Marx was criticising here was the abstract conception of morality deployed by Max Stirner and the utopian socialists, to which he counterposed ideals that were based in the real practice of workers in struggle.104 This perspective, rooted in workers’ struggles which act both as a basis from which to criticise the old order whilst simultaneously pointing beyond it to the new, allowed Marx to envisage an ethical anti-capitalism which escaped the narrow nihilistic parameters of bourgeois society. And if Lenin’s conception of revolutionary socialist organisation extended this idea through its focus on the practical political consequences of this ethical critique of capitalism,105 his single most important positive contribution to the idea of freedom as self-determination was outlined in The State and Revolution.

Both by engaging Marx and Engels’ writings on freedom and the state (in their critiques of the Gotha and Erfurt programmes and elsewhere) and on the basis of his experience of the 1905 Revolution (the arguments of The State and Revolution were formulated prior to 1917),106 Lenin practically deepened the claim that freedom was the goal of the socialist workers’ movement. Contra the claims of Holloway et al., he insisted that socialism could only come through the “smashing” of the old capitalist state. The corollary of this claim was his view of the concrete contemporary form of freedom as the self-determination of modern social individuals through, first, the immense expansion of democracy characteristic of workers’ councils (soviets) as the institutional form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and subsequently the withering away of even this ultra-democratic state form as classes themselves withered away in the wake of a successful revolution.107 Lukacs points out that soviets are fundamental to this vision of socialism because, unlike bourgeois forms of democracy, they relate to individuals as concrete persons rather than as abstract atoms.108 This characteristic means that soviet democracy can become the real institutional embodiment of the modern social struggle for freedom. And it is because Lenin more than anyone else insisted on this fundamental truth that his ideas deserve a hearing within the contemporary anti-capitalist movement.

Conclusion

Nihilism and the modern simulacra of morality have socio-historical roots. In the Theses on Feuerbach Marx argued that because modern moral theory was articulated from the standpoint of civil society it could not imagine, except as an impotent and abstract imperative, life beyond the egoistic individualism characteristic of that perspective. If the emptiness of Kantian morality is one side of this situation, Nietzsche’s will to power is the other. Marx believed his “new materialism” escaped the limitations of this perspective because it took as its standpoint the “social humanity” represented principally by collective working-class struggles against their alienation.109

At its core Marxism generalises from the existence of the struggle over the working day to show that capitalism is in essence a system of alienation. Collective workers’ struggles illuminate the fact that community, in a much deeper sense than a mere collection of egoistic atoms, has become both a real human need and also a potentially realisable desire of specific historical agents.

So whereas modern moral theory, pre-eminently Kantianism, confronts egoism with an abstract call to duty against desire, workers’ struggles can act as a concrete and potentially systemic counter to alienated egoism; suggesting an immanent convergence of duty and desire through the idea of solidarity. If the conflict between desire and duty in Kant reflects the tragic nature of egoistic individualism, Marx’s vision of an alternative to civil society, being rooted in the real movement of workers from below, is concrete and explicitly interested. Marx’s politics is best understood, therefore, not crudely in opposition to morality but as an expression of a social practice that overcomes the opposition between materialism and idealism. Working-class solidarity points to a need and desire for association through which social duty, initially as class solidarity and eventually as human solidarity, can cease to be an abstract moral imperative. Because Marxist revolutionary politics is thus rooted in the emergence from below of a new class with new modes of association it cannot be reduced to the kind of top-down (active nihilist) insurrectionary politics that merely reproduce traditional political hierarchies.

Nevertheless, precisely because the working-class struggle for freedom is a movement from below which by its nature is uneven and fragmented, it is necessarily characterised by “vanguards” of one kind or another. The difference between Marxist vanguards and other similar groups (however much they may dislike the label) is that, as Marx and Engels argued, Marxists look to the interests of the movement as a whole110 and aim to create the conditions for their own dissolution by winning majorities to the revolutionary project of the real democratisation of society. Against capital’s alienated imperative to accumulate for accumulation’s sake,111 Marxist politics is rooted in those struggles which, as Terry Eagleton suggests, prefigure the structures through which our emergent need and desire for solidarity might be realised.112 Amongst the forms of revolutionary phronesis (practical wisdom)113 required of such activists is an ability to cast a critical eye towards the dominant moral discourse, looking behind the superficial cacophony of opinion to underlying (ideological) issues of control.114 In this context revolutionaries need always bear in mind Lenin’s famous question “who whom?”, “who does what to whom for whose benefit” as Geuss expands it,115 whenever they confront abstract moral debates. For this question points us away from a morality of subjective preferences to an objective ethics of the social struggle of the modern working-class to overcome the conditions of alienation.

As Marxism points to the general shape and colouration of social struggles for freedom in specific modes of production without supplying “iron laws of history” it is best understood as a theory of revolutionary practice. If Marxist science suggests the possibilities open at any specific conjuncture, it is real men and women who fight for and against these possibilities. In these struggles, the Marxist vision of the future is concrete because it extrapolates from the real social bonds that have emerged: first, throughout the history of capitalism as workers and other groups have repeatedly come together in struggle to build collective organisations to defend their interests within the system; and, second, from those collective organisations created by workers over the last century and a half which have gone further than this to pose more or less explicit challenges to the rule of capital – from the Paris Commune, through the factory councils in Europe after the First World War and the Russian and Western soviets of the same period, on to the workers’ councils in Hungary, the shoras in Iran, the cordones in Chile, the inter-factory strike committee in Poland, and more recently to the local and communal organisations that were the backbone of the Bolivian insurrections of 2003 and 2005.116 To a greater or lesser degree, these organisations began to overcome the capitalist separation between politics and economics and to point not only towards a potential alternative to capitalism but also to the concrete mediation between the “is” of existing society and the “ought” of socialism.

Notes

1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the January 2010 Historical Materi­alism conference in New York. My thanks to the organisers of that conference, to my fellow panel members Peter Thomas and Alberto Toscano, to Banu Bargu and all those others participants who contributed to an excellent discussion, to the editors of Socialism and Democracy for invaluable comments on a draft of this essay, and especially to Kristyn Gorton.

2. Alasdair MacIntyre, “Review of John Dunn, Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future”, London Review of Books, 20 December 1979, p. 4

3. Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 99

4. Alasdair MacIntyre, “Ideology, Social Science and Revolution”, Comparative Politics Vol. 5, No. 3, 1973, pp. 341–2.

5. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, London: Duckworth, 1985, p. 113.

6. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, London: Penguin, 1976, p. 344.

7. Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, London: Verso, 2007, pp. 3–6.

8. Ibid., pp. 5, 93, 146.

9. MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 262.

10. Critchley, Infinitely Demanding,p. 8.

11. This essay extends arguments I have made in elsewhere: “Alasdair MacIntyre: Social Practices, Marxism and Ethical Anti-Capitalism,” Political Studies Vol. 57, No. 4, 2009: 866–884; “Marxism and Ethics”, International Socialism 2/120, 2008: 125–150; “Alasdair MacIntyre’s Contribution to Marxism: A Road not Taken,” Analyse and Kritik, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2008: 215–227; “Morality and Revolution: Ethical Debates in the British New Left”, Critique Vol. 35, No. 2, 2007: 203–220; and “History, Ethics and Politics”, Science and Society, Vol. 73, No. 1, 2009: 77–84.

12. Gerald Cohen, If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, pp. 43, 50, 54.

13. Antonio Negri, Reflections on Empire, Cambridge: Polity, 2008, p. 130; John Hollo­way, Change the World Without Taking Power, London: Pluto, 2002, ch. 7.

14. Karl Marx, & Frederick Engels, “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”, in Karl Marx, The Revolutions of 1848, London: Penguin, 1973, p. 67.

15. Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity, 1987, p. 17.

16. MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 2.

17. Ibid., pp. 6–7.

18. See Andrew Collier, “Scientific Socialism and the Question of Socialist Values”, in John Mepham and David-Hillel Ruben, eds, Issues on Marxist Philosophy Vol. IV, Brighton: Harvester, 1981, p. 6.

19. Ellen Wood, “A Chronology of the New Left and Its Successors, Or: Who’s Old-Fashioned Now?”, Socialist Register 1995, pp. 30–35; Gregory Elliott, Althusser: The Detour of Theory, Leiden: Brill, 2006, p. xiii.

20. For a magisterial history of the period see Chris Harman, 1968: The Fire Last Time, London: Bookmarks, 1998.

21. Alex Callinicos, Is There a Future for Marxism? London: Macmillan, 1982, ch. 1; Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, Cambridge: Polity, 1989, p. 165; Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, p. 1.

22. Alain Badiou, Ethics, London: Verso, 2001, pp. 1–2, 4.

23. David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 178.

24. Ibid., p. 176

25. David Harvey, Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, p. 361; Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, pp. 179–180.

26. Cohen, If You’re An Egalitarian How Come You’re So Rich, p. 107.

27. Alain Badiou, “One Divides Itself Into Two”, in Slavoj Zizek, et al., eds, Lenin Reloaded, London: Duke University Press, 2007, pp. 13–14.

28. Peter Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. xxv.

29. Badiou, Ethics, pp. 40–57.

30. Badiou quoted in Slavoj Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, London: Verso, 2008, p. 406.

31. Badiou, Ethics, p. 91.

32. This myth is demolished in Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. II, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978, pp. 613–627.

33. Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, pp. 90–91.

34. Ibid., pp. 89, 92, 112.

35. Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, pp. 420; 326; Zizek, Slavoj 2002, Revolution at the Gates, London: Verso, p. 310.

36. Zizek, Revolution at the Gates, p. 168

37. Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View, Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2006, pp. 342, 382.

38. Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, p. 349.

39. Ibid., p. 427.

40. Michael Hardt, & Antonio Negri, Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 53. For a powerful critical analysis of the concept of immaterial labour see Wolfgang Haug, “Immaterial Labour”, Historical Materialism, Vol. 17, No. 4, 2009, pp. 177–185.

41. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Multitude, New York: Penguin, 2004, p. 109.

42. Ibid., pp. 353–354.

43. Ibid., pp. 113, 189.

44. Cesare Casarino & Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 151.

45. Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Commonwealth, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer­sity Press, 2009, p. vii

46. David Camfield, “The Multitude and the Kangaroo”, Historical Materialism 15.2, 2007, p. 47; cf. Alex Callinicos, Resources of Critique, Cambridge: Polity, 2006, pp. 140–151.

47. Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, pp. 352, 360.

48. Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, pp. 339, 406; Zizek, The Parallax View, p. 380.

49. Slavoj Zizek, “Introduction” in Robespierre, Virtue and Terror, London: Verso, 2007, p. xxiv.

50. Slavoj Zizek, “From Politics to Biopolitics… and Back”, The South Atlantic Quarterly, 103: 2/3, 2004, p. 515.

51. Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, London: Verso, 2009, p. 154.

52. Slavoj Zizek, “Foreword” in Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, London: Verso, 2007, pp. vii–xxxii; cf. Callinicos, Resources of Critique, pp. 113, 119.

53. Ernest Mandel, Trotsky as Alternative, London: Verso, 1995, p. 83. Lars Lih has made a powerful case for rejecting the traditional substitutionist reading of Terrorism and Communism in his “ ‘Our Position in the Highest Degree Tragic’: Bolshevik ‘Euphoria’ in 1920”, in Mike Haynes & Jim Wolfreys, eds, History and Revolution, London: Verso, 2007, pp. 118–137.

54. Zizek, “From Politics to Biopolitics… and Back”, p. 516.

55. Tony Cliff, Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, London: Pluto, 1976, pp. 315–327.

56. Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, p. 379.

57. Wilpert quoted in Mike Gonzalez, “Chavez Ten Years On”, International Socialism, 2/121, 2009, p. 57.

58. Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, p. 14.

59. Ibid., ch. 2, p. 17.

60. Slavoj Zizek, “Resistance is Surrender”, London Review of Books, 15 November 2007, p. 7.

61. Zizek, The Parallax View, p. 383.

62. Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, p. 211; Zizek, In Defence of Lost Causes, pp. 372, 427.

63. Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, p. 215.

64. Hardt & Negri, Multitude, p. 250; Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power, p. 15; Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, p. 60; Zizek, “Foreword to Terrorism and Communism”, pp. viii–ix. I criticise this interpretation of classical Marxism in Paul Blackledge, “Marxism and Anarchism”, International Socialism,2/125, 2010, pp. 148–153.

65. Karl Marx, “Critical Notes on the Article ‘The King of Prussia and Social Reform by a Prussian’”, in Karl Marx, Early Writings, edited by Lucio Colletti and translated by Rodney Livingstone, London: Penguin, 1975, p. 413.

66. Georg Hegel, The Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree, New York: Dover, 1956, pp. 446, 450, 449.

67. Karl Marx, “Critique of Hegel”s Philosophy of Right. Introduction”, in Karl Marx, Early Writings, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975, p. 251.

68. Allen Wood, Hegel’s Ethical Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 7.

69. Karl Marx, “Debates on Freedom of the Press” [1842] in Collected Works, New York: International Publishers, 1975–2004, Vol. 1, p. 155. The translation I have used is taken from Raya Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988, p. 53.

70. Karl Marx, Capital Vol. III, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 959.

71. Marx, Capital Vol. 3, p. 959; Ian Fraser, Hegel and Marx: The Concept of Need, Edin­burgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

72. Sean Sayers, Marxism and Human Nature, London: Routledge, 1998, p. 136.

73. Carol Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978, p. 101; cf. Alan Gilbert, Marx’s Politics, Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1981, p. 98.

74. Marx, Capital Vol. 1, p. 283.

75. Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology, pp. 101–128; Sayers, Marxism and Human Nature, pp. 36–59; Karl Marx, Grundrisse, London: Penguin, 1973, p. 611.

76. Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology, p. 108

77. Philip Kain, Marx and Ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 60, 28.

78. Sayers, Marxism and Human Nature, p. 128.

79. Ibid., 149.

80. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 325.

81. Allen Wood, Karl Marx, London: Routledge, 1981, p. 17.

82. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology [1845] in Collected Works Vol. 5, pp. 74ff.

83. Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man, New York: Unger, 1966.

84. Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction” to Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1964, pp. 36, 38; cf. Peter Archibald, Marx and the Missing Link: Human Nature, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1993, pp. 181–221.

85. Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology, p. 108.

86. Marx & Engels, The German Ideology, p. 47.

87. Bob Beamish, Marx, Method and the Division of Labour, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992, p. 162.

88. Georg Brenkert, Marx’s Ethics of Freedom, London: Routledge, 1983, pp. 87–88, 104; cf. Wood, Karl Marx, p. 51.

89. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, in Karl Marx, The First International and After, ed. David Fernbach, London: Penguin, 1974, p. 354.

90. Marx, Capital Vol. III, p. 959.

91. Marx and Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, p. 87.

92. Istvan Meszaros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, London: Merlin, 1975, p. 162.

93. Istvan Meszaros, Beyond Capital, London: Merlin, 1995, p. 4.

94. Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context, Leiden: Brill, 2006, pp. 27, 615. For my comments on this book see Paul Blackledge, “What was Done: Lenin Rediscovered”, International Socialism 2/111, 2006, pp. 111–126.

95. Eduard Bernstein, The Preconditions of Socialism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 206.

96. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, pp. 316–317.

97. Ibid., p. 226.

98. Karl Marx, “Provisional Rules of the International” in Karl Marx, The First International and After, London: Penguin, 1974, p. 82.

99. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, p. 556.

100. Michael Lowy, The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx, Leiden: Brill, 2003, pp. 134, 146.

101. Ibid., p. 137

102. Ibid., p. 136

103. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, p. 49.

104. Lawrence Wilde, “Introduction”, in Lawrence Wilde, ed., Marxism’s Ethical Thinkers, London: Palgrave, 2001, p. 4.

105. See, for instance, the essays by Daniel Bensaid and Alex Callinicos in Zizek et al., Lenin Reloaded.

106. Marion Sawer, “The Genesis of State and Revolution, in Ralph Miliband and John Saville, eds, The Socialist Register, London: Merlin, 1977, pp. 209–227.

107. V.I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution”, in V.I. Lenin, Selected Works, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968, pp. 324–5.

108. Georg Lukacs, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of his Thought, London: New Left Books, 1970, p. 65.

109. Istvan Meszaros, Philosophy, Ideology and Social Science, Brighton: Wheatsheaf, 1986, p. 105.

110. Marx & Engels, “The Manifesto of the Communist Party”, pp. 98, 79.

111. Marx, Capital Vol. I, p. 742.

112. Terry Eagleton, The Trouble with Strangers, Oxford: Blackwell, 2009, p. 293.

113. Terry Eagleton, “Lenin in the Postmodern Age”, in Slavoj Zizek, et al., eds, Lenin Reloaded, London: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 44.

114. Milton Fisk, The State and Justice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 278–281.

115. Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics, pp. 23–30.

116. See Adolf Sturmthal, Workers Councils, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1964; Colin Barker, ed., Revolutionary Rehearsals, London: Bookmarks, 1987; Anton Pannekoek, Workers’ Councils, Edinburgh: AK Press, 2003; Donny Gluckstein, The Western Soviets, London: Bookmarks, 1985; Chris Wrigley, ed., Challenges of Labour, London: Routledge, 1993; Paul Ginsberg, Democracy, London: Profile, 2008, pp. 15–21; Mike Gonzalez, “Bolivia: The Rising of the People”, International Socialism 2:108, 2005, pp. 73–101; Forrest Hylton & Sinclair Thomson, “Chequered Rainbow”, New Left Review 2:35, 2005, pp. 40–64.

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