For many years scholars, Marxist thinkers/writers, and historians have speculated as to whether or not Marx incorporated a sense of moral “rightness” and “wrongness” into his works. The debate that has since ensued is fundamentally focused on whether or not Marx saw capitalism as “unjust” and communism “just,” or if he was successful in completely excluding such concepts from his works. The purpose then of this article is to look further into this question. It’s my personal belief and opinion that Marx had certain personal sentiments regarding the issue of justice yet it played no significant role in his overall development of communist theory.
In order to reach this conclusion I take into consideration several key factors. Namely my experience with Marxist literature itself. Having read much of Marx’s original works and many subsequent secondary sources it should first be noted that Marx actually never comes out and makes the value judgment about capitalism. This is highly significant because it follows that one may only try to deduce from Marx’s writings about his personal opinions regarding the economic relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat and whether or not it is marked with injustice.
Another important factor is Marx (and Engel’s) own beliefs regarding morality in general. Morality, for Marx, was a complex subject in which he question his contemporaries absolutism. From the perspective of the Christian religion, which surrounded Marx, morality was seen as definite, universal, and absolute as defined through the alleged words of God. Good and evil were well-established concepts that had final meanings. Marx rejected this of course, and sought another possible explanation. He saw a distinction made between morality depending on class. The bourgeois morality was simply that which attempted to define, justify, and apologize for the present standard behavior. It essentially had in its origins material foundation which sought to explain ethical situations according to productive relations. Likewise, Marx notes the proletariat has its own morality upon which it looks to the future for change. In addressing the question of which is ‘right,’ or ‘true,’ it cannot be known. Rather, because of his studies and writings into the system of historical materialism and dialectical materialism the morality focused on revolutionizing the future would stand correct (though not on its own merits). Hence, the reactionary nature of bourgeois morality as stuck in the status-quo made it impossible to exist once material changes ensued.
While much more can be said about Marx’s opinions of morality, the interesting question here focuses more on Marx as a human being not merely a theorist. It’s important though that Marx sees a common economic foundation for moral development which will always influence the way in which any given individual chooses to assess his moral possibilities in the processes of constructing his own moral system.
The inquiry into how much morality itself played a role in communism itself takes route in how Marx arrived at his conclusions. Did he see communism as an amendment to the injustices of capitalism? Much has been speculated here also, particularly in regards to Marx’s criticisms of capitalism. This brings up another distinction for which Marx sought to attempt to make as objective an analysis as possible so as not to dilute his point with subjective ethical concerns. In his analysis and critique of capitalism, most noted in the three volumes entitled Das Kapital, Marx’s presentation and tone indicate that he’s not merely concerned with trying to formulate a moral opinion on capitalism or how it may be unfair to the working classes; rather, it can best be understood as an objective and scientific study of capitalism itself. Thus, Marx seems to try to remove all ethical concerns or ideas he may have with the moral wrongness of capitalism (and distance himself from other varieties of socialism) in pursuit of a scientific means of exploring political-economy.
Another important attribute found within Marx’s works that serve as a major premise to the conclusion that Marx indeed had no intention of making a moral claim against capitalism is the nature of his philosophy. Marx is one of the most famous materialist philosophers to emerge from 19th century Germany. He takes materialism (though avoids the pitfalls of vulgarity) to explain real life conditions and makes every attempt to keep his investigation and insights thoroughly of that nature, ultimately arriving at his theories of communism, historical/dialectical materialism – the economic/material foundations for social change and development, and his skepticism regarding the ideals of utopian socialism and human nature in general. All this combined seems to further indicate that Marx, regardless of what he as a person felt about his observations of capitalism, simply refuses to take a moral claim against capitalism.
Thus it seems that while Marx as a person may indeed have felt some moral qualms with the exploitation and destitution of the working peoples there is not enough evidence to support any claim that his assessment was in any way, shape, or form a ‘moral’ one. Rather, these thoughts can only be wrongly attributed due to the readers’ own opinions and ignorance of Marx’s objectives.