• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Necessity of a Moral Revolution

We’re embarking on a revolutionary era, an era that promises to be more radical even than the 1930s. No society of overwhelming decadence and moral rot, luxuriantly productive of elite human fungi whose function is but to drain the vitality of the whole, is destined to last very long. No society that can throw up a bewigged slug as its leader has much of a future. As it parasitizes itself to death, new social forms are bound to sprout in abundance (through the energy of activists and organizers).

The core of the protracted revolution, of course, is to create new institutions, ultimately new relations of production. Every revolution is essentially a matter of changing social structures; the goal of transforming ideologies makes sense only as facilitating institutional change. Nevertheless, to spread new ways of thinking, new values, can indeed serve as an effective midwife of revolution, and thus is a task worth undertaking.

The fundamental moral transition that has to occur (in order, for example, to save humanity from collective suicide) is from a kind of nefarious egoism to a beneficent communism. This is the ideological core of the coming social changes, this shift from individualistic greed—“Gain wealth, forgetting all but self”—to collective solidarity. We have to stop seeing the world through the distorted lens of the private capitalist self, the self whose raison d’­être is to accumulate private property, private experiences, private resentments, finally private neuroses, and instead see the world as what it is, a vast community stretching through time and space. Such a change of vision might facilitate the necessary institutional changes—which themselves, later, will naturally engender and instill this communist-type vision.

The very notion of “private property,” of “this is mine, and I alone earned it,” has to be recognized as a form of moral idiocy or insanity. Here, I would do better to quote the old anarchist Kropotkin than to offer my own formulations, which would pale beside his. In his classic The Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin explained just how stupid is the idea of entitlement to a private piece of property (as though “no one else deserves it”):

Take a civilized country. The forests which once covered it have been cleared, the marshes drained, the climate improved. It has been made habitable. The soil, which bore formerly only a coarse vegetation, is covered today with rich harvests… Thousands of highways and railroads furrow the earth, and pierce the mountains. The rivers have been made navigable; the coasts, carefully surveyed, are easy of access; artificial harbors, laboriously dug out and protected against the fury of the sea, afford shelter to the ships…

Millions of human beings have labored to create this civilization on which we pride ourselves today. Other millions, scattered through the globe, labor to maintain it. Without them nothing would be left in fifty years but ruins.

There is not even a thought, or an invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present. Thousands of inventors, known and unknown, who have died in poverty, have cooperated in the invention of each of these machines which embody the genius of man. Thousands of writers, of poets, of scholars, have labored to increase knowledge, to dissipate error, and to create that atmosphere of scientific thought without which the marvels of our century could never have appeared. And these thousands of philosophers, of scholars, of inventors…have been upheld and nourished through life, both physically and mentally, by legions of workers and craftsmen of all sorts…

By what right then can anyone whatever appropriate the least morsel of this immense whole and say – This is mine, not yours?[1]

As he goes on to argue, the wage system itself, which is conceptually and institutionally a close relative of private property, is morally absurd. And not only because it’s repugnant for people to be forced to rent themselves to others in order to survive. Or because wage-earners necessarily can’t receive the full equivalent of the value they have produced (for then the capitalist couldn’t make any profit). Perhaps equally ridiculous is the idea that it’s possible to “measure” labor at all, to quantitatively compare workers’ contributions, when there are so many qualitative differences between the work that each person does. How can one say whose work is more valuable than another’s? Why should a plumber’s work be considered less valuable than an engineer’s? Why a financial consultant’s more valuable than a sanitation worker’s? (If anything, the reverse makes far more sense.)

The only principle that makes logical and moral sense is “to put the needs above the works, and first of all to recognize the right to live, and later on the right to well-being for all those who take their share in production.” Society has to be rid, once and for all, of the obsessive “who deserves what?” mentality, the apportioning mentality, the “mine vs. yours” pathology.

“If middle-class society is decaying,” Kropotkin writes—thereby, incidentally, proving the timelessness of his thoughts—“if we have got into a blind alley from which we cannot emerge without attacking past institutions with torch and hatchet, it is precisely because we have given too much to counting. It is because we have let ourselves be influenced into giving only to receive. It is because we have aimed at turning society into a commercial company based on debit and credit.”[2]

Actually, as I’ve written elsewhere (following David Graeber), even contemporary capitalist society, whose utopia is to make everyone an enemy of everyone else (that’s what thoroughgoing privatization would mean), couldn’t function without a substratum of implicit communism. Everything would instantly break down if people stopped giving what they could to those in need, whether money, time, free labor, gifts, advice, ideas, or encouragement. Social life itself is essentially communistic, based on community, generosity, and sympathy. The general systematization of private property is a perversion.

Kropotkin’s arguments suffice to answer the misanthropic refrain of conservatives that “it’s wrong to give something to people who have done nothing to earn it.” But other answers are possible. One might point out that people born into the middle or upper class have done nothing to “earn” their privileged position. The wealthy haven’t earned the inheritance they receive from their parents. White Americans didn’t earn their skin-color or the fact that they weren’t born in, say, a Haitian slum. People who benefit from charisma or physical beauty or intelligence did nothing to earn that; they were born with it. They deserve no credit for it. Somebody who happens to meet the right person at the right time and is launched on a successful career is the beneficiary of luck—as, in short, every “successful” person is, in innumerable ways.

Nor does any of this begin to address all the ways that the wealthy or corporations or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs benefit from state policy designed to give them what they want and to strip the poor of the right to live. Through the agency of the state (e.g., its corporate welfare programs, defense budget, patent and copyright protections, and, to some extent, interest payments on bonds), the population subsidizes the power and wealth of people whose ideology is to shame those who benefit from state programs. According to their own ideology, then, these “libertarians” in the business class ought to have their property confiscated, since, strictly speaking, they have “earned” none or little of it.

In fact, to the degree that our economy has become mainly a rentier economy, owned by parasites on the productive labor of others, it is sheer farce to talk about property-owners’ right to their wealth—which is to say their right to exclude others from ownership. For where would this right come from, if there isn’t even a pretense of their having earned all they own? How rich would Bill Gates be without the “rent” he receives from ridiculously stringent copyright protection for Windows and other Microsoft products? He is merely the lucky beneficiary of government policies that serve to hinder the diffusion of knowledge and wealth.

All this private property-exalting thinking, therefore, has to be cast aside onto the dung-heap of history. Rather than Reverence for Property, we ought to strive for something like the Reverence for Life that Albert Schweitzer wrote about and embodied. That is, we ought to explicitly embrace the moral communism (“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”) to which we’re already implicitly committed whenever we act as though guided by the Golden Rule, which is to say whenever we act morally at all. To be moral is, in essence, to act like a communist.

“Let us go then, you and I,” and bring forth the moral revolution.

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground HumanistWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis. His website is www.wrightswriting.com.

Notes.

[1] Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread and Other Writings, ed. Marshall Shatz (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 13­–16. More concisely, “the means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all. All things are for all men, since all men have need of them…and since it is not possible to evaluate everyone’s part in the production of the world’s wealth.”

[2] Ibid., 154, 155.

More articles by:

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground HumanistWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis. His website is www.wrightswriting.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
stclair
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail