Marx extrema borgerlighet

Ernest Gellner gör en mycket fascinerande analys av Marx och marxismen:

Karl Marx himself, be it noted, was the bourgeois to end all bourgeois. […]  [He] wanted to absolutize and universalize the work ethic, by finally separating work from any reward and turning it into an end in itself, the ultimate fulfilment: ”. . . in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me. . . . to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner . . . without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic”. […]

The idea of work as its own reward is of course the very essence of the bourgeois spirit. We work because we like it, and despise those who work as means only, or are constrained to perform work which means nothing to them, or do not work at all. Basically, Marxism is a bourgeois wish-fulfilment fantasy: work is to be its own reward, life really is about work and finds its meaning in work, and the secret of history is that, appearances notwithstanding, it is determined, not by the patterns of coercion, but by those of production. That is where the action really is. It is only the faulty organization of work which engenders antagonistic relations between men, and their corollaries, coercion and socially instituted delusion. Work-oriented middle-class producers always wished all this to be true, but only Marx dared say that it actually was true. Production was always primary, even if producers themselves knew it not. The time would come when they would be alone with their freely chosen creative activity, and all constraints, coercive or superstitious, would be gone. Man would be alone with his work and at peace with his fellows. The destiny of the proletariat was to fulfil the bourgeois ideal of peaceful, self-rewarding and unconstrained productivity.

Ernest Gellner (1989), Plough, Sword, and Book. The Structure of Human History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), s. 34-35.

Orwell och analys av ”the English middle classes”

I april 1936 recenserar Orwell (i två olika artiklar) boken The Fate of the Middle Classes av Alec Brown. Orwell inleder med en anmärkning som jag tror att Alexis de Tocqueville definitivt skulle ha nickat instämmande till: ”Aristocracy can only exist while aristocratic poverty is thinkable”.  Tanken är att om en aristokrat är fattig, men ändå räknas som aristokrat, så bevisar detta att aristokratin som princip är väl förankrad i samhället ifråga. Men:

Once it is taken for granted that a knight must have at least £1000 a year or stop being a knight, aristocracy gives way to plutocracy.

Boken som Orwell recenserar är skriven av en kommunist, och Orwell noterar genast att den ekonomiska determinism som ligger i botten av en kommunistisk analys gör att denna insikt saknas, eftersom kommunistens fokus på ”economic realities” gör honom blind för det mest centrala: nämligen att klasskänsla inte rakt av går att reducera till inkomstnivå. Detta är en poäng som kommunisten är ”inclined and perhaps wants to miss”.

Actually, as everyone knows, men of similiar economic status may differ enormously if they are differently affected by the concept of gentility. Thus, in England, an Army officer with £600 a year would die rather than admit a grocer of the same income to be his equal. It is this particular form of snobbery which, when the middle class have learned to act together, may pave the way for some form of Fascism.

En ortodox kommunist kan inte förstå denna aspekt av klasskänslor, så att ta del av dennes analys av det komplexa engelska klassamhället är som att ”watching somebody carve a roast duck with a chopper”.

Att allt inte går att reducera till inkomst visas exempelvis av det faktum att en man som tjänar £3 i veckan men som kan uttala sina h (dvs inte talar cockney) ”regards himself – and is regarded by other people, to some extent – as the superior of a man with £10 a week who can’t.”

This last fact is enormously important, for it is because of this that the aitch-pronouncing section of the population tend to side with their natural enemies and against the working class, even when they grasp the economic side of the question fairly clearly. The statement that ”every ideology is a reflection of economic circumstances” explains a good deal, but it does not explain the strange and sometimes heroic snobbishness that is found in the English middle classes.

A Kind of Compulsion, The Complete Works of George Orwell, vol. X (1903–1936), art. 307–8, s. 477–8.

Tony Judt om Leszek Kolakowski

I det senaste numret av The New York Review of Books finns bland annat en runa över den politiska filosofen Leszek Kolakowski (1927–2009). Jag har bara läst ett par kortare texter av honom, men att döma av Tony Judts omdöme borde jag ta tag i Kolakowski på allvar. Extra intressant är att Judt som slutkläm gör en koppling till Judith Shklar.

It was a defining feature of Leszek Kołakowski’s intellectual trajectory that he took evil extremely seriously. Among Marx’s false premises, in his view, was the idea that all human shortcomings are rooted in social circumstances. Marx had ”entirely overlooked the possibility that some sources of conflict and aggression may be inherent in the permanent characteristics of the species.” Or, as he expressed it in his Harvard lecture: ”Evil…is not contingent…but a stubborn and unredeemable fact.” For Leszek Kołakowski, who lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Soviet takeover that followed, ”the Devil is part of our experience. Our generation has seen enough of it for the message to be taken extremely seriously.”


Leszek Kołakowski shared with his Oxford colleague and fellow Central European Isaiah Berlin a disabused suspicion of all dogmatic certainties and a rueful insistence upon acknowledging the price of any significant political or ethical choice: ”There are good reasons why freedom of economic activity should be limited for the sake of security, and why money should not automatically produce more money. But the limitation of freedom should be called precisely that, and should not be called a higher form of freedom.”


This carefully balanced appreciation of the complexities of social reality—the idea that ”human fraternity is disastrous as a political program but indispensable as a guiding sign”—already places Kołakowski at a tangent to most intellectuals in his generation. In East and West alike, the more common tendency was to oscillate between excessive confidence in the infinite possibilities for human improvement and callow dismissal of the very notion of progress. Kołakowski sat athwart this characteristic twentieth-century chasm. Human fraternity, in his thinking, remained ”a regulative, rather than a constitutive, idea.”


The most cosmopolitan of Europe’s modern philosophers—at home in five major languages and their accompanying cultures—and in exile for over twenty years, Kołakowski was never ”rootless.” In contrast with, for example, Edward Said, he questioned whether it was even possible in good faith to disclaim all forms of communal loyalty. Neither in place nor ever completely out of place, Kołakowski was a lifelong critic of nativist sentiment; yet he was adulated in his native Poland and rightly so. A European in his bones, Kołakowski never ceased to interrogate with detached skepticism the naive illusions of pan-Europeanists, whose homogenizing aspirations reminded him of the dreary utopian dogmas of another age. Diversity, so long as it was not idolized as an objective in its own right, seemed to him a more prudent aspiration and one that could only be assured by the preservation of distinctive national identities.

(Stycket ovan verkar skilja honom från Shklar, som är mer nojjig när det gäller gemenskap och nationella identiteter.)


His sheer range of cultivation and reference; the allusive, disabused wit; the uncomplaining acceptance of academic provincialism in the fortunate Western lands where he found refuge; the experience and memory of Poland’s twentieth century imprinted, as it were, on his mischievously expressive features: all of these identify the late Leszek Kołakowski as a true Central European intellectual—perhaps the last. For two generations of men and women, born between 1880 and 1930, the characteristically Central European experience of the twentieth century consisted of a multilingual education in the sophisticated urban heartland of European civilization, honed, capped, and side-shadowed by the experience of dictatorship, war, occupation, devastation, and genocide in that selfsame heartland.


What [this historical experience] produced was what Judith Shklar, in another context, once described as a ”liberalism of fear”: the uncompromising defense of reason and moderation born of firsthand experience of the consequences of ideological excess; the ever-present awareness of the possibility of catastrophe, at its worst when misunderstood as opportunity or renewal, of the temptations of totalizing thought in all its protean variety. In the wake of twentieth-century history, this was the Central European lesson. If we are very fortunate, we shall not have to relearn it again for some time to come; when we do, we had better hope that there will be someone around to teach it. Until then, we would do well to reread Kołakowski.

Uppgörelser med Kambodja-vänstern

Apropå Peter Wolodarskis text om Kambodja i dagens DN. Boken Marxismens filosofi (Symposion, 2007) handlar om uppgörelser med det förflutna (Medverkar gör Sven-Eric Liedman, Invar Johansson, Svante Nordin och Stefan Jonsson). Till största delen sker det på ett teoretiskt plan, men verkligt lärorik blir boken när man får inblick i vilka teoretiska tankar som ledde fram eller ursäktade praktiska galenskaper.

Ingvar Johansson bekänner i slutdiskussionen:

Jag blev socialist i full vetskap om vad Stalin ställt till med. Jag blev kommunist i ganska så stor vetskap om hur det stod till i Östeuropa med odemokratiska metoder och liknande. Jag såg det som något tillfälligt. Det kunde rättas till med en bättre och mer demokratisk planekonomi.

Här är det svårt att inte komma att tänka på Karl Popper och hans insisterande på att politiska felbedömningar är det oundvikliga resultatet av historicistiska ideologier (vilket jag bl a tar upp i den Popper-essä som jag nyligen skrev)

Och angående Kambodja.

[…] Man blir alltid betraktad som stalinist så fort man sagt att man varit med i ett kommunistiskt parti eller ett vänsterparti. Men vad jag kan säga då: Jag blev det ju långt före Kambodja, jag kunde förstå varför man tömde Phnom Penh — därför att det var ett bondeland. Det var ju subsidier från USA som befolkningen i Phnom Penh levde på. Men jag kunde inte drömma om att ledare med en socialistisk ideologi i huvudet kunde ställa till med det folkmord som de gjorde i Kambodja.

Nej herregud, vem hade kunnat tro det?

Den enda vettiga slutsats man kan dra, tror jag, är att vissa människor föds med bristande politiska instinkter. För de flesta inser att när en regim ”tömmer” en stad så är det fara på färde.

För Ingvar Johanssons del krävdes det en gigantiskt feltolkning innan han insåg följande basala sanning:

Så ingen kan ju längre tro att bara man — så att säga — pratar på rätt sätt, så utför man därigenom också goda handlingar.

(Alla citat, s. 130)