Jeremy Jennings on Sorel’s Class Struggle and Violence

Class struggle and Violence

“What is the purpose of this decisive struggle? In the final chapter
of his text Sorel describes what will be ‘the ethic of the producers
of the future’ and in doing so he confirms that the ‘great preoccupation’
of his entire life was ‘the historical genesis of morality’.4 The
particular morality described is an austere one, owing much to the
severe moralism of Proudhon and not diverging substantially from
that set out in Sorel’s early pre-socialist writings. It is also a description
couched in terms of Sorel’s only extended discussion of the
ideas of Nietzsche. Sexual fidelity, grounded upon the institution
of the family, is at its heart. Having earlier told us that the world
will become more ‘just’ to the extent that it becomes more ‘chaste’,
Sorel now argues in this text that ‘Love, by the enthusiasm it
begets, can produce that sublimity without which there would be
no effective morality’ But, at another level, it is to be a
morality that rejects ‘an ethics adapted to consumers’, an ethics that
devalued work and overvalued pleasure, an ethics that gave pride
of place to the parasitic activities of the politician and the intellectual.
In its place was to be a morality that turned ‘the men of today
into the free producers of tomorrow, working in workshops where
there are no masters. A new morality of selfless dedication
to one’s work and one’s colleagues would, in other words, be
attained through participation in what amounted to a new set of
self-governing industrial institutions. Yet there was more to this
‘secret virtue’ than a distinct proletarian morality. Work in the
modern factory, Sorel believed, demanded constant innovation and
improvement in the quantity and quality of production, and it was
through this that ‘indefinite progress’ was achieved. This striving
for perfection ensured not only that industrial work attained the
status of art but also that the factory would become the site of an
‘economic epic’ to rival the Homeric epic of the battlefield.”

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