Re: Marx on civil liberties and justice

From "brian turner" <>
Date Sun, 17 Oct 2004 06:25:02 +0000

>From: Jonathan Lassen <>
>To: Subject: Re: Slave state
>Date: Fri, 15 Oct 2004 12:04:49 -0500
>Brian wrote:
> > In what way is the US, Europe, or Japan not "free"?
>Are you referring to the states themselves, some abstract concept of the 
>'population', or particular classes within those nation-states? The answer 
>depends on how you define the question.

The states or the societies.  They allow (or are forced to allow by legal or 
cultural traditions or whatever) dissent and free political association.  
They also don't force people to hold any particular political views or adore 
the leader of the moment.  Circumstances where they do attempt such acts are 
considered scandalous and usually are rectified in time.  In the absence of 
a libertarian environment, that's normalacy.

>But in general, there are various levels at which groups and classes are 
>unfree even in bourgeois democracies. Oppression and exploitation based on 
>race, gender, sexuality, etc.

The remarkable advances in modern times in those three areas indicates the 
awesome power of bourgeois freedoms as tool to move in the direction of 

>Oh, and the kicker: the continued exploitation of labor under capital.

In parts of Europe, labor is quite powerful and has seized quite a bit of 
policy making power (nationally and in the company), more income and other 
benefits (the fruits of their production), and quality of life generally.  
The distribution of wealth in parts of Europe is quite equal, which 
necessitates qualifying the exploitation of labor under capital.

Of course there is much more that could be done, especially in the US and 
Japan, but it's incomprehensible that further gains can be made without 
freedom of organization, etc.

Did you read that hilarious bit from the PRC press in the last news email 
about unions?  The PRC is all for labor union international cooperation as 
long as it's acknowledged that different countries have different models of 
unions.  In other words, we are happy to let our rightist party appointees 
mingle with real union officials overseas.  Great.

>Marx was writing when capital was in its youth and still engaged in 
>struggle against non-/pre-capitalist (choose your telelogy) modes of 
>production. We're in a bit of a different situation.

I can't imagine that he would regard  bourgeois liberties as only meaningful 
in that one circumstance.

>And in the situation of China the spectrum of bourgeois freedoms were 
>(formally) adopted and actually (formally) superceeded during its 

I don't understand your meaning.  Superceded nominally or in practice?

In practice they were obliterated, contrary to pre-1949 promises, and 
doubtlessly part of the reason for the many shortcomings of Chinese 
socialism.  I do regard, however, the radical part of the Cultural 
Revolution as a step back towards the original idea, only distorted by 
lawlessness and then betrayed during and after 1968.

>They've *already* spread to China. There's still lots of revolutionary 
>traction to be gained (I think) from exploited and oppressed classes using 
>the rhetoric of bourgeois freedoms to advance their own aims. But you'll 
>hear nothing but sneer and sarcasm when I hear 'freedom' ring from the lips 
>of Ann Coulter or Bush. To conflate the two is to make a devastating error, 

Bush is (maybe) for freedom and social injustice.  There is no reason to 
reject his position on the former because of the latter.  Coulter may be a 
fascist, can't really tell.

>Also, Marx emphatically did not think that bourgeois freedoms were 
>'prerequisties for justice.' Please show me where Marx talks about justice.

I'll get back to you on that.

>Contrary, he argued tirelessly against ‘a whole gang of half-mature 
>students and super-wise diplomaed doctors who want to give socialism a 
>“higher, idealistic” orientation, that is to say, to replace its 
>materialistic basis (which demands serious objective study from anyone who 
>tries to use it) by modern mythology with its goddesses of justice, 
>Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’. (Marx, letter of 1877)

I don't see how that contradicts his many statements supporting bourgeois 

>‘Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its 
>cultural development conditioned thereby’ (‘Critique of the Gotha 

I see how you could read this this way, but it flies in the face of other 
things he said.  This quote has unfortunately been used by 'Marxist' 
despots, starting with Stalin and going all the way to Jiang Zemin to 
justify their personal rule.  I can't imagine Marx intended that.

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