Re: Marx on civil liberties and justice

From "brian turner" <>
Date Tue, 19 Oct 2004 05:31:34 +0000

>I note that your discussion focuses only on political freedoms. 'Dull 
>economic compulsion' is for you not force?

I think pure compulsion exists only in the third world (the economically 
marginalized, near or below subsistence, that have no bargaining power due 
to competition among themselves in conditions of concentration of wealth), 
but to the degree it exists in the developed world it is separable from 
civil liberties.  I don't regard civil liberties as more or less valuable 
depending on whether they exist along side other things.  For example, 
somewhat more equal treatment of women in communist China under Mao is 
really good and admirable despite the obliteration of other things I regard 
as admirable, necessary, just and valuable.

>If you happen to believe that the entire edifice of bourgious society ...

I've never known what is "bourgeois society", except historically when 
merchant classes overthrew feudal or religious based ruling classes.  I 
don't get the modern relevance.

> constructed upon an edifice of inequality (exchange of 
>non-equivalents) but wrapped in the packaging of equal exchange (the wage 

So does it follow to you (as it does to me) that such exchanges CAN happen 
in a meaningful way under conditions of relative equality and equal 
bargaining power?

>You may think that 'the awesome power of bourgeois freedoms' has 
>significantly improved the position of various oppressed/subordinated 
>groups, but I happen to think that it was the struggles of those groups and 
>individuals, rather than the power of an abstraction, that accounts for the 

But how could they act in the first place?  These norms and institutions 
gave them a certain protection.

>That many groups appropriated the discourse of bourgeois freedoms and 
>rights seems unsurprising given the location of those groups.

>And how do you deal with the most central of the core bourgeois freedoms: 
>private property? Is this most holy of bourgeois freedoms consistent with 
>your understanding of freedom?

Yes, if under conditions of relative equality.  In the real world, the 
situation is often that of those who have long used the state to develop 
wealth then preaching laissez-faire to protect these state augmented gains.  
So the issues of pure private property and voluntary cooperation never 

>Yes, much more can be done, you're absolutely right. That's why unions in 
>the US fight against Taft-Hartley, so that the nominal freedom of 
>association can be realized in practice. If this is a bourgeois freedom, 
>why isn't the bourgeois supporting it?

I don't like the Marxist term bourgeois freedoms.  They are human freedoms.

>>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.
>Do you really expect differently? By your own admission: "the PRC is a 
>pro-big business center-right powerful state now."

No, but if bourgeois freedoms are unimportant, and only economic social 
justice matters, where does that leave us?

>>Bush is (maybe) for freedom and social injustice. There is no reason to 
>>reject his position on the former because of the latter.
>If Bush is (maybe) for freedom, and if you claim that even Marx 
>"enthusiastically welcomed [the expansion of bourgeois freedoms] as a 
>triumph for the working class, even when NOT accompanied by social justice 
>reforms," then we all should be rallying behind the US president as he 
>spreads freedom to Iraq, no?

No need to rally behind Bush (ditto--to pick a more extreme case-- no need 
to rally behind the monster Stalin who helped out Mao's peasant army in the 
civil war,a good result) but you should join the Iraqi communists and others 
for welcoming the expansion of freedom and (we'll see) democracy.

What we should be shocked and offended about is not Bush's toppling of a 
horrifying totalitarian murderer and terrorist supporter (how 
sovereignty--the rights of this state--is more important than that escapes 
me), and the expansion of freedom in Iraq, but Bush's attempt to impose 
grotesquely unfair property relations on this new society.  That's the real 
scandal.  I don't think it's at all about oil, it's about ensuring a certian 
MODEL is in place, for its example effects (and avoiding possible bad 
examples of equality, etc.).  Still, ownership by illegitimately 
state-empowered capitalists with freedom to struggle against is better than 
Husseinist tyranny, to take a pure realpolitik view.   We can see this 
already.  I hear there is huge dissent in Iraq against the Bush economic 
policies, independent from the Wahabbi terrorists and other armed resistors.

>The contradiction rests within 'bourgeois freedoms' freedoms themselves. 
>How could anyone 'support' a contradictory ideal? Marx was very supportive 
>of the call for rights/freedoms that the bourgeois issued as they fought 
>with feudalism and pre-/non-capitalist formations, but there's a tendency 
>for the 'freedoms' allowed to be limited when the bourgeois (private 
>property) come under threat. You're trying to rip Marx's historically 
>determined, critical and limited support for a subset of 'bourgeois 
>freedoms' out of its context in order to justify your more general (and as 
>yet unjustified IMO) support for bourgeois freedoms. That's my beef.

Well, I claim he separated them.  Freedoms cannot be fully exercised under 
conditions of inequality, but freedoms are tools to CREATE more equality, 
and their absence is death for egalitarian struggles, which is why they've 
been opposed by the elite for as long as possible.

>Weak argument. Of course Marx didn't intend that. The appropriation of 
>Marxism by particular groups has to be grasped through an understanding of 
>the groups doing the appropriation. Bourgeois freedoms have been used to 
>justify lots of nasty shit too, should we thus abandon them?

I don't follow.  I don't abandon Marxism I embrace large parts of it.  I 
have been writing a paper on the origins of Mao's political thought off and 
on for a few years and in the process my view of Mao fell and for Marx rose 
considerably.  I now see Marx as on the side of liberal socialism and even a 
mixed economy.

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