Marx and Equality (Was: Why Decry the Wealth Gap?)

Michael Hoover hoov at
Wed Jan 26 16:24:15 PST 2000

> > CB: To each according to need is a complex equality.
> CB: It is a complex equality. First ,each according to work, which means
> equal pay for equal work , but inequality in the sense that some work more.
> Then , to each according to need, which would mean in some senses more
> "stuff" for those who need more "stuff".
> CB

'complex equality', phrase used by Michael Walzer - variously described as egalitarian democrat, communitarian liberal, social democrat, democratic socialist...

Walzer rejects as misguided quests for universal theory of justice, arguing instead for principle of 'complex equality', according to which different rules apply to distribution of different social goods, thereby establishing separate 'spheres' of justice.

Justice - giving people what she/he is 'due' - is distributive concept that in 20th century has usually been discussed in relation to social life generally and material rewards specifically (although justice could concern itself with distribution of almost anything).

However, Marx indicates in _Gotha Program_, 'distribution of consumption... is a consequence of the...conditions of production.' He isn't an egalitarian in commonly understood sense because goal is not redistribution of economic surplus generated by capitalist relations. But replacing private owner's control with social control of productive activity should result in corresponding change in distribution. Rather than 'nondistinction,' M was after dissolution of class differences.

As Engels wrote to August Bebel: 'The "elimination of all social and political inequality" is...a very questionable phrase in place of the "abolition of class distinctions. Between one country and another, oned province and another and even one locality and another there will always exist a certain inequality in the conditions of life, which it will be possible to reduce to a minimum but neverf entirely remove. Alpine dwellers will always have different conditions of life from those of people living on plains. The idea of socialist society as the realm of *equality* is a one- sided French idea resting upon the old "liberty, equality, fraternity" - an idea which was justified as a *stage of development* in its own time and place...' (18-28 March 1875)

Lenin wrote somewhere that demands for equality have real meaning only as demands for abolition of classes... Michael Hoover

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list