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

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Thu Jan 27 10:12:55 PST 2000

Michael is keeping me on the correct track. Marx and Engels are famous at their most rigorous for disdaining discussion of the movement in terms of abstract ideals such as Equality, Fraternity, Justice , Democracy and Liberty/Freedom, People's State. Once I plunged in to that, for the sake of argument, my discussion was truly social democratic. (But, the Bolsheviks were a wing of the Social Democratic Party, and Communists must have the best social democratic arguments as a premise for revolutionary arguments).

Anyway, Justin's analysis of Marx in terms of Liberty/Freedom is subject to the same type of critique as Michael provides below on Equality. On the social democratic plain , Marxism fulfills liberal Equality ideals as much as liberal Freedom ideals, but it does so materialistically, in terms of abolition of classes and private property. The legal form of the project is abolition of private property in the basic means of production, elevation of the working class to the status of ruling class is referred to establishing "democracy" in The Communist Manifesto, an ultimate social democratic statement in contradictory unity with a revolutionary statement. The Manifesto has a programmatic plank on ":Equality of obligation to work for all".

In theory, equality is a concept that is superceded in communism. (Socialism is a transitional form and retains some elements of capitalism, including bourgeois ideals ) In practice, some of the existing political concepts and terms must be used, as when the Bolsheviks campaigned on a platform of Peace (Land and Bread). Peace cannot be fully , materially established until classes are abolished, and has a similar bourgeois idealist status to Equality, Liberty, Justice, etc. (Similarly, with Land and Bread, for that matter).

Marx and Engels want to say, "Socialism/Communism will be really real , material, Equality, Freedom, Peace etc. but it will be so different from how you think of those now, that using the bourgeois terms for it will distort your sense of it ; you will need a new word. "


>>> Michael Hoover <hoov at> 01/26/00 07:24PM >>>
> > 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

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