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Marxism Contra Justice

Bernardino Mei, Allegory of Justice (1656)

A critique of egalitarian ideology

Revolution is a job that must be done without weakness… We are but the instruments of a necessity that carries us along, drags us forward, lifts us up… which will doubtless pass over our dead bodies. For we are not chasing after some dream of justice [aucun rêve de justice] — as the young idiots who write in little magazines say — we are doing what must be done, what cannot be left undone. The old world dug its own grave, and is now falling in. Let’s give it a little shove.

Victor Serge, Conquered City (1930)1 [1]

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding Marxism today is that it constitutes a doctrine of “social justice.” So widespread is this belief that one often finds it held by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike. Alan Maass, editor of the American Trotskyist organ Socialist Worker, considers Marxian socialism “part of a rich history of opposition to inequality and injustice,”2 [2] being at its heart a “struggle for justice and equality.”3 [3] Likewise, coming from a quite different tradition, the French Maoist octogenarian Alain Badiou upholds “justice” as “the qualification of an egalitarian moment of politics in actu.”4 [4] Even Richard Spencer’s right-wing Radix Journal affirms something similar: “Marxism is the [intellectual] source of the modern ‘social justice’ movement… prevalent among youths and in universities.” While the evaluation here is no doubt negative, especially when compared with the positive appraisals of Maass and Badiou, the reactionaries nevertheless come closer to understanding this ideology’s material root: “Communist ideas [about justice] are appealing on a superficial level, because ‘equality’ seems an obvious truth in a society that revolves around money.”5 [5]

In either case, whether positive or negative, these value judgments rest upon a faulty interpretation of Marxism’s theoretical and practical premises. Neither Karl Marx nor his immediate successors based their critique of capitalism on an ideal of justice. This stood in marked contrast to the strains of utopian socialism that came before, which couched their demands in terms of “righting wrongs” and redressing historical grievances.6 [6] Despite explicit disavowals on the part of Marx, however, many readers believed there was at least an implicit sense in which he felt that capitalist society is unjust. Roughly three dozen articles were written on the theme between 1970 and 1990, by analytical Marxists like Norman Geras, G.A. Cohen, and Allen W. Wood. But this debate rehashed, without knowing it, an earlier debate that pitted Eduard Bernstein against Rosa Luxemburg on the one hand, and Ernest Belfort Bax against Paul Lafargue on the other. Grasping the true stakes of these debates requires a certain familiarity with the issue’s development over time, so a brief overview of the various historical conceptions of justice is in order. Once this has been achieved, Marx’s own views on the matter may be further elucidated, which will then shed light on what came later.

A survey of the concept

Linguistically, the word for “justice” is closely related to the word for “law” or “right” in many European tongues. For example, δίκη is not far removed from δικαίωμα in Greek, while the German Gerechtigkeit and Russian справедливость contain Recht and право, respectively. In French, the terms for justice and droit are a bit farther apart, although droiture is a near synonym for the first (just as with “righteousness” or “rectitude” in English). Writers like Jacques Derrida have gone to great lengths to dissociate “justice” from “law” or “right”: the latter two are deconstructible, whereas the former is not.7 [7] Uncoupling these associations proves a tricky task, though, for while most will readily acknowledge a distinction — surely a law may be deemed unjust — few would separate them entirely. Montaigne remarked that “we call ‘justice’ the hodgepodge of laws that falls down into our hands, along with their application, very often iniquitous or inept.”8 [8] These laws tend to fluctuate both in time9 [9] and in space,10 [10] leading one commenter to surmise that justice is fickle, simply what has been established.11 [11] “Quite like finery,” analogized Pascal, “justice is dictated by fashion.”12 [12]

Etymology only goes so far, so other avenues must be sought. By tracing the role justice has played in thought, and relating this back to the social and economic forces that undergirded them, a materialist explanation of this phenomenon is possible.

Justice occupies a lofty space in the history of political philosophy. Plato declared it supreme among the virtues, the noblest trait that any person could possess.13 [13] His dialogue Republic opens with a lengthy disquisition on the subject, in which young Polemarchus appeals to the authority of the poet Simonides in order to say “[i]t is just… to give to each what is owed to him.”14 [14] This dictum — the so-called suum cuique, usually rendered as “to each his due” — has endured as the standard definition of justice down through the ages. According to the ancient statesman Cicero, “its name in Greek is derived from giving each his own, while in Latin it is derived from choosing… [Greeks] put the essence of justice in equity, while we [Romans] place it in choice, but both are attributes of the law.”15 [15] In his late treatise On Moral Ends, Cicero refers to justice as “an attitude that assigns each person their due and thus preserves the cohesion of human society. Our nature is endowed with an innately civic and social character — what the Greeks call πολιτικόν.”16 [16] During the Enlightenment, Kant would praise this intuitive sense of equality as the officium commercii or sociabilitas of humanity. “Society cannot subsist unless some rules of justice are tolerably observed,” asserted Smith.17 [17]

Yet as the renowned bourgeois legal theorist Hans Kelsen maintained, suum cuique tribuere remains an “empty formula.”18 [18] Left unanswered is the question of what is owed to everyone, at best suggesting a bare notion of equality (which of course turns out to be tautological): “Equality, or the principle that equals deserve equally — frequently taken to be the essence of justice — amounts to little more than the logical principle of identity, merely conveying the idea of order or unity within a system.”19 [19] Glancing at the inventory of past philosophical systems, one sees just how widely the meaning of equality could vary. What it meant to a particular philosopher depended in great measure on the historical conditions under which he lived. “All men think justice to be a sort of equality,” proclaimed Aristotle in his Politics. “For what is just is just for someone; it should be equal for equals. Still, it is unclear: equality or inequality of what?”20 [20] Plato, as if responding to his erstwhile pupil, addressed this in his late dialogue on The Laws: “Indiscriminate equality for all amounts to inequality, and fills a state with quarrels between its citizenry. [The founder of a city-state] must make justice his aim, granting much to the great and less to the less great, adjusting what is given to account for the real nature of each, as this is the ‘equality’ that unequals ultimately deserve to get.”21 [21]

Obviously, this implies that the distribution of wealth would be determined by stature, and not by need. Distributive justice for Aristotle was the principle that awards ought to be proportional to merit: “Justness in distribution must be measured according to merit somehow,” he wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics. “But democrats equate ‘merit’ with the status of freemen, supporters of oligarchy with property or noble birth, and supporters of aristocracy with excellence.”22 [22] Note that “democracy,” for Athenians, was not incompatible with the existence of slaves; quite the contrary, it presupposed them. Regardless, this was to be distinguished from retributive justice, which administered punishments based on the ius talionis or right of retaliation. Here an element of equality still obtains, since penalties are supposed to be commensurate with the injuries sustained.23 [23] Contributive justice had already been outlined in Plato’s proposal for a citywide division of labor, in which everyone is assigned tasks for which they are suited, as Socrates says that “justice is doing one’s own work and not meddling with what is not one’s own.”24 [24] Finally there is commutative or rectificatory justice, the kind that covers transactions like the exchange of goods and services, which deals in exact equivalence. Plato felt that such justice was especially useful when it came to matters of money.25 [25]

Modern accounts increasingly centered on this last sort of justice, since it pertained most to money and ownership. Undoubtedly this reflected shifts in the underlying structure of society over the course of centuries. As Montesquieu put it, “the spirit of commerce [l’esprit de commerce] produces in people a feeling for exact justice [justice exacte].”26 [26] Grotius, the Dutch jurist, saw free trade as the surest way to guarantee a just peace, and upheld Horace’s satiric maxim in earnest: “Expediency [utilitas, self-love] might perhaps be called the mother of justice and equity.”27 [27] But it was Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan who gave the best summation of this new sensibility, which insisted that “justice consists in the keeping of valid covenants”:

This is the fount and origin of justice. For where no covenant has preceded, no right can be transferred; every man has a right to every thing, and thus no action can be unjust. When a covenant is made, then to break it is unjust: the definition of injustice is nothing other than the not performance of covenant. Yet this can also be gathered out of the ordinary definition of justice in the Schools: for they say that justice is the constant will of giving every man his own. Hence, where there is no own, that is, no propriety, there is no injustice.28 [28]

Locke, despite disagreeing with Hobbes on a whole range of related issues, nevertheless regarded this proposition to be “as certain as any demonstration in Euclid”: “Property being a right to any thing, and injustice being the invasion or violation of this right; I can just as certainly know the proposition [‘where there is no property, there can be no injustice’] to be true, as that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones.”29 [29] Rochefoucauld concurred with this judgment from across the Channel, musing that “[j]ustice is merely an intense fear that our belongings [appartient] will be taken away from us.”30 [30] David Hume elaborated on this point in his Treatise of Human Nature, locating the source of “justice” in man’s relationship to nature:

Justice takes its rise from human conventions; and these are intended to remedy inconveniencies, which proceed from concurrence of certain qualities of the human mind with the situation of external objects. Qualities of the mind being selfishness and limited generosity, and situation of external objects being their easy change, along with their scarcity compared to the desires of men. If nature supplied abundantly all our wants, then the jealousy of interest assumed by justice could no longer have any place. Nor would there be any further need for those distinctions and limits of property and possession, presently in use among mankind.31 [31]

Such passages illustrate a specifically modern understanding of justice founded on ideas about property and right, which in turn corresponded to new material relations of production. At the same time, the logic of universal commodity-exchange brought with it a notion of equivalence and interchangeability, lending credence to the juridical principle of “equality before the law.” Gone were the feudal privileges and artificial hierarchy of old, replaced by bourgeois rights and natural equality. Though some segments of the population were still excluded from the franchise, the most consistent advocates of this concept of justice extended it to all irrespective of gender (Paine, Wollstonecraft, Condorcet) and race (Hume, Smith, Raynal). On this basis arose the Rechtstaat, which governed by the rule of law instead of granting titles to different estates.

While examples could no doubt be adduced from the tradition of German jurisprudence — from Pufendorf and Leibniz to Kant and Hegel — this would take up too much space. It is enough for now to recall Diderot’s 1755 Encyclopedia entry on natural right: “Right is the wellspring and foundation of justice, the obligation to render unto each person what is due to him… But what is due to one person rather than another in a world where everything belongs to everyone?”32 [32] Hume’s offhand remark that sufficient plenitude or abundance might do away with questions of justice once and for all must in any case be taken seriously, perhaps more seriously than he could have ever guessed. Nature can be made to yield more through artificial means. Either way the problem of property enters in at this point, with Marx trailing not far behind.

Doing justice to Marx

Marx was always suspicious of moralizing rhetoric, particularly rhetoric invoking “justice.” After drafting the statutes for the International Workingmen’s Association in autumn 1864, he complained in a letter to Engels: “I was obliged to insert two sentences about ‘duty’ and ‘right,’ and ditto ‘truth, morality, and justice,’ in the preamble to the rules, but these are so placed that they can do no harm.”33 [33] This distrust of high-sounding appeals to “morality” and “justice” was a constant feature of Marx’s work throughout his career. From first to last, he condemned “ideological catchphrases about justice” as poor substitutes for materialist knowledge.34 [34] Starting with his polemics against Proudhon and Heinzen in the 1840s, up through his severe rebukes of Höchberg and Lassalle in the 1870s, Marx consistently rejected the use of such saccharine language.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s 1846 Philosophy of Poverty offered the opportunity to stage a showdown between utopian socialism and its scientific counterpart. Until then Marx and Engels had devoted most of their energies to criticizing the various left-wing Hegelians and “true socialists” scattered in Germany. Now they decided to take on the leading socialist figure in France. Because Proudhon dabbled in both German philosophy and British political economy, he seemed the perfect candidate for critique. Justice éternelle was Proudhon’s principal category of judgment, which he used to decry the glaring inequalities of the present, so Marx singled it out for special abuse. Capitalist society, as the latter saw it, had made everything equal by subjecting it all to indiscriminate exchange. “One man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour,” Marx explained. “Time is everything, man is nothing; or else, he is but time’s carcass. Quality no longer matters, as quantity alone decides everything; hour for hour, day for day. Yet this equalizing of labor is by no means the work of Proudhon’s ‘eternal justice.’ Rather, it is simply a fact of modern industry.”35 [35] In other words, far from conflicting with the norms of capitalist production, the “eternal justice” championed by Proudhon instead hypostatized them. Later, in Capital, Marx repeated this point:

Proudhon creates his ideal of justice, or justice éternelle, from the juridical relations that correspond to the production of commodities. He thereby proves, to the consolation of every good petite-bourgeois, that the production of commodities is a form as eternal as justice. Then he turns around and seeks to reform the actual production of commodities, as well as the corresponding legal system, in accordance with this ideal. What would one think of a chemist who, instead of studying the actual laws that govern molecular interactions, claimed to regulate such interactions by means of eternal ideas such as naturalité and affinité, etc.?36 [36]

Reversing cause and effect, Proudhon tried to transplant the ideological superstructure of society onto its material base. Evgenii Pashukanis, the great Soviet legal scholar, commented on these lines in a 1923 text. “In his critique of Proudhon, Marx pointed out that the abstract concept of justice is by no means an absolute, eternal criterion on which one can erect an ideal, or just, relation of exchange [отношение обмена],” Pashukanis perceived. “For the concept of justice is itself inferred from the exchange relation [менового отношения] and has no significance beyond this… Basically, the concept of justice does not contain anything substantively new apart from the [bourgeois] conceit of the equal worth of all men.”37 [37]

Marx’s insight into this matter not only has implications for justice, moreover, but could also apply just as forcefully to notions of right, as he spelled out in his subsequent Critique of the Gotha Program: “Right by its nature exists only as the application of an equal standard, but unequal individuals are measurable by an equal standard only if they are subjected to an equal criterion… Here the same principle prevails as regulates the exchange of commodities on the market, insofar as it is an exchange of equal values.”38 [38] Gerechtigkeit, as Wood astutely observes, is for Marx a Rechtsbegriff, so anything that can be said about Recht can be said of it as well.39 [39]

At any rate, it would be folly to expect that lectures about the injustice of class society would lead the propertied classes to experience pangs of conscience. “So long as one is bourgeois,” Marx stressed, “one cannot but see in this antagonistic relation a relation of ‘pure harmony’ and ‘eternal justice’ which allows no one to gain at the expense of another.”40 [40] The purchase and sale of labor-power appears as an exchange of equivalents to buyer and seller alike, an assertion fleshed out in more detail in Capital: “On the one hand the daily sustenance of labor-power costs only half a day’s labor, while on the other hand the very same labor-power can remain effective, can work, during a whole day, and consequently the value its use creates during one day is double what the capitalist pays for that use; this circumstance is a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injustice [Unrecht] toward the seller.”41 [41] What this means is that workers and capitalists share the same conception of justice, and not only in the sense that the ideology of the ruling class is dominant.42 [42] Indeed, the social norms of capitalism appear natural to everyone living under it, enveloped as they are by the fetishism of commodities. Marx laid bare this inverted reality, writing that “the notions of justice held by both the worker and the capitalist have as their basis a form of appearance which makes the actual relation invisible, and presents to the eye the precise opposite of that relation.”43 [43]

Even if the “actual relation” were made visible, the real inequality underlying apparent equality thus unmasked, it does not follow that workers are defrauded in the transaction. Although Marx sometimes described the initial confrontation between labor and capital as involving an “unequal exchange,” which allows for the production of surplus value,44 [44] he always came back to the point that capitalism is a form of domination founded on abstract equivalence.45 [45] Nothing could have been further from Marx’s mind than to pursue egalitarian remedies of the type prescribed by John Francis Bray: “This egalitarian ideal, which some would like to apply as a ‘corrective’ to the world, is itself nothing but the reflection of the world. It is impossible to reconstitute society on the basis of what is simply an embellished shadow of it.”46 [46] (Unequal exchange, whether between worker and capitalist at the local labor market or between core and periphery in global trade, is hardly a Marxian figure of thought anyway).47 [47] Polemicizing against William James Gilbart’s claim that it is “a self-evident principle of natural justice” that borrowers ought to repay lenders for the profits gained through successful investments, Marx wrote in the third volume of Capital that

the justice of transactions between different agents of production consists in the fact these transactions arise from existing productive relations as their natural consequence. But the legal forms in which these economic transactions appear — whether as voluntary actions of the participants, expressions of their common will, or contracts enforceable by the state — cannot themselves determine this content, since they simply express it. The content is just so long as it corresponds to the mode of production and is adequate to it, unjust as soon as it contradicts it. Slavery is unjust on the basis of capitalism, as is cheating on the quality of goods.48 [48]

Justice’s connection to “equality” having now been dealt with, its relation to “fairness” can be examined briefly. While this is complicated somewhat by the fact that the word is often translated into German as Gerechtigkeit, a few things may still be said. “Fairness” is notably absent from Marx’s vocabulary even in his English writings. He did take issue with a popular Chartist slogan, though, in a major 1865 speech delivered in London: “Instead of the conservative motto: ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’, workers ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the entire wage system!’”49 [49] Left Ricardians tend to focus on the portion of “unpaid” labor in the valorization process, which is the source of surplus-value, protesting low wages rather than wages as such and surplus-value rather than value as such.50 [50] Distributive justice may be the final word for many socialists, but to Marx the Lassallean demand for “fair distribution” just confused the issue: “Vulgar socialists have taken over from bourgeois economists the treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production… and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution.”51 [51]

Besides its connotations of fairness, lawfulness, equality, and impartiality, justice also carries a strong moral resonance. Karl Heinzen, a Prussian feuilletonist, sought to “elevate” socialist discourse in a series of 1847 articles appealing to justice, morality, and other vérités éternelles. Responding to Heinzen with bitter invective, Engels penned a piece on both his and Marx’s behalf. (Marx had personally vowed to “destroy” Heinzen on a previous occasion, so it fell to Engels to fire the opening salvo).52 [52] “Communists have made fun of Heinzen’s stern moral demeanor,” Engels openly admitted, “mocking all those sacred and sublime ideas of virtue, justice, etc. which he imagines form the basis of every society. We maintain, moreover, that these ‘eternal verities’ are by no means the basis, but on the contrary the product, of the society in which they feature.”53 [53] Eventually Marx joined in the fray as well, after Heinzen had taken Engels’ bait, with his classic rejoinder on “Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality” appearing the next month. In it, Marx heaped scorn upon Heinzen’s “simplistic questions of conscience and clichés about justice [Rechtsphrasen]” and castigated every attempt to place socialism on a moral foundation.54 [54] Similar phrases would later recur in the Manifesto,55 [55] written around the same time for a party which had until recently been known as “the Just.”56 [56]

Thirty years on, however, these mistakes were repeated by another Karl H. — this time Höchberg, editor of the socialist paper Zukunft. As soon as Marx got word of Zukunft’s editorial line, he set about denouncing “the renewed ascendancy of the goddesses of ‘Justice, Liberty, Equality,’ etc.” as a “modern mythology.”57 [57] Not long afterward he wrote to his friend, the German-American communist Friedrich Adolph Sorge, to inform him: “In Germany a corrupt spirit is asserting itself in our party, not so much among the masses as among the leaders (the upper class and ‘workers’)… Our compromise with the Lassalleans has led to further compromise with other waverers like Dühring and his ‘admirers,’ not to mention the swarm of immature undergraduates and over-wise graduates who want to give socialism a ‘higher, idealistic’ orientation: instead of the materialist basis, a ‘modern mythology’ with its goddesses Justice, Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité.”58 [58] Franz Mehring, who knew Marx and Engels firsthand, reported in his biography of the former that “for them, phrases like ‘justice,’ ‘humanitarianism,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ ‘fraternity,’ and ‘independence’ were nothing more than moral platitudes. What they termed ‘modern mythology’ was abhorrent to them… During the hectic days of the [1848] revolution, they recognized only a single test — for or against?”59 [59]

Neo-Kantian revisionism: Luxemburg vs. Bernstein

Everything in the previous section is well known, of course. Scholarly papers unpacking Marx’s attitude toward justice are fairly common, though perhaps few have been laid out in such a condensed fashion. More interesting is the debate on the issue that transpired between prominent Marxists in the decades following his death, which has received far less attention. This is somewhat surprising, given the extent to which it prefigured arguments about Marxism and justice, morality, and ethics that have taken place since. An aphorism from Adorno is apt here, to the effect that “the theorist who intervenes in practical controversies nowadays discovers on a regular basis, and to his shame, that whatever ideas he might contribute were expressed long ago — and usually better the first time around.”60 [60] Rosa Luxemburg’s dispute with Eduard Bernstein is doubtless an instance of this, not to mention Paul Lafargue’s quarrel with Ernest Belfort Bax.

Nearly a century before Alex Callinicos lamented Marxism’s “ethical deficit,”61 [61] the German socialist Bernstein wondered if ideals such as morality, justice, and rights could be rehabilitated for the workers’ movement. Under the influence of the neo-Kantian legal philosopher Rudolf Stammler, whose lengthy 1896 work Wirtschaft und Recht engaged critically (but respectfully) with the materialist conception of history, Bernstein felt that Marxists underestimated the importance of “ideological factors” in questions relating to politics.62 [62] Because his argument is relatively straightforward, and his conclusions so confident and far-reaching, it is best to simply quote Bernstein’s 1898 article on “The Realistic and the Ideological Moments in Socialism” at length, and keep the exegesis to a minimum. Here, if not elsewhere, the text speaks for itself:

One ideological factor to be considered in connection with socialism [is] moral consciousness [moralische Bewusstsein] or the concept of justice [Rechtsauffassung]. While nobody denies in principle the importance of interest as a motive and knowledge as a guide, there are sharply conflicting claims as to the importance of moral consciousness in modern socialist literature… For example, the Manifesto and other writings by Marx and Engels from that period seem to take a markedly negative view of the subject. But in their later works as well, Marx and Engels avoid any direct appeal to ethical sensibilities… Professor Werner Sombart has identified this “anti-ethical tendency” [„antiethische Tendenz“] as the distinctive characteristic of Marxist socialism: an unfortunate expression, since the term “anti-ethical” conveys first and foremost that ethics as such will be done away with, but perfectly accurate in the sense Sombart uses it. Namely, to denote the reverse of deriving socialism from ethical principles [ethischen Prinzipien], as nothing in the Marxist theory derives from ethics.

Quite the contrary. Ethics are mentioned time and again, but only for the explicit purpose of pointing out their inadequacy. In Capital the buying and selling of labor power as a commodity, in which a worker brings “his own hide to market,” is described as an act governed by “Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham,” while the circumstance that labor power can produce more than the cost of its maintenance is said to be “a piece of good luck for the buyer… but by no means an injustice towards the seller.” In his Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx criticizes the demand for “a fair distribution [gerechte Verteilung] of the proceeds of labor”: “The present distribution of the proceeds of labor is the only ‘fair’ [‚gerechte’] distribution on the basis of the modern mode of production.” In his preface to the first German edition of Poverty of Philosophy, Engels states that to derive communist demands from the fact a worker’s wage does not correspond to the value of the work he does is formally incorrect in economic terms because it is “simply an application of morality to economics.” Still more pointed criticisms can be found in Anti-Dühring and On the Housing Question.63 [63]

Aside from the few choice quotations from Engels, most of this was already covered in the last section. Having set up Marx and Engels’ theoretical self-understanding, however, Bernstein proceeded to argue this self-understanding was directly contravened by their practical activity. They said one thing, but did another. Put a bit differently, the official disdain for moral categories belied a hidden reliance on them. In any case, Bernstein felt Marxism spoke too much to workers’ heads instead of listening to what was in their hearts:

Marxist practice appears to be in complete contradiction with the hostile stance adopted toward ethics by the theory… Capital is riddled with pronouncements based on moral judgments [moralisches Urteil]. The very description of the wage-relation as one of exploitation [Ausbeutung] assumes a moral judgment, since the concept of exploitation applied to human relations always implies unauthorized appropriation [unberechtigter Aneignung] and overreach [Übervorteilung]. And in accepted popularizations, surplus value is often branded as fraud, theft, and robbery. The capitalist employer, even when he is a “fair” employer, is presented as the appropriator of surplus value which does not belong to him; while the worker, even when he belongs to the best-paid section of his class, is presented as having been denied some part of his due. Of course, there are occasional riders to the effect that the capitalist is not personally to blame for this appropriation, but is merely doing what he is entitled to do, under conditions which he did not create. But this very apology implies that the appropriation of surplus value is fundamentally an injustice. Furthermore, the theory of surplus value’s objectivity withstands scrutiny only in the context of abstract inquiry. As soon as its application is at issue it reveals itself as a moral problem, and people usually treat it as such. Engels commented: “If the moral consciousness of the masses declares a given economic fact unjust [Unrecht], as it has done in the case of slavery or serfdom, that is proof the fact has been outlived. Now other economic facts have made their appearance, owing to which the former facts have become unbearable and untenable.” This statement gives the moral judgment of the masses a scintilla of validity, but only the function of a yardstick.

Looking at the matter more closely, and asking ourselves why so many people nowadays regard the economic fact of the capitalist’s appropriation of surplus value as an injustice [Unrecht], we come upon a further concession to idealism or ideology… For the fact of surplus value is not immediately apparent to the masses. Indeed, the mechanisms of the capitalist economy conceal it from them. Socialist writers in the age of manufacture and before were able to posit theories that led to the theory of surplus value only due to the simplicity and transparency of the economic mechanisms of their age… Under modern conditions, it was mainly bourgeois economists whose investigations into the value of commodities led them to the value of labor as a commodity, which paved the way for the recognition that the worker’s wage is different from, and always less than, the value of the work he does. And yet, the fact of surplus labor has always been familiar to the worker. Though he did not always object to it in principle, he did so often enough in a practical and limited fashion. He rebelled, not against the fact of surplus labor, but only against the extent of it. Once the worker learns that he never receives in pay the full value of the work he does, however, his natural sense of justice [natürliches Gerechtigkeitsgefühl] is directly challenged, because the concept of value [Wertbegriff] includes a moral element — a concept of equality and justice [eine Gleichheits- und Gerechtigkeitsvorstellung]. Moral concepts [sittlichen Begriffe] are more durable than economic developments. Precisely because they are more conservative, they are to an extent unaffected by such developments. Certainly this is true of the concept of justice [Begriff des Gerechten], more than Marx and Engels wanted to admit.64 [64]

Bernstein was convinced, like many Marxists of his generation — Schmidt, Vörlander, even the “orthodox” Kautsky — that Marx and Engels could be reconciled with Kant.65 [65] “The modern proletarian movement fights its emancipatory struggle under the banner of Kant, not Hegel,” averred Bernstein in 1905.66 [66] He had closed his revisionist manifesto six years earlier with a chapter cleverly entitled “Kant against Cant,” in which he restated his aversion to Hegelian philosophy before repeating the neo-Kantian rallying cry, “back to Kant!”67 [67] Reconciling Marxism with Kant would require not only a theory of the world as it is, but also of the world as it ought to be. For Bernstein, what ought to exist was “a more equitable social order [gerechteren Gesellschaftsordnung].” Only by instilling a sense of ethical obligation in the working-class would this be brought about. “Justice is a powerful motivating force within the socialist movement today,” wrote Bernstein. “No action on the part of the masses can have lasting effect without a moral impetus [moralischen Antrieb].”68 [68]

Luxemburg disagreed.

Unlike Bernstein and his fellow revisionists, she held firm to Marxism’s “dialectical mode of thought [dialektische Denkweise].” Dialectical thinking permits no flat contraposition of is and ought, nor does it allow for the strict separation of theory and practice. Still further, it grounds abstract ideas about how things ought to be in the concrete reality of the way they are. “What Bernstein considers to be general human morality is merely the dominant morality,” Luxemburg declared, “that is, bourgeois morality.”69 [69] In her 1899 pamphlet, Social Reform or Revolution?, she subjected Bernstein’s notions about justice to a withering critique:

Bernstein refers to socialism as an effort toward a “just,” “juster,” and still “more just” [einer „gerechten“, „gerechteren“, ja einer „noch gerechteren“] distribution. It cannot be denied that the proximal cause leading the masses into the socialist movement is precisely the “unjust” [„ungerechte“] distribution characteristic of capitalism. When [Marxism] struggles for the socialization of the entire economy, it aspires therewith also to a “just” [„gerechte“] distribution of social wealth… Guided by Marx’s insight that the distribution of a given epoch is a natural consequence of the mode of that epoch’s production, though, it does not struggle against this distribution within the framework of capitalist production. Marxism struggles rather for the suppression of capitalist production itself. It seeks to establish socialist distribution by suppressing the capitalist mode of production. Conversely, Bernstein proposes to fight capitalist distribution in order to establish the socialist mode of production.

So what is the basis of Bernstein’s program for the reform of society? Does it find support in definite tendencies of capitalist production? No. First of all, he denies such tendencies. In the second place, the socialist transformation of production is for him the effect, and not the cause, of distribution. He cannot give his program a materialist base, as he has already overthrown the means and ends of the movement for socialism, and so is obliged to construct an idealist base. Bernstein’s superlatively just distribution is to be attained thanks to man’s free will, man’s will acting not because of economic necessity, since this will itself is only an instrument, but because of man’s comprehension of justice, because of man’s idea of justice [Gerechtigkeitsidee].70 [70]

Conjuring the ghost of the self-taught tailor and early communist Wilhelm Weitling, Luxemburg turned the phrase:

We are thus brought back to the happy principle of justice [Prinzip der Gerechtigkeit], that old warhorse on which reformers have rocked for ages, for lack of better means of transportation, to that lamentable Rocinante on which the Don Quixotes of history have galloped toward the improvement of the world, only to return with both eyes blackened. “Rich versus poor” as the basis of socialism, the “principle of cooperation” as its content, “just distribution” as its aim, and the “idea of justice” [Idee der Gerechtigkeit] as its only historic legitimation: with how much more force, fire, and wit did Weitling defend that sort of socialism fifty years ago? However, that genius of a tailor did not know of scientific socialism. If today the conception torn to bits by Marx and Engels [i.e., Weitling’s] more than a half-century ago is patched up and presented to the proletariat as the last word in social science, then that too is the art of a tailor, but it has nothing genius about it.71 [71]

Several years later, on the topic of “the woman question,” Luxemburg gave an abbreviated version of this same idea. “Marxism does not use the argument of ‘injustice’ [Argument der ‚Ungerechtigkeit’],” she wrote. “This is the basic difference between us and earlier, sentimental forms of utopian socialism. For we do not rely on the justice of the ruling classes, but solely on the revolutionary power of the working masses and on the course of social development which prepares the ground for this power. ‘Injustice’ by itself is certainly not an argument with which to overthrow reactionary institutions. But if there is a feeling of injustice in large segments of society — as Friedrich Engels, cofounder of scientific socialism, once said — this is always a sure sign that the economic bases of the society have shifted considerably, that the present conditions contradict the march of development.”72 [72] Luxemburg’s orthodox defense of the Marxian critique of justice, in reply to Bernstein, is an exemplary model of the sort of the back-and-forth that went on over the issue between 1889 and 1914; Lafargue’s exchange with Belfort Bax, from 1905, is another.

Proprietary metaphysics: Lafargue vs. Belfort Bax

Ernest Belfort Bax was among the earliest British exponents of Marxism, dedicating an article to Marx’s doctrine in 1881. Upon reading it, Marx himself hailed it as “the first English publication to be pervaded by a real enthusiasm for the new ideas, and which boldly stands up to Anglo-Saxon philistinism.”73 [73] Prior to his discovery of Marxist literature in 1879, Bax had studied music and philosophy in Stuttgart, before being appointed Berlin correspondent for the Standard. He met the neo-Kantian metaphysician Eduard von Hartmann in 1880, with whom he had lengthy discussions about Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer.74 [74] While this familiarity with German Idealist discourse made Bax more receptive to materialist dialectic, he and his cohorts in the weekly newspaper Justice remained ignorant of the philosophical content of Marxism, perhaps owing to the unavailability of manuscripts Marx had written in the 1840s. Regardless, this was to their great theoretical and practical detriment, as Engels noted in a letter to Laura Lafargue dated 16 February 1884.75 [75]

Bax believed that modern socialism needed a solid ethical core, which Marx neglected to provide,76 [76] and so he put out a collection of essays on The Ethics of Socialism in 1889 to compensate for this lack. This collection included a sketch contrasting bourgeois and proletarian conceptions of justice. For Bax, however, these narrow class conceptions corresponded to broader individualist and socialist outlooks, which in turn reflected an age-old conflict between the individual and society.77 [77] “Modern individualism crystallizes its idea of justice in the individual’s absolute right to possess and exercise control over such property as he has legally acquired… Modern socialism crystallizes its idea of justice in the community’s absolute right to possess and exercise control over all wealth not intended for direct individual use.”78 [78]

Justice itself, or at least some notion of it, was a relative constant in Bax’s view. Socialism could not do away with the idea of justice altogether, but simply supplant individualism’s idea of justice with its own. Inviolability of property would be replaced by confiscation of property, but only with the arrival of a revolutionary crisis overturning bourgeois rule. “Once that crisis comes,” predicted Bax, “the great act of confiscation will be the seal of the new era. Not till then will the death knell of class society, with its rights of property, be sounded, when justice — not capitalist, but rather socialist justice — will become the cornerstone of society.”79 [79]

Later, in his Problems of Men, Mind, and Morals (1912), Bax reaffirmed his postulate that “there are certain lines of conduct which are essential in all societies, no matter how rudimentary, whereas others vary from age to age and from one form of social organization to another… While the first represent the root-principles of ethics, the second are phenomenal applications of those principles as determined by the conditions of the society in question. According to Aristotle and the Greeks, ethical conceptions can always be traced back to the idea of justice or equity.”80 [80] Ethical norms are widely variable, in other terms, depending on what is considered just at any given point in time. Ultimately, Bax speculated that justice derives in turn from feelings of “sympathy,” a belief which places him closer to British empiricist traditions than he might have wanted to admit.81 [81] Despite his lifelong antipathy toward the Benthamites, whom he denounced as “utilitarian individualists” early in his career,82 [82] Bax eventually adopted a species of utilitarianism in articulating a socialist theory of justice. He wrote of a new “humanist ethic,” an ethic of human solidarity, taking shape alongside socialism in politics: “The new ethic is emphatically utilitarian, but its utilitarianism is definite and conscious.”83 [83] Bax took this even further, though, identifying in Marxist practice an ethical streak.84 [84]

Paul Lafargue’s path to Marxism was more intimate than that of Bax. Initially Lafargue had been a Proudhonist, appealing often to ideals like “justice and humanity.”85 [85] Marx, whose London residence he began to frequent in 1865, was deeply annoyed, a feeling he made known to his daughter Laura: “That damned boy, Lafargue, pesters me with his Proudhonism. He will not rest until I have administered to him a sound cudgeling of his Creole pate.”86 [86] Just three years later, the young Cuban immigrant married her, once he had received his medical license in Paris to practice as a surgeon. Lafargue’s mature views on justice took shape over the course of the 1870s, especially while translating an excerpt from Engels’ Anti-Dühring as the shortened pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. As his biographer Leslie Derfler makes clear, Lafargue came to regard socialism “not as the realization of ideals like justice and equality, but as the necessary and inevitable outgrowth of capitalism.”87 [87] Starting in the 1880s he penned a series of investigations into the origin of abstract ideas, meant to demonstrate to skeptics that the materialist approach to history could account for complex systems of thought. One of the abstractions he hoped to explain was justice.

Multiple versions of the article appeared, spanning roughly two decades. “The idea of the just does not descend from men to things,” Lafargue asserted in a French version published in 1885. “Rather, it ascends from things to men.”88 [88] In an 1899 follow-up for Die Neue Zeit, he expanded on this assertion. “Justice in civilized societies flows from two sources,” he wrote. “First of all from the preexisting nature of human beings, and second from the social milieu organized around private property. Passions which dwelled in man since before the institution of property, together with the interests and ideas aroused by it, have given rise to concepts like ‘just’ and ‘unjust’.”89 [89] Lafargue distinguished two overarching types: retributive justice (Wiedervergeltung) and distributive justice (ausgleichende Gerechtigkeit). Vengeance or Rachsucht was the anthropological basis for the first. Equality or Gleichheit was the sociological basis for the second. Although revenge also involved a crude form of equality — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth — this gave way to a more refined form of equality, based on exchange: “So preponderant was the role of property in the elaboration of justice that it obscured the initial workings of retaliation, to the point where a people as subtle as the Greeks, and minds as sharp as those of Hobbes or Locke, could not perceive it.”90 [90]

For Lafargue, the real novelty of Marx’s historical method was his discovery of the economic and material foundations upon which the ideological edifice of society was erected. “Ideas such as progress, justice, liberty, fatherland, etc., do not exist outside of themselves and outside the spiritual domain, like the axioms of mathematics,” he wrote. “They do not precede experience but instead follow it, do not engender the events of history but are the consequence of social phenomena which create, transform, or suppress them. One of the tasks of history, unnoticed by philosophers, is the discernment of social causes, of which they themselves are a result.”91 [91] Whereas idealist philosophy attributed causal efficacy to these ideas, materialist criticism grasped them as mere epiphenomena — byproducts of the forces and relations of production, the real locomotives of history. Nowhere was this clearer than with ideas about justice and right:

Ruling classes always consider what serves their economic and political agenda to be just, while anything that disserves this same agenda is unjust. The justice it idealizes is realized soon as its class interests are satisfied. Hence, the interests of the bourgeoisie are the guides of bourgeois justice, just as the interests of the aristocracy were the guides of feudal justice. Almost as if by unconscious irony, Justice is pictured blindfolded so she cannot see the mean and sordid interests protected under her aegis. Justice — who, philosophers tell us, reigns in bourgeois society, guaranteeing peace and happiness — is on the contrary the fertile mother of social iniquities. It was Justice who gave slaveholders the right to possess men like chattel, and it is she who now gives capitalists the right to exploit men, women, and children like beasts of burden. She permitted slaveholders to live off the toil of slaves, and today permits capitalists to seize the surplus created by wage laborers. “I stand on my right,” said the slaveholders; “I stand on my right,” say the capitalists.92 [92]

Does it follow that “bourgeois right” will be displaced by “proletarian right”? Or the justice of capitalists by the justice of workers? Lafargue answered this emphatically in the negative: “Communist revolution, by abolishing private property and holding everything in common, will liberate man. Then the concepts of justice [Gerechtigkeitsbegriffe] which have weighed on men’s brains since the establishment of private property will finally vanish — the most ghastly ghosts [entsetzlichsten Gespenster] to ever haunt civilized humanity.”93 [93] Following Marx, Lafargue stated that concepts such as justice, right, and the state continue to have purchase only as long as social classes continue to endure. Put another way, the fact such ideals are still necessary is symptomatic of the ongoing division within society itself, a testament to humanity’s persistent unfreedom.

At this point Bax felt compelled to intervene on the issue in the pages of Die Neue Zeit, where he accused his French colleague of tacitly relying on another ideal of justice (while pretending to condemn justice as such). “In his article,” observed Bax, “Lafargue seemingly commits a fallacy, often encountered in philosophical discussions, presupposing precisely the concept against which he allegedly polemicizes. Reading his criticisms of freedom, justice, etc. one can hardly fail to notice that the critic himself has a certain ideal of freedom, justice, etc. that he presupposes as a norm or standard [Norm oder Maßstab], which he uses to denigrate bourgeois forgeries [bürgerlichen Fälschungen].” Bax saw this presupposition as more or less natural, though, or at least unavoidable: “Some idea of justice is bound to persist, being eternal [ewig] in the sense that it runs like a thread throughout human history. Wherever society exists, so must it also be present.”94 [94] Justice cannot be abolished, in other words, only perfected. Never gotten rid of entirely, only approximated more closely. This was consistent with Bax’s own prior theorization of the concept, seen above.

Lafargue’s response was unequivocal, appending a long footnote to the French revision of the text in 1909: “Belfort Bax reproaches me for the contempt in which I hold justice, liberty, and other entities of proprietary metaphysics [métaphysique propriétaire], which he says are concepts so universal and so necessary that, in order to criticize their bourgeois caricatures, I avail myself of a certain ideal of justice and liberty.” He did not deny being a product of his age, but turned this back on Bax, arguing it further proved his point. “Of course we are obliged to submit to current ideas,” Lafargue freely acknowledged. “I am not able to escape my social environment, any more than would a spiritualist philosopher. Even if ideas are necessary consequences of the social environment in which they are produced, though, this does not mean they are necessary in all social environments, as Socrates held. Philosophers hold liberty and justice to be universal and necessary concepts because they know of no societies other than those founded on private property.”95 [95] Given a different set of circumstances, another configuration of values could come into being.

Revisiting the modern debate

The foregoing should be enough to convince anyone of the richness of these early debates over justice within Marxism. A few words might still be said about the debates that took place between 1970 and 1990, though, before hastening to a conclusion. In many respects, this later controversy covered much of the same ground, featuring similar references and even similar points of emphasis. What set it apart from its predecessor, besides its peculiar pitch, was perhaps the conceptual terrain on which the battle was fought. Most of the original combatants hailed from the Anglophone school of “analytic” Marxism, with others from outside that tradition joining later on. Robert C. Tucker and Allen W. Wood led the charge against moralistic interpretations, with the former insisting that “the image of Marx as a prophet of social justice is a false one”96 [96] and the latter that “Marx denied capitalism was unjust.”97 [97] Because their arguments largely align with the one here, they can be set aside for now to examine counterarguments voiced by their foremost critics.

G.A. Cohen’s objections to the Tucker-Wood thesis — i.e., that Marx rejected moralizing critiques of capitalism — were at least twofold. On the one hand, like Bernstein before him, he found it “difficult to think of any reason for using a term like ‘exploitation’ other than that it denotes a kind of injustice.”98 [98] Furthermore, in this connection, Cohen rejected the validity of the labor theory of value, a centerpiece of the Marxian analysis. Nevertheless, in his view, this had no bearing on the validity of the moral claim behind Marxist practice, since “the relationship between the labor theory of value and the concept of exploitation is one of mutual irrelevance.”99 [99] Here again, Cohen resembles Bernstein, among the earliest of Marx’s disciples to turn away from Arbeitswerttheorie. “The labor theory of value is misleading above all in that it appears as a yardstick for the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist,” Bernstein wrote in 1898. “Value theory no more provides the criterion for the justice or injustice of a given distribution of wealth than does atomic theory for the beauty or ugliness of a sculpture.”100 [100] It fails to communicate exploitation’s unjust character. Cohen likewise felt that value theory leaves out “an essential normative premise” from its description.101 [101]

Second, and in a slightly different key, he asserted that Marx had in fact implicitly provided a theory of justice with his motto, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” According to Cohen, this simultaneously implies a model of contributive (“from each”) and distributive (“to each”) justice will still prevail under the “higher stage of communism” mentioned by Marx.102 [102] Egalitarian justice, in his sense of the term, would thus serve as the guiding principle for revolutionaries along the way.103 [103] Marxism, at least in Cohen’s version, does not consider the concept of justice anathema to its doctrine, but quite the contrary stipulates it as an article of faith: “Justice occupies a central place in revolutionary Marxist belief,” Cohen contended in 1988. “Revolutionary Marxism often misdescribes itself, owing to a lack of awareness concerning its own nature. Disparagement of the idea of justice is a prime example of this deficient self-understanding.”104 [104]

Norman Geras entered the debate rather late, summarizing all the main arguments, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and then presuming to have the final word. Between those who sought to dispense with the ideal of justice and those who sought to retain it, Geras strongly favored the second. The crux of the matter was in his view quite simple: “Marx did think capitalism was unjust, but did not think that he thought so.”105 [105] Or as he repeated in an addendum several years later: “Marx did condemn capitalism as unjust in the light of transhistorical norms, albeit inconsistently, and with his own emphatic disavowals.”106 [106] Such claims are all the more provocative given that Marx, in those few places he actually discussed justice, insisted again and again that such concepts were immanently determined by historical factors, related to the mode of production. What then could lead Geras to draw this inference? “From what Marx says about capitalist robbery, we can infer a commitment to independent and transcendent standards of justice,” he explained.107 [107]

Geras professed, against Wood and various others, that “Marxian exploitation is a form of unequal exchange, the result of a transaction in which the rule ‘equals for equals’ has been violated.”108 [108] In other words, the principle of commutative justice was circumvented by the labor contract. Far from a merely metaphorical ornament, then, the “robbery” that occurs between capitalist and worker is quite literal: “Marx’s talk of robbery is not an ‘add-on’ characterization to his pervasive portrayal of exploitation as a form of unequal exchange… The description of exploitation as an unequal exchange already says it is a kind of theft.”109 [109] But does Geras not succumb in this passage to the very bourgeois moralism Marx found so objectionable about Left Ricardianism, alluded to above? Patrick Murray’s comment that “the Left Ricardian conception of justice is the standard commercial one: equal value for equal value” is apt here.110 [110] Unable to extricate himself from this impasse, Geras imputed his own error to Marx, calling it “Marx’s own bourgeois principle.”111 [111]

Étienne Balibar is about as far removed from Geras and Cohen as one can get while still remaining a Marxist. Yet his stance on the question of Marx and justice is very similar. “It is no mystery that Marx himself was not very fond of the vocabulary of social justice and injustice,” Balibar acknowledges. “One of the reasons for his reluctant attitude may have to do with the extent to which, in his own time, the category of justice was associated to one of his intimate adversaries — namely, Proudhon, an absolute egalitarian who claimed that justice, equality (‘mutuality’), and association are reciprocal, interchangeable notions.”112 [112] Balibar nevertheless contends that some positive idea of justice is contained in the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, since to change the world one must first have an idea of how it should be: “Marx tried to avoid the term ‘justice’ itself, but certainly he could not completely avoid the idea. Communism is an idea, and even an idea of order.”113 [113] There is also, according to Balibar, some “originary experience of injustice” described in Capital.114 [114]

Various authors from the world outside of analytical Marxism gradually entered the dispute. Daniel Bensaïd, Ernesto Screpanti, and Sean Sayers all reflected on what had until then been a largely parochial affair. While Sayers allows that some of Marx’s impassioned metaphors lend themselves to a moralistic interpretation, he has no patience for the accusation, leveled principally by Geras and Cohen, that this was merely due to insufficient insight. “As an account of Marx’s ideas, this [contention] is quite absurd,” writes Sayers. “Not only does Marx quite explicitly reject such views, but more importantly, the central thrust of Marx’s whole method — the historical materialist approach — is in the clearest contradiction with them. Geras and Cohen are, of course, aware of this, but brush it aside with an arrogant disregard for hard evidence.”115 [115] Screpanti analogously argues that despite the frequent tone of moral indignation found in their writings, “Marx’s and Engels’ concept of communism cannot be interpreted as a doctrine of the good society derived from an egalitarian philosophy of justice.”116 [116] Like Luxemburg, he associates such doctrines with pre-Marxist utopianism.117 [117]

The most substantial critique of the Geras-Cohen interpretation came from Bensaïd, however. He spent almost a whole chapter in his book Marx for Our Times (1995) responding to the claims of Geras and Cohen, as well as those of Jon Elster and John Roemer. Bensaïd parsed the arguments of the first two as follows:

Geras seeks to reconcile the irreconcilable. Insofar as the very notion of justice is alien to the sphere of production, discussing the unjust character of exploitation, in effect, makes no sense. Nothing obliges us to treat justice and theft as logically connected categories: the capitalist can perfectly well rob the worker without thereby deviating from his own idea of justice. So Geras’ synthesis ultimately rests on the right to inconsistency: if Marx did not think what he believed he thought, the strategy pays off. Pushed into a corner, Geras aims to demonstrate that… Marx’s theory condemned capitalist society on the basis of criteria which are by no means relative. Although it appears to develop a relativist conception of justice, it is shot through with another conception of justice, irreducible to juridical institutions. While the formal antinomy between a relativist and a transhistoric conception of justice can only result in an aporia, there is in reality movement and mediation, a progressive development of justice… Capitalism and its specific representation of justice are open to condemnation only in the name of a superior system, just as with slavery or serfdom in their day… The whole problem then consists in determining how this superiority is defined. Here Geras’ theory of justice connects with the theory of history according to Cohen, which implies a normative measure.118 [118]

For Bensaïd,

Marx offers no general, ahistorical definition of justice. Justice is immanent in social relations. Each mode of production has its own conception, so it makes no sense to pronounce exploitation “unjust” without further explanation. Seen from the standpoint of capital, exploitation compensates for the risk, initiative, and responsibility of entrepreneurs. It seems fair so long as it partakes of the famous “correspondence” between the juridical sphere and mode of production. When challenged, it is not in the name of justice set against injustice, or right against non-right. Rather, two representations of right clash in the name of formally antagonistic juridical arguments: an antinomy, right against right. Between two equal rights, force is the arbiter. And while right is not reducible to force, it is never wholly foreign to it, even in establishing its own initial legitimacy.119 [119]

On another occasion, Bensaïd apparently quipped that “attempts to temper the critique of Marx with a theory of justice amount to a mixture of chalk and cheese.”120 [120] This is likely how Marx himself would have seen the matter, especially after one tallies the names considered in this essay and sees how they lined up politically vis-à-vis the debate over justice. Pro-justice: the petit-bourgeois anarchist Proudhon; the neo-Kantian revisionist Bernstein; the “womenphobic”121 [121] pseud Bax; the left-Labourite Cohen, and the Eustonite Geras. Contra-justice: the proletarian revolutionary Marx; the Spartacist Luxemburg; the “gifted and profound”122 [122] Lafargue; the libertarian communist Screpanti, and the Trotskyist Bensaïd. Such balance-sheets perhaps seem peremptory, but could not be more fitting when it comes to a figure like Justice, traditionally represented with a set of scales, weighing one side objectively against the other in order to render judgment.

At any rate, some final reflections might now be offered, by way of conclusion, on the subjects of justice, Lenin, and the law.


Δίκη, the Greek goddess of Justice, was according to the Orphic theogony the daughter of Νόμος (Law) and Ευσέβεια (Piety).123 [123] She was portrayed holding balancing scales, the same device used by merchants to calculate the worth of precious metals. Her Roman counterpart, Iustitia, carried a sword to illustrate the role of force in executing her judgments. During the Renaissance a blindfold was added to denote her impartiality, as seen in Hans Gierg’s 1546 sculpture for the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen in Berg. Rousseau wrote two centuries later in nearby Geneva that “the axiom of justice, cuique suum, serves as the basis of the whole right of property [droit de propriété].”124 [124] Outside of every courthouse today can be found some similar representation.

Justice is therefore indissolubly bound up with the concepts of law, right, commerce, and property, confirming Pashukanis’ aforementioned suspicion that its logic is inferred from the principle of equality in exchange. “Freedom and equality are not only respected in value-exchange, but value-exchange is in fact the real, productive basis of all freedom and equality,” Marx maintained in the Grundrisse. “As pure ideas, they are merely idealized expressions of this basis. If developed into juridical and political systems, they are merely this basis taken to a higher power.”125 [125] This is the sense in which the reactionary author cited at the outset was correct that the ideal of equality receives its currency from monetary relations, or the circulation of commodities, although he wrongly equated Marxism with this ideal. Engels refuted this erroneous formula at length in Anti-Dühring.126 [126] Marxism aims to transcend equality before the law, and thereby justice as such.

Bourgeois theoreticians of justice have at times discerned this more clearly than self-styled Marxian socialists, even if their reasons for pointing it out are deprecatory. Kelsen, for example: “[Communism] is the typical utopia of a Golden Age, a paradise where not only — as Marx prophesied — the ‘narrow horizon of bourgeois law’ but, since there will be no conflicts of interests, also the much wider horizon of justice will be completely overcome.”127 [127] John Rawls likewise commented in his Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy that “for Marx, a full communist society is beyond justice.”128 [128] Recall that for Hume, the idea of justice was a function of material scarcity. With enough wealth to satisfy the needs of every individual member of society, struggles over who gets what would vanish. Plenitude is one of the basic prerequisites of communism.129 [129]

Lenin’s comrade and close confidant, the lawyer Aleksandr Goikhbarg, explored the consequences of this claim in a 1924 article on “justice and the ideology of law [справедливость и идеология права].” As he saw things, “the progress of justice (law) came to an end with the establishment of the bourgeois system.” Goikhbarg regarded the sprawling legal codes of modern society, indeed its entire machinery of administration, as outgrowths of capitalist relations of production. “The bourgeoisie is compelled to conceal the unattractive nakedness of its system with eternal ideas, ideas of justice, law, etc.” Goikhbarg remarked. “Oscar Wilde said that if a woman uses strong perfume, then she has something to conceal. Lafargue said the same is true of the bourgeoisie.”130 [130] Hence, the goal of a proletarian revolution is not to replace bourgeois law with proletarian law but to dispense with the need for law altogether, namely by abolishing the value-form.

Chris Arthur, a British Marxist, has written eloquently on this subject in his 1986 treatise, Dialectics of Labor:

For Marx, [proletarian] revolution is not a juridical rearrangement realizing “justice.” Nor is it a narrowly economic matter of efficiently allocating resources in order to meet vital needs. It is a question, rather, of the fundamental transformation of social being, and so of individuals, their activity, and their essential relations. Quite simply, it has to do with what socialism is fundamentally about — the emergence of a human society.131 [131]

Some might well object that Marx’s uneasiness with the juridical connotations of “justice” would hardly preclude adopting the versions advanced by figures like Derrida and Badiou. Derrida specified that the justice of which he spoke was “never reducible to laws or rights,”132 [132] an “incalculable” justice rooted in the “infinite asymmetry” of encountering-the-Other. That is, as outlined in his Specters of Marx, a justice which is “not for law, for the calculation of restitution, the economy of vengeance and punishment.”133 [133] He underscored “the necessity of thinking justice on the basis of the gift, beyond right, calculation, and commerce.”134 [134] Badiou similarly stresses its higher, more philosophical valence: “Justice is a philosophical word, at least leaving aside (as one should) its juridical signification, which is entirely the preserve of the police and the magistracy.”135 [135] Philosophically, he contends that justice is subjective and not objective, as a condition of political truth.136 [136]

Why insist on the incompatibility of Marxism with these two more nuanced conceptions of justice? Or, for that matter, with the critical theory of justice articulated by Jürgen Habermas and Rainer Forst? Forst’s rendition, in particular, employs quasi-Marxist terminology when he speaks of “different modes of normative justification”137 [137] or “the critical theory of transnational justice.”138 [138] Like his longtime mentor, the venerable Habermas, Forst attempts to traverse both liberal and communitarian theories of justice, using a “critical” framework buttressed by certain “normative” commitments. Still, this approach suffers from the same limitations as that of the Frankfurt School more generally since Horkheimer’s death. In renouncing the via negativa, it affirms only the most uninspired kind of social democracy. The so-called “New International” proposed by Derrida was little more than an inchoate assembly, “a link of affinity, suffering, and hope.”139 [139] Meanwhile, though Badiou’s justice simply describes what is without prescribing what ought to be, it remains a weightless, unhistorical option: i.e., “the eternal inscription that our time is forever capable of.”140 [140]

Every variation on the theme so far has had justice playing an ideological part. None of which is to say that Marxism is indifferent to injustice, or to any of the manifold hypocrisies that can be found under the capitalist social order. After all, Lenin was a legal advocate for workers in innumerable cases during the 1890s. He frequently highlighted this or that “crying injustice” (вопиющая несправедливость), just as Engels had before him (himmelschreiendes Unrecht). Yet this is not the heart of the Marxian critique, nor can it be, short of a total revision of its principles. Workers will not be moved to action by endless exhortation, which unfortunately seems to be the strategy of most leftist organizations today. Scandal! Infamy! Outrage! The masses sooner or later simply tune out. “Communists do not oppose egoism to selflessness or selflessness to egoism,” Marx and Engels proclaimed in 1846, “nor do they express this contradiction theoretically in either its sentimental or its high-flown ideological form; they demonstrate instead its material source, with which it disappears of itself, but do not preach morality at all.”141 [141] Unlike now, it would seem.

By now it should be clear that justice belongs to the ideological superstructure and not the material base. Despite occupying this rarefied space, however, ideology can have a repercussive effect upon the economic process, which is to say it can “become a material force.”142 [142] Possessing no independent force of its own, the idea of justice can nevertheless conspire with other factors at pivotal moments to alter the course of history. Lenin reflected on one such instance in early October 1917, while preparing to seize power:

Justice is an empty word, say the intellectuals and those rascals, who are inclined to proclaim themselves Marxists on the lofty grounds that they have “contemplated the hind parts” of economic materialism… Ideas become a real power when they grip the masses [массами]. And precisely at the present time the Bolsheviks, representing revolutionary proletarian internationalism, have embodied through their policy an idea motivating millions.

Of course justice alone, the mere anger of the people against exploitation, would never have brought them onto the true path of socialism. Now that the material apparatus of big banks, syndicates, railways, and so on has grown, thanks to capitalism, now that the immense experience of the advanced countries has accumulated a stock of engineering marvels, the employment of which is being hindered by capitalism, now that class-conscious workers have built a party of some quarter-million members to systematically lay hold of this apparatus and set it in motion supported by the working and exploited people — now that these conditions exist, no power on earth can prevent the Bolsheviks, if they do not allow themselves to be scared and if they succeed in taking power, from retaining it until the triumph of the world socialist revolution everywhere.143 [143]

Significantly, Lenin started off by paraphrasing the young Marx’s line, “theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.”144 [144] Even after claiming that ideas can influence events, Lenin went on to list all of the material conditions which had to be in place to ensure victory. All of which further proves the point that Marxism is not founded on the notion that capitalism is unjust. Lenin’s comments about the role of morality for revolutionaries, made during a speech to the Komsomol in 1921, are no less perfunctory, effectively reducing communist ethics to the furtherance of working-class interests.145 [145] (Trotsky would later note the way Lenin’s flexible moral standards often led his enemies to accuse him of “cynicism,” claiming he subscribed to the facile belief that “the ends justify the means.”)146 [146] Values like justice and morality are strictly relative, shifting sands conditioned by material circumstances, not stable grounds for Marxist politics.


1 [147] Victor Serge. Conquered City [1930]. Translated by Richard Greeman. (NYRB Classics. New York, NY: 2011). Pg. 37. Cf.: “If something is falling, one must also give it a push!” Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None [1890]. Translated by Adrian del Caro. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2006). Pg. 168.
2 [148] Alan Maass. The Case for Socialism. (Haymarket Books. Chicago, IL: 2010). Pg. 13.
3 [149] Ibid., pg. 116.
4 [150] Alain Badiou. Metapolitics [1998]. Translated by Jason Barker. (Verso Books. New York, NY: 2005). Pg. 99.
5 [151] Sigurd Strong. “Summarizing Descent.” [152] Radix Journal. (June 26, 2014).
6 [153] “At the beginning of the 1840s, Marx’s doctrine by no means dominated. It was only one of numerous forms of socialism. [Those] that did dominate… [concealed] the bourgeois nature of democratic reforms under diverse, quasi-socialist phrases about ‘the people,’ ‘justice,’ ‘right,’ and so on.” Vladimir Lenin. “The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx” [1914]. Translated by Stepan Apresyan. Collected Works, Volume 18. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1963). Pg. 582.
7 [154] “Law [droit] is essentially deconstructible. But… justice in itself, if such a thing exists outside of law, is not deconstructibleDeconstruction is justice.” Jacques Derrida. “Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority’” [1990]. Translated by Gil Anidjar. Acts of Religion. (Routledge. New York, NY: 2002). Pgs. 242-243.
8 [155] Michel de Montaigne. “Of the Resemblance of Children to Fathers.” Translated by Donald Frame. Essays [1580]. (Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA: 1957). Pg. 580.
9 [156] “There is nothing subject to more continuous agitation than the laws. Since being born I have seen those of our neighbors, the English, change three or four times.” Montaigne. “Apology for Raymond Sebond.” Ibid., pg. 436.
10 [157] “There is nothing in the world so varied as customs and laws. A given thing is abominable here, that brings commendation elsewhere.” Ibid., pg. 437.
11 [158] “Justice is what is established. So all established laws will necessarily be held up as just without examination.” Blaise Pascal. Pensées [1662]. Translated by Honor Levi. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 1995). Pg. 126.
12 [159] Ibid., pg. 25. Pascal is directly commenting here on Montaigne’s essay about justice, customs, and law.
13 [160] The other virtues of the soul being wisdom, temperance, courage, and piety. See Plato. Protagoras [375 bc]. Translated by Karen Bell and Stanley Lombardo. Complete Works. (Hackett Publishing Company. Indianapolis, IN: 1997). Pgs. 746-790.
14 [161] Plato. Republic [380 bc]. Translated by GMA Grube. Ibid., pg. 976.
15 [162] Marcus Tullius Cicero. On the Laws [51 bc]. Translated by James EG Zetzel. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1999). Pgs. 111-112.
16 [163] Marcus Tullius Cicero. On Moral Ends [45 bc]. Translated by Raphael Woolf. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2001). Pg. 140.
17 [164] Adam Smith. The Theory of Moral Sentiments [1759]. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 2002). Pg. 103.
18 [165] Hans Kelsen. General Theory of Law and State [written 1933]. Translated by Anders Wedberg. (Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA: 1945). Pg. 10.
19 [166] Ibid., pg. 439.
20 [167] Aristotle. Politics [350 bc]. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Complete Works, Volume 2. (Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ: 1984). Pg. 2035.
21 [168] Plato. The Laws [348 bc]. Translated by Trevor J. Saunders. Complete Works. Pg. 1433.
22 [169] Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics [340 bc]. Translated by William David Ross. Complete Works, Volume 2. Pg. 1785.
See also: “How is ‘equality’ to be obtained? Democrats say that justice is that to which the majority agree, oligarchs that to which the wealthier class agree… In both principles there is some inequality and injustice. For if justice is the will of the few, any one person who has more wealth than all the rest of the rich put together ought, upon the oligarchical principle, to have sole power — but this would be tyranny; or if justice is the will of the majority… they will unjustly confiscate the property of the wealthy minority.” Aristotle, Politics. Pg. 2092.
23 [170] “[A] judge tries to equalize things by means of the penalty, taking away from the gain of the assailant. For the term ‘gain’ is applied to the person who inflicts a wound, and ‘loss’ to the sufferer.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Pgs. 1786-1787.
24 [171] Plato, Republic. Pg. 1064.
25 [172] Socrates: What is justice useful for getting and using in peacetime?
Polemarchus: Contracts, Socrates.
Socrates: And by contracts do you mean partnerships, or what?
Polemarchus: I mean partnerships.
Socrates: In what kind of partnership… is a just person a better partner than a builder or a lyre-player, in the way that a lyre-player is better than a just person at hitting the right notes?
Polemarchus: In money matters. Ibid., pgs. 977-978.
26 [173] Charles-Louis de Secondat, Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws [1748]. Translated by Basia Carolyn Miller, Harold Samuel Stone, and Anne M. Cohler. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1989). Pg. 339.
27 [174] Horace’s original maxim being atque ipsa utilitas, iusti prope mater et aequi. Hugo Grotius. Commentary on the Law of Prize and Booty [1603]. Translated by Gladys L. Williams. (Liberty Fund. Indianapolis, IN: 2006). Pg. 21.
28 [175] Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan [1651]. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 1996). Pgs. 95-96.
29 [176] John Locke. An Essay on Human Understanding [1689]. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1997). Pgs. 487-488.
30 [177] “That is what leads us to be considerate and respectful of all our neighbor’s interests, and scrupulously diligent never to harm him. This fear keeps man within the limits of the possessions that birth or fortune has given him. Without such fear, he would be constantly making raids on other people.” François de la Rochefoucauld. Moral Reflections or Maxims [1665]. Translated by Francine Giguère. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 2007). Pg. 155.
31 [178] David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature [1738]. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 2007). Pgs. 317-318.
32 [179] Denis Diderot. “Droit naturel” [1755]. Translated by John Hope Mason and Robert Wokler. Political Writings. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1992). Pg. 17.
33 [180] Karl Marx. “Letter to Friedrich Engels” [4 November 1864]. Translated by Christopher Upward. Collected Works, Volume 42. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1988). Pg. 18.
34 [181] “The review Zukunft is by no means satisfactory, as its main endeavor is to substitute ideological catchphrases like ‘justice’ [ideologische Phrasen von ‚Gerechtigkeit’], etc., for materialist knowledge [materialistischer Erkenntnis]. Its program is wretched, peddling phantasms about the future of society.” Karl Marx. “Letter to Wilhelm Bracke” [23 October 1877]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Collected Works, Volume 45. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1991). Pg. 285.
Engels reiterated this point in a letter roughly two years later: “According to [the Zukunft], socialism was to arise out of the concept of ‘justice.’ Such a program directly excluded from the outset all those who ultimately regarded socialism, not as the logical outcome of an idea like justice, but as the ideal product of a socioeconomic process.” Friedrich Engels. “Letter to Eduard Bernstein” [26 June 1879]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Collected Works, Volume 45. Pg. 362.
35 [182] Karl Marx. The Poverty of Philosophy. Translated by Jack Cohen. Collected Works, Volume 6. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1976). Pg. 127.
36 [183] Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 [1867]. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books/NLB. New York, NY: 1982). Pgs. 178-179.
37 [184] Evgenii Pashukanis. General Theory of Law and Marxism [1923]. Translated by Barbara Einhorn. (Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick, NJ: 2002). Pg. 161. Translation modified.
38 [185] Karl Marx. “Critique of the Gotha Program” [1875]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Collected Works, Volume 24. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1989). Pgs. 86-87.
39 [186] “Justice is a Rechtsbegriff, a concept related to law and right.” Allen W. Wood. “The Marxian Critique of Justice” [1972]. Marx, Justice, and History. (Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ: 1980). Pg. 26.
40 [187] Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy. Pg. 193.
41 [188] Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pg. 301.
42 [189] “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The German Ideology [1845]. Translated by William Lough. Collected Works, Volume 5. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1975). Pg. 59.
43 [190] Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pg. 680.
44 [191] “Ricardo does not explain how the exchange of commodities… gives rise to the unequal exchange between capital and labor… He therefore leaves the origin of surplus value obscure.” Karl Marx. Theories of Surplus Value [1863]. Translated by Emile Burns. Collected Works, Volume 32. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1989). Pg. 210.
45 [192] “Capitalist and worker confront one another merely as the owners of money and commodities, respectively, and their transactions, like those of all buyers and sellers, are the exchange of equivalents.” Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pg. 1002.
46 [193] Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy. Pg. 144.
47 [194] See the criticism of this concept in Wood, “The Marxian Critique of Justice.” Pgs. 20-22. For a more global version, see Arghiri Emmanuel. Unequal Exchange: A Study of the Imperialism of Trade [1969]. Translated by Brian Pearce. (Monthly Review Press. New York, NY: 1972). A criticism of Emmanuel’s treatise can be found in Robert Brenner. “The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism.” New Left Review. (№ I/104: July-August 1977). Pgs. 62-66.
48 [195] Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 3 [1870s]. Translated by David Fernbach. (Penguin Books/NLB. New York, NY: 1991). Pgs. 460-461.
49 [196] Ein gerechter Tagelohn serves as “a fair day’s wage” in the Marx-Engels-Werke edition, significantly. Karl Marx. “Value, Price, and Profit” [1865]. Collected Works, Volume 20. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1985). Pg. 59.
50 [197] Left Ricardianism aimed to establish a theory of “fair wages” (gerechten Lohnes), to calculate the real value of labor-time, ignoring deeper questions of why labor is calculated as value in the first place. Hans-Georg Backhaus. Dialektik der Wertform Untersuchungen zur Marxschen Ökonomiekritik. (Ça ira Verlag. Freiberg, Deutschland: 1997). Pg. 52.
51 [198] “Fair distribution” is gerechte Verteilung in the original. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Program.” Pg. 88.
52 [199] Rolf Hosfeld. Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography [2009]. Translated by Bernard Heise. (Berghahn Books. New York, NY: 2013). Pg. 16.
53 [200] Friedrich Engels. “The Communists and Karl Heinzen” [7 October 1847]. Translated by Christopher Upward. Collected Works, Volume 6. Pg. 301.
54 [201] Karl Marx. “Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality: A Contribution to German Cultural History (Contra Karl Heinzen)” [11 November 1847]. Translated by Christopher Upward. Ibid., pg. 322.
55 [202] “Communism abolishes eternal truths, all religion and all morality, instead of reconstituting them upon a new basis.” Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party [February 1848]. Translated by Samuel Moore. Ibid., pg. 504.
56 [203] “The change of name from League of the Just to Communist League was adopted because this name is no longer suited to the time and does not in the least express what we want… How many there are who want justice, that is, what they call justice, without necessarily being communists! We are not distinguished by wanting justice in general — anyone can claim that for himself — but by our attack on the existing social order and on private property, by wanting community of property, by being communists.” Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels. “A Circular of the First Congress of the Communist League to the League Members” [9 June 1847]. Translated by Barbara Ruhemann. Ibid., pg. 595.
57 [204] Karl Marx. “Latter to Friedrich Engels” [1 August 1877]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Collected Works, Volume 45. Pg. 259.
58 [205] Karl Marx. “Letter to Friedrich Sorge” [19 October 1877]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Ibid., pg. 283.
59 [206] Franz Mehring. Karl Marx: The Story of His Life [1919]. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. (University of Michigan Press. Ann Arbor, MI: 1962). Pgs. 162-163. Labriola, another early disciple, likewise affirmed: “Marx and Engels had no words of eulogy and exaltation, of invocation and regret, for the two goddesses of philosophical mythology, justice and equality [la Giustizia e la Eguaglianza], who cut so sad a figure in the practical affairs of everyday life.” Antonio Labriola. Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History [1897]. Translated by Charles H. Kerr. (Charles H. Kerr & Co. Chicago, IL: 1908). Pgs. 13-14.
60 [207] Theodor Adorno. “Sexual Taboos and Law Today” [1963]. Translated by Henry W. Pickford. Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. (Columbia University Press. New York, NY: 1998). Pg. 71.
61 [208] “In my view, Marxism itself suffers from an ‘ethical deficit’ — or indeed a flagrant contradiction.” Alex Callinicos. Resources of Critique. (Polity Press. Malden, MA: 2006). Pg. 220.
62 [209] On Stammler, see Lenin’s impressions: “I recently read Stammler’s book here, in German, and felt very dissatisfied with it. Nothing but learned nonsense and fruitless scholasticism… Stammler in my opinion is an excellent argument against neo-Kantianism. To attempt to fight Marxism armed with nothing but foolishly compiled definitions, i.e. the way Stammler does, (he has never written anything but textbooks for students of Roman law…) is too absurd an undertaking.” Vladimir Lenin. “Letter to Maria Ulyanov” [7 August 1899]. Translated by George Hanna. Collected Works, Volume 37. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1967). Pg. 272.
63 [210] Eduard Bernstein. “The Realistic and the Ideological Moments in Socialism” [1898]. Translated by Henry Tudor and J.M. Tudor. Marxism and Social Democracy: The Revisionist Debate. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1988). Pgs. 237-238. Translation amended.
64 [211] Ibid., pgs. 238-239. Translation amended.
65 [212] Kautsky to Plekhanov, 22 May 1898: “I am least of all bothered by neo-Kantianism. Philosophy has never been my strong suit, and though I stand on the foundations of historical materialism, I believe the economic and historical position of Marx and Engels can, if push comes to shove, be reconciled with neo-Kantianism.” Cited in Manfred Steger. “Historical Materialism and Ethics: Eduard Bernstein’s Revisionist Perspective.” History of European Ideas. (Volume 14, № 5: 1992). Pg. 661.
66 [213] Bernstein cited in Manfred Steger. The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism: Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1997). Pg. 116.
67 [214] Eduard Bernstein. Preconditions of Socialism [1899]. Translated by Henry Tudor. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1993). Pgs. 189-210.
68 [215] Bernstein added that “even envy [der Neid] can often motivate the demand for justice,” as if to confirm Nietzsche’s worst fears about socialist ressentiment. Kant would never have abided this, however, since envy would be a “pathological” motive impinging on pure duty. Bernstein, “The Realistic and the Ideological Moments in Socialism.” Pgs. 239-240.
69 [216] Rosa Luxemburg. Social Reform or Revolution? [1899]. Translated by Integer. (Haymarket Books. Chicago, IL: 2007). Pg. 99.
70 [217] Ibid., pg. 84. Translation modified.
71 [218] Ibid., pgs. 84-85. Translation amended.
72 [219] Rosa Luxemburg. “Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle” [12 May 1912]. Translated by Rosemarie Waldrop. The Rosa Luxemburg Reader. (Monthly Review Press. New York, NY: 2004). Pg. 242.
73 [220] Karl Marx. “Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge” [15 December 1881]. Translated by Peter Ross and Betty Ross. Collected Works, Volume 46. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1992). Pg. 163.
74 [221] John Cowley. The Victorian Encounter with Marx: A Study of Ernest Belfort Bax. (British Academic Press. London, England: 1992). Pgs. 19-23.
75 [222] “I find the paper [Justice] awfully dull… Hyndman combines internationalist phraseology with jingoistic aspirations. Joynes is a muddled ignoramus; I saw him a fortnight ago. Morris is all very well as far as he goes, but not far. Poor Bax gets stuck in German philosophy, of rather an antiquated character.” Friedrich Engels. “Letter to Laura Lafargue” [16 February 1884]. Collected Works, Volume 47. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1995).  Pg. 105.
76 [223] “Bax thought that Marx had neglected the ethical aspect of socialism… [but] argued that French positivism could provide Marxism with a suitable humanist, republican ethic.” Mark Bevir. “Ernest Belfort Bax: Marxist, Idealist, and Positivist.” Journal of the History of Ideas. (Volume 54, № 1: January 1993). Pg. 120.
77 [224] “[Bax] described the logical course of history primarily in terms of changing dialectical relationships between the individual and society and between mind and nature… not between opposed classes or changes in the mode of production.” Ibid., pgs. 131-132.
78 [225] Ernest Belfort Bax. The Ethics of Socialism: Essays in Socialist Criticism. (Swan Sonnenschein. New York, NY: 1889). Pg. 75.
79 [226] Ibid., pgs. 82-83. Some of Bax’s stylistic idiosyncrasies have been corrected.
80 [227] Ernest Belfort Bax. Problems of Men, Mind, and Morals. (Small, Maynard, & Co. Boston, MA: 1912). Pg. 23.
81 [228] “Basing itself on the unreasoned emotional factor of sympathy, which is the basis of all communal association whatsoever, justice formulates ‘equality’ as the basis of social relations… Once the primary communal group gets broken up, however, individualism enters as distinctions of wealth and rank arise, largely owing to the introduction of the institution of slavery… Hence the idea of justice, or equitable equality, though always the groundwork of ethical consciousness, becomes obscured and distorted in various ways. With the modification of the idea of justice, the keystone of the whole, all ethical conceptions become changed.” Ibid., pgs. 24-25.
82 [229] “This root-principle of utilitarianism, like all the saws of eighteenth-century empirical philosophy which sound so plausible, is but one of those half-truths which, upon more diligent investigation, evince themselves as the most insidious of fallacies.” Bax, Ethics of Socialism. Pg. 23.
83 [230] Bax, Problems of Men, Mind, and Morals. Pg. 15.
84 [231] “Undoubtedly, on the practical side of Marx’s activity, the ethical moment, the idea of justice towards a class which since entering the arena of history has been oppressed and disinherited, assuredly played a strong role.” Ibid., pgs. 169-170.
85 [232] Leslie Derfler. Paul Lafargue and the Founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882. (Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA: 1991). Pg. 26.
86 [233] Karl Marx. “Letter to Laura Marx” [20 March 1866]. Collected Works, Volume 42. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1987). Pg. 246.
87 [234] Derfler, Paul Lafargue and the Founding of French Marxism. Pg. 171.
88 [235] Paul Lafargue. “Recherches sur les origines de l’idée du bien et du juste.” Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger. (Tome 20: juillet à décembre 1885). Pg. 258.
89 [236] Paul Lafargue. „Der Ursprung der Idee des Gerechten und Ungerechten“. Die Neue Zeit. (Volume XVII, № 40: 21 Juni 1899). Pg. 421.
90 [237] Ibid., Die Neue Zeit. (Volume XVII, № 42: 5 Juli 1899). Pgs. 492-493.
91 [238] Paul Lafargue. „Marx’ Historischer Materialismus.“ Die Neue Zeit. (Volume XXII, № 25: 16 März 1904). Pgs. 783-784.
92 [239] Ibid., pg. 786.
93 [240] Lafargue, „Der Ursprung der Idee des Gerechten und Ungerechten“. Pg. 493.
94 [241] Ernest Belfort Bax. „Politisch-Ethische Begriff“. Die Neue Zeit. (Volume XXIII, № 23: 1 März 1905). Pg. 760.
95 [242] Paul Lafargue. Le Déterminisme Economique de Karl Marx. (V. Giard & E. Brière. Paris, France: 1909). Pgs. 22-23.
96 [243] Robert C. Tucker. “Marx and Distributive Justice.” The Marxian Revolutionary Idea. (W.W. Norton & Co. New York, NY: 1969). Pg. 37.
97 [244] Wood, “The Marxian Critique of Justice.” Pg. 32.
98 [245] G.A. Cohen. “The Labor Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation” [1979]. Marx, Justice, and History. Pg. 138.
99 [246] Ibid., pg. 135.
100 [247] Bernstein, Preconditions of Socialism. Pg. 55.
101 [248] Cohen, “The Labor Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation.” Pg. 140. Also G.A. Cohen. “Exploitation in Marx: What Makes it Unjust?” [1988]. Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1995).
102 [249] G.A. Cohen. “Self-Ownership, Communism, and Equality.” Ibid., pgs. 116-125.
103 [250] See G.A. Cohen. “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice” [1989]. Essays in Political Philosophy. (Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ: 2011).
104 [251] G.A. Cohen. “Freedom, Justice, and Capitalism” [1982]. History, Labor, Freedom: Themes from Marx. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY: 1988). Pg. 297.
105 [252] Norman Geras. “The Controversy about Marx and Justice.” New Left Review. (Volume I, № 150: March-April 1985). Pg. 70. Compare: “While Marx believed that capitalism was unjust, and that communism was just, he did not always realize he had those beliefs.” Cohen, “Self-Ownership, Communism, and Equality.” Pg. 139.
106 [253] Norman Geras. “Bringing Marx to Justice: An Addendum & Rejoinder.” New Left Review. (Volume I, № 195: September-October 1992). Pg. 37.
107 [254] Geras, “The Controversy about Marx and Justice.” Pg. 58.
108 [255] Geras, “Bringing Marx to Justice.” Pg. 48.
109 [256] Ibid., pg. 53.
110 [257] Patrick Murray. “The Illusion of the Economic” [2002]. The Mismeasure of Wealth: Essays on Marx and Social Form. (Brill Academic Publishers. Boston, MA: 2016). Pg. 403.
111 [258] Geras, “Bringing Marx to Justice.” Pg. 57.
112 [259] Étienne Balibar. “Justice and Equality: A Political Dilemma? Pascal, Plato, Marx.” The Borders of Justice. (Temple University Press. Philadelphia, PA: 2012). Pg. 23.
113 [260] Ibid., pg. 19.
114 [261] An experience “that logically precedes analysis of the structure of exploitation, when the quantitative notion of surplus-value (Mehrwert) becomes ‘translated’ into the qualitative notion of surplus-labor (Mehrarbeit).” Ibid., pgs. 24-25.
115 [262] Sean Sayers. “Analytical Marxism and Morality” [1990]. Marxism and Human Nature. (Routledge. New York, NY: 1998). Pgs. 114-115.
116 [263] Ernesto Screpanti. Libertarian Communism: Marx, Engels, and the Political Economy of Freedom. (Palgrave Macmillan. New York, NY: 2007). Pg. xiv.
117 [264] “Two characteristics make eighteenth-century socialism utopian: 1) the pretension to establish an absolute ethical truth to use as a foundation of a theory of justice; 2) the pretension of being able to achieve this truth in a cognitive approach.” Ibid., pg. 36.
118 [265] Daniel Bensaïd. Marx for Our Times: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Critique [1995]. Translated by Gregory Elliott. (Verso Books. New York, NY: 2002). Pg. 127.
119 [266] Ibid., pg. 133.
120 [267] Daniel Bensaïd, quoted in Callinicos, Resources of Critique. Pg. 221.
121 [268] Friedrich Engels called Bax “womenphobic” shortly before he died, as related by Eleanor Marx-Aveling in her rejoinder to Bax in his paper Justice. “The Proletarian in the Home.”
122 [269] Vladimir Lenin. “Speech Delivered in the Name of the RSDLP at the Funeral of Paul and Laura Lafargue” [3 December 1911]. Translated by Dora Cox. Collected Works, Volume 17. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1963). Pg. 304.
123 [270] “Orphic Fragment 248” [ca. 300-200 bc]. The Orphic Hymns. Translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow. (Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD: 2013). Pg. 180.
124 [271] “Thus cuique suum [to each his own] because private property and civil freedom are the foundations of the community.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Social Contract [1762]. Translated by Victor Gourevitch. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1997). Pg. 161.
125 [272] Karl Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, Rough Draft. Translated by Martin Nicolaus. (Penguin Books/NLB. New York, NY: 1973). Pg. 245.
126 [273] “The demand for equality in the mouth of the proletariat has a double meaning. In both cases, however, the real content of the proletarian demand for equality is the demand for the abolition of classes. Any demand for equality that goes beyond that, of necessity passes into absurdity.” Friedrich Engels. Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science. Translated by Emile Burns. Collected Works, Volume 25. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1987). Pg. 99.
127 [274] Hans Kelsen. “What is Justice?” [27 May 1952]. What is Justice? And Other Essays. (University of California Press. Berkeley, CA: 1957). Pg. 16.
128 [275] John Rawls. Lectures of the History of Political Philosophy. (Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA: 2007). Pg. 322.
129 [276] Friedrich Engels. “Principles of Communism.” Translated by Paul Sweezy. Collected Works, Volume 6. Pgs. 352-353.
130 [277] A.G. Goikhbarg. “Some Notes on Law” [1924]. Excerpted in Soviet Political Thought: An Anthology. Translated by Michael Jaworskyj. (Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD: 1967). Pgs. 126-127.
131 [278] Chris Arthur. Dialectics of Labor: Marx and His Relation to Hegel. (Basil Blackwell. New York, NY: 1986). Pg. 146.
132 [279] Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International [1993]. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. (Routledge. New York, NY: 1995). Pg. xviii.
133 [280] Ibid., pg. 26.
134 [281] Ibid., pg. 32.
135 [282] Badiou, Metapolitics. Pg. 96.
136 [283] “Equality signifies nothing objective here… Equality is subjective.” Ibid., pg. 100.
137 [284] Rainer Forst. Contexts of Justice: Political Philosophy beyond Liberalism and Communitarianism [1994]. Translated by John M.M. Farrell. (University of California Press. Berkeley, CA: 2002). Pg. 230.
Forst tries to resolve the liberal versus communitarian debate on justice in terms of classical German philosophy, Kantian Moralität versus Hegelian Sittlichkeit, balanced according to some Aristotelian μεσότης: “The debate between liberalism and communitarianism teaches us that it is not enough to simply juxtapose the good and individual rights (or the morally right), Sittlichkeit and Moralität, concrete contexts and abstract reason… Justice consists in appropriately determining and bringing together these contexts. According to this theory, a society that unites these contexts may be called just.” Ibid., pg. 292.
138 [285] Rainer Forst. Right to Justification: Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice [2007]. Translated by Jeffrey Flynn. (Columbia University Press. New York, NY: 2012). Pgs. 265-266.
139 [286] Derrida, Specters of Marx. Pg. 106.
140 [287] Badiou, Metapolitics. Pg. 102.
141 [288] Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. Pg. 247.
142 [289] Wilhelm Reich. “Ideology as a Material Force” [1933]. Translated by Vincent R. Carfagno. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. (The Noonday Press. New York, NY: 1970). Pg. 17.
143 [290] Vladimir Lenin. “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?” [1 October 1917]. Translated by Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna. Collected Works, Volume 26. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1964). Pgs. 129-130. Translation modified.
144 [291] Karl Marx. “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” [1843]. Translated by Clemens Dutt. Collected Works, Volume 3. (International Publishers. New York, NY: 1975). Pg. 182.
145 [292] “Is there such a thing as communist ethics or communist morality? Certainly there is. Frequently it is suggested we have no ethics of our own. Members of the bourgeoisie accuse us of rejecting all morality. But this is a method of confusing the issue, of throwing dust in the eyes of the workers and peasants. We reject morality in the sense given it by the bourgeoisie, who based it upon God’s commandments. Here we explain we do not believe in God, and know perfectly well that the clergy, landowners, and bourgeoisie often invoke His name in order to further their own interests as exploiters. Or, instead of basing morality on the commandments of God, they base it on idealist or semi-idealist phrases, which always amounted to something very similar. We reject any morality based on extra-human and extra-class concepts, and say this is deception, dupery, stultification of the workers and peasants in the interests of the landowners and capitalists. Rather, our morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle, from which it stems.” Vladimir Lenin. “Tasks of the Youth Leagues” [2 October 1921]. Translated by Julius Katzer. Collected Works, Volume 31. (Progress Publishers. Moscow, USSR: 1966). Pgs. 290-291.
146 [293] “Official bourgeois thought today still views justice [справедливость], rights [право], honor as absolute values and higher criteria. Dialectical materialism razed this kingdom of idealistic mythology to the ground, showing how imperceptible shifts in economics pave the way for a radical change in moral criteria: the old values are transformed into their opposite, against them new values enter the scene, the carrier of which is a new class or stratum, or even a new generation of the old class itself. It is quite common in philistine circles to accuse Lenin of cynicism [цинизме]. But this expresses precisely their hostility to the dialectical worldview, a struggle for absolute values, both essential for covering up their pitiful, barren, self-interested practice.” Leon Trotsky. Notebooks on Hegel [1933]. Translated by Philip Pomper. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolution. (Columbia University Press. New York, NY: 1986). Pgs. 87-88.

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Paris, December 5, 2019: Tense moments on the first day of the nationwide strike against the proposed changes of the pension system in France. We’re waiting on Place de la République for the demo to arrive. The demo started at Gare de l’Est (only about 15 minutes walk from République)…