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

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 being at its heart a “struggle for justice and equality.”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 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

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 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. [Read more →]

Boris Souvarine: Black October – Ten Years of the Russian Revolution (1927)

“Leninism is the Opium of the International”

Boris Souvarine (1895-1984) was a co-founder of the French Communist Party and activist in the Communist International. He broke from the party in 1924 and became a critical supporter and part of the anti-Stalinist opposition within the international communist movement, observing and analysing the degeneration of the Bolsheviks from a revolutionary force to the political organisation of a new ruling stratum in Soviet Russia. When discussing if and how to address the centenary of the Russian October Revolution in datacide, we came across the text Black October by Souvarine. This text appeared in 1927 in the journal Bulletin Communiste, one of the mouthpieces of the communist opposition in France. This insightful text has, as far as we can see, never been translated into English before. With hindsight it can be judged as too optimistic despite its harsh criticisms of the regime, but the catastrophic developments that turned the Bolshevik takeover into a full fledged counter-revolution had not completely unravelled in 1927. Of course we are aware of the other critiques of Bolshevism coming from both left communist and anarchist circles, some of which are easily available in English. Others are still relatively obscure, especially the critiques from the French, Italian and German dissident Marxist milieus. We are documenting a crucial assessment of a particularly lucid writer for the first time in English here. Illustrations by a.a.a

The tenth anniversary of the October Revolution was a paradoxical celebration with many contradictions that obscured the general meaning of the evolution of the first proletarian state. [Read more →]