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David Renton and Bill Bowring – a debate on socialism and human rights

David Renton in Socialist Lawyer Number 64, June 2013, p.32;  and reply in Number 65, October 2013 p.40

http://www.haldane.org/s/SocialistLawyer64.pdf

http://www.haldane.org/s/SocialistLawyer65.pdf

Do socialists still have an alternative concept of rights? David Renton

An obvious starting point is Karl Marx’s position on human rights. We can begin with his response in 1844 to Bruno Bauer’s pamphlet The Jewish Question, in which Bauer opposed Jewish demands for political liberation on the grounds that no one in Germany was emancipated and that Jews should fight not for their liberation but for universal liberation. This sparked some caustic remarks from Marx on the limited notion of liberation espoused by Bauer. Political emancipation, Marx observed, took the form of negative liberties such as the right not to be imprisoned or the right not to be prohibited from having a profession. Marx wrote: ‘Liberty … is the right to do everything that harms no one else … [T]he right of man to liberty is based not on the association of man with man, but on the separation of man from man. It is the right of this separation, the right of the restricted individual, withdrawn into himself. The practical application of man’s right to liberty is man’s right to private property.’

Over the next forty years, Marx and Engels were to sharpen this critique of rights and develop a richer sense of how an alternative society might work. But they never wavered from this original scepticism to demands for a universal ‘freedom’. Faced with the proposal that there should be a right to work, Marx’s instinctive answer was to demand what his son-in-law Paul Lafargue nicely formulated as ‘the right to be lazy’, i.e. rather than just demanding that all should be able to work, Marx and his allies wanted everyone to be free from having to work.

Perhaps the best developed example of Marx’s critique of rights was his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme. All universal rights, Marx argued, by their nature, result in unequal treatment: ‘Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only — for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal’.

Marx’s Critique is worth bearing in mind when considering, for example, the employer’s duty under section 20 of Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled worker. If an employer employs two workers, one of whom is disabled and uses a wheelchair and one of whom does not, and the doors to enter the workplace are beside a short flight of stairs, an equal balance between disabled worker and employer can only be achieved by the employer buying a ramp to the door. The same treatment of both workers would result in the employer discriminating against the disabled worker. An equal outcome depends on unequal treatment. Even contemporary law, at its present limited stage of development, obliges the employer to buy the ramp; although it allows the hegemony of the employer back in by making the purchase necessary only if it would be ‘reasonable’ to require it. What for contemporary law is a heavily-qualified anomaly is in Marx’s hands, the principle under which an entire legal system would be constructed:

‘In a higher phase of communist society’, he wrote, ‘after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!’

This is one of those concentrated passages of careful thought that repays careful re- reading. First of all, it is clear from it that Marx, despite, his rights scepticism, understood the desire for justice that lies behind most rights discourse, whether the rights themselves are virtuous or otherwise. He was not hostile to justice but passionate about going much further in the same direction.

Second, in referring to ‘phases’ of communist society Marx is describing socialism not as a one and for all process, but as a series of steps towards an ideal. Like the novelist who writes and rewrites the same book, or like Marx himself in his decades long struggle to complete Capital, we should not assume that the first draft will be the final version.
Third, long before a just system of ‘rights’ could possibly be practical, all sorts of conditions will have to be encountered and passed: the breaking down of the division of the day between work and non-work, the spread of co-operative forms of production, and the extraordinary increase in human productive capability that we could have if only the whole world had universal access to the very latest technology on the same terms. In contemporary terms, Marx is envisaging a world in which all of Africa and all of Asia had access to the same levels of agriculture and industry as the most developed regions of the West; Marx is asking what law there might be during, and beyond, transitions of this scale.

In these circumstances, the revolutionary fragment buried even in laws such as the present-day Equality Act law could be developed and generalised, i.e. there would be ‘rights’, but unlike the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the equality principle would be equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity. Everyone should give what they can; everyone must have what they need.
Drawing on Marx, a useful approach to the problem of right in the crisis of the present day, could be to disregard temporarily the search for further and better lists of rights in order to focus on their revolutionary kernel: i.e. the right to a just outcome. Part of establishing a fair outcome depends on a system of expropriation.

There are models, even under contemporary law, of how this could work. In the emerging field of environmental law, there is a developing concept of environmental ‘responsibility’. For example, Section 24 of the South African constitution provides a right of all people to have access:
‘a. to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and
b. to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that
i. prevent pollution and ecological degradation;
ii. promote conservation; and
iii. secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.’
A moment’s thought will show that the idea of a right to prevent ecological degradation is a right that is only capable of enforcement if there are others, i.e. people holding property, who have caused or risk causing that degradation.

Polly Higgins’ Eradicating Ecocide uses interchangeable terms of environmental ‘responsibility’ and ‘stewardship’ and portrays the key task of the moment as being to shift the focus from commodity to responsibility.

Now we are used to hearing ‘responsibility’ as a weasel-word to justify, for example, right-wing arguments that welfare benefits should not be universal, but should be made conditional, e.g. on a person taking up low-paid part-time work, which will contribute to a general lowering of the average wage.

But there are other notions of ‘responsibility’ which point in more interesting directions. When family members ask a court to determine where a child should live, the starting question is whether the applicant has ‘parental responsibility’. The idea is very simply that a child, as a human being, cannot be subject to the ordinary principles of private property, they cannot be owned. Accordingly rather than asking first ‘who has the right to care for the child?’, the court’s first question is ‘who has the duty of care?’ Contrary to the demands of campaigns such as ‘Fathers for Justice’, the answer will not necessarily be ‘the father’, it may not even be either of the parents. Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities which by law a parent of a child has…’

When a local authority’s social workers have reached an interim view that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm living with their parents (section 31 Children Act), they initiate care proceedings. The initial step in these proceedings is often for the local authority to ask the court if it may share parental responsibility with the parents.

Children Act 1989 proceedings are not by any means ‘model’ instances of the law at its best. In ‘private’ Children Act 1989 proceedings involving disputes between parents there are many examples of the law getting it wrong, whether by disregarding the views of victims of domestic violence, or by reaching the right decisions in the event but doing so slowly. In ‘public’ Children Act 1989 care proceedings, courts are torn between competing instincts including the knowledge that children in care are often bitterly unhappy, and the consciousness also that some families are actually so unsafe that there is no alternative but to remove the child. The positive feature of this litigation is the absence of a ‘parents’ rights’ discourse. A parent who says merely that their child is their child, therefore it is their right that the child should live with them, will not get far; the court will expect a much more serious focus on the true best interests of the child. If only we could learn to treat the ownership of property with the same scepticism with which we already treat the purported ownership of children.

As a conceptual example in considering how a fully developed legal concept of environmental responsibility might work, a person who believes that a polluter risks causing ecological degradation on a piece of land, might petition a court complaining that the polluter has lost the right to environmental responsibility for that piece of land. A court would investigate. It might find that the applicant’s case was made out, in which case, they could listen to proposals that the responsibility for that piece of land should be given to another. They might find that the applicant’s case was hopelessly weak. They might instead find that the land should remain with its present owner, but only on an interim basis, subject to the present owner demonstrating that their custodianship was rapidly improving and they were taking all steps to prevent pollution.

There is no reason of principle why there should not equally be an overriding duty of ‘social responsibility’. In order for someone to exercise any right as an owner of property, or for any contract to be enforced, the owner should be capable of being challenged by anyone – a worker, consumer, anyone – on the grounds that their stewardship of the property was deficient, and should be given to another. Where an employer did not pay the minimum wage or their workplace was unsafe, the ordinary principle should apply that their workplace should be passed to another.
The rule that is proposed is simple and intuitive. Questions of whether a workplace is properly run could easily be determined by juries, to whom we already leave inquests and sometimes very complex questions of criminal law.

There is no political will in Parliament for anything like this model of social responsibility because the large majority of political forces are signed up to a vision of untrammelled corporate power, with all the disasters that has caused, in terms of recession, bankers’ bail outs, and collective austerity. We are not going to see the expropriation of capital without social upheaval.

In working out the next step for the rights discourse, socialists should go further than the majority of rights activists. We have a concept of right in which the highest categories are human need, and agency to answer human need. The next step is a right of expropriation where property ownership limits human potential.

The simplest rebuttal of the present proposal – for an overarching concept of social and/or ecological responsibility which would be capable of taking priority over all other property rights and any contractual agreements – is that class society has been in existence for around 10,000 years without having anything like such a practice. For around a third of that time we have had an idea, through contract law, that property is disbursed in agreements, the terms of which are binding on the contracting parties. No commercial agreement could be attractive if its effect was constantly uncertain. This is exactly the spirit in which socialists should respond to big questions about what the law should be in the future. Socialists should demand what is absolutely incompatible with the conditions of capital and the State: the right not to be exploited. We ask of course in a modest fashion, pointing out in this way the absurdly limited conditions under which capitalism allows billions of people worldwide to live.

David Renton is a barrister at Garden Court Chambers and a member of The Haldane Society’s executive committee.

Socialism and rights

A reply to David Renton’s “Do socialists still have an alternative concept of rights?” Bill Bowring

David Renton’s thoughtful and trenchant article in SL64 has done us all a great service, opening up questions of crucial importance to the Haldane Society. That is because we are socialists, committed to solidarity in resistance to the depredations of capital, and to fighting for its abolition. We are not simply human rights defenders, though many of us are active in a host of human rights organisations, for example the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Solicitors International Human Rights Group.

What then should be our understanding of the discourse of human rights, which has become something like a secular religion or substitute for religion? And the practice of human rights protection often looks worryingly like Eurocentrism; European standards against US power politics or geopolitical mayhem. That was the issue in the notorious Kadi judgment of 2008, in which the European Court of Justice annulled the decision, taken initially by the UN Security Council (as the Sanctions Committee) placing Mr Kadi on the terrorist list. The ECJ did so in the light of “the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in Article 6(1) EU as a foundation of the Union.” That is, European principles.

And so far as the UK is concerned, human rights are liberal rights, the right of the individual to dignity. In reality, even the Tories have no problem with the Council of Europe’s “three pillars”; the rule of law, multi-party democracy, and the protection of individual human rights. As Adam Wagner wrote on 3 September 2013 on the UK Human Rights Blog, under the heading “Why we would be mad to leave our European Convention on Human Rights”:

“It cannot be overstated how fundamentally British the ECHR is. The included rights were based largely on those developed by the British common law, reaching back to the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1689 Bill of Rights. After the Second World War, imposing traditional British values on foreign legal systems was seen as part of the victor’s spoils. British politicians “made a huge contribution to the drafting”, said Lord Bingham, “reflect[ing] values which we in this country took for granted and which had, we thought, been vindicated by our military triumph”.

British politicians were instrumental in drafting the ECHR, building on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and older British common law liberties. Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, a Conservative politician and lawyer, drafted much of it after he had joined the European Movement on the invitation of Winston Churchill.”
This conception of human rights has no place for collective rights, for example the rights of the working class, or even of trade unions. The UK, like other common law countries, refuses to have anything to do with social and economic rights, refuses to ratify the Council of Europe’s Revised Social Charter with its system of collective (not individual) complaints by trade unions and NGOs to the European Committee of Social Rights, or the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The jurisprudence of the European Committee of Social Rights, with many decided cases, can be found at http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/socialcharter/default_en.asp.

David Renton is not a liberal; he is a revolutionary socialist. He has made a fine reputation as a lawyer fighting for workers’ rights, and is well known for his 2012 Struck out: Why Employment Tribunals fail workers and what can be done (Pluto Press).
What does he say? He writes that, drawing on Marx, a useful approach to the problem of rights in the present situation

“… could be to disregard temporarily the search for further and better lists of rights in order to focus on their revolutionary kernel: i.e., the right to a just outcome (my emphasis, BB). Part of establishing a fair outcome depends on a system of
expropriation.”

There is no disagreement between David Renton and me as concerns the need for expropriation.

But we differ as to what Marx actually wrote. Indeed, Marx and Engels wrote very little on law, and even less on what a future communist society might look like. David Renton asserts that after Marx’s acerbic critique of the rights contained in the French and American declarations of the late 18th century, essentially the same rights as are contained in the ECHR, in 1844 in his On the Jewish Question:

“Over the next forty years Marx and Engels were to sharpen this critique of rights and develop a richer sense of how an alternative society might work.”

In actual fact, Marx and Engels affirmed the opposite, in 1845 in The German Ideology. They wrote that:

“Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of
productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism.”

And continued with one of my favourite passages from their works:

“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” (their emphases)

Thus, they were and remained perfectly clear that communism could only come about once abundance (“the universal development of the productive forces”) had been established all over the world. They refrained from providing any blueprint for future society. Except that is for another famous passage in the same work:

“ For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

Which is very far from being a serious vision of the future, but is instead part of a comment on the present.

Furthermore, their Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848 says nothing about a future communist society. Instead, the final section, Part IV, begins:

“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”

Communists, therefore, struggle on the side of the working class in the present day. And Marx and Engels go on to specify their attitude to existing parties in the various European countries. The class struggle has not gone away, far from it, and now intensifies all over the world. In passing, it is of great interest that two recent American block-buster films, Hunger Games and Elysium, both depict bitter and bloody class struggles in the future.

To return to On the Jewish Question, Marx condemned the bourgeois rights of the
Declarations, asserting that “… the so-called rights of man, the droits de l’homme as distinct from the droits du citoyen, are nothing but the rights of a member of civil society – i.e., the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community.” That is, the man who wants to be left alone by the state, principally to make money.

David Renton then, quite properly, turns his attention to Marx’s 1875, thirty years later, Critique of the Gotha Programme – that is, the programme drafted by Lasalle for the new mass workers’ party, the German Social Democratic Party, an explicitly socialist document.

I disagree with David Renton’s interpretation of Marx’s critique.

The provision which attracted Marx’s merciless criticism was

“3. The emancipation of labour demands the promotion of the instruments of labour to the common property of society and the co-operative regulation of the total labour, with a fair distribution of the proceeds of labour.”
For Marx, this necessarily implies “equal right”, that is, bourgeois right. Under capitalism, the worker receives remuneration according to the amount or quality of work done. But, Marx insists, human beings are not equal at all, starting with their “… unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity”, that is, physical and mental endowment. One worker is brighter than another, stronger than another.

And, Marx continues:

“… one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.”

It is not, as David Renton suggests, that for Marx “..all universal rights… result in unequal
treatment”. The point is that human beings are unequally endowed, and have unequal personal lives. As Marx makes clear, his famous slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, can only be realised “… after the productive forces have also increased” and “all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.” We now know, as Marx and Engels did not, that there are severe ecological barriers to achieving abundance.

To sum up, Marx and Engels insisted that communists fight in the present, we cannot predict the future, and of course there is no certainty that the working class will win.
Marx and Engels both drew deeply from the radical materialist Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), for whom all transcendence, anthropocentrism, and teleology were anathema. In 1841 Marx made extensive transcripts, in Latin, from Spinoza, pages 233 to 276 in Volume IV/1 (1976) of the Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe, the MEGA which continues in production. And in the Introduction to his Dialectics of Nature, written in 1883, Engels wrote:

“It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves… a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter… is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. But however often, and however relentlessly, this cycle is completed in time and space… we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it.”

This is Spinoza. One can be quite sure that if the earthly paradise were ever achieved, that would be the moment at which a passing asteroid would eliminate the planet and all its inhabitants, workers and capitalists alike. Something like Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia.

To return to the question of rights. I think that a strong case can be made for the proposition that each generation of “human rights” has its origins in revolutionary struggle, and that is why they remain, unlike black-letter law, so powerful and so scandalous. The first generation of civil and political rights, now enshrined in the ECHR, had their origin in the French and American Revolutions, abhorred by Edmund Burke, the father of English conservatism. We should take our stand with Burke’s enemy, Tom Paine, whose Rights of Man and Common Sense still read as a full frontal attack on contemporary English political corruption. The second generation, social and economic rights, were first treated as legal rights in the International Labour Organisation which was created in 1919 as a direct response to the October Revolution of 1917. Haldane’s John Hendy and Keith Ewing have shown how the UK shamelessly violates its ILO obligations. And the key right of the third generation, the right of peoples to self-determination, was first promoted by Marx, Engels and Lenin, and came to fruition in the anti-colonial struggles after WW II. Self-determination struggles continue for the Irish, Basques, Kurds, Palestinians, Tamils ( see SL 53, The right to self- determination)… That, for me, is the “revolutionary kernel” of rights.

Bill Bowring teaches law at Birkbeck College, is a barrister practising at the European Court of Human Rights, and is International Secretary of the Haldane Society.

 

Marx, the State, and Spinoza: Against Hobbes and Schmitt

Bill Bowring: Marx, the State, and Spinoza: Against Hobbes and Schmitt

Legal Form:  A Forum for Marxist Analysis of Law

In 1859 Marx stated that he intended to examine “the bourgeois economic system in this sequence: capital, landed property, wage-labour; the state, foreign trade, world market“. [1] But he was unable to write his analysis of the state.

This post seeks to answer the following question: which are the sources on which Marx would have drawn in a critique of theories of the state? This question is also of contemporary importance. A significant number of scholars of constitutional law who wish to criticise mainstream liberal theories of the state and constitutionalism are attracted not by Marxist critiques, but by the writings of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben. A good example is the recently published Political Theology: Demystifying the Universal (2017) by my colleagues Anton Schütz and Marinos Diamantides; and the recent work of Costas Douzinas, for instance Human rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism (2007). I argue that they are all part of a lineage which commences with Thomas Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) made diametrically opposed claims as to the nature of the state. What they had in common, though, was that they were both materialists, a radical position in an age of “divine right”. They shared their materialism with Karl Marx. But Marx was a follower of Spinoza, not of Hobbes. In 1841, while in Berlin writing his doctoral dissertation, Marx made a substantial transcription in Latin [2] from Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP), especially from Chapter XX (“It is shown that in a Free Republic everyone is permitted to think what he wishes and to say what he thinks”) [3] and Chapter XVI (“On the Foundations of the Republic; on the material and civil right of each person, and on the right of the Supreme Powers”) [4]. These were the fourth and eighth chapters from which Marx transcribed. It is clear that after the three chapters in which Spinoza demolished divine transcendence and intervention (Chapters VI, XIV, and XV), Marx went straight to the passages which interested him most at that time.

Hobbes’ two major works were De Cive (1642) and Leviathan (1651). Spinoza published the TTP in 1670. In his letter of 2 June 1674 to his close friend Jarig Jelles, Spinoza addressed the profound difference between Hobbes and himself: “I always preserve natural right unimpaired, and I maintain that in each State the Supreme Magistrate has no more right over his subjects than it has greater power over them.” [5] In his strongest book, Spinoza and Politics,Etienne Balibar notes that for Hobbes, man’s natural right is unlimited but self-destructive, since every right infringes every other right, leading to a “war of all against all”. [6] In order to establish security, natural rights must be replaced by civil right, by a juridical order. The state of nature must be replaced by the “‘body politic’, in which the will of the many is entirely represented by that of the sovereign (the law)”. [7] Although from a materialist, this is the source from which the conservative Catholic (and erstwhile Nazi) Carl Schmitt drew heavily. [8]

In the TPP, which Balibar rightly described as a “democratic manifesto” [9], Spinoza wrote that “the democratic state” is “the most natural state, and the one which approached most nearly the freedom nature concedes to everyone”. [10] Curley explains that Spinoza “attempts to deduce, from fundamental principles of human nature, both the tendencies to discord which make the state necessary, and the tendencies to harmony which make it possible”. [11] Later, in the Ethics, Spinoza wrote that “[a] man who is guided by reason is more free in a state, where he lives according to a common decision, than in solitude, where he obeys only himself”. [12] In his transcription, Marx highlighted: “So the end of the Republic is really freedom”. [13]

Marx put what he had learned from Spinoza to immediate effect. His first publications, in 1842 and 1843 respectively, were “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction” [14] and “On the Freedom of the Press” [15]. Marx cites Spinoza just once: “verum index sui et falsi” (“truth is the standard both of itself and of the false”) [16], but his animated rejection of Prussian censorship was Spinozist through and through. Marx wrote in his “Comments”: “Morality recognises only its own universal and rational religion, and religion recognises only its particular positive morality. Hence, according this instruction, the censorship must reject the intellectual heroes of morality, such as Kant, Fichte and Spinoza, as irreligious, as violating propriety, manners and external decorum. All these moralists start out from a contradiction in principle between morality and religion, for morality is based on the autonomy of the human mind, religion on its heteronomy.” [17]

If Marx had been able to examine the state as he had intended, I have no doubt that his elaboration would have had within it the spirit of Spinoza.

[1] “‘Preface’ A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” [1859] in Karl Marx, Later Political Writings, ed. Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 158, at 158 (original emphasis).

[2] Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe [hereinafter MEGA], vol. IV/I (1976), 233–276.

[3] MEGA, vol. IV/I (1976), 5–7.

[4] MEGA, vol. IV/I (1976), 9–11.

[5] Letter 50, in Edwin Curley (ed.), The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 406.

[6] Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, trans. Peter Snowdon (London: Verso, 1998 [1985]), 55.

[7] Ibid. (original emphasis).

[8] See especially Carl Schmitt, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbol, trans. George Schwab and Erna Hilfstein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 [1938]). See also Jacob Als Thomsen, “Carl Schmitt–The Hobbesian of the 20th Century?”, 20 (1997) Social Thought & Research 5.

[9] Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, 25.

[10] Curley, Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 2, 289.

[11] Edwin Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method: A Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 119.

[12] Ethics, bk. 4, prop. 73, in Edwin Curley (ed.), The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 587.

[13] MEGA, vol. IV/I (1976), 237.

[14] This text was first published in Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publicistik, Bd. 1. See Marx/Engels Collected Works [hereinafter MECW], vol. 1 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), 109–131.

[15] This text was first published in the Rheinische Zeitung. See MECW, vol. 1, 132–181.

[16] Ethics, bk. 2, prop. 43, in Curley, Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 1, 479.

[17] See MECW, vol. 1, 119.

Bill Bowring is Professor of Law at Birkbeck, University of London

Academic Freedom Under Threat from Commodification, Privatisation and Authoritarian Populism

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ACADEMY OF THE AEGEAN
IZMIR, TURKEY
“Academic Freedom”
Friday 22 September 2017
“Academic Freedom Under Threat from Commodification, Privatisation and Authoritarian Populism”
Prof. Bill Bowring / Lawyer
President of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH)

I bring you greetings from the European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH), of which I am the President, and from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers in England. I am the Joint International Secretary. I am very grateful to Fatma Demirer and Deman Guler for their invitation for me to participate in this important conference in such a beautiful venue. We are very proud that our Turkish members are CHD, a founder member of ELDH, and OHP, who have recently joined. We are in solidarity with all our Turkish colleagues who have been persecuted and prosecuted.

This is my first time in Izmir, but not my first time in Turkey. I began to take cases against Turkey on behalf of Kurdish applicants in 1992, and for the next 10 years helped to win many cases, especially Özgur Gündem v Turkey, on the right to freedom of expression. I appeared as an advocate twice in fact-finding hearings in which the European Court of Human Rights sat for a week in the Supreme Court in Ankara. I have been many times in Istanbul and Ankara.

Commodification

A few days ago we celebrated 150 years since the first publication of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, by Karl Marx. Last week there was a large two day conference in London, with leading scholars from Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the US, and over 100 participants.

The ideas of Karl Marx are very much alive, as is the principle on which with his collaborator Friedrich Engels he insisted: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

Capital has an unceasing drive and imperative, not only to grow faster and faster whatever the human consequences, but also to turn every human activity into commodities for sale. This is because capital cannot live and expand without the realisation of value through the sale of commodities. This is how the Law of Value works itself out, in the process of valorisation. Capitalists are not necessarily motivated by greed or malice: in order to continue for one single days as capitalists, they will whether they like it or not be subject to the Law of Value, which is just as impossible to avoid or ignore as the Law of Gravity.

There is no field of human activity exempt from commodification. A recent book is entitled “Everything is for sale”.

Privatisation

Kishore Singh is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education. He has published two very important reports. The first, in 2014, focused on the protection of education from privatisation; and the second, in 2015 concerned protection of education from commercialisation. He is particularly critical of the UK.

In the UK we have the highest proportion of privately run, for profit, prisons in the world, and my own field of Higher Education has been completely privatised. English Universities receive practically no money from the Government, and instead all of our students pay or borrow £9000 a year. This is the most expensive higher education in Europe. In Germany and Scotland, higher education is free of charge.

In the recent General Election in the UK, the Conservative Party of Theresa May lost its overall majority in Parliament, largely because, contrary to their expectations, so many young people came out and voted Labour, which promised to cancel fees for the future. The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is now the largest political party in Europe, with over 600,000 members, many of them in their 20s. Whereas the Conservative Party has less than 100,000 members, and their average age is – 72!

The privatised higher education system in England is shamed by casualisation. 54% of academic staff and 49% of teaching staff are employed on causal contracts, for a particular course, with no guaranteed hours, no sick or holiday pay, and no security. Even academics on “permanent” contracts have no job security (unlike tenure in the US) and can be dismissed at any time.

A few days ago academics at Leeds University published a letter in The Guardian complaining that they are liable to dismissal if their research or writing upsets commercial or government funders.

The privatisation of higher education and the enormous fees paid or borrowed by students have led directly to the obscene spectacle of Vice-Chancellors (Rectors), earning 5 to 6 times as much as professors, as much as £300,000 a year or more.

Most worrying is the fact that the Government’s anti-extremism policy, named “Prevent”, imposes a legal duty on academics to spy on their students and to report their students to the authorities for any behaviour which might be considered to be “extremist” – whatever that means. My colleagues have organised a campaign, and on my office door there is now a poster proclaiming that we are “Educators not Informers”.

Authoritarian Populism

My own country is now divided as never before, with the country split in two over the issue of Brexit, leaving the EU. Most of those who voted to leave were told lies by the Brexit campaign, had no idea what the EU was, and in fact voted against migrants. As Home Secretary (Minister of the Interior) Theresa May was obsessed by the issue of migrants. In reality the Brexit campaign was a right-wing populist movement, whose ideology was xenophobia.
Similar right-wing populist movements are disrupting the politics of France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Austria.

I do a great deal of work in relation to Russia, and since 2000 have represented many Chechens at the European Court of Human Rights, as well as taking environmental cases and cases on freedom of expression and the right to organise in civil society, and to demonstrate. Russia, like Turkey, is suffering under a conservative authoritarian regime, with practically no opposition mass media, no opposition political party with any hope of election, and severe repression of civil society especially human rights activists. In recent days Russia is now effusing to implement judgments of the Strasbourg Court, and there is a real threat – as with the UK – that Russia will leave the Council of Europe and the European Convention.

Academics are being dismissed for opposing the regime in Russia, the European University in St Petersburg is under threat; and the Central European University in Budapest has recently been saved after a vicious and anti-semitic campaign against it by the government.

And here we are in Turkey, with the arrest and detention of hundreds of academics, many of whom are dismissed, arrests and detention of lawyers, prosecutors and judges, the elimination of free mass media, and severe action taken against the HDP – and Amnesty International.

All of us here have a duty to take a stand and to organise to the best of our ability against these dangerous phenomena.

Review of Slavoj Žižek’s “Lenin 2017”

Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working ThroughLenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through by Slavoj Žižek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What is very good about this book is the presentation of such important texts from the last years of Lenin’s life, working through really intractable problems of Soviet Russia, isolated and weakened after intervention and civil war. Zizek shows that he really understands Lenin’s thoroughly principled insistence that the “waving of little red flags” could not resolve such problems, only a slow and patient inculcation of bourgeois culture and bourgeois management under Soviet political control. Lenin’s image of mountaineers having to retrace their steps, a much more dangerous and difficult task than an ascent is particularly beautiful and apt. The references to and citations from Robespierre and the quotations from Badiou are apt and very helpful. Whether Milner and Lacan are equally good guides is a matter for legitimate discussion.

View all my reviews

Marxism as a Methodology, presentation at Birkbeck Law School Residential Weekend, Cumberland Lodge, 17 September 2017

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Karl Marx and ‘Marxism’

Karl Marx and ‘Marxism’

Bill Bowring

Karl Heinrich Marx was born on 5 May 1818 at 664 Brückergasse in Trier, a town located in what was then the Kingdom of Prussia’s Province of the Lower Rhine. You can visit the house to this day; it is under the protection of the German SPD. His father was a successful lawyer, descended from a family which produced the rabbis of Trier from 1734, but who converted to Lutheranism before Marx’s birth. Karl’s mother was from a Dutch Jewish family. In 1836, Marx became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, a princess of the Prussian ruling class, and married her in June 1843. From 1836, he became fascinated by Hegel’s philosophy, and was associated with the “Left Hegelians”, in their critique of religion and the ancien régime. He studied law in Bonn and Berlin, but his doctoral thesis was on philosophy. His thesis, “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature”, was finished in 1841, and he was awarded a doctorate by the University of Jena.

Marx did not follow an academic career. Instead, he became a journalist and political activist. In 1842 he moved to Cologne and began writing for the radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. Due in part to his increasingly revolutionary writing, the paper was closed by the government in 1843, the same year that he wrote On the Jewish Question (of which more below) published in February 1844 in the socialist Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. He was then 25 years old. Having been obliged to move to Paris, Marx met Friedrich Engels, his lifelong friend, colleague and benefactor, in August 1844. Their joint work, the Communist Manifesto was published in the “year of revolutions”, 1848. Marx moved to London in May 1849, and remained there until his death on 14 March 1883 at the age of 64, devoting himself to research and writing, and intense political activity. His field of study and analysis was the critique of political economy. Very few of his works were published in his lifetime. Despite the support of Engels, he lived for the most part in poverty, and of seven children only three daughters survived to adulthood, Eleanor, Jenny and Laura, all revolutionaries. A maximum of 11 people came to his funeral. Somehow, he has not been forgotten.

Marx did not write any work of philosophy, although he may at one time have intended to do so. Unlike Hegel, he did not leave behind a system. Far less did he write systematically on law, ethics, or morality. Instead, his intellectual life was devoted to uncompromising critique, in particular the immanent critique, critique from the inside, of the work of the great Scottish and English political economists, Adam Smith (1723-1790) and David Ricardo (1772-1823). Marx was especially excited by Ricardo’s labour theory of value, the corner-stone of Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), published the year before Marx’ birth. Marx radicalised Ricardo’s insight, and the resulting “critique of political economy”, Volume One of which was the only major work published in his lifetime, is rightly named Capital.

For Marx, ‘capital’ and, indeed ‘capitalism’ – are the names of the system driven by capital’s unceasing urge to valorise itself, in which every social relationship, every intellectual creation, and every human appropriation of the material world is reducible to money. Marx’ analysis and critique have lost none of their acuity, and there is unanimous agreement that today we live in the interstices of universal capitalism.

Marx’s writing is full of outrage at the ruthless exploitation and oppression inherent in the capital’s alienation from human beings of the enjoyment of the products of their labour, in the bizarre abstract, dehumanised world of the circulation of commodities and money. But this fury is based not on a moralistic stance or condemnation of evil, but on the denial to human beings of the full realisation of their human potential in society, their species being. There is no transcendence in Marx’s critique, not even redemption.

Marx and Spinoza

That is because Marx was a thorough-going materialist. It should be no surprise that in 1841, as he completed his doctoral thesis, and shortly before he wrote On the Jewish Question, Marx made a close reading of the work of the great Jewish rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), in particular his Theological-Political Treatise, transcribing extensive passages in the original Latin and German translation. Yovel points out (p.79) that “Spinoza is almost always present in Marx’s thought. But, we may add, the actual presence of Spinoza in Marx far surpasses his direct mention by name.” By the way, Yovel makes an heroic but unsuccessful attempt to read religion back into Marx. But in the passage cited he is quite right.

Spinoza radicalised rationalism, determinism, and the principle of sufficient reason, on the basis of a conception of the human being in which “Every man exists by sovereign natural right, and, consequently, by sovereign natural right performs those actions which follow from the necessity of his own nature…” (Ethics, Prop. XXXVII Note II). As does everything in nature. For Spinoza, the most ruthless of all materialists, there is no good or evil in the world (or transcendence or divine intervention): “In the state of nature, therefore, sin is inconceivable; it can only exist in a state, where good and evil are pronounced on by common consent… Sin, then, is nothing but disobedience, which is therefore punished by the right of the State only.” He declares (Prop LXVIII) that “If men were born free, they would, so long as they remained free, form no conception of good and evil”; but (Prop. LXXIII) “The man, who is guided by reason, is more free in a State, where he lives under a general system of law, than in solitude, where he is independent.” This is explained further in the Proof of that Proposition, as follows: “Therefore, the free man, in order to enjoy greater freedom, desires to possess the general rights of citizenship.”

This thought is also to be found in the Theological-Political Treatise which Marx so painstakingly transcribed. In Chapter XVI, entitled “Of the Foundations of a State; Of the Natural and Civil Rights of Individuals; And of the Rights of Sovereign Power”, Spinoza reminds us that

“… the right and ordinance of nature, under which all men are born, and under which they mostly live, only prohibits such things as no one desires and no one can attain: it does not forbid strife, nor hatred, nor deceit, nor, indeed, any of the means suggested by desire.”

This we need not wonder at, for nature is not bounded by the laws of human reason, which aims only at man’s true benefit and preservation; her limits are infinitely wider, and have reference to the eternal order of nature, wherein man is but a speck…”

This is nature which is infinite and eternal, without purpose or teleology save its own deterministic laws which are for the most part necessarily inscrutable to humans, and in which sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of the eternal, humans are less than significant. Humans are nothing whatsoever except to themselves. Thus, with absolutely rigorous logic, Spinoza holds that there is no justice or injustice in nature or in the natural behaviour of humans:

“Wrong is conceivable only in an organised community… It can only arise… between private persons, who are bound by law and right not to injure one another. Justice consists in the habitual rendering to every man his lawful due: injustice consists in depriving a man, under the pretence of legality, of what the laws, rightly interpreted, would allow him. These last are also called equity and inequity, because those who administer the laws are bound to show no respect of persons, but to account all men equal, and to defend every man’s right equally, neither envying the rich or despising the poor.”

That is, nature is indifferent to exploitation, and the natural actions of humans naturally seeking to do everything possible to them cannot be described as good or evil in any sense other than that given in organised society. Capital, and capitalism, are human creations, in no sense necessary parts of the natural order, that is, are quite unlike volcanoes, tsunamis, stellar explosions or super-massive black holes. The injustice of capitalism on a Spinozist account is precisely human activity which has, as with the sorcerer’s apprentice, taken on an inhuman, vampiric character, in the process de-humanising human beings in the process.

Spinoza, like Marx, did not prescribe or describe any kind of Utopia, communist or otherwise. Neither of them have any pretension to utopianism. Their ambition is that human beings should be freed to live productively in society, to be truly human.

In Chapter XX Spinoza writes

“… the ultimate aim of government is not to rule, or restrain, by fear, nor to exact obedience, but contrariwise, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security; in other words, to strengthen his natural right to exist and work without injury to himself and others… in fact, the true aim of government is liberty.”

Indeed, Chapter XX is headed “That in a free state every man may think what he likes, and say what he thinks”.

In this, Spinoza was not only far ahead of his time; his concept of democracy was radicalised far beyond the limits of liberalism.

On the Jewish Question

It is in this light that On the Jewish Question should be approached.

The first line of this text is: “The German Jews desire emancipation. What kind of emancipation do they desire? Civic, political emancipation.”

Jay Bernstein has given one of the most nuanced and perceptive readings of this text. Another, from a liberal perspective, is to be found in Jeremy Waldron’s Nonsense Upon Stilts, which also provides the text. In this work the young Marx engaged with the rights set out in the French Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789, and the Constitutions of 1793 and 1795; as well as the revolutionary documents of the American war of independence.

Bernstein correctly points out (p.92) that this work is “… usually read as an attack on the discourse of rights. Such readings are at least partial if not altogether false.” What such readers miss (p.99) “is that its complex dialectical argument deploys two senses of ground or foundation: a sense in which civil society represents the real ground or foundation of society as a whole, and a sense in which the state is the ground or foundation, not the mere ideological front, for civil society.”

Marx has a strong conception of the “species being” of the human, of the life of the human being in community with others. In this sense, Marx is a communitarian. Marx wrote, in answer to the question posed at the start:

“The perfected political state is by its nature the species-life of man in opposition to his material life. All the presuppositions of this egoistic life [ie material life – BB] continue to exist outside the sphere of the state in civil society, but as qualities of civil society… He lives in the political community where he regards himself as a communal being, and in civil society, where he is active as a private individual, regards other men as means, debases himself to a means and becomes a plaything of alien powers…”

Thus,

“The rights of man are partly political rights, rights which are only exercised in community with others. What constitutes their content in participation in community, in the political community or state. They come under the category of political freedom, of civil rights…”

It is on this basis that Marx noted the fact “that the so-called rights of man, the droits de l’homme as distinct from the droits du citoyen, are nothing but the rights of a member of civil society – i.e., the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community.” And Marx focuses quite correctly on the least political right, the right to private property:

“But, the right of man to liberty is based not on the association of man with man, but on the separation of man from man. It is the right of this separation, the right of the restricted individual, withdrawn into himself. The practical application of man’s right to liberty is man’s right to private property. What constitutes man’s right to private property? The right of man to private property is… the right to enjoy one’s property and to dispose of it at one’s discretion (à son gré), without regard to other men, independently of society, the right of self-interest. This individual liberty and its application form the basis of civil society. It makes every man see in other men not the realization of his own freedom, but the barrier to it.”

That is, the opposite of the purpose of communal living in the state as conceived by Spinoza and by Marx. Marx concludes:

“None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man, he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-like itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence. The sole bond holding them together is natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation of their property and their egoistic selves.”

Marx returned to the question of rights much later in his life, in 1875, in a polemical critique of the draft programme of the United Workers’ Party of Germany, known as the Gotha programme. It was published in 1890, after Marx’s death. The draft declared that once the instruments of labour had been converted into common property, there would be a “fair distribution of the proceeds of labour” on the basis that “the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”. Marx pours scorn on such a notion of “equality”. Humans are not equal.

“But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labour in the same time, or can labour for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labour… one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal. ”

Marx then attempted one of his very few descriptions of what communist society would be like, ending with a famous slogan:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

But this is not exactly an analysis of human rights. But it could be described as Utopian.

Marx and ‘generations of rights’

The rights of man to which Marx refers in On the Jewish Question were the “first generation” of human rights, the civil and political rights, which together with the right to private property, have temporal and geographical origins: they sprang directly from the French Revolution in 1789, and the American Revolution of the same period. Marx’ critique of these “first generation” rights, properly understood, was and remains incisive, indeed definitive.

What Marx could not anticipate was the increasing importance, as a direct result of political events and struggles, of the “second” and “third” generations, namely social and economic rights, and peoples’ rights.

The temporality of the recognition in international law of the “second generation” of human rights, social and economic rights, as human rights can also be located very accurately. These rights achieved the status of legal rights, and, most important, became available as instruments of legitimation and struggle, as a direct consequences of the events of 1917, more specifically in the creation of the International Labour Organisation in 1919. The ILO remains the most important source and mechanism for protection of social and economic rights. These rights have recently become much more concrete, in the context of the collapse of the USSR, by way of the Council of Europe’s 1996 Revised Social Charter, which came into force in 1999, with its mechanism for collective complaints, by Trade Unions and NGOs, to the European Committee of Social Rights.

The “third generation” – the peoples’ rights to self-determination, to development, to a clean environment, to peace – were recognised as rights in international law following the colonial struggles of the 1960s, specifically with the coming into force of the two great UN Covenants on Human Rights in 1976. They have lost none of their relevance in the context of continuing cruel injustice of the global economy.

Marx and self-determination

Self-determination and anti-colonial struggle were also central to Marx’s project from the 1850s onwards, and in this regard he would have found himself in tune with contemporary notions of human rights.

First of all, Marx, having opposed Irish independence, became a firm supporter. In his letter to Engels on 2 November 1867 Marx wrote:

“The Fenian trial in Manchester was exactly as was to be expected. You will have seen what a scandal ‘our people’ have caused in the Reform League. I sought by every means at my disposal to incite the English workers to demonstrate in favour of Fenianism…. I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. I now regard it as inevitable, although Federation may follow upon separation.”

The trial in question was that of the ‘Manchester martyrs’ – William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien – who were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The men were executed after having been found guilty of the murder of a police officer during an escape that took place close to Manchester city centre in1867. That is, Marx was, in the words of the contemporary UK Terrorism Act 2006, ‘glorifying terrorism’, and terrorism committed by bourgeois nationalists at that. He would now face a stiff sentence.

Marx himself used the term ‘self-determination’ on at least two occasions, in a political rather than a philosophical context. In his letter of 20 November 1865 to Hermann Jung, Marx referred, under the heading ‘International Politics’, to ‘The need to eliminate Muscovite influence in Europe by applying the right of self-determination of nations, and the re-establishment of Poland upon a democratic and social basis.’ Furthermore, in a speech on Poland delivered on 24 March 1875, he declared:

What are the reasons for this special interest of the workers’ party in the fate of Poland? First of all, of course, sympathy for a subjugated people which, with its incessant and heroic struggle against its oppressors, has proven its historic right to national autonomy and self-determination. It is not in the least a contradiction that the international workers’ party strives for the creation of the Polish nation.

August Nimtz shows how Marx and Engels gave support to religious-led Arab resistance to French imperialism in Algeria in 1857; expressed strong sympathy for the Sepoy Mutiny against Britain in India in 1857-9; and by 1861 wrote, as the US Civil War loomed, that US expansion into Texas and what is now Arizona and New Mexico, brought with it slavery and the rule of the slaveholders. At the same time, they were quite clear that the ‘booty of British imperialism’ had begun to corrupt and compromise the English proletariat. Pranav Jani focuses on Marx’s response to the 1857 revolt in British India. He explains that Marx was transformed from a ‘mere observer’ of the anti-colonial struggle to an active participant in the ideological struggle over the meaning of the Revolt. This enabled him also to refute racist representations of Indian violence in the British press ‘by drawing a sharp division between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor and dialectically linking the two.’ Jani concludes that if Eurocentrism makes Western Europe the centre of the globe, then the Marx he presents is not Eurocentric. (p.82-3)

 

Karl Marx On the Jewish Question, pp.146-174 at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/

 

Karl Marx Critique of the Gotha Programme at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/index.htm

There are two excellent biographies:

Francis Wheen Karl Marx Fourth Estate, 2010

David McLellan Karl Marx  Palgrave McMillan, 4th ed 2006

And the best short introduction to Marx’s thought:

Etienne Balibar The Philosophy of Marx Verso, 2007

For a contemporary set of assessments of Marx’ philosophy:

Andrew Chitty and Martin McIvor (eds) The Philosophy of Karl Marx Palgrave MacMillan, 2009

 

Also:

Kenneth Baynes “Rights as Critique and the Critique of Rights: Karl Marx, Wendy Brown, and the Social Function of Rights” Political Theory  Vol. 28, No. 4 2000, pp. 451-468

Jay Bernstein  “Right, revolution and community: Marx’s ‘On the Jewish Question’’, in Peter Osborne (ed.), Socialism and the Limits of Liberalism, London: Verso, 1991.

Bill Bowring “Misunderstanding MacIntyre on Human Rights” in Kelvin Knight and Paul Blackledge (eds) Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia, special issue of Analyse & Kritik, (2008), v.30 n.1, pp.205-214

Hugh Collins Marxism and Law Oxford, 1982

Bob Fine Democracy and the Rule of Law Blackburn Press, 2002, ch.2 ‘Marx’s critique of classical jurisprudence’ pp. 66‐85 and ch.4 ‘Law, state and capital’ pp. 95‐121

Prinav Jani “Karl Marx, Eurocentrism, and the 1857 Revolt in British India” in Bartolovich, Crystal and Neil Lazarus Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp.81-100

Philip J. Kain Marx and Ethics Oxford:Clarendon Press 1991

August Nimtz, ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels and other related myths’ in Crystal Bartolovich and Neil Lazarus Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp.65-80

Jeremy Waldron Nonsense Upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man Routledge, 1987

Yirmiyahu Yovel Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Adventures of Immanence Princeton, 1992; especially Chapter 4 “Spinoza and Marx: Man-in-Nature and the Science of Redemption”, pp.78-103

 

 

Marxism as a Methodology

Marxism as a Methodology

Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College

Karl Marx – 1818 – 1883

* ruthless radical materialism – derived from Aristotle and Spinoza

* imminent critique – the title of Capital – the critique of political economy

* no doctrine of political organisation, save the above

* no utopian vision of the future

Some quotes:

“But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.”[1] (1843)

“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”[2] (1845)

“A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we take a closer look at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as “commodities”.”[3] (1861)

“While the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser.”[4]

“Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.”[5]

 Literature

Introductions:

Etienne Balibar (1995) The Philosophy of Marx (Verso) – no index unfortunately

“I would also like to defend a somewhat paradoxical thesis: whatever may have been thought in the past, there is no Marxist philosophy and there never will be; on the other hand, Marx is more important for philosophy than ever before.”

Andrew Collier (2004) Marx (Oneworld Publications)

Peter Osborne (2005) How to read Marx (Granta Books)

Recommended:

Louis Althusser (2005) For Marx (Verso)

Alain Badiou (2007) The Century (Polity)

Alain Badiou (2010) The Communist Hypothesis (Verso)

Boris Groys (2010) The Communist Postscript (Verso)

Susan Marks (2000) The Riddle of all Constitutions: International Law, Democracy, and the Critique of Ideology (Oxford)

Susan Marks (2008) International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (Cambridge); includes chapters by Martti Koskenniemi, B. S. Chimni; China Miéville; Bill Bowring; Anthony Carty; A. Claire Cutler; Brad R. Roth; Obiora Chinedu Okafor; Susan Marks.

Csaba Varga (ed) (1993) Marxian Legal Theory (New York University Press) – contains many Hungarian scholars, but also Eugene Kamenka “A Marxist Theory of Law?” (1983); Ronnie Warrington “Pashukanis and the Commodity Form Theory” (1981); Eugene Kamenka “Lukacs and Law” (1987); Richard Kinsey “Marxism and the Law: Preliminary Analyses” (1978); Peter Fitzpatrick “Marxism and Legal Pluralism” (1983); Alan Hunt “The Ideology of Law: Advances and Problems in Recent Applications of the Concept of Ideology to the Analysis of Law” (1985); Alan Stone “The Place of Law in the Marxisn strcture – Superstructure Archetype” (1985)

[1] Letters from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, Marx to Ruge, Kreuznach, September 1843, at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09.htm#criticism

[2] Karl Marx. The German Ideology. 1845, Pt I: Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook A. Idealism and Materialism at

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm#p48

[3] Marx’s Economic Manuscripts of 1861-63, Part 3) Relative Surplus Value, //Digression: (On Productive Labour)//, Volume 30, MECW, p. 306-318 at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1861/economic/ch33.htm

[4] Karl Marx. Capital Volume One, Part II: The Transformation of Money into Capital, Chapter Four: The General Formula for Capital, at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch04.htm#9a

[5] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch10.htm#4a

 

The first Soviet constitutions, self-determination and the right to secession

Forthcoming in the SCRSS Digest, No 3, Autumn 2017 issue

Professor Bill Bowring, President of SCRSS, Birkbeck College; International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

This short article examines the central core of the first constitutions of Soviet Russia and of the USSR, and its continued relevance. Its predecessor, the Tsarist Russian Empire, was a multi-national, multi-ethnic empire whose components had varying degrees of autonomy, from Finland, which was a Grand Duchy with its own parliament, laws and Lutheran religion, to Poland which had been incorporated into the empire as a result of the 19th century Partitions, to the Baltic territories conquered from Sweden in the Great Northern War, and the former Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan conquered by Ivan the Terrible, in the 16th century, and the Khanate of Crimea, annexed by Catherine II in 1783. And many more.

Lenin had campaigned from before the outbreak of World War I for the destruction of the Tsarist (and other) Empires, and for the principle of the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, on which he wrote a substantial book. He drew from the writings of Marx and Engels from the second half of the 19th century, as they fought for the right to self-determination of Ireland, of Poland, of Algeria, of India and many others. Lenin’s opponents included Rosa Luxemburg, the Austro-Marxists, Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, and the revolutionary Jewish Bund, all of whom opposed the break-up of their respective empires and regarded the right of nations to self-determination as a surrender to bourgeois nationalism. Their aim was to achieve socialism over the whole existing territories of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires.

The first constitutional document of Soviet power following victory in the October Revolution was the Declaration Of Rights Of The Working And Exploited People (the Declaration), drafted by Lenin on 3 January 1918, and published in Izvestiya on 4 January. On 12 January it was approved by the Third All-Russia Congress of Soviets and subsequently formed the basis of the Soviet Russian Constitution of 1918. According to Chapter 1, Article 1: “Russia is hereby proclaimed a Republic of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. All power, centrally and locally, is vested in these Soviets.” This was immediately followed by Article 2: “The Russian Soviet Republic is established on the principle of a free union of free nations, as a federation of Soviet national republics.”

The phrase “free nations” was crucial.

Thus, Chapter 3 welcomed the proclamation of “the complete independence of Finland, commencing the evacuation of troops from Persia, and proclaiming freedom of self-determination for Armenia.”

All these were put into practice forthwith. On 6 December 1917, the Finnish Diet adopted a declaration of Finland’s independence, and the Council of Peoples Commissars, on 18 December 1917, issued a decree on Finland’s independence. At that meeting Lenin personally handed the text of the decree to Finnish Prime Minister Pehr Evind Svinhufvud. On 9 December 1917 in conformity with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty between Soviet Russia on the one side and Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria on the other, Soviet Russia and Persia worked out a common plan for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Persia. And on 29 December 1917 the Soviet Russian government issued the Decree on Turkish Armenia.

The next step was the Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR), which was adopted by Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets on 10 July 1918. The Declaration, together with the Constitution constituted a single fundamental law of the RSFSR. Altogether, the Declaration and Constitution contained 90 articles, covering all constitutional aspects of the new socialist republic.
For the purposes of this article, the following provision was of particular importance:

“11. The soviets of those regions which differentiate themselves by a special form of existence and national character may unite in autonomous regional unions, ruled by the local congress of the soviets and their executive organs. These autonomous regional unions participate in the RSFSR upon a Federal basis.”

These were principles as to which Lenin was uncompromising. In 1919 the three Baltic Republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became independent, despite their bourgeois governments, as did Poland, despite the war between it and Soviet Russia. In 1922, towards the end of his life, Lenin came into sharp conflict with Stalin as to whether Georgia should have the right to independence, albeit under a Menshevik government.

On 31 December 1922 Lenin wrote, in his Testament :

“It is quite natural that in such [Stalin’s actions in Georgia] circumstances the “freedom to secede from the union” by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is… I think that Stalin’s haste and his infatuation with pure administration, together with his spite against the notorious “nationalist-socialism” played a fatal role here.”

Lenin died on 21 January 1924.

On 31 January 1924 the Constitution of the USSR was approved by the II Congress of Soviets of the USSR. This formalised the December 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR between the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, and the Transcaucasian SFSR to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

It started with a Declaration, Part 1, which included: “It is only in the camp of the Soviets, only under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat that has grouped around itself the majority of the people, that it has been possible to eliminate the oppression of nationalities… The will of the peoples of the Soviet Republics recently assembled in Congress, where they decided unanimously to form the USSR, is a sure guarantee that this Union is a free federation of peoples equal in rights, that the right to freely withdraw from the Union is assured to each Republic…”

It was on this that Lenin had insisted in 1922. Articles 4 and 6 proclaimed:

“4. Each one of the member Republics retains the right to freely withdraw from the Union.
6. The territory of the member Republics cannot be modified without their consent; also, any limitation or modification or suppression of Article 4 must have the approval of all the member Republics of the Union.”

Lenin’s principled position remains highly controversial in Russia.

As early as 1991, the year of the collapse of the USSR, Vladimir Putin denounced Lenin, and was filmed doing so. A YouTube clip contains a number of such statements by him over the years. On 25 January 2016 Mr Putin accused Lenin of placing an ‘atomic bomb’ under Russia. In Mr Putin’s opinion Lenin was responsible both for destroying, with German money and backing for his travel from Switzerland to Russia in 1917, the great Russian Empire; but also of preparing the destruction of the great USSR. Thus, Mr Putin was particularly critical of Lenin’s concept of a federative state with its entities having the right to secede, saying it had heavily contributed to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. He added that Lenin was wrong in his dispute with Stalin, who, in Mr Putin’s words, advocated a unitary state model. For Mr Putin, Stalin was in the line of great Tsars, from Ivan IV, to Peter I, to Catherine II.

Mr Putin also said that Lenin’s government had whimsically drawn borders between parts of the USSR, placing Donbass under the Ukrainian jurisdiction in order to increase the percentage of proletariat, in a move Mr Putin called “delirious”.

When the USSR collapsed in late 1991, the 15 Union Republics, all of which had the right to secede under the 1978 Constitution of the USSR, duly became independent states, to the horror of Mr Putin and his fellow-thinkers. In 1990-1991 many federative components of the RSFSR sought to gain the status of union republics, so as to have the right to secede. Several, including the Republics of Chechnya, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, declared sovereignty. Chechnya suffered two bloody wars from 1994 to 1997, and from 1999 to 2009; Tatarstan was granted special treaty status by President Yeltsin which it has only recently lost. Under the 1993 Russian Constitution there are 21 ethnic republics in the Russian Federation with until recently their own presidents, state languages in addition to Russian and other privileges, although no right to secede. Mr Putin is working hard to reverse Lenin’s policy of federative relations.

Bill Bowring: Answers to questions from the Georgian Journal of Strategic Politics

Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College, University of London
1. Can we say that the Russia has a state ideology? If so, what forms modern Russian state? Can you single out thinkers, or traditions that shape pollical-cultural identity of the state?
In my view the ideology of the contemporary Russian state is that Russia is and should continue to be a great power (derzhava), and deserves respect as such. The present regime looks back to Ivan IV, Peter I, Catherine II, Alexander I, II and II, and to the fact that in 1814 Russia defeated Napoleon and its army marched through Paris, and that in 1945 Soviet forces having defeated Hitler occupied Berlin. The greatest fear of the regime is that following the sudden collapse of the USSR in 1991, with the “parade of sovereignties” in many regions of Russia, the Russian Federation itself could break apart. That is why Mr Putin condemns Vladimir Lenin ferociously, especially his principle of the “right of nations to self-determination”. Mr Putin holds Lenin responsible for the end of the Russian Empire, for the murder of Tsar Nicholas II, and for the collapse of the USSR. I recall that Lenin’s last struggle (Moshe Lewin) was on the question whether Georgia should be entitled to independence. The present regime must also try to cope with a demographic crisis, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, crumbling infrastructure, and a really rubbish Navy…
By the way, it should be noted that when in 2008 Mr Saakashvili launched an idiotic war in South Ossetia, failing to block the tunnel, the Russian army reached Gori, the Georgian army having run away. The Russian army could in a few minutes have occupied Tbilisi, but did not do so. Why? Russia is plainly not in control of the regime in Abkhazia, nor of Ramzan Kadyrov’s bloody Islamist dictatorship in Chechnya, on Georgia’s border. The situation in the North Caucasus is one of the greatest threats to Russia’s continuing integrity.
2. What is essential for understanding the Russian way of thinking towards the others?
Is there a “British way of thinking”, or a “Georgian way of thinking”? My parents were both born in the USA, and most of my relatives are there. I spend a lot of time in the Former Soviet Union. Which “way of thinking” do I have? Most Russians I know, including my wife, are a mixture. She is half Tatar (Turkic) and half Mordovian (Finno-Ugric), with a family name (Brynza) which comes from Moldova. Is there a Tatar or a Mordovian way of thinking? Most Russians have Jewish ancestry and most certainly Ukrainian ancestry.
When I first visited Russia in 1983 Georgians were regarded as wealthy, glamorous, and proud. Attitudes have not changed much. Nearly every Russian family has at least one member who has been in prison, and almost all lost family members during the war. Intelligentsia families all lost people to Stalin’s repressions. These experiences, including the chaos of the 1990s, help to form Russian desire for stability, which is a large part of Mr Putin’s popularity.
At the level of the state there is a continuing fear not only of collapse or disintegration, given the existence of strong separatist movements in Russia, but of encirclement by NATO.
3. Can we say that Russia is trying to spread her ideology over the Eastern Europe?
I am following closely developments in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Moldova, Britain, France – I don’t see any signs of Russian ideology in Turkey which also has a strongly authoritarian regime like Russia. The constitutional crisis in Poland with an authoritarian populist government at war with the Constitutional Court has nothing to do with “Russian ideology”. The success of Brexit in Britain, and the current extremist government, are not as far as I can see the result of “Russian ideology”. Figures such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump admire Mr Putin for his authoritarian conservatism, not for his “Russian ideology”.
4. Is there a correlation between the rise of illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe and the strengthening of the Russian state influence?
I think you mean “correlation”. The answer is No. There are right-wing populist movements in many parts of the world. There is indeed Russian state influence throughout Europe, through RT and other forms of “soft power”, but this is designed to stir up dissatisfaction and turmoil in the EU.
5. Some scholars argue that Russia has enough soft power to be attractive for others, what makes Russia attractive? Especially for those in Easter Europe?
Russia in my view is not attractive in Eastern Europe. Ukraine and Poland has the same standard of living in 1991, now Poles are much better off than Ukrainians or Russians. I read in the newspaper today that more than 40 Russians have just died as a result of drinking bath oil containing methanol – because they could not afford real vodka. Easter Europeans will not be attracted by Russia’s AIDS epidemic or by the colossal scale of corruption, or the power of the Orthodox Church.
6. Arguably there is a link between populist movements in Europe and Russian administration, what we may expect in near future if we consider a situation in which the populism reaches its pick? Can we say that Eurasianism is not that utopian after all?
I am not aware of any writer, least of all Mr Dugin (or Count Trubetskoy), saying that Eurasianism is utopian. Dugin’s version is a vision of the bitter struggle for survival between a materialist, consumerist West and a spiritual, “sobornost”, theocratic, Byzantine, Eurasia. The most dangerous manifestation of populism in recent times is Donald Trump, and his inspiration came partly from Brexit, not from Russia – though he admires Mr Putin’s macho image. In any event Eurasianism is far from populism, and is indeed deeply authoritarian. Furthermore, I have written, in the final chapter of my 2013 book on Russia, about the strong influence of Carl Schmitt’s decisionism and authoritarianism on the Russian regime.
7. Some scholars argue that Russia is creating an alternative cultural-political model to the Western one, do you agree with the statement? if yes, what is it all about?
I have already disagreed – see above. Which scholars? I have not seen them. Which is the Western model, anyway? The USA? Germany? France? The UK – which will in my opinion soon break up?
8. Can the existence of an alternative way (Russian way) exist peacefully with the western way? Is the multipolar view cherished by some Russian thinkers intrinsically in conflict with the Western values?
First you must accept that there is an alternative, Russian, way, which I do not. Or for that matter, a “Western way”. Or a “Georgian way” – although Georgia is a much more homogenous state than most, with a very distinctive history and religion. And quite a few Western scholars, for example Mearsheimer in the US, have just as much a theory of a multi-polar world as does Dugin or Tsygankov.
9. Taking into consideration Russia’s current approaches, what should the Western rational policy look like?
This is a quite different question. Russia’s approaches to what? There are ideologues in Russia, for example General Reshetnikov, who argue that Ukraine was created by Lenin as an enemy to “Russia”, and has no right to exist. There are others, for example Mr Lavrov, who insist on Ukraine’s sovereignty, and insist that Russia has no intention of annexing Donbas. The US and EU have in fact done very little about Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. In Syria, Russia has scored a tactical victory over the US, but strategically is treading a very dangerous path, when it has allied itself with Shi’a powers, Iran and Hizbollah, when Russia itself has a very large Sunni Muslim population. President Trump is likely to have very different priorities from the EU, or Britain after Brexit. US relations with China are much more dangerous, potentially, than relations with Russia.

Additional:
1. What can you say about future of liberalism in Russia? Can existing liberal groups in the country attractive local electorate?
It depends what you mean by “liberalism”. Yabloko and Parnas present themselves as “liberal” parties and are described as such in the media, but have very limited traction with the electorate, as shown by their miserable results in the last Duma elections. There are a number of proponents of liberalism in Russia, in the sense of a free market economy, including Mr Yasin, the Scientific Director of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics, and the former Minister of Finance, Mr Kudrin, whose IV All-Russian Civic Forum I attended on 19 November. As you know, the Liberal Democratic Party in the UK is really struggling, as is the FDP in Germany. Maybe “liberalism” does not have a future in Europe! My opinion is that Russia badly needs a social democratic party, as exists in moist of Western Europe, with a base in the trade unions – and even more badly needs a split in the Communist Party. If there were an effective social democratic party, I am sure the Sravedlivaya Rossiya (SRs) would disappear.
2. Some scholars are concerned by Russia’s raising soft power. What is your opinion on the topic? Is Russia’s soft power as strong as it is sometimes presented?
Russia now spends more on RT than the UK spends on the BBC World Service, and its mix of conspiracy theories and pretended support for protest movements ahs gained it some audience in the UK and USA. But its constant lies and wild speculation means in my view that its real impact is strictly limited. Contemporary Russia has far less cultural attraction than did the USSR.
3. You argue that Putin criticizes Lenin. What about Stalin? Some scholars argue that in the latest books on Russian history there are attempts to re-think his role and introduce him as a good “manager”? (Phillipov, A.V. The Newest History of Russia, 1945-2006).
I don’t argue this – it is a fact. Putin regards Lenin, and has done for years, as a great enemy of Russia and responsible for the end of the Russian Empire, for defeat in WW I, and for the collapse of the USSR. See http://www.rbc.ru/opinions/politics/26/01/2016/56a7858e9a79477cc8cc27d7, and http://www.tvc.ru/news/show/id/84968, and http://www.rbc.ru/politics/25/01/2016/56a64b6d9a794762fc7e85a5. I already mentioned that Lenin’s last struggle was against Stalin, on the question of independence for Georgia. Stalin has now been rehabilitated as a great Tsar (and effective manager), along with Ivan the Terrible. Peter the Great. Under Stalin, the Russian Empire reached its greatest extent.

In Georgian at http://gjsp.ge/ka/880-2/

“Does Russia have a human rights future in the Council of Europe and OSCE?” in Doutje Lettinga & Lars van Troost (eds) Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: Russia (2017) Amnesty International Netherlands, pp. 53-63.

Doutje Lettinga & Lars van Troost (eds) Shifting Power and Human Rights Diplomacy: Russia (2017) Amnesty International Netherlands

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