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Wood - Marxian Critique Justice

Wood - Marxian Critique Justice

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The Marxian Critique of JusticeAuthor(s): Allen W. WoodSource:
Philosophy and Public Affairs,
Vol. 1, No. 3 (Spring, 1972), pp. 244-282Published by: Blackwell PublishingStable URL:
Accessed: 23/04/2010 17:21
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The MarxianCritiqueof Justice
When we readKarl Marx's descriptionsofthecapitalistmode ofpro-ductioninCapitaland otherwritings,allour instincts tellusthatthesearedescriptionsofanunjustsocialsystem.Marx describes asocietyin whichonesmallclassofpersonslives in comfort andidle-ness whileanotherclass,in ever-increasing numbers,lives in wantandwretchedness, laboringtoproducethe wealthenjoyedbythefirst.Marxspeaksconstantlyofcapitalist"exploitation"of theworker,andreferstothecreation ofsurplusvalueastheappropriationofhis"unpaidlabor"by capital.Not onlydoescapitalistsociety,asMarxdescribesit,strikeus asunjust,buthisowndescriptionsof it them-selvesseem toconnoteinjustice.When welookin thewritingsof MarxandEngelsfora detailedaccountof the injusticesofcapitalism,however,wediscover at oncethatnotonlyis therenoattemptatallin theirwritingstoprovideanargumentthatcapitalismisunjust,but there is not even theexplicitclaimthatcapitalismisunjustorinequitable,or thatitvio-latesanyone's rights.Wefind,infact,explicitdenunciations and sus-tainedcriticismsofsocial thinkers(suchas PierreProudhon andFerdinandLassalle)whodidcondemncapitalismforitsinjusticesor advocatedsome formof socialism as ameans ofsecuring justice,equality,ortherightsofman.We evenfind, perhapsto oursurprise,somefairly explicitstatementsto the effect thatcapitalism,with allitsmanifolddefects,cannotbe faultedas farasjusticeisconcerned.Whateverelsecapitalismmaybe forMarx,it doesnot seemthatitisunjust.
245The MarxianCritique
of JusticeThe factthatMarx doesnotregard capitalismasunjusthas beennotedbefore.' But Marx'sreasons for holding thisview,andthecon-cept ofjustice on which itrests,havebeen lessfrequentlyunderstood.It is ofcourse true that Marx andEngelsdonotsaymuch aboutthemannerin which social oreconomic justice maybeactualized,andthattheydonotconcern themselves greatlywiththewaysinwhichjust socialinstitutions maybedistinguishedfromunjustones.Andif,asIwishto argue, theattainmentofjusticedoesnot,initself, playasignificant role in eitherMarxian theory or Marxistpractice, theseomissions are neither seriousnorsurprising.Nevertheless, Marx andEngelsdid take seriously theconcept of justice and didhave a placefor itintheirconceptionofsocietyand socialpractice.Both were infacthighlycriticalofwhattheytook to be the misuse ofthisconceptinsocialthought,its"mystification"andideological"'glorification."'ThisMarxiancritiqueofjusticemaybe viewed asanattempttoclar-ify therole of theconceptofjusticein social life andtopreventitsideological abuse.Much can belearned,Ithink,by tracing this cri-tique toits rootsinthe Marxianconceptionsofsocietyandsocial prac-tice,andviewingitinrelation to Marx'sownreasonsfordenying thatcapitalismisunjustwhile atth-esametimecallingfor its revolution-aryoverthrow.
Theconceptofjusticehastraditionally playedanimportantrolein theoriesofthe rational assessment of socialinstitutions. Itiscom-monlyfeltthatjusticeis thehighestmeritanysocialinstitutioncanpossess,whileinjusticeis thegravest chargewhichcouldeverbelodgedagainstit.Itseems to be noexaggerationtosaythat to boththephilosopherand the common manjusticehasoftenappeared,as
Engelsonceput it,"the fundamentalprincipleof allsociety,
. ..
thestandardbywhichtomeasure all humanthings,
.the finaljudge
to beappealedto in all conflicts."2Whyissuchimportanceattached
i. Mostrecently byRobertC.Tucker,The MarxianRevolutionary Idea (NewYork,
pp.37-48.Cf.Tucker, PhilosophyandMythin KarlMarx (Cam-bridge, Eng.,
Marx EngelsWerke(Berlin,
Cf. KarlMarx andFriedrichEngels,SelectedWorks(Moscow,
),I,562. (Alltranslationsin thetext aremy own.)

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