Main Features of Marxian Theory of Justice

1. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx makes the following remark. “The emancipation of labour demands the promotion of the instruments of labour to the common property of society and the cooperative regulation of the total labour with a fair distribution of proceeds of labour.” So we can say that the fair distribution of the proceeds constitutes the very foundation of the theory of justice and because of this we can say that Marxian theory of justice is distributive in nature.

Fair distribution is at the same time a claim or right of the labourers because the proceeds are due to their labour and naturally they have legitimate claim to that proceeds and the legitimate claim relates to fair distribution. Thus the legitimate claims and fair distribution are closely connected.

2. Since Marxian theory of justice is distributive it implies that all the benefits and burdens within the society shall be properly distributed among all the members of the society, and no discrimination shall be allowed to rise. Marx calls this fair distribution.

The proceeds of labour belong to all members of the society. To put it in other words fair distribution is a right which all workers can claim. When this right is ignored or not fulfilled then it can be said that in that society justice is not supposed to exists.

3. It we thoroughly study Marxism we shall find that standards of right and justice are internal to the specific modes of production. In The Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx says. “Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby”.

If so we can reasonably say that there is capitalist justice, there is socialist justice etc. Whether such designations really carry any meaning and weight, is a different issue. But in the background of Marxian justice we can say that capitalism views justice from the standpoint of separate perspective.

4. Marx and Engels extensively studied the rise and growth of capitalism and they formed the conclusion that it was out and out unjust because its foundation was exploitation. A system or an economy based or exploitation can never be an abode of justice. He called exploitation not only unfair but also a “robber”. The working class was deprived of its legitimate share of profit or all sorts of benefits.

In capitalism profits and other pecuniary benefits are forcibly gobbled by the capitalists and their henchmen and this finally led the working class to the zenith of impoverishment and deprivation. In such a system there cannot exist justice. In Marx’s account capitalism is the symbol of injustice and the most tragic aspect of capitalism is the capitalists and bourgeois theoreticians call it freedom and perfect democracy.

5. Marx concluded that the abolition of capitalism and establishment of commu­nism can ensure the setting up of justice. One can infer from this statement that Marx was in favour of reformism. That is, he wanted to reform capitalist system for the sake, of justice and other lofty ideals. The exact situation is not so. He believed that not the reforming of capitalist system but its total abolition could bring about justice.

Marx firmly believed that only the abolition of capitalism can ensure the advent of justice. Compromise and adjustment have no role to play in the attainment of justice. Marx believed that without total revolution the wrongs and injustices of the capitalist system could not be done away with.

After the revolution a new society would be set up whose leitmotif would be to set up justice through the distribution of all goods and services. Thus we can say that Marx prescribed a new model of justice for a society created after the abolition of capitalism. Here it is clear that Marxian justice and capitalist justice are not of the same category.

6. Though Marx was not a moral philosopher or a devout advocate of ethics in the strictest sense of the term his concept of justice is not completely divorced from these two ideas. Let us explain it briefly.

It is moral and unethical to deprive a person or group of persons of their legitimate share in wealth, income, commodities and other forms of services. But capitalist system of economy had been doing this (depriving the working class of its due share) with the help of the three arms of state that is executive arm, legislative arm and military and police arm. So Marx and his followers wanted to establish a justice which would be moral and at the same time ethical.

7. It has been maintained by some especially Norman Barry that Marx had two concepts of justice-one for socialist society and the other for communist society and he made this mention in The Critique of the Gotha Programme. We may call one as socialist justice and the other communist justice.

Critics may raise question in regard to this classification because Marx makes no attempt to classify justice in this way. 

8. The basic characteristic of the socialist justice or the justice of socialist society is the ownership of the means of production and exploitation have been abolished and the distributive justice will commence its new journey. The worker will receive in proportion to what he produces. In other words, the remuneration will be in commensurate with his labour or contribution to production.

The abolition of ownership and exploitation will lead to the general ownership of the whole society and the workers will be the owners of the sources of production. The establishment of socialism, we come to know from Marx’s analysis, will augur a new type of justice basically different from capitalist form of justice.

Summarising Marxian concept of justice that prevails in socialism Norman Barry maintains: “Nevertheless, some inequality will persist since people’s labour contributions will vary according to their talents and many of the objectionable features of a money economy will remain”. In socialist society full form of justice will not find its implementation and Marx has admitted that it is inevitable because in socialism there shall exist some remnants of capitalism.

9. In communist society the distributive justice assumes different form and this has been stated by Marx in The Critique of Gotha Programme. “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordinating of 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 round development of the individual and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly—only then the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and the society inscribe on its banners, from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” (Italics added).

The last sentence is of prime importance. Marx has said that the reward of a man’s share in wealth of society will not be in accordance with his contribution to the generation of wealth but with the special needs that each individual requires in order to maintain his physical existence and the development of mental qualities. Stated briefly, the reward an individuals will claim will be determined by the needs not what he contributes to the society.

In the first stage of the communist society which Lenin calls socialist society the reward shall be in proportion to labour or contribution? It is now quite clear that in Marx’s account there are two categories of justice—one is justice for a socialist society and the other for communist society. But both types of justice are distributive.

10. The nature of distributive justice in communism is, strictly speaking, Utopian. When will such a stage of distributive justice arrive? Though from the literature of Marx and Engels no definite clue can be discovered, it can be surmised that in a society characterised by opulence or abundance distributive justice imagined by Marx can exist. But such a condition is simply an imagination. It is nothing but Utopian.

It is utopian in an, other sense also. There shall arrive a sea change in the mental world of individuals who will be motivated to work selflessly without considering the reward or their share in the whole production. Only a man with missionary zeal will work more and receive less.

Such an individual will always give priority to the realisation of social welfare and social justice. He will think that doing more and getting less are reward for him because his needs are less than those who are doing less. Viewed from idealistic standpoint this will positively lead to the establishment of social justice and distributive justice.

11. Marx’s theory of distributive justice highlights another interesting aspect. This implies that benefits and burdens are to be properly divided and in capitalism this does not happen. Did he condemn capitalism on this ground? Many interpret Marx’s theory of justice in the light of moral positivism.

Barry says: “Those who interpret Marx as a moral positivist would maintain that it was not his intention to evaluate capitalist society by these conceptions since a different morality applies to that order”. The concept of justice is to be explained in the background of particular form of society and naturally justice in a capitalist society will differ from that of socialist society.

One cannot think about capitalist society without exploitation because of the fact that exploitation is an integral part of capitalist society. So if workers are exploited by capitalist that cannot be treated as injustice.

Similarly “his insistence in Capital that the wage relation as an exchange of equivalent values (labour power for the wages) involves no injustice to the worker”. Marx viewed justice for different economic and political background and this can be exemplified by his insistence on two types of justice—one for socialism and the other for communism.

12. A thorough study of Marx’s vast works reveals that he vehemently opposed the capitalist system with all its manifestations and naturally it can never be correct to hold that capitalism can have justice.

The worker sells his labour power to the owner of capital and by appropriating it he bags profit and surplus value. But he deprives the worker of this knowing fully well that the labourer is legally entitled to a major part of this surplus value. So this type of exploitation is the source of injustice and on this ground can it be justified.

Capitalism can, therefore, be condemned because, of its tendency to inflict injustice on workers. What is obvious here is that Marx viewed the concept of justice as it prevails in capitalist society has been modelled in separate background and philosophy. He could not agree with capitalist system.

13. The defenders of capitalism have argued that in such a system the workers get their wage or remuneration what is actually their due because wage of the labourer or the price of the commodity is determined on the basis of the operation of market forces that is demand and supply. The free operation of the market forces is the indicator of justice. But Marx and his followers have refused to swallow this argument.

Market forces are very often manipulated by the capitalists and this manipulation is most of the time done in favour of the capitalists and the unfortunate workers are always on the losers’ side. Capitalism is never a sacrosanct system. Nor are the capitalist’s caesar’s wife. The claim of the capitalists that free market is the guarantor of distributive justice is full of hollowness. Marx was also never satisfied with the so- called free operation of capitalism.

14. Capitalism dehumanises the humanity or it destroys the good qualities of human beings. A large number of interpreters of Marxism especially Kolakowski in his Main Currents of Marxism have discussed this. A dehumanising system cannot be a provider of justice. Man is crushed by the stringent economic laws and cruel behaviour of the capitalists.

The good qualities of the workers are nipped in the bud and they do not get the congenial atmosphere to blossom or to develop them. “Its most significant injustice is that it directs production for profit and not for the satisfaction of genuine human needs”.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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