In my previous article, I noted how the social justice movement incorporates the idea of natural goodness into its philosophical framework. As Jean Jacques Rousseau claimed, human beings are born pure and undefiled. They are completely free and independent until the vices of society corrupt them. As a result, government is needed to correct this corrupted state of existence. This concept of societal corruption and the need for government intervention links up nicely with another socio-political philosophy: Marxism. Like Marxism, the social justice movement perceives oppression in society and seeks societal change to end that oppression.
In his works The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, Karl Marx (along with Friedrich Engels) lays out his communist theory of society and politics. Marx begins with three central philosophical principles. First, Marx is committed to materialism: the claim that the material world exists external to the mind and that the mind is dependent upon the material or is identical to it. Second, Marx is committed to dialectical materialism: the claim that knowledge originates through practical interaction with interconnected, progressively changing material objects and social environments. There is a constant struggle between the internal contradictions of the material world: the old vs. the new, that which is dying/disappearing vs.that which is emerging/developing. Third, Marx is committed to historical materialism: the claim that social history can be understood by studying the changing material world and how it affects societies.
As a result, Marx believed that all material things (especially human beings) are connected in an organic collective. Nothing acts on its own. All things are caused through the interconnectedness of material reality. Since people are nothing more than material objects, it is material reality that drives people’s actions. For Marx, that driver is the means of production (i.e. any resource such as money, land, technology, etc.) of material goods. Material objects, such as human beings, want to consume, and there can be no consumption without production. Whoever controls the means of production controls the history of humanity; therefore, economics is of prime importance to understanding reality and human history.
Unfortunately, humanity has become corrupted by class struggle. The elites (aka the bourgeoisies) have taken possession of capital (aka the money, land, equipment, etc. necessary for production) through the notion of “property.” The workers (aka the proletariat) are forced to seek out and sell themselves to the bourgeoisies in order to access the means of production. Due to their position, the bourgeoisies abuse the proletariat by not providing a true payment for the proletariat’s work. Using the labor theory of value, Marx believed that the value of a material good is equal to the amount of labor (i.e. raw materials as well as human and technological effort) used to create that good. The worker deserves to be paid the value of his labor, but the bourgeoisies want to make a profit from selling the product that is produced. Since the bourgeoisies cannot take money from the expenses for the material and technological elements necessary to make the product in order to find a profit, they instead underpay the worker for his labor thereby stealing from the worker according to Marx. The worker does not get what he deserves.
As a result, the proletariat are abused and impoverished so that they cannot access the material goods necessary to living a good life,which is a situation Marx calls “alienation” from society. The elites prosper; the workers languish. This corrupt system, however, eventually collapses when the proletariat revolt and seize the means of production from the bourgeoisies. This cycle of struggle has occurred throughout history moving humanity closer to the final revolution that will institute the worker’s paradise. This paradise will erase property, end the class system of the bourgeoisies and the proletariat, and establish a communist society where the state controls the means of production and redistributes goods and services to the benefit of all members of society, not just a few. In this way all people can enjoy a life of leisure. Such a system requires complete subservience to the state and the relinquishing of all rights. No individual can demand anything only for himself or his biological kin. Everyone in society is one’s kin (aka “comrade”) and should be treated that way. Only then can there be true equality: everyone receives the same and is treated the same.
Marxism and the social justice movement are similar in their views of human society and methods to fix it. The social justice movement replaces Marx’s materialism with culture. Instead of speaking about economic oppression, the social justice movement speaks about cultural oppression. The elites control not just the means of production, it is claimed, but also all of society, and they do so in order to oppress certain cultural minorities to the advantage of the elites in order to hamper the progress of human society. This oppression (such as systemic racism, colonialism, homophobia, and transphobia) is achieved through cultures that convey social and economic privilege on the elites and alienate minorities, and this cycle has been occurring throughout history. As a result, revolution is necessary to tear down the privileged elites, break this historical cycle of oppression, and bring about true social equality.
This ideology fits perfectly within the social justice movement’s existentialist philosophy where truth and morality are boiled down to individual perspective and life is merely obtaining the power to resist others and assert one’s own worldview. If someone perceives that he is oppressed by the elite, then he is oppressed. As a result, he must seize the power to assert his own perspective by tearing down the perceived social class system. The rights of others either do not matter or do not exist. The social justice movement considers claims about “rights” as merely a disguise for oppression just as Marx considers the notion of “property” to be a disguise for oppression. Only after this cultural revolution will there be true equality when the same social and cultural benefits are redistributed to everyone and any previous historical oppression is corrected.
This Marxist influence also inclines the social justice movement down another philosophical path. In order to overthrow the oppressive elites, the oppression must be unmasked. This requires a particular process of examining individual and cultural claims as well as historical events. This process is closely linked to the hermeneutic of suspicion and will be examined in my next article.
Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Natural Goodness,” Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/08/23/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-natural-goodness-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed September 13, 2019. For image, see https://www.socialist.net/the-fundamentals-of-marxism-suggested-reading.htm, accessed September 23, 2019.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/dialectical-materialism, accessed September 13, 2019; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_materialism, accessed September 13, 2019; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism, accessed September 13, 2019; https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1938/09.htm, accessed September 13, 2019.
Marx’s attitude toward property is similar to that of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Both believed that the notion of property was an illusion and a major corrupter of society. They also share a passion for the concept of social equality though they disagree on what this concept entails. For more, see Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundation of the Social Justice Movement: Natural Goodness,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/08/23/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-natural-goodness-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed September 25, 2019.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value, accessed September 13, 2019.
For example, let’s say a worker creates a table in a factory. The price the table is sold for is $100; therefore, the table must be worth that value according to the Labor Theory. This $100 is divided between the different types of labor. Let’s say the value of the parts is $20, the value of the tools to build it is $20, and the value of labor of the worker is $60. Where will the bourgeoisie get his profit? He cannot skimp on the parts or the tools for they are necessary to make the table, but he can pay the worker only $10 instead of the $60 giving the bourgeoisies a $50 profit. As a result, the bourgeoisies have not given the worker what he deserves and is guilty of theft. One of the problems with this theory is that there is no fixed value on labor. Each person values his labor and the labor of others differently. As a result, the worker can only agree with his employer’s estimation of the value of the worker’s labor. If the worker agrees, then he cannot claim to have been stolen from if the employer adheres to the employment contract. Further, people are willing to pay far more for something than it might actually be worth from merely a material or labor standpoint. Some collectibles sell for millions of dollars more than what it took to make them. Modern economists call this the Marginal Utility Theory of Value where the value of something is based on supply and demand and the subjective preference of the individual for a particular item at a particular time. Suppose you were extremely hungry so you eat a big meal. After a while, you become full and refuse to eat more. Your supply (i.e. margin) of food changed therefore changing your evaluation (i.e. utility) of food and lowering your demand over time. Further, some people will spend a lot of money for certain things, like tickets to the Super Bowl, while other will not. It is supply and demand along with individual preference that controls what we value and how much we value it. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_utility, accessed September 25, 2019, and https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/marginalutility.asp, accessed September 25, 2019.
This appeal to equality appears to reflect the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant in some ways. In TheMetaphysics ofMorals, Kant argued that morality could be derived purely from reason. Ultimately, he devised the categorical imperative (aka necessary command) which states that any moral rule devised by human beings is rationally justified only if it can be universally applied to all people. In other words, everyone should be treated equally. Marx appears to apply Kant’s notion of morality to economic matters.
One could argue that the bourgeoisies could not seize control of the means of production unless they first culturally designated themselves as the elites. As a result, culture is the more fundamental movement of human history. This claim links up well with Nietzsche’s Will to Power if culture is an individual or group of individuals exerting their power and establishing their perspective over others. For more, see Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Power,” The Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/07/29/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-power-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed September 25, 2019.