I'm just your typical unapologetic leftist. Communist to be precise. I'm not sure how often I'll get to write on this, but I'll try my best. Turn Ons: Communism, Marx, Fidel, Chavez. Turn Offs: Capitalism, Imperialism, the USA. Oh, and just for the record, before I am spammed to death with "If you don't like it here then leave" comments, I am leaving the US forever within the next 6-10 years. Take that, snaggle-toothed Conservatives.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Emancipation a la Marx

I said I was going to talk about Marxism, so let's get moving. In Marx's "On the Jewish Question" he discusses emancipation, not just of German Jews, but of the whole world. Now, for those of you who have read Marx, or critiques of him, what I may say next might be a disappointment. I am not here going to analyze the argument of whether or not Marx was anti-Semitic, I am here to discuss his theories on emancipation. Please do not comment about that topic in reference to this piece (Thanks in advance). I feel this is relevant because, ultimately, this essay is not just about Jewish emancipation, but the emancipation of all mankind.

In this essay, Marx claims that emancipation is divided into two forms: political and human. He makes it clear that human is the more important of the two, while political is the more easily achieved. Political emancipation, to Marx, is the point at which man is free with relation to the state. For example, political emancipation is reached when all men within a state are treated equally under the laws of the state. This would be in contrast to the Germany of Marx's day, where Jews has special laws restricting their political and legal participation. Marx was here speaking mainly about the state and religion, and thus claimed that political emancipation was not sufficient because it merely deferred religion from the state to society. Religion can really be replaced by any other social institution that serves to separate or otherwise limit mankind. To Marx, religion, along with racial prejudices, class prejudices, etc. were things that the state needed to abolish from law. Once these things were erased from the state, political emancipation would be achieved.

So why not stop there? Isn't political emancipation enough? No way, says Marx. As previously stated, political emancipation merely defers these institutions onto society. If a state declares all religions equal in the eyes of the law, or all races equal in the eyes of the law, but the people continue to be religious, or racist, for example, then the people are not truly free. In fact, for the state to say that all religions are equal or all races are equal implies the existence of religious biases or racial prejudices. (The state, Marx claimed, would be better off to abolish all religions, than to accept them all equally, but even this case would not generate true freedom, because the state cannot abolish things like race and class for society.) Obviously, the existence of these on any level prevents true freedom. This sense of true freedom, for Marx is human emancipation. Only when society emancipates itself from the limitations of race, class, religion, etc. will the people be truly emancipated from them. Marx did acknowledge that political emancipation was a very important step toward human emancipation, but clearly human is more important. The biggest problem with political emancipation is that it created a contradiction in men. How was one to justify his duties as a citizen of the state with his duties as a religious person within society? This creates an internal division in man which must be corrected if man is to realize his true nature and be free. Therefore, society must emancipate itself.

But how was society to emancipate itself? Here is where Marx becomes controversial. Society must eradicate the limitations it has placed on itself. Religion must be abolished, not only by the state, but by the individual practitioners themselves. Race must not be regarded as divide between men by the state, but it must also not be recognized as such by society. Class distinctions must also be forgotten by all of society in order for man to be truly free. For Marx, being a citizen meant acting in the interests of all (the universal will), through the state. He believed that political emancipation only made man free to pursue his own self-interest, aside from being a citizen. If man freed himself from the constraining elements of civil society (i.e. religion, racism, class conflict, etc.), he would cease acting in his own interests, and his individual will would be united with the universal will. The union of individual will with universal will is, for Marx, human emancipation. Man is not free when he acts only as an individual, nor when he acts for the universal will but also for himself. According to Marx, man is only free when he acts strictly as a species-being, a member of mankind, supporting and promoting not only himself, but all other men. This is "emancipation a la Marx".

Now for discussion. What do I think about Marx's view on emancipation? I find it very true. I agree that class distinctions, racism, and even religion divide people rather than unite them. I think that everyone can agree that destroying class distinctions and racism would be for the betterment of humanity, but I think the line gets fuzzy on religion. Coming from a religious background (although I don't now consider myself religious) I can see the problems that Marx points to in religion. If one truly believes in his faith, it is very hard to subject that religion to anything else, citizenship or species existence included. Marx's suggested remedy for this is that society as a whole must abandon religion. Taken from an atheistic perspective, this makes perfect sense, not just because religious beliefs are inherently false, but also because the end of religion would force humanity to focus more on the pragmatic issues of real life. However, taken from another view, is the complete abandonment of religion even possible, considering the current (and past) state of global civilization? It seems unlikely. Even in our world where most states are secular, people worldwide are entrenched in religion.

How can contemporary Marxist thinkers deal with this problem? There would seem to be two options which are the most sensical. The first is to take a hardline stance and side with Marx. Demand that society focus on the real, tangible world, and forget their religious inklings. This would create a society free of religious differences, further uniting man, while also taking focus away from the spiritual and back to the pragmatic problems in the world. However, this stance is likely to alienate many. The second option is the more moderate (hah! Moderate Marxism). Marxists could suffer a falling out with Marx and merely accept political emancipation from religion. With this position, they could say that religion may continue under Marxism; however it must be done under the specific auspices of the universal will. This, however, would bring a major contradiction to most religions, because it would require that religion be completely subject to citizenship. It would also be an incomplete solution, because as Marx stated, allowing religion in civil society means it will continue to divide people against each other and against themselves as they struggle with dual identity as citizen and religious person. I suppose, given these choices, I would side with Marx and say it is better to destroy all religion. I do think it is wrong that people are made subject to the religious views of others (i.e. the fight to illegalize abortion would stop everyone from having them, not just the people advocating it due to religion). I also find that putting religious beliefs before the pragmatic issues of the real world is problematic. It is, however, doubtful that the complete abolition of religion could be achieved.

Please feel free to share any thoughts, concerns, or arguements you have with this, but please keep them constructive.


Blogger Tan said...

the world will never leave religion, it would turn into chaos!!! chaos i tell ya.. people would not know what to do with themselves because well, people are simple minded. I like the idea of separation, but I also believe that people will always have some prejudice to separate upon, if it isn't race, religion, or anything like that, they will find something.. oh wellz.

10:31 PM

Blogger lauren said...

Hi there, I found this really useful! I am really struggling with Kant, Hegel and Marx at the moment but this has just helped clarify something that I couldn't get passed in Marx 'On the Jewish Question'. So thanks

12:14 PM

Blogger Samantha said...

Hello, I just found your blog, and I love your writing style!

I tend to agree with the above commenter though. I think humans, in their quest to make sense of and order the world, naturally need to classify people by some criterion, which unfortunately leads to things like discrimination and the prevention of true human emancipation. Hypothetically if religion, class, race, gender, and the "classic" qualifiers were "erased" from society, there would still be things like age, ability, sexuality, looks, family connections, etc. I'm sure there are even more qualifiers than I can even come up with from my own imagination. It's very unfortunate, but sometimes I feel like human emancipation is a beautiful, shiny gold mist that's perpetually out of reach due to the crappy qualities of which we are tragically the inheritors. I hope I'm wrong though!

8:10 PM


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