So in Part 1 of the On Marxism and Morality series, we discussed how Karl Marx used the word slavery as a sort of sleight of hand to imply that any free man who sold his labor was, in fact, a slave. In truth, slavery is a condition wherein you are fundamentally denied choice. The worker can walk away. The worker can go work for someone else. Indeed, the worker can change careers, or obtain capital himself. Many choices exist for him. The slave has none.
But as Francis pointed out, Marx was aware of this objection.
Marx was aware of the objections to his thesis on freedom grounds, so he did what any determined totalitarian would do: he redefined freedom. Freedom, according to Marx, is an absence of tension and conflict, which he maintained can only be achieved when the means of production have been put under control of the workers. A nice little circularity, eh?
Indeed it is. Let us turn to Marxists.org (I don’t want to give them traffic, but feel free to navigate there if you wish) for a suitably Marxian definition of freedom:
Freedom is the right and capacity of people to determine their own actions, in a community which is able to provide for the full development of human potentiality. Freedom may be enjoyed by individuals but only in and through the community.
Notice the qualifier at the end of their definition. In the Marxist world, freedom only exists through the community. This is fundamentally opposed to the Rightist notion of freedom as a natural state. The lone hunter-gatherer is free, in that he can do as he wishes. No one is applying force on him, save the laws of nature, which can neither be altered nor appealed to. The man becomes unfree when force or threat of force is used to compel him to do something.
If I hold a gun to your head and tell you to give me your wallet, that is a momentary state of servitude. It is a violation of freedom.
In the Marxian world, this is not quite accurate, because the community supersedes the individual. A man is a slave unless he is a part of a specific type of (read: Marxist) community. Let’s go further:
Only in community [has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
The German Ideology
This is actually very revealing. Freedom in the Marxist world speaks of human development. It is freedom from nature, not freedom from fellow man. As I’ve said before, this is a fundamental conflict with various forms of Rightism, which regard man as being free by nature, and only later being tied to bondage. In the Marxist world, man is born a slave unless he is a Marxist, living in a Marxist community. Convenient, isn’t it?
One exception is made: Marxists regard the ruling class as free, but only because it oppresses others. This is a contradiction. How could both Marxists and Oppressors be free, but non-Marxists who don’t oppress anyone categorically be slaves?
Let’s return to the concept Francis spoke of:
Positive Freedom and Negative Freedom:
Negative freedom means the lack of forces which prevent an individual from doing whatever they want; Positive freedom is the capacity of a person to determine the best course of action and the existence of opportunities for them to realise their full potential.
The overwhelmingly dominant tendency in the history of bourgeois society has been to open up negative freedom, by removing feudal and other reactionary constraints on freedom of action. Free trade and wage-labour are the most characteristic bourgeois freedoms which have resulted from this history: free trade being the freedom of a capitalist to make a profit without restriction, and wage-labour being the freedom of a worker from any means of livelihood other than being able to sell their labour power to the highest bidder. Thus this negative bourgeois freedom is a kind of freedom which is real only for those who own the means of production.
Positive freedom has been built up almost exclusively as a result of the struggle of the working class: initially the legislation limiting hours of work, child labour and so on, later the creation of free compulsory education, public health systems, right to form trade unions, and so forth, freedoms which explicitly limit the freedom of the capitalists to exploit workers, but give worker the opportunity to develop as human beings.
We see here that what a Rightist would define as freedom is actually acknowledged in Marxism as “negative freedom.” Marxists admit that “bourgeois society” has opened up negative freedom. But immediately this goes right off the rails. Marxism.org tells us that workers don’t really have this freedom because they don’t have capital, and thus must sell their labor. In this, they treat “labor” as a monolithic block. In reality, labor can be many kinds of things. You could be a plumber, or a writer, or a programmer, or an actor. You could work for a company, or you could be a contractor and work for yourself. Labor is not monolithic. Labor cannot be dismissed as non-free by itself. Only if someone is forcing you to do specific labor can it be called unfree. A slavemaster holds a whip and tells his slave to pick cotton. Slavery. A laborer agrees to work for $10/hour picking cotton. Not slavery. And in any case, the worker may obtain capital if he is unsatisfied with his role.
But then Marxism posits a ‘superior’ form of “positive” freedom, which is, in fact, nothing of the kind. And then Marxists try to explain that there is some kind of tension between all these forces, and only when it goes away and everything is cleared away for you (note: by someone else) are you “free” in any real sense.
It’s a bunch of rhetoric about “realizing their full potential.” This word is left undefined. When an artist gets government money to do some sort of modern art project, Marxists eat it up. We’re letting the artist be an artist, they say. He can realize his full potential, they claim. Except there’s a catch. If everyone realized this potential, who would clean toilets and pick up garbage? We’d have an awful lot of bad art, for what incentive is there to improve if you’re going to get the money anyway? And we’d have an awful lot of garbage and dirty toilets, because nobody “realizes their full potential” scrubbing fecal matter. But if nobody scrubs the crap, you get a dysfunctional (and smelly) society.
This is not a new concept. We can go back to the Greeks, and read Aristophanes, and see this central fallacy of Marxism laid bare for us:
“Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all.
Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?
Praxagora: The slaves.”
Yes. 2,500 years ago, the Greeks understood the central points of Marxism well enough. And it is clear such foolishness was satirized rather heavily. Marxism needs slaves, real ones, not laborers cast as slaves because of political needs. And the people “realizing their full potential”? They will be the Party members, the new political aristocracy, whose coin will be popularity and political power instead of bank balances. They will realize their potential. You won’t.
Fact is, a human’s potential is unknowable by any but God anyway. Even a man himself does not know if there was more he could have done, or better choices he could have made in life. Whatever his pure theoretical potential, he will always fall short of it. Consider also that a man today, possessing machines to serve him, can do far more than a man thousand years ago. We can make more and better goods, grow more food, prevent more disease. Our potential is not some static number that you magically hit and suddenly you’re “free”. It is always changing, never certain, and not fully quantifiable.
Either Marx was aware of this, and didn’t care, or he was too dense to get it. But either way, the Marxist definition of freedom is bullshit. It is, in fact, even less true than the notion that labor is slavery. For at least labor can sometimes look rather similar to slavery in some superficial manner. “Positive freedom” and negative freedom have absolutely nothing in common. Positive freedom is pure bologna, because it’s not freedom at all. As Aristophanes explained for us, it actually implies that at least someone will have to be enslaved.