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Essay: Law, morality, and freedom – Marx and Engels

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  • Published: March 8, 2021*
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  • Law, morality, and freedom - Marx and Engels
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Law, morality, and freedom were interpreted by Marx and Engels as invariably an instrument of class dominance. They begin by laying out the history of oppression starting with the “freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf…oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” Marx and Engels are simply saying that throughout history, the rich have had power over the poor. In democratic societies, many people believe themselves to be equal and free under the law. Marx and Engels argue that this is not the way the world works. There is always a class higher than another class, an oppressor and an oppressed. Equality and freedom under law is only easily accessible and enjoyed by people with power.

The bourgeoisie’s “very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of [their]… production and… property, just as [their] jurisprudence is but the will of [their] class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the [economic] conditions of existence of your class.” Marx contends that “law, morality, religion, are so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.” They continued to criticize the tradition of government under the rule of law as nothing more than a mere expression of bourgeois aspirations. Moreover, “the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” meaning the government passes laws in favor of members of the bourgeoisie providing no representation for the proletariat.

Therefore, no freedoms, morals, or laws are protected or used to protect the proletarians. Whichever class someone is in determines their experiences with the law. Marx and Engels make this argument because they believed that a consistent pattern of evolution controlled the human condition, which would then lead to a more picture-perfect society of classless people. Marx and Engels explained that since the fate of humankind lied in the emergency of lawless communism, then the law was interpreted as not incorporating any universal values or principles. Instead law is representing a provisional device that merely illustrates the growth of political struggles and the evolution of social formations. In Marx and Engels’s opinion, the legal phenomenon is habitually dependent on their form and content upon determining forces emanating from the economic basis of society.

Overall, Marx and Engels make the argument against the universality of law, morals, and freedom because it clearly only applies to and benefits the bourgeoisie and allows them to oppress the proletariat. Further, the law only translates the interests of those who hold the reins of command in any given society; it is an instrument in the service of those who exercise their dictatorship in this society because they have the tools of production within their control. The authors make this argument to further prove the need and the reason for a revolution towards communism. Only under Communism can there be a classless society, according to Marx and Engels. The last advent of revolutionary communism necessarily requires, argued by Marx and Engels, a stage in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary tyranny of the proletariat. In other words, they contended that dictatorship under the proletariat is the only way in which the goals of communism can be advanced and to create the needed classless society. Under communism, proletarians can change the ways laws, morals, and freedoms are written, interpreted, who they represent, and who they protect in society.

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