Civil Liberties

I. Podvolotskii, Civil Liberties: A Bourgeois Deception. 1923


Original Source: Marksistskaia teoriia prava, s predisloviem N. Bukharina (MoscowPetrograd 1923), pp. 102-110.

Imitators of Marxism exclaim self-righteously: “But what about the freedom of the individual, press, speech, assembly, etc., etc.? Are they also, in your judgment, class rights and not individual rights?”

These “freedoms” have succeeded in revealing their ungainly class nature to the extent that there is hardly anything to be said about them. But since necessity forces us to prove that black is black, we shall refer our “Marxists” to Marx himself. “For the first time,” says Marx, “I used the expression ‘modern mythology’ as a designation for the goddesses of ‘Justice, Freedom, and Equality,’ who are beginning to reign once again.”‘

Thus, to Marx, all this is a mythology-a deception. Freedom, equality, are to Marx as unreal as goddesses. Nevertheless, some “Marxists” are intoxicated with “freedom,” “equality,” etc., and extol them as eternal and pure truths. But an abstract, eternal freedom was alien to Marx. “Be not deceived by an abstract word: freedom. The question is, ‘Whose freedom? This word does not signify man’s freedom from other men. It signifies the freedom of the capitalist to suppress the worker. ”

This is the way Marx posed the question. To him an eternal goddess of freedom-the fetish of freedom-is nonexistent; what does exist is only freedom for a certain class. In a capitalist society, it is the freedom of the capitalists to suppress the working class.

… We shall quote a long paragraph from Marx’s The Eighteenth Broodmare hoping that the quasi-Marxist blockheads will be able to see that freedom in a capitalist society is freedom for capitalists alone.

The inevitable general staff of the liberties of 1848, personal liberty, liberty of the press, of speech, of association, of assembly, of education and religion, etc., received a constitutional uniform which made them invulnerable. For each of these liberties is proclaimed as the absolute right of the French citoyen, but always with the marginal note that it is unlimited insofar as it is not limited by the “equal rights of others and the public safety” or by “laws” that are intended to mediate just this harmony of the individual liberties with one another and with the public safety. For example: “The citizens have the right of association, of peaceful and unarmed assembly, of petition, and of expressing their opinions, whether in the press or in any other way. The enjoyment of these rights has no limit save the equal rights of others and the public safety.” (Chapter 11 of the French Constitution, Art. 8.)-“Education is free. Freedom of education shall be enjoyed under the conditions fixed by law and under the supreme control of the state.” (Ibidem, Art. 9.) -“The home of every citizen is inviolable except in the forms prescribed by law.” (Chapter 11, Art. 3.) Etc., etc.-The Constitution, therefore, constantly refers to future organic laws that are to put into effect those marginal notes and regulate the enjoyment of these unrestricted liberties in such manner that they will collide neither with one another nor with the public safety. And later, these organic laws were brought into being by the friends of order, and all those liberties were regulated in such a manner that the bourgeoisie in its enjoyment of them finds itself unhindered by the equal rights of the other classes. Where it forbids these liberties entirely to “the others” or permits enjoyment of them under conditions that are just so many police traps, this always happens solely in the interest of “public safety,” that is, the safety of the bourgeoisie, as the Constitution prescribes. In the sequel, both sides accordingly appeal with complete justice to the Constitution: the friends of order, who abrogated all these liberties, as well as the democrats, who demanded all of them. For each paragraph of the Constitution contains its own antithesis, its own Upper and Lower Houses, namely, liberty in the general phrase, abrogation of liberty in the marginal note. Thus, so long as the name of freedom was respected and only its actual realization prevented-of course, in a legal way-the constitutional existence of liberty remained intact, inviolate, however mortal the blows dealt to its existence in actual life.

Engels’ views are in full conformity with those of Marx: “The so-called rights of man … were in fact restricted by the bourgeois ruling class; the suppressed class has always been deprived of them either directly or indirectly.”

In examining social relationships, Marx and Engels have discovered that freedom in a capitalist society signifies the freedom of capitalists to protect the “social safety” of their system, and that the rights of the suppressed classes amount to nothing. But some “Marxists” consult only constitutions and find in them solemn proclamations of eternal and universal freedom. Consequently, they fail to see that this freedom does not exist in reality, for its existence would be contrary to the interests of “social safety.”

There are, however, other reasons responsible for the fact that the “freedom” of the proletariat in a capitalist system is a fiction, a deception. These reasons are independent of the fact that capitalism permits and protects only the “freedom” that does not conflict with the “social safety,” i.e., with the domination of the capitalist class. Under conditions of the economic domination of the bourgeoisie, the freedom of private property is transformed into the privilege of capital, into a right favoring the capitalist system and domination by capitalists. Equally, under the conditions of economic and political domination by capital, freedom and democracy are instruments of the bourgeoisie in suppressing the exploited classes. As stated by Marx, “Slavery in the bourgeois society creates an appearance of full freedom, for it appears as a legal form of individual independence … whereas, in fact, it is a complete enslavement and a complete rejection of man. In the bourgeois society, right took the place of privilege.”

… The bourgeoisie possesses entire economic power, whereas the proletariat possesses nothing. Because of the economic power of the bourgeoisie, “freedom” and “democracy” remain a fraudulent claim; it is “freedom” of the bourgeoisie to exploit the working class. As pointed out by Engels, “Political freedom is a false freedom, worse than the worst type of slavery; it is an illusory freedom and, consequently, a true slavery. The same applies to political equality .”

Such is the problem of freedom, seen apart from political oppression and moral enslavement. It should be kept in mind, though, that the bourgeoisie holds in its hands political power in addition to control over prisons, the army, churches, and schools. The bourgeoisie oppresses economically but it also enslaves people morally; if the latter two fail, the bourgeoisie resorts to the employment of sheer physical force. With the increase of oppression, the bourgeoisie calls on its agents in the labor movement to increase the extolling of bourgeois freedom and democracy.

The proletarian revolution will put an end to bourgeois “freedom.” The dictatorship of the proletariat will destroy the bourgeois system and will bring forth a classless, communist society, a society without class antagonisms and, consequently, without the state and law. Only in a classless society, in a society without state and law, will man be free. It is absurd to speak of freedom under the law; law is incompatible with freedom. Consequently, in a society where freedom prevails, there will be no law.

Source: Michael Jaworskyj, ed., Soviet Political Thought; an anthology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967), pp. 118-120.


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