Why Equality as a goal is unhelpful
In this internet age, when information is a button away from us, a sudden boom in politics amongst young people and even teenagers has been seen. However we have become divided by twitter bios and profile pictures more than actual political ideologies. Despite the large number of people calling themselves Socialist, Liberal, Marxist, Nationalist, Hindutvavadi or even Fascist only a handful of them actually read the theory behind the worldview they seem to have adopted.
In this article we will try and show that even though we have a surplus of information, Marxists in particular are one of the most misunderstood of these groups. We wish to show that not only are Marxists misunderstood but perhaps are deliberately distorted when it comes to their politics. Marxists have been criticized and ridiculed for having equal distribution and equality of opportunity as an end goal. It is very common for people to say that Marxists will fail because egalitarianism will fail. Such a bad understanding of Marxism is to be expected from people from the other side of the spectrum however even people who call themselves Marxists say that their struggle is for equality and sometimes even go as far as to say Marx himself was a philosopher who believed in creating a classless, stateless, money less and ‘egalitarian’ society.
Perhaps, it was just a misreading of Marx, assuming that these people have actually read Marx and Engels’ theories. But still it is very hard for me to understand how such a bad understanding could’ve developed. Even Sadhguru, who no doubt given his reputation as a genius must be very well read in Marx’s philosophy, otherwise he wouldn’t have said he is more left wing than we consider him to be. However the sentence that followed after the sentence about him being left wing is strong enough to break down centuries of Marxist theory developed in different parts of the world. According to Sadhguru, Communism is about equality but he doesn’t support most communists because communism isn’t what it used to be.
Before getting into Marx and Engels’ differences and oppositions with equality let us understand the issues of equitable distribution which even the free-market claims to aim for everyday. Let us take the example of a train.
In an AC sleeper class car, each passenger is given a 1 litre bottle of water. No matter how old, how young, how weak, if you have a ticket you will get a 1 litre of water. You might be a person who drinks a lot of water, you might be a person who doesn’t drink a lot of water. It is impossible for us to determine how exactly the government deemed this 1 litre figure to be sufficient for every passenger. Like, even if the government did perform a market research then maybe 1 litre is the amount which the government assumed to be the mean of individual requirements or maybe the median of all requirements. Neither of those cases covers the requirement of every individual. This equality in the distribution of an essential liquid required for life is not at all practical, not even scientific. It is possible that someone in that sleeper car might have a special medical condition which requires him to drink an amount of water above the 1 litre standard set by the government. Not only does this put that person at a disadvantage but it also wastes water. Because the person that doesn’t need the full bottle will only drink half or a quarter of it and the extra water will be wasted unless the person drinks it. Moreover, you would be told that this researched figure of 1 litre being the closest to the mean and the median is a limitation of mathematics and this is the best we can do, but is that true? Let us consider the mathematical case only. Suppose there were 72 people in the coach and each of them received 1 litre of water equally. We distributed 72 litres of water in a way which we assumed was the best way to distribute the water assuming a normal distribution of requirement of water of all 72 passengers. So, let us assume that there were about 20 people who needed more than 1 litre of water, about 20 people who needed less than 1 litre of water and for the rest, 1 litre is sufficient. Now, let us assume that those 72 passengers were all travelling in groups of 4, say a family of 4 or a group of 4 friends who had the understanding of sharing of water as a common resource. Now, each of those 18 groups of 4 received 4 litres of water with the understanding that those 4 litres belong to the group. Now, the probability that someone with a higher requirement is travelling with someone with a lower requirement increases for every group. Now, in this case the probability that you will have all 4 people with high requirements in a group or all 4 people with lower requirements would be (20/72)^4 = 0.6%, even having 3 such people in a group would be (20/72)^3 = 2.1%. This is the scenario when we created groups of 4 people with an understanding of community ownership, the larger the group size, the better would be the distribution and the best case scenario would be having a 72 litre water tank from which people would drink as per their requirement, considering that the average measurement of 1 litre was correct. This is the concept of collectivization over equal distribution irrespective of the calculations of the individual requirements. Community ownership is thus the best way of inculcating individual requirements into the distribution system. Also, it saves a lot of plastic and packaging and the profit margins made by producers of those and is thus beneficial for everyone.
You might observe a similar model being followed in our weddings. In a generic small town Indian wedding we have a small water barrel or canister attached to a filter from which every guest can get the amount of water he or she needs. Not only does this model effectively work but it is also a reminder of the stark class difference between the weddings of rich elites and that of common everyday people. Every wedding doesn’t follow this practical and scientific method of distribution. The elite weddings in our country are the ones who seem to believe in equality, because in these weddings, they don’t allow you to choose how much water you want but rather they give you a 250 ml water bottle. This also proves Marx’s belief that equality as a political goal is a bourgeois ideal and has nothing to do with the proletariat.
Also, there will be further refutations of this idea of distribution that providing a common tank of 72 litres would make everyone feel like they have 72 litres of water and they would tend to drink more and everyone else would be driven to drink more if one person is consuming more because it’s human nature. Firstly, we are discussing the case of drinking water, it isn’t a commodity which people would start consuming more because there’s abundance, drinking water is a biological need and as we have shown in the examples of middle-class weddings. Secondly, even if we were considering some other commodity which might sound more like a luxury to you than drinking water and you are taking a distorted version of game theory, that people would act on their dominant strategies then aren’t you just agreeing with the materialist argument? Aren’t you saying that giving people 72 1-litre bottled water instead of a 72 litres tank is conditioning them to drink less? So, why are we not trying to condition people to develop a sense of community and get closer to the Nash equilibrium of the group instead of allowing people to see 72 litres of water as an abundance of resource because you have conditioned them to receive only 1-litre? Aren’t the same people conditioned to not view the same water as an excess in the wedding ceremonies? Do people go and drink more water just because there’s plenty? Do we drink more than required water at home just because there’s continuous supply, so hasn’t your argument for human nature which changes situationally been normalized for the conditions which have been taught to you by the same market assuming equal distribution as a goal? The correct solution of calculating human requirements in a collectivized system would thus have to be learnt continuously based on data and with the advancements in computing and AI (reinforcement learning), it’s not that major a challenge as it was in the previous century in the nations who attempted it via central planning. So, shouldn’t we try to change the dynamics of human nature and make people take decisions by conditioning in a centrally planned fashion? The bourgeoisie economists have always been misusing Game Theory and Nash Equilibrium to form an argument against Marxism, while ignoring the dynamics of human nature based on material conditioning. Our goal has to be to condition people to think as groups and communities once again, something which we broke to form this civilization of private property.You can read more about that in our blog here. (link)
Marx And Engels on Egalitarianism
A presupposition about communism or rather the idea of communism as an egalitarian political ideology that anti communists have made people believe is that everyone must be selfless only then will we achieve equality. These people then go on to counter their own wrong presupposition that communism is impossible to achieve since greed is part of human nature. It is not known where these people get these ideas but it certainly has had an effect on the minds of people, even left wing people. Of course these left wing people are usually not very well read in Marxist theory and sometimes they even go as far as to say that they believe in the ‘utopia’ that Marx created, they even completely deny that greed is something that humans have and this naivete makes them look ridiculous. A reading list must be arranged for these poor creatures.
To explain why this is a totally wrong belief about Marxism, let us see what Marx and Engels wrote about Selfishness in their German Ideology:
Communists do not oppose egoism to selflessness or selflessness to egoism, nor do they express this contradiction theoretically either in its sentimental or in its highflown ideological form; they rather demonstrate its material source, with which it disappears of itself. The Communists do not preach morality at all.
They do not put to people the moral demand: love one another, do not be egoists, etc.; on the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much selflessness, is in definite circumstances a necessary form of the self-assertion of individuals. Hence, the Communists by no means want to do away with the “private individual” for the sake of the “general”, selfless man. That is a statement of the imagination
Marx and Engels go further and with reference to individual interests write:
Communist theoreticians, the only Communists who have time to devote to the study of history, are distinguished precisely by the fact that they alone have discovered that throughout history the “general interest” is created by individuals who are defined as “private persons”. They know that this contradiction is only a seeming one because one side of it, what is called the “general interest”, is constantly being produced by the other side, private interest, and in relation to the latter is by no means an independent force with an independent history — so that this contradiction is in practice constantly destroyed and reproduced. Hence it is not a question of the Hegelian “negative unity” of two sides of the contradiction, but of the materially determined destruction of the preceding materially determined mode of life of individuals, with the disappearance of which this contradiction together with its unity also disappears.
The above paragraph tells us that even so-called private interest make up the broader general interests of the people. Thus, this paragraph tells us that, contrary to popular belief, Marx took human nature into account. And he devised a system free from exploitation which took all of the material conditions and needs of people into account. What he explains as a contradiction in Hegelian sense which isn’t ‘negative unity’ is that these aren’t the contradictions which are both evolving based on each other. These are the contradictions where one of these sides (private interest) is materially destroying and reproducing (general interest) and this is what we need to reverse. As we saw in the bottled water example above, the interest of private players like plastic bottle producers would ensure the policy of equitable distribution over a collective tank of water making the general masses believe that this is the best system possible and having a collective tank is an excess. Individual needs of a person are decided by the material conditions and the relations he has with other people, this has been seen in every mode of production, if we take the example of feudalism, the interests of the feuds was in selling the surplus product created in the land to earn more money. The interests of the feudal lord was to keep the value created in the land with himself in such a manner that the feuds don’t run away and keep working for him. These interests are not only private interests, but also the interests of a whole class which is determined by its relation to the means of production. With development in production, there is also development in the relations of production and these new relations give rise to new interests.
Marx also wrote, again in The German Ideology, about how personal and individual freedom in reality is to be achieved, it is through the abolition of classes which will eventually result from the abolition of private property. Marx writes:
The transformation, through the division of labor, of personal powers (relationships) into material powers, cannot be dispelled by dismissing the general idea of it from one’s mind, but can only be abolished by the individuals again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the division of labor. This is not possible without the community. Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.
Surely all of these paragraphs and perhaps the whole of the German Ideology must’ve been missed by the anti communists; their reputation for presenting facts with logic tells me that it must’ve just been by chance. Marx and Engels understood that society is defined by relations of production. These relations determine classes and class interests. These class interests are also seen in the individual interests of the human beings who belong to these classes. The means of production and private property owned by the capitalists is the same property in which the worker applies his labor and produces commodities. Even though the worker is the one that creates value, he isn’t the one who owns it. The interest of the owner therefore lies in keeping the worker engaged in production so that he can keep making profit. These interests arise from private property, therefore the class interests of the proletarian is the abolition of private property. But now let us try to understand what Marx wanted in society through this excerpt from The Critique of the Gotha Program:
But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only — for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal. But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
We think that here, it is clear that what Marx wanted, was not equality, in fact in the same text he wrote that equality is a bourgeois concept. What Marx wanted was not to make everyone work the same and render the words young, old, thin, fat, weak and strong as useless. These qualities are as much part of human nature as much as greed or selflessness. Marx believed that everyone should be rewarded in accordance with the amount of labour time they put in. However even this would make the people who are disadvantaged physically or mentally suffer from a much greater disadvantage. So Marx did not stop here and said that the needs of every human being are different and therefore must be treated as different. It is only in capitalism that people are paid equal wages for unequal work.
From here comes perhaps one of the most important lines that define Marxism,
From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs
It should be understood, then, that Marxism doesn’t strive for equality, it never has. Liberal deviations and deliberate distortions of Marxism by anti communists have made people believe that Marxism is just as utopian as the next stupid utopian or egalitarian theory. This completely ignores that in his most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote a whole part about utopian socialists. These traits precisely separate Marx’s scientific socialism from utopian socialism and liberalism. Scientific socialism is based upon materialism and the dialectical pattern of nature. Therefore the opposition to egalitarianism is scientific.Two things can never be equal unless they are one and the same thing and since this is not possible, they shouldn’t be treated as equal. The needs of different people are different and they must be treated differently. Equality in opportunity and equality in outcome, both are flawed as we had seen above. Marxism takes material conditions into account and provides us with a system which not only fulfills the needs of individuals but also allows them to develop themselves in their own way.
But if the reader is still not convinced perhaps they should find two plants and see if their needs are exactly the same. Because Dialectical Materialism, ie Marxism, doesn’t end with humans but it starts with nature.
-Kukushka and SP