Social Justice against Capitalism

By Lebowitz, Michael A. | Monthly Review, May 1988 | Go to article overview

Social Justice against Capitalism


Lebowitz, Michael A., Monthly Review


SOCIAL JUSTICE AGAINST CAPITALISM by MICHAEL A. LEBOWITZ

Following it the text of a talk given by the author in a course entitled "Capitalist for Social Justice" at Regent College, a transdenominational, evangelical Christian college in Vancouver (affiliated with the University of British Columbia). -- The editors.

I want to thak the organizers of this course very much for inviting me to speak here and for giving me the opportunity, along with Walter Block, to proselytize. I hope that what I will have to say will contribute to the success of your course. And, even more, will help to provoke you to think critically about capitalism. I emphasize the word "provoke."

For, I want to make clear immediately, I reject the very purpose of the course as stated in the outline description. I do not believe that "the capitalist system can be a means for bringing about social justice." It certainly is the economic structure within which all people in North America must work if they are to be involved in the shaping of a just society, it is true.

But we work for a just society only by struggling against the capitalist system.

I don't mean by that struggling to overthrow the capitalist system. Rather, I mean that the struggle for a just society is a struggle against the inherent logic of capitalism.

Nor do I wish to be understood as meaning that aspects of a just society (islands) cannot be achieved within capitalism. However, what I want to propose is that such islands insofar as they do exist, embody a different logic than that of capitalism. Not the logic of self-love and greed and privilege and exploitation. But a logic of love, the logic of a human community, of a community in which we recognize our interdependence, our need for one another and our responsibility for other human beings.

In short I want to suggest that if you seek social justice you are struggling, consciously or unconsciously, against the logic of capitalism. And that implicit in your ideal of social justice is a different type of economic system, one which exists nowhere in the world at this time but which I hope, barring nuclear war or environmental disasters, will someday take shape.

Now, I am a Marxist economist. So, perhaps it will not surprise you that, in addition to rejecting the purpose of this course as stated in the outline, I also do not accept the very premise of the course as stated by John Perkins, i.e., "Capitalism is the best production system, and the worst distribution system." And why don't I accept this? Because production cannot be separated from the human beings who produce and because the nature of the capitalist distribution system cannot be separated from the nature of the capitalist production system.

Because there is so much misinformation and distortion about the Marxist perspective, I think the best way to proceed is to offer a brief look at Marx's analysis of capitalism. Let me begin by talking about Marx's vision. It was a vision of a human community, what he described as "the unity of men with other men, which is based on the real differences between men." It was a vision of a society in which people consciously recognize their interdependence and act upon the basis of that recognition. In such a society, Marx believed, people would engage in activity simply because they recognized that other needed the results of that activity and would get pleasure and satisfaction from that very knowledge. Your need would be sufficient to ensure my activity, and, in responding, I would be "confirmed both in your thought and your love." What I am describing, of course, is the concept of a family.

And I emphasize this because I think that you cannot understand Marx unless you recognize that he had this vision of the human family, and that it was a vision that he developed quite early in his work and retained until the end of his life.

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