Do left communists reject the notion of "human rights"? If so, why?
Just a brief explanation to where this came from...
Watching the horror in Gaza and the constant calls to "respect human rights", I've started to become critical of the idea of "human rights". I'm beginning to see ways it ties into the nationalist and "democractic" framework but have not been able to find much in terms of reading specifically on the subject of "human rights" from a left communist perspective.
I haven't got any links to any texts on this question Jamal but the first point would be that any 'right' is by it's nature something giving down by an expoloitative/oppressive ruling class. Communist society would not have 'rights' because that implies someone above society able to 'give' these rights to people. Thats the basic and fundamental point to remember I think. Also human rights and the 'rule of law' are myths used by the 'democratic bourgeoisie' to justify and hide their rule; when it is really in their interest they will ignore these triviialities very quickly as we see all the time.
In terms of the decadence and ascendence of capitalism although I haven't come across any writing specifically on 'human rights' I would see it as similar to all 'rights' given to workers. In decadence all gains mad by the working class are temporary and will undermined and repealed as soon as it is deemed necessary by capitalism.
Don't know how much that helped but...
I agree with jaycee (twice). An article we did on Marx and the Jewish Question touches on this:
The historical context of Marx’s essay On the Jewish questiontc "The historical context of Marx’s essay On the Jewish question"
It is useless to present or quote from Marx’s article out of its historical context. On the Jewish question was written as part of the general struggle for political change in semi-feudal Germany. The debate about whether Jews should be granted the same civil rights as the rest of Germany’s inhabitants was one aspect of this struggle. As editor of the Rheinische Zeitung Marx had originally intended to write a response to the openly reactionary and anti-Semitic writings of one Hermes who wanted to keep the Jews in the ghetto and preserve the Christian basis of the state. But after the Left Hegelian Bruno Bauer entered into the fray with two essays ‘The Jewish Question” and “The capacity of present day Jews and Christians to become free”, Marx felt it was more important to polemicise with what he saw as the false radicalism of Bauer’s views.
We should also recall that in this phase of his life, Marx was in a political transition from radical democracy to communism. He was in exile in Paris and had come under the influence of French communist artisans (cf. “How the proletariat won Marx to communism” in International Review 69); in the latter part of 1843, in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, he identified the proletariat as the bearer of a new society In 1844 he met Engels, who helped him to see the importance of understanding the economic basis of social life; the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts written in the same year, are his first attempt to understand all these developments in their real depth. In 1845 he wrote the Theses on Feuerbach which express his definitive break with the one-sided materialism of the latter.
The polemic with Bauer on the question of civil rights and democracy, published in theFranco-German Yearbooks, was without question a moment in this transition.
At that time Bauer was a spokesman for the “left” in Germany, although the seeds of his later evolution towards the right can already be noted in his attitude to the Jewish question, where he adopts a seemingly radical position which actually ended up as an apology for doing nothing to change the status quo. According to Bauer, it was useless to call for the political emancipation of the Jews in a Christian state. It was necessary, first of all, for both Jews and Christians to give up their religious beliefs and identity in order to achieve real emancipation; in a truly democratic state, there would be no need for religious ideology. Indeed, if anything, the Jews had further to go than the Christians: in the view of the Left Hegelians, Christianity was the last religious envelope in which the struggle for human emancipation had expressed itself historically. Having rejected the universalist message of Christianity, the Jews had two steps to make while the Christians had only one.
The transition from this view to Bauer’s later overt anti-Semitism is not hard to see. Marx may well have sensed this, but his polemic begins by defending the position that the granting of “normal” civil rights for Jews, which he terms “political emancipation”, would be “a big step forward”; indeed it had already been a feature of earlier bourgeois revolutions (Cromwell had allowed the Jews to return to England and the Napoleonic code granted civil rights to Jews). It would be part of the more general struggle to do away with feudal barriers and create a modern democratic state, which was now long overdue in Germany in particular.
But Marx was already aware that the struggle for political democracy was not the final aim. On the Jewish question seems to express a significant advance over a text written shortly before, the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State, In this text Marx pushes his thought to the extreme of radical democracy, arguing that real democracy – universal suffrage – would mean the dissolution of the state and of civil society. By contrast, in On The Jewish Question, Marx affirms that a purely political emancipation – he even uses the term a “perfected democracy” - falls far short of real human emancipation.
It is this text in which Marx clearly recognises that civil society is bourgeois society – the society of isolated egos competing on the market. It is a society of estrangement or alienation (this was the first text in which Marx used these terms) in which the powers set in motion by man’s own hands – not only the power of money, but also the state power itself – inevitably become alien forces ruling man’s life. This problem is not solved by the achievement of political democracy and the rights of man. This is still based on the notion of the atomised citizen rather than on a real community. “None of the so-called rights of man goes beyond the egoistic man, the man withdrawn into himself, his private interest and his private choice, and separated from the community as a member of civil society. Far from viewing man here in his species-being, his species life itself – society – rather appears to be an external framework for the individual, limiting his original independence. The only bond between men is natural necessity, need and private interest, the maintenance of their property and egoistic interest”.
Thanks for the help dudes.
I found that article on Marx and the jewish question interesting indeed.
But in regards to the question of the civil society and "bourgeois rights" couldn't you then say in the society we are fighting for, communism, people would have no rights?
I think there are larger questions here when considering differences in individual ability. We always say from each according to their ability but what happens when someone is more able than someone else? Isn't ability more or less the basis of power? How does the notion of "individual rights" relate to an individual's ability to do something someone else can't?
In a communist society how would people deal with others who will surely at some point say, "You have no right to do that." And conversely people would say, "Neither do you."
Considering the model of the revolutionary party, where as Luxemburg pointed out, there should be a core set of prinicples communists must adhere to in order to actually be communists, will there be what is essentially a communist version of the ten commandments in communism?
Hypothetically speaking, what would give them the right to demand adherence to these principles? See where I'm going with this?
Also, how are rights related to human need? If streams and rivers across the world were privitized, as I understand they essentially are in some places, wouldn't you have a "human right" to drink and from these sources? Or conversely wouldn't people have no right to restrict your access?