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The Gist of the Marxist View on Human Rights
December 03,2018   By:CSHRS
The Gist of the Marxist View on Human Rights
 
GU Chunde*
 
Abstract: Marx and Engels’ great ideology contains rich thought on human rights. Based on the class structure and social development in their lifetimes, the two founders of Marxism profoundly revealed the essence of human rights. They revealed the historical process, class essence and hypocrisy of the bourgeois human rights, and expounded the important principle that human rights are always subject to economic and social development. The Marxist of human rights theory emphasizes that even in a capitalist society, the proletariat should not abandon its efforts to strive for human rights, and that the proletariat should use human rights well to improve their survival and development conditions as well as the advancement of the society as a whole. In the localization process of Marxism in China, the Marxist view on human rights has been further developed and innovated in China, and the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics has been formed, which is used to guide the development of China’s human rights cause.
 
Keywords: Marxism     human rights     the Proletariat     socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics
 
In the middle of the 19th century, Marxist human rights theory, a significant component of Marxist theory gradually formed, and it has subsequently been developed and constantly enriched in the process of social development. The Chinese Communist Party has closely integrated Marxist human rights theory with the reality of the Chinese revolution, the development of China, and economic Reform. Through inheriting and developing the Marxist view on human rights, the Party has created the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics, namely the localization of the Marxist human rights theory in China. 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marxism’s main founder, Karl Marx, and the 170th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, an important classic of Marxism. In May 2018, the Communist Party of China Central Committee held a conference in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, at which General Secretary Xi Jin-ping delivered a keynote speech. He spoke highly of Karl Marx’s unremitting struggle throughout his life, and expounded comprehensively and systematically the basic theory and revolutionary practices of Marxism. He emphasized that in a new era, Party members must learn and practice Marxist thought on the laws governing the development of the human society, on adhering to the people’s position, on productivity and production relations, on people’s democracy, on social construction, on the relation-ship between man and nature, on world history, on the construction of a Marxist political party, and so on. This fully manifested the Party’s endeavor to inherit and put into practice the basic principles of Marxism. It also demonstrated the Party leadership’s firm belief in the scientific truth of Marxism, and its determination to unswervingly adhere to Marxism and keep developing it. One of the important manifestations of adhering to and developing Marxism is the gradual formation and enrichment of the localization of the Marxist view on human rights in the great practice of the contemporary economic reform in China.
 
Ⅰ. The Basic View of Marxism on Human Rights
 
Reading through the timeless classics which radiates the dazzling truth of Marx and Engels, especially their important literature such as A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, The Communist Manifesto, On the Jewish Question, The German Ideology, Anti-Dühring, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Capital, and Critique of the Gotha Program, we can clearly see that Marx and Engels expounded much on major theoretical issues concerning human rights and freedom, democracy, equality, law, and the state, and formed clear views on human rights, freedom, rights, democracy, equality, law, and the state. These are important components of the Marxist theoretical system and important parts of the Marxist historical materialism. In the contemporary era, these important thoughts still possess great practical and theoretical value.
 
Based on the author’s understanding and exploration of the Marxist view on human rights, the important points of Marx and Engels on human rights are summarized into the following four aspects.
 
A. A scientific interpretation of the meaning and origin of human rights
 
Marx and Engels stated in The German Ideology that human rights are “the most general form of rights”1. Marx also stated in On the Jewish Question that, “The so-called human rights (droits de l’homme) which are different from civil rights (droits du citoyen) are nothing more than the rights of a member of civil society, that is, human rights deprived of the self-interested nature of human beings and the community.”2 Engels also stated in Anti-Dühring that human rights mean that, “Everyone, or at least all citizens of a country, or all members of a society, should have equal political status and social status.”3
 
Marx made it clear that human rights are a product of history and the commodity economy, not “natural”. The bourgeois human rights constitute an important stage in the development of human rights, which is determined by the full development of capitalist commodity production and exchange. Marx stated in the manuscript of Das Kapital that, “If economic forms and exchanges established the equality of subjects in all respects, then the content, namely the personal and material goods which motivated the individuals to exchange, established freedom. It is thus evident that equality and freedom are not merely respected in exchanges based on exchange values. The exchange of exchange values is the basis of all equality and freedom in terms of production and realistic meaning. As a pure concept, equality and freedom are merely an idealized representation of the exchange of values. Equality and freedom, which have been developed in legal, political, and social relations, are just another form of this basis.”4 Engels also said that due to the development of the capitalist economy, in the late Middle Ages in Europe, “For the first time a firm cultural region was created, and for the first time a system formed chiefly by nation-states with mutual influences and mutual precautions was established in this region. This has provided a basis. The further discussion about human equality and human rights was only possible on this basis.”5 He added, “As soon as the economic progress of society puts on the agenda the demands to get rid of feudalism and establish equal rights by eliminating feudal inequality, these demands are bound to rapidly expand … These demands would naturally obtain a universal nature beyond the scope of individual countries. Therefore, freedom and equality will be declared human rights naturally.”6 This shows that human rights based on freedom and equality, whether they are expressed in the form of pure ideology or legal norms, or in the form of political demands or social relations, can only be a reflection of the development of a commodity economy. They are dependent on and subject to the commodity economy. The emergence of human rights has both a theoretical basis and a material basis. Such a basis cannot be found in the human nature. It can only be found in the dominating production relations in that era. The development of the commodity economy and the advancement of social culture are the decisive factors for the emergence of human rights.
 
B. A profound revelation of the class essence and hypocrisy of bourgeois human rights
 
In response to the bourgeois human rights, Marx pointed out that “equal exploitation of the labor force is the primary human right of capital”.7 Marx and Engels pointed out in The German Ideology that “human rights are essentially a privilege, and private ownership is essentially a monopoly”.8 Engels also pointed out in Anti-Dühring, “One of the most important human rights declared is the ownership rights of the bourgeoisie.”9 Marx penetratingly expounded in On the Jewish Question, “The practical application of the human right of freedom is the human right of private property,” and “the human right of private property is to use and dispose of one’s own property arbitrarily, independent of others, and free from social constraints; this right is the right to selfishness”.10 He added that in the capitalist society, “Human rights do not free people from property, but they give people the freedom to possess property; human rights do not help people give up the filthy pursuit of wealth, but only give people the freedom to operate.”11 Even though these important statements of Marx and Engels were made more than 100 years ago, they are still applicable to the realities of contemporary capitalist countries. Although the politics, economy, and culture of the contemporary capitalist society have undergone great changes, and even great progress, the class nature of human rights has not changed, nor is it possible to see a fundamental change. In essence, human rights are still the privilege of capitalists. At the same time, Marx and Engels also believed that the bourgeois human rights are extremely hypocritical. Marx believed that under the capitalist social system, there are two kinds of human rights: “equality and security”. Equality was nothing but equality in terms of political freedom, namely “everyone is treated equally as a lonely monad”, “security is but the guarantee of this kind of egoism”12. In fact, this “equality” and “security” are hypo-critical to the proletariat. Engels said in The State of Germany that “the principle of equality was canceled because it was limited to ‘the equality in law’. The equality in law is the equality under the premise that the rich and the poor are not equal. In short, it is simply to call inequality equal.”13 He added that “Political freedom is a fake freedom and the worst form of slavery; this freedom is only nominal and thus is actually slavery.”14
 
C. Human rights are a developing concept subject to the economic and cultural conditions of the society
 
Human rights were produced and developed in the historical process of human society. They are not in existence from the beginning, nor are they eternal. The understanding of human rights should be under a dialectical thinking of development and should also be based on the methodology of historical materialism.
 
Marx clearly stated in Critique of the Gotha Program that, “Rights must not go beyond the economic structure of the society and the cultural development of the society governed by the economic structure.”15 If one talks about human rights without considering a country’s economic structure and scientific and cultural development, one is prone to make naive and forward-looking mistakes on human rights issues and fall into unrealistic illusions.
 
D. The proletariat should use human rights well to realize their own interests
 
The proletariat should not reject “general human rights”. However, they should use the bourgeois human rights to serve their own political and economic interests. Engels pointed out in Principles of Communism that, “If the proletariat cannot immediately use democracy to implement various means which directly violate private ownership and ensure the survival of the proletariat, then this kind of democracy would be useless to the proletariat.”16 The proletariat must not only use bourgeois human rights to serve their own political and economic interests, but also strive for more general human rights such as a broader democratic freedom, truly equal political and social status, and the full and free development of human beings.
 
From the above brief introduction to the view on human rights of Marx and Engels, we can easily find that the Marxist view on human rights contains profound historic, class, economic, and development views on human rights, as well as the unification of rights and obligations. This is the basic standpoint and essence of the Marxist view on human rights.
 
Ⅱ. The Critical and Constructive Nature of the Marxist View on Human Rights

We have noticed that in recent years, some scholars have put forward certain views on the Marxist view on human rights, such as “Marx denied human rights,” or that “Marx mainly criticized the limitations and hypocrisy of capitalist human rights, without any positive construction of human rights”. These views seem to be single-faceted, and worthy of analysis and discussion. From our perspective, Marx and Engels did not fundamentally “deny” or “reject” human rights, but acknowledged human rights and advocated the pursuit and protection of human rights. Marx and En-gels’ critique of the human rights and human rights view of the capitalist society is not a total “denial” or a comprehensive “rejection”; however, they affirmed the positive historical role of human rights in the anti-feudal struggle and social progress.
 
We believe that in the rich human rights thought of Marx and Engels, they not only profoundly criticized the hypocrisy, limitations and class nature of human rights in the capitalist society, but also positively expounded the basic theoretical issues concerning human rights.17 As mentioned above, they revealed the essence of human rights and the positive significance of human rights to the proletariat. They brought up concepts including “human emancipation”, the fact that the social revolution can no longer resort to “historical rights”, but “can only resort to human rights”, and the notion that the full realization of human rights is the “most noble purpose with a sig-nificant impact on world history”. They elaborated on social, class, specific, and development views on human rights, and carried out historical materialism investigation and analysis on the human rights conditions in primitive societies, the slavery society, the feudal society, and the capitalist society. The scientific investigation and analysis revealed and criticized the essence of the so-called “liberty rights”, “property rights”, “equality rights” and “security rights” in capitalist society. It can be said with certainty that their human rights thought is comprehensive, systematic, profound and rigorous. They still provide great enlightenment and guidance in the world of today, and they still shine with the dazzling truth. How can we say that Marx and Engels denied human rights? How can we say that their view on human rights lack “constructiveness”? How can we deny the scientific nature, truthfulness, the idea of serving the people, practicality and the practical significance of these statements?
 
Ⅲ. The Development of the Marxist View on Human Rights in Contemporary China
 
The Marxist view on human rights founded by Marx and Engels is a constantly evolving theory. Marxists such as Lenin and Mao Zedong creatively applied, inherited and developed the classic Marxist human rights theory, further enriching the treasure of Marxist human rights theory.
 
The Marxist human rights theory is the theoretical source and foundation of socialist human rights with Chinese characteristics. Based on inheriting, applying and developing the Marxist view on human rights, the Chinese Communist Party has localized the Marxist view on human rights based on the reality of China’s revolution, development, and China’s economic reform. This has promoted the continuous development of this view and established the socialist view on human rights with Chinese characteristics. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping has made a series of important statements on human rights issues at major events at home and abroad. These statements are the concen-trated expression of the localization of the Marxist view of human rights in China, the latest developments of the Marxist view, and the essence of the socialist human rights theory with Chinese characteristics. General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important views of human rights include: First, “the people’s principal position regarding human rights in China”. He “upholds the vision of people-centered development”, and “takes promoting the well-being of the people, ensuring the position of the people as masters of the country, and promoting well-rounded human development as the starting points and objectives of development”. Second, he emphasizes that we should “strengthen the legal basis for human rights”, especially the “judicial guarantee for human rights”, and “strengthen the institutional guarantee for the rights of the litigant participants, such as the right to know, the right to make statements, the right to plead and debate, the right to apply, and the right to appeal”, as well as “improve and implement a relevant legal system that reflects the legal principles of legally prescribed punishment for a specified crime, innocence until proven guilty, and exclusion of illegal evidence”, “improve judicial supervision over judicial measures and investigative means which limit personal freedom”, and “improve the effective prevention of cases whereby people are falsely and wrongly convicted and timely correction mechanisms”. Third, he stresses that we should “persist in combining the principle of universality of human rights with the reality of China”, “promote the cause of human rights only in accordance with the national conditions of the countries and the needs of the people”, and “promote the coordinated development of economic, social and cultural rights along with civil and political rights”. Fourth, he has laid emphasis on the concept that “the full enjoyment of human rights by all is a great dream of the human society”, the notion that “the international community should, adhering to the spirit of justice, fairness, openness and tolerance, respect and reflect the wishes of the people of developing countries” and the wish that we should “open a fair, open, comprehensive and innovative development path to achieve common development of all countries”. Fifth, he has expounded on the great concept of building “a community with a shared future for human beings” and advocates the joint advancement of the great process of building it, pointing out the direction for the development of the cause of international human rights.18 Sixth, through a precise grasp and evaluation of the Marxist theory and its essence, he in-spires new understandings and new theories on human rights issues. For example, General Secretary Xi Jinping spoke highly of Marxism at the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, he said, “Marxism is a scientific theory that creatively reveals the laws governing the development of the human society”, “Marxism is a theory for the people; for the first time, it established an ideology for the people to achieve their own liberation”, and “Marxism is a theory of practice that guides the people in transforming the world.”19 These scientific conclusions contain rich human rights content, indicating the way for the people to achieve freedom and liberation and pointing out the direction for building an ideal society without oppression and exploitation in which all people are equal and free.
 
In conclusion, the above series of important statements on human rights issues, the construction of a community with a shared future for human beings, and the Marxist theory made by General Secretary Xi Jinping can be regarded as the latest direct and indirect results of the localization of the Marxist view on human rights in China. These statements have opened up a new realm of the Marxist view on human rights that is in keeping with the times, and is in fundamental compliance with the continuous exploration of the Marxist view on human rights in a new era. We should conscientiously study and profoundly comprehend General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important statements on human rights, continue to deepen the theoretical inquiry of the localization of the Marxist view on human rights in China, and hence elucidate a Chinese-style Marxist human rights theory which is relevant to the times.
 
* GU Chunde ( 谷春德 ), professor at the Law School of Renmin University of China.
 
1. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx Friedrich and Engels Collected Works, vol. 3 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1960), 228.
 
2. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx Friedrich and Engels Collected Works, vol. 1 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1956), 437.
 
3. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx Friedrich and Engels Collected Works, vol. 26 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 2014), 109.
 
4. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx Friedrich and Engels Collected Works, vol. 30 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1995), 199.
 
5. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx Friedrich and Engels Collected Works, vol. 26 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 2014), 110.
 
6. Ibid., 112.
 
7. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 44 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 2001), 338.
 
8. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 3 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1960), 229.
 
9. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 25 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 2001), 372.
 
10. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 1 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1956), 438.
 
11. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 2 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1957), 145.
 
12. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 1 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1956), 439.
 
13. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 2 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1957), 648.
 
14. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 1 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 1956), 576.
 
15. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Collected Works, vol. 25 (beijing: people’s publishing House, 2001), 19.
 
16. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 4 (beijing: people’s publish-ing House), 367.
 
17. Gu Chunde, “On Marx and Engels’ View of Human Rights,” Position 2 (1991).
 
18. Gu Chunde amd wen Zhe, “Theoretical Exploration and Innovation of the Chinese Marxist View of Human Rights,” Human Rights 6 (2017).
 
19. Xi Jinping, “Speech at the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Marx,” People’s Daily, May 5, 2018.
 
(Translated by AN Di)
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