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On the Quadruple Qualities of Marxist Thought on Human Rights
August 25,2021   By:CSHRS
On the Quadruple Qualities of Marxist Thought on Human Rights
 
HE Shiqing *
 
Abstract: Marxist human rights thought has realized an epoch-making change in human rights thought and has distinguished itself from capitalist human rights thought with its distinctive character. Marxist human rights thought has a humanistic character, starts from human nature and its essence, regards human rights as an important means to realize the all-round development of human beings and the fundamental proof of human liberation. Marxist human rights thought is characterized by being people-centered, and expresses the desire of the masses, with the proletariat as the main body, to realize a better life through the guarantee of human rights. Marxist human rights thought has a practical character, is based on practical materialism, advocates that human rights are derived from the social practice and promotes social practice toward civilization and progress. Marxist human rights thought has the character of rule of law, guides legal governance to the rule of good law, and lays the guarantee fot human rights on the foundation of substantive rule of law.
 
Keywords: The Marxist Human Rights Thought      the humanistic character      the people-centered character    the practical character     the character of the rule of law
 
“It is the common aspiration of mankind that everyone enjoys human rights to the full,” which is also a lofty ideal of the Communist Party of China. The CPC remains committed to respecting and protecting human rights and has led the Chinese people to promote the protection of human rights, accelerate the rapid development of the human rights cause, and “embark on a road of human rights development in line with China’s national conditions.” 1 China’s human rights cause is a result of adapting Marxist human rights thought to the Chinese context, which provides the fundamental basis and guiding principles for the development of human rights in China. In this new era, people’s ever-growing needs for a better life require protecting and human rights need to be realized at a higher level. However, unbalanced and inadequate development remains a prominent problem in China, and unilateralism, protectionism, and hegemony pose threats to world peace and development, 2 and hinder the smooth development of the human rights cause in China and the world at large. Studying the characters of the Marxist human rights thought is conducive to better understanding the thought’s underlying spirit, firmly adhering to the thought’s guidance, and pushing forward the human rights practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. The Marxist human rights thought has multiple characteristics. Following the logic of “what is its definition?”, “who does it belong to?”, “how should it be done?” and “what should we depend on?”, this paper summarizes the four characteristics of Marxist human rights thought: its humanistic character, its people-centered character, its practical character, its character of the rule of law.
 
I. The Humanistic Character of Marxist Human Rights Thought
 
General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping has pointed out, “Marxism is a scientific theory.” 3 As an integral part of Marxist theory, Marxist human rights thought is science-based. Starting from humankind’s “class nature” and “class prosperities”, it is rooted in the humanistic basis of the statement that “Man is the world of man — state, society.” In face of the objective fact that capitalism “puts an eternal chain” on the proletariat, it connects human liberation with the proletariat’s “demand for no privilege”, considers the “desire for human rights” as a necessity to achieve human liberation and facilitate free and comprehensive development of human beings, and commits to “overthrowing all relationships that make humans something insulted, enslaved, abandoned and defied,” so as to achieve a “complete reversion of man.” 4 Therefore, the Marxist human rights thought is rich in humanistic spirit and has a distinctive humanistic character.
 
A. Human rights are deeply rooted in human nature and human essence 
 
“Marxism holds that the origin of human rights is determined by human nature or human essence.” 5 Human nature or human essence is the foundation of human rights, and the bond linking man and human rights. Humans are natural beings, and maintaining their existence and their development of life leads to appeals for material and spiritual benefits and social needs and other aspects. Humans are benefit-seeking in nature and behave for the purpose of satisfying their material needs and seeking material benefits. “Nothing takes place with unconscious intentions or without preset aims.” 6 The purpose of human behavior indicates mankind’s free nature. Freedom is inherent to humans. Without freedom, a person would lose the qualification of being human. “Lack of freedom is a truly lethal threat to humans.” 7 The benefit-seeking nature of humans determines that “individuals always think of themselves,” but “their needs, namely their inherent nature, as well as their ways to seek satisfaction, link them together… Therefore, they will definitely be interconnected.” 8 The interrelationships between people form social relations. “Social relations herein refer to common activities of many individuals.” 9 It is in the “common” labor and interrelationships between people that the concept of equality gradually emerged, and “people began to realize that they are equal with others as humans and consider others equal with themselves. Equality… indicates the unity of human nature, mankind’s class sense and class behavior, and the essential sameness of different individuals.” 10

Human nature determines the natural justification of people’s pursuit of benefits, freedom, and equality. However, as “speciesbeings”, humans have a practical  social nature. They can only survive and develop through social relations. From the perspective of being “species beings”, the selfish behaviorof humans according to their inherent nature creates a centrifugal force, which, if running out of control, would probably cause the disintegration of human societies and eventually harm the benefits, freedom, and equality of everyone. The individuality and sociality of humans demand people take into account the interests of both themselves and others. Human rights provide an effective way to balance individual and social benefits and safeguard people’s freedom and equality. (1) Human rights help rein man’s benefit-seeking nature. In essence, human rights are embodiments of people’s interests, the satisfaction of people’s needs, and recognition of people’s benefit-seeking nature. “Essentially, the relationship between rights and obligations is the political and legal manifestation of relations of various interests.” 11 However, the interests recognized by human rights are justified, and human rights moralize people’s interests and require people to seek interests that benefit themselves while doing no harm to others. If personal interests go against social and public interests, one should give them up. (2) Human rights help safeguard people’s natural desire for freedom and equality. In reality, “various kinds of freedom coexist, some manifested as privileges and others common rights.” Privileges are against mankind’s “class prosperities” such as freedom and equality, and human rights are the common and general rights of people. That means all social members have equal value and dignity, regardless of their identity and social status. All social members shall be given the right to “carry out activities that do no harm to others.” 12 (3) Human rights recognize mankind’s inherent social nature. Humans’ inherent social nature determines that their existence and development need a sound social environment, and human rights provide a solution to eliminate violence and build order. Human rights admit that all social members or citizens enjoy equal political and social status, “ensure their equal rights to participate in governance and develop themselves, and uphold social fairness and justice.” 13 A social order based on equal interpersonal relations must be harmonious and stable. Human rights set the boundary for the excising of public power, and can prevent social instability arising from the abuse of power. In terms of law, human rights are manifested as legal rights, which set rational boundaries for people’s behaviors, thus eradicating the root causes of social chaos and maintaining social stability and tranquility.
 
B. Human rights are important tools to promote human development
 
Like any other animals, humans are living beings. However, their consciousness of their behavior distinguishes them from other animals. Human life is manifested not only as the continuity of the human body, but also as the development of physical and mental power, and morality. Human beings exist not only as individuals but also as a “kind.” “Humans regard themselves as an existing kind with life.” Therefore, human development is divided into individual development and the development of mankind. Individual development is influenced and constrained by humankind’s development, and “individuals obtain self freedom through self alliance.” 14 From a historical perspective, human development is the process from “non-human” to “human” and from partial development to all-round development. Human beings’ all-round development is not accomplished at one stroke, but is the result of historical evolution. In the process, human rights function as value orientation and behavior regulation. The concept and system of human rights were born and improved to meet the needs of human existence and development. After their formation, they become important tools to safeguard human survival and promote human development. It is under the guidance and regulation of the continuously developing and improving concept and system of human rights that mankind is moving toward all-round development.

In the “original form of society”, the concept of human rights hadn’t been born yet, the concept of theocracy prevailed, and autocracy resulted in a dependent relationship. Cruel exploitation and oppression made it hard for individuals to survive, let alone all-round development. Even “man’s productive capacity” could only “develop within a narrow scope and at a lone location”. 15 Facing the brutal oppression of feudalism, the emerging bourgeoisie held high the banner of innate rights of man and advocated personal rights. For their personal assets, freedom, safety, and well-being, the bourgeoisie launched a revolution against the rule of royal and religious power, breaking the dependent relationship, building the contracted relationship, and promoting people’s individuality. However, the concept of innate rights of man, which is rooted in personal rights and advocates the supremacy of property rights, and its institutionalization didn’t lead human development to all-round development. On the contrary, the social relationship based on the reliance on materials resulted in the fetishism of commodities and money, and mechanized mass production made workers become attached to machines, and even “be shackled and exploited by machines, so everyone could only give play to part of their skills but wasted other parts.” 16 Private ownership results in the alienation of labor and then the alienation of man. Facing the predicament of human development in capitalist societies, the authors of the Marxist classics invented the proletarian concept of human rights and used it to guide the proletarian revolution and socialist construction, enabling humankind to move toward all-round development. The economic base featuring public ownership of the means of production and the political system with the people as the master of a country laid a solid foundation to eliminate the alienation of labor and man. Labor is “no longer a tool to enslave man but a tool to liberate man.” 17 Through the eradication of the old division of labor, industrial education changes in types of work. and urban-rural integration, human skills develop in an all-round manner. Through adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, the CPC has led the Chinese people to embark on a path of human rights with Chinese characteristics and promoted common development of all. “Human rights progress with the development of the times.” In the new era, under the leadership of the CPC, the Chinese people are “striving to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.” This will not only “ensure human rights of the Chinese people and promote their all-round development at a higher level”, but also facilitate “global human rights governance” and promote the development of the world’s human rights cause.” 18 
 
C. Human rights are fundamental evidence for human liberation
 
Liberation is a concept in contrast with constraint, enslavement, and non-freedom and in line with independence, equality, and freedom. Human liberation and human development are closely interrelated. Human liberation is the basic prerequisite and necessary way for human development, while human development is the innate value and ultimate goal of human liberation. Just like human development includes the development of individuals and the development of mankind, human liberation also includes the liberation of the individual and the liberation of mankind. The authors of the Marxist classics valued the liberation of individuality, and placed even greater emphasis on the liberation of mankind. They advocated eliminating private ownership and the division of social classes, and overcoming the alienation of man, so as to “return human world and human relations to humans themselves” 19 and make everyone obtain freedom and equality as a member of mankind and become master of nature and society. Human liberation “can only be achieved by practical means in the real world.” 20 It requires not only social reforms but also ideological guidance. “Only when humans realize their “innate power” and unite such power into a social force so that they no longer treat the social force as political power and separate it with themselves… can human liberation be achieved.” 21 Human rights represent a civilized, progressive concept and system and an aggregation of the achievements made by humans in the pursuit of liberation. Meanwhile, human rights continue driving human liberation forward as the fundamental evidence, value orientation, and institutional guarantee for human liberation.
 
The bourgeoisie used the concept of innate rights of man as an ideological weapon to launch the capitalist revolution and found their reign, “destructing all feudal, patriarchal and pastoral relations” 22 and enabling mankind to “take a historic step toward freedom, equality, democracy, and civility.” 23 However, the capitalist revolution and construction only kept its eyes on individuality and the political liberation of man. Though it overthrew the rule of kingship and theocracy and achieved the transition of man from “identity to contract”, it didn’t eliminate the division of social classes, class antagonism, and the system of exploitation, but “replaced old classes, oppression conditions and struggles with new ones”; 24 it didn’t lead human liberation to a harmonious world, but used human rights as the excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and seize interests at the cost of other countries. In such a case, human rights are used as tools to “seek hegemony and power politics.” 25 The ultimate goal of human liberation is to make everyone “become the master integrating with society as well as the master of nature and themselves — a free man,” and it is the “historic mission of the modern proletariat to accomplish the cause of world liberation.” 26 To accomplish this historic mission, the proletariat “cannot resort to historical rights but human rights.” 27
 
In response to the proletariat’s appeal for human rights and historic mission, the authors of the Marxist classics “used scientific theories to point the way to building an ideal society that is free of oppression and exploitation and everyone enjoys equality and freedom.” 28 (1) The proletariat can make use of bourgeoisie legal rights to push forward human rights movements, instead of being confined to pure legal rights. “If the working class doesn’t obtain the power to influence state affairs, state governance and legislation, they would not succeed in the struggle for their own liberation.” 29 In fact, a fundamental precondition for the liberation of the proletariat is to overthrow the capitalist rule and establish the regime where the people are the master. (2) Human rights of the proletariat can be really achieved only on the basis of class liberation, liberation of the people, and human liberation. “The proletariat just revealed the secret of their own existence by announcing the dismantling of the existing world system.” The secret is that the proletariat “revealed the complete deprivation of man (in the capitalist society), and can only reverse themselves by complete reversion of man.” Therefore, if they did not “liberate themselves from all aspects of society and thus liberate all fields of society, they couldn’t completely liberate themselves.” 30 (3) The socialist system provides a political foundation and institutional guarantee for fulfilling people’s rights, but in the primary stage of socialism, social classes “still have traces of the old society where socialism stemmed in terms of economy, ethics and spirit,” and such “traces” constrain and hinder the full realization of the people’s rights. Therefore, the pace of human liberation should not stop in the primary stage of socialism, but must stride toward a higher stage until the realization of communism. When that day comes, “the alienating force that has long ruled the historical objectivity… will eventually be under the control of humans”, and mankind will “leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.” 31
 
II. The People-Centered Character of the Marxist Human Rights Thought
 
Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping once said, “To answer questions about human rights, we must first understand what human rights are. First and foremost, how many people do human rights represent? Are they human rights of the minority or human rights of the majority or all of the people? Essentially, the so-called ‘human rights’ of the Western world are different from Chinese human rights, and the two have different views.” 32 Capitalist philosophers interpret human rights with the supra-class natural law theory, so they neglect and even deny the class nature of human rights, and advocate the concept of human rights based on personal rights. However, the authors of the Marxist classics used the class theory to analyze issues regarding human rights, revealing the class foundation of the origin of human rights and the essential nature of capitalist human rights theory to serve the bourgeoisie and cheat the proletariat. They sought human rights for the masses including the proletariat and formed the human rights thought based on the people’s rights. “Marxism is a theory of the people.” 33 The Marxist human rights thought manifests its people-centered character by exposing the hypocrisy of the capitalist human rights theory and seeking human rights for the proletariat.
 
A. Human rights have the class nature
 
“Rights must not go beyond the economic structure of society and cultural development of society under the limitation of the economic structure.” 34 The famous statement made by Marx reveals the social and historical nature of human rights, as well as the different embodiments of the concept of human rights in different historical periods of human society. During the first form of society after human beings evolved from apes, namely the primitive society, the productive capacity was extremely low, production means were owned by the clan, and all clan members worked together and evenly enjoyed fruits of labor. “Within the clan system, there were no division between rights and obligations.” 35 The concept of rights had not emerged yet, let alone the concept of human rights. Human rights are inevitably bonded with social classes and class conflict. As a fruit of the fight of the bourgeoisie against feudal autocracy, human rights later became a weapon for the proletariat to oppose the capitalist class. The class nature is a fundamental characteristic of human rights. “Unless social classes are eliminated”, such questions as “which class does the freedom belong to” and “equality between which classes” 36 cannot be ignored. “In a society with class conflict, if the exploiting class enjoys the freedom to exploit the laboring people, then the laboring people are not free of exploitation, and if the capitalist class enjoys democracy, then the proletariat and the laboring people will be deprived of democracy.” 37
 
The development of productivity at the end of the primitive society resulted in the emergence of surplus products, which further led to the birth of the private ownership and social classes. In a class society, enjoying rights and fulfilling obligations vary among different classes. Just as Engels pointed out, “The foundation of the civilized era is one class’s exploitation of the other class… It almost endows all rights to one class while imposing all obligations on the other class.” 38 Ancient Romans formed the concept of rights on the basis of a simple commodity economy, and ancient Roman law elaborated on the person-to-person relationships on the basis of private ownership in the Roman’s slavery society. However, rights back then could not be called human rights, and “it would be out of question to reach a legal conclusion that common people are equal as long as the antagonism between freemen and slaves existed.” 39 The Middle Ages of Western Europe represented a “dark” period, when centralized autocracy deprived people of their due rights, religious theology shackled people’s minds, and theocracy made people slaves of the God. However, the concept of rights was not aborted after ancient Rome. “In the late Middle Ages, a certain awareness of equal rights existed in legal life in Western European society… Although such awareness was reverse and weak, it would turn into some kind of bolstering tool to lift humans from personal dependence relations one day.” 40 The factor of commodity economy that found a way out of feudalism laid the foundation for the development of capitalist production modes. The rise of capitalist production modes required “exploding” the relationships based on feudal ownership and eliminating the constraints and various privileges of feudal guilds. In response to the need of the development of capitalist production modes, a group of thinkers proposed the demand for freedom and equality, accelerating the formation of the concept of human rights. “Because competition… is the largest creator of equality, so equality in the face of the law becomes the slogan of the bourgeoisie in the decisive war against feudalism.” 41 However, the capitalist human rights concept and system did not bring real human rights to the proletariat. On the contrary, the capitalist private ownership “deprived the proletariat of the ownership of any production means, and the proletariat has maintained the state of owning no assets from generation to generation due to the operating mechanism of capitalist production modes” 42 and even fell into the status of being “generally powerless.” To change their miserable fate, the proletariat used human rights as the weapon against the bourgeoisie, and committed themselves to the fight to eliminate the capitalist ownership, privileges, and even social classes and seek human rights for the common people.
 
B. Capitalist human rights are essentially privileges of capital
 
Based on analysis of the economic factors resulting in the birth of the concept of innate rights of man, the authors of the Marxist classics pointed out that the concept was a fruit of capitalist production modes. The development of the capitalist commodity economy required shaking off the chain of feudalism and establishing the concept of equal rights through eliminating feudal inequality. The requirement was widely recognized by people living in “the system comprised of independent states in the growth phase of capitalists”, so when it obtained a universal nature beyond the boundary of certain countries, freedom, and equality were “declared as human rights.” 43 The concept of innate rights of man has a certain progressiveness: on the one hand, the concept brought enlightenment to people. It denied religious theocracy and despotic autocracy, advocated science, democracy, freedom, and equality, recognized the value and dignity of man, and made people view the state and society in a reasonable manner. “In the past, economic and social relations… were considered as products of the church and tenet, but now those relations are believed to be created by the state on the basis of rights”; 44 On the other hand, the concept of innate rights of man played a guiding role in reality. It overthrew the legitimate foundation of feudal ownership, blew the bugle for the bourgeoisie revolution, heralded the birth of a new system (namely, capitalism) in Europe, laid the ideological cornerstone for capitalist governance, and blazed a path to the rule of law that safeguards human rights — “A typical example is the U.S. Constitution, which first acknowledged human rights while admitting the system to enslave the colored races; it announced that class privileges are no longer under legal protection, but at the same time, canonized racial privileges.” 45
 
The authors of the Marxist classics reminded us that however progressive the concept of innate rights of man is, we should not neglect its capitalist nature. It is a concentrated manifestation of the interests of the bourgeoisie, which is essentially a kind of capital privilege. (1) The concept of innate rights of man has individualism as its ideological foundation. It emphasizes personal rights and preaches that human rights are everyone’s inborn rights that cannot be deprived, and identified the subject of human rights as “individuals confined to the self, private interests and willfulness while separated from society as a whole.” 46 (2) The constitutionalization of the concept of innate rights of man has become the basic principle of the development of capitalism. However, the fundamental human rights principle reflected in capitalist constitutions has capitalist ownership and the sacrosanctity of property rights as the core, concealing the class nature of human rights with the universality of human rights. It uses the “nominal acknowledgment of freedom and equality to cover the capital’s exploitation of workers and all other laborers.” 47 In fact, “as long as capitalists control the capital, any form of democracy is just capitalist dictatorship under the cloak of democracy, and all propaganda about general election, will of the people and equality of all voters are just lies.” 48 (3) The concept of innate rights of man did not lead mankind into a society free of exploitation and oppression in which all members enjoy equal rights, but a capitalist society that “replaced old-type exploitation under the cover of religious and political fantasies with open, shameless, direct and naked exploitation.” 49 In a capitalistsociety, “equally exploiting the labor force is the primary human right of capital.” 50 Capitalist ownership and property rights, which have been declared as the most principal human rights in capitalist society, are actually selfish rights of the bourgeoisie to “arbitrarily use and deal with their properties without being bound by others and society” and greedily oppress and exploit laborers. 51 In the final analysis, the concept of innate rights of man has made human rights something “exclusive to the bourgeoisie and a tool to oppress the common people.” 52
 
C. The people-centered nature of proletarian human rights theory
 
The insularity and hypocrisy of the capitalist human rights theory reminded the proletariat that they must seek the human rights of their own class through their own efforts. “Just like the bourgeoisie once embraced theological worldview according to traditions in the struggle against aristocrats, in the beginning, the proletariat also learned the legal thinking from the enemy to find the weapon against the bourgeoisie… Their representative theories are all grounded on the ‘basis of rights’ in law, but the ‘basis of rights’ they laid for them is different to that of the bourgeoisie.” Upon analysis, the authors of the Marxist classics summed up the “basis of rights” into two aspects: on the one hand, it complemented “legal equality” with “social equality,” so as to broaden the “demand of equality”; On the other hand, it put an end to the “unjust” distribution system that “landlords or capitalists share” the “products of labor” produced by laborers, or “at least made it be in favor of laborers.” 53 The two aspects the proletariat laid for their own “basis of rights” indicate that the proletarian human rights theory not only enriches the content of human rights but also expands the scope of subjects of human rights, which aims to make the people including the proletariat the subjects of human rights and make human rights serve the people including the proletariat. Thus, human rights “became the tool to mobilize workers with the propositions of capitalists to rise up against capitalists.” 54 The proletariat overthrew the rule of the bourgeoisie, and established a state where the people are masters. The people’s state seeks to achieve the wellbeing of the people, and provide political, economic, cultural, and legal guarantee for the fulfillment of people’s rights. 
 
The proletarian human rights theory does not reject or deny personal rights. After all, the “existence of individuals with life” was the foundation for the origin of society, the people are an aggregation comprised of numerous individuals who push forward historical evolution, and “members of civil society” are the “basis of a political state.” 55 However, the proletarian human rights theory is not rooted in personal rights. Individuals must live in society, and “it is impossible for one to live in society while enjoying absolute personal freedom apart from society.” 56 Human rights can only be realized in the unity between individual and collective interests and in the alignment between national and social interests. “The exercise by everyone of their freedom and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedom and rights of other citizens.” 57 The people with the proletariat as the mainstay are not only the driving force for social progress, but also the subjects and goals of human rights. Proletarian movements including the human rights movement are “independent movements by the overwhelming majority of people for the interests of the overwhelming majority of people.” 58 Adapting the Marxist human rights thought to the Chinese context provides fundamental guidelines for the Chinese people in their pursuit of human rights. Through upholding, developing, and implementing the Marxist human rights thought, the CPC is committed to realizing the liberation of all the Chinese people and safeguarding and realizing various rights of the people. “The establishment of the socialist system blazed a road towards an ideal state, and the realization of the ideal state depends on our hard work.” 59 In the new era, the CPC is moving forward along the path of human rights with Chinese characteristics, and is dedicated not only to the fulfillment of human rights of the Chinese people at a higher level, but also to the building of a community with a shared future for human beings, making contributions to ensuring people around the world fully enjoy human rights.
 
III. The Practical Character of the Marxist Human Rights Thought
 
The Marxist human rights thought is not only a “scientific theory” and “people-centered theory”, but also a “practical theory,” with a practical character. Guided by practical materialism, the authors of the Marxist classics viewed human rights from a practical perspective, and proposed and sought human rights of the proletariat based on practical needs, forming a system of human rights ideas that are sourced from practice, guided by practice, and continually enriched and developed through practice. Practicality is a prominent characteristic of the Marxist human rights thought, and an important benchmark that distinguishes the Marxist human rights thought from the capitalist concept of innate rights of man. How to safeguard and realize human rights is a practical subject, which can only “be rationally solved in the practice of people and through their understanding of the practice.” 60
 
A. Practical materialism foundation of the marxist human rights thought 
 
The following statement by Marx is a familiar one: “The weapon of criticism obviously cannot replace the criticism of weapons. Material force must be overthrown by material force. But theory also becomes a material force once it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical... The evident proof of the radicalism of German theory, and hence of its practical energy, is that it proceeds from a resolute positive abolition of religion.” 61 Herein, Marx likened “radicalism of theory” to “its practical energy,” revealing the role of practice in determining theory. In terms of human rights, any viewpoints separated from practice will not reach scientific conclusions. Bourgeoisie philosophers fail to realize that “social life is a practice in nature,” and they understand the “object, reality and sensibility” from the perspective of a virtual natural state and abstract theory of human nature rather than the perspective of practice and subjects, so their human rights theory has inevitably fallen into the stereotype of idealism and metaphysics. Authors of Marist classics were all “practical materialists,” so they emphasized the determining role of practice, suggested explaining the real world and connecting it with changing of the world on the basis of practice and “man engaged in practical activities”, and called for “revolutionizing the existing world and opposing and changing existing things in practice”, 62 thus laying the philosophical foundation and pointing the direction for the proletariat to seek human rights.

Practice is the way of human existence. It forms and verifies human nature and essence, and establishes mankind’s dominant position in nature and society, thus laying a profound foundation for human rights. First, practice forms and verifies mankind’s innate natural character. “Humanity was born in nature.” 63 Mankind is part of nature. The human body belongs to nature, and human survival is subject to natural conditions. Labor practice distinguished human beings from animals, and enhanced the capacity of human brains to enable mankind to understand, grasp and utilize natural laws and “make nature serve their purposes through changing nature.” 64 The humanization of nature manifests mankind’s essential power. “The history of industry and the existence of objectivity arising from industry is an opened book on mankind’s essential power.” 65 Currently, facing a world with ecological imbalance, people of all countries should work together to “seek a green life and build a beautiful home,” 66 so as to achieve harmonious development of man and nature. Second, practice forms and verifies mankind’s thinking character. “By creating the objective world and changing the inorganic world through practice, humans have verified that they are a kind of beings with consciousness.” 67 Practice is the source of consciousness. Just as Xi Jinping said, “A new era inspires new thoughts and the source of new theories is practice.” 68 Practice is the externalization of consciousness, so it has the “characteristics of planned activities that have been considered before being done and have certain preset goals.” 69 Practice is also the driving force of the development of consciousness. With the advancement of practice from a low level to a high level, people’s understanding of nature and society has shifted from shallow to deep and from partial to comprehensive. They find truth from practice, and then test and develop truth in practice. In this way, consciousness deriving from practice initiatively guides practice and changes both subjective and objective worlds. In addition, practice forms and verifies mankind’s social nature. Humans are social animals. People form social relations and obtain social nature in the practice of life and production. Production is the most fundamental practical activity for mankind, which plays the most significant role in forming and verifying mankind’s social nature. Mao Zedong once pointed out, “In a society without classes, everyone, as a member of society, works together with other social members to establish certain production relations and carry out production activities, so as to meet mankind’s material needs. In a society with various classes, social members from different classes also form certain production relations and carry out production activities in various ways, so as to meet mankind’s material needs.” 70
 
B. The Practical Source of Human Rights
 
Practice accelerated the formation of the species characteristics and species nature of human beings, and verified the existence of the species characteristics and species nature of human beings. The nature and characteristics of human beings as a species provethe de jure of human rights. Everyone as a human should enjoy certain rights. The diversity of the nature and characteristics human beings as a species determines that human rights are comprised of multiple aspects. However, nature and characteristics of mankind as a species only made the emergence of the concept of human rights possible, and to transform this possibility into reality must depend on the fundamental way of practice. People always “obtain their ethical concepts from economic relations such as production and transactions.” Therefore, the ultimate reason for the formation of the Marxist human rights thought “should be found in the changes of production modes and transaction modes.” 71 With practical materialism as their theoretical basis, the authors of the Marxist classics investigated and analyzed the source of human rights from the perspective of mankind’s practical nature. They formed their understanding of human rights on the basis of mankind’s social practice, revealing the practical nature of human rights and forming the proletarian human rights theory.

Human practice shows different patterns and levels in different historical periods. It was a product of human practice in modern times that mankind’s pursuit of properties, freedom and equality was sublimated into the concept of human rights based on mankind’s species and nature as a species. Taking the right to equality as an example: people formed the concept of equality in the practice of common labor. However, the concept of equality was not connected with human rights at the beginning. In fact, it took thousands of years for people to “conclude the equal rights in state and society from the primitive concept of relative equality.” 72 In pre-capitalist society, on the basis of self-reliant production practice as well as the political practice of kingship and theocracy arising from this, social members formed personal dependency relations, class privileges prevailed, and there wasn’t the concept of “equality of common people.” The birth and development of the capitalist commodity economy and the “mutual influence and precaution” between nation-states laid the basis for declaring freedom and equality as human rights. Marx even said that, “Commodities are natural egalitarians.” 73 Commodity production is based on equivalent exchange and free competition. The development of capitalist commodity production required removing the shackles of feudal hierarchical privileges on people’s identities, thus allowing them to freely and equally participate in market competition. When the requirement went beyond the class scope of the bourgeoisie and the geographical scope of certain countries, freedom and equality became universal concepts. In response to the demand of the development of capitalist commodity production, some bourgeoisie philosophers declared freedom and equality as innate and inalienable rights that everyone should enjoy, forming the concept of innate rights of man. Therefore, even though modern bourgeoisie philosophers interpreted human rights with theoretical diagrams of natural state and natural law, in essence, the concept of innate rights of man still originated from practice. The authors of the Marxist classics not only formed their human rights thought on the basis of the practice of the proletariat opposing exploitation and oppression and pursuing freedom and equality, but also personally participated in the proletarian movement to oppose the bourgeoisie and strive for human rights. China’s national conditions determine the uniqueness of its human rights practice. The CPC has led the Chinese people to combine “the principle of human rights’ universality and the nation’s actual conditions” and embark on a path of human rights with Chinese characteristics. China upholds the people-centered principle in its human rights practice, insists that the rights to live and development are the “primary basic human rights,” and is committed to “improving the people’s well-being, ensuring that the people are their own masters and supporting development in an all-round way”, thus “effectively safeguarding the people’s right to development.” 74
 
C. The actualized practice of human rights from de jure to de facto
 
The concept of human rights is an ideological fruit of human civilization during its development in modern times. However, the birth of the concept was just the first step to safeguard and realize human rights. If the concept of human rights was merely laid idle on the shelf, it would create no actual meaning except for increasing a member to the repertory of human thoughts. From the perspective of practical materialism, the foremost thing in the process of humans’ understanding of the world does not “lie in that they know the law of the objective world and can thus explain the world, but is that they use the understanding of objective law to initiatively change the world.” Therefore, “theoretical understanding earned from practice must return to practice.” 75 Only when the human rights ideas that are sourced from conceptsderived from practice can human rights be “converted from de jure rights to legal rights and from legitimate rights to de facto rights.” 76

Converting de jure rights into legal rights is a result of the concept of human rights guiding the practice of legislation, but the revolutionary class often formulated political documents to declare human rights before they came to power. Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat formulated political documents on human rights during the revolutionary periods. For instance, one representative of the bourgeoisie human rights political documents is the US 1776 Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal,” that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” One example of the proletarian human rights political documents is The Declaration of the Second National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which declared the elimination of private ownerships, the establishment of a worker-peasant regime, and achieved the voting rights and other equal rights of peasants and workers as well as their freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, and of association. 77 After the revolution succeeded and they established their own regimes, both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat formulated the constitution and other laws to protect human rights: The status of the constitution as the fundamental law of a country enables human rights to serve as the fundamental value guide for governance, and common laws made the stipulation on human rights principles and citizens’ rights in the constitution specific and clear, enabling the actual practice of human rights to have operational norms. The legalization of human rights makes human rights walk out of scholars’ studies, and provides a legal foundation and guarantee for the actual practice of human rights. However, it does not mean that people already enjoy human rights in reality. Even though capitalist countries have established relatively complete human rights legal systems, private ownership of production means will inevitably lead to an alienation of labor, products, and even humans, “relegating independent activities and free activities into tools” and making mankind’s “de facto rights” something in falsehood. Because “the tool to achieve alienation is essentially practical,” it depends on revolutionary practice “abolishing the ownership of the bourgeoisie” and “eliminating private ownership” to eradicate the alienation phenomenon, thus achieving the reversion of the nature and characteristics of humans as a species. 78 Guided by the Marxist human rights thought, the CPC has constantly advanced the practice to realize human rights, and led the people to win the battle for “national independence, national liberation, democracy and freedom” through tireless struggle. The establishment of the socialist system marked that “exploiters as a class have been eradicated” in China, and the people have grasped state power and “become the masters of the country” 79 The formulation and implementation of the reform and opening-up policy, the legalization of human rights, and the formulation and implementation of the national human rights action plan… All of these make “the State respects and preserves human rights” more than just a stipulation in China’s Constitution, but also a highlight in the governance of the country.
 
IV. The Character of the Rule of Law of the Marxist Human Rights Thought
 
The authors of the Marxist classics emphasized the essential role of the abolition of private ownership and the development of productivity in realizing the human rights of the proletariat, but they did not regard economic factors as the only condition. In addition to the economic base, the superstructures, including legal factors such as “the constitution formulated by the winning class after victory, the form of various laws and the reflection of actual struggles in the minds of their participants, as well as political, legal and philosophical theories” 80 are equally important. The Marxist human rights thought is integrated with the thought of the rule of law, which makes the rule of law an indispensable way and tool to realize the human rights of the proletariat and gives the Marxist human rights thought a distinct character of the rule of law. The capitalist rule of law is “material-centered” instead of people-centered. It has established the sacred status of property rights and preserves the capitalist private ownership, depriving the proletariat and the common people of human rights. The socialist rule of law takes the responsibility to safeguard the people’s rights, and maintains the direction of guaranteeing human rights through the rule of law and leading the development of the rule of law with human rights. The Plan to Build the Rule of Law in China (2020-25) issued by the CPC Central Committee pointed out, “The world is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century. China is at a critical stage to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, facing grave challenges in advancing the reform and development, maintaining stabilities, and furthering opening up in an all-round manner. As the people’s demand for democracy, rule of law, fairness, justice, security, and a sound environment continues growing, we need to better play the role of rule of law in consolidating the foundation, stabilizing expectations, and seeking long-term benefits for the people.” 81
 
A. Human rights’ dependence on the rule of law
 
“All men, at least all citizens of a country or all members of a society, shall enjoy equal political status and social status.” 82 Human rights in de jure state are only morally important. If human rights were merelyin a de jure in theory and not enjoyed by people in reality, they would neither change people’s living conditions nor promote mankind’s all-round development. The actualization of human rights is not only the requirement of practical materialism, but also a necessary prerequisite for people’s happiness and all-round development. However, there is not a self-realization mechanism for human rights. Without strong supporting measures, it would be hard for people to enjoy human rights in reality. The governed in a class society “generally have no rights”, indicating that the realization of human rights is a tough challenge.

The innate characteristics of human rights determine that the realization of human rights depends on the rule of law. “The people’s rights and interests are subject to legal protection.” 83 First, human rights are “the result of abstraction of the essential nature of people’s political, cultural and political activities in the process of social development,” 84 so they are of abstractness and generality and easy to lead to diverged understandings. Without the regulation and adjustment by the rule of law, there is a high possibility for people to become confused because of the lack of specific and operable protocols and to take different actions in social life because of different understandings of human rights. Second, human rights are essentially requirements for society made by subjects based on their own interest appeals. Freedom and equality are “declared a human rights,” just indicating that “establishing equality through eliminating feudal inequality” became a common demand of the emerging bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and peasants. Human rights represent a kind of desire to express people’s pursuit of interests and satisfactions. Without the cooperation of state organs and social members in accordance with law, human rights would be impossibly realized. Third, human rights have no mandatory realization mechanism. They are a kind of moral requirement or ideal that serves as a flag for public mobilization and appeal, but they have no mandatory power over people’s behaviors and cannot effectively prevent infringement from external forces. If not guaranteed by the rule of law, human rights would be hard to be remedied once infringed.
 
B. Law-based guarantee for human rights
 
In the history of human thought, Aristotle was the first to define the rule of law. He pointed out that the rule of law should contain two meanings: “general obedience of established laws and the laws abode by people should be well-conceived good laws.” 85 The definition has been inherited and developed by later generations. The Marxist thought on the rule of law also stays on the track of the rule of good laws. From Marx’s statement that “laws are affirmed, specific and general norms… The Code of Laws is the Bible to safeguard the people’s freedom” 86 to Deng Xiaoping’s statement that “good systems can prevent the evil from behaving unscrupulously, while bad systems may hinder good people from fully doing good and even lead them to the adverse” 87 and Xi Jinping’s statement that “we will carry out lawmaking in accordance with the law in a well-conceived and democratic way, so that good laws are made to promote development and ensure good governance,” 88 all reflect the light of the thought on governance by good laws. The rule of law features governance by good laws, which provides sufficient rationales for the rule of law to serve as the way to safeguard human rights.
 
“The rule of law is a symbol of human progress, and serves as the guarantee for ensuring human rights.” 89 (1) Good laws provide an effective guarantee for human rights as a kind of general norms. As a kind of behavioral norm, good laws make human behaviors the subject of adjustment. “For laws, except for the behavior of the self, the self does not exist and is not the subject of laws.” 90 However, good laws are not behavioral norms for certain persons, but behavioral norms with universal binding force that all subjects of a society must abide by. Under the governance of good laws, people may have different opinions on human rights, but should not do any behaviors that infringe human rights. (2) Good laws provide the guarantee for the realization of human rights as a kind of specific norm. Good laws not only stipulate the principle of human rights, but also materialize the abstract concept of human rights into specific regulations on rights, enabling people to have operable protocols for enjoying and fulfilling human rights. Good laws establish the right-obligation mechanism based on the dialectical relationship stated as “one can neither have rights without obligations nor obligations without rights” 91 and define the “boundary of personal behaviors that should not have harm to others,” 92 so that social members can equally enjoy human rights. (3) Good laws provide the guarantee for the realization of human rights as a kind of mandatory norms of a state. Good laws must be abided by all subjects of society, and behaviors that violate good laws will activate the legal responsibility accountability mechanism. Through the use of the coercive force of the state, behavior infringing on human rights should be punished, and infringed human rights should be remedied. (4) Good laws provide the guarantee for the realization of human rights as a kind of value norm. The value of good laws is embodied in the fact that laws with good attributes and functions meet people’s needs for freedom, equality, fairness, order, etc. “The freedom admitted by law exists in a country in the form of law.” 93 Good laws containing the value of freedom provide the institutional guarantee for people to fulfill freedom, and thus guarantee people’s “rights to work, education, rest, etc.” 94 Good laws pursue the value of social fairness and justice and “let the people see fairness and justice being served in every law, every law enforcement, and every judicial case.” 95 Good laws reasonably divide rights (authority) and obligations (duties) of the subjects of society, thus establishing and safeguarding order in public power, the market economy, social life, ecological environment, and other aspects and creating sound political, economic, social, and natural conditions for the realization of human rights.
 
C. The importance of human rights in the rule of law
 
Human rights are the core value of the rule of law, as well as its starting point and ultimate goal; Human rights are the fundamental content and indicator of the rule of law. Human rights are also the guide for the law-based civilization, and the womb for the rule of law in modern and contemporary times. The importance of human rights in the rule of law is not only a consensus in academia but also a fact in human history. Marx once said, “Laws should be based on society… Once the Code of Laws no longer conforms to social relations, it will become a pack of useless paper.” Therefore, we should not “allow old laws to become the foundation for the development of new society, just as those old laws could not create old social relations.” 96 With the rise of the concept of human rights and the development of human rights practice, human laws continue to improve and develop accordingly. The importance of human rights in the rule of law has been increasingly highlighted in the process of historical evolution from law to the rule of law and from capitalist rule of law to socialist rule of law.

In human history, there was a “fantastic system” in which “everything was in order” and “everyone was equal and free” despite the absence of laws. 97 This system was based on extremely low productivity. When mankind grasped the knowledge of “animal husbandry and farming” and entered the “age of barbarism,” the development of productivity “generated such a need: constraining the production, distribution, and exchange of products that repeated every day with shared rules, so that individuals were subject to the common conditions of production and exchange.” 98 The emergence of social classes resulted in the birth of states. Officials who controlled state power, as “representatives of the force alienating from society”, needed to “resort to this kind of law” to “enjoy a sacred, inviolable privileged status.” 99 When rulers made “their living conditions” available to everyone through the will of the state, laws emerged to reflect “their common interests.” They used “laws as the way to fulfill their will and make it free of the arbitrariness of any individual.” 100 Laws are valued by people for they are embodiments of the society’s common interests and needs created on the basis of certain material production modes, instead of arbitrariness of any individual.” 101 Some thinkers further sublimed the concept of advocating laws into the concept of the rule of law featuring the governance by good laws and the governance of law. However, the lack of the concept of human rights made the concept of the rule of law, which should be characterized by the governance by good laws, alienate into the governance of laws. Laws became the tool for the monarch to exercise autocracy and the rule by man. When mankind entered the “civilized age” characterized by “real industry and arts”, due to the rise of the concept of innate rights of man, it required the governance of law to transform into the rule of law. The integration between human rights and the rule of law became a typical feature of the civilized age. However, as long as there is a divergence between special interests and common interests, for men, “their own activities” including activities regarding the rule of law are a kind of alienated and self-contrasting force that oppresses men, instead of a force controlled by men.” 102 Capitalist private ownership results in the “deviation and lack of legislators” and “selfish” laws aiming to safeguard privately-owned properties. Consequently, in judicial judgments, “judges can only meticulously express the selfishness of laws,” and justice is served only in form rather than in content. 103 Capitalist laws are the tool to safeguard the interests of the bourgeoisie, but the “whip prepared by the bourgeoisie” for the proletariat. Therefore, to realize human rights of the proletariat, we need to “replace the laws of the bourgeoisie with the laws of the proletariat.” 104 The socialist rule of law established on the basis of public ownership of production means represents the legalization of the proletarian concept of human rights, embodies the common will of the people led by the working class, and makes safeguarding the people’s rights and interests the fundamental goal. It upholds the goal of “reflecting the people’s interests and aspirations, safeguarding the people’s rights and interests, and improving the people’s well-being throughout the process of law-based governance”, 105 thus achieving the unity between the class nature and the people-centered nature, between normativity and scientificity, and between the rule of good laws and the governance by laws. The socialist rule of law is important both in form and in practice. It is the highest and most progressive rule of law throughout human history, and provides strong support for the development of the human rights cause in China and the world at large.
 
Conclusion
 
Marxist human rights thought is a scientific conclusion made by the authors of the Marxist classics in the process of using dialectical materialism and historical materialism to analyze and research specific and practical questions about the human condition. Therefore, it has a character that is different from those of the capitalist human rights concept arising from studies of abstract questions about the man with metaphysics and idealism as the theoretical basis. The authors of the Marxist classics formed their understanding of human rights on the basis of human nature and human essence, so that their human rights thought has a humanistic character. That human rights are rooted in human nature and the human essenceis an important tool to enable humans to achieve all-round development and the fundamental foundation for human liberation. Through revealing the class nature of human rights, exposing the insularity and hypocrisy of the capitalist human rights theory, and seeking human rights for the proletariat, the authors of the Marxist classics established their own human rights thought characterized by being people-centered. The proletarian human rights theory based on the people’s rights conforms to the need of the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie, and socialist construction ensures that the people fully enjoy and exercise human rights. Guided by practical materialism, the authors of the Marxist classics delved into the origin and importance of human rights, bestowing the practical character of their human rights thought. The concept of human rights originated from practice, so it must return to practice and guide practice. Moreover, the authors of the Marxist classics revealed the dialectical relationship between human rights and the rule of law, giving the character of the rule of law to their human rights thought. Human rights need protection by law, and they also help advance the rule of law. Marxist human rights thought has realized an epoch-making change in the history of human rights thought, and provided an ideological weapon for the proletariat in their human rights struggle and ideological guide for socialist human rights practice. In the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics, upholding, developing, and implementing the Marxist human rights thought will definitely advance the all-round development of the human rights cause, transform the principle of “the State respects and preserves human rights” stipulated in China’s Constitution into concrete actions, and “let all Chinese people share happiness and glory in the historic process of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” 106
 
(Translated by LIU Haile)
 
 
* HE Shiqing ( 何士青 ), Professor and Doctoral supervisor at the National Human Rights Education and Training Base and the School of Law of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. This paper is a phased result of the National Social Science Fund of China (NSSFC) project “Ethic Dimension and Legal Regulation of Modern Scientific and Technological Development” (Project No.: 19BFX018) and “Research on the Jurisprudential Basis of Strengthening the Sense of Community for the Chinese Nation,” a specialized research project under the Research Base on Strengthening the Sense of Community for the Chinese Nation (Project No.: 2020WKZX003).
 
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