Four Dimensions of Dignity Conception in Marxism
November 15,2022   By:CSHRS
Four Dimensions of Dignity Conception in Marxism
ZHANG Daode*
Abstract: Dignity is a key category in Marxist political philosophy. Marx criticized the realistic predicament caused by the materialization of human dignity in the capitalist society and indicated that the core of dignity lies in the manifestation and confirmation by means of labor, and time is one dimension for the measurement of labor. Hence, free time, lifetime, and emotional time are important paths and key characteristics to realize and safeguard dignity. The capitalist mode and relations of production cannot fundamentally realize human dignity. The realization of human dignity requires constructing a social system and public space and the full development of social conditions in all directions, for society is the fundamental way to realize and safeguard human dignity. Marx regarded the recognition of protecting dignity and worth for all people as the ultimate goal of realizing a life with dignity. Fully interpreting the concept of dignity in Marxism is of positive significance for building a better life.
Keywords: Marx · dignity · labor · time · recognition
Dignity, a common concern of people, has been receiving increasing attention in national government and academic circles. In daily life, people tend to interpret dignity as a kind of personality. “Don’t insult my dignity,” which means do not degrade my personality. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposed to “protect people’s personal rights, property rights, and right to dignity,” of which the right to dignity is the key connotation of personal dignity. From the academic perspective, some scholars hold that dignity is a useless concept due to its ambiguity. Some scholars believe that Marxism has no notions of dignity for Marx discussed slavery and exploitation mainly from the moral aspect, so some have claimed that he disregarded the concept of dignity. This prompts two questions: first, what is the difference between the concept of dignity in daily life and that in philosophy, especially Marxist philosophy? In other words, how should we define the concept of dignity? Second, is there the concept of dignity in Marxist philosophy, and how should it be realized today?
I. What is Dignity?
The concept of dignity has varied from generation to generation. In ancient Greece and Rome, especially for the Stoics, dignity referred to personal dignity to a great extent. In the Middle Ages in Europe, people believed in a God who was considered the only being with dignity. However, since humans were made in God’s image, they too must have dignity. Kant defined human dignity based on rationality and regarded human beings as a purpose rather than means. Hegel believed that the right to property was the right to dignity, and the property was the premise of dignity, after all, “one shall have his peace of mind when he possesses a piece of land.” He also brought forward an institutionalized solution to the lack of dignity, deeming that dignity required mutual recognition of people and fundamentally depended on the construction of institutions and public space.
We’ve talked about dignity in different stages, but what is dignity itself? How does Marxist philosophy interpret and define it? Some scholars argue that dignity is the feeling that we demand respect for ourselves.1 Some scholars believe that dignity is “the subjective feeling and the actual objective state of being respected as the requirement of human existence.”2 In my opinion, dignity is a kind of constructed value based on the social system, expressed with the help of language and appealing to the intrinsic.3 Hence, the definitions of dignity vary. In Marx’s classics, the word “dignity” is rarely mentioned, of which a popular expression is what he said in his youth, “Dignity is what with the greatest power to make people noble, endow their activities and all endeavors with a higher quality, what enables them admired by all and above all others without rebuke.”4 Although young Marx indicates the importance of dignity, he fails to define dignity within “kind” and “category.” However, it is not difficult to find from Marx’s works that there are ideas of human freedom, dignity, and value from the perspective of historical materialism. His argument for human dignity in the real sense is traceable. In the academic circle, there are only a few people who define human dignity in Marx’s vision as “the fundamental confirmation of human’s essential power and intrinsic value in social relations.”5 Most people compare the concept of dignity in Marxism with that of some previous Western thinkers or note the transcendent significance or the revolutionary transformation of the concept of dignity in Marxism based on reality. There are some typical examples as follows: First, compared with the concept of dignity of traditional Western philosophers, the concept of dignity in Marxism stands out in terms of the subject, the connotations, and the implementation path of dignity, which is mainly reflected in the aspects that the subject of dignity changes from being abstract to real people, that the basis and safeguard for dignity are transformed respectively from free will and morals and laws to the practice of revolutionary activities and the social relations. Second, Marx’s concept of dignity is expounded from a positive perspective, which holds that its core lies in the reality of its foothold, that is, the real individual, which has been discussed in most articles. Third, it is deemed that Marx never discussed the content of dignity directly in a positive way, but probed into its social origin and the path to its realization from the lack of dignity.
In conclusion, for the rationalist tradition of Western philosophy, the realization of personal dignity depends more on free will, human nature, or moral self-discipline. A typical example is the “human is the goal,” advocated by Kant who believed that human dignity was based on morality and laws, but it was hard to be secured due to the weakness of “goodwill.” Hegel put forward some schemes of institutionalization, which were, however, confined to a “drunk” mental system and were more of a pure spiritual deduction. Marx inherited from the rationalist tradition of Western philosophy, but more innovated based on it because he discussed the social mechanism and way of realizing human dignity from the perspective of social theory, which has trans-epochal significance. In other words, only by thoroughly reforming the capitalist mode and relations of production can we ease the antagonism between classes, change the way of people-to-people communication, and realize human’s all-round development and personal dignity. Academia, from the viewpoint of transforming abstraction to reality, pointed out that the concept of dignity in Marxism has multiple transcendent and revolutionary significances relative to the philosophical tradition of Western rationalism, but failed to expound on its core content, or the outstanding features different from previous thinkers. Among them, the most typical transcendent and revolutionary significance is that Marx probes into how to liberate the human based on labor practice rather than discussing the possibility of human dignity from the perspective of pure free will. He associates human dignity with life time instead of talking about mechanical time unrelated to human dignity from a mechanical viewpoint, analyzes the social mechanism and means of guaranteeing dignity from the social level and points out that the realization of human dignity is possible only when productivity and relations of production are reformed and the principle of civil society is transformed into the principle of human society other than inquiring into the protection of dignity from the perspective of isolated and abstract being and conditions, and scientifically analyzes the possibility of the two forces of proletariat and capital logic to ensure the recognition of all human dignity by all people instead of simply clarifying people-to-people recognition or indicating the equality of human dignity. So we attempt to analyze the dignity conception in Marxism from the four key dimensions of labor, time, society, and recognition. The reason why this interpretation is taken from these four dimensions is that they are closely related and occupy a significant place in the conception of dignity in Marxism. There into, the core of dignity is revealed and confirmed by labor, which is one feature of the concept of dignity in Marxism. Time is a dimension to measure labor, and possessing free time, life time or emotional time is a key path or symbol for the realization and protection of dignity.
The capitalist mode and relations of production result in the prevalence of alienated labor, and also hinder the realization of human dignity. To realize and safeguard human dignity requires the construction of a social system and public space and the full development of social conditions. Marx criticized the dignity recognized by fetishism in a capitalist society and regarded the recognition of human dignity and value by all, i.e., the fulfillment of human freedom and liberation, as the ultimate goal of realizing a dignified life.
II. Dignity Must be Embodied and Confirmed with Labor
German philosopher Hannah Arendt divided human activities into labor, work, and action. She believed that labor, as Marx indicated, could not bring people freedom, since “labor is an activity corresponding to the biological process of the human body. The normal growth, metabolism, and decay of the body consume the necessities produced and provided by labor. The condition of labor is life itself.”6 “When Marx regarded labor as the most important activity of human beings, traditionally, he took mandatory people instead of free people as human beings. Speaking to those who governed others but were not free as well, he entrusted freedom to all, while denying freedom for all.”7
In her opinion, labor as a means to maintain life was contradictory to freedom, while Marx spoke highly of labor (productive labor). If labor is incompatible with freedom, dignity is out of the question. Arendt talked about labor and life only in a biological sense, without probing into the ontological implication of the Marxist conception of labor, which made it hard to understand the revolutionary significance of the Dignity Conception in Marxism.
In the ideological context of Marxism, dignity is mainly investigated based on productive labor.8 Marx found that in a capitalist society, workers’ dignity was violated by alienated labor and human personality got no respect, so they gradually turned into one-dimension beings with no access to the opportunity for all-round development, and ended in losing dignity in the capitalist mode of production and life. In his classic Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx expatiated on the infringement of alienated labor on people, especially on the dignity of workers, with principal manifestations as follows: first of all, the more workers produce and work, the more products are provided, but these products do not belong to workers. Hence, the more products they produce, the poorer they are, and even starve to death, so their life dignity is violated. Second, workers cannot feel uncomfortable or happy in the process of labor. Third, in the process of alienating labor, the self-conscious activities of workers are reduced to a means of subsistence.
Humans work not as people, but as a kind of object. To put it bluntly, the workers are regarded as an instrument for profit, so their nature as humans symbolized by free and conscious activities cannot be safeguarded. In the end, the alienated labor leads to changes in interpersonal relationships. The opposition between the human and the self results in the opposition between the self and others. People confront each other with no respect, leading to the loss of human dignity.
In the process of alienating labor, workers’ life dignity and personal dignity gained no respect. In Die Deutsche Ideologie, Marx continued his analysis of human dignity from the perspective of the division of labor, communication, and such, indicating that even though the division of labor brings about great convenience, “as long as the division of labor is not out of personal choice, the activity of humans itself is supposed to be kind of alien and opposing forces upon human, rather than vice versa.”9 Therefore, in his opinion, due to the private ownership and alienated labor, workers receive no recognition for their labor, and human dignity cannot be maintained. Moreover, all previous forms of labor, including slave labor and hired labor, are painful and unpleasant. In other words, under the condition of private ownership, workers’ labor is neither decent, elegant, pleasant labor nor a free and conscious activity. It is unrealistic to talk about human dignity in such a context. As for the realization of human dignity in the real sense, Marx pins his hope “in the advanced stage of the communist society, when the forced slave-like obedience to the division of labor and the opposition between mental labor and physical labor vanish, and labor is no longer just a means of making a living, but the primary need of life.”10
After criticizing the negative significance of the division of labor, Marx further pointed out in Das Kapital: “Machine labor has severely damaged the nervous system, and suppressed the various movements of muscles, depriving all free activities physically and spiritually. Even worse, the alleviated labor has become a means of torture, for machines do not help free workers from labor, but make their labor meaningless.”11 In the first volume of Das Kapital, Marx analyzed the secret of capital proliferation from the difference between labor and labor force, revealing the fact that the workers are exploited. He pointed out that the workers freely possess nothing, so they have to sell their labor force, accompanied by the phenomenon that workers lose dignity: “The original currency owner as capitalist struts ahead, followed with the labor possessor, as his worker. One is smiling and ambitious, while the other cringes and treads on eggs, like selling his skin in the market, with only one future — in the other’s hand.”12 In addition, Marx mentioned the emergence of a large number of industrial reserve forces on account of the improvement of the organic composition of capital. Thus, the increase of workers and their labor process are regulated and controlled by capital.
The root cause of this problem lies in the opposition between capital and labor, and personified capital, the contradiction between capitalists and personified labor, namely, laborers. As a result, capitalists do not care about the physical and mental health of workers, and the only thing they care about is whether capital is multiplied. Hence, the workers’ dignity in life and personality based on labor13 is alienated and lost.
All of these show the gradual loss of human dignity from a negative perspective, but on the other hand, history is often advanced by the form of “evil,” and the alienation and the sublation of alienation often take the same road. The realization of human dignity is inevitably the sublation of alienation: first of all, people create huge material wealth in the process of labor by the use of rationality, will, and hard work; second, in the process, people combine their interests and will in part with their work, or achieve greater value in terms of purpose and the final result, which is also a reflection of human dignity; in the end, people get spiritual cultivation and enlightenment, and personality consciousness is awakened. In short, Marx believed that only by making labor free and self-conscious by means of alienation and sublation can people express and realize their dignity and value through labor.
III. Time is a Key Condition for the Realization of Dignity
Marx pointed out bluntly in The Holy Family that “whether society has time to realize development conforming to human nature depends on time.”14 Time is a dimension to measure labor, and there is no labor without time. People realize their dignity and value in the process of labor, or in time. Time is not the mechanical time irrelevant to human beings, nor the time constructed by the subject or the “transcendental concept” of Kant. It is intrinsically related to human life and sensibility and is free time and emotional time closely tied to labor. In Das Kapital and his manuscript, Marx indicates the positive significance of time to human beings, i.e., “time is the positive existence of human beings in essence, which is not only the scale of human life but also the space for human development.”15 Time is the positive existence of people, with a sense of positivity and affirmation. Positivity focuses on the practicality and creativity of human existence in time, while affirmation emphasizes that time constitutes the unique way of human existence. Human existence is possible and future-oriented, and the significance of time for human beings lies in the fact that human beings express their characteristics of existence through free creation in time. People can only exist with time, without fixed nature. The “time” we mention here is free labor time, different from physical time, or necessary labor time. Human dignity requires the representation of time and the social relations that end all labor time of enslaving people. Only by constantly changing the unreasonable social relations through practice can time become a reality and a positive existence through human labor time.
Time is the measure of human life, which means that “if a person does not have free time at his disposal and serves the capitalists in his life except for the necessary discontinuity for sleep, diet, and other purely physiological necessities, then he is not as good as a draught animal. He is nothing but a machine for producing wealth for others. His health would break down and he would think like a beast.”16 Time is related to the dignity of human life. If a person has no leisure time, his body and mind will be controlled and tamed, there is no way to speak of the dignity of life. As the measurement of human life, time not only relates to the length of human life but also the width and thickness of human life. Human dignity, of course, refers to a person’s physical lifetime, the value created by the self, and the ability to actively change the world through practice. Time is the space for human development, meaning that without time, people cannot survive and develop. Moreover, this kind of time belongs to people, which is the condition and foundation for people’s free and all-round development.
In Das Kapital, Marx discussed the relationship between time and humans in the production, circulation, exchange, and consumption of capital. When inquiring into the production of absolute surplus-value, he points out that for capitalists, workers had better be engaged in labor all the time. “A worker is nothing but a labor force all his life, so all his time at his disposal is labor time by himself and by law, that is to say, should be used for the self-multiplication of capital. As for the time for receiving education, developing intelligence, fulfilling social functions, participating in social activities, and using the physical and intellectual power by and for self, as well as the rest time at the weekend (even in countries that worship the Sabbath — all nonsense!”17 Of course, this happened only at the initial stage of backward technological development, when the capitalists, roughly and brutally extended labor hours and increased labor intensity, achieving free time and life time for themselves, while others had only labor time. The consequence was that workers’ life expectancy was shortened, living time and free time were deprived, and life dignity was degraded. In the later stage of technological development, due to the improvement of production efficiency, capitalists shortened the necessary labor time and extended the surplus labor time. Its essence this still deprives and squeezes the free time of workers and degrades their dignity. It is true both in production and circulation. To further shorten the time and speed up the capital turnover, in the exchange link, wages obtained by workers, whether hourly wages or piece-rate wages, are essentially reflected in the price of labor power. As a result, workers get poor wages and remain in poverty with no leisure time, and their whole life is regulated and controlled by capital (if workers cannot create value for capitalists or be converted into labor time, they will be abandoned and become “useless people”) so that the dignity and value of human beings cannot be reflected.
In short, free time, leisure time, disposable time, decent time, etc. vary in the standard of division but are the same in Marx’s view. Time is an important condition or a symbolic factor for the realization of dignity. However, due to capitalist private ownership and industrial management, people’s disposable time is squeezed and deprived, and they spend most of their time in production activities unrelated to their interests. As a result, their biological rhythm is broken and their dignity is not respected. People, especially workers, are engaged in productive labor mostly in labor time or industrial time. In industrial time, labor is abstract and its created value is hard to measure by it, so time is used for quantification. Therefore, time-related to human sensibility is transformed into social labor time. Time therefore began to be separated and alienated from people, and workers suffered.
Marx holds that the individual has a life of dignity, which points to the possibility of possessing emotional time and free time, free from the pressure of abstract social time and industrial time, and realizing a life that which “the individual can plan what to do today and tomorrow, like hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, raising livestock in the evening, and judging after dinner.”18 Of course, whether a person has dignity and whether it can be realized depend on whether he has free time, leisure time, disposable time. The more diversified time a person has, the more dignity can be guaranteed. What needs to be explained here is that time is only a condition for the realization of dignity, which does not mean that there is the dignity with time. An idle person who does not engage in the minimum of labor, no matter how much time he has, has nothing to do with the dignity discussed by Marx, because human dignity needs to be reflected and confirmed by labor.
IV. Society is the Fundamental Guarantee for the Realization of Dignity
In the capitalist society criticized by Marx, human beings are mutually used and antagonistic, with dignity mainly determined by commodity, currency, and capital. In this way, human beings have no dignity, or their dignity is mainly dependent on objects. As for the capitalist society described by Marx, in which the logic of capital dominates while the logic of power plays a secondary role, both workers and capitalists have no dignity. The capitalists, can gain dignity only as personified capital. “In bourgeois society, capital is characterized with independence and individuality, but the individual in activity has none.”19 In such a society, human dignity is mainly measured by commodity, currency, or capital, and whoever has more wealth is respected and recognized. The fundamental reason is that the standpoint or starting point of civil society is the pursuit of profit and capital supremacy, and dignity is dispensable for it cannot bring about the value to capitalists. The whole society is dominated by the logic of capital, so dignity is a luxury in such a society.
Marx does not recognize the standpoint and the starting point of civil society. Marxist philosophy keeps a foothold in human society or socialized humans, holding that society is a comprehensive concept. Society is the unity of people, and the dignity of each individual is not dependent on confrontation, nor is it bound together by interest. The fundamental principle of society is not to pursue profit and capital supremacy,but to contain multiple connotations such as material production, human reproduction, human social relations reproduction, and human spiritual production, adhering to the principle of the people supremacy and the centrality of the people. The standpoint of society is to safeguard human dignity. Since society is a relatively broad concept including multiple connotations, whether dignity can be truly realized requires material, spiritual and social conditions, and dignity also contains various contents.
Marx argues that the existence of living individuals is the first premise to realize and safeguard human dignity, which is different from the traditional Western philosophers because Marx’s starting point is the concrete and realistic individual, rather than the isolated, abstract and speculative one. Human beings are in social relations, so the social and historical conditions of human beings, including political, economic, cultural, and other conditions should be considered to realize and protect human dignity. Second, to meet their physiological needs, human beings need to get necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. As for life and production, the most important thing is material production which occupies the core position in society. Without material production, it is difficult to maintain human dignity. In terms of material production, when productivity is backward and most people are forced to work, the public will fall into poverty. Once poverty or even starvation occurs, it becomes a luxury to talk about the dignity of the public. Developed productive forces and abundant resources of living and production show in turn that the essential power of human beings has been further proved and recognized. With the expansion of production, human exchanges will gradually become popular. But if only productivity is developed and the society is dominated by capital or power, the dignity of the masses would still not be achieved. Therefore, it is necessary to improve productivity and change the relations of production to safeguard the dignity of the masses. Marx does not hold a negative attitude toward anything that could promote the development of productive forces, especially those in favor of the realization of labor liberation. Although he believed that we should be alert to the social relations behind technologies or machines, it is undeniable that the more developed the productive forces are, the greater the possibility of realizing human dignity will be. Therefore, it is of little significance to discuss the dignity and rights of human beings abstractly, because no dignity exists independently beyond or divorced from specific and historical social conditions. Individuals can't live independently and have dignity in isolation from society. That kind of abstract talk about human dignity can only be the product of fiction. In the end, the realization of dignity depends on a society that conforms to human dignity, that is, a society that is equitable or just. Dignity is an important value in the social system. But people have different opinions about justice. In the past, people focused on the distribution of justice, thinking that if the distribution is unfair, human dignity can hardly be guaranteed. However, Marx pointed out in Kritik des Gothaer Programms that productive justice instead of distributive justice should be the focus. Since the mode of production and the mode of communication determine justice, whether dignity can be realized fundamentally depends on whether it can be guaranteed by society.
Dignity is not achieved by a purely reflective and conceptual change and requires the overall change or security of society. Whether human beings have dignity and the extent to which people gain dignity depend largely on historical conditions, the mode of production and communication. Only with advanced productive forces, universal communication, and social justice can human dignity be fully realized. “The true liberation can only be achieved in the real world and with real means... ‘Liberation’ is a historical activity instead of an ideological activity, and promoted by historical relations, industrial conditions, commercial conditions, agricultural conditions and communication conditions.” 20
V. Dignity is the Value Goal of Recognition
Viewing dignity from the perspective of recognition has long been a topic of concern in Western political philosophy. The central issue is how to achieve recognition rather than what is acknowledged. In other words, it is not the recognition of specific values such as dignity and freedom, but how to ensure the recognition of dignity by all.
Since modern times, the traditional Western thinkers acknowledged the value of human beings but varied in the way of recognition. There is a fundamental difference between Western rationalist philosophers and Marx in terms of recognition. If Western rationalist philosophers are willing to recognize the value and dignity of human beings at the level of free will, Marxist philosophers discuss the possibility of liberation of human beings in the aspects of practice and revolutionary significance, thereby recognizing human dignity.
Western thinkers including Hegel and Honneth have discussed the issue of dignity from the perspective of recognition, expounding new views and making new contributions. Hegel put forward the “master-slave dialectic” in the Phenomenology of Spirit. He believed that the result of the struggle for recognition was the establishment of the Master-Slave relationship, with the master becoming a master because he was not afraid of death and the slave becoming a slave because he was afraid of death. The master is no longer directly engaged in productive labor, while the slave has to be occupied in productive labor. In this sense, masters live on slaves, while the dignity of slaves is based on labor. In Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel further proposes institutionalized solutions to resolve conflicts, achieve recognition and guarantee dignity. He believed that guilds were in favor of protecting human dignity. “Moreover, this ability and this kind of life are recognized, so the member of a guild does not need to prove his skill and his regular earnings and life by other external representations, i.e., his identity. He belongs to a whole, which is itself a link in universal society, and his selfless purpose to be dedicated to the whole is recognized. He, therefore, has his due dignity in his rank.”21 If a person is not accepted by the guild, he has no dignity. Honnett believed that human dignity means being recognized by others without being humiliated or despised. He divided recognition into three stages or types: love, law, and solidarity,”22 Love is the first stage of recognition, the mutual recognition between people is not based on profit, but on the emotional basis of love. Law is the second stage of recognition, which is still a recognition based on love. Solidarity refers to a way of recognizing an individual’s contribution to a society or community based not on identity but contribution.
Although Marx did not clarify the concept of recognition, there is a related analysis of recognition. Marx is not an atomic individual in civil society, and not just investigates human dignity from the perspective of universal humanity and spirit but also appeals to realistic perceptual activities. He explored the possibility of human liberation based on the universal light of the capitalist society, the capital logic, so as to recognize the value of human dignity. But in a capitalist society, due to the operation of capital logic, human dignity has become a kind of exchange value, and the mutual recognition between people has been alienated into three typical forms, namely commodity fetishism, currency fetishism, and capital fetishism. For the recognition of alienation, Marx placed his hope on the self-consciousness of the working class and the inherent negative power of capital logic.
In the abstract of the Principles of Political Economy by James Muller of Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx stated: “For us, our value to each other is the value of the things we have possessed to each other. Therefore, in our opinion, a person himself is something of no value to another person.”23 In the commodity economy and modern market economy, the more products a person produces and the more things he owns, the more wealth he has. Human dignity is related to the number of goods. As far as monetary fetishism is concerned, in the commodity economy, if a person produces more commodities and can exchange them into currency, the contradiction between the two factors of commodities will be solved. So what people pursue changes from commodities to currency. Human dignity has also shifted from relying on commodities to currency. In terms of capital materialism, with the development of the commodity economy, the currency will be converted into capital, which is a kind of thing, but in fact, is a kind of production relationship. In real life, people are deluded that capital itself has a magic that can make value rise, and fall into capital fetishism. In short, in the powerful control of the capital logic, all the rich contents of human life and social life are restored into the abstract exchange value, transforming human dignity into exchange values.
However, human dignity should not be reduced to an exchange value or an object, although human freedom and dignity need to be reflected by the object. Real recognition is the mutual affirmation between people, and only respect can exchange respect. Just as Marx expressed, “we assume that human is human, and the relationship between human and the world is a human relation, then you can only exchange love with love and trust with trust.”24 Marx criticized the recognition of human dignity only by external value, such as position, identity, wealth, and power, and believed that the intrinsic value of human beings is the basis of dignity, including life, virtue, ability, and soul, which, however, cannot prove that human dignity has nothing to do with external recognition.
Hegel pointed out in Elements of the Philosophy of Right that if the poor refuse to work and resent society, they would degenerate to be the “untouchables” who are unrecognized, humiliated, or stigmatized by the society, and so would the proletariat. Therefore, the proletariat is required to fight for recognition and dignity. However, the proletariat gain dignity through not only self-consciousness and spiritual recognition, but also political recognition and social recognition, etc. In other words, the proletariat needs dignity, for which they have to fight for survival and a better life and launch a revolution, and also win over the development of their rights in all aspects. What they need to strive for is not only to be alive, but to live honorably with dignity and grace, which requires ideological and conceptual recognition, and practical revolution. As far as Marx is concerned, probing into dignity from the point of view of recognition is mostly required to have a broad understanding of recognition, instead of just economic recognition or spiritual recognition. The human sense of dignity varies greatly from class to class. The factor of the economy is undoubtedly a key determinant since it is difficult for a person without any means of subsistence to have dignity. But the proletariat have to strive not only for the right to life but also for other rights including the right to development. Hence, we should clarify that the recognition the proletarian pursue by means of class struggle is not privilege or glory, but the rights of the most “common people” and the “human nature.” It is a social target to liberate from the oppression of the bourgeois system of ownership and strive for equality in the economic sphere.25
Generally speaking, Marx held that agreement of the proletariat’s subject power and the inherent power of capital logic was the prerequisite for the recognition and realization of the value of human dignity. So two solutions are drawn from this: first, the liberation power of the working class equals depends on the proletariat’s resistance capabilities, i.e., class struggle. The working class is required to be enlightened for a deeper understanding of capital logic and meanwhile serves as the representative of advanced productivity (the working class has a broader range). The second is the inherent self-negation power within the logic of capital. The nature of the logic of capital lies in the pursuit of profit. However, with the improvement of production efficiency and technology, the organic composition of capital shows an upward trend, resulting in a huge relative surplus population in society. Moreover, capital accumulation is followed by a widening gap between rich and poor and a further decline in the average profit rate. To prevent and delay the decline in the average profit rate, monopoly capital will unite with the government to evolve into the monopoly of financial imperialism, which, however, does not changed the relationship between capital and labor, and the contradiction between the socialization of production and the private ownership of capitalist means of production has not been substantially resolved.
VI. Conclusion
The core of the concept of dignity in Marxism is not only from the abstract to the reality but also points out that the core of dignity lies in the embodiment and confirmation through labor. The measurement of labor requires time, which is the positive existence of human beings and is closely related to human dignity. Only when people’s free time and lifetime are not deprived and squeezed by industrial time and scientific time, can the realization of dignity be possible. To fundamentally realize and safeguard human dignity, the starting point or foothold of society should be based on social principles rather than civil social principles to promote and implement social fairness and justice. For Marx, to be determined to struggle for the liberation of the proletariat is, in a sense, fighting for the dignity of the proletariat. The good life we are talking about today is a life of dignity, or dignity is the foundation for a good life. Although people have different understandings of a good life, they hope that economic development will change from pure quantitative development to qualitative development in terms of the core determinants of production mode and exchange mode. Our people wish to have “better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions and a better environment. They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs, and lead a more enjoyable life.”26
“As long as man does not recognize himself as a man and therefore does not organize the world in human terms, this social connection takes the form of alienation.”27 As for the society nowadays, we need to find the power to reasonably regulate the logic of capital and power, and establish the general premise of “mutual recognition of individual dignity and value by all” as soon as possible, so as to realize the people’s yearning for a better life.
(Translated by XU Chao)
* ZHANG Daode ( 章道德 ), Doctoral Candidate in School of Philosophy, Beijing Normal University, Lecturer in School of Marxism, Wannan Medical College.
1. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Han Zhen et al. trans. (Nanjing: Yilin Publishing House, 2008), 18.
2. Hu Youzhi, “Dignified Educational Life and Its Institutional Construction”, (PhD diss., Nanjing Normal University, 2017), 100.
3. Dignity needs to be expressed through language, which can be seen in Chen Jiaqi, “How far are we from a Dignified Existence — Rediscussion of the Book of Job”, Tribune of Social Sciences 7 (2015).
4. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Complete Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1995), 458.
5. Guo Qianqian, “Marx’s Thought of Human Dignity and its Contemporary Value”, (PhD diss., Dalian Maritime University, 2016), 67.
6. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Wang Yinli trans. (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2009), 1.
7. Hannah Arendt, Karl Marx and the Tradition of Western Political Thought, Sun Chuanzhao trans. (Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2012), 14.
8. Strictly speaking, the concepts of “labor” and “production” are not the same in connotation. In early stage, Marx preferred to “labor” in philosophy, and later he replaced it with the concept of “autonomous activity”. The concept of “production” is more used by Marx in economic analysis.
9. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2009), 537.
10. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 3 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2009), 435.
11. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 5 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2009), 486-487.
12. Ibid., 205
13. In fact, there are differences among life dignity, personal dignity and human dignity. Life dignity is mainly reflected in the respect for life. Marx has discussed the life dignity in Die Deutsche Ideologie, and Engels has given a large number of factual examples in the Condition of the British Working Class. Personal dignity focuses on the level of free will, while human dignity focuses on the social attributes of human beings, which is not strictly distinguished here.
14. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1, 270.
15. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Complete Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 47 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1979), 532.
16. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 3, 70.
17. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 5, 304.
18. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1, 537.
19. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 2 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, Beijing, 2009), 46.
20. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1, 527.
21. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 1961), 250.
22. Hornett, Struggle for Recognition, Hu Jihua trans. (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2005), 181.
23. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2000), 183.
24. Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, The Collected Works of Marx and Engels, vol. 1, 247.
25. Zhang Dun, “‘Recognition’ in the Perspective of Marx’s Practical Philosophy — The Historical Origin of Hegel’s “Master/Slave Dialectic’ and Marx’s Political Theory”, Marxism and Reality 1 (2007).
26. Xi Jinping, The Governance of China, vol. 1 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2018), 4.
27. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 171.
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