Marx, Human Rights And Freedom / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

The issue of human rights is comprehensive and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay 'On the Jewish Question'. (CC)
The issue of human rights is comprehensive and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay ‘On the Jewish Question’. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile, 2 November 2016 — Recently I sent a tweet that surprised some people. In it I said: “G[uillermo] Teillier, president of the PC [Communist Party], criticizes defense of human rights in Venezuela. Nothing unusual. Marx wanted to abolish them for their selfishness and opposition to the collective.” The surprising thing was not, by the way, the part about Guillermo Teillier, acknowledged admirer of dictatorships such as North Korea and Cuba, but about Marx. Thus, I would like to expand on this issue, a key to understanding Marxism, in a way that the brevity of Twitter did not allow me to do.

The issue of human rights is broadly and explicitly developed by Marx in his essay On the Jewish Question (Zur Judenfrage), published in early 1844 in the Franco-German Annals. In this text, Marx directed harsh criticism at the beginning of the significance of human rights such as those embodied in the celebrated American and French declarations of the same. These rights are criticized for being, in his judgment, the expression of man as a selfish being, the quintessential superior right of the individual versus the collective or society. continue reading

Marx’s words, in this regard, deserve to be quoted at some length because we are in the presence, here, of the anti-liberal essence of the paradigm that will form the nucleus itself of the future Marxist ideology:

“Above all, we note the fact that the so-called rights of man, the droits de l’homme as distinct from the droits du citoyen, are nothing but the rights of a member of civil society – i.e., the rights of egoistic man, of man separated from other men and from the community. […]None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man, he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-life itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence.”

For Marx the only important rights are political rights, that is, those of the citizens in their capacity as such. In this way, and like Hegel, man ceases to exist in himself, to be reduced to a member of the State (or the politically organized community) and the rights that are recognized are as a citizen. That is why Marx can not understand how the French could create a kind of rights that are only obstacles to collective political will, rights that create a sphere that is beyond politics or the collective:

“It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning to liberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections, and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims (Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow men and from the community.”

What Marx wants is the total society, encompassing everything without barriers – that is without individual rights that impose limits – between man and the social collective represented by the state. That is, exactly, the essence of the original definition of the concepts of the totalitarian state and totalitarianism, as Mussolini had already used it in the 1920s: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

It is precisely this totalitarian way of seeing things that makes Marx manifest a particular distaste for the idea of freedom, as individual freedom, as expressed in the French Constitution of 1793 where it says (Article 6, which is just a repetition of the famous declaration of 1791, that “freedom is the power of man to do anything that does not prejudice the rights of another.” In the face of this, Marx says:

” Liberty, therefore, is the right to do everything that harms no one else. The limits within which anyone can act without harming someone else are defined by law, just as the boundary between two fields is determined by a boundary post. It is a question of the liberty of man as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself.”

For this very classic freedom, which is the essence of liberalism, neither Marx nor the Marxists have the slightest sympathy. Nor will other totalitarians such as the Italian fascists, the German Nazis or the Islamic fundamentalists.

The obvious continuity between Hegel and Marx in this area should not, however, hide the important difference between the conservative realism of totalitarian thinking of Hegel and revolutionary utopian totalitarianism of Marx.

The totality of Hegel is a heterogeneous, differentiated and hierarchically organized society, i.e. social diversity organized as an organic whole within the “rational State.” Individuals continue to be different and therefore unequal, according to the social role and their place in this totality.

Marx cannot accept this solution, which for him does nothing but keep the divisions of the past. His totalitarianism is radically leveling and is expressed by him and the idea of a future society in which the abolition of all difference and heterogeneity is achieved. It is about, in other words, the dream of a “homogenous society,” to use the expression that the Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti used to describe Marx’s Utopia, that is a society without classes, hierarchies or interest groups, in which State and civil society are reunified like the collective and individuals. This totalitarian and egalitarian Utopia is, apparently, the framework of the communist dream of Marx and his followers.

Marx, however, goes beyond the pure idea of the emergence of a homogeneous mass society. He also raises the idea of renewal of the human being and the birth of a new man, to use the expression popularized Che Guevara. In a manner reminiscent of medieval messianic mysticism he raises the emergence of what we might call the “man-kind”, that is, a man amalgamated with the human species, with the collective of men. This is the radical disappearance of the individual as a unique and irreducible reality. Thus, disappearing the individual will disappear individualism and with it, all social division. His words deserve, for all they say about the mystical-religious essence of Marxism, to be carefully meditated on:

“Only when the real, individual man re-absorbs in himself the abstract citizen, and as an individual human being has become a species-being in his everyday life, in his particular work, and in his particular situation, only when man has recognized and organized his “own powers” as social powers, and, consequently, no longer separates social power from himself in the shape of political power, only then will human emancipation have been accomplished.”

To achieve the goal of definitively emancipating man from all alienation and creating this new man who is the “man-species” for Marx there is not other option but to eliminate the true essence of modern society that is none other than private interest and profit motive, and its base is the power of private property and money. This is what Marx at this point in his evolution designated with the expression Judenthum (Judaism), since according to him the very essence of Judaism is none other than this capitalist attitude taken to its extreme. His words, which seem straight out of a Nazi anti-Semitic pamphlet, are strong (the emphases are Marx):

“Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.”

That is why, in his view, the suppression of all this will involve the final elimination of Judaism:

” Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time. An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible.”

With this, according to Marx, the Jewish religion itself would end with this change as “[The Jew’s] religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society.”

In the final paragraphs of On the Jewish Question all the ends are tied up. The idea of the end of the Jew as such merges with the idea of the end of the individual in what would be the grand finale of the divided and troubled life of the human species and the emergence of the man-species (emphasis Marx):

“Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.”

These are the ideas that will be reflected in the proposal communist of Marx and his followers, and this is why they despise democracy. In his view, this political system, with its diversity of parties and its competitive elections, is nothing but an expression of “bourgeois society” in which individualist selfishness reigns and opposes various classes and interests. They speak, therefore, disparagingly of “bourgeois democracy” and confronting it will rise the Utopia of the society-community, society of comradeship, altruism, the new man and the only party, as in Cuba or North Korea.


Editor ‘s note: this analysis has previously been published in the online journal El Líbero. It is reproduced with the permission of the author. Mauricio Rojas is director of the Adam Smith Chair of the University of Development (Chile).

Translator’s note: Translations of Marx are taken from this site.

The Alternative To Socialism: A Solidarity Market Economy / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

Some children observe their homes in the commune of Peñalol east of Santiago de Chile. (EFE)
Some children observe their homes in the commune of Peñalol east of Santiago de Chile. (EFE)

Chile uneasy with success

14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile, 9 September 2016 — Since 2011 the Chilean left has launched a search for “another model,” an alternative to the social market economy that has led the country to remarkable economic and social successes over the last thirty years. Much ink has been spilled on the “inhumanity” of a model that, paradoxically, has lifted millions of Chileans out of poverty and transformed Chile into a middle-class country with the highest per capita income in Latin America.

However, concrete proposals on the make-up of this “other model” were conspicuous by their absence. Earlier, its supporters had bluntly advocated a socialist planned economy as an alternative, but the historical evidence has been responsible for demolishing that option. The closest thing to an alternative is that raised by Fernando Atria and others in the book The Other Model: eliminating private initiative in the areas of welfare services or the sphere of “social rights” (healthcare, education, pensions, housing), as they call them. continue reading

This would be a social democratic statist model which is not only an anachronism and has been abandoned by the most modern social democracies of northern Europe, but it is facing a growing repudiation by the Chilean people, as shown by the collapse in the polls of President Michelle Bachelet, whose approval rating is barely 15%, a drop from the 50% at the beginning of her term in March 2014.

This realization doesn’t mean that those of us who defend full respect for the social market economy shouldn’t concern ourselves with its specific forms of operation and its capacity to respond to the always changing demands of the citizens. This is the key in Chile today, where as a result of the free economic model and the tremendous progress already achieved, there are new concerns and demands about the quality, sustainability and, not least, the equity of the progress achieved.

This “uneasiness with success,” that was spectacularly demonstrated in 2011 and was initially channeled by the left, will continue to be present and will determine the Chilean political horizon for a long time. The latest massive demonstrations demanding better pensions and opposed to the system of pensions based on individual capitalization show it very clearly.

This means that those of us who want Chile to continue on its path of success cannot turn a deaf ear to these new concerns and demands, We must make them ours and channel them, but not towards a destructive questioning of the social market economy model, but toward its deepening and improvement.

In the current Chilean case this corresponds, in my view, to putting a clear accent on the social aspect of the social market economy. It doesn’t imply ceasing to question the market, especially considering the strong questioning that day by day does the same and the situations of abuse constantly reiterated. In this sense, I believe there are very interesting viewpoints among British thinkers like Jesse Norman and Phillip Blond, who speak about the need to “moralize the market” in order to make it more efficient and ethically defendable. Leaving aside this issue to concentrate on what, it seems to me, should today be the focal point of a discussion on the social market economy: the social aspect.

Social in this case refers specifically to the need to undertake policy interventions of a redistributive character to correct the spontaneous result of market mechanisms in order to expand the resource base and opportunities available to a significant part of our society. It is, in short, about increasing equality of opportunity and I would like to give three reasons in support of the pressing need for this: the first refers to efficiency, the second to the ethics and the third to policy.


The market is undoubtedly a highly efficient distributor of existing productive resources. However, without corrective intervention may tend to underutilize potential resources, particularly those related to human capital and the talents of the population. We are facing a situation of potential “waste” or “internal brain drain” to use the expression that Sebastian Pinera used in 1976 in one of the essays that formed his doctoral thesis.

This implies that the lack of adequate conditions for its development means that a part of the productive and creative potential of society is never realized and never arrives on “the market” to be efficiently distributed. Clearly, the market creates incentives for the development of the human capital of the population, but its corrective capacity for the “disadvantages of birth” and lack of resources that limit opportunities for many is far from optimal, particularly in countries where large segments of the population lack the minimum conditions to realize their potential and contribute fully to the process of development.

This is obviously the case both in today’s Chile and in Latin America in general, and that is why this point is so important. This is, in short, a huge social waste and, not least, a tragedy for each affected person.

A little history

Economic history abounds with examples that illustrate the key importance of basic equality of opportunities for dynamic and sustainable economic growth over time. The specific content of equal opportunities has varied from era to era and was traditionally strongly related to access to land. Owning land gives the workers the ability to retain for their own benefit an important part of the benefit of its production, which could then be invested in direct productive improvements such as enhancing the education of their children, providing them with increased human capital.

The case of the United States is, in this respect, paradigmatic. The great northern nation achieved world hegemony thanks in large part to the widespread access of immigrants to land, a fact that was decisively reinforced by laws passed during the Civil War known as the Homestead Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. This created not only a very stable society of landowners and a large domestic market, but also comparatively optimal conditions for the development of their potential talents. It was the society with the greatest equality of opportunities for its time and therefore also the most prosperous and democratic.

Such examples could easily be multiplied and we would see, almost without exception, that where land was more equally distributed, as in the Scandinavian countries, further progress was generated, and where were the large estates there was, and sometimes still is, poverty. Suffice it to compare, among other cases, the north and south of Italy or Catalonia and the Basque Country with Andalusia and Extremadura in the case of Spain.

This brief reference also tells us something very important about the historical failure of Latin America to achieve development. Large inequalities inherited from the colonial era excluded a large majority of its population from full social participation, thereby burdening the chances to reach, despite the extraordinary export boom of the late nineteenth century, lasting progress.

This is equally important in understanding the history of Chile. By the late nineteenth century the country experienced a spectacular economic boom resulting from the incorporation of the nitrate provinces of Norte Grande. In fact, between 1870 and 1910 there were very few countries whose economic growth exceeded Chile’s. In 1910 it even managed to match or exceed the per capita income of France and Sweden, not to mention Italy or Spain, but this did not lead to Chile to development, but to a frustrating and contentious twentieth century.

The reason is simple: Chile was a rich country with too much poverty and inequality and it paid dearly for the consequences of this. The manna

from the north, the saltpeter, fell on a deeply unequal society, with its great masses of “pawns,” “farmhands,” “day laborers,” “bums,” or “broken,” who remained prey to poverty, lack of educational possibilities, subordination, exclusion and social and racial contempt.

In the early twentieth century, almost two-thirds of the adult population was illiterate and unable to make a productive contribution that went beyond the basics. Their talent potential was never realized, tying so many Chileans to inherited poverty and condemning the country to underdevelopment. This is the hard lesson for us in our history and it would be very sad were we to stumble again over the same stone.


I start from the point of view that efficiency is important, but even more so are the ethical considerations about the need for corrective policy intervention in market mechanisms. From the point of view of the ideas of freedom and equal dignity of human beings, freedom cannot be the privilege of a few, but must be a real right of all. This is the fundamental ethical budget of a free society and will remain so even if a society of free men was not the most efficient alternative in economic terms.

However, the actual exercise of freedom requires conditions that have directly to do with our access to resources and basic security, without which freedom is reduced to a mere empty promise. The freedom to read books is more a mockery than a possibility for those who never had the opportunity to learn to read, freedom of information is reduced to very little when you do not have the minimum training required to process it, and the freedom of movement is nothing more than a travesty when crime takes over our streets or lack of adequate transport facilities make it, in fact, impossible or extremely costly.

In addition, the use of freedom requires, as pointed out by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, simultaneous access to certain rights, capabilities and resources. Therefore the ethics of freedom coincides with the perspective that emphasizes the importance of basic equality of opportunities.

The capacity and resources necessary to exercise freedom will increase with the advance of progress. It is therefore important not to remain tied to an absolute concept of poverty, but also to consider it from a relative point of view, that is, as that threshold defining the exclusion of social development. This relative poverty that impedes or curtails social participation was rightly emphasized by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and is the same as that which limits the realization of our abilities or talents. In this sense, real freedom and basic equal opportunities are two absolutely complementary terms that define the ethical view that, in my judgment, should inspire our political efforts.


The political reasons to put the emphasis on basic equal opportunities seem obvious today. Stability and social cohesion depend on the existence of a widespread sense of justice about the established order. However, the sense of what is right and therefore legitimate has evolved considerably. There was a time when hereditary inequality and hierarchies were considered legitimate, as was the power of absolute monarchs by divine grace or the limitation of freedom or political rights to a minority of the population.

All this is part of the pre-modern social universe, one that was finally subverted by the Declaration of Independence of the United States of 1776 which proclaimed, as founding principles of the legitimacy of the political order, equality as well as the respect for the lives and freedom of all (“all men are created equal … endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights … among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”).

The political history of modernity is about how to get along and to realize these values: equality, not to destroy but to strengthen the freedom, and freedom, so that does not become indifference and a lack of solidarity with others. And that is precisely the great challenge in our Chile at the end of 2014. Only by committing ourselves unambiguously to an equality that extends and strengthens freedom, that is, the basic equality of opportunities, we can successfully fight the socialist idea that seeks to homogenize us, undermine our natural diversity and sow envy.

The political legitimacy of the social order of freedom will only be solid when the overwhelming majority of Chileans feels that they had a fair opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams, and that their children will as well. A just political order cannot rely on the lottery of birth, but on our common responsibility that no one lacks the basic conditions for the exercise of freedom.

In addition, only under those conditions can the greater success and wealth of some be legitimized. That is why in the United States there has been not only acceptance, but even a culture of success and the legitimate enrichment. It is a culture based on the history that has already been discussed, in this equality of opportunities that American society brings to so many and precisely for that reason, allowed it to found the “American dream” on the solid rock of “the land of opportunity.”

In this perspective, it is understood that the current troubling orientation of United States politics with the emergence of populist leaders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is directly linked to the weakening of the “American dream” and the emergence of a broad pessimism in various strata of the US population.

In any case, the historical contrast to what happened in Latin America could not be stronger and more instructive. In our countries, success and fortune are almost always placed under suspicion and it comes from a history of lacerating inequality, where opportunities have been denied to many and where fortune was often built on the basis of violence, with its exponent paradigm in the conquest of America, the connivance with political power, privilege, negotiated or abuse. All this hampers us and urges us to create a more just, and therefore more free, society.

Equal opportunities and State solidarity

Several times I have named the basic concept of equality of opportunity, but without defining it more specifically in our current context. It referred to the historical importance of access to land, but it is clear that today it is no longer about this. In my view, and without detailing each point, it is about these four aspects: education, healthcare, public safety and infrastructure.

It is around these four aspects that we must focus our corrective interventions on the spontaneous effects of the market, committing ourselves to all Chileans have access to those conditions without which the exercise of freedom and the realization of their potentialities become largely illusory.

This does not exclude other interventions, such as those to do with the situation of the greater population, but it centers the discussion on the topic of this essay: a more even distribution of opportunities and the conditions that make them possible.

That should be our great political commitment, but this does not mean at all that we propose a type of welfare state in the style of the current Chilean government, that is, where the State assumes not only the responsibility that no one lacks these resources, but also seeks to monopolize their financing and management. That is something we strongly reject.

Our conception of the welfare state must remain subsidiary to with respect to what civil society can undertake, which should be the focus of our attention. Our interventions must strengthen it, empowering citizens directly and not the State or the politicians. That is the option of solidarity with freedom or, as I have called it in another context, the solidarity State, which is diametrically opposed to State-patron of socialist ideology.

In conclusion, I propose a change in our vocabulary that serves to emphasize strongly the importance we give to the social or solidarity aspect of the market economy. Perhaps we could, instead of the word “social,” which is a little imprecise and overused, use the word “solidarity.” So, instead of a social market economy we could say solidarity market economy.

Mario Vargas Llosa: The Liberal Rebel / 14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas

The writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (EFE)
The writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (EFE)

14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, 17 April 2016 — On 28 March Mario Vargas Llosa turned 80 and wanted to celebrate with a brief reflection on his political thinking and, in particular, his form of being a liberal. For this I want to start from two great French thinkers who played a key role in his intellectual development: Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Sarte, who was a great cultural hero for the young Vargas Llosa, did not stand the test of time. His dialectical artifices were not, in the end, capable of justifying the unjustifiable, that is, the supposed distinction between “progressive oppression,” undertaken in the name of a future paradise on earth, and oppression, plain and simple. However, Sarte did survive in the idea of a writer committed to his time, who takes sides, who is not silent, who doesn’t look away. Nothing is more foreign to Mario Vargas Llosa than indifference to his world. continue reading

This attitude has been a touchstone in a life in which politics has never been absent. This does not mean confusing politics with literature, essentially different activities, which Vargas Llosa himself never tires of explaining: the writer, the artist in general, starts from the sovereignty of his imagination to forge “real unrealities,” fictions so convincing that we experience them, for a moment, as reality. Those who engage in politics, on the other hand, should take care not to fall into political-fiction and do great damage, starting always from the sovereignty of what is really possible.

I now turn to Albert Camus. I associate him with that rebellious streak that, in my opinion, makes Vargas Llosa who he has always been. Rebellious in the sense of Camus, that is, one who does not accept indignity, injustice, oppression. Who says no and stands up to tyrants of every kind. The rebel is not a revolutionary who dreams of earthly paradises or new men. No, the rebel acts for the men we are, that imperfect and limited being, like all of human society that we can construct. But it no case does he resign himself to what we are versus what we can and must be: dignified, respected, free.

Vargas Llosa’s rebellious streak has resulted in what has been his most constant struggle, his true existential predicament from childhood: his strong, visceral opposition to authoritarianism, tyranny, dictatorship. He himself has expressed it better than anyone on several occasions. As an example I took some of his words from a conversation with Enrique Krauze:

“If there is anything I hate, that disgusts me deeply, that outrages me, it is a dictatorship. It is not only a political conviction, a moral principal: it is a gut feeling, a visceral attitude, perhaps because I have suffered many dictatorships in my own country, perhaps because from early childhood I experienced first hand this authority that imposes itself with brutality.”

I think I do not exaggerate when I say that very little in the life of Mario Vargas Llosa would be comprehensible if we don’t consider this aspect. To write, as he reminds us in his memoir A Fish in the Water, was also an act of rebellion before “this authority that imposes itself with brutality,” a vital act of resistance facing, in this case, the violence of his father in demanding that dignity and freedom that we are owed and that we owe every human being.

Hence, an absolute repulsion toward all tyrants. From General Odría, the Peruvian dictator whose regime marked Vargas Llosa’s youth, to the dictators and caudillos of the left and right who have marked our time, be they Brezhnev or Pinochet, Castro or Batista, Chavez, Khomeini or Qaddafi.

This consideration allows us to address the very nature of Vargas Llosa’s liberal thought, what he has called “integral liberalism.” This is something absolutely fundamental, as it distinguishes and denounces the suicidal temptation of a certain “liberalism,” not uncommon in Latin American, to reduce that expansive tree that is freedom to economic issues.

This does not mean that Vargas Llosa devalues the fundamental importance of an economy based on freedom, one that has allowed, as it has recently been extended across almost the entire planet, a higher standard of living for human beings in a way never before seen. This is clear, and provokes the ire of those who believe that, at least with regards to the economy, freedom is not our best option. But this does not mean transforming this freedom into the only thing worth defending, or into a kind of superior freedom before which other freedoms must prostrate themselves.

Taking this position has led Vargas Llosa to define liberalism in a way that reminds us of the most original, Hispanic, sense of what it means to be liberal, that which Octavio Paz recalled in 1981 on receiving the Cervantes Prize: “The word liberal appears early in our literature. Not as an idea or a philosophy, but as a temple and an encouragement; more than ideology, it was a virtue.”

This virtue, this form of being liberal with which we identify ourselves, as Vargas Llosa said in a text where he reclaims the intellectual heritage of Ortega y Gasset, is “based on tolerance and respect, in a love for culture, a desire for coexistence with others, with the other, with others, and a firm defense of freedom as a supreme value.”