Knowledge is the key to immortality
Marxist View of Liberty
Prepared by Gouri Kalai - Assistant Professor - Political Science

B.A. 2nd Semester (MBBU)/Core Course(Honours)

Paper-III (CC-3)- POLITICAL THEORY: Concepts and Debates


Q. Critically analyse the Marxist View of Liberty.

Ans. Liberty and freedom are synonymous terms which are often used interchangeably. As a concept, it has been viewed variously by various political thinkers. Marx’s and Engel’s view of freedom particularly which is mainly drawn from the philosophies of Spinoza, Rousseau, Kant and Hegel is known as Marxist View of Liberty.

Basic features of Marxist concept of liberty:

1. Marxist view of liberty is different from other views of liberty. It rejects the liberal-individual view of liberty that separates individual from society. Marxists argue that freedom is not something that an individual enjoys in isolation or being alienated. Marxism does not accept the Utilitarian view that advocates the achievement of common good from a mechanical aggregation of the good of different individuals. Marxism analyses freedom from the socio-economic point of view. It believes that common good can be secured only by creating socio-economic conditions conducive to the enjoyment of freedom within society. According to Marxism, the key to freedom lies in establishing a rational system of production which will be based on the highest development of the forces of production and provide the means for satisfaction of everybody’s needs.

2. According to the Marxist View, capitalist system of production is not at all conducive to the conditions of human freedom. Marxists argue that capitalist mode of production is characterized by constraint or necessity. Necessity denotes the condition under which the life of man is governed by the laws of nature which exist independent of man’s will. A man can acquire scientific knowledge of those laws for his own benefit, but cannot change them at his will. This applies both to the laws of external nature and the laws of our own nature. As Engels in his Anti Duhring has elucidated, “Freedom therefore, consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity,; it is, therefore, necessarily a product of historical development. The first men who separated themselves from the animal kingdom were in all essentials as unfree as the animals themselves, but each step forward in the field of culture was a step towards freedom.”

3. Marxist view of freedom supports the concept of positive freedom. Marxism does not regard the absence of restraints as freedom. It accepts freedom as self determination and self realization. Freedom, according to Marxism, is living life to the fullest. Thus Marx’s understanding of liberty implies activity aimed at creating real conditions for the all round development of all members of society.

4. Marxism emphasizes a close association of liberty with equality. Marxists observe that in a society based on private property, there can neither be equality nor freedom. To them, freedom is linked up with the abolition of property and in creating a society based on social ownership of the means of production. In Marxist theory, freedom from exploitation is a pre-condition for freedom and freedom becomes meaningless if the majority of the population is exploited by a small minority of property owners. According to the Marxian concept, freedom of a few can’t be built on the unfreedom of many.

5. Freedom can only be achieved by revolutionary social activity based on the knowledge of objective laws of nature and society. Marxism considers knowledge of objective laws as the necessary conditions for freedom, and makes possible the mastery of man over nature and society. Marxist thinkers view that but this alone is not sufficient. They argue that without man’s revolutionary social activity, that knowledge is useless.

6. Freedom doesn’t possess a universal character in a class divided society. In the Marxist view, freedom means differently to different classes. For the property owners, it will mean freedom of private property whereas for the property less, freedom means freedom to serve in the oppressive and suppressive conditions. This freedom is fake freedom because working is exploited in the name of freedom in a class divided society while the capitalist class secures vast political freedom against the revolutionary struggles of the working class.

7. Freedom can be achieved in the communist society. To Marxists, Freedom means multi dimensional development of man and free society provides ample opportunities for this. Marxists argue that in the communist society, such freedom can be achieved since it is a class less society where everyone will be free from the exploitation. Marxist view believes that in such society alienation between man and his nature, society and its labour will come to an end.

8. Marxist view sees freedom as human emancipation. In a class divided society of the modern times, freedom of working class is emancipation from exploitation, starvation, poverty and social security. Freedom to working class further means the freedom to struggle and to organize revolution to establish a class less society.

Criticisms of Marxist View of Liberty:

Marxist View of Liberty has been criticized on the following grounds:

1. Marxist concept of ‘withering away of the state’ has underestimated the formal protectors of individual liberty. Critics are of the opinion that the Marxist idea that the achievement of liberty is possible by ‘withering away of the state’ has not yet materialized and has underestimated the important role of the state and its government, as the formal protectors of individual liberty.

2. Marxist View gives too much emphasis upon economic liberty and is less concerned about other types of liberty. According to the critics, Marxists give more emphasis upon economic liberty and almost ignores the social, political, legal and other types of liberty whereas along with economic liberty a human being also requires liberty or freedom in the social, political, cultural and other spheres of his life.

3. Enjoyment of liberty is personal: Marxism stresses upon the class-division of the society to understand the concept of individual liberty. Critics argue that Marxist View t view of liberty in the light of class system is illogical. Liberty can’t be class ridden rather it is personal. Individual liberty depends on one’s own choice and tastes whereas class does not imply something personal.

4. Freedom is not only for the two classes of the society. Marxism speaks of freedom of only two antagonistic classes in the society- propertied class and the poor class. Critics say that Marxist View neglects the freedom of other classes.

On the basis of the above analysis, it may be concluded that Marxist view of liberty is greatly influenced by the Marxist understanding of the society. It has, therefore, a close connection with Marxian ideas regarding capitalism, class system, state machinery etc. Marx and his followers didn’t propagate any new theory on the concept of liberty as such.

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