Political Versus Social Emancipation

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Apr 271990

History, specifically sociological history, flows with the sweeping currents and cycling eddies of a swift river. Karl Marx, in his essay entitled “On the Jewish Question,” like an intrepid and daring mariner charts and analyzes the flow of sociological history up to his era and then endeavors to cast a line to individuals drowning in the internal dissolution of the state. Marx puts the blame for this disunity upon the incomplete political emancipation established by the capitalist countries of the west. He goes on afterwards to present a viable alternative to the woes of the powerless, those he calls the proletariat.

Marx’s lifeline to the people finds its conception in what he refers to as “social, or human, emancipation.” Under this, the most extensive form of emancipation, the individual becomes a “species-being” whose concern for himself is expressed as a responsibility to the community of which he is an important, integral part. Each member of society shares a true equality in that forum in which it is most important to be equal: the social power sphere, the means of production. Further, because the government of a socially emancipated state is another sector in which each citizen has an equivalently loud and influential voice, it becomes evident that this socialist state, through the instillation of Marxist ideals, attains a greater progression up the scale of equality and unity and freedom than any mere political emancipation into a capitalist jungle.

What is, however, this concept of “political emancipation” according to Marx, and how does it differ so greatly and glow so less brightly than his human emancipation? For Marx, the politically emancipated state grants equality in government, an equal voice in matters of state for all citizens. This “free” state goes on, usually, to insure the protection of what are dubbed “human rights.” These protected rights invariably include, in brief, the liberty to do what one wishes with oneself and ones property—as long as the execution of ones desired ends does not conflict with another individuals liberties. To those who effect the political emancipation of their society, this structure seems enlightened and liberal. Wherein lies Marx’s problem, then?

It should be noted that Marx does see some progression for a society with its political emancipation. He, however, feels that this step is insufficient to alleviate the suffering of the working class, for it, in a practical sense, simply separates political and social power and then merely grants the equal sharing of only one of the two new divisions. Though political emancipation grants some degree of liberty and equality and power to the masses, it falls far short of the supreme progression of human emancipation. The liberty allowed gives the citizen only the freedom to “withdraw into himself;” the power it affords is solely the right of self-interest which leads men to see in other men, “not the realization, but rather the limitation of [their] own liberty.” (The Marx-Engels Reader, p.43 & p.42) Finally, because of the disunion of the society on an every day level, equality in the politically emancipated state carries but little political significance and only the equal right to liberty. This right to liberty, practically put, merely leaves “every man equally regarded as a self-sufficient monad.” (Ibid., p.42)

When the capitalistic freedom presented above is scrutinized and disected as Marx so did in his essay, the “enlightened state” no longer seems quite as glorious. Hope is found, however, in his plan for social freedom. It offers power and equality over and throughout the entire society by way of public control of all aspects of the society, governmental and social (the “means of production,” as Marx phrases it). All people have power over the government and industries through the unification that social emancipation generates. Furthermore, the equality granted is unparalled, for all social distinctions (religious, economic, racial, and so forth) necessarily will decay as the forces which propagate them (insignifigance, poverty, powerlessness, ignorance, competition) are removed by the revolutionary act of thorough emancipation. Though declared utopian by some, (as if that is a slur, or worse, as if such dreams are impossible) Marx’s ideas offer the best hope for the unification of a human society, be it in one country or one world. A global revolution seems a small price to pay for such a dream.