Duan Zhongqiao on Historical Materialism and the Idea of Justice in Marx

Publisher:林建武Release time:2017-09-11Browse times:410


On the 13th of June, Professor Duan Zhongqiao from Renmin University presented a lecture on “Historical Materialism and the Idea of Justice in Marx”. Professor Duan argued that the identification of historical materialism must be based on the original texts of Marx and Engels. There are three key passages about historical materialism in German Ideology, Preface to The Critique of Political Economy and Capital. With these relevant texts, Professor Duan showed that historical materialism is a positive, scientific theory.


Concerning the question of justice, Professor Duan classified Marx’s arguments about justice into two categories: first, the historical materialist critique of the ideas of justice held by the bourgeois and petty bourgeois; second, his own idea of justice which was implicit in the condemnations of capitalist exploitation and the claim of “to each according to his work”. Marx’s condemnation of capitalist exploitation included both the positive and the normative dimensions. Such exploitation was unjust because the capitalist class grabbed the surplus products which belonged to the workers. In his critique of the idea of “to each according to his work”, Marx, though admitted that it was an improvement upon the exploitative relationship, nevertheless pointed out that it neglected the difference of the innate talents between people and the difference of family burdens between them. According to Professor Duan, this argument implied a new idea of distributive justice, which saw the inequality caused by contingent, unchosen factors as unjust. Therefore, Marx had two different conceptions of distributive justice, corresponding to capitalist exploitation and socialist theory respectively. There was no “transcendental” or “ultimate” theory of distributive justice of Marx beyond them.


Professor Duan also presented an alternative interpretation of Marxist theory. He argued that there was no relationship between Marx’s positive theory (historical materialism) and his normative theory (his idea of justice), and we should try to avoid confusing these two parts. After the lecture, Professor Duan communicated with the participants in relevant issues.