Re: [OPE-L] status equality

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Sat Feb 12 2005 - 13:26:55 EST

Hi Rakesh

Not quite sure of the point you are making, so apologies in advance if
I have misread.

>Jerry, perhaps first you (and hopefully others) can provide an
>interpretation of Engels here:
>...the equality and equal status of all human labour, because and in
>so far as it is human labour, found its unconscious but clearest
>expression in the law of value of modern bourgeois political economy,
>according to which the value of a commodity is measured by the
>socially necessary labour embodied in it.

Engels and Marx wrote before the emergence of postmodernism and
related relativisms. For them, the existence of an objective world
independent of our ideas of it, was not a problem. The equality of the
causal powers of people was, for them, a natural fact. That's why
bourgeois market relations, with the legal ideal of equal commodity
owners, represented progress over feudal relations. The new social
organization better reflected the objective reality (just like a new
scientific theory can be considered better than another).

I got a feeling that your comparison between Christianity and Hinduism
could be read as relativizing the concept of "abstract labour", which
I take to ultimately refer to the causal powers of human agency, and
includes things like having an opposeable thumb, the ability to use
language and symbolic models, the ability to learn, and so on. All
humans share these causal powers, and are therefore objectively equal.
The fact that such simple and obvious statements such as the latter
are often contested by relativists is an unfortunate sign of the
times, even when there is overwhelming scientific evidence for it, and
despite there being many failed attempts to demonstrate otherwise
(e.g., 19th century racial theories).

Whether this natural fact is reflected in our economic or social
organization is a secondary matter: it most often isn't. Generalized
commodity exchange, at least in the abstract, does better reflect our
objective equality. This is one of the reasons why Marx and Engels I
guess thought that the transition from feudal economic relations to
capitalist economic relations was progressive: the new relations
better reflected a fundamental aspect of reality, that is the equality
of people. Hierarchy and caste is irrational because it systematically
prevents (good) real possibilities (e.g., meritocratic transitions in
social status, freer choices of individuals to specialise within the
division of labour and so on) for no (good) reason.

So from this point of view, Christianity is a more progressive
religion than Hinduism, just as it could be argued that Sikhism is
more progressive than both. I don't really want to argue for any
particular ordering, because these ideologies do not interest me and I
have not studied them, but I am saying that sets of ideas better
reflect reality or not, including religious ones.

>Marx's point was not that struggle over group status simply
>disappeared in bourgeois society but that any apologia of
>group-based status hierarchy becomes normatively suspect insofar >as
it runs counter to said bourgeois ideology that every man is an
>embodiment of humanity at large and thus equal to every other man
>and free.

But if we drop the "and free" consequence from the latter, then it is
not bourgeois ideology, but a scientific fact partially recognized by
bourgeois ideology. The founding principles of the USA were very
progressive in this respect. Caste-based societies are irrational and
unnecessary and should be abolished, just like we should abolish
terrible diseases such as aids, TB, and so forth, or unnecessary
poverty etc.

I am thinking that you probably agree with most of this.


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