This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, see our privacy statement

New Left Review I/195, September-October 1992

Norman Geras

Bringing Marx to Justice: An Addendum and Rejoinder

The question is here taken up—yet again—of whether Marx did or did not characterize capitalism as unjust and condemn it as such. What follows is in the nature of a postscript to the case I argued seven years ago in ‘The Controversy About Marx and Justice’, a critical survey of the debate on this question to that point. [1] ‘The Controversy About Marx and Justice’, nlr 150, March–April 1985, pp. 47–85. Reprinted as chapter 1 of my Literature of Revolution, London 1986; and in A. Callinicos, Marxist Theory, Oxford 1989, pp. 211–67. I cite this essay hereafter as cmj, with the nlr pagination. The discussion has since continued. To the bibliography of more than three dozen entries there appended, in testimony to how extensive the relevant literature already was, it is now possible to add some four-fifths as many items again. [2] Here are the additions. A few of these I overlooked in cmj (see pp. 48–9), but most of them have appeared since that essay was written. A. Carling, Social Division, London 1991, chapter 6, sections 3 and 4; G.A. Cohen, ‘Peter Mew on Justice and Capitalism’, Inquiry, 29, 1986, pp. 315–23; G.A. Cohen and K. Graham (symposium), ‘SelfOwnership, Communism and Equality’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 44, 1990, pp. 25–61; N. Geras, ‘Marxism and Moral Advocacy’, in D. McLellan and S. Sayers, eds., Socialism and Morality, London 1990, pp. 5–20 (reprinted as chapter 1 of my Discourses of Extremity, London 1990); A. Gilbert, ‘An Ambiguity in Marx’s and Engels’s Account of Justice and Equality’, American Political Science Review, 76, 1982, pp. 328–46 (which appears in a revised version as chapter 5 of A. Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, Cambridge 1990); C. Gould, Marx’s Social Ontology, Cambridge, Mass. 1978, chapter 5; K. Graham, Karl Marx: Our Contemporary, Hemel Hempstead 1992, chapter 4, section 4; A. Heller, ‘Marx, Justice, Freedom: The Libertarian Prophet’, Philosophica, 33, 1984, pp. 87–105; A. Heller, Beyond Justice, Oxford 1987, pp. 106–8; R.A. Kocis, ‘An Unresolved Tension in Marx’s Critique of Justice and Rights’, Political Studies, 34, 1986, pp. 406–22; W. Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community, and Culture, Oxford 1989, chapter 6; W. Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, Oxford 1990, chapter 5; A. Levine, ‘Toward a Marxian Theory of Justice’, Politics and Society, 11, 1982, pp. 343–62; J. McCarney, Social Theory and the Crisis of Marxism, London 1990, pp. 170–74; J. McCarney, ‘Marx and Justice Again’, nlr 195, September–October 1992, pp. 29–36; G. McCarthy, ‘Marx’s Social Ethics and Critique of Traditional Morality’, Studies in Soviet Thought, 29, 1985, pp. 177–99; G. McCarthy, Marx and the Ancients, Savage, Maryland 1990, chapter 6; P. Mew, ‘G.A. Cohen on Freedom, Justice, and Capitalism’, Inquiry, 29, 1986, pp. 305–13; K. Nielsen, ‘Marx, Engels and Lenin on Justice: The Critique of the Gotha Programme’, Studies in Soviet Thought, 32, 1986, pp. 23–63; K. Nielsen, ‘On the Poverty of Moral Philosophy: Running a Bit with the Tucker–Wood Thesis’, Studies in Soviet Thought, 33, 1987, pp. 147–64; K. Nielsen, ‘Arguing About Justice: Marxist Immoralism and Marxist Moralism’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 17, 1988, pp. 212–34; K. Nielsen, ‘Marx on Justice: The Tucker–Wood Thesis Revisited’, University of Toronto Law Journal, 38, 1988, pp. 28–63; R.G. Peffer, Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice, Princeton 1990; A. Ryan, ‘Justice, Exploitation and the End of Morality’, in J.D.G. Evans, ed., Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Problems, Cambridge 1987, pp. 117–34; S. Sayers, ‘Analytical Marxism and Morality’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 15, 1989, pp. 81–104; S. Sayers, ‘Marxism and Actually Existing Socialism’, in D. McLellan and S. Sayers, eds., Socialism and Morality, London 1990, pp. 42–64; G. Schedler, ‘Justice in Marx, Engels, and Lenin’, Studies in Soviet Thought, 18, 1978, pp. 223–33; P. Smart, Mill and Marx: Individual Liberty and the Roads to Freedom, Manchester 1991, chapter 6; K. Soper, ‘Marxism and Morality’, nlr 163, May–June 1987, pp. 101–113 (reprinted as chapter 5 of K. Soper, Troubled Pleasures, London 1990); R.C. Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, Cambridge 1961, pp. 11–27. My intention, however, is not to offer another general review of the material. It is to reaffirm the central claim made out at length in the earlier essay (and which has been cogently put, too, by Jerry Cohen and Jon Elster): in a nutshell, that Marx did condemn capitalism as unjust in the light of transhistorical norms, albeit inconsistently with his own emphatic disavowals. [3] See the Cohen and Elster references given at cmj, p. 70 n. 69.

Subscribe for just £36 and get free access to the archive
Please login on the left to read more or buy the article for £3


Norman Geras, ‘Bringing Marx to Justice: An Addendum and Rejoinder’, NLR I/195: £3

If you want to create a new NLR account please register here

’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’

Download a PDF file

See the contents of NLR I/195

Buy a copy of NLR I/195