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New Left Review I/195, September-October 1992

Joseph McCarney

Marx and Justice Again

Norman Geras’s essay ‘The Controversy about Marx and Justice’ is an authoritative guide to recent debates in the area indicated by its title. [1] Norman Geras, ‘The Controversy About Marx and Justice’, nlr 150, March–April 1985, pp. 47–85. I am grateful to Norman Geras for some incisive comments on an earlier version of this article. Analytically rigorous and wholly assured in its use of both original and secondary sources, it is in its way a definitive achievement. No one will need to do this work again, and at most it will need updating in the sense of assigning fresh contributions to their place in the framework it has provided. In addition to mapping the scene, however, Geras advances a positive view of matters in dispute, and here some doubts and objections do arise. What he advances is a version of one of the most familiar themes in the literature, an alleged ‘paradox’ or ‘inconsistency’ in Marx’s attitude to normative questions, including the question of justice. Geras rejects all attempts to disprove or dilute the charge, and ends by reaffirming it in the strongest terms. What Marx presents us with is, he asserts, a ‘pervasive contradiction’, a ‘real and deep-seated inconsistency’, an ‘aboriginal self-contradiction and confusion’ which ‘Marxists should not any longer continue to propagate’. It consists in the fact that while ‘Marx’s impatience with the language of norms and values is global in range’ he yet ‘despite it, does plainly condemn capitalism—for its oppressions and unfreedoms and also. . .for its injustices’. [2] Ibid., p. 85.

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