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New Left Review I/59, January-February 1970

Galvano Della Volpe

The Marxist Critique of Rousseau

In State and Revolution, Lenin quotes and then comments on a passage in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme as follows: ‘“Equal right” [of everyone to an equal product of labour] we certainly do have here [i.e. in the first phase of communism]; but it is still a “bourgeois right”, which, like every right, presupposes inequality. Every right is an application of an equal measure to different people who in fact are not alike, are not equal to one another; [1] Cf. also the following very interesting passage from the Critique of the Gotha Programme: ‘Right by its very nature can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard in so far as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored’ Marx-Engels: (Selected Works, Moscow 1962, Vol. II, p. 24). that is why “equal right” is really a violation of equality and an injustice. In fact, every man, having performed as much social labour as another, receives an equal share of the social product. . . But people are not alike: one is strong, another is weak; one is married, another is not; one has more children, another has less, and so on. And the conclusion Marx draws is: “with an equal performance of labour, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal”.’

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Galvano Della Volpe, ‘The Marxist Critique of Rousseau’, NLR I/59: £3

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