There is a video circulating Facebook where a man wears a suit covered in 1$ bills and a sign that says, “Take only what you need for free”. The man casually strolls down the streets of a large city and has someone film the reactions from a distance. Interestingly enough the homeless man only takes 2 dollars while the rich businessman in a suit takes as much as he physically can. When asked, “Do you need this money, it doesn’t look like you need it?” he replies, “I don’t need it but it’s free!” Another rich woman with a designer brand purse takes a large amount of the money saying she “has a nail appointment tomorrow”. It is precisely this lack of empathy and consideration for others that we refer to when we say bourgeois right.
One could easily bask and say, “But oh this is clearly human nature!” but that would be wrong without a clear analysis of what makes it “human nature” in our bourgeois society. When the man approaches a homeless person he only takes two dollars, compared to the massive amount taken by the businessman and wealthy woman. This is central to the proletarian ideology, to take only what you need to get by so long as others are in need. It is rooted in what is common to the overwhelming majority of the population: empathy. Those who already live off the labor of others already seem to have no problem taking the money because it is ‘free’. While those who have nothing to sell but their labor seem to take only what they need. To live off the labor of another is a symbol of bourgeois right, and with that is the entitlement to what other people need to survive regardless of how it affects them. Money will not go away until this right, and more specifically the last traces of this right are abolished. It’s solely a matter of ideology.
Marx identifies the nature of bourgeois right quite well. It is no different than the right of the slave master or the feudal lord- the entitlement to the fruits of another’s labor. The entitlement to what another produces despite contributing absolutely nothing to society. In socialist society the whole of society undergoes a ‘proletarianzation’ of sorts and this ideology is smashed. First it is smashed by revolution and then by the evolutionary transformation of society as a whole. The nature of all social relations and production itself is self-interest. Communism does not abolish this, nor can it or any other economic system. It does however abolish the ideology largely responsible for perpetrating selfishness (which is different than self-interest). That ideology is the ideology that takes the form of bourgeois right in the present bourgeois society.
Marx himself recognized the need for the abolition of such an ideological and thus social framework of society at large saying, “In a higher phase of communist society, … — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” –Critique of the Gotha Program (1875). Indeed socialism itself, and the lower stages of communist society work to actively abolish this ‘right’ to what others produce without doing anything of any particular value themselves. This is not to say that some will not abuse this, they most certainly will. But it will not be ingrained into the ideological framework of socially acceptable behavior and thus not as fundamental of a problem as it is today.
To refer back to the video, bourgeois right and bourgeois ideology at large is certainly not independent to the bourgeoisie. It is something that affects all levels of society, it is less apparent among the proletariat but it is still there. It is the attitude reinforced by the ‘every man, woman and child for themselves’ ideology that is fundamental to bourgeois society. As the force that transformed society this bourgeois ideology seeps into not only economic and political life but into all aspects of life, even those seemingly independent from these things. It is no different than the abolition of feudalism, was there anything particularly special about the bourgeoisie? Any human trait they were born with that demanded they are entitled to the lion’s share of another’s labor? This ‘right’ and the belief in it is but a social phenomenon brought about by class antagonisms and by class society at large. Communism abolishes this ‘right’, which itself is not really different than the right to own a slave or be entitled to a fourth of the yield a serf produced on a given day of the week. It is a privilege and not a right, a privilege that makes life a living hell for well over half of the human population.
Self-interest is a fundamental character to socialism and communism as well, while the selfish entitlement to another’s labor is not. In this regard the interest of the self is extended to society at large by nature of the way the system is designed, first partially under socialism and then fully under communism. This is crucial to understanding. Under socialism work is still proportionate to capital received. In other words, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their work”. Under communism this is abolished. Why? Because this is still an injustice as it does not address human needs but mere labor power instead (to the exclusion of the disabled and those unable to work of course). A single mother of four under a socialist system makes the same as someone living as a dependent to someone else assuming they have the same job and do the same amount of work.
The single mother obviously needs more than the other person, but because they can take only what is proportionate to their work the mother suffers an injustice. This idea is foreign in a liberal society, but one day this will be a fundamental understanding of human rights and injustices faced by those of the past. It goes beyond bourgeois morality and liberal ‘rights’ (which are no doubt by and large fundamental to any good society). Thus communism is a society that embodies the philosophy, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”. Does this mean there is no reward for hard work? On the contrary! The reward for labor is no longer directly the means of subsidence (money) for the individual but rather it is the means of subsidence for society at large and thus indirectly that of the individual. What benefit does this have? The ability to take freely according to your needs and to live in a society that has become productive enough to do it! It is the benefit of living under a society where there is no state or capitalist to exploit or oppress the people. It is the freedom from the alienation of modern labor through the transformation of the means of production itself.
In essence it is freedom from work, i.e. from the compulsion to work to maintain individual existence (to eat, to drink, to have shelter, etc.). The individual is thus free to do as he or she wishes so long as it does not physically harm others. The compulsion to work is not directly that of individual survival but the survival of the communist system which guarantees the right to take from society according to your needs without worrying about poverty, hunger, homelessness or unemployment. It is indirectly the self interest of the individual and thereby (with the transformation of the means of production) the compulsion to work ceases to be an alienating feature of life. The abolition of the state means the abolition of all unnecessary regulation on the lives of the people. The abolition of capitalism and thereby the abolition of all classes (in the Marxian term) abolishes every injustice brought about by the capitalist system. The inevitable automation of labor will likely have taken significant root in such a society enough to drastically reduce the workweek even more. What you end up with is the utmost possible expansion of individual liberty. Imagine a world without money, without the state, without any restrictions on personal liberty so long as no one is hurt by it. This is the embodiment of true civil liberty as theorized by Rousseau, though in a much more potent form than it exists today.
Rousseau distinguishes between civil and anarchistic liberty in The Social Contract saying, “What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. If we are to avoid mistake in weighing one against the other, we must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will; and possession, which is merely the effect of force or the right of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a positive title. We might, over and above all this, add, to what man acquires in the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty” (Rousseau, 14-15). In this sense the state as a weapon of class rule ceases to be, and with it all unnecessary laws and vestiges of the necessary big government of class society. The only laws that continue to exist are laws that protect the individual liberty of each citizen and the well being of the planet and of society at large. The government that survives in a communist society (if there is one at all) will no doubt be as small and as decentralized as physically possible. It will likely be a government that acts only to enforce a universal framework of natural, civil and legal rights, whose force is derived directly from the people themselves and is instantly recallable at any time. Such a world is possible, but only through the abolition of capitalism, the establishment of communism and thereby the abolition of bourgeois right.
We are not advocating a Marxist-Leninist type of government such as that of the USSR or any of the other Stalinist states. We are not advocating for a one party system, an unlimited totalitarian government, or anything of the kind. We are advocating a new kind of society that has yet to be tried, and has never been attempted even in the most wretched form in an advanced capitalist country with the necessary prerequisites for both socialism and full democracy.
“Should America go communist as a result of the difficulties and problems that your capitalist social order is unable to solve, it will discover that communism, far from being an intolerable bureaucratic tyranny and individual regimentation, will be the means of greater individual liberty and shared abundance.” – Leon Trotsky