Is there such a thing as inalienable universal human rights? Are they just a distraction of the capitalists from class struggle? These are questions I’ve been grappling with over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been trying to write an essay.
The most important human rights document is probably the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this recognises such things as rights to medical care, asylum, and so on, it also includes the right to own private property. Although I agree if this were to be limited to personal property, I don’t this should extend to the right to own the means of production – not only because of being a Marxist and arguing for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, but also because without the aforementioned measure you can’t provide the facilities to guarantee the initial rights.
I think it’s a damning indictment of capitalism that 60 years after declaring ‘so-called’ inalienable human rights it hasn’t put them in place – indeed it seems to be threatening them ever more and more. Human rights as capitalism has presented them are just a fig-leaf to the oppressed masses around the world. Indeed, the UN is effectively a toothless body when it tries to act to curb the interests of the major capitalist powers. For them human rights are fine so long as they don’t interfere with their interests, and if they do then human rights get thrown out of the picture.
So should the working classes support the idea of human rights, or is it just a capitalist sham? As Marxist have always noted; the most advantageous capitalist regime for workers in the bourgeois democratic state – this of course is opposed to fascist or military-police bonapartist dictatorships which restrict civil liberties and human rights. So we should for my mind be fairly supportive. In the works of Marx and Trotsky, the idea of universal morality (to which the idea of human rights is derived from) is rejected, as it cannot exist in a class ridden society. To paraphrase Lenin (from State and Revolution) it is only possible to talk of real universal rights when class divisions exist no more.
In conclusion, answering my own questions I don’t think human rights are a tool of capitalists, I think they are in general an aspiration of the oppressed everywhere to live a decent life. To that extent they are actually in contradiction to the capitalist system that cannot sustain such rights – just take a look at the advanced capitalist countries where in theory they should be most obtainable but they aren’t. Thus the establishment of inalienable human rights is something Marxists should be fighting for, however, we need a system that can provide the necessary infrastructure to guarantee them, a socialist world.