MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Liberalism is a word that means different things to different people, especially from country to country.

Having its origins in the assertion of bourgeois right against conservative forces, liberalism of all its different varieties is generally an ideology of the urban bourgeoisie. Very broadly, liberalism asserts individual autonomy against the intrusion of the community into that. The main source of ambiguity in liberalism is the divergence between “economic liberalism” and “civic liberalism”.

Economic liberalism”, sometimes called Neo-liberalism or “big-L Liberalism” advocates a laissez faire economic regime, i.e., the right of property-owners to exercise the power of money unhindered by regulations, redistributive taxes and so on. Economic liberalism therefore easily makes common cause with the traditional sources of conservative politics – the landed aristocracy and Christian fundamentalists. Neo-liberalism (“Economic rationalism” in Australia) favours reliance on market forces to resolve social problems, rather than methods of state regulation.

Civic liberalism” on the other hand, emphasises the importance of individual autonomy against determination by traditional norms, racial prejudice, entrenched power relations and economic disadvantage. Under the banner of “equality of opportunity”, civic liberalism can come close to forms of communitarianism in emphasising the responsibility of the community to secure the basic conditions of life of members of the community, or, under the banner of “freedom of the individual” on the other hand, to libertarianism, in emphasising the rights of individuals to make “life-style” choices free from interference by the community, provided they do no harm to others.

In the U.S., “liberal” has the specific connotation of seeking to promote the social good without challenging the right of the ruling class to rule. Thus, the American ‘liberal’ who wants higher wages and a better health service is quite distinct from the labour activist who aims for much the same things but whose conception is that this entails a fight against the ruling elite.



Radical, “life-style” liberalism, which promotes individual autonomy in the extreme, usually closer to anarchism than to economic liberalism, save that anarchism has greater focus on the community.




In Hegel’s system of Logic, Life is the first sub-division of the Idea. Life is included within the domain of Logic by Hegel, because “if absolute truth is the subject matter of logic, and truth as such is essentially in cognition, then cognition at least would have to be discussed”, and he goes on to say that whereas after expounding Logic, other writers branch off into psychology or anthropology, such is not the proper subject matter of Logic. Thus, for Hegel Life is a logical category.

Life is the first sub-division of the Idea and is the dialectic of the Living Individual and the Life Process, the synthesis of which is Genus [or Kind]. The negative of Life is Cognition; the unity of Cognition and Life is the Absolute Idea.

It is in the section in the Shorter Logic where Hegel says “A hand when hewn off from the body is a hand in name only, not in fact.” See also the section in the Science of Logic and The Living Individual & the Life Process, or the Personal & the Political.



The problem of the limit of things, beyond which they become something else, has long been a focus of dialectical thinking.

Hegel wrote: “The very fact that something is determined as a limitation implies that the limitation is already transcended” (in other words, relative knowledge of that thing). We say this in the same sense as when something is known only by what it is not, that its being is equal to its not-being. In the passage just referred to, Hegel goes further, to the effect that the mere consciousness that a limit exists creates the impulse to go beyond it; the poor person who has never seen wealth will be content, but once having become conscious of the limitation, the impulse to transcend it comes into being.

Limit is part of the dialectics of the finite and infinite; See Science of Logic.



A political position in the Russian Social Democratic party of removing, or liquidating, one side of the party membership in favour of the 'better' side.

Originating in the 1900s, this political position of some members in the Russian Social Democracy sprang from the Russian Revolution of 1905. Brutal police crackdown of revolutionaries had ensued, while, at the same time, reforms were achieved. This gave birth to liquidationism, on both the right and left side of the Social Democracy: one side believing in legal reform, the other side believing in illegal revolutionary activities, as the sole coarse of the working class. Lenin explained:

"The liquidators on the right say that no illegal R.S.D.L.P. is needed, that Social-Democratic activities should be centered exlusively or almost exclusively on legal opportunities. The liquidators on the left go to the other extreme: legal avenues of Party work do not exist for them, illegality at any price is their "be all and end all"."

Conference of the Extended Editorial Board of Proletary
(July 3, 1909) CW 15, p. 432-33

The majority of the Bolshevik section of the party believed that both aspects of party work, legal and illegal, reformist and revolutionary, were necessary for the Russian proletariat to achieve Socialism. Mensheviks commonly took the position of rightist liquidators (toward reform), while some Bolsheviks took to the revolutionary forms only.

Lenin, one of the chief enemies of liquidationism, stopped refering to it after 1915, when the term had past into history: the party had split definately into the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties. Lenin explained in 1915, that the remnants of the liquidators had become a national liberal labour party, supporting the World War, and represented a small section of petty-bourgeois and proletariat.

Nearly a decade later, use of the term was brought back from the grave, as a weapon in the struggle for control over the Bolshevik party, now leading the Soviet government. The term was used primarily by Stalin, who labeled the left and right of the Bolshevik party as liquidators. In a tragic irony, where liquidators had been those who tried to remove from the party their opposition, the center of the Bolshevik party had become the faction that liquidated opposition.

The term remained in some use through the life of the Soviet Union, immortalised by the Stalinist usage, as a reference to "traitors" within the party. After the 1930s, the party had become adherants to a set of concrete principles and "self-evident truths"; a party member's responsibility was first and foremost to those ideas fixed, to uphold them as certain truths, lest one take up the role of independent thought, now called liquidationism.