The achievement of formal political and legal equality has brought to light the impossibility of achieving substantive political and legal equality while social inequality exists. Thus today the task of achieving social equality stands before us as a real and legitimate task. But what does social equality entail?
“Equality” is an inherently abstract conception inasmuch as it implies the abstraction of some measure from two subjects which can be brought into quantitative comparison with one another. The notion of equality as equality of wealth therefore poses the measurement of a person by their property, and is therefore inherently dehumanising. Further, it implies a process of measurement and equalisation, a policeman so to speak to keep the queue in line. Critics of the redistributive notion of equality therefore have a good point. Even Amartya Sen’s improved notion of distributive equality still suffers from the same defect: who has the right to administer people’s lives so as to ensure “equality of capability"?
In its actual application, equality has always meant equality of “us,” as peers, entitled to an equal “voice.” Politically this is expressed in universal adult suffrage for example, or in granting equal voice to everyone in decision-making. The notion of equality is inextricably tied up with the domain over which equality is to be measured, and this domain is necessarily some actual social subject, some self-conscious system of activity which makes decisions about its own life and grants equality of voice to its individual constituents in some way.
Even the abstract equality of all people arises from the practice of exchanging the products of each other’s labour in a single market.
While nowadays there certainly exists a broad popular consciousness of equality expressing the equal moral worth of all people in the world, this remains still a very abstract conception precisely because this world market of six billion human beings still exists as only an ideal or potential unity, not as any actual decision-making subject.
Nevertheless, within any decision-making entity, the demand for equality of “voice” remains a powerful norm. It is generally not acceptable today to tolerate any circumstance which in some way limits or constrains the voice of one of the participants in a decision-making process.
The point is that rather than decrying the lack of (distributive) equality, we must actively use and promote notions of equality that both have traction in political arguments, and contribute to people gaining control over their own destiny.
Further, the demand for equality of participation in determining one’s own activity does not call upon a bureaucratic power to take on the role of Equaliser, but on the contrary encourages subjects to strive for self-determination in dialogue with others. It also challenges the remaining domains of legitimised status subordination in the modern world and challenges the power of those institutions which are overseeing the untenable and inhuman levels of distributive inequality we see today.
The above point being about the means to change the conditions of one's life in coordination with others, as opposed to appeals to some sort of reform purely of distribution.
Therein resides the moment of truth of Lenin’s acerbic retort to his Menshevik critics: the truly free choice is a choice in which I do not merely choose between two or more options WITHIN a pre-given set of coordinates, but I choose to change this set of coordinates itself ...
This is what Lenin’s obsessive tirades against “formal” freedom are about, therein resides their “rational kernel” which is worth saving today: when he emphasizes that there is no “pure” democracy, that we should always ask who does a freedom under consideration serve, which is its role in the class struggle, his point is precisely to maintain the possibility of the TRUE radical choice. This is what the distinction between “formal” and “actual” freedom ultimately amounts to: “formal” freedom is the freedom of choice WITHIN the coordinates of the existing power relations, while “actual” freedom designates the site of an intervention which undermines these very coordinates. In short, Lenin’s point is not to limit freedom of choice, but to maintain the fundamental Choice — when Lenin asks about the role of a freedom within the class struggle, what he is asking is precisely: “Does this freedom contribute to or constrain the fundamental revolutionary Choice?”
The point being that the very coordinates are what are left out of political consideration and naturalized ideologically.
It is, however, this very consequent egalitarianism which is simultaneously the limitations of the Jacobin politics. Recall Marx's fundamental insight about the "bourgeois" limitation of the logic of equality: the capitalist inequalities ("exploitations") are not the "unprincipled violations of the principle of equality," but are absolutely inherent to the logic of equality, they are the paradoxical result of its consequent realization. What we have in mind here is not only the old boring motif of how market exchange presupposes formally/legally equal subjects who meet and interact on the market; the crucial moment of Marx's critique of "bourgeois" socialists is that capitalist exploitation does not involve any kind of "unequal" exchange between the worker and the capitalist - this exchange is fully equal and "just," ideally (in principle), the worker gets paid the full value of the commodity he is selling (his labour force). Of course, radical bourgeois revolutionaries are aware of this limitation; however, the way they try to amend it is through a direct "terrorist" imposition of more and more de facto equality (equal salaries, equal health service...), which can only be imposed through new forms of formal inequality (different sorts of preferential treatments of the under-privileged). In short, the axiom of "equality" means either not enough (it remains the abstract form of actual inequality) or too much (enforce "terrorist" equality) - it is a formalist notion in a strict dialectical sense, i.e., its limitation is precisely that its form is not concrete enough, but a mere neutral container of some content that eludes this form.
The problem here is not terror as such - our task today is precisely to reinvent emancipatory terror. The problem lies elsewhere: the egalitarian political "extremism" or "excessive radicalism" should always be read as a phenomenon of ideologico-political displacement: as an index of its opposite, of a limitation, of a refusal effectively to "go to the end." What was the Jacobin's recourse to radical "terror" if not a kind of hysterical acting out bearing witness to their inability to disturb the very fundamentals of economic order (private property, etc.)? And does the same not go even for the so-called "excesses" of Political Correctness? Do they also not display the retreat from disturbing the effective (economic etc.) causes of racism and sexism? Perhaps, then, the time has come to render problematic the standard tropes, shared by practically all the "postmodern" Leftists, according to which political "totalitarianism" somehow results from the predominance of material production and technology over the intersubjective communication and/or symbolic practice, as if the root of the political terror resides in the fact that the "principle" of instrumental reason, of the technological exploitation of nature, is extended also to society, so that people are treated as raw stuff to be transformed into a New Man. What if it is the exact opposite which holds? What if political "terror" signals precisely that the sphere of (material) production is denied in its autonomy and subordinated to political logic? Is it not that all political "terror," from Jacobins to Maoist Cultural Revolution, presupposes the foreclosure of production proper, its reduction to the terrain of political battle? In other words, what it effectively amounts to is nothing less than the abandonment of Marx's key insight into how the political struggle is a spectacle which, in order to be deciphered, has to be referred to the sphere of economics ("if Marxism had any analytical value for political theory, was it not in the insistence that the problem of freedom was contained in the social relations implicitly declared 'unpolitical' - that is, naturalized - in liberal discourse"). 
-For Ethical Politics