This is an answer to Rita's post. Since my computer doesn't seem able to open the comments' page only for this time I leave it here instead.
it seems to me that contemporary liberal-democratic societies have indeed rised the "equality of all men" to the level of undeniable, unresistable truism. Ideology at its purest. The doctrine of human rights, together with liberal obsession with "tollerance", maybe can show us this tendency in its most clear, crystalline form. I would be careful though. When we talk of human rights - as when Marx talks of modern, widespread notions of human equality I would claim - we really talk of a particular "cult of abstract man".
The religious world is but the reflex of the real world. And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labour to the standard of homogeneous human labour – for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, &c., is the most fitting form of religion.
Liberal notions of human equality and Christian cultus of abstract man are strictly related, intimately connected. Both have nothing to do with material equality – which it seems to me is what you are referring to saying “There is certainly a lack of equality or we wouldn't have the economic system we have today”. This disjunction between liberal “cultus of abstract man” and material (in)equality is today at the very heart of the ideological apparatus of liberal-democratic societies, but already at the time of Marx one could have noticed – and he certainly did - on the one hand increasing legal equality (abolition of slavery), on the other growing material inequality. As expressed brilliantly by Anatole France:
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (from The Red Lily, 1894)
By the way, many of the laws Anatole France refers to were first developed in England during the period of so-called primitive accumulation which seems only to reinforce the relationship between liberal abstract equality and the management of growing material inequality.
I don’t think Marx is here trying to say that he has the privilege to live in an age where people are considered as equals but that only in the space created by the disjunction between abstract equality (free labor) and material inequality (surplus labor) can philosophy come to grasp the “secret of the expression of value”.
Hope it makes sense.