It is no secret that the capitalist economy is in trouble: crisis, unemployment, famine, destruction, ecological catastrophes, war, all that is what capitalism today has in store for humankind. The 21st century is firmly on the path already blazed by capitalism in the 20th century. We are in an unprecedented situation. Everything seems to be situated on the same level: massacres fill the daily news, and yet we often have the impression that there is nothing extraordinary about them. In the mental evolution of the past hundred years, there has been a profound crisis, a break: the Holocaust. Ye the systematic extermination of a population has since become commonplace.
Is humankind condemned to submit to this situation? Is humanity compelled to bear this agony without any perspective for its end? Is there an alternative to this capitalist system that has wrought these horrors? Is another kind of society possible? These are the questions to which we will attempt to respond. But are they the right questions? Do we not risk veering into utopianism, and wrangling in an abstract way about future conjunctures, all the while knowing that in such ideal projections, you cannot take all the factors into consideration? Would it not be better to ask why all the elements for communism are not yet assembled? What is it that today blocks and prevents the revolutionary development of communism? It is not so much a matter of demonstrating that the old world must be, and will be, destroyed, as it is of understanding the bases for that destruction.
We intend to raise several questions. In the first place, we will survey the present situation, the crisis of capitalism. What is to be done in the face of it; is there a possible alternative? Historically, a transformation is always possible. That is what history shows us. The very contradictions of capitalism constitute the material basis for such a transformation to occur.
Then we will try to understand the actual stakes of that transformation. But to do what? What exactly is it necessary to change? Ambiguities exist with respect to the perspectives for a revolution. The case of the Russian Revolution and its final outcome open the way for skepticism, neo-liberalism, and reformism. The necessity of a transformation means resituating the question of utopia as a function of man’s desire and his joy, all the while taking into account the factor of difference [altérité].
Finally, we need to raise the question of revolution itself, of a top to bottom transformation. How? The heart of such a transformation lies in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, as the outcome of the development of the social relations of production. The possibility of such a transformation poses the question of the action of the proletariat, where social being can express species being; the very negation of an exploited class.
1. CRISES AND CONTRADICTIONS OF CAPITALISM
There is the reality of capitalist exploitation and the contradictions that it engenders, not only vis á vis the development of the productive forces, but also in terms of the species being of man. To understand capitalism is not to write an esoteric treatise, it is to make a critique so as to grasp the actual process of the production of capital. The development of humanity takes place through a succession of social forms, of which the first is by far the longest, primitive communism, over a course of millions of years, then slave societies, giving way, in Europe, after thousands of years to feudalism, with capitalism in existence for only some hundreds of years. In vast zones of the planet, capitalism has only extended its domination in the course of the last century. However, capitalism has transformed the world more than all the social forms that have preceded it. Does that constitute progress?
Capital incarnates the development of the productive forces, the accumulation of social wealth under its purest and most abstract form. While earlier modes of production were based on the production of objects of utility, of use values, of which only a surplus was exchanged amongst producers, capital has brought about the penetration of exchange into the very process of production, labor power being exchanged against a wage, and has thereby made exchange value and its universal form, money, into the veritable goal of production, the absolute criterion of wealth, the new god on earth. In capitalism, human relations dissolve into value-relations, but while the capitalists acquire power and wealth, and make themselves the voluntary agents of capital, the wage-worker experiences this dissolution as a loss, an alienation from her own self, a form of enslavement. It’s a question of an historical process that has taken on different forms as a function of the same development of the relations of production. Man is no more than a slave to this new god, whose only utility, which determines his right to live and to eat, is to increase value, to produce a surplus-value by his labor. The secret of the prodigious social development brought about by capitalism lies in that extreme exploitation and alienation. The secret of surplus-value is the real Marxist discovery, inasmuch as it exposes the reality of exploitation. That operation, unlike profit, which is tangible, is invisible, inasmuch as the theft of labor power is not seen, embedded as it is in the exchange of commodities.
The reality of a world that is dying under the weight of its economic, ecological, and military, convulsions, has taken the place of prosperity for all, and demonstrates the logic of the quest for profit at any price. In that respect, the ripening of both objective and subjective conditions make possible a social upheaval. Materially, revolution imposes itself as an alternative to capitalism. In the final analysis, the most decisive contradiction of the capitalist social relation, the one that permits its transformation into a new society, is the contradiction between capital and labor, expressed by the struggle between the capitalist class and the proletariat. In its development, capital not only confronts its economic contradictions, but it also creates its own gravediggers and the very possibility of the society called upon to replace it. In the capitalist relation, living labor represents the negation of capital, its active, human, side. That’s why the proletariat is the only class able to confront the capitalist relation, to objectively comprehend it, and to embody a revolutionary perspective – practically and theoretically. But are we talking about an ineluctable process?
2.NECESSITY/DETERMINISM AND UTOPIA
How does the necessity for revolutionary change manifest itself? To grasp the perspective of communism, we often base ourselves on the evolution of capital, interpreting in a productivist fashion what Marx has said. And it is clear that the evolution of capitalism, the concentration of capital, the socialization of the means of production brought about within the framework of the capitalist system, constitute the objective bases for the possibility of a change to another type of society. But, how to build such a new world? A fundamental question, to which numerous, but not necessarily satisfactory answers, have been given: utopian, Marxist, anarchist, nihilist, religious; there is faith in God, in the party, in the nation, in the state. It’s apparent that the schema of the Russian Revolution is outmoded. Though, for some, doubts subsist, manifesting themselves in a nostalgia for Marxism-Leninism.
Historically, two visions have existed within the revolutionary movement. One is an evolutionist vision that sees the emergence of a new society on the basis of the premises of capitalist society itself. Here, the question of consciousness is not even posed; a strict determinism reigns, reducing the movement to communism to a simple kind of productivism, and interpreting Marxist theory as an explanation of the ineluctable laws of motion of society. The other vision is a voluntarist one, that insists on the conscious activity of the proletariat as the key to change – though different interpretations exist with respect to the level of consciousness required, the origins of that consciousness, and the way in which it is generated.
We want to look at these two visions in terms of our own understanding of Marxism. For us, Marxism is a political theory that explains the social and economic trajectory of society, one that interprets the relations that exist between the different components of society, and that insists on the importance of the action of social classes in the evolution of society. It is a theory that shows how man, as an historical subject, confronts his alienation, and realizes himself through action. The history of humankind, traced by Marxism, is the history of struggle between social classes.
For Marxism, communism is a movement that is the embodiment of a revolutionary transformation of exploitative society, inscribed in the general course of socio-economic transformations. Communism is, therefore, understood as a social emanation in the service of the individual, as a conscious and intentional phenomenon. It is a possibility arising on the bases of the development of the relations of production. This has nothing to do with any sort of determinism, and with the conceptual arsenal that claims to be the indispensable basis for a scientific pseudo-Marxism. Here, I am referring to the notion of "economic laws," "historical necessity," or to any sort of idealist voluntarism.
A. Determinism Contra Marxist Theory
Marx claimed that until the present time "material" conditions have been determinant, but he added that that would not always be the case. Moreover, that “determination” was global in nature, not some kind of mechanical causality. The material conditions of social life are determinant, among all sorts of other causes, and, overall, the division of society into different castes, orders, and classes. These material conditions of existence of society regulate – more or less indirectly – the diverse spheres of human activity and thought. Moreover, those same material conditions change historically; they are a function of a given socio-economic context. Their necessity, then, is historical, and not immutable.
This claim that social, political, and cultural, life is conditioned by necessities of an essential order was not new. Materialists had always made that claim, thinking above all of essential, individual, needs. Marx enlarged and relativized what was meant by "material" needs: they would be "socio-historical" needs, that varied from one class to another, and depending on the specific epoch. Marx, then, shifted the analysis onto the "social" plane. There exists a close, "necessary," link, an interdependence between social needs and social relations (division of labor, property relations, etc.). A certain set of social relations defines a "mode of production." For a given period, those social relations are dominant; they define the respective classes, while nevertheless being characterized by great historical and individual variability.
"Economic" necessity is, therefore, nothing other than one of general "social" interests and needs. The first, and most imperious, being "material," in particular when masses of men are at the limits of their possibilities for survival. This is not a question of an "external" necessity. It is, rather, on the contrary, a question of internal, essential, needs. And this necessity is not so much "mechanical" as it is vital: it is of the order of existence. This is what compels both exploited and oppressed classes, as well as ruling classes, to act. The latter, in order to stay in power, must assure the reproduction of the prevailing social relations (property relations, relations of exploitation, etc.) upon which that power rests. Here is the source of the class struggles that mark history, sometimes latent and muffled, sometimes bursting forth into crises and revolutions when the most threatened social groups have nothing left other than recourse to violence.
History is not left to chance, but it is also not regulated by a pre-determined and inflexible necessity. On the whole, Marx said, history follows a certain course, a general line of development, within which the consciousness and will of individuals has only played a modest role, at least until now. The fundamental, finally decisive, process is the development of the material and social forces of production. It occurs through stages, and through all sorts of detours and complications. The great historic epochs succeed one another according to an order that we can comprehend, because each one prepares the way for the next, albeit not intentionally.
B. Idealism And Utopia
Marx's idea is that what is good for man will be realized in a classless society, based on a high level of production. Marx was not so much concerned with defining the good for man, as he was in showing how happiness can be realized in society. What interested him was the concrete realization of the conditions within which man can attain happiness, rather than the abstract features of such a condition. Basically, he saw that happiness in the elimination of man’s enslavement to natural and economic forces, the overcoming of conditions in which, according to Kant, man is a means and not an end. But Marx went further than Kant. He showed how treating man as a means and not as an end was a function of economic conditions, conditions that compelled some to serve others as a means to increase their wealth, to assure their power and privileges.
Such a perspective, even one based on a materialist analysis, can only be transformed into an idealist vision once there is no economic basis to ground what might occur. Marx himself did not develop a very detailed vision of what the future human society could be. He left that to the utopians. Moreover, today, we must deal with the denaturation of the very concept of communism at the hands of Stalinism.
The Utopian Current
The utopians posed the question of the definition of man and his needs in an idealist fashion. Utopia is the product of nostalgia for a golden age, unreal and past, an expression of man’s desire for peace, happiness, and the joy of living in ease and comfort. In primitive communism, life in man’s original communities, it was all about survival, the promise of one’s daily bread. Then, a man alone was a dead man; only the group, bound together had any chance for survival. And that is still the case. But the old dream remains, in part because we don’t feel any more alive than our ancestors, or more certain of our future: distress [angoisse] is still our lot. And when we look at history, we see communities having a tendency to develop in periods of real tension or social upheavals, when the need to accomplish economic and political tasks makes themselves felt. At the dawn of human history, there were no scribes to transcribe the first dreams of humankind. The house replaced the cave; the community remained, but became more structured, more planned. Villages arose. Village communities have survived for long periods of time in the entire world: the German Mark only disappeared around the 15th century under the impact of a youthful capitalism. The Mir in Russia survived until the Russian Revolution, and the Mushaa in Palestine and Syria didn’t disappear until well into the 20th century. The ZadrugaI in Serbia and Albania shared everything, food and clothing.
But perhaps we need to go back to the Essenes, who lived a century before Christ, in alestine. The division of goods was especially striking: the Essenes shared their provisions, and had the rule of taking their meals in common, seated at the same table. Their clothes were also common, not personal, property. They also shared their abode. Pacifists, they made no weapons. We have here a political measure: the Essenes were the first to have really chosen to live in community. For them, it was not a matter of organizing their social life that way in order to survive, but rather of living according to their beliefs, which is a meaningful political decision, proper to humankind. This movement would inspire the first Christian communities. If primitive Christians resembled the Essenes, it is because they too wanted to share goods, work, and life. The Essenes, crushed, were exterminated. In Egypt, another Jewish sect established the community at Thebes. The Christians, victorious and proliferating, smashed their own communities under the weight of divergent interests. But all that would hardly affect the form of society in general, the social basis of which remained slavery. Communities with a shared life arose throughout the middle ages: Cathars and other millenarians. Then came the influence of Jan Hus at the beginning of the 15th century. Hutterite communities, which still exist in North America, the Anabaptists, with Thomas Münzer: no private income; consumption of goods, food and clothing, is completely collectivized; children are raised in common.
But, we must await Fourier to discover a coherent theory of such a community. Fourier’s impact was acknowledged by Marx, who saw in the system of phalanx’s "the rough draft for socialism." Fourier believed that he had provided humanity with "the key to happiness." The state, thought Fourier, is incapable of assuring the happiness of humankind; it must take control of its own destiny. What makes Fourier less annoying than most other utopians, is that – besides being very poetic – his system integrates the need for conflicts and takes into account the phenomenon of desire. The utopians all imagined ideal cities, in which their utopias confronted the issues of modern urban life. Thus, Fourier, with his phalanx’s, anticipates Le Corbusier. Cabet described his ideal city in his Voyage to Icaria, where he foresaw traffic moving on the right, security for pedestrians thanks to street-gardens protected from vehicular traffic, and the development of forms of transportation in common. In 1825, inspired by Fourier, Robert Owen bought a large tract of land in Indiana, and founded the first communist colony. Others would follow. Owen imagined a community living in harmony and cooperation, and sought to reorganize society through the creation of small associations possessing the land, and living, in common. Within the workers’ movement, it is the anarchist-communists who have virtually alone concretely posed the problem of social life without the state.
The Commune is a universal dream, the dream of those who are dying of hunger, believing in abundance, of those dying alone, believing in fraternity. It is always a future oriented life. Nonetheless, utopia, as such, is effectively outside of history, a product of the imagination and of evasion. Marx stopped posing the question of the ideal society to be realized, and instead asked: what possibilities does society have within it? The Marxist method abandoned the ethical question, which is about good and evil, and instead had as its premise the fact that capitalism contains within itself the possibility of another society – that will be the starting point for a new problematic, and that will have to be grasped theoretically. By contrast, the Marxist philosopher, Ernst Bloch, in The Principle of Hope, articulated the opposite idea: the ideal is the utopia that becomes real, and he opposed the idea that many utopians themselves had, in which utopia is the attraction of a past, golden age. For Bloch, utopias were visions of a communist future in gestation. For him, Christianity had been revolutionary, only to later be deformed. Whether one agrees or not, these ideas are interesting and merit discussion.
3. THE REVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE
We must now think about the possibility of revolution, taking into account the necessity for it. For us, the materialist conception of history is focused on the material conditions for the action and transformational activity of man, making possible his liberation from class subjection. As such, it cannot be linked to any kind of determinism, or to any sort of utopia. It’s about the freedom to act, and not a deterministic necessity; about freedom as self-affirmation and self-realization, as liberation from the constraints of class. That entails the free development of the individual, and not her absorption into an indeterminate mass.
History has demonstrated that there is always change. Capitalism does not escape that logic: change is necessary. But the passage to another society entails a political revolution. It is also apparent that all attempts at reforms, of "humanitarian" transformations of the system of capitalist exploitation, are doomed to fail. The logic of capitalism is implacable, and the needs of accumulation and capitalization leave no room for feelings of compassion. The alternative "socialism or barbarism" might have seemed to be an abstract formula during the years when illusions were still possible, but today, the cruelty of its truth is demonstrated on a daily basis, in the lives of each of us. If in 1848, communism was a hope, in 1917, the action of the proletariat made that revolution possible, and showed that if society is to change, it is human beings who are the motor of that change – as a function of the material and historical possibilities. In this article, we hope to correctly pose the question of this change as a function of the reality of the contradictions of capitalism. The general crisis of capitalism, to which we have pointed, indicates that the capitalist social order has had its day, and that a new social order is necessary and possible.
The necessity for a new social order seems clear. Marxism is not a neutral, antiseptic, theory. Its point of view is that of one of the components of class society: the proletariat. That’s why we must speak of praxis. On the bases of that praxis, Marxist theory can demonstrate the "limits" to the development of the present economic system, even as its transformation can only result from a political act, and not a mere theoretical perspective.
Marxist theory includes the global trajectory of humankind, from an historical point of view, and situates it in a framework linked to the development of the productive forces, which can permit humankind to free itself, to overcome its alienation [se désaliéner] resulting from its original dependence on nature. It focuses on the diverse ways in which the relationship to nature, and class relations, can manifest themselves. It’s not a question, however, of describing the future society, despite the existence of a series of reformist, humanist, and utopian efforts to do so.
The Difficulty of Describing the Future Society
It is in his Anti-Dühring that Engels provides us with a theory of the evolution of society towards communism. He recalls that the first stage of common property was then negated by private property; the transformation of common property into its opposite, private property. But in its turn, private property would become a fetter on production, and transform itself into its opposite, common property, a return to the original state, but at a higher level. Private property, itself a negation, bears within it its own negation. This process illustrates the third of the dialectical laws, the negation of the negation. Such a formula does not mean the pure and simple annulment of one condition, but rather, the realization, through struggle, of a higher stage of evolution; the outcome of a new synthesis, from which will be born new contradictions, in their turn the source of a new evolution. Marx said little about what might happen after the contradictions had been resolved, the resolution of the contradiction, constituting – for him – the beginning of human history. It is apparent that a clear picture of this future history still eludes us, at least with the conceptual tools that we now possess. We cannot leap over our own time in order to imagine a utopian world.
What does the Vision of Man Entail?
What Marx sought was the liberation of man from his enslavement to exchange value. For Marx, it is only when real, individual, man will be able to fashion himself as a subject, a subject determining the meaning of his own actions, that emancipation will have been accomplished. I define species being as what constitutes the essence of man, which is expressed by the pursuit of understanding, and social being as the aspect of man constructed by the socio-economic framework into which he is plunged. These two "moments" exist in a state of tension. The existence of a "human nature," of certain innate tendencies, is a constant that persists in social being, however stifled, however perverted, by the socio-economic framework.
Historically, each civilization inscribes itself in time and space through the elaboration of a determinate culture. It is indispensable that the task of transmitting those cultural values be carried out by the time that an individual becomes an adult, as a function of a determinate mode of social being, so that the society’s survival can be assured, and each individual can find his or her place in collective and social life.
That transmission of cultural values varies historically. Transmission entails a dialectical movement making it possible to link the heritage of the past to the necessity for change in the present, so as to be able to prepare the future through a qualitative leap. In pre-capitalist societies, the steps to becoming an adult were rigidly codified, as a function of a social being that was perfectly integrated, and could often be assured by a simple initiation ritual that assured social stability. Artistic expression made it possible to regulate the inscription of an existential quest in which the claims of species being manifested themselves, and might disturb what had seemed to be an integrated social being.
We must not forget that, for Marx, if men find themselves inscribed in social relations that they have not consciously willed, they have nonetheless produced their own forms of social existence. They seek a goal, and they may reach it, but they also might create something else, social relations that they did not set out to create! Contrary to the productivist vision, Marx showed that in separating man from his own nature, from his own active life, from his vital activity, alienated labor made the human species alien to itself. Such an outcome does not occur in a mechanical way. Marx pointed to the, obstacles to, the fetters on, the harmonious development of the twin aspects that constitute the self: the individual and the communal; in short, he pointed to humankind’s alienation. Thus, for Marx, alienation separates the worker from nature, and from his own body, by taking from him that non-organic "body" that constitutes the object of his production, and of the labor process. The goods produced by the worker escape his control, and in the form of commodities, they take on a life of their own, thereby permitting the circulation and valorization of capital. However, with the development of the productive forces, labor tends to become specialized, what Marx termed the division of labor creating another form of alienation, by narrowing the scope of human potentiality. The tool, then, supplants the body; indeed, the body is transformed into just another tool of production, thereby losing any possibility of autonomous expression.
What We Seek
What Marx sought was the emancipation of humankind, synonymous with a true re-appropriation of all the human feelings and powers, which would only be possible through the abolition of private property. For Marx, then, the source of social life lay in the human body, in work. It will be through self-transformation that the faculties of species being will be unveiled. Then humankind will achieve consciousness, with neither physical obligation nor constraint. Thus, for Marx, the more man develops his personality, the more he can become aware of what links him to other human beings, thereby posing the necessity for communal life. We need to investigate this vision of the free, human, subject, as Marx saw her, of how she will fashion herself, as an expression of her potentialities. The third of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts tells us that: "Activity and consumption, both in their content and in their mode of existence, are social activity and social consumption."(Karl Marx, Early Writings (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), p.349). Marx deals with the issue of consumption because he places sociality at the core of anthropological existence. He distinguishes property as "exclusive, immediate, consumption," in the sense of "having," from another kind of consumption: that by which "Man appropriates his integral essence in an integral way, as a total man,"(Ibid., p.351), that is to say, with all the organs of his own individuality. This is really liberation for that other mode of consumption, based on the abolition of private property, that is, the total emancipation of all human feelings and qualities. By contrast, private property is criticized as what makes "us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital, or when we directly possess, eat, drink, wear, inhabit it, etc., in short, when we use it."(Ibid.) We can therefore assume that in non-private consumption, the object itself is not valued solely for its "utility," but for its potential for ontic development.
Private property is "ownership," that of having, while what Marx sought is "consumption," that of the being that would be born with communism. We, therefore, need to think about a human consumption in which the very senses – the organs of consumption -- stand in sharp contrast to what exists in a society of restricted consumption, of private property. We can then see that surplus-value and primitive accumulation constitute the triumph of having, which has usurped the role of real consumption, replacing it with its narrowest form. The emancipation of man is, more fundamentally, for Marx, the emancipation of consumption from its fixation on objects. It’s a matter of freeing generalized, social, consumption from the restricted consumption of capital.
The Possible Passage Towards Communism
With the division of labor in the framework of class societies, a divorce is established between the individual and the universal; the fragmentation that results hems in man, and prevents him from giving expression to all the potentialities of his species being. Apropos of communism, in The German Ideology, Marx asserts that no one will be hemmed in by a restricted circle of activities, that each person will be able to shape him or herself in any branches of activity of their own choosing. The prospect of the transformation of work into a different kind of activity is possessed by the worker in capitalist society only outside of the work for which he is paid a wage, with its objects of which she has been dispossessed, and from which he is alienated; outside of the world of commodities, of the means of production, of the value that belongs to the capitalist; the world in which capital has become the effective reality. Work must be seen as a simple possibility that depends on the contingency of the effective reality of capital, controlled by the owners of capital.
The forms assumed by capital, labor, and their antagonism, have profoundly changed over the course of time. The class struggle that arises in response to the crisis of capital has greater difficulty in exploding onto the historical scene than it did in the past, even as it is – at the same time – compelled to attack the prevailing social order in a more thoroughgoing way, and is thereby the bearer of a greater potential. That permitted Marx to theorize the possibilities contained in the labor of the worker, from the historical moment when capital became autonomous. We are, then, in the presence of a dynamic vision, which is open-ended.
The strike action of the proletariat, provided it is generalized, can stop the process of accumulation and valorization of capital. The struggle of the proletariat can also show us how communism can develop. Marx said that revolution would breakout from the proletariat, because it experiences inhumanity. By that act of negation, the species being of humankind can manifest itself: the refusal of alienated labor, leading to creative activity. What’s at stake is a dialectical movement through which the worker asserts him or herself as a non-alienated person, which manifests itself through solidarity. Here, we can, therefore, foresee a definition of communism.
In The German Ideology, Marx summarized the problem of humankind's survival: at the very outset, humans found conditions favorable for their development; in producing their means of existence, they transformed nature, and thereby transformed themselves. The definition of the species being of humankind entails rejecting any utilitarianism in favor of a vision of self-realization, satisfaction of the self, an aesthetic vision of humankind, one permitting the development and flourishing of its personality. Another question, however, needs to be posed: how are the more morbid or destructive drives and capabilities to be controlled? Marx does not ignore this issue. For him, the species question is naturally productive, not in the economic sense of the term, but specifically as a function of the transformation of the self and the world. In that respect, the concept of species being is not idealist, but takes into account both historical and social evolution. Even before Freud, Marx showed us how through the expansion of his creative endowments, which assume nothing other than the development of all the human faculties as such, without measuring them according to a given standard, man can reproduce himself, not in a genetically or socially determined way, but in his species totality. Man does not seek to remain a pre-given entity, but rather seeks to discover himself in the absolute movement of his becoming, thereby positioning himself historically.
Today, it is clear that communism does not mean the expropriation of private capitalists with the goal of a generalized statification of production, distribution, and exchange of commodities. Statification does not signify socialization!
The Marxist philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, distinguished between growth and development: "The quantitative growth of production can go hand in hand with a qualitative stagnation of social praxis and social relations." (Autogestion, No. 1, December, 1966.) What is revolutionary power in action? For Herbert Marcuse, who believed in the collapse of the capitalist system, capitalist society would not perish because of its internal contradictions or through the action of the modern working class; it would, instead, be struck dead from the outside by the mass of those who could not enter the system, who were its rejects. But exactly who are those without hope, about whom Walter Benjamin said, "it is to those without hope, that hope is given"? It seems to me, that those truly without hope are not those who have not yet entered the "consumer society," but those who have been saturated by it. It is the very experience of that society, which will make it possible to put the consumer society in question.
The Perspective for Struggle
Humankind never remains indifferent. Despite alienation, reification, the weight of ideology, humankind has always sought to affirm its species being. Primitive man, in his original state, the slave, the serf, and then capital's creations, man as a machine, then cybernetic man, each has posed the question of a history of humankind as a function of the quest for another kind of society. The slave revolts, the revolts of the Roman plebes, of the artisans of the middle ages, to the revolts of workers against capitalism, express the desire, however unconscious, to fashion themselves as a subject, to smash reification, to embrace and instantiate their species being.
The halt of production, besides the devalorization of capital, permits the worker to reposition herself, and to again become, by his non-production, a potential producer of a new harmony, de-alienated with respect to any possible valorization of a commodity. It is in that way, that humankind can re-appropriate the world, that it can regain the full use of all its bodily powers; a movement of solidarity and expressiveness that is – unfortunately – all too often recuperated by the leftists in their mobilizations.
Marx showed the possibility about which we have been speaking, when he said that workers appropriate a new need, a social need, human fraternity, from the moment that they decide to no longer produce for the accumulation of capital. This is opposed to any metaphysical position asking humankind to explain its actions before a higher entity: God, the State, or the Party. It is also opposed to any instrumental reason claiming that humankind exists to serve pre-determined social objectives: the social good realized by the State or Party.
All of which brings us back to the question of the crisis and the conditions for the renewal of the class struggle, all the more difficult as the counter-revolution has been, and remains, the longest in history, and encompasses several generations. The real domination of capital has changed the situation, not of exploitation, but the precise conditions through which this occurs. This situation of contemporary capitalist exploitation has thrown up new obstacles to the possible expression of humankind’s species being. However, the centralization of capital brought about by the accumulation process, the forms of socialization imposed by capital on virtually the whole of the planet, have also created the general conditions for the social action that could make possible the expression of that very species being. Globalization also participates in that process, thereby creating the possibility of the appearance of a new consciousness on a planetary scale. We are seeing a growing proletarianization that is provoking a profound dissatisfaction, linked to an ever-growing frustration of old habits of life and of taste. The way in which goods are consumed today, the pseudo-relations between individuals, reinforces the dissatisfaction, which is becoming generalized. It is less a question of showing that the old world must be, and will be, destroyed, than of understanding the modalities of that destruction; how it will unfold.
The positivist vision of communism as the direct result of the development of the productive forces is false. The penetration of the law of value into the whole of social existence increases inhumanity, but perhaps it is through this very process that humankind can discover its own humanity. The idea of man as anti-nature, as totally external to nature, is surely an aberration. The nature of man is biologically given (we are primates), even as the activity of man modifies, both in himself and outside himself, the pure natural "givens."
Is There an End?
For the moment, humankind is driven by its needs, which have led it to create capital, from the domination of which it has not yet succeeded in freeing itself. Marxism tells us "man produces to be able to free himself from scarcity." Once scarcity has been overcome, what will humankind want? Even a generalized strike will not, in an automatic way, resolve the problem we have posed. If, in the 19th century, the factory was a meeting place for workers, if, at that time, a strike could be a real proving ground for the class struggle, and made it possible for the worker to identify himself by virtue of having a class consciousness, the situation is different today. It is those differences that necessitate a renaissance of Marxism, a diligent pursuit of our theoretical tasks, now.
|Home||Issues of IP||Texts||Discussion||IP's French site||Links|