Book Review: Domenico Losurdo -Nietzsche, the Aristocratic Rebel: Intellectual Biography and Critical Balance-Sheet. Reviewed By: Rory JeffsRead Now
What is most remarkable about Nietzsche’s post-war ascendancy in the philosophico-cultural field is that it emerges out of a prior history of his philosophy’s use in legitimating the Nazi and fascist regimes of Europe in the 1930s. Unlike Heidegger, whose Nazism has certainly impacted his readership, Nietzsche’s reputation was able to attain an efficacious divorce from his Nazi appropriation. This was due in part to Walter Kaufman’s ‘rehabilitation’ of Nietzsche for Anglo-American readership after World War II, with his updated English translations and commentaries that cited Nietzsche’s correspondences that contained critical attitudes to anti-Semitism. It has now become nearly almost commonplace that Nietzsche is innocent not only of any association with Nazism, but that any view of him as conservative, reactionary or proto-fascist, because those interpretations were always based on a selectively biased or distorted reading of his work. This legacy is an effect of what Domenico Losurdo calls the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ – not simply propagated by theorists and commentators, but also editors and translators of the complete works and Nachlass. Losurdo’s epic historiography of Nietzsche’s philosophy extensively exposes the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ for failing to attend to the historical-social origins and wider context of Nietzsche’s thought. For this reason, Losurdo’s book is long overdue in the English scholarship where ‘innocent’ or trusting readings of Nietzsche have arguably prevailed and become ‘canonical’ (734), and where there is a need for a more ‘critical balance sheet’, especially amidst the rise of the far-right in recent decades that continue to feed on Nietzsche’s work.
What emerges from Losurdo’s reconstruction effort of ‘unifying’ Nietzsche’s thought in its various stages (e.g. ‘Young Nietzsche’, ‘Solitary Rebel’, ‘Enlightener’, ‘Mature Nietzsche’) is a core central argument that there exists from beginning to end in Nietzsche’s prolific output, a politics of ‘aristocratic radicalism’. That is, the seeds of a political ‘movement’ or ‘programme’ to counter ‘two millennia of history’ that has led to a crisis of civilisation in the West (862). The importance of this term ‘aristocratic radicalism’ – a term Nietzsche himself accepted as a legitimate description of his philosophy by friend Georg Brandes (355) – is that it helps Losurdo bridge Nietzsche’s wide-sweeping radical critique of metaphysics and modernity with a specific political project that animates or motivates it. Whereas the ‘aristocratic’ aspect of Nietzsche’s thinking has been noted before, it has often been so from an ‘apolitical’ or anarchistic context from Nietzsche’s assumed descriptive or amoralistic ‘genealogy’. In one sense, Losurdo recognises that Nietzsche is psychologically penetrating in his critique of bourgeois (liberal) society on the basis of a ‘tragic disposition’ and ‘crisis of culture’. And furthermore, that his critique of revolution – which Losurdo analyses in terms of Nietzsche ‘four stages’ – exposes a metaphysical faith in historical progress or objectivity. However, understood under the thread of aristocratic radicalism, Losurdo argues Nietzsche’s form of critique is a ‘metacritique’ that offers no progressive possibilities with modern civilisation. Whilst metacritique adopts and even mimics the ‘nonconformist flag’ of socialism, it does so for the sake of a ‘singular revolution’: the use of genealogical destruction of democratic-slave ideology underpinning modernity and revolution as a ‘precondition for aristocratic social engineering’ (355-56, 979). And it is on this point where Losurdo disturbs the assumed ‘postmodern’ narrative that Nietzsche’s genealogical method was the critique or deconstruction of power itself.
It is not until Part Three of the book that Losurdo elaborates in detail on how aristocratic radicalism equates to a praxis or political programme of ‘social engineering’. The first thing to note about Losurdo use of a ‘wide-context’ method for a reconstruction of Nietzsche’s thinking is that it subtly shows how Nietzsche formulated reactionary ideas without being under the influence of the German nationalism characterised by Bismarck’s term as Chancellor of the Second Reich (‘Germomania’, ‘national liberalism’) and its extension in anti-Semitism (Wagner-Förster-Dühring). For in comparison to these trends, Nietzsche self-consciously distances himself from historical influences, presenting himself as ‘European soul’ and ‘untimely’ or politically ineffectual figure watching events from above with the ‘pathos of distance’ (a la his protagonist Zarathustra). However, to glean from this distance that Nietzsche was a deeply ‘antipolitical’ philosopher because there was no timely political project fit for his vision, is for Losurdo simply perpetuating Nietzsche’s self-mythmaking. The nuances of Nietzsche’s political project for Losurdo can be identified by way of a closer study of how Nietzsche re-theorises a set of reactionary tropes in a radical modern mode rather than in terms of classic conservative counter-revolutionary mode of a ‘return’ to the past. The central tenets consistently crossing over Nietzsche’s stages that outline such a program concern the real meaning of the last stage of his planned but unfinished project of ‘the revaluation of all values’, which Losurdo reconfigures in terms of Nietzsche’s ‘alternative’ revolution (alluded to in The Gay Science) of aristocratic radicalism that becomes defined by the call for a ‘new slavery’, ‘new nobility’ and a ‘new party of life’ (352-57).
In terms of a new slavery, Losurdo compares Nietzsche’s thinking on the topic of slavery via the views of other groups, such as the Junker class in Germany, the American slave-owners and the Czarist monarchy in Russia. Core to all of them was their support of the institution of slavery and aristocratic values of otium et bellum (672-91) – which Losurdo underlines as a ‘watchword’ throughout Nietzsche’s writings. As Losurdo recounts, Nietzsche had formed in his early writings (e.g. ‘The Greek State ’), a view that ‘slavery was the essence of culture’ (678). This view becomes the basis for Nietzsche’s later use of otium et bellum, where war is represented as an aristocratic ‘virtue’ and leisure is characterised by activities exclusive to the aristocracy that also are the source of higher culture (art, music, literature). What the phrase consciously excludes, as Losurdo notes, is labour as the source of virtue or culture – yet paradoxically, Nietzsche acknowledges that otium et bellum will always depend upon the institution of exploited labour of slave-classes in freeing the higher classes from having to work themselves. Therefore, any recovery of aristocratic virtues in a new age of ‘free spirits’ would require a new slave-class rather than the further democratisation of societies. For Losurdo, these links help explain why the crisis of culture was intrinsically connected by Nietzsche to the expansion of otium to the workers that would reduce it to values of peace, pleasure and commodification (929-30).
The key for this project of recovery Losurdo claims is in finding a ‘new nobility’ or model of ‘rank-ordering’ for future societies. In his ‘mature’ period, Nietzsche himself reflected that the problem and aim of his philosophy had always been ‘rank-ordering’ (339, 966). Losurdo refers to Nietzsche’s sought-after model of social hierarchy as a form of ‘transversal racialisation’ (760-62, 780-85), where a social division is always marked between masters and servants and results from the expression of ‘noble’ (well-formed) and ‘base’ (malformed) natures or instincts that in turn determine the meaning of ‘race’. Losurdo distinguishes such a form of ‘rank-ordering’ from the fascist ‘horizontal racialisation’ of biological racism or white supremacy (783). This further explains the peculiarity of Nietzsche’s ‘anti-anti-Semitism’ that in effect even supports the idea of future society ruled by aristocrats and Jewish ‘Big Capital’ (543-45). However, how the noble natures or virtues are generated is an issue in the writings of the ‘mature’ Nietzsche as he refers to aristocratic societies (‘master moralities’) and caste orders of the past (‘Code of Manu’, cited at 793) – which all were ‘corrupted’ by Judaeo-Christianity. Here, Losurdo argues Nietzsche’s transversal racism adopts the caste distinction of ‘Aryans’ and ‘Chandalas’ because it can be applied within one nation or race and thus potentially undermine the modern egalitarian value-base of nation-states.
In seeking to establish a clearer outline of Nietzsche’s ‘political programme of aristocratic radicalism’ that would base it in the socio-political circumstances of his own times, Losurdo compares Nietzsche’s ideas within the horizon of eugenic discourse of the mid-to-late nineteenth century (582-600, 692-710). Here, the later or ‘mature Nietzsche’ (from the Gay Science  to 1889) is central to the comparative argument – given that his concepts of the will to power, eternal return and Ubermensch emerge in this period. Whilst there are some cited exceptions in the published texts of this period, ultimately, the posthumously published fragments of The Will to Power underline much of the source material used by Losurdo to discuss Nietzsche’s thoughts on a ‘new Party of Life’. This phrase affirmatively used by Nietzsche, as Losurdo cites, originates from the social Darwinist (and eugenicist) Frederic Galton (699). In Nietzsche’s hands, the ‘party’ will be of an intellectual vanguard of free Spirits and Übermenschen who will be unafraid to advocate (not necessarily employ) eugenic measures, for in Nietzsche’s own words, ‘the annihilation [vernichtung] of the millions of malformed’ (596-601). Despite the harshness of Nietzsche’s language in these kinds of passages, left-Nietzscheans such as Gianni Vattimo and Gilles Deleuze have attempted to allegorise or metaphorise these radical concepts on life and their relation to the will to power and the eternal return. Losurdo reveals the absurdity of such an approach that would discount any historical-social origins to the theory and ignore the brutality and danger with which Nietzsche seeks to shock his readers. Hence, the usual interpretation of Nietzsche as a ‘life-affirming’ philosopher is brought to bear on a darker political implication by Losurdo’s rendering here, knowing that where Nietzsche says life, he also states ‘the great majority of men have no right to existence’ (Nietzsche 1967: 464).
Bearing on these sections of the book that dare to go into the eugenic question, the issue of the Nazi ‘appropriation’ is also inevitably addressed by Losurdo. He argues that the rehabilitative work of Nietzsche’s postwar editors (namely, Kaufmann and Colli and Montinari) was successful largely due to their attribution to Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, as the key instigator in rendering a Nazi-friendly Nietzsche in her assemblage and ‘forgery’ of the posthumous editions of The Will to Power (1901-06). However, Losurdo argues such defences of Nietzsche discount several important historical details. Firstly, he claims the official account of Elisabeth’s role in creating Nietzsche’s anti-Semitism is an ‘unsustainable conspiracy theory’ (711-15). Nietzsche’s defenders on this front never address Elisabeth’s own distancing of Nietzsche from anti-Semitism in her biography of him (Förster-Nietzsche 1895-1904). Furthermore, there is never any discussion of the fact that Nietzsche was attracting a right-wing audience of his published works before The Will to Power was released (566, 720-22). Whilst this does not necessarily resolve the issue of Nietzsche’s influence on Nazism, it does reveal something arbitrary about the ‘hermeneutics of innocence’ when it comes to the distinctions it makes over the ideological precursors to the Third Reich.
With 1000+ pages critically re-examining the Nietzsche legacy, can Losurdo claim posthumously himself (having sadly passed in 2018) to have settled the ‘critical balance sheet’ on Nietzsche? Nothing of course written on Nietzsche has ever been settled, and Losurdo himself avows as much, following Gadamer’s own assessment (1001). Whilst Losurdo, of course, was never going to wait on deconstruction or hermeneutics to work out the questions of interpretation by way of their ‘speculative connections’, he makes a point that a gap steadily widens vis-à-vis Nietzsche between the defence of interpretation or theoretical licence and the historical research or record (726-27, 730-33). One of the risks of any unifying method, especially as politically applied, is what it leaves for future readers of Nietzsche. Throughout his account of Nietzsche’s intellectual history, Losurdo continues to remind us that to extract or ignore these unpalatable aspects of Nietzsche’s writings or his influence on the political right, would not actually ‘save’ Nietzsche, nor would it provide a more consistent method for understanding him. For Losurdo, a ‘theoretical surplus’ can only be recognised in Nietzsche’s work from seeing the whole of his philosophy as ‘totus politicus’ (827-28, 949). But it is this premise of unifying a thinker’s philosophy, via an ‘aristocratic’-political project, that would itself be contested by the hermeneuts of innocence. And as Losurdo notes, his contribution here exposes how deep a ‘conflict of the faculties’ exists, between history and philosophy departments who begin, at least in the case of Nietzsche, from different pages.
Rory Jeffs is a teaching fellow at University College, University of Tasmania.
This Book review was republished from Marx and Philosophy.
UMWA FB page.
BROOKWOOD, Ala. (PAI)—Some 1,100 Mine Workers and their allies are standing strong against corporate refusal to make them whole as the strike the Warrior Met coal mining firm in Alabama forced them to call passed the 10-week mark in mid-June.
“We’ll be here one day longer than y’all can stand!” the union tweeted on June 15, accompanying a video from the hashtags #warriormetcoalaintgotnosoul and #UnitedWeStand.
But the workers took their fight beyond the mine itself. On June 22, led by union President Cecil Roberts, they descended on the Manhattan offices of the hedge funds who finance and back Warrior Met—and who reap the profits.
The miners, labor, and community supporters will leaflet in front of Manhattan office buildings that house BlackRock Fund Advisors, Inc., State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies. Stuart Applebaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union and Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants president, are scheduled to picket, too, UMWA Legislative Director Phil Smith reported.
“These hedge funds are among several entities that invested in Warrior Met five years ago when the company emerged from bankruptcy,” Roberts said. “But they insisted on dramatic sacrifices from the workers to the tune of $1.1 billion. The company has enjoyed revenues amounting to another $3.4 billion since then, much of which flowed into these funds’ accounts. It’s time to share that wealth with the people who created it – the workers.”
Warrior Met, which emerged from the ruins of bankrupt Jim Walter Energy several years ago, is now profitable but forced the workers at its mines to walk. A lot of its profits came from the first, post-bankruptcy, contract it forced on workers, which included $6-per-hour pay cuts, to $22, among other givebacks.
At the time, company bosses promised the workers would be made whole once Warrior Met made money. Now it’s making money, and bosses don’t want to make the workers whole. That’s forced the UMWA members into the union’s first strike in Alabama in 40 years, after the old contract expired on April 1.
Company refusal to keep its word is important for workers anywhere, but especially in northern Alabama, which had a prior history of union solidarity and strength, an exception in the otherwise union-hating South.
While talks are ongoing, they’re not getting very far, so UMWA has reached out for both community support and labor solidarity.
Several unions, notably the United Food and Commercial Workers, sent checks to the strike fund run by the four UMWA locals which represent workers at Warrior Met‘s two mines, its central shop, and its processing plant.
The fund is not only paying miners forced to strike but bought health care coverage for them, too—an important point for coal miners exposed to the dangers of black lung disease.
And union leaders, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson—the two women widely assumed to be leading contenders to succeed Richard Trumka atop the labor federation when he steps down—have traveled to Brookwood, Ala., the firm’s center, to stand in solidarity, encourage the miners and march on picket lines.
“Instead of rewarding the sacrifices and work of the miners, Warrior Met is seeking even further sacrifices from them, while demonstrating perhaps some of the worst labor-management relations we’ve seen in this industry since the days of the company town and company store,” Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said when the forced strike began.
“We have always been ready to reach a fair agreement that recognizes the sacrifices our members and their families made to keep this company alive. At this point, Warrior Met is not….Despite Warrior Met’s apparent appetite for this conflict, we will prevail.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
This article was republished from People's World.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government is alleging U.S. interference in the country's upcoming elections. | Ariana Cubillos / AP
Nicaragua has demanded an end to “all illegal and coercive measures,” including U.S. sanctions, as it warned of a dirty tricks campaign ahead of November’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
“An unprecedented and relentless attack is unfolding against Nicaragua’s government and people are driven by false narratives advanced by right-wing, U.S.-financed media outlets and ‘opposition’ figures,” the Sandinista government warned in a statement.
A number of Western media reports accuse the Nicaraguan authorities of detaining opposition figures, a narrative that critics say is part of a broader attempt to discredit the government and sow discord in the run-up to the elections.
But those who have been taken into custody are under investigation for serious crimes, including money laundering, treason, and seditious conspiracy, with the government insisting that it is operating in an open and transparent manner in accordance with Nicaraguan law.
The detained opposition figures include Cristiana Chamorro, whose Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation for Reconciliation and Democracy is accused of receiving millions of dollars from U.S. organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which was formed in 1983 “to do today what was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
That money was allegedly then funneled to various family members and a number of opposition media organizations, including Channel 10, Channel 11, Channel 12, and Vos TV, Radio Corporacion, and the Cafe con Voz radio show, as well as online outlets 100% Noticias, Articulo 66, Nicaragua Investiga, Nicaragua Actual, BacanalNica, and Despacho 505.
This is a tried and tested method of Washington’s intelligence services. During the Cold War, the CIA funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as an explicitly anti-communist news organization pumping propaganda into the socialist states. At one stage, it even employed several former Nazi agents who had been involved in anti-Soviet activities under Adolf Hitler’s direction.
Nicaraguan authorities explained that the legal status of the Conservative Party had been revoked because it had said that it would not take part in the elections, participation being a legal requirement in the Central American country.
The Democratic Restoration Party was also deemed ineligible as it had not updated electoral authorities on changes to its statutes and bylaws, as all parties are required to do.
A number of “opposition usurpers” are under investigation for receiving millions of dollars from the U.S. government through NED, USAid, and other agencies, with the aim of “overthrowing the government of President Daniel Ortega.”
A total of 19 parties have registered to contest the elections, either individually or as part of an alliance.
“Nicaragua is committed to the celebration of free, fair, and transparent general elections this November 7,” a government statement said, demanding an end to foreign interference. It also called for the lifting of sanctions, which it described as “a crime against humanity” while the country is facing the challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Steve Sweeney writes for the Morning Star, the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain. He is also a People's Assembly National Committee member, patron of the Peace in Kurdistan campaign, and a proud trade unionist.
This article was republished from People's World.
Todos somos atingidos
A person can go a few weeks without food, years without proper shelter, but only a few days without water. Water is fundamental, yet we often forget how much we rely on it. Only 37 percent of the world’s rivers remain free-flowing and numerous hydro dams have destroyed freshwater systems on every continent, threatening food security for millions of people and contributing to the decimation of freshwater non-human life.
Dams and dam failures have catastrophic socio-environmental consequences. In the 20th century alone, large dam projects displaced 40 to 80 million people globally. At the same time, the communities most impacted by dams have been typically excluded from the political decision-making processes affecting their lives.
In Brazil there is an extensive network of mining companies, electric companies and other corporate powers that construct, own and operate dams throughout the country. But for the communities directly affected by hydro dam projects, water and energy are not commodities. Brazil’s Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, or MAB — pronounced “mah-bee”) fights against the displacement and privatization of water, rivers and other natural resources in the belief that everyday people should have sovereignty and control over their own resources.
MAB is a member of La Via Campesina, a transnational social movement representing 300 million people across five continents with over 150 member organizations committed to food sovereignty and climate justice. MAB also works with social movements across Brazil, including the more widely-known Landless Workers Movement (MST), unions and human rights organizations. These alliances speak to the importance of peasant movements and Global South movements in constructing globalizations from below.
MAB focuses its fights on six interconnected areas: human rights, energy, water, dams, the Amazon and international solidarity. The movement organizes for tangible policy and system-level changes and actively creates an alternative to capitalist globalization.
Just over two years ago, on January 25, 2019, the worst environmental crime in Brazil’s history resulted in the loss of 272 lives. In Córrego do Feijão in Brumadinho, in the state of Minas Gerais, a dam owned by the transnational mining company Vale collapsed. Originally a state-owned company, Vale was privatized in 1997 and since then has made untold billions of dollars mining iron ore and other minerals.
Brazil is the world’s second-largest producer of mineral ores and in 2018 iron ore accounted for 20 percent of all exports from Brazil to the United States. More than 45 percent of Vale’s shareholders are international, including some of the world’s largest investment management companies based in the US such as BlackRock and Capital Group.
The logic of profit has dispossessed people of their sovereignty, their wealth and their water, the very essence of life. The massive dams Vale uses in its mining operations privatize and pollute water used by thousands of people.
When you fly over the state of Minas Gerais, you can see the iron mines as large gaping holes in the ground. Vale and its subsidiaries own and control 175 dams in Brazil, of which 129 are iron ore dams and Minas Gerais accounts for the vast majority of these. Minas Gerais is a region where thousands of people depend upon the water for their livelihood and survival, but the mining leaves the water contaminated. Agriculture and fishing are disrupted or halted, and residents struggle to live without access to potable water.
Exacerbating the problems associated with the privatization and contamination of water for residents, local economy and ecosystems, the dams themselves are vulnerable: the types of dams Vale uses are relatively cheap to build, but also present higher security risks because of their poor structure.
When the Brumadinho iron ore mine collapsed, it released a mudflow that swept through a worker cafeteria at lunchtime before wiping out homes, farms and infrastructure. The disaster killed 272 people and an additional 11 people were never found. What made it a crime was that Vale knew something like this could happen. In an earlier assessment, Vale had classified the dam as “two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.”
The Associação Estadual de Defesa Ambiental e Social (State Association of Environmental and Social Defense) conducted an assessment and released a report in collaboration with more than 7,000 residents in the regions impacted by the dam collapse. This report shows that depending on the town — the effects of the collapse vary from those communities buried in mud, to those impacted further downstream — 55 to 65 percent of people currently lack employment due to the dam disaster.
MAB occupied a highway in Juatuba, Minas Gerais last January to demand the right to water and to income. Photo by Nádia Nicolau via Mídia Ninja.
Brumadinho is considered one of the worst socio-environmental crimes in the history of Brazil, but it is far from the only one. Five years ago, a dam collapsed in Mariana, killing 20 people; the impacted communities still suffer the effects and are without reparations. On the second anniversary of the Brumadinho collapse, on January 24, 2021, another dam collapsed in Santa Catarina. On March 25, 2021, a dam in Maranhão state, owned by a subsidiary of the Canadian company Equinox Gold, collapsed, polluting the water reservoir of the city of Godofredo Viana, leaving 4,000 people without potable water.
On January 22, 2021, MAB held a virtual international press conference to commemorate two years since the Brumadinho collapse. Jôelisia Feitosa, an atingida (an “affected person”) from Juatuba, one of the communities affected by the dam collapse, described the fallout. People are suffering from skin diseases due to the contaminated water; small farmers cannot continue with their livelihood; people who relied on fishing can no longer do so. As a result, many people have been forced to leave. The lack of potable water has created an emergency. Feitosa said that presently, there are “not conditions for surviving here” anymore. The after-effects of the collapse, compounded by the pandemic, continue to take lives.
There are more than 100,000 atingidos in the region, but people do not know what is going to happen or when emergency aid will come. Further, government negotiations with Vale for “reparations” were conducted without the participation of atingidos. On February 4, 2021, the Brazilian government and Vale reached an accord. Nearly US$7 billion was awarded to the state of Minas Gerais, making it the largest settlement in Brazil’s history, along with murder charges for company officials.
To MAB, however, the accord is illegitimate. It was made under false pretenses, the affected population was not included in the process, and the money, which is not even going to those who are most impacted, does not begin to cover the irreparable and continuing damages. As José Geraldo Martins, a member of the MAB state coordination, said: “[Vale’s] crime destroyed ways of life, dreams, personal projects and the possibility of a future as planned. This leads to people becoming ill, emotionally, mentally, and physically. It aggravates existing health problems and creates new ones.”
As Feitosa put it: “Vale is manipulating the government, manipulating justice.” The accord was reached without the full participation of atingidos, and to make matters worse, Vale decided who qualifies as an atingido based on whether or not people have formal titles to ancestral lands. Vale’s actions create a dangerous precedent that allows corporations to extract, exploit and take human life with impunity. Nearly 300 people died from the 2019 dam collapse, and since then almost 400,000 people have died in Brazil from COVID-19. Yet, during this time, Vale has made a record profit. Neither the dam collapse nor the pandemic has stopped production or profits, even as workers are dying.
FIGHTING BACK: MAB’S STRUGGLE FOR WATER AND LIFE
MAB is committed to continued resistance and will bring the case to the Supreme Court. MAB organizes marches and direct actions and also partners with other movements in activities all across Brazil. They have recently occupied highways and blocked the entrance and exit of trucks to Vale’s facilities. MAB also uses powerful, embodied art and theater called mística that tells a real story and asks participants to put themselves into mindset that “we are all affected.”
MAB emphasizes popular education to understand how historical processes inform present-day struggles. Drawing heavily on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, they focus on collaborative learning and literacy by making use, for example, of small break-out groups where people take turns reading and discussing short passages. In these projects, there is an intentional effort to fight against interlocking systems of oppression: classism, racism, heterosexism and patriarchy, which are viewed as interlinked with capitalism at the root.
MAB also has a skilled communication team that makes use of online media, including holding frequent talks and panels broadcast via Facebook Live. A recent MAP pamphlet entitled, “Our fight is for life, Enough with Impunity!” details four women important to MAB’s struggle: Dilma, Nicinha, Berta and Marielle. Dilma and Nichina are two women atingidas who were murdered in their fights against dam projects in their communities. Berta was a Honduran environmentalist who also engaged in dam struggles and was murdered. Marielle was a Black, lesbian, socialist city-councilwoman (with Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party) in Rio who was murdered in 2018.
For MAB, the struggles of those who have died in their fight for a better world serve as seeds of resistance, a theme further explored in their film “Women Embroidering Resistance.”
MAB occupied a highway in Juatuba, Minas Gerais last January to demand the right to water and to income. Photo by Nádia Nicolau via Mídia Ninja.
For the past two years, MAB has organized events to commemorate the anniversary of the crime committed by Vale in Brumadinho. In 2020, MAB organized a five-day march and international seminar, beginning in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais’ state capital, and ending in Córrego do Feijão with a memorial service. Hundreds of people from around Brazil as well as allies from 17 countries marched through Belo Horizonte, chanting, “Vale killed the people, killed the river, killed the fish!”
Famed liberation theologian Leonardo Boff is a supporter of MAB and spoke at the seminar, decrying that letting people starve is a sin and asserting that “everyone has the right to land; everyone has the right to education; everyone has the right to culture; we all need security and have the right to housing—these are common and basic rights.” He went on: “We don’t get this world by voting — we need participatory democracy.”
MAB commemorated the second anniversary of Brumadinho this past January with various symbolic actions. In one such event, people tossed 11 roses into the water to honor the 11 people who have still not been found, with additional petals to honor the river that has been killed by the mining company. They also organized various virtual actions since the pandemic precluded an in-person convergence like the one held the year before.
JUSTICE THROUGH STRUGGLE AND ORGANIZATION
Less than a month after commemorating Brumadinho in 2020, COVID-19 exploded and the world went into lockdown. Brazil is now one of the hardest-hit countries with the actions and inactions of right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro — from calling COVID-19 a “little flu” to encouraging people to take hydroxychloroquine as a remedy, to defunding the public health system, and cutting back social services — leading to a dire situation.
In April, Brazil recorded over 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours, with a death toll second only to the United States. On May 30, the official death toll from COVID-19 was 461,931. Brazil will not soon realize vaccine distribution to the entire population, and people continue to die from lack of oxygen in some regions, prompting an investigation of Bolsonaro and the health minister for mismanagement.
On May 29, 2021, MAB participated in protests with other social movements, unions and the population in general that spanned across 213 cities in Brazil (and 14 cities around the world). The protesters called for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, demanded vaccines and emergency aid for all, and denounced cuts to public health care and education as well as efforts to privatize public services.
In the past five years, the number of Brazilians experiencing hunger has grown to nearly 37 percent. The COVID-19 crisis has only worsened this reality. In August 2020, Bolsonaro vetoed a bill that would have granted emergency assistance to family farmers.
But Brazil’s story is one of resistance, resilience and hope. Efforts bringing together many social movements, unions and other popular organizations have mounted critical mutual aid efforts. MAB is a leader in these efforts, putting together baskets with essential food, hand sanitizer and other essential goods for families in need. The pandemic presents significant challenges, but MAB has continued to resist Bolsonaro’s policies. For example, they are fighting against the defunding of the national public health care system and continuing to organize in communities impacted by dam projects or threatened by new ones.
The fight for the right to water and against the socio-environmental impacts of dams is global. MAB’s struggle is one of resistance against the capitalist system for a world where the rights of people come ahead of profit. As MAB has said: “In 2020, Brazil did not sow rights; on the contrary, the country took lives, especially the lives of women, Black and poor people, all with a lot of violence and impunity.”
MAB’s struggle extends beyond the fight against water privatization. It is part of a global effort to regain the commons of water and fight against the commodification and privatization of life. MAB’s insistence that all forms of oppression are interconnected is also a statement of hope and a catalyst for envisioning a different world. Imagining new possibilities is a prerequisite for creating them.
This year, MAB celebrates 30 years of fighting to guarantee rights and their message is that the only way is to fight and organize: “Justice only with struggle and organization.” In doing so, they are sending a strong message to Vale: they cannot commit a crime like Brumadinho again and profit will not be valued over life.
Caitlin Schroering holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has 16 years of experience in community, political, environmental and labor organizing.
This article was republished from Roar.
One of the more interesting establishment philosophers, MacIntyre has recently had two volumes of his essays and articles published: "The Tasks of Philosophy" and "Ethics and Politics." These observations are based on Constantine Sandis' review of these volumes ("Torn away from sureness") in the TLS of August 15, 2008. Some of MacIntyre's work has relevance to Marxist thought. He says for instance, as Sandis points out, that the concepts that are used to delineate an ideology (and this includes Marxism) cannot be understood free of their original contexts from which they derive their meaning. Treating them outside of this context makes them appear unwarranted or nonsensical. If we, for example, decide to adopt Marxism as a guiding light but lack the requisite background contextual knowledge regarding the origin of its concepts and doctrines, we run the risk of mixing up the ideological statements of Marxism with the ideological statements of other points of view (Liberalism,Buddhism, etc.)and we could end up with an incoherent mishmash of different points of views which will prevent us from having a proper understanding of reality.
It is the job of philosophy to prevent this from happening. We must, as Sandis says, engage "in socio-linguistic palaeontology aimed at unearthing previously hidden meanings and connections." We can then see how our concepts are related to our own tradition and to that of others. Marx, for instance, was influenced by Hegel and some of Hegel's concepts have come over into Marxism. The concept of "Reason", for example, reappears in Marxism as the concept of "Scientific Method." Lenin tends to rule out all theories that are not capable of scientific treatment (all religious explanations of reality, for instance). But, Sandis says, "MacIntyre rejects Hegel's faith in reason's ability to grasp absolute reality, substituting in its place a critical blend of Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and W.V. Quine's more pragmatic approaches." This rejection of Hegel, as we will see, has led MacIntyre to abandon Marxism and convert to Roman Catholicism. This is always, to my way of thinking, an unhealthy sign. It does not however, negate, his contention that an ideology must be contextually understood.
Sandis reproduces a quote from the British philosopher Frank Ramsey: "it is a heuristic maxim that the truth lies not in one of the two disputed views but in some third possibility which has not yet been thought of, which we can only discover by rejecting something assumed as obvious by both disputants." This looks suspiciously like the Hegelian dialectic heuristically applied. Ramsey, along with the physicist Heinrich Hertz and Ludwig Wittgenstein have all influenced MacIntyre. He. for instance, applies Ramsey's dictum to resolve conceptual problems between competing ideologies by rejecting some of the premises of both, and especially the idea that one is "right" and the other "wrong." His application of this method is not too bright.
He rejected voting in the 2004 election seeing the difference between Bush's policies (war and more war) and those of Kerry as insignificant. He said that "when offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives." MacIntyre is completely divorced from reality here. The choice between Bush and Kerry was not "false." Only propositions can be false. It was the historic choice that our history presented to us at that time. There were also other choices: Nader, the Greens, etc. To advocate simply sitting out an election that would determine the lives and deaths of thousands of people over a four year period may not be the most ethical behavior for a philosopher to engage in.
In the early 1980s MacIntyre converted to Roman Catholicism because, Sandis suggests, he no longer thought he could make philosophical progress within a Marxist framework.The reason for this was has adoption of a view called "confirmation holism." This view says that an ideology, say Marxism, can only be understood holistically. This means its doctrines have to accepted completely and made to harmonize with one another and cannot be taken more or less generally and supplemented with doctrines from other traditions or ideologies. Sandis says, "Rationality may consequently require us to readily abandon our commitment to any world-view that comes to face an overbearing obstacle." Sandis doesn't tell us what the "overbearing obstacle" was that mandated a switch from the Marxist world-view to that of Roman Catholicism. Non Marxists, I am sure, can think of many just as non Catholics can think of the "overbearing obstacles" that prevent the adoption of that world-view. This looks like relativism, but Sandis tells us MacIntyre is trying to forge an anti-relativist philosophy.
Here is what MacIntyre says about the language used to explain an ideology: "the languages-in-use of some social and cultural orders are more adequate than those of some others in this and that respect." He also says, "the existence of continuing disagreement, even between highly intelligent people, should not lead us to suppose that there are not adequate resources available for the rational resolution of such disagreement." This is supposed to escape from relativism. But a Marxist will judge Catholic positions from the point of view of Marxism, and vice versa. So I don't see how relativism is overcome.
Sandis says that the "holistic answer is simply that some practices are pragmatically far more attractive than others...." That "attraction", however, will be in the eye of the beholder. Sandis then quotes MacIntyre's "famous" definition of a "practice"-- viz., "any coherent and complex form of socially established co-operative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved are systematically extended." Whew! And we must keep in mind that any given practice, say Nazism, can be replaced by one that is better. That's encouraging.
Since a better practice may always be available any particular practice I hold to must be justified probabilistically. If I think Marxism is "true" [since only propositions can be "true" this is not a good word to use]or rather the most useful theoretical system for describing social reality, then I must realize, as Sandis points out, "one must aim for truth by aiming for justification, and the latter is in principle always open to revision."
MacIntyre's ethical system is cast in a Kantian mould rather that a utilitarian one (i.e., a consequentialist one). He thinks there are some moral rules that we can never be justified in breaking. Against this view stand those who contend "the moral polarity of any act [is] (at least partly) determined by the circumstances in which it was performed." That is that there is no universal ban on any act but each must be judged either by its results and/or motives and the context surrounding it taken into consideration.
Marx in his day didn't think much of utilitarianism, nor did Lenin of Kantianism. How sould a Marxist react to this choice? Sandis indicates that MacIntyre's position is not ironclad and plausible exceptions to it have been suggested. Sandis suggests that morality may be a disposition. To paraphrase him, we might say that if "fragility" is a disposition to break at certain times and not to break at others, so morality is a disposition to act in a certain way in certain cases and not in others. He gives as an example that "an act of intentionally not telling the truth need not be vicious, for there might always be circumstances where one virtuous disposition (say that of kindness) can only be manifested if another (say that of honesty, or of justice) is not."
Marxists can learn something from MacIntyre. I think his views on holism are useful, as are his remarks on the coherence of our ideas and their need for justification as well as his attempt to avoid relativism. A Marxist proposition should be part of a system of coherent (non contradictory)co-propositions which can be justified by an appeal to practice and that serve the interests, broadly defined, of the working class in its efforts to abolish the capitalist system. The construction of this holistic system is the task of 21st century Marxists.
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
This article was republished from Counter currents.
This is not a new post but a corrected transcript of a talk given by me, as one of the Worker’s Party of Scotland representatives to the Open Polemic Conference about 25 years ago. Open Polemic was a journal that was formed in the wake of the Soviet collapse by anti-revisionist communists in the UK. Its eventual outcome was the CPGB(ML).
I am reposting it now because it relates to the debate that has ensued on Facebook after I posted against the baneful influence of Hegelianism. It draws on concepts from the Marxist legal theorist Pashukanis which are also relevant to the postings here and here I made last year critiquing the Althusserian theory of the subject.
The text was lifted from the version online here including the images and captions which are not my own.
Original Text Begins Here
I am an engineer, so I was naturally pleased when the leading materialist philosopher of today, Daniel Dennet came out in defence of the significance of the engineering viewpoint to philosophy in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.
In what follows I will present some observations on the materialism of Marx, from an engineer’s viewpoint – the materialism of a Watt, Shannon and Turing.
Comrade Dennett continues the hirsute defence of materialism
The leitmotif of these observations is an antagonism to subjectivism and the idealist concept of the subject and of the will, both of which have, I believe, no place in the materialist world-view.
Those familiar with the current state of penetration of idealism into ‘Marxism’, will doubtless be able to identify the schools against whom I am arguing.
Is value the ‘subject’ of Capital?
In Capital, the idea of the circuits of money and of capital play an important roles. In both c-m-c and m-c-m’, value in a sense plays the role of subject. It is tempting to see the whole of the argument in Capital as an investigation into the self development of capital/subject. My grasp of Hegel is not sure enough for me to say if this view of things is actually Hegelian, but whether or not this is the case, it does suffer from drawbacks. One of them is philosophical, the other is historical.
If we see capital as a subject, then the real material subjects of the system of production are not adequately represented, or, if represented at all, appear just as instantiations of the ideal subject.
By the real material subjects I mean abstract legal personalities or subjects of right. Under capitalist systems of law, some of these legal subjects correspond to human bodies, others to bodies corporate. It is these juridical subjects that buy and sell commodities and reproduce themselves in the process. In this reproduction process they are reproduced both as proprietors, and as physical processes (human metabolisms, active oil refineries, … ).
From the standpoint of the self development of capital/subject, material subjects, firms, are thought of as ‘capitals’, instantiations of CAPITAL. This way of looking at things is an idealist inversion.
The second problem is that the notion of capital as a subject is tied up with the idea of capital as self expanding value. This is what the formula m-c-m’ is all about. Where gold is money, the formula is realistic. But even as it was written this was historically obsolete. Commercial transactions were not carried out using gold. Capitalist trade is a balancing of accounts, either, in Marx’s day, through the circulation of bills of exchange or through the clearance of cheques.
If commerce occurs through cheque clearance, then there is no longer a circuit of value through the forms m-c-m’. An account with a bank, unlike a hoard, has no value. It is instead a record of entitlement to value. I think, therefore, that the use of the circuit m-c-m’ by Marx must be seen as a paedagogic device, presenting what goes on in a simple to understand but nevertheless anachronistic form.
When one is steeped in an old literature, one’s mind become inhabited by dead social relations. Christians today think in categories like Christ the Lord, Christ the Redeemer, which are concepts of a slave society — and which arise, therefore, from practices such as the institution of manumission by a powerful aristocrat. Such practices are without direct equivalence to the modern world but the conceptual categories linger on. We Marxists have our thoughts about money shaped by a presentation, intuitive to workers in Victoria’s day, to whom money was gold, without correlates in a world of debit cards.
If we focus instead on material subjects and their conditions of reproduction, then money appears clearly in the form in which Smith presents it: the power to command the labour of others. A bank balance is power over labour. It is necessary to focus not on the self evolution of sums of value but on how juridical subjects, firms, reproduce their despotism over labour.
Is capital the ‘subject’ of Capital?
Is Marx’s Capital about the self development of the subject ‘capital’, or is it about capitalism? My immediate bias is to say it is about capitalism, since to say that capital was the object of investigation might imply a Hegelian presumption that from the concept of capital all the concrete features of capitalism could be deduced — something which I feel to be mistaken.
Then the issue arises of whether there is one or many laws of motion of modern society, which is clearly related to the above.
My first thought is that one requires several laws to have motion and dynamics — in mechanics one assumes several conservation laws plus the force laws. This would then reinforce the objection to a Hegelian deduction of the development of capitalism from a concept of capital. Then it struck me that work in cellular automata theory has demonstrated that one can derive highly complex laws of motion from a single evolution function of a cell and its neighbours. In fact as Margulis has shown, one can, given a universe of this type, set up a configuration that is Turing machine equivalent.
This indicates that it is not philosophically absurd that one law may be a sufficient foundation for the motion of a very complex system. But although this law may be a foundation for the motion of the whole system, there are other preconditions before you get something of Turing equivalent complexity: e.g. a set of boundary conditions. These initial configurations are guaranteed a certain stability by the underlying cellular evolution law, but in their turn impose other constraints on the future evolution of the system and these constraints become higher level laws.
Thus the simple law may allow a multiplicity of different configurations to evolve and some of these different configurations would have their own, higher level laws of motion — which would not necessarily all be equivalent.
Did Marx ever clearly state the economic law of motion of modern society?
I think that we have to say no, not as a single clearly defined law. Can we say, then, that the law of value is this foundational law? We have the problem that he never stated this explicitly as a law either, i.e. in the sense of Hooke’s law or the laws of thermodynamics. I think, however, one can reconstruct the concept of law that he had beneath the texts on value.
At the level of explanation in Volume 1 the law would state that ‘In the exchange of commodities, abstract socially necessary labour time is conserved.’
Although he does not state this explicitly, I think that it is clearly a logical presupposition of much of his argument. I agree that he does not establish the correctness of this law, but that does not mean that it may not both be a valid law empirically, and one whose assumption allows one to model or simulate the important features of capitalism. There is now a growing body of evidence that the law actually applies, but it would be true to say that we do not know why it applies.
But one could, using the same law of value, hypothesise other systems than capitalism. If we made the auxiliary hypothesis that there was a tendency for the value of labour power to be equal to the value created by labour, then you would not get capitalism but some other social system, perhaps a system of workers’ co-operatives.
The assumption that the value of labour power is systematically below the value creating power of labour is, it seems to me, a boundary condition that is specifically reproduced by capitalism. In this sense, although the law of value is the underlying law of motion of modern society, it is abstractly the law of motion of more than one possible sort of modern society. This incidentally raises the question of what we mean by abstraction.
Abstraction and abstract labour
Is it only in the process of exchange that labour become abstract? There is a confusion here between the role of abstraction in science and the partial way in which the abstract categories discovered by science become apparent to quotidian perception.
Science must always seek the general behind the concrete, the abstract behind the particular. Thus in the development of thermodynamics one has the formation of the abstract concept of heat, which is distinguished from the forms in which it becomes apparent as warmth, temperature or thermal radiation. To measure heat one needs to co-ordinate several distinct observations and data. If you want to measure the number of calories released by by burning 10 grams of sugar under a bombe calorimeter, one must know the starting temperature of the calorimeter, the volume of water it contains, the final temperature, the specific heat of water, etc.
Prior to the development of a coherent theory of heat, and data on the specific heat of water one might come up with regularities like ‘other things being equal, the rise in temperature was proportional to the sugar burnt’, but this is not a measure of abstract heat.
The similarity to exchange is clear, a capitalist can observe that, other things being equal, his turnover is roughly proportional to the number of workers in his employment, but this proportionality does not yet give him a measure of abstract necessary labour time. The fact that such proportionalities exist is an indication that there is an underlying material cause for them, just as the proportionality between temperature rise and fuel burned indicates a similar abstract cause.
A scientific measurement of abstract labour needs the analogue of adjustments for different specific heats and calorimeter volumes, the fact that in a given factory the techniques of production are worse than average, will indicate that the measure of actual expended labour has to be corrected to arrive at a measure of abstract labour.
The existence of objective material causes underlying the phenomenal forms to which they give rise is one of the basic postulates of philosophical materialism. That these causes not only exist but are discoverable and measurable is a further necessary postulate for scientific materialism. This, it seems to me is one of the fundamental distinctions between Marxism and Hayekism, and more generally between materialism and empiricism. For Hayek, the worth of things is in principle unknowable outside of market exchange. Thus the Marxist programme of a communist society in which economic calculation transcends the market, is hopelessly utopian, scientism, the engineering fallacy etc.
I think, therefore, that it is a fundamental philosophical error and one which, moreover can be exploited by our enemies, to say that it is only through market exchanges that abstract labour can be measured. This may be the only form in which it becomes apparent to the practical concerns of bourgeois society, but that does not exhaust the matter.
One must distinguish the scientific abstraction, abstract labour as the expression on a polymorphous human potential, from the empirical abstraction performed by the market.
An analogous polymorphous potential, one regularly used in industry is the computing machine cycle. One costs algorithms in terms of the number of machine cycles they cost. A computer is a universal machine, its computation power can be expressed in a vast variety of concrete forms, so there are different sequences of machine cycles with different concrete effects. But when one uses machine cycles as a metric of algorithmic costs, one abstracts from what these cycles are – adds, subtracts, moves etc, and reduces them to the abstract measure of an almost infinitely plastic potential. The abstraction over labour is analogous.
We cannot use wages to measure abstract labour, although for certain purposes they may be a useful statistical surrogate where other data are lacking. If we measure wages we are measuring the price of labour power not the amount of abstract labour time necessary to manufacture a use value.
To measure the latter, it has obviously to be done in natural units of time, which as such, already abstracts from the concrete form of the labour. As such its study starts with Babbage in his Economy of Machinery, proceeds with Taylor in the machine shop of the Midvale Steel Company and his successors like Charles Bedaux, whose unit of abstract labour the B was defined as ‘ A “B” is a fraction of a minuit of work plus a fraction of a minuit of rest, always aggregating to unity, but varying in proportion according to the nature of the strain’.
There is nothing impossible in principle about such measurement, indeed, the science of systematic exploitation had depended on it for years. But within the capitalist social order such computations are restricted to the factory, the comparative statistics necessary for a social calculus of labour time do not exist. But this is not to say that they could never be produced under some future social order.
James Watt, and the concept of Labour Power
At about the same time as one Adam Smith was professor of Moral Philosophy here, and was setting out a coherent formulation of the labour theory of value, Dr Black of the department of Natural Philosophy along with a technician, one James Watt, were laying the foundations for a proper understanding of heat and temperature. These two exercises have more in common than might be imagined. Reflection upon it, brings out how concepts from engineering science, from the practice of material production, parallel and become the foundation for materialist political economy.
One might, if one were a bourgeois economist, argue that values cannot be measured independently of market prices just as temperature can not be measured independently of the height of mercury on a thermometer. I think that this is basically a fair comparison. But if we rest our analysis at this level, whether in political economy or in natural philosophy, we have a pre-Smithian political economy and a pre-Watt understanding of heat.
What Smith did, drawing on others, was to show that behind relative prices there was an underlying objective cause — the labour required to produce things: ‘’The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil or trouble of acquiring it.” We will leave out for the moment that one can also measure the temperature of a body by analysing its black body radiation spectrum, and concentrate on the analogy between temperature and price. This was a great scientific advance since it related the immediately visible phenomenon — price measured in money — to something behind the scenes: labour time.
Both of the entities involved in the causal theory are independently observable and measurable. This contrasts with the notions of ‘utility’ in vulgar economics which are not objectively observable, but have to be deduced from the observed prices.
The parallel advance by Black and Watt, was the introduction of the notion of heat as something independent of temperature. A necessary component of this theory was the notions of specific and latent heats. Thus, by experiment, they were able to establish that the change in temperature of a body was proportional to the heat input divided by the specific heat of the substance concerned. This again related the observed measurement — temperature to something behind the scenes — heat.
Like labour, heat was independently measurable, for instance in terms of the amount of coal burned. Later, with Carnot, the equation between heat and work is made. Not only does this make the analogy with value and labour even closer in terms of the then existing conceptual framework, but it opens up the way for more accurate objective measures of heat energy. By use of a dissipative calorimeter, Carnot could show that the work of a given weight falling a known distance would produce a definite rise in temperature of water. This then gives a fixed and external measure of heat energy.
Let me construct table of analogy between terms in the two domains of Moral and Natural Philosophy, with a subject matter befiting the Scottish Enlightenment.
1. Price in gold guineas of whisky
2. Specific labour content of gold
3. Value of whisky
4. Labour required to distill whisky measured in hours
5. Ability to work or labouring power of distillery workers
1. Temperature on an alcohol thermometer of whisky
2. Specific heat of whisky
3. Heat content of the whisky
4. Thermal energy of hot whisky measured in foot pounds or horse-power seconds
5. Ability to work or horse-power of the distillery engine (raising barrels?)
Thus the two schools of philosophy reduce the phenomena they are concerned with to indirect manifestations of work done, Smith taking human labour as his standard, Watt taking the labour of horses.
However, in compiling this table I have shown 5 rows. Smith and Watt would probably only have recognised 3 (Smith 1,2,4) Watt (1,2,3). If, however, we take Smith enhanced by Marx and Watt by Carnot, we get the 5 rows. Now the interesting thing about rows 3, 4, and 5 is that in each case they are different ways of considering the same thing. One may measure heat in calories, but it is the same thing as energy in terms of joules, Watt, ergs, foot-pounds, horsepower hours etc. Similarly value is the same thing as labour time.
But value is not price, nor is heat temperature. To obtain a price from a value we need the intervention of gold with its own specific labour/value content per ounce. To obtain a temperature from the heat one needs the specific heat of the substance being heated.
The polemical status of Labour Power
I am using labour in the sense of labour hours, which, to use Watt’s terminology is Work Done (horse-power hours). I think that it is pretty clear that the concept of labour-power could not have been formulated until the genius of Watt had made the concept of horse-power or power in general part of the universal inheritance of the industrial age.
My chief concern is to defend the scientific superiority of the labour theory of value vis-à-vis bourgeois subjectivist ones. What makes the labour theory scientific and the others unscientific is that there is no way that one can determine whether prices do exchange in proportion to marginal utility, since utility has no independent measure.
Labour time, by contrast, is susceptible to measurement. Its measurement, just like that of temperature, presupposed a definite technology. Measurement of temperature depended on the invention of the thermometer, measurement of labour time depended upon the invention, with Galileo, of the pendulum escapement mechanism. In using a clock to determine the time taken to perform a task, one must of course average one’s measures over a large number of runs and a large number of individuals to obtain the average necessary time taken.
If labour-power is ability to perform work, then its dimension must be work-performable/per hour. Clearly if the working day is lengthened with the daily wage being the same, the wage rate per hour has declined. Whether the value of labour power has similarly declined or has remained the same is indeterminate, since we have no means of measuring the value of labour power other than the price paid for it.
I would thus argue that the concept ‘value of labour power’ has no scientific explanatory power and its presence in Capital must be understood as deriving from Marx’s intention to perform a critique of political economy using its own categories. He thus assumes the exchange of equivalents, and assumes that workers, like other sellers get a fair price for their commodity. This necessitates that a value be imputed to labour power.
Ironic answers to a Marxist idealist
I was recently asked, what objective force led me to write a particular polemic against subjectivism. Was it not an expression of my will and thus a living reproof to my anti-subjectivist world-view? That such questions could be raised, and raised by a Marxist, indicates a retreat towards idealism.
Force is an important concept. As a mechanical process, a depression of keys, my writing certainly involved forces exerted by muscle on bone. But the concept of force is quite limited, it relates to the ability to impart motion, to overcome mechanical inertia. Its compass does not extend to explaining the creation of a complex information structure like an article.
Here we need to explain how this particular sequence of characters was generated. This page is so astronomically improbable, its probability of arising by chance being of the order of 1 in 10 raised to the power of 4000, that its particularity demands explanation. Force, the mere overcoming of momentum, can not explain such order. So what is left?
“The will and its creativity”, suggests the humanist.
But is this really an explanation?
I would suggest that it is not an explanation but a place-holder, a linguistic token demanded by a set of possible sentences. This may seem a little obscure, but to illustrate the sort of thing that I am refering to, consider the sentences:
”It is raining.”
”Paul is writing.”
What is the it that rains? There is obviously no real it that does the raining, but English grammar demands a subject for the sentence, structurally equivalent to the Paul who writes. The it is a placeholder demanded by the sentence form. We gain no understanding of the weather pattern that led to the rain by using it, but it is impermissible for us to say simply ”Is raining”.
The question ”what led me to write”, demands an answer of the form ”x led me to write”, with some linguistic subject x. Grammar allows the substitution of a proper name for x, as in ”William led me to write”, or \my Will led me to write”. Instead the abstract noun ‘will’ can be used: ”my will led me to write”.
The word ‘will’ is then a placeholding subject, analogous to the it responsible for the bad weather this last week. The ‘will’ is philosophically more sophisticated, than ‘it’, being one of the conventional tokens that idealist philosophy uses to translate a non-terminal symbol of a grammar into a constituent category of reality. The ‘will’ is the symbolic grammatical subject in philosophical garb, the linguistic subject becomes The Subject.
An explanation of what is causing rain to fall, would go something along the lines of ”an updraft of warm moist air is causing condensation as pressure falls, and this precipitates as rain”. Here, instead of a placemarker, we have a description, albeit abstract, of a physical process. One can give a highly abstract description of my writing in terms of my brain being a probabalistic state machine that undergoes state transitions whose probability amplitudes are functions of it current state and its current input symbols, and whose output symbols are a lagged function of current state. For my article the relevant input symbol would have been the argument that I was replying to, and my current state would be the cartesian product of the states of my individual neurones.
It may be objected that this hopelessly abstract, as abstract almost, as talking about will. But there is an important difference. The approach of treating the brain as an automaton has engendered a productive research program. One can, as Chomsky did in the 1950s ask what class of automaton is required to recognise languages with different classes of grammars, and show that some features of natural language imply automata that are at least Turing equivalent. One can begin to look at how it is that things like visual perception can occur, as neurophysiology has done over the last 30 years, etc. In contrast, ‘will’ will take us nowhere. It closes of discussion.
This is an edited version of a talk given at an ‘Open Polemic’ conference back in the distant 1990s.
Paul Cockshott is an economist and computer scientist. His best known books on economics are Towards a New Socialism, and How The World Works. In computing he has worked on cellular automata machines, database machines, video encoding and 3D TV. In economics he works on Marxist value theory and the theory of socialist economy.
This article was first published by Paul Cockshott.
The recent victories of the left in a number of municipalities and in elections for the Constitutional Convention have set the stage for a categorical rejection of the legacy of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and the building of a new Chile
Daniel Jadue and Javiera Reyes
Javiera Reyes, who is 31 years old, is the new mayor of the Santiago municipality of Lo Espejo in Chile. “I grew up in a home where [former President of Chile] Salvador Allende was always the good guy,” she told us, “and [military dictator] Augusto Pinochet was a tyrant. That marked my life.” Reyes’ comment reflects the old divides that have convulsed Chile’s politics since General Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état against former President Salvador Allende of the Popular Unity coalition on September 11, 1973.
Almost 50 years have gone by and yet Chile is still influenced by the legacy of that coup and of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990. The May 2021 election that propelled Reyes to the mayor’s office in Lo Espejo also voted in a new Constitutional Convention to rewrite the Pinochet-era Constitution of 1980. Reyes’ victory and the gains made by the left alliance to shape the new Constitution suggest that it is Allende’s legacy that will shape the future and not that of Pinochet.
Reyes is a member of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), which has rooted itself deeply in Chile’s society over the past 109 years. A PCCh leader--Daniel Jadue—will be the left’s candidate in the presidential election to be held in November 2021. Jadue, like Reyes, is a mayor of a municipality in Chile’s vast capital city of Santiago (a third of Chile’s 18 million people live in Santiago). In the May 2021 election, he was re-elected to the mayoralty of Recoleta, which he has governed since 2012.
“There is a historical continuity in [PCCh’s] policy,” Jadue told us, “with the same horizon—updated, of course. No one is thinking of taking up statist projects [again] or socialism as it has been tried, but there is undoubtedly a historical continuity, and we are in one way or another participants in the dream of the people who in the 1970s sought to build a fairer country and who today seek exactly the same thing.”
Vote without fear
Jadue leads in the November 2021 general election polls to replace Chile’s right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. Already, the press has started reporting about the various stances taken by Jadue during his life, particularly his association in the 1980s with Palestinian activism. The smearing of candidates of the left has become part of the electoral process in Latin America: the extreme-right press in Ecuador said that the left-leaning candidate for president, Andrés Arauz, had taken money from the Colombian left-wing guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army). The right-wing press also reported that Peru’s current presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, who is leading by a narrow margin, was similar to Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which is a guerilla insurgency in Peru. Jadue dismisses these claims made against the leftist candidates. “I want my entire record to be visible because I have nothing to hide,” Jadue said when he spoke to us.
The communists participated in the elections held on May 15 and 16 under the slogan Vote Without Fear (Vota Sin Miedo). This slogan comes from a long history, which is part of the party’s legacy. The PCCh was banned, and its members were subjected to persecution over three periods: 1927-1931, 1948-1958, and 1973-1990. Pinochet’s dictatorship killed thousands of communists, including many key leaders. A swath of Chile’s society was gripped by fear brought about by Allende’s socialism, which was essentially a result of the hatred cultivated during Pinochet’s dictatorship. During this time, it takes courage to stand with the communists.
Fear of communism has been diminishing, Reyes told us, because the PCCh elected officials have shown their constituents efficiency and compassion through their governance. Jadue’s Recoleta has become a showcase, with a municipal pharmacy, optical shop, bookstore and record store, open university, and real estate project operating free of any profit motive under Jadue’s vision as the mayor of the municipality.
Javiera Reyes says that her communism is rooted in her “conception of a municipal government that starts with the universalization of rights and the capacity to create conditions for a good life.” The project of municipal socialism starts with “health, education and common spaces,” says Reyes. It is a project that is “democratic and open to the community.”
Unlike Chile’s right-wing mayors, the communist mayors in Santiago such as Reyes, Jadue and Iraci Hassler (who was elected in May 2021 to the mayoralty of Santiago Centro) put the role of women at the core of their policies, including mechanisms to tackle violence against women. They want to create a society without fear in the broadest sense possible.
In 2006, students across Chile protested the privatization of education. Their mass struggle was called the Penguin Revolution because of their black-and-white school uniforms. “The Penguin Revolution in 2006 was my first [introduction] to politics,” Reyes told us. Reyes and Hassler both participated in the massive protests in 2011 and 2013 over the inequalities that marked the secondary and university education in the country. Reyes joined the PCCh during that period. Other students who are currently Chilean politicians, such as Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola as well as Hassler, were already communists.
Student demonstrations came alongside manifestations and strikes by workers from all sectors. Their protests rattled the elite consensus, which since the fall of Pinochet in 1990 had not attempted to write a new Constitution for the country or bothered to formulate a path out of neoliberal suffocation.
In October 2019, high school students protested the rise of fares for public transport. This wave of protests, which is ongoing, began to define Chile’s political life. With the slogan “it’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years,” the students have highlighted the need for a new Constitution.
A new Chile
Chile has the lowest electoral participation rate in Latin America. After 17 years of dictatorship, trust in the state structures had practically disappeared. Voting was compulsory until 2009, although registration to vote was not compulsory. Young people did not register with the electoral service (Servel). The demand for a new constitution was a wake-up call for the youth. Data shows that more than half of Chile’s young people between 18 and 29 years of age voted in the election, with women constituting 52.9% of the voters.
Women and young people will shape the Constitutional Convention, just as women and young women in particular—such as Reyes and Hassler—have taken over the mayors’ offices. The 155-member Constitutional Convention is filled with young people like Reyes and Hassler, a sizable section of the left. The right wing was unable to win one-third of the convention, which would have given it veto power. This means that the new Constitution, which will be drafted in the next nine months, will have a progressive character.
On July 18, Jadue faces a primary against Gabriel Boric, another student leader and now a leader of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). All indications suggest that Jadue will prevail over Boric and then meet the candidates of the right in November. He will be the third communist to run for the presidency, following Elías Lafertte Gaviño (1931 and 1932) and Gladys Marín (1999). If the polls are accurate, Jadue will be the first communist president of Chile.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was republished from People's Dispatch.
In a popular booklet by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin (P&G), "Global Capitalism and American Empire," Lenin’ theory of imperialism comes in for some heavy criticism. Originally published in 2004 the theories propounded in this booklet (available on Amazon) are still popular with many on the left who feel that Lenin is too dated to be a useful guide to 21st century imperialist practices. The following is an attempt to show the continued relevance of Lenin’s “Imperialism,The Highest Stage of Capitalism."
The authors, in a section entitled "Rethinking Imperialism," caution against considering "globalization as inevitable and irreversible." They quote the “Communist Manifesto” as follows: "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe." Curiously, they think Marx and Engels were exhibiting "prescience" when they wrote this – which they call a description "of a future that strongly matches our present."
But Marx and Engels were not prophesying the future. They were describing the historical reality of their own day – so manifest, already by 1848, was the imperial drive of capitalism. Incidentally, the fact that P&G can take an 1848 description of capitalism for a future prediction strongly matching the present explains one of the reasons why the classics of Marxism have not become outdated.
P&G look at history and discern three "great structural crises" in capitalism: 1) Post 1870s colonial rivalry leading to World War I; 2) the Great Depression, leading to World War II; 3) globalization rapidly advancing due to economic problems of the 1970s. Because the contours of these crises and the results produced by them could not be predicted in advance, P&G contend that globalization is "neither inevitable" re: classical Marxism, "nor impossible to sustain." Since Lenin’s theory of imperialism implies the opposite conclusions, the authors think his theory is mistaken.
Let’s take a closer look. Lenin’s theory, according to the authors, made the "fundamental mistake" of assuming "capitalist economic stages and crises." Lenin was "defective" in his "historical reading of imperialism" as well as his understanding of capital accumulation and, lastly, his view that "inter-imperialist rivalry" was "an immutable law of capitalist globalization."
After having asserted all this, P&G concluded, contrary to Lenin’s ideas, "A distinctive capitalist version of imperialism did not suddenly arrive with the so-called monopoly or finance-capital stage of capitalism...."
P&G accuse Lenin of "reductionism" in equating monopoly capitalism with imperialism. They maintain that "capitalism" and "imperialism" are independent of each other ("two distinct concepts"). History tells them that imperialism can be traced further back than the 1870s: that it goes at least as far back as mercantilism. This is just playing with words. The Romans were imperialists as far as that goes. Lenin was not discussing some universal ahistorical "imperialism" but the specific historical imperialism of his own epoch based on the domination of financial capital.
Lenin saw that after 1873 (as a result of crises) monopoly capitalism began to consolidate and replace so-called competitive capitalism: the imperialism of Lenin’s days was a direct outgrowth of this new type, a higher type in his words, of capitalism.
We can, without accusing Lenin of having a defective historical understanding, agree with P&G that it is false to maintain that "the nature of modern imperialism was once and for all determined in the kinds of rivalries attending the stage of industrial concentration and financialization associated with turn-of-the [19th]-century monopoly capital."
But of course they are correct. No Marxist, especially Lenin, would maintain history gets frozen at a particular stage of its development. Lenin says of his definition of imperialism that it is convenient to sum up the principle aspects of the phenomena he is describing but "nevertheless inadequate" because all definitions [and theories based on them] are "conditional and relative" because all historical social events and formations are in flux.
P&G would have a better grasp of Lenin’s theory if they understood it in its own terms and did not misrepresent it as a "once and for all" statement of the nature of imperialism. Their mistake is in thinking Lenin’s view of imperialism in terms of an evolution of economic stages and crises within capitalism was itself a mistake.
P&G also deny that imperialism is the "highest stage of capitalism." They do this because they are historically situated in the 21st century phase of "globalization" and Lenin’s theory, now over a century old, dealt with the capitalism of his era. Therefore they maintain that what he was observing was "a relatively early phase of capitalism." They could have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary Lenin criticism had they been more historical themselves. Capitalism is not going to go back to a previous stage of independent national capitalism. It will continue to internationalize itself through the process we call "globalization" and what Lenin was describing was a relatively early phase of the highest stage of capitalism. What we call "globalization" is just a euphemism for the domination of the world by a handful of powerful states dominated by financial and monopoly elites that continue to plunder the world in their own interests (as the crisis of 2008 showed). Lenin saw that this system was really a transitional system to an even higher form of economic development – namely socialism. This transitional nature of the "highest stage of capitalism" is presently obscured by the temporary world dominance of US monopoly capitalism.
We should be absolutely clear about this, Lenin meant by "highest stage" not that the historical features of capitalism in his epoch were fixed for all (capitalist) time, as P&G seem to imply, but only that capitalism had, as capitalism, no higher stage to evolve into that would renounce the need to export capital (finance capital especially) and find markets abroad. Globalization is just the latest stage of monopoly capitalism as it has transformed itself and developed since the days of Lenin, but it is still the logical outcome of the situation described by Marx and Engels in 1848.
It is also, I think, an error to hold, as do P&G, that Lenin and like minded theorists of the past did not recognize the role of the state in relation to the market: that they failed "to appreciate the crucial role of the state in making ‘free markets’ possible and then to make them work."
A strange accusation to make against someone who viewed the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie and thought that it functioned to further the interests of the capitalist class and its struggle to, among other things, build, acquire, and maintain markets both domestic and foreign.
It is true that Lenin could not foresee the specific historical development that has resulted in "neoliberal" globalization dominated by one "superpower." But it is also true that the theory laid out by Lenin in “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism” remains the best starting point for any attempt to understand the contemporary world.
Critique of the Misunderstandings Concerning Marx's Base-Superstructure Spatial Metaphor. By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
Karl Marx’s 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy[i] represents one of the clearest reflections of the development of his and Engels’ thought. In what amounts to a short four and a half pages, Marx concisely exhibits the resulting conclusions of more than two decades worth of studies – from his first encounter with the economic question in 1842-3 via the polemic over landed property and forest theft, to the latest decade and a half painfully spent in the British Museum in London (except for the short interruption of the 48 revolutions) divided between the political writings for the New York Tribune and his economic studies for this text and for Capital, which this text is a dress rehearsal for. Although endless work can be done on these four and a half pages, I would like to limit myself to a clarification of the famed and famously misinterpreted spatial metaphor of the economic foundation and the political-legal superstructure.
The most common misunderstanding of this metaphor posits that the economic foundation absolutely determines the ideological superstructure. In this view, all legal, political, philosophical, and religious structures and forms of consciousness are reducible to a reflection of the present economic situation. This perspective, held primarily by various vulgar Marxists of the second international and by critics of Marx (esp. the Weberian conception of Marxism), has come to be labeled as economically reductive and subsequently critiqued by dozens of 20th century Marxist, e.g., Althusser, Gramsci, Lukács, Lenin.
On the other hand, as a reaction to this economic reductionism, some Marxists have rejected the conception that the economic foundation influences the superstructure any more than the superstructure influences the economic. This perspective holds that there is a mutual conditioning of the two spheres, a dialectical interpenetrative relation between the opposing poles of the economic foundation and the ideological superstructure, where, as Marcuse states, “ideology comes to be embodied in the process of production itself.”[ii] The various reactions to economic determinism may take different forms, generally, what they share is a refusal to describe the influence of the economic realm on the ideological as ‘determinist’ – unless couched within a framework that equalizes the determination of the superstructure on the economic in a dialectical fancy of interpenetrative determination.
Funny enough, Marx’s preface presents the relation between the economic and the superstructural with an ambiguity which seems to foreshadow both misinterpretations. First, he states that “the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life,” then that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (KM, 20-21). These two sentences chronologically follow each other but refer to two different (albeit synonymous) concepts for describing the relationship between material life and the ideological superstructure, viz., conditions and determines.
Although synonymous, ‘conditions’ carries conceptually an openness for a less rigid affecting relationship. To say that something conditions can range from meaning that it influences to determines. Given the conceptual ambiguity, it would seem that the economic reductionist group would read conditions qua determines while the group which reacts to the reductionists would read conditions qua influences. Between this binary of blue and red pill, can we ask for another color?
I think Marx offers us blue and red for us to make purple, indubitably the most beautiful color keeping with Plato. In essence, both misunderstandings are partly correct – the economic foundation determines the superstructure, but the superstructure can also influence the economic foundation.
As Althusser noted,[iii] in a seemingly contradictory manner the superstructure is determined by the economic base while nonetheless sustaining a “relative autonomy” in relation to it, effectively allowing it to have “reciprocal action” upon it. It is important to note that this Althusserian formulation is actually a reconceptualization of how Engels dealt with the issue in a 1890 letter response to Conrad Schmidt. In this letter from an aged Engels, we find an elucidation for this often-misunderstood spatial metaphor, and consequently, a clarification of the scope of rigidity the concept of determination carries in his and Marx’s works.
This letter, along with the others with which it was jointly published as Engels on Historical Materialism, gives a fascinating insight into how determination ought to be read in the Marxist tradition. Before Engels deals with the question of the economic foundation’s determination of the superstructure, he examines production’s (as in the moment, the “point of departure,”[iv] not the whole) determinative relation to the moment of exchange, and the moment of exchange’s determinative relation to the newly separated money market. He says,
Production is in the last instance the decisive factor. However, as soon as the commercial exchange of commodities separates itself from actual production it follows a movement which, although as a whole still dominated by production, in turn obeys in its particular details and within the sphere of its general dependence, its own laws.
The same relational function of determination/conditioning is sustained with the economic foundation and the political superstructure (and afterwards with the legal, philosophical, and scientific aspects of the superstructure):
While the new independent power must, on the whole, submit to the movement of production, in turn it also reacts, by virtue of its immanent, i.e., its once transmitted but gradually developed relative independence, upon the conditions and course of production. There is a reciprocity between two unequal forces; on the one side, the economic movement; on the other, the new political power which strives for the greatest possible independence and which having once arisen is endowed with its own movement. The economic movement, upon the whole, asserts itself but it is affected by the reaction of the relatively independent political movement which it itself had set up. This political movement is on the one hand the state power, on the other, the opposition which comes to life at the same time with it.
These passages not only demonstrate with utmost clarity how a determinative relation can sustain within it a relative independence (what Althusser later calls ‘relative autonomy’) which allows the determined variable a capacity to react and influence that which determines it, but in demonstrating the translatability into various spheres of how this relationship functions, Engels is providing a general formulative understanding of the question on determination. In essence, the variable which determines (or conditions) sets the parameters for the determined variable, such that the determined variable presupposes the other’s boundaries for its activity. Concretely, the superstructure presupposes a specific economic foundation which has set a historical boundary on it. Within this determined space, the superstructure is relatively autonomous, enough so that it becomes capable of emergent qualities which can have a reactive or “counter-active influence” upon that which determines it.
Philosophically, the position can be labeled as compatibilist, i.e., there is a soft determination which allows for the conditioned autonomous expression of that which is determined. Therefore, although the determination of the economic foundation on the superstructure is not absolute (hard determinism), neither is it nonexistent. Engels critiques both positions: he argues it is “altogether pedantic to seek economic causes for all” things, asserting that in doing so Paul Barth is “contending against windmills,” while also criticizing the position which altogether either denies determination or places the primary source of determination on the wrong variable as participating in “ideological conceptions” whereby the real relationship is inverted and placed on its head, making one take the “effect for the cause.”
Why do these misunderstandings arise? As the conclusion in Engels’ letter states,
What all these gentlemen lack is dialectics. All they ever see is cause here, effect there. They do not at all see that this is a bare abstraction; that in the real world such metaphysical polar opposites exist only in crises; that the whole great process develops itself in the form of reciprocal action, to be sure of very unequal forces, in which the economic movement is far and away the strongest, most primary and decisive. They do not see that here nothing is absolute and everything relative. For them Hegel has never existed. Yours, etc
[i] All subsequent quotes from this text will be from this edition: Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. (International Publishers, 1999).
[ii] Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. (Beacon Press, 1966), p. 189.
[iii] In his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
[iv] In the appendix to the above edition of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, a drafted introduction called ‘Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation)’ provides an analysis of the relation each of the four moments has with the other. Here he calls production the “moment of departure.” This draft is included in the introduction of a series of manuscripts now known as Grundrisse.
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy graduate student and assistant at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His specialization is in Marxist philosophy and the history of American socialist thought (esp. early 19th century). He is an editorial board member and co-founder of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.
"Revolution is, unfortunately, not made with fastings. Revolutionaries from all parts of the world must choose between being the victims of violence or using it. If one does not wish to see one's spirit and one's intelligence serving brute force, one must forcibly resolve to put brute force under the subservience of intelligence and the spirit." The author of this passage, written more than forty years ago, was Jose Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the Peruvian Communist Party, a physically feeble man of unstable health who combined a powerful, cold and lucid intelligence with an exquisite artistic sensitiveness and an incorruptible revolutionary morale. His short life, ended before he was thirty-five, elapsed between long periods of hospitalization and poverty. Jail and the continuous humiliations he suffered, did not deter him from accomplishing his life's work, which, given the circumstances he had to cope with, does not cease to stimulate today more and more amazement, as well as the increased attention and admiration of revolutionaries the world over. Suffering from the time he was seven years old from an incipient physical disability which denied him a normal childhood, and when called upon, helping his mother out by working as proofreader in a publishing house, his career as a revolutionary writer began when an army man cowardly attacked him for the ideas he expressed in a newspaper article.
The sum total of Mariátegui's work constitutes an ideological struggle against reformism, first and foremost. His work Defense of Marxism is imbued with this spirit, and the very founding of the Peruvian Communist Party denounces "domesticated socialism": "The ideology we adopt," states Mariátegui in his thesis of affiliation with the Third Internationale, "is that of militant revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, a doctrine which we wholly and unreservedly adhere to in its philosophical, political and socio-economic aspects. The methods we uphold are those of orthodox revolutionary socialism. We not only rebuke in all their forms the methods and tendencies of the Second Internationale, but oppose them actively." In this document he did no more than ratify before the world what he had previously made known in a magazine: "The political sector with which I can never come to terms is the other one: that of mediocre reformism, of domesticated socialism, of Pharisaical democracy. Moreover, if the revolution demands violence, authority, discipline, I am all for violence, authority, discipline. I accept them in block form, with all their horrors, without any cowardly reserves."
Between 1919 and 1923 Mariátegui made a tour of Europe. It was in Italy where his thought ripened and became richer. In addition to his admiration for the theorist of violence, the revolutionary trade-unionist George Sorel, there was his passion for Gobetti, Labriola, and he found in Croce a friend with whom he could enter into controversy. Mariategui was an eyewitness to the great social upheavals which foreshadowed the triumph of Nazism and the reformist preachings of class collaborationism. On his return to Peru, in a work on the world crisis and on the role that the Peruvian proletariat ought to play in it, he wrote: "..The proletarian forces are divided in two great groupings: reformists and revolutionaries.
"There is the faction of those who want to bring about socialism by collaborating politically with the bourgeoisie; and the faction of those who want to bring about socialism by conquering for the proletariat in its entirety political power." To this global crisis, Mariátegui answered in a vein both aggressive and critical: "I am of the same opinion as those who believe that humanity is going through a revolutionary period. And I am convinced of the imminent decline of all the social-democratic theses, of all the reformist theses and of all the evolutionist theses." In another article, he denounced the impotence of reformism to avoid war: "The thought of Lasallean social-democracy guided the Second Internationale; that is why it proved itself impotent before war. Its leaders and sectional corps had become accustomed to a reformist and democratic attitude and resistance to war demanded a revolutionary attitude."
Defense of Marxism (a work from which we publish here one of its most interesting chapters) constitutes a rebuttal of Beyond Marxism by the Belgian revisionist Henri de Man, and of other social-democratic theorists, such as Vandervelde, a rebuttal which arises from revolutionary tenets and from practical positions. Mariátegui, who is brought to task in a controversy over principles, is equally removed from all sectarian and dogmatic standpoints, because he understood that Marxism was never "a set of principles embodying rigid consequences, similar in all historical climes and all social latitudes." "We must strip ourselves radically of all the old dogmatisms," he wrote, "of all the discredited prejudices and archaic superstitions." It is the correct interpretation of Marxist theory that makes him state directly: "Marx is not present in spirit in all his so-called disciples and heirs. Those who have carried on his ideas are not the pedantic German professors of the Marxist theory of value and surplus value, incapable themselves of making any contribution to the doctrine, devoted only to fixing limitations and labels to it; it has rather been the revolutionaries, slandered as heretics..." A deplorable article by Mirochevsky, published in Dialéctica, in which Mariátegui is grossly characterized as a petty bourgeois populist,was later impugned by the articles on Mariátegui of Semionov and Shulgovski, both of whom see the great Peruvian Marxist in a totally different light. But even today there are people interested in misrepresenting his political thoughts and actions to the point of belittling his significance from the Liberation Army spokesman he is to that of a sort of moralizing Salvation Army sermonizer. With each passing day, though, this task grows more difficult.
In this chapter, "Ethics and Socialism," transcribed from his work Defense of Marxism, Mariétegui comes to grips with revolutionary ethics, with the ethics of socialism. For the great Peruvian, Marxist revolutionary ethics "does not emerge mechanically from economic interests; it is formed in the class struggle, carried on in a heroic frame of mind, with passionate willpower." And further on, he adds: "The worker who is indifferent to the class struggle, who derives satisfaction from his material well-being and, generally speaking, from his lot in life, will be able to attain a mediocre bourgeois moral standard, but will never be able to raise himself to the level of socialist ethics."
The charges that have been brought to bear against Marxism for its attributed unethicality, for its materialistic motives, for the sarcasm with which Marx and Engels deal with bourgeois ethics in their pages, are not new. Neo-revisionist critique does not say, as regards this matter, one single thing which socialist Utopians and all the run of the mill Pharisaical socialists have not said beforehand. But Marx's reinstatement, from the standpoint of ethics, has also been effected by Benedetto Croce — being one of the most fully recognized representatives of idealist philosophy, his judgments will seem to all concerned to carry more weight than any Jesuitic regret over the petty bourgeois mentality. In one of his first essays on historical materialism, confusing the thesis of the lack of ethics inherent in Marxism, Croce wrote the following:
"This current has been principally determined by the necessity in which Marx and Engels found themselves, before the various strains of socialist Utopians, of stating that the so-called social question is not a moral question (i. e., according to how it should be interpreted, this question will not be solved by preachings or by moral means), as well as by their severe criticism of class hypocrisy and ideology. It has also been nurtured, as far as I can see, by the Hegelian origin of the thoughts of Marx and Engels for it is known that in Hegelian philosophy ethics loses the rigidity which Kant gave it and which Herbart was later to lend support to. And, finally, the term "materialism" does not surrender in this connection a shred of efficacy, seeing that the mere term brings immediately to mind the full implications of what is meant by "interest" and "pleasure." But it is evident that the ideality and absoluteness of ethics, in the philosophical sense of such words, are necessary assumptions of socialism. Isn't the interest that drives us to create the concept of surplus value a moral or social interest, or whatever term might be used for defining it? In the sphere of pure economic science can one speak of the theory of surplus value? Doesn't the proletariat sell its productive capacity for what it's worth, given its situation in present day society? And, without this moral assumption, how can the tone of violent indignation and bitter sarcasm, along with Marx's political actions, contained in every page of Das Kapital, be accounted for?" (Materialismo Storico ed Economia Marxistica).
I have previously had occasion to set forth this passage from Croce, which led me, in turn, to quote some phrases by Unamuno, in his work entitled The Agony of Christianity (La agonía del cristianismo) and which consequently made me the recipient of a letter by Unamuno himself, who wrote me therein that Marx was more truly a prophet than a professor.
On more than one occasion Croce has quoted verbatim the passage referred to above. One of his critical conclusions on this subject la precisely "the negation of the intrinsic amorality or of the anti-ethicality of Marxism." And, In this same text, he wonders why no one "has thought of calling Marx, in the way of extending him a further honor, the Machiavelli of the proletariat," a fact which can be thoroughly and amply explained in the light of the conceptions he formulates in his defense of the author of The Prince, who was no less persecuted by regrets of which posterity made him the victim. On the subject of Machiavelli, Croce has on that he "discloses the necessity and autonomy of politics, which is beyond moral good and and the laws which it would be of no consequence at all to rebel against, which are immune to sort of exorcism and which cannot be made to take leave of the world with the aid of holy water."
In Croce's opinion Machiavelli gives evidence of being of "a divided mind and spirit on politics, of the autonomy of which he has become aware, and he now thinks of it as a corrupting influence for compelling him to sully his hands in dealing with basely ignorant people, and now as a sublime art with which to found and uphold that great institution, the State" (Elementi di politica). The similarity between these two cases has been clearly pointed out by Croce in the following terms:
"A case, in some respects analogous to that around which the discussions on Marxian ethics have centered, is the one having to do with the traditional critique on the ethics of Machiavelli; a critique which was brought to fruition by De Sanctis (in the chapter concerning Machiavelli in his Storia della litteratura), but a critique which nevertheless recurs quite systematically, and in a work by Professor Villari, one reads that Machiavelli's great imperfection is to be found in the fact that he did not propound the moral question. And I have often asked myself if Machiavelli was bound by contract or in any way obliged to deal with every sort of question, including those in which he took no interest and on which he had nothing to say. It would be tantamount to reproof of those who study chemistry for not delving into the metaphysical principles of matter."
The ethical function of socialism —in regard to which the hurried and summary extravaganzas of Marxists such as Lafargue, no doubt make for error— should be sought out, not in highfalutin decalogues nor in philosophical speculations, which in no way constitute a necessity in the formulation of Marxian theory, but in creating a morale for the producers by the same process of the anti-capitalist struggle.
"Vainly," Kautsky has said "have the English workers been made the object of moral preachings, of a loftier conception of life, of feelings underlying nobler deeds. The ethics of the proletariat derives from its revolutionary aspirations; from them will it be endowed with more strength and elevation of purpose. That which has saved the proletariat from debasement is the idea of revolution."
Sorel adds that for Kautsky ethics is always subordinated to the idea of the sublime, and though he disagrees with many official Marxists, who carried to extremes their paradoxes and jokes on the moralists, he nonetheless, concurs in that "Marxists had particular reasons for showing lack of confidence on all that which touched upon ethics; the propagandists of social reforms, the Utopians and the democrats had so repeatedly and misleadingly recurred to the concept of Justice that no one could be denied the right of looking upon all dissertations to this effect as a rhetorical exercise or as a sophistry, destined to lead astray those who were involved in the labor movement."
One can ascribe to the influence of Sorel's thought Edward Berth's apologia on this ethical function of socialism.
"Daniel Halevy," states Bert "seems to believe that the exaltation of the producer is bound to harm the man; he attributes to me a completely American enthusiasm for an industrial civilization But it will not be thus; the life of the free spirit is as dear to me as it is to him, and I am far from believing that in the world there is nothing else save production. It is always, in the end, the old charge levelled against the Marxists, who are held responsible for being both morally and metaphysically, materialists. Nothing could be more false; historical materialism does not impede in any way whatsoever the highest development of what Hegel calls the free or absolute spirit; quite the contrary, it is its preliminary condition. And our hope is, precisely, that in a society which rests on an ample economic base, made up by a federation of shops where free workers would be inspired by a spirited enthusiasm for production, art, religion and philosophy would in turn be given a prodigious impulse and the frantic and ardent rhythm resulting from it would simply skyrocket."
Luc Dartin's sagacity, sharpened by a finely wrought characteristically French irony, throws light on this religious-like ascendancy pervading Marxism, a phenomenon which conforms to principles inherent in the constitution of the first socialist country in the world. Historically it had already been proven by the socialist struggles of the West, that the sublime, such as the proletariat conceives of it, is not an intellectual utopia nor a propagandistic hypothesis.
When Henri de Man, demanding from socialism an ethical content, tries to demonstrate that class interest can not of itself become a sufficiently potent motor of the new order, he does not in any way go "beyond Marxism," nor does he make amends for things which have not already been pointed out by revolutionary criticism. His revisionism attacks revisionistic trade-unionism, in the practice of which class interest is content with the satisfaction of limited material aspirations. An ethics of producers, as is conceived by Sorel and Kautsky, does not emerge mechanically from economic interest, it is formed in the class struggle, engaged in with heroic disposition, with passionate will power. It is absurd to look for the ethical sentiments of socialism in those trade-unions which have fallen under the influence of the bourgeoisie — in which a domesticated bureaucracy has become enervated in its class consciousness — or in the parliamentary groups, spiritually assimilated by the class enemy, regardless of the fact of their combative stand before it as witnessed by their speeches and motions. Henri de Man expresses something which is perfectly superfluous and beside the point when he states: "The class interest doesn't explain everything. It does not create ethical motives." These avowals may impress a certain breed of nineteenth century intellectuals, whom, glaringly ignoring Marxist thought, glaringly ignoring the history of the class struggle, facilely imagine, as does Henri de Man, that they can surmount the limits of the Marxian school of thought. The ethics of socialism is formed in the class struggle. If the proletariat is to comply in its moral progress with its historical mission it becomes necessary for it to acquire beforehand a conscienciousness of its class interests; but in itself, class interest does not suffice. Long before Henri de Man, the Marxists have understood and felt this perfectly. Therein, precisely, arise their stalwart criticisms against lubberly reformism. "Without revolutionary theory, there is no revolutionary action," Lenin used to repeat, referring to the yellow-streaked tendency to forget historical finality in order to pay attention only to hourly circumstances.
The struggle for socialism instills in workers which take part in it extreme energy and absolute conviction along with an asceticism that forcibly cancels and makes utterly ridiculous any charge levelled against them having to do with their materialistic creed, and formulated on behalf of a theorizing and philosophical ethics. Luc Durtain, after visiting a Soviet school, asked whether he couldn't find in Russia a lay school, to such an extent did he regard of a religious tenor Marxist education. The materialist, if it be one who practices and is religiously devoted to his convictions, can only be distinguished from the idealist by a convention of language (Unamuno, touching upon another aspect of the opposition between idealism and materialism, states that "since what is matter to us is no more than an idea, materialism is idealism").
The worker who is indifferent to the class struggle, who derives satisfaction from his material well-being and generally speaking, from his lot in life, will be able to attain a mediocre bourgeois moral standard, but will never be able to raise himself to the level of socialist ethics. And it is preposterous to think that Marx ever advocated, or ever wanted to separate the worker from his source of livelihood, or ever wanted to deprive him of all that which binds him to his work, so that the class struggle might take hold of him more firmly, more completely. This conjecture is only conceivable in those who abide by far-fetched Marxist speculations, as Lafargue, the apologist of the right, as the individual to idleness was wont to do.
The mill, the factory, act on the worker's mind and soul. The union, the class struggle, continue and complete the worker's educational process.
"The factory," Gobetti points out, "offers the precise vision of the coexistence of the social interests: the solidarity of labor. The individual grows accustomed to feeling himself part of the productive process, an indispensable as well as an insufficient part. Here we have the most perfect school of pride and humility. I will never forget the first impression the workers gave me, when I undertook a visit to the Fiat furnaces, one of the few English-like modern capitalistic enterprises in Italy. I felt in those workers a self-possessed attitude, an unassuming assertiveness, a contempt for every manner of dilettantism. Whomever lives in a factory possesses the dignity of work, the willingness for making sacrifices and the habit of resisting fatigue. A way of life severely founded on a sense of tolerance and interdependence which induces punctuality, strictness and perseverance in the worker. These virtues of capitalism are offset by an almost bleak asceticism; whereas, on the other hand, selfrestrained suffering nourishes, when exasperation sets in, the courage to fight and the instinct for taking a defensive stand politically. English adultness, the capacity for believing in precise ideologies, of undergoing perils in order to make them prevail, the unbending will power of carrying forward with dignity the political struggle, are born of this apprenticeship, the significant implications of which are ushering in the greatest revolution since the rise of Christianity."
In this severe environment of persistency, of effort, of tenacity, the energies of European socialism have been forged, which, even in those countries where parliamentary reformism holds a big sway over the masses, offer Latin Americans an admirable example of continuity and duration. In different Latin American countries the socialist parties and the trade-union members have suffered a hundred defeats. However, each new year the elections, protest movements, any rally whatever, either of an ordinary or extraordinary character, will always find these masses greater in number and more obstinate. Renan recognized that which was mystical and religious in such a social creed. Quite justifiably Labriola praised German socialism:
"This truly new and imposing case of social pedagogy, i.e., that in such great numbers of workers and middle class sectors a new conscience should take shape, in which equally coincide a guiding perception of the economic circumstance — a stimulant conducive to stepping up the struggle — and socialist propaganda, understood as the goal and arriving point."
If socialism should not be achieved as a social order, this formidable edifying and educational accomplishment would prove more than enough to justify it in history. The previously quoted passage from de Man admits this postulation when he states, though with a different intention, that "the essential thing in socialism is the struggle in its behalf," a phrase which is very much reminiscent of those in which Bernstein advised the socialists to busy themselves primarily with the movement and not with the movement's results, by which, according to Sorel, the revisionist leader expressed a much more philosophical meaning than what he himself might have suspected. De Man does not ignore the pedagogical and spiritual function of the trade-union, though his own experience was inherently and mediocrely social-democratic.
"The trade-union organizations," he observes, "contribute in a much greater measure than the majority of the workers suppose, and almost all of the employers, to binding together more vigorously the ties between the workers and their regular chores. They obtain this result almost without their knowing it, by trying to keep up qualification and efficiency and by developing industrial education, by organizing the right the workers have to union inspection and applying democratic norms to shop discipline by the system of delegates and sections, etc. In so doing, the union renders the worker a service a great deal less problematical, considering him a citizen of a future city, rather than seeking the remedy in the disappearance of all the psychological relations between the worker and the environment of the shop."
But the Belgian neo-revisionist, notwithstanding his idealistic protestations, discovers the advantage and merit of all this in the increasing attachment of the worker to his material well-being and in the measure in which the latter factor makes a Philistine of him. Paradoxes of petit-bourgeois idealism!
Juan Carlos Mariategui
This article was republished from Marxists.org.
Dear compañero ,
Though belatedly, I am completing these notes in the course of my trip through Africa, hoping in this way to keep my promise. I would like to do so by dealing with the theme set forth in the title above. I think it may be of interest to Uruguayan readers.
A common argument from the mouths of capitalist spokespeople, in the ideological struggle against socialism, is that socialism, or the period of building socialism into which we have entered, is characterized by the abolition of the individual for the sake of the state. I will not try to refute this argument solely on theoretical grounds but rather to establish the facts as they exist in Cuba and then add comments of a general nature. Let me begin by broadly sketching the history of our revolutionary struggle before and after the taking of power.
As is well known, the exact date of the beginning of the revolutionary struggle — which would culminate in January 1959 — was July 26, 1953. A group led by Fidel Castro attacked the Moncada barracks in Oriente Province on the morning of that day. The attack was a failure; the failure became a disaster; and the survivors ended up in prison, beginning the revolutionary struggle again after they were freed by an amnesty. In this process, in which there was only the germ of socialism, the individual was a fundamental factor. We put our trust in him — individual, specific, with a first and last name — and the triumph or failure of the mission entrusted to him depended on that individual's capacity for action. Then came the stage of guerrilla struggle. It developed in two distinct environments: the people, the still sleeping mass that had to be mobilized; and its vanguard, the guerrillas, the motor force of the mobilization, the generator of revolutionary consciousness and militant enthusiasm. This vanguard was the catalyzing agent that created the subjective conditions necessary for victory.
Here again, in the framework of the proletarianization of our thinking, of this revolution that took place in our habits and our minds, the individual was the basic factor. Every one of the combatants of the Sierra Maestra who reached an upper rank in the revolutionary forces has a record of outstanding deeds to his or her credit. They attained their rank on this basis
First heroic stage
This was the first heroic period, and in which combatants competed for the heaviest responsibilities, for the greatest dangers, with no other satisfaction than fulfilling a duty. In our work of revolutionary education we frequently return to this instructive theme. In the attitude of our fighters could be glimpsed the man and woman of the future.
On other occasions in our history the act of total dedication to the revolutionary cause was repeated. During the October [1962 missile] crisis and in the days of Hurricane Flora [in October 1963] we saw exceptional deeds of valor and sacrifice performed by an entire people. Finding the method to perpetuate this heroic attitude in daily life is, from the ideological standpoint, one of our fundamental tasks.
In January 1959, the revolutionary government was established with the participation of various members of the treacherous bourgeoisie. The presence of the Rebel Army was the basic element constituting the guarantee of power. Serious contradictions developed right away. In the first instance, in February 1959, these were resolved when Fidel Castro assumed leadership of the government, taking the post of prime minister. This process culminated in July of the same year with the resignation under mass pressure of President Urrutia.
In the history of the Cuban Revolution there now appeared a character, well defined in its features, which would systematically reappear: the mass. This multifaceted being is not, as is claimed, the sum of elements of the same type (reduced, moreover, to that same type by the ruling system), which acts like a flock of sheep. It is true that it follows its leaders, basically Fidel Castro, without hesitation. But the degree to which he won this trust results precisely from having interpreted the full meaning of the people's desires and aspirations, and from the sincere struggle to fulfill the promises he made.
Participation of the masses
The mass participated in the agrarian reform and in the difficult task of administering state enterprises; it went through the heroic experience of the Bay of Pigs; it was hardened in the battles against various groups of bandits armed by the CIA; it lived through one of the most important decisions of modern times during the October [missile] crisis; and today it continues to work for the building of socialism.
Viewed superficially, it might appear that those who speak of the subordination of the individual to the state are right. The mass carries out with matchless enthusiasm and discipline the tasks set by the government, whether in the field of the economy, culture, defense, sports, etc. The initiative generally comes from Fidel, or from the revolutionary leadership, and is explained to the people, who make it their own. In some cases the party and government take a local experience and generalize it, following the same procedure.
Nevertheless, the state sometimes makes mistakes. When one of these mistakes occurs, one notes a decline in collective enthusiasm due to the effect of a quantitative diminution in each of the elements that make up the mass. Work is paralyzed until it is reduced to an insignificant level. It is time to make a correction. That is what happened in March 1962, as a result of the sectarian policy imposed on the party by Aníbal Escalante. Clearly this mechanism is not enough to ensure a succession of sensible measures. A more structured connection with the mass is needed, and we must improve it in the course of the coming years. But as far as initiatives originating in the upper strata of the government are concerned, we are currently utilizing the almost intuitive method of sounding out general reactions to the great problems we confront.
In this Fidel is a master. His own special way of fusing himself with the people can be appreciated only by seeing him in action. At the great public mass meetings one can observe something like the dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new sounds. Fidel and the mass begin to vibrate together in a dialogue of growing intensity until they reach the climax in an abrupt conclusion crowned by our cry of struggle and victory. The difficult thing to understand for someone not living through the experience of the revolution is this close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass, in which both are interrelated and, at the same time, in which the mass, as an aggregate of individuals, interacts with its leaders.
Some phenomena of this kind can be seen under capitalism, when politicians appear capable of mobilizing popular opinion. But when these are not genuine social movements — if they were, it would not be entirely correct to call them capitalist — they live only so long as the individual who inspires them, or until the harshness of capitalist society puts an end to the people's illusions.
Invisible laws of capitalism
In capitalist society individuals are controlled by a pitiless law usually beyond their comprehension. The alienated human specimen is tied to society as a whole by an invisible umbilical cord: the law of value. This law acts upon all aspects of one's life, shaping its course and destiny. The laws of capitalism, which are blind and are invisible to ordinary people, act upon the individual without he or she being aware of it. One sees only the vastness of a seemingly infinite horizon ahead. That is how it is painted by capitalist propagandists who purport to draw a lesson from the example of Rockefeller — whether or not it is true — about the possibilities of individual success. The amount of poverty and suffering required for a Rockefeller to emerge, and the amount of depravity entailed in the accumulation of a fortune of such magnitude, are left out of the picture, and it is not always possible for the popular forces to expose this clearly. (A discussion of how the workers in the imperialist countries gradually lose the spirit of working-class internationalism due to a certain degree of complicity in the exploitation of the dependent countries, and how this at the same time weakens the combativity of the masses in the imperialist countries, would be appropriate here, but that is a theme that goes beyond the scope of these notes.)
In any case, the road to success is portrayed as beset with perils — perils that, it would seem, an individual with the proper qualities can overcome to attain the goal. The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely. Furthermore, it is a contest among wolves. One can win only at the cost of the failure of others.
The individual and socialism
I would now like to try to define the individual, the actor in this strange and moving drama of the building of socialism, in a dual existence as a unique being and as a member of society.
I think the place to start is to recognize the individual's quality of incompleteness, of being an unfinished product. The vestiges of the past are brought into the present in one's consciousness, and a continual labor is necessary to eradicate them. The process is two-sided. On the one hand, society acts through direct and indirect education; on the other, the individual submits to a conscious process of self-education. The new society in formation has to compete fiercely with the past. This past makes itself felt not only in one's consciousness — in which the residue of an education systematically oriented toward isolating the individual still weighs heavily — but also through the very character of this transition period in which commodity relations still persist. The commodity is the economic cell of capitalist society. So long as it exists its effects will make themselves felt in the organization of production and, consequently, in consciousness.
Marx outlined the transition period as resulting from the explosive transformation of the capitalist system destroyed by its own contradictions. In historical reality, however, we have seen that some countries that were weak limbs on the tree of imperialism were torn off first — a phenomenon foreseen by Lenin.
In these countries, capitalism had developed sufficiently to make its effects felt by the people in one way or another. But it was not capitalism's internal contradictions that, having exhausted all possibilities, caused the system to explode. The struggle for liberation from a foreign oppressor; the misery caused by external events such as war, whose consequences privileged classes place on the backs of the exploited; liberation movements aimed at overthrowing neo-colonial regimes — these are the usual factors in unleashing this kind of explosion. Conscious action does the rest. A complete education for social labor has not yet taken place in these countries, and wealth is far from being within the reach of the masses through the simple process of appropriation. Underdevelopment, on the one hand, and the usual flight of capital, on the other, make a rapid transition without sacrifices impossible. There remains a long way to go in constructing the economic base, and the temptation is very great to follow the beaten track of material interest as the lever with which to accelerate development.
There is the danger that the forest will not be seen for the trees. The pipe dream that socialism can be achieved with the help of the dull instruments left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic cell, profitability, individual material interest as a lever, etc.) can lead into a blind alley. When you wind up there after having traveled a long distance with many crossroads, it is hard to figure out just where you took the wrong turn. Meanwhile, the economic foundation that has been laid has done its work of undermining the development of consciousness. To build communism it is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to build the new man and woman.
That is why it is very important to choose the right instrument for mobilizing the masses. Basically, this instrument must be moral in character, without neglecting, however, a correct use of the material incentive — especially of a social character.
As I have already said, in moments of great peril it is easy to muster a powerful response with moral incentives. Retaining their effectiveness, however, requires the development of a consciousness in which there is a new scale of values. Society as a whole must be converted into a gigantic school.
In rough outline this phenomenon is similar to the process by which capitalist consciousness was formed in its initial period. Capitalism uses force, but it also educates people in the system. Direct propaganda is carried out by those entrusted with explaining the inevitability of class society, either through some theory of divine origin or a mechanical theory of natural law. This lulls the masses, since they see themselves as being oppressed by an evil against which it is impossible to struggle.
Next comes hope of improvement — and in this, capitalism differed from the earlier caste systems, which offered no way out. For some people, the principle of the caste system will remain in effect: The reward for the obedient is to be transported after death to some fabulous other world where, according to the old beliefs, good people are rewarded. For other people there is this innovation: class divisions are determined by fate, but individuals can rise out of their class through work, initiative, etc. This process, and the myth of the self-made man, has to be profoundly hypocritical: it is the self-serving demonstration that a lie is the truth.
In our case, direct education acquires a much greater importance. The explanation is convincing because it is true; no subterfuge is needed. It is carried on by the state's educational apparatus as a function of general, technical and ideological education through such agencies as the Ministry of Education and the party's informational apparatus. Education takes hold among the masses and the foreseen new attitude tends to become a habit. The masses continue to make it their own and to influence those who have not yet educated themselves. This is the indirect form of educating the masses, as powerful as the other, structured, one.
Conscious process of self-education
But the process is a conscious one. Individuals continually feel the impact of the new social power and perceive that they do not entirely measure up to its standards. Under the pressure of indirect education, they try to adjust themselves to a situation that they feel is right and that their own lack of development had prevented them from reaching previously. They educate themselves.
In this period of the building of socialism we can see the new man and woman being born. The image is not yet completely finished — it never will be, since the process goes forward hand in hand with the development of new economic forms.
Aside from those whose lack of education makes them take the solitary road toward satisfying their own personal ambitions, there are those — even within this new panorama of a unified march forward — who have a tendency to walk separately from the masses accompanying them. What is important, however, is that each day individuals are acquiring ever more consciousness of the need for their incorporation into society and, at the same time, of their importance as the motor of that society.
They no longer travel completely alone over lost roads toward distant aspirations. They follow their vanguard, consisting of the party, the advanced workers, the advanced individuals who walk in unity with the masses and in close communion with them. The vanguard has its eyes fixed on the future and its reward, but this is not a vision of reward for the individual. The prize is the new society in which individuals will have different characteristics: the society of communist human beings.
The road is long and full of difficulties. At times we lose our way and must turn back. At other times we go too fast and separate ourselves from the masses. Sometimes we go too slow and feel the hot breath of those treading at our heels. In our zeal as revolutionaries we try to move ahead as fast as possible, clearing the way. But we know we must draw our nourishment from the mass and that it can advance more rapidly only if we inspire it by our example.
Despite the importance given to moral incentives, the fact that there remains a division into two main groups (excluding, of course, the minority that for one reason or another does not participate in the building of socialism) indicates the relative lack of development of social consciousness. The vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the mass; the latter understands the new values, but not sufficiently. While among the former there has been a qualitative change that enables them to make sacrifices in their capacity as an advance guard, the latter see only part of the picture and must be subject to incentives and pressures of a certain intensity. This is the dictatorship of the proletariat operating not only on the defeated class but also on individuals of the victorious class.
All of this means that for total success a series of mechanisms, of revolutionary institutions, is needed. Along with the image of the multitudes marching toward the future comes the concept of institutionalization as a harmonious set of channels, steps, restraints and well-oiled mechanisms which facilitate the advance, which facilitate the natural selection of those destined to march in the vanguard, and which bestow rewards on those who fulfill their duties and punishments on those who commit a crime against the society that is being built.
Institutionalization of the revolution
This institutionalization of the revolution has not yet been achieved. We are looking for something new that will permit a complete identification between the government and the community in its entirety, something appropriate to the special conditions of the building of socialism, while avoiding at all costs transplanting the commonplaces of bourgeois democracy — such as legislative chambers, for example — into the society in formation.
Some experiments aimed at the gradual institutionalization of the revolution have been made, but without undue haste. The greatest brake has been our fear lest any appearance of formality might separate us from the masses and from the individual, which might make us lose sight of the ultimate and most important revolutionary aspiration: to see human beings liberated from their alienation.
Despite the lack of institutions, which must be overcome gradually, the masses are now making history as a conscious collective of individuals fighting for the same cause. The individual under socialism, despite apparent standardization, is more complete. Despite the lack of a perfect mechanism for it, the opportunities for self expression and making oneself felt in the social organism are infinitely greater.
It is still necessary to deepen conscious participation, individual and collective, in all the structures of management and production, and to link this to the idea of the need for technical and ideological education, so that the individual will realize that these processes are closely interdependent and their advancement is parallel. In this way the individual will reach total consciousness as a social being, which is equivalent to the full realization as a human creature, once the chains of alienation are broken. This will be translated concretely into the reconquering of one's true nature through liberated labor, and the expression of one's own human condition through culture and art.
New status of work
In order to develop a new culture, work must acquire a new status. Human beings-as-commodities cease to exist, and a system is installed that establishes a quota for the fulfillment of one's social duty. The means of production belong to society, and the machine is merely the trench where duty is performed. A person begins to become free from thinking of the annoying fact that one needs to work to satisfy one's animal needs. Individuals start to see themselves reflected in their work and to understand their full stature as human beings through the object created, through the work accomplished. Work no longer entails surrendering a part of one's being in the form of labor power sold, which no longer belongs to the individual, but becomes an expression of oneself, a contribution to the common life in which one is reflected, the fulfillment of one's social duty.
We are doing everything possible to give work this new status as a social duty and to link it on the one hand with the development of technology, which will create the conditions for greater freedom, and on the other hand with voluntary work based on the Marxist appreciation that one truly reaches a full human condition when no longer compelled to produce by the physical necessity to sell oneself as a commodity. Of course, there are still coercive aspects to work, even when it is voluntary. We have not transformed all the coercion that surrounds us into conditioned reflexes of a social character and, in many cases, is still produced under the pressures of one's environment. (Fidel calls this moral compulsion.) There is still a need to undergo a complete spiritual rebirth in one's attitude toward one's own work, freed from the direct pressure of the social environment, though linked to it by new habits. That will be communism. The change in consciousness does not take place automatically, just as change in the economy does not take place automatically. The alterations are slow and not rhythmic; there are periods of acceleration, periods that are slower, and even retrogressions.
Furthermore, we must take into account, as I pointed out before, that we are not dealing with a period of pure transition, as Marx envisaged in his Critique of the Gotha Program, but rather with a new phase unforeseen by him: an initial period of the transition to communism, or of the construction of socialism. This transition is taking place in the midst of violent class struggles, and with elements of capitalism within it that obscure a complete understanding of its essence.
If we add to this the scholasticism that has held back the development of Marxist philosophy and impeded a systematic treatment of the transition period, whose political economy has not yet been developed, we must agree that we are still in diapers and that it is necessary to devote ourselves to investigating all the principal characteristics of this period before elaborating an economic and political theory of greater scope.
The resulting theory will, no doubt, put great stress on the two pillars of the construction of socialism: the education of the new man and woman and the development of technology. Much remains to be done in regard to both, but delay is least excusable in regard to the concept of technology as a basic foundation, since this is not a question of going forward blindly but of following a long stretch of road already opened up by the world's more advanced countries. This is why Fidel pounds away with such insistence on the need for the technological and scientific training of our people and especially of its vanguard.
In the field of ideas that do not lead to activities involving production, it is easier to see the division between material and spiritual necessity. For a long time individuals have been trying to free themselves from alienation through culture and art. While a person dies every day during the eight or more hours in which he or she functions as a commodity, individuals come to life afterward in their spiritual creations. But this remedy bears the germs of the same sickness: that of a solitary being seeking harmony with the world. One defends one's individuality, which is oppressed by the environment, and reacts to aesthetic ideas as a unique being whose aspiration is to remain immaculate. It is nothing more than an attempt to escape. The law of value is no longer simply a reflection of the relations of production; the monopoly capitalists — even while employing purely empirical methods — surround that law with a complicated scaffolding that turns it into a docile servant. The superstructure imposes a kind of art in which the artist must be educated. Rebels are subdued by the machine, and only exceptional talents may create their own work. The rest become shamefaced hirelings or are crushed.
A school of artistic experimentation is invented, which is said to be the definition of freedom; but this “experimentation” has its limits, imperceptible until there is a clash, that is, until the real problems of individual alienation arise. Meaningless anguish or vulgar amusement thus become convenient safety valves for human anxiety. The idea of using art as a weapon of protest is combated.
Those who play by the rules of the game are showered with honors — such honors as a monkey might get for performing pirouettes. The condition is that one does not try to escape from the invisible cage.
New impulse for artistic experimentation
When the revolution took power there was an exodus of those who had been completely housebroken. The rest — whether they were revolutionaries or not — saw a new road. Artistic inquiry experienced a new impulse. The paths, however, had already been more or less laid out, and the escapist concept hid itself behind the word “freedom.” This attitude was often found even among the revolutionaries themselves, a reflection in their consciousness of bourgeois idealism.
In countries that have gone through a similar process, attempts have been made to combat such tendencies with an exaggerated dogmatism. General culture became virtually taboo, and the acme of cultural aspiration was declared to be the formally exact representation of nature. This was later transformed into a mechanical representation of the social reality they wanted to show: the ideal society, almost without conflicts or contradictions, that they sought to create.
Socialism is young and has its mistakes. We revolutionaries often lack the knowledge and intellectual audacity needed to meet the task of developing the new man and woman with methods different from the conventional ones; conventional methods suffer from the influences of the society that created them. (Once again the theme of the relationship between form and content is posed.) Disorientation is widespread, and the problems of material construction absorb us. There are no artists of great authority who also have great revolutionary authority. The members of the party must take this task in hand and seek the achievement of the main goal: to educate the people.
What is sought then is simplification, something everyone can understand, something functionaries understand. True artistic experimentation ends, and the problem of general culture is reduced to assimilating the socialist present and the dead (therefore, not dangerous) past. Thus socialist realism arises upon the foundations of the art of the last century. The realistic art of the 19th century, however, also has a class character, more purely capitalist perhaps than the decadent art of the 20th century that reveals the anguish of the alienated individual. In the field of culture, capitalism has given all that it had to give, and nothing remains but the stench of a corpse, today's decadence in art.
But why try to find the only valid prescription in the frozen forms of socialist realism? We cannot counterpose “freedom” to socialist realism, because the former does not yet exist and will not exist until the complete development of the new society. We must not, from the pontifical throne of realism-at-all-costs, condemn all art forms since the first half of the 19th century, for we would then fall into the Proudhonian mistake of going back to the past, of putting a strait-jacket on the artistic expression of the people who are being born and are in the process of making themselves. What is needed is the development of an ideological-cultural mechanism that permits both free inquiry and the uprooting of the weeds that multiply so easily in the fertilized soil of state subsidies.
In our country the error of mechanical realism has not appeared, but rather its opposite. This is because the need for the creation of a new individual has not been understood, a new human being who would represent neither the ideas of the 19th century nor those of our own decadent and morbid century.
What we must create is the human being of the 21stcentury, although this is still a subjective aspiration, not yet systematized. This is precisely one of the fundamental objectives of our study and our work. To the extent that we achieve concrete success on a theoretical plane — or, vice versa, to the extent that we draw theoretical conclusions of a broad character on the basis of our concrete research — we will have made a valuable contribution to Marxism-Leninism, to the cause of humanity.
By reacting against the human being of the 19th century we have relapsed into the decadence of the 20th century. It is not a very grave error, but we must overcome it lest we leave open the door for revisionism. The great multitudes continue to develop. The new ideas are gaining a good momentum within society. The material possibilities for the integrated development of absolutely all members of society make the task much more fruitful. The present is a time of struggle; the future is ours.
New revolutionary generation
To sum up, the fault of many of our artists and intellectuals lies in their original sin: they are not true revolutionaries. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will bear pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees. New generations will come that will be free of original sin. The probability that great artists will appear will be greater to the degree that the field of culture and the possibilities for expression are broadened.
Our task is to prevent the current generation, torn asunder by its conflicts, from becoming perverted and from perverting new generations. We must not create either docile servants of official thought, or “scholarship students” who live at the expense of the state — practicing freedom in quotation marks. Revolutionaries will come who will sing the song of the new man and woman in the true voice of the people. This is a process that takes time. In our society the youth and the party play a big part. The former is especially important because it is the malleable clay from which the new person can be built with none of the old defects. The youth are treated in accordance with our aspirations. Their education is every day more complete, and we do not neglect their incorporation into work from the outset. Our scholarship students do physical work during their vacations or along with their studies. Work is a reward in some cases, a means of education in others, but it is never a punishment. A new generation is being born. The party is a vanguard organization. It is made up of the best workers, who are proposed for membership by their fellow workers. It is a minority, but it has great authority because of the quality of its cadres. Our aspiration is for the party to become a mass party, but only when the masses have reached the level of the vanguard, that is, when they are educated for communism. Our work constantly strives toward this education. The party is the living example; its cadres must teach hard work and sacrifice. By their action, they must lead the masses to the completion of the revolutionary task, which involves years of hard struggle against the difficulties of construction, class enemies, the maladies of the past, imperialism.
Role of the individual
Now, I would like to explain the role played by the personality, by men and women as individuals leading the masses that make history. This is our experience; it is not a prescription.
Fidel gave the revolution its impulse in the first years, and also its leadership. He always set its tone; but there is a good group of revolutionaries who are developing along the same road as the central leader. And there is a great mass that follows its leaders because it has faith in them. It has faith in those leaders because they have known how to interpret its aspirations.
It is not a matter of how many kilograms of meat one has to eat, or of how many times a year someone can go to the beach, or how many pretty things from abroad you might be able to buy with present-day wages. It is a matter of making the individual feel more complete, with much more inner wealth and much more responsibility.
People in our country know that the glorious period in which they happen to live is one of sacrifice; they are familiar with sacrifice. The first ones came to know it in the Sierra Maestra and wherever they fought; later, everyone in Cuba came to know it. Cuba is the vanguard of America and must make sacrifices because it occupies the post of advance guard, because it shows the masses of Latin America the road to full freedom. Within the country the leadership has to carry out its vanguard role. It must be said with all sincerity that in a real revolution, to which one gives his or her all and from which one expects no material reward, the task of the vanguard revolutionary is both magnificent and agonizing.
Love of living humanity
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. Perhaps it is one of the great dramas of the leader that he or she must combine a passionate spirit with a cold intelligence and make painful decisions without flinching. Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, of the most sacred causes, and make it one and indivisible. They cannot descend, with small doses of daily affection, to the level where ordinary people put their love into practice.
The leaders of the revolution have children just beginning to talk, who are not learning to say “daddy”; their wives, too, must be part of the general sacrifice of their lives in order to take the revolution to its destiny. The circle of their friends is limited strictly to the circle of comrades in the revolution. There is no life outside of it.
In these circumstances one must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice and truth in order to avoid dogmatic extremes, cold scholasticism, or an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
The revolutionary, the ideological motor force of the revolution within the party, is consumed by this uninterrupted activity that comes to an end only with death, unless the construction of socialism is accomplished on a world scale. If one's revolutionary zeal is blunted when the most urgent tasks have been accomplished on a local scale and one forgets about proletarian internationalism, the revolution one leads will cease to be a driving force and sink into a comfortable drowsiness that imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize to gain ground. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. This is the way we educate our people.
Danger of dogmatism
Of course there are dangers in the present situation, and not only that of dogmatism, not only that of freezing the ties with the masses midway in the great task. There is also the danger of the weaknesses we can fall into. The way is open to infection by the germs of future corruption if a person thinks that dedicating his or her entire life to the revolution means that, in return, one should not be distracted by such worries as that one's child lacks certain things, that one's children's shoes are worn out, that one's family lacks some necessity.
In our case we have maintained that our children must have, or lack, those things that the children of the ordinary citizen have or lack; our families should understand this and struggle for it to be that way. The revolution is made through human beings, but individuals must forge their revolutionary spirit day by day.
Thus we march on. At the head of the immense column — we are neither ashamed nor afraid to say it — is Fidel. After him come the best cadres of the party, and immediately behind them, so close that we feel its tremendous force, comes the people in its entirety, a solid structure of individual beings moving toward a common goal, men and women who have attained consciousness of what must be done, people who fight to escape from the realm of necessity and to enter that of freedom.
This great throng organizes itself; its organization results from its consciousness of the necessity of this organization. It is no longer a dispersed force, divisible into thousands of fragments thrown into the air like splinters from a hand grenade, trying by any means to achieve some protection from an uncertain future, in desperate struggle with their fellows.
We know that sacrifices lie ahead and that we must pay a price for the heroic fact that we are, as a nation, a vanguard. We, as leaders, know that we must pay a price for the right to say that we are at the head of a people that is at the head of America. Each and every one of us readily pays his or her quota of sacrifice, conscious of being rewarded with the satisfaction of fulfilling a duty, conscious of advancing with everyone toward the new man and woman glimpsed on the horizon.
Allow me to draw some conclusions:
We socialists are freer because we are more fulfilled; we are more fulfilled because we are freer.
The basic clay of our work is the youth; we place our hope in it and prepare it to take the banner from our hands. If this inarticulate letter clarifies anything, it has accomplished the objective that motivated it. Accept our ritual greeting — which is like a handshake or an “Ave Maria Puríssima”:
Patria o muerte! [Homeland or death!]
. This letter was sent to Carlos Quijano, director of the Uruguayan weekly publication, Marcha . It was published on March 12, 1965, under the title, “From Algiers, for Marcha . The Cuban Revolution Today.” In the original edition the following editor's note was added: “Che Guevara sent this letter to Marcha from Algiers. This document is of the utmost importance, especially in order to understand the aims and goals of the Cuban Revolution as seen by one of the main actors in that process. The thesis presented is intended to provoke debate and, at the same time, give a new perspective on some of the foundations of current socialist thought.” On November 5, 1965, the letter was republished and presented as “Exclusive: A Special Note from Che Guevara.” A memo explained that Marcha 's readers in Argentina had not been able to read the original publication, because the week that it was first published the magazine was banned in Buenos Aires. Subheadings are based on those used in the original Cuban edition. They have been added by the publisher.
. When Che sent the letter to Quijano, he had been touring Africa since December 1964. During this African tour, Che held many meetings with African revolutionary leaders.
. Che's concept of the man or woman of the future, as first evident in the consciousness of the combatants in Cuba's revolutionary war, was explored by his article, “Social Ideals of the Rebel Army” (1959). These ideas were further developed in a speech, “The Revolutionary Doctor” (1960), where he described how Cuba was creating “a new type of individual” as a result of the revolution, because “there is nothing that can educate a person... like living through a revolution.” These first ideas were deepened as part of Che's concept of the individual as a direct and conscious actor in the process of constructing socialism. This article presents a synthesis of his ideas on this question.
. These two events in the early years of the revolution seriously tested the valor of the Cuban people in the face of disaster: first, the October [Missile] Crisis of 1962, during which the U.S. actions aimed at overthrowing the Cuban Revolution brought the world to the brink of crisis; and second, Hurricane Flora, which battered the eastern region of Cuba on October 4, 1963, resulting in over a thousand deaths. Nevertheless, Che believed that if, in fact, a new society was to be created, the masses needed to apply the same kind of consciousness in everyday activities as they had heroically displayed in such special circumstances.
. The revolutionary victory of January 1, 1959, meant that for the first time in their history, the Cuban people attained a genuine level of popular participation in power. At first, the government was made up of figures from traditional political parties that had in one way or another supported the revolution. As measures were adopted that affected the ruling classes, some dissent emerged that became the germ of the future counterrevolution, which was subsequently supported and funded by the U.S. Government. In this early confrontation, President Manuel Urrutia was forced to resign due to public pressure when it became clear that he was presenting obstacles to measures that would benefit the population as a whole. It was at this time, with the full backing of the Cuban people, that Fidel assumed government leadership and became Prime Minister.
. The Agrarian Reform Law of May 17, 1959, after only four months of taking power, was seen as the decisive step in fulfilling the revolutionary program proposed at Moncada in 1953. Che participated in the drafting of this new law along with other comrades proposed by the revolutionary leadership.
. On April 17, 1961, mercenary troops that were trained and financed by the U.S. Government, along with exile counterrevolutionary groups, invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. This was part of the U.S. plan to destabilize and ultimately overthrow the revolution. In these circumstances, the Cuban masses, who felt that they were the participants in a genuine process of social transformation, showed they were ready to defend the gains of the revolution and were able to defeat any attempt to destroy it.
. The manifestations of sectarianism, which emerged in Cuba in the 1960s, forced the revolutionary leadership to take measures that would impede any tendency toward separating the government from the masses. As part of that leadership, Che participated in this process and analyzed on many occasions the grave consequences of such a separation. He expressed these views, for example, in the prolog he wrote for the book, The Marxist-Leninist Party , published in 1963, where he explained: “Mistakes were made in the leadership; the party lost those essential qualities that linked them with the masses, the exercise of democratic centralism and the spirit of sacrifice... the function of the driving force of ideology is lost... [F]ortunately the old bases for this type of sectarianism have been destroyed.”
. The debate over the role of the law of value within the construction of socialism formed part of Che's outline of an economic framework and his initial ideas for the Budgetary Finance System. Due to his revolutionary humanist perspective, Che rejected any notion that included using capitalist tools or fetishes. These ideas were widely discussed in his article, “On the Concept of Value,” published in the magazine Our Industry in October 1963. Here we see the beginning of the economic debate that Che initiated in those years and which had international significance. This polemic was conducted in his typically rigorous style. Outlining the guidelines to be followed, Che wrote: “We want to make it clear that the debate we have initiated can be invaluable for our development only if we are capable of conducting it with a strictly scientific approach and with the greatest equanimity.”
. Nelson Rockefeller, who became one of the wealthiest people in the United States, acquired his capital by a “stroke of luck,” so the story goes, when his family discovered oil. Rockefeller's economic power brought him great political influence for many years — especially with regard to Latin America policy — irrespective of who was in the White House.
. For Che, socialism could not exist if economics was not combined with social and political consciousness. Without an awareness of rights and duties, it would be impossible to construct a new society. This attitude would be the mechanism of socialist transition and the essential form of expressing this would be through consciousness. In this work, Che analyzed the decisive role of consciousness as opposed to the distortions produced by “real existing socialism,” based on the separation of the material base of society from its superstructure. Unfortunately, historical events proved Che right, when a moral and political crisis brought about the collapse of the socialist system. Among Che's writings on this question are: “Collective Discussion: Decisions and Sole Responsibilities” (1961), “On the Construction of the Party” (1963), “Awarding Certificates for Communist Work” (1964) and “A New Attitude to Work” (1964).
. From early on Che studied the concept of underdevelopment as he tried to define the realities of the Third World. In his article, “Cuba: Historical Exception or Vanguard in the Anticolonial Struggle?” (1961), Che asked: “What is 'underdevelopment'? A dwarf with an enormous head and swollen chest is 'underdeveloped,' insofar as his fragile legs and short arms do not match the rest of his anatomy. He is the product of an abnormal and distorted development. That is what we are in reality — we, who are politely referred to as 'underdeveloped.' In truth, we are colonial, semicolonial or dependent countries, whose economies have been deformed by imperialism, which has peculiarly developed only those branches of industry or agriculture needed to complement its own complex economy.”
. Che argued that the full liberation of humankind is reached when work becomes a social duty carried out with complete satisfaction and sustained by a value system that contributes to the realization of conscious action in performing tasks. This could only be achieved by systematic education, acquired by passing through various stages in which collective action is increased. Che recognized that this would be difficult and would take time. In his desire to speed up this process, however, he developed methods of mobilizing people, bringing together their collective and individual interests. Among the most significant of these instruments were moral and material incentives, while deepening consciousness as a way of developing toward socialism. See Che's speeches: “Homage to Emulation Prize Winners” (1962) and “A New Attitude to Work” (1964).
. In the process of creating the new man and woman, Che considered that education should be directly related to production and that it should be conducted on a daily basis as the only way for individuals to better themselves. This should also be undertaken in a collective spirit, so that it contributes to the development of consciousness and has a greater impact. On a practical level he developed an education system within the Ministry of Industry that guaranteed a minimum level of training for workers, so that they could meet the new scientific and technolgical challenges Cuba faced.
. Che discussed the role of the vanguard at key points. First, he defined the vanguard as a necessary element in leading the struggle and within the first line of defense. After the revolution, Che saw the vanguard as providing the real impulse for the masses to participate actively in the construction of a new society; at the head of the vanguard being the party. For this reason, Che occasionally insisted that the revolution was an accelerated process wherein those who play an active role have the right to become tired but not to become tired of being the vanguard.
. In the period when Che was a leader, the Cuban Revolution had not yet reached a level of institutionalization so that old power structures had been completely eliminated. Nevertheless, Che argued that such institutionalization was important as a means of formalizing the integration of the masses and the vanguard. Years later in 1976, after the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, this task of institutionalization was codified, as an expression of the power structures created by the revolution.
. It was Che's view that work played a crucial role in the construction of a new society. He analyzed the differences between work undertaken within a capitalist society and that which was free of alienation in a socialist society. He was aware of what was required so that workers would give their utmost and put duty and sacrifice ahead of individual gain. In a speech in 1961, Che referred to daily work as, “the most difficult, constant task that demands neither an instant violent sacrifice nor a single minute in a comrade's life in order to defend the revolution, but demands long hours ever day...”
. In order to understand the construction of socialism as a process that would eliminate the persistent roots of the previous society, Che examined the inherited relations of production. He insisted that two fundamental changes must occur as the only way to put an end to the exploitation of one human being by another and to achieve a socialist society: an increase in production and a deepening of consciousness.
. An article such as Socialism and Man in Cuba could not avoid a discussion of culture, given the enormous changes that were taking place in Cuban society and power structures at the time. It was not an easy task to reflect on the concept of socialist culture in a country that was just emerging from underdevelopment and was still characterized by a neocolonial culture, imposed by a dominant class. There was a constant struggle between the values of the past and the attempt to construct an all-encompassing culture based on solidarity between people and real social justice. The struggle was made more difficult, not only by the persistence of the past culture but also by dogmatic and authoritarian tendencies of so-called “socialist realism” in socialist countries. The antidote was to defend the best and most unique aspects of Cuban culture, avoiding excesses, and by trying to construct a culture that would express the feelings of the majority without vulgarity and schemas. This is the perspective that has been maintained in the development of revolutionary culture in Cuba, and neither neoliberalism nor globalization has been able to impede the genuine process of popular culture. This is the expression of a truly socialist society.
. The role of the party and revolutionary youth in the construction of a new society was broadly analyzed by Che: “On the Construction of the Party,” “The Marxist-Leninist Party,” “To be a Young Communist” and “Youth and Revolution.”
. The harmony established between Fidel and Che from their first meeting in Mexico in 1955 represented a coming together of common ideals and a common approach to the liberation of Latin America and the building of a new society. Che referred to Fidel on many occasions in his writings and speeches, evaluating his qualities as a leader and statesman with sincere admiration and respect. Fidel reciprocated these feelings countless times. Their relationship should be investigated more deeply in order to gain a greater understanding of a transcendental historical era. For further reference see Che's Episodes of a Revolutionary War , Guerrilla Warfare , “Cuba: Historical Exception or Vanguard in the Anticolonial Struggle?”, “Political Sovereignty and Economic Independence” and “The Marxist-Leninist Party.”
. The study of the different stages of the Cuban Revolution — from guerrilla warfare to the achievement of revolutionary power — is systematically reflected in all Che's writings and speeches. He always highlighted the significance of Cuba's example for the rest of the Third World, as a symbol of freedom and showing the fruits of the initial stages of constructing socialism in an underdeveloped country. Aside from those already cited, see: “Farewell to the International Brigades for Voluntary Work” (1960) and “The Cuban Revolution's Influence in Latin America” (1962).
. Che's conclusions here summarized some of the most important concepts permeating his works, which are beautifully synthesized in this volume. These ideas provide a complete spectrum that encompasses philosophy, ethics and politics, spanning a range of complex questions.
Ernesto Che Guevara
This letter was republsihed from Marxists.org
The Western Ruling class constantly strives to isolate the US working class from radical workers organizing around the globe. Capitalists understand that communication amongst the workers would allow them to see through the lies of capitalist imperialism, and build a global class solidarity which would be incredibly threatening to the interests of the ruling class. For this same reason, the Midwestern Marx Editorial Board decided to Interview Peruvian Marxist Intellectual and militant Sebastian León, so that we could pick his brain about current events in Peru and their historical developments. Sebastian provided us a brilliant summary of the turbulent political and economic history of Peru, the struggle of their indigenous working class, their battle against imperialism, and so much more. As a Marxist party now takes power in Peru, it is time for the international working class to show solidarity with the Peruvian workers and educate ourselves on the history of their struggle for liberation. Whether you’re living in the Imperial core of the United States, or elsewhere around the world, we will always have more in common with Peruvian workers than with the capitalists of our own countries. Solidarity with the proletariat of Peru in their struggle against those who see them only as a source of cheap labour power.
Tim Russo, Mitchell K. Jones, Calla Winchell, Edward Liger Smith, and Carlos L Garrido
About the Author:
Sebastián León is a philosophy teacher at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he received his MA in philosophy (2018). His main subject of interest is the history of modernity, understood as a series of cultural, economic, institutional and subjective processes, in which the impetus for emancipation and rational social organization are imbricated with new and sophisticated forms of power and social control. He is a socialist militant, and has collaborated with lectures and workshops for different grassroots organizations.
Every Region of the World Is the Worst Affected: The Twenty-Third Newsletter (2021). By: Vijay PrashadRead Now
Faisal Laibi Sahi (Iraq), Cafe 2, 2014.
Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
Each month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) releases a monthly food price index. The release on 3 June showed that food prices have surged by 40%, the largest rise since 2011. The impact of this food price rise will grievously hit developing countries, most of whom are major importers of food staples.
Prices rise for a range of reasons, the current rise largely fuelled by the collapse of sizeable sections of the global economy during the pandemic. Warnings of general inflation due to lockdown-related pent-up demand, shipping bottlenecks, and oil price increases loom over richer states, which – due to the power of the wealthy bondholders – have few tools to manage inflation, and by poorer states, which swirl in a cataclysmic debt crisis.
Rising food prices come at a time when unemployment rates in many parts of the world have skyrocketed. On 2 June, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) released its annual World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 report, which showed, as expected, that the pandemic-related economic collapse has meant the loss of hundreds of millions of jobs and working hours. The ILO shows that this collapse – accelerated by COVID-19 – has brought on the ‘worsening of long-standing structural challenges and inequalities in the world of work, undermining recent progress in poverty reduction, gender equality, and decent work’.
The effects of the collapse are ‘highly uneven’, further exacerbating what we call the ‘three apartheids of our times (money, medicine, and food)’. Stalled vaccination programmes in countries such as India – which produces 60% of the world’s vaccines – and grave debt challenges for countries such as Argentina – which cannot get wealthy bondholders to give it a grace period for debt servicing payments – prevent recovery and further the cascading phenomenon of hunger and despair.
Wayne Cahill Barker (South Africa), In God We Trust, 2018.
The editors of New Frame (Johannesburg, South Africa) were struck by the fact that youth unemployment in their country has hit 74.7% (overall unemployment is at 42.3%, itself a jaw-dropping number). More and more people struggle to survive. The words of the New Frame editorial are worth lingering upon:
Millions of people endure blocked lives, passing time in a stasis marked by tightening circles of shame, failure, fear, and despair. Some start to sleep most of the day. Some turn to transactional forms of religion, offering submission in the hope of reward. Some succumb to the temptation to dull their pain with cheap heroin. Some take what they can from who they can, how they can. Some, often supported by the grace of family, friends, and community, manage to find a way to hold on to enough hope to keep going.
Nothing here will be alien to readers in South America or in South Asia, in Papua New Guinea or in Equatorial Guinea.
Xul Solar (Argentina), Casas en alto, 1922.
The ILO report shows that the ‘worst-affected regions in the first half of 2021 have been Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe and Central Asia’. This is one of those phrases – ‘worst-affected regions’ – which mean little. Every region of the world is the worst-affected, each region dense with suffering.
Nonetheless, Latin America and the Caribbean has been the most impacted by COVID-19, with 8.4% of the global population and 27.8% of the deaths because of the pandemic (though these numbers are inaccurate, given the collapse of measurement in India). Spikes of COVID-19 infections continue across Latin America and the Caribbean, the death toll surpassing one million in late May 2021. As a consequence of long-term vulnerabilities in the region and erratic lockdowns, the unemployment rates are high and the external debt service as a proportion of export of goods and services is debilitating (above 59%).
A key problem in the countries of Latin America is the rise of poverty amongst the working class, which includes both those who are employed and those who are unemployed. The employed – many of whom work for fewer hours than before and under precarious conditions – are as likely to face the challenges of hunger and indignity as those who have slipped into the ranks of the almost permanently unemployed. Policies for the generation of employment ‘must be at the centre of the economic recovery’, said the ILO’s Latin America and the Caribbean director Vinícius Pinheiro, although the grip of international finance makes it difficult for governments to adopt employment generating policies.
Anthony Okello (Kenya), Order from Above, 2012.
This is precisely why Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research – in dialogue with a network of like-minded research institutes – has begun to draft a Plan for the 7.9 Billion under the leadership of Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP). We drafted a five-point plan that we hope will spur discussion and debate:
We welcome any input regarding these points, which will be part of an integrated plan that includes a proposal to raise finances for it. If you have any suggestions, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is a decentralised network of research centres and projects based in the continents of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One of these centres is in Buenos Aires, where Instituto Tricontinental de Investigación Social has been closely studying the crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also looking carefully at modes to exit the crisis. One report, for instance, looks in detail at the precarious workers of Argentina, the excluded workers whose labour holds together society. In this report, the researchers note that the Movement of Excluded Workers (MTE) not only leads the sector with struggles against their terrible working conditions, but that the workers have an integrated plan for the reconstruction of Argentina’s economy. Another report from the Research Collective on Work – Argentina (Colectivo de trabajo Argentina) looks closely at the rise of inequality between the richer and poorer nations as well as within the poorer nations. These researchers are building a robust assessment of the social reproduction of poverty with special emphasis on the gendered division of labour to equip the public debates about the way forward not only out of the crisis of the pandemic, but out of the crisis of capitalism.
In 2019, the team in Buenos Aires set up the Observatory of the Conjuncture in Latin America and the Caribbean (OBSAL) to produce an analysis of the strategies and policies that confound the region. The OBSAL reports are published every two months. In OBSAL’s Report no. 12 (May 2021), for instance, the researchers travel from the massive protests and crackdown in Colombia to the elections for a new constituent assembly in Chile. There is no better place to get a handle on the density of events that reveal – after analysis – the structural tendencies at work in the continent.
Gerardo Chávez (Peru), La justicia en su laberinto, 2009.
During her presentation to the UN’s High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation on 2 June, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL), said that the continent needed to eradicate poverty, move towards equality, and revitalise the process of regional integration. This is a correct assessment, although tempered by the intrusion of the United States and wealthy bondholders, the former seeking to drive countries of Latin America against each other and the latter preventing a healthy renegotiation of regional debt. Our researchers are gathering the evidence not only of the problems, but also seeking to assemble the elements for solutions to the structural crises. Our countries need a long-term plan to exit this neoliberal nightmare. Help us develop such an agenda.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was first published The Tricontinental.
The range of available commentaries on the 19th century American poet, Walt Whitman, should make anyone uneasy about placing him within a firm ideological tradition. On the one hand, his association with the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his elevation of the United States as “the greatest poem” are flattering to a ruling class who extol rugged individualism and evangelize about American exceptionalism (I remember when his poetry was used in a Levi’s Jeans commercial). Yet, the admiration he enjoyed during his lifetime from socialists outside of the US, such as William Morris and Oscar Wilde, shows how much Whitman’s poetry equally appealed to their revolutionary zeal. Broadly speaking, Whitman’s enthusiastic readers felt drawn not only to his poetic flair, but also to his glorification of liberty and freedom.
His right-leaning devotees can easily find a comfortable home in Whitman’s obvious nationalism and chauvinism, neither of which left readers should ignore. His early support for the Mexican-American war (support which he later retracted), his antagonism toward abolitionists (whom he decried as “fanatical”), and his apparent disregard for Native Americans weaken any effort to elevate Whitman as someone who speaks for the left, despite his apparent bent toward sexual and individual liberties.
It might be fascinating, however, to underscore Whitman’s affinity for democratic principles that informed his admiration for the 1871 Paris Commune, about which he wrote an updated section for the 1871 edition of Leaves of Grass with the title “Songs of Insurrection,” followed by an elegy after the Commune’s demise. Whitman’s poems about the Paris Commune can offer us lessons for international solidarity, especially as we commemorate the Commune’s 150th anniversary. But the internal tensions and contradictions within his political views also warn against the pitfalls of rendering democracy and liberty completely incoherent and susceptible to ruling class appropriation.
WHITMAN’S DEMOCRATIC MODEL
Whitman’s most famous statements about democracy come out of his essay, Democratic Vistas. Writing on the “purpose of democracy,” Whitman actually constructs a model of democracy that would not be out of place today in the public statements of any liberal or conservative US politician, framing it as “the only scheme worth working from.” His view of democracy is undergirded with a staunch belief in America’s superiority on matters of personal liberty — aspects which Whitman felt were being ignored by his fellow citizens:
The purpose of democracy […] is, through many transmigrations, and amid endless ridicules, arguments, and ostensible failures, to illustrate, at all hazards, this doctrine or theory that man, properly train’d in sanest, highest freedom, may and must become a law, and series of laws, unto himself, surrounding and providing for, not only his own personal control, but all his relations to other individuals, and to the State.
These words are jarring to read alongside Whitman’s patriotism; and they are aggrandizing in a manner that provides support to the self-image of the US as a beacon of freedom and democracy even today. That he celebrates democracy at all is, of course, laudable. Yet, for Whitman, it seems to dovetail with his belief in the US as a unique and superior place in history for offering personal liberty, while shirking any acknowledgment of genuine equality or popular sovereignty.
The beguiling understanding that “democracy” as practiced in the US could ever assure “that man” become “a law…unto himself” surely complies with the stated principles of the American constitution, placing a high moral premium on the interests of the individual as opposed to the collective. But, the past century and a half should indicate how damaging it can be to empower personal liberties at the expense of the collective good (especially, say, during a pandemic).
Later in the essay, Whitman recognizes the revolutionary power that existed during the US Civil War: “The People, of their own choice, fighting, dying for their own idea, insolently attack’d by the secession-slave-power, and its very existence imperil’d. Descending to detail, entering any of the armies, and mixing with the private soldiers, we see and have seen august spectacles.” It is here in acknowledging the wider, active struggles within the Civil War that ultimately confirmed the power of “The People” to govern of “their own choice” and challenge the ruling class.
Although Whitman far too readily praised the triumphs of US republicanism (which were, in the 19th century, doubtful), this last point — in which he understands the “unconquerable resolution” animating the “unnamed, unknown rank and file” — supplies an important refrain for his views on the Communards in 1871.
THE PARIS COMMUNE IN WHITMAN’S IMAGINATION
The 1871 uprisings that led to the Paris Commune, a brief but inspiring experiment in radical democracy that took over Paris for two months, captured the hearts of many international observers, even decades after its dissolution. Karl Marx, of course, famously described the Commune as the “direct antithesis to the empire”: “The cry of ‘social republic’, with which the revolution of February was ushered in by the Paris proletariat, did but express a vague aspiration after a Republic that was not only to supersede the monarchical form of class-rule, but class-rule itself. The Commune was the positive form of that republic.”
Vladimir Lenin, 40 years later, noted the unprecedented and spontaneous nature of the Paris Commune, which owed its astonishing achievement to the workers who “remained loyal to the movement.” Yet, Lenin diagnosed the failures of the Commune as being a lack of support from the bourgeois republicans and the petty bourgeoisie: “Deserted by their allies of yesterday and supported by no one, the Commune was doomed to inevitable defeat.” It was ultimately this lesson from which Lenin learned and sought to consolidate power for the Bolsheviks.
Whitman’s kinship with revolutionary struggles in France began long before the Commune. As ongoing class conflict continued to shape late 19th-century Europe, Whitman upheld admiration for the myriad insurrectionist movements that occurred from 1848 onward. Betsy Erkillä, professor of Literature at Northwestern University (and author of four books on Whitman), argues that “revolutionary events in France were so important to Whitman’s attempt to come to terms with the ailing body of democracy” that when he heard about Louis Napoléon’s imprisonment at Sedan “he added a note in support of the popular struggle in France to the last page of Democratic Vistas just before he sent the pamphlet to the printer.”
In a gesture of deep solidarity with French revolutionaries, Whitman writes: “O that I could express, in my printed lines, the passionate yearnings, the pulses of sympathy, forever throbbing in the heart of These States” for their revolutionary struggle. It is arguably in his salute to these putatively more radical and egalitarian insurrectionist movements where Whitman is at his most interesting.
“THE GREAT WORD SOLIDARITY HAS ARISEN”
The “Songs of Insurrection” testify to Whitman’s heartfelt commitment to and love for revolutionary power. The speaker in the poems reveals a deep camaraderie with the Communards:
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel, the
Camaraderie, as Gilles Deleuze reminds us, is the term Whitman employs to “designate the highest human relation”: a “society of comrades” and a “march of souls in the open air.” He sees himself embodied in those who would risk “peace and routine,” carrying the weight of popular struggle and leading the way to liberation. For Whitman, the century of insurrectionist revolt in France is that from which “the great word solidarity has arisen,” as he says in Democratic Vistas. Like that essay, according to Erkillä, “Whitman’s ‘Songs of Insurrection’ were shaped by a similar urge to express American sympathy for the popular uprisings in Europe, and especially in France.”
In a voice that wavers between warning cry and rallying cry, the poems’ speaker offers words designed to rouse revolutionary spirit — a spirit that is unshakeable:
Then courage! European revolter! revoltress!
Worn-out and bruised from defeat, socialists everywhere can identify with the final lines. Learning soon that yet another popular movement is quashed by state forces and the might of the ruling class, Whitman nevertheless presents a model for what international solidarity should look like — at once admiring of their cause and sympathetic to the barriers against victory. The demise of the Paris Commune during “The Bloody Week” was one such moment that justifiably led to momentary a retreat from revolutionary struggle. However, instead of despairing failures, the commitment to democracy means that one anticipates defeat: “Liberty! let others despair of you! I never despair of you.”
WHITMAN’S LIBERAL TENDENCIES
Whitman knew then, as we know today, that the ongoing struggle for liberation can be dispiriting. Unfortunately, it is also in these moments of despair, heartbreak, and defeat where revolutionaries can lose focus.
Whitman, thus, offers at the end of the “Songs” a caution to the democratic poets and revolutionaries in the US:
To The States, or any one of them, or any city of The
It is here again where Whitman’s words can be easily construed and co-opted by a liberal elite, as the revolutionary spirit is emptied of any working-class or anti-capitalist content. It seems to be, instead, simply an attitude of opposition and contrarianism — sentiments which can easily appeal to anyone across the ideological spectrum.
We can locate here the tension in Whitman’s political ideals that make it difficult to fully embrace him from a socialist perspective. While his proclamations in support of the Commune are exemplars of international solidarity, they are also offered by someone who uncritically parroted American nationalism and hastily celebrated the American experiment, despite its ongoing patterns of destruction of which he was most certainly aware.
Whitman’s clarity about the events in France leaves much to be desired in the rest of his political observations. Had he not been so invested in declaring himself the “American bard” he likely would have taken a more critical perspective toward US democracy and engaged more actively in working class struggle.
The issue comes down, it seems, to Whitman’s impassioned defense of freedom and liberty, ideals from which he never wavered throughout his life. Yet, where Whitman misses the mark is when he seems to forget that freedom and liberty are neither disconnected from, nor incidental to, the cause of collective, international struggle and radical democracy. They are permanently tied together.
MAKING SOLIDARITY VISIBLE
The material systems of coercive power are conditions that cannot be excluded from an emancipatory vision, especially if its horizon is international in breadth. It is a fight that engages everyone, regardless of country and status.
Resisting Empire requires the level of sacrifice, camaraderie and commitment that Whitman seemed to admire in the Communards. If the main focus of liberty, though, is placed upon individual freedom, then that freedom will always flow toward those who maintain the most material power —which makes Whitman so appealing to conservatives. Those in power can simply invoke Whitman’s cries for liberty to justify the grotesque pursuit of wealth against any demands to provide a social good.
The bridge from individual liberty to collective liberation comes up against the challenge of making the stakes of collective liberation visible. This is where the poet comes in. Where Whitman succeeded, is in making solidarity knowable and visible; he made it an ideal that can be absorbed and productively engaged from the left.
We should not take Whitman as a sole, leading voice for socialists, but there is also nothing to say we have to. We can simply take up Henry Miller’s challenge to not only read Whitman, but to “include his thought and go beyond it.” And in our present moment of alienation and fragmentation, international solidarity and camaraderie are in short supply. But as long as we can see and know it, through the words and “songs” that Whitman provides, the joy of solidarity can be a weapon in the hands of a revolutionary, challenging and confronting those systems that wish to obscure its power.
This article was first published by Roar.
We live in an age characterized by anxiety and anomie, on the one hand, and hatred and resentment on the other. While the former is a corollary of the hyper-individualizing tendencies inherent in our current economic regime, the latter is the result of right-wing politics. Firstly, neoliberal capitalism has deployed markets in two senses at once, simultaneously enforcing them as the sole rational basis for material distribution and expanding the reach of market-based valuation into non-market spheres as a cultural norm. This has severely eroded collective bases of solidarity, giving rise to social atomism.
Secondly, the contemporary Right has molded these insecurities into what Arjun Appadurai has called “aspirational hatred” . This refers to the redirection of aspirations away from better jobs, more economic security and greater social respectability towards a darker form of rising expectations, in which the new role models are the xenophobic leaders of populist movements. These leaders act as exemplars in the sublaterns’ life, allowing them to dwell in an imagery of empowerment through a discourse of ethno-national purity and cultural superiority. In other words, aspirations become tied to retributive actions against scapegoated identities.
The combination of neoliberal policies on the economic front and neo-fascist actions on the politico-cultural front has certainly signaled a period of defeat for socialist movements. However, there has been little critical introspection on the part of the Left of its strategies and tactics. We have only seen a clamorous call to resist the fascist onslaught against the working class. Behind these urgent claims lies the failure to extricate oneself from the immediacy of what is happening; uncritical immersion in the material reality forecloses any possibility of carefully considering the roots of the Right’s resurgence and transcending the electoral exigencies of parliamentary politics.
What the present-day moment demands is a sustained re-thinking of the ideological devices traditionally used by the Left. Rather than regarding the rise of the Right as an instance of mass irrationalism and peddling the unproductive narrative that the working class was “duped” by deceptive maneuvers, we need to locate the precise reasons which made the Left’s social constituency susceptible to (proto) fascist ideas. In particular, the Right’s use of emotion should not be seen as counterposed to the Left’s support for reason: emotions are part of our everyday reasoning, experience and relation to the world, because they are highly discerning commentaries about our concerns and commitments. Different emotions have different normative structures and analyzing these can tell us something about the situations in which they are produced.
The centrality of emotions and subjective experience is also indicated by the fact that injustices of recognition and redistribution often only reveal themselves in the lived reality of social relations. Ellen Meiksins Wood made precisely this point when she used E. P. Thompson’s notion of experience against Althusserian definitions of class as an abstract structural location: “since people are never actually ‘assembled’ in classes, the determining pressure exerted by a mode of production in the formation of classes cannot be easily expressed without reference to something like a common experience - a lived experience of…the conflicts and struggles inherent in relations of exploitation” . Further explorations into the political status of this subjective-emotional plane can help in the formation of new socialist ideas by delineating how the Right gained power through a molecular, bottom-up process of hegemony-formation.
In his book “The Moral Significance of Class”, Andrew Sayer writes about lay normativity i.e. people’s evaluative orientation, or relation of concern to the world around them. We are evaluative beings, continually monitoring and assessing our behavior and that of others, needing their approval and respect, but in contemporary society this takes place in the context of inequalities which affect both what we are able to do and how we are judged. Lay normativity is composed of moral judgments, treated not as a system of external, regulative norms/conventions but as based primarily on actors’ moral sentiments, which in turn are developed through social interaction. This feature derives from the fact that morality is serious, that is, about matters that affect people and their wellbeing deeply, whereas mere rules need not necessarily be serious (for example, ways of setting a table). Its seriousness derives from its significance for human well-being and is reflected in the expectation of some kind of justification for its codes.
According to Sayer :
[T]he [moral] rationales are to be found within available discourses, but they are more than mere internalized and memorized bits of social scripts. Discourses derive from and relate to a wider range of situations than those directly experienced by the individuals who use them, thereby allowing them vicarious access to the world beyond them. While they constrain thought in certain ways, they are also open to different interpretations and uses, and endless innovation and deformation, and they tend to contain inconsistencies and contradictions, making them open to challenge from within. Although they structure perception they do not necessarily prevent identification of false claims; for example, just because someone believes that the social world is organized on a meritocratic basis, it does not mean that no experience could ever lead them to have doubts about this.
In further developing the open-ended nature of lay normativity, Sayer critically engages with Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus - which refers to the set of dispositions that individuals acquire through socialization, and which orient them towards the social and physical world around them. In Bourdieu’s analysis, the dispositions characterizing a habitus are understood primarily as instrumental orientations to the requirements of occupying particular positions within a social field: by and large people acquire the necessary dispositions for them to function effectively within the social positions they occupy. This “emphasis on the adaptation of the habitus to actors’ circumstances,” Sayer argues, “exaggerates actors’ compliance with their position and makes resistance appear to be an anomalous form of behavior occasioned only by special circumstances” .
Sayer challenges this general “complicity between habitus and habitat” by arguing that human dispositions to act in various ways are not simply the result of structural conditioning but also of the “internal conversations” of “mundane reflexivity”, and these internal conversations help shape normative sensibilities . Unlike instrumental dispositions which are tightly integrated with our class location, moral dispositions tend to have a relatively universalizing quality to them, particularly as mundane reflexivity interacts with the realities of suffering and flourishing. In the words of Sayer, these universalizing tendencies derive “from the reciprocal character of social relations, from their responsiveness to our human as well as our more specifically cultural being, and partly from experiences of good and bad treatment which are not reducible to effects of class and gender or other social divisions but cross-cut them.”  The existence of these universalistic tendencies is most powerfully indicated by “shame”.  In capitalist societies, the “social bases of respect” in terms of access to valued ways of living are unequally distributed, and therefore shame is likely to be endemic to the experience of subaltern classes. If there were not some degree of cross-class agreement on the valuation of ways of life and behavior, there would be little reason for class-related shame, or concern about respectability.
The consequence is that moral dispositions can generate longings for a world at variance with the one we are living in. In a world marked by the relentless seduction of commodities, the glorification of educational advancement and economic success, the pressure to conform to gender norms and be popular, accompanied by economic insecurity, anomie, and loneliness, unfulfilled longings can be extremely powerful. These longings - while socially and culturally mediated by specific contexts - also have a more primitive basis than mere internalization of social influences. Humans are characterized not only by animal lack, as in hunger for food, but desire for recognition and self-respect, which they can only obtain through certain kinds of interactions with others. Taking into account the presence of longings, resistance, then, is not simply the result of exogenous and episodic dislocations of the social field but also of the inherent tensions between instrumental dispositions of the habitus and moral dispositions which are less socially localized in character.
Insofar that lay normativity and public morality are partially structured beyond the limits of social positions, the universalizable dimension of moral frames themselves structure social conditions necessary for different kinds of politics. The Right harnessed the lay normativity of the neoliberal era - torn apart by anxiety, incoherent insecurity, persistent shame and delimited desires for change - to inaugurate a social psychology devoted to the exploitation of the excess of subjective proliferation that sustains on the objective context but refuses to be tied down to it. While the Left was busy emphasizing the instrumental-interest based logic of the working class, the Right was tapping into popular imagination by using and shaping emotions and passions. Singular emphasis by leftists on bare materiality or economic aspects of the problems faced by subalterns fared poorly in comparison to visceral and raw communication with the deeply felt sentiments of fear, gut instincts, anxiety, anomie and alienation.
Again, the example of shame can be given to outline how the Right capitalized on the lay normativity of subalterns. We feel shame as a result of a failure to live up to norms, ideals, and standards that are primarily public. Because of this focus on a (dominant) group’s norms, minorities, lower classes, and marginalized groups are more vulnerable to experiencing shame and to being victims of shame practices. Shame has both a transformative and regressive potential. On the one hand, groups can be persistently stigmatized through shame within society. On the other, shame can be a powerful force in that it incites reactions against such shame practices. By turning the negative experience of shame into a positive feeling of uniting and coming into action, shame can provide groups with cultural and political agency. However, the Left’s insensitivity toward lived experience allowed neo-fascist politics to channelize shame in the direction of symbolically empowering actions against manufactured enemies.
RE-ENVISIONING LEFT POLITICS
As we have seen, lay normativity operates at the cutting edge of universalizing evaluative agreements. In fact, social positions are themselves, at times, made sense of through available moral frames that tend to hold more universal appeal. The Left was unable to engage with these subjective currents by almost exclusively focusing on and extrapolating from the habitus of sublaterns, thus in part essentializing working class identity. In the absence of a normatively convincing narrative about the future and sustained engagement with moral dispositions, the mere highlighting of proletarian grievances proved incapable of intensely politicizing the sublaterns. 
In contrast, right-wing politics played on subaltern longings, creatively mobilizing the latent energy of these subjective frictions. It created a discourse that Ajay Gudavarthy describes as “pro-corporate but anti-modernity”.  It helps push for high-end capitalist growth with all its attendant problems of fragmentation and urbanization while at the same time addressing the communal anxieties that capitalist modernity introduces. The legacy of a pure past - through the invocation of civilizational, cultural or religious ethos - can be enjoined with claims for a radically altered future. These interpenetrating ideological amalgams foreground the need for Left politics to be more imaginative in its fight for socialism. Without the incorporation of an experiential dimension in its mode of praxis, the Left will also be incapable of uniting the various identity-recognition struggles around the “concrete universal” of class.  Concrete universality, unlike the abstract universality of class reductionism, recognizes the lay normativity of identitarian experience yet goes beyond it. The need for such a political praxis can’t be emphasized enough.
Appadurai, Arjun. “A Syndrome of Aspirational Hatred Is Pervading India,” The Wire, 10 December, 2020. https://thewire.in/politics/unnao-citizenship-bill-violence-india.
Gudavarthy, Ajay. “Theorizing Populism: Lessons Learned from the Indian Example,” in The Politics of Authenticity and Populist Discourses: Media and Education in Brazil, India and Ukraine, eds. Christoph Kohl, Barbara Christophe, Heike Liebau and Achim Saupe (Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan), 53-69.
Sayer, Andrew. The Moral Significance of Class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
---. “Class, Moral Worth and Recognition,” Sociology, Vol. 39, Issue 5, 1 December, 2005. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0038038505058376.
Wood, Ellen Meiksins. Democracy against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (New York: Verso, 2002).
Iqbal, Yanis. “The Revolutionary Potential of Hope and Utopia,” Hampton Institute, 10 December, 2020. https://www.hamptonthink.org/read/the-revolutionary-potential-of-hope-and-utopia.
---. “The Rise of the Right in the Neoliberal Era,” Midwestern Marx, 10 May, 2021. https://www.midwesternmarx.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-right-in-the-neoliberal-era-by-yanis-iqbal
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.