CPB::III. Cuestiones de Fundamentos::Text en
- 1 III. Foundational issues
- 1.1 1. The origin
- 1.2 2. A Theory of Alienation
- 1.3 3. Communism
- 1.4 4. An old new concept of subjectivity
- 1.5 5. A theory of exploitation
- 1.6 6. From exploitation to the revolutionary subject
III. Foundational issues
1. The origin
I argue that a Marxism is possible, that ontologizes human production, that is, an absolute humanism for which all reality, all being, is but human history. Neither nature, nor God, operating here as foundations. Not that human history emerges and develops in nature. Conversely, what we call nature is nothing but objectified human action or, as Marx says in one of his first texts, "Nature is the inorganic body of man".
You can not think without origin. The deconstruction of all backgrounds leaves the will in a vacuum, in the vacuum of itself (which is the only vacuum that may be), and disables it to build a different world. To deconstruct the world, or to suspend it, is not enough. What we ultimately want is not to be wise and lucid, but to be happy.
Not that there's an origin beyond the will, on the other hand. What we do is to put the home as a first step, to stand there, on the ground that we ourselves have built, and build from there the new possible worlds. For the communist will that I propose, that origin is human history. Not a history that becomes a subject, rather a subject, whose effectiveness coincides with history. Hegel's recommendation is this: to considered the being as a subject, to consider the subject as negativity.
Perhaps putting an origin already contains, as some believe, who have become very popular, the principle of totalitarianism. And empirical evidence may support this suspicion. Apparently from all the principles proposed so far there have been possible totalitarianisms. But this empirical argument, like all empirical arguments, is precarious, as much as it helps itself from posterior rationalizations.
What has happened hardly proves that something will happen, and hardly can also lead the reason from proposing an origin in theory to demonstrate its empirical consequences. Fear of totalitarianism should not inhibit the willingness to again propose, and open up to the consequences. A confidence in the possibility of a better world, on the other hand, should never forget the antitotalitarian arguments.
But prudence is a bad start for the revolutionary will and the prudence that comes from fear is the worst of all principles. Perhaps communist confidence consists in that while we are putting human history itself as the origin, and not any external principle, without any statement about the nature or structure of its possible freedom, we are putting as a starting point liberty, real possibility. But the truth is that this reasoning should not be considered evidence. Theoretical there cannot be offered any guarantee against totalitarianism, and in view of this impossibility it is preferable to take the risk than proposing to abstain, as if abstaining was possible.
The risk opens the future, prudence, however much it is called deconstructive, only serves to maintain the present. The risk that I propose is this: there is only human history, this being is but subject, this subjectivity is constitutively negative.
What is to be set as the origin is the possibility of a non-repressive culture. However, from a strictly political point of view, the problem is whether the will requires that idea or not. What I want is not to prove that there may be a non-repressive culture, I want to propose is there to be a non-repressive culture. With this, the attitude of basing, ground-laying, changes from an epistemological level (to known or not known, guaranteed or not guaranteed) to a practical level, to affirm a self-fulfilling prophecy, in order to have it fulfilled, and all warranty offered is to fight for it to be met.
There is no theoretical guarantee for the will. You cannot find the theoretical root from which the will may be possible. The will must be setting itself. Theoretical discussions do not found the will. It is the will that founds the theoretical discussions. So what you should ask is not whether that idea is true or false, what one should ask is why it is necessary. What happens is that there is a need for a foundation, not a foundation. To make a loophole in that idea, you could say that the need for foundation comes from what I say is the foundation, it comes from an aesthetic substance. But no. What I know is that there is a need of basis, and I have articulated a theory that is ad-hoc for the will. The will does not need a theory to be, it needs a theory to see. The difference is that in the enlightened mentality if one has a good theory, one gets down to comply with it, but in the mentality that is beyond the Enlightenment, if you have a good will, then you look for a theory that allows you to see the reality. Now of course this is tautological, because that will chooses the theory that allows it to see the reality we want to produce. In this sense, the theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is what Hegel calls a put theory. In the illustrated mentality reality is there, it is objective, and a theory of it is collected. Instead, in the mentality that is beyond Enlightenment, we ourselves are the reality and we put reality and theory.
2. A Theory of Alienation
The order of the Third Part of this book is as follows. I propose a theory of alienation, based on a Hegelian reading of Marxism. From this theory, I try to establish in what ways, empirically and theoretically, you may believe that communism is possible, and what notion of subjectivity is necessary for that belief to be consistent. To set the communist horizon, I do an extension of the Marxist theory of exploitation, which is based on the proposed concept of alienation and idea of subjectivity. From these assumptions I make, finally, considerations on the possible revolutionary subject that can enforce this horizon, and the main concrete policy consequences that follow from these propositions.
a. Basic conceptual distinctions
Certainly the concept of alienation is an issue long discussed in the Marxist tradition. But it is precisely this tradition from which, I believe, we must free ourselves. So I'll make a series of distinctions, for which I do not intend any originality, as they can be found in one way or another in many Marxist authors, but I want to put them in an order and with defined connotations, that help us think about today's problems.
I think it is useful and necessary to distinguish between objectification (objetivación), alienation0 (alienación), estrangement (extrañamiento), alienation1 (enajenación), recognition (reconocimiento) and reconciliation (reconciliación). But that it is prior to methodologically establish four principles for the benefit of our intellectual health. The first is that I am going to make this distinction in Castilian, not German. That is, I will not ask for the terms in Germans that Hegel or Marx would have used, in order to then find possible and problematic equivalents in Castilian, but I will think directly in Castilian each of the concepts that interest me. The second is that I will describe these concepts in natural language, that is, using the words we use every day. The hypothesis is that we always think in natural language, no matter how sophisticated our ideas are, and that the subsequent translation into technical language is rather a union trick than a than real necessity. The third is that I will use the trick of the etymologies, which is a typical rhetorical resource of the intellectual task, from the Castilian, again, not from German, and just to give you better understand of the meaning of a notion, even not pretending they are real or rigorous etymologies. I care more specify a set of notions than being recognized as a scholar. The fourth, of course, it should not be taken for obvious, is to use different words for different notions. In the case that I will develop, these are closely related notions, where it is very easy to mix the connotations of each term. The principle that I will follow will be to associate different words to different connotations, although the notions are in fact difficult to separate from each other.
The basis of all these concepts is the originally Hegelian idea, that human history is a living whole. The generality of the category "human history", seen from Marx, may be concretized by ontologizing the category "work". I call work, ontologically, the actual process of production of Being. At work, ultimately, what is produced is the Being itself.
In logical terms, the first step of this production process of being the objectification. In objectification, the whole that is human history becomes both subject and object. It unfolds in terms, and its being is but the life of these terms. Viewed from Marxism this notion suggests that in the act of producing a subject puts its subjectivity into an object and, at the same time, by doing so, it is itself objectified. This may seem strange, it is an unconventional logic, but what happens is that production is the real and central term, from which the other two terms result.
One could say that the objectification is a social process, but in fact it is the opposite: I call "social" the plurality of dimensions of objectification. It is not that the social objectifies itself, the objectification itself is the social.
This extremely abstract and general way of introducing the topic is necessary to preserve a founding intuition of Marxism, the idea that every object is worth the subjectivity, in the form of work, it contains. But also, conversely, the idea that someone only is subject within the social process of work.
Even beyond. Every object is the object that it is only by virtue of being objectified. There is simply no objects outside and independently of the social act of production. But also, conversely, there is simply no subject outside and independently of this act of producing. Or again, there is no subject in itself. The subject is also something produced.
On the other hand, when it is said that human history should be considered as subject, what happens is that the term "subject" is being used in a twofold manner: for both the totality and for one of the terms that are self produced. This is important in the two planes. You need to keep the notion, first, that the whole of history is a subjectivity that makes itself, and not a set of objects, endowed with some previous and necessary nature, which constrains the possibilities of their construction. It is necessary for the revolutionary will, that human history as a whole does not have any necessary limit, besides the ones it poses to itself.
But on the other hand, it is necessary to support the notion of a divided, essentially tragic history, that puts its own essential opacity as objectivity. In this tragic vision, it is subject, now as the end of a divided totality, the negativity that pushes it beyond itself, and what this same subjectivity puts as the externality where it wants to become real is object. The object, its object, being recognized or not, by the logic of contradictory movement that makes possible both negativity and positivity that it gradually puts and overcomes, over and over again.
This is but the idea of freedom, understood not as a simple rule of contingency and chance, but as self-determination. But there isn't pure self-determination except in gender. Individuals are real and potentially autonomous effects, which can only determine themselves through another, either as intersubjectivity (whether they know it or not), or as transindividuality, and this is the essential point, beyond their consciences, without them being able to know.
The simple movement between objectification and reconciliation, which passes through the self-recognition in the produced object, should be the way of being and human happiness. But there are two key issues that substantially change this idyllic picture. One is that there are others, so that the object produced is, more often than any misanthrope would like, another human being, and the relationship of possible recognition and reconciliation is substantially more complex. The other issue is that human happiness is fulfilled only in this kind of produced object is another human. This is politically and existentially essential. Hegel puts it this way: "a self-consciousness finds its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness". On the road from objectification to reconciliation there is the presence of the other, not just of the other in general, but precisely that of another human being, without which we can not fulfill ourselves as subjects.
The first possible consequence of the mediation the other does regarding the object produced can be called estrangement. In estrangement, we do not recognize ourselves in the object that we have produced, and that produces us, we find our own object strange. Beyond or below, of his consciousness, like it or not, know it or not, the other can introduce a feud between the subject and the immediate object produced, in which it is objectificated, thus causing a difficulty in his own subjectivation. We believe, we have done something, have built something, have acted in a certain way, and we find that what has been done, what has been acted, what has been built, turns out to be something that does not seem coming out of our own action, and are led, subjectively and objectively , to dissatisfaction. To resolve a situation of estrangement, active participation and consent of the other, which is mediating the work, the act, or by the other himself, who has become strange, are required. To be friends again, to recognize that the poems you wrote were not so bad, finally understanding a little more of your own father, realizing that the bourgeois also love their children, are examples where what has become strange must actively participate in the reunion, and may, in principle, not be doing it never at all.
In the constellation of objects and subjects resulting from the global social process of objectification, the seamless connection of all with all is a merely theoretical, abstract possibility. Always individuals may be estranged from their objects, and it is preferable to maintain that there is an essential opacity of the social that will in fact make this happen again and again. An "opacity" which is just another name for the reality of the freedom of individuals in the universal of human history, which contains and constitutes them.
It is important, in existential and political terms, that estrangement is essential, inherent to objectification: there is never a perfect transparency between the creator and his work, because this transparency can only be achieved through another that recognizes it, and that other, which is essentially free, can always persist in denial. But the possible stubbornness in this case should not be seen as a deliberation, as an act of consciousness, although it may also be that way, but essentially as an objective fact that may transcend the will and the consciousness of that other. We can be objectively involved in the estrangement, like it or not, knowingly or not. This is politically important because it means that the universality of mankind is ALWAYS a split universality or, in colloquial terms, you may always be unhappy.
But the estrangement can be resolved, we may return, or become friends, if we carry to the consciousness that impediment, which, from obstinacy, made us become strangers. Communism will not be a society in which everyone will be happy, but a society where the suffering CAN be resolved. That estrangement is essential to the act of objectification, ie that the act of objectification that produces us is always be mediated by another, which is free, means that even under communism anyone may very well be unhappy, that suffering will appear and reappear again and again. But it will be a society where it increasingly can be solved.
There is alienation, however, when the estranged object is a subject. Strictly speaking, a subject is alienated, an object is reified. An object can not be alienated. One subject, however, can be reified. Alienation means something more "serious" than the estrangement to the extent that the subject is more directly involved. Perhaps it is good to keep in this term psychological connotation that relates it to insanity. Ie, understand alienation as "delirium" in the original sense of "getting out of the groove", of what is allowed, or of possible reconciliation, under the mediating action of another.
I would like to reserve the concept of alienation to an effect that occurs in the inter subjectivity, though not displayed, temporarily, in consciousness or as awareness. I care because I want to set this as a situation that, in principle, may be solved inter subjectively, on the level of consciousness, making conscious what was not, for example. I do not think there is anything intrinsic in what we call "madness". Or again, I think we call madness just another of the many aspects of our historical impotence, which, this time, we have naturalized as the fate of a particular individual.
Reification ( in the degrees of cosificación and reificación) are two terms that only add degrees of severity to estrangement. They are nothing else, they just make other emphases, that are useful for certain specific situations. Reification in the former sense is becoming a thing, whether a particular subject (which is used for something), or an object (when it is used disowning what it has of subjective, of human labor). Reification in the latter sense is the state in which the objectification is worship of the object that has become a mere thing. The most obvious case is that of consumerism. It is important to note that reification in the sense of becoming a thing is the most common state of relationship we have with virtually all things or, oddly redundant, it is the fact that we deal with things as mere things. It is not frequent, let's admit it, that we treat things, commonly, daily, guided by the humanity they contain, and that they could potentially make real. We consume things Completely ignoring that what is consumed is human labor, reified humanity. The cannibal act of abstract consumption destroys humanity in things, it dehumanizes. The objects of crafts or art, our most immediate objects in our home, at our work, usually retain their virtue of being objectified humanity and we consider them with dearness, and treat them with some respect, by what they represent... until we started using them in place of the subjectivity they contain. This is the case of photos of "loved ones", which we never visit ... but at least we have their pictures.
Of course, reification (in the degrees of cosificación and reificación) can be relieved in inter subjective ways, through awareness, through potentially humanizing reunion, but in general, can not be resolved but with a change in the whole life. We are not in reification: we live like that, we are that. Only living differently we can become something else. Or to put it elegantly, reification sets the limit at which the simple estrangement, restorable in principle, is made objective, that is, these are aspects of alienation.
In the first book of "Capital", Marx introduced the idea of "fetishism" of merchandise and it is good, in the terms in which I am addressing the problem, to ask what relationship there could be, again in Castilian, between "reification" and "fetishization". Following the principle of exegesis that I have established, one can notice that the difference refers to the one that would exist between the forms of dominating of a king (reification), and of a fetish (fetishization). A king is a secular, civil, modern entity, covered with a certain rational legitimacy, or bordering between the rational and the purely fictitious. A fetish expresses the rule of "irrational reason", something that radiates, without knowing from where, a hypnotic and unexplained power. Fetishism, then, refers to a state in which the simple rule that reification stated, explicitly, and in a clear way, has disappeared behind the veil of the merely hypnotic, of what has erased its origin, and appears to us as reality in itself, captivating and enslaving us simultaneously. The term "fetishism" introduces the religious metaphor, one of Marx's favorite metaphors, to explain given the power that the given comes to have on us, "as in religion, so in society ...". And with this we have already put ourselves into the field of what, properly, must be called alienation.
Alienation is the objective state in which our products, events, works, have simply become our enemies. We are, as produced, another, that we not only don't recognize, but which for us is alien. Oblivious in the emphatic sense of an enemy, of something that denies us. The most important aspect of alienation, as a concept, is that it is an objective situation, ie, something that we are involved in beyond our, good or bad will, or our possible consciousness. So much in it an objective difference between speech and action, a difference that not only do not know, but can not be known from itself.
It is useful in this regard to distinguish between lies, error and alienation. In all three cases we have a difference between speech and action: something is said and actually something different happens. In lie there is consciousness, there is interest: I know I'm lying. It makes no sense to say that someone who doesn't know he lies is lying. And I want to insist: there is an existential commitment in the speech that I do, something in my life makes me be interest in lying. In error there is no consciousness, no interest. I do not know, of course, that I am mistaken, and I am not interested in being. The error is subjective, it depends on me and the object. Lying is inter subjective. I lie to others or, at most, I lie to myself to appear in a different way to others. But both are phenomena of consciousness. I am in error, I do not know, but I can get to know it. I lie, I know, but I can be catched, and I may recognize it. To know, to recognize, are issues that are possible in both cases.
In this regard, the characteristic of alienation is that not only I do not know, I do not recognize the difference between what I say and what I do, but I can not recognize it: there is a strong existential commitment that keeps me not knowing or recognizing it. Alienation, as discourse, is an unconscious phenomenon in the Freudian sense. Not only it is not known, but may not be known only through consciousness. And as a situation, or as act, it is an objective situation, it does essentially not depend on me. It transcends me. It is not that someone is alienated, as if he himself could be not. One is ones alienation. And you can not help but be in it while you don't change what you are. To exit the error, or stop lying, you should get to know or recognize something, to overcome the alienation, something should happen, there should be an experience, not exactly, or even primarily, a knowledge. An experience that takes us out from what we are and makes us experience something we were not, from which we come to know what we could not know. This generally painful and catastrophic process is what can be called self-consciousness. The discourse of alienation is fully consistent with the position it expresses, even if from outside of the situation looks a blatant and outrageous difference is visible. It is fully consistent because it is not a discourse on something, but it is in a deeper way, that same thing. It is a situation of life, a realm of experience.
Obviously the inverse concept of alienation, which returns us to the beginning, to the objectification, is recognition. However, it is necessary to distinguish recognition of the other as other, ie, recognition of diversity, close to tolerance, from recognition of the other as a self, that is, from solidarity as mutual production, from recognizing the universality of mankind in its differences. But in both cases, recognition is more a state of knowledge, or of awareness, that of life. It is to know (again) what was not known. A state of consciousness that enables us to regain lost or not yet filed friendship. But it is not the consciousness that moves the world. Knowing that another one is a human being does not necessarily make us experience him as such. The objective basis from which friendship is possible may be counting or not on consciousness. There can be consciousness and no friendship. There may be friendship even if we do not actually "know" it. Hence the relevant term for thinking about human happiness (and communism) is not recognition, as it might appear to an enlightened mind, but reconciliation, which marks better the existential content of the situation we want describe.
Between recognition and reconciliation there perfectly may be a world of objective distances. We could all, in principle, be friends with everyone. But human history is far more complex than our good intentions. You can not simply preach recognition, it is necessary to remove the objective obstacles that prevent it. To recognize, albeit in solidarity, and to continue living in the same way, is simply philanthropic hypocrisy. It helps others, but mainly helps our own conscience, it reassures us ... and the world remains the same, even though we have changed the course of some of its particles.
Thus, when speaking of reconciliation, it is necessary to consider an objective process, a change in the global way of life of the genre, creating the space in which recognition is possible. A space in which self recognition of the universal is through the autonomy of the particular. The communist totality is not to identify all particulars in the universal (an issue that precisely may be called totalitarianism), but the recognition of the particular in universality that produces it, that makes sense of it, in the universality of the act of social production in which subjects are objectified and objects subjectified. And if so, then we are not talking about a reconciliation operating from consciousness, in the plane of consciousness, but about a radical change in the mode of being of the world, in its way of producing life: reconciliation is only possible through a revolution.
That revolution is what we call communist revolution. One that is able to put an end to human alienation. Communism can only be such after having created the space where fetishism and reification have been overcome, ie, our worship of what objects have of simple objects and, more generally, objectification, ie a space where we got to relate to things by virtue of the humanity they contain, and can recognize each other, in them, through them, in the act of mutually producing us. Communism is the space in which it is possible to be happy, because the human race as a whole is reconciled.
But something I've noticed is key, is politically essential. Communism does not overcome, and may not overcome, the possibility of estrangement. This is essential especially if we consider the origin that makes this possible: the possibility of estrangement derives from human freedom, that is, that an individual may always persist in not recognizing others. Or, put in another way, it comes from the essential autonomy of particulars regarding the universal that produces them, even in a fully reconciled society. I have said it this way, and it is important to emphasize: communism is not the society in which everyone will be happy, it is the society in which happiness will be fully possible. As suffering will also be possible, as well as, fully, the possibility of overcoming it in each return, in every obstinacy. Possible! That is the logical category you need to understand, in order to understand in what may human freedom consist.
Perhaps, finally, it is necessary to add that I believe that in communism alienation will also not disappear, in the inter subjective sense that I have defined it. That is, to put it colloquially, in communism there will still be crazy people. Two key questions will be different, however; one is our substantially reconciled relationship with the mad, and with madness in general, another, the possibility for everyone to be crazy, and stop to be, in frames very different of the current compulsions. A new understanding of madness, ie what only historical impotence can declare as incomprehensible.
b. To know of one's own alienation? Some minimal objections
A very important area of comments and objections has been raised around this idea of alienation. It seems to me that the main point, from which several others derive, is the following: if alienation is not a state of consciousness but a way of being, if we are our alienation, how can we come to know that we are alienated? Shouldn't we agree with it even in our knowledge and behaviors? Taking advantage of the way this was raised, it is possible to make the following distinction: it is not the same to "know" the alienation than to "perceive" it. We all do feel the alienation that constitutes us, though not knowing it. There is "empirical" evidence, to say it somehow, that something is wrong with the world as a whole even for those who are privileged by the system of consumption. As empirical examples can be invoked: stress, permanent frustration, even under the best economic conditions, overall degradation of living standards, even when the levels of individual life grow better. The "rampant mediocrity of life" may be mentioned as evidence.
This line of argument, of course, merely multiplies the questions. How do you go from "perceiving" alienation to "know it"? How can you tell that someone knows about his alienation whereas others do not know? Are some more alienated than others, is there a non alienated vanguard or, at least, a lucid vanguard within alienation? How the will for changes will be generated from alienation? From where one may speak of happiness without this being nothing more than a metaphysical, or totalitarian claim? Is it enough with the realization that there is a certain "uneasiness in culture" to hope that it can become at some time a revolutionary will?
To address these problems, at least to a first approximation, it is perhaps useful to recall the classic distinction between "objective contradictions" and "subjective contradictions". I'm starting from there, in order to then distance myself from it and to see what characterizes the present, the era of highly technological domination. The idea is simple principle, and perfectly classic: the progressive worsening of the structural contradictions of the bureaucratic system is the ground in which processes of subjectivation aimed towards overcoming the system as a whole may appear.
Two types of contradictions seem central. The first is that between the overall degradation of living standards and the dramatic worsening of the levels of private life among the excluded, on the one hand, and the significant improvement of the living standards of integrated, on the other. Each time we are more in a world in which life is more difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. Each time the frustrations on both sides of the gap in consumption are higher. The second is the one in the concrete form of highly technological work. The need for fewer workers and, at the same time, more and more consumers, forces the established system to multiply the stupefying, redundant, unproductive jobs, an issue that is projected eventually in the attitude of workers towards their work. The emergence of a new type of fatigue, given the very high labor intensity, resulting in ever larger errors, or errors of increasing proportions, which lock the entire chain of production, producing true cyclical crises of incompetence and failure. Making it necessary in turn to a new type of work of subjective integration of workers to their work environment, which translates into new and risky quotas of alienation. The boundary between being within the "spirit of enterprise" and disloyalty, betrayal, considered as subjective anomalies, bound to therapy, is ever less pronounced. And this will eventually result in a new kind of rebellion.
But even granting the reality of these contradictions: might it not be that the objective conditions worsen indefinitely, globally and locally, or until catastrophe, but never having a conversion of these conditions into subjectivations of revolutionary type? And on the other hand, is it true that we can get us into the problem of nothing less than human happiness, to be able to make a critique of the prevailing system of domination? What assures us that this criticism is not merely a metaphysical variant among others?
I think the logic behind these questions is that there should be some sort of theoretical or practical guarantee, that revolution, or at least the progressive rupture of the repressive continuum, is possible. To both questions, in this plane, my answer is that it is simply not possible to find practical guarantee, and least in theory. You can not "prove" that the revolution is possible (in the colloquial sense of the word), not on paper, nor from an enlightened vision of real social processes. This implies an obvious and radical difference from classical Marxism, that I do not think that in the possibility of communism there is any necessity, in the philosophical sense of the word. Or, also, that I believe that humanity could derive from class society to class society, from stupidity and cruelty to increased stupidity and cruelty forever, without ever getting to that alleged "elsewhere", just as Catholic, that we are offered by the utopian socialisms of all kinds. In the possibility of communism there is no more need than the human will may put into it, to bring its own self beyond itself. I do not think that, in another well known language, "the wheels of history will crush anyone who opposes them". Rather, I think, they have been consistently dedicated to crush us.
However, the mere claim that there is no theoretical warranty for the possibility of communism - a claim that in reality is not "simple" in any sense - really eludes the question, does not respond to it satisfactorily. Because it could be that what these questions ask is not a "guarantee", in the philosophical sense of a "guarantees", but at least, to put it provisionally, a minimum of "credibility" to the idea that there can be a break point the repressive continuum of alienation, or the even more problematic idea, that you can reasonably distinguish between the alienating pleasure and human happiness.
If it is understood, as already mentioned above, that there is not theoretical guarantee, I think both questions can be answered in both a credible and reasonable manner. On the first issue, I think there would not necessarily be any metaphysical privilege of the reality of alienation over the possibility of overcoming it. This somewhat masochistic pessimism seems to be the perfect, decadent reverse of the triumphant optimism, which always tends to totalitarianism, of the opposite statement. As there is no guarantee for human happiness, I do not see why there should be something of the same type for permanent unhappiness.
Perhaps some philosopher would invoke at this point the "discovery" of human finitude. But I do not see why the idea of happiness has to be associated with any infinity, or with a state of perfect transparency, of full knowledge, or of telepathy making mediations unnecessary. Both "finitude", which is lamented as inevitable, as well as "infinity", which is criticized as impossible, are, in these cases, only conceptual categories of modern philosophical universe, incapable of subtlety that suggests any ambiguity, or mixture, and prefers resignation to the impossible before the risk of putting the will to make the impossible possible. It is true that the world could get worse every day, as it indeed seems to happen. But it is no less true for the theory, that it could also get dramatically better. What happens, exactly, is that the problem is not theoretical, or that it can not be solved in theory. It is "just" a political problem.
But more directly, breaking the continuum of alienation and repression, even in its forms of comfortable alienation and repressive tolerance, can perfectly break when the delicate balance between what society promises, what it effectively gives, and what could give collapses into the meeting of the despair of those who actually never consumed with the despair of those who fail to obtain from consumption what they humanly expected. The very fact that the media promises the appearance of happiness in the form of consumption, or of direct, outright alienation, contains a contradiction, since it establishes a horizon for which any global, established, everyday reality appears as frustrating. It is the fact that so much is promised, that such an outrageous display is made, that the possibility of any impossibility is affirmed, which puts them in danger. The danger of crime, of the general, fragmentary, extended and microscopic war of the excluded against the integrated, is a mere symptom of what might happen if the integrated themselves eventually get tired of living not only in war, but also of living live poorly. The will may put the political potential into this contradiction. A theory that may help the will to see this possible political potential is needed. And that's what I call "Marxism of a new type", and it is here that the problem of happiness is, like never before in history, effectively of central importance.
a. Thinking Communism
To think about the possible breakup of the repressive continuum is but think of the credibility and viability of communism. It is necessary to think again about communism. Socialism, and its transition formula, has proved to be one of the forms of the new class rule. Avantgardist radicalism, beyond its progressive fragmentation, merely moves within the coordinates which this new class rule makes possible, and handles better. A revolutionary horizon requires, instead, to rethink the concept as well as the real possibility of communism. Both its foundation, and the indications in reality that make it imaginable for the will. But both these foundations, as well as this possible viability in turn require to think from a new logic that goes beyond the simple dichotomies presiding both illustrated as well as romantic thought, and beyond, both Neoromanticism as well as the new, radically disenchanted forms of Enlightenment.
The first condition to be thinking of Communism today is to go beyond the notions of consummate homogeneity or consummate individuality, among other things, and not the least, because the system itself has gone beyond both, ridiculing them, or emptying them of content. Traditionally the opposition has been moving on the horizon of what power can give, but has not yet given. Facing a homogenizing power, able to significantly raise the standards of living of large sectors of the world population, what was called for was equality, greater access to consumption, housing, food, education for all ... homogeneity. When this power revealed its totalitarian aspects, its overwhelming monotony, its scientific disciplining techniques, what was asked for was the recognition of differences, the right to real individuality ... antihomogeneity.
It is still possible today to emphasize the huge sections of the world population without access to improved living standards, and which seem increasingly out of it. And it is certainly still possible to claim against totalization and disciplining. It is true that the backside of the abundance of some sectors is the dire poverty of others. It is true that the reverse of the apparent diversity is its administration and emptying. However, we must look beyond. We have to see the new powers that move along the possible, or apparent solutions to these problems. And we must propose a perspective that goes beyond the local and the vindictive. A revolutionary perspective.
Mankind now has more technical and productive resources than at any other historical time. Labour productivity is growing steadily. Actual production, the sum of goods, increases, however much it is being destroyed in waste and conspicuous consumption. Manipulated diversity now includes, more than ever, a space for democratic mechanisms, however much they have been sectored and emptied of content. This is, I believe, the broad material base that makes a reformist policy possible and consistent. We can save the environment, we can bring wealth to the whole planet, we can make life in cities more human. The bottom line, however, is whether humanity is really at stake in all these operations, or if it is not, however, that we do anything but convey and functionalize a new domination, new forms of alienation.
A communist horizon would resignify direction and content of any reform policy, where these policies are obviously necessary. It would be to give a truly human content to change, whether radical or not. The question, therefore, when it comes to putting the problem of communism into discussion again, is how would a truly human society be.
I argue that a major key to this is the idea of an internally differentiated universality. It is thinking beyond the consummate homogeneity, which represents the general happiness without differences, and beyond the consummate individuality, representing individuals as subjects of possible happiness. It is necessary to distinguish, in logical terms, the sheer diversity, being subject of administration, the pure difference, where the relation is outside the terms of the internal difference, in which a totality is made real in the action of the particulars it produces, and to which it gives sense. It is necessary to distinguish "totalization", in which particulars are homogenized by the universal, from "totality", where universality is the operation of an internal difference. I propose thinking communism as a state of differentiated universality, in which the particular is produced, and yet retains its difference as irreducible negativity.
If the sequence from "objectification" to "alienation" is observed, it will be seen that there is a "worsening" of the problem, culminating in alienation. Objectification, basically, essentially, is nothing less than the active form of Being, in a certainly unconventional ontology. The estrangement is an essential dimension to objectification, without which the internal difference would not be a real difference, but could be reabsorbed by the homogenizing universal. Alienation and reification are inter-subjective dimensions, derived from historical situations, which don't need to be essential. Alienation is the form of the history of class society, the active form of human prehistory.
Having put things in these terms, I argue that communism is a state of human history in which alienation and reification have been overcome. But I maintain that it is also a state that preserves the essential dimension of estrangement, of real difference, of conflict. Communism is not a state of homogeneous and general happiness, but one in which happiness is possible. It is not a society in which there are no problems, but one in which problems can be solved. It is not a society in which individuals become one with the universal, but a society in which the particular can be recognized in the universal that produces it and gives it meaning.
Two questions, then, are necessary. The first is to establish under what technical conditions, under what forms of work, a situation like this is possible. The other is what content may be given to the possible recognition between produced particulars. I think Herbert Marcuse was one of the few Marxist thinkers who dared to raise both issues, and developed, in essence, his proposals.
Marcuse seriously considered, for the first time, that one subversive consequence of highly technological work was the gradual reduction of the working time socially necessary to maintain the reproduction of the system. A problem that was not seen in the sixties, and that barely thirty years later is already visible: the potential increase of free time due to the revolutionary gains in productivity. We also know today how the system has tried to avoid the explosive consequences of this situation. One way is simply squeezing out of production huge and growing sectors of the population, keeping what could be called a "full Keynesian employment", ie a policy of full employment, full-time among those integrated into modern production, combined with chronic and absolute unemployment of the huge segments of the marginalized. The other is the strategic growth of entertainment industry that administers that spare time, comfortably controlling it among the integrated, and hardly among the marginalized.
Increased productivity is, however, an ongoing issue, and bottom, in a highly technological industrial system. So that the pressure on the working time continues and increases. In a communist society, with a high technological development, the daily labor socially necessary to reproduce the system is reduced dramatically, both in quantitative and qualitative terms. On the one hand, the socially necessary labor time will be substantially less than the time of free labor. On the another, the type of socially necessary labor will be substantially more human than today. The quantitative reduction will enable the space of recognition and auto production, the space of authentically human exchange takes up most of our lives. The qualitative reduction will make the space of socially necessary work is also a space for recognition of the particulars with the gender that makes them possible. This reasoning may be concluded as follows: for the first time in human history, communism is technically possible, our responsibility, therefore, it is for the first time also entirely political.
The last problem is perhaps the first, and largest. It is the problem of what content to give the movement of human recognition and even if one can speak of such a content, that is, whether there really is a content to make real. I follow Marcuse again in the idea that a general, receptive, peaceful eroticism, can be thought of as substance of the specifically human negativity.
It is necessary to hold that a substance like this is possible and achievable. And there are two words in this statement that should be emphasized: "necessary" and "substance". "It is necessary" means that it is not for the knowledge that such a substance would exist, but for the will, which, in its realization, confirms itself. The impulse of a peaceful widespread eroticism is not a finding of will, but its very essence. It is, with the sexual connotations that the term implies, the being and at the same time the engine, of a will that, in logical, purely abstract terms, can be called negativity. The question here is of logical type: the will is not characterized by its intrinsic negativity, or by the fact that this negativity is of the erotic type, but that it, essentially, is that. The will, negativity, widespread eroticism, are the same thing. And the merit of this nuance we call eroticism is referred to in the core of the willingness to intuited, experienced, everyday experiences. Unless, of course, we have not been fully anesthetized by the mediocre life. And it is to that active agreement between negativity, will and eroticism, which can be called, again in an unconventional logic, "substance": a substance that is subject, as Hegel thought.
The pressure on the socially necessary labor time, and the close connection between managed pleasure, however frustrating it may be, and eroticism that is the will, are the material forces that make of communism a plausible idea. The madness of the communist will is neither more nor less than what the power decreed for those who suspect the keys to its overcoming. An anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic revolution is possible. We do not dream but those things for which, in one way or another, the necessary premises for their realization already exist. All reformist claims, any radical initiative, may sign in on the horizon of the communist revolution. And I think that those who believe that communism is possible should rescue this ancient and noble name, from bureaucratic stigma, or from the smiling domination that ridicules it.
b. Communism is necessary
Having put things in the above terms, we can now say why a revolution is necessary, and not just a reformist perspective. And why the revolution is possible in the sense of indicating what aspects of reality point to its possibility.
Classically the necessity of revolution used to be enunciated by what was called "fundamental contradictions" of the system. Today that exercise is also possible. First, as I indicated above, the revolution is necessary, because of the unconventional, permanent and underground war between those integrated into and those excluded from the system of modern production, an essential contradiction, to which reformists always arrive late with their philanthropy, while still, relentlessly, the extermination of the world's poorest poor continues. That is, to put it in the terms that I have defined in the preceding paragraph, the alienation in poverty is aggravated as never before in human history.
Second, there is a deep contradiction between the increase in the quality of life at an individual level and the general degradation of the environment, ie of the conditions in which those lives unfold. It is increasingly comfortable living in a world that is no longer worth living in. It is increasingly easy to own a car in a world where it is increasingly frustrating to travel by car. Every time our household ventilation systems are better, and they each time process more smog.
This has, in turn, its foundation in the deeper contradiction between growing consumer accessibility and the frustration of consumption, even when it is enjoyed. Ie, it is founded on the fact that the pleasure produced by consumption is frustrating, it translates into mediocrity of life, into fragmentation, into stress. And this is a crucial point where we are very far from Marx's calculations: today alienation, and the pain of alienation, are perfectly possible, in the midst of plenty.
Fourth, there is a large-scale contradiction between the progressive reduction of socially necessary labor, by high technology, which produces a high productivity system, which generates enormous quantities of products, and requires instead, fewer workers, which would, at least in principle, be those who, through their wages, could buy all those goods. This forces the system to maintain a purchasing power at the expense of creating unproductive or luxury work, useless jobs, whose sole economic function is to allow for the purchasing power that makes it possible to realize the invested capital. Stupefying, self legitimizing, inertial jobs, where they must be constantly lifting the mood to not bring out the general mediocrity, the tautology of senselessness, without more rationality than the irrationality of the world.
Do not forget, however, at this point, that the capacity to generate unproductive employment has limits or, in practice, is much slower than what reformists would have wanted, so that an immediate effect of this contradiction is that there is a daily increase, at least in absolute terms, numerically, of those excluded from modern production, especially in the regions of classic industrialization, which has led to the emergence of huge pockets of third world in what used to be the first world, as in the steel cities of England, or the car builder locations in Germany.
Fifth, there is a contradiction between the radical increase in the intensity of work and possible losses from faults in the disaggregated, internationally coordinated production chain. This raises two serious issues. One is that the production system becomes so complex that it turns unmanageable, and the simplest errors result in catastrophic failure, with enormous losses of capital. The case of nuclear power plants is exemplary. For traffic, or phone systems, or drinking water supply in big cities, this is commonplace. The giant financial capital losses generated by voluntary or just unexpected errors, that spread through a highly interconnected system, are becoming more common day by day. The collapses of computer systems that handle information in airports, banks, news systems, are everyday events.
But on the other hand, the high intensity of work and, in general, of daily life, creates a new kind of tiredness, not just physical, very different from the classic fatigue. A neuro-muscular fatigue, expressed in endemic psychosomatic diseases, which directly affect those means of production that do require a subjective involvement of workers in the production task. In this regard, it is perhaps worth recalling at this point the very classic idea of classical Marxism, that there would be a major contradiction among the many contradictions of the system. That was, of course, the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Today, I think, the main contradiction would be among the big bureaucrats, managers of the world, and the direct producers. But that old idea actually had two components. On one side it is aiming to objective fact of class contradiction, but on the other hand, it pointed to a subjective matter: the bourgeoisie as a representative of a way of life. You could criticize someone for "being bourgeois", and that connoted individualism, selfishness, lack of real affection for others. If I were asked, in the same plane, which is now the principal subjective contradiction in the system of bureaucratic domination, I would say it is the mediocrity of life. They may have their cars, they may have their computers and stereos, they may feel good and live comfortably, but they still live like dogs, and they know, deep down they know it. Some live like a fifi, a lapdog , servile, available for the affections and random kicking of power. Others just like stray dogs, collecting cardboard, or eternally asking for work, however much right wing mayors have convinced them to vote for them.
The weariness of a new type, not only among those working in front of interfaces of enormous production intensity, but even among those who do not work and live permanently tired of day by day seeing the others consume, makes the entertainment industry acquire a strategic character. Only a huge circus, led directly and efficiently from house to house, a huge fair of illusory variety and oblivion, may keep us tied to the awkwardness of life of mediocrity, and does it, and does it very effectively.
Importantly, all of these, which I called "basic contradictions" of the system, are directly related to the subjectivity or, more accurately, are trying to link "objective" structural data with the subjective effects that would follow from them. This procedure is essential, both theoretically and politically. From a theoretical point of view the point is that never, any contradiction that can be called "objective", can become a social force for change if not for the effects produced on subjectivity. If it is revolution, not simply the alienated blindness of historic automatism, the effect of the dominance of subjectivity is essential. And, therefore, this is also an essential point from a political point of view. In a highly technological society, it is to find the contradictions that may move the will, especially in the social sectors where "objective" poverty is not necessarily compelling.
c. Communism is possible
When I say that revolution is possible, I do not want to refer to the specific political circumstances that bring it closer to or far away from our everyday horizon. Neither Marx made such contingent accounts. He could not do it, no need to. What we need is to show that the conditions which make communism possible are already given in the world, and that there is, in reality, a horizon for politics, however much the task appears as distant and enormously difficult. We are not going into revolution because we believe that we will win, we do simply because we believe it is necessary, and we believe it is preferable to take the risk than staying tied to this illusory freedom that is repressive tolerance. The opportunists, the politicians and the scoundrels, go only into fights they can win. The knights, however, the revolutionaries, and the naive, we fight the fights we must fight.
The revolution is possible because there already is sufficient technological capacity to distribute the socially necessary labor, substantially reducing the socially compulsory workday to keep modern productivity, and substantially increasing the free time of the citizens. And there is sufficient technological capacity to turn substantially more human that socially compulsory labor, which will occupy a lesser part in our lives. And there are the technicians, highly skilled workers, who can do this.
The revolution is possible because the complete articulation of the global market is already possible, through massive and revolutionary extension of the most advanced standards of living until covering all sectors of the human population. There is adequate technology to radically democratize communications and education, access to culture and health, access to housing, and to build cities on a human scale, in which one can live really face to face, without being therefore disconnected from the global system of highly technological production.
The revolution is possible because there is technological capacity to oppose to mere, and manipulated diversity, a differentiated universality of gender, of autonomous individuals, which acquire sense in their membership. These first three points may be summarized as follows: the revolution is today, from a technical point of view, entirely possible.
This implies a clearly defined vision of what communism can be. It is a society in which the labor time socially necessary to maintain the system of highly technological production worldwide has been distributed, on a basis of wide democratization of knowledge, making the socially required working time substantially less than the space of free time. That is, that will have overcome the compulsions that were created by the social division of labor in human prehistory. A society where compulsory labor will be substantially more human than it is today, and where free time will be occupied by free labor, not by the entertainment industry. A society where beauty, and not truth, is the center of its ideological form. A society in which the overall erotization of social relationships allow human recognition without any more mediation than free work, and the re-erotizized sex is an option, rather than a fact of domination, naturalized by power. A society in which alienation will have disappeared, and where estrangement and alienation are fully restorable, even if they appear again and again. A society in which the direct producers democratically controlled social production. A society of free human beings.
However, this possibility may only turn real if there is a will that promotes it. To believe that such a will is possible, it is necessary to believe that fatigue, boredom, the stifling gray of mediocre life, permanent war with the excluded, the general degradation of the global standards of living, put a limit to what the entertainment industry can manage. That the alienation of frustrating pleasure has a limit. And that is the foundation from which the revolutionary will may be formed. There are objective conditions, there may exist the concrete political life to make it real.
To make this revolutionary will possible, it is necessary, first, to go beyond defeat and the endless sequels of academic, everyday, political disappointment, which defeat has left us. To take a leap ahead to the future, leaving behind those experiences that are nothing but our failures, to invent, to start again.
It is necessary to battle in the field of subjectivity, which is the field in which the domination is currently consumed, below the level of consciousness. And that battle can be done through a radical erotization of politics and everyday life. An erotization to fill with life the manipulative objetifying sexualization, an eroticism that puts beauty in the center of our struggles. A battle in which, beyond the manipulable diversity, the great humanity may be recognized, which is the universal that brings us together. Eroticism and universality, two substantive issues that the system can not provide.
4. An old new concept of subjectivity
a. Pleasure and enjoyment
But if it is about a battle in the field of subjectivity, this same term can not be left without specification. It is necessary today, like never before, to establish under what specific subjective conditions we may speak of happiness, and how one can distinguish the happiness to which we aspire from the one which we are presented daily as achievements and possibilities within the system of domination. In reverse and accordingly, we can not say in full force what we mean by alienation but by reference to a positive concept of happiness for contrast.
To consider the possibility of distinguishing happiness as a state, or a mode of being distinct from alienation, it is necessary to use, in terms of the theory, a strongly non-Cartesian idea of the subject, where pleasure and satisfaction may be clearly distinguishable. If this smacks of Freud and Hegel, if it smells like Marcuse, it is not, of course, purely coincidental. These affiliations, however, don't matter to me at all, except as a "pool of ideas", beyond which I will interpret the concepts just as I think they are better suited for the will to have eyes and words.
It is perfectly possible, from a theoretical point of view, to distinguish between pleasure and satisfaction, and to show, now with practical evidence, that satisfaction is frustrating. It is possible to relate both pleasure and satisfaction with desire, but it may also be shown that only pleasure realizes humanity in the way that can be called "happiness" and that, instead, satisfaction has a, both internal and external, limit.
The philosophical question of substance here is the consideration that eroticism is constitutively human. And, in order to specify, it is necessary to distinguish between formation and production or constitution. When we say that something has been formed, we suppose there to be a material that was given form. When we say that something has been constituted, there is not supposed to be a material, but something appeared. Eroticism is constitutively human in the sense that it is not that human beings have eroticism, but humans are eroticism. A way of saying that is that sex is not natural. If sex was natural, then human beings would have sex. But if sex is not natural, then human beings are sex. But it is necessary, at the same time, to reconcile that statement with another, which is that sex is a specialization of eroticism.
Making this specification is important because, strictly speaking, there is no pleasure without enjoyment, no eroticism without sex. Otherwise we would be talking about those Platonic aberrations which are usually called "spiritual pleasures" or, even worse, a horizon of "evangelical poverty", so typical of good hearted utopian socialists. There is no pleasure without enjoyment. That is, there is no pleasure without mediation. And the body, which is the place of sex, if only the headquarters of eroticism, is the main, most direct mediation.
The difference, in reverse, is that there perfectly can be enjoyment without pleasure, ie a mediation in the body, with the object, that promises but does not fulfill. To have pleasure, the involved in the exchange should be specifically human erotic substance, there must be human recognition, ie recognition of my desire in the other's desire. Without this recognition of the presence of my desire on the other, the enjoyment is frustration, and is clearly distinct from pleasure.
It is necessary, however, to establish what is desired in the desire that we hope to convert, or express as a will. This is an idea that has been expressed many times: if pleasure is thought under the logic of desire, that is, if it finds satisfaction in the desire of the other, to be in that desire, rather than destroying it, would be its satisfaction. The pleasure is interested in preserving the object of desire. The desire does not nullify the other in the unity of pleasure annihilating it, but precisely keeping it as an itself in the unit. It is not the same to annihilate the otherness of the other than annihilate the other as such. But to make this difference, you must grant the other is not only constituted as otherness, as an external finitude, ultimately a tragically inaccessible one, as in certain "post" discourses. You must grant that there is a self in the other allowing its preservation in the unit, that is, the other is a being of our same class, that the desire which constitutes him is the same that constitutes me, or that the desire is a common space, or derives from a common space. Or, the difference between the self and the other is an internal difference in unity, the unity of the genre, which is human history itself.
We can talk about happiness, then, in the following terms: when what happens is a properly human exchange, in which the desire to be the desire of the other takes place, in which the body acts as a mediation recognized as human, in which a space of universality is constituted that refers to the universality of the genre. No one can be happy alone. For the fiction itself that we call individual is but a result. But nobody can be happy "in couples" if his experience does not refer to the universal recognition that constitutes them as human couples. Nobody can be happy but in the constituent mediation that is pleasure, and there can not be pleasure but in the potentially constituent mediation that is enjoyment.
But there may be, however, enjoyment without pleasure and, to that extent, a pleasure whose result is not happiness, nor does refer to it. In the enjoyment without pleasure what happens is that the body has been reified, the own body and the body of another, which can appear even as a mere body, as a thing, or just as a thing, as a substitute object. To the extent that the substance of pleasure is the universality of the genre, this enjoyment can only lead to frustration. It can not find itself in the aspiration to be everything that is constitutive of universality. The desire has been curtailed until reducing it to pure mediation, where it stops, frustration leads to the compulsion to repeat the experience it promises, and fails to produce what it promises. The repetition of the painful experience of frustration of the desire of totality, is the symptom of a social state in which human beings can not find themselves as such, having mutually alienated the humanity that wanted to make real. It is not impossible to be happy. The conditions of the possibility or impossibility of happiness are purely historical.
But can you tell someone who lives his enjoyment that he is not happy? The beginning of this question is wrong. It is a question that assumes that the place where happiness can be made real is the individual. It then asks for the private, individual experience, and uses it as a parameter. But individuals are neither real nor relevant, in the experience that may be called happiness. What is real is always the particular that is produced in the relationship, not the alleged prior existence of an individual who has already entered that relationship as a whole, as if his existence were autonomous, previous and by itself. Human individuals never do exist in this way. They are always a full particularization of experiences that constitute them. Of happiness, especially, it can not be said to be a state, or a quality that an individual may have or not. It is, par excellence, a relationship, and a constituting relationship.
And yet, can you tell a couple living their enjoyment that it is not happy? Again the question is conceptually flawed. A couple is only in relation to other humans. Its experience is but a broader particularization of the same humanity that constitutes each of those that form it. The happiness of a couple certainly alludes to the universality that produces it in a closest manner. But only in a reconciled society it is possible to be truly happy.
But it is that nobody is really happy in a class society? It is not necessary to consider things in this extreme way. For what I want to establish, it is sufficient to state that any particular happiness is incomplete without the universal from which it is coming, and under which it makes sense. The fullness of each human can only be fulfilled in human experience as a whole. And everyone can approach it, but there is only fulfillment in a social context in which men are free, where they freely produce their lives.
The political point, of course, is how desire and pleasure may be linked to revolutionary will. Or, more technically, the point is how the unity of pleasure alludes or not to the reality of politics, that is, to human historicity. Or, put another way, the point is the possible relationship between desire and will: the possibility that the will may be the social and historical reality of desire.
In this regard it is necessary to distinguish: individuals are desire, but they belong to a will. Individuals are constituted of their desire (in their desire) to the extent that desire is the particular, and effective, moment of the will that constitutes them. Revolutionary policy is made when this desire is expressed as will, ie, as a concrete moral law, which expresses a concept in social actions. Desire is the material link between the universality of humanity and individuals. In individuals it will be constituted as desire. Recognizing the will in desire, recognizing the desire as a moment of a will: that would be the erotization of the world.
What kind of unity is the one that could be produced by pleasure recognized as a particular moment of a will? Or even, before that, can pleasure be recognized as a particular moment of a will? The discussion between Freud and Reich, read in a Hegelian way, may clarify this issue. Freud's position contains two characteristic determinations: the pleasure is a natural incentive for the biological function of reproduction, and, a couple freely exercising eroticism would tend to focus on itself, and weaken its social ties that bind it to society. Despite the subtlety of Freud's construction, at the decisive moment, Freud assimilates desire to the immediacy of craving. In Reich, however, the pleasure is legitimate in itself, and truly human, and libidinal energy expended in the free exercise of sex abounds: enough to infect objects, environment, and to strengthen social bonds. It is not surprising that Reich believed in sexual politics, having thought (in 1922-1932) social ties as rooted in sexuality.
From Freudian scarcity and libidinal naturalization only a repressive policy can arise, that legitimizes culture as repression necessary for social stability, which would be endangered by erotic liberation. From Reichian abundance and libidinal humanization a non repressive policy may arise, in which sexual liberation may be the material link of recognition.
The difference between Reich and Marcuse is relevant, however, at this point. Reichian sexuality is always on the verge of naturalization, especially if it is seen as generalized genitality. The concern to establish, almost quantitative, objective criteria for satisfying orgasm naturally led Reichian naturalism to an abstract substantialization of libido, in the figure of the orgone. This, and Marcuse's critique of the repressive nature of the liberalization of the genitality, show the need to radicalize the humanization of libido, and to link it more actively to the will, as its content. That is, it is necessary to differentiate between sexual liberation and erotization of the world.
A policy of eroticising the world, is to conceive eroticism as ethical substance, ie as material content of the will, and the will as a space in which individuality is produced as desire.
The desire is doomed to be repeated while the unity it produces is indeed an empty unity. That is, a unity that does not recognize the space from which it comes and in which it unfolds as a particular moment. In this repetition otherness appears as a necessity that is not recognized, not satisfied. The necessity appears as alienated substance, which unfolds as pure incomprehensible otherness, without showing the sameness that makes the unity possible.
Freedom is the necessity recognized as one's own. It is what emerges from the recognition that we are ourselves producers of the laws, or the recognition of the materiality of the ethical substance which, in current key, could be mutual recognition between will and desire. One might think of the unity of these moments of individuation and belonging in the nomination of a new virtue, a morality, where the ethical tie of the recognized individualities es the materiality of generalized eroticism.
If so, then virtue would not necessarily be the babbler scope of the presumption of the modern individual, or self-sacrifice, real or fictional, of individuality to the ideal, but the mandate of an erotic morality rooted in both the individual desire as well as in the space of the will in which a people expresses itself.
In this context it is necessary for me to specify how I am using the notion of eroticism, especially when connected with the ideas of individual and libidinal energy or Id. The word "energy", of course, is a metaphor. It is not that there's an energy, there is something like an energy. It is a metaphor that sometimes is misleading. The only relevant thing from a philosophical point of view, is that Id is, or again, it has being. The ontological nature of that being is already a more complicated thing. There is something there that constitutes, that's the basic idea. On the other hand, think that Id is not in individuals, individuals are in Id. And that has to do with a matter which is also quite rare, from a very strange logic, which is the notion of transindividuality.
The difference is that when we say: "the unconscious", what this means is that there is a space in which there is Ego. But there aren't individuals who have this unconscious, the other unconscious and still another unconscious. The relationship between the "inter" space and "individual" space is reversed. Classically there are individuals who are related, however, in these other terms, there is a space in which individuals are constituted. This should be understood as a real transindividual field. Thanks to the unconscious there can be individuals.
There is something that, when shaped, is called "Ego". But that does not depend on that shape. Something that is, in logical terms, previous to that shape. In logical terms, not in terms of time. There is a philosophical word for this: Id is a substance. The problem is how to distinguish between a notion of substance, as the Cartesian res cogitans, and a notion of non-Cartesian substance. This is because the Id which interest here is not very Cartesian, it is what from domination, or from historical impotence, we do regard as irrational. You could formulate the notion of substance in a non Cartesian way and you could think of Id that way.
You might think, according to the traditional pre Freudian interpretations of Freud, that I am speaking here of biology. I have not stopped talking yet, at no time, of human history, of radical humanism, for which nature is but an extension of the properly human. Marcuse raised the need to resist the totalization exerted by the one-dimensional society by rooting subversion in the "biology", in the instinctual structure. But the "biological" in Marcuse, is a deeply historicized term. Marcuse is thinking more about the biology in the sense of German Romanticism in the sense of neurophysiology.
In terms of a Hegelian logic, what is hidden in what we call biological is not itself a being, but an activity, or as one might say in Hegelian language, a negative power, which is continuously another of itself. In ontological terms is (literally) a being, which coincides with the will of man, a more fundamental, previous will, than the will that defines consciousness. I will speak in philosophical terms: a substance that is pure negativity, a substance that is more aesthetic than ethical, because it has to do with generalized eroticism, as configurator of ethics, a substance which, of course, is more ethical than epistemological . And this negative, aesthetic substance, is one that can operate as an internal limit of enjoyment.
From a theoretical point of view, what is to show is that there may be a non-repressive sublimation. A sublimation consisting of eroticizing, rather than displacing the libidinal energy that the erotic object itself contains. Libidinal energy actually expressed in an exercise of satisfaction that is flowing and diverse. So the issue is whether sublimation is a mechanism of displacement that objectifies satisfaction on an object, or a mechanism for environmental erotization. There could be a pleasant exercise of sublimation.
This possibility should be combined with the idea that there is a distinction between enjoyment and pleasure, between the mental representation of biological or physiological balance (enjoyment) and between the properly human and conceptual exercise of eroticism. That there is no pleasure without enjoyment, but that there can perfectly be enjoyment without pleasure, this is what happens in the situation of repressive de-sublimation of consumer culture.
Put in those terms, the question: May there be cultural well-being? suggests whether you can have a pleasant experience within culture, not just a enjoyable experience. What there is to argue is that, to the extent that the drives are historical and not natural realities, you can build an eroticism that is compatible with culture.
To make this possible, the postulate of a negative aesthetic substance is necessary, that can be converted into a will free of beauty, which can act as the center of a criticism of the established world. And that of course requires a very particular metaphysics, of which at least you can say that it is radically out of fashion. A metaphysics that puts beauty and life at the center of the real, and the ability to fight for them. Or, more honestly, a self conferred metaphysics, not discovered, but placed by the will.
c. From frustrating enjoyment to politics
All of the above discussion is politically relevant because, from it, this essential idea is possible: enjoyment has an internal limit. When clearly distinguishing between pleasure and enjoyment, it turns out possible to criticize the forms of alienated satisfaction. If it is true that there is an internal limit for enjoyment, it may also be true that you can get satisfaction until getting your fill of it. And fact that the satisfaction the system of highly technological domination provides has a limit is, from a theoretical point of view, certainly a surprise to the consciousness of the current left bewildered by the apparent success of modern mass consumerism.
If we consider the picture of the left critique today, the idea that enjoyment has an internal limit is essential to break the impasse that has been led by their enlightened prejudices. The traditional left is notoriously surprised by the way domination is currently imposed. In particular, by the huge anomaly of the fact that there is more and more information available and there isn't a corresponding increase in the consciousness, the readiness for struggle. That has to embarrass any enlightened mentality. In Marx's time you could say; "When people know the reality, then there will be consciousness, and objective conditions will meet the subjective conditions". Today everyone knows the reality, there is no one who does not know that there are seven hundred thousand people dying in Zaire, there is nobody who does not know that 30% of Chileans are harmed directly and profoundly by an economic model that ever more increases their misery and marginalization. Information works, consciousness works, and people consistently vote for the right, their acts are made up by the system of domination.
Given this, classic Communists have no alternative but to resort to the old theories of modernity; "what happens is that people are selfish" or worse, "people are manipulated ideologically". They are puzzled because the system of domination has passed on consciousness, and they lack theoretical tools to address the situation.
From the point of view of illustrated mentality, enjoyment could forever manage humanity, because people are always going to have, if you will, a libidinal complicity with the system of domination while consuming, or even while the system of social communication can maintain the expectation of consumption. Because domination below consciousness is powerful enough to achieve that not only those consuming, but even those who do not consume, behave as if they consumed.
Then, the theoretical and political problem is whether this enjoyment that keeps the libidinal bond with the system of domination has a limit or not. But, on the other hand, these criticisms, operating in the field of subjectivity, must be connected with the very objective and visible contradictions that can be seen in the overall management of the system. Just as there is an internal limit to the enjoyment that comes from a negative aesthetic substance that constitutes the human, there is also an external limit, which has to do with the general degradation of the quality of life, as I noted above, when specifying the objective needs that lead us to fight for a communist horizon. In general, the contradiction contained in the fact that while the quality of particular life grows, the global quality of life is deteriorating.
It is the combination of this internal limit, we may theoretically glimpse at from a theory of subjectivity, and these outer limits, we can empirically establish, from where it becomes thinkable converting socially and historically pent-up frustration into political will. What matters here is not that this individual or that, say, subjectively and privately, that they are happy, that consumption completely fills their expectations and their lives. What matters politically is the force that may arise from the accumulation of repeated and enforced frustration under the prevailing conditions. What matters is not that a couple of Swedes say they are happy (now that they moved to the Caribbean), but the social fact that there are high rates of suicide, substance abuse, religious fundamentalism in Sweden.
The limit at which social frustrations begin to become political will is very variable, and can be expressed in many ways, unconventional for classical Marxist consciousness. The task of the radical opposition is to be able to recognize those cracks in the apparently prevailing enjoyment, it is to link them with the pains of the social sectors who suffer from more direct and "objective" oppression, it is converting into social and political movement what may appear only as a diffuse dissatisfaction and underground unrest.
there is, indeed, no theoretical guarantee that this can be done. The guarantees of the possible success of any political struggle are no more than those built in the struggle itself. That is, properly, the founding condition of politics. But the will may construct a theory that helps to see the places where it can be made possible, in a viable and credible way. In Marxist theory these theoretical elements are always associated with the attempt to find social and historical contradictions in which a system of production of life shows its precarious characteristics, and its structural likeliness to be overcome. For a Marxism of new type I propose, it is central that these contradictions do reside in the structure of the production system. And it is also essential that they may be expressed in terms of theories of alienation and subjectivity that I'm using as a foundation. This problem, which is strictly "economic", is, in Marxist theory, the central problem of exploitation.
5. A theory of exploitation
a. The idea of value and exploitation
But the whole conceptual framework here, where I have linked alienation, eroticism and communism, does only have one specifically Marxist sense if they can be linked to the idea of exploitation, ie, to a direct and explicit criticism of the prevailing social relations.
With this the same concepts move from its purely philosophical or subjective nuances to their specific sociological and economic aspects, from which the discourse of politics can be more directly articulated.
Of course, the founding economic problem is value, and what I am proposing is to first relate this concept with the theory of alienation, and then take it to its technically economic consequences.
I argue that we can say that there is valuation in general, when there is production of humanity, objectification. The object is valuated in being subjectivized, being giving humanity. The subject valuates itself by constituting itself as such in becoming objectified and recognized in its product.
In principle, when we exchange products, we exchange them by what they have of humanity in them. When we want a product, what we want is the humanity in it. Humanity is always desired. "A self consciousness finds its satisfaction only in another self consciousness," says Hegel.
Of course, there are no pure instances of self-consciousness. You may find self-awareness in body mediation and therefore, the profound difference between pleasure and enjoyment is nothing but going from a bodily relationship where humanity is made real, to one in which the only thing that finds satisfaction is the body, as a reified body. And this is also why enjoyment can be frustrating: you can consume objects, including human beings as objects, failing to recognize or grasp in them their humanity and the life they contain. That is, without achieving satisfaction of what is really desired.
But this also means that EVERY human need is historic, and occurs in the life of the genre. No need is natural. No need has foundational or limiting character. Needs, as subjects, and to the same extent, are produced.
Well, I call value in general to the value that the object has for whom has produced it and exchanges it for the humanity contained in it. With this, what I'm doing is expanding the notion of value to include in it the "valuable" in general, as a qualitative measure of the exchanges in which humanity is constituted.
By separating the notion of value from all natural reified objectivity, I'm not thinking about the usefulness, or the technical performance of "use" anymore, but, in general, about value as that something which circulates from hand to hand when humans produce and mutually produce each other. "Value" is another word, now of economic connotation, for the idea of humanity itself.
For the same reason, when I argue that the value in use is a qualitative measure of the exchanges constituent of humanity, the notion of "exchange" does not necessarily imply the other, much more limited, notion of "equivalent exchange". Actually, in the exchange of use values, the measures of the exchanged are simply immeasurable and, to the extent that what is at stake is a constitutional action, rather than the transfer of already given realities, the valuation that both parties make of what they give and what they receive, is rather due to the gratuity with which both accept to constitute and to be constituted from another.
In fact, more than "exchange", and more than "transfer", the simple relation of values in use is rather a mutual production of gifts, of freely given and received gifts. Or, to put it more crudely, the possibility of an exchange of values in use is logically prior, and independent of the establishment of a market. This may be a horror for economists, but it is politically crucial for a communist will. A human relationship is perfectly conceivable, not only an inter subjective, but an actually social one, not being mediated by the market. A society without market is perfectly conceivable and possible: communism.
A founding intuition of Marxism is that in capitalist society the exchange of actual human value has been usurped and distorted by market relations, by their abstract and dehumanized expression in relationships of exchange mediated by money. The properly human qualities of value have been abstracted and expressed in a merely quantitatively universal equivalent, money, that would measure them regardless of the subjective human effort put into their production. The practice and theory of classical bourgeois economics has assumed work as the source of value, but it has reified this work in turn, measuring it only as abstract accumulated labor, a formula culminating in reducing this human effort to its sheer dimension of time. Either way, what economy considers values are but abstract amounts of time, regardless of the subjective content these times bear in them.
I fully follow these classical economists and Marx, when calling "exchange value" to the value that the goods acquire in the market, ie in the exchange actually occurring in class societies, and in capitalism in particular . The founding philosophical and political analysis of Marxism, under the specific criticisms that Marx makes of the operation of the capitalist economy, is related to the process of conversion of values in use into exchange values. This is the basic problem. Regardless of whether the specific analysis of capitalism is nowadays fulfilled or not, regardless of whether the laws of capitalism may be formulated the way Marx did it or not, the underlying problem is whether a society is conceivable in which the value is considered only in its original meaning of exchange of humanity.
And to examine this we can go, without reservation, to Marx's original analysis of capitalist society. There the essential steps that I care to highlight are as follows. The first, which connects to the above analysis, is that all value comes from human labor. Nothing has value in itself and objectively (neither gold, nor water, nor air); nothing adds value except human intervention (neither technology nor knowledge, nor comparative advantage, nor usury on capital). The origin of any exchange value, any process of valuation, lies in human labor.
The second point is that, socially and historically, that is not locally or temporarily, the products are exchanged on the market for their exchange values, not their prices. The law of supply and demand operates locally and temporarily, on prices, not on the value. Prices tend, socially and historically, to the exchange value. This is very important because of the methodological principle and the content it expresses. Methodologically it means that Marx is not interested in calculating point to point the variables that operate in the bourgeois market, but rather in their historical and global trends, that is, precisely those aspects that are suitable for diagnosis and political calculation. In terms of content this means that Marx is not interested in a theory of prices as such, or in the immediate calculation of the surplus value extracted per worker, or profits, but rather in the general movement that occurs, throughout the capitalist system, under these facts.
The third point is that for Marx the exchange value is determined by the time socially necessary to produce a commodity. And, again, in this case the "socially necessary time" is not an amount that Marx would propose to calculate precisely and locally, but a category which indicates that in the process of valuation of goods there are factors involved such as the technological level, the availability of raw materials, the cost of labor, the costs of maintenance and reproduction of the production process. The integration of these factors to the analysis of valuation processes is allowing Marx to find and describe the dynamic aspects of capitalist production as a whole: the structural need for technological competition, the structural need to exert pressure on the cost of the work force, the structural downward trend in the rate of profit and the monopolistic concentration of capital and, above all, the structural trend to recurrence of general crisis of overproduction.
"Structural", in each of these cases, means that these trends are made real globally and beyond the immediate consciousness of the actors, in a typically alienated effect. That is, crisis, fierce competition, the tendency to depress wages are not "flaws" of capitalism, or signs of malfunction, but on the contrary, the unwanted and, while the general rules of the game stay the same, necessary effect of "good" and "competent" activity of each capitalist in particular. It is not because the capitalists operate "badly" that economic crisis come to be, just the opposite, crises are the result of the "best" possible capitalist behavior, that is, the one in which the primary objective is to maximize profit.
However, profit maximization is not part of any essential "nature" of the bourgeois as historical actors. It is a historically produced and conditioned feature. This is extremely important because, strictly speaking, it can not be said that capitalism is "intrinsically evil" in the sense of wanting to plunge most of the population into poverty, or regularly pick on humanity, every time there general crisis. The bourgeoisie as a class, beyond particular abuse, as many times as real, does not have exploitation nor poverty as a priority goal, but instead the production and reproduction of profit. Only if profit required of these ingredients it will take them on without hesitation. But a capitalist operation in abundance and with substantially "humanized" exploitation levels is perfectly imaginable. This is especially imaginable and politically crucial in a highly technological society. In the end, if the mass of surplus value obtained by valuation processes in contexts of very advanced technology are large enough, even the absolute attempt to maximize private profit is essential and a wide possibility of socially "distributing" significant shares of surplus value becomes imaginable, in a society which, as a whole, appears as "benefactor". This consideration is essential for a Marxist critique of bureaucratic power.
But to return to the essentials of Marx's analysis, a fourth point, and in some sense the most important, is the idea that what is paid to the worker under capitalism is not "work" but the "workforce", and that therefore the value that society pays for the workforce is determined by what it costs to produce it or, put another way, the fact that the workforce has become a commodity.
If the pay for the workforce is what it socially and historically costs to produce it, the secret of capitalist exploitation is but the following: the labor force is a commodity that produces more value than what it costs in the market. The difference between the two values is the surplus value. Capitalist exploitation can be described accurately as extraction of surplus value, legitimized by the figures of private property and the contract.
Two issues are important on this historically specific mechanism of exploitation of man by man. One is the social and historical determination of the cost of the workforce. Another is the fact that this operation is performed, under capitalism, freely. I will consider these two issues at the same time in the analysis that follows, to show the connections I want to do between critique of capitalism and critique of the bureaucratic society, and why I think today it is necessary to develop both of them evenly.
b. Anticapitalist critique
Basically, the Marxist critique of capitalism can be found in the theory of exploitation through the mechanism of extraction of surplus value. From a review of this mechanism arises, however, the fact that the capitalist does not know if he will recover its investment, if it will be realized at the market. Instead, the worker, at least in principle, and as established by a contract, has secured his salary for payment, as part of the initial investment. The capitalist runs an objective and, so to say, structural risk. The worker, however, is safe (as far as the capitalist progresses) at least of his salary. Couldn't one then argue that profit is only the socially acceptable award to the capitalist for that risk? What might be the Marxist arguments regarding this rationalization whereby the risk should be rewarded? Or again, why do Marxists criticize the extraction of surplus value? What do they criticize here?
It is important to note, first, that the mere extraction of surplus value does NOT necessarily lead to absolute poverty. First because in a high-productivity system effectively and safely such wages can be paid, whose absolute level is more than acceptable. Second because not only the overall increase in living standards, which results in pressures of the labor movement on capital, but also the internal dynamics of production itself, require sufficiently skilled, healthy and minimally motivated workers, which excludes, at least for the most modern and complex sectors of production, levels of absolute material poverty. But, thirdly, because these workers are an important part of the recipients of production, they are the potential consumers, without which capitalist investment would fail to be realized.
One could argue, however, that the trend towards profit maximization, and capitalist competition itself forces trying to cut costs by keeping wages as low as possible. It should be noted, however, that these conditions do NOT frontally contradict those stated earlier, so that the "lowest possible" level of wages should be understood rather as the level that socially and historically is the lowest possible. Which brings us back to the perfectly possible situation of wages well above the historic lows of poverty. Question, moreover, that is perfectly evident in many sectors of modern production.
If so, then it is not true that best capitalism necessarily produces absolute poverty. One could argue that it nevertheless produces relative poverty, that is, the growth of profits is always higher than the growth of wages, although the historical downward trend in the rate of profits has been postulated. Relative poverty, however, as evidenced by certain groups of workers, could be comfortable enough to socially and historically justify the difference. If no viable alternatives have been shown, we could tolerate the wealth of the few in exchange for the comfort and welfare of the majority.
Of course one can argue that in fact, empirically, there are capitalists who lead the trend of profit maximization to the limit of "abuse", ie exercising the extraction of surplus value absolutely, by restricting wages or extending the day of labor, simply protected by their strength and the lack of strength of workers. This being a very general situation, and an element of great existential weight, it is not, however, as presented, a very solid argument. It happens that whenever the "excesses" of the system are criticized, there can be always the answer that there would not necessarily be excesses. That is, the system itself has not been criticized, structurally. From a methodological point of view, we can say that, however serious the circumstances, there is nothing in them so far, that allows to consider them as essential to the system. The criticism, up to this point, is surmountable and contingent.
The sheer existence of poverty, alone, in short, is not an indictment of the structure of the capitalist system. Not only there are, in a verifiable way, important social sectors with more than acceptable levels of life, but it has not yet been proven that poverty is a necessary consequence of its operation. One could always argue that it is but a surmountable backwardness.
The problem of poverty takes on a different dimension, however, when it is related to what, with a somewhat cynical elegance, is called "primitive accumulation of capital". A historical charge that can be directed against the capitalist system is that, socially, the initial capitals, from which the cycle of expanded reproduction started, were obtained via the colonial looting, theft, war of conquest, armed barbarism. This is not only true, and widely documentable from a historical point of view, but it also is in principle and in an essential way. It is not at all conceivable that a class of technological innovators has made humanity, and their own pockets, progress, armed merely with their wits and the power of their words. The implementation of such wits in effective large-scale production apparatus necessarily required enormous amounts of capital that historically were not available, nor available to any previous society. The states used to their advantage, and through colonial plunder, or direct plunder and piracy, contributed the capital which launched all of the pompous pride of modernity.
If this original sin occurred at the beginning of the capitalist social formation, one could argue that today it is justified by its effects. If the product of the original violence is that we today have, within the same system, ample opportunities to overcome poverty and to advance mankind as a whole, perhaps, despite the regrettable and extraordinary circumstances, that violence perhaps made sense. Perhaps, given the possibilities for the future, it doesn't make much sense to accuse the current capitalists for the sins and crimes of their grandparents. It should be accepted, at least, that such accusation, as an argument, is not too strong.
Very different is the case, however, if in fact what happens is that the "original" accumulation is not just a historical event in the system startup, but repeated again and again, whenever the capitalist crisis is exiting on the irrational destruction of capital required by the contradiction between competition, production and private property. This each time leads to a new period of "original" accumulation, that is, of finding sources of capital with which to promote the next production cycle and its new technologies. This new phase of accumulation turns back to plunder, to the social decline of wages, to increases in working hours, covered by force, especially where the use of force is still easily feasible, ie, on the outskirts of the system.
"Normal" capitalist competition, which is moved by increases in surplus value relatively achieved, that is, through increases in the intensity of labor, in technological development, leads to the crisis of overproduction due to the contradiction between the private nature of economic initiatives, and the social, public, haphazard, non transparent character of the market. From this crisis you may get out not only through a technological leap forward, but also resorting to looting, and to the mechanisms of absolute surplus value extraction. Absolute and relative surplus value alternate historically. From these considerations it follows that the capitalist "abuse" is an essential part of the system, not only empirically, but by virtue of its structural characteristics. If so, absolute poverty or, at least, the cyclical deterioration of living standards in the center, and its repeated and systematic degradation in the periphery, are essential features. And when criticizing them, we have arrived at a point which can only be reversed through a structural change.
But perhaps even that structural change would be, at least partly, realizable within the system. A deeper reformism may be possible than the one stemming from philanthropy. That would be the case if it were, if not to avoid, at least to regulate and substantially moderate the cyclical crises of overproduction. Obviously this is not possible without substantially intervening, directly or indirectly, on the market, either to ensure the purchasing capacity, to control financial speculation, or to moderate the intensity of looting during periods of accumulation through contributions in infrastructure spending by the state.
To the extent that these interventions put an essential limit to the capitalist free will, one can speak of structural reforms. But, to the extent that they do not touch the central institution of private property, you can not properly speak of revolution.
But if we go beyond, in a radical reformist perspective, it may be that these controls on the market arise from a progressive loss of effective power by the capitalist class, and its transfer to a class of managers of common property, either by the progressive dissolution of the classic private property in unmarked equity companies, or in the form of management of social funds (such as pension funds), or the emergence of transnational regulatory powers over the private capital.
Independently of the possibility of postulating that we here are facing the emergence of a new type of class rule, which kind of critique could we then make to this situation, be it characterized as capitalism or as bureaucratic power?
To formulate a response in this case it is necessary to radically consider the core of the Marxist critique of the extraction of surplus value. And I think this can only be done regaining its essential connection with the critique of alienation and, from there, with the notion of class structure.
The underlying problem is what is appropriated when surplus value is appropriated. In economic language it should be said to be a part of the value created by the labor force. But if asking in turn, now philosophically, what is that value, we find that it is but objectified humanity. That is, in the terms of the capitalist contract it is established that the worker will objectify his talents, efforts and nerves, that he will put what is truly human to him into a product, and be paid for it with part of the value he created, reified in the form of an universal equivalent: his salary in cash. He puts humanity, he objectifies as a subject and subjectivizes the object he produces, and he is rewarded, however, with his objectification reified as merchandise, he "gets paid" by reifying his proper humanity, his workforce, as a commodity.
For Marxist ethics, this exchange is absolutely uneven and, in any case, dehumanizing. The capitalist, considered as a class, appropriates humanity and puts it into circulation as a thing. Regardless of the exchange value of the salary, ie, whether the work is good or poorly paid, the whole process dehumanizes social and inter-personal relations. Even if they will pay us very well, and our abstractly material needs are met, the individual and social world that results from this is reprehensible, and its intrinsic inhumanity will be eventually expressed one way or another as loss of sense, artificial competition , selfishness and interest. This can also be said colloquially this way: it is not enough to live better, what we want is to be happy.
Certainly this critique requires several previous philosophical convictions that underlie it. As mentioned above, one is the idea that all value originates from human labor. Another is that there are no abstractly objective values, valid for themselves, regardless of what men are and the ways in which they produce themselves. And, further, the idea that there is no more objectivity than what is objectified in the work. That is, that there is nothing in the world which exists independently of human history and humanity's activity of producing itself.
Abstractly objective is what is objective and a thing for itself. Concretely objective is what is objective because it has been objectified in the work, and has become a thing by the way that work is socially organized.
If so, then all products of work are objectified humanity and the sense of criticizing the fact that someone becomes rich by the work of others, regardless of taking risks or not, is to oppose both the products and the labor force itself being converted into commodities, into things. Accordingly, when the capitalist buys labor force, he buys is humanity. Such as in slavery you could buy a whole man, body and soul, now they continue buying men, with the subtle aggravating condition that what is bought from them is only and exactly what makes men, their labor force, their humanity. The eventful freedom that would have been granted to bodies and movements, is denied by the slavery which gives those bodies content and meaning.
However and beyond, the requirements of the slavery of work, the order that is necessary for wage labor to be possible, also ends enslaving the bodies in an extra legal, deep slavery, which is what may be called discipline. Taylorism, Fordism, Taylorization of subjectivity in the sectors of high-tech production, enclosing the formal freedom given to the bodies in the general slavery horizon of a mediocre life, with welfare or without.
But this estimate, a "mediocre life," is rooted in a second philosophical assumption, now about happiness itself. For the critique of capitalist dehumanization of work to hold, it is necessary to affirm that happiness is more than just pleasure and satisfaction of abstract bodily needs. The necessary complement to a theory of alienation is a definite theory of possible reconciliation. And, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, a notion is consistent with the humanist, secular and atheistic materialism of Marxism where reconciliation is the exchange of humanity as recognized humanity and the fulfillment of desire is being mutually in the desire of the other under the mediation of labor.
No product of human labor should circulate merely as a thing, as a commodity. Let alone the workforce. Every human work should be exchanged for the human value recognized in it, not by the abstract equivalent that expresses it as a thing. We should live to fulfill ourselves at work, and not be slaves of the drudgery to which we are required merely to survive. If work is experienced as free labor, we should also free ourselves from Taylorism or neo-Taylorist disciplining that ties our existence to a mediocre life.
Does this mean a society in which there is no market, no money? Yes, that's what it means at least. Of course a society that dares to commit such a depravity should be called communist.
Three are, in summary, the argumental lines of the Marxist critique of capitalism. The first is that the use of absolute forms of extraction of surplus value each time it is necessary to finance the technological leaps that allow getting out of cyclical crisis is a structural feature of the system. This produces significant setbacks in overall life levels, and recurrently produces an absolute poverty which, under the current patterns of product distribution, has led a third of humanity to misery and profound marginalization.
The second is that it is a structural feature of the system to have cyclical crises of overproduction, in which the irrationality of the contradiction between the individual initiatives of economic agents and the social character of production is expressed as destruction of product and means of production, useless waste of human labor, amid extreme poverty for huge segments of the world population.
The third is that even in the unlikely event that poverty may be overcome, or if bureaucratic regulation puts sufficient limits to capitalist initiative to moderate the crisis, the process of labor itself, under the capitalist contract, is essentially dehumanized by commodity reification, alienating the subjective essence of humanity, and forcing the objectifying discipline of the bodies.
No salary can compensate for what we turn over to capital: our humanity, our lives. We give humanity and in return we received, in the best case, abstract being, and, at worst, absolute misery. We give our freedom and in exchange we receive the discipline required by the immediate forms of work organization. We give our social effort and receive in return a divided society, at war, a predatory society. Overall we are denied our enthusiasm and creativity in repetitive and monotonous machines or in absurd and self sustained processes. But when they come to recognize that there is something valuable in that creativity and enthusiasm, it is but to condemn us to paternalism and a mediocre life, without horizons, full of more or less pleasant easements. And this criticism goes beyond whether the exploitation is managed by private capital or by bureaucratic interest, presented, like any ruling class does, as interest in the progress of all mankind.
The communist critique of exploitation must reach not only reified life under the rule of capital, but even the poor comfort that bureaucratic regulation could offer us. If the subversive aspiration is nothing less than communism, it is not only to live better but to be happy.
c. The idea of exploitation
The line of argument in the previous section relates to another point which is in the order of the basics: the idea of exploitation.
We are not happy because there are powers that dominate us, impede our freedom, make, ourselves being involved in it, a world that we find strange and enemy. A founding intuition of Marxism is that such domination stems from the exploitation of man by man.
To specify this concept, you need, first, to distinguish between "domination" and "exploitation". I use "domination" as a broad term that generally involves a differential of power and an exercise of advantages for subjecting others. A submission which involves obtaining a profit, even if only the mere benefit of the satisfaction of subjecting. I use "exploitation" as a more restrictive term: it involves removing and appropriating value from the other. In this distinction, domination is an eminently political term, what is at stake in it is power. Exploitation, however, is an eminently economic term, what is at stake is profit and value.
In general, the idea of a social theory that has chosen to think the conflict as constitutive and foundational, is that social relationships are formed around conflicts involving domination and exploitation. As a minimum, social groups, their conscience, their possible unity of interests, would be formed around these conflicts. On that basis it should specified under what conditions we may speak of "social classes" and "class struggle". Of course, following the concept of domination, a theory of power should be specified, and following the concept of exploitation, a theory of forms of extraction and appropriation of value, and of the conditions that make it possible.
At least, from a Marxist point of view, it is necessary to accept two options. One: no man has a primal and autonomous desire for power, for domination itself, as the mere desire of desire, or a "will to power". There is no other similar primeval, and natural desire, characterizing or limiting human will. The other option is that the situations of domination must always be connected to relations of exploitation, on which they are based and which give them meaning. Power is sought to ensure the permanence of exploitation, ie to ensure the profit resulting from extracting value from anothers. There may be exploitation without domination (unequal transfers of value that do not involve a particular unequal power relationship, as in the case of transfers of value inside the process of reproduction of capital between sectors of capitalists), but there can be no domination without exploitation.
What is at stake in this second option is one of the most frequent criticisms against classical Marxism, one that holds that the relations of exploitation can not account for all of the conflicting relationships found in society. According to this critique, originally from Weber (for example, "Economy and Society"), conflicts such as those that occur in gender relations, or social or ethnic discrimination, would escape the logic of mere extraction of value, and there would be at stake, however, other dimensions of the social, not reducible to economic variables. Relationships of cultural, sex, ethnic, and status differences and so on.
Against this what I care to support is the centrality and necessity for a communist horizon of holding to the idea of exploitation. I argue, first, that from an empirical point of view, although not all relationships of domination may be immediately correlated with an exploitative relationship to explain it, it would be necessary to accept that at least originally it was related to a form of exploitation, but then, in the course of increasing complexity of the division of labor, it has become autonomous, and has lost the foundational relationship that gave it origin and meaning. It is possible that today the relations of gender domination is not always related to defined forms of mercantile exploitation, but come from contexts where that was necessary. This is an empirical question, which should be subject to anthropological research in every form of domination that we are interested in unveiling in a Marxist way.
But the problem is deeper, and not really an empirical one; it has to do with the notion of value and extracting value. I argue that the criticism launched by Weber holds only if one accepts that the only form of value is exchange value. If we understand exploitation as appropriation of exchange value, then of course we can not account for all the complexity of the social or, in other words, it is true that not all social relations are relations of mercantile type, even when under the dominance of market relations.
I argue that it is necessary, in order to avoid economic reductionism, and instead keep the idea of exploitation, to extend this idea from simple appropriation of value in the form of exchange value to all situations of appropriation of value in general, that is, to all forms of human relationship there is loss and unequal appropriation of humanity. The idea of exploitation is thus linked more strongly to the idea of objectification and alienation than its more particular expressions in commercial relationships.
If the path of restricting the idea of exploitation to the appropriation of exchange values is followed, it becomes inevitable to distinguish between domination and exploitation, and to accept that there can be dominance without exploitation (for example, in the submission of the wife to follow her husband in the patriarchal marriage), and also the idea becomes inevitable that there are, even advantageous, transfers of value, without any domination involved (such as those occurring between the productive sectors in the process of reproduction of capital).
In the end, from this reasoning could even follow the idea that there only is exploitation in societies where there is a market, or where the market is the primary mediator of social relations, by which, for example, feudal societies could be presented to as societies of "cooperation" around common interests and reciprocal services (mutual defense, servitude in exchange for protection). Not only the idea that Marxism can become an encompassing theory that accounts for the outline of the whole of human history would have to be abandoned, but also, in this course, you could try a vision of bureaucratic society as a society having recovered solidarities and reciprocal services, the feudal style, but without religious obscurantism. The first effect implies, in my opinion, a substantive theoretical sacrifice: I think that Marxism can not abandon the claim to account for the whole of human history. The second effect, which is central, seems simply unacceptable: the idea of limiting exploitation to its purely economic dimension opens a wide door to ideological rationalization of bureaucratic power. And I think these claims are already visible in much of the current ideology of the emerging system of dominance.
But also, I argue that the centrality of the idea of exploitation is necessary to maintain two notions without which one can hardly speak of Marxism: the idea that social relationships are formed around basic antagonisms, not only conflicts, and the idea that these antagonisms can be solved only through a revolutionary process.
An essential connotation of the idea of exploitation is that the relationships constituted around it are antagonistic, not only conflict driven. To speak of exploitation, it is necessary to argue that the interests vested around the appropriation of value are constitutive of their actors and, to that extent, the relation of exploitation is vitally essential to them, it deeply commits their existence, to the extent of alienation and therefore ideological rationalization. As we have stated above, the situations of alienation are tragic in the sense that they evolve beyond the consciousness of the actors, and can not be solved, then, by a mere effort of consciousness and dialogue. In the same extent that the exploitation constitutes its actors, the way out from exploitation requires a process to revolutionize this situation, to end the reified mode that dominates life. Alienation, exploitation, antagonistic strife and revolution are correlative concepts, which constitute a unity without which a communist horizon is not imaginable in a political and concrete way, but becomes a mere ideal, a mere declaration of good intentions.
That is why I maintain that the proposal of a revolutionary Marxism requires maintaining the connection between the need for global revolutionary transformation of society, in practical terms, and a comprehensive explanatory principle to substantiate the theory. This explanatory principle is the idea of exploitation. It is because society has been constituted around exploitative relationships that a revolution is necessary.
However, for this it is necessary to expand the idea of exploitation to all transfers of value generally involving an unequal distribution and reifying of value. To understand exploitation both as the extraction of value and its differential appropriation (devaluation), as well as the actions that prevent the appreciation of the other in function of keeping that differential appropriation. To understand exploitation, in short, as all transfers of humanity that have the effect of dehumanization of one or both of the parties involved.
From this general concept, the differential extraction and appropriation of exchange value in societies governed by market relations turns out to be a specific mode, extremely important of course, but which does not exhaust the possible forms of dehumanization, that is the background problem against which the Marxist critique was created and developed.
This is so important that I care to concretize at least one example. What I mean when I say that the prevailing relation of gender is an exploitative relationship, is that what women produce in the roles she is forcibly allocated under its domination, that is, backup, security, stability , affection, is appropriate for the man who uses these values as input for what he produces (there is differential and disadvantageous transfer of value, devaluation) and, conversely, that the maintenance of this situation generates and requires a state of things that impedes the free production of other values by women (again disadvantageous prevention of valuation). On both sides a situation of inequality and reification is configured. But, even more, a relationship in which the valuation of one generates and requires the devaluation (and hindrance of valuation) on the other, that is, an antagonistic situation.
It is around this asymmetry, and at its service, that the corresponding relations of domination are configured, the imposition of a functional distribution of power. Through physical force, through the contract, through the symbolic coercion which involves a whole culture ordered around its rationalization. Around, in turn, the political and legal framework is built that gives the force a shape, now socially "accepted", both to determine the "order", as well as to contemplate its transgression, and the nature and punishment of its possible transgressions.
The important point of this example is that I am talking about exploitation although uneven transfer of value is not expressed exchange value, or cash equivalents. That is, although these are not strictly mercantile relationships. The political meaning of this extension is the assumption that mercantile forms of exploitation might be exceeded, or substantially overshadowed by forms of servitude involving non-market exchanges,however maintaining the situations of reification and alienation characteristic of class societies. That's just what I think will happen, and already happens under bureaucratic domination.
In the case of gender relations, it is perfectly possible describing them, under capitalism, as fully mercantile relations. To the extent that this is the basic trend that defines capitalism, is not surprising that even gender relations have come to be expressed as contractual relations, and to be expressly legislated by analogy to contracts of buying and selling. However, it is quite obvious that the objectification of women is much older than capitalist society. A much older relation of exploitation, in whose origins other variables are involved, has come under capitalism to take the prevailing form of exploitation. This is theoretically very relevant.
Not all contemporary situations of exploitation are rooted in capitalism. Historically there are relationships of exploitation that accumulate from one society to another, taking up the forms that prevail there. Of course, capitalism is not the origin but only a form of human alienation in general. There have been others before, and there may be others later. It is essential, however, to maintain that in each social formation there is a way, a central and decisive type of exploitation relationship, towards which inherited and new exploitation relationships tend. Two issues, of theory and practice, are at stake in this necessity: one is that relations of exploitation should be considered as global social relations, other, closely related, is that only to the extent that it is postulated that there is a central form of exploitation it can be postulated that the revolution is also a global social process.
The first issue is that when I speak of differential and reifying value transfers I'm not referring to what an individual or particular agent does to another, but to a social relationship, a global situation, which has a constituent character. Not that there are some individuals who, by virtue of their historical characteristics, do exploit others. It's upside down. It is the existence of a global situation that makes it possible and reproduces, over and over again, the individuals who perform it. The process as a whole makes the individuals, and especially exceeds their consciousness when constituting them, or rather, it constructs them including the consciousness that is functional and legitimizing for them.
My argument is not that the constitution of the particular social agents is absolutely out of their control and is imposed as an inexorable mechanism, the style of the old deterministic myths invented by modernity. What I contend is that this constitution exceeds the particular consciousness, of the particular agent. It doesn't exceed the historical process in general, nor the constituted consciousness may be considered immutable. What simply happens, much nearer than those deterministic thesis, is that it is necessary to concede, that those particular actors do what they do (explode, accept being exploited) under very good (particular) reasons, and that, from the point of view of their particular lives, there is no manifest and unbearable irrationality, but rather a vast array of resignations and rationalizations that make (particular) life perfectly livable, despite the incredible degrees of material and spiritual misery that are reached so often in class societies.
This reflection is necessary to maintain the social character of the revolution, even though passing through the "revolution" of individual lives. Otherwise we run the real risk of putting at the beginning of all historical explanations, and of political practices, the theory of a vast, open and conscious conspiracy of some men, against the majority which they explode. This is not only unlikely, and hardly verifiable in an empirical way, but also a sure start of the methods and practices of totalitarianism.
Similarly, the second point is that the revolution is a global social process. It is not an individual who appropriates the value produced by another, it is a social class as a whole that appropriates the value produced by another class. In that process it can occur even that a particular is not adversely affected by the particular relationship of exploitation in which he is involved. Neither the extraction of surplus value, in the case of capitalism, nor the appropriation of value in general can be measured case by case. And even if the calculation could be made, it would not be significant from a political point of view. What we demand of the ruling class is not that it owes us this money, or these or other values in particular, we do claim, globally, that they have made our lives a misery, and we no longer want to live that way. That is, what we want is not to increase our salaries, or to improve our living conditions. What we want is that the whole life changes radically. We want to be happy. So a revolution is necessary.
On the one hand, the social relations constituent of society are antagonistic, the valuation of some requires devaluation and the impairment of the valuation of others. Moreover, this process has affected our lives as a whole, and we argue that any reform process will suffice for the vital goal that we propose. But also, I argue that all forms of exploitation in class society tend to some central form. To the extent that the forms of exploitation tend to coalesce around one of them, all forms of subversion do so too. The global political unity of the revolution, beyond the multiplicity of planes and forms of struggle, derives from the global political unity of the forms of exploitation.
It is in this context that it finally makes sense to distinguish between "exploitation" and "oppression". I think it is necessary to maintain the idea of exploitation for situations involving both extraction of value as well as an impairment of valuation. For oppression, however, this second element is present, without the first being necessarily involved. There are specific situations that require this distinction. Although we have already established that relations of exploitation are relations between social classes, not primarily between individuals, it is still possible to wonder about the relationships established between such social groups, that are not necessarily classes.
Specifically, by way of example, are the children of the workers exploited, or the unemployed, or disabled, or the marginalized sectors of economic life? Strictly speaking, it seems obvious that one can not speak in these cases of extraction of value, certainly in the sense of exchange value, and even extraction of value in general. As obvious as this, however, is the basic intuition that these sectors are affected by the global situation of prevailing exploitation. The key difference is that, in fact, from the point of view of the exploiters, there isn't any need to produce these situations of poverty, and they even would be benefited in many ways if these did not exist, that is, if each of these sectors, for example, could be integrated into the labor market and into consumption.
When we say that these are situations of oppression, what is said is not that in them there is extraction of value, or indirect need, by the exploiting class. The claim is that these are situations that arise, desired or not, functional or not, from the global system of exploitation. There is no oppression without some form of exploitation that, directly or indirectly, generates it.
The idea of oppression involves two essential, interrelated planes. On the one hand it refers to a situation of poverty, humiliation or vital impairment that is produced over and against the will of those who suffer it. On the other hand, this implies, in a profound way, an impediment to valuation itself.
Exploitation is accompanied, in general, by an overall situation of oppression, and common procedure of classical Marxism is criticizing it from claims against these visible consequences of dehumanization. For criticism of bureaucratic power, however, it is essential to note that, while there is no oppression not resulting from exploitation, there can be, however, exploitation without oppression. An issue that may certainly surprise any classical Marxist.
The point is that within highly technological production the extraction of value does not necessarily require an absolute impediment to the valuation of others. Even more, it requires, to a significant degree, that valuation to perform. Bureaucratic exploitation is more universal, more "human" than capitalist exploitation because in its course, rather than a radical difference of valuation and depreciation, divided into dichotomous poles, there is a relative difference in differential valuation. Both terms are valuated, but the result is a net transfer of value to one of the poles. There is effectively a mutual service, but only at the price of one of its terms holding the advantage on the other, and gradually increasing it. The fact that this advantage is kept also makes of this one a system of exploitation. The fact that it increases progressively makes that such exploitation conditions globally grow more serious, although at the particular level the effects of individual valuation are always perceived as compensatory.
The key to exploitation, then, is not, strictly speaking, the difference between rich and poor, but the dehumanizing result of this difference, be it absolute, as in classical capitalism and in societies of low tech, or relative, as it can be under bureaucratic power. Arguing against poverty is urgent and necessary, but that's only part of a reformist strategy and horizon. It is the argument against alienation which gives the criticism its communist horizon and its revolutionary content.
Having made this distinction, perhaps one last clarification is necessary regarding one of the examples I have given. Couldn't it then be said that gender domination is more a situation of oppression (impairment of valuation, without economic connotations involved) than of exploitation (extraction and impediment at once)? I don't think so. The point is to recognize that women do produce values, and much of them, although they are not expressible in terms of exchange value. The annoying and very bourgeois discussion about the possible salary of housewives is full of this questions and possible answers. Women, reified as such, not only do produce value (although you cannot express it as exchange value), but also this value is clearly the input for the practice of production of value by men (reified as such). Here there is not only impediment to valuation, but clearly, in my opinion, transfer of value. Not only is there oppression, but at a deeper level, exploitation. And, while there is, this is not a situation that can be resolved within the framework of a dialogue, or a recognition of the right both sexes to alienate equally. What is in gender demands, as in any revolutionary struggle, is not only to live better, to share more "fairly" the miseries of alienation. What it is about, again, is to be happy.
6. From exploitation to the revolutionary subject
Exploitation is a social relationship, which is not primarily inter subjective, and involves extraction of value and devaluation of the other. It is an antagonistic relationship to the extent that the net transfer value of an economical agent causes and requires the devaluation of the other. The valuation of one is the cause of the devaluation of the other. It is a generic mechanism (which affects gender) constituting the actors. These actors are not particular entities but social classes. Exploitation is a global social relationship. Even in the case where the form of exploitation requires a relative valuation of workers, as in highly technological production, the fact that it is a global relationship is what makes it maintain its antagonistic status. A relative and particular valuation is not enough. The only way to go beyond exploitation is to to overcome the conditions of overall worsening of the conditions under which mankind reproduces itself. And this can only happen in a framework where genuine freedom has been obtained, consisting in that there no longer are unequal transfers of value, in that objectification of human labor has ceased to exist.
All this means, in short, we are considering exploitation as a historical relationship, as something that happens to history itself, to the self production of humanity as a whole. And that is why the end of exploitation is only the beginning of human reconciliation in general, always mediated by the essential opacity that sets freedom, ie, always mediated by possible estrangement. As mentioned above, the end of exploitation coincides with the construction of a world where it is possible to be happy, and where unhappiness, which can appear again and again, may be solved. A world in which the differentiated happiness of mankind in general lives in the coming and going of possible happiness and unhappiness of the individuals who have come to identify themselves with it.
When considering the exploitation in a sociological way, that is, when it comes to appropriation value by a class at the expense of another, it is important to establish the general mechanism that allows that appropriation and the structure of social domination it conveys. For the mechanism of appropriation it is necessary to explain the problem on at least two levels, the root mechanism through which it is exercised in any class society, and the specific mechanism through which it operates in each historical period. In any case, the problem of the mechanism of differential appropriation of the social product must always be distinguished from the ideological, legal and political mechanisms through which the appropriation is legitimized to the social whole and to itself. Appropriation and legitimacy of appropriation are clearly separate issues and this difference should be kept and explained.
For Marx, in The German Ideology, the differential appropriation of the social product has its origin in the social division of labor. This can be specified claiming that the basic mechanism that allows one class to appropriate the product of another is control over the division of labor, and it is possible to further specify this, indicating what aspects in particular are those which are controlled and how it is operated from them.
I argue that, in turn, the key to control of the social division of labor is in the possession and mastery of techniques to coordinate and regulate it. No of techniques in general, but of those, the most advanced or the most universal, from which the whole can be regulated, enabling the flow and viability of social work.
By the way what is meant by "technique" is something that must be historicized. The enormous power and influence of modern techniques, which are characterized by the ideology of the empirical and the objective, strongly darkens in common awareness the fact that traditional societies, under other ideological complexes, also operated in a technological way. The invocation, revelation and mystical communion, in the ideological systems of magic, myth or faith, should be epistemologically considered as techniques in the true sense of the concept. If so, the idea that the power over the social division of labor derives from control of socially accepted techniques can be extended to the whole of human history, beyond this fact being explicit and visible in modern society.
It is the control of the social division of labor, and the differential appropriation of the social product it allows, which constitutes and conceptually defines the social classes. While, from an empirical point of view, the different social groups can be classified and stratified according to multiple criteria, such as by how they obtain their income, their socio-economic level, educational differences, and so on, what distinguishes social groups, in general, from social classes, in particular, is the place they occupy in this constituent relationship. This implies that the problem of social stratification is qualitatively different, however much it is related with the problem of classes. To determine groups on stratification scales built with any criteria can be helpful, depending on each criterion, for many different technical purposes. But determining, however, what classes are at stake in a given society, that is, what modes of appropriation, and what relationships existing among them, is essentially a political problem, not derived from the scales of stratification that may be built.
The conceptual issue is this: from a Marxist point of view, it is the social class structure that determines the various ways in which social stratifications and differences are distributed. And, to determine them, it is necessary to directly examine the ways of appropriation, rather than empirical factors that may characterize the strata or differences. Or, to insist further on this point, what Marx did was not to ask for income levels, education, marginalization, or property of the bourgeoisie, to correlate these with those of the proletariat. Conversely, he postulated, from an examination of the mechanisms of production and reproduction of capital, that all these differences could be explained starting from a common cause: the appropriation of surplus value that is enabled by turning the workforce into a commodity.
One issue is the general mechanism, the control of the division of labor through control of techniques that enable its coordination and regulation; another, more specific question is the particular mechanism through which it operates in every class society, a mechanism that constitutes class society in each specific society.
These particular mechanisms may be characterized by observing that they lead to a differential possession of the production factors that are key to the overall logic of social reproduction. Specifically, the differential possession of the labor force, of the means of production, or directly of the means of regulation and management of production. In the first case we are in the feudal social formation, in the second, in the capitalist social formation, and in the third case we are under bureaucratic rule.
In the first case, the central claim is that the relations of exploitation that characterize and constitute a feudal society, are distinguished by the exploiting class being the direct possessor of the workforce, a position from which it is able to determine the general forms of the division of labor, and to profit with advantage from their products. The factual possession of the most dynamic means of production by the bourgeoisie created a social space from which it was possible to break the feudal logic, and that possession derived, in turn, from the creation technologically more effective ways of coordinating and reproducing social work. The factual possession of techniques to directly coordinate and regulate the division of labor, bypassing the ownership of the means of production as a requirement, this is what gives the bureaucracy the possibility of hegemonizing society and, from there, progressively building a general logic of social reproduction, or of the relationships of exploitation, which is different, and more universal, than that of capitalist society.
In this reasoning it is essential to make a distinction that is perfectly clear on the legal field, between "possession" and "property". What is at issue is factual possession or the direct fact that a social group has a differential advantage that allows it to hegemonize society. The question of ownership, in logical, and even empirical terms, is strictly subsequent and derivative. Property is a legal concept, it is in the field of legitimation. It is the result, not the origin of the power of the bourgeoisie. Never a legal relationship can be the source of real power, however much this power effectively requires it as an effective form of conveyance. And, conversely, removing a legal relationship can never by itself remove the social reality from which it appeared, and for which it was created. Indeed it may be difficult to exercise power if the legitimacy that conveys it is removed, but legitimacy and power are two materially different issues.
As I argued in the previous chapter: it is not that the bourgeoisie is the ruling class because it owns the means of production, it's the opposite, it became owner of the means of production because it was the ruling class. The bourgeoisie created the legal, political and cultural figure of private property because it was practical and consistent with a power which it already exercised. The base of that real power was nothing but the domination of the social division of labor. The result, one possible outcome, is that this domination is exercised through private ownership of the means of production. Such reasoning is essential for a possible critique of bureaucratic power, because then the question must be directed at a social system, in order to see whether in it the class divide that objectifies humanity has been overcome, is not whether it has abolished private property but about the ways in which control over the division of labor is exercised.
And to go still further, the question that sets the communist horizon as such is whether it has been achieved that the division of labor ceases to be the constituent and articulating linchpin of the social. This means, no less, that a society can only be called a communist society if it has overcome the social division of labor. Overcoming the division of labor is the clear and distinct concept raised by Marx in "The German Ideology". This is the concept contained in the idea that communism is a society where the time of free work is substantially larger and more decisive than the time of socially necessary, or compulsory labor. "Overcoming" does not mean to suppress. Perhaps there will always be a place of social work where division of labor prevails; the issue is rather whether our lives are determined from there or not. The question is what kind of control we have, as direct producers, over that space of social reproduction, and which place it occupies in our lives.
It is this overcoming of the social division of labor, or the control of the bounded space, the scope of the division of labor by the direct producers, which can be called an end of the class struggle. As may be seen, this is not the end of human unhappiness, or the achievement of absolute transparency of social relations. It is the end of such social conditions in which not only the particular unhappiness, but the whole of the social, is experienced as alien, as hostile, as natural or divine, as an area over which we have no effective control. It is the end of alienation. It is the construction of such social conditions that enable the effective exercise of freedom.
That the class struggle is "the engine of history" means, in these terms, that Marxists believe that society is constituted from a social relationship of antagonism, not just of conflict. To the extent that the social relations of exploitation are constitutive, and operate as the core of all other social relations, and to the extent that this constituent operation is presided by existentially alienated lifestyles, that is, lifestyles that transcend the immediate will of its actors, then the central social conflict is antagonistic. And, to the extent that it is a global antagonism, towards which all conflicts tend, and that acts as a configurator of any social relationship, then its solution can only be radical, and global. It is this historic, radical and global process we call revolution.
But it can happen, also revolutionarily, from one class society to another class society. The word revolution generally refers to a historical process that manages to radically change the antagonisms that make up a society. The transition from feudal society to capitalist society is clearly a revolutionary process, and Marx said of the bourgeoisie that it might be the most highly revolutionary class in history. It is not, then, simply about revolution. This is a communist revolution. And only a historical process that achieves an end to class struggle may be called this way.
The end of class struggle is the end of a world of globally antagonistic human relationships, formed from enmity and struggle. This is not about a substantial improvement in living conditions. This is not about a local experience of realization that may be given by the relative valuation of work. This is about a different world. This is about a different history. Or, as Marx says, it's about going beyond human prehistory, where we relate to each other as if we were in nature, towards the beginning of true human history, where everything that affects social relationships is recognized and controlled as a free product of humanity itself.
b. Capitalist society and bureaucratic power
Class differences need not be expressed as differences between owners and non-owners in general and even less as differences between those with private ownership of the means of production and those without. Therefore, the legal term "property" appers relatively late in human history, what certainly cannot be said of class differences, or relationships of exploitation. But then, the legal term "private property" associated with its inseparable correlative of "wage labor" is a particular, and in many ways unique form of capitalist society.
Even under capitalist hegemony, exploitative relations are not confined to private property, although this is the main and framing form of the whole. Of state owned enterprises, in the framework of the capitalist economy, it can not be said that they are "private", but one cannot say that there isn't in them an extraction of surplus mediated by wage labor. It can even be shown that this surplus value globally favors interest of the capitalist class, and joins the general flow of value from workers to the bourgeoisie, although not by the direct path of private enterprise.
Precisely for this reason it can not be said that the elimination of private ownership eliminates class differences or even eliminates antagonistic social relations. The old fiction that in societies that were called socialist had turned from a framework of antagonistic social relations to another where only non-antagonistic contradictions subsisted, was nothing more than an ideological illusion. In real socialism there were not only social differences, but concretely differences between social classes which, like all class differences, were antagonistic ones. And therefore, these differences could not be resolved in an evolutionary and consensual manner. Not only was it about a transition from socialism to communism. The transition to communism would have also required in those societies a revolutionary transformation.
But to sustain this requires specifying what class contradictions it is about and to establish whether it is appropriate to really consider them as "classes", and not merely as social groups (such as workers, peasants, intellectuals, professionals, etc.) and to speak of contradictions between groups.
To be able to postulate the existence of a bureaucratic society, and of an associated class difference, it is necessary to establish what the constituting mechanism of such new relations of exploitation is, and why this mechanism can not be contained within the class explanation that has been given of capitalist society. If the key of class rule is the domination of the social division of labor, then it occurs that in the societies that were called socialist or even in those that are currently called "advanced capitalism", control of the division of labor is not in the hands of the class of owners of means of production any more, or in the order of legitimization, it is no longer the social relationship "private property" which configures the hegemonic social articulations. This means that private owners have lost possession of the essential techniques that allow the coordination and regulation of the division of labor, even if they formally retain the ownership of such techniques. There are social sectors that actually possess goods that enable them to exercise these functions in a hegemonic manner, although the good that allows them to do so is formally not the ownership of the means of production.
I follow Erik Olin Wright (see "Classes" Ed. Siglo XXI, Madrid, 1994, Ch. 3) in the idea that one can speak of "goods of organization" and "goods of qualification" to designate what is possessed by these sectors, and allows its hegemony under particular social forms. The founding idea here is that the "organization" is a good that can be owned in the sense of possessing the techniques that make it possible to determine and control the ways in which production is organized, and the universe of ideological legitimation that make them socially viable. The idea is therefore that possession, in turn, makes a differential appropriation of the product possible, and generates a set of consistent social actions to protect the exclusivity of the differential appropriation for a particular group. I argue that the historical moment in which this set of actions is organized, under the basic interest of maintaining that form of appropriation, it is possible to talk about this social sector, bureaucracy, as a social class, a class that has undertaken the long journey to hegemony and to government within the class relations that made it necessary for reasons that originally were purely functional.
Olin Wright's text, originally written in 1984, during the Perestroika, includes the notion of goods of organization to criticize what he calls "bureaucratic state socialism". The difference between bureaucrats and workers, that the possession of these goods assume, is to some extent addressed by Olin Wright as an antagonistic difference, much like self criticism from the left of the effective social configurations that were resulting in real socialism, and which had become increasingly visible since the sixties.
In the same logic, however, Olin Wright distinguished from the previous ones what he calls "goods of qualification", ie, the power that derives from the exercise of expertise and knowledge in a producing field. The differential possession of these goods would also allow a differential appropriation of the social product, ie relations of exploitation. But this difference, in turn, allows Olin Wright to distinguish between two social forms: "statism", in which one can speak of a dominant class and antagonistic relations of class, and "socialism", in which, even though the differential appropriation of the social product under the differential possession of knowledge and expertise persists, there would instead not be antagonistic contradictions, to the extent that a conscious intelligentsia could go gradually democratizing and socializing that knowledge, to advance, in an evolutionary manner, to a communist horizon where forms of exploitation would no longer exist.
For Olin Wright this progression would correspond to successive enlargements of human freedom obtained in successive revolutionary transformations. The revolutionary rupture of the feudal logic by the bourgeoisie would have allowed the release of the labor force, which was the possession that articulated its domination. The revolutionary strength of bureaucracy, conveyed or not by the struggles of the labor movement, would have allowed the socialization of the means of production, whose private property was the key to capitalist exploitation. Repowering the revolutionary force of the labor movement should allow, within the statist societies, a substantial democratization of organizational control, thereby breaking the key that links the bureaucratic power, in a conflict that would certainly show the violence that characterizes the existence of antagonistic contradictions. Finally, the revolutionary force of the ?intelligentsia? would promote, within the socialist societies, but this time in an evolutionary way, a substantive equality, whose material base would be the progressive democratization and equalization in the field of knowledge and skills.
A basic key to his reasoning lies in the difference he makes between exploitation made possible by the differential possession of goods of organization, which would lead to such antagonistic contradictions, and that would be produced by the differences of knowledge and expertise, around which, more than exploitative relationships being created (which leads him to say that the intelligentsia, unlike the bureaucracy, is not exactly a social class), "fuzzy relations of dependence" would be produced, possible to be gradually overcome in principle.
Fifteen years later, I think there is no historical or theoretical basis for such optimism. On the one hand, the epistemological criticism to the logic and exercise of scientific knowledge allows to identify the deep presence of ideology in all that is preached as "knowledge" or "expertise", as if referring to objective knowledge, to proven expertise, beyond the social relations in which they occur. On the other hand, the empirical behavior of intellectual sectors associated with bureaucratic control can actually not give rise to the slightest hope, unless we postulate a sort of essential goodness of knowing men, that would take them away from the passions of power and glory, a story which, otherwise, intellectuals have always told, again and again, about themselves, without being able to provide any empirical support for their claims.
Against the optimism of Olin Wright, what I maintain is that control of the goods of organization and of the goods of qualification, or expertise, are but two aspects of the same situation. And the relationship that links them is that the material, effective, power of the bureaucracy lies in the possession of techniques that allow the organization (coordination and control) of the division of labor, while the so called goods of "qualification" are but the legitimizing ideological veil of that possession. The qualifications, expertise, knowledge, operate under bureaucratic rule just like the legal concept of private property in capitalist domination. Bureaucracy and technocracy are but two aspects of the same class, as differences between the industrial bourgeoisie and the financial bourgeoisie can be.
The radicalism of Olin Wright suffices to criticize certain historical forms of bureaucratic rule but, as he believes that there is indeed objective "skills" or "expertise", ie, to the extent that he does not take into account the social condition the knowledge itself, he does not precisely meet the essential point: the bureaucratic rule is not primarily related to the reality of the societies that called themselves socialist, but are an overall moment of capitalist society that is beyond the specific political differences between classical capitalism, state capitalism, or socialism.
c. Anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic criticism
In the same text ("Classes", 1984), Olin Wright hints at the suggestive idea of Alvin Gouldner that the actual beneficiaries of the revolutionary processes occurring in human history have not been exploited classes but always a "third class" that arises in the context of their confrontation. The historical observation is somehow immediate. Regarding the confrontation between slaves and slave holders, it cannot be said in any case that slaves left victorious, although under the feudal rule their lives, now in the form of servants, had improved in many aspects. Likewise, from the confrontation between masters and servants it seems evident that the main beneficiary is the bourgeoisie, but it can also be said that, in many ways, the "freedom" of the workers is an improvement on the subjection of the servants.
This merely empirical suggestion is interesting when reviewing the historical result of the confrontations between workers and bourgeois. I argue that, as in the previous cases, the principal beneficiary of these struggles is but the bureaucracy. And just as the servants identified their interests at some point with those of the emerging bourgeoisie, and thus did nothing but conveying their own transformation into a mass of wage-earners, the same way may be seen how the direct producers often associate their interests with those of the emerging bureaucracy, whose interests they only confirm with their own struggles.0
Marx (in "The German Ideology") argued that each new dominant social class presents its own interests, for itself and for society, as more universal than those of the class that it aspires to replace. You could perhaps supplement this statement with the correlative realization that some of that, in principle ideological, universality should be effectively made real, in order to be historically plausible. From slavery to the "protection" provided by the vassalage and from feudal subjection to the "freedom" provided by bourgeois society, the exploited classes have increasingly seen in the utopian horizon of the emerging ruling classes the shape of their own hopes. One should never forget, after all that, whether actually true or not, that the promises that moved the entire people to support the bourgeois revolutions were, neither more nor less, those of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Both findings are true in the case of the emergence of bureaucratic power. On the one hand the claim that society finally will be managed not by the passions of interest and money, consumption and desire, but for dignity and the height of knowledge and experience. On the other hand, the actual reality that, against the "savage capitalism", direct producers could benefit from neutral and protective policies of a social class which doesn't have radically own interests to defend. These would simply be "functionaries". Their "wealth", knowledge and expert judgment, would not be heritable, or themselves constitute impenetrable castes or guilds. After all, the hope of increasing levels of illustration and access to knowledge in general can be sustained in the existence of new means of communication and writing which, as before the book and the press, would allow a general progress of humanity.
Also, and in the same way as anti-capitalist critique could show the vast difference between the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality, and effective reality of exploitation and misery, now the anti-bureaucratic critique must show the difference in principle between the discourses of knowledge, and corporate protection, and the reality of new miseries arising from a new form of exploitation.
But, to the extent that criticism is no longer directed against classic misery which, while still fully real, is not the core of the new exploitation, it is necessary to unveil this new misery in the field of production of humanity itself. That's why I have put among these foundations the proposal of a concept of subjectivity and human fulfillment. It is at that point, on the general problem of alienation, where anti-bureaucratic critique meets the anti-capitalist critique of Marx. That is why this criticism, bringing together both, may be called a Marxism of a new type.
d. The revolutionary subject
A communist perspective within a new type of Marxism requires it to be possible to indicate, at least in theory, which revolutionary subject would be able in principle to take it forward. In the same way as the contradiction that characterizes capitalist exploitation is the one that exists between the owners of capital and the working wage earners, the characteristic contradiction of bureaucratic domination is between the managers of production and their ability of usufructing from the overall product with advantage, and the direct producers, whose living standards do increase, in the best of cases, at the expense of the global loss of quality of life.
The question of who, in this set of direct producers, are capable of becoming revolutionary subjects should be answered from the idea that I formulated on the essence of social domination: only those can be a real revolutionary subject, who in a position to possibly dominate the division of labor. Specifically, revolutions can only be made by workers. In particular, they should be promoted by those groups of workers who possess, or are likely to dominate, the most complex and technologically advanced forms of production. Or to say the same thing in a hard way: is not the poor, as such poor, who can make a revolution. They can start it, but not take it forward. We must insist on the fundamental principle: revolutions can only be made by workers.
A brutal and central fact in the actual practice of Marxism is that the subject that traditionally was in that position, the class of industrial workers, never fulfilled what for Marx seemed to be its historic mission. The Marxist tradition systematically supplemented this basic lack resorting to revolutionist social subjects, from which to infuse the revolutionary spirit that the Workers' Parties, always so willing to enter the normality of politics, lacked. The peasants, the poor in general, the marginalized, the intellectuals, whatever may be said of them, the students (it is interesting to recall the role of students in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or of a generation of intellectuals who joined the Latin American guerrillas) were declared, at different times, the reservoir of revolutionary potential that seemed to be missing.
Marxist politics has moved for a hundred years under the myopia of avant-gardism and revolutionism. Avant-gardism because of the illustrated hope that some social sector must have the knowledge that immediate political experience does not seem to contribute. Revolutionism because of the romantic hope that some dramatic and crucial experience may generate the illustration that knowledge doesn't seem to contain. Avant-gardism and educational revolutionism, in which the difference between revolution experts and lay people to be lead, between party members, supporters and victims of oppression turns inevitable; where the apparently ethical difference between the good and the beneficiaries of their action, or between the conscious and the innocent, who must be drawn from their condition, becomes inevitable. Extremes of a purely modern political imaginary, which without ever going beyond the logic of the society they fight, become, however, the ideal conveyors of what later, in their own hands, is to become bureaucratic power.
The key decision leading to these policies is simply to try to put the poor in place that conceptually corresponds to workers. However, beneath good conscience and holy intentions, the iron logic of reality tends to prevail. Not only do the poor fail to make the revolutions they would want to, even worse, the Stalinist experience shows that, when they become the central actor, they eventually become objects of revolution rather than subjects. A large social space opens for the revolutionary bureaucracy to direct, handle and totalize the revolution, to end up putting it at its service.
The ease of transition from a totalitarian bureaucracy, which has operated for the people, rather than from the people, to a servile bureaucracy, which ends up surrendering to global regulation, and parasitically usufructing from transnational capital, is more than demonstrated . The poor from the philanthropic discourse of the left who have never abandoned the horizon of utopian socialism, are the ideal alibi for future bureaucrats which, in their name and for their sake, end up dominating them in a totalitarian manner.
The only way that the revolution may be democratic is that workers directly and effectively dominate the process of social production. A general democratization of the most advanced techniques, a democratic exercise of the power to coordinate the work that is entrenched in the technical mastery of the production processes. Any other situation will only lead to the philanthropic dictatorship of experts, with the ever present possibility of the power differentially enjoying from their beneficent function.
This is the reason of Marx's workerism, of his classic mistrust towards the lumpen proletariat and the peasantry. And this is precisely the reason not to be workerists today. The issue is not sentimental or subjective. It is a material, factual question. The big question is who is able to materially revolutionize life.
The technological revolution has displaced the classic factory worker, but it has not changed the essential situation. There still is, essentially, a logic of the new technological base of capital. That logic and the sectors of workers who are able to master it must be found. Otherwise the objective logic will prevail anyway, in the form of a totalitarian vanguard of experts who, based on their mastery of the division of labor, will become, in fact, once again, under different political and cultural forms, the ruling class.
But if this is so, the reflection should go to the state of the real lives of these social sectors. To the ways in which alienation and dehumanization of work is articulated in them, to the ways in which exploitation makes them, under whatever the appearances may be, into objects and appendices of a production which is,essentially, theirs.
The myopia of class analysis of traditional Marxism, hampered by workerism, or affection for the poor in general, failed to bring forward a different concept for these workers than the stupefying and confusing concept of "middle class". The failure of class analysis, unable to grasp new forms of work in their real form, by not recognizing them as the workers Marx spoke of, proclaimed the extinction of the working class or, in an even more awkward version, proclaimed that the petty bourgeoisie could not be trusted.
The middle classes are a thorn in the side for those who believe that the revolution can only emerge from popular purity, as a social democratic and secular equivalent of evangelical purity, or those who believe that industrial society can only be understood in the forms of steel, coal, and factory. The traditional awkwardness of the Left towards professionals, employees of a new type, or towards any form of social movement that does not fall under the common denominator of workers, such as women, youth, blacks, indigenous peoples, environmentalists and homosexuals, is a repeated and dramatic example of what I am saying.
For those of us who, according to Marx, believe that revolutions are made by the workers, the brutal reality is this: the industrial workers never lived up to their historic mission, and were also overwhelmed by the technological revolution. If we are to look for revolutionary subjects, they should be found in the new worlds of work and contradiction shown by today's society.
Does this mean that the middle classes are the revolutionary "subject"? Obviously, in the Marxist tradition and folklore, this can only be an ironic question. For me it is not.
Nothing further, however, from the usual imaginary of the left, than the idea that "petty bourgeois", "labor aristocracy", "careerists and consumerists" may be a revolutionary subject. It is also important to note, moreover, that the quotes on the word subject are not only a pejorative emphasis on "middle class", but additionally suggests that these can not become a subject.
Certainly looking in that direction we have a bleak picture, from a classical point of view. The alienation in abundance seems to have reached its most perfect figure in the workers of the sectors of high technology. Almost existentially horrified by the lifestyles of the middle class, Marxists, full of nostalgia and impotence, turn their eyes towards the popular sectors purity, that middle strata don't show.
But the issue is one of principles, and it goes beyond our terrified moods. If what we want is more than benefactor philanthropy, if what we want is more than reassuring our Catholic conscience, it is all about freedom, beauty, truth, and not just welfare. There is no freedom, beauty or truth without welfare, but only the utopian perspective of freedom, beauty and truth, can prevent us from going back to being an initially philanthropic and eventually totalitarian vanguard.