Proposal of a Hegelian Marxism - IV. Foundational issues - Text
- 1 IV. Foundational issues
- 1.1 1. A Marxist philosophy
- 1.2 2. Theory of Alienation
- 1.3 3. Dimensiones precapitalistas del valor
- 1.4 4. A materialist conception of history
IV. Foundational issues
1. A Marxist philosophy
Always attacked by positivism, or the scientistic nonsense of structuralism, the main Marxist tradition held up a reluctant attitude towards philosophy, and a certain urgency to reduce it to the figure and the methods of science. The bureaucratic interest accentuated this trend.
There is nothing in Marx, however, to support this attitude or this reduction. Even in the time of full European euphoria for science he did not hesitate to appeal to the Science of Logic of Hegel to support his texts during the writing of Capital. Even his more technical works are full of historical allusions, reflections on fundamentals and conceptual clarifications, which are the materials and modes of the philosophical profession.
We usually call accepted mathematicians like Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, historians as Niccolo Machiavelli and David Hume, and even simple chroniclers of time, such as Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Lipovetsky to be called philosophers. Even with ample merit, matadors of philosophy as the desolate Friedrich Nietzsche and the cheerful Epicurus been given that title. And if it was not for disciplinary dogmatism, with the same merit, Sigmund Freud or Jürgen Habermas could also receive it. It is not difficult, therefore, to attribute to Marx the recognition as a philosopher. Much more difficult, however, is to determine which philosophical principles should be related to his work.
In fact a large part of the problem has a fairly idiot origin: as the bulk of the Marxist tradition became accustomed to the procedure to follow his texts literally, and to use his pronouncements, even occasional ones, as arguments from authority, explicit statements from El Maestro, clearly bearing the label "philosophical" are expected, in order to consider them as such. And the problem is that Marx, who once wanted to write a book on dialectics, who permanently maintains that his ideas are based on philosophical principles, devoted most of his efforts to write on economy, relegating the explanation of those principles to unpublished notes, occasional fragments in private letters, or generic allusions in his major writings.
But this is an idiot problem, since no one expected such literalities, eg in Nietzsche or Machiavelli, to make assumptions about the basics of what they propose, and no one expected to be only explicit and published statements that constitute the philosophical content present in an author.
By virtue of this situation in his writings, I argue that there is insufficient textual endorsement in Marx as to attribute precisely and uniquely one philosophical line, and it is wrong of exegesis, and for the most basic academic skills, to try to force their accuracy from isolated sentences or paragraphs, especially if they are contained in unpublished notes. The result of this is that, to relate a set of philosophical principles with Marx, we must do a wide, general hypothesis that is consistent with the general tenor of his writings. This is, moreover, what critics regularly do, and should do with many other thinkers from Parmenides to Wittgenstein, precisely because their words are neither sacred nor clear by themselves, nor are expected to be absolutely consistent, nor that each and every one of their statements are true.
But it is also true that, as in the case of Nietzsche, Heidegger and St. Thomas, the thought of Marx is completely committed to existence and action, so that the problem of philosophical consistency that he is being attributed turns out to be a directly political matter, rather than a formal or academic one. And yes, on this plane his pronouncements are plentiful, repeated and very clear.
It is for these political reasons that I argue that a comprehensive philosophical hypothesis can, and should be developed to explicit act as the foundation of his theory, or rather, of the Marxist theory that we need for our communist politics.
What I have argued for many years is that such a basis can be formulated through the joint operation of reading Marx in a Hegelian way, while reading Hegel in a Marxist way. It is easy to suspect that the former would have liked this task much more than the latter. But that is a purely subjective detail, I do not mind at all (begging to infinity, of course, the forgiveness of The Master for this oversight ... of both).
Getting from Hegel the powerful foundation of its ontological logic to radically criticize both the Enlightened side as well as the Romantic side of modernity. In order to recognize the historicity of science, and of nature itself. To provide a broad set of categories allowing to think of an inhomogeneous, divided, contradictory universality; allowing not think of contradiction as a quality but as essence, and not as an inner essence but as a dynamism. A set of categories to allow removal and overcome the Enlightened dichotomies between thought and reality, subject and society, nature and history. That allow a more complex logic of the internal difference than an external opposition or a synthesis that is merely a composition. A logic for substantively thinking the subject in a fully humanist and historicist way, far from the abstract dichotomy between a Cartesian subject and a divisive and contingent fragmentation. Allowing to think ethics in a situated, relational, historical way, and not as mere formulation of ideals. Conducive to thinking about the meaning of human history far above the simple dichotomy between determinism and contingency.
I argue that the difference between Marx and Hegel should not be sought in the epistemological field, in the formulation of a method, or a disquisition on knowledge. Actually this trend only comes from the unnecessary and counterproductive imperative to reduce Marxism to the logic of science, which is but retaining it within the logic of the Enlightenment.
The difference, which is pretty radical, can be found in two aspects of foundation, one ontological and the other directly political. The first is the atheism of Marx, which breaks the delicate equation that Hegel intends to do in his absolute identity between human history and God. Marx's theory completely lacks this need and trust and is, therefore, an absolute humanism. With Hegel he shares the immanentism and humanist historicism, but radicalizes it to the point of banishing God out of equilibria, and putting all the responsibility to constitute the human community in its own producers without any transcendental mediation.
The very specifical result of this ontological operation, which at first sight might seem very abstract, is the radical difference between Marx and Hegel concerning the estimation and significance of violence in history. And, in turn, as a direct consequence of this, their radical difference on the role that can be played by the rule of law.
This are now directly political differences leading Hegel to the belief that the constituent violence of human society may be mediated by a rule of law that is set as a common spirit on top of particular conflicts. And it is in the philosophical possibility of that common spirit that God's role is necessary, not of course as a providential God, but as an expression of the human possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The estimate of Marx, of course, is radically different. That declared possibility of reconciliation is only ideology, the rule of law is constructed by the ruling classes, and favors them systematically. The result is that, under their respective premises, it is perfectly understandable cautious liberalism, the quiet conservative confidence of Hegel, and, in turn, the appeal to the right to revolutionary violence in Marx. Even from a common ontological logic, from a common humanist and historicist immanentism, it is completely expected, in this other plane, that these antagonistic political drifts would have caused their mutual horror.
But only in that plane. I argue that the radical philosophical difference between Marx and Hegel is neither logical nor epistemological, but directly political. And it is from this area that it radiates to the ontological question of the meaning (or not) the presence of God in history may have.
This profound difference in the estimation of the role of violence in history can be conceptualized according to the kind of difference that Herbert Marcuse successfully applied in his historicizing of the thesis of Sigmund Freud. Just like Marcuse distinguishes between "primordial repression "and" surplus repression", it could be said that the difference between Hegel and Marx is that the first considers all social conflict as an expression of the essential conflict that animates the being in general, and is particularly acute when it constitutes free appealling entities such as human beings. For Marx, however, the estimate is that, well above that primordial conflict, class struggle is a fully surmountable surplus violence.
And it is that difference that Hegel believes that violence may be culturally mediated, because this basic conflict actually is, can be, but he can not see that the other, reified in powerful institutions, no longer supports that confidence and optimism.
In Hegel violence is an inter-subjective drama, crawling on the story because it is rooted in the nature of being. In Marx, on top of this real drama, there is the real tragedy of institutionalized violence, to which the only possible response is revolutionary violence.
It is also important to note that it is this difference that allows us to formulate a post-Enlightened idea of communism different from Rousseau ideal of general and homogeneous happiness. The communist revolution does not require (nor can it require) to eliminate the basic conflict, which is the very essence of free and appealling human beings. It seeks to remove the excess violence: putting an end to the class struggle.
Formulated in these terms, there may be a Marxist philosophy with Hegelian rooted origin, emphasizing the Marxist revolutionary radicalism and its aftermath. I have specified in the Introduction (see Introduction, 3 A doctrinal basis) the main options that have assumed in this proposition of fundamentals. I just want to stress here that it is proposing a philosophy that overcomes the Enlightened obsessions and the Hegel of the Soviet manual on dialectical materialism and, simultaneously, the scientistic obsessions of structuralist Marxism. A philosophy of substantivity, oriented to real politics, which could prevent the demobilizing disintegration of post modern sophistication. A philosophy that can be used as a basis for a critique of the claim of knowledge in bureaucratic power, and the pretense of neutrality of the state of bourgeois rule of law. A militant philosophy.
2. Theory of Alienation
The first and most important of the categories of a Marxist philosophy of Hegelian roots is the concept of alienation. In the Marxist tradition, is perhaps one of the worst discussed concepts. In historiographical terms, this might be because it's been a recurring concept among those who could be called "humanist Marxists," yet they themselves never managed to build up a tradition of actually constituted and stable discussions.
Unlike the Soviet school, or schools like French Marxist structuralism, or English cultural historicism, the Marxist "humanism" appears throughout the twentieth century as an archipelago of resistants, almost always subject to adverse academic and political conditions.
This is clearly the case of Antonio Gramsci, or of the many tribulations of Georg Lukacs, Karel Kosik, Karl Korsch and Ernst Bloch. To a lesser extent it is the relative isolation of Jean Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno for many years, Herbert Marcuse, or the political difficulties of Roger Garaudy and Henri Lefebre, or Mihailo Markovic, Petrovic Gajo and Predrag Vraniki with their respective Communist Parties.
The unfortunate result of these circumstances, in philosophical terms, is that most of the discussions in which the concept appears are marked by the needs of a contingent critique of Marxist totalitarianism of the time, and fail to take off from the much needed and understandable attempt to formulate a humanist argument against it. The effect of isolation and adverse conditions within which this criticism was developed, in purely theoretical terms, is that there is not, to date, a common language around which to discuss. Terms proliferated, which have not been given consistent translations nor constant practices, which often converts discussions into confusing exchanges on nuances and unspecified connotations. Translations from one language to another generated more confusion. The stigmatization of the vaguely Hegelian foundation that was in them, and defensiveness that this generated did not help at all.
That is why, without any pretense of closing the subject, and without any claim to be original or novel, I'll start these considerations on this issue by explaining a number of methodological choices that may contribute to discuss in more reasonable terms.
The issue has traditionally been discussed in a constellation of ideas among which the following shoud be mentioned: objectification, estrangement, alienation, reification, fetishization. Originally they stem from two German terms, frequent in Hegel: Entäußerung (literally "externalization") and Entfremdung (literally "estrangement"). The connotations of these terms vary by certain primary uses: legal (estrangement as selling assets), psychiatric (alienation as madness), theological (fetishize as worshiping a mere representation).
For these expressions, in the following discussion I will adopt the following criteria, even at the cost of adding one more to a real jungle of formulations.
First, I will use different words for different concepts. Although the five terms that I have listed partially overlap, although they actually accumulate into one (alienation), if I use five different terms I must specify at least the nuance that justifies each of them.
Second, I'll think in Spanish, using the corresponding Castilian etymologies as a (rhetorical) resource. I will not proceed, as usually done, from the terms in German, and then find (translate) the result to their Spanish equivalents. The being is able to talk and think well, full way and at ease in other languages other than German or Greek.
Third, I will set the semantic field of each according to a logic of inclusion and progressive aggravation, to focus the entire series on the idea of alienation, regardless of the many ways each has been approached before by other authors . I'm more interested in that self-consistency than in mere philology.
Fourth, which of course should not be obvious, is to use different words for different concepts. In the case that I will develop there are closely related notions, where it is very easy to mix up the connotations of each term. The principle I will follow will be to associate different words for different connotations, but the notions are indeed difficult to separate.
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 occurs is Being itself. It is the process in which the Being proves to be Being.
Since the whole Being is put as an act of Being that at once is subject, objectification is the act by which the subject becomes object: it gets to be outside itself and is, to himself, as an produced externality. There are no "objective objects" by themselves (given, external, present). Every object receives its objectivity from the objectification that establishes it or also any object is the object that it is only in virtue of the humanity it contains. And even beyond that, every object is desirable or valuable (has value, can be an object of desire) only by virtue of that humanity, which it contains or promises.
In the objectification not only the subject puts the objectivity as something exterior, it also also puts itself as objectivity. It is a constituent relationship where the objectivity of the subject and the subjective character of the object are given at a time, and correspondingly. This means that using the term in this manner, the word "subject" has two levels of significance. The whole is subject as it is to be from the activity of objectification and, on the other hand, one of the produced terms is subject as the negative power that animates the whole resides in it. Subject is at once, in a different way, the differentiated universal which is the whole being, and the particular real in that this universality effectively is being.
For the horizon of both post Enlightened and post Romantic thinking to be possible, it is necessary to emphasize two aspects that are not visible up to now. One is that the universal can only effectively be as multiplicity, another is the substantive reality of the particular.
A real and effective universal as it is the whole Being, can not be a mere collection of external parts. It is an absolute and negative activity that produces its parts, that produces them as modes and moments. But as pure activity it is only essence, it is in what it produces where it is effectively Being. However, there is no reason to limit this effectiveness to the lonely dichotomy between a hypostatized pair of an object and a subject. Their Being is itself multiple because its essence is itself free. The multiplicity of the particular is derived, to say it somehow, from the fact that the essence never rests in itself, or in this place or another. It is made again and again in infinite ways, and each of them is itself a becoming infinite.
But we must also think these particular modes as reals. The particular here is not a mere effect, merely an example or presentation of the universal: it essentially has a being in itself in that that reality that is produced. It is free. The reality of the particular is nothing but its freedom. It is but the fact that the making of the differentiation occurs negatively. The particulars are autonomous and free by the mode they are produced, not because they are originally external, such as the inert atoms of modernity.
If we extend this reality of its freedom to imagining a reconciled society, the result is this: reconciliation does not consist in diluting the particular into the universal, it does not and can not consist in its identification. What we want is that the particulars recognize each other in the universal, not to disappear in it. Reconciliation and mystical communion are clearly distinguishable issues, not only in practice but above all, from a logical point of view.
The main ontological and political consequence from the reality of the particular is the possibility of suffering. Immediate reconciliation, the one derived from simple pleasantness, is the one which is possible in the object. The truly complex one, that is pleasure, is the fulfillment of desire, is satisfaction reached in the other's desire. But we are free. Challenged by the desire of another one there is no need, or guarantee, that in fact that small fellowship occurs, that little death, the shipwrecked on the pleasure of being one. And even in that small fellowship freedom makes that there is no need nor any guarantee of its permanence. We can suffer because we are free. That is the evil.
But just like there is no warranty or need for pleasure, nor is there any need for pain to remain. That the suffering is possible is the exact counterpart of the fact that happiness is possible. Neither pleasure nor pain are homogeneous and necessary realities in a universal constituting free particulars. The modern dichotomy contained in the ideal of general happiness, either we are permanently happy or we are doomed to suffering, is displaced. General happiness of each and every one, permanent and guaranteed, is neither possible nor desirable.
This is the philosophical foundation that allows the neither Enlightened (nor Romantic) idea of communism that I argued in the previous chapters. To be able to think of communism as a society of autonomous and free human beings, as a differentiated society which is not a mere totalitarian mystical communion, you need to think of a society where everyone can be effectively happy, and can both suffer and get out of suffering, in the purely inter-subjective plane. The possibility of suffering is a sign that this is a society of effectively free human beings.
The notion of estrangement logically reflects what I have established so far in a (rhetorically) subjective way. The object "becomes strange" when we are prevented from recognizing ourselves in it, returning to the oneself that we have put into it as another.
But the distance between the subject and the object can only come from another subject. As the essence of pleasure lies in the inter-play of inter-subjective desire, and requires it, so the only thing that can make a human suffer is another human being. As the difference between pleasantness and pleasure can be clearly formulated, correspondingly a difference between need and suffering may also be formulated.
The estrangement is thus an intersubjective matter. Its truth is not in the object. And coming back from it is also an inter-subjective issue occuring face to face. This estrangement so said, with no institutions that enshrine and reify it, is installed in the order of being. There can not be a free society which does not experience it. It is not desirable to attempt an order that denies it. Even its extreme experience, reification is, to some degree, necessary.
One can speak of reification when the estrangement of the object has been taken to the extreme of experiencing it as a thing. The object becomes a thing when we experience it without considering the humanity it contains, which constitutes it.
Corporeality is this mediation that requires "becoming something" in order to be recreated. In essence, trees, wheat, sheep, are full of objectified humanity. We produce and consume them, however, by their sheer objectivity, as things. Strictly speaking, it is not because we have bodies that we need to consume certain objects as things, it's the opposite, the fact that there is a field of pure objectivity, a realm of independence from the objectified, is what we subjectively experience as body. The objectivity of the body is purely objectified. There are no natural needs. Every need is produced in human history. What we call "nature" is that objectification as determining factor. Necessity is the objective, and objectifying way of an essential self determination.
In a first approach reification is but that activity of pure objectivity that unfolds as need and returns as satisfaction through the object separated from its essential humanity, through the thing. There should be nothing particularly sinister in this, and, conversely, it must be acknowledged as the effective way in which we happen to be. Reification is the logical figure for the stability of the object.
In this notion, as in the following (alienation), it is not this first order of objectification established that should concern the critical thinking, but the second: the reification of reification, the immobility of stability.
When the word reification is commonly used, perhaps this second order is understood, and simply summarized in the first for stylistic reasons to avoid the cacophony of "the reification of reification". No one pretends that one should never experience an object as a thing, but the emphasis is rather that, in doing so, there is a risk of ignoring in that experience the production process that made it possible. Certainly in the reification operating on the particular, in immediate terms, this risk is not given, or not relevant. I know this book, that will be read as a thing, and this sandwich, I have prepared for my partner to eat it as a thing, are products, and is not crucial for me to be recognized explicitly in them. The reification of reification is very difficult, and not very relevant, as a intersubjective matter.
It is the permanent, ritualized social exercise, to experience objects as mere things, to ignore the humanity that constitutes them, which has all sorts of dire consequences. Such as reducing pleasure to enjoying, such as prey strategic resources without circumspection, such as attribute value to something as such, and not to the production process that made it possible. And the only way out from this social problem can be a social one, through a political initiative. To socially recover the humanity of things.
If reification generally has to do with the object (in general), specifically, the reification of a subject may be called alienation,. Again, in principle, there are many situations where it would not necessarily be harmful treating a subject as a thing. Relying on someone to climb a wall, using a human being as a pure annex to a machine, obtaining pleasure from momentarily being thing in loving exchange. Some of these circumstances may even be desirable. The issue is whether you can return from that state. The crucial point is how much we have of freedom even at that end. Or, again, the problem is not the reification of a subject, but the reification of its reification. The fixing of its being thing, as a role, as otherness without alternative, as required patterns of action.
The extreme end of this extreme is the installation of the subject's "becoming thing" in the subject itself, in such a way that the subject itself reproduces in itself the alienation to which it was subjected. That is, in the logical sense, madness.
In the vast majority of cases, the folly is of purely social origin. The trauma, loneliness, discrimination or fear, are sufficient to explain it. In a reconciled society this kind of crazy people will not exist, nor modernist rationalizations of madness attributed to genes, hormones or neurotransmitters. The temporary insanity, however, which goes like an overflow, and from which one returns on an inter-subjective plane is a right and a rich possibility of freedom. The possibility which shows freedom in its negative mode. The stable, treatable, separable madness will not exist, nor is it desirable to exist.
But madness is more, ontologically and politically. It is necessary to conceptually keep the one which is essential, which has its origin in reification, which is simply the exercise of another from reason. Of course modernity can not conceive this case of a radical otherness, as it does not conceive, in general, the reality of the other. For modernity reason is unique, homogeneous, solid, or it simply is not. Madness as radical negativity, however, is the living experience of the essential internal differentiation of reason itself. It is an indication that reason itself, just as all Being, may be another from itself.
In a post-Enlightened and post-Romantic idea of communism, this radical insanity is necessary and desirable. It is the indication of a basic theoretical and practical safeguard against totalitarianism made possible by declaring the homogeneity of reason and inevitably identifying one of its historical forms as unique and permanent, as true. The radical incommensurability of madness in a society of free direct producers, the ability to get in and out of it in a purely intersubjective way, is the best evidence, the deepest, of the reality of freedom.
The reification of a social relationship can be called reification too. In a context of in principle free subjective exchanges this usually amounts to the reification of reification. That stability that is the way of things, in social relations, is what can be called "institution". Institutions are always reified social relations.
A pesar de su etimología real (“rei”, en latín, significa “cosa”) voy a considerar, por mera conveniencia, que la palabra “reificación” deriva de “rey”. Una relación social que hemos establecido para producir, para realizarnos, para poner un orden en algo, se vuelve sobre nosotros mismos, nos produce, nos ordena, nos exige una obediencia ineludible, llega a tener poder sobre nosotros. Algo sutil (una relación social) que opera como cosa, esto es, independientemente de la subjetividad que la produjo, nos determina, determina a sus propios productores.
In order to understand that this is possible it is necessary to accept a paradoxical consequence of the power of the negative: that rational particular actions (in an instrumental sense) can be conjugated in such a way that the overall result is irrational. To accept that it can be that "rationality plus rationality gives irrationality".
The anthropological hypothesis may be set up that this occurs when the liberty of individuals is deployed in a hostile environment, an environment in which the interest of some can be directly contradictory to the interests of all. A situation in which power is not only the exercise of simple, intersubjective discretion, but becomes a resource for survival. The reification would be a survival strategy in a society facing hostile conditions basically conditions of shortage requiring an unequal exchange.
This kind of reification is a reification that dominates us, which has power over us. Or, more precisely, which constitutes some of us as having power over others. Here the figure of power becomes visible, explicit: thus it corresponds to the metaphor of a king. And it essentially operates on us on our subjectivity, as a power in the symbolic order. When it comes to human beings there is no more power than this one. The only real and effective power is the one that obtains obedience from ourselves. A good deal of sense to devote to a particular fragile, finite person, as king, is to make visible in it the symbolic order of the reified social relations it embodies. And this figure of the king, vested ("dressed" with power), apparently undaunted and permanent, is operating in any scale and in every form the institutions may have: the state, the church, the party, the family.
Strictly speaking, no reified object exists or, rather, there are only so metaphorically, when the object is the indication of a reified social relation. To the extent that the reification (the metaphor of the king) requires a visible place of power, it is unlikely to find that place in an object, and it is very appropriate to try to identify with it. When the visible place is not the patriarch, the judge, the governor, or leader, ie subjective figures (apparently) operating as subjects, the concept loses its original hue. In such cases it is preferable to speak of fetishization.
There is fetishization when the operation of the reification of reification of a social relationship is no longer visible, and what appears to us is simply an object that dominates us. It's the difference between a king, who appears to us as a subject, and a pharaoh, who is presented to us simply as a god, as something that is more than a subject. In any case, it's what happens when objects that embody social relations, such as money, or abstract entities, such as law, homeland or honor, appear dominating us in a compulsive, interior way. When they get our obedience by their mere invocation.
Reification commands us, fetishization fascinates us. The first determines us as subjects in a state of obedience, the second makes us objects. We are before a king, the fetish is the being in front of us. The fetishization reifies us. It is internalized reification.
For such a force to operate it is not enough to have a social order based on the rule of scarcity, you need one and another, one after another. The domination of some humans over other existed originally, and particularly exists as reification. And to that extent it can be torn down with the arms of a society, in the context of a social struggle. The fetishization is the universal that has been formed in the recurrence of one struggle after another, or is the universal operating as a concept and perfection of what is at stake in these struggles. This can as well be said as follows: while reification is a social problem, the fetishization is a historical one.
Fetishes like gods (which still have the form of subjects), destiny, or law, the most abstract of all, money, show the concept of effective negativity of the subject, the subject in its effectiveness. This concept is what is contained in the notion of alienation.
The first connotation that is unique to the idea of alienation, and that is already present from reification and fetishization, is that the process that produces it is hidden from the subjects who experience it, and are constituted from it. This process, which is nothing but a series of acts of social production, of interchange, is experienced in a way that appears to its actors as alien and hostile. Producers appear as produced, those who are free are dominated by their own deeds, good will becomes bent upon them as enmity and malice, what they could know is hidden and appears to them a mystery. Alienation represents a radical reversal of all the contents of a human action. The particular acts become the opposite of what they intended to be. The universal, alien, appears as a threat.
In the tradition of Enlightened Marxism alienation was presented as a phenomenon of consciousness. There was talk of "false consciousness", under the assumption that there may be a clear difference between true and false and, correspondingly, it is possible to pass from a false consciousness to true consciousness. My argument here is very different. By the logic on which it is founded, and the consequences it allows.
Alienation, as I have developed so far is rather a set of acts than of representations or ideas. It is a social situation, rather than a "point of view". It is an unconscious phenomenon (which may not be conscious) for those who experience it, rather than a defect of consciousness that could be resolved from another one. It is a way of life rather than a phenomenon in thought.
And this is most important of alienation as a concept, it is an objective situation, that is, we are involved in something beyond our control, our good or bad will, or our possible consciousness. To the extent of having in it an objective difference between speech and action, a difference that not only isn't known, but which can not be known from oneself.
It is useful in this regard from an only epistemological point of view, to distinguish between falsehood, error and alienation. In all three cases there is a difference between speech and action: something is said and actually something else happens. In lie there is consciousness, there is interest: I know I'm lying. It makes no sense to say that someone lies who doesn't knows he is lying. And I am interested in it: there is some existential commitment in the speech that I do, something in my life makes me interested in lying. In error there is neither consciousness, nor interest. I do not know, of course, I'm mistaken, and I'm 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 in order 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. I lie, I know, but I can be caught, and I may get to recognize it. To know, to recognize, are issues that are possible in both cases.
Other than this, 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 face it: there is a strong existential commitment that prevents me from knowing or recognizing it. Alienation, as a discourse, is an unconscious phenomenon in the Freudian sense. Not only it is not known, but it can not be known only through consciousness. And as a situation, or act it is an objective situation, it does not depend essentially on me. I transcends me. It is not that anyone is in a state of alienation, as if he himself could not be. One is his alienation. And you can not help but be in it until changing what one is. To exit the error, or falsehood, you should get to know or acknowledge something, to exit alienation something must happen to us, there should be an experience, not strictly, or even primarily, a knowledge. An experience that gets us out of what we are and make us experience something that we were not, from which we come to know what we could not know. This generally painful and catastrophic process, is what may be called self-awareness. The discourse of alienation is fully consistent with the situation it expresses, although outside of that situation it displays a flagrant, and outrageous difference. It is fully consistent because it is not a discourse about something, it is in a deeper way, that same something. As said above: it is a situation of life, a realm of experience.
Therefore there isn't a not alienated point of view in a state of alienation. Both opposed actors are alienated in ascending order. They can not see themselves from themselves. Only from other alienation is it possible to see the alienation. This means that overcoming it can not be an epistemological process (bring up the truth), or a result of teaching ("creating consciousness"), but it can only be a specifically political process: get to live differently, to stop being what one is.
It is important to note that there is a deep connection with violence here. The alienation is the actual being of violence. In it violence has been reified, and you can only get out of that situation through violence. Worse, in alienation the constituent violence appears to itself as peace, as a pacified situation. Amidst the war that is indeed the class struggle, the ruling classes call "peace" the time when they are gaining, and designated as "war" those moments when they feel threatened. Putting this concept in the center of understanding of actual human history, is noting in it, in its alleged peace, the constituent reality of violence and the need for revolutionary action to end it.
Of course this does not mean you can not get out of alienation, or that leaving it means an everlasting regression of leaving one to fall into another. Only an intellectual, or an expert, could reach a similar conclusion.
First, because alienation is an existential situation, not simply an epistemological tie between two truths incapable of seeing themselves. At least for one of the terms, and often for both, this situation implies suffering and pushes to break the relationship that constitutes it, to change lives. The possible mobility of alienated consciousness comes from the blatant, existential, empirical contradiction between what consciousness harmonizes and what immediate experience suffers. Of course this contradiction does not imply by itself that the reified link is broken, or that those affected would want to break it. The power of alienation is precisely to have installed, as fascination and internalized compliance, the need for this suffering and for this contradiction.
But the contradiction remains. After a long and painful development humans have managed to think of their own autonomy, their essential freedom. That is, they have managed to conceive the possibility of the specifically political. The violence which is alienation can be overcome when the consciousness of the difference between its harmonizing discourse and the penalties of the existential situation that it enshrines can be converted into political consciousness. Only politicized alienation may be overcome.
But, secondly, nothing forces us to think that the alienation is part of the human condition, and that leaving it will not be but an endless series of new and diverse alienations. To the extent that the reification from which it emerges can be viewed as a social strategy of survival to scarcity, there is no reason not to think of a society that has achieved the political will to end it. Abundance is the necessary condition. But only the political exercise of freedom is a necessary and sufficient one.
It is perfectly conceivable a society in which not alienated abundance prevails, in which there is no reification of reification. A society without institutionalized institutions. Where there is exchange but no market, government but not state, families but no marriage, rites but no rituals, order but no laws. That one is the communist society.
Alienation is the prevailing condition of something essential, which belongs to the order of being: the estrangement. It is the surplus violence, historically unnecessary, which is based on a constituent violence: the power of the negative. It is the tragic degree of the drama representing freedom. We can live without that surplus violence, but not the negative in general.
The idea of alienation puts the post Enlightened concept of subject in the effective space of its split, uncentered, antagonistic being. It brings us from the purely logical categorical distinctions, always formulable with some epistemological frivolity, to the passional and complex field of everyday life and its brutalities. Modern intellectuals often take refuge in Enlightened dichotomies and Romantic mythologies when facing the spectacle of barbarism, loneliness and struggle that is ostensibly the real world. The abstractions of modern reason become a resource of escape from the harsh realities and yet do appear more realistic and political than postmodern disenchantments that deconstruct them. Denying the possibility of thinking in terms of subject, substantivity, universality, they refuse even the responses that classical mythologies gave to these realities without putting in its place anything else than the indeterminate criticism or guilty optimism.
The difference between alienation and estrangement adds a note of complexity in the new dichotomy between Enlightened optimism and anti neo Enlightened disenchantment. We may be happy, but happiness does not need to be illusory, nor homogeneous, nor permanent. It can be intensely real, its reality is differentiated complexity, it has a strong and ongoing relationship with the pain that makes it human, living, joyful. The opposite of happiness is not the finding that it is the mere name of an illusion, a nugatory attempt, or a physical and historical impossibility. The opposite of happiness is alienation.
3. Dimensiones precapitalistas del valor
a. Desire and value
The theory of alienation that I have proposed, firmly rooted in the notion of objectification, may be the basis for a radically non-naturalistic general theory of value, which makes the notion of value in use unnecessary or at least reduces it to its immediately meaning of "useful" in the short-range economic calculation. From the notion of value in general, it is possible to historicize the exchange value, to show it as a historically particular, and certain shape, which is characteristic of modernity, and extend the notion of "economic" exchange to dimensions of value that appeared before capitalism. The general issue is relevant because of the very modern and politically very significant presence of human exchanges that are not reducible to exchange value, in which pre-capitalist value dimensions are operating, that overlap with capitalist exploitative and domination relations itself.
To make up the idea of value in general it is good to go back to the natural semantic field, the colloquial meaning of "value" and ask what is valuable for humans, what does satisfy their desires and may make them in good accounts, happy. The question of value goes back thus to the question of desire and need, and to the question for the possibility to be happy.
For the classic bourgeois thought human needs are basically natural, and only from there "subjective needs" (such as being accompanied or being recognized) and "cultural needs" (such as to listen to music or express oneself in art) begin to occur and complicate. The background of any need, in this mechanical conception of the world, is but a physical-chemical imbalance in the body which is perceived and represented mentally as need. So, the need is only the expression of a gap or a lack, and desire is only the stress that leads to fill this gap. When balance is restored, the need is calmed and desire ceases. The essentially corporal expenditure, will then produce a new balance, and the cycle repeats.
In this naturalistic notion desire is a passive tension, in the sense that it does not exist if there is no need; and objects that satisfy it are certain natural objects (water for the thirsty, food to the hungry). These objects not only can meet desire (get the object) but also fill it, ie, achieve what was sought with satisfaction: restoring the balance.
A notable consequence of this is that, for classical bourgeois optimism, desire could be satisfied, thereby obtaining pleasantness, and in the same act filling it up, thereby obtaining pleasure, so that someone that had at its disposal all the objects needed to achieve it, because of this coincidence of pleasantness and pleasure, could be directly happy.
It is good to remember that all the naive and dogmatic ideas of mainstream economics are based, to this day, in this conception of an economic subject as a carrier of natural needs and agent of their satisfaction, an issue which is for obvious, and is usually found in the first pages of any treaty of scientific economics.
That classic optimism, however, very soon fell into crisis, first among intellectuals and today, en masse, among the middle class. The feeling spread that appealing only to natural objects, and even the most sophisticated cultural objects, could not give that satisfaction. The exemplary formulation of discouragement can be found in Arthur Schopenhauer, and its worst political consequences in Friedrich Nietzsche.
Schopenhauer, along the lines of something that had already been formulated in the German Romanticism of the late eighteenth century, thought the desire as positive and constituent desire, ie, as a native strain that produces both the subject and the need, ie, does not stop, nor is exhausted by any satisfaction. The catastrophic result he got from that is the idea that the objects of desire are actually illusory, are free set by the desire only to maintain tension. Said straightforward, although it sounds cacophonous, desire just want to desire. Its satisfaction, obtaining the objects pursued, only leads to frustration and boredom. The desire can be satisfied, but it can not be filled. Get what desire wants is a contradiction, and that disgrace is the human condition.
I'll call empty desire to this notion, which has become very popular because Jacques Lacan has attributed it erroneously to Freud, and also because it has found an excellent spot to thrive amid the cultural crisis and discouragement of the middle class.
No wonder that many theorists often called postmodern face us with the simple dichotomy of: either the desire has a natural foundation (which they discard), or generally is just empty desire. We are not bound to that dichotomy.
It should be noted, incidentally, that under the idea of empty desire you can never effectively be happy: happiness would be just a neurotic illusion. And, if we are true and consistent, without being drawn into the stories of "inauthenticity" we should recognize that we are left to desire as little as possible, which is the formula of Schopenhauer, or just keep desiring only for desire, without intrinsic meaning or purpose.
This second path is the origin of the petty bourgeois mania, always clad in ethical idealism, of "fighting just to fight". "Find a utopia", "strive for the unattainable", "revolutionize the revolution" are some of the recurring formulas of this deep skepticism. The obvious effect of this on the subcultures of the great left is so broad that the matter is far from being simply a philosophical disquisition.
Hegel formulated the idea of 'constituent positive and desire' in a manner both non-naturalistic and not pessimistic. For Hegel human desire is a positive tension that seeks the desire of another human being. All desire, what desire wants is subjectivity, subjectivity of another one. People want to be present in the other's desire. The desire has a specified (adequate) and real (not illusory), but not natural object. What is desired is a free object, ie a subject. Hegel puts it this way, somewhere I do not remember, in an extraordinary book with a mysterious name: "an independent self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another independent self-consciousness".
As Schopenhauer sensed, the objects and natural needs really are effects, not causes, or bases, of human desire. And as such, they are means that are not able to fill it. But it does not follow that there is no appropriate object: the subjectivity of a free human being is the appropriate object for the desire of another free human being.
It is true, as Schopenhauer sensed, that a fundamental uncertainty weighs on desire. But this uncertainty does not derive from pure illusion, or from its impossibility, but simply from freedom. The existential and political consequence of this contrast is that yes you can be happy, yes there is a substantive sense in fighting for freedom and human reunion.
But also, in a much more contingent way, the difference between pleasure and pleasantness that can be pinpointed since Hegel, has a direct political effect. While on the one hand, given the logic that connects them, there can be no pleasure without pleasantness, ie, you can not achieve true psychic satisfaction but on the foundation, on the element, which is the physical sensation of pleasing, the other way round, however, it is perfectly possible that there is pleasantness without pleasure, ie a physical satisfaction without the correlate of what only can be given by the intersubjective encounter. Put directly, there may be frustrating pleasantness.
And this is crucial in order to understand why, despite the levels or expectations of consumption which may have been reached by workers, the communist perspective is fully viable. The highly technological capitalist market can manipulate pleasantness, but only at the cost of obscuring and displacing pleasure. The commercial consumption and the bureaucratic manipulation, because they are deeply linked to the naturalistic idea of needs, can only produce frustrating pleasantness. And their efforts to dilute the growing frustration by offering ever greater shares of pleasantness only lead to increase it.
Having put things this way, the alternative of simply come to terms with desire, considered as empty, preached by Lacan, by the so-called "philosophers of finitude", by the direct heirs of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, is revealed not only as a subtle theoretical error, but directly as a coarse political mistake. It merely interprets the prevailing frustration of pleasantness as emptiness of desire, thereby closing the theoretical and practical space where this frustration could be overcome, denies the real political power lying in the feeling of community, in the exercise of pleasure, in the intersubjective solidarity, declaring them, by a simple intellectualist discretion, neurotic illusions, or endeavors lacking meaning. It is not surprising, then, that its spread among students and in the massive common sense has the demobilizing effect that is so easy to find.
When we apply these differences between the various concepts of desire to our economic problem, the problem of value, what follows directly is that the substance of any value, of what is valuable, is but subjectivity. That subjectivity which humans put in their objectification, which is desired when it is estimated that their products are worth. All desired objects are desired by the subjectivity they contain, or promise. That is the material basis of the idea of value in general.
What I have done in this formulation is a radical historicization of needs. There are no natural needs, all of them, even those we call "basic" (thirst, hunger, sleep, sex) are produced and can be met in the context of human history. And this is what makes nonsense of the notion of use value, whose connotation of "utility" is inseparable from the notion of a suitable natural object to satisfy a certain natural need. It is not that the value has a social "aspect", for example, the meanings that in human exchange are attributed to the object, but that would be mounted in turn on a natural background. There is no such natural background. It is not only the communicative act contained in exchange. It is purely human, radically historical value.
What I have done is a radical historicization of the idea of value, by which all human production has real value, by itself, far below of its usefulness, or its ability to be exchanged in terms of equivalence.
b. Value and market
Humans produce all objectivity. This is what I stated as a theory of objectification. By producing themselves, by objectifying themselves, they produce value. They produce their own subjectivity externalizing it as objects. The value in general, as externalized human subjectivity, is what is at stake in any exchange.
The value, however, as subjectivity in general, is simple and radically incommensurable. There is no way to reduce it to an amount of any kind. It is, to put it elegantly, the pure qualitative.
This means that any exchange of value should be considered in principle as not equivalent. The basic, primitive, spontaneous logic of any exchange is the devouring and the gift. One gives something without any expectation of receiving, or is looking for something with no provision to offer.
The really important thing, which is a matter of merely logical type, is its inverse formulation: all that is considered equivalent exchange is founded on a fiction, an agreed upon or imposed fiction of equivalence.
I argue that one can speak of "market in general" when exchanges are made on the basis of some equivalence fiction. The gift, where no equivalence is intended is, par excellence, a non mercantile exchange. One of the ways I have defined communism is like a gift economy: there will be exchange but no market.
Throughout human history many social constructs can be found that operate as fictions of equivalence, built on a fundamental equally historical fact, value as that substantive content of all objectification.
There is "capitalist market" particularly when the fiction of equivalence is via a factual, global, trending weighting of the socially necessary time to produce something that, by virtue of the weighting, can be called a 'merchandise. This value, which is exchanged in this way, is what has been called "exchange value".
It can be said that the great achievement of modernity in this is to bring commercial fictions of equivalence to their maximum possible abstraction, a measure exempt of any recognizable quality as well as directly desirable: time. It is this enormous abstraction that allows truly quantitative operations like never before. Operations where all sensible qualities of exchanged objects pass to the background.
Indeed, on one hand, in this abstraction the background of general dehumanization that characterizes capitalist modernity can be seen. But on the other, we can not fail to recognize and admire, this socially conquered limit, without any one in particular having planned it, where every time we change a commodity for money we exchange some quantity of time for another, amounts of time mediated, transformed again and again, while concealing in them the blood, sweat and tears that are essentially those objects they mediate.
The enormous efficiency, the huge proportion of the transformations produced from this form of exchange, have led us to call "market" to any exchange involving some kind of equivalence, to seek equivalence in the modern sense in all exchanges, to call merchandise in general to every object which we assume that can be exchanged.
As I have indicated, with this we do not but extend the logic of modernity to all of human history, and all aspects occurring in it. A typical operation of this culture: its systematic difficulty in seeing the other as other, its tendency to colonize all the reality in its path. Let's say it: not every procedure is a "method", not every object we deem beautiful has been considered by other cultures as "art", not every knowledge that we see in other cultures and that we consider correct is "science", not all stories about heroes indicate the presence of "individuals", the right to vote of the Greek aristocrats is not comparable to what we now call "democracy" and "citizenship." And also, not every market exchange can be considered as a capitalist commodity exchange, ie, as based on the exchange of exchange value.
The conceptual inertia is such, however, that an option is needed, just to make things easier, even at the cost of some loss of rigor. I will call "mercantile exchange" to an exchange that is based on exchange value. And "non-mercantile exchange" the one that is based on other fictions of equivalence. Despite the concession to colonizer, common use, we have gained something from this: not all exchanges of value in capitalist society are exchanges of exchange value . In capitalism there remain "economies", inherited from earlier social forms, that operate in alternative ways to the dominant one. "Markets" which are not considered by our colonial mentality as genuine markets, which are chaired by pre-capitalist dimensions of value, and their own fictions of equivalence.
c. Precapitalist markets
In the long era of scarcity, which spread across all traditional societies up to the formation of modern society, all aspects of human production were put in terms of survival and social reproduction, and also under the rule the unequal distribution. The survival of the ruling classes was based on the extreme over exploitation of entire peoples, to the point of extermination, and on absolute poverty among their own native populations.
In traditional societies the primary basis of this inequality was constituted by status systems. The human, physical and mental effort (work) that was considered fair to demand and reward (equivalently) depended directly of such systems, historically legitimated by religion, variably supported in law, and covered directly by the use of physical force. Slave or free, male or female, parent or unmarried male, citizen or stranger, landowner or craftsman, farmer or herdsman, were statuses denoting different duties and rights. As a whole the status system in each society was its market system, its fiction of equivalent exchange.
But the logic of agricultural production, which imperatively requires the stability of the workforce, forced these structures to a task more complex than pure differential appropriation of the product in favor of the ruling classes. The status system is on one side the framework for appropriation but also, on the other, it is a system of ideological and material compensations. Therefore, within its limits, it could be regarded as equivalent.
Its ideological claim is that it would be a system of sacrifices and compensations that would allow, at least in principle, the valuation of both parties, according to what is socially recognized to each of them. As a famous philosopher said (who also believed that women had fewer teeth than men ...), "Justice is giving each one his share". In these recognitions to bondage it corresponded assigning them a dignity, votive poverty was compensated by protection, submission and obedience would be compensated with salvation, current postponement with a promise of future consumption.
The supreme art of these equivalences was perhaps the one Confucius and Lao Tze preached. A sort of social pact that sought to retain and protect farmers during times of famine in exchange for their loyalty in good times. Universal religions were, however, those that reached the most significant degree of effectiveness in this policy, always threatened by the chronic inefficiency of agriculture.
In these pre-capitalist markets the value is not that extremely sophisticated and abstract equivalent which is the socially necessary labor time to produce a commodity, which is a quantitative, objectified and universal social measure. It is, however, crossed by ideological variables, culturally constructed as specific forms of legitimation for particular production contexts. The value recognized by itself, only for its qualities, to silver, gold, or quetzal feathers; the value that is granted certain production techniques such as metallurgy or manufacture of weapons; and, above all, the strictly differential value attributed to human labor according to the scale of status, are the clearest and most common examples.
From our immeasurably modern point of view, it is necessary to distinguish two levels in these exchanges from what (we) would call exploitation. The first is the internal level, which is referred to its own equivalence relations.
According to their criteria, there would be exploitation if the equivalences they fixed, or that were forced upon them, are not met. If the serfdom is oppressive, if poverty is acute, the submission is degrading, the protection is weak, the salvation is unattainable, then manifestly the exchange has been uneven, the valuation of some has led to the devaluation of others.
The wrath of the ancient Jewish prophets is the best example of how these internal injustices could be claimed, without proposing earthly and egalitarian utopias such as the modern. The drama of the war led by Spartacus, whose only horizon was that slaves could return to their countries of origin, is another example of the huge ideological gap between old times social protest and modern ones.
But, conversely, if the compensation had been reasonably reached, it should not surprise us that entire peoples for many hundreds of years, have considered a social cohabitation to be fair, which to us seems incredibly oppressive. On a planetary scale, the hundreds of years of amazing political stability that were achieved in times of bonanza of the Chinese farming culture are the best example, Confucian politics involved, however much they were interrupted every few centuries by feudal wars originated precisely in times of production weakness.
The second level is the judgment we establish, anachronistically, on these systems from our forms of equivalence and exploitation. Common life of a traditional Chinese peasant, or the caste system in India, now seem incredibly oppressive unless, of course, for the neo-Romantic who mystify them as a mode of reaction to the brutality of modern industrialization. It seems obvious, no doubt, from an unhistorical point of view, that in such a regime only injustice, oven exploitation and, as sole support, deception and ideological mystification ruled.
But that's only because modernity fought and managed to abolish all intrinsic status systems, and instead founded its need for freedom of the workforce in an egalitarian ideology where the labor force that is sold on the market is worth only in terms of what it is capable of producing, and even in a completely abstract way, worth is just the socially necessary working time to produce the means of their own production and reproduction. A time that, with the development of industrialization, becomes completely independent of the object to be produced, or the particular skills of those who do it.
Thus the new equivalence relation is erasing, in integrating the labor market, both among employees and among capitalists, any traditional difference, and any qualitative difference between human beings, to put in its place a only quantitative and abstract variable, working time, and its even more abstract expression, a certain amount of money. The homogeneous anonymity of Fordist industrial worker, and the less noticeable but equally profound homogeneity of the capitalists themselves, is the best example of this.
d. Precapitalist value in capitalism
On the leveling and homogenizing horizon of capitalist ideology all status might well disappear. In a negative way this is the world portrayed in the classic Metropolis by Fritz Lang, in a positive way it is the illusion that tends to elect a black president of the United States, or to allow Chinese capitalists to impose themselves on Europeans.
For the logic of capital it is not relevant whether a worker or a business partner is male or female, Chilean or Mapuche, old man or child, European or African. The fact that this homogeneity is not effective until today, and that it will probably never be reached, is due to two very basic and pragmatic issues. On the one hand, in its actual historical deployment, capital could take advantage of inheritances from the traditional status regime to legitimate ways to reduce the cost of re-production of the labor force. This is what happened in particular with the traditional difference between the feminine and the masculine, which enabled, and allows up to today, paying lower wages to women and with the ethnic difference between white Europeans and all other peoples of the world, that explicitly legitimized the looting of the capitalist periphery.
But, on the other hand, the homogeneity was no longer necessary when the capital reached sufficient technological complexity to produce and manage diversity. Based on this capability it could give a positive connotation, for good business, to certain traditional differences and turn them into niches in its policy of market segmentation. Black women are now entitled to have special cosmetics for black women; children, young, old people, are recognized in their difference as potential customers. There are specific markets for Hindus, Turks, Pakistanis, in countries that presumed of its white superiority. The pragmatism of this market pluralism manages to combine in an extraordinary way the egalitarian ideals and the recognition of differences. There is status, but not in a vertical relationship of subordination, but in a horizontal segmentation scheme. And, of course, the same relative deviation is still a relief for the superiority of the white: the black with the black, the yellow with the yellow, the white still being something relatively exclusive.
When paying at a lower price the workforce of an employed woman just because she is a woman, capitalism overlapped the two systems of exploitation or also commodified an area of pre-capitalist oppression. A similar effect occurs in the oppression on ethnic grounds. For the culture of white Europeans once being black, oriental or Latin, was a status, and that status interwoven with capitalist interests, lasts until today when bourgeois ideology formally denies it.
This overlap between the system of capitalist exploitation and the exchange based on status does not override the latter, however, although it homogenizes it. Put directly, the system of pre-capitalist exchange is never reduced, and can not be reduced to the equivalences of exchange value.
In order to describe this in a Marxist way, it is necessary to understand that the "female condition" is a realm of value production, ie, of acts and objects that are valuable in human exchange. Correlatively the "male condition" is it too, as was "being Greek" versus "being barbarian", or white versus being oriental or black. And these spaces of production of objective value had a function and a keen sense in the social division of labor at some point in history, and thus went on to become institutions from the earliest stages of the agricultural revolution. These institutions are the ones that survive today, because its shape, not its original productive content, is consistent with capitalist interest.
Recognizing the feminine and the masculine as spaces of production and real value, one can think about the system of sacrifices and rewards that, at least conventionally, could be constituting their equivalence relations. Internally, from its own cultural context, one could speak of fair exchange or unequal exchange. In the latter case one could objectively and differentially speak of exploitation. But now not as unequal exchange of exchange value, although it may be the case, but of unequal exchange of the value specifically contained in the area of special production which is constituted as a genre.
Having put things this way, gender oppression (impairment of valuation) can be understood as a means and effect of its exploitation, ie, the appropriation of the value produced for the benefit of the specific valuation of masculinity.
If we comment on this difference in a fully historicist way, it is necessary to recognize that the family is not really a mechanism of reproduction that could be considered "natural". It is actually a mechanism of social order, and it was in some now remote historical period, but that easily lasted a hundred thousand years, a mechanism that made survival possible.
This huge expanse of time perhaps rooted in our constitution a deep willingness to exchange reproductive "goods" as if it were affective exchanges. Compared with that extension, its reification in the institutional form of marriage is really recent. This institution introduces a fiction of equivalence, which promised to maintain the functionality the family had in the task of survival of the social whole. Still, however, marriage in its various historical forms, was extensively characterized by patriarchal domination until less than two hundred years ago. What was considered equivalence did not considered at all the compensation to the female condition of what previously was thought to be obtained from it in terms of invocation of the general fertility of nature.
In what sense it could then be said that there was a figment of equivalence? And if there was, in what sense you could say that this fiction was not respected on its own terms? Both issues are crucial from a purely conceptual point of view.
Despite its harmlessly mathematical appearance, the expression fiction of equivalence, like any social function, contains a horizon of realization. Being a dynamic and ongoing exchange of subjectivity, as it is in the relations of gender or ethnicity, the "contracting parties" do not claim to have made the equivalence for the mere sake of establishing it. What they expect is that the relationship is perfected progressively until reaching a certain fullness. Marital "happiness", in marriage, or the "superiority" in an ethnic relationship, are rather activities than isolated and individual events. Considering broadly this notion, we can make visible, in contrast, another aspect of the capitalist commodity fetishism: in the given and still appearance of the object it hides the dynamism of social relationship that it carries.
But this "perfection" contains a horizon. When the discourse of that horizon merely conceals the real fact of oppression, when it becomes consecration of the given oppressive situation, then it may be confronted with it. One can confront what this discourse announces and promises with the real oppression it expresses. The patriarch's "care" of the wife, or that of the "white father" on the black becomes the back of its own reality of dehumanizing appropriation and antagonism. In that case it is a discourse of exploitation, and correlatively the judgment "exploitation" can be done from the horizon itself that discourse promises.
Thus the fiction is, if you like, doubly ficticious. It is, firstly, because it makes equivalent what in itself is not. But still the two sides could assume it as such, and be valued at it. But it is also fictitious, secondly, because even what has been assumed to be equivalent is not, in its own terms.
The criticism of these two fictions is conceptually different. In the first one a theoretical foundation issue is affirmed: the incommensurability of all exchange of value. In the second an empirical consideration on an issue of fact is made: mutual acceptance of an exchange as equivalent, and its eventual falsehood.
From all this we can understand the dichotomous reification of heterosexual difference as the construction of a realm of legitimacy to endorse and convey that effective physical operation, of value appropriation. The historically specific social constructs, which we call "man" and "woman" are historical effects, not natural causes, of this exploitative relationship. And that is why, when the critique and the liberating practice promote female emancipation, the dichotomy between man and woman bursts into a variety of genres that do not express the richness and versatility of the value created in this area, and the diversity of forms in which its exchange can reappropriate its genuinely human condition.
The commodification of gender oppression does not reduce to the exchange value system, nor diluted it as a pure aspect of capitalist exploitation but, conversely, worsens their state. Under the capitalist society, the patriarchate, now formally monogamous, and concentrated around the nuclear family, reaches its maximum historical degree of oppression.
This not only happens by overlapping in it two systems of exploitation, but because the claim that the differential status has disappeared merely to terminate all compensation to the feminine that traditional oppression could offer. The female, now artificially concentrated in women, loses its ritual significance and relative privileges that it entailed, and becomes a mere natural difference, without any own meaning than being an incomplete masculinity, an area of deprivation, lack and imperfection.
All other gender expression is relegated to the stigma of deviance and disease, children, old people, even the poor and immigrants, are thought of according to the arbitrary model of the feminine as space of incompleteness. The man, white, European, father, provider, also arrogates himself the right to be the citizen, the genuine owner of intellect and the spiritual capacities, the trusted custodian of parsimony of reason. No prior patriarchial society achieved these degrees of exclusivity and denial of difference from where it was, and is bound to get its constitution and most intimate subjective coherence.
A relevant question in this treatment of the oppression of the feminine as exploitation is that much more visible than in the exchange value, it is well known that the production of value arises from a constitutional difference. The production of the feminine only arises and reaches objectivity and sense regarding masculinity. And it is livable in both terms that are aspects of the subject. What happens to the exchange value is that the thing-oriented logic of modernity makes it difficult for us to understand that in the subject-object (producer-product) relation there actually is also an internal difference in the subject: objectivity is but objectification. In the production of exchange value there is not an individual against a thing, but a subject that is externally manifested as both producer and product.
This logic specification is required to conceptualize ethnic differences as an area of real, specifically ethnic value production and its unequal exchange. It is necessary to understand ethnic oppression as the effect and means of a form of exploitation.
At some point in human history it represented an economic advantage that "the Greek" imposed itself to "barbarism". In economic systems heavily traversed by ideological variables with parameters of objectivity very distant to our modern, thing-oriented objectivity, reducing one ethnic group to the status of barbarism, and appropriating through multiple ritual gestures the value it contained as ethnicity, could represent the formula for survival of a people, even through trusts that we would describe as magical and fictional, but which operated in them as real economy. A good example of this is the both economical and ritual sense of the "Flower War" among the Aztecs (Tenochca).
The progressively disillusioned and disintegrated echo of this way of accumulating value, is still operating when white Europeans, who have overcome status differences only for themselves, legitimize their pillaging of the rest of the world.
It is in this context, which is no longer the original one of mythical beliefs, that a blackness, a being spic or oriental as an area of real and specific claim value arises. It is in this context also that the appropriation of that value (unrecognized cultural appropriation, colonization and acculturation, discrimination) constitutes itself as extraction of something substantive, that values the dominant pole, as exploitation.
A first-order political consequence of this analysis of ethnic and gender oppression and exploitation is that, for the Communist opposition that operates in a post Enlightened way, it is not sufficient to oppose these forms of exploitation to simply overcoming the status system they residually contain. That is to say, it is not enough to demand equality of men and women, or blacks and whites.
It is noteworthy that this equality is already contained in the principles of bourgeois law, especially in the equalizing tendency of the abstract operation of capital, and its inverse, segmentation and manipulation of differences as commercial differences. To request that these egalitarian principles are expressed in effective laws where they do not yet exist, is necessary and perhaps urgent, but does not at all go beyond the horizon of bourgeois life.
The claim of ethnic and gender differences can not be to earn the right to be equally exploited or capitalist exploiters. The actual overcoming of pre-capitalist forms of exploitation requires the overcoming of capitalist exploitation that has commodified them. However, this overcoming is essentially independent of the overcoming of capitalism, although required.
The recognition of the feminine and the masculine as spheres of production of actual value, the primary claim of fairer equivalence rules, and the final claim that there be no such rules of equivalence at all (that is, no market of gender) requires its own specific policy, parallel to the anti capitalist and anti bureaucratic claims revolving around the exchange value. And the same must be said for ethnic claims.
This is one of the most powerful reasons for understanding the political opposition that is the large left as an opposition network. It is not desirable nor possible to organize all the struggles in one "party line", let alone in a tree structure that would organize them around a "main contradiction". Doing so can only lead to an eternal, sterile and demobilizing controversy surrounding urgencies and priorities that are essentially incommensurable.
It is just and necessary for each opposition network module to think the contradiction that affects it more directly as the "main" one. What you need to do is to encourage the widest political tolerance around a common spirit that brings together these various struggles. Given that tolerance, it is notorious how militants of each difference open to the sympathetic understanding of the other differences.
e. Causal reductionism and the unity of explanations
As should already be obvious, the problem of pre-capitalist dimensions of value, as we have seen, is directly related to the controversy of whether discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or culture can be reduced only to derivatives of uneven market exchange. Or, in more classical terms, the old, very old, problem of economic reductionism.
Whether there have been reductionist Marxists in this sense it is a merely empirical historical problem. The important thing is that the Marxist argument that is not required to such reductionism. The generalization of the idea of value can help to avoid it.
Reductionism is almost always associated with causal reductionism. In the case of economism it would be the claim that the exploitation in terms of exchange value, through the extraction of surplus value in the context of wage labor is the cause of the problems of gender, or ethnic or cultural or ecological ones. This unique and general cause would be the big problem that the revolutionary initiative would need to address. The resolution of this problem would involve the resolution of all the others.
You can give, and there have given abundant and cogent, empirical and theoretical arguments against this causal reductionism. At least it is not empirically verifiable that gender differences, for example, always involve market exchange or even exchange relations that could be expressed in terms of goods, or money. The same is true of the ethnic or cultural discrimination. Conversely, one can show many examples of situations in which, even under favorable trade relations, situations of oppression or discrimination are operating on the favored. Rich Mapuche are discriminated against, as well as businesswomen.
The original argument against this economism goes back to Max Weber. The point, in Weber, is that perhaps the Marxists were right in that the social relationship that exists in wage labor is unequal, discriminatory, unfair, but even so, this does not exhaust all social problems. Weber affirms the host of social problems: many parallel problems, many parallel initiatives. The idea that one revolution would solve them all would not be feasible.
My interest just points to this political consequence: the problem of the unity of the revolution. Or the basic unit of all revolutionary initiatives around one big problem.
The specifications I have made on value allow to address this problem, returning to the idea that all forms of oppression (impairment of valuation) relate, directly or indirectly, to situations of exploitation (See Part II, Chapter 2, Paragraph b, Exploitation, domination, oppression).
As traditionally the idea of exploitation has been reduced to the exchange of capitalist exchange value, it has also been argued that the exploitation is only one of many possible forms of oppression.
The extension of the notion of value, on the one hand, and the exclusion of the idea of a (natural, or intrinsic to the human condition) tendency to oppression by another, allow to extend the idea of exploitation to exchanges where the pre-capitalist value dimensions are traded. It allows the idea that the main forms of oppression, particularly those active ones, which are not derived from a simple omission, are actually the result of active forms of differential appropriation value. Gender oppression, ethnic, cultural would effectively be cases of exploitation, in which the appropriated goods are real value, human subjectivity, which is not measurable in terms of the time socially necessary for its production. Exploitation is thus the only and central problem that sets the class struggle. A problem that exists in various forms.
With this, the classic accusation of economism can be circumvented logically, without abandoning, however, the political thesis it was pursuing, that made its sense.
In purely logical terms the classic accusation of "economism" was tantamount to a double causal reductionism. On the one hand it sought to understand many very diverse issues, such as gender, wage labor, or cultural differences, as having one single common cause. On the other hand this "economic" cause was understood in only one form: unequal exchange of capitalist exchange value.
It is important to keep in mind that, although these reductions always seemed implausible, they however had a political sense: there is only one big problem, exploitation; there is one single big solution, revolution. It is undeniable, conversely, that much of the opposition to economism derived not only from its own lack of plausibility, but was rather a result of that political consequence. It is noteworthy that the main consequence of postulating "social diversity" is that it leads to reformist policies. There are now many problems, there must be many solutions and many ways to get them. The loss of unity of the explanatory principle leads to a loss of political unity necessary for the revolutionary principle.
The distinctions and findings I have made, however, may keep the explanatory unity without resorting to causal reductionism and, with this, maintaining the unity and centrality of the revolutionary principle.
The issue is that it is not necessary to hold that market exchanges of exchange value are causes of discrimination, eg by gender. In such discrimination there is already, in itself, a situation of exploitation. The woman actually produces value, this value is appropriated by the patriarch as input for his own valuation in the social space of the genre. The objective interest of this valuation leads to the interest of preventing the autonomous valuation of women (oppression), and the situation, reified as cultural patterns, fetishized in the ideologies of the feminine and masculine, can only be maintained through the exercise of a difference in power (domination). The problem remains one: the dehumanization of some human beings by others, under its many forms (exchange values, ethnic or gender). The solution also remains one: to put an end to the class struggle, independently of which are the institutions that express it. And these are the institutions that in various ways protect the many aspects of dehumanization, which require the revolutionary principle.
4. A materialist conception of history
a. Historiography, history, philosophy of history
The idea of class struggle, and of the engine from which it arises, which is the contradiction between the development of productive forces and social relations of production, do contain a Marxist view of human history.
To specify it as a conception, it is first necessary to distinguish the tasks of history, historiography and philosophy of history as aspects and fields of knowledge. Fields and aspects that certainly should not be understood as disciplines, but as distinct aspects of a single great reflection. Much of the bad reputation of "knowing history" comes from confusing these epistemologically very different levels, or treat them as independent knowledge.
Historiography is the empirical task of collecting and recording data. Its primary mission is the account. In it, care must be taken regarding objectivity, to the extent that can be achieved in any scientific research and, for this, an instrumental use of science should be implemented. Its raw material are the facts, names, dates, contexts.
What should properly be called history, however, is rather a theoretical activity, the task of establishing legal systems, eras. Its basic mission is periodization. Its tools are categorizations, formulating ordering criteria, seeking causal relations, characterizing sets of facts based on assumptions and estimates on the logic of their becoming.
But these ordering criteria, and even before them, the criteria regarding what should be considered a significant event, an event worthy of being integrated into an account, can be highly diverse. Discussing the suitability and character of the criteria by which facts are gathered and then ordered is what the philosophy of history does. This can only be a speculative task, in the sense in which this term is used in philosophy. An activity that is guided by the search for meaning of historical development or also, more generally, as a statement about the eventual meaning of the facts, even if the final conclusion is that they are completely lacking it . The philosophy of history is the background of all these levels, it is where the deep concerns are summarized in the disturbing questions: "Where did we come from, what we are, where are we going?" that can be asked about all aspects of human activity and have been of particular concern for such a highly dynamic culture as modernity has been.
Of course, these levels of the task of investigating the history are perfectly complementary and mutually required. No history should be devoid of any of them, and it is always advisable, as far as possible, to try to explain the passage from one to another, the things we entered as "facts" by what criteria; what aspects we considered when formulating a category or a period; what estimation are we doing on what the general meaning of the changes are, that have registered.
Each of these epistemological levels of "making history" also presents its own difficulties, and it is necessary to make a minimum specification of them, and to develop criteria to address them. The first question is what kind of facts are those being collected by historiography. Inevitably the issue is linked to the purpose for which it is being written, a matter of philosophy of history.
The older histories, designed to glorify governments and to legitimize the powers gained, consisted of accounts of names and dates. They wrote about events (typically battles, coronations, conquests, discoveries), and characters (typically military, rulers, sages, "geniuses"). The newer histories, animated by a more scientific spirit, are written, however, rather around villages or communities, and processes or contexts. The oldest stories are written as inventories effects were merely descriptive. The more sophisticated, however, seek to establish causal chains, seek to understand the changes. Similarly, in the early events or characters as objects themselves as self-sufficient realities, while in the later ones, are considered rather as functions that operate in contexts that determine which were described as contributing as expressions of a context that transcends. Fewer names and dates, more categories and processes.
A second issue is the type and order of categories that would be acceptable in history, considered as the task of periodization. Carried by the naivete of Enlightened philosophy, traditional history sought to make up clearly definable (definitions without ambiguity), strictly successive periods (one ends and the other begins), which defined a single stream of events, or at least without major contradictions. In more modern ways of writing history now no one supposes that you can define a historical period (say, "medieval", "baroque", "bourgeois") without setting in it counterpoints, partially conflicting currents and parallel events. And no one expects the periods, which are recognized in good accounts as purely theoretical distinctions, are strictly continuous and successive. Overlapping periods, times of greater sharpness and other more mixed and complex transition, developing trends that contradict each other.
Of course, the great discussions that determine all the above, are occurring in the field of philosophy of history. The central argument is quite deep, and affects the entire philosophical position that is assumed in all areas.
Although common and reasonable people often believe that human history has meaning ("things happen for a reason", "anyway there has been progress to some extent"), the more sophisticated philosophers have long been wary of this perspective, which they now consider naive. They not only are suspicious of the idea that humanity progresses linearly, and this is the best time of all times (which few now believe), but they even distrust that it makes some sense: human events could follow each others just randomly, without there being any kind of rationality in it.
In the "postmodern" environments of the historical discipline there is an active discussion today about this general nonsense. The terms of the discussion may seem curious to any neophyte. On the one hand the idea of linear, necessary, ascendant progress; to that idea the notion of contingent chance, without internal rationality is opposed. Of course we are not doomed to this dichotomy which, however, seems to be assumed as unquestionable in academic fashions. And this is important for the purposes of this text because of the idea of possible progress in history.
As this is not the place to "solve" such a discussion, I will do something more practical: I will make a reasonable assumption, in order to suspend it, and allow us to advance in our purpose. What I contend is that the ends of this dichotomy are neither necessary, nor completely opposites. It is not necessary to assume that history is full of meaning, that everything happens necessarily, that there are no alternatives, to suppose, however, that it is possible to discern a certain rationality, a logic that allows to describe the internal evolution of a process. Say, for example, you may find the logic that leads from slavery to feudalism, without assuming that this transition occurred universally nor necessarily, without alternatives.
But, much more practical than that, is the typical discussion of the philosophy of history that is assumed, albeit implicitly, about the sense of historical writing itself. When the ways in which history has been written in modernity are examined it is observed that it has been prevalent to conceive its purpose as moralizing: history is written to extol one side, a people, a number of heroes. With this purpose, history takes a pedagogical sense: it is written and taught to legitimize and form a sense of community around these justifications. And a writing around characters and events (as I noted above, typically generals, rulers, battles, conquests) is perfectly consistent with a moralizing history, which revolves around stories that show exemplary situations that should be admired, imitated, or which should be presumed to be a source of useful lessons for the life of the community.
All of us who have suffered the "patriotic" telling of history are familiar with moralizing history. Also the history of science (geniuses, discoveries, great theories, martyrs) has traditionally been reported that way. But what is even more relevant to us is that the history of Marxism itself, its political choices, its triumphs and misfortunes, and so exactly parallel, the history of the popular movement have been told that way. They curiously have been told in a not very Marxist way.
Far beyond these harmful and counterproductive enthusiasms, the Marxist conception of history that I am interested in describing, is not about praising past triumphs or exaggerating future possibilities, but simply about what is its proper object, the general forms and the meaning that can be attributed to human history.
b. A Marxist philosophy of History
Clearly in Marxism there is a secular, atheistic, materialistic, radically humanist philosophy of history. A conception that there are no providential forces acting on human society from outside its own self-production, neither origins to return to or deterministic goals that will necessarily be reached.
Marxism is an absolute historicism, which does not require the idea of human nature, and which is contrary to the idea that the human condition is finite, and is subject to immutable traits that prevent its emancipation. For the Marxist foundation there are no natural no aggressiveness or selfishness or desire for power; nor radical loneliness, insurmountable anguish nor systematic fear of death. Each of these features may exist, may be empirically evidenced, but only as historical products, situated in concrete social conditions, not as irremediable marks of human condition facing some supposed destiny.
As I argued in the chapter on the concept of alienation, for this Marxist foundation even nature, and with it certain crucial features of human reality that are often thought of as natural, such as sex, gender or ethnicity, are nothing but historical products.
Put in philosophical terms, Marxism is a historicist essentialism. Importantly, this statement apparently clashes with widespread criticism circulating in the most sophisticated "against-all-essentialism" academic environments. In this respect let us at least say that, following the Hegelian standpoint, the essence here is not intended as being, but as activity. Whith which the idea is displaced that essentialism would somehow be a synonym of mechanism. But beyond that, the crucial flaw of this criticism is nothing but to confuse essentialism with naturalism. The alternative that I propose here to this identification is the formulation of an anti naturalist foundation that is, as an affirmation of constituent activity and tension, a historicist essentialism.
Contrary to what critical poorness, rushed by quite prosaic interests, often said, in Marxist philosophy of history there does not have to be neither determinism, nor teleology, nor messianism.
For a post Enlightened Marxism, communism is not a necessary but merely a possible destination, and the realization of this possibility is not a messianic task but the result (or not) of enthusiastic and rational political struggles, which do not require the blind force of a homogenizing side. Communism is not a mystical communion. What we want is not that individuals are diluted in the universal. What we want is an internally differentiated universal, able to generate free individuals. The effective and material autonomy of citizens should be an essential democratic goal in what we consider as communism.
Unlike what the Soviet School postulated, supported by Engels and Plekhanov, the Marxism I propose is not a naturalism. One consequence of this is that the term "materialism" does not refer to the matter in a physical-chemical sense, but to the materiality of social relations.
It is very important, from a philosophical point of view, to note that the word "matter" is a noun and refers to things, whereas the term "materiality" is a verbal form that refers essentially to relationships. This is an "activity of being", or rather of the "constant becoming" of a material link.
The word materialism is used in Marxism to express an aspect of social relationships, not the fact that history had its origin and basis in natural needs, or the evolution of species, or in genes, vitamins, hormones, neurotransmitters ...
What is extracted from the original word "matter" is the connotation of an objectivity that exceeds individual wills, just as when we speak, metaphorically of course, of social barriers as "ropes" or "chains". What is at stake in this metaphor is the reality of alienation: we live and experience the social relationships that we have created as if they were alien and hostile, as foreign powers operating as if they were a necessary destination of natural origin.
"Historical Materialism" then, is an expression indicating that these reified social relations must be studied in their objectivity, should be understood primarily as forces that are in fact operating on our (individual) wills, in order to come to understand from that objectivity, without gods or good or ill will involved, how they arise from human practices, how they reproduce and, of course, how they could be overthrown.
My argument is that Marx did not use the term "our materialistic conception of history" to join the scientistic triumphalism of his time which, moreover, is later than his claim, but to oppose the romantic subjectivism of Max Stirner, and the implicit deism in the writings of Bruno Bauer , and even in the abstract humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach. As is well known, this is a statement that is part of his turn from philosophy and the critique of law to the field of economics, where he was beginning to see the social secret of that oppressive objectivity.
Still in terms of the philosophy of history, something should be added about the idea of progress and historical sense, of great concern to the most sophisticated. Neither in Hegel nor in Marx, the Enlightened idea of progress from bad to good, from chaos to order, from fall to redemption may be found, much less in a linear order of triumphant progress. But, contrary to simple dichotomies which are common, from the fact that there is no such progress neither fragmentation, nor contingent events, nor the rule of nonsense do not follow at all.
In a very simple way, both according to Hegel and to Marx, both "good" and "bad" progress at a time, and in a strictly ascending order. First by the permanently contradictory nature of reality, secondly because the "good" is never completely outside nor separable from the "bad".
In a history subject the possible realization of what is but possible, without pure contingency or strict necessity, there is no, nor can there be, linearity nor definite progress or irreparable setbacks. Precisely because of the essential rule of the possibility, human emancipation is possible, and in many ways always more possible ... and harder.
This openness makes that human history makes sense, but not in a deterministic or teleological way. It has a meaning which is given to the capacity for political action and to emancipatory will. To the horror of those waiting to read, in black and white, that there is a deterministic sense or nothing at all, that necessity or pure fragmentation prevails, it may be said with Hegelian irony that human history has a "certain sense".
c. The concept of mode of production
The common metaphor of "progress" and "regression" in history is directly related to the spatial metaphor representing history as a line. And this, in turn, with the main instrument of periodization, now in terms of history that the Marxist conception has had, which is the concept of mode of production. I will examine this concept first, and then come back to the geometrical metaphors that can be attributed to historical events.
As with several other concepts that for us today, seem very clear and typical of his work, Marx did not use the expression "mode of production" in a technical and stable way. It was the Marxist tradition which unified it and made a possible version of its meaning permanent.
Beyond this apparent conceptual unity, I argue that in Marx that category may be interpreted in three ways, on three levels, which are directly related to the difference between historiography, history and philosophy of history.
At the first, historiographical level, Marx uses this concept when describing states and consistent ways of how to produce in a particular society, particular in time and space. Referred to this use, which I will call "mode of production in an empirical sense" are his many allusions to situations such as "Hindu way of production", "Slavic mode of production", "American mode of production," and many others, colloquially describing particular social situations.
It is notorious that these multiple references, repeated throughout all of his work, have been systematically omitted by both the Soviet and the Structuralist tradition, to the benefit of increased, more comprehensive conceptualization. This is, however, a clear distinction, which is potentially very useful if maintained in its empirical character.
On another level, as a distinction that corresponds to the theoretical task that is more akin to history, I'll call mode of production in a conceptual sense the internal relationship between productive forces and social relations of production (means of work, form of labor, SDL, relations of ownership), ie a theoretical construct, of course based on an empirical basis, which seeks to make great periodizing and classificatory distinctions, according to a general purpose, which can only come from a philosophy of history.
In my opinion there are only five modes of production in human history that are worth applying this category in this way: the slave, Asian, feudal, capitalist and bureaucratic modes of production.
When to the specification of their ways to produce, distribute work and appropriate product, we add what those same ways are as cultural and political, religious and legal forms and, simultaneously, an estimate of what can be found throughout all this as representation and concept (ideology), it is possible to characterize consistent economic social formations with the same names, and from them to describe, never forgetting that these are only conceptual constructs, the effective becoming from one to another, the inner logic that moves and relates them.
It is appropriate, for these concepts to be maximally useful, and although it is neither absolute nor binding, to characterize the mode of production in an empirical sense rather by what is directly productive, that is, to emphasize its technological logic, in the way goods are produced. This is the perspective in which Marxists could best contribute to historiography. A contribution which, certainly, neither completes nor exhausts it. Considered as a science, historical studies may be greatly enhanced by the Marxist contribution, but it is not good nor necessary to believe that, at this level, there may be a "Marxist history" as if that contribution could complete all of the needs and aspirations of that discipline. 
It is appropriate, correspondingly, when in the characterization of the mode of production as a conceptual category emphasis is placed on social and political issues, especially as I have argued in previous chapters, in the way that it has control of the social division of labor, and how the relationships of appropriation of the product are established. In this case, we certainly are in the realm of what the theoretical and political interest of Marxism is.
As conceptualization of history, the most important issue here is to establish the keys of the drift leading, by their own internal dynamics, from one mode of production to another. The description of the mechanisms and material ties that determine that drift, and the political ways that it is done. According to the concepts that I have already used, the important thing is to describe how hegemony is built in a mode of production, and how that hegemony becomes government to the point of overthrowing the previous mode.
But when the problem of the overall transition in the evolution of the modes of production as a whole is addressed, what invariably appears is the ghost dictated by Enlightened superstition by which that evolution should be imagined as a simple succession, graphically organized as a line.
This is, again, a rather idiotic problem, which stems from the idea of general linear homogeneous progress. An image which in turn derives from the narcissistic habit of European people to identify their own history with the whole history.
Taken in its logical backdrop the problem is idiotic because actually the geometric metaphor we can associate to the historical development strictly depends on the degree of generality and abstraction with which we characterize its periods which, obviously, is an option completely surrendered to the observer.
There is not, and there cannot be, one unique criterion of historical periodization simultaneously covering all aspects, and reflecting what would be a proper structure, independently of what those who describe established. Whether human history may or may not be represented by a line (or a circle, or a spiral) is simply a false problem.
If we use immediate empirical criteria, such as the forms of footwear, the drift of linguistic uses, the forms of family, there is simply no way to organize all the empirical range as a line. If we instead use a very general criteria, such as the presence or absence of written communication, the famous line appears immediately, and one can even associate with it the so vilified connotation of progress. It should be obvious from this that even more than one geometric metaphor is possible, and you can compose these various representations at a certain scale, linking them together. These options are no longer clearly, of course, the matter and the characteristic occupation of a philosophy of history.
Looked at from a Marxist philosophy of history, I think the evolution of production methods in an empirical sense may be described as a tree, or rather, as a confluence of root system. Many particular modes of production (Sumerian, Chinese, Egyptian, Mexican, Quechua, etc.) converged on each other, became extinct, were absorbed or destroyed, mixed or were conquered, from the initial stages of the agricultural revolution, through five or six thousand years. The last of those great confluences was the destruction and assimilation of pre-Columbian modes of production by European conquest.
For Marxism, the only relevant to those multiple destructions and confluences completely outside of value-based estimates and just demands of local cultures, is that they lead to the global hegemony of capitalism, lead in fact to the articulation of the global market and with it to the establishment of a truly universal history. Many times, in many places in his work, Marx insisted in this momentous result. The many roots of the historic tree have led in fact, like it or not, to the objective superiority, to the factual domination of the culture and the productive ways above all others.
This momentous event, which for Marx is an objective and necessary condition for communism, allows to formulate the third notion of mode of production, I have not yet described here. It is now a directly philosophical issue that has to do with a sense that human history tends from its objective evolution toward its possibilities.
On a third level, now more speculative, I will use "general forms of work" for modes of production considered as forms of human self-production, in particular the ways in which, the whole scope of our objectivity that we call nature has been produced from human work.
The major milestones that mark these forms are (1) the time when the institutions that reify the social division of labor appeared, which is historically related to the agricultural revolution; (2) the industrial revolution; (3) the communist revolution. The first distinguishes a vast "before" (paleo), lasting at least fifty thousand years whose internal differences are matters of anthropology, of the traditional societies, which were many. The second distinguishes these traditional societies from modern society, which is a single one (universal history). The third distinguishes what Marx called "human prehistory", that time we have lived in our own history as if we lived in nature, from history as such where, once the reification of the social division of labor is overcome, free labor will prevail and class struggle will no longer be necessary.
I argue that, in composing this great perspective to the conceptual idea of mode of production, there should be no problem in accepting that this major distinction, precisely because of its extreme generality, can be represented as a line, and that all of its evolution can be seen as progress to date, and also as a possible progress.
The internal logic of its two main states, however, is not linear, nor should it be. I argue that the internal evolution of traditional societies may be represented more like a pendulum, an oscillation between the three general modes of production that can be distinguish in them: the slave, Asian and feudal modes of production.
At that time, which I have previously represented as a tree of roots, there was never a single, general, contemporary and homogeneous slave, Asian or feudal, state or period. Instead there is rather the independent occurrence, time and again, of slave moments, associated with the political figure of the polis; of Asian moments associated with the political figure of the empires; and feudal transitions that bind and carry one or the other into each other.
Looking at it this way, do not think it's hard to describe the mechanisms of how the systematic inefficiency of agricultural techniques, the pressure and catastrophic drift of the population, always between a population explosion and famine, the depletion of land and the cultural barriers, determine the pendular logic to which I have alluded as the shape of the passage from one mode of production to another.
But these pin downs on the historical details of traditional societies, which seem perfectly documentable in real history, I do not care of only for their historiographical performance, but because I can make by analogy, a now openly speculative hypothesis, on the evolution of modern society.
I argue that it is to be expected that the internal logic of modern society contains a similar pendulum between its two modes of production: the capitalist and the bureaucratic ones. And I have described in previous chapters how objective processes of bureaucratization of capital management have led from the former to the latter.
What I think is politically relevant to this hypothesis is the possibility of a development of bureaucratic totalitarianism that carry, in reaction, to bourgeois restoration, and then again from this to that, cyclically. This suggests to see the block of ruling classes no longer as a mere succession that forever puts an end to capitalism and imposes bureaucracy, but a permanent tightening of advances and retreats, in which hegemony and governance of both classes relatively alternate.
Toward the past, this hypothesis allows to review and rewrite the history of capitalist viability, showing that since its origin, its viability has only been possible thanks to its bureaucratic counterpart.
And for the future, what is more important, it allows us to understand the importance of viewing the communist horizon as anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucracy at a time. Communism is possible not only when the capitalist logic is extinguished, or when the bureaucratic logic is defeated, but rather when it manages to transcend the bond that unites them. And that link, as I have already repeated too many times in this text, is nothing else but control of the social division of labor.
d. General forms of labour and ideological forms
To account for the great history of the general forms of labour from the point of view of their deployment as ideology it is good to relate them to the categories of certainty, consciousness and self-consciousness that I described in a previous chapter (see Part II, Chapter 4, Class Consciousness) and, at the same time, with the difference between productive forces and social relations of production.
Bourgeois modernity can be defined as self-awareness of the productive forces, ie the time when mankind began to experience the means of work and skills as their own product. This resulted in the desecration and deritualization of production processes, leading in turn to that policy of constant technological innovation we call "industrial revolution".
Regarding this achievement, traditional societies may be seen as the time when there was only awareness of the productive forces, ie, in which the means of labor are experienced as given, and are attributed a divine origin. The consequence is that technological innovation is extremely slow, and generally focuses in smaller societies, less subject to conservative rituals. A dynamism which can be found particularly in times politically associated with the polis.
But traditional societies already are that consciousness. The very long period before, however, can be seen as the era of certainty of the productive forces. The means of labor are directly experienced as given extensions of the world's spirits own animation.
If we now look at the social relations, we can see that both traditional societies and modernity relate to them as consciousness, ie, attribute them a given exterior character, which determines all human action as a foundation. The fact that there is marriage, market, laws, state, is seen as a response to the objective requirements that exceed human freedom and, consistently, need to be respected, shapes whose change is not recommended, since such change would risk the logic of these foundations, and would only receive in return a curse, disease or social chaos.
The predominant form of this consciousness of social relations in traditional societies was religion. Considered as overall ideological systems, it can be said that the formation of agricultural societies of low social stratification is correlated to the passage of the systems of magic in which there are infinite gods, without bodies nor defined representation and acting as spirits (souls) in each natural force or dynamism, to the systems of myth where there are many gods, but not infinite, gods are represented as objects (animals, mixtures of animals and people, people) and where stable religious institutions arise.
The formation of highly stratified agrarian societies, however, is accompanied by the transition from myth to forms of universal faith (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), as well as forms of global ethics weakly bound to religion, such as the systems of Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu and to a lesser extent, preached by the old Stoics and Epicureans. With faith and universal ethics humans learned and experienced their essential equality, and could imagine an end of status systems, at least in principle, in imaginary spaces that operated as promises, and as elements of compensation within legal schemes where precapitalist dimensions of value prevailed .
From the point of view of their overall ideological content, it can be said that the great change in the consciousness of social relations that distinguishes traditional societies from modern society is the move from a unique and intangible God, or from ethics conceived as a transcendent principle, to natural reason as an explanatory principle, and science as a system of knowledge.
Modernity, as has been said so many times, "disenchanted the world" desacralized institutions, deritualized the productive sphere and everyday life. But only in exchange for creating new rituals, now as natural foundations for its needs and convenience. Marriage, market, state would now have a natural origin. And the development of science has been taking care of carrying that naturalization, at first a speculative principle (there would be a substantive reason and a human nature), to its specification and legitimacy as knowledge presumed as empirically demonstrable: there would be certain biological conditions governing certain aspects of individual and social behavior. Brain volumes (phrenology), vitamins, genes, hormones, neurotransmitters, have been invoked again and again to explain not only the general social institutions, such as the necessity of heterosexual marriage or of the capitalist market, but even very specific individual traits such as homosexuality, the female difference, leadership, depression, and a long and oppressive etcetera.
It could be said that the essence of bourgeois ideology is an speculative operation of naturalization of generic social relations, and that the essence of its drift toward bureaucratic ideology is this elevation of classic naturalism to the range and legitimacy of "demonstrated" scientific knowledge. A claim to know, of course, that is by no means harmless, that is not at all merely formal vanity.
The classic naturalistic speculation coexisted with the mystery of freedom, necessary for the construction of bourgeois hegemony (freedom to join the labor market), but problematic from a theoretical point of view for a mechanical worldview. Problematic to the extent that the most lucid of their philosophers, Kant, had to introduce it in his ethics simply as a postulate.
The bureaucratic ideology instead tends in more or less sophisticated ways to determinism and with this, the projection of their pretense of knowing on the legal system tends to totalitarianism. Increasingly the liberal and rights-oriented horizon of bourgeois law, consistent with a social understanding of the origins of crime, disintegrates into a concept that proceeds limiting the space of human freedom when "discovering" its biological determinants, and thus assimilates social faults to the medical system of disease. Pedophiles, serial murderers, crimes committed during psychotic episodes are their best examples. Consistently, the punishment regime passes from prison, where an offender, whose capacity to exercise discernment was recognized, could be reformed, to hospital confinement, where for his own sake, because of his biological lack of accountability, someone can be held indefinitely outside any social exchange.
Needless to say, of course, the most dangerous of these anti social ill are those whose delusions are focused on an alleged injustice constitutive of social order as a whole.
Facing bourgeois naturalism, and bureaucrat biologicism, considered as global ideological shapes, postmodernism can be seen as the time when the self-consciousness of social relations can be assumed and exercised. Of course, I am here using the expression "post modern" not to designate a literary fashion, or some form of European chauvinism, but in the objective and strict sense of a (possible) overcoming of modernity. Not the mere assertion of a neo-romanticism or neo-enlightenment, each of them against the abstract negation of its opposite, but just overcoming the dichotomy of all Enlightenment and all Romanticism. And for that, as I have argued, the use of Hegelian logic is necessary. What I am here calling a postmodern era, which is but a possible project, is what, in a material way, is also the communist horizon or, rather, the long march which is building the hegemony of the direct producers.
On a global ideological level, this march is a denaturing task. Urgently against biologicism whose serious legal consequences we suffer every day. Deeply against naturalism, that puts the keys of human society beyond the scope of freedom. There can not be any substantive progress toward communism without a radical affirmation and reappropriation of our freedom to create and recreate the social relations that have always been our product.
Naturalism, and the argument of biologist authority, both deeply rooted in common sense, are the main obstacle to libertarian political action. That's why struggles over discrimination of ethnicity and gender are exemplary for all the popular movement. Because they are just a place where the center of the struggle is the task of historicizing of what has been naturalized. And this is also why we must oppose the shipwreck of the theoretical development produced in those struggles on the disintegration of the subject into mere positions of contingent, temporary and local subjectivity, more appropriate for bourgeois individualism than for a vocation of future.
From a Marxist point of view, what must be done facing naturalism is historicizing, not just placing contingently. It is building social subjects, based on substantive solidarity, not only to deconstruct subjects to encourage casual associations. It is promoting a network of opponents linked by a common spirit, not being frozen in the eternal lament telling us that the "big stories" lead to totalitarianism. Today we finally and healthily have totalitarianism completely in front of us. Complaints about its "bad habits and inertia" among us only are part of the self-destructive mania that arises from the logic of defeat.
As I have stressed throughout this text: what we need is a radically historicist and humanist substantive idea of the subject. That alone is what can be called, properly and substantively, post modernity. Only this assumption allows the central claim that I argued with these considerations: communism is possible.
- Although it should already be obvious, it is good to explain that this condition affects some of the writings that are considered essential, as The German Ideology, the Manuscripts of 1844or the famous Grundrisse from 1857. Of course I'm in favor of using them, and of getting all possible performance out of them. What I am proposing here, giving that for obvious, is that the conclusions drawn from them, as otherwise are any which may be obtained from any other author in respect of such texts, can not be considered stable pronouncements that the author has decided to explicitly considered essential parts of his theory. On these clarifications, which are unnecessary for almost any other great philosopher, see Appendix II, Methodological issues, at the end of this book.
- It is necessary to emphasize: in history, not on history, as anti Hegelian wrongly believe, as well as those Hegelian that, from Engels on, should repeat the lesson.
- See, Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization (1955), Seix Barral, Barcelona, 1969 Especially Chapter I, The hidden trend in psychoanalysis, p. 25-33
- On the relationship between Hegel and Marx in the Marxist tradition, see Appendix II. later in this book.
- The classic texts that revolve around these discussions are: Karl Marx The Capital, Volume I, The Commodity fetishism; Karl Marx: Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, The Alienated Labour; Georg Lukacs History and Class Consciousness; Ernst Bloch, The Principle Hope; Karel Kosik, Dialectics of the Concrete. It is useful to add these to André Gorz: History and Alienation, as certain texts of Antonio Gramsci and Karl Korsch. The secondary literature is simply overwhelming.
- Just this is the essence of anti naturalistic argument.
- Por cierto, se trata de un truco, y un mal chiste oportuno. Nunca es riguroso razonar a partir de etimologías. Como chiste, lo que pretendo es simplemente reírme de un uso académico habitual, apelando a una etimología ficticia. Como truco, el objetivo real, lo que importa desde el punto de vista de los contenidos, es que he buscado una manera de formular matices claros y específicos para distinguir entre reificación y fetichización. Eso es lo que desarrollo luego, en el texto. Desde luego, esta identificación jocosa entre “rei” y “Rey”, que es fonéticamente posible en español, exigiría una nota explicativa un poco más amplia.
- The political significance of this hypothesis is that it allows to imagine the reverse: reification can be overcome in a society where abundance reigns and free exchange.
- In fact, considering the matter from a logical point of view, it is not that the sale were unconscious. It is just the inverse, everything that we call unconscious is indeed the reality of alienation. There is no reason for that in a reconciled society, autonomous and free human beings would not have access to the keys that determine their actions from beyond consciousness. The "can not" that appears in the formula "the unconscious is something that can not be aware" is strictly historical.
- It's actually quite doubtful that Freud, as an imbued philosopher of the educational ideals of Enlightenment, would have agreed with this attribution. From the quite subtle Freudian idea that desire has no determined objects, that is, that can fluidly move from one object to another, it does not follow at all that there is no real object, that the object is purely illusory, or that the desire can not be filled.
- View eg Bolívar Echeverría, El Discurso Crítico de Marx, Era, Mexico, 1986. In particular his defense of the idea of use value in the chapter Comment on the "starting point" of The Capital. My opinion in general is that in the rescue he does, the use value reproduces in a sophisticated way the difference between culture and nature. A difference that results in culture being the relevant and "nature", which he himself puts in quotation marks, is but an undetermined of Kantian type.
- Recall that, after four hundred years in which capitalist production was technically and socially organized in guilds, full capitalism is only reached with the end of the trades, of the assessment of the skills of artisans, and their conversion into completely abstract Taylorist work. It is important to note, too, that the bureaucratic legitimization systems have returned to the assessment of the skills, but now in a purely ideological way, without a objectifiable correlate, as occurred with the artisans, corresponding to their claims.
- Of course, this commercial pluralism has its limits. A Pakistani may be one of the richest in a realm of vain white capitalists, but that will never give him the right to be the lover of whom could have been his queen. Faced with such an excess it is preferable to take drastic measures.
- The quotation marks around "contracting parties" are because in pre-modern contexts the word is obviously anachronistic. What in essence connotes, however, the formalization of an exchange is fully relevant.
- "Perfected", by the way, in the sense that it is done, is completed. Not in the sense that it is getting better.
- A remarkable analysis of the marriage contract as a fiction that does not respect its own parameters of equivalence can be found in Carol Pateman, The Sexual Contract(1988), in Castilian, Anthropos, Barcelona, 1995. There Pateman shows that bourgeois marriage legally has the form of a purchase agreement, but at the same time does not meet the requirements that the bourgeois law itself required for a contract to be valid.
- See to this matter, Thomas Laqueur, The construction of sex, in Feminismos collection, Editions Cátedra y la Universidad de Valencia, Madrid, 1994.
- The stubborn tendency that can be called "historical positivism" denies that discussions around the philosophy of history are really important, and proclaims the independence of the "history", which they tend to identify with historiography as "science", in contrast with speculation, which they see as eminently negatively, as "philosophy." The point is given for a long and tedious discussion. But at least one can say the following: the price of denying the role of the philosophy of history is usually to still practice it, covertly. Making it difficult to discuss their views openly.
- See, for criticism of these ideas on charges of determinism, teleology and messianism, Carlos Perez Soto, Desde Hegel, part II, Categories, Ithaca, Mexico, 2008. There can be found too, clearly specified, the Hegelian concept of real possibility, and the difference between natural law and historical law.
- This is precisely why he derisively called them "Saint Bruno" and "Saint Max", and refers to them as "The Holy Family".
- It is important to add that, in the same manner, Marxist criteria and views, especially when it has to do with economy, society and history, can contribute and be useful in many sciences. It is unnecessary and harmful, however, to believe, as it was thought at certain times of euphoria, that there may be "Marxist math" or "Marxist medicine" or "Marxist biology".