Kategorie-Archiv: Marxism

The Headquarters of Neo-Marxism

Habermas: A Biography

by Stefan Müller-Doohm, translated from the German by Daniel Steuer

Polity, 598 pp., $39.95

Jeremy J. ShapiroMax Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (in foreground) with Jürgen Habermas (far right), Heidelberg, April 1964

Marx argued that economic systems have always involved the exploitation of workers for the benefit of a privileged class that owns and controls “the means of production.” As a result, according to Marx, workers are “alienated” from their labor, from the products they make, from other people, and ultimately from their own humanity since their lives and labor are determined not by themselves but by the demands of a privileged class and impersonal market forces.

Workers tolerate this apparent injustice, Marx explains, because exploitation is hidden from everyone’s view by a complex web of illusions he calls “ideology.” Significant obfuscations under capitalism include a wage contract that allegedly gives workers the fair value of their labor, as well as “ideological nonsense about right” such as “free and fair exchange,” “fair distribution,” and the claim that capitalists make a contribution on a par with labor. These and other illusions, along with religion and the state, all sustain capitalism as a system of exploitation and alienation.

Marx’s account of ideology or “false consciousness” is his most enduring legacy in the West. It provides the intellectual foundations for the work of the Marxists who founded the Frankfurt School in the 1920s and continued developing it until the 1970s. They provided the basis for what is called “critical theory,” which, drawing on Marxist and Freudian ideas, emphasizes the underlying, often hidden forces that determine the shape of culture. The three books reviewed here survey the lives and ideas of the most famous members of the Frankfurt School.

The Institute for Social Research, known as the Frankfurt School, opened in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1924 as a neo-Marxist institute devoted to examining and criticizing contemporary capitalist society. It was endowed by the world’s largest grain trader, Hermann Weil; his son Felix asked him to fund a multidisciplinary academic institute that would explain why the Communist revolution had failed in Germany and how it might succeed in the future. From 1930 to 1958, the philosopher Max Horkheimer was director of the institute. His tenure included the Frankfurt School’s period of exile in the United States from 1934, after the Nazis took power, until the early 1950s.

The leading thinkers of the Frankfurt School were Horkheimer, the philosophers Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, and the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm.1 The literary critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, though not officially a member of the institute, was closely associated with it and strongly influenced its thinking. All of these figures, except Fromm, were the children of successful Jewish businessmen. Like Felix Weil, they rejected their capitalist fathers’ material success while simultaneously benefiting from it.

Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries, a well-regarded British journalist and cultural critic, is an engaging and accessible history of the lives and main ideas of the leading thinkers of the Frankfurt School, from 1900 through the 1960s. A concluding chapter recounts the school’s turn away from Marxism toward left-democratic liberalism under the influence of Jürgen Habermas.

From the outset, the Frankfurt School concentrated on accounting for the failure of the working classes to embrace communism. During the 1930s, it used Freudian psychoanalytical theory to explain why the working classes were captivated by capitalist consumerism and why they rallied to Nazism. Frankfurt School members initially saw fascism as one of the last stages of capitalism, citing as evidence the alliance of capitalist industrial leaders with Hitler. However, except for Marcuse during the 1960s, they later came to doubt that capitalism would give way to communism in the West.

The title of Jeffries’s book derives from a dismissive quip by the Hungarian Marxist György Lukács, who charged that Adorno and other Frankfurt School members had taken up residence in the “Grand Hotel Abyss,” a retreat “equipped with every comfort, on the edge of an abyss, of nothingness, of absurdity.” The Frankfurt School, Lukács suggested, had abandoned Marx’s connection of theory with revolutionary activity (“praxis”). They were comfortably cocooned in the domain of theory, observing the spectacle of monopoly capitalism from afar and ineffectually commenting on its destruction of the human spirit. Bertolt Brecht made similar criticisms, claiming that the Frankfurt School philosophers had betrayed the revolution they affected to espouse. In condemning the Frankfurt School for its aloofness and abandonment of the working class, Lukács and Brecht were also censuring it for elitism.

Frankfurt School members had good reason for pessimism about the effectiveness of Marxist theory in fomenting revolutionary practice. Following the failure of Marxist revolution in Germany in 1919, most of the working class supported a very different kind of revolution. With the rise of totalitarian fascism in the 1930s, the Frankfurt School lost confidence in the ability of workers to mount a revolution against monopoly capitalism and the states sustaining it, as Marx predicted they would. It regarded workers as paralyzed by conformist tendencies and unable to discern the source of their grievances in the capitalist system. One of the Frankfurt School’s tasks during and after the 1930s was to explain the illusions that drove both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie not just to conformity but also to barbarism and the destruction of European civilization. For the next forty years, the Frankfurt School engaged in criticism of nearly every aspect of capitalist society.

Walter Benjamin is regarded by many (including Jeffries) as the most original thinker associated with the Frankfurt School. His literary criticism on Kafka, Proust, Baudelaire, and others has been enormously influential, as have his essays on modern art and on the philosophy of history.2 Despite Frankfurt School members’ efforts to help him, he was unable to find an academic position or escape from Europe in the late 1930s. Jeffries describes Benjamin’s tragic life, including his suicide in Port Bou, Spain, near the French border, as he was trying to escape the Gestapo and to embark for America via Portugal.3

Benjamin famously said in “Theses on the Philosophy of History” that “there is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”4 Equally renowned is his metaphor in the same essay that the Angel of History looks backward and witnesses the constantly accumulating wreckage of history as a single catastrophe. This concept of the inseparability of civilization and barbarism, a recurring theme in Benjamin, deeply influenced the Frankfurt School. Jeffries cites the “Theses” as the basis of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), the most prominent single work of the Frankfurt School. In that book’s preface, the authors say they set out to do “nothing less than to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism.” They argue that Nazi totalitarianism was not a historical aberration. It was rooted in capitalism, in the Enlightenment, and in Western civilization.5

Horkheimer and Adorno contend that Enlightenment reasoning has become subjective and instrumental, no longer pursuing the discovery of objective universal truths, true human values, or the justice and injustice of actions and institutions. They argue that there is a controlling imperative that capitalist firms maximize profits without regard to the consequences. At the same time, they argue that when rational participants in the economy maximize their satisfactions, they make use of instrumental reason and strategic calculations that show the amoral nature of capitalism and its tendency to promote any arbitrary or even evil purpose, including fascism, for the sake of economic gain.

For Adorno and Horkheimer, the modern scientific method also embodies instrumental reasoning, since its purpose is to exploit both nature and humankind. The social and the natural sciences have become tools for use by capitalist oppressors. The economic structure of society now shapes the problems science addresses and the direction of scientific work. Moreover, the scientific picture of the world implicit in “positivism”—which Adorno and Horkheimer saw as dominant in Western philosophy—distorts reality by insisting that truth could only be arrived at through observations of the external world and mathematical or logical operations involving those observations, with no regard for moral or aesthetic values.

In the 1960s Karl Popper defended the scientific method against Horkheimer and Adorno’s attacks, in the so-called “positivism dispute.” He argued that the scientific method rose above class interests; for all its shortcomings when applied to the social sciences, it was the only way to critically engage in a disinterested search for truth. Critical theory falls far short in this regard because of its social and political radicalism.

In the chapter “The Culture Industry—Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” which Adorno wrote, he cites the pervasiveness of capitalist ideology in American mass culture and ruthlessly criticizes what he calls “The Culture Industry.” He depicts popular music, radio, television, Hollywood movies, and advertising as mindless and oppressive. (This condemnation of popular culture and music has promoted charges of elitism and even racism, in Adorno’s attitudes toward jazz.) Mass culture is not the result of self-expression by ordinary people but an artificial concoction imposed from above to distract and deter them from engaging in genuinely valuable and fulfilling activities. Adorno says that within capitalism the alleged freedom to choose that drives mass culture and capitalist consumerism is only an illusion, an ideology, which always reflects economic coercion.

Adorno is generally regarded as the most philosophically complex member of the Frankfurt School.6 His critiques of Kierkegaard, Husserl, and Heidegger are the focus of Adorno and Existence, a perceptive philosophical inquiry by the Harvard intellectual historian Peter Gordon. Adorno condemns the self-focus and subjectivity of the existentialism of Heidegger and Sartre and the phenomenology of Husserl. As Gordon explains, for Adorno, the “jargon of authenticity” in twentieth-century existentialism was the ultimate exercise in bourgeois narcissism and self-absorption, a refusal to face up to social realities. He considered “authenticity” in Heidegger and other “philosophers of fascism” a façade for anti-Semitism.

Gordon insightfully discusses the critique of Heidegger and existentialist ontology that Adorno presents in his main philosophical work, Negative Dialectics (1966). A major theme of this work is the mistaken focus on the subject of self-consciousness that has epitomized modern philosophy since Descartes and that is especially pronounced in the idealism of Kant and Hegel. Their “fallacy of constitutive subjectivity” ignores what Adorno calls “the primacy of the object,” or the crucial part played by material and social reality and historical circumstances in shaping consciousness and self-awareness.

According to Adorno, idealism misconceives the subjectivity of the self and its relationship to the world: it regards the self as ultimately constituting reality—“the absolute I as the world’s source.” The “sovereign mind” refuses to tolerate the idea of the objectivity of nature as prior to and independent of the self’s subjectivity. This is idealism’s “rage against nature,” which aims to conquer and subdue all that is “not-I” or different from itself, and regard it as inferior. Adorno sees existentialism as a failed attempt to break free of idealism’s subjectivity. He conceives that his own philosophical efforts are successful in achieving such freedom.7

Adorno and Horkheimer were consummate pessimists. Erich Fromm was more optimistic, as was Herbert Marcuse to a lesser degree. Both remained in the US after Adorno and Horkheimer returned to Frankfurt in 1949. Fromm led the Frankfurt School’s turn toward Freud in the 1930s, but he was dismissed from the institute in 1939 on grounds that his interpretations of Freud were unorthodox.8 Defying Marx and Freud, Fromm’s “socialist humanism” maintains that autonomous individuals can free themselves from the determinism of both instinct and society in order to achieve limited self-transformation, freedom, and genuine love, even under capitalist conditions.

Israel Museum, JerusalemPaul Klee: Angelus Novus, 1920. Walter Benjamin owned the drawing and wrote of it, ‘This is how the Angel of History must look. His face is turned toward the past.’

Marcuse was a leading theorist of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s. In One-Dimensional Man (1964),9 he contends that rising standards of living made the working classes too comfortable to revolt against capitalism, while consumerism and pop culture joined religion as opiates of the masses. The working classes, he argued, should feel a need to revolt as a result of prevailing conditions of self-alienation and unfreedom. For Marcuse, members of a capitalist society are estranged from themselves, from their work, and from one another. He argues that we are shackled to the consumption of material goods and to the emptiness of popular culture. The false demands of consumerism drive us to work far more than necessary. Our tastes are manipulated, and we lack the freedom to discern our “true needs.”

Marcuse’s argument in Eros and Civilization (1955) is more optimistic. There, against Freud, he advocates the unleashing of the pleasure principle and sexuality in order to defy bourgeois morality and create a revolutionary consciousness by fusing Reason and Eros: “The striving for lasting gratification makes not only for an enlarged order of libidinal relations (‘community’) but also…Eros redefines reason in its own terms. Reasonable is what sustains the order of gratification.” Marcuse was evidently half right according to his own scheme: “Libidinal relations” have “enlarged,” but revolutionary consciousness has not; capitalism and its ideology are more ascendant than ever.

The Frankfurt School categorizes capitalist society’s idea of freedom as, to use Isaiah Berlin’s term, no more than “negative liberty,” or “freedom from” others’ interference. This leads to the atomization of society. “Positive freedom,” in contrast, permits people to act in ways that realize true human values. This form of liberty becomes possible only with socioeconomic change that ends the alienation of individuals from themselves and others.

Liberalism holds that individuals should be free to decide for themselves what is good and to act on their preferences and choices. Capitalism in principle complements the liberal view of human value, since supply is responsive to demand and the system (allegedly) tends to maximize satisfactions of subjective preferences—those people pay for. Beneath the Frankfurt School’s relentless criticism of capitalism and its culture lies a rejection of liberalism and subjective value, motivated by a kind of ethical perfectionism.

These thinkers do not care about the satisfaction of desire or consumer preference for its own sake. Their writing incorporates an ever-present but never clearly enunciated view that “emancipation” consists in the self-realization of “true human needs and values.” This is to be accomplished through the exercise and development of distinct human capacities as all members of society engage in such rewarding activities as democratic participation in production, politics, and culture. For the Frankfurt School, capitalist consumer culture makes emancipation impossible because it generates false needs that become strong desires. These are not demanded by nature or required by the self-development of human capacities or other forces of production; nor are they necessitated as preconditions for realizing true human values.

Although Frankfurt School members thought Marx exaggerated the importance of labor in his critique of capitalism,10 they too recognized as a fundamental problem what they took to be capitalism’s encouragement of false pursuits and purposes that prevent the autonomous realization of true human values. They indicted the capitalist system’s utilitarian emphasis on maximizing wealth and, therewith, economic satisfactions of desires, as well as its reduction of reason to purely instrumental thinking aimed at controlling nature and humankind. They also condemned capitalism’s manipulation, by advertising and other means, of people’s preferences for consumer goods and its suppression of human creativity, spontaneity, and freedom of the self.

The Frankfurt School’s leading theorists were neither skeptics about truth nor relativists about value.11 The phrase “false consciousness” suggests that people have a misconception of reality and hold false beliefs and values. But the Frankfurt School never articulated an explicit statement of true human values or a theory of society wherein such values could be realized. This was not because they were relativists but rather because they were pessimists about the validity of philosophical and ethical knowledge under capitalism.

Jürgen Habermas is the primary representative of the second generation of the Frankfurt School. He is regarded in the US as the major German philosopher and social theorist of the past forty-five years. Stefan Müller-Doohm’s biography is a thorough, detailed chronicle of Habermas’s intellectual career.

Habermas came to Frankfurt in 1956 to be Adorno’s research assistant. He remained for five years and then accepted academic posts at various German institutions. He eventually returned to the University of Frankfurt in 1983, retiring in 1993. Throughout his career, he has made many substantial contributions to philosophy, sociology, political theory, and cultural criticism. He has also been a committed public intellectual in Germany since the early 1950s, when he publicly challenged Heidegger to explain what he meant by the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism—a claim Heidegger had made in 1935 in his Introduction to Metaphysics, and which he left intact, without alteration or explanation, in the 1953 reissue of the book.

Habermas does not closely identify with the Frankfurt School’s main ideas, though he admits to being influenced by them in his early work from the 1960s: “I started from the black-on-black of the older Critical Theory, which had worked through experiences of fascism and Stalinism…. [But] our situation after 1945 was different.” Like members of the Frankfurt School, Habermas initially regarded illusions about social and economic relations engendered by late capitalist culture as an impediment to individual and political autonomy. But he rejected Adorno and Horkheimer’s argument about Enlightenment reasoning:

I do not share the basic premise of Critical Theory, the premise that instrumental reason has gained such dominance that there is really no way out of a total system of delusion, in which insight is achieved only in flashes by isolated individuals.

In place of the pessimistic “negative dialectic” of the Frankfurt School and its comparisons of capitalism with fascism, Habermas offers reasons for hope. He foresees the possibility of a positive transformation of capitalist society into a democratic society of “domination-free communication” whose members are aware of and can publicly acknowledge and accept the bases of their social relations and democratically decide their own fate. These conditions, he writes, are essential to overcoming the illusions caused by ideology.

For Habermas, the most distinctive feature of our species is not social interaction through labor, as it was for Marx, but social interaction through “discourse” and “communication.” He contends that mutual understanding is the proper end of human discourse and the source of solidarity in society. The task of critical theory is to discern the formal conditions of ideal discourse that make possible communication that is free from domination by any participant or anyone else, enabling individuals to reach understanding of themselves and one another. Only then can emancipation and autonomy be attained.

Habermas’s theory of communicative rationality and ideal discourse is, as Jeffries remarks, more liberal than socialist. He remains critical of capitalism, not because of markets, which he endorses,12 but rather because of the concentration of ownership of capital and the distorting effects of wealth on political democracy. Unlike the neo-Marxist members of the Frankfurt School, Habermas rejects communism and advocates a liberal democratic constitution, a market economy, and a social democratic welfare state that protects workers’ rights of representation and codetermination in corporate decisions.

A liberal constitutional order is also implicit in Habermas’s account of the conditions of ideal discourse. It is a necessary condition of rational communication and mutual understanding. In order to make effective use of their liberties and engage in deliberative democratic discourse, democratic citizens must be guaranteed equal basic rights and liberties and have adequate resources.

As Jeffries observes, Habermas has developed the most elaborate and systematic philosophical and social theory since Kant and Hegel. And as John Rawls said to me, he is also the first major German philosopher since Kant to endorse and conscientiously defend liberalism and constitutional democracy. Therein lies much of Habermas’s historical significance, especially in view of the rejection of democratic liberalism by Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and most of the Frankfurt School.

Before returning to Germany from California in 1949, Adorno and others conducted a study published as The Authoritarian Personality (1950). Its purpose was to identify a “new anthropological type” that was inclined to identify with authoritarian leaders. A questionnaire designed to measure and rank people by their fascist potential—the “F-scale”—was developed and administered to 2,099 people. All were white, gentile, middle-class Americans. Adorno describes the authoritarian personality by referring to nine personality traits:

• Rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values.

• Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealised moral authorities of the in-group.

• Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tender-minded.

• Tendency to…condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values.

• The belief in mystical determinants of the individual’s fate….

• Preoccupation with the dominance- submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures….

• Generalised hostility, vilification of the human.

• The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.

• Exaggerated concern with sexual “goings-on.”

The F-scale was widely criticized for many shortcomings, including its presumption that conservatism and authoritarianism were closely related. Critics wondered why authoritarianism was not linked to communism and suggested that a clearer contrast exists between liberal democracy and totalitarianism on both the left and right. Though the Frankfurt School strongly condemned Soviet totalitarianism, it did not do so to the same degree as it condemned Nazism. This was partly because of members’ personal experiences as German Jews whose world had been obliterated by fascism.

Jeffries adds that the Frankfurt School refused to lump together Soviet totalitarianism and fascism and condemn both because they saw domination of some form in all societies, including liberal capitalist ones. It is this tendency of Adorno’s, Horkheimer’s, and Marcuse’s work to criticize as fascist what we now consider ordinary—shopping and consumer society, popular music and culture, radio and TV, advertising—that makes the Frankfurt School seem most distant from modern liberal sensibilities. We may sometimes lament capitalist excesses and be bothered by the emptiness of consumerism, but few of us condemn capitalism as a moral corruption of the self that prevents us from realizing true human values or from knowing the truth about ourselves and our social relations.

Recent developments suggest, however, that the Frankfurt School’s critique may have a new timeliness. The recent presidential election used authoritarian tactics of misrepresentation and manipulation of belief addressed to people who were particularly susceptible to such methods; it resulted in the near-complete victory of a political party that now combines a libertarian program of the privatization (if not elimination) of many public functions and dominance by concentrated capitalist wealth; and it put into office a president who is deliberately divisive and has authoritarian inclinations, no apparent respect for truth or for democratic institutions, and little comprehension of or concern for the public good. However distant the Frankfurt School’s indictment of capitalism’s alliance with authoritarianism once seemed, its criticisms are not irrelevant now as we face increasing nativism, unthinking trust in a demagogue and in economic power, as well as antipathy to science and reasoned argument, and eagerness to embrace a regime of disinformation and manipulation.

Helmut Dahmer: Luxemburg and Trotsky on Russian Revolution

Monday 20 January 2014, by

The so-called “Leninist” orthodoxy is history, and the campaign that Stalin and his ideologists launched for decades against “Luxemburgism”, which they identified since 1931 with their most hated nightmare, “Trotskyism”, has fallen into oblivion. So we are free to examine the Marxist theories on the structure of the Russian society and the prospects of a revolutionary uprising against the rule of the Czar – written a century ago –, in order to explore the capacity of these theories to present an explanation of the state of affairs – one hundred years ago – and a prognosis of its future development (in and after 1917). [1]

In 1882 Marx and Engels tried to answer Vera Sassulitsch’s (the Russian revolutionary’s) question if it was possible to use the institution of the Russian village community, the so-called Mir or Obschtschina, as a starting point for a non-capitalist development of the country instead of waiting till the progress of the market-society would have ruined these archaic forms of collective land-owning as it had already done in the Western societies. In the introduction to the second Russian edition of their “Communist Manifesto” the authors gave an affirmative, but qualified answer: “If the Russian revolution will give the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both revolutions will complement one another, then it is possible, that the now existing communal property becomes the starting point of a communist development of the country.”

The question of the preconditions, actors and aims of a revolution against Russian absolutism became critical in 1905, when, after the defeat of the Czarist army in the war against Japan, a wave of mass strikes, mutinies and uprisings brought the Czarist regime into trouble. One of the first Russian socialists who came back to Russia out of the western European countries, where he had lived as a political refugee, was the 25 year old Trotsky. The ingenious autodidact (who later became an outstanding Marxist historian and political sociologist) had studied the Marxist literature of his times during five years of imprisonment and the following deportation to Siberia. In October he became the spirit and the voice of the famous workers’ council of St. Petersburg, which acted for 50 days as a revolutionary counterpart to the Czarist government. [2] Rosa Luxemburg, who observed the events in Poland and Russia and commented them with great enthusiasm, arrived in Warsaw at the end of the year and tried in the next two months (before she also was imprisoned) with the help of her own party, the “Social democracy of the kingdom of Poland and Lithuania” (SDKPiL), to accelerate the Polish revolution. Luxemburg (who was 8 years older than Trotsky) had escaped from Poland in 1889 and obtained a doctorate in social science at the University of Zurich in 1897. Her most important political arena was the German Social Democratic Party, where she – situated on the left wing of the organization – first struggled against the reformist theory of Eduard Bernstein and later stood in opposition also against the “orthodox” centre of Karl Kautsky. In 1913 she published an important contribution to the Marxist theory of imperialism (The Accumulation of Capital).

Trotsky and Luxemburg were professional revolutionaries and multilingual writers, and they were always prepared to oppose against the majority of the organizations they belonged to, if they thought, that this was their revolutionary duty. Even their comrades often considered them to be “outsiders”. If we were to characterize the relationship between these two revolutionary Marxists, we could say that their intellectual and political affinity was so great, that they had to keep a certain personal distance. We don’t know if they reciprocally took note of their writings before 1914, but we cannot find any quotations or critical remarks that could prove such reading. [3]

Trotsky developed his own conception of the Russian revolution – that differed sharply from that of the other Social Democratic theorists’ – in his history of the events of 1905 (Our Revolution, 1906). Luxemburg’s characterization of the Russian and Polish revolution was a more implicit one, presented in the form of concise theses and remarks, scattered over a dozen of her articles and booklets, written between 1904 and 1907. In the second half of 1904 Trotsky was engaged in a vivid intellectual partnership with Alexander Parvus-Helphand in Munich. Parvus had been a sharp critic of Bernstein’s “revisionism”. The seizure of power by the proletariat did not appear to him as a far away event, but as “a practical task of the present”. Parvus acquainted Trotsky with Marx’s concept of “permanent revolution”, and Trotsky developed, starting from this formula, a very special new theory of the Russian – and international – revolution that he expected. Several theorists of the left wing and of the centre of the Social Democracy of those days thought, that the events of 1905 in Russia were an exquisite example of an uninterrupted revolution that moved forward from one phase or stadium to the next. Parvus and David Rjasanow, Franz Mehring and Karl Kautsky, sometimes also Lenin spoke of a “permanent” revolutionary process. They were convinced that the uprising Russian workers and farmers would replace the Czarist regime by a democratic republic, but they did not think that the mass movement could eventually transcend the frame of capitalism. But just this possibility was Trotsky’s as well as Luxemburg’s main interest. “In the question of the so-called permanent revolution Luxemburg took the same principal position as myself”, Trotsky wrote in retrospect in his autobiography (My Life, 1929), and we may add, that in the social democratic movement before 1914 both of them were (also in this question) in the minority.

The Russian Mensheviks (especially Plekhanov and Axelrod) saw in the West-European social development (from feudalism to capitalism, from serfdom to “free” labor, from absolutism to parliamentary democracy) a succession of certain stages or phases. And they assumed that delayed (or backward) societies, which tried to keep up with the advanced capitalist states, also had to repeat all these steps on the ladder of progress. For Russia they expected, that the coming revolution would overthrow the Czarist rule, that the revolutionaries would organize an election of representatives for a constituent assembly and then would begin with the distribution of the large estates. The task of the working class led by the Social Democrats would be the vigorous support of the anti-feudal mass movement in order to create the best conditions for the enforcement of social reforms in the post-revolutionary period of the further capitalist development (in the political frame of bourgeois democracy) and – for a future anti-capitalist revolution.

The Bolsheviks around Lenin were convinced that the Russian “liberal” bourgeoisie was neither interested in nor capable of fighting side by side with the workers’ movement against the Czar and the big landowners. Confronted with a revolutionary situation, the bourgeois parties would side with the old regime (as they had already done in the French Revolution of 1848). Therefore the workers’ organizations had to take over the urban leadership of the huge rural majority. Since the main interest of the farmers was the re-distribution of the land (its division into private lots), the workers’ movement would not be able to transcend the frame of a capitalist democracy. Lenin thought the political result of the revolution would be a coalition-government of a workers’ and of a farmer’s party. He called the non-socialist post-revolutionary regime a “democratic dictatorship of the workers and farmers”. [4]

Trotsky on the other hand argued that neither Plekhanov’s nor Lenin’s conception met the peculiarity of the Russian social structure and its dynamics. The Russian society of the early 20th century was not simply a retarded one, but the product of a combined development. The wooden plow and the Obschtschina coexisted with the most modern industrial enterprises, analphabetic millions suffered from the “idiotism of rural life” while urban elites and qualified workers dreamed of a parliamentary republic and of modernization in the American way. Therefore the future development of Russia would upset the model of a progress in well-defined stages. Different periods interfered with each other; intermediate states could be jumped over… The rural majority needed an urban leadership, and the Russian bourgeoisie was too weak to fulfill this task. Therefore another urban class had to play this role.

And so it was not only possible, but plausible, that in a backward country (with combined development, like Russia) a workers’ government would come to power – earlier than in one of the imperialist states of higher capitalist development. [5] Once in power the workers’ parties would not restrict themselves to improve the development of national capitalism and to improve their own living conditions by social reforms, but would head to take measures against the capitalist institutions. The destiny of the proletarian revolution – in great distress between the anti-socialist peasant-majority and the imperialist Great Powers – would be determined by the further development of the international socialist revolution.

In Rosa Luxemburg’s commentaries on the events in Russia in 1905 and 1918 we find all the facets of the theory of permanent revolution as it was sketched by Parvus and then completed by Trotsky: the special character of the Czarist State and of the Russian cities, the perspective, that in backward Russia the urban, industrial proletariat (under leadership of a socialist party) would transform the (formal) bourgeois revolution into a proletarian one and create a socialist regime [6]], the prognosis, that a post-capitalist society could not be realized in a single country but only by the future cooperation of highly developed socialist republics.

In her criticism of the Bolshevik policy, written 1918 (while she was still held in custody in Breslau), she anticipated, that the (inevitable) parceling of the land amongst millions of private farms, the acceptance of the right of self-determination and separation of nations (that were still under bourgeois rule), the repurchase of democratic liberties and the (reactive) proclamation of “red terror” (after the uprising of the Social Revolutionaries and during the war against the White Armies and the imperialist interventionist troops) would produce unsolvable problems at least till a victorious workers’ revolution in the most advanced European countries (especially in Germany) would rescue the Russian “outpost of world revolution”. As we know, Stalin later– in the thirties and forties – tried to “solve” these resultant problems of the Bolshevik policy by mass-terror: enforced collectivization, repression or deportation of “disloyal” nations and prophylactic elimination of each possible oppositional tendency. The Stalinist terror condemned millions of Russian citizens to death and destruction and reduced the socialist experiment of 1917 to only one of its achievements and preconditions: the nationalized means of production (under exclusive control of the party’s and state’s bureaucracy).

In the most fascinating chapter (IV) of Luxemburg’s criticism of the Bolshevik policy in the first year after the October Revolution she strongly objected to the restrictions of civil liberties (freedom of opinion, of assembly and of the press). This was an updated repetition of her polemic against Lenin’s concept of a centralized conspiratorial party-organization – written in 1904 [7] – and a true manifest of workers’ democracy. Other critics of Lenin in the debate on the appropriate organizational form of the Russian Social Democratic-Party in 1904 were David Rjasanow, Parvus and Trotsky. Especially Trotsky’s arguments against Lenin’s “organizational fetishism” and his “substitutism” resembled very much those of Luxemburg. The critics of Lenin thought, that a genuine socialist party should be strong enough to struggle against the capitalist state (and therefore needed a centralist organization), but at the same time it should realize in its inner structure a free association of comrades. They looked at the party as a microcosmic model of a future, “dying” socialist state. Lenin had compared the Social Democrats with the French Jacobins of the 18th century. Trotsky argued: “The Jacobins were Utopians; we aspire to express the objective trend. They chopped off heads; we enlighten them with class consciousness.” [8] Some “Leninists” seemed to dream not of the dictatorship of the proletariat but of a dictatorship over the proletariat. Luxemburg seconded Trotsky: It was a mistake to think, that as long as the workers were not yet able to control their party, the control of the workers by a central committee would be a good substitute. 14 years later, when Lenin was the head of the “Council of the People’s commissars” and Trotsky organized the Red Army, Luxemburg updated her criticism:

“Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinions, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep; a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless idealism direct and rule. Among them, in reality, only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously…” But this would not be the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the dictatorship of a clique, a dictatorship of the bourgeois – or Jacobin – type. [9]

Nobody in the Bolshevik staff liked this warning, nor did Trotsky, who (in 1920) defended the revolutionary terror by pointing to the destiny of the Paris Commune, that had existed only for two months and then had been smashed by counterrevolutionary troops. [10]But after three and a half years of war the small Russian working class had nearly been annihilated. Now the Bolshevik party – “a vanguard without class”, as Schljapnikow, the leader of one of the first op-positional groups within the party, said – was really in the position of the Jacobins. They had to rule “in the name” of the class, which had become unable to control the revolutionary government – and later on the Stalinist organization used its whole power to repress every oppositional motion. In March 1921 the participants of the X. Congress of the Communist Party declared the transition to the so-called New Economic Policy and made the decision to suppress the anti-Bolshevik uprising of Kronshtadt. In addition they tried to secure the unity (or “monolithism”) of the (last not forbidden) party by prohibiting any organization of factions. The consequence of this prohibition was a long lasting paralysis of the inner political life of the party and that meant: the incapacity to change the political course of its ruling (Stalinist) faction. Till 1923 something like the October Revolution could not be reproduced in any other European country and so the Bolshevik Party had to cope with the burden of international isolation. In fear of a Russian “Thermidor” – the “bureaucratic degeneration” of the revolution – in the autumn of 1923 an informal “Left Opposition” tried to change the inner-party regime. Trotsky took up again his own (and Luxemburg’s) anti-substitutionalist argumentation of 1904, but he didn’t doubt the one-party-rule, the prohibition of factions or general secretary Stalin’s position of power. Once more he tried to combine centralism with spontaneity: “The party has to subdue its machine without ceasing to be a centralized organization.” “The most important danger is the tendency to oppose the some thousand leading comrades to the mass of the [400.000] members of the party and to see in this mass only a passive object of control (by the leadership).” But even this was too much for the troika (Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev) that in those days secretly manipulated the meetings and decisions of the politburo. In January 1924 the 13th Party Conference condemned the new opposition as a “petty-bourgeois deviation”. This was the beginning of the struggle against what the Stalinists later on called “Trotskyism”. “Trotsky protested [in 1923] against the irrational self-suppression of Bolshevism which, however, followed ineluctably from the suppression by Bolshevism of all its enemies”, comments Isaac Deutscher, his biographer. But “in truth, the Bolshevik bureaucracy was already the only or-ganized and politically active force in society and state alike. It had appropriated the political power which had slipped from the hands of the working class; and it stood above all social classes and was politically independent of them all.” [11]

Luxemburg and Trotsky were deeply convinced that the German and the Russian workers would be able to overcome the capitalist class and the capi-talist state in the near future. But they also reckoned with the possibility, that in the post-revolutionary society the proletariat would be subjugated by a bureaucratic dictatorship and that the new privileged caste of functionaries would present their regime just as the “real existing” form of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. They were preaching to the winds. Stalin’s tyranny, a totalitarian system that killed millions of Russians even in times of peace, in the thirties annihilated the remnants of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s old party and destroyed the spontaneity of the Russian people for some generations. Luxemburg was killed in January 1919 by counterrevolutionary soldiers in Berlin. Trotsky survived her for 21 years. Since 1929 living in exile, he was killed by a Stalinist agent. On the eve of the Second World War, in 1938, he founded a new, anti-Jacobin, radical democratic (Fourth) International in order to overcome the totalitarian regimes and the bureaucratization of the world.

[1] This article was written as a paper for a seminar sponsored by the Luxemburg-foundation in Istambul, November 22-23 2013,

[2] Cf. Trotsky, Leon (1909; 1922): Die russische Revolution 1905. [Nasha revoliutsija, 1906.] Berlin (VI-VA) 1923. [The Russian Revolution of 1905.] Esp. the chapter on “The formation of the Soviet” [“Die Entstehung des Arbeiter-Delegiertenrates”], p. 86-92.

[3] „Agreeing so closely, they may have had little to say to each other”, wrote Isaac Deutscher, Trot-sky’s biographer. Deutscher, I. (1954): The Prophet Armed. Trotsky: 1879-1921. London (Oxford University Press), p. 183.

[4] In April 1917 he changed his mind and prepared his party for an armed uprising against the Provi-sional Government in order to create a socialist one.

[5] Deutscher’s résumé: „Trotsky would be the first to say that the revolution would of its own momentum pass from the bourgeois to the socialist stage, and establish a proletarian dictatorship in Russia, even before the advent of revolution in the West.“ L. c., p. 105.

[6] Before 1917 only Trotsky anticipated, that a revolutionary regime – born out of a proletarian revolution – would not be able to restrict itself to the creation of a democratic-capitalist order, but had to initiate a dictatorship of the proletariat. In her writings before 1917 Luxemburg did not try to resolve the contradiction between her thesis, that the driving force of the revolution in Russia (in 1905 and in future) was the urban industrial proletariat, and her other thesis, that the outcome of this proletarian revolution would be a capitalist republic. As an example I present here some quotations from her booklet on the revolution of 1905 (outlined as a history of the Russian combined economic-political mass-strikes before and during this revolution): “Absolutism has to be overthrown by the proletariat.” But “before and in order that absolutism can be toppled, the future bourgeois Russia – with its modern division of classes – has to be produced and to be formed.” “The big industry with all its consequences […], the modern life in the large city and the modern proletariat, has become the dominant […] form of production in Russia. The result is the peculiar, contradictory historical situation, that the revolution – a bourgeois one concerning its tasks – is executed first of all by a modern, class-conscious proletariat and within an international milieu that is marked by the decay of bourgeois democracy.” So, “the struggle of the proletariat is directed with equal power against absolutism and against capitalist exploitation.” Luxemburg, Rosa (1906): Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften. Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 2, Berlin (Dietz) 1972, S. 113 und 147. [Mass-strike, party and trade-unions. Collected Writings, vol. 2, p. 113 and 147.

[7] Luxemburg, R. (1904): “Organisationsfragen der russischen Sozialdemokratie.” (Published in (the Menshevik) Iskra and in Die Neue Zeit (Stuttgart), 1903/04, vol. 22.2, p. 484-492 and 529-535.] Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 1.2, Berlin (Dietz) 1970, p.422-444. [„Organizational questions of the Russian Social Democracy.“)

[8] Trotsky, Leon (1904): Unsere politischen Aufgaben. [Nashi politicheskiia zadachi.] Genf. Dt. in Trotzki (1970): Schriften zur revolutionären Organisation. Reinbek (Rowohlt), S. 7-134; Zitat S. 117. (Our Political Tasks, l. c., p. 117.)

[9] Luxemburg ([1918] 1922): “Zur russischen Revolution.” Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 4, Berlin (Dietz) 1970, S. 345. (On the Russian Revolution. Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 345.)

[10] Trotzki (1920): Terrorismus und Kommunismus. (Anti-Kautsky.) [Terrorism and Communism.] In: Die Grundfragen der Revolution. [Fundamental Problems of Revolution.] Hamburg (Verlag der Kommunistischen Internationale) 1923. Bes. das Kapitel „Die Pariser Kommune und Sowjetrussland“, S. 76-101. (Esp. the chapter on The Commune of Paris and Soviet Russia.)

[11] Deutscher, I. (1959): The Prophet Unarmed. Trotsky: 1921-1929. London (Oxford University Press), p. 127 and 130.


Leon Trotsky – Culture and Socialism – 1927

By Leon Trotsky
23 October 2008

This work concisely explains the fundamentals of a Marxist approach to culture and art, explaining the link between the growth of technological culture and mass acquisition of artistic and spiritual culture in the 1920s USSR. Trotsky begins by discussing the different components of culture: technology and material culture, philosophy, the natural sciences, and the arts and humanities. After polemicizing against views – then promoted by the growing Soviet bureaucracy under the name „proletarian culture“ – that art from previous epochs of mankind’s history should be disregarded due to their dangerous class influences, Trotsky explains the material realities of the early USSR with which the Marxist movement had to deal in order to raise the cultural level of the population. This text is a slightly edited version of the translation by Brian Pearce which originally appeared in Labour Review, New Park Publications, in Autumn 1962.

* * *

I. Technology and Culture

Let us recall first of all that culture once signified a ploughed, cultivated field, as opposed to untouched forests and virgin lands. Culture was juxtaposed to nature, that is, what had been achieved by human effort was contrasted with the gifts of nature. This juxtaposition fundamentally retains its force even today.

Culture is all that has been created, built, assimilated and achieved by man throughout the course of his entire history, in contrast with what has been given by nature, including the natural history of man himself as an animal species. The science which studies man as a product of animal evolution is called anthropology. But from the very moment when man separated himself from the animal kingdom, – and this occurred approximately when he first took into his hands primitive tools such as stones or sticks and armed the organs of his body with them, – from that time the creation and accumulation of culture began, that is, of all kinds of knowledge and skill in the struggle with nature in order to pacify nature.

When we speak of the culture accumulated by past generations, we deliberately rest upon primarily its material acquisitions in the form of tools, machines, buildings, monuments and so forth. Is this culture? Undoubtedly it is culture, or its material deposits, – material culture. It creates, – on the foundations of nature – the basic setting for our life, our everyday existence, and our creativity. But the most valuable part of culture consists of its deposits in the consciousness of man himself – our devices, customs, skills, and acquired capabilities which grew out of all preceding material culture and, while resting upon it, continues to rebuild it. We will then, comrades, consider it firmly established: culture grows out of man’s struggle with nature for existence, for the improvements of living conditions, for the increase of his power. But it is on this basis that classes grow as well. In the process of adapting to nature, in the struggle with its hostile forces, human society develops into a complex class organization. It is the class structure of society which most decisively determines the content and form of human history, i.e., its material relations and their ideological reflections. By saying this, we are also saying that historical culture has a class character.

Slave society, feudal-serf and bourgeois society have engendered a corresponding culture: at various stages there is different culture, with a multitude of transitional forms. Historical society is the organization of the exploitation of man by man. Culture serves the class organization of society. An exploiting society gives birth to an exploitative culture. But does this then mean that we are against all culture of the past?

We have indeed come upon a profound contradiction. Everything that has been won, created and built through the efforts of man and which serves to elevate man’s powers – is culture. But since we are dealing with social rather than individual man; since culture is a socio-historical phenomenon by its very essence; since historical society was and continues to be class society, then culture unfolds as a fundamental instrument of class oppression. Marx said: „The dominant ideas of an epoch are the ideas of the ruling class of the given epoch.“ This statement also applies to culture as a whole. Yet we say to the working class: you must master all the culture of the past, otherwise you won’t build socialism. How can this be understood?

Many have stumbled over this contradiction, and they stumble so frequently because they approach the concept of class society superficially, semi-idealistically, forgetting that fundamentally this is the organization of production. Every class society developed according to definite means of struggling with nature, and these means have changed depending on the development of technology. What is more fundamental: the class organization of society or its productive forces? Undoubtedly, the productive forces. For it is on them, on a certain level of their development, that classes evolve and refashion themselves. In the productive forces is expressed man’s materialized economic skill, his historical ability to secure his own existence. Classes grow on this dynamic foundation, and their mutual relations determine the character of culture.

And hence, with regard to technology above all else, we must ask ourselves: is it only an instrument of class oppression? It is enough to ask such a question to be able to answer at once: no, technology is a basic conquest of mankind; although it has indeed served until now as an instrument of exploitation, it is at the same time the basic requirement for the liberation of the exploited. The machine strangles the wage-slave. But the wage-slave can only be freed through the machine. Herein lies the root of the whole question.

If we don’t forget that the driving force of the historical process is the growth of productive forces which liberate man from the power of nature, then we will understand that the proletariat must master the entire accumulation of knowledge and skill, developed by mankind over the course of its history, in order to raise itself up by rebuilding life on the principles of solidarity.

„Does culture drive technology, or technology culture?“ – asks one of the notes lying before me. This is the wrong way to pose the question. Technology cannot be counterposed to culture, for it is culture’s mainspring. Without technology there is no culture. The growth of technology drives culture forward. But the science and general culture which rise up on the basis of technology give a powerful impulse to the growth of technology. Here there is a dialectical interaction.

Comrades, if you need a simple but expressive example of the contradiction imbedded in technology itself, then you won’t find a better one than railways. If you examine European passenger trains, then you will see there wagons of „various classes.“ These classes remind us of the classes in capitalist society. First class is for the privileged elite, second for the middle bourgeoisie, third for the petty bourgeoisie and fourth – for the proletariat, which for good reason was formerly called the fourth estate. Taken by themselves, railways are a colossal cultural and technological conquest by mankind, which greatly changed the face of the earth in the course of a single century. But the class structure of society influences even the structure of the means of transport. And our Soviet railways are still a long ways from equality. That is not only because they use wagons inherited from the past, but also because the New Economic Policy only prepares equality, but does not create it.

Before the advent of railways, civilization crowded along the shores of the seas and banks of large rivers. Railways introduced whole continents to capitalist culture. One of the fundamental, if not the most fundamental reason for the backwardness and neglect of the Russian village is the lack of railways, highways and access roads. In this respect, the majority of our villages remain in pre-capitalist conditions. We must overcome what is our great ally and at the same time our greatest foe – distance. Socialist economy is planned economy. A plan assumes communication, most of all. The means of transportation are the most important mode of communication. Every new railway line is a road to culture, and in our conditions a road to socialism. Once again, with the raising of the technology of the means of transportation and the prosperity of the country, the social profile of the railways will change as well: the division into „classes“ will disappear, and everyone will travel in comfortable wagons… if, by that time people still ride in wagons, rather than preferring to travel on airplanes which are available to one and all.

Let’s take another example – the instruments of militarism, the means of destruction. In this sphere the class nature of society is expressed in particularly clear and repulsive forms. There is no destructive device, be it an explosive or a poisonous substance, the discovery of which would not be a valuable scientific or technological achievement in itself. Explosives or poisonous substances can also be used for creative, and not only destructive purposes, and they open up new possibilities in the area of discoveries and inventions.

The proletariat can seize state power only by shattering the old apparatus of class rule. We have performed this work more decisively than ever has been done in history. However, in building a new apparatus, we discovered that we were compelled to use elements of the old to a certain and rather significant degree. The further socialist reconstruction of the state apparatus is inextricably linked with political, economic and cultural work in general.

We don’t have to shatter technology. The proletariat takes possession of the factories outfitted by the bourgeoisie, and it does so in the form in which the revolutionary overthrow found them. The old equipment serves us to this very day. Such a circumstance reveals most clearly and directly the fact that we do not renounce this „heritage.“ How could it be otherwise? After all, the revolution was carried out precisely in order to seize this „heritage.“ However, in the form in which we took it, the old technology is completely unsuitable for socialism. It represents the crystallized anarchy of the capitalist economy. The competition between various enterprises, the drive for profits, the uneven development of separate branches, the backwardness of various regions, the small-scale nature of agriculture, the squandering of human resources, – in technology all this found its expression in iron and copper. But whereas the apparatus of class oppression can be shattered with a revolutionary blow, the productive apparatus of capitalist anarchy can only be reconstructed gradually. The completion of the restoration period, – on the basis of the old equipment – only leads us to the threshold of this grandiose task. We must complete it no matter what.

II. The Heritage of Spiritual Culture

Spiritual culture is just as contradictory as material culture. And just as from the arsenals and warehouses of material culture we put into circulation not the bow and arrow, not stone tools or bronze age tools, but we take the best possible tools of the latest technology, – we must approach spiritual culture in just the same way.

The main element in the culture of the old society was religion. It was the most important form of human knowledge and unity; but in this form was expressed most of all the weakness of man before nature and his powerlessness within society. We are thoroughly sweeping aside religion and all its surrogates.

The situation with philosophy is different. From the philosophy created by class society we must assimilate two invaluable elements: materialism and dialectics. It was precisely from the organic combination of materialism and dialectics that Marx’s method was born and his system arose. This method lies at the foundations of Leninism.

If we pass on to science in the true sense of the word, then here it becomes absolutely clear that we confront an enormous reservoir of knowledge and skill accumulated by mankind throughout its long life. One can, it is true, point out that in science, whose goal is the cognition of reality, there are many tendentious class adulterations. Absolutely correct! If even the railways show signs of the privileged position of some and the poverty of others, then the same applies even more so to science, whose material is much more flexible than the metal and wood used to build railway cars. But we must keep in mind that scientific creativity is fundamentally nourished by the need to understand nature, in order to master its forces. Although class interests have introduced and continue to introduce false tendencies even in the natural sciences, nevertheless this falsification is limited by the bounds beyond which it begins to directly obstruct technological progress. If you examine the natural sciences from the ground up, from the realm of accumulating elementary facts to the highest and most complex generalizations, then you will see that the more empirical the scientific investigation, the closer it is to its material and to the facts, the more indisputable are the results it gives. The wider the field of generalizations, the more closely natural science comes to problems of philosophy, the more susceptible it is to the influence of class suggestions.

Matters are more complicated and worse when it comes to the social sciences and the so-called „humanities“. Even here, of course, the desire to know what is was fundamentally at work. Due to this we have had, by the way, the brilliant school of classical bourgeois economists. But class interest, which is felt in the social sciences much more directly and imperatively than in natural science, soon brought to a halt the development of economic thought in bourgeois society. In this field we communists are better armed, however, than in any other. Basing themselves on bourgeois science and criticizing it, the socialist theoreticians who were awakened by the class struggle of the proletariat created, in the works of Marx and Engels, the powerful method of historical materialism and its unsurpassed application in Capital. This does not mean, of course, that we are insured against the influence of bourgeois ideas in the fields of economics and sociology as a whole. No, at every step the most vulgar professorial-socialistic and philistine-populist tendencies burst into our everyday practice from the old „treasure-houses“ of knowledge, seeking nourishment for themselves in the amorphous and contradictory relations of the transitional period. But even in this realm we have the irreplaceable criteria of Marxism which have been verified and enriched in Lenin’s works. And the less we restrict ourselves to the experience of today, the more widely we embrace world-wide economic development as a whole, separating its basic tendencies from conjunctural changes, the more decisive will be our victory over vulgar economists and sociologists.

In questions of law, morality and ideology in general, the situation of bourgeois science is even more lamentable, if this is possible, than in the realm of economics. One can find a tiny pearl of genuine knowledge in these fields only after rummaging through dozens of professorial dungheaps.

Dialectics and materialism comprise the basic elements of the Marxist cognition of the world. But this by no means implies that they can be applied in any field of knowledge like an ever-ready master-key. The dialectic cannot be imposed on facts, it must be derived from the facts, from their nature and their development. Only painstaking work on boundless material gave Marx the ability to erect the dialectical system of economics on the concept of value as realized labor. Marx’s historical works, and even his newspaper articles, are constructed in the same way. One can apply dialectical materialism to new fields of knowledge only while mastering them from within. Bourgeois science can be cleaned up only by mastering bourgeois science. You will achieve nothing here by wild criticism or naked command. Assimilation and application go hand in hand here with critical re-working. We have the method, but there is enough work to last generations.

The Marxist criticism of science must be not only vigilant, but cautious, otherwise it might degenerate into out-and-out sycophancy or Famusovism.[1] Let us take psychology as an example. Pavlov’s reflexology completely follows the lines of dialectical materialism. It destroys for all time the wall between physiology and psychology. The simplest reflex is physiological, and a system of reflexes gives us „consciousness.“ The accumulation of physiological quantity yields a new „psychological“ quality. The method of Pavlov’s school is experimental and painstaking. Generalizations are being won step by step: from a dog’s saliva to poetry, i.e., to its psychological mechanics (but not its social content). Of course, the paths leading to poetry are yet to be seen.

The school of the Viennese psychoanalyst Freud takes a different approach to the problem. It assumes in advance that the driving force behind the most complex and refined psychic processes is physiological need. In this general sense it is materialistic, if we leave aside the question of whether or not it places too much emphasis on the sexual element at the expense of others, for this is already a debate within the confines of materialism. But the psychoanalyst doesn’t approach the problem of consciousness experimentally, from lower phenomena to higher, or from simple reflex to complex; he tries to take all these intermediate steps with a single bound, going from the top down, from religious myth, lyrical poem or dream – straight to the physiological foundation of the psyche.

Idealists teach that the psyche is independent, and that the „soul“ is a bottomless well. Both Pavlov and Freud consider that physiology is the bottom of the „soul.“ But Pavlov, like a diver, descends to the bottom and painstakingly investigates the well from the bottom up. Freud, on the other hand, stands above the well, and with a penetrating stare tries to capture or guess the outlines of the bottom through the depths of the ever-changing and murky water. Pavlov’s method is the experiment. Freud’s method is conjecture, and sometimes fantastic. The attempt to declare psychoanalysis „incompatible“ with Marxism and to simply turn one’s back on Freudianism is too simple, or, to be more precise, simplistic. But in no case are we obliged to adopt Freudianism either. It is a working hypothesis which can give and undoubtedly does give conclusions and conjectures which go along the lines of materialist psychology. In time, the experimental path leads to verification. But we have neither the grounds nor the right to impose a ban on the other path, which, even if it is less reliable, still tries to anticipate the conclusions that will be reached by the experimental path, just much more slowly.[2]

With these examples I wanted, if only partially, to show the diversity of our scientific heritage and the complexity of the ways in which the proletariat can begin to master it. If in economic construction matters are not decided by decree and we must „learn to trade,“ then in science, naked command will yield nothing but harm and embarrassment. Here we have to „learn how to learn.“

Art is one of the forms through which man finds an orientation in the world; in this sense the heritage of art is no different from the heritage of science and technology, – and it is no less contradictory. However, unlike science, art is a form of cognizing the world not as a system of laws, but as a grouping of images and, at the same time, as a means of inspiring certain feelings and moods. The art of past centuries has made man more complex and flexible, raising his psyche to a higher level and enriching his mind in many ways. This enrichment is an invaluable conquest of culture. Mastery of the old art is therefore a necessary prerequisite not only for the creation of a new art, but for the construction of a new society, because for communism, people are needed with a highly developed psyche. Is the old art capable, however, of enriching us with the artistic cognition of the world? Yes, it is. And it is precisely for this reason that it is capable of nourishing our feelings and cultivating them. If we were to indiscriminately renounce the old art, then immediately we would become poorer in spirit.

Here and there we can observe among us today the tendency to advance the idea that art has as its goal only the inspiration of certain moods, but by no means the cognition of reality. Hence the conclusion: what kind of feelings can we be infected with by the art of the nobility or bourgeoisie? This is fundamentally wrong. The significance of art as a means of cognition – not only for the popular masses too, but for them in particular – is no less than its „sensual“ significance. Not only the heroic poem, but the fairy-tale, song, proverb and popular ditty give us cognition in images; they illuminate the past, generalize our experience, widen our horizons, and only in this connection are capable of inspiring certain „feelings.“ This applies to all literature in general, not only to the epos but to the lyrical poem as well. It applies to painting and sculpture, too. The only exception, in a certain sense, is music, the effect of which is powerful, but one-sided. Of course, even music is based on a particular cognition of nature, of its sound and rhythms. But here the cognition is so deeply concealed, and the results of nature’s inspirations so greatly refracted through the nerves of man, that music acts as a self-sufficient „revelation.“ Attempts to approximate all forms of art to music as the art of „infection“ have frequently been made, and they always have signified the reduction of the role of reason in art in favor of an amorphous sensuality; in this sense they were and are reactionary… Worst of all, of course, are such works of „art“ which give us neither cognition in images nor artistic „infection,“ but which advance the most outlandish pretensions. We publish no small number of such works, and unfortunately they appear not in student notebooks of work-studios, but in many thousands of copies…

Culture is a social phenomenon. For this very reason, language, as an instrument of communication between people, is its most important tool. The culture of language itself is the most important condition for the growth of all fields of culture, particularly science and art. Just as technology remains unsatisfied by the old measuring instruments and creates new ones: micrometers, voltmeters and so forth, aiming for and achieving ever greater accuracy, so, too, in the realm of language, the ability to choose the appropriate words and to combine them in the appropriate fashion, we need constant and systematic painstaking work on the achievement of the greatest precision, clarity and sharpness. The basis of this work must be the fight against illiteracy, semi-literacy or a low level of literacy. The next stage in this work is the mastery of classical Russian literature.

Yes, culture has been the main instrument of class oppression. But culture, and it alone, can become the instrument of socialist emancipation.

III. Our Cultural Contradictions

Town and Country

What is peculiar about our position is that we – at the crossroads of the capitalist West and the colonial-peasant East – were the first to carry out a socialist revolution. The regime of proletarian dictatorship was first established in a country with an enormous heritage of backwardness and barbarism, so that with us whole centuries of history lie between a Siberian nomad and a Moscow or Leningrad proletarian. Our social forms are transitional to socialism, therefore they are immeasurably higher than capitalist forms. In this sense we are justified in considering ourselves the most advanced country in the world. But our technology, which lies at the foundations of material or any other culture, is extraordinarily backward in comparison to the advanced capitalist countries. Herein lies the basic contradiction of our present reality. The historical task which flows from this contradiction consists in raising technology to the level of the social form. If we were unable to do this, then our social structure would inevitably fall to the level of our technological backwardness. Yes, in order to understand the full significance of technological progress for us, we must openly tell ourselves: if we were to be unable to supplement the Soviet form of our structure with the required productive technology, then we would preclude the possibility of making the transition to socialism and we would return back to capitalism, – and to what kind? To semi-serf, semi-colonial capitalism. The struggle for technology for us is the struggle for socialism, to which the entire future of our culture is inextricably linked.

Here is a fresh and very expressive example of our cultural contradictions. A few days ago a note appeared in our newspapers that our Public Library in Leningrad has taken first place when it comes to the number of volumes: it now holds 4,250,000 books! Our first sensation is a legitimate feeling of Soviet pride: our library is the first in the world! To what do we owe this achievement? To the fact that we expropriated private libraries. By nationalizing private property we have created the richest cultural institution, which is accessible to all. This simple fact indisputably illustrates the great advantages of the Soviet structure. But at the same time our cultural backwardness is expressed in the fact that the percentage of illiteracy in our country is greater than in any other European nation. Our library is first in the world, but as yet the minority of our population reads books. That’s the way it is almost everywhere. Nationalized industry with gigantic but far from fantastic projects of the Dneprostroi, the Volga-Don Canal, etc., – yet the peasants still thresh with flails and rollers. Our marital legislation is permeated with a socialist spirit, but beatings still play no small role in family life. These and other contradictions flow from the entire structure of our culture, which is at the crossroads between West and East.

The basis of our backwardness is the monstrous domination of the village over the city, of agriculture over industry; moreover the village is dominated once again by the most backward tools and means of production. When we speak about historical serfdom, we primarily have in mind estate relations, the bondage of the peasant to the land-owner and Tsarist official. But, comrades, serfdom has a deeper foundation beneath it: the bondage of man to the earth, the full dependence of the peasant on the elements. Have you read Gleb Uspensky? I fear that the younger generation is not reading him. We must republish him, or at least his best works, and he has some superb ones. Uspensky was a populist. His political program was thoroughly utopian. But Uspensky – the chronicler of the village – is not only a superb artist, he is also a remarkable realist. He was able to understand the everyday life of the peasant and his psyche as derived phenomena which grow on an economic base and which are completely determined by it. He was able to understand the economic base of the village as the enslaved dependence of the peasant in the labor-process on the soil, and in general on the forces of nature. You should definitely read at least his Power of the Land. With Uspensky, artistic intuition replaces the Marxist method and, judging from its results, can in many respects compete with it. For precisely this reason, Uspensky the artist was always locked in mortal combat with Uspensky the populist. Even now we still must learn from the artist if we want to understand the powerful remnants of serfdom in peasant life, particularly in family relations, which often spill over into city life: it is enough to listen carefully to the different notes of the discussion now unfolding concerning problems of marital legislation!

In all parts of the world, capitalism has made extremely tense the contradiction between industry and agriculture, town and country. In our country, due to the belatedness of our historical development, this contradiction bears an absolutely monstrous character. No matter how strange it might seem, our industry has already tried to equal the European and American examples at a time when our countryside has kept receding into the depths of the seventeenth and even more distant centuries. Even in America capitalism is clearly unable to raise agriculture to the level of industry. This task completely passes over to socialism. In our conditions, with the colossal predominance of the village over the city, the industrialization of agriculture is the most important part of socialist construction.

By the industrialization of agriculture we understand two processes, which, only when taken in combination, can finally and decisively erase the boundary between town and country. Let us dwell a bit more on this crucial question.

The industrialization of agriculture consists, on the one hand, in the separation from the village domestic economy of a whole series of branches involved in the preliminary processing of industrial resources and raw foodstuffs. For all industry in general has come from the countryside, by way of handicrafts and primitive production, through the detachment of various branches from the closed system of household economy, through specialization, and the creation of the necessary training, technology, and then even machine production. Our Soviet industrialization will have to follow this path to a large degree, i.e., it must follow the path of socializing a whole series of productive processes which stand between village economy, in the true sense of the word, and industry. The example of the United States shows that unlimited possibilities lie before us.

But the question is not exhausted by what we have said. The overcoming of the contradictions between agriculture and industry assumes the industrialization of field-crop cultivation, animal husbandry, horticulture and so forth. This means that even these branches of productive activity must be based on scientific technology: the broad utilization of machines in the correct combination, tractorization and electrification, fertilization, proper crop rotation, laboratory and experimental testing of methods and results, the correct organization of the entire production process with the most rational use of labor power, etc. Of course, even highly organized field cultivation will differ in some ways from machine-building. But then even in industry, various branches profoundly differ from one another. If today we are justified in juxtaposing agriculture to industry as a whole, then this is because agriculture is conducted on a small scale and by primitive means, with a slavish dependence of the producer on the conditions of nature and with highly uncultured conditions of existence for the peasant-producer. It is not enough to socialize, i.e. to switch over to factory rails, separate branches of today’s village economy, such as butter-making, cheese-making, the production of starch or syrup, etc. We must socialize agriculture itself, that is, tear it away from its present state of fragmentation and replace today’s squalid digging around in the soil with scientifically organized grain and rye „factories,“ with cattle and sheep „processing plants,“ and so forth. That this is possible is shown in part by the capitalist experience already at hand, in particular in the agricultural experience of Denmark, where even hens have been subordinated to planning and standardization; they lay eggs according to schedule, in enormous quantities, and of the same size and color.

The industrialization of agriculture means the elimination of today’s fundamental contradiction between countryside and city, and consequently, between the peasant and worker: when it comes to their role in the nation’s economy, their living standards, or their cultural level, they must approximate each other to such a degree that the very boundary between them has disappeared. A society where the mechanized cultivation of the fields is an equal part of the planned economy, where the city adopts the advantages of the countryside (open spaces, greenery), and where the village enriches itself with the advantages of the city (paved roads, electric lights, piped water supply, sewer system), that is, where the very contradiction between town and country disappears, where the peasant and worker turn into participants of equal value and equal rights in a unified production process – such a society will be a genuine socialist society.

The road to this society is long and difficult. Mighty electro-power stations are the most important milestones along the way. They will bring to the village both light and transforming power: against the power of the soil – the power of electricity!

Not long ago we opened the Shatura power station, one of the best of our construction sites, built on a peat-bog. From Moscow to Shatura is a little more than one hundred kilometers. It would seem that they could shake hands. And yet what a difference in conditions! Moscow is the capital of the Communist International. But you go a few dozen kilometers and you find backwoods, snow and fir-trees, frozen swamps and wild beasts. Black, log-cabined hamlets lie dozing beneath the snow. Sometimes wolf tracks can be seen from the window of the railway car. Where the Shatura station now stands, a few years ago, when they started construction, elk could be found. Now the distance between Moscow and Shatura is covered by a sophisticated construction of metallic masts which support the cable for 115,000 volts of current. And beneath these masts, foxes and wolves will bring out their young. That’s the way it is with our entire culture – it is made from the most extreme contradictions, from the highest achievements of technology and generalizing thought on the one hand, and from the primordial taiga on the other.

Shatura lives on peat as if it were pasture. Indeed, all the miracles created by the childish imagination of religion, and even by the creative fantasy of poetry, pale before this simple fact: machines which occupy insignificant space are devouring the age-old swamp, transforming it into invisible energy, and returning it along slender cables to the same industry which created and set up these machines.

Shatura is a thing of beauty. It was made by builders who were gifted and devoted to their work. Its beauty is neither artificial nor superimposed, but growing from the inner characteristics and demands of technology itself. The highest, indeed the only, criterion of technology is expediency. The test of expediency is its ability to economize. And this assumes the greatest correspondence between the whole and its parts, between means and ends. The economic and technological criterion completely coincides with the aesthetic. We can say, and this is no paradox: Shatura is a thing of beauty because the kilowatt-hour of its energy is cheaper than the kilowatt-hour of other stations constructed in similar conditions.

Shatura stands on a swamp. We have many swamps in the Soviet Union, many more than power stations. And we have many more forms of fuel which are waiting to be transformed into mechanical power. In the south, the Dnieper flows through the wealthiest industrial region, expending the mighty forces of its current on nothing; it plays along the centuries-old rapids, and waits for us to harness its currents with a dam, forcing it to illumine, set in motion and enrich our cities, factories and fields. This we shall do!

In the United States of America, each inhabitant receives 500 kilowatt-hours of energy per year; here, the figure is only 20 kilowatt-hours, that is, twenty-five times less. In general we have fifty times less mechanical driving power per person than in the United States. The Soviet system outfitted with American technology – that would be socialism. Our social system would put American technology to other, incomparably more rational use. But then American technology would transform our social structure and liberate it from the heritage of backwardness, primitiveness and barbarism. The combination of the Soviet social structure with American technology fosters a new technology and new culture – a technology and culture for all, without favorites or outcasts.

The „Conveyor“ Principle of Socialist Economy

The principle of socialist economy is harmoniousness, that is, continuity based on inner coordination. Technologically, this principle finds its highest expression in the conveyor. What is the conveyor? An endless moving belt which brings to the worker or takes away from him anything that is required by the pace of his work. It is now widely known how Ford uses a combination of conveyors as a means of internal transport: of transfer and supply. But the conveyor is something more: it is a method of regulating the very production process, insofar as the worker is forced to coordinate his movements with the movement of an endless belt. Capitalism uses this for a higher and more thorough exploitation of the worker. But such a usage is connected with capitalism, not with the conveyor as such. Indeed, where is the development of the methods of regulating labor headed: in the direction of piecework payment or in the direction of the conveyor? Everything indicates that it is in the direction of the conveyor. Piecework payment, much like any other form of individual control over the worker, is characteristic of capitalism during the early epochs of its development. This way guarantees a full physiological workload for the individual worker, but it doesn’t guarantee the coordinated efforts of various workers. Both of these problems are solved automatically by the conveyor. Socialist organization of the economy must strive to lower the physiological burden of the individual workers in correspondence with the growth of technological power, at the same time maintaining the coordination of the efforts of different workers. And that precisely will be the significance of the socialist conveyor, as opposed to the capitalist one. Speaking more concretely, the main point here is the regulation of the belt’s movement given a certain number of workers‘ hours, or, on the contrary, in the regulation of the workers‘ time given a certain belt speed.

Under the capitalist system the conveyor is implemented within the framework of a single enterprise, as a method of internal transport. But the principle of the conveyor as such is much wider. Every separate enterprise receives from without raw materials, fuel, auxiliary materials, and supplemental labor power. The relations between separate enterprises, even the most gigantic, are regulated by laws of the market, although it is true that these laws are in many instances limited by various kinds of long-term agreements. But every factory taken separately, and even more so society as a whole, is interested in the fact that raw material is supplied on time, that it doesn’t lie about in warehouses or create hold-ups in production, that is, in other words, that it yields to the principle of the conveyor, in full correspondence to the rhythm of production. In this there is no need to always imagine the conveyor in the form of an endless moving belt. Its forms can be of limitless diversity. A railway, if it is working according to plan, i.e., without cross-hauling, without seasonal accumulation of loads, in short, without the elements of capitalist anarchy, – and under socialism a railway will work in precisely this way – is a powerful conveyor, guaranteeing the timely supply of factories with raw materials, fuel, materials and people. The same thing applies to steamships, trucks, and so forth. All forms of communication will become elements of transport for the inner system of production from the standpoint of the planned economy as a whole. Oil pipelines are a kind of conveyor for liquid substances. The more widespread the grid of oil pipelines, the less we need reservoirs, and the smaller is the portion of oil which turns into dead capital.

The conveyor system by no means assumes the crowding together of enterprises. On the contrary, modern technology allows their dispersion, not, of course, in a chaotic and random manner, but taking into strict account the most appropriate place (Standort) for each separate factory. The possibility of the wide distribution of industrial enterprises, without which it is impossible to dissolve the city into the village, and the village into the city, is largely guaranteed by electrical energy as a motive force. Metal cables are the most sophisticated conveyor of energy, making it possible to divide motive force into the smallest units, putting it to work or turning it off by simply pressing a button. It is precisely with these characteristics that the energy „conveyor“ comes into the most hostile collision with the limitations of private property. In its present development, electricity is the most „socialistic“ sector of technology. And it is no wonder, for it is its most advanced sector.

Gigantic land improvement systems – for proper irrigation or drainage – are, from this standpoint, the water conveyors of agriculture. The more that chemistry, machine-building and electrification liberate land cultivation from the action of the elements, thereby guaranteeing the highest level of planning, the more completely will today’s „village economy“ be integrated into the system of a socialist conveyor which regulates and coordinates all production, starting from the subsoil (the extraction of coal and ore) and the soil (plowing and sowing of the fields).

On the basis of his conveyor experience, old man Ford is trying to construct something of a social philosophy. In this attempt we see an extremely curious mixture of production and administrative experience on an exceptionally grand scale with the unbearable narrowness of a self-satisfied philistine who, while becoming a millionaire, has merely remained a petty-bourgeois with lots of money. Ford says: „If you want riches for yourself and well-being for your fellow citizens, act like I do.“ Kant demanded that every person act so that his behavior might become a norm for others. In the philosophical sense, Ford is a Kantian. But the practical „norm“ for Ford’s 200,000 workers is not Ford’s behavior, but the motion of his automated conveyor: it determines the rhythm of their lives, the movement of their hands, feet and thoughts. For the „well-being of fellow citizens,“ Fordism must be separated from Ford; it must be socialized and purified. And socialism will do this.

„But what about the monotony of labor, depersonalized and despiritualized by the conveyor?“ asks one of the notes from the audience. This concern is not serious. If you think it through to the end and talk it over, then it is mainly directed against the division of labor and against machinery in general. This is a reactionary path. Socialism and resistance to machinery have never had anything in common, nor will they ever. The fundamental, most crucial and most important task is the elimination of want. It is necessary that human labor gives as great a quantity of products as possible. Bread, boots, clothing, newspapers, – all that is necessary should be produced in such quantity that no one fears that he will go without. We must eliminate want, and along with it, greed. We must win prosperity, leisure, and along with them, the joy of living for all. A high productivity of labor is unattainable without mechanization and automation, the finished expression of which is the conveyor. The monotony of labor will be compensated by its shortening duration and by its growing ease. Society will always have branches of industry which demand individual creativity; that is where those will go who find their calling in production. We are talking, of course, about the most basic type of production in its most important branches, until, in any case, new chemical and energy revolutions in technology topple today’s forms of mechanization. But we will let the future worry about that. Travel in a rowboat demands great personal creativity. Travel on a steamship is „more monotonous,“ but more comfortable and reliable. Besides, you really won’t make it across the ocean in a rowboat. And we must cross the ocean of human want.

Everyone knows that physical needs are much more limited than spiritual ones. The excessive satisfaction of physical needs quickly leads to satiety. Spiritual needs know no boundaries. But for spiritual needs to flourish, the full satisfaction of physical needs is required. Of course, we cannot, nor do we, postpone the struggle for raising the spiritual level of the masses until the time when we have no unemployment, homelessness or poverty. Everything that can be done, must be done. But it would be a wretched and contemptible pipe-dream to think that we can create a genuinely new culture before we secure the prosperity, abundance and leisure of the popular masses. We can and will verify our progress as it is expressed in the everyday life of the worker and peasant.

The Cultural Revolution

I think that it is now clear to everyone that the creation of a new culture is not an independent task which is completed apart from our economic work and social or cultural construction as a whole. Is trade part of „proletarian culture?“ From an abstract point of view, we would have to answer this question negatively. But an abstract point of view won’t do here. In the transitional epoch, moreover in the initial stage in which we are located, products assume – and will long continue to do so – the social form of the commodity. But the commodity must be treated properly, that is, we must be able to sell and buy it. Without this, we will never move from the initial stage into the next. Lenin said that we must learn to trade, and he recommended that we learn from the European cultural examples. The culture of trading, as we now know quite well, is one of the most important components of the culture of the transitional period. Whether we will call the culture of trade associated with the workers state and cooperation „proletarian culture“ – I don’t know. But that it is a step toward socialist culture is beyond dispute.

When Lenin spoke of the cultural revolution, he saw its basic content as raising the cultural level of the masses. The metric system is a product of bourgeois science. But to teach one hundred million peasants this uncomplicated system of measures means to accomplish a great revolutionary and cultural task. It is almost beyond doubt that we will not achieve this without the tractor and without electric energy. The basis of culture is technology. The decisive instrument of the cultural revolution must be the revolution in technology.

With regard to capitalism, we say that the development of the productive forces is being held up by the social forms of the bourgeois state and bourgeois property. Having carried out the proletarian revolution, we say that the development of social forms is being held up by the development of productive forces, i.e., by technology. The great link in the chain, which, if we seize hold of can produce the cultural revolution, is the link of industrialization, – but by no means the link of literature or philosophy. I hope that these words will not be understood as an ill-meaning or disrespectful attitude toward philosophy and poetry. Without generalizing thought and without art, human life would be bare and poverty-stricken. But after all, that, to a large degree, is how life is now for millions of people. The cultural revolution must consist in opening up the possibility that they can truly gain access to culture, and not just its leftover stubs. But this is impossible without creating the greatest material preconditions. That is why a machine which automatically produces bottles is for us at the present moment a first-rate factor in the cultural revolution, while an heroic poem is only a tenth-rate factor.

Marx once said that philosophers had sufficiently interpreted the world, and that the task now was to turn it upside down. In these words there was by no means a lack of respect for philosophy. Marx was himself one of the most powerful philosophers of all time. His words simply meant that the further development of philosophy, and of culture as a whole, both material and spiritual, demands a revolution in social relations. And therefore Marx appealed from philosophy to the proletarian revolution, – not against philosophy, but for it. In the same sense, we can now say: it’s fine when poets sing of the revolution and proletariat; but it is even better when a powerful turbine does the singing. We have many songs of mediocre value which remain the property of small circles. We have terribly few turbines. By this I don’t want to say that mediocre poems hinder the appearance of turbines. No, such an assertion cannot be made. But the correct orientation of public opinion, i.e., an understanding of the true correlation of phenomena – the whys and wherefores – is absolutely necessary. We must understand the cultural revolution not in a superficial idealistic way nor in the spirit of small circles. We are talking about changing the conditions of life, the methods of work and the everyday habits of a great people, of a whole family of peoples. Only a powerful system of tractors which will for the first time in history allow the peasant to straighten his back; only a glass-blowing machine which produces hundreds of thousands of bottles and frees the lungs of the glassblower; only a turbine of tens and hundreds of thousands of horsepower; only an airplane accessible to all; – only all these things together will guarantee the cultural revolution – and not for the minority but for all. Only this kind of cultural revolution deserves the name. Only on its foundations will a new philosophy and a new art begin to flourish.

Marx said: „The dominant ideas of an epoch are the ideas of the ruling class of the given epoch.“ This is also true with regard to the proletariat, but in quite a different way than with other classes. Having seized power, the bourgeoisie tried to perpetuate it. Its entire culture was adapted to this purpose. Having taken power, the proletariat must inevitably strive to shorten the period of its rule as much as possible, by drawing nigh the classless socialist society.

The Culture of Morals

To trade in a cultured way means, among other things, not to deceive, that is, to break with our national trading tradition: „If you don’t deceive, you won’t make a sale.“ Lying and deceiving is not just a personal flaw, but a function (or action) of the social order. Lying is a means of struggle, and consequently, it flows from contradiction of interests. The most basic contradictions flow from class relations. Of course, one could say that deception is older than class society. Even animals display „cunning“ and deception in the struggle for existence. Deception – military cunning – played no small role in the life of primitive tribes. Such deception still more or less flowed directly from the zoological struggle for existence. But from the moment when „civilized,“ i.e. class society arrived, the lie became horribly more complicated, turned into a social function, split along class lines and also became part of human „culture.“ But this is the part of culture which socialism will not accept. Relations in either socialist or communist society, i.e., in socialist society’s highest development, will be thoroughly transparent and will not require such auxiliary methods as deception, lies, falsification, forgery, treachery and perfidy.

However, we are still a long way from that. In our relations and morals there are still many lies rooted both in serfdom and the bourgeois order. The highest expression of serfdom’s ideology is religion. The relations in feudal-monarchal society were based on blind tradition and elevated to the level of religious myth. A myth is the imaginary and false interpretation of natural phenomena and social institutions in their interconnection. However, not only the deceived, that is, the oppressed masses, but also those in whose name the deception was carried out – the rulers, – for the most part believed in the myth and relied upon it in good conscience. An objectively false ideology, woven out of superstitions, does not necessarily signify subjective mendacity. Only to the extent that social relations become more complex, that is, to the extent that the bourgeois social order develops, with which religious myth comes into ever growing contradiction, religion becomes the source of ever greater cunning and more refined deception.

Developed bourgeois ideology is rationalistic and directed against mythology. The radical bourgeoisie tried to make do without religion and build a state based on reason rather than tradition. An expression of this was democracy with its principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The capitalist economy, however, created a monstrous contradiction between everyday reality and democratic principles. A higher grade form of lying is required to fill up this contradiction. Nowhere do people lie more politically than in bourgeois democracies. And this is no longer the objective „lying“ of mythology, but the consciously organized deception of the people, using combined methods of extraordinary complexity. The technology of the lie is cultivated no less than the technology of electricity. The most „developed“ democracies, France and the United States, possess the most deceitful press.

But at the same time – and this we must openly acknowledge – in France they trade more honestly than we do, and, in any case, with incomparably more attention paid to the buyer. Having achieved a certain level of well-being, the bourgeoisie renounces the swindling methods of primary accumulation, not from any abstract moral considerations, but for material reasons: petty deception, forgery and avariciousness spoil the reputation of an enterprise and undermine its future. The principles of „honest“ trade, flowing from the interests of trade itself at a certain level of its development, enter into morals, become „moral“ rules and are controlled by public opinion. True, in this area, too, the imperialist war introduced colossal changes, throwing Europe way back. But the post-war „stabilization“ efforts of capitalism overcame the most malignant forms of savagery in trading. In any case, if we take our Soviet trading as a whole, that is, from the factory to the consumer in the distant village, then we must say that we trade in an immeasurably less cultured way than the advanced capitalist countries. This flows from our poverty, from the shortage of commodities, and from our economic and cultural backwardness.

The regime of proletarian dictatorship is irreconcilably hostile both to the objectively false mythology of the Middle Ages and to the conscious deceitfulness of capitalist democracy. The revolutionary regime is vitally interested in laying bare social relations rather than masking them over. This means that it is interested in political honesty, in saying what is. But we must not forget that the regime of revolutionary dictatorship is a transitional regime, and consequently, a contradictory one. The presence of powerful enemies forces us to use military cunning, and cunning is inseparable from lying. Our only need is that the cunning employed in the struggle against our enemies does not mislead our own people, that is, the laboring masses and their party. This is a basic demand of revolutionary politics which can be seen throughout all of Lenin’s work.

But while our new state and social forms are creating the possibility and necessity of a greater degree of honesty than has ever been achieved between rulers and ruled, the same cannot be said about our relations of common, everyday life; here our economic and cultural backwardness – and in general our entire heritage from the past – continues to exert enormous pressure. We live much better than in 1920. But the shortage of the most necessary among life’s blessings still leaves its mark on our life and on our morals, and will continue to do so for many years to come. From here flow the large and small contradictions, the large and small disproportions, the struggle tied to the contradictions, and the cunning, lies and deception all tied to the struggle. Here, too, there is only one escape: raising the level of our technology, both in production and in trade. A correct orientation along these lines should by itself contribute to the betterment of our „morals.“ The interaction between rising technology and morals will advance us along the way to a social structure of civilized cooperators, that is, to a socialist culture.


[1] Famusov is a main character in Griboedov’s play, Woe from Wit (1824). A highly placed Moscow bureaucrat and careerist, he is particularly ingratiating before his superiors and arrogant toward his subordinates. As an arch-conservative, he fears nothing more than innovation and „free-thinking.“ Lenin used the reference in an interesting passage: „Our party Famusovs are not against playing the role of sharp and ruthless fighters for Marxism, but when it comes to factional favoritism, they are not against camouflaging the most serious retreats from Marxism!“ (V. I. Lenin, „From the Editors,“ PSS, vol. 17, p.185) [Ashukin & Ashukina, Krylatye slova, M., 1986, p.657].

[2] Of course, the cultivation of a pseudo-Freudianism as erotic overindulgence or mischief has nothing in common with this question. Such wagging of the tongue bears no relation to science, and represents only decadent moods: the center of gravity is shifted from the brain to the spinal cord… L.T.

Eine kurze Geschichte der Linken / A Short History of the Left


Marx und 1848

Marx war nicht der Begründer, sondern der geistvolle und kritische Mitgestalter der Linken im 19. Jahrhundert. Der Sozialismus und Kommunismus wurden nicht von Marx und Engels oder ihren Mitstreitern (und Gegnern) innerhalb der Linken erfunden, sondern sind vielmehr das Resultat der inneren Widersprüche moderner Gesellschaft, vor allem sichtbar an der Französischen Revolution im Jahre 1789 und der Arbeiterbewegung, die sich während der Industriellen Revolution im frühen 19. Jahrhundert heraus bildete. Marx‘ große Einsicht bestand darin, die Linke selbst als Symptom des Kapitalismus zu begreifen, was so viel bedeutet, dass die Linke dem Kapitalismus nicht von „außen“ entgegen tritt, sondern vielmehr immanent, von „innen“ heraus. Dennoch unterstützte Marx die sozialistische Arbeiterbewegung mit dem Ziel, ihre Entwicklung voran zu treiben und ihr Bewusstsein darüber zu schärfen, wie sie über sich selbst hinaus wies.

Die Ideen von Marx entstanden in der Auseinandersetzung und Kritik mit den emanzipatorischen Theorien seiner Zeit, die auf 1789 folgten: dem französischen Sozialismus, der deutschen idealistischen Philosophie und der englischen Politischen Ökonomie. Im Jahre 1848 – dem Erscheinungsjahr des „Manifests der kommunistischen Partei“ und der revolutionären Erhebung in Deutschland, Frankreich und anderen Teilen Europas (durch die globale ökonomische Rezession hervor gerufen) – wurde das politische Problem und die Frage nach Gleichheit und Demokratie komplizierter und vor allem grundlegender gestellt. Eine rousseauistische Kritik der modernen Zivilisation (beispielhaft in Proudhons „Eigentum ist Diebstahl“) griff in dieser neu entstandenen gesellschaftlichen Konfliktsituation viel zu kurz. Die radikal demokratischen Kräfte des „dritten Standes“ (städtisches Bürgertum und Arbeiter) stießen schnell auf ein Hindernis: Das Kapital wurde zunehmend in seiner Existenz bedroht, da die sozialdemokratische Bewegung eine höhere Stufe gesellschaftlicher Produktion anstrebte. Die Folgen der gescheiterten Revolution von 1848 bedeuteten den Beginn einer Politik der Massen und des modernen national-parlamentarischen und bonapartistischen Staates, in welchem wir heute noch leben.

Nach dieser Krise, die auf 1848 folgte, begann Marx, einen kritischen und dialektischen Begriff des Kapitalismus zu entwickeln. Das Kapital erkannte Marx als eine Form sozialer Befreiung, welche dazu tendiert, alle sozialen Beziehungen zu beherrschen – und gleichzeitig die Bedingungen einer allgemeinen Gesellschaftlichkeit schafft: der ökonomische Zwang zur Produktion von „Mehrwert“, der darauf basiert, Arbeit zeitlich messbar zu machen und in eine Ware zu verwandeln – als Ware „Arbeitskraft“. Das Kapital begriff Marx also als eine Form des Reichtums, dessen Quelle die lebendige Arbeit ist, die von nun an dem Kommando derWertproduktion untersteht – weshalb Marx die Metapher gebraucht, im Kapitalismus herrsche die „tote“ über die „lebendige“ Arbeit.

In den Jahren nach der russischen Revolution (1917), versuchte Georg Lukács angesichts der veränderten historischen Situation, diese Erkenntnis des widersprüchlichen Charakters kapitalistischer Vergesellschaftung neu an zueignen. Es handelt sich bei diesem Widerspruch um einen, der alle Menschen in ihrem sozialen Dasein und ihrem Bewusstsein bestimmt, die innerhalb warenförmiger Beziehungen leben und arbeiten. Durch diese „Verdinglichung“ – wie Lukács diesen Sachverhalt bezeichnet – vollzieht sich die Erkenntnis der Menschen in ideologischen Formen (der Linken mit eingeschlossen), die sowohl die gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse reproduzieren, sowie die Möglichkeit ihrer Aufhebung mit erzeugen.

Für Marx ist die kapitalistische Gesellschaftsform die Grundlage und Bedingung für die Möglichkeit emanzipatorischer Praxis, die jedoch gleichzeitig in ihrer Verwirklichung gehemmt wird. Als gesellschaftliches Prinzip, weist das Kapital jedoch zwangsläufig über sich selbst hinaus.

Lenin, Luxemburg und das Jahr 1917

Zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts nahm die jüngere Generation der radikalen Linken in der Sozialdemokratie den revolutionären Charakter ihrer Vorgänger (Kautsky, Plechanov) mit Selbstverständlichkeit hin, stieß jedoch auf Probleme in ihrer eigenen Bewegung, an deren Seite sie so enthusiastisch kämpften. Die Träger des revolutionären marxistischen Flügels fanden sich beim Ausbruch des Ersten Weltkrieges im Jahre 1914 in einer extrem isolierten Position innerhalb der Linken wieder. Russland erwies sich als das „schwächste Glied“ im globalen Kapitalismus, wodurch es zum Epizentrum des revolutionären politischen Kampfes wurde. Das paradoxe Resultat dieser Ausgangslage war – in Lenins Worten – ein „deformierter Arbeiterstaat“, ein administrativer „Staatskapitalismus“, der sich auf dem Fahrwasser des sich nach dem Krieg „erholenden“ globalen Kapitals entwickelte. Luxemburg und ihre Genossen in Deutschland unterstützten zwar die Bolschewisten, blieben jedoch als Marxisten kritisch, da sie sich voll und ganz bewusst waren, dass die Oktoberrevolution von 1917 die Notwendigkeit einer globalen Revolution dringlicher denn je machte. Die russische Revolution warf zwar das Problem des revolutionären sozialistischen Umbruchs auf historisch einzigartige Weise auf; gelöst konnte dieses Problem jedoch nur auf der internationalen Ebene sozialistischer Revolution. In ihren Anstrengungen, den marxistischen Prinzipien treu zu bleiben, veränderten Lenin, Luxemburg und ihre Mitstreiter zwar die marxistische Bewegung, jedoch in einer so unausgeglichenen Weise, dass dadurch – nach dem ultimativen Scheitern der antikapitalistischen Revolution zwischen 1917-1919 – die Grundlage für einen erheblichen Verfall der Linken geschaffen wurde – nicht zuletzt in ihrem Selbstverständnis.


Als Stalin den „Sozialismus in einem Lande“ ausrief, hat er nicht explizit eine revolutionäre marxistische Perspektive aufgegeben, sondern sich vielmehr den Bedingungen der russischen Lage um 1924 angepasst. Selbst die Revolutionäre, die nicht so zynisch waren wie Stalin und die Bolschewisten, die er manipulierte und ermordete, haben die riskante Politik des internationalen Kommunismus nicht als die einzige Möglichkeit gutgeheißen, die bescheidenen Erfolge von 1917 aufrecht zu erhalten, geschweige denn, sie auszubauen. In dieser Abwesenheit verlangte die „Verteidigung der Revolution“ noch höhere Opfer – eine Katastrophe für die Menschheit.


Der Zerfall des revolutionären Marxismus bis in die 1930er hinein, wurde zu einem schwerwiegenden Problem für kritisches Bewusstsein innerhalb der Linken. Die radikale Krise von Krieg und sozialer Revolution zwischen 1914 und 1919 schuf eine reaktionäre Gegenbewegung. Der Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus brachten einen erneuten Weltkrieg, wodurch auch die Linke spätestens im Jahre 1945 völlig zerstört wurde. Als Folge der Konterrevolution und Reaktion nach 1919, entwickelte sich der „autoritäre Charakter“ als eine Form von sozialer und politischer Subjektivität, die sich überall manifestierte – nicht nur in den schwarzen und braunen Reihen des Faschismus, sondern auch in der von der sowjetischen Komintern organisierten „Volksfront“ und später in den nationalistischen Bewegungen der „Dritten Welt“. Der „autoritäre Charakter“ mit seiner narzisstischen Kränkung und seinem Sado-Masochismus, offenbarte eine reaktionäre „Furcht vor der Freiheit“.

Der „Marxismus“ der Ostblockstaaten wurde selbst zu einem Bestandteil der allgemeinen Ideologie spätkapitalistischer Gesellschaft, jedoch in einer widersprüchlichen Weise, da dieser immer noch über bürgerliche Ideologie hinaus wies und deren „Leerstelle“ symbolisch besetzte und aufzeigte. In dieser Phase triumphierender Konterrevolution im fortgeschrittenen 20. Jahrhundert, tauchte deshalb die Frage und das Problem gesellschaftskritischen Bewusstseins wieder auf. Die Wiederaneignung des kritischen Stachels marxistischer Theorie und Praxis hat sich in den 1960er Jahren als eine obskure Aufgabe herausgestellt; jedoch als eine, die die Linke in ihrer sozialen und politischen Verwirrung und in der Verschleierung des Projekts der Emanzipation verfolgte – einem Projekt, welches das profunde Vermächtnis der besiegten und verlorenen Revolution ist.

1968 – 1989- und Heute

In den 60er Jahren hat die Linke in zunehmender Weise das Recht und die Möglichkeit der Revolution in den kapitalistischen „Zentren“ bzw. Industrienationen in Zweifel gezogen. – Beispielhaft in Susan Sontags Ausspruch: „the white race is the cancer of human history.“ – Es entwickelte sich eine passive Hoffnung und Erwartung, welche die allgemeine Befreiung von den sozialen Bewegungen der globalen „Subalternen“ abhängig machte. Dabei wurde jede kritische Untersuchung der tatsächlichen politischen Formen dieser Bewegungen unterlassen und vergessen. – Adorno merkte zu Beginn der Dekolonisierung kritisch an: „Die Wilden sind nicht bessere Menschen“ (1944) – Dieser Verzicht auf das Politische nahm unterschiedliche Formen der Selbstverleugnung an, beispielhaft in einer rassistischen Idealisierung „kultureller Unterschiede“, die dem Politischen jegliche Substanz nahm und in der Oberflächlichkeit mündete.

Die revolutionäre Linke nach 1945 war zwar bereits so gut wie zerfallen, ihr endgültiges Todesurteil ist jedoch in dem Moment eingetreten, als sich diese angesichts der studentisch geprägten „Neuen Linken“ der Bedeutung und der Rolle des kritischen Bewusstseins entledigt hat. Die Entzauberung der linken Bewegung der 60er, warf einen großen Schatten auf die darauf folgenden Jahrzehnte, die in dem Zusammenbruch der Sowjetunion um 1989-1992 kulminierte – dem „Ende der Geschichte“ und dem Ende aller „großen“ Projekte und Erzählungen von allgemeiner gesellschaftlicher Emanzipation. Die „Neue Linke“ bekam die Welt, die sie verdiente; jeder Versuch, den damaligen pseudo-radikalen Antimarxismus der „Neuen Linken“ zu erhalten, laufen darauf hinaus, ein Gespenst wiederbeleben zu wollen.

Adornos berühmt-berüchtigter Satz „Es gibt kein richtiges Leben im Falschen“ (1944) wurde meist als ein existenzielles Problem missverstanden, anstatt als politisches. Das Problem der Praxis ist jedoch kein ethisches Problem. Vielmehr steht bei der Frage von politischer Praxis das Anliegen im Mittelpunkt, Möglichkeiten der Emanzipation zu eröffnen.

Die Utopie einer befreiten Gesellschaft, in der die freie Entwicklung eines jeden die Bedingung für die freie Entwicklung aller wäre und in der das Prinzip „jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen“ (Marx) gelten würde, hat die historische Linke in ihrer Tätigkeit geleitet – diese Utopie ist gegenwärtig jedoch kaum noch wahrnehmbar.

So wie es denkbar ist, unterdrückt zu sein, ohne die Gründe und Ursachen dafür zu kennen – worauf der Begriff der „Entfremdung“ hin deutet -, ist es ebenso möglich, dass bisher nicht-verwirklichte Möglichkeiten bestehen bleiben, auch wenn von diesen kein allgemeines Bewusstsein existiert. Die Möglichkeit des kritischen Bewusstseins für Emanzipation überlebt daher ihren scheinbaren Niedergang; sie fordert uns daher nach wie vor – auf welch unbewusste Weise auch immer. Die Rolle des Bewusstseins ist von grundlegender Wichtigkeit für jede mögliche gesellschaftliche Emanzipation.

(Juni/Juli 2006, aus dem Englischen)


[Ελληνικό]  [Deutsch]

Marx and 1848

Marx was not the author but the brilliant critical participant of the Left in the 19th Century. Socialism and communism were not invented by Marx, Engels and their collaborators (and opponents) on the Left, but issued from the contradictions of modern society itself, as expressed in the French Revolution of 1789 and in the modern labor movement that emerged with the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th Century. Marx’s great insight was to regard the Left itself as symptomatic of capitalism that does not oppose it from without but from within, immanently. Nevertheless Marx endorsed the Left, the modern socialist workers movement, and sought to push it further and provoke recognition of how it pointed beyond itself.

Marx’s thought originated in the immanent critique of emancipatory politics after 1789, in French socialism, German Idealist philosophy, and British political economy. By 1848, the time of Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto and the revolutionary uprisings in France, Germany, and other parts of Europe (triggered by the global economic depression of the 1840s), the politics of social equality and democracy had become more complicated and profound than a Rousseauian civilizational critique of modern society (Proudhon’s slogan “property is theft”) could comprehend — or hope to overcome. By 1848, radical democracy, in forms of revolt by the “bourgeois” (urban) “third estate” (including workers), had come to grief: capital was threatened by social democracy, for it pushed beyond its forms of social reproduction. The aftermath of failed revolution in 1848 saw the advent of emphatic forms of “mass” politics and the modern national parliamentary-Bonapartist state with which we still live today.

After the post-1848 crisis on the Left, Marx engaged the critical-dialectical conception of capitalism, recognizing it as a form of emancipation that (re)constitutes a specific form of domination over society: the imperative to produce “surplus value” and thus capitalize on labor in forms mediated and measured in labor-time. Capital became a form of wealth measurable as an investment of social labor, a form of preservation and stake of value on the future, but one in which “dead” labor dominates the living.

After 1917, Lukács recovered Marx’s grasp of the contradictory but constitutive identity and non-identity of social exploitation and domination under capitalism, giving rise to forms of discontent and agency — ideologies, including on the “Left” — that reproduce and perpetuate a society dominated by capital, a contradiction of social being and consciousness for subjects of the commodity form.

For Marx, capitalism itself sets the stage for and provokes emancipatory social potential that it also constrains. As social form, capital points beyond itself.

Lenin, Luxemburg and 1917

At the turn of the 20th Century, the younger generation of radicals in Second International Social Democracy took for granted the revolutionary character of their Marxist forebears (Kautsky, Plekhanov), but uneasily came up against problems in the movement they so enthusiastically championed. The standard bearers of the revolutionary Marxist mandate found themselves shockingly isolated on the Left with the outbreak of World War in 1914. Russia proved to be the “weakest link” in the world system of capitalism, becoming the epicenter of revolutionary political struggle, but with the paradoxical outcome of what Lenin called a “deformed workers’ state” administering “state capitalism” on the frontier-backwater of global capital, which too soon “recovered” from the crisis of the war. Luxemburg and her comrades in Germany supported the Bolsheviks, but as Marxists remained critical, knowing that October 1917 advanced the necessity of global revolution, posing a “problem” in Russia that could not be “solved” there. Struggling to remain true to the principles of Marxism, actually Lenin, Luxemburg and their cohort transformed the Marxist movement, but in very uneven ways that, with the ultimate failure and betrayal of the anticapitalist revolution opened in 1917-19, set the stage for the later degeneration of the Left — not least in its self-understanding.


When Stalin announced the policy of “socialism in one country” he was not thereby explicitly overthrowing a revolutionary Marxist perspective but rather accommodating circumstances of the Russian Revolution by 1924. Even those revolutionaries less cynical than Stalin and the Bolsheviks he manipulated and murdered did not countenance that only the risky politics of worldwide Communism had any hope of preserving, let alone furthering, the very modest gains of 1917. In the absence of this, the exigencies of “preserving the revolution” demanded ever higher sacrifices, an unfolding catastrophe for humanity.


The disintegration of revolutionary Marxism by the 1930s presented an acute problem for critical consciousness on the Left. The radical crisis of war and social revolution 1914-19 produced its reactionary complement, the virulent movement of fascism and a resumption of world war that by 1945 had devastated the Left. In the wake of counterrevolution and reaction after 1919 emerged the “authoritarian character” structure of social and political subjectivity that was expressed pervasively, not only in black- and brown-shirt rallies, but also in the Popular Front and, later, “nationalism” in the “Third World.” The “authoritarian personality,” with its characteristic wounded narcissism and sado-masochism, evinced a regressive “fear of freedom.”

“Marxism” became part of the ideology of the reactionary social reality of “advanced” capitalism, but one which yet, smoldering with history, pointed beyond the terms of the “bourgeois” ideology whose vacancy it had come to occupy. In the period of triumphant counter-revolution that characterized the high 20th Century, the question and problem of critical social consciousness re-emerged. Recovering the critical intent of Marxian theory and practice proved an obscure issue by the 1960s, but one that haunted the Left in the social-political disorientation and occultation of the tasks and project of emancipation that is the most profound legacy of defeated and failed revolution.

From ’68 — and ’89 — to today

By the 1960s, the “Left” increasingly denied the rights and responsibilities of strategically placed populations at the heart of global capital to change the course of history. — As Susan Sontag succinctly expressed it in 1967,“the white race is the cancer of human history.” — Embraced was a passive expectation of the crowding onto the historical stage by “subalterns,” with no critical regard for the actual political forms this takes. — As Adorno put it at the advent of decolonization: “Savages are not more noble” (1944). — Such abdication took diverse forms of self-abnegation — including racist enthusiasms for “cultural difference” — evacuating politics.

The revolutionary Left, already in a state of deep decomposition after 1945, received the last nail in its coffin with the abdication of the role of critical social consciousness in the wake of the “New” Left — but prepared long before. The post-’60s disenchantment of the Left cast a long shadow across the 1970s-80s, and culminated in 1989-92 with the destruction of the Soviet Union and the “end of history” — an end to any (“grand”) projects of emancipatory social transformation. The “New Left” got the world it deserved; attempts to sustain its pseudo-radical anti-Marxism are efforts to resuscitate a ghost.

Adorno’s observation that “wrong life cannot be lived rightly” (1944) has been mistaken to be an existential and not a political problem. But the problem of practice is not ethical but concerns opening actual social-political possibilities for emancipation.

An emancipated world in which the freedom of each would be a precondition for the freedom of all, achieved through social solidarity that provides “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” (Marx), whose vision motivated the historical Left, seems scarcely conceivable today.

But, just as it is quite possible, manifestly, to be oppressed without realizing the reasons for it — the meaning of “alienation” — unfulfilled potential can yet persist despite lack of awareness of it: a non-identity of subject and object. The possibility of critical consciousness of emancipation survives its apparent demise, however unconsciously it tasks us today. The role of consciousness is vital for any possible social emancipation.

July, 2006