POSTMODERNIST OR MODERNIST?
Written by: Davide Ferri
Lastly modified on May 30, 2012
2. SOME REMARK ON THE CONCEPT OF POLITICAL REPRESSION
3. ON HUMAN NEEDS AND CATEGORIES OF NEEDS
4. ON MORAL TRUTH
5. THE MORAL CHARACTER OF MARXISM
6. ON THE IMPOSITION OF VALUES
7. A CONTRADICTION-LESS SYSTEM FOR A CONTRADICTION-LESS SOCIAL BEING?
I have been asked many times about this issue.
I have also been asked many times about my stance on moral truth and the political repression of obscurantist religious practices, superstition or religion in general.
I hope this brief article may remove many doubts on the matter.
Like many Marxists, I do agree on that repressing reactionary tendencies on the part of certain strata of the population may be a huge risk in dialectical terms.
Like many Marxists, I also agree on that — even when not "risky" in dialectical terms — politically repressing certain reactionary tendencies "for the sake of the revolution" may be substantially useless; insofar as it is up to the improved material-economic conditions to change the cognitive condition of people.
Once the production relations and the productive forces — from human capital to production capital — are socialised and commodity production ceases to exist, accordingly people's behaviour will gradually evolve too.
It is the people as conscientised by new material relations and new productive forces that make the revolution; not the political party behind its uprising.
In plain words, it is the fire that ultimately burns the whole house; and not the sparkle causing the fire. Abolishing religious obscurantism "by decree" e.g., whilst hoping to get some consistent result without creating human contradictions, is like abolishing poverty by decree within Capitalism: a sheer bourgeois fantasy.
Old and new communists should replace the concept of "political repression" with that of "dialectical repression"; which is the most humane and powerful one.
On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that there is actually no "fixed principle" to assert on this issue.
No, Dialectics. We shall why below.
In fact, according to dialectics, "the truth is the whole"; this very same principle entails that moral truth - as a material realising force of one of our highest social needs - lies within the direction towards the abolition of material contradictions; whether these represent either an indirect or a direct effect of human society.
The truth is what we can ascertain, among which figure the human needs, of course, to be satisfied through human organisation and action.
What is Modernism?
In extremely broad terms, Modernism is that movement within the arts and within philosophy - developed in Western Europe during the late XIX century and early XX century- which tried to "break" with the artistic, moral, political and philosophical normativity of the past, by stressing (among other things) freedom of expression, experimentation, radicalism, and primitivism within the arts and Universalism within ethics and politics.
Universalism refers to ethical, political, religious and philosophical concepts with universal application (Particularism is its antonymous).
What is Postmodernism?
Postmodernism - again in very broad terms - is that movement within the arts, philosophy and politics that emphasises Moral Relativism, Individual Subjectivity, Particularism and Idealism whilst de-emphasising the values of Modernism, and regarding it as "imposing".
I argue that labelling Marxism as "Modernist" or "Postmodernist" is naively inconsistent.
Before coming to this point in a more detailed, it is important to focus on the nature of human needs.
first of all, truly dialectical Communist ideas regard human needs and subjectivity as dynamic and evolving in qualitative and quantitative terms and not as static, though at the same time these ideas imply that every human being shares the same static categories of needs and that every human being shares the same socially productive categories of instincts.
Needless to say, one human being — when not "contextually modified" in negative or positive terms with respect to its gratification potential by determined historical contradictions — behaves as a true social being, and not as a commodity-minded and isolated individual.
The individual behaves in an ego-altruistic way when s/he has to attain the realisation from his or her highest needs.
In brief, human nature is structured in such a way that the achievement of every mankind improvement is by no means a burden, but an improvement of one's individuality, one's essence, one's social hierarchy of needs.
It is "Dialectical Materialist" and can make use of "both" Modernism and Postmodernism within its political praxis, if strictly necessary (and, why not, within the arts. Alas, the scope of this article will compel me to focus more on the political/moral/philosophical aspect of the question).
Because the truth is the whole, it is one, and it is, therefore, the development towards one too.
The assertion of one's moral truth - indirectly a material issue in the form of cognition need - requires the abolition of material contradictions known by the "asserting" individual, as any process in this universe tends to to the abolition of the contradictions within itself.
The moral truth is not immediately achievable in a system that fosters contradictions, as the moral-truth-entity has been fragmented into entities in conflict with each other.
A moral truth is philosophically conceived by a social being— erroneously or correctly — always for the sake of mankind, as this "sake", which is self-enriching, abolishes surrounding material contradictions. Within this process, the assertion of moral truth abolishes the contradiction of unsatisfied cognition need and that material environment of satisfaction (to be "consumed" for its immorality).
The assertion of moral truth is the whole, the extinction of the pressing character of need and that of the unfair conditions compelling one to act.
It has to do with our behavioural search for happiness, in its turn given by the realisation of our lower and higher needs.
Even the approach to art, for our sake and for art's contradiction-less sake, should be one that abolishes contradictions within humanity and therefore within our individuality, within our broadest understanding of Art and its social implications.
I shall return on this matter later.
Talking about "sake", one question arises.
What is the sake of mankind?
One might argue - not without reason - that it is the whole social realisation of objective human needs, which is only possible within contradiction-less human beings; thanks to his or her true self - which is by now historically lost and which is recoverable through an "objective path" (and definitely not by the subjective fancies of postmodern critics!).
Why lost? Because a system with contradictions can only produce further contradictions and certainly not allow the contradicion-less development of one individual.
One cannot self-realise as a slave in a slave society or as a serf in feudalism just like a Capitalist is a half-human as far as his or her totality of needs - social, moral, cognitive, artistic etc - are concerned.
Why are needs and their realisation "the truth"?
Because they exist - in all their pressure and fruitfulness - and we can ascertain them.
Any economic and therefore political structure revolves around the satisfaction of needs.
Supply is there because of Demand, namely, Social production is there because of our human needs.
There can be no production without needs and viceversa, where production is the objective process and the structure of needs is the subjective one.
Needs are an objective set of objective biological necessary elements, which no social being forgets when s/he analyses his or her own condition and/or his/her social fabric.
It must be borne in mind that everybody shares the same categories of needs, to be satisfied in multiple subjective ways, which are greatly determined by one's material surroundings.
Penalty? Death or alienation of our true essence, a psychological business, which is not socially desired by any contradiction-less being, namely, by any being not modified by societal contradictions, such as slavery, Capital, Lordship and so forth.
As I wrote in part III of my pamphlet MARX'S LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE AND THE HUMBUG OF LIBERAL THOUGHT (Davide Ferri)
[Davide Ferri, A personal Contribution to the Marxist Theory of Truth, November 2011]
Human moral truth, of course, changes according to the historical period concerned, though the categories of needs — on which a moral truth is more or less loosely based — do not change.
A moral truth that doesn't satisfy the wholeness of one's needs is not a moral truth, because it betrays its very own raison d'etre.
A moral praxis is one which promotes a dialectical step that may dialectically promote people's realisation of needs. This very process entails such a change to be socially felt.
Penalty? Failure of the process.
People are, all in all, the only productive and dialectical weapon of a revolution; unlike a tiny vanguard carrying the constant burden of institutionalisation and embourgeoisement.
In case political repression of reaction is blindly carried out contradictions may, alas, arise, in any whatsoever form.
As I discussed above, the truth is just one and it is also the development towards one, its constant dialectical motion around one: the overcoming of contradictions, which occurs either in human society and in the universe as a general dynamic, and the achievement of a contradiction-less system requires a negation of present-day negative relations.
Early human social structures lacking ownership of the means of production contained no "class" contradictions, no societal contradiction, though the perpetual struggle between the primitive human being and nature boosted the rise of contradictions overtime (the need for more productive methods of production, the productivity of soil assigned by the community to certain individuals etc); which took the form of ownership.
This ownership would soon give rise to Slave societies (e.g. Roman Empire), Feudalism (e.g. Europe's Middle Ages, Zemindari system in Hindustan), Asian modes of production (in the case of Ancient Hindustan e.g.), Capitalism (now almost all over the world), Marxist-Leninist social structures (USSR, China, Cuba, Ghana, Vietnam e.g.) et cetera.
Narrow-minded modernist praxis requires the assertion of fixed universalised deontological or teleological moral principles, which may not contextually work when used a-priori "for the sake of the revolution" and therefore the sake of human liberation (away from societal contradictions, away from exploitation). "Militant Atheism" - which calls for the a-priori struggle against religion - may not work when used against fundamentalist masses as a tool of pro-Communist ideologisation.
The ultimate goal is to render religious people "in favour Communism" and make them active for its achievement. The anti-religious (modernist) ideologisation will take place once both the mode of production and the social structure evolve, beyond Capitalism. It will be up to the Postcapitalist human Capital to abolish the "psychological contradictions" as fostered by Religious obscurantism and ultimately abolish Religious obscurantism itself.
It goes without saying that Communists should engage in Modernistic principled tactics only whenever there is, alas, a reactionary obscurantist force actively and successfully "exploiting" the Communalistic sense of the workers against the coming of a Communist revolution. In this case, a painful and elaborate ideologisation of, say, religious workers may be needed in order to politically win over the reactionary force in question.
The principled approach of Modernism - as much as "fair" its ideals can be - may not work contextually and therefore produce a failure and not lead to Communism, in which people can realise their needs, and can see their real individuality - as expressed by lower and higher needs - realised.
Just like Modernism, the Postmodernist imbroglio, for which truth is a-priori a subjective construct, fails to shine a light on a praxis in favour of people's needs realisation, namely, a Communist praxis, as Political economy proves.
"Believing in your ideas and asserting them means realising one's own individuality!" cries out the Multicultural Postmodern!
Which is false, at least most of the time.
In fact, believing that, say, the religious repression of one's desire to have sex before marriage is the Truth simply entails the false and counter-productive belief that the repression of a natural need is the Truth, whereas a non-compulsive need for sex is a precondition for one's complex happiness.
That is to say, a non-compulsive natural need for sex is a precondition for the overcoming of one's psychological contradictions (like those of sexual desire and the material hindrance to the sexual act) and the achievement of the wholeness of one's needs realisation.
Sexual repression would simply be not the truth insofar as it would by no means abolish the contradiction between one's philistine belief and one's sexual desire, not to mention the contradictions between one sexual desire and the idea reflecting the materiality that gives rise to it. One can do away with the act, but cannot do away with a natural desire.
It can only repress it, at the expense of natural gratification, creating something in contradiction with one's gratification.
This imbroglio of contradictions is definitely not the truth, as only the realisation of needs is the truth of our essence of human beings.
Similarly, one's belief in the maintenance of obscurantist Communalism can isolate him/her from a broader social sense of belonging, in which s/he could perhaps share more of my "individuality" along with more emancipated and less Communalistic individuals. Within that negated scenario, s/he could grow and perhaps see other individuals prosper and learn, enjoying this historical process as a whole.
The pervert logic of Multicultural Postmodernism is its emphasis on that Truth is neither imposing values on people or accepting an imposition of values.
In fact, Revolutions against exploitative regimes are an imposition of values, which are supposed to be "higher" if these revolutions are meant to abolish the contradictions of a system in question.
Postmodernism implicitly rejects revolution, and therefore rejects the concept of dialectics, the concept of conflicting contradictions, which are ultimately bound to vanish and give rise to a higher synthesis.
By doing so, postmodernism refuses to take action against our present-day system, insofar as it would be "an imposition of values", whilst accepting the fantastic "imposition of exploitative values" that our Capitalist system produces. By no seeing our reality as a pool of contradictions, in which exploited fight against exploiters, Postmodernism fails to see "historical movement" and ends up legitimising historical immobility. In brief, Postmodernism does have a political character, insofar as it ultimately ends up playing the game of investors, speculators and court philosophers, by endorsing Social Democracy, which allegedly doesn't impose "values" but actually does: it imposes those legitimising Capital and Wage-Labour.
It must be borne in mind that systems pervaded by contradictions do not realise the needs of all people and don't satisfy the individual ones in a productive way. You can't have the complete needs realisation of individuals within a system in which the Bourgeoisie is set out against the Wage-Labourers and viceversa.
The division into these 2 extremes produces a class of individualistic self-alienating non-workers and a class of individualistic exploited workers. There is no "truth", no full needs realisation and no human emancipation behind this condition. It is not that every individualistic act conceals pure unhappiness, but conversely "partial happiness". Why? Because every human act is a social one and can be fully expressed in all its happiness-generating potential only by taking into account one's self-centered needs and the others' condition, so as to gain access to our highest needs and therefore fully realise them.
Happiness is pursuing our most immediate needs, Euphoria is pursuing our most immediate needs and going beyond them as well.
It goes without saying, both modernist undialectical philosophers and postmodern critics make short work of this.
Because within contradictions, the human development of one comes always at the detriment of someone else's and - within its pervert developmental logic - the development of the advantaged one is curbed in a non-social and therefore non-natural way. Only with the abolition of contradictions, namely, with Post-Capitalism - and with it the return to a regime of zero-contradictions - can humanity achieve its natural contradiction-less development of human needs, therefore transforming all individuals into contradiction-less and happy beings.
Only Capitalism is able to transform a social being into a shopping-minded individualistic bourgeois, whose life-style revolves around the need for shopping and represses all its potential need for creative and cognitive development.
This is not "natural", insofar as the potential human needs are alienated, that is to say, one's needs are not expressed according to how the material abundance of one system could potentially allow, in very labour terms. In the "Bourgeois" case, namely, within a regime of contradictions, quantitative development of certain low exclusive needs (such as that for compulsive shopping) always comes at the detriment of the qualitative development of one's potential needs.
Only Capitalism is able to manufacture hippies and yuppies or, quite interestingly, liberal Escapism or "Anti-Ism", which is very servile to the reproduction of our social fabric.
In a way, its ultimate logic is that of being indifferent to our present system of exploitation, while the only way to "escape" from our system is to face it and transform it. Escapism and similar historical products implicitly legitimise our system with the non-social character of its believers; which is individualism: a mere bourgeois historical imbroglio. Such doctrines are against the "isms" within our "ism", which must be overthrown for the coming of another "ism". But since their believers and court philosophers prove themselves to be individualistically indifferent to any "ism" they end up saying something very very old:
At the same time, one might argue that a psychologically "complex" person like, say, Davide Ferri - whether positive or not - won't exist anymore in Post-Capitalism.
Why is Davide Ferri himself saying so?
Because only Capitalism could - by chance and by necessity - give so much to me and too less to others, thanks to all its inequalities and contradictions.
Only Capitalism could manufacture Davide Ferri himself and other Post-Capitalist people like him. Being relatively "contradiction-less" is not something to be proud of, but rather it is something to take advantage of for the achievement of true essence of our self and therefore of human society, its unity, in the dialectical, psychological and political sense of the word.
And this achievement is social in itself; not an individualistic imbroglio.
A person like me will hopefully vanish along with the same historical contradictions that helped "transforming" him into what he is today. That's what dialectics requires as the assertion of moral truth will transform contradictions into a dialectical unity.
The moral character of one writer, assume that of Davide Ferri, shouldn't discourage one reader from analysing and criticising his works. A fact is either true or false.
A theory is a set of facts, some of which can be true, some of which can be false.
An immoral person, some might argue, can easily produce false material.
Whether, say, Davide Ferri was immoral, boring, funny or unpleasant shouldn't be a matter of concern. No matter if s/he is an immoral individual or not, what should count is one author's relevant and useful ideas, namely, that share of his or her works representing the truth, let this share be little or large.
Alas, we see today too many Communists and Liberals refusing to analyse works of "unpleasant authors" for their reactionary character. This is a terrible mistake, coming from narrow-minded individuals. Each single scattered true fact within every author's work - whether the author in question is, say, an advocate of a slave society, Capitalism, Communism or Feudalism - is worth of critical, artistic and human consideration.
This is the dialectical spirit for a critical analysis.
The transcendence of both modernist and postmodernist consciousness and the internalisation of a dialectical consciousness, on the part of every Communist, is the necessary precondition for a Communist conscientised and dialectical praxis towards the abolition of Capital and Wage-Labour.