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A blog of Post-Capitalist critique in general, economic, philosophical and political analyses, Post-Capitalist poetry and prose, Post-Capitalist philology, book reviews, Postcapitalist news, interviews, praxis, art and much more! For the record, Davide Ferri is a Postcapitalist, who graduated with a B.A.Economics(Honours) degree from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University, India. He currently lives and works in Mumbai.

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

A PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION TO THE MARXIST THEORY OF TRUTH

A PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION
TO THE MARXIST THEORY OF TRUTH
(excerpt from "MARX'S LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE AND THE HUMBUG OF LIBERAL THOUGHT")

Davide Ferri
B.A.Economics(Honours), DU
Delhi, India
Added to the article in November 2011

The concept of Dialectical Materialism — as envisioned by Friedrich Engels in particular — is the most relevant tool to understand the concept of class antagonism and an important premise for a Marxist approach to the concept of truth.  Class antagonism not only defines the economic exploitation of Capitalism, but also helps to define the immoral character of all the apologies of commodity production.
Engels proved that nature— wherein entities are regarded as contradictions, insofar as they are in opposition to other entities —always witnesses the withering away of its systemic contradictions. He provides the example of the life-process of barley. One seed of barley, after growing due to external stimuli (negations), changes and is in itself negated, becoming a plant; which is something qualitatively different from the old seed from which it was generated. Towards the end of the life-process, the plant grows, flowers and produces something, which resembles the original form of the negation (the seed of barley). But it does not produce one unit of it: it produces many units.
At the end of the life-process, once the stalk dies after the seeds have ripened, there is a quantitative change as well as a qualitative one, insofar as nature obtains many seeds of barley with improved qualities. [22]
Marx applied Engels’ amazing scientific discovery to human nature, showing that in the early stages of human society, human beings were far from suffering the burden of societal orders and all the produce of class antagonism in general. In fact, human societal contradictions were absent; the only existing contradictions were those of human beings and Nature, which saw people perpetually struggling against their surrounding material scarcity.
Contradictions started growing in the early contradiction-less society. The reasons are many: production requirements with growing population, interpersonal contradictions, the evolving structure of the family, productivity of the soil assigned to certain individuals by the community etc. etc. The scope of this article won’t permit us to develop the subject further. As envisioned by Marx, Communism is but the abolition of all the existing contradictions, which brings back the human beings to their natural contradiction-less equilibrium, in which they were at one with themselves; in which no class antagonism could forbid people from receiving the full produce of their labour. On the other hand, the abolition of all existing contradictions does not mean to go back to the early stage of human society:

Communism is the positive supersession of private property as human self-estrangement, and hence the true appropriation of the human essence through and for man; it is the complete restoration of man to himself as a social -- i.e., human -- being, a restoration which has become conscious and which takes place within the entire wealth of previous periods of development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man, the true resolution of the conflict between existence and being, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution[23]

Communism would simply be its ‘updated version’, qualitatively and quantitatively improved by the experience of centuries of development of productive forces (presence of advanced technology, political and social emancipation, more division of labour etc. etc.) and the return to the social essence of the human beings, which has been alienated, estranged, in Capitalism, as Marx emphasises:

In general, the proposition that man is estranged from his species-being means that each man is estranged from the others and that all are estranged from man's essence.[24]

As we may notice from the above-cited words, Marx — who, in broad terms, is neither a modernist nor a postmodernist but a dialectical materialist — DOES have an objective understanding of human nature, though, as he himself recognises, human nature is "shaped", modified, by the dynamics of a mode of production. What I personally argue is that an objective conception of human nature may be based on the objective categories of individual needs that all human beings share, irrespective of religions, beliefs, gender, systemic hindrances etc.
This epistemological approach based on "human needs" appears quite neglected by the Postmodern advocate of "multi-truths". In fact, there is only one method, one "truth", through which human and systemic contradictions — and with them all the anti-human consequences — are abolished; that is to say, Marxist thought and praxis.
Only Marxist thought and praxis is able abolish in the system, in the individuals, all those contradictions that undermine the realisation of natural and objective human needs. This realisation, the "essence" of human beings, is achieved only if our actions are positively dialectical.
Marx's care for the objective essence of human needs is observable in his postulation of the motto of Communism: from each according to his contribution, to each according to his needs.
Human contribution may even vary from person to person, due to various contextual and non-contextual constraints, human categories of needs to be satisfied do not vary. Marx would have been inconsistent in glorifying the "meritocratic" and individualistic approach of Socialism, in which everyone would be remunerated according to his/her work. In fact, man, according to Marx, is a social being and without contradictions, in Communism, would fully express his essence as a social being. I shall return on this later.
In this regard, it is important to emphasise that a multi-philosophical post-modern approach — whereby "we should incorporate in our philosophical understanding the "best" we can get from each philosophy"— is substantially inconsistent one. When these queer intellectuals advice to "take what's  good and leave what's bed" from, say, Christianity, they would probably hint at, say, the Christian qualities of "Humanistic Love". In such case, the fallacy would lie in a linguistic confusion. Humanistic love for Christianity would be "CHRISTIAN humanist love" and not simply (genuine) humanistic love. Such concept would imply humanistic love as historically distorted by the Christian religion which sees, among other things, the repression of certain (genuine/natural) needs that everybody shares (see e.g. sexuality) due to the religious internal beliefs, considered as true, when they are actually a mere conviction of truth. In fact, these beliefs may often conflict with the gratification of our natural needs, from the most-pressing, least-gratifying ones to the least-pressing, most gratifying one (say need for protection, cognition, social belongingness, sexuality, esteem, creativity, self-actualisation etc.). The illogical character of such a postmodern philosophical "multi-approach" reaches its peak when the prerogatives of any idealist doctrine or religion e.g. are implicitly (and dogmatically) considered to be "non-conflicting" and therefore "natural", which is false; it is a mere idealistic assumption. The prerogatives of reactionary and philistine religions that undermine human essence don't bother the pious post-modern so much. Being implies the realisation of needs, the essence of a human being, this is what a simple, trivial. materialistic observation of human behaviour can easily prove. Everybody needs to eat, sleep, drink, esteem, belong,  express his/her sexuality, self-realise in one's activity (from cognition to creativity, work etc.), feel protected etc. etc.
Yet religion and Capitalism e.g. have internal contradictions that strongly conflict with the natural realisation of needs. 
The "multi-philosophical" post-modern approach starts faltering whenever we raise the question of "needs realisation". What I argue is that a moral theory of truth can be only a materialist one that sees the individual drive towards the realisation of his/her needs, first of all, as true, as observable and then sees the aim of realising people's needs as a moral necessity, insofar as the human beings are by nature all (true) social beings, not isolated self-sustaining animals. Hence a moral theory of truth that is not genuine, that is to say, a moral theory of truth that doesn't take into consideration the genuine personal drive towards the maximum qualitative and quantitative realisation of one's needs (all, including the social ones), is not a genuine materialist one, but an idealist one. Hence it is a false theory of moral truth. 
Communism, with his lack of contradictions, aims at providing the economic and political bases for the achievement of the realisation of natural human needs, the entirety of people's needs, through the provision of socially necessary use-values, and therefore at implicitly validating a pro-genuineness theory of truth.

Bourgeois intellectuals, who still cannot grasp dialectics and its implication in human history and political economy — leaving aside morality — don't see Capital as a human contradiction. 
They see the ruling mode of production — namely, Capitalism — as something eternal, value-free, something dropped from the sky as a 'gift' and as 'the best of all possible worlds', not as an historical and transitory produce; like the plant Engels was talking about in his scientific example on the Dialectics of Nature; the very same plant which would give rise to an entity whose resemblance would be that of an “improved” original form.
In broad terms, they don’t see Capitalism as a “plant” in the process of giving rise to something quantitatively and qualitatively superior to commodity production: something which suffered contradictions to abolish them and return to an “improved” original status.
Mainstream economists and philosophers see Capitalism as something 'natural' without any understanding how contradictions like Capital, or Feudal ownership e.g., are by no means 'human', insofar as they objectively don't favour the human essence, the objective nature of human needs: its full realisation in a status in which the human being is at one with him/herself, far from alienation and exploitation of labour.
In overvaluing bourgeois individuality and underestimating the role of societal contradictions, any of their moral evaluation remains confined within the narrow limits of Capitalist apology.
In fact, the common Bourgeois is afraid of Communism because he rightly fears his methods of economic immoral appropriation — namely rent, interest and/or profit — are going to end soon with the abolition of Capital and Wage-Labour; and therefore the rise of Communism.
In doing so, s/he fears his (bourgeois) individuality is going to end since exploitation — according to this historically “modified” queer individual  —is not an anti-human element but an element composing his true 'individuality'. As Marx suggests, such a Bourgeois would regard himself as an individual, only insofar as he's a Bourgeois. Such an individual would not regard himself as a social being.[25]
For instance, Ricardo — unlike most of modern liberal economists — “perceived”, as an honest bourgeois, the conflict between Labour and Capital in commodity production.
His words on the effect of the introduction of machinery on the employment of workers are a clear testimony of this insightful, though limited, “consciousness”.
The great merit of Ricardo, according to Marx, has been of perceiving the connection between the quantitative worth of commodities (their exchange value) and the total labour-time necessary for their production.[26]
For Ricardo, profit is regarded as a uniform rate, which is proportional to the size of the capital advanced (and is still considered as a 'legitimate' deduction from the commodity’s monetary realisation). However, how can Ricardo attempt to analyse the effects of a uniform rate of profit on prices, asks Marx, when nowhere he attempts to define what determines the level of this (uniform, according to Ricardo) rate of profit? [27]
Leaving aside an analysis of his inconsistencies for the sake of clarity, it is important to point out that modern bourgeois economics hasn’t even reached the witty conclusions of Mr Ricardo. Modern economics can’t even see ‘antithetical interests’ in Capitalism. By not grasping the relevance of the concept of opposite/contradiction, as intended by Engels’ concept of Dialectics — it even ends up neglecting its own dynamics.
In fact, nowadays e.g. Industrial Capital has to pay the services of financial capital so as to boost investment — and therefore survive within competition — while our mode of production is pervaded by the growing sharpening of societal contradictions; not only those of Capital and Wage-Labour or those of Exchange-Value and Use-value, but also those of “Industrial Capital” and “Financial Capital”; whose relative interests clash with each other.
___________
ENDNOTES:

[22] Let us take a grain of barley. Billions of such grains of barley are milled, boiled and brewed and then consumed. But if such a grain of barley meets with conditions which are normal for it, if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture it undergoes a specific change, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain. But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten-, twenty- or thirtyfold. Species of grain change extremely slowly, and so the barley of today is almost the same as it-was a century ago. But if we take a plastic ornamental plant, for example a dahlia or an orchid, and treat the seed and the plant which grows from it according to the gardener's art, we get as a result of this negation of the negation not only more seeds, but also qualitatively improved seeds, which produce more beautiful flowers, and each repetition of this process, each fresh negation of the negation, enhances this process of perfection.
[Friedrich Engels — Anti-Duhring, XIII.
Dialectics. Negation of the negation]

[23] Karl Marx — Economic and philosophical manuscripts, Private property and Communism

[24] Ibid.. Estranged labour.

About the concept of “species-being” Marx, in the same chapter, says:

For in the first place labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man only as a means for the satisfaction of a need, the need to preserve physical existence. But productive life is species-life. It is life-producing life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, resides in the nature of its life activity, and free conscious activity constitutes the species-character of man. Life appears only as a means of life.  The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being. Or, rather, he is a conscious being -- i.e., his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means for his existence.

[25]When the narrow-minded bourgeois says to the communists: by abolishing property, i.e., my existence as a capitalist, as a landed proprietor, as a factory-owner, and your existence as workers, you abolish my individuality and your own; by making it impossible for me to exploit you, the workers, to rake in my profit, interest or rent, you make it impossible for me to exist as an individual. — When, therefore, the bourgeois tells the communists: by abolishing my existence as a bourgeois, you abolish my existence as an individual; when thus he identifies himself as a bourgeois with himself as an individual, one must, at least, recognise his frankness and shamelessness. For the bourgeois it is actually the case, he believes himself to be an individual only insofar as he is a bourgeois
[Karl Marx — The German Ideology, Individuality]

[26] [Anwar Shaikh — “Marx’s Theory of Value and the Transformation problem” from the “Hidden Meaning of Things” page 117.]

[27] Ibid. page 117

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