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The Production of „Rational Reality”and the „Systemic Coercion”*


 Jerzy Kmita

The Production of „Rational Reality”and the „Systemic Coercion”*

My intention here is to formulate as concisely as possible my thoughts about the question of contemporariness of some of Marx’s ideas rather than, more generally, of Marxism, as the latter question is so broad and entangled in so heterogeneous problems that even if I made use of a purely telegraphic stylis-tics, I would not be able to refer to it on a couple of pages. Incidentally, it is already the very number of extraordinary thinkers jointly avowing Marxism that is symptomatic of the intellectual importance of the works of the author of The Capital, regardless of the fact that they radically differ from one another (let us only refer the reader here to several exemplary names: Kautsky, Lukács, Gramsci, Korsch, Althusser, Jameson...). The exclusive focus on Marx’s „own” ideas does not, obviously, overcome analogous difficulties; the ideas themselves are numerous, they can be interpreted in a multitude of ways – e.g. with respect to the evolution of perspective from which they were formulated, and they often seem to be contradictory. In that case, though, it is more natural to make use of the privilege of selection: exposing only some of them as well as only some of their interpretations. That privilege, I suppose, has been willingly evoked by Marx’s continuators. The fact in question would account to a considerable degree for striking divergencies in their views.

I shall attempt to outline the issue of contemporariness of Marx’s way of thinking about social world which, incidentally, happens to be seen (not without some reasons) as a generator of the „whole world”. In doing so, I shall take into account two aspects of that thinking. One would refer to its either political or worldview implications, the other would address implications pertaining to humanistic studies. I am singling out here the two aspects in ques-tion in spite of the fact that I basically accord to the view, seriously at least in-spired by Marx himself, that political programmes, worldviews and humanistic studies form wholes that are in a sense inseparable. Nevertheless, I think that poststructuralism that today promotes energetically that inseparability conceives of it in a too strong manner. Although political programmes, worldviews or domains of humanistic knowledge that practically function in social world are linked with one another precisely by means of that functioning owing to which they make up cultures (in a socio-regulative sense) of „modern” com-munities, the type of their functions, their origin, structure and contents do not overlap.

1. The Worldview and political implications of Marx’s ideas

I see the aforementioned implications as norms that determine values-aims and directives that determine actions sufficient to and/or necessary for the reali-zation of these aims, norms and directives that can be derived from the ideas in question – potentially present in the sphere of culture of this or that community.

Norms and directives from the domain of a worldview, implied by Marx’s ideas in the sense shown above, cannot be clearly distinguished from norms and directives of a political programme implied by them. It was the permanent background of numerous controversies among Marxists. Perhaps the most debated point was whether Marxism comprises any worldview at all – at least in a sense of the term in which it would determine noninstrumental superior (Parson’s „ultimate”) values. A possible consent to negative solving of that problem gave rise as a rule to another controversy taking place around the question: „Does the Marxist political programme need a supplement in the form of a worldview that fits properly?”. For instance, the so-called Austro-Marxists (1) considered it necessary to add to that programme an ethics that would sanction it (as the most „contemporary” section of a worldview), namely Kant’s ethics, while „historicists” denied that need. „Historicism” occurred in that context in two different forms: either as (2) belief in an inevi¬table arrival of socialism due to the „iron laws of historical development”, which can therefore neither be helped nor disturbed by any worldview, or (3) – the postulate prescribing to act under present historical circumstances in such a way that socialism could be introduced effectively (under those circumstances).

As a matter of fact, one can derive from Marx’s (especially later) writings crossing sets of ideas each of which favours one of the positions (1)–(3). What is repeated within these positions is that undoubtedly Marxian idea that socialism as an aim that patronizes a political programme established in this or that way designates at any rate an unconstrained association of free men.But according to the position (1), such a value-aim still has to be sanctioned with an appropriate worldview (proper ethics); according to the positions (1) and (2), the aim in question can still be attained if only a political programme based on „laws of historical development” is assumed; finally, within the posi-tion (3) the question of „laws” has never been clear – it has always comprised a wide amplitude of views: from the belief that „laws” taken into account by the position (2) ought to be supplemented with „local and historical laws” to the belief that each socio-political change can be attained by means of its com-plex „idiosyncratic causes”. Let us note here that the well-known revolutionary optimism of the position (3), that is to say, its unshakable hope that it is enough to revolutionarily destroy capitalism for socialism to appear spontaneously from its ruins is especially amazing. For it cannot be even rationalized by speculations on the subject of „historical laws”.

It is quite commonly believed that more than seventy years of the history of „real socialism” within a framework of which (potential) political implica-tions of Marx’s ideas were actualized revealed their complete groundlessness, and discredited them thoroughly, because practically. On my part, I share the conviction that the opinion in question should first of all be made more pre-cise. Which of Marx’s ideas were submitted to a test by the reality of commu-nist countries? It so happened that an exhaustive answer to the above question should, at any rate, state the following: what is at stake here is those ideas that assumed their shape within an interpretation characteristic of the position (3), rather of its „idiosyncratic” version, the interpretation that officially occurred in the form of a political programme formulated in categories of the position (2), though. The leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in principle presented its outbreak and victory as a „historical necessity” performed according to „histori-cal laws” while what in fact happened was a protracted coup d’état Bolsheviks, who were quickly gaining political domination; a coup d’état led by them in the spirit of an „idiosyncratic” version of position (3) (benefiting from the occurrence of the following events: (a) those taking place as a result of a long war, incompetently and unsuccessfully carried out, (b) great frustra-tion of the masses of peasants who desired peace and landowners’ land).

Undoubtedly, Lukács’ and especially’s Gramsci’s visions of that revolution as a „revolution against The Capital”, revealed incomparably more accurately its character than did a political programme of realization of a „historical neccessity” officially added to it. As is well-known, the programme was offi-cially in force almost until the end of the era of „real socialism”; all strategic decisions of beaurocratic Party apparatus, its dictatorial headquarters which in its highest stage was replaced by the person of Stalin, were implemented as strongly appealing to imagination „decisions of historical reason”.

It is not the place to discuss the well-known mass crimes committed as part of the tragedy performed under the title of „realizing a historical necessity”, nor to discuss their murkily grotesque characteristics (unprecedented terror as a means to coerce into behaviour supposed to testify to the „historically neces-sary” forming of an „unconstrained association of free men”). Let me confine myself to outlining the sphere of Marx’s thinking which today seems to be merely a subject of considerations pertaining exclusively to the past: that is, the conception of the „laws of social development”, seen as following the example of laws of natural sciences – including their being suitable for a „techno-logically” efficient, practical and political application in the construction of a socialist system. The presence of the above-mentioned conception, which I would term scientistic historicism, in Marx’s works seems to be as doubtless as the co¬existence with it (or next to it) of ideas that quite clearly support the „idiosyncratic” version of the position (3), which obviously question scien-tistic historicism. The latter has for quite a long time seemed to those Marxists who postulate the „revolution against The Capital” to be some uncomprehensi-ble error of a great thinker, magnified and, at the same time, sanctified by En-gels. At this point I would add that if scientistic historicism is an error, which is very difficult to deny today, then it has to be ascribed not only to Marx, but also to the mainstream of the Enlightenment thought which he continued and which called for the reconstruction of the world order in the direction of and using methods suggested by „(historical) reason”. Thus, if one says that it is already in Marx that one can perceive premises of the crimes of Stalinism, I want to ask the following: why not in the watchword sapere aude itself?

The value-aim in the form of an unconstrained association of free men loses its concrete character if it is taken out of the context of a political pro-gramme that built mass actions around that centre on the grounds of scientistic historicism. Furthermore: after the withdrawal of these „grounds”, it is trans-formed in an ideal or a Utopia no longer capable of performing directly the function of a point of arrival of any political programme. It is nevertheless still contemporary as a worldview value. The most significant model of such a metamorphosis was revealed in an intellectual field formed by the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. The Utopia of an unconstrained association of free men is here a central point of a specific philosophy or specific worldview of freedom. What is at stake here is not some „posthumous life” of a former political aim of the socialist movement. The Utopia opens up a perspective of a critical description of present social reality. It is not a description that serves a positivistically seen stating/affirming of what „is”, an „apologetic” one, but a description that implicitly postulates transformations drawing nearer in this or that respect to a Utopia – which is unattainable, even if it assumes a relatively moderate form of the civil society in the sense adopted by Haber-mas, the most outstanding heir of the critical theory today. It is only against such background that there can appear political programmes in a strict sense of the term – as programmes supposed to serve active realization of such and such „package of changes”.

The critical theory, its Habermasian transformation, and even some post-modern references to it – these are manifestations of the present worldview and political contemporariness of Marx’s ideas interpreted in a new way. One can find a particularly independent and exuberant family of vital interpreta-tions of those ideas today in an intellectual range of French poststructuralism that tells its postmodern, not „playful” at all but rather gloomy (Foucault), sto-ries about social violence exerted on human individuals. Violence, furthermore, exerted in „modern” times with the help of especially perverse means, e.g. through a status acquired seemingly freely (Bourdieu) or (Foucault again) through „subjection”.

2. The presence of Marx’s ideas in the contemporary humanities and in con¬temporary thinking about the humanities

The worldview of freedom that revives such aforementioned intellectual trends of the present as the critical theory in Horkheimer-Adorno’s version (but also in that of Fromm and Marcuse), the Habermasian transformation of that theory and, finally, a poststructuralist accusation of „modernity” – is a present-day legacy of those Marx’s ideas from which the contents of scientistic historicism were taken away. Thus, these ideas live in the worldview in question, they are totally contemporary in various embodiments of it associated with the above trends. They are, at the same time, centres of cristallization of the ways of thinking of the academic humanities that are significant and influential today. In these ways the legacy of Marx’s ideas is so vital that they even reconstitute a somehow originary contradiction that seems to belong to them. Namely, they are focused around two poles: (A) the humanities that see freedom as rela-tive to the „authentic” human subjectivity and see its central task in the defence of that freedom of the „authentic” subject; (B) the humanities that see freedom negatively – as a field of permanent threat from social systems that objectively form individuals (also or especially as subjects in the sense (A)), as well as the humanities devoted to the „deconstruction” of those systems.

The opposition between the humanities (A) and the humanities (B) corre-sponds to Marx’s duality in conceiving of man: (a) man as a subject freely asso-ciating with others in order to build and maintain a „rational social system” that guarantees „authentically” subjective freedom to all of them; (b) man as an object dependent on a „system” imposed on him (historical materialism). The solution to that duality might occur as a final result of the application of mythical „laws of social development” (the offspring of Hegelianism hybridized with the Enlightenment idea of the natural law) that – recognized and used by man – will allow him to become an „authentic” subject, a member of freely associated community. The rejection of scientistic historicism leaves the duality discussed in its point of departure and makes it an open internal con-tradiction. In such a case, the humanities (A) result from the subjective-freedom option (which takes the side of the so-called modernity); the humani-ties (B) represented by poststructuralism result from the negative-freedom („postmodern”) option: it ends up with searching for dependence of individuals upon the „system” as well as with desperate attempts to „deconstruct” it.

It is well-known that the concept of „system” comes from structuralism, which attempted to replace the obsolete conception of causal laws of historical development precisely with the category of „systemic dependencies” in order to maintain in that way the possibility of scientistic reflection in the humanities. Poststructuralism, obviously, is as remote as it can be from such an aim that „apologetically” protects the status quo of social reality; „system” or „systemic dependencies” are specific fictions which nevertheless enter human world owing to the necessity to rule man and his world by means of knowledge. Social violence is primary, and knowledge, hence also the fiction of the „system”, is its instrument.

The debate between supporters of the humanities (A) and the humanities (B) is brought into the foreground of the contemporary intellectual scene. In order to contribute something of „my own” to the subject, I would have to introduce an extended analytical apparatus. This is not the intention of the present text. My intention is consistently guided by the very observation that the contemporary foreground intellectual debate has its roots in the dialectic of Karl Marx’s thought.

Translated by Marek Kwiek

* Tekst niniejszy, pierwotnie opublikowany w tomie Marx’s Theories Today pod redakcją Ryszarda Panasiuka i Leszka Nowaka („Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities” 1998, vol. 60, s. 405–410, Rodopi, Amsterdam), dedykuję obecnie Wacławowi Mejbaumowi. Zaproponowany przez niego „materializm subiektywny” uważam za jedno z ciekawszych rozwinięć filozofii marksowskiej. Zob. W. Mejbaum (1990), Epistemologiczna problematyka marksizmu. Próba rekonstrukcji, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego, Rozprawy i Studia, tom (CXXXIX) 65, Szczecin; W. Mejbaum (2002), Materializm subiektywny. Zarys epistemologii marksistowskiej, Oficyna Wydawnicza Atut, Wrocław.


Cytat Polityka musi stać się naszą religią. LUDWIG FEUERBACH


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