Diadelics (They/Them) and Postliterate (He/Him) August 3rd, 2022
“Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.” — Karl Marx, The German Ideology
I had troubles first starting something as openly ambitious in the context of my time on Medium. But, the more I thought about it, the more ideas I had and the much more clear things became for me. My good friend, who has written our conceptualization of communism, has put into good words the system which I love and therefore it is through the first parts of this essay that I suggest to the reader some reasons to take such a system, or more accurately, such an inevitable stage of human history, seriously.
Karl Marx is not an idol of mine by any means. But in writing this I don't thereby revoke any dedication to the de-liberalization of his life’s work. Marx is someone who has written so much and has given so much expression the ideas which I base my current understanding of the world on and I hope that through this I can help one understand his importance.
Cremating the old beat-up body of Orthodoxy in our current movement is to say that, on a particular level, your way of thinking is synonymous with that of a liberal. Constant preservation, dedication, whatever you may call it, of clearly old and outdated systems is at best just purely ideological. We have thus seen since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even before then in ’68, that there is a remarkable change needed in our praxis and understanding of Marx. Think of this not as a call to action, however, for I see this essay as a letter of love to the communist left and the proletariat as the vanguard for its own abolition.
It has been previously stated that there have been brutal attacks against Marxism from the trials of history. To blatantly ignore the current state of Marxism, to deny the material conditions of capitalism, to ignore the blatant way that our analysis has been attacked and brutalized into a state of liberal nonsense is to liberalize Marxism by your own two hands. As Lenin says in “The State and Revolution,”
“During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”
At the time, he was referring to the way in which so-called Marxists distort the Marxist view of the state and revolution, however today we must fight against those who rob Marx of his most revolutionary characteristic — his flexibility. Because through robbing Marxism of it’s ability to evolve, you are thereby creating a transcendental and crude Marxism — a Marxism never to be based on materialist analysis.
This essay, written by Postliterate and I, is not to say that we have the full answer for you. Because we both, as Marxists, can even disagree with each other. However we simply want to give to you the revolutionary capacity for development which the communist movement needs so direly.
I want to do this by understanding the philosophical roots of Marx, the Hegelian conception of the spirit overcoming itself, then after that explaining the way in which Marx “puts Hegel back on his feet,” and lastly I will allow Postliterate to explain to you a radical re-reading of Marx which surely has the answer to some of our movement’s current problems. Problems, which if not resolved, will kill any of our current hope for the world wide revolutionary movements.
Hegel’s Conception of History
“History is the process whereby the spirit discovers itself and its own concept”
— G.W.F Hegel
Once we know what we are, humans, there seems to be a question that always sparks discussion amongst philosophers — what is it that we exist for? I mean, anyone can tell themselves what the meaning of their own life is, but what is the meaning of us. What is it that we, as a society, seek to do — what are we meant to accomplish. That is the question that burns into the brain of human organization. Because once we figure out what our goal is, we can consciously work towards achieving our goal.
Progress is seen a lot of the time to be something rather abstract and sometimes even arbitrary, but it is something that we all speak about in our day to day lives. When we speak of progress we usually mean it in a comparative sense, like when you have an essay due in class and a teacher may ask if you are making any progress. Progress in which regards? What does it mean to make progress to begin with. The obvious answer is progress towards something in particular — maybe progress towards completion.
However when we talk about historical progress, it’s spoken about in a way that is completely contradictory to what the common use of progress is. But what would happen if we put this idea back on its feet. What if we put human progress in a way that is towards a point — an end. To where it progresses towards a state of full development rather than progresses against a state of barbarism. I say this because when we have the idea that there may be a point of history — of humanity — it gives us a new context in which we can view change of epochs in history. For example, we in America generally see our state as a progression past the monarchical ideology of our past system. Instead of viewing monarchy as a step backwards, towards primitivism, we can now see it in the context of being a step backwards away from freedom. And from this, we now see the justifications for the royal family — namely that of social conservatism — to be counter to the purpose of humanity itself. Something to be overcome. (There may not be any appearance of difference between these two conceptualizations, but if we see conservatism as a step towards primitivism there still lays the argument of what that is even a bad thing, whereas if you are directly contradicting the innate purpose of humanity you are therefore against humanity itself)
If you were to ask Hegel, he would have told you that we have progressed our collective conscious in a way that leads us to being more free than we were before. Our collective spirit, our Geist, is one that functions on ideas — rationality, enlightenment as was appropriate at the time of Hegel — and therefore appropriately progresses based on how our ideas as a society progress and overcome themselves. Avoiding the terms “anti-thesis,” and “synthesis,” which were put into his mouth, Hegel saw societies to have a main thesis which was to be overcome by contradictions and therefore creating a new thesis. With Hegel seeing the state as a proper representation of the thoughts of a society at the time, the structure of government is a representation of the Geist of society.
So does progression happen forever? Obviously it can’t because how can you get more enlightened than full enlightenment — full freedom and rationality of our world around us. When, then, does history end in the Hegelian view? Well as Michael Sugrue says in his lecture “Hegel’s Philosophy of History”:
“History ends when we finally reconcile ourselves with the divine mind — when we finally understand what we are, when we finally come to the culmination of the development of freedom and rationality and it finally happens when humans beings as a species are conscious of their own (potential)”
Hegel is known for his idealism, but this does not necessarily mean that he rejects materialism. For instance, he attributes great historical progress to the production and distribution of gunpowder in Europe. What does make him distinctly idealist, though, is that he believes progression to be stages of consciousness. Consciousness, rationality, etc., is at the forefront. It is to be developed constantly and that itself is the process by which history functions.
So what does the end of history look like for Hegel? Well, as we previously established, not only does he claim the government is a fair representation of a stage of development towards the absolute, he also lived and worked during the enlightenment period. So the true balance of freedom and rationality at the time was seen to be the Bourgeois-Democratic state. Yes, Hegel loved capitalism, and he did love so-called democracy. Which is why he saw the French Revolution as the change to end all change. History ended with the Geist realizing itself and only then do we even understand all of history fully, as W.H Walsh says:
“To accomplish this task the philosopher must take the results of empirical history as data, but it will not suffice for him merely to reproduce them. He must try to illuminate history by bringing his knowledge of the Idea, the formal articulation of reason, to bear upon it, striving, in a phrase Hegel uses elsewhere, to elevate empirical contents to the rank of necessary truth.”
History, then, is the progression towards enlightenment. The Enlightenment.
Marx: The Maverick of Time
“The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” — Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
As the subtitle suggests, Marx was revolutionary for philosophy in the sense that he had rejected all previous metaphysics and roots them deeply into real production. He was as radically anti-Hegelian as one could be despite himself getting all of his philosophy from him. He adopts Hegel’s dialectic, motion through self-overcoming, and strips all hitherto metaphysics of its idealism, including other forms of materialism. As he says:
“The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism — which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.” — Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”
In classical dialectician style, Marx therefore finds a way to synthesize the Hegelian Dialectic with the shoddy interpretations of materialism of old. But how does he do that? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains a kind of synthesis between both tendencies by saying:
“Marx combines the insights of both traditions to propose a view in which human beings do indeed create — or at least transform — the world they find themselves in, but this transformation happens not in thought but through actual material activity; not through the imposition of sublime concepts but through the sweat of their brow, with picks and shovels.”
This exact process of man taking material and changing the world by producing more material is progressive, it is moving the world towards a state. This production by man isn’t just an individual endeavor, though, as Ernest Mandel explains in “An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory,”
Man works, but generally not by himself; most often he is part of a collective group having a more or less organic structure. His labor is a direct transformation of material things.
This organized structure of production is what is called a mode of production, with the state of development regarding the productive forces (the unity of labor and the means of labor) and the relations of production being it’s main defining features. And you can see the progression of these modes of production in the lens of the dialectical change between quantity and quality. Once the productive forces reach their max capacity and can’t be further developed, there is a contradiction to the relations of production and hence a nodal change in the quality, or the relations, hence we now see a new mode of production emerging out of the revolutionary change.
Another key difference in Marx, a difference which deviates from Hegel in a very important way, is the relationship between cultural and material aspects of a society/economic system. The material base of a society, the material base, is said by Marx to be fundamental when you analyze progress in a society. However, when you look into culture as well, you can see the way in which it has a direct link to the material base of a society.
In being heavily influenced by political economy and focused on material production, Marx used this model in order to properly represent the ways in which our political and economic lives are still incredibly intertwined, with the base economy being dominant, shaping the political and cultural lives (to say the least) of the mass of humanity, and then being reproduced through ideology. Hegel, on the contrary, say an opposite effect. One where the consciousness shapes the material conditions and the material conditions reproduce consciousness. Therefore, to Hegel, the state/politics of a society change first and foremost. And to Marx, the opposite, saying:
“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.” — Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
Fukuyama, being famous for his idea on the end of history, puts, in my opinion, the similarity between Marx and Hegel’s historical telos into fine words, saying:
“Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society.”
he continues saying:
This did not mean that the natural cycle of birth, life, and death would end, that important events would no longer happen, or that newspapers reporting them would cease to be published. It meant, rather, that there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.”
Like eluded to earlier, there is contradiction and overcoming that comes with historical progression. And as Fukuyama said earlier, communism is the final stage of human progress for Marxists, but how would communism be the end?
This question posits a necessary explanation of class and class conflict. Modes of production are a unity of productive forces and relations of production, as explained earlier. And, again, a change of modes of production are a quantitative change into qualitative change. Class is a categorization of people based on their relations to the means of production, therefore the relations of production are the ways that classes interact to the ruling class, the class which controls the state and production and represses all other classes. Our society as it stands has many classes but the truly conflicting ones are that of the proletariat (the wage-laborers) and the bourgeoisie (the buyers of labor-power). History has been defined by this change in mode of production, with class conflict being the motor for change. However, unique to our current epoch, the exploited class now has been gifted the privilege of total class conscious should they so discover it. Therefore, the proletariat now has the ability to now end history which is inevitable at the time of their revolution. Once the bourgeoisie is defeated, the class conscious proletariat has no option but to abolish itself
“[Communism] is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man — the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.”
Our problem lies in our previous movements for which no real alternative to capital accumulation is in sight. We still see the extraction of surplus value, we still see the ways in which the workers face excruciating difficulties in their workplaces all around the world, we still see that the producer is separated from their product and that value still dominates our economic lives.
For what reasons have we lost our revolution even in the wake of class consciousness? The answer here is clear, we put too much focus on the emphasis of the proletariat rather than the fight for its survival. The bourgeoisie wants us, as wage workers, to preserve ourselves and therefore its ideology is stained even in the most presumably revolutionary movements. It first came with the reformist wing of the international, then it came in the form of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the crack down on worker spontaneity, and now it is seen to us to take shape in the form of the preservation of the dead weight of value and emphasis on class difference for which we feel the need to drag everywhere in our own movement.
The Riddle Solved: What is Communism?
“Of all the classes that stand face-to-face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.” — Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme
Most socialists who have approached Marx and his economics from the conventional, more “left-Ricardian” view, will state that socialism is the coordination of societal production based on direct, calculated need. This has been the common understanding of socialism for a very long time, and it persisted even in the writings of Marx’s closest friend, Engels, who wrote in Anti-Duhring about socialism that:
“Society will be able to calculate in a simple way how many hours of labour are contained in a steam engine, a bushel of the last crop of wheat, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a specific quality. It could therefore never occur to it to go expressing the quantities of labour put into the products, quantities which it will then know directly and absolutely, in yet a third product, in a measure which, moreover, is only relative, fluctuating and inadequate, though it was formerly unavoidable as an expedient, rather than express them in their natural, adequate and absolute measure: time.”
But there exists a hidden Marx which has only become available to us through the rather recent release into publication of his Grundrisse and his Results of the Immediate Process of Production. This side of Marx was, in fact, often even denied by Marx himself for social reasons — it was a theory of economics too heavy to be popular or accessible by the general public for a long time. There are a rather humorous set of exchanges between Marx and his readers of Capital — his central and most complete analysis of political economy — involving him having to deal with impatient readers. Marx wrote in the preface to the French Edition of Capital:
“…the method of analysis which I have employed, and which had not previously been applied to economic subjects, makes the reading of the first chapters rather arduous, and it is to be feared that the French public, always impatient to come to a conclusion, eager to know the connexion between general principles and the immediate questions that have aroused their passions, may be disheartened because they will be unable to move on at once.”
There is also the instance of Marx’s friend’s wife, referred to as “Mrs. Kugelmann,” being suggested to skip the first part of Capital — on value and money — and with later economists and philosophers, such as Sraffa and Althusser, suggesting the same. Then there are also clear instances of Engels’ own translation of Capital into English consciously omitting passages from the German original out of fear of the difficultly of reading it (which was not out of character, as Engels saw Capital as “the Bible of the working class.”) In general, because of Marx’s revolutionary spirit and love for the working class as the revolutionary subject, he came to accept a more basic, “left-Ricardian” interpretation of his work, even if Marx’s goal was to go beyond Ricardo into uncharted territory.
But the explosion in discussion following the release of the Grundrisse, paired with the lingering revolutionary fervor post-May ’68 in France, gave us a good reminder that Marxism should never become a static idea with one right interpretation. Indeed, if we are to treat Marxism as unquestionable and unchanging, we will have ripped Marxism out of its historical context and placed it in an alienated state in a museum of antiquities. The idea will have died a static death, no longer breathing the chaos that comes with life, frozen in time and devoid of context, antagonism, and meaning.
Value-form theory is the theory which exploded all previous understanding of communism. Through this theory, communism and the revolutionary movement towards its realization, take on a whole other meaning to the more traditional Marxist view.
The critique of the value-form — the form which designates abstracted labor for the production of abstracted commodities — is the central idea of Capital, and possibly of all of Marx’s work. The traditional Marxist view points out that under capitalism, goods are produced for profit and not for direct need, and that therefore labor under capitalism exists for profit and not for direct need. They also point out that, as a commodity, human labor under capitalism is also bought and sold for profit — a task accomplished by the extraction of a surplus value from the laborer (i.e., the laborer produces more than she is paid in order to generate profit for her employer.) They concluded, then, that socialism must be the elimination of this exploitation of human labor and the elimination of commodity production, i.e. production for exchange, which coincides with the elimination of private property, in the economic sense of the term.
But this is not enough. Such a society would still require people to work for a wage to exchange the wage for goods and services. This is a stage of society which Marx called “lower-stage communism” and which Lenin called “socialism.” Marx understood well that such a society would still be “stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” As he wrote in the Critique of the Gotha Programme:
“Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values.”
What would follow would be a “higher-stage communism,” or what Lenin simply called “communism,” which would express the totalizing nature of Marx’s critique of capitalism. It would no longer feature exchange for the fruits of labor, but more importantly, it would not even feature labor as a designated activity (where “labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want.”)
“It is one of the greatest misapprehensions to speak of free, human, social labour, of labour without private property. ‘Labour’ by its very nature is unfree, unhuman, unsocial activity, determined by private property and creating private property. Hence the abolition of private property will become a reality only when it is conceived as the abolition of ‘labour’ (an abolition, which of course, has become possible only as a result of labour itself….”
— Marx, Draft of an Article on Friedrich List’s Book
Marx’s critique of the value-form goes down into the way we conceive of objects and labor, and importantly, the way they are alienated to us in capitalist society. Communism is not merely stateless, classless, and moneyless; in communism, not only do we not work merely to earn our means of subsistence, but we don’t “work” in the traditional sense at all. One of the central mistakes in the philosophy of past socialist experiments was their emphasis on “labor” as the path toward liberation. Using a traditional interpretation of Marx, they conceived of capital as the antithesis to labor, and not, in actuality, the creator of it. They believed that communism was the flourishing of labor and not the end of it.
But the value-form has even more radical implications than this, as it forces us to ask: what is the point of a “lower-stage communism” at all? Such a society would merely reproduce oppressive elements of capitalist society, pushing us in the wrong direction again. It likely remains true that neither socialism nor communism is possible in one country alone, as any country today will have to trade with the global capitalist market. But the idea that, following global upheaval and the abolition of the current state of things, we should first being a project of socialism before communism, is working backwards.
This applies to the romanticization of labor and of the class of laborers — the proletariat. While Marx was right that the abolition of capital cannot come from the class that owns and operates it (the capitalist class), it must also be remembered that simply emphasizing the proletariat is not working towards communism. The proletariat is through and through the descendant of the capitalist value-form. Therefore, the attempt to go beyond the value-form cannot simply be the conversion of society into laborers, nor can it simply be a new ethical consideration of labor. It must be the end of proletariat, the end of labor, and the end of the value-form altogether.
How Would Communism Work?
Such a society is difficult to imagine, as our consciousnesses are largely formed by our current material world. But it is also unhelpful to attempt to deeply conceive of communism in this way and attempt to work towards this conception of it, as a truly liberated society must emerge from a framework of liberated material conditions. It is also true that no major social changes came about with full knowledge of who will take out the trash, build the roads, cook the food, etc., and this is fine. But we are not blind in believing in it, nor are we working in the dark. Rather, we are leaving the door open so that real freedom can pass through, thus going beyond a simple rigid (and subsequently authoritarian) implementation of a particular political plan.
Communism would be the end of “commodity fetishism,” or the domination of the value-form over society, i.e., the end of the domination of the inhuman body of capital, of profit, over man. We would reclaim a sense of identity not based in exploitative commodity relations, but based in real human relations. First and foremost would be the sensuous character of all things and their creators, and their direct appreciation by all. Void of abstractions of labor and void of exchange-values, objects would no longer be calculated in terms of the cold, impersonal hand of profit, but instead not calculated at all. The free movement of genuine human interest would drive its movement. Certain objects would no longer be distinguished as commodities which must be paid for, nor will some work be distinguished as “labor” which must be paid for. The idea of the “economy” would no longer be separable from society. That which is needed will be free to be used, the available property of all,
“…[making] individual property a truth by transforming the means of production, land, and capital, now chiefly the means of enslaving and exploiting labor, into mere instruments of free and associated labor.”
— Marx, Civil War in France
Using the logic of “communization,” of the direct overcoming of the value-form in all aspects of life, the process of transtition into communism is conceived as one continual revolution to the end of the value-form; it does not stop to rest at a “lower-stage communism.” A global society cannot achieve this in its entirety all at once, but instead may open in places where the crippling nature of capital is most strong — or even in places where it is weakest. In strikes, riots, and insurrections, the logic of capital is undermined and has its brutally authoritarian nature revealed (a nature which is dutifully kept invisible in daily life.) In these places it is revealed what capitalism — a society of commodity abundance — really entails: armed men employed by the thousands to jail or even kill those who refuse the unnatural world of the value-form. But wherever humanity can make and take, create and use freely, the spirit of communization will flourish.
But how would communism really function? We have some ideas. Production and consumption would operate in a communist society as social activities, i.e., as work which is not at all separable from our hobbies, social interactions, or maybe even chores at times. Each person would have the freedom to bring their best, unique knowledge to society by engaging in what they enjoy most. Education to sharpen such skills would be free, and a basic standard of living would be maintained whether one engaged in their interests or decided to relax. Such a state of affairs would allow real human choice, untrammeled by the pressing needs of her subsistence. The division of labor would be abolished, allowing people to, as Marx famously said in German Ideology:
“…do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as [they] have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”
Production would be spontaneous unity, the same spontaneity that is found in social activity, in which the health of the group is determined simply by how much anyone wants to contribute. Voluntary and temporary, these spontaneous unions would produce as much or as little as they please, and their fruits would be the property of all. Those most in need of a given product, particularly in the case of scarce products, could be the first to receive them. Imagine a database (or even a phone app) of these producers, with consumers asking for products from the producers as they need it — no barrier of entry, and no denial as long as the product is in stock. Similarly, consumers could request products that they want or need, and those with the ability to could produce them.
This does not mean society would simply be “first come, first serve,” for two reasons. (1) The forces of production that would flourish under communism would create the possibility for the end of scarcity as we know it in many places. No longer caught in the strangle-hold of the profit motive, technological capabilities could be innovated at an even more impressive rate than they are now, and all this on top of the innovation precipitated by capitalism prior. For all of society’s basic necessities — food, water, clothing, shelter, and healthcare — as well as many non-essential products, there would be more than enough for all. (2) The people of a communist society would not be the same as this one; a satisfied people, free from class antagonisms, could truly reconcile the individual/collective relationship. Today glimpses of this can be seen in volunteer work, in care for relatives, and in mutual aid distribution. The desire to helplessly consume, take and not give, and accumulate in egotistical interest would wither away as man conquers his place over objects, instead of being dominated by them in commodity fetishism. It would truly be the “association of free and equal producers and consumers,” as Engels put it.
What kind of humans would we find in a society freed from the strict division of labor under capital, which has them working the most menial task over and over for as long as possible for as little pay as possible? What kind of people would emerge in a world which appreciates their contributions personally and not abstractly through exchange, and which allows them to be the painter, the thinker, the person with big ideas, that they could never be under the precariousness of capital? What would things really look like when what used to be a society controlled by capital, an immaterial force controlling material objects above our heads, is replaced with real human interaction? What would we look like in a society freed from the mental constraints, the violent propaganda of ideology? As Oscar Wilde puts it in The Soul of Man Under Socialism:
“It will be a marvellous thing — the true personality of man — when we see it.”
Are these not brutally utopian ends? In truth, they are, but it may be precisely in their utopianism that they are realistic in actuality. What this means is that it is knowledge of the constrictive nature of our imagination under current conditions and acceptance of the wild possibilities outside of current conditions which we cannot fully grasp for now, that is realistic.
Praxis Makes Perfect.
(p.s, please check out Postliterate, not only did he write half of this essay, he is just super fun to talk to, to work with, and to read)