So there’s this Marx quote from the Communist Manifesto, “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
And there’s this other Marx quote from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, more extended,
The individual is the social being. His manifestations of life – even if they may not appear in the direct form of communalmanifestations of life carried out in association with others – are therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not different, however much – and this is inevitable – the mode of existence of the individual is a more particular or more general mode of the life of the species, or the life of the species is a more particular or more general individual life.
In his consciousness of species man confirms his real social life and simply repeats his real existence in thought, just as conversely the being of the species confirms itself in species consciousness and exists for itself in its generality as a thinking being.
Man, much as he may therefore be a particular individual (and it is precisely his particularity which makes him an individual, and a real individual social being), is just as much the totality – the ideal totality – the subjective existence of imagined and experienced society for itself; just as he exists also in the real world both as awareness and real enjoyment of social existence, and as a totality of human manifestation of life.
That’s all a lovelier, more thorough way of saying “we’re all interconnected,” and “each one of us is a stand-in for all of us,” also taking a detour through the interesting idea that because consciousness has infinite potential, each individual consciousness encompasses everything (including all humanity) and is therefore social in nature (as well as, I suppose, infinite).
The utopian scenario which we all want to reach is the situation described in the first line. But unlike the explorations in the Manuscripts, Marx was not giving some sociological description of how everything is interconnected in the present. The full quote is, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
Meaning that this is a scenario we have not reached yet.
So there is the idea of substantiation-of-self through substantiation-of-other. Simply, what’s good for any of us is good for all of us, and what’s good for all of us is good for any of us. It’s a situation of pure mutual-reinforcement. Strength or wellbeing of one individual emanates out to others, and cycles back and returns in kind.
What divides the hippies from the Bolshevik soldiers is some people make the mistake of believing the mutual-reinforcement scenario is automatically true already. They think it is true in any situation. What they don’t realize is how much they have in common with free-market ideology: what’s good for business must be good for everyone. No – charity is nice but “gift economics” will not cause some kind of spiral of positive feedback loop until everyone holds hands and sings Kumba Ya.
Maybe positive vibes can pass from person to person, but individual bank accounts have firmer boundaries. We have to change the material situation of ownership. We have to seize the great stockpiles of wealth, and employees must take ownership and control of the workplace. Only after being guaranteed a fair stake in society can people truly act as if they have a place at the table. Then harmony can begin. (And yes, as Babeuf said, “The organization of real equality will not at first please everyone.”)
We need to develop what Gramsci called a “spirit of scission.” This means an ability to discern friend from foe, and to form a collective revolutionary identity which also forms its identity out of distinction from, even antagonism against the existing order of things, the wealthy, the interlocking set of institutions which are referred to in shorthand as “the system,” and certain facets of “respectability.”
So against the dream state we hope for, of substantiation-of-self through substantiation-of-other, we currently suffer the opposite: an exploitative system involving substantiation-of-self through degradation-of-other, with possibilities of class struggle involving the same exact thing.
Our situations are hard-wired for standoff. This is zero/sum. There can be no compromise, no synthesis. We are incompatible, it is irreconcilable. Only one can win.
Actually, it’s worse than that.
What is this mutual antagonism wasn’t just about workers vs. bosses, but All against All? What if you knew that, opposed it in principle — but had to participate in it anyway?
You may have noticed that capitalism is competitive (and other understatements). Often people think in terms of competing businesses, but also individual employees working hard to…apparently be rewarded for it? How? Through a raise? Yeah, those happen anymore. How about a promotion? Well, if the promotion isn’t already handed to someone’s cousin or the likewise through the good old boy’s network, it will probably go to the person with the best management skills, which does not necessarily mean the hardest worker.
So in precisely which settings hard work is actually rewarded, I couldn’t tell you, but that doesn’t have to be the definition of “competitive.” Competition only means opposing sides, not that the conflict is fair, nor that it produces any value whatsoever. It could mean those things, but it could also mean just a turf war.
Well, this is what we all live in. We all live in a competition over clients and customers, or over market share, or for most of us, over jobs – and that often becomes the most ugly, racial sort of competition. This is besides the even more immediate, day-to-day forms of competition like traffic.
So this situation of substantiation-of-self through degradation-of-other, it’s not just about class struggle. It’s everyday life for every inhabitant of capitalism. Most socialists could stomach it if it was simply Us vs the Rich Bastards. They are bastards! We can take them down and not feel bad. We can even do it humanely; all we want is their money, not their lives.
But the amount of vicious career focus which is required to survive in capitalism without experiencing an overabundance of suffering is pretty tremendous. We leftist kids who just sort of went to college, studied the humanities, didn’t have any thought of what to do job-wise, figured we’d leave reality for after graduation – reality is here. And that silly shit just won’t cut it anymore.
Sell out. Sell out hard.
Many socialist groups, being inspired by Marxist materialism, claim to avoid “moralism,” or relying on guilt and obligation to motivate people to do things. They say that material self-interest will be the driving force which motivates working people to revolt, and to participate in the intermediate stages between now and revolt, like organization. Well, this is what they say. If socialist organizing was really about material self-interest, I think I should have gotten paid for it by now. I suppose it could be construed as a very long-term sort of material self-interest. But in practice many organizers rely hard on moralism. “It’s the right thing to do.”
But material self-interest is something I do believe in.
What if you embraced the capitalist-competitive mindset in your personal life, while retaining socialist political goals? Really this would not be too different from existing socialist groups who compete like firms over potential recruits. But this may be the key, the synthesis, the mastery over Light and Dark.
What does liberation mean within capitalism?
Not much. It is hardly possible at all.
And yet, I find that the more I commit to my own individual liberation – whether it be with and through others, or over and at the expense of others – the more I find myself with the willpower to do all sorts of things, including the namby-pamby drum circle socialism stuff. (Fucking drum circles.)
Let’s not go overboard though – there are degrees of freedom. Someone who gets vacation time is more free than someone who doesn’t, perhaps. Someone with more resources has greater freedom to influence the direction of society (freedom and power are very interconnected). And someone who gets paid a decent salary is definitely much, much more free than someone who has to worry about making even small purchases, speaking from experience. Like Bill Hicks said, if you think you’re free, try going somewhere without money.
The horrifying thing is that a great many radicals probably are intelligent enough to figure out how to game the system to the point of making a decent amount of money. They don’t want to admit this because it would confuse their notion that all people’s economic problems are the system’s fault. That’s generally true, to be sure. But the truth is, a lot of these kids could definitely be doing way better if they were studying marketable skills instead of consuming the never-ending stream of Leftist reading obligations so they can be super-impressive to their comrades.
The world is no longer kill or be killed, but it is enslave or be enslaved. Anyone who believes in a middle doesn’t know how “thinking” works.
Enslave or be enslaved. There is no right choice.
You can be paralyzed by this, as I was for years, trapped as I was under the Christianizing spell of socialist moralism. You can tell yourself that your continued suffering accomplishes something – that it “keeps you close to the class” or something, as if more than .5% of the population have an opportunity to use their workplace as an organizing space.
You can tell yourself that remaining a slave makes you morally clean.
And no, this isn’t just about “starting a business” or some idiotic shit. If you know how to do that, good for you. But what if you ended up in management? Or worse – what if you were the focused type of person whom someone would even consider for that role? Worse still – what if you aggressively jumped from job to job, seeking greater and greater compensation? What if you actually used all your knowledge of Marxist economics to invest? What if these activities actually consumed a fraction of your life? What if you exercised ambition? Or even greed?
Ultimately the choice is still thus: remain a slave, morally clean but handing your labor to someone else who doesn’t deserve it, or have slaves hand their labor to you. Any situation in capitalism in which you are not an exploiter probably means you are essentially still a glorified employee (slave).
You may think that to cross that line in practice would be crossing a line in your heart. Do not fool yourself. There are no more lines to cross because we’ve already crossed them all. We are as morally malleable as clay. We have made compromise after compromise from our very birth. Our daily existence requires compliance when we should be bursting, indifference when we should condemn, silence when we should scream. Surprise: the title of the show “The Walking Dead” isn’t about the zombies, it’s about the people. Heed the words of Chow.
Only those with the strong individual will of a selfish person shall be self-reliant enough contribute to any collective efforts effectively, and especially to self-originate an organic, objective assessment of where things are going and what is to be done, instead of just parroting what they’ve been told to think while the whole contraption may very well be grinding to a standstill.
But ultimately my beliefs are beyond justice. No apologies and no excuses. I am what I am.
“Only those hardened by this ineluctable truth can survive…only those of you who are willing to turn upon one another and profit by the misfortune of others.”…
“I have been sent to overturn your most cherished beliefs in a bright future, and to help you wage war on good intentions and the deception of pure ideas; to teach you how to accept the fact that even in the midst of this seemingly blessed era, this wink of the eye in sentient history, our baser instincts hold sway over us.”
“What this reordered galaxy will need is beings who are fearless to be arrogant, self-serving, and driven to survive at all costs. Here, under my guidance, you will learn to let go of your old selves and find the strength to recast yourself…through actions you might never have believed yourselves possible of performing.”
“Look, each of you, to the ones to your left and right, and to those in front and behind…and think of them as stepping-stones to your eventual escalation.”
From James Luceno’s “Darth Plagueis”