April 5, 2010
“Today matters have reached a point at which mankind [sic] is faced with the following dilemma: either collapse into anarchy,1 or salvation through socialism.”
— Rosa Luxemburg2
“Before the spark reaches the dynamite, the lighted fuse must be cut.”
— Walter Benjamin3
This page was created with the intent and hope of attempting to promote the defense and advocacy of a particular political project today: that of what will be here called international libertarian eco-socialism.
For people other than those who “are thoroughly cold”—those who, in Theodor W. Adorno’s diagnosis, suffer from a “deficient libidinal relationship to other persons”4—basic reflection on no more than a handful of present realities should yield the conclusion that matters must be made dramatically otherwise. Over a billion humans are today starving5; 900 million go without access to fresh water6; another billion live in what have been referred to as slums.7 No social system that promotes generalized conditions in which humans are reduced to “debased, enslaved, abandoned, contemptible being[s]”8 on such extreme terms can be justified; rather, it must undoubtedly be abolished.
The extreme injustices of existing society demand a radical reconsideration of the existent—and more importantly, its thoroughgoing transformation. Capitalism, the currently hegemonic global economic system, must be done away with, relegated along with the State, in Friedrich Engels’s formulation, to “the museum of antiquities, next to the spinning wheel and the bronze axe.”9 Surely such a historical opening as the prospect of the abolition of capitalism would allow for the emergence of other forms of production and distribution, but that which seems most to promote human freedom and societal rationality is in the view of the present author socialism. Socialism, of course, has been defined in rather different ways since its systematic formulation following the emergence of the Enlightenment,10 but its central characteristic is here to be understood as being that of “an association in which the free development of each is the pre-condition for the free development of all.”11 The economics of a socialist society would find their basis on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”12
Socialism, then, constitutes the overthrow of bourgeois society and its dominant social relations; it pre-supposes the end of the exploitation and domination of laborers by capitalists as well as the abolition of a myriad of other existing horrors—starvation and malnutrition, homelessness, and lack of access to decent health care, to give a few examples. As here understood, moreover, socialism implies a participatory form of economic organization, perhaps somewhat like that which has been endorsed in recent years by Michael Albert:13 that is to say, direct popular control over production and distribution systems. Such participation, however, is not to be limited to the purely economic sphere, for socialism, the kratia of the demos, is to be characterized by popular decision-making on public matters in general This form of decision-making process socialism would perhaps most fruitfully take on would resemble that which is advocated by Hannah Arendt at the close of On Revolution, what she calls the “lost treasure” of the “revolutionary tradition”: that of the council system.14 It is to be hoped that the participation allowed for by the institution of such decision-making processes would be accompanied by the instauration of reason15 into social life generally, though it should be said that no other form of social organization seems to conceivably allow for a better chance for such. Cornelius Castoriadis puts the matter well: “The transformation of society will in fact be based on the establishment of such councils and would be impossible without it.”16
The affirmation of the principle of social participation, furthermore, is to be considered one means by which to take issue with the many ‘socialist’ experiments of the twentieth century: the soviet system was destroyed in Russia by Lenin and Trotsky, while participatory administration of public affairs has not been particularly advanced by the processes that followed the Chinese and Cuban ‘revolutions’ of the mid-twentieth century. Such criticism is not, of course, to deny the significant progress that was—and, in the Cuba, has been—made in these societies under putatively socialist conditions: we can think of dramatic improvements achieved in terms of human welfare among the peoples living under such regimes. It is not for nothing, for example, that those residing in the Soviet Union were generally granted the basic necessities for life free of charge. Cuba’s impressive achievements in terms both of human welfare and ecological sustainability since 1959, moreover, should not be dismissed lightly.17 Such gains notwithstanding, it is important to stress that the concept of revolutionary socialism should not be thought of necessarily encompassing a move toward the lived-experience of these various ‘actually-existing socialisms’ that have “legitimated themselves by reference to the Marxian heritage.”18
Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that much of socialist thought has been plagued by a “long economistic tradition.”19 It is the claim to be advanced here, nonetheless, that socialism should be taken to mean more than just the historical transcendence of the capitalist mode of production: it is to be understood, in Benjamin’s conception, as “the abolition of domination.” The stress placed by many of theorists of the Frankfurt School on the problematics of domination and repression is important in this sense; Castoriadis seems right to suggest that the “[r]evolutionary criticism of society” must “broaden itself to encompass all aspects of life.”20 Socialism should concern itself with the promotion of positive liberty, or what Amartya Sen21 and Martha Nussbaum22 have referred to in reformist terms as ‘human functioning’; it should aim at the construction of “human brotherhood,” of a world “in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another.”23 This libertarian understanding of socialism—a socialism that promotes liberty, or the absence of domination—is entirely heterotopic to bourgeois understandings of liberty, which usually imply the ‘freedom’ to accumulate commodities ad infinitum, or—what is the same—the abrogation of reason and responsibility. The liberty promoted by libertarian socialism should instead be understood as necessitating a Levinasian regard for the Other of life in its totality24—eros, in Herbert Marcuse’s formulation.25
It should be said that the lack of concern socialism and many thinkers associated with this tradition have demonstrated for matters related to patriarchy and sexuality in particular seems rather problematic. Issues relating to the lives of women and non-heterosexuals have not often been closely examined by seemingly revolutionary philosophers; too often, examination of such questions, as for matters said to be ‘environmental,’ has been dismissed as distractions from the struggle against the bourgeoisie and the capitalist mode of production. Such eminent philosophers as Rosa Luxemburg and Simone Weil hardly seem to have made consideration of women’s issues central to their social criticism, while Adorno flatly asserts that “[h]omosexuality is totalitarian.”26 Even Erich Fromm27 and Wilhelm Reich28—thinkers who, like Adorno, developed devastatingly radical analyses of existing society by means of Marxian and Marxist critique as well as the lived-experience of twentieth-century fascism—are not exempt from reactionary denigration of non-heterosexual orientations and practices. Against such irrational and inhumane views, it should be clearly stated that opposition to patriarchy together with respect for those who are “different”29—granted, of course, that such difference not include dominative modes of being (e.g., fascism)30—follow from opposition to social domination, and as such must be included within any project that can justifiably be referred to as libertarian.
A socialist politics should also clearly express its opposition to militarism—that barbaric constellation that Luxemburg refers to as the “servant” of capitalist dispossession of the world’s peoples.31 Indeed, as reactionary as the man was generally, Dwight D. Eisenhower was right to observe in 1953 that “[e]very gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”32 It should not be necessary to delineate the great number of humane purposes to which the resources currently dedicated to maintaining and expanding military power could be directed, though it should be mentioned that any reasonable response to climate change demands a radical re-orientation of the resources presently driving world military spending, as Renfrey Clarke has convincingly argued recently.33 In the view of the present author, socialists should surely also favor total nuclear disarmament, given the potentially terminal implications of nuclear weapons: “[t]here is no ‘A-bomb for socialism.’”34 Considering the as-yet unresolved waste issues associated with nuclear power—and the not unrelated tendency of such waste to be dumped on massively impoverished societies or in the oceans—opposition to nuclear weapons should likely also be coupled with opposition to nuclear-energy schemes.
It should be added, furthermore, that any present libertarian-socialist project must concern itself with ecology and the various socio-environmental problems to which (post)modernity has given rise. Informed by both reason and compassion, such a project must declare its opposition to the concept of the domination of nature and its various contemporary manifestations—the industrial murder of non-human animals, the mass conflagration of hydrocarbons, and deforestation, to name but a few. In this sense, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno’s treatment of these questions in Dialectic of Enlightenment—in which they lament the reduction of non-human animals to commodities, or, as in Africa, to “traffic obstacles to bombers landing in the latest war,” as well as come to advocate radical vegetarianism35—seems rather valuable, while that of more traditional ‘socialist’ thinkers—Leon Trotsky36 and Engels37 come to mind—should quite clearly be rejected. Marx’s own thoughts on these matters seem to be more complex and helpful than those of these latter two, however unconvincing the efforts made lately by John Bellamy Foster38 to fashion Marx a committed ecologist may be.
It is the position taken here that an even superficial understanding of and reflection on human history clearly demonstrates the total barbarism of capitalism as well as the state, and as such demands their abolition; a cursory familiarity with the events in Germany of 1914 and 1933 should make clear such conclusions. The very principle of nationalism—that people born into or naturalized into particular states have special obligations to those with whom they share residence, relative to those residing elsewhere, in addition to the governments presiding over such—is a social institution as irrational and reactionary as the family; significantly, Reich39 and Koenigsberg40 seem not to have been incorrect to find in nationalism the basis for fascism. Such an account also clearly helps to explain the “active complicity”41 of U.S. citizenry in the war on Iraq, which has to date resulted in the deaths of some 1.4 million, together with the displacement of some 5 million;42 we can imagine that, were nationalism not to have been hegemonic among the U.S. populace in recent history, the barbarism seen in the invasion and occupation of Iraq “would not have been possible”—“people would not have accepted it.”43
The example of German history referred to above should also make clear the total inadequacy of a reformist-‘progressive’ political opposition; social democracy, as institutional ‘leftism,’ has clearly shown its failure in this case, as in countless others. Consideration of decidedly terrifying recent findings in climatology44 make clear the absolute necessity of the present realization of Benjamin’s “real state of emergency.”45 Against Hegel, then, who rather absurdly claims that “reason rules the world,”46 it should thus be clearly understood that “the enemy,” in Benjamin’s words, “has not ceased to be victorious”; against such, we have the possibility of “radical alterity,” of “the absolutely new”:47 a “radical transformation of world society.”48
It seems clear, then, that the prospect for the “absolutely new” is to be found in what Arendt refers to as “natality”49 or “beginning,” which she finds to be the “supreme capacity of [humanity].”50 It is surely the case that such is “identical with man’s [sic] freedom,” or that it could allow for such—for, as she continues, “[w]ith each new birth, a new beginning is born into the world, a new world has potentially come into being.”51 It is to be hoped that humanity can somehow allow for such a birth, to “create everywhere the conditions which will be propitious to a radical change” and hence “trace the new pathways of the world according to a perspective whose point of attraction is life, and not its negation.”52
1 ‘Anarchy’ here is likely meant to be taken here in its conventional usage, i.e. as constituting disorder and chaos; it probably does not amount to criticism of anarchism.
2 “Our Program and the Political Situation,” in The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, ed. Peter Hudin and Kevin B. Anderson (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), p. 364 (translation modified)
3 One-Way Street and Other Writings (London: Verso, 1997), p 80
4 Theodor W. Adorno, “Education After Auschwitz,” in Critical Models, ed. Rolf Tiedemann (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2005 ), p. 200-204
7 Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso, 2006)
9 Friedrich Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (New York: Pathfinder, 1972 ), p. 245
10With this assertion, I do not want to make it seem that I believe socialism, or behaviors consonant with socialism, not to have existed before this historical point; it seems quite clear that the opposite is true.
13 Parecon: Life After Capitalism (London: Verso, 2003) and Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (London: Zed Books, 2006)
14 On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 2006 )
15 By which is meant something radically other than G.W.F. Hegel’s apologist conception of such; see Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introdution: Reason in History, trans. H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975 )
16 The Castoriadis Reader, ed. David Ames Curtis (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1997), p. 87
20 Op. cit., p. 131
21 Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor, 2000)
22 Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000)
23 George Orwell, “Can Socialists be Happy?” 20 December 1943
24 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality & Infinity, trans. Alphoso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne Univ. Press, 1969)
25 Eros & Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966)
26 Minima Moralia, trans. Edmund Jephcott (London: Verso, 2005 ), §24
27 Cf. The Art of Loving (New York: Harper Collins, 2000 ), among other works.
28 The Mass Psychology of Fascism (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970)
29 Adorno, op. cit. (2005 ), §66
30 For a provocative discussion of this point, see Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance,” in A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 95-137; see also Castoriadis, op. cit., p. 398 (“I do not respect others’ difference simply as difference and without regard to what they are and what they do. I do not respect the difference of the sadist, of Eichmann, of Beria—any more than of those who cut off people’s heads, or even their hands […]. I do not respect heteronomy”), or Raoul Vaneigem, in A Declaration on the Rights of Human Beings, trans. Liz Heron (London: Pluto Press, 2003 ): “Inhumanity is a matter for rejection—not discussion.”
31 Op. cit., p. 336
33 “The 350 ppm carbon dioxide challenge and how to achieve it,” Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 14 January 2010
34 Castoriadis, op. cit., p. 94
35 Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, California: Stanford Univ. Press, 2002 ), p. 208-9
38 Cf. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000) and The Ecological Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).
39 Op. cit.
40 Nations Have the Right to Kill: Hitler, the Holocaust, and War, (New York: Library of Social Science, 2009)
41 Castoriadis, op. cit., p. 417
42 Gideon Polya, “Iraqi Holocaust, Iraqi Genocide And 7th Anniversary Of Invasion Of Iraq,” Countercurrents, 19 March 2010; John Tirman, “Iraq’s Shocking Human Toll,” The Nation, 3 February 2009
43 Adorno, op. cit.. (2005 ), p. 200-204
44 See, inter alia, Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008) and David Spratt and Philip Sutton, Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action (Melbourne: Scribe, 2008), as well as David Adam, “Met Office warns of catastrophic global warming in our lifetimes,” The Guardian, 28 September 2009; David Chandler, “Climate change odds much worse than thought,” MIT News, 19 May 2009; Steve O’Connor and Michael McCarthy, “World on course for catastrophic 6°C rise, reveal scientists,” The Observer, 18 November 2009; Alok Jha, “Global temperatures could rise 6C by end of century, say scientists,” The Guardian, 17 November 2009
46 Op. cit., p. 74
47 Castoriadis, op. cit., p. 201
48 Castoriadis, Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, ed. David Ames Curtis (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), p. 204
49 The Human Condition (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 246
52 Op. cit., p. unknown