Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rudolf Bahro on “General Emancipation” (Part 2)

We continue Bahro’s treatment of the general principles and axiomatic values that guide his conceptions of “general emancipation” and “cultural revolution” from his book, The Alternative in Eastern Europe (English ed., 1978). The following biographical material is found on the inside back jacket cover of the book:

“[Rudolf Baho] became a member of the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1954, and from 1954 to 1959 studied philosophy at the Humboldt University of East Berlin. His subsequent career has been entirely within the official party and state apparatuses. In 1959 and 1960 he participated in the campaign to collectivise agriculture in the Olderbruch region; he then became editor of a university paper at Griefswald on the Baltic coast, and later an official of the Union of Scientific Employees in Berlin. Between 1965 and 1967 he was deputy editor of the youth and student magazine Forum and he has subsequently been employed in a variety of posts related to the organisation of GDR industry. His doctoral dissertation, on the formation specialists in state enterprises, [began in 1972] and was completed in 1975, but was rejected on the grounds that it lacked the necessary ‘scientific foundations.’ The Alternative was initiated under the impact of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In August 1977, soon after the publication of the book in West Germany, Bahro was arrested and charged with being a West Germany spy. Though a broad international campaign has been launched for his release, it was announced in July 1978 that he had been sentenced, after a closed trial, to eight years of imprisonment for ‘espionage.’”

Bahro was released from prison the following year as part of an amnesty granted in conjunction with the thirty-year celebration of the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He was allowed to leave the country (along with his former wife and their two children) and settled in West Germany. Bahro immediately became involved with European environmentalist and peace oriented social movements and in particular the nascent political party Die Grünen (‘the Greens’).

Bahro on “general emancipation,“ Part 2 (Part 1 is here):

“All people must obtain the real possibility of access to all essential realms of activity, and moreover right up to the highest functional level. For cultural goods are appropriated only as far as it is possible to share in their creation—either oneself, or by the mediation of other individuals with whom one can communicate on an equal basis. In principle, every one must be able to raise himself to the level of scientific and technical means which our society uses in its relationship with nature, and especially to the level of social regulation and institutional functioning. Social equality also demands in emotional and aesthetic life certain mental structures which allow a graduated reaction both inwardly and outwardly, one which corresponds with the degree of abstraction of the more general connections represented by higher levels in the hierarchy of information processing. The question accordingly arises as to how individuals can acquire and learn effective behavior, the corresponding dispositions of a motivational, cognitive and emotional kind, and how work, education and life, the organization of society, the system and mode of function of its institutions, should accordingly be constructed.

Subalternity, which in varying degrees and characters affects the overwhelming majority of people today, is an effect of the entire mode of production and can therefore only overcome with its transformation. [....] The degree of possible subaltenity grows with the number of steps in the hierarchy. Here there is a profound contradiction in the historical process. The greater and more complex the social association, the more subaltern individuals become. In the gens and the tribe it is impossible to be as subaltern, as impotent and devoid of influence as in the modern national state. We can see from this how great the task of cultural revolution is, in seeking to restructure the objective conditions of development of human subjectivity. The major directions of its intervention against the causes of subalternity and for the realization of genuine equality, directions which mutually presuppose one another, are as follows:

1) a redivision of labour according to the principle that everyone should perform an equal share in activities at the various functional levels, and the establishing of social equality between those carrying out the tasks of necessary labour by making it impossible for any person to be subsumed by a certain restricted or subordinate activity; 2) the opening of unrestricted access for all to a general education embracing natural science and technique, society and art, at the highest (‘university’) level, as the alternative to the differentiation of social strata according to level of education and to socially incompetent bodies of specialists; 3) concern for childhood which fosters and promotes the corresponding capacity of readiness for development for the overwhelming majority of the new generation, instead of inhibiting and destroying this for most of them as does the style of education of a patriarchal society geared to economic performance; 4) the establishment of conditions for a new communal life on the basis of autonomous group activities, around which fulfilling human relationships can be crystallized, so as to put a limit to the isolation and loneliness of individuals in the isolated compartments of the modern world, e.g., work, school, family, and leisure; 5) the socialization (democratization) of the general process of knowledge and decision, its constitution outside of and above the hierarchical apparatus that secures the normal functioning of the reproduction in progress.”

At this juncture, Bahro proposes a model of the “collective intellectual” described in the form of a “League of Communists” he deems suitable to the Soviet Union and the Party-State regimes of “actually existing socialism” in Eastern and Central Europe (the ‘apparatus’ below) in the late 1970s. I think there are features of this model that may be directly or indirectly applicable to current conditions in the hyper-industrialized nation-states so I will quote from his explication here and there, asking the reader not to get caught up in the pejorative connotations invariably associated these days with the adjective “communist” (here we might profit from a distinction between a ‘Communist’ and a ‘communist,’ the latter having little in common with the official Communist parties of the Cold War era). When Bahro proffers the notion of a “League of Communists” we should, therefore, look beyond the specific rhetorical appellation, for what is referred to is intended to counter the suffocating power of the existing Communist party’s bureaucratic hierarchy, a party that had become indistinguishable from and thus identifiable with the oppressive and coercive powers of the State, constitutionally incapable of reforming itself. Bahro’s League of Communists is thus a counter-hegemonic representation of the necessary leadership incarnate in a “collective intellectual” that assumes the form of a “social movement,” not a political party. Bahro continues:

“In order to exert political influence on the historical process, the emancipatory interests must be organized in a connected and serious way at an overall social level. [….] Absorbed consciousness is organized as a seamless web under the aegis of the apparatus. Against it the revolutionary potential needs a powerful base of operations of its own, offering people a solidaristic back-up [to] their emancipatory needs and containing a higher moral-political authority than the apparatus, by making possible and protecting the advance of integral modes of behaviour that foreshadow a new whole. For the future, too, this base must remain unconditionally independent of the relations of subordination in the realm of hierarchical functioning and necessary labour that would otherwise be dominant. If not, then, revolutionary action will remain isolated and dependent on individual accident. People need a firm point outside the existing relations of domination, if they are to overcome these that practical-critical activity, constantly reoriented to the goal, which is indispensable.

To provide this base for revolutionary and transcending action and behaviour is the task of a genuine communist party, a League of Communists united around the idea of general emancipation. It must inspire the system of social forces and organizations in the name of a constructive and but substantially transforming counterforce, which puts the state hierarchy in its proper place. [….] To achieve ideological hegemony means to establish the predominance of an integral behavioural tendency in the perspective of general emancipation, among all groups and strata of society [emphasis added]. What is needed for this is that the party, instead of being organized as a super-state apparatus, must be organized as the collective intellectual, which mediates the reflection of the whole society and its consciousness of all problems of social development, and which anticipates in itself something of the human progress for which it is working. [….]

The concept of a collective intellectual is in no way aimed at representing the special interests of the intelligentsia.[1] Since all people have emancipatory interests, which cannot be realized under the conditions of the traditional division of labour, the attempt to reflect the problems of realizing these interests must in principle be a universal one. The League of Communists must therefore be open to all those who have the need to go beyond pursuit of their immediate interests, having recognized that the barriers to their self-realization bear a social character. By this action they act as intellectuals. This is of course a use of the concept that goes beyond the traditional social structural sense. It assumes [with Noam Chomsky] that all thinking people are at least potential intellectuals, and can acquire the ability to think dialectically beyond the hierarchy of social connections and intervene in these as active experimenters and constructors. [….] In as much as the intellectuals still form a traditional social stratum or group, they must become conscious of their special interests [e.g., professionalism, careerism, desire for peer group esteem and status, cultivated ‘tastes,’ the privileges of intellectual over manual labor, and so on] with the aim of restraining these as far as possible. This asceticism in relation to the satisfaction of their own immediate needs is precisely the condition for belonging to the party of general emancipation, the proof of the ability to think as a communist.[2] [….] Anyone who seeks in the League of Communists simply the most favourable conditions for producing his own individuality will today remain socially unproductive. In traditional China, under the Tang dynasty, [Mahāyāna] Buddhism culminated in a character who can be seen as a sister to Prometheus. In the very process of attaining Buddhahood, [the bodhisattva] Kuan Yin, ‘hearing the cries of the world,’ turns back and vows to renounce her own divinity until, with her aid, all the suffering of the world is extinguished, and all beings have attained the same highest level of spiritual existence. This metaphor may well be appropriate for that type of solidarity which needs to prevail in society when the focus of social inequality is shifted to the division of labor and education.”[3]

[1] On these “special interests,” see Sartre’s lectures delivered in Tokyo and Kyoto in 1965 and published as “A Plea for Intellectuals,” in Jean-Paul Sartre (John Mathews, tr.), Between Existentialism and Marxism. New York: Morrow Quill, 1979 (NLB, 1974, and in French, Editions Gallimard, 1972).
[2] Cf. Gandhi’s invocation of the karma yoga ideal found in the Bhagavad Gītā in which there is an indissoluble “connection between the service of suffering humanity and the process of self-purification,” and thus the “enormous importance that [he] attached to what he called the ‘Constructive Programme’ launched by the voluntary servants of the people—dedicated missionaries and conscientious revolutionaries bound by vows, willing to introduce the monastic as well as the heroic ideal into political and social life.” From Raghavan Iyer’s The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi (Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 2nd ed., 1983, 1st ed., Oxford University Press, 1973): 49 and 56.
[3] Cf. Gandhi’s understanding of dharma, that is, spiritual and moral duty or obligation (it might also connote moral or natural law), which, “in his view, has no meaning apart from lokasamgraha, the welfare of the whole world. Self-conquest is not just a means to self-realization as they both must be valued in terms of their contribution to the common good of humanity. The crucial point for Gandhi, as for some traditional Indian schools, was that dharma must not be taken in a formal sense, as laid down by scripture or custom, but rather as the object of discovery, the self-chosen means of self-discipline of every human being who wishes to qualify as a moral agent.” Iyer: 68.

[Part 3 to follow anon.]


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