Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rudolf Bahro on General Emancipation & The Cultural Revolution (Part 3)


Here are Parts 1 and 2.

The discussion of the League of Communists as the embodiment of the “collective intellectual” continues, after which Bahro treats economic and other aspects of the envisaged Cultural Revolution:

“…[T]he League of will and must be in a position, as the collective intellectual, to resolve already within itself the particular problem of the intelligentsia. And this naturally all the sooner, the more it succeeds in uniting in itself the entire emancipatory potential from all groups and strata of society. In order to be this collective intellectual uniting all energies directed towards general emancipation, and to be able to mediate their confluence in a programme of action that is steadily actualized, the League of Communists must be organized differently from the old kind of party. The organizational structure must be governed by the character of the principal activity that it has to perform. A successful work of knowledge requires the access of all participants to the totality of significant information, the ‘horizontal’ and non-hierarchical coordination of investigations on the basis of the self-activity of those involved, the admission of hypotheses that break through the customary frame of ideas, unreserved discussion of different interpretations without any kind of official evaluation by an agency empowered to ‘confirm’ or otherwise, etc. The point of departure must be that the research of the most diverse individuals and groups, presupposing the basically agreed orientation of those involved, leads from the logic of the actual relationships themselves, on which it is focused, to a common understanding, to approximation to truth, i.e. to the adequate expression of the emancipatory interests in view of the of the conditions that are given and to be changed. [….]

If the League of Communists, while freeing itself from its internal chains, also stands outside the continuity of the state apparatus, then it obtains the possibility of also bringing contradiction into the government apparatus, renovating this in a fundamental way, socially instead of just bureaucratically. If the party revolutionized society in the first phase of actually existing socialism with the aid of the state, the apparatus (and up to a certain point successfully so), then the question now is to reorganize the sate and the apparatus with the aid of society, basing this on the surplus consciousness assembled in it. This is in no way a mere administrative task. The apparatus is the sphere of work of a large number of people whose professional complex of interests develops laws of its own. This complex must be dissolved, to prevent the formation of a political bloc around the special interests of these personnel.

The subjugation of the state apparatus to society is the quintessence of the long proclaimed transition from domination over people to the administration of things. If a bureaucracy uncontrolled from below was the original cause of the party having previously had to play the role of a controlling bureaucracy, a super-state apparatus,, then there is only one…solution: the party itself must place control of the bureaucracy and state machine by social forces at the centre of its policy. It must spur people to this task, and inspire them to it by communists having dealings with everyone and uniting everyone with them who ‘thinks a bit’ about their work and their life. They must organize the social forces in such a way that these confront the apparatus on a massive scale as autonomous powers, and can force it into progressive compromises. This means organizing communism as a mass movement. [….] It will become possible to broach the measures anticipated by Marx and Engels in their writings on the Paris Commune of a democratic selection of the state personnel. Instead of appointment or nomination from above, the occupation of positions will be decided on the basis of the proven ability of the candidates, in a dialogue of cultural-revolutionary practice with the masses, working with the autonomous social forces from whose midst the League of Communists itself operates.

The political structure of the cultural-revolutionary practice is not in itself something novel, what is new is rather the necessity of keeping it going permanently. At all historical moments when communism is the real movement abolishing the existing state of affairs that Marx intended it to be, it does not tend to become a relationship between three distinct instances: party/state machine/people. The communists and the people rather form a together a comprehensive bloc whose internal structure cannot be described in terms of relations of subordination. There have been historical moments which have something to tell us as to the possible form of the transition. We can see those moments in many books of the [Hebrew Bible], in the New Testament, in the chorales of the Reformation and the songs and hymns of the infant workers’ movement. There have always been times in which people pressed beyond existing arrangements without being subordinated to the rule of a priestly caste, times of movement, times of a people led by prophecy. Only in such movements did masses and classes who were inevitably subaltern manage to reach the level of historical consciousness, of immediate communication with the universal. In movements of this kind, fishermen from Galilee and Paris workers suddenly rose to the highest possible human dignity attainable. The essence of the coordination of consciousness that prevailed in such movements consists precisely in the convergence of the ideal substance. It is hope that leads the people, and its prophets are nothing more than interpreters who give their deepest emancipatory needs a concrete, articulated and historical expression, in which the totality of what is promised is not lost. [….]

The new League of Communists will reflect in its composition, in its organization, and its style, the present structures and demands of proto-socialist society, and anticipate its future perspectives. Above all, it will be based on the intellectual participation and practical intervention of communists on all fronts of work and life. It will lead society through the influence of its own plans for the processes of social transformation. It will stand for the fraternity of working people in international as well as domestic life.

This gathering must be prepared by a patient propaganda of cultural revolutionary positions, tasks and goals, spelling out their urgency and significance for individuals as something important to their lives and altering their existence. [….] If communists themselves raise the problems of alienation, of subalternity, of the inequality of opportunities for development, and of the irrefutable claims to happiness of all members of society, then they can unreservedly allow themselves a dialogue of partnership with other tendencies. This holds not least for the traditional strivings of Christianity, which converge on precisely the same problems. In our struggle against the rule of reification, the tradition that appeals to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is an indispensable ally, in so far as it does not enclose itself within the church. [….]

The Economics of the Cultural Revolution

We have [now to investigate] where the cultural revolutionary, communist movement can apply the lever, at what points in the existing mode of production and life its idea can first become a transforming material force. This is the problem of bringing the masses into the cultural revolution, of the realization of a majority consensus in a growing action which presses ever more deeply into the contradictions of the modern human situation. [….] [T]he entire complex of cultural-revolutionary practice, positively formulated as the struggle
—for a redivision of labour,
—for a unitary form of education for fully socialized individuals,
—for children to be rendered capable of education and motivated for learning,
—for the conditions of a new communal life, and
—for the socialization (democratization) of the general process of knowledge and decision-making, can be conceived as the problem of the economics of the cultural revolution, the radical political-economic alternative that it counterposes to the existing economic system. This alternative must be drafted in the form of a programme by stages, directed towards the dynamization of social relations in the reproduction process, which constructively breaks through the status quo in which the social factors are presently in a stalemate situations vis-à-vis one another in the economic process, and brings the political debate over the new economics into the workplace. [….]

It is not [merely] a question of plan or market, use-value or exchange-value, or even centralization or decentralization. Which is in no way to say that these problems would disappear; simply that their secondary significance would then be apparent. Given an overall social organization of labour, political democracy becomes the decisive constituting moment which determines whether the goals of the economic process, the qualitative contents of the plan, are decided by authentic social interests or rather by the restricted power relations and structures of knowledge within the bureaucracy. [….] And yet political democracy, for its part, does not come into being by the abstract good will of a leadership. It is not in the last instance a question of constitutional law. [….]

If Marxist analysis suggests a special role for the intellectual strata in the present situation, it does this in no way to flatter the traditional pride of the intelligentsia, but rather to determine its tasks in the overall process of general emancipation. It is decisively against any misinterpretation of the concept of freedom in the sense of political liberalism. The working people have gained very little, at least immediately, by the intellectuals winning the freedom to shine unrestrained and eloquent in the mass media. The doctrine of the leading role of the working class is highly problematic…but the political and moral intention behind it, where it expressed the duty of progressive intellectuals to the cause of general emancipation, will only become obsolete when the categorical imperative of the young Marx is fulfilled. Its original significance is active solidarity with the most oppressed, without whose liberation all emancipation must remain half-unfinished and thus false. It is necessary to shake the intelligentsia out of their spontaneous class feeling against those less developed, to make them conscious of the reality and extent of their privilege (which involves understanding the mechanisms of motivation and character formation and their social mediation), and the extent to which their frustrations are precisely bound up with the way that others are also frustrated and seek with similar spontaneity to escape from the unfair conditions of competition in school and factory, for example by lack of pleasure in learning in childhood, later by holding back on productive effort, lack of care for materials and machinery, etc.

Above all, it must be recalled yet again that society does not break down into classes or even strata of individuals with compensatory needs on the one hand and with emancipatory needs on the other. It is precisely the intellectualized strata who react by seeking refuge in a private lifestyle for which very many consumer goods are ‘absolutely necessary,’ to a frustration that is occasioned by the political state of affairs. In our society it is a general rule that arrivistes and the privileged can satisfy their compensatory needs very well, while the masses can do so only relatively poorly. Those who are disadvantaged in this way do not enjoy any kind of advantage of innocence, but are bought off with the less valuable products of material and intellectual culture. In these compensatory needs, too, there is naturally a dialectic of progress. In the means of consumption the two types of need that are different in the abstract are united in the concrete individual. What it boils down to is their arrangement in the individual life process, what enjoyment actually means here and now. There exists a social structure of their use and consumption. We cannot and should not seek to break through the reproductive circle of the production and consumption of needs by a policy of reducing consumption, which would be borne by those strata who are already disadvantaged and would lead to the intensification of social contradictions along the wrong lines. On the contrary, in order to lead society out of this vicious circle, we must bring about a genuine equalization in the distribution of those consumer goods that determine the standard of living. Up till now, an advance for those at the bottom has always been measured against the consumption of those at the top, in other words against their appropriation of material goods, sensual and cultural enjoyments, and not by disposal over the social process, let alone a cultural revolutionary sublimation that can dispense with material wealth. In my opinion, we can conclude that a leveling of society with respect to the quantity of consumption would be the condition for rising above the principle of quantity, above compensatory consumption. A policy of this kind would have the tendency to limit the development of new luxury needs and in the long run put a brake on the growth of material needs in general, which is primarily driven forward by the social inequality of powers of appropriation.

The concept of the cultural revolution thus pursues the goal of draining as great as possible a quantity of motivational energy from the compensatory complex. On top of the positive attraction of surplus consciousness by political activation, something must happen to neutralize certain pressing and massively present compensatory needs, at best, moreover, by their relative satiation. First of all, this would involve the adjustment of the most elementary social injustices in income distribution, and a first approach also to those in powers of decision-making. This equalization would aim above all at unburdening the cultural-revolutionary movement to tackle the profound transformation of the structure of needs, shifting the focus of the struggle of social interests away from the appropriation of material means of subsistence and enjoyment that is characterized principally by consumption, and towards the appropriation of culture (which of course also means a different structure of material consumption). The danger of an ‘explosion’ of material needs is particularly threatening for the transition situation, while equalization of incomes is the most important initial measure, and one which equally offers scope for the relatively undisturbed practice of new habits. [….]

The far-reaching elimination of material incentive provides the basis for clearly establishing for the first time in mass social practice the new driving force of intersubjective emulation, the unequal division of abilities and activities which is to be the central theme of the cultural revolution, and presenting this to the general consciousness as a problem. For important as equality in the sphere of consumption is, it still pertains to the periphery of the cultural revolution, which bears on the content of needs, and inherently remains more of a means than an end. Yet this periphery must be secured, in order to organize the forces for the transformation of civilization, and lead these ideologically so far beyond the old structures that they can be reorganized in a new way. In other words, the question here is to produce freedom of movement for the emancipatory interests, to conquer a terrain on which they can stretch out and expand. The communist strategy therefore consists in bringing about a situation in which people can place their immediate interests in relation to the general possibilities and requirements of the epoch, and can rise above all those appropriations that restrict their cultural development. At the same time, communists will avoid acting in any merely restrictive manner towards these compensations, being well that the decisive equalization of material conditions of existence for all members of society is the precondition for gradually overcoming the compensatory orientation of interests and hence the complete dissolution of the former relations of distribution.

In this way, the starting-point will be won for a breakthrough into the cultural-revolutionary process proper: for doing away with the traditional division of labour, the source of all subalternity and alienation, by way of far-reaching interventions in the distribution of labour, in the conditions of socialization and education of individuals, and in the form of regulation of the reproduction process. This process should not be conceived simply as a mechanical succession. The very project of subordinating or neutralizing the compensatory interests can only get off the ground if the elimination of financial stimuli for the masses is linked with much more far-reaching hopes and perspectives, so as simultaneously to build up the new motivations and avoid the disorganizing effects of that otherwise would be temporarily inevitable.”

[Part 4 of Bahro on ‘General Emancipation and The Cultural Revolution’ to follow.]

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