ArhivaMay 2013

Ljubodrag Simonović: Alienation and destruction


Ljubodrag Simonović
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             “Alienation” is a basic concept upon which Marx’s critique of capitalism is founded, and “dealienation” is a key idea upon which the libertarian intention of his critique of capitalism and his vision of the future are based. Capitalism’s becoming a totalitarian order of destruction rendered Marx’s concept of “alienation” insufficient to providing the opportunity for the establishment of an adequate starting point for a critique of capitalism. Man’s contemporary alienation has not merely an inhuman nature, but a destructive nature as well.  It implies the obliteration of nature as a life-generating whole, of man as a biological and human being, and of the emancipatory legacy of national cultures and of civil society, that is, of the visionary mind and the idea of novum. By the annihilation of cultural and libertarian consciousness, the possibility of man’s becoming aware of his own alienation and establishing a critical and change-creating remove from capitalism is destroyed.

            When capitalism became a totalitarian order of destruction, not just private property, labor and the market, but even life, itself, became means for man’s alienation from his natural and human being. Unlike the previous ruling classes, the bourgeoisie endeavors to amalgamate not only its own values but also its life-sphere into the working world. A worker is not merely a producer, but a consumer of commodities, as well, and, as such, a creator of the market, that is, an instrument for solving the crisis of over-production. Destructive consumer practices have become the dominant form of the man’s living activity and the principal mode for entrapping the worker in the existential orbit of capitalism and its values. “Consumer society” becomes a totalizing power that spares no one and that no one can escape. Commercialization of life is the worst form of totalitarianism that has ever been created in the course of human history because it completely subordinates nature, society and man to the destructive machinery of capitalist reproduction.  Its essence is encoded in the monstrous maxim “Money does not stink!” which also expresses the essence of ecocidal capitalist barbarism.

            In Marx, humanity, which primarily implies freedom and creativity, represents the most important quality of man, the quality toward which the concept of “alienation” is applied.  It is possible for man to be, in his essence, a human being: man can become inhuman precisely because he is a man.  According to Marx, though humanity can be suppressed and degenerated, it cannot be annihilated.  In spite of being manipulated and repressed, in Goethe’s words: “a good man in his inarticulate impulse is entirely aware of his true course”. The concept of man’s “alienation” is manifested in relation to the possibility of his “dealienation”, which means, in spite of the capitalist totalization of life, capitalism cannot succeed in obliterating the humanity within man, so that, at an appropriate historical moment (an economic crisis of capitalism) it can be manifested in the form of revolutionary consciousness and practice. “Dealienation” represents a universal principle and implies man’s liberation from the inhuman role which capitalism imposes on him.  It is of crucial importance that Marx’s idea of “alienation” refers to the fact that under capitalism man becomes alienated from his own humanity by being alienated from his authentic human potential, alienated from what he can become as a universal creative being. Each man carries inside the unlimited potential of humanity – this is Marx’s most important humanistic message and represents the basis of his vision of the future. As for the capitalist, he, being a capitalist, cannot become a human being unless he, as a man, does not emancipate himself from capitalism, which is done primarily by ensuring his own existence through his own work. The elimination of class distinctions and class relations does not merely imply the reinstatement of the worker to his authentic human being, but also a return of the capitalist to his own state of being a man. The socialist revolution, by means of which the elimination of class society based on the private ownership of the means of production takes place, also deprives capitalists of their inhumanity: capitalists do not exist without capitalism. The objective of the socialist revolution is not to exterminate capitalists, but to bring an end to class society and to create such social relations as would make it possible for each man to realize his authentic human capacities in the community of others.

          In light of the prevailing tendency in the development of capitalism, instead of Marx’s concept of “alienation”, the idea of destruction should become the starting point in the critique of capitalism. This idea provides an opportunity to perceive the most significant and, for humankind and the living world, the most ruinous possibilities of capitalism. The concept of destruction does not merely define the status of man under capitalism and his relation to nature as an object of labor and the “anorganic body” (Marx) of man; it also describes the relation of capitalism to the living world,  to nature as an ecological whole, and, in that context, to man as a biological and human being. Capitalism does not only alienate the natural world from man, but, by destroying it, also turns nature into man’s mortal enemy. It is not alienation, but the destructiveness of labor that is dominant in capitalism; it is not the processing but obliteration of nature; not the suppression of man’s erotic nature and the coarsening of his senses, but the degeneration of man’s human and biological (genetic) being; not  only making man look foolish, but wiping out his mind… As it becomes more and more a totalitarian order of destruction, capitalism nullifies any possibility of a conflict between the human and the inhuman by destroying the human and thereby eliminating the possibility of alienation: the less man remains man, the smaller is the possibility of his alienation from himself as a man.

             The development of capitalism as a totalitarian order of destruction poses the question: can capitalism so degenerate man as to remove absolutely all his human characteristics? Considering the destructive madness prevalent in the most developed capitalist countries, it is not unreasonable to conclude that capitalism has exceeded the anthropological limits imagined by Marx with his concept of “alienation”: that it would merely succeed in degenerating man to such an extent that his destructive “needs” would turn into the power that motivated him and provided meaning to his life. It is not merely man’s „alienation“ from his human essence, but his degeneration as a human and biological being. Capitalism not only dehumanizes man, but it also denaturalizes him, deprives him of the characteristics that are distinctive to living beings. Capitalism does not merely compel man to act like a mechanical part of the industrial labor process, thereby distorting him physiologically, as Marx claims, but it also deforms him genetically and mutilates him as a living being.  It is a capitalistically caused mutation of man from a natural and cultural being into a destructive working (consuming) machine. The “reification” of man by the capitalist market was also followed by his being turned, as worker and consumer, into an accomplice in the destruction of the world. Destruction became an authentic need of the capitalistically degenerated man.

             Life based upon destructive capitalist totalitarianism has become the cause of physical and mental degeneration among people. “Consumer society” forces man to adapt to the ruling order through destructive consumer activity which “solves” the crisis of over-production with an ever more intensive destruction of commodities (dynamics of destruction), thus clearing new space in the market. In the most immediate way it conditions the way of life, the mentality and the value-horizon of the contemporary (petit) bourgeois. The difference between “classical” and the contemporary capitalism is that contemporary capitalism disfigures and degenerates people not only by reducing all human necessity to the “need to possess” (Marx), but also to the need to destroy. “Possession” implies the permanent ownership and exploitation of assets. Durability, which once represented the highest quality of commodities, in a “consumer society” has become the largest obstacle to renewed demand and the growth of capital. Goods (commodities) are no longer a fetish, as Marx claims, but it is destruction, itself, that has become the fetish.  Capitalism turns man’s life-creating (erotic) energy into a drive for destruction. It thus destroys authentic sociability and creates destructive sociability. Destroying the largest quantity of goods in the shortest time has become the ultimate goal for the contemporary capitalist fanatic. During the 2011 New Year’s sales, a commercial slogan appeared at one London shopping center: “I shop, therefore I am!” This grotesque knock-off of Descartes’ maxim, cogito ergo sum, unequivocally indicates the nature of the contemporary capitalist degeneration of man. The ultimate and most ruinous result of the development of the “consumer society” is the destruction of man as a reasoning being and the turning of the human community into a crowd of destructive capitalist fanatics.
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Ljubodrag Simonović: Contemporary Bourgeois Thought


Ljubodrag Simonović
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             What is the point of philosophy in a contemporary capitalist world dominated by destruction and where humanity has been pushed to the edge of the abyss? Ideologues of capitalism create an illusion that the ruling relation to reality is based on a certain way of thinking, that it has a rational nature. Philosophy has become a “rational” echo of destructive capitalist irrationality. It is but one of the humanist masks of an inhumane and destructive civilization and, as such, is advertising for capitalism. It provides and strengthens a way of thinking that, like religion, is deprived of critical self-reflection and prevents man from becoming aware of the tendencies of global development and the objective possibilities of liberation that through subjective practice (political struggle) can turn into real possibilities for freedom. At the same time, “philosophizing” is reduced to the creation of a network of formally and logically consistent concepts that are supposed to mediate between man and the world. Philosophy has become a means for confusing reason and distracting it from the crucial questions. Contemporary bourgeois philosophers disqualify reason as the most authentic and most important human means for ensuring survival and freedom. It is reduced to an instrumentalized ratio and has become the means for mystification of the existing world and for the destruction of a visionary consciousness that offers a possibility for overcoming capitalism and creating a new world. Philosophy has become a technical subject and, as such, is a means for turning concrete existential and essential questions into abstract theoretical questions. Instead of a revolutionary concept, the dominant concept is that of conformism. Instead of a fight to eradicate the causes of non-freedom and destruction, a theoretical discussion about consequences is being imposed. The bourgeois theory offers a critique of capitalism which does not question it and which seeks to “perfect” it. “The essence of capitalism” acquires an idolized dimension and becomes the basis for criticizing capitalist reality. Thus the mythologized past becomes the basis for criticizing the present. Everything that might and should happen has already happened. A struggle for the future becomes a struggle for the past. The bourgeois intelligentsia multiplies the “field of research” by creating numerous “grey areas”, primarily to expand its space as much as possible. It acts like the market: it produces increased quantities of intellectual goods with ever-lower quality, which are sold in the form of books, lectures, studies, and reports.

            Max Horkheimer came to the conclusion half a century ago that serious philosophy was nearing its end and that society was becoming an anthill. Philosophers contribute to that state of affairs by not developing a philosophy that is grounded in the emancipatory legacy of civil society and national cultures, they rather adapt to a ruling order that, rather than a wise man, needs an stupified consumer. Philosophy becomes an entertainment skill and, as such, is a part of show-business, while philosophers become the “jesters” of capitalism. The philosophical mind is being integrated into capitalism by the destruction of its emancipatory potential and by turning philosophy into another commodity in the marketplace of consumer society. The amount of the commission fee becomes the “measure” of the quality of the philosophical thought. Even when significant matters are communicated, they are expressed in such a manner as to lose their political dimension and obtain an entertainment or clownish dimension. Philosophers like Slavoj Zizek and Bernard-Henri Lévy are typical examples of “Coca-Cola” intellectuals. Their “reflections” are being tailored to provide “philosophical” legitimacy to the ecocidal and genocidal activities of the stakeholders in the “new world order”. Their thought represents a philosophical merit badge on the chests of the capitalist executioners who obliterate nature and humankind. At the same time, the leftist bourgeois intelligentsia, headed by Jürgen Habermas, Oskar Negt and Oskar Lafontaine, create an illusion that capitalism could be “brought to reason” by means of enlightened thought. It does not address the workers, but an abstract “citizen”, a petty bourgeois who has been degenerated by the consumer way of life and who can not be bothered with radical social changes that might jeopardize his consumer’s standard of living. “Bringing to reason” does not imply the development of combative sociability and the nullification of the capitalist order as it is reduced to the “pacification” of workers and the technical development that implies the obliteration of man as a social being and of nature as life-generating entirety. Even when the ruling political circle (alienated from the citizenry) is being threatened by an insistence on the necessity of the direct participation in political life of the largest possible number of citizens, this is performed in a manner that does not stand for an appeal to the citizens to fight against the ruling order. The “social peace” needs to be preserved at all cost in order to prevent economic crisis and the ensuing social crisis – without which the petty bourgeois consciousness and its “consumer society” cannot be eliminated. At the same time, a critique of capitalism is increasingly present. But it is of an academic nature and is deprived  of any  political, change-creating dimension. It does not address the destructive nature of capitalism and is not moved toward a vision of the future based upon a radical step away from the capitalist world.

             The purposefulness of philosophic thought is determined by whether this thought poses concrete historic questions. Today, in a world that faces an ever more realistic possibility of destruction, that principle means concrete historical questions might be the last questions posed by man. It is this quality that makes a difference between today’s concrete historical questions and all earlier such questions. The development of capitalism as a totalitarian order of destruction imposes the question of survival as the most important concrete historical question. Actually, by bringing humanity to the brink of destruction, capitalism ”has answered” all crucial questions. Bearing in mind the intensity of the capitalist destruction of life, all questions come down to one: what can be done to prevent the destruction of humanity? The only meaningful thought is of an existential character, that is, it creates the possibility for a political (changing) practice that will prevent the world’s destruction. In that context, philosophy is meaningful as a critique of capitalism and a visionary projection of a future world. There is a need for creating an integrating critical and visionary thought with an existential nature, which will contain the emancipatory legacy of civil society and national cultures. Humanity will again appreciate the importance of serious thinking when people return to the basic existential questions. The seriousness of those questions will make people serious: crucial existential issues will eliminate any trivial ways of thinking and direct the mind towards the essential issues. Riding the wave of the French bourgeois revolution, classical German philosophy shaped the self-consciousness of modern man. Today, the humanist intelligentsia should shape a thought that will guide the last revolution in the history of mankind. It is not the hoot of Minerva’s owl in the twilight, but the war cry of a man who has been awakened and who is ready not only to liberate humanity from oppression, but to prevent its destruction. Ultimately, what is philosophy if it is not capable of answering the questions that are of vital importance to human destiny?

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