Ljubodrag Simonović: Alienation and destruction


Ljubodrag Simonović
E-mail: comrade@orion.rs
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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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