Ljubodrag Simonović: Contemporary critique of capitalism


Simonović Ljubodrag
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              The critique of capitalism should be based on two methodological postulates. First: the nature of a certain social (historical) phenomenon is determined by the tendencies of its development – of what it is developing into. Second: the nature of a social (historical) phenomenon conditions the nature of its critique. The nature of capitalism, that is, the tendency of its development as a destructive system, conditions both the nature of the critique of capitalism and the political strategy for the fight against capitalism. This is not to suggest the creation of a uniform way of thinking, but a way of thinking that endeavors to ask questions of an existential and essential nature. Such a way of thinking represents a contraposition to the ruling ideology, manifested in the “Coca Cola culture” that tends to marginalize the essential in order to assign a spectacular dimension to the marginal.

          A concrete critique of capitalism cannot be based solely upon essential humanism; it must also be based upon existential humanism. The ideals of the French Revolution – Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – present a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the future. The struggle to preserve life on the planet and increase the certainty of man’s survival as a cultural (social) and biological (natural) being represents a conditio sine qua non of the struggle for the future. Instead of the Marx’s notion of “alienation” (Entfremdung), the key notion in the critique of capitalism should be destruction. Marx’s revolutionary humanism opposes capitalism as a system of non-freedom, injustice, and non-reason, and advocates freedom, social justice, and a reasonable world, which means that it appears in the essential sphere. Existential humanism emerges in relation to capitalism as a destructive order that annihilates nature and man as a biological and human being – and places the struggle for the survival of the living world in the foreground, which means that it appears in the existential sphere. The affirmation of man as a creative and libertarian being is a response to the world where man is alienated from himself as a creative and libertarian being. The assertion that man is a life-creating being is a response to the world based upon the destruction of life: the struggle for freedom becomes the struggle for survival. The struggle for a reasonable world does not only represent an essential, but also an existential challenge. At the same time, Hegel’s (Marx’s) dialectic can be accepted only conditionally as the starting point for the development of a critique of capitalism, for its (historical) pyramid of freedom is founded upon existential certainty.

              The “traditional” Marxist critique of capitalism, from the point of view of what-is-yet-to-be (Bloch’s noch-nicht-Sein), is of an abstract nature. The concrete nature of the capitalist positive also conditions the nature of the negative, which is a critical consciousness and a political practice based on it. Contemporary man cannot attain an appropriate historical self-consciousness starting from an absolutized and idealized anthropological model of man as a universal creative being of freedom, but only by starting from the existential challenges that capitalism, as a destructive system, poses to man. Man’s becoming a human being (what he, in his essence, is – a totalizing libertarian, creative and life-creating being) and the world’s becoming a human world is conditioned by capitalism’s becoming capitalism (that is, its turning into what it essentially is – a totalitarian destructive order). A concrete future cannot be grounded in what man desires to do based on his own authentic human needs, but only in what man must do if humankind is to survive. The essential level of the future is directly conditioned by existential challenges. The development of capitalism has further diminished the chances for the future to be the product of man’s free (visionary) creative practice (Bloch’s “openness“), which is in turn conditioned by consequences generated by capitalism as a destructive order. Objective possibilities for the creation of a new world and the possibility of man’s realization as a universal free creative being are conditioned by the developmental capacities of capitalism as a destructive order. This is the basis for a concrete dialectic of the future. A destroyed nature, a mutilated man, the accumulated destructive powers of capitalism that could momentarily destroy humankind – this also represents an objective situation that inevitably conditions the probability of the future and its planning. It is not man who assigns to himself tasks that, as Marx asserts, he can complete, it is capitalism that imposes a crucial task on man: to preserve life on the planet and to save humankind from destruction. To meet the challenge of the historical task imposed on man by capitalism means to face up to capitalism as an order that destroys life.

            The capitalist destruction of nature and man as a biological and human being has not had a significant influence on the development of the left-wing critique of capitalism, the formation of the proletariat’s class-consciousness and socialist revolutions. An analysis of capitalism as a destructive order cannot be found in Marxist theorists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Engels’ view that capitalism creates the possibility for “the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom” suggests a radical break with capitalism, but it overlooks the fact that humanity’s future is directly conditioned by the destructive consequences of capitalism. Bloch’s theory clearly shows the limitations of the Marxist critique of capitalism. It repeatedly associates utopia with  “happiness”, “dignity”… Utopia appears essentially opposed to capitalism. When Bloch writes about capitalistically produced “objective possibilities” for the creation of a new world, he has in mind the development of productive forces, but he does not consider the consequences of these productive forces on the environment and man or the potential threats to the survival of man and the living world posed by capitalist technique. His theory is also based on existential apriorism: capitalism is the order of non-freedom, not the order of destruction. Even in Lukacs (History and Class Consciousness), workers’ class-consciousness does not include the consciousness of capitalism as a destructive order, so, consequently, workers’ self-consciousness does not involve the consciousness of the need to fight for the survival of nature and humanity. Adorno’s Negative Dialectics takes up the existing (capitalist) world as a world of non-freedom and injustice and not as a world of destruction. This conditions the nature of the “negative”, meaning a critical and changing relation to the existing world, as well as the idea of the future. Even in his later works (published in the West in 1970, and in Serbia in 1978, under the title The Criteria of Time), Marcuse does not write about the destructive nature of capitalism; about the consciousness of the destructive nature of capitalism as an integral part of contemporary revolutionary consciousness; about a possible integration of humanity based on the efforts to stop the destruction of global life… Instead of the destruction of nature, what is emphasized is its “impoverishment” and the need for its cultivation through a cultivation of senses. The main motives for fighting against capitalism are liberation from oppression, women’s emancipation, the establishment of creative work…  A strategic target in the fight against capitalism is discerned primarily in its oppressive and not its ecocidal character.  The revolutionary and post-revolutionary thought in the USSR is dominated by the principle of absolutized productivity (“Stakhanovism”), whereas possible global destruction is never discussed. The Yugoslav Praxis philosophy is also not concerned with the development of capitalism as a destructive order, and its relation to capitalism is primarily founded on Marx’s critique and the concept of “alienation”. Its vision of the future, based on the idea that man is a universal creative being of freedom, has an abstract character since it does not consider capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order. Praxis philosophy is dominated by Hegel’s dialectics, which involves existential certainty and an open future. The capitalist destruction of nature is not of primary importance, with emphasis being put on the finite amount of natural resources. The questions asked are essential and not existential. Kangrga’s “speculation”, which amounts to searching for the meaning of life regardless of the trends in the development of capitalism as a totalitarian order of destruction and the lethal consequences of capitalism is a typical example of the abstract relationship of Praxis philosophy to the future. It is no accident that its adherents are not concerned with a critique of sport, which embodies the underlying principles of capitalism and, as such, is an industry of death. At the political level, the Praxis critique is primarily aimed not at capitalism, but at Stalinism and the USSR. This is the main reason why the West held its doors wide open to the Praxis philosophers. Considering that the development of capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order remained outside the reach of their critique, it can be said that Praxis philosophy remained historically marginalized.
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