The Lowest Common God
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When discussing the roots of Communism and of what is called non- or semi-communist Left – which nevertheless keeps some latent causal relation to dialectical materialism – one crucial question usually gets passed over in silence.
Namely, is there a single unique ruling principle to this systematical attempt to absorb the world in thought and, if yes, what exactly is it?
It is no wonder that this question is rarely being posed, as the essence itself is the only non transparent thing in the otherwise totally transparent – because totally systemic – body of seemingly purely political doctrine(s) and, in the broadest sense of the word, philosophy; in truth, the only way to look at it as a purely political doctrine, supposedly initiated by the analysis of the concrete circumstances of industrial workers of the 19th Century Western Europe, is to ignore the activity of this essence. And, in turn, if the doctrine is not only purely political but also “politically pure”, in the sense that it is deemed infallible when it comes to correctly pinpointing the reference of the conceptual pair of “oppressor-oppressed” – whoever those might be, depending on the time and place communist/leftist theoretician focuses upon, we can be sure that this purity does not come from historical circumstances, but from something outside them.
After all, being in history doesn’t exactly bode well with being pure – politically or otherwise.
So even the sworn enemies of the Left in general and Marx in particular are more often than not quite ready to concede that his system at least partly grew out of the recognition of the real plight of industrial workers of his day and that in this respect it is hard not to praise his insistence on abolishing “inequality” or, to pinpoint its origin and put it in proper Marxist terms, “alienation” (Entfremdung).
We can’t have those poor people be at disadvantage, even if they now exist only in the past and, regarding our contemporary “underprivileged”, they in turn haunt our imagination even if we don’t get to see them that much in our “burgoise” lives. It is unacceptable to have our world encompassing thought populated with the whole bunch of exploited, underprivileged and all together “unequal” people, isn’t it?
This line of reasoning gives us the clue as to why the focal point of 19th Century philosophy of the Left remains concealed and how we could proceed to unveil it.
The idea of the world encompassed in though, “the thought becoming the world”, as Marx would put it, is the definition of what Marxism understands as praxis, the act whereby man freely creates his own nature and his own essence through intelligible work, that is: work that actualizes the principles of humanity in the world, thereby changing it into human image proscribed by the system of principles acquired by scientific, “dialectical”, analysis.
The peculiarity of this system is that it is all encompassing: no one can be left out of it and it is totally transparent, i.e. all of its parts are comprehensible on cue provided the fundamental principles are apprehended.
Anything not fitting such a system has to be either digested into acceptable form or cast out into outer darkness; any argument contradicting the principles of the system cannot be seen as an argument at all.
This, in rough outlines, is what the world absorbed in thought would be if it ever existed.
And this in turn remains the Holy Grail of the Left to this day, from the adolescent (sub)urban guerrillas to supposedly “moderate radicals” like Noam Chomsky.
We posit that in essence it has absolutely nothing to do with the plight of laborers or, as it came into vogue nowadays, minorities, women, Palestinians, homosexuals, etc.
Being a system, even if not always explicitly laid out as such, it cannot concern itself with them anyway, because they become real only as its constituent parts, that is: only if they are absorbed – and this in turn means “abstracted” – into it; only if they cease to be real and become elements of the system – the “international proletariat”, “victim groups”, “disadvantaged”, etc. – do they become important.
An overview of philosophical basis of Marxism
To illustrate, let us turn to the peculiar aspect of leftist psychology one cannot help but notice, even in everyday life. It is to be found in the discrepancy between utterly idealized image of the worker a particular leftist harbors in his mind and, more often than not, his utter disdain for the actual worker he happens to run into in the street.
Almost every leftist I knew was very adamant about importance of himself, his family and what he deems his – and this can stretch pretty far – and quite clear about the relative insignificance of the same valuables in possession of the common run of men, meaning mostly undifferentiated mass of non-intellectuals indulging in menial work, i.e. people who by leftist’s own standards should be deemed sacrosanct “working class”; almost each one of those leftists shunned the people who work in industry or agriculture, no matter what excuse he would put forward, whether it be because of their “backwardness”, “nationalism”, “intolerance”, “being regressive” or some other annotated slur.
What matters in the end is that the actual working man is quite the opposite of what our “progressive” considers to be “working man”; the one answering to “who?” seems to be quite distinct from the one that could be put forward as an answer to “what?”.
This insight is almost a truism and upon it the good deal of the political critique of the Left from political Right is being based, no matter how subtle it can get. The usual rationale is that leftist is a man who conceals his own selfishness in order to deny it to others and preferably to appropriate what is theirs for himself.
As with all common notions people hold, it is a good starting point to pursuit what really interests us and at this level only dimly shines forth, but it is in no way a satisfactory conclusion.
Let us see can we move further from it.
To take one truly enlightening example, Nietzsche’s critique of nascent socialism of his age rested also on similar psychological insight, although he excavated a profoundly deeper motive behind it than average libertarian would do nowadays and went one step both further and deeper; for him “the preachers of equality” are “tarantulas” whose poison, i.e. political doctrine, is an unconscious drive to exact vengeance. This resentful will unto revenge does not come from any direct offence done to them by the “powers that be”, but from the pure, almost metaphysical, envy:
“You, preachers of equality, from you the tyrannical madness of impotence screams, ‘Equality’: your most secret tyrannical desire burrows even in the words of virtue! Vanity laid low, hatred suppressed, perhaps even vanity and hatred your fathers kept concealed, bursts out of you like a flame and madness of vengeance.
What was silent in father, speaks out in son; and often have I found the son to be a secret of the father laid bare.
Rapture invoking you appear to be, yet it is not the heart you enrapture, but vengeance. And when you turn subtle and cold, it is not the spirit but hatred that makes you subtle and cold.
Their envy puts them also on the path of the thinker; and this is the sign of their envy – they always go too far, so that their vanity must finally fall asleep in the snow.” (Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra)
Nietzsche’s attempt at psychology as metaphysics has its inherent limitations, yet it does take us one step further from the common opinions which are based on variety of character traits concealed by the people preaching equality, while practicing quite shameless elitism. One could discern a lot of different motives burrowing in the revolutionary bosom of actual leftist individual – for example, the desire to remain or become privileged being chief among those in the post-Communist country I grew up in, and quite often detectable in people who are in reality children of the “red burgoise” servants of Yugoslav ancien régime; one could also point out a pronounced inner conflict about identity, rejecting vehemently right to existence of every ethnic group qua subsisting reality, unless it is being dissolved into some kind of supra-ethnicity as, in this case, a “Yugoslav” one.
What is remarkable here is that leftists in question do not really deny ethnicity, private property and privilege to themselves; no matter how much they pay lip service to opposing them and use their position of “not belonging” ethnically, financially and socially – in translation: of being pure from any historical burden their opponents can’t and do not want to escape – they in fact hold fast to these principles out of which our historical existence originates, but at the same time invert them into quasi metaphysical system, where there indeed is an ethnicity – albeit free from any historical given, save an imaginary one, private property, but socialized into imagined institutions of new society, and privilege, supposedly not inherited but acquired by their gnosis of political will of “the people” from whom they’re in reality largely alienated.
This is the most comfortable position one can assume towards history.
It makes one capable of hating for the sake of love, destroying for the sake of creation and stealing for the sake of providing. But above all else, it makes one capable of denouncing everyone else without taking the risk of being denounced back. This originates in the largely imaginary or virtual position leftist polemicist takes towards history; it is quite easy to poke holes into respective national myths and real historical misdemeanors of real peoples, while at the same time not having to worry about your own belonging being poked at, because you supposedly don’t posses one to begin with.
But, this is an illusion in the strictest sense of the word.
Communism was built precisely upon the foundation of dialectical imagination whose products, while unreal in the sense of not being substantially existent outside the heads of their originators, have indeed acted upon the reality and at this point in the world history are pretty transparent segment of the inheritance of various ethnic communities; or, to be more precise, they left enough discernible damage that no one can hide the truth about them anymore.
What corroborates to this argument is also a peculiar and glaringly obvious tendency towards the cult of personality which more often than not had proven to be the only guarantee of keeping the communist state together.
This is a clear instance of inversion, and not of the “radical critique” that is supposedly the bedrock of the leftist anti-metaphysics. On the contrary, the critique is in reality always a critical theory, i.e. the systematical doctrine on the basis of which every other doctrine is being “radically criticized”, meaning, in the best case scenario: forbidden by decree.
Indeed it is more than ironic how the radical attempt at, supposedly, “free thinking” more often than not relies on the mythologized figure of a leader; even in Communist politeias that survived their consecrated creators for decades, as was the case with the Soviet Union, the leader always remained present in his bodily form – Lenin’s mummified corpse was still an earthly guarantee that his will shall be followed and that his Soviet project will not stray from its course. The great Event of Bolshevik coup had to be preserved as perpetually present, if just in the form of mummy.
This puts us quite close before what could be understood as the essence of Communism.
One could formulate it as activity of inverting the meaning of the historical existence of human beings, while at the same time establishing history as the only reality human beings can ever have.
The act of inversion is necessary because history as it is points towards something both below and above it. Therefore the only way to contain the entirety of human existence in history, with nothing outside it, is to cut off the source of meaning and purpose transcending it both towards above and below.
However, we’ll posit that history is not an isolated reality; more concretely, we’ll posit that it is a second act that presupposes, and points towards, its first act.
By stating this we stepped into territory of metaphysics. In order to provide a framework for understanding the above proposition, we’ll go further and make a detour into seemingly unrelated area of inquiry, i.e. that of the relation of human body and soul or the answer to a question: what is man?
Let us take one form of an answer to this question that can serve as a paradigm for clarification.
Namely, laying out the difference between the first and the second act of being is the method by which St. Thomas Aquinas explains the difference between spiritual and physiological intellect, the aporia which is closely related to what interests us here.
While physiological intellect – as we would nowadays put it: brain and the nervous system – is indeed capable of thought, it is not the first act of the being of intellect because man is not defined by it but by something else. Therefore if man is by nature an intellectual being, i.e. being capable of acting from and in accordance with non-corporeal principles, the sole capacity of making individual inferences based on the interaction of environment and the body is not the true intellect and the first act of being man.
Moreover, it cannot be such because actus – or energeia – means a reality that is not primarily determined by some outside principle but is by its own nature subsisting in itself and permanently acting, or energizing, from its inner focal point.
The first act of intellect would be a purer form of actuality because it is a real act of intellection: willing the principles that are not outside it in material sense, thinking the forms that are not present to senses and, above all, having insights or reflecting back into oneself which is not possible for body qua body.
This, however, does not mean that intellect proper is unconnected to the physiological intellect – it is at the same instance really distinct and in actual union with it, because higher act always encompasses the lower one; they are one energy distinct in itself so that it can be understood only as one actual being – the man.
Man in turn can never be understood as a kind of unit we can define in corporeal or quantifiable terms, because his inner reality transcends our image making capacity. The reality understood in energetic terms can never be imprisoned in the system, because it by its very nature always precedes not only images, but also concepts and conceptual systems. In this sense, the intrinsic first act – or the first energy – that informs the human being is something that can be understood only as personal and this in turn means that it can never be made fully transparent, because its essence is not ready at hand without knowing its activities and, it itself being a pure activity as much as it is possible for a finite being, it cannot really be totally laid bare to the gaze of other finite beings.
The noticeable ease with which Aquinas straightforwardly ignores the supposed problem of subject-object split symptomatic for modern thought comes from the proper application of understanding in the simple act of thinking the lower from the standpoint of the higher, i.e. of what not only causes, but is also permanently in union with it, encompassing it.
Now, if we turn our focus back to history, we might note that, surprisingly enough, most of us see it along these lines.
We don’t really understand the past solely as the playground of geopolitics, while at the same time we do affirm that this is what we mostly see in historical records; after all they consist of recording and interpreting the political interactions between political entities.
What lies beyond this, however, is the matter of the different kind of record which, although formally historical in the sense that it records the events of the past, does not confine itself to political history.
The case in point would be the kind of event like the birth of Christ and in general the record of such historical events signifying the moments where history is being clearly influenced by something that is beyond it, i.e. the moments where eternity acts upon time, both informing and distinguishing special moments in it.
These moments are not solely historical although they come to pass in history and play the crucial role in informing everything posterior to them in a quite peculiar, unassuming, way; the sign of this is that we rarely think about them when we think about history per se. So it can come to pass that, although in the West we are still counting time from the focal point of the birth of Christ, people feel free to outright reject any significance of Christianity for the birth of European civilization. In fact only very recently one can note the tendency to exchange Anno Domini for Christian Era, signifying an open attempt to implement this in reality, quite artificially.
People who wonder how come that somebody believes that Christianity was a crucial factor in gestation of relatively unified European civilization do not do this because their above average critical faculties, as they themselves would apparently like to believe, but precisely from acute unawareness of their own historical belonging and inability to recognize that it is all around them wherever they turn.
One of the reasons for this is the peculiar character of the unified act of eternity and time.
It is, in historical terms, an exceedingly quiet moment. It is also, one might add, a profoundly personal one, in the sense that outstanding acts that inscribed it into exterior events come from the reality which transcends the exterior one, i.e. from the act which is profoundly intrinsic and non-mechanical, while at the same time all-encompassing. The nearest example we have for such activity is the activity of a person.
The reason why people disbelieve miracles, as for instance quite public and massively witnessed miracle at Fatima, is not the denial of it coming to pass, because as an event in history it satisfies far more of the heuristic requirements than some other events that are readily accepted, but the denial of the possibility of eternity embracing time and yielding effects that cannot be explained from the time itself.
I would propose that an attempt to understand time as self subsisting reality in the absolute sense is precisely what finds it’s to date clearest expression in Communism.
This is what was implied in Marx’ dictum that “we have only one science: the science of history”.
The peculiarity of Communism is not only the denial of eternity but also the affirmation of eschatological character of time taken in itself. This means that all the traditional qualities of eternity are being appropriated on behalf of time; also it presupposes that history as a battleground of geopolitics is being affirmed to its utmost – it is eschatological precisely because it is a battleground, and salvation that was supposed to be achieved in Communism is the product of conflict and not of reconciliation as is the case in the Christian history of salvation.
Yet it seems that one piece of what amounts to two part puzzle is still missing.
It is that which lies below history.
Communism doesn’t only deny eternity, but also its opposite – the perpetuity of chaos.
This rarely spoken of “nether region” was in no way addressed by Communists. It is only natural, because rejecting the highest principle implies ditching the lowest also.
I would posit that this, in the broadest possible outline, represents what materialism and its correlate, the absolute faith in human intellect, amounts to.
If observed from the standpoint of metaphysics, it appears to be an attempt to “contain Being”, make it stable by reducing everything to matter and its reflection in evolved, physiologically based, human intellect. It does not flat out reject the value of traditional expressions of human essence, but appropriates them as also “contained” in themselves – human history then appears to be a record of evolution proceeding towards the final conflict that will erase the dialectics of “oppressor-oppressed” and usher the new age.
In this process actual human person is the first casualty because it cannot be confined in the strait jacket of the system. Hence the formal exaltation of the “working class”, “victim groups” and other systemic parameters at the same time implies an utter degradation of actual worker or actual victim, whoever they might be.
The whole affair is an attempt at appropriation of absolute political power which is at the same time determined by declarative moral purity and actual moral terrorism, by its very nature, with no possibility of reform.
As such, Communism and, I would venture to opine, most if not all contemporary Left is, at least in its theory, a failed and largely anachronistic attempt to establish modernity on certain inverted metaphysical principles.
However, at present moment in time, it appears that this anachronism is on its way out and, being incapable of essential reform, it just doesn’t correspond to historical moment.
Namely, “containing Being” also has a pronounced conservative implication, something that was more than obvious to anyone living in the communist society.
Communism was never so nihilistic to affirm that dissolution of superstructure should also proceed into dissolution of the base. The whole idea was to reform the base in order to create the new superstructure.
It ended up in monumental failure because base-superstructure conceptual pair actually inverts the reality, but also because it cannot help but involve a vertical relation.
In the dissolution of modernity the first victim is precisely this principle which Communism retained, albeit in materialistic terms.
So, for the age of dissolution, which means for the age in which it became possible to reach below history and below matter itself, Communism is just one among many systems that can be carved up and appropriated in parts. There can be no faith, even a revolutionary one, on the trajectory of dissolution, because the only motive force driving people into complacency with it is indifference.
And, to recall the quite correct Nietzsche’s insight, Socialism was mainly driven by envy, thus still able to attach value to something, if only in the negative sense of destroying the object of envy in the revolutionary vengeance.
What lies beyond this is the great below, of which we still can hardly say anything with any certainty.
However, in conclusion, we can make one quite certain remark. Where there’s ‘below’, there’s also ‘above’; materialism mutilated the historical reality of what preceded it, but attempted to preserve its confined ontological “region” as long as it could. To put it in religious terms, if the Heaven was closed, the Hell was closed too.
Could it be that now, when the Hell can be wide open, the Heaven will open too?
This question, however, transcends anyone’s guess and our subject matter.
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I think communism was the peak of modernity which failed precisely because, like you said, it tried to bring back, through the back door, the very principles it denied, albeit as secular parodies of the originals.
On the other hand, post-modernity is a completely different animal, one consistent to the nihilist worldview it is based upon.
One small correction: the CE which you render as Christian Era actually stands for “Common Era”, which makes it even more ridiculous- “common” according to what or to whom?
*B.C.E. is the way Jewish historians denote the era before Christianity — “Before the Common Era.” C.E. is the era after Christianity — “The Common Era.”
“Page 17.” The Jewish Community in Canada, by Stuart E. Rosenberg, Mac Clelland and Stewart, 1970.
I don’t mean to attack Jews with this, but just to acknowledge that this is how Jewish communities living out of the middle east with long
unpleasent associations with the late antiquity Medditerranian world and medieval Europe would view the world, and this is how they wound (past tense of wind – not enough vowel symboles in the English script) up viewing the world, at least from academic enclaves.
Whatever way C.E (which Christians sometimes jokingly interpret as Christian Era) and B.C.E. got adopted by official academics, the logic in universities is that they want to be inclusive and friendly to the whole world, ergo ‘Common Era’.
Actually, appealing to forces of past events seems rather materialist, there is something replete with meaning about people from a Jewish perspective calling christian related things ‘common’ due to the holy/common conception in a lot of Jewish religious thought. In essence common would mean ‘unholy’ (and therefore not a neutral term to use).
Yet to say that in Western countries would, (regardless of anti-semitic connotations) would sound like a rather jingoistic statement, and a breach of the peace, but then that is what social media and comment sections are for; the breach of all possible peace (which sounds too melodramitic to be real). Christians have been criticizing ‘common era’ for a long time, and due to the interchangability with A.D./B.C there is no issue, but a complaint about it from a Christian point of view would add little of use or value, as the current system wants the B.C.E/C.E. method to prevent insult or brining up ‘religion’ in ‘non-religious’ contexts.
So within their model, they actually should use some other term, as ‘Common era’ expresses a very Jewish religious idea, but that point would be lost in the attempt to make it, (jingoistic Christians would approve, most ppl wouldn’t care [don’t mess ith what works], and the officials that employ and ensure the usage of the C.E. way would not see that C.E. is a contradiction of their own stated principles, and only see questioning of it, as an attack on the whole ‘peace’).
Also though, A.D. was the chronological way that Charlemagne’s court writers recorded time and it ‘accidentally’ became the way Christendom counted the years, because he won. That is at the material plain what would appear to be, but given other power(s) at work, this adoption of a time keeping way from the birth of Christ, as opposed to the creation of the world, the founding of Rome, or since Christ died, (other calenders in use in Western Europe before Charlemagne’s re-establishment of an Emperor in th the west) is filled with meaning from many points of view.