NEW INTERVENTIONS, VOLUME 13, NO 2
Philosophy and Revolution
Philosophy is the scientific expression of a certain
fundamental human attitude… toward
s being andbeings in general, and through which an historical-social situation often can express itself more clearly and deeply than in the reified, practical spheres of life.
Herbert MarcuseF there is one dominant philosophy in the modern worldthat embraces both left and right (not to mention post-modernism), that philosophy is pragmatism. As a philoso-phy pragmatism is really quite simple. If you want to eat abowl of soup, and the choice is between using a fork or aspoon, you will choose the spoon because it will do the jobbest. If you want a society where the maximum number of commodities is available to the maximum number of con-sumers, you might try and create a free market; or, if that
doesn’t work, you might try state control and nationalis
a-tion; and, if neither does the job, there is always a mixtureof the two, such as market-socialism (or something a lotnastier). The question for pragmatism is always and only,
‘what works best’. If
, on the other hand, you advocate asociety in which there is no commodification of productionand no reification or alienation of human labour, the prag-matist will say you are not living in the real world. You aretalking abstractions. As for alienation, well what does anon-alienated state of being look like? And the pragmatistmight accuse you of looking for a concealed reality behindappearances, the consciousness of which
and this is
might lead to consciousness of a possiblealternative.Go back two and a half thousand years and we find Pla-to arguing that there is indeed a reality beyond the false
appearance of the phenomenal world. Plato, who doesn’t
give a damn about public opinion, argues that the truth inits totality, like the soul, is universal, beyond time and be- yond space.
The [Russian] Communist Party corresponds to the
guardians [of Plato’s Republic]; the soldiers have
about the same status in both; there is in Russia anattempt to deal with family life more or less as Plato
suggested… the parallel is extraordinarily exact b
tween Plato’s Republic and the regime which the
better Bolsheviks are endeavouring to create.
Bertrand Russell (1921)
s imaginary Republic he divides society into threeparts, which correspond to what he sees as the three hu-man characteristics. At the base is the multitude. The soulof the multitude expresses itself in the love of food, comfortand sex. Above the multitude are the Guardians
thefunctionaries, military leaders and educators
who lovepower and honour. Above the guardians are the Philoso-phers, who love wisdom. And because the philosophers arethe most perfect they live communistically, with equality between the sexes, and no private property. As regards gov-ernment and the decision-making process, Plato excludes,as well as the multitude, anyone who selfishly engages inthe pursuit of wealth for its own sake. No capitalist would
want to live in Plato’s Repu
blic.Rosa Luxemburg says that at the moment the Greeksenter history their situation is that of a disintegrated primi-tive communism. The ancient society, in which all mem-bers of the tribe are entitled to an equal share of their col-lective produce and collective plunder, is undermined by the rise of an aristocracy and the spread of monetisation.So, at the very time in Greek history when primitive com-munism is extinguished in reality, it is reinvented as anélitist ideal by Plato.
Aristotle understood that movement from humanpotential to its actualisation within the
as ex-emplifying the metaphysical and theological charac-ter of a perfected universe.
Alisdair MacIntyre Aristotle, who comes after Plato, develops the concept of
the ‘good life’. The
good life spans through one’s lifetime; it
is not a project in which the end takes primacy over the
means; one’s life is not a means to something else; its a
c-tivity is an end in itself. Aristotle, like Plato, divides thehuman community into three parts: at the top is the realmof theory and philosophy; secondly, there is the realm of
(which means action in the sense of free activity);and thirdly, at the bottom of society is production. Whilstphilosophy and praxis are activities with no other ends thanthemselves, production
as performed by slaves, women,artisans and others whom Aristotle excludes from citizen-ship
has its end outside of itself.Like Plato, Aristotle believes that ideal forms and uni- versals are real in the logical-metaphysical sense. But unlikePlato, Aristotle argues that ideal forms and universals can-
not exist separately from the material reality. In Aristotle’s
or rather the
, or city state
what he callsthe
cause is the quality and quantity of the citizensrather than the physical territory, which he assumes to beunder private ownership. What he calls the
is the legislator
the revolutionary leader whofounds the constitution. And what he calls the
purpose) of the
is the self-sufficientcommunity and the good life.
According to Aristotle’s concept of totality in the
,the whole is more than the sum of its parts. By contrast, if we accept our fate under capitalism, we are just a collection