July 18, 2024

The following has been translated and republished from Rizospastis.

Most of us would probably laugh at the thought of a sheep hoping to escape alive from a pack of hungry wolves, simply because they would have to respect its wish to identify itself as lettuce. Things, however, with such notions of “individual self-determination” are too serious to be satisfied with such jokes. After all, these are concepts whose roots are centuries ago, and this is not the first time that Marxism has been called upon to confront them.

Someone who has not engaged with perhaps Lenin’s most important philosophical work, “Materialism and Empirio-criticism,” and its significance, might pass off as an indifferent coincidence that this year’s 100th anniversary of Lenin’s death follows last year’s 270th of the death of the British subjective idealist philosopher George Berkeley and is followed next year by the 340th anniversary of his birth. Besides, why should anyone today be interested in the views of Bishop Berkeley and his descendants, and Lenin’s criticism of them, when they seem so out of date, literally out of season and climate?

However, the development of the class struggle over the years and the contemporary demands of the ideological-political confrontation with the forces of capital have brought it to such an extent that today the danger of metaphysical idealism once again projects itself against the revolutionary labor movement.

Except that, instead of the conditions of the 18th century, subjective idealism is promoted today in the territory of the temporary prevalence of the counter-revolution since the end of the 20th century, as well as the rapid scientific and technological development which, on the one hand, shapes the possibilities of expanded satisfaction modern needs and, on the other hand, contributes to the intensification and increase of the degree of exploitation and to new forms of manipulation in the 21st century.

Old reactionary notions…

Berkeley regarded things as aggregates of feelings and denied their existence outside of human knowledge. With my sight, he said, I form the ideas of colors, with touch I perceive soft and hard, with hearing sounds, and so on. So what we call an “apple,” for example, is nothing more than a collection of various ideas and feelings that we observe together and consider as a separate thing. The essence of his teaching is the denial of the existence of matter, of objective reality, outside and independent of the mind, and of its knowability.

Without denying that there is a distinction between things we see and touch, on the one hand, and chimeras, on the other, Berkeley argues that both the one and the other exist in the mind and only there, not outside of it. Just as chimeras exist in our imagination, so do we perceive things only as collections of ideas or combinations of sensory properties, such as extent, weight, color, etc. Their difference is only that the ideas produced by the human mind, like chimeras, are weaker and more unstable than the ideas we receive from the senses, which speak of the influence of a mind stronger and wiser than the human.

Against such views, Lenin developed in “Materialism and Empirio-criticism” the scientific, dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, establishing the possibility of objective knowledge of the laws of nature and society. As he emphasized, the uniquely absolute admission of the existence of matter outside of human consciousness and feeling is what distinguishes dialectical materialism from idealism and agnosticism. This work of Lenin is still today a model for the fight against modern reactionary views, which attempt to project various factors at the center of the study of social phenomena against the laws of social development.

…are marketed with new packaging

In its current version, subjective idealism appears in the form of the postmodern cut of irrationalism expressed in the concepts and ideologies of “individual self-determination” and the constitution of the individual as a synthesis of multiple identities. It advocates that the worker is supposedly free to define himself arbitrarily based on any of his individual desires, undermining the possibility of understanding objective social reality as such or even questioning its very existence. Here we again find before us, then, Bishop Berkeley.

In an age of cataclysmic scientific and technological possibilities, which allow us to interfere with everything from Space to DNA to the brain, the various expressions of subjective idealism present reality, in all its aspects, as a social construction not based on objective foundations.

Somewhat simplistically, it is considered that everything that exists around us, together with society, are human creations, which could have been created differently. The fact that they happened this way or not, is the result of choices and associations. There is no objective factor that determines the hows and whys. As it were, there is no inexorable lawlessness of capitalism that dictates the intensity of exploitation of the working class to maximize capitalist profit. “With a law and an article,” as some souls said a few years ago, we could, if we wanted, make capitalism humane.

Thus, what derives from reality itself, namely the possibility of its conscious and intentional transformation through the development of social activity, is distorted and the individual will is presented as the generative cause of social reality. In this way, it is hidden that human activity develops within the framework of the objective possibilities and limitations set by the objective—physical and social—reality itself, the laws that govern its development, as well as the awareness of these.

On this basis, too, every modern social problem is cut off from its root, i.e. from how it develops within the society of capitalist exploitation, and the only realistic prospect of its solution is obscured, i.e. the definitive uprooting of the causes that cause it and leave it to mature.

According to such considerations, everything we perceive from the world around us is nothing more than a sum of interpretations of different subjective experiences. Thus, “deifying” the subjective perception, modern idealism and irrationalism, with the vehicle of “individual self-determination,” considers each person as a composition of various social affiliations (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class, cultural groups, etc. etc.), as he takes them subjectively in each given phase, attributing to each of them a different “identity.”

Thus, for example, the capitalist and the worker cease to be essentially distinguished from the point of view of the exploitative relationship between them and can coexist in a grouping-“community” formed on the basis of some of their common choices (e.g. “vegan community” etc.).

In this context, the pursuit of performance/assertion of each individual identity ends up being met with a liberal rightism: The performance of an identity is accompanied by the assertion of institutional protection of individual rights consistent with it by the bourgeois state. The “you are what you say,” which the older ones may remember, that is, but this time with the stamp of the bourgeois state and sponsored by the Euro-Atlantic staffs.

And this is where we again find before us the lettuce of the title, this time, however, in a metaphorical sense, since the amount of money that is pushed for the promotion and consolidation of such concepts through many channels is incredible, with the most characteristic, perhaps, examples to come from the field of culture.

In the way of Lenin, we step up the ideological front with “individual self-determination”

In the age of its death rattle, capital is not content only with the exploitation of man’s labor power, but intervenes comprehensively in the formation of his thought, consciousness and personality, even his body. Through such considerations, the working man, who is the real subject of social life, is stripped of any objectively human designation (class, gender, nation, etc.), so that only the individual remains—the object of capitalist exploitation, as an unwritten tableau in which all the pursuits of the chapter can be registered.

The increasingly aggressive promotion of the agenda of “individual self-determination” and “individual empowerment” by Euro-Atlantic staffs has a dual purpose. On the one hand, to move away from the horizon of the working class and the poor popular strata, the only realistic prospect of satisfying their modern needs and the path to its realization. On the other hand, the needs of capital should be understood as their modern needs and the achievement of the goals of its power should be understood as the path to their realization.

This is why there is still a great need to intensify the ideological front with such considerations, following the teaching and example of Lenin, who did not hesitate to devote considerable energy and time to complete “Materialism and Empirio-criticism,” even at the expense of other, apparently more pressing and immediate tasks, precisely because he had realized that the victory of revolutionary Marxist ideas in the field of philosophy was a decisive task for the strengthening of the Communist Party and the achievement of its goals.

D. Koilakos is a member of the Ideological Committee of the Central Committee of the KKE and the Party Committee of Organizations of the KKE Abroad.