Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pure ideology

Commenter DuWayne Brayton offers a long comment on Should the government own everything?.

DuWayne seems to argue that communism is a "pure ideology":
Most ideology looks sexy as hell on paper and sound great from the mouths of charismatic philosophers. But when it comes to real world application, it starts falling apart. On paper, it is inevitable that the one factor repeatedly ignored, is human nature. There is some default assumption that humans will transcend millennia of our evolution and make it all fit together like so.
There are definitely examples of this sort of "pure ideology": Christianity and Islam spring immediately to mind. These ideologies certainly ignore fundamental facts about human nature, especially that human beings are sexual beings, and that sex is both fun and — with modern technology: contraception, antibiotics, condoms and safe abortion — need not be any more dangerous than riding a motorcycle.

The question of course is whether communism is such a "pure ideology" and whether it ignores human nature at a fundamental level. We communists certainly say that communism is a science, that it is reality- and results-oriented*, and that it takes into account human nature at a fundamental level.

*Bob Avakian's polemics against "pragmatism" are best read as polemics against a narrow, superficial expediency, rather than an argument in favor of essentialism and against pragmatism in the broadest results-oriented sense.

Of course, we could be wrong. But if we are in fact wrong, it seems incumbent on critics to offer actual examples where we are wrong. Merely observing uncontroversially that communists have explicitly written some ideas down, and have therefore created an ideology, does not argue that communism is a pure ideology, an essentialist ethical-political system that contradicts or ignores important scientific truths about the world in the same sense that many religious ideologies contradict and ignore scientific truth.

To a certain extent, the admonition against dogmatism, essentialism and ideological authoritarianism should be a "standing order" for all intellectuals. Even scientists all-to-often fall into dogmatic ruts, ignoring or prejudicially dismissing uncomfortable evidence and challenging new ideas.

But the question goes deeper than that. Dogmatism — ideological authoritarianism — is the sine qua non of religion; take out the dogmatism (i.e. scripture) and you are left with ordinary, natural opinion, preference and psychology. If you take the dogmatism out of communism, if you read Marx, Lenin, Mao, and a host of other communist intellectuals critically, applying one's own observation, natural reason and ethical intuition, do you lose the "communism"? I say no: I have read Marx, Lenin, Mao, and a host of other communist intellectuals, I have read them critically (or so I believe), and I've come to the conclusion that despite larger and smaller errors they make a lot of sense at a fundamental level.

There is only one fundamental doctrine of communism: All relations of exploitation and oppression — economic, political, social and psychological — are morally wrong. But this is a doctrine, not a dogma: it's not presented as factual truth but as a defining moral position. If you disagree, you are not mistaken in the same sense that you are mistaken if you disagree that the Earth orbits the sun. If you disagree you are simply an enemy of communism. If you agree, the only question is what kind of communist are you?

2 comments:

  1. "All relations of exploitation and oppression — economic, political, social and psychological — are morally wrong" is a libertarian dogma too.
    I think there are many underlying dogmas associated with any political ideology. Just one would not be enough. For example the ideea people will not try to take advantage of the system is common to socialism and anarcho-capitalism. I haven't seen a reasonable answer to the question "Who will prosecute those who take advantage of the system?" in either.
    In socialism what is the punishement for a person that gets food and shelter from the government and doesn't want to work? Stop supplying the food and shelter? Doesn't that mean you will not fullfill the basic needs of ALL the people?
    In anarcho-capitalism who will punish the private police if they break the rules of the games? Doesn't this require a state police?
    Socialists and liberatians have faith (dogmatically) in the good intentions of their fellow human beings. The truth is there will always be people what will try to push the limits of the laws. That should be the primary concern of a political ideology. Once the law-enforcement is guaranteed we can talk about principle. The ideological principle should be compatible with the law-enforcement rules (eg: state police to enforce the libertarian private police).
    I know I'm mixing libertarian with socialism and this comment may seem a strawman or red herring but I think finding a method to guarantee the law being respected is a prerequisite for any talk about principle of a society.

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  2. Logosfera:

    "All relations of exploitation and oppression — economic, political, social and psychological — are morally wrong" is a libertarian dogma too.

    Note that the moral objection to relations of exploitation and oppression is not dogma, at least not in the same sense of religious dogma: it is not asserted as objective truth; it is a statement of how communists feel, what we desire.

    Second, because Libertarians (I assume you mean big-ell political libertarians, not small-ell philosophical libertarians (a position that has to do with free will)) support and defend the kinds of property rights that can exist only to justify exploitation, we must see this Libertarian doctrine as disingenuous.

    [T]he idea people will not try to take advantage of the system is common to socialism and anarcho-capitalism.

    I disagree. Anarcho-communism becomes possible when people do not try to "take advantage" of the system, or when the system is sufficiently robust that the concept of taking unjust or unacceptable advantage of the system is untenable.

    In other words, we don't implement anarcho-communism hoping that people will magically refuse to take advantage of the system. Instead, we try to create social and psychological constructions such that people do not want to take advantage of the system; when those constructions are in place, anarcho-communism will naturally follow.

    It is perhaps the case that anarcho-communism might never become possible; anarcho-communism might be impractical, but it is not naive.

    The answer under socialism — viewed as a transition from capitalism to communism — is simpler: a socialist society has government, laws, police, courts and — at least in some sense — prisons. Socialism does not hold that in the short term all the needs of all can or should be met. Socialism simply gives priority to different needs of a different class of people than capitalism.

    The truth is there will always be people what will try to push the limits of the laws. That should be the primary concern of a political ideology.

    But of course.

    ReplyDelete

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