“The implicit contradiction of Marxism is that man can only overcome his own self-alienation by attenuating his alienation from his origins.” ---from The Quotations of Chairman Joe
As a young lad studying in a parochial school, I was taught to loathe the teachings of Marx and Nietzsche. Upon completing college I went about the business, in my mid 20’s, collecting the works of these authors thinking, to paraphrase Nietzsche, that they had to be worth something to be hated in so indecent a fashion. The following was composed in the spring of 1977, a little more than a decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Herein is a short essay encapsulating my critique of Marx as his doctrine pertains to the post-industrial world:
Alienation is at least as old as religion itself; which is to say that it may be as old as man. In fact one could see religion as the manifestation of the first alienation. Further, in contradistinction to our Marxist friends, the religious aspects of alienation have been transformed into economic and political alienation, coinciding historically with the secularization of the state and, later, the industrial revolution. To put it more concisely, to understand current economic and political alienation, one must first understand religion; for the manifestation of the industrial system is itself the bludgeon we have fashioned to execute our preconceived values concerning man versus nature. Religion gave us the postulate of man’s domination of nature, and the rise of the nation-state together with the industrial revolution gave us the means to inflict our dominance on an ever more massive scale. Therefore to embrace the industrial revolution, as Marxism implicitly does, is to embrace the alienation of man from the natural order.
As George Novack points out in his essay The Problem of Alienation, “The most primitive forms of alienation arise from the disparity between man’s needs and wishes and his control over nature. Although they have grown strong enough to counter pose themselves as a collective laboring body against the natural environment, primitive peoples do not have enough productive forces, techniques and knowledge to assert mastery over the world around them. Their helplessness in material production has its counterpart in the power of magic and religion in their social life and thought. Religion, as Feuerbach explained and Marx repeated, reverses the real relations between mankind and the world. Man created the gods in his own image. But to the superstitious mind, unaware of unconscious mental processes, it appears that the gods have created men. Deluded by such experiences—and by social manipulators from witch doctors to priests—men prostrate themselves before idols of their own manufacture. The distance between the gods and the mass of worshippers serves as a gauge for estimating the extent of man’s alienation from his fellow men and his subjugation to the natural environment….Alienation is therefore first of all a social expression of the fact that men lack adequate control over the forces of nature” (1)
These, then, is a short summary of orthodox Marxist teaching concerning religion and alienation, but let us subject these underlying premises to the close scrutiny of the natural order. First, orthodox Marxism teaches the implicit acceptance of the domination over and the control of nature. “For it is hard to deny that the potential wealth of society, the degree of satisfaction of rational needs, and the possibility of thereby eliminating the coercive mechanisms in the social and economic organization, have been advancing with giant strides for a whole century—and especially in the last quarter of this century—in what is called ‘industrial’ society. Why should it be supposed that this tendency cannot result in a qualitative ‘leap’ by which man’s enslavement to the necessities of a ‘struggle for existence’ would wither away and his capacity to dominate his own social organization, no less that he dominates the forces of nature, would come to full flower” .(2)
The problem of central concern here is that the domination and control over nature by man has itself become the central linchpin of Marxist theory; for the Marxian remedy lies precisely in the acceleration of this control. For according to Marx and his disciples the alienation and self-alienation of the individual can only be overcome by way of “increasing general conditions of abundance of material goods, the principal goal of production becomes that of producing fully developed individuals, creative and free. In proportion as man becomes the “principle productive force” through the enormous extension of scientific technologies, he is less and less directly “integrated” into the production process. In proportion as ‘living labor’ is expelled from the production process, it acquires new significance as the organizer and controller of this process.” (3). In this capsulized form we find the adherence of Marxist philosophy with adopting the growth syndrome of Western technological societies. Indeed, for the Marxist, the only avenue toward the overcoming of alienation is the shopworn expedient of ever increasing production of material wealth or, to put it bluntly, massive increases in GDP. Indeed Mandel’s apology for the obvious failure of the Socialist countries efforts to address themselves to this problem stems from their collective failure to increase the material output of their respective economies. With this in mind, let us return to the previous statements concerning man and his control over nature as they relate to the problem of alienation.
It seems that Marx was well on his way toward unraveling the problem, but then fell prey to the primitive form of alienation”, says Novack, “arise from the disparity between man’s needs and wishes and his control over nature. Although they have grown strong to counter pose themselves as a collective laboring body against the natural environment, primitive peoples do not have enough productive forces, techniques and knowledge to assert mastery over the world around them”. It was out of a desperate desire to control nature that man created god. It is the creation of god itself that is the hallmark of alienated behavior, for here man confuses the part with the whole, her man makes himself the measure of all things. Likewise is not the separation or ‘gap’ between needs and fulfillment that creates alienated behavior, rather it is the pathological introduction of the concepts of ‘control’ or ‘dominance’ that creates truly alienated activity. Thus, man was acting in harmony with the natural order when he counter posed himself vis a vis
Nature but as soon as he sought mastery over the world around him, he embarked on the road of futility. As soon as he sought mastery over nature he declared war on all his natural instincts, on his animal origins, on his life support systems.
The Marxist avenue to the ‘transcendence’ of the human problem of alienation itself rests on the domination and control of both nature and human nature. For Marx the human being is only fully realized through labor. The fully developed human being is a creative soul whose creativity can only be realized through production. A tree, said Marx, has value only when it is studied by a scientist or transformed into a piece of furniture or a home; when it is an object of scientific inquiry or cut down and cut up and bent to human purposes.
Such ‘transcendence’, it must by now appear obvious, itself rests on the alienation of man from the natural order. That is on the control, indeed on the exploitation of the earth. ‘Transcendence’ rests on the reckless adherence to the growth syndrome—indeed growth at all costs—even to the implicit acceptance of the industrial revolution. This blind acceptance of the industrial order, this faith in technology must itself belie a belief in the major presupposition of the industrial revolution—that is on the transcendence of man from the natural order through the domination and control of nature. Is it not obvious that such ‘transcendence’ of alienation is itself based on pathological alienated activity? It appears that Marxist philosophy concerning the transcendence of alienation, at this level, betrays an adherence to the fundamental basis of religious alienation. That is, it is not the separation of god from man that is alienation, rather the creation of god itself. So too it is not the separation of man from the technological/industrial order that is alienation, rather it is the creation of technologies in order to dominate and control nature that is the essence of alienation itself. The industrial order was created in order to make manifest man’s alienation from the world by seeking dominion over it. The liberal, socialist, leftist teaching is, in the broad view, nothing other than a secular religion for it seeks to create a material heaven on earth and it can do so only by declaring war on the natural order and on the earth it rests on.
Marx said that all generations stand on the shoulders of their fathers. In this sense we are all the victims of the institutions and values we inherit. The avenue toward transcendence of alienation must begin with the industrial/technological state. However, if it is the industrial/technological order that has produced the highest form of alienation, based as it is on the alienation of man from nature, it is not logical to conclude that the acceptance of that alienation through adherence to unlimited industrial growth will solve the problem. While Marxian solution may solve certain aspects of the alienation between men, it does nothing to solve the problem of the alienation of man from his eco-system, and from his natural origins. In short it does nothing to solve the problem of self-alienation, that is, alienation from natural man.
In any case as the industrial order presses against the barriers of resources and energy as well as creating massive problems with pollution, waste disposal and population growth, the Marxian dream of the transcendence of alienation through postindustrial growth will be revealed for what it is. Industrialization, like religion, reverses the real relations between man and the world, our task is not to control the natural environment, but to control the industrial/technological revolutions.
2. Mandel, Ernest “Progressive Disalienation through the Building of Socialist Society Or the Inevitable Alienation in Industrial Society” in The Marxist Theory Of Alienation. P. 46
3. Mandel, Ernest. P.42