A cure for your Weber fever
Excerpt on overcoming «the artificial gulf between the economic and the political» | «Possibilities» by Comandante Pablo Contreras of the EZLN (Pablo González Casanova)
«In a capitalist society, free time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time…»
Mexico City, 1969
The lack of scientific rigor in empiricism comes from renouncing the study of its values and, paradoxically, consists in affirming that the social system is natural and that the values that deny the system are not natural.
Empiricism is, thus, less scientific and more ideological the more it renounces the scientific study of its own values, the more it relegates them to an extra-scientific order, assuming them only in part, only insofar as its analyses do not directly affect the system itself.
As we have seen, it does not stop using values; it uses and analyzes them, but with limits, and its rationalization or ideology does not consist in the fact that it uses them, but rather that it does not analyze them fully as historical and social phenomena, as qualitative or quantitative categories and symbols, inserted in a social system also susceptible to a scientific analysis, where it is natural that the system is historical, that is, where it is natural that the system generates values and forces that reject it as a system and as a metaphysical or meta-historical, or meta-empirical entity.
This superficial character of empiricism consists in not going deeper into things; in considering the system as "constant", in stopping before masters and property.
This superficiality provokes a scientific and moral frustration, which leads it to resolve by refusing to assume that moral values are the historical, a natural backdrop of social sciences, and by refusing to register the scientific reality of the system as the backdrop of morality and politics.
Thus, empiricism, however scientific and technical its language may be, stops at the edge of historical reality and the interpretation of the quotidian, does not resolve the social assumptions of its own moral values, analyzes the reality of inequalities, of lack of freedom, of injustices – in partial ways. These are sustained only in some moments, with scientific fads that wear off and refute themselves, in a formidable display of intellectual frivolity, until, in times of crisis, many of its proponents reject rationalism and libertarian and egalitarian values, to openly embrace injustice and fascist-technocratic ideology. This is the moment of maximum moral renunciation of empiricism and at the same time, maximal scientific resignation.
In any case, with the concepts of inequality, asymmetry, progress, sociology has been conducted in a scientific environment, inconceivable without the "dogmas" of enacting equality and freedom. From this point of view it is thus evident that one cannot deny the possibility of a sociology of exploitation under the assumption that it would automatically fall within the orbit of values, unworthy of positive science. The problem then that remains to be sketched out consists in specifying in what way a sociology of exploitation can contribute something distinct and specific to the knowledge of social reality that justifies the research effort.
The concept of exploitation, as it appears in Marxism, constitutes a very profound break with all previous forms – idealist or materialist – of analyzing the human being.
Although the phenomenon of the exploitation of some people by others had been previously recorded, it always appeared as a manifestation dependent on the classical concepts of Man and being.
Exploitation as sin, or exploitation as accident were the characteristic or property of certain men who appeared as exploiters, and the characteristic of others who appeared as exploited.
Exploitation was a phenomenon of the moral order – always susceptible to be morally or civically corrected as in Robert Owen; or a barbarous law dictated by capitals – as in Charles Germain; or a right of property to "enjoy the fruits of labor without performing any of the tasks of labor" as in Proudhon; or an abuse of the consumers against the producers, as in Saint-Simon. In them and in Ravenstone, John Gray, Thomas Hoggkin, Willian Thompson, Babeuf, exploitation is an accidental fact, a characteristic of society or part of it, having its origin in consciousness, wealth or physical force.
What is constitutive of society — G-d or natural laws — is violated by exploitation; or exploitation obeys natural laws. Nevertheless, there is always something outside exploitation, the cause of exploitation, which “belongs to a different and higher order”.
Man is first of all bound to a deity or to Nature, to his conscience, to his power or his wealth, and from that bond, indissoluble and constitutive, “he exploits other men who are bound to God or to Nature, by their conscience, their poverty and their human condition”.
The relationship of one human being with another appears as an entity derived from something else. The very images of one person's relation to another emerge as "robinsonades," separate from society — recall De Foe's story — or separate from the market as in Diderot's lord and servant. Or separate from the actual processes of production, as in Hegel's master and slave; nevertheless, even when they are related to society, to the market and to production, even when the relations between exploiters and exploited are highlighted, they have an “origin”, they depend on causes other than exploitation, other than the very relation between exploiters and exploited.
Marx's critique of Hegel's conception of private property reveals the original starting point of Marxism, not only with respect to Hegel but to other philosophies. "Nothing is more comical," Marx wrote, "than the argumentation of private property in Hegel.” Man as a person needs to give reality to his will as the soul of external nature, and thus to take possession of this nature as his private property. Free private property in land — a very modern product — is not, according to Hegel, a determinate social relation, but a relation of man as a person to "nature," an "absolute right of appropriation of man over all things."
Indeed, until the emergence of Marxism, the relation of man to deity precedes the relation of man to other men; the relation of human to conscience or will precedes the relation to other humans; the relation to the natural system, to force or wealth, precedes any human relation, including the relation of exploitation, when it comes to be mentioned.
Exploitation is not as a matter of fact a central and systematic theme of philosophy before Marx; it emerges eventually as a characteristic, as "property," rather than as a human relation. And, when it is outlined as a relation, there is always something that constitutes it and precedes it; something that separates people before uniting them in the form of a contract, or a struggle.
With Marxism, "a determined social relation" emerges for the first time as constitutive, which has several characteristics, in terms of its constitutive character, and in terms of its delimitation or determination. The social relation is constitutive, but unlike the constitutive entities of other philosophies it is historical and contradictory.
In other philosophies every constitutive entity is meta-historical — even in positivism and empiricism — and coherent, in the sense that it does not represent struggle, conflict, the irrational, but one of its terms, good or reason.
In Marxism the social relation is constitutive, but it is also historical, contradictory and concrete. It is a certain type of social relation:
"It is always the direct relation of the owners of the means of production with the direct producers, which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the whole social structure...".
This relation has "specific forms", "by which unpaid surplus labor is wrested from the direct producer", which depend on previous historical relations, and which change and are modified by the new forces they generate.
The social relation of exploitation of some people by others produces — things, objects, goods, services — and also reproduces itself as a human relation. But the circle is broken: the terms of the relation are altered.
The production of things and instruments — including humans considered as objects — implies a development of the productive forces, without a correlative change in the fundamental relations of production. A complementary contradiction thus arises, which modifies the terms of the original contradiction between the owners of the means of production and the direct producers, whose labor is only partially remunerated. The latter increase in number, concentration, capacity to produce and act.
Both contradictions — that of the exploiter and the exploited — and that between the social relation of exploitation and the instruments and objects it produces, the so-called forces of production, make this system a historical one.
The relation generates, with technical and social progress, its own destruction.
Therefore, the constitutive character of the social relation of exploitation is not conceivable in a metaphysical sense, and as uncontaminated of any origin — or term — or as detached, or beyond a genesis, which is the expropriation of the workers from their means of production and the evolution of the private property of the same, or as separated from any context — in heaven, nirvana or pure spirit — but instead related, with historical intimacy, to the development of the forces of production that accompany it in the full process of its different forms of genesis. It evolves, and becomes extinct, generating the history of the daily and particular relations of exploitation in slavery, feudalism or capitalism. It develops, generating the natural history of values, which in the concrete relations of each system pose the mystified or rigorous solution of the problems of inequality, or of freedom and justice, which appear — given certain relations or in the process of formation of new relations — equivalent in a global vision to new bases or structures.
But the given social relation is constitutive in a double sense; from the epistemological point of view: because it is the immediate category, without which the problems of human and knowledge are not comprehensible, unless we fall into an objective or subjective idealism or a reifying materialism; in which God, the ego, or "the economy" thing, "the base" thing, "the structure" thing "explain" the processes and functioning of society, their authors stumbling one after another in explaining the incongruities of an imperfect world of divine origin, of the reality of an objective world, or of the freedom and responsibility of men, notwithstanding the existence of economic and structural determinism.
To take thus, as "starting point exploitation", to analyze society in classes that maintain relations of exploitation — the bourgeoisie and the proletariat — to consider the State as an instrument of these relations, and as "an organ of domination of the bourgeoisie".
To abandon the idea of "condemning" inequalities in order to explain them through exploitation, in order to explain exploitation; to discover the concrete struggles of concrete values — class struggles — and to determine "their program”, which “consists in the adherence in this struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie", makes the relation of exploitation simultaneously the most profound epistemological and historical, natural and political constitutive reality of a scientific sociology that concretely assumes the values of the modern age and identifies the anti-values.
The reality in the commodity market society, in the materialism of human relations, and in the historical egoism of human relations are all rooted on private ownership of the means of production.
Of all these concepts, sometimes difficult to grasp because of the curtain that interposes the schemes, or prejudices, the most difficult really is the first one, which makes that human cannot be conceived independently of a certain social relationship, which is not only quotidian, common to us, a daily one, but fundamental and that is the type of relationship kept in our work and in production.
When this point is understood and no room is left for other concepts — in which humans appear linked before each other to any other entity — a line of reasoning emerges that constitutes an upheaval in the field of knowledge and values. The analysis of the given social relation or relation of exploitation also points to a series of values, and in fact with it are linked the values of equality, freedom and progress; but in a sui generis and too close or quotidian manner to be easily understood.
Neither equality, nor freedom nor progress are values beyond exploitation, but characteristics or properties of it.
Indeed, together with inequality, power and development are part of the unity that forms the relation of exploitation.
Under these conditions, the analysis of inequality appears indissolubly linked to the determined social relation of exploiters and exploited, to the relation between owners and proletarians; and all the characteristics by which inequality is “measured”, which fall under the primitive category of wealth, are linked to the relation: capital-money, technique, industry, income, consumption, services.
Similarly, the characteristics that fall under the primitive category of power are linked to the relation of exploitation: heads of State and subjects, rulers and ruled, elites and masses, independent and dependent countries.
The same is true of the notions of progress, development, growth. Any of these characteristics, or concepts, is understood only when it is linked to the social relation, and any problem regarding them, any question that tries to be answered in a concrete and comprehensive way has to be linked to the relation.
The why of inequality is explained by the relation between owners and non-owners, this also demystifies power, and of development, it explains development for whom.
But then inequality does not appear as a natural, or individual, or metaphysical phenomenon, but as a phenomenon linked to exploitation and concretely to the determined social relation between the owners of the means of production and the non-owners.
The relations of Force and Power — freedom and lack of freedom — do not appear either as natural, or individual or metaphysical phenomena, but as historical phenomena linked to the social relation between owners and dispossessed; progress does not appear either as a natural or individual or as metaphysical phenomenon, but as a phenomenon linked to the relation of exploitation, to the classes that throughout history benefit from it, taking it away from them.
Then, a value that is at the base of the previous ones, which is that of justice no longer appears either as natural, or individual or metaphysical — nor as a problem of redistribution of wealth or power, but linked to a daily and really common phenomenon, the impossibility that, existing the relation of exploitation and private property of the means of production, there could be justice, or freedom, or equality, or development that are not limited by the social relation, by exploitation, always present and recurrent as Swamm's "petite phrase".
The discovery of the human relation of exploitation by Marxism causes such displeasure and uncertainty in the bourgeois man — who neither exists nor is without the proletarian — as the discovery of the Ego and the Monad, the General Willand the Public Interest, caused him pleasure and were the source of his intellectual and political security, beginning with Descartes, Leibniz, Rousseau, Helvetius or Smith.
The discovery of the given social relation is something like The Fall of the Ego, and it is rejected by the consciousness of one of the components of the relation — the owner, with all his cultural, philosophical and scientific tradition — seen as the daily unpleasantness, as the part which the Ego does not want to think about, and which the bourgeois performs, indissolubly, on a daily basis, against the proletarian.
This rejection, this reaction — particularly dramatic — generates a rationalization in the thought and science of the bourgeois, who constructs enormous and complex intellectual buildings, collecting, cultivating or revising those of foreign cultures, and including all technical and scientific discoveries that arise in the development of capitalist society.
But what is drama for the bourgeois conscience equals to an equivalent jubilation in revolutionary thought, which chooses the determined social relation, and assumes it, apprehends it as a constituent entity of historical and social reality, and of human sciences.
A series of problems then arise that hinder the new scientific research.
Of course, these problems do not stem from a connection with "values" that distinguishes research on exploitation as anti-scientific, with respect to positivist and empiricist research. One is as value-linked as the other. But the type of values that the investigation of exploitation contains, the way in which it conceives humanity and society as actual and ideal, are not only radically different from bourgeois conceptualization — however profound in its explanation of the quotidian — but also different from a copious metaphysical culture.
On the one hand, in its opposition to the vested interests, the new thought encounters a resistance that can only be broken through struggle; but this is not its most characteristic obstacle, nor the one that most distinguishes it from other intellectual movements, including those of the bourgeoisie in its revolutionary epoch.
The main problem is that its own categories do not have the tradition, and its researchers tend to lose them in order to return to the solid and recurrent metaphysical culture, while they find a vacuum of data and techniques, which make the task particularly hard.
Finally, the data necessary for the analysis of exploitation are not published, or are recorded incompletely, or grouped and aggregated in such a way that their scientific value for the purposes of the new research disappears.
In this, there is not only a political but also a metaphysical background, which is found in the traditional research techniques of history, economics, sociology and even mathematics and social statistics, with ontological and individualistic substrates that reappear where they are least expected.
Thus, research on exploitation has the same problems of struggle of other philosophies; to these are added the problems characteristic of the development of the social science of its time, and the flimsy film of a new methodology without tradition and that does not have its data organized.
None of this, however, makes new scientific research impossible, as it did not in other currents of thought and in other historical epochs; but it seriously hinders the task.
Among the main problems that appear, and which characterize vulgar Marxism, all constitute to some extent a return to the metaphysical culture, and one represents moreover the typical characteristic of the limitations of the sciences of its time.
In principle these problems are the following:
The absorbing character that the relation of exploitation tends to take; its disengagement from other social relations and factors, including the development of forces and production. The error here consists in thinking that the relation of exploitation is everything, and explains everything. It is a typical metaphysical error, possessing the old tradition of the causa prima, present in everything, explaining everything, being everything.
The lack of specification of the relation of exploitation in different historical and social contexts and the lack of a concrete analysis of it. Here several ways appear of returning to the metaphysical culture or of remaining in it.
Thus, the difficulty of understanding the different worlds, universes, subsets of exploitation, already announced by the historical sense of classical Marxism, and which it often abandons in order to generalize from the closed and unchanged world of the metropolis and free competition.
This type of error corresponds to the weight that Descartes' and Leibniz's notion of causa sive ratio or causa seu ratio has on empirical and dialectical investigation; that is, the idea that there is something determinant of the truth of a proposition; that there is a premise from which a proposition can be inferred, a fact from which another fact logically results. And this notion is inserted in the level of scientific knowledge that man had reached in the control of generalizations, of inferences, when there was not yet the theory of sets, nor the calculation of probabilities properly speaking, nor the techniques of sampling with the logical implications they have, nor the theory of complex systems.
Forgetting the exploitation relationship as a constitutive entity, that explains history, and is explained by the history of the human.
Forgetting this, and returning to objective or subjective idealism is the most immediate consequence.
But the errors in which the new research tends to slip, which make it retreat to the old, or make it remain to this day in the nineteenth century in some aspects and techniques, when the structure, history and science pertain to the XX century, can be surmounted, in part, by integrating the new elements to the great discovery of the determined social relation and placing it or searching for it in this new context.
If one analyzes value theory in an economy in which monopolistic competition prevails, and bears in mind the existence of junctions so differentiated that it is not legitimate to make inferences from one to the other without a prior study that specifies the behavior of the phenomenon in its economic and political aspects, the sociology of exploitation emerges not only as a possibility but as a necessary task.
Its operational habits, the way it specifies the concepts to measure and observe them, the way it selects its cases, to compare in a systematic and specific way the behavior of the different variables and factors — of concrete relations — can be particularly useful in the determination of a universe.
A universe for which only revolutionary praxis has specified the variants…