Saturday, May 22, 2010

The working class and Habermas

The proletariat provides the socio-ontological conditions for emancipation from ideology and exploitation. This is based on the proletariat’s unique relationship to the production process as source of wealth, value and capital–the very material basis for the existence of capitalist society. This peculiar oppression of the proletariat is what gives it its truth conditioning property. Given this Jurgen Habermas mistakenly attributes this emancipating property to language or what he calls communicative action. This constitutes an idealist anti-working class stance typical of the Frankfurt critical theorists. Habermas’ centring of language in the form of communicative interaction is not as he would claim the discovery and establishment of the authentic basis for liberation from oppression. Habermas in line with Frankfurt critical theory has dismissed the working class as agent of revolution. He has employed the category or concept of communication as the conceptual means of marginalising the working class. This had the effect of conceptually undermining the concept of the working class from within its own theoretical problematic. Habermas’ ideology is intended to conceptually underpin the strategy of marginalising the working class movement. Indeed it has, in a sense, formed part of a coordinated attempt to conceptually and politically gut the working class. And to a large extent he has been successful in promoting this cause. Habermas’ theory of communicative action abstracts from the class question. It suggests that successful resistance to capitalist oppression is conceptually and socially independent of the working class. It suggests that resistance can be organised on a cross-class basis – liberal movements. No longer can there be what might be called a proletarian problematic or proletarian centred theoretical framework by which society, history and change is rendered intelligible. He centres communicative action at the heart of liberation from oppression.

The proletariat is embedded within reification. Reification by producing the proletariat within it produces within itself the source of truth, knowledge and social revolution and thereby its own demise. Reification is ultimately based on nature or matter. It is the latter that leads to natural science, together with its methodology, and then social science and sociology. An examination of Comte’s work provides evidence of this. In a sense, then, reification produces its own antithesis in the form of the modern working class --conditions that lead to the critique of political economy in the form, among other things, of Marx’s Capital. Marx’s work is a critique of reification as economics and is thereby the proletariat’s critique. Reification produces the source of both critique and its own dissolution. This process produces within itself the working class, the material source of the communist movement, and the theory of the working class. The working class, the bourgeoisie’s polar opposite, is the fountainhead of ideologically free consciousness –revolutionary class consciousness. The source of truth is the working class and the source of deception is the capitalist class. However the latter is the spawning ground of the ruling ideas –the ideas of the ruling class. Under capitalism humanity is reified by its bifurcation into the capitalist class and the working class. Habermas seeks to dissolve Marx and communism by replacing anti-reification in the form of the communist working class with reified communicative action. For Habermas distorted communicative action has within it a liberationist quality. This means that bourgeois ideology is convertible into liberation theory. Ideology does not have to be combated and dissolved. Communication, discourse or dialogue forms the basis for forming alliances with outright reactionary elements such as the Roman Catholic pope. Communicative action is now to be substituted for class struggle. Social reconciliation is realisable through conversations with the enemy to arrive at consensus. Instead of combating fascists “we” talk with them. Habermas argues that reason in its instrumental form is a form of ideology. This means that ideology, for Habermas, is a form of reason and thereby not irrational. For Habermas then ideology is not authentic ideology. It contains within itself the opposite of ideology –reason. It merely requires to be reconstructed or subjected to revision.

The source of ideology is the ruling class otherwise known as the capitalist class. Truth, on the other hand, has its source in the working class the polar opposite to the capitalist class. This perspective is what gives ideas their material basis. One form is grounded in the oppressor while the other is grounded in the oppressed. The ideas based in the working class are a form of class-consciousness. Consequently the working class is the fountainhead of revolutionary change. Diverse conceptual frameworks overlap and compete with each other within the working class movement. However the conditions for communist theory, ultimately winning out, are that the working class provides the necessary and only basis for the one conceptual framework –the communist problematic. Specific social conditions render the assimilation of communism within the working class movement more favourable than other conditions. The acceptance of the communist problematic by the working class is a complex matter and thereby not inevitably subject to prediction. However new facts can lead to a conceptual shift. This is because new facts may not make sense under the current conceptual framework. Changes are up to a point forced by the facts --by the evidence. In this sense conceptual claims do seem vulnerable to factual proof and disproof. New facts may make workers change their minds about what it makes sense for them to say about the facts. For example today’s serious changing economic conditions (or facts) may lead to a conceptual change in the consciousness of the world’s working class. Theoretical understanding involves in some measure conceptual innovation. A revolutionary confined to the vocabulary of Aristotle or Adam Smith would not be able to generate a vocabulary adequate to the description of social life as we know it.

Workers engaged in the struggle for existence under capitalism do not initially analyse and explain their own behaviour. Consequently it is the communist intelligentsia who spend their time thinking about the valorisation process and the law of the tendency of the general rate of profit to fall. The communist theoretical framework which incorporates a certain vocabulary is quite indispensable. The theoretical framework involves abstracting from the concrete detail of what everyday life looks like to the participants and instead conceptually organises their world in quite other terms than theirs. Such a process is quite essential to the communist problematic. The indispensable condition is that the account given by communists should be based on or rooted in that of the proletarian actors themselves. The conceptual system of revolutionary theory is grounded in the conditions and experience of the working class. There can be no logical objection to concepts like that of exchange value, the rate of exploitation and the fetishism of commodities. Such concepts get their meaning from the activity and experience of the workers. In the same way the communist theoretical framework gets its meaning from the day to day life of the workers. This theory is socially bound. It is socially bounded by the experience of the working class. This means that this theory cannot be understood by capitalists and their agents such as their ideologues. The inability of capitalists and their retinue to understand communist theory is not an empirical but a conceptual issue. It is conceptual because the class interest of the working class on which this conceptual paradigm is based is the polar opposite to the class interests of the capitalist class from which an opposing conceptual paradigm is constructed. Proletarian theory transcends the limits of the experience of the capitalist class.