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The decline and rebirth of the labour movement (Part Two) PDF Print E-mail
The Labour Movement-Economy

marchHow reconcilable are the demands of the stomach and of the spirit? How much has the fact that we have thrown the weight on to one side in the past cost us? What are, in the end, the systemic deficiencies of the labour movement, if we have a look at them outside party political and dogmatic stereotypes? Isn’t it perhaps time for the labour movement to put on its agenda the issue of spiritual security, of freedom from divisiveness, and of liberating sharing? Could it be that the time has come for an Anthropological Economic Enlightenment?



The 'systemic re-founding' of the labour movement must take place on terms of cohesion and employment of the present, on terms of an evolving and striving gradual pressure for an agreement on the part of the bearers of power, without the constraint of a totalitarian radicalism and without any provocatsia - either on the part of players of power, or on that of random circumstances - as such provocatsia has so often, unfortunately, regulated historical developments in a definitive way for humanity. The burning down of the Reichstag is one such instance.

This does not mean that there should not be a sense of urgency as to this undertaking, but that this immediate striving should be combined with a thorough, open process of consultation, dialogue, and co-ordinated planning, on equal terms and open, on terms of value, quality, and, in the end, functional and substantive hierarchicity.

The re-systematisation of the economy, and, overall, of our civilisation is imperative in the extreme - but in parallel with a re-approach to our self. This has to be so because it is a fundamentally holistic, collective undertaking. In a similar way, we must not see work on the self as an individualistically spiritual effort and aspiration, as a transcendental narcissism. Our age requires collectivity and we must, on the one hand, preserve this collectivity from the features of totalitarianism, and, on the other, give it the features of transcendentalism, of 'spiritual security', of spiritual synthesis and of the apprehension of the world as a totality, both in the transcendental and in the physical and cultural field.

The issues of a mild or low politics and economy can serve as Archimedean levers, as traction and 'structures of diffusion' for a change in the system. The spheres of the economy, together with social, sustainable, of cultural entrepreneurialism and responsibility on a new basis of a dynamic recognition of the role of entrepreneurialism, and also labour and the state in a new dynamic of recognition of human creativity, value, and perspective in which the Logos of ideas in this process will be recognized, are now central issues.

We can see that all this wonderful - from one point of view - enterprise of the international community, of universality, in the form of the UNO, UNESCO, the FAO, and other organisations, which, nonetheless, still remains incomplete and ineffective, and in contrast with other organisations which operate as factors of institutional hardening of the system, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organisation, started out from what we would call 'low politics', which has achieved a world dimension and is summed up in a policy of attunement  and co-ordination.

When, of course, this fails, harsh 'realistic', or, otherwise, 'high' politics takes over, and this is rife, existentially and culturally, with nonsense and barbarities, frequently with tragic failures in the strategic field, or concluding always with these, as history has shown, even in spite of any cycles of its 'effectiveness'.

It is no more than a foolish race when each competitor is doomed, sooner or later, to lose. At some point, we must relinquish this theatre of the game and think a little more seriously about the issues of life. We must leave this theatre, whether this is the theatre of our everyday life on a micro-social level, or the theatre of the life of the world's peoples, religions, or economic systems. We are called upon to look directly at the serving of needs, evolution, and our contribution, in the last analysis, to the field of existence, our contribution to the wholeness of the planet, to the discourse of the planet, and to the progress of nature and of our self.

Stomach or head? A fateful pair of opposites

The issue of 'stomach and head' in the labour movement is a fundamental bipolarity which has sometimes surfaced in a cynical manner. There is here an irreconcilable phenomenological point, but, in the end, it can be seen that there is in this a dialectical connection between thinking and action. This dialectic makes it clear that these two systems are anything but separate.

More specifically, the serving of the nutritional needs of the stomach through the cycle of the food chain, which started out in an animal and continues in a human kingdom, calls attention to the need for a system which expresses ideas. The need of the stomach together with the system of serving it gives expression to ways of approach in the field of ideas or of the head. And it is somehow like this that we also come to the crucial question of comradeship or its absence, and, of course, to the quality of this comradeship.

Naturally, we do not mean that anthropocentric comradeship which up to now has functioned as an ecological mafia - Camorra against nature and the spirit, but the no-harm spiritual comradeship of the Last Supper, in which the greatest is the servant and not the served; we mean comradeship as it is found in Plato's Symposium, which is not alienated from labour. In the field and the quest of ideas, there is, indispensably, a working community, a creative community which is expressed by love in the process of creation at all levels, as well as a fundamental thinking, eucharistic and non-harmful - to recall, of course, Alexander Schmemann in his book For the Life of the World.

The interlinking of anthropocentric violence in nature and the ensuing violence of the economic exploitation of man by man in systematisation was also noted by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Max Horkheimer, while it is latent as a general feeling and as a juristic issue in Rosa Luxemburg, particularly in her solitary reflections.

Friedrich Engels commented: "We have put violence into the exploitation of nature and nature has taken its revenge by putting violence into the relations between us."

There is a symbolic key which starts out from the myth of the quest for food by the sweat of our brow, after the expulsion from Eden, where there was initially no-harm, no-harm with the Tree of Life. This was followed by the tree of experience, the tree of evolution which now requires its torment and our participation in the process of creation and the undertaking of responsibility on our part for this evolution to come through our individualism and cerebralism, through nourishment from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil.

However, the time has come for an inspiration of collectivity, unselfishness, and transcendentalism, for an inspiration of synthesis and recognition of the whole, of its identity and reason, for a new unifying contemplation of the Tree of Life. It is along such lines, for example, that the bipolar thinking of an Emerson moves, with the bipolarity of 'spiritual transcendentalism and wellness', of a Thoreau, with experiential cosmosophia, freedom, and nature. Thus we do not now underestimate the fruit of Knowledge of good and evil selfishly and theatrically and as a phobia, but we enjoy the fruit as a prospect, as contemplativeness and discriminating consciousness.

In a similar bipolarity, then, we realise that the brain needs psychic energy coming from the stomach as much as the stomach needs thought. Energy and information are the primary bipolarity - in the sense also of the technological organisation of our world and of our civilisation - and it is in this bipolarity that organisms develop their systems.

It is also with this bipolarity that the economy must operate because it needs the field of ideas not only in entrepreneurialism, but in the field of the spiritual horizon, something which, unfortunately, has been excluded from the market. The same thing applies to politics and religion. Religion needs the economy in order to transform it and make it more comradely. Ethnicity is also needed because this is exactly a form of collectivity, of comradeship, only one which must be open and collaborative if we want to envision the healing of the nations, a healing of religions, a healing of economies, of our self, and of the planet.

The labour movement is a healing movement of need, of evolution, of a plan. It seals the gate of evil, acknowledges the world of the concept, the agents of progress, and its ministers at a planetic level of development, in the field of ideas, of values, of agencies, and of individuals. It approaches and expresses reason, transcendentalism, and the potentiality of service. It manages the transition from need and necessity to freedom, to self-fulfilment, to its collectivity, and to its sharing.

It is no accident that the matter of labour has been so much tied up with knowledge, training, and with awareness of consciousness, and through the field of livelihood, economic professionalism itself pushes us for knowledge, responsibility, and change. This interlinking of labour and consciousness must contribute to an integration also for reasons of labour.

Our system now requires this synthesis and this connection, which we have perhaps denied in the past, and so the necessity for us to lead the labour movement even more to an integration of consciousness, to a self-aware self-definition, and self-realisation of man becomes apparent. The economy expends our inertia, not, of course, always in a right direction. For this reason, a more profound and anthropological economic Enlightenment is essential.

Through labour, the consciousness is broadened and we are brought into contact, in real comradeship in the field of serving one another, in the field of the sharing, in the end, of information, of life, and of experience. Pursuing this line, Richard Sennett, professor of Sociology at the LSE and at the University of New York, has commented that if we really mean to emerge from the crisis, we must seek its epicentre ... . A rebirth of any kind will only come through the rebirth of the place and the institution of labour ... . Modern capitalism has led to a weakening of democratic values. ... I consider it essential for us to focus our attention on the work environment and to see how this can change. Because there is no other available means of educating people afresh in participation.[i]

Self, freedom, and spiritual security

The need for survival by means of the food chain, our instincts, our need, in the end, for employment in the social system of production introduced us to restriction. Nevertheless, our consciousness introduces the demands of freedom and of spiritual security. It is time for us to reconcile these two demands and for us to see limitation as liberating sharing and, spiritually, as transforming. It is time for us to see, therefore, labour and our participation in the cycle of life, of ideas, of beings, of reason, the spirit, of society, of our self, of nature as a liberating cycle too, as a cycle of conciliation.

This fundamental interpretation of the world will also be catalytic at the level of the integration of our motives, so that we pass from motives of self-interest and divisiveness to good will, unselfishness, comradeship, and co-operative sharing.

Behind all this process we must understand that just as once today's civilisation and today's achievements were unthinkable, this intellectual or other transport of thinkers, this prosperity and knowledge in everyday life, it is now possible for us to approach new heights of historical, evolutionary attractability of the spirituality of civilisation, and of physical attainments. We can imagine this development surpassing us, and our reaching a new revelation of Being in the world and within us, in society, and in nature.

We are at a transitional stage - as Martin José or Aurobindo would say - in the direction of Superman, not in the Nietzschean sense, but in the sense of the man who is a mediator in the evolutionary process, who still takes over the baton from, the spirit and nature, on a course of deliverance of the self and of the world.

The need to see the meaning of life in terms of deliverance is fundamental. Otherwise, we shall be constantly faced with a nihilistic, mechanistic materialism in which the sense of the meaning of our existence and of our identity will be permanently afflicted, in which our identity will be only a fantasy and the meaning of our life will exist only as an abysmal theatrical commotion, when, as John of Sinai remarks: "he who has heard the death sentence pronounced upon him is no longer interested in plans for theatre performances".[ii]

This being the case, all of us are under this death sentence, in spite of all the experiments with synthetic life, and, in the last analysis, all the efforts to clone parts or all of ourselves, and so all these technological promises are not our self - all this is not us. Not even our body is ourselves. We are not identified with our body and for that reason we have frequently distanced ourselves from our body's needs and are in conflict with it.

We are peculiar beings - as, in any event, all beings are. We are a vast co-habitation, apart from the organism, of ecologically autonomous but harmonised micro-organisms within us. And yet we have a sense of identity and this sense of identity is not viable at the conceptual level, the conscious level, that of our awareness and experience, without being capable of understanding a self free - not in a separatist way - from its vehicle. Furthermore, this issue of freedom from the vehicle has been presented as 'information without a bearer' by Norbert Wiener and his fruitful reflections on the relation between God and the machine in his book on the subject. It is thus much more fitting that this should be meant when we speak of the self, and this, in any event, was present as a fundamental line of thought with the Platonic and Stoic philosophers.

The self is our constant mystery, our initiatory desideratum from the very beginning of anthropogeny to the present day. It is our inherent and collective integrity, cohesiveness, and psychism. It comes as an answer to the question about The Soul of Man under Socialism, aptly posed by Oscar Wilde.

Otherwise, without the soul we will revert to the same barbarity as those healed by Christ did, according to an important psychological, conjectural narrative by Oscar Wilde himself which gives very well the reasons why Christianity, in the words of Bernard Shaw, has not been put into practice. The same, of course, is true of Socialism and Liberalism.

Let us, therefore, come back to need and the foundation for inner change and labour. With our waiving of the technological pursuit of immortality - in spite of the fact that this may be achieved at some point technologically - we shall have gained our ontological and spiritual security, because deep down we know that we cannot be a technology, a machine - and we are not a machine, despite the fact that the machine is our bearing form, our bearing vehicle, and a basic field of labour.

The body is our 'Little Vehicle' and the world is our 'Big Vehicle', to recall the terms of Hinayana and Mahayana, but we are not ourselves the vehicle, we are not ourselves nor is the self in this cycle of 'Samsara'. We are not speaking systemically at this moment about the labour movement, though we could, because we do not wish to make constructs of success which will lead later to deviations and to mechanistic totalitarianisms. We want to be kept at the right distance from the machine and the distorted 'pentagon of power', as Louis Mumford would say, in what we envision or think of as need, and invoke for the future.[iii]

It is for this reason also that we open up, in all this extent, the question of the future of the labour movement from the point of view of consciousness, as we believe in the logic of 'Comprehensive Sense', a 'Presented Attribute', which is the synthesis of an inner 'isolated unity' which is attached to our point of synthesis and liberation, which is the identification of self and totality in transcendental, evolutionary, and transformational identification.

The labour movement and historical errors in the adaptation of theories

In history, there have been many errors of adaptation, for reasons of historical opportunism, for reasons of current events. We must not continue to make these. The adaptations made by St Paul to Christianity were successful in promoting its spread, but at many points, and in spite of his fundamental contribution to the essence of Christianity with many superb insightful points, he turned the project of Christ's sobriety into a materialist fundamentalism.

Similarly, such adaptations have been observed in a great many currents of historical visionariness and thinking, and these have been incorporated into a cycle of quest and desire for immediate results. This also happened with Marxism, and we see it, for example, even in the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, which forces it in terms of interpretation. Here, nevertheless, we must note that Karl Marx himself and Engels had even before that acquiesced in the Russian predisposition for revolution through the politico-economic backwardness of Russia, which was vindicated by disregard for the reforming historical project of Stolypin.

There we see Bolshevism as a heresy of Marxism which was based on its theory, but also on the forcing of results and developments. These contributions are fruitful at the level of the dialogue of ideas and of historical developments, but in no circumstances should they become the be-all and end-all for us.

We should contribute to and broaden the 'horizon of everything' within us, but we should not make claims upon it and appropriate it or regard it as exclusive. It is for this reason also, in any event, that we are following, by way of introduction, this pluralistic approach of synthesis to the question, which is open to the flow of discourse, without that systemic methodicity of language and concepts which often appeals as to productive result.

We have successfully pursued such an undertaking in the book Sustainable Enterprise, which takes 'green' entrepreneurialism as its subject, without making any special approach to the issue of the large scale or of 'heavy' sustainable entrepreneurialism. There, we conveyed our thought on a systemic level, even though such a systemic project has a limited real horizon in the field of ideas and in the field of historical need and crisis. We do not wish to be imprisoned by such restrictions, which have proved particularly catastrophic for the itinerary of ideas, the transition of ideas to the phase of ideals, and their idolisation in the form of error, self-deception, fascination, and authority, and, in the end, of historical and systemic totalitarianism.

Systemic causes of the inadequacy of the labour movement

But let us now take a look, from a systemic point of view, at the causes of the decline, the crisis, and the deficit of the labour movement.

1.1 Utopian aims. Utopian aims, that is, such as was the aim set by Marxism for the abolition of property and for the political management of the transition, as a function of the ideological objectives having to do with ethnic, religious, and other cultural matters. These utopian aims, which suffered from narrowness of vision and impatience and which were derived from an inspired critical analysis, were the first cause of the failure of the establishment of Marxism. Marxism would not have had the basis for this immediate historical effectiveness and would not have proved effectual:

(a) if the First World War had not intervened, a war which Marxism itself foresaw as a non class war in essence;

(b) if there had not been the historical dynamic of provocatsia exerted on France by the First Reich and the revanchism which was definitively caused, within the logic of geopolitical balances.

In addition, without the defeat of Russian Tsarist fundamentalism, militarism, and irredentism in the First World War, as Vladimir Lenin had himself apprehended it, and in spite of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, which itself followed Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, no opportunity would have been given for Marxism to prevail. Furthermore, without the conjunction of circumstances of the support of the Bolshevik movement and of the undermining of the transitional government by Kerensky, and with all this geopolitical weakening of Russia, and the machinations of third parties for its further weakening, the success of the Bolsheviks would not have been possible.

We can see here the geopolitical dimension of the matter which contributed to the great success of the Soviet Revolution, which many influences attempted to check in a polarising manner, in spite of the fact that the Russian government was very soon forced to embark on the programme of the New Economic Policy, by the same logic conceived by Trotsky, which was followed by the later logic of re-Bolshevikisation by Stalin.

1.2 The neglect of the anthropological background. We have seen how a new totalitarianism is established by inherent and external factors as a consequence of utopian aims. Their utopian nature is shown up by the dimension of the anthropological deficit /inadequacy. Peoples and societies very easily desire something but cannot live in line with it. The passion for ownership, for appropriation, for the minimisation of productivity for the common good, and of labour, the lack of knowledge and responsibility at the individual level, and an absence of unselfishness could not be dealt with in the very short time available.

This must have been apparent, from the beginning, to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, since much had been written by them on the subject of anthropogenesis and the creation of  civilisation by means of labour, within the vast cycle of the dialectic of nature, using 'scientific and historical materialism' as a tool for the interpretation of developments.

Nevertheless, the anthropological dimension had not been assimilated - there was only a one-dimensional theory of alienation. And alienation seemed an easy opponent, in the sense of the changing of a system, a change, however, which had within it a mechanistic dogmatism and a radical violence which had within that, indirectly, the seeds of totalitarianism.

Precisely because the anthropological deficit was not interpreted, the aims proved chimerical. It was not understood how solid - despite its variability – is the characterological nature of the consciousness and hypostasis of man. It was not understood how solid is the psychological element in man, in spite of the change in physical correlations in the sphere of relations of productivity and the management of productive relations and forces.

The choice of the time was proved to be wrong, but the historical need of mankind for change, for experiment, and for the enrichment of its experience was urgent, because of the long-standing establishment of the ghost of power, of property, of individualism, and of the narcissism of man in nature, in society, and in the spirit.

This burden had to be shaken and thrown off but Marxism itself, paradoxically, in order to benefit from this historical correlation, incorporated narcissism at a mass level. It idealised the concept of the mass man and of the people and functioned as a unifying factor on a phantom tenant of the planet; it functioned as a mass productive and consumer unrestrained selfishness ending in a dynastic totalitarianism at the expense of nature, of the environment, of life, and, finally, of civilisation and democratic development.

In spite of certain insightful warnings by Karl Marx and by Friedrich Engels which were adopted. and have been preserved by later thinkers such as Morin and Horkheimer, the 'logic' of absolute technological prosperity and of a technological utopia served as nothing else but a pretext  for the necessity of a destruction and a de-structuring with a view to industrial and market transformation and capitalism, so that we should awake from lethargy and our naturalistic romanticism, as Marx and Lenin put it. Moreover, let us not forget either Lenin's saying to the effect that "socialism is the strength of the Soviet together with the electrification of the whole country".[iv]

Here we observe precisely this obsession with the mechanological resolution of issues and a sharing in methods and values like those of industrial capitalism, as well as practices which still regard industrial capitalism as leverage, through its crises, for the establishment of socialism and the politico-economic redevelopment of man and of humanity. In all this world-theorising, we would say that the influence of the anthropological background - to devise a concept analogous to that of contemporary cosmology - has been ignored.

2. The shortfall in theory. The second cause of the inadequacy of the labour movement after utopian aims is the shortfall in theory, which must be interpreted through its historical data. In spite of detailed study, this shortfall was widely diffused, as this type of study by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, or later, Vladimir Lenin and other thinkers, such as Rosa Luxemburg, had been ignored.

More generally, it could be said that there has been a lack of opening on the horizon of thought, in spite of the thoroughness of the initial founding phase. Thus, limitations were placed on the bearing capacity of the theory which was adopted, through the promotion of the initial critical and visionary inspiration into authority, precluding in this way redevelopment and enhancement by means of syntheses. This dogmatic stance was perhaps historically inevitable, given the features which made up the landscape of the nineteenth century, which was considerably different from, for example, that of the early twenty-first century, in spite of the fundamental similarities.

3. Historical polarisation. The cause of the inadequacy of the labour movement has always been historical polarisation. The ideas imported into history, even scientific ideas, as Max Planck said, are connected with death and violence, with a view to their preponderance. There is a polarisation, a battle. This also happened in the history of Christianity, which started out from the point of meekness and conciliation proposed by Christ and St Paul, was rejected by the Jews and by Pharisaism, and then by Rome as an unacceptable syncretism and neoplasmatism, and, in the end, arrived at its world-wide predominance, acting "as an etherealised mega-machine which worked for the glory of God and the salvation of souls under a sacred king".[v] It reached the point where it  has functioned  in a way which persecutes whatever differed from it, and has acted in its internal development and towards the heterodox world with a totalitarianism - gradually escalating - from the age of Constantine, Theodosius, and Justinian, bringing about the dissolution of the schools of philosophy and going on to burnings of books, burnings of people , the Inquisition, and the dogma of infallibility of 1870 - and all these things at the zenith of the scientific, technological, romantic, as well as Enlightenment and democratic civilising of mankind.

With the advance of the degeneration of old ideas, at a time when there was difficulty in expressing new ones, an environment of polarisation was formed. This environment made exceptionally narrow the horizon between Soviet geopolitical 'Stalinist reality' and 'utopian radical Trotskyism', which is equally perilous, from one point of view. Winston Churchill opted for, clearly, the political realism of Joseph Stalin over a worse evil, that of Hitler and Nazism, and thus, in essence, a strange historical dialectic surfaced  in the progress of ideas which has always been linked with polarisation.

It was somewhat like this that the ideas of socialism also made their entrance into history and somewhat like this that the necessity was born for these too to practise a critical totalitarianism towards other ideas. This was in order for them to create a displacement of their own, something which was helped by the war of their environment against them, as a more general immaturity as to their acceptance became apparent.

Ioannis Zisis, Writer

Photo from Wikimedia

[i] Kathimerini newspaper, 14/6/09.

[ii] John of Sinai, The Ladder [in Greek], publ. Holy Monastery of the Paraclete, p. 163, para. 59 'Concerning joyful sorrow on the Ladder'.

[iii] Mumford, Louis, The Myth of the Machine [Greek version], publ. Nisides, 2005, p. 18: these colossal failures of a dehumanised culture focused monotonously on power besmirch the pages of history from the rape of Sumer to the destruction of Warsaw and Rotterdam, Tokyo and Hiroshima. Sooner or later, this analysis says, we must find the courage to ask: is it pure chance this linkage of unbounded power and of production with equally unbounded violence and destruction? If we do not take the time to review the past, we shall not have sufficient insight to understand the present nor to command the future: because the past never leaves us and the future is already here.

[v] Mumford, Louis, The Myth of the Machine [Greek version], publ. Nisides.


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