Marx's Dialectical Phenomenology and the Constitution for the Federation of Earth

Dr. Glen T. Martin

(Presented in Havana at the Cuban-North American Philosopher's Conference, June 2001)

A. Differentiated Wholeness and the Quest for Liberation

"No subject without an object and no object without a subject" is the slogan of Hegel’s revolution in philosophical method, laying the methodological groundwork that can free human life from slavery to fetishism and ideological self-enslavement. Phenomenology thus begins with the assumption that no objects have meaning for human beings apart from their relation to human subjects. It understands that objects appear to us from within an encompassing lebenswelt or human "form of life" that encompasses both subject and object and makes each aspect interdependent with the other.

Similarly, dialectic understands that every whole is a differentiated whole within an on-going historical process, a whole informed by negativities that drive forward the quest for understanding the principle of the whole and the internal relations of its parts. The development of human knowledge is inseparable from the progressive movement of human self-consciousness that articulates the historical relation of subjects to objects within the differentiated whole. Contradictions and conflicts tend to occur through a lack of self-awareness as humans reproduce and recreate their social existence through productive interaction with their environment.

Lack of self-awareness of the inseparability of subject and object, that is, lack of awareness of human thought and activity as producing and reproducing the conditions of social and biological life, leads to reification of these conditions. Traditional thought conceived of the natural world, human nature, and the forces of production as natural, ahistorical conditions and natural laws within which human beings had to struggle to survive. It did not understand the inseparability of subject and object as the whole or totality, dialectically differentiated and historically evolving. It did not understand that human beings create the conditions of their own social and biological (re)production but rather believed that they were victims of forces and natural conditions beyond their control.

Dialectical phenomenology is the method that Karl Marx appropriated from Hegel while turning Hegel’s Idealism upside down, so to speak, by focusing the method on human social and historical existence. Traditional philosophy, whether Rationalist or Empiricist, approached the world through theoretically abstract universals with the assumption that these mirrored ahistorical, natural objects existing in the world independent of our human relation to these objects. The method that Marx derived from Hegel begins with the whole or totality united and delineates the concrete universals or processes that dialectically constitute the whole. In doing so it enhances human freedom. Human beings become self-conscious actors and creators of their destiny rather than passive victims of what they assume to be external natural forces and conditions.

For Marx, socialism is the free and self-conscious form of life, since it does not separate subject from object through the mediation of capital and the seeming necessity of wage labor as does capitalism. Under capitalism money, the market and commodities are fetishized or reified into natural forces independent of human control. Human productive capacity does not freely and self-consciously appropriate and reproduce the conditions of social and biological existence as use value. Rather, capital mediates between labor and its object and forces labor to convert itself into exchange value before it can appropriate the necessities of life. Labor does not freely realize itself and its reproduction in relation to its objective conditions, but appears to itself as an independent phenomenon, as wage labor, one commodity among others that must mediate itself as exchange value in order to appropriate the means of life. The object does not appear as a human creation, a product of human relationships and the alienation of subject from object, but rather the object, money or gold, appears as a separate natural phenomena that has value in itself, rather than as socially produced human wealth. "...It can have a social property," Marx says, "only because individuals have alienated their own social relationship from themselves so that it takes the form of a thing."

It should be emphasized that Marx’s analysis is directed towards human freedom in general, not merely the freedom of individual groups or nations. That is why Marx understands the movement of human history dialectically as the relation of human subjectivity to its objective forces of production realizing itself as slave, feudal, or capitalist modes of production. Human history itself moves dialectically forward toward the point where self-awareness of the totality and its differentiated processes allows human beings for the first time to freely realize themselves through creative and self-conscious productive interaction with their environment. It is "the absolute working-out of his creative potentialities," Marx writes, "with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself...."

Reified fragments of existence no longer appear to human consciousness as independent natural forces but are now understood as social products, subject to human recreation for an ever more free and humane existence. That is why socialism can only truly exist as a planetary phenomenon, and not as isolated pockets of supposed freedom within a capitalist world order. Within the method of dialectical phenomenology, the meaning of the global "proletariat" becomes the effect of those forces which produce human alienation (fragmentation) and possibility of developing a consciousness that can free us from alienation. The "proletariat" therefore can represent the universal consciousness of the dialectically differentiated whole.

B. The Cuban Revolution and Human Liberation.

Do the Cuban followers of Marx represent a truly universal human consciousness? Have the people of revolutionary Cuba realized a free and humane existence, fulfilling their human potentiality? Even though Cuban socialism has taken important steps toward greater self-consciousness in the reproduction of social and biological life, the answer to these questions is "no." The "New Person" in Cuba, even the most ordinary laborer, often reflects a much higher degree of social consciousness and solidarity than do the workers of most other nations. Yet the need to overcome a fragmented consciousness through awareness of the social totality, the unity of subject and object, remains a goal for Cuban society as it does for every human being on the planet. The "international solidarity" for which Cuba has become justly famous, remains a pale facsimile of that human solidarity which Marx envisioned as the unity of subject and object within all human consciousness.

The only route to true human freedom in which class exploitation has been abolished and people freely and creatively reproduce the conditions of existence for themselves is for reification and enslavement to fetishistic notions to be eliminated on a planetary scale. Planetary human unity and solidarity in the reproduction of life would clearly end global capitalism which is involved with worldwide exploitation of people and nature and with economic and military imperialism by the more powerful capitalist nation states. Human freedom will emerge when bourgeois individualism has been eliminated and we begin to see ourselves as planetary citizens and social subjects whose united social labor provides the necessities of life in abundance and through which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

Dialectical phenomenology understands the unity of the whole or totality while respecting the differentiation of this wholeness into diverse races, religions, cultures and nations. The whole is necessarily differentiated and nevertheless remains whole, a unity of subject and object. Contradictions and conflicts limiting human freedom arise when there is a reification of fragments as if these fragments were independent, natural phenomena apart from their relationships within the whole.

It is this reification that gives us not only capitalism but the system of sovereign nation- states, as if a fragment could be sovereign apart from the whole within which it is constituted. It is this reification that continues to plague humankind, dividing them into autonomous, territorial fragments and preventing genuine unity for the whole planet. In this respect Cubans are no freer than the citizens of any other supposedly autonomous fragment on planet earth. They have seen the need for overcoming the reifications of capitalism, but they have not seen the need to overcome the reification of the nation state. They have divided themselves from the whole of humankind by claiming absolute autonomy for a fragment, and reifying their isolation as if it were a natural phenomena.

Marx himself, assuming the unity of humankind, was, like all thinkers, situated at a certain time and place in history and focused his analyses on certain important concerns having to do with the capitalism of his day. He did not focus his analysis on the fragmentation of the social totality created by the reification of the nation-state, although this is clearly implicit in his method of dialectical phenomenology. But he understood that the dialectical unity of humankind (subject) with its planetary environment (object) is the fundamental starting point for the possibility of human liberation: "...The ultimate appropriation by individuals taking place in the consumption process," Marx writes, "reproduces them in their social being, and hence reproduces their social being – society – which appears as much the subject as the result of this great total process."

Marx recognized the progress made by the bourgeois democracies of his time with respect to the dialectical development of human rights. Although he also recognized that political rights in these societies were attributed only to abstract citizens and not concrete, laboring human beings. Nevertheless these rights were conceived as universal (applying to all humans) and not merely reflections of particular nations or societies, although they remained fragmented by nation-state and were far from universal in their application. Similarly, Marx and his 20th century followers such as the Cuban people have recognized "second generation" economic rights (socialism) as, again, applying to all humans and not limited to individual nation-states. These economic rights represent a limited dialectical development in human self-consciousness. Yet, like political democracy, socialism remains fragmented to individual sovereign nations with little awareness of its need to apply universally through the whole of humanity.

C. Today’s Revolutionary Praxis and the Constitution for the Federation of Earth

One of the most dialectically advanced documents of our time is the Constitution for the Federation of Earth for it is founded on the principle of unity-in-diversity for all citizens of our planet. As such, it is written with an advanced self-awareness of the totality of humankind as the beginning of all genuine social possibilities for human liberation. This document takes the differentiated wholeness of humankind as its fundamental premise and creates a non-military, democratic world government from this starting point.

Humanity is the only legitimate sovereign authority for non-fragmented government directed toward human liberation. The diversity of humanity, individuals, races, cultures, religions, and nations is recognized and protected precisely because it is a diversity of the evolving whole, a dialectically legitimate diversity, not the false, irredeemable diversity of unlimited perspectivalism, multiculturalism, and nationalism that now plagues a fragmented humanity. The irredeemable diversity of today’s fragmented world is the result of a reification that does not recognize the social nature of its objects (races, nations, etc.) and lacks the self-awareness to comprehend these objects as moments within the dialectically evolving whole of humankind.

The Constitution for the Federation of Earth protects the integrity and diversity of each nation precisely by federating the nations with others in a planetary unity (represented in the World Parliament as the "House of Nations"). And it protects the rights of each nation to choose its own political, economic and social system consistent with fundamental human rights (Article XIV, A-2). Similarly, the Constitution protects the integrity and diversity of each person on earth by guaranteeing them universal economic, social and political rights within the planetary unity (represented in the World Parliament as the "House of Peoples").

The Constitution therefore sets up the unified framework for a universal dialogue among human beings through which an ever-increasing self awareness of the dialectical wholeness of human history can be realized. Under the current fragmented world order, most speech remains ideological speech, directed toward defending and promoting some reified fragment of the human whole, not discursive speech directed toward genuine communication and mutual understanding. It is within the framework provided by the Constitution that the last vestiges of capitalist reification will eventually disappear. And human life will, for the first time, will be free to reproduce the conditions of existence through creative, self-conscious social labor, not exploited and alienating forms of wage labor.

Differentiated (dialectical) wholeness is the essential precondition for human liberation, both methodologically, in terms of dialectical phenomenology, and materially, in terms of concrete social conditions. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides the concrete social conditions for that wholeness without which there can be no genuine human liberation. Fragments directed toward liberation, like the Cuban revolution, remain fragments, precisely because they continue to reify certain aspects of our human situation such as the ideological notion of "sovereign nation-states." Freeing the world from the ideology of national sovereignty by ratifying the Constitution will simultaneously move the world substantially away from militarism, economic imperialism and the more destructive forms of nationalism. It makes possible, through establishing the concrete conditions of political and social human unity, the elimination of all other forms of reification and their ideological justifications.

Within this framework, the global elimination of other reified social forces that now enslave human life is just a matter of time. Once political and social unity is established, universal consciousness of the dialectically evolving whole of human life, will more easily begin to flourish. The more voices that are allowed to speak, the more the common humanity of all becomes apparent. The more the whole is affirmed and institutionalized politically, the more the dialectical differentiation and interdependency of the parts become apparent.

In this age of globalization of markets, computers, travel, and communications, the material conditions for this next step have been created. On this basis, the logistics of democratic world government are technically and economically both feasible and easily accomplished. All that is lacking to make manifest the wholeness of our human project is this social-political framework. And all that is required to create this framework is coordinated action on the part of those persons worldwide aware of the dialectical possibilities of human history. The most revolutionary and concrete praxis available to progressive people at this point in history is to work for global ratification of the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.


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