In the beginning there was action
Goethe (Faust, 1)
Goethe (Faust, 1)
The problem of action
Human life presents itself both as the action of knowing and doing, a more or less critical and problematic fusion of knowledge and practical fulfilment. That is true in as far as my life,_for which I can also allow myself to speak of human life ingeneral,_is not just a banal contemplation of metaphysical images, but is essentially action, which also renders active knowledge of oneself and the world.
It is therefore not possible to propound two separate moments: one of theory and the other of action: a first moment when one knows, and a second when one acts. The will only causes action under the stimulous of knowledge, but knowledge cannot be had without the will to know.
The world, object of knowledge and action, is also afflicted by a seeming contradiction between theoretical law and the whole of phenomena as a whole as something insurmountable, enclosing science and reflection on man within an absolute relativism which ends up mortifying him. In essence this world is the world of man, the world of human action which had decodified nature and rendered it real. It is not a world of objects rendered immutable by a fetishism of their role compared to man, but of a world where things, relationships and meanings, are elements which have come from man himself, a product of his social action.
It would be a mistake to propose a model of relationship between the real world and man on the basis of the consciousness man has of the world, postponing the aquisition of knowledge to a future moment yet to come. Man does not have absolute consciousness of the world any more than he has of himself. Consciousness cannot be considered as insufficient, but general, knowledge, compared to knowledge as sufficient but limited knowing (learning). I can have consciousness of a situation of suffering in which my body finds itself and can easily locate it my teeth: I can therefore be conscious of having toothache. But this process can develop at the level of consciousness (knowledge) in many ways, through the intervention of cognitive processes (my mouth is supplied with teeth, the form of these teeth, why they are sensitive to pain, what conditions effect them, etc) without on the other hand it being possible to say that this cognitive phase has (should have) rendered my knowledge adequate. I could, in fact, in spite of the widening of the cognitive levels which interevend subsequently, still not know what to do in order to put a stop to the pain.
In fact knowledge, as opposed to the awareness of a part of reality, is not a different way of knowing, but a way of knowing the different.
I can have consciousness of my class situation, can ascertain more or less adequate reactions to a reality which annoys me or which urges me to be accepted. Or know this class situation of mine in such a way that if in essence it remains identical to the way in which I had consciousness, it allows me to pass on the knowledge of different states of mind and a different state of affairs.
On the basis of this purely extrinsic difference and the recognised element of fusion between consciousness and knowledge, we have to admit that there is no precise line of demarcation between doing and thinking.
Moreover, as we shall see further on, both theory and action have consequences on reality. *It would not be right to say that theories have consequences on theories and actions on actions. In fact it is not true that theories interact in their own closed universe (for instance that of the academia), but, as we verify each day, they produce very concrete effects in the real world, and the effects which they produce on other theories also finish by expressing themselves in facts in the real world. The same goes for actions: they repoduce effects, not only on the real world (along with concrete facts), but also on the reflections on facts as a whole, i.e. on theories. In the latter sense actions constitute well-defined theoretical wholes, as theories constitute just as defined delimited wholes of action in respect to actions.
The element that profoundly characterises the theoretical dimension and the practical one is class conflict. Human action is based on the division of society into classes, the consequent hierarchy of social positions, the division of labour. Inasmuch as it participates in human action the theory that man prtoduces is also based on the same elements, therefore it is also characterised by class conflict.
Our action is therefore related to what the external world is for us, with its light and darkness, contradictions, truth and deceit. We have immediate consciousness of this external world (and of ourselves), corresponding to our more or less adequate reaction to the conditions of class conflictual which characterises the external world and ourselves. But already by simply acting on this initial consciousness, carrying it to a wider knowledge of what exists within the distinct and confused, this greater knowledge constitutes the announcement of the process of knowledge or knowledge in act, i.e. knowledge which acts and modifies itself and the object of its attention. This process of opening is consequently a way of understanding, but a way of being class conflictuality. We are not something external to it, which due to favourable conditions is able to understand what is happening within it: we ourselves are class conflictual for the simple reason that we are the world of reality and its conflicts are ours.
By acting we take a position, that is we transform reality, we penetrate it. But this taking a position is in relation to the consciousness/knowledge that we have of reality and its mechanisms. Of our acting is always according to choice of sides, if we mean by doing what we are doing in favour of our side in the conflict of reality, that does not mean that what we are doing fully reaches our aim. There exists a percentage of reject that can go from a maximum of absolute unconsciousness (lack of consciousness) of one's own class interests, to a minimum of adequate consciousness of these interests.
Our class enemy's action, like his theory, is directed towards reinforcing his dominion in as far as from a situation of division and hierarchy it extracts all the advantages from the ruler, hence the conservative tendency of class rule which tries to change as much as possible so that everything stays as before.
The action of whoever suffers exploitation is directed towards modifying things so that there can be an improvement, a real transformation. The same happens for the theory of liberation, ie for revolutionary theory. These two, acting/theorising are both determined by being on a particular side. Not all actions/theories consolidate the latter, as not all actions/theories of liberation destroy it. If they are clear in the phase of immediate consciousness, they are no longer so in the phase of consciousness in act, ie when they interact as knowledge which acts and theorises change. But the disappearance of that sense of initial clarity, through which one could identify one's enemy with closed eyes, far from being a weakness is an aquisition of greater force of penetration: knowledge perfects the instruments of struggle and supplies major indications on the real consistency of the enemy.
An action and a theory receive an immediate polarisation of meaning, that is they are attracted towards areas of social context which give them a precise meaning, for which as they come to be developed they orientate themselves and orientate towards them a whole series of interactions. It is a question of modificatory processes which it is not easy to grasp except through great flood-tides of class orientation.
We thus have the tide of the actions of liberation which, although including a considerable number which transform themselves into the maintaining of dominion, takes on sufficient homogeneity by virtue of its class orientation to enable us to speak of a whole of actions constituting a theory of liberation. Revolutionary theories, even in the restricted form of cognitive reflection, orientating themselves in the above-mentioned sense of class, yet often presenting not inconsiderable aspects of the maintainence of dominion (it suffices to think of the authoritarian positions)assume sufficient homogenity to be able to include themselves within that revolutionary action which cannot be separated from the theory of liberation.
It is up to revolutionary theory to recompose the various levels of conflictuality between revolutionary action and liberatory theory which present consistent contradictions and apply the results obtained to a decodification of the theory and practice of dominion which contain no less contradictory aspects. The main service which revolutionary theory renders the social revolutionis that of indicating the limits of actionand theory which the exploited carry forward, raising the level of the theory that they constitute as a whole. At the same time revolutionary theory indicates what there is that is usable for the social revolution in the practice that today the duration of dominion, while it denounces the reactionary and mystificatory components of the ideological theory of class dominion.
From what we said it becomes evident that it is not possible to speak of theory and action separately. Theory becomes a particular form of action, though not the only one, which intervenes at the level of consciousness, along with all the actions in the strict meaning of the word, in their togetherness.
The whole of the facts
If Wittgenstein's position is clearly idealist when he speaks of the world defining it as "the totality of facts, not of things"(1), this happens because he considers things with the mystical prejudice of in itself, obscure heritage of Kantian metaphysics. For him, however, the "world is everything that happens", therefore things should belong to the world once we no longer consider them mysteries but reality which takes on a meaning following man's action. For us, in the last aanalysis, all facts constitute the real world not like potatoes in a bag, but as a related whole, within which each fact appears as one of the aspects of a series of inter-relations.
The totality of facts is not therefore the raw sum of what happens, something which would never be possible to obtain unless through recourse to the infinite, devoid of human validity, but is that totality of facts that regrouping of the various aspects of things and actions which is concretely graspable through the very fact that one seeks to grasp it. Therefore the whole of the facts is constituted of that structured unity which places itself before my action of grasping its meaningfulness. It will be this action to determine a certain polarisation of meaning and fix a relationship which characterises my action and the whole of the facts.
Developing a critique of Marxism Hayek writes: "the object of scientific study is never the totality of the phenomenon observable in one determined instant and place, but always only determined aspects which are extracted from it".(2) That means to deny the value which the whole of the facts has leaving out the cognitive activity of the individual which acting on these facts aspires to create them abstracting a quite hypothetical part and leaving the rest. Once again this is an idealist operation. Acting on the whole of the facts one does not make a choice but determines a precise structure of that whole in the face of the act of inquiring into.
These two positions, Wittgenstein's and Hayek's, can be defined rationalist. They consider the whole of the facts as the sum of the elements mixed together nand do not consider a cognitive relationship with this whole possible unless through a choice of certain elements which are perceived by the subject and which always remain somewhat atomistically independent of each other.
Another position which we can define organistic is that which is lead by Schelling. This affirms the priority of the whole of the facts and things over the individual aquaintance, for which the true and only knowledge is that of intuition. "This knowledge (intuitive)_writes Schelling_must be an absolutely free knowing, precisely because each other knowledge is not free, therefore must be a knowledge to which demonstrations do not lead, reasoning, and in general a conceptual meditation."(3)
The position which defines itself dialectical conceives the real as a structured whole which develops having reference to its various elements, contradicting itself and going beyond itself. Heraclitus says, "Exchange of fire is all thingsand fire is change of all things like gold is of goods and goods gold.(4*) The same idea of intimate penetration between all things (and all deeds) is developed by Hegel, opening the way to dialectical materialism: "Logicity becomes nature; and nature, spirit."(5) Thus Marx: "The principle defect of every materialism up until today_including that of Feuerbach_is that the object, reality, sensitivity, are conceived only in the form of the object or intuition, but not as sensitive human activity, praxis; not subjectively. Consequently it has happened that the active side, in antithesis to materialism, was developed by idealism: but abstractly, because naturally idealism does not know real activity, sensitivity as such."(6)
The present argument between neopositivism and existentialism develops as negation of that totality of real, of this whole of facts which has its internal logic that it uses in a certain way before the action of who wants to grasp it. Popper writes: "The course of human history is strongly influenced by the rising of human knowledge; (7) and elsewhere: "The readiness to correct our mistakes and to learn consciously from them is the substance of the approach which I have called 'critical rationalism'. I consider the critical approach a duty."(8) In this way facts return to the atmostic state and can be chosen and examined. The operation implies a substantial parity of values of all facts. The analysis can and should be corrected (position of modern socialdemocracy). Existentialism opts for a presence of the real world but for a radical impoossibility of its knowledge by man, or (Sartre) the even inconsistency of all attempts at knowledge. Heidegger criticising Kant writes: "The scandal of philosophy does not consist in the fact that this proof (about the existence of the real world) has not been supplied, but in the fact that this always be newly asked and attempted".(9) While on the other hand Sartre: "...all human activities are equal, since all tend to sacrifice man in order to promote their own causes, and all are doomed in principle to failure. It is the same thing, basically,to get drunk or to lead peoples. If one of these activities is superior to the other, it is not due toits real aim but because of the consciousness it possesses of its ideal aim; and in this case the quietism of the solitary drunk is superior to the vain agitation of the leader of peoples."(10)
The choice is not therefore an economic operation of control of facts, directed (as the neopositivists claim) towards ascertaining the real consistency of the world and eliminating the errors of perception; nor is it a game between equally inconsistent hypotheses... a vain struggle (as the existentialists affirm). Certainly the attempt to approach reality can express itself in a purely ideological operation, through which the whole of the real facts structured by the approach of knowing revolve in the same direction of empty abstractness, from which every mystificatory operation becomes possible. Uprooting instead the contact in the field of class conflictuality the whole of facts comes to be maintained in its concreteness and serves to understand betterthe internal relations which link facts arming themselves and the consequences which have come about in the whole of the facts following the same operation of approaching.
The whole of the facts is not a predetermined whole, which finds itself in a static position, like a quantity of goods in a warehouse depot. It can be considered a structured whole in continuous movement, a whole in which each fact interacts with the others.
From the point of view of our analysis the whole of the facts are characterised as:
a) complete whole, in which individual facts are integratedamong themselves, presenting sufficient clarity of their individual moments and rendering possible an analysis around their structure and their relations of inter-action;
b) concrete whole which does not oppose itself to individual facts as a superior entity but which has its own coherent history: genesis, development, structuration;
c) polarised whole which destructures itself to aquire a new structuration in relation to class conflictuality.
The enemies of action
The real enemies of action do not always marshall behind a condemnation of any possibility of modifying reality. On the contrary they are often the seemingly ruthless supporters of action, but which they qualify in one way or the other, thus rendering it ineffective and damaging as far as freedom from exploitation is concerned.
Schopenhauer is one who more than any has usurped the fame of exalting the will of the individual. When he writes, "Will...is the intimate being, the main point of every individual, and thus also of Everything: it manifests itself in every blind natural force: it manifests itself in the meditated acting of man; the great difference between these two camps concerns only the level of the manifestation, not the essence of that which one manifests.*" (11), does nothing other than avert the capacity of penetration of the will, as instrument of modification of reality in that the latter has a will of its own capable of counterbalancing the work of the first.
United to him in the polemic against Hegel, for as much as it is seemingly far off as thematic, is Kierkegaard. "If a man could always maintain himself on the apex of the instant of choice, if he could cease to be a man...one could not speak of a choice. Choice itself is decisive for the content of the personality; with choice it sinks into the chosen thing, when it does not choose, it decays into waste."(14) One notes the parallel between the will of Schopenhauer which identifies with the will of All and the choice of Kierkegaard which identifies with the thing chosen. He is always a hypothetical abstract man who is first launched on the wings of the hypothesis of action to immediately be recalled by conservative preoccupations suggesting the identity of the subject and object.
In Dilthey the relationship between will and the real world is only apparently resolved in favour of action. The will does not organise itself in such a way as to gradually dominate reality along with thought, but places itself along with thought in a relationship within the conscience. "When more possibilities are offered to produce internal or external changes to satisfay the tendencies contained in the union (connection) acquired in my psychic life... then rises the choice which fulfils itself in the processes of reflection...Here the difference between the act of evaluation and the act of choice or preference is revealed. The evaluation does not yet contain in itself the need to place itself in a given moment a determined aim."(13) The efforts of Dilthey are directed towards grasping reality, or rather, life. "The fundamental premises of knowledge are given in life and thought cannot rise beyond this."(14), but they reveal their inconsistent intellectuality precisely when they try to fix the relationship between practice and knowledge, a relationship which evaporates in the conscious intuitiveness of reality: the subject, so doing, becomes apparently more able to act, while the reality on which it should act completely disappears.
The irrational circle closes with Windelband who assigns to thought the task of fixing a scale of values within which can move all that has been produced, as well as will and sentiment. "(Thought)...places itself critically, that is in such a way as to put to the test the material of thought; of will, of sentiment in the face of the aim of universal and necessary validity, and to separate and refuse what does not stand up to this test."(15) Pushing this position to the extreme and marrying it with Dilthey's, German irrationalism opens the way to gratuitous action. The attack against reason becomes attack against every possibility to know reality without relating it to one’s own self (?). Klages is without doubt one of the most significant figures of this mystification. He writes, “Everything that is a phenomenon has a meaning, and every meaning manifests itself as a phenomenon. the meaning is lived interiorly, the phenomenon exteriorly. That must become figure to communicate itself, and the figure must become interior again in order to act. those are, without metaphor, the poles of reality.”(16) this author pushes action towards an abstract concept of life which thus comes to be subtracted both from consciousness and concrete reality: “...(life) is neither spirit, nor matter, but (something) more important than the one or the other... The spirit knows and the being is, but only life saves.”(17) Action therefore transforms itself into the blind necessity of the cell which inserts itself into the process of the grandi numeri typical of the biological law. Spengler has one of the last words on this transformation of freedom into necessity: “We do not have the freedom to reach this or that, but the freedom to do what is necessary or nothing. And a task which the necessity of history has set, will be resolved with the individual or against him.”(18) One of the most extreme conclusions is that of Gentile who would annul the individual and his capacity to act within a philosophical doctrine entirely dedicated to the act . “I think”, he writes, “and thinking realise the individual who is universal, and is therefore all that he should be absolutely: beyond which, outside which, one cannot seek anything else”. (19) and further forward, “The being (God, nature, idea, contingent fact) is necessary, without freedom because already imagined (set) by thought...”(20). It was always German philosophers who prepared the way to national socialism (as Gentile did with Italian fascism) transporting this thesis of the necessity of being and of the illiberty of action in the dominion of the state. Freyer writes,”...the spirit needs power (of the State) to realise itself on earth and have itself recognised by men. But seen from within, power has even more need of the spirit to be able to become, from a confused and fragmentary mass of possibilities, something”.(21)
Catholic philosophers have also made reference to action, ?spreading out in the attempt to confuse it and render it ineffective. the will is no longer the spring for action but is, in turn, a secondary element emerging from a preceding internal action led by the spirit. It would in fact be only good will to accomplish action according to catholic thought. Ollé-Laprune writes, “The will, good will, has everywhere, even in pure scientific order, an influence which nothing can take the place of”.(22) In this way the will becomes faith . The results of action are implicit in the premise of action itself. More clear on this point is Blondel, “Voluntary action provokes in some way the reply to the lessons from the exterior, and these lessons, which impose themselves on the will, are nevertheless implicit in the will itself,”(23) The world is thus resolved entirely in the consciousness and acting of the self, the result of knowledge makes its way along the path predetermined by faith.
Two very interesting positions occupy a place apart: that of Bergson and Sorel. Bergson carries the ?turn of the conscience which penetrates reality. This point is seen clearly by the French philosopher, who over and above the fact that the conscience (consciousness) is traced out as something finite and not with the general claim of the German irrationalists to widen it to all existence. Notwithstanding that the conclusion is equally of an obstacle to the reality of action. the external world is carried within identity with consciousness (?) through the mechanism of creative evolution . Conscience on its own (as finite) cannot include reality, but it is precisely reality, evolving itself, whch renders comprehensible itself and consciousness? He writes, “The more we acquire consciousness ...the more we feel the different parts of our being entering the one in the other and our whole personality concentrating on a point, or better on one point, which inserts itself into the future cutting into it (prejudicing) without respite. In that consists free life and action. Let us let ourselves go, on the contrary; let us dream instead of acting.”(24)
Many of Sorel’s analyses are still of great interest, like that of Marxism(25) and on progress(26). Here we are interested in underlining his analysis of action, more or less diffused in all his work. Reality for Sorel is continual becoming (in the Bergsonian sense), therefore is action and freedom. Freedom realises itself in the clash between past and future, between tradition and time to come. But to have a correct perspective for action which wants to modify reality, necessarily violent, it must be supported with an artefice (stratagem): the myth. Thus he writes in the Introduction of Reflections on violence : “One can speak of revolt to infinity without ever provoking a revolutionary movement, so long as there are no myths accepted by the mass: it is that which gives the general strike so much importance...”(27). He is careful to point out that there myths cannot be the intellectual creation of some theoretician, in which case it would be utopia , but are elements which “...allow to understand the activity, the sentiments and ideas of the popular masses which are preparing themselves to enter into a decisive struggle; it is not a question of a description of things, but of expressions of will.”(28) The element external to acting comes to be searched for by sorel in the sign of the myth which, in turn, is the creation of the popular will, called to reunite itself with the will of the individual, precisely with those a priori characteristics which met in the catholic thinkers indicated above: not fornothing Sorel speaks in praise of Newman(29) inspiror and precursor of the modernist catholic movement.
Another philosophical current which has declared its own opening to the problem of action is pragmatism. Heir of English classical empiricism, American pragmatism holds that thought can put the real world in order, developing analyses which, the more they correspond to facts supplied from experience, the more they can be considered exact. Up to here everything is all right. Cognitive action has become detached from what is considered the transformation of the real world, but tries to conform to a selection of this real world (of the phenomena deriving from it) based on experience. Seeing things better one notices that a selection of phenomena is always an intellectual operation which becomes no longer a cognitive process but a rule of action , no longer a way of structuring reality in function of an intervention directed at modifying it, but a way of foreseeing the possible reactions of reality in order to better adapt intervention with the aim of avoiding any disfunction or lack of balance. The analysis is therefore well-founded only when it is usable in a way that does not contribute to upsetting reality but harmonises it with the elements ? of experience itself. this harmony is seen well by Pierce when he speaks of the belief or habit of action . Thought has no other function than that of producing habits of action. He writes, “To develop the meaning of a thing, we must simply determine what habits it produces because what a thing means consists simply in the habits it implies. Now the identity of a habit depends on how it can lead us to act.”(30) The title of James’ fundamental work is significant: The will to Believe : belief is the habit which Pierce speaks about, it enables the will to continue to produce and safeguard ulterior beliefs. In this way action is carried out through the creation and permanence of belief. everything is directed towards this aim: “...the self-willed department of our nature dominates both the rational department and the sensitive department; or, in clearer language, perception and thought exist only in view of behaviour.”(31) James’ preoccupation is still that of not disturbing the harmony of the world as the distribution of wealth makes it at the present time. any belief which is useful to this must be considered positive, even if unfounded. It will develop its action in the world and render it more comprehensible and more predictable. The renunciation of this probability (such in fact is considered by James from the methodological point of view) would carry too great a risk: between faith and non-faith, between conforming and struggle, James carried pragmatism towards its first limit, towards social peace. We do not consider it important to follow the development of this philosophy. It splendors in the form of De Unamo’s elaboration, but which traces James’ scheme. He writes: “Truth is that which pushes us in one way or another to act, makes us attain our aim.”(32) A very dangerous thesis which leads directly to fascist activism.
Now we shall go on to study the marxist philosophical current which openly presents itself as a philosophy of praxis , that is as an instrument for the transformation of the world.
The false friends of action
The famous eleventh thesis of feuerbach says textually: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; it is a problem of changing it though.”(33)
On this brief note rivers have been versed, it being, among other things, one of the few things said by Marx that is clear on the problem of his materialism. It seems to me though that there is one thing to be said. It is not true that the philosophrs have interpreted the world until now, they have also transformed it in that their interpretation is also a transformation, although in a reactionary sense. Moreover, the transformation which marx appeals for must be real and not fictitious , in order to avoid it assuming the outward appearance of transformation but substantially transform itself into an ulterior form of interpretation which ends up transforming the world in favour of dominion and exploitation. It can be concluded that the only legitimate transformation , which also reflection is called, is that which contributes to overthrowing every form of dominion and exploitation in the world.
However, apart from this phrase by Feuerbach, Marx, although not digressing from the subject, has faced the problem exhaustively in the so-called introduction of ‘57 (34). So he writes: “The concrete is concrete because it is the synthesis of many causes, therefore of unity of the manifold. For this reason in thought it presents itself as process of synthesis, as a result and not as a point of departure, although it is the effective point of departure and therefore the point of departure of intuition and representation,”(35) Criticising Hegel he affirms that the illusion of idealism has been that of conceiving of the real as result of thought, as something that is determined and moves following the action of thought, when on the other hand the real is obtained from thought through the abstraction of the method which consents its abstractly concrete reproduction. therefore thought, according to Marx, is “never bt never the process of formation of the concrete itself.”(36) with which the materialism of historical praxis is founded and the absolute idealism of Hegel denied. For example, Marx continues, taking exchange value one finds that this category of thought has no reality without the population which produces within determined relationships. Therefore exchange value exists as abstract relation with a concrete and living totality , while as philosophical category it “leads an antidiluvian existence”(37). for the conscience (consciousness) exchange value as category presents itself as effective act of production, the result of which is the world, and that because the concrete totality, as totality of thought, as concrete thought, is a product of thinking and not of the concept which generates itself. “The totality as it presents itself in the mind as totality of thought, is a product of the mind which thinks, which appropriates the world in the only way possible for it, a way different from the artistic, religious or practical-spiritual one of appropriating the world. The real subject remains both before and after, firm (steadfast) in its autonomy outside the mind; until, atleast, the mind behaves only speculatively, only theoretically.”(38)
What Marx demonstrates is therefore the following abstract categories of thought, precisely due to their abstract nature, however much they may be valid, for all historical epochs are determined in their abstraction from the historical conditions and remain valid only within these conditions.
These categories, (production, work, exchange, etc.), indispensable to thought, are therefore, in as historically determined products, not the result of the activity of thought, but the premiss for it. They are the raw material which thought employs to produce knowledge through the elaboration of concepts. But among the raw materials and the concepts elaborated (finished product) another element inserts itself: the means of production. these means of production are historically determined scientific theory.
Among the abstract categories (raw materials) and the concept elaborated (finished product) there is not identity, but effective transformation which succeeds in inglobing the category within a new more specific generalisation. the passage between these two elements is guaranteed - according to Marx - by the work of scientific theory which brings about, in knowledge, the displacement from the abstract to the concrete.
Moreover, Marx insists saying that “from the scientific point of view”(39) every theory which consents the elaboration of the concepts from categories, both in reality and in the mind of the subject, constitutes a way of being, a determination which does not begin from the moment it is elaborated. the succession of the abstract categories, says Marx, “...is determined by the relationship in which they find themselves the one with the other in modern bourgeois society, and which is exactly the opposite of that which presents itself as their natural relation or corresponds to the succession of historical development. It is not the position which economic relations historically assume in the succession of historical development.
It is not a question of the position which economic relations historically assume in the succession of the different forms of society...”(40). Thereforehistorification, not chronological but functional to a given distribution of production relations.
There is no one who does not see that this is an original construction. Between these theses and the elaboration of Marx’s successors there is quite an abyss. Yet it is precisely in these theses, so fascinating and so apparently directed at passing the rampart separating theory and action, that they place themselves at the basis of the negation of action itself. ?the successors have to do no more than widen these bases scholasticising the indications of the same founder.
Let us develop the principlepoints of our critique of Marx’s position. First of all, Hegel. Between the abstract category (raw material) and the elaborated concept (finished product) there is, as has been said, a relationship of transformation, not in the hegelian sense of selfproduction of this concrete concept within the same abstract category, but in the sense of transformation of the category into something different, pecisely the concept. But, as seems clear, this transformation would not have been possible without a presence of the concept itself within the category, without, that is, a presence of the finished product within the raw material. It is not possible to create things from raw material which we don not possess in one way or the other, the essential elements of such things, otherwise the myth of the philosophical stone would not have maddened generations of alchemists. Modern science which apparently determines the radical transformation of matter, has dome nothing other than descend deeper into its constitution, exploiting intimate properties which already existed and were completely ignored. Therefore the essential elements of the evolved concept (finished product) are both present in the abstract category (raw material), their geneology (and therefore also that of the concept that they constitute) is only understandable in relation to a certain distribution of the relations of distribution (?such as the abstract category). The cognitive work thus translates itself into a series of analytical judgements, mere tautologies. Scientific theory itself becomes the theory of identity, the instrument of penetrationinto reality starting from abstract data that this supplies explicitly in its very placing itself as reality divided into classes, drowns in the insignificance or repetivity. The concept contains exactly that which the category foresaw, in that it cannot contain more than the reality supplied to the category itself, nor more than can be supplied by the generalised which only foresee the simple exposition of how tautologies develop, that is the passage from categories to concepts.
Things would be different if one were to consider that scientific theory, or more simply theory, is itself action, not because of the consequences that it has on action, directing itself on the world and contributing to modifying it in one way or another, but because the action of the world, the whole interacting complex of individual actionsd continually in transformation since men have done and thought, is an organically structured whole of theory.
The intellectual terrorism implicit in the term scientific theory therefore becomes functional to the simple game of power, term with which Marx meant to undervalue every theory which does not possess the basis of the historical dialectic. Praiseworthy initiative, had it been directed towards the research of the real conditions which allow a theory to intervene in the revolutiuonary transformation of the real, but condemnable given that it was stated only to defend aspecific nucleus of theory – more or less identifiable with marxism – counterposing it to every other theory, even revolutionary ones.
Concrete knowladge capable of transforming reality, i.e. Of constituting an instrument for overthrowing dominion, is certainly means of production of the concept as it is also a way of rendering meaningful the abstract category which would risk being too slight to say anything useful to practical ends but it is not said that this concrete knowledge must be born from the movement category-concept, not from a specific movement (e.g. That relative to work and exchange) nor from the movement in general between all the categories derivable from social relations of production.It can be born (like the category) precisely from reality and constitute not the graspable sense of social relations (which would still be an abstract reflection), but the reality in its development, in its continual interacting, in its innumerable networks of actions.
Reasoning in this way ends up excluding the possibility of minority of theoretical initiative being able to take over the correct theory to transform reality.Moreover, one would exclude this minority's legitimising the use of force in order to impose that theory. Reasoning in this way one never reaches the concept of party, the concept of representance of the exploited or the concept of dictatorship or such pleasantries. No intellectual terrorism could impose a theory considered scientific when this theory comes from the practice of the revolutionary action of the movement of the exploited.This theory has no need for the baptism of scientific method.
Only the theoretical practice of the revolutionary movement presents itself as a tendency towards the sefliberation from ideological residuals, therefore as a tendency of recognition of the leader at the selforganisation of action; while the analytical elaboration, in as a theory in the specific sense presents itself as elaboration of instruments which facilitate that process and facilitating it they themselves purge themselves of this instrument.
Already with Engels the marxist theory declines into a proposal of reflection of reality by the dialectic. The problem of how that can come about is skipped over and it declares itself as petition of principle which comes about and that is all, rather, which must come about. Thus Engels: 'An exact representation of the totality of the world, of its development and that of humanity, nonche the image of this development which is mirrored in the head of men, can therefore accomplish itself only through the dialectic, constantly taking into consideration the reciprocal actions of being born and dying, of the progressive or regressive changes.'(41) And elsewhere, '...the dialectic of the brain is only a reflex of the forms of movement of the real world, of nature as of history.'(42) But this reflex is not explained, it would seem to be a subordination of thought to nature through the senses, but that would not eliminate all the contradictions which the sceptics have widely investigated. And then? Engels does not worry: In the measure in which we have taken care to educate and correctly use our senses, and to maintain our action within the limits prescribed from perceptions correctly obtained and correctly used, we should find that the success of our actions demonstrates that our perceptions conform to the objective nature of the objects perceived'. (43) Success thus becomes the yardstick of evaluation both of action and of theoretical analysis, and this success must be adherent as much to reality as one could expect, no qualitative jump but ordered and balanced development.
Lenin was not to separate much from this point of Engels: 'The point of view of life, of practice, must be the first and fundamental point of view of the theory of knowledge. And this infallibly leads to materialism... Certainly, it should not be forgotten that the criterion of practice, in substance, can never completely confirm or refute a human representation, whatever it may be. Also (even) this criterion is so 'indetermined' as not to allow the knowledge of man to transform itself into an 'absolute'; but at the same time is determined enough to permit an implacable struggle against all the varieties of idealism and agnosticism. If what our practice confirms is objective truth, unizue, final derives from it the admission that the only way that leads to this truth is the way of science that takes the point of view of materialism.'(44) Once again the vagueness of Engel's formula plus marxist (marxian) intellectual terrorism.
It is not devoid of interest to point out that it was precisely Stalin who strongly insisted on the fact that marxism cannot consider itself a dogma but must be modified and simplified. 'Marxism as a science, cannot remain immobile, but develops and perfects itself. In its development marxism cannot fail to enrich itself with new experiences, of new aquaintences, and consequently its individual formulae and conclusions cannot fail to change in the course of time, cannot not be substituted by new formulae and conclusions, corresponding to new historical tasks.'(45) Every reinforcement of power needs a perfect maintenance (upkeep) of ideology, and this is realisable not only with intellectual terrorism but also with the reformist terror of change and progressive perfectioning.
From what we have shown it seems clear to us how the efficientism which Engels developed by Lenin and dogmatised by Stalin cannot constitute the measure of theory, as it cannot constitute a realiable indication concerning the contacxt which has come about between reality and theory. Success has only indicated the victor, that is he who history has charged with dictating the conditions of domination. Moreover, in Stalin's thesis there is nothing other thanreformist common sense that things can sort themselves out, remaining firm the domination of the minority in charge; while the conjunctive action comes to be reduced to pure contemplation and not to a real movement of the conquest of the thing one knows.
Doing and acting
Now let us leave the ambiguity in which we have deliberately left the term act. If action is always an interaction, that is a unity which is part of a process in course between the subject that carries out the action and the other subjects, each action does not have the same consequences. We have seen that, on the basis of class differentiation, some of these compete for the revolutionary transformation of the state of things (relations of strength) and others compete for their maintenance and conservation. We have also seen that this distinction is not always net and often within every type of action there are shades and elements which belong to the other type and vice versa.However, we have singled out in the selforganisation of acting the discriminant of liberatory acting.
Now, if selforganisation characterises true acting, the absence or a scarce presence of selforganisation characterises another way of acting which, to distinguish it from the other, we shall call doing.
Already Plato had posed himself the problem of this distinction in Politics and concluded that 'True political science has no function in concrete...but of commanding.(46), that is, of making others do. From the point of view of one of the major theoreticians of domination doing was not simply acting, but when it summed itself up in obeying (the other side of commanding) it became distinct and devalued, lacking precisely the initiative and autonomous capacityof carrying what had been begun to completion. It is precisely on this difference between beginning and accomplishing that Plato insists upon in his distinction between acting and doing.
It is clear that estranged work, the colossal spectacle of the violence of fabrication cannot be considered acting, but, on the basis of this difference, simply doing. In this sense we must interpretate the materialist thesis of Vico that men do things because they do them (47) and not in the sense that doing makes men, for which they, similar to things, identify themselves in them. Only on this condition the doing of Vico is acting, that is action.
The characteristic of acting is therefore freedom. To act means to create life, not perpetuate death. To act means to open the way to freedom, which is also the road towards an ideal of true equality and fraternity; to act means to destroy all the obstacles that domination distributes along the way and to do so in such a way that the creation of life is not arrested and bemired.
To act is also, more modestly, improvement, progress; but on conditionthat it be consciously recognised as moment of a contradictory development that involves action and does not fall asleep on the illusion of the end to be reached. When we criticise and scorn the ideology of arrangement, flower in the button-hole of the most sinister reformism, we do not do it because we are against improvement and progress. The philosophy of so much worse so much the better has never been ours. We criticse not the ideal of progress so much as the comfortable illusion of so many shopkeepers dressed up to cradle themselves in the placid waves of their evolutionism when all around the winds and the storm are raging. What we are criticising is the rendering shabby of an ideal at the level of a particular interest or clique.
Progress but not banal vanification of human action in an infinite modification. Things have always gone in this way, there has always been slow progress, there have always been dominators and dominated: why struggle to change all that?Even anarchy is not a setback of progressin into a stunned beautification of itself. When we realise anarchy not for this will there be more to be done in the sense of acting.The world could always be improved and in that direction, even after the definitive social revolution, we shall all work. Every improvement conquered through action, not conceded by dominion, is a step forward in progress, is a result of actingp and result that will never get lost, even in the alternate events of the development of the works of man, but which now and immediately come to be possessed and enjoyed, to be then newly put in question and considered a far off pointfrom which it is necessary to detach oneself to improve the struggle.
Denying obligatory doing the content of action one deducts that the characterisation that man receives in obeying a practice which humiliates hima and separates him, is that of the dominated. In this way the workers of a bomb factory strike to safeguard their job, struggling for a salary that correspponds to the production of death.In the orbit of capitalist reality this is a generalised situation. A bomb factory is not necessary in order to define the forcedlabour factory of death. Yet the action of life is sprouting everywhere: even in the graveyards of production.
Action counterposing itself to forced doing creates life, that is it creates truth, beauty, practical utility. Thanks to action one distinguishes with even greater clarity the outlines of a theory of liberation, which the simple contemplation of reality would never have been capable of rooting out from the mystifications of the dominators; thanlks to action the fields, the sea, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, are contended to the mad adventure of capital; thanks to action men are reconquering themselves one by one taking up the road again towards freedom, saving themselves from the snares of the family, fatherland, party.
The reduction of action to within the dominion of doing is the task of ideology. The productivity that characterises capitalism thus penetrates the individual, transforms him from rational animal into homo faber. The social relationship the social relationship thus becomes political, a way of justifying whatever means for reaching predetermined aims. Today this mental form is extremely diffused. The cafe strategists infest the revolutionary movement in the same way as the bosses infest civil society.
In the distinction between doing and acting, between beginning and accomplishing is reflected that polarisation of meaning that class division assigns to the term action. Each section is never formally innocuous, it always determines consequences that are substantially transformations. In this sense also each individual act determines consequences, but they are not the same kind. Between act and action there is the same distance as between doing and acting.
Forced doing develops in the world with an exterior compactness (solidity) that has always been indicated as the most obvious example of the utility of obedience and dominion. Submission consents the solidified structure of politics to maintain relationships of strength sufficiently stable in time, giving this structure the aspect of something that goes beyond the immediate. And this shopkeeper's illusion has also found its philosophical cantor in Hegel. The State which personifies la coscienza. Voluntary servitude, characterised by doing, in favour of dominion creates the exterior aspect of the world, its great and multiform emblems of class dominion.
Action, on the contrary, develops with uncertainty, assuming characteristics of fragility and doubt. But it develops quickly, even if contradictorially. It is not in fact excluded that voluntary servitude be capable, suddenly, of qualitrative leaps that go far beyond its class consciousness. In fact it is nota questionof uncertainty as such, as of elasticity that corresponds to aneffective stability far superior to that of the structure of the political. Neither ideological mystification not spontaneous or solicited oblio can make the results of the transformation produced by an action disappear, by an individual gesture that has the characteristics of action. The force of doing concludes in the productive process and extrinsicates its capacity as goods withinthe structure of the political. The force of acting extrinsicates itself in the field of social relationships and never exhausts itself, in fact can grow and multiply to such an extent as to arouse consternation (amazement). We can say everything about doing, when it begins, how it extrinsicates its force, when it exhausts itself and solidifys into something. Of acting we can say little, we find difficulty in singling out the moment when action begins – if we do it is only for practical ends and with a declared admission of probability; we do not know exactly in what consists the transformation that it determines, we cannot grasp the wide spectrum of its interactions; we know very little of its destiny: an action can have effects lasting as long as the history of the human species does.
This strange situation is exploited by power to a maximum degree. The doing that it transforms into goods is propagandised as the means through which man realises himself, becomes a producer and emancipates himself through his relationship as such with nature. Not only – continue the dominators – but this doing is stable throughout time, guarantees a status in respect to all and gives the individual a role to develop in the world and according to which develop determined expectations of others. The dominating ideology continues saying that this is the true reign of freedom: one is free to be what oneis. The other situation, that based on the claim of acting – insists the priest – is the false reign of freedom, throws man into the desperationof the unforeseen and the uncertain, cannot lead him towards certainties guaranteed by law (divine or human), can only give him new problems and new anguishes. Acting – police and judges sing in chorus – does not have a stable measure, recognised by all, accepted by all, it is too much linked to conditions of the moment, so throws man into the most grim necessity and prevents him from attaining freedom.
This preaching always takes on the appearance of ethical teaching and is all directed towards guaranteeing domination. To hide this concrete aim they busy themselves in safeguarding the integrity of the individual, integrity which thesewolves in sheep's clothing want to safeguard is a strange mixture of sovreignty of the individual against his like. Given that the individual has all rights, only the ordered world of production and consumption can supply him with the means necessary to satisfy the needs that he heeds (whatever they are). The lack of satisfaction of these needs is pointed out as situation of suffering and uncertainty, as lack of freedom. We shall try in the following paragraph to elaborate a precise criticism of the reactionary analysis of action; here we want to conclude saying that such preaching does not make much impression today but it is necessary all the same to point out their deliberate fundamental error. The sovreignty of the individual is not freedom, it is banal shopkeeper egoism. It is not the egoism that exalts the struggle and the conquest of the world (knowledge and transformation of it), but it is the egoismthat pushes one to stay inside the depths of one's own shop and criticise everything and everybody, invoking world catastrophe at the very thought that the price of the goods hidden in the warehouse might fall. The sovreignty of the individual is not freedom because the individual is not alone in the world, but is with others. If it were true that sovreignty were freedom no one would be free unless he managed to kill all his like fellows. This presence, that makes our freedom possible, in as far as it is possible to build in the struggle for the freedom of all, is the presence that qualifies action in an uncertain and fragile way, linking it to a very wide network of interactions which in practice never cease to develop and extend themselves: that is the only way to freedom.
Summing up in the concept of unforeseeableness (unexpectedness) this uncertainty and fragility of action, the solution emerges clearly: the future of action cannot be foreseen in that action is not an act that transforms itself into goods, but can be sufficiently anticipated with the will. The troubled seas of the unforeseeable thus see rising small islands of security, islands which the will indicates as future engagements, as promises. The engagement with ourselves and others is an indication for us, a rule of life, a structure odf the personality, a coordination in action. It is not a question of real and true overcoming of the unforeseeable, but of its temperament, a practical rule that whets action and renders it capable of penetrating reality. But – as becomes clear – the will to maintain the promise would not make sense if there were not others to specify and clarify the identify of who promises and who receives the promise. The will is the principle quality of the subject who acts: it does not modify the objective conditions of action, but qualifies in a subjective way the conditions of transformation that the action determines.
Precise analysis of the current idea of action
This idea develops in certain basic abstractions that have no reason to exist and which are nourished because they are useful to distort the efficacity of the action itself. It is clear that there does not exist, in this dimension, a distinction between doing and acting.
The first abstraction is to consider action as such leaving out of considerationwhat happens in the individual at unconscious level. A distinction is made between study of human action (praxeology) and study of the psychic factors that cause man to act (psychology).
A second abstraction is made with the claim of separating conscious behaviour from the will from the unconscious behaviour of the organs and cells of the body.
A third abstraction is given in the hypothesis that man can – at a certain moment – can find himself in a situation of satisfaction that does not concretise itself in an action.
The fourth abstraction we underline is that man comes to be considered solicited to action when he wants to pass from one state of satisfaction to another that presents itself as greater. The mind comes to be seen as something that imagines the state of major satisfaction and to that follows action.
A fifth abstraction is given from the impossibility of evaluating from the exterior this major and minor satisfaction, hence those which are valid are only individual value judgements.
Asixth abstraction is that which supports that the science that studies action is indifferent to the aims of action itself.(48)
A seventh abstraction supports that concrete value judgements that lend significance to human actions are not susceptible to further analysis...
An eigth abstraction insists on the fact that action is always rational in that its end is always the satisfaction of the desire of the agent.The socalled irrational action does not exist except as an action that proposes itself an aim that is not shared by the majority of people.(49)
A ninth abstraction affirms that man acts because he is capable of singling out the causal relations that determine the process of becoming. The foundation of action is therefore the category of causality.(50)
A tenth abstraction relates the existence of an end – as incentive of action – to the same law of causality, for which the aim becomes indirect cause.
An eleventh abstraction cuts net the relationship between thought and action, affirming that the study of action must not pose itself this problem.(51)
A twelth and last abstraction concludes saying that the study of human action constitutes a theoretical and systematic science that limits itself to examining human action in the narrow sense without taking account of individual, accidental or ambiental circumstances. The knowledge that derives from it is purely formal. The rules that are enunciated are a priori like those of logic and mathematics.
This metaphysical construction is very current, in interchangeable forms and variations but substantially concordant. It corresponds to the liberal and reformist vision of reality, to the idea that things – left to themselves – can resolve themselves in the best possible way and, nevertheless, can always get by (sort themselves out). The best reflections and the clearest experiences that we possess today are against these abstractions.
The defeat of the old order of things opens, with Bacon and Decartes, the new science. Measure defeats the old metaphysics. The bodies, now, no longer fall because it is in the nature of bodies to fall, as Aristotle and mediaeval theology explained nothing, but falling in a certain way that can be measured. From the primacy of theory intended as contemplation there is a passage to the primacy of practice intended as activity. The development of the historical conditions did not allow for a different unveiling of human activity if not as a measure and catalogisation. The bases permitting an evaluation of this archive were still to...?
Machievelli was to lead the inquest on man within the new scientific perspective. Studying the rules of politics, objectivising the secrets of it, he demonstrated that man can be manipulated and that the task of this manipulation awaits the politician.
Manipulation and measurement (measuring) xonstitute the two sides of the same problem of this new science. But the notion of practice that comes out of it is still insufficient. The division between measurer and thing measured, between manipulator and manipulated, corresponds exactly to the preceding division between theoretician and man of action.
The overcoming of this division was to be the work of modern materialism. Man considered as unity of thought and action no longer has any significance beyond the sphere of the practical, action is not somethingthat arrives later to enrich the already complete existence, it is the absolute condition that enables man to truely call himselfconcrete and real. In practice man makes reality, therefore understands it (in the sense of mastering it and understanding it).
But in this fundamental indication of materialism there fully lacked the awareness of the relationship between doing and acting, that we spoke of in the preceding paragraph. Only the development of the modern class difference can render evident this split and produce a clarity which the historical reality preceding the industrial revolution could not have. Precisely because practise is the essential way of being man, when this practice finally appeared irremediably split into dominators and dominated, into capitalists and workers, the existence of the two spheres which constituted it became clear.
Let us now consider the preceding abstractions listed.
The separation of the unconscious from action is functional to the isolation of the latter in a dimension that can be reduced to pure phenomenology, the list of happenings, simple doing. Even the reduction to simple doing though is seen under the aspect of the research carried out on doing and not under the aspect of doing itself however alienated that might be. Not for nothing the phenomenological codification that here one is left to presuppose has claims of objectivity, making it appear more clearly bearing in mind the second abstraction that claims a net distacco between will and physical and psychic structure of the body. It cannot fail to become clear here that both that which is defined inconscio, and the whole of the cells and organs of the body, constitute extremely complex structures that undergo processes of interaction that in turn are strongly determined by the reality of the external world.To try to separate these interacting fluxes is clearly an idealistic operation that only turns out to be useful to a mutilation of action.
The hypothesis of the suspension of the practice serves reasoning to fix in an external way the beginning of the calcolo of choice, a beginning which as appears clear is in no other way objectively indicable.But his hypothesis, basing itself on a claimed situation of satisfaction of the individual is a clear indication of the attempt to cut in half yet again the complex unity of synthesis that allows one to understand the processes of action. Functional to the successive distinction between the various levels of satisfaction results the preceding hypothesis considering these levels as a consequence of the abstraction advanced concerning the suspension of practical agire.The calcolo of choice a in this way appears easily realisable on quantitative nases, once che si afferma reachable a graduality of the states of satisfaction.
In order to better block any attempt at clarity on agire, the translation into value of the single states of satisfaction – precedingly defined with a claimed objective operation – viene ricondotta to individual judgement.One thereby obtains the result of staccare value from its natural collective environment, or better, of class.Any inquest concerning aims is thereby cut. The latter all seem to be equal, considered in themselves, while they only differ (therefore have a different value) within individual judgement.The parita of aims for men in society produces the radical elimination of acting and the reduction of every act to doing.The circle closes. The other abstractions are secondary. The impossibility of ddeveloping an analysis on the judgement of individual value is an ulterior way of locking up action in that the aims one prefigge are not differentiated.
One last cenno at the principle of causality that comes to be put at the basis of acting and on the principle of rationality. Man is capable of grasping the becoming, in this way he s'impadronisce of the causal flux of events and acts in a certain way because one expects a certain response to his action, the response is part of the future state of satisfaction that man gives himself.When this statehas been reached it means that the action corresdponded to the economic requisites of the objective to be grasped, therefore was rational. It is a question of abstract developments of preceding abstractions. Causality comes to be grasped in ways that are very different from the experience let's say of traditional mechanics.To a certain event (action) conseequences that are not easily foreseeable can happen, in fact – as we have said – if the action is really such and does not reduce itself to banal doing, the consequences are observableand foreseeable in a vary small part and in a way, at times, absolutely insufficient for determining the acting itself in terms of strict economic evaluation. It is precisely the qualitative scompensi that move the world, it is precisely the actions that do not seeem at all rational that determine that power considers so dangerous. So long as one remains within the context of the foreseeable, power foresees al pari of who acts, anzi its prevision, for many reasons, is better organised and also arrives at conditioning the prevision of othersand channeling it nel verso favourable to the persistence of power itself. Spezzando the code of this reading favourable to exploitation action immediately appears irrational, in that the current logic is always that of the dominators, imposed and wanted by them. One thing that comes out of their schematic prospective of value is immediately criminalised as irrational and expelled from the casuale context. But it is a question of accorgimenti of power that can be rintuzzati and progressively destroyed. The explosion of acting in its own imporsi against dominion creates the space of its own logical legibility.
Theory of liberation and revolutionary action
The structure of acting counterposes itself to that of doing giving life – as we have seen – to an action and a theory that convert themselves reciprocally: revolutionary action and the theory of liberation. Specularmente doing, counterposing itself to acting gives life to a doing and to a theory that also convert each other reciprocally: forced doing and the theory of power.
The general category of action – and here we must take a step backwards – ng both doing and acting, develops itself in a series of practices that compartecipano, in a different way and different quantity, both of doingg and actiong. Let us list these practices:
a) the practice of transformation: better defined as practice of production it is the practice most evident of the whole social dimension. Within the framework of specific means of transformation of nature into useful products through work.
b) ideological practice: that includes the political practice, the moral, the artistic. Also the ideology practice, in that it is practice, transforms reality. The object that undergoes this transformation is the conscienza.
c) theoretical practice: transforms