© Brian Milani, 2002
Principles of Marxist- Taoism
or Spirituality in the World-Historical Dialectic:
13 Radical Propositions on Marxism
and the Tao of History
1) The main contributions that Marxism has made to human thought spring from its insights into the relationship of humanity’s productive forces to both the structure of society and our potentials for social and spiritual development. Contemporary mainstream Marxism has completely forsaken any examination of the nature of these developing productive forces, and therefore has almost nothing positive to say. It is Dead Marxism for a dead universe.
2) The dynamic historical insights of Living Marxism are completely consistent with New Age, ecological (and many traditional) spiritual perspectives that see the human being as an “unfinished animal,” a species still evolving, but whose evolution takes place more on the cultural-psychological-spiritual level than on the biological level.
3) Marx believed that material development would eventually spawn New Productive Forces (NPFs) based in culture and human creativity (instead of in raw materials and cog-labour), as industrialization moved into the realm of culture and consciousness. He thought that these NPFs could appear only after a working class revolution and the attainment of state power. The NPFs, however, have begun to emerge before the revolution, a fact that completely inverts revolutionary strategy. For Marx in his day, the proletarian revolution was a prior necessity for the gradual “withering away of the state”, the implementation of direct democracy, and the emergence of the fully-actualized New Human, the whole human being. Today, everything is reversed: With the NPFs already on the scene, human self-development and the creation of direct democracy are preconditions to achieve the revolution. 150 years ago the working class had no choice but to prioritize oppositional struggle for control of political and economic power, ahead of the creation of social alternatives. This industrial power was necessary to implement any substantial reforms, and alternatives could only emerge from opposition. Today this situation is reversed. Industrial power, politically and economically, is in itself a problem. The working class, social movements and civil society don’t need it, and can begin moving directly to create a regenerative society. Opposition is still necessary, but if is not to merely reinforce industrial power, it must be totally derivative of the effort to create alternatives.
4) Two basic tendencies are inherent in the New Productive Forces: decentralization and dematerialization. Dematerialization refers to the growing capacity to substitute human creativity and knowledge for energy and resources. This is a break from classical industrialism, driven by the increasing use of resources and cog-labour. It reflects the possibility of moving from crass quantitative forms of development (accumulation) to qualitative ones (regeneration). Complementing dematerialization is the trend (or potential) to decentralize both production and regulation. In every sector of the economy, the most advanced, efficient and elegant forms of production—the ones that do the most with the least, in the safest ways possible—tend to be increasingly decentralized. Sustainable agriculture, industrial eco-systems, renewable energy systems, prevention-based health care, and sophisticated communication systems become ever more decentralized as they evolve. They employ knowledge to help the human economy to flow with natural process, rather than work against it, like a sailboat in the wind. Communications and information technology—coupled with the reorganization of society on a more human and organic scale—also allow the political and regulatory structure to be decentralized, increasing possibilities for direct (not simply representative) democracy. Movements for democracy are thus expressions of the postindustrial trend toward decentralization. Ultimately this provides the possibility of abolishing politics as a separate sphere, along with a growing importance of civil society and the politics of everyday life, where every individual decision impacts on society’s future.
5) The democratization of human life is not just an expression of technological and organizational decentralization, but also of evolving human personhood or individuation. And individuation is a fundamental tendency of human evolution, evolving gradually throughout the civilized era. With capitalism and the industrial revolution, a certain kind of individualism was unleashed on society, including the working class. It gave the worker in industrial society an abstract freedom and social equality that was in many ways a big step beyond the peasant in precapitalist society. But this freedom was largely formal, with the daily rhythms of the worker far more controlled than that of the peasant. In practice, workers were thoroughly dependent. They were dependent on politicians and managers. And, within the family—the real “individual” of industrial capitalism—men and women were half-persons, locked in unbalanced dependence on each other. New social movements have emerged, however, to challenge these forms of dependence, with new modes of democratic struggle (sexual, occupational, cultural, racial, etc.) paralleling the rise of new productive forces and new forms of individual identity. Individuation in the human species is one manifestation of the evolutionary movement toward increasing complexity, toward growing consciousness, and ultimately toward increasing expression of the spiritual in the material.
6) The unfoldment of individuated consciousness is not a straight-line movement. Human evolution has been a dialectical process: with primitive society as the primal thesis; civilization, the alienated antithesis; and a now possible postindustrial society, the holistic synthesis. Primitive humanity (hunting and gathering, and the simplest agriculture) evolved to a high degree of benign integration with nature; but it was limited by its biological and collectivistic character. Civilization (or class society, or patriarchy)—the past 5000 years or so—has been the Great Antithesis to the primitive ‘thesis’. Through it, humanity violently ripped itself out its bondage to natural cycles and collective identities. But the freedom attained was double-edged; the primary forms of individualization were alienated and egoistic. The human powers emphasized by civilization—yang capacities geared to external control—accompanied the repression of other vital human capacities, the yin qualities of integration, intuition, nurturing, collectivity. The essence of civilized/patriarchal organization is domination—the hegemony of human over nature, man over woman, nation over nation, class over class, and rational over intuitive mind. Civilization has achieved a tremendous accumulation of technological powers and a great sophistication of rational thought, but it has cut society off from vital life sources, in the Cosmos, in society, in the individual being. Civilization has been a stage of progress through alienation.
7) In breaking from primitive collectivism, civilization produced two contradictory forms of individuality (1) a materialistic ego-individualism and (2) holistic individuality. Ego individualism has been the dominant form, marked by one-sided development of control-oriented (i.e. male) human powers. Holistic individuality—based in the direct experience of one’s connection with other people, with nature and with the Cosmos—has been confined to small minorities of mystics and artists. Civilization has had an ambivalent relationship to these inner traditions (Sufism, Zen, mystical Christianity, etc), which have served as essential core sources of vitality for the Great Religions and civilized culture, but they have also constituted an implicit threat to official relationships of domination, hierarchy and dependence.
8) The basic view of humanity’s inner or Wisdom traditions is ‘vertical’—that of levels of being and reality, in which the ‘horizontal’ world of materiality, time, death and the “five senses” is the lowest. The highest level is that of the Timeless, the Absolute, the Ground of Being. The higher realm contains the lower realms, but paradoxically, the higher realms also exist within the material world—the Sufi’s “worlds within worlds”. All these levels of being and reality exist within the human being, and as such, human identity is not a straightforward matter. The human being is a “divided self”, a battleground between higher and lower identities, between integrating or isolating energies, between Self and ego. Real spiritual work is basically a psychological process of “cleansing the doors of perception” and moving beyond the isolating preoccupations of the ego. Although it can rarely be done alone, it is basically an individual process. The collective side of spirituality is religion—which has an important dual nature that is rarely appreciated in debates about it. On one hand, like primitive mythic consciousness, religion has been a means of collective attunement to higher levels of Reality, through rite, ritual and symbol. It can act as an approximation of direct mystical experience for those who have neither the time nor capacity for disciplined self-work. In this way, religion has always served as something of a counterforce to the destructive energies of patriarchal civilization—through, e.g. the focus of Christianity on love and of Buddhism on compassion—keeping society from destroying itself with its own aggressive instincts. On the other hand, religion has served as the Great Integrator of civilized society, and so has been an active rationalizer and justifier of class power, domination and patriarchy.
9) Today we live in an era of the Return of the Repressed—the repressed yin-qualities of intuition, collectivity, nurture, whole body awareness, and connection with natural process. The yang fragmenting, segmenting, control-oriented energies of civilization have achieved a great technological and material accumulation of productive forces. They have also introduced individualized character-structures into all sectors of the population. But this materialistic process has gone as far as it can without undermining the basis of life itself. New Productive Forces have emerged from the very process of industrialization, which has over the last century moved into the realm of culture and consciousness. This industrialization of culture has spawned new forces of “people-production” that conflict with the industrial productive forces of “thing-production”. In early industrialism, the key productive forces were simplified labour (cog-labour) and physical capital (or raw materials). Since the twenties, the NPFs have been increasingly based in non-material factors: human creativity, knowledge and self-development. While capitalism has allowed these NPFs to manifest only in very partial and distorted forms, the developmental context has been altered irrevocably. Economic development is (or should be) in the process of transition from quantitative to qualitative development. In an earlier period, “seizing the means of production” meant seizing factories and offices. Today seizing the means of production means SEIZING OURSELVES. And this means recovering the repressed yin energies of primitive life in a new individuated consciousness.
10)The old order of domination and thing-production does not die gracefully. In the classical Marxist view, the (class-based) relations of production are suppressing the new productive forces. The ego-consciousness of control that has accomplished a tremendous accumulation of material productive forces is now a fetter on further development. Industrial capitalism has generated NPFs but it cannot unleash them, since it is based in materialism, scarcity and domination. The system reproduces scarcity through the artificial creation of waste, and by channelling people-production toward the moulding of alienated, addicted and violent personalities. The perpetuation of domination now threatens the survival of the species and the planet. But breaking its vice-like grip and cancerous growth is only possible with consciousness. Contrary to the belief of many New Agers, the realization of postindustrial potentials will never happen unconsciously, on the crest of some inexorable inevitable Megatrend, but they can be attained with a grassroots revolution of consciousness. The new evolutionary synthesis takes the best from humanity’s two previous stages of development. It is neo-primitive in re-embedding human consciousness in community and in natural cycles. But it also builds on the positive achievements of civilization and depends on a new level of holistic individuation.
11)The flip side of our desperate social and environmental crises is the growing potential for regenerative development for everyone and for the planet. One of the most important expressions of the New Productive Forces are new social movements that are far more concerned with questions of quality than the old labour and socialist movements. Over the last century, the working class has increasingly spawned movements that reflect the new importance of human potential development to political and economic change. The feminist, environmental, anti-racist, human rights and human potential movements all implicitly call for a radical redefinition of wealth, from quantity to quality.
12)The feminist movement represents a crucial front in the redefinition and advancement of “people production”—generalizing repressed values of holistic human development to the entire society. Male supremacy did not originate with civilization, but civilization was an unprecedented institutionalization of the domination of women—as men projected their own yin capacities onto women to be controlled externally. As ego-individualism spread to the working classes with industrialization, alienated gender-dependence became perhaps the most important block to holistic individuality. It is no accident that the modern human potential movement exploded in the mid-seventies after the impact of the feminist movement in the immediately preceding years. Many women moved to become independent persons, and their male partners found themselves without their “better halves”. These men had to act quickly to recover the yin within themselves—through therapy, meditation, etc. The attack on sex roles and gender dependence is in itself an assault on the most crucial forms of class dependence and alienated individualism. But like all attacks on domination, it is only complete in an expression of an alternative way of being. The Gift Economy Paradigm currently being articulated by many feminists is a rearticulation of the repressed yin principles of primitive humanity in a postindustrial context. The identification of economics with giving represents the most appropriate way of facilitating the development of the new productive forces based on knowledge, integration and human creativity.
13)Our very survival demands the end of politics and religion as we know them. At a stage of economic development where society’s productive forces are based on human development, there can be no separation between politics and spirituality. Such a separation was inherent to the polarization of individual and collective interests in civilization. But today survival depends upon integrating and harmonizing individual and social interests, along with those of humanity and nature. Full expression of the NPFs both requires and makes possible the end of the autonomy of politics in a separate realm, by politicizing everyday life and increasing the capacity of everyone to participate in society’s regulation. Religion also loses its autonomy, as a more regenerative politics can increasingly take over religion’s (positive) role of collective attunement. Perhaps more importantly, the potentials for complete human self-actualization can no longer be confined to small inner circles of mystics and artists. Survival depends upon all people moving to a higher level of holistic individuation, including the direct experience of higher (i.e. deeper) levels of Reality. Real spirituality is NOT about new ideologies or beliefs, but about deeper levels of perception and experience. Just as the psychological disciplines of the mystical traditions served as the inner cores of the Great Religions, so these disciplines (or their contemporary equivalents) today must become the inner core of regenerative politics.
The preceding principles are a super-condensed synthesis of key points touched on in chapters 4 and 5 of Designing the Green Economy, and elaborated on in a long essay-in-progress, Transformative Learning and the Tao of History: Spirituality in the Postindustrial Revolution, which will eventually be published on this website. If you want access to the current draft beforehand, you can contact the author at email@example.com . The essay is about 11,000 words.
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