While most fighters for social justice would gladly declare that their struggle was worth it, they rarely define the “it” that it is worth. Understanding the motivation for becoming not simply an activist in one cause or other, but one who claims to present a comprehensive vision of social and economic reform, is a key part of recruiting new members to the movement. Since socialist activism, if it is real, requires considerable personal sacrifice, comparable to that required of the monastics of the middle ages (and requiring similar faith), the motivation must be powerful, constant, and unquestionable if it is to produce tangible results.
The more I dig, the more the shining ore that holds the secret of socialist commitment is revealed as what Ernst Bloch called “the principle of hope.” We need hope like we need oxygen. Hope can take many forms, hope for a better salary, hope for a successful marriage, and many other immediate hopes. Indeed we are daily inundated with promises of fulfillment for these types of hopes. But there is a deeper hope which these types of hopes often mask, though if we think clearly about the ultimate direction of these hopes we will discover their source. It is the hope for our total fulfillment as human beings, a hope that cannot be satisfied by any of the material services on display in the marketplace of global capital. In fact, such commodified responses to hope are deliberately constructed to distract us from the deeper fountain of hope which wells up in us eternally.
So we scrutinize our lives. We look at what we are forced to do by our employers and what hope our employment holds for us. Out of the many ideological maneuvers involved in this, the psychological pressure is manifest. We try to find satisfaction in the achievements which are possible within the current capitalist structure. We try to find satisfaction in advancing our careers by placing ourselves in a position where real achievement is possible. If we are lucky, we have a talent or a passion that brings us fulfillment in itself. Speaking as a long-time technologist, I can declare without hesitation that this is the real driving force behind the technological revolution of the past 20 years. Art for art’s sake, in other words. For most of us, we know that these satisfactions will leave us empty in the end, but they continue to motivate because we cannot live without hope. If such satisfactions or dreams of such satisfaction are not sufficient for us, we are characterized as “whiners”, people who can’t give up their childish dreams and accept the facts of human nature in the real world.
So a suspicion arises directly from our experience of life. Our labor creates the prosperity we see around us, but another class owns and enjoys that prosperity. We hear the constant praise of the “efficiency of markets”, but our daily work demonstrates beyond doubt that chaos actually rules. What strikes me most forcefully as a technologist is how dependent the capitalist is on our ministrations, how computer-like we are made to be as human beings, how we let ourselves be constantly bullied beyond our limitations, attempting the impossible through an appeal to our technician’s vanity. We are expected to become automatons, caring about nothing but technology itself, pure devotees of abstract technical perfection. The ideological motivation behind this is obvious – we are valued to the extent that we become wholly identified with our purpose in the capitalist infrastructure.
Where does that leave us in terms of human fulfillment? Though we pretend to identify with technical perfection, no one can find enough human satisfaction in that to fulfill the deep hope that can never be quenched. So we begin to dream. These dreams can lead many directions. One particularly popular vector is to embrace New Age theosophies and live toward an inner fulfillment that pretends independence from material reality. Variations include fundamentalist Christianity, especially the “gospel of prosperity” variety. Many single issue causes are available as well, especially ecological causes, which are usually blessed by the liberal corporate party. What is forbidden among all these options is to embrace a unified social agenda that links these causes into a coherent array. The word of denigration for that embrace is “totalism”, with its overtones of totalitarian Communism and Fascism. We must never be so bold as to hold our social convictions as true because truth is a word that has been used to dominate.
But simply partaking of the spiritual smorgasbord leaves some part of us still gasping for breath. In the words of William Blake, “Less than all cannot satisfy man.” It seems that we are totalities in ourselves and made for total fulfillment on the social and spiritual plane as well. It’s as if at one time we were parts of a vast harmonious social organism that has become fragmented and we are doomed to dissatisfaction until we can find the path of reintegration. Yet we know that this reintegration cannot take place without a hunger for justice.
Then we discover that that hunger has always been there, suppressed, ridiculed, outright denied, it sits stubbornly in our gut until its rights are acknowledged. But once acknowledged, the hunger blossoms into a nonnegotiable demand. What we hunger for most is coherence, a plan of action that fits our behavior into a rational pattern that also includes our human fulfillment. After a few pages of Marx, it becomes clear that we are victims of systematic repression, that our humanity has been truncated and channeled in the service of forces that are incapable of caring for the common good of humanity, much less for our human fulfillment. The fire of hope lights once again as we envision “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Marx and Engels, “The Communist Manifesto.”
At last we understand that we all are interconnected, that the lack of development of some stunts the fulfillment of all. We begin to sense the missing element from all the satisfactions promised by corporate soothsayers: that we can only pursue happiness in common – to glut ourselves with our own little pile of goods can only convict us of the deepest human poverty. The horribly stunted conception of humanity imposed by global capital is revealed as an ideological prison that serves to transform us into the disposable batteries of production. Another end of human development opens, as unexpected as it is thrilling, “the development of all human powers.” This is the power of dreams, this is what compels us to remake ourselves through revolutionary activity. And, in order to truly grasp our hearts, it must point beyond humanity, to something that appears in myths and religions, something that leaves us speechless, but happy.