Our Debt to Karl Marx and Che Guevara
Glen T. Martin
Even the criminal thought of a malefactor has more
grandeur and nobility than the wonders of the heavens.
G. W. F. Hegel
Many things have changed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Human beings have created weapons capable of wiping out humanity entirely. Globalization has greatly intensified the development of planetary consciousness. The global pandemic has revealed to us our interdependence with the rest of humanity. We are now acutely aware that we are one species living within one, unique ecosystem that supports our existence. We also understand that climate change is threatening to destroy the very conditions that support higher forms of life on Earth.
With increased planetary consciousness the conceptual description of the struggle for human liberation has also transformed. What can we bring forward from the revolutionary consciousness of past generations that can animate our own struggle to establish a just, peaceful, and sustainable world civilization? Should the revolutionary solidarity of the past animate our thinking today?
Today, we understand that liberation cannot be accomplished on a nation by nation basis. It has to be, as Einstein declared, “one world or none.” Today we understand that it is not only class consciousness that needs to be activated, but also planetary consciousness. Today, we understand that all human beings are interdependent economically, technically, and ecologically. Human liberation must be holistic. We must transform our thinking and our praxis to become holistic through and through.
In what ways are Karl Marx and Ernesto “Che” Guevara still with us? Che was a major spokesman for the Cuban revolutionary task of creating the hombre nuevo, the new man, and the educational and social system in Cuba that he helped found has indeed created many extraordinary human beings, some of whom I have met on my 6 extended trips to Cuba in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I supported and continue to support the Cuban revolution. Indeed, on the wall of my home in New York State I have a large framed photo of Che Guevara that was part of a limited edition series of prints taken from the work of the father and son team who chronicled the revolution: Osvaldo and Roberto Salas. This was a gift to me from my friends in Cuba to honor my solidarity with them.
There is a famous quote from Che taken from his letter to the Uruguayan editor of the journal Marcha that was first published in Montevideo in 1965. In this quote Che declares that “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love” (el revolutionario verdadero está guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor):
And it must be said with all sincerity that in a real revolution, to which one gives his all and from which one expects no material reward, the task of the vanguard revolutionary is at one and the same time magnificent and agonizing. At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality…. Our vanguard revolutionaries must make an ideal of this love of the people, of the most sacred causes, and make it one and indivisible. (1989, 14-15)
One of the Marxist criticisms of the class society during the capitalist era is that this society in its propaganda, art, and literature produces many fine ideals such as moral goals, human rights, and noble aspirations, but these ideals never penetrate into the day to day social and economic existence of people to the point where human domination, degradation, and exploitation are eliminated. Human beings remain in contradiction between their abstract idealism and the concrete material realities of existence. So-called “scientific materialism” was supposed to transform this situation by exposing the mechanisms of exploitation and thereby allowing us to create material conditions of production, distribution, and consumption that empower human freedom, fulfillment, and development, rather than exploitation and dehumanizing degradation.
Those in the leadership of the “revolutionary vanguard” in the effort to create the concrete conditions for human liberation, then as now, are animated by the love of humanity, of human dignity, and the destiny of the human project. The question is how to bring our love down from merely abstract ideals and allow it to transform the real political and economic relationships that determine everyday life on Earth. What are the elements of the equation? What role should abstract ideals still play, if any?
What is the real meaning of ending class society and empowering genuine justice and equality in human relationships? How does the hombre nuevo overcome egoism, selfishness, and greed to become loving, ego-free, and dedicated to others? How do we establish a world in which human dignity and flourishing are the foundational premises of spirituality, politics, and economics, rather than the reverse (which is the case nearly everywhere on Earth today)?
In his “Reminiscences of Marx,” Paul Lafargue (who knew Karl Marx well in his later years) tells us that the statement by Hegel at the head of this essay was one of Marx’s favorite aphorisms. Marx repeated it often along with another of his favorite aphorisms: “Work for Humanity.” Marx told him: “Science must not be a selfish pleasure. Those who have the good fortune to be able to devote themselves to scientific pursuits must be the first to place their knowledge at the service of humanity” (in Fromm 1992, 222-24). Marx’s revolutionary solidarity in these aphorisms can be seen to include the affirmation by Che Guevara that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. Much of Marx’s liberating vision can be derived from these two statements, and so should ours.
The first aphorism, that even the criminal is more wondrous than the stars, recognizes the cosmic depth, uniqueness, and greatness of the human project, and the second declares how we should be responding to that greatness—our love for humanity and human dignity should animate our work for its actualization in human history: “work for humanity,” Marx declares, serve humanity. Our lives should be such that “one gives his all” to human liberation “and from which one expects no material reward.” The true vanguard of human liberation will include only those whose lives are focused and dedicated in this way. Marx loved Hegel’s statement because it underlines the miracle and dignity of simply existing as a human being: even the criminal manifests this miraculous quality of being human.
As both Marx and Che Guevara understood, to work for the actualization of our human “grandeur and nobility” within history means that we must develop an understanding of why our human image is distorted, repressed, alienated, and maligned throughout the course of history to date. Why is there such an abyss between what human life is and what it should and could be? Why this historic divorce between the ideal and the real? Throughout Western history, values were kept is a metaphysical vault called “natural law,” or “God’s will,” while the concrete conditions on Earth were those of slavery, oppression, and injustice.
Indeed, the grandeur of man and our human potential was nevertheless recognized throughout western history from the ancients to the present. In the Renaissance it was recognized in thinkers from Pico della Mirandola to Nicolas of Cusa. Our human place in the Cosmos, Pico declares in his famous “Oration on the Dignity of Man,” is no fixed place because human beings have been given the capacity to determine their own nature. Our “human dignity” consists in this apparently miraculous position in the scheme of things (1965, 93-111). In the 17th century Blaise Pascal declared that “man infinitely transcends man” (Penses 434). It is our self-awareness, he affirms, that gives us this infinitely self-transcending quality. For both thinkers, as for Marx, our self-awareness gives us the capacity to create a decent world for all.
In the 18th century Immanuel Kant (1964) declared that our self-aware moral freedom placed us above the determined and mechanical workings of the cosmos. It demands that we work to transform concrete human affairs according to the ideal of a morally perfect society, which he called “the Kingdom of Ends.” In the 19th century Hegel saw human consciousness as the centerpiece of cosmic development toward ever-greater freedom and reason: “World history is the progress of the consciousness of freedom….and thereby the actualization of this Freedom as the final purpose of the world” (1953, 24). Hegel placed progressive transformation at the heart of the human project.
And in the 20th century (uniting East and West) Sri Aurobindo declared that “the universe and the individual are necessary to each other in their ascent” (1973, 49). For Aurobindo, the universe became self-aware in us as part of its evolutionary ascent. Our human task was to make those cosmic purposes come alive. In a statement that sounds as if it could have come from Karl Marx, Aurbindo writes:
The aim of economics would be not to create a huge engine of production, whether of the competitive or cooperative kind, but to give to men—not only to some but to all men each in his highest possible measure—the joy of work according to their own nature and free leisure to grow inwardly, as well as a simply rich and beautiful life for all. (ibid., 197)
For all three thinkers, human beings play a key role in cosmic history. Revolutionary solidarity first and foremost recognizes human dignity (this apparently miraculous depth and quality of human existence) and acts on this insight by “working for humanity.” Our transformative love strives to actualize this human dignity in concrete human economic and political affairs to allow a fulfilling and meaningful life for all, to allow the “free leisure to grow inwardly.” We are in solidarity with all others to share the vision of human potential and self-actualization, with all those who strive to bring the ideal out from some abstract mental heaven down into the concrete earthly relations between human beings.
Second, revolutionary solidarity lives from what I have named the “utopian horizon” at the heart of human temporality (Martin 2018). Every person exists within a dynamic present moment that simultaneously embraces a remembered past, and every person critically evaluates that past with respect to how it falls short of its real dignity and potential. We project from the present towards a better and transformed future. Marxist thinker Ernst Bloch (1986) demonstrated that this “utopian futurity” is fundamental to the revolutionary vision. The future that animates our human self-awareness is not some metaphysical heaven in which values exist divorced from our concrete earthly economic and political conditions.
The future is an ever-present pressure on our conscious lives to grow in awareness, love, and transformative vision. One begins to live from this future calling us to actualize the transformed self and society implicit within our futurity. It is precisely the vision of a transformed future that reason uses to critically evaluate a failed present and past. Human dignity emerges from the temporalized dynamic of self-transcendence itself, just as Pico, Pascal, Kant, Hegel, and Aurobindo had intuited. Bloch concludes:
The ultimate quintessence of classical natural law, without all the other accessories, remains the postulate of human dignity…. Thus we find the authentic inheritance of natural law that was revolutionary: the abolition of all relations that have alienated man for things that have not only been reduced to being merchandise but are even stripped of their own value. (1986, 203)
Third, revolutionary solidarity binds us under the transformational goal of freedom, a freedom that can only be realized through the blossoming future-driven power of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Human freedom, freedom for humanity, reveals the power of living historical beings who can critically evaluate the past and envision conditions of living that free us from slavery, degradation, exploitation, and domination. Revolutionary psychologist Erich Fromm asks, “how can man become so profoundly transformed that the values he has hitherto only recognized ideologically, become compelling motives for his personality and his action?” (1996, p. 95).
Just as ideals under bourgeois civilization have always been divorced from a horrific concrete reality of domination, exploitation, and human degradation so in each of us our ideals (the vision generated by our utopian horizon) have been divorced from the concrete reality of our lives. Philosopher Henry G. Bugbee writes: “The world as I take it reflectively and the world as I muddle through it then seem excruciatingly worlds apart. What is all this talk of love, of respect, of decision coming from one who is so often devoid of them?” (1961, 140). Fromm, like Marx and Che, insists that our highest values (our utopian horizon) must become “compelling motives” in our personalities and actions.
Fourth, revolutionary solidarity develops compassion for all those who have their dignity humiliated, denied, or crushed beneath the oppressive institutions and criminal classes who by and large dominate the system. The development of compassion by and large increases as our transpersonal moral maturity increases. Compassion is not a contingent human virtue to be cultivated by those who wish to post a laundry-list of their accomplishments. It is a living solidarity with other persons precisely to the extent that one lives beyond ego in solidarity with others.
Fifth, revolutionary solidarity projects us beyond “egoistic man” into post-egoistic community. We work to overcome egoistic self-interest in the name of the community of freedom and equality that is emerging within history. The slogan arising from the French revolution of liberté, égalité, fraternité animates a profound vision. The true freedom of each person arises in and through the genuine socialistic community in which the needs and self-actualization of each is empowered precisely because each contributes to the common good according to his or her abilities. The universal pattern of healthy human development modeled by transpersonal psychologists such as Ken Wilber (1978) today underlines Marx’s vision of transcending of bourgeois egoism for the higher self-actualization in which one lives from one’s “species-being,” and selves within community mutually empower and enhance one another.
Marx continually distinguished the so-called rights and ideals of the “abstract citizen” from the concrete egoism within which most people lived their lives in bourgeois society:
Political emancipation is a reduction of man, on the one hand to a member of civil society, an independent and egoistic individual, and on the other hand, to a citizen, to a moral person. Human emancipation will only be complete when the real, individualized man has absorbed into himself the abstract citizen; when as an individual man, in his everyday life, in his work, and in his relationships, he has become a species-being…. (1978, 46)
The “realm of freedom” arises beyond the “realm of necessity” that now dominates our lives when we focus our love and our energy on reversing the relationship between these realms (Marx 1981, 959). We transform the material realm of necessity so that it empowers freedom, equality, and community, no longer pretending that we must stay with the realm of necessity while “the best we can do” is help these ideals slowly evolve into reality. Up to now the “realm of necessity” has come before the realm of human dignity and freedom. We are revolutionary (rather than evolutionary) precisely because we act to reverse that relationship, thereby establishing human history (economic and political relationships) on a new foundation: human dignity.
Sixth, we must fully realize that revolutionary love is about the transformation of all human history. It is about human beings as a species and their historical assent from necessity to freedom, from egoism to the solidarity of love, from selfishness to compassion, from domination to justice and equality. In the process of understanding this we see that the sovereign nation-state exists as a merely contingent and passing historical phenomenon. In contradiction to what Hegel appeared to claim, that the nation-state was the culmination of the progression of the cosmic spirit (1991, sect. 360), we see today that the nation-state is destined to give way to the economic and political unity of humanity. Erich Fromm writes: “It follows that man will obtain the full capacity for objectivity and reason only when a society of man is established above all particular divisions of the human race, when loyalty to the human race and it its ideals is considered the prime loyalty that exists” (1950, p. 58).
At one time, the revolutionary thrust of history to some extent flowed through the organization of the so-called sovereign nation-state. Just as capitalism, Marx saw, was necessary to develop the forces of production to the point where production could serve the needs for everyone effectively, so the nation-state served as a cradle of freedom (as, for example, in the French and North American revolutions). The territorially bounded sovereign state, crystalizing in the 17th century, emerged within a deep relationship to expanding capitalism. As social scientist Christopher Chase-Dunn describes this: “The state and the interstate system are not separate from capitalism, but rather are the main institutional supports of capitalist production relations” (1998, 61).
The aspirations of people for freedom often centered on the end of colonialism, imposed by these “sovereign nation-states,” these supposed “cradles of freedom.” It involved struggles both within these nations and without, fighting endless social battles and anti-colonial wars and opposing the military domination of entire peoples by the imperialist powers. Both the dominators and the dominated defended nation-state sovereignty, the dominators because it allowed them to divide and conquer the world with relative impunity and the dominated because a limited “sovereign” territory appeared to provide a customary and quasi-legal “international law” defense for their liberation struggles. In neither case is human liberation in the deep sense served. A just society in one territorial sovereign state, struggling defensively against a capitalist world system, is not the central means necessary for establishing a world of universal peace, economic justice, and deep sustainability.
While it remains important to be in solidarity with those struggling within all nations for a just and liberated society (as well as with the nation-based struggles of countries like Cuba and Venezuela), we must remember that the ultimate goal is a united humanity and liberation from the reactionary dogma of sovereign nation-hood altogether. The only legitimate ultimate sovereignty is that of the people of Earth who, through their democratic World Parliament, delegate limited sovereignty to the nations, regions, and cities of Earth. In his May 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge, Marx declares: “Freedom, the feeling of man’s dignity will have to be awakened in the hearts of these people. Only this feeling, which vanished from the world for the Greeks, and under Christianity disappeared into the blue mist of the heavens, can again transform society into a community of men to achieve their highest purpose, a democratic state.”
Today, emerging planetary consciousness points beyond the failed system of militarized sovereign nation-states to the unity in diversity of all humanity. Nations do not disappear but take their proper place as regions within the whole. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth (2016) lays out the blueprint for uniting humanity under this principle. For the first time in history, freedom (and the end of class domination) becomes central to “the democratic state.” It provides the plan for a concrete embodiment of the hitherto abstract ideals of freedom, equality, and community. It shows how to bring these directly into political and economic reality so that the life of each human being exists within the nexus of conditions necessary for flourishing within a world of real peace, universal justice, and effective sustainability.
The human community as a whole then empowers the self-actualization of each. There is no longer a conflict between the state and the individual, for representatives are chosen directly by the people of Earth will far outnumber the nations in the World Parliament. When world law is based first and foremost on human dignity and well-being, the state loses its coercive and repressive character because it no longer dominated by a capitalist class running it for its own self-interest and self-protection. The class-character of the state dissolves. Universal, cosmopolitan democracy becomes the synchronous union of political and economic democracy.
The people of Earth now organize themselves through a democratic World Parliament that places our common human dignity and well-being above the sovereign nation-states, above the private banking cartels, above the multinational corporations and above the super-rich dominators of the planet. The sovereign power of the people of Earth, both representing and organized around human dignity, alone has the effective means to end the reign of terror and domination perpetuated by these four forces of fragmentation and injustice. Enforceable democratic world law, at our present stage of history, constitutes a necessary and effective means within the process of human liberation.
Under the Earth Constitution, these forces of domination and exploitation are not repressed by force or violence. This is part of the brilliance of its construction. Rather, they are allowed to “wither away,” so to speak, naturally reducing to their proper levels and relationships with respect to the whole of humanity. They wither to their proper dimensions (likely much smaller than at present) because the laws within nations and the lawless international system no longer support their domination.
Nations are not abolished; private banking is not abolished; corporations are not abolished; rich people are not abolished. But each will shrink to some perhaps important and possibly necessary function within the nexus of relations comprising the common good of the whole. Revolutionary solidarity is solidarity with the whole and with the inner promise of human history. It does not arise from an abstract ideal residing in heaven but from the dynamic futurity and capacity for self-transcendence that constitutes both the self-awareness of each human being and the foundational dynamic of human history.
Marx recognized political democracy as a great step forward, but it had not yet given us substantive democracy, which included control of the producers over the production process. Under substantive democracy, production exists for the common good of all and no longer for the private wealth of the few. The Earth Constitution in Article 8.7 puts control of the money of the planet into the hands of the people of Earth, both in terms of money creation and in terms of global public banking. It directs the uses of federation money for the common good of all, with equality and freedom.
The World Parliament generates laws (such as those enacted to date by the Provisional World Parliament) that allow the people of Earth to creatively and democratically produce the conditions for flourishing everywhere on the planet. Nations, private bankers, corporations, and wealthy individuals find their meaningful places related to the common good and the flourishing of the whole. As Buckminster Fuller pointed out, when we unite beyond the territorial nation-state, the world’s economy takes on a creative and productive synergy that make the former “mine versus yours” orientation in the world of scarcity obsolete: “they will not struggle for survival on a ‘you’ or ‘me’ basis, and will therefore be able to trust one another and be free to co-operate in spontaneous and logical ways” (1972, 88 & 95).
Today, in the early years of the 21st century as we face climate collapse and nuclear holocaust from the rogue collection of so-called sovereign nations recognizing no effective law about themselves, revolutionary solidarity means embracing the Constitution for the Federation of Earth as the key vehicle through which our love of humanity can actualize a world premised on human dignity and flourishing. The true revolutionary is indeed guided by great feelings of love. Both Marx and Che animate our vision.
Our love and our transformative praxis can bring those merely abstract ideals into political and economic realities, into concrete embodiment through the ratification of this Earth Constitution. After we pioneers, we “revolutionary leaders” have worked to get the Constitution ratified and world democracy established, future generations will truly want to sing-out in joy: Viva la revolución!
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