Magazine article Monthly Review

From Primitive to Substantive Equality - Via Slavery

Magazine article Monthly Review

From Primitive to Substantive Equality - Via Slavery

Article excerpt

Unlike materially grounded and strictly determined primitive equality, the realization of universally shared substantive equality is feasible only at a highly developed level of social/economic advancement that must be combined with the consciously pursued non-hierarchical (and thereby nonantagonistic) regulation of a historically sustainable social reproductive metabolism. That would be a radically different social metabolism, in contrast to all phases of historical development hitherto-including of course the spontaneous primitive equality of the distant past rooted in the grave material constraints of directly imposed natural necessity and struggle for survival. For the horizon of humanity's consciousness was drastically curtailed and hemmed in under the grave determinations of primitive equality. Historical sustainability is therefore totally inconceivable in conjunction with such determinations. "Materiality" of that kind, despite its unquestionable substantiveness, as linked to the corresponding hemmed-in "spontaneity," is obviously not enough in order to achieve historical sustainability. Other conditions must be conquered in due course so as to be able to turn the potentiality of materially grounded substantive equality into historically viable reality.

But the requirement of materiality, in the case of the human being whose fundamental existential substratum is objectively determined nature, is essential. The seminal condition of materiality with regard to equality can be swept aside or wished out of existence-as a rule in a revealingly discriminatory and class-bound self-serving way-only by some idealist philosophical conception; one that predicates the commendability of some kind of equality (e.g., "in the eyes of God" or "before the Law") and at the same time denies the realizability of materially embodied substantive equality, in its defense of a most iniquitous social order.

The painful truth of the matter is that the vital importance of materiality and its regulatory requirements cannot be underrated as far as the actually unfolding-and in the end either prevailing or doom-laden-historical development of humanity is concerned. The innermost determinations of all-embracing historical development on this planet are always objective, even though their carriers are particular human individuals who may well exercise their role under the distorting determinations of false consciousness. For the false consciousness in question is not individualistically fanciful/arbitrary consciousness, as characteristically misrepresented by Max Weber in his projection of the fictitious but socially most apologetic-in view of being decreed to be absolutely insuperable-"Private Demon" dominating all individuals. On the contrary, it corresponds to determinate objective interests under the conditions of materially antagonistic historical development. This is a type of historical development characteristic of all social formations in which the overall command structure of decision making is-for a great variety of identifiable reasons-alienated from the social body as a whole, and is embodied in a separate, superimposed political organ of correspondingly great variety across history, including our present time.

Antagonistic Materiality

The principal forms of antagonistically perpetuated materiality across history are:

(1) slave-owning early societies, controlled by military force;

(2) feudal serfdom in which the predetermined and even religiously sanctioned antagonistic rule continues to be imposed, wherever and whenever needed, by force;

(3) "wage slavery," (in the words of Marx), perpetuating itself by directly material/economic means under the rule of capital, no matter how "advanced," and ultimately safeguarded by political/military force.

In all three of its fundamental articulations, slavery is structurally entrenched and peremptorily hierarchical with regard to the objective reality of the actual societal decision-making process. …

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