Post-modernism Today

A Brief Introduction



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When post-modernists question the very possibility of knowledge or knowing the truth it rather sounds like unknowable "things-in-themselves", an agnostic world-view. It is relevant here to quote a brilliant passage from Lenin on the theory of knowledge. It runs thus: "First, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and ‘mediacies’. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in ‘self-movement’ ......Thirdly, a full ‘definition’ of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indication of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical logic holds that ‘truth is always concrete, never abstract’". [V.I. Lenin, "Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin", Collected Works, Vol.32, 1979, p.94, Quoted in Alexandra Getmanova, Logic, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1989, p.348] The above is self-explanatory and stands on the opposite pole of the post-modernist/post-structuralist position on acquiring knowledge and attainment of truth.

However, this does not mean the Foucaultian reference to the subtle net-work of power should not guide us to conduct research and take lessons from our reality. On some aspects the post-modernist critique of the varied ills encountered as a result of capitalism could widen our horizon of knowledge. But what basically makes us stand apart from such approach is its war against reason and science along with the conservative aspects devoid of any programme for the destruction of the capitalist system itself. Simultaneously we have to upgrade our theoretical framework to cope with the monstrous mechanism of present capitalism. Marx wrote Capital to destroy capitalism. In the hovering atmosphere of pessimism generated by the degeneration in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Mao’s China it is incumbent on the Marxists to rise to the occasion in order to develop socialist thought to a higher stage only by rectifying the past mistakes. And here lies the necessity of constant dialogue with certain post-modernist view-points and other critical theories in all fields of knowledge in order to enrich our knowledge and judgement, and to establish the invincibility of Marxism in a world of chaos.

So, to sum up:

Post-modernism is a trend of thought opposed to modernism (i.e. ideas emanating in the post-feudal era) and is therefore not only opposed to Marxism, but the entire leaps in thinking and values that came with the birth of capitalism — i.e. the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, Reason and even science.

Post-modernism, though it can trace its roots to over a century back, in its present garb, it draws extensively from the philosophies of Nietzche, the philosophical farther-figure of Hitler’s fascism.

Post-modernism got a major boost due to the intellectual vacuum resulting from the temporary set-back to communism, resulting from the reversals in the Soviet Union and China, and a retreat of the national liberation movements that witnessed an upsurge in the 1960s and the 1970s. In the resulting atmosphere of pessimism, post-modernism found thousands of takers even from the ranks of the Marxists, demoralised by the setbacks.

There is no doubt that the post-modernists address the ills of society thrown up by the capitalist/imperialist system, whether in the field of science, medicine, architecture, bureaucratisation and power polity, oppression and discrimination, etc etc., but their opposition does not come with any solutions. Though the Chinese experience, particularly that of the Cultural Revolution, did give many answers to these questions, it was short-lived and the reversal there, soon after, reduced the impact of that experience.

Post-modernism has, in fact, flourished in this period of ‘globalisation’. The set-backs in the above-said movements facilitated, in a big way, the offensive, on a world-scale, of imperialist capital, which has come to be called ‘globalisation’. And with ‘globalisation’ and the retreat of the State from all welfare measures, together with the vacuum created by the retreat of communism, the imperialists pushed and funded lakhs of NGOs throughout the world, and particularly in the backward countries, where levels of poverty became even more extreme. What existed earlier in pockets was now made an overwhelming phenomenon. And today, it is these NGOs that are one of the major vehicles of post-modernist ideas and views.

In India too, post-modernism has proliferated among a section of dissident intellectuals, disillusioned ‘Marxists’ and more particularly amongst the thousands and thousands of NGOs. Though the bulk of them may not subscribe to post-modernist philosophy openly (and may not even know its contents), they generally reflect that type of thinking. This is manifested in a mode of thinking that has a common thread, and, as such, ends in being anti-people. One strong factor in their approach is their attitude to power. First, as they have the approach that all power is bad they oppose any change in the existing order, on the grounds that the new power will be as bad. This, de facto, amounts to support to the present capitalist/imperialist system. Also, on the same grounds they are averse to organisation and organised dissent as that too will result in alternative power centres; so continuous ‘discourse’, like at the WSF, is more their focus rather than coming to conclusions and evolving organised plans of action. Generally, all these NGOs also take a negative attitude towards revolutionary organisations, and when they do associate they have the approach to subvert them — philosophically all these are linked to their approach to power. Second, their primary focus is at a micro level, they have no macro focus, also a part of the post-modernist approach. Third, their anti-modernist, anti-reason approach makes them turn back to tradition and the glorification of backward feudal thinking — this can result in them even becoming apologists of reactionary views like Hindutva. Fourthly, their emphasis on compartmentalised ethnicity and opposition to class unity results in them promoting exclusiveness of the dalit, women, tribal, etc. questions, resulting in the fragmentation of the unity of all the oppressed. Such then is the negative role that post-modernism is playing at the ground level within the Indian scenario.

The Post-modernist critique of the ills of this system has its basis in the horrendous impact of the present crisis ridden system that is, affecting every sphere of human activity. The acute impoverisation of the masses; the intense alienation faced by the people; the degrading status of the more marginalized sections; the vulgarisation of the utilisation of science, as seen in the medical, armament and other spheres; the rapacious destruction of the environment; the blatant mafia-style operations of the power brokers and big business; and the fascist terror and imperialist wars — all have resulted in a groundswell of opposition to this system. But, some ideological basis is necessary to anchor such sentiments. With the weakening of the communist movement, post-modernism has sought to fill the vacuum, and was used primarily as a weapon against Marxism. What is required is a re-assertion of science, reason and a creative application of Marxism to the ill of this system.

This can only be achieved by making Marxism a living social science to be creatively used as an ideological tool with which to understand present phenomena, and devise a way out of the morass. To do so, one has to rescue Marxism from the grip of the revisionists, dogmatists, empiricists and all those who vulgarise its scientific, class and revolutionary essence. Only then will Marxism be able to effectively counter post-modernism and illumine a path for the suffering masses to a new bright future.


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