20. Needs and desires

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 17, 2009

For some revolutionaries and Marxists, the reference to human needs and wants is individualistic, petit-bourgeois or anarchist. We think that these needs and wants are a main motivation for people today to hate their existence as wage slaves in a society made for commodities, a society hostile to humans, their lives and desires. What role will the people's needs and wants play in a coming revolution and what role do they play today?

The purpose of revolutionary activity is not to develop the productive forces, nor even to liberate mankind just for mankind's sake. Everyone involved in activities like ours or yours is individually and collectively dissatisfied with his life, and he becomes part of a social movement where his "self " gets united with other selves without their union erasing his "self". Anyone who does not feel a personal urge for revolution, and would only make it for others, is a potential bureaucrat. In times of social crisis, subjective and objective levels combine without either of the two totally absorbing the other. ("Fusional groups" have the same fatal charm as fusional love.) In such moments, desire and reality, idealism and materialism, come as close as can be. Anyone who's been involved in a militant strike, in the occupation of a public building or in the construction of a barricade has experienced the constitution of a community that does not abolish the individual.

That being said, capital also satisfies needs, and promotes new ones, which it fulfils, frustrates, fulfils on a higher level, frustrates again, and so on. This contradiction fuels consumerism. Mercantile abundance means scarcity: the n number of DVDs on my shelves only matters in regard to the n + 1 DVD I'll be buying this week end. That logic applies to everything. The more vital a necessity is, like sleeping or eating, the more socially and historically determined it is.

If, for instance, as Marx wrote in the 1844 Manuscripts, the need for others is a powerful revolutionary factor, every society, including the most oppressive, has to fulfil it, and capitalism is no exception. The demand to go beyond one's particular self finds some realisation in the use of a cell phone and the communal feeling of football supporters, as well as in religion or insurrection. Revolutionary action is a vehicle for our potential universality: so are communication gadgets. We might be tempted to draw a line between an "authentic" need and a "false" need, but in practice both function as social links, and both have strong historical impact. Let's not look for non-integrable needs that would be so deeply human (or natural) that they would force us to create a "true" community, the communist community. Here again, no guarantee.