Postmodernism asserts from a materialist perspective that there is no absolute ‘truth’ and that consequently all our concepts, all our values, are subjective and relative. This is seen by some to present a threat to socialism in that it questions the objective reality of all values, including those generally attributed to the socialist idea. However, it can be argued that Marx does, in a way, take a postmodern perspective, or at least dodges the postmodern dilemma, when he adopts a strictly materialist stance and claims that all social values are simply attributes, expressions, of the economic system of production – an epiphenomenon.
Postmodernism can be seen as a protection against idealism which, in the 20th century, led to the excesses of totalitarian fascism and so-called ‘communism’. It can also be seen as a defence against evolutionary determinism (which leads to a fatalistic acceptance of the capitalist status quo), and as a defence against transcendental ideologies based on religion or race.
It is possible to adopt a socialist view within the postmodern paradigm from an existential perspective. Postmodernism does not prohibit us from holding beliefs and constructing value systems – it simply recognises the status of our beliefs and consequently determines the way we hold them. It leads us to an open, pragmatic view of our own beliefs, and those of others, and, like logical positivism in science, it leads us to continually reassess our beliefs in the light of our reason, our observations and our experience and the consequences arising from them.
Existentialism tells us that it is possible, indeed necessary, for us to choose our values and our own ‘grand narrative’. We can act (must act) as if we have (some) free will – even if the sociobiologists suggests that we have stronger patterns of genetically predisposed behaviour than we thought. We must act as if we have choice; but we must act – that is the human condition.
Postmodernism, then, challenges Marxism when held as an ideological absolute, but it does allow the holding of Marxist and socialist values as an existential choice – we must first look at the evidence, our experience, and our reason, and what we believe is an authentic choice for the human species.
So when the relativists tells you that you cannot believe anyone – believe them and move on, for, if we cannot be socialists, we cannot be anything.
© Lusion 2005