Professor Kapustin is a senior lecturer in Ethics, Politics, & Economics at Yale University. He’s also involved with the Jackson Institute. He got his Ph.D. from the Moscow State University in 1979 and has taught political philosophy at various universities, among them Sabanchi University in Istanbul, UCLA, and the Central European University in Budapest. He’s published works like Modernity as a Subject of Political Theory (1998), Ideology and Politics in Post-communist Russia (2000), Moral Choices in Politics (2004), Critique of Political Philosophy: Selected Essays (2010), and Citizenship and Civil Society (2011). Right now, he’s working on a book which explores the concept of revolution and its applicability to today’s world. Conducted by Joseph Haberman, MC ’17 and Scott Remer, PC ’16; transcribed by Matthew Sant-Miller, JE ’17, for the Spring 2016 Issue (PDF version).
Margins: I suppose the most basic question to begin with is: What is the Left?
Kapustin: Sometimes the simplest questions are really difficult to answer. Two or three decades ago, before the downfall of the Berlin Wall, it was pretty easy to answer that question, saying that Leftists are for one or another kind of socialism and assuming that it was more or less clear what socialism meant. But these days, it is very difficult to define because the very notion of socialism has become so elusive.
I wouldn’t dare say that to be socialist necessarily means to be a supporter of socialism. It is very difficult to imagine socialism as something superseding capitalism, which is how socialism has been presented in accordance with orthodox Marxism. I believe that these days, since it is unclear what may supersede capitalism, the idea of Leftism is better associated with the belief that some alternative to the status quo is possible and that it has to be maintained, promoted, defended, and so on, so forth. So the belief that an alternative is possible is what I take to be Leftism these days. Moreover, I believe that the belief in that alternative is bolstered by certain moral or ethical concerns with social justice, with the condition of the downtrodden and what capitalism as it exists today does to them.
The opponent of Leftism is not necessarily praise of democracy and liberalism; it is the belief that there is no alternative. This is the gist of the ideologies that have opposed Leftism.
Margins: So looking forward, is revolution intrinsically part of that definition?
Kapustin: The term revolution has become another underdeveloped concept. Several decades ago, it was clear that revolution meant a political method of introducing an alternative to capitalism. What revolution means these days is much less clear. If you understand revolution as a violent uprising, I don’t think we can uphold that notion of revolution these days. This may, in fact, enrich our theoretical understanding of the conception of revolution by detaching it analytically from historical manifestations of revolutions, such as those during the turn of the twentieth century or a bit later.
Analytically speaking, I believe that revolution does not necessarily need to be identified with a violent uprising or with the supersession of capitalism. It might be just a way to defend the alternative to the status quo, whatever that may mean. It may be achieved through peaceful means. But again, the terms violence and non-violence are also dubious in many respects. If they are just associated just with physical violence and physical destruction, I believe that revolutions may happen without necessarily reproducing the historical patterns.
I do believe that revolution is possible, and in my opinion, it may not assume the form of the violent uprising or a big implementation of “the strategy,” as had been practiced by Lenin, by Trotsky, by Che Guevara. Perhaps that revolution would be carried out by a constellation of forces radically different from the forces that historically supported revolutions. If we associate a revolution just with a radical alternative and a method of its political implementation, I do believe that revolutions are possible. However, I believe that Leftists can be moderate or radical, so we have to be mindful of a variety of possibilities in which Leftism can reveal itself in the contemporary condition.
Margins: Building off of that, what do you think the preconditions are for a Leftist movement to be successful?
Kapustin: The problem is that if I try to answer the question in the traditional mode of answering these kinds of questions, I’d perhaps discuss the classical Leninist, Trotskyist, or Maoist theory of what makes uprising or revolution possible. I’d discuss the alleged “logic of history.” I’d discuss the mismatch between the forces of production and the relations of production. I’d discuss the organization of parties. My immediate response to the question would be that everything connected to the idea of the laws of history or some historical necessities (what Hegel once called the “providential plan of history”) need to be jettisoned to begin with. So, if the Leftist alternative can be made possible, it will be made possible as an occurrence or an event, under the strict definition of event as we can find in Žižek and along Badiou and some other Leftist world theories of our days.
So my response would be that we cannot predict a revolution; we cannot rely on the historical necessities that supposedly lead to revolutions. If we are to understand what makes revolutions possible we have to be attentive to the actual constellation of forces and the present economic, social, and cultural conditions, as well as the tensions inherent in those conditions. If we are to explain the possibility of revolution, we must explain the current crisis and what it may lead to.
So, revolutions may happen if we are morally, politically, and culturally committed to the alternative. We have to be theoretically and ethically attentive to the tensions and moral functioning of the status quo. We have to be attentive to the plight of the downtrodden. We have to think about how to rectify the flaws of the status quo. This may lead to a violent or non-violent revolution (this is again unpredictable), but to orchestrate the revolution and play the role of a vanguard, as has been described by Lenin, Che Guevara, Mao, or whoever — I believe this is not the strategy to be adopted by Leftists these days.
Let me stress that revolution, as an event, is not willed; it may be imposed upon the masses by necessity. It may simply present a way to get out of a situation that has become completely unbearable.
So my answer would be that I cannot predict the revolutions, and perhaps all those predictions should be discarded as theoretical, obsolete, and irrelevant to the actual problems of our day. We should never pretend to play the role of that vanguard, but we should be attentive and morally, psychologically, and organizationally prepared to defend those who suffer most from the status quo and to be engaged in a fight, whatever this may mean, against the present structures of damnation, or whatever produces the suffering of the downtrodden. So, revolution as an event is a theoretical or political alternative to the revolution as something crafted or orchestrated by the vanguard and perceived as an execution of the laws of history. These are the alternatives and I believe that a viable Leftist political theory for these days is immediately tied to the rethinking of the revolution as an occurrence, as something distinguished from and opposed to the revolution, as a necessary outcome of the unfolding of the laws of history.
Margins: With this hesitation towards prediction in mind, are there regions, spheres, sites of tension or crisis on the planet right now that are particularly interesting to you in a Leftist context?
Kapustin: Speaking globally, I believe that the financialization of capitalism can produce something totally unexpected from our present viewpoint. The financial crisis of 2008, which I’m not sure is completely behind us, nearly shipwrecked the whole financial system. The repercussions of that crisis were terrible. Many regions in the world suffered, including the most capitalistically advanced nations as well as those on the periphery of the system.
In my opinion, the trigger of the crisis has not been removed. The global system may have evaded the worst consequences of what happened in 2008, but this doesn’t mean that the explosive material that caused the crisis has been defused. Country-wise, I believe that we can expect another crisis of this kind, perhaps of much greater proportions, to occur pretty soon. The present configuration of capitalism is such that the bubbles appear necessarily, and perhaps they will increase further and further. This is immediately related to the sovereign indebtedness of the United States, which is beyond any reasonable management and can never be repaid, and the indebtedness of American households.
Even beyond America, we can look at what’s happening in Western Europe, including those nations that are taken to be most prosperous, and see that the sovereign and household indebtedness is beyond repair. We can observe the retreat of the real economy; it is increasingly becoming less and less important for the overall operation of capitalism as it exists these days. This, in my mind, dooms capitalism to have more and more bubbles of that kind. The repercussions of the explosions of those bubbles may lead to some totally unpredictable outcomes. If the financial system gets ruined or becomes inoperable, this certainly will create a condition in which many segments of the population, in the West as well as the periphery of the global system, will have to make some decisions that they cannot even imagine these days.
Let me stress that revolution, as an event, is not willed; it may be imposed upon the masses by necessity. It may simply present a way to get out of a situation that has become completely unbearable. Perhaps the same, philosophically speaking, can be said about freedom. As Hobbes and other writers described it, freedom might not be a blessing at all. Freedom may be terrible and may lead to terrible circumstances, but it is inescapable. So, in those situations of social, political, economic disaster or malfunction, that freedom of action, that freedom of creativity, that freedom of looking for something unprecedented, may be imposed on us by our hardships and sufferings.
In this sense, the revolution will not be something that the masses can enjoy or pursue as a festivity, as Karl Marx suggested. Rather, they may not even be welcome by the masses, who are more likely to prefer the stability and security of their private lives. Nevertheless, they will be extracted from their private lives and plunged into a sequence of events that may lead to revolution, which would be completely unexpected to them. So revolution is just a search for an exit from a situation that is unbearable for the masses. We must take this into account if we are to consider revolution as an event, rather than a consequence of the laws of history.
I may be prepared to accept the possibility of resolution that avoids the patterns that have once been assumed to define “the revolution.” I am prepared to accept the possibility of revolution even in the most stable, most advanced capitalistic nations. Financialized capitalism might erupt in such a way that it may cause something completely unimaginable from our present standpoint. Let alone the fact that some peripheral nations may suffer even worse from the repercussions of the crisis. The patterns of those revolutions, which may occur in the periphery — including Russia, by the way; I’m not excluding the revolution from Russia despite the deceptive Putin stability of the nation — may be something completely unheard of and unknown, judging by the experience that humankind has had with revolutions.
Margins: In 2011, there was a wave of protests in the United States and around the world that was very much related to the financial crisis of 2008. In your opinion, why did the Occupy Wall Street movement fail to gain significant traction in the United States? For a while, it seemed like it was going to manifest itself in actual policy changes, but it ended up fizzling out within about a year. What factors might explain that failure?
Kapustin: Let me confess that I’m not a huge expert on American politics. But since something similar occurred in Western Europe and to some extent in Eastern Europe, let me offer some generalizations. They might not immediately apply to what occurred in the United States, but they may explain some general weaknesses of Leftist forces these days.
In the face of such forces, the postmodern rubbish that we can be totally decentralized, that we don’t need to even identify our enemy, is self-imposed powerlessness.
I believe that the movement, in its diverse manifestations across and beyond the western world, certainly showed a widespread resentment of the status quo. This shouldn’t be forgotten or dismissed, even after taking into account the movement’s dissipation. The resentment is quite widespread, and it certainly hasn’t disappeared. One big problem is how to accumulate and channel the resentment in a proper way to make it politically potent. Ethically, it’s been proved to be potent. It’s quite widespread, and it showed that the current structures of financial, political, and economic damnation have been delegitimized to quite a considerable extent.
So, we have a kind of ethical resentment, but we do not have a tangible political materialization of the ethical dissatisfaction or frustration. In my opinion, one thing that largely contributed to the political failure of the Occupy Walls Street movement was that it proved to be quite postmodern, in the sense that there was no political organization and no acknowledged leadership of the movement. I read an interview with one of the activists in the Occupy movement in the LA Times in which the activist said, “We do not even identify our enemy.” Identifying enemies and organizing politically were recognized as a token of backwards, outdated strategies. In this sense, it was postmodern.
I have a lot of respect for theory of social networks. I believe it is very important and is really contributing to the advancement of social theory, but I don’t believe that networks of that kind can be politically efficient.
If we identify postmodernism as the absence of any viable political organization, I don’t think that any postmodern movements can really succeed because they are up against nearly perfectly organized structures of damnation with very strong leadership. I’m not talking about official world figures, but those who really control the structures. They have very strong organization, very strong leadership, and neatly crafted political strategies. In the face of such forces, the postmodern rubbish that we can be totally decentralized, that we don’t need to even identify our enemy, is self-imposed powerlessness. You cannot confront a very powerful enemy being completely powerless in terms of organization, leadership, and strategy. Postmodernism is often identified as a Leftist current of thought, but I believe it is as pernicious for political Leftism as a straightforward neoconservative propaganda. Those who already identify themselves as on the Left have some immunity against neoconservative propaganda, but I’m not sure they have sufficient immunity to the temptation of postmodernism.
I also believe that the political failure of Occupy Wall Street can be explained in a parallel way to the failure of the Red May of 1968. After all, Occupy Wall Street failed to create any viable coalitions or alliances with other sections of the population. They failed to attract trade unions; I know that they have become quite weak, but nonetheless they should not be politically discarded altogether. Some things that are sine qua non for any kind of practical political strategy, such as alliance-building or political organization and leadership, were conspicuously absent from the Wall Street movement, and I believe that these absences doomed it to failure.
Margins: It’s interesting talking about the plagues of postmodernism because many semblances of opposition in the Russian context are movements that have a large artistic, large decentralized structure, such as Pussy Riot, that seem to engage outside of the direct political process. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Russian Left?
Kapustin: It is completely miserable, and maybe even more miserable than the condition of the Left in the West, including the United States of America, for several reasons.
Perhaps the most important reason behind the weakness of any Leftist movement in present-day Russia is that Russia suffered more than any other country in the world from the discredited real socialism. Even those who attempt to support the pending spot of the Russian Federation, which is pretty much a conservative force, despite its official title, or maybe even because of its official title [laughs]. Many are disillusioned with the possibility of finding an alternative to capitalism because what had been known as ‘real socialism’ — such as the economic, social, and political organization that existed in the USSR before the beginning of perestroika, or anyway before 1991 — proved to be oppressive, economically inefficient, and certainly had nothing to do with human emancipation. So that devastation of the very idea of socialism had a very profound effect, even on those people who were not very enthusiastic about capitalism.
The very idea of an alternative to a status quo has been widely recognized as completely obsolete, as a piece of communist propaganda that has to be discarded as nearly nonsensical. Therefore, those Leftist forces, which you may have encountered while you visited Russia, are circumspect about the notion of an alternative to capitalism, which I believe is absolutely central to any true Leftist project. For instance, the self-proclaimed Leftist forces, which I believe to be profoundly conservative, try to preserve their influence on the masses by speculating about some allegedly lost treasures of the past and how they can be retrieved. This is not a Leftist project. They have nothing to do with the future, and they certainly do not perceive the future as something that should be left open-ended. The revolution, again, is an open-ended process. It is an exit from the status quo that opens a variety of perspectives. So this open-endedness, which in my opinion is one of the most important signs of Leftism, has completely disappeared, even from the ideological pronouncements of those who claim to be on the Left.
It is also important to consider some of the other Leftist forces. By the way, it is somewhat surprising that you identified Pussy Riot as Leftist. They may be postmodern in their behaviors, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are politically Leftist. Anyways, there are some other forces that constitute an opposition, to put it generally. I believe that those so-called oppositional forces suffer from a total disconnect from the downtrodden. They cannot politically articulate their concerns, their grievances. They’re largely isolated and marginalized. Therefore, they are inclined to turn their activities into pop shows, instead of undertaking really important and powerful political actions. We have much entertainment on the side of opposition, but we don’t have real political action on their part. Besides, there are some liberal forces — using liberal in the classical European sense — that are praised and cheered in the United States, such as Navalny.
To be honest, I have some sympathy for them because whatever their real intentions may be, I don’t believe at all that they can produce politically tangible outcomes. But nevertheless, as long as they can contribute to the exposure of the rotten nature of the existing regime, I am prepared to applaud them, whatever their intentions may be. They may contribute to what finally may appear as a radical transformation of Russia, and to that extent, I am prepared to applaud them. So, the central problem is that no modern Leftist force — meaning the force of the defense of the alternative to the status quo — has emerged in Russia. I believe this is the root of the terrible weakness of Leftist forces in Russia.
Thirdly, I believe that the whole discourse about the horrors of the existent regime are largely misled and confused because they focus on democracy, understood purely procedurally. To what extent, for instance, were the preparations for the 2011 parliamentary elections controlled illegally by what in Russia is known as the “administrative resource,” a central power capable of manipulating media and whatnot. Those things may be important, but what is really crucially important, specifically from the perspective of the downtrodden, is the nature of Russian capitalism, rather than all those discussions of democratic procedures. Once again, I stress that I am not underestimating the importance of those distortions of democratic procedures, but I am saying that there is something much more important.
In plain words, what is of utmost importance for Russia and perhaps for the realization for the alternative to the status quo is the nature of Russian capitalism, which I believe to be plainly predatory. For some reasons yet to be explained, those on the Left are quite reluctant to expose the predatory Russian capitalism, and they prefer to concentrate on something which the mainstream Western media concentrates on, like the gagged mass media or falsified outcomes of elections.
The true character of the capitalism that exists in Russia these days hasn’t really been exposed. It hasn’t really been analyzed, and therefore it is very difficult to say, even for those who believe to be participating in a political opposition, what are the real tensions, how those tensions may manifest themselves on a political level, and how those tensions may lead to the mobilization of the population. This is what I call a political and intellectual disconnect between the opposition and the actual suffering of the masses. They may be enthusiastic about the incorporation of Crimea and Russia, but this is a totally different issue from how they perceive the economic and social condition. That perception hasn’t really been analytically examined, and it has not been analyzed from the standpoint of how masses can be politically mobilized.
Margins: Turning to some more personal questions, how did you get involved with political philosophy and Leftism? What motivated you? Were there particular thinkers or events in your life?
Kapustin: Let me begin with something that may be totally unrelated to my political activism, which, frankly, has always been quite limited. I graduated in Russia in the ‘70s, when the Communist Party was very much in power. I graduated from one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in Russia known as the Institute for International Relations, which was meant to be a greenhouse for the children of the Soviet nomenklatura. I was accepted quite accidentally because my pedigree is very humble. I’m not even a Muscovite; I was born in the Eurozone. They certainly must have made a terrible error just to accept me to begin with, but being accepted, I was exposed to two things that inadvertently shaped my political and intellectual trajectory.
In plain words, what is of utmost importance for Russia and perhaps for the realization for the alternative to the status quo is the nature of Russian capitalism, which I believe to be plainly predatory.
One thing was that certainly, there was quite strict censorship at that time, and certainly, an ordinary person in Russia did not have access to say, the New York Times, the Financial Times, or the Guardian. I’m not saying that these are enormous fountainheads of political wisdom, but nonetheless, in order to obtain some kind of information that may be alternative to the information distributed by the official outlets, it was useful to have some access. An ordinary Russian citizen didn’t have any access to them, but we, the students of the highly privileged institute, were actually supposed to read those outlets just to master English and other languages. So I started reading American, English, or French papers since the age of eighteen.
Number two: I happened to literally stumble upon — to use the phrase of Adam Ferguson, whose book is right in front of me — Karl Marx’s so-called Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. They were officially published in Russia, but they were not read, and the students were not encouraged to read them. Actually, the students taking the courses on historical materialism were offered some selected access to portions of Karl Marx’s writing, certainly not all of them. But as I mentioned, I happened to stumble upon those manuscripts, and I remember reading them in two or three days. I was captivated by them, not because they were the greatest masterpiece that Marx has produced, but they certainly offered a very powerful alternative to the kind of Marxism we were exposed to.
I was absolutely captivated by the humanistic Marxism, and a host of questions immediately arose in my head after reading those manuscripts. I started doing my best to obtain any books on Marxism not published in the USSR. I was fortunate that my roommate was from Hungary; Hungary was the most liberal nation within the Warsaw Bloc. My roommate started literally smuggling Marxist books from Hungary to Moscow, and I started reading them. I still remember when he brought Herbert Marcuse’s essay on liberation; for me, that was the discovery of the spirit of the kind of a revolt of 1968 or those tumultuous ‘60s. So I started reading that Marxist literature. This appeared to be my intellectual background, which I never forgot and which continued to determine what I was doing in one way or another.
Regarding my activism: certainly, before the beginning of the perestroika, politically speaking I could do nothing. I never joined the movement of Russian dissenters. To put this as mildly as I can, I was not enthusiastic about the official propaganda of the regime, but politically speaking, I could do nothing. When perestroika was announced by Gorbachev and the censorship became much more relaxed and ultimately disappeared, I immediately rushed to the so-called public sphere and started publishing some nearly nonsensical essays, frequenting different talk shows on TV and whatnot, discussing democracy and many other things. I believe that most of my contributions at that time were half-baked and quite superficial, theoretically speaking, but I was extremely enthusiastic about disseminating my knowledge unto the readership and my country. This ultimately led me to political involvement.
At that time, there were different factions within the CPSU, which was apparently falling apart. I did not side with the most extreme faction known as the Democratic Platform, but I sided with another faction that was on the rise at that time. This faction ultimately turned itself into the so-called People’s Party of Russia, which was temporarily led by Rutskoy, who later became the Vice President of Russia. I was quite active then, and I was elected to the central committee of the party, so this was the period of my immediate political activism, which continued from 1991 to 1993. And then, we had the bloody coup of October 1993 and that party was banned, but actually, I left that party several months before the bloody October of 1993 because of my profound disagreements with the guy who emerged as Napoleon Bonaparte reborn in our party in Rutskoy, who in my opinion betrayed many of the ideals that made many of us join that party. I was not actually devastated with that party being banned by Mr. Yeltsin, but I was devastated by the political and ideological trajectory of that party, which had become apparent several months before the suppression of that party in October 1993.
My disappointment with that party can be boiled down just to one thing; I found out that it was not really Leftist. Later, I quit the political arena. This was certainly a sign and manifestation of my political defeat. I have to acknowledge this without any hesitation. But then, I decided that perhaps for me, it would be better to resume teaching students as much as I can. I’m not saying that since you have taken some of my classes you must know this, but I’m not engaged in any political propaganda. My belief is that my mission in the first place is to enhance my students’ critical thinking. I do believe that this may lead them to the discovery of the alternative, and in this sense, I believe that I’m still on my mission, not through being involved in any immediate political activity or disseminating any specific political doctrine, but by intellectually and ethically preparing my students to be critical towards the status quo.
I don’t believe that social sciences can be totally neutral. I do not believe in the highly celebrated impartiality or objectivity.
Margins: Are there specific philosophers or thinkers that you would recommend for college students who are trying to determine the precise content of the ethical and political commitments that they have?
Kapustin: This will be a totally inconclusive answer to your question, but I believe that different ideas, sometimes even those ideas that you wouldn’t expect to trigger any Leftist commitments, can in fact trigger such commitments. So what I really believe is that those Leftist ethical and political commitments are not stirred up by specific writings, but by your feeling of problems and by your dedication to the search for the resolution of those problems. I believe that classical liberal writers like John Locke are no less likely to trigger your Leftist commitments than Mao Zedong or Lenin if you read John Locke carefully, and if you are able to go beyond some liberal platitudes in terms of interpretation of Locke. So whatever can trigger your real concern with actual problems of our society may serve that facilitation of Leftist orientations and commitments. So that would leave me with two questions.
One question, who actually inspired me amongst those great philosophers of the past? I’ve already mentioned Karl Marx. He was certainly a huge influence on me. I can mention Friedrich Nietzsche. I can certainly mention such a writer who is conventionally presented as the champion of liberalism like Immanuel Kant. I can certainly mention some classical writers, like Plato and Aristotle. I can mention several writers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, beginning with Max Weber. Perhaps later, [Michel] Foucault, [Slavoj] Žižek, and [Giles] Deleuze. Certainly, I was very profoundly influenced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his reflection on the tragic fate of Marxism and humanism in the twentieth century. Perhaps those writers influenced me most of all, but I do believe that whatever I know, however humble my knowledge may be, has been shaped by my reading of political philosophy.
If we are to become intelligent Leftist activists, I don’t think that we should confine our reading just to those usual suspects of leaders of Leftist thought. We should do really profound intellectual work going through the corpus of classical philosophy. Only mustering that corpus can equip us with really profound knowledge and true intellectual foundations of Leftism, if it is opposed to some kind of superficial, light-minded versions of Leftism.
Margins: You may have already answered this question, but I’ll ask it, and maybe you can add any further thoughts. What should the role of intellectuals be in motivating social change?
Kapustin: Number one: I very much believe in what Jean-Paul Sartre once called the “engaged intellectual.” I don’t believe that social sciences can be totally neutral. I do not believe in the highly celebrated impartiality or objectivity. I do believe that the perspective of the participant can add more to our knowledge about science, about culture, about politics, then the perspective of those who pretend to be impartial observers.
So, in a nutshell, I believe that the perspective of the participant is more productive, even in terms of the growth of our social knowledge. I believe that Sartre’s “engaged intellectual” is a praiseworthy figure for a minimum of two reasons. One reason is that that figure can add more to the advancement of our knowledge. And number two: that figure openly acknowledges his or her personal ethical commitment to some cause. In this sense, this figure is much more outspoken, much more authentic, and this figure tries to put his or her ethical world beliefs and commitment into practice.
My second remark regarding your question is that I do believe that the function of the engaged intellectuals is inevitably performed differently in different political situations. By the way, this problem, in a very tragic fashion, was wonderfully discussed by the older generation of the Frankfurt School, even in such a pessimistically tragic book as the Dialectical Enlightenment. But the undertone of that book was my question: what can we, the engaged intellectuals, do if we are not supported by the masses? What can we do when we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel? What can we do in that specific and very tragic political and cultural situation? I believe that our situation these days may be like a tunnel, the end of which we cannot even foresee. In that situation, we have to be dedicated to our ethical position. This concept is perhaps best articulated by Martin Luther, in his famous statement to the congregation at Worms—”Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise.”
So this is the power of our ethical commitment, which should drive our academic and scientific pursuits. We should stand on this position, and it will determine the angle from which we observe reality. It will somehow determine our approach to the subject matter of our studies. Secondly, we should be engaged in the type of academic research that may help later shape actual platforms and strategies. And we should be committed to doing whatever we can, here and now. In the most hostile environment, we should do whatever we can to alleviate the lot of the downtrodden, to whom we are dedicated ethically and politically.
These statements certainly aren’t very cheerful. Moreover, one cannot help but feel that tragic air of the writings of those guys of the Frankfurt School. But this is still something, and I believe it is still better than turning oneself into an impartial observer, betraying political and moral commitments and what not. But certainly, times may change and we don’t know when and how they will change, so we should be prepared to assume a much more activist stance when the situations change. If we are totally unprepared for that gloomy situation of near despair, we won’t be able to achieve what we should achieve when situations change and the time for activism comes.
Image: Boris Kapustin