In ‘Revolutionary-Humanism (Part 1)’ evidence was provided to establish two important facts that are fundamental to Marx’s analysis of the problems facing humanity. The first thing to be established was that Marx implicitly and explicitly (in the 1844 Manuscripts in particular) advocated the adoption of a revolutionary-humanist purpose within any anti-capitalist perspective, campaign or post-capitalist mode of production. It was also pointed out that those vanguardist anti-capitalists of the 20th century (Bolsheviks, for example) who claimed to follow Marx, showed little or no understanding of this crucial concept. Instead they created and staffed an oppressive state, maintained an economy based on wage labour and punished all forms of criticism. It was a system so devoid of humanist sentiments and practices that practically no one wishes to repeat it.
The second factor was to establish the reason for Marx advocating such a humanist content to any revolutionary anti-capitalist perspective. Many reasons were given in Part 1, why the division of of human societies into one-dimensional economic categories, had served to de-humanise individuals of all classes. It was argued that those who lived extremely well from surplus-value (off profits, interest or tax revenue) were able to supress their humanity and consciences with regard to the poverty and deprivation around them. It was noted that capitalism had merely continued such class divisions and in addition reduced working-class productive activity to the most lengthy, mind-numbing, repetitive, mechanical and intellectual tasks, thus de-humanising them even further.
This second part will consider how the de-humanising effects of the capitalist division of labour manifests itself to an extreme degree within the middle-class intellectual spheres of production. It will also indicate how intellectuals, by their near monopoly of printed and oral media, also manage to spread their reactionary, inhumane and discriminating ideas among all classes of society. It is obvious from their output, that most intellectuals defend the capitalist system, ignore or minimise the negative effects of capitalist production and vilify working people when they protest or rebel against their inhumane conditions. Intellectuals publically blaming the victims of the present cancerous economic system, is almost routine in the press and media. But as we shall see, outpourings from some of this sector of production are even more extreme than that.
a) The expansion of Intellectual production.
In modes of production preceding the capitalist system, the need for specialisation in thinking and recording was restricted to the bureaucratic and religious sections of the hierarchy. The rest of society remained largely illiterate and their thinking by necessity was primarily focussed upon their everyday productive function and mundane levels of culture. Even the warrior classes and their leaders (Kings, Emperors, Pharaohs, etc) who could read and write were perhaps the exception to the general rule operating throughout the natural (and social) world of the time – if it is not absolutely necessary for survival or contentment – why bother? The evolutionary progress of a potential ability rarely occurs unless this brings a distinct advantage.
However, under the capitalist mode of production, literary and intellectual abilities do exactly that. At the industrial stage of its development, owners of capital and their managers, increasingly required a workforce which was literate and numerate to at least an elementary level. They needed their workers to be able to read instructions, follow detailed written work procedures and add up, subtract or occasionally multiply, the number of basic items they encountered in their lives at work. For the first time in history, an economic system needed universal literacy and numeracy, hence the inauguration in the 19th century of elementary schools and later secondary schools for all children including working class children.
At the same time, the complex and rapid development of industrial production, also needed a relatively large intellectual class of scientific, mathematical, technological, medical, beaurocratic, managerial and educational specialists. The growth of these sectors of the industrialised economy became necessary to ensure capitalisms full and profitable development. This extensive development of intellectual labour, allied to its previous elevated elite status, ensured that intellectual production eventually appeared to be superior to, and dominant over, all other aspects of the capitalist system. Specialist intellectuals in most of the above noted categories, were particularly prone to imagine that ‘thinking’ dominated ‘doing’ because for them it did. From attending university lectures to studying in the college library; Thinking was doing.
Thought processes and writing them down dominated intellectuals lives because thinking and writing was the form of labour that payed their bills. Not only that, thinking and writing often provided access to high-level elite status within capitalist societies. Well rewarded careers could be forged by wielding nothing more than pen (or typewriter) and paper. It was also this period (17th – 19th century) of one-sided, full-time, intellectual production which introduced the manufacture of suitable ideologies to rationalise the domination of capital. Today, it is only necessary to be aware of the number of think-tanks and spin-doctors which have spread among the economic, media and political elites of the 20th century, to recognise that the process of ideological production has become an important function of the modern intelligentia.
b) Intellectual production and inhumanity.
The past production and present elaboration of ideologies promoting, racist, sexist, eugenic, nationalistic, religious and sectarian positions, are perhaps among the most repugnant ones and they are invariably the product of the petite-bourgeois intellectual classes. The professionalisation of intellectual labour and the production of dominant ideas along with discriminating ideologies demonstrates the extent of de-humanisation among the intellectual elites. A life-long dedication to intellectual production, as with any other form of one-sided production, creates an extremely one-sided development of the human essence. A reliance upon pro-capitalist hierarchies for secure careers adds a further biased element to their character. The self-serving ideology of nationalism in which the welfare of the bourgeois Nation – State was set above the welfare of its oppressed citizens was one such intellectual product of the period. But more of that later.
At the same time, immersion in this sector easily leads intellectuals to adopt an exagerated sense of individual self-importance along with a general disrespect (or patronising concern) for those who are paid to use their hands instead of their brains. The results of the occupational deformation of their essential human character among intellectuals may not be as obvious as the blackened lungs of a coal miner, the stunted growth of an undernourished child, the legless survivor of an ‘accident’ at work or deaths and disfigurements as the result of bombing raids, but it does exist. The issuing of gagging orders by managers and other professionals, along with dodgy dossiers and plausible denial of the many things which go tragically wrong require the severe deformation of the humanity of those who order and implement them. The following examples indicate how far this poisonous intellectual virus can go. First, a notable intellectual commenting upon the 19th and 20th century struggle for women’s suffrage,
“Woman wishes to be independent, and therefore she begins to enlighten men about ‘woman as she is’ – THIS is one of the worst developments of the general UGLIFYING of Europe.” (Friedrich Nietzsche. ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ Section 232.)
The campaign against the double oppression and exploitation of women (half of humanity) under patrifocal capitalism, during their economic and social – reproduction activities is described by this celebrated intellectual critic of philosophy as ‘the UGLIFYING of Europe’. This hostile dismissal of the struggle for the liberation of the female half of humanity is matched by his attitude to the rest of oppressed humanity – male and female – who he considers are inferior. For he also writes;
“One must make one’s self superior to humanity, in power, in loftiest of soul – in contempt. (Friedrich Nietzsche. ‘The Anti-Christ’)
Nietzsche, whose necessities for living and criticising; ie accommodation, food, drink, clothing, writing materials and much else, was supplied by male and female members of the working-class, has nothing but contempt for those upon whom he ultimately and completely depended for his everyday needs. This emotionally abandoned, detached and de-humanised bourgeois intellectual, who wrote and thought himself superior to the common man, had no other wish than to be among other superior male beings – or supermen as he described them. In respect of this type of elitist attitude, he is one among many of the 19th and 20th century non-productive middle-class intellectuals, who had lost or abandoned their essential humanity and blinkered by their stipends, were rendered blind to this loss. A whole group of them during this period took their de-humanised attitudes to extremes and anticipated the distorted logic of what later became the politics of extreme sexism, racism and eventually – fascism. Here is another example:
“…history teaches us, that the genuine European (the Indo-German) while migrating to the West and South, had to fight his way through strange, strongly mingled and intellectually inferior ethnic elements, which he never exterminated but……we’re suppressed by him as slaves.”(HS Chamberlain. ‘Aryan World -view’. Racial purity section.)
‘‘History and the task of the future no longer signify the struggle of class against class or the conflict between one church dogma and another, but the settlement between blood and blood, race and race, Folk and Folk. (Alfred Rosenberg. ‘The Myth of the 20th Century. Preface.)
Here we witness at the published level, a link between the bourgeois intellectual arrogant disrespect for the bulk of humanity for their supposed lack of culture (as exemplified above by Nietzsche) and the the formation of social forms of this rejection applied to other nations and ethnicities. The exercise of a suggested choice between slavery or extermination of those considered ‘intellectually inferior’ is more than hinted by Chamberlain and racial war is advocated by Rosenberg. Both opinions eventually became accepted and absorbed into the political fabric of right-wing authoritarianism and fascism.
c) Intellectuals, Eugenics and Parasitism.
Next on the fascist intelligentia’s target list for projecting their inhumanity upon were those who were suffering birth defects.
“Compassion for the hereditarily ill contradicts the laws of nature and life, laws that are apathetic to the trivial fate of single individuals, seen as drops in the huge stream of blood that ﬂows eternally through history. . . . Whenever compassion and false humanity help the unhealthy to survive, man sins against the will of the creator who established the laws of life that, brutal as they are, always destroy the sick as soon as the existence of a race is in jeopardy.” (Walter Gross. Director National Socialist German Workers Party.1934.)
As I argued in the article, ‘The Invention of Race’, such ideas were not restricted to a few abberant individuals; during the 19th century, they had originated within and permiated large sections of the intelligentia in Europe and the rest of the world. Neither where the ideologies of racism, sexism and fascism spun out of thin air. University departments, for example, sponsored racial biology and eugenics studies, all of which were regurgitated in the popular newspaper and magazine media of the day. The period was rife with the de-humanised outpourings of an arrogant, unself-critical middle-class intellectual elite. It still is! Not surprisingly given this noxious intellectual ‘atmosphere’, Fascists appeared in all countries of Europe before they gained power in Italy, Germany and Spain and carried their ideas to their ultimate ends. The psychologist Willem Reich wasn’t too far away from accurately summing up the irrational psychology of fascism in its most pure form when he wrote;
“In its pure form fascism is the sum total of all the irrational reactions of the average human character……The Fascist is the drill sergeant in the colossal army of our deeply sick, highly industrialised civilisation. (Willem Reich. ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Preface.)
A deeply sick, highly industrialised civilisation indeed – and one continually producing circumstances and intellectuals who produce ideas which are miles away from humanist concerns. Despite large-scale poverty and crisis in public services, some frequently indulge in expensive, publically-funded vanity projects such as sending satelites to Mars, whilst others veer off in other more fascistic directions. We can see from these few eclectic examples (and those noted in part 1) that class based systems of production cause varying degrees of de-humanisation within all classes, but these are particularly exagerated among intellectuals.
Fascism along with Stalinism became the most extreme examples of the de-humanisation of our species in the 20th century. Fascist ideology mixed reactionary and distorted ideas of elite male superiority, patriarchal domination of women, inferior ethnicities, extermination of ‘unfit’ peoples, purity of blood and race along with slavery and total war. These ideologies (and their incorporation into a complete petite-bourgeois intellectual pallete) were promoted and further developed by the intellectual output of substantial sections of the bourgeois and petite-bourgeois intelligentia.
This is despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the intellectual classes were (and are) parasitic upon the productive activities of the working classes of the world. If we do not design and build our own houses, plant and harvest our own food, supply our own electricity or clean water, make our own clothes etc., then our own intellectual activity is dependent upon the productive activities of those who do. This fact alone should engender sincere respect among intellectuals for the working classes and a commitment to end the economic, class-based system which relegates them to the role of perpetual wage-slaves.
Whilst fascism as a political tendency in control of capital and state power in Italy and Germany was defeated in the 1939-45 war, sadly the ideas and ideologies informing the Fascist and Stalinist movements were not. They may have been subdued for a time but they were not eradicated. This is because, like weeds, they sprout from the class structures of bourgeois society and choke all but a few expressions of our essential humanity. Consequently, ideas positing and supporting racial superiority, female inferiority, elitist assumptions, sectarian preferences, age and disability discrimination lived on among some sections of the intelligentia and the political classes. After a war supposedly against the extreme advocates of racial, sexist, class and other forms of discrimination, the struggle for racial equality, for womens equality and workers rights again became an uphill struggle in all the capitalist countries during the 20th century.
The disciplines of psychology and psychiatric analysis have also catalogued the numerous variants of the mental disorders of individuals over the last 100 years, but few have traced the source of these multiple emotional and psychological problems to the de-humanising effects of the capitalist mode of production. That, of course is to be expected. Those who have not yet understood that the mode of production to a large extent determines everything else which arises as a result of it, will have a blind spot interfering with their ability to see what should be obvious once serious consideration is given to it. In its place are numerous erzats ideologies ostensibly describing and analysing the symptoms, without at any stage explaining the underlying cause. And in the manufacture of these ideologies the intellectual classes are in their element as well as being trapped in them.
d) Ideology as elite propaganda.
In general ideologies represent the vested interests of particular sections of society, rather than humanity as a whole. Ideologies are systems of ideas selected and woven together to represent and justify a particular view of the world or a part of it. In general, ideologies originate and are perfected by the intellectual elites in their own intellectual sector of production. Ideological justifications and mystifications exist in religious, economic, scientific, social and political forms, where they are invariably asserted as ‘true’. In this way the working classes are subjected from birth to death to ideologies that in no way represent their own interests or the interests of humanity as a whole. Some of which they are then persuaded to adopt.
Once established, the maintenance of an ideology usually involves the use of a pernicious process of confirmation bias. That is to say only facts and opinions which confirm the ideology are given weight and accepted, whilst facts or opinions which contradict it are denied weight, rejected or even ignored. Until recently, the control intellectual elites have over the ‘established’ media has meant any opposition to dominant ideologies has been difficult to circulate. The recent battle over what constitutes ‘authentic’ news and ‘fake’ news indicates that the Internet has allowed, among other things, a space for the masses to poke fun, unpick (de-construct) or contradict the dominant bourgeois narratives in economics, religion, politics, sociology and even science.
But the intellectuals are able to fight back. Using terms such as ‘market forces’, ‘supply and demand’, ‘monetary policy’, and ‘economic laws’, for example, bourgeois economic ideology has been made to seem scientific and natural and therefore there can be no acceptable economic alternative. Interestingly, the state-capitalist Bolsheviks and Maoists also used scientific-sounding elements in their own form of elite ideology which they used to justify their rule. Terms such as ‘dialectics’, ‘historical materialism’, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, etc., served a similar purpose to those of the capitalist elite. The purpose being to camaflage the real facts of oppression and exploitation for the purpose of surplus-value extraction. Then and now, where ideology is supported by a determined elite, the act of successfully challenging it can lead to punishment and even assassination. That’s how important it has become to elite forms of rule.
For this reason the importance of ideology to systems of oppression cannot be over – stated. Ideologies have always been useful rationalisations of a power already achieved by force but under the domination of capital (industrial, commercial and financial) the disemination of supportive ideologies are now absolutely necessary for its survival. This is because in an age of widespread education, it is necessary to convince people of the desirability or naturalness of the system which exploits them. So bourgeois forms of ideology are not just secondary intellectual supports for the capitalist mode of production, they, along with force are absolutely essential to its continuance. From the stand-point of the shrewd class-conscious elite, where they also serve to divide the oppressed as with religions, individual competition and nationality – so much the better. Two particularly important elements of bourgeois divisive secular ideology are the system of ideas selected and woven into the concepts of nationalism and individual rights.
e) Individualism and nationalism.
It was noted above that the intellectual classes are absolutely dependent upon the productive activites of millions of working people who labour to supply their basic needs which then frees them to focus on their supposed ‘individual’ intellectual activites. However, the ideology the intellectual classes both produce and absorb takes that previously created unequal social situation for granted. Economic and social inequalities are presented as the normal functioning of civilised societies, and that the only rights needed to redress any percieved wrongs are the rights of the individual. Such bourgeois individualist ideologies assume that societies are an aggregated product of individuals when in fact individuals are the socialised product of societies. In this sense there is no such thing as an individual ‘individual’, all individuals are social individuals.
This misperception and misrepresentation is the result of their paid employment as individuals and the ideas spun into the fabric of bourgeois ideology, but they also arise from how capitalism was developed. Capitalism was developed on the basis of an elite conception of individual private property – as it relates to the communal means of production. Capitalists don’t just own money, they own the means of production. This was not always the case. For the bulk of humanities evolution, the main means of production, land, resources, tools and skills were the property of the community. The community decided what to produce, when to produce, how to produce and how much to produce. Cooperation was the established norm. Even a few hundred years ago remnants of this social practice were still extant in Europe as well as in the rest of the world.
In country after country, the capitalist classes by various forcible means ended this practice in favour of individual ownership of land, tools and resources by a new capitalist elite. Capitalists replaced cooperation with competition. The owners and managers of capital began to hire and fire workers as individuals. They also paid them as individuals. They still do. Over generations this fact, together with ideological propaganda, has reinforced the idea that economic activity and access to it, is the product of individual effort. The modern capitalist state embodies the logic flowing from this economic model and grants individual rights and expects individual responsibility. This political dimension reinforces the impression (or appearance) that the individual rather than the social element is the primary economic engine of bourgeois society. Under the influence of bourgeois ideology, the idea of the individual has been abstracted away from its social context.
Discussing the ‘individual’ human being is a bit like discussing an individual body organ such as a heart, a lung or a kidney and forgetting or ignoring the fact that it (or they) can only function organically and continue to ‘live’ within a human body. And even then such individual internal units and sub-units can only continue as long as they are crucially linked and cross networked through living nerves and nurturing tissues with all the other organs of the whole body. It would be a sign of delusion or madness if someone thought a kidney should be able to function moderately well without a body, but there are people who imagine a human individual should be able to function moderately well without crucial nurturing social connections. We should perhaps begin to recognise that suicide, depression, anxiety and loneliness are not necessarily or primarily the result of individual psychological problems, as bourgeois science has often suggested, but are the result of severe social disfunctions operating at the heart of the capitalist mode of production.
Individualism and nationalism are the heads and tails of the capitalist main ideological currency. Individualism is an important aspect of bourgeois ideology for it has also played a decisive part in diverting attention from the primary importance of the collective. Consequently appealing to ‘individualism’ and individual rights has also been used repeatedly to undermine collective struggles by working people. Abstract individual human rights have been adopted by international institutions such as the UN, yet individuals are almost powerless to assert them against those who control wealth and power. Bourgeois Human Rights are little more than paper promises used as distractions. Despite the fact that individuals are nothing if they are not embedded in a whole network of social support mechanisms brought about by the original natural and later economic division of labour, bourgeois individualism has infected practically all cultural dimensions within the capitalist mode of production.
Despite the reality noted above, in education, sports, arts, careers, and even love, the individualist narrative asserts that individual effort is the key to winning and success. Many people believe this and repeat it ad nauseum despite the additional obvious fact that if only a relative few positions, medals, titles or loved ones are available and there are many aspiring to achieve them, then logic suggests otherwise. In a competition for privileges, it doesn’t matter how much effort all the thousands (or millions) of individuals make if only a relative few privileged positions exist. This indicates how pernicious ideological constructions are. Despite obvious facts and the logic flowing from them, ideologies can so infect people’s thinking that millions see the world upside down.
This is also the case with nationalist ideologies. On the scale of human evolution, the idea of humanity being divided up into large parcels of land marked by lines drawn upon a map, is a very recent invention – and one with a very definate purpose. This forced imposition of unatural boundaries upon the natural and social world represented the needs of an elite to control sufficient land and productive resources to keep them in the manner (or manor) they felt appropriate. Yet such manufactured divisions, once achieved, never did satisfy the elites either under the long fuedal middle-ages or the short capitalist centuries of modernity. Hence the repeated wars for control of, or influence over, other stretches of global territory.
f) Gross inhumanity in the name of Nationalism.
The perfected ideology of ‘nationalism’ has become a necessary consequence of the modern capitalist elite greed for wealth and power. This is because on their own they would not be able to conquer and control anything but their own tempers. To conquer and control lands and territories, elites need a means to force or persuade thousands of ordinary working people to pick up arms and do most of the killing and dying. The idea and practice of working people fighting and dying for ‘their’ country against other working people fighting and dying for ‘their’ country became the defining intellectual de-humanised achievement of the capitalist mode of production in the 19th and 20th centuries. The fact that the majority of the working classes in all countries didn’t actually own or control any of the land and resources of these countries, shows the pernicious power of ideologies if they remain unchallenged and are allowed to dominate.
Over 60 million ‘individuals’ dead in one world war alone along with all the millions of others before and since indicates the depths to which the inhumanity of the human species can be driven by class-based societies and the production and manipulation of divisive, religious, political, economic and social ideologies. Ideologies which are produced by the intellectual classes to justify this self-destructive carnage. The use of ideology and confirmation bias to support contemporary inhumanity is being displayed on mainstream media even as I write this paragraph. The incompetent rhetorical blame game of who let loose the chemicals which decimated the lives of citizens in Syria during April 2017, reveals as much as it hides. The accusation of crimes against humanity levelled at those who used or stockpiled chemicals, fails to recognise that all sides in this conflict have been perpetrating crimes against humanity for years.
Why, after using barrel-bombs, laser-guided bombs, missiles and other non-chemical agents of destruction, against innocent civilians, do certain politicians and media pundits, suddenly draw the line at chemicals – when they were silent before? The hypocricy of European, North American, British, Russian and Syrian elites is further demonstrated by the fact that chemical weapons have been manufactured and released by them to many other elites by the main countries involved. The de-humanised economic and political elites in America, Britain, Europe and Russia over several generations, have promoted and financed the development of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. From the the 20th century on this included the manufacture of chemical, nuclear and depleted uranium killing systems. Furthermore, these bestial, inhumane weapons have been designed, tested and perfected by de-humanised middle-class professionals in white coats with the precise intention of them being used to kill on a massive scale.
The capitalist mode of production has caused the de-humanising of whole classes of people and competitively set them at each others throats. It is an economic and political system at war with itself, with whole peoples, with animals (via extinctions) and nature in general (deforestation, pollution, etc.). It is at war with the ecological environment of the entire planet from the Arctic to the Antarctic – and at the moment it is winning all these self-destructive battles. This is despite the fact that the whole of humanity is dependent upon the ecological balance of the planet. And also, more than ever, humans are economically dependent upon each other – also on a global scale. I once again suggest that humanity – as a whole – needs a different set of ideas and practices, this time stemming from a revolutionary-humanist understanding of the socio-economic evolution of humanity. It is this category of anti-capitalist ideas – but not presented as yet another form of self-justifying ideology – which will be the focus of the next and final part of this exended article, ie in – ‘Revolutionary-Humanism (Part 3)’ .
R. Ratcliffe (April 2017)