In revolutionary-humanism parts 1 and 2, evidence and the logic flowing from it was introduced to make the case that class-based economic systems distort and suppress the original (and still preferred essence) of what it is to be human. It was suggested that for millions of years, the permanent beneficial association of humans in bands, tribes and hunter-gatherer groups, had resulted in social relationships which we now usually describe as mutually beneficial or symbiotic. That is to say the type of socio-economic associations which underpinned and further enabled the long evolution of humanity were such that all parties to the group benefited substantially.
Evidence from various anthropological and ethnological studies, strongly suggests that among hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and early agriculturalists, the communal tribe or band collectively controlled the means of production (tools and skills etc.) along with the materials from which production was drawn (the surrounding natural environment). By everyone being involved in mental and physical production, these societies engendered a relative equality and the rounded development of all its members.
For the vast majority of the evolution of the human species, this predominantly egalitarian pattern of socio-economic existence was the ultimate determining factor molding and forming the physical and psychological essence of what it was to be human. Within each of these modes of production, their members were able to develop an extended range of abilities; physically, mentally and culturally. The emotional content of this group-promoted, socio-economic symbiosis was experienced as a communally developed, but individualised human ‘need’ and desire.
It was (and is) the need and desire not just to belong, (since the advent of ‘civilisations’ slaves and now a wage-slaves ‘belong’ either to a society or a class) but to beneficially and fairly belong. There was also an accompanying need and desire by most people to exercise and develop all the faculties and potentials available to them and in the process develop new skills and discover new means of enjoyment. Over millions of years, these aspects of human living became the ‘holistic’ needs and basic desires which are still powerfully felt, but which are now continually frustrated.
This frustration arises because, successive class-based socio-economic forms have largely replaced permanent beneficial association (based upon symbiosis) with a form of negative association (based upon class parasitism) in which the main beneficiaries of the productive and cultural activites of the community were an elite. The modern capitalist system is merely the most recent form of a class divided, one-dimensional and parasitic mode of economic and social production. It is also the most destructive of social cohesion. The capitalist mode of production has spread its parasitism and competition into every corner of the globe, destroying practically all other forms of production. In addition, the agents of the capitalist system, (primarily the industrialists, politicians, scientists and intellectuals) have now normalised acquisitive forms of warfare, they have institutionalised racism/genocide, they have globalised pollution and internationalised ecological destruction.
All these large-scale, self-destructive, inhumane abberations are a negation of everything most humans need and aspire to. As a result, beneficial association and symbiosis among humans has been pushed back into the immediate family (and close friends) and is even detrimentally effected there by capital’s competitive contradictions. For all but a relative few, life really has become ‘a vale of tears’, needing drugs, religion or retail therapy to tolerate it’s many contradictions. But all is not yet lost. The striving and potential to be truly human is still with us. What follows in the next section are four compelling reasons why a revolutionary-humanist perspective is not utopian, but is in harmony with the natural essence of humanity and should be essential in informing the present and future anti-capitalist struggles.
Biology and the ‘essence’ of humanity.
Until the mid 20th century the level of understanding of the human body and the ecological balance of the natural world was at such a stage that certain ideas such as competition and parasitism seemed confirmed by experience and so-called scientific research. These ideas and the ideologies ‘spun’ from them were generally supported by the pro-capitalist elite and those who borrowed their thinking from them, because the capitalist mode of production itself was based upon such practices. However, these bourgeois male-centred ideas and practices, particularly the the ones in the field of economics, were contested by a notable few. Yet it was with the development of the feminist movement in the 1960s, that this generally male-centred view of the world became subjected to penetrating criticism. The disciplines of history, anthropology, biology, philosophy, sociology and even politics were critically examined by feminists and found wanting.
Furthermore, the 19th, 20th and 21st century advance in the scientific 6understanding of biology and astronomy also added to the need for a reassessment of previously taken for granted 19th and 20th century ideas and ideologies. Telescopes, satelites, and now inter-planetary probes have not located the once imagined ‘heaven’ in the region’s of space beyond earth, but simply more planets and even more galaxies. Not god or gods in the beyond the sky, but matter in motion. At the opposite, microscopic level, we now know that the human body along with it’s internal organs, for example, is a complex, multi-cellular entity which is made up of millions of living cells and bacteria (endo-symbiants) which communicate, co-operate, co-ordinate and support each other to the essential benefit of the whole. We human beings are the most complex living evidence of the extent of symbiosis in the realm of nature. Unsurprisingly, this ‘modern’ understanding increasingly extends to multi-cellular life-forms in general.
It has become obvious over the last few decades, that multi-cellular life-forms could not have originated without the long-term mutual integration of single-cell organisms. The human species (along with other species) could not have evolved at all, let alone become conscious, thinking and reflective if it were not for the fact that life itself, in the form of bacteria in the primal conditions, developed and continued over billions of years on the basis of beneficial associations and endo-symbiosis. In evolutionary and practical life terms, beneficial association and symbiosis are life-affirming, parasitism is not. Parasitism has long been recognised as a form of disease within the individual human body and other life-forms, but it is not yet fully or clearly recognised as such within the socio-economic body of human communities.
For those who want to see, it is becoming increasingly obvious, in the 21st century that beneficial associations and symbiosis actually abound in nature. Microbial, plant, insect, fish and animal species all have endo-symbionts within them and enter into beneficial or symbiotic relationships with other species. Survival of the fittest, a Victorian concept for example, is no longer adequately interpreted as survival of the strongest. Ants, bacteria, and other such small life-forms, survived extinctions whilst dinosaurs did not. An invisable (to the naked eye) living organism such as a virus can end the life of even the largest and strongest life-forms. In contrast, beneficial associations and symbiosis increase survival rates. The terms, humanism, humanity, and humility are merely the conscious linguistic expressions of what constitutes that underlying complex endo-symbiotic package which makes up the human body and makes up the structure of all living things.
The social basis for the ‘essence’ of humanity.
There is also a social basis to the essence of humanity and points to the need to adopt a revolutionary-humanist perspective. Over millions of years of human reproductive and social development, the essence of what it is to be really human has also been humane and humanist. That is to say, humans have lived in collective, co-operative and reciprocally beneficial associations known as families, groups, bands or tribes. Indeed, the dependence upon social networks for each individual starts in the womb and continues throughout childhood. Physical well-being, language, skills and culture all require nurture and social support. Learning sociability is all part of a ‘healthy’ development leading to maturity – before the whole process commences again. Because of this necessary social basis to productive and re-productive activity of the human species, the social essence of our humanity, can never be completely eliminated or destroyed. It can only be distorted or suppressed.
And it is only in oppressive and exploititive societies such as the present capitalist one, that this humanist essence is severely distorted and supressed. Yet even in the worst of times as well as the best, there continue to be those whose humanity is not entirely eliminated by the class divided and competitive circumstances they find themselves in. Charity for some is undoubtedly a matter of easing a troubled conscience, but for others it is a genuine way of easing the worst circumstances for those negatively effected by the symptoms of capitalism. There is an essential difference in motive between the wealthy elite who give a little of the surplus-value they extract from the system and those among the ‘only just managing’ who dig into their shallow pockets to mitigate extreme poverty at home or abroad.
The essential class difference between the charity provided by the rich and poor is that the wealthy upper classes invariably do all they can to maintain the existing mode of production even while some of them are giving a little back. In contrast, the lower classes invariably wish their lives to get better or the system to change, whilst lending a helping hand to those even worse off than themselves. They often question why charity is needed in a system producing so much wealth. In view of this fragmented but not completely destroyed humanist essence it cannot be surprising, that in exceptional circumstances, the frustrations, competition and indifference engended by the capitalist mode of production is surmounted and people respond exceptionally.
Yet it invariably takes existential disasters such as famines, earthquakes, sunamis, floods, volcanic eruptions etc., to bring out the unrestricted humanity of people who then rush to help by physical, emotional, material and financial means. However, this ‘essence’ of humanity – as a common characteristic – can only be brought out because it is there in the first place. But the problem is that it’s flourishing can only last for a limited time before the socio-economic necessities and contradictions of capitalism kick in and things go back to what is normal. And what is normal for capitalism – competition, private ownership of the means of production and class divisions – on the scale of human evolution, is actually abnormal for the species.
Ecology and the ‘essence’ of humanity.
It is now undeniable that the capitalist mode of production has taken economic production to unprecedented heights – or depths – depending upon ones point of view. Myriads of complex commodities role off the 24/7 automated conveyor belts of global factories and workshops at breathtaking speeds. They are then stockpiled in factory sized supermarkets and shopping malls to feed the growing commodity purchasing fetishism that capitalism requires to keep its profit-making cycle of production ‘spinning’ along. On the one hand the owners and managers of this profit-motive-led capitalist system of production show no realisation of any moral, physical or ecological barriers standing in the way of its continuance. Whilst on the other hand, consumers become little more than the partly hypnotised victims of over-consumption – experienced as a ersatz form of emotional therapy.
For millions of years humans only took from nature what they needed to survive. Indeed, they could do no more. The essence of humanity was thus to preserve and conserve the environment which provided them with what they needed. Now, lacking any serious understanding of the balance of nature or even of evolutionary transitions of modes of production, its supporters take the domination of capitalism for granted and assume it ought to be able to continue for ever. Such a lack of historic understanding is compounded by a failure to comprehend the economic contradictions within capitalism. The most profound capitalist contradiction with regard to its effects upon the ecological balance of the planet, is the fact that the profit motive for production is a never ending class-driven force. Moreover, it is a predominantly elite motivation which can never be fully or finally satisfied. This produces four unsolvable ecological problems.
First, the raw material resources required to feed this voracious system need to be limitless, but they are not. The second is the fact that the energy sources required to drive this production, also need to be limitless, but again they are not. The third unsolvable ecological problem is the fact that the air, sea and water pollution caused during the capitalist production processes is a never ending by-product and these resources are not only limited but necessary for humanities survival. The fourth unsolvable problem, is the limited ability to safely dispose of all the dangerous waste materials produced by capitalist production methods. Already heavy metal, chemical and nuclear waste material elements in the air, soil and sea, are a life-threatening serious problem for humanity and the rest of the earth’s life-forms.
Not one of these natural resources used in production and distribution, are fully payed for as part of the costs of production, capitalists simpy take them – for the secondary costs of extraction – without replacing them. Cheap commodities, from which capitalists derive their vast profits, would not be so cheap if the costs of replenishing, forests, raw materials such as coal, oil and gas, and cleaning the polluted air, water and sea were added to their prices. If the real costs of replacing the destruction of the planets resources were added to the costs of production, commodities would be so expensive, that the system would collapse. Instead, the true cost is being forwarded to future generations with little regard as to how difficult this will be for them.
The ecological situation is so bad that for many decades reformist attempts have been suggested and some implemented to solve these symptoms, with little or no regard for eliminating the cause. Logical sounding petite-bourgeois schemes around recycling waste materials, creating alternative energy sources, filtering and diluting pollutants, proposing sustainable planting and repopulating species where possible, have been suggested and tried. However, they have scarcely made a difference. How could they? In most cases costs would rise and profits would fall catastrophically if all these measures were consistently and fully implemented – hence they are not.
Believe it or not, slightly socially deranged, highly paid scientists and technicians, are now actually working out how to colonise and pillage the raw material resources of Mars in order to feed the capitalist system they obviously take for granted. Destroying one planets environment is not enough, the mad logic of the capitalist system influences its professional classes to start eyeing up foreign planets for conquest as it’s earlier representatives once eyed up foreign countries. The class-based synergy driving capital accumulation, endless production for profit, fuelled by the greed of the capitalist and pro-capitalist elite, exerts far more influence and power, than those not so driven.
The moral basis for the ‘essence’ of humanity.
The moral basis for adopting a revolutionary-humanist perspective arises from a detailed understanding of the economic basis of capitalist production. The profits made by investing capital do not appear by magic, nor do the often bloated salaries of the public servants, artists and intellectuals. It may not be immediately obvious, but on closer inspection it becomes clear, that these profits and incomes all come from the unpaid labour of working people. The value of the wages and salaries paid to working people are less than the value of the goods and services produced by them. The difference between these two values, is known in economic terms as surplus-value. When converted into money, surplus-value is the source of profits, interest and taxes which in turn pay salaries.
Repeatedly paying less than the value of something – just because you can – is a form of institutionalised cheating or theft. Yet this is exactly what the capitalist system of production is set up to do. Working people are not the only ones to get ripped off, but they are the only ones who get ripped off on a daily, yearly and life-time basis. Having, by various nefarious historical means, gained control of the main means of production – land, buildings, machinery, raw materials and technology – those who live off the proceeds of productive-capital, are to a greater or lesser extent, able to dictate, when, where and how paid production is to take place. The working classes, by their lack of the means of production, are compelled by these socio-economic circumstances to go cap (or diploma) in hand and compete amongst themselves by interview, test or examination results for the right to be exploited – a dubious right indeed.
Since profits (or converted surplus-value) are the motivation of those who live off the proceeds of capital, they are able by numerous means, to set the wages, salaries and productivity at such levels that astronomical profits accrue. This situation would be bad enough (it would still be a huge ‘rip-off’) if working people all had a job and a reasonable standard of living for their entire working lives, but the dynamics of capital and the greed of capitalists for profit, also lead, via mechanisation and automation, to large-scale unemployment and periodic absolute as well as relative poverty. So capitalism – even at its most benign – is an immoral system of production, and when huge profits can be made there are no depths to which the agents and servants of capital cannot stoop.
Wars or aggressive skirmishes (and the threat of them) for example, are essential for the profits of arms manufacturers; cigarettes were known to harm and kill for decades whilst profits from them were allowed to roll in. Unsafe working practices are in the interests of the profits of industrialists, so they continue; producing chemicalised foods are more profitable than producing natural foods; debt slavery and cheap immigrant labour, enable building, office cleaning and food preparation to be done more profitably. The list could go on.
A failure to comprehend the inner workings of the capitalist mode of production leads to the view that such extreme symptoms are unfortunate anomalies to be wished away, rather than direct manifestations of the capitalist system. A fuller understanding of the capitalist mode of production, however, leads to an inevitable conclusion. Sooner or later if the ecology of the planet is to be saved and humanity is to return to its essential being, this mode of production will have to undergo a revolutionary-humanist transformation.
Perhaps the first thing to state is that in suggesting anti-capitalists adopt a revolutionary-humanist perspective it is not meant to imply a commitment to a new form of ideology. Revolutionary-Humanism is not a system of finished or set-in-stone ideas. Indeed, this particular perspective is based upon a criticism of everything, including a consistent self-critical attitude. Even the most refined ideas are only approximate and need to be tested, evaluated, improved or rejected if they prove not fit for purpose. This form of humanism is certainly not based upon ideas of absolute truths or claims to infallibility. And of course, since it is based upon the needs of humanity as a whole it is, non-sexist, non-racist and non-sectarian. Nor does its adoption imply the formation of a political party. This is because politics, even so-called revolutionary politics, from a revolutionary-humanist viewpoint, is a one-sided, oligarchal tendency. As such it is part of the problem for humanity, not part of the solution.
Nevertheless, the concept of revolutionary-humanism is not aimless. It presupposes an anti-capitalist perspective but recognises that simply being against capitalism (the negative motivation) does not express what kind of post-capitalist society (the positive motivation) is envisaged. However, that is not inconsistent with revolutionary-humanism because the creative process of a post-capitalist reconstruction is held (as a principle) to be the decision and task of the egalitarian collectives of working people who engage in such a transition. From this revolutionary perspective, the creative process of reconstruction is not the task of any self-appointed vanguard who think ordinary people should be led like sheep. However, prior to that collective transition, revolutionary-humanism does have at least one important facilitative task.
That is to energetically promote a critical understanding of the workings of the capitalist mode of production, including the concepts of surplus-value, past and present labour, productive and unproductive labour and relative overproduction. My own various contributions to these topics appear on this blog. Without a clear understanding of these four economic categories and the above noted negative, biological, social, ecological and moral symptoms created by capitalism, people will be misled into attempting further reformist dead-end solutions during its recurring crises. Yet its principles can be implemented and the concepts promoted by individuals as well as groups. Vast numbers are not required to keep hard won ideas alive until they are needed. Those who adopt revolutionary-humanism should not be dismayed at being among such small numbers.
The present period is clearly one in which the ideas championed by previous revolutionary-humanists need to be kept alive and in the public domain. This is so they will be available when any future serious and further critical dislocation of the capitalist mode of production, creates the material conditions and compelling realisation why the mode must be changed. Revolutionary-humanist ideas are analogous to tools, fashioned and tested by past experience of success and failures (sadly many failures) that await being taken up by a revolutionary class when they are needed. Meanwhile they ought to be kept sharp, improved and updated by those who recognise their importance and who will regard themselves as temporary custodians of this approach rather than high priests of a new orthodoxy. Shouldn’t there be more of us?
Roy Ratcliffe (May 2017)