Human Nature and Communism
Students of history learn that what is possible is not inevitable. Yet some things are indeed inevitable: capitalism is failing. It is failing to allow society to actualize its developmental potential; failing to provide the individual with adequate means of growth or even survival; failing to recognize or address the ecological and environmental constraints that threaten humanity itself.
What then, when capitalism runs it’s ragged course and finds its final end? What is the practical future of human society? What is inevitable? What is possible? Proponents of communism are confronted with arguments that any attempt to organize human society cooperatively, where people share equitably in the work and wealth, will ultimately fail. These arguments rely on notions that “human nature” is essentially violent, competitive, selfish, and greedy and that humans are inherently unequal by race, gender, and intelligence.
Thus, we are taught, humans will fall back automatically into a class society where the State must enforce and protect the ownership of (private) property, a construct also understood to be immutable and natural. These ideas are the product of the nature of class society in general, and capitalism in particular, and are necessarily promoted by the ruling class to maintain control and power, to divide and delude, and to contain any expressions of actual democracy.
Knowing what constitutes essential human nature will help revolutionaries combat the falsehoods, myths and lies, and propel humanity forward to communism, which is already objectively possible under the existing conditions of potential abundance created by electronic means of production.
What we are is both a product of essential human qualities that distinguish us from other animals and the product of the society we live in. Insofar as people are fooled by myths concerning human nature, they are less likely to take part in revolutionary action; to be empowered, people need to realize the true cultural potential of humanity to create a new society of peace and justice.
Historical progress is the dialectical interrelationship of essential qualities of human and social organization within each stage of improved technological knowledge and capability. This understanding empowers revolutionaries to imagine communism in a real and practical manner without being “utopian.”
Society Organized Around Production
Underlying all social motion is the natural desire to survive and propagate as individuals and as a species. Like all animals, humans live, work and develop in accord with the resources and limitations of the environment in which they live. But vastly different from any other animal, humans excel in the ability to recreate their environment. 50,000 years ago, in what Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel calls the Great Leap Forward, humans in East Africa developed standardized stone tools and jewelry.
By 40,000 years ago humans were producing needles, awls, engraving tools, hand-held scrapers, and multi-piece weapons, such as spear-throwers, bows and arrows, and rope for nets, lines and snares. They were capable of killing larger animals, fish and birds, and of creating magnificent cave paintings, statues and musical instruments.
These humble, awe-inspiring beginnings have brought humanity to today’s complex society with instant global communication, 3-D printing, robots making robots, and the potential for all human material needs to be satisfied with minimal labor.
Between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago a momentous unknown change took place that separated humans from other animals, giving humans the ability to communicate through language. This superior ability to communicate through language is integrally connected to the unique quality of human intelligence, which propels human history through its stages of development.
Uniqueness of Human Intelligence
Human ability to identify problems, to find solutions, and to implement them far outstrips all other life forms. Frederick Engels in The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man, wrote, “We, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.”
What further distinguishes humans from other animals is not just our intelligence but our lifelong interest and commitment to learning. We like to learn, both as individuals and as a society. A few animals show curiosity to know things that are not connected to basic survival skills, but humans are the only animals whose common well-being and social organization is integrally connected to continual learning and development of individual intellectual capability.
But superior intelligence is not enough to explain the acceleration of human development. Community, cooperation and social organization have been essential to human survival and development. Many have said that harsh environment and random genetic mutations led to humans’ exceptional development.
Certainly the environment in which change occurs is critical, and genetic variations are essential. The growth of individual intelligence is advanced, however, not just by individual achievement, but by the quality of social organization and the pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon culture – the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Individual breakthroughs in development of tools and technology contribute to the intellectual development of the community through social organization and culture.
Social Organization Essential for Growth of Intelligence
Social organization and culture are the necessary conditions for the development of individual intelligence. Individual intelligence and social organization are in dialectical relationship with each other. The environment that provides the raw material and means of production for survival and growth shapes what is possible at any given stage of development.
Carel Van Schaik in his 2006 article in Scientific American, “Why are Some Animals So Smart?” wrote, “Our analyses of orangutans suggest that not only does culture – social learning of special skills – promote intelligence, it favors the evolution of greater and greater intelligence in a population over time. Thus, when a wild orangutan or an African great ape for that matter, pulls off a cognitively complex behavior, it has acquired the ability through a mix of observational learning and individual practice, much as a human child has garnered his or her skills.”
This interrelationship between individual intelligence and social organization was the driving force of human development in the leap from ape to human. It is the constant quality that drives human development through each mode of production and will provide the organizing principle for human society after advanced communism.
Ruling Class Domination Over Intellectual Development
Under class society we see the interrelationship between intellectual capability and social organization develop in accord with the interests of the contending classes. As conditions determine, the ruling class advances or retards intellectual development to serve its needs. And as conditions determine, the laboring classes develop their intellectual capability to combat the domination of the ruling class.
Today we are beginning to see the breadth and importance of this particular battle. As capitalist competition escalates, and the incorporation of labor-replacing technology through electronics and robotics accelerates, we see government eliminate programs and policies that served industrial capitalism. The State, serving the interests of the ruling class, subsidized industrial capital by providing a healthy educated workforce for factory floor and management. Now that workers are no longer needed in production, they’re withdrawing that subsidy across the board through elimination of public assistance, health and education.
Striking at a central driving force of human development – learning – they are withdrawing the State’s considerable subsidy of public education, even as it is championed as the hallmark of an exceptional society. This de-investment follows and intensifies along already existing class lines, and education becomes limited to those who can afford it either in time or money. The effect of the decline in education has the very real potential to undermine and eventually destroy the conditions necessary for the intellectual development of the individual and, in turn, the progress of the working class in general.
However, hope for the future rests with clear understanding of the objective process of human interrelationships alongside the technology we create and the new opportunities that are presented. The same technological advances used by the capitalist class to free itself of human labor may be used by the working class to liberate itself from a culture of isolation and dependency and move toward the formation of a new reality.
The following examples drawn from the Pew Research report series “The Future of The Internet” published in February 2012 illustrate the objective changes taking place in the human mind that can be used by the ruling class for continued domination over humanity, or by the working class for liberation of the human spirit and capability in a communal society.
Susan Price, CEO and chief Web strategist at Firecat Studio and an organizer of TEDx in San Antonio, Texas, noted: “The amazing plasticity of the brain is nowhere as evident as in the rapid adaptations humans are making in response to our unprecedented access to electronic information. Those who bemoan the perceived decline in deep thinking or engagement, face-to-face social skills and dependency on technology fail to appreciate the need to evolve our processes and behaviors to suit the new reality and opportunities. Young people and those who embrace the new connectedness are developing and evolving new standards and skills at a rate unprecedented in our history. Overall, our ability to connect, share and exchange information with other human beings is a strong net positive for humanity.”
Alan Bachers, director of the Neurofeedback Foundation, explained that society must prepare now for the consequences of the change we are already beginning to see. “The presence of breadth rather than depth of cognitive processing will definitely change everything – education, work, recreation,” he states. “Workers will show up unsuited for the robotic, mind-numbing tasks of the factory – jobs now vanishing anyway. Creativity, demand for high stimulus, rapidly changing environments, and high agency (high touch) will be what makes the next revolution of workers for jobs they will invent themselves, changing our culture entirely at a pace that will leave many who choose not to evolve in the dust.”
We can see unlimited potential in our future when we no longer need to use our intellectual capability for survival and struggle, but are free to develop our creativity to the fullest in every respect.
July/August 2013. Vol23.Ed4
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011