My book Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency will be published and available in hard copy and electronic format in March 2017.
Forthcoming book to be published by international publisher :
Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency
by Shaun May
Communism and Sexuality
Capitalism, as the most developed system of universal labour prostitution there has ever been, is within this paradigm only a dialectical ‘return’, on a higher plane, to the competitive sexual systems and forms of dominance of pre-cultural humans and of the higher primates. It is this which makes the future revolution the same as the human one : in both epochs, in modern times as in the palaeolithic, the struggle for humanity is directed against the same kind of thing.
Chris Knight, Blood Relations 
Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured precisely by the social position of the female sex.
In so far as the evolution of the human relations of communist life simultaneously must mean the psychosocial transformation of human beings this, in itself, also implies not only the alteration of the forms of interpersonal behavior within and through which sex in humans actually takes place. It also suggests that many of the current sexual practices we see today in the bourgeois epoch are themselves subject to dissolution, to be replaced by forms of sexual interpersonal behaviour which are direct manifestations of the social relations established by this evolving higher, communist human culture.
The intrinsic, absolute, inalienable biology of human sexual relations remains, of course. But the actual social characteristics of the interpersonal behavioural approach to sex must alter with the transformation of humanity. All those forms of sexual behaviour which indicate and reflect the alienation and dehumanisation of humanity in the bourgeois epoch will be subject to transcendence in time. Humanity will find its truly human ‘feet’ in sexual as in all other matters and relations. And those ‘feet’ will be of a mansuetudinous nature.
Reproductivity is an instinctual/inherent tendency of all forms of life. Species reproduce themselves either by asexual or sexual forms of reproduction. Species do not have to learn to be driven by the urge to engage in reproductive behaviour just as they do not have to learn to be hungry or thirsty, etc. Microorganisms such as bacteria and protozoans tend to reproduce asexually. Higher organisms use sexual forms in which male and female gametes are fused to produce a zygotic cell or embryo. Humans have inherited and developed the physiology of the sexual reproductivity of our animal ancestry.
In mammals and other animals, reproductivity is therefore the capacity to engage in forms of behaviour which may lead to reproduction. Reproduction itself is the actual process of development which takes place with and after the formation of the embryo (fusion of the male and female gametes) leading to the birth of new individual members of the species.
For our primate ancestors, their ethological responses to the impact of their conditions of life were mediated by a complex of instinctual and learnt behaviours. This synthesis of learning and instinct, taken in its unity, forms the ground of the simple non-conscious awareness of these primates. This non-conscious awareness evolves, in the course of the transition to the mode of life of humanity, into the human mind which becomes posited as a unity of the conscious and the unconscious.
The conscious and the unconscious do not exist in a state of psychic isolation from each other. Each mediates the life of the other, constituting the life of the human psyche as a totality. The origination of conscious awareness transforms the relationship between instinct and learning in the primate ancestors of humanity into the psychological relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. The origination of human conscious awareness – out of the simple non-conscious awareness of the ancestral animal primate – is therefore synonymous with the origination of the human psyche as a psycho-historical totality. (see my work on Psychology and the origins of the human psyche at https://spmay.wordpress.com )
Reproductive behaviour in higher primates – and hence in the primate ancestors of humans – is not simply a complex of instinctive responses. It is also mediated by what the animal has learnt in the course of its interaction with other members of the species group. Intra-ethological relations (within the species group) mediate reproductive behaviour. The fact that reproductivity is an innate biological function does not mean that such behaviour is not mediated by the non-instinctual ethology of the species group. In other words – in the higher primates – both learning and instinct are at play, are intermediating each other, in reproductive forms of behaviour.
As human beings originate out of their primate ancestors, their awareness divides into the unconscious (which contains sublated within itself the instinctive capacities of ancestral primates) and the conscious (which contains sublated within itself the learning capacities of these same primates). Those neurophysiological functions in the ancestral primate which are active in and regulate reproductivity and reproduction become raised to a qualitatively higher level of operation in the course of the transition to human modes of life. Psychic processes (not found in our animal ancestors) become integrated with the primate brain neurophysiology of reproductivity in the course of the origination of the human species. Reproductive capacities and their actualisation cease to be exclusively biological and ethological and become complexed psychological processes.
Social Differentiation of Sexuality
In evolving to a higher human stage of development, reproductivity takes on a range of sexualised forms i.e. the different modes of human sexual behaviour. Reproductivity becomes sexualised which means that some of these modes of sexual behaviour are not necessarily “reproductive”, for example, homosexual relations . Sexuality itself arises, therefore, as the behavioural product of human socio-historical development. But the various modes of sexual behaviour continue to form the behavioural media within and through which the sublated reproductive capacities of humanity’s animal ancestry are culturally expressed regardless of the mode of sexual behaviour.
Sexuality, therefore, becomes the social behavioural mode through which human reproductive capacity is expressed whilst not necessarily itself being reproductive and resulting in the reproduction of the species. Sexuality in its different and changing forms is essentially a creation of the emergence and evolution of human social relations.
We have distinct yet interrelated categories here : reproductivity, reproduction, the sexual [i.e. the sex act itself], sexuality and sexualisation. We can illustrate the interrelationship of these categories by using two examples.
Firstly, Heterosexuality. Heterosexuality is the predisposition in people to engage in sexual activity and behaviour with the ‘opposite’ sex, sex between men and women. In the course of this activity, the innate reproductivity of human beings becomes expressed which may lead to the reproduction of the species in the course of this sexual behaviour. Historically, heterosexuality arises as the first general form of sexualised behaviour with the origination of human culture. It is the first form of this process of sexualisation. This is grounded on the natural tendency (as opposed to the socio-historical as a category) in our animal ancestors towards male-female sexual relations. Later, of course, with the development of human culture, new forms of sexualised behaviour appear such as homosexuality, bisexuality, onanistic practices, sado-masochism, etc. Today, the sexualisation of the individual is a socio-cultural process taking place at both the micro and macro levels. An individual is not born with a specific sexuality (it is not inherent) but rather acquires, assimilates and develops it in accord with socio-cultural experience and psychological ‘internalisation’ at various levels in his/her social development.
Secondly, Lesbianism, which is the form of sexuality involving the predisposition in women to engage in sexual activity with each other. Once again, the innate reproductivity of human beings is expressed in this form of sexual activity but cannot lead to natural reproduction. Lesbian sexuality (sexualisation), once again, is a product of socio-cultural relations and their experience. But the inherent reproductivity in women and their capacity to reproduce the species is part of our animal ancestry, excepting disorder and disease which prevents reproduction and may be rectified culturally by medical technique, etc.
The emergence of humanity – as distinct from its primate and hominoid ancestors – is therefore the emergence of a sexualised being as distinct from the non-sexualised reproductivity of these ancestors. We may refer to this transition or ‘revolution’ from ancestral forms of pre-human sexual behaviour to human forms of sexualised behaviour as a process of the sexualisation of reproductive behaviour which became established as mediating the earliest human relations. With historical development, we get the emergence and radiation of different forms of sexuality and sexualised behaviour.
Sexualisation is therefore grounded in the process of becoming human, sapienisation [hominids becoming human]. But it only starts to flower as a social process with the first ‘human revolution’ proper and its onward development. This process transforms the modes of sexual behaviour in ancestral hominids into the modes of sexualised behaviour in humanity i.e. behaviour which arises as a spectrum of the various forms of human sexuality. The reproductive behaviour in animals is sexual but not sexualised. Animals do not possess and display sexuality because their reproductive behaviour is non-sexualised.
It is the rise of humanity as a social, and therefore conscious, being which intrinsically carries with it this process of sexualisation. Transforming the non-sexualised sexual reproductivity of the animal into the sexualised – but not necessarily reproducing – forms of sexual activity of human beings.
What is critical here, and deeply humanistic, is that human sexuality is not necessarily directed towards the reproduction of the species. On this foundation alone, it is vital that present and socialist humanity places the principle of freedom of sexuality between consenting adults at the very centre of its global culture. Without this baseline principle in human culture, there can be no real human freedom at all. The evolution of global socialist human culture will then take care of these human sexual relations and leave them to take their future ontological course as society develops on the basis of its own self-created foundations. The various forms of human sexuality originate and evolve as social creations, as the sublations, in these manifold forms, of the reproductive capacities of our primate ancestors. As humanity returns to a communal modes of life, the supersedence of violence in society will inevitably have an impact on the character of sexual relations between people.
Precocious Sexualisation of Children in the Epoch of Capital
Any given form of human sexual behaviour may not necessarily be procreative i.e. does not necessarily result in the reproduction of individual members of the species. However, the reproductive capacities of human beings become expressed (but not necessarily realised) in the various forms of human sexual behaviour which – as opposed to those of the ancestral primate where they are non-sexualised – are sexualised forms of this behaviour.
The biological capacity to reproduce the species starts to develop at puberty. From this point in the life of the individual, it undergoes a period of development in adolescence towards an optimised, mature, fully developed state of functionality in adult life. Prior to puberty, in childhood, these reproductive capacities are inactive. During the transitional period of adolescence, these reproductive functions are developing towards – but have not yet reached – an optimised stage of development and functioning in adult life with the supersedence of the adolescent period. The actual biological development of these capacities to an optimised level is not simply a function of their physiological existence and operation. Rather they are the function of the realisation and outcome of a total, antecedent, physical and social development in adolescence which posits the optimal stage in the adult individual.
A girl in early adolescence who produces children is therefore not optimally developed, either physically or socially, to do so. Recent research has demonstrated this principle. The rape of children is a manifestation of the violence inflicted on children by men and women who are the individual creations of bourgeois society. And, of course, we find such forms of torture and violence in previous societies. In the current society, cruelty and violence in its various forms against the vulnerable – children, the disabled, the elderly, domesticated and wild animals, etc – has reached epidemic proportions which will only begin to be terminated with the revolutionary transition to a society of an utterly different nature. To a socialist society which places the welfare of human beings and the living beauty of all of nature’s wonderful creation as the alpha and omega of its cultural life.
The premature sexualisation of pre-pubescent children is a phenomenon of bourgeois culture. It is the child force-alienated in its childhood. The forced alienation of the child in the service of the malignant presence of capital and its various media agencies. It is the psychosocial abuse of children and childhood by the current relations of the system of capitalist commodity production. And this influence has been identified as a possible factor behind the lowering of the age of puberty. 
The precocious pre-occupation with sexual matters in children is the product of capitalist consumeristic social relations – and especially its media – which tacitly encourage this pre-occupation as serving their economic needs. The earlier children can be drawn into the adult consumer market in a vast array of commodities, the more readily can children be ‘tapped’ as a source of profit. This process, in itself, serves as an early separation and alienation of children from childhood itself in the service of capital. This bourgeois sexualisation of children is just another of the many corrupting, degrading and degenerate influences on the development of children (and adults) in the epoch of global capitalism.
Sociogenesis and Future of Sexuality
The different forms of human sexuality are psychologically mediated . This obviously implicates social relations and their psychological effects on people in their sexual behaviour. It is the social character of human relations and their individualised psychological internalisation which conditions sexual relations in their specifically interpersonalised forms. Whether one individual practices this, that or another form of sexual activity becomes an aspect of that individual’s personality according to the specific socio-cultural conditions and the experience which that individual has actually made and psychologically internalised in the course of his/her life.
This social character of the sexuality of any given individual distinguishes its sexualised nature from the non-sexualised forms in ancestral primates. The sexuality of the individual is socio-culturally formed and is not implanted at the embryonic stage before birth. A child reared under certain conditions who makes specific experiences may tend to push him/her into a heterosexual mode of sexuality whilst different conditions and experiences may mean s/he practices homosexual or bisexual, etc, modes of sexuality in later life. We are not under any ‘judgmentality’ here but merely endeavouring to understand the role of social context within which the different forms of sexuality actually emerge and develop in different people.
This means that sexual activity in human beings can be motivated by a panoply of drives which are social in origin but which are found transfigured in the human psyche in various conceptual and psychoaffective (psychoactive) forms, conscious and sub-conscious. These drives orientate and tend the individual towards specific forms of sexual behaviour and response. We do not find this form of psychic mediation in the sexual behaviour of ancestral primates. This arises – and can only arise – with human beings.
Human sexual behaviour contains the reproductive behaviour of the ancestral primate incorporated (superseded, sublated) within itself. However, with this qualitative social break in development between these ancestors and humanity, this reproductive behaviour becomes integrated as an intrinsic part of the psychosocial behaviour of humans i.e. sexual behaviour becomes mediated by socially-originated human psychology.
Sexuality is, therefore, the psychosocial behavioural form in which human reproductivity (not necessarily realised as ‘reproduction’ itself) is expressed. Human sexuality must, therefore, in psychosocially integrating (sublating) the ancestral primate capacities into itself as it historically constitutes itself, necessarily bear a socio-historical character. In what sense? Not, of course, in the sense that the intrinsic and constitutional physiology of sex can be transcended. Such an assertion would indeed be utterly absurd and inhuman. But in the sense that certain determinate sexual practices are not necessarily fixed and eternal in human relations and, moreover, in the sense that those sexual practices which persist can be subject to alterations and modulations.
An obvious example here, in this latter respect, is sexual activity which, whilst being consensual, may involve the controlling, dominating (and even violent) participation of one partner over another which may itself cease to be a feature of sexual activity in a society which has created a totally different individual type to what we see today in the bourgeois epoch. Such behaviour may not be an eternal aspect of intimate interpersonal sexual relations between people as the very nature of humanity as a social being changes.
The inalienable physiological capacities of sexual relations must always remain but the psychosocial sexualised forms (modulations, specifications, nuances, etc) within and through which they are expressed must, and do, alter with historical development. This gives the evolution of these forms of human behaviour an ‘open-ended’, historically-relative character whilst always containing within themselves the indispensable, absolute, physiological relations of human beings to each other as participants in sex. The dialectic of the absolute and the relative expresses itself in the historical evolution of human sexual relations.
The different modes of human sexual behaviour have arisen historically and alter according to the variation in social and cultural conditions. For example, forms of sexual behaviour present in one culture may not be found in another or may – with the historical development of a given culture – disappear to be replaced by new forms of behaviour. One culture may introduce new forms into another culture, etc. Even the forms of sexual behaviour practiced by individuals throughout their lives may fluctuate. The heterosexual becomes homosexual and now bisexual and vice versa, etc. The spectrum of human sexual activity and experience is wide, complex and detailed. And yet not necessarily fixed and eternal in its composition.
The origination of human culture intrinsically and necessarily carries with it the transformation of the non-sexualised sexual behaviour of the ancestral primate into the sexualised behaviour of human beings. This process of sexualisation therefore becomes necessitated by the origination of human culture itself and is an inalienable part of the first human revolution which brought human culture itself as a whole into existence. What were the socio-historical conditions which gave rise to and necessitated this process of transition i.e. which necessitated the historical process of sexualisation? 
In his Paris Manuscripts, Marx wrote that…
The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. The relation of man to woman is the most genuine relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s natural behaviour has become human, or the extent to which the human essence in him has become his natural essence. The relationship also reveals the extent to which man’s need has become a human need: the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need. 
This is a challenging passage. But it would be a mistake to interpret this as a mini manifesto for heterosexuality. And that the extent to which humanity has become ‘heterosexual’ is a measure of ‘the extent to which the human essence in him has become his natural essence’. The articulation of such an interpretation would invite dogmatism and, indeed, a denial of the ‘open-ended’ and tentative character of our understanding of the future of human sexuality itself. And, moreover, in sexual relations, gender relations are not necessarily identical with biological relations. If we identify the ‘direct, natural and necessary relation of person to person’ as the consensual sexual relation between people of any form of sexuality – ‘the most genuine relation of human being to human being’ – then the actual social character of this relationship becomes a measure of whether ‘man’s need has become a human need: the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need’. It neither implies nor excludes the possibility that the future of human sexuality is exclusively heterosexual. That, surely, can only be left to the evolution and succession of many future generations of human beings as the social ontologies – on and out of which sexual relations themselves arise and develop – alter and move ever onwards towards new forms.
If humanity has created for itself a society which is based on and mediated by various forms of exploitation, this must impact the character of sexual relations. Or, more concretely, create sexual relations which are mediated, no matter how discretely, by exploitation and fear in its multiplicity of forms. This must necessarily hinder the full and free development of human sexuality in all its forms. The question of whether or not specific forms persist whilst others spontaneously disappear – according to the free and human conditions created by humanity evolving within its established ‘true realm of freedom’ – cannot be rationalistically addressed in the current epoch but must be left to the developing character of future generations of humanity. These different forms of sexual activity  will fall or persist as human society either continuously reaffirms or transcends the social grounds for their ontology (and any resonance of these grounds in the human psyche) in the course of the development of communal life. Thus, Engels writes,
what we can conjecture at present about the regulation of sex relationships after the impending effacement of capitalist production is, in the main, of a negative character, limited mostly to what will vanish. But what will be added? That will be settled after a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have had occasion to purchase a woman’s surrender either with money or with any other social means of power, and of women who have never had occasion to surrender to any man out of any consideration other than that of real love, or to refrain from giving themselves to their beloved for fear of the economic consequences. Once such people appear, they will not care a damn about what we today think they should do. They will establish their own practice and their own public opinion, conforming therewith, on the practice of each individual—and that’s the end of it. 
Notes and References
 Knight, C., Blood Relations – Menstruation and the Origins of Human Culture, Yale University Press, 1991. p.533
 Knight (ibid) – in his groundbreaking work – provides a theoretical model which serves to explain the cultural origins of both homosexuality and bisexuality.
 Freud, of course, was the pioneer in this area but a detailed analysis and referencing of his work is beyond the scope of this article.
 Knight, ibid.
 Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Private Property and Communism, Part (1)
 Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality notes that these forms have multiplied many times with the rise and development of bourgeois society. He contrasts this with the notion that bourgeois relations have engendered a universal sexual ‘repression’.
 Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Chapter 2, The Family, subsection 4, The Monogamian Family) in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 26, p.189
March 2016 (revised)
On the Origins of Religion
We start with a quote from Engels who writes that…
religion arose in very primitive times from erroneous, primitive conceptions of men about their own nature and external nature surrounding them. Every ideology, however, once it has arisen, develops in connection with the given concept-material, and develops this material further otherwise it would not be an ideology, that is, occupation with thoughts as with independent entities, developing independently and subject only to their own laws. That the material life conditions of the persons inside whose heads this thought process goes on in the last resort determine the course of this process remains of necessity unknown to these persons, for otherwise their would be an end to all ideology. These original religious notions, therefore, which in the main are common to each group of kindred peoples, develop, after the group separates in a manner peculiar to each people, according to the conditions of life falling to their lot. 
The historical development of ideology as a function of the ‘material life conditions of persons’ remains a closed book to those ‘inside whose heads the thought process goes on’. It takes on the appearance of an independent, autonomous development, detached from ‘material life conditions’. In the final analysis, it is the development of these conditions which determines the changes in, and general course of development of, a given ideology. Changes in material and social relations and conditions stand as the source of modifications in the ‘concept-material’ of ideology.
In a letter to Franz Mehring, Engels again goes into this, but this time referring more directly and explicitly to the thinking individual…
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. He imagines false or seeming motive forces. Because it is a process of thought he derives its form as well as its content from pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with mere thought material, which he accepts without examination as the product of thought, and does not investigate further for a more remote source independent of thought; Indeed this is a matter of course for him because as all action is mediated by thought, it appears to him to be ultimately based upon thought. 
Ideology is a process carried out consciously but is, nevertheless, ‘a false consciousness’ involving the imagining of ‘seeming and false motives’. Ideology appears to develop according to its ‘own laws’ detached from, and bearing no relation to, social conditions and relationships. Ideologically-thinking human beings do not seek to discover ‘a more remote source independent of thought’ for the understanding of ideology. Indeed, ideological thought identifies thought itself ultimately as its own basis in contrast, at the earliest stages of human existence, to the primordial relation of humanity to nature within the movement of which…
the unknown elements of the natural environment made necessary for the savage and barbarian, the idea of a god. 
The critique of religion was vital for the development of Marx’s overall conception because it re-located the conception of humanity away from the theological (as with Hegel and his predecessors) into its secular historical humanistic context. It enabled Marx to re-orientate the conception of social development around the central axis of humanity’’s relationship with nature and demonstrate that religion itself was a ‘transcendental’ ‘ideological’ product of this relationship within which the…
mist-enveloped regions of the religious world…..the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race (Vol. 1, Capital, p.77, Lawrence & Wishart, 1974).
Man is governed by the products of his own brain. (Ibid, p. 582).
Only under certain historical conditions does man bow down and worship his own creation. In the ‘inverted mist-enveloped regions’ of religion, the supplicant thinks of himself as bowing down and worshipping his own creator. Such thinking is itself intrinsic to religious ideology.
Trotsky recalls that…
In his youth, Marx said “The criticism of religion is the basis of all other criticism”. In what sense? In the sense that religion is a kind of fictitious knowledge of the universe. This fiction has two sides: the weakness of man before nature, and the incoherence of social relations. Fearing nature or ignoring it, being unable to analyse social relations or ignoring them, man in society endeavoured to meet his needs by creating fantastic images, endowing them with imaginary reality, and kneeling before his own creations. The basis of this creation lies in the practical need of man to orient himself, which in turn springs from the conditions of the struggle for existence.
Religion is an attempted adaptation to the surrounding environment in order successfully to meet the struggle for existence. In this adaptation there are practical and appropriate rules. But all this is bound up with myths, fantasies, superstitions, unreal knowledge. Just as all culture is the accumulation of knowledge and skill, so is the criticism of religion the foundation for all other criticism. 
The life of the earliest human communities was characterised by the most primitive levels of technique and a most rudimentary knowledge of nature. Local conditions and natural forces formed the material basis for religious notions of nature and social phenomena. How was humanity to explain these forces? Earthquakes, the seasons, birth and death, harvest and famine, human qualities and affectations, etc?
To the nomadic troop of hunters with stone axe and spear, natural forces were ‘something alien, mysterious, superior’. Religion comes into being as an attempt to explain these forces i.e. it is a kind of groping after a knowledge of these forces. But it emerges on the basis of a primitive level of technique and knowledge and thus, initially, cannot render a real, comprehensive scientific knowledge of these forces. However, despite this, even religious notions can contain ungerminated seeds of knowledge at this early stage of human development. The fact that different phenomena are ‘understood’ to have different divine ’causes’ displays, implicitly, a primitive notion that different phenomena in nature not only have different causes but that also a real connection exists between them. Therefore, even religious notions may contain an undeveloped, embryonic rational element within them which can only be fully developed when technique has arrived at a more advanced stage of development i.e. where human society has reached a point in its development where the conditions are present for such ‘seeds’ of knowledge to ‘germinate’.
Where knowledge was absent, deficient or minimal, people were compelled to explain these phenomena – both natural and social – on the basis of their scant knowledge. Local divinities and deities were thought to determine and control the daily lives and ‘destinies’ of a community and those of individuals in the community. The first religious conceptions were, therefore, animistic in which natural phenomena were thought to be endowed with and animated by supernatural forces, powers or ‘spirits’. This is why Marx writes that religion was…
from the outset consciousness of the transcendental arising from actually existing forces 
It has retained this characteristic even in its most abstract forms. Religious thinking remains a form of consciousness of the transcendental. This is still found in the various philosophical schools which remain connected to religious thinking by theological roots. For example, it finds expression in Plato’s ‘universals’, in Spinoza’s ‘infinite substance’, in Hegel’s ‘absolute idea’, etc. In its more explicitly religious forms, if finds a home in the pantheistic doctrines of Gnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, etc, in which the substance of the world is identified with the immanance of deity.
Despite its essentially religious nature, pantheism – Albert Einstein was a Spinozist – historically represented a step forward in the human understanding of nature in the sense that it conceptualises the diversity of nature as arising out of, and returning into, its inner unity. Implicit in this conception is, firstly, the recognition of the unity of nature in its infinite diversity and is, as such, an important element in a dialectical notion of nature. Secondly, a primordial notion of the regularity and the law-governed character of natural phenomena albeit through the indwelling presence of a law-giving deity, an impersonal god.
Religious practices (ritual) were thought to bring human beings into relation with these supernatural forces, acting and functioning to mediate the world of humans with the world of the gods. The ‘success’, ‘failure’ or outcome of the ‘communication’ between the two worlds became ‘expressed’ in and through natural and social phenomena which were an intrinsic part of the daily life of a people. For example, poor harvests, no rains, droughts, famine, disease, etc, were believed to be manifestations of the displeasure or anger (human attributes, of course, projected into the deities) of the deities. Contrarily, good harvests, plenty, good health, etc, were considered to be manifestations of divine approval and benevolence, ‘God’s bounty’, etc. The Christian harvest festivals, for example, are a reminder of pagan rituals which have echoed and become altered down the ages, becoming adapted and integrated into Christianity.
Thus, accordingly, in the earliest societies, humanity’s relationship with nature was permeated with superstition. Technique or behaviour that produced or coincided with favourable outcomes in terms of meeting the needs of a people were often given religious significance. These techniques and modes of behaviour, e.g. fire-making, were often attributed to legendary or mythical ancestors (if not to the gods themselves) who, in their turn, acquired such abilities from the gods or deities. The real origins of such techniques and behaviour – lying in the distant past of a people – were themselves often mythologised thereby transferring the real historic origins of a given technique or behaviour into the realms of mythological thought. Such notions were then used to describe the origins of technique and behaviour, etc, for example, in Greek mythology, the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. The Greeks did not grasp that fire-making was a human adaptation taken from nature itself and many thousands of years old and so they sought to explain its origins in mythological terms.
The mythologies and legends of different peoples are the story books of their prehistory which reflect, in the form of fantastic images, the struggles involved in the historic movement away from established property relations towards new relations and, in the course of the unfolding of this process, the rejection of previous modes of human behaviour that were a product of the mode of life determined by the older relations. The overturning of the ‘old’ ways inevitably involved putting everything associated with the ‘old’ ways – including all forms of social behaviour – through a process of socio-cultural transformation. A detailed, historical study of Greek mythology undoubtedly shows that all its stories have real roots in the actual history and ancestry of the people who created those myths and legends. The Greeks were not the only people to personify the forces of nature. Engels writes that..
the correct reflection of nature is extremely difficult, the product of a long history of experience. To primitive man the forces of nature were something alien, mysterious, superior. At a certain stage, through which all civilised peoples passed, he assimilates them by means of personification. It was this urge to personify that created gods everywhere, and the consensus of the peoples, as regards proof of the existence of god, proves after all only the universality of this urge to personify as a necessary transition stage, and consequently the universality of religion too. Only real knowledge of the forces of nature ejects the gods or god from one position after another…..This process has now advanced so far that theoretically it may be considered to be concluded. In the sphere of social phenomena reflection is still more difficult. Society is determined by economic relations, production and exchange, and besides by historical pre-conditions. 
The ‘urge to personify that created gods everywhere’ was a universal urge found amongst ‘all civilised peoples’; ‘a certain stage, through which all civilised peoples passed’. At this stage of development, the ‘alien, mysterious, superior’ forces of nature are ‘assimilated by means of personification’. The ‘personification’ of these forces is their ‘false conscious’ assimilation by the projection and attribution of human characteristics. This ‘urge to personify’ reflects the human need to be and feel ‘at home’ in nature, ‘at one’ with nature so to speak, not alienated or estranged from it. Paradoxically, it is precisely this ‘urge to personify’ that is mediated by humanity’s alienation in nature.
Ludwig Feuerbach, in his Essence of Christianity, shows that all religious thinking contains the imprint of its secular human origins. Notions of gods or god have always been characterised, in one form or another, by human attributes showing implicitly that such notions, whatever form they may take, are, taken in their totality, the product of human culture and its attendant forms of consciousness at a definite stage in their historical development. The continuation of religion corresponds to the prevalence of social relations which, in their immanent nature and movement, make religion necessary and demonstrates that social relations have not yet passed into a stage which renders religion unnnecessary. Humanity continues to be ‘governed by the products of his own brain’ (Marx, Capital, Vol 1). Engels describes the origin and historical development of religious thought and practice as…
nothing but the fantastic reflection in men’s minds of those external forces which control their daily life, a reflection in which the terrestrial forces assume the form of supernatural forces. In the beginnings of history it was the forces of nature that were first so reflected, and which in the course of further evolution underwent the most manifold and varied personifications among the various peoples…. But it is not long before, side by side with the forces of nature, social forces begin to be active – forces which confront man as equally alien and at first equally inexplicable, dominating him with the same apparent natural necessity as the forces of nature themselves. The fantastic figures, which at first only reflected the mysterious forces of nature, at this point acquire social attributes, become representatives of the forces of history…. at a still further stage of evolution, all the natural and social attributes of the numerous gods are transferred to one almighty god, who is but a reflection of the abstract man. Such was the origin of monotheism, which was historically the last product of the vulgarised philosophy of the later Greeks and found its incarnation in the exclusively national god of the Jews, Jehovah. In this convenient, handy and universally adaptable form, religion can continue to exist as the immediate, that is, the sentimental form of men’s relation to the alien, natural and social, forces which dominate them, so long as men remain under the control of these forces. 
It is scientistically ideological to seek to rationalise away religion when an actual historical basis in the form of bourgeois social relations is mediating its existence and perpetuation. This is the fundamental error which is contained in contemporary debates around the question of the existence or non-existence of god, the legitimacy of this or that religion with its particular credo, etc. Richard Dawkins and others may be very able biologists but their approach – for example in The God Delusion – in regard to their attack on religion in general, falls within the same ideological framework as religion itself. It does not locate the existence of religion within a wider, historical context and perspective and therefore misses the real target in simply discussing the conceptual content of its particulars. Religion can only continue to exist because there are real historical grounds for it and all the scientistic polemic and invective will not in itself eliminate it. Only when social conditions are established which render it increasingly unnecessary, will it begin to wither and die in human relations. This, of course, is not to assert that scientific advances do not erode religion so that ‘real knowledge of the forces of nature ejects the gods or god from one position after another’. Everybody knows how Darwin’s great discoveries have kicked religion in every conceivable place where it hurts. All the other areas of science have done more or less the same. However, even Darwin, Marx, etc, and their successors have not delivered the finishing social blow.
Marx’s critique of religion was the foundation of all later critique. It was not a rationalistic, ideological critique but a revolutionary critique of the social historical conditions which necessarily produce religious thought and sentiment. He wasn’t ‘pointing the finger’, categorising others as ‘being religious’, or ‘irrational’ or trying to beat and batter their religious sentiments out of them by means of ‘rationalistic’ argument, but rather trying to grasp the process of religion’s historical genesis and development. Neither did he critique religion as a sort of self-denying philosophical ordnance to remind himself not to be dogmatic or doctrinaire. Marx’s relationship with religion – as with Hegel and Feuerbach – was a revolutionary critical relation and not a rationalistic one. It was a ‘rational relation’ but not ‘philosophically rationalistic’.
The major problem of the ‘opacity’ of social relations remains. Social relations and phenomena are human creations. They are the outcome of a socio-historical development involving a complexity of forces: economic, social, political, ethical, personal, intellectual, etc, which are distinct yet inseparable aspects of a single process of development. Natural forces, not embracing within themselves the elements of human activity and subjectivity as with social relations, have a greater or more tangible degree of ‘otherness’ and therefore are more accessible to a direct and ‘objective’ understanding than are subject-imbued social relations. The understanding of social relations, forces and phenomena are mediated by subjectively-thinking and acting humans rendering their understanding more difficult. This is the major ontological ground for the continuation of religious thinking and sentiment. Human beings live within the oppressive and painful cauldron of bourgeois relations and religion is one of its necessary products. Marx spoke of religion as being the sigh of the oppressed creature.
The advance of scientific thought does not fundamentally mitigate the psychosocial impact of the capitalist mode of production on the life of the individual. The nature of the social relations of production and circulation of capital tend to compound, accentuate and aggravate the personal problems of the individual. The contradictions of bourgeois society become concentrated, intensified and expressed in the psychosocial life of the individual. Religion is sometimes the only consolation individuals have for the sorrows of life in the existing society….
in existing bourgeois society men are dominated by the economic conditions created by themselves, by the means of production which they themselves have produced, as if by an alien force.
The actual basis of religious reflective activity therefore continues to exist, and with it the religious reflection itself… It is still true that man proposes and god (that is, the alien domination of the capitalist mode of production) disposes. Mere knowledge, even if it went much further and deeper than that of bourgeois economic science, is not enough to bring social forces under the domination of society. What is above all necessary for this is a social act. And when this act has been accomplished, when society, by taking possession of all means of production and using them on a planned basis, has freed itself and all its members from the bondage in which they are now held by these means of production which they themselves have produced but which confront them as an irresistible alien force; when therefore man no longer merely proposes but also disposes – only then will the last alien force which is reflected in religion vanish; and with it will also vanish the religious reflection itself, for the simple reason that there will be nothing left to reflect. 
Religion will only start to disappear when humanity establishes real, collective social and planned control over those anarchic social forces of production which currently dominate human life. The emergence of a global, collective and planned control of these forces implies the beginning, at least, of the transcendence of religious ideology and its ritualistic practices. Exchange value, the anarchy of the market, the ideological and psychological forms corresponding thereto – which are the organic social products of the process of the production and circulation of capital – appear to be expressions of some eternal law of nature rather than the transient social creations of humanity itself. It appears that religion itself is just as eternal.
Accordingly, religious ideas – which reflect the prevalence and continuation of these social forms and relations which humanity has itself created but which stand, chimera-like, in alien opposition to humanity as if they were eternal laws of nature – only disappear…
when the practical relations of everyday life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and tonature.The life process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material ground work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development. 
Notes and References
 Engels., Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973). p.618.
 Letter from Engels to F. Mehring, July 14, 1893. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.690.
 Lafargue, Paul., The Evolution of Property (Social and Philosophical Studies) (New Park, London, 1975) p.124.
 Trotsky., Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science. (Monad Press, New York, 1973) p.309.
 Marx., The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5. (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976) p.93
 Engels., From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) pp.605-606.
 Engels., Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 25.(Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) pp.300-301
 Engels., Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 25.(Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) pp.301-302
 Marx., Capital. (Volume 1) (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1974) p. 84
March 2016 (revised)
On the Dialectical Structure of Dilemmas
Psychology by no means holds the “secret” of human affairs, simply because this “secret” is not of a psychological order.
Georges Politzer 
In over 100 cases where we have studied the actual circumstances around the social event when one person comes to be regarded as schizophrenic, it seems to us that without exception the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation. In his life situation the person has come to feel that he is in an untenable situation. He cannot make a move, or make no move, without being beset by contradictory and paradoxical pressures and demands, pushes and pulls, both internally, from himself, and externally, from those around him. He is, as it were, in a position of checkmate.
R D Laing 
Dilemmas result when people seek to psychosocially accommodate mutually incompatible alternatives presented to them in their lives. Each alternative in the dilemma contains both a desirable and an undesirable side to it, operating as a structured relationship of opposed alternatives mediated by choice. The presentation of a choice to be made is intrinsic to dilemma and results from the condition that opposed, inwardly self-contradictory alternatives are presented under the compulsion of having to make a choice between one alternative or the other or, thirdly, to psychologically live with the dilemma as a continuously operative psychosocial relation.
It is the conflicting character of socio-cultural conditions and relations (intra-relational between different aspects of the same culture or inter-relational between aspects of different cultures), mediated by various factors including the ideological, which determines both the conceptual content of the thinking which animates the dilemma and the actual psychodialectical structure of the dilemma itself. The compulsive nature of these conditions and relations tends to move the individual to choose one of the two alternatives in a dilemma situation. We will see later how some (not all) dilemmas can be manipulated by attaching conditions to their actual ontology in the act of producing ‘counter-dilemmas’, etc. More on this later.
Let us endeavour to fathom the universal dynamic of the dilemma. In order to do this, we must look at a continuously shifting paradoxical structure.
We have presented dilemma in this study as a choice between mutually opposed alternatives in which each alternative contains both a desirable and undesirable side to it. In choosing one alternative over the other, both its desirable and undesirable sides are embraced whilst this choice simultaneously excludes the opposed alternative with its desirable and undesirable sides. Therefore, this process of inclusion is simultaneously a process of exclusion and vice versa. Inclusion of the desirable side of one alternative (and hence its undesirable side as well) simultaneously negates (excludes) both sides of the opposed alternative.
In dilemma, the subjective condition prevails where the individual (or even group, collective, movement, etc) seeks to embrace the desirable sides of the opposed alternatives whilst, at the same time, excluding the undesirable sides of both alternatives. But the desirable and undesirable sides are inseparably and necessarily bound together in each alternative. The exclusion of the undesirable side of one alternative necessarily involves the exclusion of the desirable side of the same alternative because they are inextricably bound together. In choosing one alternative over the other, rejection of both the desirable and undesirable sides of the other alternative is posited.
Their necessary connection means that the exclusion or inclusion of one side of an alternative must mean the simultaneous exclusion or inclusion of the other side of the same alternative. Therefore, in being compelled to choose one alternative over the other, a desirable side of one alternative is accepted at the expense of excluding the desirable side of the opposed alternative. The ‘ideal desire’ of realising the desirable sides of both alternatives (whilst rejecting the undesirable sides in both alternatives) is negated (fragmented). The ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ sides within each alternative are inextricably bound together that to opt for an ‘positive’ necessarily carries its ‘negative’ along with it in the chosen alternative.
The choosing of one alternative is necessarily and simultaneously the rejection of the opposed alternative and thus only the partial, one-sided, satisfaction of the original desire. The unity of the opposed alternatives in the psychological structuring of dilemma means that the resolution of the dilemma can only take place by the exclusion of both the desirable and undesirable sides of one alternative in choosing the desirable and undesirable sides of the other alternative. In choosing one alternative, the opposed alternative is automatically excluded in both its ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ aspects.
This can be illustrated in the case of ‘love dilemmas’. Probably the classic example here is found in Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet. The ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets forms the social basis for the origination of the lovers’ dilemma. Both lovers, in embracing each other, are simultaneously rejecting their own bloodline and raising the antipathy of both their own and the other’s families. The dilemma is presented as a choice between lover and family in which the acceptance of one is the rejection of the other and vice versa. In the structure described above, each lover is presented with two conflicting alternatives each of which contains a desirable and undesirable side. One alternative is that if I maintain my love for the other, this must mean dissociation from the house of my family. The other alternative is that if I am to remain on good terms with my family, I must put aside my love for the other. The ideal, of course, is to be with family and lover. But the actual social relations of feud and vendetta between the families is the social basis for the exclusion of this ideal. What is fully desired is excluded by the character of the relations between the different houses.
In the play, the major factor was the eternal feud and vendetta between the two families of the lovers so that each lover, in embracing each other, was simultaneously seen as rejecting their bloodline. Each lover wanted to remain true to their family whilst embracing one of the enemy family. One alternative posed the choice that in order to remain true to your family you had to reject your lover. The other alternative posed the choice that in remaining with your lover you were rejecting your own bloodline. We find other dilemmas in Shakespeare, e.g. the one faced by Coriolanus. Shakespeare – beloved by Marx – was a (if not ‘the’) master in depicting the dilemma situation.
In the act of making a choice, the whole structure of the specific dilemma is only transcended, is superseded, only by choosing one alternative which simultaneously excludes the other. If no choice is actually made, the dilemma remains operative in the mind as manifestation of specific social condition. There are, however, ways of manipulating some dilemmas which we shall investigate later, some of which may be politically useful. The dilemma which Jesus is presented with in the New Testament on the question of paying taxes to Caesar is instructive in this regard. However, with some dilemmas – because of the recalcitrant and immovable character of their conditions – the choice is really one of either/or. In Romeo and Juliet, of course, the deaths of the lovers arises out of a series of misperceptions and the ensuing ‘tragedy of errors’. Their deaths resolve their dilemma and simultaneously end the feud beween the conflicting houses of Montague and Capulet.
An example of an either/or situation is the dilemma presented to the leading character in the William Styron novel, Sophie’s Choice. This demonstrates that the actual nature of the dilemma, and the response to it, is conditioned by the specific social circumstances in which people are located. Sophie Zawistowska is taken to Auschwitz with her two chidren and is forced by a camp doctor to choose which of her two children is to be gassed and which is to remain with her in the camp. She chooses to sacrifice her daughter. After release from Auschwitz, the decision determines the trajectory of the rest of her grief-stricken life which ends in suicide. Zawistowska was forced to choose one alternative which temporarily preserved the life of her son whilst simultaneously sending her daughter to her death. If we love, we feel the pain of loss. Grief. If we hate, loss itself can come as a relief from the conflicts and stress of hatred.
In the dialectical complexity of unresolved dilemma (resolved dilemma ceases to be a dilemma), the vacillations between the two alternatives means that the rejection of any one side of one alternative always produces the opposite emotion to its acceptance and vice versa. Thus, in the course of the vacillations of unresolved dilemma, conflicting emotions are being played out in their intrinsic relationship to each other. Each is always becoming transformed into the other and vice versa. This is inherent in the paradoxical psychodynamics of dilemma itself.
A continuous vacillation between emotional states takes place which is the product of the moving content of the thinking in dilemma structuring itself in its dialectical form, in its contradictory (paradoxical) psychological form. Thus a desirable side to one alternative in the dilemma can serve as both a source of conflicting emotions depending on whether or not it is a side of the alternative which has been chosen or rejected. This must also apply to the undesirable side of a chosen or rejected alternative.
The choosing of one alternative means that the acceptance of its desirable side is the rejection of the desirable side of the opposed alternative. The acceptance of the undesirable side of the chosen alternative simultaneous with the rejection of the undesirable side of the opposed alternative serves to posit at the same time conflicting mediations in emotional state. This is precisely why people state that they are ‘torn between alternatives’ or ‘on the horns of a dilemma’ when they are in dilemma and why ‘love dilemmas’ are the most painful of all to live.
Shakespeare, of course, knew this in his Romeo and Juliet. And, undoubtedly, it has been known for as long as people have lived in a state of antagonism with each other over periods of thousands of years in different societies. This constant unity and transformation of different and opposed emotional states into each other in the course of the vacillations of unresolved dilemmas arises out of the psychodynamic structure of dilemma itself as engendered by its conceptual-emotional content. But this itself arises out of the specific character of the social relations confronting and mediating which constitute the ontological ground of the dilemma itself. Hence, it is to the prevailing socio-cultural relations and conditions that we must look in order the identify the roots of the manyfroms of dilemma which mediate people’s lives. They constitute the socio-cultural ontological ground for the psychogenesis of the dilemma itself. We can formally illustrate the structure and dynamics of dilemmas by the diagram given below.
Alternative 1 (A1) v Alternative 2 (A2)
(D1) v (UD1) (D2) v (UD2)
Choice is A2 : A1 is rejected/ A2 is accepted
(D1) : loss (emotion x) (UD1) : reaffirmation (emotion –x)
(D2) : reaffirmation (emotion –x) (UD2) : loss (emotion x)
Choice is A1: A1 is accepted/ A2 is rejected
(D1) : reaffirmation (emotion –x) (UD1) : loss (emotion x)
(D2) : loss (emotion x) (UD2) : reaffirmation (emotion –x)
D = desirable side to alternative
UD = undesirable side to alternative
The resolution of the dilemma must therefore posit an emotional state which contains contradictory elements or sides to it. Sophie Zawistowska is destroyed by the choice she is forced to make but she continues in the novel to seek to save her son by attempting to find him a place in the Nazi Lebensborn programme by prostituting herself (itself another dilemma) to the camp commandant in whose house she is working as a stenographer.
Dilemma is the direct, subjective, choice-mediated, psychosocial experience of the movement of specfic forms of living paradox itself within the psyche of the human individual. It is the given social contradictions – which individuals face and of which they are an active part – which are both the cause of the psychogenesis of dilemmas and the ground on which individuals choose in order to pass beyond them. Such contradictions in the present epoch tend to preclude the simultaneous realisation of the desirable sides of the opposed alternatives without their undesirable sides, i.e. to bring the desirable sides (D1 and D2) to realisation together whilst negating the undesirable sides (UD1 and UD2) of the opposed alternatives in the dilemma. If D1 and D2 can be realised in the absence of UD1 and UD2 then a dilemma is not operative. Then the individual can ‘have their cake and eat it’ and no dilemma is operative.
Dilemmas are a psychological manifestation of specifically antagonistic relations and conditions and of their impact and dominating power in the life and interpersonal relationships of the individual, group, social movement, etc. This confrontation with a choice of opposed but equally undesirable alternatives arises out of the contradictory nature of the social conditions and relations under and through which the individual, etc, lives and which dominates their mode of social life. The totality of these conditions and relations can mediated by, for example, religious and other ideologies, political outlooks, personal beliefs, irrational conceptions, inter-cultural conflicts, etc.
Anybody familiar with the New Testament will know that Christ is presented with the question of paying taxes to Caesar. ‘Should we pay taxes to Caesar?’ is the question posed. The question was what nowadays we would call a ‘trick question’ intended for entrapment. It is the sort of question a Fox News (or even a BBC) journalist might put to a left-wing activist. If his says ‘Yes’ then he raises the wrath of the ‘taxpayer’ and the Sanhedrin and if he says ‘No’ then it is the Roman tax-gatherers he displeases. His answer was to ask for a Roman coin and show it to the questioner with a replying question : “Whose head is on this coin?” to which the questioner replied “Caesar’s”. Christ follows up with “then give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. 
This way of addressing the dilemma is a form of manipulation of the question itself rather than answering the posed question directly. In essence, Christ instructs people to pay their taxes to the Roman authority. He then directs the questioner to seek consolation in God. Pay your taxes then seek ye the kingdom of God for consolation. The questioner, nevertheless, goes away out of pocket whether or not he finds the glorious kingdom.
But what is Christ himself actually doing here on a thinking level when he is confronted by the question? Some would have simply answered ‘Yes’ and got stoned by the multitude whilst some would have answered ‘No’ and got arrested later by a Roman cohort for sedition. Christ conditions and qualifies his response (advocating a specific choice : pay your taxes to Caesar) with a parallel response which answers a question which has not actually been posed. Implicit in the question is, of course, another question : Is not paying taxes to Caesar contrary to the pharasaic law, against the laws of God and supportive of the Roman occupation? In order to alter the subjective dilemma-status for himself, (i.e. the attempt by the questioner to place him in a dilemma) he actually qualifies his answer to the asked question with another answer to the implicitly unasked question which thereby addresses the other side of the attempt to place him in a dilemma : “and render unto God what is God’s”.
The answer was really two answers to two questions (one asked and the other implied but explicitly unposed) concealed as one answer to one question. The appearance is that he gives one answer to one question but this ignores the fact that his response contains an answer to a second unposed question which stops him from stumbling into the path of the stone-throwers. He conditions and qualifies his answer (within one and the same answer) with the answer from an unasked question. He shifts the terms of the original question so as to avoid falling into the trap actually set.
A wag of the time might have retorted : “So we still have to fork out money to Caesar regardless of our devotions?” To which his answer could only have been “Yes”. Accept the oppressions and imposed sufferings of the world and seek ye the comfort and consolation of the kingdom of the Father within. Barabbas was more of a realist than Christ. [Greek Barabbas, from Aramaic barabba, “son of the father,” or “son of the master.” In Hebrew, ben abh.] . Like Spartacus a century earlier, he (and the Jewish insurrectionists in general throughout the period of Roman rule) recognised that an oppressive, tyrannical power can only be overcome in a direct military struggle against it. And not by a personal or social accommodation to that power by seeking ‘immersion’ and martyrdom within the ‘Kingdom of God’. Christianity itself only survived because it was, in the long term, historically adaptable to the political requirements of the Roman state of late antiquity. Those movements which were insurrectionary in nature were always eradicated by the Roman state. However, once established, Christianity itself later becomes reformable, adaptable and deployable as an ideological weapon of struggle against feudal tyranny in order to facilitate the development of capitalism and the interests of the rising class of capitalists. The English Reformation in the 1530s, Anabaptism in Germany, Cromwell, etc.
Strangely, and across the ages, this ‘qualificatory’ approach to dilemma situations may well become useful in revolutionary politics. The state power of capital presents a rising revolutionary movement with the ultimatum which it poses for the consumption of so-called ‘public opinion’, for reactionary or impressionable elements in the population : Are you to make the transition to the new society peacefully, by “democracy”, or by force of arms? It is the usual hypocrisy of the wretched, rancid morality of the capitalist class which historically deployed violence in its rise and has always resorted to it in order to maintain its rule.
What do we do? If we say “peacefully” then this opens us to an almost binding contract with a violent state power which is only too willing – at the most suitable time for itself – to drown an opposing movement in blood. If we say “by force of arms”, they will, with all the usual humbug and hypocrisy, appeal to ‘public opinion’ and reactionary elements, and accuse such a movement of “terrorism”, “spreading anarchy” and all the rest. They are seeking to place a revolutionary movement in a dilemma. Like our questioner did with Christ. But like Christ, we think before we speak.
Of course, we say peacefully but only on condition that the state power of capital permits us such a peaceful transition. If this state power goes to war against us, then we would have no other option but to mobilise for war against this state power (which would be dismantled anyway in the course of any unlikely peaceful transition). The implicit condition of the question (either a yes or a no answer) has been altered by attaching a condition to the question in the form of another question which we are asking ourselves, namely : Will the state power of capital permit us a peaceful transition to the new socialist society? In this way, the attempt to impose the dilemma – by a power hovering threateningly above our class – is rendered ineffective (it ceases to be a dilemma) because of a conditioning question which has been attached to it by the revolutionary class. The imposed dilemma arises out of the rule of an alien, dominating power bearing down on the revolution. It can only be opposed with a counter-dilemma thrown back at this power : Are you to permit us a peaceful transition or are you to deploy violence and war against us? If you permit us a peaceful transition, then stand aside whilst we dismantle you. But if you go to war against us, we assert the historical right of self-defence and a counter-mobilisation on a military footing. We invert your wretched morality and throw it back at you in your face, whilst preparing in advance for your response.
Yes, we want a peaceful transition. Nobody wants death and destruction. But if you mobilise for war against us, we will build a revolutionary army of social defence which will, necessarily, become a machine of a general social, political and military offensive on all fronts. That is why we must always prepare in words and deeds for that very likely manoeuvre. That must be our default position ; namely the state power of capital is a violent power always prepared to mobilise for war to crush any movement which aims to put an end to the rule of capital over humanity. A dilemma ceases to be a dilemma as soon as a condition is attached to it which deprives it of its power of vacillation and contradiction over its recipient.
The dilemmas which people or organisations, etc, face are as numberless as pebbles on a beach. The late, eminent Physicist Richard Feynman was appointed to investigate the Challenger rocket disaster in 1986. The outcome of the inquiry found that the rubber sealing ‘O’ rings on a rocket booster failed which allowed hot gases and flames under pressure to escape and disrupt an adjacent fuel tank with the catastrophic consequences which were observed by millions across the globe. In the course of the inquiry, Feynman identified a ‘disconnect’ in the liaison between NASA managers and engineers observing that…
Every time we talked to higher level managers, they kept saying they didn’t know anything about the problems below them. We’re getting this kind of thing again in the Iran-Contra hearings, but at the time, this kind of situation was new to me : either the guys at the top didn’t know, in which case they should have known, or they did know, in which case they’re lying to us. 
Feynman exposed either the incompetence or the mendacity of the NASA management. Faced with the unremitting determination and scientific rationalism of an expert bongo-playing Physicist, they didn’t really stand a chance. If they had admitted their knowledge that the sealing rings were potentially fatal in cold temperatures, they simultaneously revealed their incompetence for not acting on that knowledge. And if they concealed this knowledge or simply forgot about it – and this was to be later revealed – this also demonstrated an incompetence which later led directly to the deaths of the Challenger crew in the catastrophic explosion. Feynman placed NASA managers in a recalcitrant, non-negotiable dilemma.
Shakespeare was the master of the understanding and depiction of the dilemma situation. The characters in his plays are often steeped in and agonised by dilemma in one form or another : Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Mark Antony, Brutus, Hamlet (Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows…), etc. Here are a couple of examples. Macbeth was faced with the problem of dealing with Banquo after Duncan’s murder. If he permitted him to live, he remained a threat to displace him. In order to hold onto power, he had to eliminate Banquo as a potential threat. and thereby raised the opposition of Banquo’s allies. Coriolanus, rejected by his own city of Rome, goes to war against it on behalf of its enemy, the Volscians. As he prepares to destroy the city that rejected him, he is confronted by his mother not to destroy Rome. Here is the moment of dilemma for Coriolanus. If he destroys the city, he will forever live in the damnation of family and city. But if he spares it, he returns to the Volscians as a traitor. In opting for the latter choice, he invites his own downfall at the hands of Aufidius and the Volscians. Coriolanus is executed for betrayal. Caught in a dilemma between Rome and the Volscians, he makes a choice and faces the consequences. It is the sort of dilemma which a soldier would face if ordered to assault a city within which his cherished friends and beloved family reside. This is one of the major reasons why the Roman legions were posted on military duty to regions far away from their regions of recruitment. Hispanic and African legions in Britain, for example or legions recruited amongst the Britons stationed on the Danube.
The work of Laing and Esterson  in the 1960s and 70s gave us an insight into the sorts of dilemmas people face within the family structure itself. And how these contradictions can become the source of the diagnosis of so-called ‘mental illness’ and ‘Schizophrenia’.
In all dilemmas faced by the revolutionary movement against capital, the guiding baseline is the class interests of the proletariat and the future of humanity. What must be done will be done, regardless of the nature of the consequences for the enemy and its state power. The power of revolution must be asserted by all means possible and necessary and consolidated over the historic interests of capital. The revolutionary movement is determined in its perspectives and activity in its relationship to capital and its state powers. However, only in so far as the aim is their dissolution and irreversible defeat. In this way, the movement develops and elaborates its growing power against these ruling powers in order to undermine and weaken them and prepare the overthrow of the state power of capital and the transcendence of the global epoch of capital.Those dilemmas which become posited as a result these power relations are faced and fought out in the interests of the revolution to put an end to the current epoch.
We can see that the dilemmas faced by people in their daily lives are microcosms of the contradictions of the bourgeois epoch containing suspended within itself the legacies of past ages. The tendencies of development of human society beyond this epoch can only point towards an age in which not only the dilemmas of the present age but dilemma as structure in the human personality as a whole becomes subject to transcendence as human relations become more integrated and the contradictions and legacies of previous class societies become resolved.
Dilemma in human beings only arises under social conditions and relations where human culture remains characterised by a multiplicity of determinate internal social differentiations and conflicts. We can see this illustrated by the examples given above which have various social mediations constituting their animating ground : family, class, religious, inter-cultural, hierarchical power, state terror, etc. Dilemma, accordingly, is not in its root origination, a function of the neurology of the brain itself but is history’s social creation reflecting and indicating the world of humanity caught in internal social contradictions with itself.
Animals do not experience the conflicts in the conditions of their natural existence as dilemma. Rather they ‘experience’ their response to such conditions as a simple alternation in behaviour according to the immediate demand placed on them. If an animal is subjected to two opposing forces at the same time, it will deploy all its inherent and learned behavioural resources and mechanisms to oppose both forces alternatively or simultaneously. There is no dilemma but merely a confrontation with the immediacy of the situation so that their behavioura response varies with and according to the changing immediate demands placed on them and to which they must necessarily respond immediately.
The natural mode of life of animals and that of the ancestral primates of humanity is and was, respectively, without dilemma. Dilemmas are features of human existence which arise with the emergence of human relationships out of the dilemma-free natural mode of life of ancestral primates. The conflicts and contradictions in human society – economic, social, political, cultural, ideological, religious, etc – constitute the historical ground for the psychogenesis of dilemmas.
Dilemmas as psychosocial structure is not an eternal feature of human existence. In the course of the transition to and evolution of global classless society, cultural differences will tend to become superseded and become integrated into a culturally richer, multifaceted single human culture without the class, cultural, economic, sub-racial, etc, divisions of class societies. Thus, in this higher singularity of human culture, the social conditions and relations which have historically given rise to dilemmas will tend towards supersedence and resolution.
It will be the identification, refinement and cultivation of the real needs of human beings in socialist society (as opposed to the ‘artificial’ needs generated by capitalist commodity society) – and the further development of the social and other conditions required to meet those needs – which will facilitate the emergence of psychosocial relations which are free of all forms of dilemma. Thenceforth human life will cease to be characterised by one long, drawn-out series of dilemmas.
In other words, the dilemma structure in the human psyche is not an eternal structure. It is not the product of the neurology of the brain per se but rather a product of the contradictions of social and cultural relations which human beings face everyday in their lives today and have faced historically in ages past. Dilemma is not an intrinsic part of some nebulous, eternal ‘human nature’. When we inspect the specific content, relations and character of any dilemma, we can see that it would be resolvable under different, more favourable conditions which are truly worthy of people’s humanity. When human society has become globally integrated as a classless society, embracing within itself the synthesis of many different cultures into one singular, intensely rich human culture, the very social and cultural grounds and conditions for the psychogenesis of dilemma will start to vanish. Men and women will live their lives free of dilemma. It will revolutionise the human personality itself as a whole beyond that currently recognisable in the epoch of capital.
Notes and References
 Politzer, G., Critique of the Foundations of Psychology. Paris, Editions Sociales, 1928. p.170
 R.D. Laing., (1967) The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. Penguin Books, pp. 94-95
 Matthew 22 : 15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marvelled. And they left him and went away.
see also Mark 12 : 13-17; Luke 20 : 20-26
 “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” – Further Adventures of a Curious Character, Richard P Feynman as told by Ralph Leighton., Afterthoughts, p.213. Penguin Books, 2007.
 Laing, R.D. and Esterson, A (1964) Sanity, Madness and the Family. London: Penguin Books.
Laing, R.D. (1970) Knots. London: Penguin
Laing, R.D. (1971) The Politics of the Family and Other Essays. London: Tavistock Publications.
March 2016 (revised)
From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 2)
Marx writes of communism as the ‘solution to the riddle of history’ and as ‘knowing itself to be so’. But what does this signify for the development of the human personality in communism and for the character of interpersonal relationships? There is an incredibly rich literature for studying this and related questions. For example, see…
Human conscious awareness is fundamentally a social creation. It is not simply a biological creation although, of course, it implicates biological processes within itself. It was, at root, the need to co-operate and communicate in the labour process which gave birth to language and necessitated the rise of consciousness itself. Language and thought are inseparable aspects of the same psychological process.
The relationship between instinct and learning found in the animal primate is transformed with the rise of consciousness. Originating conscious awareness transforms animal instinct into the human unconscious. In the course of this transformation, emerging consciousness establishes itself in dynamic dialectical relation to its psychic opposite (the unconscious) to which it has given rise in the course of the transforming of instinct by the rise of consciousness itself. Each – the conscious and the unconscious – therefore arise and evolve as mediating the life of each other and, in so doing, constituting the psychic totality of the human mind or “Consciousness” as a whole. The specific relation between instinct and learning found in ancestral primates is superseded (sublated) with the rise of consciousness which gives rise to the higher relationships and content of the human psyche as a whole.
The dialectical relationship between the conscious and unconscious sides of the psyche raises the following question : can this dialectic be resolved at a higher level in which both the conscious and unconscious sides are superseded into a higher form of the human psyche? So that the conscious (as we know it) and the unconscious cease to be? Is this dialectic between the two sides becoming resolved into a higher psychic synthesis as communist life continues to evolve? The resulting psyche is neither “conscious” or “unconscious” as we know it? Hence the human psyche ceases to be characterised by this dialectic of its conscious and unconscious sides? It becomes a “return” (a negated negation) to the pre-human form of awareness but in a higher humanised form? But not, of course, a return to the purely non-conscious awareness of the pre-human primate ancestry. The conscious and the unconscious would become only superseded moments in the overall life-process of this psyche.
The conscious and the unconscious are psychic opposites. Each is what it is only by virtue of its relation to the other. The rise of conscious awareness simultaneously engenders the human unconscious and, in the course of its origination, establishes the dialectical relationship between the conscious and the unconscious.
Perhaps the psycho-historical role of the origination and evolution of the “conscious psyche” is to prepare the ground and conditions for the emergence of this higher order of the human mind in consonance with higher, different forms of behaviour and human personality as communist humanity evolves? So that this social history is itself the unfolding of the conditions that are necessary for this ‘revolution’ in the mind? In this way, by evolving along this path, this higher psyche would be the negation of that of previous eras? This movement, of course, being expressed as a tendency in the human psyche in the course of the enduring evolution of communist society.
This return (negation of negation) could not be a simple repetition i.e. humanity cannot possibly return to the mere natural mode of life of ancestral primates. This return is also, at the same time, a real advance beyond both the natural mode of life of the animal and beyond the socio-historical periods of development of pre-class and class societies and the forms of conscious awareness corresponding thereto. In the reconciliation and synthesis of the naturalness of the ‘animal awareness’ and the conscious human social awareness is formed the higher relations of the human personality of classless society.
Human consciousness evolves and takes different forms in different epochs so that different stages in its development correspond to different stages in the history of society from its origins in the natural mode of life of animal primates through to the dissolution of class societies and the consequential emergence and onward development of classless society. But within this whole development, the dialectical relationship between the relative and the absolute is expressed in the alteration of the forms of conceptual content revolving around and integral to the enduring relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. This latter relation between the conscious and the unconscious becomes subject to a relativisation as communist life evolves with the emergence of a new fundamental absolute i.e. with the transcendence of this historically absolute relationship between these two intermediating sides within the human psyche. What are the underlying social processes driving the resolution of this dialectic within the psyche? To create a higher form of the psyche? This needs to be researched. It can only lie in the altering nature of human relations when communist life has irreversibly established itself and is evolving upon its own self-created foundations; when humanity globally as a species is so far beyond the legacies of class society that even the memory of these legacies no longer ties humanity to this distant past. Its growing realisation must lie beyond the ‘realm of natural necessity’ and within the evolving ‘true realm of freedom’
The evolution of human freedom in communism does not become subjectively acknowledged as ‘freedom’ as such. Just as communist humanity does not register psychologically its own communist nature. This is, of course, a paradox of human history. For only the truly ‘unfree’ can envisage but not directly experience such a state whereas the truly free have no need to envisage it in the direct immediacy of experience of such a state of human freedom. Truly free human beings will not be and can never be conceptually aware of their own state of freedom as a social condition. A truly free human society will be free of all concepts of freedom. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom and has no awareness of being free. This human freedom will progressively deepen and widen, of course, but this will not be experienced negatively as the negation of an ‘unfreedom’ but positively as the augmentation and intensification of the quality of the freedom of the ‘true realm’. Only the ‘unfree’ speak of freedom. A society with concepts of freedom remains divided against itself; a society divided into classes; a society based on enslavement in one form or another.
In the transition to classless society, the forms of human consciousness, human relations and behaviour corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society showing that society – in this revolutionary transition phase – will not have completely disentangled itself from the psychosocial legacies of bourgeois society. As long as the historical umbilical cord connecting society to such legacies of bourgeois society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society has not re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. At such a stage, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, binding humanity (at least psychologically) to the forms of social antagonism of the past. Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned by the legacies of the exploitative relations and legacies of the class society which is in the course of being transcended during this period of transition.
If humanity creates a state of affairs where, initially, basic needs are identified and realised, if people have access to work, good quality housing adequately serviced, education, medical facilities, recreation, mobility and new cultural experience, all of these and more and this access is universal for every man, woman and child worldwide and always improving and becoming better in quality, then this must create the basis for a society which is more worthy of our humanity than the present bourgeois state of affairs. A state of affairs where millions are subject to chronic unemployment and will never work again, homelessness, a street existence and destitution, lack of healthcare, social support and educational development or none at all, no facilities for human recreation, fulfillment and personal development, the weight of systematised threat and humiliation (implicit violence), coercion, oppression and exploitation. All these and more creating the epidemic of stress, fear, anxiety, depression, suicide and many different psychological problems arising from this chaotic, unplanned, pandaemonium state of affairs. The establishment of a socialist society will go a long way towards providing the unfolding conditions for the elimination of all these psychological problems because they are all rooted in the continuing rule of capital. It must serve to alter, for the good, the whole character of interpersonal relationships and forms of human behaviour which can serve to wreck and destroy people’s lives. The gnawing dissatisfaction of people with their conflicted, stress-filled and unfulfilling lives under the rule of capital…
Dissatisfaction with oneself is either dissatisfaction with oneself within the framework of a definite condition which determines the whole personality e.g. dissatisfaction with oneself as a worker, or it is moral dissatisfaction. In the first case, therefore, it is simultaneously and mainly dissatisfaction with the existing relations; in the second case – an ideological expression of these relations themselves, which does not all go beyond them, but belongs wholly to them.
[Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p. 378]
The individual ‘self’ as the ‘ensemble’ of the prevailing social relations [Marx, Theses on Feuerbach]. Even the forms of psychological self-evaluation, evaluation-of-others and personality characteristics – within which such evaluation is psychologically grounded – as intrinsic to this ‘ensemble’ and developed within these relations and ‘belonging wholly to them’.
The existence of the nuclear family articulates a division between the private and the public space in the development of children. The nuclear family as socially porous and yet existing as a Janus unit of relationships with different faces for the inside and outside. This is a barrier which individuals traverse back and forth throughout life as children, adolescents and adults. This contemporary division is itself the creation of bourgeois relations.
The life and development of the child within and outside the family make up the two sides of the conflict between its private conditions of life and its wider social conditions of life outside the family. In bourgeois society, the psychological development of the child is primarily centred in the family i.e. within the social arena where its physical and other needs are met. It is the psychosocial medium in which children form their earliest and most significant psychological attachments and dependencies. The establishment, interplay and development of these attachments and dependencies form the psychological content of the inner relationships of the nuclear family within which children’s needs are realised or not as the case may be.
The relationship between the bourgeois system of social relations and the nuclear family are ambivalent. These relations tend to necessitate, maintain and encourage the continuation of the inner relationships of the nuclear family. However, at the same time, these same conditions and relations – in the course of their development – undermine the family and even are now creating the basis for the disintegration and supersedence of the nuclear family. The relationship between the nuclear family and bourgeois social relations is contradictory, here encouraging its reproduction and now there its break down and break up.
The conflict between the ‘public’ life of the individual outside the family and the ‘private’ life within the exclusive coterie of the nuclear family is one which can only subsist under general conditions of social alienation. This separation between the ‘private’ world of the individual and the individual’s ‘public’ world and role in society is a function of the rise and evolution of private property and not something inherently human. The very notion of ‘private’ is a creation of the historical process itself.
Marx notes that there is a dichotomy in the life of each individual. He writes that…
Individuals have always proceeded from themselves but of course from themselves within their given historical conditions and relations, not from the “pure” individual in the sense of the ideologists. But in the course of historical development, and previously through the fact that within the division of labour social relations inevitably take on an independent existence, there appears a cleavage in the life of each individual, insofar as it is personal and insofar as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it.
[Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.78]
This social ‘cleavage’ in the life of each individual is reflected in the distinctions between the public and private psychology of the individual. This psychological contrast corresponds to the ‘cleavage’ in the social being of each individual. It is a ‘cleavage’ which is expressed in the form of the psychological contrast between the public persona of the individual on the one hand (embracing occupational/professional relationships, etc) and the inner egoism of the private world of thought and feeling of the same individual on the other hand. This antagonism between the private and public sides of the human personality is a feature of human relationships in bourgeois society. The continuation of the existence of bourgeois relations serves to cultivate and perpetuate this antagonism. In so doing, it serves to fragment the personality of the individual – opposing this side or that aspect to another, etc – in his or her psychosocial relationships.
The progressive dissolution of the family in communism means and ensures that the rearing and development of children takes place on an entirely different (indeed opposite) social foundation. Children are reared within the social conditions, and through the social relationships, of the commune. This seres to resolve the conflict between the private and public sides of the life of the individual. Children become ‘the children’ of the whole commune – are reared by the whole community – as the psychosocial relationships which characterise the internal structure of the nuclear family start to disappear. Biological parents cease to have the same degree of social significance which they have for ‘their’ children reared within the monogamous nuclear family. Each child has biological parentage, naturally, but every adult becomes the social ‘parent’ (guardian) of each and every child. Hence, the traditional family-based notions of ‘parent’, ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, ‘son’ ‘daughter’, etc – which express the social relationships of the nuclear family – will vanish and be replaced by relations which express a degree of freedom impossible in bourgeois society. Child-adult relationships become transformed in the commune where biological parentage does not have or confer any special, exclusive social role upon these adults. The child is reared by the whole commune and grows to maturity without any notions of family, mother, father, brother, etc. The narrow, exclusive mode of rearing children in bourgeois society is superseded. It will signify the emergence and development of the highest possible degree of individual human freedom where children and adolescents are nurtured by the whole community. These relations will become intrinsic to the life of the commune as the individual grows to maturity.
In capitalist society…
the ability of children to develop depends on the development of their parents and that all this crippling under existing social relations has arisen historically, and in the same way can be abolished again in the course of historical development. Even naturally evolved differences within the species, such as racial differences, etc,…can and must be abolished in the course of historical development.
[Marx. The German Ideology. ibid., p. 425]
‘The ability of children to develop depends on the development of parents’. The psychology of the child is a sensitive indicator of the general character of the social relations of the epoch. The dissolution of the nuclear family is the social transformation of the development of children in the commune. Their physical and social needs are unconditionally guaranteed and attainable outside the traditional constraining bounds of the nuclear family.
The maturation of children in the commune outside the nuclear family facilitates a higher degree of personal independence than can ever exist in bourgeois society. The psychology that is associated with the possible or actual non-attainment of needs – food, shelter, clothing, etc – disappears which, further, serves to dissolve the traditional ties of the nuclear family. The psychosocial relationships of the nuclear family – which grow out of the necessity to satisfy human needs under the conditions of exploitation of bourgeois society – become historically unnecessary and gradually disappear in the transition to and onward evolution of classless society. The individual that replaces the individual of the nuclear family is the ‘social individual’ who is a fully integrated and active part of the life process of the commune itself. It is only within the commune that each individual has….
the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.
[Marx. The German Ideology, ibid., p.78]
Private property and the psychology corresponding to its existence.
The very notion of property itself must disappear with the negation of private ownership and the emergence and onward development of social relations based upon common ownership. The deep and profound significance of such a development for the human personality is obvious.
From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another.
[Marx. Capital, Vol 3. Lawrence and Wishart, 1974, p.776]
Those personality characteristics which are intrinsically associated with the rule of private property – e.g. greed, acquisitiveness, possessiveness, etc – must and will disappear. Human relationships become free of their psychological effects.
From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 1)
It is very clear that social relationships and the psychology of people are related. The areas of Social Psychology and Critical Psychology have plenty to say about this relationship. For example, if whole populations are subjected to oppression and terror in one form or another, this profoundly affects the psychology of the present adult and younger generation growing up under such conditions. We only have to look at what is happening to children in Syria at the moment as the civil war continues. If coercion and compulsion on threat of sanction are the order of the day, then this must have psychological effects such as anxiety, fear, depression, etc. If a person’s employment enables him or her to feed family and keep home, body and soul together, then the lurking threat of redundancy or dismissal must engender fear in the life of that person because the realisation of such a threat must mean the destruction of the structure of that person’s life or, at least, its complete alteration and disruption. It introduces conditions which carry the possibility of personal catastophe and the overturn of a previously stable and relatively secure personal existence. This is the same with domesticated animals such as pets, for example. A pet which is constantly abused and subject to cruelty will develop different behavioural patterns to the same pet which is fed, watered, medicated when sick and generally shown human care and affection. A child growing up in an abusive household will undergo a markedly different psychological development to one reared in a caring and nurturing environment involving a focus on the child’s individual human interests. The examples are too numerous to mention.
The “psychological” is a legitimate historical category but only in its relationship to the category of the “social”. It is not legitimate in isolation from this latter category.For example, the “psychopathic” personality is not the creation of the biological malfunctioning of the brain in the way a diabetic is the creation of a dysfunctional pancreas or a blind person of a defunct retina. The “psychopath” or child killer is an individualised creation of the society into which he is born and has developed. He has been created on the ground and within the social conditions of his own personal experience in this society.
The character of the prevailing and dominant social relations constitutes the foundation upon which the human psychologies of a given culture develops. However, the human mind has and must have – in its discreteness – its own laws of development which do not simply ‘reflect’ social development and also are not absolutely identical with this development Within their unity – the interrelation between society and mind (their interdependence) – subsists the discreteness of each.
In the sense that thought itself cannot take place without the organ of the brain, matter itself must be a material pre-condition for thought. And production itself furnishes the nutrients to feed the body and its various organs. Of course, the human brain itself is also, partly, a product of socio-historical development i.e. the brain itself has developed materially (plasticity) in the course of, and as a product of, the historical development of human society. However, in that it is the conceptual content of thought that ‘constitutes’ the ‘substance’ of the mind, it is the character of social relations that forms the basis and conditions for its origination and development:
socio-historical shifts not only introduce new content into the mental world of human beings; they also create new forms of activity and new structures of cognitive functioning. They advance human consciousness to new levels.
[Luria, A.R. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations.(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1976) p.163]
The awareness of the animal primates ancestors of humanity was a non-conscious awareness in contrast to the awareness of humanity which is a conscious awareness. This conscious awareness incorporates (supersedes) within itself the awareness of the animal ancestor as a unity of instinctual and learning capacities. This unity is raised (ascends to a higher stage) to the level of consciousness in humanity, with the emergence of beings possessing a conscious awareness.
If I state that I am conscious of this object in front of me, this conscious awareness of this object also involves the psychic mediation (psychological, neuropsychological, etc) of processes of which I am not conscious, of which I am unconscious. Therefore, conscious awareness simultaneously involves the mediation of these processes which are my unconscious. If I look at the object in front of me, its shape, colour, its texture, temperature, when I handle it, etc, I am drawing on mental powers which are a unity of the conscious and the unconscious. I am using my mind (which involves the physiology of the brain) and therefore this active process must necessarily involve indispensably contributing unconscious aspects.
The unconscious is expressed within and mediated by the conscious (otherwise it would not be the unconscious as such) but does not, in itself, originate entirely within the field of consciousness. In the dialectical moments of mediation of each by the other (intermediation) is expressed their mutual identity and distinction. The origination of human conscious awareness itself simultaneously gives rise to the human unconscious itself. It creates it and in the course of this creation establishes a relation with it so that they intermediate each other. But this human unconscious is created out of the instinctual material furnished by humanity’s primate ancestors and, therefore, cannot be simply the child of human conscious awareness. It contains elements of the pre-human sublated within itself but elevated into the human mind as a totality.
The human mind, accordingly, must have arisen and evolved, as a whole and as a unity of the unconscious and the conscious. This is what “consciousness” is in the complete sense and meaning of the word. It is a fully integrated form of awareness in the life of the human being. But, paradoxically, “consciousness”, as this integrated totality, is ontologically more complex than that of the “conscious” alone as the phenomenological expression of “consciousness” in the totality of its life-process. [“Consciousness” with an upper case ‘C’ and the “conscious” with a lower case ‘c’. We may also use the term “Mind” interchangeably for “Consciousness”]
The different aspects of Mind must be considered in their relation to each other i.e. they must be considered dialectically. In this way, the nature and function of each aspect is understood as being a part of, and intrinsic to, the life of the whole. Each aspect, function and facility affects and mediates the activities of all the others, constituting a unified whole which is higher than a mere aggregation of parts.
The origination of humanity is the process of an aware yet non-conscious primate becoming conscious of itself and of Nature. This process – which we may refer to as sapienisation – is a transition between the mode of life of the non-consciously aware animal primate and that of the earliest modes of human existence as a consciously aware existence. This transition brings with it – in sublated form – this form of awareness of the animal primate ancestry. It transcends this “animal awareness” only by preserving and re-positing aspects of it in a higher conscious form. For example, the hunger, thirst, energy, sex drive, etc, of the animal are transformed in this transition process of becoming human. They become human drives but they maintain a relationship with their animal ancestry in the course of their supersedence (sublation) i.e. insofar as aspects of these human drives which resemble those in our animal ancestors are carried over and preserved in the negation. An operative example of this is the ‘fight or flight mechanism’ inherited from our animal ancestors which, taken in its isolated abstraction, is many millions of years old, passed from generation to generation, from species to species and so preserved as advantageous for succeeding species in the course of evolution. Today passed down and operative in the various forms of human fear and anxiety.
Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple awareness of animals, is a social product of the human brain embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect. Reflection – i.e. thought consciously monitoring the progress of its own conceptual content – is an exclusive property of the human mind which is not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware but non-conscious natural beings and do not possess this capacity to reflect. When an animal encounters its image in a mirror by chance it merely sees the image of its own physicality, itself as an object which it does recognise as ‘itself’. When a human being looks into a mirror it observes not only a physicality but also the ‘me’ or ‘I’. For the animal there is no ‘I’ to which this physicality is intrinsic. ‘I-ness’ is a function of the reflective capacities of human beings. This, of course, is not to assert that all animals do not possess sensitivity or awareness of their surroundings and that they orientate their behaviour according to their changing relationship to their surrounding conditions of life.
The mind is a complex synthesis of the social and the biological. Human thinking is a social product of the brain. If the neurology of the brain becomes diseased, degenerated or disordered, this can affect the capacity to think (e.g. Alzheimer’s Disorder). But the actual animating conceptual content of human thought is social in its origin. The brain does not produce political conceptions, for example, by a process of neurochemical secretion in an analogous way to the stomach producing acid or the liver producing bile. In a analogous way, to adopt a mechanistic example, the mirror does not produce the image by generating it out of its own materiality. Without the mirror there is no image, of course, but the the actual image in the mirror is dependent on the existence of the object reflected external to it. If the mirror is concave or convex, the image in the mirror will be a distorted reflection of the object.
Again, there is no emotion or feeling without its registration by the brain and body. ‘I’ ‘feel’ my anger or joy only insofar as I am a living material being with brain, nervous sytem, blood, organs, etc. But anger, pain (unlust), joy, etc, are not simply neurological products. They involve the mediation of thought, either conscious or sub-conscious. If I am elated because x and not y has happened, this involves and implicates the rumination of thinking, anticipation, even worry within my thinking. Examples are too numerous to give.
But does this link human emotion to the history of social relations? An obvious example of this is the feelings of jealousy and resentment in the interrelations between the sexes. This man ‘steals’ the wife of another man who is so enraged with jealousy, etc, and plans to kill them both? But in a different society where these monogamous relationships are transcended and the human mind has become accommodated to unconditional polygamy and the open character of sexual relations, what becomes of such emotions as jealousy? Are such emotions the passing attributes of a historically-conditioned human psyche? Are they subject to alteration and negation as these social relations change? So the woman takes different men (or women) to her bed and there is no jealousy, resentment or hostility mediating the changing relations?
It appears, therefore, that certain human emotions only arise with the emergence of definite social relationships and institutions. Thus, the emotion of envy/jealousy only comes into being with and accompanies the psychological interdependencies and acquisitiveness (‘possession’) of interpersonal relationships which are a social product of the rise of private property and the changing forms of the family corresponding to the evolution of private property.
Human behaviour – mediated by mental life – can only be comprehensively and scientifically understood on a socio-historical basis, within a socio-historical perspective. Implicitly, the conception that there is some nebulous, eternal psychological ‘human nature’ destined to characterise human beings in, at and for all places and all times must be considered untenable.
Moreover, we need to consider whether or not, at a physiological level in the brain, emotional states are correlated with definite neurological states. That rage and joy are associated with different neurological states of the brain. [I dare say that this has already been observed or even studied by the neuroscientists]. The subject individually registers anger or joy, for example, as a state of feeling. I “feel” angry, I “feel” happy, etc. The most fundamental question that radical psychology must address concerns the nature and quality of the emotional life of the human individual i.e. humans as ‘feeling’ beings. Feeling as the eternal focal point around which the nature and quality of the subjective life of the individual revolves. If I am suffering a terminal, malignant sadness, what does this say about the character of the social relations through and within which I am living my life? And this psychological state comes into relation with, and becomes manifest in, my behaviour, in my interpersonal relationships, in my perception and evaluation of self and others. Engels writes that..
How real people behave and did behave depends and always did depend on the historical conditions under which they lived
[Engels. From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p. 605.]
The implication here is one of altering forms of human behaviour as ‘historical conditions under which people live’ change and become transformed. And hence the alteration of their psychology in the course of human beings altering their lives and creating new modes of living, higher ‘historical conditions’ more worthy of their humanity? So that the different forms of human behaviour and psychologies can only be understood relative to established and evolving socio-historical conditions and therefore not conceived as fixed and unalterable. The forms of human behaviour and psychology in any society therefore reflecting the prevailing socio-historical conditions and their dominance in the life of the individual.
Vygotsky proposes that in the psychological development of children…
Any function in the child’s cultural development appears on the stage twice, on two planes, first on the social plane and then on the psychological; first between people as an interpsychological category, and then inside the child, as an intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. The actual relations between human individuals underlie all the higher functions.
[Vygotsky, L.S. Development of Higher Mental Functions. Psychological Research in the U.S.S.R. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966) pp. 44-45]
The psychological development of the individual involves the psychological assimilation of the actual social relationships and modes of behaviour ‘between human individuals’. These ‘actual relations….underlie all the higher functions’.
However, the mind is not simply a passive reflection of social relations but is a most active element in the development of these relations. Vygotsky’s proposal implies that the ‘inner dialogues’ of thinking are intrapsychological transpositions and transformations of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions are psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals.