Monthly Archives: May 2014

Productive Technique and Natural Science

Productive Technique and Natural Science

The development of the human knowledge of Nature provides humanity, potentially at least, with a greater control over the impact of the forces of Nature on its life. And, of course, this knowledge can also serve to intervene in Nature in order to ‘save’ Nature from the impact of human activities and thereby establish a more nurturing and, ecologically, more ‘sustaining’ or ‘sustainable’ relationship with Nature as a whole. Human activity is knowledge-mediated and knowledge arises out of this activity.

The knowledge-mediated evolution of the labour process continuously alters humanity’s relationship to Nature, giving rise to incremental and revolutionary changes in social relations. The stage of development of this ‘power of knowledge objectified’ indicates the degree to which ‘general social knowledge has become a direct force of production’.

Marx, pointing to technical developments in the nineteenth century, observed that…

‘Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, no railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules, etc. These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it. To what degree the powers of social production have been produced, not only in the form of knowledge, but also as immediate organs of social practice, of the real life process’

[Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. Notebook VII, p.706.]

(In this regard, see Chapter 4 of Bonfire of the Certainties by Cliff Slaughter on Marx’s concept of the ‘social brain’ found in the Grundrisse)

Mankind, in the course of its activity, unearths a knowledge of those forces of Nature which formerly dominated it and to the power of which mankind was subjected. This enables the articulation of a social control of these forces which can become chanelled and deployed for humanity’s and Nature’s own use.

However, the technical and social implications of advances in human knowledge are not always obvious or explicit. Developments in scientific theory can profoundly influence the course of technique and social development. For example, when Maxwell formulated his equations of electromagnetism he could not have foreseen that his discoveries were to become the point of departure for a revolution in technique that would lead to the development of the mass telecommunications technology which we see and use today.

The artificial production of electromagnetic waves by Hertz demonstrated the relative truth of Maxwell’s equations which later formed the technical basis for the development of telecommunications. This, with the emergence of the internet, has made communication easier and quicker and provided a more convenient means and medium for the dissemination and exchange of ideas and information.

These advances in communications technology have profoundly altered (and are continuing to alter) the character of social relations and, for us as communists, afford a now indispensable means and medium for furthering the struggle against the global capitalist order itself.

The interfacing of telecommunications, computers and production (expressed specifically in the increasing role of automation and robotics in production) has formed, potentially at least, the foundation upon which a social revolution in the actual labour process itself is entirely possible. But this revolution can only take place beyond capitalist relations of production. The ‘globalisation’ of capital is the ‘globalisation’ of technique and this, in its turn, globalises ideas and movements, altering and transforming human consciousness worldwide in the process.

In the ancestral evolution of humankind, the origination of language and consciousness are both intrinsically connected to the development of the labour process. Of course, Engels grasped this in his Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. The mediating relation here is the emergence and necessary growth of social co-operation in the course of this transition. The production and use of tools actually required the development of co-operation and this, in its turn, gave rise to the need for language and consciousness.

Co-operation in the production and use of tools involves the co-ordination of activities by means of the medium of language through its specific vocal articulation in speech. In Linguistics, we have the important distinction between langue and parole which are intimately connected but not absolutely identical in that parole (speech) is the vocalised manifestation of langue (language) in an individual or ‘speech community’. For example, the countless speech communities of the English language.

The origination and evolution of language therefore, accordingly, asserts itself as a social necessity as both an outcome of, and as becoming and being intrinsic to, the development of the labour process. The need of man’s ancestors to co-operate necessitates speech which is associated with the development of language and rise of consciousness itself. Speech – even in an emergent or rudimentary form – implies language and thought i.e. consciousness or its beginnings. The notion that language and consciousness is simply the product of the brain – sometimes found in Evolutionary Psychology (successor of Sociobiology) – analogous to acid really being the outpouring of the walls of the Stomach is a thought not worth a modicum of entertainment. The author will not waste his and readers’ time by wading into the quagmire of a critique. (Although it could readily be done by many)

Speech is therefore externalised, vocalised thought mediated by the relations and system of language. This distinction between language and speech may seem somewhat pedantic to some but it is important in the sense that language is the mediating link between thinking and speaking. Speech is language and yet it is not language, parole is langue and yet not langue. Accordingly, we can understand thought as a form of internalised language.

In the begining was the deed. Activity necessarily gives rise to word and concept and the relation between the two as an identity of opposites mediate each other’s development in the history of social relations. Activity-language-consciousness becoming constituted historically as a dialectical unity.

Labour, as a co-operative social process, is therefore intrinsic to the whole historical process. The production and use of tools was a fundamental social process which not only enabled humankind and its hominid ancestors to alter their conditions of life. This process itself simultaneously served to alter humanity’s ancestors up to and inclusive of the first human revolution which Chris Knight describes in his book Blood Relations. Humanity and its ancestors, in constantly changing or striving to alter their conditions of life simultaneously changed themselves and, in this way, humanity’s hominid ancestors became progressively more human in the course of the hominisation process.

And, therefore, of course, it follows that in the production and reproduction of the conditions for human life…

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of production, e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field, etc, but the producers change too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language.

[Marx. Grundrisse. Notebook V, p.494]

In the course of this activity (active relationship in and with Nature) humanity applies a constantly developing knowledge of Nature so that our changing relationship with Nature is always mediated by a deepening application and re-application in varying contexts of our knowledge of it. Mankind, in changing its conditions of life in its relationship with Nature, constantly changes itself. Engels analyses the character of this relationship in reference to Natural Science and Philosophy in that..

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men and not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history […….] as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself.

[Engels. Dialectics of Nature. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 25. Lawrence & Wishart, London. 1987. p.511]

Where the needs of production directly impress themselves in their immediate requirements, the development of human knowledge becomes bound up with the evolution of the labour process. However, this is not to deny that leaps forward in knowledge – not immediately connected with production – cannot profoundly alter the actual course of productive technique. We have observed this with the development of telecommunications and computerisation. Moreover, the growth of the biotechnology industry would have been impossible without all the “pure” research that took place over many decades in the areas of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Even at a time when its applications in biotechnology were, at best, a remote possibility. Engels remarks that..

From the very beginning the origin and development of the sciences has been determined by production

[Engels. Dialectics of Nature. Ibid., p.465]

“Determined” is perhaps a rather positivistic and “deterministic” word here but undoubtedly the development of production and its changing requirements and the evolution of the sciences are not separable from each other. If only insofar as research techniques in the sciences are themselves furnished with the products of humanity’s manufacturing and industrial technique. Furthermore, since the development of the productive forces and alterations in social relations are interconnected, this implies that we cannot separate developments in scientific thought and theory from this relation as a vital and intrinsic mediating aspect of it. No matter how remote this may appear to be, since today what are mere potentialities turn, with changing conditions, into the realisation of actualities. If, as Engels notes, our knowledge is ‘limited in its actuality’ yet ‘unlimited in its disposition’, this implies that all scientific discovery contains embryonically, the possibility – of which we are not necessarily, as yet, conscious – of technical developments for the future which could profoundly alter the course of the production process. This means that those areas of scientific research which are considered to be “pure” (and not immediately “applicable” to and for the interests of capital) may contain (‘locked-up’ in embryo) within them the greatest of “application” for the future course of technique.

This knowledge of Nature is, of course, historically relative and therefore a historically conditioned understanding of Nature. The alterations in scientific technique mean that what we discover today could not have been discovered yesterday and what we discover tomorrow will require further innovations in technique. But that does not mean that we fall into a kind of historicistic relativism in our understanding of the development of knowledge in the natural sciences. Every relative conception contains within it an approach to the absolute which is asymptotic and, in this sense, every conception in science embraces within itself this dialectical unity of the relative and the absolute. This dialectical relation in our understanding of “the atom” is clearly illustrated in the development of atomic theory from the “solid ball” atom theory of the Greeks to the most recent atomic theories in contemporary Physics.

The emergence of the natural sciences – roughly corresponding to the rise and dominance of the capitalist mode of production – provides an incredible impetus to the development of production. The discoveries in this epoch often become directly applicable to the development of production. We observe this in Newtonian Physics and the emergence of modern Chemistry from the 18th century onwards. The onset of this capitalist period of development marks a tremendous step forward in the history of technique.

The advance of scientific thought does not necessarily mitigate the direct psychological impact of the capitalist system on and in the life of the individual. If anything, this impact is aggravated by the sharpening contradictions between technical development and the social relations of the capitalist system. The personal problems of living for the individual under capitalism tend to become compounded, accentuated, aggravated. As the crisis of capital unfolds in the 21st century, we will see and perceive, increasingly, the dynamic of its sharpening contradictions becoming concentrated, intensified and expressed in all manner of forms in the psychosocial life of the suffering individual.

Shaun May

November 2013

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Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part 4 – The Rise of Consciousness as the Transformative Element in the Origination of the Human Psyche.

Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part 4 – The Rise of Consciousness as the Transformative Element in the Origination of the Human Psyche.

We need to attempt a very basic exposition of the developments in the rise of consciousness in Homo. All the following notes are preliminary and provisional and subject to alteration and qualification, etc. Any repetition is for purposes of self-clarification and re-affirmation in the course of the development of the exposition in these notes. We need to try to make a closer contact, relationship and reference with the wealth of empirical and theoretical scientific research in the area, Anthropology, Psychology, etc, in order to ‘enrich’ the somewhat abstract character of the notes. A deeper, more comprehensive study requires a thorough investigation of the relevant areas which are rich seams to mine and have become considerably richer since the publication of work by, for example, E. Ilyenkov and A.N. Leontyev. All this, of course, also applies to previous parts 1, 2 and 3 of these notes. Without this contact, they remain inadequate and lose any possibility of elaboration into a coherent conception.

The transition from the modes of life of ancestral animal primates to the earliest hunter-gatherer mode of life of humanity is marked by the origination of beings possessing conscious awareness and therefore the capacity to think consciously or reflect. The rise of human society is the rise of consciously-thinking beings, of human beings in social relation. The solutions to the problems imposed on pre-homo hominoids [1], stemming from their conditions of life, could only be found, increasingly, as these primates developed towards the Homo branch. In lower organisms the ability to successfully solve such problems is largely dependent on the appearance and subsequent selection of advantageous biological variations in a population. The capacity of primates to survive and thrive in variations in life conditions is always augmented by the learning and refinement of new skills added to the existing ones. However, it is undeniable that overspecialisation can often be a prelude to extinction, especially if the conditions of existence of the animal undergo catastrophic changes.

The most advantageous forms of adaptation are not merely an adjustment to existing conditions but are also, at the same time, an expansion of the animal’s abilities and of its potential to engage and survive a wider range of conditions. In this latter regard, adaptation therefore augments the animal’s ‘resources’ which are available in the struggle to survive. Overspecialisation can ‘funnel’ a species down a path towards extinction, especially if its niche is radically altered.

Humans have evolved from primates which both ‘adjusted’ and ‘expanded’ their capacities to encounter and survive a wider range of natural conditions. With such developments, what was not possible previously actually became possible. A continual expansion of the limits of ethological possibilities took place. New forms of interaction and relationships could be established and developed with the animal’s surroundings which hitherto had not existed. Adaptation therefore not only means ‘adjustment’ but also means ‘expansion’ and the positing of a richer repertoire of skills and abilities at the same time i.e. an augmentation of existing skills and the development of new ones for surviving a continuously varying and widening range of natural conditions.

Therefore, in the evolutionary development towards the Homo line, the ability of primates to survive and to propagate their kind becomes, increasingly, determined by their ability to develop existing skills and acquire new ones and to develop higher forms of behaviour. The need (necessity) to learn new skills and forms of behaviour continues to assert itself. Animals are characterised by the need to learn, in one way or another, in order to survive. However, the more closely does primate evolution approach the Homo line, the more central and important does the capacity and process of learning become and, accordingly, the less important the influence of biology and instinct. This, of course, does not mean that instinct becomes unimportant. It remains central. But a shift towards the developing importance of learning capacity takes place. [2]

The developing ability to intervene (sensuous activity implying the beginnings, at least, of conscious thinking and voluntarily-directed activity) and the attempt to counter the deleterious effects of natural processes becomes part and parcel of human life in the making. The transition to human society brings into primordial existence consciously-thinking beings which develop and cultivate the ability to acquire a conscious, direct, immediate, primitive knowledge of natural processes and of their environment. Utilisation of this knowledge enables humans to begin to challenge, at least in a most rudimentary way, the effects of deleterious natural processes on their lives. They take cover in caves, build shelters and windbreaks, make clothes, weapons for hunting, baskets for gathering; they harness fire for cooking, etc, so that food is more palatable and more easily digested. In other words, they increasingly start to make and deploy tools in their various activities. Nature becomes subject to manipulation and and modification – rearranged into simple forms – to meet needs. The materials which Nature furnishes can be manipulated and employed to counter the detrimental effects of specific natural processes on the life of Homo. With the rise and consolidation of the earliest hunter-gatherer mode of life of consciously-thinking and consciously-acting beings, and the further development of consciousness into higher scientific modes of thought in later societies, the law of natural selection itself ceases to have the same forceful, unconditional applicability as it did in the life of the animal primate ancestors of humanity.

In the evolution towards the Homo line, it was those primates with the most advanced learning capacities which tended to survive and pass on their acquired skills to offspring. Those pre-homo hominoids that learnt, assimilated and applied skills that gave them a distinct advantage in the struggle for life under specific conditions became more capable of securing their means of existence such as food, shelter, fending off predators, etc. The advantaged hominoids survived to pass on their skills to their offspring and, in so doing, created a widening ethological gap between themselves and their less able hominoid relatives. Those groups which failed to develop the skills – which would have been necessary in order to survive according to the altering demands of their changing conditions of life – inevitably declined and became extinct or continued on an evolutionary line towards the present day hominid (Hominidae) relatives of humans such as chimps, gorillas, etc*.

*[see Note 1, Mann and Weiss, Taxonomy]

In the most advanced group of primates, the development of higher abilities and skills – which could be utilised to solve the problems of survival in a more adequate and comprehensive way – must have given the group a distinct anatomical as well as ethological character which afforded it obvious advantages in the struggle for survival. Therefore, under the material conditions of their life, involving competition with other animals and related primates, the development of higher abilities must have given a definite group of incipient Homo a critical advantage in the fight for survival. The fact that such skills must have been learnt is highly significant. The ability to learn new skills (and build further on these abilities) in our pre-human ancestors contained, in undeveloped, embryonic form, the mediation of tradition (‘memes’, Dawkins*) and therefore the beginnings of a mode of life based on the actual transmission – in the course of learning, assimilation and elaboration – of new skills.

*[Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. (OUP, 2006)]

A mode of life not simply governed by, and at the unconditional behest of, the forces and laws of nature is one in which the potential has been posited for the further onward development towards consciously-organised material production and therefore of human society as a whole. The need to learn and develop new skills – imposed on our primate ancestors by their material conditions of existence – thus opens up the road to the existence of the different varieties of Homo, social material production, co-operation, language and the rise of consciousness and thus the human psyche itself as a totality. The problems presented to pre-homo hominoids by the nature of their conditions of life could only be solved through the learning and development of new skills and higher forms of behaviour, especially involving communal co-operation. In the course of the overcoming of these problems, the mode of life of these ancestral hominoid primates became transformed into the modes of life of the earliest forms of Homo and their possible immediate predecessors like the Australopithecines. Like Homo and Pan, the Australopithecines are classed as a subtribe of the Hominini and, thought by some, to be ancestral to Homo. However, it is still debated within Anthropology whether or not Homo has direct Australopithecine ancestry. [3]

The life of these early species of Homo must have been constantly characterised by the imperative : develop to a higher stage of existence (a more advanced mode of life) with a wider repertoire of collective skills and learning capacities or perish. The conflict (dialectics) between the need to expand existing capabilities in order to survive the impact of constantly changing conditions, on the one hand, and the existing level of skills of the group which had developed in relation to previous conditions and needs, on the other hand, had to be resolved and moved on continuously in order to move the group forward to avoid extinction. The lurking threat of extinction served to push early forms of Homo into higher modes of life with more advanced skills and behaviour which, in their turn, produced a firmer foundation for countering such a threat of extinction. [4]

The transition from quadrumanous* modes of life in ancestral, arboreal hominoids [Homo shares a common ancestor in the Hominoidea with that of the Hylobatidae (Gibbons) and, more closely in evolutionary terms, with that of the Ponginae (Orangs)] to bipedalism freed the forelimbs from the walking mechanism so that the first species of Homo could thenceforth utilise, develop and specialise the forelimbs as the organ of labour and, concomitantly, the hindlimbs as the organs of locomotion. Developments in the dexterity of the hand further increased the capacity of early Homo to cultivate new skills and bring them to a higher degree of perfection in the course of the development of the emerging labour process. ‘Inheriting’ definite skills from their primate ancestors, Homo began, at a very rudimentary level, to produce tools for use in the acquisition of their needs.

The widespread use of tools in chimps and gorillas indicates that the common ancestors of Homo and these contemporary hominids may also have been tool users. However, we must not discount the possibility that both early Homo and the direct ancestors of chimps (Panini) and gorillas (Gorillini) – subsequent to their evolutionary split split from common ancestors, gorillas earlier than chimps (in the Homininae) – may have developed tool use independently as their common ancestors differentiated into distinct lines. It is thought that the common ancestors of humans and chimps split from their common ancestor with gorillas and only later did Homo and Pan split from their common ancestor with lines leading directly to humans and the chimps we see today. The scenario arises where the common ancestor (in the Homininae) of all three could have been tool using at least or that this practice only begins later as the ancestral tree branches out. The systematic production and use of tools is, however, a feature of the modes of life of Homo. It is thought that Homo Habilis or Homo Gautengensis was the first systematic tool maker of the Homo genus. [5]

*[In our arboreal ancestors, their locomotion was quadrumanous (not quadrupedal) i.e. the forelimbs and the hindlimbs in these ancestral primates were both adapted and specialised for performing both functions of arms and legs, hands and feet and, accordingly, were exchangeable as such according to the demands placed on them in their daily existence. Only later do we see the ‘polarisation’ and functional differentiation into organs which are distinctly specialised for walking and labour. Today, as an evolutionary echo of this bifunctionality, people without forelimbs can be helped to use their feet to function as hands as well.]

The regular use of a wide range of tools and their irregular production formed the basis for the transition to regular tool making in the mode of life of Homo. This systematic regularity of tool making and the beginnings of the social co-ordination of activities for this purpose, and their use, constitutes a characteristic which is fundamental and specific to Homo modes of life. With the emergence and establishment of a process – ‘culture’ – of consistent tool making, involving the social co-operation and activity of individuals and the group as a whole, the chances of surviving adverse conditions were enhanced. Furthermore, the establishment of these earliest forms of co-operation in early Homo contain, implicitly, the higher forms of social co-operation of the later hunter-gatherer existence of Homo which endured for thousands of years.

Engels, in his seminal work The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, writes that the production and use of tools (i.e. the labour process taken in its entirety) is the most essential condition for the emergence of human society out of its natural pre-conditions in the modes of life of ancestral primates. The transitional period between the ancestral, arboreal, animal primate hominoid and Homo Sapiens (millions of years) is characterised by a steady growth in the quantity, and a development in the qualitative complexity, of the labour functions. This growth is accompanied by anatomical and physiological modifications which serve to augment and refine these functions. Therefore, the origination of human society is, at the same time, both the onward development of this transitional process (negation) and yet its supersedence (positing, determination) into the higher relationships of human society. This supersedence is the affirmation of the fundamental role which labour did indeed play ‘in the transition from ape to man’. Indeed, so much so that in relation to human existence generally, Engels asserts that labour…

is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself. [6]

The use of natural objects and/or their simple fashioning for a given purpose is a common characteristic of the most advanced primates related to Homo. However, this purely non-conscious, infrequent use of tools in modern apes and chimps is not a systematically regular part of their mode of life. We also see the sporadic use of tools in other non-primate animals, including birds. Only when the Homo ancestors of modern humanity (who were, at the same time, the very highest form of pre-Homo animal primate) first began to systematically make tools (Homo Habilis or immediate predecessors) for a given purpose and started to pre-determine and began to become aware of the aim of their activities, did the real transition from a species still connected to its pre-Homo ancestry to Homo Sapiens proper commence.

The gigantic leap forward from the mere use of available natural objects to the systematic production of tools for pre-determined purposes marked a definite shift from the modes of life of the pre-homo hominoid to the determinate beginnings of the evolution of the Homo genus. It was an advance made necessary by the need to survive and overcome the impact and effects of definite conditions of life within and under which the most advanced pre-homo species (Hominini, Australopithecines) was struggling to survive. Henceforth, those skills learnt offered descendants specific advantages over their natural competitors in the struggle to survive.

The sporadic use of available natural objects as tools by ancestral hominoids followed over time, in succeeding species, by the ability to actually make rough tools for immediate use in attaining food, warding off predators, etc, was initially, without doubt, carried out inadvertently and under the direct pressure of immediate circumstances. But such actions, in enabling a primate to use tools to perform tasks that facilitated survival, would have become associated with advantageous results and become refined by a process of learning. These acquired skills would have become integrated into the behaviour of the primate group, enriching its repertoire of skills, and thus furthering its capacity to survive and reproduce itself.

The process of tool making in our ancestors was a form of learnt behaviour which afforded those groups which developed it an advantage in the struggle for survival under the given conditions of the time. As the tradition of tool-making was transmitted from one generation to the next and so on, it became, increasingly, a more sophisticated and efficacious process. With the development of tool making and the widespread use of tools for a variety of tasks, the conditions were generated within the relations of the group for the emergence of language and the rise of consciousness itself. Social co-operation in tool-making and use gave rise to the need for communication – necessitated communication – and therefore the need for language. In the beginnings of language is posited the germ of consciousness and the beginning of the emergence of the human psyche itself as a whole.

Tool making and the use of tools (i.e. the labour process) becomes the basis, the foundation, upon which the evolution of the Homo genus takes place. The more capable a group becomes in the production and use of tools, the more likely it is to overcome the obstacles that confront it in its daily existence. Groups producing a wider range of implements which were, at the same time, of consistently higher quality than those of their competitors would undoubtedly have possessed advantages over their competitors which did not incorporate tool making as an intrinsic feature of their mode of existence or which made tools of an inferior quality. The more adept toolmakers would have possessed a better chance of surviving the prevailing conditions and adapting to changes in them.

The development of such capacities not only facilitated survival under the given conditions but also, at the same time, equipped the earliest species of Homo to more effectively change these conditions in such a way that the possibility of surviving and propagating their kind became enhanced. The impact of changing demands and conditions would have necessitated the development of superior tools and this also must have meant the refinement of existing skills associated with their production and the development of novel skills. Implicit here is the development of the hand, sense organs and the neurology of the brain associated with these processes.

Migration to new areas and competition with other primates and animals must have been important in the totality of this process. Additionally, the chance discoveries which must have occurred as Homo experimented with new materials and objects would have become an important source of innovation in the tool-making process. Innovation enhanced survival and facilitated the propagation of the group. Those groups that failed to innovate and remained entrenched in ways more suited to past conditions and demands would have become more susceptible to extinction. Anthropologists now think that there were different species of Homo that simply died out at the terminus of an evolutionary branch rather than evolving into a higher species of the genus. Of course, our ancestors must have evolved in a ‘line’ from one species to the next, eventually resulting in us. However, this does not, of course, preclude a whole series of various branchings and terminations of one kind or another from the main lineage that actually led to Homo Sapiens. And this, of course, means extinctions.

However, the use and production of tools were not merely accidental processes, one following on from the other. The learning processes involved in the production and/or use of tools were directly related to the nature of the conditions of life prevailing in the different phases of pre-homo and Homo evolution. I think we must bear in mind that this very final, ultimate phase of pre-homo evolution must have been one of intense crisis which, under and due to the pressure of life conditions, must have necessitated a qualitative leap forward (transformation) from a purely animal pre-homo mode of existence [Australopithecine hominins (Hominini)?] to one in which Homo characteristics made their first appearance. Accordingly, it was in this ‘revolutionary’ phase of development that the ancestral Hominin species preceding Homo must have first started to exhibit characteristics which, by virtue of their Homo genus nature, distinguish this immediately preceding ancestral Hominin (Australopithecine) from its animal Hominoidal antecedents.

It is at and from this point of transformation – between the Australopithecine and the first species of the genus Homo – that the process of the evolution of the Homo genus proper commences. Between the mode of life of the ancestral (if that is what they were) Australopithecine ‘tribe’ and the very first Homo ‘tribe’, a chasm opens up which marks a qualitative ‘nodal’ leap between the animal and the first species of Homo which would lead to modern man. Australopithecines themselves, as a taxonomically classified, distinct genus of the Hominini (Homo, Pan, Australopithecines), could have been the living embodiment of that transitional phase between ancestral animal Hominoid and the first species of Homo (see Note 1). The paradoxical character of such a species in this transitional period – exhibiting simultaneously the features characteristics of both the immediate animal predecessors of the Australopithecines and those of the succeeeding Homo genus – must have asserted itself. Thus, from this period onwards, the necessity for the consistent use, and later the pre-determined production of tools, originated and asserted itself. From this point onwards the specific culture of consistent tool-making of Homo began to emerge, establish and consolidate itself and, in so doing, became an intrinsic feature of, and inherent in, the mode of life of early species of Homo (Homo Habilis?). Further advances meant that some groups could outstrip others and eclipse them in their ability to obtain food and ward off predators, etc, as their tool-making capacities improved.

The increasing augmentation of the general learning capacities of the Homo genus enabled them to more adequately tackle the demands placed on them by their conditions of life. The forms of co-operative organisation in the troop necessary for the learning and development of higher skills amongst early Homo – involving tool use and production – contained, in latent form, a higher mode of life. The seeds of a higher human social culture had been sown and had started to slowly germinate.

The growth in the complexity of organisation and co-operation in these groups in later phases, as the development of Homo proceeded, was an outcome of the progression of tool-making and use to continuously higher levels of sophistication. The acquisition of their means of subsistence was gradually becoming less arduous in comparison to their hominoid ancestors. The historical gap between the Homo and the animal was widening with the development of tool making and the level and complexity of organisation accompanying it. [7]

Co-operation enabled the troop or group to more easily and readily secure its means of subsistence in the face of hostile natural conditions. All those forms of behaviour which facilitated or increased co-operation would have become assimilated as part of the evolving ‘culture’ of the Homo genus and refined according to the needs of their situation. Such forms of behaviour would have made the group more ‘successful’ and thus, either consciously or unconsciously, these forms would have become structured into the relations of their life process. The effects of more efficient and productive forms of technique on the one hand, and more highly developed forms of co-operation on the other, motivated and engendered improvement and innovation in both areas. Accordingly, co-operation became an indispensable part of the organisation of early Homo in its struggle to survive. The unity of tool making/use and co-operation formed the organisational basis for the evolution of the labour process and therefore for the origination of human society itself as a whole. Co-operation enhanced the capacity of early Homo to secure its means of subsistence. [8]

Out of co-operation grew the need for language and, accordingly, for the communication of knowledge and ideas in speech. This, in itself, implies the beginnings of conceptualisation and of the rise of consciousness. The labour process was the material basis upon which human society as a totality originated and has developed historically. This development of the labour process is synonymous with the development of the hand, the senses and the brain itself. Their evolution takes place together and in relation to each other, implying an evolutionary interconnection and mutuality.

The increase in the dexterity of the hand (especially the opposability of the thumb to the other fingers) and its modification to perform a multiplicity of operations and functions in the manipulation of natural objects and materials is a definite anatomical pre-condition for the further, and later, development of the labour process in human history. At the same time, the development of the human hand itself is a product of the history of this labour process. The changes occurring in the structure and manipulative properties and dexterity of the hand – side by side with the heightening of the tactile and other senses (and this implies neurological developments) – meant that the structure, properties and uses of natural materials could be more widely and deeply investigated so that existing techniques could be improved and new ones elaborated.

The human hand is both the organ and the product of labour. In the course of the evolution of Homo, it has become specialised for labour..

The specialisation of the hand – this implies the tool and the tool implies specific human activity, the transforming reaction of man on nature, production. Animals in the narrower sense also have tools, but only as limbs of their body: the ant, bee, the beaver; animals also produce, but their productive effect on surrounding nature, in relation to nature, amounts to nothing at all. [9]

But humanity has completely transformed the natural environment..

primarily and essentially by means of the hand……. But step by step with the development of the hand went that of the brain: first of all came consciousness of the conditions for separate practically useful actions and later, among the more favoured peoples and arising from that consciousness, insight into the natural laws governing them. And with the rapidly growing knowledge of the laws of nature the means for reacting on nature also grew; the hand alone would never have achieved the steam engine if, along with and parallel to the hand, and partly owing to it, the brain of man had not correspondingly developed.
With man we enter history. Animals also have a history, that of their descent and gradual evolution to their present position. This history, however, is made for them, and in so far as they themselves take part in it, this occurs without their knowledge and desire. On the other hand the more human beings become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their history themselves, consciously, the less becomes the influence of unforeseen effects and uncontrolled forces on this history, and the more accurately does the historical result correspond to the aim laid down in advance. [9]

The labour process engenders, necessarily, co-operation which, in its turn, necessitates the emergence of language and the transformation of the non-conscious awareness of the animal pre-homo Hominoid into the conscious awareness of human beings characterised by the higher capacity of conscious reflection.

Co-operation in the labour process is fundamental and instrumental and the organisational basis upon which language and consciousness originate. The transmission of skills to later generations ensures the survival and propagation of the different and succeeding species of Homo. Language becomes an essential and indispensable medium for this transmission, for the passage of skills from one generation to the next; skills which have been consciously assimilated. It is the need to communicate in this co-operative process that becomes the mother of language.

Language serves to facilitate the learning, transmission and refinement of techniques and other abilities without the need to recapitulate the historical steps which lead up to the acquisition and refinement of these capacities. An intermediate period of millions of years may have elapsed between the first use of a sharp stone to fend off predators and the fashioning of a razor-sharp flint arrowhead for use in hunting. However, the ability to make the arrowhead does not require the condensed recapitulation of the history of the labour process leading from the stone to the flint arrowhead. The labour process of Homo had to emerge and pass through definite stages in order to develop and assimilate the skills necessary to produce the arrowhead. But the actual, temporal production of the arrowhead itself contains, sublated within this act of production, the history of the labour process that leads up to the dextrous ability of Homo to make such implements. An aeon of experience is distilled within the simple act of producing the arrowhead.

By the combined means of demonstration and language, skills can be learnt and transmitted in a relatively short period of time. In the course of the acquisition of such skills, individuals can absorb and assimilate the lessons of the experiences of thousands of years. The achievements and legacies of previous generations of Homo are ‘inherited’ and become modified and transformed by succeeding generations. The emerging and evolving ‘cultural’ heritage of the Homo genus becomes richer – involving higher and more intricate skills – as its evolution proceeds. With animals, the transmission of skills occurs genetically or by means of direct imitation i.e. through mimicry. However..

it is quite different with man. Man masters verbal speech and with its help he can assimilate experience accumulated over a thousand years of humanity’s history [10]

Language does not merely serve a communicative function. It is intrinsically necessary for the thinking processes and plays a central role in the regulation of behaviour. Thought itself is a silent inner form of speech. Perception, memory and the development of cognition are all associated with the ability to master and apply language from an early age. Verbal interaction becomes a means of regulating behaviour.

The origination of language presupposes a certain stage of development of the vocal organs of those ancestral hominoids immediately preceding the Homo lineage. However, in Homo, the emergence and development of language systematically developed those organs associated with, and necessary for, its articulation : the larynx, tongue, lips, volume and structure of the mouth cavity. In its turn, the development of speech simultaneously developed and cultivated the sense of hearing. Just as the arboreal existence of humanity’s quadrumanous primate ancestors necessitated the emergence and improvement of mechanisms of stereoscopic vision in order to correctly judge position and distance, so the development of language and speech became a spur to the improvement and refinement of auditory mechanisms.

These developments enabled those later species in the Homo genus – which had started to develop linguistic (as opposed to mere gestural) communication – to distinguish more readily and adeptly between different sounds, stresses and intonations. The origination of speech and language forms the increasingly social medium within which the rise of consciousness takes place. Thought develops as an inner form of speech (codified in language) whilst, at the same time, becoming expressed externally in the form of speech. Word and thought become identified as different aspects of the same cognitive process whose ground is the activity of Homo. But concepts are not merely the formalised representations of the relationships and rules of language. Language – and speech is practical language – serves to semantically articulate conceptions. The actual conceptual content and meaning of thought is expressed in language, so that the structure and origins of each are mutually related and inseparable from each other not simply formally but in their semantically-related articulation. Thought and language, taken in their semantic and symbolic unity, reflect each other and evolve together in their mutual relationship to each other. But all this linguistic-conceptual development is rooted in the evolution of the labour process in Homo. Thus Engels writes that…

First labour, after it and then with it, speech – these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect [11]

Early Homo increased the populations of their groups by learning and developing new skills that became increasingly more sophisticated and refined in the regular production of tools for use in the procurement of their means of subsistence. This involved co-operation in the labour process which, in its turn, gave rise to speech and language and the creation of the social conditions necessary for the emergence and development of consciousness itself.

The tentative beginnings of tool use in pre-homo hominoids gradually became more regular and sophisticated and grew into the systematic production and use of tools which specifically characterises the modes of life of later species of Homo. The capacity of the more intelligent, ancestral, pre-homo hominoids to sporadically fashion simple tools for use in definite operations would have given them an advantage (e.g. in a period of dearth, when under threat, predation, etc) and so enabled them to survive where other groups perished. For example, if one of these ancestral species had learnt to use sticks or stones as projectiles to fend off predators whilst others had not, this would have conferred an advantage in the struggle to survive. The acquisition of the collective abilities of such primates to make very rudimentary, simple tools – when the actual demands of the situation required – was a primordial prefiguration of the regular tool production in the later Homo genus. The rise of consistent, regular tool making and use in Homo is synonymous with the rise of the conditions necessary for the emergence of human culture itself. Thus, Trotsky articulates his conception of culture on the basis of this creative activity, of Homo actively making and modifying its conditions of existence which are in a continuous state of evolution and, in this dialectic, actively forming and reforming itself as a species…

Culture is everything that has been created, built, learnt, conquered by man in the course of his entire history, in distinction from what nature has given, including the natural history of man as a species of animal. The science which studies man as a product of animal evolution is called anthropology. But from the moment that man separated himself from the animal kingdom – and this happened approximately when he first grasped primitive tools of stone and wood and armed the organs of his body with them – from that time there began the creation and accumulation of culture, that is, all kinds of knowledge and skills in the struggle with nature and the subjugation of nature.[12]

With the rise of consciousness, the human psyche as a whole begins to emerge as a distinctly and qualitatively novel form of development with its own, relatively autonomous, regularities of operation and development. [see Trotsky’s Notebooks. 1933-1935. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism. pp.101-107. Columbia Univ Press, New York, 1986 ]. The ability of the hominoid pre-homo and Homo ancestors of Homo Sapiens to learn, develop and innovate higher, more complex skills and forms of behaviour constituted an essential pre-condition for the origination of consciousness itself. However, the actual process of the origination of consciousness proper only commences when the earliest species of the Homo genus (which are, at the same time, the final, highest point of development of the ancestral pre-homo line) have started to form relationships involving co-operation in toolmaking and thus have started to sow the seeds for the growth of a higher human social culture.

Therefore, consciousness itself can only be scientifically understood as a product of social development from its very earliest beginnings in the succeeding species of the genus Homo because the origination of consciousness itself is intimately associated with, synonymous with, the beginnings and origination of the sociality in these very species of Homo. The conscious form of awareness starts its long ascent as the transition from the very highest, pre-homo (australopithecines) hominoid stage of development to the Homo stages commences and continues to evolve to higher levels as the modes of life of the different, succeeding species of Homo advances in co-operative relations and technology.

The learning capacities of pre-homo species of the Hominini become elevated beyond themselves in the course of the transition to the Homo line. This ‘going beyond’ (transcendence) becomes expressed in the emergence of the very earliest, rudimentary beginnings of conscious awareness (as opposed to the non-conscious awareness of primate predecessors) in the evolution of the Homo genus. In this long ascent to human consciousness, the modes of life of the pre-homo hominoid primates – in their totality – are sublated (superseded) into the mode of life of humanity, Homo Sapiens. However, in so doing, the mode of life of the pre-homo animal primate is not absolutely abolished (annihilated) but only superseded (sublated). Accordingly, those elements of behaviour found in pre-homo hominoids, which remain absolutely necessary for the survival of human beings, become superseded and incorporated into the social relationships of humanity in the course of the transition from ancestral pre-homo species to the earliest human beings. Man is an animal and is distinguished from other animals by being this particular human animal and yet man remains an animal. The particular is the universal whilst maintaining and asserting its distinct particularity in the universal. Man is an animal (and, accordingly, man approximates and encompasses this universal ‘animal’) but Man is also this particular animal ‘Man’ with all his distinguishing characteristics and features which make him unique as ‘Man’, this particular individual animal. This dialectic of the universal and the particular is therefore operative in the identity of distinctives in the proposition that ‘Man is an animal’. (Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, Volume 38 Collected Works, On the Question of Dialectics)

The non-conscious, pre-conscious awareness of the ancestral primates undergoes a process of transition to the conscious awareness of the human. This transition to consciousness signifies a passage from the modes of life of the ancestral primate to that of the human. The vanishing of one is simultaneously the arising of the other. But each is not the other at the same time. This dialectic is the motive force which drives the whole development. What is passing away is what is coming into being and yet in this identity what passes is not what is arising. What is very clearly implied here is that humanity’s distant communist future will be a re-animation of its distant ancestral past but posited at a higher stage of development in a different form will all the interceding, intermedating social evolution sublated and incorporated within these higher modes of communist human life. A return to the old which is yet an irreversible advance beyond it.

Each moment of change, each instance of movement, is an identity of emerging and vanishing determinations. These determinations are only distinct from each other and move in opposition to each other because they exist in a relationship of identity or unity with each other. This is why conflict arises out of the identity or unity of opposites. Any conflict in a given formation or set of relationship constitutes a source of development of the whole formation or set of relations.

Taken in its movement, any object is a unity of arising and vanishing moments: a movement that identifies a passage from existence to non-existence with a passage from non-existence to existence. A process simultaneously animated by and expressing itself in contradictory forms so that..

in-itself every point of time is the relation of past and future

[Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 1). (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1929) p.251.]

The future becomes a re-animation, in a different form, of the past. The old is reborn in the negation of its negation but the outcome of this negated negation (‘absolute negativity’) asserts its new content and distinctness, at the same time, from the original as a result of the supersedence within itself of the interim period of development. Indeed, Hegel maintains (somewhat formalistically) that….

this is the truth of time, that the goal is not the future but the past

and hence for each point of development…

The point proceeds towards a place which is its future, and leaves one which is its past; but what it has left behind is at the same time what it has still to reach: it has been already at the place which it is reaching. Its goal is the point which is its past.

[Hegel. Philosophy of Nature. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1970) p.43]

It comes about that each step in the progress of further determination in advancing from the indeterminate beginning is also a rearward approach to it, so that two processes which at first may appear to be different (the regressive confirmation of the beginning and its progressive further determination) coincide and are the same.

(Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 2) Op Cit, p.483)

Every something, in its movement, is a synthesis of that which is coming into being and that which is passing away. The appearance of new determinations in the life of the ‘something’ is inextricably connected to the disappearance of other determinations. In their relation with each other, these determinations exist in conflict with each other. It is this conflict which animates the movement of the ‘something’ as a whole. The movement from existence to non-existence is a passing away. The movement from non-existence to existence is an arising. Any moment of change is a unity of these opposed movements i.e. each moment of change in anything unites within itself these opposed movements. That which is coming into being is identified with that which is passing away and vice versa. However, at the same time, these movements are mutually distinct from, and opposed to, each other.

This relation is exhibited in the course of any transition. Transition itself mediates its own disappearance, containing and expressing its own negation. Therefore, in any transition, the identification of what is appearing (arising) and what is disappearing (vanishing) asserts itself in determinate form. Internal division and conflict gives the form its vitality whilst, at the same time, sending it towards its death.

This identity of arising and vanishing moments in which each is and simultaneously is not the other presents itself phenomenologically as a movement in which what is passing away is what is coming into being but coming to be in a different form so that every advance is a return to the old but at a higher level of existence. This arising of the other is simultaneously a return into what is being negated .i.e. the so-called negation of negation or ‘absolute negativity’ in Hegel. All process is therefore a transition in which the point of departure is not only negated but also re-affirmed but in its rejuvenation so that the whole of development presents itself as an irreversible advance which is simultaneously a return to a rejuvenated old.

In this relation of the one and its other is posited the contradiction which is the moving principle of the whole, is the ‘engine’ of the development. But also it is this very principle which gives rise to the contradictory relation between the one and the other so that contradiction is the source of its own positing in its ever changing forms. Contradiction is the source of all development and simultaneously itself arises out of development just as development therefore is the source of contradiction and therefore ‘self-kindling’. Development is contradiction manifest and contradiction is development manifest. What is arising is different from what is passing away; and yet each, in its movement, is the other. And it is in this contradictory relation that development itself consists and manifests just as all development is the living manifestation of real contradiction in Nature and Society.

Lukacs, for example, made a philosophical blunder of the highest order – in his ‘grasp’ of dialectics – when he boldly asserted (like the fool that rushes in where angels fear to tread) in History and Class Consciousness that..

It is of the first importance to realise that the method is limited here to the realms of history and society. The misunderstandings that arise from Engels’ account of dialectics can in the main be put down to the fact that Engels—following Hegel’s mistaken lead—extended the method to apply also to nature. However, the crucial determinants of dialectics—the interaction of subject and object, the unity of theory and practice, the historical changes in the reality underlying the categories as the root cause of changes in thought, etc.—are absent from our knowledge of nature

[Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin Press, 1968), p.24]

Of course, he was obviously seeking to emphasise the role of the subject in history but in doing so, he throws out the proverbial baby with the dirty bathwater. He was also wrong about Hegel’s so-called “mistaken lead” as well. A close study of the Naturphilosophie reveals that Hegel’s approach to Nature was, on occasions, coloured with a formalism which was generally absent in his exposition in the Logic. [see, for example, the Zusatz to 234., p. 291., Logic (Part 1, Encyclopaedia), Oxford, Clarendon, 1975]. What Lukacs asserts in the above quote does not invalidate the simple truth that Nature itself – in the infinitude of its inexhaustible forms and evolution – is immanently dialectical.The development which takes place in human history is merely one form (the socio-historical form) of the manifestation of the dialectic which does not deny, but rather re-affirms, its manifestation in Nature. The bifurcation in method to which Lukacs alludes is clearly ‘undialectical’. Nature does not require the presence of an ‘active subject’ to be dialectical unless, of course, we are merely seeking to replicate Hegel’ s pantheistic paradigm. It does not require permission to be dialectical. Even from Georg Lukacs. However, it appears that Lukacs actually repudiates this earlier position in his later 1967 preface to History and Class Consciousness* and in his Conversations**. Gramsci also criticised this separation of the historical dialectic from its natural-historical precondition in the dialectics of natural development***.

*[Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, Preface, p. xvii.]

**[Conversations with Lukács (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974) p.43]

***[Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (London: Merlin Press, 1971), p.448]

The process of sapienisation (hominisation) involves a movement away from the non-conscious, knowing awareness of the animal primate, based in its complex of instinctual and experiential conditioning i.e. by an awareness which possesses a purely knowing content, function and purpose relative to the mode of life of the animal primate. The animal is aware but not consciously aware. Consciousness arises as a higher mode of awareness which is specifically human. The pre-conscious awareness of the primate is superseded whilst, at the same time, its learning and instinctive capacities are qualitatively transformed by being raised to a higher level within the relations of the field of the human psyche. The transformative (‘revolutionary’) element is the rise of conscious awareness itself which simultaneously transforms instinct found operational in the pre-homo hominoid into the unconscious in the human. This unconscious – which is distinct from the mere instinctual in the animal – now becomes mediated by the the rise and establishment of conscious awareness i.e. by the very element that has actually created it out of the sublated instinct of the pre-homo hominoid. The intermediation of the instinctual and learning in the animal is replaced by that of the intermediation of the conscious and unconscious in the human. Accordingly, the relationship between learning and instinct found in the primate is, in the course of being superseded, raised to, and preserved at, a higher stage of development under conditions where conscious awareness has become posited.

The non-conscious, pre-conscious, exclusively knowing awareness of the ancestral animal primate is superseded with the elevation of this knowing awareness to the level of consciousness. The pre-conscious, non-conscious state is sublated with the knowing awareness being re-posited in a higher conscious form. The capacity to learn becomes the capacity of a conscious being and not simply an ability determined by the demands of the immediate conditions and the unconscious processes of nature. However, the most fundamental break which distinguishes the content of the human psyche from that of the awareness of its primate antecedents is to be found in the positing of those forms of thinking which leap beyond these simply knowing functions. With humanity, we see the emergence and development of imaginative and belief thinking, of artistic expression, fantasy, projectional ideation, dream, reverie, etc. In short, forms of thinking which do not directly express a knowing functionality.

And why? What are the sources and origins of this qualitative leap beyond mere knowing awareness? As genus Homo becomes specifically Homo Sapiens, conscious awareness is also awareness of the unknown, of what Marx refers to as the ‘consciousness of the transcendental’. The primordial awareness (‘sense of’) of the hidden, operative forces in Nature which manifest to sensuously active humanity in the course and unfolding of humanity’s activity in and relationship to Nature. And this, of course, reflected in Art [Werner Herzog, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams].

How is the transcendental to be explained by the earliest of consciously aware creatures? Through ideational and psychological projection arising out of the direct conscious experience of the phenomenal expression of these hidden, unknown forces in Nature. Herein lies the root of belief-thinking and the germ of its subsequent development posited over thousands of years. For example, thunder and lightning are not manifestations of kinetic and electrical forces in the Earth’s atmosphere but projected as creations of an indwelling ‘spirit’ just as the sound and the sparks of the process of making a flint axe are the result of the ‘spirits’ in the flint becoming manifest in the labours of men.

Later these atmospheric phenomena become the hammer of Zeus or Thor and then, with monotheism, become divinely mediated by the one and only Abrahamic deity. The roots of the ‘irrational’ to be found in man’s real, consciously-mediated activity in and relations with Nature. And the future of the human psyche in ‘deep communism’? A return to a psyche governed by a consciously knowing awareness but with all this richness of non-knowing otherness incorporated within it? With the beauty of Art, of the Imaginative, of the highest of human sensibility. And even with the beauty of reverie but with the dissolution of crass belief, religion as an alienation from man’s deep, sensitive and nurturing relationship to Nature, to the life from which the species has arisen and to which it has returned in a higher form of social existence. In…..

Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.

[Marx, Paris Manuscrips, section 3, Private Property and Communism]

The emergence of the human psyche as a whole is the positing of itself as an identity of different yet implicatively related forms and modes in which both conscious and unconscious processes are simultaneously at work and intermediate each other. Imagination, reverie and dream, for example, not only presupposes the reasoning capacities but can actually facilitate these latter functions. [the discovery of the ring structure of Benzene by the German chemist Kekule]. The human psyche is therefore this complex unity of knowing and other, not explicitly knowing, capacities. The human psyche necessarily incorporates these capacities to consciously acquire a knowledge of the world with those which serve more intrinsically human functions in the life of man as a specifically social species. For example, imaginative thought is specific for humanity but the ability to acquire a knowledge of external surroundings is not. Humanity acquires it in a specifically conscious way compared to the animal but the latter remains capable of acquiring it. Man can imagine but the pre-homo hominoid cannot do so. Both Homo and ancestral hominoid know the feline predator but in different ways.

The human psyche therefore emerges as a dialectical totality. Far richer and far more complex in its conscious functionality and psychic aspects than the simple awareness of its non-conscious, pre-conscious hominoid ancestors. All this conceptual and emotional content of the human psyche, its structures and relations, etc, are subject to a society-mediated evolution. A cursory glance at the evolution of religious belief illustrates how this is related to alterations in social relations and conditions and their attendant modes of human behaviour under specific historical conditions. But these changes in belief, for example, can also act a propelling spur to social changes and transformation.

The conceptual contents of all systems of belief, of course, alter and evolve in relation to the evolution of human knowledge. The evolution of consciousness – and therefore implicitly the human psyche as a totality – contains this dialectical moment of the interrelation between the forms of knowledge and belief-thinking posited within its historical dynamic. Darwin, Marx, Einstein – their predecessors and successors – serve to undermine belief-thinking by a piecemeal process of eroding and removing its foundation stones. Ultimately, of course, this psychically emancipatory process is socio-historical in character and is not simply a question of a rationalistic demolition. Today religion survives in the midst of advancing scientific thought not because science is not scientific enough but because religion remains within the realm of social necessity as a consequence of the nature of the social relations of class society.
Religious forms of belief-thinking are complimented by secular forms. The historic tendency of their development implies the gradual, asymptotic disappearance of belief-thinking as a psychic form. Firstly, expressed in the disappearance of the religious forms as a whole and then followed later by the varied and multitudinous forms of secular belief-thinking. Can humanity live without belief-thinking in any form?

The pre-conscious awareness of the pre-homo primate is non-conceptual and hence is without such belief content. This form of thinking arises with consciousness itself out of the non-conscious, knowing awareness of humanity’s ancestral hominoids. It is distinctly human in either religious or secular forms. The sublation of the pre-conscious awareness of the ancestral hominoids [sapienisation] thus raises the non-conscious, knowing awareness of the primate forerunners of humanity to a higher conscious stage of development whilst, at the same time, introduces a novel and distinctly human content in forms of thinking such as belief, imaginative thinking, etc. The break with the awareness in the animal is expressed in the emergence of consciousness which is the transforming element that changes the awareness of the animal into the awareness of the human. The rise of conscious awareness actually revolutionises the ‘psyche’ of the animal into that of the human psyche which becomes a qualitatively higher totality with new features, structures, relationships and dynamics.

The relationship between learning and instinct found in the animal is transformed with the rise of consciousness. The mediation of instinct by emerging consciousness transforms the instinctive into the unconscious. An intermediation and opposition between the conscious and the unconscious arises with the transforming effects of the rise of consciousness on instinct. This intermediation (reflection determination) of each by the other constitutes an integration and conflict of opposites (the conscious and the unconscious) which thenceforth conditions the further onward historical development of the human psyche. Each side, in their mutual relation, conditions the other and, in so doing, affects itself. This dialectic which becomes posited – in which the origination of conscious awareness simultaneously transforms the instinctive into the unconscious – as the human psyche comes into being, forms a very deep, profound, organic connection between the animal prehistory of humanity and humanity as a product of its social prehistory and development. It is a most important consideration in any comprehensive theory of human development.

But this positing of the human psyche as a relationship between the unconscious and the conscious is one in which each maintains its discreteness within the continuous intermediation and opposition between them. Neither is transcended in their mutual intermediation and interpenetration with each other. Each posits itself simultaneously in the other so that each is itself and not itself in the psychical interrelation and intermediation. However, this very dialectic – its historical tendency of development – implies an actual transcendence of itself into a higher form of the psyche in which both are transcended, superseded moments. This is the psyche of humanity in deep communism; a psyche which has transcended this opposition and therefore comes to be as a form beyond this dialectic of the conscious and the unconscious. It is a psyche which leaves behind (sublates) this opposition and becomes posited as a supraconscious state of human awareness in which the opposition between the biological and the social is transcended. It is the psyche which emerges and becomes progressively deepened and enriched as it unfolds within the evolution of the ‘true realm of freedom’. It is the psychic destiny of communist humanity as a thinking-feeling being.

The self-activity and self-relations of Homo to Nature gives rise to conscious awareness which, in its arising, mediates and transforms the biological heritage which Nature has furnished; an interplay of the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the emerging psyche now takes place, conditioning the character of this nascent psyche and behaviour as a whole. The rise of consciousness is the fundamental determining process in the rise of the psyche itself as a whole.

The rise of consciousness gives the later human psyche a self-mediating nature (reflection, self-consciousness) not found in the awareness of the pre-homo hominoids. For example, in humans, the ‘fight or flight’ response to threat, found also in the animal, can become activated by specific forms of thinking in the absence of any immediate real threat. It is the transition to the human psyche which marks the alterations in the way in which the ‘fight or flight’ response to threat can become activated and operate. From simply being intrinsic to the non-conscious, knowing awareness of the animal (having evolved ethologically as a necessary direct response to real immediate and imminent threat), it dichotomises and takes on a two-fold character as the human psyche comes into being with the rise of consciousness. Firstly, it is retained as a necessary response to real direct threat (as in humanity’s animal ancestors) and hence as an intrinsic part of the human capacity to sense (i.e. to be knowingly aware of) imminent or impending danger. This must remain an intrinsic moment in all forms of the human psyche. Conscious awareness therefore affords humans the ability to be cognisant of – and therefore to predict – oncoming danger and thus orientate behaviour in a premeditated fashion to counter or avoid it. This, of course, is an obvious development from the function in ancestral pre-homo species but raised to the level of conscious awareness and within the realm of a consciously-mediated behavioural articulation in humans.

However, in the origination and positing of this psyche, the same ‘fight or flight’ response also becomes mediated and activated by other forms of thinking such as phobias, ‘irrational beliefs’, anxiety-inducing imaginative thinking, projectional thoughts, etc, which have nexus to but are, nevertheless, discretely distinct from its knowing functionalities. This relatively autonomous relationship between these epignostic thinking processes and those biological mechanisms which mobilise the animal to act under conditions of imminent threat is one which arises with the origination of conscious awareness itself as the revolutionary transformative element in the emergence and evolution of the human psyche. It integrates the instinctive capacities inherited from ancestral pre-homo species with reflective thinking which is not necessarily of a gnostic character. This relation, therefore, becomes posited as the integration of opposed biologically and socially generated psychic forms which become constituted as an intrinsic part of the dialectical dynamic between the conscious and the unconscious. This is one aspect (reflective, self-conscious) which arises out of the revolution in the non-conscious, pre-conscious awareness of pre-homo hominoids as a result of the rise and increasingly augmented and intense development of conscious awareness in Homo. The field of the pre-conscious in the ancestral pre-homo species is eclipsed by that of the rising conscious which, beyond a certain point of development, marks a qualitative leap, a break, from this non-conscious state to the state of conscious awareness in humanity in the making, coming to be.

The origination of consciousness goes beyond the simple, non-conscious, knowing awareness of the ancestral primates. Forms of thinking arise which do not simply fall within this category of awareness.
Consciousness is a social product of the brain with a historically conditioned, conceptual content. This content is, at any given stage, a sublation (supersedence) of the preceding history of conceptuality reflecting the entire history of human society from its primordial beginnings up to and including the prevailing stage at which human society has arrived in the course of its development.
For example, when a worker directs his attention and thought towards actually using a modern machine tool, he is replicating – in a higher form of thought and operation – the same basic structure of operation which his prehistoric ancestors employed when making, for example, a spear or a set of arrows for hunting and defence. This structure of operation of the earlier activity is found sublated – transcended yet preserved in a more developed form – in the later operation.

The human psyche has its own dialectic which is not independent of society but incorporates the history of society in the evolution of its actual conceptual content. It is, yet, distinct from these social relations. It is in continuous relationship with them but it maintains its discreteness and, accordingly, its own specific dialectical movement. Paradoxically, of course, it remains an intrinsic yet discrete part of the whole historical dialectic of human social development. However, to deny the neurological as being operative in the human psyche is like denying the technical character of the cinema projector as the material basis of the quality of the image projected onto the cinema screen and how this character actually influences the quality and clarity of the image produced as a result of its operation. As soon as we have the positing of this relationship between the neurological and the social, we have the creation of a discrete form of the dialectic which is distinct from, and yet an intrinsic aspect of, the history of society which presents itself as a ‘complex of complexities’; a dialectical totality of many such different forms of dialectic. The human psyche has its own intrapsychic dialectic [Freud, etc] – as part of a greater socio-historical totality – which conditions its self-movement and development whilst simultaneously conditioning this greater totality.

Human neurophysiology contains all those material mechanisms necessary for mediating the various forms of thinking and the many forms of psychic activity. However, it would be incorrect to simply label the psyche as a material process; thought is not simply a material process as latter-day neurophysiology would have us believe. In so far as human social relations are involved in its historical and personal formation and development, this, in itself, negates this crude, ‘vulgar’ medicalised ‘materialism’. Society is the real source of its animating conceptual content but this content cannot be animated without the mediating neurophysiological relations of this same psyche.

For example, a man cannot feel fear without these biological mechanisms but the activating source of this fear is not any supposedly autonomous operation of these mechanisms but rather the experiences in process of being made socially. In other words, the source is not human physiology independently of relation to the humanly-created world of society. Rather, it is the specific character of the social relations at which human society has arrived in the course of its development. It is these relations which are the source of the conceptual content of the psyche and of its mental and emotional states corresponding thereto.

The self-mediating character of the human psyche means that this content can serve as the intrapsychological point of origin of a wealth of neurophysiological effects which are subjectively registered in ‘feeling’ and ’emotion’ (‘mood’). These, of course, are not separable from mode of life-activity. An individual’s moods may fluctuate or alter according to the specificities and relationships of their particular mode of life-activity. But these psychic fluctuations in mood will be mediated by conscious or even sub-conscious forms of thinking in one form or another. This ‘autonomous’ psychic capacity as a discretely internalised source of specific emotional-feeling-mental states (‘mood’) can only subsist – in regard to the specificity of any given state – in so far as the specific conceptual content of definite forms of psychic activity itself arises out of the character of definite social relations which are the mediating ground of this content. Human phobias, for example, are essentially social in origin and remain intrinsic to human psychology as long as the character of social relations forms the ground for the origination of the conceptual content out of which such phobias arise psychologically.

Conscious awareness in humanity’s primate ancestors could only begin to arise when the awareness of the immediately-preceding ancestral primate of the genus Homo (pre-homo Australopithecines?) had reached a stage which necessitated a development in the whole character of this pre-conscious awareness. A movement beyond it. Learning in these primates must have reached the point where tool use (and tool making was at least sporadic but certainly not systematic and intrinsic as with later Homo) was a regular feature of their mode of life and the learning capacities of these pre-homo species must have been advanced relative to that of other primates living at the time. The earliest forms of Homo emerged out of these advanced primates and started to step onto the road of developing higher, more advanced forms of co-operation and group organisation which formed the basis upon which consciousness itself further originated and developed.

Consciousness originates in the transcendence of the pre-homo, exclusively knowing, non-conscious awareness of the ancestral primate. This supersedence abolishes the exclusivity of this knowing awareness in pre-homo primates by positing new forms of psychic activity which do not fall within the category of ‘knowing awareness’ yet are mediated by it. The knowing awareness of the ancestral primate is both preserved and abolished : it is abolished in the sense that it is raised to the level of conscious awareness out of the ground of its non-conscious form and yet is preserved and continues as a form of knowing awareness with its attendant knowledge-conceptions. This is the transformative element in the origination of the human psyche out of the simpler non-conscious awareness of the animal primate. The non-conscious in the ancestral animal primate becomes transformed into its opposite in the form of the conscious awareness of the human psyche which, taken in its totality, becomes the expressed identity of the conscious and the unconscious. In this regard, even the non-consciousness of the antecedent form of primate awareness becomes transcended and preserved within the unconscious of the human psyche. The process of the origination of the human psyche is entirely sublative and not annihilistic.

Co-operation facilitates the assimilation of innovations in technique and the transmission of knowledge of tool production and use to the troup as a whole. The communal character of human relations at these early stages also means the emergence and development of the oral tradition of transmitting ideas and thoughts to succeeding generations. As soon as human beings or their Homo ancestors have started to speak to each other, this tradition – implying the beginnings of conscious thinking at least, its articulation in speech and memory – starts to grow. Such co-operation facilitates the survival and propagation of the troup as a whole. But innovation in technique also facilitated the acquisition of new forms of practical knowledge which, in their turn, could be applied to improve established techniques and develop new ones.

Necessarily, a primitive level of technique was accompanied by a deep ignorance of the natural basis and underlying laws governing its usage. Accordingly, the human psyche was, as it emerged from the animal, characterised by a profound depth of ignorance of Nature and its laws.This inevitable ignorance of the laws of nature at the dawn of human existence constituted the cognitive, perceptual and psychological arena within which the forces and phenomena of nature confronted the earliest humans as things essentially unknown, awesome, chaotic, alien and without order. This relationship between humanity and Nature was the ground for encouraging and acquiring a greater knowledge of Nature. However, at the same time, it was the ontological ground for the origination of the earliest forms of animistic religious thinking. These forms of thinking were the outcome of humanity’s relationship with these hidden forces of Nature. They were the product of, mediated by and expressed in humanity’s ‘consciousness of the transcendental’ [Marx, German Ideology]. Humanity’s relationship with this ‘transcendental’ in Nature therefore stands as the source of its ‘irrational’, belief-conceptions. The origins and evolution of imaginative thought are inseparable from this human relationship with the transcendental in Nature. This form of thinking originates and evolves in the closest organic relationship with animistic religion. They emerge and evolve co-existentially and in dialectical interconnectedness with each other.

The different aspects of the human psyche – and especially its modes of thinking – do not originate and evolve independently of each other. The human psyche is implicately ordered. Each aspect affects and ‘develops’ the other and this implies the movement of the totality. Each aspect is discretely related and intertwined with all the other aspects within the continuity of a developing whole. Alterations in human knowledge affect belief-conception and even imaginative thought itself. The genre of ‘Science Fiction’, for example, has emerged on the ground of developments in scientific knowledge. Darwin has undermined monotheism, creationism, etc. Conflicts emerge within its conceptual content which necessitate alterations and new ‘syntheses’. Men could not imagine living on other planets, under different conditions and travelling through interstellar space without all the pre-foundational developments in the sciences. And yet an understanding of the chemical structure of Benzene and therefore Aromatic compounds was established with the help of a dream in which Kekule saw a swirling snake swallowing its own tail. Benzene has a hexagonal ring structure. Formerly it was postulated as an open-chain structure. [13]

If the origins and historical development of the psychological are inseparable from the social, then the stage at which the human psyche has arrived in the course of this evolution is inseparable from the history of these social relations inclusive of those presently mediating the relations of this psyche.
The dialectic of the ground and the grounded operates in the unfolding of this history. This does not disregard the internal relations and dynamic of the human psyche which has its own discreteness independently of – but not in isolation from – these social relations founded upon a given stage of technical development. Here we relate conceptual content as having a socially-originated content and, of course, not neurologically-originated.

If we consider our understanding of the contents and systems of thought of any particular epoch, its science, philosophy, mathematics, art, its vernacular and popular forms, etc, we recognise the unity of the different forms within their historical conditions of existence. But we also recognise the universal within the particular; the transhistorical within the historical which implies the ‘enduring element’ – which is inherited from the previous, and transmitted to the next, social formation – within the specificity of the prevailing social relations.

The individual who inscribed thoughts to an absent lover on a wall in ancient Rome – “I thought about you last night but you were not with me” – was articulating the loneliness of absence which men and women have felt for many centuries before and after these words had been written in stone. The specific forms of social relations change historically – hunter-gathering, tribalism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, etc – but if the historically transcendent (‘transhistorical’ within this historical specificity ‘Memes’? – Dawkins) which underpinned definite forms of psychic activity are transmitted and replicated from one epoch to another, these psychic articulations also persist. In the example given, love, attachment and devotion, often exclusively so, of one for another (monogamous love).

All those characteristics of human relations – reflected in the workings of the human psyche – which are underpinned by the continuation of the rule of private property continue to persist under different historical forms of private property. But those which are specific to any given form of private property are abolished in the transition to the new form. This transition simultaneously transmits the general (generic) forms which are characteristic of the domination of private property in general. Hence, the process is one which abolishes the specific whilst simultaneously preserving and developing the general (the universal) in the higher forms of private property. Otherwise it would simply not be a higher form of private property.

Psychologically, the man of ancient Rome (based on slavery and the extraction of tribute) and the man of New York City (based on the rule of capital) are alike yet different. Each, for example, may feel the fear of being mugged and robbed in a dark, unlit street, of losing his property and life at the end of a blade. This is a psychic articulation of the transhistorical aspects of the reign of the social relations of private property. Both societies are class societies based on exploitation, the poverty of the majority and each enforced by oppression and this engenders the pickpocket and the mugger. A Roman plebeian shopkeeper and a New York office worker might equally meet their bloody fate in a backalley at the hands of a predatory Mac the Knife after a night out ‘on the town’. Do not drunkenly wander off, out of public sight, for a piss, down a dark backalley, in the early hours, after a night out ‘on the town’. Two thousand years of human experience suggest that it is not wise to do so. The possibility of being ‘jumped’ remains, not despite but because of the subsequent two millenia of development of private property.

Of course, the implication is that the notion of ‘human safety’ within a social context is entirely a function of the ‘unsafe’ character of social relations. The very notion of ‘social safety’ will be inconceivable for global communist humanity. Likewise the relation between rights and duties, freedom and determination, moral and immoral, etc. Men will not assert that they are living in communist society. They will not state that “this is my right” or “we are free” or “that is unethical”, etc. In the ‘true realm of freedom’, the very notion of freedom will disappear. A truly free human being does not have and cannot possibly have any concept of freedom. Such a concept is grounded in the various forms of social enslavement.

So the socialite New Yorker and the tavern-frequenting Roman both fear the late-night knife of the robber but these fears are of a different degree of intensity in regard to aftercare. In ancient Rome, a deep knife wound – if survived immediately and if blood flow could be stemmed – was often a prelude to a long and agonising death as a result of infection and gangrene. In downtown New York, such a wound can be treated with stitching, antibiotics, steroids and blood transfusions. A week later, you are back to your normal socialising self. Assuming, of course, that an ambulance is available and that it arrives on time.

All those characteristics of human relationships which are peculiar to and have persisted throughout the reign of private property – approximately between 5,000 and 10,000 years – are therefore attributable to those transhistorical aspects of specific historical forms of private property which have been transmitted down the ages. In the epochs before the rise of private property – many thousands of years – human relationships and their psychic articulation were totally different on this transhistorical level. The rise of private property introduced new ‘transhistorical’ elements which have characterised social relations since human beings produced the first agricultural surpluses which formed the foundation for the rise of class societies based on private ownership.

The same human affectations and fears which we find in ancient Rome we find today in the age of globalised capital but presented in different magnitude, social forms and articulated in different psychic conceptual forms. Many fears are the same but merely posited in different form but others are different because they are historically specific and not found in the different societies. For example, in ancient Rome, there was a constant, widespread fear of building collapse and fire in the closely and densely erected apartment buildings, tenements (insulae). Tenements (up to seven storeys high, rising to seventy feet) were very poorly constructed and access was limited by the narrow streets of the time. The poorest lived on the upper floors. By the middle of the second century BC, there were roughly 50,000 such tenements in Rome. Fire in such tenements meant rapid spread and poor access prevented the fire from being extinguished. The absence of street lighting serviced the high crime rate, especially at night, so that stepping out onto the street after sunset was precarious. There are still places, in the major cities of the world, where fear of building collapse and fire persists but generally, with legal regulations, appropriate building materials and ease of access of fire brigades, this fear is not ubiquitous as it was in ancient Rome. [14]

The phenomenal manifestation of the transcendental, hidden forces in Nature confronts emergently-conscious beings as something ‘other’, as unknown, mysterious, as a source of awe, wonder and fear. This coming-to-be of conscious beings (sapienisation) involves a becoming aware of these transcendental forces in Nature, positing simultaneously the need to explain them in animistic terms. Herein lies the primordial origins of religious belief in general. This animistic consciousness contains a possibility contained within itself. If the phenomena of Nature are the purposeful manifestations of the actions and wishes of the gods and spirits of place, then the very principle of a formal causality itself is posited in this conception. A relation and connection exists in the psyche of early humanity between the manifestation and its underlying impulse in Nature. Divine causes are necessarily attributed but the structure of a formal causality, at least, is there in the relation. The possibility is seeded of coming to know these forces of Nature in the epochs that follow. The first forms of religious thought were psychic negations of the transcendental, unknown forces of Nature. A primordial attempt at explaining these forces. For early human beings, the spirits of the trees and the waters were really existent deities responsible for the life-process of these phenomena. They could not be seen but they were really there as manifest in the flow of the river or the blossoming of the trees in spring. This very process simultaneously creates and develops imaginative thinking in Man and this feeds into artistic creativity.

Becoming consciously aware is simultaneously the process of becoming consciously self-aware; an awareness of being aware. A self-involution of awareness itself in its conscious form. This is impossible with the non-conscious awareness of the animal. This novel ‘self-relation’ or self-mediation is exclusive to human consciousness and is not found in animals. The animal is aware but not consciously aware; and thus it is not aware of being aware. Humans, as a result of the emergence and evolution of consciousness, develop the capacity to reflect. The animal does not possess this capacity. Human awareness is a conscious awareness. As conscious beings, humans are conscious of, and can reflect upon, themselves, their capacities, thoughts and feelings. ‘Self-Consciousness’ emerges as an intrinsic aspect of the origination and evolution of conscious awareness as a whole.

With self-consciousness, we enter the realms and capacities of conscious reflection. Conscious awareness enters into relationship with itself; into a self-relatedness. The ability to reflect on thought itself, to consider mentally the concatenation of thoughts, moods and feelings and the passage of their content into each other, their relations, meaning and significance, demarcates human beings psychologically from the animal ancestors from which they evolved. These characteristics distinguish conscious beings (the conscious awareness of the human being) from the non-conscious, simple awareness of the animal.

The emergence of consciousness is therefore not simply a revolution in the mode of awareness but a complete transformation involving the most profound structural changes. But these changes – whilst resolving antecedent contradictions in order to come to consciousness – simultaneously posit new forms of paradox. The contradiction between the conscious and the unconscious comes to mediate the life-process of the human psyche. In the unfolding of the future ages of humanity to come – if it survives and goes beyond the present one – this contradiction itself must become resolved into a higher psychic synthesis in which the men and women of that age “will be as gods” to those of the current epoch.

The inner contradictions of the human psyche in its present form propel it towards its own transcendence and its re-creation in later ages in a higher form not simply in terms of its conceptual-emotional content but in the character of its actual structural relations. The structures and relations of the present form of the human psyche are no more eternal than the current social structures and relations. They come into being in a process of evolution and they contain the internal ‘seeds’ of their own dissolution into higher forms.


[1] I use the taxonomy of Mann and Weiss as a guide in these notes. Humanity and its bipedal ancestors (Hominina) are classed in a ‘tribe’ (the Hominini) with chimps (Panina) on the basis of a common ancestor.

[2] Frank E. Poirier and L. Kaye Hussey. Nonhuman Primate Learning: The Importance of Learning from an Evolutionary Perspective. Anthropology & Education Quarterly Vol. 13, No. 2, Anthropology of Learning (Summer, 1982), pp. 133-148. Wiley,

[3] Szpak, P. Evolution of the Australopithecines. URL :

[4] Walker, A. Extinction in hominid evolution, Nitecki MH, Extinctions, 1984, 119-152.

[5] Ignacio de la Torre. The origins of stone tool technology in Africa: a historical perspective.

[6] Engels. The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.354.

[7] Gauri R. Pradhana, Claudio Tenniec and Carel P. van Schaika. Social organization and the evolution of cumulative technology in apes and hominins. Journal of Human Evolution 63 (2012) 180-190.

[8] Agustın Fuentes, Matthew A. Wyczalkowski, and Katherine C. MacKinnon. Niche Construction through Cooperation : A Nonlinear Dynamics Contribution to Modeling Facets of the Evolutionary History in the Genus Homo.

[9] Engels. Dialectics of Nature. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) pp. 330-331.

[10] Luria, A.R. The Mentally Retarded Child. (Pergamon Press, London, 1963) p.150.

[11] Engels. The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. op cit. p. 357.

[12] Trotsky. Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science. (Monad Press, New York, 1973) p. 227.

[13] Kekule’s Dream. URL :

[14] Wasson, D.L. Roman Daily Life. Ancient History Encyclopaedia.


Shaun May

April 2014



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Preparatory Notes for a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part Three

Preparatory Notes for a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part Three

Pre-Conditions for the Origination of the Psyche in the Modes of Life and Learning Capacities of Ancestral Pre-Homo Hominoidea

We need to look at the relationship between activity and learning capacity in those Hominoids which preceded the Homo line and how the two mediate each other. The natural pre-conditions for the emergence of society and thus of the psyche are to be found in the modes of life, behaviour and learning capacities of these ancestral hominoids of humanity. It was the capacity of these primates to learn and develop new skills that constituted the most essential pre-condition for the origination of humanity, for the rise of consciousness, and thus for the origination of the psyche itself which proceeded out of the transformation of the non-conscious animal primate awareness. [1]

In primates, the acquisition and development of new skills and forms of behaviour arises out of their response to demands placed on them by their natural conditions of life. This means that the directly conditioned knowledge of their conditions of life arises out of their activity, their active relationship to these continuously impacting conditions. This active life-process in primates serves to generate new modes of behaviour and also to augment and develop the primate’s knowledge of its conditions of life. It is, of course, a direct, immediate awareness of these conditions and not reflective in the human sense. In the primate forerunners of Homo, the ability to learn new skills and for these skills to be transmitted to others in their group through mimicry was a crucial aspect of their mode of life which gave them a distinct advantage over other primates and animals in the struggle to survive under the prevailing conditions of existence. Such learnt abilities – their acquisition and transmission – are observable in contemporary primates within the ‘social’ context of the group where imitation is the main vehicle for transmitting established skills to offspring. [2]

Behaviour which has been learned contrasts with those forms of behaviour in primates which are instinctive. However, instinctual and learned behaviour mediate and modulate each other in their distinction so that any response in a primate contains degrees of both, constituted and expressed in the actual response. [3]

In evolving new skills and behaviour, the primate learns in order to adapt itself to and, at the same time, to actively engage its conditions of life. Therefore any adaptive activity is not simply a passive response to conditions. Such adaptations serve the primate in its active struggle to survive in the course of which it assimilates a wider and augmented knowledge of its immediate conditions of life. In the course of its struggle and evolution, it becomes better adapted for the struggles to come. The evolutionary origination and development of stereoscopic vision is an obvious example of this. Stereoscopic vision emerged in our arboreal primate ancestors but was also essential in the modes of life of their ground-dwelling descendants. In the operation of instinctive capacities, the animal responds to the impact of its conditions of life on itself by means of the activation of innate capacities which are not learned but can be modulated by learning.

These innate capabilities themselves originate and evolve in all organisms in relation to their conditions of existence [4]. They serve as a collective means of survival in the struggle for life. These innate responses function at all levels in the life of the animal and, by serving to maintain its survival, also facilitate its propagation as a species. However, it is in the learning capacities of the primate ancestors of humanity and in the behaviour and skills associated with them that the seeds of the human psyche must be sought and identified. Humanity inherits a legacy of ‘instinct’ from its animal predecessors.This legacy is itself modified with the rise of consciousness so that its activity as an aspect of the psyche is distinct from its activity in the life of ancestral primates. Notwithstanding the importance of this inheritance, it is towards a consideration of the learning capacities of the ancestral hominoid primates of humanity that our attention must be directed.

By ‘capacity’ is meant all those forms of behaviour, skills and associated neurological mechanisms that serve the primate in its struggle to survive. These capacities constitute the most essential natural ground (natural pre-condition) out of which consciousness arose and, therefore, out of which the human psyche as a whole originates in the course of the transition from animal to human. We identify a distinction here between ‘consciousness’ and ‘psyche’ in the sense that ‘psyche’ is the totality and ‘consciousness’ is its highest expression and articulation. This is a difficult question which we will need to address more closely but not at this moment. For example, where do we locate the unconscious (if this category can be admitted) within this psychic totality?

The capacity to learn in primates is as much ‘instinctive’ as instinct itself [5]. Survival in primates depends on the development of definite skills and forms of behaviour that are not instinctive but are learned in the course of their life activity. In the fight to obtain food, avoid predators, etc, those forms of learnt behaviour that gave ancestral primates an advantage in the struggle to survive would have been “selected” and passed on to their offspring through mimicry. A ‘meme’ is established which facilitates the survival of succeeding generations [6].

By widening their repertoire of acquired skills and diversifying their modes of behaviour, the primate ancestors of humanity became more capable of surviving and reproducing in different environments and conditions of life. Learnt behaviour in primates which is advantageous to their survival is not selected at the genetic level in the same way in which an advantageous change in physiology or biochemistry resulting from genetic mutation is selected. However, in the sense that a specific mode of behaviour or skill is associated with – but has no direct genetically-linked causal relation with – the specific biological character of an organism, then the transmission of that mode of behaviour to offspring through mimicry becomes associated, inevitably, with the transmission of the general biological character which defines the nature of the species in question and which is associated with definite modes of behaviour.

Therefore, if learnt behaviour facilitates survival because it gives an advantage in the struggle for life, then the continued survival of a population, whilst others are perishing, means that it will be in a favourable position to reproduce. In so doing, the next generation inherits its genotype and hence displays its general biological characteristics. Thus, where advantageous modes of behaviour ensure the propagation of a species and are associated with the given biology of an organism, the latter will be passed on to the next generation which learns and assimilates the acquired skills and behaviour of, and from, the previous generation. An indirect relationship becomes established and develops between acquired skills and behaviour and the actual biology of the species. Acquired skills and behaviour, in facilitating the survival and propagation of a species, also simultaneously and necessarily facilitate the transmission of the biological character of the species. The specific character of the biology of the species, in its turn, serves as a physiological basis for the further development of the acquired forms of behaviour and skills.

The demands placed on the ancestral pre-homo hominoidea by their natural conditions of life are the real determinants which govern the necessity of these species to learn new skills and forms of behaviour in order to survive the impact of these conditions on their modes of life. In learning and developing new skills and modes of behaviour, the ancestral primate, in its turn, actually alters its mode of life because it changes its active relationship with these natural conditions. Survival, therefore, involves the development of behaviours and skills in the animal which are not only adaptive responses to its conditions but are, at the same time, an increasing and augmenting of the capacity of the animal to more readily and effectively respond to and counteract further changes in its conditions of life.

Adaptation is therefore a two-way process in which the animal becomes better equipped to deal with the prevailing conditions of its life whilst, at the same time, it is an assimilation and refinement of new modes of behaviour and skills that prime the animal to actively overcome problems confronting it in novel situations and changing conditions. Adaptation is not a mechanistic ‘passive’ process but an ‘active’ one involving the increasing diversification and intensifying richness and quality of the animal’s repertoire of skills and behaviour which raise the possibility of survival to continually higher stages of development. Hence, to a certain extent, the ability to survive or win through later struggles is prepared beforehand in the course of the life activity of the animal or the species. In overcoming previous and present problems, it becomes better prepared to take on and overcome those yet to come.

For example, consider the origin of the higher nervous system of mammals out of the earliest neural structures in primitive organisms and the development of these nervous systems into the higher complexities of the brain and nervous systems of primates. A correlation exists between the size and complexity of nervous systems on the one hand and the capacity of the animal to learn and develop new forms of behaviour and skills on the other hand. Generally, the larger and more complex the nervous system, the greater the ability of the animal to learn novel forms of behaviour and acquire new skills [7]. However, development in neurological organisation and the increase in the complexity of nervous systems stems from the necessity to meet and surmount the ever-changing demands placed on the animal in its life activity under definite conditions in Nature.

Nervous systems become more complex and tend towards a higher level of organisation because, in the struggle of the animal to survive, the animal is subjected to a selection pressure to meet such demands. Those with the necessary neurological organisation which enables them to learn new skills and modes of behaviour, and which enables the animal to effectively meet and surmount the specific demands placed on them by changing conditions, will tend to survive. Those animals which are deficient in this respect will tend to lose out and be at a disadvantage in the struggle for survival. Any increase in the complexity of the animal’s nervous system will augment its capacity to learn new skills and modes of behaviour that serve it in that struggle in the future.

Accordingly, it is the continuously changing conditions of existence on the one hand, and the advantage or disadvantage that specific modes of behaviour give the animal in relation to these changing conditions on the other hand, which determine whether or not any corresponding and associated relations in its nervous system are transgenerationally transmitted. If behaviour is advantageous, then associated structures in the biology and neurology of the animal will also be transmitted to the next generation. In this way, the next generation possesses the appropriate biological and neurological structures that enable it to mimic established modes of behaviour and learn new ones. Established modes of behaviour can be both passed on and modified according to the changing needs of the animal as the relationship between itself and its conditions of life changes.

The relationship between biology and behaviour develops under specific conditions of life of the animal and cannot be understood in isolation from these conditions. For example, consider the ability of chimpanzees to use a stick in order to obtain food of one sort or another. This ability has been learnt and elaborated in the struggle to survive and is biologically conditioned only in so far as (1) it is hunger that motivates the need to feed and (2) the primate needs to possess the pre-requisite anatomy of forearm and the neurological mechanisms, etc, which enable it to co-ordinate its movements in the manipulation and use of the stick. Therefore, in these respects, its biology must come into play.

The manipulation of the stick implies a necessary anatomy and dexterity of hand which is intrinsically associated with the biological inheritance and characteristics of the individual animal as being part of a definite species. However, whilst taking such biological mechanisms as a pre-condition for the development of new skills, it is the actual skill and capacity to use the stick to obtain food which has been learned and which confers an advantage in the struggle to survive. In situations where food is scarce such a skill would give an invaluable advantage over those which had not developed this skill and therefore it would be a critical aid to survival. Such behaviour could be passed on to the offspring of the species group through imitation, thereby facilitating the survival of the group as a whole. The transgenerational transmission of a ‘meme’*.

*[Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, 2006]

The ability of primates to learn new skills and modes of behaviour is an essential and necessary condition in their struggle to survive in changing conditions. Where this ability fails the primate, it inevitably loses out in its struggle to survive. This development of new skills increases and widens the animal’s adaptational capacities in relation to its changing conditions of existence. The acquisition of new skills raises the animal’s sensuous awareness of its environment to a higher level, giving it a richer, more complex, directly conditioned knowledge of its surroundings. This augmentation in the animal’s sensuous awareness of its interaction with its environment serves to develop the neurological relationship between its brain and sense organs (neuroplasticity and the sensori-motor system). [8]

The behaviour of primates is a synthesis of the instinctive and the learnt. Therefore, their behavioural responses necessarily involves both simultaneously in which each mediates the other in their behavioural expression. Instinct originates in the course of the biological relationship of the animal to its changing conditions of life. They are selected at the biological level of the organism because, in operating automatically and without the need to learn them, such responses are biologically indispensable for the survival of the species. Instinctively-driven behaviour is an inherent part of the behaviour of animals.

If it were necessary to acquire ‘instinctive’ behaviour by a process of learning then the animal would not be able to deal with the immediate impact of its conditions of life on itself and it would perish before it had time to mature. For example, the mechanisms that biologically regulate drinking and reproduction in animals are instinctive. They do not have to be learnt. Instinctive mechanisms operate in order to maintain or realise the biological needs of an animal. An animal may have to learn to drink or eat in a certain way but it does not have to learn to be thirsty or hungry nor to learn to recognise that its thirst must be quenched or hunger satiated in order for it to survive.

Nest-building (Nidification) is instinctive in birds but they still have to develop and fine-tune skills in order to build their nests. When an animal learns to associate the presence of a predator with threat, this learning process simultaneously involves instinct when it is threatened by that predator. Learning and instinct operate together in co-ordination with each other. The hedgehog learns that an inquisitive fox can be threatening. However it does not have to learn to curl up into a prickly ball in order to defend itself against it. Likewise, it learns to discriminate between edible and inedible morsels but it does not need to learn to be hungry nor to regurgitate unpalatable food. Spurred on by hunger, both learning and instinct are at work together. A child does not have to learn to rapidly withdraw its hand from something that causes pain (like a hot surface or sharp object) since such an action is an automatic reflex i.e. it is an instinctive response which the child does not need to learn. However, a child does learn to associate particular situations or objects with danger (potential or otherwise) to itself and possible injury. In this process of learning, it acquires and develops a conscious knowledge of such situations and can modify its behaviour for its own safety. In the former case, a need to learn would mean certain injury or death whereas in the latter case a deficiency of learning could result in the same. Learning and instinct are not mutually exclusive; they involve each other, operate together and mutually determine each other.

The behaviour of primates, accordingly, involves both instinct and learning. Learning in primates involves the acquisition of new skills and forms of behaviour which serve to facilitate their survival. However, learning does not take place independently of instinct and vice versa. Primates acquire their material needs by means of behaviour and actions which are conditioned and therefore mediated by both at the same time. Learning becomes necessary for the primate in order to survive. The learning capacities and body of conditioned knowledge of the primate become integrated with its instinctive inheritance. The neurological results of learning new modes of behaviour become synthesised with instinct so that the latter can be affected by learning whilst instinct, in its turn, conditions the learning of new skills and behaviour. This coalescence (integration) of instinct and learning is a unity of opposites which functions to provide the primate, in the course of its life activity, with a knowing awareness of its conditions of existence and, in so doing, provides it with a means of orientating its behaviour and actions in the struggle to survive under prevailing conditions. This non-conscious, pre-conscious relationship between instinct and learning in the ancestral animal primate becomes raised to, and superseded into, a higher conscious form in the human psyche.

Human consciousness, and therefore the psyche as a whole in its fundamental relations, is a product of the increasingly social origination of humanity out of its hominid ancestors. The non-conscious, pre-conscious awareness in the animal primate becomes transformed – over a series of phases and transformations – into the higher, conscious form of awareness of the human psyche. The awareness of the pre-homo hominoid ancestral animal primate – in its different forms and aspects – constitutes a totality which mediates the life activity of the animal. The primate ancestors of humanity were characterised by such an awareness.

The pre-conscious awareness of these ancestral primates was a synthesis of instinct on the one hand and learning, on the other, acquired in the course of their interaction with their developing conditions of life. This awareness orientated these animal primates in the course of their life-activity. For example, in order to survive, the animal ancestors of humans developed responses for dealing with the threat of predators. These same responses also served the animal in its struggle to acquire its means of subsistence. Such responses involved the capacity to evade or confront dangers which the animal encountered in its continual struggle to survive. In these situations, the response of the animal was mediated by a knowing awareness of threat i.e. a knowledge of when they were in danger of being attacked by predators. Their behavioural response to such threats involved the co-ordination of both instinct and a directly conditioned knowledge of the immediate conditions of life acquired in the course of their life activities.

In the evolution of the higher orders of animals (mammals in particular), the constant threat of predators must have been a most important selection pressure in the development, or ‘fine-tuning’ at least, of instinct. Indeed, selection would have taken place at the biochemical level where the co-ordination of the activities of the nervous system and hormonal systems is vital in order to maintain the survival of the animal in the face of threat.Those individuals behaving in ways which enabled them to avoid threat or successfully fend it off would have been ‘selected’ and, accordingly, those biochemical mechanisms associated with such behaviour. Natural selection is acting here directly on behaviour and indirectly selecting biochemistry and physiology.

Accordingly, instinct must have evolved in order to facilitate the survival of a species under the prevailing conditions of its existence. The origination and evolution of these instinctual capacities must have taken place over many millions of years, become adapted, developed, and finely tuned and attenuated according to evolving conditions of life of the primates and even their biological precursors. Instinct, in this way, becomes more highly developed in the countless succeeding generations in response to the alterations taking place in the conditions of life.

In the case of threat, animals learn to associate specific situations with danger. Such associations activate those instinctive responses which are inherent and prepare the animal to deal with possible or actual threat. Learning, therefore, even in animals, also involves memory which prepares them for threatening encounters. It is the animal’s immediate knowing awareness of threat which activates those instinctive capacities which prepare it to deal with threat.

Humans have inherited these innate powers for dealing with threat from ancestral primates. These powers predate the history of the human psyche. With the rise of the psyche itself, i.e. of beings possessing the capacity to think consciously, to reflect, these powers – incorporating the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response – become integrated into the operation of this higher conscious psyche. This integrating of instinct with – and its transformation into the unconscious by – emerging consciousness enabled the pre-sapien Homo ancestors of ‘modern man’ to more readily survive and counter the hostile impact of their conditions of existence on their life activities. Those species or branches of Homo which did not learn the necessary, new modes of behaviour and skills, as established and changing conditions demanded, lost out in the struggle to survive and inevitably perished [9]. As conditions changed, the need to acquire the material means of life demanded, at the same time, the modification of established practices and the development of new ones out of the old.

The punctuation of gradual changes in conditions by catastrophes of various kinds would have necessitated very rapid adaptations – involving an accelerated rate in the learning of new skills, etc – to changed circumstances on the part of Homo and pre-Homo ancestral groups. Those groups that were more appropriately adapted to tackling and overcoming the constraints imposed on them by the new conditions resulting from such catastrophic changes would have survived. Therefore, any increase in the learning capacities of a given group of Homo, especially in the development and transmission of novel skills, would have given them an advantage over other groups in the struggle to survive. This innovation in skills is crucial and of fundamental importance in itself. However, it also carries with it ethological presuppositions implying a higher degree of sociality in a given species [10]

In the course of the evolution of Homo, as one generation succeeded the next and so on, the repertoire of skills and behavioural characteristics would have become widened and enriched. Older established skills became refined in the course of their historical usage and assimilation as well as becoming modified and diversified into new forms. This diversification and multiplication of basic skills and modes of behaviour into a wider range – quantitatively more numerous and qualitatively more complex – enabled Homo to survive within a widening spectrum of conditions and circumstances. The accumulation of ‘portable’ skills which were transmittable to succeeding generations enabled Homo groups to spread out into previously unexplored regions of the planet.

For example, a location-specific skill might involve the manipulation and use of a material – which can only be carried out in the presence of a specific material in a specific location – might be referrred to as ‘non-portable’. But the use of a stone or sticks to fend off a predator could be done anywhere where stones and sticks can be found for such use. This is an example of a ‘portable’ skill.

We have tried to show that the relationship between learning and instinct is dialectical. The development of this relationship in the ancestral hominoid primates of Homo provided the basis for the attainment of a wider repertoire of skills in the course of their evolution. The greater the capacity of an ancestral hominoid to learn and assimilate new skills and develop a wider range of behaviours to ‘deal’ with the different and changing conditions of its life, the more capable it becomes in its efforts to secure its material means of life and thus to survive and propagate its kind.

Of particular importance in the prehistory and origination of the human psyche is the development, selection and role of those responses that served to maintain the survival of primates in the face of threat from predators. Learnt behaviour that enabled a primate to effectively counter threat, in one form or another, facilitated its survival and became an intrinsic part of its life activity. The rise of consciousness transforms the relationship between instinct and learning capacities found in the ancestral animal primate. The beginnings of this transformation marks the beginning of the emergence of the human psyche as a whole with historically new features and higher relations.

The simple, direct and unsullied response of such animal primates in the face of threat – a response activated by a knowing awareness of real threat – is superseded, sublated into the higher psyche. The superseding of the mode of life of the animal pre-Homo into that of later Homo constitutes the commencement of the emergence of the qualitatively higher relationships of the human psyche which did not formerly structure and characterise the awareness of the ancestral animal primate.


[1] Social learning and teaching in chimpanzees. Richard Moore.


[3] Breed, M. & Sanchez, L. (2012) Both Environment and Genetic Makeup Influence Behavior. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):68

[4] Cziko, G. The Things We Do Using the Lessons of Bernard and Darwin to Understand the What, How, and Why of Our Behavior. Chapter 7. MIT Press, 2000.

[5] Gould, J.L. and Marler, P. Learning by Instinct

[6] For a comprehensive account of the character of ‘memes’, see Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene

[7] Reader, S.M. and Laland, K.N. Social intelligence, innovation, and enhanced brain size in primates.

[8] Dayan, E and Cohen, L.G. Neuroplasticity Subserving Motor Skill Learning. Neuron – 3 November 2011 (Vol. 72, Issue 3, pp. 443-454)

[9] Softpedia article on extinct species of Homo genus

[10] Kummer, H. and Goodall, J. Conditions of Innovative Behaviour in Primates

Shaun May

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Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part Two (Method)

Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Psyche : Part Two (Method)

Method and Presentation

In part two, we need to take a closer look at the method of exposition and presentation.

As with any dialectic we need a beginning. The problem of the beginning [1]. The category from which we depart (the “cell” so to speak) can only be a category which articulates the “cell” of the psyche today. But which is also found in undeveloped form in the ancestral primate. A category which expresses, in previous, non-conscious form, the awareness of the ancestral animal primate.

This category needs to be a higher form of this ancestral relation in the human psyche today which is thereby found in undeveloped form (embryonically so to speak) in the awareness of the pre-conscious ancestral primate. Any logical exposition and presentation can then be linked to the historical development itself. The key to the relation in the ancestral primate must therefore be found in the fundamental “cellular” relation of the human psyche today. And this ‘cell’ must point back towards this primitive embryonic form.

The most basic relationship in the human psyche is the relation between the conscious and the unconscious? And this relationship is articulated in thinking, in every thought. Is ‘Thought’ itself the category ab initio – the cell of the human psyche? The ‘preliminary notion’ out of which the dialectic commences. All thought has a socio-historically determined conceptual content. Every single thought expresses this intrinsic unity of the conscious and the unconscious and so is it the category of ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’ with which we must start in the exposition of our dialectic of the psyche?

Not only is thought intrinsic to the psyche in every human historical period but thought itself – as identity of the conscious and the unconscious – is found in embryonic form, in potentio, in the ancestral primate in the form of its natural sentience as the relationship between the instinctual and its conditioned learning, as expressed exponentially in its pre-conscious, non-conscious forms of awareness.

If we start with this ‘cell’, this embryo, then the exposition must become increasingly richer and increasingly more concrete but always returning, in one developing way or another, to this cell, to ‘thinking’ itself.

The question which looms over the horizon? Is the dialectical relationship between the conscious and the unconscious transcendable into a higher form of the human psyche so that this resultant ‘psyche’ will not be the ‘psyche’ as we know it? This absolute relation in the history of the psyche becoming transcended – its relative character so to speak being simultaneoulsy revealed – in the course of the onward evolution of classless humanity. This becoming increasingly realised in the unfolding de-alienation of humanity, in the deepening and ‘concentration’ of the “true realm of freedom” (Marx, Volume 3, Capital).

This being a negated negation. A spiralling movement in human psychic history. The first negation being the transcendence of the non-conscious animal awareness into the conscious awareness of humanity and then, in ‘absolute negativity’, the return to a mode of human awareness which returns into a consonance with the natural awareness of the animal but incorporating within itself the wealth of all the previous historical development of the human psyche??

What results is a ‘transconscious’ or even ‘supraconscious’ form of human awareness?? As if the whole of human psychic evolution since the emergence from the animal primate has only been a psychic crucible in which the conditions for this higher ‘psyche’, this higher form of awareness which is a return to and yet an irreversible advance beyond the animal awareness, have been slowly in the process of formation.

If ‘thought’ is the cell then where lies the social repository of that cell? The human individuality in its “universal” character as the ensemble of the social relations of bourgeois society? Because the conceptual content of thought is its socio-historical creation. Therefore, can we not find the commencement, at least, or perhaps the structures and correlates, of this dialectic in the psychic development of the individual of bourgeois society from birth to adult life?? In the course of this individual social development, is replicated, in condensed form (??), the psychic origination and evolution of humanity from the ancestral primate to the modern man of bourgeois society?? (For example, the ‘non-conscious’ animal needs and demands of the newborn? i.e. not, as yet, consciously expressed as in later adult life?). Recapitulationism?

Thus, do we observe, in the child, this embryonic form of the later psyche in the behavioural articulation of the ‘demand’ for its immediate needs to be realised? And these ‘demands’ and their articulation, so to speak, being mediated through the operation of the relation between the instinctual in the child and its conditioned learning??

We can, perhaps, use dialectics to organise and develop all this material handed to us by scientific research in order to start and unfold a dialectic of the psyche?

So we have a preliminary/provisional working approach to the whole question? We start with the category of ‘thought’ (as ‘cellular’ identity of the conscious and the unconscious) and we unify the logical and historical approach by bringing together the emergence and development of the psyche in the individual of bourgeois society with the historical origins and development in the transition from ancestral primate to this individual of bourgeois society. In this way, the exposition articulates both the logical development in the individual and the historical development in the species as a whole. The bringing of the two into relation with each other – through continuous contact and interrelation – to give as concrete an exposition as is possible.

Of course, all this requires a continuous, concrete and intimate contact with all the specific discoveries in scientific thought and research – anthropology, ethnology, developmental psychology (Piaget, Vygotsky, etc), human cultural origins, etc. Only through this contact and interchange could an adequate expostion be started and developed.

Of course, consciousness cannot exist without society but likewise it cannot exist without neurological processes. This actively implicates the materiality of the brain itself in the formation and development of consciousness. So “mind” or the psyche becomes articulated as a social product of neurology (or a neurological product of society??) or both simultaneously?
We would need to be clear on terms. Thought, consciousness, psyche, the unconscious, etc. Demonstrating their discreteness within their continuity. The distinctions within the identity.
Is the “psyche” merely “consciousness” without any qualification. In which case, one word will be sufficient. There is also the term “mind”. Are they all merely different terms for the same complex phenomenon? And then there is the unconscious. And which is the more concrete of the terms in their distinction? “Consciousness” or “psyche”? If we consider these two terms as both describing the totality of psychic phenomena then we need to stick to a term and not move around. Is there a ‘Consciousness’ (the whole psyche?) with an upper case ‘C’ and a consciousness with a lower case ‘c’? (one aspect of the totality of the psyche?)

By totality I mean the complex unity of the conscious and the unconscious, instinct and learning, thinking and feeling (emotion), moods and anti-moods, so-called “mental illness” and neurophysiological disorders like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, etc. If we were to consider writing a dialectic, were would we start? Would such a dialectic of the psyche even be scientifically valid with historically viable and legitimate categories? Which relation, category, would we start with? We have suggested earlier with ‘thought’. What is awareness in man today and what was it in our primate ancestors? What is the nature of the relationship between learning and instinct?
The paramount question is this : Is a dialectic of the human psyche logically (scientifically) legitimate and therefore possible in terms of the development of its possible categories? Is it a logically viable and legitimate venture? Anyone who attempts it would need to work out, survey, whether or not it is valid or legitimate before making a start. But it would be a highly rewarding study if possible.
Re : the Gestaltists and CT/MRI scanners. Trying to “find” consciousness in the brain is akin to trying to “find” value in a packet of washing powder by subjecting it to microscopic and chemical analysis. Which, surely, implies the fundamentally social character of consciousness as does the said investigation of washing powder imply the social character of value itself. And that neurological processes are the means through which the social character of the conceptual content is expressed, articulated, modulated, etc. We cannot “find” consciousness in brain-matter anymore than we can “find” value in a packet of soap powder.

On any possible dialectic of the psyche. I think we need a discourse on the Ethology of the ancestral primates of hominids. Of course, in a dialectic, we cannot start with this discourse. We must start with the “cell” of the human psyche as it exists today in the interpersonal relations of bourgeois society. (Marx starts with the “cell of bourgeois society” in the commodity.)
Hegel starts with ‘Being’ in the Logic. Everything has ‘being’. Everything ‘is’. He ascends to the absolute idea as the highest, richest, most concrete, form of being. The most concrete in its determinations and relations.

Marx starts with the commodity in Capital. The commodity has been around in every historical period for 5-7 (?) thousand years or longer and is the ‘cell of bourgeois society’ as the unity of value and use value.

The “cell” of the psyche must predate the human psyche in its primordial ancestral primate form. And this ancestral form as a relation which both embraces and expresses both instinct and learning : the category of non-conscious, pre-conscious awareness in our animal primate ancestry?? Actually, what is the ethological term itself for the unity of instinct and learning in which each intermediates the activity of the other? name, term ? (NOT instinctual learning or learning instinctuality). Each intermediates the other to produce a third, a relationship between the two, which is?? [the category ‘commodity’ as a relationship between value and use-value] This primordial, relationship of animal awareness is intermediational (intermediative) process in which both (instinct and the animal’s conditioned learning) mediate each other to constitute the whole which is a unity [synthesis] of both whilst being higher than both as a process. It is a dialectical relation between the two out of which the dialectic of the psyche unfolds over millions of years. (cf : ‘commodity’ in Marx, ‘Being’ in Hegel)

This to be found in operation in humanity’s ancestral primates. In their ethological forms.

This “cell” contains both (learning and instinct) active within it but only in their dialectical relation to each other which, taken as a whole, is higher than its intermediating elements.

This synthesis, this category, is the starting point for a dialectic, but only in its human form as it exists today in the psyche (relation between the conscious and the unconscious). The ‘cell’ (Lenin) of the human psyche. Marx begins with the commodity. In our psychic dialectic, we must begin with this synthesis, this psychic unity (between the conscious and the unconscious in ‘thought’), this form of transcended animal primate awareness. The undeveloped, in potentio, form of this psychic relationship arising in the course of man’s animal primate ancestor’s behavioural relationship with its conditions of life (Ethology). The natural-material conditions of its life cannot be presupposed and assumed but must be explained as part of the dialectic.

Instinct>> reproductivity (sex), hunger, thirst, ‘drives’, sense organs [senses, sensation in animal primates], production of animal and human life itself biologically.

Learning >> Production of the means of life in humans; in animals their relations with their natural conditions of life to acquire the means to survive. Activity. Primate learning in the course of their activity and evolution.

In man, labour, co-operation, production, technology, the hand. Use of tools, Emergence and development of human culture. Language and origination of consciousness and the transformation of the instinct-learning relation in the ancestral primate into the unconscious-conscious relation in human beings. Knowledge. Religion. (‘consciousness of the transcendental’ – Marx)


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>increasing role of learning, decreasing role of instinct
decreasing role of learning, increasing role of instinct<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

primordial animal forms——————————————————->>hominoids/hominids/Homo

increasing complexity——————————————————————->>

In the study of the human psyche, we must always be asking ourselves if the “cell” we have started with is truly its “cell”. A difficult question to address. Moreover, we need to consider if the category of ‘psyche’ or ‘mind’ is indeed a historically legitimate category. If we can deploy this category as a defensible, legitimate category and discover the ‘cell’ of it, then perhaps we can begin to address its development, not as a discrete form separate and discontinuous from socio-historical development but rather as an intrinsic yet distinct, discrete aspect of this same development which has taken place as an outgrowth of the ‘antediluvian’ activity of humanity’s primate and, even pre-primate, ancestry. Humanity’s socio-historical development being ‘distinctly humanity’s development’ and yet contained superseded within it all the ancestry in one form or another which preceded it in this natural pre-history. This, of course, is not to ‘abstract’ mind from society but to seek to grasp it in close relation to its development and in relation to the legacies of pre-human ancestry. Implicitly here – and this may be somewhat controversial – to acknowledge ‘psyche’ as both a social product [continuous with the social] and yet – because of the legacies of natural prehistory – to recognise it as a discrete form of development which is also imbued with a certain distinctness from this social development. That is, to recognise the discreteness within the continuity, the distinctions within the relation, the autonomous aspect within its intrinsic and inseparable relation to and with this socio-historical totality.

All these rough notes, of course, preliminary and provisional. Subject to discussion and modification.



Shaun May
December 2013 (revised February 2014)

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Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Human Psyche : Part One


Preparatory Notes towards a Dialectic of the Human Psyche : Part One

The historical origination and development of capital is not identical with that of capitalism. Capital has a history prior to that of capitalism which only commences when the capital relation itself has become the dominant relationship of production. If we are to consider the history of the human psyche – whether or not such a dialectic is logically and historically legitimate remains debatable – then we are forced to admit that its ‘prehistory’ is not its history per se because its real history as a determinate phenomenon is its history as a human social phenomenon. But this likewise applies to the human brain itself which, as being the human brain, has a purely social history despite the elementary truth of its biological prehistory in other ancestral, determinate neurological structures.

Analogously, insofar as the chemical elements have not always existed, their real history as determinate forms only begins when they actually come into being. The astrophysicists assert that, besides the simplest element (Hydrogen), the elements were actually created out of this simplest of elements and succeeding elements under extremely high temperatures and pressures as a result of physical processes taking place within the stars as they passed through different stages in their development. [1] Without this process of their formation, they obviously could not exist but this process of their formation is not their history per se as determinate elements. It is, if we must employ this word, their prehistory; the prehistory of their formation or the process by which they came into being.Their real history as determinate objects only begins once they have come into being. The move from the pre-atomic to the atomic to the molecular and then from the non-living to the living* […] were ‘nodal points’ in the history of the universe, the emergence of matter on qualitatively distinct levels which broke off – a leap as such – from the preceding stage of development. It is a transformation which contains all the preceding development sublated within itself; abolished yet preserved.

*[Biopoiesis/Abiogenesis. The developmental process by and through which living matter originated out of non-living matter in the early history of the Earth. It has been postulated that the first living microscopic forms originated in an aqueous environment, later evolving into amphibious forms which became adapted to colonise the land and evolve into higher terrestrial forms of life.] [2]

If we consider the real origins of any formation in natural or social development, we enter a neverending world of change and transformation. In such a world, the evolution of the simplest living organism could only be determined and mapped by reference to the endless series of steps and stages by means of which it has has come into being. We would have to render the history of anything by tracing it back to the beginning of time itself and even “before” that if such a word as “before” has any meaning within such a physical paradigm.

In other words, everything has a ‘prehistory’ which is not its history per se. Indeed its prehistory is the history of some other determinate formation or process. For example, the development of stereoscopic vision*[…] in our ancestral primates**[…] is an intrinsic part of their history but part of our prehistory. The history of stereoscopic vision in humans can only be addressed when human history itself commences. Human history commences with this prehistory primate legacy incorporated (superseded) within it and henceforth it becomes a presupposed part of humanity’s history. This is precisely why any history of the human psyche cannot be separated from the history of human society and does not and simply cannot fall outside this history. If it is located antecedently to this history then it is, of course, not the human psyche per se but rather a part of a hominoid/hominid phase in transition to it. That is, it is hominoid/hominid but not necessarily human. The humanoid hominid (Homo) emerges from its antecedents which are only becoming human just as molecular chemistry emerges from the atomic but this does not make the existence of the separate, individual atomic elements into the history of molecular phenomena. Rather they remain distinctly atomic until they form molecules and only when this happens has the molecular arrived and thenceforth commences the history of the molecular.

*[Stereoscopic Vision is the capacity of the human visual apparatus to form two separate images of an object taken from the slightly different viewing points corresponding to the position of the eyes. In human perception, the brain merges the two images into a single image, giving objects the appearance of depth and solidity. Stereoscopic vision predates the hominid line and was essential for the survival, and further evolution, of humanity’s arboreal and ground-dwelling primate ancestors.]

**[Primates, in the classification system of biology, is the order of mammals that includes the prosimians (a), monkeys, apes and extinct animal primate ancestors of hominids and of contemporary animal primates. The primates possess flexible hands with opposable digits which are necessary for dexterity. They have stereoscopic vision and developed brains which are structured and differentiated into interrelating parts performing a diversity of complex functions. Most primates are arboreal and anatomically unspecialised. They generally inhabit warm climates. The behavioural organisation and relations of the different species within the order are characterised by a trend of increasing complexity and increasing capacity to learn.]

(a)The Prosimians are the lower sub-order of primates (and their extinct primate ancestors) which includes the lemurs, tree shrews, tarsiers and lorises.

Everything has an unlimited prehistory leading up to the start of its limited history which then passes into the unlimited prehistory of succeeding forms. Incidentally, this is why Evolutionary Psychology is a bogus science because it deploys the paradigms of Evolutionary Biology (which are applicable only to purely biological systems) in an attempt to explain human psychological phenomena whose origination and development can only be located within the historically and logically more concrete paradigms of the evolution of humanity as a social being. [3] For example, the hunger, thirst, sex, etc, of human beings are human hunger, human thirst, human sex, human etc. We locate this prehistory as socially and humanly appropriated. It is not the ‘animal in the human’ (like the Babushka in the Russian doll) but rather part and parcel of being the human animal. Man is an animal but it is being the human animal which concretely distinguishes him from all other animals. The distinction may appear oversubtle but it is real and fundamental nevertheless.

To assert that the human psyche is ultimately the plaything of the laws of biological evolution is not only to apply such laws where they are inapplicable but it is also to deny the socio-historical origins and evolution of the psyche itself. This attempt to subsume ‘sociology’ under ‘biology’ can only result in a ‘science’ which is no real science at all but an utterly bogus enterprise. Evolutionary Psychology is the latter-day Phrenology. And, like Phrenology, but unlike Physics, Chemistry and Biology, it will not endure because it is scientifically, and therefore logically, illegitimate.

The pre-conditions for the origination of the human psyche were generated in the course of the natural origin and development of the modes of life of ancestral primates. Of course, the whole of previous natural development is a pre-condition for any existent phenomenon but we can only take certain pre-developments as assumed or presupposed (e.g. the emergence of living forms out of the non-living, the molecular out of the atomic and the atomic out of the pre-atomic, etc) and move forward from the existence of the ancestral primates of human beings.

The transition to human life presupposed fundamental pre-conditions in the mode of life of these ancestral primates. Firstly the use (on a regular basis) and the capacity to fashion simple tools for use in the acquisition of the physical needs of these primates was essential. This is indicated in pre-homo Australopithecines.[4] We can also directly witness tool using and simple tool making activities today in some primates. [5] Implicitly, this involved the acquisition of specific skills which could be transmitted (and this implies higher stages of learning compared to other animals) and gradually refined in the course of their transmission and repeated use from one generation to the next. This learning of new skills and the development of novel forms of behaviour enabled these ancestral primate groups to gain an edge over competitors in the struggle to survive. This learning process equipped these primates to ‘cope’ – in a more adequate way – with the demands placed on them in their interaction with their natural conditions of life. The relatively advanced learning capacities of ancestral primates and the transmission and refinement of acquired skills and behaviour resulting from these learning capacities were therefore essential, pre-constituted conditions necessary for the transition from animal primate to human.[6]

This ‘culture’ of transmission of acquired skills gave such primates a distinct advantage in the struggle to survive, enhancing their chances of survival and augmenting adaptational capacities. The acquisition of these skills and their further elaboration and development into an ever-widening repertoire of skills and modes of behaviour was determined by the natural conditions of life of these primates. The demands placed on animals by their conditions of life are the real determinants which govern the necessity of animals to learn novel skills and forms of behaviour in order to counter and survive the impact of these conditions on their mode of life which is, indeed, organic to these conditions and vice versa. [7] Van Schaik and Pradhan have indicated the ‘traditional’ character and ‘strong social component’ in tool-using skills in the ‘great apes’ [8] Tonooka et al have demonstrated the acquisition and transmission of tool making and use in captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) [9]

In the course of developing new skills and forms of behaviour, ancestral primates must have engaged in a continuously changing relationship with their conditions of life in the course of which making adaptation*[..] an intensely active process. Changes in this relationship necessarily involved neurological developments in these primates (neural plasticity) and, as a consequence, an augmentation of learning capacities and mechanisms. [10] [11]

The supersedence of a given complex of natural conditions – within which and through relationship to which definite forms of behaviour and skills had been developed – would have necessitated the alteration, or even complete transformation, of previous modes of behaviour which were adequate for survival under previous conditions but had become, with the changes in conditions, inadequate for survival. Under threat of extinction new modes of behaviour and skills had to be developed in order to continue to survive. Therefore, whether an ancestral primate species survived or not (and evolved to a further stage of existence or into a different sub-species) depended on whether or not it acquired and developed the necessary skills and behaviour (in the course of changing conditions) which provided it with the means of surviving the newly-posited conditions within which it found itself and struggled to maintain its mode of life.

*[Adaptation : A term employed in the biological sciences describing the process through which living organisms evolve in order to survive changes taking place in their conditions of existence. Changes in the mode of behaviour of organisms are ‘selected’ according to their survival ‘value’. Such changes may be a product of genetic modification and/or the learning of novel skills which enable organisms to survive and reproduce under changing conditions. Those organisms which fail to adapt to changing conditions are necessarily forced down the path towards extinction. Adaptations can be inherited or passed on through mimicry to succeeding generations which become progressively more versatile, richer and augmented in their repertoire of skills and behaviour out of which are constituted their capacities to cope with the demands placed on them by their natural conditions of life. Through adaptation, organisms become increasingly more capable of surviving further changes in their life conditions in the future. However, overspecialisation** may, with a rapid change in conditions, be the fundamental determinant in the extinction of a species.
In the Origin of Species, Darwin gives the example of the Finches of the Galapagos Islands. In this case, a single ancestral South American species of finch has become differentiated – under different conditions prevailing in the different islands of the archipelago – into 14 distinct species. The adaptation of each species to very specific conditions is manifested in the diversity of the shape of the beak for the range of species. For example, finches which have evolved to break into nutshells have a different shape beak from those which tend to feed on insects, etc.]

**[Overspecialisation is a term used in Evolutionary Biology which denotes the evolutionary adaptation of an organism under specified conditions which equips it to survive exclusively under such conditions. The more constrained and narrow its ecological niche, the more probable will a change, especially a catastrophic change, in its conditions of life push it onto the road to extinction. Such overspecialised organisms become so highly specialised that rapid qualitative transformations in their conditions of life – barring such adaptive transformations in the behaviour and structure of such organisms – inevitably lead to their extinction. Overspecialisation funnels an organism into a highly specialised mode of life in which its niche must retain the highest possible degree of stability if the organism is to survive. Consequentially, changes in its conditions of life (especially catastrophic ones) make it highly vulnerable to extinction. Thus, overspecialisation – through the process of adaptation – ‘fits’ an organism to a highly specialised and delimited mode of life. A rapid change in conditions leaves the organism adaptationally ‘stranded’ and unable to survive so that extinction ensues. This is why overspecialisation can be a prelude to extinction. Organisms which have evolved to live within prevailing conditions and yet possess the capacity to adapt to marked changes in these conditions (adaptability) tend survive. Hence, in such organisms, specialisation takes place but not to the detrimental degree that it excludes further necessary adaptation with alterations (catastrophic or not) in their conditions of life.]

It was the learning capacities of ancestral primates – the ability or inability to learn new skills – which gave them an advantage or disadvantage in the struggle for survival under changing conditions. The disadvantaged tended to perish whilst the advantaged or other distinct species filled their niche in and under the new conditions. The history of hominid evolution is filled with extinctions. This process would have been shifted into an accelerated mode in periods of catastrophic change. For example, consider the extinction of the dinosaurs and their eclipse by the mammals where catastrophic changes constituted the basis for this relatively rapid transition in the history of animal life. In primate evolution – more specifically in those primates which immediately preceded the Homo line – the development of a wider repertoire of skills and complexity in their operation would have provided ancestral primates with an edge in the struggle to survive such catastrophes e.g. drought, floods, disease, etc. Here, it is not simply the emergence of biological variations and behavioural changes on which the law of natural selection*[…] acts that is fundamental but rather the capacity to actually learn new skills and forms of behaviour which facilitate survival and propagation.

*[Natural Selection is the term used in bioevolutionary science which describes the ability of ‘selected’ organisms to survive and propagate in a population of organisms engaged in the ‘struggle for existence’. Individuals developing favourable characteristics (phenotypes(a)) possess augmented capacities to survive and thus to reproduce whilst those who are disadvantaged tend to diminish and die out (extinction). Consequently, the genotypes of the favoured organisms are transmitted. Those modifications of a species which are advantageous for survival are thus preserved and the species evolves into higher forms. Selection acts on behaviour and selects those forms of behaviour which are advantageous in the struggle for survival. Darwin – in his Origin of Species – details the mechanism of selection, revealing both necessity and chance in the evolution of species and demonstrating purposiveness in the development of living forms.]

(a)The Phenotype of a living organism are those features and characteristics of an organism which are produced and determined by its genetic constitution i.e. by its genotype (b). The phenotype does not express the genotype in a rigidly deterministic way but according to the material conditions of existence (the internal biological and outer environmental influences) of an organism.

(b) Genotype is the genetic constitution of a living organism being the total complement of its genes found distributed in the nucleus of the diploid (non-haploid) cell. The genes are present in paired homologous chromosomes in the cell nucleus and are the units of inheritance responsible for the transmission of inherited phenotypic characteristics. The set of genes characteristic of a given species is also known as its genome. Research on the structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) has revealed how genes direct protein synthesis in the cell and how alterations in the chemical structure of DNA causes genetic mutation to become expressed phenotypically in alterations in the synthesised polypeptides.

On the road of primate evolution towards and within the Homo line, the ‘best’ learners were inevitably the ‘best’ survivors so that survival and the increasingly augmented capacities to learn became intrinsically linked. This learning necessarily precluded an overspecialisation. Rather it was the acquisition and development of genus-specific and geographically portable skills which had to become established, cultivated and refined in order to survive in a range of different environments and conditions which were encountered on the path towards the early evolution of the Homo genus and beyond.

This general applicability of acquired skills and behaviour in a wide range of situations and different conditions meant that the threat of extinction became lessened compared to those species that had overspecialised and thus were thus more vulnerable to rapid changes in their natural conditions of life. Therefore, it was not simply the ability to learn new skills – which in the evolution of ancestral primates facilitated survival – but to learn specific kinds of skills which, at the same time, had a general and enduring applicability under a wide range of conditions. These portable skills could be articulated and modified to counter demands placed on a species with alterations in their conditions of life, in their geographical re-location, and thus provide the necessary versatility requisite for survival.

Overspecialised adaptation – as manifest in structure or behaviour – must originally have had a survival value in relation to an organism’s life-conditions otherwise it would simply not have been selected in the first place. Radical changes in those life-conditions can render such overspecialisation a precursory to extinction because the survival value of such structures or behaviour is negated under the altered conditions, putting the given organism at a disdavantage relative to these conditions. They tend to lose their former adaptive function. The evolutionary line which leads from Australopithecines to Homo Sapiens must have been one which either precluded marked overspecialisation or one in which such specialisation came to serve generic, portable functionality in the Homo genus under evolving conditions of the struggle for existence. If a species becomes ‘funnelled’ down a very narrow ecological niche as a result of overspecialisation, a radical alteration in the conditions of that niche tend to push the species towards extinction. For example, if dentition becomes highly specialised for a very specific herbivorous diet, the inability to access the plant food source will tend to push the herbivore towards extinction. But if the dentition has become adapted to handle a wide range of foods of both plant and animal origins, (omnivorous), then the given species will be less susceptible to extinction if its conditions of existence undergo marked changes. It will still have a more diverse and wider foraging range and potential at its disposal in terms of its food intake.

The relatively advanced capacities of toolusers and, perhaps, sporadic makers over other groups and the ability to transmit these skills to succeeding generations formed the embryonic complex out of which hominids could evolve towards the Homo line. [12] The use and fashioning of simple tools in hominids contained, in potentio, the more advanced forms of behaviour of Homo embracing co-operation, communication and thus, consequentially, the rise of language and consciousness itself. Accordingly, all these acquired skills and forms of behaviour – taken in their totality and interrelation – constituted the germ (seminal natural-historic ground) out of which human society could come into being and evolve as a new, distinct socio-historical form of development.

With the transition to Homo relationships, the hand becomes specialised as the organ of labour so that production later becomes the material basis of human life. [13] As the evolution of Homo proceeded, the development of existing skills and the learning of new ones necessitated a greater degree of co-operation and communication. This, in its turn, necessitated the origination of language which constituted a primary condition for the rise of consciousness itself. i.e. the origination of the human psyche proper as a phenomenal totality. [14] This basic principle is central to Engels’ thesis in his work The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man.
Toolmaking and their use gave rise to emerging social relations between hominids which became, in themselves, intrinsically necessary for these primordial forms of material production. These relations had to be mediated by language and its internalised corollary in the realm of nascent forms of consciousness. Accordingly, the production of tools and the development of the relationships within Homo thus related become increasingly subject to mediation by consciousness in the making.

In the course of the origination and development of Homo, the beginnings of the rise of consciousness (sapienisation) begins to engender its psychological opposite in the form of the unconscious i.e. the forms of awareness of the human psyche as a totality begin to be posited in embryo. The learning mechanisms and modes of behaviour of ancestral hominoids are continuously passed from one generation to the next in forever developing forms. Eventually, the origination of consciousness and its positing as a determinate, specifically human, form of awareness results in a synthesis which incorporates a supersedence of the relationship between instinct*[…] and learning**[…] in the ancestral primate animal. This relationship between instinct and learning in the animal is raised to a new level of development in the emergence and establishment of consciously thinking beings. It is no longer the pre-homo, hominoid animal instinct and learning relationship as such but is reaffirmed in its humanisation; it becomes intrinsic to the psychic life of human beings and thus its pre-homo character is superseded into the human form which is marked by the new, higher psychic form unifying the conscious and the unconscious***[…]

*[Instinct is understood here to be a particular form or tendency of behaviour found in animals which is innate for a given species. Such forms of behaviour are not learnt but may be mediated and affected by learning and vice versa. Instinctive behaviour arises and evolves in animals in relation to the changing conditions of the mode of life of a given species. Natural selection acts on definite forms of behaviour to which a given species is biologically pre-disposed and, in so doing, the phenotypic characteristics of an organism are selected. Concomitantly, the genotype of the organism – underlying the ‘selected’ anatomy and physiology – is simultaneously selected. Instinct does not emerge and evolve in isolation from learning and vice versa. In their unity, each mutually conditions and affects the development of the other. For example, nidification (nest-building) in birds takes different forms according to the material conditions of life of a given species. In the process of nest-building, a bird must also learn various skills involving the use and manipulation of different materials and construction technique. Thus, in nidification, both instinctive and learnt capacities are at work simultaneously. Therefore, instinctive behaviour is an inherent or innate pre-disposition towards certain forms of behaviour for a given species and directed towards the realisation of a specific objective or aim (non-conscious (a) purposefulness) which can be mediated and affected by learning and vice versa.]

(a)The term non-conscious here serves to characterise the form of awareness found in animals and not involving conscious thinking.This characterising the mode of learning in non-human animals.

**[Learning is understood here to be the process of acquiring and developing knowledge, skills, abilities or novel forms of behaviour, etc, found in animals and raised to the cognitive level of consciousness and reflexive thinking (self-consciousness) in humanity.]

***[Unconscious is a category deployed here to denote the realm of the human psyche which arose in the sapienisation process as a result of the rise of consciousness and consequent sublation and incorporation of the instinctive capacities of humanity’s animal ancestors.The instinctive in the animal becomes transformed into the unconscious in humans in the course of the hominisation (sapienisation) process with the rise of consciousness. The psychodynamic of the intermediation of the ‘conceptless’ unconscious and the ‘conceptful’ conscious is a fundamental dynamic in the history of the psyche. The conceptual content of the human psyche does not originate in the unconscious but this conceptual content mediates, and is mediated by, the unconscious which, accordingly, is a distinct yet related realm to the conscious. The human psyche is a unity of the conscious and the unconscious. The dialectical interrelationship between thinking and feeling (thought and emotion) involves the intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious (interpenetration of the conceptual and non-conceptual). The unconscious contains sublatively incorporated within itself all those instinctive capacities possessed by humanity’s hominoid ancestors. The unconscious is integrated into the total life of the psyche so that these superseded capacities are not separated from, but are active in, the life of this totality as a consequence of the origination and evolution of conscious awareness in the hominisation process. It was the rise of consciousness itself which was the fundamental transformative element in the emergence and positing of the human unconscious]

The origination of beings acquiring and developing the capacity to think consciously, marks the rise of the human psyche itself as a totality. This transforms (for it truly is a transformational process, a ‘revolutionary’ process) the behavioural capacities of the ancestral hominoid primate – mediated by the relationship between instinct and simple, pre-conscious learning mechanisms – into the consciously, psychosocially mediated behaviour of human beings; into beings possessing and applying the capacity to consciously understand, reflect upon and transform in practice their natural conditions of life.

The simpler, non-conscious forms of awareness of the hominoid (ancestral primate) becomes sublated into the social, conscious form of awareness of the human psyche. Both remain forms of awareness but the human form stands on a higher level compared to the purely animal form. The human psyche embraces conscious thought but, considered as a whole, is a qualitatively more complex, determinate phenomenon than conscious thought alone taken in and by itself. Conscious awareness is an intrinsic part of this psyche but the latter in its globality is not simply identical to conscious awareness itself. The human psyche, as we have already indicated, possesses a prehistory which becomes sublatively incorporated into this higher psychic form with the rise of consciousness in the transition from the animal to the human.

The rise of consciousness not only marks the rise of the human psyche as a whole but is the essential transformative element in the transition from the non-conscious awareness of the animal to the conscious awareness of human beings. The origination of conscious awareness completely transforms all the capacities and inner relationships of the pre-homo, non-conscious forms of awareness. It raises these capacities, etc – in the course of superseding them – to the new, qualitative level in the psychosocial *[…], conscious forms of awareness of human beings. In so doing, the human psyche determinate has arrived and steps forth on its course of development.

*[Psychosocial is a term used to denote the relationship and unity between the character of social relations and the human psyche in which the psychological assimilation of these social relations gives the psyche a particular mental content at any given stage in the historical development of human society, conditioning the prevailing forms of human behaviour of the given epoch.]

Henceforth the…

forms of consciousness, even as they are determined by the conditions of life, constitute in themselves also a part of history. This does not consist only in the economic anatomy, but in all that combination which clothes and covers that anatomy even up to the multicoloured reflections of the imagination….there is no fact in history which is not preceded, accompanied and followed by determined forms of consciousness, whether it be superstitious or experimental, ingenuous or reflective, impulsive or self-controlled, fantastic or reasoning. (15)

The origination of consciously aware beings in the course of this transition from the pre-conscious animal to humanity marks the origination of the human psyche as a psycho-historical totality. The labour process, according to Engels, constitutes the social material basis for the origination of consciousness and therefore of psyche as a totality. Implicit in this process is the need for communication and therefore language (practical language – speech) and thought. Marx writes that…

Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate (Marx emphasis) sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious. At the same time it is consciousness of nature, which first confronts men as a completely alien, all powerful and unassailable force, with which men’s relations are purely animal and by which they are overawed like beasts; it is thus a purely animal consciousness of nature (natural religion)* […] precisely because nature is as yet hardly altered by history – on the other hand, it is man’s consciousness of the necessity of associating with individuals around him, the beginning of consciousness that he is living in society at all. This beginning is as animal as social life itself at this stage. It is mere herd-consciousness, and at this point man is distinguished from sheep only by the fact that with him consciousness takes the place of instinct or that his instinct is a conscious one.

[Marginal note by Marx: We see here immediately: this natural religion or this particular attitude to nature is determined by the form of society and vice versa. Here, as everywhere, the identity of nature and man also appears in such a way that the restricted attitude of men to nature determines their restricted relation to one another, and their restricted relation to one another determines men’s restricted relation to nature]

Marx continues….

This sheep-like or tribal consciousness receives its further development and extension through increased productivity, the increase of needs, and, what is fundamental to both of these, the increase of population. With these there develops the division of labour, which was originally nothing but the division of labour in the sexual act, then the division of labour which develops spontaneously or “naturally” by virtue of natural pre-disposition (e.g. physical strength), needs, accidents, etc, etc. Division of labour only becomes truly such from the moment when a division of material and mental labour appears.

[Marginal note by Marx: The first form of ideologists, priests, is co-incident]

From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of “pure” theory, theology, philosophy, morality, etc. (16)

[all emphasis in these passages is by Marx)

*[note by SM : animistic forms of religion. Animism is a term used to describe a variety of belief systems or conceptions in the history of human consciousness in which natural phenomena were thought to be animated by supernatural forces, powers or ‘spirits’. The conception that natural phenomena are endowed with, and moved by, supernatural forces characterises the earliest forms and systems of religious belief and finds transmuted secular expression in later systems of philosophical thought e.g. in Spinoza’s concept of ‘infinite substance’. In higher religious and secular forms of thinking, animism develops beyond its localised bounds and existence and matures into a world pantheistic outlook which identifies the materiality of the universe as a whole with deity e.g. in Hinduism, Gnosticism (the mystical Christianity of the first two centuries of the Christian era), Sufism, Spinozism, etc. Despite its essentially theological character, pantheism conceptualises the diversity of nature as arising out of inner unity. Implicit in this conception is, firstly, the recognition of the unity of nature in its infinite diversity and, as such, an early dialectical notion of nature and secondly, a notion of regularity and the law-governed character of natural phenomena albeit through the presence of deity.]

The insight and profundity of Marx’s analysis above must be noted here, written, as it was, at least thirteen years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and twenty-five years before his Descent of Man.

Humanity’s consciousness of ‘living in society’ is itself a reflection of humanity’s association in order to survive in the struggle against Nature and to harness it to meet human needs. This awareness of ‘living in society’ is negatively expressed in humanity’s conception of the ‘otherness’ of Nature which ‘confronts men as a completely alien, all-powerful and unassailable force’.

This ‘otherness’ of Nature – is it a transhistorical characteristic in humanity’s conscious relationship with Nature which is expressed in different degrees (i.e. in altering historically determined forms) throughout the history of human consciousness? This ‘transhistorical’ itself being an absolute (in pre-class and class societies) which passes into (is superseded into) the historically relative with the evolution of post-class society? Does the actual human reflection of this distinction between humanity and Nature in the human psyche become superseded (sublated) in the development of post-class society? Accordingly, does the human conception of ‘living in society’ or the ‘otherness’ of Nature disappear as a reflection of the supersedence of the actual alienated character of humanity’s relationship with Nature?

With the developing transcendence of this conflict between Man and Nature – reaching its highest point of development in bourgeois society – does not humanity’s alienation in and from Nature and thus from self and other humans truly, progressively tend, perhaps asymptotically, towards a final disappearance, vanishing point? But perhaps never absolutely arriving at it? The conceptions of Man and Nature or Man or Nature would thus tend to disappear with the unfolding transcendence of this ‘otherness’ of Nature to Man? And the psychic implications and significance of this transcending? Man becoming ever more free, ever free of fear* […], ever more without the psychology of bourgeois society? Ever more beyond what is attributed to be ‘human nature’ by Evolutionary Psychology? What is ‘human nature’ now ceases to be human; rather appears as inhuman from a vantage point of looking back as if men and women will even feel the need to ‘look back’ (or ‘forward’ even) in this post-class world. Everything becoming transformed, not simply labour which becomes truly human, unalienated ‘activity’ but sexual relations as well which are, of course, psychosocially mediated?

*[The term fear is used generically here to denote a psychoneuroendocrinological state characterised by a sense of impending threat or danger and giving rise to feelings of alarm, distress, apprehension, etc. For example, anxiety is a state of fear engendered in thinking processes which derives from the awareness or perception (a) of the reality or possibility of danger or threat. Because anxiety is a form of fear, its physiological effects take the forms of heightened pulse rate, higher blood pressure, increased rate of respiration, sweating, dryness of mouth, etc. The operative psychoneurological mechanism is the so-called ‘fight or flight response’ activated in both humans and animals in response to threat. It is a ‘reaction of the autonomic nervous system**[…] to an emergency which prepares the organism either to fight or flee’ (Macmillan Dictionary of Psychology, S. Sutherland (Ed), 1995, p 168). In humans the whole process is activated by means of the relationship between psychological and neuroendocrinological factors (brain, nervous system, pituitary-adrenal hormones). This intermediation of psychosocial and neuroendocrinological factors constitutes the ground within which human anxiety arises. This process is often intrinsic to those mental states which Psychiatry describes as ‘forms of mental illness or disorder’, the so-called neuroses and psychoses. ‘Withdrawal’ and ‘aggression’ are psychosocial forms of behaviour mediated by fear. (see, for example, Creager, J.G., Human Anatomy and Physiology, pp 477-78).]

(a) Perception is, taken collectively, understood to be those psychoneurological processes in humans through which the subject detects, becomes aware, selects, organises, processes and interprets the external world.

**[The Autonomic Nervous System is that part of the nervous system (divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems) which regulates and controls the involuntary actions and processes of smooth muscle, the heart, iris, glands, genitals, lungs, stomach, etc. The sympathetic and parasympathetic induce opposite actions. For example, the former increases heart beat and blood pressure whilst the latter has the opposite effects on the cardio-vascular system.]

Beyond this historically-determined relation of ‘otherness’ of humanity to Nature – which reflects the socio-historically conditioned dependence and subservience of humanity on and to Nature and therefore humanity’s impotence in the face of Nature – lies Marx’s ‘true realm of human freedom’ (Volume 3, Capital) in which humanity neither distinguishes itself from Nature nor distinguishes Nature from itself??

Man as a species will always look out into the universe but they will see themselves at home within it. When they observe a supernova, they will observe an image of the formation of the conditions for their own history and therefore for their own human life.

Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.

(Marx. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Private Property and Communism, section 3 of ms)

Therein exists neither “humanity” nor “Nature” as such with the transcendence of this relationship of alienation but only the oneness of the ontologicality of humankind immersed in Nature and Nature immersed in humankind. An immersion in which the ‘otherness’ of Nature is not distinguished from the ‘self-otherness’ of humanity. ‘Fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man’. This real unity, this real historically-evolved synthesis beyond otherness, becomes manifest in the transcendence of the psychic forms and aspects of the alienation of humanity from Nature and humanity from itself.

The brain of ancestral primates becomes materially transformed, becoming further evolved to new, more complex, stages of development in the course of human evolution under the direct influence of the material and social relations of the labour process. The human brain is, therefore, a structure which comes into being in the course of that transitional period of development between the natural mode of life of ancestral primates and the earliest social modes of life of humankind.

This may appear trite or even tautological but it must not be forgotten that the human brain is only human as such when human beings have actually come into being and the historical development of human society actually commences. We cannot speak of the human brain or human psyche whilst it is still in the process of coming into being. Whilst still in the process of its formation just as we cannot speak of capitalism whilst its still growing in the womb of feudal society. It is something other than human whilst it is still caught in that process of its genesis. It is, of course, becoming human and, accordingly, these alterations express, and are expressed within, the developing forms of behaviour of pre-sapien hominini*[…].

*[Hominini : in the classification system of Physical Anthropology (a), members of the Homo genus and Panini genus including the chimps, modern man and the extinct, bipedal hominid ancestors of mankind e.g. Australopithecines, Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus and Homo Neanderthalensis. Modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) is the only extant species of the Hominina which is the bipedal subtribe of the Hominini.]

(a) I use the taxonomy of Mann and Weiss as a guide in these notes. Humanity and its bipedal ancestors (subtribe Hominina) are classed in a ‘tribe’ (the Hominini) with chimps (subtribe Panina) on the basis of a common ancestor, divergence occurring approximately 6 million years ago. The Australopithecina (Australopithecines) were another subtribe of the Hominini. The taxonomy can be confusing, thus : hominoidea, hominidae, homininae, hominini, hominina, homo, homo sapiens. See also Mann, Alan and Weiss, Mark (1996). “Hominoid Phylogeny and Taxonomy: a consideration of the molecular and Fossil Evidence in an Historical Perspective”. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 5 (1): 169–181. doi:10.1006/mpev.1996.0011 . PMID 8673284.]

The human brain does not emerge and become a fixed structure but rather continues to develop materially (neurological plasticity*[…]) and its processes become more refined, attenuated (increasingly more complexed, refined and sophisticated) and better adapted to orientate and guide human social behaviour. The ‘plasticity’ of the brain’s processes does not end once humanity has emerged from its animal ancestry but necessarily continues at a conscious stage with the socio-historical development of humanity. The brain in evolution is only an exclusive product of natural selection in so far as it is the non-human brain. It becomes, as a totality, with the advent of human life, a socially mediated process and, accordingly, something other than a mere object of study for the biological sciences. [17]

*[Plasticity in this context is the capacity of the brain and nervous system to undergo structural, functional and reparative alterations in the course of learning and adaptation and in response to damage. Such capacities were of fundamental importance in the hominidal transition from animal primate to human and in the further onward socio-historical evolution of humanity. In this transition, the labour process was the social ground which mediated the structural and functional transformation of the brain and sensory apparatus of the ancestral primate, forming the mediating basis for the origination of speech and consciousness. The capacity of the brain to become structurally and functionally altered is an indispensable part of the learning of new concepts, skills and behaviour and involves, simultaneously, the formation of new interconnections and networks of neurons (neural networks) in the brain. The brain is continuously undergoing such changes and alterations with the formation of new, more complex, more intricate and more implicate neuronal pathways as a result of human experience and learning.]

The human brain is not only larger than that of the other species of extant Hominidae*[….] but is qualitatively more complex.These differences arise in the hominid transitional period and are further developed in the course of human social development. The human brain is thus the outcome of this prehistory, this period of extensive development but its development as the human brain per se only begins once it has come to be as a determinately human structure. This means that its further development is not merely influenced by biological processes as in its pre-human stages but now develops under the direct influence of socio-historical conditions and processes which are themselves continuously changing. The human brain itself – as material structure – is, therefore, and can only be a ‘work in process and progress’ and never subject to a once-and-for-all dead end.

*[The ‘family’ of primates including the orang-utans, gorillas, chimps and humans which are part of the larger ‘superfamily’ of Hominoidea which includes the gibbons (family Hylobatidae)]

The sociality of humanity in the making transforms the neurological functions of the animal primate brain into those of the human brain, raising them to a qualitatively more complex stage of development. The transformation of the pre-homo hominoid brain into the human brain is therefore a product of society in the making which is identical to humanity in the making. A complete development and transformation of the cerebral region* […] of the primate brain takes place. The size and inner complexity of the brain as a whole changes so that all the other brain functions become modified as a result of the changes in the cerebral region. These alterations modify and modulate the whole brain which, in its turn, gives impetus to the development of the relations between its discrete parts. The transition taking place between non-conscious primates and consciously thinking humans is simultaneously a process of neurological transformation grounded in emerging consciousness itself and the nascent formation of the human psyche.

*[The cerebral cortex is that part of the forebrain (composed of the cerebral cortex and the limbic system (a)) concerned with language, verbal skills and conceptualisation. It is the centre of voluntary muscle control and important in the regulation of consciously (voluntary) directed activities. It is also associated with the perception of melody, visual pattern and with the emotions in its unity with the whole limbic system. It is the dominant part of the human brain, being associated with intellect, personality development and the emotions]

(a) [The Limbic System is the integrated system of relationships between different structures in the human brain (hypothalamus, thalamus, cortex, sub-cortex, etc) which is neurologically important in the origination, development and expression of the emotions. (see, for example, Creager, J.C., Human Anatomy and Physiology, p. 329).]

Labour and the hand not only develop in their reciprocal relation. [A brain-mapping of the degree of functional importance which the brain accords to the different parts of the human body in its neurology has revealed the hand and speech organs (tongue, lips, mouth cavity) to be the most prominant and significant followed by the feet, sex organs and other sense organs (a)].The evolution of the labour process is the intrinsic, material, social basis for the origination and development of human social relations. And this is clearly indicated in the neurological relations between the brain and the hand. These social relations, once established, in themselves, constitute an essential presupposition for the further onward development of this labour process which – in its development – is continuously transforming and raising these relations to new stages of historical development. The origination and evolution of this complex of relations simultaneously involves the development, refinement and attenuation of the speech and sense organs whose functioning becomes increasingly mediated by conscious awareness. And, once again, we see this in the degree of importance which the neurology of the brain attaches to the sensory-motor functioning of the hand and the organs of speech.


These transitional forms of Homo, in altering their conditions of life through the emerging and evolving labour process in the course of the development of their interaction with Nature, propel themselves forward along the Homo line (leading to ‘modern man’) towards human social relations proper. In doing so, they mediate their own disappearance and the transition to the earliest modes of life of this ‘modern man’. The transitional species of Homo transform themselves into succeeding forms along the genus line in the course of their active relationship with their natural surroundings. In so doing they begin to approach the social mode of life of humanity proper whose relationships become mediated by established forms of conscious awareness. [18]

The relationship between social relations and the psyche becomes established (i.e. the transition to the establishment of this relationship is completed and its determinate existence is posited as a relatively stable relation out of the transitional period of transformation) with the completion of this transitional period. Once established, the conceptual content of the human psyche becomes subject to change and transformation on the basis of the evolution of the socio-historical process. Henceforth, this psyche develops historically in its intrinsic relationship to the history of human society. Any dialectic of the psyche can only be investigated and elaborated within the epistemological framework of this relationship between society and psyche. Once we step outside of it, this “dialectic” must sink into a scientistic elaboration and, accordingly, cease to be a dialectic of the psyche per se.

The human psyche therefore evolves as an intrinsic, organic, mediating part of the whole socio-historical process. The historical development of the psyche – in its conceptual content, structure, functions, inner complexity, etc – therefore necessarily evolves in intimate relation with the history of human society. However, at the same time, in its inner, self-reflective character and dynamic it sublates and incorporates both the social and the biological within itself, incorporating them into a new psychological synthesis in the course of its formation and psychohistorical (a) development.
The human psyche arises as a negation of the simple, pre-conscious*[…] animal awareness and is posited as a distinctly new form of awareness. This form of awareness therefore arises as a specifically human form in which ‘man in the making’ is becoming aware of being aware in the course of the process of its origination i.e. this process (sapienisation**) engenders a self-conscious being which is capable of reflection.

(a) Psychohistorical is a term used here to denote the socio-historical evolution of the human psyche proper in the course of the development of human society through its pre-class and class stages.

*[Pre-Conscious is a term deployed here to denote the forms of awareness characterising the mode of existence of those ancestral hominoids preceding the line of the genus Homo. The transition from the animal hominoid to the hominid and thereafter Homo was marked by the growing transformation of this pre-conscious, non-conscious state of awareness into that of conscious awareness. This transitional process (from the pre-conscious to the conscious) was essentially completed with the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens approximately 40,000 years ago [according to many anthropologists but there are disputes over this]. This marks the completion of this transition process with the arrival of modern man, conscious, capable of reflection, self-consciousness, aware of being aware]

**[Sapienisation (aka hominisation) is the evolutionary process through which ancestral animal primates (hominoids) developed into hominids ascending to Homo and modern man. Anthropologists differ in their estimation of the point of arrival of ‘modern man’ (some postulate between 35,000 to 50,000 years ago and others further back). It appears that the extinction and/or partial integration of the Neanderthal line is thought to indicate the emergence and pre-eminence of ‘modern man’. It must be noted that the Anthropologists make a distinction between the anatomical modernity (200,000 YBP) and behavioural modernity (50,000 YBP) of Homo Sapiens] [19]

The labour process formed the material and increasingly social ground on which language and consciousness have originated and developed. Herein lies the material-social unity of the labour process, language and consciousness and its expression not simply in the human psyche as a totality but neurologically in the structure and processes of the brain itself. The production of tools and their use in the labour process as a whole has enabled human beings to transform their conditions of life. Co-operation was – from that point in the evolution of Homo where toolmaking and their use commenced systematically – intrinsic to this process. The forms of Homo, in constantly changing their mode of existence – by means of the production and use of tools – changed themselves so that they evolved progressively more towards the human line of development in the course of the sapienisation process. With the establishment of human society proper, the onward development of the labour process means that…

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of reproduction, e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field, etc, but the producers change too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. [20]

The human labour process necessarily involves social co-operation. This co-operation must involve the co-ordination of activity by means of language which, accordingly, must, sooner or later, have asserted itself as a necessity in the origination of the labour process. Language emerges because human beings must communicate with each other and speech – even in an emergent or rudimentary form – implies thought (consciousness or its beginnings). Speech is externalised thought and thought is internalised speech mediated through language. The distinction between language and speech here is important. Practice (activity) necessarily gives rise to word and concept. In the beginning was the deed. Word and concept mediate each other’s development and constitute a unity of opposites in the historical development of the psyche. This ‘unity’ simultaneously mediates and is mediated by the totality of human activities : practice-language-thought constitute a dialectical unity of distinct aspects of human social development.

Labour, therefore, as a co-operative social process, is intrinsic to the whole historical process. Humanity, by constantly altering and moulding Nature to its own needs, by harnessing and applying its developing knowledge of Nature, by being an active part of Nature, is always changing its relationship to Nature and thereby changing itself.

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history…… as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. [21]

The development of human knowledge becomes, directly or indirectly, bound up with the the evolution of the labour process itself and this implies the connection of the evolution of human knowledge with production itself. Production, social relations and consciousness constitute a unity in which each conditions each other in their mutual interrelationships in the socio-historical process. The needs of production and the social anatomy of human relations are therefore closely bound up with the evolution of thought itself and later with natural-scientific thought. Thus Engels writes, in relation to scientific thought and practice, that….

From the very beginning the origin and development of the sciences has been determined by production [22]

“Determined” is perhaps rather too positivistic and “deterministic” a word but undoubtedly the needs of production and the evolution of the sciences are not separable from each other.

The human acquisition of the means of subsistence is mediated by a historically-relative and historically-conditioned understanding of Nature. In the earliest societies this understanding is, of course, very primitive. With the emergence of the different natural sciences, roughly corresponding, in their real systematic evolution, to the rise and development of capitalist society, this understanding becomes more complex with the discovery of natural laws which can be applied in the processes of production. The onset of this period of capitalist development marks a tremendous step forward for humanity in its struggle to wrest its needs from Nature. Human knowledge of natural processes becomes a necessary pre-requisite for production itself. So much so that today production would be unthinkable without the science that underpins its technology.

The human psyche, at any given point in its historical evolution, is the outcome of the entire history of natural and social development which is superseded (sublated) into the character of the prevailing, dominant social relations. Its evolution – as the human psyche per se – only commences, of course, with the emergence of human society. Its conceptual content only engendered by and reflecting the character of the dominant social relations in so far as these relations are themselves the outcome of the entire history of natural and social development, containing this entire history superseded and incorporated within them.

Accordingly, the human psyche must contain superseded and expressed within itself the entire wealth of this history. Of course, the actual history of any determinate formation only commences when it is actually posited as such. As an illustration, the history of capitalism does not begin with the Carthaginians despite the fact that they were merchant traders (merchant capital) of Antiquity or with the Jews in medieval societies despite the fact that their ghettoised communities in Europe lived by money-lending (money capital, usury) because they were excluded from and despised by the gentile feudal order. [a] Their exclusion and alienation from this order and their living by means of commodity and money capital were, of course, intimately connected. Capitalism as a system in which capital starts to dominate all areas of social life begins in the first part of the sixteenth century when capital has entered circulation and agricultural production and started to dominate production as a whole. However, that in itself can never be a denial of the truth that it or any other formation is also the outcome of a long period of prehistory despite the fact that it only emerges as a determinately distinct and new formation at the end of this period of formative development. The legacy of history remains but now sublated within the conditions and context of the new formation. It is the distinctly new relations and characteristics which now constitute its content and determine its subsequent development. The human psyche is, of course, impossible without the networking of neurons [man cannot be a consciously thinking being without the neurology of the brain] but what fundamentally determines its conceptual content is not this neuronal system but rather social relations, social being and the process of human learning and reflection taking place within this social context.

[a] The Jews in medieval societies. In the feudal order in Europe, the Jews could not hold land in fief and were also excluded from the feudally-mediated Guild system of petty handicraft. This meant that they were forced to living by trade (such as hawking and tinkering) or by money lending (usury, money capital), buying and selling, etc. Trade and usury, as they developed, began to serve to undermine the feudal order itself, acting as a dissolving influence on it. The emergence of anti-semitism in Europe in this period is associated with this conflict between the growth of commodity and money capital on the one hand and the increasingly precarious position of the old feudal nobility and declining Guilds. The Jews lived by means of money or commodity capital and therefore they were seen as the personifications of the threat to the interests of this top layer of the feudal system. This is the historical root of anti-semitism in Europe. The fact that the account of events in the New Testament were conveniently used as an ideological justification for expulsion and persecution does not mean that this persecution was ideologically rooted in that text. The text was used as an ideological cudgel to expel and massacre the Jews in the interests of the the feudal nobility and guildmasters. It is no accident of history that later pogroms and persecutions were often engineered by elements of the aristocracy in alliance with the reactionary layers of the petit bourgeoisie. Hitler’s SS was saturated with assorted princelings, barons and small businessmen. During the middle ages, England was the most anti-semitic of European countries. The massacre of the Jews in York in 1190 and the expulsion of the total Jewish population from England in 1290 by Edward Longshanks (Edward I, “Hammer of the Scots” ) were the most noted events. Edward appropriated all the loans of the expelled Jews so that all re-payments with interest went directly into the treasury of the Crown. The Jews were only formally re-admitted under Cromwell in the 1650s. He saw them as encouraging of wealth, thrifty and conducive to the development of trade and capitalism. Even today in England, in some synagogues, prayers are still said for Oliver Cromwell. We can see how the roots of anti-semitism found particular expression in the nobility and petit bourgeoisie because commodity and money capital undermined the Guild system and the ’divinely-ordained’ feudal order with the nobility seated at its apex. The Crown and nobility often had to go to the Jewish money-lender in medieval England in order to finance wars, profligacy, luxury, etc. And the conflicts of this relationship were exacerbated when loans, payments and re-payments, etc, could not be made, etc.] [23]

Thus, in so far as the psyche cannot subsist in separation from the living brain it is, in that sense, mediated by the neurology of the brain. But the human brain, never mind thinking, in so far as it is human, is itself a social product and, in this sense, we cannot refer to thinking simply as a ‘product of Nature’. The dominating, conditioning paradigm is social relations and social being since even the organ we call the human brain is only a human organ in so far as it is the creation of socially-relating humanity, i.e humanity as a social being. The human brain is not merely a more sophisticated version of the brain of the ancestral ape as Evolutionary Psychology maintains. Rather it is a qualitatively distinct organ altogether which has come into being under the influence of processes which such pre-homo hominoid* ancestors could not possibly have experienced.

*[Hominoid : any member of the Hominoidea superfamily of primates including the Hominidae (Homo, Chimps, Gorillas and Orangs), the Hylobatidae (gibbons) and all their extinct progenitors up to the point where the hominoid line commences]

The human brain itself has developed materially, no matter how minor or imperceptibly attenuated (implying anatomical and physiological plasticity) in the course of the historical development of human society itself over many thousands of years and will continue to do so as long as human beings exists at all. However, in that it is the conceptual content that constitutes the ‘substance’ of thought, of the thinking process, it is society itself that forms the ontological basis and overarching paradigm and conditionality for the origination and development of this conceptual content. As Luria remarks,

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. [24]

This conceptual content varies according to time and place. Thus Marx, in his famous preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, writes that….

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness [25]

[We will need to take a closer look at method in part two of these preparatory notes.]


[1] For a general summary of the theory of the formation of the chemical elements, see

[2] Theoretical conceptions on the origin of life on Earth @

[3] Rose, Hilary., Rose, Stephen et al., Alas Poor Darwin : Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. (Eds : Hilary Rose and Stephen Rose) Vintage, 2001. A list of scholars in the field – including Evolutionary Biologist, Stephen Jay Gould – present critiques of Evolutionary Psychology.

[4] Kivell, Tracy L. et al., Australopithecus sediba Hand Demonstrates Mosaic Evolution of Locomotor and Manipulative Abilities.

[5] Boesch, C and Boesch, H. Tool Use and Tool Making in Wild Chimpanzees. Ethology and Wildlife Research Department, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

[6] Van Schaik, C.P. et al., The conditions for tool use in primates: implications for the evolution of material culture. Journal of Human Evolution, Vol 36, Issue 6, June 1999, pp719-741

[7] ‘An important advantage that primates have in the competition for survival is their practice of living in societies which have a constant close association of young and old through a long life duration. The young learn survival skills from experienced, knowledgeable adults. The result is that by the time primates are grown, they are usually proficient in dealing with each other and the environment. While primate instinctive survival skills are minimal, their social skills are unusually effective. Acting together in groups, they often can avoid or intimidate predators. Groups of primates also have a greater opportunity in discovering and controlling food sources. The rare species in which most individuals live solitary lives are, of course, exceptions.’
O’Neil, Dennis. Adaptations of Group Living @

[8] Van Schaik, C.P. and Pradhan, G.R. A model for tool-use traditions in primates: implications for the coevolution of culture and cognition. Journal of Human Evolution 44 (2003) 645–664.…primates…/79e41508166c6f0a69.pdf‎

[9] Tonooka, R et al., Acquisition and transmission of tool making and use for drinking juice in a group of captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) Japanese Psychological Research 1997, Volume 39, No. 3, 253–265.

[10] Kuboshima-Amemori, S and Sawaguchi, T. Plasticity of the Primate Prefontal Cortex. Neuroscientist 13(3) : 229-240, 2007.

[11] Gould, E. et al., Neurogenesis in the Neocortex of Adult Primates (1999) Science, Vol. 286. no. 5439, pp. 548 – 52.

[12] Sellars, B. Tool Use. (page maintained by Steve Paxton, University of Leeds, UK)

[13] Marzke, M.W. and Marzke, R.F. Evolution of the human hand: approaches to acquiring,
analysing and interpreting the anatomical evidence. J.Anat. (2000) 197, pp121-140.

[14] Goody, E. N. (2012), Co-operation and the origins of spoken language. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 18: 461–465.

[15] Labriola, A. Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History. (London/New York, Monthly Review Press, 1966) p. 113

[16] Marx, K. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5. (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976) pp.44-45

[17] Plasticity of the brain: the key to human development, cognition and evolution. Ferrier prize lecture by Professor Colin Blakemore FRS, University of Oxford and University of Warwick.

[18] Stringer, C.B. (1994). “Evolution of early humans”. In Steve Jones, Robert Martin & David Pilbeam (eds.). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 242. ISBN 0-521-32370-3. Also ISBN 0-521-46786-1 (paperback)

[19] McHenry, H.M (2009). “Human Evolution”. In Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-674-03175-3

[20] Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993) p.494. Notebook V.

[21] Engels. Dialectics of Nature. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p.511.

[22] Ibid. p. 465.

[23] History of the Jews in England
History of the Jews in England (1066 to 1290)

[24] Luria, A.R. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1976) p.163.

[25] Marx. Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.181















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Open Letter to the Marxmail List

Open Letter to the Marxmail List

The Marxmail list is a US based list. Louis Proyect – as many know – is the moderator of the University of Utah sponsored Marxmail list. Behind Louis and the technical assistant (Les Schaffer) sits the University of Utah who are the patrons of the list providing free access for the list to its server. A certain patronage prevails as a background presence. Louis is the ‘big cheese’ on the list amongst a putative list of 1500 members. His moderation style is conditioned by these relations and displays a certain contradictory character because of them. More about this later.

When I subscribed to the list I realised almost immediately that Louis’ list could not really be described as a discussion forum. Rather it is largely a continuous series of posted, and usually disconnected, links around which generally there is minimal discussion before the next  load of links is tipped onto it and then disappears, or rather is sucked, into the virtual silo like an unending stream of meteorites vanishing consecutively into a swirling black hole.

Individuals post  links onto the list in order to provide information or elicit response in the form of reply posts. The list is overwhelmingly male. During my time on it, I counted only two women subscribers or rather subscribers with female names.  Some simply use it as a convenient postbox to the wider web and net in order to push their sectarian line or for other purposes.

Louis is the most prolific of all link-posters. He recommends that subscribers post no more than 5 per day. However, he usually posts significantly more than this. Hardly a self-denying ordnance. A day does not go by without the name of “Louis Proyect” dominating the list of daily links. Marxmail sometimes gives the appearance of being Louis’ private fiefdom over which he presides like a benevolently-orientated Boyar.

The eternal problem of moderation presents itself on this list as on others : who moderates the moderator? By implication, it is a process of self-relatedness which can only serve to augment any latent narcissistic tendencies which may be present in moderators. Somebody once said to me that if you are not a narcissist before then you will be after you become the moderator of a list. I couldn’t vouch for this.

As socialists we articulate the basic principles of electability, recallability, accountability and dismissability. The ideal democratic procedure of proletarian organisation. This, of course, never applies to “Marxism” lists. Well, none that I know. Louis, like “mods” everywhere, sits on his throne like an hereditary monarch divinely appointed. None of the four basic principles apply. All posts go through his hands. He has the power to block posts, to unsub people, to silence them on threat of unsubbing, to chastise them like a naughty schoolboy in front of a headmaster, to remove posts from the list, etc. In his virtual kingdom, he has absolute power.

When we consider the structure of such lists, we get a picture of hierarchy which as socialists we are trying to abolish in the real world. On some lists there is an intermediate layer of moderators who have their own provinces to govern but who have to report to the mod at the apex. Such a list is reminiscent of a feudal order in cyberspace with the subscribers, inevitably, as the serfs and villeins and the intermediates the nobility. The top mod, of course, is the Crown.

On Marxmail I have had two significant encounters with Louis in his role as moderator. The first involved challenging Hans Ehrbar (apparently a patron of the list at the University of Utah which provides the IT facility for it) who sometimes posts. It was on a question of the relationship between mode of production and climate change. The second encounter concerned being slandered as a “racist” by another list member who was obviously a radical young liberal in outlook. I requested an onlist withdrawal and apology for this slanderous remark and that the individual concerned should be removed from the list if he refused to comply. But soon after Louis posted the following “Moderator’s Note” onlist.

This thread on Zionism, one-state versus two-state, etc. is finished. I will put comrades on moderation if they continue it. Demands for apologies, etc. will have no effect on me since I understand how passions can get the better of people. But this has gone far enough. Let’s move on.

The list is full of individuals with all manner of political affiliations from “leftie liberal” members of the capitalist US Democratic Party to “Marxist Zionists” who support colonial settler perspectives and the “right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland”. Forgetting, conveniently, that it is inconveniently the homeland of another people who have been driven off it into exile. Needless to say, it also contains sincere socialists and Marxists.

Louis himself, to my surprise, has no qualms about allowing self-proclaimed Zionists to post their toxic, reactionary ideology on the list. Such material would have been chased off many Marx-oriented lists and the subscriber fucked-off as a troll.

During my time on the list, I cannot recall having a single lengthy serious discussion with a fellow “Marxist” who was not imbued with the usual sectarian nonsense or poisoned against dialectics as a result of being chained down and imprisoned theoretically by pragmatistic, positivistic or empiricistic blockheadedness. It was like trying to sprint through treacle. The usual method of engagement is the snipe and one-liner or soundbite. At best, a couple of paragraphs

I ask myself if such a list is the place to develop my conceptions found on my wordpress sites. The slanderous smear of “racist” is indicative of the quality of some of the postings on the list. We had been discussing the Palestinian struggle and, almost inevitably, it was only a matter of time before a Zionist or a bleeding-heart, Guardian-reading, Islington liberal with a troubled conscience levelled the accusation of “racist”. The Guardian, of course, being the snivelling organ of the liberal conscience of the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie.

I post links to articles on my wordpress sites and, occasionally, to other sites. However, I always try to encourage and engage others in discussion with my own original material rather than simply posting link after link to sites which are very often bourgeois media sites or well known sites of the capitalist press, liberal or otherwise. Many subscribers simply post the work of others and do not give their own analysis.

The discussion with Hans Ehrbar focussed around the question of how a change from the capitalist system of production to a socialist one would start to address the mass destruction of the natural conditions of human life. Of course, differences emerged in the discussion at which point I posted…

Professor Hans Ehrbar,

Before we start to comment on and understand the football match of history, we need to know precisely where the actual football is located. If we think it is in the field when it is actually in the spectator seats and vice versa then our commentary becomes dislocated and inconsonant with the football match itself. I do not wish to play an endless, tedious game of ‘spot the ball’

Do your Marx first and then we may, perhaps, be able to proceed with a discussion on Marx’s Capital and its significance for climate change, etc. From your most recent posting, it is clear that you do not have a comprehensive grasp of the old man.

At this point, Les Schaffer immediately stamped onto the list in the form of a chastisement……….

this kind of response to Hans’ seems completely uncalled for. if you have some point to make, take his arguments on directly.

To which I replied…

*This kind of response* did *take on his arguments directly*. My point was very clearly made if you read my previous posting. It merely counterposed Marx to Hans Ehrbar’s conception of Marx. If you post on a forum claiming to explicitly articulate Marx’s conception or its derived implications from false pre-conceptions, then you should expect opposition if what is articulated is clearly incorrect. As a lifelong student of Marx, I am merely drawing the attention of the list to his misconception here.

Do not police the innocuous content and form of my posts or I will leave the list of my own volition. I will not remain on a list with such heavy-handed moderation. I am sure Professor Hans Ehrbar is capable of defending himself.

I then received this offlist mail from Louis himself…..

Shaun, if it weren’t for Hans Ehrbar, this list would not exist. Because he is at U. of Utah, we get a free server. Plus, he was a member of the original committee out of which Marxmail evolved nearly 20 years ago. My suggestion to you is to just move on to other topics since neither of you shows any signs of being convinced of the other person’s arguments. Marxmail is a very good resource and I am glad that you are subbed but it would be a good idea to deescalate the conflict with Hans and turn to other topics.

The implication is that the list owes its existence and continuation to patrons at the University of Utah which provides it with a “free server”. Somebody, somewhere at Utah will have his/her finger on the delete button and press it if needs be. The relations of patronage are very clear here. And if you challenge one of the patrons (who is a leading academic at Utah and would not be pleased if his academic reputation were demolished by a subscriber to the list) on list then expect to be pulled up for it if it starts to become too overdynamic. Later, I asked myself the question if Louis had sent a similar instruction to Ehrbar. Readers can investigate this matter themselves in the archives of Marxmail, if they can get access.

The second encounter with Louis was regarding being slandered by another subscriber. For no tangibly identifiable reason whatsoever, I was smeared with the term “racist” by a liberal on the list. I had “cornered” him in a discussion on Palestine and he lashed out defensively with “racist!”. It was totally unwarranted and was deserving of an onlist withdrawal and apology. To an offlist request, Louis replied..

I can’t do that. This is a flame war. My only obligation is to wind it down which I am about to do.

This is my reply..

Sorry but I cannot accept that. I have been slandered onlist and I cannot accept being labelled a racist.

If you inspect the content of my posts, there is no flaming whatsoever in them but simply the unfolding of a political discourse and narrative. And there is certainly no racism whatsoever.

I will not accept being labelled a racist by anybody on a list which has a membership of 1500 and 45000 hits per week.

I demand an unconditional withdrawal of this remark and an apology. Immediately. I am not a racist or perhaps we should let such slander go by on this list. It is slanderous and smearing. I am requesting that you act on this.

This was Louis’ response…

I am doing nothing of the sort. This mailing list is nearly 16 years old and has seen far worse insults, slander, etc. I said that I want the thread to end and I meant it. I have been called an imperialist a 100 times in the past and shrugged it off. Now let it drop.

The hierachical character of class relations and their inequalities are refracted and perpetuated by the relations on internet mailing lists and forums. They absorb and articulate these relations. The anatomy of the Marxmail list is a perfect example of this process demonstrating that such lists do not operate within a virtual bubble independently of these class relations. The internet is seen as a tool for emancipation but we tend to neglect that it is also an integral part of the bourgeois system of social relations. The relations on these lists and forums also tend to reflect and replicate the top-down autocratic, pyramidal structuring of the left sectarian grouplets or the old, defunct Stalinist organisations.

This is very clearly personified in the contradictory approach to moderation of Louis Proyect on the Marxmail list. On the one hand, if you articulate and push an onlist challenge to a patron of the list, you are warned accordingly. But if subscribers are openly slandered onlist, no action is taken.

What would have happened if the slanderous remark of “racist” had been directed at a Univ of Utah patron posting on the list? And if the level of discourse between Ehrbar and myself had merely been between two non-patron subscribers?

Moderation in the form in which we see it operated on the Marxmail and other lists is inherently autocratic because there is no process of democratic accountability underpinning the moderation process. Moderators may even be unaware of the hierachy of interests which is refracted onto and operating on a list because they themselves are an internalised ‘buried’ moderating mechanism of its structure and operation. They approach their functions in a purely functionalist way.

The level of internet technology now means that there is absolutely no need whatsoever for any given individual/s to “moderate” a socialist list or forum. Democratic mechanisms can easily (literally within minutes!) be put in place for the list as a whole to actually “moderate” itself by a due process of democratic discussion and voting. Any individual/s who are delegated purely administrative functions and responsibilities (NOT “moderating” functions) would be subject to the normal, established procedure of democratic recall and accountability. The lists and forums – although they project a “democratic” face because any subscriber can post – are really nothing more than the transmogrified replication of sect autocracy and trade union bureaucracy and functionalism in the sphere of cyberspace.

A so-called “Marxist” list really does need to get its act in order if it is to maintain any political credibility and not simply be identical to a fascist list in its management of structure and operation. What is required is the election of administrators by the whole list, perhaps twice annually. They should be subject to recall at any moment and held accountable in their activity by an established democratic process through which they can be removed or confirmed in their position as the case may be. And this must take place along with the establishment of discussion and voting mechanisms onlist to deal with such issues as slander, racism, Zionism, address grievances on the basis of the whole list membership and deal with disputes between members of the list. The list can easily moderate itself by due democratic mechanisms and process.

Otherwise, the only other alternative, in my opinion, is to participate only in unmoderated lists and forums. These, again, have their limitations and inadequacies. The Marxmail list is an example of this autocratic and contradictory form of management. One which allows self-proclaimed Zionists to post on it and leaves slander unaddressed whilst, at the same time, operating under a patronage whose interests it cannot possibly avoid taking into consideration.

The character of the moderation on this particular list is merely a specific exemplification of the autocratic management on lists in general. It could be readily and easily remedied by the appropriate democratic adjustments in structure and procedure. And such lists would then take on a more egalitarian form in their actual management and become a less autocratic place on which to post contributions. This would be socialist democracy in operation within the sphere of the internet.

I wonder if Louis, Les and others with their lists and forums would be ready and willing to initiate and develop such a socialist experiment in cyberspace? Or are the pleasures of autocratic, unaccountable absolute power in cyberspace just too delightful to leave behind?

Please feel at liberty to circulate this document to individuals, lists, forums, etc, for any further discussion.

Shaun May

March 2014

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On Questions Epistemological (or on the Theory of Knowledge)

On Questions Epistemological (or on the Theory of Knowledge)

In the history of nature, the emergence of a higher level of complexity of matter out of its material pre-conditions is simultaneously the process of positing those natural laws which are intrinsic to itself and which govern its further development.  For example, the historical origination of living matter out of its non-living precursors is simultaneously the emergence of those fundamental laws which are peculiar to or specific to living matter and which determine its movement and subsequent evolution. Whilst evolving out of the non-living with its physico-chemical relations, living matter has its own distinct relations. The eariest forms of life arose out of the most complex of non-living, chemical, macromolecular forms of matter. The emergence of living forms represented a qualitative break in the history of nature. It is at these junctions in natural development that new relations and laws peculiar to the new stage are posited. The development from the physical to the chemical was a similar ‘nodal point’.

This is why scientific theories which deal with the nature of living matter, for example, can only be applied, without qualification, to formations which are exclusively biological in character. Likewise, the application of chemical theory and technique in order to understand the chemistry of living matter can only be made on the basis of the premise that living systems are not simply a complex mixture of chemicals but represent a higher form of organisation of nature. Therefore, speaking generally, the application of the laws of a lower sphere of nature to the material and relational complexities of a higher sphere in order to gain a real knowledge of it can only be made with and under specific conditions and qualifications which take into account the distinct organisation and characteristics of the higher formation which is being investigated. Thus, in Psychology, for example, to understand the human mind as a totality it is scientifically insufficient to focus exclusively on its biological side.  It is necessary to grasp its origin and development as a function of social conditions and relations that have come into being historically.

The historical evolution of the human personality is inseparable from the social development of humanity. It would be a mistake to consider both mental structures and psychological relations such as the different emotions, social notions, conceptual content, etc, to be indeterminably fixed for all time as is the tendency amongst some biologists, psychologists and the recent bogus ‘discipline’ of Evolutionary Psychology. We must consider the possibility that the human being of the historically far distant society would be utterly unrecognisable to humanity at its present historical stage. So much so that their mode of life and relationships would even be considered to be quite incredible if not totally alien in all aspects, especially the moral, to those modes and relations prevailing at the present time. Of course, there are many presuppositions to this assertion which are beyond the scope of this article.

The human mind is the highest known outcome of this entire historical development of matter, that is, of development as whole. It contains this entire history of these previous stages superseded within it and yet is a qualitatively higher, distinct determination vis-a-vis all these previous stages. The physical, chemical, biological, social and psychological are different stages in the evolution of matter. Each stage arising out of the previous stages and containing them superseded within itself; the most self-subsistent (sui generis) stage being the physical. The actual organisation of the sciences corresponds to the different stages and levels of the complexity of matter.

All our conceptions of the way nature works are historically and technically conditioned. They are relative conceptions of the way nature works. They are approximate conceptions and always will be since human knowledge of nature will always be subject to alteration in both its technical application and overall theoretical conceptions. The fact that we can operate with such conceptions in technical practice and achieve goals which were posited in advance based on theory, demonstrates the close relation and correspondence between our scientifically derived conceptions of the world and its actual objective character independently of those conceptions. This is not to preclude the notion that all such conceptions necessarily contain error seeded within them by virtue of their relative and approximate nature. For example, the relationship between Newton and Einstein or even that between Lamarck and Darwin. There is and always will be room for change in scientific knowledge and practice because nature in itself is infinitely complex, inexhaustible in its attributes and characteristics, a neverending abyss of forms and detailed inner complexity. By definition, our scientific conceptions will never be absolute in their conceptual content and are and will always be relative and conditioned, subject to change and alteration. The relative truth of a conception in one epoch enables us to grasp the relative error or relatively erroneous sides of a supplanted conception of previous times.

Humanity’s conceptions of nature can be tested in the scientific, technical and productive activities of humanity.  These activities, their results and the evaluation of them constitute the most adequate criteria for testing the truth of our knowledge of nature i.e. of investigating the correlation and correspondence of our conceptions with the world of nature external to our consciousness. These forms of activity, and the comprehension of their results, become the most adequate criteria of the objective character of our conceptions of the way both nature and society work.

On the basis of such knowledge, a pre-arrangement and planning of activities can be carried out in order to meet human needs.  It is industry and technique generally that are, as Marx writes in his early work on Political Economy, the materialisation and demonstration of the rational and productive powers of humanity and which demonstrate the objectively truthful correspondence between the character of natural processes and the  character of our notions of them i.e. they demonstrate these notions to be forms of knowledge of nature.  However, at the same time, it is important to note that…

the criterion of practice can never, in the nature of things, either confirm or refute any human idea completely.  This criterion too is sufficiently “indefinite” not to allow human knowledge to become “absolute”.

[Lenin. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Progress, Moscow 1970.  p.129. ]

Nature, therefore, is accessible to human understanding i.e. it is knowable but ‘the criterion of practice’ is ‘sufficiently indefinite’ to preclude the absolutisation of ideas and hence dogmatism. The different forms of knowledge can never be ossified into immutable notions of the way nature works.  All these forms are mobile in their conceptual content, revealing nuances of error and inadequacy as technique, investigative method and new discoveries show up the contradictions in scientific theory.  Hence, in its overall historical development, human knowledge of nature tends to become more comprehensive, more complete, more exact, profounder in its conceptual content and explains a wider field of phenomena.

Whilst its development gives humanity a forever deepening knowledge of nature, this understanding never absolutely precludes inexactitude, incompleteness or the potential for further development in any body of knowledge. For example, modern physics gives a more accurate and adequate description of all those forms of matter which are described by the theories of classical physics.  Under specific conditions, the axioms and paradigms of the latter are less adequate and exact. For example, the theoretical principles of Newtonian mechanics become less adequate and accurate when they are employed in attempts to scientifically describe moving objects approaching the velocity of light. The range and applicability of modern physics is more comprehensive and embraces a wider field of physical phenomena than the older classical ideas. The further evolution of physics will, in its turn, ‘classicalise’ the ideas of contemporary physics.

Therefore, in its development, human knowledge of nature reveals its historically-conditioned character and demonstrates that there is no absolute, ultimate concrete knowledge in natural science.  All concrete forms of scientific knowledge of nature contain latent erroneous sides that become manifest as the rational powers of humanity develop, showing up the relative and approximate character of these forms.  Whilst the role of abstract thought is indispensable in understanding what is essential in a range of phenomena (and therefore central to the processes of discovery), it must be grasped that human knowledge of any natural process can never fully and completely exhaust the infinite complexity of any given natural process as a whole.

Every step forward in the evolution of scientific knowledge is a movement towards the deepest possible, all-embracing, absolute knowledge of nature. However, it is not, and can never be, the final, immutable word. Any body of scientific knowledge is a kind of conceptual asymptote in which knowledge constantly approaches the absolute objective character of its object but never actually or finally arrives at it. Our knowledge of nature is always liable to deepen, to change and always will be so. This, of course, is a function of the inexhaustible and infinitely complex and diverse character of nature. It is a function of the primacy of nature over our conceptions of it.

As soon as humanity becomes rationally conscious of the principle that nature has its modi operandi which are both discoverable and explicable, it ceases to be nature’s marionette (at least to the same degree as it was previously) and the possibility opens up for its technical and practical manipulation in order to serve human interests. Needless to say, they may also be deployed for the purposes of oppression and destruction as we witness today in the age of capital.

As the techniques of scientific investigation and research develop, new discoveries are made which can introduce inconsistencies and contradictions into the body of a theory. These fissures emerge within a theory when discoveries made cannot be accommodated within the parameters of the existing theory i.e. cannot be explained on the grounds of the prevailing paradigm. Hence, the discoveries which are most significant are those which are not consistent with the general nature of a theory. The resulting posited contradictions which emerge can thenceforth only be resolved by the modification of the theory or by its complete transformation into a new, paradigmatically different, theory. A ‘revolution’ in the particular sphere of human knowledge which was characteristically represented by the previously existing dominant theory. The usual example given in this regard is the crisis in Physics at the end of the nineteenth century.

Newtonian conceptions, which previously had been thought to be eternally and universally applicable under all conditions and circumstances, were shown to be adequate only within definite physical parameters, that is, under specific conditions. The development of Physics in this period engendered within itself contradictions which could only be resolved by means of a transformation in its fundamental theoretical principles. It was the arising of these contradictions which created the conditions for this transformation at the beginning of the twentieth century. This theoretical leap forward took the form of the new conceptions in Relativity and Quantum Mechanics which formed the basis for the subsequent development of Physics in the twentieth century.

This example illustrates a general tendency that asserts itself in the evolution of human knowlege. Namely, that the emergence of a theory which gives a deeper, more profound and more widely embracing conception of nature simultaneously reveals, brings into relief, the truth that the theory which was previously dominant in a particular field of knowledge was a limiting case of what has now displaced it. The older theory’s limits are revealed in the emergence of the new theory; the limits of Newtonian mechanics were revealed at the beginning of the twentieth century with the development of the ‘New Physics’.

The establishment of the parameters of the new theory tends to circumscribe the applicability of the principles of the old theory. It renders the applicability of these principles qualifiable only within the operation of the previous set of parameters of the older conceptions. Attempts to apply the older principles within the parameters of the new theory give rise to contradictions which are scientifically inconsistent and theoretically incoherent. For example, Newtonian conceptions start to break down at velocities approaching that of light but remain applicable and scientifically valid at lower velocities. It is entirely possible to employ Relativistic conceptions in the design of a fairground rollercoaster but, at the velocities involved, Newtonian Mechanics are sufficient. Newtonian conceptions alone would be inadequate in the design of the hardware and software of the latest satellite and computer technology.

The concepts which constitute the body of a theory are therefore subject to continual testing and examination in order to discern their applicability under all possible conditions. This is the case especially when new discoveries contradict the established universality. The modification or eclipse of the established theory by the displacing conceptions tends to express a deeper, more widely applicable and more universal knowledge of natural phenomena in the given field of knowledge. In this way, scientific thought tends to become richer, more concentrated and more concrete in its conceptual content as it constantly approaches an absolute conception of nature whilst never actually arriving at such a conception. Posited here is a dialectical relationship in the development of knowledge between the absolute and the relative.

The historical development of knowledge increasingly expresses the inner unity of the infinite diversity and complexity of nature. Of course, on the face of things, it may seem that this advance of knowledge tends towards increasing levels of abstraction. However, in so far as every advance in the depth and scope of knowledge embraces within itself a more profound description of an increasing variety of phenomena, then this historical development becomes a more concrete conceptual appropriation of nature. At the same time, this development reveals nature in all its endless forms to be inherently dialectical, showing contradiction to be the animating principle of its life and ‘self-movement’.

Both Hegel and Marx recognised contradiction to be immanent in nature, society, mind. The formal, non-dialectical conceptions we often meet in the outlook of scientists tend to view contradiction as an irrational foible of mind or a flaw in method rather than indwelling in specific form in the object itself. It is thought to have no reality or manifestation outside the internality of consciousness.

Of course, formal conceptions have applicability within definite limits and parameters wherein objects with a relative degree of stability are being investigated. For example, in Chemistry, in order to study precipitation reactions:

A+(aq)  +  X- (aq)  +   B+(aq)  +   Y- (aq)  —————>   AY (s)   +    B+(aq) +  X- (aq)

In the above example, from the fundamentals of chemistry, it becomes necessary to localise the system being studied within given conceptual parameters and experimental conditions in order to make it accessible and subject to scientific investigation within a given time span, etc. In this instance, a formal approach to the investigation enables us to grasp the essentials of the reaction taking place. This does not mean that the chemical reaction itself is not a dialectical process but that these dialectics can be comprehended under formalised conditions of investigation which assumes a certain degree of stability of the chemical system.

The development of the natural sciences tends to demonstrate, confirm and reaffirm the objective dialectics of nature itself. A dialectical understanding of the world in its different forms, although scattered in different fragments and disguises throughout the history of human thought, reaches its highest idealist elaboration and expression in Hegelian philosophy. Hegel sifted the complete history of philosophy and human thought generally.  Out of this work, and profoundly influenced in young adulthood by the events of the French Revolution (1789-1794), he developed dialectics into a form that came to serve as a theoretical source for the dialectics of Marx.

Later in the nineteenth century we see Darwin bringing a dialectical approach to the study of life in its origins and evolution. It could be argued that Darwin did not approach his life’s work as a ‘conscious’ dialectician. However, as a consequence of the character of the area he was investigating, it could also be argued that what was imposed on him was the necessity to approach his work with an overall dialectical conception. The result being that he elaborated a theory of evolution which ‘did for nature’ what Marx ‘did for society’. The objective dialectics of the world inevitably assert themselves regardless of even the most rigorous formal methods.

A dialectical approach in the natural sciences not only makes science more ‘scientific’ but can make it heuristically more fruitful. Eventually mechanistic conceptions of nature come unstuck and break down because they come up against the dialectics of the object by methodologically running contrary to the objectively dialectical character of the investigated object or process. In the course of the mechanistic approach in science, its limited and ‘unscientific’ sides emerge. This is especially the case when the investigation is moving to deeper levels. Even a machine is not really a machine but rather a dialectical process in the form of a machine. It is only a machine in its formal materiality and not even so in its functionality since the breakdown of any machine will always reveal the dialectic to have been busily at work. The mechanistic parameters of the formal logical approach in the end have to give way in the face of dialectical nature.

What are the scientific implications of the limitations of the formal-mechanistic logical approach? These limits impose a barrier on the evolution of the natural sciences which means that beyond a certain point – which must be determined for each area of human knowledge – the application of formal-mechanistic axioms in the investigation of nature, in scientific research, act as a fetter on the acquisition of a deeper, more profound knowledge of nature. At the core of this conceptual fetter is the inadmissibility of contradiction in nature itself i.e. an explicit or implicit denial of nature’s dialectical character.

We see the operation of this barrier in contemporary Physics whose research is presenting it with conundrums and paradoxes which some Physicists seek to ‘formalise’ rather than understand as being in the very nature of the object itself. Rather they struggle with their own formal conceptions of nature when they are confronted with such contradictions in their work. Accordingly, there will be a need to develop a mathematics which is capable of representing and expressing such paradoxes and conundrums since the the object itself is actually paradox manifest.

The historical development of natural science itself – especially in the sophistication of its investigative and research technique – enquiring ever more deeply into the structure, complexity and diversity of nature actually creates the methodological conditions within itself for the shift away from mechanistics towards dialectics. It becomes subject to a tendency towards transformation in its methods of approach to and general comprehension of the objects of its investigation. The ontological ground for this transformation is the objectively dialectical character of nature itself. The evolution of natural science as a whole tends to increasingly move towards a comprehensive knowledge of nature that goes beyond formal and mechanistic conceptions and posits an all-embracing dialectical conception of its life and processes. In the course of this evolution, the heuristic function of dialectical thinking must truly come into its own. But this function – to be truly heuristic – must become integrated with the real, actual procedures, practices, investigative-research methods and concrete knowledge of the natural sciences. If it is divorced from all this reality, it simply becomes ossified into a metaphysical and lifeless system of bare abstractions, alien to real research and real discovery. This integration of dialectical thought with the practice and knowledge of natural science enables it to establish a real organic connection and relationship to the dialectical reality of its objects of investigation. A mutual enrichment takes place between science and dialectics resulting in a higher synthesis which facilitates the deepening of our scientific knowledge of nature.

Dialectics is, in essence, the study of the contradictory nature of all forms of existence in its infinite variety and multiplicity of ever changing forms. A study of the contradictions in anything not only gives us a conception of its origins but also presents us with a notion of its inherent impulses and general tendencies of development. For any dialectical discourse, the point of departure must also simultaneously be the point towards which the process is tending but at a higher posited stage of development. The destination is a return to the point of departure which is also an advance beyond the point of departure. In the origination of human society and mind, that point is Nature which precedes Man and into which Man returns through social revolution : ‘fully naturalised humanism’ or ‘fully humanised naturalism’ (Marx).

Shaun May

28 February 2012


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On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption

On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption

A planned socialist system of production and distribution, worked and controlled by a free association of producers – with all the science and technology at its disposal – will be one which places humanity’s relationship with Nature at the forefront of all actions and considerations in the course of human activity and planning. Without Nature, humanity is nothing. In destroying Nature, humanity destroys itself.

Climate changes taking place which are mediated by human activity can only now be the result of the continual and ruthless drive of global capital-in-crisis to augment its value which is, at its very core, an unplanned and anarchic system as Marx noted many years ago. Professional climatologists – who are certainly more knowledgeable than me in this area – will be more aware of any climate changes taking place which are not now mediated by the crisis of this global capitalist system. Only since the Industrial Revolution commenced in England in the 1750s, has the concentration of carbon dioxide been consistently rising as a trend. Before that, in human existence, records indicate a relatively stable and circumscribed concentration.

In truth, the whole question of climate change has everything to do with whether or not planned production is the dominant form in the broadest sense of the term and not simply in the narrow economic sense. Formally, the soviet system was a ‘planned’ economy but one which was a ‘forcing house’ for the development of production after the Russian Revolution. In a certain sense, it was an ‘unplanned’ form of planning which inevitably brought destruction and pillage of Nature in its wake. Therefore, when I use the term ‘planned’, I do not refer to the Stalinist system of planning.

It would begin to make an unfolding and increasingly more profound difference if production were planned rather than being unplanned (with fossil fuels as the major energy source). The crisis of the global capital order is damaging the planet’s ecosystems and altering its climate to a significantly different degree that the previous three centuries of capitalism has done. The conception that climate change and ecological destruction is simply a function of technological development – and not of the prevailing character of the dominant social relations or of the mode in which this technology is actually socially utilised – is a fetishistic conception.

If all this alteration and destruction has nothing to do with planning or no planning then what are the fundamental determinants and causality underlying these changes? And where does the historical development of the capital relation stand in our conception of these changes? A socialist sytem would not approach humanity’s relationship with Nature purely as a function of the stage at which scientific knowledge and technique had arrived. As if it does not really matter for ecological destruction and climate change whether global society is socialist or dominated by capital because it all depends on knowledge and scientific-technical discovery and innovation. Whether or not capital is the ruling relation of production and distribution is the fundamental consideration at the core of ecological/climate questions.

If, hypothetically, a system of socialist production (not of the Stalinist soviet type) had been irreversibly established globally at the start of the 20th century, in the very nature of this system, the same degree of climate change and ecological destruction we see now would not have occurred. And, as knowledge and technology advanced, we would have been able to adjust and modulate (i.e. plan) our activities accordingly in order to minimise or eliminate any environmental damage to Nature’s creation and its ecosystems on which human life depends. To do otherwise would have replicated the madness of capitalist production in its destructive relationship with Nature’s creation. The deleterious and destructive effects of capitalist production on Nature were well known at the time of Marx and Engels long before any hypothetical realisation of socialism in 1900.

In a planned economy, even the controlled use of fossil fuels need not be polluting as we have (and have had) for many years the science and technology to prevent this and, indeed, to utilise the by products of burning fossil fuels. The fact that the atmosphere and oceans are concentrating carbon dioxide is the result of the fact that, under capitalism, the implementation of technical processes to stop it are not profitable and would take a massive, unsustainable bite out of the produced surplus value and thus interfere with capitalist accumulation. Just because climate change wasn’t discovered until later, this does not mean that it would have taken place to the same degree under both planned and unplanned systems of production. If we conceive that there is no difference between the two systems in terms of their destructive effects on Nature’s creation, then we do, indeed, replicate the ahistorical ‘man in the abstract’ destroyer of Nature notion which is often put forward by certain sections of the ‘Green’ movement. Humanity ‘in the abstract’ is not destroying Nature but rather this destruction is only taking place under a system of social relations of production and distribution in which capital-in-crisis is the dominant relation.


Shaun May

April 2014

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Notes on Objectification and Alienation

Notes on Objectification and Alienation

Here we need to focus on the process of the objectification of human labour  – i.e. the specifically human form of movement, form of energy which is human labour – in the history of social relations of production. The application of this human power in the form of labour- energy in order to transform Nature into socially useful products. Humanity objectifies this ‘essential power’ (labour) in the labour process in order to wrest its needs from Nature by transforming it in the course of its relationship with it. Marx revealed that it is only under certain historically-derived social relations of production that this process of objectification takes alienated forms. This is the positive, forward-looking, moment in his analysis, namely that the process of objectification is not inherently a process of alienation but rather takes a specific alien form in the epoch of the rule of capital as a function of capital’s rule.

In contradistinction, Hegel ahistorically and absolutely identifies [this is a formalistic moment in Hegel’s conception] the process of the actual objectification of human labour energy with its alienation and, as a consequence, for Hegel, the realm of the ‘Absolute Idea’ and religion is the only sphere in which the problem of the transcendence of human alienation can be addressed and resolved. For Hegel, because objectification is ultimately thinking’s creation identical with alienation itself, it can only be overcome in thought which ‘returns out of this alienation into itself’ as the Notion, Absolute Idea.

Hegel’s conception of human alienation flows from his idealist position which necessarily locates the supersedence of alienation in the realm of a theism rather than understanding that theistic praxis is itself a socio-historical product of the evolution of alienated humanity. Implicitly, Hegel’s conception is that alienation can only be overcome in thought itself or rather by thought somehow establishing some form of determinate relationship with social being. Herein is posited the theistic character of Hegel’s outlook which was critiqued by Marx in The Holy Family and The German Ideology i.e in his critique of the Left Hegelians.

Marx locates the overcoming of alienation in the elaboration of a revolutionary human praxis wherein the prevailing forms of alienation are grasped as integral products of the character of social relations in bourgeois society. He understands the determinate tendency towards the transcendence of alienation as only becoming fully and comprehensively realised in communism. The theistic roots of Hegel’s system are clearly exposed in his analysis of alienation which, in Hegel, ultimately finds itself in the circularity of a theological cul-de-sac.

Thus, for Hegel, alienation can only be transcended in thought independently of social relations (theistically). For Marx, it is these relations which must be transformed (revolutionised) in real practice in order to create the social conditions for the transcendence of alienation which is, by its very nature, an enduring, unfolding, continuously deepening, historical process of realisation. Herein lies the major difference between the perspective of Hegel and that of Marx on the question of alienation.

The objectification of human labour energy is an absolute relation running through the history of all previous societies. Where capitalism is the dominant mode of production, this objectification takes the form of the continual and necessary reproduction of the social relation of capital which stands opposing the producers as a hostile social relation of their own making. Labour power itself becomes a commodity which the producer (owner of the commodity of labour-power) is forced to sell to the owners of capital in order to survive. The producers become alienated from their own activity and the results of this activity which wholly belong to capital. In the capital-wage labour relation, the exercise of this ‘essential power’ (labour power/labour in which the potential power is continuously becoming actual living labour) is alienated and belongs to the capitalist as an integral part of his capital (variable capital). In this relation of alienation, the estrangement of the wage worker from others and from self (from ‘his own essential species-being’ Marx, Paris Manuscripts of 1844) is implicit and comes to its fullest, most complete realisation with the global dominance of capital. With the historical genesis, establishment and social domination of the capital relation, humanity becomes comprehensively ‘opposed by a hostile power of his own making, so that he defeats his own purpose’ (Meszaros, I., Marx’s Theory of Alienation, p. 313).

In the capitalist mode of production, it is wage labour which engenders the primary social relation (although it appears invertedly that it is capital which is the productive power) which serves to oppose the realisation of the free social labour of the associated producers wherein the process of objectification gradually ceases to take alienated form as society evolves on the basis of common ownership. Wage labour engenders its opposite in the form of capital which then necessarily enslaves the former as a pre-condition and presupposition for its own existence. Wage labour becomes the necessary presupposition for the existence of capital and thus, in so doing, mediates the perpetuation of its own historical existence as long as the capital relation continues as the dominant relationship of production and distribution.

In feudal society –where the dominant mode of labour was bond labour – the serf was compelled to perform labour duties on the lord’s land. The mode of appropriation of surplus labour (not surplus value) took a very direct, transparent form in that there was a spatio-temporal fragmentation of labour time between the serf’s plot of land and that of the feudal lord. Essentially, labour on the lord’s land was appropriated directly as surplus labour in the form of material produce for direct consumption by the lord’s retinue. All labour on the lord’s land was surplus labour. On his “own” land, the serf’s labour was that necessary for the maintenance of his own/family existence. Hence, there was a spatio-temporal division between necessary and surplus labour time. Later, the increasing encroachment of commodity production and exchange (and hence money economy) increasingly forces this appropriation in money payments (as patterns of land tenure and ownership start to alter towards early capitalist forms) so that as this stage opens up and unfolds (in England, roughly the 14th and first half of the 15th century) feudal economy is already irredeemably sinking into the quicksand of history. One of the major demands of the revolt of the English “peasantry” (the revolt was led by rural artisans, small traders and radical preachers who were struggling to be free of feudal obligations) in 1381 was the abolition of serfdom. An irreversible process had commenced within which the peasantry were not only starting to work as agricultural day wage-labourers on the lands of a rising class of agricultural landowning commodity producers but sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed class of artisans, producers and traders  independently of the feudally-mediated guild. The continuation of feudal obligations merely interfered with the development of this unstoppable historical process and hence the clamour during the 1381 revolt for the abolition of feudal obligations. It was this growing class of petty artisans and traders (still bound by feudal obligations) that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country at the end of the 14th century. Feudal obligations had become a fetter on the free development of commodity production and exchange which presupposes wage labour in this and the subsequent post-medieval period.

The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour on the lord’s land as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic excrescence and expression of these relations) confronts the class of serfs as divinely ordained and instituted in hostile opposition to them. Here Catholicism plays its historical ideological role.

In the slave societies of Antiquity, the producers are themselves owned as chattels, being the property of the slave owners, differentiated from the oxen and the donkey by virtue of being ‘speaking tools’. The whole physical and social mode of being of the producer is subject to the will of the slaveowner who can sell or exchange the producer as a form of movable property. The slave is the property of the slaveowner. The one is at the unconditional service and disposal of the other and belongs wholly to this other.

The purpose of the existence of the slave is to be the object of use for the slaveowner. The slave is appropriated by the owner as an object for a prescribed purpose. The slave-master relation is maintained by the institutions of state of ancient societies in order to defend the parasitic mode of life of the slaveowning and landowning classes and thus of the existence of the state itself.

In the final centuries of the Roman empire, the colonus replaces the slave as the major producer. Contrary to the assertions of some scholars, the colonate was not a form of feudalism and the colonus was not a serf in the feudal meaning of the conception. Most of the land in feudal society was owned by the crown and by a process of investiture and subinfeudation the land was tenanted out to the king’s retinue and they, in turn, to their retinue, etc, until parcelled out to villeins and serfs. The pyramid-like social structure was propped up ideologically by the church. Crown-owned land and land held in fief was not alienable; it could not be sold unlike in the Roman colonate where the coloni were permanently attached to the land and so went with it when it was actually sold. The Roman Patroni could buy and sell land independently of the imperial edict and bureaucracy and in the later empire landed estates grew to colossal proportions through conglomeration. Private ownership, such as we see in the Roman and post-feudal periods, did not actually exist under feudalism proper.

The decline and end of the Western Roman Empire was mediated by the extreme exploitation of the rural population (to maintain the army and bureaucracy) which constituted about 90% or more of the total inhabitants. In the age of global capital, we can observe patterns of ‘superexploitation’ being repeated on a global scale. Many of the so-called Bacaudic revolts of late empire were responses to this extreme exploitation by the ‘tax farmers’ and bureaucracy, organised by ‘outlaws’ and ‘brigands’ in alliance with the local populations. There were such revolts in Gaul, Spain, Britain and North Africa.

The eastern ‘Hellenised’ part of empire was distinct from the ‘Latinised’ western part in both economic and cultural respects. Each area had its own lingua franca, Latin in the west and Greek in the east. In the west, the institution of slavery became more systematised and the colonate (based on the labour of the colonus which becomes the generalised form of labour in this period of late antiquity, superseding the earlier slave form.) that replaced it in the later period became more firmly established and rooted in the west. In the eastern empire, pre-Roman, asiatic forms of production continued throughout the Roman period into and beyond late antiquity in the Byzantine period. Engels remarks that the colonus of late antiquity was the forerunner of the medieval serf. But feudal relations in western Europe only start to emerge later after the Frankish conquest of Gaul in the late 5th and 6th centuries. In Frankish Gaul, feudalism only becomes established as a determinate mode of production in the course of the 8th century after more than two centuries of development.

The colonus was, therefore, not a serf as a such. He was essentially a sharecropping tenant who actually paid rent either in kind or in coin from the sale of his produce and was taxed and intimidated by the ‘tax-farming’ bureaucracy of the Roman state of late antiquity. Unlike in feudal society, labour services to the patronus were peripheral and subsidiary. What remained after paying the patronus and the state, he used to feed himself and his family. The superexploitation of the landowners and Roman bureaucracy meant that many starved or fled, often to the so-called ‘barbarian’ encampments. This superexploitation of late empire was a fundamental relation operative in its final collapse and disintegration.

The serf, on the contrary, had no powers of alienating his produce like the colonus. Rather he laboured on the demesne of the lord for part of the time and for subsistence on his ‘own’ plot for the other part. Money never passed through his hands except when feudalism started to decline and serfs were freeing themselves to become day labourers for commodity producers or self-employed hawkers and tinkers in one form or another; a nascent free petit-bourgeoisie in medieval England and France, for example.

Marx, in volume one of Capital, analogises the fetishism of commodities with the ‘mist-enveloped regions of the religious world’ revealing that in the world of religion ‘the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life’ which enter ‘into relation with both one another and the human race’. (Capital, Vol. 1, p 77). In this ‘religious reflex of the real world’ (p 84) ‘man is governed by the products of his own brain’ (p 582) just as in the fetishism of commodities he is governed by the productions of his own hand.

During the epoch of the rule of capital, the ‘general social form of labour appears as the property of a thing’ so that ‘social relations between men…assume for them the fantastic form of a relation between things’ resulting in ‘the action of objects which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them’: commodity fetishism. (Marx, Vol. 1 Capital).

Capital confronts the producers as an alien power and yet is reproduced daily by the producers in the continuous process of the production and circulation of capital; in the augmentation of its value [surplus labour time], realisation and accumulation.  The capitalist mode of production presents itself as a ‘natural’ rather than as a ‘socio-historical’  formation. It is true that commodities are ‘things’ in so far as their material use-values are inseparable from their existence as commodities. However, as the outcome of capitalist production, a thing cannot be made available as socially useful without simultaneously being a commodity, i.e. as being the material embodiment of exchange-value. It is not its concrete ‘thinghood’ as a specific use-value which is fundamental for capital. What, a priori, animates and determines the movement of capital is rather the social character of commodities as embodiments of “socially necessary general labour, utterly indifferent to any particular content” (Marx, Results of the Immediate Process of Production, appendix to Volume 1 of Capital, Penguin Edition). Capital and the world market are likewise reified as ‘natural-born things’ rather than understood as historically-determinate, social relations created and reproduced by humanity.

Money itself is ‘an objectified relation between persons; …it is objectified exchange value, and exchange value is nothing more than a mutual relation between people’s productive activities.’ Money ‘can have a social property only because individuals have alienated their own social relationship from themselves so that it takes the form of a thing’ (Marx, Grundrisse, p160. see also p161 ff., chapter on money).

Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but it only does so under those historical conditions created by capital, conditions which it has created and reproduces daily in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Labour creates value but itself as a form of human energy has no value. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where objectification ceases to take the form of alienation.

Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes reified as a material component in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The social relation between wage labour and capital is reified as ‘a relationship between things’, material components which enter into the process of the production of material ‘goods’ which are simply ‘sold’ on the market ‘place’ for that ‘thing’ money, hopefully at a profit. These historically-determinate, social relations become buried under a dungheap of reification. The wage-worker – alienated from self, from others, from his activity and its product – experiences the exercising of his ‘essential power’, and himself, merely as an object of use for self and others. (Utilitarian doctrines – Bentham, Mill, etc). Work is not lived as an intrinsic, meaningful part or ‘activity’ of life but merely as a painful means towards it. For the worker, life commences after labour, as Marx writes in Wage Labour and Capital (1847), “at table, in the tavern, in bed”. Who would dispute the enduring truth of this latter conception, today, in 2014?

A need or desire can be said to be reified if ‘it assumes an abstract, isolated character, if it confronts me as an alien power, if, therefore, the satisfaction of the individual appears as the one-sided satisfaction of a single person’ (Marx, The German Ideology, Vol. 5, Collected Works, p 262). Whether this happens ‘depends not on consciousness, but on being; not on thought, but on life; it depends on the individual’s empirical development and manifestations of life, which in turn depends on the conditions obtaining in the world. If the circumstances in which the individual lives allow him only the one-sided development of one quality at the expense of all the rest, if they give him the material and time to develop only that one quality, then this individual achieves only a one-sided, crippled development’ (Ibid, p 262). Marx writes further that ‘our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature’ (Marx, Wage Labour and Capital. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p. 83

The revolutionary transformation of social relations (“praxis”- Marx, Theses on Feuerbach). The transcendence of the capital relation is the utter transformation of humanity in Nature. The relationship of human individuals  [human individuality as the “ensemble of social relations” (Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, VI)] to each other and to Nature becomes “fully developed humanism which is fully developed naturalism”. (Marx, ibid, 1844 Paris Manuscripts)

Shaun May

October 2013

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Marginal Notes on Marx’s ‘Method of Political Economy’


Marginal Notes on Marx’s ‘Method of Political Economy’ [1]

Marx is searching for a beginning for his writing of Capital. And beginnings, of course, are always problematic. Marx and Engels could clearly see this from a study of the beginning of Hegel’s Science of Logic. The notoriously problematic transition from ‘Being’ to ‘Becoming’ via (literally) ‘Nothing’ was noted by Engels. Marx writes…

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, [….] with e.g. the population, (p.100)

But ‘population’ turns out to be an abstract beginning because it leaves out a whole series of sub-determinations. In other words, population is an abstract determination with which to commence because it contains within it a whole series of determinations and relations which need to be developed and connected before we arrive at a characterisation of population as a determined category. If Marx begins with ‘population’, he must ‘move analytically towards ever more simple concepts’ and ‘ever thinner abstractions’ until arriving at the ‘simplest determinations’. By reversing and ‘retracing’ the exposition, we would arrive at ‘population’ once more ‘as a rich totality of many determinations and relations’. The ‘economists of the seventeenth century’ proceeded from this ‘living whole’ and concluded with a ‘small number of determinant, abstract, general relations such as division of labour, money, value, etc’. This process of analysis starting with the living whole and moving towards the establishment of simpler determinations becomes a necessary, historical moment in the evolution of the method of political economy itself. Subsequent to this development, ‘economic systems’ can ‘ascend’ from the simplest determinations to the ‘level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market’ (p.101). Marx writes that this latter ‘is obviously the scientifically correct method’.

Any object that faces us in observation is the outcome of its entire history, the fullness and complexity of that development. We face the object as a totality of inexhaustible relations, bottomless in its complexity and determinations. In rerum natura, our conception can only approximate this ‘rich totality of many determinations and relations’. Our appropriation is always, necessarily, ‘limited in its actuality, but unlimited in its potential’ (Engels).

The more ‘concrete’ is our appropriation, the less ‘abstract’ it is and, accordingly, the more closely do we approach the object in the real existence of its rich multi-faceted and multi-relational character. The less ‘concrete’ is our appropriation, the more ‘abstract’, and the further away do we distance ourselves from this real existence. The method of starting with the ‘population’ corresponds to the latter and that of commencing with the ‘simplest determinations’ corresponds to the former.

‘Historicistic’ writing of history which passes for ‘Marxist’ has a distinct tendency to follow the latter rather than the former. It starts with the ‘abstract beginning’ – undetermined, of course – and it tends to end up, via endless empirical detail, with a thin eclectic broth at the end of the discourse.

Any conceptual appropriation of the object – in the very nature of the relationship between thinking and the real existence of the object – can never present, therefore, an absolutely concrete conception or absolutely abstract conception of the object. Every ‘abstraction’ contains within it a relative degree of concreteness and every ‘concrete’ contains within it a relative degree of abstraction. This is the dialectic of the abstract and the concrete within the conceptual appropriation of the object itself and within the development of that conception.

Lenin wrote about “a de­tailed study of the pro­cess of de­vel­op­ment in all its con­crete­ness” and that “One of the core prin­ciples of dia­lectics is that there is no such thing as ab­stract truth; truth is al­ways con­crete”….. If Lenin had been familiar with Marx’s writings on method in the ‘Grundrisse’, would he have made such a statement? The world itself is neither concrete nor abstract. Only thought appropriates it conceptually in which the “concrete” becomes “more concrete” as a intensifying concentration of interrelated abstractions. We get to know more about it and in this way our conceptions become ‘more concrete’. Every conception, therefore, (in fact every word or term) is ‘concrete’ only to a certain degree and therefore must display a certain relative degree of ‘abstraction’ as well. If “the truth were always concrete” without being identical to and mediated by the ‘abstract’ in altering degrees, there would be no development in “truth”. Knowledge would come to a standstill. In “truth”, there would be no such “thing” as “truth”, no conceptual thought and therefore no thinking humanity. Thought cannot exhaust its object which means that “truth” is always a developing content. What was ‘concrete’ here now increasingly displays a greater degree of abstractness as human knowledge of nature advances beyond the original conception.

Marx looks at this question of the concrete in the Grundrisse

The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception.

Marx then, referring to the differences in his and others’ method of political economy on page 100 of the Introduction to the Grundrisse (q.v.), continues…

Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought. In this way Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind.

But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being. For example, the simplest economic category, say e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, moreover a population producing in specific relations; as well as a certain kind of family, or commune, or state, etc. It can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole.

As a category, by contrast, exchange value leads an antediluvian existence. Therefore to the kind of consciousness – and this is characteristic of the philosophical consciousness – for which conceptual thinking is the real human being, and for which the conceptual world as such is thus the only reality, the movement of the categories appears as the real act of production – which only, unfortunately, receives a jolt from the outside – whose product is the world itself; and – but this again is a tautology – this is correct in so far as the concrete totality is a totality of thoughts, concrete in thought, in fact a product of thinking and comprehending.

[Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. Introduction, (3) The Method of Political Economy. p.101]

Marx starts, of course, with the ‘commodity’ which also ‘leads an antediluvian existence’ as a category and yet is, at the same time, the ‘cell of bourgeois society’ (Lenin). The ‘cell’ within which, embryonically, all the political economy of bourgeois society is contained and out of which it germinates and grows both logically and historically.

As Marx’s exposition unfolds in Capital, ‘a process of concentration’ takes place in thought of the ‘many determinations’ so that we are following in our study an unfolding richness and multifacetedness of the whole conception, a dialectical concentration and continuous augmentation in the complexity of the whole conception. This progressive deepening of the concreteness of Marx’s conception has, as its ‘point of departure’, the commodity as the ‘cell of bourgeois society’ i.e. the commodity as a category but, as Marx writes, the real ‘point of departure for observation and conception’ is the concrete itself, the world of capitalist society in all its inexhaustible complexity and infinitude of detail and relations. From the commodity, he progresses through 3 volumes to give an increasingly concrete analysis of the system of production and distribution based on capital which is the system of capitalist commodity production. It is quite obvious that more volumes were intended for publication but his death truncated this monumental project.

Marx was working towards a comprehensive ‘reproduction of the concrete by way of thought’ in the unfolding of his unfinished magnum opus. We have a reproduction of the real in thought by means of the unfolding conception ‘concentrating itself’ in a process of continuous negation and re-deposition, a continuously higher degree of concreteness in the totality of the conception. Marx planned further volumes, after volume 3, on class relations, the state, the world market, competition and crises of the capitalist order. And, accordingly, by this process, ‘appropriating the concrete, reproducing it as the concrete in the mind’ ‘by rising from the abstract to the concrete’.

The process by which the overall ‘concrete’ conception arises in the mind ‘is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being’. And Marx refers above to the ‘simplest economic category’ of exchange value which – as a social relation between producers – can only really exist as an intrinsic, organic part of a ‘concrete, living whole’ and has no real determinate existence outside of this other than as a categorial ‘abstract, one-sided relation’.

The fundamental question, in my opinion, which Marx is addressing is how do we appropriate this real living concrete whole, how do we reproduce it in the mind, with all the limitations necessarily associated with the appropriation of this living concrete whole? And, of course, for Marx it was a specific question of how to proceed in his analysis of the production and circulation of capital. Pointing out the approach of the ‘philosophical consciousness’ (Hegel) in the next sentence, he writes that exchange value ‘as a category…..leads an antediluvian existence’. (p.101)

For Marx to begin to reproduce this concrete within thought, he must first submit to the form of value as a category which has a primordiality prior to the historic rise of capital itself. Then follows the question….

But do not these simpler categories also have an independent historical or natural existence predating the more concrete ones? That depends…. (p.102)

‘Possession’ as a juridical, property-holding relation – with which Hegel begins the Rechtsphilosophie – always presupposes a ‘more concrete juridical relation’ which, Marx writes, we find with the ‘family or master-servant relations’ and ‘in the higher society it appears as the simpler relation of a developed organisation’. In other words, this simpler category – as a property-holding relation and not as mere possession – does not have an ‘independent historical existence predating the more concrete one’ of family and master-servant relations. But as mere possession – which is not a juridical category and therefore distinct from it – it does indeed have a ‘natural existence’ in the ‘savage’ which predates both family and master-servant relations.

However, Marx adds, the simple categories may be…

the expressions of relations within which the less developed concrete may have already realised itself before having posited the more many-sided connection or relation which is mentally expressed in the more concrete category; while the more developed concrete preserves the same category as a subordinate relation. Money may exist, and did exist historically, before capital existed, before banks existed, before wage-labour existed, etc. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or else those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before this whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category. To that extent the path of abstract thought, rising from the simple to the combined, would correspond to the real historical process. (p.102)

The first part of Capital begins with the commodity and then later develops the money form of value.

Historically, the commodity and money pre-date capital which only arises in its first forms as peripheral to the dominant mode of production in Antiquity in the form of commodity (trade) and money (usury) capital. These forms existing in the ‘pores’ of the societies of the ancient world. Capital as a relationship of production only starts to entrench itself from the 16th century onwards in England and later in European societies. It first creates the sphere of circulation as its very own realm, its ‘forcing-house’ and ‘playground’ so to speak, through its mediation of subsistence production by means of the forms of commodity (trade and exchange) and money capital (usury). This becomes a historically necessary pre-requisite to the blood-soaked ‘primitive accumulation’ in which the peasantry were driven from the land [Part 8, Volume 1,Capital]. It then subsumes agricultural production under its rule and only later manufacture and industrial production in the wake of sweeping away the feudally-mediated guild system of masters and journeymen.

The Roman Imperium starts to break down at the point of the development of simple commodity production. ‘Among the Greeks and Romans, the full development of money…………appears only in the period of their dissolution’ (p.103). But even here, in the Roman period, ‘at its highest point of development’, the ‘money system actually completely developed there only in the army. And it never took over the whole of labour’ (p.103).

The commodity and money express here the ‘dominant relations of a less developed whole’ and become, later, the expressions of ‘subordinate relations of a more developed whole’ as the capital relation becomes the all pervasive and dominating relationship of production and distribution. The ‘more developed concrete’ of capital preserves the categories of the commodity and money as  ‘subordinate relations’. Thus commodity and money – existing as expressions of a less developed whole before capital became the dominant relation – become expressions of subordinate relations in the historically more concrete emergence of capital as the dominating relation of production and distribution. Capital is a more concrete category than commodity and money and both logically and historically these latter categories are less concrete, subordinate moments of the higher, more concrete category of capital. In Marx’s Capital, we observe the exposition of this relationship (commodity-money-capital) in which the ‘path of abstract thought, rising from the simple to the combined,…’ corresponds, in its dialectical logic, according to the real historical process.

Commodity and money historically pre-date capital but only reach their fullest development in ‘a combined form of society’ (Marx) whilst history gives us examples where ‘more concrete categories’ such as co-operation were more ‘fully developed in a less developed form of society’. He writes of the existence of ‘very developed but nevertheless historically less mature forms of society, in which the highest forms of economy’ such as co-operation, in the absence of money, etc, are to be found (p.102). So history does not unfold according to a formula, according to a linear template, but rather dialectically with all the contradictory complexity and paradox involved in this process.

Marx summarises the development of the conception of labour from the the ‘Monetary System’ to Adam Smith. At the end of this development, after noting the difficulty of the transition, he remarks that…

Indifference towards any specific kind of labour presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant. As a rule, the most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible concrete development, where one thing appears as common to many, to all. Then it ceases to be thinkable in a particular form alone. On the other side, this abstraction of labour as such is not merely the mental product of a concrete totality of labours. Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference. Not only the category, labour, but labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general, and has ceased to be organically linked with particular individuals in any specific form. Such a state of affairs is at its most developed in the most modern form of existence of bourgeois society – in the United States (p.104, Grundrisse)

Herein we find posited Marx’s conception of value-creating, abstract, social labour in general in contrast to the many forms of use-value producing, concrete private labour of the producers. And hence the commodity as exchangeable unity of value and use-value…

It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility. This division of the product of labour into a useful thing and a thing possessing value appears in practice only when exchange has already acquired a sufficient extension and importance to allow useful things to be produced for the purpose of being exchanged; so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production (Capital, Vol 1, pp.165-66, Penguin Edn)

With the ‘globalisation’ of capitalist commodity production, we can, more or less, consider what Marx refers to here as universalised in its scope and intensity so that on a global scale ‘the abstraction of the category ‘labour” ‘becomes true in practice’ and thereby ‘achieves practical truth as an abstraction only as a category’ in the globalised existence of the capital relation. The capital relation has only now, within the past half century or so, become a world-historical relation. This has profound implications for the struggle for socialism in which capital now arrives at the point of ‘the activation of its absolute limits’ (Meszaros).

The validity of the abstract, transhistorical character of the category of labour demonstrates, however, that even the ‘most abstract categories’ are, ‘in their specific character’, creations of determinate historical relations and that, accordingly, they ‘possess their full validity only for and within these relations’ (p.105). The categories expressing the character of bourgeois society can therefore provide us with an insight into the character of past social relations and formations where these categories, in less developed form, can express the nature of the social relations of these past formations. Marx gives the example of being able to grasp tribute and tithe on the basis of an understanding of ground rent but without explicitly identifying the two. We must not ‘smudge over all historical differences’.

Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape. The intimations of higher development among the subordinate animal species, however, can be understood only after the higher development is known. The bourgeois economy thus supplies the key to the ancient, etc. (p105)

Bourgeois political economy and its later vulgarised forms ‘sees bourgeois relations in all forms of society’. This conception feeds the ahistorical notion that such relations are an intrinic part of some nebulous ‘human nature’, as a natural law forever to determine the relations between people. Bourgeois economy confuses and confounds the strictly determined and limited truth of these categories in earlier forms of society with the ‘essential differences’ which separated these latter forms from bourgeois society as a distinct and determinate ‘contradictory form of development’.

Marx writes that the ‘one-sided’ ‘so-called historical presentation of development’…

is founded, as a rule, on the fact that the latest form regards the previous ones as steps leading up to itself,…[p.106]

This form of ‘presentation’ presents the material in a one-sided, linear, ‘inevitabilist’ (fatalistic and thereby ‘metaphysical’) concatenation as if the existence of the ‘latest’ is the only possible outcome of the ‘previous’. The historical product is not grasped in its dialectical relations as simultaneously producer and producing of its producer and product so that the ‘two-sided’ character of development is ‘smudged over’. The efforts of ‘historicistic’ writing therefore present in the form of an unending baton relay in which A could only give rise to B and this to C and so on. The later form views the earlier like a son viewing a father without any mutually determining reciprocality of historical relationship between them.  It is the ‘contemplative’ shallow rationalistic approach which ‘regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude’. [First Thesis on Feuerbach]. In Marx’s Capital we see the central role of his earlier revolutionary critique of Hegel and Feuerbach in his transcendence of this whole historicistic, rationalistic approach. This gives Capital its thoroughly revolutionary character as opposed to a discourse in historicistic rationalism which we sometimes find in the various “Marxian” expositions of historical development.

Marx is confronted with the reality of bourgeois society as a complex whole so this must be his point of departure for observation (Anschauung) and conception. But this totality is the outcome of a long period of development. The unfolding of his exposition [‘the succession of the economic categories’ p.106] must not only grasp and articulate the historic immediacy of this reality but also the detailed, historically-mediated relations, interconnections and ‘individual sides’ of bourgeois society which ‘by no means begins only at the point where one can speak of it as such‘. [p.106]. The categories lead an ‘antediluvian existence’ because they are the encapsulations of specific, usually subordinate, relations in previous societies but which now find themselves integrated into a totality of the higher relations of bourgeois society. The underlying method and the presentation of the exposition are constituted as a synthetic unity of the logical and the historical.

Marx must begin with the dominant relation of production in bourgeois society…

In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity. It is a particular ether which determines the specific gravity of every being which has materialised within it. [pp.106-107]

And this ‘specific kind of production’ is the process of production of capital. But in order to ‘begin’ with capital, Marx has no other option but to begin with the commodity (the cell of bourgeois society). In this he is ‘rising from the abstract to the concrete’ in order to ‘appropriate the concrete’ and ‘reproduce it as the concrete in the human mind’. Capital predominates and is ‘dealt with before landed property’.

The elaboration of the categories in the exposition cannot, therefore, follow the same course in which they were ‘historically decisive’ but rather must articulate the degree of their mutual determinativeness in their ‘relations to one another in bourgeois society’ [p.107] which does not follow the ‘natural’, “common sense” or historicistic order and approach to ‘historical development’ [was it not Hegel who wrote that ‘common sense is the prejudice of the day’?]. The elaboration of the exposition must reflect the degree of primacy which each category holds, and its degree of influence over all the others, in bourgeois society. The order of presentation in Capital must ‘obviously be’….

(1) the general, abstract determinants which obtain in more or less all forms of society, but in the above-explained sense. (2) The categories which make up the inner structure of bourgeois society and on which the fundamental classes rest. Capital, wage labour, landed property [p.108]

Marx’s critique of political economy (his presentation and representation of the relations governing the process of production of capital) could only be elaborated with a method which was animated by the logic of dialectics. However….

Even after the determination of the method, the critique of economics could still be arranged in two ways – historically or logically. Since in the course of history, as in its literary reflection, the evolution proceeds by and large from the simplest to the more complex relations, the historical development of political economy constituted a natural clue, which the critique could take as a point of departure, and then the economic categories would appear on the whole in the same order as the logical exposition. This form seems to have the advantage of greater lucidity, for it traces the actual development, but in fact it would thus become, at most, more popular. History moves often in leaps and bounds and in a zigzag line, and as this would have to be followed throughout, it would mean not only that a considerable amount of material of slight importance would have to be included; but also that the train of thought would frequently have to be interrupted; it would, moreover, be impossible to write the history of economy without that of bourgeois economy, and the task would thus become immense, because of the absence of all preliminary studies. [2] [3]

Despite the acknowledgement here, of the progressive ‘concentration’ of the developing conception reflecting the unfolding of the historical process itself, ‘from the simplest to the more complex relations’, the critique could not be ‘arranged’ on this historical basis for the reasons Engels gives. Accordingly…

The logical method of approach was therefore the only suitable one. This, however, is indeed nothing but the historical method, only stripped of the historical form and diverting chance occurences. The point where this history begins must also be the starting point of the train of thought, and its further progress will be simply the reflection, in abstract and theoretically consistent form, of the historical course. Though the reflection is corrected, it is corrected in accordance with laws provided by the actual historical course, since each factor can be examined at the stage of development where it reaches its full maturity, its classical form [4]

This is why we may characterise Marx’s method of political economy as a unity of the logical and the historical. Marx commences with the commodity as ‘the starting point of his train of thought’ and works dialectically towards an increasingly richer conception of the capital relation. Logically and historically the commodity precedes capital. The former contains the undeveloped germ of the latter and the latter is, accordingly, the highest expression, the ‘truth’ or outcome of the development of the former. Marx’s exposition does not follow – for reasons already given – the actual course of historical development but is modulated according to the laws furnished by this evolution. So, for example, even though forms of commodity and money capital historically preceded productive capital, these forms do not ‘reach their full maturity’ until productive capital itself has become the dominant relationship in production. Only then do commodity and money capital attain their ‘classical form’. Hence, in Marx’s exposition, the process of the production of capital (volume 1) precedes the circulation of commodity and money forms of capital (volume 2).

With this method we begin with the first and simplest relation which is historically, actually available, thus in this context with the first economic relation to be found. We analyse this relation. The fact that it is a relation already implies it has two aspects which are related to each other. Each of these aspects is examined separately; this reveals the nature of their mutual behaviour, their reciprocal action. Contradictions will emerge demanding a solution. But since we are not examining an abstract mental process that takes place solely in our mind, but an actual event that really took place at some time or other, or which is still taking place, these contradictions will have arisen in practice and have probably been solved. We shall trace the mode of this solution and find that it has been effected by establishing a new relation, whose two contradictory aspects we shall then have to set forth, and so on..[5]

The ‘first and simplest relation’ is, of course, the commodity as the unity of value and use-value whose contradiction is developed through the different forms of value and then expressed in the positing of the higher relation of the money-form. The money-form was preceded historically by earlier forms of value, e.g. barter, and arises as the product of exchange.

The commodity is not only the ‘cell of bourgeois society’ but historically predates all the other economic forms which are specific to this society. The ‘prehistory’ of bourgeois society commences with the commodity whose existence precedes bourgeois society by thousands of years. All economic forms in bourgeois society arise out of the development of the commodity-form, from its first appearance in the simple exchange of barter to the mass, global capitalist commodity production we see today. The commodity is therefore the logical starting point for an analysis of capitalist production which also corresponds with the historical point of departure in the ‘pores’ of previous societies which were neither capitalist nor were mediated by the capital relation itself. Commodity and money forms of capital came later.

The commodity is therefore the point of departure for Marx, both logically and historically, in Capital. The logical expostion in Capital proceeds, accordingly, out of the development from this point of depature, always returning to itself in a continuous process of conceptual enrichment and ‘concentration’, becoming evermore concrete in this exposition. On almost every page in Capital we find the actual word ‘commodity’.

With Marx’s method, the exposition in Capital is not ‘confined to the purely abstract sphere’. Rather it required….

historical illustration and continuous contact with reality. A great variety of such evidence is therefore inserted, comprising references both to different stages in the actual historical course of social development and to economic works, in which the working out of lucid definitions of economic relations is traced from the outset. The critique of particular, more or less one-sided or confused interpretations is thus substantially given already in the logical exposition and can be kept quite short. [6]


[1] Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. Introduction. (3) The Method of Political Economy, pp.100-108.

[2] Engels. Das Volk, No 16, August 20, 1859. [in Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, 1977. pp 224-227]

[3] Marx’s notes on the ‘Method of Political Economy’ in the Grundrisse are dated late August to mid September 1857. Engels article for Das Volk is dated August 20th 1859, two years subsequent to Marx’s work on method.

[4] Engels, Ibid

[5] Engels, Op. cit

[6] Engels, Op. cit

Shaun May

December 2013

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