Monthly Archives: September 2018

Labour Process, Co-operation, Language, Consciousness, Psyche

Labour Process, Co-operation, Language, Consciousness, Psyche

Consciousness emerges as a socially necessary form of awareness out of the need to co-operate in the origination and development of the organisation and relations of the labour process of hominids. This is its ontological ground and mediating basis  The development of language and speech originate pre-conditionally and side by side with consciousness. The labour process in hominids necessarily involves social co-operation. This co-operation must involve the co-ordination of activities by means of intercommunication so that language, accordingly, asserts itself as a social necessity within the actual origination of the labour process itself. 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). Language is externalised thought and conscious thought is internalised language. Practice (activity) necessarily gives rise to word and concept. In the beginning was the deed. From the point of their origination, word and concept mediate each other’s development and the totality of social activities. The need to co-operate and communicate in the labour process therefore gives birth to language and this, in its turn, necessitates the rise of consciousness itself and its development alongside and in relationship with language. Thenceforth, consciousness mediates social relationships and evolves with language within the context of changing socio-historical conditions.

The historic origination of consciousness is simultaneously the origination of the human psyche as a totality out of the non-conscious awareness of our animal primate ancestors. This period of transition took place over millions of years. The human psyche is not simply identical to consciousness. This psyche is more complex than mere consciousness alone. The rise of consciousness simultaneously engenders the unconscious as an intrinsic part of this psyche. Herein lies the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the psyche as a whole.  Consciousness is an integrated form of awareness in the life of the psyche as a whole but to identify consciousness per se as the psyche is incorrect and denies this complexity of the whole. Its life-process is qualitatively more complex than that of consciousness alone. The different aspects of the psyche must be considered in their relation to each other. In this way, the nature and function of each aspect is understood as being a part of, and intrinsic to, the life of the whole. Each aspect, function and facility affects and mediates the activities of all the others, constituting a psychic whole which is higher than a mere aggregation and ‘interaction’ of parts.

The relationship between instinct and conditioned learning found in the animal primate is transformed with the rise of consciousness. Originating consciousness transforms animal instinct into the human unconscious. In the course of this transformation, emerging consciousness establishes itself in dynamic relation to its psychic opposite (the unconscious) to which it has given rise in the course of the transforming of instinct by the rise of consciousness itself. Each – the conscious and the unconscious – therefore arise and evolve as mediating the life of each other and, in so doing, constituting the human psychic totality. The relation between instinct and learning found in ancestral primates is superseded with the rise of consciousness which gives rise to the higher relationships and content of the conscious and the unconscious within the human psyche as a whole.

The natural mode of life of ancestral primates is mediated – in the forms of interaction and relations which constitute it – by the synthesis of a conditioned learning and instinct which form the basic elements of the simple, non-conscious (pre-conscious) awareness of these ancestral animal primates. The origination of consciousness transforms the relationship between instinct and learning in the primate ancestors of humanity into the psychological relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. The origination of consciousness is therefore synonymous with the origination of the human psyche as a whole.

The unconscious is the realm of the human psyche which arose in the hominisation process as a result of the rise of consciousness and the supersedence of the instinctive capacities of humanity’s animal primate ancestors. The instinctive in these primate ancestors becomes transformed into the unconscious in humans in the course of the hominisation process with the rise of consciousness. The intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious becomes a fundamental dynamic in the evolution of the human psyche.

The conceptual content of the psyche does not originate in the unconscious but this content mediates, and is mediated by, the neurophysiology of the unconscious. For example, the interrelationship between thinking and feeling  involves the intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious (the interpenetration of the conceptual and non-conceptual).

The unconscious contains superseded within itself all those instinctive capacities formerly possessed by humanity’s primate ancestors. The unconscious is integrated into the total life of the human psyche so that these superseded (sublated) capacities are active in the life of this totality as a consequence of the origination and evolution of conscious awareness in the course of the hominisation process.

Is this relationship between the conscious and unconscious sides of the psyche an eternal feature of its structure and content? Or will this opposition be resolved into a higher synthesis in which both sides are sublated in the course of later social developments beyond the epoch of capital? Does consciousness have a ‘hidden’ psychohistorical role? To prepare the ground and conditions for the emergence of a higher order of the human psyche?

The transition between the animal and the human is the process of an aware yet non-conscious natural being becoming conscious of itself and of nature. A process of transition between the mode of life of the animal primate and the earliest modes of human existence. Reflection – i.e. thought consciously monitoring its own movement – is an exclusive property of the human psyche not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware (sentient) but non-conscious and do not possess the capacity to reflect. For example, when an animal encounters its image in a mirror it merely sees the image of its physicality, itself as an object. When a human being looks into a mirror it observes not only a physicality but also the ‘me’ or ‘I’. For the animal there is no ‘I’ to which this physicality is intrinsic. ‘I-ness’ is a function of the reflective capacities of conscious beings. Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple awareness of animals, is a social product of the human brain embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect.

Animals are aware but, unlike humans, do not possess the capacity to reflect on the external world or their ‘inner world’. Humans possess the capacity to conceptually monitor the movement of their own thoughts and feeling. This capacity (self-consciousness, reflection, reflexive thinking) arises in the course of the transition from animal primate to human, developing and becoming richer and more elaborate in the inner complexity of its content, structure and relations with the unfolding of the socio-historical process. Human consciousness is demarcated from the simple, non-conscious awareness of the animal in both its structure and content (which in contradistinction to the animal is conceptual) and which, unlike in the animal, is reflexively involved with itself and thus internally dialogued (Vygotsky) in the process of its development.

Within the ‘internal dialogues’, the individual (the self) ‘converses’ and ‘communes’ with his/her own thinking and feeling. Individuals monitor the unfolding and progression of the conceptual content of their own thinking and feeling. Vygotsky further proposes that the ‘inner dialogues’ of consciousness are intrapsychological transpositions of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions are psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals. The social and the psychological are, within this conception, not separable.

This conception of ‘internal dialogue’ also forms an important element in our understanding of so-called ‘mental illness’, that is, in the psychogenesis and development of those mental states which the psychiatrists refer to as ‘psychotic’ or ‘schizophrenic’, etc. For example, the dissociation of one side of a dialogue from the other and the identification of one side (the ‘external other’) by the other side of the dialogue (the subject, the ‘I’) as coming from an external source outside of the thinking subject’s own mental process. For example, in what psychiatry refers to as schizophrenia, ‘hearing voices’, etc.

The learning-instinct relations and complexes of the pre-conscious, ancestral animal primate are adequate and necessary for the natural relationships of the modes of life of these primates but become inadequate and outmoded for the emerging social relationships of hominid and, later, human modes of life.  Accordingly, this form of awareness must be and is superseded (sublated) into the higher formed structures, relations and functions of the human psyche. As this psyche originates, it dichotomises into the unconscious (which contains sublated within itself the instinctive capacities of ancestral primates) and the conscious (which contains sublated within itself the learning capacities of these primates).

It was the emergence and development of the labour process which necessitated social co-operation and which, in its turn, gave rise to the need for language as a means of communication. These were the most fundamental conditions that formed the ground upon which the non-conscious awareness of the animal primate became transformed into the conscious awareness of the human beings. This was the essential transformative element which formed the active basis for the origination of the human psyche itself as a whole. The rise of consciousness transforms the non-conscious awareness of the animal into the human psyche. The basic ‘conscious-unconscious’ structure and relations of this psyche originate in the course of this transitional period.

As human consciousness originated, it became integrated with the neurological legacy inherited from our primate ancestors. For example, those neurological and biochemical processes which prepared the primate ancestors of hominids to counter threat or evade danger; mechanisms which are intrinsic to the mode of life and biology of all primates. This meant that the human psyche in the making integrated all those neurological, physiological and biochemical processes from its animal ancestry which were necessary for the functioning, development and survival of hominids at a definite stage in their evolution and under the conditions of the origination of this psyche. This was passed on in later developments with the emergence of human beings proper. This ‘integration’ simultaneously alters this animal legacy, rendering it ‘human’.

The human psyche is, therefore, a complex synthesis of the social and the biological. This is illustrated by human emotional states where, at a physiological level in the brain, they are correlated with definite neurological states which come and go with alterations in mood. The emotional life of the individual expresses the specific character of the particular social relationships of the individual in a given society at a definite stage in its historical development. But this does not deny the ‘neurological aspects’ which reflect these relations. Moreover, the psyche of each particular individual represents, in one form or another and no matter how unique it is in its specific characteristics, the general character of the human psyche of a given society formed directly under the conditions and influence of its prevailing social relations. This general representation in each individual does not exclude the accentuation of particular aspects of the psyche which are only over-developments of such aspects, e.g. introversion, extroversion, ‘psychopathy’, etc, due to the specificity of the history of the individual’s social experience and its peculiar psychological internalisation. Each individual, irrespective of his or her psychological nature, has been formed under and within the complexity of the prevailing social relations which are organic to and condition the character of all interpersonal relationships.

human beings become individuals only through the process of history 

[Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993) p. 496. Notebook V.]

The particular uniqueness of each individual always embodies and expresses, in one way or another, the universal characteristics of the social relations and ‘social personality’ of the age. Each individual is a unique, and therefore differentiated, manifestation of these universalities and therefore expresses the universal relations of the age in and through the distinctness and particularity of their unique individuality.

A most (if not the most) fundamental question that we must address concerns the nature and quality of the personal subjective life of the human individual i.e. humans as ‘feeling’ beings.  Feeling is the eternal focal point around which the nature and quality of the subjective life of the individual revolves.

If I engage in activities alone or with other people which I find pleasing, pleasurable, enjoyable but my subjective experience of these activities merely serves to psychologically displace my own internal pain (mental, not directly physical) whether I am conscious of this or not, then these activities merely articulate the continuation of alienation in social relations. If I drink or drug myself because it drowns my sorrows then the ‘consolation’ which I may find in such activity is a faux consolation because it merely transmutes and expresses my alienation as an individual in a different guise. It does not transcend it but simply reaffirms it in a new form and therefore the existence of alienation as a continuing feature of social relations in general. It means that my ‘enjoyment’ is determined by and contaminated with my pain and therefore not enjoyment unmediated by this pain. Enjoyment which ceases to be mediated as such is not the crude ‘enjoyment’ as bourgeois man experiences it but of a totally different and qualitatively higher order. An enjoyment which only people freeing themselves from (or free of) the alienation of bourgeois society can truly experience.

How real people behave and did behave depends and always did depend on the historical conditions under which they lived 

[Engels. From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p. 605]

If, in societies beyond the epoch of capital, social relations no longer serve as a source of anxieties and fears, how would this transform interpersonal relationships and human behaviour in general? How would this transform the way people feel about themselves and their fellow men and women? Surely it would transform the whole of human life into a realm which we today in bourgeois society would find unrecognisable and totally ‘alien’?

If I have never experienced the anxieties, fears and alienation intrinsic to bourgeois relations then I can have no awareness of their presence or absence. I am a totally different individual to that formed by these relations. Indeed, I can have no concept of these experiences, and what they mean, because they have been superseded historically in the course of social development beyond the epoch of capital. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom and is not aware of being free precisely because s/he is truly free.

It would mean the end of aggression and cruelty between human beings and a complete transformation in our relationship with both living and non-living Nature in all its manifold and beautiful creation. Moreover, would it not totally alter the whole interpersonal character of sexual relations and the actual subjective experience of joy and pleasure itself? And when the ‘artificial appetites’ [Marx] and desires created by bourgeois relations lose their grip on human relations? When the commodification of our desires and pleasures ends? These alien, reified and idealised ‘things of thought’ in the epoch of global capital?

There is an element of truth – when specifically re-contextualised socio-historically beyond its ‘ideological form’ in Buddhism – in the identification of ‘suffering’ and ‘desire’. How suffering breeds desire and desire contains suffering latent within itself. Yet impossible to transcend this relationship under the conditions of the current epoch. But in later epochs?

The seeking of pleasure motivated by pain and the disappearance of its realisation as the re-emergence and repositing of pain in the psyche. Pleasure as the negation of ‘pain’ and, simultaneously, as its reaffirmation in its opposite form. Pleasure and pain as the mother and offspring of each other mediated by desire? The continuous re-positing and reaffirmation of pain in its negation by pleasure and vice versa. Their dialectical movement into each other. The ‘fetishisation’ of pleasure and pain as ‘things of thought’ in the current epoch of bourgeois relations? When pleasure becomes a ‘thing of thought’ (desire) does not this relation contain within itself the ‘pain’ of its non-realisation. And, moreover, the ‘pain’ of its loss after its realisation?

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. Lawence and Wishart, London, 1973. p.83]

The need for consolation is only necessitated in and where human relationships are characterised by ‘loss’ and ‘suffering’. And if there is no longer any ‘loss’ or ‘suffering’, what then? If men no longer assert control and power over the lives of other men with all the coercion, threat, violence and aggression implied in such relations, how must this alter human relationships and their reflection in the psychology of people? An ‘unfettering’ of human potential in which humanity becomes free to socially develop its capacities without these hindrances, unrestricted by oppressive social relations and the fear engendered by them?

But what of the ‘fight or flight’ response inherited from our animal ancestors? This must and will be retained so it can be activated in response to real, imminent, extra-human threat to prepare people to respond to the presence of real danger in their relations with extra-human, natural conditions of life. But its presence in the social and interpersonal relationships between people will become redundant. Why? Because those relations and forms of behaviour [such as violence, abuse, aggression, threat, war, etc] which have mediated its activation in previous societies will have been transcended. With the advance of human knowledge, science and technology, even the possibilities of natural threats and disasters tend to increasingly diminish.

The psychological transformation of people starts to take place in the transitional period as capital is being progressively dislodged from the social metabolism. This is the coming-into-being of the higher communal individual, the ‘social individual’, the individual of the global ‘realm of freedom’. The realm where both private and state forms of property have been superseded and the new communal realm has established itself irreversibly on a global basis, developing and maturing on the social ground of its own self-created foundations. This is the realm of human beings no longer touched by the psychosocial legacies, in their various forms, of bourgeois relations and untainted by the memory of their impact and effects on people. When the very notion of ownership itself vanishes (because the Earth and the creations of human activity are truly without owners), this must serve as a liberating drive in the development of the human personality.

Shaun May

September 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Studies in the Origination and Evolution of the Human Psyche : [1] Introduction

Studies in the Origination and Evolution of the Human Psyche 

[1] Introduction

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

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)


The transition from the mode of life of ancestral animal primates to that of hominids, and later, human modes of life takes place on the basis of definite natural pre-conditions foremost amongst which is the associative behaviour of ancestral primates in their natural environment and their advanced ability – relative to the rest of the animal kingdom – to learn from their experience in the course of their interaction and relationship with each other and to their surroundings and to acquire and develop new skills for dealing with these surroundings. This learning in our primate ancestors involved the refinement of those skills that enabled ancestral primates to gain an edge in the struggle to survive (fm1) (fm2) (fm3) (fm4). In relation to contemporary primates, their social behaviour…

is keenly important for understanding primate adaptations and evolution. Because of the highly social nature of nonhuman primates, we must view natural groups, as well as individuals, as the adaptive units of the species. Primate young are born relatively immature; they need the protection and care afforded not only by their mother but also by the social group. The pattern of prolonged immaturity, coupled with a relatively large brain size, means that life in a primate social group provides many opportunities for learning. Social living places a premium on learning. Most of the primate behavioural repertoire is learned, resulting in substantial individual behavioural plasticity that allows flexibility in response to environmental challenges and gives the primate an evolutionary advantage, especially in changeable environments. Primates can, for example, respond to changing environmental conditions almost instantaneously by modifying their behaviour. This behavioural flexibility has relevance for understanding human evolution. To understand the habitat shift that occurred among our ancestors, we must be cognizant of the behavioural background of monkeys and apes. This successful habitat shift obviously involves behavioural plasticity, that is, the ability to adapt to new surroundings, and a constant curiosity leading to the acquisition of new traits to meet new environmental challenges, such as new foods and new predators. [1]

This learning capacity of the ancestral primate must be considered in order to form a starting point for understanding the origination of human society and therefore of the human psyche as a totality (fm5). Accordingly, the human psyche is not exclusively a product of social development but is the outcome of its entire prehistory of natural and social development. To put forward a ‘starting point’ would be to deny that this ‘entire development’ It is a complex synthesis of natural and socio-historical elements. It is a social product of the brain containing both its natural and social history superseded within itself. But this also applies to human sense perception of the world which is never a purely neurophysiological process but involves the thinking, active, cognising, feeling human subject consciously ‘experiencing’ the world (fm6). Mental life is an active, essential and intrinsic ingredient in this conscious human ‘experience’ of the world. In human sensation, an interaction of the neurophysiological and the psychological is always taking place. These inner relations of the human psyche express the unity of the social conditions of life of people (as manifest in the psychological) and the neurological substratum of the psyche itself.

The psyche is a product of the brain because without the living, functioning physiology of this organ, thinking is inconceivable. Different forms of damage to the brain and forms of poisoning invariably result in psychomotor, perceptual and cognitive disturbances and thought disturbances (fm7). This demonstrates that the human psyche has neurophysiological and neurochemical presuppositions which are not simply determined by the social conditions of existence. However, thought is also a social product of the brain because the conceptual content of human thought arises out of the history of humanity’s social being which is social activity (fm8). However…

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. [2]

Indeed the physiology of the primate brain itself undergoes changes with the transition from ancestral primate to hominid. It not only becomes larger. It is changed qualitatively, becoming more complex (fm9). It has been found, from a study of brain endocasts, that…

the increase in brain size between australopithecines and early Homo increased the number of folds in all parts of the cerebral cortex. These new folds may simply be an effect of this overall size increase rather than a specific change. These hominids may have been the first to use Broca’s area for language but endocasts alone are not enough to prove it [3]

Broca’s area is that part of the human brain that is necessary for the development of language. It is a scientific (perhaps we might say empirical) reservation in the extreme to postulate that such quantitative changes might take place without any corresponding (if only minor yet significant) qualitative changes in the degree of complexity of the brain resulting from these developments. Even if these changes involved a mere increase in the quantity of neural interconnections and networking, only the most untheoretical and scientistic of palaeoanthropologists might deny the possibility of qualitative changes as the the brain of early Homo developed out of its australopithecine predecessors.

Hominids begin to develop the ability to think through the use of concepts i.e. humans in the making develop consciousness which emerges in the transition to, and further onward social development of, hominid modes of life. Attempts to explain the origins of the human psyche on biological grounds alone are always deficient. Although it sometimes denies an exclusively biologistic approach to human psychological evolution, the much vaunted, fashionable and recently mushroomed area of ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ does emphasise the biological over the social and, in so doing, tends to neglect the centrality of social relations in the evolution of the psyche (fm10). According to Mithen, two of the ‘leading lights’ of Evolutionary Psychology (Cosmides & Tooby)…

argue that we can only understand the nature of the modern mind by viewing it as a product of biological evolution. The starting point for this argument is that the mind is a complex, functional structure that could not have arisen by chance. If we are willing to ignore the possibility of divine intervention, the only process by which such complexity could have arisen is evolution by natural selection. In this regard, C & T treat the mind as one treats any other organ of the body – it is an evolved mechanism which has been constructed and adjusted in response to the selective pressures faced by our species during its evolutionary history  […]  C & T argue that the mind consists of a Swiss army knife with a great many, highly specialised blades; in other words it is composed of multiple mental modules. Each of these blades/modules has been designed by natural selection to cope with one specific adaptive problem faced by hunter-gatherers during our past [4]

Firstly, let us acknowledge the elements of truth in this description. Only those completely ignorant of evolutionary theory might deny the importance of the struggle for existence, genetic mutation, phenotypic variation and natural selection in the origination and development of human neurology out of those neurological structures of its many ancestral progenitors. After all, the human psyche is inconceivable without that material organ known as the brain and the brain as a biological organ has an evolutionary prehistory of many millions of years. And, of course, by implication, chance alone cannot account for the origination of this psyche. However, to view the “modern mind” itself within this biologistic framework is to deny its intrinsic social nature i.e. that the biological is superseded (but not annihilated) within its social character. Human beings learn to think only by ‘being in society’ and what is ‘mind’ without thinking? The ‘Swiss army knife’ model with ‘multiple mental modules’ is a mechanistic conception in the extreme. It is most fitting to the most formalistic and positivistic modes of thinking of some scientists who do, indeed, conceptualise the human psyche as just ‘any other organ’ for empirical study.  Contrast this with Hegel’s conception (writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century) of ‘mind’ in which he develops the thesis that..

our own sense of the mind’s living unity naturally protests against any attempt to break it up into different faculties, forces or, what comes to the same thing, activities conceived as independent of each other [5]

Scientific theories which deal with the nature of living matter 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 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 qualitatively different, more complex form of organisation of matter.  Therefore, speaking generally, the application of the body of knowledge and methods of a ‘lower’ sphere of matter (e.g. physics or chemistry) to the material and relational complexities of a ‘higher’ (e.g. biology or social relations) sphere, in order to gain knowledge of it, can only be made under specific conditions and with qualifications which take into account the distinct organisation and characteristics of the ‘higher’ formation which is being investigated (fm11). Without these qualifications, scientific thinking invariably falls into reductionism and thereby steps into a highly circumscribed, limited mode of ‘scientific’ investigation. It is a mode which is more abstract, emptier in its content, more divorced from the truth of its subject. If this is so much so in the relation between the chemical and the biological, in the study of human culture the effects are even more marked and profound. Richard Jones, in his study on reductionism, writes that…

When a reductionist says “A is really only B” the movement is always towards smaller parts or more general realities. Reductionists “reduce the more valuable to the less valuable, the more meaningful to the less meaningful”, and never the other way around. The more individual and special is devalued and absorbed into something broader. Simply put: things are less than they seem. If things are reducible to a reality below the surface, then much of human life loses its value. The effect on our lives is to undercut the reality of what is specific to being human – consciousness, free will, personhood, our cultural relations. What seemed special about humans is dissolved into nothing but lifeless and soulless matter. [6]

Therefore to understand the human psyche as a totality it is insufficient to focus exclusively on its biological side. Its origins and development as both product and producer of social conditions and relations that have themselves come into being historically need to be considered.

Psyche – an intrinsic and essential part of human social development – is not merely ‘its own result’ as Hegel maintained (fm12). However, this latter assertion contains an element of truth. Thinking human beings are simultaneously both producers and products of history. In the course of the development of human society…

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. [7]

Consciously-acting humans create the conditions that form the ground for the development of consciousness (fm13). Human activity and the social relations corresponding to these forms of activity become mediated by definite, historically-determined forms of consciousness. This implies that ‘human nature’ is mutable and subject to transformation in the course of people’s activities over the ages.

This contrasts with the conception in Evolutionary Psychology of an eternal basis of ‘human nature’ (fm14) which has been (since the dawn of humanity) and will be for all time and places. Moreover, we see in the general approach of Evolutionary Psychology an ingrained scientism displayed in reductionist and functionalist forms [8]. The ‘modular’ conception of ‘mind’, which characterises Evolutionary Psychology, contrasts with relatively recent developments in the neurosciences in which…

..the insight is growing that the brain does not consist of a collection of circumscribed areas, responsible for highly specific cognitive functions. Rather we should think in terms of “interlocked neuronal (functional) networks” in which for the execution of particular functions certain circumscribed areas may be necessary, but not sufficient. To quote a statement by Lopez da Silva (2000, p29) “Even today, a general tendency is to think that because a certain area has a given anatomical name, it should correspond to one function, i.e. one anatomical name = one cognitive function!”. In Lopez da Silva’s opinion a strict correspondence might be true for a very few simple functions, but this certainly does not hold in general [9]

Evolutionary Psychology ‘explains’ social relations and behaviour on the basis of the principles of Darwinian evolution (fm15) and, more specifically on the basis of so-called “adaptation” [10]. However, such notions of “adaptation” – which are more appropriate to the evolution of animals alone and not the more complex history of humanity  –  do not grasp the human personality as something that has come into being and has been formed under the direct influence of, and shaped by, the forces of the history of human society through time and place; something that is, and must be, subject to further alteration and transformations as human society evolves. In other words, such notions which we find in Evolutionary Psychology convey the idea that fundamental change in social relations can never fndamentally alter “human nature”. In other words, all the major features, behaviour and characteristics of the social relations and mental life of contemporary human life – which are explained by Evolutionary Psychology through the conception of “adaptation” – are essentially insurmountable. Humanity can revolutionise its social conditions of life, but must, insists Evolutionary Psychology, continue to live with social relations which are manifestations of evolution’s ‘hardwired’ ‘computer programming’ of the human brain. Revolutionise as much as you like but humanity’s fate is sealed. In other words, such notions which we find in Evolutionary Psychology convey the idea that fundamental change in social relations can never alter ‘fundamental human nature’ (fm16). The religious undertones and undercurrents are palpable. Man is competitive, selfish, greedy, possessive, brutish, homicidal, evil and nasty. He is ‘hardwired’ to be so. Live with it. Or turn to God for consolation.

‘Human nature’, like the precepts that seek to absolutise it, is subject to change and transformation. Changing social relations (changed by thinking-acting human beings) and conditions alter social consciousness so that even ethical ideas become reformed and adapted to the new conditions and relations. Moralities – which are not ‘installed’ by evolution, natural selection and ‘adaptation’ into human beings like ‘computer programmes’ or ‘software’ into a ‘hard drive’ –  become transformed so that what was understood as ‘moral’ in one period appears as ‘immoral’ in the succeeding one and vice versa.

Social development is continuously shifting the ground from underneath prevailing forms and established systems of morality (fm17). In this historical flux, categorical imperatives and absolutes in the realm of ethics are revealed to be relative forms which begin to become transformed or even vanish completely as new social relations eclipse the old, necessitating the emergence of new forms of morality which serve to justify and perpetuate the establishment of the new social relations in opposition to the old.  Likewise, the forms of human social behaviour are not immutable aspects of human relationships. Rather.. 

How real people behave and did behave depends and always did depend on the historical conditions under which they lived. [11]

The way ‘real people behave’ is no more eternal than the social relations and conditions that engender their forms of behaviour.  If, for example, the social and historic conditions which form the mediating ground and give rise to wars between people are superseded, then men will no longer engage in those forms of conflictual behaviour which we see on our TV screens every day in the epoch of capital. The gun will disappear to be melted down into and truly replaced by the ploughshare. The human personality – at different times, periods and places in human history – is an organic part of the unfolding of the historical process and this is reflected in the changing conceptual content of the human psyche (fm18) so that…

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. [12]

Therefore even…

higher cognitive activities remain socio-historical in nature, and that the structure of mental activity – not just the specific content but also the general forms basic to all cognitive processes – change in the course of historical development. [13]


Next Section : Pre-Conditions in the Modes of Life and Learning Capacities of Ancestral Primates



(given in square brackets thus [  ] )

[1] McKee, J.K. et al. Understanding Human Evolution. (5th Edn). (Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2005) pp.90-91

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

[3] Deacon, T.W. The Human Brain, chapter 3.2 in  The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. Jones, S., Martin, R., and Pilbeam, D. (eds) (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

[4] Mithen, S. The Prehistory of the Mind : A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science (London, Phoenix, Orion Books, 1998) pp. 42-43

[5] Hegel, G.W.F.  Philosophy of Mind. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1971) p.4

[6] Jones, R.H. Reductionism. Analysis and the Fullness of Reality (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University Press, 2000) pp.14-15

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

[8] See, for example, Evolutionary Psychology’s general conception of ‘human nature’ in Falger, V.S.E. Evolutionary World Politics: The Biological Foundations of International Relations in Evolutionary Interpretations of World Politics. Thompson, W.R. (ed) (Routledge, 2001) p.36

[9] Kalverboer, A.F. and  Gramsbergen, A. Brain-Behaviour Relationships in the Human – Core Issues in Handbook of Brain and Behaviour in Human Development. Kalverboer, A.F. and Gramsberger, A. (eds). (Springer, 2001) p.8

[10] See, as an example of this conception, Barkow, J.H., Cosmides, L. and Tooby, J. The Adapted Mind. Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. (Oxford University Press US, Cary, NC, 1992)

[11] Engels.  From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring.  Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p.605

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

[13] Ibid, p.8


Footnotes and Memoranda (fm)

(given in brackets thus (fm   ) )


(fm1) Studies in Paleoanthropology

(fm2) Studies in Primatology

(fm3) Hominid. Any member of the Hominidae including modern man and the extinct hominid ancestors or relatives of mankind e.g. Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Heidelbergensis, and Homo Neanderthalensis. Modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) is the only extant species of the Hominidae. Recent discoveries have shown that the ‘radiation’ of hominids out of Africa into Asia and Europe also produced other human types such as the ‘Denisovans’ and ‘Floriensis’ besides Neanderthals. Also the existence of a distinct type of human (‘Archaic Africans’) in central Africa, differentiated from modern man, has also been discovered by researches in Genetics and Molecular Biology. It is thought that these different types sometimes came into contact, mixed and interbred as evidenced by the presence of specific DNA markers found in the modern human genome. The remains of more types of humans, resulting from the radiation and evolution of Hominids out of Africa, are possibly waiting to be discovered across the globe.

(fm4) Primates. The order of mammals that includes the prosimians*, 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. (*Prosimians. The lower sub-order of primates (and their extinct primate ancestors) which includes the lemurs, tree shrews, tarsiers and lorises.)

(fm5) Learning. The process of acquiring and developing knowledge, skills, abilities or novel forms of behaviour found in animals and raised to the cognitive level of consciousness and reflexive thinking (self-consciousness) in humanity. A highly developed capacity in primates in general. Conditioned knowledge is knowledge acquired by primates, and animals in general, in the course of their interactions (experience) with their conditions of life throughout their lifetime.

(fm6)  Interaction of the psychological and neurological in sensation; role of psychological factors in sense perception.

(fm7) How brain injury impacts cognition/perception.

(fm8) Marx and Engels on the relationship between Thinking and Being

(fm9) Changes in the size and complexity of the brain in the transition from ancestral animal primates to hominids and humans.

(fm10) The conception of the origins of the human psyche, its evolution and character on the basis of Evolutionary Biological Theory alone gives this conception in ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ its flawed and faux character. Bogus pseudoscience.

(fm11) Biopoiesis : the origins of life. Life is more, a qualitatively higher sphere of nature, than a mere complex mixture of chemicals. The biological is not simply identical and ‘reducible’ to the chemical no matter how complex the latter may be.

(fm12) Hegel – Philosophy of Mind (Encyclopaedia)

(fm13) Marx and Engels – The German Ideology and Theses on Feuerbach.

(fm14) The ‘ Evpsychies’ ‘ conception of an ‘eternal human nature’ based on their scientistic mis-extrapolations of Bioevolutionary Theory.

(fm15) See Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby. Reference [10]

(fm16) Ditto. See Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby. Reference [10]

(fm17) How social transformation changes moral conceptions and is, indeed, motivated by them.

(fm18) Luria and Vygotsky : Conceptions alter with socio-historical ‘shifts’. But this also applies to ‘mental structures’ and relations as well. This opens the path to the real social evolution of the human psyche in the ages beyond the capital relation.

Shaun May

September 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Children in the Family and in the Commune

Children in the Family and in the Commune

In his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Frederick Engels traces the origins and historical development of the different forms of the family. The evolution of its later forms, especially the monogamian patriarchal forms, is closely connected to the development of private property. Engels summarises the relationship between production, the family, private property and the state in the preface to the first edition of the text… 

According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This again, is of a twofold character: on the one side the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organisation under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour on the one hand and of the family on the other. The lower the development of labour and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of the society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by kinship groups. However, within this structure of society based on kinship groups the productivity of labour increasingly develops, and with it private property and exchange, differences of wealth, the possibility of utilising the labour power of others, and hence the basis of class antagonisms: new social elements, which in the course of generations strive to adapt the old social order to the new conditions, until at last their incompatibility brings about a complete upheaval. In the collision of the newly developed social classes, the old society founded on kinship groups is broken up. In its place appears a new society, with its control centred in the state, the subordinate units of which are no longer kinship associations, but local associations; a society in which the system of the family is completely dominated by the system of property, and in which there now freely develops those class antagonisms and class struggles that have hitherto formed the content of all written history. (emphasis in the original)

(Engels. F., The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Preface to the First Edition. Penguin, 1985. pp.35-36)

The family in its earlier forms foreshadows the rise of private property and in its later forms becomes an intrinsic part of the different social systems of private property. Engels traces the origins of the monogamian nuclear family in previous forms of the family, reaching its latest stage of development in bourgeois society. Today, under the impact of the unfolding of the contradictions and crisis of the capital system, we are witnessing the break up of the family, its widespread dissolution as the traditional unit for ‘the propagation of the species’. Millions across the globe are now living alone or in ‘experimental communities’ which lie outside the traditional structure and orbit of the nuclear family. In the United States and Western Europe the so-called ‘extended family’ is more or less extinct. The internal conflicts which are shaking the family unit today reflect and are part of the wider and deeper crisis of the whole capital system across the world. All this, of course, is having repercussions for children, their development, lives and welfare. In Europe and North America, the number of children ‘taken into care’, that is, under the guardianship and supervision of the state power, is increasing every year. This, in itself, indicates that the nuclear family is in many instances an unsuitable place within which to rear children.

The life of the child in the typical nuclear family today (parents and children) and its wider life in society as a whole make up the two sides of the conflict between the child’s private conditions of life and its wider social conditions of life. In bourgeois society, the psychological development of the child is centred in the family, that is, within the social arena where its physical and other needs are putatively met. Not exclusively so, of course, with the profound encroachment of the ‘outside’ into the ‘family lives’ of children. However, the nuclear family is the social medium within which children form their earliest, most significant psychological attachments and dependencies.  The establishment, interplay and development of these attachments and dependencies form and condition the psychological content and conflicts of the inner relationships of the nuclear family.

The socio-economic conditions and parameters which prevail in capitalist society necessitate, maintain and encourage the continuation of the inner relationships of the nuclear family and their inherent contradictions. However, at the same time, these same socio-economic conditions, in the course of their development, create the basis for the disintegration of the nuclear family. This is especially the case today with the unfolding of capital’s structural crisis which must have the most profound impact on the family institution as it intensifies.

The conflicts between the ‘public’ lives of individuals and their ‘private’ lives within the exclusive coterie of the nuclear family can only subsist under conditions of social alienation. This separation between the ‘private’ world of the individual and the individual’s ‘public’ role in society is a function of the rise and evolution of private property and not something inherently human. Marx notes that…

Individuals have always proceeded from themselves but of course from themselves within their given historical conditions and relations, not from the “pure” individual in the sense of the ideologists. But in the course of historical development, and previously through the fact that within the division of labour social relations inevitably take on an independent existence, there appears a cleavage in the life of each individual, insofar as it is personal and insofar as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it. 

(Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976.  p.78) 

This social ‘cleavage’ in the life of people is reflected in the conflicts within their internal psychological worlds. For example, in the form of the relationship between the public persona of the individual on the one hand (embracing occupational/professional relationships, etc) and the inner egoism of the private world of thought and feeling of the same individual on the other hand.

Such antagonisms between the private and public sides of people’s lives are necessitated, cultivated and perpetuated by the social relations of the capital system itself which serve to ‘fragment the personality’ of the individual in his or her personal relationships. This social process of splitting the human personality into a ‘divided self’, under the conditions of alienation in the age of capital, commences very early in childhood. This, for example, can be seen in the problems and conflicts which emerge in disaffected children within the school system.

The development of children within the structures of the nuclear family takes place within a microsystem of self-enclosed, inward looking, socially claustrophobic relationships which today are displaying a tendency towards rapid break down, often very soon after they have been established. This itself is a manifestation of the unstoppable invasion of social crisis directly into the very depths and heart of the nuclear family. The dissolution of the nuclear family is a tendency of social development in the age of capital’s structural crisis.

The rearing of children takes place on an entirely different (indeed opposite) social foundation in the commune. The fundamental precondition for this altered way of nurturing children is the abolition of private property. The very notion of property disappears with the negation of private property. Those human characteristics which are intrinsically associated with the rule of private property, such as greed, acquisitiveness, possessiveness, etc, in both things and personal relationships, gradually disappear. Human relationships become free of their psychological effects. This means that children are no longer seen as ‘the children’ of specific individuals but are reared within the social conditions, and through the gregarious social relationships, of the commune. This tends to resolve and abolish the conflict between the private and public sides of the lives of children. Children become ‘social individuals’ as opposed to infantile versions of the ‘private individual’ of later adult existence in the age of capital and commodity production.

Children become ‘the children’ of the whole commune. They are reared by the whole commune as the relationships which characterise the internal structure of the nuclear family disappear with the evolution of the commune on the basis of its own self-created foundations. Of course, all this is anathema to the ideology of the bourgeois, nuclear family. It would mean that biological parents cease to have the same degree of social significance which they have for ‘their’ children reared within the monogamous nuclear family. Every adult in the commune becomes the social ‘parent’ (guardian) of each and every child. All children see each other as ‘brothers and sisters’  Hence, the very notions of ‘parent’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, ‘son’ ‘daughter’, etc, which express the narrow social relationships of the nuclear family will vanish. Child-adult relationships become transformed in the commune where biological parentage does not have or confer any special, exclusive social role or privilege upon these adults. The child is reared by the whole commune and grows to maturity without any notions of ‘my family’, ‘my mother’, ‘my father’, etc. The narrow, exclusive mode of rearing children in bourgeois society is superseded. The socially claustrophobic way of bringing children to maturity within the nuclear family ends. Children will be safe to wander under adult supervision, to inquire and be educated by many, to stay and live in the different locations of the planet, within communal relations in which they are completely safe, cared for and nurtured in their personal development by each and all.

These contrasting ways of rearing children relates to what Marx meant when he wrote that… 

the ability of children to develop depends on the development of their parents and that all this crippling under existing social relations has arisen historically, and in the same way can be abolished again in the course of historical development. Even naturally evolved differences within the species, such as racial differences, etc,…can and must be abolished in the course of historical development. 

(Marx, The German Ideology. p.425) 

The psychology and behaviour of children is a sensitive indicator of the general character of the social relations of the epoch. Vygotsky proposed that the development of the individual involves the psychological assimilation of the dominant social relationships and modes of behaviour. Specifically, relative to child development, he writes that…

Any function in the child’s cultural development appears on the stage twice, on two planes, first on the social plane and then on the psychological; first between people as an interpsychological category, and then inside the child, as an intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. The actual relations between human individuals underlie all the higher functions.

[Vygotsky, L.S. Development of Higher Mental Functions. Psychological Research in the U.S.S.R. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966) pp.44-45.]

This implies that children’s subjective experience of people and the world (how they think and feel about each other and themselves) is largely conditioned by the psychological internalisation of the social relationships within which they are reared.

The maturation of children in the commune outside the social relations of the nuclear family facilitates a higher degree of personal independence in children than can ever exist in bourgeois society. This accords with the human freedom that necessarily results from the establishment and development of classless, communal social relations beyond the epoch of capital.

The dependencies and attachments (‘family ties’) which characterise the nuclear family of bourgeois society must disappear with it as a social formation. The abolition of private property and the evolution of the commune forms the social basis for the dissolution of the nuclear family. People’s needs become unconditionally guaranteed (‘to each according to their needs’) and attainable outside the bounds and parameters of the traditional social unit of the nuclear family. It becomes historically redundant and obsolete as a social structure.

If the needs of children in the complete sense of the term (and not simply material needs like food, shelter, clothing, etc) are unconditionally guaranteed by society as a whole, then this must further serve to dissolve the traditional ties of the nuclear family based on the existence of private property. This must also transform children subjectively in terms of their internal psychological world and in their relations with each other and adults. For children, as with adults, it is only within the commune that each individual has…. 

the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association. 

(Marx. The German Ideology. p.78)

Shaun May

September 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Art in the Commune

Art in the Commune

Marx writes that the ‘narrowness’ of the ‘professional development’ of the artist expresses ‘his dependence on the division of labour’. Ultimately, the ‘exclusive’ character of Art is a function of this division of labour and is an expression of the fact that society continues to be divided into opposed classes.  Art remains under the sway of these class relations with their division of labour and, in its completeness and diversity as an activity, is essentially inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of people.

This social appropriation and monopolisation of Art takes place on the basis of, and is motivated by, the economic and cultural conditions of bourgeois society, intrinsic to which are its educational systems and institutions. The division of labour is a necessary feature of the organisation of bourgeois society in contradistinction to later post-capital, classless societies where the separation between manual and mental forms of labour is superseded with the end of class relations. 

Art, in particular, becomes an integrated part of these newly-posited social relationships in the commune. It becomes intrinsic to the life of each and every individual and not something alien or distinct from this life. Art is not identified or distinguished as a separate or distinct sphere of human activity as it is in bourgeois society. The social appropriation of Art in bourgeois society – its transference (estrangement) into and monopoly in the hands of specific social strata – is overcome in the commune. Under capitalism, Art is a medium through which the alienation of humanity is and can be expressed and, at the same time, a means of protesting (sometimes unconsciously) against those social conditions which necessarily produce human alienation in its different forms.

In bourgeois society – where the division of labour fragments labour into different manual and mental forms – Art itself becomes a distinctive sphere of human activity which is a sphere of activity monopolised and controlled by distinct social strata, groups or even ‘talented’ individuals. Thus, in The German Ideology, Marx writes that….

The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of the division of labour. Even if in certain social conditions, everyone were an excellent painter, that would by no means exclude the possibility of each of them being also an original painter…..with a communist organisation of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from the division of labour, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on the division of labour. In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities. 

(Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. Lawrence and Wishart, London,.1976. p.394)

Every individual in the commune will be artistic without being an ‘artist’. There is art but there are no ‘artists’.  Art becomes an expression of the free life of humanity in the commune and integral to its development, unconditioned by the ‘enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour’.

 (Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme. Marx-Engels Selected Works. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973. p.320)

Shaun May

September 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On the State Power of Capital

On the State Power of Capital

The tribal communities of prehistory lived without any alien state power directing their lives. The social cohesion, solidarity and interests of the community as a whole were maintained by its communal activity and control which produced its material needs and served in its struggle to survive the impact of its natural conditions of life or in its battles with other tribes or peoples e.g. during disputes, war, etc. These forms of social control existed in order to facilitate the survival and propagation of a community as a whole; to defend the material interests of the whole community against any natural or human encroachments that threatened its welfare.

The proposition that forms of social control predated class societies may seem to be without any social logic. For, after all, were not the earliest human societies without private ownership in land, and based on an egalitarian association and a common access to the fruits of nature and human labour? These early societies – without class structure and class relations – have often been conceptualised as being without forms of social control. However, the primeval character of the humanity-nature relationship at this early stage of development necessitated social consensus amongst people. This ‘consensus’ had to be arrived at and agreed by the group as a whole in order for it to survive and manage its affairs. Intrinsic to this consensus were forms of social control which furthered the social cohesion of communities in their daily struggle to survive. Consensus was arrived at by means of the popular democracy of these communities. It is only later, in class societies, that social control becomes institutionalised in the form of the state which embodies and maintains the interests of a ruling class in opposition to those of the subjugated class or classes.

The rise of private property – reflected in the rise of class societies – transforms the nature of social control from actually representing the general popular interest in tribal society to only appearing to do so in class societies. The actuality of class rule in the latter societies means that the forms of social control must, inevitably and ultimately, represent and serve the interests of the ruling class. The need for state power and control over society only arises at that point in human history where the communes of prehistory begin to socially dichotomise, to fragment and split up, into opposed classes. This commences as a determinate historical process when the productivity of labour arrives at that point where a surplus product over and above the immediate needs of the community has been produced.

This production of a surplus is necessarily accompanied by the division of labour into manual and mental forms and becomes manifest in the rise of an elected, and then later hereditary, priesthood out of the egalitarian relations of the commune. The origination of hereditary priesthoods is the first historical symptom that the ancient communal relations have started to break up and the transition to the new forms of class society with their state structures has commenced. These state structures arise, are established and develop historically on the basis of definite social relations (slave, feudal, bourgeois, etc) and are reproduced and perpetuated as the highest political embodiment of the interests of the ruling class of the epoch.

In the epoch of capital, the state power not only defends and justifies the continuing hegemony of the ruling capitalist class. In so doing, it performs a trick of history, by asserting itself as the representative of ‘society’ in general. In defending the interests of its class, it defends and legitimises its own existence as the ‘general social interest’. This phenomenological presentation serves to conceal the class character of the state power itself. All state power is the direct political articulation of the interests of the ruling class of the day. The state power is the political power of the ruling class. The important role and power of ideology is intrinsic to this process of class domination. And, in this respect, the state power of capital itself ideologically presents itself as the highest representation of the abstract ‘general social interest’ which serves to disguise the true articulation of class interest.

Accordingly, the state power of capital, whilst appearing to represent the ‘general interest’, in essence really functions to guard the particular interests of the class of the owners of big capital. This state form of class rule is presented as a social ‘consensus’ which dresses itself in the ‘rule of law’. This, in turn, serves to mask the reality of class rule in a veil of legalistic and ideological forms. These ideological aspects are of central importance which facilitate the capitalist class to legitimise its reign over society. Today, this is especially the case through its mass media which is owned and controlled by this ruling capitalist class and its servants in the state power. The reality of class rule is presented as a social consensus.

Through its ownership and control of the means of production and the state power, the capitalist class controls the social process of the production and realisation of the material means of life. Its mass media plays an indispensable role in this whole process of social control. This ownership and control of the whole social metabolism by capital becomes, with social development, institutionalised in the form of the state. This state of affairs becomes backed up by systems and forms of ideology, serving to maintain the grip of the ruling class on the whole social metabolic process.

An apparent consensus attempts to hide the real class nature of social relations thus enabling the ruling class to legitimise its reign. Ideology arises and is developed historically and specifically for this purpose. The emergence and development of an ideology corresponds to and expresses the material appropriation of the means of production by a given class i.e. the struggle of a caste or class for social power and hegemony based on its ownership and/or control of the means of production. The evolution of class society through its different phases of development modifies the forms of social control and their ideological expression so that they correspond to and represent the interests of a class in the ascendant or in power.

All societies with class or caste hierarchies throughout human history have always created state structures in one form or another to maintain the social interests of the ruling class or caste. The ruling class or caste of the day, and its state power, have owned and/or controlled the means of life and, in so doing, have been able to determine the survival or extinction of individuals or whole peoples. This has always been supported by ideology. ‘The ruling ideas of the day are those of the ruling class’ (Marx)

In class societies, control is exerted and reinforced by the ruling class through its ideological dominance and state institutions which are its ideology and institutions. Thus, in the historical development of the class struggle, opposed ideological positions function as representations and social expressions of contending class interests. They become a means of maintaining or abolishing the rule of a given class, of fighting out the class struggle to a standstill or towards the abolition of the reign of the old ruling class and its replacement with the new. Contrarily, in the communal relations of pre-class societies, ideology served as a medium within and through which the social integrity and solidarity of the commune was maintained in opposition to the encroachments of other peoples (e.g. tribal land use, rights, etc) and in the commune’s struggle to survive against the hostile forces of nature. In class societies, ideology (including morality) serves an indispensable role and function in the class struggle.

The state power of capital exists to maintain the rule of capital in the reproduction of the whole social metabolism. Its own existence as a power is conditional on the maintenance of this form of social reproduction which, as Istvan Meszaros writes, is becoming increasingly more destructive of nature and humanity as its endogenous ‘structural crisis’ unfolds and intensifies. The state power of capital functions politically and militarily to ‘maintain order’. This is the primary, ‘default’ role of the police and armed forces : for ‘internal control and repression’ and not for ‘external and foreign wars’ which is the usual myth and deceit peddled by the ideologues of capital and its media mouthpieces and chatterboxes. The state power of capital does not simply ‘administer’ the rule of one class over another through its government bureaucracies but actually maintains class rule by means of threat, violence, deceit and coercion.

A vital role of the state power of capital is to maintain the proletariat in a state of economic dependency on capital. In this respect, it supplements the direct, socio-economic role of capital itself within the working and turnover of the social metabolism. This involves, necessarily, coercion and oppression which impacts the lives of people at the personal level. The psychological internalisation and assimilation of the exploitative, compulsory, coercive, oppressive character of bourgeois social relations denotes the control of man over man, class over class and its state power over the whole of society. In the transitional phase from bourgeois to classless society, the producers democratically organise the regulation and control of society over itself. It becomes self-regulating. In the epoch of capital, the state power and its agencies confront the producers as alien social structures ruling over it on behalf of capital itself. State power, in one form or another, is always implicit or actual threat. State power is always violence waiting to happen (or actually happening) against those who threaten the social relations which constitute the basis of its own existence as a state power. This applied no less in second century Rome under the Antonine emperors as it does today in the age of globalising capital under the various state powers of capital. These state powers trade in fear, fear of loss, fear of humiliation, fear of death, etc. And all this must have psychological impacts at the personal and interpersonal levels such as anxieties, depression, social withdrawal and isolation, etc, and what the psychiatrists refer to as ‘mental illness’ and ‘personality disorders’. But all this ‘psychology’ is a social psychology which reflects, and articulates on a personal level, the exploitative, coercive and oppressive character of social relations in the epoch of capital and the dependence of people on this socio-economic relation.

If the individual tries to resist this relation as an isolated individual, s/he is countered with established or innovated mechanisms of control. For example, in the workplace, on the street in ‘public space’, in the ‘benefits (welfare) culture’, etc. You fight back simply as a solitary individual and capital and its state power disciplines you. You are threatened (as if by an armed gangster or mobster against his unarmed victim) because the realisation of your immediate needs are conditional on you working within and accepting the economic and social parameters and criteria laid down by the capital system. A system and regime of coerced subservience to capital pertains and maintains you in a state of dependent subsistence. Intimidation and fear is intrinsic to such a regime which uses them as a means of controlling people. It cannot survive without them.

However, such mechanisms of rule and control can only be employed, and are only effective, within definite social parameters, that is, only under definite socio-historical conditions which actually permit their effective operation and imposition.  Beyond a certain point of social development, the needs of people can only be realised on the condition of the destruction of those social relations which are maintained and perpetuated by such forms of social control and state power.  The conflict here between the needs and interests of opposed classes (capital and labour) is therefore expressed here, in particular, in the form of the dynamic conflict between the imposition of and resistance to systems and mechanisms of social control by the state power of capital.

In the classless ages which lie beyond capital and all state power, the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. The forms and systems of exploitative social control of previous class societies become unnecessary and disappear. Consequentially, those forms of human behaviour and corresponding ‘psychologies’ which are the outcome of the exploitative relations of bourgeois society must also die away. Those psychological forms that are necessarily associated with these relations begin to lose their grip on the mind and vanish. The social exploitation of man by man disappears. Accordingly, those compulsory characteristics of interpersonal relationships which grow out of the various forms of exploitation in bourgeois society must perish with its social relations.

The exploitative forms of social control and coercion, which are a necessary feature of class societies in general and of capitalist society in particular, find their highest expression in the form of the state power which always embodies a definite class nature according to the historical conditions of its actual origination and development. The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. It is the product of the developing antagonisms of the given class society. With the dissolution of bourgeois society in the transition to higher human communal relations, the state begins to wither away.

The state power only becomes necessary with the differentiation of society into opposed classes with the dissolution of the communal relations of prehistory. It becomes socially ‘unnecessary’ with the dissolution of the final form of class society and gradually ‘withers away’ since there are no class interests to defend subsequently in the resulting and succeeding eras of classless societies. The character of social relations no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of the state. When the state has vanished from the human landscape, notions of freedom must vanish with it. A truly free human being can have no concept of freedom. Such concepts are the products of the social relations of class societies with their enslaved classes and peoples, oppressions, conflicts, state powers, etc.  Thus, a truly free human being has no awareness of being free just as communist humanity will not categorise itself as ‘communist’.

In the course of this mighty historic transition beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society (specifically with the alienation within this dying society). This will show that society – in this revolutionary transition phase – has not completely disentangled itself from the legacies of bourgeois society. So long as the historical umbilical cord connecting people to the social legacies of this form of class society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society has not re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. In the course of this necessary transition, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, connecting humanity (at least psychologically) to the forms of social antagonism of the past.  Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned, however tenuously, by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the class society of the past.

The state power of capital, and not the broad mass of the people, rules and makes all the important decisions regarding social development. Humanity will not survive if this state of affairs continues. These state powers are leading society down an increasingly destructive path towards more death, barbarism and annihilation. Humanity must find a way out of this impasse in a transition to a new order which eclipses the epoch of capital and replaces it with a sustainable system of production based on meeting human needs rather than private profit. A transformation of the whole ‘social metabolism’ is required in order to create the new society beyond capital. Political and military changes alone will be inadequate to go beyond the epoch of capital and its state powers.

Very deep and profound ‘social metabolic’ changes and transformations will be required in order to progress beyond capital and its state powers. Movement beyond one is not separable from movement beyond the other and vice versa. The historical precedence of the formation of the necessary forms of revolutionary agency asserts itself here. The decision-making processes must be transferred to ‘social bodies’ of the proletariat in the course of challenging and dismantling the state powers of the capital order. From the very ‘metabolic bases’ of society to its highest ‘superstructural forms’, the proletariat must reorganise the whole of production and society on a new socialist and sustainable foundation. Progression to the elimination (‘withering away’) of the state power is an intrinsic part of this mighty historic process of transition.

The path to human freedom is opened up by means of the negation of the global domination of capital, of the negation of the reproduction of capital dominating the whole of the planet’s social metabolism and ecosystems. The character of this overthrow – whether it is peaceful, violent, etc – stems inevitably and directly from the degree to which capital and its state power offers resistance to the struggle for human emancipation from its rule. By peaceful means if possible. By war if necessary.

Shaun May

September 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Manuscripts on Psychology [2]

Manuscripts on Psychology [2]

[1] Categories of ‘Awareness’ (of ‘Sentience’) in Ancestral Animal Primates and Humans

The historical psychogenesis of the human mind presents itself in the form of an identity of the conscious and the unconscious. The historical origination of conscious awareness marks the origination of the human mind as a psycho-historical totality in the course of the transition from the pre-conscious animal primate to conscious humanity.

The awareness of the ancestral animal primate is a direct, immediate form of awareness which arises out of its relationship with its natural conditions of life. It is a synthesis of instinctive capacities with a learnt, conditioned knowledge which the animal acquires and ‘evolves’ in the course of the history of its life activity. It is not a conscious form of awareness as such but remains, nevertheless, a form of awareness; a non-conscious form of awareness. The emergence of conscious awareness supersedes this direct, immediate, experiential (‘knowing’) form of non-conscious awareness of the animal. Consciousness becomes a condominium of different forms of thinking which are not necessarily direct or mediated forms of knowledge. The ‘knowing’ awareness of the animal primate is raised to the conscious level which simultaneously involves forms of thinking which are not necessarily forms of knowledge.

In the passage from the pre-hominid, non-conscious state of awareness to the emergent conscious state, hominids were confronted, in the course of their life activities, by the forces and phenomena of Nature. The implication here is the positing of the potential for the emergence of conscious states arising out of the absence of a comprehensive understanding of the workings and inner processes of Nature as it confronts these hominid troups and communities. We have a growing conscious awareness of Nature as an overpowering presence of ‘otherness’. This awareness of Nature as such is reflected in the primitive notions of these hominid communities and their position in their perceived ‘order of things’ i.e. an emerging self-awareness; the genesis of the ‘I’ (the self) and the ‘We’ in early prehistory.

In this relationship with Nature is implied the possibility of coming to know its workings. On this ground of ignorance arises the various forms of early religious thinking (animisms) which become integrated conceptually and psychologically with direct forms of knowledge-thinking such as we find in primitive technique and activity. In the emergence of consciousness, religious conceptions (although the conceptual manifestation of ignorance in the face of the unknown forces and phenomena of Nature) contain, nevertheless, in embryo, forms of knowledge of Nature. In what sense? In the sense that natural phenomena are thought to be manifestations of divine, transcendental, mysterious, supernatural forces, we have here, implicitly, an embryonic deposition of a conception of causal relations (causality) which, when developed rationally later, has the potential to turn into scientific ideas. In this primitive perception of ‘connectedness’ is found the possibility of later developments in thought.

The evolution of human knowledge of Nature is synonymous with the evolution of, and transformations within, consciousness as a whole. We can clearly observe this in the course of the last five centuries of social development. The hominisation process (transition) abolishes the non-conscious awareness of the animal primate whilst simultaneously raising all the ‘knowing capacities’ of these hominoid forerunners of humanity to a higher conscious stage of development. The emergence of this higher form of conscious awareness simultaneously introduces a distinctly novel content in the newly posited forms of thinking which are not necessarily forms of knowledge. What Marx refers to as the ‘consciousness of the transcendental’ exemplifies these novel forms of thinking animating the emergent and emerged higher form of conscious awareness.

Is consciousness an eternal feature of the human psyche? Or rather the eternally dominant feature of that psyche? Or does the future hold changes and transformations within the psyche which propel it towards a higher form of human mind which is no longer dominated by conscious thought as its supreme agency? In the epoch in which we live, this is perhaps difficult, maybe impossible, for us or most of us to even consider as a possibility of later epochs. But surely if consciousness has come into being as the dominant characteristic of the human psyche, perhaps we can consider the possibility that this is not destined to be case. If we admit that the human psyche contains internal contradictions not merely in terms of the content of its inner conceptions but also within itself as a determinate formation (as a ‘structure’ and set of relations), then are these contradictions containable within the present form or is there posited in embryo the dissolution of this form and the emergence of a higher form of the human psyche in which the present status of conscious thought become altered or even transformed utterly?

Conscious awareness not only encompasses a rudimentary knowledge of the immediacy of surrounding conditions, technique, actions, etc, at the dawn of human existence but also, at the same time, incorporates within itself forms of thinking other than a ‘knowing awareness’. In the face of the unknown, mysterious, alien forces and phenomena of nature – which confront this consciousness in the making – the vacuum of ignorance is simultaneously filled with forms of religious and superstitious, etc, thinking. The positing of these forms of thinking expresses the relationship of alienation between humanity and nature which is as old as humanity itself and predates the emergence of social forms of alienation. It is through these conceptual forms that humans seek to give explanations for and meaning to these unknown forces. Animism is the first specific form of this type of thinking. The conception that nature contains indwelling (immanent) ‘spirits’ or ‘divinities’ which animate its movement. Deification of natural forces commences from this point in the evolution of consciousness.

The rise of consciousness itself is the ground of the rise of the human mind as a whole, transforming the non-conscious, non-conceptual awareness of the ancestral animal primate into its opposite in the form of an awareness that is conceptual and conscious. The human emotions start to originate in the course of this transition and with the subsequent development of the human psyche as a whole. The human ’emotions’ themselves, like consciousness per se, are essentially social products with both a history and prehistory. They are not necessarily eternal features of the human psyche. For example, social relations without jealousy are very easily conceivable. Today, in the epoch of capital, envy readily grows on the basis of the competition between people, their hatreds and loves, successes or failures, perceived or otherwise, etc.

The point of origin of the human emotions, their emergence and disappearance, lies in the character of the prevailing social relations and not in the materiality of the brain itself. Of course, without the brain and body there can be no ‘feeling’ or ’emotion’ as such. However, the emotions themselves must have a social history in which they arise and evolve (and may disappear) as psychological expressions of continuously changing socio-historical relations. The dynamics of our interpersonal relations, experiences and thoughts which gives rise to our emotions are the direct and mediated expression of these ‘socio-historical’ relations. Human emotions are not simply the unmediated manifestations of the neurological processes of the brain.

The labour process constitutes the social basis for the origination of the human psyche. Implicit in this process is the need for communication and therefore language (practical language – speech). Thought itself must arise with language and its practical, directly social articulation in the form of speech. The origination of consciousness itself is the transformative element in the supersedence of the awareness of the animal primate into that of Homo and, as such, into the human psyche as a whole.

Trotsky remarks in his Notebooks (1933-1935) that the human psyche is a distinct form of motion – with its own inner laws of development – which is the outcome of biological and socio-historical development. It is a higher synthesis (sublation) of the biological and the social, emerging and developing historically as a higher form of motion distinct from other forms. The human psyche is, therefore, seen as a socio-historical product of the brain and must be subject to change according to alterations and transformations in historical conditions.

‘Knowledge’ per se, and its social and practical implications, holds a pre-eminent, ‘revolutionary’ role in the evolution of the psyche. Consider the effects and impact of Darwin’s discoveries on the human consciousness of nature and itself as a part of it. Its ‘revolutionary’ and ‘transformative’ role in relation to religious conceptions of the origin of life and humanity. But even within religious doctrine itself, consider the very profound impact which the Protestant Reformation had on the consciousness of the individual of European societies. Before, access to the divine was only through the church and priests and in a language (Latin) which most people did not understand. This inevitably presented religious experience and thinking in a fog of mystery with the Church hierarchy taking on the ‘semi-divine’ and authoritarian role of interceding between ‘God’ and the people. The Reformation meant that people could have a direct, individual relationship with ‘God’ in a language they understood through access to the Bible. They could start to think doctrinally for themselves without the preordained authority of the Catholic Church. In relation to Darwinism, if people know that they are the biological outcome of a lengthy animal prehistory, then a whole new perspective is placed on the precepts and doctrines of religion in general. At least on a conceptual, and therefore psychic, level it starts to undermine religion in people’s outlook on the world. Once the real causes and character of natural phenomena are identified, all those former ‘explanations’ arising out of religious doctrines are fatally ‘injured’. Religion as the ‘consciousness of the transcendental arising from actually existing forces‘ (1) is undermined.

Initially, in religion, the ’causes’ of natural phenomena necessarily take the form of conceptions which lie beyond the actual limitations and character of the observed phenomena. And this regardless of the simple truth that a relation must exist between the actuality of the phenomena and the religious conception which seeks to understand them. This contradiction arises out of the primitive level of technique and knowledge itself. These religious conceptions (often found in the form of myths) become the expressions of humanity’s ignorance of natural forces and phenomena whilst, at the same time, are an attempt to explain them. They reflect the struggle of the earliest human societies to understand, and come to terms with, those natural forces which govern their daily lives. People are asking the question ‘Why?’ even at the earliest stages of human existence.

[2] Technique and Consciousness

The primordial level of technique and corresponding real knowledge of nature in prehistory – mediating humanity’s relation with nature – inevitably conditions the early forms of consciousness and psychic life as a whole. Plekhanov writes that…

as the development of productive forces signifies the increasing power of man over nature, it is clear that any increase in productive forces implies a diminution in absolute ignorance (i.e. in man’s ignorance of nature). Natural phenomena which man does not understand and therefore cannot control give rise to various kinds of superstition. At a certain stage of social development, superstitions become closely interwoven with man’s moral and legal ideas, to which they then lend a peculiar hue. In the process of the struggle – called forth by the development of the new actual relations of men in the social process of production – religious views often play a very important part. Both the innovators and conservatives invoke the aid of the gods, placing various institutions under their protection or even claiming that they are expressions of divine will. (2)

For example, the process of making a flint axe is not only mediated by, and further develops, a knowledge of the actual process itself but, at the same time, becomes the source of a whole range of notions stemming from human ignorance of those natural laws and processes which are determining and mediating the production process of the axe. For example, why does the axe suddenly break when struck at a certain angle? where do the sparks and light come from when the hammer impacts the flint, etc? Where and how do all the different shades and colours arise, etc?

The productive relationship between man and nature (labour) is continuously giving rise to alterations in our conceptions of nature. A primitive, directly sensuous understanding of nature is necessarily accompanied by a profound ignorance of natural forces as expressed in animistic conceptions. Hence, from the very dawn of human existence, human thought presents itself as an identity of forms of thinking which express both a primitive, directly sensuous, knowledge of nature and a profound ignorance of it in the face of its phenomena and forces. This psychic relationship between different forms of conceptual content develops historically as an absolute relation of the psyche through is various stages of development in later stages of society. All these forms of thinking develop in their conceptual content and mutually influence each other’s evolution. They (and therefore the relationships between them) become, as the socio-historical process unfolds, subject to continual change and transformation. The development of technique and knowledge lies at the root of all these developments and transformations in conscious thought as a whole. Knowledge plays out its absolute revolutionary role in the history of the psyche by impacting the conceptual content of the psyche as a whole

Human knowledge tends to supplant ‘irrational’ conceptions of nature and society so that such forms of thinking and their outcomes – especially the religious – become subject to supersedence in the course of socio-historical development. A developmental tendency asserts itself in the history of the psyche towards the negation of this ‘irrational content’, bringing humanity into a closer, more intimate and more respectful relation to the natural basis of its own life conditions. The advance of a comprehensive knowledge of the laws of nature, based on developing and increasingly more sophisticated levels of technique, tends to eclipse religious conceptions of nature. Accordingly, this dialectic (this relation) is always becoming reformed and modified in its conceptual content and thus being continuously shifted to a higher stage of development in the course of the history of the human psyche.

A historical shift away from nature towards social relations as the source of these ‘irrational conceptions’ takes place as nature becomes scientifically explicable. This explicability of nature becomes established in the general consciousness and taken for granted. A ‘rational’ explanation for natural phenomena becomes established as a precept in the consciousness of modern humanity. Social relations become the prime source of ‘irrational conceptions’ and these relations tend to become mediated by forms of secular thinking which exist alongside or have superseded religious forms.

The epoch of capital must be transcended if a higher form of the human personality is to come into being and develop on the basis of the social relationships of a global, classless human culture, unhindered by the inherently exploitative relationships of class societies. Under such conditions, the productive forces of society will be opened up to an ongoing development, unlimited by the social relations of capitalism and limited only by the requirements of ecological sustainability and the prevailing stage of technique beyond which humanity will pass with the development of human knowledge. The further development of the productive forces of human society…

is not needed for its own sake. In the last analysis the development of the productive forces is needed because it provides the basis for a new human personality, conscious, without a lord over him on earth, not fearing imaginary lords born of fear, in the sky – a human personality which absorbs into itself all the best of what was created by the thought and creativity of past ages, which in solidarity with all others goes forward, creates new cultural values, constructs new personal and family attitudes, higher than those which were born on the basis of class slavery. The development of the productive forces is dear to us, as the material pre-supposition of a higher human personality, not shut up in itself but co-operative, associative…(3)

[3] Social Relations and Role of Ideology

Ideological thought serves opposite roles in pre-class and class societies. In the former, it functions to maintain the social cohesion and solidarity of the tribe or the clan communities. The rise of class societies transforms this cohesive role into its opposite where it increasingly takes on a class character. Ideology – whilst purporting and appearing to represent the ‘general interest’ – functions to maintain the interests of the ruling caste or class in its dominance of society through its control and/or ownership of the means of production and state power. This transformation in the social character and significance of ideology reflects the transition from pre-class to class forms of society and the onward evolution of the latter forms introduce changes and shifts in ideological thought.

Pre-class societies are self-regulating and self-controlling. In class societies, control is exerted and reinforced by the ruling class through its ideological dominance and state institutions which are its institutions. Thus, in the historical development of the class struggle, ideology functions as a representation and social expression of contending class interests and becomes a means of maintaining or abolishing the rule of a given class. Contrarily, in pre-class society, ideology serves as a medium within and through which the social integrity and solidarity of the commune is maintained in opposition to the encroachments of other peoples (e.g. tribal land use, rights, etc) and in the commune’s struggle to survive against the hostile forces of nature. In class societies, ideology (including morality) serves an indispensable function in the class struggle.

The self-regulation and self-control of the pre-class, tribal communities of prehistory reflected the need to maintain the cohesion, solidarity and interests of the community in its struggle to survive the impact of its natural conditions of life or in its battles with other tribes or peoples e.g. during disputes, war, etc. The rise of private property – mirrored in the rise of class societies – transforms the nature of social control from actually representing the general popular interest in tribal society to only appearing to represent it in class societies. The actuality of class rule in the latter societies means that the forms of social control must, inevitably and ultimately, articulate and serve the interests of the ruling class. Therefore the need for a state power arises only at that point in human history where the communes of prehistory begin to socially dichotomise, to fragment and split up, into opposed classes with different social interests. This commences as a determinate historical process when the productivity of labour arrives at that point where a surplus over and above the immediate needs of the community as a whole has been produced. This production of a surplus is necessarily accompanied by the division of labour into manual and mental forms and manifested socio-historically by the rise of an elected, and then later, hereditary priesthood out of the egalitarian relations of the commune. This is what happens in the first great river valley civilisations such as the Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Ganges and Yangste. The origination of the priesthood is the first historical symptom that pre-class society has commenced the transition to the higher forms of class society with their state structures. These state structures arise, are established and develop historically on the basis of definite social relations (slave, ‘asiatic’, feudal, bourgeois, etc) and are reproduced and perpetuated as the highest political embodiment of the interests of the ruling caste or class of the epoch.

Changes in social relations alter the conceptual content and functions of ideology but also the latter, at the same time and in its turn, serves as a political weapon which is articulated for change and instrumental in the transformation in social relations. For example, morality is continuously changing its forms in the course of the evolution of society in order to meet and express the needs of a given people or of those of contending classes.

Where social power relations cease to mediate relations between people, this has very profound consequences for them on a psychological level. If the exploitation of man by man disappears and thus, accordingly, the power relations corresponding to all forms of exploitation, this means that all social relationships involving the control of some by others, one subjugated class by another ruling class, one person by another, etc, become subject to dissolution. Since power relations always involve control – and therefore anxiety and fear – the negation of such relations involving domination and exploitation necessarily brings in its wake the negation of their social psychological effects and manifestations. People live a life free of their associated psychological mediations. This must transform human relations and the subjective life of the individual. The relations of class societies – embodying coercion, oppression, exploitation, abuse, etc, irrespective of the form of class society – are the real source of human misery and suffering. The conflicts and contradictions within class societies are reflected in the inner psychological conflicts and dynamics of the mind formed by these societies. These conflicts are not a function of the neurology of the brain itself but are socio-historical in origin and nature.

[4] The Conscious and The Unconscious in the Human Psyche

The hominisation process transforms the simple, non-conscious, awareness of the ancestral primate forerunners of hominids (an identity of their instinctive and learnt capacities) into the human psyche as the identity of the conscious and the unconscious. The ‘historical moment of negation’ of the period of many thousands of years when humanity lived without class divisions and state powers is represented by the relatively brief period of the rule of private property. The negation of this rule with its attendant state powers is the return of humanity to a classless, communal state of affairs without the need for state powers and structures. Alienation is a transient aspect of this passing ‘historical moment of negation’.

There is no eternal human ‘psychological nature’ where the specific characteristics of a given epoch or even expansive period of transhistorical development must always be intrinsic to human relationships in all epochs, at all times and places. Particular psychological determinations emerge at different stages or during different periods in the history of society. For example, specific emotions only arise with, and are the products of definite social relations and institutions. The emotion of jealousy or envy, for example, only comes into being and mediates human relationships with the emergence of the psychological dependencies, attachments and acquisitiveness of those interpersonal relationships which are the outcome of the rise of private property, the forms of the family, personal relations, etc, corresponding to it in the course of its social evolution, etc. Accordingly, human behaviour, intrinsically mediated by and in unity with mental life, can only be scientifically and comprehensively understood on a socio-historical basis. Implicitly, there can be no eternal human psychological nature destined to characterise human relationships in, at and for all times and all places. Human behaviour is not ahistorical.

The human psyche arises as the identity of the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious originates as the psychic opposite of the unconscious to which it gives rise in the course of its genesis out of the non-conscious forms of awareness of the ancestral, animal pre-hominid. Thereafter, in the socio-historical development of psyche, the conscious and the unconscious exist and evolve in opposition to each other within their dialectical relation. In their identity, they constitute the most fundamental opposites of the one singularity which is the human psyche.

The instincts of the animal pre-hominid are superseded (sublated) into the unconscious of the human as a result of the rise and establishment of conscious awareness. For this reason, the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious is one of necessary opposition so that each mediates the other and cannot subsist without being in relation to the other. Each, in being the negation of the other, simultaneously and continuously reposits, determines and reaffirms the other and, in so doing, reaffirms itself and thus its own essential nature. Since the unconscious is the sublation of instinct, it must, by definition, contain the instinctive absorbed within itself. Abolished and yet not absolutely abolished. Transformed into the unconscious as a consequence of the rise of the conscious. Each psychic moment contains expressed within itself both conscious and unconscious sides or aspects. Human learning capacities have moved on beyond that of animals and the instinctive capacities of humanity’s animal ancestors have become utterly transformed by the origination and evolution of consciousness over millions of years. Human consciousness originates as a higher form of awareness. Human beings are aware of being aware i.e. they possess the ability to reflect and engage in the mental processes of internal dialogue (self-consciousness).

The realms of the conscious (the ‘conceptful’) and the unconscious (the ‘conceptless’) intermediate. This intermediation constitutes the life of the psyche as a whole. The ‘conceptless’ realm is, therefore, itself mediated by forms of thinking and feeling which are actually within, or have originated within, the field of conscious experience. The wholeness of the psyche means that any aspect of its life is always being registered and expressed, in one form or another, in the field of consciousness. Reciprocally, what is taking place in consciousness is constantly mediating the whole life of the unconscious. The intermediation of the conscious and the unconscious therefore constitutes the life of the psyche as a singularity. The psyche is the ‘exponent’ of its interrelated and intermediating conscious and unconscious sides. The whole is always greater and more complex than the summation of its component parts or sides.

Once humanity has passed irreversibly beyond the class stages of society, will the human psyche tend in its development towards a higher stage of development in which the inner structures and relationships which characterised it in pre-class and class societies are superseded into a higher synthesis with its associated forms of development? Within and beyond these developments, does the transcendence of the opposition between the conscious and the unconscious take place, transforming the psyche as a whole? Do the conscious and the unconscious become superseded as interrelated realms in the life process of this higher form of human awareness, raising the psychic powers of humanity to a qualitatively higher stage of development? The emergence of a higher supraconscious form of awareness beyond the negated relationship between the conscious and the unconscious? A return to the natural awareness of the ancestral form but at the higher level of the supraconscious? This return equating to the complete ‘naturalisation of humanity’ which ‘as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism’ (Marx, Paris Manuscripts, 1844).

[5] The Paradigms of Psychiatry in the Epoch of Capital

The characteristics of the prevailing social relations always find, in one form or another, their reflection in the internal subjective psychological world of the individual. Whether that ‘reflection’ is categorised as a form of ‘mental illness’ or not. All mental states originate and unfold as social products of the brain. These states express definite relationships between social conditions and our experience of them as directly manifest in our subjective registration in the form of certain ways of thinking, emotion, mood, etc. Psychiatry’s paradigms and criteria – the precepts under which it operates as an approach and practice – are given by the normative forms of human behaviour of the prevailing society. This, of course, implies an ideological and political side to psychiatry which we will not investigate for the time being. However, if psychiatry diagnoses an individual with a ‘mental illness’ or a ‘personality disorder’, this undoubtedly implies a social judgement comparing the individual’s behaviour and experience against the prevailing norms of behaviour. Capitalist society is ‘normalised’ and implicitly seen as ‘neutral’ in the origination of these mental states. The individual is viewed as ‘suffering from a mental disorder’ where the origin of this disorder is not located in the actual characteristics of the epoch of capital itself but rather within the ‘defective’ or ‘ill’ individual or in his/her inability to ‘cope’ with the impact of these social characteristics and relations. Again, the inability to ‘cope’ or the capacity of ‘insight’ is emphasised as part of the point of origin of ‘illness’ and not the real, social world in which people actually live out their lives. The medicalisation of mental states effectively amounts to ‘turning a blind eye’ to the reality of living out life in the age of capital. A ‘blind eye’ to all those conflicts and contradictions which really exist and impact people’s lives in capitalist society and which are the real source of so-called ‘states of mental illness’.

Repetitively, modern psychiatry – with its biological, scientistic conception of mental states – usually assigns the neurochemical effects of the experience (and mental processing of this experience) of social conditions and relations to be the prime causes of ‘mental illness’. This psychiatric conception of mind – relegating the primary, fundamental role of social conditions in the psychogenesis of these mental states to a subsidiary level or seeing an ontological equivalence or parity between the importance of social conditions and neurochemistry – must, therefore, always consider these mental states to be forms of illness. It must identify so-called ‘mental illness’ to be the conceptual, affective and behavioural outcome of defects, in one form or another, in the biology of the brain itself. The use of drugs to ‘treat’ these states can, ultimately, only serve to address the neurochemical effects of these mental states. The use of drugs, therefore, cannot comprehensively tackle the real, social basis of the psychogenesis of ‘mental illness’. But taken as a whole, psychiatry does not identify the paradigms and conditions of social life of the prevailing epoch as the real source of these mental states identified as ‘illnesses’. Rather its conception of them is a medicalised conception in the same way (using the same scientistic approach) that cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc are correctly grasped.

The biochemical conception of mental states in modern psychiatry is a pseudo-scientific conception parading and representing itself as a truly scientific one under the auspices of biological science. Herein lies the profound limitation of the psychiatric conception of mind. Under the socio-historical conditions which pertain to the rule of capital and its state powers, and within specific circumstances of these given conditions for the individual, the psychogenesis of the so-called mental illnesses becomes inevitable. Their possibility is inherent in the character of the relationships of the epoch, with its oppression, wage slavery and alienation. The transformation of the possibility of these states into actual states of mind mediating the social behaviour of individuals is a product of given social conditions, relationships and circumstances socially experienced and psychologically internalised by individuals in the course of their life activity. The psychological internalisation of social experience under definite conditions gives rise to forms of thinking with a specific conceptual content which animates the psychodynamics of the so-called mental illnesses. It is the realities of definite forms of social experience in the mode of life of the individual which serve as the real basis of the psychogenesis of these mental states. A comprehensive assessment and evaluation of the life conditions of any individual categorised as ‘mentally ill’ always demonstrates an inextricable and indisputable causal connection between the individual’s historical experience of these conditions – the life history of the individual – and the psychogenesis of definite mental states which determines and mediates the individual’s relationships to others (Lang, Esterson, Szasz).

The fact that certain mental states are categorised as forms of illness reflects the medicalised comparison of established norms of social behaviour and interaction (and their associated thought-forms) with that which is considered aberrant. But the established forms are themselves not understood and critiqued as the real source of the origination of these mental states. The mode of life of a given individual within the social conditions of the capitalist epoch is the medium within which and where  personal experiences and relationships have constituted the basis for the transformation of a ‘healthy’ state of mind into a ‘diseased’ state. But what is the real, basis of all this? The neurology of the individual or the actual characteristics of the conditions and relationships of capitalist society?

The fact that a given individual cannot ‘cope’ with the psychological effects of the oppressive, abusive and exploitative character of definite social relations is in itself an intrinsic part of his or her social condition and not a biochemical defect or deficiency of the brain of that particular individual. Psychiatry considers such individuals who cannot ‘cope’ with the prevailing character of human relationships in capitalist society to be ‘ill’ i.e. biochemically deficient or malfunctional in the same way that, for example, a diabetic manifests specific symptoms because of an insulin deficiency. Before the rise of the modern natural sciences, ‘mental illness’ was considered to be divinely or demonically caused. Such ideas reflected the dominance of religious conceptions of nature and human behaviour. For example, in prehistory, the trepanning of the skull was widely practised in order to release ‘evil spirits’ from the head of the individual. Such practices, in themselves, could be evidence of organic disorders of the brain in pre-history or even of states of mind which today the psychiatrists would diagnose as forms of ‘mental illness’. Religious conceptions of illness and disease accorded with the general and dominant ideological conceptions of the day as being the result of divine or demonic intervention in human affairs. The categorisation of specific mental states, in societies pre-dating the modern scientific era, as forms of illness would have been inconceivable under the prevailing socio-historical conditions of the time. They would have been understood to be the result of the intervention of ‘benevolent’ or ‘evil spirits’ and the appropriate way of dealing with them would have been consultation with the priest, shaman or witch doctor. Even today some still seek ‘exorcism’ from the Christian priest or pastor.

The conception of ‘mental illness’ in psychiatry is scientistic (more specifically biologistic) and assigns undetermined and undiscovered biochemical malfunctioning to underlie these mental states which are conceptualised as forms of ‘illness’. Psychiatry – basing itself on the medical conception of illness – does not relate the altered neurochemistry of the ‘mentally ill’ individual to the psychosocially derived conceptual content of specific mental states which animates changes in such mental states and whose origin is to be found in the personal history of the social relationships and experiences of the individual under definite social conditions of his/her life. In other words, neurochemical effects (which in themselves simultaneously become causal in terms of mood alterations in such mental states) are assigned as the primary ground of the origin of these states rather than the really existent character of social relations which are experienced and assimilated by the ‘ill’ individual. Therefore, the medical model or conception of these states neglects or ignores the primacy of the character of social relationships and thus the socially-determined conceptual content of those forms of thinking which engender and are intrinsic to these mental states.

The rise of modern science ‘medicalises’ these mental states, assigning primary biochemical causes. Their origin is identified as being rooted in changes in the biochemistry or physiology of the brain itself. Their origins are not seen as being rooted in and the outcome of the history of the individual’s social experience of human relationships under given socio-historical conditions in the current epoch. The medicalised model of mental illness essentially denies that neurochemical effects are the reaction to, and outcome of, the specific social experience of individuals living a particular mode of life under the prevailing social conditions of the epoch. Psychiatry is a bogus medicine. A latter-day, more sophisticated form of phrenology.

[6] Society and Nature 

The character of social relations conditions and expresses the character of humanity’s relationship with nature so that the transformation of the former serves to transform the latter and vice versa. Thus, in the transformation of social relations, the relationship of human individuals [human individuality as the ‘ensemble of social relations’ (Marx)] to each other and to nature becomes transformed. A society based on the exploitation of man by man, of class by class, will always reflect this character in its relationship with nature which will be likewise exploitative, destructive, brutal, without regard, care and love for other living beings, infested with cruelty in its manifold forms.

Such relations are, of course, manifested at all levels in such societies from the macrocosmic of economic and state relations down to the microcosmic within the dynamics of interpersonal and interpsychological relations. Society emerges out of humanity’s activity in nature but, once emerged, the character of our relations with nature are primarily conditioned by the specific characteristics and relations of the given, prevailing society. In the current epoch, the direct requirements of capitalist commodity production necessitate the disturbing mass destruction and annihilation of nature’s majestic creation. Living nature is being sacrificed on the high altar of capital accumulation; on the altar of capital’s ‘destructive reproductive’ drive to counter the impact of its own now unfolding structural crisis.


(1) Marx, The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5. (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976)  p.93

(2) Plekhanov, G.V. The Materialist Conception of History (London, Lawrence and      Wishart, 1940) pp.45-47

(3) Trotsky,  Women and the Family (New York, Pathfinder, 1972) p.30


Shaun May

September  2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On the Origins of Religion [2]

On the Origins of Religion [2]

Religion – its practices, conceptual content, ritual, beliefs, etc – is humanity’s creation.  The identification of the human creation as the universal creator and arbiter of human affairs impels humanity to bow down and worship its own social creation. In this relationship, humanity identifies its own creation as its own creator and thus gives religious thought and practice its ‘inverted character’ (Marx). Accordingly, in the inverted world of religion, what is specifically created by humanity is identified by people as the actual creator of humanity. Religion, summa summarum – in its continually changing forms – is a product of the evolution of human society. Religion is man’s own creation. Thus, Marx writes that in the…

mist-enveloped regions of the religious world…..the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race (Marx, Vol. 1, Capital, p.77). Man is governed by the products of his own brain. (Ibid, p. 582).

It is, of course, rationalistic to try to ‘argue away’ religion when the social conditions which form the ground for its existence have not, as yet, been negated. And when those conditions have been positively superseded there will, of course, be no grounds and no need to conduct this rationalistic interrogation of religion because religion itself will have vanished as a practice. The buildings and texts of religion will remain as part of the cultural heritage of humanity but our approach to them will be a purely human one without their theistic, sentimental reflection in thought and ritual.

Rationalism grapples with religion as if it is a set of ideas to be ‘argued out of existence’ and ‘proven to be wrong’ or ‘shown to be irrational’, etc. The same approach is found today with Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. Religion, he states, is an irrational ‘delusion’. But it is a ‘delusion’ which is rooted in the ‘reality’ of the present society with all its problems and suffering.

What this rationalist tradition, therefore, does not do is to seek to locate the real social and historical basis for religion. It does not grasp religion as the creation of human history and therefore as a form of thinking and practice which can only be superseded by further historical development as the conditions of human life evolve. It does not see that religious feeling and sentiment exist because there are, currently, real grounds for its existence actually in operation socially. People still feel the need for religion. Thus, its approach is simply to confront religion rationalistically which is an ideological confrontation on both sides.

Marx’s criticism of religion took place in an epoch where it was driven from one refuge after another. Darwin’s discoveries delivered a massive blow to religion. Trotsky recalls that…… 

In his youth, Marx said “The criticism of religion is the basis of all other criticism”.  In what sense?  In the sense that religion is a kind of fictitious knowledge of the universe. This fiction has two sides: the weakness of man before nature, and the incoherence of social relations. Fearing nature or ignoring it, being unable to analyse social relations or ignoring them, man in society endeavoured to meet his needs by creating fantastic images, endowing them with imaginary reality, and kneeling before his own creations. The basis of this creation lies in the practical need of man to orient himself, which in turn springs from the conditions of the struggle for existence.

Religion is an attempted adaptation to the surrounding environment in order successfully to meet the struggle for existence. In this adaptation there are practical and appropriate rules. But all this is bound up with myths, fantasies, superstitions, unreal  knowledge. Just as all culture is the accumulation of knowledge and skill, so is the criticism of religion the foundation for all other criticism. In order to pave the way for correct and real knowledge, it is necessary to remove fictitious knowledge. This is true, however, only when one considers the question as a whole. Historically, not only in individual cases, but also in the development of whole classes, real knowledge is bound up, in different forms and proportions, with religious prejudices. The struggle against a given religion or against religion in general, and against all forms of mythology and superstition, is usually successful only when the religious ideology conflicts with the needs of a given class in a new social environment.  In other words, when the accumulation of knowledge and the need for knowledge do not fit into the frame of the unreal truths of religion, then one blow with a critical knife sometimes suffices and the shell of religion drops off  (Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science. Monad Press, New York, 1973. p.309.) 

‘Real knowledge of the forces of nature ejects the gods or God from one position after another’ but ‘in the sphere of social phenomena reflection is still more difficult’ (Engels). Natural forces, not embracing within themselves the element of subjectivity, have a greater or more tangible degree of ‘otherness’ and therefore are more accessible to understanding than are subject-imbued social phenomena. The understanding of ‘the sphere of social phenomena’- which is the creation of subjectively-thinking and acting people – is ‘more difficult’.

As knowledge of the world deepens, it unearths its own inexactitudes and thus, in the process of its historic development, becomes more exact and more profound. In the totality of these developments, the human mind as a whole is always being pushed forward into new phases of development. Side by side with a growth in the real knowledge of nature proceeds the evolution of religious conceptions of natural forces. In the history of the human personality, it is not exclusively the transformation of social relations but also the progress of human knowledge of the world which plays a revolutionary role. The two, of course, are not separable historically.

In the earliest societies, humanity’s relationship with nature was permeated with superstition. For example, a plentiful harvest was thought to indicate divine favour whereas a dearth or drought was thought to express the wrath of the deities. Technique or behaviour that produced or coincided with favourable outcomes in terms of meeting the needs of a people were given divine and therefore religious significance. These techniques and modes of behaviour, e.g. fire-making, were often attributed to legendary or mythical ancestors (if not to the gods themselves) who, in their turn, acquired such abilities from the gods or deities. The real origins of such techniques and behaviour – lying in the distant prehistoric past of a people – were themselves often mythologised thereby transferring the real prehistoric origins of a given technique or behaviour into the realms of myth, legend and religion. Such notions were then used to describe the origins (or ‘tell the stories’) of technique and behaviour, etc, e.g. the story of Prometheus in Greek myth stealing fire from the gods. People first learnt to capture and harness fire by taking it directly from its natural occurrence. In reality, ‘Prometheus’ ‘stole’ it from nature and not the gods. Only later did people learn how to make fire so that such techniques became a normal part of their daily lives for cooking, making and tempering tools, clearing scrub ground for agriculture, for renewed growth of vegetation for hunting and gathering (Australian Aborigines), managed burning of vegetation, etc.

The mythologies and legends of different peoples are the story books of their prehistory which reflect, in the form of fantastic images and tales, the struggles involved in the historic movement away from established property relations towards their alteration or new relations. In the course of the unfolding of this process, this involved the rejection of previous modes of human behaviour (and the embrace of new ones) that were a product of the mode of life determined by the older forms or characteristics of property relations.  The overturning of the ‘old’ ways inevitably involved putting everything associated with the ‘old’ ways – including all forms of social behaviour – through a process of socio-cultural transformation. Some forms of behaviour were discarded and others continued as being socially consonant with the altered or new property and social relations.

Some forms of behaviour were considered to be favoured and others disfavoured by the deities or gods. This is echoed in the outlook of religions today which continue to consider specific forms of human behaviour or activity as being divinely proscribed. In fact, certain forms of behaviour no longer prevail or are rare or aberrant because the social basis of their legitimacy has vanished with the disappearance of earlier property relations. Such modes of behaviour could have been rejected because they were no longer in accord with the ‘wishes’ of the gods. Historically, they were no longer consonant with the newly-emerged or modified property relations. Accordingly, as social relations developed, certain modes of behaviour tended to vanish. The origin of taboos can be understood within this wider historical perspective and not simply conceptualised as the mere abandonment of ‘bad’ or ‘anti-social’ practices.

The word ‘taboo’ or tabu’ is a Polynesian word signifying a social ban or prohibition on a particular act, form of behaviour, contact with particular persons, things, places, etc. Taboo may also include the prohibition on the speaking of certain words, names, phrases, etc. Taboo customs are not exclusively Polynesian but have been found in all cultures at various stages in their history e.g. amongst the Jews, ancient Egyptians, Arabs, etc. In the Polynesian islands what is taboo is also thought of as sacred. The concept of ‘pollution’ in Anthropology describes any belief that some state, person, thing, relationship, etc, is unclean and must be restricted because it is socially contaminating, e.g. intercaste relationships in some societies, menstruation in some tribal societies, etc. The transgression of taboos carries a punishment which may take the form of ostracism, exile, persecution, etc, or even death.

For example, specific forms of behaviour and practices which, as a result of historical experience and the lessons of these experiences, were thought or known to threaten the life or general well-being of a community were prohibited.  These prohibitions became enshrined in the religious ideology of a community so that the transgression of such prohibitions warranted punishment. Exclusion from a community in prehistoric times often meant death for individuals since the individual could not survive independently of the life process of the community.  Those practices and forms of behaviour that were known to be detrimental to the well-being of the community (through an awareness of the causal relation between the practice and the results of it) or were believed to be harmful (often as a result of the chance coincidence of a practice with some other detrimental phenomenon, usually natural) were outlawed and a strict social control of the tribe over their manifestation was exercised. The historical human experience (and the lessons drawn from these experiences) of a correlation (either causal or accidental) between phenomena (sometimes mediated, at least partially or accidentally, by human action) is at the core of the incorporation of prohibitive notions into an ideology. The fact that a practice becomes prohibited demonstrates the social importance that is attributed to the sphere within which the practice has traditionally taken place; for example, in production, sexual relations and religion. The social prohibition of certain practices becomes an integral part of the ideology of a community. In early societies, these prohibitions take on a religious significance. This serves to reinforce the prohibition so that its transgression is, at the same time, a profanity against the deities or gods which are believed to be controlling human affairs. Here, the subjective creations of the human mind are believed to be real entities existing independently of humanity and determining its ‘fate’. The severity of a punishment inflicted for the transgression of a prohibition therefore reflects, in the outlook (ideology) of a people, the social importance (perceived or actual) of the prohibition in the welfare of its community.

The intervention of the gods was ‘seen’ everywhere in nature and social life.  Plagues and famine necessitated supplication. They became understood as manifestations of divine displeasure visited upon a people for its own ‘misdeeds’.  Behaviour and practices which were considered to risk displeasing the deities became prohibited. Local divinities and deities were thought to determine and control the daily lives and ‘destinies’ of a community and those of individuals in the community. Religious practices were thought to bring human beings into relation with these supernatural forces, acting and functioning to mediate the world of humans with the world of the gods (priesthoods, shamans, etc). The ‘success’, ‘failure’ or outcome of the ‘communication’ between the two worlds became ‘expressed’ in and through the natural and social phenomena which were an intrinsic part of the daily life of a people. Poor harvests, no rains, droughts, famine, disease, etc, were believed to be manifestations of the displeasure or anger (both human attributes) of the deities. Contrarily, good harvests, plenty, good health, etc, were considered to be manifestations of the opposite. The correlation of religious practices with the occurrence of such phenomena tended to encourage the perpetuation of certain practices whilst prohibiting, or reinforcing the prohibition of, others.

Prohibition therefore becomes integrated into the ideology of a people which could be used as a means of regulating and controlling the collective and individual behaviour of human beings. Such forms of regulation were also a necessary feature of prehistoric communities. Behaviour that was thought to be detrimental to the well-being of a community was prohibited in opposition to customary forms of behaviour which had become established as being favourable. Or customary forms were eclipsed by adopting or adapting forms of behaviour which were considered to be more favourable. Favoured forms of behaviour were represented in stories, fables, myths, etc, within the oral tradition of a people. The lessons of these mythical and legendary stories were integrated into, and became an established part of, the general social morality of a community. Despised and disfavoured forms of behaviour were demonised and subject to taboo.

The life of the early human communities was characterised by an ideological narrowness reflecting a primitive level of technique and a rudimentary knowledge of nature. Humanity’s relation to nature formed the basis upon which religious notions originated and thenceforth developed historically. The relationship of humanity to the essentially unknown and uncontrolled forces of nature – upon which humanity through the labour process was dependent for its means of life – constituted the ground upon which religion originated. In their prehistory, humans are the marionettes of their religious notions because the totality of their existence is determined and dominated by the forces of nature. The development of a real knowledge of nature and the development of techniques to control it and harness its forces to serve human needs undermines all religious notions by transforming them into higher, more abstract forms such as we find in monotheistic doctrines. The general level of knowledge of nature influences the conceptual content of religious conceptions of nature. For example, Protestantism could not have emerged without the scientific revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was not simply social changes per se that necessitated the Reformation. Changes in consciousness were also pre-conditional and necessary. Here knowledge is not conceived in the narrow conceptual sense but is understood to involve the totality of social praxis.

Monotheism is the final, most abstract stage of religion. And even the most abstract forms of Buddhism such as Zen are the philosophical articulation of this monotheism in the the form of the the eternity of the ‘Void’ or ‘Nothingness’. The Void is the fundamental, metaphysical principle of Buddhism. Historically, there is no, and there cannot be, religion beyond monotheism. In so far as polytheisms, animisms and nature-worship persists, these are merely reconstitutions of and returns to earlier forms. But they are not beyond monotheism as the highest point of abstraction in religion. In so far as philosophical idealism has its deepest conceptual roots in religion, we may admit it into the pantheon of its descendants.

To the nomadic troop of hunter-gatherers – the first, spontaneously-emerged social formations – natural forces are something alien, mysterious, superior. Religion comes into being as an attempt to explain these forces, that is, it is a kind of groping after a knowledge of these forces. But it emerges on the basis of a primitive level of technique and thus, initially, cannot render a real, comprehensive scientific knowledge of these forces. However, despite this, even religious notions contain the primitive, ungerminated seeds of knowledge at this early stage of human development. The fact that different phenomena are ‘understood’ to have different divine ’causes’ displays, implicitly, a primitive notion that different phenomena not only have different ’causes’ but that also a real causal connection exists between them. Therefore, even the religious notion at its early stages may contain an undeveloped, embryonic rational element within itself which can only be fully developed when technique has arrived at a more advanced stage of development, that is, where human society has reached a point in its development where the conditions are present for such ‘seeds’ of knowledge to ‘germinate’.

Religious notions of natural forces as manifestations of the actions of gods, spirits, demons, deities, etc, imbues nature with supernatural meaning and significance for people. The sacrifices, supplications, offerings and prayers of religious practice express humanity’s servile dependence on and domination by nature in one form or another and, of course, what Trotsky refers to as the continuation of ‘the incoherence of social relations’.

Engels states that the ‘urge to personify that created gods everywhere’ was a universal urge found among all peoples and a necessary phase in their development. It was an attempt to ‘assimilate’ the ‘alien, mysterious, superior’ forces of nature and demonstrated ‘the universality of religion’. The Hindu, Greek and Roman pantheon typify this personification. This ‘urge’ was an attempt to feel ‘at home’ in nature through the personification of its forces. This personification of nature reflects the need to be and feel ‘at home’, ‘at one’, in and with nature and not to be estranged from it.

Feuerbach demonstrated, in his Essence of Christianity (1841), that in religion humanity – at any given stage or period of its development – has always ‘projected’ itself into its doctrinal forms. Human characteristics, desires, moral paradigms, etc, become attributed to the ‘transcendental’ which is identified as ‘creator’ rather than ‘human creation’. In the process of doing this it has, thereby, created a ‘mirror image’ of itself – direct, inverted, idealised or otherwise in the deities of all religions, including the monotheistic forms. The contrast between the Christian and Islamic notions of heaven or paradise clearly illustrates this. Christianity originated as a movement of the enslaved and plebeian oppressed in the Roman Empire with notions of an afterlife free of oppression, suffering, fear and pain. Islam was an innovation of Arab tribesmen living in arid lands on a limited diet. At the time of Muhammed, the date palm and the camel were the staple sources. It is no accident that the Islamic paradise is hedonistic, central to which is wine, food and sexual pleasure. The inverse of the paucity of the social reality in which it originated as a doctrine. Whereas the Christian heaven is one where the dead in the afterlife are free of the suffering, fear and pain which they experienced in life at the time of the Roman Empire.

In the pantheon of gods of polytheisms and in monotheisms, we find the gods or God characterised by human attributes. This shows, implicitly, that such attributes, whatever form they may take, are, taken in their totality, the product of human society at a definite stage in its historical development. The persistence of religion corresponds to the continuation of social relations which, in their immanent nature and movement, necessarily engender religion itself. That human beings have not progressed beyond those historical stages which form the social basis for the origination and development of religion. In other words, to stages which render all religion unnecessary so that people can live a full, multifaceted and meaningful human life. Man continues to be ‘governed by the products of his own brain’ (Marx, Capital, Vol 1).

The personifications in religion constituted a ‘fictitious knowledge’ of nature that gave people (ignorant of the real causes and character of its forces) an ‘explanation’ for their occurrence. In this regard, they also fulfilled an important social psychological function. Their formation in consciousness reflected the struggle of people to try to understand, and come to terms with, those laws which govern nature’s movements and development : to understand the ‘why?’ in the life of nature and humanity.

Shaun May

September  2018


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized