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Communism and Sexuality

Communism and Sexuality 

Capitalism, as the most developed system of universal labour prostitution there has ever been, is within this paradigm only a dialectical ‘return’, on a higher plane, to the competitive sexual systems and forms of dominance of pre-cultural humans and of the higher primates. It is this which makes the future revolution the same as the human one : in both epochs, in modern times as in the palaeolithic, the struggle for humanity is directed against the same kind of thing.

Chris Knight, Blood Relations [1] 

Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured precisely by the social position of the female sex.

Marx

In so far as the evolution of the human relations of communist life simultaneously must mean the psychosocial transformation of human beings this, in itself, also implies not only the alteration of the forms of interpersonal behavior within and through which sex in humans actually takes place. It also suggests that many of the current sexual practices we see today in the bourgeois epoch are themselves subject to dissolution, to be replaced by forms of sexual interpersonal behaviour which are direct manifestations of the social relations established by this evolving higher, communist human culture.

The intrinsic, absolute, inalienable biology of human sexual relations remains, of course. But the actual social characteristics of the interpersonal behavioural approach to sex must alter with the transformation of humanity. All those forms of sexual behaviour which indicate and reflect the alienation and dehumanisation of humanity in the bourgeois epoch will be subject to transcendence in time. Humanity will find its truly human ‘feet’ in sexual as in all other matters and relations. And those ‘feet’ will be of a mansuetudinous nature.

Reproductivity

Reproductivity is an instinctual/inherent tendency of all forms of life. Species reproduce themselves either by asexual or sexual forms of reproduction. Species do not have to learn to be driven by the urge to engage in reproductive behaviour just as they do not have to learn to be hungry or thirsty, etc. Microorganisms such as bacteria and protozoans tend to reproduce asexually. Higher organisms use sexual forms in which male and female gametes are fused to produce a zygotic cell or embryo. Humans have inherited and developed the physiology of the sexual reproductivity of our animal ancestry.

In mammals and other animals, reproductivity is therefore the capacity to engage in forms of behaviour which may lead to reproduction. Reproduction itself is the actual process of development which takes place with and after the formation of the embryo (fusion of the male and female gametes) leading to the birth of new individual members of the species.

For our primate ancestors, their ethological responses to the impact of their conditions of life were mediated by a complex of instinctual and learnt behaviours. This synthesis of learning and instinct, taken in its unity, forms the ground of the simple non-conscious awareness of these primates. This non-conscious awareness evolves, in the course of the transition to the mode of life of humanity, into the human mind which becomes posited as a unity of the conscious and the unconscious.

The conscious and the unconscious do not exist in a state of psychic isolation from each other. Each mediates the life of the other, constituting the life of the human psyche as a totality. The origination of conscious awareness transforms the relationship between instinct and learning in the primate ancestors of humanity into the psychological relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. The origination of human conscious awareness – out of the simple non-conscious awareness of the ancestral animal primate – is therefore synonymous with the origination of the human psyche as a psycho-historical totality. (see my work on Psychology and the origins of the human psyche at https://spmay.wordpress.com )

Reproductive behaviour in higher primates – and hence in the primate ancestors of humans – is not simply a complex of instinctive responses. It is also mediated by what the animal has learnt in the course of its interaction with other members of the species group. Intra-ethological relations (within the species group) mediate reproductive behaviour. The fact that reproductivity is an innate biological function does not mean that such behaviour is not mediated by the non-instinctual ethology of the species group. In other words – in the higher primates – both learning and instinct are at play, are intermediating each other, in reproductive forms of behaviour.

As human beings originate out of their primate ancestors, their awareness divides into the unconscious (which contains sublated within itself the instinctive capacities of ancestral primates) and the conscious (which contains sublated within itself the learning capacities of these same primates). Those neurophysiological functions in the ancestral primate which are active in and regulate reproductivity and reproduction become raised to a qualitatively higher level of operation in the course of the transition to human modes of life. Psychic processes (not found in our animal ancestors) become integrated with the primate brain neurophysiology of reproductivity in the course of the origination of the human species. Reproductive capacities and their actualisation cease to be exclusively biological and ethological and become complexed psychological processes.

Social Differentiation of Sexuality

In evolving to a higher human stage of development, reproductivity takes on a range of sexualised forms i.e. the different modes of human sexual behaviour. Reproductivity becomes sexualised which means that some of these modes of sexual behaviour are not necessarily “reproductive”, for example, homosexual relations [2]. Sexuality itself arises, therefore, as the behavioural product of human socio-historical development. But the various modes of sexual behaviour continue to form the behavioural media within and through which the sublated reproductive capacities of humanity’s animal ancestry are culturally expressed regardless of the mode of sexual behaviour.

Sexuality, therefore, becomes the social behavioural mode through which human reproductive capacity is expressed whilst not necessarily itself being reproductive and resulting in the reproduction of the species. Sexuality in its different and changing forms is essentially a creation of the emergence and evolution of human social relations.

We have distinct yet interrelated categories here : reproductivity, reproduction, the sexual [i.e. the sex act itself], sexuality and sexualisation. We can illustrate the interrelationship of these categories by using two examples.

Firstly, Heterosexuality. Heterosexuality is the predisposition in people to engage in sexual activity and behaviour with the ‘opposite’ sex, sex between men and women. In the course of this activity, the innate reproductivity of human beings becomes expressed which may lead to the reproduction of the species in the course of this sexual behaviour. Historically, heterosexuality arises as the first general form of sexualised behaviour with the origination of human culture. It is the first form of this process of sexualisation. This is grounded on the natural tendency (as opposed to the socio-historical as a category) in our animal ancestors towards male-female sexual relations. Later, of course, with the development of human culture, new forms of sexualised behaviour appear such as homosexuality, bisexuality, onanistic practices, sado-masochism, etc. Today, the sexualisation of the individual is a socio-cultural process taking place at both the micro and macro levels. An individual is not born with a specific sexuality (it is not inherent) but rather acquires, assimilates and develops it in accord with socio-cultural experience and psychological ‘internalisation’ at various levels in his/her social development.

Secondly, Lesbianism, which is the form of sexuality involving the predisposition in women to engage in sexual activity with each other. Once again, the innate reproductivity of human beings is expressed in this form of sexual activity but cannot lead to natural reproduction. Lesbian sexuality (sexualisation), once again, is a product of socio-cultural relations and their experience. But the inherent reproductivity in women and their capacity to reproduce the species is part of our animal ancestry, excepting disorder and disease which prevents reproduction and may be rectified culturally by medical technique, etc.

The emergence of humanity – as distinct from its primate and hominoid ancestors – is therefore the emergence of a sexualised being as distinct from the non-sexualised reproductivity of these ancestors. We may refer to this transition or ‘revolution’ from ancestral forms of pre-human sexual behaviour to human forms of sexualised behaviour as a process of the sexualisation of reproductive behaviour which became established as mediating the earliest human relations. With historical development, we get the emergence and radiation of different forms of sexuality and sexualised behaviour.

Sexualisation is therefore grounded in the process of becoming human, sapienisation [hominids becoming human]. But it only starts to flower as a social process with the first ‘human revolution’ proper and its onward development. This process transforms the modes of sexual behaviour in ancestral hominids into the modes of sexualised behaviour in humanity i.e. behaviour which arises as a spectrum of the various forms of human sexuality. The reproductive behaviour in animals is sexual but not sexualised. Animals do not possess and display sexuality because their reproductive behaviour is non-sexualised.

It is the rise of humanity as a social, and therefore conscious, being which intrinsically carries with it this process of sexualisation. Transforming the non-sexualised sexual reproductivity of the animal into the sexualised – but not necessarily reproducing – forms of sexual activity of human beings.

What is critical here, and deeply humanistic, is that human sexuality is not necessarily directed towards the reproduction of the species. On this foundation alone, it is vital that present and socialist humanity places the principle of freedom of sexuality between consenting adults at the very centre of its global culture. Without this baseline principle in human culture, there can be no real human freedom at all. The evolution of global socialist human culture will then take care of these human sexual relations and leave them to take their future ontological course as society develops on the basis of its own self-created foundations. The various forms of human sexuality originate and evolve as social creations, as the sublations, in these manifold forms, of the reproductive capacities of our primate ancestors. As humanity returns to a communal modes of life, the supersedence of violence in society will inevitably have an impact on the character of sexual relations between people.

Precocious Sexualisation of Children in the Epoch of Capital

Any given form of human sexual behaviour may not necessarily be procreative i.e. does not necessarily result in the reproduction of individual members of the species. However, the reproductive capacities of human beings become expressed (but not necessarily realised) in the various forms of human sexual behaviour which – as opposed to those of the ancestral primate where they are non-sexualised – are sexualised forms of this behaviour.

The biological capacity to reproduce the species starts to develop at puberty. From this point in the life of the individual, it undergoes a period of development in adolescence towards an optimised, mature, fully developed state of functionality in adult life. Prior to puberty, in childhood, these reproductive capacities are inactive. During the transitional period of adolescence, these reproductive functions are developing towards – but have not yet reached – an optimised stage of development and functioning in adult life with the supersedence of the adolescent period. The actual biological development of these capacities to an optimised level is not simply a function of their physiological existence and operation. Rather they are the function of the realisation and outcome of a total, antecedent, physical and social development in adolescence which posits the optimal stage in the adult individual.

A girl in early adolescence who produces children is therefore not optimally developed, either physically or socially, to do so. Recent research has demonstrated this principle.[3] The rape of children is a manifestation of the violence inflicted on children by men and women who are the individual creations of bourgeois society. And, of course, we find such forms of torture and violence in previous societies. In the current society, cruelty and violence in its various forms against the vulnerable – children, the disabled, the elderly, domesticated and wild animals, etc – has reached epidemic proportions which will only begin to be terminated with the revolutionary transition to a society of an utterly different nature. To a socialist society which places the welfare of human beings and the living beauty of all of nature’s wonderful creation as the alpha and omega of its cultural life.

The premature sexualisation of pre-pubescent children is a phenomenon of bourgeois culture. It is the child force-alienated in its childhood. The forced alienation of the child in the service of the malignant presence of capital and its various media agencies. It is the psychosocial abuse of children and childhood by the current relations of the system of capitalist commodity production. And this influence has been identified as a possible factor behind the lowering of the age of puberty. [4]

The precocious pre-occupation with sexual matters in children is the product of capitalist consumeristic social relations – and especially its media – which tacitly encourage this pre-occupation as serving their economic needs. The earlier children can be drawn into the adult consumer market in a vast array of commodities, the more readily can children be ‘tapped’ as a source of profit. This process, in itself, serves as an early separation and alienation of children from childhood itself in the service of capital. This bourgeois sexualisation of children is just another of the many corrupting, degrading and degenerate influences on the development of children (and adults) in the epoch of global capitalism.

Sociogenesis and Future of Sexuality

The different forms of human sexuality are psychologically mediated [5]. This obviously implicates social relations and their psychological effects on people in their sexual behaviour. It is the social character of human relations and their individualised psychological internalisation which conditions sexual relations in their specifically interpersonalised forms. Whether one individual practices this, that or another form of sexual activity becomes an aspect of that individual’s personality according to the specific socio-cultural conditions and the experience which that individual has actually made and psychologically internalised in the course of his/her life.

This social character of the sexuality of any given individual distinguishes its sexualised nature from the non-sexualised forms in ancestral primates. The sexuality of the individual is socio-culturally formed and is not implanted at the embryonic stage before birth. A child reared under certain conditions who makes specific experiences may tend to push him/her into a heterosexual mode of sexuality whilst different conditions and experiences may mean s/he practices homosexual or bisexual, etc, modes of sexuality in later life. We are not under any ‘judgmentality’ here but merely endeavouring to understand the role of social context within which the different forms of sexuality actually emerge and develop in different people.

This means that sexual activity in human beings can be motivated by a panoply of drives which are social in origin but which are found transfigured in the human psyche in various conceptual and psychoaffective (psychoactive) forms, conscious and sub-conscious. These drives orientate and tend the individual towards specific forms of sexual behaviour and response. We do not find this form of psychic mediation in the sexual behaviour of ancestral primates. This arises – and can only arise – with human beings.

Human sexual behaviour contains the reproductive behaviour of the ancestral primate incorporated (superseded, sublated) within itself. However, with this qualitative social break in development between these ancestors and humanity, this reproductive behaviour becomes integrated as an intrinsic part of the psychosocial behaviour of humans i.e. sexual behaviour becomes mediated by socially-originated human psychology.

Sexuality is, therefore, the psychosocial behavioural form in which human reproductivity (not necessarily realised as ‘reproduction’ itself) is expressed. Human sexuality must, therefore, in psychosocially integrating (sublating) the ancestral primate capacities into itself as it historically constitutes itself, necessarily bear a socio-historical character. In what sense? Not, of course, in the sense that the intrinsic and constitutional physiology of sex can be transcended. Such an assertion would indeed be utterly absurd and inhuman. But in the sense that certain determinate sexual practices are not necessarily fixed and eternal in human relations and, moreover, in the sense that those sexual practices which persist can be subject to alterations and modulations.

An obvious example here, in this latter respect, is sexual activity which, whilst being consensual, may involve the controlling, dominating (and even violent) participation of one partner over another which may itself cease to be a feature of sexual activity in a society which has created a totally different individual type to what we see today in the bourgeois epoch. Such behaviour may not be an eternal aspect of intimate interpersonal sexual relations between people as the very nature of humanity as a social being changes.

The inalienable physiological capacities of sexual relations must always remain but the psychosocial sexualised forms (modulations, specifications, nuances, etc) within and through which they are expressed must, and do, alter with historical development. This gives the evolution of these forms of human behaviour an ‘open-ended’, historically-relative character whilst always containing within themselves the indispensable, absolute, physiological relations of human beings to each other as participants in sex. The dialectic of the absolute and the relative expresses itself in the historical evolution of human sexual relations.

The different modes of human sexual behaviour have arisen historically and alter according to the variation in social and cultural conditions. For example, forms of sexual behaviour present in one culture may not be found in another or may – with the historical development of a given culture – disappear to be replaced by new forms of behaviour. One culture may introduce new forms into another culture, etc. Even the forms of sexual behaviour practiced by individuals throughout their lives may fluctuate. The heterosexual becomes homosexual and now bisexual and vice versa, etc. The spectrum of human sexual activity and experience is wide, complex and detailed. And yet not necessarily fixed and eternal in its composition.

The origination of human culture intrinsically and necessarily carries with it the transformation of the non-sexualised sexual behaviour of the ancestral primate into the sexualised behaviour of human beings. This process of sexualisation therefore becomes necessitated by the origination of human culture itself and is an inalienable part of the first human revolution which brought human culture itself as a whole into existence. What were the socio-historical conditions which gave rise to and necessitated this process of transition i.e. which necessitated the historical process of sexualisation? [6]

In his Paris Manuscripts, Marx wrote that…

The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. The relation of man to woman is the most genuine relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s natural behaviour has become human, or the extent to which the human essence in him has become his natural essence. The relationship also reveals the extent to which man’s need has become a human need: the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need. [7] 

This is a challenging passage. But it would be a mistake to interpret this as a mini manifesto for heterosexuality. And that the extent to which humanity has become ‘heterosexual’ is a measure of ‘the extent to which the human essence in him has become his natural essence’. The articulation of such an interpretation would invite dogmatism and, indeed, a denial of the ‘open-ended’ and tentative character of our understanding of the future of human sexuality itself. And, moreover, in sexual relations, gender relations are not necessarily identical with biological relations. If we identify the ‘direct, natural and necessary relation of person to person’ as the consensual sexual relation between people of any form of sexuality – ‘the most genuine relation of human being to human being’ – then the actual social character of this relationship becomes a measure of whether ‘man’s need has become a human need: the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need’. It neither implies nor excludes the possibility that the future of human sexuality is exclusively heterosexual. That, surely, can only be left to the evolution and succession of many future generations of human beings as the social ontologies – on and out of which sexual relations themselves arise and develop – alter and move ever onwards towards new forms.

If humanity has created for itself a society which is based on and mediated by various forms of exploitation, this must impact the character of sexual relations. Or, more concretely, create sexual relations which are mediated, no matter how discretely, by exploitation and fear in its multiplicity of forms. This must necessarily hinder the full and free development of human sexuality in all its forms. The question of whether or not specific forms persist whilst others spontaneously disappear – according to the free and human conditions created by humanity evolving within its established ‘true realm of freedom’ – cannot be rationalistically addressed in the current epoch but must be left to the developing character of future generations of humanity. These different forms of sexual activity [8] will fall or persist as human society either continuously reaffirms or transcends the social grounds for their ontology (and any resonance of these grounds in the human psyche) in the course of the development of communal life. Thus, Engels writes,

what we can conjecture at present about the regulation of sex relationships after the impending effacement of capitalist production is, in the main, of a negative character, limited mostly to what will vanish. But what will be added? That will be settled after a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have had occasion to purchase a woman’s surrender either with money or with any other social means of power, and of women who have never had occasion to surrender to any man out of any consideration other than that of real love, or to refrain from giving themselves to their beloved for fear of the economic consequences. Once such people appear, they will not care a damn about what we today think they should do. They will establish their own practice and their own public opinion, conforming therewith, on the practice of each individual—and that’s the end of it. [9]

 

Notes and References 

[1] Knight, C., Blood Relations – Menstruation and the Origins of Human Culture, Yale University Press, 1991. p.533

[2] Knight (ibid) – in his groundbreaking work – provides a theoretical model which serves to explain the cultural origins of both homosexuality and bisexuality.

[3] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm199504273321701

http://mcherdc.sites.medinfo.ufl.edu/files/2010/10/roth_risk_of_teen_mothers_having_lbw_babies.pdf

http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/436-adolescent-maternal-mortality-an-overlooked-crisis

[4] http://www.breastcancerfund.org/assets/pdfs/publications/falling-age-of-puberty.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17489932

[5] Freud, of course, was the pioneer in this area but a detailed analysis and referencing of his work is beyond the scope of this article.

[6] Knight, ibid.

[7] Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Private Property and Communism, Part (1)

[8] Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality notes that these forms have multiplied many times with the rise and development of bourgeois society. He contrasts this with the notion that bourgeois relations have engendered a universal sexual ‘repression’.

[9] Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Chapter 2, The Family, subsection 4, The Monogamian Family) in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 26, p.189

 

Shaun May

March 2016 (revised)

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