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