A modern, living dialectics is essential for social revolution, Steve Masterson continues to explain in this, the fourth in his series on the subject
To continue the logic of the significance of systems theory, chaos and order for a new dialectics, we need to try first grasp the nature of the relationship between the ‘productive forces’ of Marx and of his constant promotion of ‘human development’ and ‘the rich human being’. This will then put in context everything that follows in terms of the burning need for a modern science on the character and quality of human activity (praxis); the new living dialectics needed today to help complete a truly human revolution.
I begin this article quoting then reviewing three of the greatest ever explanatory paragraphs from Marx found in his short 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. This was written at a time that today seems as ancient language to most of us – but not this piece if read diligently. Today, the best academic sociologists and social scientists do not even begin to reach such heights of clarity and truth, nor did the Stalinists who also quoted and distorted it. Marx mentions the ‘productive forces’; I interpret this as, ‘the totality of human forces, as the technological, social, labour and productive forces’. These forces should mainly be considered as ever-developing, ever-richer and increasing human abilities in general.
Then we look at its significance for human development, the key aspect of the productive forces, in the here and now, and its role in building a potential future human society. We do this by quoting the brilliant Marxist Michael Lebowitz on human development (who also repeatedly quotes Marx). A living dialectical method and a new science of everyday human activities, of conscious revolutionary praxis (they are both the same thing in the end), will start to be outlined in the following articles. But first, the significance of human development for the social revolution has to be clarified, just to put things in context.
‘Mensch’ in German/Yiddish means ‘human being’ or ‘a person of integrity and honour’, so please do understand what is nowadays rightly considered a sexist translation when Marx uses the term ‘men’ in this way. I’d also alert the Reader to be aware of how often and how, even in this short quote, Marx uses words like ‘development’, ‘forces’, ‘contradiction’, ‘transformation’ or ‘process’ as central concepts of always ongoing change. He doesn’t use the word ‘dialectical’ here, but the method is at the heart of everything he utters. Reader; notice too how he describes the fundamental contradiction in society, the unity, struggle and interpenetration between the productive forces and productive relations which have now become ‘fetters’ on social development.
“In the social production of their existence, men [mensch] inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.
“In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.
“Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals’ social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.”
Marx’s “Human Society”
End of Marx quote. I wish I knew what Marx was on when writing these sentences of almost pure genius, simplicity and clarity.
So Reader, before we start on his ‘productive forces’ let us begin analysis of this great piece with the last sentence. “The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation” here, means that the hierarchical economic systems up to and including the capitalist system “closes”, will be replaced, by “human society”. Gone will be the previous temporary chain of inhuman hierarchical economic systems. We become fully human as a species.
Indeed, this post-capitalist “human society” that Marx describes is the phrase of how I generally describe our aspirations, whatever other largely now misunderstood and/or misused labels our early experimental great movement and others use: communist, anarchist, socialist ‘Marxist’, etc. Our “human society” is the direct opposite of the hierarchical ‘inhuman system’ we live in today. Our forces of humanity are the everyday fundamental contradiction we face in society against the forces built by the hierarchical inhuman system – humanity vs. inhumanity! This should be our catch-phrase into which the all-important economic class-struggle nestles quite at home. Religious people confusingly describe this as ‘good vs. evil’. We live and struggle this basic contradiction all the time, usually unaware, everyday; for example, when we do or don’t patiently help and old lady across the road; or when we take the time, a moment, to warmly acknowledge someone else’s act, such as a tired shopworker at a till, or a busdriver who picks you up from the bus stop.
Both the human and class struggles are intimately bound-up as one at all levels and always interpenetrate each other – as Marx makes clear in the above quote, especially about the key inter-relations between the ‘economic base’ and ‘the whole immense superstructure.’ Something again largely ignored by ‘Marxists’ and anarcho-syndicalists alike – and something conscious revolutionaries have to fix in practice!
As I analyse elsewhere, we have had 7 million or so years of transition from a clever, matriarchal and sexy chimp to becoming fully human as a species, and we do not become that until “human society” becomes a reality. No anthropologist to my knowledge has argued all this. We could nearly be there and that means most young people today are living through the most oppressive and dangerous yet most adventurous, developmental and hopeful times of human existence. I’m at least a generation too late in seeing the beginnings of our potential human society – what a damn shame.
But that long 7 million years is only a quick drop in the ocean of evolutionary time scales, of the inorganic and organic forms of development that went before us (and still live with us today) – and this period can be described as the ‘human revolution’, of which we are today hopefully living through the beginning of its achievement phase.
However, I have a question with the phrase, “The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.” As I’ve just expressed, I fully agree with the timing of the arrival of “human society” that Marx gives in this quote, a beautiful stage we have not yet reached; but what is meant by “prehistory”? You see, there are many ‘left’ understandings of what “prehistory” consists of. Does it also mean before the times of the written word? Does it mean gatherer-hunter life before the Agricultural Revolution? Does history or evolution mean since the time of the big-bang? At least it doesn’t mean “the end of history” as Fukuyama declared in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I’m currently confused on all this and focus on the new “human society” we have to now build from within the old. Yet, so tremendous will be the transformation to human society from a series of relatively short hierarchical economic systems, that I favour Marx’s quote above. Prehistory for me is the past and present.
Capitalism is “the last antagonistic form…”?
In the same para Marx writes what I consider his only mistake here, or his wishful hope, “The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production.”
Now, this I consider automatic, idealistic, wishful-thinking, and it doesn’t allow for another potential hierarchical system to arise in between. The hierarchical elite can be very creative when its growing mass opposition is less conscious in its activity. With the benefit of hindsight I fear that another intervening, moneyless, profitless but still hierarchical system might replace capitalism; perhaps a ‘bureaucratic meritocracy’ or some more horrific Orwellian disfigurement; an extension of the old USSR system where an elite get the short hours, long luxurious holidays, better housing, access to certain lavish moneyless shops, etc. This potential danger has to be fought out in struggle and the outcome cannot be pre-determined. However, let’s hope Marx is correct on this outcome, but it is the quality of our activity that shall determine that.
Remember, Marx in describing ‘productive forces’ was living at the time in a narrower context of his total focus on ‘political economy’, so the terminology was not so exact. ‘Human forces’ would have been more exact in the overall picture but still not adequate. Language seems to fail us here.
On the productive forces
Now let’s focus on de-fuddling the mind as to what the productive forces really are and their relation to social revolution and to human development. The 3 paras above from Marx really do spell out this constant change in a concentrated manner, yet they are a beginning, and they need simpler and expanded explanation too.
Marx’s quote makes it clear that the fundamental contradiction is not class struggle that drives societal and economic development, but “the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production”. Indeed this contradiction in the recent 12,000 or so years he described as: “In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society.” Note; he doesn’t say human, but “economic development”. Human development started being smothered 12,000 years ago when systemic hierarchy first arrived – and the human/inhuman nonstop war has been ongoing since.
The Agricultural Revolution was simultaneously an economic and technological revolution and a counter-revolution against the quality of human relationships. Capitalism until more recently has overall been an economic and technologically progressive ‘order’ – though chaotic and destructive is an essential aspect of its ‘order’. Nowadays, its class relations have become a “fetter” on this economic form of development; the way Marx above prematurely describes it from the vantage point of early capitalism.
The fundamental contradiction in society is not – as most of my comrade ‘Marxists’ and comrade anarchists believe – labour vs. capital or workers against bosses; even though that is the most visible single component. Most of these comrades are unknowingly economic determinists. Class struggle which we fight for from the workers side also contradictorily belongs to that which we (humanity) want to get rid of, ie, the ‘productive relations’; the bosses/capital and wage/slave labour relationship.
We humans passionately desire cooperative, agreed everyday communal self-activity from everyone as daily participants in decisions; bound-up with nature’s ways and environmental sustainability. We need to focus on human need, the richer human being, authentic desires and not profit and economic growth as central – now that’s about human well-being. And now we have the technology to do this in sustainable abundance! Yet we don’t have enough human agency or ability or aspiration for this – not yet, but near-future necessity will give us the chance.
One problem here is terminology regarding the ‘productive forces’. A better term would be the ‘forces of human, productive, social and technological development’, but that is a mouthful. Marx certainly would agree. I cannot come up with a simple formula. However, the context of the term comes from his almost 100% concentration on political economy at that period in his life – which largely leaves out (though not forgotten by him) the whole picture created in his mid-1840’s writings – which also centrally embraced the quality of human relations, human development and other aspects.
Marx died too early, still engrossed in his first major project, political economy, and he never got to expand on his brilliant earlier reflections on human development or on conscious revolutionary practice which he only touched-on with his magical dialectical hand. I should remind some Readers – yes he was a giant, yet not deity, he was a fallible human too, like me and you. Too many atheists still somehow find an infallible god, or even two or three, to worship instead of relying on or having confidence in their own integrity and their local collective development.
For Reader, if you don’t live that deep revolutionary pleasure of acting, feeling, thinking, learning and being for yourself – integral with living communities – then others will do it for you, will condition you, will somehow determine or indirectly order your activities in life to meet not your authentic needs, but someone else’s needs – the 0.01%.
The Growing New Within the Old
To make things easy for the Reader, I will now re-quote a key section from Marx above:
“No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society… Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.”
Deeply grasping this truth is so fundamental. It is worth reading again and again and it sets my earlier dialectical description of ‘chaos and order’ in a living context. You see he is not only talking about the exchange of one economic system for another, but also it includes the transformation from inhuman hierarchical existence to “human society”, a much bigger evolutionary jump than from say, hierarchical feudalism to hierarchical capitalism. We have to become an organised conscious humane and class movement of mass direct action within capitalism – one so advanced that the action guides and leads conscious development – not theory first and practice following. Our previous movements mostly thought human development would come after the changed productive relations, after the ‘revolution’, but nature does not work that way – and it didn’t!
Nowadays, in line with Marx’s ideas, we firstly need an organised movement of ‘revolutionary catalysts’ to help prepare the broad movement to become a mass self-educated and decentralised ‘human network’ engaged in local conscious activity, grassroots democracy, where locals become able to take charge of their own lives: more on the dialectics and science of this later.
Only with hindsight (we no longer live as merely several million people globally, organised in nomadic gatherer-hunter communities of 30-130 sparsely spread in nature), we now know completion of the human revolution could not be done without computer technology to help now several billions of humans without borders to ‘manage’ our lives; to help open and free communication, collective production and consumption, and to help the cooperation needed within and between communities, workplaces and regions, to help deal with the infrastructure, global warming, etc. Then we immediately arrive again at the accompanying whole question of the quality of ‘human development’ which I rabbit-on about so much as today’s greatest need for the transition – firstly in our millions of progressive campaign, group, community and workplace organisations.
Marx’s ‘rich human being’
Integral to grasping Marx’s ‘productive forces’ and ‘human development’ is his concept of the ‘rich human being’ in future “human society”, his communism – a passion economistic ‘Marxists’ wrongly refer to as ‘just the young Marx’.
Today, wealth is considered as your accumulated commodities; the latest computer or mobile or car; how secure and how big is your house or bank account; wearing the latest fashions; how many facebook ‘friends’ you have; how much do you earn for yourself and your boss, etc. Your natural happiness and well-being is not considered by capital; your cheap labour and greedy inauthentic consumption are.
Marx’s ‘rich human being’ was about a new human, was about the quality of human life, trusting relationships and authentic well-being in a humane and natural manner; it was about sharing ideas, collective problem-solving and seeking consensus in decision-making in communities and workplaces, about grass-roots democracy; it was about developing each individual social being’s creative and productive capacities to their full potential in a multi-skilled way, for everyone. The rich human being belonged to a “free association”, in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Marx).
Reader, just search ‘The Rich Human Being: Marx and the Concept of Real Human Development’ and you can read a good article by Michael Lebowitz with many Marx quotes on this.
Indeed, it is specifically human activities that made us human and still does. The quality of our social activities and relations changes human beings all the time – a practical social revolution, changing ourselves in the now, is the only way we make ourselves fit to found a new society. So, how we build our cooperative and loving human network within and against capital and for human society, will determine whether we build a truly human chick within the eggshell of the old; which would be a far-fetch from the old workers movements; after all we don’t need any more learning experiments that become the grotesque aberrations of the Stalinist or social democratic types.
This is why the real focus of this book is starting the development of a new living dialectics of how the dynamics of human activities actually work, of how through conscious human actions, praxis, we can remake ourselves as collaborative, vibrant and loving human beings. We will begin by investigating the ‘dialectical-cell’ of a single, simple social act – and learn that the vast accumulation of trillions of nesting acts follow similar patterns, processes, tendencies and rhythms; the way good biologists do beginning with the simple cell. From that we will discover every whole activity we engage begins with being in need, goes through phases of becoming, and ends with the new richer being with richer needs, no matter how small the activity – being, becoming, new being.
Human development, Lebowitz & Marx
I now quote extensively from Marxist humanist Michael Lebowitz – from his handbook written for and widely distributed to Venezuelan workers and communities; ‘The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism?’ It is freely available at:
Lebowitz includes a quote from Engels and the rest are from Marx. I strongly recommend for serious readers to study the whole handbook.
“… if we are going to talk about the possibility of human development, we have to recognize that a precondition for that development is sufficient food, good health, education, and the opportunity to make decisions for ourselves. How can we possibly develop all our potential if we are hungry, in bad health, poorly educated, or dominated by others? Secondly, since we are not identical, what we need for our own self-development obviously differs for everyone…
“The idea of a society that would allow for the full development of human potential has always been the goal of socialists. In his early draft of the Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels asked, “What is the aim of the Communists?” He answered, “To organize society in such a way that every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society.” Marx summed it all up in the final version of the Manifesto by saying that the goal is “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Our goal, in short, cannot be a society in which some people are able to develop their capabilities and others are not; we are interdependent, we are all members of a human family. The full development of all human potential is our goal…
“Human development, though, doesn’t drop from the sky. It doesn’t come as the result of a gift from above. It occurs through the activity of people themselves—through what Marx called revolutionary practice, “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change.” We change ourselves through our activity – through our struggles and through everything we do. The way we produce (in the workplace, in the community, and in the home), the way we relate to others in our activity, the way we govern ourselves (or are governed by others)—all these make us the people that we are. We are, in short, the product of all our activities.
“…within the framework of capitalist relations, while capital pushes to increase the workday both in length and intensity and to drive down wages, workers struggle to reduce the workday and to increase wages. Just as there is struggle from the side of capital, so also is there class struggle from the side of the worker. Why? Take the struggle over the workday, for example. Why do the workers want more time for themselves? Time, Marx noted, is “the room of human development. A man who has no free time to dispose of, whose whole lifetime, apart from the mere physical interruptions by sleep, meals, and so forth, is absorbed by his labor for the capitalist, is less than a beast of burden”.
“What about the struggle for higher wages? Of course, workers have physical requirements to survive. But they need much more than this. The worker’s social needs, Marx commented at the time, include “the worker’s participation in the higher, even cultural satisfactions, the agitation for his own interests, newspaper subscriptions, attending lectures, educating his children, developing his taste, etc.” All of this relates to what he called “the worker’s own need for development”.
“…there is one kind of necessary labor that capital would like to expand—unpaid necessary labor. So far, we have only talked about the necessary labor in the things that workers buy. Marx did not ignore the fact, though, that people need to convert those things they buy in order to consume them; he talked about activities “absolutely necessary to consume things”—like cooking the food purchased. Indeed, Marx pointed out that the greater the “expenditure of labor in the house,” the less money you need to purchase things outside the house. But this labor performed in the household is invisible. Why? Because capital does not have to pay for it. We know, too, that the majority of this work is done by women; and it is work that is generally not recognized or valued…
“The logic of capital, in fact, is the enemy of the logic of human development. Standing opposite capital’s goal is “the worker’s own need for development.” (Marx). But, if capital and workers are pressing in the opposite direction in capitalism, what determines the outcome?
“The world of wealth, that world created by human activity, faces the worker “as an alien world dominating him.” For workers in capitalism, producing is a process of a “complete emptying-out,” “total alienation,” the “sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end.” (Marx). And what is the result of this “emptying-out,” this impoverishment in the process of producing? We try to fill the vacuum of our lives with things—we are driven to consume (consumerism). How else can we do this but with money, the real alienated need that capitalism creates?
“But that drive to “consume, consume!” is only one way that capitalism deforms people. In Capital, Marx described the mutilation, the impoverishment, and the “crippling of body and mind” of the worker “bound hand and foot for life to a single specialized operation” which occurs in the division of labor characteristic of the capitalist process of manufacturing. Did the development of machinery rescue workers under capitalism? No, Marx stressed, it completes the “separation of the intellectual faculties of the production process from manual labor.” “In this situation, head and hand become separate and hostile,” “every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity” is lost.
“But, why does this happen? Remember that the technology and techniques of production that capital introduces are oriented to only one thing—profits. Since workers have their own goals and struggle for them, the logic of capital points to the selection of techniques that will divide workers from one another and permit easier surveillance and monitoring of their performance. The specific productive forces introduced by capital are not neutral—they do not empower workers and allow them to develop all their capabilities (mental and manual). On the contrary, “all means for the development of production,” as Marx stressed about capitalism, “distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him” and “alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process.” … The logic of capital is the enemy of all-round human development.”
End of Lebowitz quotes. Well after that we have no question of where Lebowitz and Marx stand on the significance of human development. In fact, it is so clear and simple in language that I do not need further explanation of the significance of human development for the future of human society. It is now all about how today we develop the quality, techniques and organisation that can make this process a success – firstly in our millions of more conscious pro-human worker and progressive human organisations. In fact Lebowitz makes this clear above, “We are, in short, the product of all our activities.” We are made by our activities which are the special mode of human development, that which made and still makes us human – and now we go beyond, with the science of all this.
Future human development
Next we move onto the section on ‘Dialectics and praxis’. We begin with the reality of the old dialectics and its total immersing in thought processes and the understanding of material reality, but also its separation from practice; and we also focus on Marx’s famous 1845 ‘Eleven Theses on Feuerbach’ on ‘revolutionary practice’ and its crucial relation to a living dialectics of today.
We will be explaining something about past and future developmental processes on what I call either ‘everyday human activity’ or ‘conscious praxis’ – which are or should become the same thing. There are currently exciting developments amongst Lev Vygotsky academics, or Cultural-Historical Activity Theorists (known as CHAT) which need simplifying and synthesising into a new paradigm of what exactly is human activity and praxis at root. We are talking about nothing less than seriously helping the growing new human within the old system; about self-learning, self-organising and us becoming fit to build human society.
Much of the rest of this series is on the actual working of what everyday conscious human activity is. It’s about what made us human and still does. What was/is this new mode of development that separated itself out the genetic mode of development? You see, only in answering this greatest of all riddles, and further, in also describing in a clear manner how human activity actually works, do we community catalysts really get to the core of how to finally begin building an effective conscious human network against capitalism. ‘Marxists’ who become Marxists and serious anarchists who take on a ‘conscious practice’ will be central to establishing this decentralised network – but it will be young revolutionary catalysts all over the world who will shine as bright stars in these dark nights of our times.
I encourage further discussion here on the Redline website. Anyone interested in a global study group on a modern dialectics can contact: email@example.com
The earlier articles in the series are:
Further reading on the application of dialectics: