Veljko Korac'

On Humanism




Originally published in Socialist Humanism: an international symposium.



Far from neglecting the question of human nature in general, Marx criticized those who did not consider it. He also took exception to the definition of man as a being forever the same as he appears at one point in history or in a given system. The objection of mutatis mutandis has a bearing on those socialistic theories Marx discussed critically because, presupposing man forever fixed and isolated, these theories proposed an ideal society that would, in the opinion of their expounders, best correspond to man so determined. Marx, however, considered that man had the potential to achieve self-realization through the process of self-creation. Where other socialistic theories failed to examine the causes underlying man's alienation from man and from human society, Marx's theory, based on a new concept of man, proposed to investigate the phenomenon of contemporary class society as the basic condition of praxis.

Establishing through critical analysis man's alienation from man, from the product of his labor, even from his own human activity, Marx raised the question of abolishing all these forms of dehumanization, and the possibility of restoring human society. This is his basic problem. As critics of the existing society, other socialists also knew that the society of private property was nothing more than a society of merciless exploitation, dehumanization, and the deformation of man, but they never analyzed deeply the reasons for such a state of affairs. They believed that society could be transformed by an ideal plan of a more perfect form of social relationships which would be realized by the triumph of reason as soon as people comprehended what such a plan held out to them. The real liberating forces within society remained unknown to them, as did the real methods for overcoming existing dehumanization and inhumanity. For this reason all attempts to realize such projects very soon came to nothing.
Nevertheless, the idea of socialism was not compromised. Marx was completely aware of this when he confronted various communistic and socialistic doctrines. He criticized them from first to last, even rejecting some for their egalitarian dogmatism, illusionism, and other biases.

Every notion of egalitarianism projected in advance he regarded as dogmatism. In place of this he chose consistent criticism of the inhumanity in existing society. Searching for the root of the basic contradictions in that society, he came to the phenomenon of the irreconcilable opposition of capital and labor. Faced with this, he began to seek the explanation of man's generic essence, which he found in the purposefulness of human labor. "In speaking of labor one deals directly with man himself," he observed, adding that "this new formulation of the problem already contains its solution." He wanted to discover why work wrought marvels for the wealthy but brought poverty and wretchedness to the laborer. What was the contradiction in work itself? If by his own labor man creates himself, why then is his own work something foreign, a hardship instead of a satisfaction? Why is man alienated from man and from his own humanity?

That all these questions necessarily followed from Marx's concept of man is more than obvious, and the answers he gave had a decisive meaning for his entire theory and the practice of it - for it was from these answers that he derived his socialist theory. Their essential content is that man creating himself through the social-historical process becomes only potentially more human because his way of life under the prevailing conditions of division of labor and class antagonism permits his humanity to manifest and confirm itself only partially. Increasing his power over nature, man develops the dimension of his species-being, but remains powerless to direct his social existence because his own being remains alien and unknown. In the society of private property and exploitation, universal alienation manifests itself as the alienation of those potentialities that raise man above all other living creatures. Even the advances of science and technology become instruments of inhumanity. That is why the problem of abolishing alienation and insuring free development presents itself as the problem of social freedom.

Ascertaining that all forms of alienation are a consequence of the alienation of man's working activity and, that private property as "the sensuous material expression of estranged man's life gave rise to the stupid habit of regarding an object one's own only upon physical possession of it," Marx concluded that without complete and true emancipation of labor, people could not become human and society could not become human society. The abolition of private property and exploitation are only the first steps in that direction; the humanization of labor is the first immediate task of socialist practice. But to accomplish this it is necessary to know just which social forces can accomplish it. Starting with the fact of alienation, Marx showed that total estrangement and dehumanization (in his words "the complete loss of man") has become universal in modern society, causing universal suffering.

Marx's aim was true man - living under emancipated conditions of labor and not disintegrated by the division of labor. His vision of humanity's future was founded on the assumption that such a man was not only possible, but the necessary result of social development and essential to the existence of a truly human society. It was in this spirit that he wrote that "the standpoint of the old materialism is 'bourgeois society'; the standpoint of the new materialism is human or socialized humanity."
Socialism is therefore not Marx's ultimate aim but an approximation. His ultimate aim is human society; society in which dehumanization ceases, human labor is truly emancipated, and man has all the conditions necessary to his development and self-affirmation. Marx does not propose an ideal society in which the freedom of the individual is automatically achieved. This he knows to be a delusion, for free society remains an abstraction if every member of that society is not free as an individual. Therefore he makes explicit that anew , human society can be only an association of men where the freedom of each individual becomes the condition for the freedom of all.

Freedom of human personality, for Marx, is not an empty abstraction, nor is it merely a youthful dream as his conservative detractors would like to maintain. In Capital he says clearly that freedom in social relations lies with freely associated men, associated producers, rationally regulating their exchange of matter with nature, bringing it under social control so as to effect the exchange with as little expenditure of energy as possible and under conditions most worthy of their human nature. Only thus can alienated labor, which impoverishes, deforms, and robs the worker of his humanity, come to an end. Hence when Marx speaks of the absolute impoverishment of the worker in capitalism and declares that the accumulation of capital is equalled by the accumulation of misery, he is thinking of the worker's inhuman life in all its aspects, not just of his economic poverty. This is what he has in mind when he writes that the accumulation of "drudgery, slavery, savagery, and moral decline are the lot of the very class which creates its own product in the form of capital."

Truly emancipated labor will provide the conditions for free social life because only then will work become production, i.e., a creative activity which transforms the individual into a personality.
Marx saw the development of society as the development of each individual, hence the ultimate aim of society's development became the complete and true freedom of the personality, which is the essential condition of freedom for all. The socialist and humanist theories with which Marx had occasion to deal gave very little attention to this problem; moreover, the majority of them postulated ideal socialism or communism in such a way as to eliminate freedom of the personality. Marx was an energetic opponent and critic of all such forms of socialism and communism, as his attitude toward Cabet and Weitling well illustrates. Describing their system of ideal society as "primitive" or "crude" communism, Marx noted:

"This communism, which negates the personality of man in every sphere, is only the logical expression of private property, which is this negation. Universal envy setting itself up as a power is only a camouflaged form of cupidity which re-establishes itself and satisfies itself in a different way. The thoughts of every individual with private property are at least directed against any wealthier private property, in the form of envy and the desire to reduce everything to a common level; so that this envy and levelling in fact constitute the essence of competition. Crude communism is only the culmination of such envy and levelling-down on the basis of a preconceived minimum. How little this abolition of private property represents a genuine appropriation is shown by the abstract negation of the whole world of culture and civilization, and the regression to the unnatural simplicity of the poor and wantless individual who has not only not surpassed private property but has not yet even attained it." (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844)

Marx's socialism was thoroughly opposed to every form of unnatural simplicity, and to the levelling and complete loss of the individual in the impersonal and nameless collective. Instead he proposed the free and universal development of the individual as the underlying condition of freedom for all. Such an association of people calls first of all for the abolition of classes, but not in the sense of primitive egalitarianism as in Campanella's Civitas Solis; rather, as Friedrich Engels stresses, "the abolition of social classes presupposes a level of production at which the appropriation of the products and means of production, and with them political power, monopoly of education and spiritual guidance, by a special social class will be not only superfluous but a hindrance to economic, political, and intellectual progress."

Since the contemporary socialist and communist ideal of social order (as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of their critical analysis of existing society) presupposes a high level of development of productive forces, the potential danger of considering socialism in a purely economic sense as the only and ultimate aim of social progress is constantly present.
The often observed tendency in socialist countries to take technical advance and growth in productive forces (in themselves not an earmark of socialism, because they are just as important a feature of capitalism) as the index for the degree of socialism and social progress attained bears ample witness to this danger, especially as, at the same time, the progress of humanity and personal rights remain secondary. The less developed a country is, the greater its tendency toward primitive egalitarianism and the suppression of personal freedom.

It has even come to the point where, in some countries, the ideal of socialism has taken shape in precisely the aspect that Marx most energetically criticized as the "regression to unnatural simplicity of the poor and wantless individual" and as "universal envy" (China). The wish to accelerate material technical achievement results in deliberate human sacrifice, and the attempt to justify such sacrifice by historical necessity. To make the justification convincing, fictitious history is substituted for the real. The present is sacrificed in the name of a bright future; living people are the victims to posterity's happiness - just as Christian ideologists promised the kingdom of heaven in reward for worldly suffering. Remote fictitious goals, which are favoured over immediate objectives, are presented as absolute ideals for which it is necessary to sacrifice everything. Thus historical optimism, which motivated and still motivates people to strive for a better future, is reduced to a common instrument of current politics and loses all connection with socialist ideals.

There are more than enough examples to show how man becomes, in the name of socialism, a mere instrument for certain fixed aims without regard for objective reality. Man's and humanity's advancement become an adjunct of the advancement of an entity which stands above man, and which can be "society," "the state," "technology," etc. In any case, individual man is increasingly deprived of his personality while mankind as a "greater" goal of history is increasingly emphasized.

All this finds its expression in various sorts of ideological instrumentalism and conformism, in philosophy, science, art, literature - every variety of spiritual activity. Spiritual creativity is converted into an instrument of ideology and politics to become submerged by those elements of contemporary behavior that have come to be one of the essential marks of present-day bureaucratism, institutionalism, and totalitarianism. The high ethical standards of socialism are misapplied for entirely profane purposes, most often for those purposes that correspond to the interests of the bureaucracy, which thinks only of itself and identifies that self with society and socialism, speaking of an ideal future while enjoying today's pleasures and considering itself the single interpreter of historical laws.

Thus, the relationship between the personality and society is posed in such a way as absolutely to submerge the personality in the society , or in "the people," and this is brought about in the name of "higher" interests which are also termed collective interests. The fact that this "collective" interest ceases to be collective as soon as the individual or personal interest is excluded from it is forgotten. But this is the method whereby bureaucracy represents its own interests. It is more than apparent that, with a personality so described, nothing is left of Marx's association of men in which the freedom of each individual is the condition of the freedom for all. It is obvious then that practice has indeed become far separated from Marx's socialist theory, because his case is clear enough: where there is no freedom of the personality, there is not and cannot be any freedom for "the people."


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