Friday, July 29, 2005

Can ‘Human Nature’ Change? -- Harry Magdoff and Fred Magdoff

Among the arguments against socialism is that it goes against human nature. “You can’t change human nature” is the frequently heard refrain. That may be true of basic human instincts such as the urge to obtain food to eat, reproduce, seek shelter, make and wear protective clothing. However, what has usually been referred to as “human nature” has changed a great deal during the long history of humankind. As social systems changed, many habits and behavioral traits also changed as people adapted to new social structures. Anatomically modern humans emerged some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Over the tens of thousands of years since, many different kinds of social organizations and societies have developed. Initially, most were based on hunting and gathering, while for about the last 7,000 years many have been based on agriculture. These societies were organized as clans, villages, tribes, city-states, nations, and/or empires.

Anthropologists who studied “primitive” societies found very different human relations and human nature than the highly competitive, dog-eat-dog, selfish characteristics that have dominated during the capitalist period. The economics of these early precapitalist societies often took the form of reciprocity and redistribution. Trade existed, of course, but trade between tribes was not for personal gain. Agricultural land was neither privately owned nor could it be bought and sold, instead, it was generally allocated and reallocated by village chiefs. Much of the food collected by the chiefs was redistributed at village ceremonial feasts. There were wars and domination by local tyrants—these were not perfect societies by any means—but they had different values, social mores, and “human natures.” As Karl Polanyi explained in 1944: “The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research is that man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in the possession of material goods; he acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims, his social assets.” In such societies the economy was a function of the social relations and people were not allowed to profit from trading transactions.

The variety of structure and organization of past civilizations is truly striking. It was not so long ago—in the span of human existence—that the native peoples in North and South America had a very different consciousness than that imposed by the invasions and conquests of the European armies and settlers. Thus Christopher Columbus wrote after his first voyage to the West: “Nor have I been able to learn whether they held personal property, for it seemed to me that whatever one had, they all took shares of....They are so ingenuous and free with all they have that no one would believe it who has not seen it; of anything they possess, if it be asked of them, they never say no; on the contrary, they invite you to share it and show as much love as if their hearts went with it.”

According to William Brandon, a prominent historian of American Indians: “Many travelers in the heart of America, the Indian world real before their eyes, echoed such sentiments year after year, generation after generation. These include observers of the most responsible sort, the missionary Du Tertre for a random example, writing from the Caribbean in the 1650s: ‘...they are all equal, without anyone recognizing any sort of superiority or any sort of servitude....Neither is richer or poorer than his companion and all unanimously limit their desires to that which is useful and precisely necessary, and are contemptuous of all other things, superfluous things, as not being worthy to be possessed....’” And Montaigne wrote of three Indians who were in France in the late sixteenth century. They explained to him about the common Indian custom of dividing the people into halves, groups with special and separate duties for ritual or administrative reasons, such as the Summer and Winter people of the various North American tribes. The Indians were struck by the two opposing groups in France. “They had perceived there were men amongst us full gorged with all sorts of commodities and others which hunger-starved, and bare with need and povertie begged at their gates: and found it strange these moieties so needy could endure such an injustice, and they tooke not the others by the throte, or set fire on their house....”1

The European settlers in the thirteen colonies in what became the United States had no doubts about their superiority in every way over the “wild savage” Indians. But let us take a look at the Iroquois Nations. They had democracy involving not political parties but people’s participation in decision-making and in removing unsatisfactory officials. Women voted with the men and had special responsibilities in certain areas. At the same time the “civilized” settlers relied on white indentured servants and black slaves and severely constrained women’s rights. It took three and a half centuries after the pilgrims landed to free the slaves and four centuries for women to get the right to vote!

We have briefly referred above to societies in which economics was subservient to social relations. That changed dramatically in the evolution of capitalism as private property, money, and trade for gain came to the forefront. Social relations became but reflections of the dominating force of society’s capitalist economics instead of the reverse. Aristotle foresaw the dangers ahead because some aspects of what would become capitalism were present in the ancient world:

There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. (Politics)
Although Aristotle supported slavery, which he apparently found natural, he thought selling and charging interest to make a gain unnatural. The situation is now reversed. Most people nowadays see slavery as unnatural, while selling to make a profit and charging interest seem like the most natural of human activities.

It is, of course, doubtful whether the concept of a “human nature” means anything at all because the consciousness, behavior, habits, and values of humans can be so variable and are influenced by the history and culture that develops in a given society. Not only has so-called human nature changed, but the ideology surrounding the components of human nature has also changed dramatically. The glorification of making money, the sanctioning of all the actions necessary to do so, and the promotion of the needed human traits—“unnatural” and repugnant to Aristotle—is now the norm of capitalist societies.

During capitalist development, including the recent past, what many have considered obvious characteristics of human nature have been shown to be nonsense. For example, it was once considered a part of human nature that women were not able to perform certain tasks competently. It was extremely unusual for women to be physicians, partially because of the belief that they were not capable of learning and using the needed skills. Now women doctors are common, and women are frequently more than half of the students in medical school. The recent harebrained remarks by Harvard University’s president that perhaps it is part of human nature that women can’t do quality work in math and science indicates that a strong ideological view of human nature still exists. This sentiment is now supposedly made more scientific by presumed genetic differences, even in areas where none have been demonstrated. It is clear what many consider human nature is actually a set of viewpoints and prejudices that flow out of the culture of a particular society.

Capitalism has existed for about 500 years—mercantile (or merchant) capitalism for about 250 followed by industrial capitalism for the last 250—less than 0.4 percent of the entire period of human existence. (In large parts of the world, capitalism arrived later as the system expanded and has held sway for an even smaller portion of time.) During this small slice of human history the cooperative, caring, and sharing nature within the human character has been downplayed while aggressive competitiveness has been brought to prominence for the purpose of fostering, and surviving within, a system based on the accumulation of capital. A culture has developed along with capitalism—epitomized by greed, individualism (everyone for themselves), exploitation of men and women by others, and competition. The competition occurs among departments in companies and, of course, among companies and countries, and workers seeking jobs, and it permeates people’s thinking. Another aspect of the culture of capitalism is the development of consumerism—the compulsion to purchase more and more, unrelated to basic human needs or happiness. As Joseph Schumpeter described it decades ago “...the great majority of changes in commodities consumed has been forced by producers on consumers who, more often than not, have resisted the change and have had to be educated by elaborate psychotechnics of advertising” (Business Cycles, vol. 2 [McGraw-Hill, 1936], 73).

If human nature, values, and relations have changed before, it hardly needs pointing out that they may change again. Indeed, the notion that human nature is frozen into place is simply another way that those supporting the present system attempt to argue that society is frozen in place. As John Dewey wrote in an article on “Human Nature” for The Encyclopeia of the Social Sciences in 1932,

The present controversies between those who assert the essential fixity of human nature and those who believe in a great measure of modifiability center chiefly around the future of war and the future of a competitive economic system motivated by private profit. It is justifiable to say without dogmatism that both anthropology and history give support to those who wish to change these institutions. It is demonstrable that many of the obstacles to change which have been attributed to human nature are in fact due to the inertia of institutions and to the voluntary desire of powerful classes to maintain the existing status.

Revolutionaries and Elections

Should revolutionaries take part in the election?

I do not find any reason why a revolutionary should not take part in the elections. All measures should be fully utilised in making sure that the socialist messege reaches the masses and eventually lead to their awareness.

What are elections for a communist? In Lenin's terminology, they are a compromises.

A compromise is one of the most important political tool. The political struggle of the proletariat sometimes takes off with the help of compomises. An effective revolutionary compromise is the one which eventually helps the revolutionaries to actualize their final goal i-e a socialist revolution.

According to Shaheed Bhagat Sigh, "... compromise is an essential weapon which has to be wielded every now and then as the struggle develops. But the thing that we must keep always before us is the idea of the movement. We must always maintain a clear notion as to the aim for the achievement of which we are fighting. That helps us to verify the success and failures of our movements and we can easily formulate the future programme... You are fighting to get sixteen annas from your enemy, you get only one anna. Pocket it and fight for the rest... The revolutionaries must always keep in mind that they are striving for a complete revolution. Complete mastery of power in their hands."

A compromise is only correct if it is a means to an end rather than the end in themselves.

Coming back to the initial question. Elections is a very effective compormise, if utilised proporly. Back in 1900s, Lenin used the Duma to spread his propoganda and advocated the participation of revolutionaries in Duma. I think parliment is a very effective way to spread the socialist ideals among the general population. A socialist revolution can only come around once the masses are are aware of their condition and the alternative to capitalism. That is once they are concious. All methods should be brought to use to spead awareness and truth. A true revolutionary sitting in the parliment should use his position to spread the messege of socialism and communism. Bhagat Singh had to throw a bomb in the parliment to do that.


Statement from Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (

Why Revolutionaries Should Participate in Capitalist Parliaments and Elections?

The capitalist class created the parliamentary system in order to facilitate the work of the capitalist class. Thus, the parliament is an instrument of capitalist rule. It follows that the final goal of our party is to dispense with capitalist parliaments and create a peoples parliament. Some people conclude from this argument that we must not participate in the capitalist parliament. They argue that we must always boycott parliaments and capitalist institutions because participation in bourgeois institutions corrupts revolutionaries. This is also incorrect.
Generally speaking, as long as revolutionaries are unable to disperse capitalist institutions with revolutionary institutions, we work inside them to educate workers who are stupefied by the agents of the capitalist class. Therefore, revolutionaries build a working-class opposition within all capitalist institutions.

People who argue that parliaments should always be boycotted because they have a corrupting influence on revolutionaries have not understood the tactics of class struggle. Our goal is to create a new revolutionary society of justice and equality. Naturally, such a society cannot be created with leaders who are easily corrupted by petty privileges. In fact, parliament is an excellent test to check the honesty and sincerity of leaders. The workers can not only create a good incorruptible parliamentary group of convinced, devoted, heroic revolutionaries, they are actively creating an entire society on the basis of equality and justice.

During ordinary conditions the parliament helps to gauge the measure of success of the workers struggle. During repressive conditions when it is often necessary to hide leaders underground, the development of good, reliable, experienced and authoritative leaders can only be accomplished by combining open parliamentary and trade union activity with the work of distributing Party literature. Further, at times the tactic of boycott is extremely useful for the working-class. In a situation where extra parliamentary revolutionary mass action (for example, strikes and agrarian movements) is growing with exceptional rapidity, the tactic of boycott may intensify the revolutionary wave and strengthen the connection of the party with the broad masses.

In conclusion, the revolutionary party utilizes elections and the parliamentary platform in a revolutionary manner to educate and enlighten the working-class. The experience of revolutionary movements in the world teaches important lessons. Experience teaches that the work of dispersing a capitalist parliament is not hindered but facilitated by the presence of a working-class opposition within the parliament. Therefore, participation in elections and the parliament is obligatory for the revolutionary party of the working-class.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bhagat Singh on the Young Political Workers

I recently read an article written by Bhagat Singh with the name of "To Young Political Workers". He wrote this article on Feb 2, 1931 and can be found at
Bhagat Singh have quite efficiently elaborated in the course of action that the youth must follow in order to actualize their socialist goals.
He writes, " As I have already stated, for any revolutionary party a definite programme is very essential. For, you must know that revolution means action. It means a change brought about deliberately by an organized and systematic work, as opposed to sudden and unorganised or spontaneous change or breakdown. And for the formulation of a programme, one must necessarily study: 1. The goal. 2. The premises from where were to start, i.e., the existing conditions. 3. The course of action, i.e., the means and methods."
We must make ourselves clear on all of the three points and that can only be possible after conducting an exhaustive study.
Revolution can not come over night... and if it comes over night than it is not a revolution in its truest sense. What we are looking for is a true socialist revolution that will break the back of capitalism for all times to come. Such can only occur after an organized effort of the communist party for a very prolonged period. The youth of today must educate to develop a vision that will not fail revolution and train amongst themselves what Lenin referred to as the "professional revolutionaries".
This is the message of Bhagat Singh... One of the bravest revolutionaries ever and our comrade.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Need for a forum for Pakistani Communist Students

I do not think that there is any need for me to elaborate on the part that students play in the political affairs of a country. They, without any reasonable doubt, play the most pivotal role. There is also no need to inquire into their roles in revolution. They are those who have to bear the duty to keep the revolution alive as the next generation.

Pakistan have seen a very steep decline in the student communist activities after the collapse of Soviet Union. This has been the trend everywhere around the golbe. The demise of the student communist activities can also be related with the US backed Islamization brought by General Zia-ul-Haq during which only the religious fundamentalist student parties (like Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Student Federation) flourished. Right now, there are hardly any student organizations in Pakistan propogating the socialist point of view and working for a bright socialist future of Pakistn.

I believe that the students of Pakistan are not dead. They just need a forum to get together so as to give a united vioce to their demand for the emancipation of the proletariat. Such a party is the need of the hour to help the left of Pakistan in their noble cause.


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