Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Communism and Human Nature

by

In a world becoming more atomized and misanthropic by the day, where it seems sometimes that you have only to be a raving degenerate in order to achieve fame and power—witness Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, or, in a different way, Milo Yiannopoulos (whose degeneracy, though, has partly caught up with him)—it is useful to be reminded of the other side of human nature. The institutions of modern capitalism happen to reward depravity, first and foremost in the economic sphere, but since the maturation of mass society generations ago in the cultural sphere as well. One is constantly confronted, therefore, by moral and intellectual filth—the depths of human vulgarity on television and the internet, mad lusts for power and profit in politics and business, collective slavishness to mainstream norms in intellectual institutions, self-deception on a virtually heroic scale among the hordes of objective servants of power. One feels hemmed in by forces of delayed social implosion; one feels claustrophobic in a society whose categorical imperatives are but to privatize and marketize, to impersonalize, bureaucratize, and stupidize, all for the sake, ultimately, of accumulating capital.

Fortunately there are avenues of momentary escape from the decadence. One such avenue is to follow a particular train of thought that David Graeber pursues in his bestselling Debt: The First 5000 Years, as well as in this paper. It provides a conceptual antidote to the knowledge that Trumps and Bannons exist.

Namely, Graeber reminds us that fundamental to human nature, more fundamental than the debaucheries thrown up by late capitalism, is the tendency that he dubs communism. On a deep level, we are all (or nearly all), to some degree, communists. For if communism means “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” debtgraeberas Marx defined it, then it simply means sharing, helping, and cooperating—giving to others in need what you’re able to give them, even if it is only advice, assistance at some task, sympathy or emotional support, or some money to tide them over. Friends, coworkers, relatives, lovers, even total strangers constantly act in this way. In this sense, Graeber says, “communism is the foundation of all human sociability”; it can be considered “the raw material of sociality, a recognition of our ultimate interdependence that is the ultimate substance of social peace.”

From this perspective, incidentally, the early Marx’s apotheosis of communism in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 acquires a somewhat different meaning. To quote his grandiose idealistic formulation: “This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man—the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species.” If one understands “communism” in Graeber’s sense, as, in effect, a fundamental tendency of human nature—and a “principle immanent in everyday life,” to quote Graeber—these exalted theses are at least suggestive. For instance, humans’ psychological communism does tend to resolve conflicts between man and nature and between man and man, for it springs from the reservoir of sympathy that Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith understood to be shared by all non-pathological humans.

The communist morality, in fact, is nothing but a corollary of the Golden Rule, that you should treat people as you’d like to be treated, with respect and compassion. Morally speaking, communism is common sense. Indeed, polls show that, despite what we’re taught to think about the political proclivities of Americans, large numbers agree with this “radical” statement. In 1987, for example, when Reaganism was ascendant, a national poll found that 45 percent of Americans considered Marx’s famous slogan quoted above (from his Critique of the Gotha Program) to be so obvious that they thought it was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution! This is a point one might make in debates with political “conservatives” (i.e., reactionaries).

It would be amusing, too, to point out to some Breitbart writer or his legions of online followers that, in spite of himself, he is manifesting a communist morality every time he helps someone, every time he shares or cooperates; he is acting contrary to the capitalist imperative to “gain wealth, forgetting all but self.” Or to point out to a conservative Christian that “Christian love” is essentially communistic, and that Jesus hated the wealthy. (See, e.g., Luke 6:24-25: “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.”) A communist society would just be a society in which the “baseline communism” of everyday life (and of original Christianity) was the guiding rule, the main principle of social organization.

As for our own society, the only reason it is able to function at all is that it’s held together by this dense anti-capitalist fabric, into which the more superficial patterns of commercialism, the profit motive, and greed are woven. Capitalism is parasitic on everyday communism: everything would collapse if the latter even momentarily vanished. One might, therefore, reverse the typical judgment of apologists for the status quo: not only is capitalism not a straightforward expression of human nature (supposedly because we’re all predominantly greedy, as an Ayn Rand or a Milton Friedman might say); it is more like a perversion of human nature, which evidently is drawn to such things as compassion, love, community, respect for others, and free self-expression unimpeded by authoritarian rules in the economic or political sphere.

—Such are the thoughts with which I try to comfort myself periodically, when feeling overwhelmed by the systemic misanthropy that daily bombards us all.

More articles by:

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground HumanistWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis. His website is www.wrightswriting.com.

Weekend Edition
October 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Clinton, Assange and the War on Truth
Michael Hudson
Socialism, Land and Banking: 2017 compared to 1917
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in the Life of CounterPunch
Paul Street
The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont
Jason Hirthler
Censorship in the Digital Age
Jonathan Cook
Harvey Weinstein and the Politics of Hollywood
Andrew Levine
Diagnosing the Donald
Michelle Renee Matisons
Relocated Puerto Rican Families are Florida’s Latest Class War Targets
Richard Moser
Goldman Sachs vs. Goldman Sachs?
David Rosen
Male Sexual Violence: As American as Cherry Pie
Mike Whitney
John Brennan’s Police State USA
Robert Hunziker
Mr. Toxicity Zaps America
Peter Gelderloos
Catalan Independence and the Crisis of Democracy
Robert Fantina
Fatah, Hamas, Israel and the United States
Edward Curtin
Organized Chaos and Confusion as Political Control
Patrick Cockburn
The Transformation of Iraq: Kurds Have Lost 40% of Their Territory
CJ Hopkins
Tomorrow Belongs to the Corporatocracy
Bill Quigley
The Blueprint for the Most Radical City on the Planet
Brian Cloughley
Chinese Dreams and American Deaths in Africa
John Hultgren
Immigration and the American Political Imagination
Thomas Klikauer
Torturing the Poor, German-Style
Gerry Brown
China’s Elderly Statesmen
Pepe Escobar
Kirkuk Redux Was a Bloodless Offensive, Here’s Why
Jill Richardson
The Mundaneness of Sexual Violence
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Choreography of Human Dignity: Blade Runner 2049 and World War Z
Missy Comley Beattie
Bitch, Get Out!!
Andre Vltchek
The Greatest Indonesian Painter and “Praying to the Pig”
Ralph Nader
Why is Nobelist Economist Richard Thaler so Jovial?
Ricardo Vaz
Venezuela Regional Elections: Chavismo in Triumph, Opposition in Disarray and Media in Denial
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
NAFTA Talks Falter, Time To Increase Pressure
GD Dess
Why We Shouldn’t Let Hillary Haunt Us … And Why Having a Vision Matters
Ron Jacobs
Stop the Idiocy! Stop the Mattis-ness!
Russell Mokhiber
Talley Sergent Aaron Scheinberg Coca Cola Single Payer and the Failure of Democrats in West Virginia
Michael Barker
The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s “Fantasyland”
Murray Dobbin
Yes, We Need to Tax the Rich
Dave Lindorff
Two Soviet Spies Who Deserve a Posthumous Nobel Peace Prize
Rafael Bernabe – Manuel Rodríguez Banchs
Open Letter to the People of the United States From Puerto Rico, a Month After Hurricane María
Oliver Tickell
#FreeJackLetts
Victor Grossman
From Jamaica to Knees
Michael Welton
Faith and the World: the Baha’i Vision
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Kirkuk the Consolation Prize?
Graham Peebles
Beyond Neo-Liberal Consumerism
Louis Proyect
On Gowans on Syria
Charles R. Larson
Review: Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden’s “Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby”
David Yearsley
Katy Perry’s Gastro-Pop, Gastro-Porn Orgy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail