The Communist Person - The ideal

posted 6 May 2010, 04:44 by Admin uk
Let’s Define the Communist Person 

David van Wyk 

To do so one will have to look at scattered references in the work of Karl Marx. Marxists like David Mclellan, Ernst Mandel and Bikhu Parekh have also made some comments on this topic. I will draw heavily on an article by Parekh published in 1975 in a collection of works edited by him, titled The Concept of Socialism (London: Helm Groom).

By way of introduction, let me dispel some commonly held myths, mainly the products of people who do not bother to read Marxist literature, but none the less claim expertise in the matter:
1. The Soviet Union – The Bolshevik revolution started out as a Marxist revolution, but because of international isolation, the invasion of the country by at least four western powers in 1918 and the destruction of the working class in the civil war that ensued, the experiment ended with a dictatorship controlled by a party, run by a bureaucracy which together formed a type of state capitalism in which the state owned the means of production, the bureaucracy managed production and the working class was left without any rights or power. A truly communist society is one in which workers control the means of production and determine the major questions of what is to be produced, how much is to be produced, the time frames within which such production takes place etc. Any hope of communism in the Soviet Union died with Lenin in 1924. His successor Stalin killed more communists than even Hitler, who killed 6 million Jews, many of whom were communists and three million communists in Germany alone.
2. The Peoples Republic of China – This is much more of a corporatist state, the ideal state for 21st Century capitalism. China has achieved double figure growth rates over the last 25 years exactly because it is such an attractive place for capitalists to invest in. Why? Because the Chinese labour force has been nationalized and is being rented out to capitalist as cheap labour. Workers in China have no rights to strike, to form unions or to freely associate. Capitalists can rake in huge profits given the fact that the labour force is policed by the state and the state takes care of all other costs associated with labour. There are no conditions that will hamper maximizing profit on investment. Big business no doubt would love to see the entire planet emulate this wonderful investment climate!
3. Communism is when the state owns and controls everything – Marx called for the withering away of the state altogether, and for the free association of workers and producers to replace it.
4. Communism means everyone must wear exactly the same clothes, earn exactly the same income, go to exactly the same schools etc. This is also pure nonsense, usually propagated by conservatives who would have use believe that communism is about crude egalitarianism, or turning the world into an ant heap.

A Communist Person is a

a) Natural being
b) Human being
c) Conscious being
d) Universal being
e) Species being

A Communist Person as a Natural Being

As human beings we are naturally endowed with certain faculties and powers and therefore with definite identifiable needs. These needs are satisfied by distinctive modes, ways, of appropriation and gratification. We all need food, water, shelter and clothing. Thanks to the activism of communist activists these needs are now recognized as universal human needs.

Despite this recognition in countries where the market economy dominates food, water, shelter and clothing are saleable commodities and only those with access to money are able to realize these rights. In South Africa there are large swathes of rural people in remote areas who exist in money less conditions and are therefore denied these rights, this is also the case in other market economies, including the USA.

Our needs drive us to strive towards gratification that is sating our hunger and thirst, seeking shelter, or putting on clothes to protect us from the weather. Our bodies drive us to this, an empty stomach equals hunger, the need to reproduce equals sexual intercourse, our bodies experiencing cold drives us to cover ourselves etc. Denying any person the satisfaction of these basic needs means denying them their very human nature. Insisting that these needs be dealt with as commodities implies that market economies are very inhumane.

How do we best satisfy these needs? We do so collectively. Thus the veggies on our table are the product of the collective labour of farm workers, transport workers, processing workers, wholesale and retail workers etc. etc. Huge numbers of people are mobilized daily so that we are able to realize our basic needs. In a market based economy there is massive alienation because the farm worker getting a minimum wage of R800 per month is often unable to put a decent plate of food on the table for his family even though he is a producer of food.

All these workers collectively ensure that there is food in our society, yet the profit of their labour accrues not to them who did the physical work but to them who own the productive property in society, the means of production: the farm owner, the owner of the transport company, the owner of the retail or wholesale outlet etc. This causes a second level of alienation. The product of a workers labour does not belong to him or her in a capitalist economy.

A Communist Person as a Human Being

We are not merely natural beings, we are also human beings. To understand the difference between a human being and other natural beings it is necessary to compare our total life activities with theirs. Our total live activities are those activities we must undertake to remain alive. As we express our lives, so we are. We are what we produce and how we produce it. Our productive activity is what distinguishes us from other animals. Our productive activities differs from those of other animals because we posses four capacities which they do not to the same degree,
- we are conscious
- we are free
- we are universal, and
- we are species beings.

The communist person as a conscious being:

Animals are also conscious and the do recognize other animals, distinguish between their own species and outsiders, recognize danger etc. Animal consciousness is so limited, however, that it can be referred to as instinct. The animal cannot be distinguished from its life activity. It sleeps, defecates, hunts, eats etc. in a manner that has been pre-determined genetically, instinctually. A weaverbird can make a perfect shaped nest, but it can only do so in exactly the same way as all other weaver birds before it.

Unlike other animals, human beings are able to distance themselves from their live activities, their environment and even from themselves. We are therefore able to transform our natural environment to suite our needs. We are able to express ourselves in art and poetry. We are able to abstract ourselves etc.

The communist person as a free being.

Unlike animals we are free in two senses. An animal engages in its life activity, its production, only when compelled to do so by immediate physical needs, while we humans can produce when we are free from physical need. In fact we produce so much better when we are free from physical need.

German, Swedish and Japanese workers are a good example of this. Because they are free from physical needs, given the high standards of living achieved in their countries, they are amongst the most creative and productive workers in the world. In Japan many of their basic needs are taken care of by the state. Thus since the end of World War 2 Japan has had virtually free education from cradle to university. Sweden and Germany are both renowned for their social welfarism, taking care of their worker’s basic needs.

Secondly, an animal’s product belongs to its immediate physical body. The animal hunts and immediately eats its prey. The animal does not first prepare the prey by cooking it, or improving it by all the means that human beings do so. We are able to see the products of our labour as being separate from ourselves. We can visualize a table, chairs, cupboards etc. from just looking at a piece of wood. We can transform that piece of wood into all kinds of products should we apply our labour to it. We are therefore freely creative.
The communist person as a universal being.

An animal’s productive activity is confined to limited parts of nature. Some animals can only exist in jungles, others only on grassland, others only in water etc. Human beings on the other hand are able to make the entire planet their field of action. We are currently experimenting with even making our solar system and beyond our field of action. Our human consciousness is therefore unlimited and we are able to make the entire universe the object of our will and awareness, study and manipulate it.

The communist person as species-being

We have many capacities which other animals do not have, such as the capacity to think, reason, judge, act, know, will, plan, anticipate, etc. This is what defines us as a species

A communist person strives to integrate all the above aspects of being human because it is these things after all which makes us human.

Our striving for freedom forces us to engage with nature, because our freedom is limited by natural impediments such as cold, heat, dark, inhospitable environments etc. Nature imposes external and internal limitations on us. The external limitations being those I mentioned above. The internal limitations refers to our biology: We are not particularly fast, we do not have huge teeth, our sense of small and sight are rather limited, we are not covered in fur. On the evolutionary scale we are rather puny. If we are to be fully free and fully human we must always strive to overcome these limitations on our freedom and the entire history of our technological development is evidence of this struggle to overcome natural limitations. We constantly humanize nature. Industry, our collective work and interdependence humanizes external nature and through that, our own internal nature.

We have done so by developing our culinary skills, art, music, architecture, games, literature etc. These are all ways of exercising our natural senses in sophisticated, skillful, and human and therefore free ways.

We become humanized through each other’s help. In expressing your powers, Ms Chasu, you benefit and enrich me. Thus, believe it or not I am enriched by the blogs you post, they are entertaining and informative. By posting them unselfishly you are behaving like a communist.

Enriched, I am better able to appreciate and criticize your products (blogs in this instance) and to set you higher standards at which to aim. In educating me through your blogs, you do not suffer any loss; on the contrary you benefit as much as me (perhaps I get you to think beyond the limits of your current vision). Thus we grow together, all of us who are sharing this blogsite. But this is true for every productive human interaction out there as well. In human life we constantly appropriate each other. We are all dependent on one another, this is the essence of communism.

By putting us in competition, by claiming that it is human nature to compete, that it is human nature to be aggressive and violent, that it is human nature to be selfish and greedy, conservative philosophers, especially those who espouse capitalism are denying us our real human nature.

Not all of us can be musicians, artists, actors, engineers, scientists etc. but we can all appreciate the social value that each of us brings to the smooth functioning of society. So Marxism does not say that every person should be equally rewarded for what they do, or that they should all do exactly the same things. Marxism calls for us all to recognize and appreciate that which others contribute, while expecting the same appreciation for what we do. In capitalist countries doctors are far more appreciated than street cleaners and most doctors study medicine not because they are concerned about health, they do so because they wish to live in mansions, drive porches and marry beauty queens. Yet, the work of street cleaners is as important to the health and well being of communities as that of doctors. The crudest, crassest forms of materialism is found in capitalist societies where the value of a person is judged by the size of his bank account, the car that he drives, the suite that he wears etc.

In appreciating your blog entries, I appropriate your writing sense and skills, which now become as much mine as yours. In giving me new senses, you have refined your on. If you had withheld your powers, the many other readers and I would have suffered a loss, but so would you. Properly defined individual and social interests always coincide. Thus communism is not the anti-individualist philosophy it is often painted to be, it is in fact the only philosophy that will allow for the essence of human individuality to be realized.

In helping me become a human being, you become one yourself; in destroying my humanity, you destroy yours as well. This is why Apartheid could never work; it attempted to build the humanity of a minority while destroying that of the majority. Marx summed it up, “mutual completion… leads to truly human life.”

The communist person is energetic and active, constantly striving to objectify his or her powers. The communist person is demanding, requiring opportunities to exercise his or her powers and to acquire those that the species is constantly developing. The communist person is able to make his or her own distinctive contribution to the enrichment of his fellow humans and mediating between them and the species. The communist person has humanized all his or her senses and relations to the world and is revolted and outraged by anything that reflects inhumanity, meanness, cruelty and suffering. The communist person is united with nature and finds delight in beauty and diversity, and is above all proud of being human, has a sense of self worth, self respect, a love for independence and a sense of dignity. A communist person refuses to subject others to his power or to be subject, devoted and obedient to them him or herself.