On Marxism and human nature.
“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness”. Marx, Capital Vol I.
Marx argues that it is the material reality of human beings that determines the views, perceptions and understanding of the world they hold and that their relationship to their employers as wage slaves forms the basis of this reality. Yet there is also more to be added on this question especially when human nature is taken into consideration.
The widely propagated view that Socialism and human nature are incompatible is almost immediately the first argument presented when discussing this question. Yet it never strikes the person propagating this position to actually scrutinize what they are saying in a little depth. First we have to ask, well, what exactly is human nature and secondly, what forms the human nature as we know it?
1. Human nature from a materialist analysis is effectively the understanding of society as we have it on the basis of what we have around us. ‘Human nature’ in 5,000 BCE was to run around killing animals and living in tribes. Human nature in 900 AD was to worship the guy sitting on the throne telling you God gave him the right to rule you and all the land around you. ‘Human nature’ in 1600 AD was to enslave black people and sell them because they were not considered to be human or worth the same as a human.
So what is human nature today? It is a series of ideas that we have based on the social, political and economic structures we have. Human nature in 2017 is riddled with greed, individualism and all the other joys that capitalism requires to survive but this does not necessarily mean that it is fundamentally impossible to change. History demonstrates the opposite. As V.I Lenin correctly pointed out:
‘Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted. ‘
2. The formation of our understanding of society and of values is not actually all that complicated. As Marx outlines in the quote above, it is the ‘social being’ that determines consciousness. So if our social being is inundated with the commodification of everything, the fetish of the individual, the glorification of greed and wealth, then that is exactly what our social being will consist of culturally. The ideology of the ruling class [the capitalist class] is the one which we shall accept and replicate in our communities and cultures.
What this ultimately means though, is that it can be undone and it can be changed. The social, economic and political structures will not nurture greed, or selfishness, or individualism but rather the opposite and as a result, what we understand as ‘human nature’ will too reflect this.