Socialism and Psychology. A Materialist on the Human Mind

To the average man the mind is a wonderful phenomenon, something that is past his understanding. Memory, judgment, imagination, and thought are to him miracles. He makes no attempt to study them because they are of the essence of his being, which to him is an unsolvable mystery. But to the scientist the mind is no more of a mystery than are other natural phenomena quite easily understood by the average man.

The scientist is so familiar with the brain—the seat of the mind—that he can mark off to a certain extent those regions that receive the different impressions from the external world, as by sight, smell, hearing, etc. By a close study of healthy and unhealthy minds he has learned the actual regions of the brain that are responsible for memory, judgment, and reason. He can remove a portion of the brain and foretell what faculty will be affected as a consequence.

To the scientist the brain is a physiological organ which he studies in exactly the same way as he studies other organs or phenomena ; that is, by observation, hypothesis, and experiment. The hypothesis is deduced from the facts observed, and the experiment either justifies it, disproves it, or brings to light new facts which modify it.

Every organ of the body (with the exception of those atrophied through disuse) has its function. The function of the heart is circulation, that of the stomach is digestion, and those of the brain nervous co-ordination and thought. If food is lacking or poor, digestion is stopped or impaired. If blood does not flow back to the heart the function of the latter ceases. The brain, without a variety of impressions, which it receives from outside itself, would have nothing on which to think but the fact of its own existence.

The physical make-up of the individual, together with his environment, is the material on which the brain functions, and, apart from the mere physiological process, weaves that intangible thing, the mind. But the minds of no two living beings are exactly alike ; moreover, the mind of every individual undergoes change with his growth. His material surroundings, his physical and social environment, in their perpetual panorama of transformation, changes his mind from the unconscious ego of the embyronic stage up to that degree of intelligence and culture made possible by the stage of social development reached.

The mind is built up by a multitude of impressions and ideas imprinted upon the brain by the material world with which it comes into contact through the senses. It cannot pick and choose the materials for its own construction. It is in no sense free because its material surroundings, its social status, and its inherited constitution determine its line of development. Spiritual fakirs advise the workers to dwell on the glories of a future state ; but that is asking them to dream of a life worth living and disregard the possibilities of the only life they will ever know. It is no consolation to be able to dream of heavenly or earthly paradises in the midst of conditions that seem worse by contrast each time ws awake. The evangelist from the South Wales coal pit may break out into exotic perspiration in his efforts to conjure up in his mind the spirit forms that priestly suggestion has convinced him make spirit music in the ethereal blue. But when he comes out of his trance, like a toper out of his bleary sleep, the sordid conditions of his existence reassert themselves, and his mind is once more an agglomeration of the details of mine and slum, where all his time is spent. Even in its ecstatic flight his mind is not free : he only visualised the hypnotic suggestion of his master’s tool.

We are told that there is a far wider difference between a prominent scientist and the lowest savage than there is between the last named and the highest of the animals. But the scientist owes his mental superiority to society. The material comforts and necessities of his everyday life, together with the materials that form the subject of his investigation and experiment, and which give him the opportunity for mental development, are all supplied by the working class. It is an open question whether a colossal intellect is worth striving for, but either way the worker gets no opportunity to reach it. A fully developed mind is as far beyond his attainment as a well-nourished body. But the lack of opportunity to emulate the intellectua achievements of Darwin or Huxley is a flippant irony that shows up fantastically on a background of tragedy.

For while the worker supplies the materials for the mental development of the scientist, and the whole of the ruling class with wealth that permits them to revel in a cultured and sensuous mentality, his mind, besides being imprisoned in an environment of endless toil and want, is stunted for lack of mental food, and artificially twisted into a shape that coincides with capitalist interests, by a huge army of religious fakirs and tricksters. A rational mental development is beyond the reach of the vast majority of the workers, and a healthy, vigorous mind is a comparative rarity.

Take the case of the machine-minder, or the worker constantly performing one operation in a series necessary to the production of an article. Thousands of times in a day he will press a lever or turn a crank, always with the same result as regards the industrial process ; always the same impression stamped on his brain. By constant repetition he works automatically, becoming every day more machine-like in his movements and thoughts. Tiring his mind daily without developing it, he becomes incapable of reason or consecutive thought. His mind, dominated by the machine, has taken over its qualities and become part of the industrial process that pours all wealth into the lap of the ruling class and leaves him—who once possessed a human mind with endless possibilities of de­velopment—a skull with vacant eyes staring outwards, and a vibrant clang repeating itself incessantly inside. He is without even a desire for change because it might make thought neces­sary, and thought is painful to the undeveloped mind.

To the reader it Mavis appeal that an extreme case has been chosen and the most made of it, and that the vast majority of workers are in infinitely better. But is it so? ? A little observation among friends and acquaintances will quickly show the material that enters into the average worker’s mind. His conversation is the key to his mind. What is his most serious topic of conversation ? Work. Not one in a hundred can talk intelligently on any other subject. Neither is it work in general that is talked about, but only the experiences and troubles of the individual. Whether he is in the factory or the tap-room the one thing that sways and dominates his mind is his job, the inability of his foreman, the jealousy of his mates, or his own quickness or ingenuity. Work is the all-absorbing topic of the bulk of the workers ; behind all this talk is the working-class mind, fed and trained in the dust and toil of the factory on everything that is mean and sordid that the meanest of all possible systems could generate.

The capitalist politician, self-satisfied and oily, boasts of the privileges and benefits conferred on mankind by modern civilisation. His thoughts are for his own class only. With every want satisfied, their lives a ceaseless round of pleasure, the system, for them, is perfect while it lasts. But for the working class there is nothing but toil and poverty under the system. Unemployment and insecurity produce in their minds that worst of all fears, the dread of hunger for themselves and those dependent upon them

The environment, of the worker being mean and slavish, his brain-a mere sensitive plate—is stamped with those qualities. The physiological problem for the Socialist is, therefore : How to induce the toiler to think for himself on the all-important question, ‘”Socialism versus Capitalism,” while his environment is all the while degrading and weakening his mind. The only solution to this problem is a Socialist party alive to its task and becoming ever stronger as a result of its gradual and steady accomplishment. The working class must affect its own emancipation ; it is, therefore, to the working class that the Socialist Party brings its message.

Knowing, as we do, the apathy and lack of real knowledge that characterises the wage-slaves, we realise that the Socialist position must be clear and easily understood. Confusion must be avoided like the pestilence. The object must be clearly defined, and the reasons, historical and economic, that justify it stated with precision. Only when the worker has understood these can he say with truth that his brain functions in his own interest and is no longer a mere adjunct to the factory, the mine, and the land.

When the Socialist Object has been reached, and these things are owned in common, instead of being the be-all and end-all of the worker’s physiological existence they will be relegated to their proper sphere. They will be used to satisfy our everyday wants instead of being dissipated for capitalist profits. They need no longer dominate, enslave and degrade the mind of a single human being, because, with modern methods and machinery the major portion of our time can be spent in congenial surroundings, in environment that will stimulate the brain, engendering healthy thoughts and a mind serene and dignified.

F. F.

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