1970s >> 1977 >> no-878-october-1977

Is human nature a barrier to Socialism?

The answer to this question will depend on how human nature is defined. The commonly-held belief does not often go further than to describe human behaviour, or some aspects of human behaviour, mostly the worst, which are summed up as aggression, violence, selfishness and greed. The other aspects of human behaviour—cooperation, self-sacrifice and concern for others—are not so often mentioned. Of course, human behaviour is a part of human nature and cannot be separated from it, any more than elephant behaviour can be separated from elephant nature or anthropoid-ape behaviour from athropoid-ape nature. But whilst elephant or ape behaviour cannot change beyond the limits set by the sum total of an elephant’s or ape’s biological attributes, changes in mankind’s behaviour are limitless.

All individuals as a species have in general the same combinations of physiological features common to the species, and it is this that determines the nature of the organism. It is this that is relatively the constant part of an organism’s nature as distinct from the relatively variable part of its nature: its behaviour. The nature of a species and its behaviour or behaviour-patterns are part of a single whole, in the same way as one end of a stick is contiguous with the other end but separated from it like the south pole from the north pole.

All animal species other than mankind are prisoners of the limits which biological specialization has set. Mankind is a unique organism in the animal world. The upright standing position with the hands (which have fingers and opposable thumbs capable of a very elaborate range of manipulation) quite free, stereoscopic binocular colour vision, the power of speech, and above all, a brain of a size and quality possessed by no other animal species alive or since extinct. It is this unique combination of biological attributes (the nature of man) which has enabled mankind to leave the animal kingdom as far as the continued determination of evolution by natural selection is concerned.

There is no evidence to suggest that there have been any significant changes in the biological make-up of Homo Sapiens during the last 40,000 years, but there is overwhelming evidence of great changes in human culture and behaviour and, therefore, in man himself.

What is usually called human nature is human behaviour. Class consciousness is greatly determined by social experience, but social experience includes ideas. In fact, mankind is the only species which has been able to accumulate knowledge, systematize it and hand it on culturally, making it unnecessary for succeeding generations to re-learn anew everything which has gone before. It has been pointed out many times that capitalism brings into being its own grave-diggers; the working class. The inability of capitalism to create conditions which would enable the working class as a whole to live full and harmonious lives in line with social potentialities will lead inevitably to the realization of the need for a new social system. This process needs the intervention of the accumulated knowledge of human society systematized into ideas; not ideas which interpret everything in terms of what is necessary for the continued existence of capitalist society, but the ideas, on a class basis, of what is necessary for the emancipation of the working class; in other words, Socialist ideas.

An existing social system cannot be destroyed unless it is at the same time replaced by another, otherwise this would mean that society would cease to exist altogether. Working-class consciousness means therefore a realization of a positive as well as a negative understanding, and this can only be developed by the spread of Socialist ideas. When the working class as a class adopts these ideas and brings into being Socialism as a working system of society, this will be the beginning of changes in human behaviour in line with the change in social relations.

Harry Walters