Let us remember John Brown on the anniversary of his raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry.
“Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the so-called great, every man in this court would have deemed it worthy of reward rather than punishment.”
The appeal to abstract norms is not a disinterested philosophical mistake but a necessary element in the mechanics of class deception.
– Leon Trotsky
The other evening, some friends and I had a discussion about our societal woes and how to solve them. As I described the sort of world I would like to see, one of my friends called me idealistic. She related that there were people at her place of work who did the bare minimum they could possibly do and still keep their jobs. She also spoke about ambitious, hard-working millionaires. Her point, I believe, was that a system that neither rewards people with vastly more than they can ever use, nor deprives others of their basic needs, cannot work – because of human nature. The sort of society of which I dream would leave everything undone, since people would have no motivation to do anything.
My knee-jerk response was to say that ideas and habits are a result of the economic system, not vice versa. If we really want to change the undesirable ways people behave, we should change the system. This more or less ended that part of our discussion, and not because anyone was convinced of the wisdom of the statement.
The next day, I wanted to find a specific reference on this concept, and was pleased that an online search for “material conditions determine consciousness” quickly turned up this quote, from the preface to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.
So our legal institutions, our politics, even our notions about ourselves and accepted concepts of justice – all derive from our economic relations. These relations determine our consciousness and norms of behavior.
The task is not to address faults in “human nature.” The task is to focus attention on material conditions, the inherent antagonisms that must exist in a society based on class, and conflicts that currently exist between productive forces and property relations. This offers an opportunity to raise consciousness of the essential nature of life under capitalism. Such is the basis for revolution.
We sang songs of hope in that strange time after World War II, when already the world was preparing for Cold War. We still had the feeling that if we could sing loud enough and strong enough and hopefully enough, it would make a difference.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.
– Frederick Douglass
“There are people who have come to see the moral imperative of equality, but who cannot yet see the moral imperative of world brotherhood. I would like to see the fervor of the civil-rights movement imbued into the peace movement to instill it with greater strength. And I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil-rights and peace movements. But for those who presently choose but one, I would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common to both.”
– The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We must have a human approach. As far as socioeconomic theory, I am Marxist.”
Read the Article: “I Am Marxist” Says Dalai Lama | Newsweek.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
– The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Born On This Day in 1929