Part 1

Part 1

REPRODUCTION OF THE SPECIES AND PRODUCTIVE ECONOMY, INSEPARABLE ASPECTS OF THE MATERIAL FOUNDATION OF THE HISTORICAL PROCESS

Labor and Sex

1

Historical materialism loses all its meaning wherever it consents to the introduction of the allegedly individual nature of the sexual urge as a factor that is alien to the domain of the social economy, which would generate derivations and constructions of an extra-economic order until it attains the most evanescent and spiritual levels.

A much greater mobilization of the scientific material would be necessary, always starting from the highest degree of mistrust towards the decadent and venal official science of the current period, if this polemic were to be aimed only at the self-proclaimed total adversaries of Marxism. As always, it is the currents that say that they accept some parts of Marxism, and then address essential collective and human problems claiming that they are beyond its purview, that concern us the most in their capacities as counterrevolutionary factors.

It is clear that idealists and fideists, having established their views upon the explanation of the natural hierarchy of values, tend to situate the problems of sex and love in a sphere and a level that is far above the economy, which is vulgarly understood as the satisfaction of the need to eat and related needs. If the element that elevates and distinguishes the species homo sapiens from the other animals really derives not from the physical effect of a long evolution in a complex environment of material factors, but descends from the penetration of a particle of an immaterial cosmic spirit, it is clear that in the reproduction of one being by another, of one thinking brain by another, we would need a more noble relation that that of the everyday filling of the stomach. If, even without depicting this personal spirit as immaterial, it is admitted that in the dynamic of human thought there is an evident virtue and a force that pre-exists or exists outside the bounds of matter, it is clear that the mechanism that substitutes the generated ego for the generative ego, with its own essential qualities, hypothetically pre-existent to any contact with physical nature and all cognition, must be sought in a more arcane domain.

For the dialectical materialist it is unforgivable to assume that the economic structure, in whose forces and laws the explanation of the political history of humanity is sought, embraces only the production and consumption of the more or less wide range of goods that are necessary to keep the individual alive; and that the material relations between individuals are limited to this domain, and that the play of forces that unite these innumerable isolated molecules composes the norms, rules and laws of social reality; while a whole series of vital satisfactions are left out of this construction; and for many dilettantes these include the ones that extend from sex-appeal to aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. This interpretation of Marxism is terribly false, it is the worst kind of anti-Marxism that is currently popular, and besides relapsing into an implicit but inexorable bourgeois idealism, it also constitutes a return, with no less harmful consequences, to full-blown individualism, which is another essential trait of reactionary thought; and this makes both the biological as well as the psychological individual central categories and standards of reference.

The material factor does not “generate” the superstructural factor (juridical, political, philosophical) by means of a process that takes place within an individual, nor by way of a hereditary generative chain of individuals, leaving the “comedies” of the economic base and its cultural culmination to be taken care of later by a social process. The base is a system of palpable physical factors that embraces all individuals and determines their behavior, even at an individual level, a system that comes into existence when these individuals have formed a social species, and the superstructure is a derivative of these conditions of the base, determinable according to the study of these conditions and subject to calculations on that basis, without concerning ourselves with the thousands of particular behaviors and of their petty personal variations.

The error that we are addressing is therefore an error of principle, which, by leading the examination of the causes of historical processes towards ideal factors that are outside of physical nature, on the one hand, and on the other by the leading role it grants to the ridiculous Individual citizen, leaves dialectical materialism no field of operations, so that it is even rendered incapable of balancing the books at a bakery or a delicatessen.

2

The position that denies the validity of Marxism on the terrain of sex and reproduction along with all its rich derivations is ignorant of the opposition between the bourgeois and communist conceptions of the economy, and therefore turns its back on the powerful conquest achieved by Marx when he demolished the capitalist schools. For the latter the economy is the totality of relations that are based on the exchange between two individuals of objects that are mutually useful for their self-preservation, and they include labor power among these useful objects. From this they deduce that there never was and never will be an economy without exchange, commodities and property. For us, the economy includes the full range of activity engaged in by the species, by the human group, that influences its relations with the physical natural environment; economic determinism rules over not only the epoch of private property but over the entire history of the species.

All Marxists consider the following theses to be correct: private property is not eternal; there was a time of primitive communism when private property did not exist; and we are advancing towards the era of social communism; the family is not eternal, much less the monogamous family—it appeared very late and in a more advanced era will have to disappear; the state is not eternal—it appears in a quite advanced stage of “civilization” and will disappear along with the division of society into classes.

It is clear that none of these truths can be reconciled with a view of historical praxis that is based on the dynamic of individuals and on a concession, however minimal it may be, to their autonomy and initiative, their liberty, conscience, will and all other such trivialities. The truths enumerated above are only demonstrable after having accepted that the determining element is an exhaustive process of adaptation and organization of the human collectives in the face of the difficulties and obstacles of the time and place in which they live, resolving not the thousands of millions of problems of adaptation faced by the individuals, but that other perspective that tends towards a unitary viewpoint, that of the prolonged adaptation of the species as a whole to the demands imposed on it by external circumstances. This conclusion is unavoidable in view of the increase in the number of members of the species, the toppling of the barriers that separate them from each other, the dizzying multiplication of the available technical means, which can only be managed by way of collective institutions composed of innumerable individuals, etc.

For a primitive people one could very well suppose that sociology is about how to get food, from the very moment when it was no longer obtained by the powers of individual effort, as is the case with animals; but public sanitation, obstetrics, eugenics and, tomorrow, the annual birth quota, are also part of sociology.

Individual and Species

3

The individual self-preservation in which the mysterious principal motor force of events is always sought is nothing but a derivative and secondary manifestation of the self-preservation and development of the species, independently of the traditional benefits conferred by a natural or supernatural providence, the play of the instincts or of reason; and this is all the more true for a social species and a society with some highly developed and complex aspects.

It might appear to be too obvious to point out that everything could very well be explained by individual self-preservation, as the basis and motor force of all other phenomena, if the individual were immortal. In order to be immortal he would have to be immutable, exempt from aging, but it is precisely the nature of the living organism and especially the animal organism, to undergo an unavoidable and uninterrupted transformation from within itself of every one of its cells, since it hosts within its body an impressive chain of movements, circulation and metabolism. It is absurd to postulate an organism that lives by continuously replacing the elements it has lost and remaining self-identical, as if it were a crystal that, immersed in a solution of its own chemically pure solid substance, diminishes or grows according to a cyclic variation of temperatures or external pressures. Some have even spoken of the life of the crystal (and today of the atom) since they can be born, grow, shrink, disappear and even duplicate and multiply.

This might seem too banal to mention, but it is useful to reflect on the fact that the fetishistic conviction held by many (even many who pass themselves off as Marxists) regarding the primacy of the factor of individual biology is nothing but an atavistic reflection of primeval and crude beliefs concerning the immortality of the personal soul. In no religion has the most vulgar bourgeois egoism, which displays a fierce contempt for the life of the species and for compassion for the species, been implanted more deeply than in those that claim that the soul is immortal, and in this fantastic form considers the fate of the subjective person to be more important than that of all the others.

It is unpleasant to meditate on the fact that the movement of our poor carcass is only transitory, and as a substitute for the afterlife intellectualoid illusions arise—and today, existentialist illusions—concerning the distinctive stigma that every subject possesses, or believes he possesses even when he sheepishly follows the fashionable trends, and passively imitates all the other human puppets. It is at this point that the hymn of praise is intoned for the ineffable virtues of the emotions, of the will, of artistic exaltation, of cerebral ecstasis, which are only attained within the individual unit—precisely where the truth is the exact opposite.

Returning to the material way that events unfold right under our noses, it is obvious that any complete, healthy and adult individual, in the full possession of his faculties, can devote himself—we are referring to an economy of an elementary nature—to the production of what he needs to consume on a daily basis. The instability of this situation, individual by individual, would soon lead to its termination (and of the species if the latter were a senseless conglomeration of individuals connected with each other only by the principle of maximization of personal gain at the expense of the others) if it were to lack the flow of reproduction that characterizes an organic group, in which individuals who just look out for themselves are rare, and in which there are elderly persons who cannot work so hard, and very young children who need to be fed so they can produce in the future. Any economic cycle would be unthinkable, and we would not be able to devise any economic equations, without introducing into the calculation these essential magnitudes: age, abilities, health. We would thus have to elaborate the vulgar economic formula of a parthenogenic and unisexual humanity. This cannot be verified, however. So we have to introduce the sexual factor, since reproduction takes place by means of two heterogeneous genders, and the hiatus in productive activity necessitated by gestation and rearing have to be taken into account, too….

Only after having addressed all these issues can we say we have drawn up the conditional equations that totally describe the “base”, the economic “infrastructure” of society, from which we shall deduce (casting aside once and for all that puppet called the individual which cannot perpetuate or renew itself, and which is less and less capable of doing so as he proceeds along this great road) the whole infinite range of the manifestations of the species which have only in this way been rendered possible, right up to the greatest phenomena of thought.

In a recently-published article, a journalist (Yourgrau, in Johannesburg), in his review of the theory of the general system of Bertalanffy, who sought to synthesize the principles of the two famous rival systems, vitalism and mechanicism, while reluctantly admitting that materialism is gaining ground in biology, recalls the following paradox which is not easy to confute: one rabbit alone is not a rabbit, only two rabbits can be a rabbit. We see how the individual is expelled from his last stronghold, that of Onan. It is therefore absurd to address economics without dealing with the reproduction of the species, which is how it was approached in the classical texts. If we turn to the Preface of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State this is how Engels approaches one of the basic pillars of Marxism:

“According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other.”

From its theoretical foundations, the materialist interpretation of history organizes the data concerning the relative degree of development of technology and productive labor and the data regarding the “production of human beings” or the sphere of sexuality. The working class is the greatest productive force, according to Marx. And it is even more important to know how the class that works reproduces, studying how it produces and reproduces the mass of commodities, wealth and capital. The classical dispossessed wage worker of antiquity was not officially defined in Rome as a worker, but as a proletarian. His characteristic function was not that of giving society and the ruling classes the labor of its own body, but that of generating, without controls or limits, in his rustic little apartment, the day laborers of tomorrow.

The modern petty bourgeois, in his vacuity, thinks that the latter function would be much more pleasant for him than the former function, which is much more bitter. But the petty bourgeois, who is just as revolting and as philistine as the big bourgeois, necessarily faces this function, too, with every kind of impotence.

4

Likewise, the first communities prepared for productive labor with the rudimentary technology that was then available, and prepared to serve the purposes of mating and reproduction, education and the protection of the young. The two forms are in continuous connection and therefore the family in its diverse forms is also a relation of production and changes as the conditions of the environment and the available forces of production change.

In this essay we cannot recapitulate the entire story of the successive stages of savagery and barbarism that the human race has traversed, and which are characterized by their different ways of life and kinship structures, and we refer the reader to the brilliant work of Engels.

After living in the trees feeding on fruit, man first became acquainted with fishing and fire, and learned to navigate the coasts and rivers so that the various tribes came into contact with one another. Then came the hunt with the use of the first weapons, and in the stage of barbarism, first the domestication of animals arose and then agriculture, which signaled the transition from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle. The sexual forms did not yet include monogamy or even polygamy; the latter was preceded by matriarchy, in which the mother exercised moral and social dominance, and the group family in which the men and the women of the same gens lived together in a fluid succession of pairing relationships as Morgan discovered in the American Indians who, even when they adopted the ways of the white man, even when they had adopted monogamy, called their paternal uncles “father”, and their aunt, “mother”. In these phratries, where no constituted authority ruled, there was no division of property or of the land, either.

One might consider that it is one of the traits of the higher animals to display an embryonic organization for tending to and defending their offspring, but this is due to instinct, and that it is only the rational animal, however, man, that provides himself with organizations with economic purposes, while instinct remains dominant in the sphere of the bonds of sex and family. If this were really true, then the existence of intelligence, which is commonly admitted to be a substitute for instinct and something that neutralizes instinct, would cause the whole field of inquiry to be divided into two. But all of this is metaphysics. A good definition of instinct appeared in a study by Thomas (La Trinitè-Victor, 1952) (if we quote a recent study by a specialist we do so only for the purpose of showing many people that the theories of Engels or Morgan, revolutionaries who were persecuted on the conceited terrain of bourgeois culture, were not “dated” or “superseded” by the latest scientific literature…): Instinct is the hereditary knowledge of a plan of life of the species. Over the course of evolution and of natural selection—which in the animal realm, we can admit that it derives from a clash of the individuals as such against the environment, but only in a physical, biological way—the obedience of the members of the same species to a common behavior is determined, especially in the reproductive realm. This behavior accepted by all is automatic, “unconscious” and “irrational”. It is understandable that this mode of behavior is transmitted via heredity, along with the morphological and structural characteristics of the organism, and the mechanism of transmission should be enclosed (although there is much yet to be discovered by science) in the genes (not in the geniuses, my dear individualists!) and in other particles of the germinative and reproductive liquids and cells.

This mechanism, for which each individual serves as a vehicle, only provides the rudimentary normative minimum of a plan of life that is suitable for confronting environmental difficulties.

In social species collaboration in labor, no matter how primitive, obtained greater results, and transmitted many other customs and guidelines that would serve as rules. For the bourgeois and the idealist the difference lies in the rational and conscious element that determines the will to act, and this is when the free will of the fideist appears, and the personal freedom of the Enlightenment. Nor is this essential point exhausted by these variations. Our position is that we are not adding a new power to the individual, thought and spirit, which would mean reexamining all the data with respect to the physical mechanism from the perspective of this alleged vital principle. To the contrary, we add a new collective power derived completely from the needs of social production, which imposes more complex rules and orders, and just as it displaces instinct, as it applies to guiding individuals through the sphere of technology, so too does it displace instinct from the sexual sphere as well. It is not the individual that caused the species to develop and become ennobled, it is the life of the species that has developed the individual towards new dynamics and towards higher spheres.

What there is of the primordial and bestial, is in the individual. What is developed, complex and ordered, forming a plan of life that is not automatic but organized and organizable, derives from collective life and was first born outside the minds of individuals, in order to become part of them by difficult paths. In the meaning that we, too, can give, outside of all idealism, to the expressions of thought, knowledge, and science, involves products of social life: individuals, without any exceptions, are not the donors, but the recipients and in contemporary society they are also the parasites.

The fact that from the beginning, and ever since, economic and sexual regulation have been interconnected for the purpose of imposing order on the associated life of men, can be read between the lines of all the religious myths, which according to the Marxist evaluation are not gratuitous fantasies or inventions without content in which we must not believe, as the fashionable bourgeois free-thinkers proclaim, but rather the first expressions of collective knowledge in the process of its elaboration.

In the Book of Genesis (Chapter 2, Verses 19 and 20) God, before creating Eve and therefore before the expulsion from the terrestrial paradise (in which Adam and Eve had lived unaccompanied, even physically immortal, on the condition that they could easily gather all the nourishing fruits, but not those of science) creates all the species of animals from the earth, presenting them to Adam, who learned to call them by their names. The text gives the explanation for this incident: Adae vero non inveniebatur adjutor similis ejus. This means that Adam had no helper (cooperator) of his own species. He would be given Eve, but not to put her to work or to impregnate her. It seems to have been stipulated that it would be lawful for them to adapt the animals to their service. After they committed the grave error of beginning with the wise serpent, God altered the fate of humanity. It was only after they had been exiled from Eden that Eve would “know” her companion, bearing him children that she would give birth to in pain, and he would in turn have to earn his living by the sweat of his brow. Thus, even in the ancient but complex wisdom of the myth, production and reproduction are born simultaneously. If Adam domesticated animals, it was with the help, now that he had adjutores, of workers of his own species, similes ejus. Very rapidly the Individual had become nothing, immutable, unmovable, deprived of the bitter bread and the great wisdom, a sacred monster and abortion consecrated to leisure, truly affected by the lack of labor, of love and of science, to which the alleged materialists of the present century still want to sacrifice stupid incense: in its place appears the species that thinks because it labors, among so many adjutores, neighbors and brothers.

Biological Heredity and Social Tradition

5

Ever since the first human societies, the behavior of the members of the groups had become uniform by way of shared practices and functions that, having become necessary due to the demands of production and even of sexual reproduction, took on the form of ceremonies, festivals and rites of a religious character. This first mechanism of collective life, of unwritten rules that were nonetheless neither imposed nor violated, was made possible not by inspirations or innate ideas of society or of morality that were appropriate for the animal called man, but by the determinist effect of the technical evolution of labor.

The history of the customs and usages of primitive peoples, before the times of written constitutions and coercive law, and the shock produced in the life of the savage tribes when they first came into contact with the white man, can only be explained by utilizing similar investigative criteria. The seasonal periodicity of the festivals related to plowing, sowing and harvesting is obvious. At first the time of love and fertility was also seasonal for the human species which, due to subsequent evolution, would become, unlike any other animal, constantly ready to mate. African writers who have assimilated the culture of the whites have described the festivals relating to sex. Each year the adolescents who have reached puberty have certain ligatures untied that had been attached to their sexual organs since they were born, and this bloody operation carried out by the priests is then followed, amidst the excitation produced by the noise and drinking, by a sexual orgy. Evidently, this type of technique arose to preserve the reproductive capacity of the race under difficult conditions that could lead to degeneration and sterility in the absence of any other controls, and perhaps there are even more nauseating things in the Kinsey report concerning sexual behavior in the capitalist era.

That the capacity for generation and production should be conjointly guaranteed is an old Marxist thesis, as is proven by a lovely quote from Engels about Charlemagne’s attempt to improve agricultural production in the last years of his realm by the establishment of imperial estates (not kolkhozes). These were administered by monasteries, but failed, as was the case throughout the entire course of the Middle Ages: a unisexual and non-reproducing collective did not respond to the demands of continuous production. For example, the Order of Saint Benedict might appear to have ruled by means of a communist code, since it severely prohibited—imposing the obligation to work—any personal appropriation of the smallest product or good, as well as any consumption outside of the collective refectory. But this rule, due to its chastity and sterility, which rendered its members incapable of reproducing, remained outside of life and outside of history. A parallel study of the orders of monks and nuns in their first phase might perhaps be able to shed some light on the problem of the scarcity of production with respect to consumption in the Middle Ages, particularly of some of the surprising conceptions of Saint Francis and Clare of Assisi, who did not conceive of self-mortification to save their souls, but rather of social reform to help feed the starved flesh of the disinherited classes.

6

All the norms of productive technique in fishing, hunting, the manufacture of weapons, and agriculture, becoming increasingly more complex with the passage of time, coordinated by the activity of the capable adults, the elderly, young people, pregnant and nursing mothers, and couples joined together for reproductive purposes, are transmitted from generation to generation by a double road: organic and social. By the first road the hereditary elements transmit the attitudes and physical adaptations of the generative to the generated individual, and the personal secondary differences come into play; by the second road, which is becoming increasingly important, all the resources of the group are transmitted by way of an extra-physiological but no less material method, which is the same for everyone, and which resides in the “equipment” and “tools” of all types that the collectivity has managed to give itself.

In some of the articles in the “Thread of Time” series1 it was shown that up until the discovery of more convenient modes of transmission like writing, monuments, and then the printing press, etc., man had to rely principally on the memory of individuals, elaborating it with collective common forms. From the first maternal admonition we proceed to the conversations about obligatory themes and the litanies of the elderly and collective recitations; song and music are the supports of memory and the first science appears in the form of verses rather than in the form of prose, with musical accompaniment. A large part of the modern wisdom of capitalist civilization would not be able to circulate except in the form of horrifying cacophonies!

The course of development of all this impersonal and collective baggage that passes from some humans to others over the passage of time, cannot be explained except by approaching it systematically, but the law that governs it has already been outlined: this process increasingly does without the individual head as the organism is enriched, and everyone approaches a common level; the great man, who is almost always a legendary personality, becomes increasingly more useless, just it is more and more useless to wield a larger weapon than anyone else or to be able to multiply figures in your head more quickly than anyone else; it will not be long before a robot will be the most intelligent citizen of this incredibly stupid bourgeois world, and if some people are to be believed, the Dictator of great nations.

In any event the social force always prevails over the organic force, which is in any case the platform of the individual spirit.

Here we may refer to an interesting new synthesis: Wallon, L’organique et le social chez l’homme, Collège de France, 1953. Although he criticizes mechanistic materialism (that of the bourgeois epoch, and thus one that is operative on the scale of the individual), the author discusses examples of the systems of communication between men in society and quotes Marx, whose influence we may also discern from the language in this same part of the book. In his conclusion, however, he describes the failure of idealism and of its modern existentialist form with an apt formula: “Idealism was not content with circumscribing the real within the limits of the imaginary (in our minds). It has also circumscribed the image of what it considers to be real!” And after reviewing some recent examples, he draws the sensible conclusion: “Among the organic impressions and imaginary mental constructs, mutual actions and reactions never cease to be exhibited that show just how empty are the distinctions that the various philosophical systems have established between matter and thought, existence and intelligence, the body and the spirit.” From the large number of such contributions one may deduce that the Marxist method has offered science without an adjective (or with the adjective of ‘contraband-’) the opportunity to take advantage of its discoveries, and thus overcome its handicap, for one hundred years.

Natural Factors and Historical Development

7

Over the course of a long process the living conditions of the first gentile organizations, the communist phratries, continued to develop, and naturally they did not all develop at the same rate, which varied according to the physical conditions of their environments: the nature of the soil and geological phenomena, the geography and altitude, waterways, distance from the sea, the climatology of the various zones, flora, fauna, etc. Over the course of fluctuating cycles the nomadic lifestyles of the wandering hordes gave way to the occupation of a fixed homeland, and to a decreasing availability of unoccupied land as well as more frequent encounters and contacts between tribes of different kin-groups, but also more frequent conflicts, invasions and finally enslavement, one of the origins of the nascent division into classes of the ancient egalitarian societies.

In the first struggles between gentes, as Engels reminds us, because slavery and mixing blood were not allowed, victory meant the merciless annihilation of all the members of the defeated community. This was the effect of the requirement that not too many workers should be admitted into a limited terrain and of the prohibition against breaking sexual and generative discipline, factors that were inseparable from social development. Later relations were more complex and mixing of populations and instances of breeding outside the authorized groups became more frequent, and were more easily accomplished in the fertile temperate regions that hosted the first large, stable population centers. In this first phase humans did not yet want to leave the prehistoric stage. Concerning the influence of geophysical factors in the broadest sense of the term, one may also refer to the comparison made by Engels regarding the great productive advance obtained with the domestication of animals, not only as a source of food but also as a force of labor. While Eurasia possesses almost all of the world’s animal species susceptible to domestication, America had only one, the llama, a large, sheep-like species (all the other species were introduced after the European conquest). This is why the peoples of the Americas were “arrested” in terms of social development compared to the peoples of the old world. The fideists explain this by claiming that in the time of Columbus redemption had not yet reached this part of the planet, and that the light of the eternal spirit had not yet illuminated those heads. Evidently one reasons in another manner if one explains everything not by the absence of the supreme Being, but by the absence of a few quite ordinary animal species.

But this method of reasoning was accepted by the Christian colonists who attempted to exterminate the aboriginal Indians as if they were wild animals, replacing them with African negro slaves, thus unleashing an ethnic revolution whose consequences only time will tell.

Prehistory and Language

8

The passage from the racial to the national factor may in a very general manner be assimilated to the passage from prehistory to history. For a nation must encompass a whole in which the ethnic aspect is just one among many others and in very few cases is it the dominant one. Thus, before we enter the terrain of the historical scope of the national factor the problem of the other factors that constitute the totality of the racial factor must be addressed; and first of all, language. No other explanation can be provided for the origin of language and of dialects than the one that is derived from the material environment and the productive organization. The language of a human group is one of its means of production.

Everything we said above, based on the strict connection between the bonds of blood in the first tribes and the beginning of social production with certain tools, and on the basis of the preponderance of the relation between the human group and the physical environment over the initiative and the orientation of the individual, is found in the central axis of historical materialism. Two texts separated by a half-century are there to confirm this. In the “Theses on Feuerbach” of 1845, Marx said: “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.” By social conditions, we Marxists mean blood, the physical environment, tools, and the organization of any particular group.

In a letter from 1894, which we have often employed to combat the prejudice about the function of the individual (the Great Man, the Guignol) in history, Engels responds to the following question: what role is played by the moment (see point three) of race and historical individuals in the materialist conception of history of Marx and Engels? As we recently recalled, Engels, thus pressed to assume a position on the plane of the individual and Napoleon, who was obviously in the back of the questioner’s mind, in order to overthrow the whole question immediately, with respect to the question of race gave us no more than a single tap of the chisel: “But race is itself an economic factor.”

The cretinous representatives of the bourgeois pseudo-culture can laugh when we go back in time to trace the immense line that leads from the beginnings to the final result, as the powerful and deeply entrenched Catholic school does in the renowned trajectory that leads from primitive chaos to the eternal blessedness of creation.

The first groups were based on a strictly pure kinship and are group-families. They are likewise work-groups, which is to say that their “economy” is a reaction on the part of all of them to the physical environment in which each one of them has the same relation: there is no personal property, or social classes or political power or state.

Since we are not metaphysicians or mystics—and we are therefore not under any obligation to pour ashes over our heads and meditate on such stains that have besmirched the human species and which must be cleansed—we have no problem accepting the emergence and further development of a thousand forms of mixture of blood, division of labor, the separation of society into classes, the state and civil war. At the end of the cycle, however, with a generalized and untraceable ethnic amalgamation, with a productive technology that acts upon the environment with such power that it allows for the regulation of events on the planet, we see, with the end of all racial and social discrimination, the new communist economy; that is, the worldwide end of individual property, from which transitory cults had grown into monstrous fetishes: the person, the family, the fatherland.

From the very beginning, however, the economy of each people and its degree of productive technological development was just as much of a particular identifying characteristic as was that of the ethnic type.

The latest research into the mists of prehistory has led the science of human origins to acknowledge other starting points in the appearance of the animal man on the earth, and in the evolution of other species. One can no longer speak of a “genealogical tree” of all of humanity or of its branches. A study by Etienne Patte (Faculty of Sciences at Poitiers, 1953) effectively refutes the inadequacy of this traditional image. In the evolutionary tree all the forks between two genuses or species are themselves irrevocable: as a rule the two branches never reconnect. Human generation, on the other hand, is an inextricable net whose spaces are continually being reconnected with each other: if there had not been interbreeding between relatives every one of us would have 8 great-grandfathers in three generations, or every century, but in a thousand years each person would have more than a billion ancestors, and assuming an age for the species of six hundred thousand years, which seems likely, the number of ancestors for each of us would be an astronomical number with thousands of zeroes. It is therefore a net rather than a tree. And besides, in the ethnic statistics of the modern peoples the representatives of ethnically pure types comprise a minuscule percentage. Hence the felicitous definition of humanity as a “sungameion”, which is Greek for a complex that is totally mixed in every sense: the verb, gaméo, refers to the sexual act and the marriage rite. And one can refer to the somewhat simplistic rule: the cross between species is sterile, that between races is fertile.

We can understand the Pope’s position when, denying all racial differences, a very advanced point of view in the historical sense, he wants us to speak of races of animals but not of men. Despite the eagerness with which he follows the latest scientific discoveries and their often marvelous correspondence with dogma, he has not been able to abandon the biblical (the Bible is more Jewish than Catholic on the philosophical terrain) genealogical tree that descends from Adam.

Another author of a manifestly anti-materialist tendency, however, cannot resist rejecting the old separation of methods between anthropology and historiography, since the former must seek positive data, while the latter finds the data already available and prepared and above all arranged in a chronological series. No one doubts that Caesar lived before Napoleon; but it is a very big problem to know who came first, the Neanderthal or proconsul africanus….

The power of the materialist method, however, applied to the data supplied by research, easily establishes the synthesis between the two methods, although race was one of the most decisive economic factors in the prehistoric gens, and the nation, a much more complicated entity, in the contemporary world. Only in this manner can one properly situate the function of languages, at first common to a narrowly defined consanguinary and cooperative group without any connections with external groups, or only with warlike connections, which are today shared by populations that inhabit vast territories.

At first those groups that had a common circle of reproduction and productive tools and capacity for all that was necessary for material life also had a common phonetic expression. One may say that the use of sounds for communication purposes between individuals first arose among the animal species. But the modulation of the sound that the vocal organs of any particular species of animal are capable of emitting (a purely physiological inheritance in the structure and in the functional possibilities of these organs) falls far short of the formation of a language with a certain set of vocables. The vocable does not arise to designate the person who speaks or the person to whom the speech is directed, a member of the opposite sex or a part of the body or light, clouds, land, water, food or danger. Language composed of vocables was born when labor based on tools was born, the production of objects of consumption by way of the associated labor of men.

Social Labor and Speech

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All common human activity for productive purposes demands, for useful collaboration, a system of communication among the workers. Starting from the simple effort involved in raiding or self-defense, for which instinctive incitements such as pushing or animal cries suffice, at the moment when action is necessary at a certain time or place, or with a particular means (primitive tool, weapon, etc.), and through a very long series of failed attempts and corrections, speech arose. This procedure is opposed to that of the idealist illusion: an innovator imagines the new “technological” method in his brain without having ever seen it before, which he explains by telling the others of his kind, and directs them to implement it with his orders. The way we see this process, it is not a series that proceeds from thought, then to speech, and only then to action, but precisely the reverse.

One more demonstration of the real natural process of language is found once again in a biblical myth, that of the Tower of Babel. Here we are already in the presence of an authentic state wielding immense power, with formidable armies that capture prisoners, and in possession of a huge captive labor force. This power engaged in vast construction projects, especially in its capital (the technological abilities of the Babylonians not only with regard to construction, but also hydraulic engineering and similar fields, is a matter of historical record), and according to the legend, the state sought to build a tower so high that its pinnacle would touch heaven: this is the standard myth of human presumption punished by the divinity, the same as the fire stolen by Prometheus, the flight of Daedalus, etc. The innumerable workers, overseers, and architects, are of distinct and scattered origins, they do not speak the same languages, they do not understand one another, the execution of their orders and plans is chaotic and contradictory and the building, once it reached a certain height, due to errors rooted in the linguistic confusion, collapsed into ruins, and the builders either died or else fled in terror from this divine punishment.

The complex meaning of this story is that one cannot build something if there is no common language: stones, hands, planks, hammers, and picks are no good if the tool, the instrument of production, lacks a word in the same language and with the same lexicography and formula, common to all and widely known. Among the savages of central Africa one finds the same legend: the tower was made of wood and was supposed to reach the moon. Now that we all speak “American”, it is child’s play to build skyscrapers, which are much more stupid than the wonderful towers of the barbarians and the savages.

There is thus no doubt about the Marxist definition of language, according to which it is one of the instruments of production. The above-cited article by Wallon does no less than refer, when it examines the most important doctrines, to the one that we follow: “according to Marx language is linked to the human production of tools and of objects that are granted definite attributes”. And the author chooses two magisterial quotations, the first from Marx (The German Ideology): “[Men] begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence”; and the second from Engels (The Dialectics of Nature): “First labour, after it and then with it speech – these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man”. And Engels, when he wrote that, did not know the results that, contrary to their expectations, would later be published by writers from the pure idealist school (Saller, What Is Anthropology?, University of Munich). Today the human brain has a volume of 1,400 cubic centimeters (we know—this goes for geniuses as well as for dummies like us!). A very long time ago, in the time of Sinanthropus-Pithecanthropus with his 1,000 cubic centimeters of brain, it would seem that this ancestor of ours already had the first notions of magic, as is attested by the nature of his burials, although he was frequently a cannibal; but besides using fire for some time, he had various tools: drinking bowls made from animal skulls, stone weapons, etc. But the discoveries made in South Africa have provided yet more surprises: about six hundred thousand years ago (the figure is from Wallon), a precocious ancestor of ours, with only 500 cubic centimeters of brain, already used fire, hunted and ate the cooked meat of animals, walked upright like us and—this is the sole rectification that needs to be made with regard to the data provided by Engels (1884)—it seems that he no longer lived in the trees like his close relative “australopithecus” but bravely defended himself from wild beasts on the ground.

It is odd that the writer from whom we take this information, disoriented by this data that serves to more firmly embed the materialist theory on its foundation, should take refuge from anthropology in psychology, in order to express his regrets concerning the decline of the individual who had been elevated by a mysterious extra-organic breath; and that in the modern epoch of overpopulation and mechanicism the individual degenerates by becoming the masses, ceasing to be a man. But who is more human: our friendly pithecanthropus with 500 cubic centimeters or the scientist with his 1,400 cubic centimeters, who devotes himself to hunting butterflies under the Arch of Titus in order to erect the pious equation: official science + idealism = despair?

Economic Base and Superstructure

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The concept of the “economic base” of a particular human society extends beyond the boundaries of the superficial interpretation that restricts it to the remuneration of labor and to commodity exchange. It embraces the entire domain of the forms of reproduction of the species, or family institutions, and while technical resources and available tools and material apparatus of every kind form an integral part of it, its content is not limited to a simple inventory of materials, but includes all available mechanisms for passing on from one generation to another all social “technological knowledge”. In this sense and as general networks of communication and transmission, after spoken language we must also include under the rubric of means of production, writing, song, music, the graphic arts, and the press, as they appear as means of transmission of the productive legacy. In the Marxist view, literature, poetry and science are also higher and more highly-differentiated forms of productive instruments and were born in response to the same requirement of the immediate life of society.

With regard to this issue questions of interpretation of historical materialism arose in the camp of the workers movement: what social phenomena really constitute the “productive base” or the economic preconditions, which explain the ideological and political superstructures that are characteristic of any particular historical society?

Everyone knows that Marxism opposed to the concept of a long and gradual evolution of human society the concept of sudden turning points between one epoch and another, epochs characterized by different social forms and relations. With these turning points the productive base and the superstructures change. For the purpose of clarifying this concept we have often had resort to the classical texts, both to establish the various formulas and ideas in their correct context as well as to clarify just what it is that suddenly changes when the revolutionary crisis supervenes.

In the letters we quoted above in which Engels responded to the questions sent to him by young students of Marxism, Engels insists on reciprocal reactions between base and superstructure: the political state of a particular class is a perfect example of a superstructure but it in turn acts—by imposing tariffs, collecting taxes, etc.—on the economic base, as Engels recalls, among other things.

Later, during the time of Lenin, it was urgently necessary to clarify the process of the class revolution. The state, political power, is the superstructure that is most completely shattered in a way that we could call instantaneous, in order to give way to another analogous but opposed structure. The relations that govern the productive economy, however, are not changed so rapidly, even if their conflict with the highly developed productive forces was the primary motor force for the revolution. This is why wage labor, commerce, etc., did not disappear overnight. With respect to the other aspects of the superstructure, those that are most enduring and would survive the original economic base itself (that is, capitalism), are the traditional ideologies that had been disseminated, even among the victorious revolutionary working class, over the duration of the long preceding period of serfdom. Thus, for example, the legal superstructure, in its written and practically implemented form, would be rapidly changed—while the other superstructure of religious beliefs would disappear very slowly.

We have on many occasions referred to Marx’s lapidary Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859. It would not be a bad idea to pause and consider this text before continuing with our examination of the question of language.

The productive material forces of society: they are, in particular phases of development, the labor power of human bodies, the tools and instruments that are used in its application, the fertility of the cultivated soil, the machines that add mechanical and physical energy to human labor power; all the methods applied to the land and to the materials of those manual and mechanical forces, procedures that a particular society understands and possesses.

Relations of production relative to a particular type of society are the “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.” Relations of production include the freedom or the prohibition of occupying land to cultivate it, of using tools, machines, manufactured products, of having the products of labor to consume them, move them from place to place and to assign them to others. This in general. The particular relations of production are slavery, serfdom, wage labor, commerce, landed property, industrial enterprise. The relations of production, with an expression that reflects not the economic but the juridical aspect, can also be called property relations or also in other texts, forms of property; over the land, over the slave, over the product of the labor of the serf, over the commodities, over the workshops and machines, etc. This whole set of relations constitutes the base or economic structure of society.

The essential dynamic concept is the determinant clash between the forces of production, in their degree of evolution and development, and the relations of production or of property, the social relations (all equivalent formulas).

The superstructure, that is, what is derived from, what is superimposed on the base economic structure, for Marx is basically the juridical and political framework of any particular society: constitutions, laws, courts, military forces, the central government power. This superstructure nonetheless has a material and concrete aspect. But Marx makes the distinction between the reality in the transformation of the relations of production and in the relations of property and law, that is of power, and this transformation such as it is displayed in the “consciousness” of the time and in that of the victorious class. This is (to this very day) a derivation of a derivation; a superstructure of the superstructure, and forms the mutable terrain of common sense, of ideology, of philosophy, and, in a certain way (insofar as it is not transformed into a practical norm), of religion.

Modes of production (it is preferable not to apply to this concept the term, “forms”, which is used for the more restricted concept, forms of property)—Produktionsweisen—are “epochs marking progress in the economic development of society” that Marx summarizes broadly as of the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois types.

We must illustrate this with an example: the bourgeois revolution in France. Productive forces: agriculture and peasant serfs—the artisans and their workshops in the cities—the great manufacturing centers and factories, armories. Relations of production or forms of traditional property: glebe serfdom of the peasants and feudal authority over the land and those who cultivate it—the corporative bonds in the artisanal crafts. Juridical and political superstructure: power of the nobility and the church hierarchy, absolute monarchy. Ideological superstructure: authority of divine right, Catholicism, etc. Mode of production: feudalism.

The revolutionary transformation assumed the following form: immediately as the transfer of the power of the nobles and the church into the hands of the bourgeoisie; the new juridical-political superstructure is elective parliamentary democracy. The relations that have been abolished are: glebe serfdom and the artisanal guilds; the new relations that appear are: industrial wage labor (with the survival of independent artisans and small-scale peasant property), and free domestic trade, even with regard to the sale of land.

The productive force of the most important factories is enormously developed with the absorption of the former peasant serfs and artisans. The force of industrial machinery also develops to the same degree. The ideological superstructure undergoes a process of gradual replacement that begins before the revolution, and which has not concluded yet: fideism and legitimism are being replaced by free thought, enlightened values and rationalism.

The new mode of production which is spreading throughout France and even beyond it, replacing feudalism, is capitalism: in it, political power is not of the “people”, as it appears in the “consciousness” that this “period of transformation” has with regard to itself, but of the class of the industrial capitalists and of the bourgeois landowners.

In order to distinguish the two “strata” of the superstructure one may adopt the terms of the superstructure of force (positive law, state) and the superstructure of consciousness (ideology, philosophy, religion, etc.).

Marx says that material force, or violence, is itself an economic agent. Engels, in the passages quoted above, and in his book on Feuerbach, says the same thing when he states that the state (which is force) acts on the economy and influences the economic base.

The state of a new class is therefore a powerful resource for the transformation of productive relations. After 1789 feudal relations in France were dismantled due to the advanced development of the modern productive forces that had been emerging for some time. Even the restoration of 1815, although it did once again hand over power to the landowning aristocracy by reestablishing the legitimist monarchy, was unable to overthrow the relations of production, the forms of property, and neither stifled manufacturing industry nor did it restore the great estates of the nobles. The change in power and the transformation of the forms of production can proceed historically and for limited periods of time in opposite directions.

The burning issue in Russia, in October 1917? Political power, the superstructure of force that in February had passed from the feudal elements to the bourgeoisie, passed into the hands of the workers of the cities, supported in their struggle by the poor peasants. The juridical state superstructure acquired proletarian forms (dictatorship and dissolution of the democratic assembly). The ideological superstructures obtained a powerful impulse among broad layers of the population in favor of the ideological superstructure of the proletariat, despite the desperate resistance of the old ideological superstructures and that of the bourgeois or semi-bourgeois. The productive forces with an anti-feudal nature could proceed unopposed in liberated industry and agriculture. Could one say that the relations of production, in the years immediately following October, were transformed into socialist relations of production? Of course not, and such a transformation would in any case take more than a few months. Were they simply transformed into capitalist relations of production? It is not correct to say that all of them were transformed totally into capitalist relations of production because pre-capitalist forms survived for a long time, as everyone knows. But it would also be inadequate to say that they were moving in the direction of being transformed exclusively into capitalist relations.

Even disregarding the first measures of communism and anti-market policies implemented during the civil war (housing, bread, transport), and in view of the fact that power is an economic agent of the highest order, the transformation of the relations of production under a democratic bourgeois state is one thing and the same process under the proletarian political dictatorship is another.

The mode of production is defined by the totality of relations of production and political and juridical forms. If the entire Russian cycle up until today has led to the full-fledged capitalist mode of production and that today in Russia socialist relations of production do not exist, this is related to the fact that after 1917, after October, the proletarian revolution in the West did not take place, the importance of which did not just lie in its capacity to bolster the soviet political power so that the Russian proletariat would not lose it, which is what happened later, but above all to supply to the Russian economy productive forces that were available in excess in the West, and in this manner assure the transition to socialism of the Russian relations of production.

The relations of production are not immediately transformed at the moment of the political revolution.

Once it was established that the further development of the productive forces in Russia was the other condition, just as important as the consolidation of political power (Lenin), a formulation of the following kind is incorrect: the only historical task of Bolshevik power after October was to pursue the transition from feudal to bourgeois social relations. Until the end of the revolutionary wave that followed the first world war, which lasted until about 1923, the task of the power that had arisen in October consisted in working for the transformation of the feudal social modes and relations into proletarian ones. This work was carried out by the only means possible at the time and therefore it followed the royal road: only later was it possible to formulate the claim that we are confronted by a state that is not socialist, nor does it demonstrate a tendency in that direction. The relations of production after October are actually part capitalist and part pre-capitalist and to a quantitatively minimal extent are post-capitalist; the historical form or, more precisely, the historical mode of production, cannot be defined as capitalist, but as potentially proletarian and socialist. This is what matters!

In this way one escapes from the impasse of the formula: bourgeois economic base, proletarian and socialist superstructures. And this is accomplished precisely by not denying the second term, which prevailed for at least six years after the conquest of the dictatorship.

Stalin and Linguistics 2

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The Stalinist theory that language is not a superstructure with respect to the economic base constitutes a false way of posing the problem that we need to solve, since the result that Stalin seeks to obtain lies elsewhere: at every step of the transition from one historical mode of production to the next we always find a change, both in the superstructure as well as the base or economic structure, a change in the power of the classes and of the position of the classes in society. But the national language does not follow the avatars of either the base or the superstructures since it does not belong to a class but to all the people in a particular country. Therefore, in order to save language and linguistics from the effects of the social revolution, we have to lead them (gradually, together with the national culture and the cult of the fatherland) along the banks of the turbulent river of history, outside of the terrain of the productive base as well as that of its political and ideological derivations.

According to Stalin (Marxism and Problems of Linguistics), over the last few years in Russia, “the old, capitalist base has been eliminated in Russia and a new, socialist base has been built. Correspondingly, the superstructure on the capitalist base has been eliminated and a new superstructure created corresponding to the socialist base…. But in spite of this the Russian language has remained basically what it was before the October Revolution”.

The merit of these gentlemen (it is all the same whether this was written by Stalin, or whether it was written by Secretary X or by Department Y) is the fact that they have demonstrated a profound understanding of the art of simple, clear presentation, accessible to all, as has so often been said for the last hundred years in bourgeois cultural propaganda, and above all presented in a brazenly concrete manner. But this presentation that seems so direct and accessible is nothing but a con job, it is a complete relapse into the most vapid sort of bourgeois thinking.

The entire process is supposed to have taken place “correspondingly”. How simple! Not only must we respond by pointing out that this process has not taken place, but also that even if it did, it would not have happened like that. In this formula that might have been drafted by a municipal clerk there is not a trace of dialectical materialism. The base influences the structure and has an active character? And in what sense does the derivative superstructure react in turn so that it is not totally malleable and passive? And with what cycles and in what order and at what historical velocity does the transformation and the process of substitution take place? Bah, these are Byzantine discourses! Enough of this moving the lever to the right and then to the left: Elimination! Creation! By God, out with the creator, out with the eliminator! This kind of materialism does not function without a demiurge, everything is converted into something that is conscious and voluntary, and there is no longer anything that is necessary and determined.

In any case, this argument can be shifted onto real ground: the economic base and the superstructure, by way of complex vicissitudes, had passed from being feudal under the Czar to being fully capitalist at the time of Stalin’s death. Since the Russian language is basically the same, the language is not a part of the superstructure nor does it form part of the base.

It would appear that this entire polemic is directed against a school of linguistics that suddenly fell under suspicion, and that the leading figure of this school is the Soviet university professor, N. Y. Marr, with whose works we are not acquainted. Marr had said that language forms part of the superstructure. Listening to his accuser, we think that Marr is a good Marxist. His accuser says of him: “At one time, N. Y. Marr, seeing that his formula—‘language is a superstructure on the base’—encountered objections, decided to ‘reshape’ it and announced that ‘language is an instrument of production.’ Was N. Y. Marr right in including language in the category of instruments of production? No, he certainly was not.” (Stalin, op. cit.).

And why was he mistaken? According to Stalin there is a certain analogy between language and the instruments of production, because the latter can also have a certain indifference with respect to classes. What Stalin means is that, for example, both the plow and the hoe can be used in the feudal, the bourgeois, and the socialist society. The difference, however, for which Marr was condemned (and Marx and Engels: labor, the production of tools in combination with language) is this: the instruments of production produce material goods, but language does not!

But the instruments of production do not produce material goods, either! The goods are produced by the man who uses the instruments of production! These instruments are employed by men in production. When a child first grabs the hoe by the blade, the father shouts at him: hold it by the handle. This cry, which is later transformed into a regular form of “instruction”, is, like the hoe, employed in production.

Stalin’s dull-witted conclusion reveals that the error is his: if language, as Stalin claims, were to produce material goods, then charlatans would be the richest people on earth! Yet is this not precisely the case? The worker works with his arms, the engineer with language: who earns more? It seems to us that we once recounted the story of that provincial landowner who, sitting in the shade and smoking his pipe, was constantly shouting, ‘swing that pick!’ to the day-laborer he had hired, who was sweating and silently working. The landowner knew that even a brief let-up in the pace of the work would reduce his profits.

Dialectically, it seems to us that Marr had not mended his ways despite the spotlight that was directed on him: dialectically, because we are not familiar with him or his books. We have also said, for example, that poetry, from its very beginnings as a choral song for the transmission of memories, with a magical-mystical-technological character, the first means of transmitting the social patrimony, has the character of a means of production. That is why we included poetry among the superstructures of a particular epoch. The same is true of language. Language in general, and its organization into verses, are instruments of production. But a particular poem, a particular school of poetry, relative to a country or a century, because they are differentiated from the preceding and following poems and schools, form part of the ideological and artistic superstructure of a particular economic form, of a particular mode of production. Engels: the upper stage of barbarism “Begins with the smelting of iron ore, and passes into civilization with the invention of alphabetic writing and its use for literary records.… We find the upper stage of barbarism at its highest in the Homeric poems, particularly in the Iliad.” Using this model we can also seek out other works and show that The Divine Comedy was the swan song of feudalism and that the tragedies of Shakespeare were the prologues to capitalism.

For the last Pontifex Maximus of Marxism the distinctive means of production of an epoch is forged iron but not alphabetic writing, because the latter does not produce material goods! But the human use of alphabetic writing was indispensable, among other things, for the capability to produce the specialty steels of modern metallurgy.

The same thing is true of language. It is a means of production in every epoch, but individual expression by means of language is part of the superstructure, as was the case with Dante Alighieri who did not write his poem in the Latin of the classics or the Church, but in the vulgar Italian, or as was the case of the language reform that marked the definitive abandonment of the old Saxon tongue and its replacement by modern literary German.

The same goes for the plow and the hoe. While it is true that any particular instrument of production can be found that spans two great social epochs separated by a class revolution, it is also true that the entire set of tools of any particular society “defines” it and “compels” it—due to the open conflict between the relations of production—to assume the new, rival form. In barbarism we find the potter’s wheel and in capitalism the modern turntable with a reliable precision motor. And now and then a tool disappears in order to be converted, as in the classic case of the spinning wheel mentioned by Engels, into a museum piece.

Likewise with the plow and the hoe. The society of industrial capitalism cannot eliminate the small-scale, inefficient farming that requires the backbone of pithecanthropus, that was once so proudly erect, to be twisted and bent. But a communist organization with a complete industrial base will undoubtedly only engage in mechanized farming. And in this manner the language of the capitalists will be destroyed, and one will no longer hear those common formulas employed by the Stalinists who try to make us believe that they are marching forward together with that all-too-contradictory hodgepodge: morality, liberty, justice, popular rights, progressive, democratic, constitutional, constructive, productive, humanitarian, etc., which precisely comprise the apparatus thanks to which the most wealth ends up in the pockets of the loudmouths: a function that is identical with that of certain other, material, tools: the foreman’s whistle, the policeman’s handcuffs.

The Idealist Theory of National Language

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To deny that human language in general has an origin and a function as a productive instrument, and that the superstructures of class societies include (even among those that are not immediately but gradually replaced) the local and contingent spoken and written language, is equivalent to a complete regression to idealist doctrines, and amounts to politically embracing the bourgeois postulate of the transition to a common language on the part of the literate people of diverse dialects and the erudite persons of an entire politically united country, a real linguistic revolution that heralded the advent of the capitalist epoch.

Since, according to the text that we are examining, language is not a superstructure of the economic base, nor is it a productive instrument, we have to ask: exactly how is it defined?

Let’s see: “Language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another, exchange thoughts and understand each other. Being directly connected with thinking, language registers and fixes in words, and in words combined into sentences, the results of the process of thinking and achievements of man's cognitive activity, and thus makes possible the exchange of thoughts in human society” (Stalin, op. cit.). This is therefore supposed to be the Marxist solution of the problem. We do not see how any orthodox traditional ideologist could object to this definition. It is clear that according to this definition humanity prospers by means of a labor of research elaborated in thought and formulated in ideas, passing from this individual phase to a collective one involving its application by way of the use of language, which allows the discoverer to pass on the results of his discovery to other men. And so the materialist development with which we are concerned here (in conformance with the usual quotations from our basic texts) is completely discarded: from action to the word, from the word to the idea, this being understood not as a process that is carried out by an individual, but by society; or more correctly: from social labor to language, from language to science, to collective thought. The function of thought in the individual is derivative and passive. Stalin’s definition is thus pure idealism. The presumed exchange of thoughts is the projection of bourgeois commodity exchange into the realm of fantasy.

It is very strange that the accusation of idealism falls upon the disgraced Marr, who, by upholding the thesis of changes in language, apparently reached the point where he could predict a decline in the function of language, which would then give way to other forms. Marr is accused of having thus hypothesized that thought could be transmitted without language, and therefore of having become mired in the swamp of idealism. But in this swamp those who presume they are floating high above Marr are the most pitiful. Marr’s thesis is depicted as in contradiction with this passage from Karl Marx: Language is “the immediate reality of thought…. Ideas do not exist divorced from language.”

But is it not the case that this clear statement of the materialist thesis is totally denied by Stalin’s definition mentioned above, according to which language is reduced to a means for the exchange of thoughts and ideas?

We shall reconstruct Marr’s bold theory in our own way (we may do so thanks to the possession of a theory of the party that transcends generations and borders). Language is—and this is where Stalin stops—an instrument by means of which men communicate with each other. Does communication among men have nothing to do with production? This is what bourgeois economic theory maintains, according to which it appears that each person produces for himself and that he only encounters the other persons by way of the market, to see if he can cheat them. The correct Marxist expression would not be “language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another, exchange thoughts and understand each other”, but “language is a medium, an instrument with the help of which people communicate with one another and help each other produce”. We therefore recognize that it is correct to consider language as a means of production. And as for that metaphysical “exchange thoughts and understand each other”, six hundred thousand years have passed and it would appear we have all gone to the same school and we still do not understand it!

Language is thus a technological means of communication. It is the first such means. But is it the only one? Certainly not. Over the course of social evolution an increasingly more diverse series of such means has appeared, and Marr’s speculation that other means might someday largely replace the spoken language is not so far-fetched. Marr is by no means saying that thought as an immaterial expression on the part of an individual subject will be transmitted to the other subjects without taking the natural form of language. Marr is evidently suggesting, with the formula that has been translated as a “process of thinking”, that it will develop in forms that will be beyond language, not with reference to the metaphysical individual invention, but to the legacy of technological knowledge typical of a highly developed society. There is nothing eschatological or magical about this.

Let’s take a look at a very simple example. The helmsman on a galley issued his orders “out loud”. Just like the pilot of the sailing vessel and the skippers on the first steamships. “Full Steam Ahead … Full power … Back to half power …” The ships became much bigger and the captain shouted as loud as he could to issue orders to the boiler room, but this soon proved to be unsatisfactory, and after a period when voicepipes (a truly primitive invention) were used, a mechanical telephone with a crank was introduced, and later an electrical telephone, which connected the signaling quarters with the engineer. Finally, the instrument panel of a great airliner is full of displays and readouts that transmit all kinds of information from all parts of the plane. The spoken word is indeed being replaced, but by means that are just as material as it is, although obviously not as natural, just as modern tools are less natural than a cut-off piece of a branch used as a club.

We need not enumerate all the stages in this very long series. The spoken word, the written word, the press, the infinity of algorithms, of symbolic mathematics, which have now become international; which is what happens in all the fields of technology and general services which are regulated by conventions of open access for the transmission of precise information concerning meteorology, electronics, astronomy, etc. All electronic applications, radar and other such technologies, all types of signal receivers, are so many more new means of connection among men, which have been rendered necessary due to the complex systems of life and production, and which already in a hundred different ways bypass the word, grammar and syntax, whose immanence and eternity is defended by Stalin, who subjected Marr to such a formidable onslaught.

Is it possible that the capitalist system will cease to consider that the mode of conjugating the verb “to have”, or the verb “to value”, or of declining the possessive adjective and declaring that the personal pronoun must be the basis of any utterance, is eternal? Someday the use of the words “Your Honor” and “Your Lordship”, just like the old “Thou”, will make people laugh, just like the humble servant and the good business deals made by the travelling salesmen.

References and Distortions

13

In all Marxist analyses the thesis that the demand for a national language is a historical characteristic of all the anti-feudal revolutions is of fundamental importance, since this national language was necessary to unite and establish communication between all the compartments of the emerging national market, in order to facilitate the transfer from one part of the national territory to another of the proletarians that had been liberated from glebe serfdom, and in order to fight against the influence of traditional religious, scholastic, and cultural forms that relied in part on the use of Latin as a common language of the learned, and in part on the diversity of local dialects.

To justify his novel theory of extra-classist language—a theory that is truly novel in the Marxist sense—Stalin strives to overcome the contradiction, evidently invoked from various angles, with texts from Lafargue, Marx, Engels, and even … Stalin. The good example offered by Lafargue is dismissed in summary fashion. In an article entitled, “The French Language Before and After the Revolution”, Lafargue discussed an unforeseen linguistic revolution that took place in France between 1789 and 1794. That is too short a period of time, Stalin says, and if a very small number of words disappeared from the language, they were replaced by new ones. But the words that disappeared were precisely those words that were most closely related to the relations of social life. Some were proscribed by laws passed by the Convention. There is a well-known counterrevolutionary anecdote: “What is your name, citizen?” “Marquise de Saint Roiné.” “Il n’ya plus de marquis!” (There are no more Marquis!) “De Saint Roiné!” “Il n’y a plus de ‘de’!” (There are no more noble prefixes for names!) “Saint Roiné!” “Il n’y a plus de Saints!” “Roiné!” “Il n’y a plus de rois!” (There are no more kings [rois]!) “Je suis né!” (I was born!) shouted the unfortunate. Stalin was right: the verb form “” has not changed.

In a text entitled “Saint Max”, which we confess we have not read, Karl Marx said that the bourgeoisie have their own language, which “itself is a product of the bourgeoisie” and that this language is permeated with the style of commercialism and of buying and selling. In fact, the merchants of Amberes, during the depths of the Middle Ages, were able to understand the merchants of Florence, and this is one of the “glories” of the Italian language, the mother language of capital. Just as in music you see the words “andante”, “allegro”, “pianissimo”, etc. everywhere, so too in every European marketplace one heard the words “firma”, “sconto”, “tratta”, “riporto” and everywhere the pestilential jargon of commercial correspondence was assimilated, “in response to your request…”. So what answer does Stalin provide for this indisputable quotation? He invites us to read another passage from the same text by Marx: “… in every modern developed language, partly as a result of the historical development of the language from pre-existing material, as in the Romance and Germanic languages, partly owing to the crossing and mixing of nations, as in the English language, and partly as a result of the concentration of the dialects within a single nation brought about by economic and political concentration, the spontaneously evolved speech has been turned into a national language.” So? The linguistic superstructure is still subject to the same process as the state superstructure and the economic base. But just as the concentration of capital, the unification of national exchange, and political concentration in the capitalist state are not instantly realized in their final form, since they are historical results linked to bourgeois rule and its cycle, the transition from local dialects to a unitary language constitutes a phenomenon that also proceeds in accordance with all these factors. The market, the state and power are national insofar as they are bourgeois. Language becomes national insofar as it is the language of the bourgeoisie. Engels, who is always cited by Stalin, says, in The Condition of the Working Class in England: the English “working-class has gradually become a race wholly apart from the English bourgeoisie…. The workers speak other dialects, have other thoughts and ideals, other customs and moral principles, a different religion and other politics than those of the bourgeoisie.”

The patch applied here is also threadbare: Engels does not admit, by saying this, that there are class languages, since he is talking about dialects, and dialect is a derivative of the national language. But have we not established that the national language is a synthesis of dialects (or the result of a struggle among dialects) and that this is a class process, linked to the victory of a particular class, the bourgeoisie?

Lenin must therefore be forgiven for having recognized the existence of two cultures in capitalism, one bourgeois and the other proletarian, and that the campaign in favor of a national culture in capitalism is a nationalist campaign. Emasculating Lafargue, that valiant fellow, might be easy, but to then go on and do the same to Marx, Engels and Lenin is a difficult task. The answer to all of this is that language is one thing and culture is another. But which comes first? For the idealist who acknowledges abstract thought, culture is before and above language, but for the materialist, for whom the word comes before the idea, culture can only be formed on the basis of language. The position of Marx and Lenin is therefore as follows: the bourgeoisie will never admit that its culture is a class culture, since it claims that it is the national culture of a particular people, and thus the overvaluation of the national language serves as a major obstacle that stands in the way of the formation of a proletarian and revolutionary class culture, or rather, theory.

The best part is where Stalin, in the manner of Filippo Argenti, engages in self-criticism. At the 16th Congress of the party he said that in the era of world socialism all the national languages would be combined into one. This formula seems to be very radical, and it is not easy to reconcile it with the other one offered some time later concerning the struggle between two languages that ends with the victory of one of them which absorbs the other without the latter leaving a trace. The author then attempts to exculpate himself by saying that his detractors had not understood the fact that it was a matter of two very different historical epochs: the struggle and the merging of languages takes place in the midst of the capitalist epoch, while the formation of the international language will take place in the fully socialist epoch. “To demand that these formulas should not be at variance with each other, that they should not exclude each other, is just as absurd as it would be to demand that the epoch of the domination of capitalism should not be at variance with the epoch of the domination of socialism, that socialism and capitalism should not exclude each other.” This jewel leaves us stupefied. Have not all the propaganda efforts on the part of the Stalinists been devoted to maintaining that the rule of socialism in Russia not only does not exclude the existence of capitalism in the West, but in addition that the two forms can peacefully coexist?

Only one legitimate conclusion can be drawn from this whole shameful display. Russian power can coexist with the capitalist nations of the West because it, too, is a national power, with its national language that is fiercely defended in all its integrity, far removed from the future international language, just as its “culture” is far removed from the revolutionary theory of the world proletariat.

The same author, however, is forced at a certain point to recognize that the national formation of languages strictly reflects that of the national states and national markets. “Later, with the appearance of capitalism, the elimination of feudal division and the formation of national markets, nationalities developed into nations, and the languages of nationalities into national languages.” This is well said. But then he stumbles and says that, “History shows that national languages are not class, but common languages, common to all the members of each nation and constituting the single language of that nation” (Stalin, op. cit.). History dictated this lesson when it relapsed into capitalism. Just as in Italy, where the nobles, the priests and the educated elites spoke Latin, and the people spoke Tuscan, in England the nobles spoke French and the people spoke English, so too in Russia the revolutionary struggle led to the following result: the aristocrats spoke French, the socialists spoke German and the peasants spoke what we shall not deign to call Russian, but rather a dozen languages and a hundred dialects. Had the movement continued in accordance with Lenin’s revolutionary designs it would soon have had a language of its own: everyone would have spoken a garbled version of “international French”. But Joseph Stalin did not understand any of this French, either: only Georgian and Russian. He was the man of the new situation, a situation in which one language drags ten others along with it and in order to do so employs the weapon of literary tradition; the new situation was that of an authentic ruthless nationalism, which, like all the others, followed the law of concentration with regard to language by declaring it to be an intangible cultural patrimony.

It is unusual—or perhaps not so unusual if this movement does not refuse to exploit the sympathies and the support of the foreign proletariat for Marxist traditions—that the text claims to support that decisive passage from Lenin: “Language is the most important means of human intercourse. Unity of language and its unimpeded development form one of the most important conditions for genuinely free and extensive commercial intercourse appropriate to modern capitalism, for a free and broad grouping of the population in all its separate classes.” It is therefore quite clear that the postulate of national language is not immanent but historical: it is linked—usefully—to the appearance of developed capitalism.

It is clear, however, that everything changes and is turned upside down when capitalism falls, and with it commercial society and the division of society into classes. The national languages will perish along with these social institutions. The revolution that fights against them is alien to and an enemy of the demand for a national language, once capitalism has been defeated.

Personal and Economic Dependence

14

It constitutes a radical departure from historical materialism to limit it to the epochs during which directly commercial relations between possessors of not only products but also of productive instruments, including land, prevailed. For the theory is also applicable to the preceding epochs before the appearance of the distinction between private possessors due to the establishment of the foundations of the first hierarchies in the family and gender relations. This error, that consists in leaving to non-determinist explanations all that relates to generative and family phenomena, is altogether consonant with the restoration of the linguistic element of the class dynamic; it always involves toleration of the fact that decisive sectors of social life should be withdrawn from the domain of the laws of dialectical materialism.

In a text expressly intended to criticize the Marxist interpretation of history, and claiming that the latter is reduced (as unfortunately occurs with some unwary and inexperienced followers of the communist movement) to deducing the developments of the political history from the conflict between classes that participate in different ways in economic wealth and its distribution, it is taken for granted that there was a time when there was already a complete organization of the state type and the social contest was not between classes of rich patrician landowners, impoverished plebian peasants and artisans, and slaves, because it was based on the authority of the father of the family.

The author of this text (DeVinscher, Property and Family Power in Ancient Rome, Brussels, 1952) distinguishes two stages in the history of juridical systems: one, the most recent, responsible for the well-known civil law that the modern bourgeoisie has embraced as its own, providing for the free disposal of any object and “fee simple ownership”, whether in real property in land or property in other goods, which we may call the “capitalist” stage, and another, much older stage in which the civil administration and its legal codes were very different, in that they largely prohibited instances of transfer and sale except in cases where they were strictly regulated on the basis of the family order, which was patriarchal. This was supposed to be a “feudal” stage, if we contrast this feudalism and capitalism in the ancient world with respect to the characteristic feature that they contained a social class that was lacking in the Medieval and Modern eras, that of the slaves. The latter were excluded from legal rights because they were considered to be things, rather than persons subject to law: within the circle of free men, the citizens, a constitution based on the family and on personal dependence preceded the later one that was based on the free alienation of goods, in which the seller and the buyer engaged with their mutual consent.

The author attempts to refute the “priority that historical materialism has clearly granted to the notions of patrimonial right in the development of institutions”. This would be true if the base to which historical materialism refers were the pure economic phenomenon of property, to patrimony in the modern sense, and if, moreover, this base did not embrace the entire life of the species and group and all the discipline of its relations that had arisen from environmental difficulties, and above all the discipline of generation and family organization.

As everyone knows and as we shall see in Part 2, in the ancient communities or phratries there was neither private property nor institutions of class power. Labor and production had already appeared and this is the material base, which is much more extensive than the one that is narrowly understood as juridical and economic in Marxist terminology: we shall demonstrate that this base is bound up with the “production of the producers”, that is, the generation of the members of the tribe that is carried out with strict adherence to absolute racial purity.

In this pure gens there is no other dependence or authority than that exercised by the healthy and vigorous adult member of the tribe over the young members who are trained and prepared for a simple and serene life in society. The first authority arose in connection with the first limitations imposed on sexual promiscuity, and this authority was the matriarchy, in which the mother is the leader of the community: but during this era there was not yet any division of the land or anything else. The basis of such a division was created by the patriarchy, which was at first polygamous and later monogamous: the male leader of the family is a real administrative and military leader who regulates the activity of the children and also of the prisoners and that of the conquered peoples who became slaves. We are on the threshold of the formation of a class state.

Once this point is reached it is possible to understand in broad outlines the old Roman legal status, which lasted a millennium (Justinian definitively erased its last traces), the mancipium. People and things were in the power of the pater familias: the wife or wives, the children, who are free, the slaves and their offspring, the cattle, the land and all the tools and provisions produced on it. All of these things were at first only alienable by way of a rare and difficult procedure called emancipatio, or if acquirable without payment, which form of conveyance was called mancipatio. This is the source of the famous distinction between res mancipii, inalienable things, and res nec mancipii, things that can be sold at will, which form part of the normal patrimonium, things that are susceptible to increase or decrease.

Thus, in the second stage, when there was no longer anything that was res mancipii, and everything was an article of unrestricted commerce (between parties who are not slaves), economic value came to prevail and it became obvious to everyone that struggles for political power were based on the interests of opposed social classes, according to the distribution of land and wealth; in the first stage, economic value and patrimonial right as a license for free acquisition were replaced by the personal imperium of the leader of the family, whose prevailing form of organization recognized the three categories of mancipium, manus and patria potestas, which were the pivots of the society of that epoch.

For the Marxist it is obviously an elementary error to assert that in the first stage of relations economic determinism does not apply. The mistake is based on the tautology that in the commercial order everything proceeds between “equals” and that personal dependence disappears to give way to the exchange between equivalents, in accordance with the famous law of value. But Marxism precisely proves that the unlimited and “Justinianian” commercial exchange of products and instruments led to a new and heavy yoke of personal dependence for the members of the exploited and working classes.

Thus, many people opt to take the easy way out whenever the question arises of a social relation that pertains to the family, since in their view such a relation is supposed be explained not by way of the productive economy but by so-called “emotional” factors, therefore completely falling prey to idealism. The system of relations based on generation and the family also arises in correspondence with the quest for a better way of life for the group in its physical environment and for its necessary productive labor, and this correspondence is found within the laws of materialism just as when it addresses the later stage of the separate exchanges between individual possessors of products.

But there can be no doubt that the Marxism that is unable to see this succumbs to the idealist resurrection, by admitting if even for only one second that in addition to the factors of economic interest that are crystallized in the possession of private patrimony and in the exchange of private goods (including among these exchangeable goods human labor power), there are also other factors that are foreign to the materialist dynamic, such as sex, family affection, love; and above all by falling victim to the insipid banality that these factors at certain moments supersede and radically transform the factor of the economic base by their superior forces.

Instead, it is only on the basis of the cornerstone of the efforts to assure the immediate life of the species, which inseparably combine the production of food and reproduction, subordinating if necessary individual self-preservation to that of the species, that the vast and exhaustive edifice of historical materialism is founded, which embraces all the manifestations of human activity including the latest, most complex and grandiose ones.

We shall conclude this part with Engels (The Origin of the Family…) again, in order to show the customary fidelity of our school, and its repugnance towards any kind of novelty. It is always the development of the productive instruments that is found at the basis of the transition from the patriarchal imperium to free private property. In the higher stage of barbarism, the social division of labor between artisans and farmers, and the difference between city and country, had already appeared…. War and slavery had already existed for quite some time:

“The distinction of rich and poor appears beside that of freemen and slaves—with the new division of labor, a new cleavage of society into classes. The inequalities of property among the individual heads of families break up the old communal household communities wherever they had still managed to survive, and with them the common cultivation of the soil by and for these communities. The cultivated land is allotted for use to single families, at first temporarily, later permanently. The transition to full private property is gradually accomplished, parallel with the transition of the pairing marriage into monogamy. The single family is becoming the economic unit of society.”

Once again, the dialectic teaches how the individual family, that presumed fundamental social value so highly praised by fideists and enlightened bourgeoisie, which is linked to society based on private property, is also a transitory institution, and denies that it has any basis outside of its material determination—a basis that the fideists and bourgeoisie, on the other hand, assert must be sought in sex or love—and that the individual family will be destroyed after the victory of communism, now that its dynamic has already been studied and condemned by materialist theory.

  • 1. A series of articles published first in Battaglia Comunista and later in Il Programma Comunista during the 1950s and 1960s. “Il Battilocchio nella storia”, no. 7, April 3-17, and “Superuomo ammosciati”, no. 8, April 17-30, 1953, on the function of the celebrity; “Fantasime carlailiane”, no. 9, May 7-21, 1953, on the same question as it is reflected in the field of art. [For an English translation of “Il Battilocchio nella storia”, see “The Guignol in History”, available online at: http://libcom.org/library/guignol-history-amadeo-bordiga. American Translator’s Note.]
  • 2. The essay on Stalin and linguistics—which is discussed in part in the article, “Church and Faith, Individual and Reason, Class and Theory”, Battaglia Comunista, no. 17, 1950—was preceded by the following note: “The digression is not inappropriate in this arrangement of the material utilized in the report, since it involves the analysis of the doctrine expounded by Stalin with regard to linguistics, all of which is based on the distinctions, employed in a hardly consistent manner, between base and superstructure”.