From the August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Man is a conscious being. He does not toss and sway with the forces of Nature; he is able to view his situation within the natural world and turn the earth’s resources to his own use.
From the time that the first crude tool was taken up until our days of powerful industry, men have gradually overcome the domineering influence of the external world and its processes.
Such a situation would certainly have been impossible if human beings were merely passive creatures acting as their instincts directed them. We are not like the honey-bee whose existence is purely a mechanical process directed towards reproduction and the continuation of the species. Men have the biological potential for creative behaviour and are able to learn and store a mass of information, and can utilize these abilities to mould life for maximum advantage.
People may even act in pure pleasure of creativity. So we see the artist and the writer, the scientist in his laboratory, the part-time inventor, women choosing pleasing and colourful food in an artistic manner, men training racing pigeons and building furniture for their home; all these are creative pursuits, far from the machine-like behaviour of instinct. Humans, with their dynamic abilities, are able to observe their existence, develop techniques that will ensure their survival, learn from the mistakes of their history, and change the organization of their society. All these features place man in a position of biological and social superiority over other animals.
The loss of purely instinctual behaviour in men means that there is no static “human nature”. Theoretically, the ideas, values and general behaviour that an individual develops are open. In reality, a child is born into a society and will learn the behaviour of the group surrounding him. However, no individual’s situation and experiences are identical and everyone acquires slightly different ideas. This promotes criticism, synthesis of thoughts, and new ideologies. Combined with technological advances, societies gradually undergo change. The relationship between ideas and the structure of society, and the manner in which ideologies alter, are extremely complex and cannot be dealt with here. Suffice it to say that ideas and technological developments which react upon society are themselves products of society, i.e. they are both effect and cause.
At particular times in history a change may be dramatic in comparison to the steady, but slow, alterations that normally take place, as was the case in the revolution from a feudal world of lords and peasants, based mainly on agricultural existence, to that of our capitalist world of property-owner and wage-worker, based mainly on industry and involving the competitive market system. The important point to note here, however, is that human nature changes with society. It is ludicrous to justify any society with its faults by saying that the horrors and inequalities are an inevitable result of the restrictions of man’s biological drives.
Indeed any study of anthropology will show a range of “human natures” across different cultures, which in their turn may be dramatically altered by the imposition of a foreign power. For instance, tribal societies may abhor competitive behaviour and “greed” but, once Western authorities impose themselves demanding taxes, their members may be forced to join the market to earn money, eventually becoming imbued with a competitiveness which had, at first, only been economic necessity.
Socialists oppose the unequal ownership of wealth that is intrinsic to the present organization of our society and which results in hardship for so many individuals. Technology has reached the stage where men can produce sufficient for everyone to live comfortably— if society was run on Socialist lines.
However, comfort is not enough.
Biology and history show that all men are creative beings who have raised themselves above Nature. Most creativity has been degraded under capitalism to the almost futile monotony of work, where the product of labour is taken from the wage-earner, whilst he is paid a pittance and other people reap in wealth without any active productiveness. We must demand to control and organize our own society. We must rebel against the indignity of being passive tools within a market system and being at the mercy of (usually incompetent and ineffectual) leaders. We must free our minds and free ourselves from a humiliating situation, and in doing so fulfil our potentialities as human beings.