The Part played by Labour…

5 May

The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. An unfinished essay written by Friedrich Engels in spring of 1876

Below is a shortened version of the essay.

Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour.

Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man’s horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other. Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by modulation to produce constantly more developed modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulate sound after another.

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, which, for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect. Hand in hand with the development of the brain went the development of its most immediate instruments – the senses.

The reaction on labour and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increasing clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of conclusion, gave both labour and speech an ever-renewed impulse to further development.

Labour begins with the making of tools. And what are the most ancient tools that we find – the most ancient judging by the heirlooms of prehistoric man that have been discovered, and by the mode of life of the earliest historical peoples and of the rawest of contemporary savages? They are hunting and fishing implements, the former at the same time serving as weapons. But hunting and fishing presuppose the transition from an exclusively vegetable diet to the concomitant use of meat, and this is another important step in the process of transition from ape to man.

The meat diet, however, had its greatest effect on the brain, which now received a far richer flow of the materials necessary for its nourishment and development, and which, therefore, could develop more rapidly and perfectly from generation to generation.

The meat diet led to two new advances of decisive importance – the harnessing of fire and the domestication of animals. The first still further shortened the digestive process, as it provided the mouth with food already, as it were, half-digested; the second made meat more copious by opening up a new, more regular source of supply in addition to hunting, and moreover provided, in milk and its products, a new article of food at least as valuable as meat in its composition.

And the transition from the uniformly hot climate of the original home of man to colder regions, where the year was divided into summer and winter, created new requirements – shelter and clothing as protection against cold and damp, and hence new spheres of labour, new forms of activity, which further and further separated man from the animal.

Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle raising; then came spinning, weaving, metalworking, pottery and navigation. Along with trade and industry, art and science finally appeared. Tribes developed into nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them that fantastic reflection of human things in the human mind – religion.

In the face of all these images, which appeared in the first place to be products of the mind and seemed to dominate human societies, the more modest productions of the working hand retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that planned the labour was able, at a very early stage in the development of society (for example, already in the primitive family), to have the labour that had been planned carried out by other hands than its own. All merit for the swift advance of civilisation was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Men became accustomed to explain their actions as arising out of thought instead of their needs (which in any case are reflected and perceived in the mind); and so in the course of time there emerged that idealistic world outlook which, especially since the fall of the world of antiquity, has dominated men’s minds. It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under this ideological influence they do not recognise the part that has been played therein by labour.

In animals the capacity for conscious, planned action is proportional to the development of the nervous system, and among mammals it attains a fairly high level.

In short, the animal merely uses its environment, and brings about changes in it simply by its presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

And, in fact, with every day that passes we are acquiring a better understanding of these laws and getting to perceive both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. In particular, after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realise, and hence to control, also the more remote natural consequences of at least our day-to-day production activities. But the more this progresses the more will men not only feel but also know their oneness with nature, and the more impossible will become the senseless and unnatural idea of a contrast between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body, such as arose after the decline of classical antiquity in Europe and obtained its highest elaboration in Christianity.

It required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn a little of how to calculate the more remote natural effects of our actions in the field of production, but it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social effects of these actions.

The men who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries laboured to create the steam-engine had no idea that they were preparing the instrument which more than any other was to revolutionise social relations throughout the world. Especially in Europe, by concentrating wealth in the hands of a minority and dispossessing the huge majority, this instrument was destined at first to give social and political domination to the bourgeoisie, but later, to give rise to a class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat which can end only in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the abolition of all class antagonisms.

This regulation, however, requires something more than mere knowledge. It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and simultaneously a revolution in our whole contemporary social order.

As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of the immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account. As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. The present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result; and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions directed to this end turn out to be quite different, are mostly quite the opposite in character; that the harmony of supply and demand is transformed into the very reverse opposite.



Hello world!

18 Jun

Socialism for the 21 century

The global capitalist crisis has moved into its third stage.

The first stage of the crisis was to offload the burden of the financial collapse on the working people. Huge transfers of public money to the banks took place, but the funds were not used to ease credit, quite the contrary – the banks refused to extend credit to thousands of companies, driving them into bankruptcy – as a consequence millions of people lost their jobs. What followed can only be described as the biggest attack on the working class in the history of capitalism. In the UK the Labour Party, which facilitated the Billion Pound robbery of public funds when they were in power, is light years away from organizing any opposition. Shackled by reams of Anti Union legislation, the trade-union movement is incapable of defending jobs and hard won rights.

The second stage of the crisis consists of governments driving through austerity programs, which are further eating into the social fabric of society, destroying essential jobs, services and institutions. IMF and World Bank are imposing these measures on states regardless of the huge cost to the people. Under the slogan ‘We are all in this together’, the ruling class is enforcing policies, which aim at the wholesale destruction of livelihoods of working people. The use of hundreds of thousands of young unemployed, coerced by Job Centres to work for their allowance pittances, exposes the collusion between government and employers. In the same secret manner the carpet-baggers in government are turning everything from our national health service to our universities over to private profiteers.

Expecting opposition and resistance to this destruction of livelihoods, real values, basic human rights, governments are getting their heads together to work out strategies of not merely enslaving people, but criminalizing their rightful struggle. A few weeks ago the representatives of the G8 nations have come together at Camp David to discuss how to take on the working class with its armed bodies of men. This is stage three.

In Italy, military, police and intelligence officials are hammering out an emergency security plan for combating what they call ‘anarchic attacks’, which are in reality protests against banks, tax offices and companies planning large-scale closures.

In Spain, the conservative government is promising to tighten up laws on public protest.

Athens now resembles a garrison town with riot police stationed on every corner.

In Chicago, mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the one-time right hand man to Obama, has brought in new powers:

-Authorization for the Mayor to purchase and deploy surveillance cameras throughout the city, without any type of oversight.

-Restrictions on demonstrations, including the requirement to purchase an insurance policy worth$1 million and to register every sign or banner, that will be held by more than one person.

-The power to deputize many different types of law enforcement personnel other than the Chicago Police Department.

In answer to this open declaration of class war, I say “We are all in this together – from the Greeks to the Irish, the Russians to the Chinese, from the Egyptians to the citizens of the US of A.

We must reject the capitalist formula for survival of the richest – which is nothing short of destruction of the social fabric of society.

Forward to a United Socialist Europe! Where peace and progress is valued and the human spirit is unbowed.