Thursday, February 4, 2016

Evolution and Revolution: Darwin's Theory in Marxist Political Thought


What would happen to the world of life science if Charles Darwin (1809-1882) didn't publish The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871)? Although humans appear through historical processes that present objectively, but the reality may be unable to be caught by humans with knowledge possessed. Maybe science knowledge we have today is still shrouded by dogmas without real evidence, such as what happened before medieval and the Renaissance. If Charles Darwin was not present with his startling statement about the origin of living things, then the flat earth, the sun around the earth, and two humans --- who from the beginning walked with their two feet in the Garden of Eden --- may still be the mainstay statements of teacher's at schools or in college campuses.



Darwin's statement opened the European intellectuals way of thinking at that time, although before he published his book, the evolution's idea had become the mainstream way of thinking of European intellectuals in the19th century. This way of thinking has been used both by the intellectual bourgeoisie as a weapon to fight against feudalism, until finally used also by the left intellectual to fight capitalism. Regardless of anyone using Darwin's way of thinking, one certain thing is that these works bring new nuances in science.

Historical Materialism and Social Evolution is a collection of the writings of well-known figures among the international left movement. The editors are Paul Blackledge, a lecturer at the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University and also Graeme Kirkpatrick, a lecturer at the Northumbria University's Department of sociology. Paul Blackledge himself began this book by writing about the link between historical materialism and evolution. Ted Benton then continued with the historical development and the influence of evolutionary thinking in Germany in the 19th century.

Furthermore, Paul Nolan filled the posts about relevance and contribution of Darwinism in historical materialism of Marx and Engels. There was also Alan Carling with his long article on the debate over social evolution and development of Marxism. Alex Callinicos also appeared with the inscription about history, exploitation and oppression. Graeme Kirkpatrick and Giusseppe Tassone also completed discussion about Habermas. This collection of writings closed by Tony Smith who discussed about capitalism.

I'm just looking for a link between the evolution theory and its influence in Marxism, especially historical materialism. There's an advantages of Darwin's way of thinking that I think it is important to science and Marxism. This is related to his criticism of idealism and naivete way of thinking that will eventually drop the thinker into confusion. Darwin thought is not able to stand on its own. It needs the support of dialectical and historical materialism. Because, if evolutionist way of thinking only stands alone, so, indirectly it perpetuates and assumes that the capitalist system is a necessity and can't be changed through the active role of the organized agency.

Descent with Modification
Almost all of us have heard about the theory of evolution and often associate it with Darwin, although the understanding of evolution have been present before Darwin published his work, and in fact he himself preferred to call it as "descent with modification or change." Darwin argued that certain breeds tended to inherit characters like their ancestors. This character is inherited through genetic in certain populations, tends to open with variations. But there are also other characters in the population that if they can't adapt to environmental conditions, then they will be marginalized; selected and replaced by superior characters. This natural process is called natural selection. With such a model of evolution, Darwin gives an idea of survival of the fittest, or in other words the sustainability of life for organisms who is able to adapt to the existing natural conditions. This natural process taking place throughout the history of the development of organisms or living things.

In the previous era, Jean Lamarck (1744-1829) also had a similar view about this evolution. Lamarck argued that a trait possessed by an organism was able to turn directly and individually when dealing or adapt with its environment. He said that the animals changed according to the demands of nature around them, so that he named his theory as acquired characteristics. Ability or adjustment of an organism which is obtained during life, can be inherited to the offspring. In contrast to the understanding of Darwin, which asserted that evolution was a blind process without purpose. In the long term, Lamarck asserted that the characteristics of organism has a specific purpose to adapt to its environment. This is the difference between the views of Lamarck and Darwin on the evolution of living beings. According to Darwin, the nature of organism is genetically inherited through reproduction.

Darwin stated that the favorable traits would continue to be inherited in a generation to the next generation in a population, so that the traits which were not able to adapt to the existing natural demand would by themselves marginalized by superior traits in adapting. Ultimately, this creates a view of Natural Selection which is dependent on three conditions. First, members of different species to each other, then the variations are able to be inherited. Secondly, all organisms produce more offspring than those who survive. Third, because not all the offspring survive, so they who are able to survive, generally will have the anatomy, physiology, or appropriate traits with the existing natural conditions

The important thing to also note is selection system in the understanding of Darwin moves without a definite direction, or in other words with blind process and also does not assert the levels in the development of living things history, because -- mechanically -- evolution moves without any purpose. So from the beginning, Darwin had escaped from a human-centric bias that put homo sapiens as the highest stage of organism's evolution.

Theory of Evolution and Marxism
We will see a line of intersection between evolution and historical materialism. Marx's theory of revolution dialectically related to the theory of social evolution, where it comes from and it's a reaction of natural evolution. Alan Barnard explains that there are at least two types of evolution: the evolution of biological and social evolution. Between both there's a technological evolution. This is similar to what is covered by Engels in The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (1876) which states that the work is what brings people into change.

In short, animals only use their environment and give change with their presence alone. Humans with their changes make nature to be the fulfillment of their needs,  they conquer it. This is decisive, the most basic differences between humans and other animals, and once again : the work gives these differences.

The work itself begins with the manufacture of certain tools. In this case, humans appear as tools maker, and this is what makes humans eventually have culture, because -- through work -- human ancestors know how to talk to each other, gradually affect the brain development, and ultimately produce the culture.

But, what is the condition of the human ability to create these tools? The answer can be found in the writings of Engels. Engels said that bipedalism (use legs to walk) was the answer. Then, what allows bipedalism in the ancestors of humans? The answer can be found in the Miocene (about 7 million years ago) as evidenced by the fossils of Sahelanthropus tchadensis aged around 7-6 million years ago. The fossils provide a clear picture of what was happening at the time. So, what actually happens in an environment where our ancestors live?

Habitat of human ancestry was African, but in the Miocene about 10-7 million years ago the earth to suck one side and pushed the rocks on the other side along the eastern Africa. This created a new form of earth known as the great rift valleys. There was also a drastic change in the Earth's climate when polar ice caps expanded. It had an impact on climate change, which caused the tropical rain forests were reduced and turned into a vast meadow. In Africa, several species of monkeys lived apart and did not hang out over millions of years with the species because they were blocked by the great rift valleys. In this context, the ancestors of chimpanzees chose to stay in the west valley and human ancestors pushed to the east, while most of the others to extinction. From there, emerged new types of primates who among of them were the ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees and humans.

From the ecological pressure, ancient monkeys who chose to stay around the great rift valleys eventually adapted to the new environment, which was very different to previous environment. The new environment inhabited by human ancestors was a very difficult environment. The adaptation process was required, if it didn't want to become extinct due to natural conditions. Some adaptation process done among them was food consumed as well as the use of bipedalism, which in turn, affected the development of other body, such as the use of hands to make the tools till the brain development and social organizations.

When humans born on earth and form a social organization, then the subsequent development is, a social organization itself experiences some changes. The forms of society -- on one hand -- an adaptation of the existing environmental conditions. While on the other hand, nature is conquered and adapted to the circumstances of society itself. Those Bushmen who were still hunting and gathering, the Eskimos who were still hunting, the nomads in Mongolia or the people in Los Angeles who choose to jam every morning and afternoon certainly have a process of adaptation each with their nature and with the mode of production being exists. From here, we can see that the changes and development of society will be different from one another.

Why there are still some people who live in the mode of different production from us? Marvin Harris says that one reason is the setting or population control in a group, especially in the hunting-gathering groups. In the hunting-gathering groups, when production increases, the population reproduction will increase. Increased reproduction will result these groups should intensify production for subsistence. Therefore, some communities still maintain their production patterns respectively to maintain the group stability.

This is an important thing we need to know: we can't equate all forms of present-day society with the development of society we leave today. The relation of wage labor which becomes the basis of capitalism is indeed a relation that dominates our lives today, but it does not mean the previous relation has been lost completely. Therefore -- from the beginning -- nothing is fixed, even the shape of society itself. Different environmental conditions create a culture in a given society is also different from other communities.

Back to Engels, what needs to be emphasized is the human hand, not just a means to produce something or to work, but the result of the work itself. This is a prerequisite of human labor, which in turn is able to tame nature, ranging from animal domestication, making irrigation until to build a skyscraper buildings. Dialectical nuances given by Engels in these words to prove that although this nature is conditioning the human, but humans are also able to condition their nature within certain limits. For example, with factory waste or the relentless deforestation, humans actually provide the preconditions for the destruction of nature they occupy more quickly.

An understanding of the evolution theory inherited by Darwin evidently affected the next thinkers, even gave rise to movements that affected the European and world history. These effects provided a new color in the class struggle in Europe, especially in Germany, when each class in society at that time began to use Darwin's way of thinking to justify the interest of each class. Ranging from liberals who wanted to subvert entirely the feudal order, until a socialist party that tried to subvert capitalism itself such as Marx and Engels.

However, along with the development of socialist movement, there was a split in it: the mechanical Marxists that fully reduced historical materialism to the theory of evolution, and the voluntarist Marxism. The mechanistic considers the downfall of capitalism is a necessity, although without the active participation of organized agency.. Conversely, the voluntarist assumes the primary role of agency is more than just a passive product of an objective historical process. It can be concluded, the first circle interprets Marxism deterministically, while the second is a product of perspective theory of evolution; non historical materialism.

There are two problems in the way of thinking between the mechanical and the voluntarist. The first, as evolutionists in general, they assume that what exists today is the natural order of society. The difference is, the mechanical believe that the internal contradictions of capitalism will inevitably bring the collapse of capitalism. Meanwhile, the voluntarist problems is blind trust in the agency ability to change the history course without seeing the structure where the agency is located. This view will only bring their followers into idealism.

In the midst of the debate, Lenin and Trotsky appeared to bridge the gap between the two sides. Lenin bridged the gap between subjective moments (which was represented by the voluntarist) and objective (represented by the mechanical) in the historical process through revolutionary practice. With this, Lenin raised again what was asserted by Marx in the first Theses on Feuerbach (1888), namely, "the most important weakness of all existing materialist (including Feuerbach) is that the things, reality, sensory stuff are imagined just as form of an object, or part of contemplation, not as sensuous human activity itself, practically". What Lenin wanted to say is that social life is basically a practical, it is also the result of particular human activity and human can transform the social life, but remains in the limits prescribed by material reality. For example, human can change the stone becomes such a diverse sculpture, but can't turn it into exactly like eggs, because the eggs are outside the boundaries of a given material reality as the stone.

Thus, Lenin had a role in breaking the barrier wall on both sides by means of dialectical thinking. It was then added to by Trotsky who exemplified the Russian Revolution in 1917. With the entry of Lenin into the "chain of objective historical forces", it created the acceleration of learning process in Bolsheviks and eventually there was Russian revolution in 1917 that could affect the objective conditions, even changed it. It can be concluded, without Lenin, the revolution will be difficult or even impossible to be realized. In this case, Trotsky links the objective and subjective moments by providing a mediation, namely through the Bolsheviks as a revolutionary political party. According to him, the individual will be able to have a role in the historical process only if they are able to condition class consciousness collectively to change the existing order.



So, now we know that evolution and historical materialism have a unique relationship, especially in the historical development of mankind. Evolution gives us an understanding of the objective history of living organisms development on Earth. It also gives a real awareness yet slightly bitter, humans only piece part for nature and their presence is just very coincidental. Meanwhile, historical materialism gives us a view of a condition in which humans -- who because of their evolution -- in certain circumstances make it possible to perform the reverse reaction against their nature.

A dangerous thing of evolution is an understanding of historical development, including the inevitability of capitalist society. Because on the one hand it thinks mechanically, then consequently, evolution will tend to perpetuate order being exists. Therefore, with historical materialism, the evolutionary way of thinking can be offset. At the end of our understanding, the relation between theory of evolution and historical materialism is important to be applied in the way of thinking, not just to think itself, but also in the realm of praxis.

Structure problem and agency or the objective conditions and the subjective role is indeed a recurring debate to understand Marxism. But do not worry, there are Lenin and Trotsky, right? Both are influential in the struggle for revolution. On one side, the objective conditions indeed conditioning subjective factors, but on the other hand -- to borrow the Althusser's term -- subject or agency is also able to perform reciprocal to the objective conditions with limits that have been set previously. It should be added, the agency's role to carry out reciprocal to the objective conditions can only happen if the agency is part of a particular media. In the struggle for socialism, of course, revolutionary party is the most appropriate media.

Finally, we must emphasize that the order today is not the default since the dawn of Homo sapiens, nor an order that falls from the sky, but a history which is filled with evolution and revolution. Our order today is the result of creation, precisely is human work, on time and under certain conditions. Therefore, we can't only stare in front of laptop screen, waiting for the destruction of capitalism while reading this article. But it doesn't mean we also have to go to remote islands to establish communes (vacation), chanting "Do it yourself!", or to create an armed guerrilla groups and go to the zoo and occasionally shooting at the animals there, for example. What we need now is to strengthen the basis of Marxism to use scientific knowledge and existence of a revolutionary political party with the aim to overthrow capitalism, then to replace it with a more advanced system: socialism.

***
Readings
Marx and Darwin: Two great revolutionary thinkers of the nineteenth century 
Marx and Engels...and Darwin? The essential connection between historical materialism and natural selection 
Marxism And Darwinism 
Marxism and Darwinism
■ Barnard, A. (2011). Social Anthropology and Human Origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
■ Blackledge, P., & Kirkpatrick, G. (2002). Historical Materialism and Social Evolution. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
■ Callinicos, A. (2004). The Revolutionary Idea of Karl Marx. London: Bookmarks Publications. - VIDEO : The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx - Alex Callinicos
Engels, F. (1972).  The Origin of The Family, Private Property and The State. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
■ Harris, M. (1978). Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures. Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.
■ Lasker, G. W. (1973). Physical Anthropology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
■ Lewin, R. (2005). Human Evolution : An Illustrated Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1998). The German Ideology. New York: Promotheus Books.



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CZ

"Thank you for your perception! I like your romantic side, even if I do not always comment and I'm glad that you're in my circle of friends."
(Courtesies by: Wolfgang A. Gerhardt)

Wolfgang A.Gerhardt : May be you like this Sunday collage

Cisca Zarmansyah : Before today, there never was a person doing this to me. You create a simple matter to look special. This is a special thing for me.

Cisca Zarmansyah : Thank you. I love it. I love you, my friend.

CieL- FreYa Ceastle : Hmm, he's so nice...















"I am me.
In all the world,
there is no one else exactly like me.
Everything that comes out of me
is authentically mine,
because I alone chose it --
I own everything about me:
my body,
my feelings,
my mouth,
my voice,
all my actions,
whether they be to others or myself.
I own my fantasies,
my dreams,
my hopes,
my fears.
I own my triumphs and successes,
all my failures and mistakes.
Because I own all of me,
I can become intimately acquainted with me.
By so doing,
I can love me
and be friendly with all my parts.
I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me,
and other aspects that I do not know
-- but as long as I am friendly
and loving to myself,
I can courageously and hopefully
look for solutions
to the puzzles and ways
to find out more about me.
However I look and sound,
whatever I say and do,
and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time
is authentically me.
If later some parts of how I looked,
sounded,
thought,
and felt
turn out to be unfitting,
I can discard that which is unfitting,
keep the rest,
and invent something new
for that which I discarded.
I can see,
hear,
feel,
think,
say, and do.
I have the tools to survive,
to be close to others,
to be productive,
and to make sense
and order out of the world of people
and things outside of me.
I own me,
and therefore,
I can engineer me.
I am me,
and I am okay."

VIRGINIA SATIR
(American Phychologist and Educator, 1916-1988)