Human Nature and Present Day Possibilities of Social Development


Mihailo Marković


The fundamental assumption of all revolutionary thought is that it is possible to build a genuine community of free individuals who have equal opportunities for development, creative work and satisfaction of their basic material and spiritual needs. The traditional utopian way to justify it was its derivation from an overoptimist conception of human nature.

This kind of method, although for other purposes, was applied already in Plato's Politeia. His theory of a strict hierarchical structure in an ideal state, with division into three separate orders (the statesmen, the soldiers, and those who carry on the business of providing for material needs) has been derived from his conception about three essential powers of the human soul: reason, spirit and appetite, with the corresponding cardinal virtues; wisdom, courage and temperance.

However in the hellenistic utopias of Euemeros and Jambulos there are no castes, no slavery, no division of work, no state power, and the people live in a state of permanent bliss in their distant, isolated islands. Stoa philosophers (Zenon, Chrysippos and others) already dreamt about a universal world state without wars, laws, courts, money, power over people. An inherent goodness of human nature is obviously presupposed here and in all other collectivist utopias. In More's Utopia there is no private property, all individuals are equal and work physically for six hours [85/86] daily out of a natural need, without any compulsion. There are no crimes, no penalties, no egoism, no conflicts, not even religious ones, and everybody is happy. According to More it is want and certain social conditions which make people bad. "While there is still private property, while money is still the measure of all values, it is hardly possible to lead, a just and happy policy. . . While money still survives, poverty, drudgery and anxiety will weigh as an inescapable burden upon the greatest and best part of mankind." More is convinced that most evils would be uprooted by the abolition of money. "Because, who does not see that fraud, theft, robbery, fight, quarrel, riot, murder, treason and poisoning, which are now through daily punishment being more curbed than dammed up, would all have to disappear with the elimination of money, and that in the same moment fear, sorrow, anxiety, bother and tension would vanish too". One century later Campanella expressed a similar belief: when there will no longer be private property all selfishness would become pointless and pass out of existence. People would no longer fight for wealth but for glory. "The Solarians assert that poverty makes people mean, cunning, thievish, homeless, lying. On the other hand, wealth makes them impudent, haughty, ignorant, treacherous, boastful and heartless. In a genuine community, however, all are both rich and poor in the same time—rich because they do not wish what they don't already have in common—poor because nobody possesses anything, therefore the things serve Solarians and do not enslave them."

Here we already find, in a specific form, a basic overoptimistic, perfectionist view of intrinsic human goodness, which dominated the whole history of European thought until the Twentieth century. It was expressed in the Seventeenth century theory of the state of nature and natural rights. According to Locke the state of nature is "a state of perfect freedom and equality" and also a state of  "peace, goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation". (1)

It underlies the whole Eighteenth century philosophy of the Enlightenment. In the well known words of Rousseau: "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains." (2) Man is [86/87] also conceived as an essentially social, productive and rational being, opened for an indefinite progress in the future. There is "no limit set to the perfecting of the powers of man" wrote Condorcet. "Doubtless this progress can proceed at a pace more or less rapid but it will never go backward." (3)


Partly directly, partly mediated by German classical philosophy, this optimistic spirit of the Enlightenment finds a place in the thought of Marx. It is true that Marx rejected the current concept of human nature as abstract and ahistoric. One of the implications of his dialectical approach might have been the discovery of internal, contradictory features in the Gattungswesen of man: good and evil, sociability and class egoism, rationality and powerful irrational drives, creativity and destructivity etc. Marx's very description of early capitalism implicitly suggests the idea that something must have been basically wrong with man if he was able to build up such a kind of social relations. His description of early communism is surprisingly realistic: “Crude communism is the culmination of universal envy and leveling down . . . Universal envy setting itself up as a power is only a camouflaged form of cupidity which reestablishes itself and satisfies itself in a different way.” (4) And still, in spite of the fact that both his philosophical method and his empirical knowledge pushed him toward the recognition of a dark side in human nature, Marx remained here ambiguous—with one pole of his thought in the Enlightenment and, with the other in the Twentieth century. And the dilemma which he had faced remained unsolved. The dilemma can be formulated in the following way:

If human essence really is "the totality of social relationships," (5) then this is a concrete and historical conception embracing all basic contradictions of its time. However in this case the question arises: is there a human nature in general or is it relative to a specific historical epoch. If it [87/88] does not make sense to speak about human nature in a general sense, with respect to the whole history of mankind, then the concept becomes not only relativistic but also purely descriptive, value neutral and inadequate as an anthropological basis for an activistic and critical social thought and praxis. A historically given totality of social relationships can be critically assessed and transcended only when confronted with a vision of possible, more humane social relationships, which presupposes a general value‑concept of human nature.

But, on the other hand, if a general and value-concept of human nature is assumed as the fundamental criterion of all critical assessment and the ultimate goal of human praxis, than there is a serious danger of a naive, romantic and utopian idealisation of man.

There is no doubt that for Marx a general idea of human nature was not only possible but necessary. He makes a distinction between "constant drives which exist under all conditions and which can be changed only in their form and direction they take," and the relative drives and appetites which "owe their origin to a definite type of social organization". (6) Then, arguing against Bentham Marx said in Capital that “he that would criticise all human acts, movements, relations etc. by the principle of utility must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch.” (7)

When we study carefully Marx's early anthropological writings we must come to the conclusion that evil is excluded from his concepts of human essence and human nature and is referred to as an historically transient phase of alienation. While there still exists private property, exploitation, wolfish relations among men, irrationality, selfishness, greed, envy, aggressiveness etc, man is alienated from his essence. These negative features of empirical man—such as they have existed so far in history—are not part of human nature; as long as they characterise human relations man is not yet truly human. However, "communism is the positive abolition of private property, of human self alienation, and thus the real appropriation of human nature through and for man. It is, therefore, the return of man himself as a social, i.e., really [88/89] human being, a complete and conscious return which assimilates all the wealth of previous development." (8)

Although Marx, contrary to the often repeated objections of his critics, did not consider communism the ultimate goal of history but only "the necessary form and the dynamic principle of immediate future," (9) he did say that communism was "the definitive resolution of the antagonism between man and nature and between man and man." (10)


The experiences of Twentieth century do not give us any reasons to believe that evil in man exists only in the sphere of "facticity" and only in the time which preceeds genuine human history. Our century will enter history not only as an age of technological rationality, efficiency, and of considerable liberation but also as an age of incredible eruptions of human irrationality and bestiality. The scope and character of bloodshed and mass madness in the two world wars, under racism, during Stalin's purges, yesterday in Korea, the Congo and Algeria, nowadays in Vietnam and Biafra can no longer be explained by the romantic, dualistic picture of a latent positive essence and a transient bad appearance. Evil must lie very deep. Obviously it is also a latent pattern of human behaviour, which is the product of the whole previous history of the human race, always ready to unfold as soon as favourable conditions arise. It will certainly be transmitted to many future generations and will need a very long period of time to vanish in its present forms.

What further complicates the picture is a variety of new unexpected forms of evil. Life in abundance and comfort has removed much suffering, illness, fear, primitive forms of struggle and oppression, but it has created a whole now pathology. The most developed societies have the highest percentage of suicide, mental illness, rape, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, alcoholism. Industry and civilization have made man more rational, powerful and efficient in some [89/90] important spheres of human life, but at the same time they have reduced warmth, sincerity, solidarity, and spontaneity in human relations. Emotional hunger in material affluence, desperate loneliness amidst the crowd, boredom in spite of a huge variety of entertainment for sale, utter powerlessness amidst gadgets which multiply senses and prolong hands that is the situation to which modern civilized man often reacts by developing strong aggressive and destructive dispositions.

Another surprising and indeed alarming Twentieth century experience is an obvious deterioration of motives and a sharp moral decay within the leadership of many victorious revolutionary movements. For most ordinary participants of those movements the phenomenon was so astounding that they never grasped what happened. By now the sociological dimension of this process is clear: it is the transformation of the revolutionary avant-garde into a privileged bureaucratic elite, and it takes place whenever the society as a whole is not sufficiently developed and integrated. The anthropological dimension, though, remains obscure if only positive features have been projected into the notion of human essence. That great revolutionaries, makers of history, could have been tragically defeated due to a general immaturity of historical conditions sounds plausible. That so many of them were able to become great demagogues and tyrants seems incompatible with the whole of traditional utopian anthropology.

The alternative offered is a negative pessimistic utopian thought: evil is a permanent, constitutive feature of human life. There is constantly in man: anxiety, fear, hatred, envy, egoism, feeling of guilt, lust for self-affirmation and power. All modern culture: psychoanalysis, social anthropology, philosophy of existence, surrealism, expressionism and other trends of modern literature and arts have strongly emphasized this darker side of human nature. Thus a strong anti-Enlightenment and anti-rationalist attitude have emerged and prevailed in many countries, especially in both immediate post war periods. That is why nowadays any projection of a happier and better future society must answer the question—is it still possible to believe in man, is he not basically irrational and sick and left to unknown, uncontrollable evil forces in himself, which, like the Furies, destroy every good intention, every noble project? [90/91]


The only answer which can be given by a modern dialectical thinker is: stop considering man a thing! He is neither a good nor a bad thing. It is not true that there is a logos of historical process which will inevitably make empirical man increasingly similar to an ideal harmonic, all-round entity. It is also not true that man is confronted by such a chaotic world, outside and within himself, that all his conscious striving to change, to create his world and himself anew, were a labour of Sisyphus.

The former is not true because all known social laws hold only under definite conditions and with many deviations in individual cases. While these conditions last and while the individual is atomised and isolated he has no power to change the laws. However, associated individuals can, within the limits of their historical situation, change the conditions and create a new situation in which new laws will hold. In spite of considerable uncertainty and possible surprise for man whenever such a radical change takes place, at least some implications of the conscious collective engagement might be predicted, as both historical process and human nature have a definite structure, no matter how many-valued, contradictory and open for further change. That is why the second extreme conception is also not acceptable. Human freedom cannot be construed (à la Sartre) as a total lack of any fixed content in man, lack of being something, therefore a burden and a yoke. The world is not condemned to stay eternally absurd as Camus believed. Man is not a complete stranger in his world and he differs from Sisyphus in so far as he is able to change both the world and his own nature. At least some stones remain at the brow of the hill. At least in some historical moments large masses of people act in a way which leads to considerable modifications in human nature. Change is possible because human nature is nothing else but a very complex and dynamic whole full of tension and conflict among opposite features and interests.

There is, first, a discrepancy and an interaction between interests, drives and motives which belong to different levels of socialisation: individual, group, generation, nation, class, historical epoch, mankind as a whole. Thus, great personalities by their character, their exceptional influence on the [91/92] behaviour of their class, nation, generation and sometimes of the whole epoch contribute to the constitution of human nature as a concrete universal. Vice versa, one of the fundamental functions of culture is to make individuals internalise and appropriate universal human values in a particular local, regional, national, and class form.

Second, there are in man internal contradictions between positive and negative, good and evil, rational and irrational, desire for freedom and reluctance to assume responsibility, creative and destructive, social and egoistic, peaceful and aggressive. Both are human, and it is possible for their conflicting features to survive indefinitely. But it is also possible that man will act during a prolonged period of time in such a way that one pole would prevail over the other. We have a chance to choose, within certain limits, what kind of man we are going to be. While practically bringing to life one of possible futures we at the same time consciously or involuntarily mould our own nature—by fixing some of our traits, by modifying others, by creating some entirely new attitudes, needs, drives, aspirations, values.

A historical fact which has often been overlooked is that some values which have been very important in the recent past lose their sense and evoke satiety and revolt among the new generation. In such a moment, a sudden mutation in human behaviour can be observed. This is especially the case with those values which had originated in powerlessness and all kinds of privation, and which have influenced human behaviour for such a long time that many theoreticians took them for lasting characteristics of human nature.

Thus for example:

(1) Material scarcity has brought about a hunger for goods, a lust for unlimited private property. This intemperate hunger, this typical mentality of a homo consumens developed especially when, for the first time in history, in industrial society, conditions were created for mass satisfaction of material needs. However it loses a good part of its meaning in the conditions of abundance in a postindustrial society. At the scale of values some other things become more important—and one can already observe this tendency in advanced industrial countries where people increasingly give preference to travelling and education over food and clothing. [92/93]

(2) A situation of powerlesness and insecurity against alienated political power gave rise to a lust for power and an obvious overestimation of political authority. This kind of obsession especially developed at a mass scale in the most civilized countries in our century due to the introduction of various forms of semi-democracy, i.e. such a type of society in which political power is still alienated and established in a strict hierarchical order, but at the same time open to a much large [sic] circle of citizens. On the other hand, the rise of the will to power is caused by the destruction of other values; it is a substitute for a will to spiritual and creative power; it is an infallible symptom of nihilism and decay. However, it loses any sense to the extent to which the basic political functions would be deprofessionalized and to a considerable degree decentralized, to the extent to which every individual would have real possibilities to participate in the process of management.

(3) In a society in which a person is condemned to routine technical activity—which was not freely chosen by him and does not offer opportunity for the realization of his potential abilities—the motive of success naturally becomes the primum mobile of all human activity, whereas pragmatism takes the ground as the only relevant philosophy. Nevertheless, one can already envisage conditions under which basic changes in human motivation might take place. If an individual would have a real possibility to choose his place in the social division of work according to the type of his abilities, talents and aspirations, if in general, professional activity would be reduced to a minimum and to a function of secondary importance with respect to the freely chosen activities in the leisure time, the motive of success would lose its dominant position. Success would no longer be regarded as supreme and worthy of any sacrifice, but only as a natural consequence of something much more important. This more important and indeed essential thing is the very act of creation (no matter whether in science, art, politics or personal relations), the act of objectification of our being according to "the laws of beauty," the satisfaction of the needs of another man, putting together a genuine community with other men through the results of our action.

In general: scarcity, weakness, lack of freedom, social and national insecurity, a feeling of inferiority, emptiness and [93/94] poverty to which the vast majority of people are condemned, give rise to such mechanisms of defense and compensation as national and class hatred, egoism, escape from responsibility, aggressive and destructive behaviour etc. Many present-day forms of evil really could be overcome in a society which would secure for each individual the satisfaction of his basic vital needs, liberation from compulsory routine work, immediate participation in decision-making, a relatively free access to the stores of information, prolonged education, a possibility to appropriate genuine cultural values, and the protection of fundamental human rights.

However, we are not yet able to predict today which new problems, tensions and conflicts, which new forms of evil will be brought about by the so called post-industrial society. For this reason we should be critical towards any naive technicist optimism which expects all human problems to be solved by improving the conditions of material abundance.

A considerable improvement in the living conditions of individuals does not automatically entail the creation of a genuine human community, in which there is solidarity, and without which a radical emancipation of man is not possible. For it is possible to overcome poverty and still retain exploitation, to replace compulsory work with senseless and equally degrading amusements, to allow participation in insignificant issues within an essentially bureaucratic system, to let the citizens be virtually flooded by carefully selected and interpreted half-truths, to use prolonged education for a prolonged programming of human brains, to open all doors to the old culture and at the same time to put severe limits to the creation of the new one, to reduce morality to law, to protect certain rights without being able to create a universally human sense of duty and mutual solidarity.


The key problem which mankind will have to face for another long period of time is: how to avoid that ruling over things does not, time and again, in every new social model, revert to ruling over people.

This problem is of fundamental importance for any radical vision of the future: the existence of alienated concentrated [94/95] economic and political power in the hands of any ruling elite: of warriors, private owners of the means of production, managers, professional politicians, or even scientists and philosophers, would impede any radical changes in the sphere of human relationships. The division of people into historical subjects and objects would entail a hypertrophy of the apparatus of power, a conservation of the ideological way of thinking, a control over the mass media of communication, a limitation of political and spiritual freedom. Consequently a permanent concentration of power in the hands of any particular social group would be an essential limiting factor of the whole further development.

Fortunately, scientific and technological progress with all far-reaching consequences in the economic, social and cultural plane opens the historical possibilities for a radical supersession of all those institutions which in past history have served to rule over people (such as the state, political parties, army, political police, security service etc.).

(a) These institutions are necessary to hold together, to protect, regulate and direct society—only while it is dismembered and disintegrated, which is the case with all backward and even semi-industrial societies. While there is a multitude of clashing particular interests: of various enterprises and economic branches, various regions and nationalities, a particular force is needed which will mediate, arbitrate and direct in the name of the general interest, although the general interest has not yet been constituted. However, one of the most important consequences of the present scientific and technological revolution is the dissolution of all artificial barriers and the integration of small, relatively autonomous economic systems into big ones.

(b) Until recently big systems required large bureaucratic apparatuses. However a profound change is taking place while we are entering a new phase of the technological revolution—the era of cybernetics. All routine administrative operations including the analysis of information and the search for optimal solutions within some given programmes will be performed much faster and in a more accurate way by electronic computers: a considerable part of bureaucracy would thus lose any raison d'être.

(c) Of all various strata of contemporary bureaucracy the only one which will surely survive are experts who make [95/96] and test the alternative programmes within the framework of the goals, criteria and established priorities of the accepted general politics. It is essential that the only remaining professional politicians—highly skilled administrators and executives—be strictly subordinated to the elected political bodies. In their hands still remains a considerable power of influence. In difference from other citizens they have free access to all avenues of information. They have more time than others to study data and to try to establish certain general trends. By mere selection and interpretation of data, by the choice of certain possibilities and the elimination of the others in the process of the preparation of alternative solutions, and finally by a biased presentation of the results of accepted programmes professional politicians can retain a considerable capacity to induce a desired course of action. In order to check this capacity and keep it within certain limits, several possibilities are open:

First, the subordination of professional politicians to the corresponding assemblies and councils of self-government must be as complete as to allow full responsibility and immediate replacement of any official.

Second, professional political experts will have different roles and to a certain extent different interests. They should not be allowed to form a political block or to control any kind of political organization. Their function of experts will be best performed if they eliminate any personal or group loyalties and any ideological considerations, and if they would be obliged to follow the principle of technological rationality, i.e., to try to find the most adequate means for the goals laid down by the elected representatives of people.

Third, their whole work should be critically examined by independent political scientists. Future society must pay very serious attention to the critical scientific study both of politics in general and of actual political practice. In difference from the present day "politicology", which is either apologetic or turned toward remote events, future society will need a political theory which will try to discover limitations in actual practice and which will not only study phenomena aposteriori, but will also make projections and prepare solutions parallel to the work of the experts in the state apparatus. [96/97]

(d) The most important and indeed revolutionary change in the political organization of the future society should be concerned with the determination of general policies, with the definition of general goals, and criteria of evaluation of possible alternative political programmes. It is not only the case that these key political functions must be radically democratized: the very idea of politics implicit in them will be fundamentally altered. According to Weber (11) politics is (1) the set of efforts undertaken in orders to participate in ruling or in order to influence the distribution of power either among the states or among different groups within one state, (2) this activity is basically the activity of the state, and (3) the state is "a relationship of domination of man over other man, based on the means of legitimate violence." Politics in this sense, as compared with true praxis, was characterized by Marx as the sphere of alienation. Political activity could then become praxis under the following conditions:

(1) Political praxis is the domination of man over things. Things, however, in the human world are the products of objectified human work. Therefore, political praxis is essentially a control and a rational direction of the social forces which, in fact, are les forces propres of the social man.

(2) The criterion of evaluation among various alternatives of this process is the satisfaction of authentic human needs in all the richness of their specific manifestations in the given historical conditions.

(3) The goal of political praxis is not the domination of one social group over the rest of society; therefore this is an activity which has universal character and concerns each human individual.

(4) Political praxis is not isolated from other modes of praxis. Contrary to alienated political activity, it is based on a philosophical vision of human nature and history; it need not violate moral norms; its choices presuppose a scientific knowledge of all real possibilities in the given historical situation. At last it contains also elements of a noble struggle, of a game, of an art. To act politically in a human way implies, among other things, "to create according to the laws of beauty." [97/98]

(5) Such an activity without subjugation, tutelage and fear is extremely attractive and becomes a daily need. By participating in such an activity the individual develops an important dimension of his social being and gets hold of ample space in which he can express many of his potential capacities and possibly affirm himself as a gifted, strong and creative personality.

This conception of political praxis is far from being only a piece of pure imagination or of philosophical poetry. All those who have participated in a really revolutionary movement have experienced what politics could be, for at least a limited period of time, when it is not a monopoly of a privileged elite. The question arises, however: is not every such attempt at the democratization and humanization of politics limited in time and eventually doomed to failure? Is it not possible only during the period of revolutionary transformation and destruction of the old power? Does not time and again a moment come when the principle of freedom has to be replaced by the principle of order, when a new social organization begins to function, when the revolutionary avant-garde becomes a new bureaucracy overnight? Is not there always the need for some kind of elite in a complex modern society?

The decisive new historical fact relevant to this question is that a considerable reduction of compulsory work and production, which will take place on a mass scale in an advanced future society, will liberate enormous human energies and talents for political life. The general education and culture, including political knowledge of these potential political "amateurs" need not be inferior to that of the "professionals". By participating in local communal life and in various voluntary organizations many of them have acquired satisfactory experience in public relations and the art of management. It should also not be overlooked that due to the penetration of modern mass media of communication into most of its corners and secrets, politics has been demystified to a large extent, and many of its institutions and personalities are losing the magic charm they had in the past. Thus the old-time distance in competence between the leaders of political organizations and their rank and file, and in general between a political elite and the large masses of people is being melted away. For the first time in history it becomes clear that in the social division of work there [98/99] is no need for a special profession of people who decide and rule in the name of others. Bureaucracy as an independent, alienated political subject becomes redundant.


That the socialist movement until this moment did not succeed in developing a consistent and concrete theory about the transcendence of bureaucracy and the political structure of the new society is the consequence of a really paradoxical development during the last two decades.

First, a series of revolutions took place in backward East European and Asian countries guided by a theory of democratic socialism, which was created in the conditions of relatively advanced Western capitalism. Marx would never call "socialism" an essentially bureaucratic society. He knew that in the initial place of industrialization really communal social control over the productive forces is not yet possible. That is why in Grundrisse der Kritik des Politischen Oekonomie he stated explicitly that such a possibility would be created in an advanced society in which "the relations of production will became universal, no matter how reified," in which man will no longer be directly governed by people but by "abstract reified social forces." Only then will the freely associated producers be able to put the whole process of social life under their conscious, planned control. But this requires a material basis "which is the product of a long and painful history of development". (12)

It is pointless to argue now to what extent Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were aware of the essential difference in the conditions in their country in 1917-1922 and the conditions under which Marx's theory of self-government were applicable. The fact is that Lenin and his collaborators did not believe that a socialist revolution in Russia would be successful without a revolution in the whole of Europe. The institution of the Soviets, introduced already during the First Russian revolution in 1905, was a specific form of self-government. Unfortunately, by the end of the civil war there were no longer Soviets and no longer a strong organized working class. In order to survive, in order to defeat external enemies, counter-revolutionary forces, white terrorism, hunger, [99/100] and to overcome the total economic collapse, the Bolshevik Party had no other alternatives but either to surrender or to proceed by military and bureaucratic methods. While this dilemma was a historical necessity, nothing of the sort can be said about the later crimes of Stalin's or about the purely ideological identification of this new type of post-capitalist bureaucratic society with socialism.

It follows then, that the revolutionary movement in Russia, China and other underdeveloped countries did not develop a theory about the supersession of bureaucracy by the system of self-government because historical conditions for such a radical change of the political structure did not yet exist.

Paradoxically enough, such a theory has not yet been developed by the New Left in much more favorable conditions. Due to the high level of material development, economic integration, education, and also to the considerable democratic achievements in the past, at least in some Western countries bureaucratization in the post-capitalist development is by no means the only and necessary way. Instead of looking for alternative forms of political organization based on the principle of self-government, a widespread attitude in the student movement and among the New Left is distrust toward any kind of political institutions. This kind of attitude is easy to understand as a violent reaction to the process of obvious degeneration of the revolutionary state in the victorious revolutions in the East. It involves, however, a mistaken generalization from experiences which have a specific regional character. A dialectical denial of the state is much less and at the same time much more than a contestation totale. Much less: because some of the functions and institutions of the state will have to survive and to be incorporated into the new political structure. Much more: because a total negation of the establishment is practically no negation at all. A real negation of the state is the abolition of its essential internal limit: a monopoly of power in the hands of a particular social group, use of apparently legitimate violence in order to project and promote the interests of this privileged elite. This abolition does not lead to anarchy and lack of any organized authority, but to an alternative really democratic system of management, without any external alienated power. [100/101]

To be sure, socialist democracy is not a perfect political form of society. Democracy does not secure the most rational and human solutions, even less does it guarantee human happiness—it is solely a form of social organization which offers optimal possibilities in the foreseeable future. Whether this possibility will be realized depends upon the creativity, imagination, strength of will, intellectual and moral power of personalities who happen to assume supreme political responsibilities at a certain moment, and also upon the mobilization of the best forces of the whole society.

In difficult moments of frustration and defeat (and these will always accompany man: any picture of future society as a state of permanent bliss is utterly unrealistic) there will always be attempts to retrogress from self-government to some more authoritarian political structure.

Therefore, it is of essential importance to undertake every measure to preclude alienation of that limited power which is concentrated in the hands of central bodies of self-government. This power must be temporary (implying a necessary rotation of individuals in possession of political authority); it must not bring with it any permanent place in the hierarchy of power, and by no means any material privileges, any salary exceeding incomes of highly qualified and creative workers and scientists. In order to hinder possible deformation of its political institutions, society should undertake in advance certain measures to protect itself from demagogy, lust for power, and potential "charismatic" leaders. Surely, the best protection is appropriate political education, development of a critical spirit, building up of a free and independent public opinion. This will be the most efficient way to identify promptly those retrogressive political tendencies and to secure mass resistance to them. The traditional collective psychological disposition to glorify, to adore, to be always ready for a new myth and a new cult of personality should be replaced by an attitude of criticism and a resistance to any potential Machtmensch, and to any authoritarian pattern of behaviour. In a future society this will be much easier to achieve then [sic] nowadays, not only due to new accumulated historical experience and greatly improved education, but also due to a new feeling of legal and economic security, which is, for most individuals, an indispensable psychological condition for critical public engagement. [101/102]

Ruling people like things is the fundamental social evil produced by previous history. The evil is double, because it degrades both the one who rules and the one who is being ruled. The radical supersession of this evil is historically possible in future post-industrial society.

But this possible future will become a practical human reality only if some essential preliminary steps toward it are made at once and now.


(1) John Locke, Treatise of Government, B. II ch. 2. 5.

(2) Jean Jacques Rousseau, Le Contract Social, I. ch. 1

(3) Condorcet, Progrés de l'Esprit Humain, Intr. to Epoque I.

(4) Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, transl. by Botto more in Marx's Concept of Man by Erich Fromm, York 1961,  p. 125.

(5) Marx, Theses on Feuerbach.

(6) Marx, Heilige Familie, MEGA V., p. 359.

(7) Marx, Capital, vol. I, Chicago 1906, p. 668.

(8) Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (Marx's Concept of Man ed. by Fromm, New York 1961, p. 127).

(9) Ibid, p. 140.

(10) Ibid, p. 127.

(11) Max Weber, Politik als Beruf, 1919.

(12) Marx, Das Kapital, Bd. 1, Kap. I C 4.

Commentary on Marković


Mathilde Niel

I would like to add several clarifications to the report of Professor Marković with which I agree. I agree especially with his remarkable analysis that the evil from which man is suffering today seems more profound than the early Twentieth century socialists themselves had imagined. Even though technical development and abundance may allow men of the industrialized countries to find a certain degree of happiness, new evils have arisen (various forms of mental pathology caused by the absence of creativity and solidarity in work, the rebirth of aggression, various tyrannies and authoritarian bureaucracies in the socialist countries, etc.). Hardly does man free himself from certain alienation (material misery, rigidly fixed moral religions, various fetishisms, etc.) when he tumbles into new alienations (the cult of Things, of technology, the idolatry of new leaders, the rebirth of nationalism). As Erich Fromm describes it in his work, by revolts and revolutions man comes to free himself negatively (freedom from), but he does this without arriving at the attainment of authentic liberty—positive liberty (freedom to). [102/103]

However, man is no more fundamentally evil (as psychoanalysis and existentialism would have him believe) than he is good (as the Rousseauists and the idealists claim. It is just that at the last stage of animal evolution the appearance of consciousness (of himself and of the world) created a unique situation for the human animal—a human situation (more than a human nature).

Because he is a conscious being, man experiences himself as cut off from his environment. Like every living being, he cannot live without feeling related to his environment. However at his level of consciousness he cannot unite himself with the world by instinct in the way an animal can; his problem is to unite himself humanly to the world. He must unite to the world while remaining completely autonomous—that is, fully personalized. But the problem of "relating to the world," which has to be resolved in a completely new way, poses serious difficulties for him. In fact, man seems to have two potentials in himself (we have here the problem of Good and Evil, but under a new form—non‑normative:

1) Man can relate creatively to the world, remaining autonomous (he achieves the productive synthesis of his own individual potentialities and the environment.). He relates to it by means of knowledge, manual work, scientific, literary, artistic and manual creativity, and by the use of cooperation, by friendship, and by solidarity. And what is more, he is able to do this daily, without having to wait for that ideal society of the future, whatever it may be.

2) But if the economic, social and cultural conditions and if the internal conditioning produced by education and the environment keep him from uniting with the world—thus if the soil in which he develops is poor, then the individual, unable to relate creatively to the world, will experience the feeling of his separation as an anguish which he seeks to escape by looking for a form of non-productive union which will give him back his security—unfortunately at the cost of his autonomy. This is how there arise religions, idolatries, mysticisms, various sacramentalizations, the need for possessions, the will for power, etc.

But the tragedy is that in his goal of finding a reassuring feeling of union, man is also led to identify with some sort of Absolute (Nation, God, Race, Ideology, or even his own Self). And he always places in opposition to this Absolute an [103/104] Anti-Absolute (the other Nation, the other Race, the other God, the other Ideology, the other Self). Then he tends to want to destroy that obstacle to his desire for union—thus to destroy the anti-Absolute and those men who appear to him to embody it. Rather than being creative, his behavior becomes violent and destructive; it is combat, war—it is what has been called Evil, what is nothing other than a deviant, pathological form of behavior.

As Erich Fromm has shown, a man who is unable to live in a creative and social manner is consequently led to live in a violent and destructive fashion. It is the same force, the same source which pushes him to be creative and responsible, or—if it veers from its course—to be aggressive and destructive.

For this reason, it seems necessary:

1) to be aware of the problem of man and his alienation, and to study it scientifically, and to educate the greatest possible number of men to understand it;

2) at the same time to work to transform the economic and social system whenever it tends toward a destructive sort of potential, so that the environment will permit man to live, in a practical way, cooperative and productive relationships (only the creative praxis can prevent identifications with the Absolute from being formed);

3) to begin to live, in our daily social action, the complementary union of autonomy and sensibility whenever the conditions of life will permit us to do so.

But it must not be forgotten that as long as man has these two potentials in him, no matter how perfect the economic and social conditions may be, he will always be ready to give in to alienation (that is, to become authoritarian, dependent, possessive, hateful, destructive). We will always have to be watchful in our social relations.

I think that this way of considering the human problem helps us to avoid the optimistic and the pessimistic outlooks for man, and that perhaps it answers to some extent the concerns of Professor Marković.

SOURCE: Marković, Mihailo. “Human Nature and Present Day Possibilities of Social Development,” in Tolerance and Revolution: A Marxist-non-Marxist Humanist Dialogue, edited by Paul Kurtz and Svetozar Stojanović (Beograd: Philosophical Society of Serbia, 1970), pp. 85-102 [Section I, Chapter V].

Note: Footnotes have been reformatted as endnotes for convenience of reference.

Niel, Mathilde. “Commentary on Marković,” pp. 102-104.

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Dialectical Theory of Meaning: Part Two: Linguistic Meaning (Extract) by Mihailo Marković

Dialectical Theory of Meaning: Part Three:
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