Subject: ON SOCIAL CLASS DIVISIONS IN SOCIETY AND WHY THEY MATTER.
13 March 2012
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
When I was still in my 20s teaching American history in Paris, I had the privilege of becoming acquainted with the American expatriate, Maria Jolas (1893-1987), who had been a personal friend of James Joyce (1882-1941) in the 1930s and during the Nazi Occupation of Paris risked her life to save his manuscritps. I worked with Ms. Jolas to collect the archives of the Paris American Committee to Stop-War (PACS, pronounced PAX), an American expatriate group who were active against the war in Vietnam. These documents are now safely housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.
Teaching history has its pitfalls: the powers-that-be simply do not welcome demystification, and teaching historical method they like even less. The surface study of phonetics, punctuation, rhetoric, syntax, cultural values, and cosmotoloty are about all that they can really abide for helping prepare youth at the Alter of the Reality Principle to find a job .
Anyway, I remember Maria telling me one evening in her crowded studio on Boulevard Raspail, “Francis, we are only one generation away from the Stone Age.” I laughed, of course, and replied that I thought she was exaggerating. I told her I believed we were one-half a generation away from human liberation. Civilization had corrupted human relationships, I believed, and I might live to see the day of a classless society. (Like many young teachers in the 1970s, I was hopelessly optimistic.)
Ms. Jolas didn’t argue with me, but simply shrugged her shoulders as if to say I would learn the truth one day . . . .
It was a pleasure conversing with traditional liberals like Maria. Deep down we shared the same hopeful vision of a better future for humanity, and we held the same strong feelings of contempt for Fascism. The words she spoke that late spring evening in her small book-lined appartment have stayed with me for these many years. Are we really just one generation away from pre-historic society?
As I try to inspire my Ph.D. students to conduct original research using reason and logic, to be sure, but also their intuition about what is important to learn, I discuss the historical method and its usefulness for discovering answers to important questions. In the first chapter (chapter 12) of the final volume of Science in History (1960), J. D. Bernal (1901-1971) brings to light the historical development of the social sciences in the context of social class struggle.
Particularly interesting in this chapter is his description of the systems of thought which preceded the social sciences, all of which he argues were products of social class interests. He begins his discussion by clearly laying out the premises from which he will make his argument :
The existence of classes and the exploitation of the poor by the rich have been for 4,000 years the most outstanding fact of social life. Yet in the ‘science’ of society far greater efforts have been made to pass it over or explain it away than to study it and work out the consequences of the fact itself. What social science needs is less use of elaborate techniques and more courage to tackle, rather than dodge, the central issues. But to demand that is to ignore the social reasons that have made social science what it is. To understand that we need first to look more deeply into its history. (Vol. IV, p.1030)
While the physical sciences are linked more directly than are the social sciences to changes in production methods, according to Bernal, the latter is linked far more closely than the former to changes in the economic and political institutions of society. The social sciences are also related to pre-scientific traditional ideologies of religion and philosophy. To understand the role of social science today it is necessary, therefore, to identify the internal developments of social science thought from the beginning of mankind.
Bernal begins with the ritual, myth and magic of Early Man: the purpose of the ritual and the myth was to secure food and other necessities in daily life. This practical belief in magical control of Nature by man also served to maintain social relationships. The existing social patterns were reproduced by the collective belief in magic and the practice of rituals. The strength of myth and ritual is still with us and in some cases has outlasted the religions of the past.
With civilization, the early magical and mythical analysis of society morphed into an analysis which became moral and rational. This new form contained much of the former mode of thought, but corresponded more to the organizational and technical necessities of city life. The process was a natural one, Bernal insists, and it unfolded over centuries according to different rates of material changes and produced parallel patterns in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, and much later in the civilizations of the Americas. The old tribal pictures are not destroyed, but they are given new meaning. The primitive irrational tribal customs of taboos and magical precepts, transformed under the influence of civilization into a rational moral order, the major purpose of which was to preserve social stratification and protect class privileges. Primitive societies were sufficiently egalitarian not to require the “internal sanctions of morals” or the “external sanctions of law.” With the appearance of civilization, this changed. (p.1032)
We see then how the practice of magic changed into a system morality under the influence of the ruling classes in early civilizations in different parts of the world. As in the physical sciences, the social sciences also saw in this period of early civilizations a split between theoretical and practical knowledge –the book learning of the “superior man” and the traditional lore of the ruled. In the early civilizations of China, India, and Greece, we see this division in early “social science” between the “gentlemen” philosophers of Confucius, the Brahmin of India, and the Greek philosophers, on the one hand; and the simpler knowledge from tradition-bound received ideas that are practiced by ordinary people. This concept of a secular social science, produced by a superior man or gentleman, not himself a ruler but an advisor to rulers and who knows what should be done and is willing, for a consideration of being respected and well looked after materially, to inform the ruler of the admirable behavior of his ancestors or the line of action indicated by pure reason, this practice of social science, including history, philosophy and a knowledge of classic literature, is still the basis of elite secular education, and continues to function in the service of the ruling class interests, today. (pp.1034-35)
In his description of the unfolding of social scientific thought, the product of changing material conditions, Bernal insists that “neither the religious nor the early secular expressions of social consciousness may properly be called science. They lack coherence, terminology, and logic. It was the Greeks, beginning in the 4th century B.C., who produced the first analytical and logical presentation of the social sciences. Indeed we owe to them the whole terminology of the subject: ethics, economics, politics, and history itself are all Greek terms. The debates, the revolutions, the wars of the Greek city states all turned on social questions, in which the division of the classes was the most prominent.” Aristotle’s objective was to find some system which should provide social harmony while not abandoning class privileges. This was the purpose of his “golden mean.”
The major contribution of the Greeks to social science was their success in abstraction, in finding words to express common elements in diverse situations without always having to refer to particular instances. This made discussion possible, but it also made it far too easy to use abstract words as if they referred to self-subsistent things, and by an abuse of logic to draw from them conclusions to fit any preconceptions. . . . This abuse of abstraction was somewhat mitigated in the physical sciences, where at least abstractions could be counted and measured. In the social sciences abstract categories have proved to be unmitigated nuisances and obstructions. The values and ideals that the Greeks had words for still plague us to this day. (pp.1036-1037)
Nevertheless, as in the case of the physical sciences, any serious attempt to formulate a scientific study of society must henceforth stem from Greek sources. . . . In the history of social sciences a major task has been to break the chains of conformist belief enshrined in the work of Plato and Aristotle, a task which has taken much longer in the social than the natural sciences and which is not yet complete.(p.1038)
The Roman contribution to social science was not so much philosophy as in law.
It was knowledge acquired the hard way, first by agreement through the use of brute force, then eventually by settlements through compromise between patricians and plebeians within the city; then by conquering, exploiting, and administering the Empire. Roman law was the most complete codification of the conditions of domination of society by the holders of money and political power. In Roman law the rights of property were paramount. Property included, and indeed largely consisted of, slaves, so that the most appalling private injustice could be approved in the name of public justice. . . . [Roman law] remained for centuries the framework in which the literate could see society in a rational way. The study of law was to be one of the ways in which the nature of society was to be rediscovered after the Dark Ages.(pp.1038-1039)
The early Churches of the Middle Ages would carry social science to a new level. The new ruling class, the barbarian nobility, replaced the traditional Roman patricians in Europe, and the institutionalization of spirituality by the Christian religion, worked like a molecular mixture of dirt and water, creating a permanent mixture of cloudy water, one element indistinguishable for the other. Of course, magic and rituals, philosophical abstractions and laws were never completely abandoned by the new rulers, for they continued to serve aristocratic class interests, but a new emphasis on faith and belief was promoted by the Christian Church. This, in turn, produced new concepts such as heresy and blasphemy, out of which a new social criticism would emerge.
The great medieval scholastic disputations were largely about social questions, particularly questions of government, as for example on the respective spheres of Pope and Emperor. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (1266-73) lays down the character of a just society , conformable to scripture and reason, while Dante in his Divina Commedia (1308-21) presents this world view as a background to the turbulent life of Italian cities.
The general conception of both saint and poet was in harmony with an integral and hierarchical society, so well established as to seem natural, in which the parts were mutually dependent and in which everyone had his right place.(pp.1042)
The period of the Renaissance and Reformation in 15th and 16th century Europe saw the emergence of a nouveaux riches; this new bourgeoisie would challenge again and again the political power held by the traditional aristocracy of Europe. The emerging ruling class struggled in the name of ‘humanism” to gain political power. Writers such as Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), François Rabblais (1494-1553), Miguel Cervantes (1547-1616), and Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) represented this challenge to the traditional ruling classes. Literary works such as these contain more social science, writes Bernal, than that of all the Renaissance philosophers and moralists combined.
The majority of Renaissance philosophers, dependent as they were on princely favour, deliberately and prudently avoided social questions and concentrated on the individual man’s attack on Nature . . . .(p.1046)
The real new birth of bourgeois social science came with the great religious, national, and class struggles of the late sixteenth and middle seventeenth centuries. To justify rebellion against the King of Spain, or the cutting off of King Charles’ head, necessitated an inquiry into the ultimate purposes of society. The social criticisms of Lilburne and Winstanley and the actions of their fellow Levellers and Diggers were the early forms of a combined theoretical study and practical reform of the social order. But that movement was premature, and subsided in the general European reaction of the latter part of the seventeenth century. More acceptable for the time was the analysis by Hobbes (1588-1679) of the collective nature of society, leading to his demand for a strong government to control the corporate Leviathan.(p.1047)
The 18th-century Enlightenment introduced political and economic theory to the social sciences, and the relations between the physical and social sciences again became very close. John Locke (1633-1704), a personal friend of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), was a founding member of the Council of Trade (1696), which represented the first organized attempt to apply new mathematical methods to business transactions. The eternal laws which were discovered to governed the universe, it was thought, might have counterparts in society, and “with a good constitution there was no reason why anything should change again.” (p.1049)
Following this same mechanical model of cause and effect, Adam Smith (1723-1790) published in 1776 his classic work on the capitalist system, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which became “the bible of the new industrial capitalism.”
It deals primarily with a new kind of being, economic man, a creature living by labour and the exchange of his products with his fellow men, and always making the most advantageous terms he can. Adam Smith explained how these activities has always been restricted in the past by ancient custom, feudal rights, or mercantilist regulators. Now as last he saw in this new enlightened age the prospect of achieving a natural order of society, in which economic man would be able to carry out his activities free from all restrictions. This was bound to lead to the best possible results, for, according to the laws of economics, the pursuit of self-interest, in any way short of actual crime, could only result in the maximum satisfaction for all. There was no need for legislative interference, indeed, it was nearly always harmful, for was not man ‘led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention’?
Laisser-faire economics was presented as a natural order, replacing the providence of God or the wisdom of princes. At the time it represented a great and liberating doctrine, and provided the foundations for a logical method of economic thought which has outlived the conclusions which Adam Smith drew from it, and which we can recognize today, more than 200 years later. (p.1052)
Toward the end of the same century, the French Revolution brought a change in the composition of the ruling classes, as the nouveaux riches achieved political power. The order of 18th-century civilization was effectively challenged, as being “corrupt” and “tyrannous,” and for a while the idea that “men as men, and not by virtue of rank and wealth, had rights needing to be respected” fit the interests of the new ruling class.
[However the] bourgeois protagonists found themselves as anxious to vindicate the right of private property –including in America, that of slave owning—against the mob as they had been against the king. Most popular thinkers were of their persuasion, though Babeuf (1769-1797) in France had the daring to claim the liberation of man from his economic as well as his political chains, and was executed in consequence. Up till then the working classes had been ignored in official sociology, except as convenient units in agricultural production or hands for manufacture. They were in fact, at that time, too weak and unorganized to make any serious bid for power. (p.1059)
Before the end of the century the upper bourgeoisie in England were securely in power and the Industrial Revolution was enriching them as never before, and together with the French Revolution and even the Napoleonic wars, which many perceived as "sweeping away the reactionary regimes of Europe," great sympathy was aroused among the people, and bourgeois social science had to adapt in order to repress this threat to their social new order. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) captured this new spirit of the times:
Europe at that time was thrilled with joy
France standing at the top of golden hours,
And human nature seeming born again . . .
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven!
The consolidation of power by the new ruling class, as might be expected, can be seen in the field of social science. Bourgeois liberalism at the turn of the century incorporated the great school of utilitarianism with the writings of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), who sought to demonstrate that with the removal of abuses there was no reason to doubt that free enterprise should bring “the greatest happiness to the greatest number.” At the same time, the bourgeoisie found the theories of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) also convenient, that a surplus population must be controlled by periodic famine, plague, and war --thus discouraging all attempts to improve the human condition.
The ‘dismal science’ of economics palpably aimed at justifying everything as it was, and justifying it at a time when to the poorest classes, indeed to anyone other than a successful manufacturer, it appeared that something was very much wrong. In the wealthiest industrial country of the world, in the most flourishing commercial centres that were the pride of the age, there was famine and pestilence, and everywhere ignorance and social insecurity were multiplied on a scale that had never existed before. All this had to be explained and excused; no room must be left for any human feeling; pitiless and inevitable law must take their place. The economics, the logic, and the psychology of the mid-nineteenth century were accordingly constructed in the driest imitation of physical science, and were as far removed from living actuality as they could be. (pp.1061-62)
Bernal goes on to discuss in this chapter the dissident intellectuals, including romantics like Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), and utopian socialists like Frances Wright (1795-1852) and Robert Owen (1751-1858), but the advance in social science truly came, according to Bernal, with the discoveries of scientific socialism by Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friederich Engels (1820-1895), whose research brought new understandings of how societies function: the theory of “Historical Materialism” posited simply that “material conditions have influenced ideas more than ideas have influenced material conditions” and could be tested by anyone knowledgeable of the method of “Dialectical Materialism,” whereby the researcher is looking for certain types of phenomena to penetrate surface appearances and understand what gives rise to these appearances and what deep significance lays beyond them –probing into the past and into the future. This, of course, is the science of the future “ruling class,” according to Marx, the working class who, once they capture political power from the bourgeoisie, will be capable of producing, with the help of this advanced social science, a new society liberated from economic inequality, free of punishing social class divisions, and protected from the exploitation and artificial scarcity that has been reproduced generation after generation by the private ownership of property.
In the mean time, however, there has arrived a new ally for the ruling class: Positivism was introduced into the sciences, and in the social sciences it is alive and well today and continues to serve as a guardian of the social order with its ruling class domination, but this is the subject of another chapter in J.D. Bernal’s book on Science in History . . . .
In the 7 items below CEIMSA readers might recognize the important role played by social class relations in contemporary society and what methods are best suited for understanding where their particular interests are located in this tumultuous storm called “capitalist globalization” (also known as “the last gasp”).
Item A., from San Diego community organizer, Monty Kroopkin, is an announcement for the meeting of Movement for a Democratic Society on March 31 in San Diego, California.
Item B., from TruthOut, is a report by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on the odd smell of political money.
Item C., from CODE PINK, is call for action against Drone Warfare “Killing by Remote Control.”
Item D., sent to us by The Real News Network,is a report by Jihan Hafiz in Athens on peoples' reaction to the latest debt restructuring plan.
Item E., from TruthOut, is an analysis of “The 1% Recovery” by Mike Konczal.
Item F., from The Real News Network, is a short video coverage on “Occupy AIPAC Opposes War and Sanctions Against Iran.”
Item G. is a letter from If American Knew describing the “Rachel Corrie Billboard Project in Michigan.”
And finally, we offer CEIMSA readers a short 13-minute video depicting a humanist cry against the structures of human exploitation :
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Monty Kroopkin :
Date: 8 March 2012
Subject: Movement for a Democratic Society.
Brothers and Sisters, this may interest some of us. I don't personally put much emphasis on electoral activity. I don't condemn people who put energy there, either. I do see a high priority need for a general strike movement and a high priority on stronger independent organization of the working class majority (including the unemployed, the working poor, and middle income workers).
- Monty Kroopkin
organizer for Movement for a Democratic Society
The Fight for the General Strike Movement: History, Opportunities, Goals and a democratic Workers Party
A Call for a Conference on General Strike & Workers Struggle
At: 518 Valencia/16th St., San Francisco, CA
March 31 (Saturday) 2012 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM,
Saturday Night Forum 7:00 -10:00 PM Lessons of Longview & Occupy
April 1 (Sunday) 9:00 - 12 Noon
The American working class is currently on the losing side of a class war. Despite mass unemployment, attacks on workers’ wages, pensions, and medical plans, organized labor does little or nothing. Public health and safety services are failing and disappearing. Public services from the post office to the public schools are underfunded. Not since the last Great Depression have Americans witnessed such economic devastation. Yet organized labor has failed to mobilize working people to resist these daily attacks. Instead, they rely on the Democratic Party to “fix things.”
While organized labor sleeps, the Occupy Movement, which includes rank and file workers, has demonstrated that working people and youth can and will organize to fight back.
In November 2011, two million public workers in the United Kingdom went out on a general strike, protesting the attacks on public workers. Throughout the world, workers are mobilizing and using their collective strength to resist these ongoing attacks on the working class. In the US, the 12/12/11 shut down of the West Coast docks demonstrated the power of workers in a mass action against capital. This action was attacked, however, by establishment union officials who labeled this militant grass-roots strike “a third party action” in violation of established union contracts. Other union officials attacked the Occupy Movement for not getting approval from the union leadership before acting.
In fact, what the working class in this country needs is more radical actions to move towards a sustained nationwide general strike. We must smash the Taft-Hartley law as well as other anti-labor laws that inhibit the right to strike and the unification of the working class.
Only a unified, world-wide working class can possibly hope to rectify the societal injustices existing today. We must challenge and ultimately defeat the multi-nationals which control the world economies and are destroying the planet.
While billions are cut from social services and education, the US government and the Congress continue to fund trillions for wars abroad and for the militarization of police departments at home.
Only a democratic labor movement culminating in the formation of a democratic workers’ party can institute a workers’ program. Only a class orientated party can organize the fight for working class liberation. The fight against concessions, give-backs and sell-outs by a pro-capitalist trade union movement must be stopped. Working people are suffering and dying because of so-called austerity measures being introduced by the ruling class. Institutional violence is as deadly as any weapon used in war.
We must also oppose the racist campaign against Blacks, Latinos and the Arab community. The continuing terrorist attacks on immigrant workers are used to divide workers and pit them against each other instead of focusing on the capitalist economic system that produced this crisis. We must organize to fight back! We are fighting for our lives and the lives of our children. We are fighting for future generations. For the first time in human history, the very life of the planet is at stake. We must prevail. There is no other option.
Your thoughts and opinions are important. Please join us.
The following trade unionists, workers and organizations call for a national conference to help build this movement and party. We call for this conference to be held in San Francisco on March 31, 2012 through April 1, 2012.
Endorsed By United Public Workers For Action www.upwa.info
The Fighting Union Caucus (Iowa) http://fightingunionia.wordpress.com
CAPS Fighting Union Caucus http://stateworker.wordpress.com
For more information contact (415) 867-0628 (510) 385-7308
from TruthOut :
Date: 9 March 2012
Subject: Making money the easy way.
On Tuesday, Texas financier Robert Allen Stanford was convicted in a Houston federal court on 13 out of 14 criminal counts of fraud…. But what most of this week's stories failed to mention was the large amount of his clients' cash that was spent on campaign contributions, greasing the corrupt nexus of money and politics for personal gain. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to candidates, including Barack Obama, John McCain, John Boehner and Harry Reid; as well as national fundraising committees for the Republican and Democratic parties.
Politicians Won't Return Ponzi Payoffs
by Michael Winship, Moyers & Co.
from CODE PINK :
Date: 13 March 2012
Subject: Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.
Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control
from The Real News Network :
Date: 13 March 2012
Subject: The Greek Resistance.
Jihan Hafiz reports from Athens on peoples' reaction to the latest debt restructuring plan . . . .
from TruthOut :
Date: 11 March 2012
Subject: The Rich get Richer and the Poor . . . .
As the one percent reap 93 percent of the income gains from the recovery, we're rapidly returning to pre-New Deal levels of inequality … It's important to remember that a series of choices were made during the New Deal to react to runaway inequality, including changes to progressive taxation, financial regulation, monetary policy, labor unionization, and the provisioning of public goods and guaranteed social insurance. A battle will be fought over the next decade on all these fronts."
Welcome to the One Percent Recovery
by Mike Konczal
from The Real News Network :
Date: 12 March 2012
Subject: Occupy AIPAC and Stop the War Before it Begins.
Occupy AIPAC Opposes War and Sanctions Against Iran
from If Americans Knew :
Date: 9 March 2012
Subject: Billboard project, Rachel Corrie materials.
Not long ago, a billboard in Michigan exhorted passers-by to “Stand with Israel, our friend and ally.”
This was a chilling message for those following the horrors in Palestine/Israel and the history of US-Israel relations – and, for some enterprising Michigan residents, it was also a call to action.
They worked with If Americans Knew to put up a billboard on Feb. 6 with the message: “$8 million per day to Israel? Our money is needed in America!”
The billboard directs viewers to our website , where a picture of the billboard links to a page with information about the costs of aid to Israel .
We are excited to build on this project in the coming year and try out more ways to communicate directly to mainstream Americans.
Many thanks to the dedicated supporters in Michigan who made this project possible – and to all of you who have helped us start 2012 stronger than ever!
Thank you for reading and for your commitment to peace and justice.
If Americans Knew
3020 El Cerrito Plaza #157
El Cerrito California 94530
* We also want to thank all of you who support If Americans Knew’s sister organization, the Council for the National Interest. These two organizations work in tandem, but our missions and approaches are distinct and both organizations maintain separate projects that we believe are critical in the struggle for justice.