Tomorrow May Not Be the Same: Alienation

Mike Quille (MQ) interviews Graham Stevenson (GS) for Communist Review in 2014.

MQ: In the first article[1] in this series, Chris Guiton focused on a specific area of life, housing.  In this one we’re discussing the subject of alienation, a concept with a wide application over a number of areas of life.  Before looking at some of those in more detail, I wonder if we could stay with housing issues for a moment, and whether you could explain the relevance of the concept of alienation to the issues around housing that Chris identified?

GS: If you think about the nature of the housing market today, there screams loud the contradiction between the basic need for somewhere to live and the unnatural desire for bloated wealth – especially in British weather and economic conditions!  Homes have become a key part of our commodified economy – so much so that business is reliant on the housing market for growth, and property-buying of property as an investment device (or tax dodge) by those who do not need family homes can make life more difficult for young people trying to start in one. 

There are many ways in which housing issues show how alienation applies today.  Humans are alienated from product.  New houses are more about look than practical living, let alone green concerns.  The very design of homes is more to do with the ease of production that with the needs of people.  Rooms are too small, and the construction is flimsy. 

Our housing estates become alienated from the natural world by the casual disregard for wildlife, where the sun sets, what prevailing winds there are, gardens for pleasure, tarmac or gravel on front gardens instead, and parking on the roads.  We build houses on every new brownfield site, so that old factories become housing estates, leaking toxicity everywhere.  Urban sprawl is offset against the isolation of rural communities; housing estates usually lack all necessary community provision except a pub, if you’re lucky, and an off-licence where the kids hang out.

We become alienated from other people when private estates demand walls against social housing, or when architects plan roads so that some housing is in cul-de-sacs and others become rat runs.  We even become alienated from ourselves, when we are wealthy and demand fortified boundaries, lights, alarms, and no man’s land between ourselves and others. 

In socialist society, housing would become more a right than an obligation. Minimising The home would be less of a commodity.  We would see unused big houses subdivided sensitively into decent flats, with a range of bedroom options from one to many.  Rents would be controlled, set at a suitable recognised proportion of income, and ensuring adherence to rights and responsibilities on both sides.  Buying a home would need to be within a controlled market, with local authorities dominating it.  Perhaps in suburban and rural communities, we would see more detached houses in democratic managed living spaces. Devolving local authorities serving hundreds of thousands of people to smaller communities of a thousand, with adequate funding, should see the popular management of communal local services such as crèches, a local lending library, a community hall, and sports centre. 

Accommodation of all kinds would become eased by more communal living. How often have we heard how nice it was not to lock your back door and to be able to ‘borrow’ a cup of sugar anytime?  We needn’t fear the notion of communal. Isn’t the neighbours’ barbeque already a feature of life?  And friends already bring food to dinner parties.  Without stretching into 1960s commune territory, we could easily begin to imagine a less commodified society.  

Alienation from the Product 

MQ: OK, thanks, let’s move on then to look in more detail at the four kinds of alienation, starting with alienation from the product.  What does that mean in practice for people at work?  What would be the difference in a socialist and communist society?

GS: For Marx, money is the ‘alien’; his critique is of social systems based on commodity production, which turn everything, as he says in On the Jewish Question, “into alienable, vendible objects in thrall to egoistic need and huckstering.  Selling is the practice of alienation.”  When people take up religion, they objectify an alien and fantastic being.  The religion of commodity production, or egoistic need, ends in attributing “the significance of an alien entity, namely money.”[2]  Alienation arises from the transformation of everything into commodity.  Even people are converted into ‘things’ and society is fragmented into isolated individuals.  Expressing this approvingly, Thatcher once famously said that “there is no such thing as society”.[3]  

In the Theses on Feuerbach, Marx tells us that we are all “products of circumstances and upbringing” and that life experiences change perceptions and beliefs.[4]  This recalls the so-called ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, but Marx avoids posing one against the other, placing the nature of humanity precisely in the realm of actuality, and urging that “it is men who change circumstances”.  Humanity, in the Marxist view, is not made by some outside conscious agency, as humans are able to think and to act.  This defines us as able to unite both theory and practice, interacting in a continuous modification of human nature: “By thus acting on the external world and changing it, [man] at the same time changes his own nature”.[5]  

So, we don’t simply wait upon some perfect society to acquire a socialist outlook.  Alienated humanity can produce an unalienated society through the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. These enemies of humanity restrict the nature of people, turning them against each other.  It is in the struggle in unions, in national liberation movements, in a Marxist political party, that humans begin to gain a truly human attitude, changing our nature by developing our “slumbering powers”.4  The ultimate victory for those who would struggle for a communal society is the end of alienation.  ‘Alienation’ is thus used by Marxists to define how they see class-structured societies deforming human relations, separating humans from their essential nature. 

Marx introduced the concept of what he called the “fetishism of commodities”.[6]  If we recall that Victorian society was then discovering and converting many ancient cultures to Christianity, finding unusual ritual object-practices, it may become a little clearer why Marx used this term.  Freudian thinkers later acquired the term to describe how objects can become a fixation when they act as sexual triggers.  Fetishising things with a kind of religious zeal disguises the true nature of human relationships.  So, commodity fetishism isn’t a sexual deviancy (!) but a way of relating to people defined by things.

Whilst we have all wondered what on earth the point can be to a multi-billionaire adding another few billion to their pile, this is but one form of insanity that makes no sense to any unalienated human being.  Native North Americans simply could not grasp the notion that a gift from Englishmen for allowing them to live nearby had meant that they had acquired the land by purchase.  ‘How can anyone possess land?’ they complained.  Indeed!  The fixation of our world, that commodities are the only feasible means of obtaining goods and services, was incomprehensible to all hunter-gatherer societies.  Which group of humans was more human, more sensible? 

A commodity is not just something bought and sold; actually it’s a rather strange thing.  Marx’s view is that commodities capture human labour within themselves.  The relationships between people get caught up in the relationship between things.  Whilst people may not feel alienated, many grasp that we are not what we could be.  The sheer task of survival and the boredom of workaday life is known to most of us.  So, in hobbies if not in work, people try to combat any lack of control that prevents them from being their true selves. 

In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels sum this up by saying that “the vocation, designation, task of every person is to achieve all-round development of all his abilities”.[7]  In truly free labour, we value what we do, not by the value of commodities but by gaining pleasure from our own achievements.  A state of being alienated means that society is forcing individualism upon us; whereas the true nature of humanity is to value communal outlooks and activities which enable our sense of individual self to come into a state of full flowering.  Even in modern society most of us contribute to the common good in one way or another.  When we work for others, our work is an alienation of our own lives, for we work in order to live.  Our work is not our lives. 

The very struggle to maintain life means that our entire life is managed via commodities; even our labour power is exchanged for cash to get the things we want.  Yet the gleam of socialism exemplified by independent self-activity is ever present – because, strangely, money does not buy you happiness!  In The Holy Family, Marx and Engels say that capitalists and proletarians are equally alienated although they experience their own alienation in markedly different ways.[8] The wealthy and powerful know full well that they are somehow marked out as being different but see their own alienation as a badge of their elitism.  Working people ultimately always know that they are powerless, and they can sometimes express this in highly destructive ways.

Production and consumption are largely private experiences embodied in things and not in a person-to-person exchanges, involving common interest – as we would normally expect, say, in a community or campaign group, when embodiment is in people.  In our world, ‘The customer is always right’ in our world only because we want them to buy something, not because we care about their likes and dislikes as a human being.  The money-god dominates social relations, hardly involving people.  ‘The market’ becomes a thing, almost a person.  How often have we heard on the news an expression from the news-reader such as ‘The market was gloomy yesterday but today rallied and showed signs of positive jubilation’?  It’s almost as if they are describing someone rising from their sick bed and dancing in the streets with a bottle of bubbly in their hands! 

This brings us to yet another complicated and difficult word that appears in Marxist thinking on alienation: ‘reification’.  We might call this the ‘thinging’ of human relations! – or, more elegantly, devaluing human relations to the point of being just like things, or attributing to a thing the qualities of a living organism.  ‘Objectification’ of human beings, such as viewing women as sex-objects, is comparable.  When 19th century mill owners advertised jobs for ‘hands’, they did more than just demean their employees, they objectified them.

After the end of feudalism, people accepted a new kind of servitude.  Perversely, this was an advance since it allowed civil society to develop more, but the rule of money led to the growth of egoistic need.  Now the market almost seems to be making all the decisions, filled with human – even super-human – powers, and people become unaware of the real nature of ideological, political and economic relations. 

Alienation from Nature

MQ: Fine, now alienation from the natural world.  What does that mean in practice in our lives?  What would be the difference in a socialist and communist society?

GS: The great shibboleths today are ‘supply and demand’, not being able to buck the market, not having a thing such a ‘free lunch’.  These supposed iron laws of society are actually no more than justifications for selfishness and inequality of power and wealth.  

Yet, as Marx wrote in 1844: “The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world.”[9]  Whether it’s heating, clothing, or nourishment, we humans use nature as a kind of organic extension of ourselves. The contradiction is that we remain far from the natural world, only engaging with it in processed form, being alienated from it.

Engels wrote on nature in his 1883 Dialectics of Nature and other texts.  While the intervening period has seen a massive rise in scientific knowledge, his writings were a start to thinking about humanity and nature in the context of social and economic developments – instead of believing that our destruction of nature is a matter of just the way things are.  Today, more people are minded to question how we treat the planet, yet we shop at Tesco, which has a system of processed commodities imported from every corner of the globe.  What is ‘nature’ now?  Our gardens, perhaps, a National Trust reserve certainly.  The hedgerows of a concrete motorway?  Town parks, zoos? 

But without organic life, we die.  Ultimately, humans do not stand outside of nature but belong to it.  We can’t really understand any environmental issue if we don’t take into account the economic system.  Reducing personal carbon footprints by selfless denial through lifestyle changes helps us understand how more sustainable living might appear.  However, just as fighting for equality, one person at a time, produces only well-paid careers, fighting for a green future by putting the right refuse in the right colour carton doesn’t change much, except make ourselves feel better, albeit less alienated maybe?  Serious state action against powerful economic interests is the only short-term way to check environmental disaster. 

Politics and the environment are totally linked.  Amur tigers were once found throughout Siberia and parts of Asia, but by the 1930s the species was on the brink of extinction.  The USSR became the first country in the world to grant the species full protection, so that the population had increased twelve-fold up to the 1980s.  The demise of the Soviet Union then saw great reverses as conservation and cross-border anti-poaching efforts were challenged by looser regulation, a lack of funding, and lawlessness.

Nature isn’t just green stuff.  Our society remains alienated from other animals and thus from nature itself.  Even when we take animals into our home, as with pet cats, their needs are commodified, whilst we anthropomorphise and fail to recognise that these are essential wild creatures which have become socialised to ourselves – nice to us as honorary cats when we feed and play with them but wild in their thinking about small furry and feathery things!

In socialism and then even more in communism, we would see a close connection with the natural world.  We’d see more parks, more national parks.  Perhaps the NHS, fully restored to look after humans from the cradle to the grave, from teeth to toes, will nurture all living biology?  

Not only is it wrong to commodify human body parts, or medical procedures, so too is it immoral that species become endangered primarily because of economic difficulties.  The market in big cat anatomy or elephant tusks created by humans is a completely fake worth.  A different approach in socialism will see more reserves and protected species and more involvement of communities in the safeguarding of the future of nature.  The plains in Africa should see lions roam free and wild and every school student should be able to see wild life in its natural habitat at minimal cost and with maximum educational benefit.  

In a sense, under communism we won’t have any rules – not rules that govern people, at any rate, only for the administering of things.  Socialism starts us along the road of understanding what is madness and what is behaving sensibly. This should be seen in most energy issues.  We ought to be able to function well enough with renewables, with proper investment. 

Alienation from Oneself and Others

MQ: What about alienation from other people? What does that mean in practice for people with mental health issues, or at work? What would be the difference in a socialist and communist society?

GS: It has been well observed that the Western world is subject to a sweeping malaise of mental illness, and that this worsens with public spending cuts.  Anxiety and depression are at a serious unprecedented level, as far as causing major absences from work.  Alcoholism, drug addiction, and other self-harming behaviours proliferate.  More than that, some experts on personality disorders and high-conflict behaviour point to a signal rise in all-or-nothing thinking, unmanaged emotions, extreme behaviours, such as over-entitlement sensing, and the blaming of others, as facets of a current dominant culture that could be dubbed a “borderline society”[10], a phrase rooted in a now archaic description of a particular malaise.  A related disorder, the so-called anti-social personality disorder, usually attributed predominantly in men, is also often linked to those who become locked up in an insatiable prison system.  One study of 62 surveys from 12 countries covering nearly 23,000 prisoners suggested 65% had a personality disorder, with 47% diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, about ten times the rate in the general population.

The suggestion is that the prevalence of such disorders has been boosted because of the stresses of isolated family life, fragmented economic and social structures, challenging gender roles, increased divorce rates, and greater geographical mobility.  In such a “borderline society” Tony Blair enjoyed pop-star rating before his Iraq venture, President Bush II also got high approval ratings, while a little leg-up from the media gave votes to UKIP – and Boris Johnson could get elected in London!  This is surely connected to that fact that we can produce celebrities known for being celebrities, and that vacuous pop stars are adored and adulated – a culture that creates an environment where celebrities are alienated from real life, enabled to do what they like, whether incorrect or illegal, because their fame lets them get away with it.  

Socialism, and more especially communism, will begin to end the many social problems that have their seeds in class conflict, but it won’t be paradise.  There will still be lots of human problems, even those of a psychological nature.  But under socialism, humanity should see a marked decrease in what is currently termed Cluster B Personality Disorders.[11]  These are often called the dramatic, emotional, and erratic PD cluster. (Cluster A includes eccentric behaviours and Cluster C the anxious, or fearful.)  People with a PD are not able to do anything other than offer a set response mechanism within that type, whilst neuro-typical persons are able to reach for a range of approaches.

Cluster B PDs include: borderline, with its polarised and angry thinking; narcissistic, betraying a powerful sense of entitlement; histrionic, with its attention-seeking; and antisocial, a pervasive disregard for the rights of others. These disorders share behavioural problems with particularly poor impulse control and emotional regulation at the core.  Less disordered societies see these tendencies more as extreme personality traits.  Modern capitalist society has nurtured inflexible versions that cause impairment which severely interferes with a person’s ability to function well in society, damaging interpersonal relationships and causing sufferers and close ones stress-related medical ill-health.

The nature of socialism, with legality as its core modus operandi, contradicts those types.  In primitive communism, prior to the rise of late Bronze Age-early Iron Age elites, social ostracism and then banishment were the main devices used to control these impulses.  Once socialism transforms into communism such disorders in the main should trend back into becoming more of a trait than anything else. Care in the community should mean just that. 

Mental ill-health beyond the PD Clusters would still be unresolvable without powerful narcotics.  But attempts by wider society to spot and tackle problems in children when something can be done would be more efficacious.  Currently no child is ever diagnosed as having a PD because of the requirement that they are seen to represent enduring problems across time.  But strong personality trends in children can be seen.  To pick up mental illness trends, and address them, socialism would need more interconnection between the health, social work and education services, and an end to their financialisation.  Under communism the caring responsibilities of doctors, teachers and social workers will be massively enhanced in role and importance, meaning that problems will be spotted quickly. 

Before the rise of the commodity economy, members of special elites were often those with special qualities – insight, judgement, healing or even a capacity for visions (often enhanced by drugs).    A more rational version has almost been upon us with poets, art, and artists. Perhaps socialism’s jobs under communism will become more vocations, with everyone having their special subject as themselves, with individual enhanced self-worth within society, not above it?

Alienation at the Workplace

MQ: Yes, but what about alienation in the workplace?

GS: The lack of job satisfaction is a key area where alienation damages us in our world and time.  Managements have even begun to employ a variety of psychological techniques, including ‘personality profiling’ – to pigeonhole workers – and ‘positive psychology’ check-lists –what might be termed ‘creating a happier workforce’!  The most insidious method is ‘psychometric testing’, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test,[12] which relies on the theories of Carl Jung.  Basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment are supposed to be naturally grouped.  Thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition are supposedly expressed in predictable ways. 

Some modern management theorists suggest that happiness at work comes when there are as few negative emotions as possible; a higher level arises if you often rely on character strengths.  But great gratification arises when you use your character strengths in the service of some cause larger than yourself.  Employment psychology suggest these states feed into three kinds of work: a job, a career, and a calling.  With the latter, it is said, workers experience a psychological state known as “flow”[13], when the challenges you face mesh perfectly with your abilities to meet them and you lose sense of time and self.

As we know well, the very nature of work has changed dramatically over the centuries and over the decades.  Even so, most people well understand the notion that the lives we lead in paid employment are often not very fulfilling.  Many people may be lucky enough to attain an element of contentment in their working lives but nearly all of us find ourselves at odds with the purpose of what we do for a living. 

There’s a popular song from the Second World War where a cheerful refrain goes something like: “It’s the girl that makes the thing that holds the oil that oils the ring that works the thing-ummy-bob that’s going to win the war.”[14] The point of this was to emphasise that any sense of disconnection between menial tasks performed by factory workers engaged in wartime production was disloyal.  Everyone could take comfort in the fact that whatever they did was helpful and, ultimately, courageous.  Unfortunately, such simplicities do not suffice for most within the capitalist mode of production.

In the world of work under socialism, there should be much more opportunity for people to get the sort of job they want, providing they are qualified for it.  Of course, supply of particular types of job will not be infinite, and sometimes – as recent developments in Cuba have shown – people will need to change employment.  However, whatever job you have, your pay (and that of your partner if you have one) should be capable of sustaining you and your immediate family.  Adequate childcare, universal benefits and generally reduced housing costs should mean that children are no worse off in single-parent families.

We would destroy food banks as alien, an abomination to human beings.  You want food, you should have it.  The very idea of having a food bank is senseless.  Under socialism some will still need state benefits and there will be some regulation of that but infinitely fairer than now and with the sole aim of matching people up to jobs where they feel valued and can develop their potential.  Tasks which are currently regarded as menial – eg waste collection and disposal, cleaning, sewage management – need to be regarded much more highly by society.

People should be able to learn new ways of work, not be pigeon-holed for life. People can change, people do change, expand and develop. It might be possible to spend, say 5 years being a bus driver because you always fancied that and then to retrain, again, to do something else … be a teacher … or vice versa.  Planning employment on the transferable skill sets that people have could be a really powerful economic lever.  

Religion and Socialism

MQ: Can we look at issues around religion and spirituality? Marx makes very interesting suggestions about how religion both expresses and inverts material and mental alienation, so how do you think religion functions in modern capitalist society, and what would be the place of religion and spirituality in a socialist/communist society?

GS: The notion of alienation as a term rooted in a rational explanation of odd kinds of human behaviour can certainly be traced to at least the 12th century.  Early attempts to elaborate a discipline that we might call ‘psychology’ saw the old word ‘alienist’ for a mind doctor emerge from the Latin root word alienare, meaning to make strange.  When Marx referred to opium in the famous passage about religion, which he penned in 1843, it is highly likely that his contemporary knowledge of the work of alienists informed the sketching out of his own notion of alienation.  There was no term for it, so he had to invent or adapt one.  If he were writing today, perhaps we might say he could just as well have coined the term ‘psycho-social distress’ instead!  

Let’s look at what Marx actually said, because it’s a lot more subtle and sympathetic than is commonly thought: 

“Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world.  Man is the world of man, the state, society.  This state and this society produce religion, an inverted world-consciousness, because they are an inverted world.  Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification.  It is the fantastic realisation of the human essence because the human essence has no true reality.  The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly a fight against the world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. 

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.  To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand for their real happiness.”  [15]

Marx was clearly not deliberately denigrating religion and religious people, just pointing out the potential for religion to distort our understanding of the real world.  When he was writing, opium was one of the few seriously available commercial medicines.  It was not until well into the 20th century that governments began to ban its use and trade.  In 1839 and 1858, Britain even waged war on China to force it to accept that British merchants could to sell the stuff without hindrance in that country.  In Marx’s day, opium was a sedative or a painkiller, prescribed for a wide range of illnesses, just as today the resin of raw opium enables the production of codeine, which we view as merely as a painkiller.  Laudanum, often mentioned in 19th century novels in the way mid-20th century culture might have referenced alcohol, is an alcoholic extract of opium in liquid, or a ‘tincture’, and was frequently recommended by doctors for sleeplessness, pain, and diarrhoea – tinctures of cannabis were also common. 

Laudanum was often prescribed to babies that had problems with cutting teeth.  Sometimes, it was hinted, wayward working class mothers dosed their babies to keep them quiet when it suited them.  Special opium formulas for babies were widespread.  They had names such as (this is no joke) ‘Mother’s Helper’,  ‘Godfrey’s Cordial’, ‘Daffy’s Elixir’, ‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup’, ‘Street’s Infant Quietness’, and `Dalby’s Carminative’.  

Marx may well have had in mind a phrase, “This opium you feed your people”, from a 1797 novel by the Marquis de Sade, then only half a century beforehand. Many educated people would have understood this as a wry comment not a savage assault.  In this sense, the reference has the image of something handed down by the elite to keep people quiet.  Perhaps, in the modern day, we might be more inclined to say that watching `Britain’s Got Talent’, or `The Only Way is Essex’, is motivated by an underlying expectation that good things can happen to ordinary people like us. 

MQ: Will religion fade away over time? Will it be replaced in some way by communism?

GS:  I doubt it.  It’s even suggested that those who are prone to ‘spiritual’ thoughts are favoured by natural selection in special gene applications.  By this theory, maybe a quarter of us are provided with an innate but illogical sense of optimism based on the notion that some higher force is always looking after you.  I’d have thought that would lead to innate risky behaviour but I can see the line of reasoning.  The Gramsci line of “pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will”[16] comes to mind. 

Religion as a political tool will be eliminated by communism.  But, in itself, religion is not responsible for war and injustice.  People defending or fighting for special rights that are somehow marked by religion are responsible for abusing religion to become a justification for any exercise that would otherwise be seen as insane.  Look at Gaza today. 

When people get an idea into their head and, fixated on this, refuse to abandon it, despite all evidence that is put up against it, they are indulging in what Marxists call ‘idealism’ – not the idealism that makes people do wonderful things but a position based on ideas and not on reality: ‘I think, therefore I am 100% right.’ 

But, when I propose an idea that hurts no-one, why be concerned?  If I think to myself, ‘I can really make that ball go into the net on TV, if only I think about it harder’, I know that it’s not realistic.  But millions of people every day engage in magical thinking, hardly without thinking about it.  When that happens too much, we start to define it as an illness.  People with obsessive-compulsive disorder are amongst those who come to believe that they can avoid harm by doing some sort of ritual, often secret.  Many children start life with a habit of not stepping on a pavement slab edge! It’s part of individual human development but we don’t ban it per se. When it’s harmless, or even helpful, we tolerate magical thinking. 

But, in the early stages of socialist development, there should be no special favours to religious institutions, as we now have, like tax breaks for church schools, or special privileges to say what they like, when they like. No ‘Thought for the Day’ programmes, unless we all get a crack! 

Marxists should have no axe to grind when it comes to the place of religion or spirituality in either a communist society or, generally, in earlier socialist society. But in the latter, there are issues of fairness to address. Organised religion, which sets itself up as some kind of panacea, is counter to any real democracy.  But, once scarcity is beginning to be brought to heel, if people want to celebrate the Man in the Moon, they should be able to get on with it, so long as they don’t impinge on anyone else’s view of the world – or football match. 


MQ: What sort of a vision for the future is inspired by all this? Just to round it off?

GS:  Well, who knows? We are struggling to combat elitism so that the true nature of humanity can flourish. That elitism is based on a specific form of class rule, employing a very specific form of economic production.

When people rightly attribute the defeat of Nazism to the power of Soviet tanks at the Battle of Kursk and the loss of 28 million citizens, one million at Stalingrad, it should not obscure the fact that the ability of the Soviet Union to order, at a stroke, all manufacturing to be moved behind the Ural Mountains was the moment the war began to be won.  Social ownership, coupled with the quality of humanity that comes from collective endeavour, is truly remarkable.  That’s what communism as a political philosophy is really all about.

No species can expect to survive intact forever without real effort.  The degree of evolution we are going through right now is unknowable at present.  What of the future, the far distant future then?

Soviet science-fiction in the 1960s speculated that, if we ever met ET, or the Aliens, they would not be operating a joint stock corporate system!  Space credits (dollars) and ‘The Federation’ (the United States) just don’t hit it.  Humanity’s future, either on Earth, or in the asteroid belt, or in intra-galaxy transport, must be rooted in some beyond-the-Urals moment, when collectively, as Planet Earth, we determine our destiny.  In a nutshell, no elite can ever be capable of such a gigantic endeavour, only unalienated humanity.  The fight for that, as always, starts today. 

Notes and References

[1] M Quille and C Guiton, Building Jerusalem: Visions of Housing in a Communist Society, in CR71, Spring 2014, pp 3-10.

[2]  K Marx, On The Jewish Question, in K Marx and F Engels, Collected Works (MECW), Vol 3, pp 173-4.

[3] M Thatcher, interview for Woman’s Own, 23 September 1987; online at

[4] K Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, in MECW, Vol 5, p 7.

[5] K Marx, Capital, Vol 1, Part III, Ch VII, Sect 1, in MECW, Vol 35, p 187.

[6] Marx, op cit, Part I, Ch I, Sect 4, in MECW, p 81 ff. 

[7] K Marx and F Engels, The German Ideology, Vol I, Section III, ‘Saint Max: The New Testament “Ego”: The Revelation of John the Divine, or “The Logic of the New Wisdom”’, in MECW, Vol 5, p 292.

[8] K Marx and F Engels, The Holy Family, Ch IV, in MECW, Vol 4, p 36.

[9] K Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, XXIII [‘Estranged Labour’], in MECW, Vol 3, p 273.

[10] J J Kreisman and H Straus, I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, Avon Books, New York, 1991, Ch 4.

[11] For an overview, see N Burton, The Ten Personality Disorders, online at Psychology Today: Hide and Seek,


[13] See, for example, M Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: the classic work on how to achieve happiness, Rider, London, 2002.

[14] G Thompson and D Heneker, The Thing-Ummy-Bob, 1942, as sung by Gracie Fields; lyrics online at

[15] K Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law: Introduction, in MECW, Vol 3, p 175.

[16] A Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, J Buttigieg and A Callari tr and ed, Vol 1, Notebook 1, §63 and note 8, Columbia University Press, New York, 2011, pp 172 and 472-5.  Actually Gramsci ascribed the phrase to the novelist Romain Rolland.