A comment on sexuality: reply to Nestor on civilisations and human nature

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Fri Jul 25 18:55:09 MDT 2003

Hi Nestor,

You wrote:

> We don´t agree here. His stress on commodity fetishism, the wanton
> tunes of the first three chapters of Capital, and above all, his
> that "laws that can impose themselves only through crises are natural"
> against human), on Capital, I, all point to the idea that capitalist
> society, through reduction of the basic human relationship to that of
> puppets of things (commodities), is the most "natural", e.g. least "human"
> in this context of all societies.  There are many more sources for
> quotations, but I would only add -because it comes from the _most
> positivist_ book by Marx or Engels- the latter´s criticisms of the
> of modern scientists on his _Dialectics of Nature_.  His lines on why did
> the "worship of ghosts" take such a grip on otherwise serious and rational
> researchers are worth an anthology IMHO


I do not really follow your argument, because you suggest that Marx
counterposes "natural" to "human". I don't think he does that in such a
hard-and-fast way, although he has this concept of the "humanisation of
nature" suggesting the rearrangement of the natural world to suit human
purposes. As far as I am aware, "human" and "natural" are relative
distinctions in Marx, just as "human" and "inhuman". See The German ideology
on this:

"...society has hitherto always developed within the framework of a
contradiction - in antiquity the contradiction between free men and slaves,
in the Middle Ages that between nobility and serfs, in modern times that
between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This explains, on the one hand,
the abnormal, "inhuman" way in which the oppressed class satisfies its
needs, and, on the other hand, the narrow limits within which intercourse,
and with it the whole ruling class, develops. Hence this restricted
character of development consists not only in the exclusion of one class
from development, but also in the narrow-mindedness of the excluding class,
and the "inhuman" is to be found also within the ruling class. This
so-called "inhuman" is just as much a product of present-day relations as
the "human" is; it is their negative aspect, the rebellion - which is not
based on any new revolutionary productive force - against the prevailing
relations brought about by the existing productive forces, and against the
way of satisfying needs that corresponds to these relations. The positive
expression "human" corresponds to the definite relations predominant at a
certain stage of production and to the way of satisfying needs determined by
them, just as the negative expression "inhuman" corresponds to the attempt
to negate these predominant relations and the way of satisfying needs
prevailing under them without changing the existing mode of production, an
attempt that this stage of production daily engenders afresh." Source:

The most important development in our generation is that that revolt against
inhumanity, the attempt to assert one's humanity against the status quo,
itself becomes an object of commercial exploitation, insofar as the revolt
is innovative, and is reduced in a bourgeois-individualistic way to sexual
frustration and trivialised. That tendency existed before, but not on the
same scale. That is, inhumanity is reduced to a sexual problem or the
inability to obtain a satisfactory (set of) personal relationships.

I do not see Engels's book "Dialectics of Nature" as being "positivist", but
I do not know in what sense you are using it.

You wrote:

> I have never said that reification can end with or without capitalist
> civilisation. I have only said, following Marx IMHO, that no civilisation,
> whether precapitalist or postcapitalist, can be as reified as the
> civilisation. While in the latter reification is the _basic social
> relationship between people_, in other civilisations it is, so to say, a
> necessary evil that can be gauged and constrained (or should be).


Again, I think this problem is difficult to evaluate. In order to compare
civilisations objectively in this way (with respect to reification and
suchlike), we must be able to find some common characteristics which make
the comparison possible, and be able to evaluate the civilisations from a
standpoint which is "outside" or "beyond" those civilisations, or perhaps
from the point of view of an unchanging "human anthropological core" which
defines what human nature is, at least in outline. But I find that difficult
to do. For Marx, the basis for that comparison is the modalities of human
labour and its exploitation, as a relatively constant factor in human
history, but what we are talking about here among other things, is human
meaning, the meanings attached by people to the social and natural world.
Our real ability to transcend the meanings of our own civilisation are
limited, even in anthropological science, if it is genuinely inspired by the
desire for humanisation. Our historical consciousness is simply not that
great, and the possibilities for reinterpreting the past anew are virtually

You write:
> We may well be agreed on this. In my own environment, however, I am more
> concerned with the ellimination of hunger, the main road into prostitution
> (or elsewhere, including death) today. I can´t say I don´t have patience
> an in-depth study of the whole set of issues included in prostitution
> mostly overlap with the set of issues included in family, BTW). I am
> trying to explain that I am not in a position to debate these issues in
> depth. Maybe, since you have made this debate public, someone else can
> a sound reply.


If prostitution is the "oldest profession", the relationships and
mentalities it involves provide a key to a more objective understanding of
human nature, the meaning of humanity, what humanisation means, the problem
of alienation, and how human nature might be deformed or distorted in class
societies. Marx grasps this clearly in his 1844 manuscripts, citing
Pecqueur, when he considers the impact of capitalist market relations on
social classes:  "This economic constitution condemns men to such abject
employments, such desolate and bitter degradation, that by comparison
savagery appears like a royal condition." "Prostitution of the non-owning
class in all its forms." Rag-and-bone men." He refers to Charles Loudon:
"Charles Loudon, in his work Solution du probleme de la population, gives
the number of prostitutes in England as 60-70,000. The number of women of
"doubtful virtue" is roughly the same."  He goes on to quote Loudon as
follows: "The average life span of these unfortunate creatures on the
streets, after they have embarked on their career of vice, is about six or
seven years. This means that, if the number of 60-70,000 prostitutes is to
be maintained, there must be in the three kingdoms at least 8-9,000 women a
year who take up this infamous trade --   i.e., roughly 24 victims a day,
which is an average of one an hour. So, if the same proportion is true for
the whole surface of the planet, then at all times there must be
one-and-a-half million of these unhappy creatures." [ Charles Loudon,
Solution du probleme de la population et de la subsistence, soumise a un
medecin dans une serie du lettres, Paris, 1842, p. 229 ]

You wrote:

> May I recall that things do not search for pleasure, things do not avoid
pain. BTW, something has been written on this line by Paul Lafargue on his
Right to Laziness.


Yes, I am aware of Paul Lafargue's book, "The Right to be Lazy". Of course,
what it means to be a successful, accomplished human being is historically
relative, contingent and changeable.

Ernest Mandel writes, quoting Karl Marx: "Marxism begins 'with the doctrine
that for the human being, the supreme being is the human being, and thus
with the categorical imperative to overthrow all conditions in which the
human being is a debased, enslaved, neglected and contemptible being'." (Why
I am a Marxist, in Gilbert Achcar (ed.), The Legacy of Ernest Mandel, Verso,

But Marxism only begins there, it does not stop there. Even George W. Bush
would agree with this imperative in some sense, it partly motivates his war
against Iraq, however, he believes that capitalism and private enterprise is
the best means to this end. Marx's analysis however leads to the conclusion,
that capitalism originates in prostitution and ends with prostitution. An
objective analysis of prostitution can show very clearly precisely what
"debasement, enslavement, neglect, and contemptibility" consist in. But
bourgeois thought is incapable of this, because it cannot admit that the
fulcrum of bourgeois society is class exploitation, and therefore its
antipathies and sympathies towards prostitution are never free from
bourgeois class morality. This bourgeois class morality renders an objective
analysis of prostitution impossible, because it is rooted in a vision of
human nature, which assumes precisely that which it needs to explain.
Instead of an objective materialist analysis, it therefore substitutes
relativistic, agnostic and other "broadminded" viewpoints, and references to
allegedly universal norms of "human dignity" which deny the existence of
class exploitation and their impact on human development.


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