This is the first part of some notes prepared a while ago by ‘Tom’ on the topic of ‘The Individual in communist thought’.
Human nature is not purely biological, nor an abstraction; it unfolds, develops. As we make our history, so we make ourselves.
“Human nature is not a machine to be built like a model, and set to exactly the work proscribed to it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of inward forces that make it a living thing.” J.S.Mill ‘On Liberty’
Human nature is the result of the meeting place between biology and historical processes. It is therefore capable of change.
“We cannot wait for favours from Nature, our task is to wrest them from her” Ivan Michurin, Soviet scientist
The idea to “give history a push”, cited by Christopher Hill ‘God’s Englishman’ (p 218) referring to 19th C Russian conspirator Zhelyabov.
This idea captures a dilemma of proletarian parties which led successful revolutions in backward societies. These revolutions were obviously on the side of historical development but the ‘push’ was not solely directed at proletarian revolution. There was first the not so small problem of the bourgeois revolution to complete – and in vast areas in both Russia and China – to actually get it started.
This both facilitated the opportunity for transforming the revolution from a bourgeois to a proletarian one and also frustrated and undermined it.
It is inherent in our nature to make all things new – including ourselves. (Marshall Berman, ‘The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society’, p165)
(Next instalment: ‘The development of the individual’).