A google search for "Marxism and HBD" currently returns only relevant posts on this very blog. Apparently the left-intellectuals of the world are silent on the topic. Why is that?
A provocative view is that human biodiversity (the inclusion of results from psychometrics and behavioural genetics et al into economics, sociology and politics) is ultimately toxic to Marxism; that the system of thought due to Marx is simply falsified by our best theories of human nature and human genetic variation.
But perhaps not.
Capitalism, according to Marx, is a form of society in which economic resources are deployed privately with production intended for exchange, thus realising an expansion of capital invested. Given the lack of central, rational planning, it is said, economic dislocations and crises are inevitable .. with capitalism at some point failing to adequately develop society's productive forces further.
Reasonable Marxists disagree about the details.
The only way to abolish - supersede - capitalism is to abolish generalised commodity production. The alternative - the only alternative - is a consciously planned economy. The details are not well worked out, and where it has been tried the results have not been good.
There has never been a socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country: a common response is to blame the working class. Despite much leftist rhetoric, the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order. There have been many worker-uprisings and struggles to be sure, but psychologically and in the specifics of praxis, the struggles have always been either reactive or in favour of bourgeois-democratic ideals.
Workers Councils have coordinated struggles, but - pace Lenin and Trotsky - have never served as the foundations of a post-capitalist state. Anyone who thinks for a few minutes about the complexities and sheer technicalities of the modern bourgeois state, consuming 30%-60% of GDP, knows that the workers' committees are not going to replace all that.
I recently read Martin Jay's turgid history of the Frankfurt School, where dismay at the secular non-appearance of the revolutionary proletariat led to forays into psychoanalysis ('human nature') and the cul-de-sac of methodology. Is there no way to rescue Marx's project?
I'm in some sympathy with the Frankfurt School (Wikipedia):
"For Horkheimer, approaches to understanding in the social sciences cannot simply imitate those in the natural sciences.
"Although various theoretical approaches would come close to breaking out of the ideological constraints that restricted them, such as positivism, pragmatism, neo-Kantianism, and phenomenology, Horkheimer argued that they failed because all were subject to a "logico-mathematical" prejudice that separates theoretical activity from actual life (meaning that all these schools sought to find a logic that always remains true, independently of and without consideration for ongoing human activities).
"According to Horkheimer, the appropriate response to this dilemma is the development of a critical theory."
I think that Marx was:
- right to understand capitalism (and all social formations) as evolving protocols of recurrent human relationships (not as reified 'structures'),
- right to emphasise that capitalism automatically forms and reproduces the great classes of the bourgeoisie and proletariat,
- right to raise serious questions as to whether the capitalist mode of production really was the end of history.
As is traditional here, I will roll out the relevant quote from György Lukács, with which I agree:
"Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious ‘orthodox’ Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto – without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment.---
"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.
"It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."
So having established that Marxism is challenged by HBD research and having suggested that Marxism is not falsified by it - being methodological - what impact does HBD have upon Marxism? It may be true that human populations differ importantly amongst and between themselves for good historical-evolutionary reasons, but it's unsettling and impolite to notice, and it undermines solidarity in the face of the common bourgeois enemy.
Just as generalised commodity production is the core of Marx's theory of capitalism, human genomic-phenotypic variability is at the heart of HBD. Distinct human populations have distinct evolutionary histories and significant genomic and phenotypic differences. Some recent adaptations, including cognitive-abstraction and prosocial personality traits, appear to be adaptations to post-tribal environments. Adaptation to new complex-society constraints can be fast, as some theories of Ashkenazim intelligence suggest.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) currently being undertaken are expected to demonstrate what observation already makes clear, that certain populations - some sub-Saharan African countries, aboriginal populations in countries such as India - lack a sufficiently large 'smart-fraction' to make a modern capitalist economy work, let alone the implied additional cognitive and prosocial demands of post-capitalism.
As Dr Watson told The Sunday Times .. he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."
That would be the consequence of an evolutionary history which selected for hunter-gatherer/pastoral ecologies - forms of social life which do not reward Einstein-like hyper-abstraction or elevated prosocial personality traits.
Our so-called advanced capitalist countries are plainly not uniform in cognitive traits either of course. Half the population is below average, and most individuals could not today undertake the advanced cultural, scientific and technological vocations of elite groups. This is a consequence of heritable variation - not the result purely of inadequate education or life-history.
These points are not stressed by Marxists.
What exactly is wrong with capitalism anyway? It was pretty rough in the 1860s, when Marx and Engels were writing. Plenty of room for righteous indignation. But all modes of production with inadequate development of the productive forces are rough on those not at the top.
Capitalism has been growing those productive forces for centuries now on a Darwinian economic process, investment following market opportunity. As I mentioned, criticisms of capitalism which suggest that it will fail through internal contradictions are both theoretically implausible and contradicted by the evidence.
More Hegelian remarks about alienation confuse the technical distinction between the worker and the product of his or her labour with some psychological state of anomie - which either doesn't exist or is inseparable from any global division of labour. The purposelessness of life under capitalism is, however, something else.
Capitalism has not been bad overall for those living within its domain, certainly better than any of the alternatives on offer. Marxist critiques have been shrill, rhetorical, ritualistic, tribal or misplaced - placing blame on the capitalist mode of production for dysfunctions which actually reside within innate human social psychologies. No crime under socialism? Really, comrades? - Not without an excessive and self-defeating degree of genetic engineering!
I think what will actually happen is this:
- There will be no proletarian revolution
- There will be no socialisation of the means of production as currently understood
- a rising tide of automation will eventually outstrip human-level cognition.
The increasing army of the unemployable will wander the halls of their automated nirvana and do what humans always do: bicker, fight, scream at each other in righteous indignation and be bored as hell. Some will vanish into virtual worlds.
And some will avail themselves of genomic engineering to remake themselves as we already remake our environment.
I have no idea how we would describe the mode of production which underpins all that, but undoubtedly Marx's methodology would be up to the task.
If this is indeed the last, great hope for humanity, then the most important thing is to:
- encourage the development of the productive forces, which includes combating SJW agitation for 'equal outcomes', AI scaremongering and religious and 'green' lobbying against genetic engineering
- apply intelligent mitigation against the many dire side-effects of capitalist accumulation - fight for retraining, pro-worker government economic policies, appropriate transfer payments
- optimise the political conditions for a smooth post-capitalist transition.
I'm sure this is our clearest view of the way forward, but it's not going to be that attractive to those brought up on the Leninist vanguard party. I'm not expecting converts.
Let me finally address the killer question: "What would you do - as a Marxist - about sub-Saharan Africa?"
First I observe that capitalism has completely failed to uplift the SSA economies, despite decades of effort by many well-meaning folk with significant resources. You just can't do much today about that lack of a sufficient smart fraction.
In the future we will be able to do more. At the material level, easy-to-maintain technologies such as solar panels and mobile phones today enrich the environment, particularly in the most deprived circum-urban areas. Improving automation will do so much more, but this will not, by itself, help with unemployment and lack of purpose.
When we have the capabilities - not soon! - we can offer two ways forward: (i) genetic enhancement to boost any attributes which people want; and (ii) synthesised environments - not necessarily virtual - providing people with the means of resolution of their multiple needs - as they present themselves.
Some combination of both tracks is the way forward, but we're maybe a century away from being able to realise them fully.
The reader will observe that this is not just a prescription for sub-Saharan Africa, it's a prescription for the whole of humanity.