Paul Mattick 1966

Humanism and Socialism

Source: International Socialism, No.25, Summer 1966.
Transcription: Adam Buick.
Letter in reply to Robin Derricourt

It seems to me that Robin Derricourt’s distinction between humanism and working-class socialism (IS 24) treats humanism not as an historical but as a universal category in the sense in which the young Marx identified humanism with communism, i.e., as the realization of the human essence. In Derricourt’s view, humanism seems to be something independent of, and different from, definite social relationships and, presently, a kind of monopoly of the “intellectual or middle-class persons.” This is a variation on the theme dear to Kautsky and Lenin, namely, that the workers themselves cannot develop a revolutionary consciousness, which has to be brought to them – from the outside – by the middle-class intellectuals. Derricourt can imagine that the workers may realise socialism, but also that this socialism may be devoid of the rationalised humanism which differentiates the intellectual from the “unsophisticated” worker. In brief, he fears the possibility of socialism without humanism; at any rate, without that humanism which characterises the socialist intellectual in bourgeois society.

In its ideological form, with more or less sophistication, humanism is shared by all alike, for, as Marx maintained, “the ruling ideas are those of the ruling classes.” Socialist humanism enters into the picture only with the rise of class consciousness and has no aims apart from working-class socialism, that is, from the realization of a classless society as a precondition for the transformation of mere ideological into practical humanism. To assume that working-class socialism may be restricted to an “economic reordering of society,” is to say, in that case, that there was no socialist reordering. Economic relations are, of course, social relations which appear as economic relations only under capitalist conditions. Antagonistic social relations, i. e., class-relations, preclude practical humanism. But since the classless society abolishes the proletariat, there is no need for Derricourt to worry that its lack of sophistication may perpetuate the capitalistic dehumanisation even within socialism. Actually, of course, even now, the working class is the least dehumanised social class and its socialist movement, where it exists, is the only movement with humanist goals.