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Re: [xmca] Progress: Reality or Illusion?

Thank you Steve. very thought provoking.

I keep getting stuck when I hit phrases such as

One socioeconomic formation is more advanced and progressive than another
by virtue of the greater scope provided for the development of the
productive forces.
[The] prime motive force [of history -sg] ... [has been -sg] ... the
struggle against nature and between classes on the basis of historically
developed productive forces ...

the combination of valorizing production for "struggle *against* nature"
and the absence of consumption in discussion of this struggle both bother

To the extent that homo sapiens triumphs OVER nature, it achieves its own
demise. Which is, apparently, the way it goes.

Interesting to think about in light of the Jared Diamond note that
Peter posted.

On Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 3:19 AM, Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

> As a contribution to the discussion on progress, I have put together a
> little compilation of passages from a relevant essay by George Novack
> (1905-1992) entitled "Progress: Reality or Illusion?" that outlines the
> classical Marxist view of progress.  This essay can be found in Novack's
> 1972 book _Humanism and Socialism_, still in print.
> People may be interested to observe how several of the excellent points
> brought up by David, Martin and others appear in one form or another in
> this essay.  People may also be interested to observe how many of the ideas
> Novack espouses can be found explicitly and implicitly in Vygotsky's
> writings, including The Socialist Alteration of Man (1931).
> George Novack, 1972
> selected passages
> Progress: Reality or Illusion?
> Has humanity augmented its powers, improved its conditions, enlarged its
> freedoms, chances of happiness, and possibilities of development over the
> ages?  That is to ask, is social progress a fact?  Historical materialists
> have no hesitation in answering this question affirmatively.  The human
> species has made immense advances since it left the animal state and is
> capable of making incomparably more ...
> The essence of the idea of progress is that humanity has climbed from a
> lowly state to higher stages and benefited thereby ...
> There have been three stages of thought about progress, that of the
> ancient Greeks and Romans, that of the Enlightenment, and that of Marxism
> ...
> ... the pictures of progress presented by thinkers from Xenophanes to
> Lucretius were crude and narrow and not central to the outlook of the
> ancient Greeks and Romans.  While some recognized the rise of humanity from
> primitive conditions, they did not extend the process far into the future.
>  Their attention was directed backward more than forward.
> The first comprehensive and systematic expositions of the idea that
> history has moved upward and onward and that this process could be
> indefinitely extended belong to the eighteenth century, as J. B. Bury has
> shown in his classic work on germination and growth: _The Idea of Progress_
> ...
> [The views of these 18th century thinkers were -sg] ... a logical
> inference from the vast changes in the Western world brought about through
> the prodigious expansion of the productive forces and wealth created by
> capitalist trade and manufacture ...
> ['m skipping over lot now, including discussions of Vico, Kant, Condorcet,
> Hegel, Marx ... sg]
> ... [the] bourgeois-based optimism of progress reached its crest during
> the capitalist expansion and imperialist aggrandizement from 1870 to 1914.
>  It was the cornerstone of the credos of liberalism and reformism ...
> A reversal of the attitude toward progress set in after the shocks of the
> First World War and the Russian Revolution ...
> [skipping more pages ... sg]
> ... it is understandable that the terrible events of the past half century
> [writing in 1972 -sg] have raised questions about the prospects of social
> progress and even its past validity ...
> ... it has been securely established that the evolutionary process as a
> whole has passed through three main stages, the cosmological, the
> biological, and the social ...
> ... Adam Ferguson and other Englightenment figures ... divided the
> historical process into three main epochs: savagery, barbarism, and
> civilization ...
> The productivity of labor is the fundamental test for measuring the
> advancement of humanity because this is the basis and precondition for all
> other forms of social and cultural advancement ...
> [skipping pages ... sg]
> Historical materialism identifies the epochs of humanity's progress
> according to the economic structure of society as shaped by its relations
> of production.  One socioeconomic formation is more advanced and
> progressive than another by virtue of the greater scope provided for the
> development of the productive forces.  Marxism distinguishes six main types
> of labor organization that have contributed to the progress of the economic
> formation of society.  These are primitive communism, the Asiatic mode of
> production, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and nascent socialism ...
> [skipping over passages about technological progress ... sg]
> How much progress has really been made ... in such values as equality,
> liberty, goodness, happiness, and culture?
> This question raises for consideration the contradictory character of
> historical development.  The ascent of humanity has been far from steady,
> harmonious, and uninterruptedly upward; it has been extremely uneven and
> intermittent.  Social progress has not followed a straight line but a
> complicated path with many relapses and detours.  Regress has been mingled
> with progress, and a certain price, sometimes a high one, has been exacted
> for every advance.  For example, whatever benefits the two hundred million
> inhabitants of the United States now enjoy were achieved at the expense of
> the destruction of the Native Americans and their culture and by forfeiting
> the hospitality, equality, and closeness to the natural wilderness
> characteristic of the collectivist tribal hunters of the Stone Age.
> Rouseau wrote that "iron and wheat have civilized man -- and ruined him."
>  His paradoxical assertion focused attention upon all the advances history
> has recorded.  These endowed humanity with new powers, which could be --
> and were -- used both for good and evil ...
> The agonies of history can find their justification only in the realized
> freedom and happiness they will ultimately make possible for humanity ...
> Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backwards in
> the position of the oppressed class ...
> Humanity climbed out of savagery by savage methods and out of barbarism by
> barbaric methods -- and now has to cast off the shackles of private
> ownership by class struggle methods ...
> The view of progress held by the rationalists of the Enlightenment had
> three serious methodological defects: (1) They mechanically construed
> progress as a natural law similar to the law of gravitation; (2) the source
> of progress or stagnation was to be sought in invariant characteristics of
> human nature; (3) the progress of society in the last analysis depended
> upon the progress of ideas, which in turn was determined by the
> accumulation of knowledge ...
> Progress is not a property of nature but exclusively a feature of social
> life ...
> There is no such thing as an unchangeable human nature ...
> [The] prime motive force [of history -sg] ... [has been -sg] ... the
> struggle against nature and between classes on the basis of historically
> developed productive forces ...
> The primordial criterion of progress has to do with humanity's relation to
> nature expressed in technology.
> The second criterion [of progress -sg] is the degree of collective control
> that humanity has over its own development in its liberation from the class
> oppression that has been the mark of civilized formations since the
> disintegration of primitive communism ...
> [Novack expresses his views of the class basis for the optimism of the
> Marxist movement, and ends with this quote: -sg]
> "Marxism sets out from the development of technique as the fundamental
> spring of progress, and constructs the communist program upon the dynamism
> of the productive forces," wrote Leon Trotsky. "If you conceive that some
> cosmic catastrophe is going to destroy our planet in the fairly near
> future, then you must, of course, reject the communist perspective along
> with much else.  Except for this as yet problematic danger, however, there
> is not the slightest scientific ground for setting any limit in advance to
> our technical productive and cultural possibilities.  Marxism is saturated
> with the optimism of progress, and that alone, by the way, makes it
> irreconcilably opposed to religion."
> [Note: The Trotsky quote is from Revolution Betrayed, originally written
> 1936. -sg]
> <end>
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