FROM EUROPEAN HUMANISM
TO CAPITALIST BARBARISM
TO ECUMENICAL HUMANISM?
By Kostas Lampos, PhD
There is an undisputed reality. It is the fact that the idea and ideals of Humanism have been born in Europe, developing and sealing –to a greater or lesser extent- the civilization of all European countries, and hence of global developments. There is, however, another reality: a reality that is being shaped today by the imperialistic Capital, which promotes an inhuman neoliberal globalization, spearheaded by Americanism. Finally, there is a third reality: This one has brought humanity at a crucial crossroads, where it is called upon to choose between two things: capitalist barbarism in the form of American hegemony on the one hand and Ecumenical Humanism, in the form of direct democratic self-determination and equal peaceful cooperation of all people in this planet on the other hand. As far as this is concerned, we shall approach the history of European Humanism and the position of contemporary Europe vis-à-vis this dilemma, which humanity is facing.
A short historical background to the concept of Humanism
There is a misunderstanding, or even confusion, regarding Humanism and New Humanism, which some find repulsive and others find provocative. For those who study -unfortunately the very few- the idea of Humanism -like all ideas, ideologies, philosophies and scientific theories- evolves, as it monitors the evolution of human civilization. Depending on the era and the strengths [of the idea] that are determined by its depth, this idea is either rejected in the historical process, or it survives, because of its ability to change, evolve and improve in quality, by adapting to new realities, exerting its own –big or small- influence.
Although the term Humanism (Humanismus) was coined in 1808 by the German philosopher Fr. I. Niethammer (1766-1848)(1) , and was confined to issues of training substance and education in general, it has been historically confirmed that the pillars of Humanism lie in the ancient Greek education and literature (2).
Protagoras’ worldview «Man is the measure of all things»(3) the humanist values on which the ancient Athenian democracy was built, like the ones described in Pericles’ Epitaph, as well as the teachings of Plato, Aristotle and other classical ancient teachers, have all been forgotten, becoming political “prisoners” to the obscurantist myths of Christianity, of the crusades and of the Holly inquisition. Therefore humanity has been deprived for centuries of the benefits that could have been brought about by a further development of the ancient Greek humanistic civilization. This situation stopped during the post-Byzantine period, when humanity decided to put an end to the medieval barbarism, hence the works of Greek classical literature resurfaced –at least those which survived the destructive madness of the Christian priesthood. During that era, the progressive disintegration of the Feudal system left a margin for Europe’s bourgeois transformation and the Renaissance movement was gradually replacing the -cunning and useless- “saints” with humanitarian educated men. The Renaissance was almost perfectly identified with Humanism and this led the intellectuals of early 19th century Humanism to suggest as synonyms the term «Hellenismus» (Hellenism) –German historian Johann Gustav Droysen, (1808–1884) and «Kultur der Renaissance» (Renaissance Culture) –by the Swiss Art & Civilization historian Carl Burckhardt (1818-1897)(4). The idea of Humanism remained dominant in central European countries for the whole of the 19th century in every discussion on education. Hence, through this discussion, it influenced the other sciences and society as a whole. This was enough to force the domineering religions, as well as the secular power structures, to add a touch of “Humanism”, in the form of “morality” and “philanthropy”, to their obscurantist myths and their hypocritical political ideologies of the ruling class. As a result of this, the discussion ceased to focus on Humanism as the substance of education and became a battleground for atheists versus priesthoods and religious fanatics, in a conflict that excluded -and still excludes- Humanism from the real society.
The French philosopher –one of the founders of the science of sociology- Auguste Comte (1798–1857) referred for the first time to “social humanism”, the main objective of which was to ensure the development -through a comprehensive human development- of the purely human element inside men, which is not conceivable without a complete departure from any religious myth.
The German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), made a further step forward and defined Humanism, as a humanistic social project of ecumenical nature, which will gradually liberate humanity from the capitalist barbarism in the following words:
«The supersession of God, is the advent of theoretic humanism... the supersession of private property, is the advent of practical humanism… (both are) a necessary premise for positive Humanism»(5). With these two influential interventions to the evolution of the humanism idea, Humanism resurfaces as a social-ecumenical Humanism, it rediscovers its humanist essence and re-enters the social domain as a driving force, as a vision for the forces of Labour, Science and Culture, for a better world, a world of Equality, Freedom, Peace and Humanity.
2. The 20th Century Humanism and capitalist barbarism
All great wars in the history of humanity took place for one of the following reasons: “holy faith” in some god or prophet, for the benefit of “some motherland”, the “benefit” of humanity, or the cause of “eternal peace”. All great wars in human history derailed humanity from its course towards Humanism and Ecumenical Humanism and led it to today’s capitalist barbarism, which acts in the following manner:
a. It is hostile to nature and thus it destroys it,
b. It is hostile to Humanity and thus it limits its freedoms and condemns it to poverty, hunger and degradation,
c. It is hostile to human civilization and is thus scheming to impose global fascism,
d. It is hostile to life itself and thus destroys the means for its existence on planet earth.
To fulfill their goals, the forces of neoliberal capitalist barbarism must defame, discredit and overcome the idea of social Humanism and Ecumenical Humanism, especially after the revelation of the capitalist nature of the so-called “actually existing socialism”, which sparked again the interest on Humanism(6) . The reactionary forces seek to fulfill their goals by using any means at their disposal, underlined below:
a. Using the recruited -in its majority mentally castrated- bourgeois intelligentsia and its tendentious pseudo-scientific theories,
b. With the use of narcotic substances, the new “religion of football” and the racist nonsense with which they empty the pockets, brains and social-class conscience of the naïve,
c. With the ideological propagandas with which the “intellectuals”, the “artists”, the “party officials”, the controlled media and religious priesthoods brainwash, day and night, all the people -rich and poor- with strong doses of lies and fear, until they manage to persuade a majority that the world wars took place for the benefit of humanity. In the same spirit, the pre-emptive wars designed for a violent imposition of Americanism and of capitalist globalization took place “due to God’s will” or “for humanitarian purposes”.
The resulting confusion takes a large percentage of humanity away from the sphere of Reality, i.e. objective Reality, and into the sphere of controlled imaginary, i.e. artificial reality, forcing them as a result to give up their humanistic vision and acknowledge capitalist barbarism as the fate of humanity. It is obvious that the forces of the New Medieval Ages resist.
3. The “Humanism” of the “only truth” and of the Gulags (7)
In the end of the 18th century it became evident that the bourgeois revolution (1789), replaced the inhuman regime of feudal bourgeoisie with the power of the new bosses of capitalist plutocracy, who disproved their declarations of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. The freedmen, who fought for the regime change, quickly understood that they were condemned to earn their miserable living as industrial workers and as “jobless reserve industrial army” in conditions of illiberality, offensive inequality and hostility that resembled the conditions of a Civil War. The workers decided to deal with this new reality with unions, class solidarity and class struggles, demanding to be recognized as human beings in accordance with the indefeasible rights of humanism. A new vision was being shaped amid those conditions. The vision of Socialism and Communism, to which leading cultural, artistic and scientific personalities from all over the world contributed their ideas, was adopted by certain traditional political parties as well as by many new, anti-capitalist, revolutionary socialist and communist movements. Among the theoreticians who contributed to the socialist vision, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the most distinguished ones. Through their analyses on capitalist economy and the bourgeois system, they provided the progressive leftist labour movement with arguments on the need to abolish capitalism and found Socialism. It is evident nowadays that their work received many interpretations and caused intense conflicts among their successors, some of which took the form of destructive civil wars, within the context of personal, class and ethnic interests. The October revolution took place in the name of Socialism, as a preliminary phase of Communism and with Humanism and Classless Society being the ultimate end. The main slogan was, “All power to the Soviets” (Labour Councils). Lenin, and hence the Bolshevik party as a whole, understood this power held by the Labour Councils, mainly in his work “The State and the Revolution” and seized power, with the help of the Red Army, in the form of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. He clashed, not only with the Russian workers, soldiers and sailors who supported the Soviets, but also with many of his former comrades, “Bolsheviks” and “Mensheviks” alike, as well as with most European socialist and communist parties, which spoke of a certain “Democracy of the Proletariat”, or a certain “Council Democracy”, advocating Socialism for the whole society, i.e. self-management of the Economy and Direct Democracy.
History, as historical juncture and international balance of power, “vindicated” Lenin and thus the October Revolution transformed the semi-feudal Czarist Russia into a “socialist country”, in which salaried work was not abolished –i.e. capital as a social relationship- and the productive wealth was not communized but instead became “state property”. Thus, the leadership of the October revolution intentionally identified socialism with nationalization and merely substituted the “free market” capitalism by capitalist entrepreneurs with “planned economy”, which had the “Soviet state” as its sole manager-entrepreneur, in other words a collective capitalist. In this way, from the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, the October Revolution gave way to the “Dictatorship of the Soviet Union Communist Party”, which was crudely mythologized, as socialism was violently detached from society while at the same time the “party” was exalted to the skies, and Stalin became a godly figure. All this ended up in the “Dictatorship of the only truth”, the brutal dictatorship of state monopoly capitalism, not simply Stalin’s dictatorship.
In reality, all the powers were being gradually transferred -upon Lenin’s orders, and utilizing the Red Army’s violence under Trotsky’s guidance- from the Soviets to the hands of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party and hence the management of factories -which in the beginning was controlled by the workers- was now transferred to party commissars. From that moment onwards, the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” became a dictatorship of the “collective capitalist” and the Soviet society and proletariat were reduced to simple spectators and victims of the brutal state monopoly capitalism, which claimed to be “socialism”, was recorded as “actually existing socialism” and ended up as “former actually existing socialism”. Finally, today it is behaving like manic capitalism; now, whatever is left of it seeks to find historical alibi either in the “Stalinism phenomenon” or the “betrayal of Trotskyism”.
The defeat of Nazism and of the fascist axis in the Second World War, which came as a result of self-sacrifice on the part of all the European people –the Soviets included- was sealed with the bargaining of the so-called “Yalta agreement”, which in essence was an agreement of global capital at the expense of Labour and the victorious peoples. In this way, the imperialist annexing of the Eastern European countries inside the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence shaped the so call “Eastern bloc”, COMECON and the Warsaw Pact. The “actually existing socialism” was thus formed. Acting like capitalism, set as its target to “keep pace with, and even outpace, the (western) capitalism” in terms of production, wealth, military power etc.
As a consequence of this choice, society was further destabilized and Labour was being exploited in a more intense manner. Also, any civil liberties were suppressed even more and the peoples’ standard of living tumbled down so much that the socialist nature of the “actually existing socialism” –which the new ruling class, the nomenclature, together with all its dependent western communist parties, even called ‘Humanism’- came to be largely disputed. The peoples of Soviet Union started to push for socialism, more real socialism, and the actually existing socialism’s nomenclature responded with a return to the “free market” capitalism, i.e. with more capitalism. Just as the story of the October Revolution ended, the myth of the actually existing socialism’s ‘humanism” also ended.
The violent neoliberal capitalist globalization, which promotes global fascism and a globalized capitalist barbarism on a daily basis, forces the peoples of the whole planet to organize and resist this threat, seeking an anti-capitalist path which will lead them to a better world. Amid these conditions, the vision of Humanism, of Classless society and of Direct Council Democracy springs back to the people’s historical memory.
It becomes obvious that the vision of a New Humanism cannot bear any resemblance to the pseudo-humanism of the obscurantist priesthoods, the urban “philanthropic” hypocrisies, the Americanism of the ‘Guantanamos’ and the Stalinism of the Gulags. In order for the vision of new Humanism to be truly humanistic, it must be ecumenical in its conception and implementation. A contemporary revolutionary Left may act as catalyst towards this; a Humanist Left that will not settle -like the bourgeois social democratic and the traditional, 3rd and 4th International Left does- with being on the sidelines of the bourgeois Parliament. Instead, it will reach out to society, not to manage the capitalist power on behalf of the plutocracy, but to denounce the capitalist barbarism and to rally the forces of Labour, Science and Civilization, turning them into a force for Enlightenment, in order to overthrow capitalism and build an Ecumenical Humanist Civilization.
4. Initiative Dialogue for a New Ecumenical Humanism of the 21st Century.
The thinking citizens of the 21st century, all free thinking people, searching throughout History and visualizing its’ illuminating path, from the origins of civilization up to the present dark days, know that defending Humanism is a pre-condition for the salvation of Humanity. And being down-to-earth people, they are aware of the fact that the world will not change from the top, by messiahs and prophets; rather, it will change from the bottom, whenever the peoples themselves decide.
In this document we are merely expressing our views on the necessity, feasibility and nature of the change that humanity needs today. We call upon each fellow human who shares the same thoughts to do the same. Our purpose is obvious: The need for a Dialogue for a New Humanism to be understood by as many people as possible. In turn, these people will form similar Circles for Dialogue and Thinking, in the hope that this phenomenon will start spreading until a global combined force is created, that will be able to creatively overthrow capitalism, and that force will also act as an architect for a better world.
Therefore, 21st century Humanists know that the hard core of the local and global plutocracy eagerly seeks –and often fabricates- “new parties”, as soon as the old ones reach their expiration date and cannot be further consumed. Hence, Humanists do not seek a “New Party”; they are trying to form a New Humanist Vision which will rescue humanity from the impasse of capitalism, leading it to the New Freedom of Mankind.
They also know that in recent years many movements spring up, bearing the brand name “Humanism, New-Humanism” etc. Most of these “movements” mainly focus on the bipolar conflict between “atheism” and “religious – fanatics”. They are confined to this superstructure without dealing with the substance, i.e. the structure, which is the socio-economic system.
Very few movements by atheist “neo-humanists” touch upon the political-systemic issue, albeit with a pretentious anti-communist and anti-socialist manner and a pretentious moralist love for “holy property”, i.e. capitalism. Their purpose is the following:
a. to further improve capitalism, with the help of an abundance of state-funded, highly-sponsored “humanist non-governmental organizations” which give shelter to a variety of people, from wannabe saviors to secret service agents or representatives of shady financial interests.
b. To present some of the mega capitalists as “philanthropists”, through tax reductions for the profits of their corporations, so as to conceal their true repulsive face and their hideous role in the function of capitalist barbarism, e.g. George Soros, Bill Gates (!!) and many others. Finally,
c. To trick people into believing in the ‘alleged’ good intentions of capitalism, the same intentions that have condemned the vast majority of the planet’s population to misery, poverty and death by famine or by the “humanism of weapons”, as they now call the imperialist war’s latest form: the pre-emptive regional wars towards a violent neoliberal globalization of capitalism.
Contemporary Humanists, in contrast to the above, do not denounce any part of the global progressive movement’s history, not even the history of the -hypocritical- humanism of the bourgeois and the church. They are aware of humanity’s tribulations during its difficult historical course. Hence, they are not interested in deleting or re-writing any of the human history. What they are interested in, is for obscurantist priesthoods and exploitative power hubs to cease to exist, so that the liberated forces of Labour, Science and Civilization are able to write the future chapters in the history of Mankind.
This is why they want to look into the future of humanity without any ideological prejudice. They want to look into today’s reality, based on modern capabilities, needs and visions. This modern reality does not fit into yesterday’s visions, not even those of the greatest thinkers of yesterday. Humanity bows before them and acknowledges their great contribution to the Arts, Sciences and Literature, without which there would have been no potential for New Visions.
Our era possesses an abundance of intellectual wealth that cannot be measured, a huge amount of scientifically proven and socially useful knowledge, a fantastic technology and a succulent civilization. All these are products of countless sacrifices by the human race, from distant cavemen to the great researchers of molecular biology and astrophysics, to the astronauts who walked on the moon. These elements can today create GLOBAL PROSPERITY, DIRECT ECUMENICAL DEMOCRACY and ECUMENICAL PEACE. An Ecumenical Humanist Civilization can be achieved once the majority understands this capability and organizes its life in a different -rational- manner, based on the principle, “rational social economy for man and not chaotic catastrophic economism for profits”.
It is pretty obvious that behind most of these moves of hypocritical bourgeois and church humanism, lie certain suspicious interests which aim to disorient the people and take the place of the New, inevitable, Ecumenical Humanism(8) which puts forward the following proposals:
a. Total rejection of capitalism in every possible form, through procedures of radical Enlightenment expressed by the forces of Labour, Science and Civilization,
b. The overthrowing of the bankrupt means of production through a direct, democratic, fertile and creative ideological procedure, that will put an end to the domination of capital on the means of production, destroying the planet, brutalizing humanity and threatening life itself. Finally,
c. Gradual building of a better -meaning more humane- world, free from the economic selfishness which usurps social wealth and brings about social, regional, ethnic and wider inequalities, inevitably leading to catastrophic conflicts, which seek to find alibis in the “ideological-political fanatism”, the “religious fundamentalism” and the supposed “clash of civilizations”.
We are certain that, in this pursuit, we are not the only ones who keep a clear mind and think without selfishness, working to shape a new optimistic, realistic and effective humanist vision, a New Leap for Humanity, to set it free from the capitalist neoliberal, social democratic barbarism and towards a New Ecumenical Humanist Civilization.
Ultimately, the 21st Century Humanism can only mean the yearning, the effort and ability, as humanity, to dry those tears from Mather-Nature’s eyes and turn our life again into a work of art, which will become a source of creative happiness and an eternal jewel in this endless and glorious Universe.
With these initial and necessary clarifications, we continue the Dialogue on the 21st Ecumenical Humanism, in the hope that it will be enriched with the views of many other people and will spread around the world, becoming everybody’s issue, including the forces of Labour, Science and Civilization, once they are liberated from the obscurantist beliefs and authoritative ideologies. This is the only necessary condition for the New Freedom of Mankind, and the Ecumenical Humanist Civilization.
5. Europe at a crucial crossroads, between Americanism and Ecumenical Humanism
In view of this lethal power struggle for hegemony at the expense of humanity, there is one force which can act as a catalyst for developments: the European Union. In order for the EU to be able to undertake this task, it should:
• Stop acting as the Europe of monopolies,
• Get rid of liberalism and break free from the USA, since, as the American Paul G. Roberts states: “America does not offer anything to Europe, apart from the millions of dollars it pays to bribe European political leaders who betray their peoples»(9) . Forge a New European Identity and re-connect its traditions of humanist struggles with the values and vision of Humanism toward a better world,
• Unite with the movements against Americanism around the world,
• Play a leading part in the struggle to set up anti-imperialist and anti-hegemonic alliances at all levels so as to
• Be able to contribute to this anti-imperialist and anti-hegemonic struggle that aims in safely leading humanity out of capitalism or any other system that produces ill-thinking anti-social ideas and inhuman fascist and global hegemonic systems.
For all this to happen, the EU must stop acting as the Europe of Capital. Instead, it must become the Europe of the Peoples, which means that the European peoples will proceed to make immediate choices to gradually reverse this US-controlled balance of power, which is now taken for granted. This will pave the way for Direct Democracy, a Humanist Self-determination for Europe and for Ecumenical Humanism, the Humanism of the 21st century(10) . Now is the time for the European peoples to take the initiative once more, to lead humanity once again out of capitalist barbarism and in this struggle, the American people themselves, based on their history and sacrifices of the past, cannot but become the most prominent and important social force against Americanism and for a better world, to the New Freedom of Mankind.______________
1. Niethammer, Fr. I. , Der Streit des Philanthropismus und Humanismus in de Theorie des Erziehunsunterichts unserer Zeit, F.Frommann, Jena 1808.
2. An analysis can be found in Markandonis and Georgoulis, Humanism, in the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Education – Dictionary, Ellinika Grammata, Athens 1989, vol. 1, p.p. 365-371.
3. Μέτρον πάντων χρημάτων άνθρωπος’.
5. Karl Marx, Early Writings, RENGUIN BOOKS, 1992, p. 395.
6. See also, Erich Fromm, Socialist Humanism, Boukoumanis, 1976. See also, Novack, George, Humanism and Socialism, Andonis Livanis Publications, Athens 1978, vol. 22, p.p.365-37
7. The Russian word "ГУЛАГ"( Gulag) is the acronym for Главное Управление исправительно-трудовых ЛАГерей ОГПУ [The Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies], which later came to denote the labour camps used to eliminate the Stalinism enemies. See also, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's (1973) The Gulag Archipelago.
8. Kostas Lampos, For an Ecumenical Humanist Civilization, EXORMISI, 05.01.1997. See also, Kostas
Lampos, The Humanism of the 21st Century is our Humanism, in: www.infonewhumanism.blogspot.com , and www.monthlyreview.gr
9. Cited in, Stylianou M, «The USA offer Europe merely a bribe for its leaders», in the TO PARON newspaper, 24.08.2008, p. 22.
10. Kostas Lampos, Americanism and Globalization -The Economy of fear and decay, PAPAZISIS PUBLICATIONS, Athens 2009.
Published by MONTHLY REVIEW, 54/06.2009, Pages 44-55