Marx's Humanism

and Capitalism`s Betrayal

The church, Christian religion superstation, constituted the theoretical foundation of the hierarchical Feudal system.  Church claimed that, feudalism, comprised of Nobility, Church and Serf/villein, was ordained by the god. Serf peasant/ or villein, was forced to pay dues to Nobility and tithes to the Church (1). No wonder why serf hated both. To escape from both, the peasant artisans trickled to take refuge in the small emerging medieval towns. Burgers, the nascent of Bourgeoisie was developed within these medieval towns. Then, the latter, gradually developed into Bourgeoisie, or Capitalist class. At certain stage of its development, the social structure of Feudalism came to fetter the progress of productive forces. Thus, the clashes between Bourgeoisie and Feudalism became inevitable. And, because church or religion superstition, was serving the theoretical basis of Feudalism, in consequence, to fight Feudalism, Bourgeoisie had to settle account with its theoretical pillar, i.e. Christian religion superstition as well.

Thus, the Enlightenment Intelligentsia (2), the ideologues of the burgeoning Bourgeoisie, set to fundamentally criticising the Christian religion superstition and promulgated atheism, instead. In consequence, if the Christian religion superstition, acted as the theoretical basis of the Feudalism, and claimed the human wellbeing was being rested on the grace of god, the revolutionary bourgeoisie raised the banner of Humanism, as its antithesis against the Christian religion superstition/ or the grace of god.

 But what does mean humanism?

Humanism is defined as a system of thought that concentrate on the common human needs and seeks ways of solving human problems based on reason rather than faith in the god (3). Thus, during the Renaissance period in Western Europe humanist movements attempted to demonstrate the benefit of gaining learning from classical, pre-Christian sources, which had previously been frowned upon by the Roman Catholic Church (4)). Even today, the relic of Greek and Roman civilisations, such as the architecture, adorns public buildings in Europe and America, (5).

However, because, the Enlightenment Intelligentsia sought the emancipation of human being through the application of reason, this meant they failed to grasp the social antagonism, based on the class interest and class division, both in the classical Greek and Rome. Thereby, they miserably neglected to see the ugly flipside of Greek and Roman social structure- that is the both civilisations had been built upon the slavery foundation. Needless to say, though the enlightenment intelligentsia did not miss to observe the nascent bourgeoisie- in the garb of merchants and manufacturers- who demonstrated their ruthless appetite for exploiting wage-slaves; nevertheless these cruel realities did not dent their humanism appearance.

Hence, in line with the doctrine of humanism, the revolutionary Bourgeoisie hoisted the banner of ʽ Liberty, Equality and Fraternity ̓ in the French Bourgeois revolution. In doing so, the latter secured to mobilising the impoverished and oppressed French masses- headed by the ʽSans culottes’ (6), (7) - to crushing the reactionary forces of Nobility and its stooge, the church establishment.

 However, no sooner than, Bourgeoisie defeated the feudalism and its theoretical basis of Christian church, Bourgeoisie unmasked its true colour. As a matter of fact, the doctrine of humanism and in tandem with it, the slogan of ʽliberty, equality and fraternity̓̓̓̓̓̓̓̓̓̓ translated into the freedom for the bourgeois to exploit worker / or appropriate his surplus labour. Hence, it became imperative for the Bourgeoisie, on the one hand to relegate the concept of humanism to humanitarianism and more importantly rehabilitated the disgraced religion dogma. However, the latter act was no too easy a task for the French Bourgeoisie. Rather, it took no less than four years, after the downfall of left Jacobins and the execution of its leader, Maxmilien Robespierre, in 1893, the religion superstition was once again restored in 1797.

It is instructive to mention that, none of the representative of capitalism other than Napoleon Bonaparte, could so frankly expressed the role of religion in the service of capitalism wage-slavery-system, as he uttered:

·‟ Society is impossible without inequality, (emphasis from me), inequality is intolerable without a code of morality, and a code of morality unacceptable without religion ˮ (8).

 And Marx how aptly declared:

·On the side of deprived masses, and in opposition to the capitalism wage-slavery-system, that Religion is the opium of society.

We said above that, bourgeoisie jettisoned the doctrine of Humanism and in place of it adopted the concept of Humanitarianism.

Well, what is the Humanitarianism? It is defined as: one concerned with or directed towards improving the lives of people and reducing suffering (9). It means nothing other than supporting the bourgeois reality of social inequality. Thus, to ease its guilt of conscience, bourgeoisie has been propagated the goodness of charity work (10), the benevolence of salvation army and red cross organisation- both are tinged with the Christian touches. As such, these instruments are being employed in parallel with the multiple Strata of capitalism superstructure, comprising of state bureaucracy, police, army, mass media instruments and so on and so forth, to consolidate the maintenance of the capitalism wage-slavery system.

Nevertheless, soon after the Bourgeoisie contemptuously threw down the banner of Humanism on the ground, Marx picked it up. But, in contrast to the Enlightenment Intelligentsia, he discovered that:

1. The realisation of Humanism, human progress or full human development, is not solely confined to the application of reason, or mental refinement; rather it necessitated the employment of both the theory and practice, or what Marx designated as to the praxis- the mutual effect of practice and theory to one another, and a process from below. 

2. He further discovered that, the realisation of Humanism, human full development or the free development of each is the condition of the development of all, is centred on the resolution of the antagonistic class struggle between the wage-slaved working class and the capitalist class. In other words, the realisation of Humanism comes through the working class praxis to overthrowing the capitalism.

3.  We mentioned above that, the Enlightenment Intelligentsia failed to see both the class division and class struggle. Marx overcame this fundamental shortfall. He discovered that: (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been s history of class struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social development; that this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class(the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time forever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles(11).

4. In Europe, though the slaves were exploited in the classical Greek and Rome, Serf/or villein in the Medieval Feudalism and working class are being exploited in the Capitalism. However, Marx disclosed that, the relationship and the manner of exploitation and, in consequence the fetter which has been placed in the way of the development of humanism and human development, was respectively different from the Slavery to Serfdom and Capitalism wage- slavery system. In the classical Greece and Rome slavery systems:

Firstly, the slave would have been sold permanently to the slave holder.

Secondly, thereafter Lord exploits the Slave as they wish- in Latin slave means a tool that talks, vocale instrumendos.

Thirdly, disregarding the quality of life, the Lord had to maintain slave’s means of subsistence.

With reference to the Serf/ Villein:

Firstly, Serf/ Villein, they were bonded to the land of Feudal Lord- a different form of permanent slavery. This meant that, the Serf could not abandon the Feudal land at all.

Secondly, annually for certain duration, Serf was obliged to work on the Feudal land. He also had to give tribute to the Feudal Lord, and tithes to the Church.

Thirdly, the Feudal lord would allocate a certain measure of land for the Serf, to farm on it and raise their livestock.

Fourthly, at the time of distress, the Lord was responsible for providing the Serf with their means of subsistence.

However, the circumstances are diametrically different as to the relationship and the manner of exploitation of the wage-slave/ or worker by the capitalist.

Historically, the Wage-slave/ or worker has been the product of dispossession from the peasant; thereafter, the capitalist process of production and reproduction has been generating the Wage-slave; also a section of bankrupted petit-bourgeoisie will be joined to the ranks of Wage-slave/or worker.

Contrary to both Slave and Serf, the Wage-slave/or worker:

A-   she/he does have no means of production, except their physical/ and mental labour.

B-   In order to live, wage-slaves have to sell their only commodity they have, i.e. their labour to the capitalist.

C-   However, the capitalist would purchase the wage-slave`s commodity or employ them, only for the duration, they can appropriate/or extract surplus value from Wage-slave. Hence, at once, the process of appropriation of surplus labour/or capital accumulation is countered with difficulty; the capitalist will not hesitate to throw the wage-slave to the heap of unemployment scrap yard.

D-   Though the capitalist purchases apparently wage-slave`s labour; nevertheless, upon entering into the process of production, the Wage-slave do spend her/his labour power, rather than labour. The capitalist paid to the slave-wage, the price of labour. Then, where the profits of capitalist come from? The process of production composed of two parts. First, it includes constant capital- machinery, raw/or semi-raw material, building, and so on so for. And, the second part comprises of variable capital. During the process of production, the value of constant capital is transferred no more and no less into the commodity wholly or partially- dependent to the latter durability.  Now, we discover the source of capitalist profit or surplus value. It comes from the surplus time, the slave-wage workers gratis to the capitalist. WE suppose the slave-wage works an 8 hour workday, and suppose she/he works 6 hours equivalent to the price of their labour. Then, she/he works a further 2 hours gratis to the capitalist. Thus, we discover the capitalist source of profit/ surplus labour (12)

 Humanism & the alienation of the wage-slave

Farmer works on land,  and an artist paints a picture. Both are acting in the capacity of agent/or subject, and land, machinery, tools, paints, brush, etc, serve as their objects. Then, fruit of land and painting are appropriated by the farmer and artist.  There are mutual relation between the farmer and his land, and painter and his picture.  Farmer and painter input labour manual/and mental, into the land and painting canvass, both labours are absorbed by the land and picture. Yet, neither the labour of farmer, nor the painter`s separated or alienated from farmer and painter. At the end, both the farmer and painter appropriated their product; and they enjoyed doing creative work. In other words, the products of farmer and painter are not alienated from them.

 But what happens to the wage-salve?

As soon as the capitalist bought wage-slave`s labour, the latter entered into the process of production, as an object, and as such confronts the means of production; and capitalist as human embodiment of the capital as subject. Thus, as the process of production/ or accumulation continues, the wage- slave confronts ever greater amount of capital or huge power of capitalist. Thus the wage-slave is being bound much hardly to the capital than Prometheus did to the boulder. Thus, with the process of production, wage-slave`s labour, in the guise of dead labour, stands in front of her/him as an alien power. Hence, the emancipation of the labour heralds the dawn of realisation of humanism, and the full development of human potential.    

Morrad Azimi




1- By the 14th century, the inception of renaissance, the influence of church had declined. Churchmen were neither generally respected nor generally deserved to be. For this, there were a number of reasons, some universal, some peculiar to England. The first was a direct result of the influence of the church had gained  in the Dark Ages, which it had used to secure its endowments with vast estates and great wealth. As the monastic orders became great landowners they ceased to be anything else and they shared to the full the hatred felt by the masses for their class. By reason of its endowments the church was an integral part of the feudal system and shared in its decline.

The collection of tithes was another constant source of dispute and there was a general feeling that the priests were more interested in their tithes than the instruction and relief of their flock. This belief is supported by a list of sins typical of peasantry drawn up to assist the priest when hearing confessions. The first sin listed is refusal to pay tithes and the next two are neglect to pay promptly and in full. Almost all of the other nineteen sins are breaches of ecclesiastical discipline or failure to render dues and services to the lord of the manor. A  People`s History of England. A.L. Morton, pp103-104

2- Diderot, Voltaire etc

3- Oxford advanced Learners Dictionary

4- Wikipedia

5- Pantheon in Rome and British museum

6-sans-culottes: literally without ʻ breeches’, breeches were a form of dress associated with aristocrats and well-to-do; workers wore trousers. The term had political as well as economic significance. Numerous shopkeepers and master craftsmen who read revolutionary newspapers and pamphlets, influenced by their illiterate workmen liked to be considered sans-culottes.

The masses arise, the great French revolution, 1789-1815, Peter Taaffe, p 150

7- At lower stage of its development…..labourer still forms an incoherent mass scattered over the whole country and broken up by their mutual competition. If anywhere they  unite to form more compact  bodies, this  is not  yet  the consequence  of their own active union, but of the union of the bourgeoisie, which class, in order  to attain  its political ends, is compelled to set the whole proletariat in motion, and  is moreover yet, for a time, able to do so. At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeoisie.  Thus the whole   historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie: every victory so obtained is a victory for the Bourgeoisie.  Manifesto of Communism, Bourgeois and Proletarians, Collective work, Marx & Engels, V6, p 291

8- The masses arise, the great French revolution, 1789-1815, Peter Taaffe, p120

9- Oxford advanced learners Dictionary

10- There are many capitalists, who double benefited from the charity donation: firstly fulfilling their Christian morality, secondly and more importantly, either massaging their tax liability or deducting from the latter.

11- Manifesto of Communism, Preface to the German Edition of 1883, Collective work, Marx & Engels, V6, p 291

12- Marx, capital v1 and Grundrisse.