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Seattle Bulletin # 3

Tuesday 22 April 2014, by ps

The basic and essentially contradictory streams of social evolution (technological and humanist) grow out of the two great biological modifications of hominids: (1) the reorganization of musculature that evolved a hand capable of precise manipulations, and the reorientation of perceptual mechanisms to permit development of manual skills; and (2) the evolution of the higher nervous system which added to the animal’s ability to perceive things the peculiarly human capacity of conceiving ideas. The former line of development tends toward modification of the environment; the latter line tends toward modification of man himself.

Whenever society is thrown out of equilibrium by acceleration of either of these lines of development beyond the capacity of the other to absorb it, a crisis of the first magnitude results. Synthesis of the two streams constitutes an epochal revolution. Unlike lesser revolutions, an epochal revolution, once launched, is irreversible.

The known epochal revolutions are few: the earliest, long lost in the mists of prehistory, converted a dextrous, intelligent primate into a human being. The Neolithic Revolution and the Urban Revolution were such epochal transformations; in modern times, synthesis of the humanistic crisis of the Renaissance-Reformation with the technological crisis of the Industrial Revolution produced our own dynamic epoch.

As long as technological revolution can be resolved within the framework of existent understanding, even though it involve reorganization of social structure, or as long as humanist revolution can be satisfied within the framework of existing technology, even though that involve redistribution of goods, there occurs a revolution of the second magnitude, a revolution in the usual sense.

* * * * *

Concepts of individuality and rational enquiry had for some time been in crisis with the social relations of feudalism — itself an unstable variant on the main line of social evolution — when the opening of new lands to trade and conquest provided a direction of escape. The then impending revolution (revolution of lesser magnitude, involving only the humanist line of development) took the form of mercantilism, liberating the class most advanced in those concepts but permitting retention of feudal institutions to fester in the body politic. Further development of man’s consciousness of self led to the radical demand by people of all classes for ever greater control over their own lives; thus the humanist contradiction was not resolved by the mercantile revolution. Fanned by the wider and more rapid communication made possible by the printing press, it built toward new crisis.

Except for iron-working (advances in which grew out of the emphasis on weaponry), the basic technology that had developed in ancient times was little elaborated in the early feudal period. Reasons for this technological stagnation lie in the counter-revolutionary nature of feudalism. Rise of the aforementioned spirit of rational enquiry prompted resumption of technological advance, and the commodity and transport needs of mercantilism accelerated its development. An elaborate muscle-, wind-, and water-powered technology emerged. Regaining ground lost in the Dark Ages, mercantilism expanded commodity production for trade — the foundation of classic urban societies but of minor importance in regressive feudalism — to a point where it exhausted the potential of that technology.

The application of steam power touched off an explosion of productivity not encompassable within the already strained social order. In the typical bourgeois revolutions the two streams of development reached crisis almost simultaneously; shifts in the rationale of political power catalyzed their fusion, and the resultant upheaval transformed the very base of society.

The socialist revolutions, then, are seen as an offshoot of this most recent epochal revolution. Peoples not affected, or little affected, by the humanistic development of the Renaissance and Reformation faced the Europe-based onslaughts on their cultural (and physical) integrity with quite different values. Their development had proceeded along other lines — toward communalism, for example. Stable old cultures with relatively static technology had tended less in the direction of changing environment than in cultivating the mind’s ability to achieve detachment from it — a course entered upon, but cut short, in the West. Such impulse toward individual self-assertion as came to these peoples came from outside, and had taken no deep roots before technological crisis was thrust upon them. Many succumbed: were annihilated or swept into backwash. The Russians, and later the Chinese, effected within the scope of their existing consciousness a social reorganization conducive to development of the new industrial technology.

That is why, despite all the vicious exploitativeness of capitalism, no advanced nation has ever opted, nor should opt, a socialist alternative. To do so would run counter to the stream of humanist development.

* * * * *

With cybernation, technological crisis is upon us, and the imminent advent of practicable nuclear power will swell it to revolutionary magnitude.

Movement in the humanist field has until recently been slow or even regressive. The once-promising Women’s Rights movement sold its birthright of full freedom for a vote, a right to hold property, and a niche in the Establishment. Commitment to personal liberties declined as an entrenched capitalist class leveled against it the punitive power of the state and the persuasiveness of its increasingly efficient opinion-control apparatus. Mind that had achieved a measure of freedom from the stranglehold of religion fell victim to an equally blinding conformism and acceptance of expertise. As a rising standard of living in an increasingly ordered society obviated many of our gross physical fears, induced fear eroded the drive toward self-assertion: we learned to play it safe, not yet realizing that the very substance of safety had already disintegrated in a mushroom cloud over Hiroshima.

Now we are learning to live with Overkill. When safety is unattainable, fear becomes useless. That motion has resumed in the line of humanist evolution is indicated by a complex of current developments: pursuit of non-coercive solutions to problems of human relationship; broadened concepts of libertarianism; withering of religion as a determinant of behavior; positive confrontation of prejudice; and most important of all for good or ill as we use it, scientific unveiling of mysticism’s special provinces — the cosmos, the “soul”, and the nature of life. They combine to augur another critical advance in our not unchangeable human nature: the abandonment of fears. Should this motion accelerate to fuse with the crisis in technology, the resultant upheaval cannot but be fatal to political power as we know it, for all government subsists only on the fears of the governed.

In the Janus-headed biological revolution lies the means by which the power structure can put a stop, indefinitely, to this line of humanist development so resistant to social control. In it lies also the potential for expanded and intensified communication, through which can be achieved that interpersonal understanding by which diverse individuals can function together without imposed discipline.

It follows, if only from the technological crisis, that revolution is certain, and near. Still to be determined is whether it will come as a revolution of the second magnitude, altering distribution of the fruits of a more prolific production complex — perhaps transferring control of the complex itself — or whether it will come as an epochal transformation, sweeping away the very foundation of authority, and with it the only hitherto functioning force for social cohesion.

* * * * *

The tragedy of our time is that the Left — Old and New — could sincerely but shortsightedly espouse a limited revolution. With the enormously expanded productivity soon to be available, most of the Left’s aspirations could be met within the framework of an ordered society. Even what we have traditionally called “freedom” could now be achieved by a revolution of the second magnitude. Yet if society takes this path, retaining — in whatever hands — institutions of social control, those institutions will thereafter direct the course of human evolution; man may never be truly free to face his environment with a multiplicity of choices.

For man, freedom its broadest sense must include emancipation from all restraint, whether imposed by others or by his own limitations, on the exercise of his capacity to reason. As progressive liberation from environmental restrictions is the direction of technological development, so progressive liberation from instinctual determinants is the direction of humanization. The goal of both is freedom — freedom not partial, but complete.

While fear restricts thought, that goal lies beyond comprehension. While fear influences behavior, we shrink from pursuing freedom past the charted fraction of its course. It lies further, where mastery of external nature joins with mastery of those diffuse and wayward vestiges of instinct-determined behavior, our own emotions. Even for its most conscious vanguard, epochal revolution is a leap into the unknown; but it is the peculiarly human dynamic of progress.

- L.C.

We greatly appreciate the correspondence and reciprocal literature the Seattle Group has received to date. From it we are building a file and library informative to ourselves and valuable in furthering that communication so sorely needed in the resurgent left. Many of these contributions should eventually find their way into the dialogue of the Bulletins. In particular, we welcome the permission to reprint other groups’ material, and the requests from other groups to reprint our own. We plan to take advantage of this coöperation to bring out, in one of our next Bulletins, an excellent article from London’s Solidarity.

[Handwritten comments were added by Louise Crowley to the compilation after the Bulletin was initially distributed individually. Transcribed by Dotty DeCoster, September 30, 2011. Please note that the original spelling has been maintained.]