BY SHANE LAWRENCE PICK
The fundamental principle of Juche theory is that humankind is the master of its own destiny. For Juche philosophers, this fundamental principle of the Juche philosophy is understood as being scientifically produced on the basis of a novel understanding of humanity. Therefore, in order to have a deeper understanding about this fundamental principle of the Juche philosophy, it is important for theorists of Juche to have an understanding of humankind as clarified by the Juche idea.
Historically, the question of what kind of being humanity is, and what essential features, qualities, and characteristics we have, has been the driving question of philosophy since the beginning of philosophical thinking. For example, Philo of Alexandria, an ancient Roman philosopher, argued that there were, in his time, a full two hundred and eight unique views of humanity. From the Juche lens, philosophical perspectives from the ancient slaveholder societies—from theorists such as Democritus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustinus, Thomas Aquinas— from the renaissance period, and from the German philosophers such as Kant, Schilling, Hegel—as well as the various philosophcial controversies that have taken place throughout the many centuries—simply could not give the correct view.
One of the main reasons for this is that the previous philosophers tried to discover the essence of humanity by regarding them as either a simple material being or as a spiritual being, focusing on the question through a lens of relationship between matter and consciousness. Another reason is that the essential features of mankind were distorted to suit the taste and class interests of the reactionary exploiting classes, then used to justify exploitative societies. The question of humanity’s essence is, at root, a socio-political question that reflects the class interests of philosophers, and is not a simple academic question. It was Marxism which clarified humanity's place as a social being, for the first time claiming that, “man is, in essence, a totality of social relations” against the unscientific and reactionary viewpoint which regarded humanity as either a simple biological being or an idealized spiritual being. Marxism considered, with the term social being, the material conditions of human activity and the extant mode of production, attaching a decisive significance to them. Thus Marxism explained that humanity is a being defined by the social relations, but it failed to explain what the essential features of humanity are; or, in other words, the features which are unique to humanity and not found in any other material beings known. The Juche idea raised the issue of essential feautres as an important philosophical task, in an attempt to explain the essential features of humanity and to both explore and provide, for Marxism, the most scientific and accurate answer to this question—and, thus, to establish a thorough revolutionary philosophical understanding of humanity. Kim Jong Il observed that:
“Considering mankind in social relations, the Juche idea cast a new light on their essential features. It expounded that mankind is a social being with independence, creativity and consciousness, and thus gave a scientific philosophical elucidation of humanity.”
The term social being is used in the Juche philosophy for two purposes:
1. It is used as a foundational concept which enables Marxism to find the essential features of mankind as fundamentally differentiated from all other material beings.
2. It is regarded as the starting point of philosophical and socio-political inquiry of humanity itself.
As an organism—with both natural and biological attributes, adhering to biological laws—humans are born, grow and die. If this process is absolutized, and one regards humanity as a simple natural or biological being, one can fall into the incorrect view of trying to find the essential features of humanity in only natural or biological attributes, considering our attributes as merely the reductive development of biology. It is true that humans, as biological organisms, have natural and biological attributes commensurate with, and related to their organismic nature; but the essential features of humanity—those which separate us from all other known material beings—are not to be found there.
What is essential and important for humanity lies within its social aspect. Therefore, only when one starts from the fact that humanity is a social being, is it possible to correctly identify the essential attributes of humanity, in the philosophical consideration of man. Kim Jong Il noted that:
“Humanity is a social being. This implies that they are a being who live in a social relationship. This term is used to distinguish humanity from a natural being (i.e. animals).”
When, in Juche, humanity is referred to as a social being, this means a being who both lives and conducts activity in social relationships and settings differently from other beings—in a distinctly human way. Humanity’s life and activity are possible only in the social collective organically linked on the basis of certain social relations. Marx himself noted that, "The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness."
There cannot be a human who lives outside of social relations. All of our activity is bound to the species as a whole, and to the ways in which the species produces and reproduces its mode of existence. That humanity lives and conducts its activity inside the social collective and within social relationships is peculiar. Yet, there are animals such as ants and bees which exist in groups according to certain orders, building nests jointly and procuring food. However, for our purposes, there is a qualitative difference between the animals’ mode of group-life, based upon orders and relations, and the peculiar mode of existence of humanity, who forms and lives through social relations. In so many words, here Juche distinguishes between the unique form of human social organization, and the social organizations of other beings.
To take one example of this, monkeys and chimpanzees maintain their unique voice and walking manner even though they live apart from their groups after their birth. This suggests the idea that the mode of existence, or mode of activity, of these animals are defined not by their social group relations but by instinct based on genetic information. Thus, monkeys and chimpanzees are monkeys and chimpanzees from their birth. But, the case is quite different for humanity. If humans grow apart from social relations, they struggle to walk upright, to speak, and so forth. In other words, a human can not be said to be truly human by their biological birth alone. Only when humans form social relationships and live as social beings will they be able to progress and develop as the bulk of humanity does. For the existence and development of humanity as a species, social relations become indispensable and permanent conditions: herein lies the essential meaning of the notion that humanity exists, at root, as a social being. However, when humanity is referred to as a social being in Juche philosophy, some positions should first be made clear.
For Juche, in human society, there exist notions of social wealth and social relations. Social wealth and social relations belong to society, they do not belong specifically to nature. In the Marxist definition of humanity as a totality of social relations, social wealth and social relations are included in the definition of social being, but not so in the definition of humanity as a social being by Juche. From the viewpoint of Juche philosophy, social wealth and social relations are created by humanity, the social being. Just as creator and creation can not be the same, social wealth and social relations can never be the same as mankind, the social being; only a product. If social wealth and social relations as created by humanity are regarded as a social beings themselves, then the essential differences between humanity and these products become obscured or abstracted. So, in Juche, only humanity can be the social being—a being who creates and enjoys social wealth in social relations. It is important to clarify the differences between the concept of social being in the Juche philosophy and in Marxist theory. As noted at the beginning of this essay, the early Marxist classics criticized both the mystical-idealistic view of humanity and the biological-reductive view, defining the essence of humanity as a “totality of social relations.” This was the first historical recognition of humanity qua social being, and thus was a great advance in humanity's philosophical understanding of itself. But the concept of social being used by Marxism equates to the material conditions of social life; the economic relations as distinguished from social consciousness. Of course Marxism considers humanity as a component element of extant productive forces and as part of the totality of social relations, so for Marxism humanity is also included in the concept of social being. But, from the perspective of Juche, Marxism does not qualify the notion of social being with the unique focus on essential features. With Marxism's conceptualization of social being, it is possible to clarify that humanity is indeed a social being defined by social relations and its extant mode of production, but here Juche holds that it would be impossible to clarify that humanity forms and develops social relations independently of the relations of production. Recognizing that humanity is thus restricted and influenced by social relations alone, the Juche philosophy worked to clarify that to be a social being means that one is both influenced by and influences its own society; that is, that social beingness is a basic and essential feature that humanity forms, developing social relations purposefully and consciously; thus clarifying the genuine meaning of what Marxism originally posited as the concept of social being.
Like all organisms, humans have evolved characteristic specialized organs that, in the course of typical development, correlate with unique functions: the configuration of the legs allows for upright walking, that of the hand enables the delicate manipulation of objects, the tongue is particularly articulate in its ability to produce the intricacies of language, and the cortex of the brain, comparatively enlarged, correlates with a high degree of consciousness. In relation to each other, the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the human species provides the foundation for a uniquely human mode of activity, one without direct comparison throughout the biological world.
Nonetheless, it is incorrect to regard certain critical human faculties, such as independence, creativity, or social consciousness (that is, that which can be considered uniquely human in the consciousness of Homo sapiens), as inborn or biological qualities. Such a conclusion may seem absurd: if the physical structures that underlie human activity and being are directly rooted within the phylogenetic history of the human species, mustn't all that we regard as indispensable in defining the unique character of human activity also develop more or less directly from the biological?
In fact, a number of examples can be found contradicting this notion, but the starkest contradiction is dramatically expressed in the existence of so-called feral children who have been monstrously neglected. The documented cases of such children that have undergone development largely in the absence of human influence demonstrate profoundly peculiar behavior. These children generally lack the ability to use language, are intellectually impaired, are repelled by human food, and in some cases even demonstrate quadrupedalism rather than bipedalism. While physical development occurs along normal lines in these cases, psychological and cognitive development do not. This tells us that many of the most essential features of human activity and social being do not arise directly from the biological foundation but are actually learned.
Animals perform instinctive behaviors to adapt themselves to the change of the surrounding world or use ready-made things in nature, but human activity alone facilitates a profoundly creative transformation of nature, that is, labor, which is the material basis of thought. With labor, rudimentary consciousness is given a creative outlet: consciousness no longer simply reflects the world but is put to active use in changing it.
The first labor was instinctive or even accidental, and its rudimentary forms can still be seen today, such as when a primate uses a stick to reach a distant fruit or an otter uses a stone to crack the shell of a mollusc. It is only in the ancestors of humans, though, that labor took on the primary role in directing evolution, selecting for and modifying those very anatomical structures which made labor possible in the first place.
We can assume that like rudimentary labor, rudimentary sociality preceded the evolution of Homo sapiens itself, and each of these elements, in combination with the anatomical structures that enabled and were transformed by them, were essential in the production of the first non-instinctual knowledge of the world, which was shared and in turn increased the ability for humans to meet the requirements of survival and reproduction.
It is here where a transition occurs: the anatomical equipment is more or less appropriate for the task, and it is now the method, technique, and organization of labor itself that becomes the primary source and site of development. Social relations provided the objective conditions that stimulated and accelerated the transition from the origins of consciousness to language and social knowledge and from the accidental “labor” of biological and instinctive forms to conscious and purposeful labor. The emergence of the human from the animal Homo or its ancestral clades is the product of the development of social labor, whereby coordinated creative activity produced conditions more conducive for the reproduction of the human species than could be found in non-human nature.
That is to say that humanity has two histories, or more properly, two interpenetrating levels of its history: the first is common to all species, and is termed the phylogenetic history that traces a species over the course of evolutionary time while the other is social history, which is only made possible in the final instance, on social labor which ties together humans in interdependent productive relations. While the first history necessarily preceded the second in time, it was the second history which would have the primary role in the further development of human culture.
Thus, humanity’s independence, creativity, and consciousness are not abstract but concrete attributes formed and developed socially and historically. Further, independence, creativity, and consciousness are not immutable; they experience ceaseless change and develop historically through the acquisitions of social life and practice.
Let us look at each of these attributes in turn, beginning with independence. The content of human desire for independence and its realization are not the same in every stage and period of social development. Humanity desires to live independently, first from the convolutions of the natural environment and later from social subjugation. Through a long period of struggle, humanity has realized an ever higher degree of independence, yet humanity nonetheless continuously struggles for the further realization of independence as it conforms with both concrete socio-historical conditions and development more generally. For example, slaves in slaveholder society demanded independence from inhuman subjugation and bondage from slave owners, while today the working class in capitalist society fights to abolish the specifically capitalist form of exploitation. Each emancipatory movement paves the way for the progressive abolition of the bondage of humankind by humankind in all its forms but its demands are always conditioned by the given historic moment.
Creativity, too, is a concrete social attribute that develops socially and historically. We have creative ability that is formed and ceaselessly develops in social practice to reshape nature and society. The history of the development of productive forces is the development of humanity’s practical ability to transform nature, which in turn drives the history of the development of science and cognition broadly. Since the Stone Age to the latest scientific technical successes like information equipment and automatic machines including computers and robots, biological engineering and nanotechnology, the process of the development of social organization of the productive forces, technology, and science are the historical development of human creative ability.
Consciousness itself has different contents and levels according to the level of development. Consciousness is a social attribute that influences and is influenced by the degree of human cognition and activity: as human activity develops along new lines, so does our knowledge of the world, bringing consciousness itself to a higher degree of development and realizing new forms of social organization. As people become increasingly conscious of their interests in accordance with the development of social life and practice, they act toward the realization of their demands.
Independence, creativity, and consciousness are not inherent but are inherited by new generations through social practice and education. A newly born baby knows to cry when she is hungry and to sleep when she is sleepy, and she does these things without being taught. The same child does not immediately communicate through language, recognize the permanence of objects, or act through social and cultural customs. From this, we can deduce that humans inherit biological instinct but not social knowledge. It is through family, school, and social education as well as directly through practical activity that we acquire independent ideological consciousness and creative ability peculiar to a human being. The knowledge of the basic facts of this process allows us to utilize our attributes in the interest of their further development.
Juche philosophy, using the material laws and truths elucidated by Marxism-Leninism as a premise, clarified that humanity is independent, creative, and conscious through its social being, and thus put an end to circular philosophical posturing which gives the primary role to the biological rather than the social, and gives the most accurate revolutionary philosophical clarification of humanity itself.