Humanity confronting annihilation

September 3, 2017

From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters

Livermore, Calif.—On Aug. 9 several hundred people, mostly peace activist veterans, marched on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to commemorate over 70,000 lives lost at the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, 72 years earlier. Hundreds sat down at the Livermore Lab gates in an act of civil disobedience and were arrested for trespassing.

Aug. 9 demonstration at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif. Photo: Ron Kelch.

Aug. 9, 2017, demonstration at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif. Photo: Ron Kelch.

Contemporaneous with this came Donald Trump’s threat to start a total war with North Korea’s nuclear-obsessed totalitarian dictator Kim Jong-un. Trump, at the helm of the most deadly military arsenal ever assembled, sparred with his fellow egotist leader, saying Kim “will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”


The march’s featured speaker was Daniel Ellsberg, famous for having leaked the Pentagon Papers to expose Nixon’s secret expansion of the Vietnam War. Ellsberg was 14 when he heard rhetoric like Trump’s from President Truman, when Truman announced the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, which killed 140,000 people. Truman declared that Japan “may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Ellsberg said as many or more were killed in the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo with conventional weapons. Use of any and all such weapons, which, said Ellsberg, every president since Truman has refused to take “off the table,” is a war crime.


The genocidal “rain of ruin from the air” is now the norm against people, as in Syria, who dare to assert their humanity and right to live free in their own country. It is time to act and to think through the lie of the post-truth world that, as Karl Marx put it, has one basis for science and another for life. It is time to begin, as Marx did, from facts that emerge from the drive to realize everyday life activity, not as a means, but as self-determining free activity.

Why does science go into the machinery of death, turning the great mass of humanity into mere collateral damage at the hands of the statist representatives of capital? Why does science go into the machine (capital) to both replace and stultify human life activity? 

The San Francisco Bay Area is an intense center of resistance to Trump, the bluest part of the bluest state in the country. Yet are we confronting the way this contradictory reality looms large? Tesla’s owner Elon Musk rightly called robotics another “existential crisis for humanity.” That crisis plays out in his own Fremont, Calif., Tesla plant, which has the most advanced, ubiquitous robotic manufacturing.


The long hours and intense pace of work have meant that “ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains” (see “Tesla factory workers reveal pain, injury and stress: ‘Everything feels like the future but us,’” The Guardian, May 18, 2017). As one Tesla worker, who is looking for help from the UAW, put it on his blog: “I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.”

Marx said the key to his critique of capitalism was the dual character of labor in which abstract, value-producing, alienated labor increasingly dominates concrete, corporeal living labor as capitalism and its science recreates itself in new forms. That is so until freely associated workers consciously recreate humanity’s metabolism with nature. 

Yet Marx’s whole critique of capitalism, and projection that its unemployed army would be its gravedigger, is but a moment of his original 1844 concept of human essence, namely, the ever-expanding drive to realize everyday life activity as free, conscious activity. Human essence never directly merges with any of its moments through which humans reproduce reality and themselves.

Material limits and physical differences between humans are always present, but for Marx what is crucial is what humans make of those limits, those differences. Marx saw the Black struggle for freedom at the forefront of opposition to the global capitalism of his day. Black Lives Matter, which was started by Oakland activists, has awoken the nation to the legacy of slavery, to the right to live free in the everyday public arena against police who murder with impunity.


Millions of women standing up for their right to freely determine their relations in public and private came out against the predator-in-chief. The post-inaugural women’s march in the Bay Area was the largest in living memory. In Washington, D.C., the immense crowds of women asserting their humanism dramatically revealed the paltriness of Trump’s inaugural crowd—along with his bluster about it.

Htun Lin, a persistent voice in the struggle to provide healthcare in the face of healthcare restructuring and science structured for profit, said that perhaps a crucial moment of truth was the defeat of Trumpcare. Thousands of healthcare workers and patients, especially the disabled, stood up in town hall meetings and demonstrations over what is for many an “existential crisis.”

Humanism is the opposite of the Trumpism that capitalism in crisis disgorged—a dehumanizing of the other, especially minorities, women and immigrants, while refraining from criticizing Nazis and Klansmen. Millions have protested, shocked that any could forget those groups’ history of unspeakable terror against fellow human beings. 

Yet the unifying humanism, which is the absolute opposite of this abyss of horror, is multi-dimensional: being recognized and recognizing others as determining one’s everyday life activity in a free, conscious manner. Marx’s science followed this idea of freedom in the workplace, in man/woman relations, in the Black struggles against slavery, in peasant communal life and in Marx’s perspective for organization guiding a future beyond capitalism.

The new society that is the alternative to the totally dismal future driven by the divide between science and life is the self-determination of this humanist idea in humanity’s social life processes.

—Ron Kelch

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