The price of historical progress

All historical progress is closely tied with and achieved at a price. The former compensates for the latter. No historical progress is free of a price.

Essence of the price of historical progress

The price of historical progress denotes human work and sacrifices and negative consequences incurred for such progress. Unlike the energy loss in the motion of matter, the price of historical progress exists only amid historical activities and is manifested in the form of losses and negative consequences, which, however, are incurred for the express purpose of historical progress. The cost incurred other than for the purpose of progress is not included in our definition. Specifically, the cost of historical progress includes expenses, value depreciation, human sacrifices, historical errors, and negative consequences therein.

Cost refers to the input and efforts in human historical activities. Historical progress involves costs for both the subject and the object. As subjects of history, humans are the initiator and regulator of historical activities. They have to expend physical strength and brain power, consume lives, and often inhibit and restrain personal needs in order to succeed in their cause. As for the historical object, the cost includes the consumption of raw materials and natural resources, the expense of labor means, and the disintegration of active objects and so on. Cost is the price that humans have to pay for all historical progress. This price is inevitable, but humans may strive to decrease costs, reduce input, and increase output, in order to obtain greater historical progress at a lower cost.

In historical activities, humans are both the end and the means. As a means, humans must undergo value depreciation and sacrifice in historical activities. For example, human beings start from barbarism, and in the effort of overcoming barbarism, enter into civilization and progress. In this process, they had to use crude and savage methods: “it achieved them by setting in motion the lowest instincts and passions in man and developing them at the expense of all his other abilities.”

Since civilization is founded on the exploitation of one class by another class, its whole development proceeds in a constant contradiction. Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backwards in the position of the oppressed class, that is, of the great majority. Whatever benefits some necessarily injures the others; every fresh emancipation of one class is necessarily a new oppression for another class.3

Historically and even now, incompatibility exists within the development of different aspects of humanity and between the development of the individual and the development of humanity as a whole. The development of one aspect inevitably hurts another. The development of the individual inevitably hurts the collective. Only in the future communist society will the development of each individual become a condition for the development of all. Mistakes in history result from subjective human reasons. As the historical subject, the human finds it impossible to be completely correct in all cognitive and practical activities. Historical mistakes are the inevitable price and lay the necessary foundation for historical progress. Reflection upon mistakes enhances humans’ self-awareness and their capability to better foresee and handle the future.

All historical activities are dialectical processes encompassing both pros and cons. Even well-considered plans have negative consequences, differing only in degree and duration and perhaps manifested at different times. As common in history, good wishes do not always end in good results, because limitations are many and human needs diverse. Human learning in the process may increase but will never eradicate negative consequences from historical activities. This may remain the case even in the future communist society.

The necessity of the costs of historical progress

The costs for historical development are inevitable due to human, natural, and social limitations. The transformation and enhancement of nature and society and production are foundational for and symbolic of human progress. Human beings have invested energy and wisdom, blood and sweat. On the other hand, the process has also resulted in environmental pollution, energy depletion, resource scarcity, and retaliations from nature. In the field of social relations, from the primitive society to the capitalist society, human development is realized at the sacrifice of individuals. The class society subjects one class to another's servitude, oppressing and alienating the former. Human progress embeds a cost along its every step.

Social costs in historical progress are necessarily omnipresent. Such costs may be coerced by one group upon another, by irrationality inherent in a social relation, or by the fact that the subject is not yet made master of his or her own service. Absence of choice has a price. There is always a gap between human needs and the degree of satisfaction of those needs. In a society of low productivity, the satisfaction of basic human needs has required the sacrifice of many non-basic human needs. Social and individual development is always a graduated and prioritized process in which the development of one thing may lead to the suppression of another.

The costs for historical progress assume different forms and characteristics at different times. In the primitive society, such costs derive mainly from the severe harshness of nature working against human frailty. In a class society, one class develops at the expense of another. In capitalism, one country or region develops at the expense of another. Only in communism will humanity as a whole attain its free and full development.

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