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In the following text, what is the highlighted sentence meant to say? Why does the author say that? Clearly put, I don’t understand the conditional here.

If such limits doesn’t exist, then it would be possible…

How two sides of this conditional are connected together. Why that would be possible if there was no such limits? How one might think that: if such biological and psychological limits doesn’t exist, then it would be possible for there to be class societies

in which the majority of the population was socially conditioned to accept its exploitation and oppression.

Marx recognized that in different social and historical circumstances, human behavior and psychology can vary dramatically, just as in different physical circumstances water can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. As he put it, “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.”

Nevertheless, the range of potential human behaviors has limits, ultimately rooted in human biology and psychology. If such limits did not exist, then it would be possible for there to be class societies in which the majority of the population was socially conditioned to accept its exploitation and oppression. But the whole history of class societies is a refutation of that idea. (Source)

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    I believe Marx is saying that people are generally unhappy with a society where oppression exists and some will not accept it and take action to bring about change. People can get used to dealing with a wide range of situations, but not every situation and institutionalised oppression is something that people can’t bring themselves to be content with. However, if people could be infinitely flexible in their thinking then they could be content with an oppressive society.
    – Frog
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 9:13
  • I just seems to mean that there are some kinds of societies that are not possible, that cannot be created because people just don't work that way. So if your dream is to create a society of masters and happy slaves, your dream is destined to fail because of human nature. I'll note that the same is true in reverse: you also can't create a society of happy egalitarians who don't work to gain advantages over their peers, and eventually succeed, creating a hierarchy. Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 14:38
  • Of course you don't. We need no knowledge of Marx to see that "If such limits doesn’t exist, then it would be possible…" could never work in English. How many other translations have you considered? Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 19:59

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You basically have to read the paragraph from back to front:

[T]he whole history of class societies is a refutation of [the] idea there [are] class societies in which the majority of the population was socially conditioned to accept its exploitation and oppression [because] the range of potential human behaviors has limits, ultimately rooted in human biology and psychology.

In other words: human biology and psychology involve behavioural limits which cause the majority of the population to reject exploitation and oppression, as history has shown time and again. Or even simpler: If the majority of people is suppressed, they naturally become so unhappy that they ultimately revolt against that system.

The author here explains that Marx has set hard limits to his own idea of materialistic conditions forming human psychology: There are basic human needs that have to be fulfilled. As he writes in the next paragraph:

No one was more aware of this than Marx, which is why from his earliest writings he condemns capitalism as inhumane — a society in which most human beings cannot live satisfying lives, engage in fulfilling work, or relate in satisfactory ways to other people or to the rest of the natural world. In other words, capitalism frustrates basic human needs and human nature. (bolded mine)

Thus, no system can possibly bring its people to accept inhumane suppression and exploitation, no matter by which means, as it is against human nature.

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  • As said in the comment to the other answer, if human being didn’t have such needs, then they would be less likely to accept exploitation.
    – Sasan
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 17:47
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    @Sasan The point is that because humans have certain needs they indeed don't accept exploitation and thus exploitative social systems are and have always been refuted. I honestly don't get your comment here. The author points out (with Marx) that the extent to which human psychology can be formed by the material conditions has a hard limit, which is all about basic human needs.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 18:00
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In the simplest terms, human beings have certain physiological and psychological needs that must be satisfied for their physical and mental well-being, e.g.:

  • They must feed themselves and their families
  • They must sleep
  • They need social contact, entertainment, and other forms of leisure
  • They need housing and protection from the elements
  • They want a sense of fulfillment
  • They need recuperation time for illnesses and injuries
  • They want safety and security

All of these things come at a cost — lost work-hours and wages, rents, expenses, stress and anxiety, loneliness and purposelessness etc. — and the more that exploitation and oppression cut into the ability to satisfy these wants and needs, the more anger and resentment build within the exploited classes.

If people didn't have these needs and wants — if they were like robots, without physiological or psychological constraints — then they could contentedly be exploited, working endless hours for no pay in horrific conditions. But that's a fantasy.

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  • But, one might say, they would not be exploited if they didn’t have such needs. Because it is for those needs that they may accept exploitation.
    – Sasan
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 17:43
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    @Sasan: Exploitation (in Marxism) means extracting labor-value from the working class to use as capitol or profit for the capitalist class. A robot labors — produces labor-value — that a capitalist can exploit. But a robot has no needs or wants, so capitalists can extract all of the labor-value a robot produces without distressing the robot. A capitalist cannot extract all of the labor-value a human produces, or the human will not be able to survive or thrive. Thus as capitalists extract more and more labor-value, humans become stressed in ways robots do not. Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 17:59

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