Dialectics is the science of all movement and change– in nature and its reflection in human consciousness

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18/02/2018 by socialistfight

By Tony Fox in SF26

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Trotsky’s Notebooks 1933-1935 says:

“Hegel’s absolute idealism is directed against dualism-against the thing-in-itself of dualism, Isn’t the recognition of the reality of the external world outside a cognizing consciousness and independent of it a return to dualism? Not at all, for cognition is in no respect an independent principle for us, but a specialized part of the objective world.”

Cliff Slaughter was quite right on this matter in 1962:

“Lenin very specifically says that the self-movement of things through the struggle of opposites is the science of dialectics. This is the logical consequence of the understanding that dialectics is the self-movement of reality, and of the concepts reflecting reality, and not an external logic which imposed its own distinctions and comparisons on reality. Dialectics is the theory of how reality sorts itself out, with growing human knowledge seen as the latest development of this reality, rather than a way of sorting out reality. Hegel is quoted by Lenin to this effect: “Thinking reason, however, sharpens, so to say, the blunt difference of diverse terms, the mere manifoldness of pictorial thinking, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction to they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity.”

Absolutely central to that is the recognition of movement as a property of matter; there is no movement without matter, there is no matter without movement. Self-movement is a property of matter and does not require an outside force to set it in motion or to stop it; matter has always moved, and it always will. The source of movement is the unity and conflict of opposites within every phenomenon, natural and human. Thought itself is a natural phenomenon, matter which thinks via the movement of micro electrical impulses between brain cells, not a mysterious process only understood as a gift from a god in the sky.

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All things are only at rest relative to one another; they appear so because they are moving at the same rate and in the same direction. Rest on the planet earth is relative whilst that planet is hurtling through space. Equilibrium in the class struggle and in human class consciousness is a dynamic equilibrium which inevitably will break to reveal its essence at certain points under certain circumstances. Accident, i.e. the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party in 2015, his re-election in 2016 and Labour’s consequent record-breaking surge in the 2017 general election, is how necessity reveals itself.

And if we are not satisfied with how Marx and Engels dealt with this most essential of philosophical concepts for Marxism let Lenin speak on what he did contribute; On the Question of Dialectics:

The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation…”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

  • In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral.
  • In mechanics: action and reaction.
  • In physics: positive and negative electricity.
  • In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.
  • In social science: the class struggle.

The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self – movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” – movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics, there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry, the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.

And from Frederick Engels:

“When we consider and reflect upon nature at large or the history of mankind or our own intellectual activity, at first, we see the picture of an endless entanglement of relations and reactions in which nothing remains what, where and as it was, but everything moves, changes, comes into being and passes away. This primitive, naive but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away.

…To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. “His communication is ‘yea, yea; nay, nay’; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” [Matthew 5:37. — Ed.] For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.

…Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern science that it has furnished this proof with very rich materials increasing daily, and thus has shown that, in the last resort, nature works dialectically and not metaphysically. But the naturalists who have learned to think dialectically are few and far between, and this conflict of the results of discovery with preconceived modes of thinking explains the endless confusion now reigning in theoretical natural science, the despair of teachers as well as learners, of authors and readers alike.

Of course, all serious Marxist dialecticians defend the triad as set out by Engels:

It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed, they can be reduced in the main to three:

  1. The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;
  2. The law of the interpenetration of opposites;
  3. The law of the negation of the negation.

All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally, the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought. If we turn the thing round, then everything becomes simple, and the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday.

Lenin regarded Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC) as a founder, with Plato, of dialectics. Here we see Lenin on Lassalle and Heraclitus in his Philosophical Notebooks in 1915:

Lassalle emphasises and rehashes the idea that Heraclitus not only recognises motion in everything, that his principle is motion or becoming (Werden), but that the whole point lies in understanding the processing identity of absolute (schlechthin) opposites” (p. 289 and many others); Lassalle, so to speak, hammers into the reader’s head the Hegelian thought that in abstract concepts (and in the system of them) the principle of motion cannot be expressed otherwise than as the principle of the identity of opposites. Motion and Werden, generally speaking, can be without repetition, without return to the point of departure, and then such motion would not be an “identity of opposites.” But astronomical and mechanical (terrestrial) motion, and the life of plants, animals and man—all this has hammered into the heads of mankind not merely the idea of motion, but motion precisely with a return to the point of departure, i.e., dialectical motion.

This is naïvely and delightfully expressed in the famous formula (or aphorism) of Heraclitus: “it is impossible to bathe twice in the same river”—actually, however (as had already been said by Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus), it cannot be done even once (for before the whole body has entered the water, the latter is already not the same as before).

And the words of Heraclitus: “The world was created by none of the Gods or men, but is eternally living fire and will always be so” (ibidem).

Let us quote again Alex Steiner on Heidegger in the WSWS article in 2000:

Sartre and the French existentialists adopted from Heidegger the themes of loneliness and alienation as well as the corollary notion of a heroic and resolute voluntarism in the face of an absurd world. Fritsche maintains that whatever the merits of their own works, the existentialists misunderstood Heidegger. Fritsche’s argument for reading Heidegger as the philosopher of National Socialism is impossible to summarize here. It relies on a very sophisticated historical and philological analysis of the text of Being and Time. After reconstructing the actual content of Being and Time, Fritsche compares it with the writings of two other notorious right-wing authors who were contemporaries, namely Max Scheler and Adolf Hitler. Fritsche demonstrates that the political content of Being and Time and Mein Kampf are identical, notwithstanding the fact that the first book was written by a world-renowned philosopher and the second by a sociopath from the gutters of Vienna.

One of the myths Fritsche exposes is that Heidegger’s notion of authenticity bears some relationship to the traditional conception of individual freedom. Fritsche demonstrates that for Heidegger achieving “authenticity” means precisely the opposite of exercising freedom. Rather it means that one answers a “call” to live life according to one’s fate. The fate whose call one must answer has been preordained by forces that are outside the scope of the individual. Answering the call is therefore the very anti-thesis of any notion of freedom. In support of this thesis, Fritsche quotes the following passage from Being and Time:

“Dasein [Heidegger’s term for human being] can be reached by the blows of fate only because in the depths of its Being Dasein is fate in the sense we have described. Existing fatefully in the resoluteness which hands itself down, Dasein has been disclosed as Being-in-the-world both for the ‘fortunate’ circumstances which ‘comes its way’ and for the cruelty of accidents. Fate does not arise from the clashing together of events and circumstances. Even one who is irresolute gets driven about by these—more so than one who has chosen; and yet he can ‘have’ no fate.”

We must defend the dialectical materialist approach of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, Marx’s agreement with this approach and Lenin and Trotsky’s development of that method. We exposed the “philosophy of praxis” as a non-Marxist approach of the pro-Stalinist and anti-Marxist ‘Marxists’, Lukács, Gramsci and Sartre. Their ‘praxis’ was not only cowardly politically but bureaucratic to the core and lacked all aspiration to revolutionary practice themselves, never seriously seeking to build a revolutionary leadership to take the working class to power. The distinction made in the philosophical idealist approach of Hannah Arendt to Aristotle via Heidegger and Herbert Marcuse’s approach to Aristotle who wrote, “in Marxian terms as world-constitutive and historical labouring activity”. Whatever our criticisms of Marcuse his approach was materialist and so essentially correct here.

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Lastly a comment on Trotsky’s Notebooks of 1933-1935. It is, of course, true that the development of dialectical materialism did not stop with Marx and Engels, or indeed with Lenin. With the latter, there was a development of the material conditions that put some flesh on the bones of the dialectics outlined correctly by its founders. The organised working class emerged as a mass force from the late 1880s and early 1890s, in Britain, the USA and in Europe in general. And in 1905 the emergence of the Soviets in Russia, the workers’ councils, showed the form that a nation and a world ruled by the working class would look like; direct democracy with instantly recallable delegates reflecting the revolution aspiration of the whole working class. That is the content of that marvellous 1915 piece by Lenin on Dialectics, from which we quoted above,

“the distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics, there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry, the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.”

For Trotsky, the distinguishing role of thought in history was its pursuit of ‘certain practical outcomes’. It was impossible to speak of historical causality without acknowledging teleology, or purpose, as ‘a partial aspect of the cause’. Determinism, as a theory of objective causality, denied the salience of human intervention. Pure materialism and objective determinism suggested the impossibility of political practice, whereas Trotsky believed it was precisely through political life that quantitative social change becomes qualitative. Human history did not happen; it was made. And politics grew out of economics for the purpose of reconstituting economic relations. ‘Living people’ used political institutions as superstructure ‘levers’ to impose their own subjective ends upon the objective world. Trotsky’s philosophical differences with the tradition stemming from Engels distinguished him clearly from the mainstream of Bolshevik thought.

Lenin very specifically says that the self-movement of things through the struggle of opposites is the science of dialectics. This is the logical consequence of the understanding that dialectics is the self-movement of reality, and of the concepts reflecting reality, and not an external logic which imposed its own distinctions and comparisons on reality. Dialectics is the theory of how reality sorts itself out, with growing human knowledge seen as the latest development of this reality, rather than just a way of sorting out reality.

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