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A Short Course in Dialectics

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Introduction

 

 

Like we did with the Short Course in Marxism, in this thread we will build up the main points in a system of thought generally called "Marxist Dialectics," or "Dialectical Materialism," though Marx or Engels never used these terms themselves. Please feel free to join in at any time, or ask any questions.

 

Although Marx and Engels operate from the standpoint of dialectics all through their work, the text that gathers together their thoughts on this topic most concisely and easily for the student of Marxism is Engels 1886 work, "Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy."

 

What is dialectics? This is a question that people new (and not so new) to Marxism often ask. They don't always get a very satisfactory reply. In short, dialectics is the idea that all material, i.e. everything in the universe, can be described by the concept of process. In other words, the universe is an ongoing process, rather than a collection of unchanging things or fixed points. Marx and Engels also claim that every element of this process comes from within the material universe itself, i.e. there is no God or gods, outside the material universe, influencing what happens within the material universe.

 

This idea has become the hegemonic idea in the world today - even among those who like to claim that Marx is no longer relevant. Modern psychology regards human subjectivity as being a process. We do change over time. Bourgeois economists clearly see the economy as a process, even when they treat it as some kind of alien god, that cannot be controlled by rational human beings. All of science operates on the basis of dialectical materialism - particularly since the publication of Einstein's theory of relativity. Since the equations of science are generally those of calculus, i.e. of change over time, if there is a God of science, he\she\it is a changing God.

 

However, the bourgeois mind is split. Even the atheist bourgeois mind suffers from the same split. The bourgeois will say to himself: "I know perfectly well that the universe is subject to the laws of process, but, I will act as if my own subjectivity is exempt from these laws."

 

Now that might seem like a harmless enough mental trick to play on yourself, but it has catastrophic effect on the well being of the earth and all living things on it.

 

Dialectical Materialism is usually studied under four headings:

 

1. Things Vs processes

2. The correlative aspects of material

3. Quality and quantity

4. Contradiction

 

We will study each one of these four topics in turn.

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Historical Background

 

Marx did not discover dialectics. The discovery of dialectics is usually attributed to Socrates, who took his love of dialectics and process to such an extreme that he never wrote anything down. Perhaps he feared the ability of writing to make ideas seem frozen in time. We find the teachings of Socrates in the writings of his pupil, Plato, who develops them even further. The idea was quite simple. Everything influences and effects everything else. Socrates loved to use the dialectical method in debate. There are two main ways to debate. You can come to the debate with a fixed belief, and just keep repeating this belief, regardless of what anyone else says, until your listeners get tired and walk away. Or, you can listen to what others say, and modify your speech to take account of what they have said. This is the dialectical method. Socrates rarely made positive assertions in debate, i.e. he rarely said "I believe X is correct." Instead he used questions. By answering these questions, Socrates opponent would be forced to see the contradiction in his own discourse \ speech. Needless to say, since Plato was writing down these debates, he presented Socrates as always being right, but, we can hope that Socrates was himself open to having his ideas changed by his own dialectical method.

 

However, there was one major contradiction in Socrates method. While he believed that all mortals were subject to the laws of dialectics \ process, he believed that the immortal gods were exempt. And he believed that the gods could make changes in the processes of the material universe. Plato went even further to suggest that not only were the gods exempt, but, that there were certain "forms" which were exempt from any process. These forms were, in effect, the basic thoughts of God. And, to Plato, they included shapes, for example a triangle, and the general laws of mathematics. Plato believed that the study of mathematics was the study of the immortal mind of God. He believed that our changing, and thus mortal universe, tried to approximate to the unchanging, and thus immortal, mind of God. (Plato already had a quite monothestic view, though he dared not be too open about this. He saw the contradiction in having lots of gods influencing each other and the idea of eternal thought. Plato's pupil, Aristotle, shared this view, which made their philosophy pretty much ready made for appropriation by the Christian church.)

 

One can see from the above that these are very powerful ideas. Not in any way easily dismissed. They became the philosophy of the Christian church for 2,000 years, and were not in any way changed by the Reformation. They remain the basis of the popular belief systems of the West, and Islam was greatly influenced by Aristotle. As far as I know, Buddhism has very similar beliefs. However, with the so called Enlightenment, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became less acceptable to European intellectuals to put God as the guarantor of all thought and reason.

 

In 1637, René Decartes published his Discours de la Méthode, which introduced Europe to co-ordinate geometry. This was a milestone in European thought. Decartes had, in effect, described the world, relative to one point, which was not God. Far from it, it was just a point on any piece of paper, any where, any time. The implications were not lost on Decartes. The Enlightenment was already an age of individualism, and he was about to give it a philosophical basis and justification. In this same book he used the famous phrase, Je pense donc je suis, which became famous to the world in its Latin translation, Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am. Decartes had put the individual's act of thinking as the guarantor of existence. However, he had not gotten rid of God. He still claimed that since something cannot come from nothing, the very fact that I can think proves that God exists and made me.

 

Decartes ideas have had massive effect on Western thought, right down to the present day. If the one thing in the universe that I can be sure of is the fact that I am thinking (and, perhaps from that, that God made me to think) then the rest of the universe becomes of much less importance to me - except as something for me to use as I wish. In the medieval period, if you believed that God made everything, and I'm just one among many of God's creations, then you might feel that some respect towards God's creations might be in order. But, if my own thought is the only thing that I really know exists, or was created by God, then we can see the potential for chronic egomania and the destruction of the natural world, which are after all, the hallmarks of capitalism. Just as in co-ordinate geometry, one point has become the center of the universe - and that point is ME.

 

Needless to say, if I am the only fixed point in the universe, I will not want to believe that this point is changeable. Then I would have no guarantees at all. So, where Socrates had a system of:

 

gods fixed \ material world in process

 

The bourgeois has a system of:

 

Me fixed \ everything else in process

 

Now, the bourgeois doesn't actually claim that he personally is the only fixed point - that would be psychosis. What he claims is that each and every individual is a fixed point, and each and every individual sees the world from that fixed point. Though the bourgeois does admit we might be mistaken, and see the world from a position other than from the position of our "true selves" (thus we get popular statements such as "I want to find the real me" - as if there was some genuine and eternal real-me out there drifting in space, and all I have to do is find it, like I would find Africa). In the bourgeois mind, each of these fixed points is related to God, so that they more or less all see the world in the same way. (The atheist bourgeois will try to find some other concept to replace God in this system - but, at bottom, it will always still be God.)

 

And, by the grace of God, some of these fixed points, i.e. individuals, will be stronger than others, whether by inheritance of wealth or by strength of will, and they will enforce a social system that is natural and pleasing to God.

 

This was the state of play when Marx and Engels came onto the world stage. As you can see, they had their work cut out for them...

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1. Things Versus Processes

 

"The world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which "things" apparently stable go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away."

 

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886.

 

 

As we mentioned above, this idea of the material world being a in a state of continual process is not new. However, it is an idea that has been strongly resisted by bourgeois philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, who claimed that the world consisted of "things, with their qualities and relations." This might seem like a small difference of view, but, actually, it is a whole different way of looking at the world. The bourgeois sees the "thing" as being first, and the process as being the result of various things interacting. This is, what in philosophy is known as the metaphysical view. It basically comes from the idea that God existed first as a thing. He then created other things, and only then did processes begin, as these things began to interact and form relations.

 

Of course, it is very tempting to see ourselves a constant things. But, in reality, we are the combination of many processes, such as the flowing of blood, the creation and destruction of cells, the forming and forgetting of thoughts and memories, etc. etc. When all these bodily processes end, we die and the process of decomposition begins. Even then, the total process of our being does not end. We have the sorrow our passing causes in our loved one, and the memories they have of us. We have the continuing influence of our lives in the lives of those we have touched. In the cases of Marx and Engels, the process of their thoughts continue to operate in the minds of tens of millions of people.

 

At the quantum level, if we are to accept String Theory, there are no things either, but an infinity of frequencies moving between a multiplicity of dimensions and universes.

 

That said, as we mentioned in the Short Course in Marxism, we are justified in the use of a certain amount of reification. Stability is a relative concept. We know, from hard experience, that no human mind is fully stable, but, there are degrees. Most of us are fortunate enough to have just enough mental stability to operate in the world as sane individuals, who can form friendships, marriages, etc. etc. But, we would be foolish to take this "good enough" mental stability for granted. It needs to be protected and developed. The same goes for our concepts of the ordinary items we use in our lives. We don't need to spend every moment thinking of the sub-atomic processes that constitute a hammer to be able to drive a nail. Still, it does us no harm to be aware that they exist.

 

Similarly, it is quite useful, in science, to use, for example, the Periodic Table of the Elements. For practical purposes, we may think of different minerals as being separate "things." It doesn't really help us, in our day to day lives, to regard gold as being the same as lead. However, for centuries, it had been the dream of the Alchemists to convert other metals into gold. Even Sir Issac Newton was a secret Alchemist. Why secret? Because Alchemists where thought to be against God. As far as the powers that be were concerned, God had made things. He had not made processes that could change into one another. As we now know, the Alchemists were right. Indeed, in 1981, researchers at Berkeley University did make gold out of bismuth - but the cost of doing it far outweighed what the gold was monetarily worth.

 

Before Charles Darwin published his The Origin of Species, in 1859, it was usual to believe that God had conceived of every plant and animal in his mind, and had created them in full perfection. The work of natural science was to categorize these species, not to speculate about their origins or future. However, in the human sphere, this notion had chronic outcomes. Humanity was segregated into races, and the races into classes. This too was considered God's work, and not capable of being changed. Plato wrote, perhaps poetically, that God had put gold into the souls of the aristocracy, iron into the hearts of the warriors, and lead into the hearts of the workers. Sadly, Darwin's work did not end this segregation based on ignorance and superstition. In some respects they made it even more chronic, as human life was regarded, by the bourgeois régime, as a fight for survival between the strong and the weak. Darwin himself regarded the extermination of the native peoples of Australia as being inevitable and beneficial.

 

Of course, in our own day, the idea of "human nature" is one of the most commonly employed justifications for Capitalism. We are told that we were made greedy and egotistical, and any attempt to base society on anything but the greed and egoism of the strong is bound to fail. "Human nature" is presented as just as fixed as the gold in the hearts of the aristocracy - according to Plato. And its precisely at this point that the difference between Dialectical Materialism and bourgeois metaphysics ceases to be a harmless debate between academics and becomes a life and death struggle - from the jungles of the Philippians and the Red Corridor of India, to the streets of Athens and Madrid. The bourgeois régime knows that if it can convince us that we are born as "things," with a set "nature," then its case is secure. Because we see people behaving in a greedy and egotistical manner in today's consumer societies, we mush conclude that that is how they were born and how they will die. Capitalism cannot be logically opposed.

 

 

Capitalism to Socialism to Communism

 

There is a question of vital importance that we must now consider. There is a tendency to think of capitalism as one "thing." Socialism as another "thing," and Communism as yet another "thing." In reality they form a continuum. The change from one to another is a process, not a jump. We see from the bank bailouts that Capitalism itself can slip easily from methods of Liberalism, when the ruling class is profiting, to aspects of Socialism, when the ruling class wants to tap into the public purse for its own survival and prosperity. Similarly, the USSR maintained many aspects of Capitalism, as it moved in the direction of Socialism in other areas. We must also take account of the fact that many aspects of Feudalism continue to operate in our societies, and continue to hold the emotional attachment of millions of people.

 

Marx points out that the elements of Primitive Communism, Feudalism, Capitalism and Communism continue to operate in all societies. Which form of society is dominant at any given time will depend on the base level of technological development. In turn, our human subjectivity will be a function of that level of technology, and the cultural superstructure that grows out of that technological base.

 

I would venture to suggest that, in Freudian terms, we could say that Capitalism and Feudalism are the unconscious of Communism. We can never really be free of these processes. The same could be said of the other two, but just switch what is in the place of the conscious. I think that is particularly true of Feudalism, which seems to have been structured on the unconscious awareness of a terrible monster that was growing within it, i.e. Capitalism. Much of the cruelty of the Feudal era seems to have been directed at the signs and manifestations of the emergence of Capitalism.

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I wish to digress a little from our topic, but, hopefully, our little digression will benefit us in our understanding of dialectics. One of the issues that troubled Hegel most was the issue of ethics. How do we know what is ethical? Is there an objective ethical standard?

 

These were questions that were very current in Hegel's time, as the late 18th century and the early 19th century was the time when the old certainties of Christianity were breaking down, for millions of Europeans, but nothing very re-assuring were taking their place. Kant had also recognized this problem. Even though he was a religious man himself, with a deep belief in the teachings of Christianity, Kant knew that telling the modern mind to simply put its trust in the church would not be enough. As he saw it, there were two main rival opinions:

 

1/ There is a divinely determined Good, i.e. God has knowledge of what is good, and what is evil, and He has made us in such a way, that we can discern the Good from the Evil.

 

2/ There is no divinely determined Good. Each individual must decide what is good for him or her. Even when states make laws, they are just following the desires of the most powerful and wealthy sections of the population. This viewpoint is known, in philosophy, as ethical subjectivism.

 

Now, we can see that there are disadvantages to both views. The first one depends on a faith in God, and what are held to be the texts inspired by divine will, i.e. the Bible, the Koran, etc. This view is certainly not very satisfactory to the modern, scientific, mind. However, the second is equally unsatisfactory, as it makes ideas of right and wrong a matter of personal choice - whim even. States would have no real moral authority. They would enforce their laws by brute force only.

 

Kant tried to make a kind of Third Way between the two. He came up with what he called the Catagorical Imperative, which states:

 

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

 

In other words, only carry out those acts that you would be happy to see everyone doing. Of course, Jesus has a similar view, i.e. do onto others as you would have others do onto you. We see that this is a middle ground, as it does not depend on divine will, but, at the same time, it is not totally arbitrary. Kant could expect that the sane human being would not like to be the victim of murder, theft or oppression, therefore, if he followed the Categorical Imperative, he would not inflict these injuries on others.

 

However, Hegel was not satisfied with this conclusion. He regarded the Categorical Imperative as a weak form of ethical subjectivism. In other words, the Categorical Imperative still depended on the particular opinion of the individual. It was clear that no two individuals would necessarily take the same view of any given ethical question. We see that with the issue of abortion. There are good people on both sides of the question, who really want to act with justice. But, they come to completely opposite conclusions.

 

Hegel recognized, in his time, what we would now call Post Modernism. In his time it was known as Romantic Irony. Irony means taking a position of distance, or detachment, from a positive statement. For example, a positive statement could be: I am a man. An ironic position on this statement would ask: What is a man? "Man" is just a idea - not even a very good idea. In the post modern era, i.e. following the 1980s, and particularly following the end of the USSR, Jean-François Lyotard defined Post Modernism as a suspicion of grand narratives. The grand narrative that most of them had in mind was the idea of Proletarian Power - the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in particular. We can see that Post Modernism is in direct line from Decartes, and his placing of the human ego at the center of the universe.

 

Now, an ironic distance from the world can be quite healthy, but, some people take such a distance from any form of positive statement that they are, in fact, paralyzed. All they can do is tell jokes and write witty articles for trendy periodicals. This particular disease has overcome the European Left. Indeed, these days, an ironic view is usually regarded as being one and the same as a Leftist view.

 

Hegel certainly didn't have any great desire to change the world. He thought the Prussian state was the high point of social organization. He saw that the ironic view would gradually destroy everything that he thought had been built by centuries of toil. This, of course, was a very conservative view. But, as Communists, we must recognize that this ironic position destroys everything WE build, just as much as it destroys what the Prussian state built. This chronically ironic view only supports one form of society. i.e. the consumer society, in other words, capitalism. All thoughts, ideas, rights, are regarded as commodities, to be bought and sold as the market dictates. Even the commodity itself is regarded with irony. It has to be. If we dont maintain an ironic distance from the commodity, we might get the idea that we can have democratic control over it - and that would be the end of capitalism. It has to be said that Communist states need the people to believe in them. Bourgeois states don't. All they need is for people to believe Margret Thatcher's infamous slogan - There is No Alternative (TINA).

 

Hegel describes Kant's Categorical Imperative as the "formal conscience." He sets out to discover the "true conscience."

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To continue with our digression, I'd like to quote an uncanny paragraph from Freidrich W. Von Shelling, who was a friend of Hegel, and who took over from Hegel as professor of philosophy in Berlin, when Hegel died in 1831. Von Shelling writes in his System of Transcendental Idealism;

 

"The eternal, timeless act of self-consciousness, which we call "I," is that which gives all things existence, and so itself needs no other being to support it. It bears and supports itself. It appears objectively as eternal becoming, and subjectively as producing without limit."

 

Now, I have no doubt that Von Shelling would be horrified if he could get a glimpse of Late Capitalism. And yet, as he wrote the above paragraph in 1800, as a hopeful vision of the human subject, we see, in this vision, so much of the horror that we now live through. Von Shelling has cut the ego off from any outside support or guarantee. Even Decartes didn't dare to do this. The existence of the outside world is given by me, and me alone. Now, this idea is not without benefit. After all, if I create the world, I could make it better. I'm quite sure that that was Von Shelling's hope. But, the converse is I can make it worse, or, more commonly, just leave it as it is. He says our subjectivity appears as an eternal becoming. Again, this was an idea of liberation. In traditional societies, you were who you were. You bore your fathers name, and usually his trade. And that was you. You were a finished product by your late teens. Your life was a life of "being," not "becoming." The idea of eternal becoming seems to break that mould - and so it does. However, in our time, this idea has become almost oppressive. People are constantly doing courses, looking for promotion, etc. etc. to the point that just "being" seems impossible. Old age and death are regarded as a sort of ridiculous obstacle, to be avoided at all costs. And I think we saw the detrimental effects of this view during the bubble years up to 2008. Many old people were literally sucking the life out of the youth, and using it to go on adventure holidays, courses and various other ego trips that they had no need of, and were actually quite ridiculous.

 

The last phrase is the most interesting. Limitless production is now a sort of religious imperative - with all the superstitious reverence that religious imperatives are usually granted by their followers. It has been since the 19th century. Marx wrote a lot about this idea, and, we must admit that Socialist states have also fallen prey to the idea of limitless production. Already, in 1800, Von Shelling had isolated this mania as being central to the modern consciousness.

 

Here we have the high point of Romantic irony - or Post Modernism. This radical detachment from the world, that has had such an effect on bourgeois thought, and which we find in so many works of art, from the novels of Hermann Hesse to the songs of Bob Dylan. I would say that even a great protest song like "Blowing in the Wind," is written from the point of view of an observer, rather than someone who is taking part in the protest. I would go so far as to claim that to the bourgeois mind, any work of art that does not hold an ironic detachment from its content is to be regarded as naive - primitive even - uncultured. This is one of the reasons that Soviet art is regarded with suspicion today. The Soviet artist sought to be very much part of his or her art. Such an artist expressed the life and death struggles of the Revolutionary Proletariat, and would have regarded any ironic detachment from these struggles as being obscene.

 

Hegel expresses Romantic irony in its darkest terms:

 

"I can destroy everything in me. I can destroy anything that has validity for me. Everything in me is also something that I decided. If we remain at this point, nothing essential survives. I recognize nothing. I remain lord and master over everything, for I produce it. I can just as well randomly destroy it. All that is true, ethical, divine, is thus, for me, mere semblance - without being."

 

I think we could translate this into our current consumerist language as "Everything is a lifestyle choice." Or as "I create my own values." Or "I do my own thing." And, if everything is just a lifestyle choice, then nothing is of any real importance. Get a life - get an iphone 5. Be a real person - drink Coca Cola. We see that politicians today have no higher goal that to give us all more "consumer choice." Nothing raises above that low level. Anything outside that Pale is "fundamentalism," or "terrorism." Whats very noticeable, is that the consumer, with all his limitless freedom of choice, never chooses to create anything new. All he does is make choices between the ready made commodities that are presented to him. As we said in the Short Course in Marxism, this is precisely what Marx described as the Surplus Value the Capitalist takes. The worker \ consumer is deprived of all his ability to create a new world, and is paid for this surrender with ready made commodities. Needless to say, a world where nothing is of more importance than my consumer choices is very boring. No amount of fancy gadgets, drugs or booze will fill the dull and meaningless abyss that my life has become. I may well come to believe that suicide is the only genuine choice available to me.

 

And lest we forget, we are still talking about the dire consequences of regarding ourselves as "things" rather than as processes. This "I" of Romantic irony sits outside of all process, just as surely as the gods of Socrates did.

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One thing you could clarify for me cara if you can...

 

In Things vs Processes you say:

 

Of course, it is very tempting to see ourselves a constant things. But, in reality, we are the combination of many processes, such as the flowing of blood, the creation and destruction of cells, the forming and forgetting of thoughts and memories, etc. etc.

 

Then in the discussion on Hegel and Von Shelling:

 

you were who you were. You bore your fathers name, and usually his trade. And that was you. You were a finished product by your late teens. Your life was a life of "being," not "becoming." The idea of eternal becoming seems to break that mould - and so it does. However, in our time, this idea has become almost oppressive. People are constantly doing courses, looking for promotion, etc. etc. to the point that just "being" seems impossible.

 

Now, I understand the basis of dialectics, process etc. However from the discussion on Von Shellings point, doesnt he seem to be arguing against it? What I mean is his argument seems to be that just "being" is preferable to "becoming". Isnt that going against dialectical thought ie. someone becoming a "thing" rather than a "process". (Obviously dicounting the biological and environmental processes involved in someones life)

 

I take your point when you say - 'courses and various other ego trips that they had no need of'. However, would people attempting to further educate and improve their situations mean they fall into Von Shelling's "becoming" rather than "being"? Isnt "being" essentially what the capitalist elite would love us to do?

 

I suppose, essentially, what Im trying to say is how does "being" differ from "accepting"? I certainly dont accept that it is my lot in life to work in a low wage and insecure job until I can retire on a pittance of a state pension when Im over 70 (as it probably will be by the time I get to retirement!) or until I get ill and die. Therefore, I do strive for promotions or better jobs, education etc. I have to strive for these things as the society we live in does not allow me to have a decent standard of life (decent housing, enough to raise my family in reasonable health and comfort, disposable income to enjoy lesuire time etc) without these things.

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One thing you could clarify for me cara if you can...

 

In Things vs Processes you say:

 

Of course, it is very tempting to see ourselves a constant things. But, in reality, we are the combination of many processes, such as the flowing of blood, the creation and destruction of cells, the forming and forgetting of thoughts and memories, etc. etc.

 

Then in the discussion on Hegel and Von Shelling:

 

you were who you were. You bore your fathers name, and usually his trade. And that was you. You were a finished product by your late teens. Your life was a life of "being," not "becoming." The idea of eternal becoming seems to break that mould - and so it does. However, in our time, this idea has become almost oppressive. People are constantly doing courses, looking for promotion, etc. etc. to the point that just "being" seems impossible.

 

Now, I understand the basis of dialectics, process etc. However from the discussion on Von Shellings point, doesnt he seem to be arguing against it? What I mean is his argument seems to be that just "being" is preferable to "becoming". Isnt that going against dialectical thought ie. someone becoming a "thing" rather than a "process". (Obviously dicounting the biological and environmental processes involved in someones life)

 

I take your point when you say - 'courses and various other ego trips that they had no need of'. However, would people attempting to further educate and improve their situations mean they fall into Von Shelling's "becoming" rather than "being"? Isnt "being" essentially what the capitalist elite would love us to do?

 

I suppose, essentially, what Im trying to say is how does "being" differ from "accepting"? I certainly dont accept that it is my lot in life to work in a low wage and insecure job until I can retire on a pittance of a state pension when Im over 70 (as it probably will be by the time I get to retirement!) or until I get ill and die. Therefore, I do strive for promotions or better jobs, education etc. I have to strive for these things as the society we live in does not allow me to have a decent standard of life (decent housing, enough to raise my family in reasonable health and comfort, disposable income to enjoy lesuire time etc) without these things.

 

Von Shelling was definitely of the opinion that a state of constant becoming was the ideal. And, I'd have to say that my own life is one of constant becoming, as I'm constantly trying to learn new things and become what Im not. I'm really throwing in a personal observation there that this constant becoming can be oppressive. Sometimes it would be nice to just "be." That is to live in the minute, rather than thinking of the future all the time. Ironically, we now have lots of courses and seminars teaching people how to just "be." Its almost impossible for us to do this, these days. Im getting really personal now, but I had a girlfriend, and all she ever talked about was what we were going to do in the future. It was as if the present didn't exist for her at all. She simply couldn't be comfortable for two minutes in the present. Even though I was crazy about her, I just couldn't live with that. There was never a moment of being happy - just now, this minute.

 

Of course, as you say, being forced to stay where you are, with no possibility of becoming is also oppressive. Why would you wish to stay in an insecure job, with no prospects? Perhaps what we are looking for is some concept such as being-in-process. Yes, I'm on the move, but I can appreciate and enjoy the point on my journey that I've reached.

 

And, you have just proved the value of others joining in this debate. I had not seen what you have seen in Von Shelling's discourse. There is a contradiction between the idea of an eternally becoming and producing individual, and the idea of the individual as the center of the world. I think that such a scenario would see humanity break down into utter chaos very quickly. Ultimately, Von Shelling depends on some feeling of God in the human race to hold things together. And the above quote is from early in his career. By the time he became professor of philosophy in Berlin, thirty years later, he is much more convinced of the need for God. But, his view of God is extremely abstract, and a long way from the idea of some all knowing man in heaven, who judges us on our sins. My knowledge of this philosopher just comes from reading Zizek, who quotes him quite a lot. I don't want to do injustice to him, through my ignorance. He strikes me as certainly one of the most interesting philosophers. I think the fact the he foresaw our current capitalist world so clearly in the above quote proves his value.

 

I think it would be fair to say that the break between the Enlightenment philosophy of the individual and the philosophy of the collective, comes about in Hegel's work, and was then greatly developed by Marx and Engels. To jump to the end of this story - before we are really in a position to do so - Hegel shifts ethics away from the will of the individual, or the will of God, to the will of the human collective. And that, ultimately, is the difference between Capitalism and Communism.

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Just on the topic of the stability of the personality, it's clear that there is a certain kernel of stability, that remains through life. We all feel ourselves to be the same person as we were when we where children, no matter how much our understanding of the world may have changed. And, no doubt any mother will see the same traits in her adult offspring as she saw in them as infants. There may be some level of delusion and false memory at work here, but it will generally be true. There is a certain cluster of physical and neurotic traits that will be impossible to change over the course of a life.

 

This would seem to contradict the idea of the personality as process, and it certainly gives rise to the idea that our "true selves" really are fixed entities, that don't change over time. That could be called the "commonsensical view," as it goes along with what seems obvious. This is a complex question that I have no simple answer to. It's clear that the unchanging neurotic complexes do relate to the societies and families we come from, so, over the larger time frame can be regarded as being in process. Psychoanalysts and other mental health professionals report that people are presenting in clinics today with completely different types of problems than they did fifty years ago. To be specific, there are less problems with sexual repression, and much more problems with what Freud called "actual neurosis," that is anxiety that is related to actual damage to the nervous system, caused by the conditions of life the patient suffers, and is usually dealt with by the patient through substance abuse.

 

On a related note, I remember an episode of Star Trek, where Captain Kirk was talking to an alien. He told this alien person that the first generation of space explorers from the earth had been the most educated and the most intelligent people on earth. But, it was found that as soon as these people encountered a more advanced alien civilization, they would forget their earth culture and adopt the ways of the more advanced culture. So, people like Kirk were then chosen, people who were less intelligent, and would thus cling to the culture they were reared with. I think there is some truth to this. Often, people cling desperately to a culture or a religion, simply because of fear of the unknown. And the more they fear the unknown, the less they want to learn about it - which is just great for those who want to control them. It may be that one most unchanging and recognizable aspect of us is this desperate attempt to cling on to the known, and thus safe. At the same time, there is also an ability within us to reject the power of the herd mentality. Kant regarded that ability as the very core of what it means to be human.

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I just want to give an all too familiar example of dialectics at work, that Hegel himself gave in his Philosophy of Right, published in 1820.

 

Thesis: The market economy produces to its maximum capacity.

 

Anti-thesis: Inflation, unemployment, not enough people able to buy the commodities produced.

 

Resolution: Colonization, to find new markets.

 

 

Now, we could take the view that these are all random events, with no connection between them. And, sometimes, in the bourgeois market economy, random shocks do happen. However, the above series of events happen in a cyclical fashion, every 20 years or so. We see that the latest round of vicious colonial attacks on North Africa and the Middle East by the colonial powers of the USA, Britain and France are a desperate attempt to overcome the current economic collapse in the West. Hegel recognized, as did Marx and Engels, that colonialism will always be the inevitable result of the market economy, as there is always a self-destructive dialectic within the market economy, i.e. overproduction. The resolution to this dialectic must come from outside that market economy, i.e. from the exploitation of the Third World. By the way, Hegel himself had no problem with that. It was left to Marx, Engels and Lenin to give this theory a moral perspective, i.e. that the market economy and colonization must be opposed.

 

Now, all of the above probably sounds obvious to most readers of soviet.ie, however, a great many, if not most, bourgeois economists try to deny it. They would deny that colonization still exists at all. They call it the globalization of markets, and claim that everybody are equal players in this market, and that everyone has an equal desire to be part of it. Anyone who doesn't want to be part of it - such as Al Gaddafi or Al Assad, are to be regarded as criminals, and dealing with them is merely a policing matter, nothing to do with colonization. In other words, they deny that there is any outside to give a resolution to any dialectic, internal to the market economy. The view is taken that the global market is a roughly homogenous continuum, and the job of governments is to limit the destabilization of random shocks.

 

In other words, dialectics, i.e. processes and their connections, are denied, and a chaos theory model is put forward - for public consumption via the mass media and the uneducational system. But, those who own the money i.e. those who own the mass media and control the uneducational system, know quite well that this is rubbish, and that the world actually operates according to a dialectical model.

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Talking about the emergence of society and the individual, the text that has had most influence on the bourgeois mind is Jean-Jacques Rousseau's 1762 text, Du Contrat Social ou Principes du Droit Politique, or Of the Social Contract or the Principles of Political Right.

 

In this text Rousseau imagines a time before society came into being. He imagines many human individuals, separately looking after their own private interests. Over time, they notice that if they work together, the safety of their persons and of their private property will be increased, and their wealth and property will also increase. So, over time, "civil society" emerges, which is a compromise between the interests of the private individual and the combined interests of the group of private individuals which emerges. He calls this compromise the "Social Contract."

 

Now, this idea of the Social Contract has had massive influence, right down to the present day. We still have any amount of bourgeois politicians offering "charters" for this and "charters" for that. Rousseau was, in fact, basing his account of the formation of human society on a phenomenon that only became common during his own day, i.e. the formation of public companies. Needless to say, this idea is very attractive to the bourgeois mind, as it retrospectively makes it seem that capitalism is just human nature.

 

As noted above, Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was published in 1859, which introduced the world to the Theory of Evolution. We now know that mankind emerged out of the purely animal state and into the realm of language, as part of a collective. However, since Rousseau's account justifies capitalism much more than Darwin's does, the bourgeois just ignores the bits of Darwin that he doesn't like (while still proclaiming that he bases his ideas on science) and continues to believe Rousseau's thoroughly unscientific speculations. Again, this points to the split nature of the bourgeois mind.

 

To Hegel's credit, without the benefit of Darwin's work, he speculated that Rousseau's account could not be true. Hegel claimed that it was only through learning human language and living in a collective of speaking beings that individuality could ever emerge (beyond the level of individuality that any animal has.) He claimed that the formation of language had to be a collective work, therefore, you could not have speaking individuals first - as Rousseau had claimed - and the collective second.

 

Of course, Rousseau had been operating on the logic that God had created Adam and Eve, as speaking individuals, with the full range of language already at their disposal. If this really was the case, then his account would be reasonable - otherwise, it is pure bourgeois delusion. Particularly the bit about humans having private property - before there was any state to bring private property into being. But, again, the bourgeois likes to think of private property as a God given institution. I say "logic" above, because Rousseau probably didn't really believe in Adam and Eve as real individuals, but he did believe in the logic behind the story, i.e. that humans were individuals, with a full range of language, from the very start of the world.

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It would be very easy to dismiss Rousseau's Social Contract theory, in the light of modern anthropology and theory of evolution. But, we must accept that some of the most powerful people in the world don't even believe in evolution. I'm talking about the US Right, and their fellow travellers in the corridors of power in Europe and across the globe.

 

Such people regard society and the state as a contract that is only valid when "me" personally is getting what I want out of it - at a minimum cost. I can opt out of it anytime I'm not getting what I want.

 

A perfect example of this is the campaign currently being run by the US Catholic bishops against "Obamacare." What bothers them is that this form of health insurance allows you coverage for an abortion from the insurance money you pay from your wages.

 

So, what is the basis of the bishop's objection? Incredibly, they are claiming that the insurance money that workers pay really belongs to their employer. That it is really the employer that is paying the insurance, not the worker. And, they are demanding that if an employer is a Catholic, he or she should be exempt from paying this insurance, in case it might be used to pay for an abortion.

 

Now, I am not in favour of abortion, but this argument of the US Catholic bishops actually attempts to link a pro-life position to complete fascism. The employer makes a contract with the wage slave to turn over a certain amount of labour at a certain, net, money rate (the wage slave is not supposed to be concerned with the gross sum.) At the same time, the employer makes another contract with the state to provide a certain minimum level of health care, etc. to the wage slave, the better to keep him or her fit for work. In this system of thought, there is actually no contract between the wage slave and the state. Contracts are only between people of substance, i.e. the wealthy. All taxes are paid by the employer, from his or her private property. Thus, the employer has the right to decide what that state will or wont provide, as social security and health care, to his personal wage slaves.

 

Is it any wonder that most people of any intelligence or education regard the Catholic church with dismay - and a sad feeling of what might have been - if Liberation Theology had recovered Christianity from the abyss - and fascist cunts like Ratzinger and Wojtyła had been put down a hole.

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Just a quick thought on the topic of persons versus things. Recently, companies and corporations have been given recognition as persons under bourgeois law. The effect of this is not to bring things, i.e. companies, up to the level of persons, but to lower persons to the level of things.

 

And we see that quite clearly. Bourgeois law now regards human beings as "consumers." Things which consume. And companies also fit this definition. As we saw in the Short Course in Marxism, human labour is not regarded as the essential being of the person, but merely as a commodity, to be bought and sold. These days, doing damage to a corporate "person" can get you a far bigger prison sentence than doing damage to a real person.

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2. The Correlative Aspect of Things

 

We have come now to that aspect of dialectics, which, more than any other, has earned Marx the eternal hatred of the bourgeoisie and their footmen. The title of this section would be more accurately put as "the correlative aspect of processes," since, as we have seen above, "things" are really processes. But, as we have said, a certain amount of reification is justified for the sake of convenience - such as referring to the Shannon river as one thing, rather than as the process we know it to be. For a full discussion of reification, please see the Short Course in Marxism.

 

Marx insisted that all processes were inter-related. No process or "thing" stood in isolation. Now, this was a scandal to the bourgeois mind. For the bourgeois, the poor man is poor because of his own inferiority, drunkeness, laziness, etc. His condition has nothing to do with anything or anybody but himself. Marx pointed out that capitalism is a process, and that an essential part of this process is the proletarianization of the vast majority of the population. This is an insight that the media and academic footmen of the ruling class still spend huge amounts of energy trying to deny.

 

To give a local example of the correlative aspect of processes - and of bourgeois denial - during the 1980s, in Ireland, it became the dogma of the British and free state media that the IRA had nothing to do with any imperial or colonial process in Ireland. Indeed, they denied that there was any imperialism or colonialism in Ireland. The very process nature of the IRA itself was denied. As far as the ruling class and their footmen were concerned, the IRA was just a collection of misfits, who loved killing for killing's sake. Anybody who dared to make a link between the IRA and the process of colonial history were branded as "fellow travellers," "apologists," etc. etc. and subjected to a media witch hunt. They may even have been subjected to intimidation from the political police.

 

What we saw here was a fundamental denial of Marxism and Dialectical Materialism. Not surprising really, from one of the most backward comprador classes in the colonized world. We, as Communists, reject reactionary obscurantists like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, but, as Marxists, we do not try to deny that they are a very predictable reaction to the process of colonialism in the Middle East. It was clear that colonialism would produce a robust and healthy resistance, such as that of Abdel Nasser and Muammar al-Gaddafi, but it was also clear that the imperialists would promote pseudo gangs, like the Muslim Brotherhood, which would appear to oppose imperialism, but really do its dirty work.

 

Process involves a great number of elements reacting together. This fact is felt, by the bourgeoisie, to be a threat. To overcome this threat, they present the idea to the people that we are all atomized consumers, only concerned with our own private consumption. We are not involved with any processes. Francis Fukuyama's famous book, which seemed to celebrate the fall of Communism, was titled "The End of History and the Last Man." To the bourgeoisie, with the fall of the USSR, history, and thus all process, has come to an end. Each one of us might as well be the last man on earth, as we are totally isolated from each other, and our lives have no purpose whatsoever - except to keep consuming until we drop down dead. Fukuyama was, of course, quoting Neitzsche, who had spoken about the "last man" as being an utterly pathetic creature, who ate health food and did exercise, and took no interest in the affairs of the nation or of art.

 

I might also say that philosophers, such as Jacques Derrida, have come under ferocious attack from right wing academics. In 1999, a letter, signed by over one hundred right wing academics, from both the USA and Europe, was circulated to the media. The letter claimed that Derrida was subverting everything that was good and true, and that his work should not be presented to students. What was Derrida's crime? Well, his method of Deconstruction finds the links between everything. Not only the manifest, or stated, links, but those that have been unconsciously left out. Perhaps the hatred of these hired men of letters was piqued by the fact that Derrida had recently published a book called "Specters of Marx," in which he claimed that far from having fallen with the Berlin Wall, Marx's work was now more essential than ever.

 

Again, we encounter the split nature of the bourgeois mind. Because science has long accepted all of this. No engineer would think to build a bridge, without looking into every process that could possibly effect the stability and functioning of the bridge. And yet, in the realm of human relations, there is a totally contradictory attempt to treat human beings as isolated "things." I might say that there was some breaking down in this dogma, during the 1960s and 70s, when even judges were starting to take the background of petty criminals into account. But, with the Reagan \ Thatcher \ John Paul II led backlash, we saw the restoration of 19th century ignorance and superstition. Now, anyone talking about the social causes of crime will be shouted down and dismissed as a hippy or do-gooder.

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Another example of this denial of dialectics is the current obsession that bourgeois politicians and economists have with what they call "efficiency." As far as they are concerned, a commodity is efficiently produced, if it is produced as cheaply as possible. A perfect example is Ryan Air, which is held up as a model of efficiency. And yes, we can buy airline tickets from Ryan Air much more cheaply, in money terms, then we could from Aer Lingus, when it was a state company.

 

But, are we really buying the ticket more cheaply? What the bourgeois economist leaves out of his calculation is the social and environmental cost. Aer Lingus had employed thousands of people, at a wage that allowed them to buy a home, get married, and raise children. It gave them permanent work, so that the worker could plan to do all of this, and be spared the constant threat of unemployment. Aer Lingus was a highly unionised company. And, for all the faults of the unions, they did give the worker some level of say in the running of the company and a forum for discussion with his or her fellow workers.

 

Apart from that, Aer Lingus was a symbol of pride for the Irish people, who saw it as a national achievement, and as national property. Again, for all the faults of the bourgeois-democratic system, at least those making decisions relating to Aer Lingus had been voted into power by the people.

 

Now Aer Lingus is privatized. Temp work, at low wages has become the norm. Ryan Air has no unions at all. The Irish people have no say over these companies. All that each individual consumer can do is buy a ticket or not buy one. This is not a democratic decision. Democracy always involves collective decision making.

 

The overall result of this whole drive for "efficiency" has been to create a work force with little or no rights, no security, and very limited ability to settle down in a home and rear children. Many of those who did try to buy a home have been left in massive negative equity. We can believe that the environment has also been damaged by the massive increase in totally unnecessary flights.

 

How could such devastation be regarded as efficient? It can only be done so by blocking consideration of the totality of the processes involved. In other words, by denying the correlative aspect of processes.

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I had an interesting conversation with one of our comrades, a couple of days ago, on the question of the use of technical language in the study of dialectics. He rightly pointed out that technical language tends to put people off, and suggested that it could be possible to discuss these matters without any technical language. In general, I agree with this, but only up to a point. Language is never neutral. Whats considered "ordinary language" in Ireland etc. is actually the language of bourgeois ideology and superstition. Everything we say is laced with the prejudices of the bourgeois order. Creating a new type of society includes creating a new language for that new society.

 

I think this is one of the reasons why Socialism has never really progressed in Anglophone countries. The Anglo-Saxon Socialists love their commonsensical Anglo-Saxon language too much to ever change it. Therefore, they remain, to a great extent, stuck in the ideology of their enemy. A good example is the fear that Socialists in the Anglophone world have of even the word "bourgeois." Their enemy uses laughter and derision to stop them using a word that describes that enemy so perfectly - too perfectly - and the Socialists cower in submission - as if to describe the enemy so perfectly is a punch below the belt that our Anglo-Saxon gentlemen Socialists could never be guilty of. So, they stick to the commonergarden language that politically castrates them, and leaves them really a joke.

 

I think we saw this process at work very well with Provisional Sinn Féin and the GFA. The real task of the GFA was to get PSF to exclusively use commonsensical Anglo-Saxon language. Using this language, they could never be anything more than bourgeois reformers, in the camp of the British imperialists.

 

So, we must never try to deny the Revolutionary Proletariat their Revolutionary language. It is one of their main weapons. A man or woman who refuses to use the language of the enemy can never be conquered. This is a lesson the Romans were well aware of 2,000 years ago. Why should we forget it?

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Appearance and Reality

 

An aspect of the correlative aspect of processes is the dialectical relation between appearance and reality. From what we have said so far, I think we can say that dialectics is the study of processes, and the ways they interact with each other. The speech of Socrates was a process, which effected the speech of his opponent, i.e. the process of the speech of his opponent. Due to this interaction, a new way of thinking would be reached, which would, in itself, be a process - which would then go on to interact with other processes, i.e. with the speeches of others.

 

And this brings us to the difference between appearance and reality, which is not an absolute difference, but an inter-relation which causes tension. One of the key points of Hegelian dialectics is that nothing is truely opposite. For example, the British and the Germans were at war in 1916. But, its clear that they were much more alike than different. Indeed, as Neitszche put it, if you want to have war, its best to keep your enemy alive (and Neitszche didn't even see the antics of the West with Al Qaeda.)

 

So, how do we know anything exists? Well, because it effects us. It could be a car hitting us, or just some light photons bouncing off a beautiful rose petal. If there was an object in the universe that had no effect on us, then we would have no way of knowing it existed. But, how an object effects us, and what it really is, are two different concepts. A good example of this is when we look up in the night sky and see stars. What we see is little points of light. This is the process of a stream of photons hitting our eyes, and then that impact being changed into information in our brains. But, we know that stars are not little streams of photons, but collossal amounts of matter being turned into nuclear energy. And this may not, in fact, be the reality of any given point of light we see in the sky. Because it takes millions of years for the light from some stars to reach us, the star we are looking at may not exist any more. We are just seeing the light that left it, perhaps before even our solar system existed.

 

So, while its obvious that there is a correlation between the light we see at night, and the burning energy of a star, what we seem to be seeing may well not even exist any more. To know what the appearance is telling us, we need more information.

 

In Capital, and other works, Marx brilliantly exposes the difference between the appearance of the capitalist system and its reality. For example, it appears that the worker enters the market with something to sell, i.e. his or her labour. The worker finds somebody who is willing to buy that object for sale. As equals, they sit down to negotiate a price for the worker's labour. And, as two business people, they make a contract. What could be fairer or more natural?

 

However, Marx looks beyond the appearance, to the processes which form the reality behind the appearance. He sees the process of the expropriation of the land from communal \ tribal use. He sees the process of the clearances of the peasants from the land, and into the slums of the towns and cities. He sees the whip of hunger on the backs of the workers who do not sell their labour. He sees the armed violence of the bourgeois state, which guarantees the ill gotten gains of the bourgeoisie. He sees the violence of the hired thugs of the state, when workers dare to go on strike for better pay and conditions. In short, he sees the bitter gulf between the appearance of capitalism and its violent reality.

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We must also recognise that not all appearances are the same. How an object will apear to us depends on where we are standing, our perspective, or point of view. This is true when looking at material objects, or when examining social processes. A good example of this is the view that is today taken by the Western media on the reality of the USSR. Because this media is owned by wealthy business people, they consider that any society that limits the ability to accumulate private wealth is oppressive. They consider that any society that allows people to accumulate private wealth as being free. However, a worker living in Russia or Eastern Europe, may look at the same object, i.e. the USSR, and see something completely opposite to the view of the Western media. They may remember a time when they had a home to live in, with no mortgage. They may remember a time when they had guranteed work, free education and free health care. They may remember a time when they were proud of the great sporting, scientific and artist achievements of their nation, and felt that they were part of these great achievement. In short, they may associate the USSR with a feeling of genuine freedom.

 

Another example is that of wages. Since the worker was paid wages in the USSR and is paid wages in Russia today, an onlooker may feel that there is no difference, for the worker, between Communism and Capitalism. However, from a different perspective, one may see a very great difference. One may see that while a worker gets a price for selling his\her labour in Russia today, in the USSR, s\he got his\her share of the social product. The worker in the USSR may have genuinely felt that the factory s\he worked in was his or her own factory. He or she may have looked at the vast expanse of the land of the Soviet Union, and breathed in the air, and felt that this really was his or her country - lock stock and barrell. The worker in capitalism would be very deluded to feel that way.

 

Again, an observer may notice violent oppression in the USSR, and also violent oppression in the capitalist societies, and conclude that one is as bad as the other. However, on closer inspection, one may see that there is a very great difference between the two. In the West, violence is used to suppress the great majority of the people of the earth - the most naked capitalist violence being carried out in those countries where most capitalist commodites are produced, i.e. in the Third World. Capitalist violence is to make sure nothing changes, and that a tiny minority continue to destroy the lives of the great majority. In the USSR, however, violence was visited on a small minority, who wanted to stand in the way of the liberation of the Proletariat from the clutches of the world bourgeoisie. In short, Communist violence is carried out for the creation of a new world, while capitalist violence is carried out to stop anything ever changing.

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Form and Substance

 

I probably should have addressed the word "dialectic" at the very start of this course, but, this is not a bad place to start. The word dialectic comes from the Greek "dia" meaning "across, between," and "legain" which means speak. So the verb "dialegesthai" means "speaking with each other." And this is the whole point of the science of Dialectics - how the various processes speak to each other, i.e. how they interact. If there is a connection between two or more processes, we say that there is a dialectic between them, i.e. a conversation. And like all conversations, there may be a great deal of tension involved. Certainly, there will be the influence of one on the other, or mutual influence.

 

There is a dialectic between the substance of a process and its form. A very simple example of this is water and its forms. We can say that the substance of water is the molecules created by oxygen combining with hydrogen (a dialectic in itself). But, the form of water can be solid, liquid or gas, depending on the amount of energy added or subtracted. Now, clearly, the substance does not change. The chemical formula of steam is H2O and the chemical formula of ice is H2O. But, it would be incorrect to say that there was no dialectic between the form of water, at any given time, and its substance. At the most basic level, only H2O will boil at 100 degrees centigrade, or freeze at zero degrees. The properties of liquid water are very different to the properties of liquid mercury. Glass is also a liquid. Clearly, water would make poor windows.

 

So we see that the substance of water is a combination of many processes (the interactions of subatomic particles), and the sum total of these processes may then take on different forms, depending on external factors - particularly the amount of heat energy available.

 

And so it is in the human sphere. We see that the substance of any society is the collective humanity that goes to make it up, including the countless processes of their minds and bodies and technological development, along with their languages, cultures, religions, political beliefs, etc etc.

 

Some readers may be surprised that I have included both Base and Superstructure as the substance of society, rather than considering the base as the substance and the superstructure as the form.

 

As a reminder, Base refers to the physical bodies of humanity and the technology available, and Superstructure refers to the culture which develops on that base.

 

I do this for the obvious fact that the form of society, i.e. Primitive Communism, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism and Communism, may well lag behind the substance of society in total, i.e. lags behind both the base and the superstructure. Or, it may be, in theory at least, premature. Some would claim that the USSR was premature. In short, the superstructure may lag behind the base, and the form of society may lag behind both.

 

Another term for the form of society is the mode of production.

 

I think the USSR is a good example to study here. Communism is a mode of production, or a form of society - whichever term you prefer. But, in Russia, in 1917, the form of society was Feudalism. The technological base did not support any other form of society but Feudalism, and the cultural superstructure was one of Feudalism, mixed with a certain amount of Primitive Communism in the rural areas. Capitalism existed in only very limited pockets, and then operating under the Feudal law of the Tsars.

 

It would be very naive to imagine that a Feudal base and a Feudal superstructure would support the kind of Communist society that Marx looked forward to. It would also be a very great misunderstanding of Marx's work. I think nobody understood this more than Stalin. Stalin knew that he could change the technological base of the USSR in a decade or so (what took Western Europe 200 years), but he knew quite well that changing the language and culture of a people is an entirely different matter. This really does take centuries. Russian people needed Tsars and icons, and thats just what Stalin gave them. Once they had what their culture demanded, they could go on to do incredible things. I think this is where our modern Trots and other liberal types don't understand dialectics. They imagine that because a couple of thousand people in Russia really did have very modern progressive views, that it would have been possible to transpose those views onto 120 million people - the vast majority of whom couldn't even read or write. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 

So, we can say that the form of society in the USSR was the result of the dialectic between the Feudal substance of the society, and the introduction of state capitalism, viewed as a step towards building Socialism.

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Another example is the dialectic between the form of post-colonial societies, like the Irish free state, and their substance. We see that the free state took on the form of an independent state, but the actual substance of the society remained very much that of an English colony, i.e. with the language of the colonizer, the economy based on the needs of the colonizer, and a state security system geared towards suppressing any interference with the fact of Ireland as a supplier of raw material - mostly live cattle - to England. This is the dialectic that we find in all post-colonial countries (though, with the collapse of Western capitalism, many countries are being returned to direct colonies, in the hope to stripping them completely of their wealth.)

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As I said above, form may well lag substance. I would say that Britain, between 1945 and 1951 was a good example of this. There was a hugely radicalized population, following WW2 (as there had been following WW1.) Labour was voted into government, with a policy of nationalization of land and industry. One thing that Labour did not attempt to change was parliamentary democracy, i.e. a political form developed for the protection of private land and industry. So, despite nationalizing several industries, the parliamentary form - under the de facto control of the wealthy - defeated Labour's radical policies, and quickly returned a Tory government, in 1951. I might also say that the need to keep the media and its wealthy owners happy led to the Labour government getting involved in shameful imperialist adventures, such as the invasion of Korea.

 

In short, when a form of society is giving massive privilege and power to one section of society, even if that section is a tiny minority, the privileged minority may well be able to maintain that form long after the substance of society, as a whole, has changed.

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3. External and Internal Causes

 

We gave the example above of a substance, i.e. water, as it goes through three different forms, i.e. liquid, solid, gas, and we said that the form this substance takes is a function of (depends on) an external cause, i.e. the amount of heat energy available. We also said that the processes which make up the substance itself will determine how much heat is needed to bring about these changes of form. So, we have a dialectic between external and internal causes, which leads to the properties of water, as we find it in nature.

 

From our own CDC gardening, we know that external causes, such as the weather, soil quality, fungus diseases, etc. etc. will have a determining effect on how well or how poorly the seeds we plant will grow. Here again, we see the dialectic between the internal processes of the seed itself and the external causes of the environment it finds itself in.

 

And so it is in the human sphere. An infant born into wealth and privilege will have a very different development to one born into poverty and exclusion. This point seems self evident, but, as we know, there are any amount of bourgeois mouthpieces who will deny this dialectic, and claim that everyone has equal opportunity, and if anyone is a "loser," then that's because of their own internal causes - primarily their own laziness and lack of ambition.

 

We mentioned above that Hegel believed that human subjectivity is formed in language, i.e. that it is only by being part of a speaking human collective that an infant can develop as an individual. And yet, every single infant meets language as something external to it. We might go so far as to say that language is alien to it, and the child must go through many traumatic encounters with language - weaning, potty training, sexuation, etc. etc. - before it starts to feel language as second nature. And yet, it always remains second nature. It always maintains a certain distance from us. To some people, language can remain very oppressive, and be the cause of severe discomfort though out their lives, perhaps even a source of mental illness. Indeed, the mental illness of a percentage of the population seems to be part of the price the human race has paid for its acquisition of language. This is likely to remain the case regardless of the form of society, be it Capitalism or Communism.

 

And yet, though it is clear that we all, as infants, encounter language as an external cause, it is equally true that language is formed by human usage, and changes all the time. Hegel referred to language as the Universal Will, i.e. the will of the collective, which forms and is formed by our subjective wills, i.e. our separate, individual, wills. As Marxists, we must be constantly aware of this dialectic, and never be lulled into thinking that the language we use doesn't matter - that we can go on using the language of the ideology of the enemy, and still regard ourselves as Revolutionaries.

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The analysis of the dialectic between internal and external causes brings us to the issue of Marxist Revolution. Now, for anyone who doesn't like the word "dialectic," it can be exchanged for a word like "relationship." "Exchange" would be another good substitute, as any relationship is always an exchange of something. Its clear that the relation between slave and master involves an exchange. Its easy to see what the master takes from the slave, but, the slave too receives something - even if its just lashes across his or her back. But the exchange is very much more complex than this - as we see from works like Das Kapital or The Communist Manifesto. Being a good old fashioned traditionalist, I will stick to the word dialectic, in what follows.

 

A key question we must ask ourselves is why the Working Class in developed countries have stuck to bourgeois ideology, rather than being the engine of revolution that Marx and Engels hoped that they would be? Marx himself had a vision of the answer to that question. He noticed that in England, in the 1870s, there was already a tendency towards de-industrialisation. Several industries, such as the vital textile industry, were moving to the colonies to avail of cheap labour and cheap raw materials. He noticed that England was depending more and more on the rent it got on capital exported to the colonies. In other words, English capitalists were sending their money to the colonies, making a profit there, and then bringing the profits back home, so that the process could begin all over again. Marx could see that there was a growing section of the English Working Class, who were achieving higher than average wages by servicing the luxury lifestyles of these capitalists. Marx rightly speculated that such workers would tend to be supportive of a system that was giving them some measure of improvement in their conditions of life. The fact that workers in the colonies were having their hands cut off if they didn't work fast enough would not be likely to bother these upwardly mobile workers too much.

 

Over the next 100 years, this process of moving industry to the Third World grew massively, as did the service industries in the West. So much so, that many in the West were able to claim that Marx was simply wrong. Workers conditions did not dis-improve. Of course, one could only say this if one totally ignored the circumstances of those workers that Marx had been talking about, i.e. the industrial workers, who are now nearly all in the colonies, or, as we like to refer to them today, the Third World.

 

So, here we see a dialectic \ relationship \ exchange, between the internal conditions of the imperialist West, and the Third World external. The savagery of industrial capitalism has now been externalised to places like Foxxconn in China, and the Western worker can enjoy the iphones etc. made there. At the end of the day, the Western worker knows that there is a food chain, and, on the global scale, he or she is near the top of it. People on the dole in Ireland have more to eat and better housing than people working 20 hour days in the Third World.

 

The mistake that many Leftists in the West make is to ignore this dialectic. To look at the West in isolation. This is a fundamental error, that leaves them banging their heads against the wall, wondering what they should do to get the workers out on the streets.

 

Those of us who think in a dialectical manner know quite well that the Western worker is actually incapable of responding to the calls of the Left - even if they were in any way coherent, which they are not. Or, rather, I should say that the Western worker in incapable on his\her own - without the action of the industrial Working Class in the colonies (and we might as well call them colonies, since even the bourgeoisie have given up on the pretense that they are anything else.)

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I'm interested in how quantitative change becomes qualatitive? What does dialectics say about this?

 

I'm approaching the question from the perspective of the reformism vs revolution debate. If quantatitive change can lead to a change in quality, is this not an argument for reformism?

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