Monthly Archives: May 2014

“Fetishisation” of Terminology in Marx

“Fetishisation” of Terminology in Marx.

Somebody has emailed regarding the use of the term “surplus value”. According to the correspondent, the term has become fetishised and it would be better if we used the term “socially produced surplus” instead of “surplus value”. He writes….

“It seems to me the key lies in resisting the tendency to allow the terminology itself to become fetishised. The only way to do that, as far as I’ve been able to make out, is to understand the essence (“Wesen”) of the explanatory framework of historical materialist analysis well enough that one can use the terminology more flexibly, and suitably to context. For instance – to stick with your example – when one is explaining the class-based nature of exploitation, and thus the expropriation of surplus value by members of one class from members of another, one might perfectly well substitute the phrase “socially produced [or ‘generated’] surpluses” instead of “surplus value”.

Hence, the legitimacy of such a substitution would depend on context. Implicitly, he is warning against the quest for exact semantic equivalents irrespective of context. Such a quest, he seems to suggest, would be precisely the fetishisation of terminology against which his remarks are intended to warn. In other words, if we look for a substitute for the term “surplus value” which is “an exact semantic equivalent”, this is a continuation or re-articulation of the “fetishisation of terminology” which we are seeking to avoid.

Moreover, immediately we recognise that a “socially produced surplus” does not necessarily take a value form. It is a transhistorical category which is not specific to capitalism. The category of surplus value – in its fully developed, “classical” form – is historically specific to capitalism. In other words, in my opinion, it would be a less adequate substitution because it would be less concrete as a category. The Incas “socially produced” a “surplus” but that surplus was not part of a social reproduction and augmentation of value. But our correspondent has already qualified this by asserting that we need to take into account the “context”. In other words, we take a transhistorical category and deploy it according to context.

But “context” gives the term its historically-determined conceptual content. It is possible to take and relocate such a term out of its historically-determined context but then the term ceases to describe and articulate the objective character of the historically-posited and historically-specific form or relation. Likewise, if we describe the surplus value form as a “socially generated surplus”, we are not actually describing what gives the “socially generated surplus” its specific social character, its value-form under capital. We are stripping away (paring down) the concreteness of the category, arriving at a conceptually more impoverished category, in order to “apply” it in different “contexts”. Which is precisely the very “pre-Platonic” “abstraction” of a “universal” from the specificity of “phenomena” – divorcing it from its concrete universality – and then proceeding with its “concrete application” according to “context”. i.e., not grasping the universal in its actual concreteness, in its real, specific determinacy. Fragmenting the “concrete universal” into a “universal” which is abstracted and then applied “concretely” according to “context”. We are effectively disembowelling the conception of the “socially produced surplus” under capital of its historically specific and crucially animating content i.e. not articulating it as essential value-form of the surplus. It is not really a question of “fetishisation” here but really of one of calling “things by their real names” in order to articulate an historically relative and approximate conception of what these “things” “are”. In fact, fetishisation has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the matter.

He continues….

“In my experience, using such alternate formulations can help the hearer “triangulate” on the essential meaning to be grasped beneath any supposed “proper name” at the level of logos – the concept, the “Begriff”, the eidos (the latter in what many would consider a pre-Platonic sense, mainly due to having little grasp of Plato) – rather than becoming mystified at the level of the word.
I think this is a very difficult level of mastery to achieve – mainly because the capitalist system of production: (1) is itself so complex; and, (2) is virtually “upside down” in its appearance, as compared to its reality, its essence, its “nature”, its physis.”

This, in my opinion, is a rather high-priestly approach to the whole question. If you can understand it, brother, why must the rest of us be introduced to the method of “triangulation” in order to grasp it. I thought that was something to do with the geographical surveying of the contours of barren landscapes. So if we are addressing a group of striking factory workers, they will be delivered into the Eleusinian mysteries of surplus value by a process of “triangulation” but there will be no need to subject a seminar of “Marxist academics” to such an initiation because they have gone beyond this transitory “primary school” stage. It might be easier to simply pick up volume one of Capital and spend a few days of intense study on the first chapter. It would certainly strip the “capitalist system of production” of some of its “mystery” and “complexity” and start to place it “on its feet”.

The present historical “context” is the global rule of global capital i.e. the rule of capitalised surplus value and not simply capitalised “socially produced surplus”. This is why the use of the latter would be the use of a less concrete category. Categories used are, as is method, “socio-historically determined” by the existent “context” in which case the substitution of the less concrete (“socially produced surplus”) for the more concrete category (“surplus value”) is rendered redundant by the prevailing historical conditions and “context”. The term ‘surplus value’ is, accordingly, the most adequate for encapsulating the conceptual content of the category because it is the most concrete under the prevailing historical conditions. For Marx, the concept of value – introduced in the first chapter of Capital – was fundamental to his overall conception. All class societies are necessarily based on the production of a surplus by “society” and this surplus is the basis upon which the owning ruling class or controlling caste can parasitically feed. But the equally parasitic existence of the capitalist class is based on the production of surplus value.

Shaun May

May 2014

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On the Epistemology of Psychotherapy

On the Epistemology of Psychotherapy.

Marx understood the human individual as the “ensemble of social relations”.

Attempts to alter individual perceptions of these social relations does not, in itself, change their real existential character as stress-producing and illness-producing social relations. It merely acknowledges their real existence independently of the individual who is him/herself a product of these same social relations. This is why to alter the fundamental character of humanity it is the character of these social relations which must be revolutionised.

Herein lies the basic flaw and limitation – the Achilles Heel – of all forms of psychotherapy which may present in secular form but are essentially theological in their methods of approach. The different schools and branches of psychotherapy arise from the same epistemological stock and are fed and watered by the same concealed theological roots.

By flawed and limited, I mean epistemologically. And, of course, ‘flaws and limitations’ are dialectically related and not formalistically separable. If I am ‘flawed’ in a determinate way then this ‘limits’ me and this, in its turn, mediates the character of my flaws and tends to continuously re-posit them. The epistemology of psychotherapy – whilst not explicitly denying that the individual is the ensemble of social relations – implicitly recognises, in its psychological attempts to transcend these relations within the psychological domain, the primacy of their determination in the life of the individual. The use of the terms “flaw and limitation” here therefore refers to the relationship between the approach of psychotherapy and the ontology of social relations. One cannot illuminate the universe with a candle.

Of course, we find this in all the founders of the major religions where their “salvation within” conception very quickly becomes modified by and assimilated to the prevailing social relations. What is posited as “self-emancipatory” very quickly becomes subject to the dominating historical forces and is transformed accordingly in both content and social expression, articulation, etc, in order to come into a conformity with these forces of history.

Therefore by “flawed” I mean that in its root approach it is theological and by “limited” that it has definite boundaries drawn by the character of social relations and conditions and locates the individual in the “ideological form” (Marx). But the origins of its flaws (inadequacies) are intimately connected to their creation by these relations. Psychotherapy, as a general school of thought and practice, remains a product of these relations, a child of alienation and, as such, like the proletariat itself, carries its genetic material. And its “boundaries” are wholly coloured by the character of the social conditions and relations within which people live and struggle.

Of course, psychotherapeutic approaches can even be “therapeutic” within these social limits but only in the sense of an altered re-affirmation of these limits in the life of the individual. And this, of course, ties in with the psychotherapeutic concept of “expanding the range of responses and behaviours”. But psychotherapy here itself remains locked within or confined to its own self-created orbit and this manifests itself not only in the actual content of the relationship between “therapist” and “client” but also in the “therapeutic effects” in the life of the individual.

We can push the psychological boundaries of our lives but only within the limits circumscribed by the relations of bourgeois society. In my opinion, the root problem in psychotherapy remains the epistemological which, of course, characterises psychotherapy as a whole as epistemologically problematic, even historically invalid as a theory and practice.

Psychotherapy locates the individual in the ‘ideological form’ (Marx) and espouses and practices an alteration of thinking about self and others in order to transcend or modulate the psychological effects of social relations. This approach is, implicitly, a negative recognition of the real character of social relations rather than an effective attempt to actually transcend them in practice.

The collectively-practiced, psychotherapeutic precept acknowledges and asserts that it is possible for the suffering alienated human individual to transcend or, at least, resolve to the point of personal acceptance or ‘comfort’, the psychological effects of the prevailing socio-historical conditions of existence by means of shifts in consciousness or mental adjustment. It fails, in its self-preoccupation, to see the proverbial ‘wood for the trees’ in that any such shift or adjustment to a supposedly more ‘comforting’ or ‘enlightened’ state is, in this apparent negation, merely a reaffirmation of those historical conditions which form the individual and through which he or she actively lives life replete with problems and contradictions in the age of the reign of global capital.

All psychotherapy therefore, whatever its character, is both an expression and implicit acknowledgement that alienation and estrangement continues to prevail in social relations and that a psychotherapeutic sticking plaster is utterly and completely inadequate for patching up the wounds which these relations daily inflict in the lives of human individuals. The psychotherapist is, usually unconsciously, the latter-day priest of the secularised mind. The psychotherapist is a figure which we will not find in ‘deep communism’.

The real question to be addressed is the transformation of social relations and I think the related question of building agencies of revolution to proceed with this transformation is not essentially a psychological but rather a political one. The “neurotic” and “narcissist” – even the “visionary” – is not exempt from being just as creative in this regard. Robespierre and Trotsky are the perfect examples in this respect. In this sense, in my opinion, the “emancipatory role for psychotherapy” is peripheral to the point of being able to be disregarded. In fact, it could even be counter-productive or even destructive of creativity.

The revolutionary, like men in general, is the creation of that which he striving to overthrow. He can only operate within the “flaws and limitations” of the established social conditions in the very act of seeking to put them to the sword.

Shaun May

May 2014

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Doubts over the Roots of the English Language

Doubts over the Roots of the English Language

The traditional conception of the origins of the English language is well known. Its roots were transplanted into British soil after the end of the Roman occupation by the Germanic invaders in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Roman armies (and all their soldiers!) supposedly left at the beginning of the 5th century and the military vacuum was supposedly filled by these “Anglo-Saxon” invaders.They then proceeded to conquer the land and within two centuries the Old English speech community had become dominant. Prior to this, the peoples of the British Isles were all supposedly Brythonic speech communities who had become romanised and had embraced, partly at least, Latin. The roots of the English language supposedly arrived later.

Some researchers in the relevant areas are now questioning this ‘established’ conception. For example, Francis Pryor in his text ‘Britain AD’ and Stephen Oppenheimer in his ‘The Origins of the British : A Genetic Detective Story’. Moreover, ancient historiographical sources – such as Caesar’s ‘Gallic Wars’ – also appear to point us in a different direction in regard to the roots and origins of the English language.

The languages and dialects spoken by all the different peoples and tribes of pre-Roman Britain cannot be known for definite, beyond ‘all reasonable doubt’ so to speak. It remains an area of open research and academic debate. It is so remote historically and there is so little historiographical and archaeological evidence regarding the specific character of the languages spoken, that this invariably invites scepticism and even speculation.

Pryor, for example, in regard to the 5th and 6th centuries, stresses the continuity in tradition over the centuries and I think he is correct when he asserts that there was not a “mass” Germanic invasion in these centuries of hundreds of thousands of “Anglo-Saxons”. However, how do we account for the cultural discontinuities (within the historic continuity) in these centuries? Or do we actually need to account for them in terms of conquest? Are we looking at cultural changes as a result of mass invasions or military-cultural conquest by a Germanic warrior elite? Or could we be actually looking at a re-birth, a sort of post-Roman cultural ‘Renaissance’ where the cultural elements were already present throughout the Roman period? For example, in language, in actual place names in landscape, in the names of people, etc : do we actually know what local people called the areas where they lived? i.e. what words they actually used in everyday sppech? Do we actually know the names which they used to address each other? Only the aristocratic elite took on Romanic culture and this was also the tendency amongst town dwellers. Most people in Roman Britain actually lived on the land and must have continued with established pre-Roman traditions. Oppenheimer raises a very interesting question : why are there so few Brythonic loan words in English? If Britain had been exclusively an assortment of enduring Brythonic speech communities in pre-Roman and Roman Britain, why did so few of their words become integrated into English after the “Anglo-Saxon” conquest? Moreover, why are there significant genetic differences (genetic markers) between the populations of south-eastern Britain and the rest of the island?

The idea of a mass invasion of hundreds of thousands of marauding Angles and Saxons, etc, in the 5th and 6th centuries sounds as implausible as such an invasion by the Romans before or the Normans after them. A military conquest of the south-eastern part of the country over many decades seems less implausible. By a Germanic miltary warrior elite which was a Western Germanic speech community. This new ruling elite then contributed to alterations in cultural changes in the course of these and subsequent centuries. Including alterations in the language. We have historical models for such a type of conquest prior to and subsequent to the post-Roman Germanic incursions and conquests in the form of the Roman and Norman conquests.

The Roman and Norman conquests did not involve many thousands of people from the continent “swamping” the indigenous culture. Cultural changes arose out of the historic-structural alterations stemming from these conquests. The Romans conquered with their legions and imposed these changes and the Normans conquered with how many? 10,000 which includes their retinues, etc. In a way, American culture has “conquered” Britain but by means of economic and political power and through the mass media but there has not been a mass migration of Americans into the country.

In other words, for these changes to have taken place in these centuries, new cultural elements could have been introduced into the post-Roman culture and become organically integrated into it. However, such post-Roman Germanic introductions could merely have re-invigorated Germanic or Brythono-Germanic elements already present throughout the Roman period inherited from the late Iron Age. These exogenous introductions then brought to life (acted as a sort of ‘cultural spark’) a ‘Neo-Germanic Renaissance’? No mass migration is necessarily implied. And, actually, neither is an invasion from continental Europe of a Germanic military overlordship. Even before centralised Roman rule ended, these Germanic elements could already have been present in the form of Germanic legionaries, auxillaries, mercenaries, etc, and their families, etc. The Romans hired foreign mercenaries to defend the boundaries of their empire. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the inheritors of post-Roman Britain were already living and established as communities in sufficient numbers within the province of Britannia.

Hence, Germanic military “incursions” could have been “endogenous” and not the commonly and traditionally held “exogenous” incursions and conquest. This is not to discount the possibility that these endogenous communities also had exogenous contacts. The cultural changes which took place throughout the post-Roman centuries could have been, in all essentials, endogenous i.e. alterations arising organically but with some exogenous influences. With the movement of peoples around and through the Roman empire in its final centuries, this cannot be discounted.

But I think we have to consider the changes taking place in the post-Roman period in Britain as not “dark” at all but possibly as an organic evolution (with possible exogenous influences) of the conditions which existed when centralised rule from Rome ended.

The question of linguistic changes could be considered within such an evolving context. It seems to be a ‘bolted development’ for a whole people to be articulating a new language (Old English) – from a ‘dead start’ so to speak – in such a short space of historical time. With no adopted loan words from the previously and supposedly dominant Romanised Brythonic speech communities. This, however, could be taken as an argument for the ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Romano-Brythonics by the Germanics. All of them “pushed to the west” into Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria, etc. Is it possible for the indigenous languages of established speech communities to be obliterated in this way and replaced by the language of the conquerors without leaving hardly any traces in terms of loan words, etc?

Some researchers are now suggesting that conversing pre-Roman Britain was not simply of the Brythonic sub-branch of the Indo-European Language tree. It may well be that parts of the south and east of England actually spoke a language from the Germanic branch actually before the Roman or later Germanic invasions. And Oppenheimer is even suggesting that English originates from linguistic roots which are not West Germanic but of a totally different sub-branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European tree. That it even possibly has roots in and evolved from a sub-branch which was a hybrid of the Germanic and the Brythonic This implies that at the time of the Roman occupation, the British tribes were divided into Brythonic and Non-Brythonic speech communities, the latter already, at least if not fully, being a Germanic or Brythono-Germanic speech community in the eastern and southern tribes of the land. The northern and western tribes tending to be exclusively Brythonic in speech.

These differences are accredited to the invasions of the Belgic (Belgae) tribes about 400 years before the Roman conquest. Some sources – including Caesar in the ‘Gallic Wars’ – seem to suggest that their language was of the Germanic branch and not the Brythonic. Oppenheimer’s work in genetics tends to support this historiographical suggestion. This would tend to suggest that the English language has deeper roots, indeed pre-Roman, and that the exit of Rome combined with the Germanic conquest merely served to give re-birth in new form and sustenance to the earlier ‘Belgic’ Germanic form or Belgic ‘Brythono-Germanic’ form. Perhaps the conception that all of Britain was ‘Brythonic’ in speech needs to be re-evaluated. We are so absolutely conditioned into the traditional conception that the English language starts with the 5th century. We need to consider, perhaps, the possibility that the Britons in the south-east were already speaking a Germanic or even ‘Brythono-Germanic’ language at the time of the invasion of the Roman legions and even three centuries before it. And that this linguistic heritage carried through and beyond the Roman occupation so that the cultural cauldron within which English finds its point of orignation is a combination (a synthesis) of this Belgic Germanic (or Belgic Brythono-Germanic) legacy and the language of the Western Germanic cousins coming to the south and east of the land in the 5th and 6th centuries.

Has the degree of disruption (discontinuity) of the post-Roman period been overrated or even “de-romanticised” into an enduring so-called “Dark Age”? Perhaps the conception of a pre-Roman (and therefore Roman) ‘Belgic Germanic’ or ‘Belgic Brythono-Germanic’ speech community in the tribes of the south and east may carry legitimacy. There is lots of food for thought and research here, both archeaological and historiographical. Is the post-Roman “lights out and into a dark age catastrophe” conception possibly a cherished romance or a ‘fin de l’epoque’ fantasy of the classicists or a ‘commencement de l’epoch’ fantasy of the Anglo-Saxonist philologists?

Shaun May

May 2014


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Whatever Happened to the “Yes We Can” President?

 Whatever Happened to the “Yes We Can” President?

It was that late, great American wit Gore Vidal who remarked that the United States is a one-party state with two right wings. American socialists may wish to feel relatively comforted by the fact that this political ‘double act’ is now generally operative all over the capitalist world. In Britain, the expression sometimes articulated is that you cannot ‘slip a cig paper’ between Liberal, Tory and Labour. None of them would look out of place in the same political party. A recent measure by the Obama administration is a living testament to Vidal’s rather pithy little maxim.

It could be just as much a ‘republican’ as a ‘democratic’ measure. Within an American context, perhaps we should assert that it is impossible to slip a ‘buck’ between the two.

The ‘Farm Bill’ will mean thousands of poor American households losing $90 per month. The will inevitably impact on the ability of households to maintain themselves. $90 is what a Wall Street Parasite or Congressman spends on a new tie or shirt. But for a jobless American, it helps to keep your home warm or feed your children in the cold New York winters. This same bill subsidises corporate agricultural capital to the tune of billions of dollars.

The Obama administration has attempted to present this bill as one which will “give more Americans a shot at opportunity”. Quite the opposite. It will serve to entrench poverty and force the pace of destitution. It is nothing but a subsidy for agricultural capital at the expense of the poor and destitute in the American cities; the transfer of food out of the mouths of the needy, disabled and jobless and its value re-deposited into the bank accounts of corporate food producers and the well-heeled.

“Congress passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that is going to make a big difference in communities across the country,” said Mr President.

“Big difference” is the appropriate expression but it is simultaneously a double-edged one. It is not the kind of “big difference” with which Mr President is trying to delude us. In Britain, welfare/benefit cuts are presenting people with the dilemma of ‘eat or heat’. Do I turn up the thermostat or do I give the children a quality cooked meal with fresh vegetables? No such dilemmas will exist for the political elite in Washington and the motley assortment of unproductive parasites and layabouts on Wall Street and elsewhere whose interests they most ably represent and articulate in Congress. Obama’s actions have indeed “focussed heavily on economic equality” which he has qualified with a pretentiously glib “defining challenge of our time”. Whose inequality and whose challenge, we may ask.

Obama further remarked that the Farm Bill “preserved much-needed benefits”. Which is rather like asserting that a street mugger who takes the contents of your wallet has left you with enough money in it to get the bus back home or to the hospital.

Whether or not “the savings in food assistance came solely from addressing fraud and misuse” really does not wash with a single, jobless mother who now has to feed her children with $90 less than previously. And Obama refers to this as “protection for vulnerable Americans”! May the Good Lord in his infinite wisdom and bounty help those who are not under the protective benevolence of the ‘yes we can’ President!

Welfare claimants can, however, be re-assured by a Barack side-kick in Congress that…

“This is a nutrition bill that makes sure families have a safety net just like farmers do, …….while maintaining the important benefits for families that need temporary help.”

She forgets to mention that the “safety net” now has a trampoline-sized hole in it. You fall into it at your peril.

Congressman McGovern and others are correct when they “expect the burden of the cuts to fall disproportionately on the elderly and disabled” which does not make these inhuman measures any “more legitimate” for them.

In a land with one of the highest productivities (if not the highest) of labour on Earth, we can still witness thousands across the country in poverty, destitution, hunger, homelessness and with poor or no access to healthcare. Of the countries on Earth, the United States is one which presents highly developed material conditions necessary for socialism. The elimination of poverty, jobs and homes fo all, universal access to advanced educational and healthcare facilities, leisure time and the potential to develop the individual human being to unprecedented and continually developing cultural enrichment.

Where is all the fake nonsense and rising expectation now which filled the air when the ‘yes we can’ Obama was first elected? It is lying rotting at the bottom of a cesspit somewhere in the midwest.

The American proletariat are being forced to shoulder the burden of the structural crisis of the capital system. It is its poorest sections who are being chronically subjected to this burden by the state power of capital in the United States. It is a system which is necessarily built on inequality, injustice, oppression and the forced destitution and poverty of millions. Millions in structural unemployment are now simply a burden on capital, surplus to its requirements. The indebtedness of the US state to the world now runs into trillions of dollars. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ that state power will default on its debt to the world. And when that happens, the gates of a man-created Hell will swing open and out will rush every known demon and devil in history to haunt human society until humanity puts a final end, once and for all, to the rule of capital. This is the absolutely fundamental, quintessential question : who rules – capital or the associated producers? Revolution is necessary, by any means necessary and at any cost. The future of socialism – and therefore humanity – will ultimately be resolved and settled in America. This is the historic burden which the American proletariat must bear and carry through to the very end, regardless of the costs. The capital order must be destroyed. And replaced by a socialist life for humanity.

Shaun May

May 2014


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On The So-Called “Two-State” “Solution” : Towards A Unitary, Democratic, Secular State of Palestine.

On The So-Called “Two-State” “Solution” : Towards A Unitary, Democratic, Secular State of Palestine.

The so-called “two-state” “solution” as an agreed final settlement to the ‘Palestinian Question’ is the final refuge of the Zionist colonial settler statelet. There is only one word to describe any Palestinian politician who signs up to such a disreputable settlement (as an agreed final settlement to this question) That word is ‘traitor’. It merely entrenches the current Zionist system of apartheid. The historic equivalent would be Mandela signing up to the Bantustans or Ho Chi Minh signing up to a separate southern state in Vietnam. The “two-state” “solution” is the final refuge of the Zionist scoundrel.

Such a “solution” will continue to be based on dispossession, theft, mass murder, expulsion and injustice. It will still be based on the existence of an apartheid, US-backed, militarised Zionist ghetto/enclave in the Middle East. An “independent” Palestinian state based on the West Bank and Gaza (it would be highly dependent on the Zionist state) would be unsustainable and unviable – and the Zionists know this – when the Zionist state would control all the resources, access, etc, especially water, that would make such a state viable.

Whether it is “viable” (which it most certainly is not) is not really the question which Marxists need to address but whether it enables a just and lasting settlement for the expelled Palestinian people. Even if it were “viable” it would not provide such a settlement and the potential for a further onward development towards socialism. It would continue to ghettoise the Palestinians into a landlocked, militarised enclave. Would such a “solution” fall in line with socialist traditions? The Jews themselves were subjected to the same inhuman ghettoisation and injustice in Europe but it took Zionism to re-create an anti-semitic ghetto for them in the Middle East.

Zionism was always a predatory, land-grabbing outlook and nothing whatsoever to do with socialism, never mind Marx, no matter how often some may wish to push supposed “democratic” credentials or the phoney “socialist experiments” of the Kibbutzim.The Jewish socialist experiments and settlements in Eastern Europe (Bund Socialism) in the first decades of the 20th century were not “Zionist”. In fact, they explicitly opposed Zionism.

The basic conception of the “Kibbutz movement” – and its practical outcome – was “a land without a people for a people without a land” which is a fascistic conception similar to the conception of Lebensraum. Land stolen and the local people expelled from their lands and homes. It was only a “land without a people” after they were forced out at gunpoint. Palestine was not an empty land but was a rich, living ancient culture amongst which were living communities of Jewish people. The Palestinian culture was not just “another Arab culture” but was a distinct, rich, culture which was thousands of years old. The belief that “Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people” is a reactionary conception which parallels the Nazi conception of an “Aryan homeland”. Completely anti-socialist to its very core. The Nazi ideologists had a similar outlook. They spoke of returning to “their” “Ayran” (Indo-European) homeland.

Historically, Palestine was always a crossroad for different human cultures and those cultures contributed to its rich unitary culture. The Jewish communities living there throughout its history were Palestinian. In ancient times, many were actually hellenised and later latinised when they moved around the empire. Abram Leon writes (in his book ‘The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation’) that at least three-quarters of all Jews were actually living outside the Palestine area even before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Flavian emperors in the second half of the 1st century. It is a Zionist myth that it was simply a “Jewish homeland”. The Jews were, for many centuries, a nomadic tribal people. For thousands of years, this region has been a rich and diverse area of different cultures and religions. It has only been the illegitimate state of “Israel” since 1948 when its creation was backed by the imperialist powers in order to serve their own geostrategic interests.

Successive predatory wars have forced millions of Palestinians into exile in refugee camps in the Arab world. But in the process of doing this, the Zionist statelet has – with a certain degree of historic irony – created a ghetto for Jews in the Middle East in the interests of the aforesaid interests.

The very existence of the Zionist state has actually served to foster bigotry towards Jews. Over the decades of its warring existence, the hostility towards Zionism has often come with an absolutely false equating of “Zionist” with “Jew” which has actually served to feed prejudice and anti-semitism. In this respect, Zionism is itself anti-semitic. When I was teaching in the Arab world, I met some people (Arabs) who actually admired Hitler. I always took the trouble to explain that some but not all Jews are Zionists and that all Zionists are not necessarily Jews. One can be a anti-Zionist Jew. Or a Zionist non-Jew. I once knew somebody who was a devout English Roman Catholic and, at the same time, an ardent Zionist who supported the state of Israel. And yet I have known Jews who are militantly anti-Zionist and who refuse to accept any concessions to it.

Has the existence of the Zionist state increased or lessened anti-semitism in the region? Zionists tend to play the same old reprehensible trick card of inferring that Zionism is the inevitable outgrowth of the experiences of Jewish culture in various parts of the world and that anyone who opposes the Zionist state (including “self-hating Jews”) is “anti-semitic”. This is one of the favourite tactics of supporters of Israel and Zionism – to accuse their opponents of ‘anti-Semitism’. This argument is advanced in an attempt to prevent criticism of Israel from being presented, or to attack the individual or group, that is defending Palestinian human rights. The conception is purveyed that all Jews support the Zionist state and that those who do not are “self-haters” or “deranged”, etc. It also implies that the crimes of the Zionist state are “Jewish” crimes which they are not. Once again, the assertion of Zionist anti-semitism carries legitimacy here. When we actually look very closely at the doctrinal aspects of Zionism – and their significance for real social relations between Jews and Non-Jews – we almost inevitably arrive at the conclusion that Zionism is fascistic. There are so many parallels between Zionism and Nazism. Those tiny number of Arabs who admire Hitler should be aware of this.

Jews and Muslims had, generally, lived peacefully together for centuries in different parts of the Arab world, specifically in Palestine, until the Zionist state was established. It is reactionary, and resembles an apartheid conception, to imply that Jews and Arabs cannot live together in a unitary state. There are more than 30 laws that discriminate against the Palestinian citizens of the Israeli state. This is done either directly or indirectly, based solely on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third class citizens in their own homeland. This state discrimination against Palestinians can only breed hostility and the impression that cultural and religious co-existence is impossible.

Some Zionists have pointed to the writings of various “socialist” or “Marxist” Zionists. For example, in the writings of Ber Borochov. But is there any evidence of socialist internationalism, class-based and transcending cultural differences without recourse to pseudo-nationalistic doctrine in his writings? The attempt to synthesise Marx with Zionist Nationalism was a particular example of the general incompatibility of Marx and Nationalism. This is why Borochov was expelled from the Marxist movement in Russia. He was a divisive influence amongst the proletariat. He then veered off into Zionist nationalism, Paole Zion, etc, which the Jewish socialist Bund rejected at the turn of the century. Borochov tried to opportunistically adapt Marx to serve the needs of Zionist nationalism and, in the process, effectively left Marx behind. Borochov himself, towards the end of his life, became a self-confessed Social Democrat which was an admission that his attempted synthesis had failed and had revealed the truth of his doctrine as being essentially Zionist rather than socialist.

The so-called “two-state” “solution” really amounts to the maintenance of the oppression of a whole people in a phony. disingenuous arrangement which is really only a one-state solution for the Zionist enclave. One cannot be a Zionist and a Marxist at the same time. Zionism itself is a state-form and ideological-form of the rule of capital. If you advocate Zionism then, implicitly or explicitly, you advocate the oppression of a whole people. And the oppression of the proletariat itself within the Zionist entity. The perspectives of the Zionist state are not merely nationalistic but also class-antagonistic. They represent the interests of capital.

What is the significance of the outlook of any Palestinian politician who signs up to a two-state solution as the final settlement to the historic question of the rights of the Palestinians? Whether they are conscious of it or not, it articulates and represents the interests of the murderous Zionist colonial settler entity. It serves to entrench the Zionist state and maintain the oppression of a whole dispossessed and expelled people. A unitary democratic secular state is the only feasible, provisional solution. Everything else serves to entrench Zionist oppression even more deeply.

Such an unconscious articulation of interests is an intrinsic moment in the very nature of all forms of ideology. They articulate objective interests of which they are not necessarily aware as thinking subjects. If this were not the case, there would be an end to ideology which can only take place in the course of the unfolding of global communist human life. Those individuals who advocate a two-state solution as a final settlement are, ideologically – consciously or not – articulating the interests of the Zionist colonial settler regime. And yes, even those Palestinian politicians who advocate such a final solution.

A provisional solution would be the establishment of a secular democratic state in the region which includes, geographically, the current Zionist entity, the West Bank and Gaza within that unitary state. All occupied lands external to these areas to be returned to their original jurisdiction. Palestinian exiles must have the right to return and re-settle in their homeland and all present inhabitants – Jew and Arab – must have the right to remain, living according to full democratic rights, freedom of movement, compensation, re-housing, freedom of religion but keeping religion out of state policy and administration, etc. All Jews must have the right to settle within the boundaries and political conditions of this unitary state which would be a unitary secular state with full democratic rights for all regardless of ethnicity, religion, etc.

The so-called “two state solution” as a final permanent settlement is the bottom line for the Zionist state because it will guarantee its existence. It will maintain this statelet with the Palestinians isolated on the West Bank or enclaved in an overpopulated ghetto in Gaza. This is what the “liberal” Zionists want. A Palestinian enclave at the mercy of the Zionist state – dependent upon this state in every sense of the word – in their so-called permanent “two-state solution”. Once again, here we see that Liberalism is the “civilised” acceptance of class division and oppression. And specifically, in regard to the question of Zionism, the “civilised” acceptance of that as well.

The establishment of a democratic secular state in Palestine will simultaneously establish more favourable historical presuppositions and conditions for the struggle for socialism in the region. The most counter-revolutionary force in the region – the Zionist colonial settler enclave statelet – must be destroyed. Its negation and the positing of a democratic secular state therefore facilitates the class interests of the proletariat as a whole in the whole region. This is why this secular bourgeois democratic state can only be a provisional solution but, nevertheless, a “just” solution within the parameters of bourgeois norms of democracy and secularism. The position of the one-state solution is, therefore, to resolve the contradictory dynamic of the relationship between Zionism and the rights of the Palestinian people onto a higher secular democratic level which provides the historical basis and presuppostions for a higher form of struggle. The struggle for a socialist Palestine.

Shaun May

May 2014

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Abram Leon and the Roots of Anti-Semitism in Europe

Abram Leon and the Roots of Anti-Semitism in Europe

I am currently reading Abram Leon’s book ‘The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation’. Leon was a resistant fighter against the Nazis before he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. He died there in September 1944, age 26. His book was published in French in 1946 and then in English in 1950. Here is a link to the text

Fascism is the attempt of capital to re-articulate its rule in a different, extra-parliamentary form under conditions of deep economic crisis and intense class struggle.

Millions of proletarians actually supported Hitler, Mussolini and Franco but their support ran contrary to their class interests. Fascism always appeals to the sections of the petit bourgeoisie ruined in such crises and cultivates this class as its social base. Kuche, Kuchen, Kirche. Fascist dictatorship does not, and cannot, rest on the historic interests of the proletariat. It must be rooted in the interests of capital but its social base is this petit bourgeoisie. In Germany, the indebted landowning descendants of the Junkers also formed an indispensable element in the rise of Fascism. Hitler’s SS was saturated with assorted princelings, barons and small businessmen.

The main objective of all forms of fascism is to destroy the organised power of the class movement of the proletariat. In Germany, the KPD, Social-Democrats, trade unionists, etc. It is no accident of history that the communists were the first into the concentration camps. A major reason why German fascism targetted the Jews was not because some were businessmen or “running the economy”, etc, but because many people of Jewish background were prominent in the revolutionary movement and in the intelligentsia. Behind all the Nazi ideology lurked real class interests at work. Hitler equated “Bolshevism” with a “Jewish plot”.

The German workers’ movement was an incredible and powerful organisation. A society within a society. The new society germinating within the womb of the old. The most advanced history has witnessed so far. It was not simply a political movement but a complex mass socio-economic organisation numbering in millions. It had its own insurance organisations, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, leisure facilities, etc. Every Friday evening – when workers were paid their wages – thousands of workers would actually queue up around the HQs of the KPD and SPD to pay in their subscriptions. There were so many in the queues that they had to be arranged concentrically around the party buildings. Millions ready for revolution. At times armed.

From 1919 to 1933 the German workers rose in revolt five times in struggle to put an end to the rule of capital. Defeated five times. Capital had to smash all this to smithereens. It used Hitler’s NSDAP to do this. It could not have done this without a series of international defeats for the proletariat aided, of course, by the Social-Democrat traitors and Stalinism which put the caste interests of the Soviet bureaucracy and “socialism in one country” above all else. Even at the time of Krystallnacht, millions opposed Hitler’s maneouvres. The German economy was still in deep crisis. It only started to pick up in the wake of Roosevelt’s reflationary “New Deal”, its global effects and the beginnings of re-armament. In my opinion, without this, Hitler’s regime could not have survived. It was the impetus which developments in world economy gave to German capitalism which enabled Hitler to consolidate his rule and pursue his genocidal program.

What are the historic roots of anti-semitism in Europe? This is a very complex question and Leon analyses this in much greater depth in his text.

Leon writes that the Jews entered Europe during Antiquity as a trading people and that the diaspora had more or less already taken place before the destruction of Jerusalem under the Flavian emperors in the 1st century CE. His book elaborates a comprehensive history of the Jews from pre-Roman times up to the twentieth century. According to Leon, at least 75% of Jews lived outside of Palestine (dispersed around the Roman and Persian empires) by the time of the destruction of the temple in 70 AD by the legions of the emperor Titus.

During the later period of the Middle Ages, anti-semitism grew in England largely as a result of competition with the Jews from native merchants as was the case in some other European countries. [The first recorded evidence of the Jews in England is in the 11th century when they accompanied William the Norman conqueror to set up a system of credit and develop trade. The Jews are not recorded in England before the Norman conquest. Which is not to say that Jews were not living in Anglo-Saxon England. An Anglo-Saxon law passed under Edward the Confessor mentions the Jews and their property as under the control of the Crown.] In the feudal order in England, the Jews could not hold land in fief and were also generally excluded from the feudally-mediated Guild system of petty handicraft. This meant that they continued to live by their traditional occupations of trade or money lending. However, this was not universally the case. Some guilds – such as the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths – were run by Jews. In the later Middle Ages, land given as security by the nobility for loans was surrendered to Jews when the loans could not be repaid, Land then was sold on speculatively. The land was acquired by the Jewish usurer on failure to meet debts simply to cover his principal and interest so it entered his hands as a commodity to be sold and not as an asset to be worked

When the Jews arrived in England from Europe in the 11th century they had to continue with their commercial activities which, accordingly, did not emerge reactively to the new conditions confronting the Jews in England. Commodity and money capital are both older than feudalism itself. They were found, in various forms, in the ancient world. The Jews continued with the occupations which enabled them to survive in Europe from where they had migrated with William. But these activities certainly became consolidated and developed amongst the Jews in the “pores” of feudal society in England.

Trade and usury, as they developed, began to serve to undermine the feudal order itself, acting as a dissolving influence on it. The emergence of anti-semitism in Europe in this period is associated with two sources [1] the conflict between the growth of commodity and money capital on the one hand and the increasingly precarious position of the old feudal nobility and declining Guilds and [2] the growth of a native merchant class whose direct competitors were the Jews themselves. Leon also puts forward the thesis that the non-Jewish nascent bourgeoisie began to challenge the commercial and trading monopolies held by Jews with the growth of trade in the later feudal period. This was the source of the anti-semitism in the forerunners of the bourgeoisie under feudalism. It was deployed as an ideological weapon to dispossess them of their commercial monopolies and expel them.

The Jews in medieval England lived under the patronage of the Crown which could be withdrawn at any time. As with non-Jews trading in money and commodities, their activities as commodity and money dealers undoubtedly served to facilitate the dissolution of feudal relations. It was the growth of capital in circulation (commodity and money capital) which was the fundamental determinant/solvent in serving to dissolve feudal relations. Capital only starts to comprehensively enter the sphere of production from the beginning of the 16th century. First in agriculture and then later in manufacture. The emergence and development of these relations necessarily posited a struggle between the merchant class and the whole feudal order.

We only have to study the history of the Jews in medieval England to see that the anti-semitism was related to their economic status. It wasn’t ideological in origin or because of the ascribed role the Jews supposedly played in the New Testament, etc The Jews were “personified” as a threat to established feudal relations and ties – and to the development of non-Jewish commodity and money capital – which is not to assert that English merchants were not also identified as a threat. All classes in later medieval society found their reasons to persecute the Jews who activities tended to shift away from trade towards usury as they were expelled from the former by the developing native merchant class.

The persecution of the Jews in York in 1190 (resulting in a mass suicide) and the expulsion of the total Jewish population (about 3000) from England in 1290 by Edward Longshanks (Edward I, “Hammer of the Scots” ) are the most noted events in the history of anti-semitism in England. Edward appropriated all the loans of the expelled Jews so that all re-payments with interest went directly into the treasury of the Crown.

The Jews were only formally re-admitted under Cromwell in the 1650s. He saw them as encouraging of wealth, thrifty and conducive to the development of trade and capitalism. Their re-admittance complimented his Puritan ethic which serviced and facilitated the accumulation of capital. Even today in England, in some synagogues, prayers are still said for Cromwell.

The Jews lived by means of money or commodity capital and therefore they were seen as the personifications of the threat to the interests of this top layer of the feudal system in its later stages of development. This is just one of the historical roots of anti-semitism in Europe. The other major root being the rise of the bourgeoisie as a distinct “estate” and its competition with Jewry in trade and money-lending. The fact that the account of events in the New Testament were conveniently used as an ideological justification for expulsion and persecution does not mean that this persecution was rooted in that text.

The text was used as an ideological cudgel to expel and massacre the Jews in the interests of bankrupt nobles and the emerging bourgeoisie who coveted the commercial monopolies of the Jews.

As well as the conflicts over commercial monopolies, we can see how the historic roots of anti-semitism found particular expression in the nobility and petit bourgeoisie because commodity and money capital undermined the Guild system and the ’divinely-ordained’ feudal order with the nobility seated at its apex. The Crown and nobility often had to go to the Jewish money-lender in medieval England in order to finance wars, profligacy, luxury, etc. And the conflicts of this relationship were exacerbated when loans, payments and re-payments, etc, could not be made, etc. Edward tried to solve the whole problem by a mass expropriation and expulsion.

Abram Leon’s fine study of the history of the Jews since antiquity is an absolute ‘must’ for anyone who wishes to develop a firm grasp of the ‘Jewish Question’, especially in relation to Zionism and the Israeli state.

Shaun May

May 2014

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From A Notebook on Dialectics (Part Two)

From A Notebook on Dialectics (Part Two)

Every Marxist today would benefit politically as a result of a close but critical study of Hegel’s Logic. The question of such a study is not a philosophical consideration but primarily a political one. This was foremost in Lenin’s mind when he took up a study of Hegel in Switzerland during the first imperialist world war and before he returned to Russia from exile. In a certain sense, Lenin was trying to follow the same path which Marx cut when he studied and critiqued Hegel as a theoretical source of his own method. Marx superseded Hegel and Hegelianism as a whole but that does not mean that we cannot still learn from a critical, strictly non-apotheosised, reading of Hegel. To find for ourselves the “rational kernel in the mystical shell”. Such a study of Hegel serves to deepen our understanding of Marx and of the crisis of the capital system which confronts us today.

Marx was a lifelong student of Hegel (for example, see his letter to Engels, dated January 16, 1858. Hegel, of course, has to be read critically from the vantage point of what Marx and others subsequently have already achieved. And Marx has to be read likewise. But they also must be read historically which is not separate from such a critique. It is approximately 200 years since the publication of the Science of Logic. We critically study this work within the unfolding conditions which are mediating the crisis of the capital system today. Any critique is not “free-floating”, anonymous, independent of the social conditions within which it takes place. It would, in my opinion, be erroneous [1] to approach any thinker ideologically, that is, divorced from the historical conditions within which they worked and produced, and [2] to critique the work of such a thinker independently of the conditions mediating the crisis of capital today i.e. once again to approach their work ideologically. If we truly wish to grasp the content and significance of their work, I think it is important to embrace both considerations here. We must seek to avoid the ideological apotheosis.

A grasp of the origination and development of Hegel’s thinking, for example, cannot simply be attained by mere reference to his philosophical predecessors or contemporaries. We must not and cannot neglect the historical experience of Hegel himself, student, 19 years of age when the French Revolution broke out in 1789 and all the unfolding events in the course of and subsequent to this revolution. The French Revolution had a very deep and profound philosophical and political influence on Hegel.

Marx critiqued Hegel and Feuerbach as a means towards developing his materialist conception. Marx also noted the contradictory character of Hegel’s whole system. He revealed that it contained structured within itself the conflict between his radical dialectical method and the conservative edifice of the philosophical system which Hegel erected. That he used a dialectical method to erect such a finished philosophical system is itself the positing of a contradiction. Regardless of this, Hegel writes – in the Preface to the first edition of the Encyclopaedia (p.iv) – that he is endeavouring to set forth ‘a new treatment of philosophy on a method which will, as I hope, yet be recognised as the only genuine method identical with the content‘. This, of course, is central for Hegel as idealist in elaborating his categories but if we invert it and ‘place it on its feet’ it has a resonating significance for Marx’s materialism. And even for the evolution of scientific thought in general.

If Nature is immanently dialectical – independently of the thinking subject – then the heuristic integration of dialectics into scientific method will undoubtedly serve to give us a deeper and more profound understanding of Nature. Even in the natural sciences, therefore, dialectics (compared to the empiricism and positivism that currently pervades it) would be more fruitful as a heuristic guide in research. The ’empirical’ is, of course, indispensable in observation in politics as in the natural sciences. But Positivism is a different question. In my opinion, summa summarum, Positivism is the Pentobarbital of the the critical faculties of any revolutionary.

We only have to consider the questions and problems of today’s Physics to see the potential of dialectical approaches, e.g., in Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, Cosmology, etc, not to mention other areas of science such as Evolutionary Biology, Psychology, etc.

Nature does not require the presence of human beings to be dialectical. Nature preceded humanity and the latter as such only arises out of Nature on the ground and presuppositions of the dialectics of its pre-human evolution. Nature does not require our permission to be dialectical.

If we sit down and write a piece of work on contemporary events and questions, then what sort of method animates our approach to events? We could deploy “common sense”, “positivism” or “pragmatism” in method but where does that lead us in a world which is a paradox of paradoxes, a complex of complexes and not simply a mechanical assemblage of the “ready made” ?

I am currently studying Trotsky’s notebooks, 1933-35 on ‘Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism’ (Columbia University Press, 1985). The text contains references to Trotsky’s dispute with Max Eastman on the question of dialectics. Eastman’s position leads to the question of the “practical use” of the dialectic implying that it contradicted “common sense”, “science”, “everyday experience”, etc. Eastman sought to subsume the dialectic into the traditions of American pragmatism, Dewey, James, etc. Later he became a right-wing reactionary. Pragmatism is the ideal doctrine for the ‘Men who built America’. The reactionary doctrine ideally suited to the class interests of the American bourgeoisie and to its global realpolitik today. In his philosophical exchange with Max Eastman (influenced by the Pragmatism of Dewey and James), Trotsky asserted that those who reject dialectics have never maintained a consistently revolutionary outlook.

Is there then a dialectic for “theory” and a different one for “praxis” determined by positivistic and pragmatic paradigms? The realpolitik of the global representatives of capital is based on such paradigms. And this can be clearly seen with current events in the Ukraine. But this realpolitik is very clearly rooted in and articulates the interests of global capital; this is the “bottom line” so to speak.

If the world is living contradiction, then clearly we cannot understand this world without a conception of contradiction – no matter how “concrete” we think we are in our “common sense”,”pragmatism”, “empiricism”, etc – and this must orientate us in our “practical” work. This, of course, is not to deny the determinate character of the world. But to approach the world as if it is all “determinacy” without “indeterminacy” is the line which divides dialectics from the formalisms of positivism, empiricism and pragmatism. Positivism accuses Marx of “metaphysics” and “speculative abstraction”

But what is the relationship between the concrete and abstract in Marx? And not only in Marx. Write down any sentence on a page and within that sentence are to be found the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete. Every conception is a relationship between different degrees of abstraction and concreteness. Whether that conception is commodity and capital, I and thou, Positivism and Postpositivism, etc.

If we approach the abstract as if it is a question of the universal simply being “abstracted” from the “phenomenon” and “applied concretely” according to situation and context, then I think that is alien to Marx’s method. I think it is the wrong way to proceed. For Marx, the universal is concrete. If we adopt this former approach then I am certain we will struggle with the question of contradiction in method. Because the universal is simply “abstracted” and stripped of all determination without having any objectively real concrete character independently of thought. Without us looking at the given universal’s actual historical origination and development.

The universal itself – although sundry ‘postmoderns’ would dispute this – has a concrete, objective character. When Marx begins Capital with ‘the commodity’ he is starting with a concrete universal. He is not developing his conception “abstractly” in isolation from “concreteness”.

In my opinion, for communists to adequately address any question of any contemporary problem facing the proletariat, it is undoubtedly necessary to use a dialectical method of approach to such questions. How do we articulate the conception of contradiction and change so that it can be brought forward in method to address such questions? In order to do this we must first start (Anschauung) with real unfolding events and not with some imposed template of method. But as Communists, as a method of approach to the questions of the day, our approach must be revolutionary critical and, accordingly, inseparable from praxis which is revolutionary.

How do we actually address and develop these questions in the unfolding of a revolutionary critique i.e. in revolutionary practice? How do we meet the proletariat where it is today (i.e. constitute ourselves as an intrinsic part of the class movement), with all the historically-imposed limits of its organisation and consciousness and how do we struggle to move that forward as the structural crisis of capital deepens?

The essence or the focus of the dialectical approach is the disclosure of the inner contradictions within a “complex” (its internally and dynamically active paradoxes) which enable us to not only grasp the origins of the “complex” but also its ‘impulse’, ‘vitality’, ‘life’; to grasp its inherent tendencies of development. Contradiction (Paradox) is the most fundamental, animating category of dialectics and in the dialectical method of approach. If we do not grasp the internal contradictory relations of a “complex” – and especially the implicit tendencies of development which result from a grasp of them – then how can we orientate ourselves in revolutionary practice? Our conception, surely, is to inform what we actually do. It is not an academic or fatalistic conception. It is not a question of waiting for the apple to drop from the tree in order to pick it up but rather a question of actually shaking the tree in order to do so. If the conception does not focus on the paradoxical life and tendencies of the object then how can it comprehensively and concretely inform our revolutionary activity?

Thinking which appropriates the world by means of dialectically-related and articulated categories is itself a product of human history. And, accordingly, “dialectical method” actually arises and develops historically under and when certain historical conditions are posited which render it possible and necessary. Implicitly, the only scientifically valid and viable (and non-ideological) way to grasp this origination and evolution – as with all forms of thinking – of dialectical forms of thinking is by a study of their origins and development within the unfolding of the historical process itself. We find sundry ‘postmodernists’ approaching the question rationalistically which, perhaps incidentally, is a dominant tradition in French philosophy from Descartes, etc, onwards.

A comprehensive understanding of dialectical thinking is not rooted ideologically and rationalistically in thought itself but in the evolution of Nature and History as a process of development. More specifically, in humanity’s activity in the transformation of Nature to meet its requirements, as expressed in the development and application of the different forms of human knowledge. Dialectical forms of thinking cannot grasp themselves independently of this process but can only be characterised and evolve in relation to it. It is ideological to think otherwise. This is what it means, in my opinion, to grasp “dialectics through dialectics” which is the understanding of dialectical thought on the grounds of, and arising out of, man’s activity and his reflection of this activity in the course of the unfolding of the historical process itself. In this sense, it is an “identity” (or rather “unity”) but not a tautology. It only becomes tautological if we seek to explain dialectical thinking exclusively within the conceptualisations of its own thought-realm. Such an explanation becomes, in my opinion, sooner or later, an ideological ‘adventure in the dialectic’.

The stage at which the historical process has arrived in the course of its development also conditions and limits our knowledge. Engels writes that our knowledge is ‘limited in its actuality but unlimited in its disposition and potential’. Engels asserted that dialectical thinking is merely the expression of the forms of motion of the natural and social world reflected and articulated in the human mind. A truth simply put but, nevertheless, very concretely so. Without all the unnecessary sophistry of rationalisms and metaphysics.

When Marx wrote about the events of his time – for example, the revolutions of 1848 or the Paris Commune of 1871 – was he simply giving an “objective” “journalistic” or “empirical” account of these events? How did he approach an analysis of these events? These questions are not rhetorical. I truly think that these are legitimate questions to raise because in a study of these writings we will find an understanding of Marx’s method of approach and that will help us in our approach to current events, in the Ukraine and Bosnia, for example. 2014 is not 1848, of course, but it would undoubtedly be helpful to study Marx’s approach in his day. The method of approach will be actually found in the way Marx develops the content in these works as a class-conscious political articulation of the unfolding events of the times. Marx himself intended to write a “few pages” on the “rational kernel” in Hegel as opposed to its “mystical form” (Ideenmystik). But for Marx, his critique of events was always a revolutionary critique and not the critical critique which he critiqued in the 1840s.

Nonetheless, despite all this, if we cannot make ourselves understood to millions then revolutionaries collectively will be treated like an arcane and esoteric priesthood. We need to be as clear and lucid as possible within the limitations which are actually imposed by the terminology. For example, what other expression can we use for “surplus value”? The meaning of the term ‘surplus value’ is the basis of, but is not just another word for, ‘profit’. And, again, surplus labour is not necessarily surplus value whereas the contrary always applies. In order to grasp the distinction within the identity (and thus get to the value roots of ‘exploitation’) we have to study Marx, of course. There is no alternative. We have to be very careful not to vulgarise Marx in the very act of seeking to simplify. If we are not careful, we would end up with a sort of Mickey Mouse “theory”. Marxists can come across as an intellectual elite who do not appear to have cultivated the ability to articulate their conceptions in forms which the “man in the street” can readily understand. I think we have to be honest about that. But the “man in the street” can understand it all if he studies it. We are all “people of the street”. But this does not mean that ease of understanding, lucidity and clarity are not important for all of us.

If we acknowledge the real existence of contradiction in its different forms – which is found in Hegel and in Marx – then we will be able to find it in any of their analyses of the events of their time. All forms of existence are subject to its dynamic. For example, The Eighteenth Brumaire, Class Struggles in France or The Civil War in France. Moreover, any dialectical approach to current events would incorporate it as part of its method.

Marx uses it in the elaboration of his conception in Capital where it animates his method and the form of presentation in Capital. If we accept that method is valid without the conception of contradiction, then are we not forced, by implication, to deny the universality of contradiction and simply acknowledge it as an ‘impractical foible of the imagination of the madman or an overactive mind’? This is the approach of many natural scientists. When they encounter contradictions in the outcomes of their researches, usually they do not consider that such outcomes may actually reflect the contradictory nature of the object itself. Usually they put it down to a defect in method or even in the physical apparatus which they are using. Which isn’t to assert that such defects may not be possible. But the method of approach is overwhelmingly formalistic.

Formal logic itself is a subsumed moment in dialectical logic which means that the latter does not deny the determinate or the determinacy of the existent (determinate being, Dasein). But to focus on it at the expense of dialectics (without acknowledging the indeterminate within and as the determinate and vice versa) is what Hegel would have referred to as being in the grip of Verstand whose principle is that of ‘undifferentiated identity’. The determinate is the determinate because it is always returning to itself out of its own ‘negativity’, out of negation of negation in order to reaffirm itself in its repositing but at a higher stage of its determinate existence. This is why ‘things’ which we observe in daily life appear not to change, retain their stability. Everyday I observe the bronze statue on my desk and everyday it seems to be unaltered, it presents itself to be so. But alteration is inherent within it as it retains its stability and retains this in its alteration. If I view it formalistically then I am focussing on this stability without seeing the possibility for its opposite as a result of the unperceived accumulation of changes. I wake up one morning and I notice that an arm has fallen off the statue. The dialectic laughs at me : you didn’t see that coming, did you? You looked at her last night before you went to bed and the right arm was still attached. And now it is on the floor in front of you.

A Formal logical approach therefore stands as a less precise, less concrete and more abstract approach to Nature but that, in itself, does not invalidate it as a limiting case in our approach. For pragmatic technological purposes, at the present stage, we can use formal logic to design the present generation of computers but will that apply to the nth generation, etc? Formal logic (rooted in the Aristotelian logic) – as a method to organise our work as communists – remains a limiting case of a higher form of logic which has incorporated it.

But in the comprehensiveness of our understanding, the dynamics of social change and revolution actually demand dialectics. To exclusively employ Formal logic would cripple us. However, there is no denial of its scientific legitimacy and validity under certain conditions and parameters, but only under specific conditions which involve the formalised approximation of the objects of investigation. In my opinion, if we win through to socialism, and with later developments, dialectics will eventually be incorporated into scientific method.

Even now, Nature is calling out – in various areas of the natural sciences – for a dialectical conception and appreciation of her relations and properties, etc. I dare say that readers will know some of these areas better than I do. There are still Physicists who argue about whether light is a wave or particulate. And sometimes they answer that it can be wave or particulate but only as a function of the experimental conditions which we impose. Most scientists think paradox is a fault in reasoning, a foible in scientific method which is used in trying to understand Nature (devoid of contradiction of course) and that the contradictions being encountered in advanced Maths and Physics, for example, do not actually indicate that contradiction is indwelling and gives the physical world its movement and energy. But even the simplest and the most advanced mathematical equations and formulae are only formalised expressions of dialectical relations in Nature.

I am not conversant in the mathematics and logic of computer science and technology which is used in the design and development of computing technology. But here is a prediction from an computing amateur like me : it will not be long before computer scientists attempting to design the future generations of computers will come up against theoretical barriers and technical limits which compel them to go beyond a formal logical approach. They will be compelled to enter the sphere of dialectics in order to design more advanced computers. The more the technology evolves, the more it will demand dialectical theoretical solutions to the problems which are will undoubtedly emerge. If we acknowledge that the world of Nature and Man and their interrelation is dialectical, then we have no other route to follow, eventually and ultimately, but a heuristic one which incorporates dialectical thinking into the work of the natural sciences and it would be a more fruitful approach. The denial of the dialectic has its historically-posited scientific and technical limits beyond which the dialectic becomes necessary.

There are those (Positivism, Empiricism, etc) who state that thought can only be “scientific” if it is “predictive”. Predictive? Well, I think it depends what we mean by ‘predictive’. Physics is predictive in the sense that we can predict the approximate degree of force with which a projectile hits a surface if we know its mass and acceleration. In Chemistry, we can predict the properties of the next undiscovered or unsynthesised member in a homologous series of organic compounds. In the work done on the Periodic Table, we accurately predicted the properties of elements before they were actually discovered. We predicted their existence as well as their properties. In Biology, in Homeostasis we can predict how a living system will behave if subjected to certain constraints and in Chemistry we can use the Le Chatelier Principle to predict the tendency of development of a system in equilibrium if we disturb that equilibrium with given constraints like temperature, quantity of reactants, pressure, etc.

I do not think materialist dialectics is like this (scientistic) – which we find in the natural sciences – because in the method of approach of materialist dialectics there are sublated elements of both fatalism and scepticism preserved (not absolutely annihilated). In what sense? In so far as fatalism reflects a certain recognition of the general trend of development which a formation must necessarily follow once its general principles of development have been discovered. And in scepticism is reflected the conception that how this trend of development will turn out in all its concrete, specific particularity and detail expression cannot be fully known. So this type of thinking is, in a certain sense, both predictive and not predictive at the same time. We can provide a general prognosis of development but it would be impossible provide what will happen in all the specific detail. Whereas if we study a chemical reaction in equilibrium using Le Chatelier’s Principle, we can pinpoint to a high degree of accuracy what the system will do (how it will behave) if we alter one or more of its parameters.

We cannot fully know how the unfolding crisis of the capital order will turn out in all its detail and particularity but we know that this crisis will unfold globally, based on our studies in Marx, Meszaros, etc. It will broaden, deepen, worsen, become more intense, become increasingly more global and this must have profound implications for the life of humanity and all the living creatures of Nature’s creation on the planet. This is not “predictive” as it is in the Natural Sciences but nevertheless it is predictive in the broad dialectical conception of the term. This, of course, serves to orientate us in our theoretical and practical work i.e. in the intrinsic unity between them, ‘revolutionary practice’ [Marx, Theses on Feuerbach].

Shaun May

May 2014

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The Doctor’s Prescription

The Doctor’s Prescription

After enduring a bout of flu for too long I decided to visit my GP. He took my blood pressure and then listened to my chest with his stethoscope.

“You should have made an appointment earlier. It’s gone onto your chest. It’s quite badly infected”

He wrote a prescription and then handed it to me. I looked at him half-expecting him to tell me what he had given me…

“It’s an antibiotic. The viral infection has lowered your resistance and produced a bacterial infection in your lungs”

The basic procedure in general practice is to observe and identify the symptoms, make a diagnosis, write a prescription and sometimes give a general prognosis of the diagnosed condition. Come back if it hasn’t cleared after x number of weeks, etc.

The decision of the GP to write a particular prescription is therefore informed by his diagnosis. If the diagnosis is wrong, it is probable that the medicine will not work or might even make things worse. The patient returns and the doctor re-evaluates the situation which further informs his next actions.

‘Prescription’, of course, is not confined to medical practice. To prescribe is to delineate a rule, course or direction of action. It is to lay down a remedy, treatment, ordnance or order for something or other in advance. To effectively issue an injunction. The term derives from the Latin praescribere which means to write or lay down in advance.

The problem with the use of prescriptions in revolutionary politics is their inherently formalistic (undialectical) and fixed character. They set a path in advance for the proletariat in the unfolding, developing class struggle which is forever throwing up new situations, conflicts and ambiguities which cannot be addressed by such a prescriptive formalism. Such a way of proceeding may be ‘faithful’ to the word taken out of the context of its historical locus but it always contradicts the dialectical spirit of Marx. ‘Prescriptions’ in medicine are necessary but in revolutionary politics they constitute the elements out of which dogmatism arises and crystallises. And then we have a doctrine made out of a set of mantras and incantations which is absolutely unfit for anything vaguely ‘revolutionary’.

Sounds familiar? It will if you have ever been a member of one of the many left-wing sects and grouplets because ‘prescriptive’ is a term which describes and encapsulates the approach and methods of organisation of the left-wing sectarian groups in relation to the class movement of the proletariat.

In his criticism of Ferdinand Lassalle in Germany in the 1860s, Marx wrote, in a letter to Schweitzer, that..

he gave his agitation from the very beginning the character of a religious sect, as does every man who claims to have in his pocket a panacea for the suffering masses. In fact, every sect is religious. Furthermore, precisely because he was a founder of a sect, he denied any natural connection with the earlier movement in Germany or abroad. He fell into the same error as Proudhon, of not seeking the real basis for his agitation in the actual elements of the class movement, but of trying to prescribe the course of the movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe.


You yourself have had personal experience of the contradictions between a sectarian and a class movement. The sect seeks its raison d’etre and point of honour not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the class movement

Later in the letter Marx writes in regard to Lassalle’s group that…

The dissolution of the General Association of German Workers gave you the opportunity to accomplish a great step forward and to declare, if it were necessary, that a new stage of development had been reached and that the sectarian movement was now ready to merge into the class movement and to completely abandon its separation. As far as its true aims were concerned, the sect, like all earlier working class sects, would bring them as an enriching element into the general movement. Instead you have in fact demanded of the class movement that it subordinate itself to a particular sectarian movement. Those who are not your friends have concluded from this that you are trying under all circumstances to preserve your ‘own workers’ movement’.

And in relation to his position regarding the structure and organisation of trade unions that….

As for the draft of the rules, I regard it as fundamentally misguided and I think I have as much experience as any contemporary in the field of trade unions. Without going into details here I would only remark that the centralist organisation, no matter how valuable it may be for secret societies and sectarian movements, contradicts the essence of trade unions. Even if it were possible – and I declare quite frankly that it is not – it would not be necessary, least of all in Germany. There, where the worker is subject to bureaucratic discipline from his infancy and believes in officialdom and higher authority, it is above all a question of teaching him to walk by himself  [1]*

Sectarianism was an ongoing and recurring problem in the International Workingmen’s Association which Marx had to address. See, for example, The Alleged Splits in the International, p.260 and p.298 ff.

Of course, an evaluation of the living tendencies and trajectories of development of a movement, class relations, relation to state, etc, – i.e  a grasp of the real, living, concrete dialectics of the whole situation – is always necessary in order to contribute to the development of the class movement. But because this movement is constantly changing according to the unfolding conditions of the development of capitalist society, so must our ‘evaluation’ and ‘contributions’ as such. In its slogans and proclamations, the sect always thinks it knows what is best for the proletariat and in this regard it resembles a quasi-religious approach to matters in both its psychology and in its actual practice. It is indeed the same approach and psychology of the messianic or millenarian cult. It is one thing being an organic and intrinsic participating part of the class movement and ‘contributing’ as such but it is quite something else being in distinct separation from it in a sect of one’s own and dictating to it and expecting the class movement to ‘subordinate itself to a particular sectarian movement’. Implicit in Marx’s letter to Schweitzer is this difference between, on the one hand, participating and being involved in the broad mass movement of the proletariat in a non-prescriptive, contributory mode of working and, on the other hand, preaching, intervening and fishing around in it in a prescriptive, sectarian way.

To work in a non-sectarian and non-prescriptive way means to participate in order to unconditionally further the interests and emanicipation of the proletariat as a class. It does not mean substituting the ‘programme’ or interests of the sect or grouplet for the historical interests of the proletariat or even identifying the two. It does not mean merely using the class movement as a fishing ground for recruitment and augmentation of the membership of the sect. The sect always identifies its own dogma or, as Marx writes, its own ‘particular shibboleth’ with the interests of the class movement as a whole. Marx writes that..

It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever [2]

The International Workingmen’s Association…

has not been hatched by a sect or a theory. It is the spontaneous growth of the proletarian movement, which itself is the offspring of the natural and irrepressible tendencies of modern society [3]

The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves [4]

Of course, this does not mean that there is no active debate and even struggle within the broad class movement as to inform direction of change, tactics, strategy, etc, as situations unfold and conditions change. Without this, there can be no development or advance. It cannot simply be a case of ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth’. If this were the case, then there would be no need whatsoever for Marxists to participate at all in the class movement. The whole of Marx’s life work would have been in vain. An ideological exercise. It is not participation per se but how and why we participate and constitute ourselves as an intrinsic organic part of it and not as a sect or cult in semi-detached relationship to it. Being ‘non-prescriptive’ is not equivalent to being ‘uninvolved’ as the sectarian insists. We participate in and study the class movement in order to grasp how we can contribute towards moving it on in the struggle against capital and its state power. We do not do this in order to sell news sheets and get ‘gullibles’ to fill out membership cards. Our role as Marxists is not to elevate ourselves to some position of being the ‘good faith’ or ‘moral conscience’ of the class movement or to be its ‘vanguard’ which is how every sectarian group refers to itself : “We are The Vanguard!”. It is to work in a non-prescriptive and non-sectarian way in the class movement for the emanicipation of the proletariat.

A doctor who prescribes a medicine to cure an illness or a bricklayer who delineates a method of building a wall to his apprentice so that it does not end up crooked is teaching the recipient of the prescription or method a way of curing their illness or building a straight wall respectively. Their decisions and teaching is based on a long experience and testing of received technical knowledge in their given area. The left-wing sect demands ‘of the class movement that it subordinate itself to the particular sectarian movement’ according to its ‘particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the class movement’ and thereby ‘to prescribe the course of the movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe’. A more perfect characterisation of the operation of the contemporary left-wing grouplets, sects and assorted so-called ‘parties’ and ‘leagues’, etc, could not have been written today in 2014.

Shaun May


* All references, unless otherwise stated, are to be found in The First International and After. Political Writings, Vol 3.  (Penguin, 1974, Ed. David Fernbach), approx 400pp.

[1] Marx to Schweitzer, 13 October 1868, in The First International and After, pp.155-156

[2] Marx. Instruction for Delegates to the Geneva Congress. p.90

[3] Marx. Report to the Brussels Congress. p.99

[4] Marx. Provisional Rules of the International Working Men’s Association.  p.82

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Synopsis of Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic’

 Synopsis of Hegel’s ‘Science of Logic’


Hegel, in his ‘Science of Logic’, writes that a dialectical understanding of an object involves ‘demonstrating opposite determinations…… in the same object’ and ‘seizing the opposed moments in their unity’, so that every whole is a unity of opposed determinations.

Reading through the text, contradiction can be identified as the animating category throughout the whole exposition. Each category is developed and shown to be inherently self-contradictory.  The resolution of the internal contradiction in one category moves the exposition on to the next category. This next succeeding category stands as the outcome of the resolution of all the previous contradictions of the previous categories in the exposition – i.e. as the outcome of all previous development – and is richer in content than all the preceding categories. The exposition is always a movement towards an increasingly more concrete category which is always richer in its content and determinations, and hence more concrete, than the preceding categories.  Each new category, in its turn being the outcome of negation, is posited as containing its own latent contradictions which unfold and become actualised in the course of the exposition of the determinations of the category.  The latent (possible, embryonic,) contradictions become actualised as each category generates within itself the conditions for the actualisation of these latent contradictions which, in their movement, tend towards, and find, their resolution in a succeeding, more concrete category.  In Hegel’s system, the final category is termed the ‘Absolute Idea’ and is ascribed to be the most concrete of all the categories, being the outcome and synthesis of the entire development of all the previous categories and embracing within itself the richness of content that has resulted from and out of the history of this development.


Is not Hegel demonstrating that every category is immanently self-contradictory and the inner antagonisms within it become the source of its self-movement and therefore of its passage into a succeeding category which becomes characterised by a more concrete, richer, form of contradiction?  The positing of each category becomes simultaneously the unfolding of the conditions within itself for its own negation.  Thus, each category, in the course of its movement, passes over into its successor.  At the point of its determination in the course of the exposition, each category must contain the succeeding category, into which it passes, implicitly posited within itself.  The development of each category involves the maturation of this embryonic opposition into an open antagonism, setting up a relation in which the category becomes divided against itself in conflict.  The further development of the inner conflict moves towards a point at which the resolution of the conflict becomes necessary.  Each resolution constitutes a transition to a qualitatively higher, determinate stage (category) which contains and generates new relations and qualities within itself that govern its further development. Contradiction animates the whole exposition.

the contemplation of everything that is shows, in itself, that in its self-identity it is self-contradictory and self-different and in its variety or contradiction, self identical; it is in itself this movement of transition of one of these determinations into the other, just because each in itself is its own opposite (1)


All things are internally divided against themselves and composed of opposed tendencies.  Each thing unifies opposed tendencies which exist and develop in inseparable relation to each other.  In this way, they condition each other’s and therefore, mediatively, their own movement.  Each side of any relation displays its individual characteristics and determinations in its connection to the whole.  Hence, when considering the relationship between opposed tendencies which constitute a single whole….

Each of the two opposed sides contains its other in itself, and neither can be thought of without the other; and thus it follows that taken alone, neither determination has truth, but only in their unity.  This is the true dialectical consideration of them and the true result (2)

Opposed determinations reflect each other’s movement and, because they exist in relation to each other, each determination, through its involvement with its opposite, simultaneously exists in relation with and to itself and determines its own movement (self-determining only through its relation to the other).  Each determination exists in a ‘negative self-relation’ and ‘self-relating negativity’.  Opposites condition each other in their mutually-interrelated movements and thereby, in their relationship, are, at the same time, determined by each other and self-determining.

Each is self-related only as relating itself to its other (3)

Opposed determinations are contained in one moment or unity.  Everything is….

contradictory in itself but also it is resolved contradiction, it is the ground which contains and supports its determinations (4)


Contradiction cannot exist without identity and vice versa.  The resolution of contradiction is, at the same time, the positing of the ground for the emergence and development of succeeding forms of contradiction. The succeeding forms of contradiction are embryonically deposited within the resolution itself. They start to mature, develop and move towards supersedence as the conditions for this transition unfold and mature. Everything is posited out of negation as being inherently self-contradictory in itself and as tending to move towards its own transcendence, the seeds of death are being sown at the point of birth.  Contradiction is

the Negative in its essential determination, the principle of all self-movement, which consists of nothing else but an exhibition of contradiction.  External sensible motion is itself its immediate existence (… ) something moves, not because it is here at one point of time and there at another, but because at one and the same point of time it is here and not here, and in this here both is and is not.  We must grant the old dialecticians the contradictions which they prove in motion; but what follows is not that there is no motion, but rather that motion is existent contradiction itself. And similarly internal or self-movement, or impulse in general is nothing else than the fact that something is itself and is also deficiency or the negative of itself, in one and the same respect.

Abstract self-identity has no life, but the fact that the positive in itself is negativity causes it to pass outside itself and to change.  Something therefore has life only in so far as it contains contradiction and (….. ) can (……. ) endure contradiction.  But if an existent something cannot in its positive determination also encroach on its negative, cannot hold fast the one in the other and contain contradiction within itself, then it is not living unity, or ground but perishes in contradiction. (5)

Change in all things takes place because they contain inner contradictions and these contradictions themselves come into being as a result of change.  Without contradiction there is no change and without change there is no contradiction.  Contradiction….

is the imperishable source of a self-kindling movement (6)

In this ‘self-kindling movement’, all forms of motion reveal themselves to be ‘existent contradiction’.  At any given moment, each form is itself and yet not itself as it undergoes a continuous process of change, expressing the paradox of its own motion.  At the same time, each form, each thing, is, taken as a whole, animated by the totality of its contradictions and yet, in this identity as the ‘form’ or the ‘thing’, it is qualitatively distinct from the totality of its contradictions.  Every formation is a synthesis which expresses the inner contradictions within itself as an identity, exponentially so to speak.  It is a product of contradiction but as an individual determinate something it is, qualitatively, something more than the totality of its contradictions.  Notwithstanding this, Hegel states that…

contradiction is more profound and more fully essential than identity.  Identity, as opposed to contradiction, is only the determination of the simple immediate (….. ) Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity (7)


Each moment of change, each instance of movement, is an identity of emerging and vanishing determinations.  These determinations are only distinct from each other and move in opposition to each other because they exist in a relationship of identity or unity with each other.  Conflict arises out of the identity or unity of opposites. Any conflict in a given formation constitutes a source of development of the whole formation.

Taken in its movement, any object is a unity of arising and vanishing moments: a movement that identifies a passage from existence to non-existence with a passage from non-existence to existence.  Thus…

in-itself every point of time is the relation of past and future (8)

Every something, in its movement, is a synthesis of that which is coming into being and that which is passing away.  The appearance of new determinations in the life of the ‘something’ is inextricably connected to the disappearance of other determinations. In their relation with each other, these determinations exist in conflict with each other.  It is this conflict which animates the movement of the ‘something’ as a whole.  The movement from existence to non-existence is a passing away.  The movement from non-existence to existence is an arising.  Any moment of change is a unity of these opposed movements i.e. each moment of change in anything unites within itself these opposed movements.  That which is coming into being is identified with that which is passing away and vice versa.  However, at the same time, these movements are mutually distinct from, and opposed to, each other.

This relation is exhibited in the course of any transition. Transition itself mediates its own disappearance, containing and expressing its own negation.  Therefore, in any transition, the identification of what is appearing (arising) and what is disappearing (vanishing) asserts itself in determinate form. Internal division and conflict gives the form its vitality whilst, at the same time, sending it towards its death.

This identity of arising and vanishing moments in which each is and simultaneously is not the other presents itself phenomenologically as a movement in which what is passing away is what is coming into being but coming to be in a different form so that every advance is a return to the old but at a higher level of existence. This arising of the other is simultaneously a return into what is being negated .i.e. the so-called negation of negation. All process is therefore a transition in which the point of departure is not only negated but also re-affirmed but in its rejuvenation so that the whole of development presents itself as an advance which is simultaneously a return to a rejuvenated old.

In this relation of the one and its other is posited the contradiction which is the moving principle of the whole, is the ‘engine’ of the development. But also it is this very principle which gives rise to the contradictory relation between the one and the other so that contradiction is the source of its own positing in its ever changing forms. Contradiction is the source of all development and simultaneously itself arises out of development just as development therefore is the source of contradiction and therefore ‘self-kindling’. Development is contradiction manifest and contradiction is development manifest.

What is arising is different from what is passing away; and yet each, in its movement, is the other. And it is in this contradictory relation that development itself consists and manifests just as all development is the living manifestation of real contradiction in Nature and Society.

In my work on social unionism, the establishment of the social unions will be a return to the solidarity of trade unionism but at a higher wider social stage of development and also a deeper historical, rejuvenated return to the solidarity of the prehistoric tribal council gatherings which were based on communal property. The social unions will constitute themselves as the organs of revolution which drive society beyond private property and return it onto the foundations of common ownership.

The internal contradictions within forms are the source of their ‘self-movement’.  A study of these contradictions helps us to understand the general tendencies of development within them and discloses what is latent in their movement. The origination of any formation is not simply the outcome of accident.  Chance and contingency are intrinsic but the evolution of one formation out of another demonstrates a necessary relation between the two formations or stages of development. Thus Hegel asserts that….

the activity of the notion is to grasp as necessarily determined what to sense consciousness appears as contingent.  Contingency certainly has its place too but only in inessentials (9)

Is not Hegel saying here that there are definite reasons why a particular process must tend to develop in a definite direction and not in some other? Each stage of a process is implicit in the previous stage and, in the course of development, grows out of the previous stage.  The outcome of the development of any process is latent within the process itself so that its onward development, involving the resolution of its inner contradictions, tends towards the actualisation of what is latent within it.  The inner contradictions within a process drive it towards its dissolution.  This movement towards its death being its life of the process itself.

Each phase or stage in the development of a process carries latent within itself the next stage which begins to become actualised as the conditions for its emergence begin to mature within the prevailing phase of development.  The positing of the next phase of development is the realisation of the developmental tendencies of the previous phase which is superseded.

A ‘high’ point of development is reached in each stage which is, simultaneously, the point at which that stage, in its totality, begins to decline or perish, giving birth to the next stage of development. This point of ‘highest’ development is, at the same time, the point at which the ‘totality’ begins to die away.  For example, even a superficial study of the history of human society shows that all cultures start to degenerate at their height.  Even as it flowers, a culture is starting to go to seed.  Thus, even when a culture is entering a process of decay, it can give the appearance that it is on the threshold of a ‘golden age’: fifth century Athens and second century Rome.


The development of any process generates within itself the conditions necessary for its own dissolution and therefore the supersedence of those self-same generated conditions which constitute the ground of and for the dissolution and transition to a new stage of development. The maturation of the conditions, that are necessary for the emergence of a new formation, begins to make the latter’s actualisation inevitable so that what was formerly only potentiated (possible) begins to become actualised and come into existence:

when all the conditions of a fact are completely assembled, it enters into actuality (10)

The conditions necessary for the actualisation are themselves superseded and thus rendered unnecessary in the course of the process of actualisation.  For example, in the evolution of bourgeois society, Marx demonstrates how and why the development of bourgeois society generates within itself the conditions for its own dissolution in the movement and growing intensity of its inner contradictions.  The development of the productive forces within capitalist society, and even their destructive capacities, creates the conditions for the overthrow of capitalist social relations and the establishment of socialism.  The socialist relations that are latent (and only latent) in the developing conditions of bourgeois society become actualised and sublate the old conditions and social relations.  The transformation of the potential into the actual, under definite conditions, demonstrates the inherent tendency (impulse) of all things to pass beyond themselves as a result of the conflict taking place within them i.e. to undergo a process of negation. The realisation of these possibilities depends on the emergence of a whole series of interrelated conditions and contingencies. The non-emergence of these can mean development takes place in a different, indeed opposite, direction. Inevitability only asserts itself beyond a certain point of change.


The concept of negation in Hegel differs fundamentally from formalistic notions of negation.  In the latter, negation is equated with absolute annihilation.  For formal logic, a formation exists and then is destroyed without trace, leaving behind neither aspects of itself in the new formation nor entering as reconstituted material into its relations and life.  Thus, according to formal logic, something either exists or it does not exist.  All is identity without contradiction.  In formal logic, the identity of being and not-being, of existence and non-existence, of arising and passing away, is dismissed as ‘illogical’ or ‘unscientific’.  Accordingly, for formal logic, when something is destroyed it leaves behind neither legacy nor historical footprints to remind us of its previous existence.

Hegel’s approach to the problem of negation stands in direct opposition to such a notion.  In the following passage he describes the nature of negation in general….

Any first term considered in and for itself shows itself to be its own other.  Taken quite generally this determination may be held to mean that what first was immediate is thus mediated and related to another, or that the universal is as a particular.

The second term which has thus arisen is accordingly the negative of the first and ( if we allow in advance for the further development ) is the first negative.  From this negative side the immediate has become submerged in the other, but the other is essentially not the empty negative or nothing which is commonly taken as the result of the dialectic.  It is the other of the first, the negative of the immediate; it is thus determined as mediated and altogether contains the determination of the first.  The first is thus essentially contained and preserved in the other.  To hold fast the positive in its negative and the presupposition in the result is the most important part of rational cognition…….. the first is contained in the second and the second is the truth of the first. (11)

That a ‘positive’, when negated, is not absolutely annihilated but, in the course of its negation, is ‘essentially contained and preserved’ in the outcome is a central concept in the ‘Science of Logic’.  This relation, in which transformed elements of what has been destroyed enter, at the same time, as constituent material into the formation of what is being created, is known as sublation.  Hegel refers to it as aufheben, involving simultaneously both abolition of the old and yet preservation of certain aspects. In this relation, the identity and conflict between what is arising and what is vanishing is expressed.  What is passing away is not absolutely annihilated but elements of it are preserved in the new formation in reconstituted form.  Hence, all dissolution simultaneously involves the transmutation and preservation of certain aspects of the old in the new.  Each stage, or any form, contains sublated within itself remnants of the older stages out of which it has evolved.  However, at the same time, the new stage, with its distinctive relations, new qualities and content, contains the seeds – the undeveloped potential – which, given the generation of the necessary conditions, germinate and come into open conflict with the established relations of this new stage of development.  The resolution of the conflicts which develop in the older stage is the means by and through which the older stage is supplanted by the next, succeeding stage of development.  Each stage, being the product of the entire history of development which has preceded it, is blemished with the scars and ‘birthmarks’ of its historical origins whilst, at the same time, being pregnant with future developments.  All things contain both their history sublated and their negation latent within them. The result of negation carries within itself elements and aspects of the old.  The destruction of the old is simultaneously the creation of the new and yet, at the same time, the relationship between them is one of opposition.  Although the new grows out of and supersedes the old, it cannot absolutely disentangle itself from its historical relation to it.  The old remains sublated in the new….

what is transcended is also preserved; it has only lost its immediacy and is not on that account annihilated (12)

However, at the same time, the new is a supersedence of the old; a going beyond it.  It contains the old sublated within it and yet, for all this, it is distinct from the old with its different determinations and relationships.

For example, in so far as living matter is a qualitatively different mode of matter in motion than the chemical and molecular forms that constitute its substance, it is a sublation of these forms.  Molecular species are not, in themselves, living. However, they are structural and chemical components in the processes of living matter.  Biological forms evolved out of highly complex chemical structures and, in so doing, negated these latter forms of matter.  The transition from the chemical complex to the more ordered and organised systems of living forms was a process in which the former was consumed. The advent of living forms was the emergence of a qualitatively distinct mode of matter with relations that are more complex than an arrangement of molecules, no matter how intricate their interactions and interrelationships may have been.  The gap which the transition from non-life to life bridges is one which divides two worlds with their own relations and principles of development.  In this respect, living matter transcends its ‘ancestral’ chemical complexes.  However, elements of the organic chemistry of these biopoietic precursors of living matter have been preserved as an intrinsic part of the biochemistry of living things i.e. at a different stage of development of nature under different conditions.

Does not the concept of sublation imply that all development in nature, society and mind involves a progressive increase in complexity? The river of historical development gathers up all its past encounters within itself. As it rolls eternally onwards, it concentrates its life-history, always becoming a richer medium and continuously re-working its inheritance into ever new forms.  It is its newly-posited characteristics, its actual contradictions and inner relations which determine its onward movement and thereby condition its general tendencies of development.


Any transition is a process in which the development and resolution of the contradictions of the transition animates the negation of the process itself.  The transition itself is the process of its own transcendence or the negation itself is undergoing negation.  A ‘self-relatedness’ asserts itself in any transition which involves a reaffirmation of what has been immediately transcended.  Every transition (negation), whilst being itself something posited, constitutes, as it were, an interim period of development between the life of the originally-posited and its reaffirmation in the negation of the negation.  In other words, every moment or instance of change in the life of the object is a movement beyond itself whilst, at the same time, being a reaffirmation of itself. This return of any object to itself – this reaffirmation out of negation – is what Hegel refers to as absolute negativity. The negation of the immediate negation of the object is a restoration in which the interim has become sublated.  It is a return of the object to itself (a reaffirmation) out of its own self-negation and thus out of its own self-relatedness. Accordingly, this return is not a simple, identical repetition in which an object re-establishes itself in a ‘carbon copy’ of the original but a real, positive, irreversible advance.

The return to the old assimilates (sublates) within itself the entire history of the intervening period of development and thereby marks the distinction of the restored from the original.  That, out of which the ‘entire history’ has unfolded, is reposited but, as a result of the sublation (supersedence) of the intermediate period (interim), at a richer, qualitatively new stage of development with new relationships, features, attributes, etc. Every returning, because it is incorporating (sublating) within itself the preceding phases of historical development, is, simultaneously, a movement towards an irreversible advance beyond the original point of departure with new content, relations and features.

What is posited reaffirms itself by passing over into its negative and by transcending the contradiction set up between itself and its negative.  The resulting product of this movement is a synthesis. Accordingly, the whole movement is one of a process returning into itself as a result of the negation of the negative to which it gives rise in the course of its self-movement.

X, in giving rise to its negative, -X, exists in contradictory relation to it. In this connection it, X is itself (the posited) and yet also not itself (-X, the negative of itself) just as its opposite (its negative, -X) is itself (and therefore something posited) and yet not itself (X, the negative of –X). X holds its other (-X) as negative just as -X simultaneously holds X as its negative. Thus, X is also a negative as much as –X is something posited but only in their relation. Each is itself and yet ‘other’ and thus they constitute an identity of opposites.  Each, in their mutual interconnection and interrelation, is a ‘positive’ and a ‘negative’ simultaneously.  Contradiction is driving the whole movement and is the animating source of the returning of X back into itself. X…. -X…. X’.  Therefore, any synthesis is the outcome of the resolution of preceding contradictions.

Each object, in its movement, is divided against itself as result of its relation to its negative which it engenders and embraces in the course of its life-process. In this ‘negative self-relation’ in which the object ‘opposes itself to itself ‘(13), the object becomes internally differentiated and immanently self-contradictory.  This inner conflict within the object means that it is always tending to pass beyond itself.

The changing object is a unity of opposing determinations in which each determination relates itself to itself only by and through simultaneously relating itself to the others and relates itself to the others only because it is simultaneously in relation with and to itself (self-relation). Each determination is in unity with the others and only in this unity does it display its distinction from the other determinations. Likewise, only in their conflict do these determinations demonstrate their connection and unity.

Absolute Negativity is, as it were, contradiction resolving itself through further negation (contradiction resolved through the deposition of further contradiction). The self-contradictory nature of this movement drives its onward development.

All things are always in a state of transition into something else and therefore, in their life-process, are always tending towards their death. Accordingly, development is not merely a linear progression from one thing to another but involves, in the advance, a return to the old but at a different stage of development.

The future becomes a re-animation, in a different form, of the past.  The old is reborn in the negation of its negation but the outcome of this negation of negation asserts its new content and distinctness, at the same time, from the original as a result of the supersedence within itself of the interim period of development. Indeed, Hegel maintains that….

this is the truth of time, that the goal is not the future but the past

and hence for each point of development…

The point proceeds towards a place which is its future, and leaves one which is its past; but what it has left behind is at the same time what it has still to reach: it has been already at the place which it is reaching.  Its goal is the point which is its past (14)

Each advance in development is, at the same time, a regress or returning of the movement upon itself.  It is a movement that changes the object irreversibly by sublating within itself its own unceasing development:

It comes about that each step in the progress of further determination in advancing from the indeterminate beginning is also a rearward approach to it, so that two processes which at first may appear to be different (the regressive confirmation of the beginning and its progressive further determination) coincide and are the same. (15)


The life and development of the object arises from the conflict of opposites within itself. Each object is the ‘exponent’ of this opposition.  It is an identity that is a product of this opposition and yet, as a whole, it is qualitatively different and distinct from it. This is an example of what Hegel refers to as the ‘identity of identity and difference’ in the ‘Doctrine of Essence’.

If we consider the object as a whole, each part of the whole develops only in relation to the movement of the whole and is connected to every other part through this whole movement.  The parts are distinct from each other and from the whole only by virtue of their inseparable relation to it and to each other.  Therefore, in the identity of the whole and the parts, each is distinct from the other.  The movement of the whole conditions the relative movement of the parts which, in their turn, influence the whole movement.  Each part has its own distinct characteristics whilst, at the same time, being continuous with and intrinsic to the life and development of the whole.  In their interrelations, each part asserts its independence whilst reflecting and determining the whole movement i.e. it reveals its dependence simultaneously.  Whole and parts mutually condition each other’s movement.  Their relation….

contains the independence of the sides and equally their transcendedness, and it contains both in one relation.  The whole is the independent and the parts are only moments of this unity; but equally they too are the independent and their reflected unity is only a moment; and each is its independence just something relative to the other.  Thus, this relation is itself immediate contradiction and cancels itself (16)

Elaborating further, Hegel concludes that…

The whole and the parts therefore condition each other; (…….) the whole is the condition of the parts, but also (…..) is only in so far as it has the parts for presupposition (17)

The whole is qualitatively distinct from the parts.  In the totality of its movement, the whole displays dependence upon, and yet its distinct independence from and conditioning of, the movement of the parts.  The relationship between the whole and the parts is such that…

Whole and parts are indifferent to each other and have independent persistence, but also they are essentially related and constitute only one identity.  The relation therefore is the antinomy that the one moment, in freeing itself from the other, immediately introduces the other (18)

Each side – the whole taken in opposition to the parts and vice versa – in repelling the other side from itself simultaneously relates itself to it in a process of identity with it.  Each side, in asserting its independence, reveals its dependence and necessary connection to the other side.  Each side can only exist in a state of unity with the other because they are in relation to each other as discrete moments in the continuity of their relation.


If we consider the general state of flux and concatenation in the changing relations of any process (interconnections and interrelations), a cause is not only the cause of an effect and also the effect of an antecedent cause but in giving rise to an effect, simultaneously determines itself through its effect as cause (i.e. it affects itself through the effect to be the cause of the effect and thus is self-mediating through its relationship to its effect).  Cause and effect interpenetrate and contain each other. Likewise, effect is both caused and a cause of a succeeding effect as well as self mediating through its relationship to its cause. Each moment, in the different sides of its concatenation and relation, is both cause and effect, simultaneously both product and producing. Cause determines itself as cause through (i.e. mediated through) its effect and thus affects itself as well as being the cause of a succeeding effect and the effect of a preceding cause.  Likewise effect is both the effect of a preceding cause and the cause of a succeeding effect. Effect is not only caused but also, through its reciprocal relation to its cause, determines cause as cause and, in so doing, mediates its own nature as effect.

Cause not only has an effect but in the effect stands related as cause, to itself….

so that….

Causality presents itself as an arising out of its negation and a passing away into it – as a becoming (19)

Cause and effect are distinct from one another only in their inseparable interconnection.  Each cause is simultaneously the effect of a preceding cause and each effect is the cause of a subsequent effect. In their relation….

Each of these determinations cancels itself in its positing and posits itself in its cancellation…. Its becoming other is at the same time its own positing. (20)

Therefore cause and effect….

are, in themselves, one; but each is external to itself, and hence in its unity with the other is also determined as other against it.  Consequently, although cause has, and also is itself, an effect, and effect not only has but also itself is a cause, yet the effect which the cause has and that which it is are different; and so with the cause which the effect has and the cause which it is (20)

For example, consider the process of a burning candle.  The heat of the flame causes the wax to melt which then serves as a fuel for the flame.  Both wax and flame are simultaneously cause and effect.  The flame, in melting the wax, continuously creates a reservoir of available fuel that serves as the source of its own perpetuation and the wax, in providing fuel for the flame, becomes a source of its own further liquefaction.  But, says the formalist, the original cause or ‘prime mover’ of the whole process was the application of an external flame to the wick of the candle and therefore, in the final analysis, it is the flame that is the first cause of the whole process. Consideration of the matter shows, however, that even this assertion breaks down.  Any form of combustion involves a relating of distinct materials in contact with each other.  The candle itself is composed of combustible materials and thus possesses the specific quality of being combustible but only under definite conditions.  It is not simply the flame that causes the process but also, at the same time, the fact that the physical and chemical nature of the constituent materials of the candle cause it to be combustible.  Hence, it is the nature of the relationship between flame and candle that must be considered in order to understand the causality of the process.

If cause is abstractly assigned to one side of a relation and effect to another then what results is a one-sided, skewed knowledge of it.  One side is seen as being active (cause) whilst the other is viewed as being passive (effect).  Such a view fails to comprehend that cause and effect are not rigidly separated but develop in a mutual and reciprocal relation to each other in which each contains and passes into the other whilst, at the same time, maintaining its distinction from other. In the burning process, the flame and wax are inseparable but they are also distinct from each other


Quantitative and qualitative changes involve each other.  Quantitative changes can occur without any appreciable or significant (or even noticeable) alteration in the qualities of an object.  The qualities of an object are not fundamentally altered as long as quantitative variation takes place within definite limits which are specific for each object or process. The qualities of any object will vary within these limits.  Such limits define the unity and general character of the object itself. Under such conditions, change appears to be an exclusively gradual process occurring within definite limits.  The general qualities and characteristics of an object remain essentially unchanged because its variation occurs within definite parameters, passage beyond which would be expressed by a significant and visible change in the overall qualities of the object i.e. by its transformation or even dissolution.

This apparent gradualness of development manifests itself because changes take place within definite parameters which are not transgressed. A wealth of transformations are constantly and continually taking place in all objects but either go unnoticed or are insignificant in terms of any complete transformation of the object as a whole. Such changes are containable within the parameters of existence of the object. However, changes in an object tending to transgress established parameters (which determine and maintain the integrity of the object) can create the conditions for a rapid transformation in which an object undergoes a radical alteration or suddenly disintegrates.  In this way, a ‘gradualness’ of development becomes punctuated by a period of abrupt change.  An object loses its distinct identity as the qualities which marked that identity disappear with the transformation of the object as a whole.

A ‘revolution’ takes place in the life of the object in which the object becomes completely transformed into something else. This happens because quantitative changes can ‘accumulate’ without any significant change in the qualities of the object.  Quantitative changes are not simply abolished in the course of the development of the object.  Past changes in the object – both quantitative and qualitative which always involve each other no matter how imperceptible they may be – are preserved and build up.  The object ‘memorises’ its entire history and ‘plays out’ these ‘memories’ in the development of its life-process.  The history of change in the object leaves residual effects which remain active in the life of the object.  All change in the object is sublative and, accordingly, it preserves its history within itself whilst, at the same time, tending to pass beyond it in its further development. The effects of past changes accumulate, reinforce each other and in their totality create the conditions within the object for its transformation.  The ‘accumulation’ of change within the object intensifies its inner contradictions.  The historically established and characteristic qualities and relations of the object start to reach the threshold of their development.  The conflict reaches towards a point of development at which rapid transformation becomes imminent.  At such ‘nodal points’ of imminent transformation, an object becomes incapable of containing the opposition generated within itself as a whole and its immediate disintegration threatens.  It becomes incapable of holding itself together as an integrated whole as a result of the intensity of its own internal crisis.  Riven with contradiction, it starts to break up.

What is imminently latent within itself must become actualised as the contradictions animating its crisis become resolved in the process of the ensuing transformation.  In the course of this ‘leap’ forward in development, the old contradictions which fuelled the object’s crisis are transcended and a new different formation with relations and qualities which are radically distinct and different from the old emerges and establishes itself.

These ‘leaps’ or ‘nodal points’ in development tend to take place when an object can no longer reside in its inherently self-contradictory nature.  In these circumstances, the development of the object itself has arrived at its historical cul-de-sac.  A period of ‘revolution’ in the life of the object takes place which can entail the complete dissolution of the object itself.

Such periods of revolutionary change in Nature and Society can, because of the increasing instability of the object as it approaches the point of its ‘revolution’, be initiated by the slightest of incremental changes.  An infinitesimal change can push an object beyond its old bounds and qualities and into a period of revolutionary transformation.  An augmentation of the changing qualities of an object may serve to initiate or ‘spark’ its immediate disintegration.  The object suddenly breaks up resulting in the creation of a new formation.

The leap forward in development is both destructive and creative.  In destroying the old it creates the new and vice versa.  It is the newly-posited contradictions, relationships and qualities that are created within, and are the outcome of, the period of rapid transformation which now govern the further development of the transformed object or determine the onward development of a distinctly new, determinate object resulting from the transformation.  Aspects of the old formation are sublatively incorporated into the new. However, it is the new relations of the different formation that essentially determine its further development.  Thus Nature not only can and does but must make leaps…..

It is said that there are no leaps in nature; and ordinary imagination, when it has to conceive an arising or passing away, thinks it has conceived them when it imagines them as a gradual emergence or disappearance.  But we saw that changes in Being were in general not only a transition of one magnitude into another but a transition from the qualitative into the quantitative and conversely: a process of becoming other which breaks off graduality and is qualitatively other as against the preceding Existent Being.  Water on being cooled does not little by little become hard, gradually reaching the consistency of ice after having passed through the consistency of paste, but is suddenly hard; when it already has quite attained freezing-point it may (if it stands still) be wholly liquid, and a slight shake brings it into the condition of hardness.  The gradualness of arising is based upon the idea that that which arises is already, sensibly or otherwise, actually there, and is imperceptible only on account of its smallness; and the gradualness of vanishing is based on the idea that not-Being or the other which is assuming its place equally is there, only is not yet noticeable; – there not in the sense that the other is contained in the other which is there in itself  (Here Hegel means not in the sense that one thing is latent or imminent in another – SM) but that it is there as existence, only unnoticeable. (21)

Therefore, as exemplified by the formation of ice, changes can build up in an object without any noticeable alteration (in the case of the formation of ice, the changes taking place in the inner thermodynamic and structural relations caused by a fall in the temperature of the water) and then a marked change occurs which abruptly separates the qualities of the old from the new state; in the given example, the physical differences between a liquid and a solid. Hegel, in one of his many ‘curtain-raisers’ to Marx, gives the following example of the operation of this ‘specific quantum’ relation in social affairs:

Quantum when it is taken as indifferent limit is that side from which a Determinate Being can unsuspectedly be attacked and destroyed.  It is the cunning of the notion to seize it from this side, where its quality does not appear to come into play; and this so much that the aggrandisement of a state or of a property, and so on, which leads in the end to disaster for the state or the owner of the property, may at first appear as their good fortune (22)

The relationship between quantitative and qualitative changes is entirely mutual and reciprocal.  Both types of changes immediately pass into each other, changing the object as a whole and, in their accumulation, tending towards the transformation or dissolution of the object.


Formal logic constitutes a method of reasoning which operates with fixed categories which, in the process of cognition, are demarcated off and isolated from each other in their ‘abstract identity’ and ‘externality’ to each other. Hegel analyses formal logical thinking as a necessary but limited form of thinking for specific purposes whilst revealing these limitations as constituting a form of thinking which makes ‘abstract identity its principle’ (Logic, Part 1, Encyclopaedia, p 58).

Formal logic operates with a method of reasoning implicit in which is a conception of a fixed and static cosmos which denies its immanent and eternal contradictoriness. Opposed categories are conceptualised as being isolated and walled off from each other so that in their difference from each other (distinction) their relation and unity is denied. Contradiction is conceptualised as an aberrant foible or defect of thinking rather than being immanent itself in all forms of being.

Hegel shows how formal logic considers all things through its law of ‘abstract understanding’ so that the ever-changing cosmos becomes conceptually fossilised into fixed abstract notions which deny the vitality and movement of this cosmos as a living, developing manifestation of contradiction within it. For formal logic, ‘A’ must always be absolutely identical with itself (A=A). ‘A’ cannot simultaneously be equal to itself (A=A) and not equal to itself (A not = A), for this would undeniably imply contradiction. Thus, formal logic mechanistically denies contradiction in Nature and Society. It fails to grasp opposites and distinctions in their integral relation and unity with each other; to recognise the necessary and inseparable connection between the parts of the whole; to see the transitional character of all forms; to understand the dialectical nature of all determinations through their inseparable relation to their negative; and to understand the movement of the world as a totality and its diverse and ever-changing forms as being animated by inner opposition, contradiction and the organic relationship and conflicts of opposing forces, tendencies, etc.


For dialectical thinking, the affirmation of the characteristic of a thing, phenomenon, relation, etc, simultaneously involves reference to its implicit negation and to itself as the negation of something presupposedly posited. For dialectical thinking, all negation is simultaneously the positing of something determinate – the emergence of a newness in the negation – and thus the affirmation of a distinct, positive content in, and as the outcome of, the negation itself. Negation both destroys and creates at the same time. Both are contained inseparably in the negation whilst, at the same time, the distinction between what is destroyed and what is created is revealed in their mutual opposition. What is created in the destruction is the positive outcome of negation. This newly posited content reveals itself in the arising of new determinations (characteristics, features, qualities, properties, relations, attributes, etc) in their distinction from the old vanishing determinations. The dialectical conception of determination therefore involves its opposite (negation) and vice versa. The negation of some characteristic simultaneously and necessarily involves the positing of some other characteristic wherein each characteristic reveals its distinction only in its relation to the other. “The portentous power of the negative” (Hegel) is therefore the very power which engenders what is determinate as revealed in its posited characteristics. To ‘determine’ something therefore means to progressively deepen our understanding (i.e. for it to become increasingly more concrete for us) of it by grasping how it has originated and what are its inherent tendencies of development from a study of its characteristics, attributes, relations, etc.


Mediation is the category used in dialectical thought which refers to the relationship between what is posited and its negative which issues out of it in its development (negation). The concept of mediation refers to the nature of transition in which, in the course of the transition from one state or formation, etc, to the next, the posited and its negative relate to each other and mutually determine and condition each other’s activity in the development of the whole. When a ‘something’ gives rise to its negative (or opposite) out of itself, it constitutes, in this process of origination, a relationship with this negative which is its negative just as much as this negative is also a positive and the posited ‘something’ its negative. This relationship is, as described, one of mediation. Opposites therefore determine each other and, in this mediative relationship, each is simultaneously self-determining through its reflexive relationship to the other. In affecting each other, each is simultaneously self-affecting so that its relation-to other is simultaneously relation-to-self and vice versa.

Hegel writes that….

the sensible as somewhat becomes other: the reflection in itself of this somewhat, the thing, has many properties….The muchness of the sense-singular thus becomes a breadth, – a variety of relations, reflectional attributes and universalities

(Philosophy of Mind, Part 3 of the Encyclopaedia, Clarendon, Oxford. § 419).

Each unity is a oneness of inner distinctions, variety and conflicts (opposition). This infinite and inexhaustible manifoldness of unfolding properties and inner relations within the changing ‘somewhat’ constitutes its mediative character.

In §12 of the Encyclopaedia, Part 1, Logic (p17, Clarendon Oxford Edition) Hegel writes that…

to mediate is to take something as a beginning and to go onward to a second thing; so that the existence of this second thing depends on our having reached it from something else contradistinguished from it

and later in §70 of Logic, Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia, (p105) that….

it is stupid not to see that the unity of distinct terms or modes is not merely a purely immediate unity, i.e. empty unity and indeterminate, but that – with equal emphasis – the one term is shown to have truth only as mediated through the other – or, if the phrase be preferred, that either term is only mediated with truth through the other.

Hegel’s conception of mediation is the ground of his idea of the bad or wrong infinite. The formal logical notion of infinity is one in which development is simply reduced to a series of concatenated finites in which each finite is the the formal negation of a previous and which, in its turn, is negated to become the next previous and so on ad infinitum. This infinite progression becomes characterised as a quantitative determination, an unending series. In other words, the contradiction between the one and its other is never acknowledged. Whereas his conception of the infinite is that the one comes to be at home with itself in its other or comes to itself in its other. Only in and through its negation, does the posited arrive at itself. In other words, what something passes into is itself and yet not itself at the same time. The negated negative or dialectical return is understood as infinitude. At the end of Hegel’s logical system, the ‘Absolute Idea’ possesses this infinite nature to which he ascribes a divinity. But it must not be forgotten that the return to the beginning is also an advance. Just as the ‘Absolute Idea’ is ‘Being’ returned into itself in higher, more concrete, form so Hegel’s ‘Absolute Idea’ only comes to itself through its inseparable relationship with the world which it enters in ‘Nature’ and returns to itself in ‘Mind’. What each category creates out of itself is transcended within itself in the emergence and formation of the new category and which it holds to be the ‘truth’ of itself. This is why some thinkers see Hegel as pantheistic i.e as an immanentist and not as a transcendentalist which is the dualist (neo-platonist) tradition in Christianity.


Hegel’s conception of reflexivity or reflection-determination refers to the philosophical categories of relation found in the Doctrine of Essence’ – the second part of Hegel’s Science of Logic – and the smaller Logic of the Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences. It is a collective term for those categories which describe the reciprocality of the relationship between opposites. The fundamental principle in the Doctrine of Essence is that of the interdependence, mutual interaction and the unity of opposites.

For example, in Hegel’s concept of causality, cause and effect are only determined as such through their relationship to each other. The identification of one necessarily and simultaneously implies the other. Each, in determining the other, is simultaneously self-determining and, in being so, simultaneously determining the other. Each mediates the activity of the other in their inseparable relation and, in so doing, each is self-mediating. Each determination only exists in and through relation to the other which determines and defines it. It is only in their nexus, reciprocal connection and relationship to other things and determinations that objects are determinate objects per se and their nature is expressed.

In the exposition of the Doctrine of Essence, Hegel develops the relationship between cause and effect, substance and accident, ground and grounded, the thing and its properties, etc. The common conceptual thread running through these polarities is that of reflection. The word reflection comes from the Latin meaning to bend back or bending back. Hence the term is employed by Hegel in order to describe these categories which involve the reciprocity and mutual interpenetration and determination of opposed sides of a polarity – the intrinsic unity of the sides in opposition and intrinsic opposition in their unity. Each determination is reflected into its other and, at the same time, back into itself. Hence the term reflection determination. Formal, metaphysical thinking endeavours to understand (Hegel calls this type of ‘understanding’ Verstand) each determination in its forced abstraction from its opposite. This gives formal logical thinking its limited and one-sided character.


The concept of causality is linked with that of law which can be understood as a general and necessary relation (connection) in Nature or social development, the basis for the existence of which is the causally and structurally related motion of elements within a natural or social system. Law is a general and necessary relation which arises from, and mediates, the relationship between the elements in a given system. The relations which determine the essential character of phenomena are expressed in law.

The essential behaviour of a given system is governed by the sum totality of its laws. Law (as ‘the form of universality in Nature’ – Engels) is not a relation which operates independently in abstraction from the actuality of a particular individual system. On the contrary, it expresses what a particular individual system has in common, in connection, with other ‘individuals’and thus reveals the universal material connection of the different individual systems.

A given law operates, and is expressed, within a given ‘individual’ according to the particular conditions and contingencies of the ‘individual’ embracing within itself the infinite wealth and complexity of chance (accidental) occurrences. Thus, law does not operate in a fixed, deterministic mode, regardless of chance, contingency and the particular conditions of an individual system but only in and through the movement of the whole system as a totality which necessarily embraces the accidental. Law, therefore, is always expressed in the infinite diversity of momentary and vanishing alterations and modifications of evolving forms of matter. Development is, therefore, not simply law-governed without chance but law is expressed in and through the accidentality of phenomena. Chance is the negation of law and vice versa but each, in their intrinsic unity with each other, reveals law to be the more essential relation governing the life and development of phenomena but not, of course, without the essential contingencies of chance which constitute a necessary and essential mode of expression of law. Law – as essential and necessary relation – expresses itself in chance. Chance is not merely passive expression but is an active, necessary and essential mode of expression of law. In the course of the unfolding of conditions, chance determinations can become transformed into necessary relations and vice versa.

Dialectical thinking grasps necessary relations and their accidental mode of expression in their reciprocality and interrelationship. In this relationship, chance becomes ‘the concrete form in which this necessity manifests itself in phenomena – in the tendency toward a given behaviour as expressed in fluctuations about the law’ (Horz, H., Philosophical Problems in Physical Science, p. 28. University of Minneapolis Press). Chance itself, in its relation to law, has an objective character and is not – as in necessitarian doctrines e.g. Spinozism – merely an irrational foible of the thinking subject.

The operation of a given law always presupposes the existence of definite conditions which are subject to development. Accordingly, specific laws themselves arise and develop with and under specific conditions and are subject to negation with the passing away of those conditions which engender, determine and define them. For example, the laws of biological evolution only arise with the emergence of living matter from non-living forms (biopoiesis).


The concept of sublation is a central tenet in dialectical thinking corresponding to the German term Aufhebung and often translated as supersedence. Sublation refers to the dialectical character of negation in which all change simultaneously involves both abolition and preservation of aspects of the old in the emergence of the new.

All change simultaneously involves the preservation – in the new – of aspects of that which is abolished. Elements of the negated old enter – in subsumed form – into the formation and relationships of the new which results from the negation: ‘what is sublated is at the same time preserved, it has lost its immediacy only but it is not on that account annihilated’ (Hegel). Every negation is always a positing of new relations and qualities which involves, simultaneously, the abolition of the contradictions of a previous stage of development and the preservation of certain aspects of the relations of the previous stage in the next. The succeeding stage of development stands as a resolution (synthesis) of the contradictions of the preceding whilst absorbing these contradictions into itself in transcended form under new conditions and relations. The formal logical concept of negation is one in which that which is negated is reduced to nothing i.e. is absolutely annihilated without leaving any trace of its former existence.

The positive outcome of any sublation is always a transcendence of contradiction in which aspects of the latter survive as subsumed moments in the posited. They are abolished yet preserved in subsumed form under new conditions in the resulting succeeding totality.

In the exposition in Hegel’s Logical system, all the earlier, more abstract categories and determinations become sublated into the later, more concrete ones so that at any given stage in the exposition each category is the totality which contains all the previously elaborated categories sublated within itself.

For example, in social development, feudalism becomes sublated into capitalism. The social relations of feudalism are, in all essentials, abolished and yet vestiges (remnants, leftovers) remain e.g. in legal relations, etc.

In particle physics, the disintegration of the neutron involves the production of a proton, electron and neutrino. The neutron is in the category of particles referred to as nucleons. It has no net electric charge. The disintegration of the neutron simultaneously involves the reproduction of a nucleon (the proton) and the resulting system of decay products is still without a net electric charge. Thus, in its abolition, aspects of the neutron’s nature are simultaneously preserved.

Hence, negation of the old necessarily involves the positing of the new which contains aspects of the old subsumed within itself. The German word Aufheben has a two-fold meaning. It corresponds to the English phrase ‘to put aside’ which may mean to store away for future use or to have done with, to finish with.

A contradiction is superseded into a succeeding, richer, more concrete unity so that the latter contains the former absorbed and superseded into itself. The contradiction is not simply and absolutely abolished (annihilated) nor is the contradiction merely perpetuated in identical form in the higher unity. The contradiction is, as such, absorbed but not absolutely annihilated as in the formal logical conception. All development, therefore, is a continuous movement towards a richer, more complex unity which necessarily involves transcendence but not absolute loss. Each stage of development gathers up into itself the infinitude of all those stages which preceded it and transmits this superseded infinitude, as it evolves, into the next stage of development. Therefore, the succeeding forms of development contain the antecedent superseded forms within them and thus a progression to a richer, more complex stage is always continuously unfolding.


The triadic conception of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is found in Fichtean philosophy (see J.G. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, (1794). However, the conception that a synthesis is the sublation of the relation between a thesis and its antithesis is, in one form or another, an ancient philosophical conception which dates back to the Greeks and re-surfaces constantly in the history of philosophy onwards. A study of Hegel reveals the influence of Fichte’s conception of synthesis in which the conflict between two opposing categories is overcome in the synthesis of the third category.

The thesis (the posited) gives rise to its antithetical opposite out of itself (the negation of the posited). The thesis contains its antithesis implicit within itself  and, in its development, actualises this negative (the antithesis) thereby standing in unity and opposition to it. Their opposition moves the relation forward to a point at which the opposition is sublated into a resolved state of unity: synthesis (negation of negation). The resulting unity (the synthesis) contains the opposition of the thesis and antithesis transcended within itself. This unity then becomes the thesis of a new triad.


(1) Hegel.  Science of Logic (Vol. 2). (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1929) p. 38.

(2) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 211.

(3) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 52.

(4) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 70.

(5) Ibid (Vol. 2). pp. 67-68.

(6) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 365.

(7) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 67.

(8) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 251.

(9) Hegel.  Philosophy of Nature. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1970) p. 284.

(10) Hegel.  Science of Logic (Vol. 2). p. 180.

(11) Ibid (Vol. 2). pp. 475-476.

(12) Ibid (Vol. 1). p. 120.

(13) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 16.

(14) Hegel.  Philosophy of Nature. p. 43.

(15) Hegel.  Science of Logic (Vol. 2). p. 483.

(16) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 144.

(17) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 145.

(18) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 148.

(19) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 204.

(20) Ibid (Vol. 2). p. 199.

(21) Lenin.  Philosophical Notebooks. Volume 38, Collected Works. (citation from Hegel’s Science of Logic) pp. 123-124.

(22) Hegel.  Science of Logic (Vol. 1). p. 354.

Shaun May

January 2012

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Purpose in Nature and Philosophy in Natural Science

Purpose in Nature and Philosophy in Natural Science

I am sat here working at my computer and in front of me is a window through which sunlight has started to stream. On the window-sill I have a pot-plant which seems to be happy there. I water it everyday and sometimes feed it. As the sunlight started to come through the window, I noticed something which is not particularly astonishing but I think is worth thinking on. The leaf-blades on the plant all started to re-orient themselves in the specific direction of the sunlight. The Biologists have a term for this. They call it phototropism. These responses in plants are controlled, apparently, by plant ‘hormones’ known as Auxins. Observing this response in itself is, in my opinion, an observation of the intrinsic beauty of plants, their wholeness and synchronicity of movement.

How very deeply it disturbs me to see the wonderful rainforests of the world, teeming with life, being destroyed in order to farm cattle for burgers or provide palm oils for the transnational food corporations. What an extremely destructive system this capitalist system is. We must put it to the sword before it does the same to everything of truth, beauty and goodness. This to be an act of love.

The rationalist tradition in philosophy tends to ascribe purposefulness only when and where there is conscious mediation and therefore human activity. But Darwin quite conclusively demonstrated that there is indeed purposefulness in Nature i.e. that under specific conditions and pressures of selection, living organisms tend to evolve in a particular direction which implies purpose. Some organisms have developed similar structures quite independently of each other because they have been subjected to the same types of selection pressures: the operation of the relationships therein are what might be termed the unfolding of an ‘unconscious purpose’ in Nature. There is purposefulness in both social and natural development except in the former it is mediated by consciously thinking and acting human beings.

When a leaf orientates itself in order to absorb the optimum amount of sunlight, is that not a form of ‘unconscious’ purpose? There is absolutely no need whatsoever for divine intervention in such matters. In regard to the purposefulness of development, I cannot see any divergence or incompatability between Evolutionary Theory and Marx’s theory. They both contain teleological elements.

There is a real relationship between the actual movement of the leaves of the plant and the direction from which the sunlight is coming. This must be an evolutionary adaptation which probably took millions, if not billions, of years to develop. Those plants which could orientate their leaves in this way must have gained an advantage over those that could not (or were not as good at doing it) under conditions where the direction of the sunlight was irregular or constantly changing. Insofar as this tropism was genetically encoded, the transmission of its genes would have served its offspring in a similar way and thereby facililitated survival and propagation. The survival value of the mechanism is obvious. This implies that even the chance, random mutations of the genome in both plants and animals is purposive in the sense that it provides the ‘raw material’ (as expressed phenotypically) on which the laws of natural selection can work their magic.

Darwin provided us with a theory of how and why living organisms in Nature originate and evolve. There is no substitute for the real investigations and discoveries of the natural sciences. Anybody who is waiting for a “Marxist” natural science will wait for ever and rightly so. The method, spirit and discoveries of Marx’s thinking was never intended to – and never could – replace or even challlenge the undeniable or irrefutable achievements of the natural sciences. Anybody who chatters about “Marxist science” is, in my opinion, not only deceiving themselves and others but has lost sight of Marx’s conceptions of both Nature and social development.

However, when we look at the actual philosophical approach – either conscious or unconscious – of many natural scientists to their work, we can quite clearly see that there is plenty of room for improvement.

Marx’s dialectical approach to questions can also serve a heuristic function in the natural sciences including within the area of Evolutionary Theory.

In my local library recently, I picked up a copy of a book by a celebrity Physicist here in England. We find him hosting radio programmes and staring up with awe into the high heavens on TV presentations. It was the title of the book which grabbed my attention ; “Paradox?” by Jim Al Khalili. Jim himself appears to be an affable enough fellow but it is quite obvious straight away – from looking through the pages of the text – that he is completely unacquainted with both the work of Hegel and Marx and the philosophical approach which underpins it.  And yet he has been brave and gallant enough to step out into the public arena with a philosophy of science text entitled “Paradox?” It would be equivalent to Shaun May stepping out into ‘cutting edge’ areas of Quantum Mechanics or Solid State Physics with a dissertation reviewing the limitations of the latest discoveries.

The basic thesis of the book is that Nature is not inherently paradoxical and that the paradoxes that become manifest in theoretical Physics are explicable if certain theoretical adjustments are made. Paradox is viewed herein as an irrationally-produced foible of the human intellect and not as Hegel and Marx – and others before them – discovered, indwelling, immanent in Nature, Society, Mind. For many scientists, Nature is formal and without contradiction. When Nature itself contradicts this – and this becomes apparent in the paradoxes of their theories  –  they seek solutions in the modification of their method, approach or perspectives because, in their eyes, Nature cannot possibly operate dialectically, with contradiction as its animating principle. The almost inevitable outcome is generally an eclectic hotchpotch of a philosophy which merely serves to replicate in a different form those principles which the ‘philosopher of science’ has sought to go beyond.

They do not seek to comprehensively question their whole philosophical approach (which, generally, is totally in the dark about the dialectics of Nature, its dialectical ontology) but rather tend inspect, dig around and puzzle over the perspectives taken in such an approach. This is especially the case in England which is the home of philosophical Empiricism and mechanistic forms of Materialism. A dialectical approach by scientists to their work would not only bring that approach into a philosophical consonance with their objects of investigation but would undoubtedly be more fruitful on a heuristic level. Perhaps somebody should tell Jim that this would particularly be the case in the area of theoretical and particle Physics.

Shaun May

October 2013

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