Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism (Part 2)
Dialectic of Whole and Parts
The whole as the totality (the “exponent”) of its interacting and intermediating parts. Each part is mediated by the whole. The whole is mediated by each part and the intermediation of the parts. The whole is the “summation” of the parts and yet it is qualitatively more than this. The life and development of the object arises from the conflict of opposites within itself. Each object is the ‘exponent’ of this “summated” 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 (Hegel. Science of Logic Vol. 2., p.144., Unwin & Allen, 1929).
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 (Ibid p.145)
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 (Ibid p.148)
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.The whole is a complex dialectical totality. Not a “one-way street”, no matter how “heavy the traffic is”.
The whole is a totality of intermediating contradictions. In the life of the whole, these contradictions are simultaneously “external” and “internal” to each other. Their relationship is organic; a unity in which the whole develops as the “exponent” of their dialectical interrelations. Within the movement of the whole, each part is continuous with the others but within this continuity each part maintains its determining and determined discreteness. The whole is a complex of discrete yet continuous parts so that what is determined is simultaneously determining. The autonomy of each part is simultaneously its negation and therefore the positing of its opposite. What is autonomous is also determined and determining as the product of relation and being in relation. The autonomous is “infected” with dependency and this dependency imparts a relative autonomy to its related parts and determinations
When we study Marx’s Capital, for example, he starts with the commodity and the contradiction between use-value and value. We can see that the commodity is the “cell of capitalist economy”, the “cell of bourgeois society” (Lenin, Volume 38, Collected Works). Henceforth, in his exposition, the word ‘commodity’ is mentioned on nearly every page of all three volumes. It subsists as an essential moment in the reproduction of capital. But the category of ‘capital’ remains a more concrete category than ‘commodity’. Marx shows that the principal, more concrete category is ‘capital’. Capital cannot be grasped simply within the nature of the category of ‘commodity’. In this undeveloped form, capital cannot be understood as category and therefore as real social relation. The whole is more concrete than the part because it is the unity of the many and diverse parts and determinations which historically have served to constitute it as the whole per se.
When Marx writes that “the Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism” he was merely articulating his materialist conception of history in relation to feudalism. Under feudalism, social relations were more directly and transparently “political” because of the transparent character of these social relations. Both serf and lord knew exactly how much necessary and surplus labour time was accruing to each. The Church – itself in fief and subinfeudated to the Crown – served as a directly ideological and political mechanism for maintaining and perpeuating these relations.
In feudal society –where the dominant mode of labour was bond labour – the serf was compelled to perform labour duties on the lord’s land. The mode of appropriation of this form of labour took a very direct, transparent form in that there was a fragmentation of labour time between the serf’s plot of land and that of the feudal lord. Essentially, labour on the lord’s land was appropriated directly as surplus labour in the form of material produce for direct consumption by the lord’s retinue. Later, the increasing encroachment of commodity production and exchange (and hence money economy) increasingly forces this appropriation in money payments so that as this stage opens up and unfolds (in England, roughly the 14th and first half of the 15th century) feudal economy is already irredeemably sinking into the quicksand of history.
One of the major demands of the revolt of the English peasantry in 1381 was the abolition of serfdom. An irreversible process had commenced within which the peasantry were not only starting to work as agricultural day wage-labourers on the lands of a rising class of agricultural landowning commodity producers but sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed, opposing petty bourgeoisie independently of the guild system in the towns. The continuation of feudal obligations merely interfered with the development of this unstoppable historical process and hence the clamour during the 1381 revolt for the abolition of feudal obligations. It was this nascent petit bourgeoisie that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country at the end of the 14th century. The revolt of 1381 was not the attempt to overthrow firmly established feudal relations – despite the demand for the end of serfdom – but was rather a clarion call to proclaim that these feudal relations were already dead and that the age of capital and wage labour was beckoning.
The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour on the lord’s land as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic excrescence and expression of these relations) confronts the class of serfs as divinely ordained and instituted in hostile opposition to them. Here Catholicism plays its historical ideological role.
Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but it only does so – as a generalised and dominant social process – under those historical conditions created by capital; conditions which it has created and reproduces daily in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Labour creates value but itself as a form of human energy has no value. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where objectification ceases to take alienated form.
Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes reified as a material component in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The social relation between wage labour and capital is reified as ‘a relationship between things’, material components which enter into the process of the production of material ‘goods’ which are simply ‘sold’ on the market ‘place’ for that ‘thing’ money, hopefully at a profit. These historically-determinate, social relations become buried under a dungheap of reification and take on the appearance of being laws of Nature. This is a source of the opaqueness of these relations under capitalism and a reason why their political manifestations do not have the same degree of immediate clarity as they did under the feudal mode of production.
Hegel’s “Universal Permanent Capital”
Hegel writes of the “universal permanent capital” in the Rechtsphilosophie. Hegel’s “End of History”. Here we have a direct expression of the conflict between Hegel’s method and the product of that same method. The conflict between a revolutionary method, on the one hand, and the erected edifice of a conservative system, on the other. This concept of the “universal permanent capital” finds its fullest correlation and expression in the system of globalised capital today. In this sense, Hegel is the ideologist par excellence of this system of globalising capital of the 21st century. This “universal permanent capital” as the Weltgeist of the 21st century
The Specificity of the Natural and Social Forms of Contradiction.
Contradiction is not an irrational foible of mind. It is real. The world is – taken as a totality – a paradox of countless, innumerable paradoxes. The world (Nature) is immanently dialectical in its infinite variety and multiplicity of forms and relations. Dialectical thinking merely reflects this in thought itself.
Dialectic is not simply a “logical shadow” or “ghost” of Nature’s forms. But these forms are the real instantiations of dialectic itself expressing the absolute identity of natural form and dialectic independently of their scientific reflection in thought.
Every phenomenon, formation, thing, relation, etc, is a paradox of countless paradoxes. The infinitude of the finite. Things as being “infinitely complex and inexhaustible in their actual content” (Lenin). Our conceptions can only appropriate the thing approximately, relatively, historically. There is always more to know. Knowledge as an abyss into which we forever, eternally sink. The contradictions in the physical, chemical, biological, etc, are interrelated and mediate each other. But we cannot reduce one to the other. Each has its own distinct contradictions. We are dealing with different levels of complexity. Dialectics opposes reductionism in all its forms. It would be absurd to reduce the social to the natural, for example, or the biological to the chemical.
Contradiction animates its own development and disappearance. Its very dynamic is this unfolding and resolution. To be alive is itself a living contradiction. At any given moment, one is both extending one’s life whilst at the same time approaching closer to death. Anabolism and Catabolism involve each other simultaneously. Metabolism is the unity of these two opposed cellular processes. Death is the transcendence of this contradiction which animates life itself. Whilst alive, one is both living and dying at the same time. But death is the extinguishing of this contradiction and is beyond its dynamic.
The contradictions in any individual formation are its particular instantiated contradictions which are specific to it and expressed in its own individualised forms. For example, the contradictions of US capitalism are related to those of British capitalism (they are both contradictions of capitalism) and yet they are different because they are specifically the contradictions of US and British capitalism. If we state that “France is capitalist”, this identifies the individual with the universal. The individual is the universal and yet the distinction between “France” and “capitalist” is maintained. This is why every mathematical equation and every sentence contains dialectics. The specific character of the object determines our approach to it in practice. Each sphere (and aspects of the given sphere) require different approaches or variations and modulations in approach, etc.
What Hegel revealed to us – in abstracto – is the internal structure and dynamic of all forms of contradiction. In this regard, Hegel is important in Method. But, of course, contradiction takes specific historical form. Because Hegel develops his dialectic in the form of the exposition of the “Idea”, starting with Being, it presents itself as an unfolding process, a progression from the abstract to the increasingly concrete. Each succeeding category embodies and expresses the total antecedent exposition sublated within itself.
Contradiction drives the life and vitality of the object and its continual return into itself. Negated negation is found in the study of the determinate character of things. In their continual movement beyond (negation) themselves and return into themselves in re-affirmation (negated negation) of their positive existence as “this particular thing”, etc. A return to the old which is an irreversible advance beyond it. I wake up this morning. I go through the day. I wake up the following morning. I have returned to “myself” but I am not “myself” since I have also moved beyond that “self” of the previous morning, etc. So this return is also an advance. The seasons come and go and return the following year. But the Summer of this year is distinct from the Summer of last year, etc.
Each side of any contradiction mediates each other (intermediation). It is this intermediation which constitutes ground [the identity and unity] of the contradiction and the mutually determining and negating conflicting sides of the contradiction. In this unity, each side is what it is only in so far as each side mediates the existence of each other. The world exists as a unified, unfolding process of development animated by contradiction in its different social and natural forms. The world is precisely these contradictory determinate forms animated by their immanently contradictory character.
The Twentieth Century
“In the twentieth century the objective conditions for the social revolution had in fact not matured; and this is contrary to what many of us – not without cause – believed. They were coming to maturity only over (say) the last quarter of the century – in today’s conditions of the onset of capitalism’s structural crisis and globalisation”
[C. Slaughter., Not Without A Storm, Chpt 8, Index Books, p.286]
It is within this context that we can locate and understand the whole nature of capitalist development within the twentieth century. And, more importantly, our response to it and our activities as communists in the course of this past century’s development. Moreover, we can proceed – with a more concrete degree of adequacy – to seek to grasp the underlying conditions which led to defeats and betrayals of one kind or another in which millions of people perished under the rule of capital. We can also fully grasp why Social Democracy and Stalinism were capable of delivering millions into the hands of Fascism and the Gulags. Today, as capital’s structural crisis broadens and deepens, the roadblock of Stalinism to the emergence of new forms of revolutionary agency has vanished with the fall of its historical basis since 1989. Stalinism has done significant damage to the struggle for socialism but its fall has removed an obstacle – to that same struggle – the significance of which cannot be overestimated. Those forces which led the “anti-imperialist struggle” in the 20th century have now become transformed into the agents of globalising capital at the start of the 21st century. Only now – as the global crisis of capital deepens and unfolds in the course of the 21st century – does Luxemburg’s dictum of “Socialism or Barbarism” (Junius Pamphlet, 1916) truly and fully come into its own. The deepening and sharpening of the contradictions of the global capital system in crisis starts to comprehensively destroy the social and natural conditions for the new society. But in this unfolding crisis it also drives the necessity for the movement towards socialism (as the dominant historical tendency which is implicit in this development). It heightens the possibilities of the growth of this socialist movement against capital. But, as we can see, it is a contradictory development. Socialism is not the inevitable outcome of the present stage. It only becomes an inevitability when all the conditions for the elimination of capital and its state powers have been assembled to be replaced by socialist society. The further descent into barbarism is equally posible without the positing of these necessary conditions. The turn is to the global proletarait. We cannot wait for the apple to ripen and simply fall from the tree. The tree must be shaken with all our might and power, audacity, ruthlessness, energy, through the requisite agencies of global social revolution. Only then will the apples fall in order to be harvested.