Monthly Archives: August 2018

Manuscripts on Psychology [1]

Manuscripts on Psychology [1]

‘Consciousness is a quite original part of nature, possessing peculiarities and regularities that are completely absent in the remaining part of nature. Subjective dialectics must by virtue of this be a distinctive part of objective dialectics – with its own special forms and regularities.’ (p.102)

‘But by itself the method of psychoanalysis, taking as its point of departure “the autonomy” of psychological phenomena, in no way contradicts materialism. Quite the contrary, it is precisely dialectical materialism that prompts us to the idea that the psyche could not even be formed unless it played an autonomous, that is, within certain limits, an independent role in the life of the individual and the species.

All the same, we approach here some sort of critical point, a break in all the gradualness, a transition from quantity to quality : the psyche, arising from matter, is “freed” from the determinism of matter, so that it can independently—by its own laws—influence matter.’ (p.106)

Leon Trotsky

Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism


[1] Prehistory and History

The history of the human mind as a determinate phenomenon is its history as a human social phenomenon. But this likewise applies to the human brain itself which, as being the human brain, has, essentially, a,social history despite the elementary truth of its biological prehistory in other ancestral, determinate neurological structures. Likewise, insofar as the chemical elements, which are the basic building blocks of living tissue, have not always existed, their real history as determinate forms only begins when they actually come into being. The astrophysicists assert that, besides the simplest element (Hydrogen), the rest were actually created out of this simplest of elements and succeeding elements under extremely high temperatures and pressures as a result of physical processes taking place within stars. Without this process of their formation, they obviously could not exist but this process of their formation is not their history per se as determinate elements. It is, if we must employ a word, their prehistory; the prehistory of their formation or process by which they came into being.Their real history as self-subsistent determinate objects only begins once they have come into being. If this were not the case, then the historical evolution of the universe in its many discrete and succeeding forms could only be determined and mapped by reference to the endless series of steps and stages by means of which a determinate phenomenon has come into being. We would have to give the history of anything by tracing it back to the beginning of time itself and even “before” that if such a word has any meaning within such a physical paradigm.

In other words, everything has a prehistory which is not its history per se. Indeed its prehistory is the history of some other determinate formation or process which has given rise to it. For example, the development of stereoscopic vision in our ancestral primates is part of their history but part of our prehistory. Human history commences with this prehistory incorporated within it. This is why the history of the human mind is inseparable from the history of human society and does not fall outside this history. If it is located antecedently to this history then it is, of course, not the human mind per se but rather a part of a hominid phase in transition to it. That is, it is hominid but not necessarily human. The human hominid emerges from its antecedents which are only becoming human just as molecular chemistry emerges from the atomic but this does not make the existence of the separate, individual atomic elements into the history of molecular phenomena. Rather they remain distinctly atomic until they form molecules and only when this happens has the molecular arrived and thenceforth commences the history of the chemistry of the molecular.

Everything has an unlimited prehistory leading up to the start of its limited history which passes into the unlimited history of succeeding forms. Incidentally, this is why Evolutionary Psychology is a bogus science because it deploys the paradigms of Evolutionary Biology (which are applicable only to purely biological systems) in an attempt to explain human psychological phenomena whose origination and development can only be located within the history of humanity as a social being. For example, hunger, thirst, sex, etc, are human hunger, human thirst, human sex, human etc. We locate this prehistory as socially and humanly appropriated. It is not the ‘animal in the human’ (like the Babushka in the Russian doll) but rather part and parcel of being the human animal. The distinction may appear subtle but it is real and fundamental nevertheless. To assert that the human mind is ultimately the plaything of the laws of biological evolution is not only to apply such laws where they are inapplicable but it is also to deny the socio-historical origins and evolution of the human mind itself. This attempt to fuse ‘sociology’ with ‘biology’ can only result in a bogus ‘science’ which is no real science at all. Evolutionary Psychology is the latter-day Phrenology. And, like Phrenology, but unlike Physics, Chemistry and Biology, it will not endure because it is scientifically illegitimate.

[2] Preconditions in Learning Capacities of Ancestral Primates

The pre-conditions for the origination of the human mind were generated in the course of the natural origin and development of the modes of life of ancestral primates. Of course, the whole of previous natural development is a pre-condition for any existent phenomenon but we take certain pre-developments as assumed (e.g. the emergence of living forms out of the non-living, the molecular out of the chemical and the chemical out of the physical, etc) and move forward from the existence of the ancestral primates of human beings.

The transition to human life presupposed fundamental pre-conditions in the mode of life of these ancestral primates. Firstly the use (on a regular basis) and the capacity to fashion simple tools for use in the acquisition of the physical needs of these primates was essential. Implicitly, this involved the acquisition of specific skills which could be transmitted (i.e. learnt) and refined in the course of their transmission and repeated use from one generation to the next. This learning of new skills and the development of novel forms of behaviour enabled these ancestral primate groups to gain an edge over competitors in the struggle to survive. This learning process equipped these primates to ‘cope’ – in a more adequate way – with the demands placed on them in their interaction with their natural conditions of life. The advanced learning capacities of ancestral primates and the transmission and refinement of acquired skills and behaviour resulting from these learning capacities were therefore essential, pre-constituted conditions necessary for the transition from animal primate to human.

This ‘culture’ of transmission of acquired skills gave such primates a distinct advantage in the struggle to survive, enhancing their chances of survival and augmenting adaptational capacities. The acquisition of these skills and their further elaboration and development into an ever-widening repertoire of skills and modes of behaviour was conditioned by the natural circumstances of the lives of these primates. The demands placed on animals by their conditions of life are the fundamental determinants which govern the necessity of animals to learn novel skills and forms of behaviour in order to counter and survive the impact of these conditions on their mode of life which is, indeed, organic to these conditions and vice versa.

In the course of developing new skills and forms of behaviour, ancestral primates must have engaged in a continuously changing relationship with their conditions of life in the course of which making adaptation an intensely active process. Changes in this relationship necessarily involved neurological developments in these primates and, as a consequence, an augmentation of learning capacities and mechanisms.

The supersedence of a given complex of natural conditions – within which and through relationship to which definite forms of behaviour and skills had been developed – would have necessitated the alteration, or even complete transformation, of previous modes of behaviour which were adequate for survival under previous conditions but had become, with the changes in conditions, inadequate for survival. Under threat of extinction new modes of behaviour and skills had to be developed in order to continue to survive. Therefore, whether an ancestral primate species survived or not (and evolved to a further stage of existence or into a different species) depended on whether or not it acquired and developed the necessary skills and behaviour (in the course of changing conditions) which provided it with the means of surviving the newly-posited conditions within which it found itself and struggled to maintain its mode of life.

It was the learning capacities of ancestral primates – the ability or inability to learn new skills – which gave them an advantage or disadvantage in the struggle for survival under changing conditions. The disadvantaged tended to perish whilst the advantaged or other distinct species ‘filled’ their niche, within and under the new conditions. This process would have been shifted into an accelerated mode in periods of catastrophic change. For example, consider the extinction of the dinosaurs and their eclipse by the mammals where catastrophic changes constituted the basis for this relatively rapid transition in the history of animal life.

In primate evolution – more specifically in those primates which immediately preceded the hominid line – the development of a wider repertoire of skills and complexity in their operation would have provided ancestral primates with an edge in the struggle to survive such catastrophes e.g. drought, floods, disease, etc. Here, it is not simply the emergence of biological variations and behavioural changes on which the law of natural selection acts that is fundamental but rather the capacity to actually learn new skills and forms of behaviour  which facilitate survival and propagation.

On the road of primate evolution towards the hominid line, the ‘best’ learners were inevitably the ‘best’ survivors so that survival and learning became linked. This learning necessarily precluded an overspecialisation. Rather it was the acquisition and development of generic skills which had to be established, cultivated and refined in order to survive in a range of different environments and conditions which were encountered on the path towards hominid evolution and beyond.

This general applicability of acquired skills in a wide range of situations and different conditions meant that the threat of extinction became lessened compared to those species that had overspecialised and thus were more vulnerable to rapid changes in their natural conditions of life. Therefore, it was not simply the ability to learn new skills – which in the evolution of ancestral primates facilitated survival – but to learn specific kinds of skills which, at the same time, had a general and enduring applicability under a wide range of conditions. These generic skills could be articulated and modified to counter demands placed on a species with alterations in their conditions of life and thus provide the necessary versatility requisite for survival.

The relatively advanced capacities of superior toolusers and makers over other groups and the ability to transmit these skills to succeeding generations formed the embryonic complex out of which hominids could emerge and evolve towards the human line. The established use and fashioning of simple tools in early hominids contained, in potentio, the more advanced forms of hominid behaviour embracing co-operation, communication and thus, consequentially, the rise of language and consciousness itself. Accordingly, all these acquired skills and forms of behaviour – taken in their totality and interrelation – constituted the germ (seminal natural-historic ground) out of which human society could come into being and evolve as a new, distinct socio-historical form of development.

[3] Psyche Originates as the Identity of the Conscious and the Unconscious

With the transition to hominid relationships, the role and applicability of the laws of natural selection start to become progressively diminished. The hand becomes specialised as the organ of labour so that production later becomes the material basis of human life. As hominid evolution proceeded, the development of existing skills and the learning of new ones necessitated a greater degree of co-operation and communication. This, in its turn, necessitated the origination of language which constituted a primary condition for the rise of consciousness itself. i.e. the origination of the human mind proper as a totality. This basic principle is central to Engels’ thesis in his work The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man.

Toolmaking gave rise to incipient social relations between hominids which became, in themselves, intrinsically necessary for these primordial forms of material production. These relations had to be mediated by language and its internalised corollary in the form of nascent forms of consciousness. Accordingly, the production of tools and the development of the hominid relationships related to this production become increasingly subject to mediation by consciousness in the making.

In the course of the origination and development of hominids, the beginnings of the rise of conscious awareness (sapienisation) begins to engender its psychological opposite in the form of the unconscious i.e. the forms of awareness of the human mind as a totality begin to be posited in embryo. The learning mechanisms and modes of behaviour of ancestral hominoids are continuously passed from one generation to the next in forever developing forms. Eventually, the origination of consciousness and its positing as a determinate, specifically human, form of awareness results in a synthesis which incorporates a supersedence of the relationship between instinct and learning in the ancestral primate animal. This relationship between instinct and learning in the animal is superseded in the emergence and establishment of consciously thinking beings. This supersedence takes the form of the beginnings of a psyche which is the identity of the conscious and the unconscious. It is no longer the pre-hominid animal instinct and learning as such. This relation is superseded in the new relationships formed between the conscious and unconscious. This relation becomes intrinsic to the psychic life of the human. Its  pre-hominid, animal character – in the relationship between instinct and learning – is superseded into the higher conscious human form.

The origination of beings acquiring and developing the capacity to think consciously marks the rise of the human mind itself as a totality. This transforms (for it truly is a transformational process) the behavioural capacities of the ancestral hominoid primate – mediated by the relationship between instinct and simple, pre-conscious learning mechanisms – into the consciously, psychosocially mediated behaviour of human beings; into beings possessing and applying the capacity to consciously understand, reflect upon and transform in practice their natural conditions of life.

The simpler, non-conscious forms of awareness of the hominoid (ancestral animal primate) become transformed (sublated) into the social, conscious form of awareness of the human mind. The latter embraces conscious thought but, considered as a whole, the human mind is a qualitatively more complex, determinate phenomenon than conscious thought alone taken in and by itself. Conscious awareness is an intrinsic part of the human mind but the latter in its globality is not simply identical to conscious awareness itself. The human mind, as we have already indicated, possesses a prehistory which becomes sublatively incorporated into the human mind with the rise of consciousness in the transition from the animal to the human.

[4] Social Character of Consciousness

The rise of consciousness marks the rise of the human mind as a whole because the origination of conscious awareness completely transforms all the capacities and inner relationships of the pre-hominid, non-conscious forms of awareness. It raises these capacities, etc – in the course of superseding them – to the new, qualitative level in the psychosocial, conscious forms of awareness of human beings. In so doing, the human mind determinate has arrived.  Henceforth the…

forms of consciousness, even as they are determined by the conditions of life, constitute in themselves also a part of history. This does not consist only in the economic anatomy, but in all that combination which clothes and covers that anatomy even up to the multicoloured reflections of the imagination….there is no fact in history which is not preceded, accompanied and followed by determined forms of consciousness, whether it be superstitious or experimental, ingenuous or reflective, impulsive or self-controlled, fantastic or reasoning. (1)

The historical origination of conscious aware beings in the course of this transition from the pre-conscious animal to humanity marks the origination of the human mind as a psycho-historical totality. The labour process, according to Engels, constitutes the social material basis for the origination of consciousness and therefore mind as a totality. Implicit in this process is the need for communication and therefore language (practical language – speech) and thought. Marx writes that…

Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate (Marx emphasis)sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious. At the same time it is consciousness of nature, which first confronts men as a completely alien, all powerful and unassailable force, with which men’s relations are purely animal and by which they are overawed like beasts; it is thus a purely animal consciousness of nature (natural religion) precisely because nature is as yet hardly altered by history – on the other hand, it is man’s consciousness of the necessity of associating with individuals around him, the beginning of consciousness that he is living in society at all. This beginning is as animal as social life itself at this stage. It is mere herd-consciousness, and at this point man is distinguished from sheep only by the fact that with him consciousness takes the place of instinct or that his instinct is a conscious one.

[Marginal note by Marx: We see here immediately: this natural religion or this particular attitude to nature is determined by the form of society and vice versa. Here, as everywhere, the identity of nature and man also appears in such a way that the restricted attitude of men to nature determines their restricted relation to one another, and their restricted relation to one another determines men’s restricted relation to nature]

Marx continues….

This sheep-like or tribal consciousness receives its further development and extension through increased productivity, the increase of needs, and, what is fundamental to both of these, the increase of population. With these there develops the division of labour, which was originally nothing but the division of labour in the sexual act, then the division of labour which develops spontaneously or “naturally” by virtue of natural pre-disposition (e.g. physical strength), needs, accidents, etc, etc. Division of labour only becomes truly such from the moment when a division of material and mental labour appears.

[Marginal note by Marx: The first form of ideologists, priests, is co-incident]

From this moment onwards consciousness can really flatter itself that it is something other than consciousness of existing practice, that it really represents something without representing something real; from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself from the world and to proceed to the formation of  “pure” theory, theology, philosophy, morality, etc. (2)

[all emphasis in these passages, indicated by underlining, is by Marx)

The insight and profundity of Marx’s analysis must be noted here, written, as it was, at least thirteen years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species and twenty-five years before his Descent of Man.

Humanity’s consciousness of ‘living in society’ is itself a reflection of humanity’s association in order to survive in the struggle against Nature and to harness it to meet human needs. This awareness of ‘living in society’ is negatively expressed in humanity’s conception of the ‘otherness’ of Nature which ‘confronts men as a completely alien, all-powerful and unassailable force’.

This ‘otherness’ of Nature takes different forms throughout the history of human consciousness. Does the actual distinction between Humanity and Nature (and therefore the reflection of this distinction in the human mind) become superseded (sublated) in the development of post-class society? Accordingly, does the human conception of ‘living in society’ or the ‘otherness’ of Nature therefore disappear as a reflection of the supersedence of the distinction between humanity and Nature? With the resolution of this dialectic, does not humanity’s alienation in and from Nature and thus from self and other humans truly come to an end? The conceptions of Man and Nature or Man or Nature would disappear with the transcendence of this ‘otherness’ of Nature to Man?

Beyond this historically-determined relation of humanity against Nature – which reflects nothing other than the socio-historically conditioned subservience of humanity to Nature and therefore humanity’s impotence in the face of Nature – lies the ‘true realm of freedom’ in which humanity neither distinguishes itself from Nature nor distinguishes Nature from itself. Therein exists neither “humanity” nor “Nature” as such with the transcendence of this relationship of alienation but only the oneness of humankind immersed indissolubly in Nature in which the ‘otherness’ of Nature is not distinguished from the ‘otherness’ of humanity. The humanisation of Nature becomes simultaneously the naturalisation of humanity (Marx, Paris Manuscripts of 1844). This real unity, this real historically-evolved synthesis beyond ‘otherness’, is manifest in the transcendence of the conceptual-psychic alienation of Man from Nature.

[5]  ‘Plasticity’ of Human Brain

The brain of ancestral primates becomes materially transformed, becoming further evolved to a new, more complex, stages of development in the course of human evolution under the direct influence of the material and social relations of the labour process. The human brain is, therefore, a structure which comes into being in the course of that transitional period of development between the natural mode of life of ancestral primates and the social mode of life of humankind.

This may appear trite or even tautological but it must not be forgotten that the human brain is only human as such when human beings have actually come into being and the historical development of human society actually commences. We cannot speak of the human brain or human mind whilst it is still in the process of coming into being. It is something other than human whilst it is still caught in that process of its genesis.

The human brain does not emerge and become a fixed structure but rather continues to develop materially and its processes become more refined, attenuated and better adapted to orientate and guide human social behaviour. The ‘plasticity’ of the brain’s processes does not end once humanity has emerged from its animal ancestry but necessarily continues at a conscious stage with the socio-historical development of humanity. The brain in evolution is only a product of natural selection in so far as it is the non-human brain. It becomes, as a totality, with the advent of human life, a social product. The human brain is not only larger than that of contemporary pongids but is qualitatively more complex.These differences arise in the hominid transitional period and are further developed in the course of human social development. The human brain is thus the outcome of this prehistory, this period of extensive development but its development as the human brain per se only begins once it has come to be as a determinately human structure. This means that its further development is not merely influenced by biological processes as in its pre-human stages but now develops under the direct influence of socio-historical conditions and processes which are themselves continuously changing.

The sociality of humanity in the making transforms the neurological functions of the animal primate brain into those of the human brain, raising them to a qualitatively more complex stage of development. The transformation of the hominoid brain into the human brain is therefore a product of society in the making which is identical to humanity in the making. A complete development and transformation of the cerebral region of the primate brain takes place. The size and inner complexity of the brain as a whole changes so that all the other brain functions become modified as a result of this cerebral development which is a product of the transition taking place between ancestral animal primates and consciously thinking humans.

[6] Socio-Historical Process and Evolution of Mind

Labour and the hand not only develop in their reciprocal relation. The evolution of the labour process is the intrinsic, material, social basis for the origination and development of human social relations. These relations, once established, in themselves, constitute an essential presupposition for the further onward development of this labour process which – in its development – is continuously transforming and raising these relations to new stages of historical development. The origination and evolution of this complex of relations simultaneously involves the development, refinement and attenuation of the sense organs whose functioning becomes increasingly mediated by conscious awareness.

These hominid transitional forms, in altering their conditions of life through the emerging and evolving labour process in the course of the development of their interaction with Nature, propel themselves forward along the hominid line towards human social relations proper. The transitional hominid species transform themselves into succeeding forms along the hominid line in the course of their active relationship with their natural surroundings. In so doing they begin to approach the social mode of life of humanity proper whose relationships become mediated by a fully established forms of conscious awareness.

The relationship between social relations and mind becomes established (i.e. the transition to the establishment of this relationship is completed and its determinate existence is posited as a relatively stable relation out of the transitional period of transformation) with the completion of this hominid transitional period. Once established, the conceptual content of the human mind becomes subject to change and transformation on the basis of the evolution of the socio-historical process. Henceforth, the human mind develops historically in its intrinsic relationship to the history of human society so that each only subsists in its relation to the other.

The human mind therefore evolves as an intrinsic, organic, mediating part of the whole socio-historical process. The historical development of the mind – in its conceptual content, relations, structure, functions, inner complexity, etc – therefore necessarily reflects the history of human society. However, at the same time, in its inner, self-reflective character and dynamic it sublates and incorporates both the social and the biological within itself, incorporating them into a new psychological synthesis in the course of its psychohistorical formation and development.

The human mind therefore arises as a negation of the simple, pre-conscious animal awareness and is posited as a distinctly new form of awareness. This form of awareness therefore arises as a specifically human form in which ‘man in the making’ is becoming aware of being aware in the course of the hominisation process i.e. the hominisation process engenders a self-conscious being which is capable of reflection.

[7] Labour-Cooperation-Language-Consciousness

The labour process has formed the ground on which language and consciousness have originated and developed historically. Herein lies the social unity of the labour process, language and consciousness. The production of tools and their use in the labour process as a whole has enabled human beings to transform their conditions of life. Co-operation was – from that point in hominid existence where toolmaking commenced systematically – intrinsic to this process. Hominids, in constantly changing their mode of existence – by means of the production and use of tools – changed themselves so that they evolved  progressively more towards the human line of development in the course of the hominisation process. With the establishment of human society proper, the onward development of the labour process means that…

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of reproduction, e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field, etc, but the producers change too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. (3)

The human labour process necessarily involves social co-operation. This co-operation must involve the co-ordination of activity by means of language which, accordingly, must, sooner or later, have asserted itself as a necessity in the origination of the labour process. Language emerges because human beings must communicate with each other and speech – even in an emergent or rudimentary form – implies thought (consciousness or its beginnings). Speech is externalised thought and thought is internalised language. Practice (activity) necessarily gives rise to word and concept. In the beginning was the deed. Word and concept mediate each other’s development and constitute a unity of opposites in the historical development of the human mind. This ‘unity’ simultaneously mediates and is mediated by the totality of human social activities: practice-language-thought constitute a dialectical unity of distinct aspects of human social development.

Labour, therefore, as a co-operative social process, is intrinsic to the whole historical process. Humanity, by constantly altering and moulding Nature to its own needs, by harnessing and applying its developing knowledge of Nature, by being an active part of Nature, is always changing its relationship to Nature and thereby changing itself….

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But it is precisely the alteration of nature by men not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history…… as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. (4)

The development of human knowledge becomes, directly or indirectly, bound up with the the evolution of the labour process itself and this implies the intrinsic connection of the evolution of human knowledge with production itself. Production, social relations and consciousness constitute a unity in which each conditions each other in their mutual interrelationships in the socio-historical process. The needs of production and the social anatomy of human relations become closely bound up with the evolution of scientific thought. Thus Engels writes, in relation to scientific thought and practice, that….

From the very beginning the origin and development of the sciences has been determined by production (5)

“Determined” is perhaps rather too positivistic and “deterministic” a word but undoubtedly the needs of production and the evolution of the sciences are not separable from each other.

The human acquisition of the means of subsistence through the labour process is mediated by a historically-relative and historically-conditioned understanding of Nature. In the earliest societies this understanding is, of course, very primitive. With the emergence of the natural sciences, roughly corresponding to the rise and development of capitalist society, this understanding becomes more complex with the discovery of natural laws which can be applied in the processes of production. The onset of this period of capitalist development marks a tremendous step forward for humanity in its struggle to wrest its needs from Nature. Human knowledge of natural processes becomes a necessary pre-requisite for production itself. So much so that today production would be unthinkable without the science that underpins its technology.

[8] Mind and Society

The human mind, at any given point in its historical evolution, is the outcome of the entire history of natural and social development which is superseded (sublated) into the character of the prevailing social relations. Its conceptual content only reflects the character of the dominant social relations in so far as these relations are the outcome of the entire history of natural and social development, containing this entire history superseded and incorporated within them. Accordingly, the human mind contains superseded and expressed within itself the entire wealth of this history. Of course, the actual history of any determinate formation only commences when it is actually posited as such. The history of capitalism does not begin with the Carthaginians despite the fact that they were merchant traders (merchant capital) or with the Jews in medieval societies despite the fact that they lived by money-lending (money capital, usury). It begins proper in the first part of the sixteenth century when capital has entered agricultural production and started to dominate production as a whole.  However, that in itself can never be a denial of the truth that it or any other social formation is also the outcome of a long period of prehistory despite the fact that it only emerges as a determinately distinct and new formation at the termination of this period of development. The legacy of history remains but now within the conditions and context of the new formation. It is the distinctly new relations and characteristics which now constitute its content and determine its subsequent development. Human thinking is impossible without the neurology which is the products of millions of years of animal evolution but what fundamentally determines its character as animated by conceptual content is not this neuronal system but rather social relations, social being and the process of human learning and reflection taking place within this context.

Thus, in so far as human thinking is a product of the living brain it is, in that sense, a product of Nature. But the human brain, never mind thinking, in so far as it is human, is itself a social product and, in this sense, we cannot refer to thinking as a product of Nature. The dominating, conditioning paradigm is social relations and social being since even the organ we call the human brain is only a human organ in so far as it is the creation of socially-relating humanity, i.e humanity as a social being. The human brain is not merely a more sophisticated version of the brain of the ancestral ape as Evolutionary Psychology maintains. Rather it is a qualitatively distinct and different organ altogether which has come into being under the influence of processes which such animal primate ancestors could not possibly have experienced. The human brain itself has developed materially (anatomical and physiological plasticity) in the course of the historical development of human society over many thousands of years and will continue to do so as long as human beings exists at all. However, in that it is the conceptual content that constitutes the ‘substance’ of thought, of the thinking process, it is society that forms the ontological basis and overarching paradigm and conditionality for the origination and development of this conceptual content….

socio-historical shifts not only introduce new content into the mental world of human beings; they also create new forms of activity and new structures of cognitive functioning. They advance human consciousness to new levels. (6)

This conceptual content varies according to time and place. Thus Marx, in his famous preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, writes that….

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces.  The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.  The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.  It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness (7)


(1)  Labriola, A.  Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History. (London/New York, Monthly Review Press, 1966)  p. 113

(2)  Marx, K. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5. (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976)  pp.44-45

(3)  Marx. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993) p.494. Notebook V.

(4)  Engels. Dialectics of Nature.  Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p.511.

(5)  Ibid. p. 465.

(6)  Luria, A.R. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1976) p.163.

(7)  Marx. Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.181


Shaun May

August 2018

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Notes on ‘Demarketisation’ in the Period of Transition

Notes on ‘Demarketisation’ in the Period of Transition

The period of transition from the epoch of capital to that of the ‘true realm of freedom’ must solve the problem of the move away from capital in circulation as a whole to its elimination from the social metabolism as a whole. To replace the process of the reproduction of capital with a system of directly socialised labour without the capital relation and the production of commodities.

This means producing to address and meet people’s needs and not producing for the market where the dominant aim is the profitable realisation of value. We need to develop social practices and corresponding organisational forms which disestablish (strip) the product of labour of its commodity-form. The products which issue from the production process must cease to take the form of commodities. This is equivalent to moving away from ‘free market’ to market-free zones of production and distribution. It is equivalent to the ‘demarketisation’ of society. This historic process of demarketisation can only successfully take place at increasingly higher levels of the productivity of labour. Only under highly developed forms of the productivity of labour can people’s needs be addressed and met in the move away from the production of exchange-values (commodity production, the products of labour which take the form of commodity-capital) to the immediate production of use-values for direct distribution to meet people’s needs.

Where labour is communal and its products are directly social products (as opposed to private and indirectly social through the sale of commodities on the market), the direct manifestation of this communal labour is the production of objects for human consumption. These objects do not belong to any private individual or organisation but are the property of the whole of society. The dominant criterion here is use and need in community as opposed to mass of private profit in the production of commodities and reproduction of capital.

Under such conditions and relations, exchange-value itself cannot subsist. In other words, the very process of the production of commodities is itself abolished because the indispensably connected process in which private labour receives the stamp of general, social labour only indirectly in the process of being sold on the market is superseded. The social relation of capital is itself superseded. Under communal production, human labour becomes directly social labour in the production process itself (ceases to be private labour but is immediately posited as the labour of the whole of society) and does not require the stamp of the value-realisation process ‘on the market’ to confer this character upon it. The aim of society is to eliminate the market by eliminating private exchange. This is done by pressing ahead with the decommodification of the products of labour.

Labour time ceases to take the form of exchange-value. The products of labour cease to the form of commodities. This undermines the existence of the market system itself and facilitates the transcendence of the capital relation itself. In the course of the development of the period of transition (‘realm of natural necessity’ as contrasted with the later ‘true realm of freedom’), exchange alters its forms. Use-value and need (not exchange value and profit) become the dominant social criteria. Progressively, exchange of labour time ceases to be disguised in the form of the exchange of commodities. ‘Money’ as ‘time chit’ (and not as expression of exchange-value) continues to function in the course of these new forms of exchange until society dispenses with money in the following ‘true realm of freedom’. These forms of exchange are….

[1] the exchange of a definite quantity of calculated labour time for its calculated materialised equivalent in the form of use-values (labour time<>products of labour)

[2] the exchange of use values with each other based on the calculation of the average labour time required to produce them (products of labour<>products of labour)

[3] exchange of activities in the course of the development of the social metabolism as directly expressed in the exchange of a equivalent and definite quantities of labour time (labour time <>labour time).

These forms of exchange (1, 2 and 3) emphasise the social usefulness of, and human enjoyment involved in, the different forms of labour in the period of transition. Beyond this period lies the actual transcendence of account keeping itself on the basis of the expenditure of labour time. ‘Free time’ and not ‘labour time’ becomes the real measure of wealth. In this period of transition, emphasis is placed on the development of the quality of use values and the continuous augmentation in the productivity of labour which is both socially and ecologically sustainable. An increase in the productivity of labour which is not ‘at the expense’ of nature. This will involve the increased but sustainable use of machines, automation and computers instead of human labour. Labour itself starts to become a ‘vital need’ (Marx) stripped of its alien character as prevailed in the epoch of global capital.

For the period of transition to successfully pass into the ‘true realm’, it is not any given individual or external (alien) body or organisation which must be in charge of the products of human labour but rather the ‘associated producers’ themselves. They will will make the ‘democratic decisions’ as to the distribution of the surplus according to the need to accumulate (technical development and innovation), transfer to a collective fund for public provision, education/training, individual/collective consumption, etc. Once the control of the surplus is taken out of the hands of the producers themselves and appropriated by an alien body/organisation (Soviet system) then all the old ‘muck of ages’ (Marx) has an even greater potential to re-establish itself. Those who appropriate and control the distribution of the surplus invariably generate and/or consolidate power structures for self-serving interest and privilege which stand in hostile opposition to those whose labour has actually produced the surplus. Unless, of course, appropriation and control over distribution is by the associated producers themselves.

In regard to accountancy of labour time in the period of transition (‘realm of natural necessity’), the age of capital has already developed card and electronic systems involving the debiting and crediting of accounts, transfers, payments, settling debt, etc. In this system developed by capital itself, we can see the potential to adapt it to the production, circulation and consumption of use values in the period of transition. It ceases to serve the interests of capital and can be adapted and deployed to animate and further social development within this transitional period. For example, each person’s labour time is credited on an electronic card system and taken off (debited) successively at those points of access to use values for personal consumption such as food, clothing, energy distribution points and centres, etc. Likewise for communal organisations, etc, and transfers registered using computer technology. The advances in computer technology has made this process of accounting and regulation easier in comparison to earlier systems without computers.

Paper money would cease to be a medium of exchange. There would be no circulation of paper or coin and the electronic card system – as a system of labour time equivalence – would be structured as non-circulable. It would simply be an electronic system of accounting of the quantity and quality of labour performed. This card system would serve as a means of payment to balance accounts at both the individual and communal levels. It could function on different levels. For example (a) for the personal/family, etc, scale of consumption. (b) for replacement of consumed machinery/materials, etc, in the workplace and on a wider communal scale. (c) for the deployment of the socially produced surplus for social provision, communal and technical innovation, development, arts, recreation, etc. (d) for the accountancy of inter-organisational exchange of use-values. For example, unit X requiring chemicals from unit Y in order to manufacture pharmaceuticals and unit Z sending chemicals to Y for this manufacture, etc. All done on the direct calculation of labour time using this electronic card system. The ‘social bodies’ of the commune would work through (audit) the annual returns and make allowances for wastage and accidental destruction and also sabotage and pilfering where the latter are still taking place in the course of the revolutionary period of transition. Cards could be personalised or specified to organisation and there would be a system of identification, checks and balances introduced to prevent fraud, pilfering, etc, in these earlier phases of development.

Shaun May

August 2018

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Note on the Origins of Money

Note on the Origins of Money

Societies which use money are only possible when people have produced a surplus beyond their immediate needs and have something to exchange. Barter is the first form of exchange in human history. For example, a bow and arrows for a bronze axe, etc. Before the production of a surplus, there was no exchange. People produced or hunted and gathered then distributed for their needs without exchange. But once surpluses are produced systematically (and this implies technical innovations and development), exchange beyond simple barter then requires a universally accepted medium of exchange. This is when money comes on the human scene. For most of human history, people have lived without using money. The first forms of money were goods like cattle, pieces of iron, sheep, shaped coal or amber discs, beads etc. Only later does bronze, silver, gold and coin serve as money until now we have paper and electronic money. Money becomes the universal representation of value (labour time).

As soon as labour power itself becomes a commodity then it becomes exchangeable for money. In the epoch of capital, the value which labour produces is always greater than the actual value of the labour power. This is the source of what Marx calls surplus value which becomes profit on the sale of produced commodities on the market. In other words, the capitalist class exploits people by making them work for less than the value of what they actually produce. And this is the source of their profit. In socialist society, because we produce this surplus by our collective labour, that surplus belongs to the whole of society and not simply to a ruling class of capital-owning parasites. Eventually socialism will dispense with money so that production will simply be for human needs and the goods produced will be distributed accordingly to meet those needs. The capitalist state defends the current system of exploitation and that is why it must be toppled if we are to progress to the new society.

Money is only necessary in a society based on the production and exchange of commodities or in previous pre-capitalist societies where exchange is a peripheral activity. Or in a society (the early phases of post-capitalist, socialist society) where accountancy of labour time still retains a validity. The society we live in is based on capital as the ruling social relation. The root of the problem is not money per se but the continuation of this type of social formation involving capitalist commodity production. Once this social formation disappears, and after a period of transition in which money for a time will be necessary, there will be no need for money. Money therefore will always be needed as long as this type of society persists.

How does society dispense with money at the current stage when we have not created the necessary social conditions to do so? How do you and I and every one else live without money today? That is not possible at the present stage. It will require social changes and massive upheavals of a historic nature to create a society where money is no longer necessary.

Shaun May

August 2018


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From a Notebook on Dialectics : Part Four

From a Notebook on Dialectics : Part Four


[1] Nature does not require our permission to be dialectical

Nature is immanently dialectical. The understanding of definite natural forms can only be left to the work of natural scientists who are far better equipped to address it than most ‘philosophers’. In the end, the whole question is not as complex as some think. There are two fundamental bifurcations on the journey. One : either the cosmos is in a constant state of development, of evolution, arising and vanishing determinations and negations or it is not. Two : once we have accepted the proposition that the cosmos is in states of constant development we reach another fork in this road : either (a) all this evolution, this life and vitality, is producing and produced by conflicts and contradictions i.e. the cosmos, including humanity’s relations to it, is inherently dialectical without the need for gods, ghosts or ghouls. Or (b) we fall into the doctrines of various religions and accept that the ultimate cause behind all this evolution is divine impulse and intervention. We embrace the religious, theistic, pantheistic, call it what you like.

If you reject dialectics, you reject Marx and the tradition which has arisen therefrom. You cannot reject dialectics as a comprehensive outlook in one breath then refer to yourself as a “Marxist” in the next breath. One cannot reject the underlying, underpinning and mediating approach and then embrace the necessary outcomes of that same approach as the truth of the world spinning around us.

The essence or the focus of the dialectical approach is the disclosure of the inner contradictions within the world (its internally and dynamically active contradictions) which enable us to not only grasp the origins of the world but also its ‘impulse’, ‘vitality’, ‘life’; to grasp its inherent tendencies of development. Contradiction is the most fundamental, animating category of dialectics, in the dialectical method of approach. If we do not grasp the internal contradictory relations of the world – and especially the implicit tendencies of development which result from a grasp of them –  then how can we orientate ourselves in 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 contradictory life and tendencies of the object then how can it comprehensively inform our activity?

Thinking which appropriates the world by means of dialectics is itself a product of human history. And, accordingly, this way of thinking actually arises and develops historically under certain historical conditions which, when posited, render it possible and necessary. The only scientifically valid and non-ideological way to grasp the nature of dialectical thinking – as with all forms of thinking – is by a study of its origins and development within the unfolding of the historical process itself.

A comprehensive understanding of dialectical thinking is not rooted ideologically and rationalistically in thought itself but in the evolution of Nature and Society 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.

The understanding of dialectical thought proceeds 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. We cannot explain the origins and development of dialectical thinking rationalistically and exclusively within the conceptualisations of its own thought-realm. The stage at which the historical process has arrived in the course of its development 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 and in our practical relations with Nature.

Dialectical thinking involves the study of the world in its development and not as a static, stationary formation using fixed categories. This ‘world in its development’ is grasped as the identity and conflict of arising and vanishing moments, giving the world its immanently contradictory character, the tendency to return to the old but at a different stage or higher phase of development, the ‘leap’ forward to a qualitatively new set of relations, etc. As one determinate formation or stage of it is passing away this becomes identified with and makes room for a new formation or stage which is emerging out of its passing and which is connected with it yet distinct from the older, dying phase, etc. Contradiction is precisely this identity of vanishing and arising moments which are nevertheless essentially distinct and opposed in their identity.

The development which takes place in human history is merely one form (the socio-historical form) of dialectical development. But Nature itself does not require the presence of an ‘active subject’, a transcendence or indwelling pantheism in order to be dialectical. It does not require permission to be dialectical. If the world is ‘living contradiction’, then clearly we can understand this world more deeply with a conception of contradiction within it and this must orientate us in our activities. This, of course, is not to deny the determinate character of the world, a world of objects caught in process. But to approach the world as if it is all ‘determinacy’ without ‘indeterminacy’ is one of the problems I am seeking to address in these articles on dialectics.

[2] Determinateness and Indeterminateness

The object of our observations presents a determinable form to us. The appearance of ‘stability’ to us. This is its ‘face’, its immediacy as an ‘exteriorisation’ of the procession of its internal mediations, of its internal dynamics animated by contradiction, by countless movements. The internal motion of the object presents itself in the form of an immediate, determinable exteriorisation or appearance. This apparent stability (determinateness) does not deny the inherent indeterminateness of and within the object. The object is this unity of determinateness and indeterminateness.

The determinateness and coherence of things persists (they maintain their stability) because they are constantly returning into themselves and re-affirming (re-positing) themselves out of negation. They are stable enough to maintain their coherence and integrity despite the countless movements and alterations taking place within them. They maintain a stability as wholes despite the constant changes taking place within themselves which take place within the limits and conditions of the determinateness of the object. This is precisely why things appear not to change as wholes, despite the fact that irreversible changes are constantly taking place in all objects.

In this process of things ‘returning to themselves’ out of negation, the original determinateness of the object is and yet is not re-posited. Every ‘return to the old’ simultaneously involves an irreversible advance beyond the old because the return contains sublated within itself the antecedent negativity arising out of what was originally posited. Therein lies precisely the actual content of change. Change is a passing away of something and yet a return to it in a renewed form. The tree outside my window is not the same tree as it was yesterday (because of all the molecular changes which have taken place in its metabolism in the course of a day’s development) and yet it is “this” determinate tree as was here yesterday and therefore re-asserts and re-posits itself in its ‘negated negation’. In its indeterminacy, it reasserts itself as this determinate tree. In this re-positing, it reaffirms itself in its difference from its ‘old’ self. It ‘returns’ to itself only by going beyond itself. These alterations in going beyond itself are now sublated into itself in returning to itself and hence an irreversible advance within this return. There is real development despite the formal appearance of an unchanging return and ‘repetition’.

Change takes place within the coherence and integrity of the object because it is immanently self-contradictory. Beyond the conditions and limits of this determinateness of the object (its coherence and integrity as an object) lies its dissolution wherein it cannot maintain itself in contradiction but must perish in contradiction. The tree, after hundreds of years, loses its vitality, its water transport functions decline, its root system starts to become ineffective and its resistance to disease is undermined, etc. It starts to decay and disintegrate. It is weakened by disease and decay and one day it falls in the forest, breaks into pieces and is broken down by insects and saprophytes. Its components then enter as nutrients into the soil and other trees use them. It is broken down and its chemical components are assimilated as nutrients in the wider evolving ecosystem. A carbon atom – originally created in the cores of stars from simpler elements and thrown out into the universe in their explosive destruction – has made a journey through billions of years of time and it continues on that journey in forever changing situations and circumstances. Here as the carbon atom in a molecule of carbon dioxide, then as an atom in a molecule of glucose, and now as an atom covalently bonded to other atoms in a polysaccharide polymer stored in the human liver, etc. It then, once again, becomes the carbon atom in a molecule of carbon dioxide as a product of respiration (metabolism of glucose) and expelled into the external environment outside the human body. In all these different contexts it is the same carbon atom and yet is different as a function of these differing chemical and biochemical contexts in which it finds itself.

Objects altering retain their coherence and integrity as objects because they are always returning into themselves out of the countless negations taking place within them. These negations are undergoing negation which reasserts the positive coherence of the object itself. All the time they retain this integrity as determinate objects, each return out of negation is simultaneously an irreversible advance beyond the old determinateness. This is because the return contains superseded within it the mediations and countless negations of antecedent development; the negations being negated to bring the object back to itself. Each moment of change is simultaneously both a negation and a reaffirmation of the object.

‘Newness’ is always a synthesis, the outcome of the resolution of contradiction in the return to the old. Hegel : the positive, in passing over into its negative (mediation), sets up the contradictory dynamic in the relationship between the two. Each is in the other simultaneously determining of the other and self-determining and so negating of each other and of self in their relation. The outcome of the resolution of this contradictory dynamic is the synthesis which is ‘newness’. Within the stable parameters and framework of the originally posited, this synthesis is a return to the old. But it is simultaneously not the old because containing sublated (superseded) within itself the negations of the transcended contradictory relation. The resultant whole constitutes a ‘newness’ which is a synthesis giving birth to new contradictions in its self-movement.

This is why determinate objects sometimes appear not to ‘change’ because they are continuously reaffirming themselves in their return into themselves out of negation. (Hegel : ‘absolute negativity’ as the reaffirmation of a positive content of a determinate being). For example, the old oak tree at the end of the lane is always returning to itself out of the negations of daily and seasonal development. It daily reaffirms itself as this particular oak tree and seasonally when it produces its acorns, drops its leaves in the autumn, etc. It is the oak tree at the end of the lane and yet it is simultaneously a different oak tree from moment to moment, in constantly reaffirming itself in its return to itself. When it becomes old and diseased, decaying and disintegrating, and loses its leaves and branches, etc, and starts to decline, this is a real qualitative shift in its actual determinate character, etc. The “returns” now become of a qualitatively different nature. A return to a diseased and dying tree whose resemblance to the former determinateness has undergone a qualitative shift. Before a healthy tree in the prime of its development and at the height of its life from season to season and now an old, rotting, disease ridden tree in a state of terminal decline, decay and death.

The empty glass in front of me returns into itself and reaffirms itself in its negations (in its negativity) as this real determinate glass in front of me. But if I shock it by filling it with boiling water, it shatters and this specific process of returning ceases. The abrupt energetic changes taking place in the glass transcend all the conditions necessary for the former integrity and coherence of the empty glass. The ‘qualitative leap’ or transformation. A really new determinacy is created and so a qualitatively different process of returning is posited. All the possibilities and functionalities of the original glass have been extinguished in the destruction. What is possible now is conditioned by the new actuality (and the conditions corresponding to it) of the shattered pieces of wet glass on the floor. For what is possible can only be so on the ground of what is actual, on the ground of its conditions of existence. What is possible can only be made actual with the consummation of the conditions of the possible. The glass has smashed. The old possibilities are extinguished. New possibilities are posited in the actuality of the shattered pieces. Changes within the previously existing framework of the coherence and integrity of the object as a glass can no longer take place because that previous framework has been abolished. Its determinate character has been utterly transcended into something other in the form of the shattered pieces of glass on the floor. What is preserved (sublation) is the actual materiality of the glass itself which remains subject to similar changes as shattered pieces as when it was the material constituting the coherent object. For example, electronic and nuclear changes at the atomic level, etc

The glass in front of me is undergoing all manner of imperceptible changes but it retains its integrity as ‘this glass’ in front of me. It can carry wine, water, etc. I can see through it, etc, hold it in my hand as this particular glass. But change is constantly taking place within it which re-posits and reaffirms its determinateness. It does not transcend this essential determinateness as a coherent object called “glass”. These changes do not transcend its essential determinateness as “this glass”. These alterations do not shatter the glass into pieces. All these changes within the framework of the conditions and parameters of the actual existence of the glass involve the dialectics of possibility and actuality but within the framework of this determinate being called “glass”. Some event has to take place in order to break, to smash this framework and transcend its coherence as a specific object called “glass”.

The possibilities are becoming transformed into actualities within the glass itself but also a rebirth of new possibilities is emerging as a result of these changes. The chemical structure is modulating in this or that direction, way, etc, as its possibilities become transformed into actualities with the consummation of chemical, physical, thermodynamic, quantum conditions, etc. But this is re-creating possibilities, etc, which do not threaten the actual existence (integrity) of the glass itself. So, the glass is changing continuously and yet it retains its determinateness, its essential character as a glass. It is still this particular glass and not in pieces on the floor despite all the alterations taking place within it. Its indeterminateness is containable and does not break through the conditions of existence of the glass, do not abolish it as a coherent, stable object. Objects are only processes because they contain changes within an established framework, parameters, conditions of existence. Once that framework is shattered, a new process emerges, is posited and undergoes a period of development within a newly established framework with its associated, necessary conditions and parameters.

[3] Dialectics in Nature and Heuristic Function in the Natural Sciences

The world of objects is always more complex than our conceptions of it and always will be because its inexhaustibility and complexity determines this epistemological relationship to it. In other words, our conceptions are ‘limited in their actuality’ yet ‘unlimited in their disposition and potentiality’ (Engels). In this sense, I conceptually appropriate the object only approximately and this relation is not simply conditioned epistemologically by the nature of all our objects of investigation. It is also conditioned historically by the level at which investigative and research technique has arrived in the course of its socio-historical development. This is why knowledge in the Natural Sciences must always and will always contain within itself – regardless of time or place – a contradiction between itself as specific knowledge at a certain stage of development and the actual being of the object of investigation itself. Hence our knowledge of the object must be never ending. We are always approaching this ‘actuality’ in our conception but can never fully embrace it in its complexity.

Even the simplest mathematical equation is merely a formalised expression of dialectical relations in Nature; e.g. E = mc2, F = ma, etc; the description of precipitation reactions in Chemistry are the formalised conceptualisation of the actual dialectics of the reaction taking place in front of us in the reaction vessel, etc. For example, take Newton’s Law,  F = ma. This equation expresses an identity between the distinct variables of force, mass and acceleration or a distinction between variables in their identity as represented by the ‘=’ sign.

Force is identified as the product of mass and acceleration. But force, whilst being identical to mass times acceleration, is something more, in its moment of distinction, than merely the product of the two. The fact that different variables (representing different sides of a general relationship of motion) appear on opposite sides of the equal sign itself implies identification of distinct variables. The very existence of the equation itself denotes the distinctions within the identity and articulates dialectics in a formalised mathematical expression. If there were no distinction within the identity which is the equation, there would be no equation.

If we state that ‘Henry is a black cat’, Henry is always something more than his incomplete characterisation in the form of the universals ‘black’ and ‘cat’. However, being ‘black’ and a ‘cat’ are an intrinsic part of the being Henry, part of his identification as this specific creature which his keeper names ‘Henry’.

Force is the product of mass times acceleration and yet it is more than simply this product. To assert that force is absolutely identical with mass times acceleration is akin to asserting that the expressed outcome which is the whole is absolutely identical to the sum and product of its component parts without the distinction in which the whole is also greater than the summation and product of its parts.

‘Formal logic’ sees all identity with no distinction or all distinction with no identity. It always misses the distinction within the identity and vice versa. In other words, the positivist, empiricist, pragmatist, etc, would deny this latter principle. S/he would call it ‘illogical’ or, ironically, ‘contradictory’ as it is impermissible for contradiction to actually exist in the world of objects. Things, they would assert, are either different or the same  But the dialectician would acknowledge contradiction as an intrinsic part and expression of all forms of development and would recognise it expressed in the workings and equations of mathematics.

The mathematical equation represents an identification of different variables in a specific relationship with each other which reflects the real character of a specific relationship in Nature. Hence every mathematical equation is a formalised statement of dialectics, of contradiction within the world, however well disguised those relations may be within the formula itself.

If we are using dialectics as a means of investigation and discovery (heuristic function) then it would be absurd to use it if the world itself were not dialectical in its actual relations. Philosophically, if we proceeded on the basis of ‘evidence’ alone – which is the hallmark of the empiricist – the whole of the socialist project would not have come into being. The source of Marx’s theory was not ‘evidence’ alone. Marx uses dialectics in the elaboration of his conception in Capital where it animates his method and his form of presentation in Capital. Many natural scientists assert that contradiction is ‘irrational’ and a foible of defective thnking. 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, thinking or even in the physical apparatus which they are using. This, of course, is not to assert that that may not be possible.

The dynamics of social change and revolution actually demand dialectics as a way of understanding it. There is no denial of the scientific legitimacy, validity and achievements of ‘formal logic’ under certain conditions and parameters. If humanity wins through to socialism, and with later developments in the ‘true realm of freedom’, dialectics will eventually be incorporated into scientific method and eclipse the current forms of positivism and empiricism which rule it. Even now, in various areas of the natural sciences and in technology, a dialectical conception and appreciation of relations and properties is becoming necessary. For example, for pragmatic technological purposes, at the present stage, we can use formal logic to design computers but will that apply to the nth generation, etc? Here is a prediction from a computer philistine like me : it will not be that long before computer scientists designing the future generations of computers will come up against theoretical and technical limits (perhaps they have already done so?) which compel them to go beyond formal logic and enter the sphere of dialectics proper in order to design more advanced computers. The more the technology evolves, the more it will demand a conscious dialectical approach to the problems of design which will undoubtedly emerge.

There are still physicists who argue about whether light is a wave or particulate. And some answer that whether or not it is either is a function of the experimental conditions which we impose. We have TV celebrity physicists here in the UK (e.g., Jim Al Khalili, who has relatively recently published a book titled Paradox) who think paradox is a fault in reasoning, a defect in experimental method or a foible in scientific method. Such ‘advanced minds’ are trying to understand Nature without a grasp of the simple truth that Nature in all its forms is inherently paradoxical because it is in a constant state of alteration and development; in negation is simultaneously positing ‘otherness’ which movement stands as moment of paradox and source of its further movement. ‘Conflict is the engine of progress’ wrote Marx.

People like Al-Khalili are very able scientists but they are hampered in their work by being poor philosophers. Many appear to assume that because they are prominent scientists (some eminent in their particular field) they are automatically legitimate and ‘correct’ in their philosophical and heuristic approach to their area of research. When they encounter contradiction in their work, they do not actually consider that contradiction is truly indwelling within the physical phenomena and processes under study and that the specific forms of contradiction (‘paradox’) give the physical world its real sources of movement and energy. If they did consider the truth of this inherent structure of motion, their grasp of dialectics would serve an important heuristic function in their work, helping them in their thinking and discovery.

Hegel analyses formal logic as a necessary but limited form of thinking for specific purposes. It constitutes a form of ‘external’ (ausserlich) thinking which makes ‘abstract identity its principle’ (Logic, Part 1, Encyclopaedia, p 58) which is a denial of contradiction as source of change within Nature and Society. Opposed categories are conceptualised as being isolated from each other so that in their difference from each other (distinction) their relation, identity and unity is denied. Contradiction is conceptualised as an aberrant foible or defect of thinking. Hegel shows how formal logic considers all things through its law of ‘abstract understanding’ (Verstand) which denies the vitality and movement of the world as living contradiction. For formal logic, ‘A’ must always be absolutely identical with itself (A=A). ‘A’ cannot simultaneously be equal to itself and not equal to itself at the same time, for this would undeniably imply movement and contradiction. Thus, formal logic denies contradiction in the world of objects. 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.

If we acknowledge that Nature 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. Such an approach would be a more productive in terms of discovery and the development of human knowledge. Since Nature operates and evolves dialectically, this must mean that scientific method itself, sooner or later, must integrate a dialectical way of approaching its objects of investigation. Hence the method of approach becomes more consonant with the dialectical character of its object of research. The categories deployed in the natural sciences are themselves subject to evolution as our knowledge becomes deeper, more embracing and comprehensive. For example, the entry of the category of ‘Relativity’ at the start of the previous century. In order to develop a deeper conception of Nature we need to approach it with a method of thinking which is animated by dialectics. Undoubtedly, within the natural sciences, dialectics (compared to the  empiricism and positivism that currently pervades it) would be more productive as a heuristic guide in research. We only have to consider the questions and problems of today’s physics to see that; e.g. in Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, Cosmology, etc, and in such areas as Evolutionary Biology, Psychology, etc. [ see, for example, (1) Horz et al, Philosophical Problems in Physical Science, Marxist Educational Press, Minneapolis, 1980. (2) M.E. Omelyanovsky, Dialectics in Modern Physics, Progress Publishers ]

[4] Dialectical Conception of Causality

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. In giving rise to an effect, cause simultaneously determines itself through its relation to effect as cause. Cause determines 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 producer. Cause determines itself as cause as mediated through its effect and thus determines 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

[Hegel. Science of Logic (Vol. 2). George Allen and Unwin, London, 1929. p.204]

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. [ibid., p.199]

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. [ibid., p.199]

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. The combustion here 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. Reductionism is a type of formal causality (like the determinism of pre-Marxian Materialism) which contradicts this dialectical causality. Light a candle. Study it closely as it burns in a darkened room. You will see specifically the dialectics of the causality of the process at work.

[5] Relationship of ‘Concrete’ and ‘Abstract’ as Categories of Thought

No matter how “concrete” we become in our conception, the object retains within its own depth more secrets to discover and unveil. This renders our conceptions of Nature always, inherently, to a certain degree, “abstract”.  Every scientific conception contains a dialectic of the abstract and the concrete. This will continue to apply even if a heuristics, which is consciously dialectical in its approach, animates our methods of investigation in the Natural Sciences. If, for example, we study the behaviour of a sub-atomic particle in a variable magnetic field, no matter how “concrete” our determinations and understanding of its behaviour are, we can never fully embrace and articulate the object of investigation, never fully grasp it in its absoluteness, in the complexity and inexhaustibility of its ‘self-movement. Our knowledge of this phenomenon is always incomplete, relative, approximate but, nevertheless, is a definite, specific form of knowledge of it.

Lenin himself refers to dialectics as involving…

a de­tailed study of the pro­cess of de­vel­op­ment in all its con­crete­ness. One of the core prin­ciples of dia­lectics is that there is no such thing as ab­stract truth; truth is al­ways con­crete…..(Vol 38, Philosophical Notebooks)

Really? “Process of development in all its concreteness” is a metaphysical conception and not a dialectical one because Lenin identifies the world as “concrete”. In truth, the world is neither abstract nor concrete. Only concepts are an altering identity of both, with different, changing, relative degrees of concreteness and abstraction as our knowledge of the world deepens. If Lenin had been familiar with Marx’s writings on method in the Grundrisse, would he have made such a statement ? Lenin clearly did not grasp that the relationship between the “concrete” and the “abstract” is conceptual and dialectical. The world itself is neither concrete nor abstract. ‘Concrete’ and ‘abstract’ are categories which describe the relative and historically-conditioned degree of accuracy and precision of our knowledge of Nature resulting from its conceptual appropriation based on practice at a specific stage in the latter’s historico-technical development. The world of Nature is no more ‘concrete’ than it is ‘abstract’. Only thought appropriates it conceptually as an identity of both in which the “concrete” becomes “more concrete” (less abstract) as a intensifying concentration of interrelated abstractions. Every conception (in fact every word and term) is this identity of the concrete and the abstract which receive their determination in their dialectical relationship to each other and the relative degree of relations between the two. If “the truth were always concrete” and was not intertwined with a related degree of abstraction, then there would be no such ‘thing’ as “truth”. By its very nature, “truth” cannot be exclusively “concrete” even if we mislabel and misunderstand the world of objects with the word “concrete”. Since thought cannot exhaust its object, all conceptions must contain moments of abstraction and this must always be so, eternally, as long as people use science to seek to understand Nature. To assert that the world is “concrete” is not a dialectical proposition but is more in line with the precepts and paradigms of the methods of positivism and empiricism.

Write down any sentence (even the simplest) on a page and within that sentence are to be found the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete. Every conception, every statement or sentence is a relationship between different degrees of abstraction and concreteness. Whether that conception is commodity and capital, I and thou, etc. [Marginal Notes on Marx’s Method of Political Economy] . ‘The sleeping cat is black and white’ is more concrete than ‘The cat is black and white’ because it is a congerie of more determinations. Accordingly the second sentence is less concrete (or more abstract) than the first. A third description may contain more determinations regarding the cat and so be even more concrete. Every sentence, description, conception, etc, is therefore an identity of relative degrees of concreteness and abstraction which seeks to graps the world of objects, Nature, in their movement. But this world itself is neither concrete nor abstract.

[ See my work on Marx’s method of political economy : ]

The relationship between Nature’s forms and the conceptual content of our knowledge of them is always deepening so that our knowledge is always approaching more closely to the actuality of the object itself in its ‘self-relation and movement’. But this knowledge can never fully embrace the object in the totality of its existence independently of our conception. Nature (the Kantian “thing-in-itself”, Ding an sich) is not unknowable but it can never be fully appropriated by thought in the totality of its complexity and determinations. This was the outcome of Hegel’s critique of Kant’s ‘Ding an sich’.  We will never be able to sit back and fold our arms and say “Well, that’s it. We have done it. We know it all. We are all know-alls” and research and scientific thinking then comes to an end. Nature is inexhaustible and infinitely complex and diverse and hence our conceptions can only appropriate it approximately and relatively. But within our relative conception is subsumed this absolute relation. But it is Nature itself which is the ‘master’ in this relationship. Thought can never exhaust Nature but rather the latter keeps the former ‘on the run’.

[6] ‘Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice’

Man demonstrates the relative truth of his conceptions in practice, in technique, in struggle. We demonstrate that the object “for us” has a correspondence with the object “in and for itself”, independently of our conception of it. If this were not the case, the whole of scientific technique, medicine, technology, etc, would be built on quicksand. So, as Marx writes in the Theses on Feuerbach

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question. (Thesis 2)

Marx was struggling to establish a wholly new theoretical framework for a revolutionary conception and practice (“activity” “praxis”). His critique of “critical criticism” (Bauer, Stirner, etc) was a necessary part of the development of his revolutionary critique and the condensed outcome of this work is the Theses on Feuerbach. It was a document which fundamentally shifted the whole centre of gravity of philosophical thought. Some say it effectively abolished philosophy and that all philosophy ‘post-theses’ has merely been a return to pre-Marx philosophy but in different forms and guises. A major implication of the Theses : If practice is not the ultimate criterion of the correspondence of our conceptions of Nature with Nature itself, then we inevitably retreat into conceptions themselves, rationalistic or otherwise, so that conceptions become the ultimate criterion of themselves divorced from human practice. But Marx’s second thesis has revolutionary implications because it relates actual living struggle to the conception of that practice and its posited goals. The criterion of practice is, of course, to paraphrase Lenin, sufficiently definite to demonstrate the approximate truth of our conceptions yet it is also sufficiently indefinite to ensure that dogmatism does not develop in these conceptions, thereby allowing room for development in both our conceptions and practice.

[7] ‘Prediction’ and Dialectics

Are dialectics ‘predictive’ ? Well, I think it depends what we mean by ‘predictive’. Physics is predictive in the immediate sense in that we can predict the approximate degree of force at which a projectile hits a surface if we know its mass and acceleration. Using Relativity, we can predict how many micro or nanoseconds an atomic clock will lose if placed at higher altitudes under different gravitational conditions, or if subject to increased acceleration, compared to being stationary at sea level. In Chemistry, we can predict the properties of the next undiscovered or unsynthesised member in a homologous series of organic compounds such the Alkanes, Alcohols, Carboxylic Acids, etc. In the development of the Periodic Table (Periodicity), we accurately predicted the properties of elements before they were actually discovered. In fact, we predicted their very existence as well as their properties before discovery. In Biology, we can predict how a living system will behave if subjected to certain constraints, etc, homeostasis, and in Chemistry, in reaction kinetics, we have the Le Chatelier Principle, in Enzymology, the Michaelis-Menton Equation, etc.

I do not think dialectics is ‘predictive’ in this highly specific sense – which we find in the natural sciences – because in dialectics there are sublated elements of fatalism and, of course, scepticism preserved (not absolutely annihilated) within dialectical thinking in so far as the latter, 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 the latter, scepticism, the conception that how this trend of development will turn out in its particulars and detailed expression cannot be fully known. So this type of thinking (dialectics) is, in a certain sense, both predictive and not predictive at the same time. Predictive in a broad general sense but unpredictive in terms of the specificity of details.

For example, we cannot fully know how the unfolding structural crisis of the capital order will turn out in all its detail and particularity but we do know that this crisis will (indeed must) unfold globally, based on our studies in Marx, Meszaros, etc. Not predictive as in the Natural Sciences but nevertheless predictive in the broad dialectical conception of the term. This, of course, serves to orientate us in our theoretical and practical work (activity) i.e. in the intrinsic unity between them. [ See Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach ]

[8] Hegel’s Theology

Nature preceded Man historically and thus spatio-temporally as a totality of real, material, determinate forms, subject to alteration, subject to various forms of transformation, subject to evolution and ‘revolutions’ so to speak, etc. But not subject to any mediation by a ‘demiurgos’ or as an idea in the mind of God. It had real tangible existence. If this were not the case, we would not be here today. All this pre-human natural development takes specific forms according to the relations of each determinate form or process. The plant does not evolve in the same way as the primate because they are determinately different forms of life. The evolution in both is a dialectical process but this evolution is determinate, real, without the need for divinity, a demiurgos, etc. The dialectics of the process in each are absolutely identical to the actual specific process itself.

In this sense, Hegel and Hegelianism emphatically deny the existence of Nature prior to Man. As does Berkeley who denies the existence of Nature independently of the subject in his subjectivism. Berkeley propounded the doctrine that the forms of matter only exist for the conscious subject and not in and for themselves independently of the subject. Which is, of course, a denial of materialism. Berkeley essentially denies the materiality, the substantiality of the world outside of consciousness. The world, according to Berkeley, only exists if Iam aware of it. Hence the question of Nature predating human society is an immaterial question for Berkeley.

For materialism, whether Dr Johnson kicks the stone or not, the stone remains a determinate real material entity independently of consciousness just as Nature’s existence prior to Man is now an irrefutable and indispensable precept of Science. The stone has a history in geological time and has come to be as ‘this stone’ in front of me as a result of that real, material history, etc. The sandstone block which forms the doorstep to my house was formed as a result of the sedimentation and aggregation of sand particles in running water or sea water which were later subjected to high pressures and temperatures to form the rock. This process took place over millions of years before people or their primate ancestors even existed. It was mined in a Yorkshire quarry a century ago and now it is under my feet every day as I step out onto the street.

For Hegel, Nature cannot possibly precede Man. The Logic precedes Nature and Nature precedes Mind in the Encyclopaedia. Mind is the return of the ‘Notion’ to itself out of alienation in Nature, etc. For Hegel, Nature cannot precede Man in real, material forms, spatio-temporally, before consciousness emerges with Man. And, of course, all this is, as a whole, incompatible with Marx’s materialism. It is one thing to assert that thought reflects the material world in its various forms but it quite something else to assert that this world is ‘identical with our consciousness’.

Marx wrote that…

My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea”, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea”. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought (p.29, Volume 1 Capital, Lawrence & Wishart, 1954).

Marx, in my understanding, is asserting here that Hegel’s philosophy is, at root, theological, pantheistic and embracing a theological teleology with a reserved place for god and religion. This means Hegel’s philosophy presents, on inspection, as a sophisticated form of transfigured theology.

Hegel asserts the ultimate epistemological primacy of ‘The Idea’ over Nature. He is not Berkeleian in his theory of knowledge but nevertheless he is an idealist. Hegel speaks of the ‘Idea which has Being is Nature’ (italicisation SM). Of course, we need to grasp what Hegel means specifically by ‘The Idea’ which is differentiated from what is understood by empiricism and generally. However, regardless, his conception of ‘The Idea’ cannot be accommodated to the scientifically-verified proposition that Nature precedes Man historically and logically. To do so would require recourse to religion.

Marx wrote that…

Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. 

But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being. For example, the simplest economic category, say e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, moreover a population producing in specific relations; as well as a certain kind of family, or commune, or state, etc. It can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole.

As a category, by contrast, exchange value leads an antediluvian existence. Therefore to the kind of consciousness – and this is characteristic of the philosophical consciousness – for which conceptual thinking is the real human being, and for which the conceptual world as such is thus the only reality, the movement of the categories appears as the real act of production – which only, unfortunately, receives a jolt from the outside – whose product is the world itself; and – but this again is a tautology – this is correct in so far as the concrete totality is a totality of thoughts, concrete in thought, in fact a product of thinking and comprehending. [Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. Introduction, (3) The Method of Political Economy. p.101]

(SM : Marx, in my opinion, deploys the term ‘concrete’ problematically here as developed previously in section [5]. ‘Concrete’ and ‘abstract’ are categories of thought and not of the object. The world of objects is not ‘concrete’ as such but is merely appropriated in increasingly more concrete forms (progressively less abstract forms) of its conception as human thinking develops historically)

For example, Hegel reveals his ‘fall into this illusion’ in the Zusatz to section 234 (p.291, Logic, Encyclopaedia, Wallace Edn) where he writes of the distinction between ‘spirit and nature’ as being between one where the ‘latter moves only in a recurring cycle, while the former certainly also makes progress’. Nature, Hegel implies, does not ‘make progress’. In other words, for Hegel, there is only real development in thought itself or in the thought of Nature but not in Nature itself independently of thought.

For Hegel, the ‘Notion’ (Begriff) was an all-embracing conception. However, he frequently contradicts this all-embracing characterisation in his approach to Nature. Sometimes it is ‘indwelling in Nature’, sometimes ‘only in potentio’, and at other times, not at all. Only found in its real home in thought in which each being, in passing into its opposite, only passes into what is implicit within itself and yet remains itself within this identity and opposition with its other. However, a study of any form of movement shows that this ‘notional’ relation is found in all forms of development from the transformations of the sub-atomic particle to the development of the content of a scientific theory. In this sense, everything is ‘notional’ and Hegel’s conception actually corresponds universally to each and all forms of development. This, I think, is why we can characterise his Idealism as ‘objective’. This is also why Hegel characterises formal conceptions as not being capable of grasping the Notion which he refers to as Verstandliche, ausserlich, etc, and as being ‘finite conceptions’. However (and Hegel also notes this in the Logic) formal conceptions in the Natural Sciences are only limiting cases of dialectical thinking.

Hegel himself was influenced by Greek philosophy, especially Eleaticism, Plato and Aristotle. This, in turn, influenced the the formation of the  demiurgical character of Hegel’s philosophy which distinguishes ‘The Idea’ as universal in its relation with Nature or Mind. This distinction implies a pantheistic theology and teleology. It exposes Hegel to the assertion that his doctrine is dualistic at root because Nature, in its process of development, is not grasped as immanently dialectical but only dialectical as the ‘external’ animation and manifestation of ‘The Idea’.

The cosmos (inclusive of all forms of development) unfolds and evolves dialectically. This dialectic is not articulated as being metaphysically distinct from all this development and yet in some way being connected with it. Or even ‘indwelling’ in it like some mystical or imparted force or ‘demiurgos’. Rather the specific forms, in their variety, of this cosmic development are simply the absolute identity of this development with dialectic itself. Without the need for any thought or demiurgos whatsoever. And, as Marx writes, reflected in the human mind in various forms of thought only when Man as species comes into being after millions of years of prehistoric development.

[9] Note on Philosophical Relationship of Marx to Hegel

Hegel himself, student, 19 years of age when the French Revolution broke out in 1789, was impacted by all the unfolding events in the course of and subsequent to this revolution. The French Revolution had a deep and profound philosophical and political influence on Hegel’s development as a thinker. In so far as Hegel (1770-1831) was a contemporary of these momentous events and a student of them, they served as an impulse in the development of his thought. It is also worth noting that Fichte’s Science of Knowledge was published in 1794 which was the year in which the French Revolution reached its high point of development, the Terror, the overthrow of Robespierre’s regime (Thermidor), followed by the Directory.

Hegel assimilated ‘the vantage point of capital’. Meszaros covers this in the first chapter of Beyond Capital in which he looks at Hegel’s conception of ‘universal permanent capital’. Marx also remarks that Hegel’s outlook is consonant with that of classical bourgeois political economy which is so ‘cooped up’ with its own categories as being as ‘natural’ as daylight and not as historically originated categories. Hegel’s conception of the ‘universal permanent capital’ (in the Rechtsphilosophie) parallels Adam Smith’s conception of capitalism as being a naturally-ordained order. As with classical bourgeois political economy in general, Smith saw the capital system as being as permanent as a law of Nature. Classical political economy critiqued feudalism as a historically transient order only to arrive at bourgeois society which is the ‘universal permanent’ order. It saw feudalism as a transient form that necessarily led up to itself as the permanent form. Marx, in the Grundrisse, remarks that Christianity approached Paganism along similar lines.

Marx was a student of Hegel all his life. He always gave Hegel his due. Marx was not deterministic in his evalution of the relationship between thought and ‘Being’. His understanding of the historicity of thought was not ‘one-sided’ This is often stated by academics here in the Britain and the US, i.e. that Marx was an ‘economic determinist’ or ‘reductionist’ in that he grasped the development of human thought as simply the ‘product of conditions’ without acknowledging that thought itself is simultaneously a mediating producer of conditions, guiding practice and change. Marx, of course, addresses this question directly in the Theses on Feuerbach. He locates his centre of gravity within materialism but that does not mean he was ‘one-sided’. The Theses represent a fundamental break with both Feuerbach and previous forms of materialism in terms of their ‘contemplative’ naturalistic form. The ‘active side’ integrated into Marx’s materialism (dialectics) was developed by the idealism of previous German philosophy. But Marx breaks with Hegel (The German Ideology, The Holy Family, etc) in terms of epistemology, practice, etc. This is why Marx said that his method was the inverse of Hegel’s method.

Marx resolves the historic philosophical problems of dualism which are found residing and well hidden in Hegel and his predecessors like Descartes. Man is an active yet distinct part of Nature and human thought is a product of Man’s relationship with Nature and mediates that relationship. But in terms of the relationship between the conceptual content of our knowledge of Nature and Nature itself, this dualism is also resolved. Marx does not deny the ‘mental’ or the ‘ideal’ but locates it historically and epistemologically within the conditions of its actual creation and development as both product and producer which is always mediating social development. Marx’s critique of Hegel enabled him to move on in his overall conception. However, even when he was writing Capital in the 1850s and 1860s, he was using the Science of Logic as a guide in his work.

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? In a study of these writings I think we can discern an understanding of Marx’s approach and that would help us in our approach to current events. 2018 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 an articulation of the unfolding events of the times. Marx himself intended to write a ‘few pages’ on the ‘rational kernel’ enclosed within the ‘mystical shell’ (Ideenmystik) in Hegel. But it seems that formally he didn’t get round to it. Lenin, however, states (in his Philosophical Notebooks, Volume 38, Collected Works) that Marx did leave us the ‘logic of Capital

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’, etc, in our approach but where does that lead us in a world which is riven with paradoxes, an unfolding complex of contradictions and not simply a mechanical assemblage of the ‘ready made’ ?

In Trotsky’s notebooks*, Max Eastman was posing similar questions in his day. What is the ‘practical use’ of the dialectic? It contradicts ‘common sense’, ‘science’, etc. Eastman sought to drown the dialectic in the fine traditions of American pragmatism, Dewey, James, etc. The philosophy of ‘The Man who built America’. That is, the man of and for capital. Not of those who really ‘built’ America with their labour on the basis of the mass murder and expropriation of the ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples. Later Eastman became a right-wing reactionary.

*Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism. (Translated, Annotated and with Introductory Essays by Philip Pomper, 175 pp) New York, Columbia University Press, 1986.

Is there then a dialectic for theory and a different one for activity determined by positivistic and pragmatic paradigms? The realpolitik of the global representatives of capital is based on such paradigms. But this realpolitik is very clearly rooted in and articulates the interests of global capital; this is the ‘bottom line’ so to speak.

Shaun May

August 2018


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Rome and Recycling

Rome and Recycling

I have been doing some studies in the history of the Roman Republic. And seeking to understand the dynamics of the class struggles in this period of Roman history. I have reached the second century (BCE) and the struggle between the Plebeian and Patrician classes as manifest in the fight of the Gracchi tribunes for land reform, etc. An understanding of the class struggles over land reform, and their origins, in the Roman Republic are fundamental to a grasp of the character of the whole period.

This was also the century in which Rome finally vanquished its long standing traditional enemy in the western Mediterranean, Carthage. According to accounts, the teenage Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was the first soldier over the walls of Carthage when they were breached in 146 BCE.   The Romans completely destroyed the Punic culture of ancient Carthage. The people of ancient Carthage (as with the later Dacians in present day Romania) were subjected to one of Rome’s genocides. Those still alive and able to work were sold off as slaves. Rome improved and developed its agriculture and shipbuilding on the basis of the knowledge and techniques appropriated from the defeated Carthaginians. According to tradition, Carthage was founded in the ninth century BCE. The city was completely destroyed and dismantled after the Romans conquered it at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BCE. Trajan adopted the same approach to the Dacians at the beginning of the second century CE. Carthage itself was rebuilt by the Romans in later centuries and by the fourth century (CE) was one of the major cities of late Empire.

When cities were sacked in antiquity, they often constituted a readily available source of building materials such as stone blocks and columns, etc. It was sometimes easier to simply ‘recycle’ materials in new building projects rather than having to use labour to cut them out of a virgin rockface or mine. If destroyed cities were to be rebuilt on site, old serviceable materials could be reused in the foundations and new buildings. Some stone buildings erected in Britain after the Roman occupation often contained material taken from decaying Roman buildings such as villas and civic structures as evidenced by Latin inscriptions, etc, on the ‘recycled’ stonework. This can still be seen today, for example, in some churches and chapels in Britain built close to or within Roman towns.

Last night I was also listening to a radio programme on the ‘Throw Away Society’. Apparently, there are more metals and precious metals in an average ton of landfill refuse (as a percentage of mass) than there are in the actual ores which are mined. For example, a ton of landfill refuse contains more Aluminium than a ton of Bauxite. But this also applies to precious metals like Silver, Gold, Platinum and Rare Earth Metals which are important in the production of ICT devices, Mobile Phones, etc. Many companies are now mining landfill sites because it takes less labour time to recover the metals in these sites than it does to recover them from their natural ores. As long as the price of metals on the world market remains at levels which correspond to the labour time required to extract them from their natural ores, then these landfill mining activities will net the companies involved a surplus profit above the average.

Ref :

Shaun May

August 2018

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From Trotsky’s Notebooks (On Psychology)

From Trotsky’s Notebooks (On Psychology)

These quotes on consciousness and psychology are taken directly from Trotsky’s Notebooks.

Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935. Writings on Lenin, Dialectics and Evolutionism.(Translated, Annotated and with Introductory Essays by Philip Pomper, 175 pp)New York, Columbia University Press, 1986.

“Consciousness is a quite original part of nature, possessing peculiarities and regularities that are completely absent in the remaining part of nature. Subjective dialectics must by virtue of this be a distinctive part of objective dialectics – with its own special forms and regularities” [p102]

“The brain is the material substrate of consciousness. Does this mean that consciousness is simply a form of ‘manifestation’ of the physiological processes in the brain? If this were the state of affairs, then one would have to ask: What is the need for consciousness? If consciousness has no independent function, which rises above physiological processes in the brain and nerves, then it is unnecessary, useless; it is harmful because it is a superfluous complication – and what a complication!” [p104]

“The presence of consciousness and its crowning by logical thought can be biologically and socially “justified” only in the event that it yields positive vital results beyond those which are achieved by the system of unconscious reflexes. This presupposes not only the autonomy of consciousness (within certain limits) from automatic processes in the brain and nerves, but the ability of consciousness to influence the action and functions of the body as well. What kind of switches serving consciousness are there for achieving these goals? These switches clearly cannot possess a material character, or else they would be included in the chain of anatomic-physiological processes of the organism and could not play an independent role consisting of their prescribed functions. Thought operates by its own laws, which we can call the laws of logic; with their help achieving certain practical outcomes, it switches on the last (with more or less success) in the chain of our life activities”. [p104, 106]

“It is well known that there is an entire school of psychiatry (“psychoanalysis.” Freud) which in practice completely removes itself from physiology, basing itself upon the inner determinism of psychic phenomena, such as they are. Some critics therefore accuse the school of Freud of idealism. That psychoanalysts are frequently inclined toward dualism, idealism, and mystification.” [p106]

“But by itself the method of psychoanalysis, taking as its point of departure “the autonomy” of psychological phenomena, in no way contradicts materialism. Quite the contrary, it is precisely dialectical materialism that prompts us to the idea that the psyche could not even be formed unless it played an autonomous, that is, within certain limits, an independent role in the life of the individual and the species.” [p106]

“All the same, we approach here some sort of critical point, a break in all the gradualness, a transition from quantity to quality: the psyche, arising from matter, is “freed” from the determinism of matter, so that it can independently—by its own laws—influence matter.” [p106]

Shaun May

August 2018

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