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Adam Smith Quote

Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.


Adam Smith


The Wealth of Nations, V. I. 12.


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Alma Mater

Alma Mater

I read Biochemistry and Chemistry at the University of Hull in the 1980s and had academic and student friends in various ‘Humanities’ departments. The diversity of ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ departments produced a varied academic and cultural atmosphere within the university. At this time, Thatcher had just come to power and the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda was taking off. When I returned to the University in the 1990s to undertake postgraduate studies in Education, the situation had completely changed.

The ‘senate’ (the governing body of the university) was now dominated by the representatives of local large businesses like British Aerospace, Reckitt Benckiser, Smith & Nephew, BP, etc. Private capital had a majority (and therefore an effective veto) on this body. The whole trajectory of the work of the university had become utterly re-orientated towards addressing and servicing the needs of big capital and this was completely reflected in the changes which had taken place in the departments and the courses which they offered. From now on, ‘pure’ was out and ‘applied ‘ was in. ‘Pure’ was ‘toast’. ‘Applied’ was ‘tutti’.

Departments were closed down and courses axed if they diverged too widely from the material interests and ‘developmental’ demands of capital. Courses were modified in order to make them more appealing to funding from private capital or other associated bodies. The area of ‘Business Studies’ across higher education boomed like a plague of rats in a rich medieval autumn harvest. At Hull, a whole building was dedicated to the false and fetishistic nonsense called ‘Business Studies’. In the philosophy department, for example, applied and medical ethics replaced ‘purer’ forms of study. The whole Maths department was axed and replaced by a couple of roving Mathematicians who serviced the mathematical needs of other courses. Many Mathematicians were ‘poached’ by the University of York up the road. Philistinism was too mild a word to describe what they actually did to the university. Language departments were binned. The Vice-Chancellor became a figure of hate amongst some academics. ‘Tenure’ was axed. Insecurity of employment (casualisation and precarisation) became established and structured into teaching posts in the universities. Teachers were paid by the ‘module’ taught. Many ended up in the dole queue.

The Chemistry and Engineering departments became totally enthralled to private capital. I understand the Computer Studies department is also like that today. I remember feeling like persona non grata in the Biochemistry department, even in the early 1980s, because I was a “known Marxist” active in the university and local community. The Chairholder of the department knew all the local establishment figures like the local Police Chief, top Businessmen and the like. Politically and philosophically, the Biochemists were such a conservative crowd. The hostility to socialism from some was almost visceral. It was the reactionary trend in the ‘middle class’ at its worst. Even racism was to be found in the department. I was told in no uncertain terms by the departmental professor that if I didn’t pay a fine to the university library on an overdue book (Lenin, Volume 38, I recall), I would not be permitted to graduate and not given references for employment. The professor discussed my ‘case’ with the chief university librarian who, at that time, was the poet Philip Larkin. Larkin had marked right-wing politics with racist tendencies. He was the butt of student jokes at the time, especially in regard to his pornography collecting habits. He lived in Pearson Park off Princes Avenue in Hull for 18 years and was a regular commuter on his bike between home and the Brynmor Jones Library, suitably clad in raincoat and bicycle clips. The local kids who encountered him in the park on his bike addressed him as “Phil” with the regular refrain “Hey Phil, give us a poem”.

When I was studying Biochemistry, anybody with a 2.2 degree could get a grant for fees and funding of expenses from the UK state to study for a Postgraduate Diploma/Masters as a prelude, if desired, to go on to study for a PhD. Research funded by private capital was unusual in the Biochemistry department. I recall one solitary postgrad who was receiving a grant from a local brewery to investigate the role played by Dimethylsulphoxide in Lager. Everybody was highly bemused about it, cracked jokes, and I recall the recipient of the grant being somewhat furtive and embarrassed about it.

Today, graduates with sparkling first class degrees in any subject are extremely fortunate to get a grant from anywhere. Many are on the dole (the ‘welfare’ in the US). And this even applies to Oxford and Cambridge graduates. Most funding now actually originates directly out of the pockets of private capital or its agencies. They dictate what they are interested in and they seek somebody to do the research to get the answers which will service the moneygrubbing requirements of capital. If you wish to research Hegel or Marx, or any thinker, they look at you as if you have just been beamed across intergalactic space from an unknown planet. There is a continuous mad rush to get onto vocational courses which take you directly onto the path of an ‘applied’ career like Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Science, Accountancy, Pharmacy, Computer Technology, etc. In some quarters, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, History, etc, are seen as areas of personal interest which you can study without the aid of a university and its facilities. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what will happen to them in the not too distant future.

In the UK, the whole university and further education system is now totally geared towards meeting the needs of capital and its various agencies. So much so that education is now seen as a ‘market’ like any other market by investors. The whole system of funding fees for courses and providing living expenses for students comes out of the coffers of profit-seeking, private money capital. At the end of the course, students are liable for the full debt with interest i.e. for fees and expenses. But all funding by finance capital is actually underwritten by the state power itself. If they don’t get their principal returned back with interest from debtor students, then the state power will make sure they do as an insurance policy. The capitalist moneygrubbers and profiteers are in a win-win situation.

Shaun May

January 2018

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Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’

Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’

‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ by the German film director Werner Herzog is a wonderful, mesmerising and profoundly moving film. He deserved all the awards and praise he received for the film and more. Set in the Ardeche region of France, the film focusses on the cave paintings and remains of human Palaeolithic life in the Chauvet cave.

Today, whilst shopping in the local supermarket, I thought to myself…”What kind of society, of human being, have we created today in the age of capital’s break down? We must go forward, regardless of the cost, and put an end to all this nonsense and brutality”. I sat and thought about the concept of “progress” and wondered if we are in fact “lower” than Palaeolithic man in many respects.

What particularly moved me in the film was the incredible depiction of the movement of the horses and lions and the way in which the cave dwellers caught and animated the expressions on their faces and even in their eyes. It revealed a profoundly intimate and deeply respectful relationship which these men and women had with these wonderful, beautiful creatures.

And when I think of people today in the age of capital’s crisis –  and the terror, suffering, cruelty (this cruelty is the worst of all; we must struggle to create a world without this cruelty) and the most barbarous forms of brutality which they are inflicting on Nature’s creation – it disturbs me to the point of nausea. The end of the grotesque ugliness and pure unadulterated evil of commodifying Nature’s living creation for the profit of moneygrubbers must be one of the first decrees of the revolution in power.

This is the age of terror for Nature’s creation because it is the age of capital-in-crisis. That age must be put to the sword. The epoch of capital must be destroyed. Once and for all. Regardless of what it is going to take. We need our agencies of revolution to prosecute this struggle beyond the point of return for capital and its state powers. To steamroller into the dust of human history for good. Never to return.

Shaun May

January 2018



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Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency

The following PDF link is a more expanded version of my published book given in previous posts . For example, the ‘hard copy’ version contains references only to material which was unquoted in the text whereas this version – which is longer and more developed – contains the inclusion of the quoted material directly into the text. Please feel free to share the link. The title of the book is ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’



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PDF copy of my book ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

Access is available at the following link to a free, downloadable pdf copy of my book ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

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Publication of ‘Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency’

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Book to be Published

My book Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency will be published and available in hard copy and electronic format in March 2017.

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Forthcoming Book

Forthcoming book to be published by international publisher :

Capital-in-Crisis, Trade Unionism and the Question of Revolutionary Agency

by Shaun May

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Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism (Part 2)

Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism (Part 2)

Dialectic of Whole and Parts

The whole as the totality (the “exponent”) of its interacting and intermediating parts. Each part is mediated by the whole. The whole is mediated by each part and the intermediation of the parts. The whole is the “summation” of the parts and yet it is qualitatively more than this. The life and development of the object arises from the conflict of opposites within itself. Each object is the ‘exponent’ of this “summated” opposition. It is an identity that is a product of this opposition and yet, as a whole, it is qualitatively different and distinct from it. This is an example of what Hegel refers to as the ‘Identity of identity and difference’ in the Doctrine of Essence.

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

contains the independence of the sides and equally their transcendedness, and it contains both in one relation. The whole is the independent and the parts are only moments of this unity; but equally they too are the independent and their reflected unity is only a moment; and each is its independence just something relative to the other. Thus, this relation is itself immediate contradiction and cancels itself (Hegel. Science of Logic Vol. 2., p.144., Unwin & Allen, 1929).

Elaborating further, Hegel concludes that…

The whole and the parts therefore condition each other; (…….) the whole is the condition of the parts, but also (…..) is only in so far as it has the parts for presupposition (Ibid p.145)

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

Whole and parts are indifferent to each other and have independent persistence, but also they are essentially related and constitute only one identity. The relation therefore is the antinomy that the one moment, in freeing itself from the other, immediately introduces the other (Ibid p.148)

Each side – the whole taken in opposition to the parts and vice versa – in repelling the other side from itself simultaneously relates itself to it in a process of identity with it. Each side, in asserting its independence, reveals its dependence and necessary connection to the other side. Each side can only exist in a state of unity with the other because they are in relation to each other as discrete moments in the continuity of their relation.The whole is a complex dialectical totality. Not a “one-way street”, no matter how “heavy the traffic is”.

The whole is a totality of intermediating contradictions. In the life of the whole, these contradictions are simultaneously “external” and “internal” to each other. Their relationship is organic; a unity in which the whole develops as the “exponent” of their dialectical interrelations. Within the movement of the whole, each part is continuous with the others but within this continuity each part maintains its determining and determined discreteness. The whole is a complex of discrete yet continuous parts so that what is determined is simultaneously determining. The autonomy of each part is simultaneously its negation and therefore the positing of its opposite. What is autonomous is also determined and determining as the product of relation and being in relation. The autonomous is “infected” with dependency and this dependency imparts a relative autonomy to its related parts and determinations

When we study Marx’s Capital, for example, he starts with the commodity and the contradiction between use-value and value. We can see that the commodity is the “cell of capitalist economy”, the “cell of bourgeois society” (Lenin, Volume 38, Collected Works). Henceforth, in his exposition, the word ‘commodity’ is mentioned on nearly every page of all three volumes. It subsists as an essential moment in the reproduction of capital. But the category of ‘capital’ remains a more concrete category than ‘commodity’. Marx shows that the principal, more concrete category is ‘capital’. Capital cannot be grasped simply within the nature of the category of ‘commodity’. In this undeveloped form, capital cannot be understood as category and therefore as real social relation. The whole is more concrete than the part because it is the unity of the many and diverse parts and determinations which historically have served to constitute it as the whole per se.

Feudal Relations

When Marx writes that “the Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism” he was merely articulating his materialist conception of history in relation to feudalism. Under feudalism, social relations were more directly and transparently “political” because of the transparent character of these social relations. Both serf and lord knew exactly how much necessary and surplus labour time was accruing to each. The Church – itself in fief and subinfeudated to the Crown – served as a directly ideological and political mechanism for maintaining and perpeuating these relations.

In feudal society –where the dominant mode of labour was bond labour – the serf was compelled to perform labour duties on the lord’s land. The mode of appropriation of this form of labour took a very direct, transparent form in that there was a fragmentation of labour time between the serf’s plot of land and that of the feudal lord. Essentially, labour on the lord’s land was appropriated directly as surplus labour in the form of material produce for direct consumption by the lord’s retinue. Later, the increasing encroachment of commodity production and exchange (and hence money economy) increasingly forces this appropriation in money payments so that as this stage opens up and unfolds (in England, roughly the 14th and first half of the 15th century) feudal economy is already irredeemably sinking into the quicksand of history.

One of the major demands of the revolt of the English peasantry in 1381 was the abolition of serfdom. An irreversible process had commenced within which the peasantry were not only starting to work as agricultural day wage-labourers on the lands of a rising class of agricultural landowning commodity producers but sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed, opposing petty bourgeoisie independently of the guild system in the towns. The continuation of feudal obligations merely interfered with the development of this unstoppable historical process and hence the clamour during the 1381 revolt for the abolition of feudal obligations. It was this nascent petit bourgeoisie that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country at the end of the 14th century. The revolt of 1381 was not the attempt to overthrow firmly established feudal relations – despite the demand for the end of serfdom – but was rather a clarion call to proclaim that these feudal relations were already dead and that the age of capital and wage labour was beckoning.

The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour on the lord’s land as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic excrescence and expression of these relations) confronts the class of serfs as divinely ordained and instituted in hostile opposition to them. Here Catholicism plays its historical ideological role.

Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but it only does so – as a generalised and dominant social process – under those historical conditions created by capital; conditions which it has created and reproduces daily in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Labour creates value but itself as a form of human energy has no value. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where objectification ceases to take alienated form.

Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes reified as a material component in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The social relation between wage labour and capital is reified as ‘a relationship between things’, material components which enter into the process of the production of material ‘goods’ which are simply ‘sold’ on the market ‘place’ for that ‘thing’ money, hopefully at a profit. These historically-determinate, social relations become buried under a dungheap of reification and take on the appearance of being laws of Nature. This is a source of the opaqueness of these relations under capitalism and a reason why their political manifestations do not have the same degree of immediate clarity as they did under the feudal mode of production.

Hegel’s “Universal Permanent Capital”

Hegel writes of the “universal permanent capital” in the Rechtsphilosophie. Hegel’s “End of History”. Here we have a direct expression of the conflict between Hegel’s method and the product of that same method. The conflict between a revolutionary method, on the one hand, and the erected edifice of a conservative system, on the other. This concept of the “universal permanent capital” finds its fullest correlation and expression in the system of globalised capital today. In this sense, Hegel is the ideologist par excellence of this system of globalising capital of the 21st century. This “universal permanent capital” as the Weltgeist of the 21st century

The Specificity of the Natural and Social Forms of Contradiction.

Contradiction is not an irrational foible of mind. It is real. The world is – taken as a totality – a paradox of countless, innumerable paradoxes. The world (Nature) is immanently dialectical in its infinite variety and multiplicity of forms and relations. Dialectical thinking merely reflects this in thought itself.
Dialectic is not simply a “logical shadow” or “ghost” of Nature’s forms. But these forms are the real instantiations of dialectic itself expressing the absolute identity of natural form and dialectic independently of their scientific reflection in thought.

Every phenomenon, formation, thing, relation, etc, is a paradox of countless paradoxes. The infinitude of the finite. Things as being “infinitely complex and inexhaustible in their actual content” (Lenin). Our conceptions can only appropriate the thing approximately, relatively, historically. There is always more to know. Knowledge as an abyss into which we forever, eternally sink. The contradictions in the physical, chemical, biological, etc, are interrelated and mediate each other. But we cannot reduce one to the other. Each has its own distinct contradictions. We are dealing with different levels of complexity. Dialectics opposes reductionism in all its forms. It would be absurd to reduce the social to the natural, for example, or the biological to the chemical.

Contradiction animates its own development and disappearance. Its very dynamic is this unfolding and resolution. To be alive is itself a living contradiction. At any given moment, one is both extending one’s life whilst at the same time approaching closer to death. Anabolism and Catabolism involve each other simultaneously. Metabolism is the unity of these two opposed cellular processes. Death is the transcendence of this contradiction which animates life itself. Whilst alive, one is both living and dying at the same time. But death is the extinguishing of this contradiction and is beyond its dynamic.

The contradictions in any individual formation are its particular instantiated contradictions which are specific to it and expressed in its own individualised forms. For example, the contradictions of US capitalism are related to those of British capitalism (they are both contradictions of capitalism) and yet they are different because they are specifically the contradictions of US and British capitalism. If we state that “France is capitalist”, this identifies the individual with the universal. The individual is the universal and yet the distinction between “France” and “capitalist” is maintained. This is why every mathematical equation and every sentence contains dialectics. The specific character of the object determines our approach to it in practice. Each sphere (and aspects of the given sphere) require different approaches or variations and modulations in approach, etc.

What Hegel revealed to us – in abstracto – is the internal structure and dynamic of all forms of contradiction. In this regard, Hegel is important in Method. But, of course, contradiction takes specific historical form. Because Hegel develops his dialectic in the form of the exposition of the “Idea”, starting with Being, it presents itself as an unfolding process, a progression from the abstract to the increasingly concrete. Each succeeding category embodies and expresses the total antecedent exposition sublated within itself.

Contradiction drives the life and vitality of the object and its continual return into itself. Negated negation is found in the study of the determinate character of things. In their continual movement beyond (negation) themselves and return into themselves in re-affirmation (negated negation) of their positive existence as “this particular thing”, etc. A return to the old which is an irreversible advance beyond it. I wake up this morning. I go through the day. I wake up the following morning. I have returned to “myself” but I am not “myself” since I have also moved beyond that “self” of the previous morning, etc. So this return is also an advance. The seasons come and go and return the following year. But the Summer of this year is distinct from the Summer of last year, etc.

Each side of any contradiction mediates each other (intermediation). It is this intermediation which constitutes ground [the identity and unity] of the contradiction and the mutually determining and negating conflicting sides of the contradiction. In this unity, each side is what it is only in so far as each side mediates the existence of each other. The world exists as a unified, unfolding process of development animated by contradiction in its different social and natural forms. The world is precisely these contradictory determinate forms animated by their immanently contradictory character.

The Twentieth Century

“In the twentieth century the objective conditions for the social revolution had in fact not matured; and this is contrary to what many of us – not without cause – believed. They were coming to maturity only over (say) the last quarter of the century – in today’s conditions of the onset of capitalism’s structural crisis and globalisation”

[C. Slaughter., Not Without A Storm, Chpt 8, Index Books, p.286]

It is within this context that we can locate and understand the whole nature of capitalist development within the twentieth century. And, more importantly, our response to it and our activities as communists in the course of this past century’s development. Moreover, we can proceed – with a more concrete degree of adequacy – to seek to grasp the underlying conditions which led to defeats and betrayals of one kind or another in which millions of people perished under the rule of capital. We can also fully grasp why Social Democracy and Stalinism were capable of delivering millions into the hands of Fascism and the Gulags. Today, as capital’s structural crisis broadens and deepens, the roadblock of Stalinism to the emergence of new forms of revolutionary agency has vanished with the fall of its historical basis since 1989. Stalinism has done significant damage to the struggle for socialism but its fall has removed an obstacle – to that same struggle – the significance of which cannot be overestimated. Those forces which led the “anti-imperialist struggle” in the 20th century have now become transformed into the agents of globalising capital at the start of the 21st century. Only now – as the global crisis of capital deepens and unfolds in the course of the 21st century – does Luxemburg’s dictum of “Socialism or Barbarism” (Junius Pamphlet, 1916) truly and fully come into its own. The deepening and sharpening of the contradictions of the global capital system in crisis starts to comprehensively destroy the social and natural conditions for the new society. But in this unfolding crisis it also drives the necessity for the movement towards socialism (as the dominant historical tendency which is implicit in this development). It heightens the possibilities of the growth of this socialist movement against capital. But, as we can see, it is a contradictory development. Socialism is not the inevitable outcome of the present stage. It only becomes an inevitability when all the conditions for the elimination of capital and its state powers have been assembled to be replaced by socialist society. The further descent into barbarism is equally posible without the positing of these necessary conditions. The turn is to the global proletarait. We cannot wait for the apple to ripen and simply fall from the tree. The tree must be shaken with all our might and power, audacity, ruthlessness, energy, through the requisite agencies of global social revolution. Only then will the apples fall in order to be harvested.

Shaun May

September 2014



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Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]

Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]
Criterion of Truth

Lenin refers to practice (Marx : “activity”) as the ultimate criterion of truth. He writes that this criterion is sufficiently definite to give us a relatively truthful conception of Nature but sufficiently indefinite to prevent us falling into dogmatism. The conditions of what is or is not possible for human beings to know are not fixed but historically mobile and a function of the theoretical-technical stage at which scientific research has arrived. For example, we could not have elucidated the structure of DNA in the nineteenth century because our techniques and theory in the Natural Sciences had not sufficently advanced to the required stage. Engels writes of human knowledge being limited in its actuality but unlimited in its potential and disposition. Here Engels is referring, implicitly, to the fact that the conditions for the possibility of knowledge are historically posited and negatable in their specificity to higher stages of human scientific praxis.

The Conception and the “Thing-in-itself”

Lenin and Trotsky criticised Kant’s idealism. That the synthesis of the “Categories” creates the world we perceive is what Lenin critiqued Mach for in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. He wrote that Mach converged to Berkeley’s subjective idealism in such a conception. Mach was asserting that the electron was only “our idea of the electron”. Lenin (in Volume 38) wrote that the logical categories are the “shadows of the real world” but are not this world per se. But our scientifically verifiable (in practice) conceptions of the electron, for example, correspond to its real character but are not and never can be fully exhaustive of the reality of this aspect of Nature. For example, we can predict its approximate behaviour under specified conditions on the basis of our scientific conception of it. But the correspondence of its behaviour to our prediction is only approximate.

Category of Appearance

Marx wrote that if “appearance” always corresponded to the “essence of things” there would be no need for science. Appearance is a contradictory presentiment because it can serve simultaneously as both “veil” of essence and “gateway” to essence. The function of science is to go through the gateway beyond the veil and descend down into a never ending abyss of human knowledge. The asymptotic character of human knowledge is determined by the ontological nature of its objects of investigation in Nature itself. Nature is a bottomless pit as far as knowledge is concerned. Our conceptions of Nature can only appropriate it relatively with a historically alterable degree of concreteness. This must mean that these scientific conceptions are subject to their own abstract-concrete dialectic in the actual development of their conceptual content.

Hegel’s “Transition” from “Being” to “Nothing”

Hegel begins with the “logical” category of Being. This is why the beginning of the ‘Logic’ is highly problematic. He begins with Being indeterminate which is Being without any determinate content and hence pure being as the most abstract of categories which is equal to “isness”. By starting with the Being of the “Idea”, Being and Nothing are posited as absolutely identical. This means that Being is posited without any determinate content (and therefore necessary mediation) in order to take us from Being to Nothing. To make the transition from Being to Nothing. How can we move from one category to another without mediation of content? Mediation implies distinction between the posited category and the derived category in terms of animating content. But since both are absolutely identical – with no differentiating content to mediate in the first part of the ‘Logic’ – this implies that Hegel actually imports ‘Nothing’ rather than deriving it. The “mediation” between Being and Nothing is strictly formal and hence is no real mediation at all. The dialectical logic of Hegel commences with a formal logic. Studying the relevant sections of the first part of the ‘Logic’, we see that the so-called transition from Being to Nothing is simply a formalised identification which immediately posits “Becoming” (Werden) without any mediation. In a certain sense, Hegel simply starts with the whole complex because he cannot derive pure Nothing from pure Being. There is no mediating content which enables him to do so. This, of course, is because he is working within the realm of the abstract “Idea”. In other words, Hegel is with God ab initio. The god of Parmenides (Eleaticism) (Being) + the god of Buddha (Nothing) = the god of Heraclitus (Becoming). And the consummation of this indeterminate formal beginning is the realised “Absolute Idea” which is the revelation and immanence of God.

Hegel’s Doctrine of Essence

The summa summarum of the Doctrine of Essence is the concept of dialectical relation. All things are only self-related insofar as they are in relation-to-other and vice versa. Self-relatedness is simultaneously relation-to-other and vice versa but in this identity each relatedness is distinct from the other. Spinoza was influential here. For example, capital and wage labour, particle physics “symmetry”, etc. The class struggle. Opposites, each of which can only be what they are as a result of their mutual relation and negative relation to each other. In this negative relation, they posit and reaffirm each other. Reciprocality in relation is the central conception in the Doctrine of Essence. Hence relation can only be dialectical. Never formal. Interpenetration and mutually conditioning and determining opposites. i.e., the unity of conflicting opposites.

Actual and Possible

The mediated totality is the unity of the possible and the actual in which each is continuously becoming transformed into the other. Actuality (its conditions) is the ground of possibility and possibility consumes these conditions in its becoming actual and therefore positing a higher actuality. A higher actuality becomes posited out of the consumption of the conditions of actuality. This is the transformation of the possibility into actuality on the consumption of the conditioning grounds of its own existence as the possible. Thus Hegel : “when all the necessary conditions are actually present, the thing enters into existence”. i.e. the possible becomes actual.

Mediation, Contradiction and Return

The posited passes beyond itself into its other (absolute negativity) and in this other abides in itself and this other is contained within itself i.e. abides within the originally posited (intermediation). But this relation is contradiction per se in which one is simultaneously other and not other and other is simultaneously the posited one and not the posited one. In their contradictory relation each is simultaneously posited and the negative of the posited other (+/- = -/+). But as determinate point of departure, the aboriginally posited returns into itself out of negation (negated negation) as return to the old yet irreversible advance beyond the old at the same time. Accordingly, the contradiction is resolved at a higher stage of existence whilst aspects of what is resolved are preserved (sublated) into this higher form of determinate being. Determinate things always return into themselves as long as the conditions are operative for this return. Their internal contradictions operate and unfold within the constraining conditions of the actual existence of the thing. This is why “things” appear not to fundamentally alter because they are always in process of returning into themselves. When these conditions alter beyond certain limits, dissolution sets in and the thing starts to perish. To enter its period of decay and transformation.
“The power of the negative” is the contradictory source of the posited always returning to itself and reasserting itself. However, this same power mediates as “portent” (Hegel : “The portentous power of the negative”) i.e. as announcing beforehand the imminent dissolution of the seemingly eternal positive. The negative never sleeps and must, sooner or later, ominously presage (foreshadows) the downfall of its ground and therefore of itself as “negative” of this determinate ground. (Latin : portendere = to stretch beyond oneself, itself, etc). Beyond a certain point or limit, the negative creates the conditions within the formation for its dissolution and transformation. [Hegel’s category of Measure : quantity and quality, transformation.] Why does the bubble burst? Why does the bridge suddenly collapse? Why does the elastic band snap when stretched beyond a certain point or tension? Transgression of the conditions for its existence as bubble, bridge or band. Beyond the “nodal point”.

Hegel’s ‘Logic’ and Development as Concentration of History (Enrichment)

In Hegel’s ‘Logic’, each succeeding category is more concrete than the preceding one because it contains the wealth of all the antecedent development sublated within itself. There is always abolition but the resulting positive content is always richer because it contains this entire history dialectically superseded within itself. The river at its mouth is always richer than the river at its source. Development ‘concentrates’ its own history so all development is a process of self-enrichment.

The Significance of the “Concept” in Hegel for Dialectics in General

The Concept (Begriff) in Hegel as Being which, in process of passing beyond itself into its opposite, is only passing into itself. In the positing of this its opposite, the aboriginally posited does not become anything distinctly different in isolation from it but rather remains, in this opposition, completely identical with itself. This is a return of this Being to itself. The one, in engendering and determining its other, is simultaneously self-determining. And the other likewise in its reciprocal relation to the one. They mutually interpenetrate. But since the one has given rise to its other out of itself, it is in identity with this other and returns into itself out of the otherness of this negation with the negation of this otherness. It reaffirms itself as the aboriginally posited. This posited ab initio abides within itself whilst simultaneously going beyond itself. It returns to itself as rejuvenated old which is therefore yet an advance beyond this old. Accordingly, the “concept” is the forever recurring and forever animating structure (relationship) of all forms of development in Nature, society or thought, etc. For Marx, it is not a pantheistically posited ghost or “spirit” (Geist) but rather absolutely identical to the real, given, specific forms of development. This is Marx’s dialectical monism. In Hegel, this takes the idealist form of the concept unfolding itself in the multiplicity of its otherness in order to concentrate itself by returning into itself as unity out of this multiplicity and knowing itself to be so in Self-Consciousness. But in Hegel – because the “Concept” is identical to Nature in its difference from it – a theological teleology animates his whole doctrine.

Shaun May

September 2014

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