Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]

Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]  [extra to text]

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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