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Gerry Healy

Studies in Dialectical Materialism


First published in News Line in 1982.
Transcribed by R.A. Blackwell.
Marked up by
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE 42nd Anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s assassination by an agent of Stalin is an occasion to remind ourselves again of the historical importance of his last great struggle in defence of dialectical materialism.

Before he died Trotsky insisted that the need to re-educate the Socialist Workers Party (USA) in dialectical materialism was central to the issues in dispute in relation to the class nature of the Soviet bureaucracy. The objection of the revisionists of those days to the introduction of dialectics as an issue in dispute was dismissed with the remark:

‘Dialectical Logic expresses the laws of motion in contemporary scientific thought. The struggle against materialist dialectics on the contrary expresses a distant past, conservatism of the petty bourgeoisie, the self-conceit of university routinists and ... a spark of hope for an after-life.’ (In Defence of Marxism, p. 67, New Park Publications edition)

Fifteen years earlier (1924), Trotsky was involved in a life-and-death struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin had raised the demagogic demand of the need to ‘Bolshevise the party’ at a time when he was going all-out to consolidate bureaucracy and prepare the physical destruction of Trotsky’s Left Opposition.

The demand for ‘Bolshevisation’ was nothing but a cynical cover behind which Stalin was plotting not only to physically eliminate his opponents, but to terminate the democratic rights won by the Soviet working class and impose his own personal dictatorship over the Soviet masses. Trotsky, in a carefully-worded statement, commented as follows: ‘Much has been spoken and written lately on the necessity for Bolshevising’ the Comintern. This is a task that cannot be disputed or delayed: it is made particularly urgent after the cruel lessons of Bulgaria and Germany a year ago. Bolshevism is not a doctrine (i.e. not merely a doctrine) but a system of revolutionary training for the proletarian upheaval.

‘What is the Bolshevisation of the Communist Parties? It is giving them such a training and effecting such a selection of the leading staff as would prevent them from “drifting” when the hour for their October strikes. “That is the whole of Hegel and the wisdom of books, and the meaning of all philosophy ...”’ (Lessons of October, p. 64, New Park Publications edition)

Now, with only months to go before his assassination, he was insisting once again on the necessity for a serious attitude towards the training of revolutionary cadres in the spirit of Hegel, Marx, Engels and Lenin.

‘Dialectical thinking,’ he wrote, ‘is related to vulgar thinking in the same way that a motion picture is related to a still photograph. The motion picture does not outlaw the still photograph but combines a series of them according to the laws of motion ...

‘Hegel wrote before Darwin and before Marx. Thanks to the powerful impulse given to thought by the French Revolution, Hegel anticipated the general movement of science. But because it has only been an anticipation, although by a genius, it received from Hegel an idealistic character. Hegel operated with ideological shadows as the ultimate reality. Marx demonstrated that the movement of these ideological shadows reflected nothing but the movement of material bodies.’ (In Defence of Marxism, p. 66, New Park Publications edition)

When it came to the dialectical materialist method and reading ‘Hegel materialistically’, Trotsky was a staunch Leninist. He walked in the footsteps not only of Lenin but of Marx and Engels as well. The International Committee of the Fourth International, to which the Workers Revolutionary Party is affiliated, consciously trains and educates its members and leaders in this tradition.

We are pleased, therefore, to present to readers of the News Line an outline of some of the material covered in the courses on Dialectical Materialism at our College of Marxist Education during the months of June and July 1982.

Nature – The source of dialectics

THE source of dialectics is in dialectical nature, of which human beings are a dialectical part. ‘... for every materialist,’ wrote Lenin, ‘sensation is indeed the direct connection between consciousness and the external world; it is the transformation of the energy of external excitation into the fact of consciousness.’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 14, p. 51)

The ‘energy of external excitation’ is provided by the external world of nature which is primary with ‘consciousness, thought, sensation as secondary ...’ (Volume 14, p. 46)

‘Natural science leaves no room for doubt,’ he stressed, ‘that its assertion that the earth existed prior to man is a truth. This is entirely compatible with the materialist theory of knowledge; the existence of the thing reflected independent of the reflector ...’ (Volume 14, p. 123)

There can be no dialectical training unless these basic materialist principles are thoroughly understood. As long as we are paralysed by the dangerous effects of ‘bourgeois ideology’ then there can be no successful socialist revolution. So long as the ideology which maintains the ruling class in power predominates over the consciousness of parties and groups calling themselves Marxist, so-called revolutionary leaderships will remain floundering in fatal confusion.

Whilst this does not of course mean that every worker member of the Party will become a conscious dialectician, we do insist that the revolutionary Trotskyist leaderships in all countries must be trained in the dialectical materialist method.

When we speak of the predominance of the world of Nature over consciousness we refer of course to Social Being. Regardless of the individualistic approach of the idealists, it is not they who really decide what they think and do but the capitalist production relations which objectively predominate over them. Whether they like it or not, they are all images of the effects of these production relations. It is the class nature of these production relations that determines the consciousness of all individuals as well as their lifestyle.

Individuals cannot be understood outside the conditions of Social Being. The behaviour of men is determined by their materialist and thinking life, which in turn is reflected in their ‘thoughts and feelings’. (See Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 1, p. 405)

Lenin explained the materiality of this process a little further on in the same article when he wrote:

‘The theory of the class struggle, however, represents a tremendous acquisition for social science for the very reason that it lays down the methods by which the individual can be reduced to the social with the utmost precision and definiteness. Firstly, this theory worked out the concept of the social-economic formation.

‘Taking as its starring-point a fact that is fundamental to all human society, namely the mode of procuring the means of subsistence, it connected up with this the relations between people formed under the influence of the given modes of procuring the means of subsistence, and showed that this system of relations (”relations of production”, to use Marx’s terminology) is the basis of society, which clothes itself in political and legal forms and in definite trends of social thought.’ (Volume 1, p. 410)

These remarks by Lenin are very important for dialectical training. The development of consciousness in the past by Hegel and the founders of our movement must be understood as an infinite process. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky outlined and fought for revolutionary policies and interpretations of history. They believed that by overthrowing the capitalist system through a social revolution and fundamentally changing the social circumstances under which men lived, this would in turn change men themselves.

Men, they insisted, were not the source of the negative features of human nature. The capitalist mode of production which maintained a veritable handful of rich idlers at the expense of the working class through the exploitation of profit, was, in fact, the real source of human nature.

The founders of our movement have bequeathed to us a scientifically derived revolutionary theory of knowledge which is presently the core of our dialectical training. Not only is the development of consciousness an infinite process, but the cognition of the external world is an infinite process as well. The process of cognition today enables us to stand on their shoulders as it were, and complete the historical tasks they set out to accomplish.

Their efforts and ours have been greatly strengthened by the considerable achievements in the natural sciences over the past six decades. These would not have been understood if it were not for the materialist interpretation of the external world which they fought for. In this way they have contributed to the invaluable legacy of Hegelian concepts and categories (stood on their feet) without which the richness of these advances would not have been understood. For this reason Marxism is a world scientific outlook since it incorporates all the gains of the sciences as well as being itself a science of Historical Materialism.

In the ‘process of cognition’ we have a ‘theory of knowledge’ which enables us through its constant dialectical development, to speedily guide our objective dialectical practice. While the idealists are still juggling around with the self-created images of their own pessimisms, we can have the richness of the revolutionary reality of the external world at our disposal thereby providing us with an enormous speed of movement through the initiation within the working class of advanced and more and more revolutionary practices.

The dialectics of the external world

TO STUDENTS of dialectics, the external material world is initially and mistakenly taken for granted. In their efforts to become conscious of its existence their idealist training invariably takes over. They start by creating images of what they think it is, which are then wrongly imposed upon its ever-changing reality.

In periods like the present when great changes are constantly emerging in the world crisis of imperialism, the idealist is constantly living in an atmosphere of frustration, pessimism and fear, within the self-created images of what, in fact, is their ‘own’ reality.

They become dominated more and more by bourgeois ideology. This emanates from the needs of a ruling class in the throes of a mortal economic and political crisis. They are drawn further and further away from the objectively potential reality of the historical revolutionary role of the working class. Without a dialectical materialist outlook the ruling class have the present-day idealist in a trap of his own creation.

The principle of OBJECTIVITY in the approach to the external world constitutes the basic difference between materialism and abstract idealism. We therefore begin with Lenin’s invaluable analysis On the Question of Dialectics. (Volume 38, p. 359)

‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts,’ according to Lenin, ‘... is the essence (one of the “essentials”, one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics.’ (Volume 38, p. 359)

We use the philosophical concept ‘Being’ to denote the materiality of the objective world as a single ‘whole’ existing independently of consciousness. ‘Being’ is nature including human beings. Whilst we recognise ‘Being’ as primary and consciousness as secondary, the process of Cognition interprets consciousness as not merely a passive reflection of ‘Being’, but as an active force which influences ‘Being’ in a dialectical way. ‘Being’ is matter which exists independently of consciousness and is the source of all sensation. Under these conditions ‘Being’ is primary, consciousness is secondary.

‘Being’ as matter in motion, when negated immediately, has an empirical existence. When it has entered into a unity with its opposite Not Being it constitutes three dialectical moments. Being, Becoming and Not Being. It is ‘something’ sublated only in so far as it has entered into a ‘unity’, into its opposite ‘Not Being’ within the relation of Becoming; denoting movement and change.

Thus we have perceived the division of ‘unity’ into its mutually exclusive opposites which are ‘Being’ and ‘Not Being’, whilst remaining united in the form of their Becoming in the infinite movement and changes of nature itself. The Positive infinite concept of ‘Being’ through ‘Becoming’ has now entered into a self-relation with its opposite Not Being.

The infinite source of sensation (Being) is in the external world existing independently of consciousness, which has now been registered as sensation in consciousness in the form of its ‘Other’, the abstraction ‘Not Being’. In this self-relation the outer forms are the Positive (Being) and its abstract also a positive (Other) ‘Not Being’ – the latter is now implicitly CAUSE which is finite. At one point cause will become Effect and at another effect becomes cause when the first negation in general is completed.

The ‘thing’ whatever it is, is now considered mediated, as the ‘Other’ of Being. ‘Being’ and ‘Not Being’ are forms which contain as their content the first infinite negation as negation in general.

The external world of reality is the quantitative outer source (world for itself) of the first qualitative inner movement of negation, in general (world in itself). It has for its content the infinite internal qualitative source of the negation itself. The infinite positive form (Being) which has been negated simultaneously into its own finite abstraction is now dissolved into its own infinite Negative which completes the first Negation in general.

The duration of the first Negation is here limited to the measurement in time of that micro portion of the external world which is initially negated, whilst it registers within the negation for its content the absolute conflict between infinite and finite.

Because of the time limit of the negation they become reciprocally transformed into one another, tending more and more to exceed the limitation of the negation in general which contains them. Here is the inner source of the emergence of absolute essence initially negated from its outer source in the external world. This absolute nature of essence itself is negative Semblance.

Hegel, with the approval of Lenin, explains that that part of the objective world (Being) embodied in ‘Not Being’ preserves itself in the negative of its determinate Being. It is essentially ‘one with it’ and ‘not one with it’. It stands in a relation to its ‘otherness’ and is not simply its ‘otherness’. ‘Otherness’ as infinite is at once contained within it preserving itself as a finite ‘part’ or ‘being’ of another.

Whilst working on Capital Marx, for the purposes of a closer study of economic phenomena, analytically isolated important features of the Hegelian concept, negation in general.

‘Being’ represented basic raw materials at their quantitative source in the external world. These constituted Value within infinite negation or Negation in general. The Finite ‘Not Being’ then became qualitative USE VALUE which is a form containing value as its infinite content.

Cloth is an example of Use Value. Since many finite product forms, such as suits etc., can be made from cloth for people to wear, the infinite value is constantly being transformed into finite Use Value. These finite use values have now acquired a new value form which is exchange value. As suits of clothes, for example, they have acquired an Exchange Value.

Abstract human labour is the infinite element of all commodities. It is the value content of Negation in general. The basic contradiction within a commodity for exchange is that it both ‘is’ and ‘is not’ a use value. For the owner ‘it is not’ – for the consumer ‘it is’. During negation in general value has become use value.

The negative of the form use value which incorporates value tends to go beyond negation in general and drives towards the negation of the negation, of entry into the Universal world of Exchange where it will circulate as a commodity. Thus what was infinite (Value) has become finite (Use Value) and what was finite (Use Value) is pushing for Negation as a commodity into Exchange. There is here a double positing – Value into Use Value – Use Value into Exchange Value.

The importance of antithesis

THE negative side of semblance now contains ‘Essence as reflection in itself (absolute essence). (Volume 38, p. 129) This is the beginning of the important moment of antithesis which is the ground in which the Laws of Identity, Difference and Contradiction are manifested. Absolute essence (Negative Semblance) confronts our ‘theory of knowledge’ which becomes Positive Semblance as they face each other in antithesis.

We have ended the sensuous stage of the Cognitive process. ‘Being’ has been mediated by ‘Not Being’ and at the same time they are joined together through ‘Becoming’ which is now Existence, or mediated Being. ‘Essence is what it is by virtue of its own infinite movement of Being.’ (Volume 38, pl30.)

As concepts, Being, Not Being, Becoming, have become more and more distinctive. ‘... In human concepts,’ wrote Lenin, ‘nature is reflected in a distinctive way (this NB: in a distinctive and dialectical way).’ (Volume 38, p. 285) ‘... Not only is the transition from matter to consciousness dialectical, but also that from sensation to thought, etc.’ (Volume 38, p. 283)

Concepts emerge during subjective cognition, in the dialectical transition from sensuous representation to thought. Sensuousness cannot apprehend movement as a whole. ‘Thought taken from sensuous representation ... reflects reality.’ (Volume 38, p. 228) The properties of sensuous representation build up into thought forms. They are an initial part of the same process of apprehending the external world., but they should be understood in the transition from sensuousness to thought. Living Perception and Cognition begins with thought at the stage of antithesis, because ‘in a certain sense, sensuous representation is, of course, lower.’ (Volume 38, p. 228)

‘The difference between sense-perception (sensation) and Cognition,’ said Lenin in a quotation from Hegel, ‘is: that which causes the sensation is external. The cause of this is that perceptive activity is directed on the particular, while knowledge has as its object the universal.’ (Volume 38, p. 286 – my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in scan])

Semblance then consists of Positive and Negative parts with antithesis as common ground to both. The Negative as Absolute essence faces Positive essence which contains the method of dialectical logic coinciding with a theory of knowledge. Presently, this method will be used extensively for purposes of analysis.

‘The dialectical, (my emphasis), wrote Lenin in a quotation from Hegel, ‘is comprehending the antithesis in its unity.’ (Volume 38, p. 98)

Antithesis is resolved through the interpenetration of absolute essence as the Negative side of Semblance into essence as the Positive side of Semblance. In the moments of antithesis as their self relation, the Positive Semblance, which previously was negatively inactive now assumes an active role as it confronts Negative Semblance. Whilst as Lenin explains: ‘There is a difference between the subjective and the objective ... it too has its limits.’ (Volume 38, p. 98)

The Subjective side of Semblance is the ground which in its antithesis towards its Positive side contains the limits of contradiction which arose from negation between them. This can only be resolved through the interpenetration of the negative Semblance into what is now the Positive or (Universal). This takes place through the negation of the negation in general (Negation of the Negation – Quality into Quantity).

Cognition and practice

THE use of concepts in particular, applies to sensuous knowledge. We go from distinction to contradiction, and from concepts to categories. ‘Categories are,’ as Lenin wrote, ‘stages of distinguishing i.e. of cognising the world, focal points in the web, which assist in cognising and mastering it.’ (Volume 38, p. 93)

Categories cognise and assess the operation of the objective laws governing nature and society, they are ‘an expression of laws both of nature and of man,’ (Volume 38, p. 91) and of the objective world which help him. They are moments of man’s knowledge in the formulation of general laws of nature.

Categories enable us to understand the more general features of the objective world as they are reflected in our consciousness. They assist us to extend and develop our theory of knowledge, thus creating conditions for the elaboration of further scientific concepts about our reflections of external reality. Dialectics of sensations, perceptions, notions and concepts, enable man to go from ignorance to knowledge, from ‘essence of the first order to essence of the second order’.

Lenin referred to the sensuous development of the concept when he wrote:

‘First of all impressions flash by, then Something emerges – afterwards the concepts of quality (the determination of the thing or the phenomenon) and quantity are developed. After that study and reflection direct thought to cognition of identity – of difference – of Ground – of the Essence versus the Phenomenon – of Causality etc.’

‘... Quality and sensation are one and the same, says Feuerbach. The very first and most familiar to us is sensation, and in it there is inevitably also quality.’ (Volume 38, p. 319)

The data of ‘sensual knowledge’ which is equivalent to the concept is cognised in the form of words, at first stimulated by theoretical thinking in relation to Concepts.

The more we become trained in the use of theoretical thinking derived from previous dialectical practices, the earlier our ordinary consciousness will become the object of conceptual analysis for dialectical study. Such an analysis in Subjective Cognition will provide guidance in the examination of empirical data at the stages of sensuousness and negation in general, when forms of words will still lack a dialectical thought content.

Through the use of categories we shall of course become ever more trained both in the development and use of new concepts. As Lenin explained:

‘The use of knowledge and practice is the essence of dialectical cognition ... Thought proceeding from concrete to the abstract, provided it is correct, gets closer to it ...’

And further:

‘Man by his practice proves the objective correctness of his ideas, concepts, knowledge, science.’

‘The unity of the theoretical idea (of knowledge) and of practice – this NB – and this unity precisely in the theory of knowledge, for the resulting sum is the “absolute, idea” and the idea = “the objectively true”.’ (Volume 38, p. 219)

These are an historically concrete approach to the process of Cognition and practice which reveal the connection between both. We must evaluate the practices of human beings in ‘the process of becoming’ rather than allowing them to remain something that has already become.

Against idealism and scepticism

THE source of Idealism and Scepticism invariably starts at Semblance. As Lenin explained in a quotation from Hegel:

‘Semblance then is the Phenomena of Scepticism ... Modern idealism did not dare to regard cognition as a knowledge of the Thing-in-Itself; with the former. Semblance was supposed to have no basis at all in any Being; with the latter, the thing in itself was supposed incapable of entering into cognition. But at the same time scepticism admitted manifold determinations of its Semblance; or rather its Semblance had for content all the manifold riches of the world. In the same manner the appearance of idealism comprehends the whole range of these manifold determinatenesses.’ (Volume 38, pp. 130–131)

The Idealists and Sceptics subjectively impose or manipulate their ideas of what they think Semblance means, which is what Lenin referred to when he commented:

‘You include in Semblance all the wealth of the world and you deny the objectivity of Semblance.’ (Volume 38, p. 131)

Or as Hegel put it when he explained the difference between his ‘materialism’ and the idealism of Leibnitz, Kant and Fichte: ‘They did not reach beyond being,’ that is the Positive or one side of the image. Lenin comments: ‘They did not go deeper.’ The idealists stopped at the Positive Form whereas the sceptics saw this form as content . . . ‘that which is immediately given’ ... ‘of its Semblance to be given to it; for it, it is immediate, whatever content it is to have.’ (Volume 38, pp. 131–132)

‘The monad of Leibnitz develops its presentations out of itself; but it is no creative and connecting force – the presentations arise in it like bubbles; they are indifferent and immediate relative to one another, and therefore to the monad itself.’ (Volume 38, p. 132)

‘Monad’ is a Greek word denoting ‘Being’ as a ‘structural unit’. It was one of the main concepts of Leibnitz’s philosophy. For him it was the sole source of Being endowed with a ‘soul’ which according to Leibnitz was a spirit. He claimed that the whole world is reflected in the Monad and that its individuality contains infinity. ‘Here’ wrote Lenin, ‘is dialectics of a kind, and very profound despite idealism and clericalism.’ (Volume 38, p. 383)

‘Kant’s phenomenon,’ wrote Hegel, ‘is a given content of perception; it presupposes affections, determinations of the subject which are immediate to one another and to the subject.’ (Volume 38, p. 132 – my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in scan])

‘The infinite limitation or check of Fichte’s idealism,’ said Hegel, ‘refuses, perhaps, to be based on any Thing-in-Itself, so that it becomes purely a determinateness in the Ego. But this determinateness is immediate and a limit to the Ego.’ (Volume 38, p. 132)

In a word, if you create your own ‘images’ of what is going on in the external world, then they remain your own, being a limited self creation of your ego, or one’s image of oneself.

The Idealists always cling to the rigid Identity that is ‘simple Essence’, ignoring that Essence reveals Semblance through Negation. For them the law of identity has its opposite in the law of Variety and NOT in the law of Difference, which is one-sided determinatedness containing only formal truth which is abstract and incomplete. All things are different. One cannot IDENTIFY something unless we can show its Difference with something else. Or as Trotsky explained it simply and clearly:

‘Every worker knows that it is impossible to make two completely equal objects. In the elaboration of bearing-brass into cone bearings, a certain deviation is allowed for the cones which should not, however, go beyond certain limits (this is called tolerance). By observing the norms of tolerance, the cones are considered as being equal. (“A” is equal to “A”.) When the tolerance is exceeded the quantity goes over into quality; in other words, the cone bearings become inferior or completely worthless.

‘Our scientific thinking is only a part of our general practice including techniques. For concepts there also exists “tolerance” which is established not by formal logic issuing from the axiom “A” is equal to “A”, but by the dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything is always changing. “Common sense”, is characterised by the fact that it systematically exceeds dialectical “tolerance”.

‘Vulgar thought operates with such concepts as capitalism, morals, freedom, workers’ state, etc. as fixed abstractions, presuming that capitalism is equal to capitalism, morals are equal to morals etc. Dialectical thinking analyses all things and phenomena in their continuous change, while determining in the material conditions of those changes that critical limit beyond which “A” ceases to be “A”, a workers’ state ceases to be a workers’ state.’ (In Defence of Marxism, New Park Publications edition, p. 65)

Synthesis – Law and contradiction

‘THE coincidence of concepts with “synthesis”,’ wrote Lenin, ‘with the sum, summing up of empiricism, sensations, the senses, is indubitable for the philosophers of all trends. Whence this coincidence? From God (I, the idea, thought etc., etc.) or from (out of) nature? Engels was right in his formulation of the question.’ (Volume 38, p. 285)

And Engels:

‘In world schematism pure mathematics arose out of pure thought – in the philosophy of nature it is something completely empirical, taken from the external world and derived from it.’ (Anti-Dühring, p. 54)

The law of the identity of Not Being is confirmed through its difference between the time of its development and the Negative into which it has dissolved. This difference is already in sensation posited contradiction, within the Negative side of Semblance. Within the antithesis absolute contradiction arises as the contradiction inherent in Negative Semblance starts to interpenetrate and activate the latent contradiction already posited in the essence of Positive Semblance.

Synthesis is a leap which according to Lenin distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition. The interruption of gradualness. The Unity (Identity) of Being and Not Being. (Volume 38, p. 284) Synthesis at first appears in Sensation where Not Being becomes the mediator of its opposite ‘Being’.

It next appears, when again, via external reflection through Negation of the Negation, interpenetration of Negative into Positive Semblance takes place, making it possible for different structures of thought to emerge. Absolute essence, containing Being as Mediated by Not Being, interpenetrates Positive Essence, leading to Essence in Existence.

The law of Identity is now based upon contradiction whose ground is Essence in Existence. This is a unity of Positive into Negative and Negative into Positive Semblance or Finite into Infinite as Essence in Existence and Infinite into Finite. The truth of contradiction is contained in the relation of Positive and Negative to each other. Each contains the other in its own concept – Negative Semblance maintains a Positive direction in its movement.

The Negation of the Negation through the interpenetration of Negative Semblance into Positive Semblance now determines itself into Variety and Opposition. These include the posited contradiction of Negative Semblance which is more profound than the Contradiction which was latent in Positive Semblance before its activisation in its Antithesis with Negative Semblance. It is only insofar as it contains Contradiction that anything which moves has impulse and activity. Since infinity is contradiction as it appears in the sphere of Being, there must be a determination of absolute essence after each synthesis.

‘But the fact,’ wrote Lenin, ‘that Positive itself is negativity causes it to pass outside itself and to change.’ (Volume 38, p. 140) And he adds:

‘If an existent something cannot in its positive determination also encroach on its negative, cannot hold fast the one in the other and contain Contradiction within itself, then it is not living unity or Ground, but perishes in Contradiction.’ (Volume 38, p. 141)

Idealist thinking is always speculative because it excludes Contradiction. Lenin provides an example of this in a quotation from Hegel: ‘Thus although Imagination everywhere has Contradiction for content, it never becomes aware of it, it remains an external reflection, which passes from Likeness to Unlikeness.’ (Volume 38, p. 142)

Hegel comments: ‘The simplicity of these determinations conceals the contradiction from imagination; but this contradiction immediately stands revealed in the determinations of relation.’ (Volume 38, p. 141) And he continues: ‘The most trivial examples – above and below, right and left, father and son, and so on without end – all contain contradiction in one term.’ (Volume 38, pp. 141–142 – my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in scan])

That which is below at one point can be above at another, and vice versa. That which is a turning on the left-hand side of the road when travelling in one direction can be on the right-hand side of the road when returning from the opposite direction. A father today is at the same time himself a son of a father and so on.

But, says Hegel, correctly:

‘Father is the Other of son, and son of father, and each exists only as this Other of the other; and also the one determination exists only in relation to the other; their Being is one subsistence.’ (Volume 38, p. 142)

What is important to understand here is that antithesis is not some separate stage proceeding Semblance. It must be understood as moments of vital connection between the transition through interpenetration of Negative into Positive Semblance. The antithesis of Yes-No-No-Yes continues during this transition within the interpenetration leading to Appearance.

‘Ordinary imagination,’ writes Lenin, ‘grasps difference and contradiction, but not the transition from one to the other; this however is the most important. (Volume 38, p. 143)

By ‘ordinary imagination’ Lenin is referring to the one-sidedness of ‘external reflection’ which he insists that by its ‘simplicity conceals’ the transition of ‘Being’ into the ‘other of being’, when they both are the same and not the same. That must be demonstrated if absolute essence is to be revealed in a way in which ‘Being’ is both itself and its ‘other’ and ‘Other’ is both ‘itself and ‘Being’. As Hegel explains: ‘Infinity ... is Contradiction as it appears in the sphere of Being.’ (Volume 38, p. 140 – my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in scan])

The idealist keeps two determinations like ‘Other’ and ‘Being’ external to each other. They are denied transition into one another. For the concept of things and their relations the Idealist has only ‘determinations of imagination for material and content’. He allows their concept to show through the contradiction, but he does ‘not express the concept of things and their relations.’ (Volume 38, p. 142)

Essence must appear

LENIN turns again to Hegel, who writes:

‘Thinking Reason, on the other hand, sharpens (so to speak) the blunt difference of Variety, the mere manifold of imagination, into essential difference, that is, Opposition. The manifold entities acquire activity and vitality in relation to one another only when driven on to the sharp point of Contradiction; thence they draw negativity, which is the inherent pulsation of self-movement and vitality ...’ (Volume 38, p. 142 – my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in scan])

The idealist ignores ‘determinant content’ which allows the thing-in-itself to come into existence, which is the ‘law of ground’. He allows only the relation of external reflection to judge the differences between Negative and Positive Semblance when they must interpenetrate into one another through antithesis, synthesis and absolute contradiction.

Only when this is done can ‘things-in-themselves’ emerge as parts each of which is a posited ‘entity’ whose source is in the external world of ‘Being’. The form of appearance of the parts is Essence in Existence and as their properties build up to that of the material world on the outside their ground changes from existence grounded on Appearance to Appearance grounded on existence.

Mediations now take place at all stages of cognition, and it is here that the method of “dialectical logic’ is used for analysis.

‘Logic is the science of cognition,’ writes Lenin. ‘It is the theory of knowledge. Knowledge is the reflection of nature by man. But this is not a simple, not an immediate, not a complete reflection, but the process of a series of abstractions, the formation and development of concepts, laws etc., and these concepts, laws, etc., (thought, science = “the logical idea”) embrace conditionally, approximately the universal law-governed character of eternally moving and developing nature ...’ (Volume 38, p. 182)

Dialectical Materialism utilises the principle of the coincidence of dialectics, logic and the theory of knowledge. This coincidence is of great importance in the present situation of the impending collapse of some of the world’s leading banking groups. Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism referred to the development of such a crisis.

‘Every individual producer in the world economic system realises that he is introducing this or that change into the technique of production; every owner realises that he exchanges certain products for others; but these producers and these owners do not realise that in doing so they are thereby changing Social Being.

‘The sum-total of these changes in all their ramifications in the capitalist world economy could not even be grasped by 70 Marxes. The most important thing is that the laws of these changes have been discovered, that the objective logic of these changes and of their historical development has in its chief and basic features been disclosed.’ (Volume 14, p. 325)

This process is objective ‘in the sense that social being is independent of the social consciousness of people’. ‘The highest task,’ wrote Lenin, 75 years ago, ‘... is to comprehend this objective logic.’ (Volume 14, p. 325)

The principle of coincidence enables us to define the objective content of a given category by revealing its relations as a stage of knowledge in relation to other categories such as necessity, probability, possibility.

The Category of Appearance is a moving form in the first instance within thought itself. As essence builds up from its source in the external world it expands in its form the course of analysis, this form is the ‘showing of Essence in itself of ground and grounded. ‘Matter is the passive, form is the active.’ ‘Matter must be formed and form must materialise itself ...’ ‘Now this,’ writes Hegel, ‘which appears as the activity of Form, is equally the proper movement of Matter itself ...’ ‘Both – the activity of Form and the movement of Matter – are the same.’ (Volume 38, p. 145) ‘Form is essential. Essence is formed.’ (Volume 38, p. 144)

This ‘activity of Form’ is the proper unity of matter. ‘Content equals Form’ and ‘they must coincide’. (Volume 38, p. 145) Understanding a part presupposes understanding a whole. A knowledge of the ‘whole’ presupposes a knowledge of its constituent ‘parts’. This is what is meant by the law of Appearance.

‘Law’, Lenin said in a quotation from Hegel, ‘is the reflection of Appearance into identity with itself.’ Appearance is about to emerge in Actuality in which Law is identical with it.’

THE category of ‘Appearance’ exists initially in the theory of knowledge as negative self-mediation. It is the movement of antithesis apprehended in its unity before Negative semblance interpenetrates Positive semblance, thus activating the theory of knowledge and Appearance as a category. Law as a category is reflection of Appearance into identity with itself.

From the law of the unity of contradictions within the process of interpenetration, Essence enters into Existence. What now appears is ‘impressions passing by’, a variety of parts of what will eventually be the ‘whole’ Appearance of Something. Thus the Laws of the Identity of Unity and Variety of opposites manifest within the laws of Appearance – all performing a positive function. From the concepts Identity, Difference and Contradiction which characterised Subjective Cognition we have reached the stage of the emergence of the categories of dialectical logic through which we will analyse the relation of these ‘parts’ to the ‘whole’.

The categories of ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ within Appearance

AS THE properties of the ‘parts’ build up, their forms will become more easy to recognise and analyse in relation to the ‘whole’. ‘Parts’ and ‘whole’ exist solely in relation to one another and since they are changing all the time, they manifest change through the law of opposition to one another. At first, ‘parts’ seen on their own are no longer ‘parts’ but ‘wholes’. Each of them exists-for-itself. As categories, ‘whole’ and ‘parts’ are related essentially to their ‘other’. The ‘whole’ must hold the ‘parts’ as self-subsistent, whilst understanding a ‘part’ presupposes understanding a ‘whole’.

If ‘something’ has real existence as a ‘whole’ then we must be able to define its ‘constituent parts’. The ‘whole’ must be seen as an inner force which will strive to manifest itself in external reality as essence which must appear. Real ‘wholes’ must have elements bound together by the interaction of parts’ and ‘whole’. Since the ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ are constantly changing, the ‘whole’ as such can never be a sum total of its ‘parts’. It is instead the sum total and unity of opposites in constant change, which are simultaneously not only single ‘wholes’ but many ‘wholes’. Thus ‘wholes’ change into ‘parts’ and ‘parts’ into ‘wholes’.

Any category claiming to be the ‘totality’ of something must be exceeded in its constant movement and change, since there is always an inherently negative movement outwards beyond the limits of negation in general. It is this movement which exceeds such limits that constitutes the category of Necessity which arises out of Essence in Existence, with its internal properties building up towards Appearance.

The ‘whole’ must be seen as ‘parts’ standing in a certain relation to each other. Through analysis we identify the properties of an object which transform it from a ‘part’ which is a ‘whole’ into a ‘part’ of a larger ‘whole’. Cognition of the ‘whole’ and its ‘parts’ proceeds simultaneously. As we single out ‘parts’ for analysis we do so as elements of a single ‘whole’.

As the result of the synthesis [1] between the ‘whole’ which is Appearing and its ‘parts’, the ‘Whole’ Appears consisting of parts in conflict between themselves and the ‘whole’ and vice versa. As Lenin explains: ‘Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 38, p. 197) and he adds: ‘the relativity of opposition between notions ... the identity of opposites between notions.’ (ibid.)

‘Form’ and ‘Content’ within Appearance

THE category of Appearance describes a ‘moving form’ within thought itself as in the case of the growth of a baby from different substances in its mother’s womb before birth. It is an inner form in which a variety of Essences must eventually appear.

The development of Form and Content is the development of two sides of the same phenomenon. The division of the ‘whole’ into these two branches inevitably gives rise to contradictions and conflict leading to the discarding of ‘form’ through the changes necessitated by the growth of its ‘content’.

The unity of ‘form’ and ‘content’ within Essence in Existence is relative and subject to change, because of the struggle between different functions in its development. For example a change of content becomes the basis of development within Form as the mode of existence of a ‘thing’ before it Appears.

The ‘content’ possesses its own motion which ‘form’ depends on, although it (form) has its own relative motion also. It can either hold back development or speed it up; in such a way that it can sharpen the contradictions between ‘Form’ and ‘Content’. At one point it can stimulate development and at another it may conservatively retard it. This process cannot, however be simply relegated to the contradiction between the active and passive sides of ‘Form’ and ‘Content’, since through the interaction of them as opposites) the old form is either transformed or abolished.

The sum total and unity of opposites in analysis

THE Category of Appearance incorporates the sum total of the elements and objects which reveal through External Reflection the dialectic of internal matter in motion. It describes the phenomena and processes which arise from the first of Lenin’s basic elements of dialectics: ‘The determination of the concept out of itself (the thing itself must be considered in its relations and in its development). (Volume 38, p. 221)

‘Being’ as the source of sensation in the external world has its Finite ‘other’ in ‘Not Being’ (sensation – Existence). ‘Holding fast’ the opposites (Being, ‘other’) through Becoming is achieved by mediation. In the first, determinate ‘Not Being’ is immediate and ‘coming to be’. In the second, “Being is immediate and ceasing to be’. Each sublates itself insofar as it has a unity with its opposite. (See Hegel’s Science of Logic, p. 106)

‘Becoming’ is understood only in the separateness of Being and Not-Being. Their vanishing into one another is the vanishing of ‘Becoming’. The self movement of the external world is here seen to be the basic mode of existence of matter as it is reflected in thought. The use of the word sublate means ‘to preserve, to maintain, to put an end to’. Being is preserved in its ‘other’ (Not Being). The ‘other’ is maintained in Being. Because they are separate moments of the movement of matter, they are also terminated.

External reflection by itself leads to one-sided determinateness which apprehends as the source of sensation, only the infinite positive side of the image. ‘Finite’ (its ‘other’) is the same as Existence, ‘something’ preserves itself as the Finite Negative of its determinate Being in a way in which it is ‘at one with it’, since it is a moving Finite negative of life itself. Its ‘otherness’ is both contained and separate. Infinite negates the Finite until it again has the Finite as a different moment confronting it. The ‘Finite’ posits ‘other’ as ‘infinite’ and the infinite posits its ‘other’ as finite. Thus we have the transition of the ‘infinite’ into the ‘finite’ and the finite into the infinite (antithesis) within the outer form of Negation in general.

Negation in general is completed with both Infinite and Finite in unity, conflict and transformation into each other, whilst being negated into absolute essence. As the negative nature of semblance this negative of absolute essence drives forward beyond the limitations of its negation in general, to penetrate through antithesis into Positive Semblance.

There now follows a state in which unity through inter-penetration is accomplished in absolute contradiction.

Appearance in Actuality

THE ground on which the dialectical relationship between ‘parts’ and ‘whole’ is established is Essence in Existence. The law of Existence reveals the properties of Essence to be constantly changing in a relative and richer way towards each other as ‘parts’ in relation to some presupposed ‘whole’. This reaches a point in which the emerging form of Appearance is grounded on the changing qualities of Existence which gives rise to the law of Necessity. The method of synthetic analysis will begin to concentrate on the dialectical relation between content and form thus reproducing the law of EXISTENCE on a higher level.

Existence now bases itself on Appearance until ‘Form’ and ‘Content’ are identically and abstractly revealed in the category of the ‘Unity and Identity of Opposites’. The two sides of Appearance are contained in this abstraction. Inner ‘Form’ and ‘Content’ being equal have now become self identical and at the same time reflected into self in Appearance as well as reflected into the outer world of Actuality. ‘Possibility’ is a category which reveals itself as two opposing self subsisting existent moments. It has the ‘Unity and Identity of Opposites’ posited as a positive reflectedness into self of external Actuality as well as a moment which points to the outer forms of the Actuality of the external world.

In these two moments ‘Possibility’ is grounded in the external world. It has arisen from the Necessity of the inner ‘form’ of Appearance as Essence which is formed and must appear. Thus the subsistent ‘other’ moment of the external world arises as ‘Possibility’ through the unity of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ moments contained in the category of the ‘Unity and Identity of Opposites’. Within the category of Possibility’ we have the unity of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ moments of Appearance and Actuality as opposites existing independently of each other.

‘Actuality is the unity of Essence and Existence ... ‘ (Volume 38, p. 156)

Lenin reveals the perspective of Actuality, in Essence and EXISTENCE. (See box on the side Volume 38, p. 156)

‘Usually: from one extreme to the other totality = (in the shape of) dispersed completeness ...’

‘“The one-sidedness of one philosophic principle is generally faced by its opposite one-sidedness, and, as everywhere, totality at least is found as a dispersed completeness.”

‘Actuality is higher than Being, and higher than Existence.’ (ibid.)

‘(1) Being is immediate – “Being is not yet actual.” It passes into other. [It is still only Appearance, GH]

‘(2) Existence (it passes into Appearance) – arises out of Ground, out of conditions, but it still lacks the unity of “Reflection and immediacy.”

‘(3) Actuality – unity of Existence and Being-in-Self.

‘... “Actuality also stands higher than Existence” ...’ (Volume 38, p. 157)

Actuality stands in ‘dispersed completeness’. It is the unity of Existence and Being-in-self, on the verge of the Notion.

Lenin tells that this relation is ‘full of content’. ‘But this necessity is at the same time relative.’ (ibid.)

‘The unfolding of the sum-total of the moments of actuality NB = the essence of dialectical cognition.’ (Volume 38, p. 158)

‘... in the same Encyclopaedia, the eloquent words on the vanity of mere delight at the wealth and flux of the phenomena of nature and on the necessity ... “of advancing to a closer insight into the inner harmony and uniformity of nature ...”’

Lenin concludes: ‘(Closeness to materialism.)’ (ibid.)

CAUSALITY starts in the external world and is manifested in thought through ‘Finite Cause’ as the ‘other’ of ‘Being’. Finite ‘Cause’ becomes ‘Effect’ and ‘Effect’ becomes ‘Cause’ in the transformation of the ‘Finite’ into the ‘Infinite’ and vice versa.

‘But the movement of the Determinate Relation of Causality,’ wrote Hegel, ‘has now resulted in this, that the cause is not merely extinguished in the effect, and with it the effect too (as happens in Formal Causality) – but the cause in its extinction, in the effect, becomes again that effect vanishes into cause, but equally becomes again in it. Each of these determinations cancels itself in its positing and posits itself in its cancellation;’ (Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 38, p. 161)

Hegel continues: ‘At this point Reciprocity presents itself as a reciprocal causality of presupposed substances conditioning each other; each is, in relation to the other, at once active and passive substance.’ (ibid.) ‘Causality presents itself as ... Becoming.’ (ibid.), in movement and change.

When Subjective Cognition interpenetrates through antithesis the ‘theory of knowledge’ it conditions itself as substance similar in example to positive and negative electricity.

Substance and Measure

SUBSTANCE as a dialectical category has proved to be a necessary condition, without assuming which it was impossible in principle to understand, the mode of the interaction between the thinking body and the world within which it operated as a thinking body. Dialectical materialism rejects the idea of any immutable, homogenous substance and holds that which is in constant motion and development is the substance.

At the same time ‘Measure’ is a category which seeks to establish an organic unity between quality and quantity. Every qualitatively distinct object has its own quantitative object. It has its own quantitative attributes, which are both immobile and immutable. This very mutation, however, is of necessity bound by certain limits (beyond which quantitative changes lead to qualitative changes).

These limits are the limits of measure itself. The connections and unity of quantity and quality are simultaneously conditioned by the nature of a given object.

Lenin, in a quotation from Hegel, says:

‘“Necessity and Causality have, then, vanished in it, they contain both the immediate identity (as connection and relation) and the absolute substantiality of distincts, and therefore their absolute contingency – the original unity of substantial variety, hence absolute contradiction.’ (Volume 38, p. 161)

Lenin describes this as the ‘unity of substance in the distinct’. (ibid.) Being and Essence are the moments of Becoming of the Notion – ’from Intuition to Cognition of objective reality’.

Lenin’s reference to ‘unity of substance in the distinct’ refers to the ‘nodal lines’ in which either quality or quantity, depending upon conditions, may emerge in existence. Subjective cognition is a decisive impulse, through antithesis and interpenetration it is negated into the ‘theory of knowledge’ and into the mental world embodying the individual in which Causality and Substance build up to Reciprocal action through Necessity to the leap to the abstract Notion.

The Abstract Notion is obliged to unavoidably become a ‘positive or theoretical Notion’.

This means that it returns to Semblance on a higher level. The self-movement of matter is responsible solely for the movement of thought through Semblance, Appearance and Actuality, once the stage of the abstract Notion is reached, practice itself generates the self-movement of matter. The break with subjective thinking is reached and the objective side of practice is implemented.

The abstract notion completes the dialectical process of thought within the self-relation between individual and Universal and vice versa. The theoretical Notion is the external world itself which supplies the positive side to the Notion. The practical impulse has emerged from subjective self-impulse, which is thought to objective practice.

The notion

‘“THE NOTION”,’ writes Hegel, ‘“is determined in and for itself [abstract], and is the middle member” (in the logical figure of the syllogism) “only because it equally has the significance of the objective”.’ (Volume 38, p. 220)

The form and content of the Notion is the same, that is why it draws its determinate element directly from its object.

‘In reality,’ says Lenin, quoting from Hegel, ‘subjectivity is only a stage of development from Being and Essence – whereupon this subjectivity “dialectically ‘breaks through its Barrier’ “ and “opens out into objectivity by means of the syllogism”.’ (Volume 38, p. 183)

The subjective is a moment in the development of the objective. Having emerged, the subject exercises an active influence on the object, thus revealing itself within it. The dialectical whole is thus revealed in objective thought, in a way in which the one-sidedness of both subject and object is abolished. (Volume 38, p. 208)

‘Theoretical cognition ought to give the object in its necessity, in its all-sided relations, in its contradictory movement an-und-für-sich [in and for itself]. But the human notion “definitively” catches this objective truth of cognition, seizes and masters it, only when the notion becomes “being-for-itself” in the sense of practice (my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphaisis visible in this scan]). That is, the practice of man and of mankind is the test, the criterion of the objectivity of cognition.’ (Volume 38, p. 211)

Lenin insisted that ‘... the conformity of concepts with objects is not subjective’. (Volume 38, p. 194.) ‘... Man’s consciousness not only reflects the objective world, but creates it.’ (Volume 38, p. 212) The world in itself is relatively different from the world as a thing for us. ‘Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.’ (Volume 38, p. 213)

Man expands nature through practice

THE HISTORY of human beings is organised in society as the history of the growth of the creative element, man’s initiative, both employers and working class. The higher the consciousness of people, the higher their cognition of the objective laws of nature and history. Through the union of cognition and practice social man changes and expands his external conditions of existence in accordance with his needs.

When we speak of the activity of dialectics, dialectical logic and the theory of knowledge in thought, we are posing the question of the dialectical transition. ‘What,’ asks Lenin, ‘distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition?’ And he answers: ‘The leap (my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in this scan]). The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being.’ (Volume 38, p. 284)

The ‘leap’ is to practice under conditions in which ‘consciousness creates it. (Volume 38, p. 212) This is extremely important and reveals that the law of the unity and struggle of opposites of theory as a guide to practice, reveals the source of all internal self-movement, and self-development of objects in the external world.

‘Dialectical transition’ builds up to a point where the ‘leap’ takes place and this is where practice really begins. A transition can be gradual, slow or fast, but a leap is a jump – a complete change in the ‘subject as a result of the activity of the ‘object’ of cognition.

For Lenin, the unity of theory and practice was the essence of dialectical cognition, because it was man’s interaction and dependence upon the external world in order to live.

Or, as he himself explains it:

‘... the practical activity of man had to lead his consciousness to the repetition of the various logical figures thousands of millions of times in order that these figures could obtain the significance of axioms.’ (Volume 38, p. 190)

Subjective dialectical thought becomes submerged in the objective situation thousands of millions of times so that the ‘consciousness of man’ can attain ‘the significance of axioms’.

As Lenin explains on page 191, Volume 38: ‘Man by his practice proves the objective correctness of his ideas, concepts, knowledge, science.’

Practice is not just another category of dialectics, a criterion of truth as the theory of man’s practical activities. It is the dialectics of the object as well as the subject of action – action as the goal and action as the result as well as the theory. Thinking is subjective practice, and physical practice is objective and both interact on each other.

Practice, according to Lenin, is Subjective end; it is also external means (‘man’s tools’) as well as the coincidence of subject and object. Hence as Lenin explains it: ‘... the activity of man, who has constructed an objective picture of the world for himself, changes external actuality’. (Volume 38, p. 218)

The concept of subjectivity ‘... is the impulse to destroy this separation (of the idea from the object).’ (Volume 38, p. 194.) What this means is that the subjective must be understood as the content of man’s cognition of the world, although it appears to be independent of the world.

‘In actual fact,’ writes Lenin, (Volume 38, p. 189) ‘men’s ends are engendered by the objective world and presuppose it – they find it as something given, present. But it seems to man as if his ends are taken from outside the world, and are independent of the world (“freedom”).’

‘The laws,’ explains Lenin, ‘of the external world, of nature, which are divided into mechanical and chemical (this is very important) are the bases of man’s purposive activity.’ (Volume 38, p. 187)

And again:

‘In his practical activity, man is confronted with the objective world is dependent on it, and determines his activity by it.’(Volume 38, pp. 187–188)

‘From this aspect,’ comments Lenin, ‘from the aspect of the practical (purposive) activity of man, the mechanical (and chemical) causality of the world (of nature) appears as something though external, as though something secondary, as though something hidden.’ (Volume 38, p. 188)

The dialectical training of subjective ‘purposive’ thinking leads to the dialectically practical goals men have set themselves and to the enrichment of the dialectical laws of countless practices. A dialectically organised human being is one who clearly recognises the dialectical laws of thinking in their natural practical surroundings determinated by practice.

It is presently possible with subjective and objective dialectical training to set aside sufficient components, as it were, from human knowledge, that is, at the point of ‘living perception’. These are moments revealed by the unity of the negative and positive nature of semblance at the stage reached by abstract thought, such as Marx in his work on Capital.

The interaction of opposites is a finite manifestation which is undergoing constant change in mutual and reciprocal action and reaction between the most elementary particles, between particles and fields of particles.

Without the capacity for the interaction of particles at all levels, matter as such could not exist. Interaction emerges in the relation in which cause and effect constantly change places. On page 318, Volume 38, Lenin, in assessing the role of scientific knowledge, writes: ‘The concept (cognition) reveals the essence (the law of causality, identity, difference, etc.) in Being (in immediate phenomena) – such is actually the general course of all human cognition (of all science) in general.’

What has to be understood is that the dialectical method of cognition is both mediated and substantiated by dialectical practice. ‘If Marx,’ wrote Lenin on page 319, Volume 38, ‘did not leave behind him a “Logic” (with a capital letter), he did leave the logic of Capital, and this ought to be utilised to the full in this question. In Capital, Marx applied to a single science logic, dialectics and the theory of knowledge of materialism (three words are not needed: it is one and the same thing) which has taken everything valuable in Hegel and developed it further.’

On the same page Lenin notes:

‘Abstract “Sein” [Being] only as a moment in everything flows.’

‘Commodity – money – Capital leads to:–

(a) production of absolute surplus value

(b) production of relative surplus value

‘The history of capitalism and the analysis of the concepts summing it up.’ (Volume 38, p. 320)

‘The beginning – the most simple, ordinary, mass, immediate “Being”: the single commodity (”Sein” [Being] in political economy). The analysis of it as a social relation. A double analysis, deductive and inductive – logical and historical (forms of value).

‘Testing by facts or by practice respectively, is to be found here in each step of the analysis.

‘Cf. concerning the question of Essence versus Appearance – price and value – demand and supply versus (crystallised labour) – wages and the price of labour-power.’ (ibid.)

Lenin’s emphasis here upon testing by ‘facts’ and practices throughout analysis does not mean that perception only is a realisation of man’s aims – it is also a means of perceiving ever new tasks. In his article On the Question of Dialectics (Volume 38, p. 361), he writes:

‘Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent [my emphasis] and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance (my emphasis [Note by ETOL: No emphasis visible in this scan]), and counterpose the one to the other.’

The Appearance is Price – The Essence is Value.

The Appearance is Wages – The Essence is the price of Labour Power.

Dialectical interaction between theory and practice enables the mind to be trained simultaneously in thinking about what the individual is doing as part of the ‘theory of knowledge’, as well as the world which he sets out to change through his practice. The ability to think arose initially out of practice, which means that it follows the same dialectical pattern as the struggle to change the world in relation to the requirements of human beings.

The best known work of Marx in this respect is Capital, where he selected his dialectical tools as laws of analysis which enabled these laws to be abstracted out of living events.

‘In his Capital,’ writes Lenin, ‘Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz. the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all the contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the summation of its individual parts, from its beginning to its end.’ (Volume 38, pp. 360–361)

Empiricism and theoretical thinking

THE SOURCE of ‘sensations’ in the external world constitutes countless moments of empirical origin and has important implications. It is a natural beginning which means that this is the only way we can, in fact, subjectively appraise the world.

The purpose of theory is to mentally reproduce reality, but initially it is impossible to achieve this at an empirical level, the unfolding processes of theoretical knowledge are at this point far from taking shape as a specific investigation. Scientific knowledge at this early stage arises from an interaction between sensuality and thought, wherein the source of sensation is in the external world.

The process of cognition presupposes on a theoretical level of sensuality and science, in particular, the acquisition of ‘fantasy’. Creative imagination in many ways can predetermine success, provided it is not used solely as a substitute for imagined successes. It has to be dialectically processed from practice to thought.

As Lenin points out:

‘Feuerbach very ingeniously and clearly explains how ridiculous it is to postulate a “transcendence” from the world of phenomena to the world in itself, a sort of impassable gulf created by the priests and taken over by the professors of philosophy. Here is one of his explanations taken from Feuerbach.

‘“Of course, the products of fantasy are also products of nature, for the force of fantasy, like all other human forces, is in the last analysis both in its basis and in its origin a force of nature”.’ (Volume 14, p. 118)

In a quotation from Anti Dühring referred to by Lenin, Engels states:

‘“The unity of the world does not consist in its being, although its being is a precondition of its unity, as it must certainly first be, before it can be one. Being, indeed, is always an open question beyond the point where our sphere of observation ends. The real unity of the world consists in its materiality and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.” ‘ (Volume 14, p. 117)

Beyond the sphere where our observation ends, ‘such being’, as Lenin stressed, is indeed ‘an open question’. Our empirical investigation orientates cognition towards the identification of relationships between the conceptual apparatus of science and the reality which is beyond and which is seen through analysis as a whole as being beyond the conceptual field, only to be revealed in ‘living contemplation’. Science, it must not be forgotten, provides a knowledge of objective reality and not some closed conceptual structure.

Whenever the empirical and the theoretical concept interact, a very definite function takes place in the interaction. This is in accordance with the findings of observation and experiment with corresponding results through improvement in the cognitive process itself.

By way of developing scientific knowledge, an empirical examination may be oriented by conceptual theoretical tasks. Concepts such as elaboration and perfection constitute an act of singling out and penetrating objective reality, in an ever-fuller and ever deeper reflection of its substance.

What must be understood about the abstractly positive nature of theoretical thinking is that it manifests its own content through the form which encourages mentally reflective contact between the external world and the individual.

The ‘content’ is contained in the ‘form’ of the initial undefined image of ‘sensation’ itself. ‘Imaginative wholeness’ which comprises the content of theoretical thought is not a ‘product of the notion, thinking and self-developing outside of contemplation and imagination’, but is ‘a processing of contemplation and images into Notions’. (Karl Marx, Grundrisse, p. 22)

This is understood as two aspects of a single process. There is internal perfection and development of its means and the external which is the application of these means towards the assimilation of material which is beyond the cognitive system itself. Examples of the dialectical and empirical process of cognition are obliged to take into account the existence of historically different stages of science which brought together these two fundamentally different types of cognitive activity (Empirical – Dialectical materialist) through the development of their possibilities in relation to each other.

In the early stages of dialectical materialism as a scientific study, we quickly arrive on the scene of a study of concepts. In this relationships such a study provides guidance for empirical examination in the proper sense of the word. That is why induction as a method in science, through which a general conclusion is drawn from a set of premises, must not be used at the empirical stage of science.

To further emphasise the highly-speculative nature of cognition, in the process of studying the object of cognition, it is highly important to bear in mind the process of cognition as a whole. As Lenin described, ‘the old, formal logic is exactly like a child’s game, making pictures out of jig-saw pieces.’ And he comments: It has ‘fallen into disrepute’. (Volume 38, p. 96)

Lenin goes on to quote Hegel: ‘“For method is the consciousness of the form taken by the inner spontaneous movement of its content”.’ (ibid.) This is an extremely important observation, as we shall see.

The negative nature of semblance takes us up to the end of the first negation which was initiated in the external world at the source of sensation. From sensations to the negative nature of semblance. The negation of this negation comprehends ‘the antithesis in its unity’ (Volume 38, p. 98) in the course of the interpenetration of negative semblance into positive semblance. Until that dialectical interconnection is made, negative semblance cannot manifest itself in positive semblance and a unity of the two in contradiction cannot be established.

A synthesis manifesting antithesis is decisive here, otherwise no connection can be made, and the negation of negation cannot be completed. There can only be a word form which would be meaningless without essence as content. Without the negative and positive nature of essence in antithesis and interpenetration being established, a word form would be an absurdity.

But ‘theoretical thinking’ as a guide to ‘empirical examination’ is an essential aspect of speculative thinking in the process of cognition itself. The dialectical materialist safeguard is the process of antithesis through the interpenetration of negative into positive semblance. The unity of antithesis in interpenetration of one into the other must exist in a state of absolute contradiction otherwise it is not dialectical essence.

In turn, this means, that we must allow for the use of ‘word forms’ with only implicit reference to the first Negation. If we are to avail ourselves of the deepest aspects of material gathered from empirical observation and examination under conditions in which the knowledge dialectically and materialistically gathered from empiricism yields ever richer and wider sources of knowledge, we must be prepared to ‘grasp the nettle’ where it stings most.


1. This is the same synthesis which arose out of the interpenetration of Negative into positive Semblance. The method of analysis which follows is therefore called synthetic analysis.

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