Published: Random House, 1939;
Transcribed: for marxists.org in May, 2002.
THIS BOOK IS BASED UPON THE MUIRHEAD lectures on political philosophy delivered in the University of Birmingham in January and February 1938. I have expanded them to deal more fully with matters of detail. They are primarily addressed to scientific workers and students, in the belief that Marxism will prove valuable to them in their scientific work, as it has to me in my own. But in view of the general importance of the subject I hope to interest a somewhat wider audience.
I have tried to apply Marxism to the scientific problems of my own day, as Engels did over many years, and Lenin in 1908. I do not doubt that I have made mistakes. A Marxist must not be too afraid of making mistakes.
Such an attempt as mine inevitably invites one of two criticisms. If one confines oneself to well-established scientific facts, one is told that it is easy to apply Marxism after the event, and that with sufficient ingenuity one can find a quotation from Marx or Engels which is apposite to any piece of recent scientific work. If, on the other hand, one ventures into speculation one is certain to be wrong on points of detail, if not on more fundamental matters. Nevertheless, I think it is worthwhile to demonstrate the kind of speculations into which Marxism leads a scientist.
For an acceptance of this philosophy inevitably induces novel types of action and thought. This must be my apology for parts of Chapter 5 which some readers will consider an excrescence on an otherwise useful book.
I have tried to cover a very wide field, and am fully aware that I have done so both unevenly and superficially. I hope, however, that I may stimulate others to fill in the gaps in my exposition and to correct it where necessary. An adequate Marxist interpretation of science can only arise in an atmosphere of vigorous controversy, and I wish to make it absolutely clear that I expect to be criticized. But I hope that the criticism to which I am subjected from Marxist writers will be constructive.
I have used the following abbreviations in my citations :
F. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, Frederick Engels, 1888. English translation. (International Publishers, New York.)
A. D. Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science (Anti-Duhring), Frederick Engels, 1878. English translation by Emile Burns. (International Publishers, New York.)
C. Capital, Karl Marx. English translation by Moore and Aveling. (Modern Library, New York.)
O. F. The Origin of the Family, Private Properiy, and the State, Frederick Engels, 1884. English translation by Ernest Untermann. (Kerr, Chicago.)
M.E. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, V. I. Lenin, 1909. English translation by David Kvitko. (International Publishers, New York.)
I hope that many of my readers will be induced to study these books.
I OWE TWO APOLOGIES TO MY AUDIENCE AND readers. In the first place I am not primarily a philosopher; but when I am asked to lecture on political philosophy, I can choose no more appropriate subject than the most political of all philosophies, that of Marx. The second apology is more serious. I am by no means qualified to speak on Marxism. I have only been a Marxist for about a year. I have not yet read all the relevant literature, although I had of course read much of it before I became a Marxist. The object of these lectures will not only be to enlighten my audience, but to clarify my own thoughts. It will be remembered that Socrates described himself as the midwife who helped the unborn thoughts of others into the world. I will ask my hearers and readers to function in that capacity in my own case.
Now we must ask ourselves at once, why is Marxism important? I think I may presume that the majority of my audience and a considerable fraction of my readers are hostile to it. Why should they worry about it? One reason is because it is a philosophy of very great practical importance, a philosophy which is not less important if one decides that it is entirely false. It makes a considerable difference to the conduct of its adherents. I believe that one could spend a week (in vacation time, at any rate) with the average academic philosopher without discovering whether he was an idealist or a realist, but I do not think that one could spend a day with a Marxist without discovering his tenets.
There are two other important philosophies which issue in action to a very considerable extent. The first is the scholastic philosophy, whose greatest exponent was St. Thomas Aquinas. That philosophy represents not merely the opinions of a few people, or even of the whole body of priests and monks, but the practice of the great medieval civilization. That philosophy is still active in guiding the activity of the Roman Catholic Church. It is, therefore, deserving of study whether we adhere or object to it, simply because the Catholic Church is a very important institution. The second of these practically important philosophies is what a century or two ago was called natural philosophy, and is now called science. It is, however, limited in its scope. It has certainly been successful in some fields. In others it has had less application. It has undoubtedly transformed the world.
Now Marxism claims to apply scientific method in the field of politics and economics, and to predict and to enable us to control the transformation of the world still further. Because it extends scientific method into the human field it throws a new light on science, as a human activity depending both on contemporary social and economic conditions and also on certain very general laws of human thought. It further lays down some principles which are said to hold throughout nature, as well as applying to human activities. We shall have to investigate these claims in what follows.
Above all, I believe that I am justified in giving these lectures because of the very remarkable misapprehensions which undoubtedly exist in many quarters regarding the Marxist philosophy. A good many people do not, I think, even know of its existence. They know nothing of the theoretical side of Marx's work, except, perhaps, the doctrine of surplus value. If they hear that Marxism is materialism, they think materialism is the theory that man is a machine, or the denial of the existence of mind.
Now, until 1917, it might have been possible to dismiss Marxism as the doctrine of a small set of cranks, no more important than the doctrines of Bakunin, Sorel, or other revolutionary theorists. This was particularly so in England, where Marxism was largely ignored both in academic and political circles, whereas on the continent of Europe it was at least considered worthy of criticism. You will remember, however, one of the definitions of a crank, covering both the human and mechanical kinds, as "A little thing that makes revolutions"! It is now impossible to doubt the importance of Marxism, because Marxism was the philosophy of Lenin. It is very difficult to deny that Lenin was the greatest man of his time. Not that this admission need imply agreement with him. It is perfectly possible, without being a Mohammedan, to admit that Mohammed was the greatest man of his time. The philosophy of a man who has had so great and important an influence on world history as Lenin is undoubtedly worthy of investigation.
You will remember that Plato said that the ideal state was only possible when a philosopher became a king. Lenin was, amongst other things, a philosopher. We shall have to examine some of his philosophical views later on. He became, if not a king or even a dictator, the most important man, and the ideological leader, of a community covering most of the former Russian Empire. And that community is still largely guided by the principles which he laid down. The Soviet Union is certainly not the ideal state, for one reason because Marxists are not interested in ideal states, but in actual or possible states. Lenin's philosophy is today very much alive, both in the Soviet Union, and among communists and other Marxists who are not members of the communist party, outside the Soviet Union. The intensity of the interest taken in philosophy in the Soviet Union may be gauged by the statement, which I believe to be true, that in 1936, one hundred thousand copies of a translation of certain of Kant's works (I cannot believe they were his complete works!) were printed, and the whole lot sold out. Philosophy is at any rate a subject of very general interest in the U.S.S.R., and one result of communist propaganda in Britain has been a revival of interest in philosophy.
Such are some of the reasons why even those who are convinced of the truth of some other philosophy, and of the rightness of some other political practice, should be willing to make at least a superficial study of Marxism. My own reason for delivering these lectures is a different one. I think that Marxism is true.
Now, what is Marxism? Plekhanov, a Russian Marxist and predecessor of Lenin, began his book, Fundamental Problems of Marxism, with the statement: "Marxism is a complete theoretical system." That is approximately true of the philosophy of Aristotle, St. Thomas, Spinoza, or Hegel. Clearly it is not true of the philosophy of Socrates. It is also untrue of Marxism. Marxism is not complete, not a system, and only in the second place theoretical. It is not complete because it is alive and growing, and above all because it lays no claim to finality. The most that a Marxist can say for Marxism is that it is the best and truest philosophy that could have been produced under the social conditions of the mid-nineteenth century. It is not primarily a system, but a method. As Marx said in the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: [F., p. 75] "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: the point is to change it." Like Descartes, he regarded his philosophy as primarily a method, and although theory is essential in Marxism, Marx proclaimed the primacy of practice over theory.
This is not, of course, to say that Marxism does not include a great deal of systematic theory, which is to a large extent the fruit of the method. But the details of Marxist theory, like those of the theories of natural science, are the result of applying the method to concrete situations. And the theory which exists was built up with far more attention to observed facts and far less "pure thought" than the great philosophies of the past.
A few words are necessary about the historical origins and sources of Marxism. Marx born in 1818 at Trier, in south-western Germany; his father was a Jewish lawyer who came a Protestant when Karl was six years old. His colleague, Friedrich Engels, to whom Marxism owes so much, was born in 1820 at Barmen, in Rhineland. His father was a German manufacturer. Both studied philosophy. Marx got his Doctorate for a thesis on the philosophy of Epicurus; they both became left-wing Hegelians, and later followers of Feuerbach. Marx wanted to become a philosopher, and it is likely that had he become a professor he would have been a good deal more innocuous to the social system in which he lived than actually proved to be the case. However, the Prussian Government dismissed a number of people like Feuerbach and Bauer, whose philosophical and political views, though radical, were very much milder than Marx's views later became. Marx took to journalism. He was one of the founders of the radical Rheinische Zeitung in 1842. When it was suppressed in 1843, he went to Paris. Meanwhile, Engels had gone to Manchester in 1842, where he worked as a cotton broker and studied the life of the working people. His book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, was published in 1845.
In 1844, Marx and Engels met in Paris, and became lifelong friends. They came under the influence of French revolutionary theorists like Proudhon, and became Socialists. In 1845, at the instance of the Prussian Government, Marx was forced to leave Paris, and went to Brussels. By this time their views had been considerably clarified. They were in disagreement with Proudhon and other French leaders, and their economic and political outlooks were stated in the "Communist Manifesto," which Engels drafted, and which was published in 1847.
In 1848, both took part in the revolution in Germany, Marx as a journalist, Engels as a soldier. From 1849 onward, they lived most of their lives in England until Marx died in 1883 and Engels in 1895. Marx lived in London, Engels in Manchester until 1871, when he, too, came to London.
Apart from their political work such as that involved in founding the International Working Men's Association, later known as the First International, they wrote on a very large scale during those years. Marx's most important book was, of course, Das Kapital, but in discussing the relation of Marxism to science we shall mainly be concerned with the views expressed by Engels. His most important books for our purpose are, Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science, written in 1878, and popularly known as Anti-Duhring, and a smaller book called Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, written in 1888. Finally, we have a large number of manuscript notes of Engels, which although never published in book form, have appeared in the Marx-Engels Archive, under the title, "Dialektik and Natur." Anti-Duhring and Feuerbach are both polemical works, and most people find them easy to read. But they are somewhat of a puzzle for an ordinary philosophical student, for a number of reasons. It is important to remember that Duhring, whose writings Engels analyzed with considerable sarcasm, was a Socialist and a materialist, with whom he had enough in common to furnish a real basis of argument. He attacked him with considerable vehemence on the points on which they differed.
Again, Engels professed himself a disciple of Feuerbach, but was critical of his opinions in a number of respects. Similarly, his joint work with Marx, The Holy Family, was directed against Bruno Bauer, with whom they were in a considerable measure of agreement, and the Poverty of Philosophy was directed against Proudhon. It is a characteristic of all these books that they are written, not against open enemies, but against persons with whom the authors had a good deal in common. This makes them difficult reading for one who is accustomed to the average philosophical work, which is addressed to the whole world, so to speak, and not to a group with which the author has only a limited number of bones to pick.
Why, it may be asked, should Engels not have attacked such contemporaries as Comte, Mill, Spencer, or Green, from whom he differed on almost all points? Perhaps the answer is as follows. It was obvious that such philosophies as these would become obsolete in a relatively short time. Many of the political and economic theories of Mill and Spencer are simply irrelevant to modern conditions. On the other hand, the views of Duhring and Feuerbach are held by a good many modern Socialists. Engels attacked "right" theories, not in their crude form, but in their most dangerous form. In fact, he chose not the easiest, but the most difficult antagonists.
Lenin's only important philosophical work is called Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was published in 1908 and was directed mainly against Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, and others who claimed to be Marxists. Lunacharsky later became one of Lenin's colleagues in the Government of the U.S.S.R. At first reading, Lenin's book might seem to be an attempt to impose a formal, narrow Marxist orthodoxy. Actually he is undoubtedly justified, when Bogdanov claims to be a Marxist, in quoting passages from Marx which disagree with Bogdanov. The whole book is a book characteristic of a fighter. His attacks are mainly directed against compromisers, whether within the Marxist movement, like Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, or outside it, like Mach and Avenarius. His opinion was that "non-partisans in philosophy are just as muddle-headed as in politics." On the other hand he recognized and admired clear thinking wherever he found it, and in consequence was often extremely polite to his out and out opponents, like James Ward, to whom he refers in the following sentence, among others: "The question, as put by this frank and consistent spiritualist is remarkably clear and to the point." Similarly, Karl Pearson is described as "this conscientious and honest enemy of materialism." Besides this, some short but most important manuscript notes by Lenin on philosophical problems have been published.
In these lectures, we shall mainly be concerned with the relationship of Marxism to science, as developed by Engels in Feuerbach and Anti-Duhring, and by Lenin. Lenin's welcome to the new developments in physics, such as radioactivity and electrons, is particularly interesting as showing the relation of Marxism to discoveries which have been supposed to disprove its basic principles. However, Engels is the chief source, although he states expressly that most of the leading principles in his work derived from Marx.
Now a student of academic philosophy who takes up a study of Marxism will at first be disappointed. A great many questions are left unanswered, for two different reasons. Some were shown to be improperly put, and it was sufficient to demonstrate the historical reasons why they had been asked in the past. Others could not be answered on the existing data. Thus the relation between brain and mind is not in principle an insoluble problem; but it cannot be solved, except in the most summary manner, until we know a very great deal more, particularly about the brain. Marxism is not concerned mainly with being, but with becoming. It claims to enable us to understand change and development of all kinds, not only political and economic change and development, and by understanding to influence and to control them.
Most philosophers have treated time and change as more or less illusory, though since Hegel's day they are more often taken seriously. An attempt is made to find a timeless being behind this changeable world. That is conspicuously so in the philosophy of Plato. It is worth pointing out that Christianity differs from most of the academic philosophies in ascribing a supreme importance to a number of events in time — the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption of Mankind, and the Last Judgment. That was particularly so in primitive Christianity; and as it ceased to be a revolutionary religion, certain theologians tried to make its theory more and more static. In the first centuries of Christianity, theology was considerably influenced by the neo-Platonists, and in our own day we find such philosophers as Dean Inge trying to minimize the temporal side of theology and to exalt the timeless side. It is not, of course, a mere coincidence that their political views are usually reactionary.
While Marxism makes what at the very least must be admitted to be an ambitious attempt to solve the problems of becoming, it has very little to say concerning the problems of being raised in the classical philosophies. It dismisses many of them as illusory problems which have arisen through unclear thinking. It postulates nothing behind matter, and therefore dismisses metaphysics. It certainly postulates an inexhaustible supply of properties of matter, but no more than that.
In the remainder of this chapter, I shall try to summarize some of the principles of Marxism, though mainly outside the economic field. I shall only deal in the most summary way with Marx's economic and political theories in the last chapter; and as I am not an economist, I do not pretend that my treatment will be either novel or authoritative. In the first place, we have the principle of the unity of theory and practice, with the primacy of practice. Let me quote one of Marx's theses on Feuerbach:
"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the 'this-sidedness' of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or nonreality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question."
Again, Engels, in writing of astronomy, pointed out that in its early days, the Copernican hypothesis was only one of a number of theories, each of which would explain the facts with sufficient accuracy. It was only when, on the basis of Newton's theory of gravitation it was possible to predict such events as the finding of the planet Neptune and the return of Halley's Comet, that it could be taken as proved. All this is a commonplace for modern scientific theory, but it was by no means commonplace ninety years ago.
So far we may say that Marxism anticipates pragmatism, although it differs from pragmatism in almost all other respects, notably in its consistent emphasis on the changing of the world, and above all in its belief that there is a real world, and that absolute truth, if never reached, can be continually approached.
A second Marxist principle is materialism. This word has been used in a very large number of senses, and it is important to realize just what Marx meant by the term. Engels wrote [F., p. 31] as follows:
"The question of the relation of thinking to being, the relation of spirit to nature — the paramount question of the whole of philosophy — has, no less than all religion, its roots in the narrow-minded and ignorant notions of savagery. But this question could for the first time be put forward in its whole acuteness, could achieve its full significance, only after European society had awakened from the long hibernation of the Christian Middle Ages. The question of the position of thinking in relation to being, a question which, by the way, had played a great part also in the scholasticism of the Middle Ages, the question: which is primary, spirit or nature — that question, in relation to the Church, was sharpened into this: 'Did God create the world or has the world been in existence eternally?'
"The answers which the philosophers gave to this question split them into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature and, therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or another — (and among the philosophers, Hegel, for example, this creation often becomes still more intricate and impossible than in Christianity) — comprised the camp of idealism. The others, who regarded nature as primary, belong to the various schools of materialism.
"These two expressions, idealism and materialism, primarily signify nothing more than this; and here also they are not used in any other sense."
You will notice the emphasis which is laid on temporal priority rather than on logical priority. This is characteristic of a philosophical system which takes historical fact extremely seriously.
Now that definition of materialism is not accepted by many people. For example, my late father, J. S. Haldane, [Materialism, p. 5. (London, 1932) wrote as follows:
"Materialism may be defined as the belief that physico-chemical realism, or the assumption that the representation of our surrounding universe by the physical sciences in their traditional form corresponds to reality, can be extended so as to cover, not only the phenomena of life, but also those of conscious behaviour."
If we compare this with what Lenin wrote, we shall see that J. S. Haldane's view, so far at least as it is expressed in that passage, is not in conflict with Marxism. Lenin's words are:
"It is, of course, totally absurd that materialism should maintain the 'lesser' reality of consciousness or should necessarily adhere to a 'mechanistic world-picture' of matter in motion and not an electro-magnetic, or even some immeasurably more complicated one." [M.E., p. 238]
Again, in another place, Lenin wrote:
"For the sole 'property' of matter — with the recognition of which materialism is vitally concerned — is the property of being objective reality, of existing outside of our cognition. ... The recognition of immutable elements, 'of the immutable substance of things,' is not materialism, but is metaphysical, anti-dialectical materialism." [M.E., p. 220]
It is clear, therefore, that what Marxism calls materialism is something a good deal less mechanical than the materialism of the French eighteenth-century philosophers. It is worth noting that although my late father was a strong opponent of materialism, his book, The Sciences and Philosophy, was recommended by a Moscow radio commentator as a very good introduction to dialectical materialism, although far from being Marxist.
Again, Lenin's attitude to idealism, although hostile, was not completely negative:
"Philosophical idealism is nonsense only from the standpoint of a crude, simple, and metaphysical materialism. On the contrary, from the standpoint of dialectical materialism philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, swollen development (Dietzgen) of one of the characteristic aspects or limits of knowledge into a deified absolute, into something dissevered from matter, from nature." [M.E., p. 327 (manuscript notes)]
Why, then, many people ask, should you not drop this word "materialism" which has come to signify addiction to large dinners and expensive motor cars, and call it "realism" or something less challenging? The answer is that Marxism insists on the priority of matter, and that it is a fighting philosophy. Marxists must on occasion deal very vigorously with idealists. Today, for example, it is necessary to combat the propaganda of those pacifists who believe the world can be saved from war by goodwill acting, as it were, in a vacuum, and with the anarchists, who think that it is sufficient to destroy the existing State organizations, and human nature is good enough to do the rest.
The materialism of Marxists is called dialectical materialism, for a reason which will be explained later. Dialectical materialism as applied to human history is called historical materialism. This is the aspect of Marxist philosophy which is probably most familiar to British readers. But it is only one aspect, and is not that with which we shall be mainly concerned in this book. The nature of the materialistic interpretation of history will be made clear by two quotations from Engels :
"The new facts made imperative a new examination of all past history, and then it was seen that all past history was the history of class struggles, that these warring classes of society are always the product of modes of production and exchange, in a word, of the economic conditions of their time; that therefore the economic structure of society always forms the real basis from which, in the last analysis, is to be explained the whole superstructure of legal and political institutions, as well as of the religious, philosophical, and other conceptions of each historical period. Now idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history; now a materialistic conception of history was propounded, and the way found to explain man's consciousness by his being, instead of, as heretofore, his being by his consciousness." [A.D., p. 32]
Again, in another passage he says: [F., p. 62]
"In modern history at least it is therefore proved that all political struggles are class struggles, and all class struggles for emancipation in the last resort, despite their necessarily political form (for every class struggle is a political struggle), turn ultimately on the question of economic emancipation. Therefore, here at least, the state, the political order, is the subordinate, and civil society — the realm of economic relations — the decisive element. The traditional conception, to which Hegel, too, pays homage, saw in the State the determining element, and in civil society the element determined by it. Appearances correspond to this. As all the driving forces of the actions of any individual person must pass through his brain, and transform themselves into motives of his will in order to set him into action, so also all the needs of civil society — no matter which class happens to be the ruling one — must pass through the will of the State in order to secure general validity in the form of laws. That is the formal aspect of the matter — the one which is self-evident. The question arises, however, what is the content of this merely formal will of the individual as well as of the State — and whence is this content derived? Why is just this intended and not something else? If we enquire into this we discover that in modern history the will of the State is, on the whole, determined by the changing needs of civil society, by the supremacy of this or that class, in the last resort, by the development of the productive forces and relations of exchange."
The detailed economic theories of Marxism lie outside the scope of this book, as does the description of Marxist practice in the present class struggle.
Dialectical materialism is founded on Hegelian dialectic. It had long been realized that matter on the whole behaves intelligibly, conforming to the laws of logic and arithmetic. The question arose whether our reason mirrors the behaviour of matter, or whether on the other hand, matter mirrors the behaviour of mind. Kant's view was somewhere intermediate, perhaps leaning to the idealist side.
Hegel laid down, especially in his Logic and Phenomenology of Mind, a number of principles of thought going beyond those laid down by Aristotle and taught as formal logic, principles which had been more or less recognized for centuries, but never so clearly formulated. These principles were called dialectical principles. He said that nature conformed to them. According to Hegel the logical categories exist eternally; the world is a mere exemplification of these logical categories in space and time. Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels believed that the principles were exemplified in nature before they governed thought. According to Marx, the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of "thought. Hegel is standing on his head. Our business is to put him on his feet. Engels treated the Hegelian dialectic as expressing primarily the properties of matter, and only secondarily the laws of thought. He held that the principles which Hegel had worked out in the realm of thought also applied to material events, not only in the social field, but in the fields of astronomy, physics, biology, and so on.
In what follows I propose to give a sketch of the dialectic so brief and abstract as to be almost a caricature. I shall pass over many of its essential features, and attempt to summarize a few of its main principles. Such a presentation lays itself open to a severe criticism. The dialectic, which is a unity, appears as a collection of rules of thumb, one or other of which should be applied wherever possible. Such a point of view would, I am sure, be dispelled by a reading of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, or of a more modern exposition such as Jackson's Dialectics. I hope, indeed that the following chapters may serve to dispel it. If not, the fault is my own, not that of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
What are these dialectical principles? One of them is the principle of the unity of opposites. For example, if I say, "John Smith is a man," I am asserting the identity in a certain context of a particular, John Smith, and the universal, man. This identity has led philosophers into very great difficulties for the last 2,300 years. Again, I say that the wood of which this table is made is hard, or it would not support things, and soft, or it could not be cut. Two opposite qualities are united. Before such assertions, we have two alternatives; we may say, as Plato said, that matter is something self-contradictory, it is and is not. Universals are real, but matter is unreal.
Or we may say with Engels that matter unites these opposites. This means that matter is some thing very much richer and more complicated than the mechanistic materialists had ever dreamed.
Two remarks may be made on this principle. Lenin wrote that the unity of opposites is something conditional and temporary. Gas has no hardness, in the sense that it will put up no permanent resistance to division. On the other hand, it is probable that an electron is absolutely hard in the sense of being completely indivisible.
At any stage in the development of science we can undoubtedly explain away contradictions which puzzled our ancestors. For example, today, instead of saying, like Plato, that a table is both hard and soft, we can ascertain by a number of measurements the degree of hardness of the wood, its breaking strain, and so on.
There are a number of things which were Paradoxical to Plato and are not to us. On the other hand, in our own time new contradictions have appeared which seem just as trying to us as contradictions which we find trivial appeared to Plato. For example, electrons have apparently at the same time properties which compel us to regard them as particles, and other properties which can be explained if they are systems of waves. Two thousand years from now, these difficulties may seem very elementary indeed, but I think that our descendants will probably still be finding opposites embodied in matter which they will find difficult to unify.
The second principle is the passage of quantity into quality, and conversely. This phrase is taken from Hegel, but a much more satisfactory account of what is meant by it is given by Marx [C.(I), p. 337] in Capital.
"Here, as in natural science, is verified the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel in his 'logic' that merely quantitative changes beyond a certain point pass into qualitative differences."
A classical example of this is the boiling or freezing of water, but any other change of phase in physical chemistry may be taken as an example. At the boiling point of water some of its measurable qualities show an abrupt break. The volume, which has been going up steadily but slowly, shoots up enormously. Other properties disappear; for example, the capacity for dissolving solutes and that of ionizing salts.
The principle is, of course, absolutely fundamental in physiology. A hundred years ago it was commonly said that carbon dioxide was a poison, because a man died if he breathed pure carbon dioxide. Then J. S. Haldane found that a certain amount of this substance was essential for life. The normal amount in the blood corresponds to a pressure of about 5 per cent of an atmosphere. If this is either doubled or halved serious symptoms arise. In fact, too much of it is a poison, but a certain amount is a necessity.
It is equally fundamental in such ethical systems as that of Aristotle, who pointed out that the difference between good and evil was largely quantitative. Thus the coward took too few risks, the rash man too many, and the brave man the right number. It is even familiar in law, where for example, three or more people can make a riot, but one or two cannot.
In modern physics it is familiar under the name quantization. Not only mass, but energy, can only be transferred from one system to another (at least in certain cases) in definite quantities. We shall deal with his matter in more detail in Chapter 3. It may well be that quantum phenomena are the most fundamental and primitive expression of this principle, and that the other examples of it will ultimately be explicable a basis of quantum theory.
Now according to the view of matter which was first clearly formulated by Locke, though it goes back to Descartes and Democritus, the quantitative aspect of matter is real, whilst of its qualities are illusory. Thus what we call colours and tones are "really" only vibration frequencies. For Marxists both quantity and quality are properties of the real world.
The converse transformation of quality into quantity is exemplified when a symphony is recorded on a sound-track. Since our knowledge of the external world depends on the frequencies with which nervous impulses reach our brains and spinal columns along a million or two nerve fibres, and not on qualitative differences in these impulses, this transformation, and the reverse transformation of quantity into quality which takes place in our brains, play a fundamental part in our knowledge of the world.
The social applications of the principle are important. They have been given by Marx in a number of places, and it is worth while pointing out that laws holding right through one state of society may become meaningless in another. Social change may be discontinuous, as in the case of water to steam at atmospheric pressure, or continuous, as in the case of the passage from water to steam at pressures higher than the critical pressure. Thus slavery came to an abrupt and violent end in the United States, but faded out gradually in the late Roman Empire.
A third principle, which is perhaps the most important, is what is called the negation of the negation. Let me give a simple example. I learn to drive a motor-car, and among other things to steer it. Then I drive a little faster than usual, and skid. Skidding is the negation of steering. After skidding a number of times, I learn to control a skid in the direction which I desire. That is a passage to a higher level of motor driving. It is a passage which some drivers never make. London bus drivers, who have to learn to drive in pools of oil, are compelled to make it, and the controlled skid is part of the technique of every racing motorist. I take that example from familiar practice. Examples in physics and biology will follow later on.
One of Marx's examples from economics is interesting as showing how he applied this idea in the economic field. First of all, he describes medieval English industry, in which the workers owned the means of production, their own tools; and in some cases, their own land; but he was particularly concerned with handicraft production. Then, with the development of industry in the early stages of capitalism, the immediate producers were expropriated, ceasing to own their means of production, either forcibly, as through the enclosures of the land, or more generally by the competition of far more efficient industry based on division of labour and on capital. The hand-looms were killed by the factories. This process was the negation of the ownership by the workers of their means of production. But Marx claims that this process is now being negated. In the present stage of capitalism, capital is negating itself. [C. (I), p. 836]
"That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralization, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economizing of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined socialized labour.... Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in number, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalistic private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."
That is the way in which Marx conceived of e development of capitalism, its self-destruction, and the coming of socialism.
Now the negation of the negation was regarded by Marx as the main source of progress and of novelty. A great many philosophers, for example, Lloyd Morgan and Smuts, have recently been interested in what they call the emergence of novelty.
"Two fundamental (or is it the two possible? or is it the two historically observed?) conceptions of evolution are: development as decrease and increase as repetition; and development as a unity of opposites (the division of the one into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal correlation). The first conception is dead, poor, and dry; the second is vital. It is only this second conception which offers the key to understanding the 'self-movement' of everything in existence; it alone offers the key to understanding 'leaps,' to the 'interruption of gradual succession,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the appearance of the new." [M.E., p. 323 (manuscript notes)]
We shall have to see how far this rather ambitious claim can be verified in the field of science.
Above all, dialectical materialism insists on the reality of change. It claims to go back bepond Plato and Socrates to Heraclitus, and in particular it welcomed the new developments of physics which seemed to some to spell the end of materialism, and which undoubtedly were the end of the very narrow forms of materialism current in many scientific circles at the end of the nineteenth century, and still current in some of them.
As we saw above, Lenin wrote: [M.E., p. 220]
"The sole 'property' of matter — with the recognition of which materialism is vitally connected — is the property of being objective reality, of existing outside our cognition."
And for that reason, he was very far from upset by the revolutionary physical discoveries of his time.
Again, Engels [F., p. 51] said:
"The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind-images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidents and all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end — this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is scarcely ever contradicted. But to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation are two different things."
You will see that in the idea of process as fundamental, we have the anticipation of much of what is valuable in the philosophies of Bergson and Whitehead. Later on I hope to show how these principles work, or at least to examine whether they work, in the field of science.
I am perfectly aware that my approach has been extremely incomplete. If anyone wishes to study the matter in detail, I would recommend them to read Feuerbach and Anti-Duhring, remembering that they were written from the point of view of the science of sixty years ago, and that therefore certain of the statements made in them would obviously have to be modified to meet recent developments of science.
An important type of dialectical process is as 'follows. We study some thing or some process in isolation. We produce a theory and we find that that theory is unsatisfactory because we have ignored the background. Now afterwards it is very easy for any critic to say, "Well, your original theory was just a piece of absurdity. Anyone could tell that it wasn't going to work!" Unfortunately, in practice we find that until we had produced the theory which worked up to a point and then broke down, we could not tell what elements we had ignored and should not have ignored. Let us take an example from chemistry. In the Middle Ages, no self-respecting alchemist would have dreamed of doing any chemical process which was in any way difficult without first observing the position of the planets. For example, if it was an operation involving tin, he would presumably have seen that the experiment was begun when Jupiter was in the ascendant, because Jupiter was the planet presiding over tin. One of the greatest steps in chemical progress ever taken was when some bold man actually began making experiments without first observing the planets, and found that they were just as successful as before. Nevertheless, when chemical theory and practice progressed, it was found that there were certain things in the background which could not be ignored, things of which the medieval alchemists had never even dreamed. For example, it is clear that in any chemical experiment involving the measurement of the amount of gas produced, it is necessary to read not only the thermometer, but the barometer; and it is only when one takes account of the variations in the barometric pressure that one gets anything like exactitude in such measurements.
Now this increasing importance of the background is often a part of the historical process. For example, in what we believe to be the most primitive type of human life known to us, the collecting stage, which comes even before the stage of hunting, it is clear that the most effective community was the family. The same is still true of a society based on very simple hunting and fishing. In that stage of human development, the only sensible philosophy was anarchism — let your neighbour alone. Larger communities, however, are necessitated by denser populations due to more effective production, and some form of organization above the family becomes necessary. You can no longer neglect the background of other human families.
In the same way it is believed by many people that whereas a hundred years ago the national state could be regarded to a very considerable extent in isolation, that is now no longer possible, owing to the great development of transport, including the transport not only of men and merchandise, but also of bombs.
There is a special case which arises when the situation is altered by our own knowledge of it. Engels attributed to Hegel the statement: "Freedom is the recognition of necessity." I think that actually the first man who made that statement was not Hegel, but Spinoza. It is a paradox, but in many cases it is true. Let us take the following statement: "If you drink water polluted with Bacillus typhosus, you will probably get typhoid fever." That statement is substantially true, until we recognize that it is true, and take action based upon it. Until its truth was recognized, men tried all sorts of methods of dealing with typhoid epidemics; magic, power, war on bad smells, and so on, without very conspicuous success. Now the curious thing is that when that statement regarding typhoid was not only put forward, but was made the basis of action, it ceased to be true. It immediately became a lie, because you have to add to the words "you will probably get typhoid fever," "but not if your water is boiled or chlorinated, or if you get yourself immunized." In other words, by recognizing the necessity, you are able in that case and in many others to circumvent it.
The same thing is true of the doctrine of historical materialism. It may be claimed, in my opinion with a very large measure of truth, that man is to a considerable extent a slave of economic conditions, until he recognizes the fact; and the idealist, who denies the principle of historical materialism completely, is as much in the grip of economic conditions as anyone else. Marxists believe that the principle of economic determinism of other human activities is largely true, but they are out to make it untrue by founding a society in which economic classes have been abolished, and in which this particular kind of determinism no longer holds.
Of course, no Marxist would claim that before Marx's time no one struggled against economic conditions. On the contrary, almost if not quite all the political struggles of the past were at bottom struggles against economic conditions. The struggle was often unconscious, but sometimes fully conscious. But the participants in these past struggles concentrated on their immediate problems, and did not see them in their full historical perspective. The fact that Marxism lays so much stress on this struggle of human beings against economic forces makes it clear that the doctrine of economic fatalism is no part of the Marxist philosophy. On the contrary, Marxism unifies the theory of the struggle against economic fatalism with its actual practice.
The above is a very characteristic type of dialectical process, on which Professor Levy has laid particular stress in a number of papers and a recent book. [A Philosophy for a Modern Man, Alfred A. Knopf, 1938]
Before we pass on, I want to compare this Hegelian-Marxist dialectic for one moment with that of Socrates, who may be said to have introduced the dialectical method into philosophy.
So far as we can make out, the Socratic method of operation was as follows: he started a conversation with some unfortunate Athenian citizen on a topic such as the nature of justice, and made his unlucky and unsuspecting interlocutor contradict himself. As a result of those contradictions, he arrived, if not at the truth, at any rate somewhat nearer the truth than his starting-point.
Plato wrote that the dialectical method was a means of arriving at absolute truth. For example, if the question discussed was, "What is Justice?" Plato thought that justice corresponded with some eternal idea, and that by examining the ordinary man's idea of justice, showing where it contradicted itself, and in consequence amending it so that it was no longer self-contradictory, he could arrive at a knowledge of that eternal idea of justice. We now, most of us, doubt whether Plato was correct; and there has been a tendency, especially perhaps among scientific people, to say that Socrates was merely investigating the meaning of words, and doing something pretty unimportant. I believe that this view is also incorrect. The word "justice" in Athens stood, if not for an eternal idea, at any rate for a social reality for which men were willing to die or to kill. But justice in Athens, even justice as conceived by the most enlightened Athenian, was by no means the same as justice in England today. Very few, if any, of Socrates' interlocutors would have regarded slavery as an essentially unjust institution; and in the same way, justice in twentieth-century England presumably means something different from what it will mean a hundred years hence.
We may conclude then, that while this verbal or argumentative dialectical process can take us a certain way, can clarify our ideas to a considerable extent, yet history applies a dialectical process of a far more searching character to our social institutions, bringing out contradictions which no amount of mere argument would have disclosed.
The Marxist theory of truth is, I think, straightforward and simple, but by no means complete. The view taken is that an indefinite progress is made in the direction of truth, except, perhaps, on fairly trivial matters such as the date of a given man's birth or death. This doctrine is, of course, familiar to English students of philosophy in a slightly different form in the work of Bradley. A short quotation from Engels [A.D., p. 101] states the Marxist point of view clearly:
"The sovereignty of thought is realized in a series of extremely unsovereignly-thinking human beings; the knowledge which has an unconditional claim to truth is realized in a series of relative errors; neither the one nor the other can be fully realized except through an endless eternity of human existence.
"Here once again we find the same contradiction as we found above, between the character of human thought, necessarily conceived as absolute, and its reality in individual human beings with their extremely limited thought. This is a contradiction which can only be solved in the infinite progression, of what is for us, at least from a practical standpoint, the endless succession, of generations of mankind. In this sense human thought is just as much sovereign as not sovereign, and its capacity for knowledge just as much limited as unlimited. It is sovereign and unlimited in its disposition, its vocation, its possibilities and its historical purpose; it is not sovereign and it is limited in its individual expression and in its realization at each particular moment.
"It's just the same with eternal truths. If mankind ever reached the stage at which it could only work with eternal truths, with conclusions which possess sovereign validity and have an unconditional claim to truth, it would then have reached the point where the infinity of the intellectual world both in its actuality and in its potentiality had been exhausted, and this would mean that the famous miracle of the infinite series which has been counted would have been performed."
On the whole we may take it that Marxists are rather sceptical of the more ambitious logical theories. For example, the system of Russell and Whitehead, in the Principia Mathematica is doubtless true, or largely true, if sufficiently sharp classification is possible.
It is, of course, based on the hypothesis that existents (e.g. dogs, lightning flashes, and sensations), relations (e.g. greater than, father of, desired by), and propositions (e.g. this hat is black, all pigs have heads, I want a drink), can be arranged in classes. Then, for example, if a one to one correspondence can be made between the members of two classes, say the bright stars in the Plough and the petals of a typical Purple Loosestrife flower, these two classes are members of a class which also includes the class of days in the week and the class of dwarfs who befriended Snow White. This super-class is the number seven. And on this basis the fundamental theorems of mathematics can be proved.
If then we can divide up all animals precisely into different species, between which the distinctions are at all times well marked, no doubt the Russell-Whitehead theory of classification will hold. But actually this division of animals into species or other higher categories is by no means universally valid. The gap between species is bridged not only by evolution in the past, but in some cases at any rate, by hybridization in the present. Engels made very great play with animals which bridged gaps — Archaeopteryx, which bridged the gap between reptiles and birds, and Ceratodus, bridging to some extent the gap between the fish and the amphibia, though, of course, far less completely than many fossil forms since discovered. For that reason it is probable that too great emphasis has been attached to logical systems which will only work for material that has certain highly abstract properties, which are rather less frequently and much less completely exemplified in the real world than logicians would like to think.