Part Two – Problems of the Marxist-Leninist Theory of Dialectics
After what Hegel had done it was only possible to advance in a single direction, along the road to materialism, to a clear understanding of the fact that all dialectical schemas and categories revealed in thought by Hegel were universal forms and laws, reflected in the collective consciousness of man, of the development of the external real world existing outside of and independently of thought. Marx and Engels had already begun a materialist rethinking of the Hegelian dialectic at the beginning of the 1840s, and the materialistically rethought dialectic fulfilled the role, for them, of the logic of the development of the materialist world outlook.
This movement was seen as a direct continuation of Feuerbach’s argumentation; and when it was expressed in the terms of his philosophy it appeared approximately as follows. The Ego did not think, nor Reason, nor even the brain. Man thought by means of his brain and, moreover in unity and contact with nature. Abstracted from that unity he no longer thought. That was where Feuerbach left it.
But, continued Marx, man, too, did not think in immediate unity with. nature. Man only thought when he was in unity with society, with the social and historical collective that produced his material and spiritual life. Abstracted from the nexus of the social relations within and through which he effected his human contact with nature (i.e. found himself in human unity with it), he thought as little as a brain isolated from the human body.
Thus it was along the path of development of logic that the problem of the nature of human thought, the problem of the ideal, reached its full stature.
The ideal is the subjective image of objective reality, i.e. reflection of the external world in the forms of man’s activity, in the forms of his consciousness and will. The ideal is not an individual, psychological fact, much less a physiological fact, but a socio-historical one, the product and form of mental production. It exists in a variety of forms of man’s social consciousness and will as the subject of the social production of material and spiritual life. In Marx’s description, ‘the ideal is nothing other than the material when it has been transposed and translated inside the human head.’
All the diverse forms of resolving the problem of the ideal in the history of philosophy are attracted to two poles – the materialist and the idealist. Pre-Marxian materialism, while justly rejecting spiritualist and dualist ideas of the ideal as a special substance counterposed to the material world, considered the ideal as an image, as the reflection of a material body in another material body, i.e. as an attribute, a function, of specially organised matter. This general materialist conception of the nature of the ideal, which constituted the essence of the line of Democritus-Spinoza-Diderot-Feuerbach, irrespective of variants of its concretisation by individual materialists, also served as the starting point for the Marxist-Leninist solution of the problem.
The weak sides of the pre-Marxian materialism, which appeared as a trend among French materialists (especially in Cabanis and La Mettrie) and later in Feuerbach, and acquired independent form in the middle of the nineteenth century as so-called vulgar materialism (Büchner, Vogt, Moleschott, and others), were linked with an unhistorical, anthropological, naturalistic conception of the nature of man and led to a rapprochement and ultimately to direct identification of the ideal with the material, neuro-physiological structures of the brain and their functions. The old materialism set out from a conception of man as part of nature but, not bringing materialism as far as history, it could not understand man in all his peculiarities as a product of labour transforming both the external world and man himself. By virtue of that the ideal could not be understood as the result and active function of labour, of the sensuously objective activity of social man, as the image of the external world arising in the thinking body not in the form of the result of passive contemplation but as the product and form of active transformation of nature by the labour of generations succeeding one another in the course of historical development. The main transformation that Marx and Engels effected in the materialist conception of the nature of the ideal therefore related primarily to the active aspect of the relation of thinking man to nature, i.e the aspect that had been mainly developed, as Lenin put it, by ‘clever’ idealism, by the line of Plato-Fichte-Hegel, and was emphasised by them in an abstract, one-sided, idealist way.
The main fact on which the classic systems of objective idealism had grown up was the independence of the aggregate social culture and its forms of organisation from the individual, and more broadly the conversion in general of the universal products of social production (both material and spiritual) into a special social force opposed to individuals and dominating their wills and minds. It was for that reason that ‘the social power, i.e. the multiplied productive force, which arises through the co-operation of different individuals as it is determined within the division of labour, appears to these individuals, since their co-operation is not voluntary but natural, not as their own united power but as an alien force existing outside them, of the origin and end of which they are ignorant, which they thus cannot control, which on the contrary passes through a peculiar series of phases and stages independent of the will and the action of man, nay even being the prime governor of these’. The power of the social whole over individuals was directly disclosed and functioned in the form of the state and the political system of society, in the form of a system of moral, ethical, and legal limitations and norms of social behaviour, and further, of aesthetic, logical and other standards and criteria. The individual was forced from childhood to reckon much more seriously with the requirements and limitations expressed and socially sanctioned in them than with the immediately perceived external appearance of single things and situations, or the organically inherent desires, inclinations, and needs of his own body. The social whole was also mystified in the ‘fundamental’ principles of objective idealism.
Exposing the earthly basis of idealist illusions, Marx and Engels wrote: ‘This sum of productive forces, forms of capital and social forms of intercourse, which every individual and generation finds in existence as something given, is the real basis of what the philosophers have conceived as "substance" and "essence of man", and what they have identified and attacked... .’
All general images, however, without exception, neither sprang from universal schemas of the work of thought nor arose from an act of passive contemplation of nature unsullied by man, but took shape in the course of its practical, objective transformation by man, by society. They arose and functioned as forms of the social-man determination of the purposive will of the individual, i.e. as forms of real activity. General images, moreover, were crystallised in the body of spiritual culture quite unintentionally, and independently of the will and consciousness of individuals, although through their activities. In intuition they appeared precisely as the forms of things created by human activity, or as ‘stamps’ (‘imprints’) laid on natural, physical material by man’s activities, as forms of purposive will alienated in external substance.
People were only concerned with nature as such to the extent that it was involved in one way or another in the process of social labour, was transformed into material, into a means, a condition of active human practice. Even the starry heavens, in which human labour still could not really alter anything, became the object of man’s attention and contemplation when they were transformed by society into a means of orientation in time and space, into a ‘tool’ of the life activity of the organism of social man, into an ‘organ’ of his body, into his natural clock, compass, and calendar. The universal forms and patterns of natural material really showed through and were realised just to the extent to which this material had already been transformed into building material of the ‘inorganic body of man’, of the objective body of civilisation and so the universal forms of ‘things in themselves’ appeared to man immediately as active forms of the functioning of his ‘inorganic body’.
The ideal existed immediately only as the form (mode, image) of the activity of social man (i.e. of a quite objective, material being), directed to the external world. When, therefore, we spoke of the material system, of which the ideal was the function and mode of existence, that system was only social man in unity with the objective world through which he exercised his specifically human life activity. The ideal thus did not boil down to the state of matter found in the cranium of the individual, i.e. the brain. It was the special function of man as the subject of social labour activity, accomplished in forms created by preceding development.
Between contemplating and thinking man and nature in itself there existed a very important mediating link through which nature was transformed into thought, and thought into the body of nature. That was practice, labour, production. It was production (in the broadest sense of the word) that transformed the object of nature into the object of contemplation and thought. ‘Even the objects of the simplest "sensuous certainty" are only given to him [i.e. to man – EVI] through social development, industry and commercial intercourse.’
Therefore, Marx said, Feuerbach also stopped at the standpoint of contemplation (intuition) of nature and ‘never manages to conceive the sensuous world as the total living sensuous activity of the individuals composing it’, did not see that the object of his contemplation was the product of joint human labour. And in order to single out the image of nature in itself it was necessary to expend rather more labour and effort than the simple efforts of ‘disinterested’, aesthetically developed contemplation.
In immediate contemplation (intuition) the objective features of ‘nature in itself’ were bound up with the features and forms that had been stamped on it by the transforming activity of man, and all the purely objective characteristics of natural material, moreover, were given to contemplation through the image that the natural material had acquired in the course of, and as a result of, the subjective activities of social man. Contemplation was immediately concerned not with the object but with objective activity (i.e. activity on objects), transforming it, and with the results of this subjective (practical) activity.
A purely objective picture of nature was therefore disclosed to man not in contemplation but only through activity and in the activity of man socially producing his own life, of society. Thought, setting itself the aim of depicting the image of nature in itself, had to take that circumstance fully into account, because only the same activity as transformed (altered and occasionally distorted) the ‘true image’ of nature, could indicate what it was like before and without ‘subjective distortions’.
Only practice, consequently, was capable of resolving which features of the object given in contemplation belonged to the object of nature itself, and which had been introduced into it by man’s transforming activity, i.e. by the subject.
Therefore ‘the question whether objective truth is an attribute of human thought – is not a theoretical but a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the "this-sidedness" of his thinking in practice’, Marx wrote in his second thesis on Feuerbach. ‘The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’
That, too, constitutes the solution of many of the difficulties that have faced and still face philosophers.
In analysing the relation of production to consumption, i.e. a problem of political economy, and hence not a psychological one, Marx formulated the question as follows: ‘If it is clear that production offers consumption its external object, it is therefore equally clear that consumption ideally posits the object of production as an internal image, as a need, as a drive and as purpose.’ But consumption, as Marx showed, is only an inner moment of production, or production itself, since it creates not only the external object but also the subject capable of producing and reproducing this object, and then of consuming it in the appropriate manner. In other words, production creates the form itself of man’s active practice, or the faculty of creating an object of certain form and using it for its purpose, i.e. in its role and function in the social organism. In the form of an active, real faculty of man as the agent of social production, the object exists ideally as a product of production, i.e. as an inner image, requirement, and an urge and goal of human activity.
The ideal is therefore nothing else than the form of things, but existing outside things, namely in man, in the form of his active practice, i.e. it is the socially determined form of the human being’s activity. In nature itself, including the nature of man as a biological creature, the ideal does not exist. As regards the natural, material organisation of the human body it has the same external character as it does in regard to the material in which it is realised and objectified in the form of a sensuously perceived thing. Thus the form of a jar growing under the hands of a potter does not form part either of the piece of clay or of the inborn, anatomical, physiological organisation of the body of the individual functioning as potter. Only insofar as man trains and exercises the organs of his body on objects created by man for man does he become the bearer of the active forms of social man’s activity that create the corresponding objects.
It is clear that the ideal, i.e. the active form of social man’s activity, is immediately embodied, or as it is now fashionable to say, is ‘coded’, in the form of the neuro-cerebral structures of the cortex of the brain, i.e. quite materially. But the material being of the ideal is not itself ideal but only the form of its expression in the organic body of the individual. In itself the ideal is the socially determined form of man’s life activity corresponding to the form of its object and product. To try and explain the ideal from the anatomical and physiological properties of the body of the brain is the same unfruitful whim as to try and explain the money form of the product of labour by the physico-chemical features of gold. Materialism in this case does not consist at all in identifying the ideal with the material processes taking place in the head. Materialism is expressed here in understanding that the ideal, as a socially determined form of the activity of man creating an object in one form or another, is engendered and exists not in the head but with the help of the head in the real objective activity (activity on things) of man as the active agent of social production.
Scientific determinations of the ideal are therefore obtained by way of a materialist analysis of the ‘anatomy and physiology’ of the social production of the material and spiritual life of society, and in no case of the anatomy and physiology of the brain as an organ of the individual’s body. It is the world of the products of human labour in the constantly renewed act of its reproduction that is, as Marx said, ‘the perceptibly existing human psychology’; and any psychology to which this ‘open book’ of human psychology remains unknown, cannot be a real science. When Marx defined the ideal as the material ‘transposed and translated inside the human head’, he did not understand this ‘head’ naturalistically, in terms of natural science. He had in mind the socially developed head of man, all of whose forms of activity, beginning with the forms of language and its word stock and syntactical system and ending with logical categories, are products and forms of social development. Only when expressed in these forms is the external, the material, transformed into social fact, into the property of social man, i.e. into the ideal.
At first hand, transformation of the material into the ideal consists in the external fact being expressed in language, which ‘is the immediate actuality of thought’ (Marx). But language of itself is as little ideal as the neuro-physiological structure of the brain. It is only the form of expression of the ideal, its material-objective being. Neopositivists, who identify thought (i.e. the ideal) with language, with a system of terms and expressions, therefore make the same naturalistic mistake as scientists who identify the ideal with the structures and functions of brain tissue. Here, too, the form only of its material expression is taken for the ideal. The material is really ‘transplanted’ into the human head, and not simply into the brain as an organ of the individual’s body, (1) only when it is expressed in immediately, generally significant forms of language (understood in the broadest sense of the word, including the language of drawings, diagrams, models, etc.), and (2) when it is transformed into an active form of man’s activity with a real object (and not simply into a ‘term’ or ‘utterance’ as the material body of language). In other words the object proves to be idealised only when the faculty of actively recreating it has been created, relying on the language of words or drawings; when the faculty of converting words into deeds, and through deeds into things, has been created.
Spinoza understood this beautifully. With good reason he linked adequate ideas, expressed in the words of a language, precisely with ability to reproduce given verbal forms in real space. It was just there that he drew the distinction between a determination expressing the essence of the matter, i.e. the ideal image of the object, and nominal, formal definitions that fixed a more or less accidentally chosen property of the object, its outward sign. A circle, for example, could be defined as a figure in which lines drawn from the centre to the circumference were equal. But such a definition did not quite express the essence of a circle, but only a certain property of it, which property was derivative and secondary. It was another matter when the definition included the proximate cause of the thing. Then a circle should be defined as a figure described by any line one end of which was fixed and the other moved. This definition provided the mode of constructing the thing in real space. Here the nomical definition arose together with the real action of the thinking body along the spatial contour of the object of the idea. In that case man also possessed an adequate idea, i.e. an ideal image, of the thing, and not just signs expressed in words. That is also a materialist conception of the nature of the ideal. The ideal exists there where there is a capacity to recreate the object in space, relying on the word, on language, in combination with a need for the object, plus material provision of the act of creation.
Determination of the ideal is thus especially dialectical. It is that which is not, together with that which is, that which does not exist in the form of an external, sensuously perceived thing but at the same time does exist as an active faculty of man. It is being, which is, however, not-being, or the effective being of the external thing in the phase of its becoming in the activity of the subject, in the form of its inner image, need, urge, and aim; and therefore the ideal being of the thing is distinguished from its real being, and also from the bodily, material structures of the brain and language by which it exists ‘within’ the subject. The ideal image of the object is distinguished from the structure of the brain and language in principle by the fact that it is the form of the external object. It is also distinguished from the external object itself by the fact that it is objectified immediately not in the external matter of nature but in the organic body of man and in the body of language as a subjective image. The ideal is consequently the subjective being of the object, or its ‘otherness’, i.e. the being of one object in and through another, as Hegel expressed this situation.
The ideal, as the form of social man’s activity, exists where the process of the transformation of the body of nature into the object of man’s activity, into the object of labour, and then into the product of labour, takes place. The same thing can be expressed in another way, as follows: the form of the external. thing involved in the labour process is ‘sublated’ in the subjective form of objective activity (action on objects); the latter is objectively registered in the subject in the form of the mechanisms of higher nervous activity; and then there is the reverse sequence of these metamorphoses, namely the verbally expressed idea is transformed into a deed, and through the deed into the form of an external, sensuously perceived thing, into a thing. These two contrary series of metamorphoses form a closed cycle: thing—deed—word—deed—thing. Only in this cyclic movement, constantly renewed, does the ideal, the ideal image of the thing exist.
The ideal is immediately realised in a symbol and through a symbol, i.e. through the external, sensuously perceived, visual or audible body of a word. But this body, while remaining itself, proves at the same time to be the being of another body and as such is its ‘ideal being’, its meaning, which is quite distinct from its bodily form immediately perceived by the ears or eyes. As a sign, as a name, a word has nothing in common with what it is the sign of. What is ‘common’ is only discovered in the act of transforming the word into a deed, and through the deed into a thing (and then again in the reverse process), in practice and the mastering of its results.
Man exists as man, as the subject of activity directed to the world around and to himself, from such time, and so long, as he actively produces his real life in forms created by himself and by his own labour. And labour, the real transformation of the world around and of himself, which is performed in socially developed and socially sanctioned forms, is just the process – beginning and continuing completely independent of thought – within which the ideal is engendered and functions as its metamorphosis, idealisation of reality, nature, and social relations is completed, and the language of symbols is born as the external body of the ideal image of the external world. In that is the secret of the ideal and in that too is its solution.
In order to make both the essence of the secret, and the means by which Marx resolved it, clearer, let us analyse the most typical case of the idealisation of actuality, or the act of the birth of the ideal, namely the phenomenon of price in political econmy. ‘The price, or the money form, of commodities is, like their form of value generally, distinct from their palpable and real bodily form. It is, that is to say, only an ideal or imaginary form.’ In the first place let ut note that price is an objective category and not a psycho-physiological phenomenon. Yet it is ‘only an ideal form’. It is that which constitutes the materialism of the Marxian conception of price. Idealism on the contrary consists in affirming that price, since it is only an ideal form, exists solely as a subjective, psychic phenomenon, the interpretation that was given by none other than Bishop Berkeley, who wrote not only as a philosopher but also as an economist.
In making his critique of the idealist conception of money, Marx showed that price was the value of the product of man’s labour expressed in money, for example, in a certain quantity of gold. But gold of itself, by its nature, was not money. It proved to be money because it performed a peculiar social function, the measure of value of all commodities, and as such functioned in the system of social relations between people in the process of the production and exchange of products; hence, too, the ideality of the form of price. Gold, while remaining itself in the process of circulation, nevertheless proved to be immediately the form of existence and movement of a certain ‘other’, represented and replaced that ‘other’ in the process of commodity-money circulation, and was its metamorphosis. ‘As price, the commodity relates to money on one side as something existing outside itself, and secondly it is ideally posited as money itself, since money has a reality different from it.... Alongside real money, there now exists the commodity as ideally posited money.’ After money is posited as a commodity in reality, the commodity is posited as money in the mind."’
The ideal positing, or positing of the real product as the ideal image of another product, is accomplished during the circulation of the mass of commodities. It arises as a means of resolving the contradictions maturing in the course of the circulation process, and within it (and not inside the head, though not without the help of the head), as a means of satisfying a need that has become immanent in commodity circulation. This need, which appears in the form of an unresolved contradiction of the commodity form, is satisfied and resolved by one commodity ‘being expelled’ from their equal family and being converted into the immediately social standard of the socially necessary expenditure of labour. ‘The problem and the means of solution,’ as Marx said, ‘arise simultaneously.’
In real exchange, before the appearance of money (before the conversion of gold into money), the following position had already taken shape: ‘Intercourse in virtue of which the owners of commodities exchange their own articles for various other articles, and compare their own articles with various other articles, never takes place without leading the various owners of the various kinds of articles to exchange these for one special article in which the values of all the others are equated. Such a third commodity, inasmuch as it comes to function as equivalent for various other commodities, acquires, though within narrow limits, a generalised or social equivalent form.’ Thus the possibility and the necessity also arise of expressing the reciprocal exchange relation of two commodities through the exchange value of a third commodity, still without the latter entering directly into the real exchange but serving merely as the general measure of the value of the commodities really exchanged. And the ‘third commodity’, although it does not enter bodily into the exchange, is all the same involved in the act of exchange, since it is also present only ideally, i.e. in the idea, in the mind of the commodity-owners, in speech, on paper, and so on. But it is thus transformed into a symbol and precisely into a symbol of the social relations between people.
All theories of money and value that reduce value and its forms to pure symbolics, to the naming of relations, to a conventionally or legally instituted sign, are associated with that circumstance. By the logic of their origin and structure they are organically related to those philosophers and logicians who, not being able to conceive the act of birth of the ideal from the process of social man’s objective-practical activity proclaim the forms of expression of the ideal in speech, in terms and statements, to be conventional phenomena, behind which, however, there stands something mystically elusive – be it the ‘experience’ of Neopositivists, the ‘existence’ of Existentialists, or the intuitively grasped, incorporeal, mystical ‘eidetic being’ of Edmund Husserl. Marx disclosed once and for all the whole triviality of such theories of the ideal, and of its reduction to a symbol or sign of immaterial relations (or connections as such, connections without a material substratum). ‘The fact that commodities are only nominally converted in the form of prices into gold and hence gold is only nominally transformed into money led to the doctrine of the nominal standard of money. Because only imaginary gold or silver, i.e. gold and silver merely as money of account, is used in the determination of prices, it was asserted that the terms pound, shilling, pence, thaler, franc, etc., denote ideal particles of value but not weights of gold or silver or any form of materialised labour. Furthermore, it was already easy to pass to the notion that the prices of commodities were merely terms for relations or propositions, pure signs.
Thus objective economic phenomena were transformed into simple symbols behind which there was hidden the will as their substance, representation as the ‘inner experience’ of the individual Ego, interpreted in the spirit of Hume and Berkeley. By exactly the same scheme modern idealists in logic convert terms and statements (the verbal envelope of the ideal image of the object) into simple names of relations in which the ‘experiences’ of the solitary individual are posited by the symbolising activity of language. Logical relations are transformed simply into the names of connections (but of what with what is not known).
It must be specially stressed that the ideal transformation of a commodity into gold, and thus of gold into a symbol of social relations, took place both in time and in essence before the real conversion of the commodity into money, ‘i.e. into hard cash. Gold became the measure of the value of commodities before it became the medium of circulation, and so functioned initially as money purely ideally. ‘Money only circulates commodities which have already been ideally transformed into money, not only in the head of the individual but in the conception held by society (directly, the conception held by the participants in the process of buying and selling).’
That is a fundamentally important point of the Marxian conception not only of the phenomenon of price but also of the problem of the ideal, the problem of the idealisation of reality in general. The fact is that the act of exchange always posits an already formed system of relations between people mediated by things; it is expressed in one of the sensuously perceived things being transformed, without ceasing to function in the system as a separate, sensuously perceived body, into the representative of any other body, into the sensuously perceived body of an ideal image. In other words, it is the external embodiment of another thing, not its sensuously perceived image but rather its essence, i.e. the law of its existence within the system that in general creates the situation being analysed. The given thing is thus transformed into a symbol the meaning of which remains all the time outside its immediately perceived image, in other sensuously perceived things, and is disclosed only through the whole system of relations of other things to it or, conversely, of it to all the others. But when this thing is really removed from the system it loses its role, i.e. its significance as a symbol, and is transformed once more into an ordinary, sensuously perceived thing along with other such things.
Its existence and functioning as a symbol consequently does not belong to it as such but only to the ‘ system within which it has acquired its properties. The properties attaching to it from nature therefore have no relation to its existence as a symbol. The corporeal, sensuously perceived envelope or ‘body’ of the symbol (the body of the thing that has been transformed into a symbol) is quite unessential, transient, and temporary for its existence as a symbol; the ‘functional existence’ of such a thing completely ‘absorbs ... its material existence’, as Marx put it. Furthermore, the material body of the thing is brought into conformity with its function. As a result the symbol is converted into a token, i.e. into an object that already means nothing in itself but only represents or expresses another object with which it itself has nothing in common (like the name of the thing with the thing itself). The dialectic of the transformation of a thing into a symbol, and of a symbol into a token, is also traced in Capital on the example of the origin and evolution of the money form of value.
The functional existence of a symbol consists precisely in its not representing itself but another, and in being a means, an instrument expressing the essence of other sensuously perceived things, i.e. their universal, socially-human significance, their role and function within the social organism. In other words, the function of a symbol consists in its being just the body of the ideal image of the external thing, or rather the law of its existence, the law of the universal. A symbol removed from the real process of exchange of matter between social man and nature also ceases in general to be a symbol, the corporeal envelope of the ideal image. Its ‘soul’ vanishes from its body because its ‘soul’ is in fact the objective activity of social man effecting an exchange of matter between humanised and virgin nature.
Without an ideal image man cannot, in general exchange matter with nature, and the individual cannot operate with things involved in the process of social production. But the ideal image requires real material, including language, for its realisation. Therefore labour engenders a need for language, and then language itself.
When man operates with symbols or with tokens and not with objects, relying on symbols and tokens, he does not act on the ideal plane but only on the verbal plane. And it very often happens that, instead of discovering the real essence of things by means of terms, the individual sees only the terms themselves with their traditional meanings, sees only the symbol and its sensuously perceived body. In that case the linguistic symbol is transformed from an instrument of real activity into a fetish, blocking off with its body the reality that it represents. Then, instead of understanding and consciously changing the external world in accordance with its general laws expressed in the form of the ideal image, man begins to see and change only the verbal, terminological expression and thinks that, in so doing he is changing the world itself.
This fetishisation of the verbal existence of the ideal was very characteristic of the Left Hegelian philosophy of the period of its decline, to which Marx and Engels drew attention at the time. It itself, and with it fetishisation of the system of social relations that it represents, proves to be the absolutely inevitable end of any philosophy that does not understand that the ideal is engendered and reproduced only through social man’s objective-practical activity, and that it also only exists in that process. In the opposite case some form or other of fetishisation both of the external world and of symbolics develops.
It is very curious that no variety of fetishisation of the verbal-symbolic existence of the ideal embraces the ideal as such. Fetishisation registers the results of human activity but not man’s activity itself, so that it embraces not the ideal itself but only its estrangement in external objects or in language, i.e. congealed products. That is not surprising; the ideal as a form of human activity exists only in that activity, and not in its results, because the activity is a constant, continuing negation of the existing, sensuously perceived forms of things, is their change and sublation into new forms, taking place in accordance with general patterns expressed in ideal forms. When an object has been created society’s need for it is satisfied; the activity has petered out in its product, and the ideal itself has died.
An ideal image, say of bread, may arise in the imagination of a hungry man or of a baker. In the head of a satiated man occupied in building a house, ideal bread does not arise. But if we take society as a whole ideal bread, and ideal houses, are always in existence, and any ideal object with which man is concerned in the process of production and reproduction of his material life. In consequence of that all nature is idealised in man and not just that part which he immediately produces or reproduces or consumes in a practical way. Without a constant re-idealising of the real objects of human life activity, without their transformation into the ideal, and so without symbolisation, man cannot in general be the active subject of social production.
The ideal also appears as the product and form of human labour, of the purposive transformation of natural material and social relations effected by social man. The ideal is present only where there is an individual performing his activity in forms given to him by the preceding development of humanity. Man is distinguished from beasts by the existence of an ideal plane of activity. ‘But what ... distinguishes the most incompetent architect and the best of bees, is that the architect has built a cell in his head before he constructs it in wax. The labour process ends in the creation of something which, when the process began, already existed in the worker’s imagination, already existed in an ideal form.’
We must once more note that if the head is understood naturalistically, i.e. as a material organ of the separate individual’s body, then there is no difference in principle, it transpires, between the architect and the bee. The wax cell that the bee builds also exists beforehand in the form of the pattern of the insect’s activity programmed in its nerve centres. In that sense the product of the bee’s activity is also given ‘ideally’ before its real performance. But the insect’s forms of activity are innate in it, inherited together with the structural, anatomical organisation of its body. The form of activity that we can denote as the ideal existence of the product is never differentiated from the body of the animal in any other way than as some real product. The fundamental distinction between man’s activity and the activity of an animal is this, that no one form of this activity, no one faculty, is inherited together with the anatomical organisation of the body. All forms of activity (active faculties) are passed on only in the form of objects created by man for man. The individual mastery of a humanly determined form of activity, i.e. the ideal image of its object and product, are therefore transformed in a special process that does not coincide with the objective moulding of nature (shaping of nature in objects). The form itself of man’s activity is therefore transformed into a special object, into the object of special activity.
When the ideal was defined above as the form of man’s activity, that definition was, strictly speaking, incomplete. It characterised the ideal only according to its objectively conditioned content; but the ideal is only there where the form itself of the activity corresponding to the form of the external object is transformed for man into a special object with which he can operate specially without touching and without changing the real object up to a certain point. Man, and only man, ceases to be ‘merged’ with the form of his life activity; he separates it from himself and, giving it his attention transforms it into an idea. Since man is given the external thing in general only insofar as it is involved in the process of his activity, in the final product – in the idea – the image of the thing is always merged with the image of the activity in which this thing functions.
That constitutes the epistemological basis of the identification of the thing with the idea, of the real with the ideal, i.e. the epistemological root of any kind or shade of idealism. True, the objectification of the form of activity as a result of which it becomes possible to take it as the form of the thing, and conversely the form of the thing as the product and form of subjective activity, as the ideal is still not, as a matter of fact, idealism. This real fact is only transformed into one variety or another of idealism or fetishism given certain social conditions, or more concretely given the spontaneous division of labour, in which the form of activity is forcibly imposed on the individual by social processes that are independent of him and not understood by him. The objectification (materialisation) of social forms of human activity characteristic of commodity production (commodity fetishism) is quite analogous to the religious alienation of active human faculties in ideas about gods. This analogy is realised quite clearly already within the limits of the objective-idealist view of the nature of the ideal. Thus the young Marx, still a Left Hegelian, noted that all the ancient gods possessed the same ‘real existence’ as money did. ‘Did not the ancient Moloch reign? Was not the Delphic Apollo a real power in the life of the Greeks? Kant’s critique means nothing in this respect. If somebody imagines that he has a hundred talers, if this concept is not for him an arbitrary, subjective one, if he believes in it, then these hundred imagined talers have for him the same value as a hundred real ones.... Real talers have the same existence that the imagined gods have. Has a real taler any existence except in the imagination, if only in the general or rather common imagination of man?
The real nature of this analogy, however, was only disclosed by him later, on the basis of the materialist conception of nature and money and religious images. The ‘similarity’ of commodity fetishism and religious estrangement is rooted in the real connection of people’s social ideas and their real activity, and the forms of practice, in the active role of the ideal image (notion). Up to a certain point man is able to change the form of his activity (or the ideal image of the external thing) without touching the thing itself, but only because he can separate the ideal image from himself, objectify it, and operate with it as with an object existing outside him. Let us recall once more the example of the architect, cited by Marx. The architect builds a house. not simply in his head but by means of his head, on the plane of ideas on Whatman paper, on the plane of the drawing board. He thus alters his internal state, externalising it, and operating with it as with an object distinct from himself. In changing it he potentially alters the real house, i.e. changes it ideally, potentially, which means that he alters one sensuously perceived object instead of another.
In other words activity on the plane of representation, altering the ideal image of an object, is also sensuous objective activity transforming the sensuously perceived image of the thing to which it is directed. Only the thing altered here is special; it is only the objectified idea or form of the person’s activity taken as a thing. That circumstance also makes it possible to slur over the fundamental, philosophical, epistemological difference between material activity and the activity of the theoretician and ideologist who directly alters only the verbal, token objectification of the ideal image.
A person cannot pass the ideal as such to another person, as the pure form of activity. One can observe the activity of a painter or an engineer as long as one likes, striving to catch their mode of action, the form of their activity, but one can thus only copy the external techniques and methods of their work but never the ideal image itself, the active faculty itself. The ideal, as the form of subjective activity, is only masterable through active operation with the object and product of this activity, i.e. through the form of its product, through the objective form of the thing, through its active disobjectification. The ideal image of objective reality therefore also only exists as the form (mode, image) of living activity, coordinated with the form of its object, but not as a thing, not as a materially fixed state or structure.
The ideal is nothing else than a concatenation of the general forms of human activity realised by individuals, which determine the will and aptitude of individuals to act as an aim and law. It is quite understandable that the individual realisation of the ideal image is always linked with some deviation or other, or rather with concretisation of the image, with its correcting in accordance with the specific conditions, new social needs, the peculiarities of the material, and so on. And so, it posits the capacity to correlate the ideal image consciously with real, not yet idealised actuality. In that case the ideal functions as a special object for the individual, and object that he can alter purposively in accordance with the needs (requirements) of his activity. When, on the contrary, the individual only masters the ideal image formally, as a rigid pattern and sequence of operations, without understanding its origin and links with real (not idealised) actuality, he proves incapable of taking a critical attitude to this image, i.e. as a special object differentiated from him. Then he merges with it, as it were, and cannot treat it as an object correlated with reality and alter it accordingly. In that case, strictly speaking, it is not the individual who operates with the ideal image but the dogmatised image that acts in and through the individual. Here it is not the ideal image that is a real function of the individual but, on the contrary, the individual who is a function of the image, which dominates his mind and will as an externally given formal scheme, as an estranged image, as a fetish, as a system of unarguable rules coming inevitably from somewhere out of the blue. The idealist conception of the nature of the ideal corresponds to just such a consciousness.
The materialist conception, on the contrary, will prove to be natural to the man of communist society in which culture will not be counterposed to the individual as something given to him from outside, something independent and alien, but will be the form of his own real activity. In communist society, as Marx showed, it will become immediately obvious that all forms of culture are only forms of the activity of man himself, which is only brought to light in the conditions of bourgeois society by a theoretical analysis dispelling the illusions inevitable under them. ‘Everything that has a fixed form, such as the product, etc., appears as merely a moment, a vanishing moment, in this movement. ... The conditions and objectifications of the process are themselves equally moments of it, and its only subjects. are the individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships, which they equally reproduce and produce anew. The constant process of their own movement, in which they renew themselves even as they renew the world of wealth they create.’
A consistently materialist conception of thought, of course, alters the approach to the key problems of logic in a cardinal way, in particular to interpretation of the nature of logical categories, Marx and Engels established above all that the external world was not given to the individual as it was in itself simply and directly in his contemplation, but only in the course of its being altered by man: and that both the contemplating man himself and the world contemplated were products of history.
The forms of thought, too, the categories, were accordingly understood not as simple abstractions from unhistorically understood sensuousness, but primarily as universal forms of social man’s sensuously objective activity reflected in consciousness. The real objective equivalent of logical forms was seen not simply in the abstract, general contours of the object contemplated by the individual but in the forms of man’s real activity transforming nature in accordance with his own ends: ‘It is precisely the alteration of nature by men, not solely nature as such, which is the most essential and immediate basis of human thought, and it is the measure that man has earned to change nature that his intelligence has increased.120 The subject of thought here already proved to be the individual in the nexus of social relations, the socially determined individual, all the forms of whose life activity were given not by nature, but by history, by the process of the moulding of human culture.
The forms of human activity (and the thought-forms reflecting them) are consequently laid down in the course of history independently of the will and consciousness of individuals, to whom they are counterposed as the forms of a historically developed system of culture, a system that does not develop at all according to the laws of psychology, since the development of social consciousness is not a simple arithmetic sum of psychic process but a special process governed in general and on the whole by the laws of development of society’s material life. These laws not only do not depend on the will and consciousness of individuals but, on the contrary, also actively determine that will and consciousness. The separate individual does not develop the universal forms of human activity by himself, and cannot do so, whatever the powers of abstraction he possesses, but assimilates them ready-made in the course of his own acquiring of culture, together with language and the knowledge expressed in it.
Psychological analysis of the act of reflexion of the external world in the individual head therefore cannot be the means of developing logic. The individual thinks only insofar as he has already mastered the general (logical) determinations historically moulded before him and completely independently of him. And psychology as a science does not investigate the development of human culture or civilisation, rightly considering it a premise independent of the individual.
While Hegel’s recording of these facts led him to idealism, Marx and Engels, having considered the real (objective) prototype of logical definitions and laws in the concrete, universal forms and laws of social man’s objective activity, cut off any possibility of subjectivist interpretation of the activity itself. Man does not act on nature from outside, but ‘confronts nature as one of her own forces’ and his objective activity is therefore linked at every stage with, and mediated by, objective natural laws. Man ‘makes use of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of things as means of exerting power over other things, and in order to make these other things subservient to his aims .... Thus nature becomes an instrument of his activities, an instrument with which he supplements his own bodily organs, adding a cubit and more to his stature, scripture notwithstanding’. It is just in that that the secret of the universality of human activity lies, which idealism passes off as the consequence of reason operating in man: ‘The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body – both inasmuch a nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself the human body.’
The laws of human activity are therefore also, above all, laws of the natural material from which ‘man’s inorganic body’, the objective (material) body of civilisation, is built, i.e. laws of the movement and change of the objects of nature, transformed into the organs of man, into moments of the process of production of society’s material life.
In labour (production) man makes one object of nature act on another object of the same nature in accordance with their own properties and laws of existence . Marx and Engels showed that the logical forms of man’s action were the consequences (reflection) of real laws of human actions on objects, i.e. of practice in all its scope and development, laws that are independent of any thinking. Practice understood materialistically, appeared as a process in whose movement each object involved in it functioned (behaved) in accordance with its own laws, bringing its own form and measure to light in the changes taking place in it.
Thus mankind’s practice is a fully concrete (particular) process, and at the same time a universal one. It includes all other forms and types of the movement of matter as its abstract moments, and takes place in conformity with their laws. The general laws governing man’s changing of nature therefore transpire to be also general laws of the change of nature itself, revealed by man’s activity, and not by orders foreign to it, dictated from outside. The universal laws of man’s changing of nature are also universal laws of nature only in accordance with which can man successfully alter it. Once realised they also appear as laws of reason, as logical laws. Their ‘specificity’ consists precisely in their in their universality, i.e. in the fact that they are not only laws of subjectivity (as laws of the physiology of higher nervous activity or of language), and not only of objective reality (as laws of physics or chemistry), but also laws governing the movement both of objective reality and of subjective human life activity. (That does not mean at all, of course, that thought does not in general possess any ‘specific features’ worthy of study. As a special process possessing features specifically distinguishing it from the movement of objective reality, i.e. as a psycho-physiological faculty of the human individual, thought has, of course, to be subjected to very detailed study in psychology and the physiology of the higher nervous system, but not in logic). In subjective consciousness these laws appear as ‘plenipotentiaries’ of the rights of the object, as its universal, ideal image: ‘The laws of logic are the reflections of the objective in the subjective consciousness of man.’
Contents | Vygotsky | next chapter