MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




The philosophical theory that the variety of objects to which a single, generic word is given, really have nothing in common but the name itself – for example, "dog".



See: Contradiction.



Non-violence is the political tactic of physically confronting oppressive authority without the use of violence.

The term was coined by Gandhi in 1920 in his struggle against racism in South Africa. Although Gandhi was a pacifist, non-violence should not be identified with pacifism, since non-violence is a political tactic which can be extremely effective in undermining the authority of the most tyrannical power. Once the authority of the opposing power has been undermined, their resort to violence against the people is lost, and continued use of violence loses legitimacy. The Iranian Islamic revolution used the tactic of non-violence very effectively against the Shah of Iran in 1979 for example, and in the end the masses were able to overwhelm the armed forces. The Algerian revolution used the same tactic, mobilising the masses in non-violent general strike, and only later launching guerrilla war against the French colonial power.



A generalized conception of something.

We can think of the Notion as the main principle of understanding a thing, the basic principle of a science, the core of someone’s personality, the key role of a social process or movement in history, etc. In dialectics, the Notion is a unity of opposites if it is to capture both the inner contradictions which motivate the thing and constitute its life-process, and its connection with its Other.

A Notion is always the outcome of a long process of development and emerges as the ‘truth’ of a genesis in which a series of opposite forms are successively sublated. In this sense, Hegel says that the Notion is concrete. On the other hand, the Notion is the simple, abstract ‘germ’ which must be developed and merged with other notions in the course of the development of a genuinely concrete Idea of the thing.

For metaphysics, the Notion of something is arrived at by the activity of Reason to determine the key property of a thing which gives it its specific character. Thus “Notion” was akin to “Definition”, but “Definition” implies an abstract approach in accord with formal logic.

Whereas for formal logic and metaphysics, the Notion is arrived at by “stripping away” all that is inessential, Hegel shows that such an approach leads only to a meaningless “thing-in-iself”.

In Hegel's Logic, the whole of the “Objective Logic” (The Doctrine of Being and the Doctrine of Essence) is about how the initial concept of a thing is formed, in which initial inexact and inadequate definitions are replaced by others, through the interaction of opposite, contradictory definitions.

The dialectic of the Notion itself is called “Subjective Logic” and in it the processes more usually associated with logic are found. The Notion could be defined as the unity of Being and Essence, or the unity of analysis and synthesis. This is the process whereby the essential “germ” of a Notion becomes concrete; the initial Notion is tested out and as a result is qualified and further subordinate Notions included in it.

One of Marx's major achievements is his discovery of the Commodity as the “germ” of capitalism. See Chapter One of Capital. Marx defines the commodity as the unity of concrete labour (use-value) and abstract labour (exchange-value). Marx discusses the place of the Notion in the development of a science in The Method of Political Economy.

Further Reading: section in Hegel’s Outline of Logic, the Science of Logic and in the Shorter Logic: that the “position taken up by the Notion is that of Absolute Idealism”, on the “unity of Being and Essence” and the “unity of analysis and synthesis”. C L R James on the Notion, and for help: Abstract Universal and Notion in Hegel's Logic and the Notion in Nature and Society and Unity of Opposites and Equally Analytic and Synthetic and Truth of Actuality and The Truth of its Genesis and Judgment and Syllogism and Subject - Object - Idea.