Reply to Inese – mysticism, Marxism and beyond 

 

Hello Inese,

thank you for your very interesting and honest reply and for reading my blog.

Bronze plaque of Hegel by Karl Donndorf (1870-1941) emplaced in 1931 at Hegel-Haus in Stuttgart.

Bronze plaque of Hegel by Karl Donndorf (1870-1941) emplaced in 1931 at Hegel-Haus in Stuttgart.

Marxist epistemology was built on Hegel’s mystical philosophy, which Marx acknowledged in Capital: ‘I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker…The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.’1

That mystical theory of knowledge (the knowledge of God) was not static but underwent development from Plotinus right up to Hegel who, himself drawing on multiple influences (a common practice in mysticism), took it to new heights.

Marx in 1875

Marx in 1875

Marx then took it further by ‘inverting’ Hegel’s great structure and standing it on its material feet. What Hegel theorised about the world within, Marx applied to the world without.

For Marx (and for me – I am not a Marxist), ‘matter’ (objective reality), not consciousness is primary.

The main purpose of my blog is to argue, through a mix of posts intended to exemplify the theoretical interconnections between mysticism and dialectical materialism and the development from the former to the latter, for an awareness, appreciation and a thorough review of the entirety of this current – particularly the work of Marx in relation to that of Hegel because I think, as dialectical materialism, it is the only philosophical current that can truly reflect the world in thought, in its poetry and creativity, and be our epistemological tool in relating with it – on the basis of praxis.

What had been mechanical materialism became, post the ‘inversion’ and absorption of mystical epistemology, dialectical materialism. This in turn requires further development, despite the death rites that the well-paid agents of capital keep giving it.

Best wishes,

Phil

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Note

1. Capital, vol. 1, Postface to the Second Edition 1873, Penguin, London, 1982, 103

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Comment to Late Night Live on the rise of China

President Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping

Hi Phillip,

I listened to your interview of the professor from Defence Studies at the ANU with regard to China.

I wonder if he referred to the many pigs at the trough (the most responsible, unpunished) when the latest crisis of capitalist dynamics – the ‘GFC’ (which came within an ace of bringing down capitalism and has not gone away) broke out? I strongly doubt it.

The Chinese are way ahead of the West for three reasons:

> they have had their socialist revolution which the Western nations are yet to have – for the fundamental reason not that I wish it or to provoke your guest but as Marx identified (I am not a Marxist) – that of the level of development of the productive forces, the uncontrolled ramifications of which can be seen everywhere in the West

> they have the potential of the one-party state (cf. the obligatory myopic street-theatre of Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Labor etc.) which, since Deng Xiaoping, has shown a crucial capacity to release the engine of reward for individual initiative within a socialist framework – something the Soviet Communist Party was never able to do (Lenin first unsuccessfully attempted this with his NEP in 1921)

> bearing on this is the consequential rapid rise into the middle class of hundreds of millions of Chinese – a class historically associated with ‘democracy’ – i.e. ‘a voice’ and power. There will be an increasing tension between the Chinese one-party state and their rising middle-class and I think that the Chinese will continue to successfully address this and other matters and lead the world with forms of political and economic organisation that will be models for it.

Worth considering are Engels’ words from a letter to America  in 1894:

‘The war in China has given the death-blow to the old China. Isolation has become impossible; the introduction of railways, steam-engines, electricity, and modern large-scale industry has become a necessity, if only for reasons of military defence. But with it the old economic system of small peasant agriculture, where the family also made its industrial products itself, falls to pieces too, and with it the whole old social system which made relatively dense population possible. Millions will be turned out and forced to emigrate; and these millions will find their way even to Europe, and en masse. But as soon as Chinese competition sets in on a mass scale, it will rapidly bring things to a head in your country and over here, and thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America…’

Philip Stanfield

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ABC Radio National/Late Night Live 25.08.15/China crash

The philosophy for the world within is now our tool for the world without

Zeta Ophiuchi: Runaway Star. 20 times more massive than the Sun, moving at 24 kilometres per second. What set this star in motion?

Zeta Ophiuchi: Runaway Star. 20 times more massive than the Sun, moving at 24 kilometres per second. What set this star in motion?

Bourgeois philosophy is increasingly an impediment to knowledge.

Marx took the following and stood it on its feet, anchoring it in the material world.

When based in praxis, it is the core of the tool for structuring and developing our knowledge of the world, reflecting in theory the engine of the world itself – what set and keeps Zeta Ophiuchi in motion.

‘(The thinking of formal logic) keeps to external reflection and knows of no other thinking but external reflection, fails to attain to a grasp of identity…or of essence, which is the same thing. Such thinking always has before it only abstract identity, and apart from and alongside it, difference. …It proceeds analytically. …These assertions and opinions about what reason does must be completely set aside, since they are in a certain measure merely historical; the truth is rather that a consideration of everything that is, shows that in its own self everything is in its self-sameness different from itself and self-contradictory, and that in its difference, in its contradiction, it is self-identical, and is in its own self this movement of transition of one of these categories into the other, and for this reason, that each is in its own self the opposite of itself. The Notion of identity, that it is simple self-related negativity, is not a product of external reflection but has come from being itself. Whereas, on the contrary, that identity that is aloof from difference, and difference that is aloof from identity, are products of external reflection and abstraction, which arbitrarily clings to this point of indifferent difference.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 412

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Hegel on the Light of Life

Bioluminescent phytoplankton, River Derwent, Tasmania

Bioluminescent phytoplankton, River Derwent, Tasmania

‘…vast tracts of sea break out into phosphorescent light…the whole surface of the sea, too, is partly an infinite shining, partly an immeasurable, immense sea of light which consists purely of points of life lacking any further organisation.’

G.W.F.Hegel Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), Trans., A.V.Miller, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2004, 297

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

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Engels on materialism: part 9 – ‘What is man? – Half beast, half angel’

Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, Kunsthaus, Zürich

Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, Kunsthaus, Zürich

…Starcke looks for Feuerbach’s idealism in the wrong place.

“Feuerbach is an idealist; he believes in the progress of mankind.” (p.19)

“The foundation, the substructure of the whole, remains nevertheless idealism. Realism for us is nothing more than a protection again aberrations, while we follow our ideal trends. Are not compassion, love, and enthusiasm for truth and justice ideal forces?” (p.VIII)

In the first place, idealism here means nothing, but the pursuit of ideal aims. But these necessarily have to do at the most with Kantian idealism and its “categorical imperative”; however, Kant himself called his philosophy “transcendental idealism” by no means because he dealt therein also with ethical ideals, but for quite other reasons, as Starcke will remember. The superstition that philosophical idealism is pivoted round a belief in ethical, that is, social, ideals, arose outside philosophy, among the German philistines, who learned by heart from Schiller’s poems the few morsels of philosophical culture they needed. No one has criticised more severely the impotent “categorical imperative” of Kant — impotent because it demands the impossible, and therefore never attains to any reality — no one has more cruelly derided the philistine sentimental enthusiasm for unrealisable ideals purveyed by Schiller than precisely the complete idealist Hegel (see, for example, his Phenomenology).

In the second place, we simply cannot get away from the fact that everything that sets men acting must find its way through their brains — even eating and drinking, which begins as a consequence of the sensation of hunger or thirst transmitted through the brain, and ends as a result of the sensation of satisfaction likewise transmitted through the brain. The influences of the external world upon man express themselves in his brain, are reflected therein as feelings, impulses, volitions — in short, as “ideal tendencies”, and in this form become “ideal powers”. If, then, a man is to be deemed an idealist because he follows “ideal tendencies” and admits that “ideal powers” have an influence over him, then every person who is at all normally developed is a born idealist and how, in that case, can there still be any materialists?

In the third place, the conviction that humanity, at least at the present moment, moves on the whole in a progressive direction has absolutely nothing to do with the antagonism between materialism and idealism. The French materialists no less than the deists Voltaire and Rousseau held this conviction to an almost fanatical degree, and often enough made the greatest personal sacrifices for it. If ever anybody dedicated his whole life to the “enthusiasm for truth and justice” — using this phrase in the good sense — it was Diderot, for instance. If, therefore, Starcke declares all this to be idealism, this merely proves that the word materialism, and the whole antagonism between the two trends, has lost all meaning for him here.

The fact is that Starcke, although perhaps unconsciously, in this makes an unpardonable concession to the traditional philistine prejudice against the word materialism resulting from its long-continued defamation by the priests. By the word materialism, the philistine understands gluttony, drunkenness, lust of the eye, lust of the flesh, arrogance, cupidity, avarice, covetousness, profit-hunting, and stock-exchange swindling — in short, all the filthy vices in which he himself indulges in private. By the word idealism he understands the belief in virtue, universal philanthropy, and in a general way a “better world”, of which he boasts before others but in which he himself at the utmost believes only so long as he is having the blues or is going through the bankruptcy consequent upon his customary “materialist” excesses. It is then that he sings his favourite song, What is man? — Half beast, half angel.

Sandro Botticelli, Dante and Beatrice, n.d., The University of Texas, Austin

Sandro Botticelli, Dante and Beatrice, n.d., The University of Texas, Austin

Auguste Rodin, The Cry, bronze, 1886, Musée Rodin

Auguste Rodin, The Cry, bronze, 1886, Musée Rodin

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 8 – Ludwig Feuerbach, cobweb-spinning flea-crackers and the rise of science

HMS Beagle in the seaways of Tierra del Fuego. Watercolour painted by Conrad Martens during the voyage, 1831-1836.

HMS Beagle in the seaways of Tierra del Fuego. Watercolour painted by Conrad Martens during the voyage, 1831-1836.

…even during Feuerbach’s lifetime, natural science was still in that process of violent fermentation which only during the last 15 years had reached a clarifying, relative conclusion. New scientific data were acquired to a hitherto unheard-of extent, but the establishing of interrelations, and thereby the bringing of order into this chaos of discoveries following closely upon each other’s heels, has only quite recently become possible. It is true that Feuerbach had lived to see all three of the decisive discoveries — that of the cell, the transformation of energy, and the theory of evolution named after Darwin. But how could the lonely philosopher, living in rural solitude, be able sufficiently to follow scientific developments in order to appreciate at their full value discoveries which natural scientists themselves at that time either still contested or did not know how to make adequate use of? The blame for this falls solely upon the wretched conditions in Germany, in consequence of which cobweb-spinning eclectic flea-crackers had taken possession of the chairs of philosophy, while Feuerbach, who towered above them all, had to rusticate and grow sour in a little village. It is therefore not Feuerbach’s fault that this historical conception of nature, which had now become possible and which removed all the one-sidedness of French materialism, remained inaccessible to him.

Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his first notebook on transmutation of species (1837).

Darwin’s first diagram of an evolutionary tree, from his first notebook on transmutation of species (1837).

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 7 – the ‘Dark Ages’

Landscape with clerics studying astronomy and geometry, showing an armillary sphere, square, compasses, etc. La Vraye Histoire du Bon Roy Alixandre (The Alexander Romance in Old French prose), Pseudo-Callisthenes, French, early 15th century

Landscape with clerics studying astronomy and geometry, showing an armillary sphere, square, compasses, etc. La Vraye Histoire du Bon Roy Alixandre (The Alexander Romance in Old French prose), Pseudo-Callisthenes, French, early 15th century

This same unhistorical conception prevailed also in the domain of history. Here the struggle against the remnants of the Middle Ages blurred the view. The Middle Ages were regarded as a mere interruption of history by a thousand years of universal barbarism. The great progress made in the Middle Ages — the extension of the area of European culture, the viable great nations taking form there next to each other, and finally the enormous technical progress of the 14th and 15th centuries — all this was not seen. Thus a rational insight into the great historical interconnectedness was made impossible, and history served at best as a collection of examples and illustrations for the use of philosophers.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 5 – mechanical materialism

Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751). French materialist, published L’homme Machine (Man-Machine) in 1748. Gravure de Achille Ouvré (1872-1951) d'après G.-F. Schmidt.

Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751). French materialist, published L’homme Machine (Man-Machine) in 1748. Gravure de Achille Ouvré (1872-1951) d’après G.-F. Schmidt.

…just as idealism underwent a series of stages of development, so also did materialism. With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, it has to change its form; and after history was also subjected to materialistic treatment, a new avenue of development has opened here, too.

The materialism of the last century was predominantly mechanical, because at that time, of all natural sciences, only mechanics, and indeed only the mechanics of solid bodies — celestial and terrestrial — in short, the mechanics of gravity, had come to any definite close. Chemistry at that time existed only in its infantile, phlogistic form1. Biology still lay in swaddling clothes; vegetable and animal organisms had been only roughly examined and were explained by purely mechanical causes. What the animal was to Descartes, man was to the materialists of the 18th century — a machine. This exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processes of a chemical and organic nature — in which processes the laws of mechanics are, indeed, also valid, but are pushed into the backgrounds by other, higher laws — constitutes the first specific but at that time inevitable limitations of classical French materialism.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Note

1. Phlogistic theory: The theory prevailing in chemistry during the 17th and 18th centuries that combustion takes place due to the presence in certain bodies of a special substance named phlogiston.

Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 4 – the bourgeois prejudice against materialism

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The brain: the place of consciousness and thought

The course of evolution of Feuerbach is that of a Hegelian — a never quite orthodox Hegelian, it is true — into a materialist; an evolution which at a definite stage necessitates a complete rupture with the idealist system of his predecessor. With irresistible force, Feuerbach is finally driven to the realisation that the Hegelian premundane existence of the “absolute idea”, the “pre-existence of the logical categories” before the world existed, is nothing more than the fantastic survival of the belief in the existence of an extra-mundane creator; that the material, sensuously perceptible world to which we ourselves belong is the only reality; and that our consciousness and thinking, however supra-sensuous they may seem, are the product of a material, bodily organ, the brain. Matter is not a product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter. This is, of course, pure materialism. But, having got so far, Feuerbach stops short. He cannot overcome the customary philosophical prejudice, prejudice not against the thing but against the name materialism. He says:

‘To me materialism is the foundation of the edifice of human essence and knowledge; but to me it is not what it is to the physiologist, to the natural scientists in the narrower sense, for example, to Moleschott, and necessarily is from their standpoint and profession, namely, the edifice itself. Backwards I fully agree with the materialists; but not forwards.’

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

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Engels on materialism: part 2 – the ideological function of Hume and Kant

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Statue of David Hume by Alexander Stoddart, 1995, bronze, in front of High Court Building, Edinburgh, Scotland

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Immanuel Kant by Karl Friedrich Hagemann, 1801, marble, Kunsthalle, Hamburg

…there is yet a set of different philosophers — those who question the possibility of any cognition, or at least of an exhaustive cognition, of the world. To them, among the more modern ones, belong Hume and Kant, and they played a very important role in philosophical development. What is decisive in the refutation of this view has already been said by Hegel, in so far as this was possible from an idealist standpoint. The materialistic additions made by Feuerbach are more ingenious than profound. The most telling refutation of this as of all other philosophical crotchets is practice — namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our conception of a natural process by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our own purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian ungraspable “thing-in-itself”. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such “things-in-themselves” until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the “thing-in-itself” became a thing for us — as, for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar. For 300 years, the Copernican solar system was a hypothesis with 100, 1,000, 10,000 to 1 chances in its favour, but still always a hypothesis. But then Leverrier, by means of the data provided by this system, not only deduced the necessity of the existence of an unknown planet, but also calculated the position in the heavens which this planet must necessarily occupy, and when [Johann] Galle really found this planet [Neptune, discovered 1846, at Berlin Observatory], the Copernican system was proved. If, nevertheless, the neo-Kantians are attempting to resurrect the Kantian conception in Germany, and the agnostics that of Hume in England (where in fact it never became extinct), this is, in view of their theoretical and practical refutation accomplished long ago, scientifically a regression and practically merely a shamefaced way of surreptitiously accepting materialism, while denying it before the world.

Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

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Full text at Marxists Internet Archive

Images: Hume/Kant