Engels on dialectics: in conclusion

 

Our theory is a theory of evolution, not a dogma to be learnt by heart and to be repeated mechanically.

Friedrich Engels to Florence Kelley-Wischnewetzky in New York; London, January 27, 1887, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 378

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Engels on dialectics, part six: science and philosophy

 

Natural scientists believe that they free themselves from philosophy by ignoring it or abusing it. They cannot, however, make any headway without thought, and for thought they need thought determinations. But they take these categories unreflectingly from the common consciousness of so-called educated persons, which is dominated by the relics of long obsolete philosophies, or from the little bit of philosophy compulsorily listened to at the University (which is not only fragmentary, but also a medley of views of people belonging to the most varied and usually the worst schools), or from uncritical and unsystematic reading of philosophical writings of all kinds. Hence they are no less in bondage to philosophy, but unfortunately in most cases to the worst philosophy, and those who abuse philosophy most are slaves to precisely the worst vulgarised relics of the worst philosophies.

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Natural scientists may adopt whatever attitude they please, they are still under the domination of philosophy. It is only a question whether they want to be dominated by a bad, fashionable philosophy or by a form of theoretical thought which rests on acquaintance with the history of thought and its achievements.

‘Physics, beware of metaphysics’, is quite right, but in a different sense.

Natural scientists allow philosophy to prolong an illusory existence by making shift with the dregs of the old metaphysics. Only when natural and historical science has become imbued with dialectics will all the philosophical rubbish – other than the pure theory of thought – be superfluous, disappearing in positive science.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 209-210

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Engels on Russia

…no more in Russia than anywhere else would it have been possible to develop a higher social form out of primitive agrarian communism unless – that higher form was already in existence in another country, so as to serve as a model. That higher form being, wherever it is historically possible, the necessary consequence of the capitalistic form of production and of the social dualistic antagonism created by it, it could not be developed directly out of the agrarian commune, unless in imitation of an example already in existence somewhere else. Had the West of Europe been ripe, 1860-1870, for such a transformation, had that transformation then been taken in hand in England, France etc., then the Russians would have been called upon to show what could have been made out of their Commune, which was then more or less intact. But the West remained stagnant, no such transformation was attempted, and capitalism was more and more rapidly developed. And as Russia had no choice but this: either to develop the Commune into a form of production from which it was separated by a number of historical stages, and for which not even in the West the conditions were then ripe – evidently an impossible task – or else to develop into Capitalism, what remained to her but the latter chance?

Engels to Nikolai Frantsevich Danielson in St. Petersburg; London, October 17, 1893, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 438-439

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The development of a philosophical current – from mysticism to materialism, from God to science

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Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

‘The German Idealists showed some interest in Nicholas of Cusa but the real revival of his thought was stimulated by…Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) who called him “the first modern thinker”…and by…Karl Jaspers.’

Dermot Moran, ‘Nicholas of Cusa and modern philosophy’, The Cambridge Companion in Renaissance Philosophy, Ed., James Hankins, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 173

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‘Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist?’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’, 1440), II, 2, 100

‘since God is Infinite Actuality, He is the cause only of actuality. But the possibility of being exists contingently. Therefore, if the possibility were absolute, on what would it be contingent? Now, the possibility results from the fact that being [which derives] from the First cannot be completely, unqualifiedly, and absolutely actuality. Therefore, the actuality is contracted through the possibility, so that it does not at all exist except in the possibility. And the possibility does not at all exist unless it is contracted through the actuality.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 137

‘since the contraction of possibility is from God and the contraction of actuality is the result of contingency, the world—which, necessarily, is contracted—is contingently finite.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 139

‘without possibility and actuality and the union of the two there is not, and cannot be, anything. For if [anything] lacked any of these, it would not exist. For how would it exist if it were not possible to exist? And how would it exist if it did not actually exist (since existence is actuality)? And if it were possible to exist but it did not exist, in what sense would it exist? (Therefore, it is necessary that there be the union of possibility and actuality.) The possibility-to-exist, actually existing, and the union of the two are not other than one another. Indeed, they are of the same essence, since they constitute only one and the same thing’

Nicholas of Cusa, De possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’, 1460), 47

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G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

‘Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance, and, on the other hand, this chance is rather absolute necessity. (Logik, II, Book III, 2: Reality.) Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical trifling, as self-contradictory nonsense, and, as regards theory, has persisted on the one hand in the barrenness of thought of Wolffian metaphysics, according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at once; or, on the other hand, in the hardly less thoughtless mechanical determinism which in words denies chance in general only to recognise it in practice in each particular case.

While natural science continued to think in this way, what did it do in the person of Darwin?

Friedrich Engels 1860

Friedrich Engels in 1860

Darwin in his epoch-making work, set out from the widest existing basis of chance. Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species, differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz., the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without the concept of species, however, all science was nothing. All its branches needed the concept of species as basis: human anatomy and comparative anatomy – embryology, zoology, palaeontology, botany, etc., what were they without the concept of species? All their results were not only put in question but directly set aside. Chance overthrows necessity, as conceived hitherto. The previous idea of necessity breaks down. To retain it means dictatorially to impose on nature as a law a human arbitrary determination that is in contradiction to itself and to reality, it means to deny thereby all inner necessity in living nature, it means generally to proclaim the chaotic kingdom of chance to be the sole law of living nature.’

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 217-221

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Engels on the Kantian ‘thing-in-itself’

A toy Spaniel, a dwarf Spitz and a Maltese next to a basket (1855), Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Wegener

The form of development of natural science, in so far as it thinks, is the hypothesis. A new fact is observed which makes impossible the previous method of explaining the facts belonging to the same group. From this moment onwards new methods of explanation are required – at first based on only a limited number of facts and observations. Further observational material weeds out these hypotheses, doing away with some and correcting others, until finally the law is established in a pure form. If one should wait until the material for a law was in a pure form, it would mean suspending the process of thought in investigation until then and, if only for this reason, the law would never come into being.

The number and succession of hypotheses supplanting one another – given the lack of logical and dialectical education among natural scientists – easily gives rise to the idea that we cannot know the essence of things (Haller and Goethe). This is not peculiar to natural science since all human knowledge develops in a much twisted curve; and in the historical sciences also, including philosophy, theories displace one another, from which, however, nobody concludes that formal logic, for instance, is nonsense.

The last form of this outlook is the ‘thing-in-itself’. In the first place, this assertion that we cannot know the thing-in-itself (Hegel, Encyclopaedia, paragraph 44) passes out of the realm of science into that of fantasy. Secondly, it does not add a word to our scientific knowledge, for if we cannot occupy ourselves with things, they do not exist for us. And, thirdly, it is a mere phrase and is never applied. Taken in the abstract it sounds quite sensible. But suppose one applies it. What would one think of a zoologist who said: ‘A dog seems to have four legs, but we do not know whether in reality it has four million legs or none at all’? Or of a mathematician who first of all defines a triangle as having three sides, and then declares that he does not know whether it might not have 25? That 2×2 seems to be 4? But scientists take care not to apply the phrase about the thing-in-itself in natural science, they permit themselves this only in passing into philosophy. This is the best proof how little seriously they take it and what little value it has itself. If they did take it seriously, what would be the good of investigating anything?

Taken historically the thing would have a certain meaning: we can only know under the conditions of our epoch and as far as these allow.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 240-241

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Why China will lead the world and why the West will become socialist

Konstantin Yuon

Konstantin Yuon, ‘A New Planet,’ 1921. Tempera on cardboard, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The West:

‘…it is not difficult to see that ours is a birth-time and a period of transition to a new era. Spirit has broken with the world it has hitherto inhabited and imagined, and is of a mind to submerge it in the past, and in the labour of its own transformation. Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward. But just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth – there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born – so likewise the Spirit in its formation matures slowly and quietly into its new shape, dissolving bit by bit the structure of its previous world, whose tottering state is only hinted at by isolated symptoms. The frivolity and boredom which unsettle the established order, the vague foreboding of something unknown, these are the heralds of approaching change. The gradual crumbling that left unaltered the face of the whole is cut short by a sunburst which, in one flash, illuminates the features of the new world.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 6-7

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Shanghai maglev train

China:

‘What, particularly, makes old capitalism so far prevail over young socialism? It is not because of the riches it possesses, nor the gold it keeps in cellars, nor the volume of accumulated and stolen wealth. Past accumulations of wealth may have their importance, but they are not the determining factors. A living society cannot exist on old accumulations; it feeds on the products of living labour. Despite all her riches, ancient Rome could not withstand the onslaught of the ‘barbarians’, when they developed a higher productive capacity than that of her decaying regime of slavery. The bourgeois society of France, roused by the Great Revolution, simply looted the wealth accumulated from the Middle Ages by the aristocratic town communities of France. Were output in America to fall below the European standard, the nine milliards of gold kept in the cellars of her banks, would not help her. The economic superiority of bourgeois states lies in the fact that so far capitalism produces cheaper goods than socialism and of a better quality. In other words, the output, so far, is still much higher in countries living by the inertia of old capitalist civilisation than in a country which has only just begun to adopt socialist methods under inherited uncivilised conditions.

We know the fundamental law of history – in the end that regime will conquer which ensures human society a higher economic standard. …

A State which possesses nationalised industries, a monopoly of foreign trade, the monopoly of attracting foreign capital to one or other branch of its economy, has at its disposal a vast arsenal of resources by means of which it can speed up the rate of economic development.’

Leon Trotsky, Towards Socialism or Capitalism, 1925, New Park Publications, London, 1976, 29, 47

The result:

‘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…’

Engels to Friedrich Adolf Sorge in Hoboken; London, November 10, 1894, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 450-451

Engels was wrong when he wrote that China would become capitalist, but he was correct in recognising that the more developed China became (particularly given Trotsky’s words above), the greater the pressure on the West in competing with it, such that the West would have to become socialist.

The Chinese have learnt from their own history and from the failures of the Soviet Union, particularly the importance of individual initiative and financial reward for that initiative in a developing economy. The result of the Chinese Communist Party’s employment of this lesson has enabled it to rapidly lift millions into that stratum of wealth being hollowed out in the West. These millions are consumers of an increasing range of goods of high quality being made in their own country. The Party has shown a willingness to take the reforms of Deng Xiaoping further. Their current crackdown on corruption is also very significant. The dynamic between Party and people will continue to evolve.

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Top image: Art of the October Revolution, Compiler, Mikhail Guerman, Trans., W.Freeman, D.Saunders, C.Binns, Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1986

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Engels on China

Three Gorges Dam, Francis turbine

Three Gorges Dam, Francis turbine

From Comments at The Virtual Politician:

Worth considering: ‘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…’

Engels to Friedrich Adolf Sorge in Hoboken; London, November 10, 1894, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 450-451

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zeroBelief

I am unfamiliar with Engels and Friedrich Adolf Sorge, let alone their designs upon destroying American and European capitalism. Might you expound a bit on that for us?

Thanks!!!

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Hello zeroBelief,

Thank you for your interest. Essentially I quoted Engels not to argue for destruction but for how the world works – that the only absolute is change and that matter (objective reality) is primary to consciousness (that consciousness is the product of objective reality – what one thinks, whatever that may be, is secondary to and derivate of the world). Accepting these two points orients and focuses one’s thought on all subjects.

The one-party state in China, as you know, is demonised in capitalist ideology. Western ‘democracy’ is held up as the highest form of political organisation, the standard. But if there was a vote for anything that threatened their interests, the capitalist class would destroy it.

Look not only at the damage the Democrat/Republican divide is doing in the United States (a division which reflects the decline of their middle class – a global phenomenon – and exemplifies the increasing exposure of the opposed interests of their ruling and working classes), think of the enormous forces – economic and social, that are being impacted on by these divisions.

In China with its population of 1.3 billion (and as Engels foresaw) is taking place rapid economic development, following on the reforms of Deng Xiaoping. With that development, and dialectically informing it, is the equally rapid rise of millions into the middle class.

In the rise of capitalism, the middle class was the agent of individual representation and I believe that this rising middle class in China will put growing pressure for the recognition of the significance of the individual on their one-party state and that the engagement between these two forces (party and middle class) will result in forms of political, economic and social organisation within socialism that will be models for the world, as those in England were previously under capitalism.

I think that these developments, together with the benefits they bring, underscored by the vast size of the Chinese population will force similar and fundamental economic, political and social change on the Western (capitalist) nations. And this is what Engels foresaw in 1894, in outline.

We are witnessing and experiencing the unceasing, contradictory change of dialectics at work.

Regards, Philip

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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

Engels on dialectics

(The general nature of dialectics to be developed as the science of inter-connections, in contrast to metaphysics.)

It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed they can be reduced in the main to three:

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;

The law of the interpenetration of opposites;

The law of the negation of the negation.

All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, The Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, has to conform to a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human  thought. If we turn the thing round, then everything becomes simple, and the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday.

Moreover, anyone who is even only slightly acquainted with Hegel will be aware that in hundreds of passages Hegel is capable of giving the most striking individual illustrations of the dialectical laws from nature and history.

We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics, but only with showing that the dialectical laws are real laws of development of nature, and therefore are valid also for theoretical natural science. …

1. The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we can express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy).

All qualitative differences in nature rest on differences of chemical composition or on different quantities or forms of motion (energy) or, as is almost always the case, on both. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e., without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. In this form, therefore, Hegel’s mysterious principle appears not only quite rational but even rather obvious.

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 62-63

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Part one/to be continued…

The ground of unrest and becoming

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

Arp 299: Black Holes in Colliding Galaxies (click to enlarge)

‘in the negative as such there lies the ground of becoming, of the unrest of self-movement – in which sense, however, the negative is to be taken as the veritable negativity of the infinite.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 166

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