The most powerful country of capital

Trotsky-Annenkov_1922_sketch

Trotsky in a 1922 ‘cubist’ portrait by Yuri Annenkov. A version of this appeared on one of the earliest covers of Time magazine – November 21, 1927.

In the United States, the most powerful country of capital, the present crisis has laid bare frightful social contradictions with striking forcefulness. After an unprecedented period of prosperity which amazed the whole world with its fireworks of millions and billions, the United States suddenly entered a period of unemployment for millions of people, of the most appalling physical destitution for the toilers. Such a gigantic social convulsion cannot fail to leave its traces on the political development of the country. Today it is still hard to ascertain, at least from this distance, any measure of important radicalisation in the American working masses. It may be assumed that the masses themselves have been so startled by the catastrophic upheaval in the conjuncture, so stunned and crushed by unemployment or by the fear of unemployment, that they have not as yet been able to draw even the most elementary political conclusions from the calamity that has befallen them. This requires a certain amount of time. But the conclusions will be drawn. The tremendous economic crisis, which has taken on the character of a social crisis, will inevitably be converted into a crisis of the political consciousness of the American working class. It is quite possible that the revolutionary radicalisation of the broadest layers of workers will reveal itself, not in the period of the greatest decline in the conjuncture, but on the contrary, during the turn toward revival and upswing. In either case, the present crisis will open up a new epoch in the life of the American proletariat and of the people as a whole. Serious regroupments and clashes among the ruling parties are to be expected, as well as new attempts to create a third party, etc. With the first signs of a rise in the conjuncture, the trade union movement will acutely sense the necessity of tearing itself loose from the claws of the despicable AFL bureaucracy. At the same time, unlimited possibilities will unfold themselves for Communism.

In the past, America has known more than one stormy outburst of revolutionary or semi-revolutionary mass movements. Every time they died out quickly, because America every time entered a new phase of economic upswing and also because the movements themselves were characterised by crass empiricism and theoretical helplessness. These two conditions belong to the past. A new economic upswing (and one cannot consider it excluded in advance) will have to be based, not on the internal ‘equilibrium’, but on the present chaos of world economy. American capitalism will enter an epoch of monstrous imperialism, of an uninterrupted growth of armaments, of intervention in the affairs of the entire world, of military conflicts and convulsions. On the other hand, in the form of Communism the masses of the American proletariat possess – rather, could possess, provided with a correct policy – no longer the old mélange of empiricism, mysticism and quackery, but a scientifically grounded, up—to-date doctrine. These radical changes permit us to predict with certainty that the inevitable and relatively rapid, revolutionary transformation of the American proletariat will no more be the former, easily extinguishable ‘straw fire’, but the beginning of a veritable revolutionary conflagration. In America, Communism can face its great future with confidence.

Leon Trotsky, Germany 1931-1932, New Park Publications Ltd., London, 1970, 5-7

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Comment on ‘The Suicidal Empire’ and the rise of China

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Deng Xiaoping in 1979

I disagree with ‘salvaging the principle of empire’ (Dmitry Orlov, ‘The Suicidal Empire’, Desultory Heroics) as a solution to the problems discussed by the author above. To do that would be to remain entrenched in them, under the name of another nation.

Engels predicted in 1894 that the development of capitalism in China would force millions from that country and, given the size of China and the number of Chinese, would force the US and Europe to become socialist – in order to continue competing with China. He wrote ‘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)

China is not capitalist and it carries the lessons of socialism – learned at immense cost both from its own history and from that of its revolutionary precursor the Soviet Union. Where Lenin, while acutely aware of the problems in developing from an impoverished base, failed with his limited NEP because of his hatred for the bourgeoisie, the Chinese, in also developing from an impoverished base, have learnt a crucial lesson – to relax an obsession with Marxist theory and a hatred for anything bourgeois and to recognise the necessity of incorporating financial reward for individual initiative as a key driver for economic development. The benefits of this have shown clearly since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping.

Those reforms have resulted in hundreds of millions being rapidly lifted into a degree of wealth referred to in the West as ‘the middle class’ – a development still very much underway. The middle class in the West, on the basis of its wealth, education and common values has had and continues to have (despite the present ongoing depletion of that class) a powerful political voice and I expect the Chinese with that same degree of wealth to want that as well. 

And this in a state governed by and with the benefits of a single party (without the wasteful stupidity of obligatory opposition) which shows not only great sensitivity to what is taking place in China and its position of leadership (e.g. their continuing crackdown on corruption) but a flexibility and a willingness to experiment with socialism.

The Chinese Communist Party is doing what the Communist Party in the Soviet Union would not and could not do. The significance of this sensitivity, flexibility and willingness by the Chinese Communist Party can’t be overstated.

In my view, the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and this rapidly growing number of millions with wealth in China, in particular, will develop such that not only may Engels be proven correct in his prognostication that the development of China will motivate the advance of Europe and the United States (and hence the rest of the West) to socialism, but this process in China will also generate economic, political and social forms of organisation that will be models for the world.

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The purpose of bourgeois philosophy

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

The purpose of bourgeois philosophy:

‘The workingman who eats sausage and receives a hundred sous a day knows very well that he is robbed by the employer…that the employer is a robber…Not at all, say the bourgeois sophists, whether they are called Pyrrho, Hume or Kant. His opinion is personal, an entirely subjective opinion; he might with equal reason maintain that the employer is his benefactor and that the sausage consists of chopped leather, for he cannot know things-in-themselves.’

The counter to bourgeois philosophy:

‘The question is not properly put, that is the whole trouble…In order to know an object, man must first verify whether his senses deceive him or not…The chemists have gone deeper – they have penetrated into bodies, they have analysed them, decomposed them into their elements, and then performed the reverse procedure, they have recomposed them from their elements. And from the moment that man is able to produce things for his own use from these elements, he may, as Engels says, assert that he knows the things-in-themselves. The God of the Christians, if he existed and if he had created the world, could do no more.’

Paul Lafargue

The same counter in different words:
‘The question whether objective [gegenständliche] truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’

Marx, Second thesis on Feuerbach, 1845

A summary of how we have developed:

‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality. Kant disparages knowledge in order to make way for faith: Hegel exalts knowledge, asserting that knowledge is knowledge of God. The materialist exalts the knowledge of matter, of nature…’

Lenin

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Engels on the materialist conception of history

Smokestacks Polluting Pittsburgh

According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Neither Marx nor I have ever asserted more than this. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic factor is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its results, such as constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and especially the reflections of all these real struggles in the brains of the participants, political, legal, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases determine their form in particular. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent and neglect it), the economic movement is finally bound to assert itself. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite antecedents and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one.

Engels to Joseph Bloch in Königsberg; London, September 21[-22], 1890, Marx Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, 394-395

Preparing for the first redivision of the world as areas of exploitation.

Preparing for the first redivision of the world as areas of exploitation.

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Engels on Dialectics, Part Five: Causality

bullet_leaving_barrel

The first thing that strikes us in considering matter in motion is the inter-connection of the individual motions of separate bodies, their being determined by one another. But not only do we find that a particular motion is followed by another, we find also that we can evoke a particular motion by setting up the conditions in which it takes place in nature, that we can even produce motions which do not occur at all in nature (industry), at least not in this way, and that we can give these motions a predetermined direction and extent. In this way, by the activity of human beings, the idea of causality becomes established, the idea that one motion is the cause of another. True, the regular sequence of certain natural phenomena can by itself give rise to the idea of causality: the heat and light that come with the sun; but this affords no proof, and to that extent Hume’s scepticism was correct in saying that a regular post hoc can never establish a propter hoc. But the activity of human beings forms the test of causality. If we bring the sun’s rays to a focus by means of a concave mirror and make them act like the rays of an ordinary fire, we thereby prove that heat comes from  the sun. If we bring together in a rifle the priming, the explosive charge, and the bullet and then fire it, we count upon the effect known in advance from previous experience, because we can follow in all its details the whole process of ignition, combustion, explosion by the sudden conversion into gas and pressure of the gas on the bullet. And here the sceptic cannot even say that because of previous experience it does not follow that it will be the same next time. For, as a matter of fact, it does sometimes happen that it is not the same, that the priming or the gunpowder fails to work, that the barrel bursts, etc. But it is precisely this which proves causality instead of refuting it, because we can find out the cause of each such deviation from the rule by appropriate investigation: chemical decomposition of the priming, dampness, etc., of the gunpowder, defect in the barrel, etc., etc., so that here the test of causality is so to say a double one.

Natural science, like philosophy, has hitherto entirely neglected the influence of men’s activity on their thought; both know only nature on the one hand and thought on the other. But 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 in the measure that man has learned to change nature that his intelligence has increased. The naturalistic conception of history, as found, for instance, to a greater or lesser extent in Draper and other scientists, as if nature exclusively reacts on man, and natural conditions everywhere exclusively determined his historical development, is therefore one-sided and forgets that man also reacts on nature, changing it and creating new conditions of existence for himself. There is devilishly little left of ‘nature’ as it was in Germany at the time when the Germanic peoples immigrated into it. The earth’s surface, climate, vegetation, fauna, and  the human beings themselves have infinitely changed, and all this owing to human activity, while the changes of nature in Germany which have occurred in this period of time without human interference are incalculably small.

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Reciprocal action is the first thing that we encounter when we consider matter in motion as a whole from the standpoint of modern natural science. We see a series of forms of motion, mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life, all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another, are in one place cause and in another effect, the sum-total of the motion in all its changing forms remaining the same (Spinoza: substance is causa sui strikingly expresses the reciprocal action). Mechanical motion becomes transformed into heat, electricity, magnetism, light, etc., and vice versa. Thus natural science confirms what Hegel has said (where?), that reciprocal action is the true causa finalis of things. We cannot go back further than to knowledge of this reciprocal action, for the very reason that there is nothing behind to know. If we know the forms of motion of matter (for which it is true there is still very much lacking, in view of the short time that natural science has existed), then we know matter itself, and therewith our knowledge is complete. (Grove’s whole misunderstanding about causality rests on the fact that he does not succeed in arriving at the category of reciprocal action; he has the thing, but not the abstract thought, and hence the confusion – pp. 10-14.) Only from this universal reciprocal action do we arrive at the real causal relation. In order to understand the separate phenomena, we have to tear them out of the general inter-connection and consider them in isolation, and then the changing motions appear, one as cause and the other as effect.

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For one who denies causality every natural law is a hypothesis, among others also the chemical analysis of heavenly bodies by means of the prismatic spectrum. What shallowness of thought to remain at such a viewpoint!

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 230-232

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Part five/to be continued…

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Lenin: On the question of dialectics

The 'indivisible' atom. 'With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form' (Engels)

The ‘indivisible’ atom. ‘With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, (materialism) has to change its form’ (Engels)

*   *   *

The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III, “On Cognition,” in Lasalle’s book on Heraclitus1) is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).

The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples [“for example, a seed,” “for example, primitive communism.” The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation…”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral.

In mechanics: action and reaction.

In physics: positive and negative electricity.

In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.

In social science: the class struggle.

The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self – movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” – movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.

In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz., the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the Σ2 of its individual parts. From its beginning to its end.

Such must also be the method of exposition (i.e., study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics). To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with any proposition: the leaves of a tree are green; John is a man: Fido is a dog, etc. Here already we have dialectics (as Hegel’s genius recognised): the individual is the universal. (cf. Aristoteles, Metaphisik, translation by Schegler, Bd. II, S. 40, 3. Buch, 4. Kapitel, 8-9: “denn natürlich kann man nicht der Meinung sin, daß es ein Haus (a house in general) gebe außer den sichtbaren Häusern,” “ού γρ άν ΰείημεν είναί τινα οίχίαν παρα τχς τινάς οίχίας”).3 Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other.

Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a “nucleus” (“cell”) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the “aspect” of the matter (it is not “an aspect” but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.

*  *  *

Knowledge is represented in the form of a series of circles both by Hegel (see Logic) and by the modern “epistemologist” of natural science, the eclectic and foe of Hegelianism (which he did not understand!), Paul Volkmann (see his Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge,4 S.)

“Circles” in philosophy: [is a chronology of persons essential? No!Ancient: from Democritus to Plato and the dialectics of Heraclitus. Renaissance: Descartes versus Gassendi (Spinoza?) Modern:   Holbach—Hegel (via Berkeley, Hume, Kant). Hegel—Feuerbach—Marx.

Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade)—here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with “metaphysical” materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to the Bildertheorie,5 to the process and development of knowledge.

Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, überschwengliches (Dietzgen)6 development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is (“more correctly” and “in addition”) a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man. (NB this aphorism)

Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete, straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voilà the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscrutantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.

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Notes

1. See p. 348 of this volume—Ed.

2. summation—Ed.

3. “for, of course, one cannot hold the opinion that there can be a house (in general) apart from visible houses.”—Ed.

4. P. Volkmann, Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge der Naturwissenschaften, Leipzig-Berlin, 1910, p. 35.—Ed.

5. theory of reflection—Ed.

6. The reference to the use by Josef Dietzgen of the term “überschwenglich,” which means: exaggerated, excessive, infinite; for example, in the book Kleinere philosophische Schriften (Minor Philosophical Writings), Stuttgart, 1903, p. 204, Dietzgen uses this term as follows: “absolute and relative are not infinitely separated.”

Marxists Internet Archive

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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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Art and social life: the Russian Revolution and the creative power of idealism 8

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

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

‘…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

*

In beginnings and in ends,

artists, let your faith be strong.

Know where hell and heaven await us.

It is your gift to measure all you see

with dispassionate eyes.

Let your gaze be firm and clear.

Rub out the incidental details

and you’ll see the splendour of the world.

Find out where the light shines

and you’ll know where lies the dark.

Let all that’s sacred in the world,

and all that’s wicked, pass in unhurried flow

through the fire of your heart and the cool of

your mind.

Alexander Blok, from the poem ‘Retribution’

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 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

A beautiful definition of ‘truth’

Truth is the agreement of cognition with its object.

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