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From Naïve Dialectic to the Metaphysic of Properties
Primitive man did not construct scientific theories. His knowledge was built up from a variety of concrete observations and by practical rules of living which grew out of these observations. These rules were connected together by a system of mythological representations replete with images but lacking precise and logical sequence. The connection of natural phenomena with his own primitive practice was explained by myths and legends in which thunder-storms, the rain, the sun and so forth were identified with the actions of mysterious beings. Only at a certain point in social development does knowledge become scientific and man rise to the construction of a logical, connected picture of the objective world. For this transition there was necessary a definite level of development of the productive forces at which a separation of mental work from physical was possible. From that time science has emerged as a special aspect of social action, from that time man began to theorize and to build up a picture of the objective world in logically connected ideas.
And the first thing that confronted science was the mutual action of the infinite multitude of phenomena, their ceaseless interweaving and change, their ceaseless emergence and disappearance. Knowledge, before it turns to the study of concrete details, accepts reality as a sequence of changes arid interactions. In spite of the entire naïvety and superficiality of this initial view the first steps of science were at the same time the first steps of conscious dialectic. “All flows, nothing is at rest nor ever remains the same “–thus one of the greatest dialecticians in history, the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, used to characterize the ever-changing face of nature. As the Greeks used to say of him, “He likens things to a flowing river and says that it is impossible to enter twice into the same stream.”
In these, the first steps of knowledge, freed from direct connection with myth and religion, we find the primitive beginnings of materialistic dialectic. Lenin in his philosophical notes cites a very characteristic excerpt from Heraclitus:
“This order of things, the same for all, was not made by any god or any man, but was and is and will be for ever, a living fire, kindled by measure and quenched by measure.”
Lenin, when he worked out the basic law of dialectic made direct use of the figurative expressions and clear formulations of Heraclitus.
Heraclitus was the most characteristic but not the sole representative of that period of knowledge, fresh in its primitive naïvety, when the world, not yet analysed on scientific lines, was being apprehended in its general flow and change. “All the ancient Greek philosophers were born dialecticians” (Engels). However, the general picture of development which they gave in their theories suffered from a fundamental defect. Their familiarity with particulars, with separate phenomena, was very slight and inaccurate. They paid “more attention to movement in general, to transitions and series, than to the particular thing that moves, is in transition and in series” (Engels).
These philosophers variously attributed the origin of things to fire, to water or to air; they did not show in any particular case how matter changed its form, but spoke of these changes only in order to characterize the whole world as in an eternal process of change. In confirmation of their general theories they brought forward from time to time most illuminating examples. But they were never more than examples and did not reflect a deep systematic study of objects but only approximate and superficial representations, referring to that which is immediately visible to the eyes. Heraclitus said, for instance, that “the parts of the creation are divided into two halves, each one opposed to the other; the earth into mountains and plains, water into fresh and salt water… similarly, the atmosphere (climate) into winter and summer and also into spring and autumn…” How far removed is this poetic and superficial “concretization” of dialectic from the results of modern physics, chemistry and geology! It is obvious that the Greeks by confining themselves to a merely superficial knowledge of phenomena could have no notion of their fundamental laws of development.
However, all these positive and negative aspects of the first stage of scientific knowledge fully corresponded to that social practice on the basis of which Greek science was developing.
Indeed as slave-owners they were little interested in the development of the technique of production, material labour being the despised lot of slaves. As organizers of political power, navigators, colonizers, merchants – the Greeks did not need a detailed study of individual things. And as consumers they could confine their attention to outward appearance. The need for a profound analysis of the essential nature of things, which does arise for the craftsman, did not confront the enterprising merchant. And the political action of the Greeks amounted to a struggle between different groups of free peoples, and had no bearing on the slave-owning basis of the economic order. At the same time both for their political action and their great colonizing ventures, they needed a comprehensive and connected world-outlook in which the general outlines of an ever-changing and diverse universe might be reflected. This world-outlook was supplied by the Greek philosophy of that period. But the further development of production and of class struggle ever more and more revealed the deficiencies of such an outlook; the study of individual things became an ever more pressing problem. Within Greek philosophy itself there began the transition to the investigatory stage of knowledge – to the stage that dissects a whole into its parts, that discriminates individual things from their universal connections – to the stage that is, in essence, analytic.
Very often it is possible accurately to grasp a situation as a whole in a first rapid impression. Foreign workers arriving in the U.S.S.R., even in a first cursory inspection, can apprehend the general character of socialist construction. It may even be that in certain directions they can form a better estimate than we ourselves as to how far we have travelled from capitalism. However, to obtain a real and fruitful understanding of the working of our institutions the foreigner must penetrate into the details, must understand the special task of each separate institution and learn the special difficulties of each part of our socialist construction.
A correct grasp of the whole serves as a guiding principle in the examination of the details. The first synthetic stage of knowledge prepares one for the study of the parts, gives a general orientation for a further analytical investigation. Every good manager knows that for the direction of this or other undertaking there must be a clear general understanding of the situation. But if he does not go beyond that, does not learn the technique of the business by entering into its every detail, he is but another “tinkling cymbal.”
That is just how the matter stands in all practical affairs and in all questions of knowledge. We must never rest content with achieved results, nor stagnate on what is but too familiar, nor turn what are but separate stages into a whole system; we, must press forward and strive for an ever deeper penetration into actuality and thereby be in a position to change it more rapidly and completely.
At the stage of knowledge we are discussing this deepening process was obtained chiefly by separating individual things from their general connection and by studying the peculiarities of each. For this there is necessary an. accumulation of a great quantity of experimental data and observations concerning physical phenomena. There is necessary an inventory of animals, plants and minerals and then their classification – i.e. a comparison and division of phenomena into classes and a description of their properties. This task was first attempted in the later or Alexandrian period of Greek science, it was continued in the Middle Ages and considerably developed in the Renaissance.
The basic problem of knowledge in this phase consisted in diverting the attention from general connection and change in order to consider everything as isolated and at rest and thus to establish its specific, unalterable properties which distinguish it from other things, i.e. to study its quality. But what one says about an isolated and immobile thing amounts to a description of its different aspects and properties. The qualitative uniqueness of a thing is given in a comprehensive account of its properties. The thing as something that possesses determined properties – that is what the “object” comes to be in this period of science.
Certain groups of properties are found in a number of different things and characterize them each and all in a fundamental way. The same things differ in other, less essential properties. On the basis of these more general properties a system of classification is created and this in turn assists us in our analysis of the characteristics of individual things.
Let us take for example one of the most important branches of knowledge in the Middle Ages – alchemy (mediaeval chemistry). The alchemists turned their attention to the three basic properties (as they thought) of bodies: metallic glitter, combustibility and. durability. Every substance possesses, in greater or less degree, these properties, therefore they characterized each substance by the determined degree of these properties. In their ignorance of how to disclose the laws according to which things change, the alchemists regarded these properties as independent elements out of whose combination the different bodies were formed. The pure embodiment of metallic glitter, they said, was mercury, of combustibility was sulphur, of chemical durability was salt.
Each property thus became an independent quality, a thing in itself, a substance, a force. The alchemists also considered that change itself was a kind of force and due to a special agent which they called the philosopher’s stone, the stone of the wise men. For many centuries the exertions of the alchemists were directed to the search for this philosopher’s stone, which, incidentally, was to be the means of turning base metal into gold.
The alchemists were unsuccessful, yet their failures were extremely fruitful for the development of science. In their researches an enormous mass of experimental material was obtained and also an exact knowledge of the real properties of many different chemical compounds. But the further the accumulation of such practical material went, the more clearly were the limitations of this stage of science revealed. In every department of nature investigation kept revealing more and more new properties, and every one of them was regarded as a thing in itself, a special aptitude or faculty. With such a method there was no difficulty in “explaining” any phenomenon – smoke flies upward, because it possesses the tendency to fly upward; glass cuts because it possesses a cutting force; opium sends to sleep because it possesses a soporific force; a tree has an aptitude for growing, etc., etc…. Genuine thought was submerged in an immense number of mysterious forces, properties, aptitudes and substances, of which things were supposed to consist and these explained exactly nothing! The “explanation” simply repeated that which had to be explained, with the mere futile addition of such words as “force,” “substance,” or what not.
The science of the feudal period “inflated” this method of considering phenomena and their properties into a complete world-outlook, and thus created a thoroughly logical and ossified system of physics (anti-dialectic). The whole world, so thought the mediaeval metaphysicians, consists of a great number of absolutely independent forces and substances. Nothing new emerges and there is no development, since all changes amount to a simple external uniting and disuniting of unchangeable, independent forces. Change itself was to them an independent substance and was understood now in the likeness of a spiritual force, a god or a devil, now in the likeness of the philosopher’s stone, etc. In contradistinction to dialectic, which regards the world as a system of flowing processes, connected internally together by the general course of development, mediaeval science saw only a mechanistic accumulation of independent unalterable things. While dialectic discloses the contradictory character of every phenomenon, of every process, mediaeval science based its thinking on the principle of empty formal identity – combustibility is a hot substance, metallic glitter is metallic glitter, i.e. mercury, etc. Every property in itself is identical, non-contradictory and unalterable, just like a solid substance. It is not surprising that this age is renowned for its elaborate and profitless scholasticism, its logic chopping and endless deductions and the chaos of words that resulted.
The metaphysical limitations of mediaeval science were wholly the result of the limitations of feudal social practice. The parcelling-out and separateness of the feudal estates and towns, the low level of the technique of agriculture and of trade, the ossification of all social relations – that was the material basis that converted the characteristic features of one of the stages of social knowledge into a finished metaphysical system. It is true the mediaeval trader (and in part also the feudal landowner) was more interested than the Greek slave-owner in the development of material production, but with the stagnant character of production the problems of technique were not those of creating new things but of combining and recombining the things they had and improving their traditional skill in handling materials provided practically ready-made by nature.
The class interests of the feudalists and masters of workshops, who were seeking in their world-outlook to perpetuate feudal limitations, turned this method into an ossified system.
But on the soil of feudalism and, at first, by feudal methods, there was already being prepared and developed the capitalist means of production. The development of merchant capital broke up the solidity of the feudal order and drove the alchemists on in the pursuit after gold. In these attempts – often fraudulent – was expressed the powerlessness of feudal culture to resolve the real productive problems that confronted men at the end of the Middle Ages.
However, it is not only under the conditions of feudalism that we meet with this curious metaphysical practice of creating “substances” and forces to explain phenomena.
This metaphysic of properties has shown a special liveliness in bourgeois thought. It has found one characteristic expression in the so-called theory of factors.
To the question why France in Napoleon’s time carried on wars of conquest, the upholder of the theory of factors will answer that in France at that time such a factor as the idea of glory and conquest had begun to dominate, an idea which Napoleon was active in disseminating. Again, why in capitalist countries is there a “surplus” of population which cannot find employment? Because the workers are multiplying too quickly, owing to the biological “factor” of the growth of the population. Why have innumerable wars broken out between the Turks and Bulgarians? Because the factor of national antagonism was at work.
Of course in the stout volumes of learned investigators the matter looks much more complicated than as given in these examples. But if from the mass of material and pedantic exposition we pick out the essential method of stating and solving these problems we shall see that it amounts to nothing else than the “soporific force of opium” and the “cutting force of glass.”
More or less successful attempts to get beyond the theory of factors have been made from time to time by bourgeois science but they have never completely succeeded. Latterly, in the epoch of the downfall of capitalism, we see a certain revival of the metaphysics of isolated properties both in social sciences and along the whole line of bourgeois ideology.
And it is perfectly clear why. When classes and parties oppose a radical change of social relations and to this end seek after a system of fixed social relations, simple, permanent and ready-made, their ideological weapon is the metaphysic of independent properties.
The ideology of reformism, that strong support of modern capitalism, gives not a few clear examples of the utter degradation of bourgeois thought, of its return to the methods of the Middle Ages.
Kautsky, for instance, asserts that in the epoch of imperialism there is at work in industrial capitalist countries a “tendency” for conquest. So as to avoid war this tendency must be opposed by such a factor as a “tendency” to peace, a propaganda for peaceful organization of the economic order.
Take away from iron its properties of combustibility, add in the right proportion metallic glitter and chemical durability and you will get gold, said the mediaeval alchemists. Karl Kautsky in the same manner proposes to “combine” the positive properties of the epoch of imperialism (concentration of production) with a positive property of the pre-imperialist epoch (peaceful economic policy). He compounds a mischievous and empty Utopia, in which this metaphysic of independent forces can only distract the working masses from a real understanding of the nature of the capitalism that oppresses them.
Lenin, criticizing the petty-bourgeois dreams of the liberals about the eternal preservations of small-scale production, wrote:
“And indeed, how simple it is. All you have to do is to take the good things from wherever you can find them – and there you are. From mediaeval society ‘take’ the means of production as the property of the workers, from the new (i.e. capitalist) form of society ‘take’ one good thing from here and another from there. This philosopher (Mikhailovsky) looks on social relations purely metaphysically, as on a simple, mechanical aggregate of these or those institutions, a simple mechanical linking up of these or those phenomena. He selects one of these phenomena – the ownership of the land by the land-holder in mediaeval society – and thinks that he can transplant it just as he finds it into our quite different form of society like transferring a brick from one building to another.”
But when the peasant does not own his land you have as an essential element in the social structure the exploiting landlord. Every special feature of a given form of society is inseparably connected with the whole of which it is a part. These eclectic sociologists never see the intimate connection of social phenomena.
We find the same metaphysic of independent properties in many pages of the history of Trotskyism. Trotsky was always coming out with daring plans for combining various desirable things. At the time of the trade-union discussions he proposed to transfer the military method of handling men, which played a great part in warfare, to the work of the unions in industry.* By keeping politics and economics apart Trotsky again and again shows that he is under the influence of this same methodological error and is thinking in terms of separate “factors.” In Russia, says Trotsky, the political factor is strong enough for the construction of socialism but the economic factor is not, therefore the construction of socialism in Russia is impossible.
* Militarization of Labour. At the end of the civil war Trotsky urged that the armies instead of being demobilized should occupy the industrial front. He therefore advocated compulsory labour service, making use of the apparatus of the War Department, and demanding from the workers the same discipline and executive thoroughness which had been required in the army. He felt that this form of organization was necessary if a single economic plan were to be attempted and without such a plan socialism would certainly prove impossible. The leaders of the Third Army instead of demobilizing their men transferred them to labour work and a good deal of clearing up and reconstruction was carried through. It was soon made clear, however, that flesh and blood could not stand the indefinite continuance of the unwearying effort possible in war time. The policy was abandoned and Russia adopted the New Economic Policy.
In all the examples we have given, we see the same features as were analysed above:
(1) A superficial view that is content with a statement of separate properties as they stare one in the face.
(2) A way of regarding properties as if they were separated from each other.
(3) An immutability, an identity of the properties in different things, which things are considered as different external combinations of those properties.
The basic formal-logical principle of the metaphysics of independent properties is that a property is absolutely identical with itself.
From the Metaphysic of Properties to the Metaphysic of Relations
The question whether this or that property belongs to a thing is not at all as simple as appears at the first glance. For most people iron is the type of a hard substance, but the polisher of precious stones says contemptuously of a bad material, “soft as iron.” Compared with wood, iron is hard, compared with a diamond it is soft.
There is no absolute hardness or absolute softness in itself. The hardness of a thing appears in relation to other things; and according to the things to which it is related are its properties thus or otherwise. A workman may for many years be regarded as ungifted, good for nothing, but if you set him to a job that suits him he may display great gifts in relation to it. Rain may be a blessing or a curse; it depends on the situation. The deserts that surround the valley of the Nile were at an early stage a help to the development of the productive forces of Egypt, since they acted as a protection from the onslaughts of wild nomads. But at a much later stage, when Egypt was ripe for trade relations with other lands, these same deserts became an obstacle to further economic growth.
All properties exist only in determined relations, all properties are relative – such is the conclusion to which we are led by our knowledge of mutual action.
The mediaeval alchemists studied separated properties selected at will from the general mutual action of things and therefore these properties could appear as something absolute and immutable. But once the circle of observations was widened and people began to compare a great number of properties, studying their changes as well as the changing of things themselves, science had to reject alchemistic metaphysics.
And then appeared a new question which the alchemist never foresaw: to which of the two (or many) mutually acting things does this or that property belong? The mediaeval scholars never doubted that glass possesses a peculiar cutting or wounding force. The English scientist, Boyle – representative of the new epoch ridiculed this view and showed that the point of the matter does not lie in the glass but in the mutual relationship of glass with the determined properties of that which it cuts. He proved that sudorific, soporific and other medicines do not in any way possess corresponding absolute forces or qualities but that their action must be explained by their mutual action with the organism. However, it is easy to cite mutual action. It is far more difficult to determine what part each side plays in mutual action and wherein lies the basic cause of the fact that this particular mutual action leads to that determined result.
All relations are two-sided. If A is related to B, then B, too, is related to A. Deserts at different periods influenced in different ways the development of Egypt. But wherein lies the root of this influence – in the different geographical properties of deserts or in the change of the properties of Egyptian economics?
Things that come into relation mutually display their properties one through the other, as if they are reflected in each other. The properties of the desert were reflected differently in the different stages of Egyptian history and conversely the properties of the stages of Egypt’s development were reflected in the different influence of the desert. Each side is defined through its relation to the other, each side has only a relative definiteness. To the discovery of this mutual or reflex relationship Marx and Engels, following Hegel, attributed a very great importance.
“Such relative definitions,” wrote Marx, “are, in general, something quite singular. For example, this man is a king only because other people are related to him as subjects. They however think, on the contrary, that they are subjects because he is king.”
Everyone who has looked at the first chapters of Capital knows that Marx in his exposition of all the basic questions of the theory of value proceeds from the reflex relations of exchanged commodities, of commodities and money, and of commodity-producers between each other. Marx showed up the commodity-fetish and proved that “the property” of possessing value, which is ascribed to an article as a thing, is, in fact, the expression of a definite social relation.
The discovery of the relativity of properties was the first step of bourgeois science at the beginning of the New Age, and it must be said a very significant step. The researches of Galileo, of Descartes, Boyle and other natural scientists and philosophers dispersed like smoke the doctrine of mysterious forces and qualities held by mediaeval physic-chemical science. The “soporific force” of opium became an object of universal jest, and Molière, in his brilliant comedies, brought its upholders on to the stage in the roles of clowns.
However, to point to the relativity of properties does not in itself explain very much. It sends us from one thing to another and from that back to the first, from geography to economics and from economics back to geography, and gives no single and complete explanation of any phenomenon or any process. It is impossible to exhaust the study of properties by the discovery of their relativity. A positive working-out of the question is needed. And bourgeois science tried to give such a positive doctrine in the theory of the so-called primary and secondary qualities.
First of all the founders of this theory selected a number of properties of things (colour, taste, smell, sound) which we receive directly as sensations, and explained them as existing only in relation to our sense organs, as subjective. Those are the so-styled secondary qualities. The rest – the so-styled primary qualities – were considered by them as belonging to the things themselves, as existing in objective actuality. Secondary properties appear as the relations of primary properties to our perception.
Does a tickling “force” really exist in a tickling hand? – Galileo used to ask. The hand touches our body, and this contact evokes in us a peculiar sensation, which is not at all like the hand or its movement. The movement of the hand, its making of contact, its motion along our body is a primary objective quality, the sensation of tickling is secondary, subjective.
Warmth is not a peculiar quality but a movement of particles in space, their simple motion, which is reflected in our consciousness as a secondary quality, as the sensation of warmth.
Primary qualities are quite few. They are the spatial form and position of bodies, movement, the contact of bodies and therefore solidity. All other differences of phenomena, colour, sound, scent, taste, relate to secondary qualities. These properties are subjective and in no measure reflect processes that are found in objective actuality.
Everything in nature is made up of non-qualitative, colourless, soundless matter and every difference between phenomena may be ascribed to the mechanics of identical particles of matter and to their combinations and movements in space.
In their conflict with the metaphysics of properties the most progressive tendencies of bourgeois science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took up the position of mechanistic materialism. In comparison with the mediaeval world-outlook this was a big step forward. Instead of occupying itself with a piling up of mysterious forces and isolated, utterly inexplicable properties knowledge turned to the study of movement (although in its simple form, namely the study of mechanistic movement). Instead of “explaining” the lifting of water in a pump by saying that “nature abhors a vacuum,” they began to investigate the real mechanical processes of the movements of liquids, and as a result Torricelli discovered atmospheric pressure. They ceased to attribute to an organism vegetable, motive, nutrimental and all sorts of other forces and aptitudes but directed their attention to the study of mechanical movements in the life-activity of an organism even though these were, at first, only the most elementary motions in the body, and again as a result Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood.
The new point of view proved very fruitful and was the basis of a large number of valuable discoveries. René Descartes, one of the founders of mechanistic philosophy and the greatest of French philosophers of the seventeenth century, was right when he wrote about his methodological principles:
“by them I perceived it to be possible to arrive at knowledge highly useful in life; and in room of the speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans, we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature.”*
* Descartes, Discourse on Method, p. 49 (Everyman).
In these words of Descartes, besides his deliberate and severe contrasting of the method of “practical philosophy” with the “speculative and scholastic philosophy” of the Middle Ages, there is reflected also the connection of the new forms of thinking with modern productive practice of the industrial type (although Descartes was doubtless unaware of this connection). The fruitfulness of mechanistic natural science came from its close connection with this productive practice.
The industrial production of that time was pre-eminently the direct action of the workman’s tool. People were interested not in the changes of the substance, but in those mechanical devices by which change was evoked. All the “machines” of that period were basically simple combinations of the same lever, block, windlass, inclined plane and screw which had been known from ancient times. And so the natural science of that period was preoccupied with the investigation of the movement of bodies (and of systems of bodies) under the influence of forces applied to them, with the conditions of the equilibrium of bodies, the movement of liquids, etc.
Chemical properties of matter were “explained” mechanically, vital phenomena were “explained” by analogy with the actions of mechanical automata. For instance, the following explanation of the difference in the tastes of nitre and nitric acid (which was then called “spirit of nitre”) appeared “clear and evident” to Spinoza:
“Particles of nitre, if laid on the tongue, lie on it in consequence of their quiet condition with their flat sides down and by this means the pores of the tongue are closed – which is the cause of the sensation of cold. But if these particles are lain on the tongue in a state of excitation and movement [Spinoza here has in mind “spirit of nitre,” which, in his opinion, is made up of the same particles as nitre but is found “in a state of excitation and movement”] then they will fall on it with their sharp edges, will pierce into its pores just as a needle if it falls on the tongue will evoke different sensations, this difference depending on whether the contact is made with the sharp or the long surface.”
The passion for automatic explanations at the ruling courts of the seventeenth century was a similar reflection of the view, general in “enlightened” circles, that the properties of every whole, including living organisms, must find their explanation in the mechanical relations of its parts.
The roots of bourgeois thought in this age are to be found in the mechanical connections which underlay the manufacturing and productive processes and appeared to be fundamental. Thus mechanism became the model for all knowledge and in the philosophy of the time we have the “reproduction in thought” of the objective connections of things.
Whence the relative historic value of the mechanistic method but also its one-sidedness and its limitations. Valuable though the mechanical discoveries of Galileo, Torricelli and others were, yet their tendency to ascribe all the diverse phenomena of nature and society to mechanical relations prevented them from giving a correct solution of the problem of properties.
This new one-sidedness became a universal principle and so, inevitably, a new form of metaphysical theory. The whole world appeared as divided into two independent parts, the mechanical properties of matter, and the subjective qualities of experience. The mutability and diversity of qualities were regarded by the mechanists as secondary properties, i.e. as subjective appearance, as empty illusion.
The real world, since it exists in itself in its own primary properties, is from their standpoint ever the same and unchangeable. Elements of matter are identical and unchangeable. All their relations are attributed to external combinations in space and to simple mechanical contact.
In the real world there is no development, there is only movement in one and the same circle. There is no self-movement of matter but only a mechanical displacement of it under the influence of external impact. The metaphysic of absolutely unchangeable properties gives place to a metaphysic of absolute, quality-less particles and their mutual relations.
And what about properties? How does mechanism solve this problem?
If all particles of matter are identical, then a difference of things according to properties is possible only as a result of a different relation between the particles. Things are differentiated according to their external form in space, by the different disposition of their particles in relation to each other. Things are differentiated according to the mechanical movement of their particles, i.e. once again according to the external relations between the particles. The primary, actually objective, properties of liquidity and of solidity are determined only by the greater or lesser connectedness of their particles in their relative movements.
All things are distinguished only by their external mechanical construction. Everything consists of elements and their relations, say the mechanists, elements are without qualities, are merely carriers of relations. Relations emerge as the properties of different things.
As we see, mechanistic materialism “resolves” the problem extremely simply. After showing that a property is relative it goes on to declare that a property amounts to a relation, and finally attributes all the differences of things to external mechanistic relations.
Secondary qualitatively different properties are also only relations, that to say they are the relations of quality-less things to our sense organs. Determined movements of particles, taken in relation to our consciousness, give a sensation of warmth; other slighter movements a sensation of light or a variety of colours. An animal is a machine and only a machine, but the relation of this machine to our perception gives an impression of a living organism, etc., etc.
And so by distinguishing two kinds of relations – firstly the relation of particles of matter among themselves and secondly the relation of their combinations to the organs of sense – mechanists divided all phenomena into primary and secondary qualities. From the point of view of mechanism the task of knowledge consists in this – to expose the fallacious appearance of secondary qualities and to attribute all the phenomena of nature to primary mechanical relations.
The French materialists of the eighteenth century applied the mechanistic method widely and were ever indicating the countless number of causes external to each other that conditioned social development. For example, the introduction of a new law is determined by a multitude of facts amongst which an important rate is played by the action of the legislator, and this action depends on his disposition; which in its turn may be decided by the weather, and Paris weather has changed because a simoom was blowing in Africa and so on – endlessly.
We have taken one chain of facts, but in every social process there is an infinite number of them and they all mutually interact. Do you try, using this method, to find out in what direction the social structure of a given country is changing. The French materialists used to argue as to what was the determining factor in the mutual action of geographical environment and social development. They disputed whether the opinions of people were determined by facts, by the social structure, or, conversely, whether social structure depends on human opinions. And what emerged from their discussions was the discovery that one could draw from the mechanistic view-point an endless number of proofs both for and against any resolution of these questions.
The mechanistic doctrine of properties as relations of separate particles leads to an absolute relativism on the basis of which it is impossible to say anything definite on the properties of anything, since these properties are its relations with an infinite number of other things. “A crazy atom”* which has flown into the head of a lawgiver can change the course of world history – so said the materialists of the eighteenth century. The atom itself does not possess this “property,” the property emerges from the relation of the atom to countless other particles, and who will say beforehand whether this “property” will emerge or not? Mechanists themselves not venturing to do so come to this conclusion – it is impossible to know anything definite about concrete things except the abstract truth that they are subordinate to the general laws of mechanics.
* “Crazy Atom.” The introduction of any factor or element into a situation which leads to an unpredictable result.
And pure relativism and agnosticism, as we know, are the main support of subjectivism. Mechanistic materialism, because of its metaphysical limitations, leads directly to subjective idealism. And the distance between the two is by no means so very great. The mechanists themselves show this transition to idealism in their own doctrine of the subjectivity of “secondary” qualities. Indeed by the assertion that qualitative differences of things and qualitatively different properties exist only in our consciousness, the mechanists create a gulf between objective actuality and our representation of it.
We must turn away, they say, from the illusory appearance of sensations, we must thrust it away with the help of abstract reasoning just as we pull back a curtain when we want to know what is hidden behind it – and then only shall we make contact with the actual, objective world of pure mechanics, the world of the soundless, invisible movement of quality-less particles.
The sense data derived from an object – mechanism teaches – by no means reflect it, they only correspond to it. As a hieroglyph is a sign and bears very little resemblance to the object it denotes, so also our sense data only correspond to a determined object, are only its hieroglyph. We see a red-faced man, we see a pale-faced man. But really each is only a determined combination of quality-less particles. But evidently the motion of the particles of the one is somehow distinct from the motion of the particles of the other, and so to each of these people there corresponds a different “hieroglyph” in the likeness of our sensations. The separating of properties into primary and secondary is inevitably connected with the theory of hieroglyphs, with the theory of the symbolic denotation of objective actuality by subjective, deceptive representations.
But can we stop here? Why must we admit that the conception of so-called primary properties, of the movement and the spatial forms of bodies, reflects objective actuality exactly as it really exists? Our knowledge of these properties comes only through sensations. If we regard sense impressions as hieroglyphs, we must acknowledge the conceptions of mechanics not as exact copies, but only as signs of an unknown objective actuality.
Plekhanov, who defended the hieroglyphic theory, following certain bourgeois scientists, came sometimes in the turns and twists of his thinking to the theory that even space and time are hieroglyphs of unknown aspects of an unknown objective world.
So we see the attribution of properties to external relations leads to absolute relativism and subjectivism.
“What is truth?” the sages and prophets of bourgeois individualism ask with haughty scepticism, reflecting the “satisfaction” of the bourgeois soul with what exists at the moment and its dread of everything new and revolutionary. With a sceptical criticism of knowledge and a disbelief in objective truth they seek to defend their bourgeois objective actuality – capitalism – from every authentic revolutionary criticism. In this epoch of the domination of the capitalist forms of society bourgeois philosophy snatches at all the weak reactionary features of mechanism, at relativism, subjectivism, at abstract metaphysics, and inflates these features into a complete subjective-idealistic world-outlook. Everything is relative, only the unalterable particles of matter that move in space are absolute – so say the mechanists.
Subjective idealism by denying the objective existence of matter itself, even of the ultimate particles of the mechanists, and by denying also the reality of space, drives the relativity of mechanistic materialism to its furthest limits.
The primary mechanistic qualities are objective. The secondary qualities are subjective; they exist only in our consciousness, only as our sensation. That is what mechanism asserts.
Subjective idealism by setting out from this very subjectivity of secondary qualities and reducing primary ones to them, in turn reduces mechanism into pure subjectivism – there exist only our sensations, all things including their so-called primary qualities are sensation-complexes combined together by the mind.
The upholders of mechanism by attributing all properties to external relations are powerless to disclose the real basis of the complex interweaving of mutual-acting things. Subjective idealists, by deepening and further developing the metaphysic of the merely external connectedness of phenomena, turn the vice of mechanism into an idealistic virtue; they assert that phenomena have no objective basis and therefore any complex can have any explanation; there are no right or wrong theories – the choice of this or that explanation depends wholly on the subjective point of view, on “mental convenience.” Any explanations are good for those whom they please, and there is no truth outside arbitrary human opinions.
Between mechanistic materialism and subjective idealism there is a big difference. The one admits the existence of matter, the other denies it. The one connects things by real mechanical relations, the other acknowledges things and connections only as “facts of consciousness.” But relativism and false metaphysics make up the general features of both philosophical tendencies.
That is a fact. According to both schools properties do not flow out of the internal nature of things, they amount to external relations; the one and the same metaphysic of elements sundered from each other and of purely external connections leads both these schools (and also others) to absolute relativism, and deflects them from the struggle for a unitary, eternally developing objective truth. A close kinship between mechanism and subjective idealism is undeniable; between the two there exists a deep mutual bond.
The mechanists, by laying claim to absolute objective truth and in the name of that truth proving the deceptiveness of those qualities perceived by the senses, do themselves proceed to extreme subjectivism.
Thus the mechanists have turned the relativity of properties into an “absolute” and in contrast with the metaphysic of feudalism have identified properties with the external relations of quality-less particles to each other (primary qualities) and to our sense organs (secondary qualities). Thus they have opened the way to the blind alley of relativism and subjective-idealistic religiosity.
The further development of social practice, now within the framework of capitalism, set knowledge a new task. It was necessary to overcome the limitations of mechanism so as to open the way to the study of the qualitatively unique forms of movement in nature and society. The development of physics, chemistry, biology and the social sciences demanded a new methodological system. The problems which mechanism set but did not resolve had to be resolved on new lines. In severe pain, science began to bring to birth the dialectic method.
But only in the ideology of the proletariat, only in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin did knowledge emerge on to the wide road of the conscious and logical working out of dialectical materialism. Only on this new level did the problem of quality and property which had been set but not resolved by the metaphysical systems of the past receive its actual solution.
Quality and the Self Movement of Matter
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was no longer possible to see in the workshop of the craftsman and in his manual skill a model of the domination of man over the forces of nature as imagined byDescartes in the seventeenth century. The development of capitalism brought with it a radical upheaval in the entire productive activity of society.
“The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?” Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto.
The dream of the rising bourgeoisie of subduing nature, of making use of the “forces of
fire, water, air, etc.” (Descartes) was coming true in a remarkable degree. However, as often happens the realization was not at all like the anticipation. The new world when revealed to man in his productive action had very little in common with the colourless picture of mechanical nature given by Descartes.
The invention of engines acquainted man with the possibility of converting one form of energy, thermal, electrical, mechanical, chemical, into another, and proved in practice that movement is by no means of the same mechanical pattern as had been represented. The development of chemistry and of chemical production still further displayed the great variety of nature. The possibility of selective breeding, of producing new varieties of plants and animals, had been demonstrated in horticulture and farming. The theory of Darwin, which was largely based on these facts, showed without any of the mystical “vital forces” of mediaevalism that a living organism is not a machine, that vital phenomena can by no means be accounted for by mechanical laws. The earlier social theories had taken the characteristics proper to the individual craftsman type of economy and treated them as the eternal properties of society as such. But new social groups were differentiated as bourgeois production developed and their relations were ever more clearly seen to be the fundamental characteristics of the changed economic and social order.
The world was seen to be much more alive and much more diverse than the mechanists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their followers thought.
The more fundamental are the changes that we make in things, the more deeply does our knowledge penetrate into their internal nature. The recasting of nature in production is quite distinct from the external action of men on passive inert matter. In the work of a craftsman external mechanical working of the material still predominates, but the chief success of industrialization is due to its exploitation of the forces belonging to nature on a much greater scale than hitherto.
“He (the worker) uses the mechanical, physical, chemical properties of bodies with the view of making them, as forces, act on other bodies in conformity with his own purpose.”** Capital.
The line of the development of production under capitalism is in fact this – the capitalist seeks more and more to replace the labour of the worker by the movements of the material things themselves, the movements of the lifeless means of production.
“Reason is just as cunning as it is powerful,” wrote Hegel. “The cunning consists generally of that intervening action which forces objects, in conformity with their own nature, to act on each other and undergo a mental transformation, and while it is not directly involved in that process, none the less attains the realization of its own purpose.”
What under capitalism emerges as the basic means of producing relative surplus value and is therefore always working in a primitive unconscious and somewhat disguised form, now appears in the period of proletarian dictatorship and under socialism as the conscious guiding principle of all society, which, moreover, is liberating itself from the role of a living appendage to a dead machine.
By setting up a dam against the current of a river, we make the latter produce an electric current. The energy of falling water, the chemical energy of solid and liquid fuel convey us in a tramcar or a motor-car, or set factory wheels in motion. The automatization and mechanization of production denote man’s ever increased usage of the forces of nature itself.
Everything in the world – said Descartes – is in mechanical movement. By this he meant that the source of motion is to be found in the forces that mechanically impel a thing from outside. The more developed practice of material production and of class struggle makes evident the activity of things themselves, discloses the changes within them, and reveals their self movement.
The principle of the self movement of matter, as we know from the previous chapter, is one of the basic principles of logical materialism, one of the basic propositions of the dialectical theory of development. The discovery of this principle and its demonstration along the whole line of science and practice puts in quite a new light the problem of our knowledge of reality and our power to change it. The changing of things is by no means the same as the re-combination of things in different variants and proportions, as the mediaeval seeker after gold thought and as the alchemistic “doctors of modern capitalism” also think, nor is it a simple changing of outward relations, as thought and think the mechanists.
In the study of a thing in its changes and also in the changes wrought in it by our practical activities, we must proceed from the thing itself.
“The thing itself must be scrutinized in its relations and its development,” wrote Lenin, formulating the first of the three basic elements of dialectic. This thesis was developed in detail by Lenin under the following heads:
(1) objectivity of scrutiny (not examples, not variations, but the thing in itself);
(2) the whole aggregate of the various relations of this thing to others;
(3) the development of this thing (or phenomenon), its proper movement, its characteristic form of life.
The revolutionary practice of the proletariat in contradistinction to utopian socialism is a wide application and development of this principle. All utopianism is metaphysical. Utopians in trying to recast society do not proceed from the development proper to it, or from those motive forces which are created by the capitalist order itself, but from a “good” plan, which (quite fortuitously for society) was devised one fine day by a gifted man. For the realization of their plans the utopians appeal to the representatives of the aristocratic and the bourgeois state and to different members of the exploiting classes, reckoning to evoke in them those philanthropic feelings which by no means flow out of their objective class position.
Their metaphysical and idealistic approach and their lack of contact with the movement of objective actuality make their efforts impotent and ridiculous.
“The objective world pursues its own course,” and human practice which is confronted by this objective world meets difficulties in realizing its aim and even stumbles on impossibilities.
In this state of affairs “the will of man and his own practice hinder the attainment of his aims – because they separate themselves from knowledge and do not acknowledge external actuality as truly existing (as objective truth). We need a union of knowledge and practice” (Lenin).
If our action is not to be without result it must be included in the movement of the object itself. Only by understanding the object in its self-movement can we find the point of departure for changing it.
In this lies the revolutionary force of the theoretical studies of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. The wide range and effectiveness of Stalin’s formulations of practical policy, his directives to the Soviet Government, do not merely express the clash between a revolutionary will and a resistant objective reality as some misguided socialists believe. Stalin always proceeds from a dialectical study of conditions, from an accurate summing up of each new situation, from a careful correlation of class forces. And that is precisely why his utterances show up so mercilessly the blunders of those who are continually advocating capitulation before difficulties; that is why he is able to lay before the Party and the whole mass of workers a wide prospect of successful application of revolutionary creative energy.
The heroes of “left phraseology”* show a utopian approach to actuality. In 1927 the Central Committee of the Party, noting the perspectives of revolutionary movement for the next few years and basing their considerations on the statistics of the growth of world capitalist production, recorded their conviction that there was at that time a period of relative stability in capitalism. This was indeed the case and it was not until 1929 that this period came to its close. Zinoviev was one of those who treated this analysis with contempt. He argued that it was more necessary to gauge the revolutionary spirit of the workers than the world output of coal and iron.
* Left phraseology. Lenin exposed those “terribly revolutionary” socialists who refused any kind of compromise, were impatient with the slow-moving masses and talked of immediate revolution in spite of the immaturity of the situation. He further pointed out that their “Leftism” seldom went beyond speech-making. (See Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder.)
By closing his eyes to the objective fact of the stabilization of capitalism, Zinoviev supported the German ultra-“lefts,” who were calling for immediate revolutionary action, although at that time the predisposing conditions were insufficient. One can only summon the masses to the barricades when faced by an immediate revolutionary situation, i.e. an extreme degree of economic and political crisis in the old order.
“It is impossible to ‘make’ a revolution.... Revolutions grow out of crises and culminations of history that are objectively ripened (i.e. that are independent of party or classes).” Lenin, Collapse of Second International.
Of course a revolution does not come about without the organized activity of a revolutionary class, “the old government does not fall unless it is dropped.” All history is made up of the action of people, but this action is capable of making a revolutionary change only when it reflects the self movement of the social order, the development of objective actuality itself. In all the practice of the proletariat, in all its great and “little” affairs, we find the application and confirmation of the Leninist principle: In knowledge and action we need “an objective scrutiny, not examples, not variations, but the thing in itself”; in knowledge and action is disclosed “the development of this particular thing – its own proper movement, its own life.”
The disclosure of the activity of things, of their self movement, demonstrates that things are by no means fixed and constant as the metaphysicians think and as sometimes seems in experience.
“–the great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind-images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end.” Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 54.
In nature there are no unchangeable things, all nature is made up of processes. At first glance this thought seems strange and evokes many doubts. How are we to reconcile this formula of Engels with daily experience in which we deal with objects that are stable and unchanged for our experience? If everything is so absolutely changeable and fluid, how can we find in the world any definite stable differences? If there is no stability then there is no definiteness in any thing. Thus – says the subjective idealist – every definiteness is conditional, it is introduced by our consciousness into the flow of sensations. Our mental equipment makes us interpret sensation complexes in different ways, but all differences and distinctions exist only within our consciousness.
The mechanist, Sarabyanov, reasons in the same way. From absolute fluidity and mutability he deduces the conditionality and subjectivity of every definiteness: “Our relativity is absolute, because all flows and changes; there is no point of rest except as conditioned by us, and of course we are not scared of relativism.” The daring Sarabyanov is not scared of absolute relativism and goes straight to idealistic conclusions – every state of rest, every stability is “conditioned by us,” i.e. by the subject, and therefore all differences too are subjective. The living man, the corpse, death, are processes. In these there is no stability; to distinguish them is only possible conditionally, only by introducing definiteness out of the subject. “Mankind in its practice is conditioned to understand ‘living man’ as a being with one kind of processes, a corpse as a being with another kind of processes.” “Death itself is a conditioned notion,” wrote Sarabyanov in another article.
All these dicta of Sarabyanov are directly connected with his negation of objective truth and are undoubtedly subjective idealism, but are not we ourselves inclining in that direction when we acknowledge all things as a process, are we not pouring water on the idealistic mill of absolute relativism? Not at all! All these subjective conclusions of Sarabyanov flow out of his purely metaphysical approach to the understanding of what comprises the stability of things.
The qualitative differences between the solid, liquid and gaseous states of a substance are perfectly definite, but this definiteness is not a stability of dead rest, as metaphysicians think, but a stability of types of movement, a definiteness of different forms of molecular movement.
Molecules in their turn consist of still smaller particles – atoms, which also are in motion, and atoms consist of constantly moving electrons. And according to the latest theory the electrons themselves are nuclear centres of special wave processes, comparable with those which give us concerts on the wireless, and with those we call light. It appears that at the basis of stable things are to be found wave processes. It is quite clear that science will not remain at this point, that the investigation into the “depth” of matter will go further. But there is no doubt that the discovery of each new qualitatively distinct stage of matter will be, as hitherto, a discovery of a new form of movement.
What is this “movement”? The mechanist, as we know, will say that movement is the displacement of a body in space and that objectively only mechanical displacements exist. It is obvious from what has been said that we disagree with this. The struggle for the mastery of the self-movement of the forces of nature and society (the latter consisting of the class struggles characteristic of the higher stages of social development) have disclosed a whole array of qualitatively unique types of movement, among which mechanical movement is only a very simple form.
“Every movement includes in itself mechanical movement and the rearrangement to a greater or lesser degree of the particles of matter. To understand these mechanical movements is the first task of science, but only the first. Mechanical movement by no means exhausts movement in general. Movement is not by any means just a ‘movement,’ a simple change of place, it is in hyper-mechanical realms a change of quality too.”*
“Movement as applied to matter, is change in general,” which comprises an infinite number of concrete aspects of change.
The movement of molecules in solid, liquid and gaseous bodies does not by any means amount to their simple change of position. This movement is latent heat, which has its qualitatively peculiar laws. The uniting and disuniting of atoms into molecules is a qualitatively unique chemical process. The movement of electrons in a metal wire gives us an electric current. Wave processes in the ether are of an electro-magnetic character.
The vital processes of an organism, the development of society, the thought of man are all qualitatively unique processes, which it is quite impossible to reduce to simple movements of particles.
However, it is wrong to suppose that all forms of movement exist independently of each other and only make external contacts. On the contrary they mutually penetrate.
“Every one of the higher forms of movement is connected always and of necessity with real mechanical (external or molecular) movement, just as similarly the higher forms of movement produce at the same time other aspects of movement; chemical action is always accompanied by changes of temperature and electrical action; organic life is impossible without mechanical, molecular, chemical, thermal, electrical and other changes. But the presence of these collateral forms does not exhaust the essence of the main form in each case.”Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
It still has in addition to these constituent movements its own unique character.
Harvey discovered the movement of the blood-circulation. This was for his time a very important discovery. Without circulation, without contraction of the muscles, an animal cannot exist. Breathing and digestion comprehend a whole range of chemical changes. But in none of these is included the specific quality of an organism, its uniqueness. The movement characteristic for an organism is the ceaseless changing of organic substances – a process of combustion, dissolution and renovation of living matter, a process of assimilation of nourishment, whereby the fabric of the body is continuously being woven. On the basis of this process arise all other processes that are peculiar to the organism – growth, struggle with the beginnings of morbid conditions, reproduction, etc. Biological changes comprehend in themselves other forms of movement which are “collateral” to the unique vital processes of the organism.
In the interlacing of a number of distinct processes there is always a determined species of movement which embraces all the others, subordinates them to itself, and is characteristic of the thing as a whole, constitutes its uniqueness, its distinction from other things, forms the basis of its stability.
An animal will die, i.e. will cease to be an animal, will be turned into a heap of decaying albumens if by interrupting its breathing we stop certain organic changes even for a short time. An organism is a qualitatively unique process; without this process there is no organism. In just the same way the various forms of society are living, fluid and qualitatively unique processes. Proletarian dictatorship exists only in the process of class struggle, in the process of building socialism, in the process of abolishing classes. Its stability and its qualitative definiteness are exactly comprehended within the definite form of class-struggle. “Proletarian dictatorship is a prolongation of class struggle in new forms,” wrote Lenin. This form of movement – a struggle ever intensifying in the process of abolishing classes – makes up the inalienable definiteness of the soviet order.
The process of socialist industrialization is a form of struggle with both internal and external class enemies. The Right-opportunists did not understand that. In their fear of the difficulties of the reconstruction period they proposed to suspend the class struggle, to reduce the pressure on the kulak, to weaken the control over the middle peasantry, to slacken the tempo of industrialization. If the Party were to listen to the Right-opportunists, if the working class were to cut short its struggle against the exploiting classes and no longer to direct the peasantry, proletarian dictatorship would cease to be proletarian dictatorship and capitalism would be re-established.
It is impossible to stop the movement of matter. By stopping or delaying the socialist offensive we inevitably call into existence new forms of capitalist activity, encourage their growth and allow the offensive to pass over into their hands. Interrupting social movement in one form, we evoke it in another. The Right-opportunists did not understand the dialectic of movement and became the mouthpiece of the kulak opposition; objectively, therefore, they were counter-revolutionists.
We laid down at the beginning of this chapter that to every thing there belongs internally a special type of movement. In the exposition following we drew one very important conclusion; the movement of a thing – its self-movement – defines its internal nature, is its uniqueness, its quality. Engels was right: the world consists of processes, of qualitatively unique movements of matter. The quality of a thing is given by the particular kind of movement that is fundamental to it.
This proposition of materialistic dialectic has great importance for the theory of knowledge and for the entire world-outlook. It leaves no place for mysterious isolated and unchangeable properties and forces, it rejects the representation of the world as a dead mechanism.
In spite of the metaphysic of properties the qualities of material things are now deprived of every mystery. We are enabled to study them as fully determined, exactly distinguished forms of movement.
The mechanists notwithstanding, variety and vitality exist, are not mere subjective representations; matter by its own proper movement creates countless shades of qualitative differences. And however rich and many-sided our representations may be, the copy of the actual world in our consciousness will always be measurably more abstract, poorer, more dead, than the actual life of material nature.
The mechanists in their conflict with the metaphysic of properties rightly pointed out the unscientific character of representing the world as an aggregation of qualifies independent of each other. But they themselves failed to understand wherein lies the unity of matter. They sought the unity of matter in identity of particles, in saying that matter is everywhere and always the same. In practice such “unity” leads to the splitting up of nature into particles externally indifferent to each other. The actual unity of the world lies in the materiality of all its qualitatively different forms, in their continual vanishing and appearance. A man, a very simple living organism, an inorganic substance – all are qualitatively different stages of one and the same ascending scale of material development.
The unity of the world exists in variety. The general connection is realized through the qualitative differences of separate things. This dialectic of the general and the particular, of unity and diversity, was unattainable by the mechanists. And yet it is just in this that we find the key to disclose the relations and connections in nature, and so provide the basis for a right understanding of the mutual connection of qualities.
The Relativity of Qualities and the Universal Connection of Things
Quality is the inalienable and specific mark of a thing or an event. It is inalienable because without it the thing ceases to exist as that given thing. It is specific because it distinguishes that thing from other things.
The question arises, wherein lies this uniqueness, how can we give a definition of a given quality.
Molière, with good reason, ridiculed the mediaeval savants. Their explanation of “soporific action” as due to “soporific force,” and of soporific force as due to “soporificness” are indeed extremely vapid and laughable. But in what lies the root of this error of the mediaeval scholars? It lies in their determination to find a definition of an isolated quality apart from all relations. Try to define any quality without alluding to some other or implying, to however small a degree, its relation with something else, and inevitably you will find that you have fallen into the plight of Molière’s “sage.”
The quality of a thing can only be understood by distinguishing it from other qualities. Thus in the very category of quality there is implied a relationship with something else, a distinction from it. It is impossible to define a thing without indicating its differences, impossible to say what a given quality resembles without indicating, however faintly, that which it does not resemble.
A lake is characterized by a certain quality, dry land has another quality. But we include in our definition of a lake the fact that it is surrounded on all sides by dry land.
If a man utters his views on any question he cannot express what he is asserting without indicating that with which he disagrees, that which he denies.
In every definition of the quality of a thing affirmation and negation are indissolubly connected. One of the greatest materialists, Spinoza, expressed this thought in the following aphorism: “Every definition is a negation.” All the knowledge of one quality is indissolubly connected with its limitation by other qualities, by that which the given quality does not resemble – its negation. Hegel, Marx and Lenin, all stressed the correctness of this idea.
And so a definition must include in itself an indication of the discriminating relations of the given quality to another. Yet this is by no means so easy as may seem at the first glance. It so happens there exists in the world an endless number of things from which the given thing differs. And are we really expected to enumerate all these differences? Clearly they cannot all be of the same importance for the definition of the given thing, and their simple enumeration would do nothing except confuse.
What is the way to disclose the qualitative uniqueness of objective processes or things in a really complete and adequate manner?
Lenin pointed out the first steps towards this. He suggested that we should proceed from any very simple pronouncement: A terrier is a dog. Capitalism is a social formation. A planet is an element of the solar system. The proletariat is a class of capitalist society. An individual thing is a general thing – that is how we must begin. Each quality by its own peculiarity, in its uniqueness, is a part of something general and therefore contains something of the general in itself.
The terrier even in its individual peculiarities expresses the general features of a dog in general. A planet even in its particular movements expresses the general connection of the solar system. Capitalism in its own specific form expresses the general laws of society’s development, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production.
Thus the unity of the general and individual is not external, they mutually penetrate each other. We see this unity of opposites in the individual thing itself –“the individual is the universal. That is to say opposites are identical.” “Every individual thing is in some way or other a universal.”
And at the same time the individual thing as a part, as an individual aspect of a whole, expresses that whole not fully but one-sidedly. In this lies the internal contradiction of every individual thing. Capitalism, by expressing the general law of every means of production in its peculiar way, aids the development of productive forces, but at the same time there lies within its qualitative peculiarity its limitation: at a determined stage of development the preservation of property in the means of production becomes an obstacle to the development of productive forces. Capitalism played a definite historical role in the development of society. But if we are to understand this historical role we must relate it to the whole and find its connection with the whole line of social development. That is why Marx in expounding the theory of the capitalist means of production proceeds, after his chapter on the conversion of money into capital, to treat the question of labour and production from a universal point of view.
A planet in its movement expresses the connection of the whole solar system, but its movement is only one aspect, which outside the whole is impossible.
But the universal itself exists through the particular. Every particular is incomplete and one-sided. However, the incompleteness of one aspect is supplemented by another incompleteness, by another one-sidedness. Although they are mutually opposed yet at the same time they presuppose each other, amplify each other and are the inseparable poles of a single whole.
And so in virtue of their contradictory nature, their internal incompleteness, particular qualities cannot exist in isolation, they presuppose other opposite qualitative peculiarities and exist only in union with them. A planet exists as a planet only because there is a sun round which it revolves. Beasts of prey exist only in company with herbivorous animals. Animals as a whole can exist only because plant-life exists, whose green leaves under the influence of sun-light turn inorganic substances into organic. And in return animals exhale carbonic acid gas, which is required for the synthesis of organic substances,’ and so give food to plant life.
The capitalist appears as capitalist only because capitalism produces not only capitalists but also proletarians – people who have nothing to sell except their power to labour. And conversely the working class, as a class of the oppressed and exploited, exists only because exploiter-capitalists confront it. Water is ceaselessly evaporating and being condensed; this maintains the flow of rivers.
“A particular entity (an object, a phenomenon, etc.) is (only) one aspect of idea (truth). For truth there are needed still other aspects: of actuality, which also seem to be independent and particular (existing peculiarly for themselves). Only in their aggregation and in their relationship is truth realized.”
Thus wrote Lenin in his materialist working-over of Hegel’s dialectic (whence, among other things, his use of the word “idea”).
A particular entity, a thing, which is characterized by a definite quality, only seems to be quite independent. On this “seeming” are based all the metaphysical systems. Dialectic exposes this “seemingness,” discloses the deep connection of particular things and demonstrates the relativity and mutual penetration of different qualities.
But are we not arriving at that same absolute relativism which we exposed and rejected in the metaphysic of mechanism? By no means! “Dialectic” – as Lenin constantly explained – “contains a moment of relativism, of negation, of scepticism, but does not amount to relativism.” The mechanists reduce properties to relations – and external relations at that. For them there is no objective basis of relations and therefore the qualitative definiteness of things is submerged in universal relativity, in the complete indefiniteness and instability of particular phenomena. The sole issue of such a position is idealism, which enables them to introduce definiteness into the world through the agency of the subject and its “point of view.” Dialectical materialism is free from these difficulties. Dialectic proceeds from the internal definiteness of a thing as the basis of its relation to another. For dialectic the relation of qualities to each other is not an external fortuitous relation, it issues from their inner nature and is the expression of an objectively existing whole which embraces both related qualities.
The second quality to which the quality of the given thing is related is not that to which the given thing is indifferent according to its inner nature, it is not an external “other” independent of it, but its own opposite, its other.
For animals, which all directly or indirectly feed on plant-life, the existence of plant-life is by no means a matter of indifference. Planets presuppose the sun; capitalists – the proletariat.
The mutual definition and mutual exclusion of qualitatively different things and phenomena play their part not only with things that exist contemporaneously, but also when one exists after the other and when the presence of one excludes the presence of the other. Socialism is created out of the internally necessary wreck of capitalism. Both systems exclude each other and only in a state of severe conflict can they co-exist at the same time. But in this development they are mutually connected – capitalism prepares the revolutionary transition to socialism, the emergence of a socialist society under the pressure of internal necessity is the result of the irreconcilable contradictions of the capitalist system. The irreconcilable hatred of capitalists towards the Soviet Union, similar to our irreconcilable hatred of bourgeois society, gives clear enough evidence that these systems are not absolutely external, not “indifferent” to each other. Socialism is the opposite of capitalism and in this sense we can say that socialism is the “other” of the capitalist system. Capitalism is related to socialism, as to its own opposite, as to the social formation necessary for its replacement. Socialism is related to capitalism as to the foregoing stage of social development. We shall understand nothing in capitalism or in socialism if we do not keep in view their mutual relations – the relations of irreconcilable conflict in which is expressed their historic succession and connection.
And so from different sides we have sought to show that the relations of things flow out of their inner nature. There are no isolated qualities of things. Every quality in its existence and development presupposes a number of others.
This idea was turned by metaphysicians into an absolute and thus into a source of errors, opening the door to the crudest superstitions.
The German philosopher, Leibnitz, in his philosophical enquiries stumbled on the problem of the mutual connection of qualities. In essence he was the first in the history of philosophy who stated this problem in precise terms. Leibnitz was strongly influenced by the mechanistic viewpoint, and at the same time sought to overcome its limitations on the basis of a widely extended system of objective idealism.
The mechanistic theory of the relativity of properties was understood by him more deeply than by anyone else, and he developed it to its extreme limits. Every thing, every unit of the world (or as he said – “monad”) in all its content is nothing other than a reflection of all other things. All things, all properties exist only in relations. All the characteristics of each thing are the result of its relations with all other things: All things, all conceptions, possess only reflective, relative attributes.
But if each monad is only a reflection of all other monads then whence comes that which is reflected? The view-point of “reflective definitions” if turned into an absolute, leads to the assertion that everything in the world is a reflection without the existence of anything to be reflected, a relation without that which is related. One of the historians of philosophy characterized this view in the following way: in a room there is nothing except a multitude of mirrors which entirely cover walls, floor and ceiling; all the mirrors reflect each other, but it is perfectly clear that no definite image will be reflected in any of them. A world in which there is nothing except purely reflective relationships is as empty and as without content as those mirrors.
To avoid the emptiness of absolute relativity, Leibnitz distinguished between those qualities in his monads which were shared in common and those which constituted their uniqueness, for they differ infinitely from one another and no two can be exactly alike. Leibnitz was so anxious to preserve the integrity of these individuals (or monads) that he refused to admit that they could affect one another. Nevertheless, each behaved as though it were part of a whole and helped to constitute that whole. The only way in which to explain such a combination is by the hypothesis that they have all been created by an exact mechanician. Every monad is, as it were, a separate time-piece, and all of them though sounding different notes strike always at one and the same time and in harmony. The concordance of things among themselves is a previously established concordance, is “a pre-established harmony.” Only thus is it possible for each separate monad in itself, in its qualitative particularity, to be a reflection of the world of all monads as a whole. All is in concordance, all has been foreseen in the best possible way. All is for the best in this best of possible worlds.*
* By “best possible” Leibnitz did not mean “best conceivable,” but the best that you can have under what he supposed to be the necessary conditions of human life and human freedom, or the necessary conditions of his own social order.
Leibnitz lived in that “happy” era when merchant capital had entered into partnership with the land-owning class, in the “happy” century of absolute monarchy. In this epoch the capitalist and landowner had made the great discovery that feudal extortion and business trickery harmonized splendidly with each other in the system of primary capitalist accumulation, and that the material and mental culture of the nobility could find itself at one with the still undeveloped culture of capitalism. Leibnitz was the spokesman of this “happy” century, and to him through the rosy spectacles of stabilized absolute monarchy, the whole world seemed to have been made specially to enable brilliant princesses, very rich bourgeois and royal academicians to flourish and enjoy themselves.
But one can plainly see that in the actual connection of qualities there is no “pre-established harmony.”
In spite of Leibnitz’s metaphysic there are no eternal qualities; qualitatively unique things are only transitory forms of unitary evolving matter. And if this is so, if qualities come and go in the unitary process of the development of the material world, then what is there wonderful in the fact that they are internally connected among themselves? And there is no need of any “pre-established harmony” to explain their internal connection within the unity of the solar system. They “only seem to be independent and separate and to be existing privately for themselves” (Lenin) whereas in actuality they exist as the result of the division of unity, each as the opposite of another.
In the same way after Darwin, we do not wonder at the internally necessary relations of the organic world. As Darwin pointed out the specialization of organisms in different directions, the emergence of qualitative differences between them, was one of the necessary conditions of their survival. In the process also of evolution the “division of unity” led to the emergence of independent species which are internally connected with each other and each of which in relation to another, is, in fact, its other.
The differentiation of an undeveloped whole, the emergence of differences between qualities by means of the division of unity proceed also in social development. The emergence of classes, the polarization which takes place in the conversion of a simple merchant economy into capitalist economy (for example the differentiation of the peasantry), the oppositeness of separate social usages – in all these examples we see always that same “immanent emergence of differences – the internal objective logic of evolution and the struggle of the differences of polarity.” (Lenin.)
And so in the relativity of qualities there is nothing pre-established, there is nothing ready-made, no previously given concordance. The relativity of qualities is the product of never ceasing material development.
However, the connection of things is not only foreign to the idea of “anything pre-established” but also quite remote from “harmony.” The relativity of qualities is not a product of a peaceful reconciliation of extremes, it arises in a harsh conflict of contradictions, it exists only in a process of eternal emergence and annihilation. It arises out of discordance, out of conflict, and having arisen is turned into its own opposite, into a source of new contradictions and of new splitting. “Reason becomes unreason, a boon is turned into a misfortune.” (Goethe.)
A concordance is never wholly realized, it always exists merely as one of contradictory tendencies.
Only men isolated in their studies from all contact with the real world can dream of world harmony, “because just as this can never be in the development of nature, so too it can never be in the development of society. For only by means of a number of attempts (each one of which taken separately will be one-sided and will suffer from a certain discordance) is an ultimately victorious socialism made possible out of the revolutionary co-operation of proletarians of all countries.” (Lenin).
Absolute concordance “cannot obtain in the development of society, just as it cannot obtain in the development of nature.” Biologists who think dialectically, know quite well how important it is to estimate not only the concordance, the agreement of an organism with its environment, but also its disagreement. In the simultaneous and contradictory emergence of concordance and discordance the development of the organic world is accomplished.
And so different qualities are internally connected with each other, yet their relativity is ever changing and profoundly contradictory. In actual development, which is denied by the upholders of “pre-established harmony,” concordance and discordance are interwoven and there is no stable harmony in the relations of separate things.
“The world does not consist of ready-made finished objects” (Engels), matter is in ceaseless development. And so not only are separate objects changeable and transitory, but with their changes there is indissolubly connected the change of their mutual relations. Not only do particular animals emerge and vanish, but also whole species of animals. The whole world of animals and plants arose during a definite period and has found the limit of its biological development in the formation of human society. In society the change of social structures proceeds through the change of people and their relations.
The internal contradictions of development penetrate both the general and the particular. The recasting of particular things, in the process of establishing new connections, in the process of setting up a new “general” class, is at the same time a process of destroying the old “general” class. A collective-farm worker is still a peasant, but at the same time he already appears as a member of an enterprise of a socialist type. The connections of the old are not yet all severed and already the decisive relations of the new type have been forged. Through the spreading of the new socialist relations in the country-side proceeds the breaking of the old private property connections and with it the remaking of the peasant into a worker of socialist society. The mutually relative qualities of the petty-bourgeoisie are being replaced by the new qualities of socialist workers. And until this process is consummated, the peasant-collective-farm-worker will be conscious of deep internal contradictions in his position in society. In its turn the consummation of the construction of socialism will set going new problems, open up new perspectives, will require the creation of new relations and through the development of these will remake mankind.
The unity of the general and the particular is relative; their contradiction is absolute, just as movement and development are absolute. That is why always and in everything “every generality only approximately embraces all particular objects.” Always and in everything the eternal development of matter and the eternal succession of its general stages of development proceed through the deep contradictions of every particular thing.
“Every concrete thing, every concrete something, stands in different and often contradictory relations to everything else, therefore it exists as itself and as something else” (Lenin).
Bourgeois thought, in the majority of cases, is unable to understand these contradictions and bourgeois scientists, to keep on the right side of bourgeois ideology, make use of two formal metaphysical devices. They either acknowledge a purely stagnant universal, in harmony with itself, into which particular things have to be forced; or they declare that general ideas are a fiction of the mind. Quite frequently they produce an alternative subjective-idealist argument against the Marxian dialectic. They point out that the general law of value never appears in its pure aspect in relation to the particular commodities on the market, and this allows bourgeois economists and revisionist theoreticians to declare that the law of value is a subjective fiction. Engels in a letter to Conrad Schmidt explained the actual dialectic of the general law and its partial manifestation.
He asked Conrad Schmidt:
“Did feudalism always correspond to its idea? – The answer is ‘No.’ Must we then conclude that feudalism was a fiction, that it reached full perfection only in Palestine for a short time and even so (for the most part) on paper? Or are the basic ideas in the natural sciences also fictions because they by no means always coincide with actuality? Even after we had accepted the theory of evolution our ideas on organic life only approximately agreed with actuality. For otherwise there would be no evolution. The idea of ‘fish’ for example includes life in water and breathing by gills. How will you progress from a fish to a land animal unless you overcome this idea? And it was overcome, for we know of fishes whose air bladder developed further into lungs and permits them to breathe air. How can we progress from the reptile that lays an egg to the mammal that brings forth its offspring alive unless we bring one of these two ideas to a clash with actuality? Indeed, in the monotremata we have a sub-class of mammals that lay eggs, the duck-billed platypus. In the year 1843 I saw a duck-bill’s egg in Manchester and in my conceited ignorance made fun of the stupid notion that a mammal could lay an egg; now we know it is a fact.” Engels Correspondence, published 1923.
In its development the world is infinitely varied. Old connections are interwoven with new and not merely in the process of emergence of the new, for even after the new type of relation has been more or less established, the old continues very often to exist along with the new, as another species.
The emergence of animals and plants by no means abolished inorganic nature from which the life of organisms sprang. On the contrary the very existence of animals and plants presupposes a definite inorganic environment – hills and plains, rivers and seas, a particular kind of soil, an atmosphere, etc. In just the same way human society needs a definite geographical environment.
Every universal is also only part of a system of wider connections and is in a state of internally necessary relations with other universals. Thus all the relations of things constitute an extraordinarily complex and variegated network. Lenin in the fragment “On Dialectic,” often emphasizes this complexity: “Every particular is by thousands of transitions connected with particulars of another species (things, phenomena, processes), etc.”
Thus Lenin notes two types of relations between things; the relation within a given universal and the relation to things of another species.
The capitalist exploits the workers. This relation flows out of the internal nature of the capitalist as a social phenomenon, and is a relation not outside but within the social whole. This same capitalist may be ill from an infectious disease. His relation to the bacteria which caused the disease also cannot be regarded as a purely external phenomenon. The biological characteristics of man, although they are changed in social life, nevertheless create the internal basis for infectious disease. But if we compare these two relations we shall see that one of them is relatively external in comparison with the other. The connection of a millionaire with his workmen is an organic and direct connection; the connection of the millionaire with the germ of some disease which he might contract is (with the whole pernicious character of them both to mankind) very, very remote.
There are no things absolutely external to each other, but there exist things and events, “whose internal mutual connection is so remote or so difficult to define that we can forget it, can hold that it does not exist” (Engels).
And so in conflict with the mechanistic ascription of all connections to external relations we emphasized that the relations of things flow out of their internal nature. And at the same time, whatever the upholders of “pre-established harmony” may say we must not forget that the mutual relativity of qualities is infinitely various, deeply contradictory and by no means absolute.
The unitary development of matter is accomplished through particular things. Their relative independence and stability in development, their contradictions and conflict, which belong to them internally and are manifested in their external relations – all these destroy the idealistic legend of an absolutely attuned harmony of nature. Thus Engels noted that with the whole unity of development there always remains “a chaotic aggregation of the objects of nature in some or other determined field or even over the whole world.”
There are no absolutely external things, but also there is no absolute concordance of things. In vital development the relatively external and the relatively internal are interwoven, condition each other, and create a vital connection of everything with everything in the unitary flow of the development of matter. Lenin, formulating one of the elements of dialectic, wrote:
“The relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only many and varied, but also general, universal. All things (phenomena, processes, etc.) are connected with each other. In development there is realized the connection (of all parts) of an infinite process, the necessary connection of the whole world... the mutual determining connection of everything.”
In summing up this chapter we will recall one very essential Leninist instruction.
In order to disclose the quality of an object, to express its internal uniqueness, we must consider it in its all-round connection. But the different relations of a thing to others must be united in our knowledge and action, not arbitrarily, not externally, not haphazardly, but on the basis of that thing’s own development, its own self-movement. In the self-movement of an object “its connection with the surrounding world is changed.” When we disclose the line of this change, we reveal the actual quality of the object, we find the form of movement that belongs to it.
Lenin in the discussion on trade unions in 1921 greatly stressed the many-sidedness of the special nature of trade unions, the infinite number of relations which connected the trade unions with the other elements of proletarian dictatorship.
But in opposition to Bukharin and Trotsky, Lenin found the special functions of unions in that connection which will lead to the general, i.e. to the whole system of proletarian dictatorship, by disclosing the relativity of all the elements of that system.
To understand the trade-union question properly a whole series of questions must be faced: the tendencies in the field of trade unionism, the relation of classes, the relation of politics to economics, the special character of the state, of the party and of the trade unions themselves. In other words trade unions do not exist in isolation but only in relation with other organizations of the working class – with the party, the state, local state and economic organizations, the great mass of workers, etc. In these relations we see the many aspects of the role of trade unions – the defence of workers from bureaucratic perversions, the productive role in the sense of utilizing the unions for propaganda for increased production, the drawing of masses into the actual control of production, and the task of raising the political consciousness of the workers, etc.
But all this many-sidedness and relativity of the trade unions does not mean that what they really are is purely a question of the “point of view,” so that they can be just as truly regarded in several different ways. On the contrary, in spite of, indeed along with, the many-sidedness of the subject under consideration, there emerges one and only one solution. In all the different functions of trade unions, in the change of these functions at different stages, we see the appearance of one line of development – the movement towards communism, the line of a “coalition” with all the other organizations of the working class, the line of drawing the backward masses up to the level of the “immediate directing advance guard,” the line of promoting workers more and more to positions of authority. In this line of development, there is also disclosed the unitary, qualitatively unique definiteness of the trade unions – which is to be a school of communism.
And so as Lenin has shown us, dialectical logic demands a scrutiny of all the connections of the object in the unity of its development. There are no changes in isolated things. Removed from its connection the category of self-movement is insufficient for the determining of a thing, just as an abstract proposition on “general connection” removed from actual material development will lead only to metaphysics and absolute relativism.
“It is necessary to unite, to connect, to combine the general principle of development with the general principle of the unity of the world, of nature, of movement, of matter, etc.” (Lenin).
Neither the mechanists nor the Menshevist idealists understood the unity of self-movement and general connection. For the mechanists all changes are to be attributed to the change of external relationships, and so in essence they deny development. The Menshevist idealists attribute all development to the internal self-movement of things, and thus obviate the general connection of processes. For them interference by an external influence is accidental and a hindrance to development. This tendency was for example manifested in their conception of biological development – all development was ascribed to the internal changes of the organism, independent of its surrounding environment Thus both the mechanists and the Menshevist idealists are at one in this – neither group understood that absolutely external connections do not exist, that development by internal necessity goes on through an external relation to something else, while those relations to something else themselves flow out of the internal nature of each thing.
Only this uniting of self-movement and general connection gives us the key to the unity of quality and property.
The Dialectic of Quality and Property
According to the metaphysic of properties, quality and property are simply identical with one another. A property is an independent quality, an independent force, aptitude, etc. And a thing is the external unity of these independent properties.
According to the mechanistic view a property is the relation of one thing to another, but it is an external relation, it does not flow out of the internal nature of the thing.
In actuality there are no independent isolated qualities. Quality exists in relation, and these relations flow out of the unique nature of each thing by an internal necessity. As a result of its contradictions a thing must exist in connection with others and its properties are nothing else than the manifestations of its quality in relation to other things.
“Quality is a property above all and pre-eminently in the sense of how much it shows itself in external relation as an immanent definiteness.”Hegel, Science of Logic, vol. i, p. 54.
Plants that possess chlorophyl cannot exist without sunlight; their internal qualitative definiteness manifests itself in the property of absorbing solar rays. A river does not exist without banks; it possesses the property of changing their lines, it may wash them away, it may re-establish them elsewhere. Every chemical element pre-supposes the existence of other elements and its chemical properties are revealed in its different relations to different elements – to one set it is neutral, with others it unites in a violent reaction. Man is a social being and his quality, the “nature” he derives from the class he belongs to (in other words his character) is revealed in his actions, in his relations to other people and things.
There is no matter without movement, and forms of movement do not exist in isolation, every quality reveals itself in its activity, which is manifested in its relations. In defining the “object” with which the natural sciences concern themselves, Engels wrote:
“The object is a moving substance. Again it is possible to know the different forms and aspects of the substance itself through movement; only in movement are the properties of a body revealed; there can be nothing to say of a body, that is not found in movement. It follows that out of the forms of movement flow the properties of the moving bodies.” Dialectic of Nature.
As we see, Engels distinguishes between quality and property only as two sides of one and the same definite aspect of a process. Quality and property are indissolubly connected. However, the theory of primary and secondary qualities, the hieroglyphic theory and Kantian agnosticism, all separate these categories. In knowledge –say the agnostics – we are dealing not with the “thing in itself” but only with its relation to our perception. According to the theory of hieroglyphs the “thing in itself” is knowable only in the conditional symbols of our sensations. In Kant’s opinion, the “thing in itself” is absolutely unknowable, we know only the “thing for us,” only a phenomenon, which has nothing in common with the “thing in itself.” Further, as Hegel indicated, the Kantian “thing in itself” is an empty abstraction about which it is possible to say nothing, for this reason that by moving it from relations, from its “being for another,” we ourselves destroy the bridge to the knowledge of it. In his notes on the Hegelian dialectic, Lenin wrote on this issue as follows:
“The aphorism, that we do not know what exactly ‘things in themselves’ really are seems to be wisdom. But the ‘thing in itself’ is an abstraction from every definition (from every relation to another), i.e. it is nothing…. How very profound: the ‘thing in itself’ and its converse – ‘the thing for others.’… The ‘thing in itself’ as a generality is an empty, lifeless abstraction. In life, in movement, everything exists both in itself and for others, in relationship to something else, and so continually transforms itself from one state into another.”
However, the arguments for agnosticism are inexhaustible and it is possible to ask, whence do you get your knowledge of the internal definiteness of a thing? In experience only a thing’s external appearances are given to us, only its properties, and all our knowledge amounts to a description of particular properties known subjectively through the senses. We see light and we distinguish colour because we possess the organ of sight; we hear sounds because we possess the organ of hearing; we detect scents because we have an organ of smell; we discern a rough or a smooth surface because we have a sense of touch. The qualitative differences between sensations are created not by differences in the things in themselves, but by the differences of our organs of sense.
In answer to the agnostic we will admit that each particular sensation is quite one-sided and limited, but we will remind him that knowledge is by no means content with particular sensations, but is all the time correlating them and thus disclosing the unity of the properties of the objectively existing thing. And here it is easy to point out that the different organs of sense give us by no means absolutely different impressions. The organs of sense are connected, co-ordinated with each other, there is between them a known unity and up to a certain degree they amplify each other, since they themselves are the historic product of social practice in which society had to deal with a single, many-sided object – the world. For example:
“Touch and sight amplify each other in such a way that you can often tell from seeing a thing what its tactile properties will be. And finally, just as always the one and the same ‘I’ receives and works over these different sense impressions, and gathers them into a unity, so these different impressions are conveyed from one and the same thing, and ‘appear’ as its general properties, in this way making possible our comprehension of it. Therefore the task of explaining these differences, these properties, which are attainable only by the different organs of sense, of establishing a connection between them is a scientific task….” Engels, Anti-Dühring.
But that does not satisfy the agnostic. In the first place, he says, we do not know whether all these properties belong to one thing, as you assert, or to different things, and secondly you do not go further than external properties, the external relations of the thing to the consciousness.
The agnostic proceeds from the supposition that things in themselves are by their internal nature absolutely foreign to consciousness, and so in his opinion there is no bridge between the relations of a thing and its internal structure.
In this very supposition lies the basic vice of all agnostic doubts. As a matter of fact if things were absolutely foreign to us, no objective connection, no contact could be established between us and the objective world in general. As we explained above, relations between things are possible in general only because they possess in some or other relation an internal kinship. If things, as agnostics think, were absolutely external to man, we could not receive from them any sensations whatever.
In the world of reality we have sensations because both the things we know about and ourselves belong not to two quite different “substances,” but are parts of one and the same world, products and stages of one and the same process of material development. During the age-long history of the animal world and of the development of human society our sense organs were formed and perfected, our capacity for knowing the objective world was developed, and this direct unity of nature and man is realized every day and every hour in our practical action.
“We can demonstrate the correctness of our conception of a given phenomenon by the fact that we ourselves evoke it, produce it from its conditions and make it serve our aims. This puts an end to the Kantian ‘thing in itself.’”Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach.
It is quite clear that we can evoke the phenomena of nature only in so far as we ourselves are included in its total system and only in so far as our action is a special form of material movement.
“Primarily, labour is a process going on between man and nature, a process in which man, through his own activity, initiates, regulates, and controls the material reactions between himself and nature. He confronts nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate nature’s productions in a form suitable to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops the potentialities that slumber within him, and subjects these inner forces to his own control.”2 Capital, vol. i, chap. 5.
By our work we create new things with new properties. “Labour has been united with the article of work. It has been substantialized, the article has been subjected to the labour process” (Marx). When we perceive the external world passively the movement of a thing allows us to understand it through its properties which are reflected as sensations in our consciousness but whose objective basis we do not know. But in the process of production our action emerges as a form of movement which produces a new thing with new properties.
“The labour has become incorporated with the subject matter of labour. Labour has been materialized, and the subject matter of labour has been elaborated. That which in the labourer appeared as movement, now appears in the product in a resting phase, as “being” instead of “becoming.” The worker has spun, and the product is his web.” Capital, vol. i, p. 173.
Thus in the process of material production and of class conflict, which aim at the changing of “natural” things and of social relations, there is disclosed an objective dialectic of quality and property.
In compounding a theory or scientific hypothesis we proceed from properties to the form of movement that lies at their base, but this is possible only because in practice – in industry, in experiment, in class struggle – we proceed by the reverse course; we create by our action determined forms of movement and arrive at new properties. The radical re-casting of things allows us to probe into the world from the inside, it opens up to us the contradictory movement that lies at the basis of things and thus creates a basis and criterion of knowledge. In our practice we ourselves make actual the development of matter, we ourselves create objective actuality.
“Purposeful action is directed to this end – that, by abolishing determined aspects, features, phenomena of the external world, we may give to ourselves reality in the form of external actuality” (Lenin). Thus in practical action “the consciousness of man not only reflects the objective world, but also creates it” (Lenin).
In this creativeness we have such a close mutual penetration of man and the objective actuality that exists outside him, such an immediate unity of them, as radically refutes agnosticism and the superstition*that grows from it. By disclosing and developing the connection of man with the objective world, practice opens the way to a deeper knowledge of the nature of things, to an ever fuller disclosure of the internal definiteness of a thing in its properties, to an even more many-sided conversion of the “thing in itself” into the “thing for us.” An impassable and mysterious gulf between the “thing in itself” and our consciousness exists only in the imagination of Kantians and their successors.
* If subjective experience and states of consciousness are our only data in apprehending reality then “religious” experiences are as valid as any other and the whole world of occultism and superstition is put on a par with the world known to science. Hence this relativist agnosticism is declared to open the door to superstition.
Both superficial sense impressions and very accurate scientific conceptions are reflections of actual things, copies of them, although copies of a different degree of accuracy and depth.
A thing has an infinite number of properties. In each property is reflected some one aspect of the object. We shall never exhaust all the aspects, but even in the simplest impressions, ocular, aural and so on, we are given not hieroglyphs of the thing, not subjective, secondary properties, but a reflection of it from some determined aspect. On the basis of practice we shall know ever more and more properties, ever more and more aspects, and by disclosing their internal unity, shall know ever more deeply the qualitative definiteness of the processes.
We know the quality of a thing through its properties. The diversity of properties, the diversity of aspects, in which the thing is connected directly or indirectly with all other things, is inexhaustible, infinite. Being in connection with everything, each particular thing is in essence just as infinite in its many-sidedness as the world as a whole. The apt expression of this thought by Dietzgen the German philosopher and worker was cited by Lenin with approval. It runs:
“We may know nature and its parts only relatively; because every part, although it is only a relative part of nature, has nevertheless the nature of an absolute, the nature of a natural whole – which is, as such, inexhaustible by knowledge.” Lenin, vol. xiii, p. 106.
What properties are more essential than others? Subjectivists say there is no objective distinction. In their opinion out of the multitude of particular properties we select arbitrarily those which are more interesting and important to us and pay no attention to the rest. Only one who completely disregarded actual material practice could state the question thus. To an empty “contemplator” of nature, to one whose approach to things is superficial, a mere consideration of supply and demand, the objectivity of properties is of no importance at all. A bourgeois on holiday in the country admires the bright colours of a poisonous plant, and does not bother about its more essential, harmful properties. But for the deep practical knowledge required in order to change things the most “interesting” properties are those which are objectively the most essential. “The introduction of practice into the determining of an object,” of which Lenin spoke, will lead not to an arbitrary selection of properties but quite on the contrary demands the objective criteria of their essentiality or non-essentiality.
In order to transform a tree by work into paper, or to build a house from it, or to cut sleepers, or to get products by treating it chemically, it is not enough for us to know the colour of its bark or to listen to the poetical murmur of its leaves – we must know what are objectively the most essential properties of wood, etc., etc.
By what objective criteria can we tell whether properties are essential? As we have seen, every quality exists not as something discrete but only in relation to other qualities. The internal contradictions of the quality are the source of its various properties and make it possible for them to reveal themselves. Particular things are not independent – for their own existence they need other things. The connection of things consists in their difference; their unity is realized through oppositeness and conflict. The closer their connection, and at the same time the more acute their opposition, so much the more essential and characteristic are their mutual relations, so much the more are their essential properties revealed in these relations.
It is the nature of capitalists to exploit. This characteristic is expressed in their relation to natural resources, in the limitations of their interest in art, and even in their emphasized tendency to distinguish themselves by a modish costume – in all these things. But the most essential of them is their relation to the workers.
In all the habits of a beast of prey are disclosed its qualitative definiteness, but the most essential properties of a cat are manifested in the catching of mice.
An acid has many properties, but the most essential is its ability to combine with an alkali or a metal and form a salt. In a word the most essential qualities are those which a thing manifests in relation to “its other,” to its opposite. Things that have little in common are for the most part “indifferent” to each other. No one examines a mechanic by playing chess with him. Just as little will be revealed by testing him on an automatic machine. A mechanic will show his essential properties in relation to “his own other,” to the machine which it is his job to work, especially if he is confronted with a difficult repair job in connection with it. The most characteristic properties of a chemical element are revealed in relation with those elements which belong to the same family – a metal to a metalloid and the converse.
Chemistry at the beginning of the sixteenth century abandoned the alchemistic consideration of isolated properties and began to study properties in relation to one another. Attention was drawn at this time to the utilization of chemical preparations as medicines; this is the period of what is called iatro-chemistry during which the relation of chemical substance and their properties to the human organism was examined. This was mainly fruitful in increasing the knowledge of compounds but the more essential properties of chemical substances were revealed only after chemistry had begun to compare the chemical elements themselves with each other, to study their mutual “kinship.”
As we have explained, the more essential properties of a thing are manifested in its relationship to the opposite thing of the same family, to the opposite particular of the same “general,” to the opposite aspect of the same wider whole.
This proposition leads us to yet another quite important conclusion. Let us first ask in what are the essential features of the general itself manifested? We know that the general exists only in the particulars and through the particulars, that the whole exists only in the unity of its opposing aspects. But if this is so then clearly the specific definiteness of the whole is manifested in the relation of the opposing aspects and parts. Its essential properties are reflected in the unity of the essential properties of its opposing aspects. We begin our knowledge from relatively external, less essential properties and from them we proceed to disclose the internal relations of the thing, in which are expressed its most essential properties.
Each quality is dissected, each contains in itself a whole order of subordinate qualitative differences. Therefore each quality contains in itself a number of internal relations. It is precisely in these that the internal contradictions of quality emerge most fully and clearly and therefore in these that the most essential properties are expressed.
As long as the investigation of society proceeded along the line of its relatively external connections the knowledge of social phenomena was quite precarious and superficial. It was necessary to define the specific sphere of social phenomena, to learn to compare the different processes that lie in one and the same whole. But this could only be done by discovering the opposing sides of society, by expressing what were its specific features in a unity of opposing poles. Without this the bourgeois scientists had to be content with description of the most superficial aspects of social life. Some of them held the essential property of social man to be his desire to imitate, others – the sex urge, a third group – the desire to accumulate, etc. Whole sociological treatises are written on all kinds of less important social phenomena, exalting them to a position of essential importance. The actual path to the understanding of social properties is revealed by approaching society as a whole, by distinguishing its opposing aspects, its opposing qualities. And as our knowledge of this unity of opposites becomes deeper, science is the more able to discover essential properties. Marx disclosed the internal contradictions in the development of the means of production, showed the inner connection of opposing classes and on this basis developed a study of the properties of society and social phenomena as no one had been able to do before him.
And so, the mechanists notwithstanding, it is impossible to ascribe properties to the external relations of things. Properties express specific definiteness, and the most essential, most characteristic properties of bodies are those which are manifested in the internal relations of the connected whole. Imperialism is a unitary system; its most essential properties are manifested in the contradictory connection of monopoly and competition. Thus in the infinite relations of a thing to other things and in the relations of its own aspects is manifested the whole diversity of its properties and in these its quality finds full expression.
Quality is necessarily manifested in properties, it can only develop itself through the unfolding of properties. “A being that exists in itself” necessarily becomes a “being that exists for another.” Thus the aggregate of properties of a given thing appears by no means as something stagnant and immutable. In the development of a thing as a unitary whole its particular aspects are inevitably changed, but not in such a way that the thing should change its qualitative definiteness. “Although a thing exists only in so far as it possesses properties, yet its existence is not inseparably connected with the existence of those or other determined properties, and it can lose certain of them, without ceasing to be that which it is” (Hegel). Not every change of a trait of character changes the quality of man as a whole. But the development of this whole cannot take place except through a change of particular properties.
The unity of quality and properties, as we saw above in many examples, is a contradictory and fluid unity. It is realized not in an unchanged, quiescent relationship, but in ceaseless contradictory development. And to understand this unity the thing must be regarded not in its particular states, but in the whole line of its changes. What is this line of development, whither does this changing of the “being as it exists in itself” to the “being as it exists for another” lead? The mechanists hold that the development of the connections of a thing with other things is the expression of its dependence on all external circumstances. The more the relations of things are developed, the less of stability and definiteness is there in the change of each of them. The French materialists grew confused in the complex network of relations and everything seemed to them to be the sport of countless external causes. They sought the causes of change in everything in the world except in the entity that was itself changing. The collapse of the English revolution, some of them tried to explain, could not follow from its own development but from gravel that formed in Cromwell’s bladder and caused his sickness and death. But this citation of gravel is purely arbitrary – it is impossible to discover all the “gravels,” all the “crazy atoms.”* And if every event is to be found in absolute dependence on external causes, it is impossible to know anything at all about its course.
* “Crazy Atoms.” See Note, Section III Chapter II
We by no means ascribe movement to external causes, nor properties to external relations. We proceed from the self-movement of a thing and therefore our understanding of a being that exists for another is directly opposite to the mechanist’s understanding. A thing is by no means the passive sport of external impacts. In its self-movement a thing possesses its own activity and manifests it through its properties.
Let us recall the examples which we gave at the beginning of the chapter – they exactly illustrate this active role of properties.
Even if we ourselves act on a thing, and as a consequence it takes on the appearance of a passive object of our action – even, in this case, those properties which it manifests are the expression of its own activity, its own qualitative uniqueness. In turning a piece of metal on a lathe we come up against the hardness of metal; in the chemical working of this or that material we evoke the appearance of its chemical properties. An agriculturist who despises the activity of the properties of the plants he is cultivating or the animals he is breeding will never get the results he desires. The difficulties of production and particular failures of our action on things demonstrate better than all arguments that in the development of properties, in their “being as it exists for another,” things actively express their quality. The essential thing is that it is possible to evoke in the object such a change as flows out of its own nature. And if we do not apply our action to it externally or metaphysically, we shall make it “in being as it exists for us” express those properties that we need. Thus in solving the problem of properties, as in all other things, we must proceed from the self-movement of matter. And every self-movement arises on a basis of contradictions – “being as it exists for another” is one of its manifestations. Through connection with other things a thing asserts its own independence; by acting on another, it develops its own definiteness; in its relationship to another a thing at the same time relates itself to itself and changes itself.
In disclosing the dialectic of the development of social man, Marx wrote:
“By acting on the external world and changing it, he changes at the same time his own nature. He develops potentialities that slumber within him and subjects these inner forces to his own control.” Capital, vol. i, chap. 5.
It is easy to note that in the proposition quoted, Marx gives a concrete picture of the contradictory development of a quality through its relations to something else. Faculties, lying dormant within man, i.e. that are found in a state of being in themselves, are developed through action on nature – through being for another – and become the proper active force of man. The developed qualitative definiteness of man, as reflected in his own consciousness, is in this way turned into his “being for himself.”
The way of developing a quality lies through its many-sided connections. Here is that line of development in which quality and property emerge in their indissoluble unity.
The proletariat, until it developed its struggle against the bourgeoisie, appeared as a class in itself. It existed in the likeness of a disordered mass of workers, its qualitative definiteness as of a united, complete class with its individual properties and tasks was not yet developed, not yet unfolded. At this stage of development of the proletariat, the workers are under the thumb of the bourgeoisie in the latter’s conflict with feudalism. The way of consolidating, of rallying the proletariat, of welding it into a special class goes on through organization of the struggle against the exploiting classes.
In this relation to its “other,” which is before all things its antagonist, the proletariat develops its properties. In this process it at first reveals superficial and non-essential properties, by expressing its protest in an elementary fashion and without any organization, by coming forward with particular economic demands of slight importance. But the further it unfolds its “being as it exists for another,” that is to say, the more its opposition to the capitalists becomes intensified, the more deeply and widely does it manifest its essential properties, the properties of the leading revolutionary class. And when it produces its advance guard, its revolutionary party, which fosters within the proletariat a knowledge of its historical tasks and leads it on to the struggle against the capitalist system as a whole, then the proletariat emerges as an independent force of historic development, conscious of its independence – it becomes a class “for itself.”
We repeat, through active “being as it exists for another” lies the way of contradictory development of every quality, the full unfolding of a given quality is the extreme intensification of its internal contradictions.
As we explained, every particular, qualitatively specific thing possesses internal contradictions. From one aspect it has the nature of a whole, includes in itself the general, from the other aspect it is limited in its uniqueness. In virtue of this contradiction it is connected with other things, is related with them. However, its “being as it exists for others,” its connection with them, does not resolve its internal contradictions. On the contrary, through relation to another its quality is unfolded and thus and more fully are revealed its limitations, its finiteness. The more developed the capitalist means of production becomes, the more apparent are the signs of its end. The more an organism develops the closer is its limit, the boundary of its life – its death. From the view-point of a mechanist this limit is placed outside the quality of the thing as an external force, but actually the limit to every quality is found within it. Without a limit there is no quality, no definiteness, no distinction between one thing and another. But every end is the beginning of something new, the limit of one quality appears as the beginning of another.
The proletariat in its struggle against capitalism is turned into a class for itself, but by doing so it strives to pass beyond the bounds of capitalism, it seeks the abolition of classes and consequently points the way to its own extinction as a special class. In the full unfolding of the qualitative definiteness of the proletariat is included its self-negation. And such is the dialectic of every quality, of everything finite. In his review of Hegelian logic Lenin defined the dialectic of the finite in the following terms: “The finite is... something regarded from the view-point of its immanent limit – from the view-point of its contradiction with itself, which contradiction pushes and carries it (this something) further than its bounds....”
Thus for itself the “being” of a thing is its transition to another. Every quality, having developed all its possibilities, finds its limit, and gives rise to something new.
“So this dialectical philosophy dissolves all conceptions of final, absolute truth, and of a final absolute state of humanity corresponding to it. For it nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher.” Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 22.
The Transition of Quantity into Quality
Things in their connection are many sided and the knowledge of determined processes is not limited to the disclosure of their quality. Above all, we note that every thing along with its qualitative definiteness possesses a quantitative definiteness. A thing is big or little, its movement quick or slow; one collection of things may be distinguished from another by the number of its elements, by their mutual arrangement; temperature may be high or low, and so on.
At the first glance the quantity and the quality of a thing are quite independent of each other. A thing may be increased or decreased and remain qualitatively the same. Things different in magnitude may have one and the same qualitative definiteness, and conversely – one and the same quantitative definiteness may belong to qualitatively different things.
Both the huge Putilov Works and our smallest factory are socialist enterprises, just as in Germany a small factory and the gigantic Krupp’s are both capitalist enterprises. We see that the socialist or capitalist quality of an enterprise does not depend on its magnitude. Here at any rate quality evidently does not depend on quantity.
So far then it would appear that quality and quantity are radically distinct from each other. If a thing changes its basic quality it ceases to be that which it was, it is turned into something else. Whereas with a change of quantity a thing does not cease to be itself. As Hegel said, quantity, unlike quality, is “indifferent” to the definiteness of the object. That is why in the early stages of scientific development the quantitative knowledge and the qualitative knowledge of things are markedly independent of each other.
Even at the most rudimentary stage of development social man came into contact with quantitative differences of things, even the most primitive practice forced him to count and to measure. The primitive savage, reckoning by means of pebbles and his fingers, was preparing the first beginnings of arithmetic. An important role in this respect was played by the emergence of private property and the development of exchange. The reckonings of the merchant were another step in the history of arithmetic; and the landowner in protecting his boundaries was revealing the beginnings of geometry. In ancient Egypt and Greece we see the first steps of mathematics as a science.
However, both among the Greeks and also among the Arabs, who developed mathematics even further, the study of mathematical relations was very loosely connected with the study of particular things and specific properties. The application of mathematics was confined to the comparatively narrow field of commercial accounts, to land measurement and astronomy. While to the alchemists, when it was their turn to investigate the properties of things, quantitative definiteness appeared a quite non-essential aspect of the matter.
They were interested in what substances and forces made up a given thing, and never set the question as to what quantities of substances were united together. And we must point out that in their way they were right – to apply an accurate quantitative measure to undefined and diffuse properties and forces was quite impossible. The study of the quantitative aspect of things was impracticable without a definite level of attainment in the knowledge of their qualities.
The more exactly and accurately we grasp qualitative distinctions, the more are we empowered to discover definite quantitative relationships. The more deeply we reveal the definiteness in which lies the relative stability and independence of a thing, the more exactly can we measure it.
Only when chemistry progressed from undefined forces and propensities to the identifying of actual chemical elements – oxygen, hydrogen, etc. – only when chemical changes were understood as the necessary mutual actions of relatively stable substances, only then was it possible to put the question – “what quantity of each substance enters into the composition of this or that body?”
The discovery of quantitative differences was very fruitful for science. The knowledge of chemical combinations was enriched by a new and extraordinarily important aspect. Our knowledge became more comprehensive and exact. The possibility of a new approach to the object permitted the solution of a large number of hitherto insoluble questions. For example, with a merely qualitative investigation of chemical changes it was not clear in all cases whether we were dealing with dissolution or combination, with a simpler or a more complex substance. Thus for a long time chemists regarded iron-rust as a simple element, and iron as a combination of iron-rust with phlogiston. The real relation of iron-rust and iron was discovered only with the help of weights, by the application of quantitative measurement to the processes under study. Iron-rust was shown to be heavier than the iron out of which it was formed – and hence iron-rust was shown to be a combination of iron and oxygen. And thus by the combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis, a huge number of simple chemical substances was very quickly revealed.
We see the same relation of quantitative and qualitative investigation in the history of every science. Only at a definite stage of the knowledge of quality does a quantitative study of concrete things become possible.
Only after the qualities of capitalism and of small-scale production, etc., were established, did it appear possible to define the degree of the development of capitalism in this or that country, by taking into account the quantity of goods produced in its factories, the magnitude of the concentration and centralization of capital, the specific gravity of the small property still unabolished in the particular country by capitalist development. According to the degree of the selection of relatively stable qualities froth the variegated network of social interactions, was the application of statistics, was the enumeration of social phenomena made wider and more fruitful.
The whole history of social practice shows that only at a certain stage of development does knowledge of quantitative definiteness begin to play an essential role in man’s recasting of things. Simple activity in relation to particular aspects of things gives no basis for an accurate quantitative evaluation of the changes being produced. As we know particular properties are in themselves unstable and relative. By considering them we can, in any given case, expect only an approximate, only a more or less probable, result. And only in a radical, all-sided recasting of things do we obtain the key to their stability and to their changes and are we able accurately to define the limits of the processes which we are evoking. Mastering the quality of the object in its entirety gives us the basis for reckoning the quantitative connection between our actions and the results which we obtain.
In the economy of small-scale production and with but a narrow circle of social connections, the reckoning of quantitative definiteness plays but a small part. The peasant and the small craftsmen work “by the eye” without exact measurements. The development of machine production requires a closer determination of quality and necessitates accurate measurement and the application of mathematics, both in science and production. A modern engineer can do very little without the aid of complex mathematical calculations. To construct a machine it is not enough to master its general qualitative characteristic, we must know how to produce an exact quantitative reckoning of all its details.
A peasant wishing to know the properties of a soil is satisfied by a scrutiny of it, an examination by touch, whereas an expert subjects it to a chemical analysis and finds out not only what are the ingredients of this soil, but also what quantities of them enter into its composition. Chemistry has distinguished in the composition of the soil a number of more or less stable elements, and therefore it is evidently possible to establish in each particular case their quantitative relations. In the restricted practice of a peasant it is impossible for qualitative study to be sufficiently highly developed to make possible an accurate quantitative estimate of soil composition; for this there are needed the dimensions of large-scale scientifically organized production.
In a planned socialist economy an accurate quantitative accounting plays an incomparably greater role than under capitalism. The quantitative indices of capitalist production and of trade returns reveal naked facts before which capitalists are quite helpless, whereas for us these dry figures become an active stimulus and effective guide to action. In them are incarnated our fighting slogans, from them originates intense class conflict. The percentage of the accomplishment of the Five Year Plan, the quantity of hectares under crops, the indices of the productivity of labour, etc. – in these figures we measure our successes and express the extent of the problems lying before us. The more widely and deeply socialist planning controls production, and the more we master the particular improvement of each branch of our economy, the greater will be the role that exact quantitative indices will play.
And so at a determined stage of the development of science and practice the gulf between quantitative and qualitative investigation is bridged, their closer connection is made apparent and they begin mutually to supplement each other. However, the transition to this new stage is not accomplished automatically, not of itself; before knowledge makes the transition to the study of the quantitative definiteness of things, it must go through much preparatory work.
“For enumeration, not only are the objects of enumeration necessary, but also the ability to scrutinize these objects, to disregard all their properties except their number, and this ability is the product of long historical, empirical development.” Engels, Anti-Dühring.
We say: in such and such a factory there are so many workers. Each worker has his own characteristics – there are no two people absolutely identical. But when we express their common number we disregard their differences. Iron-rust, iron itself and oxygen are qualitatively different from each other. But when we speak of their quantitative relationships we disregard all their differences, we select only their common aspect which is expressed in their weight.
Thus for a quantitative knowledge of things we must, firstly, know their qualitative definiteness, since without this, comparison itself would be unthinkable; secondly, we must find that general thing in their qualitative definiteness which permits us to disregard their differences.
The metaphysic of properties gave no basis for quantitative investigation for the very reason that it was impossible to disclose general characteristics in propensities and forces that were sundered from each other.
As Hegel said, quantity is definiteness without difference. To obtain a quantitative characterization of things we must find “non-different” features in the things which we wish to compare, identical, common features that are not fortuitous or non-essential but are such as will allow us to determine by their means their quantitative relations and the qualities arising out of them.
The aspect of “non-difference,” of identity, in the basic quantitative comparison of chemical elements is their weight. The great French chemist, Lavoisier, who first began consciously to apply the quantitative approach to chemical phenomena, had first of all to prove the correctness of comparing elements and their compounds by weight, and he did this by his discovery of the law of the conservation of matter; in all chemical changes the weight of the elements taking part remains identical, “non different.” Lavoisier’s discovery depended on the great preparatory work of mechanistic natural research. Lavoisier lived in the epoch of the great French revolution and two centuries earlier mechanism had, at the beginning of the Renaissance, insisted, as against the mediaeval metaphysic of properties, on the need of picking out the general, the identical and, consequently, the measurable in all the processes of nature.
The positive historical problem of mechanism is this – to take the first steps to the disclosure of the simplest, quantitative relations between things themselves, to create a bridge between abstract mathematics and the study of concrete processes. The natural scientists of the seventeenth century picked out velocity, mass and volume as the most simple and general aspects of all physical phenomena, to which one could apply the quantitative approach. The conversion of these aspects into unique essential properties of nature led the scientists to a complete negation of qualitative distinctions in nature, to a purely quantitative view of the world. The creation of mechanics as a science was their great service, yet at the same time, the source of their mechanistic limitations. They showed the mechanistic relations in nature and declared there were no others.
“Mechanics knows only quantity. It depends on velocities, masses and volume. Wherever it meets with quality – as for example in hydrostatics and aerostatics – it cannot reach satisfactory results, since it does not lend itself to the scrutiny of molecular states and molecular movement. Mechanics, therefore, is only an auxiliary science, a propaedeutic to physics." Engels, Second note of Anti-Dühring
On the basis of mechanics, science went on to the study of qualitatively unique physical-chemical processes in their quantitative definiteness. And here was revealed that the “indifference,” the “non-difference” of quantity to quality is by no means absolute – it has its limitation. The study of the different physical states of a substance, of the unique forms of energy – heat, electricity, etc., the formation of qualitatively different physical combinations – all these revealed the internal connection of quantitative and qualitative changes. At the beginning of the nineteenth century natural science laboured much to disclose this connection. Hegel gave to it, although in a distorted idealistic form, a general expression as one of the laws of development. Finally, in the materialistic dialectic of Marxism this law was revealed in all its precision as one of the basic laws of the objective world and of knowledge and revolutionary practice.
Let us proceed. Quantitative changes at a determined stage lead inevitably to changes of quality. Solid iron may be heated in greater or less degree and still remain a piece of iron. However, when the heat reaches a certain point it causes the iron to melt and enter into a qualitatively different state. Capitalist enterprises though they may be on a big or little scale yet have their higher and lower limits of magnitude. Complete capitalist planning as between all industries is too big a task for capitalism. From the other aspect a capitalist undertaking can by no means be as small as it likes.
“Not every sum of money, or of value, is transformable into capital; before this transformation can be effected there must be a definite minimum of money or exchange-value in the hands of an individual owner of money or commodities.”Capital, vol. i, chap. ix.
This minimum, adds Marx, varies at different developmental stages of capitalist production and is relatively different for each industry.
Almost every petty-bourgeois dreams of becoming a capitalist. But for him to undergo such a qualitative change there is in the majority of cases not sufficient quantity of money. The accumulation of money when it does reach the determined limit turns the petty-bourgeois into a capitalist, into an exploiter of hired labour; quantitative change leads to a change of quality.
We can show this in the changing of anything, the changing of any phenomenon. Every thing on its emergence as qualitatively unique is changed quantitatively. Up to the known limits of quantitative change it remains qualitatively the same, but at the determined stage change of quantity leads to change of quality, or, as Hegel said, “quantity goes over into quality”; instead of the former quality there appears a new one.
The transition of quantity into quality is one of the basic laws of dialectic. It is the law of emergence of the new, the law of development, which shows how in the course of gradual changes the leap from one quality to another is prepared. Every theory which explains the emergence of this or that new thing has this law as one of its most essential methodological postulates.
Bourgeois scientists, though they deny or are ignorant of dialectic, are, without knowing it, absolutely forced through the influence of their own practice to base their investigations on dialectical principles. As Marx and Engels pointed out, such an elementary application of the law of transition of quantity into quality constituted a whole epoch in the history of chemistry. No sooner had this science arrived at the stage of the systematic study of the quantitative relations of the elements, than before it rose the question of the connection between the quantitative and qualitative changes of substances.
The celebrated French chemist, Lavoisier, pointed out that every chemical compound possesses a determined quantitative relation of its elements. Around this question raged a fierce controversy. Many chemists were attempting to demonstrate that “chemical compounds exist in all possible combinations of the constituent elements” and that there are no leaps, no breaking of the gradualness in chemical processes. The opponents of leaps cited solutions and fusions. They did not understand the difference between a mixture, in which no new substance emerges, and an actual chemical compound, in which a qualitatively new substance is formed. A simple mixture of oxygen and hydrogen is possible in any quantitative relation, but in the forming of the qualitatively new body – water – these two elements unite only in definite quantitative proportions. Thus between water and the other combination of oxygen and hydrogen – peroxide of hydrogen – there are no intermediate compounds whatever. In the formation of peroxide of hydrogen, exactly twice as great a relative quantity of oxygen enters into the compound as in the formation of water. Not any, but only a definite quantitative difference conditions the difference of qualities, of leaps from one chemical combination to another.
In fierce controversy with the upholders of quantitative gradualness, the doctrine of the transition of quantitative changes into qualitative developed into an harmonious chemical theory. The disclosure of the dialectical connection of quantity and quality allowed the connection of a great number of compounds into systematized orders. Discussing one of these orders Engels wrote: “We thus see a whole order of qualitatively different bodies formed by the simple adding of elements, which, however, are always in one and the same relation.”* Marx, in his application of the law of transition of quantity into quality, cited in Capital these achievements of chemistry, thereby stressing the universal significance of dialectical laws.
It is, however, quite clear that in the reformulation and subsequent application of dialectic by the Marxist the content and significance of the law we are discussing emerges with incomparably greater precision and fullness than in even the most valuable dialectical attainments of bourgeois natural research, which remain at an elementary level.
The working out of the law of transition of quantity into quality reached its highest degree in Leninism. Lenin showed more deeply than anyone before him the concrete and significant appearance of this law in the course of social development; he also showed its connection with the other laws of dialectic.
As Lenin so often pointed out, dialectic demands the scrutiny of every historic moment in all its qualitative uniqueness and, at the same time, in unbroken historical relationship with the epoch preceding. The methodological basis for understanding this historical connection of the new quality with the old is the law of transition of quantity into quality. We find the most brilliant example of the application of this law to the study of concrete development in the Leninist theory of imperialism. On the basis of the dialectical method Lenin disclosed the uniqueness of the imperialist epoch as a continuation, but at the same time a qualitatively new stage in the development of capitalism.
Imperialism as monopoly capitalism is the necessary result of the development of pre-monopoly capitalism. From this historical connection, from these premises of the development of imperialism, Lenin proceeds in his investigation.
“The enormous growth of industry and the remarkably rapid process of concentration of production in ever larger enterprises represent one of the most characteristic features of capitalism.”Lenin, Imperialism, chap. i.
The growth of industry, the enlarging of undertakings, all these are quantitative changes belonging to capitalism. They also appear as the premises of the transition of capitalism to a qualitatively new stage. “Concentration at a certain stage of its development approximates, so to speak, closely to monopoly.”* The emergence of the new is prepared by gradual changes of the old. However, that does not mean that the transition itself, from the old to the new, is accomplished by degrees. Between pre-monopoly capitalism and imperialism there is not simply a quantitative difference – in imperialism we have a qualitatively new stage of capitalism, opposite in a certain degree to the old. In imperialism “certain basic properties of capitalism have begun to be turned into their opposite.”
* Lenin, loc. cit.
“Free competition is the fundamental property of capitalism and of commodity production generally. Monopoly is the direct opposite of free competition; but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our very eyes, creating large-scale production and squeezing out small-scale production, replacing large-scale by larger-scale production, finally leading to such a concentration of production and capital that monopoly has been and is the result.” Lenin, Imperialism; chap. vii.
Free competition, the basic trait of capitalism, continues even in the new epoch to exist alongside monopolies, but the emergence of these latter creates a qualitatively new degree in the development of capitalist contradictions. A contradictory unity of monopoly and competition lies at the basis of the qualitative uniqueness of imperialism.
The transition to a new quality proceeds through a conflict, in which at a determined stage, there emerges a break, a decisive turning, a leap. At the basis of the whole process lies a conflict of contradictory tendencies, and that is just why the emergence of the new, the transition of the old quality into its own opposite, proceeds not as if due to the action of an external, alien force but as the result of growth, of the quantitative growing of itself. Free competition through the contradictory growth of capitalism leads to its own opposite.
The enemies of dialectic, as also its false foolish “friends,” depict the dialectical method as a preconceived scheme, as a master-key, with whose help it is possible to solve any problem directly “out of one’s head” – to obtain the answer to any question. The Leninist application of the dialectical laws is a brilliant rebuttal of this gross caricature of the dialectical method. Lenin regards the laws of dialectic not as a preconceived scheme but as the way to an understanding of concrete factors, a starting-point for the attentive study of objective actuality in its whole historical connection. “In order to give the reader as well-grounded an impression of imperialism as possible,” Lenin cited an enormous quantity of facts. The quantitative changes of capitalism are for him no abstract phrase, but an object of detailed statistical study. He brought forward the most detailed statistical data which allow us to see “to what extent bank capital, etc., has grown, showing just how the transition from quantity to quality, from developed capitalism to imperialism, has expressed itself.”Lenin, Imperialism.
And by very virtue of this concrete approach, a leap is for Lenin not an instantaneous automatic change which proceeds on such and such a day and hour, but a whole period of intense struggle. With Lenin the important thing is to determine, not the day and hour of the “final” changing of one quality into another, but the content of the break (what quality is replaced by what) and the concrete stages of the struggle in the transition to the new quality. “Needless to say, all the boundaries in nature and in society are conditional and changing, and it would be absurd to dispute, for instance, over the year or decade in which imperialism became ‘definitely’ established.”Lenin, Imperialism.
Based on a huge mass of facts, the Leninist analysis discloses the basic line of the development of capitalism from free competition to monopolist decay and gives a concrete picture of the leap. Free competition, when it has reached the recasting stage of its development goes over into monopoly. In tense conflict through a number of partial breaking moments the general break in social life is accomplished – the leap from the pre-monopolist system of capitalism to imperialism.
“And so, here are the principal phases in the history of monopolies:
(1) 1800 – 1870. The development to its final limit of competition. Monopoly only in its smallest beginnings.
(2) After the crisis, after 1873 – extended period of the development of cartels, but these are not yet of a permanent nature. They are still a transitory phenomenon.
(3) The close of the nineteenth century and the crisis of 1900-1903 – cartels are becoming one of the bases of the whole economic life. Capitalism has turned into imperialism.”
Contradiction and the Evolutionary Leap
The doctrine of leaps is one of those principles of dialectic which have been subjected to severe criticism from the revisionist standpoint and also from scientists who avowedly take the bourgeois point of view. And it is easy to see why. With the question of leaps is closely connected the question of social revolution. If everything in nature and society develops by decisive qualitative changes, by leaps, then it must be admitted that capitalism too will be inevitably replaced by another social order in the process of the working out of scientific laws, and that this will take place by means of a leap, which under the conditions of capitalism can only be a socialist revolution. Such a perspective is very disagreeable to capitalists and their reformist defenders. In seeking to prove that revolutionary changes cannot advance us, that revolution is indeed the sickness of society, a harmful abnormality, bourgeois scientists and politicians are defending a theory of purely evolutionary development. “Nature does not make leaps” – that is the basic formula of this theory. All things develop by means of slow, continuous changes, by means of an increase, a quantitative growth of certain sides of actuality, and a decrease of others. In the preceding chapter we saw that this theory in essence denies that any development is an “emergence of the new,” and reflects a limited, metaphysical point of view.
Indeed, if there are no leaps then there are also no radical changes, and all development amounts merely to quantitative changes of that which always existed. That which was microscopically small has now become big, that which was big has become small, but nothing new, nothing that did not exist before in some form, can appear.
Attempts to advance this view are met with in all fields of bourgeois science. We have already mentioned the view of certain early chemists on pure continuity in the formation of chemical compounds. In their view the appearance of a chemically new body is impossible – everything amounts to a mechanical mixture of particular elements. Under the pressure of fact most chemists have rejected these theories, but till this day various bourgeois natural-scientists have gone on trying, now in one form now in another, to advance the theory of the pure continuity of chemical combinations. In biology a thoroughly logical application of the evolutionary theory of development led to the “theory of pre-formation.” How can an organism emerge from the embryonic form? Only by way of gradual quantitative changes. Therefore the embryo is the same organism, only in a folded, miniature form. The embryo of an elephant is a little elephant! This conclusion is quite contrary to fact, but the extremely logical “pre-formists” did not stop there, they set a new question; whence emerged the embryo itself? Arguing logically from the premises of pure gradualism you have to admit that it always existed, i.e. even when its mother and ancestors were themselves embryos. Thus arose the so-called “Chinese Box” theory; the embryo of every animal contains in ready-made form innumerable generations of its descendants, each one packed up in its predecessor!
The theory was confuted more than a hundred years ago. Yet none the less in our day, when it becomes very necessary for the bourgeoisie to struggle against revolutionary dialectic, bourgeois scientists return to this theory once again. According to the method of mediaeval alchemists they divide an organism into absolutely independent properties and declare these properties to have existed from eternity. All the development of animals and plants may thus be ascribed to the combination, the increase and the decrease of these properties. All the properties of the highest animals are already contained in ready-made but latent form within the simplest organisms. With certain refinements this is the same “Chinese Box” theory, the same metaphysic of pure evolution, the same denial of the possibility of the new and the same “rejection of leaps.” In essence such a “theory of development” is a bald denial of actual development.
In so far as the bourgeoisie is interested in the development of technique it has to take account of facts, and under pressure of these facts a number of bourgeois scientists in their special departments arrived in an elementary fashion at dialectical results. But in their general world-outlook they are still opponents of dialectical materialism. And the more profound the decay of capitalism, the more do reactionary and even superstitious theories swamp the positive achievements of scientific investigators. The older metaphysical notion of fixed properties is merely carried to a further logical stage in evolutionary gradualism, in. which form it becomes the methodological basis of the bourgeois reaction in science and in practice.
The place of honour in this reactionary metaphysic is taken by the social reformists. They also assert that the real road to social development lies along the path of slow gradual amelioration, i.e. along the path of reform rather than revolution. Capitalism is sick, we must heal it – is all they have to say in the world economic crisis (1929-1932). It is quite clear that this ancient policy of patching the holes of the capitalist system is not the path to socialism, but a means of defending capitalism from the revolutionary indignation of the workers. That is why an irreconcilable struggle for the dialectical understanding of development, a pitiless showing-up of the hypocrisy of gradualism (the acknowledgment of development in words, the denial of it in action) – is the actual political task of our philosophic front.
However, we should be quite wrong if in our struggle against gradualism we reconciled ourselves with those “theorists” who seek to ascribe all development to leaps alone. We are against gradualism, but we by no means deny that evolutionary, gradual changes play a big role in development. As we saw above, a leap is impossible without a previous quantitative change within the bounds of the old quality.
The ultra-“left,” representing the position of extreme “revolutionism,” want at once to leap out of capitalism into communism, without any previous preparation, without prolonged struggle. These politicians, who express the psychology of “a petty-bourgeois driven mad by the terrors of capitalism,” understand revolution as a sudden explosion, which at one blow destroys the old society.
Like the evolutionists they cannot find in the object itself the motive force of its development and are, therefore, compelled to seek it outside. They see in such a leap an absolute separation of the new from the old, they mechanistically distinguish between gradual preparation of the new and a leap. Therefore, they either wait passively for a revolution, not knowing how to prepare a revolution by an active participation in social struggle, or they seek the source of revolution in a subject, in the impulse of a person, in the intoxicating inspiration of some miraculously gifted revolutionary leader.
Such an understanding of leaps is purely idealistic, and like all idealism, leads directly to superstition. This theory which declares the long task of organizing the masses for actual revolutionary action to be superfluous and even harmful, and distracts the masses from its tasks of preparing for the leap, is in essence just as reactionary as the theory of evolutionism. It is not without significance that the Trotskyist opposition marked its real counter-revolutionary character by making use of similar ultra-“left” phrases. “Permanent revolution” for all lands without exception, according to one recipe; a socialist conversion at one blow, “of planetary dimensions,” etc., etc. – what are these but ultra-“left” phrases, the only effect of which is to hamper real revolutionary activity?
For Lenin a correct view on this question involved a struggle on two fronts simultaneously. As early as 1910 he was writing:
“The revisionist regards as mere phrases all arguments about ‘leaps’ and about the opposition (on principle) of the workers’ movement to the old society as a whole. They accept reform as a partial realization of socialism. On the other hand, the anarchist-syndicalist repudiates ‘petty tasks,’ especially participation in parliament. As a fact, this latter tactic amounts to a mere waiting for ‘great days’ without any knowledge of how to marshal or prepare the forces that create great events.
Both the ‘right’ and ‘left’ grasp at only one aspect of development and, by turning it into a whole, create reactionary metaphysical theories.
But real life, real history, includes in itself these different tendencies in just the same way that life and development in nature include in themselves both slow evolution and sudden leaps, sudden interruptions of gradualness” (Lenin).
Thus it is impossible to separate evolution and revolution from each other. They are necessarily connected together and actual development appears as their unity. However, we must guard ourselves from a simplified formal understanding of this unity. If we follow the method of the Deborin school we shall interpret this unity as follows: the Right Wing takes its stand on evolutionism, the Left Wing on revolutionism. Dialectic reconciles these opposites, reaching a synthesis of them both. All is well and. everyone is satisfied!
In a previous chapter we met with this eclectic understanding of the unity of opposites on the part of the Menshevist idealists. As we saw, they put forward, in place of a contradiction to be resolved in conflict, the principle of the reconciliation of “extremes,” and took their stand on the position of a moderate and careful “golden mean.” The utter futility of this eclectic method is quite evident even in application to the given question. By “synthesizing” evolutionism and revolutionism we shall not reach a dialectical unity of evolution and of leaps. Evolution, for the very reason of its procedure by leaps, as dictated by internal necessity, bears no resemblance at all to the peaceful gradualism of the evolutionists. Just as revolution, too, is not at all like its representation by the heroes of “left- revolutionary” phrases. Neither these nor others nor even the Menshevist idealists understand that what is important in this question is that all sides and phases of an evolving whole in the course of their development reveal irreconcilable contradictions.
Such a dialectic is very like that caricature of it which its bourgeois opponents draw. The founders of Marx-Leninism never turned the dialectical method into a simple scheme but used it as a basis for the concrete study of actuality itself – and in particular for the concrete study of the relation of quantity to quality.
Engels wrote: “Mere qualities do not exist. Only things exist which possess qualities, and moreover an infinite number of qualities.” Engels, Foreword to Anti-Dühring.
As a whole a thing is characterized by a certain basic, single quality. But this wholeness, this unity of the thing, is always split up into a number of different aspects, parts, moments – and this number is in the final reckoning infinite.
“If production in general does not exist” – wrote Marx, showing up the empty abstractions of bourgeois economists – “then also general production does not exist. Production always represents a special branch of production, for example, agriculture, cattle-breeding, manufacture, etc., or some aggregate of them as a whole.”
In its turn every branch of production includes in itself a number of subdivisions and parts, a number of technical and economic peculiarities and details.
And so each quality contains in itself a vast number of partial qualitative differences, in each of which the basic quality, the general definiteness of the thing is reflected. That is why we do not understand the evolutionary preparation for a leap merely as a matter of continuity. The gradualness of the evolutionary process cannot be represented as continuous and it too consists wholly and continuously of partial reverses – breaks – leaps, in which the separate partial qualities that are included in and reflect the general quality of the thing are changed. The transition from pre-monopoly capitalism to imperialism is a genuine leap in the general course of the development of capitalism because in it there is a direct and leap-like change, not of capitalism as a whole, but of the previously dominating form of the organization of capitalist enterprises and capitalist subdivisions. But also these same stages of capitalist development, and this same transition between them, include in their turn an infinite number of leap-like changes of opinions, of yet more partial, more derivative aspects of the qualities of capitalism as a whole. Every phase of crisis and revival, of war and peace, of the seizing of a new market by this or that country and, to speak of smaller things, every formation of a new trust, every new demand, every “deal,” etc., ad infinitum – is characterized by a definite qualitative uniqueness and is connected through a leap with the other correspondingly larger or smaller parts of the whole. In nature there is no emergence of new qualities that does not contain in itself an infinite number of qualitative changes and leaps of subordinated aspects.
There is no purely uninterrupted development of a whole process in its entirety; the change of a basic quality of a thing is infinitely subordinated to interrupted changes of its aspects. In this continuous interruptedness of the infinite number of qualitatively definite aspects of a thing, proceeds that relatively uninterrupted development of its general, basic quality which thus prepares for its leap.
“These middle links show merely that in nature there are no leaps for the very reason that it consists only of leaps.”* The process of socialist construction is uninterrupted for the very reason that in the countless number of separate improvements, of breaks, right down to the mastery of the production of a determined detail in a factory, there proceeds the unfolding and strengthening of the one socialist quality of new social relations. * Engels, Anti-Dühring.
Superficially, inexactly understood, the unity of quantity and quality appears thus: at first there are quantitative changes – then a change of quality; in other words, at first there are uninterrupted changes – then a leap. There you have the unity of opposites, the unity of evolution and of the leap, of interruptedness and of uninterruptedness. But Engels’s approach is far more concrete and profound. Engels shows the mutual penetration of these opposites – firstly the interruptedness in evolution and then the relative uninterruptedness in the connection of the separate links of a leap.
But does not this view approximate by a roundabout way to this same gradualism? As a matter of fact, the social-reformist will say, the transition from capitalism to socialism does proceed by way of separate small changes, by way of partial improvements of reforms of different aspects of the capitalist system. So to what end proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship? The gradual growing of capitalism into socialism must proceed by “slow steps,” diffidently, in a zigzag. Little drops of socialism must, by way of partial changes, trickle into the capitalist system until it is all turned into a socialist system. Capitalism grows into socialism, because socialism grows into capitalism.
The reformists slur over what is the main point – the irreconcilable oppositeness of capitalism to socialism. Capitalism, as a whole, as a system, is opposed to socialism and therefore in the limits of this capitalist system no real socialist improvements are possible. And yet capitalism itself, by changing its aspects, is actually preparing its own downfall and transition to socialism. As a qualitatively unique whole, capitalism possesses a relative stability. Partial changes of its properties do not change its basic character; nevertheless they make ready the conditions of its general crash. Through partial qualitative changes proceeds the intensification of the contradictions of capitalism, the growth of these contradictions. The qualitative changes of the aspects and properties of capitalism are thus the expression of the quantitative change of capitalism as a whole, of its basic quality, of that quantitative change which prepares its general leap.
Such is the profound internal contradiction of capitalist evolution, as of all evolution generally, Engels wrote on this issue as follows:
“If oppositeness belongs to a thing (or to a conception), then in it and also in its expressions in thought, we find a contradiction with itself. For instance, in the fact that a thing remains the same and at the same time is uninterruptedly being changed, in the fact that it possesses within itself an oppositeness between ‘stability’ and ‘change,’ there lies a contradiction” (Anti-Dühring).
Not only in the question of the development of capitalism does the doctrine of the contradictoriness of quantitative and qualitative changes play a big theoretical and practical part. In every process an internally necessary negation of quality is brought into being by the development and strengthening of that process. The more fully and far a given quality has been developed and the higher the stage of quantitative development it has reached, the more clearly are its final limits revealed, the more quickly does its negation, does its transition to a new quality, draw near. The dialectic of the transitional period shows this contradiction at every step. In socialist construction we pass through a number of qualitatively unique steps. In order correctly to denote the political line of the transitions of one into the other we must evaluate the uniqueness of the contradiction of the qualitative and quantitative changes of each of them. Through the present (1932) “artel” form of the collective farms we are passing to a higher logical-socialist form of agricultural organization. The more fully developed the “artel,” the quicker the realization of this transition. Through the strengthening of the existing stage of socialist construction to its negation at a higher stage; that is the contradictory formula of our forward movement. One of the most important examples of the establishment and working out of this formula is its application by Stalin to the dialectic of the transitional period in the U.S.S.R.
Our state is struggling for the abolition of classes. For this purpose, by attracting ever wider masses of workers to posts of authority, it seeks to wipe out the distinction between society and state and approaches ever closer to the epoch when, according to Engels’s expression “society will put the whole state machine in its proper place – in the museum of antiquities along with the distaff and the axe.”
But does this mean that in our conditions there is going on an uninterrupted and gradual withering away of the state, that the successes of socialist construction must lead to the gradual weakening of the apparatus of proletarian dictatorship? Wiseacres have been found who understood the matter like that, who proposed, along with the development of all-round collectivization, to set about liquidating the village soviets. These wiseacres, like social reformers under capitalist conditions, did not understand the contradictoriness of quantitative and qualitative changes.
The Soviet state is a state of a special type. In so far as the power in it belongs to the majority, i.e. the workers, in so far as it was created for the suppression of exploiters, for the abolition of classes, it is already not a state in the strict sense of the word, it is a half-state, as it was called by Lenin. But as long as classes are not yet completely abolished, so long as the remains of class distinctions among the people are preserved, it does not lose its basic character, nor in any measure ceases to be a proletarian state, an instrument of proletarian dictatorship. As long as the bitterness of class contradictions continues to grow the state must be preserved and strengthened as a “truncheon in the hands of the ruling class” (Lenin). The vitality of the soviets, the attraction of the workers to positions of authority, etc., are aids to the strengthening of the proletarian state. And only through this strengthening can there be progress to its ultimate extinction.
“We are for the withering away of the State. And yet we also believe in the proletarian dictatorship, which represents the strongest and mightiest form of State power that has existed up to now. To keep on developing State power in order to prepare the conditions for the withering away of State power – that is the Marxist formula. It is ‘contradictory’? Yes, ‘contradictory.’ But the contradiction is vital, and wholly reflects Marxian dialectic...
“Whoever has not understood this feature of the contradictions belonging to our transitional time, whoever has not understood this dialectic of historical processes, that person is dead to Marxism.” Stalin, speech at Sixteenth Congress.
In its struggle for the abolition of classes the Soviet state both strengthens itself as a state and prepares its own extinction. And until the decisive goal is reached (the complete abolition of classes and of the remains of class distinctions), it preserves itself as a state.
“The completer the democracy, the nearer the moment when it will become unnecessary. The more democratic the state (which is made up of armed workers and is ‘already not a state in the strict sense of the word’), the more rapidly does every form of the state begin to decay.”
This moment when every form of the state begins to decay is the moment of the decisive turn, the beginning of the new quality – of society without a state, the beginning of the highest phase of communism. This leap is radically distinct from the leap between capitalism and socialism. There, the leap is accomplished as a revolution, as a pitiless conflict of classes. Here, the society of socialist workers is freed basically from the marks of its larval stage and progresses to a new and higher stage of development. In the one the antagonistic contradictions of capitalism are resolved in antagonistic conflict. In the other the non-antagonistic contradictions of a socialist society already subordinated to a plan are resolved by way of development in a conflict of the new forms of life. But in both the one and the other we see the final limit of the determined quality, the decisive turn to the new line of development, in both we see the resolution of contradictions. In a word, with all the difference of the types, forms and length of leaps, everything in the world, both in nature and in society, resolves its internal contradictions by way of change of quality, by way of a leap.
The reaching of the final limit is the moment of deepest contradiction and at the same time the beginning of its solution.
And so, as we see, the unity of “gradualism” and “the leap” is a contradictory unity that emerges at different stages of the development of quality.
However, the gradualist has in reserve yet another objection. Granted, he argues, that a new stage of development arises out of the old, yet since nothing arises out of nothing, it follows that in the evolutionary changing of the old there are already being created the basic elements of the new and therefore the transition from one degree to another is an uninterrupted process, a process of the gradual growing of one quality into another. The stupid Bolsheviks, say the reformists, are smashing capitalism and wish to construct a socialist society without creating the elements of socialism within the shell of the capitalist system, and since out of nothing, nothing arises, the Bolshevist “experiment” is foredoomed to failure. As a matter of fact this promised failure is not evident, and the gradualists in the camp of the enemies of the U.S.S.R. are like bad jugglers, whose tricks, promised to the public, have not been a success. They would like to create the “failure” of the Bolsheviks before the eyes of this same “public” with the aid of direct injury and even intervention.
It is true, of course, that nothing emerges from nothing. The properties which become elements of the new quality are actually created in the old. But until the basic connections of the old quality are broken these properties belong wholly to the old and in no measure denote the gradual growing of one quality into another. These properties are contradictory. Within the bounds of the old they include in themselves only premises for the emergence of the new, and are only a condition of the leap, and only through a radical break, through a leap, do they become elements of the new.
The raising of the temperature of water is accompanied by the quickened movement of its particles. In this way the free movement of the particles of steam is prepared. But until the b oiling point is reached the movement of particles remains within the bounds of the old connection.
Capitalism, by creating big-scale industry, by giving to it an ever more clearly expressed social character, is preparing the premises of socialism and, in spite of the hypocritical assertions of the reformists, had already prepared them a long time ago. But until the decisive limit is reached, until private property in the means of production is abolished, this large-scale industry remains capitalist. In this process of socializing production the capitalistically exploited working class is formed and united. It appears as the carrier of the progressive tendency, the tendency to socialization, which leads capitalism to negation, to a revolutionary leap. That was why Lenin spoke of the “opposition (on principle) of the workers’ movement to the old society as a whole.”
The process of the development of capitalist production “develops, organizes, disciplines the workers.” But at the same time, capitalism “crushes, oppresses and leads them to debasement and poverty,” corrupts them with bribes, separates them by the forces of capitalist competition and national conflict. The working class develops its socialist qualities within the frame of capitalism, not by creative “flowerets” of ready-made socialistic culture, as the reformists suppose, but by organizing itself for decisive struggle against the capitalist system as a whole. Only by such a struggle can it purify itself from the vices and contradictions of capitalism and only in the epoch of its domination can the socialist traits of the workers become actual elements of socialist culture.
“Capitalism itself creates its own gravedigger, itself creates the elements of the new order, and yet without a ‘leap’ these different elements change nothing in the general position of things, do not begin to touch the domination of capital.” Lenin, Dissensions in the European Workers’ Movement.
The changes of different aspects in the bounds of capitalism do not change capitalism as a system, yet they create conditions for the emergence of the new social order.
Does this mean that all partial changes are non-essential, that the working class must refuse to struggle for them? By no means. If we deny any significance to partial changes, we should pass to the other extreme and deny the contradictoriness of development and thus occupy the position of the heroes of the “left” phrases.
Conducting the struggle on two fronts, Lenin stressed the ambiguous, contradictory character of reforms and all partial changes within the bounds of capitalism.
The reformists by clutching at different fragments of so-called socialist relationships that emerge under capitalism, for example, democracy, co-operatives, etc., create a whole order of theories of socialist growth – “constructive,” “co-operative,” and many other kinds of “socialism.”
At the first glance they appear to be right. In fact, co-operation surely is for us an element of socialism. Do we not say that the growth of co-operation is identical with the growth of socialism? Yet, as Lenin shows, co-operation within the system of capitalism and co-operation within the system of proletarian dictatorship – are two quite different qualities.
“A co-operative is a shop-counter and let there be whatever changes, perfectings, reforms you will, the fact remains that it is a shop-counter. That lesson has been taught to socialists by the capitalist epoch. And there is no doubt that it was a correct expression of the essence of the co-operatives as long as they remained as an insignificant appendage to the mechanism of the bourgeois order. But it also follows that the position of the co-operatives is radically and in principle changed, from the time that the proletariat wins state power, from the moment when the proletarian state power advances to a systematic creation of socialist laws and regulations. Here quantity goes over into quality. A co-operative, in the form of a little island in a capitalist society, is a shop-counter. A co-operative, if it embraces all society in which land has been socialized and factories and works nationalized, is socialism” (Lenin).
As we see; without a revolutionary leap in the ownership of the means of production, co-operative organizations in no degree begin to encroach upon the domination of capital. Yet at the same time workers’ co-operatives, even in the conditions of capitalism, are a school that teaches the workers solidarity and organization. But in the conditions of proletarian dictatorship, co-operation emerges as an “element” of the new order. How is this contradiction resolved?
The correct resolution of the question lies only in conflict, in the inclusion of the workers’ co-operation as a link in the general chain of the conflicts with capitalism, in using it as one of the organizations for preparing revolution. We must look on it not as the beginning of socialism, but as a school to teach the workers solidarity in conflict, and as a means of economic support of the proletariat in the time of strikes.
Thus, once again, we are persuaded of the correctness of the Leninist thought that only the theory of irreconcilable conflict of mutually exclusive opposites, only the dialectical law of contradiction “gives the key to ‘leaps,’ to the interruption of gradualness, to the conversion into an opposite, to the abolition of the old and the emergence of the new.”
Our citation of co-operation enables us to draw yet one more conclusion. As we pointed out, a workers’ co-operative under capitalism can at times better the position of a particular group of workers. Thus it resolves a certain partial contradiction in the lives of some of the proletariat. However, is this partial victory in any degree a resolution of the general contradiction of capitalism – i.e. of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie? It is not. On the contrary, this partial success intensifies this general contradiction even more. In fact it inevitably increases the pressure from the side of the capitalists and with its limitations and lack of permanence reveals to the workers that the basic root of their growing impoverishment and oppression lies in the existence of the capitalist ownership of the means of production.
Those who would interpret these fundamental principles in such a way as to find in the partial successes of the workers a path to the reconciliation of capitalism and socialism create the illusion that these successes lead to the reconciliation of class contradictions. But sooner or later, under the leadership of the revolutionary party, the workers become conscious of the actual objective result of partial successes, a result which mercilessly shows up the reconciliatory hoax.
In fact the resolution of partial contradictions within the framework of capitalism and the struggle for their resolution are the way to intensify and deepen the general contradiction of the capitalist system.
And the more quickly the communists succeed in joining up the struggle for partial aims with the single line of preparing the masses for the decisive leap, the sooner will this leap arrive.
“The relation of reforms to revolution is rightly determined by Marxism alone. Reforms are the collateral product of the revolutionary class conflict of the proletariat. For the whole capitalist world this relation is the fundamental ground of the revolutionary tactic of the proletariat – the A.B.C. which the venal leaders of the Second International distort and obscure.” Lenin, On the Importance of Gold.
The Dialectic of the “Leap”
Hegel, in his exposition of his idealistic dialectic as a theory of the development of absolute spirit, characterized the transition of quantity into quality in the following terms:
“It is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward. But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn – there is a break in the process, a qualitative change – and the child is born. In like manner the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, loosens one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world. This gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the general look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a single stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world.”Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit.
In spite of all the profound idealism of Hegelian thought there has been correctly indicated one of the wholly essential aspects of the leap, namely that moment of the radical change in the course of development, in the course of the break, which shows the completeness of the new quality.
In the birth of a child such a moment is its first inhalation, when for the organism as a whole begins a new stage of vitality.
The moment of break in the agitated conversion of a given mass of water into steam is the boiling point, when as small an addition of heat as you like will create at once the beginning of a qualitatively new process.
“Water through cooling does not become hard gradually, i.e. by becoming cold first and then gradually hardening to the consistency of ice, it becomes hard all at once; when it reaches the freezing point it can still remain in its fluid state if kept in a state of rest, but the slightest jolt will convert it into a solid.” Cited by Lenin from Hegel’s Science of Logic.
In socialist revolution such a movement is the grasping of power by the proletariat and the approach to the organization of socialist economy. In the “years of the great break” such a moment is the beginning of the liquidation of the kulaks as a class.
However, is the transition of one quality into another fully explained by this moment? Can one ascribe the leap to this moment of break alone? Menshevist idealists answer this question affirmatively. Pushing Hegel’s thought to its extreme, they regard a leap as momentary, as essentially timeless, as an act which brings forth a new quality at one stroke. In this conception of the leap they have united themselves with the ultra-revolutionists of the “Left,” with anarchists and all those other “left” phrasemongers, who express the leap as a sudden emergence of the new, without any complexity. The specious “leftness” and revolutionariness of this view conceals within itself, however, a quite opportunist negation of the contradictoriness of development. In fact, as we explained above, the transition from one quality to another, the leap, is a process of resolving contradictions, a process of the destruction and breaking of the old system and of emergence of the new. It is quite clear that this process is impossible without a more or less lengthy conflict, without a complex task involving destruction and creation.
The “left” communists of the Brest Litovsk* epoch, in proposing to carry on a revolutionary war against imperialist Germany, proceeded from the following position: if the time for the leap from capitalism to socialism had arrived, then the swift victory of revolution all over the world was assured; if not, then in any case the ruin of Soviet power was inevitable. That is the defeatist conclusion at which the “Lefts” arrive when they regard the leap as an automatic instantaneous act. Either, in a flash of “poetic” revolutionary lightning, to conquer the whole world at one stroke, or all is lost! The resolution of actual contradictions is by no means so easy to accomplish, is by no means so decisive.
* Brest Litovsk.
Early in 1918 the Soviet delegates met the representatives of the Central Powers at Brest Litovsk. It was soon made clear that the Germans wished to conclude an oppressive peace. Trotsky, who led the Russians, refused to sign and the Germans denounced the armistice and marched into Russia. After a series of debates Lenin got a majority in the Central Executive for signing the treaty even though the conditions then imposed were worse than before. The treaty was signed on March 3rd, 1918. It was annulled after the armistice of November 11th, 1918.
In the first months of the revolution Lenin wrote concerning this view:
“The whole originality of the position we are living through from the point of view of many who wish to be regarded as socialists is this, that people have become accustomed to oppose capitalism to socialism and between the two have in the profundity of their thought set the word ‘leap’ (some of them, remembering snatches of Engels they have read, have added with still more mental profundity: ‘The leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom’). Of the fact that the teachers of socialism denoted by ‘leap’ a break as regarded from the angle of the changes of world history and that leaps of such a type occupy periods of years – ten or even more – of this act the majority of so-called socialists, who have studied their socialism in a ‘little book’ but have never seriously penetrated into the matter, have no inkling.”
The first breath of a child is the first manifestation of his independent vitality, but the act of giving birth is much more than that. “The birth of a child is such an act as turns a woman into a tortured, rent, pain-maddened, bleeding, half-dead piece of flesh.” As Lenin indicated in the same passage, “one ought to compare revolution with the act of birth. Births are sometimes easy, sometimes difficult. Marx and Engels, founders of scientific socialism always spoke of the long birth pangs inevitably connected with the transition from capitalism to socialism.” Lenin, Incidental Questions of the Soviet Power.
A leap is a profoundly contradictory process. A leap by resolving the contradictions of the old quality denotes the prolongation of the same conflict in a new, far more intensified form. In a leap we find the immediate unity, the immediate coincidence of destruction of the old and creation of the new, of negation and affirmation. The conflict of the contradictions of the old system brings it to a crisis, and in the crisis the new is born. The birth originates out of destruction, the very act of the birth and the process of the development of the new are the destructive work of an enormous force. Without an irreconcilable, pitiless negation nothing new can emerge; in this lies the dialectic of every revolutionary change. Gorky characterizing Lenin’s attitude to actuality, wrote: “Life is made up with such diabolical ingenuity, that if you cannot hate, it is impossible sincerely to love.”
This spirit of implacable negation, proper to all revolutionaries and creators of the new, excites the deep displeasure of the modern “healers of capitalism” – the social reformists. Revolution leads to destruction, revolution is barbarism, they declare.
The fact that revolution is allied with destruction, with a temporary decline in the development of productive forces, is not denied by any authentic revolutionary. But whoever has not the manliness to take part in this destructive labour, the same is inevitably destined to become a defender of what is dead and decomposing.
Revolution is not empty, thoughtless destruction. On the contrary, it is for the very reason that revolutionaries follow an objective line of social development and pursue the path towards the emergence of a new quality, that their action possesses a force destructive to the old system.
The real threat to the capitalists is not in the supposititious bombs and the Tcheka but in the successes of socialist construction in the U.S.S.R.
And so the birth of the new takes place in the contradictory mutual penetration of destruction and of the new quality that issues during this destruction. In itself the birth of the new far from exhausts the transition of one quality into another. When the first molecules of water fly out into the air this by no means yet denotes the conversion of water into its gaseous state. The decisive turn has begun, the new connection of particles has been indicated, but this new connection, at the moment of birth, exists only in embryo. In October 1917, we witnessed a decisive change which opened the way towards a new system of social laws transforming the entire world, but before every department of world society is completely dominated by this new quality, before this new quality is completely actualized, there must be a long period of fierce conflict with what is being destroyed.
“The transitional period cannot fail to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent socialism, or in other words, between conquered but not annihilated capitalism and nascent but still feeble communism.” Lenin, Economics and Politics in the Epoch of Proletarian Dictatorship.
“When a new thing has just been born, the old always remains for some time the stronger. It is always thus both in nature and social life.” Lenin, The Great Beginning.
At the moment of its birth the new is feebler than the old; its feebleness depends on the degree of its immaturity.
“It is to be expected, that the achievement of the new cannot at once give us those firm established, almost stagnant and rigid forms, which were long ago created, have grown to strength, been: preserved through the centuries. At the moment of birth the elements of the new are still found in the period of fermentation and utter instability.” Lenin, sketch for the article “ Incidental Tasks of the Soviet Power.”
The feeble new enters into conflict with the stronger old. But is it possible that the strong should be conquered by the weak? – asks the formalist-metaphysician, for whom every contradiction is an absurdity. This contradiction and this victory are both facts of living dialectical development, and cannot be brushed aside by formal arguments.
The point of the matter lies in this, that socialism at the beginning of its development is weaker only in the degree of its development, only because it is immature, but from the very first day of its existence it is stronger according to type, stronger as a new, more progressive quality, free from those contradictions before which the capitalist system has already showed itself powerless.
That is why the new order appears finally as the victor, that is why it can conquer only by concentrating on its elements of real superiority and developing them with the utmost speed. That is why every step of socialist advance makes the fate of capitalism ever more hopeless, notwithstanding the ever more intense opposition of the capitalists.
The basic slogan for the conflict of the two systems – “in the shortest historical period to catch up and excel the leading capitalist countries in technique and economic development” – means nothing else than the task of making socialism stronger than world capitalism, not only in type, but also in the level of development, in the degree of the developing of its latent possibilities.
A socialism that is at its beginning weaker than capitalism cannot conquer with one blow. It conquers by the fact that at every particular moment it reveals its qualitative advantages in that portion of the conflict which is decisive at that moment. Whence there is a certain irregularity in its advance, whence the number of qualitatively unique stages in its conflict with the old system.
“The actual interest of an epoch of great leaps is this, that the ruins of the old are sometimes far more numerous than the new, often barely visible beginnings, and this situation demands skill in picking out what is most essential in the line of development. There are historic moments when for the success of a revolution it is more important than any other consideration to accumulate the greatest possible number of ruins, i.e. to blow up as many of the old institutions as possible; there are moments when enough has been blown up, and it is time for the ‘prosaic’ (‘boring’ is the term for the petty-bourgeois revolutionary) task of clearing the ground of the debris; there are moments when a careful tending of the first beginnings of the new, which is growing among the ruins of the old on a soil still badly cleared of its rubble, is more important.” Lenin, vol. xxii.
That was how Lenin in 1918 characterized the particular stages of the transition to socialism.
The transitional period is the “great leap” itself and contains a number of transitional periods, a number of breaks, of leaps from stage to stage: the transition from war communism to N.E.P., the transition from the N.E.P. to the period of reconstruction, the “great break” of the country-side to the side of collectivization in 1929, the entry into the period of socialism, these are all clear examples of those leaps in which our epoch of the “great leap” is so rich.
Moreover the last stage of the transition period is at the same time the first stage of victorious socialist society. By assuring the victory of socialism in our country along the whole line,
“we have already issued from the transition period in the old sense of the word, and have entered into the period of a direct and developed socialist construction along the whole front. We have entered into the period of socialism, because the socialist sector now holds in its hands all the economic levers of the whole popular economy.” Stalin, concluding remarks of speech at Sixteenth Congress.
Socialism has ceased to be an embryo. It has become, in a remarkable degree, a developed analysed quality that rules in the social life of our country. And as the Seventeenth Party Conference showed, we shall in the course of the second Five Year Plan abolish classes and construct a full socialist society.
As we see, the concrete picture of a leap bears no resemblance to petty-bourgeois, idealistic, utopian, “leftist” revolutionism. In each leap we distinguish the particular stages of the conflict, we find in it a unique mutual-penetration of the interruptedness and uninterruptedness of development. The dissolution of the contradictions of the old system in the conflict of the new quality with the old makes up the basic content of such a leap.
The Transition of Quality into Quantity
To attain to concrete knowledge we must not ascribe everything in the world to quality or to quantity but must explain the mutual connection and mutual transitions of the qualitative and quantitative definitenesses in every process. As Lenin showed, the dialectical law that connects quantity with quality is only an example, a partial case of a more general principle which he formulated as follows: “Not only is there unity of opposites, but there are transitions of every definition, quality, trait, aspect, property into each other (into their opposites).” In this formulation it is easy to recognize the concretization and development of this same unity and the mutual-penetration of opposites. The relation of quantity and quality is mutual, “each side passes over into each other.”
In actuality there is no such thing as quantity in general. There exists only the quantity of a determined quality. A mere number in itself says nothing to us about a thing until we know what this thing is and from what aspect and how it was measured. Two tons of iron and two motor-cars are by no means equal although for the purpose of mathematical operations which are abstracted from concrete things two is unconditionally equal to two. Number unaccompanied by a knowledge of quality conveys nothings But that which is dear to all in any example taken from life is by no means so evident to scientists and upholders of pure mathematics with their complex theoretical constructions.
It is by no means by chance that only at a determined stage of knowledge of qualities can every science put the question of the quantitative aspect of the processes it is studying. We saw above that chemistry could disclose the fruitfulness of the qualitative approach to elements only when these elements themselves were to a certain degree known and distinguished from each other. But as soon as the means of measuring chemical processes were discovered, chemists who had formerly been indifferent to quantity turned the quantitative approach into an absolute. In the majority of works on the history of chemistry everything that was done before this change of attitude is treated with the greatest contempt. Before Lavoisier people never dreamed about quantitative definiteness; if only they had done so two or three centuries earlier the history of chemistry would have been very different. That is the attitude and it is injudicious. Anyhow it is quite clear that by becoming worshippers of pure quantity chemists were cutting down the trunk by which they were climbing up. Contempt of quality became an obstacle to the future development of knowledge; it deprived the quantitative method of its necessary qualitative basis. The study of the quantitative aspect of things is in direct dependence on the depth and accuracy of the knowledge of their qualities. The physics of recent times was able to widen the application of mathematics, as it has done, only by accurately distinguishing between the qualitative uniqueness of the elements of matter and energy – atoms, electrons, quantum, etc. But at the same time owing to an unfortunate lapse into a metaphysical point of view on the part of bourgeois scientists this “great success of science, its discovery of the homogeneous and simple elements of matter, whose laws of motion are subject to formulae, caused matter to be forgotten by the mathematicians.” Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, chap. v, sec. 8.
Except by ignoring the material and its qualities, it is impossible to turn the application of mathematics into a basic method of investigation. Mathematical calculations and formulae play in the actual study of an object a subordinate role, because they must always be secondary to the known quality of the thing. By turning mathematics into a basis of knowledge we adopt a procedure that leads only to a barren play of figures that mean nothing, a sophistry that enables us to prove anything however absurd. This secondary importance of mathematics is specially stressed in the difference of the role which it plays in the various sciences. The more simple the qualities that are being studied by this or that science, and the more apparent and external the relations between the elements of the process, and furthermore the greater the consequent ease with which these elements can be distinguished from each other, the wider is the scope of mathematical application.
Mathematics studies quantity, i.e. external definiteness. Mathematical operations presuppose a certain stability and independence of those things whose number and measurement is required. And the less their stability and independence are, the more complex are those mathematical operations which are needed for the study of the quantitative definiteness.
It is very easy and quite necessary to apply mathematical calculations to machines, which work according to a definite, exactly established pattern, whose separate parts have been made and assembled in a purely external fashion. But try to submit the life of an organism to the mathematical analysis and you will see that the fluidity and continuous mutual connectedness of vital processes convert your calculations into an empty play with mathematical symbols.
In astronomy and physics the application of mathematics has from ancient times held a very important place. Chemistry from Lavoisier’s time has studied quantitative relations, but the application of mathematics was limited to simple arithmetical processes. Only in recent times on a basis of studying the deeper aspects of chemical processes has the field of mathematical calculations in chemistry been extended But in one way or another the application of mathematics in this science occupies a place distinct in principle from its place in physics; it plays here a far more subordinate role. Chemical processes are more complex and the complete connection of their different aspects has been expressed in a much clearer manner than is possible by mathematical means.
Even more subordinate and restricted is the role of mathematics in the biological and still more in the social sciences.
Marx made use of mathematical formulae, but he never substituted them for an investigation of the quality of economic processes. On the contrary, these formulae served him only as an auxiliary means of illustration and for a more accurate expression of basic economic ideas.
Quantitative definiteness is just as essential in social development as in anything else, but among social phenomena the connection of quantity and quality is markedly more complex and close and therefore the abstract and complex formulae of modern mathematics, which have been devised for the solution of physico-mechanical and technical problems, are less applicable for dealing with the quantitative side of social processes. That is why the philosophy of pure mathematics is especially artificial in the realm of social sciences.
In bourgeois political economy and sociology mathematics emerges very often as the tool of plain political charlatanism.
One of the favourite methods of bourgeois scientists is the calculation of the average magnitude of a collection of different items. For example, if they want to know whether the standard of living of the peasantry is improving or not, they find out and add up the incomes of all the peasant economic units, and so work out the average income of a peasant’s farm. They compare such magnitudes for different years and demonstrate that capitalism in small-scale agriculture is not developing. It is easy to show that the root of this false conclusion lies in a wrong approach to the unit under consideration.
“It is supposed that by uniting together into a unit the workers and the master farmers and thus arriving at an average income-budget it is possible to demonstrate a condition of ‘moderate satisfaction’ and of a ‘moderate net income.’ But the average is quite fictitious. It merely covers up the utter poverty of the mass of lower peasantry” (Lenin).
Figures obtained like that only obscure and confuse the picture of the actual position of the countryside.
“Instead of a study of the types of peasant economy (the day-labourer, the middle peasant, the big landowner) they study, with the ardour of lovers, endless columns of figures as if it were their aim to astound the world with their arithmetical zeal” (Lenin).
This empty “play with ciphers” this “arithmetical zeal” expresses the definite class setting of those who like to underestimate the development of kulakism in the countryside…. It is not without significance that critics of Soviet policy made considerable use of this method when they openly voiced the interests of the kulaks. Statistics play a great part in science and in practice, but in order correctly to make use of numerical data we must proceed from the qualitative differences of the enumerated phenomena.
As we have seen in all the material we have been analysing, the only way to knowledge is first carefully to study quality, then quantity, and finally to restudy quality on the basis of all the data. The dialectical way of knowledge is a reflection of the law of objective development. In the development of material actuality quality and quantity are inseparable. They presuppose and penetrate each other and their unity is expressed in continual mutual transitions. Not only does quantity go over into quality, but also the reverse – quality goes over into quantity, the quality of a process defines the line, the character and the tempo of its quantitative changes.
Let us return to concrete facts. In the transition from small-scale production to capitalist manufacture there took place at first the union of many tradesmen within one workshop. “The workshop of the guild master only widens its dimensions.... At first there is only a quantitative difference” (Marx).
However, at a determined stage quantity goes over into quality – the joint work of many workmen in a capitalist undertaking is qualitatively distinct from small-scale craft. And this new quality creates a new quantity. The cooperation of many persons, the fusion of many separate forces into one common force creates – as Marx puts it – a new “force,” which is essentially distinct from the summation of the particular forces that compose it. Whence does this new force appear, wherein lies the source of the magnification of the productivity of work? Quite evidently in that new quality which belongs to large-scale production. The new quality has created a new quantity, quality has gone over into quantity.
We see this same dialectical transition in the example of our collective farms.
“The simple concentrations of the peasants’ implements within the collective farms has had an effect not contemplated on the basis of our earlier experience. How was this effect manifested? In the fact that the transition to collective-farming methods gave an increase of the area under crops of from 30 per cent to 40 per cent and even 50 per cent. How do we explain this astounding result? By the fact that the peasants, who were powerless under the conditions of individualistic work, have been converted into a very great power by the concentration of their implements and by uniting into collective farms.” Stalin, on the question of agrarian policy in U.S.S.R.
Metaphysicians separate quantity and quality, whereas in vital developments these categories are all the time making transitions into each other. Opportunists on the question of the transition of quality into quantity, as in everything else, take up a metaphysical view-point. Both the counter-revolutionary, Trotsky, and the Right-opportunists united themselves in defence of the theory of the declining curve of our economic growth. They asserted that with the transition from the restoration period to the period of reconstruction* the tempo of the development of industry would be continually lowered and would at last fall to the “normal” rate of increase, namely, that at which industry in capitalist countries develops. We have seen how drastically actual experience has treated this theory. Our tempo is determined by the qualitative advantages of planned socialist economy; the course of the qualitative changes of socialist production cannot fail to be different in principle from the growth of capitalism. The methodological root of the theory of the declining curve lies in the negation of the dialectical transition of quality into quantity.
* Restoration period – reconstruction period. From the end of the “war communism” period, during which foreign intervention had to be faced, down to the beginning of the Five Year Plan the national economy was undergoing restoration assisted by the New Economic Policy. The Five Year Plan initiates the period of socialist reconstruction.
A correct understanding of this transition plays a big role in the practical tasks of constructing a socialist economic order. In addressing the directors of Soviet industrial undertakings Stalin has pointed out a number of cases where the plan of developing industry has been unfulfilled because of inability to understand what new systems of working are possible under socialist construction. In his slogan of mastering technique in his Six Conditions* he showed the actual way to fulfil the quantitative indices of our plans, the way to achieve a Bolshevist tempo in socialist construction. Our successes have created a qualitatively new state of affairs; the new position demands a new quality of work, a new quality of direction, a qualitatively new approach to the organization of work on production, to the training of specialists, to the function of the old type of specialists, to the sources of accumulation in industry, etc. The way to raise the tempo is to master this new quality of work.
* Six Conditions. See Note on Section II, Chapter III.
Meanwhile, certain metaphysicians and simple-minded directors think that the whole matter can be settled by a clamour about tempo, by simple, mechanical administrative pressure, by a campaign successfully conducted to the end of the month or quarter, etc. Nothing is obtained by such an approach except the exchange of practical work for cheap and empty exhortations. Anxiety over high tempo if it is not based on a concrete study of the quality of the given production, if it is not based on a thoughtful and serious organization of the business side of production, is abstract, empty and impotent, like the numerical conjurings of mystics, like the “arithmetical zeal” of the bourgeois economists.
We repeat, the key to actual Bolshevik tempo lies in that change of the quality of work which is to be brought about by fulfilling the six conditions of Stalin, by studying the qualitatively unique conditions and possibilities of every branch of production, by showing a creative initiative in the organization of every qualitatively unique matter. “Write what resolutions you will, swear by what words you like, if you do not master the technique, the economics, the finances of the works, the mine, the factory – all will be fruitless.” Stalin, speech on the mastery of technique.
Stalin in his masterly and profound treatment of the question of the tempo of socialist construction, has over and over again showed the great importance of the dialectical materialist method in the proletarian revolution. Directors must learn the dialectic of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, for without dialectic Bolshevik direction is impossible. And so in the reverse transition, in the transition of quality into quantity, we have approached from a new side the unity of quantity and quality, thus making concrete once again the unity of opposites. The problem of knowledge is not limited by the disclosure of the quality of a thing, just as it is not exhausted by the establishing of its quantitative characteristic – the point of the matter is in the transition of quality and quantity into each other. Only by disclosing the peculiarity of the transition in every phenomenon do we know an object in its self-movement, in its vital and concrete development.
The resolution of the contradictions between quality and its particular level in the evolutionary process, its degree of development, is at the same time an intensification of that contradiction, which reveals the final limit of the quality and leads to a new leap. The higher the degree of the development of the given quality, the more clearly is its limitation revealed, the more clearly the premises and tendencies of the new emerge in it, tendencies which cannot develop within its confines and are preparing the leap to the new quality. The overcoming of the remnants of the old in the new, the unfolding of a given quality as a whole, single system are at the same time a process “of dividing the unity into its mutually-exclusive opposites” and the intensification of the conflict between them. The more capitalism is developed, the more strongly are revealed the contradictions between the socializing of work and private ownership, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between the “changeableness” of capitalism and its “stability.” The highest stage of the development of a quality, which it reaches in its evolution, is at the same time the highest stage of the intensification of its contradictions, is its limit, its end. The highest stage of capitalist development – imperialism – is, at the same time, its last stage, the eve of the leap to socialism.
By examining quality first of all in its emergence and then in the process of its evolutionary development, as a transition of quality into quantity, we showed that this quantitative change is at the same time the preparation for the transition to a new quality. In our investigation we returned to the transition of quantity into quality. And this circle expresses the continuous course of development. Development can never stop still; in the birth of a quality there is already included the seed of its decay, the decay of the one is the inevitable beginning of the new and so on, endlessly.
We are evolving into communism, but the attainment of our aim by no means excludes its further development.
“Utterly false is the usual bourgeois representation that socialism is something dead, frozen, given once and for all; it is a fact that only from socialism will begin the advance in every realm of social and personal life – an advance that will be a rapid, genuine, real mass advance, in which first the majority of the population and later the whole population will take part.” Lenin, State and Revolution, chap. 5, section iv.
As Marx said, the transition to communism will end the pre-history of human society and will begin its real history. We do not yet know through what qualitatively unique stages this future historic process will go, but we are assured that communism will never in any way be a system of sleep and stagnation.
The double, mutually contradictory transition of quality into quantity expresses the eternal cycle of development in which matter, through the ceaseless emergence and annihilation of the forms of its movement, keeps on reproducing itself in ever new movement and in ever new qualities.
“Matter moves in an eternal cycle in which every particular form of the existence of matter – be it the sun or a nebula, a particular animal or biological process, a chemical combination or decomposition – is equally in transition, and in which there is nothing permanent except eternally moving matter and the laws of its movement and change.” Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
It is impossible to understand actuality with any degree of fullness, it is impossible to understand an object in its self-movement, until you disclose in it the cycle, the connection of its beginning and end.
The law of transition of quantity into quality and its converse show us the way to the understanding of this connection, to the study of the cycle of emergence and annihilation in all the phenomena of nature and society.
The Problem of “Levelling Down”
In the struggle of the different tendencies in science which we touched on in our previous exposition, the question of the connection of quantity and quality plays an important role. The fierce controversies on this question have by no means been confined to philosophy. They penetrate into the special forms of science and may even become the methodological basis of direct political conflict.
Discussions on the relation of quantity to quality both in objective actuality and in knowledge are in large measure concentrated around the problem of reduction or analysis. In what direction must the knowledge of each phenomenon of nature and society proceed – along the line of the study of it as a complete whole, possessing a specific quality that determines all its features and properties and is expressed in them – or along the line of the analysis of it into its component parts and properties, of the reduction of the whole to the relations of its simple parts and properties?
The second alternative is one of the basic principles of mechanism. The mechanists think that a phenomenon is explained if we succeed in reducing it, in levelling it down to its simple elements and their external mechanical relations. In the whole there emerges nothing new in principle as compared with what was in its particular parts. Each thing only seems to be something indivisible, something unique, seems so from a superficial, subjective approach to it. The wholeness of a thing exists only as its secondary property. The task of science is to leave this superficial appearance and to probe deeper, to analyse the thing into its components. In this and this alone do mechanists see the task of knowledge.
Society is made up of people. To understand it one must learn the nature of man as such, his character and his desires. When these are known it will be easy to understand society as a whole. But a particular man torn out of his social connection is an animal organism and that is all. Therefore to understand society we must study man as a biological being. We must study his brain, his instincts, the physiological mechanism of the formation of the conditioned reflexes, etc. Moreover we must reduce the conduct of man to the simpler phenomena which we observe in the conduct of animals biologically lower than man. Certain physiologists following Pavlov are profoundly persuaded that those reflexes which they study in dogs can explain all wars and revolutions, all class conflicts and the subordination of one set of people to another.
But if society is reduced to a simple aggregate of animals of the species “man,” then it becomes possible to explain social phenomena on the basis of the Darwinian theory. Every man carries on a struggle for existence. In this struggle the biologically stronger and better survive – the worse and weaker are doomed to extinction. This selection of the best also operates in the social process. If the weaker workers are doomed to extinction, especially in time of unemployment, then all the better for the human race. If the rich and noble are “on top,” it must be because natural selection has raised them there as the strongest and best. The reactionary role of such theories is perfectly evident. By ascribing social effects to purely biological causes they are able to prove that the class order of society is the product of biological forces that inalienably belong to the human race. The reduction of sociology to biology is one of the philosophical instruments of the bourgeoisie. It is not surprising to find that “social Darwinism” is used for the justification of fascist dictatorship. And our mechanists, by defending the theory of reduction, are, whether they like it or net, pouring water on the fascist mill-wheel.
However, the reduction of sociology to biology is by no means the final point, it is only an intermediate station on the road of the mechanistic explanation of nature. An animal or vegetable organism is such a whole as must be explained by the physio-chemical processes that make it up. An animal is a machine, proclaim the mechanists. True the machine is more complex than any motor, but yet there is no qualitative difference between a man and a Diesel engine. The task of biology lies in the analysis of vital processes into their physio-chemical parts, in analysis and only in analysis, in levelling down. Biology is preserved as a particular science only because there has been as yet no successful analysis of all the biological processes that seem to be independent phenomena. In their turn chemical processes are ultimately physical and physical processes are at bottom the mechanical relations of “final,” unanalysable, simple, identical particles of quality-less “matter as such.” A few decades ago mechanists declared this “final” particle to be the atom. To-day, after still further reducing the atom they declare it to be the electron. But, as in the past, so now, this straining after something “final,” eternal, immutable, simple, is the unmistakable characteristic of the metaphysical method.
Their dream is to reduce all sciences to one, to a final science concerned solely with the mechanical movements of the simplest parts. If Marx in Capital speaks of economic phenomena and of their peculiar laws, it is only in accordance with the imperfection of the science of his time. In the future, no doubt, we shall come to transpose the categories of Capital into those of electrons, and to explain the October Revolution as a definite form of electronic motion. This, then, is the final truth!
According to this there exist in nature no qualitative differences; all differences between things are ascribable to the number and distribution in space of quality-less particles, i.e. all differences are only quantitative differences. The differences of qualities are only a subjective appearance which we must accept until we reach the real explanation. Our mechanists have used the phrases “the untying of qualitative knots,” “the elimination of all qualitative aspects.” It is easy to recognize in these phrases the philosophy of the most commonplace bourgeois evolutionism. Qualitative knots and, consequently, “leaps” are only “subjective appearance.” Mechanism of this type is obviously one of the forms of gradualism, the first of those theories of development examined by Lenin, the one which ascribes all changes to simple increase and decrease of magnitude. In essence such a theory of “development” is a negation of all actual development, a negation of the possibility of emergence of the new.
Our mechanists love to stress the fact that their views are strictly material. Yet the metaphysical nature of their views, independently of their wishes, takes them far away from logical materialism. All aspects of the mechanistic theory lead by one way or another to idealism and superstition. The impossibility of finding any real way of accounting for the world as we know it by attributing all phenomena to mechanical motion brings them to the subjective view-point, forces them more and more to admit the impossibility of getting beyond “secondary,” “subjective” properties, leads more and more to the subjective-idealistic attitude to knowledge. By ascribing every form of definiteness to quantity they are led in the end to a Pythagorean numerical mysticism which is only another road from mechanism to idealism. In fact what is there to say about the particles of “mechanized” matter? Only “how many”? “how they are distributed”? and “how large and whither directed are the forces that connect them”? In this way all matter is reduced to geometrical and arithmetical relations. “The essence of the world is number.” The mechanist Zeitlin, tried to “trim” Marx to the shape of a mechanist, and demonstrating (as well as he could) that Marx sought in Capital to ascribe all and sundry to quantitative differences, wrote: “When we asserted that Marx’s Capital is mathematical in its internal content, we meant only that Marx’s qualitative analysis is strictly materialistic.” So according to Zeitlin, materialism is identical with mathematism; the more completely we reduce theory to mathematics, the greater the materialism.
“As Hegel has shown already, this view, this ‘one-sided mathematical view-point,’ according to which matter is determinable only quantitatively and has been qualitatively the same from time immemorial, is a return to Pythagoras who long ago regarded number, quantitative definiteness, as the essence of things.”* Engels, second note to Anti-Dühring.
The most logical mechanists do not attempt to conceal this. One of the leaders of the mechanists, E. E. Stepanov, wrote:
“Must we not actually conclude that the electronic theory of the structure of matter brings us back to Pythagoras, who saw the essence of things in number, in quantitative definiteness? If, indeed, it brings us back, then it is on the basis of all the scientific attainments of the great period that follows on after Pythagoras.”
“On the basis of all scientific attainments” modern physico-idealists return to Pythagoras; it is inevitable that everyone who denies the objective existence of qualities will ultimately find himself doing likewise. And so as we see, the different aspects of the mechanistic world-outlook reveal in the theory of reduction their unity as aspects of one and the same metaphysical philosophy, one and the same route to idealism.
The time has long gone by since mechanistic materialism, by its conflict with the mediaeval metaphysic of properties, by its investigations of the simplest mechanical movements, by its exposure of the grossest forms of superstitions, played an historically progressive role. Mechanism in our day is essentially bourgeois and has become the weapon of bourgeois reaction both in science and in political practice. On the mechanistic theory of “levelling down” are based reactionary views as to gradual world progress by means of partial changes of the whole, are based all sorts of other bourgeois ideas that serve as a cover for the counter-revolutionary action of the modern “healers of the capitalist system” – the social reformists.
In our conditions this form of metaphysic with its abstract mathematical approach, with its “deeply philosophical” basis of gradualism and drift, has become the methodological basis of kulak ideology and its spokesmen – the Right-opportunists. Opportunistic narrow practicality that forgets about the complex connections of all the tasks of socialist construction (not seeing the wood for the trees) has as its own basis the same mechanistic reduction of the whole to the parts.
The lamentably celebrated theory of Bukharin on the peaceful transition of all the different phases of our economy into socialism substitutes for the contradictory process of a class struggle that is passing through a number of qualitatively unique stages, an even and continuous quantitative growth. On the basis of a purely quantitative approach, Bukharin has set on the same plane our socialist farms and the kulak estates.
Similarly, Frumkin asserted that we needed such and such a quantity of wheat, regardless of the sectors in which it was produced. Here was the same reduction of qualitative differences to pure quantity.
Bukharin, not without serious significance, bade us transpose the “language of Hegelian dialectic to the language of modern mechanics. This Right-opportunist practice was the logical realization of his mechanistic philosophic views.
And so mechanism, by reducing the whole to the parts, vulgarly distorts the tasks of knowledge and practice, arrives at an absolute monotony of nature and opens the door to subjective idealism.
However, in bourgeois ideology there exists yet one more resolution of the problem of the whole and the parts, a resolution which at the first glance seems absolutely opposed to mechanism. It is the stand-point of objective idealism, which rests on the wholeness of phenomena and turns this into an absolute. The upholders of this view observe the weak spots in the mechanistic theory of reduction. It is really out of their criticisms of mechanistic materialism that they construct their own philosophy of science. They point out that an organic whole is always more than the simple sum of its parts. A living organism is something more than an aggregate of physico-chemical processes; similarly the development of society is accomplished on quite a different principle from that which operates in the world of animals and plants; a man’s thought is something quite other than the motion of the particles of his brain. The task of knowledge is not to analyse a whole into its parts, but to note the characteristic features of the entire phenomenon as a whole. Biology, they say, must study that which belongs only to the organism, it must confine itself to that which distinguishes a living organism from inorganic processes – the organic relations proper to the living body, nourishment, growth, reproduction, adaptability to its environment, the process of restoring destroyed tissues, etc. This strict regard for the whole is in flat opposition to the crudities of mechanism, yet it can fall into an even worse crudity itself.
This abstract concentration upon the wholeness of living processes tends to separate an organism from inorganic nature and to create a gulf between the living and the non-living, between “spirit” and matter. Indeed, if life is only something peculiar to the whole, then how is one to explain the emergence of life from physico-chemical processes that originate on the earth’s surface? The theory of absolute wholeness excludes the development of nature.
But the transition from the non-living to the living proceeds in a certain sense all the time. An organism is fed and grows. In this process it is all the time assimilating non-living substance, and turning non-living matter into living. It is easy to say that an organism possesses an “aptitude” for growth, but it is necessary to disclose how this growth proceeds. It is easy to say that an organism is capable of restoring destroyed tissues and fighting against disease, but it is necessary to investigate how these specific properties of the living organism arose in matter and how they actually developed. Moreover, in actuality the organic principle is by no means always realized. The wholeness of a living organism exists in conflict, replacement and destruction and is by no means absolutely harmonious. It becomes clear that the theory of absolute wholeness is a different aspect of the theory of “pre-established harmony,” and, like it, closes its eyes to the sharp breaks, the destruction of the old, the conflicts, that take place in development. Thus to account for an evolved whole that is now in a static condition it is necessary to invoke some kind of miraculous intervention.
An organism is a teleologically constructed whole. There is none of this teleology in the particular physico-chemical processes that go on inside the organism, therefore – the upholder of “wholeness” concludes – the teleology of vital processes is a manifestation of a special beginning, of a special force, which exists outside the particular parts, which subordinates them to itself and joins them into a single whole. Since it is purposeful and is separate from inorganic nature, it appears essentially as a spiritual force. This is the “élan vital” (vis vitalis), whence in biology this theory bears the name of vitalism. This theory of absolute wholeness is obviously a profoundly idealistic doctrine.
It is easy to recognize in this doctrine the old, long familiar features of the medieval metaphysic of properties. That theory too acknowledged the reality of a whole as a special property that existed along with the properties of the particular parts. It also explained life by citing a life force. In just the same way in the “latest” idealistic doctrine separate qualities exist side by side as absolutely independent forces.
In criticizing the mechanists the upholders of absolute wholeness themselves arrive at another, a still grosser form of metaphysics; they expound undisguised superstition. The vitalists criticize the mechanists, the mechanists criticize the vitalists; each of these doctrines makes capital out of criticism of the other. And therefore they both exist in unbroken unity, each one possesses in the other “its other.” In their conflict is disclosed their internal kinship.
The philosophy of absolute wholeness does not exist in biology alone. In the course of recent years it has made great strides in all the fields of bourgeois ideology. A nation is a whole, say the fascist philosophers, the life of a people is determined by its “national idea,” its “national spirit,” “its spirit of wholeness and of desire for power.” This “idea” is higher than the interests of separate classes; workers and peasants must bow before this “idea,” in its name they must abandon their demands and humbly submit themselves to Mussolini and Hitler. The direct coercion exerted by bourgeois dictatorship over the workers – the majority – is justified by the bourgeois philosophers with their idealistic theory of an absolute whole realized in the “national spirit.” They depict the bourgeois State not as a cudgel in the hands of the ruling class but as an expression of the idea of a whole. Resurrecting the Hegelian idealism, the Hegelian teaching on the unity of absolute spirit, modern bourgeois philosophy creates the ideological weapon of fascism. We see a tendency to move in this direction among certain reformist theoreticians also.
The Menshevist idealism of the Deborin school took essentially the same line when it uncritically took over and began to use the whole of Hegel’s idealistic dialectic. Especially in Deborin’s treatment of the problem of quality do we find a distinct manifestation of an idealistic deviation. Deborin contends against idealism, he keeps aloof from vitalist superstition. But in criticizing the mechanistic theory of reduction he proceeds from abstract conceptions and therefore reaches a conception of quality as something isolated in its uniqueness. Whence his kinship with a number of semi-vitalist and sometimes even purely vitalist currents of thought.
The tendency of Menshevist idealists to understand a leap as an independent act shows that they too separate qualities from each other and fail to understand the mutual penetration of continuity and discontinuity, the internal unity of quantitative and qualitative changes.
And so objective idealism propounds, instead of the continuity of the purely quantitative changes of the mechanists, a break between qualities, a conversion of them into isolated, absolutely whole systems, separating qualitative changes from quantitative. Both forms of metaphysics are two mutually amplifying methods of the ideological struggle of the bourgeois for supremacy. Both currents, though proceeding from opposite directions, deny actual development, distort the tasks of knowledge, hinder the disclosure of the contradictions of bourgeois actuality; both encourage superstition.
The idealistic philosophy of a break between qualities is very often used by fascists for the purpose of setting one nation in opposition to another; by reformist theoreticians to buttress a purely fascist view of the State; and even by the heroes of the “Left” as the basis of the idealistic doctrine of a leap from the “kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.” In the methodology of Trotskyism, which is distinguished by its extreme eclecticism and ambiguity, mechanistic reduction exists alongside an idealistic emphasis on the absoluteness of qualitative differences.
The idealistic philosophy of absolute wholeness serves Trotskyism as a basis for its “Left” talk of “permanent revolution,” to be accomplished at one stroke on a planetary tale. It is not mere chance that Trotsky echoes the Hegelian, Lassalle. The theory of the absolute isolation of the proletariat, which all other classes, including the peasantry, confront as a “united reactionary mass,” the theory of revolution which arrives suddenly at the end of an epoch and signifies the victory of the working class – these theories of Lassalle were based on the idealistic doctrine of absolute breaks between qualities. It is easy to recognize in the permanent revolution of Trotsky these same Lasallian features.
At the first stage of N.E.P., when socialist planning had not as yet got its hands upon all the levers of the popular economy, Trotsky came out with a grand, all-embracing, all-accomplishing economic plan. In his abstract idealistic approach the whole was seen to be separated from its parts; it was therefore quite unreal. But when faced with practical difficulties Trotsky drew up a defeatist mechanistic programme of reducing the whole plan to the level of the weakest sections of the national economy. Because of the backwardness of metallurgy (upon which the work of the machine building factories depended) Trotsky, in his speech at the Twelfth Party Congress, proposed the closing of a number of our largest industrial plants, including the famous Putilov works.
A clear example of his philosophy of absolute breaks is seen in his attitude to the collectivization of the rural economy. Waxing ironical on the question of our collective farm construction he wrote that it was as impossible to construct a collective-farm out of the sum of peasant farms as it was to build a steamer out of a collection of little boats. Both Trotsky’s comparison and his irony miss their mark. In spite of his metaphysics our rural economy is developing dialectically, quantitative change is leading to change of quality, and the new quality is creating a new quantity, a new tempo of growth.
Furthermore, in actuality the new never emerges ready-made and finished. Breaks are never absolute. We have entered into the period of socialism although a developed socialist society has not yet been created and we have not yet emerged from the transition period. It is this contradiction of living development that has never been grasped by Trotsky, and is responsible for his errors.
And so both mechanistic “levelling down” and the idealism of absolute wholeness are in their class-roots and their metaphysical approach quite close to each other, and though they proceed from different directions are all the time moving to the same conclusions. It is clear from our enquiry that it is impossible to separate the whole and the parts. They mutually penetrate each other. But in order to understand their real unity we must examine them not externally, not metaphysically, but in living contradictionary development. Independent qualities do not exist; all things are connected by a unity of development. The complex emerges out of the simple – but unity of development does not denote the identity of all things.
A living organism is something that arose out of inorganic matter. In it there is no “vital force.” If we subject it to a purely external analysis into its elements we shall find nothing except physico-chemical processes. But this by no means denotes that life amounts to a simple aggregate of these physico-chemical elements. The particular physico-chemical processes are connected in the organism by a new form of movement, and it is in this that the quality of the living thing lies. The new in a living organism, not being attributable to physics or chemistry, arises as a result of the new synthesis, of the new connection of physical and chemical movements. This synthetic process whereby out of the old we proceed to the emergence of the new is understood neither by the mechanists nor by the vitalists.
The task of each particular science is to study the unique forms of movement of a particular degree of the development of matter. Social science studies the emergence and development of social formation, studies the development of productive forces and the relations of production, the class struggle and the changing of social forms. The production of tools and machines comprises the qualitative distinction of social man from animals and because of this qualitative distinction the development of society is accomplished not according to the laws of natural selection but according to laws that belong only to society.
Just as specific is the subject of biology. Biological sciences investigate the connection of different processes in the life of an organism, the laws of heredity and variation, the adaptability of the organism to the environment, development on the basis of natural selection, etc. All these processes are qualitatively unique, and attempts to reduce them to more simple laws can lead only to the distortion of the actual problems of knowledge.
How so? the mechanists will object; the complex is made up of the simple; life is wholly analysable into physico-chemical processes. Our mechanists do not understand that by subjecting the organic whole to external mechanical analysis this whole is destroyed. By analysing an organism we get instead of the living, a non-living thing, i.e. we destroy the very thing we set out to study.
Of course a more complex quality includes in itself elements of the simpler. Social man cannot exist without the physiological process of the exchange of substances, just as also there is no organic life without determined physico-chemical processes. But here is the point, the elements of the old, by being subordinated to the new system, by entering into the new synthesis, themselves become something new. Physico-chemical processes within an organism undergo a radical change; they cease in essence to be directly “dependent on” physics and chemistry.
The unique conditions of every chemical process within an organism are such that this process reaches results that under inorganic conditions are impossible.
“Albumen is the most unstable carbon compound that we know. It decomposes as soon as it loses the ability to fulfil its proper functions which we call life.” Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
Outside an organism albumen decomposes, within an organism it possesses a certain stability. However, this stability depends upon the constant renewal and. the ceaseless change of various substances. “Life is the form of existence of albuminous bodies, whose essential moment is the constant exchange of substances with the physical environment; when this exchange ceases, the form too ceases and the decomposition of albumen ensues.”* As we see, albumen within the conditions of an organism becomes qualitatively other.
* Loc. cit.
But, some mechanist may object, exchange of substances is by no means proper only to organisms; we also meet with exchange in chemical reactions. No doubt, but the exchange of substances in an organism is qualitatively different from the exchange of the substances of inorganic nature and leads to directly opposite results. “The difference is this; in the case of inorganic bodies exchange of substances destroys them, in the case of organic bodies it is the necessary condition of their existence.”*
* Loc. cit.
Burning, i.e. the combination of carbon with oxygen, destroys bodies of nonorganic structure, but the same process, in the form of the breathing going on within an organism, is the necessary condition of its preservation and development. It is the same process and yet at the same time quite another.
Quality, as the special system of a given whole, as the unique form of movement, lays its imprint on those elements from which it emerged itself.
As we see, in the reality of organic wholes, in their qualitative uniqueness, there is nothing mysterious and unknowable as vitalists and others declare. Wholeness is a qualitatively unique form of movement which, since it proceeds from previous stages of the development of matter, includes in itself elements of the old and refashions them in a new system which contains new contradictions.
The task of knowledge does not lie in reducing a whole to the parts, nor in studying a whole as such, but in the disclosure of the relations peculiar to each quality in its emergence and development.
Mechanists simply rejected the synthetic task of knowledge and reduced it to external mechanical analysis. The vitalists rejected analysis by converting synthesis into a previously given teleological force external to the particular parts. Neither these nor others understood development as the contradictory self-movement of matter. Actual scientific analysis has very little in common with mechanistic reduction. Of course in the study of an organism it is very important to know that the albumen of which the living tissue is made is a special type of carbon compound, that in the breathing process carbon dioxide is formed, that the hand acts on the principle of lever, etc., etc. But the main problem for the physiologist in his analytic work is by no means what physico-chemical processes proceed in the organism, but what aspects, properties, features of each separate physical-chemical process make its specific role in the life of the organism possible. As we showed above, every physico-chemical process acquires in biological conditions a special significance and leads to results other than those found outside the organism. This specific thing in the chemical elements of life must also be sought for by the physiologist when he subjects the living being to analysis. Otherwise he will be not a physiologist but a chemist, he will have changed the subject matter of his investigation, and instead of studying the elements of the organism will be studying chemical processes as such. The mistake of certain physiologists who have constructed physical models of living cells is due to just such a change of their subject matter. In the movement of an amoeba a certain role is played by surface tension, but a drop of oil with its surface tension is only an external, remote analogy to the amoeba. In their acceptance of physical and chemical processes as removed from their organic connection as elements of life, physical mechanists have blundered badly.
Engels, disclosing the connection of different sciences with each other, wrote:
“By calling physics the mechanics of molecules, chemistry the physics of atoms, biology the chemistry of albumens, I wish to express the transition of each one of these sciences into the other and therefore the connection, the continuity and also the distinction, the break between the two fields. Biology does not in this way amount to chemistry yet at the same time is not something absolutely separated from it. In our analysis of life we find definite chemical processes. But these latter are now not chemical in the proper sense of the word; to understand them there must be a transition from ordinary chemical action to the chemistry of albumens, which we call, life.” Engels, second note to Anti-Dühring.
Even in greater measure is it necessary to mark the qualitative uniqueness of the particular elements of human society. Society consists of people. It is true that people possess certain physiological needs and properties – they need food, they must secure shelter from cold, they multiply, etc. Without procreation there can be no social development. But only Parson Malthus and his followers (they include Karl Kautsky) have the effrontery to declare that unemployment under capitalism depends on the immoderate multiplication of the workers, has in fact a biological basis, whereas in actuality multiplication of social man is not his biological property, it is wholly subordinate to the specific law-system of the social whole. The growth of population is subordinate to social law-governance; the law of population, as Marx shows, is historical, it changes along with each form of society, is specific for each class, for each concrete situation.
And so the analysis of a qualitatively definite whole is not by any means its external mechanical dissection, is not by any means its reduction to such parts as have another, simpler qualitative definiteness. The particular parts always express in themselves the nature of the whole, and their separation from the whole is necessary only to Malthus, Kautsky, and other “priests” of the capitalist system, who use them as arbitrary logical figments and not as guides to an actual knowledge of capitalism. Thus in the contradictory unity of quality and its final limits, of qualitative and quantitative changes, of continuity and discontinuity, of the new and the old, is accomplished the eternal development of matter.
The Nodal Line of Measurements
Pure quantity exists only in abstraction. In objective actuality every quantitative definiteness appertains to a certain quality. Three, four, five, etc. as generalities do not exist, but there are three or four trees, stones, tons of iron, metres of cloth, etc.
Conversely quality also does not exist independently of quantity. Every quality belongs to a thing that has this or that magnitude, every qualitative definiteness has at every given moment a definite intensity and degree of its development, has this or that quantitative characteristic. A piece of iron that has no definite magnitude, weight and temperature does not exist. Nor does a tree exist without a definite diameter to its trunk, number of branches and leaves, etc. Every light-ray has this or that wavelength, every electric current this or that voltage. The determined means of production in every country is characterized by this or that degree of development.
The establishment of such quantitative definitions, specific for each particular thing at each given moment of its development, has great practical and theoretical importance. However, the connection of quality and quantity in the examples just given has a more or less external character, each given magnitude is independent of the general characteristic of the quality. The fact that this piece of iron weighs three tons, and that four, is quite fortuitous for iron as a definite chemical element. The fact that in this country there are three trusts, in that ten, says in itself very little about the quality of capitalism as a special system of production.
In this way in every particular case the quantitative definiteness of a thing emerges as its external definiteness, “indifferent” to its quality. But as soon as we begin to scrutinize a thing in the whole course of its development we discover the profound internal connection of its quantitative and qualitative definitenesses.
Quality is developed on the basis of the internal contradictions of a thing. Development proceeds as determined by the form of movement characteristic of that quality and continues until the limiting stage within that type is reached. The contradiction of nascent capitalism pushes it inevitably to the development of machine technique, to the seizing of markets, to the annihilation of small-scale property, to domination in all fields of production. Socialism that has come into existence and has conquered but has still not yet fully developed proceeds inevitably to the full development of the possibilities of planned economy and goes on to the creation of productive forces adequate to socialism as a type of society.
In this case it is clear that quantitative development is by no means indifferent to the quality of the developing process, its connection with that quality is not external and fortuitous. Each particular quality has a corresponding quantitative measure so that the quantitative changes within a developing whole are determined by that quality. There are fixed limits in quantitative changes within which alone the quality can remain indifferent to the quantity. The point at which magnitude ceases to be indifferent is dependent upon the internal connection of quantitative and qualitative changes. Therefore change does not depend merely on quantitative development but on the special relation of quality to quantity in each particular case.
Conversely, we know that every quality is finite, that every qualitative definiteness has an internal final limit that belongs to it and that the fullest development of quality is at the same time the revelation of its limit. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalist development, is at the same time the last stage of its development.
“But capitalism became capitalist imperialism only at a definite, very high stage of its development, when certain of its fundamental properties had begun to change into their opposites, when the features of a period of transition from capitalism to a higher socio-economic system had begun to take shape and reveal themselves all along the line.”*
* Lenin, Imperialism, chap. vii.
The concentration of powerful productive forces in the hands of a few capitalists is the highest stage of private property in the means of production. And at the same time the concentration reveals the final limit of private property, it makes possible and necessary the transition to socialism.
For a full knowledge of the quality of a thing it is necessary to determine its final limit, that highest stage of its development at which it goes over into another quality – into its opposite. To know the quality of a metal we need to determine the temperature at which it melts. To know the quality of a building material we must find out its resistance to strain, its conditions of fracture, its heat conductivity. Thus for the knowledge of a quality we must disclose the highest stage of its development, the point of demarcation for its changes, the quantitative final limit of its existence as the given quality.
That is to say, both quantity and quality are disclosed more fully in their unity. The disclosure of this unity is measurement in the widest sense.
The transition of quantity into quality and the reverse is nothing else than the revelation of the internal contradictions of measurement. And that nodal point of change, at which the transition of quantity into quality takes place, expresses very fully the measurement of the given thing.
Quantitative and qualitative changes, taken as themselves, seem to be something indeterminate, fortuitous, and external. In measurement we disclose their necessary connection, we reveal their importance in the unity of the process. Thus measurement is nothing else than the law of the connection of quantitative and qualitative changes – a law that belongs to everything.
“It is a great service to know the empirical numbers of nature, for example, the mutual distances of planets, but an immeasurably greater service is to make such empirically determined quantities vanish, by raising them to the general form of quantitative definitions, so that they become moments of law or measurement” (Lenin).
It was in this manner that Hegel determined the significance of the transition from external quantitative definiteness to measurement; he regarded measurement as the law-governed unity of a thing in its development, and development as that which gives the necessary basis to quantitative definiteness itself.
Knowledge of measurement plays an important role in science and practice. Every kind of physical energy, every chemical element has measure, which is reflected in a whole order of unalterable magnitudes – constants as they are called. Specific gravity, melting point, boiling point, atomic weight, valency, etc. – are such specific magnitudes as express the measurement of a chemical element. The constant of world gravitation, the magnitude of the quantum of energy, the mechanical equivalent of different aspects of energy, Avogadro’s constant – these are examples of magnitudes that reflect the measurement of physical processes. We measure the quality of a bridge by that load which the bridge can carry. Each machine has in given conditions the rate of output specific for it. A zoologist, in studying this or that animal, tries to establish its limit of growth, its age, its temperature, its blood constituents, etc. The differences in the qualification of workers of one and the same speciality finds its reflection, under equal conditions, in the different productivity of their labour.
In many cases serious political conflict centres round this question of measurement, as for instance when it is applied to the question of socialist advance or retreat, of finding the nodal point of a decisive turn. As an example we will consider the transition from the period of merely restricting the kulak to the period of the liquidation of kulaks as a class. Stalin in his speech at the Agrarian Conference gave convincing arguments for believing this transition to be opportune. He contrasted the quantity of wheat produced in kulak farms and in the socialist sector for the years 1927 and 1929, regarding these quantitative relationships as the index of the qualitative difference in the relation of two classes at the cited periods. In 1927 the relation of forces was such that a decisive advance on kulakism was impossible. The Zinoviev-Trotskyist party, which was at this time declaiming against the kulak, did not understand our unpreparedness for advance. Essentially the measures proposed by the opposition would have led to the policy of “scratching at kulakism,” and not to its liquidation. “To advance on kulakism meant so to prepare ourselves that when we do smite it it can no more rise to its feet.”* This preparation was expressed in the Party line on collective farm and soviet-farm construction. And at last that moment came when the quantity of socialist wheat exceeded the quantity of kulak wheat; that was the nodal point of the related measurements, that was the moment when it was possible to introduce a qualitative change of tactics. In order to introduce this at the right time it was necessary to determine rightly the measurement of the relations of class forces. The Central Committee of our Party rightly determined this measurement and in 1929 initiated successfully the transition to the liquidation of kulaks as a class on the basis of all-round collectivization.
* Stalin, Question of Leninism.
In speaking of measurement in all the examples we have given we were at the same time speaking of the transition of one quality into another. Nor was it by chance. Measurement, expressing the contradictions between quantity and quality, is the law of the transition of quantitative changes into qualitative changes and of the reverse process, and is therefore the law of transition from one process to a qualitatively different process.
Measurement marks the final limit of a given quality. It is only possible to discover that limit by investigating the changes of a thing in a thoroughly practical and experimental way. To determine the measurement of the policy of restricting the kulak means to indicate that moment in which it passes over into the policy of liquidating the kulak. Measurement is found only in the process of change, in the process of turning one measurement into another.
Every measurement “exists only in that connection, which leads to the general” and expresses that connection by being the law of transition from one process to another. Every measurement is of internal necessity linked up with a number of others. In this internal connection they form a single line of development, a number of nodal points of qualitative changes – they form a nodal line of measurements.
An order of determined and logical changes in the length of a violin string gives a single order of musical tones and overtones. The solid, liquid and gaseous states of a substance are a single chain of quantitative and qualitative changes, a single nodal line of measurements of the aggregate states of the substance.
Knowledge finds in nature many different and, from their appearance, mutually unconnected, things and phenomena. The discovery of the nodal line of measurements leads to the disclosure of their internal connection, of the unity in the diversity, to the reflection in a concrete whole of the uniqueness of this or that field of nature. Engels, touching on the importance of the law of conversion of energy, wrote: “In science we have succeeded in ridding ourselves from the fortuitousness of the occurrence of this or that quantity of physical forces, because their mutual connection and their transition into each other have been revealed.”*
* Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
Measurement is the law of the connection of quality and quantity. The nodal line of measurements is a yet wider and more general law of a whole number of quantitative and qualitative changes. Where in appearance there is a simple, joint existence of separate things, a more profound knowledge will disclose their law-governed connection as links of a nodal line of the measurements of nature, a line complete in itself yet with infinite ramifications.
The nodal line of measurements expresses the internal connection of the development of material forms. However, it may happen the discovery of the nodal line of measurements will precede the discovery of the actual course of development. Even before the transmutation of chemical elements was verified in experiment chemists were occupied with the question of their classification. The great scientist, Mendeleyev, revealed what is called the periodic law of elements. He based this classification upon their atomic weights, a specific quantity belonging to each element, and by arranging the elements in the order of increasing atomic weights showed that the qualities of elements form a law-governed system – or, speaking in the language of dialectic, a nodal line of measurements.
Mendeleyev was led to his discovery by realizing the connection of particular elements with the quantity that is specific for them. He himself believed the conversion of elements into each other to be impossible and denied them any common origin. But when the general law was found it had great influence on the study of the properties of particular elements. Furthermore, on the basis of the periodic law Mendeleyev was able to foretell the properties of elements still undiscovered, whose places were then empty in the table of the periodic law. The investigations that followed brilliantly justified Mendeleyev’s predictions. “Mendeleyev, by unconsciously applying the Hegelian law of transition of quantity into quality, accomplished a scientific exploit worthy to be set alongside with the discovery of Leverrier, who calculated the orbit of the unknown planet Neptune.”* After Mendeleyev the periodic law underwent a number of essential changes and amplifications but its basic idea receives ever greater confirmation. The periodic law plays an important role in the study of that internal form of movement which lies at the basis of qualitatively different elements.
* Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
One of the greatest of the services of Marx in creating the theory of historic materialism was the discovery of the logical connection of a number of social formations. “In general features, the Asiatic, the antique, the feudal and modern bourgeois means of production can be established as progressive epochs of the economic history of society.”* Social history as a whole, consisting as it does of the successive replacements of one social system by another each of which is characterized by the determined level of productive forces and of the productivity of social work, forms a single nodal line of measurements.
* Marx, Foreword to Critique of Political Economy.
In politics the nodal line of measurements plays also an important role. As Lenin pointed out, the basic trait of opportunism is “the changing of principles, lack of principle... jumping over gaps.” In contrast to opportunist lack of principle the Leninist policy is the conducting of a single line through all stages of revolutionary conflict. Lenin, in reckoning up the qualitative differences between stages, always indicated the internal connection of the particular stages with each other. Stalin on this basis has worked out the practical strategy and tactics of Bolshevism. Bolshevik strategy is built on the evaluation of the peculiarities of each stage, determines the measurement of the decisive turn from stage to stage, and realizes through a number of stages the one final aim of the proletariat. Trotsky opposes to the Leninist doctrine on the stages of revolution his own conception of the strategy of class struggle. In The Lessons of October he defined strategy very generally and abstractly, as “the art of conquering, i.e. of winning power.” For Trotsky strategy is a plan “in general” that does not allow variation, nor takes account of the uniqueness of the stages in all the relations of class forces under all sorts of conditions. The dialectical unity of the nodal line of measurements in the Leninist doctrine of strategy is replaced by Trotsky by the abstract metaphysic of the single blow. It is quite clear that this conception of strategy is for Trotsky the foundation on which he justifies the armed Bolshevik rising of 1917. But this revolutionary strategy, which became necessary at the transition from bourgeois-democratic revolution to socialist revolution, was for Lenin the realization of a single line that had been thought out and expounded long before, the logical growing of one stage of revolution into another. Trotsky, however, declares this change of strategy to be a change of principles and is subsequently compelled to set in opposition to the Bolshevist dialectic the metaphysic of his own “permanent revolution.”
Profoundly dialectical also is the Leninist plan of New Economic Policy. In his speech at the Eleventh Congress of the Party Lenin showed in the stages they had passed through and those that still awaited them that single line of development which included and justified N.E.P. The transition to a developed socialist offensive which the Party subsequently carried forward under Stalin’s leadership was nothing else than the realization of one of the nodes of the Leninist line.
And so, the nodal line of measurements opens the road to the knowledge of the whole connection of development in all fields of nature and society. But no nodal line exists independent of the others. In essence everything in the world is the nodal line of its own internal differences and at the same time one of the measurements in some wider nodal line. The stages of capitalism form the nodal line of capitalist development, but capitalism in its turn is one of the measures in the general chain of the history of society, just as society is only one link in the eternal development of the universe of matter.
“All nature, to the knowledge of which we can attain, forms some system, some accumulated connection of bodies, and under the word ‘body’ we understand all material realities, beginning with the stars and ending with the atom and even with a particle of ether, in so far as we admit the reality of the latter.”Engels, Dialectic of Nature.
Every partial measurement can be understood only as an expression of the general line of development. If the metaphysical fallacy lay in taking particular things in isolation, the dialectical conception of nature requires the finding of the place of a given process in the general connection of development. Through this connection of emergence and annihilation we can ever more completely and more deeply disclose all the uniqueness of a given thing.