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The Law of the Negation of the Negation
The dialectical process of the development of actuality and our knowledge is not exhausted by the law of the transition of quantity into quality and its converse nor by the law of the unity of opposites. We find in Marx and Engels the basis of a third fundamental law of dialectic – the negation of the negation.
What is the essence of this law? What connection has it with the kernel of dialectic – the law of the unity of opposites? In the exposition that follows we will show that the law of the negation of the negation emerges as one of the concrete forms of manifestation of the law of the unity of opposites, disclosing the connection of the qualitatively different stages in the dialectical development of processes, their relationship and the form of the change in each particular case.
As the starting-point of our exposition we will take the classic example of the law of the negation of the negation given by Marx, and we will establish on general lines those basic problems which make up the essence of this law.
In the first volume of Capital, in the section on “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation,” Marx shows the course of development of private ownership in the means of work from its initial moments right down to its historically inevitable annihilation, to its transition into its opposite – into social ownership.
“Private property, as contrasted with social or collective property, exists only where the means of labour and the external conditions of labour belong to private individuals. But the character of private property differs according as the private individuals are workers or non-workers. The innumerable shades which, at the first glance, seem to be exhibited by private property are merely reflections of the intermediate conditions that lie between these two extremes.
“The worker’s private ownership of the means of production is the basis of petty industry; and petty industry is an indispensable condition for the development of social production and of the free individuality of the worker.
“This method of production presupposes a parcelling out of the soil, a scattered ownership of the instruments of production. Just as it excludes concentration of these means into a few hands, so does it exclude co-operation, the division of labour within the process of production, the social mastery and regulation of the forces of nature, the free development of the social energies of production. It is only compatible with narrow limits for production and society. At a certain level of development, this method of production brings into the world material means which will effect its own destruction. Thenceforward there stir within the womb of society forces and passions which feel this method of production to be a fetter. It must be destroyed, it is destroyed. Its destruction, the transformation of the individual and scattered means of production, the transformation of the pygmy property of the many into the titan property of the few, the expropriation of the great masses of the people from the land, from the means of subsistence, and from the instruments of labour – this terrible and grievous expropriation of the populace – comprises the prelude to the history of capital.... Self-earned private property, the private property that may be looked upon as grounded on a coalescence of the isolated, individual, and independent worker, with his working conditions, is supplanted by capitalist private property, which is maintained by the exploitation of others’ labour, but of labour which, in a formal sense, is free.”Marx, Capital, vol. i, pp. 844-5.
Marx has shown how capitalist private. ownership, which negates small-scale private ownership, emerges; now he discloses the tendencies of its development:
“As soon as the capitalistic mode of production can stand upon its own feet – then the further socialization of labour and the further transformation of the land and of the other means of production into socially utilized (that is to say, communal) means of production, which implies the further expropriation of private owners, takes on a new form. What has now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working on his own account, but the capitalist who exploits many labourers.“This expropriation is brought about by the operation of the immanent laws of capitalist production, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist lays a number of his fellow capitalists low. Hand-in-hand with such centralization, concomitantly with the expropriation of many capitalists by a few, the co-operative form of the labour process develops to an ever increasing degree; therewith we find a growing tendency towards the purposive application of science to the improvement of technique; the land is more methodically cultivated; the instruments of labour tend to assume forms which are only utilizable by combined effort; the means of production are economized through being turned to account only by joint, by social labour. All the peoples and therefore the capitalist regime tend more and more to assume an international character. While there is thus a progressive diminution in the number of the capitalist magnates (who usurp and monopolise all the advantages of this transformative process), there occurs a corresponding increase in the mass of poverty, oppression, enslavement, degeneration, and exploitation; but at the same time there is a steady intensification of the wrath of the working class – a class which grows ever more numerous, and is disciplined, unified, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist method of production. Capitalist monopoly becomes a fetter upon the method of production which has flourished with it and under it. The centralization of the means of production and the socialization of labour reach a point where they prove incompatible with their capitalist husk. This bursts asunder. The expropriators are expropriated.”Marx, Capital, vol. i, pp. 845-6.
Marx, having shown the whole historical course of private ownership now draws the following conclusions, among which we find the formulation of the law of the negation of the negation:
“The capitalist method of appropriation proceeding out of the capitalist method of production, and consequently capitalist private property, is the first negation of individual private property based upon individual labour. But, with the inexorability of a law of nature, capitalist production begets its own negation. It is a negation of a negation. This second negation does not re-establish private property, but it does re-establish individual property upon the basis of the acquisitions of the capitalist era; i.e. on co-operation and the common ownership of the land and of the means of production (which the labour itself produces).”
What is the significance of Marx’s exposition? Marx unfolds a dialectic of contradictory development of the forms of private ownership in which each successive stage, growing out of its predecessor and appearing as its negation, negates itself in turn by the force of the development of its contradictions. Both the conversion of small-scale private ownership into large-scale capitalist ownership and also the conversion of the latter into social ownership proceed on the basis of the development of the essential contradiction in the mode of production itself. Each phase in the development of the forms of private ownership resolves the determined form of the contradiction that belongs to the previous stage of development. Thus the individual forms of private ownership that preceded the capitalist grew out of the decomposition of feudal ownership. In it was given the solution of the contradiction between the development of productive forces and the forms of feudal ownership that had been keeping back the development of crafts and trade. “Private ownership by the worker of the means of production” (Marx) was the basis of small-scale production, which at that period was the necessary phase in the development of social productive forces to a new stage. But in the course of the development of this form of small-scale private ownership by the “many,” a contradiction between the possession of the means of production of the small-scale producer and the further development of the forces in production emerged and proceeded to develop. Capitalism resolved this form of contradiction by the alienation of the means of production from the small-scale producer and their concentration into the hands of a few magnates of capital. But capitalism called into life another form of the same contra diction between the productive forces and private ownership – the antagonistic contradiction between the social organization of work and the private forms of appropriation.
Together with this it creates by its considerable expansion of productive forces the material premises for the resolution of this contradiction. Socialism, by developing productive forces to an unheard of degree and by finally abolishing private ownership of the means of production, completely fills in the gap between labour and the ownership of the means of production. The new “individual ownership” of the member of socialist society – ownership of consumption goods – only resembles in its external aspects that individual ownership from which capitalism grew, and is a wholly subordinate moment of the new socialist ownership of the means of production.
“Social property is spread over land and the other means of production, but individual property embraces the products, that is to say, consumption goods.” Engels, Anti-Dühring.
And so the essence of the law of negation of the negation, as exemplified by Marx in application to the emergence and development of capitalism, amounts to the following basic propositions:
(1) Between the different phases of the contradictory development of private ownership, there exists a profound internal connection.
(2) Every phase, by overcoming the specific form of the contradiction of itspredecessor, by negating it, brings forth the form of contradiction that belongs to it and by this means prepares its own negation.
(3) These phases, by negating each other, resolve the general contradiction that belongs to them and therefore the latter negation of the negation denotes a transition to a new law system, to a new essential contradiction.
(4) The double contradiction unites in itself, in certain features, the preceding phases and from the external aspect represents a return to some features of the original form of the basic contradiction. The “synthesis” negates and overcomes both the “thesis” and also the “anti-thesis,” but the external form of the “synthesis” reproduces certain features of the external form of the thesis.
Proceeding from these basic propositions we will try to estimate the concrete content of the law of the negation of the negation. The central movement in all the propositions we have indicated is development through contradiction, through the negation brought forth by the latter, and the negation of that negation. We will first attempt to make clear what we mean by dialectical negation. We already know from the foregoing exposition that the development of any process originates in its internal contradictions. Emerging as aspects of a contradiction, opposites mutually condition and mutually amplify each other. But the mutual conditioning of opposites rests basically on the fact that each of them is a negation of the other and an affirmation of itself.
Each aspect emerges therefore both as assuming and negating the other. Besides this they form a unity of opposites in which their mutual conflict leads to the negation of the given unity. Therefore, the moving contradiction of a process contains in itself “negation” as its moment.
“Dialectical materialism” – wrote Lenin – “requires the indication of difference, of connection, of transition. Without this a simple affirmation is not complete, is lifeless, is dead.” This connection, this difference, is also given by the development of the contradiction in which also negation emerges as the initial impulse. The analysis of the development of any process demands above all the disclosure of its essential contradiction, the discerning of its “negativeness,” which indeed is the actual source of its self-movement.
The capitalist mode of production grew out of the ruin of the mass of small-scale owners, peasants and craftsmen. This historic process of the expropriation of the small-scale producer, who had been at the same time owner of the means of production, led to the formation of a small class of large-scale owners, on the one hand, and of a large class of proletarians deprived of all property, on the other. Both opposites – capital and hired labour – mutually condition each other, and the abolition of one of these is at the same time the abolition of the other. Capital is above all a social relationship, the essential moment of which is the relation of capital to hired labour. Hired labour is a social relation and as such is impossible without capital, which is its essential moment. Besides this, both aspects make up a unity – the capitalist mode of production – a unity in which the class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie develops.
Materialistic dialectic explains the emergence of negation as a result of the development of the internal contradictions of a process. And so negation emerges as a moment in the conflict of opposites and, together with this, serves as a true connection between the transitions from one set of stages to the others. Characteristic of merely “formal” logic is another conception of negation; negation is said to come from outside, to be an external and antagonistic force in relation to the given process. Metaphysical logic does not see development of contradictions as inside a process, as a self-negation of the process. For metaphysics negativeness does not emerge as an initial impulse inside the developing contradiction, but only as an external force. Such an external conception of negation is also fundamental to the mechanistic views. Thus Kautsky, in The Materialistic Understanding of History, comes to grief on the question of dialectical negation, which depends upon the self-self-movement of matter. There is, he says, no self-movement of matter. Self-movement is a superstition borrowed from Hegel, who spoke of self-movement of the spirit. Self-movement explains nothing. The actual source of movement, according to Kautsky, is the mutual action of two external forces. In such mutual action one of these forces negates the other. The environment negates the organism – that is, antithesis (first negation). The organism overcomes the negation of the environment – that is synthesis (negation of negation). Here both negation and negation of negation are purely external to each other. Kautsky thus completely fails to understand negation dialectically, fails to see that every unit contains a contradiction, and that each stage in the development of a process – both negation and negation of negation – emerges as a determined phase in the development of the unity of opposites. He does not understand that this very unity of opposites is also the impulse which initiates and carries through the development of the process.
“Movement,” he writes, “flows out of the opposition or collision of opposing elements.”
And so, for Kautsky, as also for every mechanist, the following moments in the understanding of negation are characteristic:
(1) Negation as an external moment in relation to the development of a process, which is understood to be a ceaselessly developing process, possessing in itself neither qualitative transitions nor stages that negate each other.
(2) Negation as absolute negation, as annihilation. The understanding of negation as absolute negation leads to the failure to understand that negation emerges as a moment of connection in the contradictory development of a process, that negation also emerges simultaneously as a positive moment in the development of a process and as an affirmation of new tendencies in contradictory unity.
“Dialectical ‘moment’” – wrote Lenin – “requires an indication of ‘unity’; i.e. of the connection of the negative with the positive, requires the finding of this positive in the negative. From affirmation to negation – from negation to a ‘unity’ with the affirmation; without this, dialectic becomes a barren negation, a word-play or a scepsis.” Lenin, vol. ix, p. 287
Mechanistic methodology, denying the internal self-movement of a process, does not see this “unity” of negation with affirmation, but on the contrary, sunders them, opposes them to each other. The profound distinction between the dialectical conception of negation and the mechanistic was expressed by Lenin as follows:
“Neither barren negation, nor purposeless negation, nor sceptical negation, nor vacillation, nor doubt are characteristic and essential in dialectic, which undoubtedly does contain in itself the element of negation and moreover contains it as the most important element – No, this element of negation is a moment of connection, is a moment of development with a retention of the positive; i.e. without any vacillations, without any eclecticism.”
It follows that dialectical negation must be a determined negation, in order to express the connection of the phenomena in the development of a particular process.
“In dialectic to negate does not mean simply to say ‘no,’ or to declare a thing to be non-existent or to destroy it at will.... The mode of negation is determined here, in the first place, by the general, in the second place, by the special nature of the given process. Therefore, I must produce the first negation in such a way that there should be or should become possible a second negation. But how do I attain this? According to the special nature of each particular case. If I ground up a grain of barley, or crushed an insect, then, though I should have accomplished the first act of negation, I should have made the second impossible. For every category of objects there is thus a special mode of negation peculiar to it, and only from this is development to be obtained.”Engels, Anti-Dühring.
The appearance of a plant from a seed that has been thrown into the ground is not the barren negation of the seed, but its further development. The emergence of a capitalist economy out of the small-scale-trading economy is the further development of the latter. But the simple destruction of a seed, the killing of an insect by a bird, do not express in themselves the internal law-governed connection of the stages of a process. On the contrary, the destruction of a seed, as such, by the appearance from it of a plant is at the same time also its preservation in the plant, which at a determined stage of development will produce other seeds. Negation is also affirmation, “destruction” is also preservation. Dialectical negation appearing as a stage in the development of a process, emerges on the one hand as the overcoming of the old, and on the other as the preservation of particular aspects of it as a subordinated moment. Such dialectical denial was called by Hegel “sublation.” But according to Hegel, the idealist, it is not real things but ideas that “sublate” each other. Marx criticizing the idealistic character of this Hegelian conception, in which all actuality was shown as sublated in absolute knowledge, indicated its unreal character. “This sublation is assumed actually to overcome its subject, but in reality, leaves it untouched,” wrote Marx, stressing the necessity of studying actual development. Marx also indicated the positive moments in Hegel’s exposition of this problem of sublation. He showed that this process is really a material movement that recovers whatever disintegration has taken place, so that it emerges not only as an overcoming, but also as a preservation, a subordination to itself of the particular sides of the preceding stage in the development of the process. In a number of his works, Marx showed that in the ownership of the capitalist mode of production, small-scale private ownership was overcome as an independent law-system, but was preserved as a collateral sublated form of the capitalist law-system.
The problem of sublation plays an important role in the analysis of the tendencies of social development. One of the great contributions of Lenin was that he clearly and strongly urged the importance of using the old under the conditions of the new. In opposition to all “leftist” deviations, he stressed the necessity of such action as would avoid flat negation of the old, and would ensure at the same time that the latter should not be merely preserved in the new, merely joined on to it, but having been annihilated as a system with its own set of laws, should emerge merely as a collateral form of the new law system. It is along such lines that the dialectical conception of negation appears in the Leninist tactic of N.E.P. N.E.P. emerged as a form of contradictory development of socialism, in which occurred a special kind of negation of capitalism. This negation was allied with a partial sufferance of capitalism. Socialism and capitalism were in rivalry, but the conditions of the contest guaranteed the victory of the former. The development of N.E.P. denoted the resolution of this unstable situation, the victory of socialism and the abolition of capitalism within the frame of N.E.P. N.E.P., being a determined form of socialist development and at the same time the destroyer of capitalism, was preparing its own future negation by resolving its present contradictions, and thus paved the way for the final victory over the elements of capitalism.
The Trotskyists and the new opposition did not understand the dialectic of N.E.P. They identified it with capitalism. “N.E.P. is a capitalism that holds the proletarian state on a chain,” Krupskaya* used to say. The Trotskyists declared the forms and methods of N.E.P. to be capitalist forms and methods, not seeing that the nature of trade, of money, of keeping accounts within the conditions of socialist construction was essentially altered, that the utilization of the old forms and methods does not denote their simple transfer into the frame of the soviet economy, but their critical adoption and ultimate overcoming. The Trotskyists did not see that in the setting up of the new law-governance the old forms and methods already occupy a subordinate position and are not a simple repetition of capitalist methods. Naturally, the Trotskyists, by not seeing the paths to the dialectical negation of capitalism within N.E.P., proposed to the Party a policy that aimed at the disruption of N.E.P. and consequently of socialist construction itself.
* Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife. Author of Memories of Lenin.
The “Right” also did not understand the dialectical negation in N.E.P., because their policy was to use capitalism with its forms and methods, to allow development of commerce, in such a way as could lead to nothing else than a strengthening of capitalist elements; i.e. they too threatened the disruption of socialist construction. The “Rights” meant by the “negation” of the kulaks a policy which merely encouraged their growth within socialism. The Trotskyists meant by their kind of “negation” a policy which would have caused the kulak groups to reappear. We have just quoted the analysis by Marx of the historic tendencies of the development of capitalism, where this very aspect of the law of negation of negation is stressed.
Engels, in Anti-Dühring, provides an illustration from a grain of barley. The grain is sown and under suitable conditions sprouts. “The seed, as such, vanishes, is negated and in its place there appears a plant – the negation of the seed. But what is the normal cycle of the life of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilized and finally produces barley seeds again; when these are ripe, the stalk withers, for now its turn has come to be negated. The result of this negation is that we have our barley seed again, not one, however, but more than a hundred.”
Mikhailovsky interprets Engels’s illustration in his own way. He says that in the development of a plant it is possible to count up more negations. For example, the stalk negates the seed, the flower negates the stalk, the fruit negates the flower. So where is the triad? Here there are three negations, not two. Further, Mikhailovsky interprets Engels as if the only difference that he sees between the original seed and the fruit is in the number of the seeds. Mikhailovsky’s misinterpretation is twofold; in the first place, he has confused any succession of phenomena with development by negation; and secondly, he has substituted for the problem of qualitative development in the changing of stages a merely quantitative change. The first is the more serious error. Mikhailovsky does not understand that the role of a negation or of a negation of a negation is not filled by any phenomenon that arises during the development of a process, but only by that stage which emerges as the complete “breaking down” of the previous stage.
“A flower,” writes Plekhanov, “is an organ of plant and as such just as little negates the plant as the head of Mr. Mikhailovsky negates Mr. Mikhailovsky. But the ‘fruit,’ i.e. more exactly, the fertilized ovum, is actually a negation of the given organism because of its capacity to be the originating point in the development of a new life. Engels indeed considers the cycle of life of a plant from its beginning as a fertilized seed to its production of a fertilized seed.”
Engels himself was prepared for such objections as those of Mikhailovsky. In Anti-Dühring he wrote:
“We have cited barley seed, but the same process takes place among the majority of insects, for example, among butterflies. They appear out of the egg by way of negating it, they pass through different phases of change till maturity, they copulate and then negate themselves (i.e. they die) as soon as the process of prolonging the species has been accomplished and the females have laid their many eggs.... The fact that among the plants and animals the process is not so simply resolved, that they not once but many times produce seeds, eggs or young ones, before they die – is not our concern, our purpose here was to show that negation of negation actually proceeds in both realms of the organic world.”
And so the matter is not in the quantity of negations but in the fact that the whole cycle of development includes in itself its own negation and negation of negation. Nay, more, Engels by looking at the whole process of development, for example, seed – plant – seed, shows further that here also the matter does not amount to a quantitative aspect of development.
“Cereals,” he writes, “change very slowly so that modern barley is almost exactly the same as the barley of the last century. But let us take some plastic decorative plant, for example, the dahlia or the orchid; if we act artificially on the seed and on the plant that grows from it, then as the result of this negation of negation we shall obtain not only a greater quantity of seeds but also a qualitatively improved seed which is able to produce more beautiful flowers, and every repetition of that process, every new negation of negation will further enhance the quality.”Engels, Anti-Dühring.
And so in the law of negation of negation Marx and Engels stress the internal connection and relationship of the successive stages of objective development, from the emergence of the contradiction in any process to its relative resolution in external forms of development. And in the illustration from seeds the cycle of life of a plant was taken by Engels from its embryonic state of seed, which are the result of another vegetative cycle, to the formation of new fruits, which at the same time appear as the initial stage of a new plant. Negation of negation thus emerges as:
(1) The result of the development of contradictions of a process.
(2) A moment in a contradictory unity of opposites.
(3) The special stage in the development of the process that breaks down in itself the foregoing phase, a stage that denotes the resolution of the basic contradictions, the completion of the cycle of development and transition to a new unity of opposites.
The thesis, antithesis and synthesis in the cycle of development of a seed (seed – plant – seed) express the different stages of development. Besides this, in the process of development antithesis is given in thesis, because the development of a seed takes place just in so far as it is negated as a seed and developed as a plant. This is also true as regards synthesis – it also is included as a moment in the development of a plant, since it takes place only in so far as the plant completes its cycle in fruit-bearing. Furthermore, synthesis as a moment includes itself in the new thesis because, as the completion of one cycle, it becomes the point of departure (thesis) of another cycle, or new process of development.
Materialist dialectic, therefore, regards thesis, antithesis and synthesis as forms and stages of the development and resolution of the contradictions in the processes of actuality:
(1) As the one essential contradiction which appears at the same time as the point of departure of a new contradiction, that in turn negates it.
(2) As the development of this new contradiction.
(3) As the breaking of it down and the consequent relative resolution both of it and of the originating contradiction in the new process which has arisen as the outcome of all the preceding development.
Materialist dialectic besides this stresses the relativity of the stages in the development of processes; every stage be it thesis, antithesis or synthesis, by being a special form of the impulsive contradiction takes on the forms of thesis and antithesis and completes its development in synthesis. Therefore the whole point of the problem of negation of negation lies just in this very problem of the emergence of the new law-system through development of the contradictions of the foregoing processes of actuality.
Now we can show that the difference of the two opposite conceptions of the law of negation of negation – the dialectical and the metaphysical – consists in their different treatment of the problem of the emergence of the new.
Hegel, by the way in which he stated the question of the sublation of thesis and antithesis in synthesis disclosed the dialectical path of development that leads to the appearance of new law-systems. The problem of historical synthesis is the same as the problem of the emergence of the new. We will try to explain it and it will be seen that the essence of the law of negation of negation is very deeply involved in it.
The point is, can metaphysical negation explain the emergence of the new? We have already seen in the chapters devoted to criticism of the mechanists for their failure to understand the law of unity of opposites and the law of transition of quantity into quality and its converse, that mechanists cannot resolve the problem of development. By attributing all qualitative uniqueness to quantitative relations, they attribute all development to mechanical movement, i.e. to motion. The new is regarded by them as a new combination of elements that already existed earlier. The new can always be identified with the old by analysing it into its constituent elements. The new, the synthesis, therefore, is not distinguished by its quality, its law-governance, from the old. By treating continuity as something absolute, by not seeing the leap-like transition in the forming of new qualities, such a methodology naturally cannot explain the emergence the new, the problem of development.
By being unable either to state or to resolve the problem of historical synthesis, mechanistic methodology finds it impossible to disclose the essence of the law of negation of negation; this law is reduced to a “triad.” This is characteristic of all those who do not find themselves in sympathy with dialectic.
It is quite natural that Kautsky, who mechanistically opposes “thesis” to “antithesis” and the two of them to “synthesis,” cannot arrive at a correct statement of the problem of the new. By Kautsky the new is declared to be the totally unexpected, to be “quite new.” A cleavage between “thesis” and “antithesis” leads to a break of the connections in the development of actuality.
In the development of a plant the appearance of its fruits, its seeds, emerges as a negation of it, i.e. as a negation of the negation of the original seed. But seeds are brought forth by the development of the plant; they make up a moment of the plant, but such a moment as denotes the end of the development of the plant. The plant withers, the seed remains. The cycle of development is finished.
Kautsky is perplexed: what is this negation of negation when we have simultaneously both the plant (the negation of the seed) and the new seeds (the negation of the negation)? As a mechanist he would like to separate these two stages by an absolute interval in time, not understanding that in actual development the destruction of the old is also the emergence of the new.
Bukharin, with the schematism characteristic of his approach, forces all development into narrow categories. In his Theory of Historic Materialism he seeks to show how development originates. By attributing conflict of opposites to a conflict of opposite forces, Bukharin develops a theory of equilibrium instead of a theory of the unity of opposites on the basis of their conflict. He even goes on to declare that Hegel himself reduced all dialectic to a theory of equilibrium. Bukharin writes on this issue:
“Hegel thus regarded the character of movement and expressed it in the following form: the primary state of equilibrium he called thesis, the destruction of equilibrium – antithesis – the re-establishment of equilibrium on a new basis – synthesis (i.e. the unifying position in which contradictions are reconciled). This character of the movement of every existing thing comprised in the trinomial formula (‘triad’) he also named dialectic.” Bukharin, Theory of Historic Materialism, p. 77.
Sarabyanov, too, takes the same mechanistic position; he demonstrates the existence of two triads in Hegel’s philosophy. A triad is expressed in the following way:
(2) negation of proposition,
(3) negation of the negation of the proposition.
With this triad, Sarabyanov is fully in accord, after giving it a mechanistic trim. “You know quite well,” he writes, “that from the seed to the ear there is an infinite number of stages. Now by these three stages, which we call the triad, we mean the past, the present and the future.” But there is also a second triad – thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The first two stages are evident to Sarabyanov. But with regard to synthesis, he puts the question: “Is there a third stage – a ‘synthesis,’ that is to say, a combination of the first and second, a bond of thesis and antithesis?” Later, Sarabyanov explains that “synthesis is therefore formed as follows: one set of properties is connected with the thesis, the other set with the antithesis.” By mechanistically interpreting the final synthesis as the combination of old (partly changed) properties, Sarabyanov shows that the second triad does not always explain the processes of development, although for the most part it can help towards their understanding.
And so all development amounts to a triad; a triad amounts to a sequence of equilibrium, the destruction of that equilibrium and its re-establishment; synthesis according to Bukharin is a reconciliation of opposites, according to Sarabyanov a combination of properties. It is clear that the problem of the new is resolved neither by Bukharin nor by Sarabyanov. We know already, to what political conclusion this theory of equilibrium and of reconciliation of opposites led. In the first successes of socialist construction, which evoked the furious opposition of the class enemy, the Right began to raise a clamour about the destruction of equilibrium and the need to re-establish it. “Synthesis” had to proceed on a “new basis.” This “new basis” was in the opinion of the Right a return to the N.E.P. of 1923. In reality such a “synthesis” was reactionary; it was a useful argument for those who wished to stay within the frame-work of the old, who wanted merely to patch, not to renovate.
Both the Rights and the Lefts failed to understand the dialectic of contradictory development in the transition period and of the growth of socialism in it. In the contradiction between socialism and the small-scale trading economy from which capitalism is born anew, there is also included the basic contradiction of the transition period, namely the form of contradiction between socialism and capitalism specific for that period. War communism, N.E.P., the period of socialism – such are the basic stages which are passed through by the development of socialist construction, by the resolution of the contradictions of the transition period. War communism was that form of frontal attack against capitalism which was evoked by the conditions of the civil war and by the intervention of international capitalism against the country of proletarian dictatorship. War communism although it had resolved the contradiction between socialism and capitalism in its initial form and had laid the basis of socialist economy – the expropriation of the expropriators – yet could not resolve the basic contradiction of the transitional economy of the U.S.S.R., could not guarantee the construction of the second storey of socialist economy on that basis. NE.P., which was the negation of war communism and the general economic policy of the transition period, emerged in addition (basing itself on the positive achievements of war communism) as that form of socialist construction which guaranteed the preparation of the resolution of the contradictions between the proletariat and the peasantry and consequently the resolution of the problem of which section was to prevail. In N.E.P. the contradictions of the transitional period are fully developed, because a fierce class struggle still goes on for the final eradication of the class enemy, for the consolidation and completion of the foundations of socialist economy, for the transference of the poorest and middle strata of the peasantry on to the path of socialist economy. As the energizing negative of the contradictions of N.E.P., socialist construction emerges, negating in its very movement the given form of its development, i.e. N.E.P. The entry into the period of socialism is the entry into the period of final resolution of the basic contradictions of N.E.P. Whereas the “negation” of war communism proceeded on the basis of the law-systems of N.E.P., the “negation of the negation” denotes the transition to the new law-system of socialism, on the basis of which the movement of the whole system of social relationships in the U.S.S.R. is proceeding, the capitalist classes are being liquidated and the edifice of socialist society is being raised.
The new emerges through leaps. Negation and negation of negation express themselves as this interruption of continuity, as manifestations of that new law-system which breaks down the old form of contradiction, but in the synthesis the old contradiction is itself broken down together with that contradiction which had served it as a premise and starting-point. Only concrete analysis can show how far opposites are overcome in the synthesis and to what extent they are “preserved.” Concrete analysis shows that the resolution of the problem of who is to survive does not yet denote the abolition of N.E.P. as a whole; it shows that we have entered into a period of socialism and together with it into the last stage of N.E.P., that N.E.P. will be finally overcome in a developed socialist society. But the entry into the period of socialism also denotes that the development of the U.S.S.R. proceeds not on the basis of law-systems that are characteristic of the first stages of .N.E.P., but on the basis of the law-systems of socialism that subjugate to themselves the law-systems of N.E.P.
The Right, taking its stand on positions of mechanistic methodology, could not understand the dialectic of a socialism that was interwoven with the last stage of N.E.P. They saw the presence of N.E.P. and denied that the U.S.S.R. had entered the period of socialism. They did not even notice the “negation of the negation” in relation to war communism, and the historic synthesis involved. Counter-revolutionary Trotskyism, like international capitalism and social reformism, also denies the entry of the U.S.S.R. into the period of socialism.
Neither the Right nor the Left understand the dialectic of social development as a succession of stages proceeding through a number of dialectical negations. And so, essentially, both these and others see nothing but a dilemma – either N.E.P. or socialism, and propose its solution in different ways.
The vulgar theory of evolution, based on mechanistic methodology, and that equally vulgar theory of absolute leaps which is based on the same foundation, cannot, therefore, explain the emergence of the new, nor disclose the essence of the problem of historic synthesis, i.e. the essence of the law of negation of negation.
Not only mechanists but also the Menshevist idealists have failed to interpret the problem of synthesis as the problem of emergence of the new and so have lapsed into an eclectic understanding of synthesis.
The negation of the negation – the synthesis, the new – does not emerge as they suppose by way of a simple uniting, concord, reconciliation, or external combination of opposites. Such a mechanistic interpretation of synthesis is mere eclecticism. When Lenin discusses the debate on trade unions during which conflicting view-points emerged he criticizes the eclecticism of Bukharin, who voiced a proposal to unite both the policy of the Central Committee and the policy of Trotsky. Lenin showed that the essence of the question was not to unite two opposite view-points. Every object or phenomenon has many opposite aspects and alternative ways of being described. However, in a concrete situation it is important to find that “new thing” which emerges as the progressive step in the mutual action of these aspects, it is important to disclose the new as the law of the movement of the whole. The eclectic cannot disclose this new progressive beginning.
The group of Menshevist idealists has on this question of synthesis lapsed into mechanism. It is sufficient to point to Deborin who understood under synthesis a fusion of opposite aspects. In his Introduction to the Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism Deborin depicts the philosophy of Marx as a synthesis of empiricism and rationalism, of French materialism and Hegelian idealistic dialectic. This is sufficient to show that the emergence of the new, which it is the whole achievement of Marx-Leninism to explain, is not disclosed by stating the question in this eclectic fashion. Dialectical materialism is not a mere synthesis of empiricism and rationalism; it overcomes their one-sidedness, their separation of sense experience and rational construction. It does not deny them, for they are equally essential moments in knowledge, nor does it preserve them as a permanent element in a final philosophy.
In the law of the negation of the negation the law of unity and conflict of opposites is made concrete as the law of the resolution of old contradictions and of the emergence of new ones. Engels sees in this the essence of the law of the negation of the negation. He writes:
“A true, natural, historic and dialectical negation is (formally) the initial impulse of every development – the division into opposites, their conflict and resolution, in which (in history partly, in thought fully), on the basis of actual experience, the starting-point is reached anew, but at a higher stage.”Anti-Dühring.
Engels in the passage quoted indicates one more aspect of the law of negation of the negation – the return to the beginning. This problem also is treated in different ways by the two opposite conceptions of development.
In his notes to Hegel’s logic, Lenin enumerates and characterizes the elements of dialectic; he writes on the issue of development that in the higher stage there is “a repetition... of certain features and properties of the lower” and “a return as it were to the old” (a negation of negation).
Here is stressed the internal connection of the different stages of development, the problem of the “sublation” of the lowest stage of development within the higher. We discussed this above when we disclosed the dialectical character of negation. But along with it Lenin now sets the problem of the return “as it were to the old,” to the beginning of the process, the problem of the fact that synthesis and thesis are analogous to each other.
In the Dialectic of Nature, Engels sketches a general picture of the development of our knowledge, enumerating its basic stages. At first the elemental dialectic of the Greek philosophers; then the period of its negation – the long domination of metaphysics; and at last the negation of the negation – the dialectical method as the overcomer of metaphysics, evoked by the growth of the internal contradictions of metaphysics, by its impotence, its inability to cope systematically with the accumulated material of the natural and social sciences. This contradiction requires “a return in some or other form from metaphysical thought to dialectical.”
“And here we are back again,” writes Engels, “at the conceptions of the great founders of Greek philosophy, namely that all nature, from its smallest particular to its greatest bodies, from a grain of sand to the sun, is in eternal emergence and annihilation, in ceaseless flow, in incessant movement and change.”
But is there a difference between the view of the Greek dialecticians on development and modem dialectic? There is an essential difference. “What with the Greeks was an inspired guess, is with us the result of strictly scientific experimental investigation and therefore has a much more clear and definite form.” The dialectic of the Greeks was not developed or based on the development of all the sciences. The return to dialectic proceeds on a new basis, on the basis of the very rich development of experimental knowledge, of natural science and of social science.
What exactly is the relation of synthesis to the previous stages? On the subject of the relation of thesis and anti-thesis as seen in the relation of Greek philosophy in metaphysics, Engels argues that the metaphysical denial of the Greek doctrine of flux was true in relation to details, but the notion of flux is finally seen to be true as regards the metaphysical philosophy as a whole. The synthesis indeed consists in the return to the whole, which is now enriched and differentiated by the development of all science.
But how is a return to the beginning possible? It is possible only in virtue of the fact that the final point is the completion of the processes within the given law-system and becomes the point of departure of a new law-system, or of a new cycle. Thus proceeds the development of a plant (seed – plant – seeds). Thus proceeds the development of the forms of property (communal – private – social). Thus proceeds the development of knowledge of actuality (primitive dialectic – metaphysic – dialectical materialism). Each particular stage in the processes indicated itself disintegrates (because of the development of internee contradictions) into the more partial thesis and antithesis and finds a new completion in a synthesis that raises the whole system to a higher stage. Thus the contradictions of private ownership found their logical partial solution in the slave-owning, feudal, capitalist form of property. Because of the fact that each phenomenon in the course of its development brings forth its own opposite, and this latter is in turn converted into its opposite, there is a regression to a number of the features of the external form of the initial stage, now enriched by all the succeeding development.
“Processes,” wrote Engels, in Anti-Dühring, “which are antagonistic in their nature, contain in themselves a contradiction, a conversion of a known extreme into its opposite and finally as the basis of all – a negation of negation.”
In other words, in any process, in virtue of its division into mutually-exclusive opposites and of the further resolution of this contradiction, there proceeds a double contradiction. All contradictory processes in nature and in society, by appearing as an expression of a negation, negate themselves by the further development of their contradictions. The double contradiction is the general form of movement of all actuality. It denotes the resolution of the contradiction, the completion of the process of development of the given essential unity of opposites, the return (as regards its external form) to the point of departure of the development. As regards its external form negation of negation denotes a breaking down of the negation, and consequently a return to the original position; as regards its content, negation of negation contains in itself all the positive material of the foregoing development.
And so synthesis breaks down within itself the previous stage and returns as it were to the thesis, but to a thesis enriched by the development of the antithesis. In such a conception of returning to the beginning the difference between the dialectical doctrine of development and the metaphysical theory of cycles can be seen. The mechanistic theory of cycles in the eighteenth century affirmed that in nature and in society there is continuously proceeding a return to the starting-point, a simple repetition of the beginning. Thus all societies, when they raise themselves from primitive savagery to modern culture, reach the highest points of their development and pass again into decline. The next cycle begins again from the lowest degree, from savagery. Thus proceeds so-called development in the animal world. Animal species multiply, develop and perish. The next generations repeat the same cycle. The mechanistic theory of cycles does not notice that development is not a simple repetition, that a “cycle” expresses only the external form of development. Cycles do not exclude a movement to a higher level. The cycle of life, of living organisms, did not exclude the development of the world of animals. On the basis of the ruin and decline of many ancient cultures, society has proceeded to its higher stages, to more progressive forms. This of course does not exclude the possibility of a retrogressive movement in particular historic periods, of particular peoples, or of society as a whole. The mechanistic theory of cycles shows a lack of understanding of what the doctrine of synthesis makes so clear, that while we return as it were to the point of departure, we emerge at the same time as the product of enriched development, and at a higher level.
Hegel, speaking of the synthesis of ideas, wrote, that in it “the whole mass of its previous content is raised, and through its dialectical course forwards so far from losing anything, from leaving anything behind, it brings with itself all it has acquired and enriches and expounds its own being.”* What was represented by Hegel as the self-development of idea appears in reality only as the enrichment of our knowledge at each new stage of development of social polity, as the reflection of that new aspect of actuality. The dialectical theory of cycles shows how processes in their development are raised from step to step. In place of the mechanistic theory of a cycle, dialectic bases the theory of development upon the motion of a spiral. Development is accomplished in circles, but the final point of the circle does not coincide with the beginning, but stands above the point of departure of the cyclic process. Synthesis emerges as the point of departure of further development, consequently as thesis in the new process of the cycle.
* Science of Logic, part ii.
Development proceeds by spirals. The return to the point of departure is a return in external form, but is distinct because of its enriched content, its internal structure.
Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, vividly discloses the dialectical character of the Party conflict at the Second Congress of the Party, between the revolutionary and opportunist wings of the Party. Lenin analyses the basic groups at the Congress – they are “Iskra”* supporters of the majority, of the minority and of the centre, and the anti-“Iskra” group. He shows how according to the measure of the intensification and growth of disagreements on principle the composition of the majority and minority at the Congress was changed. The original majority at the Congress united all the “Iskra” supporters and a large part of the centre against the anti-“Iskra” group in the vote on questions not dealing with fundamental principles. On questions of organization all the “Iskra” supporters voted against the centre and the anti-“Iskra” group. Later, on quite a number of questions there began a movement of part of the “Iskra” supporters, both of the majority and minority, to the side of the anti-“Iskra” group and the centre; so the majority became a minority. The voting on the first paragraph of the programme sharply stressed the division into revolutionary and opportunist wings. Against the revolutionary wing voted the anti-“Iskra” group, an important part of the centre, almost all the minority supporters of “Iskra” and the vacillating members of the pro-“Iskra” majority. The majority became the minority, and the minority the majority. At last with the departure of the anti-“Iskra” group from the Congress the vote on the election of the Central Committee gave the victory to the majority group of the “Iskra” supporters against the minority groups and the centre and this denoted the final division of the Congress into its majority and minority.
* Iskra (lit. “The Spark”), the famous newspaper which was to be “a red-hot spark flung into the tinder pile of the Russian Empire.” This paper came under the control of Lenin and his group before the split in the Russian Social Democratic Party. At the Party Congress which concluded its sittings at the Brotherhood Church, Southgate Road, London, in 1903, a fierce struggle took place between Lenin’s “bolshevik” policy as set forth in Iskraand the “menshevik “policy of Martov and Trotsky. Plekhanov and Lenin insisted on a highly disciplined Party entirely distinct from the liberals. This is the famous Clause 1 which Lenin speaks of in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The elections to the Central Committee also gave a majority to Lenin’s group, but the minority refused to submit, won over Plekhanov and seceded. The result was that the mensheviks seized the party machine and became the larger of the two parties. Lenin and the bolsheviks were few and isolated for some time.
Summing up the Congress, Lenin wrote:
“The development actually went by the dialectical path, by the path of contradictions, the minority became the majority, the majority became the minority, each side went over from defence to attack and from attack to defence; the point of departure of the conflict of pure ideas (Clause 1 of the Programme) ‘negated itself’ and yielded place to a dispute that involved the whole Congress, but thereupon the ‘negation of negations’ began and we returned to the point of departure of the conflict of pure idea; but now this ‘thesis’ was enriched by all the resist of the ‘antithesis’ and was transformed into a higher synthesis, in which the isolated, fortuitous error on Clause 1 had grown into a system of opportunist views on the organization problem, so that the connection between this phenomenon and the basic division of our party into revolutionary and opportunist wings became more and more apparent to all. In a word, not only does the seed grow according to Hegel, but the Russian Social Democrats fight each other according to Hegel.” Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.
The law of negation emerges as the further concretization of the law of the unity of opposites. It appears as the general law of development of processes in nature, in society and in our thought. Along with the other basic laws of dialectic it discloses the forms of the development of the contradictory processes of actuality and is a methodological implement of our knowledge that helps us to see the perspectives of historical and scientific changes and consciously to influence their transition from one stage to another, from one phase of the contradiction to its higher forms.