Notes on Dialectics – Introduction

Notes on Dialectics is a book on the Marxist (Hegelian) dialectic by CLR James. I am reading the first part which covers The Preface to the First Edition of The Science of Logic and putting my thoughts here. I will be writing about it in sections and hopefully be able to make some sort of synthesis at the end. This is the first reading over the Intro.

Intro

We start with a piece from Lenin’s article On the Question of Dialectics, where he breaks down some basic ideas of dialectics.

  • Unity of opposites, and their “self-movement”

    Dialectic

    Dialectic (Photo credit: tpholland)

  • “Development is the “struggle” of opposites.”
  • Two conceptions of development
    • i. as decrease/increase, repetition
    • ii. development as a unity of opposites

CLR James quotes on the dialectic and using it to look at the labor movement:

  • “..I recognized early on that the Logic constituted an algebra, made to be used in any analysis of constitution and development in nature or in society.” p8
  • “So that when we [JFT] worked on the Logic we were able to understand its movement by testing this movement against the history of the labour movement and, conversely, the movement of the Logic enabled us to understand and develop for contemporary and future needs the history of the labour movement.” p8

James breaking down Hegelian terms:

  • Substance is objective reality, p8
  • Subject is Mind, consciousness, thought, p8
  • “The next stage in the development (evolution) consists in the gathering strength of one of the opposites so that it overcomes the other, embraces it, and itself becomes the basis of a new stage in the Substance, in which the Subject, equally developing, is able to distinguish the new unity of further opposites.” p9
  • unities of Imagination? p10 *(I will have to develop this as I continue)
  • Actuality – the concrete; “the new developing reality faces an opposition with which it must engage in mortal struggle.” p10
  • Truth – “Truth can only be where it makes itself its own result. Truth, in our analysis, the total emancipation of labour, can only be achieved when it contains and overcomes its complete penetration by its inherent antagonism, the capital relation.” p10

What does James say about the labor movement?

It begins in 1789 because labor finds conscious expression, it is self-aware. In Capital, we know that labor movement is the history of labor and proaction itself, but here he is discussing the movement of labor in its conscious expression.

In looking at the Internationals, we look at the movement of consciousness (Subject) and reality (Substance). For the First International, we see widespread rebellions in Europe at the time, theory rooted in activity and the consciousness of the class on the rise. The Second International, “moves away from its marxist origins”, Eduard Bernstein saying, “The movement is everything”. The social democrats begin moving away from international struggle and begin supporting their states. The Third International, shifts back toward proletariat revolution. James says Lenin starts the Third with a opposition to the Second. Later, James says, “Stalinism is not an accident” referring to truth, explained by Hegel:

“In the course of its process the idea creates the illusion, by setting an antithesis to confront it; and its action consists in getting rid of the illusion which it has created. Only out of this error does the truth arise. In this fact lies the reconciliation with error and with finitude. Error or other-being, when superseded, is still a necessary dynamic element of truth: for truth can only be where it makes itself its own result.”

A mi padre, el Revolucionario, el Leninista, mis raíces.

Mi padre.

I have been blessed to have a communist father. He helped mold and shape me into who I am today – politically, spiritually, emotionally. I can still hear him yelling at the tv when the news was on, cursing and swearing every “motha fucker”, every “piece of shit”, every “goddamn lie”. He talked to me about history – not the kind you learn in school – he taught me about racism, to hate the police, to hate scabs.He taught me about good music – oldies, the blues, rock n’ roll – he taught me to be strong, to be sensitive, to never bend your principles. He also taught me to be spontaneous, to love and to fight with passion. And even if he gave me a lot of the wrong tools to do so, he taught me many many good things.

I feel like I am taking what he taught me and going further with it in so many ways, expanding it, relearning and recreating. Now that I am a communist I ask him why he didn’t talk to me more about communism, about his own struggles and politics. He tells me he didn’t want to push us in any which way. He wanted us to make our own path. I can appreciate the sentiment, but I wish I would have a deeper understanding of the commies that came before us, of the struggles they had, the mistakes they made to grow from them, the lessons they learned to not have to repeat them. This can be said for a lot of the older generations of militants. After being beaten down, killed, incarcerated, “defeated”, we lost so much of that history. It has been a long time since, as my tio told me, they just knew that revolution was right around the corner, they felt it. I know we aren’t seeing the same kind of activity they saw, but we are seeing it spring up and they give me hope that even if they didn’t get to see it we will, in our lifetime. At least the beginnings of it.

.el Leninismo.

It has always been hard to disagree with my dad, to debate him. He is feisty, he is tough, he is hardheaded. So now that I am developing my own set of politics and am beginning to be able to debate him things got heated. When I tell him what I am for – I am for an anti-racist, anti-capitalist, woman empowered, queer empowered society – he, like my tia, says if you end capitalism you have all other forms of oppression cannot exist so why not just focus on that? My response, though still being developed, is that capitalism is not a thing, it is the totality of the social relations that exist, so then how can we imagine an end to capitalism without the end of all forms of oppression? As the Combahee River Collective says in their statement “We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation.”

My next question would be how can we imagine a people ready to not only fight and win, but to have the tools to rebuild a society that is truly communist without the lessons that are learned in struggle, and the bonds we as human beings could have if we weren’t so disconnected, alienated, from each other based on these divisions: race, job, gender, sexual orientation or expression? Well, an oversimplified response he gives is this: workers would not be ready to do this after revolution. Revolution would be overthrowing a government and its forces, and the distribution of goods is now in the hands of the revolutionary party, not the changing of social relations, not an overthrowal by an empowered and capable peoples, but a backward people who would need to learn to be self-governing and would learn that over time. In the meantime they are workers as they were before.

Who then would lead this revolution and then teach the people to be self-governing? The vanguard. And while I am still working out my own approach and more in depth thoughts on my understanding of the vanguard versus Lenin’s, as I see it now the vanguard does exist, it always does and always will. To me the vanguard are those who are at the forefront of activity, of theory, experience, methodology, etc. This is what we are trying to build, those who dedicate themselves to transcribing the lessons and theory that is being learned by the experiences of the working class, studies and elaborates it, and returns it to the hands of the working class to take the lead in their own activity. There can be no revolution without the masses, and as Lenin says “there can be no revolutionary movement without revolutionary theory.” But without the proletariat there (one) can be no truly revolutionary theory, and (two) can be no true revolution.

I can remember having some Stalinists tendencies early on in my political development, surely I picked some of these from my father. I didn’t fully understand them or identify them as Stalinist (or even knew what it meant). I can remember talking amongst fellow activitstas about revolution. Saying that in times of revolution people die (yes I still see this as true, people die regardless but that’s a different story) but my understanding of that was if there were “counter-revolutionaries” they should be executed by the state. Now when, during a debate between me and my father, the Hungarian revolution was mentioned my father said it was a backward revolution in defense of the mass murder that took place by the red army. This reminded me of my thinking that anyone against the revolutionaries, the vanguard, the state, would be executed. I thought of it as for the better of society, but when this came up in our conversation I see how when the Hungarians – who, were creating their own workers councils, controlling production and distribution, became a threat to the Russian leaders they went in and smashed this revolution taking place. This is not the dictatorship of the proletariat, not communism, but totalitarianism.

.mis raíces.

My dad taught me to fight, and though he didn’t give me all the tools I needed he gave me the basics to build off of. I know that although we have differences in politics that he is so proud of the work I am doing and what I am trying to build.

When I was 17 this documentary called Valley of Tears that documents some of the work my dad was involved in played at the LA film festival. I took my best friend with me and was so excited for him to see these things my dad had done. I was so proud. He dedicated much of his life to revolutionary struggle and for that my dad is a hero. Not the kind you’ll ever read about in a history book, but the kind that change the world in ways that won’t change back.

In the filk, for example, he was involved in a strike of onion pickers in Raymondville, Texas, in the Valley. One woman who lived there and participated in the onion strike said things would never be the same again because it became so clear the division that existed between white and brown. All they wanted was to earn a living wage and that was enough to bring out the ugliness, the truth, the way the white folks truly felt about the migrant farmworkers. Once you can see this and feel it it never goes back. These are the important moments my dad was a part of.

Though me and my dad may have different politics, we believe in a lot of the same things. We both believe in struggle, in the certainty of change, in love, in the power of the masses and the beauty in humanity. He gave me a good set of principles and sent me out in the world with it. And now he believes I am going to do my part to change it.