Last edited July 6, 2015
This is a preliminary presentation aimed, primarily, at building a certain level of political unity with the objective of building a Proletarian Alternative in the belly of the beast. This is in no way directed at building our intellectual capacity outside or independent of our social practice. If we did that, the result would be an association of intellectuals with no political purpose and totally disconnected from social reality.
One of the principal objectives of all our organized work is to understand the reality we are in and will struggle to transform. If we cannot appropriate this reality to the best of our ability, how can we transform it? If we do not have a scientific interpretation of objective reality, how can we begin to define the ways of transforming it or build the necessary tools needed to transform it?
Proletarian theory is a science that contains two components: Dialectical Materialism [DM] and Historical Materialism [HM].
Dialectical Materialism is a scientific philosophy, meaning that, as opposed to many other philosophies that are based on superstition or metaphysical beliefs, it strives to give a scientific interpretation, situated in human history, to every real phenomenon. DM allows us to have the capacity to reach a relative understanding of the real world, of different existing phenomena, the development of these complex realities and the interrelationships, if any, between them.
The problematic of proletarian struggle can’t be appropriated independently or autonomously from the history of the proletarian movement, through the periodic stages of its development. Those stages determined the problems, their various manifestations, and the elaboration of concepts and theory needed to apprehend this reality. This development shaped the constant, unavoidable and necessary rectifications and transformations of our theory.
Historical Materialism is the science that uses DM in order to discover, comprehend and build a theoretical model of societal development. HM, as a theory, allows us to analyze a social formation and comprehend its diverse existing internal relations and the relations between different social formations HM enables us to achieve a relative understanding of history, how different social formations develop in different periods, through different conjunctures, and the effects of these conjunctures on these social formations.
HM also allows the proletariat to develop a scientific political line to defeat CAPITAL, its fundamental enemy. The source of this science is the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat; thus it is severely limited during a low level of proletarian struggle. This theory, this philosophy is the revolutionary scientific guide of the proletariat as the gravedigger of capitalism.
1.- Dialectical Materialism [DM]
DM is a revolutionary scientific philosophy. It is not absolute, but rather functions within an absolute relativity that is in a constant mode of rectification and in an uninterrupted process of deepening. It is not based on superstition or dogma. It only affirms things that can be demonstrated. They are many components of DM:
- A theory of what exists in the real word
- A theory of our interpretation of what exists in reality
- A theory of the development of complex reality and the relations between these complex realities [contradiction]
A. A Theory on what exists in the real world
First we need to recognize there is a difference between what actually exists in reality (the objective) and our interpretation of what exists (the subjective). They belong to two different spheres of existence. Our subjective thoughts may correspond closely to objective reality, or they may not come close at all (relative to how we are trying to apprehend or transform that reality), but reality is always objective and singular. Even when our thoughts relatively correspond, objective reality and our subjective thoughts will always be separate and different.
At the same time our interpretation of what really exists—whether relatively illusory, relatively delusional or relatively objective—has its roots in that reality itself. Objective reality doesn’t come from our ideas; rather our ideas spring from objective reality. There is only one reality, with many interpretations. However close (or not) our ideas correspond to objective reality, they will be shaped by our place in history, our class interest and our class struggle.
Accordingly, it is important that we distinguish between two fundamentally different elements:
1) Real Concrete Objects: these are unique objects of material existence that exist in singular reality, whether palpable or not, but with discernible material effects and relations to other real concrete objects.
- An atom of any element is unique and singular at any moment in time and space, in its relation to all other atoms in the universe.
- A loaf of bread, a shoe, a cup, a pair of pants… any material object
- A wave of energy
- A social formation, as a concrete societal phenomenon representative of a particular historical conjuncture
- The level of class-consciousness at a given historical moment, as the effective result of collective and individual subjective consciousness, manifests itself as a real concrete social force in a particular social formation. Though there can be a relative fusion of our subjective thoughts with objective reality (i.e.: Marxism), it is never absolute, due to the complex and constantly changing nature of reality.
- The idea of revolution at a given historical moment can become a concrete objective force empowering revolutionary struggles as it guides these struggles in a scientific process of societal transformation.
2) An idea or representation (of a real concrete object): a subjective construct, whether or not intended to represent, to some relative level, a real concrete object. Ideas can be imaginary, illusory or delusional, or be professed to be relatively objective, but they are always subjective constructs determined by various levels of empiricism, rationality, generality, particularity and correspondence or non-correspondence to objective reality.
- The idea of an atom, as determined by a theoretical model, can be used to represent atoms in general or a particular atom in space and time, but it can never fully describe or represent the infinite singularity of an actual atom as a real concrete object. It can only relatively successfully or unsuccessfully represent that real concrete object, as that idea pertains to our social endeavor. Over the years, as physics has progressed, our theoretical models of the atom, while remaining limited, have enabled more successful and complex endeavors.
- The idea of a loaf of bread, a shoe, a cup, a pair of pants… any material object, is a subjective construct based on a generality (loaves of bread, shoes in general…) applied to a particular instance and refined for that particular instance to represent its singular characteristics as limited by our ability to perceive and/or deduce them.
- The idea of a wave of energy, whether or not that wave of energy is directly discernible to our senses, is a subjective construct that applies a theoretical model to a particular reality and can only relatively successfully or unsuccessfully represent that real concrete object in its complete singularity.
- The concept of a social formation, as a concrete societal phenomenon representative of particular historical conjuncture (with all its intrinsic complexity in terms of the interrelation of its various modes of production, the internal relations involved in each mode of production and the relations between that particular social formation and others), is a subjective construct that attempts to represent a particular social reality, and can be relatively accurate or erroneous, depending on the social practices it intends to guide. Applied at a general level as a theoretical concept, a social formation is a formal abstraction and incorporates the concepts of various modes and forms of production in their interrelation also as formal abstract models. At this level, the capitalist mode of production is a theoretical formal abstract construct, which posits certain class relations within the economic, political and ideological structures and practices of that mode of production. These formal abstract constructs (concepts), much as the concepts of circles, squares, cubes and spheres in geometry, although never existing in their pure theoretical forms in reality, are still essential to our rational understanding of complex and singular realities.
- The idea of class-consciousness, and class-consciousness on an individual or collective level, are primarily subjective phenomena, although they can have concrete, real, objective manifestations.
- The idea of revolution is a theoretical construct, which aims to guide revolutionary transformation of a society. Put into practice, this idea becomes a transformative force essential to proletarian class struggle.
- Ideas can also be illusory (mirages, ghosts, deceptions, misperceptions…), delusory (visions, fantasies, hallucinations, gods and deities…), or fundamentally erroneous, meaning that they may have little or no relevance or correspondence to objective reality. Ideas are part of our ideological social structure, and as such are intrinsically related to the other elements of that structure: our habits, our customs, our reflexes, our instincts, our beliefs, our moods, our religions.., and the social practices which embody and determine them. As such, rational thought, although essential, in and of itself is not the sole or sufficient component of rational action. Our actions are determined by a complex interaction of our class position relative to economic, political and ideological structures, in which rational thought can come to play, under certain conditions, a primary role. That is the fundamental objective of building a proletarian revolutionary political line.
To summarize, it is important that we distinguish between what exists in reality and what we have in our minds. Our ideas come from how we live our reality. Our ideas don’t create reality, but rather reality is the source of our ideas.
A popular myth in petty bourgeois circles, based on post-modernism, is that “everything is relative,” meaning that reality itself is relative and depends on one’s particular point of view. It is important to debunk that viewpoint, which is highly useful in enabling petty bourgeois individualism [and manifested in corresponding political orientations such as identity politics]. To debunk this philosophy with a very simplified example: someone might see a snake and mistake it for a piece of rope; that does not make it a piece of rope. Objective reality is singular, real, and independent of our thought process. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it, it still falls, and its motion generates waves whether or not our ears are present to interpret them as sound.
B. A theory of our interpretation of what exists in the world
Our knowledge is rooted in our social practice. Our social practice is the source of our knowledge. Even if our direct knowledge can sometimes precede some elements in reality, nevertheless it still takes shape from existing reality (for example, some of our knowledge about nuclear fusion preceded the first atom bomb, and our knowledge about the functioning of the systems of the human body far preceded our knowledge of DNA and the human genome; likewise a modern society without class exploitation has not yet existed).
Our praxis (theoretically guided practice) will allow us to verify if our ideas are relatively correct or relatively erroneous, meaning that the level of correspondence of our ideas to reality is always relative. This is the reason our theory should never be viewed as something stamped on steel, irrevocable, or absolute truth. Our theory should also be rooted in the practice of the proletariat, the struggle the proletariat has already waged against the ruling bourgeois class ideology while building its own.
Ideas do not mechanically come and land on us; there are many stages in their development. In our praxis as an organized collective, there are two realities, intimately linked, that we will need to appropriate: the process of capitalist exploitation and the process of proletarian class struggle leading to revolution that prepares, lays the groundwork and accomplishes it.
Basically, there are two fundamental concepts that we need to appropriate: Surplus Value and Proletarian Leadership. By appropriating these concepts, we lay the basis for an irreversible radical rupture with the dominant ideology, permitting us to construct a science of history and of class struggle.
Some points about the development of our ideas:
- When we are dealing with a phenomenon in our social practice or in life in general, we discover apparent properties of its elements that can be perceived through our senses. At this point, our ideas/knowledge are in their primary/embryonic stage, meaning that we are gathering bits and pieces of information about a particular phenomenon, or some of its elements or aspects, without a rational understanding of this phenomenon. This embryonic/primary stage is at the level of empirical knowledge that is born from direct or indirect knowledge stemming from our direct or indirect praxis/social practices.
- The work done from an accumulation of empirical knowledge can allow us to deepen our knowledge of a phenomenon. When that happens, when our knowledge deepens from an apparent external understanding to a fundamental understanding of the nature and the core of a phenomenon, the different aspects within a phenomenon and their interrelations, then we reach the stage of rational knowledge. At the level of rational knowledge, our thought process permits us to come up with logical analysis using concepts. We are able to analyze, draw conclusions and to define a scientific political line and corresponding practice.
- We may utilize the direct experience of others to accumulate knowledge, either by talking to them or by reading or hearing of their experiences. This is indirect knowledge. This indirect knowledge can be empirical or rational. It can be essential in the construction of our own knowledge. This demonstrates the importance of studying history. In appropriating indirect knowledge, it is very important that we not be limited by its framework or view reality with a backyard mentality. Sometimes we must recognize that our own knowledge is still in the early stages of development, and decide to come up with a relative solution as we struggle to rationalize it, rather than jump to a conclusion based on a set of preconceived formulas. Pragmatism and dogmatism are the mortal enemies of the dialectical relation existing between empirical and rational knowledge.
- The source or starting point of rational knowledge is empirical knowledge that comes from our social practice/praxis. Rational knowledge is the result of empirical knowledge and at the same time, permits us to deepen it. When we really appreciate and appropriate the nature and the foundation of a social phenomenon, we will be able to completely understand the importance of empirical knowledge. Empirical knowledge and rational knowledge are two levels of knowledge that are dialectically linked.
- All knowledge, whether empirical or rational, is relative. Our knowledge will never reach a stage of a complete understanding of a phenomenon, in all its complex historical development.
Our social practice must be the source of our knowledge and of our theory, as well as their verification, rectification and deepening. Proletarian revolutionaries must use our collective knowledge and theory to better advance. If our theory doesn’t serve our practice as a guide, then it becomes a series of meaningless ideas that have lost their value.
To summarize, it is important for us to distinguish the different stages in a schematic process to appropriate the development of our knowledge:
- 1] The first stage is to collect specific empirical data in relation to a particular aspect of our practice. We must approach this stage with a spirit of self-criticism and rectification. It is very important that we learn from our practice, understand the tendencies that arise from it, and define a proletarian orientation.
- 2] In the second stage we do self-reflective work on the empirical data acquired, using our theoretical capacity. This reflection will deepen our empirical knowledge and allow us to enter a process of rationalization. Rational knowledge also has different levels, different aspects to it. It can be specific to a particular phenomenon or to one aspect within a phenomenon, or it could be general knowledge that is valid either for a particular phenomenon or in general for the same type of phenomena. In any of these cases, we must do theoretical work at the level of rational knowledge by using general concepts to overcome the limitations of our empirical knowledge and deepen our knowledge.
- 3] The third stage is where our theoretical work to deepen our knowledge opens the way to develop a theory to guide our practice, in order to advance in our struggle against capital. In subsequent new social practice, we will need to confront our own theory, our own knowledge, our own ideas in the light of objective reality, and determine to what degree they are correct, in order to advance in our political practice.
We should not do theory for its own sake. Its purpose is to advance in proletarian struggle. In the relation between theory and practice, theory is the guide and practice is fundamental.
C. Theory on the development of phenomena, the relations between aspects of phenomena, and the relations between different phenomena
Dialectical Materialism allows us to distinguish between different kinds of relations existing between different phenomena and different aspects of these phenomena. We identify dialectical relationships as relationships between two or more elements that are interrelated and/or interdependent. These elements are often intertwined, one acts upon the other, and the existence of each is dependent on the existence of the other(s). For example, the relationships between classes in a social formation are dialectical relationships. Capitalists and workers are mutually dependent and cannot exists as such without the other, while the different ruling class fractions in a power bloc aggregate and leverage their state power to oppress the dominated classes.
We can characterize dialectical relationships as relationships that exhibit either correspondence or non-correspondence between the elements involved. Where there is correspondence, the development of one aspect is linked to the development of the other in a positive manner. Where there is non-correspondence, the development of the aspects are opposed to each other, the development of one adversely affects the other(s). Correspondence and non-correspondence can be affected by the different stages of a phenomenon’s development. Aspects that exhibit correspondence at one stage can become non-correspondent at a later stage, and vice-versa.
We can further characterize the different dialectical relations existing between different aspects of a phenomenon and between different phenomena. We can identify aspects or characteristics that are either specific or general, or either particular or global. We can distinguish certain aspects as being fundamental to a particular phenomenon, meaning that their existence is key to the very existence of that phenomenon and fundamentally determines its development throughout its existence.
We can also identify aspects that play a dominant role at a particular stage of development, while others have a secondary or dominated role. When a particular dominant aspect is principal but not fundamental, we can also qualify it as being super-determinant, meaning that it plays an overriding key role in that particular stage of development, notwithstanding its non-fundamental nature.
For example, during pre-revolutionary stages of capitalism, the capitalist class dominates the working class economically, politically and ideologically, and there is a dialectical correspondence between the different structures (economic, political and ideological) and practices therein that enable this domination. But while the economic structure plays a fundamental and determinant role in the overall development of social formations, political struggles play a super-determinant and principal role in revolutionary processes.
In the initial stages of proletarian revolution and social transformation, the political domination of the working class precedes its domination of the economic and ideological structures. A complex situation can exist, at times characterized by a non-correspondence between the political structures and the economic and ideological structures. In this complex process the political domination of the proletariat plays a super-determinant, principal role in guiding and enabling the process of revolutionary social transformation on all levels. This super-determinant role of the political superstructure is notwithstanding the fact that the elimination of class divisions is itself fundamentally determined by the elimination of all exploitation and economic domination, leading to the elimination of class domination, the elimination of the State, the elimination of the political structure, and the elimination of politics.
In all cases, generally, we should strive to use concrete analysis of concrete situations to assess the specificity and particularity of all the aspects we are considering, to gauge which ones are determinant or fundamental, principal, super-determinant or secondary, and the developmental tendencies of each one of these interrelated aspects. Such an approach is crucial for defining correct and successful political lines in the interest of the proletariat.
We can further identify special dialectical relationships that play a key role in the development of all phenomena. Inside each phenomenon, we will always find contradictions that determine the existence of the phenomenon, its nature, its development, and its relationships with other phenomenon.
What is a contradiction? A contradiction is a special dialectical relation between two opposing elements that exist simultaneously and combine to form a whole. These interdependent elements are always in struggle. While they are intertwined, one excludes the other; at the same time one can’t exist without the other, and at times one can transform into the other. Contradictions exist in every phenomenon, from its onset all the way to the transformation of the complex reality into a new one, when a new set of contradictions emerges. Bourgeois reactionary philosophy tends to view contradictions negatively, and is not in the habit of permitting us to understand the universality of contradiction, but it is not very difficult to demonstrate the existence and the role of contradictions in nature, in life and in society.
- Matter/energy, positive/negative, order/disorder…
- Class struggle, labor/capital, oppression/revolt…
It is the internal contradictions, not external factors, that fundamentally determine the development of a complex reality. External factors condition the development of internal factors. Also, internal contradictions determine the kind of influence the external conditions can have on their development in a way that is specific to the nature of a complex reality.
Inside each complex reality, we find one or a multitude of contradictions that are specific to that phenomenon. Those are specific contradictions. In order to understand a complex reality, in order to transform it, we need to grasp the specific contradiction(s) inside that phenomenon. A correct assessment of the specific contradiction(s) will enable us to define how to apply our general knowledge in the specific case. To define a good strategy of battle, we will need to have an understanding of the specific weaknesses and strengths of our enemy. Also, we will need to do the same for us. Every specific contradiction requires a specific solution.
Inside each phenomenon, we can identify a single key contradiction that determines the nature of this phenomenon and also determines the role and development of the other contradictions within the phenomenon. This single key contradiction is the fundamental contradiction of that phenomenon. This particular contradiction exists from the beginning to the end of that phenomenon, and its transformation determines the very existence of that phenomenon and its eventual transformation into a new phenomenon coinciding with the emergence of a new fundamental contradiction. The dominance of one or the other aspect of that fundamental contradiction determines the specificity of that phenomenon, its overall state, and its overall developmental tendency (is it growing, reproducing itself or disappearing?).
Within a complex phenomenon, we can also identify a contradiction that, while not being necessarily the fundamental contradiction, nonetheless plays a principal role in a particular stage of development of that phenome on. This is the principal contradiction. The principal or dominant aspect of the principal contradiction characterizes the particular developmental stage of a phenomenon. Its transformation is key to the progression or regression of that phenomenon into another stage, characterized by the emergence of another principal contradiction or by the reversal of dominance of the aspects of the principal contradiction.
For example, the political struggle between workers and capitalists characterizes pre-revolutionary and revolutionary stages of the destruction of capitalism and the onset of socialist construction.
This example allows us to look at the identity of the opposite aspects of a contradiction. Being mutually interdependent, these aspects can, under specific circumstances, transform one into the other. Proletarian revolution transforms the working class into the dominant political power, and enables the pursuit of socialist construction leading to the dissolution of classes, class struggles, politics and the State.