1930s >> 1936 >> no-382-june-1936

Book Review: Marxism — The Philosophy of Action

Dialectics, The Logic of Marxism,” by T. A. Jackson (Lawrence & Wishart) 10/6

 

Marx in his early days was a profound student of philosophy, and proclaimed himself a follower of “that mighty thinker” Hegel, whose system of philosophy had as its central principle the dialectal conception of the universe. This conception is that everything, including human thought, reveals itself as in a process of being and becoming. But, to cut a long story short, how the being and becoming was effected in human thought and social relationships was a question upon which Marx took leave of Hegel, turning the latter’s “dialectic right side up.” Where Hegel thought the motion of all things to work through the unfolding of an “Idea,” being and becoming from God-knows-where, Marx saw the movements of human society to arise from the action and interaction of man and external nature. There is, therefore, no “Idea” in the Hegelian sense, there are only ideas, and common, human ones at that. Marx applied the criterion of practice to philosophical speculation —“the question whether objective truth can be attributed to (attained by) human thinking is not a question of theory, but a practical question. In practice, man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the ‘this sidedness’ of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” (Marx.)

 

Reducing this to common phraseology, it means: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Now we of the Socialist Party of Great Britain have always insisted that the teachings of Marx and Engels provide an indispensable foundation for working-class Socialist activity. The theories of Marx have been stated and re-stated by us almost ad nauseam, as well as ad infinitum. We have battled for the recognition of Marxism amidst abuse and misrepresentation, not to mention the boycott of silence concerning our existence maintained by the pseudo-Socialist, Communist “revolutionist,” and everything “elsist” Press. But as Marx so aptly observed: “Time is the room of human development.” The theories for which we have worked are now being studied and discussed with increasing vitality.

 

The causes leading to this need not detain us here to discuss. Suffice it to mention that it is a remarkable tribute to Marx and Engels that their theories are interpreted in the light of, not only the age in which they were written, but more forcibly in connection with the happenings of to-day. The volume before us is a “weighty” addition to the various works on Marxism which have appeared in the last few years. In this case it is by one who claims to be an “out and out Marxist,” who tells us his work is “an attempt to clear the ground for a better and fuller appreciation of that which gives Marxism its living unity, namely, the Dialectal Materialist Method.” But for whose benefit, may we enquire, is this attempt made to unravel the method of Marx?

 

The worker-student who comes fresh into the field of Marxian thought will find in this volume a veritable maze of terminology to drive him into bewilderment. In about 650 pages there are literally hundreds of quotations from the flower of the world’s intellects. Besides this there are innumerable phrases appearing in inverted commas and brackets, whilst the exclamation marks are as pronounced as tombstones in a graveyard. From this aspect alone any would-be student might easily be persuaded to adopt the advice which Mr. Jackson cites from Heine: “If you who read become tired of the stupid stuff herein, just think what a dreary time I must have had in writing it. I would recommend you, on the whole, once in a while to skip half a dozen leaves, for in that way you will arrive much sooner at the end.”

 

Of course all this is what Mr, Jackson would call “swank.” He wants people to read his book and for that reason alone should have concentrated upon making it “readable.” Obviously, if Marxism is to become a weapon in the struggle for working-class emancipation, it should be stated in a way that is within the grasp of those who have need of it. But one easily gathers from this book that Mr. Jackson has been little animated by the need of the enlightenment of “untutored workers.” Rather does he seem to have contrived his effort in the spirit of the ever so clever boy who is ever so eager “to tell the class all about it.”

 

His habitual use of long-winded, involved and even flashy statements, together with his readiness to knock lumps (spots seem not to be big enough) off all and sundry, will hamper any student who may mistake this book for an easy guide to Marxism.

 

Much of what Mr. Jackson has written here is comprehensible only to those who have had the opportunity of years and years of study, and into the bargain have been free from necessity of earning their daily bread under capitalist supervision in the workshop.

 

We cannot hesitate to offer the following example from among many which could be given of what we have said above. Mr. Jackson is explaining Hegel’s phrase “Negation of negation,” and this is what we get : “The Hegelian method was ‘pelmanised’ for its followers in the ‘sacramental formula’ (as Marx called it): ‘Negation of negation.’ Both Marx and Engels used the phrase—it was an instance of their ‘coquetting with Hegelian terminology’—with telling effect. Since the phrase is a scandal and abomination to all bourgeoisdom to this day, and is made a chief count in the indictment against Marx by several of his recent critics, we may profitably give it a little attention.

 

  “Terrifying though this phrase may sound, mystifying to the last degree as it becomes in the hands of an idealist, this formula is none the less capable of a simple and, what is more, an illuminating explanation. Light begins to break through the mystery as soon as it is seen (a) that it summarises the conclusion of a logical operation; (b) that it is preceded by a process whose formula is in turn that of Spinoza, ‘All determination is Negation.’
“What does this phrase mean? What it says: that all distinguishing of things in thought is a de-term-ination, a setting of limits to that which, the thing is. Or, otherwise stated, all distinguishing of things is an act of mentally separating a thing from that which it is not. Thus all ‘determination,’ which is particularisation, consists in ‘negating’ or breaking up an undifferentiated generalisation. Furthermore, the process of discriminating one particular thing from a general mass is simultaneously a process of distinguishing the counter-particularity of that from which it is distinguished. Hence (and it is here that Hegel’s real contribution begins, all the foregoing being common to him and his predecessors)—hence a full comprehension of the thing involves comprehending it simultaneously in two opposite ways, namely, as distinct from and, at the same time, as one with that from which it is distinguished. Hence all logic consists in the performance with due circumspection of this operation of negating unity by resolving it into multiplicity (analysis) and re-creating it by distinguishing the unity persisting in the multiplicity (synthesis).”

One may gather from this why it was suggested that the study of philosophy is like looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there. The writings of Marx and Engels are in every way as clear as crystal compared with the above abracadabra.

 

However, having had our say so far, let us take Mr. Jackson as he is, as Cromwell preferred it, “Warts and all.” In tracing the rise and development of Marxism he well takes as his starting point an examination of Marx’s theses on the philosophy of Feuerbach, which we have reproduced from time to time in these columns. All students of Marx should avail themselves of a study of these theses, since they indicate and illuminate the passage through which Marx passed from Hegelianism on to the philosophy of Feuerbach and thence to Marx. Mr. Jackson illuminates the fundamental distinctions between the older materialism of Hobbes and Locke, etc., the idealisms of Berkeley and Kant, which culminated in Hegel, and the materialism of the Marxian school of thought. If we allow for the drawbacks referred to previously, Mr. Jackson does this part of his work exceedingly well, and particularly so where he deals with the “ Objective Roots of Religion.” Marx laid it down that “the criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism,” but as Mr. Jackson ably points out, although the “beginning,” it was by no means the end. In turn the criticism of religion involves a criticism of the legal-political-moral superstructure of human society as this arises from society’s economic foundations. Many passages from the writings of Marx and Engels are given in support of this thesis. But even here, Mr. Jackson cannot restrain his kink for “scalping,” and thus mars an otherwise excellent chapter by a piece of deliberate distortion. He quotes from Casey’s booklet, “Method in Thinking,” the following:

  “If we separate from men and things all thoughts of goodness, power, intelligence, perfection, life and such like, and add them together to form one thought of complete superiority in all matters, this thought is God. When we realise that thought is real and just as objective as anything else we have here!! the explanation!!! of why God is a real and very powerful influence!!! . . . If understanding were more general we should not have the silly quarrel between theists who take God on faith and the atheists who deny God also on faith!!! and agnostics who say they do not know one way or the other. . . .
“The idea of God is built up just like any other idea, and therefore we can understand God! ! ! and consequently we are able to explain Him. . . . ”

The italics and exclamation marks are all Mr. Jackson’s, who describes Casey’s statement as an attitude of “facing-both-ways-at-once.” But Casey’s meaning is obvious, whatever one may think of his method of presentation. He does not mean what Mr. Jackson would have us believe, as the statement which follows on from where Mr. Jackson left him “ high and dry,” shows.

 

Says Casey:

  “If after that any man wants to worship such a God it will be his own fault. Merely to deny God gets us no further, but to explain him is the best way, so far as serious argument is concerned, of clearing up all the nonsense associated with Him. We say nonsense, but it is not nonsense to those who trade on the faith in God, and in the name of God force their authority on their fellow-men, sometimes in sincere belief and sometimes with the utmost hypocrisy.”

We cannot think that Jackson is unaware of the fact that Casey is dealing with “God” as a concept, and not as an objective reality, independently existing outside the human mind. We suggest Mr. Jackson should hesitate next time he thinks of the “facing-both-ways” charge. When Mr. Jackson was speaking recently at a Church Hall at Hornsey on the subject of ” Communism and Christianity,” he stated that “it was surely criminal to emphasise the disagreements of Communists and Christians when people all over the world clamoured for goodwill.” “The common enemy is Fascism.” (Hornsey Journal, February 21st, 1936.) Is this not facing-both-ways, or is it a variation of Low’s two-headed ass?

 

However, when dealing with “The Dialectic of Revolution,” Mr. Jackson exposes himself as being no more than an idolator of the Russian Bolshevik regime. He likewise exposes the fact that the mere possession of the dialectal concept is no guarantee that the correct standpoint is taken by the dialectarian. Whatever the Bolsheviks have done, or are doing, or are likely to do in the future, Mr. Jackson perceives in their activity the working out of the Dialectal Materialism of Marx. But he flattens himself out in the task of substantiation. He says, “That which was victorious in Russia in November, 1917, was neither a local nor a national force—but the revolutionary force of the world proletariat, which broke through the bourgeois defences just exactly at that point, because in that section the defences of the world-bourgeoisie were weakest.” (Page 397.)

 

The revolutionary force of the world proletariat! As Jackson must realise, unless he, like most “Communists,” sees the revolution everywhere, here and now in 1936 the revolutionary force of the world’s working-class is practically negligible. How much more so was it in 1917? Those who bitterly remember the wartime days will recall the almost complete absence of any serious sign of activity to stop the war, let alone commence the social revolution. In Russia alone was there any serious indication to call a halt to the slaughter, and mixed up in that movement to end the war were the Bolsheviks. The “Revolution” came, the Bolsheviks came, but no Socialism. Not even the intense longing and hoping of Lenin for the revolt of the world’s proletariat had any effect. The forces making for “Socialism” were actually subdued in Russia, firstly by the economic backwardness of that country and next by the capture of power by the very people who had been screaming “Socialism.” The Bolshevik Government from its inception, and in order to maintain its dictatorship throughout, had to toe the line to capitalism. Stalin in one of his recent utterances flatly repudiated the notion of the Bolshevik interest in world revolution after 19 years of his party’s rule.

 

The essential moves for Socialist revolution, which is totally different from a mere uprising to end a war, or dethrone a government, or what not, will take place when the workers understand and desire Socialism. And this Mr. Jackson evidently realises. He contends against the notion that it was Marx’s theory that the idea of Socialism would arise “automatically in the heads of each and every individual proletarian,” and says further that “for the idea to arise in the first place, and to become general in the second place, an objective social reality must exist from which the idea has arisen. There must exist, and be felt to exist, a social problem for which a solution must be found—and it is under the promptings of the urgency of the problem as well as their cogency and applicability to the needs viewed in the light of practical everyday reality, that ideas spread and develop into ‘forms of public opinion.’ ” Exactly, Mr. Jackson; but no such form of public opinion existed to any serious degree in the vast expanse of Russia in 1917 with Socialism as its objective. There are many other points made by Mr. Jackson about Russia, which we have refuted over and over again.

 

In concluding this review we repeat that, with those who are immersed in dialectics, and mistake the Marxian Dialectic for a sort of logic-chopping apparatus for the “use of smart men only,” there lies a source of danger to Socialist activity. The concepts of the unity of theory and practice and the unity of opposites might pass muster anywhere and in anything, but to square with the realisation of Socialism it will not do to take one step forward in Socialist theory and two steps backward, not to mention a whole flight, into capitalist practice as Lenin and the Bolsheviks have done. There are numerous other points we should like to have dealt with arising from this provocative, entertaining, polemical, philosophical, historical and generally sociological essay, but we must drop our pen for the present. To all students of Marx we suggest that they sample this work, but only after they have first studied Marx and Engels.

 

Robert Reynolds

 

P.S.—As I concluded this article, the news was broadcast that Russia desires a naval pact with Great Britain. The dialectic scores again.