Summer Schools at the College of Marxist Education in Derbyshire
Report Submitted to the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party by G. Healy 30 May 1982
News Line 31 May 1982
[The College of Marxist Education was the central training school of the Workers Revolutionary Party. Full time residential courses were held here as well as the on-going theoretical classes and discussion held at branch and national level. Healy led the unremitting struggle to train cadres in the Marxist science of dialectical materialism, the science of world social revolution. – Ed.]
We are pressing ahead with our preparations for our 1982 Summer Schools. These are by far the politically most important events in the seven year history of our College of Marxist Education.
The political content of the lectures arises from the practical experiences of the Party over the last 12 months, where its members have been active within the working class, the National Liberation movements, trade unions, youth and student campaigns.
The Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party has been meeting regularly each week, keeping closely in tough with the work of the Party in all departments. The youth cadre training course which began on December 1st. 1981, was completed early in April and those involved are continuing their training for more specialised political responsibilities in a number of important districts.
Simultaneously with those who attend the summer schools a fresh group of youth cadres will be undergoing, alongside them, a further three month course of training. The first eight weeks of the school begin on June 6, with a two week course on ‘Imperialism’, whose main tutor will be Mike Banda, General Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party
A special feature of the second part of the school, which begins on 1st. August, will be an extensive study and discussion of the history of revolutionary Marxism, culminating in an examination of the material contained in the Trotsky archives, which were opened to the public in January 1981.
Specially prepared lectures on the policies of the Tory government, its attacks on the working class, the trade unions and the youth, will be an important feature during August and September. During these lectures, the policies and practice of the WRP will be constantly under discussion, so that the revolutionary method of the relation between materialist dialectics and the Party’s practices will be more deeply understood.
On the Problem of Idealism
For some considerable time the Political Committee has been concretely examining this problem, not only from its historical and theoretical origins in Britain, but in the way in which it manifests itself in the practical work of the Part itself.
Great care has been taken to avoid presenting the differences between materialist dialectics and the many forms of objective and subjective idealism as if they were questions of pure theory only. Without starting from a thoughtful and critical examination of the parties practice in the local branches and the various departmental and Party committees, it would be sterile to consider the differences between two irreconcilably opposed methods as if they were a matter of theory expressed in words. Indeed, this would be nothing more than an example of the source of the problem itself.
At the same time such examinations of Party practice do not at all imply that the differences which occur at this level would be the starting point for the development of theory. If this were so, it would lead to subjective speculation and to the serious error of ‘praxis’ where the party’s subject, theory, would be placed on the same level as its objective practice, and as a result would tend to be liquidated into practice – praxis.
Although theory and practice interact with one another as opposites, they are not the same. Practice is primary in relation to theory but the two cannot be separated.
The activity of the Workers Revolutionary Party is guided by its conference decisions and perspectives. [Theoretical discussion documents submitted to conferences – Ed], carefully prepared in a way that manifests the elements of dialectics. This means that every member has the responsibility of deriving their own political conclusions from the cognitive process and submitting them to the branches in the form of alternative proposals, amendments or addendums to the draft resolution on perspectives prepared by the outgoing Central Committee. This is accomplished in the pre-conference work of the Party.
These, In turn, incorporate the historically determined knowledge of Marxism, together with the collective analysis of the International Committee of the Fourth International to which our party is affiliated. What is discussed and analysed is not the Party’s practice by itself, but the way in which our theory guides this practice and reveals both its strength and weaknesses in relation to the conflict between idealism and the dialectical [materialist – Ed.] method.
The former invariably takes for granted the importance of this theoretical approach as if it were a matter of words. Consequently it is not difficult to trace how such a superficial approach simply amounts to an idealist separation between theory and practice. The latter method starts from the basis that since the source of all Party problems is in the external world of the class struggle in society, the Party’s practice, which is objective, enables us to trace its source in the external world, thereby revealing the class origin of the idealist errors.
More significantly, we can see that it is not simply a question of mistakes of individual comrades, but the way in which the Party as a whole is under ideological pressure from the class enemy with his revisionist and reformist allies
How the Idealists go Wrong.
Hegel was the classical example of an objective idealist. In order to understand the defects within the various branches of idealism, we must therefore trace the historically-conditioned limits of Hegelianism. The source of all knowledge for Hegel was his abstract, absolute idea, which in turn rendered the objective world in movement and change into an abstraction.
For him the abstract individual replaced the living individual. Abstract power replaced living power which meant that it became more and more estranged from him. He became a prisoner, as it were, within his absolute idea and in turn subservient to uncontrollable outside forces. Hegel’s objective idealism transformed him from a living into an abstract being whose abstract consciousness was derived from his alienated absolute idea existing outside him.
He elected to become a ‘thinker’ about things in general which meant that practice for him was abstract practice, in turn the product of mental practice existing independently from physical practice. To Hegel, living man was posited by thought and appeared as a result of thought. The moment of objective truth according to Hegel was abstract truth, whilst living objective truth was transformed into a lie.
Hegel in effect saw thought as if it was the product of human beings, in themselves separated from the external world. It was, he believed, a universal creative force which was defined outside time and space as a product of the absolute idea.
Therefore it was impossible for him to analyse its origin. Words, speech and language were therefore in Hegel’s objective idealist schema created by thought – the thought of the individual, having arisen from the mind, was converted back to the mind – as sounds in language. The vibrations of the word (difference in emphasis etc.) appeared to be the only way in which one could tell the difference between sounds and words.
So this process, historically speaking, became the origin of Hegel’s ‘thing-in-itself’, or thought expressed through language interpreting thought, through what appeared to be a deeper penetration into the use of words. Speech, in this context, became a means for the objectification of thought, created out of itself, thus becoming the ‘object for itself’ in the image of another thought.
The comparison between the two images was determined as something ‘inner’ which was expressed in turn by means of language. When contradictions between the images arose they were resolved by further thought to the satisfaction of the ‘individual’
Such a process seemed to provide an impulse for the development of language, but what in fact happened is that that which began with a word, ended with a word without recourse to the reality of the external world. Thought expressed in words according to Hegel was the starting point for action. He then proceeded to generate his activity in his own head, finishing up with more words.
The Idealist Problem Today
The contradiction within the closed Hegelian objective idealist system was as follows: Hegel, in starting from his absolute idea, imposed his own image of what he proposed to do upon his abstract external world. In doing this he was able to comprehend a moment of truth in the act of abstraction itself. This enabled him to develop concepts and categories which Marx, in his 1844 critique, (contained in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) approved, for the purpose of analysis, regardless of their implications with reference to time and space.
The subjective idealist today who separates language and thought from the external world, in contrast to Hegel’s objective idealism, which imposed an image upon the objective world, can be a very dangerous and confused person indeed. Hegel restored the moment of truth as an abstraction into his other, lifeless abstractions, thus transforming the truth into a lie, in the sense that both were half-images of truth and lies, which cancelled each other out, in negation, thus leaving Hegel’s ‘absolute idea’ intact.
The subjective idealist tends to ignore reality altogether by separating his thought from his practice, except in the limited sense of ‘here’ and ‘now’ types of judgements, which are rationalised to suit his individual needs regardless of their implications for his objective practice.
The only time he sees the necessity to refer to a moment of objective truth is when he seeks quotations from the history of revolutionary Marxism, in order to tear them out of context to reinforce his self-created thoughts in a way which suggests that the situation today is the same as, say, 50 years ago.
In other words, a moment of objective truth historically can become a lifeless abstraction in the hands of the subjective idealists. What follows is not only a wearisome polemic to unravel this sack-full of confusion and half-truths, but sometimes the most dangerous adventures accompanied by long periods of passivity and paralysis in between them. This is the main lesson from the idealist practice of countless revisionist groups everywhere.
The Origins of Idealism
Feuerbach, in his materialist criticism of Hegel, established that human beings can only think in unity with nature. But he left the matter there and resorted to contemplative thinking, divorced from the interaction between man and Nature, in which they reciprocally conditioned and changed one another.
Man, however, does not think in immediate unity with nature. He only thinks when he is collectively in unity with society in the production of what he needs in order to live. If the human beings of today were in the world of pre-historic man, they would not survive because in that period his capacity for thinking would be as if his brain was separated from his body.
The ideas of human beings exist in the creation of the objects necessary for their needs, that is, in the form of products derived initially from his mental production. Ideas take the form of subjective images of objective reality. They are reflections of the external world in the form of man’s activity and his consciousness.
It is not enough to accept man as part of nature unless his history is seen as a product of his labour, in which he transformed the external world and vice versa. We must not stop, as Feuerbach did, at contemplating the world. Rather we must see human beings as the product and form which has emerged from the labour of past generations in their interaction with nature in order to live.
As Marx explains in his second thesis of Feuerbach: ‘The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.’ In other words, objective truth is not a theoretical, but a practical question. Only through physical practice can the features of an Object given in contemplation initiated by nature be resolved. In his Dialectics of Nature Engels explains the historical process which gave rise to the origin of idealism:
‘ By the combined functioning of hands, speech organs and brain, not only in each individual but also in society, men became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and were able to set themselves, and achieve, higher and higher aims.
The work of each generation itself became different, more perfect and more diversified. Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle raising: then came spinning, weaving, metal working, pottery and navigation. Along with trade and industry, art and science finally appeared.
Tribes developed into nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them that fantastic reflection of human beings in the human mind – religion.
In the face of all these images, which appeared in the first place to be products of the mind and seemed to dominate human societies, the more modest productions of the working hand retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that planned the labour was able at a very early stage in the development of society (for example, already in the primitive family), to have the labour that had been planned carried out by other hands than their own.
All merit for the swift advance of civilisation was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Men became accustomed to explain their activities as arising out of thoughts instead of their needs, (which in any case are reflected and perceived in the mind); and so in the course of time there emerged that idealistic world outlook which especially since the fall of the world of antiquity, has dominated men’s minds.
It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under this ideological influence they do not recognise the part that has been played therein by labour.’ (Dialectics of Nature, 1974 edition, pp. 177-178)
Images as Forms of Real Activity
Images, as we have explained, are not the work of thought, but the outcome of the social labour of human beings. The reforms of real activity given to human beings as a ‘whole’ through their objective practices.
Man is part of nature and he confronts her as one of her own. The forms of human activity and the thought forms which reflect them emerge in the course of history independently of the consciousness of individuals, to whom they are counter-posed by the fact that they are already in existence. In is not, we repeat, Nature as such, but the alteration of Nature by men which is the source of all thought. Engels writes:
‘ In every epoch and therefore in ours, theoretical thought is a historical product, which at different times assumes very different content. The science of thought is, therefore, like every science, a historical development of human thought.’ (Page 43, Dialectic of Nature, 1976 edition)
In the process of cognition, the object of cognition is the historically outmoded capitalist system based upon private ownership of the means of production for the purpose of making profit. The driving force of this period, which we have characterised as the death agony of capitalism, is the contradiction between the stranglehold of private ownership over the means of production, and the productive forces, the larger and larger groups of working people who perform their social labour in great factories and industries.
This has led to the crisis of inflation and over-production, mounting unemployment and the danger of a third nuclear war. This crisis cannot be ended except through the world socialist revolution which brings to an end all forms of private ownership for profit, thus replacing it with social ownership of the means of production, socialism.
The activity of the subject of cognition is the individual member of the Workers Revolutionary Party with the historically determined theoretical knowledge of revolutionary Marxism, incorporating the achievements of the International Committee of the fourth International and the perspectives of the Party Congresses to guide them. As two aspects of a functioning member, they are self-related to each other. The images which set in motion our mental processes in the form of the political analysis each day are derived from the synthesis of their interpenetration into one another through negation of the negation.
The source of the motion which takes the form of reflection is the external world and the images perceived are images of real activity going on independently of the consciousness of human beings and manifesting itself in the class struggle in society. The process of Cognition enables us to subjectively grasp these empirically given objective moments as the activity of the subject of Cognition, thus providing the driving force necessary to resolve the contradictions which they implicitly contain as contrasted to the knowledge we already have. These mutually exclusive opposites are determined by the difference in their time of origin. They constitute the absolute within the relative essence of out knowledge under continuous change as the material substance of their properties increases.
The dialectical and historical knowledge of the WRP manifests itself under conditions where. As Lenin pointed out, ‘the emphasis is on the dialectical.’ P. 329, Volume 14, collected Works.)
The daily objective activity of the WRP, guided by its overall theoretical knowledge, is implicitly contained within the individual party member. The democratic centralist method ensures that the WRP, as object, (Universal), is reflected through the subject, (individual Party member), whilst the individual, as a Party member, enters into particular areas of the external world as the object of Cognition.
Thus, the source of reflection in the external world apprehends through sensation real objective images in which the reality of the world crisis is implicit. These images, [which] as the negative nature of semblance are indeterminate, become determinate when negated into the positive semblance of the objective knowledge of the WRP.
The identity and difference between them must be featured in our political reports.
Idealists invariably separate these moments and omit to negate one into the other. They then proceed to impose their own self-constructed images into what they feel negated essence should contain and proceed to negate them into all their other self-created images.