Gerry Healy


Book Review:



News Line 17 August 1981


G. Healy

   After some slight delay, it is good to see that this interesting and timely book is at last on sale in England.

   Two of its main authors, Professor Herbert Horz and Henz-Dieter Poltz, (the book has five), are well known in educational circles in the German Democratic Republic and the Eastern Block countries. They also appear to have some colleagues in US academic circles since the book is published in a revised English-language edition by the Marxist Educational Press, c/o Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota. It costs £4:50 and is on sale at all Paperback Centres. The British wholesalers are Central Books Ltd. [Paperback Centres were the book shops of the Workers Revolutionary Party – Editor]

The Materiality of the External World

   The “universal does not only exist in thought, since universals are a source of interconnection among things”, say the authors. Of course, nothing can exist in thought unless it exists in the materiality of the extern world, which is reflected in thought. If the universal does not exist in material reality, then it could not exist in thought.

   By Universal we mean all that human beings can comprehend in the countless suns, countless solar systems and countless particles in space. There can be little doubt about their materiality, as the experimental probes over millions of miles into space reveal. Radio control over these space vehicles effectively guides their function in the vast areas and long distances which they embrace.

   The authors correctly define “objective dialectics” as related to “objective reality”, “It is”, they say, “objective in that this reality and its dialectical character are independent of our knowledge  or thinking about it.” (Page 19)

   Then they go on, also correctly, to define “subjective dialectics” as “the dialectics of thought about the material world and about thought itself.” (Page 20)

   The separation of these definitions, whilst formally correct, can be misleading for the newcomers to dialectics. The subject/object relationship is nothing more than the dialectical functioning of a human being. Both comprise a unity and conflict of opposites in their self-relation to each other.

   Such a relationship is in fact the dialectical materialist method wherein subjective dialectical idealism penetrates the external world through objective dialectical practice. Together, through their interaction, they manifest the laws of unity, conflict, interpenetration and transformation of opposites.

   External reflection is dialectical because it is the subjective practice of an objective human being, who engages in objective practice in order to live. Therefore, there is an object within the subject.

Lenin – the Founder of Bolshevism

   A difference arises when the authors deal with the writings of Lenin on dialectical materialism. Like their Soviet counterparts, they correctly refer to Lenin’s great interest in the natural and social sciences. But it need hardly be said that Lenin was a professional revolutionary dedicated to the building of the Bolshevik Party for leading the social revolution. He was not a physicist as such.

   In his efforts to build the Party on the dialectical method, he had a very great interest in the development of the natural and social sciences, since this provided many powerful verifications of the dialectical method.

   Lenin looked upon the class struggle as one of the forms of matter in motion. Every advance made by the scientists was not only a contribution to objective truth, it strengthened his elaboration of the dialectical method, through which alone objective truth could be established.

   The authors correctly show the connection between his dialectical thinking and the enormous advances which were in their infancy then, especially in the field of non-classical physics.

   They fail to present his formidable dialectical materialist contribution to Marxism as a world scientific outlook, which was for overthrowing the capitalist system by social revolution.

   The smashing of the capitalist state, which was Lenin’s policy, and replacing it with the dictatorship of the proletariat is not acceptable to the anti-Leninist, “peaceful- roaders” of today.

   The evasive nature of the authors’ reference to Lenin in his true revolutionary role can be gathered from the following questions: “He, (Lenin), took what was then considered to be well established scientific knowledge and generalised it philosophically on the basis of fundamental principles.” The reader is left guessing about what principles they are referring to – principles of Marxism, or principles of scientific investigation?

   The authors’ reticence is understandable, but not acceptable to the Trotskyists who alone continue in Lenin’s footsteps.

   The moment they examine the dialectical laws which are manifested in the class struggle, the more they will be brought face to face with the idealist character of the so-called “peaceful road to socialism”.

   The bureaucrats would not like that – so they feature Lenin in his reference to the sciences and omit Lenin the architect of socialist revolution.

Dialectics and the Sciences

   We take the same interest as Lenin would have done in this important book, because it verifies the use of the dialectical method in the sciences, particularly in physics, and its relation to the process of cognition.

   It is not an interest for interest’s sake, but an opportunity to develop the dialectical relevance of the advance of physics to the task of building the Workers Revolutionary Party and training its cadres to develop the new practices appropriate to the objective situation.

   “Too little attention”, say the authors, “has been paid up to now to the implications of the epistemological analyses in modern physics for one aspect of the place of human beings in the world, namely their role in the process of cognition as determined by the subject-object dialectics.” (Page 26-27)

   “The subject-object dialectics”, say the authors, “refers to the process by which the human mind (the subject) forms its image of objective reality (the object existing outside the human mind)”. (Ibid.)

   What happens in the process of cognition is this. External reflection peels off an image, as it were, which in cognition acknowledges the primacy of the external world over thought.

   We negate this image of quantity, which we call Identity, via sensation, which as quantity then vanishes into its own negative and emerges as quality, immediately establishing the Difference between itself and identity.

   This in turn is transplanted in the abstract image of knowledge we already have (Difference with Difference), which becomes contradiction.  This is then negated as the negation of the negation into the knowledge we already have.

  What we have done is to isolate the image we have perceived in order to understand its objective and manifold connections with other phenomena.

   In its absolute essence as quality, it then continues its negation into objective knowledge, which is outwards to the external world, becoming quantity.

   All these moments are the moments of dialectical Reflection until the Essence is formed in appearance.

   They proceed to show the connection between Cognition and the method employed in physics.

   “Physics”, they say, “could develop only under the philosophical assumption that one could analytically isolate continually changing objects, phenomena and processes from their universal interconnection and that the laws discovered for these isolated objects also described what, under definite conditions, could be general, necessary, and essential relations for the corresponding objects in the totality of their interconnections.

   “The simplest assumption about the isolated objects is to see them as unchangeable, although Heraclitus already knew that strictly speaking there is nothing that is not subject to change.” (Page 36)

   “For Lenin too”, the authors correctly emphasise, the “recognition of objective truth is fundamental to dialectical materialism.”

   They then explain the source of this objective truth as follows: “A materialist”, they write, “must not stop at merely acknowledging the existence of objects outside and independent of our mind, but must also explain how we derive our knowledge from this objective source.

   “Our Knowledge is a reflection of objective reality, which we perceive through the organisation of sensuous phenomena, with the aid of our empirical and theoretical knowledge.” (Page 45)

   The authors proceed to analyse stages of Cognition of structure in the logical and historical fields. In doing so they touch upon an area which, as the struggle against capitalism develops, will become more and more decisive for our Party.

   The more trained we are in understanding the relations between different levels of knowledge, the more deeply we will be able to cognise the movement and changes in the objective world.

   Hence the more speedily we shall be able to analyse and project the highest developed practice.

   On page 56 they outline four aspects of the cognition of structure which are, indeed, very interesting.

   Lenin’s conception of nature, the book explains, was that it was “inexhaustible”. “When Lenin wrote his book, (Volume 14 of his Collected Works), the only elementary particle known was the electron.

  “Today we know more than 100. The inexhaustibility in depth, which is also contained in Lenin’s comments, can be taken as a pointer to seek deeper-lying relations.

   “The evidence that elementary particles have structure is further confirmation of the Leninist thesis on the inexhaustibility of material relations on deeper physical levels.” (Page 62)

The Role of Empiricism in Physics.

   Now we come to one of the most important sections of the book. It concerns the role of empiricism in relation the physics.

   The authors take up the role of empiricism in philosophy in the form of the relation between “purely empirical experience” and “supposedly purely theoretical knowledge”.

   They pose the question: “Is there such a thing as purely empirical research?” “If so”, they say, “one must show that it has dominated the development of physics up to the present. (Page 123)

   They conclude: “The history of physics shows us that empiricism cannot be an epistemological basis for physics. No purely empirical research has ever existed during the entire period over which physics developed. (Page 123)

   The argument proceeds, (Page 124): “There were, no doubt, many empirical observations which were not based on a theory of observed objects or similar theoretical approach.”

   Then they proceed to discount this proposition by claiming that: “This is still not an argument for empiricism, however, because in all aspects of such research, there is also a close link between theory and practice. All observations employ a means of observation. The simplest are our sense organs, but more often we also use instruments … Thus the dialectics of the investigating subject and the investigated object must also be taken into account in the experimental investigation of an objective occurrence,” (Ibid.)

   “The aim of the experimental method is to gain knowledge about the object of cognition and its behaviour, uninfluenced by the subject of Cognition.” (Page 124)

   What they are saying is that the build-up of the qualities of properties being observed certainly does go on in external reflection. “But”, say the authors, “the truth of a theory often takes on great importance.” (Ibid)   

   They proceed to make an important point: “The unity of physics continues to express itself in the unity of theory, experiment and systematic observation.” (Page 125)

   And they conclude: “The underestimation of theory characteristic of philosophical empiricism is in gross contradiction to the actual development of physics and the other sciences.” (Page 125)

   The authors emphasise this with a powerful defence of the dialectical materialist method.

   “Empiricism and rationalism”, they assert, “metaphysically separate the subject of cognition from the object of cognition in the process of cognition. Rationalism refers the entire process of cognition back to the subject. The dialectical materialist solution to the problem lies in the dialectical integration of subject and object on the basis of a consistent materialism.

   “Thus, empiricism and rationalism, as we have shown, are equally unsuitable (our emphasis) to serve as an epistemological foundation for physics. They are capable of explaining neither the possibility of scientific research nor the historically established progress made in the sciences. The solution lies in a dialectical materialist synthesis of the rational elements of empiricism and rationalism.” (Pages 127-128)

Process of Cognition

   “…As we generalise the results of the various processes of cognition we conclude that the properties of all objects and processes, interacting with one another in a variety of ways, are inexhaustible , and that we must concentrate on the essential properties.” (Page 131)

   This is absolutely correct, but it does not mean concentrating on those properties which seem favourable only to us, but more often than not, on those which appear predominantly unfavourable.

   As Lenin explains in a quotation from Hegel: “This equally synthetic and analytic moment of Judgment, by which (the moment) the original Universality (general concept) determines itself out of itself as other in relation to itself must be called dialectical.” (Collected Works, Vol 38, Page 221)

   In the moment of synthesis (Judgement) the situation may look very difficult in deed. As we establish the manifold relation of this moment to other objects or processes, negate it into actuality of the real world and the Notion, thence into the theoretical and practical idea, we could well have our dialectical mind made up on how to change it in practice.

   This book is a “must” for serious students of the dialectical method.