In a period such as the present, of widespread change and social development of the unfolding of the political revolution within the USSR, the old social ideals which constituted Stalinism are being rebuffed as the “blank spots” of the history of the Soviet Union are filled in. These are replaced by scepticism, which ranges between nihilism or a complete denial of any authority existing in the USSR today, now that Stalin and Brezhnev have gone, and agnosticism. The agnostic separates substance from appearance and refuses to go further than his sensations, or combinations of sensations.
The origin of scepticism, which emerged in early Greek philosophy, was provided with most acceptable and classic forms by Hume and Kant. In modern bourgeois philosophy, tendencies such as Neo-Positivism and Existentialism have made great efforts to prove the “unknowability” of the external world and of man. In the cognition of phenomena consisting of self-created images, the agnostic tends to reproduce them. Then the thing-in-itself is unknowable. Scepticism places a question mark over the knowability of the “thing-in-itself existing independently of thought in the external world. For the ex-Trotskyist renegade revisionists, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev’s leadership is breaking up. They endlessly speculate over this process, without the slightest effort to establish the process of the political revolution as a “thing in itself”.
Sceptics can be arrogant and assertive towards internal party relations or passive towards materialist dialectics. In this way they achieve 'peace of mind' by concealing their real sceptical differences from their political colleagues. But the sceptics themselves by no means refrain from decision-making when they consider it politically suits them. Their organisational manifestation is their clique or 'personal ties' relations. In this way, they have almost a tribal instinct for self-preservation. Their basic outlook is that the interests of the clique come first, especially that of their 'leader', who is the political guru whose ego demands unconditional support and political adulation. This is indeed an absolute precondition for being recognised by the clique as one of their 'trusties'.
Clique Politics and Combinations
In the course of Trotsky’s last struggle against the Burnham, Schachtman, Abern clique in the USA (1939-1940), Trotsky approved the manuscript of Cannon’s “Struggle for a Proletarian Party”. In it, Cannon, referring to the struggle for materialist dialectics “as the methodological backbone to the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II”, wrote about the Abern clique’s “combination on the organisation question” as follows:
“When this opportunity is lacking, the Abern group, like a Balkan state, avoids disputes, not from good will, but from helplessness and from fear to stand on its own feet …. Clique politics and combinationism and the Abern group, which represents and symbolises these odious practices … contribute not to the education but to the corruption of the party. The Party must cure itself of this disease in order to live and go forward to the accomplishment of its great tasks.” He added: “The Abern clique, like all cliques, thrives in the dark. It was necessary to drag it out into the light of day and show the Party what it is and what it has always been.” In his struggle for materialist dialectics in the period 1939-1940, which is expressed in his book, In Defence of Marxism (New Park), Trotsky accomplishes this task with distinction.
A political off-shoot of scepticism is through the development of self-created images. Sceptics really live in a world of fantasy. Hegel remarked that: ‘Valuable self-criticism of the Kantian thing in itself, which shows that Kant suffers shipwreck also on the thinking ego and likewise discovers in it an unknowable thing-in-itself.” (p.242 Engels Dialectics of Nature).
In defining the thing-in-itself Hegel wrote: “Scepticism did not dare affirm ‘it is’; modern idealism (i.e. Kant and Fichte) did not dare to regard cognition as a knowledge of the Thing-In-Itself; (emphasis original) , .. But at the same time scepticism admitted manifold determinations of its Semblance, or rather its Semblance had for content all the manifold riches of the world. In the same manner the appearance of idealism comprehends the whole range of these manifold determinstenesses … The content may then have no basis in any Being or in anything nor Thing-in-itself; for itself it remains as it is: it has only been translated from being into Semblance.” (Lenin: Vo1.38, p,130-131, our emphasis).
To which Engels remarks: “Hegel, therefore, is here a much more resolute materialist than the modern natural scientists.” (p.242 “Dialectics f Nature”). In Vol.38 of his Philosophical Notebooks on p.130 Lenin outlines .. “Semblance and Scepticism, Kantianism, Respectively”. In a box on p.131, Vo1.38, Lenin emphasises: “You include in Schein (Semblance or Show) all the wealth of the world and you deny the objectivity of Schein!” Lenin continues to quote Hegel: “Semblance and appearance are immediately determined so diversely. The content may then have no basis in any Being nor in any thing nor Thing-in-itself; for itself it remains as it is: it has only been translated from being into Semblance; thus Semblance contains these manifold determinatenesses, which are immediate, existent and reciprocally other. Semblance itself is, then, immediately determinate. It may have this or that content; but whatever content it has is not posited by itself but belongs to it immediately. (p.131 Vol.38).
Formal thinkers adhering to idealism divorce thought from the objectivity of the external world. Dualistic formal thinking is based upon thinking which is subjective and formal, and what is subjective is held to be in contrast to what is objective in the external world. Such dualism is not the truth. Kant stressed a dualistic starting point for philosophy. On the one hand he made consciousness the subject of knowledge. On the other hand, the world of “things in themselves” is independent and totally opposed to both consciousness and the world of phenomena. It is the dualistic opposition between the subjective and the objective (the spiritual and the material). Dualism makes this opposite absolute in all its aspects.
The Relative Objectivity of Semblance and Essence
If we cannot know the ‘in-itself” of things, we cannot know the essence of things. Lenin, in a box on p.98 of Volume 38, referring to Hegel, writes: ‘Is not the thought here that semblance also is objective, for it contains one of the aspects of the objective world? Not only Wesen (essence) but Shein [Semblance], too, is objective. There is a difference between the subjective and the objective, BUT IT, TOO, HAS ITS LIMITS.’
When through the objective laws of a) Unity and Interpenetration of opposites b) Quantity into Quality and vice versa through c) The Negation of the Negation, the IDENTITY of a new moment emerges, it contains a synthesis with historical materialism. Lenin described this unity of the logical and the historical as a single piece of steel. The antithesis of Necessity and Cause considered in its dialectical unity creates the impulse for the third negation into Semblance or “impressions flashing by”.
Within Semblance as “impressions pass by”, there is an objective moment containing “Being as a moment”. As Lenin explains on p.133 of Vol. 38: ‘That which shows itself is essence in one of its determinations, in one of its aspects, in one of its moments. Essence seems to be just that. Semblance, (that which shows itself), is the Reflection of Essence in (it) self.’ (p.133 Vol. 38). Or, as Hegel explains: ‘Essence contains Semblance within itself, as infinite internal movement … In this its self movement Essence is Reflection. Semblance is the same as Reflection.’
It is at the dialectical moment of Semblance that the objective moment emerges, and not a self-created sceptical image. As Lenin explains in the box on p.134, ‘Thus here, too, Hegel charges Kant [Critique of the power of Judgment], with subjectivism. ‘This NB. Hegel is for the “objective validity”, (it may be called that), of Semblance, “of that which is immediately given” [the expression ‘that which is given’ is generally used by Hegel]. The more petty philosophers dispute whether essence or that which is immediately given, should be taken as basis (Kant, Hume, all the Machists), instead of or, Hegel puts and, explaining the concrete content of this ‘and’.”
The Stalin School of Falsification Appears in the Soviet Union.
All the sceptics amongst the ex-Trotskyist renegades have been assuring us that there was no objective moment of historical truth within the political revolution as a process now unfolding within the Soviet Union. In July of 1989, the first part of The Stalin School of Falsification by Leon Trotsky appeared appropriately in the Soviet Journal Problems of Party History, with an introduction by the historian V.1. Startsev from Leningrad.
The edition contains the Foreword to the Russian Edition written by Trotsky in Kadikoy, September 13, 1931, in which he stressed that ‘the lie in politics, as in daily life, serves as a function of the class structure of society … The so-called struggle against “Trotskyism” grew out of the bureaucratic reaction against the October Revolution and out of the urge for national tranquillity.’
It is followed by Trotsky’s Letters to the Bureau of Party History, Concerning the Falsification of the History of the October Revolution, History of the Revolution and the History of the Party, From May to October 1917, The October Insurrection, History of the October evolution, Lost Documents, Concerning Yaroslavsky, Concerning Olminsky. The other sections will be continued in later editions of the magazine. This was followed by Trotsky’s New Course which was published in the August edition of the monthly organ of the Young Communist League.
Scepticism as a method is a cover for anti-Communism and as such institutes a class barrier to Trotsky’s teachings and writings in relation the historical struggle against Stalinism.
Sceptics and the Political Revolution
(Marxist Monthly, Vol. 2, No. 9, November 1989)