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Man as Idea (1939)

Idealism appears in bourgeois philosophy to oppose itself to mechanism, and in a certain sense it does. But if we look into concrete living, we see that both are generated simultaneously.

Christopher Caudwell21 February 2018

Detail from a painting of Christopher Caudwell by Caoimhghin O Croidheain. via Dublin City University.

Set 15 of our Radical Thinkers series brings together four classic works in the history of science, including Christopher Caudwell's The Crisis in Physics. First published in 1939 — posthumously, like most of Caudwell's theoretical work — The Crisis in Physics devloped out of Caudwell's Studies in a Dying Culture, a series of essays seeking to resolve the contradiction he saw wracking all spheres of bourgeois culture: "that the more men wish to gain a common truth, a common faith, a common world-view, the more their efforts at ideological construction increase the sum of contradictory and partial views of reality." Helena Sheehan describes The Crisis in Physics in Marxism and the Philosophy of Science

Roughly, he seemed to be indicating that the apparent antinomies of physical theory between quantum and wave, discontinuity and continuity, freedom and determinism, accident and necessity, would find their resolution when thought ceased to move back and forth between mutually exclusive polar opposites. It was necessary to see freedom within the framework of determinism. Otherwise, each was abstracted from the other, distorted and scarred. Determinism and necessity became crystalline and incapable of evolution. Freedom and accident floated about without roots. It was the universal interweaving of domains and not the concept of strict determinism as such that made it possible to speak of the universal reign of law. Part of Caudwell's argument seemed to rest on a distinction between causality as an active subject-object relationship and predeterminism as a passive one...

For Caudwell, then, the crisis in physics was not due to the mystical and contradictory nature of the phenomena discovered, but to the attempt of the bourgeois to keep the world of physics closed and to preserve his own freedom outside it, to keep himself at all costs immune from causality.

In the excerpt below, which forms the book's third chapter, Caudwell identifies the cleavage between subject and object in philosophy and science as the source of epistemological crisis.   

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1. The Generation of Idealism

The Newtonian flourishing of physics was succeeded by the Darwinian growth of evolutionary science. The way for evolutionary theory had already been paved by the development of idealism. Idealism appears in bourgeois philosophy to oppose itself to mechanism, and in a certain sense it does. But if we look into concrete living, we see that both are generated simultaneously. For on the one hand the object, Nature, emerges as the self-contained machine; and on the other hand, as a quite separate phenomenon, Man's desires, his whole activity in so far as this is valued, appears spontaneously, out of the night, and appears to develop of its own, as an independent subject.

Mechanism stripped Nature, the object, of all qualities which had in them any tincture of the subjective, and which therefore made Man dependent on nature. This set free all sensuous active quality as Man's exclusive possession, the attributes of Mind. All the active sensuousness of reality was developed as part of the non-natural science of knowledge. It became a question of thought and thus its development fell to the lot of "philosophy" — i.e. that part of bourgeois philosophy which, because it is cut off from the object — i.e. from experimental test — is regarded as the queen of thought and is set above science. It was the peculiar result of the cleavage between subject and object produced by bourgeois economy that the sensuous active element in concrete living was developed separately from science as idealism.

Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel represent the stages by which the subject is cut completely free from the object. I do not propose to deal in detail with these stages here, as they will be familiar to the student of philosophy and to non-students would be too technical for brief explanation. The point is that this was a process in which man or mind, figuring as active, sensuous subjectivity, was stripped of all those qualities which had an objective component in them. But since no quality emerging as a phenomenon is absolutely objective or subjective, no quality is situated in an absolute self-sufficient Space and Time, nor does any quality exist completely out of Space or Time. The stripping from subjectivity of all qualities containing objective components left it as bare as matter when it was stripped of all subjective quality. Matter was left with nothing but mathematics existing in the human head. Subjectivity was left with nothing but the Idea; and obviously this could not be the idea in the material human brain, for this would tie the Idea to matter. Hence this final reality was the Idea existing out of the human brain — the Hegelian Absolute Idea.

Not only has subjectivity by then been stripped of activity and sucked of sensuous blood, but it has in fact become objectivity, for the Idea existing apart from the brain is objective reality and therefore enters the category of matter. Idealism has become materialism, just as mechanical materialism when it ended as mathematics, had become idealism. Mechanism and idealism, although they seem irreconcilable opposites, are only so in the sense that they are different sides of the same penny. They are produced by the cleavage of subject and object which results from the special conditions of bourgeois economy.

2. The Advance to Dialectics

It therefore fell to bourgeois philosophy to develop in a classic way the active sensuous side of existence. Now what is active is changing and thus the development of subjectivity was the development of an evolutionary philosophy. This became evident with the emergence of the Hegelian Dialectic, which is an evolutionary theory of subjectivity. The categories of mind here generate each other in an evolutionary way. Thought has become full of history and time.

But we saw that this was a subjectivity carefully pruned of the objective component. Hence it was a subjectivity whose activity was an activity on nothing real — on "appearance" — which is how the object figures in the realm of mere experience. Hence subjectivity in the form of bourgeois philosophy lacks the essential test of practice, and experiment. It lacks activity upon the object which of course can only be realized in practice. Yet in fact all subjectivity, even mere knowing, is activity through objects. Hence subjectivity strangles itself.

None the less subjectivity, by gathering into itself all the sensuous active qualities of existence, does, even when robbed of the object, contain the impress of material reality, like bark stripped from a tree. By comparing these unanchored qualities among themselves, it is possible in a confused way to extract the most general laws of activity, and change, just as by comparing the categories of objectivity among themselves one gets the confused but general physical laws of mechanism. These laws of subjectivity are laws of logic. It is not formal logic, but the Hegelian logic of dialectics.

Dialectics, as developed by Hegel, does not therefore merely express the laws of "thought." Because the "thought" of Hegel is really subjectivity or active sensuous existence, in the widest sense, Hegelian dialectics attempts to realize the most general law of change. It grasps at the emerging of the unlike, the birth of quality, the movement of evolution, the passing of history, the process of real Time. In this it proves the opposite of mechanism.

Mechanism is concerned with the persistence of matter, the conditions of stability, the survival of the like, the shuffling of quantity, of the substance below change, the isotropic framework of space.

But dialectics can only be filled with content by activity upon the object—that is, by practice and experiment. Since the object did not exist for Hegel, his dialectic could never be filled with realistic content, and remained a beautiful and intricate mill grinding the air of theory and producing nothing but his prejudices and aspirations.

3. The Explosion of Theory

The failure of Hegel was inevitable. Because of the bourgeois conception of the machine and of the general make-up of society, human desires include all the blood-warm valued qualities of existence and emerge spontaneously on the scene — their past history is veiled in the shadow of the free market. It is not possible to see the process by which they were originally determined through the "production complex" at whose heart lies the machine. Hence mind seems undetermined — that is, spontaneous and "free."

But this reflected separation of theory from practice and of desire from object is a reflex of a cleavage of classes which is fundamental to society. On the one hand there is the bourgeoisie, in whose heads the theory of society is concentrated, by virtue of the class division which has given to the bourgeoisie the task of the conscious supervision of the labour process. On the other hand there is the proletariat who actually deal with the object, Nature, but to whom theory is a "reserved" item, a privilege of their betters. The philosophy of the bourgeoisie sunders theory from practice because they are sundered in the concrete living of society.

The study of the object becomes the study of the object in contemplation and therefore lacks the dynamic reality of struggle. The effect of this is to make science too mechanistic and rob it of living theory. That is not to say science has no theory: it is impossible to have any practice without a theory, but science's theory is the minimum theory possible, a theory which is empiricist and opportunist because it springs directly from practice. It is not a theory which has been evolved to meet the needs of a man's whole life in society — including his scientific speculation. It is a specialized theory designed only to meet the needs of a man as a scientist and not as a man with blood in his veins who must eat, labour, marry, and die. This limitation is pointed out with pride by modern scientists. It leaves room for God, they explain.

Take the case of physics. There is first the general theory or philosophy of mechanism, which the bourgeois scientist adopts unconsciously. He has no idea it is a metaphysics: he imagines it to be the only way of looking at things scientifically — i.e. objectively. He supposes that the object as it appears in bourgeois economy is the only way in which Nature can appear to men. This philosophy is common to all sciences.

In addition there is the specialized theory springing directly from the practice of physics, which from time to time contradict this theory and leads to its improvement.

All goes well till a point is reached where practice with its specialized theory has in each department so contradicted the general unformulated theory of science as a whole that in fact the whole philosophy of mechanism explodes. Biology, physics, psychology, anthropology, and chemistry, find their empirical discoveries too great a strain for the general unconscious theory of science, and science dissolves into fragments. Scientists despair of a general theory of science and take refuge in empiricism, in which all attempt at a general world view is given up; or in eclecticism, in which all the specialized theories are lumped together to make a patchwork world-view without an attempt to integrate them, or in specialization, in which all the world is reduced to the particular specialized theory of the science with which the theorist is practically concerned. In any case, science dissolves in anarchy; and man for the first time despairs of gaining from it any positive knowledge of reality.

This is the state of bourgeois science at the present day, and the crisis in physics is only a special expression of it. And of course it is only a still wider version of the general movement of bourgeois economy into anarchy; the productive forces at all points have expanded and burst the confines of the productive relations. Humanized nature seems to be escaping, like a Frankenstein monster, from the meshes of naturalized men. The machine is getting out of control of the mechanic. This points the way forward. The disintegrating old contains the developing new. A new set of productive relations; a new society; new ideological categories; a new or wider world view.

4. Reality as Appearance

But the effect of this disruption of the old bourgeois world-view on scientists is to throw them back, for an explanation of reality, upon those qualities, in all their active sensuousness, which they had successively abandoned to subjectivity. We saw that the development of subjectivity fell to the lot of so-called philosophers (Also artists, but this is another story). I say so-called, for while they were certainly philosophers, their claim to regard their field, subjectivity, as all philosophy, is untenable. Philosophy can only mean the most general theory of practices, and therefore it must include the theory of science. But philosophy merely concerned itself with subjectivity which excluded even mind regarded as an object (i.e. experimental psychology). It was an important moment for so-called philosophy when psychology slipped out of its grasp into the camp of the experimentalists, for this finally exposed the completely anchorless state of its ship. It was subjective activity, active upon nothing at all.

Hence the feature of the present crisis in physics, is that the "scientists turn to philosophy." What in fact this really means is that they find their philosophy of mechanism shattered beyond repair by the progress of science and turn to the other side of the medal, to the erstwhile schismatics of subjectivity, to fill the breach. Scientists now seek in the "laws of thought" a certitude which they cannot find in the laws of the object.

But we saw that the subjectivist had in the interim developed on the same lines as the mechanist. He had stripped the subject of all objective qualities until nothing was left but the absolute Idea — the Idea existing objectively out of the brains of men. But in doing this he had stripped subjectivity of the subject — man. Hence when the mechanist turned to the subjectivist for assistance he found that the subject had vanished. The object had for the mechanist become unknowable, or a thing-in-itself, or had ceased to exist — these are all different ways of putting the same discovery — and now he found that exactly the same has happened to the subject.

What then could exist, philosophically, for the scientist? Only phenomena — that is, appearance — the conscious field regarded as independent of subject and object. The subject-object relation is regarded as existing apart from its terms. This has some resemblance to the absolute idealism of Hegel, but because the scientist regards even subjectivity mechanically, he cannot accept the dialectic logic of Hegel. Hegel's dialectics ostensibly draws its validity from the power of reason. It rests on the  inward and unquestionable witness of the "I" which thus, in the alienation of the Absolute Idea, appeals to itself to deny itself. But the scientist, by his training and experience, cannot accept the "I" as the criterion of validity. He is born in practice. Hence he cannot accept the subjective authority of the Hegelian dialectus. He can only accept phenomena as they come. This is positivism.

But in fact phenomena emerge from the concrete living of society, and this is an active struggle of Man and Nature. If Man and Nature are ruled out as unreal and non-existent, phenomena all have absolutely equal validity: hallucination and real perception, scientific theory and barbarous logic, there is no means of choosing between them. Truth is meaningless. We are in fact — if positivism is carried out logically — back at the subjective idealism of Berkeley and the scepticism of Hume. Positivism is solipsism. Nothing exists but my experience.

But in fact the positivist will not face up to his premises. He continually smuggles in some coordinating principle which in fact presupposes the existence of the very things he cannot prove. For example, he includes in phenomena "other people's phenomena" and so accepts the findings of science and other organized knowledge. Yet in fact he has no right to accept other people's perceptions except by admitting the link, his human brain and other human brains, which means admitting the subject, Man, and the object, the matter of which brains are composed. He smuggles in "principles of economy" which are simply logical laws admitting therefore the validity of the subject; and "laws of efficiency" which admit the existence of the object through the test of the practice.

Mechanism sacrifices theory to practice. Subjectivism sacrifices practice to theory. Positivism denies the validity of both, but in fact is always driven to smuggle one or other in by a back-door, because the very reason for its existence is that theory has been whittled away by mechanism and practice by subjectivism. Hence positivism is always a confused, amateurish, and dishonest philosophy. It makes a degradation of bourgeois thought as compared to the simple grandeur of Newtonian physics and the world-dominating insurgence of Hegelian dialectics. This confusion is very clear in the writers of the older positivists, Mach and Pearson, and the newer positivists, Eddington and Jeans. Their writing is full of contradictions, they shift from one premise to another without realizing it: their writing is a mesh of excluded middles and non sequiturs, directly it deals with philosophical questions.

5. The Screen of Phenomen

"Sensation is nothing but a direct connection of the mind with the external world; it is the transformation of energy of external excitation into a mental state ... the sophistry of idealist philosophy consists in that it takes sensation, not as a connection of the mind with the other world, but as a screen, as a wall which separates the mind from the outer world." (Lenin.)

Consciousness (phenomena) is a relation between Man and Nature, but positivism attempts to take the relation without the terms. This in itself is a result of the splitting of the terms in concrete living.

So split, consciousness, part of the subject-object (the "theory" of it) ceases to be active. It is impossible to have real activity without two terms, without a contradiction, and a unity of opposites whose activity springs from their interpenetration. Hence consciousness becomes a mere passive "reflection" of the world; its function becomes merely to be a pale copy of existing practice. The relation of knowing ceases to be an active and mutually determining relation, and becomes a godlike apprehension separate from material reality. But directly it is cut off in this way, it loses its real content.

Hence ideology in bourgeois society becomes distorted to a mere symbol or code-word for reality. Reality knocks on the nerve endings and these are "interpreted" as consciousness by the subject. This theory of consciousness as mere reflection leads to a regretful admission that it is a "misleading" reflection. For since all the known subjective qualities (colour, scent, shape, mass, pushiness, beauty) are merely symbolic ciphers for the thing in itself the "reality" codified is a queer grotesque spectre, built vaguely out of the most objective qualities obtainable. Thus according to Eddington, the real table is a swarm of molecules buzzing hither and thither, and is totally different from the table we see. The table we see is a mere fiction, a symbol of the real thing. Consciousness here has become a screen. Hence the severance of the subject and object, of Man's natural desires from nature as known by Man, leads to a splitting of consciousnesses. The consciousness of the bourgeois philosopher is torn into two. One half of it flies to the objective pole, to become a bare "copy" of practice on the object and so eventually come to a stage where the object seeins unknowable by consciousness.

Moreover, because practice advances on different fronts, this theory splits into several theories adhering to different practices (biology, physics, psychology, etc.). The other half flies to the subjective pole, to become a "spontaneous" undetermined desire. This emerges as mysticism and religion, with a subject as unknowable as the object. This double decadence into positivism and mysticism is clearly shown in the following quotations from Eddington:

In regard to our experience of the physical world, we have very much misunderstood the meaning of our sensations. It has been the task of science to discover that things are very different from what they seem. But we do not pluck our eyes out because they persist in deluding us with fanciful colourings instead of giving us the plain truth about wave-length. It is in the midst of such misrepresentations of environment (if you must call them so) that we have to live, ... In our scientific chapters we have seen how the mind must be regarded as dictating the course of world-building; without it there is but formless chaos. It is the aim of physical science, so far as its scope extends, to lay bare the fundamental structure underlying the world; but science has also to explain if it can, or else humbly to accept, the fact that from this world have arisen minds capable of transmitting the bare structure into the richness of our experience. It is not misrepresentation but rather achievement—the result perhaps of long ages of biological evolution—that we should have fashioned a familiar world out of the crude basis. It is a fulfilment of the purpose of man's nature. If likewise the spiritual world has been transmuted by a religious colour beyond anything implied in its bare external qualities, it may be allowable to assert with equal conviction that this is not misrepresentation but the achievement of a divine element in man's nature. ...

... We have to build the spiritual world out of symbols taken from our own personality, as we build the scientific world out of the metrical symbols of the mathematician.

... The idea of a universal mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the present state of scientific theory; at least it is in harmony with it. ...

... The materialist who is convinced that all phenomena arise from electrons and quanta and the like controlled by mathematical formulae, must presumably hold the belief that his wife is a rather elaborate differential equation; but he is probably tactful enough not to obtrude this opinion in domestic life. If this kind of scientific dissection is felt to be inadequate and irrelevant in ordinary personal relationships, it is surely out of place in the most personal relationship of all—that of the human soul to the divine spirit.

... The physicist is not conscious of any disloyalty to truth on occasions when his sense of proportion tells him to regard a plank as continuous material, well knowing that it is "really” empty space containing sparsely scattered electric charges. And the deepest philosophical researches as to the nature of Deity may give a conception equally out of proportion for daily life; so that we should rather employ a conception that was unfolded nearly two thousand years ago.

... Starting from aether, electrons and other physical machinery we cannot reach conscious man and render count of what is apprehended in his consciousness. ...

... If those who hold that there must be a physical basis for everything hold that these mystical views are nonsense, we may ask—what then is the physical basis of nonsense?

... We have associated consciousness with a background untouched in the physical survey of the world and have given the physicist a domain where he can go round in cycles without ever encountering anything to bring a blush to his cheek.

... The conclusion to be drawn from these arguments is, that religion first became possible for a reasonable scientific man about the year 1927.

Heaven is nowhere in space, but it is in time. .... Science and theology can make what mistakes they please, provided that they make them in their own territory; they cannot quarrel if they keep to their own. ...

These quotations, taken at random from the final chapters of Eddington's book, indicate the extraordinary confusion and helplessness of the scientists of today, faced with the break-up of the old bourgeois world-view. On the one hand objectivity, Nature, has become a game, a symbolism, a separate domain where the physicist can go round in cycles without encountering anything real. Nature has become unknowable.

And Man, the subject, dragging with him all the rich qualities of interesting life, has entered the arid regions of theology. Could reaction go farther? Because physics has made of Nature something no one can believe as real (a swarm of sparsely distributed electric charges) it is no longer necessary to believe in the refined "unitarianism" of modern Broad Churchmen — we can go right back to the Virgin Birth, the miracles of the loaves and fishes, and the "simplicities" of the New Testament narrative. The wild Elizabethan human desires set free by the bourgeois market have become pious. The machine planned by the bourgeois to satisfy his wants has become unknowable; it has slipped out of his grasp down into the night of the proletariat.

6. The Re-Discovery of the Object

For, in fact, this is where Nature has disappeared. The severance of subject from object by the development of a class cleavage in society, has resulted in that part of society which groups itself round the machine, becoming increasingly organized Man — Man organized by Nature. It follows the grain of objective reality and enters increasingly into the production complex of humanized nature. This group in practical contact with Nature is increasingly proletarian society — society debarred from consciousness by the conditions of its existence. It is active of Nature in a blind way — but it is active. It is true that in the experiments of physics for example the bourgeois is in active contact with Nature, but only on a small front. Even that contact is enough, as we have seen, to produce a disintegration of his whole world-view.

But in the main the most important part of objective activity is handled by the proletariat. The most elaborate and intricate organizations produced by the incursion of Nature into society and the humanization of Nature as a result of the division of labour are organizations of the lives of the proletariat. The dizzy unfolding of Nature within society which is modern civilization takes place within the boundary of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie rides on top of this terrific pregnancy, unorganized except in the old State forms and these forms become increasingly arbitrary, increasingly the product of the apparently blind desires of the bourgeoisie.

They stand in a coercive one-way owning relation to the forces wielded by the proletariat, and therefore seem all the more free of the object, and masters of Nature. But in fact the object has now retired completely into the night of the exploited class. The bourgeois ignorance of the object, and of the determining relation it has over their lives, makes them its slaves, tossed hither and thither by slump and boom. By cutting finally the cord that binds their desires to the necessity of the object, and making desire and subjectivity a matter of faith and theology, the bourgeoisie prepare the ground for their ejection from power. The pregnancy of the proletariat with the humanized object is a pregnancy which can only issue in revolution.

We saw that practice must inevitably carry with it some theory, however partial and specialized — a theory perhaps distorting and negating the general world-view of the practician. Thus the practice of the physicist carries with it a limited and bloodless theory which conflicts with the older bourgeois world-view and produces a helpless dualism or anarchy. In the same way the actual experience of the proletariat produces a special theory of its own, the theory which springs from the practice of trade union organization.

This limited theory is directly contradictory to the whole theory of bourgeois society, in which freedom lies in absence of restraints, and in a completely free market for labour-power and wages. Trade union organization, with its restrictions and limitations, on labour, negates this basic consciousness of bourgeois society, but it is forced on the proletariat by the necessities of concrete living. Hence it has a shattering effect on such portions of bourgeois consciousness and world-view as have been implanted into the proletariat.

None the less the plentitude of freedom and therefore of consciousness still remains in the sphere of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat, alone, cannot rise beyond trade union consciousness. This consciousness, although it sees freedom to be the outcome of restrictions of the market and thus denies bourgeois ideology, yet proposes a freedom which is dependent upon the existence of a bourgeoisie, a freedom within the pores of bourgeois society. It is thus a consciousness limited on every side by bourgeois consciousness and unable to make itself independent, unable to advance to the status of a new world-view.

But the progress of capitalism transforms its own basis and creates conditions of unfreedom even for its own bourgeoisie. The big bourgeoisie grows and expropriates the smaller, who is forcibly proletarianized; or else the big bourgeois forms an alliance with the feudal aristocracy to prevent the advance of the other section. Thus a section of the bourgeoisie is driven to ally itself with the proletariat. Part of this section have no other aim than to use the power of the proletariat to wring concessions from the big bourgeoisie and bring back the old conditions of existence more favourable to petty bourgeois ideals, conditions of existence in which a petty bourgeois could flourish without danger from monopoly capital. This gives rise to the movements of anarchism and reformist social-democracy, which remains within the categories of the bourgeois world-view and try to drag the proletariat into it.

But "when the class struggle nears its decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands ... a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and, in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole. ..."

This small portion joins the proletariat. It does not attempt to use it as a tool to fulfil its own desires because it has been forced in practice to comprehend the historical movement as a whole — i.e. the victory of the proletariat and the impossibility of a return to petty bourgeois ideals. It does not however shed its bourgeois consciousness but drags this with it into the proletariat. The object has already slipped out of the grasp of the bourgeoisie as part of its world-view. The subject has however developed to reach its climax as the Hegelian dialectic. This is a moving dialectic, and it is within the framework of the Hegelian dialectic that this section of the bourgeoisie comprehends the historical movement as a whole at the same time as material causes drive it to a revolt against the existing system and an alliance with the proletariat.

We have already seen that the object, Nature, in its full development by capitalist society, had disappeared into the concrete living of the proletariat. This class was pregnant with Nature as increasingly realized in society by the division of labour. Hence when bourgeois subjectivity in the shape of its most advanced development, dialectics, is driven by material conditions into the bosom of the proletariat it once more encounters the object, and the object is now as a result of technicological advance, in its most highly humanized form. We saw that dialectics, in spite of its logical rigour and world-embracing grandeur, became mere mystical mumbo-jumbo because it was subjectivity active upon nothing, upon mere appearance and remaining therefore unfounded theory. But in the heart of the proletariat it encounters the object.

It must not be thought that this is a kind of marriage of long-separate twin souls who suddenly embrace. It is not a case for example of bourgeois mechanism (objectivity) being fused with bourgeois idealism (subjectivity). For mechanism loses the object ultimately without developing the subject, and dialectics ultimately loses the subject without developing the object. Materialism becomes idealism and idealism materialism. Their fusion therefore produces only positivism — the relation without the terms. This was bound to happen because one started with a contemplated object and the other with a spontaneous subject. Hegelian dialectics cannot marry the object, wrapped in the proletarian night, in the world of theory, for the object is not yet conscious. The object is wrapped in night, and subject and object live in different worlds. Before the marriage can take place, the object must be made conscious by activity, by practice upon it in a world-changing way. It is not a mere case of "fitting" the results of science into the categories of dialectics.

Dialectics must become active upon the object in real life; only in this way can dialectics become full of content. And since the object is at first entirely concrete and unconscious, this abstraction must begin in the least abstract and most practical way, by making the proletariat conscious of its most general class interests and goal, and by developing the theory of the proletariat from that primary and fundamental activity.

For this reason dialectics became with Marx and Engels a practical revolutionary theory, and it is in this way, as the result of practice, that it becomes dialectical materialism. From this most concrete basis, dialectical materialism can then proceed to draw in the ideological products of society — the sciences, ethers, art — and reform them within the new categories.

Can dialectical materialism escape in its development the limitations of bourgeois society, in which the subject became separated from the object? The class of which it has become the world-view, the proletariat, is pregnant with the object and this has produced an increasing organization, a revolutionary expansion, which will continue until the proletariat has become a whole and thus has realized a classless society. As this expansion takes place the revolutionary class, pregnant with the object, sucks more and more of the subjectivity, the consciousness of society, into its sphere. And thus as it actively expands, as scientists, artists, and "philosophers" desert the bourgeois class and enter it, its world-view, dialectical materialism, synthesizes more and more of the genuine but anarchic and dispersed elements of bourgeois consciousness. But this new consciousness is not one in which active subject is parted from contemplated object, and the real activity of society sinks into the night of an unconscious class. In dialectical materialism subject is restored to object because in the society which generates it, consciousness is restored to activity and theory to practice.

[book-strip index="2" style="display"]
The Crisis in Physics
Christopher Caudwell’s The Crisis in Physics is a stylish and readable analysis of the lines of connection between scientific theories and economic realities. Caudwell provides a trenchant critique...
The Crisis in Physics
Christopher Caudwell’s The Crisis in Physics is a stylish and readable analysis of the lines of connection between scientific theories and economic realities. Caudwell provides a trenchant critique...
Marxism and the Philosophy of Science
Skillfully deploying a large cast of characters, Sheehan retraces the development of Marxist philosophy of science through detailed and highly readable accounts of the debates that have characteriz...
The World, the Flesh and the Devil
Deemed by Arthur C. Clarke to be "the most brilliant attempt at scientific prediction ever made", The World, the Flesh and the Devil is most famous for having been the first to propose the so-calle...
Order Out of Chaos
Order Out of Chaos is a sweeping critique of the discordant landscape of modern scientific knowledge. In this landmark book, Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine and acclaimed philosopher Isabelle Stenger...

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