Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dialectical logic and social reality

Class struggle transforms workers in fight for power

 
Below is an excerpt from An Introduction to the Logic of Marxism by George Novack, one of Pathfinder's Books of the Month for November. In a series of lectures originally presented in 1942 Novack explains that communists are materialists, dialectical materialists. Marxists start with facts, with social realities, and how they change over history—shaped by shifting productive relations, social labor, and revolutionary activity. Pulling together the rich history, lessons, and the logic of the working-class struggle, dialectical materialism is a tool for workers who seek to organize a proletarian revolutionary movement to fight for political power, replacing the decaying capitalist system with socialism. Copyright © 1969 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

BY GEORGE NOVACK 

The elements of dialectical logic can be learned by anyone with a determination to study them. The acquisition of any science requires the expenditure of considerable labor time and mental energy. It was long ago pointed out that there is no royal road to knowledge. Capitalists acquire profits without personal labor. But do workers who earn a living and strain to learn the operation of a new and complex machine need to be told that they must also exert effort to learn something new or to acquire knowledge of a new instrument of thought?

Since thinking deals with obscure events and complex processes studied by natural and social scientists, there are fields in which logic requires specialized knowledge and training. But we all think about matters close at hand and perfectly familiar to everyone. By the same token dialectics as a science of thought, as a logic, also deals with the most commonplace affairs.

To be sure, dialectical logic approaches these affairs in a somewhat unusual way. We propose to show how dialectics arises out of the everyday life and struggles of the workers; how it reflects the workings of their minds in the various aspects and successive phases of their class experience; and finally, how any thinking worker can verify the origin of these logical ideas and the operations of the laws of dialectics by reflecting upon and analyzing his own intellectual and political development from a "working stiff," or even "scissor-bill," to a revolutionary-minded worker.

In order to become a Marxist every worker has to revolutionize his political mentality. This change in his thinking does not and cannot take place all at once. It comes as the climax of a protracted process of development that includes manifold experiences in the class struggle and passing through various stages of political understanding. The worker begins, as a rule, with complete ignorance of the real nature of capitalist society and of his position and prospects within it. He has gradually to extend and deepen his insight into the capitalist system until he clearly comprehends the mainsprings of its operations and the necessity for the proletarian struggle against it… .

Dialectics is the highest type of scientific knowledge of real processes. On the practical side it is the consummation and condensation of the rich and ripe experience of the working-class movement, embracing the widest range of forms and phases of the concrete struggles and experiments. On its theoretical side it is the highest product of scientific brainwork and investigation. Such knowledge comes as the reward of struggle and of labor.

The process of social and mental evolution which has here been ascribed to an individual worker likewise occurs among the entire class of workers, especially in its most advanced sections. Through their struggles the working masses become progressively aware, as they pass through rising levels of comprehensiveness, of their real relations to the capitalist exploiters. At any given moment in this process, different parts of the same class stand upon different heights of consciousness. While the most backward can remain stuck at the stage of class collaboration, the most advanced can have marched forward under the spur of necessity and reached, and even surpassed, the point of irrepressible revolutionary conflict. The Russian as against the American workers in 1922, for example; the Cuban versus the American people in 1962.

When a sufficient number of workers emerge from the primitive state of absolute subservience and begin to differentiate themselves in theory and in practice and to oppose themselves to the capitalists, a change begins to take place in the social and political consciousness of that class. But for the class as a whole there has not yet occurred a qualitative leap in their political mentality. There is progress toward that end—but not yet enough change to produce a revolutionary transformation into its opposite… .

From having been more or less capitalist-minded, the advanced workers become really proletarian-minded; from having been more or less reactionary, they become revolutionary in thought and deed… .

The class struggle between capital and labor thus proceeds together with the workers' comprehension of its meaning through an interlocked series of events. Starting in the most advanced countries, it spreads throughout the world. Beginning in a single plant or industry, it seizes all the economic life of the country. Starting on the lowest level of theory and organization, it rises through successive stages, twistings and turnings, spurts and setbacks, first in episodic form, on to limited generalizations and then in a fully generalized form, until it reaches the peak of revolution. And then the process continues to develop dialectically—but upon a new and superior material social basis.

That is what is meant by the logic of history. This is an outline of the dialectics of the class struggle in our time, which moves from one stage to the next until it results in the revolutionary overthrow of the old world and the creation of a new social system. The materialist dialectic we have been studying derives its importance from the essential part it plays in this world-historical process. The abolition of capitalism through the triumph of socialism will be the final vindication of the truth, the power and the glory of materialist dialectics, the logic of Marxism. The task of revolutionary socialists is to realize this in life. 

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