2008-11-15

dialectical materialism

I've been reading a book lately titled The Captive Mind, by a Polish author, Czesław Miłosz. This book deals with the period surrounding World War II in Eastern Europe, the rise of Nazism in Germany and Communism in Russia, and how the social and political circumstances leading up to and through the war led to the active acceptance of the Soviet Communist system throughout Eastern Europe.

Getting into this, it made me really curious to learn more about dialectical materialism as a philosophic structure (since it was the philosophical basis of Soviet Communism).

Now, keep in mind, I'm not a professional philosopher, and I haven't read either Marx or Hegel extensively (though I have read some of each). Mostly these are just my causal thoughts about the system and how I understand it to basically function.

I was aware that the ideas used by Lenin and Stalin came from Marx, which in turn came from Hegel - however I discovered that between Hegel and Marx they went through a significant transformation - from idealistic to materialistic.

That is - Marx's view (which differs from Hegel's) is that there is no external source outside of the physical world for anything. The physical world as it is defines thought, not the other way around. That is, thought is not and cannot be independent of the processes of the physical world. We are in a closed system. So, Hegel's theory of dialectics - that everything is changing constantly, that change is brought about by contradiction, and that the process of change is by two contradictions being synthesized into an end result - is changed significantly by having an outside force removed from the equation - it flips philosophy on its head.

The reason this is significant, is that it reduces all human thought and action to physical processes. Human behavior becomes essentially the same then as the behavior or water or the behavior of air. It's easy then to see where the tactics of the Soviet Union came from. You change living conditions and you change people, because people are just a system of processes, and everything is constantly in motion, so as you change conditions, you inevitably change everything that happens within them. You put some heat under water and eventually it turns to steam. The belief was that by changing circumstances, you could eventually *qualitatively* change mankind.

The other reason this is significant, is that dialectical materialism can be used to more or less make logic arbitrary. Dialectics as a system was intended to be able to make sense of things in motion - for instance, a human being is living, but it is also dying, at the same time. So, do we say the person is living, or dying? How do we logically define what is going on when it is not static? The problem being, that as circumstances change, you can continue to modify your logic to accommodate them. By selecting just the right thesis and antithesis (note that in dialectics, as I understand it, the antithesis isn't necessarily the logical opposite of the thesis), you can essentially logically prove anything you want in the synthesis.

This was significant especially in the early days of Russia moving into Eastern Europe, because it could be proven, looking at history, that the current state of affairs was a necessary and logical progression of history.

The problem for the Soviet Union, was that for some reason, no matter how logically convinced a person was that, for instance, standing and watching the German army decimate Warsaw, was necessary for the logical progression of history, there was something in people that still revolted against that kind of thing. No matter how convinced people were of the necessity of what their government required of them, they still hated the government for requiring it. Had the Soviet government not been able to keep up a mass blanket of fear, they would have fallen apart much sooner, because there apparently is something in mankind that is not changed by the altering of their circumstances and their logical understanding of things.

This could also lead into a very long discussion about the sort of atrocities that can happen when a person or a society or any group of people bases their worldview and their decisions entirely upon logic... but we'll leave that for another entry :)

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fascinating book, thanks for sharing cause I doubt I would have understood it on paper. :)

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