Ljubodrag Simonović: Dialectics and history
DIALECTICS AND HISTORY
Dialectics is an authentic and genuine force for social development, delineated in the laws of dialectics that represent the logic of history and are, therefore, the self-consciousness of the historical development of society. As a method, dialectics is a vehicle for determining, by means of the laws of dialectics, the nature of social phenomena, or more precisely, it is a vehicle for their “transformation” from abstract into concrete historical phenomena. By means of the laws of dialectics, the bare facticity of the past turns into the historical development of society. Within that context, dialectics can be comprehended as the supreme regulating historical principle that opens wide on the horizons of the future: it represents the basis of society’s historicity. By means of dialectics, man emerges from the obscurity of the past and steps into the bright light of history, becoming a self-conscious historical being. Only upon dialectical self-consciousness can man base a position on the world that will enable him to create a future.
According to Marx, “into the positive comprehension of the existing status, dialectics, at the same time, also introduces understanding of its negation, its necessary downfall; for it comprehends all generated forms in the course of motion, that is, in its transient aspect; because it cannot be tutored by anything and because it is, in its essence, critically analytical and revolutionary.” This quotation points out the fact that dialectics asserts moving forward, which means that capitalism, as a historical order does not close but opens the space of the future. Indeed, not all downfalls mean, at the same time, a negation. More precisely, a downfall represents not only a possibility for creating something new, but also the opportunity for the destruction of everything that exists. The nature of what is negated conditions the nature of the negation and, therefore, the concrete possibility and the nature of the novum. In order to represent a concrete historical principle, the principle of totality has to take into consideration the specificity of the capitalist totality, and that goes not only for the emancipatory possibilities but also for the destructive potential of capitalism. “The negative dialectics” (Adorno), which means that dialectics as a method of critical changing and as a libertarian practice, has significance solely if it is developing in relation to the process in which capitalism develops into capitalism – turns into a totalitarian destructive order. While criticizing Hegel, and having in mind fascism, Bloch rightfully indicates that not every negation in history concomitantly represents a step forward. However, he does not realize that the capitalist negation does lead toward the destruction of the world. He never refers to capitalism as a destructive order, and, in that context, there is no perception of the possibility of the obliteration of life as a crucial content of the revolutionary conscience. Marx fails to notice that capitalism acts in advance by annihilating life – by generating consequences which question the very possibility of the future and not only in the essential, but also in the existential sense. “Temporariness“ does not imply solely moving forward, but also the development of the destructive processes that threaten the very survival of mankind. This is what Fourier asserted by his claim that mankind was in a state of “material regression” because (capitalist) “progress“ was devastating forests, mountain slopes, natural fountains… Marx fails to notice that capitalism has a destructive potential and overlooks the fact that negation also implies the possibility of its realization, which means that the downfall of capitalism at the same time implies the possibility of the obliteration of life on the planet. Related to this possibility, a concrete possibility arises for attaining man’s creative, libertarian and life-creating abilities. Turning the objective possibilities of freedom into realistic possibilities of man’s liberation stands against the more and more likely probability of the annihilation of the world.
Hegel’s dialectics implies the likelihood of a future based upon existential certainty. Life is an a priori quality that is not being questioned, and it represents the foundation of his dialectic pyramid of freedom. With Hegel existential certainty represents the basis for the libertarian optimism (reasonable freedom) upon which faith in the future is founded. Within his thought there is a contradiction between mind and senses, between intellect and nature, subjective and objective…, but not between life and non-life (destruction). Hegel’s “abolition” (Auflösung) and „overcoming“ (Aufhebung) imply the existential certainty and the improvement of life based upon it. The dialectic course, as a process by which life becomes life through its own mind-pervading, occurs on an unquestionable existential level. The identity of essence (idea) and of existence (reality) has been determined: “All that is real is reasonable, and all that is reasonable is real“ (Hegel). Reasonable life implies existential certainty, and genuine reality represents full implementation of its own developmental potential. Until it does not realize its own developmental potential, reality does not exist in a concrete sense – it is an abstraction. When reality becomes what it might be, only then does it becomes real in the veritable sense. The dogmatism of Hegel’s dialectics is based upon the assertion that the abstract (non-historical) idea of the phenomenon represents the basis for determination of its concreteness (historicity). In other words, the essence of the phenomenon was determined before it became a concrete historical phenomenon, which is, before its developmental potential was realized, thus creating a new reality with new developmental potential that surmounts the very idea that represents a criterion for determining the genuineness (historicity) of the phenomenon. When matters are perceived in relation to capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order, in Hegel the real does not encompass the destructive potency, and the reasonable does not indicate its destructive intention.
In Marx, just like in Hegel, the openness of the future is dominant, implying existential certainty. This represents the basis for his notion of progress: “in the bosom“ of capitalism possibilities are generated for “leaping from the reign of necessity into the reign of freedom” (Engels). This connotes that capitalism marks the end of “the prehistory of human society” (Marx). Marx does not raise the issue of existence, but that of true history, which means of the society in which man has achieved freedom. In Marx’s concept of the historical development of society, libertarian optimism is dominant, and existential optimism deriving from it. It is based upon faith in man as a universal creative being of freedom and upon the emancipatory potential of the productive forces. At the same time, within capitalism, the sprout of the new world is being generated, which means that capitalism possesses historical fecundity. The specificity of capitalism as a historically fecund order, in comparison to the preceding historical periods, is that with it ends the prehistory and commences the true history of mankind. Unlike the bourgeois theorists, who perceive capitalism as the completion of history, thus sterilizing its change-creating possibilities, Marx perceives the true values of capitalism in the fact that within it possibilities are generated for a step forward into the new society that will represent the achievement of the supreme humanistic endeavors of mankind. Despite its cessations and sidesteps, capitalism creates the historical time that streams forwards.
Marx was a dedicated advocate of Hegel’s dialectics of history. He envisaged the specific dialectics of the development of capitalism, or, more precisely, he sacrificed the dialectics of capitalism for the dialectics of pre-capitalist history. The development of capitalism is being perceived through a prism of the dialectics of the previous historical periods and, deriving from this, the issue of its development and temporariness is being raised. The specificity of capitalism, as a concrete socio-economic formation, does not represent an integral part of that history upon which the dialectics of history is derived. Based on Marx’s most significant methodological postulate, that the last actual form in the development of society represents the key for decoding the essence of the preceding forms, there is being imposed a conclusion that the nature of the laws of dialectics cannot be determined by an analysis of pre-capitalist history, but that capitalism, as the most developed historical order, represents the mirror in which the dialectics of history can be discerned. In other words, if history represents the starting place and the confirmation of the veracity of dialectics, then capitalism, as the highest form in the development of society, represents the starting point for the determination of the veracity of dialectics, that is, of the historical nature of social development.
There is no linear continuity in the development of historical processes, that is, of the flow of historical time. Each historical epoch has its own momentum, the nature of which conditions the nature of the historical course, and therefore also its own direction. The main momentum of the capitalist temporalization is the velocity of capital turnover. This is what conditions the course, the dynamics and the quality of the flow of time in capitalism. Specificity of the capitalist temporalization is that it destroys the evolution of the living world and the historical temporalization by turning evolution and history into mechanical occurrences, that is, into a positive nothing. Capitalist temporalization has a mechanical form and a destructive nature. It is not a life-generating, but an annihilating temporalization. The constantly accelerating course of capitalist time results in the faster and faster expiring of historical time and the life-time of humankind. The substantial occurrence within capitalism does not stand for the creation of a humane world or for an increased certainty of human survival, but represents the destruction of nature and of man as a biological and humane being, as well as the creation of a technological world. In the preceding historical periods, time was streaming forward. The more and more dramatic climate changes and the obliteration of life on the planet cause real time, that is to say, the life-time of humankind, to stop streaming forward – instead, it started flowing backwards from the zero-point ecological delimiter, a break over which has resulted in sealing the fate of humankind. At the same time, the ecological delimiter became the perimeter of the humanistic visionary conscience. Crossing over this delimiter will trigger existential panic that will cause a fight for survival in the course of which all that makes men human and all that makes nature a life-generating whole will be destroyed.
Capitalism is neither a conservative nor a regressive order. It does not attempt to preserve the existing world, and it does not invest efforts to take humankind back to some preceding forms of social life. However, it is a destructive order, which means that it obliterates not merely the humanistic heritage of humankind, but also life itself. Capitalism is a specific historical order by being anti-historical as an anti-existential order. The specific nature of capitalism conditions the specificity of capitalist development and, therefore, the specificity of its temporariness, which is of an annihilating and totalitarian nature. Capitalism “overcomes“ its historical temporariness by annihilating history as it turns historical time into a mechanical process and destroys man as a natural and historical being. Capitalism annihilates temporalization as the libertarian practice of man by which the future is being created. It became, per se, a sort of a “black hole“ that absorbs and consumes both the past and the future, turning them into a positive nothing. The ideologists of capitalism do not speak casually about the “end of the history”. Capitalist temporalization is not only of an anti-historical nature, but is also anti-existential (mechanical-destructive) in nature. Capitalism is not only positioned beneath the lowest historical level, but also below the level of the lowest natural forms of life.
Historicity is of a dialectic nature. It implies the development of history into history, which means the development of man into a man, and, therefore, the turning of the world into a human world. At the same time, the development of history into history implies the development of dialectics into dialectics. It is a concrete historical dialectics as opposed to the abstract dialectics by which the essence of historical processes is being alienated from the concrete historical antagonisms and concrete historical processes, which eventually means alienated from man as a creative and libertarian being. By means of abstract dialectics, history is being deprived of its historicity. Therefore, freedom also implies liberation of man from the “laws of dialectics” by which the man is deprived of his authentic (change-creating) forces. The concrete dialectics of history implies a qualitative change of the very historical process of changes that is conditioned by the nature of concrete historical antagonisms. This concept is also present in Marx. The dialectics of history based on class struggle stands, according to Marx, for the “prehistory” of mankind that ends with capitalism. The dialectics of communism essentially differs from the dialectics of capitalism. With the emerging of communism, within which there are no classes or class struggles, begins the true development of the society and thus the true history of humankind.
Natural laws have a deterministic character and are independent of man. He can learn them and apply them, but cannot influence them, and, particularly, he cannot create new laws. The laws of dialectics do not have the power of natural laws and do not act per se, but have a historical nature which is conditioned by man’s libertarian struggle and by creative practice. Without them there is no history and, therefore, no dialectics of history. Man is not a mere object of historical laws, but is the creator of history and, therefore, the creator of dialectic processes. At the same time, the concrete historical nature of the laws of dialectics is also conditioned by destructive practice. Man cannot abolish natural laws, but he can, through the capitalist order, abolish the dialectics of history, primarily by destroying the emancipatory legacy and the visionary conscience of humankind. In that way the alternatives to the ruling order are being nullified, and so, also, is the category of possibility, or the libertarian practice capable of creating a humane world. The most radical way to abolish the dialectics of history is through the annihilation of man as a libertarian and creative being. Actually, the development of capitalism into a totalitarian order of destruction conditions the nature of the man’s subjective practice and, therefore, conditions the development of man. In Marx, the subjective practice, as the basic condition of the man’s freedom, achieves its concrete definition in relation to determinism, which acts as a natural law, and not in relation to capitalist determinism, which has an annihilating nature. Subjective practice occurs nowadays in relation to the destructive capitalist practice that is totalitarian in nature and does not derogate only man’s freedom, but also the very survival of humankind. It is not only libertarian but also existential in nature. Only in relation to the ever more plausible possibility of the destruction of the world does the subjective practice obtain a concrete historical meaning.
Dialectics, as a fundamental historical principle, is based on the fact that the development of society is based upon the tension between contradictions. The actual nature of the contradictions that predominate during a certain historical period also conditions the concrete nature of the tension between them, as well as the spaces of the future that these tensions open. Capitalism is based on specific contradictions, which means that it has a specific dialectics of development and, therefore, creates a specific future. The nature of the concrete dialectics of capitalism is conditioned by the destructive nature of the capitalist way of developing the productive forces. Destructiveness is “the quality” of capitalism that determines it as a specific historical order and invalidates the Hegelian dialectical pyramid of freedom and derogates the progressive nature of the laws of dialectics. In Marx, too, there is no conflict between the possibility of freedom and the possibility of the obliteration of humankind. According to Marx, a possibility is being created in the bosom of capitalism for man’s liberation from necessity, but not in relation to the possibility of the obliteration of the world. The key contradiction within capitalism, between the destructive and the life-creating processes, is nullified. The fundamental and irreconcilable existential contradiction, which directly conditions the future of humankind, stands for the fact that man is a life-creating being that can survive only as part of nature, the life-generating whole, while capitalism represents a totalitarian destructive order the endurance of which is based upon obliteration of nature as a life-generating entirety and of man as the life-creating being. It is the development of capitalism into a totalitarian destructive order that resolves the tension between contradictions intended to be a fight to the death between capitalism and the humankind. The thesis that capitalism “at once” destroys the basis of human existence and opens the spaces of the future, and that capitalism develops based on the confrontation of these two antagonistic ideas, represents the changing of the concrete dialectic principle into an abstract formally logical principle of an anti-existential nature. If capitalism obliterates the basis of human existence, it cannot at the same time open up the spaces of the future. More precisely, it can do this in a technical, or an abstract way. Also, this does not stand for a confrontation between “good” and “bad”, but rather for of looking at the nature of certain phenomena in the context of concrete historical totality. Fascism, too, has its “good sides”, but its concrete nature can be seen solely in the context of the fascist (capitalist) totality. Unless it is seen in the context of the horrible effects of exploding the atomic bomb, even the atomic mushroom cloud is “beautiful”.
Every phenomenon holds within itself its own opposite – something that “negates” it. In fact, one phenomenon becomes a historical phenomenon by obtaining historical fecundity, which implies contains the seed of novum. The specificity of capitalism as a totalitarian order of destruction comes from the fact that it absorbs the opposites it creates into its own existential orbit. “The negative“ becomes the phenomenal form of the positive, like the dominant “reasoning” that is only a manifestation of destructive capitalist mindlessness. In the actual social context the “negative” becomes a phenomenal form of capitalist totalization of the world: capitalism turns negation into its own affirmation. The existential logic of capitalism that conditions the fact that capitalism creates sources of profit based on consequences of the obliteration of life, and, therefore, the vehicle for its own development, pulls into the existential and ideological orbit of capitalism everything that provides possibilities for overcoming capitalism. Capitalism absorbs into its own sphere of life even those social forces which, according to Marx, capitalism generates as its own (potential) negation (the working class), and not only through the ideological and economic spheres, but also through the totalitarian nature of the very way of life under capitalism. “The synthesis“ is reduced to an absorbing of the antagonisms into the ruling order and to its turning into a vehicle for the development of capitalism. In that sense, capitalism abrogates the dialectics of history based on the conflict of antagonisms and turns history into a mechanical process. The space is being created for otherness, but not for newness.
Turning quantity into quality is an abstract principle. It does not imply, per se, clearing a space for the future. Quantity can facilitate qualitative changes only if within it there is a potential for novum. In capitalism, quantity does not imply only those phenomena that provide the possibility for qualitative leaps, but also those that destroy the emancipatory legacy of humankind, as well as human life, itself. Marx’s analysis of history refers to the unavoidable downfall of capitalism. Capitalism collapses because in its womb gestates the embryo of a new society in the form of the working class, which is its own negation and feeds on the life-generating force of capitalism based on the development of the productive forces and on the emancipatory possibilities of civil society. According to Marx, the future (communist) world is a negation of capitalism, meaning that it surmounts capitalism by enabling the development of the seed of the future generated within capitalism. It came out that capitalism develops by destroying the seed of novum generated within civil society, which means that it destroys its specific historicity, and in that way liquidates the dialectics of history. By obliterating the emancipatory legacy of civil society, the idea of novum and the visionary conscience, capitalism sterilizes civil society by depriving it of its historical fecundity. Moreover, the destructive capitalist totalization of the world implies turning all that provides the possibility for a quality rise into a vehicle for the destruction of the world. This is what determines the concrete historical nature of the category of the possible in contemporary capitalism.
Critique of capitalism, in terms of the concept of the future, which means starting off from man as a (realized) universal creative being of freedom, is feasible as a concrete critique only in relation to capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order that directly conditions the nature of the post-capitalist world by obliterating both nature and man. Since its emergence, capitalism has sown the seeds of destruction, that it then germinated, and threatens to destroy the living world. Every day of capitalist life represents a new wound on the body of the living world, injuries that force man, more and more dramatically, to face the imperative of a struggle for survival. By destroying life, capitalism most directly predetermines the future of humankind. The history of humankind in an existential and, therefore, also an essential sense, is conditioned by consequences generated by capitalism – consequences that are capitalism’s “legacy” for the future. Capitalism has a specific dialectics of development that is not only anti-libertarian, but also of anti-existential in nature. It is not only dehumanizing, but is also a de-naturalizing barbarism. Capitalism destroys the human and the natural world by creating a technological world. As an order that de-naturalizes nature, capitalism does not only liquidate the dialectics of history, but also the dialectics of nature. The forces of nature, overpowered by the forms of capitalist technology, with their destructive character, derogate the very dialectics of nature by calling the survival of the living world into question. The way capitalism “overpowers” historicity and annihilates history, also “overpowers” naturalness by annihilating nature as a life-generating entirety and man as a life-creating being.
Failing to notice the destructive nature of capitalism, Marx does not raise the issue of potential threats to the survival of humankind from the capitalism’s mastering of the forces of nature through science and technology. The dialectics of capitalist destruction is based on the fact that capitalist development of the productive forces obliterates, more and more dramatically, the basis of human survival and, at the same time, amplifies the possibilities for the immediate destruction of humankind by applying technical and biological means. The faster capital turnover reduces the probability of human survival, the clearer it is that capitalist determinism is lethal in nature. Capitalism eliminates uncertainty by obliterating life and, therefore, the very existential basis that is necessary for man to have freedom of choice. The development of capitalism into a totalitarian order of destruction indicates that the laws of dialectics are not merely principles of progress, but also principles for the destruction of the world. What-has-not-yet-been as a concrete historical principle does not only imply the coming of an emancipator, but also of the destructive possibilities of capitalism. The category of possibility opens the space not only for freedom and for providing a certain existence, but also for obliterating the world. The growing intensity of the destruction of life makes the issue of the survival of humankind the most important human issue, and optimizing the possibilities for human survival the most basic criterion for assessing the correctness of human actions.
Marx does not envision the possibility of stepping out of and beyond capitalism into a civilization of freedom, as it relates to the development of capitalism as a destructive order. In Marx, the category of possibility implies existential apriorism. The dialectics is encompassed within the necessity-freedom relationship that is mediated by the critical and change-creating mind. This results in reasonable freedom, which implies existential certainty. The category of possibility has both a developmental and libertarian, as well as an existential character. In Marx, the category of possibility implies a step out of and beyond the capitalist world, but not also the possible ways of capitalist development. Indeed, only in relationship to the possible forms of capitalist development can the concept of the new world obtain a concrete historical dimension. The what-has-not-yet-been also refers to tendencies of the development of capitalism: it becomes the order of destruction, which means that it develops by expanding the destructive powers it achieved in the form of “technological civilization”, by obliterating life. The category of possibility is of a historical nature. Starting from a category defined in relation to slavery, the essence of which is freedom, another category was reached, defined in relation to the destruction of life and the essence that is survival. The possibility for the creation of the new world occurs in relation to the more and more plausible possibility of the destruction of life on the planet. On that level, the dialectics of the heightening of contradictions attains a concrete historical dimension. Capitalism does not create a possibility for the “leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom”, but for a fall into an abyss of no return.
By becoming a totalitarian order of destruction, capitalism causes man to be the only potential negation of capitalism. The ever-more realistic possibility of the destruction of humankind represents a starting point for the development of the ever-more radical life-creating practice that represents the actual “negation” of the world based upon totalitarian and destructive capitalist practices. This needs to become the contemporary form by which the revolutionary struggle manifests itself. It is necessary to create a new self-consciousness of man as a revolutionary subject, one who will avert the obliteration of life by becoming a totalizing life-creating being. The issue here is the development of man into an authentic being rather than the petit bourgeois who represents a capitalistically degenerated man. The true “Superman” is, in fact, the man who is adept at eliminating capitalism and creating a new world that will be the realization of the life-creating possibilities of both nature and humankind.
Translated from Serbian by Svetlana Đurić
English translation supervisor Mick Collins