Monday, April 30, 2007
May the First - Workers Day
The process has been one of ideological assault on the idea of unionism. The Tories persistently presented their assault upon unions, with all its contradictions, as being a battle for individual rights. Individuals were given the right not to join unions, to not be “unjustifiably disciplined”, to use the courts to influence the unions. The requirement for unions to have to officially defend, or renounce actions of their members means that unions are prevented from articulating their message in the public space. The damage this has done can most clearly be seen in the fate of the Liverpool dockers, where the strike was crushed by silence as the union leadership stood by. The government cannot stop industrial action occurring, but what it can stop is the ideas spreading, and stop people spreading consciousness of unionism.
The process is one of continual removal of the working class from any real control over their own economic lives, alienating institutions they created into state domination. As such people become increasingly alienated from the cultural manifestations of workerdom, enabling Labour and their union lackeys to make Mayday their day. However, all need not be lost.
Remember The Dead : Fight For The Living
What drew my attention to it was this news item .
In China , an average of 17 miners are killed in mining accidents each day, the official People's Daily newspaper reports. But probably higher .
China's mining industry has a controversial recordThousands of miners and cement workers in China are dying each year from breathing in coal and cement dust . The lung disease known as "black lung" or pneumoconiosis accounts for three quarters of all occupational deaths
Of 677,000 occupational disease cases reported in China since the 1950s, more than 90% were pneumoconiosis cases, health ministry spokesperson Su Zhi said. Last year alone, the black lung disease accounted for 76% of the 11,000 new occupational disease cases reported. 621 of the pneumoconiosis cases reported last year involved workers under the age of 18.
As this article recalls , in the 17th and 18th Centuries , peasants in England, Scotland, in continental Europe and, later, elsewhere were forced off the land and herded into factories. Today, we witness a similar situation in China . Millions of Chinese workers who have moved from the countryside to serve the country’s expansion are “overworked, underpaid, denied access to health care, education for their children, and even the right to live permanently in the cities which use their labour,” and are treated as an underclass.
“They are forced to work long stretches of overtime, often denied time off when sick, and labour under hazardous conditions for paltry wages. As well as being exploited by employers, migrant families face discriminatory government regulations in almost every area of daily life...lack free trade union representation in their factories and restaurants, often working 14-hour days, 30 days a month . . .”
Meanwhile, a very rich minority of capitalists, of whom many are or were Communist Party functionaries, and factory managers, have emerged in China .
Exploration of art as a commodity
Money ,Money , Money
One law for one , another law for another
Friday, April 27, 2007
When doing the earlier commemoration of Joseph Dietzgen , i noticed that one of his great admirers , Anton Pannekoek , died on the 28th of April of 1960 .
Pannekoek , an oft neglected Marxist theorist ( others being Paul Mattick and Karl Korsch ) , marginalised by the Left and dismissed by the Leninists , found it difficult to have his ideas disseminated and the Western Socialist , the journal of of the WSP of US , companion party of the SPGB , published a number of his essays . The Socialist Party of Great Britain has also quite recently issued one of his earlier works , Marxism and Darwinism . Most of his writings can be read here
Many anarchists are sympathetic to this Marxist and Council-Communist, particularly what they perceive as his anti-partyism and his arguement that the working class should organise into workers councils for the purpose of capturing power.
However , further reading demonstrates that Pannekoek was not so far apart from the SPGB as it might first seem . A May 1942 Socialist Standard article summarised Pannekoek's position:-
“Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, states his position in the bluntest of terms. Writing in an American magazine, Modern Socialism, he says: 'The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class . . . Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers'.
Further on, however, he qualifies this statement:
'If . . . persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day'.
Here Pannekoek himself is not the model of clarity, but he points to a distinction which does exist.”
The article went on to say that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the form all parties (save the SPGB) had taken “as groups of persons seeking power above the worker” and continued:
“Only Socialism can guarantee the conditions of a life worth living for all. Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for Socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity . . . The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its fellow parties therefore reject all comparison with other political parties. We do not ask for power; we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it”.
Pannekoek wished workers' political parties to be “organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom” and “means of propaganda and enlightenment”.
Almost exactly the role and purpose of the Socialist Party .
Also to be commended is Anton Pannekoek's Lenin As Philosopher , reviewed here , analysis of Leninism as a non-Marxist theory, the ideology of the development of capitalism in Russia in the form of state-capitalism.
For a flavour of Pannekoek here is one of the articles he wrote for the Western Socialist , "Public Ownership and Common Ownership" , where he differentiates between the two:-
The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as public ownership, sometimes as common ownership of the production apparatus. There is, however, a marked and fundamental difference.
Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work.
Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership; but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership this belongs to the regulation of the process of production, which is the function of the bureaucracy. Thus in Russia bureaucracy as the ruling class is master of production and produce, and the Russian workers are an exploited class.
In Western countries we know only of public ownership (in some branches) of the capitalist State. Here we may quote the well-known English “socialist” writer G. D. H. Cole, for whom socialism is identical with public ownership. He wrote:-
“The whole people would be no more able than the whole body of shareholders in a great modern enterprise to manage an industry . . . It would be necessary, under socialism as much under large scale capitalism, to entrust the actual management of industrial enterprise to salaried experts, chosen for their specialized knowledge and ability in particular branches of work” (p. 674).
“There is no reason to suppose that socialisation of any industry would mean a great change in its managerial personnel” (p. 676 in An Outline of Modern Knowledge ed. By Dr W. Rose, 1931).
In other words: the structure of productive work remains as it is under capitalism; workers subservient to commanding directors. It clearly does not occur to the “socialist” author that “the whole people” chiefly consists of workers, who were quite able, being producing personnels, to manage the industry, that consists of their own work.
As a correction to State-managed production, sometimes workers’ control is demanded. Now, to ask control, supervision, from a superior indicates the submissive mood of helpless objects of exploitation. And then you can control another man’s business; what is your own business you do not want controlled, you do it. Productive work, social production, is the genuine business of the working class. It is the content of their life, their own activity. They themselves can take care if there is no police or State power to keep them off. They have the tools, the machines in their hands, they use and manage them. They do not need masters to command them, nor finances to control the masters.
Public ownership is the program of “friends” of the workers who for the hard exploitation of private capitalism wish to substitute a milder modernized exploitation. Common ownership is the program of the working class itself, fighting for self liberation.
We do not speak here, of course, of a socialist or communist society in a later stage of development, when production will be organized so far as to be no problem any more, when out of the abundance of produce everybody takes according to his wishes, and the entire concept of “ownership” has disappeared. We speak of the time that the working class has conquered political and social power, and stands before the task of organizing production and distribution under most difficult conditions. The class fight of the workers in the present days and the near future will be strongly determined by their ideas on the immediate aims, whether public or common ownership, to be realized at that time.
If the working class rejects public ownership with its servitude and exploitation, and demands common ownership with its freedom and self-rule, it cannot do so without fulfilling conditions and shouldering duties. Common ownership of the workers implies, first, that the entirety of producers is master of the means of production and works them in a well planned system of social production. It implies secondly that in all shops, factories, enterprises the personnel regulate their own collective work as part of the whole. So they have to create the organs by means of which they direct their own work, as personnel, as well as social production at large. The institute of State and government cannot serve for this purpose because it is essentially an organ of domination, and concentrates the general affairs in the hands of a group of rulers. But under Socialism the general affairs consist in social production; so they are the concern of all, of each personnel, of every worker, to be discussed and decided at every moment by themselves. Their organs must consist of delegates sent out as the bearers of their opinion, and will be continually returning and reporting on the results arrived at in the assemblies of delegates. By means of such delegates that at any moment can be changed and called back the connection of the working masses into smaller and larger groups can be established and organization of production secured.
Such bodies of delegates, for which the name of workers’ councils has come into use, form what may be called the political organization appropriate to a working class liberating itself from exploitation. They cannot be devised beforehand, they must be shaped by the practical activity of the workers themselves when they are needed. Such delegates are no parliamentarians, no rulers, no leaders, but mediators, expert messengers, forming the connection between the separate personnel of the enterprises, combining their separate opinions into one common resolution. Common ownership demands common management of the work as well as common productive activity; it can only be realized if all the workers take part in this self-management of what is the basis and content of social life; and if they go to create the organs that unite their separate wills into one common action.
Since such workers’ councils doubtlessly are to play a considerable role in the future organization of the workers’ fights and aims, they deserve keen attention and study from all who stand for uncompromising fight and freedom for the working class.
Western Socialist, November 1947
O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us
They expect a majority of the workers of the world to become socialists, but they don't expect them to become socialists by sending off for and then reading literature packs. They expect experience, as well as (obviously) encountering the arguments of a growing number of already convinced socialists, to do the job.
Ken MacLeod:- Where's the idiocy in that? The Bolsheviks did have a two-stage theory up April 1917. The difference with the Mensheviks was over whether the bourgeois-democratic republic would be won in alliance with the bourgeoisie, or against it ('the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry').
They also have spiels like the one "redflag" Camacho was peddling last year about Lenin's "distortions" of Marxism:
They have the same anti-Leninist bugs up their ass that this newsgroup sees from SLP's "redflag" Camacho, but with less hypocrisy: the World Socialist Party never solidarized with the Stalin purges of the Moscow Trials
3:- OTOH without transitional demands you end up with : something like the SPGB (never heard of 'em? can't say I'm surprised). They have been around about as long as the British Labour Party and they have correctly pointed out that the problems of society are caused by capitalism and the solution is socialism FULL STOP. They won't be drawn into any fight for partial demands because that means compromising with capitalism.
They have no objection to workers, and socialists, getting involved in fights for partial demands but don't believe the party should do that. They regard the strategy of transitional demands as elitist and manipulative, as well as downright silly.
4:- BTW, as you well know, the SPGB is a unique beast and therefore not too relevant. They predate the Russian revolution which they are proud to have denounced within hours. Their programmatic base is an academic,undialectical and abstract 'Marxism'. They have no conception of strategy or tactics, or indeed any understanding of the need to get involved in the class struggle. For 90 years they have been doggedly slogging away building, by arithmetic progression, their little band by holding debates,educationals and tea parties. They are amusing and innocuous and highly irrelevant.
How much more than this they ever intended to do the future may reveal. They may have higher aims, yet to be justified by success or condemned by failure; but it is an astounding achievement that these few men have been able to seize opportunity and make the thieves and murderers of the whole world stand aghast and shiver with apprehension.'
('The Russian Situation', Socialist Standard January 1918, reprinted in 'Russia Since 1917', SPGB, n.d. (late 1940s?))
5:-Remarks on Ken's musings on the SPGB
Neither London Nor Edinburgh - But World Socialism
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Feeling Alienated ??
"At My Job"
If your machine might slip a gear
Push this button to help it clear
Your time card says your name's Joe
But we'll call you 6-3-0 [Chorus]
I'm working at my job
I'm so happy
More boring by the day
But they pay me
All that time spent going to school
Just to end up following-rules [Chorus]
Now it's time to take a break
Don't stray too far or you'll be late
Thank you for your service and a long career
Glad you gave us your best years [Chorus]
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Those executed may be awake as they suffocate to death
Even when administered properly, the three-drug lethal injection method appears to have caused some inmates to suffocate while they were conscious and unable to move, instead of having their hearts stopped while they were sedated, scientists said.
No scientific groups have ever validated that lethal injection is humane, the authors write. The journal's editors call for abolishing the death penalty, writing: "There is no humane way of forcibly killing someone."
The study concluded that the typical "one-size-fits-all" doses of anesthetic do not take into account an inmate's weight and other key factors. Some inmates got too little, and in some cases, the anesthetic wore off before the execution was complete.Even the final drug did not always prove fatal as intended. At least one California inmate required a second dose.
In 2005 alone, at least 2,148 people have been killed by lethal injection in 22 countries, especially China, where fleets of mobile execution vans are used. Of the 53 executions in the United States in 2006, all but one were by lethal injection.
"The person would feel either asphyxiation or the burning sensation associated with the potassium" said Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, a surgeon and co-author at the University of Miami. "The potassium would cause extreme discomfort, something like being put on fire."
A biting socialist criticism of the death penalty can be found here .
Perhaps those who avow to be Marxists such as the Chinese leadership may ponder the words of Karl Marx
"...it would be very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to establish any principle upon which the justice or expediency of capital punishment could be founded, in a society glorying in its civilization... is there not a necessity for deeply reflecting upon an alteration of the system that breeds these crimes, instead of glorifying the hangman who executes a lot of criminals to make room only for the supply of new ones?"
The times they are a-changing ...
In previous years, parents had organized private, segregated dances for students of the school in rural Ashburn, Georgia, 160 miles south of Atlanta.
Monday, April 23, 2007
What About The BNP
A Voice From The Aliens
1895. It is part of the hidden history of immigration controls . The leaflet was published in the name of several Jewish trade unions. Jewish refugees started to come to this country in the 1880s – fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe and Tsarist Russia. At this time there were no immigration controls. However there was very quickly racist agitation for controls. Unfortunately the trade union movement – and many of the early socialist groups – took up the demand for restrictions . The leaflet was launched at meetings in London and Leeds where the main speaker was Eleanor Marx – the daughter of Karl Marx.
We, the organised Jewish workers of England, taking into consideration the Anti-Alien Resolution, and the uncomplimentary remarks of certain delegates about the Jewish workers specially, issue this leaflet, wherewith we hope to convince our English fellow workers of the untruthfulness, unreasonableness, and want of logic contained in the cry against the foreign worker in general, and against the Jewish worker in particular.
It is, and always has boon, the policy of the ruling classes to attribute the sufferings and miseries of the masses (which are natural consequences of class rule and class exploitation) to all sorts of causes except the real ones. The cry against the foreigner is not merely peculiar to England ; it is international. Everywhere he is the scapegoat for other's sins. Every class finds in him an enemy. So long as the Anti-Alien sentiment in this country was confined to politicians, wire-pullers, and to individual working men, we, the organised aliens, took no heed; but when this ill-founded sentiment has been officially expressed by the organised working men of England, thon we believe that it is time to lift our voices and argue the matter out.
It has been proved by great political economists that a working man in a country where machinery is greatly developed produces in a day twice as many commodities as his daily wage enables him to consume .
For one half, he himself is the market; for the rest (the surplus), a market must be found elsewhere. Until the market is found, and the surplus sold off, the worker must remain idle—unemployed.
The greater the producing power, the larger the surplus. The larger the surplus is, the longer is the period of unemployment. The larger the number of the unemployed, the keener and fiercer is the competition for work. Consequently. the harder are the times and the greater the sufferings of the worker. Who, then, is to be blamed ? Surely we cannot blame the foreign working man, who is as much a victim of the industrial system as is the English working man. Neither can we blame the machine which displaces human labour. The only party at fault is the English working class itself, which has the power, but neither the sense nor courage, to make the machines serve and benefit the whole nation, instead of leaving them an a source of profit for one class. To punish the alien worker for the sin of the native capitalist is like the man who struck the boy because ho was not strong enough to strike his father.
We will assume for the sake of argument, that the foreign worker is injurious to the English worker, and that the Government will prohibit him from coming hero. What then England as a Free Trade country would thereby suffer severely; because the same commodities which the foreign worker used to produce here (being at the same time a source of income to the country), he will then produce abroad—much cheaper, too, because the cost of living is lower there. Those commodities will then be imported here. Will this benefit the English worker? Let Mr. Freak and Mr. Inskip answer...we will prove to our English fellow workers that immigration or emigration in no way affects the condition of the working men or the state of the labour market.
Leaving the foreign worker in general, we will now deal with the Jewish worker in particular.
We, the Jewish workers, have been spoken of as a blighting blister upon the English trades and workers, as men to whose hearts it is impossible to appeal, and were it not for us, the condition of the native worker would be much improved, lie would have plenty of work, good wages, and what not. Well, let us look into facts; let us examine the condition of such workers with whom the Jew never comes in contact, such as the agricultural labourer, the docker, the miner, the weaver, the chain maker, ship builder, bricklayer and many others. Examine their condition, dear reader, and answer: Is there any truth in the remark that we are a “ blighting blister " upon the English worker?
It is alleged that we are cutting down the wages of the English worker, and no proof is given in support of such an allegation. We on the other hand claim that English workers are reducing our wages and we will prove our claim .
That the ready-made clothing trade, the second class-made to order—tailoring trade, the mantle, waterproof clothing, cap, slipper, and cheap shoe trades have been created by the Jewish workers in this country—no one who knows anything about it will deny. Mr. Booth in his book " Life and Labour of the People," declares "That the ready-made clothing trade is not an invasion on the employment of the English tailor, but an industrial discovery."
In the report of the Board of Trade on the effects immigration, speaking of the boot and shoe trade we find the following "The foreign Jews are, to a large extent, engaged on a common class of boots and shoes, some of which probably could not profitably be made by English labour under the existing statement, and might hence cease to be produced, or at least leave London (either for the provinces or abroad) were it not for the presence of Jewish labour." The reader should not fall into the mistake that the Jewish worker can produce the cheap class of boots because he will work for lower wages—far from it. In fact, the Jewish workers earn better wages in this cheap class than the English do in the better class. This is due to their great abilities in turning out large quantities. In a circular issued by the Mantle Makers' Union to the mantle manufacturers we read the following ;—" Germany and France, though behind England in the evolution of other trades, were ahead of her in the mantle trade. They have created a new branch of the trade in question. They have combined the quality, style, and workmanship of the bespoke tailor made, with nearly the cheapness of the cheap ready made. How did they do it ? By applying the present mode of capitalistic manufacture — that is, production on a large scale, use of machinery and the division of labour, to the bespoke tailor- made garment. Thus England has been a market for Germany and France. Some years ago, certain English manufacturers realised that the same class of garments could be made in this country. Circumstances brought to England the class of workers, experts in that work, and the trade is now rapidly growing."' This is again corroborated by an article on the mantle trade, which appeared in a German periodical, the Neue Zeit, No. 39, of the year 1893, where the writer points out to his countrymen the cause of the diminution of the mantle trade in Germany. " The cause is," he says, " the transference of the trade to England by the Russian and Polish Jews." We could fill a book with quotations, statements, and figures, in favour of our claim. From what has been said, the truth-seeking reader will see how groundless is the accusation that we displace English labour.
Not only are we engaged in trades which we have introduced, but we have to a very great extent provided work fur the English workers. According to the report mentioned above, the Jewish workers that are employed in the boot and shoe trade are less than 1 and a half per cent, of the total number of workers employed in that trade. The export of boots and shoes from the United Kingdom from the year 1873 till 1893 increased about 25 per cent. Taking into consideration that the Jewish products are mostly exported, and that their influx into the boot and shoe trade took place during that period, is it not reasonable to assume that the great increase in trade is to some extent due to them?
But that is nothing to what has been accomplished in the clothing trades. The trousers and vests are made entirely by English women ; the weaving, cutting, book-keeping, and all work connected with the counting house is performed only by English men and women.
We will also remind our English friends of the fact that when the Jewish tailors of Leeds struck in 1888, the English workers in the cloth mills were put on half time.
When you, our English fellow workers, cry out so loud against our competition, while you fail to prove that it exists at all, when you call us a blighting blister, then what ought we to say to our English sister-slaves who are actually taking the broad out of our mouths by working for half the price, and are driving us out of the workshops which we have built up ? Can they deny that they are making a mantle for a shilling, for which we have received two shillings?
We feel their throat-cutting competition in every trade which we have created, and which they have stepped into. Those who investigate the subject readily admit it. Thus we read in the report of the Board of Trade the following statements:—"At present the Jews need only fear the competition with the English female labour." Again :—" In the machining department, where foreign men compete with English women, the latter are gaining ground on the former."
In view of the foregoing facts, we ask the impartial reader : Who is competing with whom, who is displacing whom—the Jew the English, or the English the Jew!
We have been branded by the Freakians and Inskippians as a class of people who are behind in the labour movement, who will not be organised, and to whose hearts it is impossible! to appeal. We bog leave to ask these gentlemen whether their appeals to our hearts during the boot makers struggle with their masters did or did not find a response ? If their memories fail them, we will recommend them to the - Strike Committee.
Did it require much appealing to our hearts in the time of the great miners' struggle to induce us to organise a committee which raised .£38 16s. 4d., besides what our Unions donated from their funds ? We could enumerate many instances which would illustrate the deep sympathy with which the hearts of the Jewish working men are filled in response to every appeal made to them by their English fellow workers. But we must refrain, lest it be said that we are " boasting."
The gentlemen named above would have the world. believe that we are blacklegs, and that we will not be organised. True, some of us are hard to be convinced of the benefits of organisation, hut when we can point to an army of 3,000 union men in London alone, out of a total of about 10,000 Jewish working men, then we believe that we can hold up our heads against either English, Scots, Irish, or Welsh.
That there are some blacklegs amongst us is nothing more than natural, you will find them among all nations. But one thing must be admitted. It is this ; That we have not amongst us an official organised army of blacklegs, such as the English can boast of, viz.," A free labour party "
We are behind the English working men in the labour movement, but were we not in front of them in the last 1st of May demonstration ?
Just as we were about to write our concluding remarks in this leaflet, we have been informed by the Press that a deputation of the organised English working men met the Government and laid before them many resolutions that were passed at the Cardiff Congress. Of all that was asked, only one thing was granted. It is this : That all alien exploiters, swindlers, blacklegs, drunkards, idlers of all sorts who have money are welcomed here; but that skilful, industrious, honest working men, who have either been out of work for a long time, or have been locked out by their masters for taking part in strikes and boycotts, and therefore have no money, shall be prohibited from coming here.
We cannot congratulate the English working-class on this achievement. We believe that with all its influence with its great organisations and enormous funds, with its millions of votes, and, above all, with its great intelligence it ought to have achieved something better and nobler. In conclusion, we appeal to all right-thinking working men of England not to be misled by some leaders who have made it their cause to engender a bitter feeling amongst the British workers against the workers of other countries. Rather hearken to the voices of such leaders as will foster a feeling of international solidarity among the working people.
In conclusion, we appeal to our fellow-workers to consider whether there is any justification whatever for regarding as the enemies of the English workers the foreign workers, who, so far from injuring them, actually bring trade here and develop new industries; whether, so far from being the enemies of the English workers, it is not rather the capitalist class (which is constantly engaged in taking trade abroad, in opening factories in China, Japan, and other countries) who is the enemy, and whether it is not rather their duty to combine against the common enemy than fight against us whose interests are identical with theirs.
Amalgamated Society of Tailors, Jewish Branch.
Labels: immigration controls
Friday, April 20, 2007
Unfurl the Socialist Banner
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Cheap Bill Gates
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Tartan Reds
Oh dear , when "comrades" fall out , don't the feathers and fur fly .
HEE HAW !! HEE HAW !!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The Job is F**ked
Monday, April 16, 2007
Joseph Dietzgen - The Workers Philosopher
JOSEPH DIETZGEN is indeed a neglected philosopher. How many people know that he was the man Marx introduced to the 1872 Congress of the First International as ‘our philosopher’? Or that it was Dietzgen, not Plekhanov, who first coined the phrase ‘dialectical materialism’? Or that for the first thirty or so years of this century Dietzgen’s Philosophical Essays were to he found on the bookshelves of any working class militant with Marxist pretensions?
Who, then, was Dietzgen? What were his views? And, indeed, why has he been neglected?
Joseph Dietzgen was born in December 1828 near Cologne. His father was a master tanner and it was in this trade that Dietzgen was trained and worked. He was neither, a capitalist nor a propertyless worker but an artisan owning and working his own instruments of production. What distinguished him from other pioneer scientific socialists like Marx and Engels was that he never went to university; he was a self-educated man. Dietzgen was involved in the 1848 rising and after its failure left for America returning, however, after a couple of years. He spent another two years in America after 1859 and went there again in 1884, never to return. He died in 1888 and is buried in Chicago.
Dietzgen was not just interested in philosophy, though this was his main interest. He was also a writer on economic and political matters for the German Social Democratic press, especially in the l870s. Marx commented favourably on Dietzgen’s review of Capital in his Afterward to the Second German Edition.1 The two men were personal acquaintances.
Dietzgen wrote in German, but a number of his writings, including the most important, were translated into English in the early years of this century and published as two books 2 by the Charles H. Kerr Co. of Chicago. The book bearing the title The Positive Outcome of Philosophy contains not only this, his last work originally published in 1887, but also his first work, The Nature of Human Brainwork (1869), and also his Letters on Logic. The other book, Philosophical Essays, contains translations of some of the propagandist articles Dietzgen wrote in the 1970s and also his pamphlet Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology. This pamphlet, especially Chapter 3, ‘Materialism versus Materialism’, is perhaps the best outline of Dietzgen’s views in his own words. For, frankly, Dietzgen’s works are not easy to read, partly because of the subject matter, but partly also because Dietzgen tended to express himself somewhat philosophically and to needlessly repeat himself.
In his introduction, written in 1902, to the English edition of The Positive Outcome of Philosophy, the Dutch Marxist, Anton Pannekoek, described Dietzgen’s philosophical writings as ‘an important and indispensable auxiliary for the understanding of the fundamental works of Marx and Engels.’3 Ernst Untermann, another German Social Democrat who had emigrated to America, expressed a similar view: ‘Dietzgen rounded out the work of Marx and Engels by a consistent monist conception of the universe' 4 Are these opinions justified? In this writer's opinion, yes. Marx’s historical materialism is a materialist theory of history and society; it is not, and was not meant to be, a materialist philosophy. Of course, being an atheist, Marx must have had a materialist conception of the universe but he never wrote much about it. Nor was there any reason why he should have. His specialities were history, sociology and economics, not philosophy or epistemology. Engels made an attempt to back up the materialist conception of history with a materialist philosophy but, in many respects failed to do this satisfactorily. It was Dietzgen who succeeded and in this sense can justly be said to have filled a 'gap' in socialist theory.
Dietzgen was a thoroughgoing empiricist and materialist. For him all knowledge was derived from sense-perception and what human beings perceived had a real existence independent of their perception of it.
The Nature of Human Brainwork (1869) presents an empiricist theory of knowledge derived from a rejection of Kantian dualism. Kant had claimed that Reason (=science, knowledge) could only deal with the world of experience, but the world of experience, according to him, was only a world of appearances or, to use a word derived from Greek meaning the same, a world of ‘phenomena’. Thus science could never come to understand the world as it really was, the world of what Kant called ‘things-in-themselves’ of which he supposed the world of phenomena to be but appearances. For Kant. there were two worlds: a world of phenomena, which was all the human mind could come to understand, and a world of things-in-themselves beyond human experience and understanding.
For Dietzgen, to posit the existence of a second world beyond the world of experience was simply metaphysical nonsense. ‘Phenomena or appearances appear - voilà tout.’5 The world of phenomena was the only world; phenomena were themselves real, the substance of the real world. Phenomena, however, says Dietzgen, do not exist as independent entities; they exist only as parts or the entire single world of phenomena. The world of reality is a single entity embracing all observable phenomena, past, present and future. Reality is thus infinite, having no beginning nor end. It is constantly changing. The universe and all things in it consist of transformations of matter, which take place simultaneously and consecutively in space and time.
The universe is in every place and at any time itself new or present for the first time. It arises and passes away, passes and arises under our very hands. Nothing remains the same, only the infinite change is constant, and even the change varies. Every part of time and space brings new changes.6
The world of reality is a never-ending, everchanging stream of observable phenomena, and it exists only as a whole. That Reality, Existence, the Universe, Nature – call it what you will (and Dietzgen called it many things drawn from philosophy, e.g., the Absolute, the Good, Truth, even God) – is a united whole a single unit, is the basis of Dietzgen’s theories and is endlessly repeated in the Letters on Logic, written over the period 1880-3 to Eugene, one of his sons.
As can be seen, this conception of the universe is both materialist (since it posits the existence of a world of reality independent of men’s perception of it) and dialectical (since it sees the world of reality as a changing, differentiated unity). It was for this reason that Dietzgen called his philosophy ‘dialectical materialism’, a phrase he first used in his 1870s articles in the German Social Democratic press.7 This was some years before Plekhanov, who is generally said to have originated this phrase (which is not to be found in the writings of Marx or Engels), even claimed to be a Marxist. Plekhanov, it should be noted, meant something rather different by it than did Dietzgen; he was the father of the undialectical state philosophy of present-day Russia which also, unfortunately, goes under the name of ‘dialectical materialism’ and with which Dietzgen’s quite different theories are not to be confused.
What is Knowledge?
The human mind The human mind is not the metaphysical mystery that idealist philosophers try to make it. As something that can be observed and studied, it too is part the world of phenomena. Once this is recognised, as Dietzgen insists it should be, then it is possible to give a materialist explanation of the nature of thinking. Dietzgen’s philosophy is in fact essentially such a materialist epistemology. Human brainwork consists, says Dietzgen, in generalising from experience, in constructing abstract general concepts on the basis of perceptions supplied by the senses. The senses perceive a continuous stream of different phenomena; the role of the mind is to make sense of this stream by distinguishing and naming parts of it. The mind, as the organ of human understanding, understands the world by classifying it:
Knowledge, thinking, understanding, explaining, has not, and cannot have, any other function than that of describing the processes of experience by (division or classification.8
Phenomena are classified by the mind into different categories on the basis of common characteristics. But the categories, or concepts, are abstractions from reality, mental constructs. A table, for instance, does not have a separate, independent existence; it is the name given by the human mind to a certain group of recurring phenomena perceived by the senses. A table (and indeed all other things) is an abstraction, a mental construct. In reality all things are interdependent Darts of the whole which is the entire world of phenomena:
The world is not made up of fixed classes, but is a fluid unity, the Absolute incarnate, which develops eternally, and is only classified by the human mind for purposes of forming intelligent conceptions.9
This dialectical view contrasts with the everyday – and undialectical – view that the world consists of a collection of separate, fixed objects. Dietzgen does not challenge the usefulness of this latter view. On the contrary, he recognises that men must form such a view of the world if they are to orient themselves and survive in it. It is this ability to generalise, to, as it were, stop this continuous stream of phenomena (so that parts of it can become subjects for abstract thought), that distinguishes men from other animals and has enables them to intervene in and control the external world. But, says Dietzgen, we ought to know that stopping the stream of phenomena and classifying it into separate, fixed objects is only a mental operation, however vital to the survival of the human species:
The logical household use of rigid conceptions extends, and should and must extend, to all science. The consideration of things as ‘the same’, is indispensable, and yet it is very salutary to know and remember that the things are not only the same and congealed, but at the same time variable and fluid.10
To state that things are mental constructs can give rise to the misunderstanding that you are saying that they are only mental constructs and that you are therefore an idealist who sees the external world as the creation of the mind. Rut Dietzgen was not saying that things were simply mental constructs: things were mental constructs out of the real world of phenomena as perceived by the senses; things were abstractions, yes, but abstractions from an objectively-existing external reality. Although a thing as such, as a separate independent object, did not exist, there was certainly something in the real world of phenomena which corresponded to it that existed. The mind was not so much constructing the external world as reconstructing an image of it.
Science altogether does not want and cannot want to accomplish more than the classification of perceptible things according to species and varieties; its entire desire and ability is confined to the mental reconstruction of the different parts of a differential unity. [emphasis added] It is the substantial force of the Universe, in which they participate, which has brought about the things that are, and all that the human mind can do is to form a picture of its gradual, consistent and rational working.11
These passages make it quite clear that for Dietzgen the external world existed independently of the human mind. Unfortunately, as we shall see, this did not prevent him from being misunderstood on this point.
A further aspect of Dietzgen’s dialectical materialism is that knowledge can never be absolute or complete, all knowledge is relative; our classification or description of the world must always be regarded as a tentative approximation liable to revision in the light of further experience. Dietzgen’s last work, The Positive Outcome of Philosophy (1887), ends with the following rule for scientific investigation which remains valid to this day:
Thou shalt sharply divide and subdivide and farther subdivide to the utmost, the universal concept, the concept of the universe, but thou shalt be backed up by the consciousness that this mental classification is a formality, by which man seeks to register and Systematize his experience; thou shalt furthermore remain conscious of thy human liberty to progressively clarify thy experience, which is constantly enriched in the course of time, through modified classification.12
Mind and Matter
Dietzgen, as we saw, called himself a materialist. There are however various kinds of materialism and Dietzgen was careful to differentiate his dialectical materialism from what he called ‘onesided,’ ‘narrow’ and ‘mechanical’ materialism. This was the view (indeed the traditional materialist view going back to the philosophers of Ancient Greece) that the world is composed of tiny particles of tangible ‘matter’ and that the mind and thinking are simply the effects of the movement of these atoms. Writes Dietzgen:
The distinguishing mark between the mechanical materialists of the 18th century and the Social-Democratic materialists trained in German idealism consists in that that the latter have extended the former’s narrow conception of matter as consisting exclusively of the Tangible to all phenomena that occur in the world.13
Every phenomenon, everything that occurs, exists, as part of the entire world of phenomena. Since non-tangible phenomena, e.g. ideas, thoughts etc., also occur, they are just as real or, if you like, just as ‘material’ as tangible phenomena:
In the endless Universe matter in the sense of old and antiquated materialists, that is, of tangible matter, does not possess the slightest preferential right to be more substantial, i.e. more immediate, more distinct and more certain than any other phenomena of nature.14
Dietzgen had no objection to the classification of the world of phenomena into two general categories, one consisting of tangible phenomena and called ‘matter’ and the other consisting of mental phenomena and called ‘mind.’ He had no objection either to explanations of mental phenomena in terms of tangible phenomena. What he was concerned to point out was that, in this sense, both ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ were abstractions, even if very general ones, from the real world of phenomena. The rigid distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ was a mental distinction that did not exist in the world of phenomena which, despite this mental operation, remained an undivided whole:
The mind is a collective name for the mental phenomena, as matter is a collective name for the material phenomena, and the two together figure under the idea and name of the phenomena of Nature.15
This was the basis of Dietzgen’s statement, which, as we shall see, so upset Lenin, that ‘our materialism is distinguished by its special knowledge of the common nature of mind and matter’.16 By this he simply meant that both mind and matter were parts of the world of observable phenomena.
Those Dietzgen called the ‘narrow’ materialists made the mistake of not thinking dialectically, that is, of not realising that the parts of the world of phenomena do not exist independently but only as interconnected parts of that world. In taking one part of the world of phenomena and making it the basis of all the other parts, they were falsely ascribing a real, independent existence to what was in fact only an abstraction:
This materialism is so enamoured of mechanics, that it, as it were, idolizes it, does not regard it as part of the world, but as the sole substance of which the universe is made up.17
This was the same mistake as regarding the objects of everyday use as having an independent, separate existence. ‘Matter’ just as much as ‘table’ was a mental abstraction from the real world of phenomena; in reality tangible phenomena do not exist separately from other phenomena, they exist only as an integral part of the entire single world of all phenomena.
It is worth emphasising again that this equal epistemological status of tangible and mental phenomena does not at all rule out scientific explanations of mental phenomena in terms of tangible phenomena, e.g., in terms of the physiological functioning of the brain and nervous system, or indeed of the explanation of all phenomena in terms of the movement of atoms. The fact that ‘matter’ and ‘atoms’ were metal abstractions from the world of phenomena did not in the least detract from their possible usefulness as concepts for understanding the world. As Dietzgen said of atoms:
Atoms are groups. As smallest parts they exist only in our thoughts and thus give excellent service in chemistry. The consciousness that they are not plastic but only mental things, does not detract from their usefulness, but heightens it still more.18
To understand the world was to divide it into necessarily abstract concepts. It was not Dietzgen’s aim to decide which was the best way to classify, describe and explain the world but to show what we were doing when we did do this. To ascribe reality to any of these mental constructs, even so general a one as (tangible) matter was a confusion, was to think undialectically; the only thing that had a separate, independent existence was the entire world of phenomena itself. Dietzgen’s criticism of one-sided, narrow materialism was a criticism of its confusion on this point, and not at all a criticism of the basic principles of materialism.
Dietzgen was essentially a philosopher of science. We would not want to claim that he always expressed himself clearly or adequately (his ontological proof of the universe and his virtual pantheism will make some readers wince – or smile), but despite his shortcomings he must be given the credit for first formulating a theory of the nature of science – as basically a description of the world for purposes of prediction and control – which is now largely accepted even if it does not call itself ‘dialectical materialism’ or indeed refer to itself as ‘materialist’ at all (mainly for fear of confusion with the narrow, one-sided materialism of the past – and present-day Russia).
Dietzgen’s works, besides being difficult to obtain, make difficult reading. However, his best interpreter, the Dutch Marxist Anton Pannekoek, expressed himself very clearly. Pannekoek was himself a scientist, a professor of astronomy of world renown in fact, and wrote not only the introduction to the Kerr editions of The Positive Outcome of Philosophy but also, later, two short brilliant books applying Dietzgen’s dialectical materialism: Lenin as Philosopher (1938)19 and Anthropogenesis (1944). Unfortunately these are just as difficult to obtain as the works of Dietzgen himself.
Lenin versus Dietzgen
At about the same time as Dietzgen was writing, two other German-speakers, Ernst Mach in Austria and Richard Avenarius in Switzerland, were working out a theory of science which was in a number of ways similar to Dietzgen’s. One of Avenarius’ followers called this theory ‘empiriocriticism.’ We can’t go into this theory here except to say that it too saw knowledge as essentially the classification of experience. However, while Dietzgen never doubted the independent existence of the world of phenomena or experience, empiriocriticism was ambiguous on this point. It wished to construct the world from ‘experience’ (sense-data, etc.) but since experience is the experience of human beings it came very near to saying, and some of its exponents did say, that the human mind (or minds) was as vital to the existence of the external world as external phenomena themselves.
Empirio-criticism, partly because of its similarity with Dietzgen’s dialectical materialism, enjoyed a certain vogue in Social Democratic circles in the early years of the twentieth century. A number of Social Democrats, including Dietzgen’s son Eugene, misinterpreted Dietzgen in an empirio-criticist direction. Included in the Kerr edition of Dietzgen’s Philosophical Essays is an essay on Max Stirner by Eugene wherein we read that ‘whatever does not partake of the psychophysical nature of the universe, cannot exist for us’ and that ‘phenomena outside of us . . . exist independently of individual man, although they cannot exist for mankind independently of human consciousness.20
Eugene Dietzgen would seem to be suggesting here that the external world is not an objective world but only an inter-subjective world, i.e., a sort of collective creation of all human minds which would not exist in their absence. Similar views were expounded also by a number of members of the Russian Bolshevik Party. Lenin was scandalised by this departure from materialism (as indeed it was) and set out to refute this deviation once and for all. In 1908 was published Plekhanov’s Fundamental Problems of Marxism and in 1909 Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Both contain a denial of the view we quoted earlier that Dietzgen had added something to the work of Marx and Engels. We won’t deal with Plekhanov’s criticism here except to say that he preferred Feuerbach’s materialism to Dietzgen’s dialectical
materialism (though he retained the phrase ‘dialectical materialism’).
Lenin devotes a section of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism to Dietzgen entitled ‘How could J. Dietzgen Have Found Favour with the Reactionary Philosophers?’ in which he criticises in particular Dietzgen’s view that the real, or material, world includes the intangible (thoughts, etc.) as well as the tangible:
To say that thought is material is to make a false step, a step towards confusing materialism and idealism.
That the conception of ‘matter’ must also include thoughts, as Dietzgen repeats in the Excursions, is a muddle, for if such an inclusion is made, the epistemological contrast between mind and matter, idealism and materialism, a contrast upon which Dietzgen himself insists, loses all meaning.21
Lenin regards this as a ‘deviation’ by Dietzgen from materialism, without seeming to realise that this view is the basis of Dietzgen’s whole materialist epistemology. It is not a question of Dietzgen expressing himself badly but of there being a fundamental difference between Dietzgen’s materialism and Lenin’s. Lenin was clearly one of those Dietzgen described as a narrow, one-sided, mechanical materialist.
Lenin’s claim about the epistemological contrast between idealism and materialism being blurred if thoughts are regarded as part of the world of phenomena (= the material world) is not true. As we have seen, Dietzgen was quite able to make this the basis of his epistemology and to remain a thoroughgoing materialist who never for one moment doubted the objective existence of the external world. Lenin was quite right, on the other hand, to attack people like Eugene Dietzgen who only gave the external world an inter-subjective existence. This was indeed a departure from materialism in the direction of idealism, but Lenin’s criticism of it was made from the point of view of what Pannekoek in his Lenin as Philosopher called ‘bourgeois materialism’ not that of dialectical materialism.
Pannekoek, in this work (which is a reply to Lenin following the publication of German, English and French translations in 1927 and 1928), attempted to give an explanation of why the Russian Bolshevik Party should have adopted ‘bourgeois materialism’ as its theory. By ‘bourgeois’ materialism Pannekoek meant a materialism which seeks to explain everything in terms of physics and chemistry. When the bourgeoisie had to fight to achieve and retain power, said Pannekoek, they believed in the power of the physical sciences to change the world, practically by developing modern industry, and theoretically by exposing the religious views of their class opponents as superstitious nonsense. That Lenin and the Bolsheviks 22 should have adopted a similar ideology to that of the rising bourgeoisie of Western Europe at an earlier period was to be explained, said Pannekoek, by the essentially similar task that confronted them: to carry out the equivalent of a bourgeois revolution in Russia which would sweep away the obstacles, institutional and ideological, to the development of modern industry there. Pannekoek saw Leninism as the ideology of a new ruling class whose historical task was to industrialise Russia on the basis of state capitalism, with militant physical-science materialism as its ideology. This materialism, though falsely called ‘dialectical,’ is still the dominant ideology in Russia today.
Whatever the explanation as to why Lenin rejected Dietzgen’s dialectical materialism, the fact that he did contributed in large measure to Dietzgen becoming a neglected philosopher.23 Dietzgen’s ideas had been introduced into Britain before the first World War by the English-language translations of his works published by Kerr of Chicago, and had been propagated here by such organisations as the Labour College movement and the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Both of these continued to exist after the War and Russian revolution and both of them proclaimed a Marxism independent of Moscow. A textbook on Dietzgen’s philosophy by an NCLC lecturer, Fred Casey, called Thinking (1922) was widely read in militant working-class circles. Then in 1927 was published the first English translation of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.24 From then on, as in the 1930s, the Communist Party’s false claim to be genuine Marxists came to be widely accepted, Dietzgen receded into the background. In 1936 T.A. Jackson, a professional Communist Party writer, included a vituperative attack, in true Leninist style, on the unfortunate Casey in his book Dialectics; to be a ‘Caseyite,’ i.e., to accept Dietzgen’s philosophy without Lenin’s ‘correction,’ became a heresy in Communist Party circles.
We would not want to claim that the sole reason for Dietzgen becoming neglected was the fact that his materialism differed from that proclaimed by the State philosophers of Russia. Other factors entered into it too, including the difficult reading that his writings make. Also, with the decline of religion as a social force, working class militants have felt less need to arm themselves with a militant materialism such as Dietzgen provided. Nor is it now really necessary to ‘revive’ Dietzgen. For, as we have said, his basic views have been absorbed into modern science which in practice is both dialectical and materialist. For the historical record, though, it is worth paying a tribute to the working tanner and socialist militant who pioneered these views. Dietzgen, radical philosophers of today should be aware, was the man who first formulated the theory of dialectical materialism as an essential complement to Marx’s materialist conception of history.
1 Capital, Vol. I, p.16, FLPH, Moscow, 1961.
2 The Positive Outcome of Philosophy, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, 1906. A second revised edition was published in 1928, from which the quotes for this article are taken. Philosophical Essays, Charles H. Kerr, Chicago, 1906 and 1917.
3 Positive Outcome p.63.
4 Science and Revolution p.161, Kerr, 1905.
5 ‘The Nature of Human Brainwork,’ Positive Outcome, p.102.
6 Ibid, p.101.
7 Essays, pp.139, 159, 208, 216 (231, 293, 294, 306, 307, 361).
8 ‘The Positive Outcome of Philosophy,’ Positive Outcome, p.425.
9 ‘Excursions,’ Essays, p.322.
10 ‘The Positive Outcome of Philosophy,’ Positive Outcome, pp.374-5.
11 ‘Excursions,’ Essays, pp.361-2 and p.310 respectively.
12 ‘The Positive Outcome of Philosophy,’ Positive Outcome, p.428.
13 ‘Excursions,’ Essays p.298.
14 ‘Excursions,’ Essays p.307.
15 ‘Excursions,’ Essays pp.311-12
16 ‘Excursions,’ Essays p.308.
17 ‘The Positive Outcome of Philosophy,’ Positive Outcome, p.368.
18 Ibid, p.418.
19 Lenin as Philosopher, New Essays, New York, 1948. A French translation was recently published by Spartacus, 5 rue Ste-Croix-de-la- Bretonnerie, Paris IVe. See also Pannekoek’s article ‘Society and Mind in Marxian Philosophy,’ Science and Society, 1, 4, 1937.
20 ‘The Proletarian Method,’ Essays, p.65 and p.61 respectively.
21 Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, p.290 and p.292 respectively, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1972.
22 Trotsky too was a mechanical materialist who believed that, in principle, it was possible to explain everything, from the movement of the planets to thinking and consciousness, in terms of the movement and properties of the tangible atomic particles he supposed the world to be made up of. See the extracts from two speeches made in 1925 and 1926, reproduced in The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, edited and introduced by Isaac Deutscher, Dell, New York, 1964, pp.342-55.
23 Dietzgen was not entirely forgotten. See, for instance, ‘Empiricism and Ethics in Dietzgen’ by Loyd D. Easton, Journal of the History of Ideas, January 1958. Also the SPGB, and the World Socialist Party of the United States (from which this writer first learnt of the ideas of Dietzgen and Pannekoek), continued, and continue, to propagate his ideas.
24 There exist two English translations of Lenin’s work. The first, the one published in 1927, evidently had various inaccuracies. For instance, it has a passage ‘all materialists regard Dietzgen as an inconsistent philosopher’ which the second translates ‘materialists . . . regard Dietzgen as a philosopher who is not entirely consistent’!
LARRY GAMBONE:- " COSMIC DIALECTICS,THE LIBERTARIAN PHILOSOPHY OF JOSEPH DIETZGEN"