In the weekly study circle organised by DYFI-CUC today, we studied and discussed Chapter 7 of ‘What is Marxism’ by Emile Burns, titled ‘The Marxist View of Nature’.
This chapter is of relevance to social science and political economy because Marxism is a theoretical approach based not on abstract moral principles about what a society ought to be, but one borne out of a careful study of the actually existing societies and their evolution. And actual societies, and the human beings in it, do not exist as entities independent of nature but as a part of it, and governed very much by its laws.
In opposition to the philosophy of idealism – which operates on the assumption that the material world exists only inside a human consciousness and has no independent existence outside of it – Marxism is deeply rooted in the materialist philosophy, which sees matter (the material word) as existing independently and prior to human conscious, which in itself is a product of the evolution of the former.
And this evolution is not a linear process, but one which has a ‘dialectical’ nature, where the existence of a complex set of interrelations generate contradictions when quantitative changes occur to different variables. These contradictions are then resolved with a radical qualitative change – i.e a revolutionary transformation. Thus, “dialectical materialism” forms the central root of the marxist approach.
Citing a scientific example, Burns says, “while the temperature is being raised the water remains water, with all the general characteristics of water, but the amount of heat in it is increasing. Similarly, while the temperature is being reduced the water remains water, but the amount of heat in it is decreasing. However, at a certain point in this process of change.. it is no longer water, but steam or ice. This feature of reality is particularly evident in chemistry.”
Drawing a parallel to make the point that such is the nature of development in human societies also, Burns adds: “In human society, gradual changes take place over a long period without any fundamental changes in the character of society; then a break takes pace, there is a revolution, the old form of society is destroyed and a new form comes into existence and begins its own process of development. Thus within feudal society, which was production for local consumption, the buying and selling of surplus products led to the production of things for the market and so on to the beginnings of capitalist production. All of this was a gradual process of development; but at a certain point the rising capitalist class came into conflict with the feudal order, overthrew it, and transformed the whole character of production; capitalist society took the place of feudalism and began a more tempestuous development.”
This development, which created the working class, has reached a phase where the contradiction has been generated between this new class the capitalist system created and the bourgeoisie, whose revolution instated the capitalist system in place of the overthrown feudalism. The irresolvable nature of this contradiction is what throws open the road to socialist revolution, which brings about a radical transformation by demolishing capitalism and replacing it will a socialist set up.
For a more through understanding about the relationship between the laws governing nature (the material world) and the working and evolution of human societies, consult the ‘Dialectics of Nature’ by Friedrich Engels.
In the next study circle, we will read the final and the most important chapter, titled “A Guide to Action”, and finally summarise our reading of the book. Anyone interested in joining us in our studies is warmly welcome.
Central Unit Committee
Democratic Youth Federation of India – Delhi