[Book] The Revolutionary philosophy of Marxism

Trotsky’s Notebooks: Excerpts on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism

Leon Trotsky


With fascism in power in Italy, Germany, and Spain, and Stalin consolidating his death grip on the USSR, Trotsky was living in exile, harried from country to country on a “planet without a visa.” Fighting against such momentous odds to rebuild the forces of world Bolshevism, like Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Trotsky also went “back to basics” in the form of a critique of Hegelian dialectics.

In his Diary in Exile, he wrote the following on May 16, 1935: “It’s been about two weeks since I have written much of any­thing: it’s too difficult. I read newspapers. French novels. Wittels’s book about Freud (a bad book by an envious pupil), etc. Today I wrote a little about the interrelationship between the physiological determinism of brain processes and the ‘auto­nomy’ of thought, which is subject to the laws of logic. My philosophical interests have been growing during the last few years, but alas, my knowledge is too insufficient, and too little time remains for a big and serious work …”

Discovered by chance in the Trotsky Archives at Harvard University, his notebooks on philosophy remained unknown until 1998, when they were translated from the Russian and annotated by Philip Pomper, who found them while researching a project on Lenin. They were subsequently published as Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933–1935 by Columbia University Press. Not only does Trotsky anticipate his future debate with the anti-dialectics opposition of the Socialist Workers Party, he also takes up a wide range of topics including the history of philosophy, Darwin, the dialectics of consciousness, psychoanalysis, Lenin’s dialectics versus Martov’s, and much more. While the selections we have made focus on dialectics, this is a remarkable collection that deserves to be read in its entirety.

Excerpt 1—Hegel

See the topic L. [Lenin]

Those who repudiate “dialectics” consider it to be simply superfluous, a useless playing with thought. Positive science is enough! Does positive science therefore exclude pure mathematics and logic?

In fact, dialectics is related to logic (formal) as higher mathematics is to lower.

Hegel himself viewed dialectics precisely as logic, as the science of the forms of human cognition, but in Hegel these forms are the ones in which the world develops, in that in logical forms it is only [realizing] its material content. Dialectics is summarized by Hegel in a work called Science of Logic.

For Hegel dialectics is a logic of broader dimensions—in space and in time—universal logic, the objective logic of the universe.

The negation of the concept in itself

If we visualize the fabric of life as a complex piece of knitting, then the concept can be equated with the separate stitches. Every concept seems to be independent and complete—formal logic operates with them this way—in reality every stitch has two ends, which connect it with adjacent stitches. If pulled at the end it unravels—the dialectical negation of a concept, in its limitedness, in its sham independence.

Some objects (phenomena) are confined easily within boundaries according to logical classification, others present difficulties: they can be put here or there, but within a stricter relationship—nowhere. While provoking the indignation of systematizers, such transitional forms are exceptionally interesting to dialecticians, for they smash the limited boundaries of classification, revealing the real connections and consecutiveness of a living process.

According to Hegel being and thinking are identical (absolute idealism). Materialism does not adopt this identity—it premises being to thought.

The identity of being and thinking according to H[egel] signifies the identity of objective and subjective logic, their ultimate congruence. Materialism accepts the correspondence of the subjective and objective, their unity, but not their identity, in other words, it does not liberate matter from its materiality, in order to keep only the logical framework of regularity, of which scientific thought (consciousness) is the expression.

The doctrine of the teacher is taken up only in ready-made results, which are transformed into a pillow for lazy thought. Hegel on Kant and his epigones.

From Kant to Hegel (from dualism to monism)

Kant: Reason is self-legislating, it constructs its tools of cognition (the categories) by itself; only the thing-in-itself is located outside of consciousness.

Hegel: But the thing-in-itself is only a logical abstraction, created by reason; consequently nothing exists aside from Reason.

Is it possible to say that Hegel’s absolute idealism is a self-legislating solipsism?

The concept—is not a closed circle, but a loop, but you can also knot it. (this has been said once already!!)

Mikhailovsky and others deduce the [Hegelian] triad [of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis] from the past, present, and future. There is a shadow of truth here, but only a shadow. Our conceptualizing reflects processes, transforming them into “objects.” Not every present is suitable for the formation of a concept; a certain stabilization of the process is necessary in order for an enduring representation of it to form. This act of consciousness is thereby a rupture with the past, which prepared the stabilization. Our concept of the earth, the “most durable” of our conceptions, the “most durable” of the objects of our everyday conceptions, the “most durable” of the objects of our everyday milieu, is based upon a total rupture with the revolutionary formation of the solar system. The concept is conservative. Its conservatism issues: a) from its utilitarian purpose, b) from the fact that the memory of a person, like that of humankind, is short.

Thus, the triad does not at all correspond to an undifferentiated past, present, and future, but to the formative stages of the process,

Excerpt 2—The Second Notebook

a = a is only a particular case of the law aa.

Dialectics is the logic of motion, development, and evolution.

Formal logic involves stationary and unchanging quantities: a = a. Dialectics retorts: aa. Both are correct: a = a at every given moment; aa at two different moments. Everything flows, everything is changing. What does logic express? The law of the external world or the law of consciousness? The question is posed dualistically, [and] therefore not correctly [for] the laws of logic express the laws (rules, methods) of consciousness in its active relationship to the external world. The relationship of consciousness to the external world is a relationship of the part (the particular, specialized) to the whole.

Logic involves unchanging qualities (a = a) and the fixed quantities of these qualities. Dialectics is constructed on the transition of quantity into quality and the reverse.

The law of the transition of quantity into quality is (very likely) the fundamental law of dialectics.

In this sense dialectics is the logic of Darwinism (in opposition to Linnaeus), the logic of Marxism (in opposition to rationalistic, idealistic theories of the historical process), the logic of philosophical materialism (in opposition to Kantianism, etc.)

The dialectical relationship to quality signified an entirely new relationship to so-called moral values. Official, that is, bourgeois thought today still views justice, rights, honors, as absolute values, as higher criteria. Dialectical materialism razed to the ground the kingdom of idealistic mythology. It showed how imperceptible quantitative molecular changes in economics prepare the way for a radical change in moral criteria: the old values are transformed into their opposite, against them new values enter the scene, the carrier of which is a new class or stratum, not seldom a new generation of the [old] class itself. It is quite usual in philistine circles to accuse Lenin of cynicism, and this expresses precisely hostility to the dialectical worldview, a struggle for absolute values, [both] essential for covering up [their] pitiful, barren, self-interested practice.

Alexander III [in] the 1880s was much more confident and decisive in the defense of autocracy than his father. “The great reforms”—especially the zemstvo, the judiciary, the press—made it possible for the bureaucracy to distinguish the true strength of its enemies and allies. The balance proved to be a favorable one.


It must be recognized that the fundamental law of dialectics is the conversion of quantity into quality, for it gives [us] the general formula of all evolutionary processes—of nature as well as of society.

Cognition begins with the differentiation of things, with their opposition to each other, with a classification of their qualitative differences. The quantitative definitions operate with independent particulars, consequently they depend upon qualitative definitions (five fingers, ten years, 100 amperes).

Practical thought lives within these limits. For a cattle trader a cow is a cow; he is interested only in the individual qualities of its udder. From his practical point of view he is indifferent to the genetic links between the cow and an amoeba.

If we grasp the universe from the point of view of atomic theory, then it appears to us like a gigantic laboratory for the transformation of quantity into quality and the reverse.

It is possible to acknowledge this, but to fail to make it the fundamental principle of one’s own thought. There are those who unite the Kant-Laplace worldview with biblical faiths or quasi-faiths and, while advertising themselves as Darwinists, believe in the higher principles, the moral innate in humanity.

The principle of the transition of quantity into quality has universal significance, insofar as we view the entire universe—without any exception—as the product of formation and transformation and not as the fruit of conscious creation.

Hegel himself undoubtedly did not give the law of the transition of quantity into quality the paramount importance which it fully deserves. Hegel relied upon the Kant-Laplace theory, but he did not yet know either Darwinism or Marxism. It is indeed sufficient to recall that the dialectician Hegel could consider the Prussian state the incarnation of the Absolute Idea.

Engels, following Hegel, called those who think in absolute and unchanging categories, that is, who visualize the world as an aggregate of unchanging qualities, metaphysicians.

In a more or less pure form, “metaphysical” thinking exists perhaps only in savages. Among civilized people eclecticism holds sway. The laws of “evolution,” of “progress,” on the whole are recognized, but independent of them several absolute categories are accepted—in the area of economics (private property), in the politics (democracy, patriotism), in morals (the categorical imperative).

Anglo-Saxon thinking is at the present moment the preserve of empiricism.

In the English scholar’s head, just as on the shelves of his library, Darwin, the Bible, stand side by side, without disturbing each other. Anglo-Saxon thinking is constructed according to the system of the impermeable bulkhead. From this issues the most stubborn opposition in the conservative Anglo-Saxon world to dialectical thinking, which destroys all impermeable bulkheads.

The transition into its opposite

To view phenomena according to their resemblance or opposition means to see them according to their quality.

The transition of quality into quantity and the reverse presupposes the transition of one quality into another.

See Freud.

In primitive languages, big and small, high and low, etc., are expressed by one word, and the opposition between big and small is expressed by gestures, intonations, etc. In other words language, at a time when it was being developed, had only a general character, converting opposing qualities into quantitative differences.

The very same thing applies to the concepts of sweet and bitter, and at a later time—to good and evil, wealth and poverty, etc.

In these abstract formulas we have the most general laws (forms) of motion, change, the transformation of the stars of the heaven, of the earth, nature, and human society.

We have here the logical (dialectical) forms of the transformation of one regime into another. But in such general form it is a matter only of possibility.

The conversion of an abstract possibility into a concrete necessity—also an important law of dialectics—is defined each time by a combination of definite material conditions? Thus, from the possibility of a bourgeois victory over the feudal classes until the victory itself there were various time lapses, and the victory frequently looked like a semi-victory.

In order for a possibility to become a necessity there had to be a corresponding strengthening of some factors and the weakening of others, a definite interrelationship among these strengthenings and weakenings. In other words: it was necessary for several interconnected series of quantitative changes to prepare the way for a new constellation of forces.

The law of the conversion of possibility into necessity thus leads—in the last analysis—to the law of the conversion of quantity into quality.


Everything flows, but not outside [its] banks. The world is not “fluid,” there are changes in it, the crystallization of durable (congealed) elements, although indeed not “eternal” ones. Then life creates its own banks for itself in order later to wash them away. The quantitative changes of matter at a given stage push against those congealed forms, which sufficed for its previous state. Conflict. Catastrophe. Either the old form conquers (only partially conquers), necessitating the self-adaptation of the conquered (partially) process, or the process of movement explodes the old form and creates a new one, by way of its new crystallizations from its wombs and the assimilation of elements of the old form.

See in addition [John Stuart] Mill # The liberal (gradualist) conception of development, progress

The theory of revolutions

The logical antimony of content and form in this way loses its absolute character. Content and form change place. Content creates new forms from itself. In other words, the correlation of content and form leads, in the last analysis, to the conversion of quantity into quality.

Continue in relation to the other antinomies.

What is the aim of this? says the contemporary “positivist”: I can give an excellent analysis of the world of phenomena without these contrivances and pedantic subtleties. With equal justification a butcher will say that he can sell veal without resorting to the Aristotelian syllogism. To the butcher we would try to make clear that in reality he is always relying on the syllogism without knowing it; if his trade is poor, then his personal ignorance cannot but affect it; but that, if he wants to set things up solidly, then he cannot avoid teaching his son the sciences, the composition of which includes the science of the syllogism (logic).

To the representative of positivism, with his limited point of view, we say that all the contemporary sciences use the laws of dialectical thinking at every step, just as the shopkeeper uses the syllogism or as Monsieur Jourdain uses prose: without ever knowing it. Precisely because of this the average scholar preserves many habitual [traits resembling those] of impermeable bulkheads, not posing those questions which issue from the general movement of scientific thought, and cravenly ceases to draw general conclusions, when they call for a dialectical leap.

The dialectic does not liberate the investigator from painstaking study of the facts—quite the contrary—it requires it. But in return it gives investigative thought elasticity, helps it cope with ossified prejudices, arms it with invaluable analogies, and educates it in a spirit of daring, grounded in circumspection.

The example of Mendeleev, whose lack of dialectical method prevented him from recognizing the mutual transformability of the elements, despite the fact that his discovery of the periodic table of elements connected the quantitative differences among them to the quantitative differences of atomic weights.

Excerpt 3—Lenin and Martov

If all contemporary thought is penetrated by elements of the dialectic, then this is even truer of the political thinking of the Mensheviks, who had passed through the school of Marxism and revolutionary events. But dialectics differ. [Julius] Martov very subtly, in many cases, with great virtuosity commanded the dialectic. But this was a dialectic close to his thinking about phenomena in the intelligentsia milieu connected with the intelligentsia of the top stratum of the workers.

Martov sometimes very intelligently analyzed regroupings in the sphere of parliamentary politics, changes in the tendencies of the press, the maneuvers of ruling circles—insofar as all this was limited to ongoing politics, the preparatory stage for distant events, or the peaceful conditions when only the leaders, deputies, journalists, and ministers of prewar Europe acted in the political arena, when the basic antagonists remained virtually unchanging.

Within these boundaries Martov swam about like a fish in water. His dialectic was a dialectic of derivative processes and limited scale, episodic changes. Beyond these boundaries he did not venture.

On the contrary, Lenin’s dialectic had a massive character. His thought—his opponents often accused him of this—“simplified” reality, indeed swept aside the secondary and episodic in order to deal with the basic. Thus, Engels “simplified” reality when he defined the state as armed detachments of people with material appendages in the form of jails. But this was a saving simplification: true, insufficient in itself for an evaluation of the conjunctures of the day, it was decisive in the last historical analysis.

Lenin’s thought operated with living classes as the basic factors of society and thus revealed all its power in those periods when the great masses entered the scene, that is, in periods of profound upheavals, wars, and revolutions. The Leninist dialectic was a dialectic for the large scale.

Although the fundamental laws of mechanics hold for all man’s productive activity, in reality there is the mechanics of the watchmaker and the mechanics of [the] Dnieprostroi [hydroelectric dam]. Martov’s thought was the thought of a watchmaker in politics. Lenin’s thought worked on the scale of [the] Dnieprostroi. Is this a difference of a quantitative order? Quantity here passes over into quality.

The comparison with the watchmaker, however, has very conditional meaning. A watch’s mechanism will live its self-contained life (so long as it is not ruined), and the watch’s hands can correctly show the hour, even though the watchmaker is ignorant of the law of the earth’s motion around its axis. But the politics of a minor scale (internal groupings within parties, parliamentary games, etc.) maintains its relative independence while the (relatively) large factors, that is, classes, are unchanging. Martov’s dialectic therefore yielded the more tragic misfirings in matters of a minor scale as well, the closer the approach of stormy class conflicts, of perturbations in the life of society. And since our entire epoch since the first years of the century became one of ever more grandiose historical perturbations, Martov’s thought increasingly showed its weakness, turned dialectics simply into a screen for inner uncertainty, and fell under the influence of vulgar empiricists, like [Fyodor] Dan.

To the contrary, Lenin’s thought analyzed all the secondary phenomena, all the elements of the superstructure more penetratingly, the more immediately they depended upon the class movements that were occurring. From stage to stage, Lenin’s thought became stronger, more courageous, and at the same time subtler and more flexible.

Martov’s mistakes were always and invariably mistakes to the right of historical development, they grew in frequency and in scope, and soon outgrew the area of tactics and moved into that of strategy, and by virtue of that, rendered nil the tactical resourcefulness and wealth of his initiatives.

Lenin’s political mistakes were always to the left of the line of development, thus the farther [along the line of development], the rarer they became, the smaller the angle of deviation, the sooner they were recognized and corrected; by virtue of which the relationship between strategy and tactics achieved a higher and more perfect correspondence.

Materialist dialectics (beginning)

Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world—completely without exception—not as a result of creation, of a sudden beginning, the realization of a plan, but as a result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development.

In this, its fundamental and most general sense, the dialectical view of nature and humanity coincides with the so-called “evolutionary” view of nature, the view of the contemporary natural and social sciences, insofar as they genuinely deserve this designation. One needs only to note that the philosophical conception of the development of all existence, representing a courageous generalization issuing from the preceding development of science, emerged before Darwinism and Marxism, and either indirectly or directly enriched them.

We further will see that “evolution” as a general formula for the origins of the world and society is more amorphous, less concrete, with less content, than the dialectical conception. Now it is quite enough for us that the dialectical (or evolutionary) point of view, consequently the suitable one, inevitably leads to materialism: the organic world emerged from the inorganic, consciousness is a capacity of living organisms depending upon organs that originated through evolution. In other words “the soul” of evolution (of dialectics) leads in the last analysis to matter. The evolutionary point of view carried to a logical conclusion leaves no room for either idealism or dualism, or for the other species of eclecticism.

Thus, “the materialist dialectic” (or “dialectical materialism”) is not an arbitrary combination of two independent terms, but is a differentiated unity—a short formula for a whole and indivisible worldview, which rests exclusively on the entire development of scientific thought in all its branches, and which alone serves as a scientific support for human praxis.

Transpose here what was said about Clemenceau, his attitude toward evolutionism, etc. Note, how an egg “progresses” into a chicken.

The old sophism [paradox] about the bald man is the dialectical revelation of the unsoundness ( = inadequacy) of formal categories.

Contrary to a photograph, which is the element of formal logic, the [motion-picture] film is “dialectical” (badly expressed).

Cognizing thought begins with differentiation, with the instantaneous photograph, with the establishment of terms—conceptions—in which the separate moments of a process are placed but from which the process as a whole escapes. These terms-conceptions, created by cognizing thought, are then transformed into its fetters. Dialectics removes these fetters, revealing the relativity of motionless concepts, their transition into each other (Hegel, Logic).

“We can investigate reality without the dialectic.”

In the same way that we can walk without [knowing] anatomy and digest food without [knowing] physiology.

Hegel’s absolute idealism is directed against dualism—against the thing-in-itself of dualism (Hegel, Logic). Isn’t the recognition of the reality of the external world, outside a cognizing consciousness and independent of it, a return to dualism? Not at all, for cognition is in no respect an independent principle for us, but a specialized part of the objective world (make precise).

The evolutionary point of view is not at all hostile to our reason (Engels). Therefore we must study evolutionary logic (dialectics). [Max] Eastman scoffs at this.

Reason, which would be present at the most distant evolution of the earth, at the origin of the solar system, and at the development in it of organic life, etc., and would be able to embrace these processes, would be so to speak, dialectical reason immanent at birth. But our human reason is nature’s youngest child. To human memory nature offered not so much a picture of change, as repeating cycles, “the wind returns to its circuits.” Humanity itself is a consecutive succession of generations. Each generation starts the difficult work of cognition in a certain sense from the beginning. Within the boundaries of everyday praxis people are accustomed to dealing with unchanging objects. As a result of this innate, inherited, automatized [practice] there appears rational logic, which dismembers nature into autonomous and unchanging elements. The development of thought makes its way from vulgar logic to dialectics only on the basis of accumulated scientific experience, under the spur of historical (class) development.

Rationalism is an attempt to create a complete system on the basis of vulgar logic.

The chronology of evolutionism

The Kant-Laplace theory of the origins of the solar system
The dialectic of Hegel (after the French Revolution)
The theory of [Charles] Lyell (the evolution of the earth)
The theory of Darwin (the origin of species)
The theory of Marx

In this fashion the transition from thinking in static categories to thinking in [terms of] development traces its lineage to the epoch after the Great French Revolution, which was the last great, brilliant burst of courageous rationalism.

Kant earlier believed that logic had been perfected because, since the time of Aristotle, that is, over a period of two thousand years, it hadn’t changed.

Hegel, to the contrary, saw in this the enormous backwardness of logic.

The essence of the matter is that the rules and methods of a narrowly practical, common, or vulgar [mode] of thinking crystallized—entirely on the basis of praxis—and the theoretical work connected to it—very early, already in ancient times, and within the boundaries of this common thinking, change was neither demanded nor tolerated. But precisely the growth and development of cognition on the foundation of Aristotelian logic prepared the way for its explosion.

The triad is the “mechanism” of the transformation of quantity into quality.

Historically, humanity forms its “conceptions”—the basic elements of its thinking—on the foundation of experience, which is always incomplete, partial, one sided. It includes in “the concept” those features of a living, forever-changing process, which are important and significant for it at a given moment. Its future experience at first is enriched (quantitatively) and then outgrows the closed concept, that is, in practice negates it, by virtue of this necessitating a theoretical negation. But the negation does not signify a turning back to tabula rasa [blank slate]. Reason already possesses: a) the concept and b) the recognition of its unsoundness. This recognition is tantamount to the necessity to construct a new concept, and then it is inevitably revealed that the negation was not absolute, that it affected only certain features of the first concept. The new concept therefore has by necessity a synthetic character: into it enter those elements of the initial concept, which were able to withstand the trial by experience + those new elements of experience, which led to the negation of the initial concept.

Thus, in the domain of thinking (cognition) as well, the quantitative changes lead to qualitative ones, and then these transformations haven’t a [steady] evolutionary character but are accompanied by breaks in gradualness, that is, by small or large intellectual catastrophes. In sum, this also means that the development of cognition has a dialectical character.

The new “synthetic” concept in turn becomes the point of departure for a new trial, enrichment, verification, and for a new negation. This is the place of the triad in the development of human thought. But what is its place in the development of nature?

Here we approach the most important problem of dialectical philosophy.

The interrelationship between consciousness (cognition) and nature is an independent realm with its own regularities.

Consciousness splits nature into fixed categories and in this way enters into contradiction with reality. Dialectics overcomes this contradiction—gradually and piecemeal— bringing consciousness nearer to the world’s reality. The dialectic of consciousness (cognition) is not thereby a reflection of the dialectic of nature, but is a result of the lively interaction between consciousness and nature and—in addition—a method of cognition, issuing from this interaction.

Since cognition is not identical with the world (in spite of Hegel’s idealistic postulation), dialectical cognition is not identical with the dialectic of nature. Consciousness is a quite original part of nature, possessing peculiarities and regularities that are completely absent in the remaining part of nature. Subjective dialectics must by virtue of this be a distinctive part of objective dialectics—with its own special forms and regularities. (The danger lies in the transference—under the guise of “objectivism”—of the birth pangs, the spasm of consciousness, to objective nature.)

The dialectic of cognition brings consciousness closer to the “secrets” of nature, that is, it helps it master the dialectic of nature too. But what does the dialectic of nature consist of? Where is the boundary separating it from the dialectic of cognition (a vacillating dialectical “boundary”)?

Consciousness acts like a camera: it tears from nature “moments” and the ties and transitions among them are lost; but the object of photography, the living person, is not broken up into moments. Rather, motion-picture film gives us a crude “uninterruptedness” satisfactory for the retina of our eye and approaching the uninterruptedness of nature. True, cinematic uninterruptedness consists in fact of separate “moments” and short breaks between them. But both the former and latter are related to the technology of the cinema, which exploits the eye’s imperfection.

Verify how this problem is treated by Lenin and Plekhanov.

Hegel himself spoke more than once about necessary concreteness, issuing from the immanent motion of “moments”—of motion which represents the direct opposite of an analytic procedure, that is, of an action external in relation to the object itself and innate in the subject.

The identity of Being and Nothingness, like the contradictoriness of the concept of the beginning, in which Being and Nothingness are united, seems at first glance a subtle but fruitless play of ideas. In fact, this “game” brilliantly exposes the failure of static thinking, which at first splits the world into motionless elements, and then seeks truth by way of a limitless expansion [of the process].

The role of the émigrés

All of the information about the West, including [what came] through the legal press (right up to the liberal [press]), came through them.

Legal and illegal Marxism 1905

Legal writers of tsarist Russia not only did not say everything, they didn’t think things through. In essence, they didn’t express fully and often did not think through the main point. Remaining within the boundaries of legality, they emasculated their thought. The illegal press seemed to them “simplistic,” “fanatic,” “rectilinear.” But when the days of freedom began, it turned out that the undergrounders, the émigrés, swept the journalistic field. Only they knew how to write the language of the revolution. But this is the least of it: precisely from among the émigrés came the most talented journalists. This was no accident: politics calls for spirit, consequently, courage, and these qualities express themselves in style.

The identity of opposites

Little Paul says “donne!” [“give!”] both when he wants to take, and when he wants to give.

Excerpt 4

Why on a given stage of scientific thought in various areas is it necessary to put a theory “on its legs” (the presumption being that it has been standing on its head until that moment?)

Because humankind in its practical activity is inclined to view the entire world as a means, and itself as the end. Practical egocentrism (homocentrism)—is carried over into theory—turns the entire world structure on its head. From this issues the need for corrections (Kant-Laplace, Lyell, Darwin, Marx).

The brain is the material substrate of consciousness. Does this mean that consciousness is simply a form of “manifestation” of the physiological processes in the brain? If this were the state of affairs, then one would have to ask: What is the need for consciousness? If consciousness has no independent function, which rises above physiological processes in the brain and nerves, then it is unnecessary, useless; it is harmful because it is a superfluous complication—and what a complication!

The presence of consciousness and its crowning by logical thought can be biologically and socially “justified” only in the event that it yields positive vital results beyond those which are achieved by the system of unconscious reflexes. This presupposes not only the autonomy of consciousness (within certain limits) from automatic processes in the brain and nerves, but the ability of consciousness to influence the action and functions of the body as well. What kind of switches serving consciousness are there for achieving these goals? These switches clearly cannot possess a material character, or else they would be included in the chain of anatomic-physiological processes of the organism and could not play an independent role consisting of their prescribed functions. Thought operates by its own laws, which we can call the laws of logic; with their help achieving certain practical outcomes, it switches on the last (with more or less success) in the chain of our life activities.

It is well known that there is an entire school of psychiatry (“psychoanalysis.” Freud) which in practice completely removes itself from physiology, basing itself upon the inner determinism of psychic phenomena, such as they are. Some critics therefore accuse the school of Freud of idealism. That psychoanalysts are frequently inclined toward dualism, idealism, and mystification … But by itself the method of psychoanalysis, taking as its point of departure “the autonomy” of psychological phenomena, in no way contradicts materialism. Quite the contrary, it is precisely dialectical materialism that prompts us to the idea that the psyche could not even be formed unless it played an autonomous, that is, within certain limits, an independent role in the life of the individual and the species.

All the same, we approach here some sort of critical point, a break in all the gradualness, a transition from quantity to quality: the psyche, arising from matter, is “freed” from the determinism of matter, so that it can independently—by its own laws—influence matter.

True, a dialectic of cause and effect, base and superstructure, is not news to us: politics grows out of economics in order for it in turn to influence the base by switches of a superstructural character. But here the interrelationships are real, for in both instances the actions of living people are involved; in one instance they are grouped together for production, in the other—under the pressure of the demands of the very same production—they are grouped politically and act with the switches of politics upon their own production grouping.

When we make the transition from the anatomy and physiology of the brain to intellectual activity, the interrelationship of “base” and “superstructure” is incomparably more puzzling.

The dualists divide the world into independent substances: matter and consciousness. If this is so, then what do we do with the unconscious?

Additional Notes


The syllogism is absolutely correct only when it is a tautology, that is, when it is fruitless.

The syllogism is “useful” when—it is incorrect, that is, when it admits into concepts “clearance [tolerance].”

The entire matter depends upon the permissible dimensions of “clearance [tolerance].” Here is where dialectics begins.

The fundamental “cell” of dialectical thinking is the syllogism. But it [too] undergoes transmutation, changes, like the basic cells in various tissues of an organism change.

“Philosophy” = a toolmaking guild in relation to all the remaining guilds of science.

A toolmaking guild is not a substitute for production as a whole. In order to use a tool one has to know a special area of production (metal work, lathe work). When an ignoramus, armed with the “materialistic dialectic” tries to solve complicated problems in special areas intuitively, he inevitably makes a fool of himself.

On the other hand, the “specialized” scholar can do without a toolmaking guild, that is, can use a tool of his own making, but his work will clearly suffer from it (Darwin, Mendeleev, and [others]).

[A.I.] Herzen called Hegel’s philosophy the algebra of revolution.

Dialectics is the logic of development. Logic (formal) is the dialectic of motionlessness. Logic is a particular case of the dialectic, when motion and change enter into the formula as “0.”

Cicero believed that between unquestionable truth and unquestionable falsehood there is a broad middle region of truth which depends upon the subject, on the person who is doing the reasoning:

Ista sunt ut disputantur [these are to be discussed] (a verbatim translation is impossible) depends upon the point of view

The “engineer” plays the very same universal role in the social constructions of M. Eastman and other Americans that Robinson Crusoe played in the constructions of bourgeois political economists.

People orient themselves toward ideas in two ways: treating them either as arbitrary, unreal shadows, standing outside the world of facts in their material conditionality, or as almighty “factors” which command reality. Both views are false. The idea is a fact in a chain of other facts.

With Hegel the dialectic stands on its head. It has to be put on its feet in order to uncover the rational kernel under the mystical hull.

These words of Marx from the introduction to the second edition of Capital (1873) more than once inspired critical wits to refine them.

But in essence the very same operation—to turn something over from its head and stand it on its feet—has been repeated in every area of human thought.

God created man. Man created God.

The earth orbits around the sun. The sun orbits around the earth.

“To stand on its head…” Eastman scoffs at this. Nevertheless, science like art, is full of such reversals.

  1. Cosmology until Galileo established the interdependence between movements of the sun and earth. Galileo did not repudiate this dependence, but turned it on its head.
  2. Pre-Darwinian biology established the expediency of the structure of species, the correspondence (suitability) of organs to the conditions of life. From this it wound up with a preconceived system. Darwin did not reject the “expediency,” the correspondence of organs, functions, environment, but turned the interdependence on its head. In this brilliant reversal lies the essence of Darwinism.
    a. To support this, citations about Darwinism.
  3. Mendeleev and his periodic system of elements. For him the indecomposable individualities entered certain mathematical relationships to each other. Subsequent developments in chemistry turned these mutual relationships on their head.

All evolution is a transition from quantity into quality. The very concept of gradual, slow development signifies the achievement of qualitative values with the help of quantitative change. This works decisively in all areas.

Darwin’s natural selection, which leads to the creation of various plant and animal species, is nothing other than the accumulation of quantitative changes, yielding as a result new qualities, a new species.

Whoever denies the dialectical law of the transition from quantity into quality must deny the genetic unity of plants and animal species, the chemical elements, etc. He must, in the last analysis, turn back to the biblical act of creation.

Teleological thinking

Tolstoy did not want to accept that he lived on this earth without a preset aim, like a bird that has fallen from its nest.

It is important to recognize that god is the master and to know what he wants of me; but what he wants of me; but what he himself is, and how he lives, I will never know, because I am not his equal. I am the worker, he is the master (Tolstoy).

Teleology and Determinism

All schools of subjectivism in one or another fashion are based on the contradiction between objective cause and subjective purpose. Determinism is the philosophy of objective causality. Teleology is the philosophy of subjective purposes. The attempt to set up a hostile opposition between them or to combine them eclectically is itself a product of philosophical ignorance. The purpose is a partial aspect of the cause. Teleology is only a special department of determinism.


Everyone recognized the process of formation of variations by way of natural or artificial selection, but many categorically refused to recognize the very same process for the formation of species. As long as the transitional forms are there, the unity of a species seems stable. But should the transitional forms disappear, the varieties would become species.

Every process has its material or nonmaterial paleontology.

Darwin’s doctrine started as a theory of the origin of species and became a theory of the evolution of the organic world.

The zoological geography of Darwin and Wallace—thanks to evolutionary theory separated by a gulf from the zoography of Linnaeus, etc. (The role of paleontology)

The intermediate links have died out.

The history of language—is the paleontology of thought.

Along what lines did the objections against Darwinism proceed? The Dutch botanist De Vries, the author of the so-called theory of mutations, tried to establish a basic distinction between the special features of variations and those of species, by virtue of which they could not cross from one to the other (But De Vries was an evolutionist all the same.)

Until Darwin, the question about the origins of species was considered to be “the secret of secrets.”

Wallace on Darwin:

I don’t have … that inexhaustible patience for gathering a multitude of the most diverse facts, that surprising capacity to draw conclusions from those precise and rich physiological observations, that cleverness in designing a plan of experimentation and that gracefulness in execution, finally—that inimitable style—clear and at the same time cogent and precise—in a word, all those qualities that make Darwin a fully accomplished person.

(apply to a characterization of Lenin—show the consistency of [his] qualities in various areas)


Wallace—not only a Darwinist but a scientist who independently arrived at the theory of the evolutionary origin of species (among them, humanity), spent more than a little effort to adduce evidence that there was an impassable barrier between human beings and animals in the area of intellect and morality, in other words, evidence for the divine origin of the “soul.”

Wallace makes the same leaps in relation to the transitions from inorganic to organic matter and the appearance of consciousness.

Evolution does not permit bargains: you either have to admit it or reject it.

Every reaction is bound to repudiate transformism. National Socialism cannot be reconciled with Darwinism.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the RCI, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.