Knowing the World
Dialectical and historical materialism teaches us that history, historical development, and social motion, are, like anything, completely knowable. We learn from its study that whatever we may currently not know we can with time and study come to know more fully.
Dialectical and historical materialism teaches us what is true of the natural world and what is true of the cosmos beyond is also true of human society. We learn that there are governing economic laws that exist independent of the will of any individual, including those in positions of political power.
We are raised with a version of history as a series of events where men of great wills contest with each other, and the result is the world as it exists. History is taught to us as a series of conflicts between heroes and villains. The belief that individual actors make history at will, as they choose, or are able to be independent of historical development is something akin to the long discarded notion of spontaneous generation. Men on horses no more create history at will any more than dirty rags give birth to rats.
Opponents of dialectical and historical science and to the field of political and social science at large claim that there is no hard science that can be made out of the life of society. They claim rather that all such talk is idealism, speculation, and political theory at best. While it is true you cannot put history in a petri dish, it is important to note that by this logic it is also true that evolution, relativity, and gravity are all just theories as well.
Applying the method of dialectical and historical materialism allows us to uncover as much about society as evolution does about the process of life, relativity does about time and space, and gravity about what binds it all together. Dialectical and historical materialism is the science of society.
In the 1800’s Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, living in the midst of the industrial revolution throughout Europe, wrote extensively, applying scientific methodology to understanding society and how it operated. They set about developing a philosophical outlook in order to, not merely notice patterns in society, but to understand those patterns within stages of development in order to better understand how and why change occurs within society. Their writings and collected letters are the rock upon which dialectical and historical materialism was founded.
The fact of who these two men were, their individual contributions, and the decisions they made to dedicate their lives as they did, all played an enormous role in the development of dialectical and historical materialism. However, history is not made in a bubble, and the historical position of the moment in which they lived made so much of what they were able to achieve even possible. The advancements of that day revealed to Marx and Engels not only what was true of their day, but what is and had been true of all human society hitherto.
Today again a new motive force is revealing to us, or at least making possible, the study of what is not only true in our day but what is true of society at all times. With study, the microchip will reveal to the social scientist of today much more than the steam engine ever could. Brilliant as Marx and Engels were, they were not in the position we are today. We, who are living today, can and must stand upon their shoulders to understand the historical development taking place in our time.
The great South African revolutionary Steven Biko once said “revolution is not an event it’s a process.” This is true, and make no mistake, we are in the throes of revolution. The old way of doing things is being disrupted. The new way of doing things must one way or another shake the fetters of the old.
Independent of political will all society as it was organized under industry must be completely reorganized in order to be compatible with the new. We must know that. We cannot defend the old world. We cannot have the politics of the 1960s or the 1840s in 2014. The politics of 2014 are not even appropriate for 2014. We must make concessions with 2014, however, in a given moment, but we must carry with us the vision and politics of 2025, 2050 and beyond.
We need to realize that an event which may have been an anomaly at one point in time, may become a new form or feature of the new society being born. We must identify which phenomena are not simply one off events but rather indicative of new stages of development. We must focus on what is new and rising. We can know this.
Astronomers today can predict with some accuracy when the sun will swallow the earth and why. The cosmos beyond society, beyond the planets, is knowable.
We can understand the objective conditions that are forcing the reshaping of society. We can apply the scientific method to our understanding of stages of development. With the correct philosophical outlook we can understand why things are happening and project what the likely effect will be. We can make political assessments of what we must do accordingly.
We can develop a line of march around a political assessment. If executed properly we can even ensure the victory of our class heading into the objective struggle for political power that will inevitably come about as society moves from one historical epoch to the next. We can and we must. The future of human society rests upon us. Rally comrades, for the future is up to us.
Building Block articles help explain a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment.
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011