3 November 2009

Weapon of Theory

[CU for Wednesday, 4 November 2009]

The Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America was held in Havana in January, 1966, seven years after the Cuban Revolution and 46 years after the Baku Conference of the Peoples of the East. Forty-three years have now passed since the Tricontinental. A lot has been achieved in that time, including our South African democratic breakthrough. A lot still remains to be achieved. The full defeat of Imperialism has not yet occurred. What we can say is that the 20th-Century agenda was set by the liberation movements. The great political change in the world in that century was the taking of sovereign independence by the formerly oppressed people of the former colonies, affecting the great majority of the population of the planet and opening their road of democracy.

This gigantic movement and huge change was achieved with the weapon of theory.

Amilcar Cabral [Image] in his speech to the Tricontinental that has always been known by that title, “Weapon of Theory” (linked below), also said the following, 43 years ago:

“It is often said that national liberation is based on the right of every people to freely control its own destiny and that the objective of this liberation is national independence. Although we do not disagree with this vague and subjective way of expressing a complex reality, we prefer to be objective, since for us the basis of national liberation, whatever the formulas adopted on the level of international law, is the inalienable right of every people to have its own history, and the objective of national liberation is to regain this right usurped by imperialism, that is to say, to free the process of development of the national productive forces.

“For this reason, in our opinion, any national liberation movement which does not take into consideration this basis and this objective may certainly struggle against imperialism, but will surely not be struggling for national liberation.

“This means that, bearing in mind the essential characteristics of the present world economy, as well as experiences already gained in the field of anti-imperialist struggle, the principal aspect of national liberation struggle is the struggle against neo-colonialism.”

Amilcar Cabral was a true vanguardist – both a great leader, and a great intellectual.

Ten years after the Tricontinental, in 1976, four articles were published in the African Communist, written by John Hoffman (who is still in 2009 teaching philosophy at Leicester University in England, but who is no longer a believer in Dialectical Materialism) under the pen-name Dialego. These were subsequently published more than once, all together, as a booklet. Two of the four parts are linked below. (Click here for Part 3 and Part 4 if required). The articles were popular and are still famous, and they certainly raised the flag of theory. But they contained major deficiencies, of which the principal one is Dialectical Materialism itself.

We are going to return to the history of “Dialectical Materialism” in the next part of this series, and then look again at the much more fruitful Subject-Object relation, with priority given to the free human Subject, in the following two parts, before summing up in the tenth and last part of the series.

Hoffman (in his Part 2) writes of “Materialism Vs. Idealism: the Basic Question of Philosophy”. Whereas the Progress Publishers Dictionary of Philosophy says that the Fundamental Question of Philosophy is the relation of the Subject to the Object. It is as if Hoffman thought that these two dialectics were the same. But they are not the same and the Dialego articles show the glaring errors that arise if and when these two formulations are conflated into one.

For example, in Part 1 under “Philosophy and Our ‘Experience’”, Hoffman describes a condition that he calls “stress[ing] the materialist component of our philosophy at the expense of the dialectical”. This is a muddle. The pathology he is describing is what he is promoting: the idealisation of the objective factors of a situation, so that the human Subject is all but eliminated. Out goes God, in come the atoms and the molecules.

The dialectic that is political is the one between subjective humans and the objective (yes, material) universe. In this political dialectic, the subject is the “point”. As Marx wrote in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Who’s point? Our point: the human beings’ point. A dialectic between material and material is like a tree falling in the forest, unseen and unheard by anyone. It is a real event, but it is not a political event.

Similarly, a switch from an imaginary world of superstition, to prioritising inert material, is no gain at all. In fact these are only two different forms of idealism. In both cases powers are held up that are higher than people, whether invisible or visible. But in politics, the power that matters is people-power. For sure, that means people-power in a real, material world. It does not mean a “balancing act”.

Hoffman’s (then) devotion to materialism leads him to write that “[man] developed out of the world of nature through a long process of evolution and his ideas are the product of the mental activity of his brain, itself a highly developed and complex form of matter.”

This places us in relation to “man” like spectators at the moment that God in Genesis breathed a spirit into Adam, but without the explanatory story that the Bible gives us.

How does a “complex form of matter” become human? Actually, it is not even necessary to ask. It is only Hoffman’s kind of materialism that leads to such questions. For the rest of us, humanity is as much of a “given” as the atoms and molecules of which matter is composed, except that humanity is special, while matter is matter; and humanity is revolutionary work-in-progress.

It is the free-willing human Subject that is at the centre of our consciousness, our concerns, and our morality.

Click on these links:

The Weapon of Theory, 1966, Amilcar Cabral (7710 words)

Dialego, Part 1, Necessity of Theory, 1976, John Hoffman (3627 words)

Dialego, Part 2, Theory of Action, 1976, John Hoffman (4318 words)

1 comment:

  1. There you are Dom. Great. Now I can follow your blog. I wondered what had happened to CU.


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