28 October 2009

Heart of Revolution

[CU for Wednesday, 28 October 2009]

Apologies for missing a day. The CU has had no e-mail or Internet service since Monday morning.

The CU met on Sunday and will meet again on 15 and 29 November to discuss Lenin's "The State and Revolution". More details tomorrow.

This is the first of a new Communist University Generic Course called “Philosophy, Religion, and Revolution,” which combines the two 2005 Generic Courses on “Religion and Revolutionary Politics” and “Philosophy of Freedom”. This course is the eighth and last in the current round of re-editing for publication of the CU Generic Courses on the SACP web site.

In the Progress Publishers (Moscow) Dictionary of Philosophy (1984 English edition) the Fundamental Question of Philosophy is given as: “the question of the relationship of consciousness to being, of thought to matter and nature, examined on two planes, first, what is primary – spirit or nature, matter or consciousness – and second, how is knowledge of the world related to the world itself, or to put it differently, does consciousness correspond to being, is it capable of truthfully reflecting the world?”

The Communist University takes this to mean the relationship of Subject to Object, of which the Subject – Humanity – ourselves – is our primary concern and source of value, and therefore source of morality.

We take it from Caudwell that freedom is the good that contains all good, and we take it from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto that the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all. We will contrast this view with the contradictory view, which is that matter can be held as primary, and that human consciousness can be treated as derivative of the material that contains it.

Thus the principal dialectic of this set will proceed, without dogma and without closure.

Oscar Wilde [Image], perhaps with assistance from the Communist Manifesto, saw that only from the free development of each could come the free development of all, and that the purpose of Socialism is therefore Individualism. Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (linked below) is a very good text to discuss, if people are ready for discussion. It is not necessary to read the whole sixteen pages (but it is rewarding to do so).

Karl Marx, writing 37 years earlier than Wilde, expresses very similar sentiments in relation to the Germans, as Wilde does in relation to the English; and even though he writes of the abolition of religion, yet Marx with words that have forever since been famous, expressed in his “Introduction to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” (linked) his tender and sympathetic understanding of “the heart of a heartless world”.

The eleven Theses on Feuerbach (linked) are equally well-known, especially the last one. Any one of these theses would be adequate on its own as a topic for discussion in a study circle.

So far, the works given here tend to lie easily on the side of priority for freedom and for free will in the philosophy of communism. Part 1 of Karl Marx’s “The German Ideology” (linked) is sub-titled “Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook”, and it might therefore be expected to weigh on the other side of the scales. It might be thought that those who are inclined to define humanity in terms of the properties of certain peculiar movements of atoms and molecules would find comfort here.

Is this the case? Does Marx support or advance in any way the reduction of all humanity and human history to a non-human, molecular, chemical or nuclear source? Or is Marx merely saying that the human Subject is only comprehensible within a material, objective world? In other words that the relationship of mind and matter is just that: a relationship. In other words again, simply that one is inconceivable without the other, and no more than that? We will return to these questions.


The amount of reading that is given is far too much for a weekly study circle. After the first, the remaining material is given as optional extra reading, and also because of the nature of the topic: philosophy. As the Theses on Feuerbach demonstrate, it is possible to be as concise in philosophy as, for example, the Freedom Charter is in politics. But such examples are rare. Most of the suitable writings are longer. In addition, the reading of philosophy is difficult, because it constantly presents unfamiliar and revolutionary ideas, which may take effort, over time, to absorb.

Click on these links:

The Soul of Man under Socialism, 1891, Wilde (14381 words)

Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Intro, 1844, Marx (5605 words)

Theses on Feuerbach, 1845, Marx (789 words)

Idealism and Materialism, 1845, Marx (7473 words)


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