Gerry Healy


During the physical process of revolutionary practice we are almost continuously  developing sensations. Concerning this self-relation between objective practice and the subjective image of sensation, Lenin emphasises that: ‘Our sensation, our consciousness, is only an image of the external world , and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imaged, and that the latter exists independently of the images it. (Page 69, Vol. 14, Collected Works containing Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.)

In this dialectical self-relation between the objective external world, the class struggle, and subjective thought, abstract images always lag behind the infinite changes of the content of the ‘thing’  interacting with other ‘things’ as a process. As Lenin explains, ‘That things, the environment, the world exists independently of our sensation, of our consciousness, of our Self, and of man in general.’ (Ibid.)  This is very important for understanding the ever-changing forms of Thatcher’s Bonapartist dictatorship, which rests on the all-powerful increasingly absolute judiciary, headed by a leading member of the Tory Party, Sir John Donaldson. In turn, the bourgeois parliamentary facade of Thatcher rests directly upon the military. These are armed with ‘shoot-to-kill’ powers, to be used if they should conclude at the scene of what they ‘believe to be a crime’, against ‘suspects’ whom they ‘assume’ may be ‘thinking dangerous thoughts’ about the role of the state, (for example the Gibraltar Massacre.)

The ‘forms’ are deliberately and consciously designed to constantly present an appearance of enormous brutality and fear. It is however the historical totality of the content of the decline of British Imperialism which ‘stirs’. Since this decline continues independently of the form of the state’s brutality, the latter always lags behind the content, whilst this content in turn is the source of all external reflection. The infinite motion of the external world of the class struggle irreversibly changes the content unknown to the idealist and metaphysical thinkers. They continue to speculate over the external contradiction of the changes in the form whilst each moment of change in the ‘content’ constitutes a ‘leap’, which in turn in the class struggle builds up eventually into a revolutionary situation. Here there is a ‘struggle of content with form’. The form is ‘thrown off’, through the transformation of content, under conditions in which the unity of class opposites (working class and ruling class) becomes identical, ushering in a period of dual power.

The nature of the content which stirs is contained in a quotation from Hegel reproduced approvingly by Lenin: ‘But it can only be the nature of the content which stirs in scientific cognition, while at the same time it is this very reflection of the content which itself initially posits and produces its determination.’ To which Lenin immediately notes; ‘(the movement of scientific cognition, that is the essential thing)’ (page 87, Vol. 38 Collected Works)

Lenin then continues to quote Hegel: ‘Understanding (Verstand) makes determinations’. Lenin reflects upon this quotation and comments: ‘(bestimmt), Reason (Vernunft) is negative and dialectical because it dissolves into nothing (inNichts auflöest) the determinations of Understanding … The combination of the two – “Reason which understands and Understanding which reasons” = the positive.’

Through the ‘movement of scientific cognition’ of the infinite motion of the world class struggle in the course of Reflection we start with ‘Reason which understands’ as determinate or ‘Understanding which reasons = ‘the positive’ (page 88 Vol. 38) because the source is in the external world. The content is ‘Understanding’ which is determinate, thus enabling us, through the use of dialectical Reason to analyse contents as they are negated.

The impulse to external excitation which constitutes the external identity of the source of sensation is produced empirically through infinite interaction of the form and forms of a ‘thing’ with other ‘things’  which implicitly contains contents as a process. On page 92 of Volume 38 Lenin emphasises that ‘It is incorrect to say that they are … merely attached to the content … Forms with content must be inseparably connected with the content.

Every word form arising from and including the image of sensation inseparably and implicitly contains a contentin itself’. Dialectical logic as a scientific theory of knowledge as ‘the development of the concrete content of the world and its cognition, ie, of the sum total, the conclusion of the history of knowledge.’ (Page 93, Volume 38). Thus the image of sensation is a empirically given form containing the in-itself of an historically given content. Both are inseparable and from the same material substance. To emphasise this dialectical process, Lenin approvingly quotes Hegel on page 145 of Volume 38, in which the latter writes ‘Now this which appears as the activity of form is equally the proper movement of matter itself. The contradiction whose source is inseparable from the infinite movement and change of all things is contained within the thing-in-itself. The form, being inseparable from its content, cannot acquire a contradiction independent and separate from its content.

                                                 The In-Itself of Self-Related Concepts.

In In Defence of Marxism, Trotsky analyses the error of the partisans of formal logic, who claim that ‘A is equal to A’, and ‘a pound of sugar is equal to itself’. ‘Thus the axiom’ writes Trotsky, ‘that A is equal to A signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist.’ In relation to a pound of sugar, he insists, ‘all bodies change uninterruptedly in size,weight, colour, etc … A sophist will respond that a pound of sugar is equal to itself at any given moment.’ Trotsky replies, ‘How should we really conceive the word moment? If it is an infinitesimal interval of time, then a pound of sugar is subject during the course of that moment to inevitable changes.’ This is the dialectic of the movement and change in ‘A’ and in the pound of sugar, within the axiom ‘A-in-itself’ and the pound of sugar  in-itself. Formal identity compares A with another A or a pound of sugar with another pound, and makes each pound of sugar equal to itself. A quotation from Hegel underlined by Lenin explains this process a ‘rigid’ identity which has its opposition in Variety … ‘thereby making it into a one-sided determinateness, which as such has no truth.’ (Page 135 Vol. 38). Variety always appears metaphysically as the ‘external forms’ of a variety of objects of the same kind.

The rigid identity, A = A, of a pound of sugar with another pound of sugar contains their opposition in a variety of A’s and pounds of sugar. The method of formal thinking which lies in the subjective comparison of a variety of A’s and pounds of sugar is one-sided and ‘has no truth in it’.  

At first, the materiality of the self-related concept is implicit in the infinite identity of the source of external reflection. This identity is simultaneously the starting point of the simple negation through which the three antitheses are negated. These are identity into difference, necessity into chance and cause into effect. In this self-related material process the properties of the three antitheses are implicitly contained within the abstract finite image of sensation. Lenin explains, ‘the dialectical = “comprehending the antithesis in its unity …” (Hegel)’

An infinite quantity of material properties provides the impulse for the external excitation responsible for the identity of the source of the abstract image of sensation. The limit of the finite quality, into which an infinite quantity has been negated, contains the contradiction. This contradiction in turn provides the impulse for the negation of the simple negation of finite quality back into infinite quantity. In the process of external reflection, the three objective laws of materialist dialectics have been completed as follows:-

(a) The objective external world in unity with subjective human beings as opposites interpenetrate through the image of sensation, as ‘the direct connection between consciousness and the external world. (See Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 14, page 51.)

(b) The quantity of matter explicitly responsible for the sensation is negated into finite quality, containing contradiction, which provides the impulse for -

(c) The negation of the negation into infinite Quantity in the external world.

 The external world, Being, negated into finite quality, sensation, is nothing in-itself. Lenin explained on page 108 of Volume 38, ‘The thing-in-itself is an abstraction from all determination.’  It is such an abstract identity that invites the idealists to shop around for what they impressionistically believe is an acceptable self-created Kantian image. But since the finite contains contradiction, it is in a state of becoming as a thing-in-itself to ‘a finite thing-for-others through the negation of the simple negation.

The original interaction of the thing with other things, which provided the impulse for the simple negation, has been transformed into a thing-for-others in the course of the negation of the simple negation. It has been, as Lenin explains, ‘transformed from one state to another’. (page 109, Vol.38)

During the process of becoming, the opposites are the thing-in-itself as an empty abstraction, (nothing), which has been in transition into [Being – editors insertion], a thing-for-others. Lenin explains this process in a quotation from Hegel on page 106 of Volume 38: ‘Becoming is the subsistence of Being as much as of not-Being …Transition is the same a becoming … During the transition the opposites become identical before becoming transformed into one another.’ In the box on page 109, Lenin defines dialectics as ‘the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, becoming transformed into one another, - why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another. In reading Hegel …’.

At the end of page 109, Volume 38, Lenin take a quotation from Hegel into which he inserts his own conclusions:- “Limit (is) simple negation or first negation” (Something.*** Every something has its Limit) “while other is at the same time negation of negation. On the next page he notes (Something, taken from the point of view of its immanent limit – from the point of view of its self-contradiction, a contradiction which drives it [this something] and leads beyond its limit, is the Finite.)’

In the box on the same page Lenin emphasises the importance of the method of materialist dialectics. [Objective as opposed to subjective – Ed.] ‘All sided, universal flexibility of concepts, a flexibility reaching to the identity of opposites, that is the essence of the matter. This flexibility, applied subjectively = eclecticism and sophistry. Flexibility, applied objectively,ie, reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world.’

The identity of the infinite source of external reflection quantitatively negates Being into finite qualitative being which cannot exist as an abstract thing-in-itself (nothing). It contains infinite being as a moment of connection and transition (becoming) of finite quality into infinite quantity, (negation of negation). In this dialectical process, the opposites, thing-in-itself and Other, become identical and are transformed into one another.  They are nothing more than shadings, which since their source is in the external world contain an implicit material form and content as an indeterminate beginning, which is why they must be grasped by the human mind. Kantian eclectical comparison of self-created images simply amounts to subjectivism and sophistry. A struggle must be consciously carried out to avoid such dangers.

The finite which has passed beyond itself contains the infinite which is its own other. With the negation of the negation, the essence-in-itself of a self-related concept which is implicit becomes explicit. The thing-in-itself has been determined out of itself as the other of itself.

                                                            The Objectivity of Semblance

The self-related concept of Semblance can be negated only through the use of dialectical logic. In this respect, the negation of the simple negation contains the properties of Anti-thesis, Difference, Chance, Effect. These now emerge in the infinite external world through the identity of a changed and different object whose outer form is Necessity in an antithetical relation to Cause. The unity of this antithesis provides the contradiction generated by the synthesis of Necessity and Cause in the external world.

The effect as form consists of the indeterminate beginning, ‘Nothing-non-existent’ which now because of the third negation explicitly exists, with its in-itself content as the Other of itself. ‘Being as Moment’, which is Being negated into Not-Being, manifests itself in consciousness as ‘impressions which flash by’. (Page 319, Vol. 38)

The in-itself of Semblance has been analysed by Lenin as follows:- ‘That which shows itself is essence in one of its determinations, [impressions flash by], in one of its aspects, in one of its moments. Essence seems to be just that. Semblance is the showing (Scheinen) of Essence itself in itself.’ On the same page Lenin correctly defines Semblance as ‘that which shows itself is the Reflection of essence in (it) itself (Page 133 Vol. 38)

The in-itself of all objects in their infinite motion, interaction and change in the external world exists independently of consciousness. Without a training in dialectical logic as the theory of knowledge, their infinite eternal motion cannot be negated into semblance which shows itself as the Reflection of essence in (it) itself.’ The ‘it’ in brackets denotes essence in one of its determinations. Take away the (it) and it reads ‘in-itself’. In this short paragraph Lenin emphasises that the in-itself of what shows itself is essence as Reflection. That is, the form and content of the concept of Semblance are inseparable. The form as a lower property in the continuity of its development is sublated into the content of Being as a moment, as a higher property.

On page 98 Volume 38, after Lenin refers to Hegel on contradiction in Semblance, he writes:- ‘Is not the thought here that Semblance also is objective for it contains one of the aspects of the objective world. [A moment dominated by contradictions. GH] Not only essence, but semblance too is objective. There is a difference between the subjective and the objective. But it, too, has its limits.’ In the Third Negation into Semblance we negate through a synthesis with historical materialist knowledge in which the motion of the external world in constant change is reflected. Such a synthesis contains analysis as a moment as a moment of essence which is objective. It is the explicit unity and identity of opposites which consists of the infinite motion of the world existing independently of thought negated through the use of dialectical logic into subjective thought.

The source of essence is implicit in the constant movement and change in the external world. Revisionists ignore the dialectical unity of the interpenetration of the object and subject as opposites. Instead, they find it much easier to delve into their storehouse of self-created sceptical images, pre-selecting those they wish to paste over Semblance. ‘The more petty philosophers dispute whether essence [motion of the external world – GH] or that which is immediately given  [self-created images – GH.] should be taken as basis, (Kant, Hume, all the Machists). Instead of “or”, Hegel puts “and”, explaining the concrete content of this and.’ (Page 134 Vol. 38)

Unless Semblance is negated through the use of dialectical logic, it easily becomes the starting point for ‘scepticism, Kantianism, respectively.’ (Page 130, Vol.38). Lenin approvingly quotes Hegel as follows:-

‘Semblance then is the phenomenon of scepticism; or again the appearance of idealism, such an immediacy, which is neither something nor Thing, and, generally is not an indifferent Being which could be outside its determinateness and relation to subject.  Scepticism did not dare affirm “it is”; modern idealism did not dare to regard cognition as a knowledge of the Thing-in-itself.’ (Page 130-131 Vol.38)

Continuity of Self-Related Concepts

Engels defines ‘Dialectics’ as, ‘…the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought.’ (Page 131, Vol.25, Marx and Engels collected works.) Starting with the identity of the source of sensation as the simple negation, the second negation returns to the ever-changing infinity of the external world. Thus, negation of the negation as an objective law incorporates the unity, conflict, and interpenetration of opposites, (motion of the external world into subjective thought), the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa, each of which is an objective law. The negation process starts from the external world as the implicit unity of self-related concepts, (Being-Nothing-Becoming), and returns to the external world as the explicit concept of Semblance.. The synthesis with the historical-materialist knowledge which contains analysis as a moment of objective truth becomes the impulsive driving force for the development of theory as a guide to practice.

Objective practice is the most important category of materialist dialectics. It implicitly coincides with the identity of the external source of sensation becoming explicit in Semblance after the third negation.

On pages 131-132 Vol. 25 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels*, Engels explains how we must proceed with such a negation. ‘I must not only negate, but also sublate the negation. I must therefore arrange the first negation so that the second remains, of becomes, possible. How? That depends on the particular nature of each individual case.

‘If I grind a grain of barley or crush an insect, I have carried out the first part of the actions, but have made the second part impossible. [Destructive negation – GH] Every kind of thing, therefore, has a peculiar way of being negated in such a manner that it gives rise to a development, and it is just the same with every conception or idea.’

The continuity of development of self-related concepts has been described by Hegel and approved by Lenin in the German word aufheben, (Page 108 Vol.38), which means to supercede = terminate = maintain (simultaneously to preserve). To supercede from Semblance is to negate back to the external world of the class struggle, the strongest of the ‘impressions that flash by’, to assess their concrete content in the external world. Such a negation will provide the impulse to make the impressions more concrete and this will be done by negating this content through the method of dialectical logic into thought. In the course of this negation, the form is contained within the concrete content itself.

We are concerned here with the abstract process or as Marx describes it, ‘The first procedure’ which through the negation of the negation process ‘attenuates meaningful images to abstract definitions.’ These images are ‘meaningful because they are related to the needs of our objective practice in the class struggle. Through the third negation we establish a synthesis with the revolutionary history of the social being of that practice on a world scale. The ‘definitions’ or ‘contents’ which we negate contain the old properties of semblance and the indeterminate beginning. These properties, old and new, after each negation of the negation, build up into ‘the internally contradictory tendencies (and sides)of the thing’, until the ‘thing, phenomenon’, becomes the ‘sum and unity of opposites’.(See elements1 and 2 for definitions of semblance, and elements 3,4, and 5, page 221, Vol.38)

The unity of opposites, (old and new), is the unity of quantities already negated into qualities and vice versa as self-related concepts. They establish the continuity of the ‘meaningful images’, (contents which contain forms, causes and effects of the abstract process). The abstract and the concrete are a unity of opposites which are constantly in a state of motion, (becoming). Since they are self-related concepts, they become identical and interpenetrate each other. The abstract definitions, (contents),contain the build-up of the ‘in-itself of finite qualities which have been negated from infinite quantities. Through the continuity established by the negation of the negation process as an objective law, the build-up of the in-itself motion of the object or objects, transforms them singularly of plurally into ‘its own other’. Thus, a ‘thing’ or ‘things’ in themselves become a ‘thing’ or ‘things’ for others.

Revisionists, sceptics, subjective idealists, and metaphysical thinkers base themselves on external expositions of contradictions as a product of thought. They refuse to recognise the objectivity of the negation of contradiction as essence, whose source is in the external world, through the use of dialectical logic. Essence, as the contradiction within self-related abstract concepts, physically accumulates as the ‘internally contradictory sides’ of the developing object or objects. The objectivity of this abstract negation inwards is ignores and replaced with speculative estimations as to how the object seems to appear in the external world. In this undialectical way, the abstract as a ‘sum and unity’ of opposite phenomena cannot interpenetrate and appear in the concrete through analysis and synthesis. Dialectical logic as the scientific theory of knowledge is cast aside for an easier, more ignorant life in the swamp of bourgeois ideology.

   *Please note : The references to Vol. 25 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels can be found in pages 172-173 in Anti-Düring, Progress Publishers, 1977 edition.

The Dialectic of Form and Content
(Marxist Monthly, Vol. 1,  No. 3, May 1988)