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Contradiction within Marxism in the Social Field

Contradiction within Marxism in the Social Field

In dialectical materialism, contradiction, as derived by Karl Marx from Hegelianism, usually refers to an opposition of conflicting social forces.  According to Marx, most prominent is the fact that capitalism promotes a social structure which has contradictions because the social classes have conflicting collective goals. These contradictions stem from the lethargic social function of the society's structure and inherently lead to class conflict, economic crisis, and eventually revolution, the existing order's overthrow and the formerly oppressed classes' ascension to political power. Thus for formal societal approaches, the main predication of 'dialectical opposition or contradiction' must be understood as 'some sense' opposition between the objects involved in a directly associated context. 'Dialectical contradiction' is not reducible to simple 'opposites' or 'negation'.

According to Marxist thinkers, dialectics is the science of the general and abstract laws of the development of nature and society. We are going to introduce their ideas based on Friedrich Engels. These principal features might be introduced as four, which are:

1. The universe, far from being a disconnected mixture of separate isolated entities, is an integral whole, with resultant universal interdependency. To sum it up: The law of unity and conflict of opposites.

The first of Engel's laws or expressions was seen by Hegel as the central feature of a dialectical understanding of things. Hegel wrote:

"It is in this dialectic as it is here understood, that is, in the grasping of oppositions in their unity, or of the positive in the negative, that speculative thought consists. It is the most important aspect of dialectic."[1]

This principle may be easily acceptable as Muslim social philosophers have repeatedly emphasized this very point; however, astute thinkers may distinguish between various groups co-existing within a society, and reach different conclusions regarding each individual community. We cannot, therefore, accept this principle in its vague formulation.

2. Nature - the natural world or cosmos - is in a state of constant motion. Some have formulated these changes to occur either generally or in the particular form of quantitative into qualitative. Friedrich Engels, the German philosopher, wrote in his 'Dialectics of Nature':

"All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change."[2]

While the second principle is widely accepted within the milieu of Muslim philosophers - in particular the Sadrian (Al-Harakah Al-Jawhariyyah), it is nevertheless unclear how this could be applied within the social field. The exception is where it could be used to prove the need for Divine power and guidance, something which the materialistic dialectic has rejected since its establishment. We find ourselves forced to discuss the other part of this principle as a separate issue.

3. Development is a process whereby insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes lead to fundamental, qualitative changes. The latter occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, in the form of a leap from one state to another. A simple example from the physical world might be the heating of water: a one degree increase in temperature is a quantitive change, but at 100 degrees there is a qualitative change - water to steam.

This principle is probably taken by Hegel from Aristotle, and is equated with what scientists call "phase transitions". In each case, the phase transition of water is one of the main expositions of quantity into quality and vice versa. Karl Marx has also emphasized this law in his Capital.

"Merely quantitative differences, beyond a certain point, pass into qualitative changes." [3]

As regards this principle, we may view the case from a specific angle as, within the social field, we found it difficult to adopt as a constant clear-cut rule where conditions supposedly bring about transformation from quantitative to qualitative, as societal factors are flexible and depend on many varying factors that can affect the destiny and future of the whole society. One is also able to defend an approach where contradiction may tend to affect the human societies within themselves, i.e. individuals whereby parts of the whole shall reach perfection towards elevated positive levels, and others may descend to ultimate lower levels.

4. All things contain within themselves internal dialectical contradictions, which are the primary cause of motion, change, and development in the world. This principle might be formulated as:  The law of the negation of the negation.

The principle of the negation of the negation is Hegel's distinct expression. It was the expression through which, amongst others, Hegel's dialectic became fashionable during his life-time, notwithstanding his vague formulation; interpretation will be a difficult task. There is much related literature and many philosophical theories – amongst which one has, oneself, developed an innovative theory though we are not going to discuss it in this article. However, speaking critically and briefly – and interpreting solely from a materialistic context - one can straightforwardly reject the need for internal contradiction in order to perpetuate motion and to keep things changing and moving towards different levels. Further explanations might be needed in the next few paragraphs to elaborate upon this idea and to strengthen its depth.

Before concluding, there is a need, at this point, to emphasise that dialectical materialism is often defined by reference to two claims by Marx: first that he "put Hegel's dialectics back on its feet" and second, that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." See (The Communist Manifesto, 1848). Dialectical materialism is essentially characterized by the belief that history is the product of class struggle obeying the general Hegelian principle of philosophy of history that is the development of thesis into its antithesis which is sublated by the "Aufhebung" (~synthesis, a word that Hegel was loathe to use) - which conserves thesis and antithesis while simultaneously abolishing it. Thus the conflict of society's classes is a necessity for history's development, and adheres to the Hegelian principles of history.

In conclusion, within this dialectic, the process of modification through the conflict of opposing forces, whereby a given contradiction is characterized by a primary and a secondary aspect, the secondary succumbing to the primary is then transformed into an aspect of new contradiction.

Ayatollah S. M. B. As-Sadr differs from Marx regarding the origin of social contradiction. Marx relates contradiction to the growth of means of production. Although As-Sadr pictured the rise of contradiction in social relations due to the changing economic conditions of society, he regarded the real cause behind it not as consisting of external-environmental conditions, but rather as resting within man, himself. Man is not always the product of his environment, which itself is shaped by his mentality, thoughts and activities. The development of economic conditions is his doing, and social relationships are developed and organized to meet his needs. It was his intellectual and physical capabilities that made it possible for man to enhance his living conditions. Without these faculties, the external conditions would have remained the same since the dawn of history. The reason behind the rise of the social contradiction is that man deviated from the way of God. Changes in the conditions surrounding man would only serve as instigators of man's mental capabilities. They act as 'raw material' for promoting and stimulating the appetite for the human brain to work. Change of environmental condition gives man the ability to develop new tools or means of production to counteract the effects of the changing conditions. He states:

‘...the natural forces of production do not, by themselves, reach their [state of] perfection and growth, or quicken their development and maturation, but rather they only instigate the senses and the thinking of man. Their natural development, thus, is not [the result of a] dialectical process, and the positive effect [i.e., the emancipation of life] does not emerge from this development. Rather, the forces of production are governed by an historical factor that is superior to them.’[4]

That superior factor, according to Sadr, is the human ego of mankind, himself. Hence, the primary factor behind the contradictions that exist in society is, according to Sadr, not changing economical conditions (forces of productions) but rather the contradictions within man himself. The Holy Qur’an made it explicitly clear:

"كلا إن الإنسان ليطغى، أن رآه استغنى."

“However man acts so arrogant, for he considers he is self-sufficient.” Qur’an 96:7

"إن الله لا يغير ما بقوم حتى يغيروا ما بأنفسهم."

“God does not change what any people may have until they change whatever they themselves have.” Qur’an 13:11

Thus the historical process can be defined between two poles of political thinking; those who would like to protect their interests and retain the existing system of alienation indefinitely, and those who would like to revolt and replace the existing oppressive system of social relations with a just one.

The natural course of action for the deprived and weak has always been to lead a revolution against corrupt oppressive political regimes. The history of revolutions, according to Sadr, has taken two different routes to confront unjust social structures. The first is revolution that advocates the elimination of materialistic forms of societal oppression, considered as forms of alienation, encountered by the downtrodden on a daily basis. These feelings of exploitation by the masses lead them first to silent opposition. When oppression continues, they organize their effort in vocal political movements that give voice to their demands upon the system. These groups eventually resort to violent actions when all else fails. Revolutions of this type of movement mobilize masses on the basis that a new system would distribute wealth and resources to all members of society and eliminate privilege for the upper dominate class. However, such revolutions, while concerned about certain kinds of social needs, are short-sighted. The masses would continue to face other forms of alienation in the post-revolutionary system. The oppressed of yesterday would become the masters, and thus, the oppressor of today. The whole historical process would repeat itself with new players. Thus, "the revolution would only change the position of exploitation, but would not accomplish its elimination." That is probably why Marx considered the existence of a historical dialectic process whereby each rising class resorts to oppressive means and measures to protect its interests against other groups, i.e., every thesis gives rise to an antithesis.

The second type of revolutionary process is one that tries to eliminate the source of alienation rather than merely emphasizing elimination of its materialistic contradictions. It is a revolution that would resort to the creation of new social values that would see an end to all sources of exploitation. The revolution that would advocate the values of justice, righteousness, and equality that stem from belief in God is the only revolution that would secure man from the domination and exploitation of other powers. It is the total surrender of man to God that would free him from surrendering to others. When the revolution advocates the equality of all people, it must be on the basis that all are equal before God and no single group has special rights with respect to others. When such revolutionaries try to eliminate the means of control of the dominate group, it is not because of a belief that they have no right to reign, but because all people have equal right to govern before God and act as His representative on earth. Sadr called the latter type of revolution the '(Divine) real revolution' and the former the '(Taghuti) relative revolution.'

These few sentences have been an attempt to establish a correction of the theoretical Marxist approach, and while touching on the theoretical version of social contradiction, they should suffice to lead us to profoundly study and extensively examine the new approach, including its relation to Real Practiced Life.

[1]. Hegel, Science of Logic, § 69, (p 56 in the Miller edition)

[2]. Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature.

[3]. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.

[4]. S. M. B. As-Sadr, Al-Madrasah Al-Qurniyyah, pp. 16, Publ. Dar At-Ta’aruf, Bayrut, 1980

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