Bookchin on Dialectics

  • potentiality into actuality; distinct directionality; immanent factors; metabolic self-development; cumulative
  • ontology: philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence
  • immanent: existing or operating within; inherent

All quotes from Murray Bookchin’s A Philosophical Naturalism:

Dialectical reason, unlike conventional reason, acknowledges the developmental nature of reality by asserting in one fashion or another that A equals not only A but also not-A. The dialectical thinker who examines the human life-cycle sees an infant as a self-maintaining human identity while simultaneously developing into a child, from a child into an adolescent, from an adolescent into a youth, and from a youth into an adult. Dialectical reason grasps not only how an entity is organized at a particular moment but how it is organized to go beyond that level of development and become other than what it is, even as it retains its identity. The contradictory nature of identity–notably, that A equals both A and not-A–is an intrinsic feature of identity itself. The unity of opposites is, in fact, a unity qua the emerging “other,” what Hegel called “the identity of identity and nonidentity.”
Hegel’s dialectic, in effect, defies the demand for dictionary-style definition. It can be understood only in terms of the working out of dialectical reason itself, just as an insightful psychology demands that we can truly know an individual only when we know his or her entire biography, not merely the numerical results of psychological tests and physical measurements.
…dialectics is more than a remarkable “method” for dealing with reality. Conceived as the logical expression of a wide-ranging form of developmental causality, logic, in Hegel’s work, joined hands with ontology. Dialectic is simultaneously a way of reasoning and an account of the objective world, with an ontological causality. As a form of reasoning, the most basic categories in dialectic–even such vague categories as “Being” and “Nothing”–are differentiated by their own inner logic into fuller, more complex categories. Each category, in turn, is a potentiality that by means of eductive thinking, directed toward an exploration of its latent and implicit possibilities, yields logical expression in the form of self-realization, or what Hegel called “actuality” (Wirklichkeit).
Precisely because it is also a system of causality, dialectic is ontological, objective, and therefore naturalistic, as well as a form of reason. In ontological terms, dialectical causality is not merely motion, force, or changes of form but things and phenomena in development. Indeed, since all Being is Becoming, dialectical causality is the differentiation of potentiality into actuality, in the course of which each new actuality becomes the potentiality for further differentiation and actualization. Dialectics explicates how processes occur not only in the natural world but in the social.
What we vaguely call the “immanent” factors that produce a self-unfolding of a development, the Hegelian dialectic regards as the contradictory nature of a being that is unfulfilled in the sense that it is only implicit or incomplete. As mere potentiality, it has not “come to itself,” so to speak. A thing or phenomenon in dialectical causality remains unsettled, unstable, in tension–much as a fetus ripening toward birth strains to be born because of the way it is constituted–until it develops itself into what it “should be” in all its wholeness or fullness. It cannot remain in endless tension or “contradiction” with what it is organized to become without warping or undoing itself. It must ripen into the fullness of its being.
Dialectical naturalism, on the contrary, conceives finiteness and contradiction as distinctly natural in the sense that things and phenomena are incomplete and unactualized in their development–not “imperfect” in any idealistic or supranatural sense. Until they are what they have been constituted to become, they exist in a dynamic tension. A dialectical naturalist view thus has nothing to do with the supposition that finite things or phenomena fail to approximate a Platonic ideal or a Scholastic God. Rather, they are still in the process of becoming or, more mundanely, developing. Dialectical naturalism thus does not terminate in a Hegelian Absolute at the end of a cosmic developmental path, but rather advances the vision of an ever-increasing wholeness, fullness, and richness of differentiation and subjectivity.
Dialectical contradiction exists within the structure of a thing or phenomenon by virtue of a formal arrangement that is incomplete, inadequate, implicit, and unfulfilled in relation to what it “should be.” A naturalistic framework does not limit us to efficient causality with a mechanistic tilt. Nor need we have recourse to theistic “perfection” to explain the almost magnetic eliciting of a development. Dialectical causality is uniquely organic because it operates within a development–the degree of form of a thing or phenomenon, the way in which that form is organized, the tensions or “contradictions” to which its formal ensemble gives rise, and its metabolic self-maintenance and self-development. Perhaps the most suitable word for this kind of development is growth–growth not by mere accretion but by a truly immanent process of organic self-formation in a graded and increasingly differentiated direction.
The continuum of a development is cumulative, containing the history of its development.
in a naturalistic dialectic, both past and future are part of a cumulative, logical, and objective continuum that includes the present. Reason is not only a means for analyzing and interpreting reality; it extends the boundaries of reality beyond the immediately experienced present. Past, present, and future are a cumulatively graded process that thought can truly interpret and render meaningful. We can legitimately explore such a process in terms of whether its potentialities have been realized, aborted, or warped.
In a naturalistic dialectic, the word reality thus acquires two distinctly different meanings. There is the immediately present empirical “reality”–or Realität, to use Hegel’s language–that need not be the fulfillment of a potentiality, and there is the dialectical “actuality”–Wirklichkeit–that constitutes a complete fulfillment of a rational process. Even though Wirklichkeit appears as a projection of thought into a future that has yet to be existentially realized, the potentiality from which that Wirklichkeit develops is as existential as the world we sense in direct and immediate ordinary experience. For example, an egg patently and empirically exists, even though the bird whose potential it contains has yet to develop and reach maturity. Just so, the given potentiality of any process exists and constitutes the basis for a process that should be realized. Hence, the potentiality does exist objectively, even in empirical terms.
One of the principal purposes of dialectical reason is to explain the nature of Becoming, not simply to explore a fixed Being.
If dialectical naturalism is to explain things or phenomena properly, its ontology and premises must be understood as more than mere motion and interconnection. A continuum is a more relevant premise for dialectical reason than either motion or the interdependence of phenomena.

Bookchin on history and evolution

“History, in fact, is as important as form or structure. To a large extent, the history of a phenomenon is the phenomenon itself. We are, in a real sense, everything that existed before us and, in turn, we can eventually become vastly more than we are. Surprisingly, very little in the evolution of life-forms has been lost in natural and social evolution, indeed in our very bodies as our embryonic development attests. Evolution lies within us (as well as around us) as parts of the very nature of our beings.”

- Murray Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom (p 23)

Raya Dunayevskaya on “Forms of Organization”

In her book Marxism and Freedom, Raya has a chapter on “Forms of Organization: The Relationship of the Spontaneous Organization of the Proletariat to the ‘Vanguard Party’”.

I read this to help think through some ongoing conversations with the ‘rades about Hal Draper’s center concept, Scott Nappalos’ intermediate level concept, and our own developing organizing work in Houston. Overall I cannot say Raya’s piece was super helpful but the following points and passages seem useful.

- taking the highest point of struggle as our starting point in any given moment (p 184, there is related material on this somewhere…)

- going deeper and lower into the working class as the quintessence of Marxism

His mind working dialectically, Lenin now approaches the problem from two levels: (1) the real, and (2) the ideal springing from the real. The betrayal of the proletariat by the Second [International] left no doubt that, far from being an ideal organization, it had become the enemy of the purpose for which it was formed – to organize the revolutionary activity of the masses. No doubt the corruption of the Second was unavoidable under the growth of monopoly capitalism and imperialism. But having traced it’s objective basis, that is to say, the economic roots, his mind found it all the more necessary to see it philosophically, and go forward from the recognition of the contradiction in every single thing, to its resolution: If the unity of opposites is not limited to the two fundamental classes in society, if the duality extends to labor itself, then one must speak out the truth – the labor party itself is bourgeois. It is thus necessary to drive a wedge between the opposites in labor itself. It was the deeper and lower layers, in and outside the party, that would have to restore labor to its revolutionary being. The masses would do more than regain their self-activity when they finally destroyed the bourgeois labor party. In overcoming that barrier, the working class will finally find itself undivided against itself. Its ‘knowing,’ its consciousness, will be reunited with its ‘being,’ it’s creative activity. The type of party it creates would not shirk taking power. [p 187-188]

- the relationship of theory and activity

‘Actuality and thought (or the Idea) are often absurdly opposed…Thought in such a case is, on the other hand, the synonym for a subjective conception, plan, intention or the like, just as actuality, on the other, is made synonymous with external and sensible existence…For on the one hand ideas are not confined to our heads merely, nor is the Idea, upon the whole, so feeble as to leave the question of its actual inaction or non-actual inaction dependent on our will. The Idea is rather absolutely active as well as actual. And, on the other hand, actuality is not so bad and irrational as it is supposed to be by the practical men, who are either without thought altogether or have quarreled with thought and have been worsted in the contest.’ Hegel [p 186]

Not only were economics, politics and philosophy not three separate constituent parts. The point was that unless all, as a totality, are taken in strict relationship to the actual class struggle, the activity of the masses themselves, it would be nothing but ‘project-hatching.’ [p 190]

Thoughts on the Dream 9 Victory

Just wrote this short piece with some help from the ‘rades. Check out the full post here.

The Dream 9 Victory & New Developments in the Immigrant Rights Movement

On July 22nd, the “Dream 9” – nine undocumented activists who were raised in the U.S. since childhood but were recently deported or self-deported to Mexico – attempted to re-enter the country at Nogales, AZ, in protest of U.S. immigration policies. They were arrested and put in federal custody for violation of U.S. immigration law.

While in custody, organizers with the National Youth Immigration Alliance (NIYA) carried out a national campaign to publicize the detention of the Dream 9 organizers and to build support for their immediate release into the U.S. They organized pickets, vigils, phone blasts and sit-ins to push members of Congress into pressuring the Obama administration to approve their release. Meanwhile, the nine activists organized inside the Eloy Detention Center where they were held, at times in solitary confinement, drawing public attention to the conditions inside the detention center and organizing a hunger strike 70 other detainees.

The campaign worked. Two weeks ago, the Dream 9 were released and allowed to return to their home communities in the U.S. Immigration asylum officers found that all nine had credible fear of persecution in their birth country and could therefore not be immediately removed. Their cases now go to an immigration judge who will decide whether to grant asylum, a process that could take years in court.

This direct action by the Dream 9 marks a qualitative turn in the immigrant rights movement and has sparked debate over immigration reform, strategy and tactics in the movement. What follows are several brief points about what is important about the Dream 9.

First, the Dream 9 action is stirring the debate about and moving beyond the strategy of trying to push the Democrats to the left in order to win justice for immigrants. While the national campaign that NIYA was pushing centered on contacting congress to get support, the action itself of openly crossing the border and of organizing inside Eloy went far beyond that strategy. This action is a new form of confrontation. As such, it cannot be considered outside of its development out of 10-plus years of struggle that has advanced from petitions and letter-writing, to confrontations with politicians, to sit-ins and occupations, to coming out “undocumented and unafraid,” to infiltrating detention centers and now to direct and open defiance of U.S. immigration policy at the border.

Check out the full post here.

Building a Solidarity Network in Houston

Here is a piece I wrote about an organizing project I am involved with. See the link below to read the full article.

Last October, a handful of Unity & Struggle members living in Houston, TX, together with other Houston-based organizers, started a solidarity network, the Southwest Defense Network (SWDN). [1] Since then our work has grown and we have been learning a lot about the economic and political dynamics in the city.

In many ways, Texas (and the South in general) represents a future that the rest of the country is rapidly headed towards. At the same time, the contradictions grow sharper every day, representing a potential for offensive struggles among the working class that have not been seen in other parts of the country in decades. This post is an attempt to pull together an objective picture of what’s happening with the working class in Houston, specifically in the area we are working, and to lay out some of the strategic reasons why we have chosen this as one organizing project among others.

What follows are some basic background notes on the situation that are intended to lay the groundwork for future thinking about the strategic and tactical issues that will be raised in this work.


According to most economic reports, Texas is a booming state, among the top in terms of job creation. It has an unemployment level that has consistently been lower than the national average. It is home to some of the most profitable national and multinational corporations. The number of new businesses relocating to or setting up shop in Texas is growing rapidly. It is a vital hub in the manufacture, import/export, warehousing and distribution of commodities. For the last decade, exports from Texas have grown at a faster pace than the rest of the country (its top export markets being Mexico, Canada, China and Brazil). [2]

The population of the state has exploded, growing by over 20% in the last decade alone. The city of Houston has grown by over 1 million people in that same period. Growth among communities of color fuels almost 90% of the state’s growth, and the majority of that is among Latinos. [3] Texas has the 2nd highest overall birth rate in the country but this growth is also happening due to a massive wave of immigration from other U.S. cities and other countries. Between 2000-2010, Harris County (in which Houston is located) had the largest absolute growth of immigrants compared to all other U.S. counties. [4] The majority (61%) came from Central America, with sizable numbers also coming from the Middle East, South/Southeast Asia and Africa.

This trend is only expected to continue and it contributed to Texas becoming a “majority-minority” state in 2004, which means there are fewer whites than people of color overall. The breakdown of the state is approximately 48% white, 35% Latino, 11% Black, and 5% Asian, Native American and other. Like most of the U.S., the vast majority of people (86%) live in urban areas. [5]

These racial dynamics are expressed in important ways geographically. This is a majority non-white state but the state political structure remains governed by a white oligarchy through the Republican Party. Most people of color reside in North, East and Central Texas and the border region with Mexico – regions where the largest cities are located. White folks in cities in these parts of the state reside mostly in the suburbs. Yet they still control most of the urban political structure, with some notable exceptions where Latino and Black patronage networks have made inroads into official power. [6] Suburbs around Houston look like militarized white enclaves, with gated and high security housing developments patrolled by police and private security, keeping out the riff-raff workers and poor from the city.

Read the rest here:

La Teoría Comunista De Marx

My comrade Parce and I are working on translating a number of pieces from the Unity & Struggle blog into Spanish. We recently finished up the following piece, “The Communist Theory of Marx,” which is part of a longer document engaging with communist theory and revolutionary organization. Read below or visit here for the Spanish version, click here for the original in English.

La Teoría Comunista De Marx

Como siempre, si encuentras un error gramatical o en la traducción te agradeceríamos tu ayuda en corregirlo para mejorar nuestro trabajo.

Traducido por L Boogie y Parce


La siguiente entrada representa una parte de un proyecto mayor sobre la teoría comunista y organización revolucionaria que se inició el verano pasado. Es un proyecto en curso que no sólo fue diseñado para proporcionar un esquema de referencia para nuestra propia agrupación. En términos más amplios, está destinado a ser una contribución a las discusiones en curso y debates sobre la teoría y práctica comunista, que, en nuestro momento histórico, no puede y no será el producto de cualquier grupo individual. Continue reading

Notes on Abolish Restaurants

Reading Notes on Abolish Restaurants

I’m reading this pamphlet to help a fellow organizer present a summary of it for a solidarity network we are building in Houston, the Southwest Defense Network. So far, among the potential campaigns we have come across, several have been restaurant workers confronting wage theft or other forms of exploitation in the restaurants they work(ed) for. Continue reading