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 The Impossibilists by Larry Gambone (continued)

Selected articles from the press of the
Socialist Party of Canada and the One Big Union, 1906-1938

[Return to Part One]

Impossibilist Philosophy
Philosophy is discussed in Proletarian Logic, Centenary of Joseph Dietzgen and Dietzgen And Relativity.

Proletarian Logic by “Rab,” Western Clarion, August 1918

The starting point, or rather, the pivotal centre of our logic is the conception of the universe as being a oneness, a unity, an eternal, absolute truth, all embracing, infinite and unlimited. It is impossible to conceive of anything outside the universe. To attempt it would not only be useless, but folly. The parts composing the universe partake of its infinite nature, i.e., of existence. A mahogany chair has the characteristics of all chairs, regardless of where it is found, on earth or in the heavens above. Yet, at the same time, it is finite. The chair is built, wears, breaks and decays into other forms. we cannot know all there is to know about the mahogany chair. We can analyze and dissect it to the smallest particle, but still there is more to find out about it.

However, we can know its classification and function. Though the intellect does not fathom all, yet it is true understanding. We know that it is a chair, not a bed or a table. Still further, we know it is a mahogany chair, not an oak or an ash. All things existing are attributes of the universe, each one being infinite and true but not the whole truth. They are all relatively true, i.e., parts of truth; but only the universe itself is the absolute truth—the whole truth. Within this absolute universe, everything is interrelated and in a process of change, e.g., the evolution of the earth from its original gaseous mass, unable to support life, to its present form with its “wonderful civilization.”

The early materialists of the 19th Century strove at understanding by cause and effect. Dietzgen well illustrates the limitations of this theory by his example of the stone. When we throw a stone in the water, ripples result. Were these ripples caused by the stone hitting the water? The elasticity of the water is just as much a cause, for were the stone to strike the ground, no ripples would result. But a knowledge of the general and particular nature of the water and the stone explained the phenomenon. By using the apparatus of the mind correctly, we come to understand that the world unity is multiform and all multiformity a unity.

Dietzgen admirably states the proletarian character of modern logic in the concluding paragraph in the 11th of his 24 “Letters on Logic” to his son Eugene. Our logic which has for its object the truth of the universe, a science of universal understanding. It teaches that the interrelation of all things is truth and life, is the genuine, right, good and beautiful. All the sublime moving the heart of man, all the sweet stirrings in his breast, is the universal nature or universe. But the vexing question still remains. What about the negative, the ugly and the evil? What about error, pretense, standstill, disease, death and the devil?

True the world is vain, evil, ugly. But these are mere accidental phenomena, only forms and appendages of the world. Its eternity, truth, goodness and beauty is substantial, existing, positive. Its negative is like the darkness which serves to make the light more brilliant, so that it may overcome the dark and shine more brightly. The spokesmen of the ruling classes are not open to such a sublime optimism, because they have the pessimistic duty of perpetuating misery and servitude.


Centenary Of Joseph Dieztgen, by Frank Roberts, OBU Bulletin, Dec. 13 1928

The One Hundredth Anniversary Of The Proletarian Philosopher

This month the hundredth anniversary of Joseph Dietzgen, the proletarian philosopher, occurs. His monumental work, “The Positive Outcome of Philosophy” forms the intellectual basis of the working class movement and without knowledge of it Socialism becomes incomprehensible. His volume on “The Nature of Human Brainwork” is the greatest masterpiece of philosophy ever written and is a contribution equal to the works of Marx and Engels. Joseph Dietzgen was the last line of philosophers who placed the human mind in its proper place in the universe and laid the foundation of a dialectical reasoning.

While bourgeois philosophers searched for truth in the mind itself and the materialists searched for it outside of it, Dietzgen showed that it was neither: that the mind was a process interrelated with all other processes in the universe and that mind and matter interacted one upon the other in the same proportion. So pleased was Karl Marx with Dietzgen that at the International Congress in 1872 he introduced him as “our philosopher.” Dr. Pannekoek states Marx had disclosed the nature of the social process of production and its fundamental significance at a level of social development. But he had not fully explained by what means the nature of the human mind is involved in this material process.

Owing to the great traditional influence exerted by bourgeois thought, this weak spot in Marxism is one of the main reasons for the incomplete and erroneous understanding of Marx’s theories. This shortcoming is cured by Dietzgen, who made the nature of the mind the object of his investigations.

It is not a hundred years since Dietzgen was born. Science has made great discoveries. The bourgeois logic has already demonstrated its weakness in trying to solve the riddles of the world. Proletarian logic in solving the riddles of the mind gives us assurance that there are no insoluble riddles before us.

Our latter-day scientists know full well the truth of the above statements. The Einsteinian postulates of space-time completely revolutionized the scientific concepts and lifted them out of the morass of the narrow 19th Century materialism. It unraveled problems bourgeois logic could not, and will solve greater ones in the future. Providing such a valuable asset in the hands of the scientist, what greater value it would have in the hands of the proletariat in the struggle against wage slavery.

Joseph Dietzgen died in Chicago in 1888, but left behind him a great legacy for the working class in their struggle for freedom. The greatest weapon of all says Engels. Perhaps in some more enlightened age, they will remember the obscure German tanner, whose genius unraveled the enigma of the human mind and placed thinking on a scientific basis for the first time.


Dietzgen And Relativity by H. Myers, OBU Bulletin, Dec. 20 1928

In last weeks issue appeared an article by Com. F. Roberts on the Centenary of Joseph Dietzgen in which he stated that the latter showed how the mind was interrelated with all other processes in the universe and that mind and matter interacted one upon the other in the same proportion.

Based mainly upon teachings of William Minto, late logic professor in Aberdeen University Scotland, the writer will deal with the interrelations of the mind in everyday life. As Com. Roberts remarked, Dietzgen ranks with Hegel and Einstein among the “dialectical” school of thinkers. The old rigid metaphysical school is seen in what Engels in his “Socialism from Utopia to Science” hints at with his “Yea, yea, nay, nay, whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”(Matthew vs. 37) That is in line with the laws of thought of the old Aristotetelian logic, and with the logic of every day time-limited life. Dialectical reasoning, however, is unlimited and goes far beyond metaphysics.

Now, properly speaking, thought does not begin until we pass beyond the identity of an object with itself and when we recognize the likeness between one object and others. To keep within self-identity is to suspend thought. When we say Socrates was put to death as a trouble maker” we take into account his relations of likeness with other men and what he has in common with them.

Hegelians express this by saying, “Of any definite existence or thought, therefore, it must be said with quite as much truth that it is not, as that it is, its own bare self.” Or, “a thing must be other than itself in order to be itself.”

The dialectics of Hegel, Dieztgen and Einstein are in harmony with the doctrines of Change and Evolution. For example, there is that seemingly shocking Hegelian pronouncement that “All that is real is reasonable, and all that is reasonable is real.” This apparently makes every “real” evil a “reasonable” evil. So, in a way it does. But what it really means is that, at a certain point in progress, the conditions are reasonable, because nothing else has arrived to take their place. For example, in pioneer Canada ox-cart locomotion was real and also reasonable. Today, steam and electric locomotion, by road and rail and aerial locomotion are the real things while the ox-cart is the unreal and unreasonable.

Today, we feel inclined to deeply sympathize with these old-time backward conditions. But our feelings are liable to be overdrawn, for there is a law of sensibility that a change of impression is necessary for consciousness, because a long continuance of any unvaried impression—results in insensibility to it! Hence the saying “custom blunts sensibility.” Poets formulated this principle before philosophers; for instance, the Scotchman, Barbour, in his poem on Robert the Bruce, where he insists that freedom cannot be appreciated unless men have known slavery—“Thus contrar thing is evermare discoverings of t’other are.” Or, as that maxim also insists, “We never miss the water till the well runs dry”. The reason for the foregoing is that nothing is known absolutely or in isolation, the various items of our knowledge are inter-relative; everything is known by distinction from other things. Thus results that “Every positive thought has its counter-positive, and the positive and its opposite are both of the same kind.” It will be noticed that, although every thought is set off and opposed by its counter-thought, yet both have an element of sameness.

A curious confirmation of this law of our thinking says Prof. Minto has been pointed out by Mr.Carl Abel in the “Contemporary Review” of April 1884. In Egyptian hieroglyphics we find, says Abel, a large number of symbols with two meanings, the one the exact opposite of the other. Thus the same symbol represents the strong and the weak; above and below; for and against. This, remarks Minto, is what the Hegelians mean by the reconciliation of antagonisms in higher unities. They do not mean that black is white, but only that black and white have something in common—they are both colors. Just as black and white workers, say we, have also something in common, both wage slaves!

It is this law that produces the principle in language that “two negatives make a positive”. When speaking, we, as it were, for the time being divide the universe into two parts, and deal with only one of these to the exclusion of the other (yet similar) part. For example, during one of his western debates Joseph McCabe slightly sarcastically referred to his place of residence (London) as “a not unimportant city”. Here, for MacCabe’s purpose the world is divided into important cities and not important cities, and as he affirmed that he did NOT live in any UNimportant city it therefore followed inevitably that he DID live in the other world section which only contained important cities!

Now we see how our very jokes are unconsciously based upon these laws, and we enjoy their humor although we are as hazy upon the laws that govern them, as we are on the mechanism of our digestive apparatus when eating a good meal, as compared with a doctor who knows about it.

So, whether or not we know it, we are all relativists even when we obey laws of which we are blissfully unconscious, just as unconsciously, we are both working for the Socialist Revolution—both capitalists and workers, Conservatives and Socialists! Who now will dare deny that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” both mentally and physically?

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