Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Concept Of Totality

This post is inspired by current events

"It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality. The category of totality, the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts is the essence of the method which Marx took over from Hegel and brilliantly transformed into the foundations of a wholly new science. The capitalist separation of the producer from the total process of production, the division of the process of labour into parts at the cost of the individual humanity of the worker, the atomisation of society into individuals who simply go on producing without rhyme or reason, must all have a profound influence on the thought, the science and the philosophy of capitalism. Proletarian science is revolutionary not just by virtue of its revolutionary ideas which it opposes to bourgeois society, but above all because of its method. The primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science.

The revolutionary nature of Hegelian dialectics had often been recognised as such before Marx, notwithstanding Hegel's own conservative applications of the method. But no one had converted this knowledge into a science of revolution. It was Marx who transformed the Hegelian method into what Herzen described as the 'algebra of revolution'. It was not enough, however, to give it a materialist twist. The revolutionary principle inherent in Hegel's dialectic was able to come to the surface less because of that than because of the validity of the method itself, viz. the concept of totality, the subordination of every part to the whole unity of history and thought. In Marx the dialectical method aims at understanding society as a whole. Bourgeois thought concerns itself with objects the arise either from the process of studying phenomena in isolation, or from the division of labour and specialisation in the different disciplines. It holds abstractions to 'real' if it is naively realistic, and 'autonomous' if it is critical."

-- Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (trans. by Rodney Livingstone), MIT Press (1971): pp. 27-28.

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