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Contradiction and the Evolutionary Leap

Prepared by the Leningrad Institute of Philosophy under the Direction of 
M. Shirokov 1941 

The doctrine of leaps is one of those principles of dialectic which have been subjected to severe criticism from the revisionist standpoint and also from scientists who avowedly take the bourgeois point of view. And it is easy to see why. With the question of leaps is closely connected the question of social revolution. If everything in nature and society develops by decisive qualitative changes, by leaps, then it must be admitted that capitalism too will be inevitably replaced by another social order in the process of the working out of scientific laws, and that this will take place by means of a leap, which under the conditions of capitalism can only be a socialist revolution. Such a perspective is very disagreeable to capitalists and their reformist defenders. In seeking to prove that revolutionary changes cannot advance us, that revolution is indeed the sickness of society, a harmful abnormality, bourgeois scientists and politicians are defending a theory of purely evolutionary development. “Nature does not make leaps” – that is the basic formula of this theory. All things develop by means of slow, continuous changes, by means of an increase, a quantitative growth of certain sides of actuality, and a decrease of others. In the preceding chapter we saw that this theory in essence denies that any development is an “emergence of the new,” and reflects a limited, metaphysical point of view.

Indeed, if there are no leaps then there are also no radical changes, and all development amounts merely to quantitative changes of that which always existed. That which was microscopically small has now become big, that which was big has become small, but nothing new, nothing that did not exist before in some form, can appear.

Attempts to advance this view are met with in all fields of bourgeois science. We have already mentioned the view of certain early chemists on pure continuity in the formation of chemical compounds. In their view the appearance of a chemically new body is impossible – everything amounts to a mechanical mixture of particular elements. Under the pressure of fact most chemists have rejected these theories, but till this day various bourgeois natural-scientists have gone on trying, now in one form now in another, to advance the theory of the pure continuity of chemical combinations. In biology a thoroughly logical application of the evolutionary theory of development led to the “theory of pre-formation.” How can an organism emerge from the embryonic form? Only by way of gradual quantitative changes. Therefore the embryo is the same organism, only in a folded, miniature form. The embryo of an elephant is a little elephant! This conclusion is quite contrary to fact, but the extremely logical “pre-formists” did not stop there, they set a new question; whence emerged the embryo itself? Arguing logically from the premises of pure gradualism you have to admit that it always existed, i.e. even when its mother and ancestors were themselves embryos. Thus arose the so-called “Chinese Box” theory; the embryo of every animal contains in ready-made form innumerable generations of its descendants, each one packed up in its predecessor!

The theory was confuted more than a hundred years ago. Yet none the less in our day, when it becomes very necessary for the bourgeoisie to struggle against revolutionary dialectic, bourgeois scientists return to this theory once again. According to the method of mediaeval alchemists they divide an organism into absolutely independent properties and declare these properties to have existed from eternity. All the development of animals and plants may thus be ascribed to the combination, the increase and the decrease of these properties. All the properties of the highest animals are already contained in ready-made but latent form within the simplest organisms. With certain refinements this is the same “Chinese Box” theory, the same metaphysic of pure evolution, the same denial of the possibility of the new and the same “rejection of leaps.” In essence such a “theory of development” is a bald denial of actual development.

In so far as the bourgeoisie is interested in the development of technique it has to take account of facts, and under pressure of these facts a number of bourgeois scientists in their special departments arrived in an elementary fashion at dialectical results. But in their general world-outlook they are still opponents of dialectical materialism. And the more profound the decay of capitalism, the more do reactionary and even superstitious theories swamp the positive achievements of scientific investigators. The older metaphysical notion of fixed properties is merely carried to a further logical stage in evolutionary gradualism, in. which form it becomes the methodological basis of the bourgeois reaction in science and in practice.

The place of honour in this reactionary metaphysic is taken by the social reformists. They also assert that the real road to social development lies along the path of slow gradual amelioration, i.e. along the path of reform rather than revolution. Capitalism is sick, we must heal it – is all they have to say in the world economic crisis (1929-1932). It is quite clear that this ancient policy of patching the holes of the capitalist system is not the path to socialism, but a means of defending capitalism from the revolutionary indignation of the workers. That is why an irreconcilable struggle for the dialectical understanding of development, a pitiless showing-up of the hypocrisy of gradualism (the acknowledgment of development in words, the denial of it in action) – is the actual political task of our philosophic front.

However, we should be quite wrong if in our struggle against gradualism we reconciled ourselves with those “theorists” who seek to ascribe all development to leaps alone. We are against gradualism, but we by no means deny that evolutionary, gradual changes play a big role in development. As we saw above, a leap is impossible without a previous quantitative change within the bounds of the old quality.

The ultra-“left,” representing the position of extreme “revolutionism,” want at once to leap out of capitalism into communism, without any previous preparation, without prolonged struggle. These politicians, who express the psychology of “a petty-bourgeois driven mad by the terrors of capitalism,” understand revolution as a sudden explosion, which at one blow destroys the old society.

Like the evolutionists they cannot find in the object itself the motive force of its development and are, therefore, compelled to seek it outside. They see in such a leap an absolute separation of the new from the old, they mechanistically distinguish between gradual preparation of the new and a leap. Therefore, they either wait passively for a revolution, not knowing how to prepare a revolution by an active participation in social struggle, or they seek the source of revolution in a subject, in the impulse of a person, in the intoxicating inspiration of some miraculously gifted revolutionary leader.

Such an understanding of leaps is purely idealistic, and like all idealism, leads directly to superstition. This theory which declares the long task of organizing the masses for actual revolutionary action to be superfluous and even harmful, and distracts the masses from its tasks of preparing for the leap, is in essence just as reactionary as the theory of evolutionism. It is not without significance that the Trotskyist opposition marked its real counter-revolutionary character by making use of similar ultra-“left” phrases. “Permanent revolution” for all lands without exception, according to one recipe; a socialist conversion at one blow, “of planetary dimensions,” etc., etc. – what are these but ultra-“left” phrases, the only effect of which is to hamper real revolutionary activity?

For Lenin a correct view on this question involved a struggle on two fronts simultaneously. As early as 1910 he was writing:
The revisionist regards as mere phrases all arguments about ‘leaps’ and about the opposition (on principle) of the workers’ movement to the old society as a whole. They accept reform as a partial realization of socialism. On the other hand, the anarchist-syndicalist repudiates ‘petty tasks,’ especially participation in parliament. As a fact, this latter tactic amounts to a mere waiting for ‘great days’ without any knowledge of how to marshal or prepare the forces that create great events. 
Both the ‘right’ and ‘left’ grasp at only one aspect of development and, by turning it into a whole, create reactionary metaphysical theories. 
But real life, real history, includes in itself these different tendencies in just the same way that life and development in nature include in themselves both slow evolution and sudden leaps, sudden interruptions of gradualness” (Lenin).
Thus it is impossible to separate evolution and revolution from each other. They are necessarily connected together and actual development appears as their unity. However, we must guard ourselves from a simplified formal understanding of this unity. If we follow the method of the Deborin school we shall interpret this unity as follows: the Right Wing takes its stand on evolutionism, the Left Wing on revolutionism. Dialectic reconciles these opposites, reaching a synthesis of them both. All is well and. everyone is satisfied!

In a previous chapter we met with this eclectic understanding of the unity of opposites on the part of the Menshevist idealists. As we saw, they put forward, in place of a contradiction to be resolved in conflict, the principle of the reconciliation of “extremes,” and took their stand on the position of a moderate and careful “golden mean.” The utter futility of this eclectic method is quite evident even in application to the given question. By “synthesizing” evolutionism and revolutionism we shall not reach a dialectical unity of evolution and of leaps. Evolution, for the very reason of its procedure by leaps, as dictated by internal necessity, bears no resemblance at all to the peaceful gradualism of the evolutionists. Just as revolution, too, is not at all like its representation by the heroes of “left- revolutionary” phrases. Neither these nor others nor even the Menshevist idealists understand that what is important in this question is that all sides and phases of an evolving whole in the course of their development reveal irreconcilable contradictions.

Such a dialectic is very like that caricature of it which its bourgeois opponents draw. The founders of Marx-Leninism never turned the dialectical method into a simple scheme but used it as a basis for the concrete study of actuality itself – and in particular for the concrete study of the relation of quantity to quality.

Engels wrote: “Mere qualities do not exist. Only things exist which possess qualities, and moreover an infinite number of qualities.” Engels, Foreword to Anti-Dühring.

As a whole a thing is characterized by a certain basic, single quality. But this wholeness, this unity of the thing, is always split up into a number of different aspects, parts, moments – and this number is in the final reckoning infinite.

If production in general does not exist” – wrote Marx, showing up the empty abstractions of bourgeois economists – “then also general production does not exist. Production always represents a special branch of production, for example, agriculture, cattle-breeding, manufacture, etc., or some aggregate of them as a whole.”

In its turn every branch of production includes in itself a number of subdivisions and parts, a number of technical and economic peculiarities and details.

And so each quality contains in itself a vast number of partial qualitative differences, in each of which the basic quality, the general definiteness of the thing is reflected. That is why we do not understand the evolutionary preparation for a leap merely as a matter of continuity. The gradualness of the evolutionary process cannot be represented as continuous and it too consists wholly and continuously of partial reverses – breaks – leaps, in which the separate partial qualities that are included in and reflect the general quality of the thing are changed. The transition from pre-monopoly capitalism to imperialism is a genuine leap in the general course of the development of capitalism because in it there is a direct and leap-like change, not of capitalism as a whole, but of the previously dominating form of the organization of capitalist enterprises and capitalist subdivisions. But also these same stages of capitalist development, and this same transition between them, include in their turn an infinite number of leap-like changes of opinions, of yet more partial, more derivative aspects of the qualities of capitalism as a whole. Every phase of crisis and revival, of war and peace, of the seizing of a new market by this or that country and, to speak of smaller things, every formation of a new trust, every new demand, every “deal,” etc., ad infinitum – is characterized by a definite qualitative uniqueness and is connected through a leap with the other correspondingly larger or smaller parts of the whole. In nature there is no emergence of new qualities that does not contain in itself an infinite number of qualitative changes and leaps of subordinated aspects.

There is no purely uninterrupted development of a whole process in its entirety; the change of a basic quality of a thing is infinitely subordinated to interrupted changes of its aspects. In this continuous interruptedness of the infinite number of qualitatively definite aspects of a thing, proceeds that relatively uninterrupted development of its general, basic quality which thus prepares for its leap.

These middle links show merely that in nature there are no leaps for the very reason that it consists only of leaps.”* The process of socialist construction is uninterrupted for the very reason that in the countless number of separate improvements, of breaks, right down to the mastery of the production of a determined detail in a factory, there proceeds the unfolding and strengthening of the one socialist quality of new social relations. * Engels, Anti-Dühring.

Superficially, inexactly understood, the unity of quantity and quality appears thus: at first there are quantitative changes – then a change of quality; in other words, at first there are uninterrupted changes – then a leap. There you have the unity of opposites, the unity of evolution and of the leap, of interruptedness and of uninterruptedness. But Engels’s approach is far more concrete and profound. Engels shows the mutual penetration of these opposites – firstly the interruptedness in evolution and then the relative uninterruptedness in the connection of the separate links of a leap.

But does not this view approximate by a roundabout way to this same gradualism? As a matter of fact, the social-reformist will say, the transition from capitalism to socialism does proceed by way of separate small changes, by way of partial improvements of reforms of different aspects of the capitalist system. So to what end proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship? The gradual growing of capitalism into socialism must proceed by “slow steps,” diffidently, in a zigzag. Little drops of socialism must, by way of partial changes, trickle into the capitalist system until it is all turned into a socialist system. Capitalism grows into socialism, because socialism grows into capitalism.

The reformists slur over what is the main point – the irreconcilable oppositeness of capitalism to socialism. Capitalism, as a whole, as a system, is opposed to socialism and therefore in the limits of this capitalist system no real socialist improvements are possible. And yet capitalism itself, by changing its aspects, is actually preparing its own downfall and transition to socialism. As a qualitatively unique whole, capitalism possesses a relative stability. Partial changes of its properties do not change its basic character; nevertheless they make ready the conditions of its general crash. Through partial qualitative changes proceeds the intensification of the contradictions of capitalism, the growth of these contradictions. The qualitative changes of the aspects and properties of capitalism are thus the expression of the quantitative change of capitalism as a whole, of its basic quality, of that quantitative change which prepares its general leap.

Such is the profound internal contradiction of capitalist evolution, as of all evolution generally, Engels wrote on this issue as follows:
If oppositeness belongs to a thing (or to a conception), then in it and also in its expressions in thought, we find a contradiction with itself. For instance, in the fact that a thing remains the same and at the same time is uninterruptedly being changed, in the fact that it possesses within itself an oppositeness between ‘stability’ and ‘change,’ there lies a contradiction” (Anti-Dühring).
Not only in the question of the development of capitalism does the doctrine of the contradictoriness of quantitative and qualitative changes play a big theoretical and practical part. In every process an internally necessary negation of quality is brought into being by the development and strengthening of that process. The more fully and far a given quality has been developed and the higher the stage of quantitative development it has reached, the more clearly are its final limits revealed, the more quickly does its negation, does its transition to a new quality, draw near. The dialectic of the transitional period shows this contradiction at every step. In socialist construction we pass through a number of qualitatively unique steps. In order correctly to denote the political line of the transitions of one into the other we must evaluate the uniqueness of the contradiction of the qualitative and quantitative changes of each of them. Through the present (1932) “artel” form of the collective farms we are passing to a higher logical-socialist form of agricultural organization. The more fully developed the “artel,” the quicker the realization of this transition. Through the strengthening of the existing stage of socialist construction to its negation at a higher stage; that is the contradictory formula of our forward movement. One of the most important examples of the establishment and working out of this formula is its application by Stalin to the dialectic of the transitional period in the U.S.S.R.

Our state is struggling for the abolition of classes. For this purpose, by attracting ever wider masses of workers to posts of authority, it seeks to wipe out the distinction between society and state and approaches ever closer to the epoch when, according to Engels’s expression “society will put the whole state machine in its proper place – in the museum of antiquities along with the distaff and the axe.”

But does this mean that in our conditions there is going on an uninterrupted and gradual withering away of the state, that the successes of socialist construction must lead to the gradual weakening of the apparatus of proletarian dictatorship? Wiseacres have been found who understood the matter like that, who proposed, along with the development of all-round collectivization, to set about liquidating the village soviets. These wiseacres, like social reformers under capitalist conditions, did not understand the contradictoriness of quantitative and qualitative changes.

The Soviet state is a state of a special type. In so far as the power in it belongs to the majority, i.e. the workers, in so far as it was created for the suppression of exploiters, for the abolition of classes, it is already not a state in the strict sense of the word, it is a half-state, as it was called by Lenin. But as long as classes are not yet completely abolished, so long as the remains of class distinctions among the people are preserved, it does not lose its basic character, nor in any measure ceases to be a proletarian state, an instrument of proletarian dictatorship. As long as the bitterness of class contradictions continues to grow the state must be preserved and strengthened as a “truncheon in the hands of the ruling class” (Lenin). The vitality of the soviets, the attraction of the workers to positions of authority, etc., are aids to the strengthening of the proletarian state. And only through this strengthening can there be progress to its ultimate extinction.
We are for the withering away of the State. And yet we also believe in the proletarian dictatorship, which represents the strongest and mightiest form of State power that has existed up to now. To keep on developing State power in order to prepare the conditions for the withering away of State power – that is the Marxist formula. It is ‘contradictory’? Yes, ‘contradictory.’ But the contradiction is vital, and wholly reflects Marxian dialectic...
Whoever has not understood this feature of the contradictions belonging to our transitional time, whoever has not understood this dialectic of historical processes, that person is dead to Marxism.” Stalin, speech at Sixteenth Congress.
In its struggle for the abolition of classes the Soviet state both strengthens itself as a state and prepares its own extinction. And until the decisive goal is reached (the complete abolition of classes and of the remains of class distinctions), it preserves itself as a state.
The completer the democracy, the nearer the moment when it will become unnecessary. The more democratic the state (which is made up of armed workers and is ‘already not a state in the strict sense of the word’), the more rapidly does every form of the state begin to decay.”
This moment when every form of the state begins to decay is the moment of the decisive turn, the beginning of the new quality – of society without a state, the beginning of the highest phase of communism. This leap is radically distinct from the leap between capitalism and socialism. There, the leap is accomplished as a revolution, as a pitiless conflict of classes. Here, the society of socialist workers is freed basically from the marks of its larval stage and progresses to a new and higher stage of development. In the one the antagonistic contradictions of capitalism are resolved in antagonistic conflict. In the other the non-antagonistic contradictions of a socialist society already subordinated to a plan are resolved by way of development in a conflict of the new forms of life. But in both the one and the other we see the final limit of the determined quality, the decisive turn to the new line of development, in both we see the resolution of contradictions. In a word, with all the difference of the types, forms and length of leaps, everything in the world, both in nature and in society, resolves its internal contradictions by way of change of quality, by way of a leap.

The reaching of the final limit is the moment of deepest contradiction and at the same time the beginning of its solution.

And so, as we see, the unity of “gradualism” and “the leap” is a contradictory unity that emerges at different stages of the development of quality.

However, the gradualist has in reserve yet another objection. Granted, he argues, that a new stage of development arises out of the old, yet since nothing arises out of nothing, it follows that in the evolutionary changing of the old there are already being created the basic elements of the new and therefore the transition from one degree to another is an uninterrupted process, a process of the gradual growing of one quality into another. The stupid Bolsheviks, say the reformists, are smashing capitalism and wish to construct a socialist society without creating the elements of socialism within the shell of the capitalist system, and since out of nothing, nothing arises, the Bolshevist “experiment” is foredoomed to failure. As a matter of fact this promised failure is not evident, and the gradualists in the camp of the enemies of the U.S.S.R. are like bad jugglers, whose tricks, promised to the public, have not been a success. They would like to create the “failure” of the Bolsheviks before the eyes of this same “public” with the aid of direct injury and even intervention.

It is true, of course, that nothing emerges from nothing. The properties which become elements of the new quality are actually created in the old. But until the basic connections of the old quality are broken these properties belong wholly to the old and in no measure denote the gradual growing of one quality into another. These properties are contradictory. Within the bounds of the old they include in themselves only premises for the emergence of the new, and are only a condition of the leap, and only through a radical break, through a leap, do they become elements of the new.

The raising of the temperature of water is accompanied by the quickened movement of its particles. In this way the free movement of the particles of steam is prepared. But until the b oiling point is reached the movement of particles remains within the bounds of the old connection.

Capitalism, by creating big-scale industry, by giving to it an ever more clearly expressed social character, is preparing the premises of socialism and, in spite of the hypocritical assertions of the reformists, had already prepared them a long time ago. But until the decisive limit is reached, until private property in the means of production is abolished, this large-scale industry remains capitalist. In this process of socializing production the capitalistically exploited working class is formed and united. It appears as the carrier of the progressive tendency, the tendency to socialization, which leads capitalism to negation, to a revolutionary leap. That was why Lenin spoke of the “opposition (on principle) of the workers’ movement to the old society as a whole.”

The process of the development of capitalist production “develops, organizes, disciplines the workers.” But at the same time, capitalism “crushes, oppresses and leads them to debasement and poverty,” corrupts them with bribes, separates them by the forces of capitalist competition and national conflict. The working class develops its socialist qualities within the frame of capitalism, not by creative “flowerets” of ready-made socialistic culture, as the reformists suppose, but by organizing itself for decisive struggle against the capitalist system as a whole. Only by such a struggle can it purify itself from the vices and contradictions of capitalism and only in the epoch of its domination can the socialist traits of the workers become actual elements of socialist culture.
Capitalism itself creates its own gravedigger, itself creates the elements of the new order, and yet without a ‘leap’ these different elements change nothing in the general position of things, do not begin to touch the domination of capital.” Lenin, Dissensions in the European Workers’ Movement.
The changes of different aspects in the bounds of capitalism do not change capitalism as a system, yet they create conditions for the emergence of the new social order.

Does this mean that all partial changes are non-essential, that the working class must refuse to struggle for them? By no means. If we deny any significance to partial changes, we should pass to the other extreme and deny the contradictoriness of development and thus occupy the position of the heroes of the “left” phrases.

Conducting the struggle on two fronts, Lenin stressed the ambiguous, contradictory character of reforms and all partial changes within the bounds of capitalism.

The reformists by clutching at different fragments of so-called socialist relationships that emerge under capitalism, for example, democracy, co-operatives, etc., create a whole order of theories of socialist growth – “constructive,” “co-operative,” and many other kinds of “socialism.”

At the first glance they appear to be right. In fact, co-operation surely is for us an element of socialism. Do we not say that the growth of co-operation is identical with the growth of socialism? Yet, as Lenin shows, co-operation within the system of capitalism and co-operation within the system of proletarian dictatorship – are two quite different qualities.
A co-operative is a shop-counter and let there be whatever changes, perfectings, reforms you will, the fact remains that it is a shop-counter. That lesson has been taught to socialists by the capitalist epoch. And there is no doubt that it was a correct expression of the essence of the co-operatives as long as they remained as an insignificant appendage to the mechanism of the bourgeois order. But it also follows that the position of the co-operatives is radically and in principle changed, from the time that the proletariat wins state power, from the moment when the proletarian state power advances to a systematic creation of socialist laws and regulations. Here quantity goes over into quality. A co-operative, in the form of a little island in a capitalist society, is a shop-counter. A co-operative, if it embraces all society in which land has been socialized and factories and works nationalized, is socialism” (Lenin).
As we see; without a revolutionary leap in the ownership of the means of production, co-operative organizations in no degree begin to encroach upon the domination of capital. Yet at the same time workers’ co-operatives, even in the conditions of capitalism, are a school that teaches the workers solidarity and organization. But in the conditions of proletarian dictatorship, co-operation emerges as an “element” of the new order. How is this contradiction resolved?

The correct resolution of the question lies only in conflict, in the inclusion of the workers’ co-operation as a link in the general chain of the conflicts with capitalism, in using it as one of the organizations for preparing revolution. We must look on it not as the beginning of socialism, but as a school to teach the workers solidarity in conflict, and as a means of economic support of the proletariat in the time of strikes.

Thus, once again, we are persuaded of the correctness of the Leninist thought that only the theory of irreconcilable conflict of mutually exclusive opposites, only the dialectical law of contradiction “gives the key to ‘leaps,’ to the interruption of gradualness, to the conversion into an opposite, to the abolition of the old and the emergence of the new.”

Our citation of co-operation enables us to draw yet one more conclusion. As we pointed out, a workers’ co-operative under capitalism can at times better the position of a particular group of workers. Thus it resolves a certain partial contradiction in the lives of some of the proletariat. However, is this partial victory in any degree a resolution of the general contradiction of capitalism – i.e. of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie? It is not. On the contrary, this partial success intensifies this general contradiction even more. In fact it inevitably increases the pressure from the side of the capitalists and with its limitations and lack of permanence reveals to the workers that the basic root of their growing impoverishment and oppression lies in the existence of the capitalist ownership of the means of production.

Those who would interpret these fundamental principles in such a way as to find in the partial successes of the workers a path to the reconciliation of capitalism and socialism create the illusion that these successes lead to the reconciliation of class contradictions. But sooner or later, under the leadership of the revolutionary party, the workers become conscious of the actual objective result of partial successes, a result which mercilessly shows up the reconciliatory hoax.

In fact the resolution of partial contradictions within the framework of capitalism and the struggle for their resolution are the way to intensify and deepen the general contradiction of the capitalist system.

And the more quickly the communists succeed in joining up the struggle for partial aims with the single line of preparing the masses for the decisive leap, the sooner will this leap arrive.

Lenin wrote:
The relation of reforms to revolution is rightly determined by Marxism alone. Reforms are the collateral product of the revolutionary class conflict of the proletariat. For the whole capitalist world this relation is the fundamental ground of the revolutionary tactic of the proletariat – the A.B.C. which the venal leaders of the Second International distort and obscure.” Lenin, On the Importance of Gold.
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