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The Dialectic of the “Leap”

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

Hegel, in his exposition of his idealistic dialectic as a theory of the development of absolute spirit, characterized the transition of quantity into quality in the following terms:

“It is indeed never at rest, but carried along the stream of progress ever onward. But it is here as in the case of the birth of a child; after a long period of nutrition in silence, the continuity of the gradual growth in size, of quantitative change, is suddenly cut short by the first breath drawn – there is a break in the process, a qualitative change – and the child is born. In like manner the spirit of the time, growing slowly and quietly ripe for the new form it is to assume, loosens one fragment after another of the structure of its previous world. This gradual crumbling to pieces, which did not alter the general look and aspect of the whole, is interrupted by the sunrise, which, in a flash and at a single stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world.”Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit.

In spite of all the profound idealism of Hegelian thought there has been correctly indicated one of the wholly essential aspects of the leap, namely that moment of the radical change in the course of development, in the course of the break, which shows the completeness of the new quality.

In the birth of a child such a moment is its first inhalation, when for the organism as a whole begins a new stage of vitality.

The moment of break in the agitated conversion of a given mass of water into steam is the boiling point, when as small an addition of heat as you like will create at once the beginning of a qualitatively new process.
Water through cooling does not become hard gradually, i.e. by becoming cold first and then gradually hardening to the consistency of ice, it becomes hard all at once; when it reaches the freezing point it can still remain in its fluid state if kept in a state of rest, but the slightest jolt will convert it into a solid.” Cited by Lenin from Hegel’s Science of Logic.
In socialist revolution such a movement is the grasping of power by the proletariat and the approach to the organization of socialist economy. In the “years of the great break” such a moment is the beginning of the liquidation of the kulaks as a class.

However, is the transition of one quality into another fully explained by this moment? Can one ascribe the leap to this moment of break alone? Menshevist idealists answer this question affirmatively. Pushing Hegel’s thought to its extreme, they regard a leap as momentary, as essentially timeless, as an act which brings forth a new quality at one stroke. In this conception of the leap they have united themselves with the ultra-revolutionists of the “Left,” with anarchists and all those other “left” phrasemongers, who express the leap as a sudden emergence of the new, without any complexity. The specious “leftness” and revolutionariness of this view conceals within itself, however, a quite opportunist negation of the contradictoriness of development. In fact, as we explained above, the transition from one quality to another, the leap, is a process of resolving contradictions, a process of the destruction and breaking of the old system and of emergence of the new. It is quite clear that this process is impossible without a more or less lengthy conflict, without a complex task involving destruction and creation.

The “left” communists of the Brest Litovsk* epoch, in proposing to carry on a revolutionary war against imperialist Germany, proceeded from the following position: if the time for the leap from capitalism to socialism had arrived, then the swift victory of revolution all over the world was assured; if not, then in any case the ruin of Soviet power was inevitable. That is the defeatist conclusion at which the “Lefts” arrive when they regard the leap as an automatic instantaneous act. Either, in a flash of “poetic” revolutionary lightning, to conquer the whole world at one stroke, or all is lost! The resolution of actual contradictions is by no means so easy to accomplish, is by no means so decisive.

* Brest Litovsk. 

Early in 1918 the Soviet delegates met the representatives of the Central Powers at Brest Litovsk. It was soon made clear that the Germans wished to conclude an oppressive peace. Trotsky, who led the Russians, refused to sign and the Germans denounced the armistice and marched into Russia. After a series of debates Lenin got a majority in the Central Executive for signing the treaty even though the conditions then imposed were worse than before. The treaty was signed on March 3rd, 1918. It was annulled after the armistice of November 11th, 1918.

In the first months of the revolution Lenin wrote concerning this view:
The whole originality of the position we are living through from the point of view of many who wish to be regarded as socialists is this, that people have become accustomed to oppose capitalism to socialism and between the two have in the profundity of their thought set the word ‘leap’ (some of them, remembering snatches of Engels they have read, have added with still more mental profundity: ‘The leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom’). Of the fact that the teachers of socialism denoted by ‘leap’ a break as regarded from the angle of the changes of world history and that leaps of such a type occupy periods of years – ten or even more – of this act the majority of so-called socialists, who have studied their socialism in a ‘little book’ but have never seriously penetrated into the matter, have no inkling.”
The first breath of a child is the first manifestation of his independent vitality, but the act of giving birth is much more than that. “The birth of a child is such an act as turns a woman into a tortured, rent, pain-maddened, bleeding, half-dead piece of flesh.” As Lenin indicated in the same passage, “one ought to compare revolution with the act of birth. Births are sometimes easy, sometimes difficult. Marx and Engels, founders of scientific socialism always spoke of the long birth pangs inevitably connected with the transition from capitalism to socialism.” Lenin, Incidental Questions of the Soviet Power.

A leap is a profoundly contradictory process. A leap by resolving the contradictions of the old quality denotes the prolongation of the same conflict in a new, far more intensified form. In a leap we find the immediate unity, the immediate coincidence of destruction of the old and creation of the new, of negation and affirmation. The conflict of the contradictions of the old system brings it to a crisis, and in the crisis the new is born. The birth originates out of destruction, the very act of the birth and the process of the development of the new are the destructive work of an enormous force. Without an irreconcilable, pitiless negation nothing new can emerge; in this lies the dialectic of every revolutionary change. Gorky characterizing Lenin’s attitude to actuality, wrote: “Life is made up with such diabolical ingenuity, that if you cannot hate, it is impossible sincerely to love.”

This spirit of implacable negation, proper to all revolutionaries and creators of the new, excites the deep displeasure of the modern “healers of capitalism” – the social reformists. Revolution leads to destruction, revolution is barbarism, they declare.

The fact that revolution is allied with destruction, with a temporary decline in the development of productive forces, is not denied by any authentic revolutionary. But whoever has not the manliness to take part in this destructive labour, the same is inevitably destined to become a defender of what is dead and decomposing.

Revolution is not empty, thoughtless destruction. On the contrary, it is for the very reason that revolutionaries follow an objective line of social development and pursue the path towards the emergence of a new quality, that their action possesses a force destructive to the old system.

The real threat to the capitalists is not in the supposititious bombs and the Tcheka but in the successes of socialist construction in the U.S.S.R.

And so the birth of the new takes place in the contradictory mutual penetration of destruction and of the new quality that issues during this destruction. In itself the birth of the new far from exhausts the transition of one quality into another. When the first molecules of water fly out into the air this by no means yet denotes the conversion of water into its gaseous state. The decisive turn has begun, the new connection of particles has been indicated, but this new connection, at the moment of birth, exists only in embryo. In October 1917, we witnessed a decisive change which opened the way towards a new system of social laws transforming the entire world, but before every department of world society is completely dominated by this new quality, before this new quality is completely actualized, there must be a long period of fierce conflict with what is being destroyed.
The transitional period cannot fail to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent socialism, or in other words, between conquered but not annihilated capitalism and nascent but still feeble communism.” Lenin, Economics and Politics in the Epoch of Proletarian Dictatorship.
When a new thing has just been born, the old always remains for some time the stronger. It is always thus both in nature and social life.” Lenin, The Great Beginning.
At the moment of its birth the new is feebler than the old; its feebleness depends on the degree of its immaturity.
It is to be expected, that the achievement of the new cannot at once give us those firm established, almost stagnant and rigid forms, which were long ago created, have grown to strength, been: preserved through the centuries. At the moment of birth the elements of the new are still found in the period of fermentation and utter instability.” Lenin, sketch for the article “ Incidental Tasks of the Soviet Power.”
The feeble new enters into conflict with the stronger old. But is it possible that the strong should be conquered by the weak? – asks the formalist-metaphysician, for whom every contradiction is an absurdity. This contradiction and this victory are both facts of living dialectical development, and cannot be brushed aside by formal arguments.

The point of the matter lies in this, that socialism at the beginning of its development is weaker only in the degree of its development, only because it is immature, but from the very first day of its existence it is stronger according to type, stronger as a new, more progressive quality, free from those contradictions before which the capitalist system has already showed itself powerless.

That is why the new order appears finally as the victor, that is why it can conquer only by concentrating on its elements of real superiority and developing them with the utmost speed. That is why every step of socialist advance makes the fate of capitalism ever more hopeless, notwithstanding the ever more intense opposition of the capitalists.

The basic slogan for the conflict of the two systems – “in the shortest historical period to catch up and excel the leading capitalist countries in technique and economic development” – means nothing else than the task of making socialism stronger than world capitalism, not only in type, but also in the level of development, in the degree of the developing of its latent possibilities.

A socialism that is at its beginning weaker than capitalism cannot conquer with one blow. It conquers by the fact that at every particular moment it reveals its qualitative advantages in that portion of the conflict which is decisive at that moment. Whence there is a certain irregularity in its advance, whence the number of qualitatively unique stages in its conflict with the old system.
The actual interest of an epoch of great leaps is this, that the ruins of the old are sometimes far more numerous than the new, often barely visible beginnings, and this situation demands skill in picking out what is most essential in the line of development. There are historic moments when for the success of a revolution it is more important than any other consideration to accumulate the greatest possible number of ruins, i.e. to blow up as many of the old institutions as possible; there are moments when enough has been blown up, and it is time for the ‘prosaic’ (‘boring’ is the term for the petty-bourgeois revolutionary) task of clearing the ground of the debris; there are moments when a careful tending of the first beginnings of the new, which is growing among the ruins of the old on a soil still badly cleared of its rubble, is more important.” Lenin, vol. xxii.
That was how Lenin in 1918 characterized the particular stages of the transition to socialism.

The transitional period is the “great leap” itself and contains a number of transitional periods, a number of breaks, of leaps from stage to stage: the transition from war communism to N.E.P., the transition from the N.E.P. to the period of reconstruction, the “great break” of the country-side to the side of collectivization in 1929, the entry into the period of socialism, these are all clear examples of those leaps in which our epoch of the “great leap” is so rich.

Moreover the last stage of the transition period is at the same time the first stage of victorious socialist society. By assuring the victory of socialism in our country along the whole line,
we have already issued from the transition period in the old sense of the word, and have entered into the period of a direct and developed socialist construction along the whole front. We have entered into the period of socialism, because the socialist sector now holds in its hands all the economic levers of the whole popular economy.” Stalin, concluding remarks of speech at Sixteenth Congress.
Socialism has ceased to be an embryo. It has become, in a remarkable degree, a developed analysed quality that rules in the social life of our country. And as the Seventeenth Party Conference showed, we shall in the course of the second Five Year Plan abolish classes and construct a full socialist society.

As we see, the concrete picture of a leap bears no resemblance to petty-bourgeois, idealistic, utopian, “leftist” revolutionism. In each leap we distinguish the particular stages of the conflict, we find in it a unique mutual-penetration of the interruptedness and uninterruptedness of development. The dissolution of the contradictions of the old system in the conflict of the new quality with the old makes up the basic content of such a leap.
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