Dialectical materialism and the nexus of contradiction as the transition point of spiral movement and its cycles

The question of transition is extremely difficult in dialectical materialism. Indeed, since movement and stasis are dialectically opposed, how can we consider that they establish a ‘constructive’, ‘productive’ relationship, to enable us to cross a threshold?

The difficulty is such that it has served revisionism well, claiming to have solved the problem by asserting that, in ‘creative’ moments, it is not one that becomes two, but two that become one. There would be a ‘unification’ of opposites in order to move things and phenomena forward.

When things move forward, it is because they have ‘united’ their forces. Differences would be cancelled out so that there would be enough energy, enough support, to move forward. This is, of course, an anti-dialectical trap, which, behind the slogan ‘union is strength’, serves to erase nuances and differences, and to neutralize contradictions, all in the name of a hypothetical intermediate period which is ‘productive’, useful, necessary, etc.

In contrast to revisionism, which falsifies the communist vision of the world, dialectical materialism does not conceive of a ‘transition’ as a ‘reconciliation’ of two contradictory poles. It sees transition as the expression of a contradiction, and therefore as a separation.

Strictly speaking, transition is only one aspect of the confrontation between the new and the old. It occurs at a particular level, which is of essential importance, which establishes the main aspect for the whole thing, the whole phenomenon. It is in this sense that we can speak of ‘transition’. But there is no such thing as transition as an airlock, an isolated and separate moment. In this sense, the famous words of the Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, a major figure in Italian communism, are totally erroneous and anti-dialectical: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

This is the hypothesis of a ‘transition’ as a moment of annulment of contradictions, as we find among all those who reject dialectical materialism and therefore don’t know how to ‘read’ contradictions. This is the same conception that proposes ‘transitions’ from capitalism to socialism based on ‘magic’ means such as education, elections, trade unionism, strikes, etc.

How should we see things? What is this contradiction that expresses what a transition really is? Let’s put things in perspective. A movement is by definition both continuous and non-continuous, in other words there is no precise, static, unilateral ‘moment’ when we know that we are moving from one thing to another, from one stage to another.

But there is transformation: the transformation of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman into an unborn child, the transformation of capitalism into socialism, the transformation of food into the chemical elements that make our bodies function, and so on.

We can arbitrarily define a key moment to announce a passage from one stage to another, but this would only be descriptive. There’s a very important point to be made here: such an arbitrary approach is the basis of what we call perversion.

Someone who eats, but immediately makes himself vomit so as not to gain weight, has in his imagination the fetish that, since the food is eaten, it has been assimilated in order to live, and that it is therefore possible to get rid of it by ‘cheating’.

Men who are fascinated by teenagers have a fetish for the transformation into an adult, seen as a ‘potential’, a realization achieved but not yet realized. In this sense, a society where children and teenagers dress like adults contributes to confusion and tends to leave the door open to fetishes.

Any failure to adopt a dialectical materialist understanding of things and phenomena inevitably leads to fetishes, to ‘static’ readings, to a narrow-minded conception. To avoid such an error, we must turn to spiral movement.

It is well known that dialectical materialism emphasizes spiral movement, but what exactly is meant by this? Here, the concept is mainly descriptive, to indicate that things do not move in a straight line.

Lenin uses the concept of the spiral in the following way, in 1915, in his notes on the question of dialectics. He says that if we look at things with an ‘immediate’ vision, we imagine that things progress in a straight line. But in reality, progress comes in leaps and bounds, with breaks and setbacks. So it’s better to talk about a spiral.

It is those who have a vested interest in a narrow vision of things who insist on the concept of the ‘straight line’, in order to give rise to fetishes to which we must cling, so that nothing changes, so that everything remains the same.

“Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly approximates a series of circles, a spiral.

Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed (transformed one-sidedly) into an independent, complete straight line, which then (if one does not see the wood for the trees) leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes).

Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voila the epistemological roots of idealism.

And clerical obscurantism (=philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge. »

Let’s take a look at the concept of the spiral and see how it can be used to great effect. A spiral is a curve that wraps around an axis. However, a spiral can also be a curve that wraps around an axis… moving away from or towards that axis, ad infinitum.

In the latter case, a spiral is a curved movement that moves ever closer to or further away from a fixed point, an axis, to infinity.

Here is a representation drawn by the engraver Jost Amman and designed by the German humanist goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer, for the 1568 work Perspectiva corporum regularium (Perspective of regular bodies).

The representation here has just one problem: the three-dimensional spiral reaches one end. This end has to be removed, otherwise there would be an end, and we would need a beginning, which would run counter to the principle of infinity and lead us back to the ‘bounded’.

Why is this spiral movement correct, in principle, to represent movement?

There are a series of very complex points.

1. The spiral movement shows a difference in degrees between the different levels of curves.

The further you go, the ‘smaller’ and more compressed the curves become. This is consistent with quantitative evolution. It becomes heavier, faster, deeper and so on.

The opposite is true: curves that become wider and larger represent dilation, spreading out, development, etc.

This is the contradiction between quality and quality.

2. The spiral movement is evidence of an ongoing process.

When we move towards or away from the axis, we do it gradually.

This “gradually” is was what we call time ; time is produced by space, by infinite matter, which is everywhere, which is everything, and which transforms itself.

The notation of this transformation, by contrast of one transformation with respect to another, is what we call time.

3. Spiral movement tends around a fixed point, without ever reaching it.

On the one hand, it conforms to the movement of each phenomenon, which is on one side fixed (like the point), on the other in movement (like the spiral). Opposites always interpenetrate; there is never “reconciliation”.

Nothing is ever static, united, unified, unique, there is never any possible assimilation of the curve and the static point. Movement always takes precedence over the static dimension – and the static dimension is the skeleton of reality, without which nothing would exist, dispersing into movement. It is matter that is dialectical, not dialectic that is material.

How do these points covered help with the question of transition?

Well, if we reason without the spiral movement, we will clearly grasp the two poles of a contradiction. However, there is a major risk: that of falling into duality and not dialectics.

This is precisely where lies the mistake not to be made. This is ultimately the opposite error of revisionism. Revisionism says that two become one, that there is reconciliation of opposites. Duality is the error that fetishizes the two opposites in their pure opposition.

Duality results, all in all, in conceiving that opposites cannot be converted into one another. The reproach that Mao Zedong ultimately made of Stalin was precisely that he sometimes replaced dialectics with duality, and arrived at mechanistic or administrative solutions. This is where it will help to better understand what a transition is.

If we start from the principle that opposites can be converted into each other, then, due to unequal development, there will necessarily be one aspect which will become principal, in relation to the other aspects which are secondary.

Let us recall here that uneven development does not at all designate the opposite of linear movement; to make such an error would demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of dialectical materialism. Uneven development always concerns several things, several aspects, several phenomena.

We cannot therefore say of something that it is experiencing “uneven development”. What it knows is non-linear movement.

It is within it that uneven development takes place, with its different aspects. It is also in the relationship to other things that there is a situation of unequal development.

This is very important here, because otherwise we would deny the principle of difference. Uneven development is the expression of nuance, of difference. It is a relationship between things – and that is not what we are looking for here, since we want to know the transition, which is posed as a “non-relation” between things, an intermediate period.

In other words, what we are looking for here is how to determine a transition within movement, a movement that dialectical materialism analyses as uninterrupted and infinite.

How then can we find the finite in the infinite, the static in movement? And it must be a finite that goes to infinity, the static that goes to movement, because the transition leads to the next thing by coming from the previous thing.

We must put it as follows. In contradiction, opposites are at times converted into each other.

What we can then call a ‘nexus’ is the place where this conversion is expressed in the most marked way, where it plays the most advanced role.

It is the nexus which, in a transformation, is the expression of the transition.

And this nexus is the ‘static’ point of spiral movement, which spiral movement never reaches.

Or, to put it another way: the nexus is the aspect of a contradiction where, at one and the same time, we move further away from and closer to both the old and the new.

Let’s look at a few examples to clarify things.

a) A man and a woman meet and develop feelings for each other. They become a couple. The transition from being single with feelings to being a couple is their first kiss.

The tension of this transition in the first kiss is a perfect illustration of the nexus, where there is a contradictory movement away from and towards both the past and the future.

Going towards the other person is a negation of the self, because you have to change, and at the same time an affirmation, because you are going towards the person you are going to be from now on.

But the movement of love is also based on self-affirmation, since it is the old self that is experiencing a lack, which leads to negation, since we are going to deny the lack by making it disappear by being with the loved one.

b) Hunger is the expression of a nutritional need, which is expressed by bodily discomfort. We eat to respond to this contradiction, which is need versus lack.

When we eat, we fill the gap. The spiral movement tends to satisfy the need. But it can never fill it, because even when the need is satisfied, it returns to being lack. Once we have eaten, we will be obliged to eat again later. Opposites are converted into each other.

We eat to keep hunger at bay, but by eating we keep the body functioning and at the same time we get closer to hunger.

And this contradiction is the nexus of the entire human biological system.

Without food, all the rest of the functioning cannot take place. The transition between the different moments of the human being is marked by the meal. This explains the historical importance of this particular moment.

It’s also worth noting that this is where we discover the concept of cycles. Each feeding cycle repeats itself, but there are nuances and differences; we do not eat in the same way as a baby, a child, an adolescent, an adult or as an elder.

c) A human being moves from adolescence to adulthood. If we take the spiral movement, we can’t really see a boundary, a mark of separation.

Through the contradictions, however, we can see the fundamental contours: we reach a certain maturity, bodily growth has ceased and all the biological factors (particularly hormonal) have stabilised.

In this bundle of contradictions, there is a point that will become the nexus, because it is at this point that the conversion of opposites into each other is most marked.

What are these two opposites? Well, on the one hand it’s the completed look at oneself and on the other the recognition of the rest of the society that one is integrating. It is through the integration of the whole person into adult society that the transition is completed: that is the nexus.

A citizenship ceremony seems inevitable as recognition of the process; in France, it was traditionally the baccalaureate that played this role in the second half of the 20th century.

d) There are usually four seasons, with spring followed by summer and autumn followed by winter. Of course, there is no such mechanical succession, but rather a contradiction between the colder and warmer seasons.

And how do you see the transition from one to the other? By the length of the days.

They are short in winter and long in summer. This is how vegetation generally knows how to behave, because it interprets the length of the sunshine.

However, the change is not linear, but in a spiral way of expression. If the sun formally ‘sets’ later on a certain day than on the previous day, it may well be that on that day the clouds are blocking out the light, whereas on the previous day the weather was fine, so the day was genuinely longer.

However, there is a general movement from more daylight to less daylight, and then vice versa from less daylight to more daylight. Obviously, the nexus, the transition, occurs around the 21th of June for summer and the 21th of December for winter.

This is the moment when the transition is concentrated, going from one movement to another, transforming itself into its opposite. The nexus is very easy to see in the calendar, with a real sense of ‘static’ fixation and reversal.

This explains the major place given by humanity, in different parts of the world, over and above different paths, to the summer and winter solstices.

e) A sprained ankle is an injury. At the heart of the contradiction between the ankle and the accident causing the injury, the nexus is the inflammatory process: it is the moment of transition between the injured ankle and its healing, the expression of the repair phase.

Inflammation is the way in which the human body brings to a specific area the nutrients it needs to repair itself. It is the recognition of the injury, in order to move away from it; we move towards and away from the injury at the same time.

Here we can see that prescribing anti-inflammatories does not correspond to an understanding of the dialectical process of injury, since they aim to combat a phenomenon internal to the contradiction at the very root of repair.

It is far more appropriate to use ice to help the blood circulation, initially accompanying the supply of nutrients taken up by the inflammation.

f) The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution represents a grasp of the question of transition, because it is based on the understanding that the general articulation of the elements making up tradition is based on one main aspect.

All the phases of the GPCR have to do with battles over this nexus, which varies from moment to moment and which must be found in order to act wisely. The GPCR began with a theatrical critique, then moved on to universities, the division of labour, cosmology, mathematics, the alleged cult of genius, and so on.

Its successes lay in identifying the nexus and calibrating its work at that level.

g) When the capitalist mode of production took off in Western Europe, the feudal worldview was shaken to its foundations. The bourgeoisie began a struggle to the death with feudalism and the aristocracy that supported it, and therefore with the feudal worldview, of which the Roman Catholic religion was the most successful expression.

But in France, because of the failure of Calvinism, the transformation took a diversion, through absolute monarchy, the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the adaptation of Catholicism (Augustinian dissidence, also known as Jansenism, social Catholicism, etc.).

The historical paradox is that neither the aristocracy nor the Catholic Church were really eliminated, with their survival beyond the historical period when their role was central. This has played a significant role, through the perversion of certain elements in the direction of bourgeois progress.

Hence the impression sometimes given of a confused era in which we don’t know where the decadent elements are and where the progressive ones are. A Catholic cleric may have appeared very avant-garde for his time, while an Enlightenment thinker may have appeared totally decadent on certain points in particular.

In other words, because historically, the trend was towards the crushing of feudalism and therefore of the forces behind it, but at the same time, each of the elements of French society at the time was each moment in the nexus more or less aligned with this trend, which inevitably led to the Revolution.

The tension between the implacability of the historical movement on a material level and the extreme diversity of the elements making up human society and the instability of their trajectory, due to differences in the development of consciousness, makes it possible to understand the process as both tendentially clear-cut, but circumstantially bushy and almost unreadable in appearance.

All these examples clearly show that it is the question of worldview that is central here. It follows fundamentally from the assimilation of this notion of nexus, in the sense that the worldview is produced by the nexus and makes it possible to grasp the next.

Dialectical materialism achieves an absolutely fundamental transition, a step towards aligning one’s consciousness with the Cosmos as eternal matter in motion.

Paradoxically, this understanding clashes precisely with human consciousness in its very movement within matter. Human consciousness is finite, as opposed to the universe, which is infinite.

It is what we call History that is here turned upside down in a fascinating and even vertiginous way: it opens up nothing less than the question of the relative relationship of human consciousness to time, in terms of sensitive perception.

The bourgeois understanding of history, now outmoded, focuses on the abundance of circumstantial events, in an attempt to put forward a pseudo unpredictable aspect of history, in which the human will would have a space, expressed by actors more or less aware of their role. Bourgeois understanding of history is thus logically reduced to a series of explanations of well-circumstantiated problems.

On the contrary, the proletarian understanding of history sets understanding to face explanation itself, by affirming the centrality of transformation. Dialectical materialism focuses on the general tendency, before tackling the particular declension.

At the same time, it affirms that in the particular declension there is an affirmation of the general tendency – but it does not make a fetish of it, being aware of the uneven development of things, of phenomena within a general process.

The nexuses in the historical development of Humanity may in fact be more or less long, more or less dense, more or less localized or circumscribed, and thus form part of a more or less striking sequence, echoing the relationship to the nexus itself and determining the capacity to perceive it. This is where the avant-garde is formed.

In the same way, in all the sciences in general, understanding the nexus is fundamental to grasping the confrontation between the old and the new, their junction and their confrontation, their combination and their separation.

In this sense, we can say that the Revolution is the updating, or rather the education in the strict sense of elevation, that Humanity undertakes to realign itself with material reality and its movement.

To understand the nexus is to grasp the transition as the closest and furthest point between the old and the new; this is where the contradiction expresses its greatest tension.

This explains the traumatic situation of humanity today, deeply engaged in the nexus that must realign the History of Humanity with the movement of the Cosmos, and yet still without an understanding of historical necessities, whereas what we are experiencing is the end of the History of Humanity and the beginning of the Understanding of the Cosmos, as an active component of it.

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