Dialectics in society

Dialectics in society

 

Dialectics in society as understood by Marxism

Marxism developed out of three roots: German dialectical philosophy, Karl Marx’s analysis of French politics and class struggles during the 19th century, and his analysis of the then capitalist economic system in England.

The branch of Marxism that applies the dialectical principles in history and sociology is called historical dialectics (historical materialism). It is made of the following concepts:

  • People are divided into classes by their relations to the means of production – land and capital. The class that controls the means of production expectedly exploits, with surplus value (i.e. profit created by the unpaid labour of workers), the other classes in society.
  • It is this conflict of opposites in the society, i.e. the class struggle between the rich (capitalist and landowning classes) and the poor (proletariat and peasantry), which creates all the dynamic of history, i.e. all historical growth, change and development, which tends to drive the society towards a final uniformity. In fact, it is the same universal law of dialectical development, manifested in social level.
  • Since human beings create the forms of social life solely in response to economic needs, the social, political and intellectual life of society (superstructure) reflect only the economic structure (infrastructure).
  • History inevitably follows certain deterministic laws which are so powerful that individuals have little or no influence on its development.

Historical dialectics and the Quran

Interestingly, some of the concepts of historical dialectics, including ‘class struggle’, appear to resonate with the Quran. Take these famous verses, for example:

Say: O God, Owner of all dominion/ ownership! You grant dominion/ ownership unto whom You will and take away dominion/ ownership from whom You will; and You exalt whom You will and humble whom You will. In Your hand is all the good. Indeed, You are the Possessor of power over all things.

You merge the night into the day and merge the day into the night; and You bring forth the living from the dead and You bring forth the dead from the living; and You give sustenance to whom You will without reckoning. 3:26-27

The above starts with a reminder that the real Owner of all ownership, and the ultimate Possessor of all power and resources and means, is none but God alone (‘O God, Owner of all dominion/ ownership! …’).

Then we are told that it is the divine directive that has made the process of political empowerment and acquiring economic ownership by an individual, group or nation follow certain natural laws (‘You grant dominion/ownership unto whom You will and take away dominion/ownership from whom You will …’). Obviously, as God has appointed ‘a due measure’ or unchangeable law for everything in the Universe, including the society (17:30, 30:37, 39:52), and as His Rule is therefore the Rule of law, here as well as many other places in the Quran, ‘divine will’ infact means ‘divine laws’ (or what we humanly perceive as ‘natural laws’), and should not be misconceived in mortal terms as the erratic whim of a muddle-headed despot. These laws are dialectical and deterministic as we will observe below.

Now, while the first verse illustrates dialectics in political dominion and economic ownership (‘You grant dominion/ownership unto whom You will and …’) and then dialectics in social class and status (‘and You exalt whom You will and …’), its following verse goes on depicting dialectics in physical nature (‘You merge the night into the day and …’) and also dialectics in living world (‘You bring forth the living from the dead and …’).

Please note how this dynamic duality in socio-politico-economics is mentioned here within the greater context of universal dialectics, which involves perpetual coiling of the opposites through ‘negation of the negation’ (e.g. ‘night and day’ and ‘living and dead’). And note how this indicates that ‘class struggle’, i.e. the interaction between the rich and the poor, also generates a similar ‘thesis-antithesis cycle’ leading to dialectical development, as conceived by historical dialecticians.

In other words, the mutual interpenetration of dominion/ ownership/ class into its opposite creates a dialectical cycle through ‘union and conflict of opposites’, like nature’s other similar dialectical cycles, such as night and day and living and dead.

This universality of dialectics is idiosyncratically expressed here in terms of dualities, by recurrent mention of ‘pairs of opposites’ (grant … and take away …, exalt … and humble …, night and day, living and dead, etc). This further implies that everything in the Universe, from galaxies to living organisms to socio-economics to human thoughts, is interactive and in constant flux that results from the struggle between two disputing forces – thesis and antithesis – the opposition being resolved by their synthesis (cf. 13:3, 35:11, 36:36, 39:6, 42:1-12, 43:12, 51:49, 53:45, 75:39, 78:8).

Finally, this description of various ‘dialectical cycles’ comes to an end with a rebound of the initial ‘socio-politico-economic’ topic, with a reassurance about the possible bestowal of God’s unlimited provisions to man (‘and You give sustenance to whom You will without reckoning’), something the Quran is very positive about (65:3, 17:20). This reminds us of the tremendous potential for humanity’s growing prosperity as an outcome of the increased amount and fairer distribution of resources through the dialectical development of society, as predicted by historical dialecticians.

Further reflections

It is interesting to compare the above passage on discussion, 3:26-27, with its related passages like 42:1-12 and 53:42-48, where social dialectics is similarly mentioned within the greater context of universal dialectics.

Some Marxists who consider ‘revolution’ as a necessary step towards social justice may find a bit of resonance in 22:60-61, which sanction a proportionate response, when it becomes essential in order to remedy great injustice and oppression (cf. 2:191, 2:217, 4:75). Interestingly here, once again, the Quran expounds the struggle between the darkness of oppression and the light of freedom in terms of the dialectical cycle of night and day:

Thus shall it be. And whoever responds to aggression only in proportion to what he is afflicted, and then is further transgressed, God will certainly aid him. For God is Pardoning, Forgiving.

That is because God merges night into day, and merges day into night, and that God is Hearer, Seer. 22:60-61

According to the Quran, the same deterministic principles, which govern the physical Universe, also govern the society, including all its provisions and conditions (39:52, 30:37, 13:26, 17:30, 65:3; cf.15:21, 25:2, 41:10). This clearly conforms with the Marxist tenet that history inevitably follows certain very powerful deterministic laws.

Advertisements

Laws of historical dialectics in the Quran

Laws of historical dialectics in the Quran

 

LAWS OF HISTORICAL DIALECTICS IN THE QURAN:

UNDERSTANDING SURA 13 FROM A MARXIST PERSPECTIVE

The branch of Marxism that claims to be applying the dialectical laws in history and sociology is often called historical dialectics (historical materialism).

These dialectical laws include: The law of dialectical development, the law of cause and effect, the law of evolution by natural selection and the law of economic dialectics.

On careful reading of sura 13 (sura Ra’ad) from a Marxist perspective, one can observe how these laws of historical dialectics conform with some of the Quranic concepts in this regard:

The law of dialectical development

The sura, which contains total 43 verses, starts with references to the messages in cosmic evolution and natural laws (13:1-15) and indicates that the Universe with its intrinsic dual nature has gradually evolved through a process which is dialectical:

God is He who raised up the Heavens with supports invisible to you, while He is established on the throne; He has subjected the Sun and the Moon, each one pursues its course to an appointed term. He regulates the affair, explaining the messages in detail, that you may be certain of meeting your Sustainer.

And it is He who spread out the Earth, and set thereon mountains standing firm and flowing waters: and of every fruit He placed therein two opposites; He draws the night as a veil over the day. Most surely in all this there are messages indeed for a people who reflect. 13:2-3  

Please note how the above associates duality with the evolving Earth within the background of an expanding, evolving Universe. Also note how the universality of this duality is expressed by the repeated mention of ‘pairs of opposites’: Heavens … and … Earth, Sun and Moon, mountains standing firm and flowing waters, two opposites within every fruit, night and day, etc. (cf. 13:4 which depicts creation as a dialectical process of diversification; also note multiple allusions to duality throughout the context, e.g. 13:4-27).

That this dichotomy, being far from anything static, itself creates a dynamics i.e. unity and conflict of opposites, is expressed e.g. by the phrases ‘and of every fruit He placed therein two opposites and ‘He draws the night as a veil over the day’.

Here we are informed that every fruit accommodates within itself the contradiction between two opposing counterparts.

In this context, fruit symbolizes universal dialectics. Everything in the world is a fruit in the tree of events and represents not only a product (effect) of the union of two opposites but also a source of ‘seeds’ (cause) for further procreation/ development.

The law of cause and effect

The sura then insists that the absolutely-unchangeable divine law of cause and effect surrounds every individual and every society and dominates the lives of both individuals and communities:

Present before him and behind him are hosts in succession; they guard him by divine command. Surely God never changes what is in a people unless they change what is in themselves. 13:11

Constantly enforced through an unceasing succession of cause and effect (‘hosts in succession’), the same law, often understood as the law of requital (cf. ‘sunnat Allah’; 35:43; 17:77, 33:38, 33:62, 40:85, 48:23, 6:34, 6:115, 10:64, 18:27; cf. 4:26, 3:137), makes the rise and fall of civilizations depending on people’s real qualities and the changes in ‘their inner selves’ (cf. 8:53).

The law of evolution by natural selection

The sura then narrates a parable that alludes to natural selection as an important dynamics in evolution, which further plays a decisive role in the flux of history including great historical events and social revolutions:

He sends down water from the Heaven, and the channels flow, each according to its measure, and the torrent bears away to foam that mounts up to the surface. And from what they melt in the fire for making ornaments or tools arises a scum like it. Thus does God compare the real and the false. Then the scum disappears as a worthless thing; while that which is of benefit to mankind remains on the Earth. Thus does God set forth parables. 13:17

Notice here the direct reference to ‘benefit to mankind’ regardless of religion, race, geography, creed or colour. Thus the Quran states in no ambiguous terms that the real existence on Earth is of the one who benefits humanity. Any system that is against humanity is bound to disappear and to be replaced, eventually, by the divine system that benefits humanity.

The law of economic dialectics

The sura then refers to the law of economic dialectics as an important driving force in this flux of history. Understood in Marxist terms, it is the law of the unity and conflict of the opposites in the society – i.e. the class struggle between the rich (capitalist and landowning classes) and the poor (proletariat and peasantry) – that creates the dynamic of history, leading to continuous historical growth, change and development, and is the source of progress toward a final uniformity. It is the same universal law of dialectical development, expressed in social level:

God extends provision for whom He wills, or restricts, determining according to a measure. 13:26

In other words, this duality between wealth and poverty (‘extends provision … or restricts’), being far from anything random or chaotic, follows strict natural laws (‘according to a measure’), which historical dialecticians attempt to explore and implicate in their analysis of history, economics and socio-politics.

The above laws determine the evolving social stages

The sura then refers to evolving social stages as determined by divine laws.

Marxists view society as dynamic and evolving through stages like primitive communism and tribalism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism and so on.

Thus, to them, history unfolds everyday through opening of fresh pages; old socio-economic, political, legal and moral systems disappear as new systems appear in their place; every stage has its own ‘ordinance’, which is determined by the laws of Historical dialectics.

See how this important Marxist concept of social evolution finds some resonance in the sura:

… For each term there is an ordinance.

God makes to pass away whatever He wishes, and/or consolidates (whatever He wishes), and with Him is the source of ordinance. 13:38-39

Notably however, contrary to the materialistic understanding of Marxism, the Quran here immediately confirms that, whatever be the ‘ordinance’ at any stage, the Divine Database – the ultimate source of all the laws and systems – remains with God alone.

We need to study these laws

The sura then calls to observe these laws in order to better understand the nature of divine judgement:

Do they not see that We set upon the Earth and reduce it from its edges? And God judges; none repels His judgment. And swift in reckoning is He. 13:41

 

AT THE CORE OF ALL THESE LAWS:

THE LAW OF THE UNITY AND CONFLICT OF OPPOSITES

According to historical dialectics, at the core of all these laws remains the Law of the Unity and Conflict of Opposites, including class struggle, i.e. the dialectics in society between the rich and the poor.

This important Marxist understanding appears to be consistent with the spirit of the Quran:

And that truly to your Sustainer is the Utmost Limit;

And that it is He who made to laugh and to weep;

And that it is He who caused death and granted life;

And that He has created the two opposites, male and female,

Out of a tiny drop as it is lodged;

And that upon Him is the next creation;

And that it is He who enriches and impoverishes. 53:42-48

Please note above a list of dialectical opposites that includes affluence and impoverishment. Thus, when wealth is considered as a thesis, poverty contradicts it as its antithesis (‘the next creation’) and the vice versa. Then wealth and poverty mutually interact as opposing counterparts of a ‘thesis-antithesis cycle’ (‘enriches and impoverishes’) that forms an ever-growing dialectical chain of ‘negation of the negation’ …

In other words, if both rich and poor co-exist in a society, one is inevitably contradicted by the other. This creates a continuous ‘tension’ (‘class struggle’) and, therefore, a social process that tends to drive the things towards a newer level of uniformity.

However, the Quran here takes us beyond the simplistic limits of Marxist materialism by reminding us that the Utmost Limit of all the dialectical chains, including that of ‘class struggle’, is to God the Infinity alone (‘And that truly to your Sustainer is the Utmost Limit’).

Translated above as ‘the Utmost Limit’, the word ‘muntaha’ has a rich plethora of connotations that include the goal, the either extremity, the ultimate beginning and ending, the telescopic and microscopic ends, the absolute boundary, extent or limit etc. Thus ‘the Utmost Limit’ circumscribes the beginning and the end of eveything both in time and in space, as well as the source from which everything proceeds and to which everything must return.