Monday, December 3, 2012

Lev Vygotsky on Meaning, Thought, and Language

The following quotes on meaning, thought, and language by the cultural-historical activity theorist Lev Vygotsky. I'll post more on Vygotsky and CHAT as my understanding of it improves.
"We found the unit that reflects the unity of thinking and speech in the meaning of the word. As we have tried to show, word meaning is a unity of both processes that cannot be further decomposed. That is, we cannot say that word meaning is a phenomenon of either speech or thinking."
"the connection between thought and word is neither inherent or primal. This connection emerges, changes, and grows with the development of thought and word."
" would be incorrect to represent thinking and speech as processes that are externally related to one another, as two independent forces moving and acting in parallel with one another or intersecting at specific points and interacting mechanically. The absence of a primal connection between thought and word does not imply that this connection can arise only as an external connection between two fundamentally heterogeneous forms of the activity of consciousness."
"The discovery that word meaning changes and develops is our new and fundamental contribution to the theory of thinking and speech. It is our major discovery, a discovery that has allowed us to overcome the postulate of constancy and unchangableness of word meaning which has provided the foundation for previous theories of thinking and speech."
"The nature of meaning is revealed in generalization. The basic and central feature of any word ‘is generalization. All words generalize."
"It is important to emphasize, however, that the fact that the internal nature of word meaning changes implies that the relationship of thought to word changes as well."
"The movement of thinking from thought to word is a developmental process. Thought is not expressed but completed in the word."
"Any thought strives to unify, to establish a relationship between one thing and another, Any thought has movement. It unfolds. It fulfills some function or resolves some task. This flow of thought is realized as an internal movement through several planes, as a transition from thought to word and from word to thought. Thus, the first task in an analysis of the relationship of thought and word as a movement from thought to word is to analyze the phases that compose this movement, to differentiate the planes through which thought passes as it becomes embodied in the word."
"The structure of speech is not a simple mirror image of the structure of thought. it cannot, therefore, be placed on thought like clothes off a rack. Speech does not merely serve as the expression of developed thought. Thought is restructured as it is transformed into speech. It is not expressed but completed in the word."
"The partitioning of speech into semantics and phonology is not given at the outset. It arises in the course of development. The child must differentiate these two aspects of speech. He must become consciously aware of the different nature of each to permit the gradual descension that is presupposed in the living process of meaningful speech."
"Thought imprints a logical emphasis on one word in a phrase, isolating the psychological predicate. Without this, no phrase would be comprehensible."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rosa Luxemburg - Stagnation of Marxism

The following quotes are taken from Rosa Luxemburg's 1903 article "Stagnation and Progress in Marxism", which can be found at the Marxists Internet Archive. Although these words were written at the turn of the last century, what comrade Luxemburg has to say is relevant to us today.
"The actual fact is that – apart for one or two independent contributions which mark a theoretician advance – since the publication of the last volume of Capital and of the last of Engels’s writings there have appeared nothing more than a few excellent popularizations and expositions of Marxist theory. The substance of that theory remains just where the two founders of scientific socialism left it."
"The scrupulous endeavor to keep “within the bounds of Marxism” may at times have been just as disastrous to the integrity of the thought process as has been the other extreme – the complete repudiation of the Marxist outlook, and the determination to manifest “independence of thought” at all hazards."
" is only where economic matters are concerned that we are entitled to speak of a more or less completely elaborated body of doctrines bequeathed us by Marx. The most valuable of all his teachings, the materialist-dialectical conception of history, presents itself to us as nothing more than a method of investigation, as a few inspired leading thoughts, which offer us glimpses into the entirely new world, which open us to endless perspectives of independent activity, which wing our spirit for bold flights into unexplored regions."
"...the theory of historical materialism remains as unelaborated and sketchy as was when first formulated by its creators."
"It is pure illusion to suppose that the working class, in its upward striving, can of its own accord become immeasurably creative in the theoretical domain. ... The active participation of the workers in the march of science is subject to fulfillment of very definite social conditions."
"Only in proportion as our movement progresses, and demands the solution of new practical problems do we dip once more into the treasury of Marx’s thought, in order to extract therefrom and to utilize new fragments of his doctrine. But since our movement, like all the campaigns of practical life, inclines to go on working in old ruts of thought, and to cling to principles after they have ceased to be valid, the theoretical utilization of the Marxist system proceed very slowly."
"If, then, today we detect a stagnation in our movement as far as these theoretical matters are concerned, this is not because the Marxist theory upon which we are nourished is incapable of development or has become out-of-date. On the contrary, it is because we have not yet learned how to make an adequate use of the most important mental weapons which we had taken out of the Marxist arsenal on account of our urgent need for them in the early stages of our struggle."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friedrich Engels on Science and Philosophy

"Dialectics divested of mysticism becomes an absolute necessity for natural science, which has forsaken the field where rigid categories sufficed, which represent as it were the lower mathematics of logic, its everyday weapons. Philosophy takes its revenge posthumously on natural science for the latter having deserted it..." - Engels
"If that is said by a mystical natural scientist, who means nothing by it, it is calmly allowed to pass, but if a philosopher says the same thing, and one who means something by it, and indeed au fond something correct, although in inverted form, then it is mysticism and a terrible crime." - Engels
"Natural scientists believe that they free themselves from philosophy by ignoring it or abusing it. They cannot, however, make any headway without thought, and for thought they need thought determinations. But they take these categories unreflectingly from the common consciousness of so-called educated persons..." - Engels
"Natural scientists may adopt whatever attitude they please, they are still under the domination of philosophy. It is only a question whether they want to be dominated by a bad, fashionable philosophy or by a form of theoretical thought which rests on acquaintance with the history of thought and its achievements." - Engels

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Social Criticism - Marx Quotes

"In the struggle against that state of affairs, criticism is no passion of the head, it is the head of passion. It is not a lancet, it is a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it wants not to refute but to exterminate. ... It no longer assumes the quality of an end-in-itself, but only of a means. Its essential pathos is indignation, its essential work is denunciation." 
"Criticism dealing with this content is criticism in a hand-to-hand fight, and in such a fight the point is not whether the opponent is a noble, equal, interesting opponent, the point is to strike him." 
"The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself." 
"Theory is fulfilled in a people only insofar as it is the fulfilment of the needs of that people." 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Marx on Hegel's Phenomenology

I recently bought AV Miller's translation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. In light of that, I've decided to reread some of Marx's statements on it in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

"The outstanding achievement of Hegel’s Phänomenologie and of its final outcome, the dialectic of negativity as the moving and generating principle, is thus first that Hegel conceives the self-creation of man as a process...he thus grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective the outcome of man’s own labour."

"Hegel’s standpoint is that of modern political economy. He grasps labour as the essence of man – as man’s essence which stands the test: he sees only the positive, not the negative side of labour. Labour is man’s coming-to-be for himself within alienation, or as alienated man. The only labour which Hegel knows and recognises is abstractly mental labour."  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Worlds Theory in the 21st Century

"In my view, the United States and the Soviet Union belong to the first world. The in-between Japan, Europe and Canada belong to the second world. The third world is very populous. Except Japan, Asia belongs to the third world. So does the whole of Africa and Latin America" - Mao
"From the perspective of the changes that have taken place in international relations, the world today in fact has three sides or three worlds in existence which are mutually related as well as contradictory. The United States and the Soviet Union belong to the first world. Developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and other regions belong to the third world. And the developed countries in between the two belong to the second world". - Deng Xiaoping

During the 1970s Chairman Mao Zedong formulated his Three Worlds Theory. Since then, times have changed. The Soviet Union is gone and former third world nations have become neo-colonial puppets. Due to these changes, the Three Worlds Theory is now obsolete. It should simply be swept under the rug without any attempts at reformulating it. This is how some people - Marxists and non-Marxists alike - think.

Before we do this, lets ask: Can we really be so sure that this theory is obsolete? Perhaps the post cold war world isn't as different as we like to think. To get a more definite answer, we must look at the international situation since the end of the cold war.

Initially the Three Worlds Theory certainly did become obsolete. A bipolar world was replaced by a hegemonic one. With the fall of the USSR the very condition that allowed for independent and semi-independent Third World nations to exist in the first place was gone. Now the world was dominated by only two types of nations: the US and her allies. This New World Order is now beginning to crumble.

Starting with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998, a so-called Pink Tide has swept Latin America. In this region, many US stooges have been replaced by independent leaders. These rulers have, in tern, established strong connections among themselves and with other independent nations. This growing group of nations that defy US hegemony are the new Third World. With this change in circumstances, it's imperative that we consider this theory, and reinvigorate it so that it's in line with present circumstances.

Anti-Imperialists of the world, UNITE!