III. Precedence of Action to Thought
 



Man is a being who thinks, understands and acts. What is more important, his action or his thought? Which one of these two constitutes his essence? Does the dignity of man depend on his action or his thought? Which of these two makes him?

Historical materialism believes in the independence of action and its precedence to thought. It regards action as fundamental and thought as subsidiary. On the other hand ancient logic and philosophy considered thought to be the key of thinking. According to the old system of logic thought was divided into perception and affirmation, and each of them was further divided into axiomatic and theoretical. According to that system of logic and philosophy the essence of human ego was regarded as a mere idea. The perfection and nobility of man consisted in his wisdom. A perfect man was equal to a man of wisdom.

But historical materialism is based on the principle that action is the key and the criterion of thought. The essence of man is his productive activity. Man is known by his activity which moulds him. Marx has said:

"The entire world history is nothing but a creation of man through human labour".

Engels has said:

"Man himself is a creation of action", for instead of brooding on natural hardships he exerts himself to conquer his external environment and in this way (through a revolutionary action against aggressive tyrants) he dashes forward and makes a society of his own choice".

The author of Marx and Marxism says:

"Whereas in the philosophy of being (a philosophy that interprets the world in terms of 'being' as opposed to the philosophy of 'becoming', which interprets the world in terms of motion. Marxism belongs to the group of the philosophies of 'becoming') it was customary at first to set forth the ideas and the principles from which practical conclusions are derived; praxis (practical philosophy), on the other hand, regards action as the origin and basis of all thought. It replaces the faith in thought by the philosophy of power". In agreement with Hegel, it asserts: "The real being of man, in the first instance, is his own action". In this belief he joins the German thinker who reversed the famous phrase, "In the beginning there was the Word" - in which the Word signifies spirit, for it is through the word that the spirit expresses itself - and declared: "In the beginning there was the Act".

This theory is one of the principles of Marxist materialism and is known as practical philosophy. Marx picked it up from his materialist predecessor and preceptors, Feverbach, and Hegel.

Entirely contrary to this principle is the philosophical principle of realism, which holds that thought and action influence each other reciprocally, though thought has precedence to action. According to this philosophy the essence of man is thought (essential knowledge of one's own existence). Man through his action and contact with the outside world acquires his informative material about the world. He cannot embark on any activity of knowing things unless his mind is enriched with this raw material. After collecting his material his mind uses the data provided by action in different ways such as generalization, deduction and demonstration. Thus action paves the way for the acquisition of correct knowledge. Knowledge does not mean merely a simple reflection of external material on mind. Knowledge becomes available subsequent to this reflection through a mental process emanating from the immaterial substance of spirit. Thus action is the source of thought. But at the same time thought also is the source of action. Action is the criterion of thought and at the same time thought is the criterion of action. Anyhow, this is not a case of vicious circle. It is nobility of his character, his knowledge, his faith, his dignity, his self-respect and his action that make a man a human being. Man accomplishes action and is himself produced by it. This is a distinguishing feature of man. No other being shares with him in this feature, which springs from his special Divine creation.

Anyhow, man performs action in the creative sense, whereas action makes man in the preparatory sense. Man actually creates his action, but action does not actually create man. Anyhow, action and its practice and repetition pave the way for the creation of man from within. In all cases in which the mutual relationship between two things is creative and imperative on one side and preparatory and potential on the other side, the creative and imperative side always has precedence.

In short man whose essence is a sort of knowledge (essential knowledge of one's own existence), has a reciprocal relation with action in the sense that man creates and develops action and action develops man. But in view of the fact that man is the creative and imperative cause of work whereas action is merely a preparatory and potential cause of man, man has precedence to action, not action to man.

IV. Precedence of Social Existence of Man to His Individual Existence:

In other words, the principle of the precedence of man's sociology to his psychology.

From biological point of view, man is the most perfect of all animals. He is capable of making a particular kind of evolution and self-building called human evolution. He can enjoy a special personality formed by human dimensions. Under the impact of a series of experiences and learning, man acquires an intellectual, philosophical and scientific dimension, and under the impact of certain other factors he gets another dimension, called moral dimension. It is in this dimension that he creates values and moral 'musts' and 'must not's. Similarly there are man's artistic and religious dimensions also. In his intellectual and philosophical dimension man discovers a number of principles and general laws which thenceforth form the basis of his thinking. Similarly in the course of his moral and social appreciation he gets at some absolute and semi-absolute values. All these human dimensions combined together constitute human existence.

Human dimensions are entirely the consequence of social factors. Man lacks all these dimensions when he is born. At the time of his birth he is merely a bundle of raw material capable of assuming any intellectual or emotional shape, his final shape depending on the factors which influence him later. In the beginning he is like an empty vessel which is to be filled from outside. He is like a blank magnetic tape on which any sound can be recorded and which plays back whatever is recorded on it. In short, it is external social factors called social work which builds man's personality and convert him from a thing to a person. Man in himself is only a 'thing' and only under the impact of social factors, becomes a 'person'.

In his book, Historical Materialism P. Royan reproduces what Plekhanov has said in his book, Fundamental Problems of Marxism. He says:

"The characteristics of a social system are determined by the current level of development of the means of production of society. It means that when the stage of development of the means of production is determined, the characteristics of the social order and the psychology (of the people) related to it, and all the other corresponding relations within the system, on the one hand, and the ideas and the pace of progress, on the other, are also (of their own accord) determined".

In the same book, it is further stated that:

"When psychology, through the means of production, is determined, ideology too, which is deeply rooted in the psychology of the people, is also consequently determined. But as the ideology at a particular historical stage is the product of social requirements, and as it always continues to protect the interests of the ruling class, it necessarily strengthens and perfects the existing social structure. Hence the social structure in class-societies, which comes into existence for protecting the ruling class and propagating its ideology, is in reality. the result of the social order and its requirements, and, in the last analysis, is the product of the character of the modes and the means of production. For instance, the church and the mosque are for preaching of the religious beliefs, which in all the religions are based upon the faith in the final judgement or resurrection. The belief in resurrection is the logical outcome of the particular social order that is based upon the division of society into classes, which in its turn is the product of a particular stage of development of the means of production. Hence, belief in resurrection is the product of the means of production (at a particular stage of social development)".

In contrast to this principle there is another anthropological principle which is based upon the view that the foundation of human personality is the basis of man's thinking and higher tendencies, and is itself inherent in his creation. It is true that contrary to Plato's well-known theory, man does not come to the world with a ready-made personality, but still he receives the basic features of his personality from his creation, not from society. If we wish to use philosophical terms, we may say that the main ingredients of the human dimensions, whether religious, moral, philosophical, artistic, technical or amorous, are the form and the distinctive features of man's species and his rational soul which are formed simultaneously with the factors of creation. Depending on the personal capabilities of a man, society either tends him and brings him up or distorts him. In the beginning the existence of rational soul or intellectual faculty of man is only potential. It becomes actual gradually. From the viewpoint of his thinking, his tendencies and his material and spiritual leanings and sentiments man is like any other living being. In the beginning all his faculties exist potentially and then in the wake of certain basic developments gradually shoot up and grow. Man under the impact of external factors nurtures his natural personality and brings it to perfection or sometimes distorts it and turns it away from the normal course. This is the same principle which in Islamic sciences is described as the principle of fitrat (natural state) and is considered to be the most basic principle.

According to this principle man's psychology has precedence to his sociology. In fact man's sociology depends on his psychology. According to the principle of nature, when a child is born, though he has neither perception nor conception, neither confirmation, nor human aptitudes, he comes to this world with human dimensions in addition to animal dimensions. It is these dimension which gradually form the basis of human thinking. Without them logical thinking would not be possible. It is these dimensions which bring high and noble tendencies into existence. It is these dimensions which are regarded as the real basis of human personality.

According to the theory of the precedence of man's sociology to his psychology, man is merely a receiving being and does not automatically move in any particular direction. He is a bundle of raw material. To him it makes no difference what shape is given to him. He is a blank tape, to which it is immaterial what sound is recorded on it. This raw material does not tend to any particular shape, nor can any shape be called its natural shape. This tape does not require the recording to any particular sound and it cannot be said that if any other sound will be recorded on it that sound would be inconsistent with the reality of the tape. As the raw material bears the same relationship to all shapes, this tape bears the same relationship to all sounds.

But according to the principle of the basicity of nature and the precedence of man's psychology to his sociology though man in the beginning lacks any actual perception and any actual tendency, yet from within himself he dynamically advances towards a series of primary judgements known as a priori or primary principles and towards a series of higher and sublime values which constitute the standards of his humanity. Following the entry from outside into his mind of a number of simple conceptions forming the basic material of thinking, these principles shoot up and grow into theoretical or practical affirmations and the latent tendencies become conspicuous.

In the present circumstances, man, for example, asserts that 2x2=4 and thinks that this rule is absolute and true in all times and all places. According to the first theory this judgement of his is the product of the special conditions of his environment. These special conditions have given him this rule, and his judgement is his reaction to the environmental conditions. In a different environment and under different conditions he could have thought differently. For example, he could have believed that 2x2=26.

But according to the second theory, what the environment gives to man is only the conception of 2,4,8,10 etc. As for the judgement that 2x2=4 or 5x5=25, that is something inseparable from the structure of human spirit, and cannot take any other form under any circumstances. Similarly the human desire to attain perfection is also an essential part of human spirit.

V. Precedence of Material Aspect of Society to Its Intellectual Aspect:

Society has many sectors and consists of various organizations: economic, cultural, political, administrative, religious and judicial organization etc. From this viewpoint society is like a full-fledged building comprising the drawing-room, the bed room, the kitchen, toilet etc.

Among the social organizations there is one organization which is virtually the real foundation of the whole of society, for its whole structure stands on it. If it were to collapse, the whole building would collapse automatically. This is the economic structure of society, or in other words, all that relates to the material production of society including the production implements, economic resources, production relations etc.

Implements of production are the most basic section of the structure of society. They continuously change and develop, and each stage of their development leads to a particular kind of change in the production relations, making them different from what they were previously. Production relations include all the rules and regulations regarding the form of ownership and the contractual relations between man and the products in a society. Any compulsory change in these relations automatically leads to a change in all legal, intellectual, moral, religious, philosophical and scientific principles of man. In short it may be said: 'Economy is the foundation of society'.

In the book, 'Marx and Marxism', Marx has been quoted as having said to the following effect in his book entitled Critique of Political Economy:

"In the social production of their life, men enter into specific relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life-process in general. It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness".

The same book quoting a letter of Marx says:

"Assume a particular state of development in the productive facilities of man and you will get a corresponding form of commerce and consumption. Assume particular degrees of development of production, commerce, and consumption and you will have a corresponding organization of the family, or orders or of classes, in a word a corresponding civil society".

Peter explains the views of Marx as under:

"In this fashion Marx has compared the society to a building, the base and foundation of which are the economic institutions, whose superstructure (the building itself) is comprised of political, religious, and legal patterns, customs and norms. As in the case of a building, it depends upon the position of its base and foundation, the economic forms (relations of production) and technical modes are also dependent upon and associated with the modes of thinking, the political system and the customs, and each of them is subject to economic conditions".

The same book quotes from Lenin's book, Marx-Engels Marxism as having written in the Capital, vol. III as under:

"The mode of production manifests itself in the human activity in relation to nature and, following that, in social conditions and intellectual patterns resulting from them".

In the Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx says:

"My investigations led to the result that the legal relations as well as forms of the state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life; the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy".

Marx in his book, Poverty of Philosophy has written:

"Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces, men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you a society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, a society with the industrial capitalist".

The theory of the precedence of the material arrangements of society to all other social systems is in keeping with the theory of the precedence of action to thought. In fact the two theories are identical with the only difference that the first theory is operative on individual level and the second on social level. In view of the fact that the supporters of this theory also hold that the sociology of man has precedence to his psychology, it may be said that the precedence of individual action to individual thought is a manifestation as well as a result of the precedence of material arrangement to all other social arrangements. On the contrary if we maintain that the psychology of man has precedence to his sociology, the precedence of the material arrangement of society would be the result of the precedence of individual action to individual thought.

The material arrangement of society which is described as the economic structure and economic basis also consists of two parts, the first part being the implements of production which are the outcome of man's contact with nature, and the other part being the economic relations of the members of society in the field of the distribution of wealth. These relations are sometimes described as productive relations also. The implements of production and the productive relations put together are mostly described as the mode of production or the method of production. Incidentally it may be noted that these terms as used by the leaders of historical materialism are not free from ambiguity and their meanings have not been exactly defined. When they say that economy is the infrastructure and the material arrangement of society has precedence to all other arrangements, by economy they mean the complete production system that is the implements of production as well as the productive relations.

Here there is a point to be noted well. As it is evident from what the leaders of historical materialism have said, the infrastructure of society in itself is a two-storied structure. Its real base and foundation is formed by the implements of production which in reality are the labour embodied. It is the embodied labour which necessitates the growth of special economic relations for the purpose of the distribution of wealth. These relations reflect the degree of the development of the implements of production and in the beginning not only are in harmony with them, but also encourage their use and provide the best means of their proper utilization. They are just like a dress that fits the body of the implements of production. But the implements of production continue to develop, and with their development the harmony between the two parts of the productive machinery is upset. The productive and economic relations, that is the laws which were previously in harmony with the implements of production become too tight a dress for their developed form and become a barrier for their further progress. Thus a contradiction arises between the two parts of the production machinery. At last new productive relations, corresponding to the new implements of production develop, and thus the infrastructure is totally changed. In the wake of its change the entire legal, philosophical, moral and religious superstructure also undergoes a corresponding change.

If we take into consideration the prime importance of embodied labour, that is the implements of production and pay attention to the fact that Marx is one of those sociologists who maintain that the sociology of man has precedence to his psychology and that man as such is a social being or, in his own words, is a "sui generis" being, we can determine the philosophical role of labour from the view-point of Marxism. It may be mentioned that the philosophical role of labour is the main point of Marxist philosophy. Nevertheless scant attention has been paid to it.

Marx thinks about human existence or work and working existence of man much in the same way as Descartes, Bergson and Jean Paul Sartre respectively thought about rational, continuous and revolting existence of man.

Descartes says: "I think; therefore I am".

Bergson says: "I continue; therefore I am".

Sartre says: "I revolt; therefore I am";

Marx wants to say: "I work; therefore I am" .

By employing these diverse methods none of these philosophers intends to prove the existence of human ego in matters other than thinking, continuity and revolt. Some of them even do not believe in any existence of man not related to these matters. They only want to define inter alia the essence of humanity and the existential reality of man.

Incidentally Descartes wants to say: My presence is equal to the presence of thought; eliminate thought and I am nothing".

Bergson wants to say: "The existence of man is just the same as the existence of continuity and time."

Saitre says: "The essence of humanity and the real existence of man lies in his spirit of revolt. If you take away this spirit from him, he will no longer be a man. "

Marx also wants to say: "The entire and real existence of man is his work. Work is the essence of humanity. I am for I work, not in the sense that work is the proof of my existence, but in the sense that work is tantamount to my very existence. In reality work is my existence."

That is what Marx wants to point out when he says:

"To a socialist the entire so called history of the world is nothing but man's creation through human labour;" or when he differentiates between man's consciousness and his real existence and says: "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence; on the contrary it is their social existence that determines their consciousness". He also says: "It is not their will on the basis of which people make decisions. The real basis is the individuals and their material and existential conditions". Explaining the real individuals, he further says: "They really are not what they can imagine themselves to be. They are how they produce and make. In other words, they are how they act within definite material conditions and limits quite independently of their will."

Engels says:

"Economists say that labour is the source of all wealth. In fact labour for man is more than that. It is the basic condition of the existence of entire human life. At first sight it may be said that it is labour that has created man himself".

Marx and Engels have, in fact, taken over this theory of the role of labour in the existence of man from the writings of Hegel, who for the first time said: "In the first instance man's real existence is his work".

From the above, two points are clear: (i) that from the point of view of Marxism, human existence of man is social, not individualistic, and (ii) that the existence of social man is his social work, that is his embodied labour, and his individual work like his individual feelings and every other social work, such as philosophy, ethics, art, religion etc. are a mere manifestation of his real existence and not his real existence itself.

Hence, man's real evolution is the evolution of his social action. As far as his intellectual, sentimental and emotional evolution or the evolution of the social system is concerned, it is a manifestation of the real evolution, not the real evolution itself. In fact the material evolution of society is the criterion of its immaterial evolution, just as work is the criterion of thought. The correctness or incorrectness of a thought should be measured by the standard of work and not by any intellectual or logical standard. The criterion of the immaterial things is the evolution of the material things. If it is asked which philosophical, moral religious or artistic school is more progressive, no intellectual or logical standard can provide an answer to this question. The sole criterion by which the progressiveness of any school may be judged is to find out what conditions and which degree of social work that is the development of the implements of production, have produced that school.

To us this way of thinking appears to be amazing, for we hold that the real existence of man is his ego, which is an immaterial substance, and that this ego is an off-shoot of the essential movements of nature, not a product of society. But a man like Marx who thinks in material terms only and does not believe in any immaterial substance, should interpret man and his reality from biological point of view and say that the essence of man is nothing but his physical structure, as was asserted by the past materialists like those of the 18th century. Yet, Marx rejects this view and asserts that the essence of man materializes in society, not in nature. What materializes in nature is potential and not actual man. Apart from that, Marx should either consider thought to be the essence of humanity and regard action as its manifestation; or the other way round consider action to be the essence of humanity and regard thought and ideas as its manifestation. Marx has to choose the second alternative, for he thinks in material terms only. He not only believes in the fundamentality of matter and denies the existence of any immaterial substance in the individual, but believes in the materiality of history also.

In fact, Marx is so engrossed in the philosophy of labour and holds such an idea of social labour that it may be said that according to his way of thinking men are not those who walk in the streets, think and choose, but the real men are the tools and the machines which, for example, run the factories. The men who speak, walk and think are only the images of the real men, not the men themselves. According to the idea that Mark holds of social labour and the implements of production, these things may be described as living beings which automatically, blindly and unaffected by the will of the 'image of man' (not man himself), grow and develop and bring the 'show men' despite their will and thinking power, under their control and pull these show-men behind them.

It may be said readily that what Marx has said about the supremacy and domination of social labour over man's consciousness and will, is the same thing as what the philosophers have said about man's unconscious physical activity, such as the activity of the digestive system, the heart, the liver etc. under the influence of a hidden will. According to these philosophers all desires, inclinations and all the functions of bodily systems which appear at the level of conscious mind, are in reality a network of natural needs. They are arranged by a secret psychical power and the conscious mind does not know where and how they occur. This psychical power appears to be similar to what Freud has termed unconscious mind which, according to him, dominates the conscious mind.

But actually what Marx asserts is different from what Freud or past philosophers have maintained. What they have said relates to a part of the conscious mind and the domination of a hidden mind over it. Further, what they speak of is not a thing outside the existence of man, but what Marx says is outside of it. If the theory of Marx is correctly adjudged, it will be found extremely amazing from philosophical point of view.

Marx calls his theory a discovery and compared it to the well-known biological theory of Darwin, who proved that the developments outside the will and consciousness of animals gradually and unconsciously bring about changes in their bodies over a long period. Marx also claims that some blind event (the real existence of man itself is a blind event) gradually and unconsciously brings about changes in man's social structure, that is in all those things which Marx calls superstructure and in many of those which he calls infrastructure, that is socioeconomic relations. Marx says:

"Darwin has called the attention of scientists towards the history of natural selection, the formation of organs in plants and animals corresponding to the means of production necessary for their survival. Isn't the history of generation and formation of organs producing the social human being, i.e. the material basis of all types of social organizations, worthy of such a treatment? ... Natural selection lays bare the modes of human action vis-a-vis nature; the mode of production lays bare man's material existence, and as a result, the source of social relations, thought, and intellectual products that spring from it".

Hence, from what has been said it is clear that the theory of historical materialism is based on several other theories, some of them being psychological, some sociological and some others philosophical and anthropological.