Cause and Effect

The following essay is based on a presentation  to the LRNA Standing Committee, July 2011

When we look at what is coming at us: preparation for that particular struggle is the most important thing that we can do today. So many organizations in the history of America had no idea what was going to happen to them. Events overtook them and they simply fell apart, because they are not prepared to handle it. Revolutionaries cannot know what is going to happen if they do not deeply understand causality. This question of causality, and the examination of causality, is extremely important for any revolutionary organization.

First of all: What do we mean by causality? The dictionary states that it is the principle that everything that happens must have a cause. If everything that happens has a cause, then everything that happens is an effect of something and lays the foundation for something else to happen. If we look at the world around us — look at our people, look at the various organizations in the world today — one of the things we find is that all philosophies attempt to explain the relationship between cause and effect. In the Communist Party it was all ideological. If you said all the right things, did all the right things; never said anything wrong ideologically, somehow or another you were going to get communism. It’s crazy. The Communist Party was populated by the most intelligent, far-sighted, dedicated people in the United States. Yet they believed if they acted in a certain way they could make something political happen. It is ridiculous when you look back at it from the standpoint of years. It is very important that we strive and struggle all the time to find out what is making something happen. When we are dealing with a situation we have to try to understand what caused it and what will be its result, what will inevitably happen as a result of this circumstance.

When we look at all of the philosophies in the world, all of them are connected to this question. Everything is connected to explaining cause and effect. It is just remarkable what people’s philosophical grasp of cause and effect is, and what they do as a result. This applies to organizations just as well as it does to individuals. That is the importance of having a thoroughly objective, scientific, historically evolved grasp of what is cause, what is effect and how they change places. Dialectical and historical materialism unites cause and effect, which is totally separated in most other philosophies. Winston Churchill summed it up when he was asked about history: “History? Just one damned thing after another.” There are no connections, no cause, no effect, no relation between things; just one damned thing after another; just a jumble of things happening. Well, that’s what I thought when I was a kid. I thought this happened and that happened, and this happened and that happened and then came along a king and straightened everything out. Dialectical materialism gives us a tremendous advantage in that it unifies the process. By unifying cause and effect, it unifies the whole development of the world.

In our philosophical statements we start off saying that the world is an integrated whole. Well, how does the world integrate? Why do we say it is an integrated whole? Because it is all the result of billions of causes and effects. Everything that happened is related to the rest of everything that happens. It is a complex, difficult thing but we can understand what is happening to us and what happens around us if we proceed from this conception. There is a cause for everything and every cause becomes an effect; every effect becomes a cause and there is a constant progression of history based on this motion. This understanding that each cause will have a corresponding effect gives a tremendous advantage to revolutionaries, if we use it. The problem is that most revolutionaries don’t use it because they don’t like what they see. You get into all kinds of situations where it is easier not to look. When you don’t look though, it doesn’t make it go away. Just because we don’t want to deal with something doesn’t mean it goes away. It still becomes the cause of something and is the effect of something else.

The other part of it is, I think that we want to avoid any mechanical considerations that cause and effect can be reduced down to “I kicked the dog and the dog bit me.” That is not causality. That is not what we are talking about. There is nothing mechanical in the Marxist scientific concept of cause and effect, of causality. It is nothing direct. It is not a question of this happens and that happens as a mechanical thing. Events sets the stage for  various things to happen and then the intervention of human beings — their ability to grapple with things; to have a goal within this possibility makes things happen. Causality teaches us that certain developments make things possible and makes certain things impossible. But that doesn’t guarantee that anything in particular is going to happen. What happens depends upon the human mind. LRNA has been criticized for concentrating too much on the subjective, the teaching thing.  We know that whatever happened in history happened because human beings made it happen. It is not like the rain falls and the wheat grows. No, the wheat grows only if somebody planted the wheat and somebody took the weeds out of the way and somebody cultivated the ditches.

This question of causality — to reduce it down to a mechanical thing is very, very dangerous and yet that is exactly what people do. For example, today we see that  because of all the political turmoil, people understand that fascism is coming in this country. They are finding the ways and means to get out of the line of fire. They might not understand it, they might not rationally say that, but they do understand that “hey, I can’t afford to go to jail. I’ve got to get out of the line of fire.” So they make an assessment and come to a conclusion of what they have to do. They declare that revolutionary organizations are wrong. They resign from the struggle. What is the result then? They do not struggle against fascism and so fascism does take over. I want to emphasize that in this question of causality and everything in human activity, it is the human mind, the human will that is the determining factor. That doesn’t mean to say that a human being can do anything they want under any circumstances, but the parameters are laid out by cause and effect; within those parameters what happens depends upon what human beings think and what they are prepared to sacrifice and struggle for. I would like to take a second to look at this point because I think it is the main point. I want to take a look for a minute at the Civil War because I think it shows the point that I’m trying to make.