Ron Press anclondon at
Thu Jun 29 20:39:13 MDT 1995


Some while back I offered a sample of my simplistic marxism with
respect to Chemistry. Here it is. Remember it was written in 1969
without the benefit of hindsight or this list.. Ron Press

PS I got it scanned. I found a bureau in Leeds. Thanks for the
suggestion offered by someone on the list, it forced me to look
and act.

PPS Please don't, flame, malign, wall, swear at, Stalinise, call
me an Anarchist, a Communist, a revisionist, an intellectual, a
prole, and please please not a capitalist.  Just be my friend.

Discussion Contribution on:  Marxism and Science R. E. Press
CHANGE affects not only science and society but Marxism as well.
Can we usefully ask modern scientists to read "Dialectics of
Nature" by Engels or "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" by Lenin,
when much of the experimental details upon which these works were
based have been overturned? Because our understanding of science
has advanced, it is time we refurbished the examples upon which we
elucidate our philosophy and the new examples will elaborate our
philosophy.  Consider the question of electricity. Engels spends
considerable time in discussing this question and although his
basic line of discussion is correct as were his conclusions "an
insight into this close connection of chemical and electric action
and vice versa will lead to important results in both spheres of
investigation"1, he was wrong when he said "Hence one-sided
empiricism had already to such an extent forgotten the practice of
thought in calculating that here it even makes the imponderable
electricity ponderable and introduces its weight into the
mathematical calculation."2 Lenin based his discussion on the
state of science at his time and quotes "very minute particles
called electrons, which are charged with positive or negative
electricity".3 In so doing he was confusing the positive charge on
the nucleus i.e. the protons, with the positron whose existence
was quite unknown at the time. Yet his conclusion is prophetic.
"The 'essence' of things, or 'substance', is also relative; it
expresses only the degree of profundity of man's knowledge of
objects; and while yesterday the profundity of this knowledge did
not go beyond the atom, and today does not go beyond the electron
and ether, dialectical materialism insists on the temporary,
relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the
knowledge of nature gained by the progressing science of man. The
electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but
it infinitely exists."4 T. A. Jackson in later years has a much
clearer picture of the situation but still some misinformation is
present. "A few very tentative generalisations seem to have been
provisionally established. The proton is now conceived to be a
structure of neutrons and positrons. In their conjoined form they
are converted into an 'atom' by association with the appropriate
number of negatrons ('electrons' in the older nomenclature)."5
Modern physics has cleared up the problem of the positron and
shown the unity of nature. "Electrons and positrons interact
through the medium of a photon field. Photons, on the other hand,
interact through the medium of an electron-positron field. Thus,
an electron-positron field and a photon field comprise a single
quantised electron-positron-photon field. This field is
investigated in quantum electrodynamics (the quantum theory of
electromagnetic field)".6 Physics however just presents the theory
and experiment and does not consciously use Marxist philosophy.
Modern Marxists, perhaps overcome with the complexity of modern
physics, still refer students to the standard works which need
serious development in the light of modern physics. For example it
is clear that particle and antiparticle are two sides of a
contradiction as is the question of symmetry, but are the laws of
conservation (momentum, energy, etc.) manifestations of the unity
of opposites?  Philosophy Needed Dan Muir in the June issue of
Marxism Today states "Dialectical materialism is a philosophy
developed initially to handle the ideas of social science and has
not yet been missed in the world of the physical scientists". This
is not quite correct. Physicists like De Broglie7 are still
seriously hindered in their understanding of Heisenberg's
uncertainty principle and the "dual nature" of the electron. They
have missed dialectical materialism but like many a deprived
person do not realise they have been deprived. The "encounter"
with "similar situations in physical science" I believe took place
some time ago. "Thus quantum mechanics occupies a very unusual
place among physical theories: it contains classical mechanics as
a limiting case, yet at the same time it requires this limiting
case for its own formulation This was written about 15 years ago
by Landau and Lifshitz and is a fine example of Marxist analysis
and the refutation of the "hierarchical" system that Dan Muir
refers to. There is a serious need for a new attack on the
problems of Marxism and science. Classical Marxist texts seldom
refer to chemical examples of Marxist thought and modern chemistry
has developed a language which hides many obvious Marxist ideas.
What follows is an attempt to rediscuss chemistry in Marxist terms
and thus to improve the chemist's understanding of Marxism and of
chemistry and to secondly reinforce and expand Marxist philosophy
itself.  The latest trend in modern chemistry teaching is the
re-emphasise of the practical experimental basis of chemistry.
"Chem Study", one American system, has as its slogan "Chemistry an
Experimental Science". The Nuffield scheme lays heavy emphasis on
discovery in the laboratory by the student himself. At the other
end of the scale in the Journal of Chemical Physics (a highly
theoretical subject) one finds tables of "a priori" calculations
and at the end a figure for the experimental result is given as
the final arbiter of all the theoretical deliberations. There is
no questioning that the basis of chemistry is materialist.  The
questions of the absolute zero, of equilibrium, of stability, of
the absorption and emission of: energy (for example, "The dynamic
aspects of molecular energy states" by Cotrell) all emphasise the
well known concept of matter in motion. "Zero point energy", which
is often difficult for students to grasp, becomes clear when
approached from the Marxist point of view.  The laws of wave
mechanics, many say, deny causality and substitute probability for
accuracy. Yet these same laws have allowed the accurate
calculation of bond energies, of bond angles, of dipole moments
and other parameters. Far from separating cause and effect wave
mechanics has directly linked the mode of existence of the
electron and the properties of chemical substances. If one reads
Lenin the matter is quite clear. "Causality is but a small
particle of universal connection" and ". . . human conception of
cause and effect always somewhat simplifies the objective
connection of the phenomena of nature, reflecting it only
approximately, artificially isolating one or another aspect of a
single world process."9 Conception of Quality One of the basic
Marxist concepts is that of quality, quantity and that
quantitative changes turn into qualitative ones. Such examples are
numerous in chemistry. In an homologous series such as the
paraffins the successive addition of -CH2- groups lead from gases
to liquids to solids; increasing the molecular weight of
benzene-like molecules, from benzene to anthracene, ultimately to
graphite, leads from a non-electrical conductor to
semi-conductor-like solids to a conductor graphite; considering
the second row elements of the period table Li, Be, B. C, N. O. F.
Ne; neon forms no bonds, it is a monatomic gas; fluorine forms one
bond, it is a diatomic gas (a qualitative change); oxygen forms
two bonds, it is a diatomic gas; nitrogen forms three bonds, it is
a diatomic gas; carbon forms four bonds, it is a high melting
point solid (a qualitative change); boron only forms three bonds,
it is a lower melting point solid; beryllium forms two bonds it is
a metallic solid (qualitative change of bond type); lithium is a
low melting point metallic solid.  Professor Coulson of Oxford has
recently written an article on symmetry based on his Faraday
lecture of January last year. The article is a full exposition in
non-Marxist terms of the interaction of opposites. Symmetry is in
simplest terms two sides of a question, the left and right hands
of man, or the plus and minus of mathematics. Professor Coulson
elaborates further on the subject and shows how, following
Heisenberg, symmetry leads to conservation laws.
'Symmetry_opposites, unit of opposites conservation laws.) From
the symmetry of the Hamiltonian for the helium atom and the
existence of two types of particles (symmetry again) one set
obeying Fermi-Dirac and the other Einstein-Bose statistics the
Pauli exclusion principle is defined.  Truth is Infinite Professor
Coulson proceeds to discuss molecular symmetry, orbitals, the
Hoffman-Woodward rules, etc., and in a thoroughly Marxist manner
says "It is as if Nature said to us; 'I have some very important
principles, and they do indeed dominate whole areas of chemistry,
and of physics too. But I am subtle; I cannot always be treated as
if I only had one idea in my head. You must use your experimental
and theoretical tools carefully. Mother Nature has some feminine
characteristics which from time to time will reveal
themselves_perhaps to your discomfiture' " and later "It is when
symmetry interprets facts that it serves its purpose: and then it
delights us because it links our study of chemistry with another
world of the human spirit_the world of order, pattern, beauty,
satisfaction. But facts come first. Symmetry encompasses much_but
not quite all." Surely these quotes are an open invitation to
Marxists to study chemistry and for Professor Coulson to study
Marxism.  Chemists are involved in finding out the truth. Let us
for example consider the question, what is salt? Two thousand
years ago the answer would be "a whitish powder obtained from the
sea". Since then our knowledge has increased. We can say it is
sodium chloride or further it is NaCI or a solid having a
particular cubic structure consisting of sodium and chloride ions,
etc., etc. The knowledge of salt is relative and is increasing and
expanding continually. The immediate answer to the question "what
is salt?" would today fill a book and if a full answer were
required, two or three volumes would be written. The truth is
infinite and our knowledge of it is increasing exponentially. The
relative nature of truth and its constant expansion is reflected
in the phenomenal increase in the number of scientific journals
and the subdivisions of chemistry which are constantly being
developed. Because the world is in constant motion and
development, one would hope to find a consciousness of this in
chemical literature and particularly in the field of chemical
education. The elements, the student is told, consist of
positively charged ' nuclei which attract electrons into orbitals
or shells around them. These atoms then react to form chemical
compounds. In the theory of chemical bonding there are two main
concepts (i) the ionic bond or transfer of electrons and (ii) the
covalent bond or sharing of electrons. In the metallic bond (iii)
one can conceive of a lattice of positive ions which share all the
valence electrons, clearly a synthesis of concepts (i) and (ii).
(This synthesis of opposites is seldom pointed out.) But all the
covalent bonds do not share their electrons equally, nor indeed
can we draw a firm line between ionic, covalent or metallic bonds.
Thus the concept of electronegativity is elaborated to show the
unequal distribution of the electrons amongst the atoms of the
chemical compounds. This then leads on to ionicity, dipole
moments, electronegativity equalisation (a misconceived blind
alley), etc., and finally to the picture of nuclei bearing
positive charges and electrons distributed around them in
molecular orbitals. Thus the student is taken on a historical tour
and brought full circle on to a higher plane. A direct Marxist
approach would be to start with the atomic nucleus and the
electron orbital system around it and then to take the qualitative
leap into the situation of two equally charged nuclei and
attendant electrons. Thence to the system of two unequally charged
nuclei and in short direct order to multinucleur systems. Along
such a path the ideas of electronegativity, bond type, bond
energy, etc., appear, as they are, approximations to a deeper
truth, not absolute truths which must then be refuted.  Negation
of Negation A similar situation has arisen in the ideas of complex
formation. If NaCI is not a complex then BF3 is not a complex. Is
BF4- a complex? But we cannot distinguish between the fluorines in
BF4- which fluorine is complexed? Is there any basic difference in
the bonding of SF6 and FeF63-? The idea of two types of molecules,
ordinary ones and complexes must be abandoned. Cotton and
Wilkinson in their standard text indicate that this division
between complexes and compounds is artificial but he division is
still taught in universities. In chemical education generally, the
approach is historic and students come into industry as historians
rather than as revolutionaries.  The Marxist concept of negation
of the negation s also evident in the question of acids and bases
or example the gradual addition of caustic soda to zinc chloride
first causes the base zinc hydroxide to precipitate, negating its
solubility but an excess causes the negation of the base
properties and the zinc dissolves as an acid in strong caustic
soda. She transition metal manganese is a base in solution as Mn2+
but as the oxidation state is raised, this is negated and the
MnO4- ion is an acid. There are no doubt many other such examples
especially in the theoretical field where two seemingly opposite
points of view are held by eminent scientists who defend their own
point of view until bitter antagonisms result only to find in
later years that a synthesis of their views gives a satisfactory
platform for further advance.  In recent years there have been
rather foolish quarrels about the value of the valence bond
approach as against the molecular orbital approach in quantum
chemistry but in the final analysis both reduce to the same answer
if carried far enough or if applied to very simple systems e.g.
H2+. Similarly the idea of electronegativity equalisation is
proposed by Sanderson and others. Gray and others have opposed
this since quite correctly they point out that energy is minimised
not electronegativity equalised. But when electronegativity is
shown to be directly proportional to average valence electron
energy, then in a molecule the energy of the shared electrons in a
molecular orbital is equalised. Thus both ideas are correct in the
light of further researcher The Periodic Table The best summary of
Marxism and chemistry is evidenced by a study of the periodic
1.      The elements are material things.
2.      The lightest atom (and all others) is a synthesis of
opposites, a positive proton at the nucleus and negative electron.
3.      The atom is matter in motion. The electron is in
continuous motion about the nucleus which is also in continuous
motion.4.      One positive charge on the nucleus, a reactive gas
hydrogen, two positive charges on the nucleus, an inert gas
helium. Quantitative changes lead to qualitative differences.
5.      Three positive charges on the nucleus, a negation of the
negation and we come to a reactive element a solid metal lithium.
The cycle repeats itself but on a higher plane. There are eight
elements until the next rare gas. The process then repeats itself
but never at the same level. (The transition and inner transition
elements.) 6.      And so we proceed to element 84 when a new
qualitative jump appears. All elements are not unstable and
radioactive. And at about 104-105 physicists tell us the elements
will be too unstable to exist except perhaps a new stable island
at no. 126. The universe is infinite?  7.      There are definite
connections between the atomic structure and the chemical
properties, e.g. each rare gas has completed outer shell, each
alkali metal has one electron in its outer S orbital, etc. There
is a working of cause and effect.  8.      There is no freedom in
the options open to man as far as an element and its chemical
properties are concerned. If it has a charge on the nucleus of
three it will be lithium and will have definite chemical
properties but knowledge of the laws of nature allows man not only
to interpret but to change nature. Elements above number 92 are
man made.  9.      The unity of theory and practice is continually
evident. Chemists discovered the elements_ Mendelyev theorised
about missing members of the periodic table_the new elements were
found_Moseley theorised about X-rays_the charge on the nucleus was
found, etc., etc.  10.     There is the history of the development
of our relative knowledge of the objective world. From air, earth,
fire and water (where the grain of truth was that the world was
divisible into "elements") to today where the monstrous machines
of physics transmute elements into not gold, but hitherto unknown
metals.  Does science need Marxism? Science is so close to nature
that scientific thought is perforce Marxist to a large degree. But
a scientist conscious of Marxism will not be surprised at the
quirks of nature and will be better able to grasp his researches.
Certainly science teachers and university lecturers need Marxism,
desperately, if one reflects on current chemical textbooks
published both in the UK (where publishers would not be ecstatic
about Marxist concepts) and in the socialist countries where one
would expect a Marxist outlook. Does Marxism need science? If it
is to remain vital and revolutionary, yes.

1       "Dialectics of Nature" Engels, Foreign Languages
Publishing House, 1954, p. 227.
2       As above, p. 157.
3       "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" Lenin, Foreign
Languages Publishing House, p. 261.
4       As above, p. 271. is present.
5       "Dialectics". T. E. Jackson. Lawrence & Wishart, 1936, p.
6       "Contemporary Physics", Ivanov, Peace Publishers, Moscow,
p. 96.
7       "The Current Interpretation of Wave Mechanics" De Broglie,
8       "Course of Theoretical Physics" Landau & Lifshitz.
Pergamon p. 3. Vol. 3.
9       Requoted from Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism" Progress
Publishers, Moscow, p. 65.
10      "Electron Energy Levels in Free Atoms and Chemical
Properties", Press Education in Chemistry, 1969.

Published by the Communist Party, 16 King Street, London, W.C. 2,
and printed by Farleigh Press Ltd, (T.U. all depts.), Watford,

ron press

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