The External Nature of Things



Questions pertaining to the external and the internal have been of great importance to the revolutionary movement historically and recently. The internal refers to opposed elements within a thing and the external refers to opposite opposed elements outside of a thing. There is also opposition between what is internal on the one hand and the what is external on the other.  Oppositions are dialectical contradictions. So there is a dialectical contradiction between the external and internal.


The contradiction between the external and the internal is at the heart of the philosophical analysis of proletarian internationalism. Affairs local to one country are mainly determined by world affairs because they are subordinate parts of worldwide systems of contradictions. With systems, their parts are subordinate to the system as a whole.  In today's world the internal affairs of one country are subordinate to the external workings of systems operating on a global basis.  This is the theory the writer first developed in the late 1970's on the basis of developing certain writings of V. I. Lenin and from Lenin's general orientation. The writer goes into detail on this in his work "Internationalism and Philosophy: An Overview of Systems and Revolution".


It may not be difficult to see that internal parts are subordinate to the system as whole as the external, but there are a number of other ways the external is generally the determining factor which may not be as self-evident as with systems.  In what follows, the interaction between the external and internal relative to the motion and development of a thing - an object, a process - will be explored with an emphasis on their interaction apart the thing being a system, or a part of a system. This exploration is meant to stimulate further discussion, it is not meant to be a definitive account on this issue.


There are 3 major areas to examine when exploring the nature of the contradiction between the external and the internal. The areas have to do with a things 1) creation, 2) makeup, and 3) development. These are all areas relevant to gaining a concrete understanding of the internal and external relate to the nature of things and to how they relate, how interact.  We will now examine these 3 areas in the order they were listed.



In terms of the creation of a thing, 2 points stand out.  First, is the relationship between the external and internal and the creation of a new thing, a new internal.  Second, is how the relationship between the internal and external bear on the capacity of a thing to form.


Let’s start off on the first point, the relationship between the external and internal and the creation of a new thing or internal.  All new internals are prompted by reasons or events prior to and at least partially outside of them. Since these events are prior to and at least partially outside of the internal they are external to it. Externals prior to the new internal interact with it, but they are not the same action.


Capitalism, with class struggle and the revolutionary movement as a part of it, causes and gives rise to socialism. Before there can be water, hydrogen and oxygen must combine.  To create new humans, a previously existing male and female must unite in order to produce a baby.  These are examples of how new internals result from events that are prior to and at least partially outside of the new internals.  We see that the external gives rise to the internal.


Some of the factors giving rise to a new internal may be very much like it, but they are not exactly the same internal as the new internal, otherwise it wouldn't be a new internal. An earlier and similar internal, the scientific revolutionary movement, is a major factor in giving rise to socialist society, but socialist society is a qualitatively new thing. The revolutionary movement does not have the exact same particular internal which is socialist society. Socialist society is a socioeconomic structure based on the seizure of power by the scientific revolutionary movement. In and of itself, socialist society is something new.  Given that socialist society is in a sense larger than the revolutionary movement which establishes it, many of the factors that make up socialist society are apparently outside of, different from, or what is the same thing, external to the revolutionary movement in and of itself under capitalism.


Everything that exists came from some external. The big bang which created what we know of the universe also came from something. It didn't spring from nothing. Only God sprang from nothing and we know there is not, nor ever was there a God.  And it would be God if it ever did spring from nothing.


Now to address the second point of creation, the external and internal as they relate to whether or not a thing can form. There are planets where the environment, taken as the external, does not allow hydrogen and oxygen to combine in such a way that water is formed. If there was little humidity in the air the new internal of dew drops would not form. While a women menstruates life can not begin in her body.  All of these are instances where the external determines if a new internal can be formed.


After delving into these 2 points on creation of a thing in terms of the relationship between the external and internal, we see that the external plays the predominant role in an internal's ability to form, and in making up the constituents of a new internal.



We now leave discussion about the creation of a thing in terms of the internal and external and move on to the second major area, the internal and external as they relate to the makeup of a thing.


There are many internals which are at least partially made up of the external. Both the elements the internal is made up of and a degree of the contradictions of the internal are often present in various externals before the new internal contradiction has formed and are often incorporated into it. External elements and contradictions aren't necessarily predominant in the makeup of the internal, but they are entwined and fused with it.


Socialism carries with it social structures present in capitalism, such as commodity production. Commodity production is transformed during socialism and socialism's goal is to abolish it, but commodity production continues under socialism and is well meshed into the internal contradictions of socialism. It is not the essence of the internal of socialism, but it is enmeshed in its internals.


A second point about the makeup of the internal concerns externals which coexist with the internal, but have not necessarily played a role in the internals birth. Coexisting externals can and often do insinuate themselves into the internal as a result of dialectical interpenetration and interaction between the two.


As an example, the mitochondria became a part of certain cells after a long evolutionary period in which they were apart. Through the dialectical interaction between the two since they were joined, the mitochondria has come to play the vital role of being the cells primary energy source. Without this joining and subsequent interaction, many of the life forms we know today would be radically different from what they are, if they could exist at all, including people.


The point here is not to claim that there are internals which do not have totally new internal parts and internal dialectics.  Only that it often occurs that all or some of the elements and contradictions of an internal have been formed from externals prior to or along side of it.  External elements and contradictions can play, if not a deciding role, a major role, as parts of the internal. As is the case with commodity production under socialism and the mitochondria in the cell.



At this point we will go into the third area of our exploration of the external and internal, the development of a thing. We will observe the interaction between the external and internal, mainly as they relate to a things development or motion, but we will also touch on the creation aspect again.


The truly great revolutionary, Mao Tse-tung says in his treatise "On Contradiction" that the internal is the "basis" of change and the external is the "condition" of change. Mao takes this to mean and many others contend as well, that almost always the contradictions internal to a thing or process exert more influence or have a greater role in determining the development of a thing than the external does. Mao does state in the same book that what is external in one context is internal in another, but he still gives more weight to the internal as the main influence on a things development. Lenin also gives the same emphasis to the internal, when he says in his work "On Dialectics" that the self-movement of opposites within a thing are the motor driving its development.


The view that the internal is almost always predominant to a things development or motion is false.


Before we demonstrate this assertion, we should first note that to obtain a correct analysis of a thing, we must always consider the context, or way we're interested in the thing when studying the nature and relative importance of the external and the internal on a things motion and development.  In the context of physical survival, temperature could be decisive to people if it got too hot or cold. On the other hand looking at the development of social structures, temperature has a secondary effect; it does not generally affect their fundamental socioeconomic aspects.


Water has unique internal contradictions which make it water (St. Thomas Aquinas called each things uniqueness its "quiddity"). This uniqueness makes water different from all other things, but the factor decisive to having water one is able to drink, is the impetus given to water's motion and development by an external, not its uniqueness. Its uniqueness is the "basis" of what it goes through, but it is not the impetus to its motion and development.


In the motion and development of water as it relates to having water to drink, an external, hydrolysis, can be decisive to whether or not we'll be able find it. If all the water around were subjected to hydrolysis there would be no water to drink. Varying temperature can also be decisive to finding drinkable water. Temperature can cause water to be in a solid, liquid or gaseous form. When water freezes we can't of course drink it. We can heat ice to get drinkable water, but that just goes to show how temperature can be predominant to finding water in drinkable form.  Nothing but water can become the type of solid, liquid or gas that water becomes when it changes states, but only temperature or some other external can cause these various states of water to occur, or determine whether water can even be created.  Water does identize or shift places with the external, temperature or hydrolysis in terms of whether it or the external is predominant at any one instant in its motion, development and creation. Overall however, some external, be it hydrolysis, temperature or something else will be predominant in influencing water's motion or development if we are interested in finding water to drink.


No amount of water's uniqueness or "self-movement" allows its development to take any direction that “self-movement” may “desire”.  The unique development that only water can take is given an impulse and in large part, at least, steered by what is external to it.


Water subjected to an external process called hydrolysis, will no longer exist. Hydrolysis breaks water up into the gases hydrogen and oxygen by passing an electrical current through it. Fire will destroy paper and acid dissolves metal. The externals of hydrolysis, fire and acid have decisive effects on the continued existence of the internals they act on.


We are now clear that the external can be the dominant force relative to the internal in the ways we're interested in a things development or motion.


One last point on the development of a thing is that the internal typically consists of more than one contradiction. The internal is usually made up of a set of different contradictions, which taken together form the thing they are internal to. This is the point Lenin made in his polemic against Trotsky about the role of trade unions during socialism.  In this polemic he shows that a tumbler or tall cup can have many uses, because there are many aspects to the quality of being a tumbler. It can be used to drink out of, to draw circles, listen through walls or other things not mentioned here.  A tumbler has many aspects or internals. Depending on what we're interested in, various of its aspects or internals assert themselves. The internal is not just a single internal, it has many aspects. How we're interested in a thing is important to which of its internals are meaningful to us at any given time.



Having gone into the areas of creation, makeup and development, let's briefly look at the external and internal as they relate to the various developments that human society experiences.


Each social structure results from the overall flow of socioeconomic contradictions, chief among them is the nature of the contradiction between people and the world or the universe around them. This overall flow is elaborated and summed up in the laws of historical materialism. The contradictions of the flow of history are the main things influencing the development of each stage.


Every stage of society is external to the flow in that they are only one phase of it. They are external to the flow, due to the fact that although each stage of society is a part of the of the flow, they are just that, parts of the larger overall flow. The flow has an internal which in some ways coincides with the internal of each stage, but they are not the same. It's the flow which creates, parameterizes, and abolishes each stage. Imperialism as one of these stages has the flow external to it and predominant over it.



In conclusion, we find that when speaking of a things makeup, the external can contribute greatly to it, as commodity production from capitalism is major part of the internal of socialism or the way the mitochondria is so significant to certain kinds of cells. Going through the area of creation, it was pointed out that the external is decisive with respect to the creation of a thing.  We saw that the reason and basis for the creation of socialism and water are the former and continuing things external to their essence. Depending on the context we're interested in a thing, the external can have the predominant influence on a thing's development and motion as we observed with water or the stages of society.


Sometimes the external plays the predominant role in the life of the internal because the internal is part of a system external to it, as any country's affairs are mainly determined by world systems and affairs. At other times the external is predominant because of the nature of the interconnections between the external and the internal, as this paper has shown.


It can not be anything other than liberating to see that the external can be predominant in some significant ways to the internal. We are not grounded to a thing's nature. We can fly. We can have a decisive effect in the areas of the creation, makeup and development of a thing. This is important when we consider that freedom is the transformation of necessity. It is the transformation of the internals we objectively face on the road to socialism and beyond.  The external is a potent force shaping our world. Let's not miss or mishandle building and rebuilding the world anew by hewing to old ideas.



Tim Redd


December 1989.

Edited: March 2006.


© 1989-2006