The belief that the phenomena of nature or society can be, and should be, examined in the absence of any initial theory or hypothesis, and that mere raw observation will normally suffice to lead us to valid scientific explanations for the new phenomena. In reality, in both science and politics, we very rarely investigate any phenomenon starting with completely empty heads and with no guess whatsoever as to what might be going on. We bring to our investigations what we have learned (or think we have learned) earlier, including hypotheses that our existing knowledge has suggested with regard to the new phenomenon. Our new investigations may confirm those hypotheses, or else they may lead us to revise them or to reject the initial hypotheses entirely and construct new ones. This is the means by which we gradually extend and revise our existing knowledge based on new experience and new investigations.
A crude form of materialism which doesn’t really comprehend how mind and consciousness can arise out of complex organizations of matter such as brains. A naïve materialist might say something like “Mind is just an aspect of nature; even rocks have simple kinds of minds.” This sort of foolishness serves to discredit materialism in general, even though there are much more sophisticated kinds of materialism, such as dialectical materialism.
See also: ELIMINATIVE MATERIALISM, IDENTITY THEORY, INSTRUMENTALISM [1st sense], MECHANICAL MATERIALISM, NATURALISM
NAKED SHORT SELLING
See: SHORT SELLING
NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821)
A French military and political leader who first became famous during the latter part of the great French Revolution and who then usurped personal power and, as Napoléon I, became the Emperor of France. He proceeded to lead France in a series of wars in which he was mostly victorious, and at his peak ruled, directly or indirectly, most of continental Europe. He was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and then exiled and held prisoner by the victorious British empire on one of the most remote islands in the world, Saint Helena, until his death.
Although Napoleon helped pervert the course of development of the French Revolution, his civil control of Europe curing a crucial period helped further the transformation of many feudal traditions and relationships into more modern bourgeois institutions.
NAPOLEON — Russian Campaign of 1812
A disastrous military campaign by Napoleon against Russia during which most of his invading army was destroyed.
The famous graphic at the right, by Charles Joseph Minard, provides a great deal of information about the campaign. “Beginning at the left on the Polish-Russian border near the Niemen, the thick band shows the size of the army (422,000 men) as it invaded Russia. The width of the band indicates the size of the army at each position. In September, the army reached Moscow with 100,000 men. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales. The remains of the Grande Armée struggled out of Russia with 10,000 men. Minard’s graphic tells a rich, coherent story with its multivariate data, far more enlightening than just a single number bouncing along over time. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement, and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow. It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” —Edward Tufte
See: WAR ON DRUGS
[From the Russian word narod, meaning “people”.]
“Narodism—a petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary
movement, which arose between the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century. The
Narodniks were out to abolish the autocracy and hand over the landed estates to the
peasantry. At the same time they denied the tendency towards the development of capitalist
relations [of production] in Russia, and consequently considered the peasantry, not the
proletariat, the principal revolutionary force. They regarded the village commune as the
embryo of socialism. In their endeavor to rouse the peasants to the struggle against the
autocracy, the Narodniks went into the villages, ‘among the people’, but they met no
“In the [1880s and 1890s] the Narodniks adopted a policy of conciliation with tsarism. They expressed the interests of the kulaks and waged a fierce struggle against Marxism.” —Note 120, LCW 20:590-591.
NARODNYA VOLYA (PEOPLE’S WILL)
“The secret political organization of Narodnik terroists formed in
August 1879 following the split in the Zemlya i Volya organization. It was headed by an
Executive Committee consisting of A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko,
N. A. Morozov, Vera Figner, Sophia Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkovsky, and others.
“While still adhering to the Narodnik utopian-socialist ideas, Narodnaya Volya believed also in political struggle, regarding the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political freedom as a major aim. ‘The Narodnaya Volya members,’ Lenin wrote, ‘made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism’ [LCW 8:72].
“Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy. But, going by the erroneous theory of ‘active’ heroes and a ‘passive’ mass, it expected to achieve the remaking of society without the participation of the people, by its own efforts, through individual terrorism that would intimidate and disorganize the government. After the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government was able, by savage reprisals, death sentences, and acts of provocation, to crush it out of existence. Repeated attempts to revive the organization during the eighties ended in failure.
“While criticizing Narodnaya Volya’s erroneous, utopian programme, Lenin expressed great respect for its members’ selfless struggle against tsarism and had a high opinion of their technique of secrecy and their strictly centralized organization.” —Note 78, Lenin, SW I (1967).
Supporters of Narodism.
See: STATE, PRIMITIVE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
The section of the bourgeoisie during a new democratic revolution which (unlike the comprador or bureaucrat bourgeoisie) is an intermediate class (between the people and the enemy), and portions of which may be won over to side with the people in that struggle. The national bourgeoisie is a class out for itself, and which strives to control the nation in its own class interests, which brings it into conflict with foreign imperialist intervention in the country. If it achieves power it may still be in conflict with foreign imperialism, but it also comes more powerfully into conflict with the proletariat and its allies such as the peasantry.
To continue to regard the national bourgeoisie as an ally (or potential ally) of the proletariat once the new democratic revolution is complete (or where there is no need for, or possibility for a new democratic revolution) is an extremely serious rightist or revisionist error.
“With the overthrow of the landlord class and the bureaucrat-capitalist class, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie has become the principal contradiction in China; therefore the national bourgeoisie should no longer be defined as an intermediate class.” —Mao, “The Contradiction Between the Working Class and the Bourgeoisie is the Principal Contadiction in China” (June 6, 1952), SW 5:77.
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH (NBER)
A private American organization of bourgeois economists. This organization is very prominent and even has quasi-official aspects to it. For example, bourgeois economists generally grant its Business Cycle Dating Committee the right to decide precisely when recessions begin and end. NBER’s website is at: http://www.nber.org
NATIONAL HATRED — Combating
“[The Narodnik] Mr. Mikhailovsky cannot grasp the simple truth that there is no other way of combating national hatred than by organizing and uniting the oppressed class for a struggle against the oppressor class in each separate country, than by uniting such national working-class organizations into a single international working-class army to fight international capital.” —Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are” (1894), LCW 1:156.
NATIONAL INTERESTS (Under Capitalism)
What are often described as “national interests” in a capitalist state are in fact the interests of its ruling class, the bourgeoisie. Thus when the U.S. government tells Americans that it is in the “national interests” of the United States that it should make war against Vietnam or Iraq, we should understand full well that this is only a camouflaged way of talking about the class interests of the capitalists who currently own and control the country.
“It’s in our national interest to prevent this from happening [the collapse of the giant insurance corporation AIG]. This is beyond a company and beyond its shareholders. It’s in our national interest.” —Hank Greenberg, former head of AIG, pleading on CNBC for the U.S. government bailout of the company, Sept. 16, 2008. The government proceeded to do just that, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, because Greenberg’s ruling class pals who were running the government felt exactly the same way.
“Great powers have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. They only have permanent interests.” —Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, mid-nineteenth century. Quoted in Robert Smith Thompson, The Eagle Triumphant: How America Took Over the British Empire (2004), p. 101.
NATIONAL INTERESTS (Under Socialism)
The true, long-term “national interests” of a socialist state are those of the ruling working class. However, it must be recognized that in the short term, even a socialist country may have “national interests” which diverge from the interests of the world communist revolution. And in that case, it is important and correct that the conflicting “national interests” of the socialist country be ignored or set aside, and the real interests of the people of the world and the world revolution be satisfied instead. This requires a greatness of mind and purpose on the part of the leaders of any genuine socialist country since in the short term it may create serious problems for them (including possibly even war).
The revisionist leaders of the old Soviet Union claimed that “National interests and the interests of the socialist system as a whole combine harmoniously.” [“The Letter of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U. to the Central Committee of the C.P.C.” (March 30, 1963), included in A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement (Peking: FLP, 1963), p. 88.] But this just is not so! It is just a fact of life that sometimes short-term interests, including short-term “national interests”, conflict with the true and genuine long-term interests of the people and the world revolution. Revisionists, and social-imperialists always try to deny this truth.
See also: PATRIOTISM UNDER SOCIALISM
NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE
An ultra-reactionary American ruling class magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1955. Racist and semi-fascist in its outlook, it has been and continues to be very influential in conservative ruling class circles.
“[Here are] some of Buckley’s early insights into nationalism
• 1957: On Spanish [fascist] military dictator Francisco Franco: ‘An authentic national hero.’
• 1961: On South African apartheid: ‘Black Africans,’ when left to their own devices, ‘tend to revert to savagery.’
• 1965: On ending segregation [in the U.S.]: ‘[A] suddenly enfranchised, violently embittered Negro population... will take the vote and wield it as an instrument of vengeance, shaking down the walls of Jericho even to their foundations, and reawakening the terrible genocidal antagonisms that scarred the Southern psyche during the days of Reconstruction.’”
—The Nation magazine, December 21-28, 2015, p. 6.
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
One of the many spy agencies of the U.S. government. This particular agency focuses on spying on communications, including phone calls and the Internet. Its goal is to monitor every single communication in the world, and thus to spy on every single person in the world. And it more closely approaches this police-state goal every year.
[Intro material to be added...]
“On the national question the world outlook of the proletarian party is internationalism, and not nationalism. In the revolutionary struggle it supports progressive nationalism and opposes reactionary nationalism. It must always draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and bourgeois nationalism, to which it must never fall captive.” —A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement: The letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963), p. 17.
[To be added... ]
See: NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION
Growing numbers of what we still call “natural disasters” are in fact not completely “natural” at all! Instead, they are more and more being caused by human activity directed by the ruling capitalist class in order to increase their profits, and almost totally without regard to what their polluting factories and machines are doing to the climate and to humanity. It is not just through their endless wars that the capitalist-imperialists kill so many people, but in many other ways as well.
[Speaking of contemporary American capitalist society:] “During
good times, it’s easy to deride ‘big government’ and talk about the inevitability of
cutbacks. But during disasters, most everyone loses their free market religion and
wants to know that their government has their backs. And if there is one thing we
can be sure of, it’s that extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon
Haiyan in the Philippines, and the British floods—disasters that, combined, pummeled
coastlines beyond recognition, ravaged millions of homes, and killed many
thousands—are going to keep coming.
“Over the course of the 1970s, there were 660 reported [major] disasters around the world, including droughts, floods, extreme temperature events, wildfires, and storms. In the 2000s, there were 3,322—a fivefold boost. That is a staggering increase in just over thirty years, and clearly global warming cannot be said to have ‘caused’ all of it. But the climate signal is also clear. ‘There’s no question that climate change has increased the frequency of certain types of extreme weather events,’ climate scientist Michael Mann told me in an interview, ‘including drought, intense hurricanes, and super typhoons, the frequency and intensity and duration of heat waves, and potentially other types of extreme weather though the details are still being debated within the scientific community.’”
—Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), p. 107. [Klein is only a reformer, but what she says here is correct. —Ed.]
A system of production for direct use and not for sale; i.e., not commodity production.
NATURAL LAW (In Science)
See: SCIENTIFIC LAWS
“NATURAL LAW” (In Ethics and Politics)
The theory that there are laws, higher than any man-made laws, and which are universal, unchanging, and an inherent part of human nature. These “natural laws” are supposed to be discoverable through human reason, but oddly enough they always seem to be laws that the current ruling class would approve of. Advocates of the theory of “natural law” include the ancient Stoic philosophers, “Saint” Thomas Aquinas, and many modern “libertarian” reactionaries.
“NATURAL RESOURCE CURSE”
A term which refers to the very common phenomenon where the people of a Third World country actually suffer rather than benefit from having some major natural resource in their country. This phenomenon is particularly common in the case of countries which have large oil deposits. This “natural resource curse” seems inexplicable to most bourgeois economists and to many other people, but the primary explanation is not hard to determine: Countries with large natural resource wealth are simply major targets of foreign imperialism. Not only do imperialist powers end up with most of that natural wealth, they do so in large part by corrupting and dominating the government of the country. What little of the natural wealth remains in the country therefore goes to a small number of politicians and military leaders (and sometimes in part to a small comprador capitalist class), while the masses often end up worse off than if no oil or other natural resource existed there at all! In short, the real curse is not in having the natural resources, but rather in being the victim of the imperialists and their local agents because of those natural resources.
The notion that certain freedoms or privileges belong innately to human beings and cannot be denied in any society. One famous advocate of natural rights was John Locke, whose opinions on the matter helped inspire the framers of the American Constitution. However, the whole concept of “rights” is inferior to that of interests as a basis for morality and politics; “rights” are more of a legalistic concept.
NATURAL SELECTION [Evolutionary Biology]
At the most abstract level natural selection is the propagation of certain configurations of matter relative to other configurations by virtue of the effects that they have on the world. The English biologists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection to account for the diversity, complexity and functionality of life. Natural selection is a powerful and ever-present condition of biological nature, but it does not exist as an independent “force”; it is simply the consequence of certain ubiquitous features of this biological nature, namely variation (not all individuals are the same), heredity (some of those differences can be passed on to offspring) and differential “competence” (some variants happen to be more well suited to the prevailing conditions in an environment). Those variants that happen to be more competent at dealing with the constraints and challenges of a particular environment will automatically tend, on average, to have the opportunity to produce more offspring of their likeness more regularly than other variants (and, willy-nilly, be able to pass on those traits that conferred this greater success). Cumulative natural selection, taking place over many generations wherein “small but useful increments” (to borrow a phrase from Darwin) are added to existing configurations, is perhaps the most important mechanism by which biological complexity and diversity are generated. However, natural selection need not result in change per se; it can also maintain existing configurations, favouring them over alternatives that arise in a population, if those existing configurations are better suited to the environment. Like so much in biology and other complex systems, the answer to the question, “What will happen?”, will be, “It depends”.
Biological organisms, which always exist in the context of other organisms, have, through billions of years, evolved and adapted to live in each other’s presence and to benefit from this proximity. This has resulted in vastly different strategies for eking out an existence. The members of one lineage may evolve to exploit the members of another lineage, which will themselves evolve to avoid being exploited or to mitigate the harm done by exploitation; thus selection can result in biological “arms races”, and this is certainly an important feature of the struggle between hosts and parasites and predators and prey. Selection can also favour cooperative alliances (known as “symbioses”), in which two or more parties allocate resources in a mutually beneficial way. Exploitation and cooperation have evolved many times independently throughout the history of life, and they are present in varying degrees all throughout the tree (or web) of life. Within species, selection can also favour different behaviours or “strategies”, for example with regard to mating preferences and resource allocation in familial groups. However diverse the strategies, adaptations and complexes produced by selection, they only ever get to be selected if they can “pay” for themselves; that is, if the cost of their use does not, on average, outweigh their benefit. The sheer diversity of life, and the ubiquity of both exploitation and cooperation (and all the gradations in between) shows that there is certainly a lot hidden within this basic formula! But it is important to realise that there is nothing deeply mysterious about this; it all comes back to the qualifier, “It depends” (“it” being the pressures imposed by the environment, and the existing features and constraints of the organism—themselves products of past selection and evolution).
Selection can effect change at vastly different speeds, it can reverse direction, it can tend towards stable equilibrium, and it can produce recurrent patterns. This is all ultimately grounded in the everyday, mundane goings-on of material, biological entities interacting with one another.
Modern evolutionary theory recognises that selection can take place at various levels, from genes to individuals all the way up to species and even larger categories. Selection is one of several processes in the evolution of life, which biological science aims to understand by integrating these processes into a coherent framework. —L.C.
1. [In bourgeois philosophy of mind:] The view that there is no reality except that of the “natural world”, which is usually defined narrowly to exclude not only God and souls, but also mind. From the dialectical materialist point of view this is an example of naive materialism.
2. [In ethics:] Among cognitive ethical theories (which hold that moral judgments are meaningful and either true or false), the biggest division is between intuitionism, which holds that moral terms signify some supposed “non-natural” and “indefinable” quality of things, and naturalism, which holds that moral words (such as ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘ought’, etc.), can be defined in terms of non-moral concepts. Most versions of naturalism hold that “moral judgments are empirical statements verifiable by the same methods of natural science” as any other statements. The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Class Interest Theory of Ethics is therefore one major type of ethical naturalism, and holds that moral terms can be defined and explicated in terms of people’s collective interests, and—in class society—in terms of class interests.
The belief of many bourgeois philosophers that it is invalid to infer any moral principles from factual statements. If, as Marxists hold, morality is simply a question of what is in the interests of the people, then it is a simple matter to deduce from a plain fact (such as that “A law against striking is harmful to the interests of the workers”) that something is morally right or wrong (“The anti-strike law is wrong.”). In short, talk about the “naturalistic fallacy” is itself a fallacy. An earlier version of the so-called naturalistic fallacy was Hume’s claim that you cannot derive ought from is.
NATURE — Dialectics Of
[Intro material to be added... ]
“Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history. But a knowledge of mathematics and natural science is essential to a conception of nature which is dialectical and at the same time materialist.” —Engels, Preface to the 1885 edition of Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:11.
“... in nature, amid the welter of innumerable changes, the same dialectical laws of motion force their way through as those which in history govern the apparent fortuitousness of events; the same laws which similarly form the thread running through the history of the development of human thought and gradually rise to consciousness in thinking man.... And finally, to me there could be no question of building the laws of dialectics into nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it.” —Engels, ibid., MECW 25:11-13.
“And since biology has been pursued in the light of the theory of evolution, one rigid boundary line of classification after another has been swept away in the domain of organic nature.... It is precisely the polar antagonisms put forward as irreconcilable and insoluble, the forcibly fixed lines of demarcation and class distinctions, which have given modern theoretical natural science its restricted, metaphysical character. The recognition that these antagonisms and distinctions, though to be found in nature, are only of relative validity, and that on the other hand their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature only by our reflective minds—this recognition is the kernel of the dialectical conception of nature. It is possible to arrive at this recognition because the accumulating facts of natural science compel us to do so; but one arrives at it more easily if one approaches the dialectical character of these facts equipped with an understanding of the laws of dialectical thought.” —Engels, ibid., MECW 25:14.
“Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern
science that it has furnished this proof with very rich materials increasing daily,
and thus has shown that, in the last resort, nature works dialectically and not
“An exact representation of the universe, of its evolution, of the development of mankind, and of the reflection of this evolution in the minds of men, can therefore only be obtained by the methods of dialectics with its constant regard to the innumerable actions and reactions of life and death, of progressive or retrogressive changes.” —Engels, Anti-Dühring, MECW 25:23-24.
Common name for Maoist revolutionaries in India. [More to be added... ]
See: NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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