EDIT The immensely popular first thread Rosa started but went over the 500 post limit. This is the second thread continued from this.
Unfortunately, the original thread has been closed!
In 2006, a handful of comrades asked me to publish an Essay that made my objections to dialectical materialism more accessible to the absolute beginner.
Well, here it is.
Recall, this Essay is confined to very basic ideas (all of which are greatly expanded upon at my site). Many of the links I included to other sites on the internet that develop or explain some of the details more fully have been omitted from this copy -- on that, see the end.
DM = Dialectical Materialism; HM = Historical Materialism; NON = Negation of the Negation; UO = Unity of Opposites; FL = Formal Logic.
Dialecticians tell fibs about FL; indeed, they regularly say things like this:
However, I have yet to see a single quotation from a logic text (ancient or modern) that supports such allegations -- certainly dialecticians have so far failed to produce even one."Formal logic regards things as fixed and motionless." [Rob Sewell.]
"Formal categories, putting things in labelled boxes, will always be an inadequate way of looking at change and development…because a static definition cannot cope with the way in which a new content emerges from old conditions." [Rees (1998), p.59.]
And no wonder: it is completely incorrect.
Indeed, Formal Logic uses variables -- that is, it employs letters to stand for named objects, designated expressions (some of these are called "predicates"), and the like -- all of which can and do change.
This handy device was invented by the very first logician we know of (in the West): Aristotle (384-322BC). He experimented with variables approximately 1500 years before the same tactic was extended into mathematics by Muslim Algebraists -- who in turn used them several centuries before René Descartes (1596-1650) began employing them in the 'West'.
However, Engels said the following about that particular innovation:
No one doubts that modern mathematics can handle change, so why dialecticians deny this of FL is something of a mystery."The turning point in mathematics was Descartes' variable magnitude. With that came motion and hence dialectics in mathematics, and at once, too, of necessity the differential and integral calculus…." [Engels (1954), p.258.]
With very little variation between them, dialecticians also like to assert things like the following:
Even a cursory examination of a handful of logic texts will show that not only are the above claims incorrect, but not even Aristotle's logic was based on these so-called 'laws'!"The basic laws of formal logic are:
1) The law of identity ('A' = 'A').
2) The law of contradiction ('A' does not equal 'not-A').
3) The law of the excluded middle ('A' does not equal 'B')." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.91. Quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at my site.]
Sure, dialecticians claim that Aristotle founded his logic on such principles, but they have yet to produce the evidence. In fact, Aristotle knew nothing of the 'Law of Identity' [LOI], which was a medieval invention.
The LOI will be examined presently, but the 'Law of Contradiction' [LOC] merely says that if one proposition is true then its negation is false, and vice versa -- or, in some versions found in mathematical logic, it says that no contradiction can be true, but must be false. The LOC says nothing about "equality", or the lack of it.
The criticism advanced above by Woods and Grant, and by most other dialecticians, is in fact a descendant of ideas put forward by Hegel (1770-1831), who committed a series of logical blunders which dialecticians have, even to this day, failed to notice. But these errors are the only way that Hegel's 'system' can be made to seem to work.
[His ideas are destructively analysed here. A far easier summary of this material can be found here.]
In that case, the 'logic' underlying 'Materialist Dialectics' was bogus from the start.
Likewise, the 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM] says nothing about objects being identical, or otherwise, merely that any proposition has to be either true or false; there is no third option.
[Some claim that Quantum Mechanics [QM], among other things, has refuted this 'law', but QM has merely forced us to reconsider what we should count as a scientific proposition.]
Contrary to what we are often told, this 'law' does not deny change, nor is it incapable of handling it. Indeed, we are only capable of studying change if we are clear about what is or is not true about whatever is changing.
The LOI is equally badly handled in DM-texts; this is because dialecticians have unwisely copied the above errors from Hegel's Logic. [On that, see here.]
The basic idea behind the hackneyed criticism of the LOI seems to be this:
Unfortunately, this is incorrect. The LOI does not preclude change, for if an object changes, then anything identical to it will change equally quickly. Moreover, if a thing changes, it will no longer be identical with its former self."There are three fundamental laws of formal logic. First and most important is the law of identity. This law can be stated in various ways such as: A thing is always equal to or identical with itself. In algebraic terms: A equals A.
"...If a thing is always and under all conditions equal to or identical with itself, it can never be unequal to or different from itself. This conclusion follows logically and inevitably from the law of identity. If A equals A, it can never equal non-A." [Novack (1971), p.20.]
So, far from denying change, this 'law' allows us to determine if and when it has occurred.
These criticisms now remove the main motivating point of Dialectical Logic. Hegel's system is based on a series of logical blunders, and hence, so is 'Materialist Dialectics'. Small wonder then that when it has been tested in practice, practice has refuted it.
According to Hegel, motion is 'contradictory'; unfortunately, dialecticians have bought into this rather odd idea, too.
Almost as if they are singing from the same hymn sheet, they like to argue alongside Engels as follows:
This is an age-old confusion derived from a paradox invented by an Ancient Greek thinker called Zeno (490?-430?BC)."...[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence on one another[,] [t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction: even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body at one and the same moment of time being both in one place and in another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continuous assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]
As seems obvious, all objects (which are not mathematical points) actually occupy several places at once. So, for example, while you are sat reading this Essay, your body is not compressed into a tiny point!
Hence, material bodies can be in one place and in another, in the first but not wholly in the second, at the same time, and stationary all the while.
For example, a car could be parked half in, half out of a garage. Here the car is in one and the same place and not in it, and it is in two places at once (in the garage and in the yard), even while it is at rest relative to a suitable frame of reference.
In that case, this 'contradiction' does not distinguish moving from stationary bodies. So, this alleged contradiction has more to do with linguistic ambiguity than it has with anything in material reality.
Any attempt to circumvent this objection with the counter-claim that moving objects occupy regions of space equal to their own volumes (hence a moving object will occupy two of these regions at the same time, occupying and not occupying each at once) cannot work either. This is because such a re-description would clearly depict a moving body occupying a region greater than its own volume -- in which case, such objects would not so much move as expand!
Worse still, Engels's account depicts objects moving between locations outside of time (that is, with time not having advanced an instant), otherwise the said objects could not be in two places at once. This is impossible to reconcile with a materialist (or even with a comprehensible) view of nature.
Finally, as noted above, this 'contradiction' was created by notorious ambiguities in Zeno's (and thus in Hegel and Engels's) use of certain words (like "moment", "move", and "place"), which means that when these have been resolved, the alleged 'contradiction' simply disappears. [This is carried out here.]
DM: Imposed On Nature
Has dialectics been read from nature, or imposed on it?
It seems the former must be correct, since we regularly encounter these seemingly modest disclaimers in the writings of dialecticians:
Why is this important? As dialecticians themselves admit, the reading of certain doctrines into reality is a hallmark of Idealism and dogmatism. If DM is to live up to its materialist credentials, its theorists must take care to avoid doing this."Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. However, the on-line translation uses "building...into" in place of "superimposing".]
As, George Novack points out:
Here is Communist Party theoretician, Maurice Cornforth:"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17.]
However, when we examine what dialecticians actually do, as opposed to what they say they do, we find that the exact opposite is the case. For example, Engels himself went on to claim the following of motion:"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), p.15.]
Had this observation been derived from the facts available in Engels's day (a policy to which he had just sworn allegiance), he would have expressed himself perhaps as follows:"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphasis alone added.]
[It is also worth noting that matter without motion is not inconceivable; that very idea had been a fundamental precept of Aristotelian Physics.]"Evidence so far suggests that motion is what we call "the mode of existence of matter". Never anywhere has matter without motion been observed, but it is too early to say if this must always be the case…. Matter without motion is not inconceivable, nor is motion without matter, we just haven't witnessed either yet…." [Re-vamped version of Engels (1976), p.74.]
As is easy to demonstrate, all dialecticians do the same (the evidence for this can be found here). First, they disarm the reader with the 'modest' sorts of claims we saw rehearsed above; then, sometimes on the same page, or even in the very next sentence, they proceed to do the exact opposite, imposing dialectics on nature.
Why they do this (and what significance it has) will be examined below.
In the West, since Ancient Greek times, traditional theorists have been imposing their theories on nature (as Cornforth noted, above). This practice is so widespread, and has penetrated into thought so deeply, that no one notices it, even after it has been pointed out to them. Or, rather, they fail to see its significance. [More on that below, too.]
Now, if you belong to, benefit from or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.
The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).
Another way is to persuade the majority (or a significant section of "opinion formers" and administrators, at least) that the present order either works for their benefit, is ordained of the 'gods', or that it is 'natural' and cannot be fought. As is well-known, this tactic has been used for millennia; hence we have Theology and other assorted ruling-class ideologies. All of these were imposed on reality (plainly, since they cannot be read from it).
Indeed, this is how Marx depicted things:
However, as Marx also noted, members of the ruling-class often rely on other layers in society to concoct the ideas they use to try to con the rest of us into accepting their system."The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it...."[The German Ideology.]
In Ancient Greece, with the demise of the rule of Kings and Queens, the old Theogonies [i.e., stories about the 'gods'] and myths were no longer relevant. So, in the newly emerging republics and quasi-democracies of the Sixth Century BC, far more abstract, de-personalised ideas were needed.
From its inception, Philosophers constructed increasingly complex and abstract systems of thought. These were invariably based on arcane terminology, impossible to translate into the material language of everyday life -- which they then happily imposed on nature.
As Marx also noted:
Philosophers felt they could do this, since, for them, nature was Mind (or, indeed, the product of Mind). In that case, the human mind could safely project its thoughts onto reality --, of which true thoughts were a reflection, anyway. "As above, so below", went the old Hermetic saying. The microcosm (the inner world of thought) reflected the macrocosm (outer reality). This doctrine of Correspondences (as it was called) thus came to dominate all ancient and modern theories of knowledge -- in which case, all true, 'philosophical' knowledge corresponded with 'essences' that underpinned the world of experience. These 'essences' were impossible to detect in any way whatsoever (meaning that the 'uneducated' could not raise any doubts as to their existence), and were accessible by thought alone."...The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118.]
All this was based on the idea that language was a secret code by means of which each thinker (with the 'right sort of education' and class position, of course) could represent the 'Mind of God', or the underlying 'secrets' of nature, to him/herself. Language was thus viewed as a representational device (which was later interpreted individualistically, ad each lone theorist represetned reality to herself/himself) -- and not a means of communication created by collective labour (as Marx and Engels had argued).
Naturally, this view of discourse had profound ideological implications connected with the legitimation of class power. [More on this below.]
This ancient tradition has changed many times throughout history, as different Modes of Production rose and fell, but its main strategy and core rationale remained basically the same: the dogmatic promulgation of abstract theories that were said to reveal the underlying rational structure of reality, conveniently hidden away from the disconfirming gaze of working people -- which is why they were, and still are, inexpressible in ordinary language --, again, as Marx noted. [More on this below, as well.]
So, just like Theology, but in this case in a far more abstract and increasingly secularised form, subsequent philosophies came to reflect the 'essential' structure of reality, one that supposedly underpinned and rationalised alienated class society, mystified now by the use of increasingly baroque terminology and technical jargon.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, modern dialectics was invented by a quintessentially Idealist Philosopher working in this tradition (Hegel), and it was appropriated by Marxist classicists before the working class could provide a materialist counter-weight. DM was thus born out of Idealism, and, as we will see, it has never really escaped from its clutches -- despite the materialist flip dialecticians claim to have inflicted upon it.
And that is why dialecticians happily impose their ideas on nature: because it is traditional to do so. Moreover, since their theories are based on ancient and idealised abstractions, they plainly cannot be derived from the non-abstract material world, but must be read into it.
But, in doing this dialecticians are (unwittingly) identifying themselves with a tradition that was not built by working people and which does not serve their interests.
Furthermore, since dialectics is not based on material reality it cannot be used to help change it.
Small wonder then that it has failed our movement for so long.
Hence, for all their claim to be radical, DM-theorists are thoroughly conservative when they try to philosophise.
Indeed, despite the fact that DM-theorists appear to be challenging traditional ideas, their practice reveals they are part of a tradition that is quite happy to derive fundamental truths about nature from thought alone, just as ruling-class theorists have always done.
The 'Laws' of Dialectics
This age-old tactic (of imposing theses onto nature) can be seen if we examine the use made of Engels's so-called 'Three Laws of Dialectics':
All dialecticians (i.e., the majority accept these 'Laws') impose them on nature (the evidence for this can be found here and here). What little data dialecticians supply to substantiate these 'Laws' is not only woefully insufficient, it is highly contentious -- to say the least."Dialectics as the science of universal inter-connection. Main laws: transformation of quantity into quality -- mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes -- development through contradiction or negation of the negation -- spiral form of development." [Engels (1954), p.17.]
Anyone who has studied and practiced genuine science will know the lengths to which researchers have to go to alter even minor aspects of current theory, let alone justify major changes in the way we view nature.
In stark contrast, and without exception, dialecticians offer a few paragraphs of trite (and over-used) clichés to support their claims. Hence, all we find are hackneyed references to things like boiling water, balding heads, plants 'negating' seeds, Mamelukes fighting the French, a character from Molière suddenly discovering that he speaks prose, and the like, all constantly retailed. From such banalities, dialecticians suddenly derive universal laws, applicable everywhere and at all times.
Even at its best (for example, in Woods and Grant (1995), which is one of the most comprehensive defences of classical, hard-core DM to date, and in Gollobin (1986), which is in fact an up-market version of Woods and Grant), all we encounter are perhaps a few dozen pages of secondary and tertiary information, extensively padded out with repetition and bluster (much of which is taken apart here). Contrary evidence (of which there is much) is simply ignored. This is indeed Mickey Mouse Science.
In many ways, this endeavour to substantiate Engels's 'Laws' resembles Creationist attempts to show that the Book of Genesis is correct: it is heavily slanted, repetitive, selective and contentious.
The First 'Law', the alleged change of quantity into quality, ignores the many cases in nature where change is not "nodal":
But, not everything in nature changes in this way; consider melting glass, metal, rock, butter and plastic. No nodal points anywhere in sight, here. Do Woods and Grant (or any other DM-theorists) consider these counter-examples? Are you kidding? [More details here.]"Hegel invented the nodal line of measure relations, in which small quantitative changes at a certain point give rise to a qualitative leap. The example is often given of water, which boils at 100oC at normal atmospheric pressure. As the temperature nears boiling point, the increase in heat does not immediately cause the water molecules to fly apart. Until it reaches boiling point, the water keeps its volume. It remains water, because of the attraction of the molecules for each other. However, the steady change in temperature has the effect of increasing the motion of the molecules. The volume between the atoms is gradually increased, to the point where the force of attraction is insufficient to hold the molecules together. At precisely 100oC, any increase in heat energy will cause the molecules to fly apart, producing steam." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.49.]
And not every change in quality is produced by quantitative differences (contrary to what Engels said):
There are in fact countless changes in quality that are not determined in this way. For example, there are certain molecules that have exactly the same material content and energy level as one another, but are qualitatively dissimilar because of the different spatial arrangement of their constituent atoms. These are called 'Stereoisomers'. [More examples here.]"...the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954), p.63.]
So, here we have a change in quality produced by change in geometry.
Other qualitative changes in nature and society can be produced by different timing or by a different ordering of the relevant events -- or even by altering their context.[Again, examples are given here.]
Moreover, this 'Law' only appears to work because of the vague way that both "quantity" and "quality" have been characterised by DM-theorists. In fact, they seldom if ever bother to define these terms.
Can you imagine this happening in genuine science?
This allows DM-theorists to see changes in quality 'caused' by changes in quantity whenever and wherever they please, just as it 'permits' them to ignore the many cases where this does not happen, introducing an element of subjectivity into what is supposed to be an 'objective law'.
The other 'Laws' fare no better. Change though 'internal contradiction' will be examined in the next sub-section, but the "Negation of the Negation" [NON] depends for its 'plausibility' on the confusion of linguistic with material categories in a thoroughly traditional manner. [Again, more details here.]
Hence, solely on the basis that we have a negative particle in language, it is assumed that negation is a real process in nature. On that basis, of course, one would be justified in believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Indeed, since the veracity of the NON depends on the truth of the second 'Law', it is to that I now turn.
Mechanical materialism holds that all things are set in motion by an external 'push' of some sort. In contrast, dialecticians claim that because of their 'internal contradictions', objects and processes in nature and society are "self-moving".
Lenin expressed this idea as follows:
There are a number of serious problems with this passage, not the least of which is that it clearly suggests that things are self-moving. In fact, Lenin did more than just suggest this, he insisted upon it:"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).
"In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external -- God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of 'self-movement'.
"The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to the 'leaps,' to the 'break in continuity,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58.]
Other Marxists talk the same way; here are comrades Woods and Grant (readers will note, I am sure, how they happily impose this doctrine on nature):"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921), p.90.]
But, if this were so, nothing in nature would or could have any effect on anything else. Hence, while you might think that it is your kick that moves a ball, according to the above, the ball moves itself."Dialectics explains that change and motion involve contradiction and can only take place through contradictions.... Dialectics is the logic of contradiction....
"So fundamental is this idea to dialectics that Marx and Engels considered motion to be the most basic characteristic of matter.... [Referring to a quote from Aristotle] [t]his is not the mechanical conception of motion as something imparted to an inert mass by an external 'force' but an entirely different notion of matter as self-moving....
"The essential point of dialectical thought is not that it is based on the idea of change and motion but that it views motion and change as phenomena based on contradiction.... Contradiction is an essential feature of all being. It lies at the heart of matter itself. It is the source of all motion, change, life and development. The dialectical law which expresses this idea is the unity and interpenetration of opposites....
"The universal phenomena of the unity of opposites is, in reality, the motor-force of all motion and development in nature. It is the reason why it is not necessary to introduce the concept of external impulse to explain movement and change -- the fundamental weakness of all mechanistic theories. Movement, which itself involves a contradiction, is only possible as a result of the conflicting tendencies and inner tensions which lie at the heart of all forms of matter....
"...Matter is self-moving and self-organising." [Woods and Grant (1995), pp.43-45, 47, 68, 72.]
Now, in order to avoid such absurd consequences, some dialecticians have had to allow for the existence of "external contradictions", which are somehow also involved in such changes.
But, as seems obvious, this makes a mockery of the idea that all change is internally-generated, just as it undermines the contrast drawn above between mechanical and 'dialectical' theories of motion. Indeed, what becomes of Lenin's "insistence" if everything that changes in fact violates his rule?
Also, DM-theorists appeal to "internal contradictions" in order to undercut theism (there was a flavour of this too in the Woods and Grant quotation above); here is Cornforth:
But, if external causes are now permitted, in order to stop this theory becoming absurd (as we saw above), then that will simply allow 'god' to sneak back in through a side door."The second dogmatic assumption of mechanism is the assumption that no change can ever happen except by the action of some external cause.
"Just as no part of a machine moves unless another part acts on it and makes it move, so mechanism sees matter as being inert -- without motion, or rather without self-motion. For mechanism, nothing ever moves unless something else pushes or pulls is, it never changes unless something else interferes with it.
"No wonder that, regarding matter in this way, the mechanists had to believe in a Supreme Being to give the "initial push"....
"No, the world was not created by a Supreme Being. Any particular organisation of matter,* any particular process of matter in motion, has an origin and a beginning.... But matter in motion had no origin, no beginning....
"So in studying the causes of change, we should not merely seek for external causes of change, but should above all seek for the source of change within the process itself, in its own self-movement, in the inner impulses to development contained in things themselves." [Cornforth (1976), pp.40-43.]
Of course, all this is independent of whether or not it makes sense to say that anything in nature or society can be described as a "contradiction". Dialecticians, following Hegel, certainly believe they can, but up until now they have merely been content to assert this for a fact, forgetting the proof. Hegel's authority -- that of an Idealist -- is sufficient apparently. And it is worth recalling that Hegels' use of this term was based on a crass piece of sub-Aristotelian logic.
But even if all objects and processes in fact possessed "internal contradictions", exactly as DM-theorists suppose, this would still not explain why anything actually moved or changed.
In fact, as is easy to confirm, dialecticians have been hopelessly unclear as to:
(1) Whether things change because of their internal contradictions (and/or opposites), or
(2) Whether they change into these opposites, or, indeed,
(3) Whether they create such opposites when they change.
Of course, if the third option were the case, the alleged opposites could not cause change, since they would be produced by it, not the other way round. Moreover, they could scarcely be 'internal opposites' if they were produced by change.
If the second alternative were correct, then we would see things like males naturally turning into females, the working class into the capitalist class, electrons into protons, left hands into right hands, and vice versa, and a host of other oddities. [On this, see here. Use the 'Quick Links' to go to the 'Dialectics Cannot Explain Change' section.]
And as far as the first option is concerned, it is worth making the following points:
 If objects/processes change because of already existing internal opposites, and they change into these opposites, then plainly they cannot change, since those opposites must already exist.
So, if object/process A is already composed of a dialectical union of A and not-A, and it 'changes' into not-A, where then is the change? All that would seem to happen here is that A disappears. [And do not ask where it disappears to!]
At the very least, this account of change leaves it entirely mysterious how not-A itself came about. It seems to have popped into existence from nowhere.
[It cannot have come from A, since A can only change because of the operation of not-A, which does not yet exist! And pushing the process into the past will merely reduplicate this problem.]
 Exactly how an (internal) opposite is capable of making anything change is left somewhat unclear, too. Given the above, not-A does not actually alter A, it merely replaces it!
[This argument is worked out in greater detail here, where several obvious objections are neutralised. Once more, use the 'Quick Links' to go the 'Dialectics Cannot Explain Change' section.]
Now, in order to answer such questions, dialecticians have appealed to forces (of attraction and repulsion) to explain how and why these obscure 'contradictions' are capable of actually moving bits of matter about the place.
Unfortunately, the nature of forces is a mystery even to this day; this is one reason why scientists have abandoned them, preferring to talk about exchange of energy and momentum instead.
Of course, in popular and school physics, people still talk about forces, but since there is no way of giving them any sort of physical sense (other than as part of a vector field, etc.), advanced physics translates forces in the way indicated in the previous paragraph. Indeed, in Relativity Theory, the 'force' of gravity has been replaced by the movement of objects along "geodesics".
Even Woods and Grant concede this point:
However, Woods and Grant failed to tell us how such a "relation" can make anything move; still less do they reveal how these items are 'opposites', let alone 'internal opposites'."Gravity is not a 'force,' but a relation between real objects. To a man falling off a high building, it seems that the ground is 'rushing towards him.' From the standpoint of relativity, that observation is not wrong. Only if we adopt the mechanistic and one-sided concept of 'force' do we view this process as the earth's gravity pulling the man downwards, instead of seeing that it is precisely the interaction of two bodies upon each other." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.156.]
As physicist Max Jammer notes:
This is re-iterated by Nobel prize winner, Professor Wilzcek (of MIT):"[The eliminability of force]...is not confined to the force of gravitation. The question of whether forces of any kind do exist, or do not and are only conventions, ha[s] become the subject of heated debates....
"In quantum chromodynamics, gauge theories, and the so-called Standard Model the notion of 'force' is treated only as an exchange of momentum and therefore replaced by the ontologically less demanding concept of 'interaction' between particles, which manifests itself by the exchange of different particles that mediate this interaction...." [Jammer (1999), p.v.]
This is probably why Engels himself said the following:"The paradox deepens when we consider force from the perspective of modern physics. In fact, the concept of force is conspicuously absent from our most advanced formulations of the basic laws. It doesn't appear in Schrödinger's equation, or in any reasonable formulation of quantum field theory, or in the foundations of general relativity. Astute observers commented on this trend to eliminate force even before the emergence of relativity and quantum mechanics.
"In his 1895 Dynamics, the prominent physicist Peter G. Tait, who was a close friend and collaborator of Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell, wrote
"'In all methods and systems which involve the idea of force there is a leaven of artificiality...there is no necessity for the introduction of the word 'force' nor of the sense−suggested ideas on which it was originally based.'"
But, if there are no classical forces, then there can't be any (dialectical) contradictions in nature --, 'external' or 'internal' (or, at least, none that could make anything happen)."When two bodies act on each other…they either attract each other or they repel each other…in short, the old polar opposites of attraction and repulsion…. It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion." [Engels (1954), p.71. Bold emphasis added.]
Hence, even if there were such 'contradictions' in nature, they would do no work, and DM, the erstwhile philosophy of change, would not be able to account for it!
Faced with this, some DM-apologists have tried to argue that modern science is either dominated by 'positivism', or is 'reactionary'. In other words, to save their theory, they are prepared to cling on to an animistic view of nature, one that even Engels was ready to abandon.
[However, this is a complex issue; for more details I can only refer the reader to my extensive discussion here.]
Dialecticians believe that everything is interconnected:
Readers are invited to check, but we are never told what this "Totality" actually is! [More details here.]"Dialectics is the science of universal interconnections…." [Engels (1954), p.17.]
"Nothing exists or can exist in splendid isolation, separate from its conditions of existence, independent from its relationships with other things…. When things enter into such relationships that they become parts of a whole, the whole cannot be regarded as nothing more than the sum total of the parts…. [W]hile it may be said that the whole is determined by the parts it may equally be said that the parts are determined by the whole….
"Dialectical materialism understands the world, not as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which all things go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away....
"Dialectical materialism considers that…things come into being, change and pass out of being, not as separate individual units, but in essential relation and interconnection, so that they cannot be understood each separately and by itself but only in their relation and interconnection….
"The dialectical method demands first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnections with other things…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.46-48, 72.]
This is, of course, a doctrine that dialecticians share with all known mystical systems of thought (see, for example, here and here). As Glenn Magee notes:
But, the vast majority of mystical systems account for change by appealing to unities of interpenetrating opposites. Consider these examples:"Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel is the doctrine of internal relations. For the Hermeticists, the cosmos is not a loosely connected, or to use Hegelian language, externally related set of particulars. Rather, everything in the cosmos is internally related, bound up with everything else.... This principle is most clearly expressed in the so-called Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which begins with the famous lines "As above, so below." This maxim became the central tenet of Western occultism, for it laid the basis for a doctrine of the unity of the cosmos through sympathies and correspondences between its various levels. The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected.
"...The universe is an internally related whole pervaded by cosmic energies." [Magee (2001), p.13.]
[Links to where these were taken from can be found at my site; see the end.]"The Taoists saw all changes in nature as manifestations of the dynamic interplay between the polar opposites yin and yang, and thus they came to believe that any pair of opposites constitutes a polar relationship where each of the two poles is dynamically linked to the other. For the Western mind, this idea of the implicit unity of all opposites is extremely difficult to accept. It seems most paradoxical to us that experiences and values which we had always believed to be contrary should be, after all, aspects of the same thing. In the East, however, it has always been considered as essential for attaining enlightenment to go 'beyond earthly opposites,' and in China the polar relationship of all opposites lies at the very basis of Taoist thought." [Fritjof Capra.]
"Buddhist enlightenment consists simply in knowing the secret of the unity of opposites -- the unity of the inner and outer worlds....
"Hindus envision the cosmic process as the growth of one mighty organism, the self-actualization of divinity which contains within itself all opposites."
"Sufism is usually associated with Islam. It has developed Bhakti to a high point with erotic imagery symbolising the unity of opposites. The subtle anatomy and microcosm-macrocosm model also found in Tantra and Taoism is used by it, dressed in its own symbols. Certain orders use ecstatic music and/or dance which reminds one of the Tantric celebration of the senses. Sometimes, the union of opposites is seen as a kind of gnosis. This is similar to Jnani Yoga."
"The great Fourth Hermetic Principle-the Principle of Polarity-embodies the truth that all manifested things have "two sides"; "two aspects"; "two poles"; a "pair of opposites," with manifold degrees between the two extremes. The old paradoxes, which have ever perplexed the mind of men, are explained by an understanding of this Principle. Man has always recognized something akin to this Principle, and has endeavoured to express it by such sayings, maxims and aphorisms as the following: "Everything is and isn't, at the same time"; "all truths are but half-truths"; "every truth is half-false"; "there are two sides to everything"; "there is a reverse side to every shield," etc., etc. The Hermetic Teachings are to the effect that the difference between things seemingly diametrically opposed to each is merely a matter of degree. It teaches that "the pairs of opposites may be reconciled," and that "thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree''; and that the ''universal reconciliation of opposites" is effected by a recognition of this Principle of Polarity...." [This is from The Kybalion, reputed by some to be the third most important book of Hermeticism.]
It would not be difficult to extend this list indefinitely to establish the fact that practically every mystic who has ever walked the earth thinks 'dialectically'.
Once again: the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling-class.
[Notice, too, how both the arguments and examples used by the above mystics are broadly similar to those found in DM-texts. Mystics, it seems, also use Mickey Mouse science to support their 'theories'.
Why both types of mystics (i.e., the traditional sort and dialectical variety) do this is explained in Essay Nine Part Two.]
However, the only obvious difference between these overt mystics and the covert Dialectical-Marxist Tendency lies in the extent to which the former employ openly religious language. Even so, both are quite happy to use obscure jargon lifted from traditional Philosophy, and then impose the results on nature.
Nevertheless, and on a different tack, exactly how Dialectical Marxists know that everything is interconnected they have kept annoyingly to themselves (save the excuse that they pinched this idea from Hegel, who likewise copied it from his mystical forebears).
And it is no use dialecticians appealing to modern Physics to support this idea; the latter merely hypothesises that everything was once connected (in the alleged 'Big Bang'), not that everything is now interconnected. Indeed, certain theoretical considerations suggest that most things cannot even be connected, let alone be interconnected.
[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]
Moreover, the BBT is associated with the 'Block View'* of time (wherein everything is part of a four-dimensional manifold); in such a set-up nothing changes. Or, rather, change is no more than a subjective view of how things seem to alter. So, given this theory, objective reality is in fact changeless. In that case, this aspect of modern Physics is no friend of DM. [More on this here and here.]
[And an appeal to "Quantum Entanglement" cannot help either; at best, experimental evidence shows that certain states of matter are interlinked locally, not across billions of light years, nor indeed with the past. This is quite apart from the fact that there are Scientific Realists who question the validity of this anti-realist aspect of modern Physics.]
But, even if DM-theorists were correct, the thesis of universal interconnection is incompatible with change through 'internal contradiction', for if all change is internally-induced then no object or process could be interconnected. Alternatively, if everything is interlinked, then interconnection can play no causal role in change (or change would not be the result of 'internal contradictions', once more).
Naturally, this would lead to the rather odd result that the Sun, for example, does not ripen fruit, it ripens itself!
Or, of course, if the Sun actually does the ripening, then that would not be the result of 'internal contradictions' in fruit.
We have already seen that DM-theorists try to get around this fatal consequence of their theory by appealing to both alternatives (i.e., on the one hand claiming/insisting that everything is a sealed unit --, and is thus "self-moving" --, while on the other, asserting that everything is interconnected, and thus 'full of holes' for external causes to sneak back in), which is a rather fitting 'contradiction' in itself.
Now, dialecticians are fond of pointing to the contradictions in other, rival and thus allegedly defective systems of thought (the evidence for this allegation can be found in Essay Eleven Part One) as a reason for rejecting them, but the above contradiction is of such prodigious proportions that it dwarfs any they have so far found in rival theories. Indeed, it is bizarre enough to make the usual pronouncements of "peace freedom and democracy" --, which slip off the forked tongues of US imperialists just before they invade the next 'Third World' country to steal their wealth and install 'business-friendly' regimes --, look honest, straight-forward and true in comparison.
Think about it: how can everything be maximally-interconnected and causally isolated all at the same time? And, how is it possible for everything to be internally-driven yet externally-defined (or "mediated", to use the jargon) as part of a unified Totality?
Is Marxism true? How can we tell? Dialecticians have a direct answer: the validity of revolutionary socialism must be tested in practice.
But, what if it turns out that in practice they themselves reject this criterion?
Indeed, but worse: what if it should turn out that practice has refuted Dialectical Marxism?
Do we abandon the criterion of practice as a test of truth, or bury our heads in the sand and hope no one notices?
Up until now DM-fans have opted for the latter strategy.
But, is this conclusion as hasty as it is unfair?
As we will see, it is neither of these.
In order to substantiate this latest allegation, we need to back-track a little.
Lenin asserted the following:
He was, of course, merely underlining ideas that all dialecticians hold in common. Hence, in their view, it is not enough for Marxists to try to develop the right sort of theory to explain the world, their ideas must be tested and refined in practice if they are to succeed in changing society. Indeed, no theory could be 'correct', or 'objective', without an intimate, long-term and 'dialectical' connection with political activity -- or, at the very least, with some form of material practice."From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, -- such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality." [Lenin (1961), p.171.]
Unfortunately, as hinted at earlier, the results of "practice" have not been too kind to Marxists of every stripe. Indeed, they have been even less kind to Trotskyists (comrades not known for their 'mass following').
And they are not alone; practice has not looked at all favourably on our side as a whole for close on a hundred years. All Four Internationals have failed (or have vanished), and the 1917 revolution has been reversed. Indeed, we are no nearer (and arguably much further away from) a workers' state now than Lenin was in 1918. Practically all of the former 'socialist' societies have collapsed (and not a single worker raised his or her hand in their defence). Even where avowedly Marxist parties can claim some sort of mass following, this is passive and electoral --, and those parties themselves have openly adopted reformism (despite the contrary-sounding rhetoric).
So, if truth is tested in practice, practice has delivered a rather clear verdict: "materialist dialectics" does not work, so it cannot be true.
But, when confronted with such disconcerting facts, dialecticians tend to respond in one or more of the following ways:
1) They flatly deny that Marxism has been an abject failure.
2) If they admit to failure, they blame it on "objective factors", or on other Marxist parties.
3) They simply ignore the problem. Or:
4) They say it is too early to tell.
Now, there doesn't seem to be much point in dialecticians claiming that their theory guides all they do, avowing that truth is tested in practice, if when that practice reveals its disappointing and long-term verdict, that verdict is denied, ignored or 'explained' away. In that event, what sort of practice could possibly constitute a test of dialectics if, whatever the results, DM is always excused/exonerated? What exactly is being tested if the results of every test are ignored or re-configured as a success?
Hence, dialectics is not so much not tested in practice, as dialecticians are practiced at not testing it.
Taking each excuse, one at a time:
1) Those who think Marxism is a ringing success have so far failed to show where and how it enjoys this blessed state. [Presumably there is a Workers' State on the outer fringes of the Galaxy?]
Hardcore denial of reality of this order of magnitude is difficult to counter -- just as it is difficult to counter Christian Scientists who claim that matter is the error of mortal mind; there is no debating with this sort of Idealism, one that re-interprets the material world to suit a comforting idea, and then buries its head in its own idea of sand.
Anyone who can look at the international situation and fail to see that the vast majority of workers have not been seized by Marxism (and never have been) is probably a danger to him/herself.
[This should not be taken to mean that I think that things cannot change!]
So, when Marx said:
the only conclusions possible are that either: 1) he was wrong, or 2) dialectics has not even so much as lightly hugged the masses."The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses." [Marx (1843), p.251; quoted from here.]
[There is a more involved explanation for the selective blindness that afflicts revolutionaries in Essay Nine Part Two.]
2) Certainly objective factors have hindered the revolutionary movement (such as a relatively well-organised, rich, powerful and focussed ruling-class, nationalism and sectionalism among workers, a growing economy, etc., etc.), but the above comrades were quite specific: the veracity of a theory can only be tested in practice, and since the latter requires the subjective input of active revolutionaries, this aspect of practice has badly failed.
Often revolutionaries recognise this, but they depict it as a failure of 'revolutionary leadership', failing to note the input of dialectics. But if this theory is as central to Marxism as these comrades believe, then DM cannot be unconnected with this long-term lack of success.
So, whether or not there have been 'objective factors', practice itself has refuted the subjective side of Marxism: dialectics.
Now, since the Essays at this site show that DM is not so much false as far too confused even to be assessed for its truth or falsity, the long-term failure of Marxism is no surprise. And since this theory arose from the brains of card-carrying ruling-class theorists (like Hegel), this is doubly no surprise.
3) This is probably the safest option for dialecticians to adopt: ignore the problem. It is certainly the best one that inadvertently helps preserve the interests of the ruling-class, since it prevents the serious theoretical problems our movement faces from being addressed, guaranteeing another century of failure.
Indeed, the bosses could not have designed a better theory to screw with our heads (and initiate a monumental waste of time as our best theorists try to grapple with Hegel's fluent Martian and make sense of it) if they tried.
All this is quite apart from the fact that practice cannot distinguish between a correct and an incorrect theory. Incorrect theories can often work (and they can do so for many centuries -- for example, Ptolemaic Astronomy was highly successful for over a thousand years, and it became increasingly accurate with age), and correct ones can fail (for example, Copernican Astronomy predicted stellar parallax, which failed to be observed until the 1838, after the work of Friedrich Bessel). [More examples of both are given in Essay Ten Part One.]
And even if this were not so, and success were indeed a criterion of truth, since there is as yet no socialist society on earth, we will only know if Marxism is correct after the event. So, this criterion cannot tell us whether Marxism is correct now. Indeed, the following declaration could come true:
According to this, the "contending classes" could wipe each other out --, or at least the class war could result in the "common ruin" of both (which denouement is not easy to square with the NON). Of course, should that happen, it would declare all theories false (if, that is, the criterion that truth is tested in practice is itself correct -- and the way that dialecticians ignore the deliverances of practice suggests that even they do not accept this criterion, in practice)."Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." [Marx and Engels (1848), pp.35-36. Bold emphasis added.]
[NON = Negation of the Negation.]
Unfortunately, pragmatic theories (like this one) are hostages to fortune; those who adhere to them should feign no surprise if history takes little note of their hermetically-compromised day-dreams, and delivers decade after decade of refutation.
There are other (and much better, materially-based) ways of confirming the validity of HM -- these will be explored in an Essay to be published later at the main site.
All this means that if we want our practice to be more successful, we will have to remove the theory that dropped our movement into this Hermetic quagmire: DM.
The above represents about 2/3rds of the following Essay (at my site):
where more details (including references and links) can be found.
Further sections dealing with how 'materialist dialectics' has damaged Marxism and why dialecticians cling on to this failed theory like grim death have also been omitted.
I would greatly appreciate it if anyone thinks I have still not made things clear, that they tell me exactly where I have failed, and I will put it right, if it is my fault.
[In the original Essay, any the technical terms I have used are linked to dictionaries and internet sites where they are clearly explained.]
Incidentally, anyone who finds the above either too difficult or too long, shorter, easier versions can be found here:
Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 13th October 2009 at 23:27. Reason: Correcting a few typos
Nice one Rosa - this is the clearest summary of your views that I've seen so far. This thread should become a "stickie" so we can all refer back to it later!
Personally, as you know, I do think giving up all and every kind of dialectical thinking would be a mistake, but I would obviously need to offer some good arguments to justify such a position. I wish I had the time and the motivation needed to write (and do the necessary research for) a sufficient rebuttal of your essay, but I don't. I feel someone owes you at least something, given all the time you've put in
for freedom and peace
Thanks LH, but this has been available at my site (and here) since August 2006.
[It's the trimmed down version here, too.]
Great job, Rosa. Just a quick question. Are you related to bobkindles and Jacob Richter?
Why do you ask?Are you related to bobkindles and Jacob Richter?
Ah, I see, you accept the 'law of identity', then?Because I see the same intellectual superiority.
Very interesting stuff Rosa - I suppose the obvious question is, what do you think is left of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky once you extract the DM?
Okay, okay, but give me a link to where you explain this - I'd like to jump in at this point.Historical materialism.
Explain what? Historical materialism itself?Okay, okay, but give me a link to where you explain this
If so, the link would be to two books that are not in fact on-line, since I do not try to explain it.
You see the problem - great analysis mixed with badly wrong predictions.
An addendum: jettisoning the Hegelian terminology actually helps to clarify the concepts of historical materialism, and rids it of the confusions that are created by the Hegelian terminology. Thus, not only can the Hegelian terminology be replaced salva veritate (preserving truth), but attempting to artificially impose a dialectical reading of historical materialism reduces it to nonsense.
I am not sure how dialectics helped Trotsky understand fascism. Historical Materialism [HM] did, though.Well, I'd like to look at an explanation of historical materialism that makes sense to you so I can assess a DM-free view of the theory. At a theoretical level from the very little I've read I can see and sympathise with your view but, on the other hand, Trotsky did write an amazing and prescient analysis of German fascism despite being an adherent of DM, but I can see how his catastrophist/schematic view of world history led to the demise of the 4th International.
There is an excellent dialectic-free version of HM in Gerry Cohen's book 'Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence' -- that is, if you ignore his technological determinism and functionalism, and you suppliment his theory with the corrections you find in Alex Callinicos's 'Making History' (and if you ignore Alex's few weak gestures at dialectics and his theory of agency).
If I were to write a version of HM, that is where I would begin.
My sole concern at present, however, is to stem the flow of poison into Marxism (from this ruling-class theory) first -- if I can -- before this slowly dying patient can be helped to full recovery (if that is possible now we have let the working class down so much and for so long). That will take me another ten years at least -- and I have been at this for eleven years already.
All I would add to Hyacithn's account is that there are plenty of words in ordinary language that can be put to use (and have already been put to use) in HM. So we do not need the gobbledygook that the dialectical classicists imported from Hegel and traditional philosophy.
Incidentally, Louise, you can find short, 5000 word summaries of my essays, here:
Cohen's version of historical materialism is an abject failure and the reason it contains technological determinism and functionalism is because these are what he puts in place to cover the gaps left by the jettisoning of dialectic concepts. In fact it could be argued that Cohen's version is precisely what you get when the dialectic is removed.There is an excellent dialectic-free version of HM in Gerry Cohen's book 'Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence' -- that is, if you ignore his technological determinism and functionalism, and you suppliment his theory with the corrections you find in Alex Callinicos's 'Making History' (and if you ignore Alex's few weak gestures at dialectics and his theory of agency).
Moreover, the fact that Callinicos's attempt to rescue it also suffers from a weak theory of agency, means that it is no help at all - as this is precisely what is wrong with Cohen's work.
"Events have their own logic, even when human beings do not." - Rosa Luxemburg
"There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." - Lenin
Well, I'm afraid we'll need more than just your say-so to reject the Cohen/Callinicos theory (with the dialectics, the technological determinism and the functionalism removed).Cohen's version of historical materialism is an abject failure and the reason it contains technological determinism and functionalism is because these are what he puts in place to cover the gaps left by the jettisoning of dialectic concepts. In fact it could be argued that Cohen's version is precisely what you get when the dialectic is removed.
Not so, HM does not need a theory of agency.Moreover, the fact that Callinicos's attempt to rescue it also suffers from a weak theory of agency, means that it is no help at all - as this is precisely what is wrong with Cohen's work.
One thing for certain: if dialectics were true, change would be impossible.
I note you keep ignoring this fatal defect.
Then what are human beings doing? Sitting around while history changes around them?Not so, HM does not need a theory of agency.
"Events have their own logic, even when human beings do not." - Rosa Luxemburg
"There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen." - Lenin
So, for instance, saying there is a "conflict of interests" between classes suggests we need a good lawyer to get us into ADR before we go to court and it gets serious. It suggests the contingency of the conflict, whereas the term "contradiction" already carries within it the idea of the structural necessity of class society under capitalism.
As well as this, you lose the idea that capitalism moves by and exists in its "contradictions", since the choice of the word "instability" suggests all this class conflict stuff is a snag that might be shaken out through planning - obviously the logic of Social Democracy
Just my 2 Cents
The curious thing for me, though, is that while the anti-dialectics crusaders seem to believe the fate of Marxism (and the working classes) itself rests on whether one chooses to reject dialectics, the dialecticians have generally taken the developments in analytic philosophy, psychoanalysis, Critical Theory, and sociology generally etc. in their stride as an enrichment of a proud tradition. The difference in attitudes - you wish to begrudge us our dialectics and achieve some kind of intellectual purity, while we wish you all the best in developing HM however you see fit - is very noticable.
for freedom and peace