"It's not that dialectics is a fetish but that it's a priori and based on the idea that language has a life of its own independently of the social relations of which it's a part."
Well, that's not what I argued. Just like traditional thought, dialectics is based on a fetishisation of language whereby, what had been the product of the social relations among human beings (language) was transformed and misconstrued as a relation between things, or those things themselves.
I gave an example of this from dialectics: the use of "contradiction". Hegel misconstrued a social form (our ability to contradict one another) with a real relation between things (between a thing and its unique "other", to use his jargon). He did this by a further misconstrual; he thought that the 'negative form of the law of identity' implied the law of non-contradiction, which it doesn't. The demonstration of that I won't go into here; you can find the details in this essay:
The dogmatic and a priori nature of Hegels' work was allegedly inverted by Marxist dialecticians, but that has in no way affected this fetishisation, or its a priori and dogmatic status. So, for them, too, what had been the product of the relations between human beings (the capacity we have to gain-say one another) has been transformed into a real relation between things. Hence, with respect to 'contradictions', these are now said to power every change in the entire universe; a relation between human beings is now seen as a real relation between things, and a verbal form is now attributed with the power to move everything in reality; this word has been fetishised. This distorted social form is then imposed on nature and society, dogmatically and as an a priori truth. It is taken as a given by all Dialectical Marxists.
"Then you assert that 'traditional philosophers' then imposed these beliefs on society and nature."
I think you misunderstand me; I am in fact alluding to Engels's words, when he said:
"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." [Anti-Dühring, p.13.]
Engels manifestly does not do this; he lifted his most important dialectical ideas from Hegel, and (super-)imposed them on reality. So have all dialecticians since, just as all traditional philosophers have done. So, by "imposition" I mean "read into nature, not read from it".
That is why I said that in this way, instead of language reflecting the world, the world reflects language -- the world of traditional philosophy (and dialectics) is a reflection of language, not the other way round. I call this Linguistic Idealism -- the world is constructed out of the specialised terminology of the philosophers. "Contradiction" is just one example, but I gave others in my last post (e.g., "Substance", "Quality", "Cause", "Concept", and so on),
"I'm not familiar with Wittgenstein except as I get it through Robinson (and I know he was associated in an earlier(?) phase with logical positivism)."
Well, some of Wittgenstein's early work was appropriated by the Logical Positivists (but, they misconstrued what he was trying to say), and he met with them several times in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but he was never one of them, and rejected their core ideas.
"But you suggest Wittgenstein recasts Marx’s basic idea of 'being determining consciousness' as a critique of idealism but in more linguistic terms."
I do not think I suggest this. Wittgenstein nowhere openly appropriates any of Marx's ideas (although he was influenced indirectly by Marx's ideas in his lengthy discussions with Pierro Sraffa), but several of the things Marx says (about language, etc.) uncannily anticipate Wittgenstein's criticism of traditional philosophy (for example, that it is based on a distortion of ordinary language, among other things).
"You cite yourself and a 19000 word essay as proof that dialectics does this. So is your argument, in a nutshell, that dialectics is a form of idealism that serves the ideological purposes of Party bureaucrats?"
Well, that essay is in fact 50,000 words long, and in a later essay I argue that dialectics is the ideology of substitutionist elements in Marxism.
"I. If you are concerned that idealist philosophy is a kind of apriorism (or linguistic fetishism) what are you proposing as the alternative?"
Well, this is what I point out in the opening essay of my site:
"From time to time readers will find themselves asking the following question of the author: 'Well, what's your theory then?' No alternative philosophical theory will be advanced here (or anywhere else for that matter). This tactic has not been adopted out of cussedness -- or even out of diffidence --, but because it is an important part of the Wittgensteinian method (employed here) not to advance philosophical theories. Wittgenstein's approach means that no philosophical theory makes any sense. Why this is so will be considered at length in Essay Twelve Part One."
So, I have no alternative philosophical theory, nor do I want one -- , and I argue that we do not need one. [I hasten to add that I fully accept historical materialism, but point out that this is a scientific, not a philosophical theory.]
"I gather you are influenced by analytic philosophy but as you are quick to draw links between philosophies and the interests of those who promote them surely the general run of Analytic philosophers are liberals (at best) and Cohen's work (as a Marxist example) represents a pretty fetishised view of economic laws determining something called History (with a capital H) in a way that reminds me of the traditional Communist approach."
In fact, many prominent and influential analytic philosophers were socialists or Marxists (Russell, Carnap, Schlick, Neurath, Ayer, Austin, Ryle, Davidson, Robinson,...), but I agree with you about Cohen. The problem with Cohen is that he was not analytic enough.
Even so, the tradition in analytic philosophy that has influenced me the most is that which derives from Wittgenstein, and he was an anti-philosopher. Moreover, he came closer than any other major philosopher since Marx to adopting a class view of society, as I show here:
"I wonder why we are focused so much on fighting Marx's battle with idealist philosophy when it seems to me that the greater threat comes from reductionist science rather than say postmodern idealism, which is closer to where this discussion began."
This is only a relatively minor threat to active revolutionaries. The latter are, however, in thrall to a very crude version of the dialectic, and that is why I have concentrated on this crude version in my essays (I am trying to influence revolutionaries, not academics). Now, it is my contention that this theory is part of the reason why Dialectical Marxism has been such a long-term failure. Hence, POMO is only a threat to academic Marxists, whose work anyway has little or no impact on the class war.
"and argue I guess implicitly that we should follow Cohen and Roemer and others into Analytic Marxism (a topic of which I know nothing – but certainly they can’t be seen as true revolutionaries as opposed to the 'academics' and third raters who use dialectics to mislead militant and are somehow responsible for the state of the far left."
No, I am not an 'Analytic Marxist', nor do I agree with their ideas (although, I have to say, much of Cohen's classic book on Marx's theory of history strikes me as a major step in the right direction, if one ignores his technological determinism and his functionalism).
And, I have not argued this anywhere:
"who use dialectics to mislead militant and are somehow responsible for the state of the far left."
Militants, by and large ignore academic Marxists; they look to Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Mao and/or Trotsky (and their epigones) for instruction, and it is these classicists who mislead them. Now, there are many reasons why the far left is almost synonymous with long-term and abject failure, but to claim that our core theory, dialectics, has nothing to do with this is, quite frankly, bizarre -- especially when dialecticians spare no effort telling us that the truth of a theory is tested in practice. If this theory has no practical consequences, why cling on to it? On the other hand, if it has, then there must be a link between our failure and this theory. In fact, I spell out exactly what that link is in this essay:
"You claim comrades can’t see this because they treat it as form of religion – such you haven’t found anyone in 25 years who can explain what a ‘dialectical contradiction’ is. I find this a pretty spectacular claim and I’m not sure if I should rise to such a daunting challenge. But first up I wouldn’t call a contradiction a linguistic category – here’s how I put it together."
1) Please note that I have never said that dialectics is a 'form of religion' only that it operates in ways analogous to religious affectation -- as a source of consolation.
2) Well, I have not only been asking comrades for over 25 years, I have read practically everything there is to read on this published in the English language -- and it's still not clear what these obscure 'dialectical contradictions' are. In fact, the exact opposite is the case: no sense can be made of them.
"If we are trying to understand ‘Capital’ as a series of social relations we begin by an empirical examination of what is going on in terms of its history and its structure to demonstrate how these things have given rise to the present conjuncture. Marx begins with the commodity which he notes is fetishised as having a life of its own. He then starts to examine the relations which make it up – bracketing off the complexities and gradually elaborating an understanding of how the processes that make up capital works. If we abstract from that we can say that he is looking at a process – and all processes have forces that preserve the status quo and forces that change it – these forces are in contradiction. We could say, abstractly, that Marx identifies 2 main contradictions: With the working class (one source of value) Capitalists seeks to expand profit and to limit wages and workers resist this. This process is contradictory because these 2 forces operate to pull in different directions. Likewise the contradiction between capitalists seeking to expand profits infinitely in a finite world. It is the struggle over these contradictions that drives the whole system. We can argue for more complexity but these are basic."
Well, I have read this sort of explanation so many times the ink is beginning to fade. You will note, however, that in trying to tell us what a 'dialectical contradiction' is you use the word "contradiction". This is, at best, a circular explanation. We still do not understand this use of this word.
But, you add:
"This process is contradictory because these 2 forces operate to pull in different directions. Likewise the contradiction between capitalists seeking to expand profits infinitely in a finite world. It is the struggle over these contradictions that drives the whole system. We can argue for more complexity but these are basic."
But, why is this a contradiction? No one who asserted that force P -- expressed as a vector, say (25i+25j+25k) -- was counter-acted by force Q (-25i-25j-25k) would be contradicting themselves. So, you must be using "contradiction" in a new, and as yet unexplained sense. But what is it?
Marx also says that the 'halves' of a 'contradiction' "mutually exclude" one another. In that case, they cannot co-exist. But if that is so, they can't contradiction one another (any more than an existent force can counteract a non-existent one).
As I said, I have seen such 'explanations' now for more years than I care to mention, and none tells us what one of these obscure 'dialectical contradictions' are. They all beat about the bush, like you.
And no wonder. This term was lifted from the mystical meanderings of Hegel, who derived his own use of this word from an argument replete with sub-Aristotelian logic. The founders of our movement appropriated this word, without giving it any critical examination (probably because they knew even less logic than Hegel), and comrades since have similarly used it -- mainly because it is traditional to do so. When pressed to explain it they all flounder -- a sure sign they haven't though much about it.
Why is this important? There are many reasons, but the two most significant for present purposes are these:
1) The use if this word has allowed revolutionaries argue for any tactical conclusion they like, and then the opposite the next day. It was used by Stalin in the following way:
"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27,1930. Bold emphasis added.]
Here, he justifies less democracy as more democracy purely because it is a contradiction!
Moreover, he and his henchmen found it possible to 'justify' the idea that socialism could be built in one country by, among other things, the dubious invention of "internal" versus "external" contradictions, later bolstered by the concoction of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions, along with the highly convenient idea that some contradictions were, and some were not, "antagonistic". Hence, the obvious class differences that remained, or which soon emerged in the former USSR were either non-existent or were in fact "harmonious"; the real enemies (i.e., the source of all those nasty "principal" (or perhaps even the "antagonistic") contradictions) were the external, imperialist powers.
The dire political consequences of the idea that socialism could be built in one country can be seen in the subsequent use to which dialectics was put to defend and rationalise this counter-revolutionary idea, and to try to limit (or deny) the catastrophic damage it inevitably inflicted on the international workers' movement, and on Marxism in general.
And this is where dialectics comes into its own: short-term and lunatic policies sold to party cadres (world-wide) by the use of dialectics -- a 'method' that 'permits' the justification of anything whatsoever, and its opposite, sometimes in the same breath. And similar ideas are still being peddled to us on the same basis. Trotskyists, of course, argue for the exact opposite conclusion using equally sound 'dialectical' arguments to show how and why the revolution decayed, among other things.
Later on, 'Materialist Dialectics' was used to justify/rationalise the catastrophic and reckless class-collaborationist tactics imposed on both the Chinese and Spanish revolutions, just as they were employed to rationalise/justify the ultra-left, "social fascist" post-1929 about-turn by the communist movement. This crippled the fight against the Nazis by suicidally splitting the left in Germany, pitting communist against socialist, while Hitler laughed all the way to the Reichstag.
This 'theory' then helped 'excuse' the rotation of the Communist Party through another 180 degrees in its next class-collaborationist phase, the "Popular Front" --, and then through another 180 (in order to 'justify' the unforgivable Hitler-Stalin pact) as part of the newly re-discovered 'revolutionary defeatist' stage --, and through yet another 180 two years later in the shape of 'The Great Patriotic War', following upon Hitler's predictable invasion of the "Mother Land" -- "Holy Russia".
This is why the word "contradiction", as used by dialecticians, is so pernicious.
Sure, the above moves were taken for hard-headed political reasons, but the ideological justification for such rapid about-turns came from the use of this word. No other theory (apart perhaps from Zen Buddhism) glories in contradictions so much as Dialectical Marxism.
Maoists use it to prove the Stalinists are wrong, who return the compliment, and they both use 'the dialectic' to prove the Trotskyists are not Marxists (since they do not 'understand' the 'contradictory' nature of, say, the former USSR, or China, or world capitalism, or...), and the many hundreds of Trotskyist sects use it to prove the Maoists and the Stalinists do not understand the 'contradictory' nature of..., and they use it to prove that each and every other Trotskyist sect is wrong too, and on the same basis.
Hence, because of such 'contradictions' this theory can be used to prove almost anything you like, and its opposite.
2) The dialectic tells us that appearances 'contradict' underlying essence. This allows militants to ignore the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, thus preventing an honest accounting of why this has happened. So, it not only insulates the militant mind from the facts, it prevents them from doing anything about it. As result, Dialectical Marxism takes another spin across the flatlands of failure.
You can even see this happening at Marxmail; as soon as it is learnt that I am attacking the dialectic, comrades switch off, and refuse even to consider my arguments, branding me non-Marxist, or even anti-Marxist (even though my sole aim is to make Marxism more successful by eliminating one of the reasons why it hasn't been). So, adherence to a theory (to which few comrades have given much thought) insulates them from any consideration that the dialectic might not be all that it is cracked up to be. As I said above, the idea that our core theory is in no way responsible for our failures is bizarre, and yet highly intelligent comrades think along these lines.
This is because as Marx noted: the ruling ideas are in every age those of the ruling class, and the founders of our movement imported the ideas of a card-carrying ruling class hack, Hegel. The (ideological) wells were thus poisoned before anyone took a sip from them.
"Surely there’s nothing in there that would suggest that I think the 2 contradictions are some linguistic form that CAUSE the changes – or even that I think there is no contradiction in the real world (between capital and labour and between capital/nature as actions of real people with real interests) such that I am imposing them on the world."
Well, your reference to real people is of course what we find in Historical Materialism, and I note that you can only make this work if you drop the obscure term 'contradiction'. There are countless words in ordinary language that can be used to account for change, we do not need to use this fetishised word.
And despite what you say, contradictions are what human beings do -- they contradict (="gain-say") one another, and they do so in language. By fetishising this word, just as commodities are fetishised, those who do so cannot see this fetishisation for what it is. Nor can you.
"I don’t feel any need to become abusive or irrational either despite your claim but I'd be interested in how you think we should spell out how this should work."
You are an exception; virtually everybody with whom I have debated this, even before we begin, has been highly abusive toward me, and this has gone on now for over 25 years. I have collated the many hundreds of examples of this that have taken place on the internet over the last five years here:
Finally, how will what