There are several reasons why dialectics is deleterious to Marxism:
(1) It is easy to show it makes no sense, and so cannot be used to change the world (but it does succeed in confusing comrades).
(2) It has undeniable roots in ruling-class thought, and thus represents a non-working class view of the world (hence its other faults; see below).
(3) Because it makes a virtue out of 'contradiction', it can be, and has been used to defend all manner or counter-revolutionary and anti-Marxist political doctrines, and
their opposites, sometimes 24 hours later.
(4) It insulates militant minds from the facts (thus preventing the scientific development of Marxism). For example, because it teaches that surface 'appearances' 'contradict' underlying reality, it prevents dialectically-distracted comrades from acknowledging the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism. In many cases, because it encourages comrades to see failure as its opposite, its 'contradictory', 'success' (or 'success' about to happen any day soon), they refuse to admit (they won't even countenance the possibility
) that their core theory (dialectics) has anything to do with the failure of Dialectical Marxism (even if they admit it has failed, which many do not)!
So, even though dialectics teaches that everything
is interconnected, apparently the only two things in the entire universe
that are not linked in any way at all are: a) the long-term decline of Dialectical Marxism and b) its core theory!
is how much this 'theory' confuses otherwise alert miltant minds!
(5) It exacerbates (but does not cause) sectarianism.
(6) Because it is a source of consolation for the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism (for reasons outlined in (4) above), its acolytes cling on to it like grim death, and become highly irrational and emotive in its defence. [Watch how they reply to this post!]
There are other reasons why this mystical creed is deleterious to Marxism, but these will do for now.
More details here:
George Novack records the following meeting with Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937:
"[O]ur discussion glided into the subject of philosophy.... We talked about the best ways of studying dialectical materialism, about Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and about the theoretical backwardness of American radicalism. Trotsky brought forward the name of Max Eastman, who in various works had polemicized against dialectics as a worthless idealist hangover from the Hegelian heritage of Marxism.
"He became tense and agitated
. 'Upon going back to the States,' he urged, 'you comrades must at once take up the struggle against Eastman's distortion and repudiation of dialectical materialism. There is nothing more important than this
"I was somewhat surprised at the vehemence of his argumentation on this matter at such a moment
. As the principal defendant in absentia in the Moscow trials, and because of the dramatic circumstances of his voyage in exile, Trotsky then stood in the centre of international attention. He was fighting for his reputation, liberty, and life against the powerful government of Stalin, bent on his defamation and death. After having been imprisoned and gagged for months by the Norwegian authorities, he had been kept incommunicado for weeks aboard their tanker.
"Yet on the first day after reunion with his cothinkers, he spent more than an hour explaining how important it was for a Marxist movement to have a correct philosophical method and to defend dialectical materialism against its opponents!
"[Novack (1978), pp.169-70. Bold emphases added. Spelling changed to conform to UK English.]
Given the mystical nature of this theory, and the emotional attachment to it displayed by DM-fans -- and Marx's own words about religious alienation and the need for consolation (see below) --, Trotsky's semi-religious fervour, his emotional attachment to the dialectic, and his irrationalism become much easier to understand.
The accuracy of Novack's memory is supported by the following comment of Trotsky's:
"...It would not be amiss, therefore, to refer to the fact that my first serious conversation with comrades Shachtman and Warde, in the train immediately after my arrival in Mexico in January 1937, was devoted to the necessity of persistently propagating dialectic materialism.
After our American section split from the Socialist Party I insisted most strongly on the earliest possible publication of a theoretical organ, having again in mind the need to educate the party, first and foremost its new members, in the spirit of dialectic materialism. In the United States, I wrote at that time, where the bourgeoisie systematically in stills (sic) vulgar empiricism in the workers, more than anywhere else is it necessary to speed the elevation of the movement to a proper theoretical level. On January 20, 1939, I wrote to comrade Shachtman concerning his joint article with comrade Burnham, 'Intellectuals in Retreat':
'The section on the dialectic is the greatest blow that you, personally, as the editor of the New International could have delivered to Marxist theory.... Good. We will speak about it publicly.'
"Thus a year ago I gave open notice in advance to Shachtman that I intended to wage a public struggle against his eclectic tendencies. At that time there was no talk whatever of the coming opposition; in any case furthest from my mind was the supposition that the philosophic bloc against Marxism prepared the ground for a political bloc against the program of the Fourth International." [Trotsky (1971), p.142. Bold emphases added.]
And further support comes from Max Eastman's testimony:
"Like many great men I have met he [Trotsky] does not seem altogether robust. There is apt to be a frailty associated with great intellect. At any rate, Trotsky, especially in our heated arguments concerning the 'dialectic' in which he becomes excited and wrathful to the point of losing his breath, seems to me at times almost weak.
He cannot laugh at my attacks on his philosophy, or be curious about them -- as I imagine Lenin would -- because in that field he is not secure....
"...Yesterday we reached a point of tension in our argument about dialectics that was extreme. Trotsky's throat was throbbing and his face was red; he was in a rage
...." [Eastman (1942), p.113.]
Anyone who has discussed dialectics face-to-face with certain leading comrades alive today (whose names I will not divulge, to save their blushes), or on the internet (say at RevLeft) and who has challenged this 'theory', will no doubt recognise in the above something all too familiar: the highly emotive and irrational response one gets from dialecticians when the source of their 'opiate' is attacked. [This follows my own experience, recorded elsewhere at my site
However, Eastman is surely wrong about Lenin; anyone who reads Materialism and Empirio-Criticism
, for example, can see how irrational he, too, was in this area. [On this see, Essay Thirteen Part One
Faith in this theory is not confined to the past; here is part of the Preface to the new edition of RIRE [Reason In Revolt
, published in the summer of 2007]:
"Ted Grant was an incorrigible optimist all his life. Marxists are optimistic by their very nature because of two things: the philosophy of dialectical materialism,
and our faith in the working class and the socialist future of humanity. Most people look only at the surface of the events that shape their lives and determine their destiny. Dialectics teaches one to look beyond the immediate, to penetrate beyond the appearance of stability and calm, and to see the seething contradictions and ceaseless movement that lies beneath the surface.
The idea of constant change, in which sooner or later everything changes into its opposite enables a Marxist to rise above the immediate situation and to see the broader picture." [Rob Sewell, quoted from here
. Bold emphases added.]
It looks, therefore, like this rather low grade opiate is continuing to do its job, finding new pushers and yet more junkies by the week.
Nevertheless, for all their differences, Trotsky and Stalin both loved the 'dialectic'.
Ethan Pollock records a revealing incident in the Kremlin just after the end of World War Two:
"In late December 1946 Joseph Stalin called a meeting of high-level Communist Party personnel.... The opening salvos of the Cold War had already been launched. Earlier in the year Winston Churchill had warned of an iron curtain dividing Europe. Disputes about the political future of Germany, the presence of Soviet troops in Iran, and proposals to control atomic weapons had all contributed to growing tensions between the United States and the USSR. Inside the Soviet Union the devastating effects of the Second World War were painfully obvious: cities remained bombed out and unreconstructed; famine laid waste to the countryside, with millions dying of starvation and many millions more malnourished. All this makes one of the agenda items for the Kremlin meeting surprising: Stalin wanted to discuss the recent prizewinning book History of Western European Philosophy [by Georgii Aleksandrov
-- RL]. [Pollock (2006), p.15. Bold emphasis added.]
Pollock then outlines the problems Aleksandrov had experienced over his interpretation of the foreign (i.e., German) roots of DM in an earlier work, and how he had been criticised for not emphasising the "reactionary and bourgeois" nature of the work of German Philosophers like Kant, Fichte and Hegel --, in view of the fight against Fascism (when, of course, during the Hitler-Stalin pact a few years earlier, the opposite line had been peddled). Pollock also describes the detailed and lengthy discussions the Central Committee devoted to Aleksandrov's previous work years earlier at the height of the war against the Nazis!
It is revealing, therefore, to note that Stalin and his henchmen considered DM to be so important that other more pressing matters could be shelved or delayed in order to make way for discussion about it. In this, of course, Stalin was in total agreement with Trotsky and other leading Dialectical Marxists.
Once more, Marx's comments about religious consolation (see below) make abundantly clear why this is so.
We can see something similar occurring in the case of Nikolai Bukharin. Anyone who reads Philosophical Arabesques
[Bukharin (2005)] will be struck by the semi-religious fervour with which he defends dialectics. In view of Bukharin's serious predicament, this is hardly surprising. But it is nonetheless revealing, since it confirms much of the above: this theory holds the dialectical personality together even in the face of death.
The old saying, "There are no atheists in a foxhole", may be incorrect, but it looks like there might not have been many anti-dialecticians in the Lubyanka waiting on Stalin's mercy. Even hard-headed dialecticians need some form of consolation.
As Helena Sheehan notes in her introduction:
"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his text is that it was written at all. Condemned not by an enemy but by his own comrades, seeing what had been so magnificently created being so catastrophically destroyed, undergoing shattering interrogations, how was he not totally debilitated by despair? Where did this author get the strength, the composure, the faith in the future that was necessary to write this treatise of Philosophy,
this passionate defense of the intellectual tradition of Marxism and the political project of socialist construction?
"Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a tragic true believer...." [Sheehan (2005), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added.]
Once again, Marx, I think, had the answer:
"Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.... Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification
"...Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions...." [Bold emphases added.]
[Substitute "dialectics" for "religion" in the above to see the point.]
The fact that this doomed comrade chose to spend his last weeks and days expounding and defending this Hermetic theory
(albeit, one that had been given a bogus materialist flip) -- pleading with Stalin not to destroy this work --, just about says it all.