Dialectical Materialism -- The Tedious, Scriptural Version


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As is the case with all my work, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a scientific theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago.


The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.




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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


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Ira Gollobin's book, Dialectical Materialism. Its Laws, Categories And Practice, has just landed on my desk. [This was originally written in 2007.]


Had I known how detailed this book turned out to be, I would have obtained a copy much earlier, but those on sale on the Internet were rather pricey -- that is, up until a week or so ago.


Nevertheless, I now have a copy of the book that many say is the best available on this subject.


That judgement is, I think, partially correct. The only other books that come close are Bukharin's Philosophical Arabesques, and Woods and Grant's Reason in Revolt [RIRE].


Even so, my initial response is one of genuine disappointment since the book makes all the usual mistakes and rehearses the same tired old theses and clichés, except it does so at great length, dealing with few of the countless problems that confront Dialectical Materialism [DM], many of which have been aired at this site (especially here).


However, the 'section' on Analytic Philosophy -- the dominant Anglophone Philosophy of the last hundred years -- is a joke (it is two pages long!), and the book pointedly fails to tackle the serious logical problems Hegel bequeathed to those who look to him for inspiration. This is no surprise; Gollobin shows no sign he has read a single logic book written since 1830; and then only one (which was seriously mis-titled, "Logic"), written by an incompetent Christian and Hermetic mystic called "Hegel".


[Correction: having now checked more thoroughly, Gollobin does list two books devoted to modern logic in his bibliography: Cohen and Nagel's introductory text, and the far more substantial Introduction to Logic by Alfred Tarski. However, he doesn't seem to have put either of them to much use, and their presence looks merely ornamental. Indeed, Gollobin repeats the same egregious errors that other DM-fans commit in this area (pp.106, 402-06), and he regularly and continually quotes the amateurish ruminations of Jean Piaget (!!) as if he were an authority on logic. Piaget wasn't a logician, but, just like other dialecticians, he managed to confuse logic with the 'laws of thought'. If logic were the science of what went on in people's heads, if it concerned itself with the 'laws of thought', logicians would busy themselves with brain scans, surveys, and psychometric tests. [On this, see my comments posted over at Wikipedia.] They certainly wouldn't bother with all those useless theorems and proofs. Gollobin even quotes Lenin as an authority on logic! Now, Lenin was certainly a great revolutionary, but it is quite plain from his writings that he knew as much about logic as George W Bush does about High Energy Physics. One might wonder why Gollobin didn't refer his readers to the thoughts of Edward Lear or Enid Blyton, too, and be done with it!]


The vast bulk of Gollobin's book thus reads like an overly lengthy version of Baghavan's amateurish attempt to defend this failed theory. Just like Baghavan, Gollobin's scriptural approach to philosophical and scientific truth means that the mere quotation of a favoured someone's opinion (such as Piaget's, or Mao's) is all the proof he needs. This quasi-theological methodology is further aggravated by Gollobin's annoying habit of throwing countless undigested examples at the reader -- contrary argument and evidence is studiously ignored --, all of which makes his book read like a slightly less breathless, far less sarcastic and bombastic version of Woods and Grant's monumental contribution to Dialectical Mysticism, RIRE.


[Except: Gollobin uses dialectics to 'justify' the existence of that terror state -- sometimes known as "The People's Republic of China" --, even while RIRE uses the very same 'theory' to rubbish all forms of Stalinism/Maoism.]


Clearly, this mis-begotten 'theory' can be used to excuse and/or condemn anything a given author likes or dislikes -- and its opposite. [Proof here.]


This means that Bukharin's book is still the best available defence and explication of this resurrected version of Hermetic Mysticism.


However, the dismissal of such a serious and carefully written work as this -- to be sure, in about the same space it takes Gollobin to rubbish Analytic Philosophy! -- would be grossly unfair. Hence, over the next few years I will be adding specific comments about its content to the relevant published Essays. [These have now been added to Essays Two and Seven; readers can use the search pane in their browsers to find them.]


My view of the book might, of course, alter as I study it more carefully; but, on the other hand, long experience has taught me that the opposite is far more likely to be the case. My impatience with works like this tends to grow as I witness yet another intelligent comrade trying to defend this tangled morass of confusion, just as I tend to get angry with 'scientists' who try to sell us Creationism or Christian Fundamentalism.




Baghavan, R. (1987), An Introduction To The Philosophy Of Marxism (Socialist Platform).


Bukharin, N. (2005), Philosophical Arabesques (Monthly Review Press).


Gollobin, I. (1986), Dialectical Materialism. Its Laws, Categories And Practice (Petras Press).


Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995), Reason In Revolt. Marxism And Modern Science (Wellred Publications).


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