Analytical And Dialectical Marxism -- By Ian Hunt
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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a 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.
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
I had been aware of the above book for some time, but had I known of its significance I would have obtained a copy much earlier. It is in fact one of the few books on dialectics I hadn't read in whole or part before I began this project, but one I should have read years ago! [This was written back in 2008.]
My initial reaction was that this book is a welcome breath of fresh air. My subsequent reaction was one of acute disappointment.
Hunt makes a heroic attempt to render comprehensible the unintelligible Hermetic doctrines Hegel inflicted on humanity. That he fails to do so (for reasons I will explain over the next few years, but several of which can be found here and here) says more about his attempt to appropriate some aspects of the clarity we find in Analytic Philosophy in a vain attempt to disperse the fog that engulfs Hegelian Mysticism than I could have done by sniping at it from the sidelines for many years -- i.e., it isn't worth the effort, so why bother!
I also note here similar attempts made by Academic Marxists to grapple with the terminally obscure concepts they have imported from Hegel -- upside down or 'the right way up' -- in order to try to make them consistent with modern science or Historical Materialism --, which endeavour I liken to the futile attempts made by Roman Catholic Philosophers and Theologians to render the Doctrine of the Trinity comprehensible. Whatever Christian Apologists say, it won't wash. Same with the tortured prose churned out by Academic Dialecticians -- incidentally, whose work on 'dialectics' clearly isn't an "abomination" to the many bourgeois publishing houses that print their work. [The same comment applies the Hunt's book, too.]
Again: why waste paper and ink trying?
A few initial points, however:
1) Hunt attempts to explain 'dialectical contradictions' by looking at how Kant set up an antinomy on free will. This isn't a good place to start (Kant's ideas concerning "real opposition" might have been a better place) in view of the fact that Kant was hopelessly confused in this area (as he was in many others). Since it is easy to show that what Kant thought was a contradiction isn't one at all, we can perhaps see that one of the main planks supporting Hunt's argument is riddled with philosophical woodworm.
[I explain why Kant's ideas about "real opposition" were misguided, too, in Essay Eight Part Two -- see also here and here. I will explain where Kant's ideas about 'free will' go astray in Essay Three Part Five, when it is published; however, a clue as to how I will proceed can be ascertained here and here.]
2) Hunt uses arguments drawn from Graham Priest's work. Now, Priest is a highly accomplished logician (I will be devoting an Essay to his work in the next year or so -- until then, readers should consult this and this), but it is seriously in doubt whether the contradictions Priest sets up or considers are 'dialectical contradictions', to begin with --, or, worse, are even contradictions!
For example, on page 15, Hunt quotes Priest to illustrate the contradiction that allegedly emerges when day turns into night, advocating a three-valued logic to that end, using a supposedly true sentence like the following:
D1: It is day and it is night,
at the point where the one is about to turn into the other.
But, if this is an example of a 'dialectical contradiction', the theory is in trouble from the get-go, for such discursive contradictions can't, of course, cause change! They are, if anything, produced by it. So, they offer no help at all to beleaguered dialecticians desperately looking for something material upon which to ground Hegel's confused Idealism.
Moreover, sentences like D1 are only contradictions if the following were the case:
D2: Anything which is day is not night.
D2a: Nothing that is day is night.
[Or, perhaps, something at little more precise.]
Now, if D2 were the case, D1 would indeed be a plausible sort of contradiction (given other caveats we can leave to one side for now). However, D2 is immediately undermined by D1, the truth of which plainly implies that D2 is false! So, if D2 is false, then some things which are day can be night, and the supposed contradiction in D1 vanishes.
Naturally, all this is independent of whether D1 is a proposition to begin with. Since it isn't clear what it is proposing, or putting forward for consideration, it can't be a proposition. And, if we haven't been given a clear example of a proposition, no contradiction (in logic) can arise.
Finally, as far as we know, night and day don't 'struggle' with one another, so they can't 'contradict' each other in a dialectical-sort-of-way, as we are assured they must by the DM-classics -- Lenin called this an 'absolute' and a 'key' to the 'self-movement' of all that exists (which, presumably, includes day and night):
"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…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….
"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Bold added.]
(3) In the Introduction to his book, Hunt added a few comments about Analytic Marxism, informing us that his discussion of the dialectic will employ "standards of rigour and clarity which 'analytical Marxism' claims for itself." (p.2)
I have noted elsewhere that, despite its name, Analytical Marxism wasn't nearly analytic enough, and certainly wasn't Marxist (in any recognisable sense of that word). [However, I exempt the early work of Gerry Cohen from that sweeping generalisation!]
Be this as it may, and as we will see, Hunt's attempt to generate his own brand of analytical "rigour" will fail to impress a single Analytical Philosopher. Not only does he fail to ask several glaringly obvious questions of the classic texts he considers (see below), but also, just like other dialecticians, he fails to subject the source of this confusion (i.e., Hegel's 'logic') to rigorous logical analysis (or any at all!).
[On that, see here, here, here, here, and here.]
(4) Perhaps even worse still, and again just like practically every other dialectician, Hunt is quite happy to retail the a priori, dogmatic theses we find in the dialectical classics as if they were apodictic truths, cast in stone, delivered to humanity from straight off the mountain.
As I noted in Essay Two:
Because dialecticians have a novel (but nonetheless defective) view both of Metaphysics and FL (on these, see here and here), they are oblivious of the fact that they are just as ready as Traditional Theorists have ever been to impose their ideas on the world, and equally blind to the fact that in so-doing they are aping the alienated thought-forms of those whose society they seek to abolish.
Naturally, this means that their 'radical' guns were spiked before they were even loaded; with such weapons, it is small wonder then that DM-theorists fire nothing but philosophical blanks.
[FL = Formal Logic; DM = Dialectical Materialism.]
Dialectics is a conservative theory precisely because its adherents have adopted the distorted methods, a priori thought-forms and meaningless jargon of Traditional Philosophy.
For example, Hunt attempts to summarise Mao's 'theory' of contradiction (pp.94-96), but he nowhere asks how Mao could possibly know that "All processes are constituted by 'unities of opposites'...". This is typical of dialecticians, again, as Essay Two shows.
[I explain why they all do this in Essays Nine Part Two and Twelve Part One.]
Nor does he explain how any of the following could be true (or even known to be true):
"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end.
"Engels said, 'Motion itself is a contradiction.' Lenin defined the law of the unity of opposites as 'the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society)'. Are these ideas correct? Yes, they are. The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist....
"The contradictory aspects in every process exclude each other, struggle with each other and are in opposition to each other. Without exception, they are contained in the process of development of all things and in all human thought. A simple process contains only a single pair of opposites, while a complex process contains more. And in turn, the pairs of opposites are in contradiction to one another.
"That is how all things in the objective world and all human thought are constituted and how they are set in motion....
"War and peace, as everybody knows, transform themselves into each other. War is transformed into peace; for instance, the First World War was transformed into the post-war peace, and the civil war in China has now stopped, giving place to internal peace. Peace is transformed into war; for instance, the Kuomintang-Communist co-operation was transformed into war in 1927, and today's situation of world peace may be transformed into a second world war. Why is this so? Because in class society such contradictory things as war and peace have an identity in given conditions.
"All contradictory things are interconnected; not only do they coexist in a single entity in given conditions, but in other given conditions, they also transform themselves into each other. This is the full meaning of the identity of opposites. This is what Lenin meant when he discussed 'how they happen to be (how they become) identical -- under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another'....
"Why is it that 'the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another'? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite. Reflected in man's thinking, this becomes the Marxist world outlook of materialist dialectics. It is only the reactionary ruling classes of the past and present and the metaphysicians in their service who regard opposites not as living, conditional, mobile and transforming themselves into one another, but as dead and rigid, and they propagate this fallacy everywhere to delude the masses of the people, thus seeking to perpetuate their rule....
"All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute.
"There are two states of motion in all things, that of relative rest and that of conspicuous change. Both are caused by the struggle between the two contradictory elements contained in a thing. When the thing is in the first state of motion, it is undergoing only quantitative and not qualitative change and consequently presents the outward appearance of being at rest. When the thing is in the second state of motion, the quantitative change of the first state has already reached a culminating point and gives rise to the dissolution of the thing as an entity and thereupon a qualitative change ensues, hence the appearance of a conspicuous change. Such unity, solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidity, attraction, etc., as we see in daily life, are all the appearances of things in the state of quantitative change. On the other hand, the dissolution of unity, that is, the destruction of this solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidity and attraction, and the change of each into its opposite are all the appearances of things in the state of qualitative change, the transformation of one process into another. Things are constantly transforming themselves from the first into the second state of motion; the struggle of opposites goes on in both states but the contradiction is resolved through the second state. That is why we say that the unity of opposites is conditional, temporary and relative, while the struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute.
"When we said above that two opposite things can coexist in a single entity and can transform themselves into each other because there is identity between them, we were speaking of conditionality, that is to say, in given conditions two contradictory things can be united and can transform themselves into each other, but in the absence of these conditions, they can't constitute a contradiction, can't coexist in the same entity and can't transform themselves into one another. It is because the identity of opposites obtains only in given conditions that we have said identity is conditional and relative. We may add that the struggle between opposites permeates a process from beginning to end and makes one process transform itself into another, that it is ubiquitous, and that struggle is therefore unconditional and absolute.
"The combination of conditional, relative identity and unconditional, absolute struggle constitutes the movement of opposites in all things." [Mao (1961), pp.316, 337-38, 339-40, 342-43. Bold emphases alone added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]
In relation to the above, Hunt adds this comment:
"The opposite aspects of any process 'struggle with' or 'exclude' each other.... While each aspect undoes the effects of the other, they coexist in the same entity because each is the condition of the existence of the other....
"Mao equates the 'transformation of opposites' with each aspect changing 'its position with that of its opposite'. Thus when peace is transformed into war, both peace and war involve mutual accommodation and conflict, but the change occurs when the balance between them tips in favour of conflict." [Hunt (1993), p.94.]
There are several points that need making in connection with this:
(a) As we saw above, Hunt promised us "rigour", but nowhere, as far as I can tell, does he tell us what one of these "entities" is. Nor does he tell us why war, for example, is a "condition of the existence" of peace. If these two 'states' both exist in the "same entity", and are "conditions for the existence" of each other, then there can't possibly be peace without war (and "war" doesn't mean the preparation for war, nor yet the existence of weaponry or armies, but war itself). At the moment, thankfully, there is peace in Norway, but where is there war in Norway? Now, there may well be a "rigorous" answer to these awkward questions, but Hunt fails even to ask them, let alone try to answer them!
(b) We have already seen that the dialectical 'theory of change' (if such it may be called) is radically flawed -- indeed, to such an extent that if it were true, change would be impossible. Even so, Hunt fails to ask how an abstraction like peace can 'struggle' with another abstraction like war.
Now, in the above quotations from Mao we encountered several dogmatic, a priori assertions like the following:
"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end....
"Things are constantly transforming themselves from the first into the second state of motion; the struggle of opposites goes on in both states but the contradiction is resolved through the second state. That is why we say that the unity of opposites is conditional, temporary and relative, while the struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute.
"We may add that the struggle between opposites permeates a process from beginning to end and makes one process transform itself into another, that it is ubiquitous, and that struggle is therefore unconditional and absolute." [Op cit., bold added.]
[Again, Mao nowhere tells us how he could possibly know any of this -- except he uncritically copied these ideas straight from Hegel and Engels -- who, incidentally, also failed to say how they knew any of this was true! Again, on this, see Essay Two.]
Once more, if the above were so, how could war 'struggle' with peace?
[There is in fact a possible avenue of escape from this dialectical-impasse -- alas, I have blocked it, here.]
(c) How is it possible for the above changes to occur because the "balance between [war and peace] tips in favour of conflict"? What on earth causes this balance to "tip"? Hunt doesn't even raise that question.
[Anyway, I have shown that this option isn't viable, either. On that, see here.]
Of course, this isn't to deny change, only that dialectics (the erstwhile theory of change) can't account for it!
Well, maybe the word "rigour" has changed its meaning recently.
[Incidentally, dialecticians often point me in the direction of Michael Kosok's 'formalisation' of 'dialectical logic'. In response, I have shown that this terminally confused essay of Kosok's doesn't even remotely resemble a formalisation, whatever else one thinks of the obscure ideas Kosok inflicted on its readers. On that, see here.]
Hunt, I. (1993), Analytical And Dialectical Marxism (Ashgate Publishing).
Lenin, V. (1961), Collected Works Volume 38 (Progress Publishers).
Mao Tse-Tung, (1964), Selected Works Volume One (Foreign Languages Press).
--------, (1961), 'On Contradiction', in Mao (1964), pp.311-47.
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