Refuting A Weak Attempt At Refutation -- Part Six
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Although I am highly critical of Dialectical Materialism [DM], nothing said here (or, indeed, in the other Essays posted at this site) is aimed at undermining Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept -- or, for that matter, 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. [That puts paid to the allegation that those who reject DM soon abandon revolutionary politics.]
My aim is simply to assist in the scientific development of Marxism by helping to demolish a dogma that has in my opinion seriously damaged our movement from its inception: DM --; or, in its more political form, 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD].
The difference between HM and DM as I see it is explained here.
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(2) TFB's Master Class: How To Confuse Flat Rejection With Valid Counter-Argument
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
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In 2015, I posted the following comment on a YouTube page which was devoted to introducing prospective viewers to a highly simplified version of DM:
Alas for this
video, I have demolished this dogmatic theory (from a Marxist angle) at my site:
Main objections outlined here:
I have posted many similar comments on other pages at YouTube that are devoted to this theory and received little or no response. But, the producer of this film (whose on-screen name used to be Marxist-Leninist-Theory [MLT], but which has now changed to The Finnish Bolshevik -- henceforth, TFB) did respond (and to which I replied, here and here).
Not long afterwards, another video appeared on YouTube -- which was also produced by TFB, but posted to his other YouTube page -- entitled: "Refuting a Trotskyite Attack on Dialectics". I have replied to this largely incoherent video, here, here, and here.
After several, shall we say, 'skirmishes' over the last six months or so, TFB posted a second, even longer video, which attempted to respond to one of my briefer attacks on this failed 'theory' of his:
Video One: The Garbling Continues
As part of my reply to TFB's earlier video, I transcribed the vast bulk of it into print, which took absolutely ages. I did this for several reasons:
(a) So that others could see how largely incoherent it is.
(b) So that it would be easier to expose TFB's lies and fabrications.
(c) So that I couldn't be accused of distorting what he had said.
I have so far posted two responses to the above video, so this Essay constitutes my third reply. All my debates and responses to TFB have now been collected together, here.
Incidentally, I have now decided to post much shorter replies to TFB in order to (a) Increase the probability of him reading them and, consequently, (b) decrease the likelihood of having to explain the same things to him over and over, as had been the case up to now -- since he still refuses to read my longer replies, even though he expects his viewers to listen to his voice droning on and on, often incoherently, for an hour!
TFB's Master Class: How To Confuse Flat Rejection With Valid Counter-Argument
TFB now resumes by quoting from an earlier Essay of mine, where I had commented on a passage from Woods and Grant (1995) -- I have done my best to transcribe this section accurately, but in places it is extremely garbled, even more so than usual:
She [i.e., me -- RL] continues:
"Now, in order to avoid such absurd consequences some...."
Erm..., [garbled noise]..., I think your..., I think your consequences are pretty absurd. Like..., 'cause nobody actually believes these consequences. There is no such consequence. It's a strawman built by you [again, presumably me -- RL]. But, er..., I guess that's wh..., [garbled, again], why strawmen are used in order to attack them [this 'them' is perhaps Woods and Grant? -- RL] basically. [Intake of breath.] Now..., in order..., (sic)
"Now, in order to avoid such absurd consequences some dialecticians (mainly Stalinists and Maoists) have had to allow for the existence of 'external contradictions' (or 'impulses', contrary to what Woods and Grant, for example, assert), which are somehow also involved in such changes.
"Here, for example, is Stalin...." [Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site -- RL.]
Ok, so here now is the famous Stalin quote. Er..., and I'm being, you know, half sarcastic here; it's not a famous quote at all. Quote:
"Our country exhibits two groups of contradictions. One group consists of the internal contradictions that exist between the proletariat and the peasantry.... The other group consists of the external contradictions that exist between our country, as the land of socialism, and all the other countries, as lands of capitalism...." [The exact reference can be found here -- RL.]
Erm..., so, yeah, that's where the term "external contradiction" is used, in a..., you know, accor [sic] ..., like, in my opinion, in a very loose context, in foreign policy context we're not talking about dialectics of nature here. We're not talking about..., [pause] you know, it's not all too clear that he [Stalin -- RL] means this in any kind of dialectical sense, because..., you know, the terms "external" and "intern...[garbled] contra...[garbled]"..., the words "external" and "contradiction" are very common words, you know, 'cause, basically what..., like..., [pause] basically this..., this comment, even though according to her [presumably, me -- RL] it's all about dialectics, you could read this comment to a..., to anyone and they would understand it. Doesn't require any kind of understanding of dialectics to understand this, 'cause he's [presumably Stalin -- RL] saying that there's internal..., there's groups internal to the country, social classes [pause], er..., that are in..., er..., in..., er..., contradiction, and then..., er..., then there's groups outside the country which are in contradiction with the country. [Pause] So, anyone can understand this, like there's capitalist countries out there who don't like us, then there's social groups in this country that are in contradiction with each other. Do... [garbled]. You don't have to be a dialectics expert to understand this; you don't have to know anything about dialectics; you don't even have to understand that dialectics exists... [pause], er..., to understand what this is about. So, it's not necessarily about dialectics. [Approximately 19:24-22:10. Emphases have been added where they seem appropriate from the tone and inflection of TFB's voice.]
This is just a laboured, but even less coherent, repetition of a point TFB tried to make earlier on in the same video, and which I covered extensively in Part One of my reply to his second video. Readers are referred there for more details.
However, since TFB has failed to respond to that reply (now many months old), we must presume he has abandoned this rather weak criticism of my argument.
A handful of addition points are worth making, though:
First, as I established in my second reply (here and here), just because TFB failed to draw the conclusions that I have doesn't mean they don't follow from what Woods and Grant -- or even Stalin -- argued. What TFB needs to show is that they don't follow. A bald rejection -- psychologically satisfying though this might be to TFB and the rest of the dialectical faithful -- is, alas, insufficient. Anyone can call a theory, argument, or assertion "crazy" and airily wave it to one side -- just like the Roman Catholic theologians who brushed Galileo's theories aside four hundred years ago -- but that doesn't constitute a valid objection. If I were to post the following comment on each page of every one of TFB's videos, "Crazy! No one would believe this!", but refused to say anything else in support of that comment, we can be pretty sure TFB wouldn't be inclined to accept it as a valid objection. And yet, at least here, this seems to be his only counter-argument to me!
Again, what he needs to do (ha! some hope!) is examine the detailed analyses I have included in Essay Eight Part One (and in several of my longer replies to him that he hasn't bothered to read -- here, here and here), concerning this and related issues, and show precisely where my argument goes wrong.
Unless and until he does, my conclusions still stand.
[I hasten to add that I am not comparing myself to Galileo! I am simply making the point that a flat rejection, or repudiation, doesn't constitute a valid counter-argument.]
Second, it was revealing to see TFB struggling to explain Stalin's argument, since the inflection in his voice coupled with the garbled nature of his comments suggest he was beginning to see that this is a 'dialectical relation' after all:
Doesn't require any kind of understanding of dialectics to understand this, 'cause he's saying that there's internal..., there's groups internal to the country, social classes, er..., that are in..., er..., in..., er..., contradiction, and then..., er..., then there's groups outside the country which are in contradiction with the country. So, anyone can understand this, like there's capitalist countries out there who don't like us, then there's social groups in this country that are in contradiction with each other. [Ibid. Bold added.]
One wonders what was going on in TFB's head as he tried to make the above point about 'internal contradictions' in the former Soviet Union [fSU]. The latter most certainly were viewed as dialectical -- and, as we saw in my first reply to TFB, here and here, this is precisely how Stalinists in the 1920s and 1930s saw them, too; indeed, this is how subsequent theorists also interpreted them (even those pesky 'Brezhnev era revisionists' beloved of TFB) --, which makes the contrast with 'external contradictions' dialectical, too. Or, does TFB imagine that Stalin didn't think that the relation between the fSU and the capitalist powers was dialectical? [On this, see Note One.] TFB had already told us that the relation between a ball and a foot that kicks it is 'dialectical'. Why then not the relation between, say, the USA and the fSU?
It isn't too much of a stretch to conclude that this very thought was beginning to dawn on TFB as he came out with the above garbled thoughts (especially those highlighted in bold) -- which might help explain why they were quite so reticent and incoherent.
In fact, we saw another light begin to shine in TFB's head as he tried to come to grips with the mixed phase regime that emerges as ice slowly turns to water in an earlier video of his (on that, see here, here, and here), resulting in an analogous melt-down of his powers of reasoning as he was vainly trying to kick some life into them.
Here he is from that video (alongside my comments at the end); judge for yourself:
"So, let's make this even more simple. Now this is going to be scientifically inaccurate in terms, but I'm going to simplify the terminology so much that even a Trotskyist can understand.
"So, keep in mind that this is not the...really the way you should use these terms, but whatever...
"So, er..., would it be more understandable to you if I said that more heating..., er..., more melting..., er..., if I instead of saying more heating more...like if I...even though [this is an extremely garbled section! -- RL] it's not really melting, but just if if [sic] I said it like it's melting? If I said that once melting..., once 'melting' has accumulated, even though it's really heat, but let's just say that it's melting so that it's easier to understand. So, one..., once melting has accumulated we have a quantitay (sic), ...a quantity turning into a quality. Er..., enough melting quantity turns into solid goes ff... (sic) to liquid; quantitative change. Erm..., so qualitative change is a threshold, and quantitative change is the gradual approach toward the threshold. Erm..., I hope I have made this clear.
"And just to avoid this kind of semantic nonsense and playing with words [!! -- RL], let's take one more example where the wording is not as confusing.
"So, look at...look at a piece of ice. Then look at water. Are they qualitatively different? Well, yes they are. One is liquid and one is solid, clearly. Are they quantitatively different? Why yes they are. One has notice..., noticeably more heat than the other, because it's...you know...liquid. So, a qualitative leap has happened somewhere, has it not? Erm..., is there a category of (sic) between frozen, i.e., solid and liquid? No. Is there water that is half or perhaps 33% frozen? No.
"Even when, for example, a glass of water freezes and it's sort of kind of solidifies (sic) partially while still having some liquid in the glass, it's not half-frozen water. It's ice on top of liquid water. Same with melting icicles that have water dripping from them. They're not 90% frozen water, but it's ice with liquid water dropping..., er..., dripping from it.
"Er..., so this works the exact same way with metal. I hope that's clear enough. [Garbled and undecipherable] just ask questions if you don't..., er..., if it's confusing. I know this is kind of...it is kind of confusing, but..., er..., I hope that makes sense to you." [Approx 28:26-31:07. Bold added.]
Perhaps the expression "Clear as mud" was invented to describe 'clarity' such as this?
There isn't much one can say about the above dialectical car crash, except perhaps the following:
1) Once again, MLT [i.e., TFB] digs a non-dialectical hole for himself when he talks about ice and water. He half recognises the problems he has created for himself when he says:
"[W]hen, for example, a glass of water freezes and it's sort of kind of solidifies partially while still having some liquid in the glass, it's not half-frozen water."
So, in one breath we are informed that this glass of water "solidifies partially" while "still having some liquid in the glass", the next we are told that it isn't "half-frozen water"! MLT rightly describes this as "confusing". He is forced to back-track and admit that typically, when water freezes, we have a "mixed phase" of ice and water, until it has all frozen!...
2) It could be objected that the water spoken about above, and in MLT's example, is either liquid or solid; there is no half-way house between these two states.
But, no dialectician can afford to admit this.
Why? Well check out these words from the Godfather of Confusion, Hegel:
"Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are. Thus, in inorganic nature, the acid is implicitly at the same time the base: in other words, its only being consists in its relation to its other. Hence also the acid is not something that persists quietly in the contrast: it is always in effort to realise what it potentially is." [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119. Bold emphasis added. The serious problems this dogmatic and a priori diktat creates for Hegel, which he nowhere tries to justify, are detailed here.]
And, these from Engels:
metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be
considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of
investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely
irreconcilable antitheses. 'His communication is "yea, yea; nay, nay"; for
whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' For him a thing either exists or
does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else.
Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in
a rigid antithesis one to the other.
"At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the particular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees." [Engels (1976), p.26. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]
"For a stage in the outlook on nature where all differences become merged in intermediate steps, and all opposites pass into one another through intermediate links, the old metaphysical method of thought no longer suffices. Dialectics, which likewise knows no hard and fast lines, no unconditional, universally valid 'either-or' and which bridges the fixed metaphysical differences, and besides 'either-or' recognises also in the right place 'both this-and that' and reconciles the opposites, is the sole method of thought appropriate in the highest degree to this stage. Of course, for everyday use, for the small change of science, the metaphysical categories retain their validity." [Engels (1954), pp.212-13. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]
Hence, if we are to believe the above dogmatists, if there is no "either-or" anywhere in the universe, we must abandon such rigid distinctions between -- oh, I don't know -- between liquids and solids --, or risk being accused of indulging in 'metaphysics', of capitulating to 'commonsense', or 'formal thinking'.
If we have to shape our ideas as these dogmatists tell us we should, then MLT had better hope that there is a 'category' between solid and liquid water/ice, or even metals, since, at present, he seems to have accepted just such a 'rigid distinction'....
Liquid or solid? If the answer is the one or the other, then there is an "either/or", after all! On the other hand, if we reject such rigid dichotomies, then there is a state of matter called 'solid and liquid'. Who or what do we reject? The Engels and the Hegel of the above quotations, or MLT with his 'metaphysical', rigid categories?
Or, all three at once for being radically confused?
Mmmm..., that's a tough one alright...
Third, we were told by Mao that dialectics covers everything in the entire universe, including our thought processes. In that case, assuming TFB agrees with Mao, it is difficult to understand why he is reluctant to categorise Stalin's thoughts (and what they were about) as 'dialectical':
"We may now say a few words to sum up. The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook. It represents a great revolution in the history of human knowledge. According to dialectical materialism, contradiction is present in all processes of objectively existing things and of subjective thought and permeates all these processes from beginning to end; this is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction. Each contradiction and each of its aspects have their respective characteristics; this is the particularity and relativity of contradiction. In given conditions, opposites possess identity, and consequently can coexist in a single entity and can transform themselves into each other; this again is the particularity and relativity of contradiction. But the struggle of opposites is ceaseless, it goes on both when the opposites are coexisting and when they are transforming themselves into each other, and becomes especially conspicuous when they are transforming themselves into one another; this again is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction. In studying the particularity and relativity of contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions and to the distinction between the principal aspect and the non-principal aspect of a contradiction; in studying the universality of contradiction and the struggle of opposites in contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the different forms of struggle. Otherwise we shall make mistakes. If, through study, we achieve a real understanding of the essentials explained above, we shall be able to demolish dogmatist ideas which are contrary to the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and detrimental to our revolutionary cause, and our comrades with practical experience will be able to organize their experience into principles and avoid repeating empiricist errors. These are a few simple conclusions from our study of the law of contradiction." [Mao (1961b), pp.345-46. Throughout, bold emphases alone added.]
Of course, this doesn't tell us what Stalin was thinking, or what he meant (however, see Note1), but it does tell us what Mao thought, and if TFB agrees with Mao, then he should conclude the same, one would have thought:1
"The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook. It represents a great revolution in the history of human knowledge. According to dialectical materialism, contradiction is present in all processes of objectively existing things and of subjective thought and permeates all these processes from beginning to end; this is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction." [Ibid.]
Hence, if, according to Mao, 'dialectical contradictions' govern everything, and if there is a 'contradiction' between the fSU (or, indeed, China) and the capitalist world, it can't fail to be an 'external contradiction' and can't fail to be 'dialectical', too.
I fear TFB needs a crash course in joined-up thinking.
Finally, just because someone who knows nothing about dialectics might conceivably understand the Stalin passage (although it is in considerable doubt the extent or the depth of their 'comprehension' in such circumstances) that doesn't mean Stalin's comments aren't dialectical. Someone could understand (at a very basic level) the comment "The Earth revolves around the Sun", while knowing very little or no science. That would have no bearing on the scientific nature of that comment itself. Indeed, someone else could claim to understand the 'law' of the transformation of quantity into quality after they had been presented with the 'boiling water' example, but I am sure TFB wouldn't concede that they had a deep understanding of that 'law' if they knew absolutely nothing about dialectics. Same here.
It is rather odd, therefore, to see TFB prepared to classify something as 'dialectical' based solely on the presumed comprehensive capacities of those ignorant of dialectics!
These are remarkably weak arguments, even by TFB's rather low standards.
More to follow in Part Seven...
1. In fact, Stalin agreed with Mao:
"Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate. In ancient times dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and the clash of opposite opinions was the best method of arriving at the truth. This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature, as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature."
"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying away and something developing; and that the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes.
"The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development from the lower to the higher takes place not as a harmonious unfolding of phenomena, but as a disclosure of the contradictions inherent in things and phenomena, as a 'struggle' of opposite tendencies which operate on the basis of these contradictions...." [Stalin (1976b), quoted from here. Bold added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]
The fSU and capitalist states certainly look like "things" and "phenomena" -- just as they appear to be part of "all things" -- , and hence, for Stalin, their relation must be both 'dialectical' and 'contradictory' -- indeed, governed by 'external contradictions' in this case (as Stalin himself asserts).
Engels, F. (1976), Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).
Hegel, G. (1975), Logic, translated by William Wallace (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.).
Mao Tse-Tung (1961a), Selected Works Of Mao Tse-Tung, Volume One (Foreign Languages Press).
--------, (1961b), 'On Contradiction', in Mao (1961a), pp.311-47.
Stalin, J. (1976a), Problems Of Leninism (Foreign Languages Press).
--------, (1976b), 'Dialectical And Historical Materialism', in Stalin (1976a), pp.835-73.
Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995/2007), Reason In Revolt. Marxism And Modern Science (Wellred Publications, 1st/2nd ed.). [The on-line version still appears to be the First Edition.]
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