16-14-01 -- Summary Of Essay Fourteen Part One: The Mystical Origin Of Dialectical Materialism
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This is an Introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays either too long, or too difficult. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive since it is simply a summary of the core ideas presented at this site. Most of the supporting evidence and argument found in each of the main Essays has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments in full, should consult the Essay for which this is a summary. [Unfortunately, this particular Essay hasn't been written yet!]
As is the case with all my work, 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.
Phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM), aren't meant to suggest that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who either relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.**
However, that will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.
[**Exactly how this applies to DM will, of course, be explained in the other Essays published at this site (especially here, here, and here). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time aimed at absolute beginners!) here.]
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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
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The Origin Of Dialectical Mysticism
In Part One of this Essay (when it is published sometime in 2017), the Hegelian/DM-view of reality will be traced back to its real roots. These aren't to be found in the ordinary lives of working people, nor yet in the everyday experience of the revolutionary party. This lineage stretches back in the mists of time, to mystical Hermetic and Neoplatonic thought, to doctrines that expressed ancient ruling-class theories about nature and their own 'rightful', divinely ordained place in it.
Although others have advanced somewhat similar claims, these connections are pushed much further in this Essay, and are based on an entirely new approach, supported by far more evidence and analysis.
Indeed, it will be shown here for the first time: (1) How and why this ancient mystical perspective actually developed; (2) Exactly how it was linked to wider ruling-class interests and priorities; and (3) Precisely how this alien-class thought-form was (unwittingly) imported into Marxism 150 years ago.
Part Two will deal with the way DM has (1) Corrupted Dialectical Marxism, and (2) Seriously distorted the theory and practice of leading revolutionaries.
The Ruling-Class View of Reality
The Long And Sorry Tale
In support of these claims, texts from ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, China, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome are quoted at length. In addition to this, the relevant (surviving) works of pre-, and post-Socratic thinkers -- such as, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Zeno, and Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle -- are introduced as main exhibits for the prosecution.
Moreover, the ideas of NeoPlatonic, Stoic and Hermetic theorists (for example, Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the shadowy figure, Hermes Trismegistus 'himself') are linked to the ideas and doctrines of medieval and early modern thinkers -- such as, John Scotus Eriugena, Albertus Magnus (Thomas Aquinas's teacher), Meister Eckhart, Raymond Lull, Nicholas of Cusa, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Henri Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd, John Dee, Johannes Reuchlin, Paracelsus, Sebastian Franck, Valentin Weigel, Jacob Böhme, William Law, Emanuel Swedenborg, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger.
Finally, the views of these assorted mystics are then linked to the works of authors who directly influenced Hegel (i.e., Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Hölderlin, Goethe, Schelling and Novalis). The impact on DM of this mystical dog's dinner is set out in detail.
Of course, these are no mere speculations; Hegel admits them himself, and acknowledges his debt to many of the above mystery-mongers. Here, for example, are his odes to NeoPlatonism, Gnosticism and the Kabbalah, the Y-Ching, and Boehme.
[An outline of these influences on Hegel can be found here.]
In fact, Hermeticism was highly influential on German Pietism (through Boehme and his followers) -- which was itself a version of Lutheran Protestantism beloved of German Royalty. Not only was Hegel brought up in the Pietist tradition, but Engels's father was a Pietist, and he too was raised in this faith. In fact, we find Engels himself speaking positively about Pietism in an early work: Reports From Bremen. [A copy of which can be accessed here.]
Hence, Engels's later trajectory, back into Hermeticism (under the guise of 'inverted' Dialectical Hegelianism), isn't the least bit surprising.
Indeed, anyone who thinks that Materialist Dialectics lies at the cutting edge of modern thought or science should read the Kybalion, the third most important book of Hermetic Philosophy, so we are told. Even though it was first published in 1912 (and was written by three authors, who were probably all Masons), it summarises the core beliefs of this mystical creed. In many places it isn't easy to tell the difference between core DM-theses and the Hermetic doctrines this text outlines. Doubters are encouraged to check this --, but more specifically here, here and here. [Subtract the overtly mystical language, and you have the covertly mystical jargon of DM. (I have now posted dozens of examples that illustrate the close similarities between DM and mystical systems from right across the planet, today and in the past, here and here.)]
Similar boss-class bona fides can be found in Chinese, Indian, Arabian, Tibetan and Japanese thought, too. These will also be outlined in this Essay. Indeed, in many respects, Daoism is virtually identical to DM -- which fact Maoists certainly used to 'good effect'. The same can be said of certain aspects of Buddhism.
All this helps refute the claim (found in TAR -- for example, on p.6) that although DM shares with mysticism a belief in Totality, mystics don't attmept to account for change by appealing to 'internal contradictions', nor do they see 'Totality' as a process.
The reverse of this is in fact the case. Rarely do mystics fail to appeal to opposites (and unities of opposites, too) -- or to terms that are analogous to 'contradictions' and contraries; indeed, they speak about "conflicts" in nature almost exactly as they are depicted in DM (often appealing to the same trite, anecdotal and sub-scientific examples in support), to account for reality and change. Moreover, mystical systems in general (e.g., Hermeticism and Ancient Chinese Daoism, again) certainly picture reality as a process, powered by these mysterious 'opposites'.
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution., i.e., Rees (1998).]
There are, indeed, comrades who actually acknowledge all this; but, they regard it in a positive light, since they clearly think that the appearance of the 'dialectic' in a 'mystical' form (in ancient religion) indicates it is correct!
Unfortunately for them this merely underlines the fact that the continuity that exists between ruling-class mysticism and DM situates both in the same tradition of anti-materialist, anti-democratic, alien-class thought. As Marx himself noted:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]
Substitutionism Once More
And Not Just Marxists
Incidentally, this also helps account for the fact that Nazis also appeal to similar ideas to 'justify' their anti-democratic and murderous doctrines.
It isn't too clear if this means that the mystical ideas under-pinning National Socialism (i.e., Ariosophy) are viewed in the same light by the above Nazi theorists (i.e., in a positive light, indicating Nazism is correct!).
[On this, see here, and here.]
Lack of Success No Accident
Mystical doctrines like these originated, so we are told, in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Creation stories in these civilisations saw the world as an extension of the 'Divine Word', called into existence by means of language. Similar ideas also pervade Chinese and Indian myths (as they do other Ancient Theologies and Theogonies). Such beliefs have cast a long shadow (in one way or another) across all forms of ruling-class thought ever since. They reappear today in the most unexpected places, which is no big surprise for anyone who takes Marx's claim seriously -- that the ideas of the ruling-class are the ruling ideas of every epoch.
Given this unsavoury background, the many similarities there are between Hermetic, NeoPlatonic doctrines and those found in DM aren't just coincidental. The historical links outlined above show that it is indeed part of an ancient, boss-class tradition.
DM is thus exposed as a modern-day Deistic Myth.
This helps explain why Dialectical Marxism has been so spectacularly unsuccessful: its core theory reproduces the thought-forms of those classes that have up until now been vastly more successful at extending and preserving their own power than our side has been opposing it.
The adoption of a set of mystical ideas like this helps reveal the secret of our own impotence: if we think like them, small wonder that we end up acting like them.
As should seem obvious: it isn't a good idea to try to bring an end to class society while emulating our enemy's most tried and trusted ideologies.
And, it is even less intelligent to bury one's head in the sand when a comrade attempts to point this out!
In order to short-circuit accusations that this site commits the so-called 'genetic fallacy' (i.e., that it appears to argue that DM is false just because it is a ruling-class theory), it is worth pointing out that I am not claiming that the provenance of this mystical theory is sufficient to invalidate it. On the contrary; what has been established in these Essays is that DM is far too vague and confused for anyone to be able to say whether or not it is true, and this is independent of where it actually originated.
The point of tracing DM back to its mystical roots is to expose the role it has played, and still plays, in screwing with our movement. In which case, it is no surprise that DM had helped turn Dialectical Marxism into the long-term failure we see today.
[Notice the use of the phrase "Dialectical Marxism" here; I am not claiming Marxism has failed -- the non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet. (Note, too, the use of the italicised word "helped". I am not blaming all our woes on this failed theory, just that is has made a bad situation worse.)]
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