16-09-01: Summary Of Essay Nine Part One -- Dialectics And Substitutionism
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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. [In this particular case, that can be found here.]
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.]
Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.
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1) A Serious Objection To The Aims Of This Site?
2) Dialectics -- An Alien-Class Theory
a) Ruling-Class Thought
b) Unwitting Dialectical Dupes
c) DM -- A Mystery Even To Marxists
d) Worker Dialecticians?
e) Well, Have You Thoroughly Studied And Fully Understood All Of Hegel's Logic?
f) HM -- Introduced From The Inside
g) HM And DM -- A Dialectical Unity?
h) Hegel's Immaculate Concepts?
j) Failure Substituted For Success
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
A Serious Objection?
In this Essay, the obvious objection that the criticisms advanced at this site imply that the ideas of the vast majority of leading revolutionaries have been compromised by the adoption of ruling-class ideology is tackled head-on. This response is connected with a novel re-analysis of the poorly understood term, "substitutionism".
In order to do this, I first of all show that it is not possible for workers to comprehend dialectics (that is because it is impossible for anyone to understand it), which means that it has had to be substituted into their heads, from the "outside". This isn't the case with HM.
[As noted above, the difference between HM and DM is explained here, but more fully here.]
I then show that there are sound materialist reasons why leading comrades have appropriated a set of radical sounding "ruling ideas". This is then linked to the catastrophically poor record that Dialectical Marxism has 'enjoyed' since at least the 1920s (and arguably for much longer), and to why comrades held in thrall to dialectics tend not to be able to appreciate, or even so much as notice, this glaring anomaly.
[HM = Historical Materialism; DM = Dialectical Materialism.]
Dialectics -- An Alien-Class Theory
In Essay Twelve, it will be argued that in Ancient Greece, 'western' Metaphysics received its most formative input from contemporaneous ruling-class priorities and interests. In subsequent Modes of Production, traditional metaphysicians have, directly or indirectly, fed-off, served and/or rationalised either the power of the State or that of some other nascent and/or insurgent ruling elite. While Theology, for example, has always served as a theoretical expression of alienated religious consciousness (among other things), in its different forms Metaphysics has likewise served as legitimator of ruling-class wealth and power, linking the authority of the State to (1) the 'natural/cosmic order', (2) the 'will of God', or (3) the defence of 'civilised values' -- thereby helping to rationalise gross inequality and class oppression.
Indeed, Metaphysics has invariably been dressed-up as a Super-Scientific theory of 'Being' -- its theorists seeking to derive fundamental principles governing the entire universe, valid for all of time, from thought alone.
So, behind the velvet glove of Metaphysics lies the mailed fist of class domination, its necessary truths dimly reflecting -- but often 'justifying', sometimes mystifying --, the iron rule of the State.
[This argument is developed more fully in Essay Twelve (summarised here).]
As Marx and Engels pointed out:
"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. Bold emphasis added.]
It is worth underling the last part of the above quotation, since most comrades either miss it, or fail to see its significance (especially those who then try to deny that Traditional Philosophy -- including those parts that have re-surfaced in DM -- also forms one part of these "ruling ideas"):
"[T]hey do this in the whole range...[they] rule as thinkers, 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." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]
Note how the ruling-class does this in the "whole range", how they "regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age....", and how they also "rule as "thinkers". This can only mean that Traditional Philosophy forms part of these "ruling ideas".
In Essay Nine Part One, I aim to show that while workers are certainly capable of developing ideas consonant with HM (which enable them to connect with revolutionary theory and practice, systematised by the revolutionary party), they can't form from their own experience -- as a matter of fact or of logic -- any of the concepts drawn exclusively from DM or 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD].
[To save on repetition, readers should assume from now on that when I refer to DM, I also include in that a reference to MD.]
Indeed, it will be shown that such concepts lie way beyond the experience that any human being could conceivably have -- and that includes dialecticians.
It will be argued, therefore, that workers (and party members) have had to have this alien-class ideology imposed on them. DM has to be substituted into workers' heads by self-appointed 'teachers' (i.e., teachers who, in general, weren't/aren't workers), and that this has had to be done against the grain of their materialist inclinations. In fact, DM has been used to replace many of the ideas that workers might already have formed, which could have helped them understand not only Marxism, but how to transform their own lives by acting for themselves and in their own interests. In short, it will be argued that dialectics not only cripples workers' comprehension of Marxism, it hinders their self-activity, fatally compromising their capacity to create a socialist society for themselves --, all the while allowing Dialectical Marxists to rationalise substitutionism. [More on this below, and in Part Two.]
Even worse, it will be maintained that not only does DM put workers off Marxism (because it is incomprehensible), it exacerbates sectarianism and help foment the many splits we have witnessed in the revolutionary movement almost since its inception, encouraging a climate of unreasonableness and systematic personal and organisational corruption in and between Marxist Parties.
Furthermore, it will also be shown that, despite claims to the contrary, revolutionaries themselves can't possibly employ -- or have employed -- DM-concepts in their day-to-day activity, or even during revolutionary upheavals (such as 1917). [On that, see here.]
That is because it is impossible to use incomprehensible concepts. Since no one (not Engels, not Lenin, not Trotsky, not Luxembourg, not Plekhanov, not Mao -- nor anyone else) is capable of understanding dialectics, it can't feature in, nor could it have featured in, the practical activity of the Party, despite what we are constantly told. Again, this isn't because dialectics is too difficult to grasp, it is because its theses are either incoherent or they are far too confused for anyone to grasp, and hence act upon.
Except: because dialectics can be, and has been used to 'justify' and rationalise practically anything and its opposite, it has played a significant part in helping to destroy the revolutionary movement worldwide. So, anyone who objects to the 'party line' can be accused of not "understanding" dialectics, and then verbally abused, vilified, socially isolated, or, in some case imprisoned or shot.
[Substantiating these allegations will form much of Essay Nine Part Two and Essay Twelve, summarised here.]
Hence, it will be concluded that the concepts found in DM can't have been developed out of -- nor could they have been created in response to -- the class struggle by any stretch of the imagination. In that case, whatever else DM-theses are, they are neither historical nor materialist.
Furthermore, it will also be argued that one of the side-effects of the importation of this alien-class theory into Marxism is that it saddles workers with a passive ideology, which makes them the objects of theory and not the subjects of history. In connection with this it will be maintained that DM encourages workers to adopt a servile notion of themselves as the playthings of mysterious metaphysical forces that neither they nor anyone else can understand -- or ever will, or ever could understand --, but which they find they have to accept because it forms an integral part of a philosophical tradition they had no part in building.
Indeed, it is the self-activity of workers that Dialectical Marxists have helped turn on its head, not Hegel.
Unwitting Dialectical Dupes
It is also pointed out that revolutionaries of the calibre of Engels, Lenin and Trotsky didn't wittingly allow their ideas to become compromised in this way. There were other factors at work, of which they were well aware -- but apparently not as they applied in their own case -- that pre-disposed them toward adopting a traditional, ruling-class approach to Philosophy: their class origin, current class position, socialisation and education.
[Whether or not this is a 'reductionist' account of the adoption of such ideas is tackled head-on, here, here, and below.]
It is an odd fact that the ideological roots of substitutionist thinking have received scant attention from revolutionaries. In his otherwise excellent essay on Trotsky's views on this phenomenon, Tony Cliff doesn't even mention the ideological roots of substitutionist thinking. And as far as can be determined, no one else has bothered to do so since.
It is almost as if the revolutionary party were run by automata, or by individuals who have no class-origin, or current class position, and who have (or had) no philosophical baggage which they brought with them into the movement.
But, to suggest that the above stalwarts were human beings, who might just have had alien-class ideas already installed in their brains by their upbringing, education and class background, and who reacted just like other humans to defeat and demoralisation (by looking for some sort of consolation, some sort of explanation to allay the cognitive dissonance that such set-backs must have created in their minds) is by no means to indulge in "vulgar reductionism"; it is to take Marx seriously when he said:
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness." [Marx (1859), p.181. Quoted from here.]
Naturally, one must deal with the beliefs of fellow human beings with some sensitivity, but revolutionaries like Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky weren't beamed down to earth from a passing spaceship, nor were they hatched fully-formed with all their socialist ideas pre-installed.
Indeed, Lenin was quite happy to 'reduce' his opponents' politics to their class position:
"In a word, Comrade Martov's formula will either remain a dead letter, an empty phrase, or it will be of benefit mainly and almost exclusively to 'intellectuals who are thoroughly imbued with bourgeois individualism' and do not wish to join an organisation. In words, Martov's formulation defends the interests of the broad strata of the proletariat, but in fact it serves the interests of the bourgeois intellectuals, who fight shy of proletarian discipline and organisation. No one will venture to deny that the intelligentsia, as a special stratum of modern capitalist society, is characterised, by and large, precisely by individualism and incapacity for discipline and organisation (cf., for example, Kautsky's well-known articles on the intelligentsia). This, incidentally, is a feature which unfavourably distinguishes this social stratum from the proletariat; it is one of the reasons for the flabbiness and instability of the intellectual, which the proletariat so often feels; and this trait of the intelligentsia is intimately bound up with its customary mode of life, its mode of earning a livelihood, which in a great many respects approximates to the petty-bourgeois mode of existence (working in isolation or in very small groups, etc.). Nor is it fortuitous, lastly, that the defenders of Comrade Martov's formulation were the ones who had to cite the example of professors and high school students! It was not champions of a broad proletarian struggle who, in the controversy over Paragraph 1, took the field against champions of a radically conspiratorial organisation, as Comrades Martynov and Axelrod thought, but the supporters of bourgeois-intellectual individualism who clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline." [Lenin (1947), pp.66-67. Bold emphasis and links added; italic emphases in the original.]
[Others have argued along similar lines. There is much more on this in Part Two.]
If DM-fans can point to the class origin of their opponents in order to account for the ideas that they are capable of forming and/or accepting, they can hardly object if the same is done to them and their ideas.
The fact that 99.9% of all avowed Marxists -- from Leninists to Trotskyists, Maoists to Stalinists, Libertarian Communists to non-Orthodox Trotskyists -- share broadly the same dialectical doctrines, imported from that ruling-class hack, Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up'), provides powerful prima facie evidence that Marx was indeed right: "social being" has indeed determined the collective philosophical 'consciousness' of generations of Dialectical Marxists.
DM: A Deep Mystery -- Even To Marxists
It could be objected to the above that while many scientific theories lie way beyond the grasp of the majority -- given the poor education they receive in class society -- that doesn't automatically brand those theories inimical to their interests. Much of modern science transcends ordinary experience. Since this presents no problems for science, it can't do so for DM. That being so, the fact that workers do not understand dialectics (that is, if they don't) doesn't itself imply that it represents/expresses boss-class interests.
Or, so it could be maintained.
However, with respect to understanding genuine scientific theories, only an inadequate education and insufficient leisure time stands in the way of their comprehension by ordinary individuals. With regard to DM, on the other hand, things are completely different. We have seen on numerous occasions at this site that even the DM-classicists find it impossible to explain their core theses to one another (let alone to workers) -- or to anyone else, for that matter -- in a comprehensible form. Not only have we witnessed DM-theses repeatedly collapse into incoherence at the slightest encouragement, we have also seen how impenetrably vague and equivocal they are. In fact, even now, well over one hundred and fifty years since dialectics was imported into Dialectical Marxism, none of its core ideas have been explained in anything other than a terminally obscure form.
[On this, see Essays Two through Thirteen Part Three.]
The problem is, of course, that DM is based on the sub-logical, incoherent and non-sensical ideas Hegel inflicted on humanity. As that old computer science saying had it:
"Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO): in the field of computer science or information and communications technology [this] refers to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data, 'garbage in', and produce nonsensical output, 'garbage out'." [Quoted from here; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links in the original.]
Indeed, DM-theses remain today in the same confused, nonsensical state that its classicists originally left them. From the beginning, dialecticians have merely relied on repeating, generation after generation, the same vague notions and incoherent ideas they inherited from Hegel, Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin.
[LOI = Law Of Identity; LEM = Law of Excluded Middle; LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction; FL = Formal Logic.]
Hence, all we find in DM-writings are the same erroneous assertions made about FL (which is repeatedly -- and one now suspects, deliberately -- conflated with Aristotelian Syllogistic); the same confused references to the LOI, the LEM, the LOC and change; the same repetition of vague reformulations of Engels's "three laws of dialectics"; the same appeal to an epistemology that is as implausible as it is unworkable; the same reference to something called 'the Totality', about which we know virtually nothing; the same unimaginative and hackneyed examples repackaged as if they were either brand new or relevant (e.g., those involving water and steam, Mendeleyev's table, John's manhood, a character from a French novel (Molière's Monsieur Jourdain) discovering he has been speaking prose all his life, plants negating seeds, Mamelukes out-fighting French soldiers (or otherwise), "yea, yea", and "nay, nay" (these two are very popular), and so on, ad nauseam.
In tandem with this, we encounter the same old bluster, hand waving, sweeping generalisations, special pleading, snide remarks and diversionary tactics, whenever dialectics encounters any serious criticism.
DM, the erstwhile philosophy of change, has thus remained stuck in a 19th century time-warp.
Little sign here of the Heraclitean Flux!
It is pertinent to ask, therefore: How is it possible for DM to be "brought to workers" (as a part of revolutionary theory) if its best theorists appear to be incapable even of bringing it to themselves after over 140 years of not trying all that hard?
Claims that there have been working-class dialecticians (such as Joseph Dietzgen, Tommy Jackson and Gerry Healy, etc.), who are supposed to have 're-discovered' dialectics for themselves from scratch, are entirely bogus. For example, according to his son, Dietzgen was a small-scale, or petty-bourgeois, capitalist most of his life, and he obtained his ideas from reading books on Philosophy. He didn't discover them for himself. [Introduction to Dietzgen (1906a).] Moreover, his writings themselves are ample confirmation of the fact that he didn't understand this incomprehensible theory, either.
Jackson, on the other hand, was a genuine working-class Marxist, but he 'caught dialectics' from Hegel, and his own classic book on the subject [Jackson (1936)] shows that he, too, didn't understand a word of it -- again, not because it is too difficult, but because, like the Christian Trinity, it is incomprehensible. In that work, where Jackson touches on DM, his account is as clear as mud. [Proof? See the long quotation from Jackson's book reproduced in Essay Three Part One, along with my analysis of it.]
Healy also came from a petty-bourgeois background; he drifted in and out of the working class for a while -- later becoming a de-classé professional revolutionary --, only to 'catch dialectics' from reading Lenin's MEC, a debilitating condition later seriously aggravated by the lethal strain he picked up from prolonged exposure to PN. [Proof? Just open a copy of Healy (1990) at any randomly selected page; it will then be apparent to all but Healy-worshippers that no sane individual could possibly "understand" dialectics. Read more -- if you have the stomach for it -- here, and here. (Also, check-out his recently discovered political suicide note.)]
[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism; i.e., Lenin (1972); PN = Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks; i.e., Lenin (1961).]
Finally, Trotsky's attempt to show that workers are "unconscious" dialecticians is subjected to detailed criticism in Essay Nine Part One (here). For example, his claim that workers know that it is impossible to make two identical objects is itself rather puzzling. [Trotsky (1971), p.65.] Not only is this not a counter-example to the LOI (which concerns an object's alleged self-identity), it isn't even an instance of Trotsky's own confused 'definition' of it!
On the contrary, it is in fact very easy to make two identical objects; physicists tell us that every photon, for example, is identical to every other photon. Hence, each time a worker throws a light switch, he or she makes countless trillion identical objects -- which, it seems, must mean that such workers are "unconscious" anti-dialecticians.
[Substantiation for these assertions can be found in Essay Six.]
Naturally, contentious claims like these can only be neutralised by an a priori stipulation to the contrary -- that is, that every photon in existence (past, present and future) must be non-identical, despite what scientists tell us, and in abeyance of the almost infinite amount of data that would be needed to support such a cosmically ambitious assertion.
Well: Have You Thoroughly Studied And Fully Understood The Whole Of Hegel's Logic?
The alarming facts upon which the above allegations supervene are thrown into stark relief by Lenin's surprising and oft-quoted remark that not one single Marxist up until his day -- which must have included Engels, Dietzgen, Kautsky, Luxemburg, and Plekhanov -- actually understood Marx's Kapital, since none of them had fully mastered Hegel's Logic!
"It is impossible to completely understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!" [Lenin (1961), p.180. Bold emphases alone added.]
Clearly, Lenin's aside raises serious questions of its own. If professional revolutionaries (and many philosophers) find Hegel's work impossibly difficult to comprehend, is it credible that workers can themselves fully understand the whole of Hegel's Logic? In which case -- if Lenin is correct --, what chance is there that anyone (revolutionary or worker alike) will ever make head-or-tail of Marx's Kapital?
Furthermore, it is worth noting that Lenin himself admitted that he found certain parts of Hegel's Logic impossibly obscure, or just plain nonsense. [Cf., Lenin (1961), pp.103, 108, 117, 229.]
This must mean that even Lenin failed to understand Das Kapital!
Of course, all this is rather puzzling, since Marx never set this as a pre-requisite for understanding of his masterpiece.
[In fact, if anything, the opposite is the case -- on that, see here.]
HM -- Introduced From The Inside
In the end, it is shown that no thesis exclusive to DM can be generated from workers' experience -- whereas workers are already aware of key aspects of HM -- and of those they aren't, they are easily persuaded of their truth when in struggle. [The details have been omitted from this Summary, but they can be found here.] This means, of course, that while DM has to be substituted into workers' heads from the "outside", HM doesn't have to be introduced to workers externally.
Because of their materially-grounded language, their experience of exploitation and oppression, and the fact that HM is based on, and addresses that experience (as well as their suppressed awareness both of their own de-humanised condition, their oppression and their struggle against it), it is actually introduced to workers, as it were, from the inside.
Revolutionary politics merely brings to workers a well-developed, scientific theory (HM) that generalises their experience, providing the tactics, strategy and organisation necessary to overthrow Capitalism. In fact, this is all that needs to be "brought to workers". [Of course, in a workers' revolutionary party, sections of the proletariat plainly bring it to the rest of their own class -- i.e, "from the inside".]
This should make revolutionaries organisers and administrators, not prophets.
In that case, DM can only ever appeal to substitutionists.
HM And DM -- A Dialectical Unity?
Throughout these Essays, HM has been distinguished from and counterposed to DM. To some, this might seem a bogus distinction. But, no Marxist of any intelligence would use slogans drawn exclusively from DM to agitate or propagandise workers. Consider for example the following: "The Law of Identity is true only within certain limits and the struggle against the occupation of Afghanistan!" Or, "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the campaign to keep hospital HH open!" Or, "Change in quantity leads to change in quality (and vice versa) and the defence of pensions!" [An excellent example of the uselessness of this particular 'law' can be found here.] Or even, "Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming, and the fight against the Nazis!"
Slogans like these would be employed only by militants of uncommon stupidity and of legendary ineffectiveness.
In contrast, active revolutionaries use ideas drawn exclusively from HM to communicate with workers. Revolutionary papers, for instance, use ordinary language, coupled with concepts drawn from HM, to agitate and propagandise; rarely do they employ DM-phraseology. [What few examples there are of the latter are considered here.]
Only deeply sectarian papers, of exemplary unpopularity and impressive lack of impact use ideas lifted from DM to try to educate and agitate workers. Newsline (the daily paper of the old WRP) used to do this, but like the Dinosaurs it resembled, it is no more.
This shows that the distinction drawn between DM and HM isn't the least bit spurious -- in communicating with workers, militants draw it all the time.
The present work merely seeks to systematise it.
It could be argued that DM brings in its train a deeper understanding of the development of nature and society. However, as the Essays at this site have shown, if we needed a "deeper understanding" of such things, DM wouldn't even make the 'longlist', never mind the shortlist of viable candidates.
Ruling Ideas Continue To Rule
In order to make their theory seem to 'work', DM-classicists have had to adopt a ruling-class view of nature and society, 'allowing' them to interpret these as the product of hidden forces, 'abstractions' and 'essences', which are accessible to thought alone. In which case, DM-theses are completely dependent on centuries of alien-class experience and Ideal forms-of-thought.
Lenin admitted as much, perhaps without realising the full significance of what he was saying:
"The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia. In the very same way, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose altogether independently of the spontaneous growth of the working-class movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia." [Lenin (1947), pp.31-32. Bold emphases added.]
"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.
"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]
In that case, the conclusion is reasonably clear -- in fact, Lenin seems quite proud to acknowledge it --, DM-theorists have imported ruling-class forms-of-thought into Marxism.
That being so, the spectacular lack of success Dialectical Marxism has experienced isn't the least bit surprising; plainly, this is partly due to the class-compromised and divisive theory that dialecticians have tried to substitute into workers' heads (against the materialist grain, as it were).
Dialectics can't "seize" the masses since it seizes-up the brain of anyone unfortunate enough to allow it to colonise their brain:
"Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it." [Max Eastman.]
[Some have objected to my quoting Eastman -- many of whom are quite happy to refer the rest of us to the ideas of that mystical, bourgeois philosopher, Hegel, in the next breath. My quoting Eastman doesn't imply that I agree with his subsequent political trajectory; quite the opposite in fact. But, he was absolutely right about "Hegelism".]
Any who remain unconvinced by the above assertion (about "seizing up") should read the writings of any randomly-selected academic dialectician. Unless you are extremely lucky, you will find page after page of incomprehensible jargon and impenetrable gobbledygook, much of which is about as clear as a theological commentary on the Incarnation of Christ.
The confused writings of hardcore 'revolutionary' dialecticians (like Healy, and to a lesser extent Ira Gollobin and Woods and Grant, for instance), further confirm this negative conclusion.
Hegel's Immaculate Concepts?
Despite this, the importation of Hegel's ideas into Marxism is often justified by comrades on the basis that he lived at a time when the bourgeoisie were the revolutionary class, and so his ideas weren't as 'ideologically-tainted' -- so to speak -- as those of later thinkers.
Now this excuse might work with theorists like Smith or Ricardo, but it can't work with Hegel. Not only did he live in politically backward Germany, where there was no such revolutionary bourgeois class, his ideas represented both a continuation of ruling-class thought and a throwback to earlier mystical views of nature and society. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part Five and Essay Fourteen Part One (summaries here and here).]
Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination were Hegel's ideas scientific, unlike those of Smith and Ricardo.
Nor can it be argued that Marx derived HM from Hegel; in fact (as Lenin himself half admitted) both he and Hegel were influenced by the Scottish Historical School (of Ferguson, Millar, Hume, Steuart, Robertson, Anderson, and Smith). [On this see Meek (1967b) and Wood (1998, 1999). Also see my comments here.] If anything, Hegel's work actually helped slow down the formation of Marx's scientific ideas, by mystifying them.
Finally, no dialectician, as far as I know, would argue the same for other figures who were writing at about this time, and who were much closer to the class action (as it were). Does anyone think this of Berkeley? And yet he lived in and around what was the leading capitalist country on earth at the time: Great Britain. Or, of Shaftesbury and Mandeville? Slap bang in the middle these two. And it is little use pointing out that this pair wrote shortly after the reaction to the English Revolution, since Hegel did so, too, after the reaction to the French Revolution. Nor is it any use arguing that these two were card-carrying ruling-class hacks, since the same can be said of Hegel. Or, even that one of them was an aristocrat; it may be news to some, but Hegel wasn't a coal miner!
Indeed, the only reason Hegel is chosen for special treatment is because of contingent features of Marx's own biography. Had Marx's life taken a different course, or had Hegel died of typhoid forty years before he actually did, does anyone think we'd now be bothering with dialectics? It is no surprise therefore to find that Marx himself moved away from Hegel and Philosophy all his life. [The first of these controversial claims is substantiated in Part One of Essay Nine; the second, here.]
Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
Independently of this, it could be objected that this allegedly class-compromised background isn't sufficient to condemn DM. After all, it could be argued that the advancement of humanity has always been predicated on practices, concepts and theories developed by individuals freed from the need to toil each day to stay alive -- for example, the work and ideas of scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, technologists, and the like. Surely, this doesn't automatically impugn every idea drawn from outside the workers' movement. Neither does it mean that philosophical notions are in general of no use to revolutionaries. Indeed, denouncing certain beliefs just because they are alien to the working-class is inconsistent with key ideas found in HM itself. In that case, the fact that DM is based on Hegel's system doesn't automatically malign it, especially if the latter has been given a materialist make-over (as Marx himself argued), and has subsequently been tested in practice.
Furthermore, the origin of DM goes back many centuries, and is related in complex ways to the development of class society and thus of humanity in general. Admittedly, that implicates this process in the formation of ideas representing the theoretical interests of former and current ruling-classes. But, even granting that, such ideas have also featured in the overall development of human knowledge -- indeed, many of these have been integral to the advancement of science itself. Considerations like these do not compromise DM in any way; on the contrary, as Lenin noted, this complex set of connections (linking DM with the very best of human endeavour) constitutes one of its strengths. Dialectical thought is thus not only part of the theoretical maturing process of humanity, it is a vital component in its future development.
Or, so it could be argued, once more.
However, DM isn't quite so easily exonerated. That is so for several reasons:
(1) DM-theses make no sense. Anyone who thinks otherwise is invited to say clearly (and for the first time ever in well over a hundred and forty years of its adherents not trying all that hard) what sense they do make. As the Essays posted at this site show, anyone who attempts this modern-day 'labour of Sisyphus' will face an impossible task.
(2) DM-concepts hinder the development revolutionary theory and practice. We saw this in more detail in Essay Ten Part One -- for example, in connection with Lenin's advice relating to a certain glass tumbler. [Other examples are given in Part Two of Essay Nine.]
(3) DM is locked into a tradition of thought that has an impeccable ruling-class pedigree. No wonder then that it hangs like an albatross around our necks, to say nothing of the negative effect it has had on generations of comrades. [These have also been detailed in Essay Nine Part Two.]
(4) Although many claim that science is intimately connected with earlier philosophical and religious/mystical forms-of-thought, this is in fact less than half the truth. Indeed, materialist and technological aspects of science haven't been as heavily dependent on such ruling-class ideas as many believe. [That rather bold claim will be substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]
(5) DM-concepts undermine ordinary language and common understanding; this means that workers have had to have these alien-class ideas inserted into their heads against the materialist grain, as it were. As such, DM (a) fosters passivity, (b) rationalises substitutionist ideology, and (c) aggravates sectarianism and (d) encourages corruption. [More on this in Parts One and Two of Essay Nine. On the phrase "common understanding", see here.]
(6) The materialist flip allegedly performed on Hegel's system, so that its 'rational core' might be appropriated by revolutionaries, has been shown not in fact to have been through 180 degrees, as is often claimed, but through the full 360. [On that, see especially Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part One.]
(7) It isn't being claimed here that DM is false because of its ruling-class pedigree; it is in fact being maintained that this 'theory' is far too confused to be classified as true or false. Nevertheless, several of its deleterious effects can in fact be traced to ruling-class forms-of-thought. [More on that in Essay Nine Part Two, and Essay Fourteen Part Two.]
(8) Practice has actually refuted dialectics. [Either that, or truth isn't tested in practice.]
(9) Finally, and perhaps more importantly, DM has played its own part in not only rendering Dialectical Marxism the long-term failure we see before us today, but also in exacerbating the serious personal, organisational and political corruption that generations of petty-bourgeois party 'leaders' have brought in their train.
In spite of this, it could be argued that the above counter-response ignores the fact that some of the best class fighters in history have not only put dialectics into practice, they have woven it into the fabric of each and every classic Marxist text. Indeed, without it there would be no Marxist theory. How would this have been possible if the above accusations are correct? And what alternative theory and/or literature (that has been tested in the 'heat of battle', as it were) can Ms Lichtenstein point to that recommend her ideas as superior to those found in this proven tradition, one stretching back now over 150 years?
Most of the above (volunteered) response is demonstrably wrong; the link between DM and (successful) practice was severed in Essay Ten Part One, (and will be undermined further in Part Two of Essay Nine).
Furthermore, very few of the classic Marxist texts (that is, outside the DM-cannon) mention this 'theory' (except in passing). [Despite claims to the contrary, neither these works nor these theorists use DM to derive any (positive) practical conclusions; on that, see here, here, and here, ] Indeed, as Part One of Essay Nine shows (here and here), Das Kapital itself is largely a Hegel zone (upside down, or 'the right way up'). But, even if this weren't the case, the fact that Dialectical Marxism has been such a long-term failure ought raise serious questions about the malign influence this theory has had on HM and on revolutionary practice in general.
Indeed, if Newton's theory had been as spectacularly unsuccessful as Dialectical Marxism has been, his ideas would have been still-born as they rolled off the press.
In addition, a continuing commitment to dialectics just because it was good enough for the 'founding fathers' of our movement -- and for no other reason -- is itself based on the sort of servile, dogmatic and conservative faith one finds in most religions.
There is, indeed, something decidedly unsavoury in witnessing erstwhile radicals appealing to tradition alone as their only reason for maintaining their commitment to such class-compromised ideas -- especially since this doctrine hasn't served us too well for over a century, and which remains unexplained to this day.
Failure Substituted For Success
But, we have yet to consider the flip side: the deleterious effect on militant minds of all this ruling-class thought, and how it is connected with the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism.
More to the point: How and why have leading comrades fallen for this ideological con-trick? Why were such first-rate revolutionaries so easily duped?
These and other questions will be tackled in Part Two.
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Latest Update: 11/02/16
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