16-07b: Summary Of Essay Seven: Engels's Second Law, The Interpenetration Of opposites -- Or, Why Dialectical Materialism Can't Explain Change
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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.]
[Since this Summary was written, I have published an Essay that is entirely devoted to this topic: If DM Were True, Change Would Be Impossible.]
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.]
[Latest Update: 26/01/20.]
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) Dialectical Logic Can't Explain Change
(a) Objects And Processes Change Into Their 'Opposites' -- Or Do They?
(b) Are Dialectical Cats Immortal
(c) Does Everything Have An Opposite?
(d) Suicidal Cats
(e) Are You About To Change Into A Giant Squid?
(f) Does Everything Change Into Its Opposite?
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
Dialectical 'Logic' Can't Explain Change
The doctrine that change occurs through 'internal contradiction' is analysed in detail in Essay Eight Parts One and Two; however, the thesis that everything is a UO -- which is a theory that is intimately connected with that doctrine -- hasn't yet been dismantled.
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Objects And Processes Change Into Their 'Opposites' -- Or Do They?
Engels depicted his second 'Law' as follows:
"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 62.]
Lenin put things this way:
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
However, DM-theorists (like Lenin and Engels) are decidedly unclear whether objects and processes change because of (a) A contradictory relationship between their internal opposites, or (b) They change into these opposites, or even whether (c) Change itself creates such opposites.
[FL = Formal Logic; NON = Negation of the Negation; UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Lenin's words merely illustrate this confusion in an acute form -- where he declares, for instance, that: "the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other…". Engels is equally unclear: "[M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other...." The same can be said of Plekhanov and Mao:
"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77. Bold emphases added.]
"Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, -- under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, -- why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another." [Lenin (1961), p.109.]
"In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another....
"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." [Mao (1961b), pp.340-42. Bold emphases added.]
As already noted, these theorists plainly believe that all objects and processes (a) Change because of a struggle between internal opposites, (b) Change into their opposites, and (c) Produce these opposites when they change.
[Dozens of passages from the DM-classics and from more recent 'lesser' works that all make the same points have been posted here.]
As we are about to see, the idea that there are such things as "dialectical contradictions" and UOs (etc.), which cause change, presents DM-theorists with some rather nasty dialectical headaches, if interpreted along the lines expressed in the DM-classics.
To see this, let us suppose that object/process A is comprised of two "internal contradictory opposites" (or "opposite tendencies") O* and O**, and changes as a result.
[The problems I am about to highlight also emerge if these are viewed as 'external' contradictions. They arise, too, even if it is argued that the above changes only take place "under certain circumstances". I have omitted these complications since this is a summary Essay.]
But, O* can't change into O** -- since O** already exists!
According to this theory, if O** didn't already exist, O* couldn't change, for there would be no opposite there to bring that about, nothing with which it could 'struggle'. Recall, O* can only change if it struggles with its opposite, which, plainly, it couldn't do if O** didn't already exist.
And, it is no good propelling O** into
the future so that it becomes what
O* will change into, since O* will do no such thing unless
O** is already there in the present to make this happen!
So, if object/process A is already composed of a 'dialectical union' of O* and O**, O* can't change into O** since O** already exists. In other words, A can't change, if this theory were true!
Indeed, at the very least, this 'theory' leaves it entirely mysterious how O** itself came about in the first place. It seems to have popped into existence from nowhere.
That is because O** can't have come from O*, since O* can only change if it struggles with O**, which doesn't yet exist! And pushing the process into the past (via a 'reversed' version of the NON) will merely reduplicate the above problems. [Again, why this is so is explained in detail here.]
It could be objected that the above argument appears to place objects and processes in fixed categories, which is one of the main criticisms dialecticians have of FL. On that basis, it could be maintained that the above argument is completely misguided.
Fortunately, repairs are easy to make: let us now suppose that object/process A is comprised of two changing "internal/external opposites", or tendencies, O* and O**, and it thus develops as a result.
The rest still follows: if object/process A is already composed of a changing dialectical union of O* and O**, and O* 'develops' into O** as a result of a struggle between these opposites, then the above objections still apply. Once more: O* can't change into O** since O** already exists.
Of course, it could be argued that O** 'develops' into O*.
[This objection might even incorporate that eminently obscure Hegelian term-of-art: "sublation".]
But, even if that were the case, this alternative still won't work.
Let us once again suppose that object/process A is comprised of two changing "internal opposites"/tendencies O* and O**, and thus develops as a result. On this scenario, O* would change/develop into a "sublated" intermediary. To that end, let us call the latter, "O*1" (which can be interpreted as a combination of the old and the new; a 'negation' which also 'preserves'/'sublates').
If so, then O*1 must remain forever in that state, unchanged, for there is as yet no not-O*1 in existence to make it develop any further -- assuming, of course, that not-O*1 is the 'dialectical opposite' of O*1. If it isn't its opposite, then O*1 couldn't change anyway since there would be nothing with which it could struggle.
So, there has to be a not-O*1 to make O*1 change further, if the DM-classics are to be believed. Of course, we could try to exempt O*1 from this 'dialectical requirement', but, if we do that, there would seem to be no good reason to accept the version of events presented in the DM-classics, which tells us that all things/processes change because they struggle with their opposites (and O*1 is certainly a thing/process).
Furthermore, if we make an exemption here, then the whole point of the exercise would be lost; for if some things do, and some things do not, change in accord this dialectical 'Law', we would be left with no way of telling which changes were and which weren't subject to it. This would also make a mockery of the DM-classics that tell us that everything changes in the way they say: by 'struggling' with its opposite.
This is, of course, quite apart from the fact that such a subjectively applied exemption certificate (issued to O*1) would mean that nothing at all could change. That is because, if we accept this theory, everything in the universe is in the process of change and is thus already a sublated version of whatever it used to be -- hence, everything is in its own way a version of O*1.
Despite this, even if O*1 were to change into not-O*1 (as we suppose it must if we are to believe what the DM-classics tell us), then all the earlier problems re-assert themselves, for this could only take place if not-O*1 already existed to make it happen! But, not-O*1 can't already exist, for O*1 hasn't changed into it yet!
None of this, of course, denies change, only that DM can account for it.
On the other hand, if DM were true, change would be impossible.
[The above argument is set out in more detail here, where several obvious and less obvious objections are neutralised. As far as social change is concerned, see here, here and here.]
Are 'Dialectical Cats' Immortal?
It could be agued that the above ignores the many stages there are in the development of changing objects and processes. In order to counter that objection it might prove useful to see how DM might cope with the stages in, say, a cat's life and death: The DM-classics inform us that cats, too, change because of a 'struggle of opposites', and that they change into those 'opposites' (since we are told everything in the entire universe changes this way).
intermediate stages in
the life and death of cat C, whether or not these are 'sublated'
intermediaries, or 'tendencies', or something else.
Let us assume that cat, C, goes through n successive stages C(1), C(2), C(3)..., C(n-1), C(n), until at stage C(n+1) it finally pops its clogs.
stages can even be seen as 'dialectically' interlinked, or even as 'moments' in the
ongoing process of change experienced by this cat. I consider the alternative
model that "opposite tendencies" in
this cat are what cause it to change, and then die,
According to the dialectical classics, C(1) can only change into C(2) because of a 'struggle of opposites', and C(1) must also change into that with which it has struggled; hence, C(1) must 'struggle' with and change into C(2).
However, C(1) can't change into C(2) since C(2) already exists. If C(2) didn't already exist, C(1) couldn't 'struggle' with it!
Furthermore, if C(2)
is itself to change, it must
also struggle with whatever it develops into -- that is, it must 'struggle' with and change into, C(3),
its 'opposite'. But,
C(2) can't change into C(3) since C(3) already exists! If it
didn't, there would be nothing to make C(2) change, nothing with which it
By n applications of the above argument: if this 'theory' is to be believed all the stages of a cat's life must co-exist if it is to change. In which case, no cat could change, let alone die! And what applies to cats, applies to anything and everything in the entire universe that changes. All their stages must co-exist, too.
If everything must co-exist alongside all its developmental stages in order for it to change, it is a mystery how there would be any room left in the dialectical universe for anything to move, let alone change!
With such absurd implications, is it any wonder that this 'theory' has failed us for so long, and that workers in their hundreds of millions across the globe ignore Dialectical Marxism?
Does Everything Have An 'Opposite'?
Putting all this to one side for now, and ignoring for the moment the question how Hegel, Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov and Mao (never mind the rest) could possibly know this 'Law' was true of everything in existence and for all of time (on this, see Essay Two), it is worth noting that some things do not seem to have any 'internally interconnected opposites'. For example, electrons, which, while they appear to have several external opposites (but it unclear what the opposite of an electron is -- is it a positron or is it a proton?), they seem to have no internal opposites, as far as can be ascertained. They are elementary particles. In that case, they must be changeless beings -- or if they do change, they don't seem to do so as a result of their "internal contradictions" (for they don't have any). And neither do they change into their alleged opposites (which, according to the DM-classics, everything inevitably does). Well, do electrons turn into protons? Or, even into positrons?
Of course, the problem here is that DM-fans invariably slide effortlessly between a logical and a spatial understanding of "internal" [More on that here. Clearly, in this Introductory Essay I can't go into this in any detail.]
Nevertheless, even though the spatial sense of "internal" seems reasonably clear, an example might help clarify the difference between these two senses of that word: all the lines of longitude on a map are logically-internally connected with the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. Their location and status depend on that Meridian; any change to the latter automatically changes each of the former. Remove the Prime Meridian and they disappear with it. The nature and existence of each associate meridian thus depend on the Prime Meridian. In this case, although each line is also spatially linked to the Prime Meridian they aren't geometrically internal to it, they are logically internal to it -- but, of course, they still aren't UOs. On the other hand, "spatially-internal" applies where objects and processes are merely inside another object or process. No logical connection is necessarily implied by this relation. So, although both your appendix and your brain are internal to you, there doesn't appear to be any logical connection between them -- if there were, you couldn't ever have your appendix removed without your brain ceasing to exist. Furthermore, it isn't easy to see how, say, the alleged UO between electrons and protons (or is it positrons?) is logical, as opposed to being merely spatial. Electrons can exist without protons, and vice versa.
The use of terms like "internal" dates back to Leibniz and Kant -- but, as with most things in Traditional Thought, the seeds of this confusion stretch back into the fog generated by Ancient Metaphysics --, where one concept was said to be internally related to another if the definition and existence of one automatically implied the existence and nature of the other, or of the rest. So, bachelor was said to imply unmarried man, and vice versa. It has to be said, though, that the equivocation mentioned above -- whereby DM-fans slide between two different senses of "internal" -- also dates back to these two Philosophers who helped create this confusion by their choice of the word "internal". Hence, it was only a matter of time before the spatial connotation came to the fore. Despite this, there is still a clear distinction between something being logically-, and something being spatially-internal. Nevertheless, the spatial sense of "internal", as that term is used in DM whereby two objects or 'concepts' are said to be part of a UO simply because they are inside something else (while also appearing to be 'opposites' perhaps) doesn't of itself make them 'dialectical opposites' -- that is, unless there is some sort of logical connection between them whereby they imply each others existence, just like the existence of the proletariat is said to imply the existence of the bourgeoisie, and vice versa.
Much of the sloppy thought that passes for 'Marxist dialectics' in this area is a direct result of this equivocation. DM-fans have appropriated the spatial sense of this term assuming without proof that simply by doing this the items implicated in this were also dialectical opposites. Rarely if ever do they demonstrate how the existence of one of the items involved implies the existence of the other, and vice versa. In fact, in the vast majority of cases, there is no such connection, so no wonder they draw a veil over this topic.
However, much of the following material depends on interpreting "internal opposites" in one way -- i.e., spatially -- since that is how DM-theorists largely understand this term. Even so, the other alternative (i.e., reading "internal opposites" logically) will also be considered where applicable. Readers need to keep this in mind as they proceed.
[On the serious difficulties this equivocation creates for DM-theorists, see here.]
Furthermore, it is plain that this particular equivocation has also arisen because of an inappropriate organicist metaphor dialecticians have inherited from Hegel. Of course, the parts of an organism are both spatially-, and possibly even also logically-internal, to that organism (even though those parts aren't logically-internal to one another, as noted above), but, when we move beyond Biology this metaphor loses whatever plausibility it might once seem to have had, and the above equivocation (between the spatial and the logical meaning of "internal") is bound to create problems -- indeed, as we are about to find out.
With this obfuscation in mind it is difficult to believe Lenin and the rest were serious in claiming that everything is a UO -- just as it is impossible to give credence to Lenin's claim that "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other….". [Lenin (1961), p.221. Emphases in the original.]
Are we really supposed to believe that, say, a domestic cat is a UO? But, what is the (spatial) opposite of a cat? A dog? A tulip? A tin of beans?
Is it perhaps a 'non-cat'? And yet, if a 'non-cat' were the opposite of a cat, it would mean that if everything does indeed change into its opposite, cats must change into everything they are not -- that is, each cat must change into one or more of the following 'non-cats': a tin of beans, an oak tree, a pebble beach, a pair of cuff links, a set of duelling pistols, a dog basket, a rift valley, a petrol station, a carburettor, an asteroid, a galaxy..., to name just a few of the non-cats there are in the universe. [The 'obvious' dialectical response to this particular objection will be considered presently.]
Not only that, but according to Lenin cats must contain all these things if they are indeed unities of their opposites (that is, if we interpret "internal" spatially -- once more it is worth reminding the reader that DM-fans slide effortlessly between a logical and a spatial understanding of this word) -- i.e., they must presumably be a unity of cat and 'non-cat' --, especially if the latter (i.e., this 'non-cat') is what causes a cat to change. Is, therefore, each unassuming domestic moggie a repository of all its myriad opposites, and do these opposites contain their own sets of opposites, ad infinitem, like glorified Russian dolls?
Well, it seems they must if, according to Lenin, "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…." Hence, if change is the result of a struggle between 'internal opposites' (declared above to be an "absolute" by Lenin), and everything changes into everything else (as it now seems to be the case from the above comment of Lenin's), then cats must both contain and change into a host of things, which must in turn contain and change into even more such 'opposites'.
[Again, this assumes that Lenin was using "internal" in its spatial sense. If he was using it in its logical sense, then both he and Hegel failed to show that there were any such 'logically-internal' opposites in, or of, cats, or anything else, for that matter. On this, see Essay Eight Part Three, as well as here and here.]
It is little use complaining that these are ridiculous conclusions; if everything changes into its opposite, then follow they must. Any who still object should rather pick a fight with dialecticians for promoting such a crazy view of reality.
So, if cats do change, as surely they do, then they must change into their opposites. But, where are these 'opposite cats'? And how do they both feature in and cause the changes they allegedly induce in the original animal? On the other hand, if they don't do this, does this mean that feline parts of nature are not subject to 'dialectical law'?
Now, Engels did at least try to respond to this fatal objection by arguing that we must learn from nature what the actual properties of objects and processes are in each case, and hence, presumably, what each can legitimately change into. [Admittedly, he made this point in relation to the first and third of his 'Laws', but there is no reason to believe he would have denied this of the second 'Law'.] He also pointed out that dialectical negation isn't the same as annihilation. [Engels (1954), p.63 and (1976), p.181.]
However, nature and society are annoyingly ambiguous in this respect. For example, lumps of iron ore can turn, or be turned into countless different things (with or without the input of human labour, etc.). These include the following: cars, car parts, rolling stock, aeroplane components, ships, submarines, magnets, surgical equipment, surgical appliances, cutlery, kitchen utensils, scaffolding, chains, bollards, barriers, cranes, plant machinery, pumps, tubes, engines, ornaments, jewellery, girders, weapons, sheet metal, tools, instruments, wire, springs, furniture, doors, locks, keys, gates, grates, manhole covers, lifts, escalators, anchors, railings, railway tracks, wheels, zips, bars, handcuffs, bullets, iron filings, rivets, nails, screws, steel wool, steel helmets, armour, iron (dietary) supplements -- alongside other assorted naturally occurring and artificial substances, such as, cytochrome nitrogenase, haemoglobin, hematite, magnetite, taconite, ferrofluids, numerous ferrous and ferric compounds (including rust, Ferrous and Ferric Sulphides, Fools Gold, etc., etc.) -- again, to name just a few.
Are we really supposed to believe that all of these reside inside each lump of iron? Or, that they are 'logically' connected with each lump (as one of Hegel's unique "others")? Alternatively, are we to suppose there are 'inner tendencies' quietly humming away in each block of iron ore, just waiting for the chance to turn them into handcuffs or manhole covers? On the other hand, if we adopt the 'logical view' of "internal opposites", how can all of the above be logically-related to iron ore as its unique "other"? If not, what exactly is the point of this 'Law' if iron can change, or be changed, into any of the above items? If each one isn't the unique "other" of iron ore, and yet iron ore can be turned into all of them, then that fact alone clearly undermines the validity of this 'Law'.
Again, switching back to the 'spatial view' of "internal opposites": if these items don't in fact exist inside each lump of iron -- or, even if they don't confront each other as antagonistic external or 'logical' opposites --, how is it possible for human labour or natural forces to turn iron ore into the above items while remaining in conformity with 'dialectical Law'? Does human labour work with or work against the 'Laws' of dialectics? If a lump of iron doesn't (logically or spatially) 'contain', say, a carving knife, how is it possible for human beings to change iron into carving knives, and for this to be done dialectically? Are there changes in nature and society that aren't governed by 'dialectical law'?
Are these iron DM-'Laws' not in fact applicable to iron itself?
In that case, exactly which opposites are united (spatially or logically) in or any particular lump of iron ore? Or, indeed, in or with all such lumps? Of course, it could be argued that the above considerations completely misconstrue the nature of this Law. No one supposes that cats and nuggets of iron ore contain their opposites.
Indeed, this is how Woods and Grant explained things:
"Nature seems to work in pairs. We have the 'strong' and the 'weak' forces at the subatomic level; attraction and repulsion; north and south in magnetism; positive and negative in electricity; matter and anti-matter; male and female in biology, odd and even in mathematics; even the concept of 'left and right handedness' in relation to the spin of subatomic particles.... There are two kinds of matter, which can be called positive and negative. Like kinds repel and unlike attract." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.65.]
However, if nature works in pairs (at least), what then is the paired opposite of a cat that causes that animal to change? If cats have no 'dialectical opposites', then it must be the case that such feline parts of nature (at least) don't work in pairs, and thus don't change.
But, whatever applies to cats must surely apply to countless other things. What then are the external or internal opposites of things like Giraffes, Snowy Owls, Mountain Gorillas, Daffodils, Oak trees, Chinese Puzzles, broom handles, craters on the Moon, copies of Anti-Dühring printed in China in January or February 1976, a day-return ticket for a journey between Poughkeepsie and Peekskill, New York, on the 25th of February 2013 -- or even the question mark at the end of this sentence? Now, all of these are subject to change, but not it seems because of any obvious oppositional pairing, or struggle, with its 'dialectical opposite'.
Is a question mark, for example, really locked in a life-and-death struggle with other punctuation marks? Or, with its 'DM-other' (depending on what this is)? But, what is the 'other' of an "?"? An "!", perhaps? And what does a day-return ticket for a journey between Poughkeepsie and Peekskill, New York, on the 25th of February 2013 'struggle' with? What is its 'other'? Or, is it the only changeless object in the entire universe?
[The term "other" here refers to an Hegelian term-of-art, accepted and used (at least) by Lenin; its relevance and philosophical significance are explained in more detail if readers follow the first link in the previous paragraph.]
It could be objected to this that in the case of cats (and several of the other objects listed above), the opposites concerned are plainly "male" and "female". But even if that were so, these are manifestly not "internal opposites" (and neither are they "internally related" to each other -- they are causally, historically and biologically related; sexual diversity is not a logical feature of reality -- if it were, not only would there be no hermaphrodites or asexual organisms, there could be none), so change here cannot be the result of 'internal contradictions'.
But, even if this weren't so, is it really the case that males and females must always conflict?
[Anyone who has, for example, seen Leopard Slugs mating might be forgiven for thinking that these fortunate creatures have had a dialectical exemption certificate encoded into their DNA at some point. They certainly don't 'conflict'!]
And do male cats really turn into female cats? They must if the DM-classics are to believed, where we are told that all things change into their opposites?
Moreover, while it is true that cats are able to reproduce because of well known goings-on between male and female moggies, cats themselves do not change because of the relationship between these two sexes. If they did, then a lone cat on a desert island would be capable of living forever (or, at least, of not changing). Hence, as long as this eternal and permanently miserably celibate moggie stayed clear of members of the opposite sex, it could look forward to becoming a sort of feline Super-Methuselah.
But, what are we to conclude about those organisms that don't reproduce sexually --, and worse what are we to make of, say, hermaphrodites? Are the latter an expression of a cosmic 'bourgeois anti-DM plot'?
What about gay sex? One might well wonder how Woods and Grant propose to account for homosexuality, not just among human beings but right across the animal kingdom along DM-lines. Indeed, how might DM-theorists in general account for it? Where is the 'Unity of Opposites', here? Might this not explain the fact that large sections of the Marxist left were openly homophobic until relatively recently. The old Militant Tendency (of which Woods and Grant were leading figures) was apathetic, if not openly hostile toward gay rights. In some communist countries this is still the case. For example, the Cuban regime was overtly homophobic until the 1980s and 1990s. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in China in 1997, and removed from the list of mental illnesses in 2002. Gays still face discrimination in Vietnam. The Soviet Union originally decriminalised homosexuality after the 1917 revolution, but this was reversed in the 1930s, and the situation didn't change much until the 1970s; it was only legalised when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Since then, gay rights have come under sustained pressure in Russia recently (which was only slightly attenuated because of international pressure threatening a boycott of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, and the World Cup in 2018), but this has nothing to do with communism. Not only is it difficult for Darwinism to account for homosexuality, Dialectical Marxists clearly face similar problems.
To say nothing of transgender issues...
And what should we conclude about things like broom handles and copies of Trotsky's IDM? Do they change because of the tension created by their own inner/outer opposites? But what could these possibly be? Is the opposite of IDM, Mein Kampf or Stalin's Problems of Leninism?
Could it even be these Essays?
Does this mean, therefore, that IDM will change into one of my Essays? Well, perhaps TAR will, since my work was originally aimed specifically in opposition to that book. In which case, had this work not been undertaken, would TAR and IDM have been eternally changeless books?
[IDM = In Defense of Marxism, i.e., Trotsky (1971); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]
As seems reasonably clear, the passage from Woods and Grant quoted earlier fails to resolve this problem.
On the other hand, if cats don't change as a result of the machinations of their external and/or 'logical' opposites, but because of their 'internal contradictions' -- or even as a result of their 'internal opposite tendencies' -- then factors topologically internal to cats must surely be responsible for their development (if, as noted above, we interpret the word "internal" spatially -- since we seem to have got nowhere interpreting it 'logically'). Should we now look inside cats for these illusive opposites? If so, do these opposites appear at the level of this animal's internal organs, or somewhere else? But what is the opposite of, say, a cat's liver? Does it have one? If not, is it an everlasting liver? It must be if it has no 'opposite'. On the other hand, if it does have an 'opposite', will a cat's liver one day turn into a cat's 'non-liver'? -- A fossil trilobite, say, or the Dog Star, maybe? These are all 'cat non-livers'. But, as we have seen, this can't happen unless these 'opposites' struggle with, and then turn into, each other. Has anyone witnessed a cat's live slugging it out with a cat's non-liver?
In order to discover what the 'internal contradictions'/'opposing tendencies' are in this case, perhaps we should delve even deeper into the inner recesses of these awkward, feline aspects of 'Being'?
[I will omit reference to 'opposing tendencies' from now so that unnecessary pedantic detail is reduced as much as possible; readers can assume they are included in what follows.]
If a cat's liver has no opposite, then perhaps its liver cells do? But once more, what is the opposite of a cat's liver cell? A kidney cell? A blood cell? (An onion cell?)
As we ferret deeper into the nether regions of feline inner space, perhaps these elusive opposites will appear at the molecular or atomic level? Some dialecticians seem to think so -- but they are only able to pull this dodge by ignoring their own claims that all of nature works in pairs, or paired opposites. So, we have yet to be told what, say, the River Amazon is twinned with, let alone what the Oort Cloud's dialectical alter ego could possibly be.
Nevertheless, it could be argued that 'internal opposites' actually involve the relations that exist between sub-atomic or inter-atomic forces and processes at work inside lumps of iron, cats, and much else besides.
But, if each thing (and not just each part of a thing), and each system/process in the Totality, is a UO (as we were assured they are by the DM-classicists), then cats and iron bars (and not just electrons, π-mesons (Pions) and positrons, etc.) must have their own internal and/or external opposites -- that is, if they are to change.
So, for a cat to become a 'non-cat' -- which is, presumably, the 'internal/external' opposite it is supposed to turn into --, it must be in dialectical tension with that opposite right now if that opposite is to help initiate such a change. [We saw this in a more abstract form earlier.] If not, then we can only wonder what dialecticians imagine the forces are (and from whence they originate) that cause cats and lumps of iron to change into whatever their opposites are imagined to be.
Furthermore, even if it argued that molecular, inter-atomic or sub-atomic forces actually power the development of cats, they will in general still have to change because of their paired macro-level opposites (whose identities still remain a mystery). It isn't as if each cat is struggling against all the protons, electrons and quarks buried beneath its fur. Nor are we to suppose that cats are constantly conflicting with their internal organs, fur or whiskers. If they were, then according to DM-lore, cats would have to turn into their internal organs, fur or whiskers, and the latter would have to turn into cats!
Moreover, even if sub-atomic particles were locked in a sort of quantum wrestling match with one another, the changes they induced in the average 'dialectical moggie' must find expression in macro-phenomena at some point, or cats wouldn't change. But what on earth could those macro-phenomena be?
Additionally, if change is to be located ultimately at the quantum level, then what are all those sub-atomic particles changing into? Many are highly stable. But, even supposing they aren't -- and if the DM-classics are to be believed -- whatever they change into must exist right now if it is to cause them to change into it. And yet, if these opposites already exist, the original particles cannot change into them. The very best that could happen here is that these 'opposite particles' must replace the originals (which then magically disappear!). In which case, given this 'disappearing' view of nature, things don't actually change, they just vanish, while other (seemingly identical) objects and processes take their place -- and they do so undialectically, too, since their opposites will have simply vanished; they won't have changed into them. But, we have been here already.
But, with no more 'opposites' to motivate them, they plainly can't be subject to further change.
The entire process would grind to a halt.
In that case, given this view of nature, things don't actually change, they just vanish, and other things take their place (and they do so undialectically, since their opposites will have simply vanished). But, plainly, with no opposites (since they have just vanished!), they couldn't change any further.
If we now ask what the 'inner tendencies' are that cause live cats to change into dead cats, it isn't easy to come up with a viable candidate. Some might point to catabolic and anabolic processes as examples of these 'inner tendencies', but they aren't actually tendencies, they are manifestly causal. [We saw earlier that such tendencies aren't causes.]
But, let us assume these processes (anabolism and catabolism) are (possible) viable candidates here -- even then this will fall flat. As was noted in another Essay:
Will anabolic processes become catabolic processes, and catabolic processes become anabolic processes? In fact, these processes don't even struggle with one another! [Follow the links below for more details.] But, they should if we were to believe everything we read in those dusty old DM-classics.
[Since I have devoted several sections of Essay Seven Part One to this very point, the reader is re-directed there for more details.]
Since these processes don't change into one another (which we have been told should happen to all such opposites), it isn't easy to see how DM can account even for change that happens to cats!
[The idea that there are 'internal opposites' of 'sub-atomic particles' is discussed in more detail in Essays Seven and Eight Part One.]
[This highly facetious and annoyingly impertinent sub-section can be ignored by DM-fans who disagree with the DM-classics that all change is the result of 'internal contradictions'. The rest should perhaps e-mail me with their solution to the conundrums outlined below.]
Moreover, if the forces that cause cats to change are solely internal to cats, then as far as their mutability is concerned, they must be hermetically sealed-off from the rest of nature (as must everything else -– this dire dialectical difficulty is examined in more detail in Essays Eight Part One, and Eleven Parts One and Two), otherwise change wouldn't be internal to cats.
If, on the other hand, the causes of feline change are external to cats, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into 'non-cats', and we are back where we started.
If we now ignore this 'either-or' of 'commonsense', and claim that cats change because of a 'dialectical' inter-play between 'internal' and 'external' contradictions, then we would be faced with the prospect of cats changing into these internal and external opposites, if the Dialectical Classics are to be believed. But, and once more, if these opposites already exist (which they must do if they are to bring about such changes through struggle), then cats can't change into them!
The same applies to sub-atomic particles: if the forces that cause change are solely internal to such particles, then as far as their mutability is concerned, they must be hermetically sealed-off from the outside world, too, otherwise such change wouldn't be internally-motivated. If, on the other hand, the causes of their change were external, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into a 'non-whatever'.
Alternatively, once more, if the opposites of such particles (internal or external -- or even a dialectic combination of the two) cause them to change into their opposites, then they needn't bother, for those opposites already exist. If those opposites didn't already exist, what could cause such changes?
In the macro-world, the idea that change is the result of 'internal contradictions' would seem to mean that when, say, a cat gets run over, that cat actually self-destructs, and the car that hit it had nothing to do with flattening it. One might well wonder then why nature produced such suicidal beasts. [Is this perhaps an example of 'natural de-selection'?]
Of course, it could be argued along Leibnizian lines that had the cat in question been internally strong enough it would have survived this unequal tussle with that car. So, the real cause of this cat's radically modified shape is in fact to be found inside that cat. [This argument is outlined here. As we will see in Essay Eight Part One, several DM-theorists do indeed argue along such lines.]
There is something to be said for this argument -- but fortunately not much. Whatever it is that causes a cat's shape to alter when run over is clearly not whatever it was that helped maintain its anatomical integrity from day-to-day. Something must have upset its structural stability in order to transform its shape; cats don't spontaneously flatten themselves. Few of us would be happy to be told by a Leibnizian drunk driver that it isn't his fault that the family pet is spread half-way across the road because the cat itself is the cause of its radically altered anatomy. In such cases, we clearly have an example of interacting causes for the demise of that cat, none of which can be put down solely to events internal to that unfortunate animal. Of course, dialecticians don't deny this, but as Essay Eight Part One will show, their 'theory' cannot account for or cope with such complexities.
Someone could object that DM can account for such catastrophic reconfigurations of cats. A combination of internal and external forces is the cause of their new geometry. But, not even that will work, for if a cat is to change into a flat cat, then according to the DM-worthies (link above -- where we are told that all objects and processes "inevitably" turn into their opposites because they struggle with them -- link above), the flat cat must already exist in order to flatten the non-flat cat into a flat cat. So the driver (unless we are desperate enough to describe her/him as a "flat cat" on the basis that he/she is the obvious cause of the flattened cat in question), given this new turn of events, didn't flatten the cat, the non-existent flat cat did that!
Despite this, and whatever their commitment to this 'Law' finally turns out to be, one supposes(!) that no dialectician still in command of her/his senses would excuse, say, a policeman for inflicting on her/him actual bodily harm on the basis that Leibnizian Nature unwisely failed to incorporate into the heads of militants the ability to withstand Billy Clubs.
Once again, dialectics would be disproved in practice; gashed heads aren't the result of "self-development".
Alternatively, once again, if the causes of feline (or cranial!) mutability are both internal and external, then change can't be the sole result of 'internal contradictions', and things wouldn't be self-developing, as Lenin believed.
In which case, it remains a mystery what the 'opposite' of a cat is (i.e., what a 'dialectical cat' must turn into), which is part of the UO that brings about such dramatic topological feline re-configurations --, if the DM-worthies are to be believed.
In that case, can DM explain dead moggies?
Or, indeed, anything?
Are You About To Change Into A Giant Squid?
Earlier we saw Lenin argue as follows:
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
If this is indeed so, it would seem to suggest that everything (and every property) must change into every other property! So, if Lenin were correct, heat, for example, must change into, say, colour, hardness and generosity (and much else besides); liquidity must transform itself into brittleness, circularity and inquisitiveness (and much else besides); gentleness must mutate into velocity, opacity and bitterness (and much else besides); squareness must turn into arrogance, honesty and duplicity (and much else besides), and so on.
In that case, are you about the change into a Giant Squid?
If Lenin is right, it seems you must.
Is there a single person on the planet -- not suffering from dialectics -- who believes any of this?
Once again, if these bizarre changes aren't the case (as they plainly are not!), and if such things aren't implied both by these terminally vague 'Laws' and by what Lenin opined, what is the point of him asserting that this is precisely what everything does?
Does Everything Change Into Its Opposite?
Furthermore, is it really the case that everything turns into its opposite, as Engels, Lenin, Mao and Plekhanov, and many others besides, believed? To be sure, certain states of matter do change into what we might conventionally call their "opposites" (e.g., a hot object might change and become cold; something above might later come to be below, and so on -- but even here these opposites do not cause these changes!), but this is certainly not true of everything. Do men, for instance, turn into women, fathers into sons, brothers into sisters, left- into a right-hands, the working class into the capitalist class, forces of production into relations of production, use values into exchange values, negative numbers/electrical charges into positive numbers/electrical charges, electrons into positrons, and matter into 'anti-matter'? If not, what is the point of saying that everything does indeed do this? And why claim that objects and processes have internal or external opposites if in most cases they feature nowhere in the action --, or, again, if many things do not turn into them?
Of course, that was the point of the observation made earlier about dialecticians vacillating between (1) the theory that opposites cause change and (2) the idea that things change into those opposites -- sometimes veering toward the doctrine that (3) change produces these opposites. The first of these alternatives is examined in Essay Eight Part One, but if the second alternative were the case, we would surely witness some bizarre transformations in nature and society as men changed into women, cats into dogs(?), banks into charities and the Capitalist Class into the Working Class -- and then back again.
[The objection that these opposites aren't 'dialectically-united' opposites was defused in Essay Seven.]
Naturally, as has been argued in detail above, if change merely creates these opposites then, plainly, that can't have been the result of a struggle between those two opposites, which have to exist side-by-side -- clearly so, since at least one element of these hypothetical pairs wouldn't yet exist. Hence, with respect to objects in the latter category, change would create them, not them it.
This completely scuppers the DM-account of change for it is now clear that there is nothing in the DM-scheme-of-things that could cause the many different sorts of change we see in nature and society.
In which case, if change occurs, dialectics -- the much vaunted 'theory of change' -- wouldn't be able explain it.
Indeed, if DM were true, change would be impossible.
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