16-10-01: Summary of Essay Ten Part One -- Dialectics Refuted By Practice And By History

 

Preface

 

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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.]

 

[Latest Update: 11/05/17.]

 

 

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1) Introduction

 

2) Practice And Truth

 

a) Truth Tested In Practice?

 

b) Practice Shows Practice Is Unreliable

 

c) Pragmatic Theories Of Truth

 

d) Converging On The Truth?

 

3) Dialectics -- Refuted By History

 

a) Dialectical Failure After Dialectical Failure

 

b) Excuses, Excuses

 

i)   Flat Denial

 

ii)  'Objective Factors'

 

iii) Ignore The Problem

 

iv) It's Too Early To Tell

 

c) The Silence Of The DMs

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

Introduction

 

This Essay aims to show the following: that (i) The link dialecticians imagine exists between practice and truth is illusory; (ii) Even if it were the case that truth is tested in practice, practice has in fact returned a devastating verdict; and (iii) Lenin's theory of knowledge undermines DM faster than anything written at the site.

 

Finally, it is worth reminding the reader that this summary takes the conclusions of Essay Nine Parts One and Two for granted.

 

Practice And Truth

 

Truth Tested In Practice?

 

At this stage, it could be objected that the allegations advanced against DM at this site ignore the fact that truth is confirmed in practice. This oft-repeated claim was summarised by Lenin as follows:

 

"From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, -- such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality." [Lenin (1961), p.171. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

From this it could be argued that if dialectics has actually been tested in practice and has been verified countless times, then the abstract, academic points raised in these Essays can be ignored -- perhaps even dismissed as pure "sophistry".

 

However, as we will see, far from being the Ace-in-the-Hole that DM-supporters imagine it to be, practice turns out to be their Black Spot.

 

Practice Shows Practice Is Unreliable

 

The idea that truth is confirmed in practice is manifestly unreliable. Here is why:

 

First, practice isn't a guarantor of truth. Incorrect theories often make successful (practical and theoretical) predictions -- as, for example, Ptolemy's system did for many centuries. In fact, the allegedly superior Copernican system was no more accurate than Ptolemy's had been. The latter was refined progressively in line with observation for over a thousand years, becoming more accurate as a result. Despite this, it was no nearer to what we might now regard as the 'truth'. [There are countless examples of this phenomenon in the history of science.]

 

Second, correct theories can sometimes fail, and they can do so for many centuries. For instance, Copernican Astronomy predicted stellar parallax, which wasn't observed until 1838 with the work of Friedrich Bessel, almost three centuries after Copernicus's book was published.

 

Similarly, Darwin's theory of descent through modification made predictions that were at variance with patently obvious facts: the persistence of inherited variations. The latter were inconsistent with Darwin's own "blending" theory of transmission. Given his account, new and advantageous variations should be blended out of a breeding population, not preserved or enhanced. It wasn't until the advent of genetically-based theories of inheritance (re-discovered) forty or so years later that Darwin's theory became viable.

 

Moreover, this new synthetic theory didn't achieve success by preserving anything from the old blending theory (and, because of that fact, that defunct theory cannot be seen as an approximation to the 'truth' toward which later developments more closely inched scientific knowledge). Indeed, because of the difficulties his ideas faced, Darwin found he had to incorporate Lamarckian concepts into later editions his classic book in order to rescue his ideas. Hence, in the period between, say, 1865 and 1900 there were very good reasons to reject Darwinism (as many serious biologists did). This means that the development of the most successful theory of the 19th century (and arguably one of the most successful ever) actually contradicts the DM-account of truth, by making incorrect predictions, and by failing in practice for many decades.

 

In addition, the elements that early Darwinists edited into and out of their theory did not move what was left of his theory closer to the 'truth', either. In fact, these changes achieved the opposite effect, since they relied on Lamarckian principles. Even worse, as Darwin himself noted, his theory was contradicted by (and is still contradicted by, and might always remain contradicted by) the incompleteness of the fossil record (with its huge gaps -- on this, see for example, Schwartz (1999); also see here, and the essay links here). This inconvenient obstacle is still largely ignored, downplayed, re-interpreted, or explained-away by Neo-Darwinians.

 

In response, DM-fans often appeal to the 'spiral' metaphor to account for such phenomena. But, as will be argued in more detail in Essay Ten Part One, unless we already know what the 'truth' is, we are in no position to argue that any particular theory is spiralling in on it. And, as we have also seen in this Summary, practice can't tell us that either!

 

Moreover, the spiral metaphor plainly relies on continuity if it is to work, but the history of science shows major breaks in continuity, alongside the invention of theories which can't be grafted onto any sort of spiral since they are so radically different from anything that had gone before or has emerged since. This means, of course, that the development of science in no way resembles a spiral.

 

For example, Descartes's Vortex Theory and Newton's Theory of the Solar System are radically different and, other than the fact that the planets revolve around the Sun, are as unlike as any two theories could be. Indeed, the transition from Descartes's system to Newton's involved what one might call "cognitive loss". That is because the former ('false') theory could explain why all the planets moved in the same direction around the Sun, and in the same plane, whereas Newton's couldn't. Those facts remained inexplicable until the advent of the Kant-Laplace Nebular Hypothesis a hundred or so years later. On this, see Laudan (1996), p.117.

 

So, the progress of science looks more like a Rube Goldberg machine than a spiral!

 

 

Figure One: Scientific Theory -- A Spiral?

 

Third, some theories can make both successful and unsuccessful predictions. We saw that above with Descartes's Theory; it predicted that the planets would all move in the same direction and in the same plane, but it also predicted there would be no precession of the equinoxes.

 

Consider, too, the 'contradictions' between Newtonian Physics and observation -- those that prompted both the discovery of Neptune alongside the 'non-discovery' of the planet Vulcan (not to be confused with a 'planet' of the same name on Star Trek!):

 

"The arguments which terminate in an hypothesis's positing the existence of some trans-Uranic object, the planet Neptune, and the structurally identical arguments which forced Leverrier to urge the existence of an intra-Mercurial planet, the planet 'Vulcan', to explain the precessional aberrations of our 'innermost' solar system neighbour are formally one and the same. They run: (1) Newtonian mechanics is true; (2) Newtonian mechanics requires planet P to move in exactly this manner, x, y, z,; (3) but P does not move la x, y, z; (4) so either (a) there exists some as-yet-unobserved object, o, or (b) Newtonian mechanics is false. (5) (4b) contradicts (1) so (4a) is true -- there exists some as-yet-undetected body which will put everything right again between observation and theory. The variable 'o' took the value 'Neptune' in the former case; it took the value 'Vulcan' in the latter case. And these insertions constituted the zenith and the nadir of classical celestial mechanics, for Neptune does exist, whereas Vulcan does not." [Hanson (1970), p.257.]

 

[More details can be found in Hanson (1962).]

 

Moreover, we don't have to appeal to the natural sciences for examples of this phenomenon; there are plenty to be found in revolutionary practice itself.

 

For instance, in the late 1980s and early 1990s the UK-SWP argued that the UK Poll Tax could only be defeated by the active involvement of organised labour. A strategy of civil disobedience (coupled with demonstrations and mass meetings) was regarded as insufficient to beat this tax. Admittedly, the SWP didn't counterpose these tactics, but argued that both should be built together.

 

As it turned out, the other strategy won.

 

[Again, there are many more examples of this sort of thing in revolutionary politics, not all of which implicate the UK-SWP.]

 

It could be objected to this that these examples clearly ignore wider and/or longer-term issues. In the first case, the Ptolemaic system was finally abandoned because it proved inferior to its rivals in the long run. The same applies to Darwin's theory, which, when combined with Mendelian genetics, is closer to the truth -- and that is also the case with Newtonian Physics, which has since been superseded by the TOR.

 

[TOR = Theory of Relativity.]

 

Furthermore, the Poll Tax simply reappeared in a modified form as the present-day Council Tax. To be sure, the total defeat of such regressive taxes (etc.) must wait for the revolutionary overthrow of Capitalism; here the involvement of the organised working class is essential.

 

All this is undeniable, but the above response is unfortunately double-edged: if it is only in the long run that we may determine whether or not a theory is successful, then that theory might never be so judged. As we saw in Essay Three Part Two, that is because future contingencies could always arise that refute any given theory -- no matter how well it might once have seemed to 'work'. In fact, if history is anything to go by, this has been the fate of the vast majority of previous theories. Even though most, if not all, at one time 'worked', or were well-supported, the overwhelming majority were later abandoned.

 

As Philosopher of Science, P K Stanford, notes:

 

"...[I]n the historical progression from Aristotelian to Cartesian to Newtonian to contemporary mechanical theories, the evidence available at the time each earlier theory was accepted offered equally strong support to each of the (then-unimagined) later alternatives. The same pattern would seem to obtain in the historical progression from elemental to early corpuscularian chemistry to Stahl's phlogiston theory to Lavoisier's oxygen chemistry to Daltonian atomic and contemporary physical chemistry; from various versions of preformationism to epigenetic theories of embryology; from the caloric theory of heat to later and ultimately contemporary thermodynamic theories; from effluvial theories of electricity and magnetism to theories of the electromagnetic ether and contemporary electromagnetism; from humoral imbalance to miasmatic to contagion and ultimately germ theories of disease; from 18th Century corpuscular theories of light to 19th Century wave theories to contemporary quantum mechanical conception; from Hippocrates's pangenesis to Darwin's blending theory of inheritance (and his own 'gemmule' version of pangenesis) to Wiesmann's germ-plasm theory and Mendelian and contemporary molecular genetics; from Cuvier's theory of functionally integrated and necessarily static biological species or Lamarck's autogenesis to Darwinian evolutionary theory; and so on in a seemingly endless array of theories, the evidence for which ultimately turned out to support one or more unimagined competitors just as well. Thus, the history of scientific enquiry offers a straightforward inductive rationale for thinking that there are alternatives to our best theories equally well-confirmed by the evidence, even when we are unable to conceive of them at the time." [Stanford (2001), p.9.]

 

[See also Stanford (2000, 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2009, 2011, 2015). See also Chang (2003), Cordero (2011), Laudan (1981, 1984), Lyons (2002, 2003, 2006), and Vickers (2013).] (Several of these link to PDFs.) My referencing these works does not imply I agree with everything they contain.]

 

So, if anything, practice shows that practice is unreliable!

 

Furthermore, if it is only in the long run that superior theories win out, or can be judged superior, then for most of the time inferior theories could make (and have made) successful predictions, or support successful practice. In that case, we would have no way of telling the good from the bad most of the time.

 

The above observations apply equally well to dialectics. If Dialectical Marxists have to wait for the revolutionary overthrow of Capitalism before they know whether their theory is correct, or whether it actually works, then they might not only have a long time to wait, they could find that Marx's caveat (reproduced below) in the end refutes everything (i.e., everything but that anti-deterministic pronouncement itself). Clearly, Marx and Engels wouldn't have put this passage in the Communist Manifesto if practice always confirmed truth, and correct theories invariably worked -- whatever they might appear to have said elsewhere:

 

"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." [Marx and Engels (1968b), pp.35-36. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Anyway, such long-term promissory notes can't tell us today whether 'Materialist Dialectics' is correct. Indeed, this is one of the principal weaknesses of such pragmatic criteria: they are projective and are hence hostages to fortune.

 

Furthermore, an appeal to the "closer approximation" of a particular theory to the truth would be to no avail (or, at least, it would be of no help to fans of the 'dialectic'). As we have seen throughout this site, in this respect, DM isn't even in the running. That is partly because its own precepts condemn its adherents (and humanity) to infinite ignorance (on that, see here), and partly because its core theses make not one ounce of sense (on that see Essays Two through Eleven).

 

Pragmatic Theories

 

[PMT = Pragmatic Theory of Truth; COT = Coherence Theory of Truth; CTT = Correspondence Theory of Truth.]

 

Nevertheless, a reliance on practice means that DM-epistemology has inherited many of the weaknesses of the PMT. In fact, it is possible to show that the PMT collapses into the CTT, which in turn depends on the COT. And, as is well-known, the COT has always enjoyed a close, if not unhealthily incestuous relationship with Idealism. [That will be demonstrated in a later Essay.]

 

Moreover, the idea that truth is confirmed in practice is dependent on the CTT, not the other way round.

 

That is because, if theory, T, predicts that for some sentence, S, expressing a prediction, P of T, and practice brings it about that what S says actually occurs, then in order to judge that what S says is indeed the case, S would have to be compared with relevant facts and/or evidence to see if P was true. Manifestly, no one would try to guess whether S was true (i.e., that P is correct); and there is no way that more practice could confirm that S is the case. Hence, the confirmation of the results of practice is dependent on 'correspondence relations', not the other way round (as, indeed, Lenin seems to have acknowledged).

 

[This shouldn't be taken to imply I accept the CTT; but many DM-fans do. I am simply working out the implications of this.]

 

Consider a more concrete example: Let us suppose that party, RR, sets out to help win a strike by, among other things, arranging a series of meetings, distributing leaflets, organising marches, making collections, widening the dispute, advocating active picketing, and so on. If, on the basis of revolutionary theory, they then predict that one or more of these will help win that strike -- and that strike is won as a result --, the fact that those predictions were successful wouldn't itself be confirmed by yet more practice.

 

And this fact should be apparent even to hard-nosed Bolsheviks, if they thought about their own practice with respect to practice. There seems to be little point in appealing to practice if the results have to be constantly reinterpreted when outcomes fall short of expectations -- as they almost invariably seem to do for us revolutionaries.

 

But, when they are confronted with the glaring and long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, its supporters do just this -- they deny that it has been tested in practice and shown to fail, promptly appealing to "objective factors" to account for this long and depressing record. On the other hand, they happily attribute the few successes Dialectical Marxism has witnessed over the years to 'Materialist Dialectics'. In that case, practice can only ever win; it is never used to account for failure, only success. Hence, practice and the theory that inspired it needn't ever be altered, since they can never fail. And so this sorry theory staggers on through yet another half-century of disaster.

 

Once more, the reason for saying this is that pragmatic theories are eternal hostages to fortune. Because of that, those who appeal to practice as a test of truth should feign no surprise when future contingencies fail to match repeatedly dashed expectations.

 

Converging On Truth?

 

Again, it could be objected that modern scientific theories are remarkably successful, which must mean that they are closer to the truth, and that is why they work. The same is true of DM.

 

Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that a theory's success does not imply it is 'nearer the truth'. This is because:

 

(1) We have already seen that success doesn't imply truth to begin with -- nor does it imply 'approximate truth'. For example, Ptolemy's theory wasn't even approximately true, even though it made successful predictions for well over a thousand years. Neither were many of the other theories mentioned above.

 

(2) Well, does scientific theory actually "converge on the truth"? To be sure, theories not only have to survive rigorous testing, they evolve over time. But, the fact that certain theories remain viable doesn't imply they are converging on some unspecified, and unspecifiable, 'truth'. The fact that such theories remain viable for some time is down to a further obvious and rather banal fact that they have so far survived. However, that doesn't mean that they are "closer to the truth". Indeed, in order to be able to say they were "closer to the truth", we should have to know what that "truth" is so that any such 'alethic proximity' judgements might themselves be deemed true! And, statements of faith to one side, how might that be ascertained, for goodness sake?

 

For example, there is no such thing as the true form of a cat, which all cats are evolving toward. Cats just survive. Truth doesn't enter into it. So successful cats don't prove cats are true. Moreover, cats, like theories, could become extinct one day, no matter how well they once survived, or 'worked'. Indeed, most of the species that have ever existed are now extinct. Does that mean that they were unsuccessful when they were around? Hardly. And did that guarantee they would always remain so? Clearly not. And the same goes for any and all theories (as the history of science confirms).

 

In response it could be objected that theories are not at all like cats, dogs, or any other species; they are either (partially-) true or they aren't. Species can't in any meaningful sense be characterised this way.

 

Maybe not, but the DM-link between practice and truth makes the analogy with cats all the more apposite, for, on that account theories are true because they work. Now, the reason why some theories work, or survive, and others do not is analogous to the way certain species do in fact survive. There are all sorts of historical, social and ideological pressures on theories and those who develop or advocate for them, which, like the environment impact on organisms, filter out those not suited to that environment.

 

In that case, the fact that a theory survives, or works, doesn't imply it is true. To be sure, a case for the obverse inference might well be made (i.e., that a 'true' theory will or should work, or survive -- however, we have already seen that this, too, is open to considerable doubt), but not this. Unless we know on independent grounds that a theory is 'true', its survival can't be used to infer its 'truth'. And, as we have seen, practice itself can't discriminate the 'good' from the 'bad', often over many centuries.

 

And, as we have seen, practice itself can't discriminate the 'good' from the 'bad'.

 

[To be sure, this is a complex issue, but this is after all only a summary! More details can be found in Essays Ten Part One and Thirteen Part Two (when it is published).]

 

(3) There are other reasons for arguing that no scientific theory could be true, even when they make true (and novel) predictions. That isn't because they are all false, or carry some form 'indeterminate truth-value', but because they are incapable of being true or false. In fact, scientific theories are more like rules, and thus they aren't the sort of thing that could be true or false.

 

[The rules of, say, Major League Baseball aren't capable of being true. They are either workable or they aren't, obeyed or abrogated. This idea will be spelt-out in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two (when it is published). In the meantime, readers are directed here for more details.]

 

If so, then the emphasis revolutionaries place on practice as a guide to truth is misguided at best --, which is all to the good, given the points about to be raised in the next section.

 

Dialectics -- Refuted By History

 

Dialectical Failure After Dialectical Failure

 

As it turns out, past events and practice do return a clear verdict: they confirm the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism.

 

[Notice the use of the word "dialectical" in front of "Marxism"; I am not claiming Marxism has failed, just the mystical version that has been infected with Hegelism, upside down or 'the right way up'.]

 

Hence, dialecticians would be well advised to stop using practice as proof of the truth of their theory.

 

When a list is drawn up of all the 'successes' 'our side' has 'enjoyed' over the last hundred and fifty years or so, it soon becomes clear how depressingly short it is. Worse still: our few 'successes' are greatly out-numbered by our multiple 'failures'. A shortened list of both has been reproduced in Table One, below.

 

 

  'Failures'

   'Successes'

(1) The Revolutions of 1848.

(1) Russia, 1917. (Major success, later undermined and then reversed.)

(2) Paris, 1871.

(2) Countless strikes. (Rate of exploitation merely re-negotiated.)

(3) Russia, 1905.

(3) Revolutionary wars of national liberation; e.g., China 1949, Cuba 1959, Vietnam, 1945-75. (All deflected or reversed.)

(4) Ireland, 1916-21.

(4) The Anti-Nazi League, and successor organisations. (Major success, so far. However, the rise of the BNP in 2009 suggests that this might be too hasty a judgement. On the other hand, its demise in 2010 suggests this is in the right column -- so far.)

(5) The United Kingdom, 1919.

(5) The UK Anti-Poll Tax campaign. (Partial success.)

(6) Hungary, 1919.

(6) Numerous popular and anti-imperialist movements; e.g., Venezuela 2002-17, (now rapidly going backwards) Bolivia 2003-09, Georgia 2003, Ukraine 2004-05, Nepal 2006, Lebanon 2006-07, Iran 2009, Egypt 2011. (All either partial/deflected, or it is too early to tell.)

(7) Italy, 1919.

(7) Limited democratic and other assorted reforms. (Many now being reversed or undermined.)

(8) Germany, 1918-23.

(8) Seattle 1999 and the Anti-Globalisation Movement.  (Rapidly petering out.)

(9) China, 1926.

(9) The UK Stop the War Coalition, and the International Anti-War Movement, 2002-17. (Equivocal and/or petering-out.)

(10) The United Kingdom, 1926.

(10) In the UK: Respect -- which, after a promising start, in October/November 2007 has split! That might mean this entry is now in the wrong column. [Similar developments have taken place in the rest of Europe.]  In addition, as of early 2013, the UK-SWP seems to be fragmenting, which might mean that (4) above will also have to be re-categorised, too.

(11) Spain, 1936-39.

(12) France, 1936.

 

(13) East Germany, 1953.

 

(14) Hungary, 1956.

 

(15) Poland, 1956.

 

(17) Czechoslovakia, 1968.

 

(18) Italy, 1969-70.

 

(19) Chile, 1972.

 

(20) Portugal, 1974.

 

(21) Nicaragua, 1979-90.

 

(22) Iran, 1978-79.

 

(23) Poland, 1980.

 

(24) Palestine, 1987-88.

 

(25) China, 1989.

 

(26) Eastern Europe, 1989-90.

 

(27) France, 1968, 1995.

 

(28) Indonesia, 1998-99.

 

(29) Serbia, 2000.

 

(30) Argentina, 2000-02.

 

(31) Countless large and small strikes.

 

(32) The Stop the War Movement, 2002-13. (Equivocal so far.)

 

(33) Scores of  Rebellions, Insurrections, Uprisings and Indigenous Movements.

 

(34) Dozens of National Liberation, Anti-imperialist and Civil Wars.

 

(35) All four Internationals; the Fifth has already split!

 

(36)  Reformism, Centrism, Stalinism, Maoism, Orthodox Trotskyism.

(37) Sectarianism, Splits, and Fragmentation.

 

(38) Trade Union Bureaucracy, Modern Social-Democratic Parties.

 

(39) Systematic corruption in Marxist parties. [On this, see Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

 

Table One: The Dialectically-Depressing List

 

In response, it could be argued that the above list is highly prejudicial since it is padded out with dozens of failures that not only pre-date revolutionary Marxism, but which have nothing whatsoever to do with 'Materialist Dialectics', or even with Marxism in general.

 

However, if these are filtered out -- along with the corresponding successes enjoyed by these non-revolutionary, non-Marxist movements -- the list would be even more depressing!

 

Also worthy of note is the relatively massive scale of the 'defeats' our side has suffered compared to the modest and temporary gains made over the last 150 years. For example, the catastrophic blow delivered by the failure of just two revolutions (e.g., those in Germany and Spain between 1918 and 1939) far outweigh all our successes combined.

 

Excuses, Excuses...

 

When confronted with such overwhelmingly disconcerting facts, dialecticians tend to respond in one or more of the following ways:

 

(1) Denial: They flatly deny that Dialectical Marxism has been an abject failure. Typically, such comrades point to 1917, the handful remaining 'socialist' states left on the planet, or, perhaps, to the few faint rays of hope there are in the world right now -- i.e., Cuba, but more recently, Venezuela -- however, the Venezuelan economy is tanking now that the price of oil has collapsed (indeed, President Maduro announced a state of emergency in January 2016), difficulties compounded by the ruling socialist party suffering a body blow in the National Assembly Elections in December 2015. Some even argue that the above failures don't refute Marxism, often in the same breath as appealing to practice as proof of their theory! [On Venezuela, see here.]

 

(2) Shift The Blame: If Dialectical Marxists admit to any failures, they blame them on "objective factors", or on other Marxist parties. "Objective factors" include a determined, vicious and aggressive response from sections of the capitalist class, a relatively weak, divided or underdeveloped proletariat -- which is either (i) passive, (ii) has been 'bought-off' (allegedly by 'imperialist super-profits'), (iii) has been distracted, deflected, or impeded by "false consciousness" (and the like) -- compared to a well-organised and focused ruling-class.

 

Or, indeed, the above are then often linked to the failures in theory, strategy, and tactics adopted by the various revolutionary groups involved in previous debacles.

 

But, it is worth adding, the above fiascos are never the errors of the party to which any particular excuser belongs; it is always "those other guys" who screwed up. They just don't "understand" dialectics, you see.

 

(3) Nothing To See Here: Many simply ignore the problem. This is the 'head-in-the-sand' syndrome we have met several times already, only now applied to the glaringly obvious, long-term results of practice. DM-fans who adopt this supine approach to these unwelcome results of practice clearly lose all right to appeal to this criterion as a test of truth.

 

(4) Whistling  In The Dark: Others argue that it is too early to tell. After all, it took many centuries to see the back of Feudalism. If so, it is wildly unrealistic to expect Dialectical Marxism to triumph overnight.

 

Now, there doesn't seem to be much point in dialecticians claiming that 'Materialist Dialectics' guides all they do, avowing that truth is tested in practice, if, when the latter reveals its long-term verdict, that verdict is denied, disregarded or explained away.

 

Excuse 1: The flat denial that DIM has been an abject failure

 

Oddly enough, there actually are comrades who think Dialectical Marxism has been a ringing success. This is confirmed by the overwhelming number of DM-fans who still appeal to practice as a test of the truth of their theory. They would hardly argue this if they thought Dialectical Marxism was an abject failure.

 

Unfortunately, they have so far failed to reveal where and how it enjoys this blessed condition. Presumably there is a Workers' State on the outer fringes of the Galaxy?

 

Systematic denial of reality of this order of magnitude is almost impossible to counter -- that is, without professional help.

 

In fact, there is no debating with hardcore Idealism of this sort -- i.e., with an attitude-of-mind that re-configures the material world to suit a set of comforting ideas, and which then encourages its adepts to bury their heads in their own idea of sand.

 

 

Figure Two: The Search For A Dialectical Success Story Intensifies

 

Anyone who can look at the international situation and fail to see that our entire movement is fractured from top to bottom, or that it is in long-term and seemingly endless decline -- and that the vast majority of workers have never been, and are not now "seized" by Dialectical Marxism --, is probably more of a danger to themselves than they are to the ruling-class.

 

Finally, 1917 can't be chalked-up as a 'dialectical success' -- why that is so is explained here.

 

[The other alleged 'successes' have been discussed in the main Essay, here.]

 

The following comments are meant specifically for STDs and OTs:

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation; STD = Stalinist Dialectician; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]

 

The alleged ruling-class of the former communist states (i.e., workers!) were remarkably passive when those regimes were toppled, having raised not one finger in their defence. Contrast this with the way workers, for example, have fought in Nepal in 2006, or Lebanon, Serbia, France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Burma, Bolivia (and again more recently), Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, AlgeriaTunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria -- in fact the population of Syria has been resisting the Asad murder machine now for over five years, and have suffered well over 450,000 deaths for their pains --, Hong Kong, and the rest of the Middle East (January 2011-November 2016), to name but a few. These were often in defence even of limited forms of bourgeois democracy let alone in defence of what was supposed to be their own state.

 

Indeed, this is all the more remarkable given the additional fact that the Soviet working class and the Soviet State were supposed to be the most powerful in history, as even Stalin noted:

 

"At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27, 1930. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Add to this the extra fact that the working class of the former Soviet Union [fSU] was supposedly in control not only of one of the most powerful military forces on the planet, but also of the unions, the police, the party, the state bureaucracy, the courts, and the media. Considering the overwhelming force available to them (far in excess of any available to workers at any point in human history), workers could easily have crushed any attempt to undermine the Soviet Union (or, indeed, compromise it after Stalin died, as some STDs now claim) had they chosen to do so. More-or-less the same can be said of the 'People's Democracies' in Eastern Europe, as well as the 'socialist' states of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia..., and now China and Cuba. [On the latter, see here.]

 

On this, see the pictures posted on the opening page of this site -- or, indeed, this video.

 

In response to this, Stalinophiles often point to opinion polls that seem to suggest (a decade or so ago) that a large proportion of the population of Russia would prefer to go back to the old system. However, as we know, the results of such polls can be skewed by the options on offer or the questions posed. Had they been asked instead the following: "Do you prefer to return to a system dominated by mass incarceration, oppression and lack of democratic control, governed by a self-selecting and self-perpetuating elite that lines its pockets at your expense?" I rather think the results would have been somewhat different. Of course, that question is itself prejudicial and politically-motivated, so the real test of opinion here isn't simply for the Russian population to express passive opinions about the past, but what they are now prepared to do to fight to restore the old system, and what they did in defence of that system when they supposedly had their hands on the levers of power.

 

The answer, of course, is: absolutely nothing.

 

I have raised this of Stalinophiles (on the Internet) for many years; their only response so far is either to (i) Quote a few opinion polls, (ii) Deflect attention (often accompanied by copious abuse and emotive personal attacks thrown in for good measure), or (iii) They rapidly change the subject!

 

The only two conclusions possible here are the following: (i) Russian workers, despite being the most powerful and well-organised working class in human history, allegedly in control not only of one of the mightiest military forces on the planet, but of the unions, the police, the party, the state bureaucracy, the courts, and the media (etc., etc.), were in fact the most cowardly and pusillanimous working class ever, or (ii) The fSU wasn't socialist and workers were glad to see the back of it. The same can be said about the rest of the Communist Block.

 

The following comments are intended specifically for NOT-, and OT-dialecticians:

 

Unfortunately, both Stalinism and Maoism have proven to be far more 'successful' than Trotskyism has ever been (despite the glaring failures mentioned above), so the demise of the above State Capitalist/Deformed/Degenerated Workers' States is small consolation.

 

[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; NOT = Non-OT.]

 

But, to what can OTs and NOTs point that is a comparable 'success'?

 

Excuse 2: "Objective" factors

 

It is undeniable that objective factors have seriously hindered the revolutionary movement. These include a relatively well-organised, ruthless, rich, powerful and focussed ruling-class, imperialism and expanding economies across the globe -- factors seriously compounded by racism, sexism, nationalism and sectionalism among workers --, and so on.

 

But, dialecticians are quite clear: the veracity of a theory can only be tested in practice. Now, since that requires the subjective input of active revolutionaries (that is, according to them, not me, they all employ 'Materialist Dialectics' as a 'guide' to practice), this aspect of practice has plainly failed.

 

Alternatively, if practice has worked, then the meaning of the word "success" must have 'dialectically' changed into its opposite.

 

We thus face three possible alternatives:

 

(A) 'Materialist Dialectics' has in fact never actually been tried out, or put into practice.

 

(B) Revolutionaries have actually been using another theory all along (which fact they kept remarkably well hidden). Or,

 

(C) The theory they say is central to all they do has indeed been a monumental failure.

 

Clearly, either of (A) or (B) would constitute a refutation of 'Materialist Dialectics' (in view of what dialecticians themselves say about practice), and (C) would be a fatally-damaging admission. Small wonder then that, faced with these options, DM-fans often opt for Excuse 3, below

 

However, if and when revolutionaries can be dragged screaming and kicking to acknowledge the 'subjective' side of failure, they almost invariably blame it on a lack of "revolutionary leadership" (but, this failing is then brazenly attributed to other parties or traditions, never their own), all the while forgetting to note the input of dialectics in all of this. [On that, see here.]

 

Once more: is there a party on this planet that can legitimately claim the opposite (over the last eighty or ninety years)? Has anyone, anywhere, won the mass of workers to their side? Or, helped create a Workers' State that has remained such for several generations (and actually representing the interests of the vast majority)? Or, recorded even so much as a medium-sized, permanent success?

 

Despite this, many still maintain that the failure of Dialectical Marxism isn't connected in any way with 'Materialist Dialectics'. In fact, this is one of the most common criticisms made of the Essays published at this site -- that is, critics deny dialectics is even partially (or remotely) responsible in any way for our long-term, abysmal record.

 

Connected with this, there are those who deny 'Materialist Dialectics' is even central to revolutionary politics! Among these are the aforementioned comrades who berate me for concentrating my fire on this theory. "Why try to slay the already dead?", they ask. Others who join in the denial it is central to Marxism also, in the next breath, try to defend it! But, why try to defend a useless theory, one that isn't, or hasn't, actually been, used? Or, indeed, which is now a dead duck?

 

Although, it must be said, those advancing the above criticisms almost invariably ignore the qualifications I include in what I allege (i.e., where I add that DM is only partly to blame here), and they continue to ignore that salient codicil no matter how many times they are shown it at my site! Naturally, that allows them to attack a 'straw man', thus laying down a welcome mat for yet another generation of failure!

 

Nevertheless, and despite the above, this is a rather odd objection -- the claim that DM has nothing to do with the dismal failure that now seems almost synonymous with Dialectical Marxism. After all, isn't everything in the DM-universe supposed to be inter-linked? [On that, see here.] Who issued Dialectical Marxism with an exception certificate in this regard?

 

On the other hand, those who reject any connection at all between 'Materialist Dialectics' and the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism can't claim in one breath that everything in nature and society is inter-related, and then in the very next deny there is a link between their core theory and its disastrous track record!

 

Unless, of course, we are to suppose that the only two things in the entire universe that aren't interconnected are the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory!

 

So, whether or not there have been "objective" factors -- and if we accept the DM-thesis that truth is tested in practice -- practice itself has refuted the subjective side of Dialectical Marxism: 'Materialist Dialectics'.

 

[On the centrality of 'dialectics' to Dialectical Marxism, see here. One or two critics have been puzzled by the phrase "subjective side of Dialectical Marxism", even though "subjective dialectics" seems to create few such problems. One suspects a differentially critical eye here -- in so far as these critics are quite happy with the latter, but query the former. "Subjective side of Dialectical Marxism" means no more than that DM not only has to be, it has been, used by individuals who claim to be Marxist or revolutionaries. Or so they claim. Their application of this theory has plainly failed the movement right across the board, as we have seen.]

 

Excuse 3: Ignore the problem

 

This is probably the safest alternative for dialecticians to adopt -- completely ignore the problem -- or, failing that, explain it away. It is certainly the option that inadvertently furthers the interests of the ruling-class, since it prevents the serious philosophical and political problems our movement faces from being addressed, helping guarantee another century of failure.

 

Indeed, the boss-class itself couldn't have designed a theory better suited to screw with our heads if they had tried, initiating in our movement a monumental waste of time as our very best theorists and activists vainly try to grapple with Hegel's fluent Klingon in order to make some sort of sense of it -- unsurprisingly, none so far!

 

Furthermore, as pointed out several times, even if this weren't the case, and success were indeed an unfailing criterion of truth, since there is as yet no socialist society on earth, we will only know if DM is correct after the event. So, this criterion can't tell us whether DM is valid now.

 

[Incidentally, that partially disposes of Excuse Four.]

 

In fact, as noted earlier, the following declaration could itself become true:

 

"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." [Marx and Engels (1848), pp.35-36. Bold emphasis added.]

 

According to this, the "contending classes" could wipe each other out --, or at least the class war could result in their "common ruin", which outcome itself isn't at all easy to square with the NON (why that is so will be explored in Essay Three Part Five).

 

However, judging by the way that dialecticians themselves disregard the deliverances of practice, this suggests that even they do not accept this criterion -- in practice.

 

For, in practice, they ignore it!

 

Again, as pointed out here, pragmatic theories like this are hostages to fortune; any who adhere to them shouldn't act surprised if history pays little heed of their dialectically-compromised day-dreams, and delivers decade after decade of refutation.

 

Excuse 4: It's too early to tell

 

This we might call the 'Whistling In The Dark' option.

 

Now, to state the obvious, it isn't easy being a revolutionary. Not only are we in the overwhelming minority, we face unremitting hostility from the capitalist media -- but, more often, even worse (venomous) hostility from other (supposed) revolutionaries --, and our ideas are openly rejected or ignored by the vast majority of workers (except in times of struggle when a small minority sometimes pays heed). On top of that, we have to face up to the depressing fact that our side has seen little other than failure for many generations -- and this is the case even if we go back as far as the English and French revolutions!

 

So, in the face of all that, it is hardly surprising that dialecticians tell themselves comforting stories to maintain, or restore, their morale.

 

But, just like the Second Coming of Christ, the future seems continually to mock any and all hope anchored in the present.

 

But, rather like the Second Coming, the future seems continually to mock each and every consoling hope anchored in the present, or hived off into a past seen through rose-tinted glasses.

 

Nevertheless, Christians at least try to appeal to something tangible to convince themselves they aren't in the grip of an irrational delusion of some sort (be this the 'signs of the times', or personal experiences of 'god', or whatever).

 

But, to what can beleaguered dialecticians appeal?

 

Well, perhaps this: dialecticians tell us year in year out that Capitalism is in crisis (but, there are far too many references to that effect for me to quote them all here and hope to have space for anything else -- in fact, readers should visit this site, type the word "crisis" in the search box, and see what emerges), and they have been doing this now for well over a hundred and thirty years.

 

How much of this is in effect crying wolf?

 

Clearly, we can't keep "crying wolf" like this before even we begin to smell a rat.

 

[Apologies for that mixed metaphor!]

 

So, DM-fans who are tempted to reach for Excuse Four should pause for thought -- and that thought should focus on one or both of the following considerations:

 

(1) Is there anything in the history of Dialectical Marxism to suggest dialecticians won't continue to screw up?

 

(2) Is it really too early to decide that Dialectical Marxism inspires about as much confidence as a drug addict's promises to quit?

 

Independently of the above, there is another doubt that has been nagging away since the beginning of this Summary: How do we know that 'Materialist Dialectics' is correct?

 

Not in the future, but right now?

 

No appeal to practice can answer that query (as we have seen), and an appeal to yet more 'Materialist Dialectics' would be of even less help (as we have also seen).

 

[HM = Historical Materialism.]

 

In fact, the only thing we can appeal to is HM --, and to a version of HM stripped of all those comforting and consoling phrases derived from mystical Christianity and the Hermetic writings of that modern-day Kingpin of Opiates: Hegel.

 

~~~~~oOo~~~~~

 

There is in fact an Excuse Five (i.e., the above is far 'too simplistic'). I can't enter into that topic in this summary. However, it has been covered it in the main Essay.

 

The Silence Of The DMs

 

Truth "tested in practice" -- so we are told -- but, practice has faltered badly for much of the last 150 years.

 

[DMs = Dialectical Marxists.]

 

So, what is the 'dialectical' conclusion?

 

Easy: dialectics is a monumental success!

 

And, the evidence for that is, er..., well..., what?

 

Deathly silence...

 

Cue tumbleweed; cue rustling leaves; cue distant church bell...

 

 

 

Figure Three: The Evidence Just Keeps Stacking Up...

 

Latest Update: 11/05/17

 

Word Count: 8,220

 

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