16-02: Summary Of Essay Two -- Dialectical Materialism, Dogmatically imposed On Nature, Not Read From It
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Although I am highly critical of Dialectical Materialism [DM], nothing said here (or, indeed, in the other Essays posted at this site) is aimed at undermining Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept -- or, for that matter, revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary thirty-five years ago.
My aim is simply to assist in the scientific development of Marxism by helping to demolish a dogma that has in my opinion seriously damaged our movement from its inception: DM --; or, in its more political form, 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD].
The difference between DM and HM, as I see it, is explained here.
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.]
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.]
It is worth underling that my main objection to DM isn't that it has reproduced important aspects of ruling-class ideology, but that (1) DM makes no sense, and worse that (2) It is incoherent. These serious allegations are substantiated in Essays Three through Thirteen.
Furthermore, in what follows the truth or falsity of any or all of the allegedly dogmatic DM-theses alluded to in this summary isn't the point at issue, merely whether DM-theorists are consistent in their claim not to have imposed their ideas on reality. Why this is important in itself will also be explained below.
Of course, in other Essays posted at this site (especially Essays Four through Thirteen), the truth or falsehood of DM-theses will be the issue.
Throughout this Essay, readers will find me continually asking the following rhetorical question: "How could theorist A, B or C possibly know X, Y or Z?"
The answer is clear in each case: they couldn't possibly know these things by any ordinary means, which implies they must have been foisted on nature.
This question is asked continually in order to underline the fact that dialecticians en masse propound and promote theses that cannot possibly be substantiated by any conceivable body of evidence, no matter how large -- since they are a priori, universal, dogmatic, and eternally true -- and have thus been imposed on the facts.
Hard to believe?
Then read on...
[Latest Update: 26/01/20.]
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1) Ruling-Class Forms Of Thought
2) Radical Talk -- Conservative Walk
3) A Priori Dogmatics -- The Only Game In Town
4) Assorted Examples
(a) Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov, Trotsky And Mao
5) Linguistic Idealism -- The Original Lie
6) Why Dialecticians Do This
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
For over two thousand years Traditional Philosophers have been playing on themselves and their readers what can only be described as a series of verbal tricks. Since Ancient Greek times, metaphysicians have occupied themselves with deriving a priori theories solely from the meaning of a narrow range of specially-chosen (and suitably doctored) words. The 'philosophical gems' that resulted from this were painstakingly polished and then peddled to the rest of humanity dressed-up as 'profound truths' about fundamental aspects of reality, which were then imposed on nature, invariably without the benefit of a single supporting experiment. Not that the latter would have been relevant, anyway, as these two authors point out:
"Empirical, contingent truths have always struck philosophers as being, in some sense, ultimately unintelligible. It is not that none can be known with certainty…; nor is it that some cannot be explained…. Rather is it that all explanation of empirical truths rests ultimately on brute contingency -- that is how the world is! Where science comes to rest in explaining empirical facts varies from epoch to epoch, but it is in the nature of empirical explanation that it will hit the bedrock of contingency somewhere, e.g., in atomic theory in the nineteenth century or in quantum mechanics today. One feature that explains philosophers' fascination with truths of Reason is that they seem, in a deep sense, to be fully intelligible. To understand a necessary proposition is to see why things must be so, it is to gain an insight into the nature of things and to apprehend not only how things are, but also why they cannot be otherwise. It is striking how pervasive visual metaphors are in philosophical discussions of these issues. We see the universal in the particular (by Aristotelian intuitive induction); by the Light of Reason we see the essential relations of Simple Natures; mathematical truths are apprehended by Intellectual Intuition, or by a priori insight. Yet instead of examining the use of these arresting pictures or metaphors to determine their aptness as pictures, we build upon them mythological structures.
"We think of necessary propositions as being true or false, as objective and independent of our minds or will. We conceive of them as being about various entities, about numbers even about extraordinary numbers that the mind seems barely able to grasp…, or about universals, such as colours, shapes, tones; or about logical entities, such as the truth-functions or (in Frege's case) the truth-values. We naturally think of necessary propositions as describing the features of these entities, their essential characteristics. So we take mathematical propositions to describe mathematical objects…. Hence investigation into the domain of necessary propositions is conceived as a process of discovery. Empirical scientists make discoveries about the empirical domain, uncovering contingent truths; metaphysicians, logicians and mathematicians appear to make discoveries of necessary truths about a supra-empirical domain (a 'third realm'). Mathematics seems to be the 'natural history of mathematical objects' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.137], 'the physics of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1976), p.138; however these authors record this erroneously as p.139 -- RL] or the 'mineralogy of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.229]. The mathematician, e.g., Pascal, admires the beauty of a theorem as though it were a kind of crystal. Numbers seem to him to have wonderful properties; it is as if he were confronting a beautiful natural phenomenon [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47; again, these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.41 -- RL]. Logic seems to investigate the laws governing logical objects…. Metaphysics looks as if it is a description of the essential structure of the world. Hence we think that a reality corresponds to our (true) necessary propositions. Our logic is correct because it corresponds to the laws of logic….
"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v -- RL; in the Bibliography to this Essay, I have linked to the Routledge 2010 edition, where this comment appears on p.xliii], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted at this site. Links added.]
In fact, Traditional Theorists went further; their acts of linguistic legerdemain 'enabled' them to discover such Super-Truths in the comfort of their own heads, theses they claimed revealed the underlying and essential nature of the universe, valid for all of space and time. Unsurprisingly, discursive magic of this order of magnitude meshes rather well with contemporaneous ruling-class forms-of-thought (for reasons that are explored in detail in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here) -- chief among which is the belief that reality is rational.
Clearly, the doctrine that 'reality is rational' must be forced onto nature; it can't be read from it since nature isn't Mind. However, it is much easier to rationalise the imposition of a hierarchical and grossly unequal class system on 'disorderly' workers if boss-class ideologues can persuade one and all that the 'law-like' order of the natural world perfectly reflects, and is reflected in turn by, the social order from which their patrons just happen to benefit --, the fundamental aspects of which none may question, least of all oppose.
Material reality may not be rational, but it is certainly rational for ruling-class "prize-fighters" to claim it is.
Radical talk -- Conservative Walk
Even before the first Marxist dialecticians put pen to misuse, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by ideas drawn from this ancient ruling-class tradition. As Lenin himself admitted:
"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.
"The Marxist doctrine...is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]
Clearly, the DM-classicists were confronted by a serious problem: if they imposed their ideas on nature in like manner, they could easily be accused of propagating yet another form of Idealism. On the other hand, if they didn't do this, they wouldn't have a 'philosophical theory' of their own to lend weight to their claim to lead the revolution. Confronted thus by traditional thought-forms (which they had no hand in creating, but which they were only too happy to appropriate), DM-theorists found there was no easy way out of this minefield -- or, at least, none that prevented their theory from sliding into Idealism.
Their 'solution' was as simple as it was effective: ignore the problem.
Or, at least, ignore it in favour of issuing a series of disarming denials --, like the following:
"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Bold emphasis added.]
This isn't to argue that dialecticians weren't aware of the Idealism implicit in Traditional Thought -- indeed, as George Novack pointed out:
"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]
On the contrary, their excuse for disregarding the pernicious influence of Traditional Philosophy on their own ideas is that the materialist flip they say they had inflicted on Hegel's system was deemed capable of transforming theoretical dirt into philosophical gold.
However, flip or no flip, their own ideas in this direction are thoroughly traditional: they are dogmatic, a priori, and are expressed in a specialised form of jargon lifted straight from the Philosophers' Phrase Book. While few DM-theorists will deny that Traditional Philosophy itself is predominantly Idealist, not one of them has failed to emulate the approach to a priori knowledge it promotes.
So, despite the fact that dialecticians constantly claim that DM has hasn't been imposed on nature -- for that would surely brand their theory "Idealist" -- they invariably end up doing just that, imposing their ideas on reality. In so doing, they simply confirm the allegation that Traditional Thought has found a new batch of converts among erstwhile radicals.
Hence, in spite of frequent claims to the contrary, Marxist Philosophy has from its inception been remarkably conservative. Instead of trying to bury Traditional Theory, dialecticians have in fact done the opposite, they have emulated it.
Indeed, they have gone out of their way to ensure that our movement has been dominated by "ruling ideas" from the get-go.
A Priori Dogmatics -- The Only Game In Town
This thought-form was invented by Ancient Greek theorists, who wrote and thought as if reality was in fact rational and linguistically-constituted -- i.e., the product of some Mind or Logos. Since then, every branch of Traditional Philosophy has carried on in more-or-less the same way, but in its own idiom as each Mode of Production dictated the content, but not the form, of this archaic world-view. This approach to a priori 'knowledge' helped set the limits to, and fixed the boundaries of, 'acceptable thought'. On that basis, if a theory wasn't based on some form of word-juggling -- the more baroque and prolix the better --, it wasn't 'proper' Philosophy.
Dialecticians have swallowed this ancient marketing ploy. That is why so many of them express genuine incredulity, if not hostility, when it is suggested to them that Marxism doesn't need a philosophy of any sort, shape or kind -- never mind the one they have appropriated from Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up'). DM-fans are so neck-deep in this tradition that they can't help but defend it against radical attacks (like those expressed at this site). Indeed, many such comrades can be counted among the most enthusiastic and emphatic champions of Philosophy -- the archetypical ruling-class thought-form.
Small wonder then that Marx declared that the ideas of the ruling-class are always the ruling ideas:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it..... The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]
All the while his epigones studiously ignore comments like this:
"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]
Although dialecticians openly accept the veracity of at least the first of the above passages, they point the finger at everyone else for being conned in this way, scarcely noticing the source of their own a priori theses: Traditional Philosophy and Hermetic Mysticism.
The above allegations are as easy to substantiate as they were to write, as we will now see.
Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov, Trotsky And Mao
For example, Lenin concluded that the principles he had uncovered while reading Hegel's Logic governed the "eternal development of the world." [Lenin (1961), p.110.] Furthermore, despite the fact that dialecticians repeatedly tell us that their theory is isn't a "master key", Lenin let the metaphysical cat out of the linguistic bag when he declared that:
"[T]he identity of opposites…alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing." [Lenin (1961), p.358. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]
One minute DM isn't the key, the next it is.
"Dialectics and materialism are the basic elements in the Marxist cognition of the world. But this does not mean at all that they can be applied to any sphere of knowledge, like an ever ready master key. Dialectics cannot be imposed on facts; it has to be deduced from facts, from their nature and development…." [Trotsky (1973), p.233.]
"Whenever any Marxist attempted to transmute the theory of Marx into a universal master key...Vladimir Ilyich would rebuke him with the expressive phrase 'Komchvanstvo' ('communist swagger')." [Ibid., p.221. Bold emphases added.]
One minute, too, we are told dialectics mustn't be imposed on reality, next, we find it has been.
All DM-theorists do likewise: first they disarm the reader with an open declaration that dialectics has hasn't been imposed on reality, then, sometimes on the same page, or in the next paragraph -- or even in the very next sentence --, they proceed to do the exact opposite, asserting this or that DM-thesis is true for all of space and time.
For instance, Engels claimed the following:
"Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphasis added.]
Exactly how Engels knew this was true of all matter and motion in the entire universe for all of time he kept to himself.
Similarly, Lenin "demanded" that nature be regarded dialectically:
"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement'." [Lenin (1921), p.90. Bold emphases added.]
But, how is a "demand" any different from an "imposed"?
Similarly he went on to claim the following:
"Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world." [Lenin (1961), p.110.]
"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites….
"...[This] alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing…." [Ibid., pp.357-58. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]
Lenin can't possibly have derived any of the above from the sciences of his day; indeed no amount of evidence could substantiate claims about "the eternal development of the world".
However, there is no mystery where these ideas originated; they weren't derived from the work of scientists, they were lifted from Hegel fanciful speculations, who similarly pinched them from earlier mystics and a priori dogmatists.
Indeed, Hegel was fond of saying things like this:
"Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself." [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119. Bold emphasis added.]
DM-theorists often quote this passage with approval, never once asking how Hegel could possibly have known any of it. [The serious problems the above creates for Hegel, and for anyone who listens to him, have been spelt out here.]
[Q/Q: The 'Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality', and vice versa.]
DM-theorists tell us that nature is a contradictory, unified whole, subject to the operation of Engels's Q/Q, but their evidence in support of these a priori claims is alarmingly thin at best, non-existent at worst (on that, see here).
For instance, Engels's thesis that all motion is contradictory is based solely on a verbal trick he lifted from Hegel --, a doctrine the latter had in turn borrowed from an Ancient Greek Idealist, Zeno of Elea (c490-c430 BC) --, and which has been dutifully echoed by subsequent dialecticians, almost word for word, ever since:
"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]
No experimental evidence is adduced in support of this 'analysis' -- nor could there be. No matter how accurate the instrument, or how careful the observation, no moving object could be shown to be in two places at the same instant, merely in two places during the same interval. Indeed, all that Engels presented his readers with was an insubstantial 'conceptual argument' about what bodies must do when they move, buried among a series of claims predicated on an extremely narrow and idiosyncratic interpretation of what words like "move", "place", "same time", and prepositions like "in" must mean. [More on that, here.]
Once again, from the alleged meaning of a few words, a universal and eternally valid 'scientific' thesis has been 'derived'/copied by generations of dialecticians. On a similar basis, of course, Darwin could have extracted his entire theory from the meaning of the word "evolution", and saved himself the bother of having to find any supporting evidence.
Incidentally, it isn't easy for dialecticians to accept this criticism because of the seemingly 'obvious' nature of this Hegelian 'argument' about the contradictory nature of moving bodies. We are presented with a 'truth' that appears to follow from the alleged definition of motion, or from its associated 'concepts'. Because Traditional Philosophers have always argued this way, it seems quite natural to accept the derivation of an a priori truth like this from a handful of words/'concepts'.
Hence, as noted above, dialectical conservatives have happily adapted to philosophical tradition.
[However, the above dialectical complacency will be severely bruised in Essay Five, where it will be shown that these Hegelian moves fall apart alarmingly quickly.]
Not to be outdone, Trotsky attempted to criticise the universal applicability of the LOI on the basis of a brief consideration of his own mis-description of it -- having confused identity with the principle of equality -- and on a perfunctory thought experiment involving imaginary bags of sugar!
[LOI = Law Of Identity.]
Indeed, he was quite open about his own apparently semi-divine knowledge of reality:
"[A]ll bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves…. [T]he axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist…. [This] is established not by formal logic…, but by the dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything is always changing…." [Trotsky (1971), pp.64-65. Bold emphases added.]
Once again, exactly how Trotsky knew that all bodies are never equal to themselves he left his readers to guess. Nevertheless, he inadvertently gave the dialectical game away when he called this an "axiom"; clearly an axiom cannot be read from nature, but has to be foisted on it. Manifestly, axioms are linguistic expressions; if they were to exist in mind-independent reality (for our minds to 'reflect', perhaps), that would imply reality was Ideal. [More on that, here.]
Here is Plekhanov:
"According to Hegel, dialectics is the principle of all life…. [M]an has two qualities: first being alive, and secondly of also being mortal. But on closer examination it turns out that life itself bears in itself the germ of death, and that in general any phenomenon is contradictory, in the sense that it develops out of itself the elements which, sooner or later, will put an end to its existence and will transform it into its opposite. Everything flows, everything changes; and there is no force capable of holding back this constant flux, or arresting its eternal movement. There is no force capable of resisting the dialectics of phenomena….
"At a particular moment a moving body is at a particular spot, but at the same time it is outside it as well because, if it were only in that spot, it would, at least for that moment, become motionless. Every motion is a dialectical process, a living contradiction, and as there is not a single phenomenon of nature in explaining which we do not have in the long run to appeal to motion, we have to agree with Hegel, who said that dialectics is the soul of any scientific cognition. And this applies not only to cognition of nature….
"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….
"When you apply the dialectical method to the study of phenomena, you need to remember that forms change eternally in consequence of the 'higher development of their content….'"[Plekhanov (1956), pp.74-77. Bold emphases alone added.]
Clearly, Plekhanov was also happy to impose this theory on nature, for all of space and time.
Here, too, is Mao:
"As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development....
"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end....
"...There is nothing that does not contain contradictions; without contradiction nothing would exist....
"Thus it is already clear that contradiction exists universally and is in all processes, whether in the simple or in the complex forms of motion, whether in objective phenomena or ideological phenomena....
"...Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of the development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end...." [Mao (1961b), pp.311-18. Bold emphases added.]
Again, all dialecticians (both classicists and 'lesser', more recent theorists) do likewise.
[The abundant evidence supporting that allegation can be found in Essay Two itself.]
Not one of these comrades carried out any experiments in support of their hyper-bold claims. Not only is the evidence collected so far by humanity insufficient to substantiate such supposedly eternal and universally true theses, when examined more closely what little evidence DM-theorists have managed to scrape together fails to justify even their local application, let alone their universal validity. [On that, see Essays Three through Eleven.]
But, that hasn't prevented DM-theorists from continuing to impose their ideas on nature -- just like previous generations of Traditional Metaphysicians.
Linguistic Idealism -- The Original LIE
This time-honoured and archaic approach to theory I call "Linguistic Idealism" (LIE). LIE is a highly fertile thought-form, having given birth to centuries of superscientific theses conjured from less than thin air.
This family of doctrines is based on the unsupported (often implicit, unacknowledged or even unrecognised) idea that substantive truths about the world -- about the supposed "essences" that lie below the 'surface of reality' -- can be derived solely from language, and which are thus accessible to thought alone.
This theoretical view of philosophical knowledge goes back (at least in the West) to the Ancient Greeks (although, ideologically, the doctrine is embryonically Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Hebraic -- indeed, similar moves can be found in Ancient Chinese and Indian Thought at or around about the same time). Greek Philosophers, who held that the universe was 'rational' and the product of 'Mind', were quite happy to derive substantive truths about nature from a handful of linguistic abstractions. To be sure, the only way that peremptory Metaphysics like this can be justified is if is assumed the 'reality' is fundamentally linguistic, called into existence by the word of some 'god'.
However, as we shall see in later Essays, the material world resists theoretical impertinences of this sort -- as does ordinary language, which is the social form around which human interaction with reality has historically been formed, and by means of which it has been most fully appropriated.
[In Essays Nine Parts One and Two, Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here, here and here) the political implications of the traditional approach to knowledge will be examined in detail.]
However, at least one comrade has unwittingly given the Ideal game away:
"Nature cannot be unreasonable or reason contrary to nature. Everything that exists must have a necessary and sufficient reason for existence…. If everything that exists has a necessary and sufficient reason for existence, that means it had to come into being. It was pushed into existence and forced its way into existence by natural necessity…. Reality, rationality and necessity are intimately associated at all times…. If everything actual is necessarily rational, this means that every item of the real world has a sufficient reason for existing and must find a rational explanation…." [Novack (1971), pp.78-80. Bold emphases added.]
Exactly how Novack knew all this to be the case he sadly took to his grave.
Indeed, as we will see, dialecticians have been only too happy to copy this approach to 'knowledge'.
Why DM-Theorists Do This
DM-classicists weren't workers; they came from a class that
educated their children in religion, the classics, and Traditional Philosophy. For well
over two thousand years this tradition taught that behind appearances there lies
a hidden world, accessible to thought alone, and which is more real than the
material universe we see around us.
Ruling-class ideologues invented this world-view because if you belong to, benefit from, or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.
The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and stifles innovation (among other things).
Another way is to persuade the majority (or a significant proportion of 'opinion formers' -- administrators, 'intellectuals' editors, philosophers, bishops, and teachers) that the present order either works for their benefit, is ordained of the 'gods', or is 'natural' and thus cannot be fought against, reformed or negotiated with.
Hence, an a priori world-view is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling in the same old way. While the content of this ruling ideology may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth can be ascertained by thought alone, and can therefore be imposed on reality, dogmatically.
Some might object to the above that philosophical ideas can't have remained the same for thousands of years, across different modes of production; that allegation itself runs counter to core ideas in HM.
But, we don't argue the same for religious belief. Marx put no time stamp on the following, for example:
"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." [Marx (1975c), p.244. Italic emphases in the original.]
The above remarks applied back in Ancient Babylon and Egypt,
just as they did in China and India, in Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages, and
as they have done right across the planet ever since.
The same is true of the core thought-forms that run right through Traditional Philosophy: that there exists an invisible, 'abstract' world, accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the world we see around us -- especially since we have already seen that Marx also told us the following:
"[P]hilosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold added.]
This, of course, helps explain why Marx also thought this entire discipline (philosophy) was based on distorted language and contained little other than empty abstractions and alienated thought-forms -- and, indeed, why he turned his back on it from the late 1840s onward, and advised others to do the same. [On that, see here.]
So, these non-worker founders of our movement were educated to believe -- long before they became revolutionaries -- that there was just such a hidden world governing everything. Hence, when they became revolutionaries they looked for principles in that invisible world that told them that change was inevitable and part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that ruling-class mystic, Hegel.
Finally, the above comrades imported this boss-class theory into Marxism unwittingly. They knew no better; their petty-bourgeois being 'determined' their petty-bourgeois 'consciousness'.
In the Summary of Essay Three Part One, we will examine a classic example of linguistic legerdemain that motivated the traditional idea that the 'mind' is able to 'abstract' into existence fundamental truths about nature by the operation of thought alone. This ancient con-trick -- appropriated uncritically by Hegel, Engels, Lenin, and all subsequent dialecticians in order to set the DM-bandwagon rolling --, will be exposed for the Idealist fraud it is.
Surprisingly, we will also see that 'word-magic' like this in fact stalls the Hermetic Juggernaut on the starting grid.
Latest Update: 26/01/20
Word Count: 6,400
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