Anti-Dialectics For Beginners



Preliminary Technicalities


If you are using Internet Explorer 10 (or later), you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu); for IE11 select 'Compatibility View Settings' and add this site ( Microsoft's browser, Edge, automatically renders these links compatible; Windows 10 does likewise.


However, if you are using Windows 10, IE11 and Edge unfortunately appear to colour these links somewhat erratically. They are meant to be mid-blue, but those two browsers render them intermittently light blue, yellow, purple and red!


Firefox and Chrome reproduce them correctly.


Several browsers also appear to underline these links erratically. Many are underscored boldly in black, others more lightly in blue! They are all meant to be the latter.


If you are viewing this with Mozilla Firefox, you might not be able to read all the symbols I have used -- Mozilla often replaces them with an "º". There are no problems with Chrome, Edge, or Internet Explorer, as far as I know.


Furthermore, if your Firewall/Browser has a pop-up blocker, you will need to press the "Ctrl" key at the same time or the links used here won't work, anyway!


Unfortunately, Internet Explorer 11 will no longer play the videos I have posted to this page. As far as I can tell, they play as intended in other Browsers. However, if you have Privacy Badger [PB] installed, they won't play in Google Chrome unless you disable PB for this site.


[Having said that, I have just discovered that these videos will play in IE11 if you have upgraded to Windows 10! It looks like the problem is with Windows 7 and earlier versions of that operating system.]


Finally, I have adjusted the font size used at this site to ensure that even those with impaired vision can read what I have to say. However, if the text is still either too big or too small for you, please adjust your browser settings!




Several readers have complained about the number of links I have added to these Essays because they say it makes them very difficult to read. Of course, dialecticians can hardly lodge that complaint since they believe everything is interconnected, and that must surely apply to Essays that attempt to debunk that very idea. However, to those who find these links do make my Essays difficult to read I say this: ignore them -- unless you want to access further evidence and argument in support of a particular point, or a specific topic fires your interest.


Others wonder why I have added links to subjects or issues that are part of common knowledge (such as the names of recent Presidents of the USA and UK Prime Ministers, the names of rivers, mountains and films, or certain words that are in common usage). I have done so for the following reason: my Essays are read all over the world and by people from all 'walks of life', so I can't assume that topics which are part of common knowledge in 'the west' are equally well-known across the planet -- or, indeed, by those who haven't had the benefit of the sort of education that is generally available in the 'advanced economies', or any at all. Many of my readers also struggle with English, so any help I can give them I will continue to provide.


Finally on this topic, several of the aforementioned links connect to web-pages that regularly change their URLs or which vanish from the Internet altogether. While I try to update these links when it becomes apparent that they have changed or have disappeared, I can't possibly keep on top of this all the time. I would greatly appreciate it, therefore, if readers informed me of any dead links they happen to notice.


In general, links to 'Haloscan' no longer seem to work, so readers needn't tell me about them! Links to RevForum, RevLeft, Socialist Unity and The North Star also appear to have died.




May 2011 Update: A character at RevLeft called 'Vogelman' has posted a rather weak attempt to criticise some of the arguments rehearsed below. I have replied to 'him' here.


[Since RevLeft links no longer work, I have reproduced much of Vogelman's argument in the last of the above linked Essays.]


March 2015 Update: Another comrade (a 'Marxist-Leninist' this time, who operates under the name 'Finnish Bolshevik' [FB]) has posted a largely incoherent, highly repetitive and rather confused video 'reply' to some of the material presented below -- unfortunately telling more than a handful of fibs along the way!


I have replied to this individual, as well as another even more confused video he subsequently published, here.


His first video was over 40 minutes long, which explains the length of my protracted responses. Anyway, a good 20% of those replies has been devoted to a word-for-word transcript of FB's rather rambling 'narrative'.


I have posted a link to the first video near the foot of this Essay.


[Latest Update: 13/03/24.]




Anyone using the following links should remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.


(1)   Opening Remarks (Please Read First!)

(2)   Despite What Dialecticians Will Try To Tell You, Formal Logic [FL] Can Handle Change

(a) Dialectical Fairy-Tales

(b) The 'Three Laws' Of Formal Logic

(c)  Hegel's Logical Blunders

(3)   Motion Isn't Contradictory

(4)   Dialectical Materialism Has Been Imposed On Nature

(5)   Traditional Thought

(6)   The Three 'Laws' Of Dialectics

(a) Engels And 'Mickey Mouse Science'

(b) Quantity And Quality

(c) Internal 'Contradictions'

(i)  Dialectical Versus 'Mechanical' Materialism

(ii)  Dialectics Can't In Fact Explain Change

(iii) Intermediate Stages

(iv) Opposing Forces Aren't 'Contradictory'

(7)   Lenin's 'Images' Undermine Materialism

(8)   The Mysterious "Totality"

(9)   Practice Refutes Dialectics

(a) Or Does It?

(b) A Brief Intermission -- My Beliefs

(c) Excuses, Excuses...

(i)   "Dialectical Marxism Hasn't Been An Abject Failure"

(ii)  "Failures Are Due To 'Objective Factors'"

(iii)  Ignore The Problem!

(d) Practice: An Unreliable Guide

(e) "Ah, But What About 1917?"

(f) Case Studies -- The Damage DM Has Inflicted On Marxism

(i)  Stalinism

(ii)  Maoism

(iii) Trotskyism

(iv) Conclusion

(10) Why Dialecticians Desperately Cling To This Failed Theory

(a) Ruling-Class Thought

(b) DM -- A Source Of Consolation In The Face Of Defeat

(11) Ruling-Class Ideology

(a) Ruling-Class View Of The World

(b) 'Truth' Derived Solely From Language And 'Thought'

(12) Concluding Undialectical Postscript

(13) Notes

(14) Addendum

(15) Postface

(16) References


Abbreviations Used At This Site    Contact Me    Return To The Main Index Page




Opening Remarks -- Please read This First!


Hard though this might be for some of my critics to believe, nothing said below is intended to undermine Historical Materialism [HM] -- a scientific theory I fully accept -- or, for that matter, revolutionary socialism. I am 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 over thirty-five years ago. My aim is simply to assist in the scientific development of Marxism by demolishing a dogma that has, in my opinion, seriously damaged our movement from its inception, Dialectical Materialism [DM] -- or, in its more political form, 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD].


Without doubt, these are highly controversial claims, especially since they are being advanced by a Marxist. The reason why I am airing them is partly explained below, but in much more detail in my other Essays.


Why I began this project is outlined here.


Some might wonder how I can claim to be both a Leninist and a Trotskyist given the highly critical things I have to say about philosophical ideas that have been integral to both traditions from the beginning. In response, readers are asked to consider the following analogy: we can surely be highly critical of Newton's mystical ideas even while accepting the scientific nature of his other work. The same applies here.


[And no, I am not comparing myself to Newton!]


I count myself a Marxist, a Leninist and a Trotskyist since I fully accept, not just HM -- providing Hegel's baleful influence has been completely excised --, but the political ideas associated with the life and work of Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky.


Some might think such an approach can't fail to compromise HM --, perhaps because the latter would be like a "clock without a spring" (to quote Trotsky). The reverse is in fact the case. As I have shown below: if DM were true, change would actually be impossible.


Again, some might wonder why so much effort has been devoted to what many consider a rather peripheral issue, something that isn't really of central importance either to the advancement of revolutionary socialism or the struggle to change society. That isn't, of course, how Engels, Plekhanov, Luxembourg, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or even Mao regarded DM. Indeed, it is the exact opposite. They all considered DM to be integral to their politics.


[Marx's name was omitted from that list for reasons explored here and here.]


Nevertheless, it is my contention that an adherence to DM is one of the reasons why Dialectical Marxism is now virtually a by-word for failure, one of the reasons why Marxist parties the world over have been (and still are) as divisive as they are sectarian. Indeed, it is my further contention (supported by evidence and argument; on that see below, but set out in more detail here) that this theory has helped ensure such parties remain small, wasting valuable time on internecine warfare and petty back biting. Naturally, this leaves the ruling-class free to laugh all the way to their next attack on our side.


[Notice the use of the partially highlighted phrase above: "one of the reasons". I am not blaming all our problems on this theory! Also, note the use of the word "Dialectical" prefixing the word "Marxism". What I am not claiming is that Marxism itself has been a failure, just the 'dialectical' aberration. The non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet!]


In addition, I contend that DM has helped insulate militant minds from the glaring fact that Dialectical Marxism has been a long-term failure, a debilitating psychological condition that has helped prevent the scientific development of socialist theory and practice (for reasons also explored below).


All this is quite apart from the clear impression created in the minds of working people the world over that revolutionaries are, at best, a political joke, an opinion that has sunk so deep in the 'collective mind' that it is now a widely accepted cliché. I believe -- and I think I can also show -- that DM is indirectly responsible for this. Of course, all this is in addition to the all-too-familiar stereotyping of revolutionaries in and by the pro-capitalist media, some of which is also based on these self-inflicted wounds.


Naturally, this means it is now virtually impossible for our movement to be taken seriously by friend and foe alike.


Once again, these are highly contentious accusations, but in view of the fact that Dialectical Marxism has been such an abject, long-term failure, we have no option but to re-think our ideas from the ground up, like the radicals we claim to be.


This Essay is devoted to that end. May I suggest, therefore, to those who find the above allegations far too controversial to accept (or who think them patently absurd and are tempted to reject them out-of-hand) that they shelve their reservations until they have examined the material presented at this site, outlined below, but set out in much more detail in my other Essays?


Fair-minded readers will, I am sure, agree that in what follows I have at least constructed a prima facie case against the philosophical theory early Marxists imported into our movement -- a case that is being advanced with the sole purpose of making revolutionary socialism more relevant, less sectarian and hence far more successful.


Finally, after reading the following material several comrades have been tempted to ask: "Ok, so what's your theory, then?"


Surprising as this might seem, I reject all philosophical theories as incoherent non-sense. I have outlined my reasons for saying that, here. In which case, I have no alternative philosophical theory to offer -- nor do we need one.


That doesn't mean I reject scientific theory!  Indeed, as noted above, I fully accept HM, a scientific theory of history and how to change it.




Please note that this Essay deals with very basic issues, even at the risk of over-simplification.


I repeat: This is an Introductory Essay!


It has only been ventured upon because several younger comrades asked me to post a simplified guide to my main arguments against DM.


In that case, this Essay isn't aimed at experts!


Anyone who objects to the apparently superficial nature of the material presented below must take these caveats into account or navigate away from this page.


The material below isn't intended for them.


It is worth underlining that point since I still encounter comrades on Internet discussion boards who, despite such warnings, still think this Essay is a definitive statement of my ideas.


It isn't!


The Main Essays are.


Several of the aforementioned critics, who blithely ignore the above remarks, and who therefore think that the material below represents my considered views on this theory, when it doesn't, should perhaps re-read the following comment more carefully, as many times as it takes:


This Essay is aimed solely at those who want a basic introduction to my main objections to DM. It isn't meant to be comprehensive, nor is it.


Visitors who might prefer more detail and complexity should consult Essay Sixteen or, as noted above, the much more detailed Main Essays.


Any who still find this Essay either too long or too difficult might prefer two much shorter summaries of my ideas; they can be accessed, here and here.


Finally, I have had to assume that readers already possess a rudimentary grasp of DM. Anyone unfamiliar with that theory/method should read this or this -- or, indeed, my own very short summary, here.


A much more comprehensive guide can be accessed here.


Main Objections


Formal Logic [FL] And Change


Dialectical Fairy-Tales


Dialectical Marxists tell fibs about Formal Logic [FL]. What is worse, they persist even after they have been informed that what they have to say about FL is woefully inaccurate, if not downright misleading.


Indeed, they regularly trot out things like the following:


"Formal logic regards things as fixed and motionless." [Rob Sewell.]


"Formal categories, putting things in labelled boxes, will always be an inadequate way of looking at change and development…because a static definition cannot cope with the way in which a new content emerges from old conditions." [Rees (1998), p.59.]


"There are three fundamental laws of formal logic. First and most important is the law of identity… If a thing is always and under all conditions equal or identical with itself, it can never be unequal or different from itself." [Novack (1971), p.20. Paragraphs merged.]


[Several more passages that say more-or-less the same have been posted in the next subsection with even more, here.]


I have yet to see a single quote from a logic text (ancient or modern) that supports claims like these, and I have been studying logic since the late 1970s. Certainly dialecticians have yet to provide even so much as one.


And no wonder -- they are completely false.


FL uses variables -- that is, it employs letters to stand for propositions, sentences, statements, properties, objects, processes and the like, which can and do change.


That handy formal device was invented by the very first logician we know of in the 'west', Aristotle (384-322BC). Indeed, Aristotle experimented with the use of variables approximately 1500 years before they were imported into mathematics by Muslim Algebraists, who in turn employed them several centuries before French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes (1596-1650), began to use them in 'the west'.


Here is what Professor Nidditch had to say about Aristotle's invention:


"One has to give Aristotle great credit for being fully conscious of this [i.e., of the need for a general account of inference -- RL] and for seeing that the way to general laws is by the use of variables, that is letters which are signs for every and any thing whatever in a certain range of things: a range of qualities, substances, relations, numbers or of any other sort or form of existence.... If one keeps in mind that the Greeks were very uncertain about and very far from letting variables take the place of numbers or number words in algebra, which is why they made little headway in that branch of mathematics...then there will be less danger of Aristotle's invention of variables for use in Syllogistic being overlooked or undervalued. Because of this idea of his, logic was sent off from the very start on the right lines." [Nidditch (1998), pp.8-9. Italic emphasis in the original; paragraphs merged.]


Indeed, Engels himself said the following about this innovation having been introduced into mathematics:


"The turning point in mathematics was Descartes' variable magnitude. With that came motion and hence dialectics in mathematics, and at once, too, of necessity the differential and integral calculus…." [Engels (1954), p.258.]


Now, no one doubts that modern mathematics can handle change, so why dialecticians deny this of FL -- when it has always used variables -- is puzzling, to say the least.


Indeed, it  is even more perplexing when we realise that if DM itself were 'true', change would be impossible.


Furthermore, as we will see in the next subsection, the 'Law of Identity' [LOI] doesn't in fact preclude change!


The 'Three Laws' Of FL


With very little variation between them, dialecticians regularly assert the following about FL:


"The 'fundamental laws of thinking' are considered to be three in number: 1) The law of identity; 2) the law of contradiction, and 3) the law of the excluded middle.


"The law of identity...states that 'A is A' or 'A = A'. The law of contradiction... -- 'A is not A' -- is merely a negative form of the first law. According to the law of the excluded middle...two opposing judgements that are mutually exclusive cannot both be wrong. Indeed, 'A is either B or non-B'. The truth of either of these two judgements necessarily means the falseness of the other, and vice versa. There is not, neither can there be, any middle." [Plekhanov (1908), pp.89-90. Italics in the original; several paragraphs merged.]


"The Aristotelian conception of the laws basic to correct thinking may be stated as follows:


"1. Law of Identity: Each existence is identical with itself. A is A.


"2. Law of Noncontradiction: Each existence is not different from itself. A is not non-A.


"3. Law of Excluded Middle: No existence can be both itself and different from itself. Any X is either A or non-A, but not both at once." [Somerville (1967), pp.44-45. Italics in the original.]


"The basic laws of formal logic are:


1) The law of identity ('A' = 'A').


"2) The law of contradiction ('A' does not equal 'not-A').


"3) The law of the excluded middle ('A' does not equal 'B')." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.91. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"The basic principles of...Aristotelian or formal logic were the 'law of identity' and the 'law of non-contradiction'. The 'law of identity' stated, in symbolic terms, that A is equal to A, or an ounce of gold equals an ounce of gold.... The 'law of non-contradiction' stated that A cannot be equal to non-A, it makes no sense to say that an ounce of gold is not an ounce of gold." [Molyneux (2012), p.43. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Even a cursory examination of a handful of logic texts will reveal that not only are the above claims incorrect, not even Aristotle's logic was based on these so-called 'laws'!


[Anyone who doubts this is encouraged to read (or, even better, study) W. V. O. Quine's Methods of Logic, or David Bostock's Intermediate Logic (i.e., Quine (1982) and Bostock (1997) -- the second link takes the reader to a PDF of the said book), or, perhaps more conveniently, this online resource.]


To be sure, dialecticians regularly claim that Aristotle founded his logic on these principles, but they have yet to produce any supporting evidence to that effect. In fact, Aristotle knew nothing of the LOI, which was a Medieval invention. [There is more on this here and here.]


The LOI will be examined presently, but the 'Law of Contradiction' [LOC] merely entails that if one proposition is true, its contradictory (its negation) is false, and vice versa. That is, they can't be true together and they can't be false together.


[In some versions of mathematical logic, the LOC says that no contradiction can be true, but must be false, but that erodes the distinction between contradictions and inconsistencies.]


However, the LOC says nothing about "equality", or, indeed, the lack of it, as Plekhanov, Woods and Grant, Molyneux, and a host of other dialecticians would have their readers believe -- once again, without even a cursory nod in the direction of supporting evidence.


[Any readers who doubt this should now consult any randomly-selected book or article on dialectics and check whether they ever actually quote any logic texts in support of what they have to say about FL.]


Nor is there any connection between the so-called "negative" form of the LOI (i.e., "A can't at the same time be A and Not-A") and the LOC. The LOI concerns the alleged identity of an object with itself, while the LOC expresses the true/false connection (otherwise known as the "truth-functional link") between a proposition and its negation. Hence, the LOC doesn't concern the relation between 'objects' (or their supposed names).


Likewise, the 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM] says nothing about objects being identical or otherwise, merely that any proposition has to be either true or false. There is no third alternative.


[Any who think the LEM is defective in this regard (and that there can be a third option) should check this out and then perhaps think again. Moreover, there is no logical connection between the LOI and the other two 'laws', as the above dialecticians seem to think. On that, see my comments over at Wikipedia, or the more detailed proof in Essay Eight Part Three.]


Some claim that Quantum Mechanics [QM] has, among other things, refuted the LEM, but QM has merely forced us to reconsider what we should count as a scientific proposition. In that case, the LEM is unaffected by QM.


Furthermore, contrary to what dialecticians often claim, these 'laws' do not deny or preclude change, nor are they unable to cope with it. Indeed, we are only able to speak about change when we are clear about what is or what is not true of whatever it is that is supposedly undergoing change.


In fact, as we will soon see, it is DM itself that can't cope with change!


The LOI has been no less mis-handled by DM-theorists. That is because they have unwisely based their ideas on the confused 'logical' musings of a German Idealist and Mystical Philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). [On that, see below, as well as here.]


The basic idea behind this misguided criticism of the LOI seems to be the following:


"There are three fundamental laws of formal logic. First and most important is the law of identity. This law can be stated in various ways such as: A thing is always equal to or identical with itself. In algebraic terms: A equals A.... If a thing is always and under all conditions equal to or identical with itself, it can never be unequal to or different from itself. This conclusion follows logically and inevitably from the law of identity. If A equals A, it can never equal non-A." [Novack (1971), p.20. Paragraphs merged.]


That is incorrect. As noted above, the LOI doesn't preclude change, for if an object changes then anything identical to it will change equally quickly. If that weren't the case, they can't have been identical to begin with! Moreover, if something changes, it will no longer be identical with its former self.


So, far from denying change, this 'law' allows us to determine if and when it has occurred.


This is quite apart from the fact that Novack and other DM-theorists have plainly confused equality with identity!


[There is much more on this 'law', as well as Trotsky's and Hegel's misguided criticisms of it, here. The word "law" has been put in 'scare' quotes since it is clear that the LOI is in fact a misconstrued rule of language. Follow the above link for more details.]


Recently, John Molyneux had this to say about Marxism:


"Marxist materialism is repeatedly attacked by the method of oversimplifying and caricaturing it to the point where it is obviously false.…" [Molyneux (2012), p.36.]


He is 100% correct -- but that is precisely what Molyneux and other dialecticians regularly do with respect to FL!


As a result, qualified logicians will conclude that Marxist dialecticians are a bunch of woefully ignorant, dissembling charlatans. In turn, that will inevitably have a knock-on effect on their opinion of Marxism itself. Clearly, DM-fans care little about this or they wouldn't publish such easily refuted fibs.


This is quite apart from the fact that scientists have discovered trillions of absolutely identical objects in each microgram of matter -- on that see here.


Hegel's 'Logical' Howlers


As noted above, the criticisms of FL advanced by most dialecticians were all borrowed from Hegel, who, alas, committed several egregious logical blunders himself -- clangers which, even to this day, dialecticians have failed to notice. In fact, committing these serious errors was the only way that Hegel could make his 'system' even seem to work.


Many of his core 'logical' ideas have been destructively analysed here. I have omitted that material from this Introductory Essay because of its more technical nature. However, a basic outline -- once again written for absolute beginners -- can be accessed here.


Unfortunately, this completely undermines the legitimacy of 'Dialectical Logic' [DL]. Hegel's entire system is predicated on these errors, some of which he himself inherited in a garbled form from Medieval Roman Catholic Theologians.


[I have explained the above point more fully, here.]


Naturally, this means that since DM is itself based on these blunders, it enjoys absolutely no rational support.


It is no surprise, therefore, to see that DM has presided over 140+ years of almost total failure.


Motion Isn't Contradictory


According to Hegel, motion itself is a 'contradiction'. Unfortunately, dialecticians have bought into this rather odd idea. Here, for example, is Engels:


"...[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence on one another[,] [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 at one and the same moment of time being both in one place and in another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continuous assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]


This age-old confusion was originally based on a paradox concocted by an Ancient Greek mystic called Zeno (490?-430?BC).


[Have readers noticed how these ideas keep emerging from the over-heated imagination of self-confessed mystics?]


So, Engels appears to be claiming that a moving object is:


(i) In two places at the same moment; and that,


(ii) It is in one of these places and not in it at the same time.


In fact, as should seem obvious, all objects (which aren't mathematical points) occupy several places at once, whether or not they are moving. For example, while you are sat reading this Essay your body isn't compressed into a tiny point! Unless you have suffered a truly catastrophic accident, your head won't be in exactly same mathematical location as your feet, even though both of these body parts now occupy the same place -- i.e., where you are sat.


So, occupying several points at the same time isn't unique to moving bodies. In which case, this ancient 'paradox' has more to do with linguistic ambiguity than it has to do with anything that is 'contradictory'.


The ambiguity here is plainly connected with the use of words like "move", "place" and "location", the meaning of which Engels (as well as Zeno and Hegel) simply took for granted. [More on that presently.]


Hence, an object can be in several places at once (in one sense of "place") -- i.e., it can be in one location and in another at the same time --, and it can accomplish this 'astonishing' feat while being absolutely stationary (relative to what scientists call an "inertial frame").


For example, let us suppose that you are now sat at a desk in your house, office or flat. Plainly, you are also located in your home, village, town or city, and that would still be the case if you are sat perfectly motionless. Hence, you would be in at least two places at once, but still not moving. Notice, once again, the obvious and intentional ambiguities involved here.


Consider another example: a car can be parked half in, half out of a garage. Here, the car is in one and the same place and not in it -- it is in, but not wholly in, the garage, for instance. In addition, the car is in two places at once (in the garage and in the yard), even while it is at rest relative to a suitable frame of reference.


Plainly, the alleged 'contradiction' here once again fails to distinguish moving from stationary bodies. The above would still be true even if the car were moving slowly. In which case, if moving and stationary bodies are both capable of doing supposedly 'contradictory' things, then this 'conundrum' must have more to do with linguistic ambiguity than it has with anything supposedly paradoxical or 'contradictory'.


Exception might be taken to the above in that it uses phrases like "not wholly in" -- e.g., the car in question is "not wholly in the garage". Hence, it could be argued that Engels was quite clear what he meant: motion involves a body being in one place and in another at the same time, being in and not in it at one and the same moment. There was no use of phrases like "not wholly in" by Engels.


Or, so it could be objected.


Clearly, the force of that response depends on what Engels actually meant by the following words:


"[E]ven simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body at one and the same moment of time being both in one place and in another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it." [Ibid.]


Here, the problem centres on the word "in". It is worth noting that Engels's actual words imply that "not wholly in" is a legitimate, alternative interpretation of what he said (paraphrased below):


A1: Motion involves a body being in one and the same place and not in it.


If a body is "in and not in" a certain place it can't in fact be totally in that place -- otherwise, if it were, it couldn't be in any other place at the same time. So, Engels's own words allow for his "in" to mean "not wholly in".


Once again: notice the ambiguities at work here.


A mundane example of this phenomenon might involve, say, a 15 cm pencil sat in a pocket that is only 10 cm deep. In that case, it would be perfectly natural to say that this pencil is in, but not entirely in, this pocket -- that is, it would be both "in and not in" the pocket at the same time (thus satisfying Engels's definition) --, but still at rest with respect to some inertial frame. A1 above certainly allows for just such a scenario, and Engels's use of the word "in", and the rest of what he had to say, plainly carry this alternative interpretation.


Hence, it seems that Engels's words are compatible with a body being motionless relative to some inertial frame!


Independently of these obvious ambiguities (and the above alternative interpretation of his words), there are serious problems with what Engels did say: i.e., that a moving object is supposed to be "in one and the same place and also not in it" at the same time.


So, if moving object, B, isn't located at X -- i.e., if it is "not in X" --, then it can't also be located at X, contrary to what Engels asserted. If it isn't there then isn't there. On the other hand, if B is located at X, then it can't also not be at X. Otherwise, Engels's can't have meant by "not" what the rest of us mean by that word.


But, if not, what did he mean?


Unfortunately, he neglected to say, and no one since has been any clearer. Other than DM-fans holding up their hands and declaring it a 'contradiction', there is nothing more they could say. Once more, that can only mean they, too, understand something different by "not". For instance, it seems that for DM-theorists "is not" here clearly means "is and is not"! If so, they certainly can't now respond by saying "The above is not what we mean", since this use of "not" now implies that they really mean "The above is and is not what we mean"! (as each "is not" is replaced by its 'dialectical equivalent', "is and is not"), and so on.


As we can see, anyone who falls for that linguistic conjuring trick will find it impossible to say what they do mean!


Nor can it be replied that Engels's words only apply to movement and change, so that when a dialectician uses "is not" in, for example, "This is not what we mean" they don't also mean "This is and is not what we mean". That response isn't available because, if everything is constantly changing into what it is not (as DM-theorists insist) then that must also be true of the meaning of the words they use. In that case, "This is what we mean" must have changed into "This is and is not what we mean"!


[The usual 'relative stability of language' reply from dialecticians has been neutralised in Essay Six, here and here.]


In Essay Five, I have made several detailed attempts to disambiguate and clarify Engels's words in order to try to make sense of what he did say. Alas, every attempt failed! [Readers are encouraged to check!] As things turn out, there is nothing comprehensible that Engels could have meant by what he said. The last few paragraphs merely give a hint of the problems this odd use of 'dialectical' language itself creates.


Any attempt to circumvent these problems with the counter-claim that moving objects occupy regions of space equal to their own volumes (hence a moving object will occupy two such regions at the same time, occupying and not occupying each at the same time) won't work either. That is because this would picture a moving body occupying a region greater than its own volume at the same time -- since, according to this view, it will now occupy two such volumes at once --, which would in turn mean that such a body wouldn't so much move as expand or inflate!


Worse still, Engels's account depicts objects moving between successive locations outside of time -- that is, he has them moving between locations with time having advanced not one instant --, otherwise the said objects couldn't be in two places at the same moment. This is impossible to reconcile with a materialist (or even with a comprehensible) view of the world. According to Engels, such motion takes place outside of time!


So, if object, B, is in one place and then in another (which is, I suspect, central to any notion of movement that Engels would have accepted), it must be in the first before it is in the second. If so, time must have elapsed between its occupancy of those two locations, otherwise we wouldn't be able to say it was in the first before it was in the second. But, if we can't say that it was in the first place before it was in the second -- that is, if we try to maintain it is in both at the same time --, then that would undermine the assertion that B was in fact moving. That is because it would undercut the claim that it was in the first place before it was in the second.


Hence, if B is in both locations at once, it can't have moved from the first to the second. On the other hand, if B has moved from the first to the second, so that it was in the first before it reached the second, it can't have been in both at the same time!


If DM-theorists don't mean this, then they should either (a) Refrain from using "before" and "after" in relation to moving objects, or (b) Explain what they do mean by their choice of such words. Of course, Option (a) would prevent them from explaining -- or even talking about -- motion. We are still waiting for their response to Option (b).


[One comrade has recently sought to challenge me on this; the details can be found here. In fact, I have shown that Hegel and Engels's ideas about motion lead to even more ridiculous conclusions than those outlined above. The reader is once again directed to Essay Five for more details -- for example, here, here and here.]


Nevertheless, none of those who look to Engels for inspiration have noticed how vague and imprecise his 'theory of motion' actually is. For example, we are never told how far apart the two proposed places are that a moving object is supposed to be in while at the same time occupying and not occupying one of them. The answer can't be "It doesn't matter; any distance will do." If it doesn't matter how far apart these "two places" are, Engels's theory would, for example, imply that the aeroplane that takes you off on your holidays must land at the same time as it takes off! If any distance will do, then the distance between the two airports involved is as good as any. After all, the aircraft was in both locations at the same time.


On the other hand, if just any distance won't do, then the question returns: how far apart are the two places a moving object occupies at the same time? In the many centuries since this conundrum was first aired, no one -- not one person -- has even so much as attempted to say, nor have they even asked this question! And it is reasonably clear that no one could say. So, the classical theory is just as vague and confused as Engels's superficial version is. He simply appropriated it uncritically, as have subsequent dialecticians.


But, the serious difficulties this ill-considered and ambiguous theory face don't stop there. Also worth asking is the following: Do these 'contradictions' increase in number, or stay the same, if an object speeds up? Or, are the two locations depicted by Engels (i.e., the "here" and the "not here") just further apart? That is, are the two points that an accelerating body occupies at the same moment just further apart? But, if it occupies them at the same time, it can't have accelerated! That is because it hasn't moved from the first to the second, since it is in both at once. Speeding up, of course, involves covering the same distance in less time, but that isn't allowed here, nor is it even possible. In which case, it is difficult to see how, in a DM-universe, moving bodies can possibly accelerate if they are in these two places at once. On the other hand, if they are further apart, the theory faces the really serious problems outlined in E1-E22, below.


[I am of course using "accelerate" here as it is employed in everyday speech, not as it is used in Physics or Applied Mathematics!]


The next difficulty this 'theory' faces is far more challenging. If we examine it closely, we will soon discover that what Engels had to say turns out to be completely incoherent.


[I have laid out the following argument in a series of steps since it is a little more involved than the other things I have so far said. The argument has then been summarised using much plainer language -- for those who might find the steps set out below rather daunting.]


The following is based on an uncontroversial assumption (which DM-theorists themselves accept), expressed in E1:


E1: If an object is located in one place during two contiguous moments in time, it must be at rest there. So, no moving body can be in one and only one location during two such moments.


With that in mind we can now proceed:


E2: Assume that body, B, is at rest. If so it will be in a given location -- say, p(k) -- for at least two 'moments in time' (leaving the word "moment" as vague as Engels left it). Call these "moments", t(k) and t(k+1). [Where t(k) is any 'moment in time'.]


E3: Assume further that B is now moving and hence that it is in two places at once -- say, p(1) and p(2), both at t(1).


E4: If so, B can't be in p(2) at a later moment, t(2), otherwise it will be at rest there [by E1].


E5: That is because B would then be located at p(2) during two moments, t(1) and t(2). In that case, B must be in a third place, p(3), at the same moment, t(1).


E6: If B isn't located at p(3) at the same moment, t(1), it must be there at a later time -- say, t(2).


E7: But, B must be in p(2) and p(3) at the same time since, according to Engels, moving bodies are in two places at the same time, and we have already established that B is in p(2), at t(1). [From (E3).]


E8: So, B must be in p(2) and p(3), at t(1) -- otherwise we will have to abandon the claim that B is moving.


E9: Hence, if B is in p(2) and p(3), at t(1), and is still moving, it must be in three places at the same time, p(1), p(2) and p(3).


E10: But, the same considerations apply to p(3) and p(4). B has to be in those two places at the same time, too, which now means that B is in four places, p(1), p(2), p(3) and p(4), at t(1).


E11: It takes very little 'dialectical logic' to see where this is going (no pun intended): if there are n points along its path, then B will be in p(1), p(2), p(3)..., p(k-1), p(k), p(k+1)..., p(n-2), p(n-1), and p(n), all at t(1)!


E12: So, the 'world-view of the proletariat' would have a moving object occupying every point along its trajectory, at the same time!


[Another rather weird result can be obtained from the same reasoning -- i.e., that 'dialectical motion' must be discontinuous, a sort of stop-go affair -- if Engels is to be believed. Readers can access that proof, here.]


For those who might find the above argument a little too abstract, or too complicated, here it is again expressed far less technically, using language that is far more ordinary:


According to Engels, a moving object has to be in two places at the same time; call that moment, t(1). But, if it is still moving at the second of those two locations, it must be there and in a third place at the same moment in time, t(1). If that weren't the case, and it was there at a later moment, t(2), that would imply it was in that second location during two moments, t(1) and t(2), not one moment (contradicting Engels). That in turn would mean it was at rest there, contrary to the supposition that it is moving. So, if this object is still moving, the same considerations must apply: this moving body must be in this third place also at t(1). Similarly, if it is still moving, the same must be the case with the third and fourth places occupied, as well as with the fourth and fifth, the fifth and the sixth, and so on...


Hence, if Engels is correct, a moving object must be located at every point along is path at the same moment, t(1)!


[I have responded to every conceivable objection that could be advanced against the above argument in Essay Five, here.]


Returning now to a point made earlier:


E13: Assume the two places an accelerating body, B, occupies at the 'same moment in time' are further apart, after all.


E14: Call these two points p(i) and p(ii).


E15: But, between any two points there is a potentially infinite number of intermediate points.


E16: Call these intermediate points p(1)-p(n), from earlier.


E17: However, we have already seen that according to Engels B will be in p(1) at the same time as it is in p(2).


E18: This isn't affected by the fact that B is accelerating since B is in p(i) and p(ii) at the same time, and p(1) and p(2) lie between p(i) and p(ii).


E19: So, B must be in all four places at the same time.


E20: But, that is also true if B isn't accelerating (since, as we have also seen, B must be in all the points along its trajectory if it is moving, and un-accelerating bodies are certainly moving).


E21: So, this theory can't distinguish an accelerating body from one travelling at constant speed.


E22: In which case, it is difficult to see how, in a DM-universe, moving bodies can possibly accelerate if they are in all these locations at the same time, whether or not they are accelerating.


But, even worse: no (moving) 'dialectical object' can occupy more points in a given interval of time, and it matters not whether they are the same distance apart or are further apart -- since, in all cases, they occupy them all at the 'same moment in time', as we have seen. So, if a moving object occupies all the points along its trajectory at the same time, then that isn't affected if these points are a nanometre, or even a thousand kilometres, apart.


That being the case, the conclusion is inescapable: in a 'dialectical universe' there can be no (linear) acceleration!


Finally, as noted above, this 'contradiction' is a direct consequence of the ambiguities built into this theory -- i.e., they are the result of the incautious use of words like "moment", "move", and "place". In turn, this means that when these equivocations have been resolved, the alleged 'contradiction' simply vanishes. [Once again, that disambiguation has been carried out in Essay Five, here. Readers are directed there for more details.]


Be this as it may, Engels's argument is a prime example of dogmatic apriorism, about which DM-theorist, George Novack, had this to say:


"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.]


Engels made a similar point:


"The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis added.]


But, the above comments also apply to Engels's theory that motion is 'contradictory', which wasn't derived from evidence but from a supposed 'law of thought'. In fact, it was based on a superficial exercise in word juggling concocted in Ancient Greece and then promoted by that Christian Mystic, Hegel, two thousand or more years later.


As noted above, this part of DM not only wasn't based on actual evidence, it can't be. [On that, see below.]


Hence, the alleged 'contradictory nature of motion' has been imposed on nature, not 'read from it'.


It is to this seldom acknowledged, dogmatic aspect of DM that I now turn.


DM Has Been Imposed On Nature


Given the above considerations, the question naturally arises: Is it really the case that dialectics has been imposed on nature and society? At first sight, it would seem that that must be incorrect since we regularly encounter the following seemingly modest disclaimers from dialecticians themselves:


"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. The on-line version uses "building...into" here in place of "superimposing".]


Why is this important? Well, as dialecticians themselves admit, the reading of certain doctrines into nature and society is a hallmark of Idealism and dogmatism. So, if DM is to live up to its materialist and scientific credentials, its theorists must make sure this never happens, which is, of course, why they often agree with Engels and quote him to that effect.


Indeed, we have already seen George Novack argue along the following lines:


"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.]


Here, too, are the thoughts of Communist Party theoretician, Maurice Cornforth:


"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), p.15. Bold emphasis added.]


That seems pretty clear and unequivocal.


However, when we examine what dialecticians do, as opposed to what they say, we find that the exact opposite is the case. Their ideas are frequently imposed on the facts. Here, for example, is Engels himself, who went on to claim the following about motion (in the very same book as the above modest disclaimer quoted above appears!):


"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. 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; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphasis alone added.]


How could Engels possibly have known that "Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be"? Was he a minor deity of some sort? Had he been seated all along at the right hand of 'God'?


If his observation about motion had been derived from the facts available even in Engels's day (a policy to which he had just sworn allegiance), he would have expressed himself perhaps as follows:


"Evidence so far suggests that motion is consistent with what we might call, 'the mode of existence of matter'. Never anywhere has matter without motion been observed, but it is too early to say if this must always be the case…. Matter without motion isn't in fact inconceivable, nor indeed is motion without matter, we just haven't witnessed either yet…." [Re-vamped version of Engels (1976), p.74.]


It is worth recalling that motionless matter isn't in fact inconceivable. Indeed, that very idea had been a fundamental precept of Aristotelian Physics, which was the dominant scientific paradigm for the best part of two thousand years!


Worse still, as we saw in the previous sub-section, Engels's argument about the supposed contradictory nature of motion was based on "abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source" -- that is, it was predicated on speculative ideas he imported from Hegel and Zeno. It most certainly wasn't based on evidence, but on a series of inferences that depend on what certain words (such as, "motion", "moment" and "place") supposedly mean. As I have argued in Essay Five (slightly edited):


An appeal to evidence would be irrelevant, anyway. That is because the examination of a finite number (no matter how large) of moving objects would fail to confirm Engels's assertion that they occupy two places at once. That would still be the case irrespective of the instruments or devices chosen to help effect these observations and regardless of the extent of the magnification used to that end. Furthermore, it would remain the case independently of the level of microscopic detail enlisted in support. No observation (human or mechanical) could confirm that a moving object is in two places at once (except in the senses noted below), in one of them and not in it at the same time. That helps explain why Engels offered absolutely no scientific evidence in support of his belief that motion is contradictory. As noted earlier, too, that picture hasn't changed in the intervening years. Indeed, the author of no book, article or speech devoted to DM (by one of its supporters) even so much as thinks to quote or cite any such evidence, and, what is more, that situation isn't ever likely to change.


Quantum phenomena that allegedly falsify the claim that there is no evidence that moving objects occupy two places at once (etc.) in fact fail to do so. For instance, no one supposes that experiments which suggest an electron can be in two places at once mean that it moves from one of these locations to the other, or, indeed, that it does so in no time at all. What is supposed to have happened (but, only under certain interpretations -- physicists are still trying to make up their minds about how to understand this phenomenon) is that when one electron is aimed at a double slit and focused on a screen it appears to have taken two separate paths at the same time. In that case, it hasn't moved between these two trajectories, jumping from one to the other. It has, it seems, merely followed two paths. Why some DM-supporters view this a confirmation of their theory, is, therefore, a mystery.


It could be argued that the fact one object can take two paths at once is obviously a contradiction, which confirms the theory that nature is fundamentally contradictory. Even if that were the case (however, as I have pointed out in Essay Seven Part One (on this, follow the links below) there is good reason to question that interpretation), the question still remains: Is this a 'dialectical contradiction'? In that case, do these two paths 'struggle' with and then turn into one another (which they should do if the DM-classics are to be believed)? Do they imply each other, such that one can't exist without the other, like the proletariat supposedly can't exist without the capitalist class? The existence of one class logically implies the existence of the other (or so we are told). But, if that were the case, physicists could simply have 'reflected on the concept of an electron' to see this logical truth follow from it. They certainly didn't need to conduct any expensive, time consuming experiments in order to discover this (supposed) fact about electrons. After all, who, still in command of their senses, runs tests to find out if Vixens are really female foxes? How many Dialectical Marxists conduct experiments to see if the proletariat actually does imply the capitalist class (and vice versa)? In that case, whatever else this phenomenon is, it can't be a 'dialectical contradiction'....


[This topic is obviously connected with so-called wave-particle duality, which has become -- shall we say -- 'problematic' now that Quantum Field Theory informs us that the electron isn't a particle, after all, but an "excitation" in "the field". I have said much more about that, here and here. Finally, I have questioned the 'dialectical link' that is supposed to exist between the proletariat and the capitalist class (i.e., the idea that these two classes imply one another, etc.) in Essay Eight Part Two.]


What is perhaps even more peculiar -- when we recall that DM-fans never tire of telling us that their theory enjoys convincing support from the available evidence and that they would never dream of imposing their ideas on the facts (on that, see Essay Two and below) -- is that not one of them has noticed this core part of their theory enjoys absolutely no evidential support.


Of course, it could be objected to accusations like this that if, say, a photograph were taken of a moving object, it would show by means of the recorded blur that such a body had occupied several places at once. In that case, therefore, there is, or could be, evidence in support of Engels's claims.


The problem with such a response is that no matter how fast the shutter speed, no camera (not even this one, or this) can record an instant in time, merely a temporal interval -- that is, such devices record what happens in the space of time between the opening and the closing of its shutter (or other light/energy permitting aperture). Clearly, in order to verify the claim that a moving object occupies at least two places in the same instant, a physical recording of an instant would be required. However, since instants (i.e., in the sense required) are mathematical fictions, it isn't possible to record them....


It could be countered that as we increase a camera's shutter speed any photographs taken will always show some blurring. This supports the conclusion that moving objects are never located in one place at one time. Despite this, it still remains the case that no photograph can catch an instant, and thus no device can verify Engels's contention. Naturally, the situation hasn't been helped by the fact that neither Zeno, Hegel nor Engels were very forthcoming about how long they thought a "moment" or an "instant" in time was supposed to last. Indeed, it would seem that one of these "instants" is in fact a zero of time (i.e., they have no duration), which means, at least according to Trotsky, they don't actually exist!


"Or is the 'moment' a purely mathematical abstraction, that is, a zero of time? But everything exists in time; and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation; time is consequently a fundamental element of existence. Thus the 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." [Trotsky (1971), p.64.]


Again, it could be argued that it is reasonable to conclude from the above that moving objects occupy two locations at the same moment. Once more: since an 'instant in time' is a mathematical fiction, it isn't reasonable to so conclude.


Furthermore, not even a mathematical limiting process (via the Calculus, etc.) could capture such ghostly 'entities' in the physical world, whatever else it might appear to achieve in theory. And, even if it could, no camera (radar device or other equipment) could capture it. Hence, if an appeal to a mathematical limiting process were viable (or available), it would still be of no help. No experiment or observation is capable of substantiating any of the conclusions Engels and Hegel reached about moving bodies.


And that explains why they (and those who accept these ideas) have had to foist this theory of motion on nature.


But, as we will see later, the idea that a moving object is in two places at once possesses rather nasty consequences of its own (for this theory), so DM-fans had better hope that no camera will ever be able to record this alleged fact. Of course, there were no such cameras in the 19th century, but Hegel and Engels still seemed happy to assert the truth of something that was impossible to confirm in their day -- and now even in ours!


Indeed, as one comrade (inadvertently) admitted, this doctrine is based solely on a series of thought experiments:


"Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, famously said that 'everything changes and nothing remains the same' and that 'you can never step twice into the same stream' [this is not what Heraclitus actually said -- here it is: 'On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow' (sic) -- RL]. It is the ideas of ceaseless change, motion, interconnectedness and contradiction that define dialectical thought. The philosopher Zeno famously tried to illustrate how essential dialectical thinking is to our understanding of the world by using thought experiments. He poses the following: Imagine an arrow in flight. At any one durationless instant in time (like the freeze-frame in a film) the arrow is not moving to where it is going to, nor is it moving to where it already is. Thus, at every conceivable instant in time, there is no motion occurring, so how does the arrow move? To answer this we are forced to embrace what appears on the surface to be a contradictory idea -- that the arrow is, at any one time, in more than one place at once. This thought experiment serves to highlight the contradictory nature of the movement of matter in the world.


"The German philosopher Hegel further developed the dialectical (sic) in a systematic form. Instead [of] trying to discard contradictions Hegel saw in them the real impulse for all development. In fact Hegel saw the interpenetration of opposites as one of the fundamental characters of all phenomena. Hegel's philosophy is one of interconnectedness where the means and the end, the cause and the effect, are constantly changing place. It explains progress in terms of struggle and contradiction, not a straight line or an inevitable triumphal march forward...." [Quoted from here; accessed 02/08/2015. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]


Of course, as the above confirms: it isn't as if we don't already know where these ideas came from. They didn't emerge from an extensive body of detailed observations of moving bodies carried out by Zeno, Hegel -- or, indeed, by anyone else --, but from a series of thought experiments dreamt up by these two mystics!


In which case, Novack and Cornforth's comments also apply to Engels's dogmatic assertions about 'motion itself'.


Here, too, are several examples of Lenin's own dogmatic impositions:


"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. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"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…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Ibid., p.358. Bold emphases alone added. Paragraphs merged. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Lest we are tempted to search back through the archives to find the countless container-loads of evidence that Lenin must have amassed in support of these rather dramatic claims about everything in the entire universe for all of time (for what else does "eternal development" mean?), a consideration of the next passage will at least relieve us of that onerous task. Here, at last, Lenin is disarmingly honest about where he obtained these hyper-bold generalisations:


"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others." [Ibid., pp.196-97. Bold emphasis alone added.]


Lenin is quite open about the source of his ideas in these private notebooks: dialectics derives its 'evidential support', not from a "patient empirical examination of the facts", but from studying Hegel! As far as evidence goes, that is it! That's all there is! The search for evidence begins and ends with a dialectician leafing through Hegel's Logic! That is the extent of the 'evidence' Lenin offered in support of his assertions about "everything existing", about "eternal change", about "all phenomena and processes of nature", about nature's "eternal development", etc., etc.


As is relatively easy to show, all dialecticians do likewise (the small mountain of evidence substantiating that allegation can be accessed here). First, they disarm the reader with modest claims like those we saw above; then, often on the same page, or even in the very next sentence, they proceed to do the exact opposite, imposing dialectics on nature.


Why they do this, and what significance it has, will become clearer as this Essay -- but more specifically, as the very next section -- unfolds.


Traditional Thought


In the 'West', as a matter of course since Ancient Greek times Traditional Thinkers have been imposing their theories on nature and society (indeed, as Cornforth and Novack pointed out). In fact, this practice is so widespread and has penetrated so deeply into Traditional Philosophy that few notice it, even after it has been pointed out to them. Or, rather, they fail to see its significance. And that includes DM-theorists.


This ancient tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a hidden world -- populated by the 'gods', assorted 'spirits' or mysterious 'essences' -- which was more real than the material universe we see around us, and which was accessible to thought alone. Theology was openly and brazenly built on this premise. So, too, was Traditional Philosophy.


[I am not conflating religious affectation with Theology and Traditional Philosophy, here. Those caught up by 'religious feeling' might look to invisible 'spirits' and the like for some sort of consolation, 'salvation' or guidance, but the leisured minority who invented and then promoted Theology and Traditional Philosophy theorised and systematised this condition, and it is to that which I am referring.]


This way of viewing the world was concocted by ruling-class ideologues; these "prize-fighters" (as Marx called them) helped indoctrinate the majority to regard the hidden part of 'reality' the same way, too -- that is, as fundamentally 'abstract', 'spiritual', accessible to thought alone. They invented this 'world-view' because if you belong to, benefit from, or help run a society that is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can only 'keep order' in a limited number of ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. That will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to persuade the majority (or a significant section of "opinion formers" -- philosophers, administrators, editors, priests, educators, 'intellectuals', and the like) that the present order either (a) works for their benefit, (b) is ordained of the 'gods', (c) defends/preserves 'civilised values', or (d) is 'natural' and hence can't be fought against, or even reformed.


These ideas were then imposed on reality -- plainly since they can't be 'read' from it.


As Marx pointed out, the ruling-class often relied on other layers in society to concoct, promote and then disseminate such 'helpful' ideas on their behalf, and this they do this order to persuade the rest of us that the system (that just so happens to benefit their patrons) is 'rational', 'natural', even 'divinely ordained':


"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Notice that Marx says these ideologues do this "in its whole range", and that they "rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age."


In Ancient Greece, with the demise of the rule of Kings and Queens, the old myths and Theogonies no longer seemed relevant. So, in the newly emerging republics and quasi-democracies of the Sixth Century BC, far more abstract, de-personalised ideas were required.


Enter Philosophy.


As Marx also pointed out:


"[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. I have used the on-line version here. Bold emphasis added.]


It is no accident then that Philosophy emerged as Greek society began to change in the above way.


From its inception, Traditional Philosophers concocted increasingly baroque, abstract systems of thought, invariably based on obscure, arcane terminology, impossible to translate into the language of everyday life.


Again, as Marx argued:


"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.


"...The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]


Philosophers imagined they could read their doctrines into nature, since for them nature was 'Mind' -- or the product of 'Mind' -- which meant that it was 'logical', governed by 'rational principles'. In that case, the human mind could safely project 'rational thoughts and theories' onto this supposedly 'rational' world, created by just such a 'Mind'.


As Marx intimated, in order to render the above ideas more 'plausible', language had to be modified accordingly -- indeed, as the late Professor Havelock pointed out:


"As long as...communication remained oral, the environment could be described or explained only in the guise of stories which represent it as the work of agents: that is gods. Hesiod takes the step of trying to unify those stories into one great story, which becomes a cosmic theogony. A great series of matings and births of gods is narrated to symbolise the present experience of the sky, earth, seas, mountains, storms, rivers, and stars. His poem is the first attempt we have in a style in which the resources of documentation have begun to intrude upon the manner of an acoustic composition. But his account is still a narrative of events, of 'beginnings,' that is, 'births,' as his critics the Presocratics were to put it. From the standpoint of a sophisticated philosophical language, such as was available to Aristotle, what was lacking was a set of commonplace but abstract terms which by their interrelations could describe the physical world conceptually; terms such as space, void, matter, body, element, motion, immobility, change, permanence, substratum, quantity, quality, dimension, unit, and the like. Aside altogether from the coinage of abstract nouns, the conceptual task also required the elimination of verbs of doing and acting and happening, one may even say, of living and dying, in favour of a syntax which states permanent relationships between conceptual terms systematically. For this purpose the required linguistic mechanism was furnished by the timeless present of the verb to be --  the copula of analytic statement.


"The history of early philosophy is usually written under the assumption that this kind of vocabulary was already available to the first Greek thinkers. The evidence of their own language is that it was not. They had to initiate the process of inventing it.... Nevertheless, the Presocratics could not invent such language by an act of novel creation. They had to begin with what was available, namely, the vocabulary and syntax of orally memorised speech, in particular the language of Homer and Hesiod. What they proceeded to do was to take the language of the mythos and manipulate it, forcing its terms into fresh syntactical relationships which had the constant effect of stretching and extending their application, giving them a cosmic rather than a particular reference." [Havelock (1983), pp.13-14, 21. Bold emphases and links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling modified to agree with UK English. Some paragraphs merged.]


Havelock then demonstrated (in detail) that this is precisely what the Presocratic Philosophers did: they eliminated verbs and invented abstract nouns to put in their place, transforming the verb "to be", for example, into "Being".


[I have explained these developments more fully and expanded on their significance for subsequent thought in Essay Three Parts One and Two.]


For such theorists, 'rational thought' had to reflect the 'rational order', ordained by some 'deity' or other. "As above, so below", went the Ancient Hermetic mantra. The microcosm of the mind "reflected" the macrocosm of the universe. The Doctrine of Correspondences thus came to dominate all ancient and modern theories of knowledge. Given this view, 'philosophical' truth corresponded with hidden 'essences' that supposedly lay 'underneath', or 'behind', the superficial world of 'appearances'. Moreover, these 'abstract ideas' were impossible to detect by any physical means -- which is why they were accessible to thought alone.


As Novack pointed out, that is what made all such theories Idealist.


Again, as Marx himself hinted, and as the record confirms, these ancient philosophical systems were based on the idea that language somehow contained a secret code, which when unravelled 'enabled' Traditional Theorists to 'represent' to themselves the 'rational' order underlying superficial 'appearances' -- the so-called "secrets of nature" --, and, in some cases, the very 'Mind of God'.


As the late Umberto Eco pointed out (in relation to the 'western' Christian tradition, which, of course, drew heavily on Greek Philosophy):


"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status.... In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself.... Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


Philosophical language and thought thus served as an esoteric medium or device that enabled the "inner illumination" of the 'soul'. In effect, it represented a direct line into the heart of the 'Divine Order', even to 'God Himself'.


Unsurprisingly, the philosophical theories and theological dogmas concocted by countless generations of ruling-class hacks almost invariably turned out to be those that rationalised and 'justified' the status quo.01


Either that, or they attempted to 'justify' changes in the status quo as one Mode of Production -- or, indeed, as one ruling-class -- was supplanted by the next in line.


To this end, language was viewed primarily as a means of representation -- a vehicle by means of which 'God' could 'illuminate the soul', re-presenting 'His thoughts' to humanity --, not as a means of communication invented by ordinary human beings engaged in collective labour, as Marx and Engels maintained.


[There is more on that, here.]


As noted above, this ancient ruling-class tradition has changed many times throughout history with the rise and fall of each Mode of Production, but its form has remained basically the same throughout: fundamental 'truths' about 'reality' can be derived from language and 'thought' alone. This in turn meant that the 'cosmic verities' that emerged as a result could be dogmatically imposed on nature and society. This was viewed as a legitimate exercise since 'God' made the universe, hence, if certain 'thinkers' were capable of re-constructing 'His' thoughts in their heads, those thoughts must reveal the inner workings of the natural and social worlds. In which case, imposing them on nature and society seemed perfectly natural and entirely uncontroversial.


Some might object that philosophical ideas can't have remained the same for thousands of years across different Modes of Production since that notion itself runs counter to core principles expressed in and by HM. I agree, which is why I specifically referred to the general form at work behind Traditional Thought: the belief that there exists a hidden world 'beneath appearances', accessible to thought alone.


Anyway, we don't argue the same with respect to religious belief, that nothing changes. 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. Paragraphs merged.]


The above remarks applied back in Babylon and the Egypt of the Pharaohs, just as they did in Ancient China and the rest of Asia, The Americas, Greece, Rome and throughout Europe, Africa, Australasia, and as they have done right across the planet ever since.

The same is true of the core thought-forms that run through Traditional Philosophy: that there is an invisible world, accessible to thought alone -- especially since Marx also argued that:


"[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 emphasis added.]




"[O]ne fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms. The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas." [Marx and Engels (1848), p.52. Bold emphasis added.]


Of course, that also helps explain why Marx 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. [On that, see here.]


So, just like Theology, but in this case in a far more abstract and increasingly secular form, philosophers sought to construct and hence reflect the 'essential' structure of reality, the 'rational order' that 'justified' class division and oppression, mystified now by the use of increasingly arcane terminology and obscure jargon. Again, as Marx noted:


"Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118.]


[Exactly how these developments were/are connected with attempts to legitimate class domination and systematic oppression will be explained in more detail below.]


'Materialist Dialectics' was both conceived in, and developed out of, this ruling-class tradition, as Lenin himself acknowledged (plainly failing to appreciate the significance of what he was admitting):


"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism. The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added. Paragraphs merged.]


This ancient 'world-view' was re-configured and re-packaged by Hegel, openly working in the mystical Neoplatonic, Christian and Hermetic Traditions. It was subsequently appropriated by Marxist classicists before the working class could provide these ideas with an effective materialist counter-weight. Hence, DM was born out of Idealism, and, as we will see, its theorists have never shaken themselves free from its iron grip, despite the 'materialist flip' they claim to have imposed on it.


And that is why dialecticians happily impose their ideas on nature; it is thoroughly traditional so to do, as Novack noted. Indeed, since DM is itself based on age-old, Idealist abstractions -- which can't be derived from the material world -- its 'laws' have had to be read into it.


Unfortunately, in so doing dialecticians have (unwittingly) identified themselves with a tradition that wasn't built by working people, and which doesn't serve in their interests.


Worse still, since DM isn't based on material reality it can't be used to help change it.


Small wonder then that it has failed us for so long.


Some might think that if the above conclusions were correct, science would also be fatally compromised. However, drawing that conclusion would be a mistake. Science has always been motivated and populated by individuals who don't just theorise about nature, they interacted with it, observed it, experimented on it and learned from it, modifying their ideas accordingly. [On that, see Conner (2005).] Scientific theory has typically been tested and validated by its complex relation to the world, through collective labour and humanity's endeavour to control nature. Traditional Philosophy not only hasn't done any of that, it can't.


[However, further discussion of this particular topic would take us way beyond the scope of this Basic Introductory Essay. It has been dealt with in greater detail here, a summary of which can be found here.]


Hence, for all their claim to be radical, DM-theorists are thoroughly traditional and disconcertingly conservative, when it comes to Philosophy.


[Why that is so will also be explained below.]


Indeed, despite the fact that DM-theorists appear to be challenging traditional ideas, their theoretical practice reveals the opposite: they have situated themselves in an intellectual tradition that is perfectly happy to derive fundamental truths about nature, valid for all of time and space, from language and thought alone, emulating the approach adopted by ruling-class hacks for well over two thousand years.


The Three 'Laws' of Dialectics


Engels And Mickey Mouse Science


The traditional practice of imposing philosophical theories on nature (briefly discussed above) can further be seen if we examine Engels's so-called 'Three Laws of Dialectics':


"Dialectics as the science of universal inter-connection. Main laws: transformation of quantity into quality -- mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes -- development through contradiction or negation of the negation -- spiral form of development." [Engels (1954), p.17.]


All dialecticians who accept these 'Laws' impose them on nature in like manner (indeed, as did Hegel, from whom Engels imported them).


[Again, the mountain of proof (and that is no exaggeration!) supporting that accusation can be accessed here and here.]


What little evidence dialecticians have scraped-together in order to substantiate these 'Laws' is not only woefully inadequate, it is selective and highly contentious.


Anyone who has studied and practiced genuine science will know the lengths to which researchers have to go in order to modify, revise or up-date even minor areas of current theory, let alone justify major changes in the way we view nature.


[For those who haven't had this sort of background, I have posted several short examples of genuine science here.]


In the place of hard evidence, what we invariably find in DM-texts are the same hackneyed examples offered up, year-in year-out, across many decades. These include the following hardy perennials: boiling or freezing water, cells that are 'alive and dead', grains of barley that 'negate' themselves, magnets that are UOs, Mamelukes who display ambiguous fighting skills when matched against French soldiers, Mendeleyev's Table, the sentence "John is a man", homilies about parts and wholes (e.g., "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts", etc.), characters from Molière who discover they have been speaking prose all their lives, risible attempts to depict the principles of FL, "Yay, Yay", and "Nay, Nay", anything more than this "cometh of evil", wave/particle 'duality', 'emergent' properties popping into existence all over the place, etc., etc. Even then, we are never given a scientific report about these phenomena. Indeed, all we ever find in DM-texts are a few brief, amateurish and impressionistic sentences -- or, at best, a few paragraphs -- devoted to each of the above examples.


From such mantra-like banalities dialecticians suddenly 'derive' universal laws, valid for all of space and time!


Even at its best (in, say, Woods and Grant (1995/2007) -- which is arguably one of the most comprehensive attempts to defend classical, hard-core DM -- or Gollobin (1986), which is in many ways an up-market version of Woods and Grant written from a Maoist perspective), all we encounter are a few dozen pages of secondary and tertiary 'evidence', padded out with no little repetition and bluster (much of which has been taken apart here). Contrary evidence (of which there is plenty -- again, check out the previous link for details) is simply ignored or hand-waved aside.


DM-supporters are therefore serial victims of Confirmation Bias.


DM is indeed Mickey Mouse Science at its finest.


When we compare this amateurish approach to evidence, proof or even clarity with the opposite state of affairs apparent in, say, HM, the contrast is stark indeed. In economics, history, current affairs and politics its theorists display commendable attention to detail and write with admirable clarity, almost invariably including page after page of (often novel) facts, figures, tables, graphs, references, and detailed analyses -- much of which show signs of painstaking research and careful thought. One only has to look at a few of the excellent blogs run by Marxist economists to see how meticulous they are -- for instance, this one. They also devote much space -- indeed, sometimes whole articles and books -- to analysing concepts like "ideology", "the falling rate of profit", "mode of production", or "alienation" -- but hardly ever even so much as a single paragraph to "quality" or "node" (as we are about to find out), to say nothing of the other missing detail noted, for example, here and here.


In many ways such superficial and feeble attempts to substantiate (or even defend) Engels's 'Laws' resembles attempts made by Creationists to argue that the Book of Genesis is scientific! As pointed out earlier, what little evidence DM-theorists have scraped-together is highly selective and heavily slanted. More often than not it is merely anecdotal and therefore deeply contentious -- indeed, as we are about to find out.


'Law' One -- 'Quantity' And 'Quality'


Here is Engels's First 'Law', the change of 'quantity into quality':


"It is said, natura non facit saltum [there are no leaps in nature -- RL]; and ordinary thinking when it has to grasp a coming-to-be or a ceasing-to-be, fancies it has done so by representing it as a gradual emergence or disappearance. But we have seen that the alterations of being in general are not only the transition of one magnitude into another, but a transition from quality into quantity and vice versa, a becoming-other which is an interruption of gradualness and the production of something qualitatively different from the reality which preceded it. Water, in cooling, does not gradually harden as if it thickened like porridge, gradually solidifying until it reached the consistency of ice; it suddenly solidifies, all at once. It can remain quite fluid even at freezing point if it is standing undisturbed, and then a slight shock will bring it into the solid state." [Hegel (1999), p.370, §776. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"...the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"With this assurance Herr Dühring saves himself the trouble of saying anything further about the origin of life, although it might reasonably have been expected that a thinker who had traced the evolution of the world back to its self-equal state, and is so much at home on other celestial bodies, would have known exactly what's what also on this point. For the rest, however, the assurance he gives us is only half right unless it is completed by the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations which has already been mentioned. In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change. This is true of the transition from the mechanics of celestial bodies to that of smaller masses on a particular celestial body; it is equally true of the transition from the mechanics of masses to the mechanics of molecules -- including the forms of motion investigated in physics proper: heat, light, electricity, magnetism. In the same way, the transition from the physics of molecules to the physics of atoms -- chemistry -- in turn involves a decided leap; and this is even more clearly the case in the transition from ordinary chemical action to the chemism of albumen which we call life. Then within the sphere of life the leaps become ever more infrequent and imperceptible. -- Once again, therefore, it is Hegel who has to correct Herr Dühring." [Engels (1976), pp.82-83.I have used the online version here, but quoted the page numbers from the Foreign Languages edition. Bold emphasis added.]


"We gave there one of the best-known examples [of this Law, RL] -- that of the change of the aggregate states of water, which under normal atmospheric pressure changes at 0°C from the liquid into the solid state, and at 100°C from the liquid into the gaseous state, so that at both these turning-points the merely quantitative change of temperature brings about a qualitative change in the condition of the water." [Ibid., p.160.]


Notice how Engels felt he could derive an "impossible" from what little evidence he offered his readers (just like Hegel):


"...the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphasis alone added.]


But, how could he possibly have known that it is "impossible" to change the quality of a body without the addition of matter or energy?


Indeed, Engels himself had already (inadvertently) acknowledged that inferences like this-- i.e., any attempt to derive "necessity" from "observation" -- are invalid:


"The empiricism of observation alone can never adequately prove necessity." [Ibid., p.229.]


So, Engels couldn't possibly have known any of this. In which case, he clearly "foisted" it on nature.


These changes in 'quality' aren't supposed to be smooth or gradual, either:


"For the rest, however, the assurance he gives us is only half right unless it is completed by the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations which has already been mentioned. In spite of all gradualness, the transition from one form of motion to another always remains a leap, a decisive change." [Engels (1976), pp.82-83. Bold emphasis added.]


"It will be understood without difficulty by anyone who is in the least capable of dialectical thinking...[that] quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, lead in the end to changes of quality, and that these changes of quality represent leaps, interruptions in gradualness…. That is how all Nature acts…." [Plekhanov (1974), p.613. Bold emphases alone added.]


"What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness...." [Lenin (1961), p.282. Bold emphases added.]


However, and contrary to what Hegel, Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin asserted, not everything in nature changes 'qualitatively' in sudden "leaps" (or "nodally").  Consider the following: melting glass, rock, resin, tar, metal, butter, toffee, gels and plastics. When heated, these substances change from solid to liquid slowly, with no 'nodal' points or 'leaps' anywhere in sight. Who doesn't know that metals soften and then melt gradually when heated?


[For anyone who doubts this, I have posted several videos of melting metal, plastic, rock and chocolate here. More details, including my answers to several rather weak objections to the above, can be found here.]


Some critics of my argument refer to the exact melting points of solids, for instance, as clear examples of "nodal" change. However, this is what we read about the so-called "amorphous solids" (e.g., glasses, gels, and plastics):


"Amorphous solids do not have a sharp melting point; they are softened in a range of temperature." [Quoted from here; accessed 03/05/2015. Bold emphasis added.]


"[A]morphous solids tend to soften slowly over a wide temperature range rather than having a well-defined melting point like a crystalline solid." [Quoted from here; accessed 08/04/2015. Bold emphasis added; spelling modified to agree with UK English.]




"Almost any substance can solidify in amorphous form if the liquid phase is cooled rapidly enough...." [Ibid. Bold added.]


This means that "almost any substance" will lack a sharp melting point after it has been cooled in the above manner. This in turn implies that there are countless non-"nodal" (non-"leap"-like) changes in nature.


[Notice that I am not arguing that there are no sudden changes in nature and society, only that not everything changes this way. So this 'law' is defective, at best. Again, I have responded to several counter-arguments that focus, for instance, on an appeal to latent heat, here.]


Do DM-theorists even so much as mention, let alone consider, these counter-examples?


Are you serious!?


Once more: in this regard, DM-fans suffer from a bad case of Confirmation Bias, compounded by an even worse case of selective blindness.


Furthermore, not every change in quality is produced by quantitative increase or decrease in matter/energy (again, contrary to what Engels and other DM-theorists assert). There are in fact countless differences in quality that aren't produced in this way. For example, molecules called Stereoisomers share exactly the same number and type of atoms, and yet they are qualitatively dissimilar because of the different spatial arrangement of their constituent atoms.


So, here we have qualitative variation created by different geometry. This is just as important a material constraint as any Engels himself considered.


[Some have objected to this point because there is no "development" in such cases. I have responded to that criticism here.]


Other qualitative changes in nature and society can be produced by (i) different timing, (ii) different ordering of the relevant events (for the same amount of matter and/or energy involved), or even by (iii) altering their context. [Several examples of these have been posted here.]


Moreover, and perhaps far worse, this 'Law' only appears to work because of the vague way that "quantity", "quality" and "node" (or even "leap") have been defined by DM-theorists -- that is, if they ever bother to do so. Indeed, after nearly thirty years of research, I have been able to find only a handful of DM-texts (out of the scores I have consulted) that attempt, even superficially, to inform us what a DM-"quality" is.


[For example, Kuusinen (1961), Yurkovets (1984), and Gollobin (1986). Once more, their arguments have been neutralised in Essay Seven.]


Indeed, after nearly two hundred years (if we include Hegel), not one single DM-theorist has even thought to tell us how long a "node" is supposed to last!


Here is how Hegel 'defined' "quality":


"Quality is, in the first place, the character identical with being: so identical that a thing ceases to be what it is, if it loses its quality. Quantity, on the contrary, is the character external to being, and does not affect the being at all. Thus, e.g. a house remains what it is, whether it be greater or smaller; and red remains red, whether it be brighter or darker." [Hegel (1975), p.124, §85. Bold emphasis added.]


This is in fact an Aristotelian idea.


Similarly, the Marxist Internet Archive defines "quality" as follows:


"Quality is an aspect of something by which it is what it is and not something else and reflects that which is stable amidst variation. Quantity is an aspect of something which may change (become more or less) without the thing thereby becoming something else. Thus, if something changes to an extent that it is no longer the same kind of thing, this is a 'qualitative change', whereas a change in something by which it still the same thing, though more or less, bigger or smaller, is a 'quantitative change'." [Quoted from here. This definition has been altered slightly since it was first consulted. Bold emphases added. Paragraphs merged.]


But, given the above definition, many of the examples to which dialecticians themselves appeal to 'illustrate' this 'Law' actually fail to do so. For example, water as a solid, liquid, or gas is still H2O. Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy doesn't result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing substantially new emerges. This substance remains H2O throughout. Indeed, iron is still iron as a liquid or as a solid; Nitrogen is still nitrogen whether it is in a solid, liquid or a gaseous state. Again, nothing substantially new emerges when these -- and, in fact, all the other elements -- are heated or cooled (in an inert atmosphere).


Furthermore, countless substances exist in solid, liquid, or gaseous form, so that can't be what makes each of them "what it is and not something else". What makes lead, for instance, lead is its atomic structure, and that stays the same whether or not it exists as a solid or a liquid. As such, it remains "the same kind of thing", when heated or cooled.


Once again, it is the vagueness of the concepts used here that 'allows' DM-theorists to see changes in "quality" whenever and wherever it suits them, just as it 'permits' them to ignore the many instances where this just doesn't happen. Clearly, this means they apply this 'law' entirely subjectively and inconsistently, which might help explain why this 'Law' has been left so vague and imprecise for so long.


If the above allegations are difficult to accept, readers should try the following experiment:


Ask the very next dialectician you meet precisely how long a 'node'/'leap', for example, is supposed to last. You will either receive no answer or your query will be hand-waved aside. But, if no one knows how long a 'node' is supposed to be, then anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be 'nodal'!


Not only does this render the word "node" meaningless, it introduces a fundamental element of arbitrariness into what is supposed to be an 'objective law'.


And, it really isn't good enough for dialecticians to dismiss this as mere "pedantry", or "semantics". Can you imagine a genuine scientist refusing to say how long a crucially important time period in her theory is supposed to last, accusing you of "pedantry", or "semantics", for daring to ask?


This isn't a minor, nit-picking point either -- recall what Lenin said:


"What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness...." [Lenin (1961), p.282. Bold emphases added.]


But, not even Lenin told us how long one of these "leaps" is supposed to last. In which case, how might anyone be able to tell the difference between a "dialectical transition" and one that isn't?


[One comrade took great exception to my asking how long a 'node' is supposed to be. I have responded to him here.]


The Other Two 'Laws'


The other two 'Laws' fare no better. The Second 'Law' -- the "Unity and Interpenetration of Opposites" (coupled with change though "Internal Contradiction") -- will be examined in the next sub-section. Since the "Negation of the Negation" [NON] -- the Third 'Law' -- is really just an extension to the Second, its credibility plainly depends on that 'Law'. Hence, the next sub-section will (in effect) deal with both 'Laws' together.


[Nevertheless, several detailed objections to the NON have been published here.]


'Internal Contradictions'


Dialectical Vs Mechanical Materialism


Among other things, Mechanical Materialism holds that all things are set in motion by an external 'push' of some sort. By way of contrast, dialecticians claim that because of their 'internal contradictions' objects and processes in nature and society are in fact "self-moving".


Lenin expressed that idea as follows:


"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. The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).


"In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external -- God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of 'self'-movement.


"The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to the 'leaps,' to the 'break in continuity,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


However, there are several serious problems with this passage, not the least of which is that it plainly suggests that things are self-moving. In fact, Lenin did more than just suggest this, he insisted upon it:


"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921), p.90. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Other Marxists say more-or-less the same. Here are Woods and Grant (readers will no doubt notice, once again, that these two comrades are quite happy to impose this doctrine on nature, holding it valid for all of space and time, while offering zero proof that it is as universally valid as they seem to believe):


"Dialectics explains that change and motion involve contradiction and can only take place through contradictions.... Dialectics is the logic of contradiction.... So fundamental is this idea to dialectics that Marx and Engels considered motion to be the most basic characteristic of matter.... [Referring to a quote from Aristotle -- RL] [t]his is not the mechanical conception of motion as something imparted to an inert mass by an external 'force' but an entirely different notion of matter as self-moving....


"The essential point of dialectical thought is not that it is based on the idea of change and motion but that it views motion and change as phenomena based on contradiction.... Contradiction is an essential feature of all being. It lies at the heart of matter itself. It is the source of all motion, change, life and development. The dialectical law which expresses this idea is the unity and interpenetration of opposites.... The universal phenomena of the unity of opposites is, in reality, the motor-force of all motion and development in nature. It is the reason why it is not necessary to introduce the concept of external impulse to explain movement and change -- the fundamental weakness of all mechanistic theories. Movement, which itself involves a contradiction, is only possible as a result of the conflicting tendencies and inner tensions which lie at the heart of all forms of matter.... Matter is self-moving and self-organising." [Woods and Grant (1995), pp.43-45, 47, 68, 72. Bold emphases alone added. Several paragraphs merged.]


But, if that were indeed the case, nothing in nature could have any effect on anything else. So, while you might think that it is your kick that moves a football, in fact -- according to the above -- the ball moves itself!


Now, in order to avoid such absurd consequences, some dialecticians (mainly Stalinists and Maoists) have had to allow for the existence of "external contradictions" (or "impulses", which idea seems to run contrary to what Woods and Grant, for example, asserted), that are somehow involved in changes like this.


Here, for example, is Stalin:


"Our country exhibits two groups of contradictions. One group consists of the internal contradictions that exist between the proletariat and the peasantry.... The other group consists of the external contradictions that exist between our country, as the land of socialism, and all the other countries, as lands of capitalism.... Anyone who confuses the first group of contradictions, which can be overcome entirely by the efforts of one country, with the second group of contradictions, the solution of which requires the efforts of the proletarians of several countries, commits a gross error against Leninism. He is either a muddle-head or an incorrigible opportunist." [Stalin (1976b), pp.210-11. Bold emphasis added. Paragraphs merged.]


[More details can be found here, with several more quotations, here. There are deeper, philosophical reasons (explored by Hegel and accepted by Lenin) why 'external contradictions' would totally scupper DM. I have covered that topic, here.]


But, as seems obvious, this makes a complete mockery of the idea that all change is internally-generated, just as it undermines the contrast drawn above between mechanical and 'dialectical' theories of motion. Indeed, what becomes of Lenin's "demand" if there are countless changes that violate this 'dialectical principle'?


Worse still, if 'contradictions' are the result of a 'struggle of opposites', and all motion is a 'contradiction', what sort of 'struggle' is going on inside, say, a billiard ball that keeps it moving? Do all billiard balls possess an 'internal motor' of some sort -- supposedly powered by these "internal contradictions" -- which impels them along? If so, much of modern Physics and Applied Mathematics will need to be ditched.


In addition, as we saw above with Lenin, DM-theorists often appeal to "internal contradictions" in order to undercut theism. Here, for example, is Cornforth:


"The second dogmatic assumption of mechanism is the assumption that no change can ever happen except by the action of some external cause. Just as no part of a machine moves unless another part acts on it and makes it move, so mechanism sees matter as being inert -- without motion, or rather without self-motion. For mechanism, nothing ever moves unless something else pushes or pulls is, it never changes unless something else interferes with it.


"No wonder that, regarding matter in this way, the mechanists had to believe in a Supreme Being to give the 'initial push'.... No, the world was not created by a Supreme Being. Any particular organisation of matter, any particular process of matter in motion, has an origin and a beginning.... But matter in motion had no origin, no beginning.... So in studying the causes of change, we should not merely seek for external causes of change, but should above all seek for the source of change within the process itself, in its own self-movement, in the inner impulses to development contained in things themselves." [Cornforth (1976), pp.40-43. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]


But, if external causes are now permitted -- or are, indeed, required -- in order to prevent this theory from becoming absurd, then that will simply allow 'God' to sneak back in through a side door.


Of course, all this is independent of whether or not it makes sense to say that anything in nature or society (outside of language) can be described as a "contradiction". Dialecticians, following Hegel, certainly believe it does make some sort of sense, but up to now they have been content merely to assert this for a fact, neglecting the proof.


Apparently, Hegel's mystical authority is sufficient!


[It is also worth reminding ourselves that Hegel's own use of "contradiction" was itself based on series of sub-Aristotelian, logical blunders.]


Dialectics Can't Actually Explain Change


But, even if every object and process in nature did in fact 'contain' one or more of these "internal contradictions", exactly as DM-theorists suppose, that would still fail to explain why anything actually moved or changed. Quite the opposite in fact, as we are about to find out.


As is relatively easy to confirm, dialecticians have been (serially) unclear as to whether:


(1) Objects and processes change because of a "struggle" between their "internal contradictions" and/or "opposites", or whether they,


(2) Change into these "opposites".


Or, indeed, whether they,


(3) Create such "opposites" when they change.


Here are just a few passages that illustrate these confusions:


"However reluctant Understanding may be to admit the action of Dialectic, we must not suppose that the recognition of its existence is peculiarly confined to the philosopher. It would be truer to say that Dialectic gives expression to a law which is felt in all other grades of consciousness, and in general experience. Everything that surrounds us may be viewed as an instance of Dialectic. We are aware that everything finite, instead of being stable and ultimate, is rather changeable and transient; and this is exactly what we mean by that Dialectic of the finite, by which the finite, as implicitly other than what it is, is forced beyond its own immediate or natural being to turn suddenly into its opposite." [Hegel (1975), pp.117-18. Bold emphasis added.]


"Dialectics, so-called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature, and so-called subjective dialectics, dialectical thought, is only the reflection of the motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites and their final passage into one another, or into higher forms, determines the life of nature." [Engels (1954), p.211. Bold emphasis added.]


"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 emphasis added.]


"[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?]….


"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics….


"The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics…. 


"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…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Bold emphases alone added; paragraphs merged. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"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." [Ibid., p.109. Bold added.]


"Why is it that '...the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another'? Because that is just how things are in objective reality. The fact is that the unity or identity of opposites in objective things is not dead or rigid, but is living, conditional, mobile, temporary and relative; in given conditions, every contradictory aspect transforms itself into its opposite....


"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 emphasis added.]


[Dozens more quotations (and that is no exaggeration!), drawn from classical and more contemporary dialecticians, who all say the same, can be accessed here.]


Of course, if the third option above were the case, opposites couldn't cause change -- they would be produced by change, not the other way round.


And if the second alternative were correct, we would see things like male cats turning into female cats, the working class into the capitalist class, the medieval peasantry into the feudal aristocracy, electrons into protons (or is it positrons?), the forces of production into the relations of production, material bodies changing into immaterial bodies, and vice versa, after 'struggling' with them, alongside a whole host of other such oddities. [On that, see here.]


In what follows, it is worth keeping in mind that, according to the DM-classics, objects and processes change because of a 'struggle' between 'opposites', and that they then turn into those 'opposites'. That is, they turn into that with which they have 'struggled'!


So, as far as the first and second options are concerned, we can draw the following conclusions:


If an object (or process) changes because it 'struggles' with an already existing 'dialectical opposite', it can't change into that 'opposite' because that 'opposite' already exists!


Clearly, no object or process can change into something that is already there!


Hence, as should seem obvious, if object/process A is already composed of a 'dialectical union' of A and not-A (the latter is A's 'dialectical opposite'), and it supposedly 'changes' into not-A -- into that with which it has just 'struggled' -- that can't happen since not-A already exists, as we have just noted. If not-A didn't already exist, there would be nothing with which A could 'struggle', and hence change.


Moreover, the 'dialectical' theory of change leaves it entirely mysterious how not-A itself originally came about. It seems to have popped into existence from nowhere. It can't have come from A, since A can only change because of its struggle with not-A, which doesn't yet exist! But, it must have come from A, its 'dialectical opposite'!


Pushing this process into the past will only face the same problems.


Of course, this isn't to deny change, only to point out that dialectics is incapable of explaining it.


Indeed, this shows that if dialectics were 'true', change would be impossible!


Should readers regard the above argument far too 'abstract', they might prefer a more concrete example -- for instance, a live cat changing into a dead cat.


Consider live cat, C.


According to the dialectical classics, C can only change because of a 'struggle' with its 'opposite', The said cat must then change into that with which it has 'struggled'.


Let us call the 'opposite' of cat C, C*.


As we have seen, DM-theorists tell us that C will change into this 'opposite'. So, the 'opposite' that C changes into must be C*. Furthermore, since C eventually changes into a dead cat, that dead cat must also be this 'opposite', it must be C*!

[Some might object that it is the 'contradictory tendencies' within C that make it change. I have dealt with that rebuttal here.]

However, if C is to 'struggle' with C* (in order to change), then C* must already exist.


In other words, in order to die, live cat C must 'struggle' with dead cat C*!


Has anyone ever witnessed a live cat 'struggling' with its future dead self so that it might die?

On the other hand, if dead cat C* already exists, so that C is able to 'struggle' with it, C can't change into C* since C* already exists! If C* didn't already exist, there would be nothing with which C could 'struggle', and hence change.


In that case, according to this 'theory', cat C can't die!


Any who object to these patently absurd conclusions should pick a fight with the DM-classicists for importing such a crazy theory into Marxism, not me!


Intermediate Stages


Incidentally, the same result emerges if we consider intermediate stages in the life and death of cat, C (or, indeed, any internal processes inside C that cause such changes -- on that, see here).

To that end, let us assume that C goes through n successive stages, C(1), C(2), C(3)..., C(k), C(k+1)..., C(n-1), until at stage C(n) it finally 'pops its clogs'.


[If we now try to introduce the NON into the mix, and each of the above stages is regarded as a "sublated" result of a previous stage, the result will be no different. The full details of such a scenario have been set out here.]

But, according to the dialectical classics, C(1) can only change into C(2) because of a 'struggle' of opposites. They also tell us that C(1) "inevitably" changes into that 'opposite', into that with which it has just 'struggled'. In which case, C(1) and C(2) must be these 'opposites', and so they must 'struggle' with each other if stage C(1) is to change.

Hence, if the DM-classics are to be believed, C(1) must not only 'struggle' with C(2), it must change into it.

However, the problems we met earlier now re-emerge: 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 and hence change.

Furthermore, if C(2) is itself also to change, it must 'struggle' with whatever it changes into -- that is, it must 'struggle' with and change into, C(3). 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 could 'struggle'.

By (n-1) applications of the above argument, all the stages of a cat's life must co-exist. In which case, no cat could change, let alone die! And, what applies to cats, applies to anything and everything that changes (including capitalism!). All their stages must co-exist!


It is a mystery, therefore, how there is any room left in the dialectical universe for anything to move, let alone change!


'Dialectical cats' appear not only to have vastly more than nine lives, they are, it would seem, eternal beings.

Of course, as noted above, all this is quite apart from the fact that many things just do not change into their opposites. When was the last time you saw a male cat turn into a female cat? A male cell (sperm) into a female cell (egg)? An electron into a proton?


And, are we really supposed to believe that the proletariat will turn into the capitalist class, and vice versa?


But, if everything "inevitably" changes into its opposite, as we were told they must by the DM-classics, such things would happen all the time.


Of course, it could be argued that the proletariat will in fact change into the ruling-class, its opposite. So, this theory is at least correct there.


But, the opposite of the proletariat isn't just any old ruling-class, it is the capitalist class. This is the unique "other" of the proletariat with whom they are 'internally' linked. These two classes imply one another; they can't exist on their own, but must co-exist, so we are told. The ruling class does not imply the proletariat, nor vice versa. The capitalist class implies to proletariat. Hence, the former must change into the latter, and vice versa, if this theory is to be believed. Workers struggle with capitalists, and so, according to this theory, they must change into them --, thus making socialism impossible.


[On why there have to be these unique "dialectical others", see here and here.]


Anyway, did the peasant class in the Middle Ages change in to the ruling-class of their day? Did the slaves in Ancient Rome change into the Aristocracy? Or even vice versa? But, they should have done if DM were correct.


Once more: this doesn't mean that change can't happen -- only that DM can't account for it.


Alternatively: if DM were true, change would be impossible!


[Again, this argument has been worked out in considerable detail here, where I have responded to several obvious (and one or two not so obvious) objections.]


Opposing Forces Aren't 'Contradictory'


In order to translate Hegel's theory into a supposedly 'materialist' form, dialecticians often appeal to forces of attraction and repulsion to explain how 'contradictions' are capable of actually moving lumps of matter about the place, initiating change.


Here, for example, are Levins and Lewontin:


"What characterises the dialectical world, in all its aspects, as we have described it is that it is constantly in motion.... This appearance of opposing forces has given rise to the most debated and difficult, yet the most central, concept in dialectical thought, the principle of contradiction.... For us, contradiction is not only epistemic and political, but ontological in the broadest sense. Contradictions between forces are everywhere in nature, not only in human social institutions.... [O]pposing forces lie at the basis of the evolving physical and biological world. Things change because of the action of opposing forces on them, and things are the way they are because of the temporary balance of opposing forces....


"The dialectical view insists that persistence and equilibrium are not the natural state of things but require explanation, which must be sought in the actions of the opposing forces.... The opposing forces are seen as contradictory in the sense that each taken separately would have opposite effects, and their joint action may be different from the results of either acting alone.... However, the principle that all things are internally heterogeneous directs our attention to the opposing processes at work within the object.... Thus systems are either self-negating (state A leads to some state not-A) or depend for their persistence on self-negating processes. [Levins and Lewontin (1985), pp.279-83. Bold emphases alone added. Spelling modified to conform with UK English. Several paragraphs merged.]


[Over a dozen DM-theorists who say more-or-less the same have been quoted here and here.]


Unfortunately, the physical nature of forces is a mystery, even to this day. That is one reason why scientists have finally abandoned them, preferring to talk about exchange of momentum instead.


Of course, in both popular and school physics (and maybe also as a convenient shorthand), scientists still talk about 'forces', but since there is no way of giving them any sort of physical sense (other than as part of a vector field, etc., which is, incidentally, also impossible to interpret in physical terms), advanced physics translates forces in the way indicated in the previous paragraph, appealing to "exchange particles". Indeed, in Relativity Theory, the 'force' of gravity has been completely edited out of the picture, having been replaced by motion along a "geodesic".


Even Woods and Grant concede this point:


"Gravity is not a 'force,' but a relation between real objects. To a man falling off a high building, it seems that the ground is 'rushing towards him.' From the standpoint of relativity, that observation is not wrong. Only if we adopt the mechanistic and one-sided concept of 'force' do we view this process as the earth's gravity pulling the man downwards, instead of seeing that it is precisely the interaction of two bodies upon each other." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.156. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


However, Woods and Grant failed to explain how a "relation" is capable of making anything move, still less how the factors they mentioned are 'opposites', let alone 'internal' or even 'dialectical'  opposites. Do they imply one another (like the proletariat and the capitalist class supposedly do)? They should if they are 'internal' to one another, or were 'dialectical'.


Physicist Max Jammer noted the following about forces:


"[The eliminability of force] not confined to the force of gravitation. The question of whether forces of any kind do exist, or do not and are only conventions, ha[s] become the subject of heated debates.... In quantum chromodynamics, gauge theories, and the so-called Standard Model the notion of 'force' is treated only as an exchange of momentum and therefore replaced by the ontologically less demanding concept of 'interaction' between particles, which manifests itself by the exchange of different particles that mediate this interaction...." [Jammer (1999), p.v. Paragraphs merged.]


This was re-iterated by Nobel Laureate, Professor Frank Wilczek (of MIT):


"Newton's second law of motion, F = ma, is the soul of classical mechanics. Like other souls, it is insubstantial. The right-hand side is the product of two terms with profound meanings. Acceleration is a purely kinematical concept, defined in terms of space and time. Mass quite directly reflects basic measurable properties of bodies (weights, recoil velocities). The left-hand side, on the other hand, has no independent meaning. Yet clearly Newton's second law is full of meaning, by the highest standard: It proves itself useful in demanding situations. Splendid, unlikely looking bridges, like the Erasmus Bridge (known as the Swan of Rotterdam), do bear their loads; spacecraft do reach Saturn.


"The paradox deepens when we consider force from the perspective of modern physics. In fact, the concept of force is conspicuously absent from our most advanced formulations of the basic laws. It doesn't appear in Schrödinger's equation, or in any reasonable formulation of quantum field theory, or in the foundations of general relativity. Astute observers commented on this trend to eliminate force even before the emergence of relativity and quantum mechanics.


"In his 1895 Dynamics, the prominent physicist Peter G. Tait, who was a close friend and collaborator of Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell, wrote


'In all methods and systems which involve the idea of force there is a leaven of artificiality...there is no necessity for the introduction of the word 'force' nor of the sense-suggested ideas on which it was originally based.'" [Bold emphases and several links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


[The above passage now appears in Wilczek (2006), pp.37-38, and can be accessed here. (This links to a PDF.)]


These developments might help explain why Engels admitted the following:


"When two bodies act on each other…they either attract each other or they repel each other…in short, the old polar opposites of attraction and repulsion…. It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion." [Engels (1954), p.71. Bold emphasis alone added.]


Here, Engels clearly accepted an early form of contemporary theories, which tell us that forces are simply "forms of motion" based on those aforementioned "exchange particles".


But, if there are no classical forces, then there can't be any 'dialectical contradictions', either --, be they 'external' or 'internal' -- or, at least, none that are capable of making anything happen (that is, if opposing forces are still to be interpreted along these lines by DM-fans).


Hence, even if there were 'dialectical contradictions' in nature (interpreted this way), they couldn't do any work. That would mean, of course, that DM, the erstwhile philosophy of change, would be unable to account for it!


Faced with this 'difficulty', some DM-apologists have tried to argue that modern science is either dominated by 'positivism', or it is 'reactionary'. In other words, to save their theory, they are prepared to cling on to an animistic view of nature, one that even Engels was ready to abandon!


Any DM-apologists tempted to adopt this (desperate) line-of-defence will struggle to inform the rest of us in physical terms what a force actually is.


[Sceptical readers are invited to check with their local DM-expert. I can safely predict they can look forward to plenty of hand waving, bluster and diversionary tactics -- if they try to corner one of them on this issue! They certainly won't be given a physical description of a single force. Please email me if I turn out to be wrong about that!]


Of course, dialecticians might be using the word "contradiction" in a new and as-yet-unexplained sense. In that case, what is it?


We have yet to be told with any clarity. We have only been waiting for two centuries. Maybe I am being a little impatient...


Alternatively, they could be using this word metaphorically. If so, what is its "cash value" (to use William James's happy phrase)? For example, if someone were to describe a man as "a pig", we would perhaps take that to mean he is uncouth, slovenly, has appalling table manners, and that he treats his partner or women in general very badly. That would perhaps be this metaphor's "cash value". So, how is this DM-metaphor, if it is one, to be cashed out?


Again, we have yet to be told.


Even so, if we really must cling on to this animistic concept, we would still have to take into account the fact that changes in nature are actually produced by resultant forces -- that is, by forces that are the result of other forces combining, not struggling. Hence, if any metaphor or phrase were applicable here, it would be 'dialectical tautology', not 'dialectical contradiction'!


However, this is a complex issue; for more details I can only refer the reader to my extensive discussion here, but especially here.


Lenin's 'Images' Undermine Materialism


In MEC, Lenin argued as follows (a point he reiterated over and over, ad nauseam):


"Materialism is the recognition of 'objects in themselves,' or outside the mind; ideas and sensations are copies or images of those objects." [Lenin (1972), p.14. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"All knowledge comes from experience, from sensation, from perception." [Ibid., p.142.]


"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world.... Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added in all three cases. There is plenty more of the same from Lenin, here.]


As we can see from the above, Lenin based knowledge on 'images'. He adds that "all knowledge...comes from, sensation, from perception", and that " only an image of the external world". Unfortunately, this left him in exactly the same predicament as the Subjective Idealists and Phenomenalists he was criticising in MEC.

[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (i.e., Lenin (1972).]


Why is that?


Well, Lenin had no way of knowing whether or not these 'images' were 'objective', or if they validly reflected the external world and weren't just figments of his imagination.


An appeal to practice would be no help. That is because, if Lenin were correct, all he would have available to him are 'images' of practice. It would be no good appealing to the results of scientific research, either. Again, if he were right, all he would have are 'images' of scientists and what they had supposedly discovered. An appeal to the 'commonsense' of ordinary folk would also be no help. Once more, that is because all Lenin would have are 'images' of ordinary folk and what they supposedly believe. Nor could he argue that only madmen/women would doubt the existence of the external world, since, if his theory were correct, all he would have are 'images' of the deranged and what they do or do not believe.


In which case, if he were right, Lenin would have nothing but 'images', with no way of 'leaping out of his head', so to speak, in order to check which were valid 'images' and which weren't, which were accurate copies and which were inaccurate -- or, indeed, whether they actually were copies of anything, to begin with.


Plainly, one 'image' is incapable of validating another 'image'.


In that case, Lenin only succeeded in trapping himself in a solipsistic world of his own making.

And, it is no help either being told that he subsequently modified his theory (in the Philosophical Notebooks), after he had studied Hegel's 'Logic'. Once again, if his theory were correct, all he would have is an 'image' of that book and what it supposedly contained. Indeed, if his theory were correct right, all we would now have are 'images' of Lenin's writings with no way of validating them, except by an appeal to yet more 'images' -- all of a similarly unverifiable provenance.


So, all Lenin was left with (whether he realised this or not) was an appeal to 'faith' that there is indeed an 'external world'. Once again, that dropped him into the same phenomenalist quagmire that engulfed the 'Fideists' and 'Immanentists' he was criticising.

[The above doesn't mean that I doubt the existence of the external world! I simply reject Lenin's theory as incoherent non-sense. Nor would I begin (or even end) with 'images'. They have no place in any discussion of the nature and source of knowledge. I have developed these criticisms extensively in Essays Ten Part One (here and here) and Thirteen Part One. Readers are directed there for more details.]


Finally, Lenin also said this:


"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imaged, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]


"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. In both cases, bold emphases added, and quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


But, if an "image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images'" (emphasis added), then that must mean Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, for example, must 'objectively' exist -- because it is easy to form 'images' of them! Since they don't exist, and Lenin most certainly didn't believe they did, that implies one of two possible conclusions:


(i) Lenin can't have believed his own theory; or,


(ii) He didn't think through its implications with due care.


The same can be said about the countless DM-theorists who have since looked to Lenin for philosophical inspirational. And I say that as a Leninist!


Either way, this leaves Dialectical Marxism with no viable theory of knowledge.


The Mysterious "Totality"


Dialecticians tell us that everything is interconnected with everything else in something they call "the Totality"; here are a few examples:


"Dialectics is the science of universal interconnection." [Engels (1954), p.17.]


"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existences extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion." [Ibid., p.70.]


"Nothing exists or can exist in splendid isolation, separate from its conditions of existence, independent from its relationships with other things…. When things enter into such relationships that they become parts of a whole, the whole cannot be regarded as nothing more than the sum total of the parts…. [W]hile it may be said that the whole is determined by the parts it may equally be said that the parts are determined by the whole….


"Dialectical materialism understands the world, not as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which all things go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away.... Dialectical materialism considers that…things come into being, change and pass out of being, not as separate individual units, but in essential relation and interconnection, so that they cannot be understood each separately and by itself but only in their relation and interconnection…. The dialectical method demands first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnections with other things…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.46-48, 72. Several paragraphs merged.]


"Here the key is to see all the different aspects of society and nature as interconnected. They are not separate, discrete processes which develop in isolation from each other. Mainstream sociological and scientific thought 'has bequeathed us the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, detached from the general context'. Much of our schooling today still follows this pattern -- the development of the arts is separated from that of the sciences, and 'technical' subjects are separated from languages, history and geography. Our newspapers and TV news programmes divide the world up in the same artificial way -- poverty levels and stock exchange news, wars and company profit figures, strikes and government policy, suicide statistics and the unemployment rate are all reported in their own little compartments as if they are only distantly related, if at all. A dialectical analysis tries to re-establish the real connections between these elements, 'to show internal connections'. It tries, in the jargon of dialectics, to see the world as 'a totality', 'a unity'." [John Rees.]


[Once more: notice how these ideas have been foisted on nature and society.]


Despite this -- and readers are invited to check the writings of the above comrades for themselves, or those of other dialecticians I haven't quoted -- we are never told what the "Totality" actually is! That is decidedly odd, especially if the "Totality" is really quite as important a concept as we have been led to believe. Indeed, this omission would be about as remarkable as if, say, Darwin had forgotten to say anything about natural selection.


[There is much more about this topic, here, where several possible candidates for the "Totality" have been suggested, and then shown not to work.]


Belief in a "Totality" is, of course, something that dialecticians share with all known mystical systems of thought (on that, see, for example, here and here).


As Glenn Magee pointed out:


"Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel is the doctrine of internal relations. For the Hermeticists, the cosmos is not a loosely connected, or to use Hegelian language, externally related set of particulars. Rather, everything in the cosmos is internally related, bound up with everything else.... This principle is most clearly expressed in the so-called Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which begins with the famous lines 'As above, so below.' This maxim became the central tenet of Western occultism, for it laid the basis for a doctrine of the unity of the cosmos through sympathies and correspondences between its various levels. The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected....The universe is an internally related whole pervaded by cosmic energies." [Magee (2008), p.13. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


[Compare the above with the quotations from Engels, Rees and Cornforth, posted earlier.]


John Rees (in a continuation of the passage quoted a few paragraphs back) tried to argue that it is possible to distinguish his brand of 'dialectical mysticism' from other 'non-dialectical' versions since the latter don't attempt to account for change by appealing to "internal contradictions". [These are, of course, my words, not his!]


However, contrary to what Rees asserts, we find that the vast majority of mystical systems (ancient and modern) do in fact attempt to account for change and/or stability by appealing to the unity and interpenetration of opposites (or, 'contradictions' by any other name). Consider the following, for instance:


"For everything must be the product of opposition and contrariety, and it cannot be otherwise." [Copenhaver (1995), p.32. Bold emphasis added.]


"The Taoists saw all changes in nature as manifestations of the dynamic interplay between the polar opposites yin and yang, and thus they came to believe that any pair of opposites constitutes a polar relationship where each of the two poles is dynamically linked to the other. For the Western mind, this idea of the implicit unity of all opposites is extremely difficult to accept. It seems most paradoxical to us that experiences and values which we had always believed to be contrary should be, after all, aspects of the same thing. In the East, however, it has always been considered as essential for attaining enlightenment to go 'beyond earthly opposites,' and in China the polar relationship of all opposites lies at the very basis of Taoist thought. Thus Chuang Tzu says:


'The "this" is also "that." The "that" is also "this."... That the "that" and the "this" cease to be opposites is the very essence of Tao. Only this essence, an axis as it were, is the centre of the circle responding to the endless changes.'" [Fritjof Capra. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"Buddhist enlightenment consists simply in knowing the secret of the unity of opposites -- the unity of the inner and outer worlds....


"The principle is that all dualities and opposites are not disjoined but polar; they do not encounter and confront one another from afar; they exfoliate from a common centre. Ordinary thinking conceals polarity and relativity because it employs terms, the terminals or ends, the poles, neglecting what lies between them. The difference of front and back, to be and not to be, hides their unity and mutuality." [Alan Watts, quoted from here. Bold emphases alone added.]


"The three major gods of Hinduism are Brahma (the creator; paradoxically of minor importance in actual practice -- possibly, since his work is completed), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer), each with a wife, to symbolize the androgyny of ultimate reality. By theologians and educated Hindus in general, these gods and their innumerable manifestations are viewed as pointing toward one transcendent reality beyond existence and non-existence, the impersonal world-spirit Brahman, the absolute unity of all opposites.... Hindus envision the cosmic process as the growth of one mighty organism, the self-actualization of divinity which contains within itself all opposites." [Quoted from here. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases added. Paragraphs merged.]


[Several more examples of this phenomenon have been quoted in Note 1, below, and even more still in Appendix One to Essay Two.]1


Finally, there is this revealing comment:


"The ancient Egyptians believed that a totality must consist of the union of opposites. A similar premise, that the interaction between yin (the female principle) and yang (the male principle) underlies the workings of the universe, is at the heart of much Chinese thinking. The idea has been central to Taoist philosophy from the fourth century B.C. to the present day and is still embraced by many Chinese who are not Taoists. Nor is the idea confined to the Egyptians and the Chinese. Peoples all over the world, in Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, have come to the conclusion that the cosmos is a combining of opposites...." [Maybury-Lewis (1992), pp.125-26. Bold emphases added.]


It wouldn't be difficult to extend this list indefinitely until it became clear that practically every mystic who has ever walked the earth thought (or thinks) 'dialectically'.


Once again, we see that Marx was right when he said the following:


"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.... 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.]


"[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. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis added.]


The only obvious difference between overt religious mystics and covert Dialectical-Marxist Mystics lies in (i) The extent to which the former employ overtly religious language, and (ii) The fact that they are quite open and honest about their, shall we say, 'mystical tendencies'. Even so, both franchises seem quite happy to import obscure jargon from, or share it with, Traditional Thought in order to promote their own doctrines, which they then promptly impose on nature and society in a thoroughly dogmatic manner.


In relation to this topic, it is worth asking the following question: Exactly how do Dialectical Marxists know that everything in the entire universe is inter-connected?


It is no use dialecticians appealing to modern Physics in support of this theory, since physicists merely hypothesise that everything was once connected (in the alleged Big Bang), not that everything is now inter-connected. Indeed, certain theoretical considerations suggest that most things can't now be connected, let alone inter-connected. [I have tackled several possible responses to the above remarks in Essay Eleven Part One. Readers are directed there for more details.]


[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]


Moreover, the BBT is associated with what has been called the 'Block View' of time (wherein everything is part of a four-dimensional manifold). In such a set-up nothing actually changes. Or, rather, 'change' amounts to little more than a subjective impression of how things appear (to each of us) to develop. Hence, if the BBT is true, 'objective reality' is actually changeless. In which case, this aspect of modern Physics is no friend of DM.


[I am neither advocating nor rejecting! the above theory, merely pointing out that it is inimical to DM. More on that, here and here.]


A similar appeal to "Quantum Entanglement" can't help, either. At best, experimental evidence shows that certain states of matter (certain sub-atomic particles) are interlinked locally, not across billions of light years, nor, indeed, that they are inter-connected with the past (unless, of course, we believe in 'backward causation'!). This appears to mean that most regions of this mysterious "Totality" aren't inter-connected (since, plainly, the past is far more extensive than the ephemeral present). Some point to the many "fields" that contemporary Physicists tell us span the entire universe and which they say connect everything, but that theory depends on a mathematical view of 'reality' and in no way explains how all parts of the universe are physically connected.


[This is quite apart from the fact that there are Scientific Realists who question the validity of this anti-realist aspect of modern Physics. Again, I have discussed these issues much more fully in Essay Eleven Part One.]


But, even if DM-theorists were correct, the thesis of universal inter-connection appears to be incompatible with the doctrine of change through "internal contradiction". As we have seen, if all change is internally-driven, then no object or process could be inter-connected with any other. Naturally, this would imply that the Sun, for example, doesn't actually ripen fruit, it ripens itself!


So, if everything is inter-linked, it could play no causal role in change (otherwise change wouldn't be the sole result of these "internal contradictions", once more). Of course, if the Sun actually does ripen fruit (as indeed it does!), then that change, at least, wouldn't be the result of any alleged "internal contradictions" in fruit, even if there were any.


We have already seen that DM-theorists try to circumvent this defect in their theory by appealing to both alternatives (i.e., on the one hand claiming, or even "insisting", that everything is a sealed unit -- and is therefore "self-moving" --, while on the other "demanding" that everything is inter-connected, and is therefore 'full of holes', so to speak, for external causes to sneak back in), which is a rather fitting contradiction in itself.


Nevertheless, while dialecticians are eager to highlight the alleged contradictions in other, rival (and thus supposedly defective) theories, they conveniently ignore this glaring contradictions in their own.


[The evidence supporting those allegations can be found in Essay Eleven Part One, here.]


However, this particular DM-contradiction is of such prodigious proportions it dwarfs any that have so far been exposed in rival, non-dialectical theories. Just think about it: how can everything in the entire universe be maximally inter-connected and totally causally isolated from everything else at the same time? How is it possible for all change to be internally-driven yet externally-motivated (or "mediated", to use the jargon), as part of a 'Unified Totality'?


No good asking dialecticians. They will simply accuse you of not 'understanding' dialectics, and then retreat into a protracted dialectical sulk.


[These 'problems', and others, have been explored at length in Essay Eight Parts One and Two, and Essay Eleven Parts One and Two -- along with every conceivable objection to the above conclusions. If anyone can find an objection there that I haven't considered, let me know.]


Practice Refutes DM


Or Does It?


Dialecticians claim their theory is true (or, at least, that it is growing less "relatively true" over time). The question is, therefore, how and why are they sure about the validity of DM? There is a straight-forward answer they often give to such questions: the validity of a given theory (and that includes DM) must be tested in practice. "The proof is in the pudding" they often say, almost as if that cliché had been itself carved on tablets of stone.


But, what if it turns out that in practice dialecticians themselves ignore the results of practice?


Indeed, and far worse: what if it should turn out that practice has actually refuted Dialectical Marxism?


[Note the use of the phrase "Dialectical Marxism". Once more, I am not claiming that Marxism has been refuted (or has failed!), only that its ideologically-compromised alter-ego, Dialectical Marxism, has. The non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet!]


In response to the above should we:


(a) Abandon the criterion of practice as a test of truth?




(b) Bury our heads in the sand and hope that no one notices we have saddled ourselves with a defective theory history has already refuted?


Up to now dialecticians have in general chosen Option (b).


But, is that claim itself as impertinent as it is unfair?


As we are about to find out, it is neither.


In order to substantiate the above accusations, we need to back-track a little.


According to Lenin and Mao, the truth of a theory can be confirmed in only one way:


"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 emphases in the original.]


"Marxists hold that man's social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world. What actually happens is that man's knowledge is verified only when he achieves the anticipated results in the process of social practice (material production, class struggle or scientific experiment)." [Mao (1961c), p.296.]


They were, of course, merely endorsing ideas that every dialectician accepts. Hence, in their view it isn't enough for Marxists to try to develop their theories in splendid isolation in an endeavour to understand nature and society. Such ideas must be tested and refined in practice if they are to prove successful in helping bring about the revolutionary transformation of society. Indeed, no theory could be deemed correct, or "objective", without an intimate, long-term and "dialectical" connection with political activity. As Marx himself argued:


"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.... The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." [Marx and Engels (1976), pp.3-5. Italic emphases in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


Rob Sewell concurs:


"Marxists have always stressed the unity of theory and practice. 'Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it', as Marx pointed to in his thesis on Feuerbach. 'If the truth is abstract it must be untrue,' states Hegel. All truth is concrete. We have to look at things as they exist, with a view to understanding their underlying contradictory development. This has very important conclusions, especially for those fighting to change society.... The idealist view of the world grew out of the division of labour between physical and mental labour. This division constituted an enormous advance as it freed a section of society from physical work and allowed them the time to develop science and technology. However, the further removed from physical labour, the more abstract became their ideas. And when thinkers separate their ideas from the real world, they become increasingly consumed by abstract 'pure thought' and end up with all types of fantasies." (Unfortunately, that includes DM! -- RL) [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


As do Woods and Grant:


"The ability to think in abstractions marks a colossal conquest of the human intellect. Not only 'pure' science, but also engineering would be impossible without abstract thought, which lifts us above the immediate, finite reality of the concrete example, and gives thought a universal character. The unthinking rejection of abstract thought and theory indicates the kind of narrow, Philistine mentality, which imagines itself to be 'practical,' but, in reality, is impotent. Ultimately, great advances in theory lead to great advances in practice. Nevertheless, all ideas are derived one way or another from the physical world, and, ultimately, must be applied back to it. The validity of any theory must be demonstrated, sooner or later, in practice." [Woods and Grant (1995), pp.84-85. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Despite what the above two passages claim, and surprising though this might at first sight seem, 'abstraction' actually destroys the capacity language has for expressing generality, and that in turn threatens to undermine scientific knowledge. [For proof, readers are directed to Essay Three Part One. I have summarised its rather complex and involved argument here.]


Be this as it may, as things turns out the results of "practice" haven't been too kind to Dialectical Marxists. They have been even more unkind to Trotskyists like Woods, Grant and Sewell, comrades not known for their mass following.


Indeed, practice hasn't looked at all favourably on Dialectical Marxism in general for close on a hundred years (and arguably even longer); here are few reasons why:


All Four Internationals have gone down the pan and the results of the October 1917 revolution have been reversed. Indeed, we are no nearer to, and arguably much further away from, a workers' state now than Lenin was in October 1917. Practically all of the former 'socialist' societies have collapsed (and not one single worker raised his/her hand in their defence -- indeed, many of them helped in their demolition). Even where avowedly Marxist parties can claim some sort of mass following, that support is passive; at best, it is almost entirely electoral, with many such parties adopting openly reformist platforms (despite the contrary-sounding rhetoric).


So, if truth is tested in practice, practice has delivered an unambiguous verdict: 'materialist dialectics' doesn't work, so it can't be true.


[It is important to note that I am using DM against itself, here. Hence: if DM-theorists are correct -- that truth is tested in practice --, DM has failed their own test. I am not expressing my own opinions, merely showing where DM-theorists' ideas have led them and what their implications are.]


A Brief Intermission -- My Beliefs


It is important to emphasise that the following isn't my argument:


Dialectical Marxism has failed, therefore DM is false.


It is this:


DM is far too vague and confused for anyone to be able to decide whether or not it is true, so no wonder it has failed us for so long.


I certainly don't believe that truth is tested in practice -- why that is so is explained in detail in Essay Ten Part One, but more briefly below. However, in the next few sub-sections I will show how and why DM-supporters are inconsistent when they:


(i) Hold that truth is tested in practice, even as they,


(ii) Ignore the long-term, negative results of practice.


So, for the purposes of argument I will be taking dialecticians at their word (when they argue that truth is tested in practice) in order to show that it has returned a clear and unambiguous verdict, which they consistently ignore.


Once more: I not blaming all our problems on this theory!


Nevertheless, as I also argue below, it must take some of the blame.


I have to keep repeating this point since I still encounter DM-fans who, no matter how many times I say this, still think that I am blaming this theory for all our failures.


I am not!


Excuses, Excuses...


When confronted with the above accusations (about the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism) dialecticians tend to respond in one or more of the following ways:


(1) They flatly deny that Dialectical Marxism has been an abject failure.


(2) Even if they admit to some degree of failure, they invariably blame it on "objective factors" --, or, and far more often, they point accusatory fingers at rival Marxist parties for their failure to provide "revolutionary leadership", or even their failure to "understand dialectics".


(3) They simply ignore the problem; or,


(4) They say it is too early to tell.


One thing they don't do is blame their core theory, DM --, in whole or in part, in howsoever an attenuated or nuanced form that is.


It doesn't even make the outer edges of their radar screen!


But, that is quite remarkable! According to dialecticians, their core theory, DM, has absolutely nothing to do with the long term failure of Dialectical Marxism!


Now, there doesn't seem to be much point in DM-fans claiming that 'materialist dialectics' guides all they do -- repeatedly affirming that truth must be tested in practice -- if, when practice delivers its long-term verdict, it is rejected, disregarded or explained away.


Who do they think they are kidding?


In that case, it might well be wondered what sort of practice could possibly constitute a genuine test of DM if, whatever the result, DM is always vindicated. What exactly is being tested if the outcome of every test is (in effect) a pre-ordained success? It would be like shouting "Heads!" whenever a double-headed coin is repeatedly tossed, then boasting about your "extraordinary good luck" and "remarkably successful predictions" after ten flips!


But: what permanent success can we actually point to over last century that validates a single clause of DM?


Clearly, it isn't so much that 'materialist dialectics' hasn't been tested in practice, it is that dialecticians have become practised at ignoring the results of practice!


But, if they are prepared to ignore the results of practice, why not just declare that Dialectical Marxism is, has been, and always will be success incarnate with or without the need for any sort of practical test, thus abandoning Marx and Lenin's pragmatic criterion?


That would seem to be a far more honest and appropriate response, based as it is on the sort of 'dialectical practice' that continually ignores the results of practice!


If we know beforehand that DM can't fail, no matter what happens, why waste time and effort telling the world that we can only decide if this theory is true when it has been tested in practice?


What sort of phony ceremony are DM-theorists touting, here?


Faced with the above, DM-apologists often respond with the counter-claim that an "incorrect" use of dialectics is what leads to failure. Because everyone else 'misuses' the dialectic, or because "they" are in the grip of a "wooden", "abstract" or "formalistic" version of it, it is no surprise that "they" (i.e., all these other 'fake'/'pretend' dialecticians) have experienced, or have somehow engineered failure for so long.


Or, so the story sometimes goes.


Anyone who doubts the above accusation can test it for themselves, with the following simple experiment:


T1: The very next Orthodox Trotskyist [henceforth, OT] you meet, try telling them that the Stalinists and the Maoists also use 'materialist dialectics'. Then, the very next Stalinist/Maoist you meet, try telling them that OTs use 'materialist dialectics', too. Try the same on the Maoists/Stalinists in relation to the Stalinists/Maoists. Extend this impromptu survey and permute the name of every group, sect, tendency or party you can think of and tell each of them that their opponents/rivals also use 'materialist dialectics' as a guide to action. Unless you are incredibly unlucky, you will be told the same thing over and over: "Those other guys misuse, distort or ignore the dialectical method; they are all in the grip of "abstract formalism". Only we, in the Blah Blah Workers' Front, use it correctly...".


[Dozens  of examples of responses along the above lines can be found in the End Notes to Section Seven of Essay Nine Part Two, and Appendix B of the same Essay.]


In fact, there turn out to be no objective, non-question-begging ways of deciding if or how 'the dialectic' has been, or even could be, employed/interpreted 'correctly'. Indeed, as we will see, DM can be and has been used to defend or rationalise any idea a theorist finds expedient and its opposite, and that con is often pulled by the very same dialectician in the same book, article or even speech!


Taking each of the above excuses in turn:


Excuse (1): "Dialectical Marxism hasn't been an abject failure"


Those who think Dialectical Marxism isn't a dismal failure, but is a ringing success, have so far failed to reveal where and how it enjoys that blessed condition.


Presumably there's a Workers' State on the outer fringes of the Galaxy?


Systematic denial of reality of this order of magnitude clearly requires professional help. Argument and evidence are plainly useless.


In fact, as experience debating with DM-fans on the Internet has taught me, it's rather like arguing with those who think Donald Trump is some sort of Messiah, who are similarly impervious to reason or contrary evidence.



Figure One: Sent By 'God'


And rather like arguing with DM-fans:



Figure Two: Arguing With A Trumpster


There is in fact no debating with hardcore Idealism like this -- that is, with an attitude that reinterprets the material world to suit the comforting idea that Dialectical Marxism is a ringing success, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, which delusion then prompts its adepts to bury their heads in their own idea of sand.


DM-fans who come out with the above response clearly live in what has come to be known as a 'post-truth' world. Except, collectively, they have been living there for over a century.


Anyone who can look at the international situation and fail to see that our movement is not only riddled with deep and irreconcilable differences, it is also in long-term decline, is probably far more of a danger to themselves than they are to the ruling-class.


Not only have the overwhelming majority of workers never been "seized" by dialectics, the larger the working class becomes the less influence Dialectical Marxism seems to have upon it.


[This shouldn't be taken to mean that I think that things can't change! Indeed, this site was set up in order to help reverse this disastrous trend! That is, at least with respect to non-Dialectical Marxism, not its failed, 'dialectical' evil twin!)]


In fact, things are so dire that dialecticians would be well advised to stop appealing to practice as a test of truth --, indeed, as the test of the correctness of their theory.


If a list were drawn up of all the 'successes' our side has experienced over the last 150 or so years, it would soon become obvious how depressingly short it is. Worse still, our 'failures' easily out-number our 'successes'.


Ponder no more, for here is the short version of just such a list:







(1) The Revolutions of 1848.

(1) Russia, 1917. (Major success, soon 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 are now being reversed.)


(4) Ireland, 1916-21.

(4) The Anti-Nazi League and successor organisations. Major success thirty or forty years ago. However, the rise of the BNP in 2009 and other fascist parties and movements (across the globe -- especially in Eastern and Southern Europe) since then suggest that this entry might be in the wrong column.


(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 2002-22 (now going backwards), Bolivia 2003-09, Georgia 2003, Ukraine 2004-05, Nepal 2006, Lebanon 2006-07, Iran 2009, Egypt 2011. (All either partial/deflected, have been defeated, or it is too early to tell.)


(7) Italy, 1919.

(7) Limited democratic and other assorted reforms. (Many now being reversed or seriously 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, 2002-22. (Equivocal and/or petering-out.)


(10) The United Kingdom, 1926.

(10) In the UK: Respect -- which, after a promising start, in October/November 2007, soon split! That might mean this entry is also in the wrong column. Similar developments have taken place in the rest of Europe.  In 2013, the UK-SWP fragmented. In April 2019, the US ISO voted to disband because their leadership had seriously mishandled rape allegations, just like the UK-SWP had done back in 2012.


(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, 2002-22. (Equivocal so far.)



(33) Scores of  rebellions, insurrections, uprisings and indigenous movements.



(34) Dozens of civil, national liberation and anti-imperialist wars.



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



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


(37) Sectarianism, splits, and fragmentation.



(38) Trade Union Bureaucracy, modern Social-Democratic parties.



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




Table One: The Dialectically-Depressing Details


In response, it could be argued that the above list isn't just prejudicial, it is deeply controversial and highly selective, since it is padded out with dozens of failures that pre-date revolutionary Marxism as well as those that have nothing to do with 'Materialist Dialectics'. Even worse, it has been inflated with several examples whose status as a 'failure' is highly contentious, to say the least.


However, when those 'debatable items' are weeded out -- along with the corresponding successes enjoyed by non-Dialectical-Marxist forces -- the list looks even more depressing!


It is also worth underlining the relatively massive scale of the 'defeats' our side has suffered compared with the modest and temporary gains made over the last 150 years. For example, the catastrophic blow delivered to our side by the failure of just three revolutions (e.g., Germany (1918-23), China (1926-27) and Spain (1936-39)) far outweighs all our successes combined, and by several orders of magnitude.


[There is more on this Excuse here, along with replies to several rather obvious objections.]


Excuse (2): "Our failures are due to 'objective factors'"


It is undeniable that "objective factors" have seriously hindered the revolutionary movement. These include a relatively well-organised, deeply entrenched, wealthy, powerful and highly focussed ruling-class (augmented by input from their minions, allies and ideologues), the effects of imperialism and economic growth, all of which have been compounded/magnified 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, it depends on individuals who have ideas in their heads, and who also never tire of telling us that 'dialectics' guides all they think and do), this aspect of practice plainly hasn't worked.


In view of the above, there are only three possible conclusions:


(a) 'Materialist dialectics' has never actually been employed by revolutionaries;


(b) Dialecticians have in fact been using a different theory all along (about which they have been remarkably secretive); or,


(c) Their core theory has been a monumental failure.


Since (a) and (b) are manifestly absurd, we are forced to conclude that (c) is correct.


To repeat: if DM is as central to their day-today practice as its supporters would have us believe, it can't be unrelated to the long-term lack of success enjoyed by all forms of Dialectical Marxism -- whatever other causes might have contributed (in large or small part) to this long-term debacle.


Indeed, those who reject the link between DM and the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism can't claim in one breath that everything in the universe is interconnected, but in the very next reject any link between DM and this appalling record.


Unless, of course, we are supposed to conclude 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!


If you believe that, then I have a nice degree from Trump University to sell you.


So, whether or not there have been "objective factors", practice itself has refuted the subjective side of Marxism: the attempt to apply DM.


Either that, or the truth of a theory can't actually be tested in practice.


Moreover, since the Essays published at this site show that DM isn't so much false as far too vague and confused to be assessed for its truth or falsity -- which means it is incapable of being put into practice --, the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism is no big surprise.


In fact, one would expect such a confused theory to hinder practice -- which is indeed what we find.


Furthermore, because this theory grew out of the Idealist speculations of card-carrying ruling-class hacks and the fevered brains of confused mystics (e.g., Heraclitus, Plotinus , Jakob Böhme, and Hegel), it is doubly no surprise.


On the contrary, under such circumstances had Dialectical Marxism been a success, that would have been the surprise!


When faced with the above conclusions, DM-apologists often respond as follows:


The alleged failure of Marxism has been greatly exaggerated, but where it has failed its causes are far more complex than the above brief and superficial analysis suggests.


Of course, this is an Introductory Essay, so it is forced to be brief and 'superficial', but that isn't the case with respect to the Main Essays published at this site -- for example, Essay Nine Parts One and Two in addition to Essay Ten Part One.


However, in over thirty years debating this topic with DM-fans, when pressed for more details about the above 'complexities', I have yet to encounter a single comrade drawn from all wings of Marxism (in person, in books and articles, or even in blogs/comments posted on-line), who is actually prepared to blame DM even so much as tangentially, in whole or in part, for any of these failures (even where any failures have been acknowledged).


DM doesn't make in onto the edge of their radar screens, and any suggestion that DM is even so much as remotely to blame is waved aside as if that dim and distant possibility were far too ridiculous even to contemplate. The very idea that their core theory might be -- slightly or remotely -- to blame, albeit alongside other 'complex' factors, is airily brushed aside as if it wasn't worth devoting so much as a micro-second of thought to such a preposterous idea.


Unfortunately, the above repudiation is often accompanied with no little deflection, personal attacks and lies -- many of which are accompanied by copious amounts of scatological abuse.


From this alone it is obvious that the above allegations and accusations regularly hit a raw nerve -- for which DM-fans are ill-prepared and have no answer -- other than deflection and abuse, of course.


[The reasons for this by-now-stereotypical emotional and irrational response from DM-fans is explained below.]


Excuse (3): Ignore The Problem


This is probably the easiest and safest option for dialecticians to adopt: ignore the problem. Or, failing that, explain it away. It is certainly a tactic that inadvertently helps further the interests of the ruling-class, since it prevents the theoretical and practical problems our movement faces from being addressed. Plainly, a short-sighted tactic like this will only help guarantee another century of failure.


Indeed, ruling-class ideologues couldn't have designed a better theory than DM to screw with our heads if they had tried, initiating in our movement a monumental waste of time and effort as our very best theorists and sharpest minds vainly try to grapple with Hegel's fluent Martian in order to make some sort of sense of it -- clearly, none so far!


Practice: An Unreliable Guide


An appeal to practice in order to legitimate DM would be of little use, anyway. That is partly because practice can't distinguish a correct from an incorrect theory. The latter often work (or only appear to be successful), and  they can do so for many centuries. For example, Aristotelian and Ptolemaic Astronomy were highly successful for fifteen hundred or more years, becoming increasingly accurate over time.


Furthermore, correct theories can sometimes fail and that can be the case for many centuries, too. For instance, Copernican Astronomy predicted stellar parallax, which wasn't observed until 1838 with the work of Friedrich Bessel -- almost three hundred years after Copernicus's work was published.


[Several more examples of this phenomena have been aired in Essay Ten Part One.]


Moreover, there is as yet no socialist society on earth. Any who think that that assertion is false, and who perhaps imagine that, say, China, Cuba or Venezuela are socialist states, should read this and this, and then perhaps think again.


But, even if success were an unfailing criterion of truth, we will only know if 'dialectics' is correct after the event -- i.e., if and when a genuine socialist society has been created, and, it is important to add, one that remains permanently socialist, too. Hence, in this respect, practice can't tell us now whether DM is correct.


[Incidentally, that also disposes of Excuse Four.]


It could be objected that the above criticisms clearly ignore wider or longer-term issues. For example, the Ptolemaic System was finally abandoned because it proved inferior to its rivals in the long run.


That is undeniable, but it is also a double-edged response. 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. That is because future contingencies could always arise to refute it -- no matter how well it might once seem to have 'worked', or appear to have been confirmed. In fact, if history is anything to go by, that 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, 2015a, 2015b, 2017, 2018, 2023), Chang (2003), Cordero (2011), Laudan (1981, 1984), Lyons (2002, 2003, 2006), and Vickers (2013). (Several of these link to PDFs.) My referencing these works doesn't imply I agree with everything they contain!]


So, if anything, practice shows practice is unreliable!


In fact, the following declaration could well 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 the above, "contending classes" engaged in class war could result in their "common ruin", which itself isn't at all easy to square with the NON. [Why that is so will be explored in Essay Three Part Five at the Main Site, when it is published.]


[NON = Negation of the Negation.]


However, judging by the way that dialecticians themselves clearly disregard the deliverances of practice, this suggests that in practice even they don't accept their own criterion!


For in practice, they ignore it.


Unfortunately, pragmatic theories (like this) will always be hostages to fortune. Hence, those who rely on (or even promote) such ideas should feign no surprise if history takes little heed of their dialectically-compromised day-dreams and delivers decade-upon-decade of refutation -- indeed, as we have seen has been the case with Dialectical Marxism itself.


This means that if we genuinely want our practice to be more successful (or even to be just successful, for goodness sake!), we must reject the theory that has helped drop our movement into a bottomless pit of failure for over a century: DM.


Of course, that won't solve all our problems, but it will represent an excellent move in the right direction.


"Ah, But What About 1917?"


The argument that 1917 confirms DM -- perhaps because the 'party of dialectics' won this historic, but all-too-brief, victory --, has been shown to be no less misguided, here. [Readers are directed there for more details.]


It is sufficient to note here that the 1917 revolution has been reversed. Another 'success' to chalk up to 'dialectics'?


Case Studies -- The Damage DM Has Inflicted On Marxism


Some might regard the above remarks as merely theoretical, if not 'abstract and academic'. So, in response we need several incontrovertibly 'concrete' examples of the deleterious effect dialectical concepts have had on Marxists, as well as on those who claim to be Marxists. In Essay Nine Part Two I have presented just such detailed evidence and argument to show that the monumental blunders briefly outlined in the next three subsections are attributable -- at least in part -- to the acceptance and the effect of this 'theory'. Of course, this isn't just a battle over ideas; there are historical materialist reasons underlying this approach, which I have also explored below (here and here).]


I propose therefore to consider just three specific cases; the effect DM has had on:


(i) The increasingly Stalinised Bolshevik Party, post-1925;


(ii) Dialectical Maoism from the early 1930s onward; and,


(iii) The Trotskyist movement post-1929.


There are other examples I could have chosen (indeed, I might include them at a later date, perhaps in an Appendix to this Essay), but given the fact that these three cases cover periods when workers (and others) were entering into what is arguably one of the biggest, if not the biggest -- certainly the most widespread, important and intense -- revolutionary waves in human history, and given the further fact that all this energy was squandered by the activities and antics of Dialectical Marxists, this should be enough to prove to all but the most rabidly partisan, or the most deeply-dialectically-doped of comrades that DM is among the very worst philosophical theories ever to have colonised the human brain.


When the working class was ready to move, Dialectical Marxists screwed up catastrophically.


We will be lucky if the proletariat ever trust us again -- never mind any other sections of society.




[I don't expect Stalinists and Maoists to agree with the content of the next two sub-sections of this Essay (quite the reverse in fact!). However, they can console themselves with the thought that I don't let Dialectical Trotskyism off the hook, either -- check out third sub-section, below.]


DM was used by the Stalinised Bolshevik Party (after Lenin's death) to rationalise the imposition of an undemocratic (if not openly anti-democratic and terror-based) regime on both the Communist Party and the population of the former Soviet Union [fSU], and later elsewhere.


This new and vicious form of the 'dictatorship over the proletariat' was 'justified' by Stalin on the grounds that since Marxism holds that everything is 'contradictory', increasingly centralised control is compatible with greater democratic freedom(!). Despite 'appearances' to the contrary, the "withering-away of the state" was actually confirmed by moves in the opposite direction: the ever-growing concentration of power at the centre. So, and paradoxically, less democracy was in fact more democracy!


Stalin even claimed that this 'contradiction' illustrated the truth of dialectics!


Hard to believe?


Doubt no more:


"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. 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.]


Moreover, the idea that socialism could be built in one country was 'justified' by, among other things, the specious invention of "internal" versus "external" contradictions, later supported by the introduction of "principal" versus "secondary" contradictions, alongside the highly convenient idea that some contradictions were "antagonistic" while others weren't.


[The belief that Lenin invented "antagonistic contradictions" has been debunked here. "External contradictions" were, of course, unknown to Hegel, Marx, Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin, as was the distinction between "principal" and "secondary" contradictions. Moreover, the introduction of "external contradictions" actually threatens to undermine dialectics completely; on that, see here. A surprisingly ill-informed Marxist-Leninist comrade, who was responsible for producing a confused, highly repetitive and, in places, seriously garbled YouTube video criticising this Essay, says he had never heard of "external contradictions", alleging that this term had been invented (presumably by me, in my previous life as Stalin and Mao nearly a century ago!). I have quoted the relevant passages from Stalin, Mao and others, here and here. As I pointed out to this rather confused comrade, he doesn't seem to know his own theory too well.]2c


So, the obvious class differences that remained, or which soon re-emerged, in the USSR were either declared non-existent or were re-classified as "harmonious". The real enemies (i.e., the source of all those nasty, 'principal' and 'external contradictions') were the imperialist powers -- or, internally, the "capitalist roaders" and all those 'Trotskyite wreckers!'.


In which case, under socialism working class strikes were completely unnecessary -- or, of course, they just didn't happen. However, when they did take place they were suppressed with a level of violence rarely seen anywhere else outside of openly fascist states. [On that, see Haynes (2002), and Kozlov (2002).]


Furthermore, any attempt by workers to rebel (e.g., Hungary 1956) were now blamed on "external forces", or agents from outside the working class (a familiar excuse employed by ruling classes the world over in order to account for, and thus ignore or explain away, the significance of strikes and riots -- all caused, naturally, by the ubiquitous and all-powerful, "external agitator"), i.e., in this case, the "imperialist powers", "fascists", or even Tito -- but not as a result of ordinary workers fighting for and on behalf of their own interests against oppression and exploitation.


For several decades (inside the fSU and its satellites in Eastern Europe -- and later in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere), we witnessed the following absurd spectacle: the supposed ruling-class (i.e., the proletariat!) was systematically oppressed and exploited by every single 'communist' regime! So, here we had a 'dialectical paradox' -- an alleged ruling-class (i.e., the proletariat) which never actually seemed to do any ruling. Soviet states without genuine soviets.


All so contradictory...all so 'dialectical'.


But, what was the result of all this 'dialectical practice'?


Millions of oppressed, exploited and dead workers.


With hindsight, we can now see for ourselves the effect that 'applied dialectics' had on the fSU and its satellites. Only those still wearing their 'dialectical blinders' will reject the claim that these failed states were (and still are) excellent examples of the thoroughly negative implications of 'dialectical thought'.


The dire political consequences of the idea that socialism could be built in one country [SIOC] can be seen by:


(i) The use to which dialectics was put in order to defend and then rationalise that counter-revolutionary idea itself; and,


(ii) The way it was deployed in order to deny or explain away the catastrophic damage SIOC inflicted on revolutionary socialism worldwide --, in part by blaming all this on those who just didn't "understand dialectics":


"Lenin and Stalin showed that this scheme [of Trotsky's]…was false. For if the revolution did not take place in the advanced capitalist countries, the alliance of workers and peasants in the Soviet Union had still the forces to build socialism…. In [this example]…it will be seen that the acceptance of some ready-made scheme, some abstract formula, means passivity, support for capitalism, betrayal of the working class and of socialism. But the dialectical approach which understands things in their concrete interconnection and movement shows us how to forge ahead -- how to fight, what allies to draw in. This is the inestimable value of the Marxist dialectical method to the working class movement." [Cornforth (1976), pp.79-80. Bold emphases added. Paragraphs merged.]


However, since the fSU is no more, critics of Cornforth will surely be forgiven for concluding that he ought to have remained loyal to Lenin's 'fixed' and 'abstract' scheme -- that the revolution would have to spread or it would die:


"The facts of history have proved to those Russian patriots who will hear of nothing but the immediate interests of their country conceived in the old style, that the transformation of our Russian revolution into a socialist revolution, was not an adventure but a necessity since there was no other choice; Anglo-French and American imperialism will inevitably strangle the independence and freedom of Russia unless the world-wide socialist revolution, world-wide Bolshevism, triumphs." [Lenin, quoted from here. Bold emphasis alone added.]


"We always staked our play upon an international revolution and this was unconditionally right...we always emphasised...the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution." [Lenin, Sochineniia, 25, pp.473-74; quoted from Cliff (1988), pp.156-57. Bold emphasis added. Parts of this can be found in Volume 31 of Lenin's Collected Works; the last 18 words have in fact been edited out!]


"We have created a Soviet type of state and by that we have ushered in a new era in world history, the era of the political rule of the proletariat, which is to supersede the era of bourgeois rule. Nobody can deprive us of this, either, although the Soviet type of state will have the finishing touches put to it only with the aid of the practical experience of the working class of several countries.


"But we have not finished building even the foundations of socialist economy and the hostile powers of moribund capitalism can still deprive us of that. We must clearly appreciate this and frankly admit it; for there is nothing more dangerous than illusions (and vertigo, particularly at high altitudes). And there is absolutely nothing terrible, nothing that should give legitimate grounds for the slightest despondency, in admitting this bitter truth; for we have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism -- that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism." [Lenin, Notes of a Publicist, written February 1922, published in Pravda No. 87, April 16, 1924, reprinted in Collected Works, Volume 33, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


[A long list of quotations from Lenin along the same lines, showing how deep his commitment was to the centrality of the international revolution, so that the gains of 1917 weren't squandered, can be accessed here. (Unfortunately, that link no longer seems to work! However, two other such lists can be found here and here.)]


Incidentally, anyone who thinks the above comments are prejudicial to Stalinism should perhaps reflect on the fact that the contrary idea (that socialism could be built in one country -- i.e., in the fSU) has been roundly refuted by history.


Which is, after all, what Lenin predicted.


In addition, not one single proletarian hand was raised in defence of these "workers' states" (in the fSU and Eastern Europe) between 1989 and 1991 -- or even earlier, in the period, 1953-1956 (that comment is aimed at hardcore Stalinophiles and who think the fSU was undermined in the mid-1950s, or soon after). In fact, many workers actually joined in and helped overthrow them.


Compare the above with the way that workers in many countries have fought (sometimes to the death) to defend or promote even limited forms of bourgeois democracy. Indeed, contrast it with the way workers and others have fought in Nepal, Lebanon, Serbia, France, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia (and again recently), Burma (Myanmar) (in 1988 and 2007), Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, Libya (2011/12), Turkey (July 2016), S Korea (November/December 2016), Romania (early 2017) and Hong Kong (throughout much of the summer, autumn and winter of 2019-20) -- to name but a few.


This is all the more puzzling when we recall that the working class of the old 'Soviet Block' (but especially in the fSU) was supposed to be the most powerful working class in history, allegedly in control of what was (then) the second most powerful armed force on the planet, as well as the police, the courts, the media, the unions, the party and the state bureaucracy -- as Stalin himself argued, calling it "the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed".


In response to this, Stalinophiles often point to one or more of the following:


(a) A Referendum that was held in 1991, the response to which suggests a majority of Russians then supported the Soviet Union remaining as such, even though six Republics in the Union banned that vote. [Follow the link in this paragraph for several reasons why this referendum was in fact illegitimate.]


As I pointed out on Quora (in answer to just such a Stalinophile who brought this up):


A referendum, but no general strike, no mass demonstrations in 1991, no insurrection in 1991 in support of the Soviet Union. So, the support for the Soviet Union was passive, at best. Can you imagine Lenin calling for a referendum in the middle of 1917? Workers then were prepared to fight for their socialism, but not in 1991. Why?


But let us examine the question that was asked in this referendum:


"Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the rights and freedom of an individual of any ethnicity will be fully guaranteed?"


That wasn't a question solely about their support for the Soviet Union but also about the preservation of the rights and freedoms in such a republic. As later events were to show, had the question been "Should the Soviet Union be disbanded or not?" the result would have been totally different.


(b) An attempted coup by communist hard-liners in the army (in August 1991), followed by a riot in 1993 (a video of which is available on YouTube). Here is how I responded to the same Stalinophile on Quora about this:


But you have a video (which I have seen before).


What does it show? It shows tens of thousands of demonstrators challenging the Yeltsin regime -- in 1991? No, two years later in 1993!


So, where is the evidence that the Russian proletariat, which numbered not in the tens of thousands but the tens of millions, lifted a finger in defence of 'their state' in 1991 when they had their hands on the levers of power (as I argued above)? Nowhere, that's where. So, my allegation that they raised not one finger in defence of the fSU (or the 'People’s Democracies') between 1989 and 1991 was correct.


The communist party, which still existed, managed to organise a large demonstration two years too late, involving at least 0.025% of the Russian working population (I have estimated 20,000 on that demonstration -- if you think it was larger, let me have the accurate figure -- and the working population of the fSU at about 80,000,000). But, no strikes were organised, and no more demonstrations of any note were held. The vast bulk of the mightiest working class in history sat on their hands, even in 1993, never mind 1991!


So, that was a pathetic response, two years too late.


Then you refer us to the 1991 coup attempt, when a insignificantly tiny fraction of the Red Army attempted to re-established the old Soviet order.


Well, I raised questions about the Russian proletariat, not a tiny faction of the Red Army. So, you have yet to provide any evidence that a single worker raised his or her hand in support of the old Soviet system when it fell in 1991. Then, two years later, you have an almost insignificant fraction of the Russian population (were they even workers? -- you failed to say -- perhaps they were communist party hacks!) on the street -- once! And that's it!


I note that you completely ignored the fact that the working class of the E European 'People's Democracies' also failed to lift a finger in the defence of 'their states' in 1989. You haven't even got a referendum or a demonstration (two years too late or bang on time) to appeal to in Poland, E Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, or Albania.



(c) An opinion poll that seemed to suggest 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: "Do you prefer to return to a system dominated by mass incarceration, oppression, with no democratic control, governed by a self-selecting elite that line their pockets at your expense?" I rather think the results would have been different. Of course, that question is itself prejudicial and clearly 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 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 is, of course: absolutely nothing.


[I have greatly expanded on the above, here.]


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 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 old Communist Block.


Added April 2021: For over three months the people of Myanmar have been fighting on the streets against a coup organised by the army. More than 500 have been killed with many more injured. Again, this is in defence of a very limited form of bourgeois democracy. If they can do this, why not workers in Russia and E Europe in defence of their 'socialist states'?


But, this is where DM comes into its own: opportunistic tactics -- many of which were changed overnight into their opposites -- were sold to party cadres world-wide by means of this theory.


As noted above, that is because dialectics can be used to defend anything you like and its opposite; often this trick is performed by the very same dialectician in the same article or speech (as we saw was the case with Stalin)!


Stalinism and Trotskyism (rightly or wrongly) parted company largely because of their differing views concerning the international revolution. Of course, that rift wasn't just about ideas. Decisions were taken for hard-headed political reasons; but in order to rationalise each and every contradictory turn of events, and sell them to the international communist movement, they were liberally coated in 'dialectics'.


Those who know the history of (post-Lenin) Bolshevism also know the incalculable damage this split subsequently inflicted on Dialectical Marxism the world over.


Later, casuistical 'dialectical' arguments were employed to 'justify' the catastrophic and reckless class-collaborationist tactics imposed on both the Chinese and Spanish revolutions, just as they were also used to rationalise the ultra-left, "social fascist", post-1929 about-turn. This crippled the fight against the Nazis by suicidally splitting the left in Germany, pitting communist against socialist while Hitler laughed all the way to the Chancellorship.


This 'theory' also helped 'justify' the rotation of Communist Party tactics through another 180º in the next, class-collaborationist phase, the "Popular Front" era -- where the former "social fascists" suddenly became allies -- then through another 180º (in order to rationalise the unforgivable Hitler-Stalin pact), as part of the newly re-discovered 'revolutionary defeatist' stage, and then through yet another 180º two years later in the shape of 'The Great Patriotic War', following upon Hitler's predictable invasion of the 'Mother Land', 'Holy Russia'.


Post-WW2 and one more flip saw the invention of "progressive" nations versus the evil US Empire (a recent ally!). History was now a struggle between the "peace-loving" states and reactionary regimes, the class war lost in all the dust kicked up by so much dialectical spinning.


Indeed, Marx would by now be doing much more than 180º flips in his grave!


Every single one of these somersaults had a catastrophic impact on the international working class. Collectively, they cast a long shadow across the entire Communist Movement, reducing it to the sad, largely reformist rump we see among us today.


Far, far worse: these 'contradictory' about-turns helped pave the way for fascist aggression and the Third Reich. In which case, this 'theory' has played its own small, shameful, indirect role in the mass murder of millions of workers, countless million Jews, Romanies, Russians and Slavs -- alongside the many hundreds of thousands of mentally-ill and handicapped victims abandoned to the Nazis.


Because of these regular (often overnight) dialectically-inspired twists and turns, STDs in effect invited the Nazi tiger to rip European humanity to shreds.


And, it was only too happy to oblige.


[STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]


The negative effect of all this applied 'dialectics' on the reputation of Marxism among the great mass of workers can't be over-estimated. Talk to anyone about Marxism (and not just Communism), and you will be regaled with much of the above. Everyone 'knows' Marxism "doesn't work".


We can only attribute all this hostility to "capitalist propaganda" if we are prepared to see yet another wave of dialectical debacles.


Of course, not all of this is the sole fault of this mystical theory, but it is undeniable that it was a major ideological factor in helping to rationalise these political gyrations (for whatever other political and military reasons they might in fact have been taken), and therefore in selling them to party cadres. No other theory could have excused with such ease the adoption of continuous, almost overnight changes in strategy and tactics, or, indeed, have rationalised so effectively the pathetic reasons advanced for the criminally unacceptable political U-turns imposed on the Communist Party internationally by post-1924 Stalinism.


Some comrades have reacted to such claims by arguing that any theory can be used by both sides in a dispute to justify their side of the story, so why pick on DM? That is undeniable, but no other theory (except, perhaps, Zen Buddhism) can be used by the same individual (and/or party) to justify a particular theory and its opposite, often in the same speech, the very next sentence (as we saw was the case with Stalin), or the next day.


Nor, indeed, could any other theory have so effortlessly licensed the grinding to dust of the core of the old Bolshevik Party in the 1930s, as dozens of leading comrades were put on 'trial' on trumped-up charges, then executed alongside countless thousands of others.


Millions dead, Bolshevism in tatters, Marxism a foul stench in the nostrils of workers everywhere.


So, when DM was tested in practice, was it a resounding success?


Indeed it was!


But, alas, only for the international ruling-class!




Even deeper dialectical devotion brewed in Maoist China, which meant that the anti-democratic and class collaborationist tactics adopted by the CPSU were copied by the CCP, albeit for (locally) different reasons. For example, the use of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions to justify the class-collaborationist alliance with the Guomindang, an appeal to UOs to rationalise one-party, autocratic rule, and the reliance on "leaps" to excuse the lunatic and lethal "Great Leap Forward".


[UO = Unity of Opposites.]


Consider the first of these: class-collaboration. All-too-familiar 'dialectical' arguments, deployed in and beyond the mid-1930s, were aimed at rationalising the abrupt change from outright opposition to the Guomindang to the formation of a united front with them! While this turn of events might look contradictory to non-dialectical critics (plainly in the grip of 'formal thinking'), to the well trained dialectician this all makes eminent good sense.


Consider the second of these: the 'contradiction' between centralised state power and the (avowed) goal of greater democratic accountability. Dialectical dodges, similar to those employed by Stalin, were used by Mao and his acolytes to rationalise this 'paradox' by appealing to the allegedly 'contradictory' nature of socialist democracy. [The evidence for these specific allegations can be found here.]


When DM was again tested in practice, was it a resounding success this time?


Well, we can see for ourselves the results today in that model 'socialist' state, China.


Of course, at the very least this means that approximately 20% of the population of this planet can't now (and might not in the foreseeable future ever) be won over to any credible form of Marxism since the vast majority have been inured to it, having seen for themselves the dire consequences of this contradictory theory (DM), which preaches 'proletarian democracy' but won't actually trust them with any -- alongside the "mass-line", super-glued to mass oppression --, these dialectical 'contradictions' rationalised along sound Stalinist lines.


Chinese workers and peasants need no one to inform them of the results of 'practice'.


Indeed, 'Materialist Dialectics' is even being used to justify the existence of 'socialist' billionaires!


What's that you say? A "contradiction in terms"?


You clearly don't 'understand' dialectics.


So, here we have yet more practice.


The result?


More dead workers, more ordure heaped on Marxism.




Trotskyism hasn't escaped unscathed, nor has it avoided being cursed by the 'Dialectical Deity', its founder having succeeded in welding his followers to the dialectical doctrine that the autocratic regimes in the fSU and the rest of the old 'communist block' were socialist precisely because that idea was contradictory in itself, given that reality is itself a bundle of 'contradictions'. If so, any state that claimed to be socialist couldn't fail to be contradictory, too.


As Alex Callinicos pointed out:


"There is, moreover, a third respect in which the classical Marxist tradition is relevant to understanding the Eastern European revolutions. For that tradition gave birth to the first systematic attempt at a social and historical analysis of Stalinism. Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed (1937) pioneered that analysis by locating the origins of the Stalin phenomenon in the conditions of material scarcity prevailing in the Civil War of 1918-21, in which the bureaucracy of party officials began to develop. He concluded that the USSR was a 'degenerated workers' state', in which the bureaucracy had succeeded in politically expropriating the proletariat but left the social and economic foundations of workers' power untouched. The contradictions of that analysis, according to which the workers were still the ruling class of a state which denied them all political power, did not prevent Trotsky's more dogmatic followers extending it to China and Eastern Europe, even though the result was to break any connection between socialism and the self-emancipation of the working class: socialism, it seemed, could be imposed by the Red Army or peasant guerrillas." [Callinicos (1991), pp.18-19. Bold emphasis alone added; minor typo corrected.]


In which case, it made perfectly good 'dialectical-sense' to suppose that the ruling-class (i.e., the proletariat, again!) exercised zero power and were systematically exploited and oppressed for their pains -- even while they were still the ruling-class!


"The dual character of the workers' state.... The bourgeois norms of distribution, by hastening the growth of material power, ought to serve socialist aims -- but only in the last analysis. The state assumes directly and from the very beginning a dual character: socialistic, insofar as it defends social property in the means of production; bourgeois, insofar as the distribution of life's goods is carried out with a capitalistic measure of value and all the consequences ensuing therefrom. Such a contradictory characterization may horrify the dogmatists and scholastics; we can only offer them our condolences." [Trotsky (1977), pp.52-54. Bold emphasis added.]


So, simply because 'materialist dialectics' demanded it, all good Trotskyists were enjoined to defend the USSR as a workers' state -- albeit deformed and/or degenerated. As Trotsky argued at length, in Trotsky (1971), only those who fail to "understand" dialectics (or, indeed, those who reject it) will think to disagree.


These moves succeeded in crippling the politics of the Fourth International, demobilising militants in the run-up to WW2 -- which cadres, even while they were advocating a principled anti-imperialist stance were quite happy to defend Stalinist Imperialism! This was just another set of 'dialectical contradictions' that easily matched any the STDs and MISTs were capable of concocting/swallowing.


[STD = Stalinist Dialectician; MIST = Maoist Dialectician.]


And, as if to compound this monumental blunder, Trotsky even used 'materialist dialectics' to defend Stalin's invasion of Finland!


After Trotsky was murdered by a Stalinist agent, the application of 'scientific dialectics' to the contradictory nature of the fSU (and its satellites in Eastern Europe) split the Fourth International into countless warring sects, who have continued to fragment to this day.


Indeed, this is the only aspect of 'practical dialectics' that Trotskyists seem to have perfected as the movement continues to splinter under the weight of its own 'internal contradictions'.


Chief among which was perhaps the following: Trotskyists couldn't quite decide which was the more important principle:


(i) Loyalty to their founder's 'dialectical method'; or,


(ii) A consistent acceptance of Marx's precept that the emancipation of the working class must be an act of workers themselves.


[On this, see Hal Draper's article, 'Self-Emancipation In Marx and Engels'.]


Hence, if the second principle was deemed paramount, the emancipation of the working class couldn't then become an act of the Red Army (in Finland, Eastern Europe or even North Korea), a guerrilla army (in China, Cuba, Nepal, India, Peru, Colombia, etc.), countless nationalist/'progressive' dictators (e.g., in several 'Third World' states), or even radicalised students (in France, or, indeed, anywhere else for that matter), no matter how 'well meaning' they might seem -- just to name just a few of the social forces that have been 'dialectically substituted' for the working class by assorted Trotskyists ever since. For them "socialism from below" was now dialectically-inverted to become "socialism from above". Small wonder then that several leading Trotskyists began to regard Stalinism as 'dialectically progressive', or even became Stalinists (in all but name).


All so 'contradictory', all so 'dialectical'.


DM has been and is still being used to justify every conceivable form of substitutionism. To take just one example: it prompted a mega-Trotskyist like the late Ted Grant into inventing a contradictory idea, which he called "Proletarian Bonapartism". This he did in order to try to account for the fact that the Stalinist regime in the fSU and the Maoist clique in Beijing were more than ready to oppress and exploit their own working class, even while the latter were still supposed to be the ruling-class (even according to Grant)!


[As I have argued in detail Essay Nine Parts One and Two, dialectics in fact turns out to be the go-to ideology of substitutionist elements in Marxism.]


All this dialectical spinning has fatally wounded Trotskyism.


It might never recover.


Current signs are far from reassuring.




So, what conclusions can be drawn from all this 'dialectical practice'?


More dead workers, more ordure heaped on Marxism.


If only there were some sort of pattern, here...


DM -- tested in practice? If so, comrades, please, no more dialectical practice!


Of course, the above represent just three concrete examples of the thoroughly malign effect this Hermetic Creed has had on our movement. There are many others.


Is it any wonder then that since at least the 1920s Dialectical Marxism is to success what George W Bush is to peace on earth, or, indeed, what The Sore-Loser-in-Chief is to honesty, integrity and truthfulness?


All this isn't a fleeting or ephemeral feature of Dialectical Marxism; it's a dismal record that has dogged the movement almost from its inception, which shows no sign of abating. Quite the reverse, in fact!


The next few subsections will explain why that is so.


Why Dialecticians Cling To DM


It is worth pointing out once again that my argument here isn't the following: DM is a ruling-class theory, therefore it is false.


It is this: DM is far too vague and confused for anyone to be able say whether or not it is true. In which case, it is hardly surprising that it has failed us so badly and for so long.


Ruling-Class Thought


However, no matter how devastating the blows history continually rains down on Dialectical Marxism, despite the cogency of the case levelled against DM (in my Essays -- or elsewhere, by others), and irrespective of its long-term failure, the DM-faithful from all wings of the movement remain resolutely committed to this 'theory'. [On that, for example, see here and here.]


Why is this? Why have revolutionaries of the stature and calibre of Engels, Lenin, Luxembourg and Trotsky sold their radical souls to this demonstrably conservative thought-form?


[Follow the above link for my reasons for labelling DM "conservative". I have left Marx's name off that list for reasons set out here and here.]


Nevertheless, the origin and nature of the philosophical tradition from which DM emerged isn't in any doubt (a summary of its 'intellectual' and ideological roots can be found here), and neither is the petty-bourgeois, non-working class origin/class-position of DM-classicists such as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao.


Clearly, this means that DM enjoys an impeccable non-working class pedigree.


Indeed, we have already seen Lenin give the game away:


"[T]he 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 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. Paragraphs merged.]


It is important to note what is isn't being maintained: that the above dialecticians imported these class-compromised ideas into the workers' movement duplicitously. On the contrary, it is being asserted that they did this honestly and unwittingly.


Unwittingly, because the only philosophical theories on offer in their day were those that had already been thoroughly compromised by ruling-class forms-of-thought. They certainly didn't intend to saddle our movement with a class-compromised theory. Indeed, as Lenin conceded:


"...[B]ourgeois ideology is far older in origin than socialist ideology, that it is more fully developed, and that it has at its disposal immeasurably more means of dissemination. And the younger the socialist movement in any given country, the more vigorously it must struggle against all attempts to entrench non-socialist ideology...." [Lenin (1947), pp.42-43. Bold emphases added.]


It's a pity then that Lenin ignored his own advice.


Honestly, because of their class origin and education they genuinely believed that the workers' movement needed a Philosophy, a 'world-view' of some sort. They weren't workers, but came from a class that educated their children in the Bible (or some other 'Holy Book'), the Classics and Philosophy. This means that their intellectual background was steeped in religious ideas, doctrines that taught them to see the world in a particular way, which they never really shook off -- even after they became atheists.

As I pointed out earlier:


This ancient tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a hidden world -- populated by the 'gods', assorted 'spirits' or mysterious 'essences' -- which was more real than the material universe we see around us, and which was accessible to thought alone. Theology was openly and brazenly built on this premise. So, too, was Traditional Philosophy....


This way of viewing the world was concocted by ruling-class ideologues; these "prize-fighters" (as Marx called them) helped indoctrinate the majority to regard the hidden part of 'reality' the same way, too -- that is, as fundamentally 'abstract', 'spiritual', accessible to thought alone. They invented this 'world-view' because if you belong to, benefit from, or help run a society that is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can only 'keep order' in a limited number of ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. That will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to persuade the majority (or a significant section of "opinion formers" -- philosophers, administrators, editors, priests, educators, 'intellectuals', and the like) that the present order either (a) works for their benefit, (b) is ordained of the 'gods', (c) defends/preserves 'civilised values', or (d) is 'natural' and hence can't be fought against, or even reformed.


These ideas were then imposed on reality -- plainly since they can't be 'read' from it.


Hence, a 'world-view' is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling "in the same old way". While the content of this ruling ideology might have altered 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'.


[Earlier in this Essay I responded to the objection that nothing like this can remain the same for thousands of years.]


So, the non-worker founders of our movement -- who had been educated from an early age to believe there was just such a 'hidden world' lying behind 'appearances' that governed everything in existence -- when they became revolutionaries automatically looked for 'logical' principles relating to this 'abstract world', which told them that change and development were inevitable, part of the 'cosmic order'. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that ruling-class mystic, Hegel. Hence, the dialectical classicists latched onto this theory, which they were already predisposed not only to accept, but also to impose on the world (upside down or the "right way up"); because of this background it seemed quite natural to do this. After all, this is how 'genuine' philosophers behave -- or so they had been socialised to believe.


Of course, this doesn't mean that only workers can be 'good socialists', but it does mean that Marxists should be alert to the class-compromised ideas the DM-classicists brought with them into our movement, before the working class could provide them with an effective, materialist counter-weight.


Today, a hundred or so years later, there is no longer any excuse for continuing to import these doctrines into our movement since that counter-weight now exists, and we are now in a position to understand the role this theory has played in the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism.


Nevertheless, this helps explain another rather curious anomaly: as the working class grows ever larger the influence that Dialectical Marxism has on it relentlessly dwindles.


[There is more on this in Essay Nine Part One.]


Parallel to this, but not unconnected with it, our movement continues to fragment and whither. That in turn means Dialectical Marxism has enjoyed a steadily declining influence on the progressive course of the class war. Moreover, the fact that workers ignore our movement en masse means that their counter-weight has no influence where it counts, on our ideas.


So, Dialectical Marxism staggers on as its theorists think of new ways to make these awkward facts disappear.


The dearth of active socialist workers means that the unifying force generated by the class war by-passes and hence has no impact on the revolutionary movement. Because the latter is dominated by petty-bourgeois and déclassé individuals, it does little other than fragment (for well-known social-psychological reasons -- on that, see here).


Hence, the same class war that motivates workers to unite, drives professional revolutionaries in the opposite direction, toward fragmentation -- especially since one of the core principles of their ideology is the following:


"The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory the essence (one of the 'essentials,' one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics.... The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute...." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged; bold emphasis alone added.]


"Splitting" and "struggle" constitute the "essence" of DM; indeed, Lenin even calls this an "absolute". In turn, this emphasis on splitting can't fail to have an impact on the relations that exist among and between Dialectical Marxists, parties and tendencies. Hence, an emphasis on intra-, and inter-party strife and fragmentation sits right at the heart of this theory, and therefore this movement!


Hence, we don't need to wait for the ruling-class to divide us, we're already experts in that department!


Another rather ironic 'dialectical' inversion for readers to ponder.


But, are these accusations enough to condemn DM?


On their own, clearly not.


DM is flawed from beginning to end (as my Essays have shown); that is what condemns this theory/method --, as, indeed, Marx pointed out:


"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. Bold emphases added.]


However, the ruling-class origin of the concepts floating around in 'materialist dialectics' -- which represent a deleterious external influence that has been further amplified by the class origin and class position of those who concocted this theory and those who currently promote it inside Dialectical Marxism -- help explain why it has had such a long-term, adverse effect on the movement, rendering it almost entirely impotent, except, of course, in its own eyes.


The Dialectics Of Defeat


But, the question remains: Why do hard-headed revolutionaries cling to this failed theory like drunks do to lamp posts?


Marxists are well aware that in defeat there is a tendency (even among revolutionaries) to turn to mysticism. This they do in order to:


(i) Explain and then rationalise these set-backs; and,


(ii) Provide themselves with a potent source of consolation for all those years of abject failure.


Indeed, one of the main reasons Lenin wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was to expose this tendency among contemporaneous Marxists. Unfortunately, however, the political defeats suffered in Russia in and around the 1905 revolution turned Lenin's attention toward philosophy and dialectics.1a


Here is how I have made this point in Essay Nine Part Two (slightly edited):


Marx famously asserted:


"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." [Marx (1975c), p.244. Bold emphases alone added.]...


Fortunately, Lenin himself supplied a materialist answer to this apparent conundrum [i.e., why Marxists turn to mysticism], and John Rees kindly outlined it for us when he depicted the period of demoralisation following upon the failed 1905 Russian revolution in the following terms:


"[T]he defeat of the 1905 revolution, like all such defeats, carried confusion and demoralisation into the ranks of the revolutionaries…. The forward rush of the revolution had helped unite the leadership…on strategic questions and so…intellectual differences could be left to private disagreement. But when defeat magnifies every tactical disagreement, forcing revolutionaries to derive fresh strategies from a re-examination of the fundamentals of Marxism, theoretical differences were bound to become important. As Tony Cliff explains:


'With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion….'


"Philosophical fashion took a subjectivist, personal, and sometimes religious turn…. Bogdanov drew inspiration from the theories of physicist Ernst Mach and philosopher Richard Avenarius…. [Mach retreated] from Kant's ambiguous idealism to the pure idealism of Berkeley and Hume…. It was indeed Mach and Bogdanov's 'ignorance of dialectics' that allowed them to 'slip into idealism.' Lenin was right to highlight the link between Bogdanov's adoption of idealism and his failure to react correctly to the downturn in the level of the struggle in Russia." [Rees (1998), pp.173-79, quoting Cliff (1975), p.290. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some paragraphs merged.]


Cliff himself continues:


"With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion. And in the absence of any contact with a real mass movement, everything had to be proved from scratch -- nothing in the traditions of the movement, none of its fundamentals, was immune from constant questioning.... In this discussion Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Bazarov and others tried to combine Marxism with the neo-Kantian theory of knowledge put forward by Ernst Mach, and Richard Avenarius. Lunacharsky went as far as to speak openly in favour of fideism. Lunacharsky used religious metaphors, speaking about 'God-seeking' and 'God-building'. Gorky was influenced by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky.... Lenin's reaction was very sharp indeed. He wrote to Gorky, 'The Catholic priest corrupting young much less dangerous precisely to "democracy" than a priest without his robes, a priest without crude religion, an ideologically equipped and democratic priest preaching the creation and invention of a god.'" [Cliff (1975), pp.290-91. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged; minor typo corrected.]


It is quite clear from this that the experience of defeat (and the lack of a significant materialist input from a mass working-class movement) re-directed the attention of certain revolutionaries toward Idealism and the search for mystical explanations for the serious set-backs Russian Marxists had witnessed in and around 1905.


Plainly, this search provided these comrades with some form of consolation -- just as Marx had alleged of religious belief pure and simple, and as Lenin himself implied.


But, there is another outcome that Rees and others have failed to notice: this major set-back turned Lenin toward philosophy and dialectics. These were subjects he had largely ignored up until then.1a While it is true that Bogdanov and the rest turned to Mach, Berkeley, Subjective Idealism, and other assorted irrationalisms, it is equally clear that Lenin himself looked to Hegel and Hermetic Mysticism.


Nevertheless, Lenin's warning shows that revolutionaries themselves aren't immune from the pressures that prompt human beings in general to seek consolation in order to counteract disappointment, demoralisation and alienation. As we have seen, Lenin was well aware that ruling-class ideas, which 'satisfy' such needs, could enter the revolutionary movement from the "outside", or which would become much more prominent in such circumstances....


Just as Christians often turn to the Bible in times of stress or when depressed, so Lenin looked to the writings of that Christian Mystic, Hegel. Thoroughly disappointed with the course of events (in this capitalist "vale of tears"), Lenin turned his face toward this source of quasi-religious consolation and away from the material world of woe, in the direction of a hidden world governed by a veritable army of invisible entities -- 'abstractions', 'essences', 'concepts', and, of course, the Hegelian Trinity, 'Being', 'Nothing' and 'Becoming' -- allied with a battery of mysterious forces comprising the DM-Trinity, 'contradiction', 'sublation', 'mediation'.


Unfortunately, Dialectical Marxism has known little other than retreat, defeat, disaster and failure for most of its history. That is partly why DM-fans cling to this source of consolation so emotionally, fervently and irrationally. [Anyone who doubts this should try questioning DM with one of them.]


This in turn means that the theory that has helped engineer this disastrous state-of-affairs also provides its adherents with the wherewithal to rationalise, ignore or explain away its dire consequences.


It does that in at least two ways:


(A) The NON persuades the DM-faithful that each and every retreat is only temporary; the onward march of Dialectical Marxism is assured by the underlying logic of the universe. [We saw this surface in Excuse Four, above. Indeed, it also helps motivate the other excuses.]


[NON = Negation of the Negation.]


(B) DM-Epistemology teaches that 'appearances' contradict underlying 'essence'; that is, how things appear to be on the surface is the opposite of what they really, or 'essentially', are. That being so, what might at first sight seem (to the dialectically untrained eye) to be a series of defeats is really the opposite, a key component of the long-term onward march of Marxism. Such events are in fact integral to a new run of successes that are..., er..., about to begin any day soon...


[Those who might be tempted to question the above should check out Note 2a, and maybe think again.]


This is the dialectical equivalent of the 'pie-in-the-sky' con-trick religionists pull on their naive and gullible followers. Hence, this theory works as a materialist-sounding source of consolation for past failures, as well as an excuse for ignoring or explaining away any 'awkward set-backs' --, that is, if they are even acknowledged -- or, indeed, as an excuse for re-configuring them as their opposite.


So, the theory that has helped engineer these set-backs also tells its acolytes that:


(a) They haven't really happened; or,


(b) If they have, they are 'essentially' the opposite of what they appear to be; or even that,


(c) They don't really matter, so they can safely be ignored.


Any who doubt this should try telling any randomly-selected, dialectically-distracted comrade that Dialectical Marxism has been stunningly unsuccessful, and has remained so for much of its history. Unless you are extraordinarily unlucky, you can expect to be subjected to some ludicrously tortured logic that will attempt to convince you of the opposite.


This 'snow job' will no doubt include a convoluted explanation why, even though:


(i) 99.99% of the working class ignores Dialectical Marxism, and has done so for many generations;


(ii) All four Internationals have gone down the pan;


(iii) The vast majority of the former 'socialist' states have vanished;


(iv) Marxist parties everywhere (especially those in the Trotskyist tradition) are a by-word for sectarian in-fighting, splits and fragmentation (indeed, they are a standing joke in this respect);2 and,


(v) Practically every communist party on the planet has embraced open reformism --, meaning that we are now much further away from establishing a Workers' State than the Bolsheviks were in 1917.


Following on from this, you are likely to be told that,


(vi) None of it really matters;


(vii) None of it has actually happened;


(viii) None of it is really happening; or even,


(ix) None of it has anything to do with the particular 'tradition' -- or, to be honest, has anything to do with the microscopic party -- to which the sad soul coming out with all this 'dialectical b.s.' belongs.


"You see, it's the fault of those other sects, and represents a failure of revolutionary leadership. It's all the fault of those pseudo-Marxists in the grip of abstract formalism, who don't understand dialectics -- especially the opportunists in the Workers' Yada Yada Party. They are to blame, you see, not us in the Revolutionary Blah Blah Front...". [I have posted dozens of examples of this particular syndrome here and here.]


(x) Alternatively, the "objective circumstances" ploy will be dusted-off and given another spin around the 'dialectical excuse yard'.


Doubtless, you will then be informed of the good news that the latest conference, stunt, intervention, split, or expulsion that the Revolutionary Blah Blah Front -- to which the above dreamer belongs -- has just staged, or is about to stage, heralds the long-awaited turning-point for the "international proletariat". [Again, check out Note 2a for actual examples of rose-tinted, dialectical self-deception like this.]2a



Figure Three: Great Moments On The Left - 01


Without even a hint of irony -- still less of embarrassment -- this comrade will assert all this (and more) on behalf of, at most, 0.00000001% of the population of this planet, that being the entire membership of his/her tiny grouplet -- led by, or even largely composed of, non-workers, some of whom are about to be expelled from the Revolutionary Blah Blah Front, anyway, probably for failing to 'understand' or apply materialist dialectics 'correctly'!



Figure Four: Great Moments On The Left - 02


And, as sure as eggs are non-dialectical eggs, this comrade will fail to see any connection between these facts and those failures, and will doubtless give you a hard time for even thinking to question this sacred creed, which political tradition (at least nominally) preaches the exact opposite of this. For example:


"The Communist Party does not fear criticism because we are Marxists, the truth is on our side, and the basic masses, the workers and peasants, are on our side." [Mao, quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


"The slogan of self-criticism must not be regarded as something temporary and transient. Self-criticism is a specific method, a Bolshevik method, of training the forces of the Party and of the working class generally in the spirit of revolutionary development. Marx himself spoke of self-criticism as a method of strengthening the proletarian revolution." [Stalin, quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


Stalin was, of course, paraphrasing a passage from Marx's 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte:


"Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day -- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [bad luck -- RL] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite enormity of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible...". [Marx, quoted from here. Bold emphasis alone added. Translation slightly altered in the last but one line.]


But, if you are foolish enough to take the above seriously (or you belong to a different "sect") and you unwisely advance any criticism of DM (no mater how mild or nuanced) you can expect to be called out for it, labelled a "liar", "mad", a "lunatic", a "pedant", a "dogmatist!", a "revisionist!", a "bourgeois stooge!", a "positivist!" -- or maybe even worse -- many of which have been directed at yours truly. Indeed, I have even been accused of being a police spy by one of these cultists. [On that, see here and here.]


Those familiar with revolutionary newspapers will already know of their unsinkable optimism: anger is always "growing", movements are always "gaining momentum" or "increasing in strength", meetings are always "historic", "packed", or "rammed", victory is always "around the corner", how almost all of them claim to be the only ones "leading the class", who constitute the "vanguard" of the "fight back", how Capitalism is once again entering its "final crisis" -- an economic and social system that apparently has more lives than a lorry load of cats.


[Of course, as with most generalisations (including the above), there are exceptions!]


This will confirm yet again how unreasonable dialecticians are, and how they are prepared to bend every rule and every fact, to fib, lie, invent, distract and dissemble in order to protect the 'sacred dialectic'.


So, Dialectical Marxists embrace this 'theory' since without it not only would their entire world-view fall apart their source of consolation would disappear along with it. Hence, they are super-glued to DM for the same reasons the religious cling to their faith.


[There is more on this, here.]


That isn't to accuse Dialectical Marxism of being a religion, but it certainly works in ways that are analogous to one -- indeed, just as Marx hinted (quoted earlier, here and here).


Of course, this helps explain the mind-numbing, mantra-like repetitiveness we find in books and articles devoted to DM, the pathological fear of the "R" word ("Revisionism!"), the sacred books, the constant appeal to 'orthodoxy', the heroic pictures of the Dialectical Saints (aka "icons") carried on parades (e.g., those representing Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che, Enver Hoxha, Kim Jong-il, etc., etc.), Socialist Realism and an adherence to a brand of Sub-Aristotelian Logic lifted from in a book devoted to Mystical Christian Theology that celebrates the machinations of an invisible Being, i.e., Hegel's 'Logic'.


If this weren't quite so serious, you'd roll about laughing.


Ruling-Class Ideology


Ruling-Class View Of The World


One of the reasons why I reject not just DM but all forms of Traditional Philosophy is that (as Marx himself noted) they both reflect a ruling-class view of the world.


At this point, it is important to emphasise that phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" used in this Essay (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM) aren't meant to imply 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 or disseminates them.


In ancient and medieval times, the vast majority of Philosophers were either (i) Members of the ruling-class, (ii) Patronised by the ruling-class, or (iii) Important 'cogs in the machine', helping run the system for the elite. These theorists saw the state as an earthly embodiment of the cosmic order; in which case, just as society was ruled by "law", so was the Universe.


In such class divided societies, rulers and their representatives also invented highly specialised terminology in order to help codify civil and criminal law, which were also supposed to reflect the above connection between heavenly and earthly 'order', thus securing the rights of property and keeping the working population 'in their 'place'.


To that end, ruling-class theorists regarded language, not primarily as a means of communication, but as a means of representation. It was for them ultimately a secret code that was capable of connecting each thinker directly or indirectly with the 'Mind of God'. This 'code' supposedly enabled 'the Deity' to re-represent 'His' thoughts and intentions in the heads of each ideologue. So, or the latter, language actually contained hidden 'clues', which when decoded were capable of revealing 'essential' truths about 'Being', the very "secrets of nature" valid for all of space and time.


The ruling-class and their ideologues certainly thought that this was how the 'gods' actually created the universe, via language. As early creation myths reveal -- and as we saw Umberto Eco point out earlier -- this was, indeed, how the ancients saw things.


"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status.... In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself.... Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


Hence, when Heaven spoke not only did everything spring into existence, it did as it was told ever after. The entire universe 'obeyed' the 'word of god', materialised now as physical law. In that case, just as every good citizen must be subject to the civil and criminal code, everything in nature must 'observe' the 'physical code', both representing the 'divine'/'natural' order.


This ancient set of beliefs further motivated Traditional Thinkers into concluding that if:


(a) Language was an essential component in the creation of everything in existence; and,


(b) It can be used to order citizens, servants and slaves effortlessly about the place; and,


(c) When codified into law, it actually controlled the state, securing hierarchical power, the rights of property and privilege; then,


(d) Language must possess an inherent power of its own; hence,


(e) The secret power of the word will enable those versed in this code to control 'reality'.


As noted above, that was because they viewed the state as a reflection and embodiment of the cosmic order. Of course, this also helps explain why conservatives believe there is a 'natural', 'god-ordained' hierarchy built into nature and society. Indeed, the more right-wing they are the more committed they are to this dogma, the more viciously they try to impose it on the rest of us.


As the historical record shows, the idea soon dawned on these ideologues that language must not only constitute the underlying fabric of reality (i.e., the basal framework that lay behind both nature and the state), it must be capable of making things move all by itself. As the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John pointed out:


"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.... And God said, 'Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.'... And it was so. And God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.' And it was so.... Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so.... And God said, 'Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.' And it was so.... And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.' And it was so." [Genesis 1:1-24. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged; bold emphases added.]


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." [John 1:1-3. Bold emphases added.]


Creation myths in other cultures also reflect this ancient fairytale: the world was created by means of language and is therefore controlled by it.


So, this idea isn't just found in magic, or in Harry Potter films, for example.



Video One: Words 'Control' Inanimate Objects


To paraphrase Marx: what had once been the product of the relations between human beings (ordinary language) became inverted and fetishised into an exclusive, recondite code that supposedly represented the real relations among things, or which even constituted those things themselves (as part of an 'Ontology').


He added:


"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis alone added.]


Philosophical language thus became "an independent realm", a self-referential code irrevocably divorced from ordinary life.


According to this ruling-class view of the world, 'Reality' was either controlled by language or it was constituted by it. In that case, language, on its own, could be used to deduce fundamental truths about 'Reality'.


This gave birth to the doctrine I have called "Linguistic Idealism" [LIE].


In 'the west' since Ancient Greek times, LIE in one form or another has been implied by virtually every (traditional) philosophical (or metaphysical) theory -- even those that appear to be atheistical. That is why Traditional Philosophers still think it quite natural to impose their theories on 'reality', or derive their ideas from language alone. This ancient, mystical approach to language and 'knowledge' is still a "ruling idea" -- indeed, as Hegel himself pointed out:


"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is carried out." [Hegel (1999), §316, pp.154-55.]


[There is more on that here and here.]


It thus became entirely uncontroversial for ruling-class hacks to think of 'law and order', conflict and change, development and struggle in linguistic or conceptual terms -- indeed, as a 'unity of opposites'.


And, that is also why mystics the world over argue and think the way they do (as we saw above -- and as we will see again below, but this time in connection with Heraclitus). For them, the esoteric language they had concocted expressed a secret code, a universal master key implanted by 'God', the comprehension of which was gifted only to a select few -- indeed, as Lenin again let slip:


"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…." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Bold emphasis alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others." [Ibid., pp.196-97. Bold emphases alone added.]


Everything was inter-connected by the simple reason that 'God' had created it. Even though Lenin was an atheist, this was the world-view that had been implanted in his head as a child.


Theorists who originally conceptualised reality in this way quite naturally thought that if both the universe and the status quo on earth were the product of 'divine language', and if 'reality' reflects, and is in turn a reflection of, the state, then thought on its own could access the 'secrets of nature' and maybe perhaps even help control society and nature.


Thus was born Philosophy, the most abstract form of ruling-class ideology:


"[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. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis added.]


This plainly represented an enchanted view of language, which, via Hegel, found a clear echo in DM, where linguistic categories also end up running the show --, all those 'negations', 'abstractions', 'opposites', and 'contradictions':


"Everything is grounded in this unity of identity and non-identity, of one and another, of sameness and distinction, of affirmation and negation. The absolute is essentially dialectical. Dialectic is the essence of Being or Being as essence. Essence is the sufficient ground of all that seems to be non-absolute or finite. A is non-A: The Absolute maintains itself in that which seems to escape it." [Hegel (1959), p.120. Bold emphases alone added.]


"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. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are. Thus, in inorganic nature, the acid is implicitly at the same time the base: in other words, its only being consists in its relation to its other. Hence also the acid is not something that persists quietly in the contrast: it is always in effort to realise what it potentially is." [Hegel (1975) p.174, §119. Bold emphases added.]


"Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity.' [Hegel (1999), .439, §956. Bold emphasis added.]


"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics…. The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics…. The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). 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…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp. 221-22, 357-58.]


"Logical concepts are subjective so long as they remain 'abstract,' in their abstract form, but at the same time they express the Thing-in-themselves. Nature is both concrete and abstract, both phenomenon and essence, both moment and relation. Human concepts are subjective in their abstractness, separateness, but objective as a whole, in the process, in the sum-total, in the tendency, in the source." [Ibid., p.208. Bold emphasis alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]


"The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics.... 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...." [Mao (1961b), pp.311-18). Bold emphases added. Several paragraphs merged.]


Philosophical theories could now be imposed on nature because 'God' originally constituted the world that way, out of language -- imposing 'the Word' on formless matter --, which meant that 'reality' was in effect just 'condensed language', 'materialised thought'. Nature was ultimately 'Mind', constituted by the 'Divine Logos', the 'Word'.


In effect, DM-theorists thought the same, minus 'God', of course.


In 'the west', as far as we know, the original source of all this 'secularised theology' was the fragmentary thought of the very first dialectician, Heraclitus, about whom we read:2b


"Heraclitus, along with Parmenides, is probably the most significant philosopher of ancient Greece until Socrates and Plato; in fact, Heraclitus's philosophy is perhaps even more fundamental in the formation of the European mind than any other thinker in European history, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Why? Heraclitus, like Parmenides, postulated a model of nature and the universe which created the foundation for all other speculation on physics and metaphysics. The ideas that the universe is in constant change and that there is an underlying order or reason to this change -- the Logos -- form the essential foundation of the European world view. Every time you walk into a science, economics, or political science course, to some extent everything you do in that class originates with Heraclitus's speculations on change and the Logos....


"In reading these passages, you should be able to piece together the central components of Heraclitus's thought. What, precisely, is the Logos? Can it be comprehended or defined by human beings? What does it mean to claim that the Logos consists of all the paired opposites in the universe? What is the nature of the Logos as the composite of all paired opposites? How does the Logos explain change? Finally, how would you compare Heraclitus's Logos to its later incarnations: in the Divided Line in Plato, in foundational and early Christianity? How would you relate Heraclitus's cryptic statements to those of Lao Tzu?" [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and links added.]


[The short answer to many of the above questions is obviously: The ideas of the ruling-class are always the ruling ideas!]


From then on, for the vast majority of Traditional Theorists, Logic pictured or could be used to depict the underlying form of reality, its 'essential' structure. This further justified the dogmatic imposition of the products of thought onto nature. That is indeed how Hegel saw things (although he traced this idea back to Anaxagoras), an idea he expressed in what was, for him, an uncharacteristically clear passage :


"[L]ogic is to be understood as the system of pure reason, as the realm of pure thought. This realm is truth as it is without veil and in its own absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind. Anaxagoras is praised as the man who first declared that Nous, thought, is the principle of the world, that the essence of the world is to be defined as thought. In so doing he laid the foundation for an intellectual view of the universe, the pure form of which must be logic. What we are dealing with in logic is not a thinking about something which exists independently as a base for our thinking and apart from it, nor forms which are supposed to provide mere signs or distinguishing marks of truth; on the contrary, the necessary forms and self-determinations of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.50-51, §53-54. Bold emphases and link added. Italic emphases in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


These days the same idea resurfaces in the way that DM-theorists themselves characterise 'Dialectical Logic':


"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…. [D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth' is always concrete, never abstract, as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel." [Lenin (1921), pp.90, 93. Bold emphases added. Paragraphs merged.]


What else is a "demand" or a "requirement" other than an imposition? This 'allows' DM-theorists to assert dogmatically, for example, things like the following:


"Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically." [Engels (1976), p.28.]


"Dialectics…prevails throughout nature…. [T]he motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature." [Engels (1954), p.211. Bold emphases added.]


"A dialectical method is only possible because reality itself is dialectically structured." [Rees (1998), p.271.]


"As above, so below"...


It is worth noting that Rees's claim goes much further. He asserts that "reality itself" -- i.e., Rees isn't just talking about a part, or an aspect, of "reality", or even most of it, nor yet that of which we currently have any knowledge, but the entire universe, at every level, for all of time, i.e., reality itself -- and he boldly asserts that it is dialectically structured! Reality is thus a reflection of how human beings are thought to argue and debate among themselves!


Even if we took into account all the available evidence (which evidence isn't supportive of DM, anyway, as we have seen in several other Essays posted at this site), the inference that "reality itself" is dialectically structured goes way beyond even that. As seems plain, the claim that reality itself is dialectically structured could only ever amount to a reading into nature of something that might not be there. It certainly isn't justified on the basis of the meagre and threadbare evidence dialecticians have so far scraped together.


Of course, Rees isn't alone in saying such things; as we have seen, every dialectician argues along similar lines.


'Truth' Derived Solely From Language And 'Thought'


Without doubt, there are many notable exceptions to the above generalisations. Even so, for most philosophers (and all DM-theorists), a priori knowledge (of the sort expressed in the quotations aired in the previous section) is still the only reliable source. Empirical knowledge (that is, knowledge based on evidence and experience) is still considered to be inferior, even unreliable, since it supposedly reflects the debased experience and life of ordinary workers. [That point is brought out particularly well in Conner (2005). Once again, there are notable exceptions even to that generalisation; but even those who prioritise empirical science, still think that fundamental truths can be derived from language. I have dealt with that more targeted approach in Essay Twelve Part One.]


So, from the beginning, philosophers denigrated the language and experience of working people -- just as they undervalued and ignored their 'commonsense' view of the world -- gradually transforming the vernacular into a complex, jargon-riddled code capable of expressing, or representing, 'divine truth' or the 'rational' structure of 'Reality'.


[We saw earlier that this is exactly what the late Professor Havelock pointed out in relation to the Presocratics, the 'founding-fathers' of 'western' thought.]


Hence, it should by come as no surprise that dialecticians do exactly the same.


But, we also know why they do this. As Marx noted, the ideas of the ruling-class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.


They still rule DM-theorists.


In which case, their approach is rather odd, especially since Marx recommended the opposite approach:


"The philosophers would only have to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, to recognise it as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]


"One has to 'leave philosophy aside'..., one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality...." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.236. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Traditional Philosophers concocted dogmatic, a priori theories that 'revealed the underlying essence of reality', supposedly revealing fundamental features of existence that are inaccessible to the senses, which naturally rendered them 'safe' from 'easy refutation' by ordinary means.


In every single case -- but in different forms depending on which Mode of Production was dominant at the time -- philosophers derived these a priori theories from language and thought alone. They 'obtained' them either from specially-concocted jargon (including words such as, "Being", "Entelechy", "Substance", "Becoming", "Nothing", etc.), or from suitably 'processed' (i.e., distorted) ordinary words (such as "cause", "law", "mind", "thought", "reflect", "consciousness", "determined", etc.) --, again, just as Marx noted.


[Although, it isn't being suggested that Marx would necessarily have agreed with that use of his ideas!]


These dogmatic theories were then imposed on nature and society, supposedly true everywhere and everywhen, and allegedly determined the form of any and all possible worlds.


Moreover, because these doctrines had been derived solely from language they appeared to be 'self-evident', That is, no external, physical evidence was required to establish their 'truth', so none could be used to refute them. They thus became self-certifying dogma. Super-truths like this were not only easy to concoct. A few moments 'reflection' on the 'real' -- or 'hidden' -- meaning of a handful of words (such as "motion", "place", "thought" and "identity") was all that was required; but once formulated they seemed impossible to doubt.


The same was true of the doctrines dialecticians imported from Hegel (upside down, or 'the right way up').


Of course, this is just one more reason why practice has never actually been employed to test of the truth of DM, and never will be. Dialectics is just as self-certifying. It doesn't require any testing in practice, nor does it need 'revising'. Whatever happens, DM will always 'ratify' itself -- since it hasn't been derived from evidence, but solely from distorted language (again, just as Marx noted).


Indeed, as Lenin argued, the search for empirical proof is beneath the self-respecting dialectician:


"This aspect of dialectics…usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum total of examplesand not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)." [Lenin (1961), p.357. Bold emphasis alone added.]


An idea echoed by C L R James; according to him, even to ask for any such proof is misguided:


"Hegel defines the principle of Contradiction as follows:


'Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity.' [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956.]


"The first thing to note is that Hegel makes little attempt to prove this. A few lines later he says:


'With regard to the assertion that contradiction does not exist, that it is non-existent, we may disregard this statement.'


"We here meet one of the most important principles of the dialectical logic, and one that has been consistently misunderstood, vilified or lied about. Dialectic for Hegel was a strictly scientific method. He might speak of inevitable laws, but he insists from the beginning that the proof of dialectic as scientific method is that the laws prove their correspondence with reality. Marx's dialectic is of the same character. Thus he excluded what later became The Critique of Political Economy from Capital because it took for granted what only the detailed argument and logical development of Capital could prove. Still more specifically, in his famous letter to Kugelmann on the theory of value, he ridiculed the idea of having to 'prove' the labour theory of value. If the labour theory of value proved to be the means whereby the real relations of bourgeois society could be demonstrated in their movement, where they came from, what they were, and where they were going, that was the proof of the theory. Neither Hegel nor Marx understood any other scientific proof.


"To ask for some proof of the laws, as Burnham implied, or to prove them 'wrong' as Sidney Hook tried to do, this is to misconceive dialectical logic entirely. Hegel complicated the question by his search for a completely closed system embracing all aspects of the universe; this no Marxist ever did (sic!). The frantic shrieks that Marx's dialectic is some sort of religion or teleological construction, proving inevitably the victory of socialism, spring usually from men who are frantically defending the inevitability of bourgeois democracy against the proletarian revolution." [James (1947), quoted from here. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Notice the neat deflection near the end; anyone who objects is a capitalist stooge!]


Anyway, James is clearly mistaken when he says that no Marxist has ever searched for a "completely closed system embracing all aspects of the universe". Engels, for one, certainly did:


"And so, what is the negation of the negation? An extremely general -- and for this reason extremely far-reaching and important -- law of development of nature, history, and thought; a law which, as we have seen, holds good in the animal and plant kingdoms, in geology, in mathematics, in history and in philosophy -- a law which even Herr Dühring, in spite of all his stubborn resistance, has unwittingly and in his own way to follow.... Dialectics, however, is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought." [Engels (1976), pp.179-80. Bold emphases added.]


As do many of the other DM-theorists cited or quoted throughout Essay Two. Perhaps James thought Engels was no Marxist?


[Also in Essay Two we saw other DM-fans argue that an appeal to empirical evidence is way beneath them, since any such attempt will automatically smack of 'positivism' or 'empiricism'.]


This is rather odd. One minute we are being told that the "laws" of the dialectic must "correspond with reality", and that this is the only "proof" Marx and Hegel "understood". The next we are being told that to ask for a proof is "misconceived".


Hence, it seems that the need to produce evidence is a distraction, one that each dedicated dialectician should rightly reject.


Furthermore, in the Lenin quote above, we were told that that UOs exist everywhere in nature and society, that they govern every single instance of change right across the entire universe, for all of time. Another of his quotes tells us that this doctrine expresses a "law of cognition", a "law of the objective world", and it is these "laws" that in the end legitimate the imposition of dialectical dogma on the world.


If that is so, why bother testing in practice any of these self-certifying 'truths'?


Small wonder then that practice has demonstrated time and again that the deliverances of practice are consistently ignored.


[UO = Unity of Opposites.]


This 'rationalist' approach to 'knowledge' was neatly summarised for us by James White (in this case, in relation to German Idealism):


"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996), p.29. Bold emphasis and links added.]


It is worth noting in passing that the word "law" was borrowed from legal theory and then projected onto nature, suggesting that reality was indeed governed by a Cosmic Will or 'Intelligence' of some sort.


In relation to that, the question that now forces itself upon us is, exactly who promulgated these 'universal laws'? And who 'enforces' them? How is 'unintelligent' matter able to 'obey' these 'laws', unerringly, right across the universe? The answer that Traditional Theorists have generally given to such questions is that reality is 'mind'-like, or the product of 'Mind'. Matter is either 'intelligent' (Leibniz and Hegel) or matter doesn't really exist, it is merely an 'abstraction' (Engels and other DM-theorists!).


Only those invisible 'essences' are what are really, really real.


Hence, for Traditional Philosophers, if nature had an underlying 'rational' structure, not only would it become far easier 'justify' the status quo (as a reflection of this underlying order), it would be just as easy to argue that those who oppose or rebel can be suppressed on the basis of such 'legitimate', 'divinely sanctioned' 'laws'.


In fact, opposition to the status quo would always in the end prove futile, given this view. The cosmic and social order (based on it) will always re-assert itself.


[These days, that task has been hived-off by right-wing theorists to our genes and to what did or didn't supposedly take place in the Pleistocene.]


The dogmatic approach to knowledge that permeates all of Traditional Thought was further amplified by the following two authors:


"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], 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 have been altered to conform with those adopted at this site. Italic emphases in the original.]


DM-theorists also attempt to reason along similar lines. So, from a few specially-selected, jargonised expressions (which have by-and-large have been lifted from Hegel and other mystics), dialecticians feel they can magic into existence an entire range of a priori doctrines, which they then happily impose on nature and society.


For instance, from what he believed was the 'real' meaning of the word "move", Engels thought he could derive what he imagined was true of every single example of motion in the entire universe, for all of time:


"...[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence on one another[,] [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 at one and the same moment of time being both in one place and in another place, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continuous assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152. Bold emphasis added.]


Even if Engels were right, this use of language would be no less a 'brute fact'. After all, why should a 'contradiction' make anything change or move? And, why should quantity change into quality? Why should the whole be more than the sum of the parts? The only possible answer here is that they too are just brute facts about reality -- or, and what is perhaps far more honest, they are simply brute facts about the way that dialecticians choose to use (and distort) language.


[A brute fact is one for which no other fact is necessary in order to explain it. So, if an object falls to the earth, that fact needs further facts about gravity to explain it. But what explains gravity? Well, there may or may not be something that explains gravity. But, at some point we are going to hit a brick wall where we have to say, "Well, that's just how nature works!" That would be a brute fact. Of course, exactly when and where we hit that brick wall will change over time, but even if we hit an ultimate fact, a Grand Unified Theory, a GUT, if you will (the search for which was all the rage twenty or so years ago), which supposedly explained everything, the next question would be "Ok, so what explains that?" Even an appal to 'god' can't prevent this slide, since questions about what explains why 'god' did what 'he' did will hit the all-too-familiar, "It's all a mystery!" brick wall -- leaving us with a 'mysterious brute fact' to have to swallow.]


So, just as metaphysics can't in the end explain anything, neither can DM. In that case, not only have Dialectical Marxists bought a pig in a poke, there is in fact no pig and no poke!


Once more, this isn't the least bit surprising since, as we have seen, these ideas were inherited from an ancient, ruling-class, Idealist Tradition. As we have also seen: without exception, every single DM-classicist was a non-worker, socialised and educated to think along these ruling-class lines before they were even knee high to a coffee table.3


So, DM is based on and now reflects the thought-forms of a well-entrenched ruling-class.


No wonder, then, that it makes not one ounce of sense.


No wonder, too, that it has presided over little other than defeat, failure and disaster for well over a century.4


Concluding Undialectical Postscript


That is why I am implacably opposed to DM.


In fact, it is difficult for me to comprehend why most fellow revolutionaries aren't!




01. I can't be more specific about these developments in this Introductory Essay; that will be the aim of Essay Twelve Part Two, when it is published. However, interested readers can access some of the details for themselves if they consult the following sources: Barnes (2009), Havelock (1983), Kahn (1994, 2003), Lloyd (1971), Seligman (1962) -- or the much more extensive Bibliographies I have posted here and here. [Unfortunately, those links are now dead!]


1. For anyone interested, there is an entire website devoted to the unity and/or identity of opposites -- as that 'concept' has been expressed in countless mystical-ideological systems the world over.


Unfortunately, the above link now appears to be dead, too! But, there are many other sites that promote the idea; for example, here, here, here (this links to a PDF), here and here.


And here are a few more quotations from various mystics that show they, too, appeal to 'unities of opposites' (and the like) to account for stability and change:


"Sufism is usually associated with Islam. It has developed Bhakti to a high point with erotic imagery symbolising the unity of opposites. The subtle anatomy and microcosm-macrocosm model also found in Tantra and Taoism is used by it, dressed in its own symbols. Certain orders use ecstatic music and/or dance which reminds one of the Tantric celebration of the senses. Sometimes, the union of opposites is seen as a kind of gnosis. This is similar to Jnani Yoga." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and links added.]


"The fact that the Reality of God which is disclosed through the cosmos can be described by opposite and conflicting attributes explains, in the Muslim view, why the cosmos itself can be seen as a vast collection of opposites. The two hands of God are busy shaping all that exists. Hence, mercy and wrath, severity and gentleness, life-giving and slaying, exalting and abasing, and all the contradictory attributes of God are displayed in existence. These opposing pairs of names act together in a manner analogous to yin and yang. One way in which we perceive this constant interaction of the names is through change (haraka) and transmutation (estehala). Here Chuang Tzu could say: 'The existence of things is like a galloping horse. With every motion existence changes, at every second it is transformed' (Chuang Tsu 17.6). For their part, the Ash'arite theologians said that nothing stands still in creation and no phenomenon remains constant in its place for two successive moments. Everything is in constant need of divine replenishment, since nothing exists on its own. Things can exist only if God gives them existence. If God were to stop giving existence to the universe for an instant, it would disappear. Hence, at each moment God re-creates the cosmos to prevent its annihilation." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and links added.]


"According to Acharya Mahaprajna, opposition is a fundamental rule for existence. 'There is no type of existence in which opposites do not co-exist. In a sense, existence may also be defined as the coming together of opposites. It is the principle of the quest for unity between two apparently different characteristics of a substance. It tries to point out that the characteristics which differences have, also have an identicality. Reconciliation, which is a principle of anekant, comes about only with the recognition of the identity principle.'...


"So do opposites define existence? For charity to exist, non-charity too has to be defined. How can one define light if there is no darkness? How do we understand something as being the truth unless there are lies? In the absence of foolishness, how to define wisdom?


"Acharya Mahaprajna explains the logic of Jain philosophers: That which is true contains its opposite.... Lao Tzu writes: 'In order to weaken, one will surely strengthen first. In order to overthrow, one will surely exalt first. In order to take one will surely give first. This is called subtle wisdom.' Lao Tzu's wisdom also tells us that 'Be bent and you will remain straight. Be vacant and you will remain full. Be worn and you will remain new.'


"In the opposite lies the affirmation of an attribute. This seems to be true at all levels. Even within the atom, the electron has an anti-particle called photon (sic). Writes Richard Feynman, 'Photons look exactly the same in all respects when they travel backwards in they are their own anti-particles.' The distinction remains, whether it is direct or subtle as it is in the case of very small particles: Even if the particle and anti-particle are neutral, like the neutrino and antineutrino." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis and links added.]


"Maya is Existence: both the world of which we are aware, and ourselves who are contained in the growing and dissolving environment, growing and dissolving in our turn. At the same time, Maya is the supreme power that generates and animates the display: the dynamic aspect of the universal Substance. Thus it is at once, effect (the cosmic flux), and cause (the creative power). In the latter regard it is known as Shakti, 'Cosmic Energy.' The noun shakti is from the root shak, signifying 'to be able, to be possible.' Shakti is power, ability, capacity, faculty, strength, energy, prowess; regal power; the power of composition, poetic power, genius; the power or signification of a word or term; the power inherent in cause to produce its necessary effect; an iron spear, lance, pike, dart; a sword; shakti is the female organ; shakti is the active power of a deity and is regarded, mythologically, as his goddess-consort and queen.


"Maya-shakti is personified as the world-protecting, feminine, maternal side of the Ultimate Being, and as such, stands for the spontaneous, loving acceptance of life's tangible reality. Enduring the suffering, sacrifice, death and bereavements that attend all experience of the transitory, she affirms, she is, she represents and enjoys, the delirium of the manifested forms. She is the creative joy of life: herself the beauty, the marvel, the enticement and seduction of the living world. She instils into us -- and she is, herself -- surrender to the changing aspects of existence.... Now the character of multifariously ambiguous. Having mothered the universe and the individual (macro- and microcosm) as correlative manifestations of the divine, Maya then immediately muffles consciousness within the wrappings of her perishable production.... The aim of Indian thought has always been to learn the secret of the entanglement, and, if possible, to cut through into a reality outside and beneath the emotional and intellectual convolutions that enwrap our conscious being.... Vishnu teaches the identity of opposites.... The secret of Maya is this identity of opposites. Maya is a simultaneous-and-successive manifestation of energies that are at variance with each other, processes contradicting and annihilating each other: creation and destruction, evolution and dissolution, the dream-idyll of the inward vision of the god and the desolate nought, the terror of the void, the dread infinite. Maya is the whole cycle of the year, generating everything and taking it away. This 'and,' uniting incompatibles, expresses the fundamental character of the Highest Being who is the Lord and Wielder of Maya, whose energy is Maya. Opposites are fundamentally of the one essence, two aspects of the one Vishnu." [Zimmer (1972), pp.25-46, largely quoted from here. I have modified the spelling to conform with UK English; quotation marks have been altered in line with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases and links added. Paragraphs merged.]


"There are many ways of representing the differentiation of the Absolute into antagonistic yet co-operative pairs of opposites. Among the oldest and most usual of these is that based on the duality of the sexes; Father Heaven and Mother Earth, Uranos and Gaia, Zeus and Hera, the Chinese and Yang and Yin. This is a convention that has been developed with particular emphasis in the Hindu and later Buddhist traditions, where, though the outward symbolization in images is strikingly erotic, the connotations of all the forms are almost exclusively allegorical." [Ibid., p.137. Bold emphasis and links added.]


"Set or Seth (Egyptian): According to the Heliopolitan mythology, the son of Seb and Nut, is the brother of Osiris, Isis, and Nephthys; and the father of Anubis by Nephthys. In later times he became associated with Typhon. The attributes of the god underwent several changes: he is described as very closely connected with Aroeris (Heru-ur or Horus the Elder), his chief office being that of helper and friend to the deceased; in this association a twin-god is pictured, having the hawk head of Horus (light) and the Set animal (darkness) upon one human body. Furthermore, Horus was the god of the sky by day, while Set was god of the sky by night: in this sense were they opposite yet identic deities in earliest times, one the shadow of the other." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis and links added.]


"The great Fourth Hermetic Principle -- the Principle of Polarity -- embodies the truth that all manifested things have 'two sides'; 'two aspects'; 'two poles'; a 'pair of opposites,' with manifold degrees between the two extremes. The old paradoxes, which have ever perplexed the mind of men, are explained by an understanding of this Principle. Man has always recognized something akin to this Principle, and has endeavoured to express it by such sayings, maxims and aphorisms as the following: 'Everything is and isn't, at the same time'; 'all truths are but half-truths'; 'every truth is half-false'; 'there are two sides to everything'; 'there is a reverse side to every shield,' etc., etc. The Hermetic Teachings are to the effect that the difference between things seemingly diametrically opposed to each is merely a matter of degree. It teaches that 'the pairs of opposites may be reconciled,' and that 'thesis and antithesis are identical in nature, but different in degree'; and that the 'universal reconciliation of opposites' is effected by a recognition of this Principle of Polarity. The teachers claim that illustrations of this Principle may be had on every hand, and from an examination into the real nature of anything. They begin by showing that Spirit and Matter are but the two poles of the same thing, the intermediate planes being merely degrees of vibration...." [The Kybalion is reputed to be the third most important book of Hermeticism, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Incidentally, it is worth noting that even fascist mystics have adopted this metaphysic:


"The cosmos operates through polarities, and the interaction of these polarities causes change and evolution." [White Order of Thule, quoted from here. You might need to take a very long shower if you decide to follow that link!]


Er..., what was that again about "the ideas of the ruling-class..."?


A more comprehensive list of similar examples has been posted here.


Notice how both the arguments and examples used by the above mystics are broadly similar to those we find retailed in DM-texts. It looks like open-and-honest mystics (i.e., the traditional variety) are as keen to use the same sort of Mickey Mouse Science to 'substantiate' their ideas as our still-in-the-closet Dialectical Mystical..., er..., sorry..., Materialist comrades are.


Exactly why both sets of mystics (i.e., the traditional and the dialectical categories) think this way is explained in Essay Nine Part Two, and Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here).


1a. This isn't to argue that Lenin was totally uninterested in philosophy and DM before 1905, only that they assumed a much more important and prominent role in this thought after 1905. Indeed, they began to dominate his thinking following on the treachery of the German SPD and the subsequent collapse of the Second International, in 1914, and up until 1917 --, at which point he seems to have lost interest in it again. As far as can be determined, the Bolsheviks in general totally ignored DM during the 1917 revolution. [Follow the previous link for proof, and for the reason why DM is totally useless during a revolution.]


In fact, DM didn't return to prominence in Lenin's thought until 1921.


2. This was, of course, made into a famous (and by-now-clichéd) joke staged by the Monty Python crew:


BRIAN: Are you the Judean People's Front?

REG: Fuck off!

BRIAN: What?

REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.

FRANCIS: Wankers!

BRIAN: Can I... join your group?

REG: No. Piss off!

BRIAN: I didn't want to sell this stuff. It's only a job. I hate the Romans as much as anybody.

PEOPLE'S FRONT OF JUDEA: Shhhh. Shhhh. Shhh. Shh. Shhhh!

REG: Schtum!

JUDITH: Are you sure?

BRIAN: Oh, dead sure. I hate the Romans already.

REG: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.

BRIAN: I do!

REG: Oh, yeah? How much?

BRIAN: A lot!

REG: Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front.

P.F.J.: Yeah...!

JUDITH: Splitters!

P.F.J.: Splitters...!

FRANCIS: And the Judean Popular People's Front.

P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...!

LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.

P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...!

REG: What?

LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters!

REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!

LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.

REG: People's Front! C-huh.

FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?

REG: He's over there.

P.F.J.: Splitter!



Video Two: 'Building The Party' -- PFJ (Official) Style


There are literally hundreds of tiny Trotskyist sects, groups and grouplets on the planet, all with the 'correct dialectical line', just as there are nearly as many Anarchist, Left Communist, Libertarian Marxist, Orthodox Communist and Maoist parties and tendencies who claim the same.


[Any who doubt this should visit here, here, here and here, and maybe think again.]


Indeed, this is what Hal Draper had to say about the situation fifty years ago, concerning the situation in the USA alone:


"American socialism today has hit a new low in terms of sect fragmentation. There are more sects going through their gyrations at this moment than have ever existed in all previous periods in this country taken together. And the fragments are still fissioning, down to the sub-microscopic level. Politically speaking, their average has dropped from the comic-opera plane to the comic-book grade. Where the esoteric sects (mainly Trotskyist splinters) of the 1930s tended toward a sort of super sophistication in Marxism and futility in practice, there is a gaggle of grouplets now (mainly Maoist-Castroite) characterized by amnesia regarding the Marxist tradition, ignorance of the socialist experience, and extreme primitivism. The road to an American socialist movement surely lies over the debris, or around the rotting off-shoots of, this fetid jungle of sects." [Quoted from here.]


2a. Here is a classic example of unsinkable, revolutionary megalomania:


"Thus, we understand that the 10th Congress has been the congress of the triumph of the revolutionary working class cause and of its party of vanguard, too." [Quoted from here, page 3. Bold emphasis added. A Google search will soon reveal plenty more instances of dialectical chest beating like this.]


A microscopic Maoist sect in Argentina thus speaks for all workers!


This is what Jack Barnes, Über-Guru of the (now defunct) US-SWP, had to say about the formation of a minuscule Trotskyist grouplet in Iran, back in 1979:


"Dear comrades, the formation of Hezeb-e Kargaran-e Socialist -- the first Trotskyist party on Iranian soil -- is an historic and inspiring event.... You have taken a major step in building a mass revolutionary party based on the principles of Lenin and Trotsky. Only such a party can lead the fight for a socialist Iran.... Long live the Iranian revolution! Long live Hezeb-e Kargaran-e Socialist!" [Quoted in Sayrafiezadeh (2009), p.156. Bold emphases alone added. Even so, the 'inspiring slogan' intoned at the end doesn't trip off the tongue all too easily.]


A few years later, the US-SWP (under the direction of Barnes), renounced Trotskyism. It isn't too clear what happened to those Iranian comrades, but I am pretty sure there is no mass revolutionary Trotskyist party in Iran -- or, indeed, anywhere else, for that matter.


Here follows another series of examples, this time drawn from the IMT -- the International Marxist Tendency:


"In the first week of August 2004 a meeting of almost 300 Marxists from 26 countries, including Venezuela and Cuba, met in Spain to discuss the world situation and the tasks of the international revolutionary Marxist tendency. This was for many reasons an historic turning point that registered a qualitative advance of the forces of Marxism on a world scale." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


Two years later, and here is more of the same from the same:


"July 30, the 2006 World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency opened in Barcelona. This was a truly amazing congress, characterized by terrific energy, enthusiasm, and optimism combined with an extremely high level of political discussion and debate. Above all, there was a firm determination to build the International in the coming period. It was the largest congress ever, with 320 present, cramming the meeting hall almost to capacity.... This world congress is dedicated to the memory of Ted Grant and we pledge ourselves to continue in his work. I will finish with the words inscribed on the tomb of Wren, the great architect: 'If you want a monument, look around you.'" [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis and link added. Paragraphs merged.]


[No doubt, readers will be able write the entry for the 2007 'World Congress', and then maybe even for 2008... Check below to see if you were right.]


If you frequent little other than the Flatlands of Failure, when you stop to "look around you" every molehill will indeed look like a mountain, and 320 comrades seem a big deal. After thirty or so years of not achieving very much (following on the fragmentation of the UK Militant Tendency the early 1990s -- here and here are two competing histories of its collapse authored by the two warring sides that emerged as a result -- the IMT itself and the Socialist Party), these serially hyperbolic chest-beaters are still largely flat-lining; on that, see here. However, based on such impressive self-promotion you'd be forgiven for concluding the opposite.


Anyone familiar with all shades of Dialectical Marxism will know that hyperbole like this, often boosted to Level Eleven, is almost de rigueur.


[The old Militant Tendency, from which the IMT emerged in the 1990s, was no less intoxicated with on its own 'significance', keen to tell the world how important it was (at least in its own eyes!).  The beginning of an explanation for this almost ubiquitous phenomenon on the far left can be accessed here. (The latter is in fact Tourish (1998). More details can be found in Tourish and Wohlforth (2000). I hasten to add that I distance myself from the negative remarks these two authors make about democratic centralism and Leninism in general, but this isn't the place to enter into that topic.) My own explanation, based on HM, can be accessed here.]


2008 Update: We can now can see if you were right about the 2007 'World Congress':


"The International Marxist Tendency held its World School in Barcelona this year from July 29 to August 3. This followed on last year's successful 2006 World Congress. Present were 300 comrades from 26 countries, including El Salvador, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Russia and most European countries.... The school was in the first place a political event that aimed to raise everybody's political level. This we believe was achieved with the excellent leadoffs and debates throughout the week. The comrades were enthused by the event and given a feeling that they belong to something great, a genuine Marxist International, with comrades on all continents working for the same goal, the emancipation of the working class and a genuine classless society....


"Above all, what this World School showed was the enthusiasm and confidence in the ideas of Marxism and the organisation that is putting these into practice on a world scale. This was reflected in the collection: this year, as in previous years, the record was broken and no less than 37,700 Euros [approximately $55,000, 2008 rates of exchange -- RL] were collected! This money will undoubtedly be put to good use and will enable us to pay for more trips to different sections and sympathising groups, the hosting of this website, and other expenses for the promotion of Marxist ideas and the building of a strong organisation on a world scale." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and link added. Some paragraphs merged.]


Did you guess correctly?


The IMT is still upbeat about the fact that they have gone nowhere over the previous 12 months!


See you next year...


2009 Update:


"[The 2008] Congress of the International Marxist Tendency met in Barcelona at the end of July. It is difficult to convey the sense of momentum present in every session of the congress. This was not just another meeting of left activists searching for answers. All of the 350 delegates and visitors could feel that after years of preparation, after decades of defending the ideas of Marxism against the attacks of the bourgeois, the reformists, revisionists and sectarians, these are now being vindicated by events. All other previous gatherings of the IMT felt like preparations for this World Congress, a congress that lays the groundwork for the advance of Marxism internationally." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


It seems the IMT is still pootling about in Oblivionsville, lost in such comforting delusions of grandeur.


See you in 2010...


2010 Update: Er..., except that in 2010 the IMT split, losing most of its Spanish-speaking sections. Some estimates put the loss as high as half their membership.


Did this represent a significant defeat for the international proletariat?


Are you serous?!


How dare you even allow it to cross your mind! A swift dose of dialectics will soon put your mind right!


Here is the upbeat Report from April 2010 that shows how wrong you were:


"The Venezuelan comrades of the IMT held their re-founding Congress in Caracas, taking the opportunity to launch their new paper, Lucha de Clases (Class Struggle). The comrades have had to deal with very difficult internal conditions over the past year but have been able to re-found the Venezuelan section of the IMT with great enthusiasm and optimism. The unanimous feeling was that the organisation was now on a qualitative higher level than before. Having purged the organisation of harmful ultra-left and sectarian deviations, they are prepared to play a decisive role within the PSUV and the Venezuelan revolution." [Quoted from here. Bold added. (On the reaction of their former comrades in the Militant Tendency, see here.)]


So, splits and expulsions somehow 'strengthen' the movement! The exact opposite of what you might have expected.


But, hey! That's Diabolical Logic for you!


Here is what Wikipedia had to say about subsequent splits in this hyper-optimistic, 'mega-successful' tendency:


"A few months later, the IMT suffered a new split. The majority of the Swedish section, factions in Poland and Britain and individuals from several other sections left the IMT to form a new group called Towards a New International Tendency [TANIT -- RL]. The Iranian section of the IMT also split away over the international's position on Venezuela's friendly relations with the Iranian government and in 2011 launched Marxist Revival with co-thinkers in Britain. In 2016 the Pakistani section split, with the majority leaving, while the minority reorganized as 'Lal Salaam' (Red Salute)." [Quoted from here. Accessed 03/09/2016. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]


The above has now been changed to the following (although the old entry can be accessed in the "View History" section):


"In late 2009 a dispute developed between the IMT leadership and the leaderships of its sections in Spain (El Militante), Venezuela (Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria) and Mexico. In January 2010, these organisations, together with the group in Colombia and part of the section in Mexico, broke with the IMT and established a new international body, the Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left). Minorities in Venezuela and Spain choose to remain with the IMT and set up new sections. The new IMT Venezuelan section launched their newspaper, Lucha de Clases, in April 2010. In 2016, the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria issued a joint declaration with the Committee for a Workers International [CWI] announcing that the organizations are conducting joint work. [The CWI itself split in 2019! Many of the above left the CWI to form The International Revolutionary Left -- RL.]


"In the same year, another smaller split occurred. The majority of the Swedish section, factions in Poland and Britain and individuals from several other sections left the IMT to form a new group called Towards a New International Tendency [TANIT, this link is now dead -- RL]. The Iranian section of the IMT also split away over the international's position on Venezuela's friendly relations with the Iranian government and in 2011 launched Marxist Revival with co-thinkers in Britain. In 2016 the Pakistani section split, with the majority leaving, while the minority reorganized as 'Lal Salaam' (Red Salute).


"In April 2017, the IMT suffered a split in its Brazilian section. It all happened due to the dictatorial attitude of the Higher body of International (sic)" [Quoted from here; accessed 23/01/2018. Emphases and links in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged. However, it appears that TANIT was actually formed back in the 1990s. They now run the Socialist Network page on Facebook. Has any of this reined in the rhetoric or dialled down the hyperbole? Go on, have a really, really wild guess...]


This entry has now become the following:


"In late 2009 a dispute developed between the IMT leadership and the leaderships of its sections in Spain (El Militante), Venezuela (Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria) and Mexico. In January 2010, these organisations, together with the group in Colombia and part of the section in Mexico, broke with the IMT and established a new international body, the Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left). Minorities in Venezuela and Spain chose to remain with the IMT and set up new sections. The new IMT Venezuelan section launched their newspaper, Lucha de Clases, in April 2010.


"In 2016, the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria issued a joint declaration with the Committee for a Workers' International announcing that the organizations are conducting joint work. In the same year, another smaller split occurred. The majority of the Swedish section, factions in Poland and Britain and individuals from several other sections left the IMT to form a new group called Towards a New International Tendency. The Iranian section of the IMT also split away over the international's position on Venezuela's friendly relations with the Iranian government and in 2011 launched Marxist Revival with co-thinkers in Britain. The Pakistani section split, with the majority leaving, while the minority reorganized as 'Lal Salaam' (Red Salute). In April 2017, the IMT suffered a split in its Brazilian section. In October 2021, there was a split in the Swiss section." [Quoted from here; accessed 13/11/2021. Italic emphases and links in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at the site. Two paragraphs merged.]


This has again been changed to the following:


"In late 2009 a dispute developed between the IMT leadership and the leaderships of its sections in Spain (El Militante), Venezuela (Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria) and Mexico. In January 2010, these organisations, together with the group in Colombia and part of the section in Mexico, broke with the IMT and established a new international body, the Izquierda Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Left). Minorities in Venezuela and Spain chose to remain with the IMT and set up new sections. The new IMT Venezuelan section launched their newspaper, Lucha de Clases, in April 2010. In 2016, the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria issued a joint declaration with the Committee for a Workers' International announcing that the organizations are conducting joint work. In the same year, another smaller split occurred. The majority of the Swedish section, factions in Poland and Britain and individuals from several other sections left the IMT to form a new group called Towards a New International Tendency. The Iranian section of the IMT also split away over the international's position on Venezuela's friendly relations with the Iranian government and in 2011 launched Marxist Revival with co-thinkers in Britain. The Pakistani section split, with the majority leaving, while the minority reorganized as 'Lal Salaam' (Red Salute)." [Quoted from here; accessed 03/11/2022. Links in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at the site. Paragraphs merged.]


While this might come as a surprise to some readers, yet more rabid optimism graced the 2010 Report, which, despite the 2010 split, declared that the IMT has made a "great step forward", presumably by making a great leap backward:


"2010 Congress of the IMT – a great step forward.


"The 2010 World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency, which took place in Marina di Massa a seaside town in Tuscany, Italy, from 1 to 8 of August, represented a great step forward for the International. There were 250 comrades present.... The experience the IMT has passed through in the last year and a half was concentrated in the World Congress. The mood was one of confident but sober enthusiasm for the future, as our political perspectives are being confirmed and our methods are slowly but surely giving us concrete results, both quantitatively and above all qualitatively....


"The splits in the IMT were not the result of secondary issues or small differences of opinion, and still less of 'tone'. These differences had been developing over a long time. The 'final straw' appears to be the result of either something trivial (sic). But necessity expresses itself through accident. [The IMT-version of 'God moves in mysterious ways...'. -- RL.] The last year has been a serious test for our International. But we will have emerged strengthened if we are able to use the experience to raise the political level of all comrades. One of the positives of this situation is the discussion we have opened up in relation to the work in the mass organizations. This is also part of the balance sheet of the whole period.


"The Congress showed clearly that the IMT has emerged strengthened, not weakened by the disputes of the last year. It was clear from the excellent quality of the speeches from the delegates that an important layer of younger comrades has emerged in the course of this experience which is willing to learn, work and build the IMT." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]


So, less money collected, fewer delegates showed up, all topped off by another year of going nowhere -- along with another significant split -- but the IMT still emerged "strengthened".


In which case, it seems that "building the party" is..., er..., the same as demolishing it! Does this represent another ironic 'unity of opposites'?


See you next year...


2011 Update: Here is the 2011 Report:


"The IMT World School that was held in Italy between 31 July and 5 August was a tremendous success. About 225 comrades from many different countries and continents travelled to the Italian seaside resort of Marina de Massa in order to attend a week of intense but enjoyable and educational meetings.... The 2011 World School was wound up by an inspiring speech by comrade Alan Woods, after which all those present rose to their feet in a truly rousing rendition of The Internationale.


"The mood throughout the School was enthusiastic both inside and outside the sessions. In addition to the commissions and plenary sessions there were numerous discussions and small commissions in which comrades from different countries could exchange experiences and learn from each other. At the end of the School, there was a very lively social, when comrades from every section sang revolutionary songs. The mood of enthusiasm was shown in the magnificent collection, which raised over 30,000 euros [approx $39,000, 2011 rate-of-exchange -- RL] for the building of the International Marxist Tendency." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and link added. Several paragraphs merged.]


[Plenty more dialectical hyperbole can be found here.]


I must apologise, however, for picking on the IMT; virtually any Trotskyist sect could have been chosen. It is just that the IMT's Reports are more readily available on-line.


2012 Update: No prizes for guessing the content of the 2012 Report:


"The 2012 World Congress of the IMT, which was held in Marina di Massa, a seaside resort in Tuscany, Italy, marked an important advance for worldwide Marxism. It lasted for one week -- from the 24th to 29th of July -- with the participation of over 250 comrades from around the world. There were delegates and visitors from all over Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, and a record number of Pakistani comrades....


"Our forces are small. We have passed through a difficult period in the last 20 or 30 years. We have been fighting against the stream. But the tide is beginning to turn. The conditions for building the IMT have never been more favourable. Throughout this period we have maintained the flag of Marxism. What is necessary is to build the necessary forces so that we are actually able to intervene decisively in these processes, not merely as observers and commentators, but as actors and leaders of the world socialist revolution. There followed a lively discussion on a very high level. The question was raised of the importance of transitional demands, and it was agreed that a document on this important question would be published in the Autumn....


"The mood overall was very energetic and comrades were excited about the prospects for the IMT's development in the coming period. There were lots of new faces, lots of young people, and even a couple of contacts who joined at the Congress. This mood was very well summed up by the record collection that raised a magnificent 42,500 euros. This World Congress was bigger than last year and the year before that with many new comrades attending for the first time. The presence of a large number of new, enthusiastic, young comrades shows that the IMT is beginning to recruit new forces and is laying the basis for even stronger growth in the future.... The mood throughout the congress was one of cheerful optimism. All the main documents after debate and some small amendments were approved unanimously. And at the end, the Internationale was never sung with greater gusto." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added. Several paragraphs merged.]


Nevertheless, this happy band of up-beat dialectical optimists is still smaller than it had been eight years earlier.


No worries, the future is still 'dialectically' rosy!


One delegate to the 2012 IMT Winter School in Cambridge, UK (which was, predictably, a "huge success"), inadvertently revealed why these comrades are quite so off-the-wall optimistic:


"Having developed an interest, through prior research, into Materialist Dialectics attending the talk on Philosophy and dialectics was a no-brainer. Covering everything from the nature of Idealism and Empiricism to the limitations of Formal Logic it was a most insightful event. Although the speaker is to be commended for dealing so concisely with so vast a topic, what impressed me most was his capacity to express the complexity of the subject in such simple terms. Using for example the three states of water to describe the relationship between quantitative and qualitative change. [Well, that's never been argued by anyone before, has it? -- RL.]


"However, the discussion remained true to Marx's own words: 'The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it'. The practical relevance of these ideas for revolutionaries was elucidated. It was at this point that Marx's true genius seemed to dawn upon me. Almost as if by magic the fallacious nature of our current ideology was laid bare and left wanting. Yet, the insight granted by the Dialectic Method did more to encourage than leave me depressed in its wake." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Same old fantasies, same old wishful thinking, same old source of dialectical consolation.


2013 Update: Alas, there was no 2013 Congress, so there is no Report! I couldn't find an explanation for this on-line. If anyone knows why, please email me. Nevertheless, the IMT held several smaller, local congresses that year, all of which were described as "historic", "tremendous", or "huge successes" -- even if they were attended by as many as 80 delegates! [On that, see here and here.]


The fewer the better, it seems. In that case, one wonders what sort of collective 'dialectical orgasm' they'd have if less than ten showed up.


2014 Update: Here is the entirely 'surprising' Report of the 2014 Congress:


"Revolutionary moods are growing across the world as capitalism rots and the ruling elite attempts to maintain its position by attacking the working class. Meanwhile, the International Marxist Tendency is growing in numbers, developing a deeper understanding of the processes taking place, intervening in the struggles taking place, and fighting for socialist ideas in the movements of workers and youth.


"Over 250 comrades from around the globe met in Greece between 29th July and 3rd August IMT's 2014 World Congress to discuss the perspectives for the world revolution and the tasks of the Marxists in these turbulent times. Common themes emerged from the discussions and the contributions made by comrades throughout the week, which emphasised the need to analyse and understand economics and politics on a world scale in order to understand how the situation is unfolding and to determine how to intervene most effectively in the mass movements and working class struggles taking place....


"The high degree of enthusiasm brought by the new layers of youth was demonstrated in the constant singing of revolutionary songs from the labour movements of various countries, which often broke out spontaneously when comrades gathered together. This sharing of revolutionary sentiment buoyed all comrades along, allowing them to grasp the flavour of revolutionary proletarian internationalism, represented in the ideas of genuine Marxism.... A celebration of socialist internationalism was very apt for this year's Congress, as 2014 marks the 150 anniversary of the founding of the First International by Marx and Engels, which was acknowledged on [the?] banner for the Congress, held aloft behind the speakers.


"Thus, this year's World Congress provided a living demonstration of the strength of the ideas of genuine Marxism, which thoroughly confirmed the perspectives put before the Congress. The spirit found in the famous rallying cry of The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, 'Workers of the world, unite!' found a living embodiment. The enthusiasm born out of this spirit was thoroughly infectious and will, without doubt, drive comrades on to carry out revolutionary work back home." [Quoted from here; accessed 15/08/2014. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added. Some paragraphs merged.]


If you have unwisely allowed DL to colonise your brain, a figure of 350 attending in 2008 declining to 250 in 2014 (and this, 150 years after the founding of The First International) is clear and unambiguous proof that the IMT and The Fourth International are "growing in numbers".


However, if, as the above Report suggests, attendees "constantly" broke out in song (rather like the Maoists and Red Guards of old used to do), one might well wonder how anyone could hear the 'historically important speeches' delivered from the platform.


Maybe I just don't 'understand' dialectics...


Anyway, see you in 2015...


2015 Update: Ok, so here is a Report of the 2015 'IMT World School' -- which now seems to have replaced the annual 'World Congress', at least for this year (gold star if you managed to predict the following boilerplate accurately!):


"Over 270 Marxists have now returned home to over 30 different countries after attending the International Marxist Tendency’s World School that took place in Bardonecchia, Italy, last week. The school demonstrated the tendency's activity and the strength of revolutionary ideas through the high political level, the number of enthusiastic young people in attendance, and the excellent application of Marxist theory to the mass movements developing around the globe today....


"As was explained by many speakers, including Alan Woods in his introduction to the discussion on perspectives for world revolution, we are entering the most turbulent period of capitalism's history. Never before has there been a crisis so deep, forcing the implementation of austerity measures the world over that have led to a widening gap between the rich and the poor and increasing poverty for workers, young people, and pensioners.... Alan Woods closed the school with a rousing speech encouraging members of the IMT to continue building the forces of Marxism, and to continue raising the banner of the IMT -- of socialism -- so that we can build a revolutionary organisation that can play an integral role in bringing about the end to the horrors of capitalism and establish a society that would provide equality and rising standards of living to everyone on the planet.


"There has never been a more important time to fight for the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky: now is the time to educate ourselves and others in how to fight oppression and exploitation; now is the time to go forth and explain to all those who are searching for an alternative to austerity that there is an alternative -- but we must organise and fight for it!" [Quoted from here; accessed 19/10/2015. Bold emphases added. Some paragraphs merged.]


So, once again, we have seen 'growth' from 320 (back in 2006) to 270 (in 2015). "Impressive" is the word I think you're looking for.


The following is a Report from the IMT's US National School, from earlier in the same year:


"Over the weekend of May 23 and 24, revolutionary Marxists from California, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Madison, Dallas, Kentucky, Ohio, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and London gathered at the University of Pittsburgh for the 2015 WIL National School. Nearly 60 comrades attended this event, a clear indication of the enthusiasm for the ideas of Marxism amongst the comrades of the American section of the IMT. In the midst of dramatic movements around the world and in the USA itself, the success of this school reflects the need for a clear Marxist understanding of history and current events as the working class struggles to challenge the exploitation and oppression of the capitalist system....


"[T]he school resumed with an inspiring presentation by Comrade Farhad, a leading member of the IMT's Pakistani section, The Struggle, who now lives in Chicago. He spoke about the 1968 Pakistani Revolution, the growth of the Pakistan People's Party, and the work of The Struggle today. The American Marxists keenly feel a great deal of responsibility to build our organization in the belly of the beast, given that American imperialism is ravaging Pakistan and has directly contributed to the hellish conditions for the masses of that country. We proudly salute our comrades in The Struggle and want them all to know that their work is a source of profound inspiration for us. In the course of the school, we sold many copies of the Pakistani Trade Union Defense Campaign's newsletter to the school's attendees ["many", as in more than 60? -- RL], giving them a glimpse into the situation facing the vibrant Pakistani labour movement....


"After Farhad's presentation, comrades listened intently as Fred Weston gave a detailed update of the activities of the IMT around the world. We understand that capitalism is a global system, and in order to defeat it we will need to build powerful revolutionary parties in every part of the world. This work is well begun (sic) in more than 30 countries around the world, from Nigeria to New Zealand, Indonesia to Italy, and the American comrades welcomed every advance.... Later that night we met at a separate location for an evening social. Many comrades remarked about the high level of camaraderie, mutual respect, and friendship displayed at the school [until one section expels the other, that is -- RL]....


"The 2015 American Marxist School was a resounding success and highlights the gains made by the IMT in the United States since our founding in 2002. We are confident that our methods and ideas will culminate in the successful construction of a powerful Marxist organization in America [at least, by the year 24,502, no doubt -- RL], the key country of world capitalism and imperialism." [Quoted from here; accessed 19/10/2015. Bold emphases added. Spelling modified to agree with UK English. Several paragraphs merged.]


Wow! "Nearly" 60 delegates; no wonder these reporters hyperventilated!


Here is Alan Woods, writing the following in the 2015 Introduction to the e-book edition of RIRE:


"Two decades have passed since [the first edition was published -- RL] and a decade is not such a long time in the grand scheme of history. Not one stone upon another now remains of these comforting illusions. Everywhere there are wars, unemployment, poverty and hunger. And everywhere a new spirit of revolt is arising, not just in Asia and Latin America but also in Europe and the USA itself. The tide is turning, as we knew it must do. And people are looking for ideas that can explain what is happening in the world. The ideas of Marxism are enjoying a renaissance. Support for these ideas is growing stronger by the day." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]


Parmenidean-like stasis is re-configured as steady advance; fiction paraded as fact. Behold: dialectics in action!


2016 Update: As far as I can tell there was no World Congress in 2015 (a 'giant leap forward' for the toiling masses?), but there was one in 2016:


"In the final week of July, nearly 300 delegates and visitors from around 30 different countries attended the 2016 World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency. Meeting in the midst of huge mass movements, class struggles, and revolutionary developments across the world, this year's congress was undoubtedly the most exciting and successful yet....


"The contributions throughout all of these sessions demonstrated the strength of Marxist ideas, and their ability to explain and understand the turbulent events taking place before our eyes today. It is these ideas, as Alan Woods stressed in his closing remarks, which form the main weapon that we have in the fight against capitalism. 'You can kill a man,' Alan remarked, in reference to the tragic death of Leon Trotsky at the hands of one of Stalin's agents 76 years ago, 'but you cannot kill an idea whose time has come.' [This 'idea' seems to be taking its 'time coming' -- RL.]


"The electric mood amongst the comrades present was demonstrated vividly, not only by the energetic singing on the final night, but particularly by the record collection of over 60,000 euros [approximately £50,000, or $65,000 (at 2016 exchange rates) -- RL] that was raised to help build the forces of Marxism internationally. This will help enormously in the work of the IMT in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, Venezuela, and Pakistan....


"In all cases, as every speaker highlighted, the world working class are showing they are not prepared to take these defeats lying down and will fight back. The missing factor in all cases, Alan Woods stressed in his summary, is the subjective factor -- that of a revolutionary leadership. [Looks like it still is -- RL.] This, Alan stated, is our task: to build up the forces of revolution. Workers of the world unite!" [Quoted from here. Accessed 03/09/2016. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added. Somewhat similar 'dialectical hyperbole' concerning the 2016 Congress of the IMT-USA -- which we are told was a "turning point" and a "genuine milestone" -- can be accessed here.]


In 2006, there were 320 delegates, now there are 300! This is 'dialectical' progress alright, and there is little doubt that that must be because it was "the most exciting and successful [congress] yet".


2017 Update: We read this about the IMT 'World School' held in Italy at the end of July, 2017:


"Over 300 revolutionaries from 20 different countries flocked to Italy in the last week of July for the International Marxist Tendency 2017 World School. The event celebrated the centenary of the Russian Revolution, with political discussions themed around this momentous chapter in human history.... By all accounts, the school was an enormous success that thoroughly inspired the (mostly young) attendees to honour the legacy of the Bolshevik Party by building socialism in the 21st Century.... Despite these grim lessons from history, the school ended on a note of great positivity with the international report, delivered by Jorge. Comrades got a real sense of the strength of the IMT as Jorge described particular success stories in places like El Salvador and Sweden.


“Elsewhere, we have seen a steady increase across four continents, in particular with a strengthening influence amongst radicalised youth. Given the hideous impact of the crisis of capitalism upon the living conditions and working prospects for young people, it is little wonder our unabashedly revolutionary programme is finding an echo in this milieu.... In Alan Woods' closing remarks, he joked that he declares each successive IMT world event the best ever ‒ and it is always true! But this year, given the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the atmosphere was particularly special. The mood was encapsulated by a newly joined British comrade:


'I've never been to an event as educational and friendly as the IMT World School. I've always wanted to be active in changing things. However, the school symbolised the greatest means to do so: namely scientific Marxist analysis and a genuine Bolshevik organisation.'


"The legacy of the Bolsheviks is ours to inherit. Forward to revolution, comrades!" [Quoted from here. Accessed 07/09/2017. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added. Several paragraphs merged.]


The IMT flatlines, but worry-not, for things are still on the up! Full marks for such wishful thinking, comrades! The revolution is just around the corner! Or the next corner..., or the next..., or...


We have now witnessed at least thirteen years of IMT hype.


Has anyone spotted a pattern?


In case you haven't, here is the 2018 World Congress Report:


"Between 24-29 July, 370 Marxists from more than 25 countries gathered in the Italian Alps for the 2018 congress of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). In years to come we believe this congress will be remembered as a turning point in the effort to build a worldwide organisation capable of leading the working class in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. This was by far the biggest world event the IMT has ever organised. Despite the enormous difficulties in organising such an event, there can be no doubt that it was a tremendous success. Over the course of six days the congress discussed the turbulent world situation; the Marxist approach in the fight against oppression; as well as special sessions on events in Italy and Pakistan; and a full international organisational report. The political discussions revealed a superb political level existing across the whole IMT and a unity of will." [Quoted from here; accessed 24/02/2019. Bold emphases added. Paragraphs merged.]


Another historic "turning point", a "tremendous success", where discussions "revealed a superb political level" right across the entire IMT! How surprising. Didn't see that coming...


So, 170 years after the Communist Manifesto was first published, I think we can all see why the writer of the above Report became quite so effusive, quite so delirious over the fact that 370 gathered together with these serial exaggerators. Claims were later made about the growth of the IMT, but, as with similar claims about membership figures from the UK-SWP, no evidence was provided in support. However, in twelve years we have seen this Congress grow from 300 to 370! That averages out at about a 2% increase per year (non-compound). Gosh! Watch out ruling elite, the IMT is out to get you.


See you in 2019...


2019 Update: I haven't been able to find a Report of the 2019 World Congress; however, here is one of their National Conference, which took place in March 2019:


"On 15-17 March, around 180 workers and students met in London for the annual national conference of Socialist Appeal supporters. The meeting was without a doubt the best in the history of Socialist Appeal, as evidenced by the record attendance, the extremely enthusiastic mood, and the impressively high political level of the discussions. All attendees left the weekend-long conference with a real sense of purpose about the tasks ahead. The ruling class in Britain -- and internationally -- is in a deep crisis. There is a polarisation and radicalisation taking place in the depths of the working class. Mass movements of workers and students are on the order of the day. What is urgently needed is a strong Marxist voice for Labour and youth....


"Across the country, the Marxist Student Federation is now a recognised force on the student left. [Alas, recognised only by the IMT -- RL.] This is reflected not only in the impressive turnout at the MSF conference last month, but also by the victories seen for Marxist candidates in NUS [National Union of Students -- RL] delegate elections. As a result, the MSF will be sending almost a dozen delegates to this year’s national conference of the NUS, who will argue the case for socialist ideas. [This "recognised force" will have in attendance less than twelve out of several hundred delegates! -- RL.] A highlight of the conference was the collection for the fighting fund, which provides the much needed finance to support the analysis Socialist Appeal produces and the campaigns being run. Comrades from across Britain raised an impressive £35,000 to help develop the work into new areas. This is testament to the confidence that comrades have in the ideas of Marxism -- and the high level of sacrifice that Socialist Appeal supporters are willing to make to put these ideas into practice.


"Mina from London, attending the conference for the first time, said:


'I was so impressed with the high political level of the speakers, of both older and younger comrades alike. In times of such political chaos, the energy, enthusiasm and absolute dedication of all who took part in the conference was a refreshing and inspiring thing to see.'


"In closing the conference, Alan Woods called upon all comrades to set their sights high. We are aiming for the socialist transformation of society -- not just in Britain, but across the whole world. We must therefore make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this aim: of our time, energy, and finances. Following a rousing rendition of the Internationale, all comrades left the conference inspired with an increased determination to make this aim a reality." [Quoted from here; accessed 21/04/2019. Bold emphases and link added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged. And if you follow the second of the two above links, it will take you to a handful of pictures of this historic event, including those of comrades raising the fascist right hand fist salute, now almost ubiquitous on the left. In a movement that almost makes a fetish out of symbolism, one would think they would get that right..., or left.]


And here is a Report of their 2019 World School:


"During the week of 23-30 July, Marxists from across the world attended the International Marxist Tendency’s world school in northern Italy. Attendees came from as far away as Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and South Africa. From Europe, there were visitors from Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Yugoslavia, amongst other places. In total, around 400 comrades from across the globe partook in this exhilarating event.... Aside from the many engaging political discussions that were held, there was also an extremely successful fundraising appeal for the IMT fighting fund....


"This optimism was also on display on the very last day of the school, where comrades spoke about the work being carried out to build the forces of Marxism in every country. The overall picture was clear: the Marxists are growing in numbers -- as well as in quality -- everywhere. As is tradition, on the very last night of the school, comrades took it in turns to sing revolutionary songs from their respective countries. The passion on display marked a fitting end to an amazing week. No doubt the annual international gatherings of the capitalists in Davos and elsewhere, these days, are marked by a sombre mood of pessimism. By contrast, the Marxists are full of hope and enthusiasm, confident in the strength of our ideas and the potential of seeing socialism in our lifetime." [Quoted from here. Several paragraphs merged; bold emphases added. On the same page, however, there are two pictures of a roomful of rather sombre-looking comrades. 'Dialectical enthusiasm', no doubt.]


These impressive, serial hyperventilators are surely to be commended for both their consistency and their stamina. Nevertheless, this rabidly optimistic attitude reminds me of a joke I once heard:


"The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities -- one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist -- their parents took them to a psychiatrist. First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. 'What's the matter?' the psychiatrist asked, baffled. 'Don't you want to play with any of the toys?' 'Yes,' the little boy bawled, 'but if I did I'd only break them.'


"Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he [the boy] clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. 'What do you think you're doing?' the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. 'With all this manure,' the little boy replied, beaming, 'there must be a pony in here somewhere!'" [Quoted from here.]


See you in 2020...


Update, April 2021: As should seem rather obvious, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no IMT World Congress in 2020. It is still unclear if that will also be the case on 2021.


Update, June 2021: As many have found out during the pandemic, meetings can easily be arranged on-line, using Zoom. This is exactly what the IMT did back in April, 2021. Given the rise of fascism, resurgent US Imperialism under Biden, global warming and the growing threat of nuclear war, what did the IMT prioritise? What did they meet to discuss? You guessed it: Dialectics!


These hyperventilators are back -- but this time it's personal:


"Last Saturday, hundreds of activists from across the world met online for the philosophy day school -- hosted by Socialist Appeal, the Marxist tendency in Britain – to discuss the revolutionary ideas of Marxism: the only ideas that can help us to understand the world -- in order to change it. On 10 April, Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) held an amazing day school to discuss the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism. Over 350 people participated from all over the world, joining us throughout the day on Zoom, as well as on Facebook and YouTube live-streams....


"By contrast, this philosophy day school really proved how relevant and how essential Marxist ideas are. A revolutionary outlook is paramount in order to meet the challenges posed in these revolutionary times.... As revolutionary movements continue to erupt across the world, only an organisation steeled in these ideas, and embedded within the working class, will be able to lead the fight to abolish capitalism once and for all, and establish socialism internationally. This is what we -- comrades of Socialist Appeal and the IMT -- are preparing for and building towards." [Quoted from here; accessed 18/06/2021. Bold emphases added; several paragraphs merged.]


So, even though this meeting was held on Zoom (where there are no travel costs, etc.), the IMT still couldn't muster much more than 350 attendees from "all over the world", roughly the same number they managed back in 2007!


Update, July 2023:


Things are definitely looking up; here is the Report of the (on-line) 2021 World Congress:


"Between 24 and 27 July [2021 -- RL], more than 2,800 Marxists from over 50 countries around the world gathered online for the World Congress of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). This congress had originally been scheduled to take place in 2020, but was cut across by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic rendered an in-person congress impossible, on account of being streamed online, thousands of comrades were able to participate in a congress of the IMT for the first time. The congress was brimming with enthusiasm and confidence. Running through the four days was a sense of being bound closely together as one united, international revolutionary organisation, despite the distances that separated us.


"Whilst comrades awoke at 5am to participate on the West coast of the United States, the congress began late in the evening for comrades tuned in from Indonesia. Present were comrades from: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Liberia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.... [That's an average of 54 per country! Certainly something to crow about -- RL.]


"The event was a huge feat of organisation, with teams working hard behind the scenes to make sure everything went off without a hitch despite its scope. Particularly hard-working were teams of translators translating the whole congress into ten languages. The result was a resounding success. Evidence of the mood of the congress was plastered all over social media under the congress hashtag, #IMTCongress21. Images streamed in from Edmonton in Canada to Karachi in Pakistan, from Leningrad in Russia to Manchester in Britain, of watch parties of comrades gathered on every continent and in every corner of the globe....


"Anticipation for the congress was met with a rich, lively discussion on a high political level that cannot be found in any other organisation.... The congress enjoyed a wide-ranging and vibrant discussion on World Perspectives that elevated the sights of all comrades to the tasks of the epoch and the opportunities for building a Marxist tendency capable of intervening decisively in the course of these great events....


"Marxism is in the first instance a philosophical outlook: the philosophy of dialectical materialism, the essential features of which Fred [Weston] described. But this philosophy itself did not fall from the sky. It is the highest product of millennia of human development and of the development in thought and philosophy.... This congress represents a staging post in an ongoing campaign by the IMT to combat the mystical and idealist nonsense that passes for 'philosophy' in bourgeois society today -- an ongoing campaign that will continue for years to come and will lay the bedrock for constructing a powerful, Marxist tendency.


"The will to build a powerful Marxist tendency that can alter the course of history was perhaps best expressed in the incredible response to the congress’ financial appeal.... In one corner of the world after another -- whilst the other tendencies are in crisis and drip with pessimism -- the International Marxist Tendency is advancing, confident of the future and firmly dedicated to the struggle for socialist revolution." [Quoted from here; accessed 31/07/2023. Bold emphases and link added; several paragraphs merged.]


An average of just over fifty on-line attendees per country hardly represents a significant advance, certainly not one that justifies the by-now-familiar over-the-top hype we see above. The comments made about 'Marxist Philosophy' are rather ironic, too, given the mystical origin of DM itself, coupled with its easily exposed Idealism.


There doesn't appear to have been a 2022 World Congress, but one is planned for 2023. Who can possibly guess the tone it will set?




In order to show that I'm not just picking on the IMT, here is one response to the crisis that engulfed the UK-SWP in 2013/14:


"[We] on the German revolutionary left...have followed the developing crisis in the SWP with a mix of great concern and a bit of hope. There is an immense danger that this crisis will result in a substantial, long-term weakening of the SWP and have destructive effects on the entire International Socialist Tendency.... However, this crisis also presents the possibility of a democratic renewal of the SWP and the IST -- and with it a strengthening of the entire revolutionary left." [Florian Wilde, quoted from here; accessed 31/01/2013. Bold emphasis and link added.]


And, here is what ex-UK-SWPer, Ian Birchall, had to say about that debacle:


"Initially I, and a great many comrades, were deeply depressed and stunned. If the CC [Central Committee -- RL] had shown some willingness to reassess the situation, to look for reconciliation and compromise, I am sure that many of us would have responded positively. But the CC seemed concerned only to prove how tough it was. One CC member told me that it would be a good thing if the party lost members, since that would strengthen it politically. He compared the situation to the 1975 split -- of which he appeared to know little. I asked him if agreed with the late Gerry Healy's axiom that 'with every defection the party grows stronger'. At this he did demur." [Quoted from here; accessed 15/12/2014. Paragraphs merged; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added. On Healy, see below.]


Set-backs reconfigured as their opposite. Someone remind me: where have we heard that before?


As I pointed out on-line in relation to this fiasco:


"If you read the attempts that have been made so far by account for this and other crises, you will struggle long and hard and to no avail to find a materialist, class analysis why this sort of thing keeps happening. Comrades blame such things on this or that foible or personality defect of that or this comrade, or on this or that party structure. If only we had a different CC, or a new constitution, everything would be hunky dory. If only the climate in the party were more open and democratic...

"Do we argue this with respect to anything else? If only we had a different Prime Minister, different MPs or Union Leaders! Or, maybe a new constitution with proportional representation allowing us to elect left-wing representatives to Parliament..., yada, yada.

"But this problem is endemic right across our movement, and has been for many generations, just as it afflicts most sections of bourgeois society. In which case, we need a new, class-based, materialist explanation why it keeps happening, or it will keep happening." [Re-edited and quoted, for example, from


Here is what we read about the formation of the Spartacist League [SL] back in the late 1970s:


"Flicking through these SL journals bring the reader the joys of reading some of the most sectarian and rant-filled material ever created by the British left. The first issue of Spartacist Britainpublished in April 1978, claimed that the fusing of the London Spartacist Group and the breakaway Trotskyist Faction of the WSL [Workers Socialist League -- RL] into the Spartacist League was the 'rebirth of British Trotskyism', calling the gathering of less than 60 people 'one of the largest and most important in the 15 year history of the Spartacist tendency'." [Quoted from here, accessed 04/10/2020. Link in the original; bold emphasis added.]


Clearly, impressive 'dialectical chest beating' isn't confined to the IMT.


Finally, two more examples, this time concerning the Daddy of Dialectics, Himself, Gerry Healy, Hallowed Be His Name:


"Older comrades may remember Gerry Healy, leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party. He is reputed to have said on the occasion of expulsions and resignations that were common in his organisation: 'With every defection the party grows stronger.' The logic offers a grim warning for us all." [Ian Birchall, quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


The above comment is consistent with this report of Healy's response to the implosion of the old WRP and his expulsion as a serial rapist:


"A new WRP is already well under way to replace the old. Its cadres will be schooled in the dialectical materialist method of training and it will speedily rebuild its daily press. It will be a new beginning, but a great revolutionary leap forward into the leadership of the British and the international working class. It will be a revolutionary leap forward for the International Committee of the Fourth International." [Healy's 'Interim Statement' 24/10/1985, reproduced in Lotz and Feldman (1994), pp.335-36. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases and link added.]


Soon after the above 'glad tidings' were announced to an eager, expectant and doubtless DM-hungry world, Healy popped his non-dialectical clogs and went to meet the Big Negation In The Sky. The remaining fragments of the WRP have continued to disintegrate and wither on the vine ever since.


Surprising as this might seem (to some), the microscopic rump that was left behind after the non-dialectical dust had settled now looks about as lively as Tutankhamun's mummified corpse. Anyone who has seen the handful of rapidly aging, bedraggled figures who sell Newsline on demonstrations will know exactly what I mean.


Is this yet another victory we can attribute to 'dialectical-practice'?


Who in their left mind could possibly doubt it?




In the interests of balance, may I draw readers' attention to a much more up-beat page of reports concerning IMT successes.


However, only time will tell if these splitoholics do not go the same way as the now defunct Militant Tendency and other far left groups/parties.


2b. This world-view had in fact been implicit in what are even more ancient theologies and theogonies.


The following comment about Heraclitus is also of interest:


"Although he does not speak in detail of his political views in the extant fragments, Heraclitus seems to reflect an aristocratic disdain for the masses and favour the rule of a few wise men, for instance when he recommends that his fellow-citizens hang themselves because they have banished their most prominent leader...." [Quoted from here; spelling altered to conform with UK English. Bold emphasis added.]


As is this by Heraclitus himself:


"81. Men should speak with rational mind and thereby hold strongly to that which is shared in common -- as a city holds onto its law, and even more strongly. For even more strongly all human laws are nourished by the one divine law, which prevails as far as it wishes, suffices for all things, and yet somehow stands above them." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added. (This links to a PDF.)]


2c. In a second and even more repetitive video the same Marxist-Leninist imagines that my comments about 'external contradictions' and Stalinism were added to this Essay after he had criticised my alleged misuse of this material. Using pages from a website that caches old material from this (and other) sites, I have been able to show that this comrade is -- surprisingly -- a consistent 'stranger to the truth'. [In general, see also here.]


3. Some might think the work of Joseph Dietzgen is an exception to this generalisation, but that isn't so.


4. A class-based, materialist and ideological analysis of this process can be accessed here and here.





Video Three: A Master Class In How Not To Attempt To

Refute The Content Of This Essay


[Again, I have replied to this largely incoherent video -- as well as a second video, from the same confused comrade  --, here.]




This Essay will be updated continuously (and it seems endlessly) in order to help ensure its content is as clear and straightforward as humanly possible.


However, several factors mean that that particular goal will be extraordinarily difficult to achieve:


(1) Since I claim that Dialectical Materialism makes no sense, any criticisms levelled against it risk a similar fate. For example, DM-theorists refer to 'internal contradictions' to account for change in nature and society, but they seem totally incapable of explaining what these mysterious 'entities' are (that is, after 150 years of not trying all that hard!).


Even the best (Marxist) account of 'dialectical contradictions' I have ever read -- in an article written by James Lawler -- is itself hopelessly confused. [That was established here.]


Hence, in this case as with others, my objections to DM are directed against an irredeemably obscure set of 'doctrines'. In most places, and despite many attempts at clarification (for example, here and here), it has been impossible to turn this 'dialectical pig's ear' into even the semblance of a plastic purse, never mind a silk one.


If, after reading this Essay, the reader still hasn't a clue what dialecticians are banging on about, that failing isn't down to me.


(2) My criticisms of DM form part of a wider critique of Traditional Philosophy (summary here). It has involved me in having to challenge ideas that have penetrated extraordinarily deeply into 'western' (and, indeed, human) culture and thought. In fact, I claim they form an integral component of the "ruling ideas" to which Marx referred --, and hence they also relate to DM itself.


In turn, this has meant that I have had to challenge forms-of-thought that have dominated intellectual life, 'east' and 'west' --, and which few have even thought to question --, for the best part of two thousand five hundred years, addressing problems that have been missed, or have been ignored, by some of the greatest minds in human history.


That being so, it is virtually impossible to give a 'simple' account of the criticisms I aim to make of such well-entrenched "ruling ideas", especially if they relate to issues that have been side-stepped by such towering intellects.


I hasten to add, however, that I am only in a position to do this because of Wittgenstein's work. Hence, I claim no originality for these ideas -- except, perhaps, for the manner of their presentation and their political re-orientation.


[I have defused several Marxist-, and 'left-inspired' criticisms of Wittgenstein here, here and here.]


Incidentally, this is partly why my ideas have faced implacable resistance and hostility from practically every quarter: they break entirely new ground and run up against two-and-a-half millennia of well entrenched patterns-of-thought. Indeed, had I not faced such opposition and hostility, that would have shown I was on the wrong track!


Of course, the above factors won't stop me from trying to make my ideas increasingly clear since it is fundamental to my project that if I can't explain myself clearly in ordinary language, then not even I understand what I am attempting to say!


And that is why this Essay will need re-writing many times.


If anyone still finds anything I have said here incomprehensible, they should email me and I will do my best to rectify the problem.


In fact, one or two comrades have already complained that this Essay is far too long and complicated. In response, I have written Anti-Dialectics For Absolute Beginners, which attempts to summarise several of the above criticisms of DM, using language that is even more straight-forward and far more concise!




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Latest Update: 13/03/24


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