Essay One: Why I Began This
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Although I am highly critical of
Dialectical Materialism [DM], nothing said here
(or in the other Essays posted at this site) is aimed at undermining Historical Materialism
[HM] -- a theory I fully accept -- or, for that matter, revolutionary socialism. My aim is
simply to assist in the scientific development of Marxism by helping to demolish a
dogma that has in
my opinion seriously
damaged our movement from its inception:
[DM] -- or, in its more political form, 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD]. [The
difference between HM and DM is explained
worth mentioning up-front that phrases
like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality",
"ruling-class ideology" (used at this site in connection with Philosophy) are not 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,
They are meant 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.
However, that will become the
central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is
here, for further
As of January 2013, this Essay is just over
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(1) The Background To
(2) Introduction To
(3) Heads Back In The
Abbreviations Used At This
Return To The Main Index Page
To These Essays
This work began life in July 1998 as an
unpublished review of
John Rees's book The Algebra of Revolution (henceforth, TAR), which
then developed into a full-blown project aimed at completely undermining the
influence of Dialectical Materialism [DM] -- and dialectics (in the post-Hegelian
sense of that word) -- on Marxism.
However, a brief outline of the relevant
parts of the author's biography might help readers appreciate the motivation,
length and tone of the Essays posted at this site.
I studied for a BA Honours in Philosophy at
The University of XXXX in the late-1970s, then for a PhD in the early 1980s, and
later for a Mathematics degree. After I became involved in revolutionary
politics in the early 1980s, I decided to write at some point a thorough-going
refutation of DM, having come to appreciate the pernicious influence this
doctrine has had on revolutionary socialism over the last 140+ years. The
publication of John Rees's book in 1998 provided me with the final impetus I needed.
My political views had swung sharply to the
left much earlier; this occurred as a result of the very minor part I played in
the UK Postal Workers' strike of
1971 -- I had at that time been a postal worker since 1969. This put me in
direct sympathy with the left of the Labour Party (as it then was).
Several years later, at The University of XXXX, I was introduced to Marxist
Humanism by one of my tutors -- a truly remarkable man who possessed the rare
gift of being able to explain Marxism in simple, everyday language, expressing
Historical Materialism [HM] in eminently comprehensible and ordinary terms, free of the usual Hegelian jargon and
However, right from the start I was put off
Marxism by the philosophical and logical confusion I encountered when reading
books and articles on DM, a theory I thought unworthy of acceptance by anyone
who possessed either a working brain or genuine materialist sympathies.
My antipathy toward the tradition from which
DM had emerged was greatly increased by the training I received in
Analytic Philosophy at the above University from a group of
first-rate Philosophers and Logicians (most of whom were prominent
This ensured that I would never take Hegel or DM seriously. And I haven't since.
The election of
Margaret Thatcher and the increasingly bitter class struggle this heralded
in the UK in the early 1980s drove my opinions further to the left. However,
while studying for my PhD on Wittgenstein, I happened to read
book, Karl Marx's Theory Of History. From then on my opinion of Marxist
Philosophy changed dramatically, for even though I did not fully agree with Cohen's
account of HM, or his politics (at all), I now saw that there was no need to accept the
mystical doctrines found in DM if I wanted to be a revolutionary.
Hence, a year
or so after the defeat of the
National Union of Miners in 1985, I joined the UK-SWP, since they seemed to
me to be the most sincerely revolutionary and least sectarian group in the UK.
In addition, and to their credit, they did not appear to be lost in the sort of
dialectical mist that had engulfed other supposedly revolutionary groups. [Gerry
Healy's now defunct
comes to mind, here.]
Unfortunately, almost as soon as I joined
this party, the leadership did an about-face and suddenly discovered a new-found
liking for DM, and articles expounding Engels's confused philosophical ideas
began to appear in their publications. Although I now think I understand why
this happened, at the time this turn of events was truly devastating. I just could
not understand why Marxists I had come to respect for the clarity of their
political, historical and economic thought had suddenly grown fond of
what I took to be Dialectical Mysticism.
As things turned out, I was soon able to
witness at first-hand the baleful effect that DM and DL [Dialectical Logic]
could have on revolutionary politics -- in this case, on local party activists in XXXX.
Several of the latter (in the run up to the defeat of the
and the under direction of the party leadership) began to behave in a most
uncharacteristically aggressive manner, especially toward less 'active'
comrades. To be sure, revolutionary groups require commitment from their
members, but there are ways of motivating people that do not involve treating
them simply as means to a particular end.
These activists now declared that (among
other things) 'dialectical' thinking meant there were no fixed or rigid
principles in revolutionary politics -- not even, one presumes, the belief that
the emancipation of the working-class is the act of the working-class (although,
somewhat inconsistently, not one of them drew that particular conclusion!).
Everything it seemed had now to be bent toward the 'concrete' practical
exigencies of the class struggle. Abstract ideas were ruled out-of-court --
except, of course, for that abstract idea. Only the concrete mattered,
even if no one could say what that was without using yet more abstractions!
In practice, this novel turn to the
'concrete' meant that several long-standing members of the party were harangued
until they either abandoned revolutionary activity altogether, or they adapted
to the "new mood" (as the wider political milieu in the UK was then called by
In the latter eventuality, it meant that they
had to conform to a suicidally increased rate of activity geared around the
fight against the Poll Tax, whether or not they or their families suffered as a
consequence. At meetings, one by one, comrades were subjected to a series of
grossly unfair and unpleasant public hectoring sessions (in a small way reminiscent of the sort
of things that went on in the Chinese "Cultural
Revolution" -- minus the physical violence, of course -- and, unlike
events in the WRP where beatings were commonplace,
so we are told). These were conducted with no
little vehemence by several party 'attack dogs' (working as a sort of ideological
'tag team') until their 'victims' either buckled under the strain, or gave up and
left the party.
'Dialectical' arguments of remarkable
inconsistency were used to 'justify' every convoluted change of emphasis, and
counter every objection (declaring them one and all "abstract"), no matter how
reasonable they might otherwise seem to be. Comrades who were normally quite
level-headed became almost monomaniacal in their zeal to search out and
re-educate those who were not quite 100% with the program. [For some reason they left me alone, probably because I was highly active at the time,
and perhaps also because I knew a little philosophy and could defend myself.]
In the end, as is evident from the record,
the Poll Tax was defeated by strategies other than those advocated by
this particular party, and the "new mood" melted away nearly as fast as most of
the older comrades did -- and, as fate would have it, about as quickly as many
of the new members the party had managed to recruit at that time. I do not think
that the local party in XXXX has recovered from this period of "applied
dialectics" (from what I can tell, it is about a half to a third of its former
size, and thus nowhere nearly as effective). I have no reason to believe
that the national body has managed to
avoid a similar fate.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, for twenty or so years, the UK-SWP
have been a fraction of its former size. Coupled with other splits that have
occurred since, this probably explains why it has not been able to capitalise
significantly on the widespread radicalisation brought about by the
Anti-Globalisation movement, the fierce opposition to the US/UK invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq
(despite the prominent role it played in the
Stop the War Coalition), the pathetic weakness of the 'official left' in the UK, or
the fight to defend the welfare state, wages and pensions (post 2008).
[My guess that there had been a disappointingly
low level of recruitment during this period has now been confirmed by
document, and now
this. (These have
also been indirectly confirmed by
written by a leading member -- and
tells us that the UK-SWP's registered membership in 2008 was in excess of 6000.
(These are due-paying members, but, of these, a sizeable proportion are in fact
inactive, which illustrates another recent turn of events; this wouldn't have been
tolerated when I was a member.) There is no way to confirm
this figure, but it is inconsistent with other evidence. On that, see
The UK-SWP used to hold two
large annual gatherings a year; this is now down to one -- the second of which
used to last a whole week, but is now (in 2007, and through to 2012) projected to stretch
only over five days, with two of these being half days. The recent (2007) split in
further reduced its size and influence.
These conclusions are all the more depressing given
the failure of the 'Dialectical Left' to make significant progress during the
most widespread and militant class resistance mounted by European workers (in
opposition to various national 'austerity' programmes) that we have witnessed since at least
the early 1970s, and possibly since the Second World War. As
Richard Seymour notes:
"The 'strategic perplexity' of the left
confronted with the gravest crisis of capitalism in generations has been hard to
miss. Social democracy continues down the road of social liberalism. The far
left has struggled to take advantage of ruling class disarray. Radical left
formations have tended to stagnate at best." [Seymour
(2012), p.191. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted
at this site.]
Of course, as Richard goes on to point out, there are two notable exceptions to
this generalisation -- the gains made by the electoral left in Greece and
France --, but it is far from clear that the 'Dialectical Left' have benefitted
(or will benefit) from this in any way.
Indeed, a movement that maintains
a constant internecine war in
and between its member parties isn't
likely to grow to a size that will threaten even a handful of
bosses or local police chiefs, let alone the entire capitalist class.
Nor is it ever likely to impress radicalised workers
Bambery made a similar point:
"There is no question that the global
recession on the back of the constant 'war on terror' has produced a
radicalisation. Anti-capitalism is widespread. Evidence comes from the
sheer scale of popular mobilisations over the last decade. Once,
achieving a demonstration of 100,000 in Britain was regarded as an
immense achievement. When grizzled lefties looked back on the demo of
that size against the Vietnam War in October 1968, tears welled in their
eyes. Now a London demo has to be counted in hundreds of thousands, to
be a success.
"Yet this radicalisation, in Britain at
least, has not been accompanied by the growth of any of the political
currents which you would expect to benefit from this anti-capitalism.
And I mean any, even those who reject the label 'Party'.
"The situation the left finds itself in
is worse than when it entered the new century....
"No other period of radicalisation in
British history has experienced this lack of any formal political
expression. It's not that people opposing austerity, war and much else
are without politics. They are busy devouring articles, books, online
videos and much else." [Quoted from
here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted
at this site.]
member, Alex Snowdon, agrees:
"Let's start with a simple observation: the
revolutionary left is not growing. Indeed I am perhaps being generous in
referring merely to stagnation rather than decline....
"Yet we live in an age in which many revolutionary socialist groups predict a
growth in the revolutionary left -- including whatever their own organisation is
-- and indeed sometimes speak as if it's already happening. So for someone from
within the revolutionary left -- like me -- to make this comment may be somewhat
"There are two reasons why this stagnation might surprise people and therefore
requires explanation. One is historical precedent. Previous periods of systemic
crisis -- whether the First World War, the 1930s or the post-1968 era -- have
led to a growth in the revolutionary left or in other sections of the Left (or
both). So shouldn't that be happening now?
"The second reason is that it's not like we have a shortage of resistance to
capitalism, or particular aspects of capitalist crisis, in the current period.
Shouldn't such phenomena -- Arab revolutions, Occupy, general strikes in
southern Europe, a widespread anti-establishment mood etc -- find expression in
the growth of the revolutionary left?" [Quoted from
And yet, DM-fans still refuse to consider
alternative explanations why this is so.
In relation to the
current crisis in the UK-SWP,
prominent ex-SWP-er, has spoken about the need to:
"[Break] from the toy Bolshevism that has led to the dominance of monsters like
and to grotesque fractures such have been discussed on these pages, a practice
that has meant the Left has failed to grow in circumstances that have looked
"The Left can point to some successes out of proportion with its size: the Anti
Nazi League, the poll tax campaign, the Stop the War campaign. Have these
mobilisations resulted in any genuine lasting and durable implantation of the
Left? I'm afraid not. It has to be discussed why not. The lessons have to be
learned. Then maybe left organisations can handle incidents such as the one
which triggered this whole debate with integrity and humanity and not a squalid
clumsiness that discredits it." [Quoted from
But, who wants to join a movement that will,
in all likelihood, split before they receive their first membership card?
Or, which will descend into yet another wave
of crisis, scandal and corruption the moment they turn up for their first paper sale?
As I have pointed out in several places on
"If you read the attempts
that have been made so far by comrades to account for this
and other crises, you will struggle long and hard and to no avail to find a
materialist, class-based 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 we only 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
President, different Senators or MPs! Or, maybe a new constitution with
proportional representation allowing us to elect members to Parliament..., yada yada.
"But this is an endemic problem right across our movement, and has been for
generations, just as it afflicts most sections of bourgeois society. In which
case, we need a new, historical materialist explanation why it keeps
happening, or it will keep happening." [Slightly edited and quoted,
for example, from
Even so, this comment of mine has sunk without
trace on the Internet. Comrades, it seems, still prefer to give Idealist
explanations why the Far Left is continually in crisis:
"There is currently a huge
crisis playing itself out within the SWP, the party I have been a member of the
past five years. Like many of us warned, this has now spread beyond our ranks
into the national press, and has been even been picked up by our international
affiliate groups in the
International Socialist Tendency. Regardless of [any -- RL] individual's
opinion on the details of this case, it can no longer be denied that this issue
will create severe repercussions for the party. The CC have failed to lead and
much of the membership is demanding an explanation. It is also a dead end to
argue that this should stay within the party and we should simply draw a line
under it. This is in the national press and silence and failure to recognise the
problem would be political suicide with the very people we hope to work with,
"We need an entirely new
leadership, and we need to comprehensively overhaul all the democratic
structures of the party." [Quoted from
here. 14/01/2013. Bold emphasis and link added.]
Which means, of course, that this sort of
thing will simply keep happening.
[What was that about
who refuse to learn from history...?]
[Essay Nine Part Two
even attempts to explain this particular phenomenon, too! (I.e., why
comrades refuse to apply a Marxist analysis to Marxism itself.) Indeed, it
is aimed at approaching crises like this from an entirely new angle,
providing for the first time the beginning of a historical materialist explanation why our movement is
constantly in crisis, and
what can be done about it.]
After all, if your core theory [DM/MD]
has been lifted straight from German Idealism and Mystical Christianity (upside
down, or the 'right way up'), is it any wonder that comrades automatically adopt
an Idealist explanation
Another example of the disastrous consequences that result from
of this style of politics (and in the
IST, too) can be seen in the break-up of
SAG in Germany in the early 2000s. [On that, see
Similar crises have
afflicted other revolutionary groups/parties. The
the WRP and the
Tendency (the latter is a reply to
this) confirms that this sort of thing is
not only endemic and
widespread on the Far Left, it has gone on for generations.
Anyone familiar with the
history of Trotskyism
either side of the Atlantic, and
over the last 70 years or so will know that this
isn't just a
UK phenomenon. Indeed, it is now such a
stereotypical feature of Trotskyism world-wide that it has
turned the whole tradition into a
[Details of the degeneration, decline and disintegration of the
US-SWP can be accessed
here. Details of a similar punch-up in the CPGB a few years ago can be
Sad though it is to say, Trotskyism's one
major area of success has been to split more times than a schizophrenic amoeba
on speed, which is, of course, one reason why it has been such a
long-term failure. Believe it or not, there are comrades who will bemoan this
fact in one breath, but in the very next will refuse even to countenance the
allegation that their core theory ('Materialist
got something to do with this! They will not even consider this
even as a remote possibility -- nor yet even as one aspect of a partial explanation why our side
has witnessed 150 years of almost total failure. The very idea itself is
rejected out-of-hand, and with no little vehemence.
this is explained in detail
here. Anyone who doubts this should check the
hostile response I received
here for merely suggesting this as one possibility. Or,
indeed, dear reader, the response you will get, too, if you try this out for yourself,
and even tentatively suggest that DM/MD is a partial cause of our woes.
Such hostility is now a regular, almost knee-jerk reaction.]
Stalinism and Maoism are far less
fragmentary, but that is only because they have a long and bloody record of
imprisoning, torturing and/or killing those who stray too far from the 'path of
righteousness' --, as opposed to their merely being expelled from the party. One wonders therefore
what would happen if Trotskyists ever managed to secure real power.
vitriol, hostility, lies and smears I have had to face now for many years suggest I'd
not last long in such an eventuality! One
prominent Marxist Professor of Economics, in an e-mail
expressed the fervent hope I should "Eat sh*t and die!" because I had
the temerity to question this sacred dogma. Another comrade (implicitly)
me of being worse than the Nazis, and for the same reason! Incidentally,
this comrade has now left the UK-SWP.]
And this is the movement that is
supposed to herald a new and better era for humanity?
This series of events initiated a train of
thought: as is apparent to anyone with unblinkered eyes, Dialectical Marxism
[DIM] is one the most
unsuccessful major political
movements in human history -- almost bar none. Given its bold aims, totalising theory and the fact that it is supposed to represent the
interests and aspirations
of the vast bulk of humanity, the opposite should in fact be the case.
But it isn't.
[As noted earlier, the record of Trotskyism is, if anything, even
in fact, it is little short of disgraceful. And I say that as a Trotskyist!]
To be sure, these observations are somewhat
less true of
academic Marxism, a hardy perennial that largely took-off in the 1960s,
and is still going strong -- but, alas, to nowhere in particular.
In fact, the political 'effectiveness'
of this current has been conspicuous by its absence -- which is an odd
sort of thing to have to say of those comrades in Universities and Colleges
around the world who spare no effort reminding us that truth is tested in
practice (or praxis, to use the buzz-word). For these comrades,
"practice" seems to
mean attending seminars, endlessly discussing things on
internet mailing lists, compiling blogs, and writing obscure articles and books that not a single
worker will ever see --, except briefly, perhaps, in the print room before being shipped.
Ironically, just as the richest of Christian
Churches in the world attempt to 'justify' the brazenly luxurious life-style of
Cardinals and Bishops while claiming to represent a man who lived in absolute
poverty, and who condemned wealth, so these academic comrades claim to be
furthering the "world-view of the proletariat" with
theories that few
without a PhD can hope to comprehend.
Although at the time I had no way of proving
it, the above local events suggested that an allegiance to DM might have something
to do with this wider, but suitably ironic "unity of opposites" -- namely: the
long-term failure of a movement that should in fact be hugely successful.
The thought then occurred to me that perhaps
this paradoxical situation -- wherein a political movement that avowedly
represents the interests of the overwhelming majority of human beings is
ignored by all but a few -- was linked in some way to the contradictory
theory at its heart: DM.
Perhaps this was
part of the reason why all revolutionary groups remain small,
fragmentary, and lack significant influence? Indeed, could this theory be related
to the unprincipled (if not
manipulatively instrumental) way that these
Disciples of the Dialectic tend to treat, use and/or abuse one another?
Maybe it also had something to do with
the rapidity with which former 'friends' and 'comrades' regularly descend into
lying, gossip-mongering, fabricating and smearing one another -- for
example, in the recent collapse of
UK-Respect (but not just there).
good place to
sample much of
this 'comradely banter' is over at the
presumably, because it (unwittingly, perhaps even 'dialectically'
-- its 'owner' is a
huge fan of the 'dialectic') records
and/or encourages the exact opposite tendency. A significantly large
minority fraction of its space is now devoted to highlighting every negative factoid (of
dubious provenance) it can lay its hands on to rubbish the UK-SWP (and its 'leaders').
Many of the contributions in the comments section (at the end of each article)
generally even more hostile and uncomradely. The level of abuse and vitriol shown
there toward fellow comrades just has to be seen to be believed. Small wonder
very few female comrades venture there (especially given the content of the next
couple of paragraphs).
Update January 2013:
It has to be said that
Socialist Unity has far less 'abusers' these days; I think many have been
barred from the site.]
Update, September 2012:
Even so, the aforementioned 'comradely' acrimony and vitriol re-surfaced in the late summer of 2012
over the controversy around
Assange and his
alleged rape of two Swedish women -- which controversy was seriously
compounded by the offensive remarks
George Galloway subsequently made about rape; on that see
here (especially in the comments sections). See also
here -- and this video,
[Readers will no doubt
notice that Socialist Unity has degenerated to such an extent that it is
now trying to defend Galloway, and brush aside his remarks on rape as a
'mis-statement'. That, from one of the left's most eloquent speakers?!
This prompted the
two of its leading female members.]
Update, January 2013:
As one ex-UK-SWP-er, Tony Collins, has noted in relation to the latest (i.e.,
crisis in the UK-SWP:
"The problem is, there
is a certain way of seeing any discussion of the far left that's started by
someone who isn't a part of it. He must by definition be an enemy and we must
therefore believe he's trying to destroy the left....
"That's what happens on the far left. We sort of
have these instinctive reactions. You can see glimpses of this all over the net
right now, with SWP members openly attacking each other, something I've not seen
ever. There's a cult-like hatred of people who used to be allies."
here; 14/01/2013. Bold added.]
Witness, too, the
and personal abuse also apparent in the recent (i.e., Summer 2007) split in the US
Communist League, and the
even more recent feud (February 2008) in the Maoist
RCP-US. A similar,
dialectically-fuelled bust-up is
currently underway (2007/08) in the
US wing of the
recent split (2009/10) in the IMT/WIL
no less rancorous.
Here is a comment by the IMT on the above split:
"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 emphasis added. (On the reaction of
their former comrades in the Militant Tendency, see
Notice how yet more splits and expulsions somehow
'strengthen' the movement!
[How and why comrades come up with such contradictory ideas
is -- as should seem obvious by now -- a direct result of the contradictory theory
which has them in its grip. (More details
and here.)] As I
have pointed out in Essay Nine
"Here lies the source
of much of the corruption we see in [Dialectical Marxism]. If your core theory
allows you to justify anything you like and its opposite (since it
glories in contradiction), then your party can be as undemocratic as you please
you argue that it is 'dialectically' the opposite and is
the very epitome of democratic accountability. It will also 'allow'
you to claim that your party is in the vanguard of the fight against all
forms of oppression, all the while
covering up, ignoring, justifying, rationalising, excusing
or explaining away sexual abuse and rape in
that very same party. After all, if you are used to 'thinking dialectically',
an extra contradiction or two is yet simply more grist to the dialectical mill!
"And if you complain, well
you just don't 'understand' dialectics..."
One thing is for sure: we can expect much more of the same before we finally allow the
ruling-class to ruin this planet,
of our own studied idiocy.
It is difficult, therefore,
to disagree with much of this:
"British politics urgently needs a new force
-- a movement on the Left to counter capitalism's crisis
Just as the biggest attack on workers' living standards the world
has witnessed in many a generation -- perhaps ever -- gains momentum, the
Far Left has shot itself in the head. Just as the Far Right and the fascists are
mobilising again, we fatally wound our ability to resist and fight back.
Are we just unlucky? Or, are there deeper structural and
ideological reasons for our continual screw-ups?
Other questions soon forced themselves me:
Could it be that DM is connected with the tendency almost all
revolutionary groups have of wanting to
substitute themselves for the working-class --, or, at least, for
excusing the substitution of other forces for workers, be they Red Army
tanks, Maoist guerrillas, Central Committees, radicalised students,
'sympathetic' or 'progressive' nationalist leaders? Indeed, has this theory been used to
'justify' and/or rationalise all manner of opportunistic and cynical political twists and
about-turns (some of which took place literally overnight -- like those we witnessed in
connection with the manoeuvrings of the
CPSU and the CCP in
the 1920s and 1930s), which helped destroy several revolutions, demobilise
workers' struggles, and indirectly lead to the death of millions of proletarians
in the lead up to, and during, WW2, and since?
shall see, the answer to the above questions is unequivocally in the
And we wonder why
workers still distrust us!
It seemed to me that
by researching these and related questions it might help explain why
revolutionary socialism has been so depressingly unsuccessful for so
long. Indeed, if there are no fixed principles (according to the fixed
principle that there aren't any!), it isn't the least bit surprising
when comrades treat one another -- and are treated in return -- in an
unprincipled and manipulative way. Or that they use Marxism to justify whatever
is politically expedient.
In that case, isn't DM just another aspect of
the "muck of ages" that Marx claimed humanity had to cast aside if a socialist
society was to be created?
Maybe not; but shouldn't it be?
lack of success (lasting now for
over one hundred and fifty years -- which means that this is not just an
ephemeral feature of the movement) sits rather awkwardly with the emphasis
dialecticians constantly place on practice as a test of truth. Despite this long history
of almost complete failure, DM-theorists still declare Marxism a success!
This they say is because it has been "tested in practice", and hasn't been found wanting.
Now, to ordinary observers, denials like this
resemble (rather too uncomfortably) the refusal to admit to any damage made
famous by the
Monty Python And The Holy Grail; no matter what body part this joker
lost, he still claimed he was winning.
In fact, anyone who has
tried to persuade any of the faithful that DIM has been an abject failure might as
well try to convince them that Marx was made of cream cheese, for all
the progress they will make. In fact, the attempt will not even register --,
so deep in the sand has the collective dialectical head been inserted.
[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist, depending
An irrational compulsion to see the world as other than it really is, is something Marxists quite rightly lay at the
door of our class-enemies. But, it now looks like this psychological defect has
come home to roost, and is nesting securely in each dialectical skull.
[As we will see in Essay Nine
Part Two, both of these phenomena have the same materialist causes.]
This suggested to me that DM might actually
insulate militant minds from
reality, and that this might actually be part of its appeal:
its capacity to work
as an 'opiate', while numbing the critical faculties.
Indeed, the radically perverse nature of
dialectics might help convince otherwise alert revolutionaries that
even if what they can see with their own eyes actually contradicts the
abstract idea (it certainly isn't concrete!) that Marxism has been tested
successfully in practice, this disparity can be discounted since 'Materialist
Dialectics' also teaches that appearances 'contradict' reality. In that
case, incongruities of the order of magnitude mentioned above are only to be
expected. What is more, this incongruity only serves to further confirm the theory!
In a world supposedly full of 'contradictions',
what else can you expect?
Hence, no material fact (no matter how
obvious or damning) is allowed to count against the fixed idea that
DIM has been, and still is, eminently successful.
This is, perhaps, one unchanging belief over
which the infamous
has no hold, for this seems to be the only belief that remains rock solid year in, year
Anyone who doubts this need only read the
neurotically up-beat reports one constantly encounters in most revolutionary papers,
and on the vast majority of Marxist websites (with only a few notable
everything is always coming
up roses, all the time. Major set-backs are largely ignored, and the
is hyped out of all proportion and
hailed as if it were of
Hence, when a couple of dozen hard-boiled,
leather-necked, brick-faced Bolsheviks gather together in some god-forsaken
hotel in the suburbs, we are regaled with the glad tidings that this marks a
for the world proletariat! Except, of course, no one bothered to tell all four
billion of them, and the latter happily returned that complement by staying away in
their billions. A month later, and what do we find? This 'party of
the working-class' has split, with one half expelling the other, or vice
versa --, and, as if to rub it in, even that is hailed as a major
advance for the toiling masses (as,
we saw above with the IMT)!
is another excellent example of the above phenomenon.]
Self-deception of this order of
magnitude is clearly pathological.
Check out the rabid optimism that (up till
recently) swept through
Respect, and then
Renewal (the 'breakaway' party), especially
here (where even
the cake that was served was "marvellous"!) --, and this after
yet another split!
300 or so bedraggled comrades roll up, 150 years after the Communist Manifesto was published,
and that is something to shout from the rooftops! Now, of course, all this
optimism has been replaced by
fragmentation and bitter recriminations, as we saw above. [And these
refuse even to be told!]
learn far faster, it seems.
To be sure, not everyone involved in this split was a fan of
dialectics (even though significant sections were); in this, the
social/class origin and nature of the vast majority of those involved is the key
factor, for it is in this petty-bourgeois soil that sectarianism festers --
aggravated, of course, by this mystical 'theory'. [This is analysed in
more detail in Essay Nine
A one hundred and fifty year mismatch between
theory and observation, of this order of magnitude, would normally sink an
honest theory -- i.e., a scientific theory --, but not 'Materialist
Dialectics'. Because of this 'theory', the message delivered to the dialectical
brain may now be inverted so that it becomes its opposite: a powerful
confirmation of the theory that instructs believers to expect just
such discrepancies, just such contradictions! Theorists who proudly
proclaim their materialist credentials can now 'safely' ignore material reality
(since the latter is merely an 'appearance'), and cling to the comforting
(theoretical) idea that the tide of history is on their side.
The fact that most dialecticians buy into
this rosy view of reality (and cling to it even after its true nature has
been exposed) suggests that something has gone badly wrong
Hermetically compromised craniums.
Dialectical Myopia is
movement-wide; it afflicts Maoists and Stalinists, Orthodox Trotskyists
and Libertarian Communists, Non-orthodox Trotskyists and Academic Marxists alike.
In fact, deep sectarian divisions that have split Marxism from top to bottom,
and for generations, haven't succeeded in dividing opinion in this one area: while 'every other tendency is an abject failure and are traitors to
the cause', members of each individual tradition/party judge
themselves to be success incarnate.
In a world governed by topsy-turvy logic like
this -- ideologically inverted as in a lens (to paraphrase Marx) -- fantasy
replaces fact, and wish-fulfilment replaces material reality.
The near universal and long-term rejection
of DIM by almost every section of
the working-class can thus be flipped upside down to become the source of its
strongest support! If workers disdain Marxism, then the theory that inverted
this material fact -- transforming it into the contrary
idea that workers do not really do this (since they are blinded by "false
consciousness", have been 'bought-off'
by imperialist super-profits, or have succumbed to 'commodity fetishism') -- at
one stroke becomes both cause and consequence of the failure of revolutionary
politics to "seize the masses". That is because
hard-core fantasy like this actually
prevents its dialectical victims from facing up to the long-term problems
For sure, if there are no problems
with the core theory, then plainly none need be addressed.
So, the theory that helps keep Marxism
unbelievably unsuccessful is the very same theory that tells those in its thrall
that the opposite is the case, and that nothing need be done about it, even
while it insulates the militant mind from recalcitrant reality that clearly says
This means that the DM-inspired negators
of material reality can now safely ignore the fact that reality universally
negates their theory. That theory has now been rotated through 180 degrees
in order to conform to the idea that whatever happens, it will always
be a victory for socialism (at least in the long term -- or, ...someday soon...).
This is a contradiction of such prodigious
proportions that only those who "understand" dialectics are properly able to "grasp"
Ironically enough, for a theory ostensively
created by hard-nosed Bolsheviks, the Ideal now stands proudly on its feet, the
material world having been unceremoniously up-ended.
But, if anything and
everything that happens in nature and society can be made to agree with this
'theory', if decades of defeats, set-backs, splits and disasters count for
nothing, how can it be maintained that
practice is a test of truth? What exactly is being tested if reality
is so easily ignored? If DM can't fail whatever happens, why bother with
such an empty charade?
The short answer is, of course, that
practice has never been used to test the truth of DIM (despite
what the brochure says). Had it been, there would be no DM-supporters
left to query that very allegation, since all would have seen it for what it is
-- failure writ large, refuting a theory writ small --, and given up.
If one hundred and fifty years of defeat,
retreat and disaster are anything to go by, we can safely conclude one or more
of the following: (a) If practice is a criterion of truth, DIM stands refuted;
(b) If practice is a criterion of truth, it hasn't yet been applied to DIM
Practice isn't a
reliable test of truth; or (d) All of the above.
If the above is at all
accurate, it would seem reasonable to suppose that DM possesses
other noxious side-effects, which
adepts might prefer not to confront, or which they can be expected to try
invert, in like manner.
Perhaps 'Materialist Dialectics' has helped
intensify the following: the mean-spirited intolerance almost invariably shown
by comrades of one group toward those of any and all others, the sectarian
in-fighting over minor theoretical differences (in the interpretation of
this or that vanishingly small dialectical thesis), the
substitutionist tendencies displayed by almost all professional
Maybe, too, DM is linked to the
anti-democratic promulgation of dogmatic theses by cabal-like Central
rationalisation of dictatorial internal party structures, the
manoeuvring based on the adoption of openly contradictory 'principles' (as
proof, no doubt, that the dialectic is working through this or that tiny sect --
on the sound dialectical basis that if nature is contradictory, the party and
its tactics must be, too), the megalomaniacal idea that a handful of
militants gathered together in a flat in
Camden is authorised to issue
demands on behalf of the
"international proletariat", the irrational devotion to
theses -- involving, among other things, a
belief in the 'infinite',
a commitment to the idea that nature is a unified whole where
interconnected, the brazenly animistic notion that the universe is in what
can only be described as an endless 'argument' with itself (evidenced by the
alleged fact that there exist
real "contradictions" in nature
finally the tendency practically all dialecticians have for quoting Holy Writ to
answer any and all objections (and
this from comrades who are otherwise rightly proud of their independence
All of these, and more, can be attributed (in
part or in whole) to
an acceptance of the "dialectic"; and they
will be in what
follows. The prevalence of these
faults is hardly surprising given the fact that the philosophical principles
underlying DM can be traced back to the ideas of ancient and early modern
Mystics, whose theories mirrored
[The above allegations are substantiated in
the following Essays: Nine Parts One
and Two, Twelve and Fourteen
here) -- I
have linked to summaries since the latter two have not yet been published.]
The unity, self-discipline and
grass-roots democracy that the class war progressively forces onto workers
stands in stark contrast to the petty sectarian divisiveness found in all known
revolutionary parties. Amazingly, comrades can still be found who will argue
that while, on the one hand workers must organise collectively to defend
themselves, on the other, they will tell anyone who will listen that voting to expel this or that faction from that or
this party will ("historically") advance the cause of the working class!
The fact that dialecticians cannot even
see the incongruity here speaks volumes in itself. Of course, such splits
are often connected with the drive to maintain doctrinal 'purity' (or "unity in
action"), but that implicates dialectics all the more, for it is only because
the DM-classics are treated biblically that the notion of doctrinal
purity makes sense to begin with. Indeed, just like the Bible, the fathomless
obscurity of Hegel's
Logic works admirably well in this regard --, all this, of course,
compounded by the lesser DM-works that have fed off it in the meantime.
The class origin of professional and
semi-professional revolutionaries -- coupled with the ideologically-compromised
theory they espouse -- helps account for the radical mis-match between the
genuine political/economic concerns of the working-class and the irrelevant
philosophical ideas spouted by these self-appointed 'class-warriors' and
'tribunes' of the people.
The differential effect on workers and
revolutionaries of either or both of these is instructive: while the class
war drives the former together, it forces the latter apart.
This needs explaining --, and so it has been in Essay Nine Parts
If, as a result of the action of well-known
economic and social forces, working people have had to unite to defend
themselves, then maybe the all too easy fragmentation witnessed in
our 'movement' can similarly be explained as the result of other, less
well-appreciated social and ideological forces -- those inherent perhaps in the
class origin (and current class position) of prominent comrades. As
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their
being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their
Social being might indeed determine the
ideological predilections of such leading socialists, none of whom were beamed
down to this planet as fully-formed rebels. As members of the human race,
dialecticians are surely not above the material pressures that shape the rest of
us; but you would never be able to guess that from examining the inflated
view they have of their own self-importance. As far as they are concerned,
social forces have by-passed any and all involvement in the formation of their
[The accusation that this is "crude reductionism" is defused
In that case, it must
be a sheer coincidence that DM shares most of its core theses with the
belief-systems of practically every
mystic who has
ever walked the earth --, who, as bad luck would have it, also occupied
analogous class position and thus had a commensurate need for
It is also surely 'coincidental' that DIM
shares with every mystical belief-system the same propensity to fragment and
Indeed, is it beyond the realms of possibility
that the historical forces, which originally helped shape class society -- and
which also gave birth to the ideas of those who still benefit from it --, have
played their own part this glaring
Furthermore, if it
can be shown that DM was derived from, and belongs to an ancient and divisive
philosophical tradition, which developed alongside and nurtured class conflict
(as indeed it
might help explain why DIM has witnessed little other than fragmentation,
sectarian division, and unremitting failure almost from its inception. If
DM is indeed part of a theoretical tradition that owes its life to ruling-class
patterns-of-thought, its tendency to foment and exacerbate division will thus
have a materialist explanation.
Is this then the historical and
ideological source of the deeply engrained sectarian and substitutionist
thinking in our movement?
It certainly is.
Even better, it is possible to
show that it
It thus became clear to me that if these
un-comradely vices were to be eradicated from our movement, this malignant
tumour (DM) must be completely excised from Marxism.
Of course, this is not to
suggest that dialectics is the only reason for the persistent failure of
Marxist ideas to "seize the masses", but it certainly helps explain why
revolutionary groups tend to be permanently tiny, persistently factional,
malignantly suspicious, religiously sectarian, routinely authoritarian,
studiously insular, worryingly substitutionist, monumentally
unsuccessful, consistently inconsistent and profoundly unreasonable.
In fact, and on the contrary, if such vices
had led to success, that is what would need explaining!
A supporter of this site raised some of these issues at a national
gathering of the UK-SWP in London in July 1990. The reception he/she received from
one large meeting suggested two things. (1) That there were many
comrades in and around that party (at that time) who thought like he/she did but had no
focus for their views; (2), That the party leadership would resist any
attempt to undermine their collective commitment to the sacred Dialectical
For personal (not political) reasons I let my
membership of this party lapse in the early 1990s, and although I have been
active around several issues since (for example, in connection with the big
demonstrations in support of the NUM in the early 1990s and those in opposition
to US/UK/Israeli aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon in 2003-08), my
links with the UK-SWP have been merely formal since. However, it is important to
add that I still have no theoretical differences with this party (other
than those that involve 'Materialist Dialectics').
[My differences with the UK-SWP now revolve
their disastrous handling of rape allegations.]
Nevertheless, in 1998 John Rees published
TAR. This awoke me from my
non-dogmatic slumbers, motivating me to write a detailed response, since this
book symbolised for me much that was wrong with Marxist Philosophy. Despite its
obvious strengths (not the least of which is its clear commitment to the
revolutionary transformation of society), TAR is a stark reminder that the very
best of socialists (like John) can have their thinking seriously clouded by
And yet TAR is not the worst offender in this
regard; in fact, it is an unorthodox DM-text! 'Orthodox' dialecticians
will, I am sure, abhor it. They will accuse it of this or that heinous crime
against dialectics: that it is a "revisionist" tract; that it is too "concrete";
that it is not "concrete" enough; that it is too "abstract"; that it is not
"abstract" enough; that it underplays theoretical issues and is thus superficial
(I have already seen that one on the Internet); that it is too
theoretical; that it takes a "subjectivist" view of this or that; that it takes
an "objectivist" view of that or this; that it is "eclectic"; that it isn't
"all-rounded", and is too "one-sided"; that it is the work of a "sophist"; that it
is far too "empiricist"; that it is not empirical enough; that it is a "rehash"
(this is a popular word among the DM-faithful) of such and such, or of so and so;
that is it little more than "warmed-over" (another popular dialectical buzzword) reformism, or X-,Y-, and Z-ism; that it is Idealist, "authoritarian" and or
"elitist"; that it is "positivist"; that it ignores "materialist dialectics"(!);
that it fails to consider "systematic dialectics"; that it is "workerist"; that
it forgets that "matter precedes motion" (or is it the other way round?), etc.,
In fact, TAR will be dismissed simply because
that is how the 'orthodox' respond to practically anything and everything that
they themselves have not written.
Sectarianism like this
can be found in all religions, as is well known; but emulating it has done Marxism
few favours. Revolutionaries cannot tap into the religious alienation that
guarantees the oppressed will often prefer to turn to Bishops, Priests and Imams for
Nevertheless, the universally sectarian
stance (if not attitude) adopted by most dialectically-distracted revolutionaries suggests that as far as party size goes, small is not just beautiful,
it is as
inevitable as it is desirable. The smaller the party, the easier it is to
Hence, despite all the effort that has gone
into "building the party" (on the Trotskyist Left, that is) over the last seventy or eighty years, few tendencies
can boast membership levels that rise much above the risible. Not a single
ever "seized the masses" (and on the Communist Left, at least, not in the last fifty years or so),
nor have any even looked like they are likely even to so much as lightly hug them.
But, why change such an unsuccessful
strategy? Why indeed would anyone (who assents to the idea that
reality is in constant flux) want to do such a crazy thing?
Change that close to home? Are you mad?!
Ironically, once again, it seems that this is
one abstract principle to which the Orthodox fondly adhere -- nay,
But, dialecticians are
supposed to be inconsistent; it is burnt into their contract. Indeed, if
DM-fans still want to be consistent with their own belief in universal contradiction,
they must continue to preach unity, but practice division -- as
they manifestly do.
And we can expect them to continue sanctifying this failed
strategy with the use of quasi-religious rationalisations -- such as, this a
defence of "orthodoxy", "tradition" and doctrinal "purity" --, rejecting
"Revisionism" -- even
though Lenin argued that all theories need constant revision!
However, if Marxism is to provide the ideas,
strategy and organisation necessary for a successful working-class revolution
(as I believe it can), and if I am right about the negative impact DM has had on
our movement, then the future of the human race depends on just
this theoretical struggle.
That is how important this
We have no choice, therefore; we cannot
allow DM one day finally to come to stand for Dead Marxism.
Comrades, you have
nothing to lose but your small and steadily shrinking pond!
Introduction To This Site
Some might wonder how I can claim to be a Leninist and a
Trotskyist given the highly critical things I say about philosophical ideas that
have been an integral part of these two traditions. However, to
give an analogy: we can surely be highly critical of
even while accepting the scientific nature of his other work. The same
I count myself as a Marxist, a Leninist and a Trotskyist
since I fully accept, not just HM (providing
Hegel's influence has been fully excised), but
the political ideas associated with the life and work of Marx, Lenin and
Nevertheless, in the Essays posted here I have focused
mainly on core DM-theses, among which are the following: the nebulous
Totality and the "mediated"
relation between whole and part,
universal flux, 'determinism'
versus 'freedom', the three so-called "Laws
of Dialectics" ("the
transformation of quantity into quality", the "interpenetration
of opposites" (involving "change
internal contradiction"), the "negation
of the negation"), the
'contradictory' nature of motion,
Lenin and the status of matter,
supposed limitations of
Formal Logic and the 'Law
In addition, I have also examined the
the ideas dialecticians have
imported into Marxism -- alongside issues connected with the
deleterious effect these have
had on our movement. I will also be examining the nature of science,
language, cognition, and 'mind', as
Hegel's logical and philosophical
blunders, as these relate to the issues under discussion at this site.
However, the first serious difficulty that
confronts an aspiring critic is that it is virtually impossible to determine what
the above theses actually amount to, especially if reliance is placed solely on
what dialecticians themselves have said about them. This is not because little
has been written on these topics -- far from it, the opposite is in fact the
case --, it is because what has been published is hopelessly vague,
mind-numbingly repetitive, alarmingly superficial, and profoundly confused, if not totally incomprehensible (as this series of Essays
This has meant that in every single case it
has been necessary for me to attempt to clarify key DM-theses
before criticism can even begin. Of course, in endeavouring to do so I am
fully aware that I might well have misrepresented this or that DM-thesis. If
that is the case, then any DM-supporters reading this, who find that my
attempts to rephrase their theory are unsatisfactory, are invited to correct any
errors they find, and say clearly -- and for the first time ever -- what
the central doctrines of DM actually amount to.
Unfortunately, there is little prospect that the above will ever take place --
if it is left to DM-theorists themselves to do it. This is so for at
least two reasons:
DIMs appear to be incapable even of
entertaining for one second the idea that there might possibly be anything
remotely wrong with their core theory --
DM/MD. In fact, what I alleged above (i.e., that it is
impossible to determine with any clarity what DM actually amounts to) will meet
immediate incomprehension followed knee-jerk rejection from all concerned. However, anyone who reads the Essays
published at this site will soon see why I have said this.
Nevertheless, there are several reasons for
such serial DIM-complacency; these are examined in Essay Nine
Part Two. But, whatever the
cause, this closed mind-set seriously affects the way that criticisms are
handled: invariably detractors are
labelled 'enemies of Marxism', they are misrepresented, misquoted,
ridiculed or abused, their motives questioned, and spurious allegations
invented in order to character assassinate each critic. [On this, see here and
here.] Disconfirming facts and arguments are
more often than not simply
ignored. Either that, or critics (like me) are dismissed as latter-day
Burnham (which is, of course, the dialectical equivalent of guilt by
Dire warnings are then issued concerning the serious consequences for
anyone questioning Holy Dialectical Writ --, along the lines that such
foolishness will lead those foolish enough to do so away from the true faith, it
having been forgotten by Trotskyists (at least) that far more of those they
count as counter-revolutionaries accept the Dialectical Gospel than those
they count as fellow
revolutionaries -- namely, Stalinists and Maoists. [The latter comrades, of
course, will just have to ignore that comment! Except they can apply the same
point in reverse to us Trotskyists!] Just as one and all will fail to notice that
Plekhanov, a DM-theorist par excellence, was a
both of the
Shachtman was a dialectician after he split with Trotsky.
universities and colleges,
Systematic Dialectics and Academic Marxism (DM's vastly more sophisticated, but completely
useless distant cousins) are surely the mainspring of much non-revolutionary
Marxism. [The above link leads to an automatically downloadable
This is also quite apart from the countless thousands who have
been put off Marxism for life because of the Dialectical Foul-ups exposed
In that case, dialectics is not, as some
to a firm or permanent commitment to revolutionary politics, nor is it eternally
linked to its successful prosecution (and that allegation includes
since DIM is itself a stranger to success, and has played an active part in
more than its own fair share of failed revolutions, not only are its
adherents in no position to point any fingers, they have no
legitimate fingers to point!
dialectically-distracted comrades will be the very last ones to see this, so we are likely to
witness the same ignorant, knee-jerk dismissal of these Essays from such
benighted and bigoted souls.]
This tactic is standard practice; one could
almost now call it a cliché. [A perusal of internet sites where I have 'debated'
DM with assorted dialecticians from all wings of Marxism will amply confirm this
apparently cynical indictment. (I have listed most of them
One reason for this reflex response is the
assumption that because DM is unassailably true (despite Lenin having said
that no theory is final and complete), any criticism of it can only have arisen from the
suspect ideological/political motives -- or, indeed, the personal failings -- of
its opponents. Thus, if detractors are branded from the start as insincere or
duplicitous (even if there is no evidence to suggest this) -- or even, perhaps, as
surreptitious enemies of Marxism, or are cops in disguise (I have been accused of
that one several times!) --, then they can be misrepresented, vilified,
abused, and thus ignored. Naturally, this is about as sensible as ignoring the
signs of cancer, and then attacking anyone who diagnoses its presence or warns
of its consequences.
Unquestionably, these particular theoretical waters have been
well-and-truly muddied by the detritus stirred up by ideological currents that
are openly inimical to revolutionary socialism. Marxists are right to be ever
wary of the underhand tactics of the class enemy. However, this reactive stance
has meant that revolutionaries have been forced onto the defensive time and
again; over the years they have adopted a siege-like mentality. So, from inside
these circled wagons there are only two ways to shoot: in or out. This 'friend
or foe' approach to theory has meant that critics (even if they turn out to be
comrades who are committed to revolutionary socialism and
HM -- as I am) will never be given
a fair hearing (or any at all) for fear that this might aid and abet the class
enemy. Even though this state of semi-permanent paranoia is understandable
(given the above considerations), it only serves to perpetuate the myth that DM
is without fault and above criticism -- and therefore obviously true.1
Naturally, an impregnable redoubt like this
can only be secured at the cost of making Marxism unscientific.
There is no science that is above error or beyond revision. Indeed, there is
none that refuses to take criticism.
In light of what Lenin himself said
about the approximate nature of knowledge, Leninists should be the first
to see this point. The fact that, in general, they are not, do not, cannot, or
will not suggests that for them DM is neither approximate nor scientific. It
has indeed become a dogma requiring continuous acts of
devotion and expressions of faith -- and is thus
defended with the same level irrationality displayed by the genuine 'god'-botherers
among us in defence of their mystical mantras.
However, one thing is clear: dialecticians are creatures of
tradition; it is
their strongest instinct. If the reader checks these
links, they will see that almost every DM-fan with whom I have 'debated'
this doctrine makes practically the same point (explicitly, or implicitly): "Who are you,
Ms Lichtenstein, to
question the likes of Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao...?"
Perhaps such comrades have forgotten that science is predicated
on radical questioning of this sort. Had they lived centuries ago, one can
almost imagine them arguing: "Who are you,
question the Church, or
Aristotle?"; "Who are you, Hegel, to question
"Who are you,
Feuerbach, to question Hegel?"; "Who are you, Herr Marx, to question
And even when this point is put to them, it sails right
over their heads, so compromised have their critical faculties become. Small
wonder then that in Essay Nine
Part Two I liken them to
 The second reason for this is not unconnected with the first:
DM-supporters invariably regard any attempt to examine dialectics critically as
an attack on Marxism itself -- even where (as here, once more) this is
not the case. This defensive posture has evidently been prompted by
the suspicion that any clarification of their core theory -- i.e., one that advances
beyond yet another paraphrase of the 'classics' -- might nurture the
untoward suspicion that the dogmas enshrined therein are less than perfect
(otherwise, why 'clarify' them?).2
However, one noteworthy consequence of this
reactive stance is that DM has remained trapped in a theoretical time-warp, one
now lasting well over a hundred years. An almost permanent doctrinal
ossification has descended upon this theory. Its supporters, who --,
despite their eagle-eyed capacity to spot change everywhere else --, have
failed to notice this semi-permanent stasis.2a
Clearly, this moribund state of affairs is preferable to one that might suggest
this doctrine is defective in some way. A theory steeped in
formalin, it seems, cannot rot any further, but it is still dead for all
This means that, beyond certain trivialities,
DM has not advanced
theoretically in the last 80 or 90 years. That is how "vibrant" DM
looks rather spritely in comparison.
backward-facing stance (unique, except perhaps for a somewhat similar
orientation found in Fundamentalist Christian Theology) helps
explain why Lenin, for example, imagined he could advance dialectics by
retrieving ideas he discovered in Hegel, ones written over ninety years
It is instructive to contrast this approach
with the way that genuine science develops. It is difficult to imagine someone
referring back to the ideas of
copying them out and commenting on them in detail -- and doing
practically nothing else -- in his endeavour to advance Physics.
Difficult, perhaps; but it would be impossible to believe that scientists
since Bohr's day would be happy exclusively doing the same. Yet this is
how DM-theorists conduct themselves; TAR is just a recent example of this
conservative mind-set, one that is happy to regurgitate the truths
handed down from the dialectical-prophets (albeit with new clothes bedecking the
Ironically, therefore, the theory that posits change
everywhere else can find no place for it at home. As already noted --
perhaps fittingly --, this situation is not likely to change.4
Hence, DM -- the erstwhile theory of universal mutability -- is living
disproof of its own commitment to it; DM contains theses that have remained
virtually frozen solid for over a hundred years. Hegel's system (albeit, "the
right way up") has thus been cemented in place; the abstract now set in
Another consequence of this backward-facing and doctrinaire
stance is that the majority of dialecticians are almost totally ignorant of
developments in modern Logic and Western/Analytic
Philosophy (having branded these as 'bourgeois' and ideological).
This means, of course, that anyone not quite so
educationally-crippled, who tries 'debating' with DM-acolytes, will find
that they are doubly handicapped.
First of all, they will face accusations of being a "bourgeois
apologist" (or, of being one of their "dupes"/"stooges"), or branded as an
"elitist" (a favourite term used by OTs and
ultra-lefts) for having bothered to acquaint themselves with Analytic
This is, of course, as rational a criticism of modern Logic and Philosophy as
that advanced by Creationists against Darwinism; in fact, less so,
since Marxists should know better.
[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]
Second, it is virtually impossible to help correct the thought of
comrades who are steeped in
logical error if they are unaware of the extent of their ignorance; still
less is it any use trying to correct others who are happy to wallow in such
nescience (as many are). Since the vast majority DM-fans are almost totally
ignorant of logic
(ancient or modern), not only are they incapable of spotting for themselves
the serious logical blunders
Hegel committed (summary
they can't follow any explanation how and why these occurred.
Twenty-five or more years experience 'debating'
with DM-fans has taught me that the majority of them are quite happy to remain
almost totally ignorant of Logic and Analytic Philosophy, but that has not
stopped them pontificating about one or both. This is yet another trait they share
with Creationists. [There is no excuse now, since there are
plenty of sites
on the Internet that make logic reasonably accessible to those willing to
put the effort in.]
In that case, many of the criticisms advanced here will sail
right over most dialectical heads. In order to minimise this, I have endeavoured
to present the ideas and methods I have learnt from modern Analytic Philosophy
in as accessible a form as possible --, even at the risk of being accused of
In these Essays, therefore, I am not addressing academics,
but comrades who have fallen badly behind, and who are thus unaware of the
advances made in the above disciplines.5a
In addition, I have also linked to other sites --, and have cited
books and articles --, where these ideas are developed in more detail, or with
greater sophistication, for those who want to know more.
Heads Back In The Sand, Comrades!
Nevertheless, for all their avowed love of
"contradictions", DM-theorists do not like to be contradicted -- especially
"internally", as it were, by a comrade. In fact, they reject almost
out-of-hand all such attempts -- which is rather odd given their commitment to
the belief that progress can only occur in this way, through
So, here is a nice conundrum: if all progress and change does
indeed result from "internal contradictions", then the pages that follow, which
uncover the many that lie at the heart of dialectics, should be warmly welcomed
by the DM-faithful. Indeed, if improvement and development can come about in
no other way, then these Essays ought to be well-received by those committed
to 'dialectical' change.
The fact that they won't be welcomed in this way should
therefore count as one of the opening 'contradictions' exposed at this site: DM
stands refuted as much by its own unwillingness to be contradicted (internally
or externally) as it is by the fact that this situation isn't likely to
It is worth emphasising at the start
that unless otherwise stated, I have confined my remarks here to the so-called
"Dialectics of Nature"; the extrapolation of 'dialectics' into areas governed by
HM has been largely ignored -- except, that is, where this involves issues
relevant to my demolition of DM itself, or where (in my view) the use of
dialectical concepts/jargon fatally undermines the credibility of HM.
For example, this involves cases where, say,
the word "contradiction" is used in the analysis of Capitalism, or where comrades employ this word almost
indiscriminately to describe anything and everything in Capitalism (as a
"contradiction") -- but when they are asked to explain what this word could
possibly mean in such contexts, they either refuse to do so, or simply cannot.
Indeed, supporters of this site (including myself) have sent numerous letters to
Socialist Worker and other publications and websites, asking them to
explain why they keep using this word in this way, all without a response. [On the
indiscriminate use of this word in DM-circles, see
and my attempts to elicit a response, for instance,
This is not to say that I accept the
validity of any examples of dialectical jargon that have found their way into HM (i.e., to
form 'Materialist Dialectics'); the opposite is in fact the case. However, since
the point of these Essays is to stem the flow of poison at its source, I
have largely targeted DM.6
Throughout this work HM has been distinguished from DM. To some,
this might seem an entirely bogus distinction. However, no Marxist of any
intelligence would use slogans drawn exclusively from DM to
agitate workers. Consider for example the following: "The Law of Identity is
true only within certain limits and the struggle against the occupation of
Iraq!" Or "Change in quantity
leads to change in quality (and vice versa) and the campaign to keep
hospital HH open!" Or even, "Being is identical with but
at the same time from different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming, and the fight
against the BNP!"
Slogans like these would be employed by militants of uncommon
stupidity and legendary ineffectiveness. In contrast, when communicating
with workers active revolutionaries employ ideas drawn exclusively from
HM. The best papers on the revolutionary left, for instance, use ordinary
language, coupled with concepts drawn from HM, to agitate and
propagandise; rarely do they employ DM-phraseology to that end. Only deeply
sectarian 'revolutionary' papers of exemplary unpopularity and
impressive lack of impact use jargon lifted from dialectics to educate and
agitate workers. Newsline, the paper of the old WRP, was a notable
example here, hence its irrelevance and terminal decline.
So, the distinction drawn here is made in practice every day by
militants. The present work merely systematises it. [Objections to this
argument are considered in detail in Essay Nine, Part
One. See also here.]
In these Essays, no attempt will be made to
defend HM; it will be taken as read. Hence, any non-Marxists reading this
would be well-advised to go no further. These Essays are not addressed to
Should any Professional Philosophers stray onto this site,
they will find that in many places the material here only scratches the surface
of the philosophical issues raised (as noted above). In a site such as this,
which is not aimed at professional philosophers, unnecessary detail would be
inappropriate. However, in each of my Essays I reference numerous books and
academic articles that develop or substantiate topics that have only been
Several other features of these Essays will
strike the reader as rather odd: (1) Their almost exclusively
negative, if not unremittingly
(2) Their quasi-dialectical structure (where the word
"dialectical" is to be understood in its older, classical sense);
total absence of any alternative philosophical theses; (4)
Their extraordinary length; and finally, (5) Their analytic, if not
The first two of the above are not unrelated.
Although I have endeavoured to construct as comprehensive a case against DM as I
am capable of producing, I have also sought to
raise objections to my own criticisms at almost every stage. While this
strategy has been adopted to test my ideas to the limit, it has also been of
some use in trying to make DM clearer and/or comprehensible.
To that end, the reader will find that many
issues have been raised here for the first time ever. Core DM-theses have
been examined in unprecedented detail, most of them from a completely novel
angle. It is a sad reflection on the mental paralysis induced in those who -- in
Eastman's words -- "suffer from dialectics", that such key ideas have
escaped detailed attention for over a hundred years, but it is nonetheless accurate for
Even if it should turn out that this project
is misconceived in some way, it succeeds in breaking entirely new ground, as
readers will soon discover. In fact, should DM-supporters engage fairly with the
content of this site -- even if they remain of the same opinion by the end --,
they will find that their own ideas will emerge clarified and strengthened because of the
entirely novel set of challenges advanced in this work.8
As was alleged earlier, it is the opinion of
the present author that DM has contributed in its own not insignificant way to
the spectacular lack of
success enjoyed by Dialectical Marxism [DIM]. It is an alarming fact that of all the major political ideologies
and/or movements in history, DIM is among the least successful ever.8a
The role that DM has played in helping to engineer this disastrous state of
affairs partly accounts for the persistently negative (if not openly
hostile) tone adopted in these Essays.8b
If revolutionaries genuinely wish to change
the world by assisting in a successful working-class revolution (and I certainly
count myself among those who do), then the sooner this
alien-class ideology (DM) is excised the better.
In that case, if the ideas presented
here are correct, then it is clear that DM has helped cripple the
revolutionary movement almost from the beginning. Because of that, those who
insist on clinging to this regressive doctrine (for whatever reason) risk
extending this abysmal record of failure into this new century.
Unfortunately, it is far from clear whether
either the planet or humanity can take another hundred years of Capitalism.
Indeed, one more protracted cycle of
DM-induced failure could mean that even fewer workers will take Marxism
seriously --, or, what amounts roughly to the same thing, live to tell the tale
in anything remotely resembling a civilised society.
and (5) in
the above list are rather different, though.
From time to time readers will find themselves asking the following question of
the author: "Well, what's your theory then?" No alternative
philosophical theory will be advanced here (or anywhere else for that
matter). This tactic has not been adopted out of cussedness -- or even out of
diffidence --, but because it's an important part of the Wittgensteinian method
(employed here) not to advance philosophical theories.
Wittgenstein's approach in fact means that no philosophical theory
makes any sense. Why that is so will be considered at length in Essay Twelve
Part One. [A brief summary of this idea has now been posted
here. Objections to the use of Wittgenstein's ideas are neutralised
As far as (5)
is concerned, those who are unfamiliar with
Analytic Philosophy might find the overall style of these Essays somewhat
daunting, if not entirely deflationary; this is so In the sense that they
not only deflate the overblown
pretentions of Traditional Philosophy, and DM, they do the same with the
common assumptions on with both are based, showing that one and all are founded
on little other than hot air.
Nevertheless, the analytic
method produces clear results. Anyone who takes exception to this way of doing
Philosophy (or who is happy to leave their head in the sand) can simply log off
this site now. I have no wish to wake you up.
Figure One: Dialectical Alertness?
also needs explaining. The length of these Essays has been
determined by two factors: the nature of DM itself and the attitude of its
All of the major -- and the vast majority of the more minor --
DM-theses have been subjected to extensive criticism in this work; because of
DM's totalising approach to knowledge it can be demolished in no other
way. Had a single topic been left with only superficial injuries -- and not
fatally wounded -- its supporters might easily have imagined it could be
revived. Had even one of DM's theoretical strands been left intact --
because of the alleged interconnections that exist between each and every one of
its parts -- the temptation would have been to conclude that if one element is
viable, the rest must be, too. Hence, the extraordinary length of each Essay is
partly the result DM's holistic character itself, and partly because few of its
supporters have ever bothered to analyse this theory to any great extent --
certainly not in the detail found here.
Those who still think these Essays too long, should compare them
with the work of, say, Marx or Lenin, whose writings easily dwarf my own. I have,
however, attempted to summarise my main criticisms of DM in three Essays of
decreasing length and complexity,
Finally, even though many of the
arguments presented in these Essays are in my view definitive, genuine
knock-down arguments in Philosophy are exceedingly rare and hard to find. In
that case, readers will have to make up their own minds as to whether or not I
am alone in judging them this way.9
In researching the material published here, I
have endeavoured to consult as many DM-texts as is physically possible; these
include all the DM-classics, the vast majority of the more important secondary
works, and countless minor and subsidiary books and articles.
For reasons explained on the opening page,
these Essays were in fact published on the Internet when they were only
half-complete. In that case, over the years I will be adding extensive detail
and new material as I factor in the notes I have made on the many DM-works I
have consulted, but which have not yet been referenced, or fully referenced. In
most cases, each Essay will end up approximately twice the length it is now.
I expect to be working on this project for at least another ten years
(i.e., from 2012).
However, since most DM-texts simply repeat
almost verbatim what the classics have to say (quoting and paraphrasing Hegel,
Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin or Trotsky endlessly, using the very same ideas,
phrases and even words) -- with little attempt to clarify or amplify their
content --, much of this research in fact turned out to be exceedingly
repetitive. Indeed, on many occasions it felt as if the same book or article was
being read over and over again. That, of course, is one of the problems with DM.
[The reason why
DM is so neurotically repetitive will be explored in Essay Nine
Part Two, as will the
ideological significance of the semi-parrot-like behaviour of its adepts --,
a serious character-defect, it seems, DM-fans have so far failed to notice in
Despite this, my lack of Russian (in which
language most of the secondary literature on DM has been written) has prevented
me from consulting Stalinist, post- and pre-Stalinist works, except where these
have been translated into English.10
Although Trotskyists would want to argue that the "lifeless and wooden"
dialectic found in Stalinist texts contrasts unfavourably with their own
'vibrant strain', an examination of both traditions reveals a rather different
story. While there certainly are detectable differences between Stalinist,
Maoist, Libertarian Marxist, and Trotskyist applications of 'Materialist
Dialectics' to class society, as far as a commitment to DM (i.e., with reference
to change in nature) is concerned, all four are virtually indistinguishable.
Here one and all are genetic and somatic quintuplets, philosophically joined
at the head.
[STD = Stalinist
Dialectician; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]
Any who doubt this easily confirmed fact
will find it substantiated in Essay Two
and in Essay Nine
And, if truth be told, some STDs (Russian and/or Chinese) display
a far more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of "the dialectic" than do
many OTs -- Lukacs,
Oizerman come to mind here. [Another three include (1) Alexander Spirkin's analysis of the
Part/Whole relation, outlined
here; (2) Yurkovets's discussion of "quality",
and (3) Bettelheim's
analysis of 'principal', versus 'secondary contradictions.']
Of course, this helped DM become the
official State Dogma in many of the former 'Marxist' states; but it's no less
of a dogma among OTs, too. And yet, because of their
even less successful revolutionary credentials, Trotskyists do not have even
so much as single 'Trotskyist' state (former or otherwise) on which they can
impose their very own
As far as can be ascertained, in this
respect, that is the only relevant difference.
Another preliminary point worth making is
this: the reader will find no overall summary of DM in these Essays. While
DM-texts are quoted where necessary (sometimes at length), and are analysed in
painstaking detail, I have made no effort to outline the general content of this
theory (except, very briefly,
Had that been attempted it would have served no purpose and would probably have
It would have served no purpose because there
are countless summaries of DM available to those who want yet
another -- all of which read very much
the same anyway.
It would have been counter-productive, too,
since, as these pages show, there is no settled interpretation of DM among its
acolytes. They all disagree with one another over minutiae (even though
they all give lip-service to its basic ideas, and repeat them endlessly), which
are then put to studiously
Hence, one more attempt to summarise DM would surely have failed.
Hardcore DM-theorists would have
responded to such a summary in the way I have no doubt they have already
TAR: they'd object to practically
every single word, syllable and punctuation mark. That is what they do; that's
all they do. Dialectical Moaners like this do not change, which is, of
course, a suitably ironic punishment that the Platonic 'deity' has surely
inflicted upon these erstwhile believers in the
So, despite what Heraclitus said, it is
all too easy to step into this same river of abuse and misrepresentation
time and again -- especially on the
Readers also need to make note of the fact
that in what follows, if a certain doctrine is criticised, this does not
mean that I accept that its alleged contradictory is true. Hence, if, say, the
idea that reality is rational is under attack, no one should conclude that I
believe that reality is irrational.
In fact, in this case, I can make no sense of either attribution. To take
another example: if I criticise the use of the word "objective" (when it is
employed metaphysically), no one should conclude that I am a relativist (which I
am not), or that I question the validity of scientific knowledge (which I do
not). In fact, I reject this entire way of speaking about 'reality',
'objectivity', and scientific knowledge (for reasons that will be aired
Since this project started in July 1998, the
Internet has transformed a researcher's capacity to do work at home (and, of
course, publicise her/his views). It is now possible to access all of the
Marxist classics on-line, and much else besides. In addition, and by this means,
I have been able to obtain literally hundreds of obscure books, theses and
articles from around the world, which would otherwise have been virtually
impossible to access before. In addition, the Internet has also allowed me to link to
sites (but, particularly the truly excellent on-line Encyclopedia, Wikipedia)
where many of the ideas and technical terms I have used are clarified or
expanded upon. This is especially useful for those reading my work who are who
are new to this debate, or who are not familiar with specific topics or
terms-of-art. On top of that, it has been possible to communicate with other
Marxists who have serious doubts about DM, and thus to air critical remarks on
several discussion boards, 'debating' dialectics with those still held in its
thrall. Finally, it has also allowed comrades from all over the world to read my
work (thus giving it a far wider circulation than would have been possible had
it been published in book form), and hence for some of them to e-mail their
appreciation of my forthright stance -- or, otherwise.
Unfortunately, internet experience has
underlined just how resistant the DM-faithful are to having their ideas
contradicted; it has also highlighted how unreasonable many of them are
-- hence the 'scare' quotes around the word "debate" above. Quite apart from the
fact that such comrades seem incapable of reading with any degree of accuracy
these Essays (that is, among the few that bother to do so), or the responses
posted on discussion boards in reply to their own objections to my ideas, their
collective reaction has been highly instructive.
In general, DM-fans have so far oscillated
between the twin extremes of abuse and incredulity. For some, their response has
revolved around the safe but pointless regurgitation of 'Holy DM-Writ' (i.e.,
the quotation of selected passages from the 'classics'), or retailing the same
tired old formulae -- as if reading the same hackneyed material for the
thousandth time will do the trick where the previous nine hundred and
ninety-nine had failed. To a man, woman or 'robot', one and all seem unable,
unwilling or incapable of
arguing in support of the metaphysical theses with which our ideological forebears
saddled us. To be sure, the level of incapacity demonstrated in this respect
by such comrades appears to be in direct proportion to their propensity to quote
Holy Scripture, and in inverse proportion to their ability to read with
any accuracy what I have posted in response.13
[FL = Formal Logic.]
This strongly supports the prediction made
earlier that such 'true-believers' will never abandon the
faith -- whatever
dire consequences this stance holds out for our movement. In common with many other
failed theories that humanity has had to endure, it seems that the older
generation of dialecticians will have to pass-away first before this miserable
doctrine is flushed out of Marxism for good.
Of course, this might
never happen, and newer generations of comrades intent on initiating this
long-overdue amputation might fail to emerge from the shadows. Indeed, Marx's
own assessment that the class struggle could lead to the common ruin of the
contending classes may yet come to pass, assisted in no small measure by his
followers' unswerving attachment to this regressive 'theory'.
"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
If this does
happen, the revolutionary movement will surely have been poisoned by the
contradictory theory at its heart as much as it will have been crushed by the
enemy at its gate.
In fact, if one of the
core theses aired at this site
is correct, then this cancerous doctrine has been shaped by ideological
forms-of-thought concocted long ago by a very visible, external class enemy
(the latter, of course, engaged in this 'activity' for their own ends, oblivious
of the misbegotten use to which dialecticians would one day put their ideas). In
that case, this alien theory has been imported into revolutionary socialism by
non-working class theorists who were far more impressed with the thought-forms
they found in traditional thought
than their own
veneer of philosophical
radicalism might otherwise have suggested.
However, because of its pernicious influence,
these alien-class concepts -- which had been imported into our movement long
before the working-class could provide them with an effective, materialist
counter-weight -- are now
impeding the scientific development of Marxism.
This is partly a result of the fact that
this dogma has been ossified as part of the 'Marxist Tradition', and partly
because its acolytes are blithely unaware of the link between this doctrine and
our long-term failure, as noted above.
Even worse, the vast
majority of comrades feel they can ignore the ruling-class source of this theory
(even while inconsistently chiding me for my alleged reliance on 'bourgeois'
logic/philosophy), in the fond belief they are in fact defending a radial tradition when
they are actually defending a 'modern' version of an
Hermetic belief-system. [More on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary
However, our movement is slowly dying,
and not only is this alien theory partly responsible, it prevents anything from
being done about it because it helps convince comrades that nothing need
be done about it. An ironic unity of opposites by any standards.
thus contains the seeds of its own demise: (1) Its core theory (DM) helps
fragment Marxism and (2) It convinces comrades that DIM is success incarnate.
All the while, the actual "gravediggers of
Capitalism" (i.e., workers) have shown they want nothing to do with it.
That fact, too, is buried deep in the same
sand dunes that provide refuge for the collective dialectical brain.
Figure Two: Dialectical 'Clarity' 101
Tragedy and farce all rolled into one.
[This forms part of Note
Of late, the main tactic of
Dialectical Mystics is to ban me from posting on their discussion boards, since
I am far too effective at challenging their ideas --
RedMarx being the latest to do this (in fact, the latter site banned me
within a couple of weeks of my first post there -- readers can judge for
themselves the extend of my heinous crimes from
Another favourite response of
late is for dialectically-distracted comrades to claim that these Essays contain
"nothing new" (or, that they have been "plagiarised").
This is just the latest example (reply
anyone reading my work will find that most of the content of my Essays is
entirely original. Where I have borrowed from others, I have generally
acknowledged that fact.
course, comrades who have made this accusation have been challenged to reveal
where these allegedly "plagiarised" ideas have appeared before; to date,
has responded. Either they cannot provide this information, or they simply enjoy
being enigmatic. I suspect other motives.
dialectical soul (10th post down at that link --, and again,
here) even tried to claim I had not written these Essays! Who he supposes
the real author to be he mysteriously kept to himself.
Others have begun to claim that I quote the
dialectical classics "out of context" (for example,
here), but when they are asked to explain the 'right context', oddly enough,
they go rather quiet. In many places, in fact, I endeavour to quote the entire
context (for example, here),
but even where I do not, it's difficult to defend Engels, for instance, from
the charge of outright inconsistency when he tells us in one breath:
"Finally, for me there could be no question of
superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it
and developing them from it." [Engels
(1976), p.13. Bold emphasis
And then, in the next, he says things like this:
"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….
"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one
of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976),
p.74. Bold emphases added.]
[There are in fact dozens of pages of
priori dogmatics like this in Engels's work alone; these have been collated
Do we really need much context to
appreciate the glaring inconsistency here -- especially since this is the
traditional way that Philosophy
has been practiced for well over two thousand years, which all dialecticians
copy (as will be demonstrated in
Beleaguered dialecticians have also begun to
claim that they are "too busy" to work their way through these Essays (or
respond to them), a convenient excuse that allows them to continue making all
manner of baseless assertions about me and my work, copying hackneyed errors off
one another, without actually having read a single one of my Essays. A
particularly good recent example of this syndrome can be found
To be sure, no one has to read a single
word I write, but then those who refuse to do so should refrain from passing
comments on material about which they know nothing.
[Perhaps the worst offender
in this regard, who posts under the name "Volkov", can be found
here and at RevLeft under the name
"Axel1917". This comrade is an 'expert' in all I have ever had to say, even
though he admits he has not read a single one of my Essays!]
Another excuse is that my work is far too
long/difficult -- something that clearly does not prevent them wading through
page after page of Hegel's 'Logic', or studying Das Kapital in detail.
Indeed, this does not stop them dismissing my work as a "rant" (another
favourite term), or as a "screed", even while they pass judgement on its content in
total ignorance. [They even refuse to read the
shorter summaries I
written, and warn others to stay away!]
However, if I write short articles, they are branded
"superficial"; if I write long and detailed Essays, they are too long, or are
"tedious and boring". In fact, dialecticians already "know the truth" --, and it
them free"; i.e., "free" from having to read anything that might disturb
their Hermetic slumber.
Another recent ploy is to argue that while I
might have examined the ideas of dialecticians A, B and C, I should have
looked instead at the work of X, Y and Z. Then another comrade will complain that
while I might have examined the ideas of A, B and X, I should have concentrated
on C, D, and Z! Another will then advise I confine my attention to A, D, and W, and
Trotskyists complain if I quote Stalin and Mao's
writings; Maoists and Stalinists moan if I do likewise with Trotsky's;
non-Leninist Marxists will bemoan the fact that I have not confined my comments
to Hegel and Marx, advising me to ignore the confused or "simplistic" thought of Engels,
Plekhanov, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky.
Of course, because these comrades have not read
my work, none of them know that I have in fact looked at A, B, C, D,.., W, X, Y
and Z's work (along with Marx and Hegel's, and many these comrades haven't heard
of!). Indeed, since most of the material
dialecticians produce is highly repetitive, this quite often means that to look at A's work is
in fact to look at almost everyone else's!
However, the most
common complaint on the Internet from academic
quasi-academic) Marxists is that I have
ignored theorists such as Lukacs,
Ollman, and the like. In fact, I have explained why I have done this (for
Several of these
will be addressed anyway in later stages of this work. [Parts of Ollman's work,
for example, have
Apart from those listed in Note 01,
above, the most common reactions to my work (from comrades who have 'debated'
this with me on the internet, or elsewhere) are the following:
expression of total incredulity that there are genuine Marxists
who would even think to question this dearly beloved doctrine, or who
claim (as I do) that Philosophy in its entirety is a
completely bogus discipline.
This is then often accompanied with a parallel inference that I am therefore not
a Marxist -- even though he, too,
Naturally, the above would mean that being a Marxist is merely a matter of
definition (and a rather narrow one at that: i.e., "Only those who do not
question tradition are genuine Marxists") --, and, incidentally, one that
ignores Lenin's advice that no theory is sacrosanct, or above criticism.
(2) A rapid retreat to the claim that
dialectics is not "a royal road to truth", but is merely a "method" (these
comrades not noticing that this concession completely undermines its
(3) The posting of several long (or short)
quotations from the
often of tenuous relevance.
after page of bluster, abuse and
misrepresentation. Indeed, one leading Marxist Professor of Economics, told
me in an e-mail to "Eat sh*t and die!" just because I had the temerity to ask
him to explain what a "dialectical contradiction" was, and then point out that
his explanation was defective. [Scatological abuse is alas, almost
de rigueur from such comrades.
Here is just the
latest, incoherent example.]
Naturally, twenty-five or more years of having to endure such vilification would make anyone
(other than a 'saint') rather tetchy, if not somewhat aggressive in return.
[Indeed, from here the reader will see that
my forthright response to their attacks on me is something DM-fans cannot
Sure, they can lie about, and abuse, me, but Ms Lichtenstein must take this lying down, and be
all sweetness and light in return.]
(5) Posing the bemused question: "What other
concepts are there that could possibly account for change?"
the apparent obviousness
of the reply that these comrades hope to elicit (viz.: "You are right,
there are none, so dialectics must be correct…") is itself plainly a
consequence of the conceptual desert DM has created inside each dialectical
skull. As will soon become apparent from reading the Essays posted at this site
this one), there are in fact countless words and phrases in both the
vernacular and the sciences that allow changes of every conceivable sort and
complexity to be depicted (and thus explained) in limitless detail. Indeed,
ordinary words do this far better than the lifeless and obscure jargon Hegel
invented in order to fix something that wasn't broken. Moreover, every single one of these everyday terms can be appropriated
with ease for use in HM. In fact, the best revolutionary papers already do this.
They have to if they want to sell copies to
This is, of course, quite apart from the embarrassing fact that dialectics
(6) A casting of the
usual slurs e.g., "anti-Marxist", "positivist",
"sophist", "logic-chopper", "naïve realist", "revisionist", "eclectic",
"relativist", "post modernist", "bourgeois stooge", "pedant",
"absolutist", "elitist", "empiricist", and so on.
Naturally, when such comrades are described as "mystics" in return, they
complain about "name-calling". Once more, they are allowed to
dish it out (but not very well), but they can't take it.
(7) The attribution to me of ideas I do not
hold, and which could not reasonably have been inferred from anything I have
said or written -- e.g., that I am a "postmodernist" (which I am not), an
"empiricist" (same comment), a "Popperian"
(I am in fact an anti-Popperian), that I am a "sceptic" (and this,
just because I challenge accepted dogma, when Marx himself said he doubted all
things and Lenin declared that all knowledge is provisional), that I am an
"anti-realist" (when I am in fact neither a realist nor an anti-realist -- with
respect to philosophical theories, I am
in fact a "nothing-at-all-ist" -- but, this mustn't be confused with
that I'm a "positivist" (same reply!), that I am a "reformist" (when I am the
exact opposite), or that I am a "revisionist"
(when Lenin enjoined us all to question accepted theory).
more, these are often advanced by comrades who have not read a single one of my
Essays (but this doesn't prevent them from being 'experts' about my work, or from
making things up about me), or they have merely skim-read a few sections of my
Naturally, they would be the first to complain if anyone else did this with the
writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. [This
is just one of the latest examples.
Indeed, Engels himself waxed indignant with
Dühring over precisely this point:
"In connection with Herr Dühring's examination of the
Darwin case, we have already got to know his habit,
'in the interests of
complete truth' and because of his 'duty to the public which is free from the
bonds of the guilds', of quoting
incorrectly. It becomes more and more evident that this habit is an inner
necessity of the philosophy of reality, and it is certainly a very
Not to mention the fact that Herr Dühring further makes Marx speak of any kind
of 'advance' whatsoever, whereas Marx only refers to an advance made in the form
of raw materials, instruments of labour, and wages; and that in doing this
Herr Dühring succeeds in making Marx speak pure nonsense. And then he has
the cheek to describe as comic the nonsense which he himself has
fabricated. Just as he built up a Darwin of his own fantasy in order to try
out his strength against him, so here he builds up a fantastic Marx.
'Historical depiction in
the grand style', indeed!" [Engels
(1976), p.159. Bold emphases added Quotation marks altered to conform to the
conventions adopted at this site.]
Dühring is not allowed to do this, but
apparently it's OK for dialecticians to do it to my work!
[In many cases the
standard of debate displayed by DM-fans
sinks almost to the level displayed
here by a rather benighted Creationist. This is, alas, particularly true of
fellow UK-Trotskyists --
here are excellent examples of this sort of response from UK
comrades, who can't defend their 'theory' without resorting
to prevarication, lies and abuse. In many cases, they just become irrational,
childish and emotive. There is one major difference, however, between these
comrades and that Creationist -- the former are far more abusive.]
rejection of "bourgeois logic" (i.e., modern
the oddest response, since such comrades invariably know no logic at all (and in
not even Aristotelian logic!), even while they have uncritically
swallowed the 'logic' found in Hegel -- who was, as we all know,
a fully paid-up member of the working-class, and not the least bit
such comrades, it's lack of knowledge that makes each and every one of
them expert logicians -- a nice 'dialectical contradiction' if ever there was
one. [Many even moan when this is pointed out to them;
here is a good example.] Plainly, too, that would make George W Bush a
leading Theoretical Physicist, and the late
Reagan a towering authority on brain surgery.
Furthermore, all this is often garnished with
stereotypical, ill-informed and erroneous comments maligning Wittgenstein as a
"bourgeois" apologist, or as a mystic, or both -- as if Hegel himself were
squeaky clean in this regard!
[On that particular issue, see the Additional Essay posted
Of course, it is perfectly possible to be a revolutionary socialist and
know little or no logic at all, but if comrades are going to pontificate about
MFL (or even
AFL), they ought, at least, to have
the decency to learn some first!
(9) Of late, desperate defenders of the dialectic have adopted a new
tactic when the
ridiculous nature of their
core belief system has
(a) They deny that the DM-classics say the things that I
allege of them, or,
(b) They try to argue that the rather odd things found in the Dialectical
not to be taken literally (they are merely "metaphorical", or "whimsical"),
(c) They claim that Engels, Trotsky, and/or Lenin, etc., aren't authorities
when it comes to DM. [Yes, they are that desperate!]
This they maintain even in the face of the quotations
themselves (recent examples of this dodge can be found
here), and despite the fact that it has been pointed out to them that
similar tactics have been adopted by Christians when confronted with modern
science -- i.e., these open and honest mystics claim that the Book Of Genesis, for
instance, is "metaphorical", too.
Who exactly is the authority in matters dialectical they
refuse to reveal (even when they are asked).
So, DM-fans, it seems, will say anything, pull any dodge, try any
ploy, invent, lie, twist and turn (beyond even the knotted pretzel stage), rather than
allow the theory that history has already refuted to be even so much as
[An excellent recent example of this phenomenon can be found in
the warped logic and frenetic special-pleading found
here (written by one "Gilhyle").]
Figure Three: Dialectical 'Reasoning' --
After It Has Been Straightened-Out A Little!
doctors' look recklessly truthful, open and honest in comparison!
Finally, dialectically-distracted comrades more often than not
either (a) Refuse to respond to the vast majority of my criticisms -- they just ignore them,
or (b) they simply call them "nonsense", brush them aside, and retreat into a
[An excellent recent
example of the latter tactic can be found
here. The individual concerned, who posts under the name "Jochebed 1", said
he had read my essays and decided they were "unsystematic
nonsense". When I
pointed out to him that he had managed to read all 2.1 million words at
this site in less than an afternoon,
he went rather quiet.]
In fact, this is worryingly
reminiscent of the pathetic response given under cross examination by
William Jennings Bryan -- the
prosecutor in the infamous "Scopes
Monkey Trial", in Tennessee,
July 10 to July 25, 1925 -- summarised for us in this book review:
"But there is also an embarrassing side to Bryan: the
'great commoner' was a Bible-banging fundamentalist. When officials in Dayton,
Tennessee decided to roast
Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, they called in the ageing Bryan to
prosecute. The week-long trial became a national sensation and reached its
climax when the defence attorney,
Darrow, called Bryan to the stand and eviscerated his Biblical verities. 'Do
you believe Joshua made the sun stand still?' Darrow asked sarcastically. 'Do
you believe a whale swallowed Jonah? Will you tell us the exact date of the
great flood?' Bryan tried to swat away the swarm of contradictions. 'I do not
think about things I don't think about,' he said. The New York Times
called it an 'absurdly pathetic performance', reducing a famous American to the
'butt of a crowd's rude laughter'. This paunchy, sweaty figure went down as an
icon of the cranky right. Today, most Americans encounter the Scopes trial and
Bryan himself in a play called
the Wind. I once played the role of Bryan and the director kept saying:
'More pompous Morone. Make him more pompous.'" [James Morone, London Review of
In my experience, the vast majority of DM-fans "do not think
about things they don't think about", either. An excellent recent series
of examples of this no-nothing tendency was provided by a comrade
under the pseudonym "Futurehuman" (over at The Guardian newspaper's
comments section, again) -- see, for example,
here. This comrade insists on posting the obsolete and confused ideas he has
lifted from Hegel and Engels, and simply refuses to defend them in the
face of my criticisms.
[It should be obvious, but I have posted under the pseudonym "RosaL001". You will need to use the search function
in your browser (if it has one!) to locate both sets of
comments. At the first of the above links, however, this comrade did attempt to
post a weak defence his ideas, but after that he merely sunk back into a
dialectical sulk. (This comrade is also the author of Malek (2012), about which book I will be
commenting in some detail in a later re-write of Essay Seven Part One. By the
way, I am not 'outing' this comrade; he acknowledges he is the author of this
the above comments pages.) The latest example can be found
DM-fans react in more-or-less the same way to the
many problems their theory faces, highlighted in the Essays published at
this site. For example,
when confronted with the fact that not all changes in 'quality' are
sudden (or proceed in "leaps", to use the buzzword) -- for instance, melting
metal, glass, plastic, butter, resin, toffee and chocolate -- DM-fans either ignore
these exceptions, or brush them aside (often for no stated reason). This was indeed
the response of one of the
leading figures in the CPGB,
who seems to think it a minor point that almost every metal in the universe disobeys
this part of Engels's 'Law'. Moreover, when asked to define the length of a dialectical "node",
without fail, they all become suspiciously evasive -- either that, or they
change the subject and distract attention from the topic.
[More on that
Anyone who still doubts this should
consult: (1) The numerous passages reproduced in the Essays posted at this site;
(2) The material churned-out by any
randomly selected DM-fan; or (3) The many discussion boards and Marxist
sites that have sprung up on the Internet (for example, as noted above,
[However, in relation to option (2), readers
should consult the comment at the end of
Added, 23/03/10 -- the latest, and perhaps the most desperate
accusation advanced against me over the last twenty-five years is that
I'm a policeman!
As if a cop could screw around with Dialectical Marxism any
better than its own acolytes have managed over the last 140 years!
is the case with those committed to the doctrines advanced in that other 'Holy'
book, The Bible, to the dialectical faithful it seems that only
heretics would want either to change or to add to the content of the
DM-canon. [One can imagine a Christian (or even Muslim)
Fundamentalist saying, "Why clarify the Word of God? Who are you to presume
to know better than the Lord and His Holy Prophets? You can't improve on
perfection...", etc. etc.]
dialecticians certainly give some thought to
their ideas and endeavour to debate them amongst themselves, internal
dialogue is heavily constrained by other organisational and psychological
factors outlined at this site (for example in Essay Nine
this does help explain why all DM-writings are extremely
repetitive, why all dialecticians use almost exactly the same phrases and
reasoning style (which often simply amounts to lengthy paraphrases of Engels, Lenin,
Trotsky, Stalin or Mao), and why their ideas encompass a very limited range of
instance, the vast majority of DM-fans illustrate Engels's 'Three Laws' with the
same examples (boiling water, balding heads, plants negating seeds, Mendeleyev's
Table, North/South poles of magnets, wave-particle duality, and, of course, those pesky Mamelukes),
despite the fact that it is relatively easy to show that these 'Laws' fail to
work even there. In addition we are informed by one and all of the "limitations" of
FL (and by comrades who cannot even get
that "internal contradictions" lie behind every example of change in the entire
universe, for all of time (while in the same breath these comrades swear blind
that they don't "impose" dialectics on nature!). These rusty old DM-verities are wheeled-out year
after year as if they were cutting edge science, and not the
Mickey Mouse Science
are. [Apologies for the mixed metaphors here!]
It also helps explain why DM-fans refuse to
confront ideas they cannot handle, or why they pretend they do not exist. Such
'difficulties' are often rejected out-of-hand, with no reasons given (other than
they are incompatible with the edicts found in the dialectical Holy Books -- the
continual, knee-jerk response from
this comrade being an excellent
example of this malady -- or that any critic of DEM must have questionable
motives). This is perhaps the most frequent reaction to my work. [It certainly
motivates the vast majority of those listed
here.] Failing that, spurious reasons
are given why dialectics 'has not been 'disproved' by my attacks. [Three excellent
(recent and published) examples of this sort of response to my Essays can be
2a. Some might be tempted
to question this hyperbole, arguing that 'Materialist Dialectics' is a living,
changing theory. Sure, there have been changes in the theory, but when examined,
these amount either to elaborations on the eternal truths laid down by Hegel,
Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin, or they have prompted accusations of "Revisionism!"
from guardians of the dialectical flame. [This is issue is discussed in more
detail in several later Essays, in particular Essay Thirteen
Part One. See also
Note 5 below.]
Academic Marxism is, of course, a different matter, but since
that Dialectical Dead End is irrelevant to revolutionary socialism, I have
largely left it out of account.
general, it's not easy for dialecticians to appreciate this point, even after
it has been pointed out to them -- in fact, it is nigh on impossible for
them to do so. This is partly related to (1) The a priori style of
reasoning found in all DM-texts, and (2) The fact
that, after 2500 years of traditional Philosophy (where this approach is
it has become part of the 'philosophical furniture', as it were. In fact, this
style of argument has been around for so long, no one notices it or recognises
it for what it is.
dogmatics thus seems quite normal and natural to most dialecticians and
traditional theorists. In this way, the ideas
ruling-class, and the
a priori methods employed by their "prize fighters", have been imported into
Marxist thought --, and no one
bats an eye!
reverse in fact; ruling-class forms-of-thought find some of their stoutest
defenders among dialecticians. [And this is relatively easy to explain in view
class origins of the vast
majority of such comrades.] A recent example can be found
here (more specifically
here, and the ensuing discussion), and
here. A more pernicious set of examples can be found
As far as (1) is concerned, while
DM-advocates never tire of telling us that they do not impose their ideas on
nature (and that DM is not a "master key" that unlocks reality), that is not what
actually happens. [This is demonstrated in
For instance, DM-apologists do not usually
regard Lenin's philosophical work as an example of a priori reasoning; on
the contrary, they see it as a genuine contribution to science, or at least to
is despite the fact that Lenin did not even attempt to marshal any
supporting evidence for the claims he so confidently advanced (in, say, his
Philosophical Notebooks [PN]), and in spite of the fact that he
asserted the truth of numerous universal, all-embracing theses, which he
declared were applicable to all of reality for all of time (in
relation to which no amount of evidence would have been sufficient).
be seen, too, when Lenin claimed, for instance, that dialectics reflected the
"eternal development of the world". [PN,
p.110.] He even went on to contradict the usual DM-claim that dialectics is
not a master-key that unlocks a cosmic door to a priori knowledge:
"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
pp.357-58. Bold emphasis
Of course, these are the sort of things that
only a deity could possibly know.
In fact, as noted earlier, dialecticians can still be found who
will read the following passage from Engels and not notice (or they will even
deny!) that it is an excellent example of a priori dogmatics:
"Never anywhere has there been matter without
motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable
as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and
indestructible as matter itself…." [Engels
(1976), p.74. Bold emphases added.]
A few pages later he said this:
"Finally, for me there could be no question of
building the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it
and developing them from it." [Ibid.,
Bold emphasis added.]
So, Engels, too, was oblivious of what he was doing.
Nor will they view the following from Trotsky in this light:
"[A]ll bodies change uninterruptedly in
size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves…. [T]he
axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does
not change, that is, if it does not exist…. For concepts there also exists
'tolerance' which is established not by formal logic…, but by the
dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything
is always changing…. Hegel in his Logic established a series of laws:
change of quantity into quality, development through contradiction, conflict and
form, interruption of continuity, change of possibility into inevitability,
(1971), pp.64-66. Bold emphases added.]
countless examples of this sort of
thing in the Dialectical Classics, and in the writings of lesser DM-luminaries.
Indeed, these doctrines weren't discovered by scientists, nor
were they derived from the evidence; they were in fact dreamt up my mystics (like
--, indeed, he managed to derive a universal thesis from a "thought
experiment" about stepping into a river!) before there was any evidence to
speak of, so these Theses cannot have been summaries of the evidence.
Worse still, what little evidence DM-theorists have offered in support of these
universalist claims turns out not to do so anyway (as my Essays show,
particularly this one).
If Lenin's philosophical dogmatism is
now contrasted with his other more tempered claims
where he insists that science is only ever partially true, and
always revisable), the above dialectical hyperboles soon begin to look far less
Hence, it's difficult to see how Lenin, for one, could possibly have asserted with such
confidence the universal and omnitemporal (true for all of time) validity of the usual DM-theses
while at the same time maintaining the belief that DM has not been
dogmatically imposed on reality -- and while holding on to the idea that
knowledge in general is only ever partial and relative.
course, it could be objected that revision does not mean abandonment of the
past, and that scientific advance builds on previous generations. Maybe so (but
the picture is far more complex than this -- which theme will be explored in a
later Essay), and yet the truth is that if anyone tries to argue with the
faithful that 'Materialist Dialectics' should be so much as slightly revised in
line with Lenin's own advice, even with respect to the minutest of details, they
risk being assailed with perhaps the strongest word in the DM-arsenal of abuse:
"Revisionist!", and the Unholy Inquisition will be on their case.
Dialecticians clearly pay lip-service to Lenin's modest claims; what he said
applies to everyone else, not them --, and to every other theory,
In fact, no amount of evidence could
substantiate the sort of universal claims Lenin, Engels, Plekhanov, Dietzgen,
Stalin, Mao and Trotsky repeatedly made, about all of reality for all of time.
In this regard, it's instructive to
contrast this dogmatic attitude with, say, the much more measured and
genuinely scientific approach found in Darwin's careful,
Origin Of Species.
Admittedly, PN was not meant for publication,
but this quasi-theological aspect of
dialectics appears in most published DM-texts,
as Essay Two reveals.
More recently, this a priori style of
especially to be found in the dialectical musings of
practitioners of 'Systematic Dialectics', and/or Academic Marxists (i.e.,
Ollman, etc.) it's plainly mandatory.
In fact, it's impossible to find a
single DM-text that does not slip into a priori Dogmatics.
[Option (2) above is
dissected in detail in Essay Twelve
Gollobin's recent book is a
long, detailed and excellent example of this approach to Holy Writ.
RIRE is another first-rate example
of this spruced-up cadaver.
experience on the Internet suggests that not only are DM-acolytes impervious to
argument, they are living disproof of their claim that everything in
reality is always changing: they never do, and apparently never will. It
looks as if a whole generation of DM-apologists might have to die out
before fresh theoretical
air is allowed into Marxism.
But, I for one will not be holding my breath.
noted above, the accusation
that DM has not changed
significantly in over a hundred years will be substantiated in Essay
This claim is often contested by
DM-apologists who appeal to examples drawn from the development of Marxist
social, political and economic theory. However, since the above allegation is
directed solely at DM, not HM, that response is itself beside the point.
aspect of the defensive stance adopted by dialecticians is the fact that few of
them fail to point out that hostile critics of Marxism always seem to attack
"the dialectic". This then allows DM-fans to brand such detractors as "bourgeois
apologists", which in turn means that
whatever the latter say can safely be ignored (as, 'plainly', ideological).
[This is the
DM-equivalent of the Roman Catholic Church's old
Index of Forbidden Books.]
However, it has surely escaped such comrades'
attention that the reason the dialectic is attacked by friend and foe alike is
that it is by far and away the weakest and most lamentably feeble aspect
of traditional Marxist Philosophy. Far from it being an "abomination" to the
bourgeoisie (even though the State Capitalist rulers of Eastern Europe, the
former USSR, Maoist China and North Korea are, or were, rather fond of it),
the dialectic has in fact proved to be an abomination for revolutionary
So, our enemies attack dialectics
precisely because they have found our
Whereas, revolutionaries like me attack it
for the opposite reason: to rid Marxism of its Achilles Heel.
To be sure, Trotsky tried to respond to this argument along the
"Anyone acquainted with the history of the struggles of
tendencies within workers' parties knows that desertions to the camp of
opportunism and even to the camp of bourgeois reaction began not infrequently
with rejection of the dialectic. Petty-bourgeois intellectuals consider the
dialectic the most vulnerable point in Marxism and at the same time they take
advantage of the fact that it is much more difficult for workers to verify
differences on the philosophical than on the political plane. This long known
fact is backed by all the evidence of experience." [Trotsky
course, this works both ways, for if it's difficult for workers to verify such
"differences", then that surely allows others to manipulate workers with ideas
they do not understand, or cannot check (i.e., those found in dialectics
However, as the Essays posted at this site show, there are no
good reasons to cling on to such lamentably weak DM-theses, even though there
identifiable psychological and ideological reasons why they are and have been.
from it being the case that only workers find it hard to defend (or even to
understand) this 'theory', so that they can detect such "differences",
DM-theorists themselves have shown that they too do not understand their own
theory (as these Essays also demonstrate, particularly
this one). This isn't because it's
a difficult theory to grasp; it's because it relies on incomprehensible Hegelian jargon
(upside down or the 'right way up').
the conclusion is inescapable: petty-bourgeois revolutionaries maintain
their commitment to this mystical doctrine for contingent psychological and
and for no other.
[More about this in Essay Nine Parts
One and Two.]
[The "What about 1917?" defence is neutralised
The class origin of comrades like Trotsky works against them, as
well. After all, they too are not above (i.e., exempt from) Marx's declaration
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their
existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." [Marx
[The "Ah, but that's just crude reductionism!" riposte is defused
5a. Those who object to
my reliance on such 'bourgeois thinkers' should read
this and then
There is a notable exception to this rule; one comrade has openly
declared on the internet that he is learning logic so that he can answer my
[This declaration can be found
here, along with my reply,
here (and in subsequent posts on the same page). In fact the Maoists at this
site were considerably more comradely toward me that most fellow Trotskyists
Update January 2012: four years on, and still no sign of
this comrade and his newfound knowledge of logic!
Some readers will be surprised to find little or no discussion or analysis of
Academic Marxism at this site --, particularly the work
of theorists like
Zizek, the 'Frankfurt
School' -- or, that of other 'Continental
Philosophers' --, or,
indeed, much that passes for "Systematic Dialectics".
of their work relates to issues connected with HM.
far (and mercifully!), revolutionary socialism has largely been
unaffected by this current (whatever deleterious effects it might have had on
the minds of otherwise alert comrades), and:
(3) I can make little sense of much that
passes for 'theory' in this genre. [On that, see
Indeed, most of the work that has emerged
from this tradition strikes me as little more than an exercise in the systematic
production of aimless prose, impenetrable jargon, and then more of the
same just to 'explain' the last batch. This theoretical quagmire contains ideas
and concepts that are about as comprehensible and transparent as tortuous
theological tracts on the nature of, say, the
Incarnation of Christ. It is in effect a sort of 'woollier-than-thou'
approach to Philosophy.
bonfire has never been more sorely missed.
Marx likened Philosophy to
(or rather he said that it stood to science as masturbation does to sexual
love); well the above thinkers appear for all the world to be engaged in their
own collective 'circle-jerk', which is probably why their influence on the class
struggle has been close to zero, and will no doubt approach zero asymptotically
as their writings become more prolix over time --, and the working-class
increases in size.
Having said that, much of what is concluded
in Essay Twelve (i.e., about the
class origins of metaphysical/philosophical thought) also applies to this
insular body of 'theory' and to those who churn it out. [A summary can be found
7. These Essays have been written from a certain perspective
Analytic Philosophy (and, it's worth adding, a minority and
unpopular viewpoint at that). However, since most DM-addicts lack any sort of
background in this genre (which failing is not unconnected with, but is
significantly compounded by, a general ignorance of Modern Formal Logic [MFL]),
many of the points made here have had to be pitched at a very basic
level. Professional Philosophers will, therefore, find much here that will
irritate them. That, however, is their problem. As has already been noted,
this site is not aimed at them.
In addition, I have endeavoured to write much of this material
with the following thought in mind: "If this or that passage is not accessible
to ordinary working people, re-write it!" Now, I do not think for one second
that I have succeeded everywhere in achieving that level of clarity or
directness, but most of the material at this site has been written and
re-written well over fifty times (no exaggeration!), and
with that sole aim in mind. This process will continue indefinitely. Naturally,
it is for members of the target audience (i.e., working people, should they ever
read these Essays!) to decide if I have succeeded or failed in achieving my
Indeed, and in this regard, I am happy to be judged by them
Even though the content of this work has been
greatly influenced by the work of
Wittgenstein, it strives to remain consistent with HM. This will strike some
readers as an impossible (if not pointless) task; this misapprehension will also
be addressed later on at this site. [On that, see
8. Not much chance of that, though!
In fact, up to now, after over 25 years, I can count the number of comrades
who have engaged fairly with me (that is, without them descending into abuse,
fabrications or slander) on the fingers of a severely mutilated hand.
It's worth recalling that according to the
'theory' under review here, no theoretical progress can be made except through
internally-generated contradictions -- i.e., in this case, those
contradictions conjured up by someone inside the movement, one presumes.
Once again, that is why these Essays should be welcomed by the DM-faithful --,
but it is also why they won't.
The problem with dialecticians is that they
do not (or perhaps cannot) recognize the glaring contradictions in their
own theory (or they brush them aside with what I have elsewhere called the "Nixon
As far as
change is concerned, this can only mean that either their theory can't develop
(that is, according to their own theory of change it can't if it has no
'internal contradictions'), or that if they refuse to examine the
contradictions I have found, their theory of change must be defective, since
that can only mean that such 'internal contradictions' do not in fact change
their theory of change is wrong, then they can safely ignore any
contradictions I point out, including this one!
Of course, if DM cannot change
(presumably this will be because, for the first time in history, human beings
have invented a theory with no internal contradictions), that implies it
is absolutely true, and Lenin's claim that all knowledge is relative and
incomplete is itself mistaken!
Whichever way we turn here, core DM-theses
take a sizeable hit.
In that case, DM-theorists should welcome the
many contradictions I have found in their theory, even if only to save it
from such easy refutation!
that particular option will sink their theory even faster!
[This rather nice dilemma is tweaked some
8a. Of course, that
depends on how "successful" is defined. Unfortunately, however, on any
reasonable understanding of this word, this allegation (i.e.,
that of all the major political ideologies
and/or movements in history, DIM is
perhaps the least successful) turns out to be true. In that, see
Essay Ten Part One.
8b. It's worth
underlining yet again the fact that I am not blaming all our woes on
dialectics, since comrades who read these words still persist in thinking that I
am doing just this no matter how many times they are told the opposite! What I am
doing is claiming that this 'theory' is partly responsible for the long-term
failure of DIM. [The extent to
which I think that is the case is in fact detailed in Essay Nine
Since beginning this work I have discovered several somewhat similar
criticisms in Eric Petersen's The Poverty Of Dialectical Materialism, an
excellent book I first read in January 2005.
Also in early 2005, I also happened across
the work of Denis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth; their invaluable study --
On The Edge: Political Cults Right And Left -- greatly amplifies several
of the points made here, about
It needs adding, though, that I distance
myself from their comments about the political nature of Leninism.
A summary of Tourish's ideas can be found
10. However, despite the fact that
genuine Marxism isn't, DM seems to be alive and well in China (boosted no
doubt by its worryingly close
Daoism). Because of that, I have consulted several books on 'Chinese
Dialectics', which have been translated into English.
That is, of course, why Trotskyist bookshops (like
Bookmarks in London) find they can sell works written by
However, the comments in the main body of
this Introduction are not meant to suggest that Trotskyism
and Stalinism are literally Siamese twins; far from it. At least as far
as a clear commitment to international revolution and the self-activity of the
working class are concerned (among many other things!), the two could not
be more dissimilar. However, with respect to DM, it is difficult to slip a
party card between them.
[This controversial claim will be examined in
more detail in Essay Two and in
Essay Nine Part Two.]
12. On Internet discussion boards, this has perhaps been one of
the hardest messages to get across -- not least because comrades there accept
the traditional fable that Marxism in fact needs a 'philosophy' of its own of
some sort. Why this is so is a question that is seldom raised. [The few
arguments advanced in its favour will be examined in Essay Twelve.]
it's often assumed that if I query something
'philosophical' I must therefore accept an opposing doctrine opposite (which I never do -- I
invariably reject both). We no more need Philosophy than we need Religion,
and the ubiquity of both should not fool us into thinking that either or both
are inevitable and/or necessary to the human condition.
Essay Twelve points out, in that
these express ancient boss-class priorities, and both appeal to a priori dogmas of
various kinds, relying on the idea that there's an underlying "rational" structure to reality, accessible to thought alone, it's clear that
both are the result of analogous alienated social conditions.
Even more instructive: in Essay Nine
Part Two I show that the
quasi-religious devotion shown by dialecticians to their own 'world-view' is in
fact a result of the same sort of alienation that encourages theological
speculation in its other social victims (i.e., the religious). One
cause, two effects. [This argument has been summarised
13. A recent example can be found
here (but there are many more).
As noted earlier, the only other
'argumentative ploy' that DM-apologists seem to have to hand (in response to my
Essays) is to ignore totally whatever they don't like, or cannot answer. Such
comrades appear to know little FL (many indeed proudly and openly boast about
this eminently un-flattering defect), but that doesn't stop them informing the
electronic world of its many alleged shortcomings. In this they perhaps stand to
MFL rather like the Pope does to the advice he gives to Catholics on marriage
and sex. [Except the Pope has the decided edge here; at least he is of the male
sex -- so, at a minimum, he
knows something about what he says.]
[FL = Formal Logic; MFL = Modern Formal
[These comments do not, however, apply
to the work of
Graham Priest, a highly sophisticated
philosopher who is also a
master of MFL. Priest's ideas will be criticised in subsequent Essays.]
However, when anti-DM
arguments are made so simple that any child can follow them,
dialecticians lambaste them for their 'banality'. On the other hand, when they are presented
at length, in all their
complexity, they moan even more loudly, and throw out with labels like "elitist",
"ivory tower", "academic", "pedantry",
"semantics", and allege that they are being "talked down to".
Page after page of
impenetrable Hegelian gobbledygook they happily down before breakfast; a few
pages of tight argument from yours truly and they throw a tantrum.
Cohen, G. (1978), Karl Marx's Theory Of
History: A Defence
(Oxford University Press).
Engels, F. (1954),
Dialectics Of Nature
Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).
Gollobin, I. (1986), Dialectical
Materialism. Its Laws, Categories And Practice (Petras Press).
Lenin, V. (1961),
Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works Volume 38 (Progress
Empirio-Criticism (Foreign Languages Press).
Malek, A. (2012), The Dialectical Universe -- Some Reflections
On Cosmology (Agamee Prakashani).
Marx, K. (1970),
A Contribution To The Critique Of Political Economy (Progress
Petersen, E. (1994),
The Poverty Of Dialectical Materialism (Red Door).
Rees, J. (1998),
The Algebra Of Revolution (Routledge).
[This links to a PDF.]
Seymour, R. (2012), 'A
Comment On Greece And Syriza', International Socialism 136,
Autumn 2012, pp.191-96.
Tourish, D., and
Wohlforth, T. (2000), On The Edge. Political Cults Right And Left (M E
Trotsky, L. (1971),
In Defense Of Marxism (New Park Publications).
Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995),
Reason In Revolt. Marxism And
Modern Science (Wellred Publications).
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