Essay Nine: The Politics Of Metaphysics

 

Part Two -- The Damage Petty-Bourgeois theorists And Their Theory, Dialectical Materialism, Have Inflicted On Marxism

 

Preface

 

If you are using Internet Explorer 10 (or later), you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu); for IE11 select 'Compatibility View Settings' and then add this site. Also, if you are using Mozilla Firefox, you might find several of the words and links on this page have been hijacked by advertisers. I have no control over this so I recommend you stop using Mozilla.

 

However, several of the links I have posted to Richard Seymour's blog -- Lenin's Tomb -- no longer seem to work. It now appears there has been a slight change to Lenin Tomb's URL. It will take me some time to correct all the relevant links!

 

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For those who might find the length of this Essay somewhat daunting (it is after all the same length as a 300 page book!), I have summarised some of its main points here.

 

Others who might be puzzled by the length of this Essay should reflect on the fact that anything shorter would hardly do justice to the subject.

 

The material published below should be read in conjunction with Essay Nine Part One -- where many of the things I appear to take for granted below are discussed in more detail, and substantiated --, as well as Essay Ten Part One, where this part of the story is concluded.

 

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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing said here 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 (1) Demolishing a dogma that has in my opinion seriously damaged our movement from its inception: Dialectical Materialism [DM] -- or, in its more political form, 'Materialist Dialectics' [MD] --, and by (2) Exposing the class origin of comrades who accept/defend this theory, and hence by (3) Exposing one source of the many debacles we have witnessed on the far-left over the last hundred or so years.

 

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Readers new to my ideas would be wrong conclude from the title of this Essay that it is all about DM and its effect on Marxism. It is just as much about the class origin of the founders of our movement (and those who control its ideas today) as it is about that particular theory.

 

As such it breaks entirely new ground -- as anyone who reads on will soon discover --, providing for the first time [**] an historical materialist explanation why our movement so often fails and why much that we on the Revolutionary Left touch sooner-or-later becomes corrupted, and then turns to dust.

 

**This comment is no longer strictly true; a partial explanation for this malaise has now been posted here. I have reproduced the core of its argument below. While this 'new' explanation echoes Trotsky's analysis of substitutionism (covered more fully in Part One of this Essay), it omits (1) Any mention of the wider class-based and structural problems our movement has faced, and still faces, and it completely ignores (2) Its historical and ideological roots. Nor does it consider (3) Why this keeps happening, and will keep happening. I have addressed these issues in the Essays published at this site (and more specifically in the material presented below).

 

Another analysis, which, I think also beaks new ground, has just been posted here, up-dated here. While it is encouraging to see comrades attempting to account (on a sociological basis) for the serial disasters that regularly engulf the far-left, the analyses that have appeared so far, including the above two, still refuse even to consider the issues raised in the previous paragraph. Indeed, the author of this above article, who is the also owner of the blog in question, refused to post my contribution to the debate! (Below, I also endeavour to explain why that is so -- i.e., why debate on this issue is still very heavily constrained --, for example, here.)

 

Update 01/01/2014: I ought to add that my latest contribution, brief though it was, has been published at the above site!

 

These untoward events are/were predictable given the things you will read below, as are the many more we will witness on the far-left in the future.

 

Unfortunately, fragmentation, expulsion and bureaucratic cover-up seem to be the only things we Marxists are really good at!

 

Update 09/06/2014: We now learn of new accusations of rape, this time in the Swedish Trotskyist, Socialist Justice Party (affiliated with the CWI). More details here (trigger warning: descriptions of sexual violence).

 

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A section devoted to the on-going crisis in the UK-SWP that used to form part of this preamble has now been moved here since these opening comments were becoming a little too long.

 

A new section: 'The Last Death Throes Of The UK-SWP?' has just been added to the Appendices as a result of the latest wave of resignations following on the December 2013 Conference. One crisis in the UK-SWP, see also here and here in the same Appendix.

 

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It is important to underline what I am not doing in this Essay: I am not arguing that DM/MD have helped ruin Marxism and therefore they are false. My argument is in fact the reverse: as the Essays published at this site show, because DM/MD make not one ounce of sense -- to such an extent that it is impossible for anyone to decide whether or not they are true --, it is no big surprise that they have not only helped cripple our movement, they have assisted in no small way to its corruption.

 

[Why that is so is explained below, for example, here and here.]

 

Nor am I blaming all our woes on DM/MD (note the italicised word "helped" the second paragraph above!); however, that is one of the main themes of Essay Ten Part One. Our "woes" in fact have many causes, but in this Essay I trace two of the main reasons why Dialectical Marxism -- note also the use of the word "dialectical" here; the non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet! -- has now become almost synonymous with failure, corruption and sectarian in-fighting. Namely: (a) The class origin, socialisation and class position of the founders of our movement, and of those who now lead it, and (b) The philosophical theory with which they have saddled Marxism.

 

Of course, there are other reasons why our movement has been such a long-term failure, but most comrades (that is, those who are even prepared to acknowledge this appalling record) are well aware of what these are. Hence, I have largely ignored these "other reasons" in what follows. That doesn't mean they aren't important; it is just that I'd only be raking over familiar territory if I included them here.

 

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This particular Essay has suffered more than most for being published before it was finished. As I noted on the opening page of this site:

 

I am only publishing this on the Internet because several comrades whose opinions I respect urged me to do so, even though the work you see before you is less than half complete. Many of my ideas are still in the developmental stage, as it were, and need much work and time devoted to them before they mature.

 

In addition, this Essay has been written from within the Trotskyist tradition, but because I have found that my work is being read by other Marxists, I have had to incorporate an analysis of the negative influence that items (a) and (b) above have had on Communism and Maoism, too. Since I am far less familiar with these two political currents, many of my comments in this area are even more tentative than they are elsewhere. I will add more material as my researches continue.

 

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Independently of this, it is worth adding that phrases like  "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", and "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) -- used at this site in connection with Traditional Philosophy and the concepts that underpin DM/MD (upside down or 'the right way up') -- aren't meant to imply that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented this way of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.

 

However, that will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published; until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here, for further details.)

 

It is worth pointing out, too, that a good 50% of my case against DM/MD (along with much that I have to say about the class origin and class position of leading Marxists) has been relegated to the End Notes. Indeed, in this particular Essay, most of the supporting evidence is to be found there! This has been done to allow the main body of the Essay to flow a little more smoothly. If readers want to appreciate fully my case against DM/MD, they will need to read this material, too. In many respects, I have greatly qualified and amplified what I have to say in main body of this Essay. I have also raised objections to my own arguments (some obvious, many not -- and some that will no doubt have occurred to the reader), which I have then proceeded to answer. [I explain why I have done this in Essay One.]

 

If readers skip this material, then my answers to any qualms or objections they might have will be missed, as will my expanded comments, supporting evidence and clarifications.

 

[Since I have been debating this theory with comrades for over 25 years, I have heard all the objections there are! (Links to many of the more recent 'debates' can be found here.)]

 

Anyone who can't be bothered to plough through all the material I have presented here can use the Quick Links below, or consult the summaries of key points I have posted here, here and here.

 

A very basic outline of my overall objections to DM/MD can be accessed here; the reason why I embarked on this project (back in 1998) is explained here.

 

Anyone puzzled by the unremittingly hostile tone I have adopted toward DM/MD (and toward anyone who propagates these theories) should read this first should they want to know why.

 

Parts of this Essay are, unfortunately, a little repetitious. I am in fact trying to make the same point from several different angles. [An "all-round" perspective, as Lenin might have said.]

 

Incidentally, I have no illusions that this Essay (or any of the other Essays published at this site) will make a blind bit of difference, or even that it will get a fair hearing from the DM-faithful. Dialectically-distracted comrades cling to DM/MD for non-rational reasons (explored fully in what follows). It will take revolutionary workers themselves to rejuvenate our movement and rescue dialecticians from themselves. This will only happen if and when the proletariat rid the world of the alienating forces that make it attractive for the faithful to look to mystical concepts ('contradictions', 'the negation of the negation', 'unities of opposites', 'determinations', 'mediations', 'moments' -- upside down or 'the right way up') to help explain, and thus influence, social development.

 

What I hope to achieve is prevent younger comrades from catching this Hermetic Virus.

 

Finally, in what follows I am dealing with all forms of Dialectical Marxism [DIM], not just with Dialectical Trotskyism (or even with the structure and ideology of the UK-SWP!). Some of the things I have to say therefore apply to all forms of DIM, while all of them apply to some.

 

[On the almost identical use of DM/MD across all forms of DIM, see here and here. On the difference between HM and DM/MD, see here.]

 

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As of November 2014, this Essay is just over 157,000 words long. As noted above, a much shorter summary of some of its main points can be accessed here, and an even shorter one, here.

 

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This page was becoming rather unwieldy so I have moved the Appendices to a separate area.

 

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The material below does not represent my final view of any of the issues raised; it is merely 'work in progress'.

 

 

Quick Links

 

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

 

If you are viewing this with Mozilla Firefox, you might not be able to read all the symbols I have used. I do not know if other browsers are similarly affected.

 

Also, if your Firewall/Browser has a 'pop-up' blocker, you might need to press the "Ctrl" key at the same time or the links above and below won't work!

 

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

 

(1) Introduction

 

(a) The Aims Of This Essay

 

(b) Has The Revolutionary Left Stalled?

 

(c) Cut To The Chase

 

(d) Are Leading Marxists In Effect Class Traitors?

 

(2) Alienation And Its Dialectical Discontents

 

(a) Dialectics And Marx's Comments On Religious Alienation

 

(b) The Dialectics Of Consolation: The Irrational Kernel Within The Mystical Shell

 

(c) Crude Reductionism?

 

(d) The Dialectics Of Defeat

 

(e) The UK-SWP 'Discovers' Dialectical Materialism

 

(f) Dialectical Myopia

 

(g) The Dialectical Mantra

 

(h) Reality 'Contradicts' Appearances

 

(3) The Opiate Of The Party

 

(a) Method -- Or Methadone?

 

(b) Fragmentation And The Petty-Bourgeois Personality

 

(c) Militant Martinets

 

(d) Trotsky's Quasi-Religious Fervour

 

(e) Stalin Gets His Priorities 'Right'

 

(f) Bukharin, Too

 

(4) Lack Of Power Corrupts

 

(a) The Correct 'Line'

 

(b) The Road To Dialectical Damascus

 

(c) Dialectics and Defeat

 

(d) Disaster Central

 

(e) The Socialist Soothsayer

 

(f) Social Psychology Doesn't Apply To Dialecticians!

 

(g) Designer Dialectics

 

(h) A Curious Anomaly

 

(5) Dialectics And De-Classé Marxists

 

(a) Divorced From The Class They Are Supposed To Champion

 

(b) High Church Versus Low Church Dialectics

 

(i)  Low Church Dialecticians

 

(ii) High Church Dialecticians

 

(c) In The Lurch

 

(6) Substitutionism 1

 

(a) How Could Revolutionaries Have Imported Boss-Class Ideology Into Marxism?

 

(b) Dialectics And Revolutionary Practice

 

(c) Non-Sense And Praxis

 

(d) But What About 1917?

 

(7) Substitutionism 2

 

(a) The Dialectics Of Mystification

 

(b) Installing The New Program

 

(8) Case Studies

 

(a) This Essay Isn't Advancing A Series Of Merely Academic Points

 

(b) Dialectics Compromises Communism

 

(c) Dialectics Messes With Maoism

 

(d) Dialectics Traduces Trotskyism

 

(e) Conclusion

 

(f) Spot The Difference!

 

(9) Refuted In Practice

 

(a) Dialectical Marxism: The Rotten Fruit Of A Diseased Tree

 

(b) It's Official: Dialectical Marxism Has No Cult Of The Saints!

 

(c) Mao's 'Theory' Implodes

 

(10) Notes

 

(11) Appendices

 

(17) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

Introduction

 

The Aims This Essay

 

This Part of Essay Nine deals with some of the background reasons for the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism [DIM], linking it with the class origin and class position of those who control both its ideas and its structures. It also exposes the reasons why dialecticians cling to DM/MD like terminally insecure limpets, despite (a) The damage it has done to Marxism, and (b) The fact that it has presided over 150 years of almost total failure.

 

In these respects this Essay is a continuation of the argument developed in Essay Nine Part One, which is further elaborated upon in Essay Ten Part One -- where the usual replies advanced by dialecticians to allegations like these will be outlined and then neutralised, and more general theoretical issues (concerning the relation between theory and practice) will be analysed.

 

Spoiler alert: In the aforementioned Essay it will be shown that truth can't be tested in practice, and that even if it could, practice has returned a very clear message: Dialectical Marxism has been refuted by history.

 

[Notice the use of the phrase "Dialectical Marxism", here -- and not "Marxism" --, the non-dialectical form of the latter hasn't been tried yet.]

 

In which case, dialecticians would be well advised to avoid using practice as a test of the correctness of their theory.

 

In Essay Ten Part One, I will also reveal why the claim that Dialectical Marxism has been a long-term and abject failure is no exaggeration.

 

[To save on needless repetition, from now on, when readers encounter the abbreviation "DM" ("Dialectical Materialism") on its own, they should in general view this as incorporating a reference to MD (Materialist Dialectics), as well -- and/or vice versa.]

 

 

Has the Revolutionary Left Stalled?

 

Even though it has been obvious to many for some time, several comrades have recently voiced concern that the revolutionary left is stagnating, if not experiencing slow decline:

 

Here is Richard Seymour:

 

"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 is constantly fragmenting, and which maintains an incessant war 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 or the young.

 

Chris Bambery has also 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.]

 

 Leading ISG member, Alex Snowdon, concurs:

 

"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 uncharacteristic.

 

"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 here.]

 

So does John Rees:

 

"[T]here have been some notable, in some cases historic, movements of resistance. The global anti-capitalist movement which began with mass demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999 was a signal event. It brought together climate change and environmental activists with trade union demonstrators -- the famous teamster-turtle alliance. It named the enemy in the most general political terms: capitalism. And it self-identified as an 'anti-capitalist' movement. This was new. I remember watching the BBC main news bulletin where the commentator said 'anti-capitalist protestors took over the centre of Seattle today'. I'd rarely heard the BBC use the word 'capitalist', let alone the words 'anti-capitalist' before. This term became the hallmark of many demonstrations to this day. It had a great strength: an immediate identification of the entire system as the problem. But there was also a corresponding weakness: a much lower level of direct workplace struggle than in the 1968-1975 period.

 

"Even so the movement's political strength became greater as the anti-war movement arose, involving many of the same forces, in response to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002-2003. Again, just as the anti-capitalist movement had popularised to millions of ordinary citizens language once the exclusive property of the left, so the rise of the mass anti-war movement made anti-imperialism a mass popular force on a scale that even exceeded that achieved by the anti-Vietnam protests. At the same time, and partly as a consequence, establishment politics became hollowed out to an unprecedented degree. Faced with mainstream parties all of whom embraced neo-liberalism at home and defended imperialism abroad the old system began to crack. Political party membership fell and turnout in elections declined. Opinion polls revealed that public faith in politicians, the police, the media and other pillars of the status quo were at historic lows.

 

"And yet at the same time the organisation of the left was also facing a crisis. The Labour Left has probably never been weaker. The Communist Party left is much reduced after the body blow of the East European revolutions of 1989, far longer and deeper in their effect on the left than many thought at the time. The revolutionary far left has, in all too many cases, retreated into sectarian isolation.

 

"In fact the central paradox of left politics can be formulated in this way: at a time when an unprecedented level of ideological radicalism have seized large sections of the working class the far left has been unable to strengthen itself because it is wedded to 1970s models of industrial militancy which prevents it from understanding the tasks before it." [Preface to the new edition of The ABC of Socialism, quoted from here. Accessed 21/06/2014.]

 

Of course, Rees's explanation for the failure of the far-left to make any progress is itself misplaced; even sections of the left that have abandoned "1970's models of industrial militancy" have made little or no progress. We must look elsewhere for the reason, into areas dialecticians like Rees refuse even to consider. It is quite remarkable that comrades who will in one breath extol the virtues of HM, will in other refuse to apply it to the left

 

Indeed, this can be said of Alex Callinicos's recent survey of the decline of the far-left:

 

"The paradox of the present situation is that capital is weak -- but the radical left is much weaker. Alternatively, capital is economically weak, but much stronger politically, less because of mass ideological commitment to the system than because of the weakness of credible anti-capitalist alternatives....

 

"By contrast today, nearly seven years after the financial crash began, the radical left has not been weaker for decades. We have seen the following pattern over the past 15 years. The period between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s can be described as an era of good feelings for the radical left. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989-91 neoliberalism had seemed all-conquering. But the Seattle protests of November 1999 marked the beginning of a wave of new movements of resistance demanding another kind of globalisation that were based not just in the North but in parts of the Global South. The events of 9/11 and the proclamation of a global state of emergency by the administration of George W Bush provoked an extension of resistance from the economic to the political, as the altermondialiste [Anti-Globalisation -- RL] networks that had emerged from Seattle and the July 2001 protests at Genoa launched the anti-war movement responsible for the unprecedented day of global protest against the invasion of Iraq on 15 February 2003....

 

"But May 2005 represented the high-water mark for the radical left in Europe. Afterwards the process went into reverse. Sometimes this took the form of organisational implosion: the splits in the SSP in 2006 and in Respect in 2007 removed the most serious left electoral challenges the Labour Party had faced for decades. Sometimes there were electoral reverses, such as that suffered by the Bloco in 2011. Sometimes it was both: Rifondazione cracked up as a result of both electoral eclipse and a series of splits following its participation in 2006-8 in the centre-left coalition government of Romano Prodi, who continued the neoliberal and pro-war policies of their predecessors.

 

"Disarray set in among the radical left before the onset of the economic crisis: thus George Galloway launched his attack on the role of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) within Respect in August 2007, just as the credit crunch was beginning to develop. But the process of fragmentation has continued against the background of the crisis. Although developments in France have exercised a major influence on the radical left internationally, new political formations came relatively late there: the Parti de Gauche, which split from the Socialist Party in 2008, and the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA) launched at the beginning of 2009 by the LCR. But, bested electorally by the Parti de Gauche and its allies (mainly the Communist Party) in the Front de Gauche, the NPA suffered an agonising internal crisis in 2011-12. This ended with the departure in July 2012 of several hundred members, including many of the historic cadre of the LCR, to form Gauche Anticapitaliste as part of the Front de Gauche.

 

"Meanwhile, the other major organisation of the European revolutionary left, the SWP, suffered no less than four splits -- one in the immediate aftermath of the Respect crisis in 2010, one involving a group of mainly young members in Glasgow in 2011, and two associated with the intense crisis in 2012-13 precipitated by allegations of rape against a leading member. This crisis saw about 700 members (including, once again, some of the historic cadre of the SWP) leave and three new far-left groups formed. Of course, this particular drama underlines that the splits had very specific driving forces: setting the SWP's troubles in context in no way dismisses the issues of oppression and women's liberation that for many were the central issue. But the broader pattern seems undeniable, as is indicated by the internal divisions that affected the largest far-left group in the United States, the International Socialist Organization, in 2013-14....

 

"Some 35 years ago, at the dawn of the neoliberal era, Chris Harman wrote a memorable analysis in this journal of the crisis the European revolutionary left was then experiencing. That crisis was much more severe and concentrated than what we are currently experiencing because it represented the collapse, in an astonishingly short period of time, of many of the quite substantial far-left formations that had emerged during the great upturn in workers' struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- formations that had grown very quickly, but that proved to lack the political strength to cope with the downturn in class struggle that developed in the second half of the 1970s. The present crisis is much more diffuse, but in some ways more threatening, because the revolutionary left is much weaker than it was in 1979. This makes the attempts to split and even to destroy organisations such as the NPA and the SWP so irresponsible. These parties represent decades of concentrated efforts by thousands of militants to develop credible revolutionary alternatives. They are not to be thrown away lightly." [Callinicos (2014), quoted from here. Link added.]

 

In the above, Callinicos makes no attempt to apply a class analysis to this decline (a long-term decline --, despite the upturns Callinicos notes, which were merely temporary upswings in the overall picture -- that has been on-going now for several generations); for far too many the far-left is now largely a toxic brand. Callinicos not only fails to note this, he ignores his and the SWP's role in helping to accelerate it. To be sure, Callinicos analyses several other plausible factors that have contributed to the weakness of the far-left of late, but he signally fails to account for its propensity to fragment (he just notes that it happens) and its constant tendency to decay into crises of corruption (which, in the case of the UK-SWP, he mentions but soon shrugs off).

 

In relation to the current crisis in the UK-SWP, Alan Gibbons, prominent ex-SWP-er, has spoken about the need to:

 

"[Break] from the toy Bolshevism that has led to the dominance of monsters like Gerry Healy 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 favourable....

 

"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 here; accessed 13/01/2013]

 

This malaise isn't just a UK or even a European phenomenon; here are the thoughts of a US comrade:

 

"We should start with the fact that the objective situation is tough and that the left everywhere is having a hard time. Practically no organization or model has succeeded as a consistent challenge to the neoliberal order, and the most inspiring efforts in Greece and Egypt have stalled and been savagely turned back, respectively. The US working class is disorganized and reeling under blow after blow of austerity. The picture is defeat and flaming wreckage all across the front line, and, in Richard Seymour's words, pointing to the example of 'the CTU [Chicago Teachers Union -- RL] will not save us, comrades.' The American capitalist class has done pretty well under Obama's leadership, and profitability is at record levels (though they're not out of the woods of the Great Recession just yet).

 

"So yes, the world is not making it particularly easy to build a revolutionary socialist organization at the moment (and perhaps for quite a while now). That also makes it more likely that we're getting parts of our perspective and orientation wrong. We cannot allow reference to the objective conditions to become a block to self-evaluation, self-criticism, and change. And on the one hand, to say that objective conditions have been extremely difficult for the past five years does not square with our sense that the onset of the Great Recession would open a new era of radicalization that would allow us to operate more effectively and grow. Nor does it square with the advances in struggle in the Arab Spring and Occupy. Nor does it square with the assertion that there is a 'continuing radicalization' going on right now." [Sid Patel, quoted from here. Accessed 08/02/2014. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

And, here are the comments of the ISO-Renewal Faction:

 

"The international revolutionary Left is in the throes of a serious crisis. This crisis has manifested itself most clearly in organizational terms in the debacle of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK; in the splits in the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France; and in the attack on the revolutionary Left within SYRIZA. In practical terms, it has manifested in the inability of the Left to steer major events: the stalemate in the struggle against austerity in Greece and the growth of fascism; the twists and turns of the Egyptian revolution; and the reversals suffered by the defeat of the Wisconsin Uprising, the dramatic repression of Occupy, and even the setbacks in spring 2013 after the heroic Chicago Teachers' Union strike testify to this fact. And on the theoretical plane, there remain large questions about the character of neoliberalism and the current crisis; the shape of the international working class at the end of the neoliberal period; and the strategies and methods for the Left to organize a real struggle against a system in crisis. It is a crisis that requires a deep re-examination of all previous assumptions on the part of the entire international Left.

 

"We believe this crisis has impacted the ISO as well, though we think that it is a more significant development than simply 'the demoralization and disorientation experienced by the Left in the wake of Occupy'. While the SWP's crisis is far more serious than ours, we believe both crises (as well as the others mentioned) grow out of the same general political background common to the entire revolutionary Left. In the ISO, the response to this crisis has shifted from a perceived new political openness in the first half of the year (most notably Ahmed Shawki's talk at Socialism 2013 on Perspectives for the Left, which was interpreted as such by people well beyond the ISO); to a debate around the March on Washington and the United Front; to a closing of ranks, a renewed focus on routines and low-level political education, and a retreat from outward-looking events such as the regional fall Marxism conferences. The assertion in the NC report that the ISO was 'under attack' was quite stunning to us. But it has now become clear that the 'attack' is really a bout of self-doubt, in our estimation brought on by the same factors that have precipitated the crisis of the international Left: a misunderstanding of the neoliberal period and its crisis, and a frustration at the ability of the Left to advance." [Quoted from here. Accessed 08/02/2014. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Link added.]

 

But, who wants to join a movement that will in all likelihood split before they receive their membership card? Or, which will descend into yet another wave of scandal, corruption and cover-up before they attend their first paper sale?

 

[There are now reports of yet another rape cover-up, but this time in the ISO itself!]

 

As I have pointed out in several places on the Internet:

 

"If you read the attempts that have been made so far by comrades (here and elsewhere) 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 Prime Minister, different MPs or Union Leaders! Or, maybe a new constitution with proportional representation allowing us to elect left-wing representatives to Parliament..., yada yada.

"But this problem is endemic right across our movement, and has been for many generations, just as it afflicts most sections of bourgeois society. In which case, we need a new, class-based, materialist explanation as to why it keeps happening, or it will keep on happening." [Re-edited, and quoted, for example, from here.]
01a

 

And yet, comrades still refuse to approach the crisis that has recently engulfed the UK-SWP with just such an analysis; they still refuse to apply Marxism to Marxism itself! A point brought out recently in another blog (although the author neglected to develop an HM analysis of this crisis, too!):

 

"Someone, probably the late John Sullivan, once pointed out the irony that parties adhering firmly to historical materialism are even firmer in refusing to apply it to their own organisations; instead insisting, like the best idealists, that they be judged on their programme alone." [Quoted from here; accessed 01/01/2014. Link added.]

 

In its place, comrades prefer to offer and to read the sort of superficial analysis they would heavily criticise if it were applied to any other group, or, indeed, any other topic:

 

"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?] 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, the movement....

 

"We need an entirely new leadership, and we need to comprehensively overhaul all the democratic structures of the party." [Quoted from here; accessed 14/01/2013. Bold emphasis and link added.]

 

Another UK-SWP comrade had this to say in the March 2013 Special Pre-Conference Bulletin:

 

"The question therefore becomes how do we organise ourselves in any given period, and, more particularly, how do we need to organise today?

 

"It ought to be clear to everybody that our present arrangements are not provably fit for purpose. Either that or we are the unluckiest party in the world having suffered a string of crises (Respect, Counterfire, IS Group, Disputes Committee) in rapid succession. In a situation like this there can be a tendency to 'batten down the hatches', seek internal scapegoats and meet internal criticism with impatience, censure or even disciplinary measures....

 

"[The following] are some organisational areas...where I think we currently fall short of what is needed to make us a more successful and effective Leninist party." [Quoted from here, p.68. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Accessed 08/03/2013. Although the criticisms and suggestions this comrade then proceeds to make look eminently reasonable, they fall far short of what is required.]

 

Here is an account from across the Atlantic concerning the collapse of the US-SWP (but the points it makes are clearly far more general in scope):

 

"This process can be described by the term 'regression to the mean.' In statistics, that term describes the tendency of 'outliers' -- facts or observations that are substantially different from the average -- to shift over time towards the average. In Marxist politics, it means that a small group that achieves excellence in one or another respect will tend to lose these characteristics over time, unless its strong points are reinforced through immersion in broad social struggles.

 

"The 'mean' -- that is, the profile of the average small Marxist group - includes these features:


"A conviction that the small group, and it alone, represents the historic interests of the working class.


"A high ideological fence separating members from the ideas and discussions of the broader Marxist movement.


"A hostile relationship to other Marxist currents.


"A haughty attitude to social movements: the group's interventions, when they occur, focus on self-promotion and recruitment.


"An internal discipline aimed not at fending off blows of the class enemy but at restricting discussion and keeping the members in line.


"A conservative approach to Marxist doctrine, aptly summarized by Marx in 1868: 'The sect sees the justification for its existence and its "point of honour" not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it.'" [Taken from here. Accessed 15/01/2014. Quotation marls altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

However, no attempt is made to provide a class analysis. Indeed, as far as can be determined, none of the articles posted at the site from which the above was taken (which constitute a detailed history of the decline of the US-SWP) even so much as attempt to apply Marxism to Marxism itself. Why is this?

 

I will endeavour to answer that question in what follows.

 

Nevertheless, "crises" like this are endemic on the far-left. As if organisational tinkering can affect issues related to the class origin and class position of those who 'lead' our movement and who control its ideas! As if simply immersing the party in wider activity can erase awkward facts about the class origin of our 'leaders', and their core theory!

 

And, there is no sign that comrades in the UK-SWP 'opposition' (or elsewhere, for that matter) are even asking the right questions. Here is the latest from this faction:

 

"In just a few weeks, the desire to analyse how we got to this point has resulted in many faction members, both longstanding and new cadre, starting the process of attempting to fill some theoretical gaps. This is fantastically encouraging, and a glimpse at how political pride can be rebuilt and how fruitful honest collective discussion is. The very fact of the conference is a victory, but if we accept that silence must follow, then we have not achieved what we set out to achieve." [Megan T., and Mike G., quoted from here; accessed 09/03/2103. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Other than arguing for an open and democratic party (an excellent aim in itself), filling the above "theoretical gaps" doesn't seem to involve any attempt to develop an HM-analysis of the class origin and class position of the party 'leadership', and their commitment to thought-forms (DM/MD) appropriated from the class enemy.

 

Which means, of course, that this sort of thing will keep on happening.

 

What was that again about those who refuse to learn from history...?

 

As I pointed out in Part One:

 

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 while 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 simply more grist to the dialectical mill!

 

And if you complain, well you just don't 'understand' dialectics...

 

This Essay and the other two mentioned in the Preface are aimed at approaching catastrophes like these from an entirely new angle, providing for the first time an HM-explanation why our movement is constantly in crisis, constantly fragmenting, constantly screwing-up -- and what can be done about it.

 

 

Cut To The Chase

 

In addition to outlining a class analysis of Marxism itself, Part Two of Essay Nine will also aim to show (1) How and why DM has been, and still is detrimental to Marxism, (2) How and why it has assisted in the fragmentation of our movement, (3) How and why it has contributed to the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism itself, and (4) How and why it helps convince dialectically-distracted comrades that there are in fact no problems that need addressing (in this respect) -- and, even if there were, MD (supposedly our core theory!) and the class origin of leading Marxists have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it!

 

As intimated above, this Essay will also show that (5) The class origin of leading members of Dialectical-Marxist parties is one of the main reasons why revolutionary politics is deeply sectarian, profoundly unreasonable, serially abusive, alarmingly fragmentary and notoriously ineffective. DM, of course, simply aggravates this condition, making a bad situation worse. I also explain how and why it manages to do this.

 

Part One demonstrated that DM not only doesn't, it can't represent a generalisation of working class experience; nor can it express their "world-view", whoever tries to sell it to them.

 

Worse still, it can't even represent a generalisation of the experience of the revolutionary party!

 

Nor has it any positive practical applications, or implications -- only negative.

 

It was also shown in Part One that DM can't be "brought" to workers "from the outside" (as Lenin seemed to indicate -- please note the use of the word "seemed" here!), because it has yet to be brought to a sufficient level of clarity so that its own theorists can even so much as begin to understand it themselves, before they think to proselytise unfortunate workers.

 

In that sense, therefore, dialecticians are still waiting for their own theory to be "brought" to them -- from the "inside"!

 

 

Are Leading Marxists In Effect 'Class Traitors'?

 

It was alleged in Essay Twelve Part One (and in other Essays posted here, here and here) that DM/'Materialist Dialectics' [MD] is a form of Linguistic Idealism (LIE) and as such, reflects key features of ruling-class ideology.

 

[On my use of the phrase "ruling-class ideas/ideology", see here.]

 

However, what has not been established yet is how it is even conceivable that generations of leading revolutionaries with impeccable socialist credentials could have imported into the workers' movement ideas derived from the class enemy --, or at least from Philosophers who gave theoretical voice to the interests of that class.

 

Surely, this alone shows that the allegations made in these Essays are completely misguided.

 

Or, so it could be argued.

 

Of course, even its own most loyal and avid supporters can't deny that dialectics had to be introduced into the workers' movement from the outside; neither Hegel, Feuerbach, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin or Mao were proletarians. Moreover, there is no evidence that workers in the 19th century were all that interested in Hegel's Logic.

 

[The claim that Dietzgen, for example, is an exception to the above generalisation was batted out of the park here.]

 

As is well-known, Hegel's system is the most absolute form of Idealism ever invented, and it is situated right at the heart of an ancient ruling-class tradition (aspects of which are examined in detail in Essay Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here)).

 

Lenin admitted as much -- perhaps without realising the full significance of what he was saying:

 

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Despite this, the importation of Hegel's ideas into Marxism is often justified by comrades on the basis that he lived at a time when the bourgeoisie were the revolutionary class, and so his ideas weren't as 'ideologically-tainted' -- so to speak -- as those of later thinkers.

 

Now, that excuse might work in relation to theorists like Smith or Ricardo, but it can't work with Hegel. Not only did he live in politically backward Germany, where there was no such revolutionary bourgeois class, his ideas represented both a continuation of ruling-class thought and a throwback to earlier mystical ideas about nature and society. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part Five and Essay Fourteen Part One (links above).]

 

Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination were his ideas scientific, unlike those of Smith and Ricardo.

 

Nor can it be argued that Marx derived HM from Hegel; in fact (as Lenin himself half admits) both he and Hegel were influenced by the Scottish Historical School (of Ferguson, Millar, Hume, Steuart, Robertson, Anderson, and Smith).01 If anything, Hegel's work helped slow down the formation of Marx's scientific ideas, by mystifying them.

 

It could be argued that Marx derived other important concepts from Hegel (such as alienation, and species being), but these ideas (or ones very much like them) can be found in Rousseau, Fichte and Schelling (who were far clearer thinkers than Hegel ever was). Moreover, these concepts are easily replaced with materialist analogues -- which explains why Marx subsequently dropped these terms, and adopted others. [On this, see White (1996).]

 

Finally, no dialectician, as far as I know, would argue the same for other figures who were writing at about this time, and who were much closer to the class action (as it were). Does anyone think this of Berkeley? And yet he lived in and around what was the leading capitalist country on earth at the time: Great Britain. Or, of Shaftesbury and Mandeville? Slap bang in the middle these two. And, it is little use pointing out that this pair wrote shortly after the reaction to the English Revolution, since Hegel did so, too, after the reaction to the French Revolution. Nor is it any use arguing that these two were card-carrying ruling-class hacks, since the same can be said of Hegel. Or, even that one of them was an aristocrat; it may be news to some, but Hegel wasn't a coal miner!

 

Indeed, the only reason Hegel is chosen for special treatment is because of contingent features of Marx's own biography. Had Marx's life taken a different course, or had Hegel died of typhoid forty years before he actually did, does anyone think we'd now be bothering with dialectics? It is no surprise therefore to find that Marx himself moved away from Hegel and Philosophy all his life.

 

[The first of these controversial allegations was substantiated in Part One of this Essay; the second here.]

 

In that case, and contrary to what Lenin said, we should exclude Marx himself (at least in his more mature work) from the above seriously compromised, boss-class pedigree.

 

Independently of this, it could be objected that this allegedly class-compromised background isn't sufficient to condemn DM/MD. After all, it could be argued that the advancement of humanity has always been predicated on practices, concepts and theories developed by individuals freed from the need to toil each day to stay alive -- for example, the work and ideas of scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, technologists, and the like. Surely, this doesn't automatically impugn every idea drawn from outside the workers' movement. Neither does it mean that philosophical notions are in general of no use to revolutionaries. Indeed, denouncing certain beliefs just because they are alien to the working-class is not only ultra-left, it is inconsistent with key ideas found in HM itself. In that case, the fact that DM/MD is based on Hegel's system doesn't automatically malign it, especially if the latter has been given a materialist make-over (as Marx himself argued), and has subsequently been tested in practice.

 

Furthermore, the origin of DM/MD goes back many centuries, and is related in complex ways to the development of class society and thus of humanity in general. Admittedly, that implicates this process in the formation of ideas representing the theoretical interests of former and current ruling-classes. But, even granting that, such ideas have also featured in the overall development of human knowledge -- indeed, many such have been integral to the advancement of science itself. Considerations like these do not compromise DM/MD in any way; on the contrary, as Lenin noted, this complex set of connections (linking DM/MD with the very best of human endeavour) constitutes one of its strengths. Dialectical thought is thus not only part of the theoretical maturing process of humanity, it is a vital component in its future development.

 

Or, so it could be argued, once more.1

 

However, dialectics isn't quite so easily exonerated.

 

(1) DM-theses make no sense. Anyone who thinks otherwise is invited to say clearly (and for the first time ever in well over a hundred and forty years of its adherents not trying all that hard) what sense they do make. As the Essays posted at this site show, anyone who attempts that modern-day 'labour of Sisyphus' will face an impossible task.

 

(2) DM/MD-concepts hinder the development revolutionary theory and practice. We saw this in more detail in Essay Ten Part One -- for example, in connection with Lenin's advice relating to a certain glass tumbler. [Other examples will be given below.]

 

(3) DM and MD are locked into a tradition of thought that has an impeccable ruling-class pedigree. No wonder then that it hangs like an albatross around our necks, to say nothing of the negative effect it has had on generations of comrades (these are detailed below, too).

 

(4) Although many claim that science is intimately connected with earlier philosophical and religious/mystical forms-of-thought, this is in fact less than half the truth. Indeed, materialist and technological aspects of science haven't been as heavily dependent on such ruling-class ideas as many believe. [That rather bold claim will be substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Two (when it is published sometime in 2014).]

 

(5) DM/MD-concepts undermine ordinary language and common understanding; this means that workers have had these alien-class ideas inserted into their heads against the materialist grain, as it were. As such, DM and MD (a) foster passivity, (b) rationalise substitutionist ideologies, and (c) aggravate sectarianism and corruption.1a

 

[More on these below, and in Part One. On the phrase "common understanding", see here.]

 

(6) The materialist flip allegedly performed on Hegel's system, so that its 'rational core' might be appropriated by revolutionaries, has been shown not in fact to have been through 180 degrees, as is often claimed, but through the full 360.

 

[On that, see especially Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part One.]

 

(7) It isn't being claimed here that DM is false because of its ruling-class pedigree; it is in fact being maintained that this 'theory' is far too confused to be classified as true or false. Nevertheless, several its deleterious effects can in fact be traced to ruling-class forms-of-thought.

 

[More on that throughout this Essay, and Essay Fourteen Part Two.]

 

(8) Practice has in fact refuted dialectics. Either that, or truth isn't tested in practice.

 

(9) Finally, and perhaps more importantly, DM/MD has played its own not inconsiderable part in rendering Dialectical Marxism the long-term failure we see before us today. In addition, DM/MD has also helped aggravate the serious personal, organisational  and political corruption that generations of petty-bourgeois party 'leaders' have brought in their train.

 

These are serious allegations; those that have not already been substantiated in other Essays will be expanded upon and defended in what follows.

 

In spite of this, it could be argued that the above counter-response ignores the fact that some of the best class fighters in history have not only put dialectics into practice, they have woven it into the fabric of each and every classic Marxist text. Indeed, without it there would be no Marxist theory. How could this have been possible if the above accusations are correct? And what alternative theory and/or literature (that has been tested in the 'heat of battle', as it were) can Ms Lichtenstein point to that recommend her ideas as superior to those found in this proven tradition, one stretching back now over 150 years?

 

Most of the above (volunteered) response is demonstrably misguided; the link between DM and (successful) practice was severed in Essay Ten Part One, and will be further undermined in what follows.

 

Furthermore, very few of the classic Marxist texts (that is, outside the DM-cannon) mention this 'theory' (except in passing). Indeed, as Part One of Essay Nine shows (here and here), Das Kapital itself is largely a DM-free zone. But, even if this weren't the case, the fact that Dialectical Marxism has been such a long-term failure ought raise serious questions about the malign influence this theory has had on HM and on revolutionary practice in general.

 

Indeed, if Newton's theory had been as spectacularly unsuccessful as Dialectical Marxism has been, his ideas would have been still-born as they rolled off the press.

 

In addition, a continuing commitment to dialectics just because it was good enough for the 'founding fathers' of our movement -- and for no other reason -- is itself based on the sort of servile, dogmatic and conservative faith one finds in most religions.1b

 

There is, indeed, something decidedly unsavoury in witnessing erstwhile radicals appealing to tradition alone as their only reason for maintaining their commitment to such class-compromised ideas -- especially since this doctrine hasn't served us too well for over a century, and which remains unexplained to this day.

 

Which brings us to the next main point.

 

 

Alienation And Its Dialectical Discontents

 

Dialectics And Marx's Comments On Religious Alienation

 

As it turns out, the reason why the majority of revolutionaries not only willingly accept the alien-class ideas encapsulated in MD, but cling to them like terminally-insecure limpets, is connected with the following four considerations:

 

(1) Marx's analysis of the nature and origin of religious alienation.

 

(2) Lenin's warning that revolutionaries may sometimes respond to defeat and disappointment by turning to Idealism and Mysticism.

 

(3) The personal biographies and class origin of all leading Marxists and/or dialecticians.

 

(4) The fact that this DM not only helps mask the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism itself, it provides a source of consolation for unrealised expectations and constantly dashed hopes.

 

These controversial allegations will now be explained more fully, and then defended in depth.

 

[The other counter-claims recorded in the previous section will also be tackled as this Essay unfolds.]

 

 

Dialectics And Consolation: The Irrational Kernel Beneath The Mystical Shell


Item One (from above): Concerning religion, Marx famously argued as follows:

 

"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

 

"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

 

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." [Marx (1975b), p.244. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Of course, no one is suggesting that Dialectical Marxism is a religion -- but it certainly functions in a way that makes it analogous to one.

 

Indeed, as Marx also noted:

 

"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975c), p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]

 

So, "philosophy is nothing but religion rendered into thought" -- in other words, it is a far more abstract source of consolation.

 

These serious allegations, and their materialist background, will now be explained.

 

Plainly, revolutionaries are human beings with ideas in their heads, and every single one of them had/has a class origin. The overwhelming majority of those who have led our movement, or who have influenced its ideas, didn't come from the working class. Even worker-revolutionaries, if they become full-time or 'professional revolutionaries', become de-classé -- or even petty-bourgeois -- as a result. Since the social being of these comrades can be traced back to their class origins and current class position, it is no surprise to learn that they have allowed "ruling ideas" to dominate their thought.

 

However, the allegation that these comrades have appropriated such ideas -- for the same sorts of reasons that the religious hold onto their beliefs --, and that this is partly because of their class origin and/or current class position --, will be regarded by dialecticians as so obviously wrong that it will be rejected out-of-hand as "crude reductionism".

 

Nevertheless, as far as I am aware, no Marxist Dialectician has subjected the origin of DM, or the reasons for its acceptance by the vast majority of comrades, to any sort of class, or even materialist, analysis.

 

To be sure, they will often subject the ideas of their opponents and/or enemies (both Marxist and non-Marxist -- examples given below) to some form of impromptu class analysis, but not their own adoption of boss-class thought-forms, nor yet the appropriation of these ideas by most Marxists -- and certainly not to their appropriation by all leading Marxists.

 

This suggests that dialecticians see themselves as exempt from, or above, a Marxist analysis of the origin of their own ideas, and that they somehow think they are immune from the material constraints that affect the rest of humanity.

 

Nevertheless, it will be maintained here that the above comrades do indeed hold on to alien-class ideas -- even if they aren't fully aware of their nature --, and that they do this for at least four reasons:

 

First: Because of their petty-bourgeois and/or non-working class origin -- and as a result of their socialisation and the 'superior' education they have generally received in bourgeois society -- the vast majority of (the above sort of) Marxists have had "ruling ideas", or ruling-class forms-of-thought, forced down their throats almost from day one.

 

[More on this below. See also Essay Two, and Essay Three Parts One and Two.]

 

Second: Because Dialectical Marxism has been so spectacularly unsuccessful, and has been like this for so long, revolutionaries have had to convince themselves that (a) This isn't really so, (b) That the opposite is in fact the case, or that (c) This is only a temporary state of affairs. They have to do this otherwise many of them would simply give up. In view of the fact that they also hold that truth is tested in practice, they have been forced to conclude that one or more of (a), (b) and (c) is correct.

 

However, because dialectics teaches that appearances are "contradicted" by underlying "essences", it is able to fulfil a unique and highly specific role in this regard, motivating or rationalising (a), (b) and/or (c). In this way, it supplies comrades with much needed consolation in the face of 'apparent' failure, convincing them that everything is in fact fine with the core theory -- or that things will change for the better, one day. This then 'allows' them to ignore the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, rationalising it as a mere "appearance", and hence either false, or illusory.

 

So, faced with 150 years of set-backs, defeats and disasters, revolutionaries, who will inform you in all seriousness that "truth is tested in practice", will respond in the very next breath with: "Well, that doesn't prove dialectics is wrong!"

 

Hence, just like the religious, who can look at all the evil in the world and still see it as an expression of the 'Love of God', and who will make all things well in the end, dialecticians look at the last 150 years and still see the 'Logic of History' moving their way, and that all will be well in the end, too. This means that the theory that prevents them from facing reality is the very same theory that also prevents them from examining the role that DM/MD have played in all this, inviting yet another generation of set-backs and disasters by masking these unwelcome facts.

 

Apparently, therefore, the only two things in the entire universe that aren't interconnected are the long term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory!

 

[This theme is developed below, and in Essay Ten Part One (where the usual objections to the above allegations are neutralised).]1c

 

Third: Just like the Bible, which supplies its acolytes with ample reasons to accuse others of not 'understanding the Word of God', DM, with its own 'sacred texts', provides dialecticians with an obscure theory that 'allows' them to claim that other, rival DM-theorists do not 'understand' dialectics -- or that they ignore/misuse it --, and that only they can grasp its inner meaning. This then 'allows' them to anathematise and castigate these others as anti-Marxist. In short, it puts in the hands of inveterate sectarians (of which Marxism has had more than its fair share) an almost infinitely pliable, ideological weapon that is capable of proving anything at all and its opposite (often this trick is performed by the very same theorist) -- simply because it glories in contradiction.

 

[Again, scores of examples (no exaggeration!) of this phenomenon are given below.]

 

Fourth: It provides dialecticians with an exclusivising device that sets them above the common herd (or those who are lost in the banalities of 'commonsense' -- the latter of which, like Marx, actually trust ordinary language); this now only serves to confirm them in their self-appointed, pre-eminent role in the class war. In short, DM is the ideology of substitutionist elements within Marxism.

 

[This was discussed in more detail in Part One.]

 

The above phenomenon also has the untoward effect of rendering such comrades unbelievably arrogant, which further motivates them into treating others in the movement (often these are in the same party!) with haughty contempt, studied indifference, or even callous inhumanity. After all, if you are bearers of 'the word from off the mountain', anyone who disagrees with you deserves ostracism and expulsion, at best, imprisonment or death, at worst.

 

[These serious allegations will be substantiated throughout the rest of this Essay.]

 

 

Crude Reductionism?   

 

Despite this, it might still be wondered how this relates to anything that is even remotely relevant to the ideas entertained by hard-headed revolutionary atheists. Surely, it could be argued, any attempt to trace a commitment to MD to its origin in allegedly alienated thought-forms is both a reductionist and an Idealist error.

 

Fortunately, Lenin himself supplied a materialist answer to this apparent conundrum, and John Rees kindly outlined it for us when he depicted the period following the failed 1905 Russian revolution in the following terms:

 

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

 

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

 

"Philosophical fashion took a subjectivist, personal, and sometimes religious turn…. Bogdanov drew inspiration from the theories of physicist Ernst Mach and philosopher Richard Avenarius…. [Mach retreated] from Kant's ambiguous idealism to the pure idealism of Berkeley and Hume….

 

"It was indeed Mach and Bogdanov's 'ignorance of dialectics' that allowed them to 'slip into idealism.' Lenin was right to highlight the link between Bogdanov's adoption of idealism and his failure to react correctly to the downturn in the level of the struggle in Russia." [Rees (1998), pp.173-79, quoting Cliff (1975), p.290. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. (However, I can find no reference to "dialectics" in Cliff's book.)]

 

Cliff continues:

 

"With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion. And in the absence of any contact with a real mass movement, everything had to be proved from scratch -- nothing in the traditions of the movement, none of its fundamentals, was immune from constant questioning.

 

"...In this discussion Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Bazarov and others tried to combine marxism with the neo-Kantian theory of knowledge put forward by Ernst Mach, and Richard Avenarius. Lunacharsky went as far as to speak openly in favour of fideism. Lunacharsky used religious metaphors, speaking about 'God-seeking' and 'God-building'. Gorky was influenced by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky....

 

"Lenin's reaction was very sharp indeed. He wrote to Gorky, 'The Catholic priest corrupting young girls...is much less dangerous precisely to "democracy" than a priest without his robes, a priest without crude religion, an ideologically equipped and democratic priest preaching the creation and invention of a god.'" [Cliff (1975), pp.290-91. Bold emphases and links added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

It is quite clear from this that the experience of defeat (and the lack of materialist input from a mass working-class movement) directed the attention of certain revolutionaries toward Idealism and the search for a mystical explanation for the serious set-backs Russian Marxists had witnessed in and around 1905. Plainly, that search provided these comrades with some form of consolation -- just as Marx had alleged of religious belief pure and simple, and as Lenin himself implied.

 

But, there is another outcome that Rees and others have clearly failed to notice: this major set-back also turned Lenin toward philosophy and dialectics. These were subjects he had largely ignored up until then.2 While it is true that Bogdanov and the rest turned to Mach, Berkeley, Subjective Idealism, and other assorted irrationalisms, it is equally clear that Lenin, too, looked to Hegel and Hermetic Mysticism.

 

Nevertheless, Lenin's warning shows that revolutionaries themselves aren't immune to the pressures that lead human beings in general to seek consolation in order to counteract disappointment, demoralisation and alienation. As we have seen, Lenin was well aware that alien-class ideas, which 'satisfy' such needs, could enter the revolutionary movement from the "outside" at such times.

 

Even worse disappointments confronted Lenin a few years later when World War One broke out. Kevin Anderson takes up the story (without perhaps appreciating its significance):

 

"The outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 shattered European liberals' belief in peaceful evolutionary progress. To Marxists, however, most of whom already believed that capitalism was a violent and warlike system, an equally great shock occurred when, yielding to the pressure of domestic patriotic sentiment, most of the world's socialist parties, including the largest and most important one, the German Social Democracy, came out in support of the war policies of their respective governments.... So great was the shock to Lenin that when he saw a German newspaper report on the German Social Democracy's vote to support the war, he initially thought that it was a forgery by the Prussian military for propaganda purposes....

 

"Once he arrived in Bern, Lenin moved quickly in two seemingly contradictory directions: (1) he spent long weeks in the library engaged in daily study of Hegel's writings, especially the Science of Logic, writing hundreds of pages of notes on Hegel, and (2)...he moved toward revolutionary defeatism...." [Anderson (1995), p.3. Bold emphasis alone added. See also Krupskaya's remarks, here.]2a

 

Just as Christians often turn to the Bible in times of stress or depression, so Lenin turned to the writings of a Christian Mystic, Hegel. Disappointed with the course of events in this "vale of tears", Lenin turned toward a source of quasi-religious consolation, away from the material world of woes, and toward a hidden world governed by invisible beings ('abstractions' and, of course, 'Being' itself) and mysterious forces (the veritable trinity: 'contradiction', 'sublation', 'mediation').

 

Is it possible, then, that revolutionaries of the calibre of Engels, Lenin, Luxembourg, Plekhanov and Trotsky were tempted to seek metaphysical consolation of the sort depicted not only in this Essay, but attributed to others by Lenin himself? Is it conceivable that they opened themselves up to the alien-class ideas that later found expression in DM, and for such reasons?

 

As we have seen in other Essays posted at this site (especially Essay Three Parts One and Two, Twelve Part One, the rest of Essay Twelve, and Essay Fourteen Part One (summaries here and here)), and as Lenin himself acknowledged, dialectics is shot-through with ideas, concepts and thought-forms borrowed from Traditional Philosophy (which ideas, concepts and thought-forms were in turn invented by theorists who, undeniably, had material and ideological interests in rationalising the status quo). Indeed, in many places it is hard to tell the difference between DM and open and honest Mysticism (as Essay Fourteen Part One will demonstrate -- until then, check this and this out).

 

All this strongly suggests that the above allegations aren't completely wide-of-the-mark.

 

On the contrary, as we will see, they hit the bull's eye smack in the middle.

 

But, is there anything in the class origin and class background of leading comrades that pre-disposed them toward such an unwitting adoption of this rarefied form of boss-class ideology?

 

Does defeat automatically lead to dialectics?

 

Does DM in fact stand for Demoralised Marxists?

 

 

The Dialectics Of Defeat

 

The first of these questions can be answered quite easily by focussing on item Four above, and then on the periods in which revolutionaries invented, sought out, or reverted in a big way to using and/or appealing to the classical concepts found in DM. Upon examination, a reasonably clear correlation can be seen between periods of downturn in the struggle and subsequent 're-discoveries' of Hegel and DM by aspiring dialecticians -- with the opposite tendency kicking in, in more successful times.3

 

As Rees pointed out:

 

"...[D]efeat magnifies every tactical disagreement, forcing revolutionaries to derive fresh strategies from a re-examination of the fundamentals of Marxism.... Lenin was right to highlight the link between Bogdanov's adoption of idealism and his failure to react correctly to the downturn in the level of the struggle in Russia." [Rees (1998), pp.173-79.]

 

It is no surprise, therefore, to find that most (if not all) of Engels's work on the foundations of DM was written in the post 1860s downturn -- after the massive struggles for the vote in the UK (up to the Reform Act of 1867), following on the demise of the Chartist Movement and after the Paris Commune had been defeated in 1871.4

 

Similarly, Lenin's philosophical/dialectical writings were largely confined to the period after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, and before the short-lived successes of 1917.

 

Trotsky's dialectical commentaries (including his Notebooks and his wrangles with Burnham) date largely from the 1930s, after the major reverses that took place in the post 1917-1923 period in Europe (and internationally in China, and later in Spain), and following upon his own isolation and political quarantine in that decade. He showed very little interest in such matters before then.5

 

Indeed, Trotsky admitted as much in his 1935 Diary:

 

"It's been about two weeks since I have written much of anything: it's too difficult. I read newspapers. French novels. Wittel's book about Freud (a bad book by an envious pupil), etc. Today I wrote a little about the interrelationship between the physiological determinism of brain processes and the 'autonomy' of thought, which is subject to the laws of logic. My philosophical interests have been growing during the last few years, but alas, my knowledge is too insufficient, and too little time remains for a big and serious work...." [Trotsky (1958), p.109.]

 

As should seem obvious from the above: (1) Trotsky's interest in philosophy coincided with the period of his political quarantine, and (2) He admits he had paid little attention to it before.

 

Stalin, too, only became obsessed with dialectics after the defeat of the Deborinites post-1929, and after the failure of the Chinese and German revolutions (although he had written about this theory in 1901). Likewise, Mao himself 'discovered' a fondness for this Hermetic creed after the crushing defeats of the 1920s.6

 

More recently, the obsessive devotion shown by OTs toward the minutiae of DM follows a similar pattern. Because (i) OTs invariably adopt a catastrophist view of everything that happens (or is ever likely to happen) in capitalist society, and because (ii) OT parties are constantly splitting, they face continual disappointment and demoralisation. Naturally, such levels of semi-permanent disillusionment require regular and massive doses of highly potent DM-opiates. To take just one example: an OT of the stature of Ted Grant only succeeded in 're-discovering' hardcore DM (alongside Alan Woods) -- this taking shape in the form of RIRE -- after his party had booted him out, which expulsion itself followed upon the catastrophic collapse of the Militant Tendency in the 1980s.7

 

[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; NOT = Non-Orthodox Trotskyist; RIRE = Reason In Revolt, i.e., Woods and Grant (1995).]

 

This regressive doctrine doesn't just afflict the minds of OTs, NOTs show similar, but less chronic signs of dialectical debilitation.

 

For example, the overt use of DM-concepts by leading figures in the UK-SWP (a NOT-style party) only began in earnest after the downturn in the class struggle in the late 1970s, and more specifically following upon the defeat of the National Union of Miners in 1985. In this respect, therefore, TAR itself represents perhaps the high-water mark of this latest retreat into consolation by UK-SWP theorists. [This was written before Rees resigned from the UK-SWP!] The fact that this newfound interest in DM has nothing to do with theoretical innovation (and everything to do with repetition, consolation and reassurance) can be seen from the additional fact that TAR adds nothing new to the debate (on DM), it merely repeats significant parts of it, albeit from a different perspective -- for the gazillionth time!8

 

[So much for re-examining basics!]

 

Given the overwhelming experience of defeat, disaster, and set-back that the international labour movement and the revolutionary tradition have endured over the last 150 years, these correlations are quite striking (even if they aren't the least bit surprising) -- for all that no one seems to have noticed them before!9

 

 

Dialectical Myopia

 

If their movement has known little other than defeat, then it becomes vitally important for revolutionaries to account for, and then re-interpret/re-configure this depressing state-of-affairs.

 

[IO = Identity of Opposites; NON = Negation of the Negation; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; NOT = Non-Orthodox Trotskyist.]

 

Among Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists (OTs and NOTs alike) this tactic has often assumed a thoroughly dishonest form, one that has frequently sought to re-classify defeats as hidden victories (involving a novel use of the IO-dodge, and a quasi-religious use of the NON-ploy; examples of both of these will be given below). Clearly, this has allowed factors other than the subjective and/or theoretical failings of the parties involved to be blamed for any of the setbacks our side has faced.

 

As should seem obvious, a movement can't learn from its mistakes if it 'never' makes any (or never admits to making any)! Indeed, it looks like DM-theorists are the only life-form in the known universe that not only does not, but can't learn from recalcitrant reality. As we will see, the NON and the belief that appearances 'contradict' underlying "essences" stands in the way of most dialecticians emulating the rest of sentient life on the planet: learning from past mistakes.9a

 

Even single-celled Amoebae seem to learn quicker than dialecticians!

 

 

 

Figure One: A Non-Dialectical Fast Learner

 

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the aforementioned dialectical-dodges and -ploys have meant that significant parts of our movement have engaged in the deliberate rotation of material reality so that their (in)version of Hegelian Idealism can remain on its feet. Instead of flipping Hegel, material reality has been up-ended in order to conform to a set of doctrinaire ideas held about it.

 

Hard-headed Marxists have thus spun reality through 180 degrees, stuck their own theoretical feet in the air, inserted their collective head in the sand, and have -- despite the fact that virtually every aspect of revolutionary practice has failed for much of the last hundred years, and in the face of the grim realisation that the vast majority of workers ignore MD -- proclaimed that Dialectical Marxism has been tested successfully in practice and now represents the objective "world view" of the proletariat!10

 

Marx once claimed that Philosophy stands in relation to the sciences as masturbation does to sexual love. Clearly, overindulgence in Dialectical Masturbation has not just made revolutionaries short-sighted, it has rendered them theoretically blind.

 

 

The Dialectical Mantra

 

Theoretical Onanism like this has unsurprisingly encouraged a headlong retreat into fantasy (of the type noted above, and worse). Such flights-of-fancy have been amply reinforced by the profound narcolepsy induced in comrades by the constant repetition of the same tired old formulae, obscure jargon, and hackneyed phrases. A simple but effective Dialectical Mantra, internalised and regurgitated by all serious adepts (containing hardy perennials such as the dogma that Capitalism is riddled with 'contradictions', even though not one of those who intone this shibboleth seems able to say why these are indeed contradictions -- on that, see here, and here (in the comments section at the bottom)) has helped insulate militant minds from material reality for far too long. In such a tradition-dominated and Ideally-constructed world, annoying facts are simply ignored -- or flipped upside down.

 

Anyone who doubts this should try the following experiment: chose any randomly-selected, dialectically-distracted comrade and attempt to persuade her/him to acknowledge the long-term failure of his/her own brand of Marxism (that is, if it has been around long enough!). Unless you are extremely unlucky, you will soon discover how deep this particular head has been inserted into the nearest sand dune.

 

[On the excuses usually given for the failure of Dialectical Marxism (that is, where failure is even so much as acknowledged!), see Essay Ten Part One.]

 

To that end, stock phrases will be dusted-off and given another airing, almost as if they're still in mint condition. Even a cursory glance at the debates that have taken place over the last five revolutionary generations or so will reveal the sad spectacle of theorists mouthing dialectical slogans at one another as if the ones on the receiving end hadn't heard them a thousand times already, and the ones chanting them hadn't intoned them just as often.11

 

This helps explain why we still encounter (in DM-books and articles) the constant rehearsal of the same tired old examples: boiling water, balding heads, John and his alleged manhood, Mendeleyev's Table, wave/particle duality, contradictory motion, "A is equal to A", a character from Molière who has spoken "prose all his life without knowing it", "Yea, Yea" and "Nay Nay", seeds 'negating' plants, living/dying cells, Mamelukes who have a somewhat ambiguous fighting record against the French, and so on -- despite it having been pointed out many times (and not just in these Essays) that none of these specially-selected examples actually work.

 

 

Reality 'Contradicts' Appearances

 

Alongside this there has emerged a correspondingly robust refusal to face up to reality. In my experience, this ostrich-like characteristic is found most glaringly among OTs (perhaps because Trotskyism is by far and away the most unsuccessful and fragmentary wing of Marxism), but it is also represented to varying degrees throughout the rest of the revolutionary/communist movement (with MISTs probably winning a Silver Medal in this event).12

 

[MIST = Maoist Dialectician.]

 

As already noted, a good example of this is the knee-jerk quotation of the phrase "tested in practice" in support of the supposed (but imaginary) universal validity of MD. Even though reality tells a different story, we regularly encounter the following sort of 'whistling in the dark' type of argument:

 

"There is no final, faultless, criterion for truth which hovers, like god, outside the historical process. Neither is there any privileged scientific method which is not shaped by the contours of the society of which it is a part. All that exists are some theories which are less internally contradictory and have a greater explanatory power…. [I]f the truth is the totality, then it is the totality of working class experience, internationally and historically which gives access to the truth…. [A theory's] validity must be proven by its superior explanatory power -- [which means it is] more internally coherent, more widely applicable, capable of greater empirical verification -- in comparison with its competitors. Indeed, this is a condition of it entering the chain of historical forces as an effective power. It is a condition of it being 'proved in practice.' If it is not superior to other theories in this sense, it will not 'seize the masses,' will not become a material force, will not be realized in practice." [Rees (1998), pp.235-37.]

 

[There is more of this sort of material here.]

 

However, the fact that Dialectical Marxism (never mind Dialectical Trotskyism) has never actually "seized the masses" -- except perhaps briefly in Germany, Italy and France, it has never even got close to lightly hugging them (not even in Russia, in 1917!) -- that fact isn't allowed to spoil the parade or interrupt the daydream. So, this inconvenient aspect of reality is simply inverted and the opposite idea is left standing on its feet (or it is simply ignored).

 

Failing that, of course, the happy day when MD finally manages to captivate the masses is projected way off into the future where it becomes a safe 'fact', insulated from easy refutation.

 

Of course, beyond blaming the mass of the population for their own failure to appreciate this wondrous theory (a rhetorical tactic beloved, for example, of Maoists), few DM-fans have ever paused to wonder why the overwhelming majority of workers/human beings stubbornly remain locked in 'un-seized' mode, so deep in the sand is this collective, Hegelianised brain now wedged.

 

Since MD is regarded as the very epitome of scientific knowledge (a very "Algebra of Revolution", if you will), the fault can't lie with the theory, so it must be located elsewhere. The 'solution' is no less difficult to find: the masses are to blame! They are gripped by "false consciousness", trapped in a world dominated by inadequate "formal thinking". "Static" language and "fixed categories" dominate their lives, this sorry state of affairs compounded by the "banalities of commonsense". Indeed, they have been seduced by "commodity fetishism", or have been bought off by imperialist "super-profits".

 

Material reality is once more inverted so that a comforting idea is allowed to remain on its feet. A vanishingly small fraction of humanity has seen the light, the vast majority of working people are lost in outer darkness --, this peremptory judgement itself justified by a theory that not one of its acolytes can actually explain!

 

Such is deleterious effect on Dialectical Marxists of a diet rich in Silicates.

 

 

 

Figure Two: The DM-Guide To Clarity-Of-Thought

 

Naturally, this means that dialectics must be brought to the masses "from the outside", whether they like it or not.

 

[Up to present, however, the signs are that this has been a consistent "not".]

 

But, the conclusion is never drawn (it doesn't even make the bottom of the reserve list) that workers will never accept a theory that clashes with their materially-grounded language, and which runs counter to their understanding and experience -- or which, because of this, isn't even a materialist theory!

 

It could be countered that in a revolutionary situation, daily experience and commonsense aren't sure and safe guides to action. Hence, a revolutionary party needs a theory, one that transcends the immediate, and which has been tested in practice.

 

And yet, HM provides us with just such a theory. Even better: its concepts clash neither with the vernacular nor with common understanding. Quite the contrary, as we saw in Part One of this Essay, HM actually depends on both!

 

On the other hand, with respect to concepts drawn from DM, the proffered rejoinder in the last but one paragraph is as misguided as it can be. As Part One of this Essay has also shown, not one single thesis drawn from DM relates to anything a human being, let alone a worker, or even a Marxist, could experience. In that case, it can't be an expression of the party's practice; nor can it be, or have been tested in practice (as we will see). Moreover, as Essays Twelve Part One, and subsequent Parts of Essay Twelve (summary here) and Fourteen Part One (summary here) show, DM is based on concepts derived from centuries of boss-class thought.

 

Small wonder then that DM fails to mesh with material reality, and hence that it can be used to help change it.

 

Nor, it seems, has anyone even considered the effect that DM has had on the standing of revolutionaries in the eyes of ordinary workers, or on their respect for Marxism -- whose parties are now widely regarded as little more than a standing joke, comprised of nothing but warring sects dominated by obscure and irrelevant ideas.

 

 

Video One: The First Anti-Dialectical Joke in History?

 

Still less thought has gone into the extent to which this 'theory' (with its egregious logic) has undermined HM as a science, just as precious little attention has been paid to the fatally-compromised credibility of anyone who accepts DM.

 

Well, would you listen to and respect the opinions of anyone who accepts the political equivalent of flat-earth theory, or the ideas of assorted New Age Gurus?

 

However, as noted in the Introduction, revolutionaries are unlikely to abandon DM in spite of the noxious effect it has had on their thought or on their movement --, or in the face of the steady blows that yours truly rains down upon it.

 

Whether or not DM spells the Death of Marxism is obviously of no concern to those held in its thrall, which is why many of those who have made it this far will reject much of what this Essay says, and will read no further.

 

This is hardly surprising: it is difficult to see clearly with your head stuck in the metaphorical equivalent of the Gobi Desert.

 

 

The Opiate Of The Party

 

Method -- Or Methadone?

 

It has been maintained here that DM appeals to and hence satisfies the contingent psychological needs of certain sections of the revolutionary movement, comrades who, because of their class origin/position and socialisation, and because of the constant failure of Dialectical Marxism, cling to DM in a way that makes a drowning man look positively indifferent toward any straws that might randomly drift his way.

 

[Any who doubt this should try arguing with comrades who are in thrall to this theory. (On that, see here.)]

 

As noted earlier, this is because dialectics offers consolation analogously to the comfort and reassurance that religious dogma supplies believers; that is, while DM provides its acolytes with solace in the face of unrealised hopes and dashed expectations, it also supplies them with a psychological defence mechanism against disillusion -- by re-configuring each defeat as its opposite.

 

In relation to the recent crisis in the UK-SWP, this is what Mark Steel had to say:

 

"SWP members who have taken a stand on the current issue seem bewildered as to why their leaders behave in this illogical way. But the reason may be that the debate isn't really about the allegations, or attitudes towards feminism, it's about accepting that you do as you're told, that the party is under attack at all times so you defend the leaders no matter what, that if the party's pronouncement doesn't match reality, it must be reality that's wrong. Dissent on an issue and your crime is not to be wrong about the issue, it's that you dissented at all." [Quoted from here.]

 

As we will see, DM plays a key role in this respect, since it teaches that reality ought to contradict the way things appear to be.

 

This is worryingly similar to the way that theists manage to persuade themselves that despite appearances to the contrary, death, disease and suffering are not only beneficial, they confirm the goodness of 'God'! Both clearly supply believers with a convenient excuse for refusing to face the facts.13

 

In other words, DM is the "opiate" of the Party, the heart of a seemingly hopeless cause.13a00

 

For those Dialectical Marxists who live in a world that is divorced from the day-to-day life and struggles of ordinary workers -- i.e., for professional revolutionaries who aren't involved in the material world of toil --, HM clearly isn't fundamental enough. In fact, such individuals -- who, for whatever reason, are cut-off from the world of collective labour -- clearly require their own distinctive world-view, one that has itself been abstracted (cut-off) from the world of 'appearances', and thus from material reality itself.

 

This 'world-view' must be a theory that adequately represents the (now) alienated experience of these erstwhile 'radicals'; it must not only be divorced from ordinary language and common experience, it must be distinguished from working class experience and hence from genuinely materialist forms-of-thought. In addition, it must help rationalise, justify and confirm the pre-eminent organisational and theoretical position DM-theorists have arrogated to themselves -- that is, it must ratify their status as leaders of the class.

 

To that end, it must be a theory that only they "understand".

 

Even then, they must be able to use this theory to 'prove' that the membership of other Marxist groups either (i) Do not "understand" dialectics or that (ii) They misuse and/or distort it. [On that, see below.]

 

What better theory then to fit the bill than one based on an incomprehensible set of ideas Hegel concocted in the comfort of his own head (upside down or 'the right way up')?

 

DM is thus beyond workers' experience (indeed, anyone's experience) -- not by accident --, but because it was meant to be that way.13a0

 

Naturally, this not only renders DM immune from refutation, it also transforms it into an ideal intellectual tool for getting things the wrong way round (or, indeed, upside down). It is thus an ideal device for keeping 'reality' Ideal. All the while, this 'theory' helps insulate militant minds from the setbacks revolutionaries constantly face -- just as it inures them to the dire consequences of this theory itself.

 

DM is thus not just the opiate of the party, it expresses the soul of the professional revolutionary. Abstracted not just from the class, but also from humanity itself, this faction within the labour movement naturally finds abstraction conducive to the way it sees the natural and social world, and to the way it views the working class: as an abstract object of theory, not the real subject of history.

 

[In addition, this helps us understand why Engels and other DM-theorists regard matter as an "abstraction".]

 

That also explains, at least, the motivation underlying the belief that DM is the "world-view" of the proletariat -- plainly these proletarians aren't real workers. They are members of an abstract class of proletarians (most of whom, in the concrete world, have never heard of this theory, and never will)!13a01

 

Of course, this also accounts for DM's long-term lack of impact on workers themselves.

 

 

Fragmentation And The Petty-Bourgeois Personality

 

The above mind-set is connected with the way that such individuals find their way into the revolutionary movement.13a1

 

Unlike most worker-revolutionaries, professional revolutionaries have joined, or have been recruited into the socialist movement (by-and-large) as a result either of (1) Their own personal commitment to the revolution, (2) Their rebellious personality, (3) Their individual alienation from the system, or because of (4) Other contingent psychological/social reasons --, but, significantly, not as a direct result of, or involvement in, the class war.

 

That is, they become revolutionaries through their own efforts, or those of some other individual (such as a parent, partner, sibling, friend, teacher, author), and not (in general) through participation in collective action, or in strikes (etc.) at their own place of work -- if they work.

 

This means that from the beginning (again, by-and-large), because of their class position and non-working class upbringing, such comrades act and think like individuals. This (a) Affects the ideas they form, (b) Colours their attitude toward such ideas, (c) Skews their activity inside the movement/party, and (d) Slants the relationships they form both with other revolutionaries and with workers themselves.

 

Indeed, no less an authority than Lenin quoted Kautsky to this effect:

 

"The problem...that again interests us so keenly today is the antagonism between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. My colleagues (Kautsky is himself an intellectual, a writer and editor) will mostly be indignant that I admit this antagonism. But it actually exists, and, as in other cases, it would be the most inexpedient tactics to try to overcome the fact by denying it. This antagonism is a social one, it relates to classes, not to individuals. The individual intellectual, like the individual capitalist, may identify himself with the proletariat in its class struggle. When he does, he changes his character too. It is not this type of intellectual, who is still an exception among his class, that we shall mainly speak of in what follows. Unless otherwise stated, I shall use the word intellectual to mean only the common run of intellectual who takes the stand of bourgeois society, and who is characteristic of the intelligentsia as a class. This class stands in a certain antagonism to the proletariat.

 

"This antagonism differs, however, from the antagonism between labour and capital. The intellectual is not a capitalist. True, his standard of life is bourgeois, and he must maintain it if he is not to become a pauper; but at the same time he is compelled to sell the product of his labour, and often his labour-power, and is himself often enough exploited and humiliated by the capitalist. Hence the intellectual does not stand in any economic antagonism to the proletariat. But his status of life and his conditions of labour are not proletarian, and this gives rise to a certain antagonism in sentiments and ideas.

 

"...Quite different is the case of the intellectual. He does not fight by means of power, but by argument. His weapons are his personal knowledge, his personal ability, his personal convictions. He can attain to any position at all only through his personal qualities. Hence the freest play for his individuality seems to him the prime condition for successful activity. It is only with difficulty that he submits to being a part subordinate to a whole, and then only from necessity, not from inclination. He recognises the need of discipline only for the mass, not for the elect minds. And of course he counts himself among the latter...." [Kautsky, quoted in Lenin (1947), pp.121-23. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

To be sure, Lenin was describing hostile (non-Marxist) intellectuals, but much of what he said applies to those who become professional revolutionaries, too. Indeed, his class analysis applies to Lenin himself, and to other petty-bourgeois Dialectical Marxists. [More on this later.]

 

Such comrades thus enter the movement committed to the revolution as an Idea, as an expression of their own personal/intellectual integrity, anger at the system, idiosyncratic alienation or individual life-goals. They aren't revolutionaries for proletarian/materialist reasons --, that is, as a result of their direct experience of collective action, or as a direct consequence of workers' response to exploitation --, but for individualist, albeit often very noble reasons.

 

This isn't to malign such individuals, but to remind us that this is a class issue.

 

So, when such comrades encounter DM, it is quite 'natural' for them to latch on to its a priori theses. That is because, as Lenin noted above, their class position has already delivered them up as atomised, isolated individuals with no collective identity. This non-negotiable fact is further compounded by the additional fact that these individuals have had their heads filled with "ruling ideas" almost since the day they left the cradle -- which indoctrination was itself a direct result of their 'superior' education and the bourgeois/petty-bourgeois socialisation they had to endure:

 

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

 

Notice how Marx pointed out that:

 

"The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.... Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age...." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]

 

They rule also as "thinkers", and they do so in "its whole range".

 

In which case, the individuals who were later to become leading revolutionaries (but who had been "subject to" the full force of this indoctrination before that had happened), can't fail to have had their thinking shaped by the ideas of the ruling-class.

 

Which is, of course, why Lenin thought it quite natural to look to the work of previous thinkers as precursors of the concepts we find in DM:

 

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

As we will see in Essay Twelve Part One, and the rest of Essay Twelve (summary here), there is a clear thread running through the many and varied world-views that have been encouraged and/or patronised by the various ruling-classes history has inflicted upon humanity: the idea that there is a hidden world underlying 'appearances', accessible to thought alone, the nature of which can be derived from the meaning of a handful of words/concepts, and nothing more. Because of this, Traditional Philosophers were quite happy to impose their theories on the world in a dogmatic and a priori manner -- plainly because these theories relate, not to the material word, but to this invisible world,  a world that is supposedly more real than the world we see around us. Even though the content of these theories has altered with each change in the mode of production, their form has remained remarkably consistent for two-and-a-half millennia: philosophical theses, valid for all of space and time, can be derived from words/thought alone, and can thus be imposed on nature dogmatically.

 

In which case, these individuals -- who had been educated to see the world precisely this way before they'd even heard of Marxism --, when they encountered Hegel and DM, appropriated these dogmatic theses with ease. That is because they looked for 'logical' principles in this hidden world that guaranteed change was part of the underlying fabric of reality. The thought-forms encapsulated by this theory appeared to them to be at once both philosophical and self-certifying (i.e., they were true a priori). Moreover, because DM-theses were part of what seemed to be a radical philosophical and political tradition, they also appeared to be revolutionary ideas.

 

Alas, here, they were quite happy to accept appearances at face value!

 

Manifestly, dialectical concepts could only have arisen from Traditional Theory (workers aren't accustomed to dreaming them up), which source had already been tainted by centuries of boss-class dogma -- indeed, as Marx himself pointed out, and as Lenin unwittingly acknowledged.

 

That is because (1) Traditional Philosophy was the only source of developed 'High Theory' available at the time, and (2) These erstwhile radicals were predisposed to search for a world-view of their own since it would encapsulate thought-forms to which they were already susceptible. The class background, socialisation and education to which such individuals were, and still are subject under Capitalism means that ruling-class ideas had already been installed in their brains long before they became revolutionaries.

 

In that case, this new batch of Dialectical/Hermetic ideas hardly raised an eyebrow -- again, as we can see was the case with Lenin, for example.

 

Indeed, it alights on ready soil.13a2

 

Initially, very little specialist knowledge is needed to 'comprehend' DM; indeed, no expensive equipment or time-consuming experiments are required. And yet, within hours this superscientific 'world-view' can be grasped by most eager novices (since it relies on thought alone, and thus appears to be 'self-evident'). Literally, in half an afternoon an initiate can internalise a handful of theses that purport to explain all of reality, for all of time.

 

Just try learning Quantum (or even Newtonian) Mechanics that quickly!

 

One only has to peruse most (Marxist) revolutionary websites, for example, to see how they claim to be able to reveal nature's deepest secrets (valid for all of space and time) in a page or two of homespun 'logic', loosely defined phraseology, and Mickey Mouse Science --, for instance, here, and here.

 

Contrast that with the many months, or even years of hard work it takes to grasp the genuine science of Marxist economics, for example. Contrast it, too, with the detailed knowledge required in order to understand, say, the class structure and development of the Ancient World, or even Medieval Society. No 'self-evident', a priori truths there!

 

Moreover, because this 'theory' is connected with wider historic, or even romantic aims (explored briefly below), dialectically-distracted comrades soon become wedded (nay, superglued) to this doctrine. They become converts who act, talk and behave as if they have received a revelation from on high.

 

As Alex Callinicos recently admitted (in his obituary of Christopher Hitchens):

 

"It was from him that I first learned, often with the force of revelation, many of the main ideas of the Marxist tradition." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]

 

This echoes George Novack's comment about Trotsky:

 

"He was an orthodox Marxist from his conversion to its doctrines in 1898 to his death in 1940." [Novack (1978), pp.271-72.]

 

Novack's use of quasi-religious language is, in the event, quite revealing.

 

The subjective and emotive response of such individuals when they encounter these easily accessible 'doors of perception', as it were, now connects MD with the revolutionary ego, for it is this theory which guarantees that the anger they feel at the injustices of Capitalism, allied with their own alienation from it and all the hard work they have devoted to the cause, won't be in vain.

 

On the contrary, this theory ensures that the life of each initiate assumes cosmic significance. Dialectics places the militant mind at the very centre of the philosophical universe -- for it gives to each of these social atoms a unifying purpose, with a set of eternal 'truths'/'laws' that underwrite and confirm their exclusivity, linking their actions directly with the further development of reality itself. Only they understand 'the dialectic' of nature -- the very Algebra of the Revolution -- only they have their fingers on the 'pulse of freedom', only they know how to further its development.

 

We might even call this process the "Ptolemisation Of The Militant Mind", since around this 'theory', and their interpretation of it, all of reality now revolves (the obverse of Hegel's doctrine of the 'self-development' of 'Mind', which places the development of 'God's Mind' at the centre and periphery of this process) -- put into neat 'logical' order by a handful of trite, a priori theses.

 

The heady romance of being a revolutionary and an active participant in the cosmic drift of the entire universe now takes over. As Alan Wald (veteran US Marxist and editor of Against the Current) noted (in connection with the US-SWP):

 

"To join the SWP was to become a person with a mission, to become part of a special group of men and women who, against all odds, wanted to change society for the better; one felt a bit more in control of the universe." [Quoted from here; bold emphasis added.]

 

Much the same can be said about those joining other far-left groups. Indeed, even rank-and-file revolutionaries are affected in this way. Speaking of his time in the Militant Tendency, this is what Andy Troke had to say:

 

"It's like somebody who has been through a religious period. You look to either Trotsky, Marx, Lenin, Engels or Ted Grant or Peter Taaffe and you have got the rationale for why people are reacting this way or that. And obviously, everyone else is illogical, because you have the right view. I believe there was a great deal of this type of thinking: we were the chosen few. We had the right ideology. People like Tribune, who were at that time Militant's main opponents didn't know where they were going.... We were the right ones." [Quoted in Tourish and Wohlforth (2000), p.181. Bold emphases added.]

 

To be honest, I must admit to similar thoughts and feelings myself when I joined the UK-SWP in 1987, pinned a red, clenched fist badge to my lapel, and started selling the paper. I am sure I wasn't the only one who felt this way. In fact, I can recall a period in 1988 when a major discussion took place in the UK-SWP after a talk given by Lindsey German. There she had claimed that there were in her no traces of bourgeois ideology. One could almost hear the phrase "born again"!

 

For all the world, these comrades seem to fall in love with this 'theory'! That itself is evident from the irrational, emotional, often extremely abusive if not violently aggressive way they respond when it is attacked. [On that, see below, and here.]

 

[The vitriol, hostility, lies and smears I have had to face now for many years suggests I'd not last long if DM-fans were ever to gain power! Indeed, one prominent Marxist Professor of Economics, Andrew Kliman, in an e-mail exchange, expressed the fervent hope I should "Eat sh*t and die!" (either that or quaff some Hemlock) because I had the temerity to question the sacred dialectic. This comradely wish was repeated here (in the comments section) in October 2013, but was deleted by the moderators soon after because of the violent and intemperate nature of the language the good Professor thought to use! Another SWP comrade (implicitly) accused me of being worse than the Nazis, and for the same reason! Incidentally, this comrade has now left the UK-SWP.]

 

The revolutionary ego can only ascend to the next 'level' if it becomes a willing vehicle for the tide of history, a slave to the dialectic. The dialectic now expresses in its earthly incarnation cosmic forces that have governed material reality from the beginning of time, and will do so until the end of time. Its theses are woven into the very fabric of the universe -- just like the 'Word of God'.

 

A veritable Dialectical Logos, if you will.

 

Or, at least, that is how the DM-Faithful seem to picture it to themselves.

 

[On that, see here.]

 

Indeed, the dialectic governs the nature and development of every last particle in existence, including the thoughts of these, the 'least' of its slaves.

 

By becoming a devoted channel for the mysterious 'mediations' that emanate forth from the "Totality" (which, like 'God', can't be defined, and which works in no less a mysterious way), through revolutionary 'good works' ("activity") and pure thoughts ("non-Revisionism"/devotion to "the tradition"), by joining a movement that can't fail to alter fundamentally the course of human history, the petty-bourgeois ego is 'born again' to a higher purpose and with a cosmically-ordained mandate.

 

The dialectical novitiate thus emerges as a professional revolutionary --, sometimes even with a brand new name to prove it. But, certainly with a new persona.

 

The scales now drop from its eyes.

 

The Hermetic Virus has found another victim.

 

There is now no way back for this lost soul.

 

As Max Eastman pointed out:13a3

 

"Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you can't know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it."

 

This now provides these social atoms with well-known social psychological motivations, inducements and reinforcements. They in turn help convince these Hermetic Victims that:

 

(1) They as individuals can become key figures in the further development of history -- actually helping determine the direction social evolution will take.

 

(2) Their personal existence is, after all, not meaningless or for nought.

 

(3) Whatever caused their personal alienation from class society can be rectified, reversed and/or redeemed (in whole or in part) through the right sort of acts, thoughts and deeds -- reminiscent of the way that Pelagian forms of 'muscular Christianity' taught that salvation might be had through pure thoughts, good works, and the severe treatment of the body.

 

Dialectics now occupies a role analogous to that which religious belief has always assumed in the minds of the credulous, giving cosmic significance and consolation to these, its very own petty-bourgeois victims. Same cause, similar palliative drug.

 

However, because (by-and-large) they haven't been recruited from the working class, these social atoms need an internally-generated unifying force -- a theory that supplies a set of self-certifying ideas -- to bind them to the Party and the Cause. As such, they need a Cosmic Whole allied to a Holistic Theory to make sense of their social fragmentation. This is where the mysterious "Totality" (with its 'universal inter-connections' -- analogous to the Omnipresence of 'God') comes into its own. But, just like 'God', so mysterious is this "Totality" that not one of its slaves can tell you of its nature, even though they all gladly bend the knee to its Contradictory Will.

 

In stark contrast, workers involved in collective labour have unity forced on them by well-known, external, material forces. These compel workers to combine; they do not persuade them to bond together as a result of some theory or other. Workers are thus forced to associate, with unity externally-imposed upon them. This is a material, not an Ideal force.13a

 

In contrast, once more, while the class war forces workers to unite, it drives these petty-bourgeois individuals, these professional revolutionaries, apart, and thus into ever smaller, continually fragmenting sects.

 

In that case, a holistic, dialectical theory replaces collective struggle as the sole unifying principle; petty-bourgeois/de-classé Marxists are thus 'united' by a set of universal and dogmatic theses.

 

As Lenin himself noted:

 

"For the factory, which seems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form of capitalist co-operation which has united and disciplined the proletariat, taught it to organise, and placed it at the head of all the other sections of the toiling and exploited population. And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as a means of organisation (discipline based on collective work united by the conditions of a technically highly developed form of production). The discipline and organisation which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are very easily acquired by the proletariat just because of this factory 'schooling'. Mortal fear of this school and utter failure to understand its importance as an organising factor are characteristic of the ways of thinking which reflect the petty-bourgeois mode of life and which give rise to the species of anarchism that the German Social-Democrats call Edelanarchismus, that is, the anarchism of the 'noble' gentleman, or aristocratic anarchism, as I would call it. This aristocratic anarchism is particularly characteristic of the Russian nihilist. He thinks of the Party organisation as a monstrous 'factory'; he regards the subordination of the part to the whole and of the minority to the majority as 'serfdom' (see Axelrod's articles); division of labour under the direction of a centre evokes from him a tragi-comical outcry against transforming people into 'cogs and wheels' (to turn editors into contributors being considered a particularly atrocious species of such transformation); mention of the organisational Rules of the Party calls forth a contemptuous grimace and the disdainful remark (intended for the 'formalists') that one could very well dispense with Rules altogether." [Lenin (1947), pp.248-49. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases and links added.]

 

Unfortunately, Lenin failed to apply these insights to himself.

 

The forces that operate on DM-fans are thus quintessentially individualistic, manifestly Ideal, and notoriously centrifugal (as, indeed, Lenin noted above, and earlier, and as we will soon see below) -- indeed, as one participant admitted (in the recent debate over the crisis that engulfed the UK-SWP in January 2013):

 

"I don't know if you have permanent factions within ISO -- my experience of the movement is that they are a disaster. I assume you have a constitution, rules for members to abide by and a disciplinary procedure to deal with those who deliberately flout them. So do we, and surely you respect our right to act accordingly." [Jeffrey Hurford, quoted from here; accessed 07/02/2013.]

 

The party thus needs a set of anti-democratic and bureaucratic rules to ensure its internal cohesion and integrity.

 

Without this 'theory', the rationale underlying the romantic revolutionary idea -- which implies such comrades are situated right at the centre of the dialectical universe -- would lose all its force.

 

Moreover, because dialectics provides such comrades with an apparently coherent, but paradigmatically traditional picture of reality (i.e., DM is an a priori theory, dogmatically imposed on nature, and derived from thought alone), it supplies each of its acolytes with a unique set of motivating factors. Indeed, because this theory is represented individualistically inside each dialectical skull (which fact convinces one and all that they alone truly 'understand' this esoteric theory), it helps divide each 'dialectical disciple', one from the next -- for reasons explored in the next sub-section.

 

 

Militant Martinets

 

Dialectics, the theory of universal opposites, goes to work on militant minds and helps turn each one into a serial sectarian and fanatical faction fiend.

 

Collective discipline is paramount inside Bolshevik-style parties. But, the strong-willed, petty-bourgeois militant this style of politics attracts isn't used to this form of externally-imposed regimentation (since, as Lenin noted, these comrades are attracted by internally-processed, self-certifying ideas). Hence, fights soon break out, often over what seem minor, even personal issues.14

 

Ever since childhood, these comrades have been socialised think like social atoms, but in a revolutionary party they have to act like social molecules (which is a psychological trick that lies way above their 'pay grade' -- i.e., beyond the capacities create and/or motivated by their class origin or their current class position). Because of this, as noted above, personal disputes quickly break out and are soon re-configured as political differences. Once again, these are primarily disputes over ideas --, which require, and are soon given, a theoretical 'justification'.

 

Unfortunately, these individuals are socially-conditioned egocentrics who, in their own eyes enjoy direct access to the dialectical motherlode (a hot wire installed, once more, in each brain by those self-certifying Hegelian concepts -- upside down or 'the right way up') -- and they can't help exploiting that fact. That is because this 'dynamic', contradictory world-view defines them as revolutionaries.

 

In such an Ideal environment, the DM-classics -- just like the Bible and other assorted Holy Books -- soon come into their own.15

 

Again, as Lenin pointed out, ruling-class theorists and 'intellectuals' have always endeavoured to make a name for themselves by developing 'their own ideas', carving out a corner, or niche, in the market of ideas, which they can only do by criticising the ideas of every other rival theorist. That is, after all, part of being able to establish a reputation for themselves, which is an essential component in furthering their careers -- or, indeed, for defending/promoting a patron or some other beneficent section of the ruling-class. [This was particularly true in earlier centuries.]

 

Just as petty-bourgeois capitalists have to rely on their individual knowledge, efforts and skills in order to survive in the face both of Big Capital and the working class, so these unfortunate dialecticians have to ply their trade in the revolutionary movement as individual theorists, armed only with a set of dogmatic ideas and an entire Thesaurus crammed full of obscure jargon and arcane terminology. Hence, these unfortunate comrades find they have to ply their trade in hostile waters, too.

 

[Anyone who doubts this only has to read the writings of these characters to see how little respect they have for the work of the vast majority of other revolutionary theorists (sometimes whose opinions differ from their own only in the minutest of theological detail); their work always seems to be a "rant",  a "re-hash", a "screed"; it is invariably "boring", "turgid", even "hysterical"; the one writing it has "bloviated" all over the page. In addition, we find a surfeit of scatological epithets. (Monty Python lampooned this mind-set only too well: "The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f*cking Judean People's Front.") I am not suggesting that every last one of them does this cynically. Many have very noble intentions -- but, and once again, this is a class issue.]

 

So it is that these 'social atoms' have brought with them into the Workers' Movement this divisive, bourgeois trait. And, by all accounts, they have perfected it with all the verve of inveterate religious sectarians. 

 

In the market for 'Marxist' ideas, those with the most sharply-honed critical skills soon claw their way to the top.

 

As one-time UK-SWP stalwart, Andy Wilson, points out:

 

"Things get interesting when you go a little deeper. If the correct, imputed class-consciousness resides in the revolutionary party, and yet the members of the revolutionary party are in fact pulled in different directions by their day-to-day experience, where in the revolutionary party does it actually reside? Well, of course, if the members at the 'periphery' of the party -- where it makes contact with the world outside, so to say -- are being pulled by the class, then the correct consciousness must lie at the point furthest away from this periphery -- it must reside at the 'centre' of the party. That is why all the groups have their 'centre', and 'centralised' leaderships.

 

"However, in reality the central committees are also torn apart by ideological differences; by outside allegiances, prejudices, whims -- whatever it is that drives these people. Therefore, ultimately possession of the correct consciousness comes down very, very often to one person (though a member of the SWP central committee once confided to me that, in her opinion, only two people in the SWP had the correct revolutionary 'instincts' -- herself and Tony Cliff). The way that Gerry Healy dominated the WRP, the way that Cliff dominated the SWP, and so on, is perhaps not merely down to their talents or the force of their personalities, but has been prepared by the logic of a particular mindset. So, while there is no Führerprinzip involved, in practice these groups are nevertheless generally dominated by powerful individuals, or powerful cliques." [Quoted from here; italic emphasis in the original. Accessed 04/02/2013.]

 

Except, Wilson seems not to have applied any sort of class analysis to this phenomenon, nor does he even so much as mention the theory that lies at the heart of all this.

 

And, that isn't surprising since he is a dialectician, too.

 

The fact that such individuals have very strong characters (otherwise they'd not survive long at the top in a revolutionary party, let alone climb the greasy pole) merely compounds the problem. As noted above, in order to make a name for themselves, and advance their 'revolutionary career', it becomes important, if not necessary, for them to disagree with every other theorist, which they then almost invariably proceed to do.

 

In fact, the expectation is that every single comrade should argue his/her corner, and do so with vigour and conviction. [And, in some parties, with no little added violence.]

 

Sectarianism is thus caused by petty-bourgeois 'social atoms' such as these.

 

Dialectics merely makes a bad situation worse.

 

But, how is it able to do this?

 

The answer isn't hard to find: what better theory could there be (other than Zen Buddhism, perhaps) --, which is capable of initiating and exacerbating endless disputation -- than one that is as contradictory and incomprehensible as DM/MD? What other theory informs all who fall under its hypnotic spell that progress (even in ideas) may only be had through "internal contradiction", and thus through splitting? [Or, as a Maoist might say, "One divides into two".]

 

Indeed, as Lenin himself pointed out:

 

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

 

"The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute...." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

"Struggle" is an "absolute"; this must involve the relations between comrades, too. An emphasis on intra-party strife and splitting thus sits right at the heart of this theory!

 

We needn't wait for the ruling-class to divide us, we are experts already!

 

More importantly, as we will see, DM is almost unique in its capacity to 'justify' anything at all and its opposite, both of these alternatives often promoted and rationalised by the very same individual, in the same book, article or even speech! Hence, this theory is uniquely well-placed to rationalise any point of view and its opposite.

 

This helps explain the corruption and screw ups we see all too often at the 'top' of our movement.

 

Again, as I pointed out in Part One:

 

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 while 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 simply more grist to the dialectical mill!

 

And if you complain, well you just don't 'understand' dialectics...

 

DM is thus the theoretical equivalent of throwing petrol onto a raging fire.

 

For Dialectical Marxists, the drive to impose one's views on others thus becomes irresistible. Doctrinal control (i.e., the control of all those inner, privatised ideas lodged in every other atomised party skull, which threaten the legitimacy of the ideas of still other dialecticians similarly so beleaguered) now acts as a surrogate for external control by material forces.

 

Indeed, this desire to control the thoughts of all those other 'atoms' in the Party has even been given the grandiloquent name: "democratic centralism" -- a  nice 'contradiction-in-terms' for you to ponder.16

 

Don't get me wrong; I am here referring to the Zinoviev-Stalin aberration, not democratic decisions openly agreed upon and collectively implemented, whatever we decide to call it.

 

As a recent (anonymous) contributor to the internal debate in the UK-SWP over the crisis that engulfed it in early 2013, puts it:

 

"The Bolshevik leadership of 1917 was elected individually. There was no ban on factions. On the eve of the October Revolution, Zinoviev and Kamenev publicly opposed the insurrection in Maxim Gorky's newspaper...and resigned from the Bolshevik Central Committee. They were not expelled from the Party.

 

"The model operated currently by the SWP is not that of the Bolshevik revolution. It is a version of the Zinovievite model adopted during the period of 'Bolshevisation' in the mid-1920s and then honed by ever smaller and more marginal groups." [Quoted from here. Accessed 29/01/2013. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. Also see Appendix D, and here. (The background details can be found in Cliff (1985), Chapter 19.) For an alternative view, see the UK-SWP Special Pre-Conference Bulletin article 'You Say Kamenev, I Say Bogdanov', written by 'Kevin', pp.69-70.]

 

But, just as genuine religionists soon discovered, mind-control is much easier to secure if an appeal is made to impenetrably mysterious doctrines that no one understands, but which all must accept and all must repeat constantly (in order to dull the critical faculties).

 

Hence, because the party can't reproduce the class struggle inside its four walls, and thus force materialist unity on its cadres externally, it can only control political thought internally (in each head) by turning it into a repetitive, mind-numbing mantra, insisting on doctrinal purity, and then accusing all those who do not conform to such Ideal standards of heresy, or -- worse -- of not "understanding" dialectics!

 

In this milieu, an Authoritarian Personality type soon emerges to endorse, and then enforce, ideological orthodoxy (disguised now as part of an endeavour to keep faith with "tradition", which is, un-coincidentally, a noxious trait shared by all known religions). "Tradition" now becomes a watch-word to test the doctrinal purity of party cadres -- especially those who might stray too far from the narrow path which alone leads the elect toward revolutionary salvation.17

 

This naturally helps inflame yet more disputes and thus more splits.

 

[History has indeed shown that the 'centrifugal forces' of fragmentation that operate between dialectically-distracted comrades far out-weigh their constant calls for unity. (I return to this theme below. See also Appendix F.)]

 

All this explains why, to each DM-acolyte, the dialectic is so personal and so intimately their own possession, and why you can sense the personal hurt they feel when it is comprehensively trashed, as it has been at this site.

 

Hence, any attack on this 'precious jewel' is an attack on the revolutionary ego itself, and will be resisted with all the bile at its command.

 

And that explains, too, all the abuse you, dear reader, will receive if you think to challenge the Dialectical Doctrines of a single one of these Hermetic Head Cases.

 

 

Trotsky Gets His Priorities 'Right'

 

In addition to the many recent examples listed here, the above allegations concerning the highly emotional and irrational responses elicited from dialecticians when their theory is criticised find ready confirmation in the case of at least one leading Marxist. George Novack records the following meeting he and Max Shachtman had with Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937:

 

"[O]ur discussion glided into the subject of philosophy.... We talked about the best ways of studying dialectical materialism, about Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and about the theoretical backwardness of American radicalism. Trotsky brought forward the name of Max Eastman, who in various works had polemicized against dialectics as a worthless idealist hangover from the Hegelian heritage of Marxism.

 

"He became tense and agitated. 'Upon going back to the States,' he urged, 'you comrades must at once take up the struggle against Eastman's distortion and repudiation of dialectical materialism. There is nothing more important than this. Pragmatism, empiricism, is [sic] the greatest curse of American thought. You must inoculate younger comrades against its infection.'

 

"I was somewhat surprised at the vehemence of his argumentation on this matter at such a moment. As the principal defendant in absentia in the Moscow trials, and because of the dramatic circumstances of his voyage in exile, Trotsky then stood in the centre of international attention. He was fighting for his reputation, liberty, and life against the powerful government of Stalin, bent on his defamation and death. After having been imprisoned and gagged for months by the Norwegian authorities, he had been kept incommunicado for weeks aboard their tanker.

 

"Yet on the first day after reunion with his cothinkers, he spent more than an hour explaining how important it was for a Marxist movement to have a correct philosophical method and to defend dialectical materialism against its opponents!...

 

"[Trotsky later wrote:] 'The question of correct philosophical doctrine, that is, a correct method of thought, is of decisive significance to a revolutionary party....'" [Novack (1978), pp.269-71. Bold emphases alone added. Spelling altered to conform to UK English; quotation marks adapted in line with the conventions adopted at this site. Link also added.]

 

The accuracy of Novack's memory is confirmed by the following comment of Trotsky's:

 

"...It would not be amiss, therefore, to refer to the fact that my first serious conversation with comrades Shachtman and Warde, in the train immediately after my arrival in Mexico in January 1937, was devoted to the necessity of persistently propagating dialectic materialism. After our American section split from the Socialist Party I insisted most strongly on the earliest possible publication of a theoretical organ, having again in mind the need to educate the party, first and foremost its new members, in the spirit of dialectic materialism. In the United States, I wrote at that time, where the bourgeoisie systematically in stills (sic) vulgar empiricism in the workers, more than anywhere else is it necessary to speed the elevation of the movement to a proper theoretical level. On January 20, 1939, I wrote to comrade Shachtman concerning his joint article with comrade Burnham, 'Intellectuals in Retreat':

 

"'The section on the dialectic is the greatest blow that you, personally, as the editor of the New International could have delivered to Marxist theory.... Good. We will speak about it publicly.'

 

"Thus a year ago I gave open notice in advance to Shachtman that I intended to wage a public struggle against his eclectic tendencies. At that time there was no talk whatever of the coming opposition; in any case furthest from my mind was the supposition that the philosophic bloc against Marxism prepared the ground for a political bloc against the program of the Fourth International." [Trotsky (1971), p.142. Bold emphases and link added.]18

 

Given the content of this Essay -- and Marx's own words --, Trotsky's semi-religious fervour, his emotional attachment to the dialectic, and his irrational response to Max Eastman and James Burnham, for example, become much easier to understand. Can you imagine anyone getting so worked up over the minutiae underlying the demise of Feudalism? Or the falling rate of profit?

 

 

Stalin Gets His Priorities 'Right', Too!

 

For all their other major differences, Trotsky and Stalin were both Devoted Dialectical Disciples.

 

Ethan Pollock records a revealing incident that took place in the Kremlin just after the end of World War Two:

 

"In late December 1946 Joseph Stalin called a meeting of high-level Communist Party personnel.... The opening salvos of the Cold War had already been launched. Earlier in the year Winston Churchill had warned of an iron curtain dividing Europe. Disputes about the political future of Germany, the presence of Soviet troops in Iran, and proposals to control atomic weapons had all contributed to growing tensions between the United States and the USSR. Inside the Soviet Union the devastating effects of the Second World War were painfully obvious: cities remained bombed out and unreconstructed; famine laid waste to the countryside, with millions dying of starvation and many millions more malnourished. All this makes one of the agenda items for the Kremlin meeting surprising: Stalin wanted to discuss the recent prizewinning book History of Western European Philosophy [by Georgii Aleksandrov -- RL]." [Pollock (2006), p.15. Bold emphasis and links added. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Pollock then outlines the problems Aleksandrov faced because of his interpretation of the foreign (i.e., German) roots of DM in an earlier work, and how he had been criticised for not emphasising the "reactionary and bourgeois" nature of the work of German Philosophers like Kant, Fichte and Hegel --, in view of the fight against Fascism (when, of course, during the Hitler-Stalin pact, of a few years earlier, the opposite line had been peddled by the Kremlin). Pollock also describes the detailed and lengthy discussions the Central Committee devoted to Aleksandrov's previous work years earlier at the height of the war against the Nazis!

 

It is revealing, therefore, to note that Stalin and his henchmen considered DM to be so important that other more pressing matters could be shelved or delayed so that they might devote time to discussing...Philosophy. In this, of course, Stalin was in total agreement with Trotsky and other leading Marxists.

 

Once more, Marx's comments below make abundantly clear why this is so.

 

 

Bukharin Makes His Peace With The Dialectical Deity

 

We can see something similar happening in the case of Nikolai Bukharin. Anyone who reads Philosophical Arabesques [Bukharin (2005)] will be struck by the semi-religious fervour with which he defends dialectics. In view of Bukharin's serious predicament, this is hardly surprising. But, it is also no less revealing since it confirms much of the above: this theory is responsible for holding the dialectical ego together, even in the face of death.

 

The old saying, "There are no atheists in a foxhole", may be incorrect, but it looks like there might not have been many non-dialecticians in the Lubyanka waiting on Stalin's 'mercy'. Behind those grim walls it seems that even hard-nosed Bolsheviks needed some form of consolation. As Helena Sheehan notes in her Introduction:

 

"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his text is that it was written at all. Condemned not by an enemy but by his own comrades, seeing what had been so magnificently created being so catastrophically destroyed, undergoing shattering interrogations, how was he not totally debilitated by despair? Where did this author get the strength, the composure, the faith in the future that was necessary to write this treatise of Philosophy, this passionate defense of the intellectual tradition of Marxism and the political project of socialist construction?

 

"Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a tragic true believer...." [Sheehan (2005), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added.]

 

Once again, Marx, I think, had the answer:

 

"Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.... Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification....

 

"...Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions...." [Marx (1975b), p.244. Bold emphases added.]

 

The fact that this doomed comrade chose to spend his last days and weeks expounding and defending this Hermetic theory (albeit, a theory that has supposedly been given a materialist flip) -- pleading with Stalin not to destroy this book --, tells us all we need to know.

 

 

Lack Of Power Corrupts

 

The Correct 'Line'

 

Lord Acton was mistaken when he said:

 

"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

 

This gets things completely the wrong way round. As Tony Cliff remarked (in a talk), it is lack of power that corrupts absolutely. It corrupts the working class, and that in turn allows the members of the ruling-class to get away with whatever they feel they can get away with, corrupting them in return.

 

Similarly, a passive working class allows revolutionaries -- or, rather, their supposed 'tribunes' -- to get up to all kinds of dialectical mischief. Hence, the latter become corrupted, too.

 

As we have seen, among the many different forms this corruption can take is the general lack of any sort of effective democratic control exercised on both Central Committees and Party 'Leaders'.

 

Despite the regular calls to "build the party", small now becomes beautiful, if not highly desirable. Plainly, that is because it allows for maximum thought-control. In small parties the 'purity' of the 'revolutionary tradition' is easier to enforce.

 

Sectarianism is thus an intrinsic, constant and universal feature of the political and organisational practice of these petty-bourgeois revolutionaries. This keeps the party small, and helps distinguish it from all the rest.

 

This is what Hal Draper had to say about the situation in America alone, thirty odd years ago:

 

"American socialism today has hit a new low in terms of sect fragmentation. There are more sects going through their gyrations at this moment than have ever existed in all previous periods in this country taken together. And the fragments are still fissioning, down to the sub-microscopic level. Politically speaking, their average has dropped from the comic-opera plane to the comic-book grade. Where the esoteric sects (mainly Trotskyist splinters) of the 1930s tended toward a sort of super sophistication in Marxism and futility in practice, there is a gaggle of grouplets now (mainly Maoist-Castroite) characterized by amnesia regarding the Marxist tradition, ignorance of the socialist experience, and extreme primitivism. The road to an American socialist movement surely lies over the debris, or around the rotting off-shoots of, this fetid jungle of sects." [Quoted from here.]

 

This isn't just an American phenomenon; it is international, and, as we will see in Essay Ten Part One, the situation has worsened considerably since the above words were written. The on-going fragmentation of the UK-SWP is just the latest example of this trend.

 

The aforementioned Authoritarian Personality ensures that democratic accountability is at best merely formal; genuine democratic control soon becomes an early casualty in this backwater of the class war. Democracy is, after all, an external constraint exercised by the majority on the individual; hence it is favoured by the majority for these reasons; but, it is equally feared by the petty-bourgeois minority, and for the same reasons. In such dialectically-dominated micro-parties, democracy threatens the internally-enforced control that the professional revolutionary minority. Which is, of course, why many such parties have latched onto the slate system as the preferred method of electing their CCs.18a

 

This is, after all, one of the reasons why Capitalists themselves need the state (allied with a well oiled propaganda machine) to impose and then consolidate the rule of the minority over otherwise democratically inclined workers. And, it is why they also need to call upon various idealist and reactionary nostrums to convince the recalcitrant majority that this is all 'for their benefit'.

 

It is also why Dialectical Marxists need the "centralism", but not the "democratic" part of democratic centralism, and why democracy is dispensed with so readily, and so often.

 

Naturally, this degeneration doesn't arise independently of external social forces. As noted above, the malignant features of Dialectical Dementia tend to dominate (1) When the materialist counter-weight provided by the working class is much more attenuated, (2) When it is totally absent (that is, before the working class had emerged as an effective social force), or (3) In periods of "downturn", retreat and defeat. This is, of course, exactly when Dialectical Druggies tend to 're-discover' this 'theory', and when all of them attempt to snort along the 'correct' philosophical line.19

 

Small wonder then that these petty-bourgeois victims cling on to MD like drunks to lampposts -- and, alas, just like religionists their opiates.

 

[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist, according to context.]

 

MD now dominates and shapes the personal and party identity of such comrades. Any attack on this sacred doctrine is an attack not just on the glue that holds each one of them together, but on the cement that holds the party and the entire DIM "tradition" together.19a

 

In their own eyes, these professional, petty-bourgeois revolutionaries are special; they live -- no they embody -- the revolution. They have caught the tide of history, they must keep the faith. Commitment to the revolution on these terms now helps create militants who, for all the world, appear to suffer from a dialectical personality disorder of some sort -- one of which is the Leader Complex.

 

This helps explain why, among dialecticians, disagreements quickly become so personal, and why factionalism is so rife -- and why strong characters, like Ted Grant, Gerry Healy, Michael Pablo, Tony Cliff, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Lambert, Sean Matgamna, and host of others, begin to foment splits and divisions almost from the get-go.

 

Again, as noted above, fragmentation is now synonymous with DIM itself -- witness the well-aimed joke in Monty Python's Life of Brian (about the Judean People's Front, etc.). It is a memorable joke because everyone recognises the central core of truth it expresses.

 

DIMs are soon transformed into Militant Martinets, ostracising and expelling anyone who fails to tow the 'correct' line. Often these Dialectical Despots have very powerful personalities, something they can use to good effect in the small ponds they invariably patrol, and clearly prefer. Expulsions, splits and bans thus keep their grouplets small, and thus easier to control.

 

The petty-bourgeois revolutionary ego thus helps keep our movement fragmented, small, insular and thus ineffectual --, in preference to its being democratic, outward-looking and effective. No wonder then that in such circumstances, democracy goes out the window along with reasonableness --, and, of course, along with any significant political impact.

 

In this way, ruling-ideas have come to rule Dialectical Marxism, and this has helped ruin our movement by allowing those who divide, rule.

 

Another ironic 'dialectical inversion' for you to ponder.

 

 

The Road To Dialectical Damascus

 

Each dialectical ego acts as if he/she imagines that it alone has direct access to the exact meaning of the dialectic (here is an excellent recent example), mirroring the sort of individualism that underpins Protestantism, whereby believers are required to find their own way to salvation through a thorough study of the Bible and endless disputation. Among Marxist DM-fans this helps account for the intense and interminable dialectical debates over vacuous Hegelian concepts (again, rather like those that exercised the Medieval Schoolmen): for example, whether this or that thesis is "abstract", "positivist", or "one-sided" --, or, in fact, whether "motion precedes matter" --, or is it the other way round?20

 

This, of course, also helps explain why each supplicant thinks that no one else really "understands" the dialectic.

 

[Since no one does in fact understand it (on that, see Essay Nine Part One), that is a very easy claim to make -- and one no less difficult to refute.]

 

Thus, every opponent is branded in the same way (on this see below, and here): all fail to "understand" the dialectic -- that is, all except the blessed soul that made that claim!

 

Rather like the Old Testament Prophets, it is almost as if such comrades have received a personal visit from the Self-Developing Idea Itself.

 

Indeed, the Road to Damascus and the Road to Dialectics have more in common than just a capital "D".

 

 

Defeat And Dialectics

 

As noted above, in defeat such comrades turn once more to Dialectical Methadone to insulate their minds both from reality and constant failure. And, by all accounts this ersatz opiate does an excellent job. In fact, anyone attempting to argue with any one of these Dialectical Disciples would be far better occupied head-butting a Billy-goat for all the good it will do. [That allegation is easily confirmed; check this out.]

 

However, narcoleptic stupor of such depth and intensity -- coupled with the serial lack of clarity required to maintain it -- only helps engineer more splits, thus more set-backs and defeats, creating the need for yet another sizeable hit.

 

And so this Dialectical Monster lumbers on into this new millennium.

 

No wonder then that Dialectical Marxism is to success what religion is to peace on earth.

 

 

Disaster Central

 

DM has thus infected our movement at every level, exacerbating sectarianism, factionalism, exclusivism, unreasonableness, dismissive haughtiness (this endearing quality displayed most notably by the High Church Faction), pomposity, corruption, extreme dogmatism (bordering, it seems, on clinical paranoia in some cases), all topped-off with several layers of abuse, all liberally peppered with delightful phrases like "rant", "diatribe", "screed", "sh*t", "cr*p", and worse. Indeed, as noted earlier, a leading Marxist Professor of Economics recently told me (via e-mail) to "Eat sh*t and die!", simply because I asked him to explain what a 'dialectical contradiction' was, which he, like all the rest, signally failed to do.

 

Dialectical vices like these have introduced into each and every tiny sectlet an open and implacable hatred of practically every other sectlet, and, in some cases, every other comrade -- especially those who dare question this sacred mantra.

 

If faults such as these were to afflict an individual, they would provide sufficient grounds for sectioning under the mental health act.

 

Unsurprisingly, the result of all this dialectical infighting is that the ruling-class don't need to divide us in order to help consolidate their power; we're quite capable of making a first-rate job of it ourselves, thank you very much.

 

Everyone in the movement is painfully aware of this (some even joke about it -- again, often along Monty Python lines!); others excuse it or explain it away with yet more 'dialectics', or fruitless calls for unity.21

 

But, no one confronts these fatal defects at their poisonous source: the class origin of the petty-bourgeois revolutionary personality with its fondness for the divisive doctrines of a latter-day Hermeticist -- Hegel.

 

 

The Socialist Soothsayer

 

If Doctrinaire Marxism is the final outcome of this mystical creed, it needs a Guru or two to interpret it, rationalise constant failure, and 'justify' regular splits -- and, of course, to create still more of the same.

 

Enter the cult of the personality with its petty, nit-picking, small-minded, little pond mentality. Enter the "Leader" who knows all, reveals all, expels all (and, in several notorious cases, kills all): the Dialectical Magus.

 

As observers of religious cults have noted, even the most mundane and banal of statements put out by such leaders is treated with inordinate respect and a level of deference that would shame orthodox Roman Catholics -- almost as if it had been conveyed from off the mountain top itself, and was possessed of profound mystical significance and semi-divine authority.

 

Witness the inordinate respect and quasi-religious awe shown toward the dialectical meanderings of Mao and Stalin. Here, for example, is Lin Biao on the former, in 1966:

 

"Chairman Mao is a genius, everything the Chairman says is truly great; one of the Chairman's words will override the meaning of ten thousands of ours." [Quoted from here.]

 

Here Stalin is praised to the rafters, and beyond:

 

"Thank you, Stalin. Thank you because I am joyful. Thank you because I am well. No matter how old I become, I shall never forget how we received Stalin two days ago. Centuries will pass, and the generations still to come will regard us as the happiest of mortals, as the most fortunate of men, because we lived in the century of centuries, because we were privileged to see Stalin, our inspired leader. Yes, and we regard ourselves as the happiest of mortals because we are the contemporaries of a man who never had an equal in world history.

 

"The men of all ages will call on thy name, which is strong, beautiful, wise and marvellous. Thy name is engraven on every factory, every machine, every place on the earth, and in the hearts of all men.

 

"Every time I have found myself in his presence I have been subjugated by his strength, his charm, his grandeur. I have experienced a great desire to sing, to cry out, to shout with joy and happiness. And now see me -- me! -- on the same platform where the Great Stalin stood a year ago. In what country, in what part of the world could such a thing happen.

 

"I write books. I am an author. All thanks to thee, O great educator, Stalin. I love a young woman with a renewed love and shall perpetuate myself in my children -- all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. I shall be eternally happy and joyous, all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the first word it shall utter will be: Stalin.

 

"O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,
Thou who broughtest man to birth.
Thou who fructifies the earth,
Thou who restorest to centuries,
Thou who makest bloom the spring,
Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords...
Thou, splendour of my spring, O thou,
Sun reflected by millions of hearts."

 

Did even Hitler ever receive such praise?

 

And few will need reminding of the cult of Kim-II-sung, Kim-Jong-iI (and now Kim Jong Un), or Enver Hoxha. Or, indeed, the obsequious adulation heaped on comrade Healy -- Blessed Be His Name -- by prominent members of the old WRP, or that which was lavished at Marlene Dixon of the DWP:

 

"Comrade Marlene and the Party are inseparable; [and] her contribution is the Party itself, is the unity all of us join together to build upon. The Party is now the material expression of that unity, of that theoretical world view. That world view is the world view of the Party, its central leadership and all of its members. And there will be no other world view…. This was the unity that founded the Party, this was the unity that safeguarded the Party through purge and two-line struggle, and this is the unity we will protect and defend at all costs. There will be no other unity." [Quoted from here. See also here. This passage in fact appears in Lalich (2004), p.164.]

 

Witness, too, the wholly un-merited hero-worship directed at that towering mediocrity, Bob Avakian.22

 

Healy was well-known for fomenting strife among comrades (with added violence, so we are told) to accentuate the 'contradictions' in his 'Party', along 'sound' dialectical lines. Similar -- but non-violent -- antics went on in the DWP; on that, see Lalich (2004), pp.149-92. In the recent crisis in the UK-SWP, Alex Callinicos has even spoken of "lynch mobs". Of late, we have also witnessed the divisive political and 'philosophical' gyrations of Chris Cutrone and the 'Platypus Affiliated Society'.

 

Compare the above hero worship with Marx's own stated attitude:

 

"Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves -- originating from various countries -- to accord me public honour, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity, nor did I ever reply to them, save with an occasional snub. When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules. (Lassalle subsequently operated in the reverse direction.)" [MECW, 45, p.288, Marx to Wilhem Blos, 10/11/1877. Link added.]

 

This phenomenon also helps account for much of the personal and organisation corruption revolutionary politics has witnessed over the years (ranging from Mao's use of female comrades, down to the same with respect to Healy (on that, see Appendix A) --, or the scandal that has emerged in the UK-SWP -- but there are many other examples), which is partly the result of the noxious effect this doctrine has had on otherwise radical minds (i.e., convincing them they are somehow 'special' and thus are, Raskolnikov-like, above the 'conventional' morality of 'the herd').

 

 

Figure Three: Gerry Healy Receives The Word --,

Or Is It Bob Avakian?

 

How else could one so easily internally rationalise the pragmatic contradiction between the widespread abuse of female comrades and a formal commitment to women's liberation, except by means of this contradictory theory: DM?23

 

In this way, we have seen Dialectical Marxism replicate much of the abuse -- and most of sectarianism -- found in all forms of religion. [Again, see for example, Appendix A.] And no wonder: both were spawned by similar alienated patterns of ruling-class thought and social atomisation --, compounded, of course, by a cultic mentality, which pathological mind-set is further aggravated by a divisive, Hermetic 'theory' that is capable of rationalising anything whatsoever and its opposite!

 

As Marx himself inadvertently admitted:

 

"It's possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way." [Marx to Engels, 15/08/1857, MECW 40, p.152.]

 

 

Social Psychology Doesn't Apply To Dialecticians

 

As far as the DM-'faithful' are concerned, all this will fail to go even in one ear, let alone straight out through the other. This is because they refuse to accept that any of the pressures that bear down on the rest of humanity could possibly have any effect on them, the DM-elect. Hence, social psychology apparently doesn't apply to these demi-gods!

 

In stark contrast, dialecticians are quite happy to reduce their opponents' ideas to their class origins/position; indeed they do this all the time. Any attempt to do likewise with respect to their own philosophical ideas --, i.e., tracing the fondness leading dialecticians have for Philosophy back to their own class origin/position --, is rejected out-of-hand as "crude reductionism"!

 

Indeed, Lenin was quite happy to 'reduce' his opponents' politics to their class position:

 

"In a word, Comrade Martov's formula will either remain a dead letter, an empty phrase, or it will be of benefit mainly and almost exclusively to 'intellectuals who are thoroughly imbued with bourgeois individualism' and do not wish to join an organisation. In words, Martov's formulation defends the interests of the broad strata of the proletariat, but in fact it serves the interests of the bourgeois intellectuals, who fight shy of proletarian discipline and organisation. No one will venture to deny that the intelligentsia, as a special stratum of modern capitalist society, is characterised, by and large, precisely by individualism and incapacity for discipline and organisation (cf., for example, Kautsky's well-known articles on the intelligentsia). This, incidentally, is a feature which unfavourably distinguishes this social stratum from the proletariat; it is one of the reasons for the flabbiness and instability of the intellectual, which the proletariat so often feels; and this trait of the intelligentsia is intimately bound up with its customary mode of life, its mode of earning a livelihood, which in a great many respects approximates to the petty-bourgeois mode of existence (working in isolation or in very small groups, etc.). Nor is it fortuitous, lastly, that the defenders of Comrade Martov's formulation were the ones who had to cite the example of professors and high school students! It was not champions of a broad proletarian struggle who, in the controversy over Paragraph 1, took the field against champions of a radically conspiratorial organisation, as Comrades Martynov and Axelrod thought, but the supporters of bourgeois-intellectual individualism who clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline." [Lenin (1947), pp.66-67. Bold emphasis and links added; italic emphases in the original.]

 

And later on, quoting Kautsky on the social psychology of his opponents, Lenin argued:

 

"One can't help recalling in this connection the brilliant social and psychological characterisation of this latter quality recently given by Karl Kautsky. The Social Democratic parties of different countries suffer not infrequently nowadays from similar maladies, and it would be very, very useful for us to learn from more experienced comrades the correct diagnosis and the correct cure. Karl Kautsky's characterisation of certain intellectuals will therefore be only a seeming digression from our theme.

'The problem...that again interests us so keenly today is the antagonism between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. My colleagues (Kautsky is himself an intellectual, a writer and editor) will mostly be indignant that I admit this antagonism. But it actually exists, and, as in other cases, it would be the most inexpedient tactics to try to overcome the fact by denying it. This antagonism is a social one, it relates to classes, not to individuals. The individual intellectual, like the individual capitalist, may identify himself with the proletariat in its class struggle. When he does, he changes his character too. It is not this type of intellectual, who is still an exception among his class, that we shall mainly speak of in what follows. Unless otherwise stated, I shall use the word intellectual to mean only the common run of intellectual who takes the stand of bourgeois society, and who is characteristic of the intelligentsia as a class. This class stands in a certain antagonism to the proletariat.

 

'This antagonism differs, however, from the antagonism between labour and capital. The intellectual is not a capitalist. True, his standard of life is bourgeois, and he must maintain it if he is not to become a pauper; but at the same time he is compelled to sell the product of his labour, and often his labour-power, and is himself often enough exploited and humiliated by the capitalist. Hence the intellectual does not stand in any economic antagonism to the proletariat. But his status of life and his conditions of labour are not proletarian, and this gives rise to a certain antagonism in sentiments and ideas.

 

'...Quite different is the case of the intellectual. He does not fight by means of power, but by argument. His weapons are his personal knowledge, his personal ability, his personal convictions. He can attain to any position at all only through his personal qualities. Hence the freest play for his individuality seems to him the prime condition for successful activity. It is only with difficulty that he submits to being a part subordinate to a whole, and then only from necessity, not from inclination. He recognises the need of discipline only for the mass, not for the elect minds. And of course he counts himself among the latter....

 

'...The typical intellectual à la Stockmann regards a "compact majority" as a monster that must be overthrown....'

"Just such feeble whining of intellectuals who happened to find themselves in the minority, and nothing more, was the refusal of Martov and his friends to be named for office merely because the old circle had not been endorsed, as were their complaints of a state of siege and emergency laws 'against particular groups', which Martov cared nothing about when Yuzhny Rabochy and Rabocheye Dyelo were dissolved, but only came to care about when his group was dissolved.

 

"Just such feeble whining of intellectuals who happened to find themselves in the minority was that endless torrent of complaints, reproaches, hints, accusations, slanders, and insinuations regarding the 'compact majority' which was started by Martov and which poured out in such a flood at our Party Congress (and even more so after).

 

"The minority bitterly complained of the 'false accusation of opportunism'. Well, it had to do something to conceal the unpleasant fact that it was opportunists, who in most cases had followed the anti-Iskra-ists -- and partly these anti-Iskra-ists themselves -- that made up the compact minority, seizing with both hands on the championship of the circle spirit in Party institutions, opportunism in arguments, philistinism in Party affairs, and the instability and wishy-washiness of the intellectual." [Ibid., pp.121-24. Bold emphases and links added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Trotsky was also happy to do likewise:

 

"[Y]ou [James Burnham -- RL], likewise, seek an ideal party democracy which would secure forever and for everybody the possibility of saying and doing whatever popped into his head, and which would insure the party against bureaucratic degeneration. You overlook a trifle, namely, that the party is not an arena for the assertion of free individuality, but an instrument of the proletarian revolution; that only a victorious revolution is capable of preventing the degeneration not only of the party but of the proletariat itself and of modern civilization as a whole. You do not see that our American section is not sick from too much centralism -- it is laughable even to talk about it -- but from a monstrous abuse and distortion of democracy on the part of petty-bourgeois elements. This is at the root of the present crisis....

 

"Petty-bourgeois, and especially declassed elements, divorced from the proletariat, vegetate in an artificial and shut-in environment. They have ample time to dabble in politics or its substitute. They pick out faults, exchange all sorts of tidbits and gossip concerning happenings among the party 'tops.' They always locate a leader who initiates them into all the 'secrets.' Discussion is their native element. No amount of democracy is ever enough for them. For their war of words they seek the fourth dimension. They become jittery, they revolve in a vicious circle, and they quench their thirst with salt water. Do you want to know the organizational program of the opposition? It consists of a mad hunt for the fourth dimension of party democracy. In practice this means burying politics beneath discussion; and burying centralism beneath the anarchy of the intellectual circles. When a few thousand workers join the party, they will call the petty-bourgeois anarchists severely to order. The sooner, the better." [Trotsky (1971), pp.116-17. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Indeed, this is how Trotsky analysed the clique around Stalin:

 

"The entire effort of Stalin, with whom at that time Zinoviev and Kamenev were working hand in hand, was thenceforth directed to freeing the party machine from the control of the rank-and-file members of the party. In this struggle for 'stability' of the Central Committee, Stalin proved the most consistent and reliable among his colleagues. He had no need to tear himself away from international problems; he had never been concerned with them. The petty bourgeois outlook of the new ruling stratum was his own outlook. He profoundly believed that the task of creating socialism was national and administrative in its nature. He looked upon the Communist International as a necessary evil would should be used so far as possible for the purposes of foreign policy. His own party kept a value in his eyes merely as a submissive support for the machine." [Trotsky (1977), p.97. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

In which case, while it seems quite legitimate for dialecticians like Trotsky and Lenin to 'reduce' their enemies and opponents' ideas to their class position and/or class origin, it isn't legitimate to do the same to theirs.

 

Such theorists are quite right to point out that when, for example, union militants are drafted into the trade union machine, becoming bureaucrats themselves, their new material conditions have a predictable effect on the attitudes they adopt and the ideas they form. However, they will resist with no little vehemence the same conclusion when it is applied to them, their material circumstances and/or their class position.23a0

 

If this class analysis is rejected for some reason, the only other conclusion possible is that it must be a sheer coincidence that revolutionary parties the world over have replicated, time and again, practically every single fault and foible that afflicts the god-botherers among us -- even down to their reliance on an obscure book about an invisible 'Being' (i.e., in this case, Hegel's Logic).

 

So, while all these faults and foibles have well-known material/social causes when they descend upon the alienated, the superstitious and the gullible, they apparently have no cause whatsoever when they similarly grace the sanctified lives of our very own Immaculate Dialectical Saints. In which case, faults and foibles like these can safely be ignored, never spoken about in polite company.

 

Until, that is, such comrades are caught with their dialectical pants down -- and even then accusations can be brushed aside as "bourgeois propaganda", or as part of a "witch-hunt".

 

This means that the Dialectical Merry-go-round can take another spin across the flatlands of failure, its participants ever more convinced of their semi-divine infallibility and pristine ideological purity.

 

 

Designer Dialectics

 

In order to underline its hypnotic power, DM be able to explain absolutely everything (which is indeed precisely what the DM-classicists avow; on this, see Essay Two) -- even if it never actually delivers a single comprehensible explanation of anything, predicts not one novel fact and has no discernible practical implications or applications (except, perhaps, negative).23a

 

To that end, we are presented with an "insistence" on "Totality" (which is left conveniently undefined), obscure "Infinities", a declaration that "truth is the whole" [Hegel (1977), p.11; Preface, paragraph 20], and various assorted "Absolutes" (all of which are left theologically vague).

 

MD must not only be able to weather defeat, it must be capable of 'foreseeing' future victories in each set-back. To that end, we are told that there are UOs everywhere (for a particularly good example of this phenomenon, see below), all operating under the watchful eye of the NON. That particular 'Law' informs us that everything "inevitably" turns into its opposite; if so, failure (that is, if the latter is ever acknowledged) can't help but turn into success -- one day...24

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites; NON = Negation of the Negation; DIM = Dialectical Marxist/Marxist, depending on context.]

 

This theory must, therefore, 'allow' its adepts to re-configure each defeat as a 'victory' waiting in the wings. To that end, we are told that appearances "contradict" underlying "essence", meaning that the long-term failure of DIM can be ignored (since its seemingly disastrous record isn't, after all, really real, it just looks that way to those who do not 'understand' dialectics), or it can be blamed on anything but the theory that has delivered this comforting message to the faithful.

 

MD must therefore transcend the limitations of ordinary, 'formal thinking' -- which is one reason why the attainment of 'absolute truth' has to be projected into the future, to the end of an infinite asymptotic meander, insulating it from easy disconfirmation in the here-and-now. In this vale of tears, all we can hope to achieve is 'relative truth' (accept, of course, for that absolute truth itself!). This also helps explain why DM-fans ignore awkward facts that do not fit the Ideal Picture with which the Dialectical Classics have saddled them.

 

[On all of the above, see Essays Two through Eleven Part Two. On the lengths to which dialecticians will go to ignore things they can't explain, have never even thought about, or do not like, see the links indexed here. As readers will soon see, Creationists are rank amateurs in comparison!]

 

In addition, MD must encourage and/or facilitate a level of theoretical (and thus tactical) flexibility that places it outside, if not way beyond the normal canons of reason -- and of reasonableness -- enabling its more skilled adepts to change direction (anti-democratically, opportunistically, and/or inconsistently) at the drop of a negative particle.

 

To that end, regular appeals are made to the contradictions that are integral to DM. Since the latter are found throughout the universe, so we are told, they must also feature in 'applied dialectics' if it is reflect the real world and then help change it. In that case, 'applied dialectics' is riddled with contradictions, which is regarded as one of its strengths, not a fail flaw! This heady brew now 'allows' skilled dialecticians to argue for anything they like and its opposite. [On exactly how they manage do this, see below.]

 

Moreover, this theory must lie way beyond any possible doubt, so that if anyone attempts to question it they can be ignored on the grounds that they just do not 'understand' dialectics --, which is, once more, a pretty safe accusation to make since no one understands it! [On that allegation, see Part One of this Essay.]

 

If there is no settled view of DM (or if it is expressed in sufficiently vague and equivocal terms, and is left in that condition for generations, frozen in a nineteenth century time warp), anyone who disagrees with the latest dialectical line can be accused of "deviation" or "revisionism" -- and hence of betraying Marxism. Needless to say, this approach to theory is the non-existent deity's gift to opportunists, control freaks and sectarians, of whom Marxism has had more than its fair share.

 

As one left-wing blogger has pointed out with respect to the WRP:

 

"To be sure, [the WRP] did acquire a very bad reputation over the years for having a thuggish and violent internal regime, sometimes spilling over into physical attacks on members of other groups; for its habit of slandering anyone who disagreed with it as an agent of the CIA, the KGB, or both; and for an impenetrable 'philosophy' whose main function was to justify whatever Gerry wanted to do at any particular moment." [Quoted from here; accessed 05/02/2013. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

And, Healy isn't the only one.

 

Even better, this theory must be impossible to refute. This is a convenient implication of the Hegelian dialectic, which we have already encountered, whereby every attempt to oppose it, reveal its contradictions or challenge it is viewed as further proof of its correctness -- since it alleged that to do so is to use the dialectic itself implicitly -- providing yet more grist to the Hermetic mill. Hence, any putative 'refutation' merely doubles up and returns as confirmation of a system that glories in just such contradictions! The more heads that are cut off this Hydra, the more it grows in in their place!25

 

[It is worth pointing out that I haven't even attempted to 'refute' Hegel's dialectic or even the alleged 'rational core' appropriated by Marxist dialecticians. What I have argued is that both versions are far too vague and confused for anyone to be able to decide whether or not they are true, let alone try to refute them.]  

 

DM can't disappoint, nor can it fail its acolytes since, according to another of its tenets, humanity will never actually possess the complete picture of anything (apparently not even of an ordinary glass tumbler!), let alone everything. So, like the will of 'God', the DM-Absolute (the "Totality") moves ever onward, mysteriously, its twists and turns capable of being fully 'comprehended' only by our "glorious" leaders (who, up to now, have proved incapable of explaining this 'theory' to a single living soul).

 

Consequently, what might at first sight appear to be an engagingly modest admission (i.e., that no one knows the final truth about anything, or that all theories are "partially true", etc., etc.) soon turns into its opposite. That acknowledgement is now transformed into a stick with which to beat the opposition: if no one knows the final truth, then neither does an erstwhile critic. Only the Party (with its Doctors of Dialectics) can be relied on to interpret this infinitely plastic theory aright -- by appealing, like the Roman Catholic Church, to "tradition" and authority.25a

 

Indeed, the following neatly sums up the attitude of most Bolshevik-style parties:

 

"Comrade Marlene and the Party are inseparable; [and] her contribution is the Party itself, is the unity all of us join together to build upon. The Party is now the material expression of that unity, of that theoretical world view. That world view is the world view of the Party, its central leadership and all of its members. And there will be no other world view…. This was the unity that founded the Party, this was the unity that safeguarded the Party through purge and two-line struggle, and this is the unity we will protect and defend at all costs. There will be no other unity." [Quoted from here.]

 

[While whoever wrote the above was perhaps more honest than most comrades are, in practice the vast majority behave as if this were written about them and their own party.]

 

Thus is created the cult of the Central Committee, and on this is built the aforementioned Leader Cult, the Dialectical Guru. Alongside this arrives the doctrine that only a few (oracular) individuals (or committees) are fountains of 'dialectical truth', and can be quoted as such -- and are quoted as such --, over and over again to confound waverers and infidels.25b

 

In such a topsy-turvy world of silicate-loving, 'dialectical ostriches', the one with his/her head buried deepest in the sand is plainly leadership material.26

 

However, the spurious superiority of MD over 'ordinary consciousness' is secured by means of several exclusivising tricks: (1) The use of unintelligible jargon that no one understands, or seems able to explain (without employing even more jargon, of equal obscurity); (2) An appeal to authority (sometimes called the "real Marxist tradition");27 (3) Regular appeals to the sacred DM-texts, linked to an 'orthodox' interpretative tradition of the latter, now ossified in constantly recycled and highly repetitive  commentaries -- the aforementioned Dialectical Mantra.28

 

To that end, MD must harmonise to some extent with other alien-class systems-of-thought, since it has to emphasise the continuity and progress of human knowledge -- "through contradiction" -- of which it proudly forms a part. In that case, there must be an IED between MD and Traditional Philosophy, or there'd be no such continuity. This helps explain why erstwhile radicals are so slavishly conservative when it comes to Philosophy.

 

[IED = Identity in Difference (or, facetiously, 'Improvised Explanatory Device').]

 

However, dialectically-distracted comrades refuse to admit that the demonstrable link that exists between MD and the theories of previous generations of mystics in any way counts against it -- as one would imagine ought to be the case with those who proudly and openly proclaim their materialist/scientific credentials. Ironically, the fact that virtually every DM-thesis finds echo in most mystical systems-of-thought is paradoxically regarded as one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses!29

 

This theory must also insist that in spite of a formal acceptance of the Heraclitean Flux, its core ideas should remain rigidly sealed against change. And so they are. In that case, over the last hundred years or so there has been virtually no innovation of note in DM -- just more epicycles. [This allegation will be substantiated in Essay Fourteen Part Two.]

 

Indeed, those with their heads deeply buried in dune can hardly boast of a theory that shifts with the Heraclitean sands.

 

Furthermore, this theory must be the source of boundless optimism, so that despite the way things appear to be (to those lost in the mists of "commonsense" and "formal thinking", of course), the NON guarantees that the underlying tendencies at work throughout the universe favour the dialectical cause -- even if things sometimes need hurrying along a little with human intervention.29a

 

The Dialectical Meek will inherit the earth one day -- but only if they believe in The Power of Negativity with all their might.30

 

Dialectics provides all of the faithful with some of the above, and some of the faithful with all of the above. This helps explain its universal acceptance by practically all shades of revolutionary socialism, as well as its longevity, the semi-religious loyalty it engenders in those held in its thrall -- and why it will never be abandoned.

 

DM-fans would rather die with their heads buried in these Parmenidean Sands than face material reality in all its complexity with even a hint of courage -- or honesty.

 

 

A Curious Anomaly

 

However, this also helps explain a rather curious anomaly, which is as follows: as the working-class grows ever larger the influence that DIM has on it continues to dwindle.

 

Parallel to this -- but not unrelated to it --, our movement continues to flounder and fragment, which ongoing degeneration is plainly not unconnected with its steadily dwindling influence on the class struggle. Moreover, the fact that workers ignore our movement en masse means that the materialist counter-weight they bring with them into Marxism has no influence precisely where it might count: on our ideas.

 

The dearth of active socialist workers thus means that the unifying force of the class struggle by-passes our movement, which, because it is dominated by petty-bourgeois individuals, continues to splinter and disintegrate.

 

So Marxist Idealism lumbers on while its theorists constantly think of new ways to make these awkward facts disappear.

 

 

DM And De-Classé Marxists

 

Divorced From The Class They Are Supposed To Champion

 

The class origin of the majority of professional revolutionaries (who, for all or most of their lives do not share the lives and struggles of ordinary workers) analysed in the preceding sections, means that this alien-class theory -- DM -- consolidates and strengthens their sense of exclusivity. Indeed, it is why this theory appeals to petty-bourgeois and de-classé revolutionaries -- most of whom populate the higher echelons of our movement and thus control its ideas.

 

The growing crisis in the UK-SWP is ample testimony to this:

 

"Members of the SWP must understand what is at stake in the crisis rocking our organization. Not only is there already a steady outflow of members resigning in disgust at this farrago and its handling by the leadership, but now other organizations of the left are becoming hesitant about working with us, and in some cases are openly boycotting and censuring us.

 

"This is a call to members to stay and fight. It is also to urge that we do so without illusions about the nature of the fight that we face.

 

"Many of us have argued strongly that catastrophic errors of principle and process on the part of the leadership have taken us to this. But even those who -- I firmly believe wrongly -- disagree about this must recognise the situation we are in. This has rapidly also become a catastrophe for us strategically. Our name is becoming toxic. Our credibility as a collective and as individual activists is being grossly compromised, and is on the verge of being permanently tainted. We all know the allegations that any future potential recruit who takes two minutes to research us online will read. The hoary accusations of the loyalists that those of us expressing concerns are looking 'inward' to 'blogland' and are not in the 'real world' have never looked so pitiful as they do now. This is a real world, acute crisis, of the leaderships making.

 

"As we 'dissidents' have repeatedly stressed, the fact that we are on the verge of permanently losing our credibility is irrespective of the truth or otherwise of the allegations of rape and sexual harassment. (These, of course, deserve sensitive and appropriate examination in their own right.) This fact inheres in the grotesque and sexist nature of the questions posed to the accusers; in the 'wagon-circling' attitude of the leadership and its loyalists; in the failures and evasions of accountability that meant the processes involved could ever have been thought appropriate; and now in the belief-beggaringly inadequate and arrogant response of the CC to the greatest crisis we have ever faced. These are all political failings of astonishing proportions.

 

"We must not only deal with this but be seen publicly to be dealing with it. A 'quiet revolution' will be no revolution at all. There is one chance to save the SWP, and to do so means reclaiming it. We must be the party whose membership saw that there was a catastrophe unfolding, refused to heed our own failed leadership's injunctions to fall into line, and reclaimed the party and the best elements of our IS tradition. If we fail in this, the SWP is finished as a serious force....

 

"By far the lion's share of blame for our parlous situation lies squarely with the CC and its loyalists. However, none of us can avoid hard questions. What got us here was not merely the failures of this particular CC, but of our structures. These structures concealed from the members perfectly legitimate debate within the party; pathologised dissent on the CC and among the membership; and at worst legitimated whispering campaigns and bullying against members considered 'troublemakers'. We could have stopped this train wreck at an earlier stage if the membership had been able and ready to call bullshit on the CC's bullshit.

 

"To overthrow these problems requires, among other things, a huge shift in internal culture. This, of course, is not possible in isolation from the structures that we have worked under. These have enabled the CC's top-down and dissent/discussion-phobic style and mistrust of the membership; and among the membership itself have encouraged a damaging culture of deferral to the leadership." [China Mieville, quoted from here, 17/01/2013. Bold emphases and links added.] 

 

But, why does this sort of thing keep happening? Is the UK-SWP just unlucky? And, why has this been endemic on the left now for many generations?

 

One young comrade hit on part of the answer:

 

"The CC now unfortunately represents a conservative layer now firmly ingrained in the party and focused on preserving its position. Many of its members have worked for the party for a decade or more, they rely on the party as an income and have become career bureaucrats entrenched in their jobs. Somewhere along the way the leadership stopped being a group of leading revolutionaries and started to be a self-serving political class in their own right. Now more than ever the party needs effective and democratic leadership made up of the best people in the class, not people who haven't set foot in a workplace for decades and who are in my opinion totally divorced from the class." [Quoted from here; 14/01/2013. Bold emphasis added. Minor typo corrected.]

 

A few days after the above appeared on-line, another comrade posted an analysis of this malaise that in fact mirrors certain aspects of the analysis found in this Essay:

 

"The SWP has a particular understanding of the role of the bureaucracy within trades unions. We view them as neither workers nor bosses, but rather as a vacillating force between the two. The bureaucrat is insulated from the day-to-day life of the worker -- of having the boss breathing down their neck, and from the collective interest that workers have within workplaces. They depend for their continued existence, this insulation, and the level of prestige they hold, on the continuation of the capitalist system -- if there were no longer any capitalist class to negotiate with, there would no longer be any need for the bureaucrats. Nothing terrifies a bureaucrat more than being chucked back into the same world the rest of us, as workers, inhabit. There is an old story of an RMT NEC member many years ago (before Bob Crow) who wished to support a strike ballot that the General Secretary opposed. The General Secretary advised him that if he did so, he'd be back working on the tracks within days. The NEC member withdrew his support for the ballot.

 

"And it is this recognition that the interests of the bureaucracy are not those of the working class that leads us as revolutionary socialists to believe the only truly effective way to organise inside trades unions is on a rank and file basis. We are with the bureaucrats for as long as they support our demands -- we fight without them when they don't. And we recognise a bureaucratisation that takes place when workers are removed from the shop floor -- which is why, for example, it is officially only in exceptional circumstances that SWP members are allowed to take elected trade union positions on 100% facility time. Because we recognise that you cannot act in the interests of the working class if you exist separately from it. I want to illustrate that a failure to apply this analysis to the SWP itself is at the root of many of the problems we now face.

 

"While very limited steps have been taken in recent years to address this, the Central Committee is made up almost entirely of full-time party workers (and it is notable that of the two CC members removed from the preferred slate 48 hours before conference, one is a respected trade unionist and the other is centrally involved in arguably the broadest united front the party is engaged in). This is a separation from the outside world, and the experiences of the membership. Worse, the slate system as currently constituted is designed to prevent any alternative leadership from emerging -- as we are told to correct any error we must replace the CC wholesale; very difficult if they are also the party workers who run the apparatus. As pretty much the only way to be elected to the CC is to be nominated by the existing CC, this means CC members owe their positions to the other CC members, not to the party membership. And this means that, despite the party's Democracy Commission passing policy in favour of it, disagreements on the CC are not aired in front of the party membership, but rather are usually dealt with privately, with the first most members know of it being when a CC member mysteriously disappears off the slate. I would argue the loyalty to each other this creates amongst CC members leads to many situations, such as those around Comrade Delta and the expulsions of the Facebook Four, being dealt with bureaucratically and behind closed doors and then presented to the party as a fait accompli. Party policies and 'turns' are decided in similar fashion, with a National Committee or Party Council presented with a CC document that is discussed and then invariably approved, usually without any discussion in the wider party, let alone the class.

 

"This also has the effect of encouraging sycophancy, Comrades who wish to develop their standing in the party, be selected for slates in trade union elections, be added to the CC themselves, or be touted as a public speaker, do so by developing a position of ultra-loyalty to the CC (these are the party members who some refer to as 'hacks'). Party workers are all appointed by the CC, not by the membership, and are threatened with the sack if they dare venture their own political ideas that run contrary to those of the CC. All of this has more in common with the organisation of Stalinist Parties than with the libertarian roots of the IS tradition. The party actually starts to become the caricature painted of it by sectarians and red-baiters.

 

"At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like. A number of CC members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events. Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn't purchase tickets. This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases and links added. Minor typo corrected.]

 

These echo Trotsky's analysis of substitutionism (covered in Part One of this Essay), but they omit (1) Any mention of the wider structural problems our movement faces (i.e., the fact that the situation described by the above comrade has been a core feature of Marxist parties for well over a hundred and thirty years), and they completely ignore (2) The historical and ideological roots of this malaise -- nor do they consider (3) Why this keeps happening, and not just to the UK-SWP.

 

Only if Marxists in general become aware of serious structural, class and ideological problems we face is there any hope that the movement can extricate itself from this toxic morass.

 

Unfortunately, as is the case with other forms of drug addiction, clarity of vision is the last thing one can expect of those in the 'leadership' -- those who control the production and dissemination of ideas --, who have serious dialectical-opiate dependency problems themselves.

 

As these Essays have shown, and as experience confirms, this is indeed what we find.

 

 

High Church vs Low Church

 

There are in fact two main categories of dialectician: 'Low Church' and 'High Church'. This distinction roughly corresponds to that between active revolutionaries and Academic Marxists (of course, there is some overlap at the margin). The members of neither faction are seekers of the truth, since, like Hegel, they have found it. As Glenn Magee points out:

 

"Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no lover or seeker of wisdom -- he believes he has found it. Hegel writes in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit, 'To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title of "love of knowing" and be actual knowledge -- that is what I have set before me' (Miller, 3; PC, 3). By the end of the Phenomenology, Hegel claims to have arrived at Absolute Knowledge, which he identifies with wisdom.

 

"Hegel's claim to have attained wisdom is completely contrary to the original Greek conception of philosophy as the love of wisdom, that is, the ongoing pursuit rather than the final possession of wisdom. His claim is, however, fully consistent with the ambitions of the Hermetic tradition, a current of thought that derives its name from the so-called Hermetica (or Corpus Hermeticum), a collection of Greek and Latin treatises and dialogues written in the first or second centuries A.D. and probably containing ideas that are far older. The legendary author of these works is Hermes Trismegistus ('Thrice-Greatest Hermes'). 'Hermeticism' denotes a broad tradition of thought that grew out of the 'writings of Hermes' and was expanded and developed through the infusion of various other traditions. Thus, alchemy, Kabbalism, Lullism, and the mysticism of Eckhart and Cusa -- to name just a few examples -- became intertwined with the Hermetic doctrines. (Indeed, Hermeticism is used by some authors simply to mean alchemy.) Hermeticism is also sometimes called theosophy, or esotericism; less precisely, it is often characterized as mysticism, or occultism." [Magee (2008), p.1. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links and bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Much the same can be said about Marxist Dialecticians of both Denominations (whether they realise this or not).

 

 

Low Church Dialecticians [LCDs]:

 

Comrades of this persuasion cleave to the original, unvarnished truth laid down in the sacred DM-texts (authored by Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, and/or Mao). Many of these simple souls are highly proficient at quoting or paraphrasing endless passages from the Holy Books in answer to everything and anything, just like the faithful who bow to the East or who fill the Gospel Halls around the world. Their unquestioning faith is as impressive as it is un-Marxist.

 

[An excellent recent example of this affliction, which was in fact prompted by the current crisis in the UK-SWP, can be found here. (In January 2013, I posted a mini-refutation (based on some of the points made in Essay Six) of an article of Trotsky's on DM that had been republished at the latter site, but as of September 2014 it is still 'waiting moderation'!)]

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

In general, LCDs are blithely ignorant of FL. Now, on its own this is no hanging matter. However, such self-inflicted and woeful ignorance doesn't stop them pontificating about FL, or from regaling us with its alleged limitations at every turn -- accusations based on ideas they unwisely lifted from Hegel, surely the George W Bush of Logic.

 

 

 

Figure Four: Advanced Logic Class At Camp Hegel

 

LCDs are, by-and-large, active revolutionaries, committed to 'building the party'. Ironically, however, they have unwisely conspired to do the exact opposite, helping keep their parties small because of the continual splits and expulsions they engineer. This is a rather fitting pragmatic contradiction that the 'Dialectical Deity' has visited upon these, the least of its slaves.

 

Of course, LCDs can't see the irony in all this (even when it is pointed out to them -- I know, I have lost count of the number of times I have tried!), since they too haven't taken the lens caps off.

 

So, despite the fact that every last one of these short-sighted individuals continually strives to "build the party", after 140 years few revolutionary groups can boast membership rolls that rise much above the risible. In fact, all we have witnessed since WW2 is yet more fragmentation, but still no mass movement.

 

[Anyone who doubts this should look here, here, here and here -- or, now, here -- then, perhaps think again.]

 

Has a single one of these individuals made this connection?

 

Are you kidding!?

 

The long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory (i.e., MD) are, it seems, the only two things in the entire universe that aren't 'interconnected'.

 

 

High Church Dialecticians [HCDs]:

 

The above Marxists are in general openly contemptuous of the 'sophomoric ideas' found in most of the DM-classics (even though many of them seem to have a fondness for Engels's First 'Law').

 

More often than not, HCDs reject the idea that the dialectic operates in nature, sometimes inconsistently using the aforementioned 'Law' to account for the evolutionary 'leap' that underpinned our development from an ape-like ancestor (which tactic allows them to claim that human history and development are unique), just as they are equally dismissive of simple LCD souls for their adherence to every last word found in the DM-classics.31

 

[Anyone familiar with High Church Anglicanism will know exactly of what I speak.]

 

HCDs are mercifully above such crudities; they prefer the Mother Lode -- direct from Hegel, Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks and/or the writings of assorted latter day Hermeticists: György Lukács, Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Tony Smith, Tom Sekine, Robert Albritton, Chris Arthur, Bertell Ollman, Judith Butler, Frederic Jameson, and Slavoj Zizek.

 

This heady brew is often fortified with a several litres of hardcore jargon drawn straight from that intellectual cocaine-den, otherwise known as French Philosophy -- including the work of such luminaries as: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes, Louis Althusser, Michael Foucault, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Bourdieu, and, perhaps worst of all, Jacques Lacan.

 

Or, maybe even from that conveyor belt of systematic confusion: the Frankfurt School -- which includes the work of Max Horkheimer, Theodor W Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, and later, Jürgen Habermas, among others.

 

[I have discussed Marcuse's somewhat dismissive attitude to Wittgenstein and 'Ordinary Language Philosophy', here. In relation to this, see my Essay, Was Wittgenstein a Leftist?]

 

Or, even worse still, that haven of intellectual heroin: the work of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer.31a

 

[Chomsky's thoughts on many of the above can be found in Note 31a.]

 

HCDs are generally, but not exclusively, academics. In common with many of those listed above, tortured prose is their forte -- and pointless existence is their punishment.

 

[Any randomly-selected issue of, say, Radical Philosophy or Historical Materialism will provide ample confirmation of the baleful influence the ideas of many of the above theorists have had on erstwhile left-wing intellectuals. (Here is yet another example to add to the membership list of The Hallowed Society of Professional Producers of Gobbledygook.) Also, see my comments, here.]

 

 

Figure Five: The Sisyphus College Recruitment Poster --

Aimed At HCDs Seeking A More Useful Existence

 

At least LCDs like to think their ideas are somehow relevant to the class struggle.

 

In contrast, High Church Dialectics is only good for the CV.

 

[Plainly, the sanitised version of dialectics HCDs inflict on their readers isn't an "abomination" to those sections of the bourgeoisie that administer Colleges and Universities, or who publish academic books and journals.]

 

Nevertheless, both factions, HCD and LCD, are well-stocked with conservative-minded comrades happy to appropriate the a priori and dogmatic thought-forms of two-and-a-half millennia of boss-class ideology, seldom pausing to give any thought to the implications of such easily won knowledge -- 'knowledge' obtained without the help of a single experiment, and concocted in the comfort of each theorist's own head. If knowledge of the world is a priori, and based solely on armchair speculation, reality must indeed be Ideal.

 

Some might object that the above is a caricature of 'dialectical thought'; they might want to argue that DM/MD are based on evidence and on the practice and experience of the party/humanity. Alas, that rather naive belief was laid to rest in Essays Two and Seven, as well as in Part One of this Essay.

 

It is worth adding that there are notable exceptions to these sweeping generalisations -- some academic Marxists do actively engage with the class struggle. The point, however, is that the 'High Theory' they churn out is irrelevant in this regard. Indeed, I can't think of a single example of the work of an academic Marxist that has had an impact on the class war -- except perhaps negatively. (Any who disagree with this indictment are invited to e-mail me with the details of any counter-example they can think of.)

 

To be sure, one or two comrades have tried to come up with a few practical applications of 'the dialectic'. Alas, I have shown that all of them fail -- on that, see here and here.

 

 

In The Lurch

 

This has meant that the baleful influence of Hegelian Hermeticism becomes important at key historical junctures (i.e., those involving defeat and/or major set-back), since it acts as a materialist-sounding alternative to mainstream, Traditional Thought -- indeed, as we saw was the case with Lenin after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution in Russia.

 

Dialectics (especially those parts that have been infected with the lethal HCD-strain) thus taps into thought-forms that have dominated intellectual life for over two thousand years -- i.e., those that define the 'legitimate' boundaries of 'genuine' philosophy, and hence those which amount to little more than systematic and dogmatic thesis-mongering, aggravated by the invention of increasingly baroque, a priori theories.

 

So, because of its thoroughly traditional nature, DM is able to appeal to the closet "god-builders" and dialectical mystics that revolutionary politics seems to attract -- and who, in general, appear to congregate at the apex of this ever-growing heap of dialectical disaster.

 

 

Substitutionism 1

 

This continues from the section on Substitutionism found in Part One, and should be read in conjunction with it.

 

 

How Could Revolutionaries Have Imported Boss-Class Theory Into Marxism?

 

However, one question has remained unanswered: How is it even remotely possible for the vast majority of revolutionary socialists to have adopted a supposedly alien-class ideology, as this site alleges? At first sight it seems inconceivable that leading socialists like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxembourg, or Trotsky -- comrades who possessed impeccable revolutionary credentials -- could have maintained a consistent revolutionary stance if the account of the origin and nature of MD given in these Essays is correct. An ideological compromise of this order of magnitude would surely have had major, if not disastrous effects on revolutionary practice; indeed, it would have rendered Marxism totally ineffectual.

 

In fact, and contrary to the ideas advanced at this site, it could be argued that MD has actually been successfully tested in practice for well over a hundred and forty years.

 

These considerations alone seem to make the abstract allegations advanced at this site impossible to accept.

 

Or, so it could be maintained.

 

 

DM And Revolutionary Practice

 

Even so, and in spite of constant claims to the contrary, DM/MD in fact have no practical applications (other than the negative effects outlined above, and again below).

 

This doesn't mean that revolutionaries haven't continually toyed with dialectical phraseology in some of their practical deliberations. Certainly, DM-theorists can talk the talk; they are indeed experts jargonisers.

 

But, as we will see, it is impossible for them to walk the walk.

 

Admittedly, books outlining revolutionary theory are packed with analyses that seem to contradict the above allegations, and which purport to show that dialectics has played a central role in Marxist politics since its inception. However, what revolutionaries might want to claim about their practice and what they are actually capable of acting upon as part of that practice are two entirely different things.

 

[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist, depending on context.]

 

These Essays have shown time and again that DM-theses make no sense at all, just as they have shown that DIM is to success what the US Military is to peace on earth. This means that while dialecticians may write -- or, indeed, constantly intone DM-phrases --, it isn't possible for them to form a single coherent DM-thought, and thus act upon it.

 

Of course, this places dialecticians in no worse a position than other metaphysicians (whose theories are similarly bereft of practical import); no worse perhaps, but certainly no better.32

 

If a sentence purporting to express a thought is itself incoherent, then no one uttering or writing it can mean anything by it (over and above, perhaps, certain contingent or consequential effects; for example they might intend to amuse, impress, confuse, bamboozle, distract, or startle their interlocutors). [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

The words employed in such sentences can't represent anything that could become the content of a coherent thought, and hence motivate a corresponding set of actions (trivial examples excepted, of course).33

 

To be sure, dialectical phrases can be, and have been wheeled out to 'justify' or 'rationalise' decisions that have already been taken for hard-headed political reasons (which means these phrases function rather like the empty rituals and incantations that assorted Priests, Bishops and Imams have uttered over the centuries to 'justify' war, royal privilege, exploitation, oppression, and gross inequality -- or, indeed, the nonsense phrases stage magicians utter to impress their audiences).

 

[We will encounter many examples of this phenomenon below.]

 

Furthermore, as noted in Essay Twelve Part One, because DM-theses are both non-sensical and incoherent they are incapable of 'reflecting' anything in the natural or social world, and, a fortiori, any processes underlying one or both.

 

In that case, they can't possibly help revolutionaries change society.

 

Except, of course, for the worse.

 

These allegations might at first sight appear to be rather dogmatic, since it seems plain that if something can be uttered, or perhaps written, it must be capable of being thought, and hence acted upon.

 

In reply, the rest of this section will be devoted to defending these 'controversial' allegations.

 

We encountered a similar problem in Essay Twelve Part One, connected with Lenin's attempt to specify what could or couldn't be thought concerning matter and motion:

 

M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

It turned out that what Lenin wanted to 'say' vitiated the content (or, rather, the lack of 'content') of what he appeared to mean by saying it. In the end, it emerged that he couldn't actually think what he imagined he could since M1 fell apart in the very act of 'thinking' whatever it was he thought he wanted to say by means of it. So, in asserting that motion without matter is "unthinkable" he had to do what he said could not be done; i.e., he had to think the offending words "motion without matter...", or their content. For M1 to be true, Lenin would have to know what was being ruled out as forever false -- plainly, motion without matter. But, he had just declared that this very possibility was "unthinkable".

 

So, in order to know what was being ruled out in the above sense he would have to be able to declare that the following sentence, for example, could only ever be false, never true:

 

M2: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

But, if such a sentence can only be false, and never true, it turns out that it can't actually be false. That is because if a sentence is false, it is untrue. And yet, if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is true, then we certainly can't say in what way it falls short so that it could be untrue, and hence false. For Lenin to be able to declare M2 untrue, he would have to know what made it true, so that he knew what he was in fact ruling out. But, he was in no position to do this, for the truth of M2 he had already declared "unthinkable".

 

Conversely, if a proposition can only ever be true, the conditions that would make it false are likewise excluded. In that case, if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is false then we certainly can't say in what way it falls short of these conditions so that it could be true, and hence not false. In which case, its truth (or non-falsehood) similarly falls by the wayside. Hence, Lenin was in no position to declare M1 true, because he was in no position to declare it false.

 

[A slightly longer, and I hope clearer explanation of this idea can be found here; I deal with several obvious, and a few less obvious objections to this line-of-argument in Essay Twelve Part One.]

 

So, not even Lenin could say what it was he was trying to rule in or rule out.

 

If we ignore the remote possibility that Lenin either wanted to (1) utter complete nonsense, or (2) puzzle his readers, the above argument implies that there wasn't in fact anything that Lenin intended to say, nor was there anything in his words that he could have communicated to anyone that was capable of being put into practice -- or, indeed, which could have had any practical implications whatsoever (other than negative, once more). If we are in no position to think the truth or the falsehood of M1, we are certainly in no position to say what the world would have to look like if M1 formed part of revolutionary practice and was to be 'acted upon'.

 

[The problem here, of course, is that it isn't easy to think of a single DM-thesis that could plausibly be used in practice, so if the last sentence above looks rather odd, that is the fault of this theory, not the present author! The only point being made is that if it is logically impossible to decide whether or not a certain thesis is true, then it will also be logically impossible to decide if it has been implemented correctly, or at all! So, it is no wonder DM-theses aren't actually used by dialecticians! (On that, see here. In over 25 years of searching, I have only been able to find two examples where comrades have tried to argue that dialectics has some sort of practical use; I have neutralised both here and here.)]

 

To see more clearly how this relates in general to the issues raised in this Essay, consider the following sentence schema:

 

S1: NN thought that p.

 

If "p" is taken to be a schematic letter replaceable by an empirical or factual proposition (such as "The Nile is longer than the Thames"), then clearly the sense that that proposition already has will enable it to become the content of a thought that NN could entertain, truly or falsely. However, if the sentence substitutable for "p" makes no sense, then not only would the words it contains not express a proposition (since it would then be unclear what was being proposed, or was being put forward for consideration), it would be impossible for NN to think a thought by means of it. That is because a sentence lacking a sense cannot express a true or false thought (once more, as we saw was the case with Lenin and M1 --, or, indeed, would be the case with M3):

 

M3: Lenin thought that motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M3a: I think that motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M3b: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

[Of course, it was certainly possible for Lenin to write, or utter, M3 himself (or its first person equivalent, M3a), as can others, but as we have just seen, M3b's supposed content would mean M3 immediately self-destructed. (There is more on this in Note 35a.)]

 

Howsoever M3/M3a/M3b are repackaged, they are incapable of making any sort of sense.

 

It is worth reminding ourselves that it is not an 'act of thinking' that gives a sentence its sense. If that were so, then anything could make sense, and the clause "that is an act of thinking" would itself become problematic.34

 

Indeed, the opposite of this is the case. The sense a proposition already has is what enables us to think it.

 

[The contrary supposition gains credence from the Cartesian idea that an 'act of thought' is a private, internal episode, which takes place in 'the mind' or in 'consciousness' divorced from, or anterior to social convention, and which gives meaning to our words, and sense to our indicative sentences. I have covered this topic in detail in Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part Three, so the reader is directed there for more details.]

 

Consider the following illegitimate substitution instance of "p" in S1:

 

S1: NN thought that p.

 

S2: NN thought that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared less before, if grinder.

 

S2a: The speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared less before, if grinder.

 

S2a makes no sense, and so while NN might attempt to mouth this set of words he wouldn't be able to form it into a coherent thought (assuming, once more, that S2a isn't a coded message of some sort).35

 

The problem with S2a is not connected with a lack of imagination in the one who uttered it, or in his/her audience. It isn't that howsoever hard we try we can form no idea of a primary colour that is connected to a "speed mice inconsiderable sunset", which has a pH value close to seven, twice, but only (Tarquin?) on (?) "between three o'clock…", etc. There is no such coherent thought to form. In turn, this is not because of the facts of chemistry, chromatology, or rodent biology -- or even because of the rules we have for telling the time of day. It is because S2/S2a represent a radical misuse of language, as should seem obvious. Anyone who regularly uttered sentences like S2a would probably be diagnosed as an aphasic, or as suffering from some other neurological/psychological condition.

 

While S2a is a clear case of extreme incoherence, DM-doctrines require a little more encouragement before they self-destruct (as we saw with M3 and M3b).

 

M3: Lenin thought that motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M3b: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

As argued more fully in Essay Twelve Part One, that is because DM-theorists (just like other metaphysicians) mistake the rules we have for the use of words as if they reflected substantive features of the world. They misconstrue the medium for its supposed message.

 

Dialecticians compound this error by appropriating ideas found almost exclusively in mystical theology, burying the result under several layers of impenetrable Hegelian jargon (upside down or the 'right way up'), further aggravating the situation by the disdain they show for the material language of ordinary life --, certain principles of which are partly expressed in FL.

 

[These allegations have been substantiated in other Essays published at this site, and will be given a more comprehensive analysis in Essay Twelve Parts One to Seven (summary here). It is worth emphasising that the word "non-sense" is being used here in a special way, which is explained here.]

 

However, the disguised nature of the sort of non-sense expressed by a typical DM-sentence does not affect the present point. Disguised or not, if it isn't possible to explain the sense of a single DM-thesis (as these Essays have shown, and as DM-theorists themselves have (implicitly) confirmed by their failure to do just that over the last 140+ years), it isn't possible to think their content either -- since they have none.

 

In that case -- trivial examples to one side again --, it isn't possible to act upon a single DM-thesis.35a

 

This means that any sentence token substitutable for "p" in S1 has to make sense independently of the immediate context of utterance if it is to form the content of a legitimate thought.

 

S1: NN thought that p.

 

Hence, S2a (or whatever finally replaces "p") doesn't acquire a sense just because it is prefixed with the sentential operator: "NN thought that…."36

 

S2a: The speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared less before, if grinder.

 

On the contrary, the use of "NN thought that...." is only legitimate if what follows it makes sense independently of that prefix

 

Consider these examples:

 

S1: NN thought that p.

 

S2: NN thought that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared less before, if grinder.

 

S3: NN thought that Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming.

 

S3a: Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming.

 

S3a does not express a coherent thought that NN could form by using it, hence the phrase "NN thought that..." is illicit here.

 

So, despite claims to the contrary, metaphysicians and religious mystics can't think the truth (nor can they even think the falsehood) of anything they say (in this area), either.

 

[As we will see in Essay Twelve Part One, sentences like S3a can't be made sense of, no matter what is done with or to them.]

 

Naturally, this helps account for the total uselessness of doctrines like these, and hence why they appeal to those in power -- or, at least, to their ideologues. That is plainly because a 'profound-looking' metaphysical thesis is more likely to convince a wealthy patron (and/or assorted toadying/uncritical on-lookers) that the one who concocted that 'profound-looking' metaphysical thesis has hit on something very 'deep', especially if no one appears to understand it.

 

Clearly, this is the philosophical equivalent of the Parable of the Emperor's New Clothes.37

 

This logical defect applies equally well to the sorts of things DM-theorists often try to assert, which naturally means that if what they say can't be thought (in the sense indicated above), then it can have no practical consequences (other than negative), nor can it form the basis of any sane course of action -- that is, no more than it would be the case if someone uttered the following sentences and imagined they meant something by them (other than, perhaps, an intention to confuse or startle, etc.), or expected others to act upon them:

 

S4: Make sure that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic, or the scabs will break through the picket line.

 

S5: Don't forget that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic, so we must organise a march next week.

 

S6: The fact that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic means that we shall have to widen the dispute.

 

S7: Being is at the same time identical with but different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming, so the latest pay offer is unacceptable.

 

S8: Motion without matter is unthinkable, so you'd better print more strike leaflets.

 

S9: Change is the result of internal contradictions, so don't forget to turn up on time for the paper sale.

 

Of course, S4-S6 are obviously malformed/ridiculous, but they have been quoted to make this point clear. No one supposes that dialectical propositions/instructions are quite so syntactically-challenged as these (on that see, for example, here), but they fall apart alarmingly quickly for other reasons (as these Essays have shown). [Another good example can be found here.]

 

However, as S7-S9 also demonstrate, DM-theses can't form a coherent basis for action. [Sceptical readers can insert their own favoured DM-thesis (not an HM-thesis!) into any of S7-S9; the result, I predict, will not be much different. If anyone thinks otherwise, please e-mail me with your best shot!]37a

 

It could be objected that this completely misrepresents dialectical thinking. Marxists do not reason along the above lines, nor on anything remotely like it. Perhaps not, but until we are given a clear example of the practical use of a single DM-thesis, they will have to do.37b

 

 

Non-sense And Practice

 

So, when it is claimed that ideas specific to DM have actually formed the basis of revolutionary practice it is reasonable to expect some sort of explanation as to how this is even possible -- which explanation must advance beyond the usual hand waving, diversionary tactics and bluster --, especially when no one seems to be able to say with any clarity what a single DM-doctrine actually amounts to.

 

Indeed, and because of this, it is equally reasonable to suppose that DM could only ever have succeeded in clouding the issues -- hindering revolutionaries in their attempt to develop clarity --, and further that this could only have helped initiate a series of serious tactical blunders and pointless time-wasting arguments, just as this theory should be expected to aggravate sectarian in-fighting and petty point-scoring. On top of this, this theory should be expected to help 'excuse' post hoc rationalisations of regressive and/or opportunistic policies, which would be impossible to justify otherwise (indeed, as we will soon see).38

 

Of course, this isn't the only reason for DIM's spectacular record of failure over the last 140+ years -- a record un-rivalled by any other major political creed in recent human history (other than perhaps Fascism). But, it is one of the reasons.

 

Without doubt, this truly appalling record has much more to do with the general nature of capitalist society, the fragmented and uneven state of the working-class -- when that is set against a relatively better organised, and ideologically more coherent ruling-class --, among other things.

 

However, the opposite idea -- that dialectics (which supposedly constitutes the theoretical core of Marxism) has had nothing whatsoever to do with this long and sorry record -- is bizarre in the extreme. [More on that in Essay Ten Part One.]

 

In fact, we can only absolve this Hermetic 'theory' of all blame if we concede that it has had no subjective impact whatsoever on previous generations of revolutionaries, and has never been used by them at any time in the entire history of Marxism.39

 

Pull the other one!

 

 

But, What About 1917?

 

When confronted with unwelcome facts like the above, DM-fans often respond with the traditional reply: "Well if dialectics is so dire, how come the Bolsheviks were able to win power in 1917?"

 

[Non-Leninist DM-fans, of course, don't even have this to point to as a 'success'!]

 

Oddly enough, as a Leninist myself, I find this 'objection' remarkably easy to answer: the Bolsheviks were successful because they could not, and did not use dialectics (either in its DM- or in its MD-form) in their interface with the Russian masses. To be sure, this is a controversial claim -- but that is only because no one has thought to controvert the traditional picture before.

 

In fact, the material counterweight provided by working class soviets prevented the Bolsheviks from employing this useless theory. Had they tried to propagandise/organise Russian workers with slogans such as: "Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing...", "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts...", or "Matter without motion is unthinkable" (and the like), they'd have been regarded as complete lunatics, and rightly so.

 

On the other hand, they could and did use ideas drawn from HM to help organise the revolution.

 

[All this was covered in detail Part One of this Essay. The difference between HM and DM is explained here.]

 

And it is little use arguing that dialectical concepts were used 'implicitly' (or that they 'informed' the tactics that Lenin and his party adopted, somehow operating 'behind the scenes'). As we will see below, since dialectical concepts can be employed to justify anything at all and its opposite (being inherently and proudly contradictory), had they been employed, they could only have been used subjectively, since there is no objective way to tell these incompatible applications apart.

 

Anyone who takes exception to the above will need to show precisely how Lenin and the Bolsheviks explicitly used dialectical-concepts --, as opposed to their actual employment of HM-concepts (the latter having been based on a concrete class analysis of events as they unfolded in that fateful year, and on decades of experience relating to the working class) -- in 1917. They will thus need to produce documentary evidence of the Bolshevik's actual use of dialectical ideas/theses, and then show how they could possibly have been of any practical benefit/use to workers in revolutionary struggle --, or even how they could have helped the Bolsheviks comprehend what was going on and how to intervene successfully.

 

Some might point to this passage of Lenin's:

 

"The gist of [Bukharin's] theoretical mistake in this case is substitution of eclecticism for the dialectical interplay of politics and economics (which we find in Marxism). His theoretical attitude is: 'on the one hand, and on the other', 'the one and the other'. That is eclecticism. Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development but not a patchwork of bits and pieces. I have shown this to be so on the example of politics and economics....

 

"The reader will see that Bukharin's example was meant to give me a popular explanation of the harm of one-track thinking. I accept it with gratitude, and in the one-good turn-deserves-another spirit offer a popular explanation of the difference between dialectics and eclecticism.

 

"A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there are more than these two properties, qualities or facets to it; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world. A tumbler is a heavy object which can be used as a missile; it can serve as a paper weight, a receptacle for a captive butterfly, or a valuable object with an artistic engraving or design, and this has nothing at all to do with whether or not it can be used for drinking, is made of glass, is cylindrical or not quite, and so on and so forth.

 

"Moreover, if I needed a tumbler just now for drinking, it would not in the least matter how cylindrical it was, and whether it was actually made of glass; what would matter though would be whether it had any holes in the bottom, or anything that would cut my lips when I drank, etc. But if I did not need a tumbler for drinking but for a purpose that could be served by any glass cylinder, a tumbler with a cracked bottom or without one at all would do just as well, etc.

 

"Formal logic, which is as far as schools go (and should go, with suitable abridgements for the lower forms), deals with formal definitions, draws on what is most common, or glaring, and stops there. When two or more different definitions are taken and combined at random (a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel), the result is an eclectic definition which is indicative of different facets of the object, and nothing more.

 

"Dialectical logic demands that we should go further. Firstly, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world. Thirdly, a full 'definition' of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indicator of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical logic holds that 'truth is always concrete, never abstract', as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel....

 

"I have not, of course, run through the whole notion of dialectical logic, but what I have said will do for the present. I think we can return from the tumbler to the trade unions and Trotsky's platform....

 

"Why is Bukharin's reasoning no more than inert and empty eclecticism? It is because he does not even try to make an independent analysis, from his own standpoint, either of the whole course of the current controversy (as Marxism, that is, dialectical logic, unconditionally demands) or of the whole approach to the question, the whole presentation -- the whole trend of the presentation, if you will -- of the question at the present time and in these concrete circumstances. You do not see Bukharin doing that at all! His approach is one of pure abstraction: he makes no attempt at concrete study, and takes bits and pieces from Zinoviev and Trotsky. That is eclecticism." [Lenin (1921), pp.90-93. Italic emphases in the original. Quotations marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

It could be argued that this is a classic example of dialectical thought in action, and one which not only allowed Lenin to transcend the hasty conclusions Bukharin and Trotsky reached, but form a clear, concrete political analysis of situations as they arose, and then decide how to move the revolution forward.

 

However, as we have seen in Essay Ten Part One, it is in fact quite impossible to put Lenin's strategy into practise, just as there is no evidence that he ever did so himself (in 1917, or even in 1921, when the above was written). [The reader is directed to the above Essay for more details.]

 

Now, I have trawled through the available minutes and decrees of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party (from August 1917 to February 1918), and have failed to find a single DM-thesis -- let alone one drawn from MD -- put to any use, or even alluded to in passing! [Bone (1974).] To be sure, it is always possible I might have missed something, but even if I have, this Hermetic creed hardly forms a prominent part of the day-to-day discussions between active revolutionaries.

 

Added later: I have now gone though the available documents line by line twice -- still no sign of this 'centrally important' theory!

 

In fact, it is conspicuous by its absence.

 

Hence, the available evidence confirms the claims made above: active revolutionaries made no use of this 'theory', plainly because it is impossible to put a single DM-thesis into practice.

 

Added later still: I have now checked the Theses, Resolutions And Manifestos Of The First Four Congresses Of The Third International [Holt and Holland (1983)], and the only visible sign of dialectics amounts to a couple of dozen occurrences of the word "contradiction" (employed in relation to the unfolding crises in capitalism (etc.)) in over 400 pages. No other examples of dialectical jargon appear in the entire volume. Even then, "contradiction" isn't used to explain anything, nor does it seem to do any theoretical or practical work (indeed, as noted elsewhere, this word is used simply because it is part of a well-established tradition, and nothing more). Furthermore, most of the occurrences of this word are down to Zinoviev; as far as I can tell, Lenin doesn't use the term anywhere in the book.

 

Moreover, in Trotsky's The Third International After Lenin [Trotsky (1974)], dialectics is mentioned only fourteen times in nearly 300 pages, and then only in passing. This theory does no work there either.

 

And it is even less use someone requiring of me to produce proof that Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not use dialectical ideas, since there is no written evidence that he/they did, as the above indicates. In which case, the contrary conclusion (that DM/MD weren't actually used) goes by default.

 

That is in addition to the fact that it has been shown (above, and in Essay Nine Part One) that it isn't possible to apply DM-concepts -- they have no practical applications, other than negative, as we will see in the next section. After all, even Lenin got into a serious muddle when he tried to play around with such ideas, let alone when he attempted to apply them; his "all round" consideration of the facts ("mediacies") would have locked him into a permanent state of indecision. So, it is little wonder he avoided using this theory at such an important juncture.

 

As we will soon find out, too, dialectical concepts can be made to 'justify' anything you like (no matter how contradictory that "anything you like" might otherwise appear to be; in fact the more contradictory it is, the more 'dialectical' it seems to be!). Indeed, it can be, and has been used to rationalise any course of action, and its opposite (often this trick is performed by the very same dialectician, in the same article, or even in the same speech!), including policies that are both counter-revolutionary and anti-Marxist.

 

[Some have argued in response to the above claim that other theories can be, and have been used in this way -- i.e., one individual might use a theory to prove one thing and then another theorist might use it to prove the opposite. Maybe so, but only DM (or, perhaps, Zen Buddhism) has been used by the very same individual to rationalise one course of action/thesis and its opposite, sometimes on the same page, or even in the same paragraph/sentence/speech! Moreover, no other theory is accepted by revolutionary cadres, and so no other theory is so well placed to 'win' them to anything their 'leaders' consider expedient.]

 

In fact, shortly after the revolution many younger comrades (and Russian scientists) began to argue at length that all of Philosophy (and not just dialectics) is part of ruling-class ideology (which is a crude version of my own thesis!). It wasn't until the Deborinites won a factional battle in 1925/26 that this trend was defeated (and that was clearly engineered to help pave the way for the further destruction of the gains of October 1917). [More about that later.]

 

[On this, see Bakhurst (1991), Joravsky (1961), Graham (1971), Wetter (1958).]

 

Indeed, Lenin's use of 'dialectical logic' (in the passage quoted above), took place in 1921, when the revolution was beginning to go backward. This is in line with what was said earlier: this theory is only of real use in times of defeat or set-back. It also conforms to other things that have been alleged in this Essay: that dialectics is an ideal tool for use in faction fights, since its nebulous theses can be marshalled in support of anything at all, and its opposite.

 

So, 1917 can't be chalked-up as a success for this strain of Hermetic Mysticism.

 

However, we will soon see that the disintegration and destruction of the results of 1917 can, indeed, be attributed partly to this 'theory'.

 

 

Substitutionism 2

 

Naturally, the above comments leave out of the account the influence DM has had on substitutionist ideas at work in the revolutionary tradition. This brings us to our next topic.

 

 

DM And Mystification

 

I will be devoting an entire Essay to this topic, but for present purposes we need merely sum up the results so far:

 

In Part One it was shown that ideas exclusive to DM can't be used to educate, propagandise or agitate the working-class. Moreover, dialectics can't even represent a generalisation of the experience of the Revolutionary Party; that is because not one single DM-fan understands this theory -- or if they do, they have kept that fact well hidden for over one hundred and forty years. Worse still, there is no evidence that revolutionaries have used this 'theory' in their practical interface with the working-class. Indeed, because of its incoherence, it can't be so used.

 

On the contrary, the shadowy history of this theory reveals where DM-concepts originated: not from the experience of the party, nor from that of the class, but from a tradition possessed of excellent ruling-class credentials, a tradition that has promoted an Ideal view of reality for at least two-and-a-half millennia -- that is, a view of a hidden world that supposedly underlies material appearances, and which is accessible to thought alone.

 

In this Part of Essay Nine, it has been argued that ideas unique to DM can have no practical impact other than negative, since they are devoid of sense and are based on divisive concepts appropriated from boss-class ideologues. Not only does this theory fail to relate to workers' experience, it fails to relate to anyone's experience, or even experience anyone could conceivably have. Because of this it has to be imposed on workers, 'against the materialist grain', as it were.

 

In stark contrast, HM not only can, it does have practical import. It represents the generalisation and systematisation of workers' (indeed, humanity's) collective experience and understanding -- as well as that of the party.

 

Nevertheless, in the analysis given so far, the connection between DM and substitutionism has been left somewhat vague and unclear.

 

Substitutionist ideas in general (in this context) originate from the belief that workers are incapable of organising themselves (that is, over and above developing merely a 'trade union form of consciousness', or the like) -- or they are too few/too weak to do this -- and thus that they are incapable of bringing about (successful) revolutionary change.

 

[It is now clear from Lars Lih's work that Lenin himself didn't believe this; but the vast majority of those claiming to be Leninists since, have (Lih (2005, 2010)).]

 

Of course, substitutionism isn't itself an expression of free-floating ideas, nor is it monolithic. It springs from various class ideologies and material interests, but it only becomes problematic at certain historical junctures. It largely gains and maintains its grip (when it does) because of the fragmented and uneven nature of the working-class --, which conditions it parasites, prolongs or exacerbates. Nevertheless, as is well-known, substitutionist ideas manifest themselves in the general belief that workers actually need someone, or some other group to lead them (both theoretically and practically), and that they are incapable (for whatever reason) of leading their own political struggle and thus of transforming society through their own activity, etc., etc. [More on this in Essay Nine Part One.]40

 

To be sure, this isn't the whole story, and it is possible to link substitutionist ideas to other reactionary beliefs and theories, not just these. That won't be attempted here.

 

 

Installing The New Program

 

Among revolutionaries (at such times), the ideological justification for substitutionism can assume many forms, nurturing perhaps the belief that 'objective' factors prevent workers themselves from creating a classless society, or from prosecuting the struggle to attain it. It also motivates the belief that workers are incapable of comprehending their own interests, that they have been befuddled by 'commonsense' and 'formal thinking', or that they have been "bought off" by imperialist "super-profits", etc.

 

However, more specifically in connection with the main theme of this Essay, a commitment to DM encourages the idea that workers can't grasp the fundamental 'scientific' and/or 'philosophical' principles that underlie human history or, indeed, the rest of the universe. That being the case, they will, of course, need someone else to do this, or to understand that, for them.40a

 

This belief now transforms Marxists (who are inclined in the above directions) into latter-day prophets, 'teachers of the masses', and hence superior human beings -- which transformation helps explain the personality cults and the elitist comments one often hears from such individuals -- such as "workerism", "economism", "banal commonsense".41

 

Nevertheless, this doesn't exhaust the possibilities. As it turns out, these other considerations are connected with the familiar claim appropriated from Traditional Philosophy that there is a fundamental distinction between "appearance" and "reality".

 

It is no accident then that the above distinction has traditionally been associated with a haughty disdain for ordinary language and common experience (as we will see in Essay Twelve, summary here). Thus, if reality is in fact different from the way it seems -- indeed, its very opposite -- then workers, who, according to this approach, view nature and society superficially, based on 'commonsense', clearly require someone not only to unmask nature's secrets for them, but lead their thinking and act as their brains. Indeed, if the vernacular is inadequate in this regard (that is, if it can't be trusted "beyond certain limits"), then it needs to be 'augmented' by, or even replaced with, terminology that can. Or, at the very least, it requires supplementation with Hegelian, 'philosophical' jargon. Since 'commonsense' and ordinary language are inter-linked (on this view), and both are connected with communal life, this 'replacement language' must be based on what are taken to be philosophically- and scientifically-sound representational principles -- but not on the vernacular, which is governed by 'unreliable' and 'crude' working class, communicational or communitarian principles.42

 

Moreover, and because of this, the impenetrable jargon employed by those who have developed this new 'revolutionary' theory must assist in the initiation of any acolyte it manages to attract into its inner mysteries, which will in the end reveal (to those not lost in the mists of 'commonsense') nature's underlying "essence", uncovering secrets that lie way beyond the reach of 'formal consciousness'.

 

 

 

Figure Six: Dialectician Looking For 'Underlying Essences'

 

Hence, according to this way of seeing things, workers require teachers who are prepared to substitute into their heads a new set of ideas -- a set of doctrines that tell them of a hidden world underlying 'appearances', accessible by thought alone (which is why these ideas have to be introduced to workers theoretically) -- in place of the socially-, and materially-grounded beliefs they already have. Alas, this new set of ideas has been derived from the class enemy, and contains concepts drawn from the very worst forms of Mystical Idealism.42a

 

Workers' thinking must therefore be up-ended, and their materialist ideas replaced with these inverted, Idealist concepts. The erstwhile subjects of history (i.e., revolutionary workers) must therefore become the passive objects of theory. They must be intellectually pacified by being theoretically knocked off their feet.

 

[Much of the background to the above, seemingly dogmatic assertions can be found in Part One of this Essay.]

 

At this point, it is worth stressing that it is not being maintained here that revolutionaries should adopt a romantic or naïve view of either workers or their ideas --, i.e., that their thoughts aren't fragmentary or inconsistent, that racist or sexist notions don't enter their heads, that they always and infallibly know how best to further their own interests, that they have the requisite organisational structures adequate to that end -- or even that they understand the nature and source of their own oppression and exploitation, and so on.

 

[None of these conditions are cast in stone, anyway! How workers transform themselves in struggle (with or without the aid of the party) is already well understood by Marxists, and needs no elaboration by me. Even so, Essay Twelve Part Seven I aim to show why any successful intervention by revolutionaries will have to be centred on the vernacular (but not on the obscure jargon imported from the work of Hegel and other boss-class theorists) and common understanding. Any who still think ordinary language is inadequate in some way are encouraged to read this and then this, and then think again. Or, failing that, contact the editors of the vast majority or revolutionary papers on the planet, and tell them to stop using the vernacular to communicate with workers!]

 

Neither is it part of the argument here that workers do not need a revolutionary party drawn from their own ranks, which has established deep links with workers (forged in struggle), and which has thus learnt from them.43

 

On the other hand, because HM represents a generalisation of workers' experience, when it is introduced to them it augments what they already know. In that case, it doesn't need to be substituted into their heads in place of their own ideas -- even though it might change many of these for the better. As, noted in Essay Nine Part One, because HM meshes with workers' own experience, and speaks to their exploitation and oppression, it is introduced to them from the 'inside', as it were.

 

Nevertheless, the only issue of immediate concern here is the influence that DM-ideas have had on the attitude revolutionaries adopt toward workers. Indeed, this concerns the connection between DM and the petty-bourgeois, substitutionist mentality that appears to be endemic among professional revolutionaries (because of their class position and their fondness for this elitist, boss-class theory).

 

Hence, in relation to strategy and tactics, and with regard to the theoretical understanding of the relationship between party and class, the question posed in this section is whether ideas drawn from what are demonstrably ruling-class sources, which reflect the priorities of that class (e.g., mystification, esotericism, fragmentation, control, arrogance, disdain), when adopted by revolutionaries may have unsuspected, but inevitably substitutionist consequences.

 

In short, it is alleged that dialectical concepts will, among other things, be used in order to rationalise and justify substitutionism.

 

And that is precisely what we find.

 

[Indeed, in Essay Nine Part One, it was concluded that DM/MD is in fact the ideology of substitutionist elements within Marxism.]

 

 

Case Studies

 

This Essay Isn't Just Making a Series Of Merely Academic Points

 

It could argued that many of the remarks aired in the first half of this Essay are largely theoretical and abstract. That isn't entirely true, but let us suppose it is. In that case, what is needed now are concrete examples (drawn from the history DIM) of the deleterious effects on revolutionaries of the use dialectical concepts.43a

 

Fortunately, because of the long-term failure of DIM, these aren't too hard to find -- in fact, it is rather surprising that no one has noticed them before (which in itself confirms the narcoleptic effect Hegelian concepts and a slavish adherence to tradition have had on the minds of the vast majority of DM/MD-fans, and on those who have studied the history of our movement).

 

In that case, what follows is, I think, the very first study of its kind.

 

Four preliminary points however need to be made:

 

(1) As noted in the Preface to this Essay, the following sections are still in their infancy; they will require far more attention devoting to them before the conclusions I have drawn can be regarded as in any way definitive. I will add more detail and evidence as my researches continue.

 

(2) However, the search for this evidence has been hampered by the fact that every single Marxist history I have read (concerning the periods I am about to analyse -- indeed, about any period in our history!) fails even to consider whether or not MD/DM are in any way to blame (in whole or in part) for the defeats and disasters our side has suffered since the 1860s.

 

As far as I can determine, the role this theory has played doesn't merit even so much as a cursory mention in this respect!

 

Of course, that is in itself quite revealing, given the centrality this theory is supposed to have assumed in everything that revolutionaries are alleged to have said, thought and done -- according to what they themselves tell us.

 

Why this universal, selective blindness?

 

The answer is pretty clear: as Marx suggested, blaming this theory in any way at all, directly or indirectly, wholly or partly, for the long-term failure of DIM would undermine the only source of consolation available to dialectically-distracted comrades. Despite what we are constantly told, it is also why this theory has never been tested in practice -- in the sense that practice has been allowed to deliver its unambiguous and unwelcome verdict.

 

(3) Any Stalinists and/or Maoists who disagree with my assessment of their respective traditions below are encouraged to shelve whatever knee-jerk reactions they might have to what the read until the end of this main section, by which time they should see the point of it all.

 

[As for fellow Trotskyists, they will already have switched off, anyway! Experience has taught me that they are among the most closed-minded of dialecticians, often warning others not to read these Essays for fear that the pristine purity of their ideas might be 'tainted' as a result -- often reacting just like Trotsky did to those in the US-SWP back in the 1930s who rejected this theory. Literally scores of examples of this rather odd phenomenon can be found at RevLeft and other sites on the internet where I have tried to engage them in debate.]

 

(4) Once again, it is worth reminding readers that my argument isn't the following: DM has been derived from boss-class concepts, therefore it is false. On the contrary, my argument is: DM makes no sense, in which case it is impossible for anyone to decide if it is true or false -- so no wonder it has served us so badly for over a century. Moreover, because (a) DM is non-sensical and incoherent, and because of (b) its origin in traditional ruling-class thought, it can have no positive practical applications -- only negative -- on a movement that is supposed to be aimed at transforming, and then terminating, class society.

 

In the material presented below, I have published dozens of lengthy passages from dialecticians aimed at showing how deep Hegelian concepts have penetrated into our movement, exposing the pernicious effect they have had on every aspect of revolutionary theory and practice.

 

Apologies must be offered in advance for this, but there is no way that the above objectives can be achieved otherwise. Long experience has taught me that dialecticians tend to deny allegations they do not like unless they are backed-up by chapter and verse. Even then, with passages from Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao staring them in the face, many of them remain locked in 'deny-everything-mode'. [Excellent recent examples of this phenomenon can be found here.]

 

I propose therefore to consider three specific cases: the effect DM had on (1) The increasingly Stalinised Bolshevik Party post-1925; (2) Dialectical Maoists from the early 1930s onward; and (3) The Trotskyist movement post-1929.

 

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

 

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

 

We will be lucky if the proletariat ever trust us again.

 

 

[1] Stalinism

 

DM/MD were used by the Stalinised Bolshevik Party (after Lenin's death) to 'justify' the imposition of an undemocratic (if not openly anti-democratic and terror-based) structure on both the Communist Party and the population of former Soviet Union (fSU) -- and later on Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere.

 

The catastrophic effect of these moves hardly needs underlining.

 

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

 

[As we will discover, such moves have been echoed in practically every Marxist Tendency since, right won to the current crisis in the UK-SWP.]

 

Indeed, this very 'contradiction' illustrated the truth of dialectics!

 

As Stalin himself put it:

 

"The flowering of cultures that are national in form and socialist in content under the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country for the purpose of merging them into one common socialist (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, when the proletariat is victorious all over the world and when socialism becomes the way of life -- it is just this that constitutes the dialectics of the Leninist presentation of the question of national culture.

 

"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27, 1930. Bold emphasis alone added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]43a0

 

Less democracy is more democracy!

 

In addition, the various 'national cultures' in the fSU will flower under 'socialism' if they are merged in to one!

 

A contradiction?

 

No worries -- a little dialectics will soon sort that out!

 

Stalin went on to add this rather ominous note:

 

"Anyone who fails to understand this peculiar feature and 'contradiction' of our transition period, anyone who fails to understand these dialectics of the historical processes, is dead as far as Marxism is concerned.

 

"The misfortune of our deviators is that they do not understand, and do not wish to understand, Marx's dialectics." [Ibid. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

As many leading Bolsheviks were soon to find out, Stalin wasn't joking when he made these remarks.

 

Indeed, as noted above, this theory formed part of Stalin's 'justification' for the Communist Party's line on the National Question, specifically linking these two issues in the previous quotation:

 

"Lenin sometimes depicted the thesis on national self-determination in the guise of the simple formula: 'disunion for union'. Think of it -- disunion for union. It even sounds like a paradox. And yet, this 'contradictory' formula reflects that living truth of Marx's dialectics which enables the Bolsheviks to capture the most impregnable fortresses in the sphere of the national question." [Ibid. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

This allowed Stalin to claim that the merging of all national cultures (in the fSU) into one was at the same time to show respect for, and thus preserve, their differences! One thing we can be sure about: the Chechens and the Cossacks certainly appreciated Stalin's 'dialectical' solution to the national question.

 

Earlier, Stalin had argued against Trotsky's demand for "inner party democracy" as follows:

 

"The essence of Trotskyism is, lastly, denial of the necessity for iron discipline in the Party, recognition of freedom for factional groupings in the Party, recognition of the need to form a Trotskyist party. According to Trotskyism, the CPSU(B) must be not a single, united militant party, but a collection of groups and factions, each with its own centre, its own discipline, its own press, and so forth. What does this mean? It means proclaiming freedom for political factions in the Party. It means that freedom for political groupings in the Party must be followed by freedom for political parties in the country, i.e., bourgeois democracy. Consequently, we have here recognition of freedom for factional groupings in the Party right up to permitting political parties in the land of the dictatorship of the proletariat, disguised by phrases about 'inner-party democracy', about 'improving the regime' in the Party. That freedom for factional squabbling of groups of intellectuals is not inner-party democracy, that the widely-developed self-criticism conducted by the Party and the colossal activity of the mass of the Party membership is real and genuine inner-party democracy -- Trotskyism can't understand." [Ibid. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Greater democracy from less democracy; all eminently contradictory, all quintessentially 'dialectical'.

 

[On this, see Appendix F.]

 

All this follows, of course, from the Hegelian idea that conformity to law is the very essence of freedom, as Lenin noted:

 

"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other…." [Lenin (1961), p.359. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphases added.]

 

As Engels also pointed out:

 

"This second definition of freedom, which quite unceremoniously gives a knock-out blow to the first one, is again nothing but an extreme vulgarisation of the Hegelian conception. Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him, freedom is the insight into necessity (die Einsicht in die Notwendigheit).

 

"'Necessity is blind only in so far as it is not understood [begriffen].' [Engels is here quoting Hegel (1975), p.209, §147 -- RL.]

 

"Freedom does not consist in any dreamt-of independence from natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good in relation both to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily and mental existence of men themselves -- two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality. Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject. Therefore the freer a man's judgment is in relation to a definite question, the greater is the necessity with which the content of this judgment will be determined; while the uncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among many different and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely by this that it is not free, that it is controlled by the very object it should itself control. Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity; it is therefore necessarily a product of historical development.

 

"The first men who separated themselves from the animal kingdom were in all essentials as unfree as the animals themselves, but each step forward in the field of culture was a step towards freedom.... [F]or the first time there can be talk of real human freedom, of an existence in harmony with the laws of nature that have become known." [Engels (1976), pp.144-45. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

I will be discussing these ideas -- which are in fact reminiscent of ancient New Testament and Pauline notions (also to be found in Rousseau) -- in Essay Three Part Five. Suffice it to say here that the 'contradiction' between freedom and necessity was 'solved' by Engels and Lenin in the same basic way that Christians 'solve' scientific problems in the Bible -- they either (a) invent a miracle or (b) they bury the problem in the 'Divine Mystery'. DM-theorists 'solve' this problem by waving the word "dialectics" at it, thus burying it in the mysteries of DL. [In short, they Nixon it.]

 

Be this as it may, this 'contradiction' 'justified' the Stalinised argument that greater freedom was to be found in the imposition of an undemocratic and terror based legal structure on the working class of the fSU (and elsewhere). [Although they wouldn't put this point quite like that!]

 

Workers were thus "forced to be free" (to paraphrase Rousseau).

 

[The background to this way of looking at 'freedom' can be found in Isaiah Berlin's classic essay Two Concepts of Liberty -- i.e., Berlin (2002), pp.166-217. I hasten to add that I do not agree with everything Berlin says, but this work is still unmatched in the clarity it brings to this issue.]

 

To be sure, this was a gross distortion of what Engels and Lenin might have meant, but that's Diabolical Logic for you -- it can be (and was here) used to rationalise anything Stalin and his henchmen liked, and its opposite.

 

Indeed, by using this universal solvent (DL), it became possible to 'justify' the idea that socialism could be built in one country, by, among other things, the dubious invention of "internal" versus "external" contradictions, later supported by the further invention of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions, along with the highly convenient idea that some contradictions were, while some were not, "antagonistic".

 

Hence, the obvious class differences that remained, or which soon emerged in the fSU were either "non-existent" or were, despite 'appearances' to the contrary, "harmonious". The real enemies (i.e., the source of all those nasty, "principal" (or perhaps even "antagonistic") contradictions) were the external, imperialist powers.43a00

 

This analysis 'allowed' STDs to argue that socialism could be built in one country because it was now possible to define the intrinsic nature of the fSU by means of its internal relations, not the relations it held with the rest of the Capitalist world. We saw this was a consequence of one interpretation of the "unity and interpenetration of opposites" (which was, oddly enough, an interpretation promoted by STDs themselves). Since DM can be used in any which way a particular dialectician pleases, we also saw that this approach will only work if, in this case, the fSU is isolated from its surroundings, and the relations it holds with the rest of the world are treated as merely 'external'. On the other hand, if we look at capitalism from a different 'dialectical' angle, and view the world economy as a system in its own right, the relationship between the fSU and the capitalist world can be re-classified as 'internal' [This is indeed the line that Trotsky and his followers took.]

 

All this is part of the 'dialectical equivocation' we met in Essays Eight Part One and Eleven Part Two between 'external' and 'internal' contradictions; between what I have called the 'geometric or spatial interpretation' of the "unity and interpenetration of opposites", and the 'logical' version. What looks 'external' on one view of this theory is 'internal' from another, and vice versa.

 

The super-dialectical 'flexibility' built into this theory -- since neither Hegel, Marx, Engels, Plekhanov nor Lenin seem to have known anything about 'external contradictions' (the term itself seems to be non-viable, anyway) --, 'allowed' this convenient distinction to be used to defend any idea whatsoever, and its opposite, put to 'good use' here by the Stalinists to defend this revised view of the nature of the fSU and what was possible to build within its now sealed borders.

 

This then 'allowed' STDs to claim that the actions of the imperialist powers, for example, constituted one set of 'external contradictions' in relation to the fSU itself, and hence to conclude that the real nature of the fSU could be defined internally, based on its own internal, but 'non-antagonistic' contradictions. This in turn 'enabled' them to argue (or, rather, it 'allowed' them to rationalise a conclusion already arrived at for hard-headed political reasons -- on that, see here) that socialism could be built in one country.

 

Clearly, this hyper-plastic theory can be bent into any shape that proves either convenient or expedient.

 

As Stalin argued:

 

"Our country exhibits two groups of contradictions. One group consists of the internal contradictions that exist between the proletariat and the peasantry.... The other group consists of the external contradictions that exist between our country, as the land of socialism, and all the other countries, as lands of capitalism....

 

"Anyone who confuses the first group of contradictions, which can be overcome entirely by the efforts of one country, with the second group of contradictions, the solution of which requires the efforts of the proletarians of several countries, commits a gross error against Leninism. He is either a muddle-head or an incorrigible opportunist." [Stalin (1976c), pp.210-11. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"What is meant by the possibility of the victory of socialism in one country?

 

"It means the possibility of solving the contradictions between the proletariat and the peasantry by means of the internal forces of our country, the possibility of the proletariat seizing power and using that power to build a complete socialist society in our country, with the sympathy and the support of the proletarians of other countries, but without the preliminary victory of the proletarian revolution in other countries.

 

"Without, such a possibility, building socialism is building without prospects, building without being sure that socialism will be completely built. It is no use engaging in building socialism without being sure that we can build it completely, without being sure that the technical backwardness of our country is not an insuperable obstacle to the building of a complete socialist society. To deny such a possibility means disbelief in the cause of building socialism, departure from Leninism.

 

"What is meant by the impossibility of the complete, final victory of socialism in one country without the victory of the revolution in other countries?

 

"It means the impossibility of having a full guarantee against intervention, and consequently against the restoration of the bourgeois order, without the victory of the revolution in at least a number of countries. To deny this indisputable thesis means departure from internationalism, departure from Leninism...." [Ibid., pp.212-13. Bold emphases added.]43a1

 

[How 'contradictions' can be "overcome" is, of course, a deep mystery which we will have to pass over in silence. I will return to this passage along with others like it, and consider them in more detail as this Essay unfolds.]

 

Nevertheless, as Tom Weston has shown in a recent article in Science & Society [Weston (2008)], the distinction between "antagonistic" and "non-antagonistic contradictions" [henceforth, ACs and NACs, respectively] can't be attributed to Lenin, as many have supposed:

 

"Antagonism and contradiction are not at all the same thing. In socialism, the first will disappear, but the latter will remain." [Lenin, quoted in Weston (2008), p.433. This was in fact a marginal note Lenin wrote in his copy of a book by Bukharin!]

 

Weston goes on to say:

 

"This note has often been treated as evidence that Lenin accepted or even invented the NAC concept (e.g., Mitin and Mao), but it surely does not show this. Like Marx, Lenin distinguished contradiction from antagonism, and this raises a philosophical question about the relation between the two. Lenin did not answer this question, however, and he did not claim that antagonism is a special kind of contradiction." [Weston (2008), p.433.]

 

[Incidentally, Weston, who knows his logic (after all, he teaches the subject!), is remarkably accommodating here. For example, he nowhere asks why 'dialectical contradictions' are contradictions to begin with. As we have seen (in Essay Five, Eight Part One, Eight Part Two (here, here and here), Essay Eight Part Three, and Essay Eleven Part One), little sense can be made of the term "dialectical contradiction". Nor does Weston ask how Lenin could possibly have known that "antagonism" and "contradiction" either are or aren't the same, or that one will disappear under socialism while the other won't. (The answer is, of course, that Lenin couldn't possibly have known this -- unless he was imposing these ideas on nature and society, contrary to what dialecticians tell us they never do.) It also raises the question, which Weston doesn't I think answer: "Well, what is the difference between antagonism and contradiction?"]

 

Weston then goes on to point out that the idea that there are NACs and ACs in nature and society began to take shape in the work of Bukharin and Deborin, but the first explicit appearance of either notion was in 1930, in an article that appeared in the Party's theoretical journal Bol'shevik, written by Nicolai Karev (who was later to play a key role in Boris Hessen's demise):

 

"The theme of this article was a critique of Bukharin's and Alexandr Bogdanov's conceptions of contradiction and equilibrium. As part of his argument that antagonism of classes is not analogous to antagonism of physical forces acting in different directions, Karev gave the following definition: 'Antagonism is in general that type of contradiction in which the opposite sides have become completely isolated from one another and externally confront one another'". [Ibid., p.440. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

[As noted above, this new line, of course, depends on the spatial view of the "unity and interpenetration of opposites" (and cannot be made consistent with anything Hegel ever wrote -- upside down or the 'right way up'), and has been peddled ever since by STDs.]

 

It is quite clear from what Weston tell us that these two forms of 'contradiction' were introduced in order to rationalise the CPSU's claim that (1) socialism could be built in one country, that (2) there was no class war in the fSU, that (3) workers and peasants were neither oppressed nor exploited -- even if they still had conflicting interests -- and also to (4) 'justify' the murderous collectivisation of land and subsequent purges:

 

"From the 1930s, the most important application of the NAC concept was the soviet policy toward the peasantry...." [Ibid., p.436.]

 

Production by peasants was based on privately owned small-holdings, and there would naturally arise conflict between the peasantry and the urban working class over the prices the former charged for their produce. However:

 

"The Bolsheviks...considered the poor and middle peasants and agricultural workers to be allies of the urban working class, forming a 'bond' which was the official basis of the soviet state." [Ibid., p.437.]

 

However, this was not so with respect to the "kulaks" and the urban traders (the so-called "NEPmen"), who were regarded as class enemies, whose ACs were soon 'resolved' by the Bolsheviks -- that is, these groups were eradicated. "No man, no problem." [Yes, I know Stalin probably didn't say this!]:

 

"The...official view was that the contradiction of the labouring classes versus the kulaks tend to become more intense, while the contradictions inside the 'bond' tend to die out. Stalin wrote that inside the 'bond', there existed 'a struggle whose importance is out-weighed by...the community of interests, and which should disappear in the future...when they become working people of a classless society'.... Similar claims were made for the contradictions between manual workers and the soviet 'intelligentsia'...." [Ibid., p.437. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]43b

 

[STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]

 

Nevertheless, a couple of generations later and we find that STDs were still promoting the same line. Here is Cornforth (also misusing Lenin!):

 

"In general, social contradictions are antagonistic when they involve conflicts of economic interest. In such cases one group imposes its own interests on another, and one group suppresses another by forcible methods. But when conflicts of economic interest are not involved, there is no antagonism and therefore no need for the forcible suppression of any group by any other. Once class antagonisms are done away with in socialist society, all social questions can be settled by discussion and argument, by criticism and self-criticism, by persuasion, conviction and agreement....

 

"So Lenin remarked that 'antagonism and contradiction are utterly different. Under socialism antagonism disappears, but contradiction remains' (Critical Notes on Bukharin's 'Economics of the Transition Period')." [Cornforth (1974), pp.105-06.]

 

In which case, under 'socialism' strikes are 'obviously' unnecessary -- or, they just 'don't happen' -- hence, they shouldn't happen; but, when they do, they must be suppressed. And so they were suppressed with a level of violence rarely seen anywhere else outside of overtly fascist states. [On this, see Haynes (2002), and Kozlov (2002).]

 

Any attempt made by workers to rebel (e.g., Hungary 1956) were blamed on "external forces", or agents from outside the working class  (a familiar excuse used by ruling classes the world over to account for, and thus ignore or explain away the significance of 'social unrest' -- all caused, of course, by the ubiquitous "external agitator"), i.e., in this case, the "imperialist powers", "fascists", or even Tito (but not ordinary workers fighting for and on behalf of their own interests), once more.44

 

We will merely note, alongside Cornforth, the calm way that the NACs in Hungary (in 1956) were resolved by Russian tanks (i.e., using "discussion and argument...persuasion, conviction and agreement").

 

To be sure, howsoever hard one tries, it is difficult not to be "persuaded" by an armoured column.

 

 

Figure Seven: Hungary 1956 -- How To 'Resolve

Contradictions' The STD Way

 

Cornforth also tried to defend the idea that socialism could be created in one country -- referring his readers to Trotsky's counter-claim, which was allegedly based on "abstract" and fixed categories:

 

"After the proletarian revolution was successful another scheme was propounded -- this time by Trotsky. 'You can't build socialism in one country. Unless the revolution takes place in the advanced capitalist countries, socialism can't come in Russia.' Lenin and Stalin showed that this scheme, too, was false....

 

"In all these examples it will be seen that the acceptance of some ready-made scheme, some abstract formula, means passivity, support for capitalism, betrayal of the working class and of socialism. But the dialectical approach which understands things in their concrete interconnections and movement shows us how to forge ahead -- how to fight, what allies to draw in. That is the inestimable value of the Marxist dialectical method to the working class movement." [Ibid., pp.79-80. Bold emphasis added.]

 

[Several other attempts made by STDs and MISTs to show that Trotsky ignored or 'misused' the 'dialectic' can be found in Note 44.]

 

Which is odd in view of what Trotsky himself argued:

 

"Shachtman obviously does not take into account the distinction between the abstract and the concrete. Striving toward concreteness, our mind operates with abstractions. Even 'this,' 'given,' 'concrete' dog is an abstraction because it proceeds to change, for example, by dropping its tail the 'moment' we point a finger at it. Concreteness is a relative concept and not an absolute one: what is concrete in one case turns out to be abstract in another: that is, insufficiently defined for a given purpose. In order to obtain a concept 'concrete' enough for a given need it is necessary to correlate several abstractions into one -- just as in reproducing a segment of life upon the screen, which is a picture in movement, it is necessary to combine a number of still photographs.

 

"The concrete is a combination of abstractions -- not an arbitrary or subjective combination but one that corresponds to the laws of the movement of a given phenomenon." [Trotsky (1971), p.147. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Since the USSR is no more, and with the benefit of hindsight, one should rightly conclude that Cornforth ought to have remained loyal to Lenin's 'fixed' and 'abstract' scheme that the revolution would have to spread, or die:

 

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

 

"We always staked our play on an international revolution and this was unconditionally right... we always emphasised...the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution." [Lenin, Sochineniia, 25, pp.473-74; quoted from Cliff (1988), pp.156-57. Bold emphasis added. Parts of this can be found in Volume 31 of Lenin's Collected Works; however, the last 18 words have in fact been edited out!]45

 

Anyone who thinks these comments are prejudicial to Stalinism should perhaps reflect on the fact that the contrary idea -- that socialism could be built in one country -- has been refuted by history.

 

Which is, after all, what Lenin predicted.

 

The additional fact that not one single proletarian hand was raised in defence of the 'workers' states' (both in the fSU and in Eastern Europe) between 1989 and 1991 as they were toppled merely confirms Lenin's assessment. Indeed, many workers actually helped overthrow these 'People's Democracies'. Compare this with the way that workers in many countries have fought (sometimes to the death) to defend or promote even limited forms of bourgeois democracy since then. Indeed, contrast it with the way that workers and others fought in Nepal in 2006, in Lebanon, Serbia, France, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia recently -- and now in Burma (1988 and 2007), Kyrgyzstan (April 2010), Bangkok (April 2010), Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, and Libya (2011/13) -- to name but a few.

 

Furthermore, the dire political consequences of the idea that socialism could be built in one country can be seen in the subsequent use to which dialectics was put to defend and rationalise this counter-revolutionary idea, and to try to limit (or deny) the catastrophic damage it inevitably inflicted on the international workers' movement in particular, and Marxism in general.

 

And, this is precisely where DM/MD comes into its own: it is invaluable if and when short-term, opportunistic tactics have to be sold to party cadres (nationally, or world-wide). Since it seems to offer an 'orthodox revolutionary method' -- which supposedly bears Marx's imprimatur (certainly Engels's) --, and can be used to 'justify' anything whatsoever and its opposite, often by the very same individual, it carries much weight among comrades.

 

Trotskyists, of course, argue for the exact opposite conclusion, using equally sound 'dialectical' arguments to show how and why the revolution decayed, and how the fSU could still be a workers' state (albeit, 'degenerated'), even if the proletariat were oppressed and exploited for their pains --, and, incidentally, how STDs and MISTs 'misuse'/ignore 'the dialectic' in order to arrive at opposite conclusions! [On that, see below.]

 

Dialectics can thus be used to defend and rationalise anything the Party, or a particular dialectician, chooses, as the political (or factional) circumstances require.

 

Indeed, Stalinism and Trotskyism (rightly or wrongly) parted company largely over of their differing views on the international revolution, workers' control and party democracy. Of course, this rift wasn't just about ideas! Hard-headed decisions were taken for political reasons, but in order to rationalise these decisions and sell them to the international communist movement, they were liberally coated with dialectical jargon. How else would cadres swallow this poison?

 

Those who know the history of Bolshevism will also know of the incalculable damage this deep rift has inflicted on Marxism world-wide ever since.

 

Later still, MD was used to 'justify'/rationalise the catastrophic and reckless class-collaborationist tactics imposed on both the Chinese and Spanish revolutions, just as it was employed to rationalise/'justify' the ultra-left, "social fascist" post-1929 about-turn by the communist movement. This helped cripple the fight against the Nazis by suicidally splitting the left in Germany, pitting communist against socialist, while Hitler laughed all the way to the Reichstag.45a

 

This 'theory' then helped 'excuse' the rotation of the Communist Party through another 180 degrees in its next, class-collaborationist phase, the "Popular Front" --, and then through another 180 in order to 'justify' the unforgivable Hitler-Stalin pact, as part of the newly re-discovered 'revolutionary defeatist' stage --, and through yet another 180 two years later in the shape of 'The Great Patriotic War', following upon Hitler's predictable invasion of the "Mother Land" -- "Holy Russia".46

 

In attempting to justify these overnight about-turns, and specifically the criminal, Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939, all that Ragani Palme Dutt, for example, could say was:

 

"We are told that the Soviet-German pact has also strengthened Nazi Germany. The process is of course dialectical, but fundamentally Nazi Germany has been weakened by the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact and is more weakened every day as this [dialectical -- RL] process is continuing and is beginning to become clearer to more and more people." [King and Mathews (1990), p.75. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Once more, it seems that to strengthen the Nazis is dialectically to weaken them! We can see how accurate that analysis was by the fact that the dialectically "weakened" Wehremacht was able to conquer most of Europe within two years, and large swathes of the fSU in six months! It was only Hitler's incompetent generalship and the Russian winter that saved the USSR from total annihilation.

 

Post-1945, one more dialectical flip saw the invention of "peace-loving" nations versus the evil US Empire. History was now the struggle between "progressive, peace-loving" peoples and reactionary regimes, the class war lost in all the dust kicked up by so much dialectical spinning.

 

[Indeed, and by now, Marx would be doing much more than 180 degree flips in his grave!]

 

Every single one of these 'somersaults' had a catastrophic impact on the international workers' movement. [For example, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Treaty fatally weakened the opposition to fascism in France prior to the German invasion of May 1940, which, of course, forms part of the explanation why France collapsed so quickly; this is quite apart from the fact that it allowed Hitler to concentrate his forces in the West, no longer having to worry about the eastern front.]

 

Collectively, these dialectical flips cast a long shadow across the Communist Party worldwide, reducing it to the sad, reformist excuse that we see among us today.

 

However, and far, far worse: as noted above, these 'contradictory' about-turns helped pave the way for fascist aggression and the Third Reich. In which case, this 'theory' has played its own small, shameful, but indirect part in the deaths of millions of workers and countless numbers of communists, Jews, Gypsies, Russians and Slavs -- alongside the many hundreds of thousands of mentally-ill and handicapped victims surrendered to the Nazi death machine by opportunist dialecticians.46a0

 

Because of their continual, dialectically-inspired twists and turns, STDs in effect all but invited the Nazi tiger to rip European humanity to shreds.

 

And, it was only too happy to oblige.

 

More 'dialectical contradictions' --, more dead workers.

 

The negative effect on the reputation of Marxism of all this spinning on the great mass of workers can't be over-estimated, howsoever hard one tries.

 

Talk to anyone about Marxism (and not just Communism), and you will be regaled with much of the above. Thus, these days, everyone 'knows' it "doesn't work", and stands for bureaucratic authoritarianism, heartless oppression and cynical realpolitik.

 

We can only put all this down to "capitalist propaganda" if we want to see yet more dialectical disasters.

 

Of course, none of this is the sole fault of this mystical theory; but it is undeniable that it was a major factor in helping to rationalise the above political gyrations (for whatever other political reasons they were in fact taken), and in helping sell them to party cadres. Over the years, this has had an inevitable and seriously demoralising effect on the entire movement.

 

Moreover, no other theory (save, perhaps, Zen Buddhism!) could so easily excuse the continual, and almost overnight, changes in strategy and tactics --, or rationalise so effectively the pathetic reasons that were given for the criminally unacceptable political U-turns imposed on the Communist Party internationally by post-1925 Stalinism.

 

Nor, indeed, could any other theory have so effortlessly licensed the grinding to dust of the core and periphery of the old Bolshevik Party in the 1930s, as scores of leading (and thousands of ordinary) comrades were put on 'trail' on trumped-up charges, and then executed -- or, more likely, were summarily shot.

 

And you can still find communists defending the execution of these "wreckers" and "fascist" spies (the core of the party leadership!), along equally crazy, dialectical lines!

 

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

 

MD, tested in practice? A resounding success?

 

Indeed -- but, alas, only for the ruling-class!

 

 

[2] Maoism

 

Anyone who knows anything about Maoism will also know that Maoist Dialecticians [MISTs] are serious DM-oholics, and will brook no compromise. [Excellent recent examples of this phenomenon can be found here and here. This might have something to do with the fact that Daoism shares much with Maoism and DM. More on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]

 

Nevertheless, such deep dialectical devotion has meant that the anti-democratic and class collaborationist tactics adopted by the CPSU were copied by the CCP under Mao (even if this was done for locally different reasons). For example, the use of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions to justify the suicidal alliances with the Guomindang, the use of UOs to rationalise one-party, autocratic rule, and the reference to "leaps" to excuse the lunatic and murderous "Great Leap Forward".

 

MISTs are among the most fanatical anti-Revisionists on the planet, but has a single one given Mao a hard time for revising Hegel, Marx, Engels and Lenin, who knew nothing of such 'contradictions'?

 

Once more: are you joking?

 

Consider the first two of these: class collaboration and anti-democratic centralisation. Dialectical arguments favouring class-collaboration and the centralisation ("concentration") of power weren't exclusive to CPSU theorists. In the mid-1930s, the abrupt change from outright opposition to the Guomindang to a policy of forming a united front with them was justified by, among other things, yet another dollop of dialectics!

 

The whole sorry affair is well documented in Werner Meissner's detailed study; the reader is directed there for more details. However, a few choice examples will illustrate the influence of dialectical mayhem on the minds of CCP theorists. Consider the arguments of Ai Ssu-ch'i (whose work was highly influential on Mao):46a

 

"The law of identity is a rule of the abstract, absolute unity; it sees in identical things only the aspect of absolute identity, recognising this aspect alone and disregarding its own contradictory and antagonistic aspects. Since an object can only be absolutely identical to itself, it therefore can't be identical to another aspect. One expresses this with the formula: A is not Not-A, or A is B (sic) and simultaneously it can't be Not-B.... For example, 'retreat is not attack' (A is Not-A (sic)), concentration is limitation of democracy (A is B), one can't in this case develop democracy (simultaneously 'not is Not-B' (sic)). In this definition, an object (concept, thing, etc.) is confronted absolutely with another object, which lies beyond the actual object, a consequence of which is that an object (A) and the others (Not-A) have no relations at all with each other.... The law of identity thus only recognises abstract identity, and the law of contradiction only recognises an absolute opposite." [Ai Ssu-ch'i, 'Formal Logic And Dialectic', quoted in Meissner (1990), p.107. Bold emphasis added.]

 

We have already had occasion to note the incondite and sloppy syntax found throughout the writings of these 'superior' dialectical logicians, but here we encounter yet another example. For instance, the "A" in this passage is at one point "retreat", while "Not-A" is "not attack"! Ai's schema should therefore have been "A is not-B".

 

[This is reminiscent of Palme Dutt's 'dialectical' idea that to sign a treaty with Hitler was to weaken the Nazis. In addition, it has already been shown that the above 'conclusions' only seem to follow because everything has been turned into an object (or the name of an object) of some sort.]

 

Despite this, Ai Ssu-ch'i continues in the same fantastical vein:

 

"The law of the excluded third specifies: either there is an absolute identity (A is B) or an absolute opposition (A is not B); an object can't be simultaneously identical and at the same time be antagonistic. For example 'concentration' is either limited democracy or unlimited democracy; it can't at the same time be limited and a developed democracy. A government in which the people participate is either a democratic organ or it is not a democratic organ. It can't be simultaneously democratic and insufficiently democratic. Therefore the law of the excluded third only recognises opposition or unity, and struggles against the 'unity of opposites'. This meant that it ['formal logic'] and the dialectic are diametrically opposed." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]

 

This, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with the LEM; Ai Ssu-ch'i has simply made this tale up (as did Hegel before him).

 

[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]

 

Meissner summarises Ai Ssu-ch'i's main points as follows:

 

"1. What is the meaning of 'Retreat is not attack'? As we will see in more detail below, this formulation referred to the strategic principles of the long-protracted war....

 

"For Mao Tse-Tung...the defence of Wuhan had no special meaning. Instead he advocated surrendering the city and building up the resistance in the countryside. Ai Ssu-ch'i thus defended Mao's tactics, in that he dismissed the phrase 'Retreat is not attack' as 'formal logically'. To consider the 'retreat' from Wuhan solely as a retreat or non-attack corresponded, according to Ai, to the first law of 'formal logic' and was in no way seen as 'dialectical'. On the other hand, Ai wanted to show that the retreat was at one and the same time both a retreat and not a retreat.... The retreat thus contained an attack.

 

"2. The explanations of 'democratisation' and 'concentration' were also a criticism of Wang Ming's concepts of setting back 'democratisation' in favour of the 'concentration' of all political and military forces, and of attempting to commit the CCP exclusively to the support of the national government. Behind this was hidden the consideration that a possible 'democratisation' of Kuomintang control could lead to an impairment of the military effectiveness of the United Front. Ai criticised this view a 'formal logically', because 'democratisation' and 'concentration' were seen as mutually exclusive contradictions....

 

"3. However, Ai Ssu-ch'i' made a further observation concerning the relationship between the CCP and the Kuomintang by speaking of the 'unification of several objects identical to themselves' and by characterising them as a 'formal-logical' combination of independent, mutually unrelated objects, which thus represented a state of rest. The 'formal-logical identity' served him as an example of how the relationship between the two parties should not be constituted....

 

"Through the example of the 'law of identity', Ai also grappled with the question of how far the CCP should acquiesce in the Kuomintang's demand to base itself on the 'Three principles of the people', without endangering the independence of the CCP....

 

'Since the law of identity only recognises the absolute aspect of identity, one can maintain in the United Front that all parties and factions have now already given up their independence and have only one goal; consequently, many people say that the CP has given up Marxism. Since, on the other hand, the law of contradiction only recognises the absolute opposite, some people advocate the view that every party and faction must retain its own independent programme and organisation'. [Ibid.]

 

"Ai characterised the adherents of the first view as 'right deviationists' and those of the second as 'left deviationists'.... Both groups...are, according to Ai, 'formal-logical' in their thought; they consider one aspect of the whole and make it absolute.... 'Formal logic' recognises only attack and/or retreat, only concentration and/or democracy, only the 'three principles of the people' and/or communism. However, it is not capable of comprehending the existing relationships between those respective pairs of objects....

 

"Thus, in concrete terms, 'dialectical logic' can be explained thus: the United Front is accepted and at the same time rejected, in that the struggle against the Kuomintang is to be continued within the United Front." [Meissner (1990), pp.107-110. Bold emphases added.]

 

So, once again, we witness a dialectician using DM to derive a specific conclusion -- a result required for political reasons --  and its opposite, at the same time.

 

Anyone interested in this sort of material can read page after page of it, compounded by plenty of more examples of lame-brained 'logic' (and not all of it from the writings of Ai Ssu-ch'i, either), in Meissner's book. In these writings alone we can see how dialectics 'allowed' its acolytes to see the world in whatever way they found expedient, just as we can see how DM helped insulate their thought processes from material reality itself.

 

Consider next the second of these examples: the 'contradiction' between centralised state power and greater social and democratic accountability. Dialectical dodges similar to those employed by Stalin were pressed in to service by Mao and his ideologues in order to rationalise this "paradox", by an appeal to the alleged 'contradictory' nature of 'socialist' democracy. [Indeed, we saw some of this 'logic' at work in Ai Ssu-ch'i's 'reasoning' above.]

 

Mao himself tried to rationalise class-collaboration and the contradictory combination of autocracy with proletarian democracy along by-now-familiar Stalinist lines. Here he first of all establishes the truth of certain DM-principles (with some home-spun 'logic', thus confirming their dogmatic and a priori nature), which meant that no one could legitimately question them. He was then able to appeal to the supposed self-evidence of these ideas to 'justify' moves away from democratic governance as a move toward it. Only those who did not 'understand' dialectics could possibly demure:

 

"The contradictory aspects in every process exclude each other, struggle with each other and are in opposition to each other. Without exception, they are contained in the process of development of all things and in all human thought. A simple process contains only a single pair of opposites, while a complex process contains more. And in turn, the pairs of opposites are in contradiction to one another.)

 

"That is how all things in the objective world and all human thought are constituted and how they are set in motion.

 

"This being so, there is an utter lack of identity or unity. How then can one speak of identity or unity?

 

"The fact is that no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation. Without its opposite aspect, each loses the condition for its existence. Just think, can any one contradictory aspect of a thing or of a concept in the human mind exist independently? Without life, there would be no death; without death, there would be no life. Without 'above', there would be no 'below'.... Without landlords, there would be no tenant-peasants; without tenant-peasants, there would be no landlords. Without the bourgeoisie, there would be no proletariat; without the proletariat, there would be no bourgeoisie. Without imperialist oppression of nations, there would be no colonies or semi-colonies; without colonies or semicolonies, there would be no imperialist oppression of nations. It is so with all opposites; in given conditions, on the one hand they are opposed to each other, and on the other they are interconnected, interpenetrating, interpermeating and interdependent, and this character is described as identity. In given conditions, all contradictory aspects possess the character of non-identity and hence are described as being in contradiction. But they also possess the character of identity and hence are interconnected. This is what Lenin means when he says that dialectics studies 'how opposites can be...identical'. How then can they be identical? Because each is the condition for the other's existence. This is the first meaning of identity.

 

"But is it enough to say merely that each of the contradictory aspects is the condition for the other's existence, that there is identity between them and that consequently they can coexist in a single entity? No, it is not. The matter does not end with their dependence on each other for their existence; what is more important is their transformation into each other. That is to say, in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects within a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite. This is the second meaning of the identity of contradiction.

 

"Why is there identity here, too? You see, by means of revolution the proletariat, at one time the ruled, is transformed into the ruler, while the bourgeoisie, the erstwhile ruler, is transformed into the ruled and changes its position to that originally occupied by its opposite. This has already taken place in the Soviet Union, as it will take place throughout the world. If there were no interconnection and identity of opposites in given conditions, how could such a change take place?

 

"The Kuomintang, which played a certain positive role at a certain stage in modern Chinese history, became a counter-revolutionary party after 1927 because of its inherent class nature and because of imperialist blandishments (these being the conditions); but it has been compelled to agree to resist Japan because of the sharpening of the contradiction between China and Japan and because of the Communist Party's policy of the united front (these being the conditions). Things in contradiction change into one another, and herein lies a definite identity....

 

"To consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dictatorship of the people is in fact to prepare the conditions for abolishing this dictatorship and advancing to the higher stage when all state systems are eliminated. To establish and build the Communist Party is in fact to prepare the conditions for the elimination of the Communist Party and all political parties. To build a revolutionary army under the leadership of the Communist Party and to carry on revolutionary war is in fact to prepare the conditions for the permanent elimination of war. These opposites are at the same time complementary....

 

"All contradictory things are interconnected; not only do they coexist in a single entity in given conditions, but in other given conditions, they also transform themselves into each other. This is the full meaning of the identity of opposites. This is what Lenin meant when he discussed 'how they happen to be (how they become) identical -- under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another'." [Mao (1961), pp.337-40. Bold emphases added. I have quoted this passage in full since, when I haven't, I have been accused it 'taking out of context'.]47

 

Hence, for Mao, as it was for Stalin, less democracy meant more democracy!

 

[As we have seen, the theory that things "struggle" with and then turn into their opposites is defective, which means that dialectics, the erstwhile theory of change, can't in fact account for change! (See here, too.)]

 

Confused ideas like these have been shown up for what they are in other Essays posted at this site, but those quoted above have been included to demonstrate how Maoist versions of MD helped corrupt not only Mao's thought processes, but also the strategy and tactics of the CCP.

 

[Once more, while there were hard-headed political reasons for these moves, MD provides opportunists like Mao with an ideal rhetorical device for selling anything whatsoever, and its opposite, to the rank-and-file of the party.]

 

MD: tested in practice?

 

Once again: yet more 'dialectical contradictions', yet more dead workers, and yet more ordure heaped on Marxism.

 

And what is more, we can all see the results for ourselves in that model 'socialist' state: China.

 

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

 

Chinese workers don't need anyone to enlighten them about the results of "practice"; the vast majority can see for themselves the political and social consequences of this 'theory'.

 

And now, 'Materialist Dialectics' is being used to justify the existence of 'socialist' billionaires! [See also, here.]

 

But, it is little use you complaining that the phrase "socialist billionaire" is a contradiction in terms. You clearly don't "understand" dialectics!

 

Once again, anyone who thinks the above is prejudicial to Mao, need only reflect on the fact that, since Maoism has been ditched, China has turned into one of the most successful economies on earth.

 

A rather ironic unity of opposites, one feels.

 

 

[3] Trotskyism

 

Trotskyism has similarly been cursed by the Dialectical Deity; its founder succeeded in super-gluing his followers to the discordant dialectical doctrine that the 'socialist' regime in the fSU was contradictory -- as Alex Callinicos notes:

 

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

 

In which case, it made perfectly good 'dialectical-sense' to suppose that the ruling-class (i.e., the proletariat!) exercised no power at all, and were systematically oppressed for their pains, even while they were still the ruling-class!

 

[This is the Trotskyist equivalent of the "Retreat is attack" nostrum that Ai Ssu-ch'i tried to sell his readers, which we met earlier.]

 

Here is Trotsky himself:

 

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

 

Hence, because MD appeared to demand it, all good Trotskyists were required to defend the USSR as a "workers' state" --, albeit "degenerated". As he argued at length [in Trotsky (1971)] only those who failed to "understand" dialectics would think to disagree:

 

"Is it possible after the conclusion of the German-Soviet pact to consider the USSR a workers' state? The future of the Soviet state has again and again aroused discussion in our midst. Small wonder; we have before us the first experiment in the workers' state in history. Never before and nowhere else has this phenomenon been available for analysis. In the question of the social character of the USSR, mistakes commonly flow, as we have previously stated, from replacing the historical fact with the programmatic norm. Concrete fact departs from the norm. This does not signify, however, that it has overthrown the norm; on the contrary, it has reaffirmed it, from the negative side. The degeneration of the first workers' state, ascertained and explained by us, has only the more graphically shown what the workers' state should be, what it could and would be under certain historical conditions. The contradiction between the concrete fact and the norm constrains us not to reject the norm but, on the contrary, to fight for it by means of the revolutionary road.... (p.3)

 

"The events did not catch us unawares. It is necessary only to interpret them correctly. It is necessary to understand clearly that sharp contradictions are contained in the character of the USSR and in her international position. It is impossible to free oneself from those contradictions with the help of terminological sleight-of-hand ('workers' state' -- 'not workers' state'). We must take the facts as they are. We must build our policy by taking as our starting point the real relations and contradictions.... (p.24)

 

"The present political discussion in the party has confirmed my apprehensions and warning in an incomparably sharper form than I could have expected, or, more correctly, feared.... The attitude of [Shachtman and Burnham] toward the nature of the Soviet state reproduces point for point their attitude toward the dialectic.... (pp.60-61)

 

"...Burnham and Shachtman themselves demonstrated that their attitude toward such an 'abstraction' as dialectical materialism found its precise manifestation in their attitude toward the Soviet state.... (pp.61-62)

 

"Last year I was visited by a young British professor of political economy, a sympathizer of the Fourth International. During our conversation on the ways and means of realizing socialism, he suddenly expressed the tendencies of British utilitarianism in the spirit of Keynes and others: 'It is necessary to determine a clear economic end, to choose the most reasonable means for its realization,'. I remarked: 'I see that you are an adversary of dialectics.' He replied, somewhat astonished: 'Yes, I don't see any use in it.' 'However,' I replied to him, 'the dialectic enabled me on the basis of a few of your observations upon economic problems to determine what category of philosophical thought you belong to -- this alone shows that there is an appreciable value in the dialectic.' Although I have received no word about my visitor since then, I have no doubt that this anti-dialectic professor maintains the opinion that the USSR is not a workers' state, that unconditional defense of the USSR is an 'out-moded' opinion.... If it is possible to place a given person's general type of thought on the basis of his relation to concrete practical problems, it is also possible to predict approximately, knowing his general type of thought, how a given individual will approach one or another practical question. That is the incomparable educational value of the dialectical method of thought.... (pp.62-63)

 

"The definition of the USSR given by comrade Burnham, 'not a workers' and 'not a bourgeois state,' is purely negative, wrenched from the chain of historical development, left dangling in mid-air, void of a single particle of sociology and represents simply a theoretical capitulation of pragmatism before a contradictory historical phenomenon.

 

"If Burnham were a dialectical materialist, he would have probed the following three questions: (1) What is the historical origin of the USSR? (2) What changes has this state suffered during its existence? (3) Did these changes pass from the quantitative stage to the qualitative? That is, did they create a historically necessary domination by a new exploiting class? Answering these questions would have forced Burnham to draw the only possible conclusion -- the USSR is still a degenerated workers' state.... (p.68)

 

"It is not surprising that the theoreticians of the opposition who reject dialectic thought capitulate lamentably before the contradictory nature of the USSR. However the contradiction between the social basis laid down by the revolution, and the character of the caste which arose out of the degeneration of the revolution is not only an irrefutable historical fact but also a motor force. In our struggle for the overthrow of the bureaucracy we base ourselves on this contradiction.... (p.69)

 

"...Dialectic training of the mind, as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercises to a pianist, demands approaching all problems as processes and not as motionless categories. Whereas vulgar evolutionists, who limit themselves generally to recognizing evolution in only certain spheres, content themselves in all other questions with the banalities of 'common sense.'

 

"A vulgar petty-bourgeois radical is similar to a liberal 'progressive' in that he takes the USSR as a whole, failing to understand its internal contradictions and dynamics. When Stalin concluded an alliance with Hitler, invaded Poland, and now Finland, the vulgar radicals triumphed; the identity of the methods of Stalinism and fascism was proved. They found themselves in difficulties however when the new authorities invited the population to expropriate the land-owners and capitalists -- they had not foreseen this possibility at all! Meanwhile the social revolutionary measures, carried out via bureaucratic military means, not only did not disturb our, dialectic, definition of the USSR as a degenerated workers' state, but gave it the most incontrovertible corroboration. Instead of utilizing this triumph of Marxian analysis for persevering agitation, the petty-bourgeois oppositionists began to shout with criminal light-mindedness that the events have refuted our prognosis, that our old formulas are no longer applicable.... (pp.70-71)

 

"Tomorrow the Stalinists will strangle the Finnish workers. But now they are giving -- they are compelled to give -- a tremendous impulse to the class struggle in its sharpest form. The leaders of the opposition construct their policy not upon the 'concrete' process that is taking place in Finland, but upon democratic abstractions and noble sentiments.... (p.74)

 

"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.... (p.94)

 

"The opposition circles consider it possible to assert that the question of dialectic materialism was introduced by me only because I lacked an answer to the 'concrete' questions of Finland, Latvia, India, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and so on. This argument, void of all merit in itself, is of interest however in that it characterizes the level of certain individuals in the opposition, their attitude toward theory and toward elementary ideological loyalty. It would not be amiss, therefore, to refer to the fact that my first serious conversation with comrades Shachtman and Warde, in the train immediately after my arrival in Mexico in January 1937, was devoted to the necessity of persistently propagating dialectic materialism. After our American section split from the Socialist Party I insisted most strongly on the earliest possible publication of a theoretical organ, having again in mind the need to educate the party, first and foremost its new members, in the spirit of dialectic materialism. In the United States, I wrote at that time, where the bourgeoisie systematically instills (sic) vulgar empiricism in the workers, more than anywhere else is it necessary to speed the elevation of the movement to a proper theoretical level.... (p.142)

 

"This impulse in the direction of socialist revolution was possible only because the bureaucracy of the USSR straddles and has its roots in the economy of a workers' state. The revolutionary utilization of this 'impulse' by the Ukrainian Byelo-Russians was possible only through the class struggle in the occupied territories and through the power of the example of the October Revolution. Finally, the swift strangulation or semi-strangulation of this revolutionary mass movement was made possible through the isolation of this movement and the might of the Moscow bureaucracy. Whoever failed to understand the dialectic interaction of these three factors: the workers' state, the oppressed masses and the Bonapartist bureaucracy, had best restrain himself from idle talk about events in Poland...." (p.163) [Trotsky (1971). Bold emphases alone added. Minor typos corrected. I have quoted Burnham's response in Appendix C, where we will see that many of Trotsky's claims about what the Red Army would or wouldn't do in Finland and the Baltic States were wildly inaccurate, as he himself later had to admit. So much for the predictive powers of DL.]47a

 

All this helped cripple the politics of the Fourth International, demobilising militants in the run-up to WW2 -- whose cadres, even while they were advocating a principled anti-imperialist stance, were quite happy to defend Stalinist Imperialism.

 

And, as if to compound this monumental error, Trotsky also used dialectics to justify Stalin's murderous invasion of Finland!

 

All so contradictory, all so dialectical!48

 

As Alex Callinicos pointed out above, such dedicated dialectical devotion prompted OTs to argue that Red Army tanks were capable of bringing socialism to Eastern Europe in the absence of a workers' revolution (a line that was in fact in agreement with the analysis concocted by the Stalinists!).

 

Substitutionism justified by another dose of dialectical double-dealing.

 

Conclusion: yet more dialectics, yet more dead workers, yet more ordure heaped on Marxism.

 

Are you beginning to spot a pattern here?

 

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

 

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

 

Trotsky's heirs couldn't quite decide which was the more important principle: loyalty to their founder's 'dialectical method', or to Marx's belief that the emancipation of the working class must be an act of the workers themselves. If they chose the latter, the emancipation of the working class can't be an act of the Red Army (in Finland, Eastern Europe or even North Korea), 'Third World' guerrillas (in China, Cuba, Nepal, Peru, etc.), nationalist/'progressive' dictators, or even radicalised students -- to name just a few of the forces that have been 'dialectically substituted' for the proletariat by assorted Trotskyists ever since. On the other hand, if they chose the former, all of the above made eminent good sense. Socialism from below was now to be replaced by socialism from above, courtesy of this boss-class theory.

 

[Of course, this is one application of the LEM that Dialectical Trotskyists can't dodge: socialism from above or socialism from below?]

 

[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]

 

Indeed, if it were possible to a create workers' state in this way (deformed/degenerated or not), then Stalinism must indeed be "progressive" -- and Pablo was right.

 

It is little use complaining that this contradicts Trotsky's belief that Stalinism is inherently counter-revolutionary (as, for instance, these comrades try to do, again on sound 'dialectical' lines), since, if everything is contradictory, then on equally sound 'dialectical' lines, so is Stalinism. Hence, on that basis, the fSU is both counter-revolutionary and 'progressive' all rolled into one -- as we (supposedly) witnessed, for example, when the Red Army invaded Afghanistan. [This link leads to an article which is plainly the Spartacist equivalent of the "Retreat is attack" claim of Ai Ssu-ch'i that we met earlier.]

 

[I hasten to add that I do not think Stalinism is progressive; quite the reverse, in fact. But, if I were a DM-fan, I could easily 'prove' it is the most progressive force in human history -- and its opposite.]

 

Dialectics has been used, and is still being used, to justify every conceivable form of substitutionism. Just to take one more example: dialectical dissembling allowed Ted Grant to invent yet another contradictory idea -- "Proletarian Bonapartism" -- in order to account for and/or rationalise the fact that the Stalinist regime in the fSU and the Maoist clique in China were actually oppressing the supposed ruling-class: i.e., workers! That contradictory fact didn't mean that these weren't workers' states. Far from it, it proved they were!

 

[The ghost of Ai Ssu-ch'i lives on! (There is more on this in Note 48.)]

 

All this dialectical dithering has gravely wounded Trotskyism. It might never recover. At present the signs are not too good. The difficulties recently experienced in UK-Respect (and now in the UK-SWP) are just another sign of this long-term malaise.

 

Woolley dialectical 'thinking' like this has infected the movement from top to bottom, and to such an extent that mundane tactical discussions are often rendered opaque in the extreme at the hands of DM-fans -- a faint echo of the gobbledygook regularly churned out by academic dialecticians engaged in the production of 'High Theory'.

 

Here, for example, are two paragraphs taken from a recent letter written by the New Zealand SWP to the UK-SWP:

 

"'The critics of the [UK] SWP's position have organised themselves under the slogan 'firm in principles, flexible in tactics'. But separating principles and tactics in this way is completely un-Marxist. Tactics derive from principles. Indeed the only way that principles can become effective is if they are embodied in day-to-day tactics.' [This is a quote from the UK-SWP.]

 

"In contrast, Socialist Worker -- New Zealand sees Respect -- and other 'broad left' formations, such as Die Linke in Germany, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the PSUV in Venezuela and RAM in New Zealand -- as transitional formations, in the sense that Trotsky would have understood. In programme and organization, they must 'meet the class half-way' -- to provide a dialectical unity between revolutionary principle and reformist mass consciousness. If they have an electoral orientation, we must face the fact that this can't be avoided at this historical point. Lenin said in 'Left-Wing' Communism that parliamentary politics are not yet obsolete as far as the mass of the class are concerned -- this is not less true in 2007 than it was in 1921. The question is not whether Respect should go in a 'socialist' or 'electoralist' direction, but in how Respect's electoral programme and strategy can embody a set of transitional demands which intersect with the existing electoralist consciousness of the working class." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Tactics from principles, or flexible tactics from inflexible principles? WTF does that mean? From which god-forsaken Thesaurus have these gems been mined?

 

Internal Bulletins/Documents are full of empty, but radical-sounding rallying calls like this. Phrases like "the relationship is dialectical" and "the current situation is contradictory" litter such documents, and are invariably a sign that the one using them has run out of arguments to support their case.

 

Consider a recent example: ex-member of the UK-SWP, John Rees, sought to defend the "united front of special kind", entered into by the UK-SWP back in 2004; he did so with a stock phrase, right out of the dialecticians' phrasebook: it was as a "unity of opposites". On that basis -- as we saw above was the case with Mao -- any sort of class-collaboration would be 'justifiable'. Alas, this desperate dialectical dodge was in its own small way responsible for the subsequent split in the SWP (and for many of its subsequent 'problems' -- indeed, it might never recover).

 

Dialectical dodges like this are then used to berate whoever has fallen foul of the CC member (or party theorist) who has just hauled them out of the archives -- or who has just imported them from the last faction fight --, this frame of mind aggravated by far too many years of "dialectical training" than is good for any human being to have to endure.

 

This means that the Stalinists aren't the only ones who can change tack overnight, and 'dialectically' create an opposite analysis within hours of the ink having dried on the previous one. Here is a description of how the UK-SWP's CC has responded to a sizeable faction in their midst (comprised partly of party heavyweights):

 

"The faction includes a whole raft of middle to senior cadre, including 10 members of the NC [National Committee -- RL] and perhaps as many former members of the CC; it includes people of unimpeachable moral authority within the SWP, such as Pat Stack and Tony Cliff's biographer, Ian Birchall. It is one thing to fold Richard Seymour into an amorphous morass of hostile anti-Leninists and 'creeping feminists'. Ian Birchall simply does not fit the bill.

 

"It was too much for the CC, in the end. Having spent every bit of energy it could muster on preventing the opposition from forcing a 'special conference' -- from ruling motions out of order on technical grounds, to imposing an arbitrary February 1 deadline for such motions -- it has executed a whiplash U-turn and called one itself.

 

"The CC's statement on the matter is remarkable principally for being almost identical to every other statement the CC has put out so far during this crisis. There are the usual attempts to foster a 'bunker mentality' among the membership, shoring it up against 'attacks'...; the usual scare stories about the horrors of permanent factions. There is just that one, tiny, almost insignificant difference: that one week ago, such 'arguments' were being mustered against the idea of revisiting the affair at a special conference, but now they have mysteriously become arguments for doing so." [Quoted from here (a source I am loathe to use, but it seems to me to have got it right this time).]

 

Once more, if you are trained to 'think dialectically', such U-turns are par for the course.

 

[Apologies for that mixed metaphor! Several more examples of this phenomenon are given in Essay Ten Part One. See also my own experience of 'applied dialectics', recorded in Essay One. Similar things are now (allegedly) taking place in the UK-SWP's current crisis.]

 

So, even in the Trotskyist 'tradition', dialectics is still lumbering on, helping to wreck all in its path.

 

Clearly, such comrades refuse to learn from the past!

 

 

Conclusion

 

If truth is tested in practice, the clear message delivered by the last seventy or eighty years is as follows:

 

Please, comrades -- no more 'dialectical' practice!

 

 

Spot the Difference

 

[This section should be read by NOTs (like myself) just as it was intended. However, any Maoist or Stalinist readers who have made it this far should perhaps read it as yet more proof of the extent to which dialectics can, and has been 'misused' by us 'trots' -- although, it might not be easy for them provide an objective criterion that distinguishes dialectics' 'proper' use from its 'misuse'. (And good luck with that one!)

 

OTs should make of this material what they can. They will, anyway, have given up on these Essays long ago -- even if a single one of them actually bothers to read any of these Essays. In which case, they are unlikely to make it this far! Indeed, if the past is anything to go by, such 'scientifically'-minded souls will be busy warning the unwary to avoid casting their innocent eyes on these infidel pages lest they be led astray by my "elitism", "empiricism", "arrogance", and "formal thinking" (the OT equivalent of smallpox). (Any who find this difficult to believe should check this or this out (unfortunately, that site might vanish off the internet any week now) -- or several of the links posted here -- where they should  find their doubts assuaged.)

 

[NOT = Non-Orthodox Trotskyist; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; MIST = Maoist Dialectician; STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]

 

Either way, this section will help demonstrate that as far as dialectics is concerned, all four 'traditions' share a common fondness for the same sort of mystificatory jargon, rhetorical flourishes (mostly lifted word-for-word from Engels, or the other DM-classics -- Lenin, Stalin and Mao were themselves particularly good at this), sub-Aristotelian 'logic', and Mickey Mouse Science, all the while using this infinitely malleable theory to 'justify' almost anything which they needed to, and its opposite -- as we saw was the case in the last three sub-sections.

 

In fact, as far as the dialectics of nature is concerned it is hard to slip a party card between the views expressed by MISTs, STDs, OTs, NOTs and non-Leninist Marxists alike.

 

Why is this?

 

Marx, I think, had the answer.]

 

At this point, it is pertinent to ask the following question: Why did the ruling-class of the former Stalinist states (particularly the fSU) find DM so conducive to their interests? Why were they such avid fans of 'traditional' Marxist Philosophy? An unambiguous answer to this query is all the more pressing in view of what Marx appeared to say about 'the dialectic':

 

"In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything (sic), being in its essence critical and revolutionary." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that one of the following must be the case: (1) The ruling-classes of the former Stalinist states weren't part of a new, capitalist ruling-class, (2) Marx was wrong, or he was (3) Speaking metaphorically, even hyperbolically (in view of his obvious personification of 'the dialectic', where he tells us that it "does not let itself be impressed by anything").

 

It could be replied that in the hands of STD hacks the dialectical method became "wooden and formulaic"; it was little more than the "cynical and self-serving creed of a new and brutal ruling class." [Rees (1998), p.196.]

 

While Rees's description of the nature of the Stalinist ruling-elite will not be questioned here -- or anywhere else for that matter -- the rest of what he had to say is highly questionable.

 

[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

It is worth pointing out here that even avowedly Stalinist versions of DM emphasise change through contradiction (often in terms indistinguishable from those found in TAR or other OT-texts -- anyone who doubts this should read, for example, Shirokov (1937)).

 

This, of course, helps explain why, for example, UK-SWP outlets (such as "Bookmarks" in London) find they can sell copies of works on dialectics written by openly Stalinist and rabidly anti-Trotskyist writers -- like Cornforth (among others) --, why an Orthodox Trotskyist site can link to arch-Stalinist, J D Bernal's writing on DM (link at the foot of the page), and why some OTs openly appeal to the work of STDs like Ilyenkov (for example). [The old WRP were, for instance, rather fond of Ilyenkov's terminally obscure work.]

 

Indeed, up until a few years ago, OTs, STDs, NOTs and MISTs could one and all read and study classic texts published by Progress Publishers and Foreign Languages Press (Stalinist and Maoist publishing houses, respectively, which were regularly sold in Trotskyist outlets a generation or so ago). [See also the rather odd anomaly mentioned in Note 19a.]

 

Why were such State Capitalist/Stalinist/'Socialist' regimes busy churning out classic works on dialectics by the container load? Surely, if Marx were right, that would be rather like Dracula running a garlic farm, or Superman a Kryptonite factory?!

 

 

 

Figure Eight: Kryptonite -- An Abomination To The Bourgeoisie?

 

Perhaps this helps account for the fact that books on MD are often published by capitalist companies, too -- indeed, TAR was itself published by Routledge, Bertell Ollman's Dance of the Dialectic by the University of Illinois Press, and Raya Dunayevskaya's The Power of Negativity by Lexington Books, and so on. How is it possible for capitalist enterprises like these to publish works about a theory which is supposed to be an "abomination" in their eyes?

 

Of course, all of this becomes explicable if, as is argued here, MD is itself part of an ancient and long-standing tradition of ruling-class thought. It is inexplicable otherwise.

 

It could be argued in response that such outlets also sell books on HM. However, since I am not committed to the truth of Marx's claim (I merely quoted it to embarrass NOTs, and HCDs, among others), I am not committed either to the idea that DM or HM is an anathema to the ruling-class, or to any capitalist publishing house. Clearly they sell such books to make a profit, just as they sell books on mysticism. [What was it that Lenin said about ropes?]

 

Nevertheless, the actual differences between these three strands of dialectics (Stalinist, Maoist, and Trotskyist) are considerably more difficult to describe than are their similarities. Indeed, we can test the veracity of that allegation if a dozen or more quotations (which have been lifted from a selection of STD and non-STD sources, the identification of which will be left until the end to assist in their non-biased appraisal) are compared.

 

[Apologies are offered in advance for the mind-numbingly repetitive and mantra-like nature of the following quotations, but they are typical of the overwhelming majority of works in the DM-tradition.]

 

[1] "Its conception of the inter-relation of Theory and Practice, is the vital essence of Marxism and is that one aspect of its many-faceted unity in which the significance of Dialectical Materialism is most clearly seen…. This unity is a unity of inter-relation: it is Materialist in that it is based on the primacy of practice, and Dialectical in its postulation of the indispensable precondition for both the practice and the unity….

 

"Its world-conception is Materialist alike in its Objectivity and in its Activity -- in that the world is conceived as a totality, and by means of its inseparably connected and never ceasing interacting movements.

 

"And it is Dialectical in that these inter-acting movements are recognised as begetting, of necessity, a perpetual self-transformation of the Universe as a whole -- a universally inter-connected series of processes in which old forms, formations, and inter-relations are constantly being destroyed and replaced by new forms…."

 

[2] "Materialist dialectics was born of the generalisation of scientific achievements and also of mankind's historical experience, which showed that social life and human consciousness, like nature itself, are in a state of constant change and development….

 

"Every system in the world is formed through interaction between its constituent elements. In exactly the same way all bodies acquire their properties through interaction and motion, through which their properties are manifested. Interaction is universal…."

 

[3] "Dialectics is the logic of movement, of evolution, of change. Reality is too full of contradictions, too elusive, too manifold, too mutable to be snared in any single formula…. Each particular phase of reality has its own laws and its own peculiar categories…. These laws and categories have to be discovered by direct investigation of the concrete whole; they can't be excogitated by mind alone before the material reality is analysed. Moreover, all reality is constantly changing, disclosing ever new aspects of itself which have to be taken into account and which can't be encompassed in the old formulas, because they are not only different from but often contradictory to them."

 

[4] "Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as just an agglomeration of things, each existing independently of the others, but it considers things as 'connected with, dependent on and determined by each other'. Hence, it considers that nothing can be understood taken by itself, in isolation….

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics considers everything as in 'a state of continuous movement and change, of renewal and development….'

 

"The dialectical method demands, first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnection with other things."

 

[5] "The dialectical [method]…involves, first and foremost, three principles: totality, change and contradiction….

 

"Totality refers to the insistence that the various seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to one another….

 

"In a dialectical system, the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole. The part makes the whole, and the whole makes the parts….

 

"Totality alone is not, however, a sufficient definition of the dialectic….

 

"Change, development, instability…are the very conditions for which a dialectical approach is designed to account….

 

"A dialectical approach seeks to find the cause of change within the system…. If change is internally generated, it must be a result of contradiction, of instability and development as inherent properties of the system itself."

 

[6] "Marxist dialectics…examines the world in constant motion, change and development….

 

"To gain knowledge of objects and phenomena, it is necessary first of all to study their constant change and development. To really know an object we must examine it in its development, 'self-motion', change.

 

"…Dialectics sees the sources of development in the contradictions inherent in objects and phenomena….

 

"The material world is not only a developing, but also a connected, integral whole. Its objects and phenomena do not develop of themselves, in isolation, but in inseverable [sic] connection or unity with other objects and phenomena….

 

"One of the most important aims of materialist dialectics is the study of the world as an integral connected whole, the examination of the universal connections of things."

 

[7] "Dialectics is also the totality of the forms of natural and socio-historical development it its universal form. For this reason the laws of dialectics are the laws of development of things themselves, the laws of development of the self-same world of natural and historical development. These laws are realised by mankind (in philosophy) and verified by the practice of transforming both nature and socio-economic relations."

 

[8] "Everything is not only part of the great world process but is essentially a process. Its 'nature' can't be understood apart from the form of change it undergoes, that is, inherent in it….

 

"But this development is not something that proceeds in an automatic fashion, without cause…. Development is always the result of internal conflict as well as of external relations, themselves including conflict. It can only be explained and rationally grasped to the extent that the internal contradictions of the thing have been investigated."

 

[9] "[Dialectics] is a critique of static, fixed categories usually used in science -- categories valid within certain limits, which differ according to the case, but which prove inadequate to fully grasp the nature of reality….

 

"[A] further characteristic typical of processes of change is the 'negation of the negation' -- development through a new synthesis emerging which surpasses and transforms the elements of the 'contradiction'."

 

[10] "Dialectical thinking analyses all things and phenomena in their continuous change…. Hegel in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradictions."

 

[11] "Dialectics is the logic of motion, development, evolution…. Engels, following Hegel, called those who think in absolute and unchanging categories, that is, who visualize the world as an aggregate of unchanging qualities, metaphysicians….

 

"In these abstract formulas we have the most general laws (forms) of motion, change, the transformation of the stars of the heaven, of the earth, nature, and human society….

 

"Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world -- completely without exception -- not as a result of creation, of a sudden beginning, the realization of a plan, but as a result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development….

 

"Thus, 'the materialist dialectic' (or 'dialectical materialism') is not an arbitrary combination of two independent terms, but is a differentiated unity -- a short formula for a whole and indivisible worldview, which rests exclusively on the entire development of scientific thought in all its branches, and which alone serves as a scientific support for human praxis."

 

[12] "Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard Nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things…are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other.

 

"The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in Nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena….

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that Nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development….

 

"The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being….

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of Nature…."

 

[13] "The dialectical philosophy of Hegel deals with processes, not isolated events. It deals with things in their life, not their death, in their inter-relations, not isolated, one after the other. This is a startlingly modern and scientific way of looking at the world. Indeed, in many aspects Hegel was far in advance of his time....

 

"Dialectics is a method of thinking and interpreting the world of both nature and society. It is a way of looking at the universe, which sets out from the axiom that everything is in a constant state of change and flux. But not only that. Dialectics explains that change and motion involve contradiction and can only take place through contradictions. So instead of a smooth, uninterrupted line of progress, we have a line which is interrupted by sudden and explosive periods in which slow, accumulated changes (quantitative change) undergoes a rapid acceleration, in which quantity is transformed into quality. Dialectics is the logic of contradiction....

 

"When we first contemplate the world around us, we see an immense and amazingly complex series of phenomena, an intricate web of seemingly endless change, cause and effect, action and reaction. The motive force of scientific investigation is the desire to obtain a rational insight into this bewildering labyrinth, to understand it in order to conquer it. We look for laws which can separate the general from the particular, the accidental from the necessary, and enable us to understand the forces that give rise to the phenomena which confront us....

 

"In general, we can only understand things by comparing them to other things. This expresses the dialectical concept of universal interconnections. To analyse things in their movement, development and relationships is precisely the essence of the dialectical method. It is the exact antithesis of the mechanical mode of thought (the 'metaphysical' method in the sense of the word used by Marx and Engels) which views things as static and absolute. This was precisely the defect of the old classical Newtonian view of the universe, which, for all its achievements, never escaped from the one-sidedness which characterised the mechanistic world outlook."

 

[14] "The second fundamental principle of dialectical materialism lies in its theory of movement (or theory of development). This means the recognition that movement is the form of the existence of matter, an inherent attribute of matter, a manifestation of the multiplicity of matter. This is the principle of the development of the world. The combination of the principle of the development of the world with the principle of the unity of the world, set forth above, constitutes the whole of the world view of dialectical materialism. The world is nothing else but the material world in a process of unlimited development....

 

"Dialectical materialism's theory of movement is in opposition first of all with philosophical idealism and with the theological concepts of religion. The fundamental nature of all philosophical idealism and religious theology derives from their denial of the unity and material nature of the world; and in imagining that the movement and development of the world takes place apart from matter, or took place at least in the beginning apart from matter, and is the result of the action of spirit, God, or divine forces....

 

"The causes of the transformation of matter is to be found not without, but within. It is not because of the impulsion of external mechanical forces, but because of the existence within the matter in question of two components different in their nature and mutually contradictory which struggle with one another, thus giving an impetus to the movement and development of the matter. As a result of the discovery of the laws of such movement and transformation, dialectical materialism is capable of enlarging the principle of the material unity of the world, extending it to the history of nature and society. Thus, not only it is possible to investigate the world considered as matter in perpetual movement, but the world can also be investigated as matter endlessly in movement from a lower form to a higher form. That is to say, it is possible to investigate the world as development and process.

 

"Dialectical materialism investigate[s] the development of the world as a progressive movement from the inorganic to the organic, and from thence to the highest form of the movement of matter (society)."

 

[15] "Nature is not an accidental collection of unconnected isolated independent things, but a connected whole, in which all things are connected, determined by and dependent on each other. Therefore nothing can be understood by itself -- in isolation -- but the way to understand anything is to see how it is conditioned by the circumstances in which it arises....

 

"Nature is not in a state of rest. Everything is continually moving and changing; there is continuous renewal and development. Something is always arising and developing, something is always disintegrating and dying away.

 

"Therefore we must always think of things in motion, considering where they are coming from and where they are going. And we must attend especially to what is new, to what is arising and developing, because nothing persists unchanged, and what seems established and lasting may already be about to pass away....

 

"Every process of development is a process of conflict, in which something is dying away, and something is growing up, and this conflict between tendencies operating in opposite directions is what conditions the whole process. A sharp break or decisive leap occurs when one of the tendencies gains a decisive dominance over the other.

 

"Thus the development of the world is not a smooth, harmonious unfolding, but conflict and contradiction are right at the very heart of things -- as Lenin put it in one place: 'Dialectics is the study of contradiction within the very essence of things.'

 

[16] "Today...most people have no problem with the idea of scientific materialism. Materialism is the basis of all scientific knowledge, and it says simply that reality has an objective, concrete independence: there is nothing beyond nature -- no supernatural god, fate or destiny. The laws of nature are to be found within nature.

"Few people, either, will have a problem with the idea that this material reality is in a constant process of change and transformation. Under a laboratory microscope apparently dead matter is seen to be a mass of living cells and organisms. Scientists have discovered proof that the universe itself is still expanding.

"But what are the laws of this motion? Can we begin to discern general features of the way things change? Can we codify these laws without imposing some abstract scheme or model on our investigations?

"Marxists recognise the danger of this, but still believe that the essential laws of motion -- both of nature and society -- can be codified. The first attempts to do this used traditional, or formal, logic. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, systematised these laws which still hold good -- within certain limits -- to this day.

"At the centre of these theories was the idea that a thing is equal to itself and cannot therefore be at the same time equal to something else. Crucial as this idea was for the development of arithmetic, basic accounting and the categorisation of the natural world, it contained a basic flaw. It could not account for change, for a process of becoming.

"It is precisely when things are in a process of development from one thing into something else, that new and higher forms of logic are needed. Dialectics applied to a study of all social and physical phenomena show that 'something' can be itself and at the same time be in the process of becoming 'something else'.

 

[17] "Dialectical materialism is the world outlook and method of scientific socialism. It holds that every natural, social and intellectual formation is the transitory product of given material conditions. That all phenomena come into being, develop and eventually perish as a result of the action of the contradictions within them. For Marx and Engels dialectical materialism provided the means by which the illusions of religion could be dispelled, philosophy could be retrieved from speculation to serve the liberation of humanity, and theory could be put on a scientific basis....

 

"All phenomena contain contradictions which form the unity of opposites: society is divided into classes. Marx's philosophy is partisan because reality is partisan. Thought and philosophy could not be neutral because they are parts of a world in struggle. In our epoch that struggle, and the principle contradiction determining the fate of humanity, is the struggle between capital and labour....

 

"Matter exists in motion. All matter, galaxies, plants, molecules and society is in a state of motion. Human beings are part of matter, as is consciousness, but exist in conflict with it. That conflict is conducted through production, which discloses human kind to itself...."49

 

Admittedly, edited quotations like these, taken out of context, can be highly misleading, but the extent to which these sources agree is quite remarkable, whatever the context.

 

The number of virtually indistinguishable passages like these can be multiplied by several orders of magnitude -- with ease --, as any reader possessed of inordinate patience and plenty of Prozac may readily confirm, providing they have access to the countless books and articles on DM that have been written over the last hundred and forty years or so. The extreme and mind-numbingly repetitive nature of the above quotations (along with the many hundreds that could have been cited -- the vast majority of which agree with each other down to the minutest of details, and which use almost exactly the same words and sentences (often these have simply been lifted verbatim from Engels or Lenin)) confirms the claim made several times in this Essay: key DM-theses are about as changeable as Protons.

 

In many ways, these passages not only closely resemble one another, they function like the ritual and liturgical passages used by the genuine god-botherers among us, which passages they intone week in, week out; the repetition of set phrases like these is more important than their content. Hence, in books and articles on dialectics (especially those in the LCD tradition), the actual words used are more an affirmation of orthodoxy, and a commitment to tradition, than they are a genuine contribution (or any contribution at all) either to socialist theory or to understanding the world and how to change it.

 

[However, it is important to add here what is not being suggested: that Stalinism and Maoism, on the one hand, and Trotskyism, on the other, are even remotely similar in any other respect; indeed, in relation to their commitment to the international revolution and revolution from below, the difference between Trotskyism and the other two 'traditions' couldn't be more marked. And yet, in relation to their adherence to DM-phraseology, it is hard to slip a party card between them.]49a

 

Nevertheless, awkward questions remain: How was it possible for the Stalinist ruling-classes/bureaucrats (of the fSU, Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere) to adopt and then advocate enthusiastically a supposedly revolutionary theory (i.e., DM), which is identical in almost every respect to that espoused by genuine revolutionaries -- if dialectics is such an "abomination" to all members of the ruling-class and their hangers on? Even an allegedly "wooden and lifeless" version of DM (with its emphasis on Totality and change through contradiction, etc., etc.) would be no less "abominable".

 

The standard explanation why DM is accepted by counter-revolutionaries (such as the above Stalinists) and revolutionaries alike is that the Stalinist version is "wooden and lifeless", whereas the revolutionary strain is 'vibrant' and 'un-dogmatic'. But this is highly implausible, especially since both versions seem to be equally wooden, lifeless and dogmatic, and are practically indistinguishable from one another on the page/screen. It isn't as if when OTTs (or even NOTs) write the very same words as STDs and MISTs their use of these phrases is somehow less wooden and lifeless. Not, that is, unless Trotskyists use a special sort of ink, paper or computer screen.

 

[OTT = Orthodox Trotskyist Theorist.]

 

Even so, it could be objected that it is the use to which dialectics is put -- not the phraseology -- that distinguishes Stalinist/Maoist from Trotskyist/revolutionary versions of the dialectic. Hence, when the latter forms part of a genuinely revolutionary movement (as opposed to when it is being used cynically by a counter-revolutionary bureaucratic 'clique') it is vibrant and alive.

 

[That passage can be read the same way by supporters of each and every strain of Dialectical Marxism -- just swap the names around as the indignation takes you.]

 

In fact, 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, Ilyenkov and Oizerman come to mind here. Another is Alexander Spirkin's intelligent analysis of the Part/Whole relation, outlined here; another is Yurkovets's discussion of "quality". To that we can add Shirokov (1937), Thalheimer (1936), and Gollobin (1986) -- to say nothing of Bukharin (2005).

 

Be this as it may, the response volunteered three paragraphs back still assumes that the 'dialectic' has a genuine role to play in the revolutionary movement. This idea has been subjected to sustained criticism in this Essay and throughout this site. The onus therefore is on those who claim this 'theory' has some sort of use/role to play -- i.e., that it can ever be considered 'vibrant' -- the onus is on them to show how the 'dialectic' has featured in a positive way anywhere or at any time in the entire history of Marxism.49b

 

But, even if it could be demonstrated, it would still be worth pointing out that in the hands of the STDs and MISTs (or, in the hands of the OTTs and NOTs, if you are a MIST or an STD yourself!) the dialectic was and still is put to use to derive conclusions that contradict -- not without some irony -- those drawn by other revolutionaries from other wings of Marxism. As we have seen, STDs and MISTs (or OTs and NOTs) use dialectical concepts to justify everything from the denial of party democracy and the concentration of power to the accusations made against the German SPD (that they were "social Fascists"), from the about-turn in the Popular Front to the pact with Hitler and the subsequent war against the Nazis, from the fight against Trotsky (accusing him of being a fascist agent -- if true, that should have in fact made him a hero in Russia in 1940!), to the argument justifying socialism in one country, from the repeated invasions of Eastern Europe to the opposite conclusion drawn about most of these U-turns (often these are advanced by the same individual or party, sometimes on the same page or even in the same speech!).

 

In addition, we have even seen how Trotsky scandalously used DM to justify Stalin's invasion of Finland, and how the application of this theory to the allegedly 'Degenerated' Workers' States in the fSU and Eastern Europe split the Trotskyist movement into countless warring sects. MD was also employed by NOTs to justify the theory of State Capitalism -- at the same time as it was being used by OTTs to 'refute' that very theory, in order to show how "un-dialectical" it was -- just as it has been deployed to rationalise substitutionist strategies of every stripe!

 

Ironically, the 'correct' use of the dialectic amounts to its being employed to prove anything a particular theorist finds expedient and its opposite!

 

Given such a shameful and opportunist history, one would have thought that serious Marxists would want to disown anything that remotely resembled the 'dialectic', especially if their particular version of it is indistinguishable from the lethal STD stain -- or, from the "wooden", "revisionist"/"abstract" MIST/OT/NOT version (depending, of course, on which one of these traditions the reader doesn't belong to).

 

Finally, the quotation from Marx that opened this section simply said that the dialectic was an "abomination" to the bourgeoisie. He didn't qualify these words. He certainly did not rule out a "wooden" version of it being an "abomination". What he wrote has to be modified considerably to make his words fit the picture the above counter-claim wishes to paint.

 

To be sure, Marx did say that "in its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie". But, "wooden" forms can be no less rational. Anyway, this response begs the question as to what the "rational" form of the dialectic is, or even whether there is such a thing as its "rational" form. If, as these Essays have shown, DM/MD have no "rational" form -- just a rotten core --, then wooden or plastic, there is no detectable difference between them.

 

These observations similarly apply to the usual reason given why DM is almost universally rejected by ruling-class hacks -- which is that DM is an "abomination" since it supposedly shows that all social forms are subject to change, etc. But, if in reality ruling-class hacks reject DM because it threatens their ideological belief that certain social forms are unchangeable (or, which are 'natural'), then why didn't the Stalinist ruling-class reject it on similar grounds? Why did they become its most enthusiastic supporters and proselytisers?

 

[Or, if you aren't a Trotskyist: why do "revisionist" OTs and NOTs also accept the dialectic?]

 

The reason is pretty clear: DM allowed STDs to justify any old line coming out of the Kremlin, and its opposite the very next day!

 

[Again, if you are a Maoist or a Stalinist: DM/MD allowed OTs and NOTs to 'justify' their opposition to the genuinely socialist regime in Stalin's Russia, ort Mao's China, etc., etc. -- since, once more, it can be used to rationalise anything you like and its opposite.]

 

Naturally, these questions are all the more ironic when we recall that DM can't actually account for change!

 

However, the answer to these awkward questions isn't too difficult to find. It has been maintained here (especially in Part One of this Essay) that DM is the ideology of substitutionist elements in the Marxist movement; that  is, DM/MD is the ideology of petty-bourgeois and de-classé revolutionaries. If that is so, one should expect to find that only those ruling-classes (i.e., those comprising petty-bourgeois professional revolutionaries, or the bureaucratic elements that have descended with modification from them, or from other layers in society) --, which have themselves arisen as a result of the degeneration of a proletarian revolution (etc.) --, would find this theory conducive to their interests. As we have seen, that is precisely what we have found.

 

In which case, other ruling-classes (i.e., those that have no pretension, need or desire to substitute themselves for the working-class) wouldn't want to adopt DM/MD -- since they have theories of their own that 'justify' and/or rationalise their pre-eminent position, thank you very much.

 

In other words, DM/MD found their place in STD-theory -- not because that theory had become wooden and lifeless in their hands -- but because it helped render the working class wooden and lifeless, therefore all the more easily substituted for, and thus removed from its active role in history.

 

Since MD is the theory that ideologically 'justifies' all forms of substitution (since it is capable of 'justifying' anything), it is hardly surprising that it fails to appeal to those not wishing to substitute themselves for workers (i.e., the non-Stalinist bourgeoisie).

 

Now, if you are a MIST or an STD reading this, the answer is equally clear: one would expect Trotskyist 'wreckers' to adopt dialectics, too. What better theory is there if you want to argue that the former socialist states (the USSR, Eastern Europe and Maoist China, for example) aren't permanent, but will disappear one day (as indeed they have), than the dialectic?

 

"In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well...." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphases added.]

 

It could be objected to this that STDs and MISTs (NOTs and OTs) also accept HM. Hence, based on the above argument, HM would similarly be compromised.

 

To be sure, the amalgamation of MD and HM has undoubtedly been to the detriment of the latter. HM is only acceptable to Stalinists (for example) because it can be rendered inoffensive by burying it under several layers of incomprehensible Hermetic jargon. HM is not an inherently metaphysical theory: it is testable, it actually makes sense (when those alien-class, Hegelian concepts have been completely excised), and it arises from and generalises workers' experience (as Part One of this Essay sought to show). HM only becomes metaphysical and wooden when combined with DM, to form Dialectical Mahogany.

 

When HM is distanced from DM (in the suggested manner), it is a scientific theory, of use to revolutionaries. That is why, of course, the Stalinists (and, indeed, the rest) never in fact separated the two --, but, that doesn't stop us genuine materialists from doing so.50

 

On the other hand, if you aren't a Trotskyist (i.e., if you are a Stalinist or a Maoist), the answer is plain too: any petty-bourgeois element of the workers' movement -- be it of the OT or the NOT persuasion -- will have perfectly good, class-based reasons to choose a theory that rationalises their own substitution (or that of other groups) for the working class, analysed earlier.

 

Perhaps now, dear reader, you too can see how useful this theory is at explaining anything you like and its opposite?

 

Here is a recent example, if any more were needed:

 

"The courts play a dual role: enforcers for the ruling class -- as in so many cases when trade unionists have been done in -- and in the main run of cases, where the interests of the ruling class are not at stake, providing a tribunal that interprets and applies the law to regulate relations between individuals within society. The law has two natures (remember dialectics?)." [Quoted from here. Accessed 03/02/2013.]

 

Two diametrically opposite conclusions based on 'dialectics'.

 

Here is another:

 

"Because historically US Imperialism has been very reactionary, as exemplified by the Vietnam war and much more, there are now many people in the world who seem incapable of conceptualising that the US could possibly do something progressive. It’s always possible for these people to point to bad things that the US does -- there is no shortage of examples.

 

"Maybe part of the problem is that they have an ingrained black and white, non dialectic world view, which implicitly denies the very possibility that the US could do something progressive....

 

"I'm not saying that thinking dialectically is a substitute for studying the details of processes in detail -- including the details of what the Soviet Union became historically and the details of what is happening in Iraq and the Middle East. But that having the concept of dialectics (the coexistence of opposites in things) might help prevent falling into the rigid black and white thinking illustrated in the two examples above. If some people can't even conceptualise that it might be possible for US Imperialism today to do something progressive then no amount of detail is going to change their mind about Iraq. Their thinking is dogmatically stuck at another level to do with their whole world view. I'm arguing that studying dialectics is useful because it helps us keep our minds open to these possibilities." [Quoted from here. Accessed 12/01/2014. Bold emphases added.]

 

This individual might just as well have written the following:

 

"Because historically the Nazis/KKK have been very reactionary, as exemplified by the Second World War/Concentration Camps/US history and much more, there are now many people in the world who seem incapable of conceptualising that they could possibly do something progressive. It's always possible for these people to point to bad things that they do -- there is no shortage of examples.

 

"Maybe part of the problem is that they have an ingrained black and white, non dialectic world view, which implicitly denies the very possibility that the Nazis/KKK could do something progressive."

 

Here, too, is Tony Cliff doing likewise:

 

"With some cynicism Shliapnikov told the Eleventh Party Congress: 'Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin] said yesterday that the proletariat as a class, in the Marxian sense, did not exist. Permit me to congratulate you on being the vanguard of a non-existing class.'

 

"Of course, to a vulgar materialist, it sounds impossible to have a dictatorship of the proletariat without the proletariat, like the smile of the Cheshire cat without the cat itself. But one must remember that the ideological as well as the political superstructure never reflect the material base directly and immediately. Ideas have their own momentum. Usually in 'normal' times they are a source of conservativism: long after people's material circumstances have changed, they are still dominated by old ideas. However, this disjuncture between the ideological superstructure and the economic base became a source of strength to Bolshevism during the civil war." [Cliff (1990), p.189. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis and link added.]

 

Hence, what would normally appear to be a 'contradiction in terms' -- i.e., "the dictatorship of the proletariat when there is no proletariat" -- can be rationalised and 'justified' by the use of a little dialectics (surely implied by Cliff's use of the term "vulgar materialist" -- plainly set in opposition to "dialectical materialist").

 

DM is thus an almost infinitely pliable tool for defending anything a party -- or even a particular individual -- feels expedient.

 

Incidentally, this also explains why revolutionaries almost universally accept DM, and why any attempt to criticise it is resisted with no little vehemence. For such comrades, DM works not only like a drug consoling them for the repeated 'failure' of the class they champion, it allows them to argue for whatever is opportune at the time, and it rationalises their pre-eminent position in the revolutionary movement.

 

Hence, ditching dialectics demotes dialecticians!

 

For Stalinists in power, on the other hand, DM also functioned as a means of legitimisation and ideological control, as a handy device for mystifying state power, and as a neat way of rationalising the oppression and exploitation of workers (by the use of cynically casuistical 'dialectical' arguments). The "wooden" nature of the Stalinist dialectic is derived from the nature of the class that held (or in some cases still holds) power; a dynamic dialectic is surplus to requirements if you already hold power.

 

On the other hand, 'lively' Trotskyist dialectics arises from sections of Dialectical Marxism that need to generate quasi-religious fervour as a form of consolation for their own lack of power.

 

This makes Dialectical Trotskyism the Charismatic Wing of Marxism!

 

Finally, it isn't being suggested here that the author of TAR, or any other NOT (or OT, for that matter), is in any way to be associated with the crimes of Stalinism -- far from it. As one comrade so aptly put it a few years ago (Sheila McGregor, if memory serves me right): there is a wall of blood separating Stalinism from Trotskyism.

 

And, I know which side of that wall I'm on.

 

Nevertheless, TAR itself was clearly written from a revolutionary perspective; that is its strength. Alas, that is also what makes its author's acceptance of MD so regrettable.

 

 

Refuted In Practice

 

Dialectical Marxism: The Rotten Fruit Of A Diseased Tree

 

If DM/MD represents a serious inroad of alien-class ideas into the revolutionary movement -- imported from the "outside" by theorists who borrowed a hatful of confused concepts from Hegel (upside down, or 'the right way up') --, then one should expect it to exacerbate problems that revolutionaries inevitably face in the course of struggle. Hence we should expect it to aggravate sectarianism, fragmentation, substitutionism and mystification. We saw earlier that professional revolutionaries in general become Marxists for idiosyncratic, personal reasons (hence, unlike workers, they aren't 'natural' materialists), which means that in the hands of socialist prima donnas like these, DM is soon transformed into Dogmatic Marxism.

 

To this end, one would expect DM to encourage (1) A drift toward centrally-promulgated dogma, controlled top-down, (2) Obscure 'theological' disputation and self-serving casuistry, (3) The branding of rival tendencies 'heretical' (in their interpretation of this or that obscure and incomprehensible dialectical thesis), (4) The emergence of 'dialectical-experts', who arrogate to themselves the semi-miraculous ability of comprehending the secrets of Hegelian esoterica, and who them tell us that others do not, or cannot, "understand" dialectics -- or, indeed, that they can't possibly master Das Kapital until they have thoroughly studied and understood all of Hegel's Logic (a claim, it is worth recalling, not even Marx made about his own work!).

 

In addition, one should expect DM-theorists to use its ideas to defend counter-intuitive doctrines (i.e., those that "contradict commonsense", or even common understanding)51 and to justify, on a post hoc basis, hasty U-turns, inconsistent tactical manoeuvres and off-the-cuff dialectical 'justifications' for one and all.

 

Finally, one should expect dialecticians to use this theory to convince recalcitrant workers that they are acting in their best interest --, which the latter would, of course, appreciate if they "understood" dialectics (but, alas, they don't). In short, one should expect DM to function as an ideological 'justification' for substitutionist thinking.

 

Every single one of the above has been instantiated in the history of the various revolutionary tendencies our movement has thrown up over the last hundred years or so -- and many times over.

 

From Lenin's claim that no one fully understands Marx's Kapital who has not fully understood all of Hegel's Logic, down through the wranglings between Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg,51a on to the attempt made by Trotsky to justify the revolutionary defence of the fSU as a "degenerated workers' state" (coupled with his scandalous defence of Stalin's invasion of Finland), down to the interminable use of 'dialectics' within OTGs to justify the latest tactical change (on the basis that such switches are 'dialectical' -- i.e., openly contradictory -- and that this is something that recommends them), on to the haranguing of every other revolutionary group for failing to see things the same way (in view of the fact that everyone else adheres to an "abstract"/"wooden"/"formal" version of the dialectic) --, to the use to which dialectical jargon is put in order to rationalise this or that episode of sectarian point-scoring, and then on to the use of the very same theory to 'justify' the centralisation of power in the former communist states on the basis that everything is contradictory anyway, to the regular  almost over-night 180 degree U-turns in policy -- and finally down to TAR with an ill-advised use of the word "algebra" in its title.52

 

Although substitutionist tendencies within Bolshevism act like the proverbial bacteria in a dead or diseased body, it is important to be aware of the class-, and ideological-source of this infection: an ancient and well-established ruling-class philosophical tradition in the hands of petty-bourgeois theorists.

 

Given all that has gone before, unless we are clear that DM has played a significant role in preventing Marxism from being "seized by the masses" (on this see Part One of this Essay, and Essay Ten Part One) -- and hence in exacerbating and prolonging the chronic sickness of Dialectical Marxism itself -- unless we are clear about these things, millions more dead workers are all we can ever expect from our efforts.

 

Followed, of course, by a Dead Movement -- DM: the final negation of this Hermetic Dead-End.

 

 

Notes

 

01. Marx made plain the influence of the Scottish School in the German Ideology (erroneously calling it "English"):

 

"The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry." [MECW 5, p.42. Bold added.]

 

On this see Meek (1967), and Wood (1998, 1999) -- the latter of which underlines how influential Kant's work was in this area.

 

This is what I have posted at RevLeft on this topic (slightly edited):

 

It is not I who called them this (i.e., "The Scottish Historical Materialists"), but others, mainly Marx and Engels.


"Ronald Meek, 'The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology' [1954; collected in his Economics and Ideology and Other Essays, 1967.] Such luminaries as Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith. This influence was actually acknowledged. In The German Ideology, right after announcing their theme that 'men be in a position to live in order to be able to "make history", they say "The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry.'"] [Quoted from
here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


[I have to point out that the above link is hostile to Marx and Engels, but there is little available on the internet at present on this topic that isn't hidden behind a pay wall.]

Meek actually calls them the "Scottish Historical School" (p.35), but he attributes this phrase to Roy Pascal (Communist Party member, friend of Wittgenstein and translator of The German Ideology), who used it in his article "Property and Society: The Scottish Historical School of the Eighteenth Century", Modern Quarterly, March 1938.

The full passage reads:


"Since we are dealing with the Germans, who are devoid of premises, we must begin by stating the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to 'make history.' But life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. Even when the sensuous world is reduced to a minimum, to a stick as with Saint Bruno [Bauer], it presupposes the action of producing the stick. Therefore in any interpretation of history one has first of all to observe this fundamental fact in all its significance and all its implications and to accord it its due importance. It is well known that the Germans have never done this, and they have never, therefore, had an earthly basis for history and consequently never an historian. The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry." [Quoted from here.]


In the Poverty of Philosophy, Marx also wrote:


"Let us do him this justice: Lemontey wittily exposed the unpleasant consequences of the division of labour as it is constituted today, and M. Proudhon found nothing to add to it. But now that, through the fault of M. Proudhon, we have been drawn into this question of priority, let us say again, in passing, that long before M. Lemontey, and 17 years before Adam Smith, who was a pupil of A. Ferguson, the last-named gave a clear exposition of the subject in a chapter which deals specifically with the division of labour." [MECW Volume 6, p.181. Spelling altered to conform to UK English.]


Marx refers to Ferguson repeatedly in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (MECW Volume 30, pp.264-306), as he does to others of the same 'school' (Adam Smith and Dugald Stuart) throughout this work.

He does so, too, in Volume One of Das Kapital --
MECW Volume 35, pp.133, 359, 366, 367. [He also refers to others of that 'school', e.g., Robertson, p.529, Stuart and Smith (however, the references to these two are too numerous to list).]

Indeed, throughout Marx's entire works, the references to Smith and Stuart are also too numerous to list.

Kant's influence is outlined in the following (I owe these references to
Philip Gasper
):

Wood, A, (1998), 'Kant's Historical Materialism' in Kneller and Axinn, Chapter Five.

--------, (1999), Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge University Press).

Kneller, J., and Axinn, S, (1998), Autonomy And Community: Readings In Contemporary Kantian Social Philosophy (State University of New York Press).

 

[See also "Ferguson and Hegel on the Idea of Civil Society" by Martha King, and Kettler (2005).]

 

01a. It has to be said that this comment of mine has sunk without trace on the Internet. Comrades, it seems, still prefer to advance Idealist explanations why we on the far-left are continually in crisis. [This Essay even attempts to explain this phenomenon, too!] After all, if your core theory [DM/MD] has been lifted from German Idealism and Mystical Christianity, is it any wonder that comrades automatically reach for an Idealist explanation for such things?

 

1. Standard DM-accounts of the origins of materialism (in Ancient Greece) are highly misleading. However, I don't propose to substantiate that contentious allegation here. Several comments will be posted in Essay Twelve at a later date.

 

1a. It is worth pointing out that I am employing the word "sectarianism" in a wider sense than is generally the case in Marxist circles -- it is more akin to its use in describing the many and varied splits that occur within and between religions. On that, see here.

 

The Marxist.org glossary characterises "sectarianism" as follows:

 

"Sectarianism and Opportunism are the twin errors which may befall any organisation formed in pursuit of some principle.

 

"The Sectarian emphasises the absolute truth of its principle over any other, finds in every small disagreement the seeds of fundamental difference, see[s] the most deadly foe in the closest rival, puts purity of dogma over tactical advantage, refuses to compromise or modify their aims and is proud of being against the stream. Simply put, sectarianism is the breakdown of solidarity.

 

"The Opportunist is always ready to adapt its principles to circumstances, minimises the significance of internal disagreements, treats even opponents as 'the lesser evil', puts tactical advantage ahead of being true to its principles, is too ready to make compromises and is all too ready to follow the current of the stream.

 

"Not surprisingly, the sectarian or opportunist invariably repudiates being labelled as such, and instead reverses the claim. Meanwhile, these labels are all too easily thrown against minority positions in the attempt to invalidate their opinions as 'anti-party', simply because they are different and challenging.

 

"Naturally, real differences exist within groups and between different organisations. When these are fundamental differences, opposition and conflict is [sic] to be expected when a common course is attempted. The trouble with sectarianism is that it behaves as if fundamental differences exist when they do not; while opportunism actively ignores real differences. Thus, when for example Anarchists and Socialists attempt a common action, one can expect some areas of conflict.

 

"Some confusion arises because the very nature of a Communist is to support the working class as a whole, which includes parties, unions, organisations, etc. Such a purpose is an arduous one and a fine line is sometimes walked between helping increase class consciousness and the sectarian slide of dictating to workers that their interests are not workers' interests! Thus, mutual respect and thorough going [sic] solidarity are two steadfast principles of real Communists.

 

"Sectarianism and Opportunism exist in all things; but they are no more dominant in the working class movement than they are in religious organisations or capitalist governments. In the United States for example, the Republican and Democratic parties have been in deeply sectarian battles over how best to rule a capitalist government for over 100 years. While they see one another as fundamentally in opposition (though we clearly know that they are not), they do have the tolerance to the extent that they recognize the need for one another in order for their government to survive. Thus, to eradicate sectarianism is impossible (an attempt we saw in the Soviet Union, accomplished with the most brutal of results), but to control it within certain boundaries can be a source of great strength." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling errors corrected.]

 

This is in fact much closer to the meaning of the term as I have used it here, but it still fails to come to grips with the reasons why Dialectical Marxism is so fragmentary. It is surely just as afflicted in this regard as Christianity (and particularly Protestantism) is --, indeed, as the above article concedes. According to one estimate, there are 34,000 different Christian sects on the planet! Well, there might not be quite that many Marxist and/or far-left denominations, but they certainly number in the hundreds, possibly the thousands. After another 2000 years, if humanity lasts that long, perhaps we will more closely rival the Christians in this respect, too. Even so, per head of believers, Dialectical Marxism is considerably worse off than Christianity. [On that, see here.]

 

This phenomenon plainly requires a sociological explanation. The beginnings of one will be advanced in this Essay. Although I offer evidence and argument in support of what I have to say, it will require much more substantiation before it becomes definitive.

 

It is also important to note at the start that I am not arguing that everything that workers do or believe is above criticism, and that therefore Marxists should tail-end the proletariat; quite the reverse, in fact. Hence, the material presented here isn't meant to be an apology for opportunism. However, the politically backward and uneven nature of most sections of the working class, and the need for a Leninist Party have been studied in detail by other Marxists -- whereas the sociological and ideological roots of sectarianism haven't -- so, I will be concentrating on the latter, not the former, in this Essay.

 

[The former was in fact dealt with in Essay Nine Part One. Also, see Note 13a, below.]

 

1b. Alas, this seems to be true of most comrades with who I have debated this dogma on the Internet; few seem capable of defending it, and, of those who are minimally proficient in this regard, none of them can do so to any depth (and that even includes academic dialecticians, and some Marxist professors!). All appear to have accepted large parts, or indeed all of DM/MD, uncritically. [On that, see here.]

 

An excellent recent example of this can be found here (in the comments section at the end; look for the discussion between the present author on a comrade called "Mick Travis".

 

1c. As John Rosenthal notes:

 

"I have heard 'the dialectic' defined by way of the alleged fact that however bleak the present conjuncture may seem (here again the unreliable 'appearances'!), the working class will triumph 'in the end'. In such assurances, the apparent defeat 'turns into is opposite' -- namely certain victory!" [Rosenthal (1998), p.197, note 2.]

 

This agrees with my own experience.

 

Also compare this with the following words taken from the Preface to the second edition of RIRE:

 

"Ted Grant was an incorrigible optimist all his life. Marxists are optimistic by their very nature because of two things: the philosophy of dialectical materialism, and our faith in the working class and the socialist future of humanity. Most people look only at the surface of the events that shape their lives and determine their destiny. Dialectics teaches one to look beyond the immediate, to penetrate beyond the appearance of stability and calm, and to see the seething contradictions and ceaseless movement that lies beneath the surface. The idea of constant change, in which sooner or later everything changes into its opposite enables a Marxist to rise above the immediate situation and to see the broader picture." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]

 

Note, too, what Ian Birchall reports concerning Tony Cliff:

 

"But Cliff remained an incorrigible optimist...:

 

"'The dialectics of history, the general crisis of capitalism, are far more powerful than all the bureaucrats. If the crisis accelerates the death of the reformist forest, it will -- if revolutionary socialists adopt a correct strategy and tactics -- accelerate the growth of the green shoots of rank and file confidence, action and organisation.'" [Birchall (2011), p.466, quoting Cliff from 1979. Bold emphasis added.] 

 

[See also here, here, and here.]

 

2. This is not to suggest that Lenin didn't mention dialectics at all before 1905. Clearly he did (for example, in What The 'Friends Of The People' Are And How They Fight The Social-Democrats and One Step Forward Two Steps Backward), but this theory only assumed a centrally-important role for Lenin after 1905. Which is, of course, why he spent months studying Hegels 'Logic'. [On that, see below, and here.]

 

Evald Ilyenkov (in Ilyenkov (1982b)), argues that Lenin had in fact been interested in dialectics all his mature life (p.9ff), and cites Krupskaya's memoirs in support.

 

"In the evenings Vladimir Ilyich usually read books on philosophy -- Hegel, Kant or the French materialists -- and when he grew very tired, Pushkin, Lermontov or Nekrasov." [Krupskaya (1970), p.40.]

 

This passage does not in fact support Ilyenkov's specific assertion that Lenin studied Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, and the "classics of world philosophy" (p.10). At best it provides only weak support for his claim that Lenin was interested in dialectics in general back then. Even so, this "interest" was clearly re-kindled after his arrest and exile to Siberia. In which case, given the line taken in this Essay, it is hardly surprising that Lenin looked for philosophical consolation while incarcerated in Shushenskoe in 1897. So, if anything, this confirms the thesis being maintained here: that philosophy and dialectics become important for (petty-bourgeois) revolutionaries in times of disaster, defeat and set-back, whether or not these were personal or organisational.

 

It is worth adding that Krupskaya's memoires record both her own and Lenin's continuing interest in philosophy:

 

"A volume entitled Studies in the Philosophy of Marxism appeared in Russia containing essays by Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Bazarov, Suvorov, Berman, Yushkevich and Gelfand. These Studies were an attempt to revise the materialist philosophy, the Marxist materialist conception of the development of humanity, the conception of the class struggle.

 

"The new philosophy was a loophole for a hodgepodge of mysticism. Decadent moods among the intelligentsia during the years of reaction were favourable to the spread of revisionism. Obviously the line had to be drawn.

 

"Ilyich had always been interested in questions of philosophy. He had studied it closely in exile, was familiar with everything that Marx, Engels and Plekhanov had written in that field. He had studied Hegel, Feuerbach and Kant. While still in exile in Siberia he had had heated discussions with comrades who inclined towards Kant, he followed all that was written on the subject in the Neue Zeit, and was on the whole fairly well-grounded in philosophy.

 

"The story of his differences with Bogdanov was told by Ilyich in his letter of February 25 to Gorky. Ilyich had read Bogdanov's book Fundamentals of the Historical Conception of Nature in Siberian exile, but Bogdanov's position at the time had been a stage in his transition to his later philosophic views. In 1903, when Ilyich was working with Plekhanov, the latter had often criticized Bogdanov for his philosophic opinions. Bogdanov's book Empiriomonism appeared in 1904, and Ilyich told Bogdanov outright that he considered Plekhanov's view right and not his, Bogdanov's." [Ibid., pp.179-80. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Krupskaya's comment that 'left' intellectuals turn toward mysticism in periods of defeat and reaction further confirms the judgement expressed in this Essay. However, it is also clear from what she says that Lenin became much more focussed on Hegelian Philosophy after 1908 (here speaking of the period they both spent in Berne in 1914-1915):

 

"While waging a passionate struggle against the betrayal of the workers (sic) cause on the part of the Second International, Ilyich at the same time began an article on 'Karl Marx' for Granat's Encyclopaedic Dictionary as soon as we arrived in Berne. This article, dealing with the teachings of Marx, opens with an outline of his philosophy under two headings: 'Philosophic Materialism' and 'Dialectics,' followed by an exposition of Marx's economic theory, in which he describes Marx's approach to the question of socialism and the tactics of the class struggle of the proletariat.

 

"Marx's teaching was not usually presented in this way. In connection with the chapters on philosophic materialism and dialectics, Ilyich began diligently to reread Hegel and other philosophers, and kept up this study even after he had finished the article. The object of his philosophic studies was to master the method of transforming philosophy into a concrete guide to action. His brief remarks on the dialectical approach to all phenomena made in 1921 during the trade-union [sic] controversy with Trotsky and Bukharin best testify to the great benefit which Ilyich derived in this respect from his philosophic studies begun upon his arrival in Berne; they were a continuation of his philosophic studies of 1908-1909, when he had combatted (sic) the Machists.

 

"Struggle and studies, study and research with Ilyich were always strongly linked together, and closely bound up between themselves, although they may have appeared at first sight to run in parallels." [Ibid., pp.295-96. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

On why Lenin became an avid student of Hegel in 1914-15, see here.

 

2a. Anderson went on to claim that Lenin's detailed study of Hegel informed his classic work on Imperialism (i.e., Lenin (1975)), but he was forced to admit the following:

 

"The relationship of the text of Lenin's Imperialism to the Hegel Notebooks is not immediately apparent and must be excavated. First, it must be said that unlike the Essay 'Karl Marx' (1914), for example, this book does not have a section on dialectics or even one on philosophy. Nor does it even mention the issue of dialectics...." [Anderson (1995), p.128. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original, bold emphasis added.]

 

This isn't surprising; as this Essay and Part One have shown, it isn't possible to apply the dialectic in practice -- except, perhaps, to create confusion and incomprehension. No wonder Lenin kept it well away from that classic work.

 

Lars Lih's comments on this period in Lenin's life are also worth reporting:

 

"Lenin's hectic activities during the first seven months of the war bear little resemblance to the picture given us by writers who imagine Lenin going through a period of agonising rethinking. According to these writers, Lenin was utterly isolated politically, even from his closest allies; he retired for a space from political activity in order to rethink the foundations of Marxism; he then came up with his political programme only after reading Hegel's Logic. In reality, Lenin had his political programme ready literally from day one, and he immediately plunged into intense political activity to publicise his standpoint and to ensure official party support, which he received." [Lih (2014). Quoted from here. Accessed 27/04/2014.]

 

It looks like this is yet another DM-fable we should now consign to the dustbin of history.

 

As far as this claim of Anderson's is concerned:

 

"Once he arrived in Bern, Lenin moved quickly in two seemingly contradictory directions: (1) he spent long weeks in the library engaged in daily study of Hegel's writings, especially the Science of Logic, writing hundreds of pages of notes on Hegel, and (2)...he moved toward revolutionary defeatism...." [Anderson (1995), p.3.]

 

Another of Lih's remarks is worth reproducing:

 

"Two other candidates for a unifying theme are 'imperialism' and 'conversion of the imperialist war into a civil war'. As important as these themes are, they do not cover all four levels of the scenario of global revolutionary interaction. 'Revolutionary defeatism' is a non-starter as a candidate, if only because the phrase cannot be found in Lenin." [Lih (2014). Quoted from here.] Accessed 27/04/2014.]

 

3. Hegel's work can itself be seen as a response to the failure of the French Revolution, prompting his retreat into "Dialectical Mysticism". There is an admirably clear account of the demoralisation of intellectuals that swept across Europe at the turn of the 18th century -- in TAR itself (pp.13-54)! Clearly, its author, John Rees, failed to notice the obvious connection between Hegel's demoralisation and his subsequent search for consolation in the sort of Christian Mysticism he so effortlessly conjured out of (literally) "Nothing", later to be appropriated and given a full 360 degree flip (not the reputed 180) by Marxist dialecticians suffering from the same sort of malaise.

 

[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

Incidentally, the last twenty or thirty years has witnessed a significant stampede 'back to Hegel' among Academic Marxists (many of whom I have characterised as High Church Dialecticians). This is clearly connected to the change in the balance of class forces we have witnessed internationally since the mid-, to late-1970s. Chris Arthur (no doubt inadvertently) plots its course in Arthur (2004), pp.1-16.

 

Academics, it seems, require a far 'superior' source of consolation.

 

This 'revival' of (almost pure and unadulterated) Hermetic Mysticism in the halls of Marxist academe has also found expression journals like Historical Materialism, Radical Philosophy and (on-line) Cultural Logic. It can also be seen in the recent foundation of the (insular) Marx & Philosophy Society, as well as in (insular) books like Marx and Contemporary Philosophy (i.e., Chitty and McIvor (2009)), which manage to omit all mention of the vast bulk of Contemporary Philosophy (except, there is one chapter devoted to Analytical Marxism -- a now defunct 'tradition', which, even at its 'height', was a back-water of Analytic Philosophy -- in the aforementioned book).

 

If these characters had set out to be totally irrelevant (as far as much of Modern Philosophy is concerned) they have plainly succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

 

[One of the reasons for this lies in the fact that these academics do not see to be able to write a single clear sentence (except, perhaps, in their job applications). But, just try telling any of them this! (Of course, this is an exaggeration, but only a slight one.)]    

 

Moreover, we encounter similar episodes in subsequent generations of revolutionaries, which reveal the historical and ideological connection between German Mysticism and Dialectical Marxism itself -- that is, between the class-origin of the DM-classicists and their fondness for Traditional Philosophy, particularly in times of defeat and retreat.

 

Indeed, and as a matter of fact, the above classicists were drawn exclusively from petty-bourgeois and de-classé circles. Of course, such a background is no defect in itself. But, the founders of Marxism didn't live in air-tight containers, hermetically sealed away from contemporary social and ideological influences; the latter clearly found a sympathetic echo in the theoretical work of these pioneer dialecticians. [I explain why that is so later on in this Note.]

 

Hence, early DM-theorists -- living in a semi-feudal Germany, which was intellectually dominated by Mysticism and Idealism -- found themselves in a society with no developed or assertive working class from which to learn. Workers themselves couldn't provide a materialist counter-weight to the natural Idealist inclinations of these intellectual pioneers. This meant that the theories developed by the very first DM-classicists would automatically bend far too much toward ideas that have always dominated traditional theory and traditional theorists -- that is, toward the ruling-class forms-of-thought current in Germany and Europe at the time. Workers in Germany and Russia were far too weak, disorganised, and certainly too few in number in the nineteenth century to mount a significant challenge to the confident ruling-classes of their day -- or, indeed, impact on the concepts that early DM-theorists began to import into the movement, and then develop in the direction of DM. [On this, see Note 13a2. Why I have used the phrase "natural Idealist inclinations" in relation to the DM-classicists will be explained presently.]

 

Moreover, ever-present disappointment with the very class upon which the hopes of European and Russian radicals were pinned must have been a constant factor influencing revolutionary thought during this period. Repeatedly dashed expectations (that a revolutionary workers' movement would emerge in mid-to-late 19th century Europe) meant that the tendency to seek consolation in mystical philosophy clearly became irresistible.

 

And this isn't mere speculation; we know that this is precisely what happened -- and is still happening. These facts are clear enough from the biographies of European radicals (including those of Marx and Engels, and later those of Lenin and Trotsky -- and even later, in the thoughts and careers of more recent dialecticians).

 

An unshakable faith in workers' revolutionary potential coupled with a belief in the proximity of the revolution (which is clear for all to see, for example, in the Marx-Engels correspondence, and elsewhere), alongside the certainty that there would be a terminal crisis of Capitalism in the near future -- all these ideas had to face disconfirming material reality many times over, month in, month out, decade after decade.

 

[The effect on Marxists (including Marx, Engels and the other classicists), interpreted as a form of 'scientific socialism' or even as a 'Critical Theory') of the varying economic fortunes of capitalism (in the 19th and early 20th century) is traced rather well in Gouldner (1980), pp.32-150. While there is much that I disagree with in Gouldner's analysis, he seems to me to get this part of the story right.]

 

Naturally, a wide disparity between theory and reality would require an explanation of some sort. If 'underlying reality' differed so markedly from 'appearances', then a theory that based itself precisely on this premise -- which held that the surface view of things is misleading and that underlying 'essence' is in fact the opposite of what it seems to be -- would appeal to anyone subject to such long-term disappointment and demoralisation. And this would be all the more true of those who, because of their education and socialisation, had had ruling-ideas already planted in their heads, and which predisposed them to think this way about high theory and low appearances.

 

Nevertheless, an explanation for failure and defeat is one thing, but the enormity of the set-backs as they unfolded needed something a little stronger; it required an industrial strength palliative. Constantly dashed hopes would call for something far more soothing and consoling, something absolutely reassuring. Those subject to permanent disappointment would need a concentrated dose of a potent narcoleptic -- Dialectical Methadone --, a powerful ideological hit supplied by a doctrine based on the supposed 'contradiction' between 'appearance and reality'.

 

As Max Eastman argued:

 

"Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you can't know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it."

 

In this way, and to change the image, the gravitational pull of the Black Whole of Hegelian Idealism would become irresistible --, indeed, as Hegel himself foresaw:

 

"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is carried out." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55; §316.]

 

How else are we to account for Engels's own 're-discovery' of dialectics later in life, after a brief youthful dalliance and subsequent rejection of it in the 1840s (alongside Marx)? How else can we make sense of an analogous course taken by Lenin and Trotsky?

 

Admittedly, it isn't easy for Marxists to accept the accuracy of this picture of the founders of our movement in view of the almost god-like stature these comrades have assumed in their eyes. That, of course, is part of the problem! It prevents revolutionaries thinking for themselves -- lest they be branded "Revisionists!", or traitors to the cause -- guaranteeing that they put a slavish adherence to tradition ahead of truth.

 

Nevertheless, this helps explain Engels's later drift toward Hegelian Idealism. In his case, it accounts for his use of Hegel's obscure concepts as a "master key" to unlock nature's underlying secrets -- which secrets govern all of material reality, for all of time -- even while he denied he was doing just that!

 

This also helps account for the fact that subsequent generations of revolutionaries have uncritically accepted a demonstrably, if not lamentably weak theory (whose flaws almost rival anything concocted by David Icke), and one that has presided over decades of constant failure.

 

These theorists and activists have unfortunately displayed a level of gullibility that is hard to explain in any other way -- especially in view of the fact that elsewhere they think and behave like hard-headed materialists --, except we appeal to extra-logical factors, such as their class origin and their need for some form of consolation in the face of long-term failure.

 

Since these comrades were, and still are, subject to the sorts of pressures that weigh upon ordinary human beings (in addition to those created by continually dashed hopes), the need to invert material reality to fit an Ideal image of it clearly was, and still is, irresistible. Decades of defeat and set-back, the almost total failure to win over even a significant minority of the toiling masses, compounded by splits, betrayals, sectarian in-fighting, bureaucratic inertia and implacable opposition from the class enemy -- to say nothing of the other alienating forces at work in capitalist society --, all these have taken (and are still taking) their toll on generations of the very best revolutionaries.

 

The almost universally irrational and emotional response which these Essays (and my ideas in general) elicit is further testimony to this fact.

 

DM has such comrades in its grip because, given their material and social circumstances, it encapsulates the way they were socialised to see the world -- that is, as ultimately Ideal. As children, reared in bourgeois or petty-bourgeois households and benefiting from a superior education, they were taught to believe that there is an invisible world underlying 'appearances' that is more real than the universe we see around us, and which is accessible to thought alone. In this way, they had "ruling ideas" installed in their brains from the get-go -- which thought-forms they later imported into the workers' movement. Hence, given their education, such petty-bourgeois dialecticians consider there is absolutely nothing wrong with traditional forms of a priori thesis-mongering. In fact, given this background, nothing else would count as 'genuine Philosophy', since this approach to High Theory has been a key part of 'Western' (and 'Eastern') thought for nigh on 2500 years. This approach has such a grip on those in held its thrall that it is literally impossible to shake them free (as Lenin inadvertently admitted, and as Marx himself pointed out).

 

[Here and here are two recent examples of this phenomenon.]

 

This means that DM-theorists find they just can't abandon -- they can't even bring themselves to think about abandoning -- the traditional idea that Marxism needs a philosophy of some sort, and react with genuine shock, amazement and horror at anyone who suggests otherwise. Indeed, they tend to defend this traditional belief with no little vehemence, waxing indignant (if not abusive) toward anyone who thinks to question it.

 

As noted in Essay Two, traditional thought finds its most avid fans, and most resolute defenders, among those who claim to be inveterate radicals.

 

[This topic will be explored at greater length in Essays Three Part Six, Twelve Part One, and Fourteen Part Two, where the usual rationalisations dialecticians come up with to explain why they still think Marxism needs a philosophy (despite Marx's trenchant criticisms) will be examined and then neutralised.]

 

Small wonder then that revolutionaries seek reassurance in the idea that the most fundamental laws of 'Being' are on the side of, or they are strongly pre-disposed toward, their cause. Once made, this is an ideological commitment to which such comrades desperately cling; few want to cut the cord that binds them to their Dialectical Mother.

 

An emotive response is, of course, predictable from Cognitive Dissonance theory. On that, see the classical account in Festinger (1962), and Festinger et al (1956). See also Travis and Aronson (2008). There is a useful summary here. See also here, which illustrates perhaps why so many comrades readily follow, and rationalise, the 'Party Line'.

 

This unhealthy syndrome was dramatised a few years ago in a 'true-to-life' film, Promised A Miracle (1988), which told the story of an evangelical couple who believed their diabetic son could be cured by faith alone, and thus rejected medical attention and treatment. These two unfortunates continued to believe this even as their son was dying. They accounted for his apparently worsening condition by reasoning that the 'Devil' was falsely creating certain symptoms in the child to test their faith. Even after their son had died, they continued to believe he would come back to them on the fourth day (to mimic the return of Lazarus). The more their beliefs were shown to be mistaken, the more powerfully they believed the opposite.

 

In this case, their minds were clearly in the grip of a pernicious form of Christian Mysticism, which convinced them to believe the opposite of what their eyes told them. DM-fans likewise rely on a different, but no less deleterious version of the same product (which, unsurprisingly, is based on Hegel's brand of Christian and Hermetic Mysticism (upside down, or the 'right way up')).

 

[In connection with the vehemently negative (if not arrogantly dismissive) attitude dialecticians almost invariably display toward any comrade who criticises or rejects DM/MD, it is also worth consulting the work of Milton Rokeach on "Open and Closed Minds" (which was itself partly based on Adorno's Authoritarian Personality -- i.e., Adorno (1994)); cf., Rokeach (1960), and Lalich (2004).]

 

4. On this period, see Paul Foot's magnificent book, Foot (2005), pp.125-70.

 

5. On this, see below.

 

To be sure, Trotsky did mention DM in short articles and speeches in the 1920s (but even these date from a time when he was being slowly elbowed out of the Party) -- for example, Trotsky (1925) --, but his comments are few in number, rather brief and even then they only seem to relate to Engels's First 'Law', the transformation of Quantity into Quality.

 

6. On this, too, see below.

 

As noted earlier, this isn't to suggest that such comrades showed no interest at all in dialectics in previous years, only that this 'theory' assumed a much more prominent and important role in their lives and in their thought in periods of defeat and set-back.

 

Moreover, as we will see, in the case of the Stalinists and Maoists, this 'theory' also became a highly useful way of rationalising (1) The party's autocratic domination over the working class, (2) The denial of inner-party democracy, (3) Regular, almost over-night about-turns in strategy and tactics, and (4) Opportunistic class compromise.

 

7. The former WRP were past masters in the art of dialectical disputation. Long articles by Gerry Healy (or one of his sidekicks) regularly regaled readers of Newsline with detailed solutions to questions that constantly vex ordinary workers, such as: Does motion precede matter, or does matter precede motion?

 

Perhaps the "either-or of formal thinking" corrupted the minds of these hardcore Hermeticists; surely the 'dialectical' answer is: both!

 

"A contradiction!", you say? Well, you clearly don't 'understand' dialectics!

 

[Many of these articles are now being posted here.]

 

The WRP were fanatical defenders of every last dot and comma of this 'theory' -- reaching an intensity of commitment and fidelity that surely puts to shame most MISTs --, along with practically everything Trotsky ever scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet.

 

[Proof? Read Healy (1982, 1990). Much of this material can now be accessed here (and at the link posted above). If that doesn't work, check this out.]

 

[MIST = Maoist Dialectician.]

 

The depth of such dialectical devotion can be seen, for example, in the review of Callinicos (1982) that appeared in Labour Review, Volume 6, number 1, May 1982, pp.40-48 [i.e., Pilling (1982a)]. There, the reader will encounter the same tired old clichés and articles of faith, dusted-off and given yet another airing almost as if they had been freshly discovered the night before -- and as if Callinicos hadn't heard them a million times already!

 

[See also, Labour Review Volume 6, number 2, July 1982, where Geoff Pilling also gamely attempts to defend MEC -- Pilling (1982b). (On MEC, see Essay Thirteen Part One.) One of the spin-off organisations that was left after the Healy franchise atomised is no less dialectically-devoted. (That should help seal its fate.)]

 

Now that the Militant Tendency has self-destructed it seems that up until his recent death Ted Grant had inherited Healy's Hermetic Halo (passed down to him after the death of the High Priest), and had proudly donned the hallowed Dialectical Mantle as a purveyor of the latest re-hash of DM, unfortunately based on ideas that were already unscientific 200 years ago!

 

Alan Woods now appears to be Grant's successor as Dialectical Pontiff, ready  and willing to pass the sacred word on to anyone ready to listen.

 

[Oddly enough, rather few workers so far...]

 

Scant consolation, too, one might feel, for the abject failure of 'Entryism' into the old UK Labour Party.

 

Anyway, these two comrades have written a book celebrating the glitzy 'scientific' nature of DM by, among other things, repackaging the mystical 19th century musings of Hegel and Engels, but, with no hint of irony. The result? That monument to superficiality, Woods and Grant (1995/2007).

 

[Cf., also Woods (ND). Some of their ideas have already been discussed here, here and here; their work will become the main topic of Essay Seven Part Two, to be published at this site in the next few years.]

 

8. The UK-SWP 'Discovers' DM

 

[This forms part of Note 8.]

 

The UK-SWP's 're-discovery' of DM is more recent, however. The line taken in Socialist Review in the early 1980s, for example, was that while there might be a dialectic operating in class society, there wasn't one at work in nature.

 

[That approach was a direct consequence of the influence of Lukacs and, to a lesser extent, Althusser on leading SWP theorists at the time.]

 

As Ian Birchall put things:

 

"The trouble with…[the 'negation of the negation' and a 'dialectics of nature' -- RL] is that [they] oversimplif[y] and mystif[y]…. To derive the laws of dialectics from inanimate nature leads to denying the role of human agency in the historical process." [Birchall (1982), pp.27-28.]

 

Even the late Chris Harman didn't think DM important enough to mention in print (as far as I can determine) until the late 1980s. For instance, in his reply to an article written by Alex Callinicos [Callinicos (1983b)], Harman largely restricted his use of the term "contradiction" to the following (in the midst of adding several objections to Callinicos's view of Althusser):

 

"'Turning Hegel on his head', meant for Marx, freeing Hegel's attempts to integrate these partial truths from the compromise with mysticism and religion. It meant 'reading Hegel' from the point of view of a new revolutionary class which had nothing to fear from further historical change -- the working class. Contradiction then becomes contradiction inside capitalist society. The transformation of quantity into quality becomes the way in which bourgeois society itself throws up new elements it can't control. The negation of the negation becomes the creation of a class by capitalist production which is driven to react back upon that production in a revolutionary way. The behaviour of that class can only be understood on the basis of its conditioning within capitalism, but then it comes to understand its conditioning and consciously to transform both society and itself." [Harman (1983), pp.73-74.]

 

Harman was strangely silent about the 'dialectic' in nature in this article, as were Alex Callinicos and Peter Binns in the same debate. Indeed, Harman pointedly restricted dialectics to human social development (which is an indefensible fall-back option, anyway, as I hope to show in a later Essay (until then, see here)). [Cf., Callinicos (1983b) and Binns (1982).]

 

This is quite inexplicable if we are now supposed to accept the current UK-SWP line that DM is central to Marxist Philosophy. In fact, it is even more puzzling when we recall that Alex Callinicos had been severely critical of several core DM-theses in the book under review in the above debate. [Callinicos (1982)]. Comrades in the UK-SWP might not have noticed it, but WRP writers certainly did and laid into Callinicos's 'anti-Marxist heresies' with no little vehemence, as noted above. But, why didn't Peter Binns or Chris Harman mention such glaring dialectical infelicities in that debate?

 

Update: Since writing the above the first series of International Socialism has been made available on the Internet (here, here and here). Its content confirms my allegation that DM was totally absent from the UK-SWP's theoretical discussions between 1958 and 1978. In the second series (1978-onwards), DM didn't begin to appear until the early 1990s. Admittedly, dialectics is mentioned now and again, but it doesn't seem to have been applied to nature before the late 1980s. Indeed, in his early history of the International Socialists, Ian Birchall mentions DM not once. [The latter can be accessed here and here.]

 

In 1975, Peter Binns even wrote this:

 

"For Engels direct acquaintance with the proletariat overtook his involvement with literature, religion and above all philosophy. For Marx it was the other way about. His involvements with religion, Hegel's idealism and Feuerbach's materialism were ended before he became a revolutionary socialist. Intellectually he had already settled accounts with them in a series of savage critiques. He never needed to re-open these questions again, unlike Engels who devoted later works of dubious merit like Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature to them." [Quoted from here. Emphases and links added.]

 

Except in letters to the editor -- many of which remain unpublished, anyway -- comments like this would simply not appear in SWP publications these days!

 

And then in 1976, he added:

 

"But the dominant impression we get of Marx is of someone who is so consciously trying to live down his Hegelian past that he 'bends the stick' very much the other way -- endorsing Feuerbach's undialectical materialism just because it provides a good (but temporary) stick to beat Hegel with....

 

"But if class antagonisms are irreconcilable these universal and supra-class rationalisations are quite empty, and must ultimately lead us away from the task of helping the fight of the oppressed. That is why from this point on Marx ceases to look for a philosophical base for proletarian struggle. On the contrary it is proletarian struggle itself which will and must provide the real and practical basis for the solution of the problems of ethics and philosophy. What makes The Holy Family so interesting is that it provides us with an answer which is an inconsistent mixture of both the humanist and the class-struggle answer." [Quoted from here. Emphases and link added. This isn't a million miles away from certain aspects of my own argument!]

 

Furthermore, Tony Cliff's earlier work (as far as I am aware -- but see below) doesn't mention DM, and his lengthy political biographies of Lenin and Trotsky are deafeningly silent on this issue (again, see below).

 

In fact, as this thread confirms (specifically here -- (added later: unfortunately, the site to which this connects is now using new software, so direct links to specific comments have been lost), Cliff mentioned this execrable theory in print only 3 times in 60 years (and even then only in passing)!

 

Update: Since writing the above, I have discovered a handful of references to dialectics (the MD version -- i.e., that which is at work in human history -- but not DM --, applied to nature) in Cliff's classic book, Cliff (1988); on that see here. Even so, dialectical concepts are nowhere near as prominent in his work as they are in, say, Ted Grant's. [On the latter, see below.] However, I am assured by older members of the UK-SWP that Cliff used to lecture on DM in earlier decades -- but apparently he didn't think it important enough to put any of his ideas on this in print. Be this as it may, the point is, of course, that DM only became an overt mantra in SWP publications after 1985.

 

In addition, there is a passing mention of "dialectical contradictions" in Cliff (1989), p.58. Birchall (2011) -- see next paragraph -- records several other places where Cliff uses dialectical jargon. Even so, he does precious little with it.

 

January 2012 Update: I have just received a copy of Birchall (2012), which confirms my own impression of Cliff: "Cliff rarely resorted to dialectical terminology...." (p.308).

 

However, Birchall adds this comment:

 

"At several Marxisms [the annual theoretical conference organised by the SWP -- RL] there were heated debates about whether the laws of dialectics applied to the material world or only to human history. Cliff never expressed a view, though John Rees is confident that Cliff did believe there was a dialectic in nature." [Birchall (2011), p.516.]

 

Even so, if Cliff did believe there was a dialectic in nature, there would surely be more than one comrade who'd be able to attest to that fact -- and someone, too, who has no axe to grind, like Rees.

 

[Nevertheless, Birchall's book confirms several of the allegations advanced in this Essay (i.e., concerning the overt and covert hostility and animosity that exists between comrades -- even those who belong to the same party!): i.e., that prominent SWP comrades actually viewed one another as enemies. [One only has to read, say, Higgins (1997) -- now Higgins (2011) -- to see this allegation readily confirmed. Higgins's comments about Chris Harman and Lindsey German, for example, are hardly models of comradely banter. The break-up of Respect back in 2007/08 was not known for its moderate language and temperate self-restraint, either! Any who doubt this should read, for instance, the comments sections over at Socialist Unity, now, back in 2007/08, or in the intervening years. The current crisis in the UK-SWP also has its fair share of individuals (who are in fact still comrades) who seem quite happy to bad-mouth, bully and malign one another. On this, see here. The same has happened in the break-up of the UK-SWP in early 2013.]

 

The same also applies to other prominent UK-SWP theorists. For example, and as far as I can ascertain, Duncan Hallas doesn't mention DM at all in any of his writings. This is equally strange if this theory is as 'central' to UK-SWP thought as some would now have us believe. It is possible -- nay, it is highly likely -- that Hallas's solid working class roots inured him to this mystical theory.

 

[Cf., Cliff (1975-79, 1982, 1988, 1989-93, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003); Hallas (1984).]

 

[Correction: I have come across one mention of DM in Hallas's writings --, in an article, oddly enough, about sectarianism! Anyway, he is merely quoting Trotsky, and does nothing with the idea himself.]

 

The change in line was heralded by two short articles; one was written by Chris Harman -- which appeared in Socialist Review in 1988 [Cf., Harman (1988)]; the other was by John Molyneux, which appeared in Socialist Worker (see below).

 

Since then, several SWP comrades have joined the stampede back into the Hermetic Quagmire Hegel prepared for the unwary: John Rees [Rees (1989, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2008) -- but Rees has now resigned from the SWP, so he is no longer an SWP theorist!]; John Molyneux [Molyneux (1987, 2012), see also his blog]; Paul McGarr [McGarr (1990, 1994)]; and Phil Gasper [Gasper (1998)] (although, now that the US wing (the ISO) of the IST has been expelled, Phil is no longer an SWP/IST-theorist, either!). Cf., also Paul Kellogg's review of a recent book on Engels, 'The Demon Marxist', and subsequent letters.

 

[Paul Kellogg has since resigned from the Canadian International Socialists in protest over the UK-SWP's handing of accusations of rape.]

 

[Update: Apparently, the US and UK wings of the ISO/IST are now on friendlier terms! The ISO's stance on the latest UK-SWP crisis might put a stop to that -- on that, see here, here, and here. Even so, some of the background to the above expulsion is outlined here.]

 

See also my letter to the International Socialist Review, which was written in response to an article by Brian Jones. [Jones (2008)]. Comrade Jones attempted to mount a surprisingly weak and rather superficial defence of dialectics, to which I have replied here. [Readers need to be made aware of the fact that that response was based on a copy of comrade Jones's reply to me, posted at RevLeft by another comrade who made several typing errors in reproducing it. A more considered version of my reply has now been published here.] A similar letter sent to Socialist Review by a supporter of this site wasn't published. It can be accessed here.

 

Even Alex Callinicos has softened his anti-DM stance of late. [Callinicos (1998) and (2006); on the latter, see here.] Before this he had been openly critical of this theory; see, for example, Callinicos (1976), pp.11-29; (1978), pp.135-84; (1982), pp.55, 112-19; (1983a), pp.54-56, 61-62; (1987), pp.52-53; (1989a), pp.2-5.

 

It is quite clear that the downturn in the movement since the 1970s, and particularly after the defeat of the UK miners in 1985, meant that the above comrades began to feel a pressing need to enrol themselves on a sufficiently powerful Dialectical Methadone programme.

 

Mercifully, DM has yet to appear in Socialist Worker on a regular basis. As far as I am aware, it has only featured once in the paper in the last 27 years -- in an article written by John Molyneux (the reference for which I have unfortunately lost, although Eric Petersen gives it as January 1984) -- subsequently reprinted in Molyneux (1987), pp.49-51. [Cf., Petersen (1994), p.158. Petersen also references a letter sent to Socialist Review, written by a comrade and old friend of mine, Paul Jakubovic, in response to Harman's article, pp.160-61. (Cf., John Rees's dismissive 'response' can be found in Rees (1990), p.134, note 3.)]

 

Given the fact that workers are 'supposed' to assent to DM readily when the encounter it, or they are said to use its concepts unwittingly/"unconsciously" all the time -- according to Trotsky --, this omission is highly puzzling, especially if DM is as central to revolutionary practice and theory as SWP-dialecticians would now have us believe. Why hasn't Socialist Worker assumed the Dialectical Mantle once worn so proudly by Gerry Healy and Newsline?

 

The answer isn't difficult to work out. The editors of Socialist Worker aren't idiots, unlike their counterparts at Newsline. They surely know that DM is a complete turn-off for workers. Even Socialist Review largely ignores this supposedly central tenet of Marxism -- probably for the same reason. [However, in November 2008, Socialist Review published an article on "Quantity and Quality" by John Rees (i.e., Rees (2008)). More about that later.] But, if DM is to be brought to workers, how might this be achieved if the revolutionary press (in the shape of, say, Socialist Worker) totally ignores it? It is difficult to see how DM could ever "seize the masses" if their paper omits all mention of it.

 

[On the difference between DM and HM, see here.]

 

Update September 2012: Dialectical Mysticism has raised its ugly head once more in the UK-SWP in the shape of John Molyneux's latest book -- The Point Is To Change It, An Introduction To Marxist Philosophy -- alongside an article in a recent edition of Socialist Worker. The book also received a favourable (and predictably uncritical) response in Socialist Review. Alas, Molyneux's work makes all the usual mistakes (several of which have already been pointed out to him) -- a supporter of this site has sent letters to the editors of both of these SWP publications on this. However, there isn't a cat-in-the-hot-place's chance they will be published. [They have now been published here. I will also compose a longer reply to Molyneux's book in a separate Essay sometime in 2013. See my comments over at Molyneux' blog -- at the foot of the page -- and here.]

 

Clearly, the failure of the UK-SWP to make much headway in the current climate -- with millions on the streets across Europe (and elsewhere) fighting the cuts -- has necessitated another shot of Dialectical Cocaine. Here is why:

 

"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.]

 

Chris Bambery also 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.]

 

In early March 2013, the UK-SWP called a Special Conference to discuss the growing internal crisis in the party. In the Pre-Conference Bulletin, the Central Committee had this to say:

 

"In our view, some of the issues are the result of frustration felt across the party due to the failure of struggle to break through after 2011. Indeed, the wider problem of the downturn in industrial struggle that took place several decades ago, and which has not subsequently been wholly reversed, despite many hopeful signs, is implicated in the internal crises the party has faced since 2007.

 

"Three splits -- first, by a very small group of comrades who sided with George Galloway during the Respect crisis; second, by the group that broke away to form Counterfire; third by the group concentrated in Glasgow who broke to form the ISG -- reflected, in different ways, attempts to find shortcuts to overcome the low level of workers' struggle.

 

"Forms of voluntarism, whether expressed through electoral shortcuts, movementism, attempts to substitute students, unemployed youth and a supposed 'precariat' for workers, and so on, are a price we have paid for a long period of a generally low level of class struggle. The revival of ideological radicalism, in a context where organisations orientated on workers and socialism are especially weak, and the halting pattern of one-day strikes, can reinforce these tendencies." [Quoted from here, p.7. This links to a PDF; accessed 06/03/2103. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]

 

However, they forgot to mention, this latest set of reverses has required yet another hit of Dialectical Dope -- chief among which is Molyneux (2012).

 

International Socialism now appears to be the only UK-SWP publication 'radical' enough to push DM/MD-concepts on a regular basis. Admittedly, few workers read this otherwise excellent journal -- and that probably explains why the editors find they can push this theory.

 

In addition, meetings at Marxism (the annual SWP theoretical conference) regularly discuss DM/MD (although only a couple of hours over four or five days each year is devoted to this allegedly core theory). [Some of this material can be accessed here, although it now features on the UK-SWP's TV Channel over at YouTube. Predictably, the 'dialectical' videos attract few hits. Not much 'seizing of the masses' going on here -- and, on a site that attracts tens of millions of hits a day! (A report concerning the discussion of dialectics at Marxism 2007 can be found here.)]

 

This is reasonably easy to explain: it is probably a (rather weak) gesture toward orthodoxy. However, there are relatively few such meetings (and, as noted above, the videos on dialectics attract very few hits); their content relates to little of the political content of other meetings (which, given the criticisms advanced in this Essay, and in Part One, isn't all that surprising; but given the alleged centrality of this theory, it is surprising).

 

Nevertheless, the contrary view (i.e., anti-dialectics) certainly isn't allowed adequate time to mount an effective case for the prosecution (or any at all).

 

Written by a supporter of this site ('Nemesis'):

 

At Marxism 1990, in separate meetings on dialectics I was given two, three minute impromptu slots in the discussion period at the end. It is only possible to make highly superficial points in such short intervals, which, because they challenge fundamental beliefs, are quite easy to dismiss. However, the level of argument advanced in response to what I had to say was quite lamentable; in fact it was difficult to believe that one comrade (Seth Harman) had listened to a word I had uttered, given the irrelevant comments he made. Indeed, after the meeting had finished, I put him on the spot by shouting across the auditorium: "Hey, Seth! Is that the best you can do?"

 

The main speaker (John Molyneux) even took it upon himself to interrupt me several times at the beginning of my first three minute spell, until I silenced him with a joke. In my opening remarks, I was in the middle of saying that my attack on DM was not an attack on HM, when he interjected loudly over the microphone that it was. I denied it. He re-asserted it. I denied it again. He re-asserted it once more. I then turned to the audience and said "There you go, comrades, a contradiction within the first thirty seconds!" The subsequent laughter drowned out any further response John thought to make.

 

However, the reception I received from the audience for my brief intervention (a loud and prolonged applause --, indeed, upon request, they even voted for me to be given an extra minute to speak) indicated that there were many comrades in the SWP who held similar views to mine. There is no way I'd experience such a reception these days.

 

After the meeting, John Molyneux put me on the spot by asking me which classic of revolutionary theory had been written by an anti-dialectician, and to what successes could anti-dialecticians point. I made a lame reference to Jerry Cohen's book (Karl Marx's Theory of History, A Defence), which he found easy to ridicule. However, it later occurred to me that on this basis we should accept the validity of Newton's mystical writings since his scientific work was highly successful. Indeed, I should have put him on the defensive by asking him for a currently successful example of a dialectically-inspired socialist state (or even movement!). Indeed, as Rosa's Essays show, Dialectical Marxism is now almost synonymous with failure. Moreover, the vast majority of Marxist classics ignore DM, while those that don't are distinctly inferior works. [On this, see Note 28 and Note 30 -- RL.]

 

My second intervention the next day -- in a meeting given by John Rees -- was far less successful. In fact, I was only able to make a few superficial points since I was keen not to repeat what I had said the day before. However, I did manage to tell John that, in his articles on dialectics in International Socialism, he had managed to publish several whoppers about formal logic. Given the fact that he later repeated these howlers in TAR, my comments plainly failed even to go in one ear!

 

In the refectory after the second meeting, I engaged in debate with Andy Wilson (who is now no longer in the SWP, but manages to sniff around its periphery on several internet blogs/boards -- and now in International Socialism itself (IS 133, in fact) -- who attempted unsuccessfully to explain what a 'dialectical contradiction' is. His example (that the revolutionary party both is and is not a part of the working class) was easy to dispose of as an undischarged ambiguity. That is, the revolutionary party is part of the working class in so far as..., while it isn't part of the working class in so far as.... (Readers can fill in the blanks according to their own theory of the party.) But this is no more a contradiction, let alone a 'dialectical contradiction', than this would be: Das Kapital is part of my personal library and not part of my personal library. It is part of my library in so far as I have a copy of the book on my shelves. But, it isn't part of my library in so far as the actual book Marx wrote (in his own hand-writing) is not on my shelves. [Compare this with the examples Rosa gives of ambiguous pseudo-contradictions in Essay Five.]

 

Incidentally, Andy Wilson's 'dialectical manners' have now degenerated to such an extent that the only remarks he can bring himself to post about Rosa's ideas in the comments sections of the various blogs and internet sites he frequents (until recently, particularly Socialist Unity) are as inane as they are abusive. [On this, follow, for example, the links to a debate at the aforementioned site given here and here. (Andy used to post there as 'Karen Elliott'. This isn't to 'out' his identity, since he's openly admitted this on-line.) In the current crisis in the UK-SWP, Wilson is now apparently part of the Democratic Renewal Platform, and the International Socialist Network.]

 

Of late (i.e., circa 2003-11), even International Socialism has dropped this 'hot' topic (except for this article written by Chris Harman in his review of a recent book by Alex Callinicos, i.e., Harman (2007a), and possibly this one, too -- i.e., Harman (2007b)).

 

This is probably because of the international situation brought on by a resurgence of US and UK Imperialism, and the massive anti-war response this has provoked across the globe. It isn't easy to argue with newly radicalised youth that "Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming..." and hope to appear either relevant or sane!

 

And yet, one would have thought that this would have been an ideal opportunity to bring DM to the masses. In which case, it is even more difficult to explain why Socialist Worker is silent about DM, these days. The masses are on the streets; why isn't their paper informing them of John's universal masculinity, the ambiguous fighting skills of the Mamelukes, seeds which insist on negating plants, boiling water, and the logical tryst between 'Being' and 'Nothing' -- with 'Becoming' acting as a sort of Metaphysical Cupid?

 

These questions in fact answer themselves -- DM is irrelevant.

 

One should be able to predict that, as the recent wave of radicalisation declines, and as the fortunes of recently fragmented Respect and the hastily-formed (and then dissolved) Left List continue to fade, dialectics should rear its ugly head in SWP publications again. The above reappearance in International Socialism (and those recorded below), alongside Molyneux (2912), are perhaps an early indication of this trend.

 

Update, Winter 2008: Sure enough, of late dialectics has re-surfaced in Socialist Worker! (The details can be found here.) Once more, as noted above, this is probably because UK-SWP has not made a significant political break-through, despite their prominent role in the UK Anti-war movement, and because the latter is now in steep decline.

 

[Added March 2009: Also see Harman's comments on a recent article (written by Guglielmo Carchedi) about Marx's Mathematical Manuscripts. Harman is clearly unaware of the serious flaws in Marx's analysis (as it seems is Carchedi, too); on that, see here.]

 

Another example featured in an article on Engels, by Simon Basketter. [Basketter (2008).] I have already sent a letter to the paper about this -- we'll see if it is published.

 

[Added later: No such luck! In fact, it now looks like even my e-mails are being blocked! See also Note 16, below.]

 

[In late 2009 and early 2010, the UK-SWP went through yet another crisis, as three ex-CC members (Lindsey German, John Rees and Chris Nineham) resigned along with over fifty others. This was followed by another minor, but significant split in early 2011. In the late winter and early spring of 2013 it looks like an even bigger split is taking place.]

 

Idealism, too -- evidenced by this example of the 'triumph of the will' -- is once more on in the ascendancy, it seems!

 

[On that, see the discussion here, where normally sane and sober comrades appear happy to eulogise the sort of stunts we usually associate with anarchists! (Alas, this link no longer works! Some of that discussion can be accessed here.)]

 

Finally, we can see how important MD/DM are when it comes to interfacing with the general public, on-line. On the Theory page of the UK-SWP's site, dialectics receives not one mention. HM, on the other hand, is present there in all its glory. [An indirect, but inadvertent admission, that DM/MD is irrelevant to active Marxists -- indeed, as we saw was the case in 1917.]

 

[Again, on the differences between HM and DM/MD, see here.]

 

The Developing Crisis In The UK-SWP

 

[This is a continuation of Note 8. (Unfortunately some of the links I have inserted below no longer work!)]

 

The material presented in this Essay was largely written before (1) The 2007/08 crisis in UK-Respect developed, (2) Those that have blown up in the intervening years, and (3) The crisis which that is building inside the UK-SWP right now (January/February 2013) -- and continuing into July 2013.

 

[Here are the thoughts of the comrades over at Counterfire about the above split, many of whom are ex-SWP; and here are those of our US comrades in the ISO, as well as here. On the first two of the points mentioned in the Preface, see for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I haven't commented on the third point yet since there is very little solid information about it, as opposed to page after page on the internet of rumour, speculation, gossip, exaggeration, slander, innuendo, and downright lies. The scandal has even reached as far as Wikipedia.]

 

Update 09/02/2013: The above crisis has deepened alarmingly since the SWP's NC met over the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd of February, to such an extent that leading members of the party have now declared a faction in open defiance of (some interpretations of) the party's constitution. On that see here and here. [The first of these links to a PDF.] The CC has now relented and agreed to call a special conference on March 10th to discuss this crisis -- a crisis which they mysteriously failed to notice a week or so earlier!

 

Update 16/02/2013: I have now added several comments about the above crisis in the UK-SWP, here, here, and here. The Special Pre-Conference Bulletin can be accessed here.

 

Update 10/03/2013: The Special Conference met today and has voted to back the CC's line. This means that widely held and deeply felt concerns in the party (in relation to what might very well have amounted to the rape and sexual abuse of a female comrade -- possibly two) have now been swept under the carpet. Doubtless this will lead to a mass exodus from the SWP, seriously weakening the revolutionary left in the UK. This mass exodus is also likely to be repeated right across the IST, which will thus have the same effect internationally. So, here we have yet another self-inflicted wound -- and this time it could prove to be fatal.

 

[I am recording some of these resignations, and the reasons given for them, in Appendix G.]

 

Update 08/07/2013: It looks like the crisis in UK-SWP might be entering a new phase. Membership is now down to 10% of what was claimed for the SWP even five or ten years ago!

 

Update 09/07/2013: The CC backs down. Er..., apparently not!

 

Update 10/07/2013: The SWP break-away 'faction' -- the IS Network [ISN] -- are now experiencing the tensions to which I have alluded above, between centralisation and democracy in an organisation comprised largely of non-workers. This latest 'difficulty' revolves around the thorny question whether or not the ISN should appoint a paid employee! Make a note of the vitriolic tone and the threats to "leave" if this move is implemented. Reports suggest they have already lost half their members (and these are mainly younger comrades).

 

As I have explained: fragmentation is an inherent feature of this corner of the radical market. That is why such parties in the end err on the side of anti-democratic centralisation, and then face damaging splits. Even if they don't do this, they split, anyway!

 

Indeed, if this article is to be believed, the ISN might be about to fragment. [Ignore the comment that Richard Seymour is a 'reformist'. Nothing could be further from the truth!]

 

Update 26/01/2014: As predicted, the ISN has suffered its most serious split since it was formed. Those who have departed have reported the same sort of 'difficulties' we have seen are endemic on the far-left:

 

"At issue here is not just the conduct or content of recent discussions or even the political direction of the ISN, but the question of making a habitable culture of discussion on the Left. When some of us recently wrote an article criticising a politics of anathema within the ISN, we were derided by opponents who denied any such thing exists. Unfortunately, it does. One SC [Steering Committee? -- RL] member has recently publicly insisted that 'no one is being targeted personally'. The very same SC member recently seconded a denouncement on Facebook, by another SC member, of several of us as 'arrogant fucks' and 'bad rubbish' to whom 'good riddance'. One leading member expressed a desire on Facebook to strangle one of us -- referring to her as a 'nauseating tosser' -- and not one of the SC members to whom she said this suggested it was an inappropriate comment to make. Several SC members openly expressed their agreement with a status referring to us as 'parasites'. Another SC member wrote 'they should count themselves lucky they haven't been expelled' -- particularly galling to two of the 'Facebook Four' involved in our thread. There are further examples, but this culture is one in which we can no longer work: we also would like comrades to consider whether left organisations can hope to attract a new generation of members if they treat each other in this way.

 

"We look forward to working in a left culture that has ended certain practices inherited from the SWP. These include moralistic browbeating; the implicit claim that various controversial topics are inappropriate for discussion; that certain comrades can not be argued with on them; and that dissenters from these nostrums deserve to be attacked in personalised terms. We know many ISN members look forward to this with similar enthusiasm." [Quoted from here. Accessed 26/01/2014.]

 

In fact, my comments at the ISN's website are now being routinely deleted (even when they aren't about dialectics), and I have been barred from posting there any more! The ISN seems to have inherited the recently-incipient Stalinism of the old UK-SWP!

 

Update 06/10/2013: Callinicos and Kimber insert their heads even deeper in the sand. Dave Renton replies. A rather acrimonious discussion continues, here and here. [See also here and here.] And here is yet another rape allegation.

 

Update 30/10/2013: It looks like the party is set to fragment yet again. Several SWP members have asked for a censored pre-conference Bulletin article (which is highly critical of the SWP-CC's handling of the recent rape accusations debacle) to be published in full at the Socialist Unity website (a site that is openly hostile to the SWP and its politics), rather than at the SWP-break-away ISN site, or even at the SWP's own internal faction site. This is almost guaranteed to lead to their expulsion, which will in all likelihood be followed by another mass exodus.

 

Update 16/12/2013: The SWP held their 2014 annual conference several weeks early because of the growing storm within the party. From Twitter feeds it looks like at least another fifty members have resigned (including Ian Birchall -- check out his measured resignation letter --, Dave Renton, Jonathan Neale, Charlie Hore, Pat Stack, Neil Davidson, and Colin Wilson) as a result of several things that were said from the platform and the motions that were passed. It is highly likely that several hundred more will soon follow suite. I will post more details when they become apparent.

 

Even more shocking, this was reported to have been said at the conference:

 

"We aren't rape apologists unless we believe that women always tell the truth -- and guess what, some women and children lie." [Quoted from here. Several other sources on Twitter confirmed this.]

 

And, what is worse, it received a round of applause!

 

Update 30/12/2013: Indeed, there has now been a mass resignation of 165 comrades from the SWP.

 

Update 03/01/2014: As expected, the ISN, the breakaway group formed by ex-SWP-ers, is now experiencing the centrifugal forces that afflict all Dialectical Marxist tendencies:

 

"In the early days of the ISN, and now again among the recent SWP leavers, there is the idea that we will clarify our ideas over time -- that whatever we set up, the most important question is not organisational but the politics we share. Well, yes and no. While we may all be on a journey towards clarity, we are also travelling on different trajectories. In the ISN, some have become more orthodox Trotskyist, some more left communist, some more anarchist. Some see the best hope as the construction of a new approach fit for 2013, based on contemporary theoretical work instead of a return to any particular canon. (Yes, I see myself in the latter group.) As we followed the logic of our new courses, the political space between us has widened....

 

"It seems more likely than not that these informal groupings will continue to develop their politics in different ways. That dynamic could, if we are not careful, see the various ex-SWP groupings split into a dozen shards within a few years. (Look at the fate of the fragments of the Workers Revolutionary Party to see where this can end....)" [Quoted from here.]

 

Remove the dead hand of 'party discipline', and these 'social atoms' soon begin to behave like the individuals they have been socialised to be.

 

Of course, that hasn't stopped those belonging to the several fragments that have emerged as a result of this crisis from theorising what went wrong, but other than reaching for rather desperate reasons why (ranging from blaming the CC to blaming 'human fallibility'), no one has even so much as attempted to develop a historical materialist reason why this always happens to Dialectical and petty-bourgeois Marxists.

 

From this, one gets the distinct impression that many ex-SWP-ers are simply running around like headless chickens, afraid to apply Marxism to Marxism itself!

 

However, to those left inside the SWP, this will just confirm the impression that it is little other than a political desert outside their party, which will further accelerate its degeneration into a cult.

 

~~~~~~oOo~~~~~~

 

Update 20/03/2013: A series of short essays dealing with this crisis, and how it developed -- written by someone whose opinion I trust -- is now being posted here, here, here, and here.

 

9. This isn't strictly true; since writing this I have come across somewhat similar (but far less detailed) conclusions in Max Eastman's work. Eric Petersen has also made a similar point; cf., Petersen (1994).

 

9a. "What mistakes?", I hear someone ask. Well, perhaps that word is far too mild; "culpable blunders" and/or "dogmatic blindness" might be more apposite. What these are will be detailed below, and in Essay Ten Part One.

 

10. I do not propose to document the history of every attempt made by STDs and OTs to invert reality to accommodate theory (or to save face) -- but, see below.

 

Fortunately, the UK-SWP, up until recently(!), was easily the most honest and self-critical tendency in this tradition (no sarcasm intended -- on this see Note 16 for an example of how honest they are; I can't think of any other Marxist party that openly admits to such inner-party disputes). Certainly, they used to be willing to acknowledge at least some of their errors. [Cf., Cliff (1999 and 2000).]

 

Whether this means that the DM-credo will ever be abandoned is anyone's guess -- but I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

 

11. Several books document these highly ritualised 'debates'. Helena Sheehan's is perhaps one of the best [Sheehan (1993)]. [See also Gouldner (1980), and Note 38, below.] In addition, cf., Bakhurst (1991), Graham (1971, 1987, 1993), Joravsky (1961), Krementsov (1997), MacIntyre (1980), Pollock (2006), Reé (1983), Vucinich (1981, 2001), Werskey (1988), and Wetter (1958).

 

12. As noted above, with respect to OTs, this is well illustrated in Cliff (1999, 2000). A recent and excellent example of a MIST with his/her head buried deep in sand can be found here.

 

Nevertheless, the following represent a few of the literally thousands of on-line references to this 'theory' (and its truly miraculous powers) from various wings of Dialectical Marxism that claim to represent the 'True Gospel':

 

Mao, Maoists, Canadian Trotskyists, the CPGB, the CPUSA, Weekly Worker, CPI(M) (ironically, this link is to a republished Soviet Communist journal -- The Marxist -- celebrating the fact that Marxism has been successfully tested in practice in the fSU; on that basis alone, this journal should be re-named The Fantasist), the Bulgarian CP, the DSP, the SWP(US) (posted on a website belonging to a group that has broken away from the Spartacists), the Indian branch of the ICM, Fourth International OTs, the RCP/US (Maoist), the League for the Fifth International (these comrades clearly hoping it will be fifth time unlucky), more Fourth International OTs (who have not yet noticed they have been out-flanked by the 'splitters' from the Fifth International), and a spilt (already!) from the Fifth International  -- is this the Sixth International in the making? Must we run out of ordinal numbers before workers in their millions eagerly queue for their party cards? --, the CPA, Italian Maoists...

 

[Unfortunately, one or two of the above links are now dead, and several have changed since it was originally written. I have listed a dozen or so extra examples in Essay Two.]

 

Each of these, of course, has the correct, 'orthodox' dialectical line on everything from the Big Bang to the price of pork.

 

[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]

 

With so many parties and tendencies 'testing' their theories in practice (but, oddly enough ignoring the results), and deciding, in their own case, they're the non-existent deity's gift to success (whereas the rest are all abject, anti-dialectical flops), one would be forgiven for concluding there ought to be a few more worker's states on the planet than there appear to be right now -- which was zero at the last count.

 

[Plenty more examples of this phenomenon here.]

 

13. Admittedly, this isn't the first time this particular accusation has been levelled against Marxist revolutionaries. However, on this occasion it is worth highlighting the following significant differences:

 

(1) It is being claimed here that only DM (not HM) functions in this way.

 

(2) DIM isn't a religion; it merely operates in a way that makes it analogous to one. Just as religious alienation finds theoretical expression in Theology, so revolutionary political alienation finds it in MD/DM.

 

(3) There are other respects in which DM is analogous to Theology: (a) Both depend on or utilise metaphysical theses; (b) Both hold on to dogma that no one dare question, and which none can explain; (c) Both possess Doctors of Divinity/Dialectics who not only help preserve the faith, but who are also skilled at complex sectarian disputation; (d) Both offer their acolytes some form of consolation; (e) Both dull the critical faculties by means of mantra-like liturgies; (f) Both have their sacred books.

 

(4) These accusations aren't being advanced by an enemy of Marxism, but by a comrade with serious concerns about the influence such boss-class ideas have had on our movement, and which will only help guarantee that the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism will extend into this new century, and perhaps beyond (if humanity survives that long). The aim of this critique isn't, therefore, to rubbish Marxism, but help make it more successful.

 

However, since religious belief will only disappear if its causes (i.e.,  class-induced alienation) are eliminated, the hold this mystical creed has on the majority of dialectically-distracted comrades will diminish only when the working-class succeed in changing society for them.

 

Dialecticians will thus have to have their heads extracted from the mystical sands in which they have been inserted by means of a successful workers' revolution. My Essays can no more do this than we can hope simply to argue the god-botherers of this world out of their faith. This means that, just like religionists, dialecticians will require a very real, materialist cure -- not an Ideal one -- provided by the revolutionary proletariat. So, these Essays will only make sense to such comrades when the Owl of Minerva has finally been shot, plucked and stuffed by workers' soviets -- should this ever come to pass.

 

Nothing short of this will end the alienation that induces comrades to lose themselves in dialectical daydreams. Of course, if the above never comes to pass, dialectical mystics will doubtless continue to practice their ostrich impressions right up until the point where the planet finally sinks into barbarism, or worse. These Essays won't shift them in the least, for such comrades cling to dialectics non-rationally. [On that, see here, here, here, and Note 13a2.]

 

13a00. I hasten to add that I don't think revolutionary socialism is a lost cause; quite the reverse, in fact. But, if we retain a commitment to DM, it could very well turn out to be just that -- unless, of course, the working class rescue DIMs from themselves. [On that, see Note 13a2.]

 

13a0. This might sound rather Machiavellian, and in some sense it is. Nevertheless, anyone who finds this comment unacceptable is encouraged to shelve their qualms until later on in this Essay, where I seek to substantiate these serious allegations.

 

[It is also worth pointing out that the basis for advancing such claims was laid down in Essay Nine Part One.]

 

13a01. Of course, there are exceptions to these sweeping statements; but, they are just that, exceptions.

 

13a1. Since writing this I have come across a much more detailed analysis of petty-bourgeois intellectuals in Löwy (1979), pp.15-90. I will add some comments on this book to a later re-write of this Essay.

 

13a2. I have summarised this argument elsewhere in the following way (in answer to the question "Why is DM a world-view?"):

 

The founders of this quasi-religion [DM] weren't workers; they came from a class that educated their children in the Classics, the Bible, and Philosophy. This tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a 'hidden world', accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.

This way of viewing things was concocted by ideologues of the ruling-class. They invented it because if you belong to, benefit from or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.

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

Another way is to win over the majority (or, at least, a significant section of 'opinion formers' (bureaucrats, judges, bishops, 'intellectuals', philosophers, teachers, administrators, editors, etc.) to the view that the present order either: (1) Works for their benefit, (2) Defends 'civilised values', (3) Is ordained of the 'gods', or (4) Is 'natural' and so can't be fought, reformed or negotiated with.

Hence, a world-view that rationalises one or more of the above is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling in the same old way. While the content of ruling-class thought may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth (about this 'hidden world') is ascertainable by thought alone, and therefore can be imposed on reality dogmatically and aprioristically.

So, the non-worker founders of our movement -- who had been educated from an early age to believe there was just such a 'hidden world' lying behind 'appearances', and which governed everything -- when they became revolutionaries, looked for 'logical' principles relating to this abstract world that told them that change was inevitable, and was thus part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of a ruling-class mystic called Hegel. The dialectical classicists were thus happy to impose their 'new' theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up") -- as we saw in Essay Two -- since that is how they had been taught 'genuine' philosophers should behave.

 

That 'allowed' the founders of this quasi-religion (DM) to think of themselves as special, as prophets of the new order, which workers, alas, could not quite understand because of their defective education, their dependence on ordinary language and their reliance on 'banalities of commonsense'.

Fortunately, history had predisposed the dialectical prophets to ascertain the truth about this invisible world on their behalf, which meant they were the 'naturally-ordained' leaders of the workers' movement. That in turn implied that they were also the Teachers of the 'ignorant masses', who could thus legitimately substitute themselves for the unwashed majority -- in 'their own interests', you understand -- since the masses have been blinded by 'commodity fetishism', 'formal thinking', or they had been bought off by imperial 'super profits'. In which case, they were incapable of seeing the truth for themselves.

 

Unfortunately, these self-appointed leaders will need (materialist) workers to rescue them from themselves. Changing the material conditions that have given rise to such alienated thought-forms is the only way that Dialectical Day-Dreaming like this will be eradicated.

 

Dialectical Mystics are just going to have to rely on the material force of the working class to save them from the consequences of their catching this virus of the mind.

 

[On the phrase "ruling-class thought", see here.]

 

13a3. Any who object to my quoting Max Eastman need to recall that I agree with his criticism of 'the dialectic', not his subsequent anti-Marxist views. Nor is it true that those who abandon 'the dialectic' soon abandon Marxism. On that, see Note 17.

 

13a. Workers, if and when they become déclassé revolutionaries, soon distance themselves from the collective discipline of the workplace, and can thus quickly fall prey to this regressive creed. [On this, see Note 23a0, below.]

 

It could be objected here that this paints an incorrect picture of the dynamic inside the working class. As Tony Cliff argues:

 

"In Lenin's view...capitalism tended to organise the proletariat for the class struggle. However, it also constantly disrupted the unity of the working class, creating centrifugal forces. The daily struggle for immediate economic demands constantly unites sections of the class, but this does not last; quite often, in fact, it prevents the unity of the class as a whole. The dialectical contradiction between the unifying and disruptive tendencies creates the need for a revolutionary party which embraces only a minority, perhaps a very small one, of the working class. Without such an organisation, with its clear ideological demarcation and discipline, the socialists will tail-end the class, with all the variety of views influencing it, with the great majority dominated by the prevailing ideas in society, in other words bourgeois ideas. There is nothing élitist, or substitutionist, in Lenin's view of the revolutionary party." [Cliff (1989), p.58.]

 

Several points are worth making about the above:

 

(1) Very few working-class Marxists have ever led Marxist parties, and I can think of none that have helped shape their core ideas (i.e., those encapsulated in DM/MD) -- not even Dietzgen managed to do this.

 

(2) Both Lenin and Cliff emphasise the material roots of the forces that move workers to unite and/or divide, but neither of them even so much as mentions -- it doesn't even make the edge of their radar screen! -- the material forces that similarly operate on the non-working class sections of the Party, which, in general, comprise its 'leading' figures and theorists.

 

To be sure, worker revolutionaries will come from the "advanced battalions" of the class and will have had democratic ideals introduced to them by struggle, which they will bring with them into the movement. But, what about the dominant non-working class elements in the Party? What material forces influence them? What do they bring with them into the party? From what we can ascertain about this layer (and from what has been written by them!), it seems that in their own eyes they are superhuman beings who are moved solely by progressive ideas, which have either descended from on high, or which have been culled from earlier non-working class theorists (like Hegel), who were similarly blessed with immaculate, or near-immaculate, concepts. In that case, unless we are prepared to accept an Idealist view of these non-working class comrades (arguing that they are moved solely and uniquely by such pure and untainted thoughts), we are forced to look elsewhere for the material/class origin of the tendency every single one of the parties they form/join have to split and fragment, which characteristic of the far-left is so well documented that it is in no need of further proof.

 

I have attempted to outline what these factors are in this Essay.

 

(3) Cliff doesn't say how Marxist intellectuals and other non-working class elements in the Party are able to resist, almost heroically, the influence of bourgeois ideology. From what he says, it seems that workers are all too easily duped in this regard, whereas Party intellectuals float sublimely above such things. In that case, and in relation to the Party Elect, do we not now have to appeal to a sort of dialectical version of the Immaculate Conception of Ideas to locate a source that is pure enough for these non-working class comrades to have relied upon in the formation of their ideas? Have their thoughts 'popped, de novo, into existence' untainted by boss-class ideology? Are these comrades the only individuals in human history to whom Marx's famous words (i.e., "social being determines consciousness") fail to apply?

 

But, it isn't as if we don't already know where these comrades derived their core philosophical ideas. They inherited them from a well-entrenched, mystical, ruling-class tradition. Dialectically-distracted comrades not only openly admit this, they revel in it, and see themselves as part of an ancient and noble history:

 

"[T]he genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

[This theme will be expanded upon in Essay Fourteen Part Two.]

 

Hence, the 'dialectical' wing of Marxism was knobbled even before it reached the starting blocks!

 

Moreover, when workers join the Party (and are largely unaware of these more 'sophisticated' ruling-ideas), they invariably have to have them rammed down their throats. In which case, it is a bit rich of DM-fans pointing to the ideologically-compromised 'consciousness' of workers when the Party itself is awash with alien-class ideology, promoting a set of doctrines that these petty-bourgeois comrades will defend to the death (of the movement and/or the planet), if necessary!

 

We also already know about the fragmentary and atomised nature of the petty-bourgeoisie, from which class most lead