The author of this page remains loyal to the political principles of the SWP tradition, but finds himself forced to leave the SWP because of the recent actions of the leadership. This is a matter for the author alone, and does not reflect the opinions of Rosa Lichtenstein, the owner of this site, who, while agreeing with the politics of the SWP, wishes to continue debating with and challenging its members (among many others) on the subject of Dialectics.


[Added 2013: Rosa wishes to make plain that she no longer associates herself with the UK-SWP; that is because of their disastrous handling of rape allegations advanced against a leading former member.]


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Summary Of Rosa's Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


Abbreviations Used At This Site


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The Transformation of Quantity into Quality


Worker: So anyway, we'd only planned an ordinary peaceful protest outside the factory gates, but far more turned up than we expected – a real morale booster. Suddenly somebody shouts "the gate's open" and everybody just starts piling in – that's what the mood was like by that time, we thought we could do whatever we bloody liked. It wasn't long before the lot of us were inside, and that's when the occupation kicked off, I suppose, even though nobody planned it out like that.


Dialectician: Yeah, exciting stuff, I was reading about it. Wish I'd been there myself – the atmosphere must have been great. … You know, there's a name for that kind of thing.


Worker: What do you mean?


Dialectician: Well, we call it "the transformation of quantity into quality".


Worker: Eh?


Dialectician: The transformation of quantity into quality. And vice versa too.


Worker: Sorry mate, you've lost me.


Dialectician: It's OK, it’s OK. I know it doesn't mean anything to you now, but I was going to explain.


Worker: Yeah, well … Alright, look, here's the deal: you get me another pint of this and I'm all ears. Ask for the Hoegaarden – they've got it on tap now.


Dialectician (returning with the drinks): Here you are. Alright then, you ready?


Worker: Thanks, mate, cheers. Just a sec'. (Drinks back, then nods)


Dialectician: Well … what I meant was that all the stuff you were telling me about, you know, the protest starting out as one thing, then as more people keep coming it turns into something else, yeah? So a run-of-the mill protest becomes an occupation. That make sense?


Worker: Yeah, course it does – that's pretty much what I just told you.


Dialectician: Well let's take it a step further then. More people joining the protest, that's a change in quantity. But when the protest turns into an occupation, that's a change in quality. Yes?


Worker: I suppose so. … You're leaving out the bit about the gate opening, but go ahead.


Dialectician: Right, well this is what I meant a couple of minutes ago when I said we had a name for it: "the transformation of quantity into quality", you see? This is what we call a dialectical law, a law explaining how things change.


Worker: Maybe I shouldn't butt in yet, but I thought I'd already explained what happened as well as your law of change did – better, in fact.


Dialectician: Yes, well, the point is these laws – this is just one of them – these laws can explain all kinds of change, not just what happened here last week. I mean, you may need to fill in a few details for particular cases, but think of the kind of, you know, leverage it would give you if you knew the laws that tell you how things change, if you knew what they were. It could be political change, like getting rid of Blair, or social change, like getting rid of capitalism.


Worker: Now that'd be the day.


Dialectician: Or it could be change in nature, like, you know, the evolution of different species … or like the Big Bang and the formation of the universe.


Worker: Well … I thought scientists were managing to cover all that kind of thing well enough by themselves. … Or are you saying that they're really using your laws of change, maybe sometimes without knowing it?


Dialectician: Well that's a complicated area. Dialectical Materialism – that's what these laws are part of – it's the science of change. So, in a way, if scientists … Look, there's lots of stuff I could say about this, but it would take me way off track. How about a more down-to-earth example? One we like to use for explaining the transformation of quantity into quality …


Worker: Hold on, I thought it was the law that was supposed to be explaining other stuff, not the other way … OK, OK, go on.


Dialectician: Well, one example, as I was about to say, is the boiling of water.


Worker: Right, should be straightforward enough.


Dialectician: So you have a pot of water …


Worker: You mean "a quantity of H2O" – science, you said.


Dialectician: Water, H2O, whatever.


Worker: Sorry, mate, just winding you up a bit.


Dialectician: OK, so you have your pot of water – H2O – on the cooker, and at first there's only a little heat and the water stays liquid, but then you're gradually adding more heat until …


Worker: Yeah, well, water's one thing, but the heat you're adding is another thing.


Dialectician: What?


Worker: I mean with the occupation, you said you start out with a bunch of people, and then keep adding more people. Now you're saying you start out with water, but then instead of adding more water, you're adding heat – energy.


Dialectician: Look, can I finish please? I mean, this is something that great revolutionaries talked about: Engels, Lenin, Trotsky …


Worker: What do you mean? The laws of change, or just the boiling-water thing?


Dialectician: Both. So let me go on.


Worker: OK then, maybe there's more to it.


Dialectician: So at some stage – well, approaching 100°C – if you keep adding more heat, more quantity, the water changes from a liquid to a gas – it changes in quality. So quantity is transformed into quality. (Sits back)


Worker: … What, is that it?


Dialectician: Well, yes. … It's only an example, you know.


Worker: Look, mate, I'm not trying to give you a hard time or anything, but this just doesn't cut the mustard. I mean … like for starters, as I said, you weren't adding more water to the water you started out with, you were adding heat. Right?


Dialectician: Yeah, whatever.


Worker: So you took one thing, then started adding a second thing to it. And increasing the quantity of the second thing made the quality of the first thing change. That's what you're saying?


Dialectician: … I suppose so.


Worker: Well, I was never that great at physics back in school, but any of the stuff I can remember sounded a lot more like an explanation of what happens when you boil water than any of the stuff you've just told me. You know, energy increase … distance between molecules … all that kind of thing. I thought this was supposed to be the science of change you're telling me about.


Dialectician: (takes a long swig)


Worker: But from what you've just told me, it doesn't explain boiling water any better than it explains why my protest outside the factory turned into an occupation inside the factory. Sorry, mate, but you had your say and I'm just giving you my honest opinion.


Dialectician: (looks at watch)


Worker: Oh, yeah, and another thing.


Dialectician: Mm?


Worker: You said you were talking about H2O, didn't you? Well, I said it first, but you said "yes".


Dialectician: Yeah, OK, what does it matter?


Worker: Now wait, if it’s science you want, you need to get things straight. Well, the thing about H2O is that it can change from liquid to gas, or liquid to solid, or vice versa …


Dialectician: But that's exactly what I was talking about …


Worker: No, it isn't. Because H2O can go through all these changes of – what do they call it? – state, without any of that stopping it from being H2O.


Dialectician: So what?


Worker: Well, you started with H2O and you ended up with H2O – heating it up past boiling point didn't turn it into something that wasn't H2O.


Dialectician: Oh, that's what we call "the negation of …", ah, forget it.


Worker: On the other hand, what we'd planned as a shortish protest outside the factory did become something else – an occupation inside the factory. We thought it was different, and the thieving-bastard bosses certainly thought it was different, I can tell you. Your protest tells the bosses you're angry but pretty much still lets them do what they want. But your occupation, that's different, because it actually stops them from doing it.


Dialectician: But the laws of Dialectics are the laws of all change, so, uh … that means …


Worker: Look, mate, I don't know about your laws of change, but I know what you've told me tonight, and – face it – it doesn’t take you anywhere. Your transformation of quantity into quality didn't explain anything about the boiling water or H2O – it made a complete dog's dinner of it, if you ask me. And the boiling-water story didn't explain anything about your transformation-law business. And none of that told me the first damn thing about how the occupation got started.


Dialectician: (pulling his coat on) Yeah, well …


Worker: Look, I'm not trying to take the piss or anything, but it's a bit like a couple of weeks ago when this Hare Krishna guy comes up to me in town, you know, sort of serious, well-meaning type like yourself, and he says to me …


Dialectician: (standing up) Look, I really have to go now.


Worker: Oh … right, well thanks for the drink. You should give the old Hoegaarden a try some time. And, eh … been nice talking to you.


Dialectician: Yeah, right, cheers, bye.




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