Engels Screws-Up

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As is the case with all my work, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a scientific theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago.


The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.




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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


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Below is a copy of a letter I sent to Socialist Worker, which they chose not to publish.


Dear comrades,


Simon Basketter's article on Engels (SW 14/06/08) is to be congratulated for omitting all mention of the serious problems Engels's work on philosophy faces.


Space prevents me from outlining the many errors Engels commits, but one example will do: the "law of the transformation of quantity into quality".


While it is true that some things change "nodally" (in "leaps"), many do not. When heated, metal, glass, plastic, butter, toffee and chocolate melt smoothly. So, the "nodal" aspect of this law is defective.


Furthermore, the order in which events take place can effect "quality", contrary to what Engels says. For example, anyone who tries pouring a pint of water slowly into a gallon of concentrated sulphuric acid will face a long and painful stay in hospital, whereas the reverse action is perfectly safe. [Added later: some comrades have complained that this objection ignores development. So the above counter-examples are misguided, since they manifestly do not develop. I have replied to this response, here.]


Worse still, this law is hopelessly vague. For instance, we have yet to be told the precise length of a "nodal point". But, if no one knows, then anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"!


In addition, Engels failed to say what he meant by "quality". Hegel understood this word in an Aristotelian sense; that is, it refers to a property the change of which alters an object into something substantially new. Unfortunately, given this 'definition', many of the examples used to illustrate this law simply fail.


For example, defined this way, the change from water to steam can't be an example of "qualitative change"; ice, water and steam are all H2O. Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy does not result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing substantially new emerges. Moreover, as a liquid or as a solid, Iron is still Iron; the same is true of all other metals. Liquid Oxygen is still Oxygen.


Finally, consider stereoisomers: molecules with the same number of atoms arranged differently. Here we have a change in geometry producing a change in quality with the addition of no new matter or energy.


This law possesses several other fatal defects; these are detailed at my site.


In solidarity,


Rosa Lichtenstein

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Rosa Lichtenstein 2008

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