Monday, November 12, 2007

Why I Like Dialectics

Because as this Anti-Dialectical Lenninst/Trotskyist posted on her web site (and emailed me a link):

Anyone new to Marxism soon encounters 'dialectics', a strange mixture of Mickey Mouse Science, Hermetic Philosophy and Stoneage Logic.

This site is aimed at those Marxists who, like me, want to rid our movement of this mystical theory.

Please note that nothing written in my Essays is intended to undermine Historical Materialism, a theory I fully accept.

Hermetic philosophy well I plead guilty to that. Dialectics and dialectical materialism (which originated not with Marx but Joseph Dietzgen) is what we keep of Marx. Certainly not his authoritarian realpoitik that he applied to the International Working Mens Association and that with the aid of Engels ultimately resulted in the dead end of German Social Democracy. That authoritarian Marxism ended in the failure of Lenin and Trotsky's Bolshevik Revolution to produce anything more than state monopoly capitalism in Russia.

But calling it Mickey Mouse science? Stone age logic? Really. And Ms. Anti-Dialectics will replace it with what? Not historical materialism as she claims but rather dull old 'English' materialism.

Dialectics is the basis of all philosophy starting with Heraclitus, hardly stone age, more post-Iron Age.

Heraclitus Heraclitus was a contemporary of Pythagoras, Lao-tzu, Confucius, and Siddhartha, the Buddha; some say that the term "philosophy", love of wisdom, was first introduced by Pythagoras, who lived from approximately 580 BCE to 500 BCE.
Heraclitus had an influence much broader than could be expected from his tiny corpus of sayings. Plato accepted his concept that matter was in endless change, but took this in an anti-materialist way to prove that there must be a better world of unchanging ideas. The Stoics, who were pantheists and materialists, regarded Heraclitus as a precursor. For his emphasis on development through the conflict of opposites, Marx and Engels viewed him as a harbinger of dialectical materialism.

And to toss it out like the proverbial baby with the bath water is to deny that it is the basis of Marxism and Historical Materialism, beginning with Marx's PhD thesis on the philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus

Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy

Our true believer in Marxism without Marx (dialectics) has much in common with her counterpart the other true believer;

Hegel and Marx became very different because Hegel follows Plato and thus distinguishes an absolute thing-in-itself (God) from all relativistic things-in-themselves in the universe. On the other hand, Marx follows Heraclitus and the godless philosophy of relativism. Since Marx is without a god who can unify all opposites, I do not know how Marx can use dialectical thinking to identify the unchanging opposites.
Because for Marx commodity production was the unification of opposites capitalism is not just about accumulating wealth it is the social relation that changes production from use value to commodity production. Which means workers become transformed into consumers as well as producers of capital.

Marx's Concept of Money: The God of Commodities

While our Anti-dialectical Lenninst/Trotskyist claims that dialectics is a problem for Marxism she seems to have misread Lenin the Marxist Philosopher;

Lenin sharply criticises Hegel’s idealism and the mysticism of his ideas. But Lenin also reveals the significance of Hegelian dialectics and points out the necessity for evaluating it from a materialist standpoint. “Hegel’s logic,” wrote V. I. Lenin, “cannot be applied in its given form, it cannot be taken as given. One must s e p a r a t e o u t from it the logical (epistemological) nuances, after purifying them from Ideenmystik. . .” (p. 266). In summarising Hegel’s writings, Lenin formulates a series of highly important propositions on the essence of materialist dialectics.

The brilliant article “On the Question of Dialectics,” written in 1915, is related to Lenin’s summary of Hegel’s works. Though small in size, this article is a crystallisation of unsurpassed depth and richness of thought of all the important and essential elements in materialist dialectics.

Lenin’s résumés of Lassalle’s The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus, Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Feuerbach’s Exposition, Analysis and Critique of the Philosophy of Leibnitz trace the historical preparation of materialist dialectics. Lenin examines the history of philosophy from Heraclitus and Democritus to Marx and Engels, and presents a profound Marxist evaluation of the work of outstanding thinkers. He reveals the progressive contribution which they made to the development of philosophical thought, and at the same time, discloses the historical limitations of their views.

It may be presumed that the preparatory material of Notebooks on Philosophy is evidence of Lenin’s intention to write a special work on materialist dialectics, a task which he had no opportunity to fulfil. Although the material in Philosophical Notebooks does not constitute a complete work written by Lenin for publication, it is an important contribution to the development of dialectical materialism. The study of the great ideological content of Philosophical Notebooks is of tremendous importance for a thorough grasp of Marxist-Leninist philosophy, the theoretical foundation of scientific communism.

And when it comes to Trotskyism she is at odds with those who hold the banner of the old man high.

Reason in Revolt: Marxism and Modern Science

By Alan Woods and Ted Grant

This book, by Ted Grant and Alan Woods published in 1995 coinciding with Engels’ centenary, defends the validity of the philosophical writings of Marx and Engels using the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century as a proof. With a foreword by Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened.

We take considerable pride from the fact that, to date, no-one has found serious fault with the science of the book. And every new discovery of science serves to confirm the statement of Engels that "in the last analysis, Nature works dialectically." We take advantage of this occasion to refer to some of these developments.

For your erudition I provide this biography of Heraclitus and his writings.


  1. Life of Herakleitos
  2. His Book
  3. The Fragments
  4. The Doxographical Tradition
  5. The Discovery of Herakleitos
  6. The One and the Many
  7. Fire
  8. Flux
  9. The Upward and Downward Path
  10. Measure for Measure
  11. Man

  1. Sleeping and Waking
  2. Life and Death
  3. The Day and the Year
  4. The Great Year
  5. Did Herakleitos Teach a General Conflagration?
  6. Strife and "Harmony"
  7. Correlation of Opposites
  8. The Wise
  9. Theology
  10. Ethics of Herakleitos

The Dialectics of War

Dialectics, Nature and Science

Kabbalistic Kommunism

Left Communism and Trotskyism

IWD: Raya Dunayevskaya

Engels Was Right

Dialectics of Extinction

(r)Evolutionary Theory

Dialectical Science-JBS Haldane

Dialectical Anthropology-AP Alexeev

For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing

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hallblithe said...


The following material should be of interest:

Socialist History - People Who History Made
'Dietzgen and Dialectical Thought'
Speaker Steve Coleman (CD #22 available from The Socialist Party:

Marx, theoretician of anarchism:

Needless to say, agreement is not expected and feedback welcomed!

Yours for a world of free access,

Robert Stafford

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

I notice you have criticised my ideas form the usual vantage point of almost total ignorance, just as you seem to have bought into ruling-class apriorism and dogmatism.

I am not an advocate of 'English materialism' as you allege (and you do so without a shred of evidence), and I am well aware of what Lenin claimed -- I just do not buy it.

Even better, I can prove what I say -- and have done so in my Essays

Moreover, I chose 'stone age logic' carefully, for dialectical logic is woefully poor even in comparison with the logic invented by Aristotle.

But you'd know all this if you bothered to read my essays before you decided to pontificate about them.

If you have the courage of your convictions, come over to RevLeft and debate this mystical creed of yours with me.

Rosa L

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

And, Robert, Dietzgen is just about the worst and most confused 'philospher' to have put pen to misuse.

ajohnstone said...

Whether dialectics exists in nature or is just a mental construct is one of the questions featured in Dietzgen and Pannekoek who both took up the latter view .

While he regarded the external world of phenomena as an interconnected and ever-changing whole (two "dialectical" features), he did not see contradiction (a third such feature) as a characteristic, let alone the motor of change, of this world. For him, contradiction was a mental phenomenon resulting from the paradox that the human mind, to make sense of this world in order to better survive in it, has to mentally isolate parts of it and treat them as if they were separate entities whereas in fact they remain inseparable parts of the whole.
It is clear that social development takes place through internal contradiction (the class struggle within class societies) – this is a verified description on the basis of the facts – it has not been confirmed that change in the physical world is driven by internal contradiction. On the contrary, the most adequate theory of biological evolution is that it took place in response to changing external factors.

I don't consider such ideas as confused as claimed by Rosa .

The Marxist position, according to Madan Sarup is that, " a characteristic of human beings is that they make a distinction between the 'real' and the 'ideal'". By the real he means an awareness of the present situation, and by the ideal, some notion of what life, the world, could be like. Human beings, he continues, "have a sense of what is possible in the future and they have the hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Marxists not only have this hope, this orientation towards the future, but they try to understand the world, to develop a critical consciousness of it, and try to develop strategies for changing it. Of course, they realise that progress is uneven, not unilinear; because of the nature of contradiction there are inevitably negative aspects, sad reversals and painful losses. Marxists struggle for a better future for all, but they know that this does not mean that progress is guaranteed or that the process of the dialectic will lead to the Perfect". from An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Post-Postmodernism

Not such a bad summary .

Rosa Lichtenstein said...


"I don't consider such ideas as confused as claimed by Rosa."

Except Dietzgen helps himself to a whole range of meaningless, jargonised terms, invented by ruling-class hacks (like Hegel), and manages to confuse things even more.

For example, for the mess created by the idea that change is through 'internal contradictions' (an empty phrase in itself), check this out:

ajohnstone said...

Unlike other philosophies pretending to offer absolute truth , Dietzgen's makes a point of describing itself as a partial truth , "a finite and temporary realisation" , and that previous philosophicl endeavours were not entirely useless speculations but ascending stages of understanding , and Dietzgen's is just a continuation of former philosophies .
So i suppose he will plead guilty about absorbing Hegelian or Kantian ideas and further developing them .
His is an attempted understanding of the science of generalisation and classification through the interaction of the mind .

For me , it of Dietzgenist emphasis on the unity between the economic causes and the spiritual (for the want of a better word) where abstractions such as class consciousness become a material factor in human action that is the attraction of his ideas .

Nor can i dismiss his entreaty that :-

"If a worker wants to take part in the self-emancipation of his class , the basic requirement is that he should cease allowing others to teach him and should set about teaching himself "

A maxim which alone raises Dietzgen above the Leninist and Trotskyist leadership fetish.

But to tell you the truth , we can all live and be revolutionary without adherence to Dialectical Materialism , negations of the negation , or reading and digesting and regurgitating Volume 3 of Capital or the Holy Family

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

This in no way addresses any of the insuperable difficulties I have raised against this way of seeing the world, nor does it show how Dietzgen was not hopelessly confused.

Unless you have something substantive to offer in way of reply to the points I make in my essays, your comments are a total waste of time.

Until then, of course, you are welcome to cling on to a theory that history has already refuted (even before I demolished it): dialectics.