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Thread: What is dialectics?

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    Senior Voting Member brawler5k2's Avatar
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    Default What is dialectics?

    While reading one of Lenin's works, I stumbled upon a section describing Marx's dialectics, and it stated that:
    “ The great basic thought,” Engels writes, “that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away... this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But to acknowledge this fundamental thought in words and to apply it in reality in detail to each domain of investigation are two different things.... For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy itself is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain.” Thus, according to Marx, dialectics is “the science of the general laws of motion, both of the external world and of human thought.”
    [1]

    Is dialectics simply the philosophy of studying the processes of different movements, or is there a whole lot more to this philosophy?

    #1:Lenin's Karl Marx
    A Brief Biographical Sketch With an Exposition of Marxism

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    That's quite a big question to answer, and I don't think it's really possible to do so in a couple paragraphs. I mean, there have been whole volumes written about this subject attempting to answer the question --and often failing miserably at it in the process.

    The Lenin quote you posted there sums up what I have read about dialectics (which isn't all that much) pretty well, but it's also very summarized and oversimplified. That is not to say that such summaries aren't good to read to get a general idea of dialectics, so I'll link you to a couple of the best ones I've come across:

    The ABC of Materialist Dialectics
    Dialectic and Logic
    The Meaning of Hegel
    The Marxist Dialectic
    The Development of the Monist View of History

    The last title is a book which is very good in answering the question, but doesn't really go into it all that much. It is more concerned with the application of dialectical materialism to history, i.e., historical materialism.

    Then there's this site which has some informative things on it: Dialectics for Kids

    Personally I believe that dialectical materialism is, on the whole, an accurate philosophical concept of analysis, or mode of analysis. I just don't believe that many self-proclaimed Marxists know what it means -- they act like they do to brandish it as a weapon against their theological rivals; the other sects. So you'll see one sect denouncing another for "not being dialectical enough" in their analysis of something, and vice versa. In other words, it has mostly been reduced to some kind of theological dogma in the Marxist movement.

    The whole "unconscious dialectical thinking" process which Engels and other Marxists ascribed to people like Rousseau because they thought dialectically "without knowing it" (to paraphrase), is in my opinion an accurate estimation of many peoples' thought processes -- at least, of those people who think in a truly materialist fashion.

    On a side-note: I totally disagree with applying dialectics to nature. Sartre had an interesting critique of that, and referred to his use of dialectics as the critical dialectic versus the dogmatic dialectic. You can read more about that here if you want some more in-depth literature: he Dogmatic Dialectic and the Critical Dialectic.

    The Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre is a good book on that subject, though I haven't been able to find it online.

    If you're interested in the more philosophical texts, so the heavy literature on the subject, I'd give Hegel, Spirkin, Ilyenkov, Engels, and Lukacs a read. Also, if you're interested in how dialectics influenced Marx's works, Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic is a good place to start.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Personally I believe that dialectical materialism is, on the whole, an accurate philosophical concept of analysis, or mode of analysis. I just don't believe that many self-proclaimed Marxists know what it means -- they act like they do to brandish it as a weapon against their theological rivals; the other sects. So you'll see one sect denouncing another for "not being dialectical enough" in their analysis of something, and vice versa. In other words, it has mostly been reduced to some kind of theological dogma in the Marxist movement.

    I agree with that.

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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Dialectics is why the "motor" for your freezer is hotter than hell. It's the hot air that rises only to become cool again, only so it can drop down to rise again. It's why you changing the world changes you. And it is inevitably why revolution is a necessary engagement.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    I'm sorry Amoeba, but the books you quote make all the usual mistakes -- and the site you link to, Dialectics for Kids, is a joke. On that see here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/dialectics...024/index.html

    I'll return tomorrow with a few of my objections to this theory.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Ok, here's an article I had published in Weekly Worker back in 2007 (with a few additions):


    What Is Wrong With Dialectical Materialism?

    by Rosa Lichtenstein

    In the space available I can only outline a few of my reasons for rejecting Dialectical Materialism [DM].

    However, nothing here should be read as an attack on Historical Materialism, a theory I fully accept.

    I will begin by looking at a handful of my criticisms of Engels's Three Laws.


    Quantity And Quality

    Engels asserted the following:

    Qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned.1
    Such changes are neither smooth nor gradual:

    Quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, lead in the end to changes of quality, and that these changes of quality represent leaps, interruptions in gradualness…. That is how all Nature acts….2
    And yet, there are many things in nature that undergo smooth qualitative change -- for example, melting metal, glass, plastic, butter, toffee and chocolate. Sure, some things change "nodally", but many do not. So, the "nodal" aspect of this Law is defective.

    Unfortunately, this implies that it cannot be used to argue that the transformation from capitalism to socialism must be nodal too, for we have no idea whether this transformation is one of these exceptions. Plainly, we could only use this Law if it had no exceptions whatsoever.

    This means that the whole point of adopting this Law in the first place has now vanished.

    What about 'quantity into quality'? Undeniably, many material things change qualitatively as a result of the addition or subtraction of matter or energy.

    But this is not true of all qualitative difference. The order in which events take place can affect quality, too. For example, try crossing a busy main road first and looking second -- now, try it the other way round! And anyone who tries pouring half a litre of water slowly into a litre of concentrated sulphuric acid will face a long and painful stay in hospital, whereas the reverse action is perfectly safe.

    Moreover, this Law is so vaguely worded that dialecticians can use it in whatever way they please. If this is difficult to believe, ask the very next dialectician you meet precisely how long a "nodal point" is supposed to last. As seems clear, if no one knows, anything from a Geological Age to an instantaneous quantum leap could be "nodal"!

    And, it really isn't good enough for dialectically-inclined readers to dismiss this as mere pedantry. Can you imagine a genuine scientist refusing to say how long a crucially important interval in her theory is supposed to be, and accusing you of "pedantry" for even asking?

    Next, enquire what a "quality" is. You might be told it is a property the change of which alters a process/object into something new.

    Unfortunately, given this explanation of "quality" many of the examples dialecticians themselves employ would cease to work.

    For instance: the most hackneyed example they use is that of water turning to ice or steam when cooled or heated. But, given the above, this would not be an example of qualitative change, since water as ice, liquid or steam is still water (i.e., H2O). Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy does not result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing new emerges. This substance stays H2O throughout.

    Faced with that, dialecticians may be tempted to relax the definition of "quality", so that in a solid, liquid or gaseous state, water could be said to exhibit different qualities.

    Unfortunately, this would rescue the above example but sink the theory. If we allow "quality" to apply to any qualitative difference, then we would have to admit the relational properties of bodies. In that case we could easily witness qualitative change where no extra matter or energy has been added. For instance, consider three animals in a row: a mouse, a pony, and an elephant. In relation to the mouse, the pony is big, but in relation to the elephant it is small. Change in quality, with no matter or energy added or subtracted.

    Of course, all this is quite apart from the fact that altering the way that "quality" is understood indicates that changes in quality are now relative to an observer's choice of descriptive framework. Plainly, this introduces a fundamental element of arbitrariness into what dialecticians claim to be a scientific law.

    Finally, there are substances called isomers -- i.e., molecules with exactly the same number of atoms differently arranged --, where, if the geometrical orientation of these atoms is altered, the resulting qualities of the compounds involved change. Here, we would have a change in geometry causing a change in quality, with the addition of no new matter or energy, contradicting Engels:

    Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion....3 [Bold emphasis added.]
    So, at the very best, this Law is merely a quaint rule of thumb (rather like: "A stitch in time saves nine"). At worst, it is like a stopped clock: totally useless, even if twice a day it tells the 'right time'.

    Hence, Engels's First Law is of no use to revolutionary theory, and so has no role to play in helping to change society.


    The Unity And Interpenetration Of Opposites

    This is perhaps the most important of these Laws, for it encapsulates the principle of change, as well as that of temporary stability.

    Unfortunately, dialecticians have so far been entirely unclear whether things change because of their internal opposites, whether they change into these opposites (or even into one another), or, indeed, whether they create these opposites as they change:

    Here are Lenin, Plekhanov and Mao:

    Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things...as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions....

    [Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]….4

    And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite….5 [Bold emphases added.]

    In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another....

    ...[A]ll processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute.6 [Bold emphases added.]
    But this leaves change a complete mystery.

    To see this, let us suppose that object/process A is comprised of two "internal opposites" O* and O**, and thus changes as a result.

    But, O* cannot itself change into O** since O** already exists! If O** didn't already exist, according to this theory, O* could not change, for there would be no opposite to bring that about.

    And it is no good propelling O** into the future so that it now becomes what O* will change into, since O* will do no such thing unless O** is already there in the present to make that happen!

    Hence, if object/process A is already composed of a dialectical union of O* and not-O* (i.e., O**) and it 'changes' into not-O*, where is the change? All that seems to happen is that O* disappears. Thus, O* does not change into not-O*, it is just replaced by it.

    At the very least, this account of change leaves it entirely mysterious how not-O* itself came about. It seems to have popped into existence from nowhere.

    It cannot have come from O*, since O* can only change because of the operation of not-O*, which does not yet exist! And pushing the process into the past (via a 'reversed' version of the negation of the negation) will merely reduplicate the above problems.

    Of course, this is all quite apart from the fact that many things just do not change into their opposites (or even because of them). When was the last time you saw a male cat turn into a female cat? Your left hand into your right? An electron into a proton? Or even a material object into an immaterial one?

    And are we really supposed to believe that every proletarian (as individuals or as a class) will turn into Capitalists (and/or vice versa)?

    According to the above dialecticians, this must happen.

    None of this implies that things cannot change, but it does mean that dialectics cannot explain why they do so.


    The Negation Of The Negation

    This Law is just an extension to the previous Law, and so suffers from all the latter's weaknesses.

    Engels retailed a rather unfortunate example, however:

    Butterflies...spring from the egg by a negation of the egg, pass through certain transformations until they reach sexual maturity, pair and are in turn negated, dying as soon as the pairing process has been completed and the female has laid its numerous eggs.7
    In fact, butterflies and moths go through the following stages:

    Adult -> egg -> pupa -> chrysalis -> adult

    Which is the negation of which here? And which is the negation of the negation?

    And what about organisms that reproduce by splitting, such as amoebae and bacteria? In any such spit, which half is the negation and which the negation of the negation? Indeed, what about vegetative (asexual) reproduction in general, where there are no opposites (no gametes)?

    Consider, too, the thoroughly reactionary life-form Myxomycota (The Slime Mould), which belongs neither to the plant nor the animal kingdom, but to the Protoctista. Its life-cycle involves the following: a giant amoebal stage, followed by a slug-like existence, which morphs into a fungal-like fruiting body, which then releases spores. Again, which is the negation, and which is the negation of the negation?

    And with respect to the former USSR (post 1917): if this Law is progressive, why did it allow the revolution to decay and go into reverse?

    Is modern-day Russia really then the un-negation of the negation of the negation of Tsarist Russia?


    Practice

    Dialecticians tell us that truth is tested in practice. In that case, what does history reveal?

    Unfortunately, it shows that Dialectical Marxism has not known much in the way of success. The 1917 revolution has been reversed, practically every single socialist state has abandoned Marxism, all four Internationals have gone down the pan, and few revolutionary parties these days can boast active membership levels that rise much above the risible. To cap it all, billions of workers world-wide not only ignore dialectics, they have never even heard of it.

    And yet, most dialecticians claim that dialectics lies at the heart of revolutionary theory and practice. If so, why have none of them drawn the obvious conclusion that history has refuted dialectics?

    Nevertheless, it is my contention that this theory is part of the reason why Dialectical Marxism is now almost synonymous with failure.

    This is because such long-term lack of success suggests that Dialectical Materialism might not be quite as sound as its supporters would have us believe.

    No surprise therefore: that is exactly what we have found.

    More details at my site: http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/index.htm

    Notes

    1. Engels, F., Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers, 1954), p.63.

    2. Plekhanov, G., The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers, 1956), p.163.

    3. Engels, F., Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers, 1954), p.63.

    4. Lenin, V., Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Progress Publishers, 1961). pp.196-97, 221-22.

    5. Plekhanov, G., The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers, 1956), p.77.

    6. Mao Zedong, 'On Contradiction', in Selected Works Volume One (Foreign Languages Press, 1964), pp.340-42.

    7. Engels, F., Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press, 1976), p.173.

    -------------------------------------

    Here is an additional section taken from one of my Introductory Essays:


    Formal Logic

    Practically every dialectician likes to say the following about Formal Logic [FL]:

    "Formal logic regards things as fixed and motionless." [Rob Sewell.]

    "Formal categories, putting things in labelled boxes, will always be an inadequate way of looking at change and development…because a static definition cannot cope with the way in which a new content emerges from old conditions." [Rees (1998), p.59.]

    "There are three fundamental laws of formal logic. First and most important is the law of identity....

    "…If a thing is always and under all conditions equal or identical with itself, it can never be unequal or different from itself." [Novack (1971), p.20.]
    However, I have yet to see a single quotation from a logic text (ancient or modern) that supports such allegations -- certainly dialecticians have so far failed to produce even one.

    And no wonder: it's completely incorrect.

    FL uses variables -- that is, it employs letters to stand for objects, processes and the like, all of which can and do change.

    This handy device was invented by the very first logician we know of (in the 'West'): Aristotle (384-322BC). Aristotle experimented with the use of variables approximately 1500 years before they were imported into mathematics by Muslim Algebraists, who in turn employed them several centuries before French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes (1596-1650), introduced them in the 'West'.

    Engels himself said the following about that particular innovation:

    "The turning point in mathematics was Descartes' variable magnitude. With that came motion and hence dialectics in mathematics, and at once, too, of necessity the differential and integral calculus…." [Engels (1954), p.258.]
    Now, no one doubts that modern mathematics can handle change, so why dialecticians deny this of FL -- when it has always used variables -- is rather puzzling.

    Finally, the Law of Identity does not deny change, for if something changes, then anything identical with it will change equally quickly.

    With that observation much of DM falls apart.

    --------------------------------

    Novack, G. (1971), An Introduction To The Logic Of Marxism (Pathfinder Press, 5th ed.).

    Rees, J. (1998), The Algebra Of Revolution (Routledge).



    Comrades can find more details here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why%20I%20Oppose%20DM.htm
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 11-27-2011 at 7:27 AM.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Amoeba:

    The whole "unconscious dialectical thinking" process which Engels and other Marxists ascribed to people like Rousseau because they thought dialectically "without knowing it" (to paraphrase), is in my opinion an accurate estimation of many peoples' thought processes -- at least, of those people who think in a truly materialist fashion.
    There is as much evidence that these characters were 'unconscious' Zen Buddhists and Tibetan Head Hunters as there is that they were 'unconscious' dialecticians.

    And, in what way do our thought processes conform to this theory/method? You forgot to say.


    If you're interested in the more philosophical texts, so the heavy literature on the subject, I'd give Hegel, Spirkin, Ilyenkov, Engels, and Lukacs a read. Also, if you're interested in how dialectics influenced Marx's works, Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic is a good place to start.
    The authors you mention are no better -- they too copy the same errors of one another, subjecting them to no critical scrutiny.

    Moreover, by the time he came to write Das Kapital, Marx had waved 'goodbye' to the dialectic as most Marxists have understood it.

    For example, in the Afterword to the second edition of Das Kapital, Marx added this summary of 'his method', the 'dialectic method':

    "After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method, the writer goes on:

    'The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. ... If in the history of civilisation the conscious element plays a part so subordinate, then it is self-evident that a critical inquiry whose subject-matter is civilisation, can, less than anything else, have for its basis any form of, or any result of, consciousness. That is to say, that not the idea, but the material phenomenon alone can serve as its starting-point. Such an inquiry will confine itself to the confrontation and the comparison of a fact, not with ideas, but with another fact. For this inquiry, the one thing of moment is, that both facts be investigated as accurately as possible, and that they actually form, each with respect to the other, different momenta of an evolution; but most important of all is the rigid analysis of the series of successions, of the sequences and concatenations in which the different stages of such an evolution present themselves. But it will be said, the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. This Marx directly denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist. On the contrary, in his opinion every historical period has laws of its own.... As soon as society has outlived a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws. In a word, economic life offers us a phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology. The old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorough analysis of phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Nay, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different structure of those organisms as a whole, of the variations of their individual organs, of the different conditions in which those organs function, &c. Marx, e.g., denies that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places. He asserts, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population. ... With the varying degree of development of productive power, social conditions and the laws governing them vary too. Whilst Marx sets himself the task of following and explaining from this point of view the economic system established by the sway of capital, he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx's book has.'

    "Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Marx (1976), pp.101-02. Bold emphases added.]
    In the quoted passage, not one single Hegelian concept is to be found -- no "contradictions", no change of "quantity into quality", no "negation of the negation", no "unity and identity of opposites", no "interconnected Totality", no "universal change" --, and yet Marx calls this the "dialectic method", and says of it that it is "my method". So, Marx's "method" has had Hegel completely excised --, except for the odd phrase or two, here and there, with which he later tells us he merely "coquetted". In that case, Marx's "dialectic method" more closely resembles that of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School (of Ferguson, Millar, Robertson, Smith, Hume and Stewart).

    It's also worth recalling that this is the only summary of the 'dialectic method' that Marx published in his lifetime.

    Hence, the 'rational kernel' of Hegel's theory is either empty or it contains the dialectical method of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School (who influenced both Kant and Hegel).

    To put Hegel 'back on his feet' is thus to expose his empty head.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Gent:

    Dialectics is why the "motor" for your freezer is hotter than hell. It's the hot air that rises only to become cool again, only so it can drop down to rise again. It's why you changing the world changes you. And it is inevitably why revolution is a necessary engagement.
    I'm sorry, but what have refigerator motors got to do with dialectical materialism?

    As my (long) post above shows, if they were governed by its laws, not one of them would work.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    To be honest, I had written that post over 10 months ago. Since then, I've come to not really care about dialectics that much, if at all, except perhaps as an intellectual curiosity. It's similar to Ethics, in that it proposes all kinds of abstractions which in reality no one utilizes anyway, and when they do, they do it as a substitution to some other method of analysis which would've sufficed just as well. Take someone like Trotsky for example. Would his thinking would have been detrimentally affected if he hadn't read anything about dialectics? Doubtful. Same with Lenin. Same with Marx.

    Dialectics has a longer history though. For the Ancients it meant arriving at the truth by means of rational, logical thinking. It proposes all kinds of methods for this which have already become institutionalized in our educational upbringing. We all learn how to analyse things in their concreteness, as a process, how to view things as broadly as possibly ('totality'), etc. etc. I don't need to read Hegel to get all this. It's a philosopher's pastime, similar to the whole of Ethical philosophy.

    But the only thing I still disagree with you on, and I believe you should definitely drop because it detracts from your overall work, is the notion that a belief in dialectics somehow leads to worse politics in practice. You commit your own sin by attributing real qualities to dialectics when in reality it has none. People who profess to 'think dialectically' are similar to people who profess to 'think like a Catholic'; they're deluding themselves. These empty abstractions have no influence on the choices they make, especially not when it comes to such abstractions as political reality. Do you think if all these sectists didn't claim to follow dialectics they'd be transformed overnight (through a negation of the negation perhaps?) into a unified mass party? Of course not. They'd remain empty bags, emptied by history.

    Besides, this idea is disproven in practice. The vast majority of those people on the left who claim to be 'dialecticians' have never even bothered to read anything about it. They merely play lip-service to it, like the laity has historically done in front of the pulpit.

    Let's see dialectics for what it is; a psychological coping mechanism for sectists, an idealistic offshoot based on a religious reading of Marx and Engels. The truly hilarious thing is that they themselves realized its irrelevance. When Engels says that people already think dialectically 'unconsciously', he's basically saying, as you also observed correctly, that dialectics itself as a concept is meaningless. It's like that Christian doctrine of original sin; you're all sinners anyway because you're born with it, so who cares if you're conscious of it? It's nullified, an irrelevancy.

    What I would be interested in though is to see a debate between you and Gent, who seems to be an ardent supporter of dialectics.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Amoeba:

    To be honest, I had written that post over 10 months ago. Since then, I've come to not really care about dialectics that much, if at all, except perhaps as an intellectual curiosity. It's similar to Ethics, in that it proposes all kinds of abstractions which in reality no one utilizes anyway, and when they do, they do it as a substitution to some other method of analysis which would've sufficed just as well. Take someone like Trotsky for example. Would his thinking would have been detrimentally affected if he hadn't read anything about dialectics? Doubtful. Same with Lenin. Same with Marx.
    Yes, I'm sorry, but I have only just seen your post.

    Take Trotsky: he used DM to justify his claim that the former USSR was a 'contradictory' state, and hence, even though it's a contradiction to suppose that in a workers' state the working class can be oppressed, exploited and lack any power, only those who do not "understand" dialectics will object to the revolutionary defence of the USSR. It also 'allowed' him to support Stalin's murderous invasion of Finland.

    And, his use of this method split the Trotskyist movement from top to bottom, and it has remained weak and divided ever since. So, it would have made a difference to his thought.

    As far as Marx is concerned, he abandoned the dialectic as most Marxists have understood it. However, this method has affected how Marxists ever since have interpreted his work.

    With Lenin, the situtation is a little more complicated. Although he was a dialectican par excellence, there is no evidence he used it in any practical way, except to criticise others. So, if anything it had a negative effect on his thought, making him more sectarian than he would otherwise have been. He aslo lent his towering authority to this theory, meaning that few Leninists (like me) question it.

    Dialectics has a longer history though. For the Ancients it meant arriving at the truth by means of rational, logical thinking. It proposes all kinds of methods for this which have already become institutionalized in our educational upbringing. We all learn how to analyse things in their concreteness, as a process, how to view things as broadly as possibly ('totality'), etc. etc. I don't need to read Hegel to get all this. It's a philosopher's pastime, similar to the whole of Ethical philosophy.
    I agree, but when dialecticians are asked about this 'totality' or these 'interconnections', they become oddly vague.

    But the only thing I still disagree with you on, and I believe you should definitely drop because it detracts from your overall work, is the notion that a belief in dialectics somehow leads to worse politics in practice. You commit your own sin by attributing real qualities to dialectics when in reality it has none. People who profess to 'think dialectically' are similar to people who profess to 'think like a Catholic'; they're deluding themselves. These empty abstractions have no influence on the choices they make, especially not when it comes to such abstractions as political reality. Do you think if all these sectists didn't claim to follow dialectics they'd be transformed overnight (through a negation of the negation perhaps?) into a unified mass party? Of course not. They'd remain empty bags, emptied by history.
    And yet it is possible to show that DM has had seriously negative effects on Dialectical Marxists. Here are just a few.

    DM helped:

    (1) Justify and rationalise the terror state in the USSR post 1929.

    (2) Justify and rationalise the ultra-left turn of the CPSU in the late 1920s, which split the German working class, inviting and then allowing Hitler to rip apart the entire European working class.

    (3) Justify and rationalise the Popular Front turn in the mid-1930s, which disarmed the European working class in the face of the rise of Fascism.

    (4) Justify and rationalise the pact with Hitler in 1939 -- which demoralised and disarmed practically every militant in Europe, giving Hitler the green light to subjugate all of Europe, and later invade the USSR.

    (5) Justify and rationalise Trotsky's revolutionary defence of the USSR, which disarmed the entire Trotskyist movement.

    (6) Connected with that: as noted above, Trotsky used it to justify and rationalise his analysis of the former USSR (and thus the invasion of Finland), which analysis later split the Trotskyist movement, from which it has never recovered. This means that Trotskyism has had a small, and declining influence on the class war, with precious little positive to boast about in over 60 years.

    (7) Justify and rationalise substitutionism, so that even Trotskyists (who in one breath argue that the emancipation of the working class is an act of the workers themselves, in the next they argue that the 'contradictory' nature of reality means that this can be effected by one or more of the following: the red army, third world guerrillas, sympathetic nationalists, left politicians, students, rainbow alliances, etc. etc. and only those who do not 'understand' dialectics will demur) have been seduced. This has disarmed the entire movement for several generations, marrying it to all manner of bourgeois and anti-Marxist forces.

    (8) It does not cause but it justifies, rationalises and aggravates sectarianism, since every side in the dispute can appeal to this contradictory theory to defend its side in any split. [John Rees used the 'unity of opposites' to justify the 'united front of a different kind', and that had a very serious negative effect on our party, including many who blog at your site. Did it cause these splits? No, but the 'dialectical frame of mind' helped rationalise the politics of each side. Now that the class war is hotting up, we are very badly placed to take advantage of it, our credibility on the left seriously damaged.]

    There are many more negatives I could list (you can find them in extensive detail at my site, in the essay I link to below).

    And all this is because DM can be used to 'prove' anything you like and its opposite (since it glories in contradiction).

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm

    Use the Quick Links at the top to jump to Section Seven, Case Studies.

    Besides, this idea is disproven in practice. The vast majority of those people on the left who claim to be 'dialecticians' have never even bothered to read anything about it. They merely play lip-service to it, like the laity has historically done in front of the pulpit.
    This is not true of all leading Marxists, Marxist revolutionaries and Marxist theorists, i.e., those who control the movement and who form its core ideas, strategy and tactics.

    So, this isn't true either:

    Let's see dialectics for what it is; a psychological coping mechanism for sectists, an idealistic offshoot based on a religious reading of Marx and Engels. The truly hilarious thing is that they themselves realized its irrelevance. When Engels says that people already think dialectically 'unconsciously', he's basically saying, as you also observed correctly, that dialectics itself as a concept is meaningless. It's like that Christian doctrine of original sin; you're all sinners anyway because you're born with it, so who cares if you're conscious of it? It's nullified, an irrelevancy
    This theory/method still controls the thought of far too may comrades and marxist parties.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 12-13-2011 at 11:09 PM.

  11. #11
    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    Amoeba:Take Trotsky: he used DM to justify his claim that the former USSR was a 'contradictory' state, and hence, even though it's a contradiction to suppose that in a workers' state the working class can be oppressed, exploited and lack any power, only those who do not "understand" dialectics will object to the revolutionary defence of the USSR. It also 'allowed' him to support Stalin's murderous invasion of Finland.
    Yeah, this probably had more to do with the fact that Trotsky had participated in the Revolution and had been one of its leaders, and expected to be able to regain his position through some kind of political overthrow of the Stalinist regime, and therefore didn't want to go as far as to discount the whole system as corrupt, but of course you can't just say this, you need arguments to justify it with, and if anything comes cheap, it's arguments. Especially when laced with dialectical jargon.

    But is it the case that if it wasn't for dialectics, Trotsky would've seen the true nature of the USSR? This is really doubtful. It attributes too much weight to peoples' ideas, especially to ideas which you yourself admit are meaningless in material practice anyway.

    I agree, but when dialecticians are asked about this 'totality' or these 'interconnections', they become oddly vague.
    Probably because the concept of totality is meant to portray total objectivity, which is an impossibility, so they end up creating 'totalities' which are inherently subjective. Imagine all the knowledge that currently exists on the internet. When a dialectician creates a 'totality', it includes all that knowledge, in theory. Even if we limit it to historical facts, the idea is preposterous.

    In reality people try to view things as broadly as they can, given the means available to them. And if they're smart, they'd know that it's not an absolute objective totality, but rather, a subjective attempt at totality, that they've created.

    And yet it is possible to show that DM has had seriously negative effects on Dialectical Marxists. Here are just a few.
    So if it wasn't for dialectics, all those things wouldn't have been done or justified? Do you seriously believe this? If it wasn't for the Protestant Reformation and the creation of a 'Protestant work ethic', capitalism wouldn't have come into being (to use a popular Weberian notion)?

    Again, I think you're seriously attributing way too much weight to this. You yourself say that dialectics can be used to defend anything. When Stalin was using it to defend socialism in one country and all the crap that he was doing, Trotsky, his arch-enemy, was using it to defend the opposite, permanent revolution. What does this prove if not that there is no commonality when it comes to dialectics, and that it's just an abstract notion, like religion, used by people under varying circumstances which provide for varying results? The Catholic today doesn't come to the same conclusions as the Catholic five centuries ago in Rome. The dialectician today doesn't come to the same conclusions as the dialectician of the 1930's. The only thing that varies is the material circumstances in which these people find themselves; the constant factor, that of dialectics, is disproved by the fact that it's historically variable.

    Why can't you just limit it to that?

    Another great example are those two books on science produced by those two opposing sects, the IMT and the CWI. Both used dialectics, but came to opposing conclusions. Does this have to do with dialectics, or with their political differences, which are the result, in the last analysis, of material conditions?

    This is not true of all leading Marxists, Marxist revolutionaries and Marxist theorists, i.e., those who control the movement and who form its core ideas, strategy and tactics.
    Oh you'd be surprised that many of them are clueless, too. Do you really think that most of them even know what Hegel's Logik contains? It's true that you have some of the top sectist intellectuals who use the theory, but that's because it's part of the religion. Coming back to what I said above, it has no influence on their actual political practice, just as a Christian's view on transubstantiation doesn't have anything to do with how they act in real life.

    At least, that's my take on it.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

  12. #12
    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Ok, thanks for those comments.

    Yeah, this probably had more to do with the fact that Trotsky had participated in the Revolution and had been one of its leaders, and expected to be able to regain his position through some kind of political overthrow of the Stalinist regime, and therefore didn't want to go as far as to discount the whole system as corrupt, but of course you can't just say this, you need arguments to justify it with, and if anything comes cheap, it's arguments. Especially when laced with dialectical jargon.
    But the point is that no other theory (except perhaps Zen Buddhism) 'allows' its adepts (often the same individual) to argue for anything they like and its opposite, often in the same breath. So, whatever motivation Trotsky had, dialectics was well placed to rationalise anything at all. No matter how much a strategy might contradict Marxism it can always be rationalised on the grounds that, because of dialectics, one should expect Marxism to be contradictory.

    So if it wasn't for dialectics, all those things wouldn't have been done or justified? Do you seriously believe this? If it wasn't for the Protestant Reformation and the creation of a 'Protestant work ethic', capitalism wouldn't have come into being (to use a popular Weberian notion)?
    Well, as I have argued elsewhere, these decisions were taken for hard-headed political reasons. Dialectics was just useful to sell it to the cadres. Had it not been for this theory, that might not have been possible. Certainly, Trotsky couldn't have sold his view of the former USSR without this theory.

    Again, I think you're seriously attributing way too much weight to this. You yourself say that dialectics can be used to defend anything. When Stalin was using it to defend socialism in one country and all the crap that he was doing, Trotsky, his arch-enemy, was using it to defend the opposite, permanent revolution. What does this prove if not that there is no commonality when it comes to dialectics, and that it's just an abstract notion, like religion, used by people under varying circumstances which provide for varying results? The Catholic today doesn't come to the same conclusions as the Catholic five centuries ago in Rome. The dialectician today doesn't come to the same conclusions as the dialectician of the 1930's. The only thing that varies is the material circumstances in which these people find themselves; the constant factor, that of dialectics, is disproved by the fact that it's historically variable.
    The point is that this theory can be used by the same individual to rationalise anything he/she likes and its opposite, often in the same breath. Only dialectics and perhaps Zen Buddhism can be used in this way -- which is why many Buddhists call their approach dialectical.

    The other theories/systems you mention are used by different individuals, often at different times -- not by the same individual at the same time.

    Coming back to what I said above, it has no influence on their actual political practice, just as a Christian's view on transubstantiation doesn't have anything to do with how they act in real life.
    This isn't so. This theory has a pernicious and negative effect on their politics/practice, as I pointed out earlier:

    (7) Justify and rationalise substitutionism, so that even Trotskyists (who in one breath argue that the emancipation of the working class is an act of the workers themselves, in the next they argue that the 'contradictory' nature of reality means that this can be effected by one or more of the following: the red army, third world guerrillas, sympathetic nationalists, left politicians, students, rainbow alliances, etc. etc. and only those who do not 'understand' dialectics will demur) have been seduced. This has disarmed the entire movement for several generations, marrying it to all manner of bourgeois and anti-Marxist forces.

    (8) It does not cause but it justifies, rationalises and aggravates sectarianism, since every side in the dispute can appeal to this contradictory theory to defend its side in any split. [John Rees used the 'unity of opposites' to justify the 'united front of a different kind', and that had a very serious negative effect on the SWP/UK. Did it cause these splits? No, but the 'dialectical frame of mind' helped rationalise the politics of each side. Now that the class war is hotting up, we are very badly placed to take advantage of it, our credibility on the left seriously damaged.]
    In addition, because this theory teaches that appearances are 'contradicted' by underlying reality, this 'allows' the dialectician to ignore the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, since the latter only appears to be unsuccessful. So this theory insulates the militant mind from reality. It also 'allows' him/her to absolve this theory of all blame -- and that is why they cling onto it like drunks to lampposts.

    As I explained at RevLeft (in answer to the question, 'Why is DM a world-view'?):

    Marx famously claimed:

    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 German Ideology, quoted from here. Bold added.]
    Now, as is easy to show, Hegel lifted many of his doctrines from earlier mystics and ruling-class hacks. These ideas have appeared in the philosophical theories of boss-class thinkers from ancient times until today. In that case, the only conclusion possible is that dialectics must be part of the ruling ideas Marx was speaking about, whether he himself thought so or not.

    This conclusion is not at all easy for Dialectical Marxists to accept for it seems to implicate the founders of our movement in the deliberate importation of boss-class ideas into Marxism. To be sure, dialecticians say they have removed the Idealist and mystical elements of Hegel's dialectic (or, rather, they tell us they've put Hegel's ideas back "on their feet", thus preserving their "rational core"), but since it's plain that the remaining husk has been imposed on nature (not read from it) in sound idealist fashion, that claim is entirely bogus. As George Novack (inadvertently) pointed out:

    A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice.... [Novack The Origin of Materialism, p.17. Bold emphasis added.]
    Moreover, the founders of our movement weren't workers; they came from a class that educated their children in religion, the classics and philosophy. This tradition taught that behind appearances there's a hidden world, accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.

    This way of seeing things was invented by ruling-class ideologues, who viewed reality this way. 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, generals, intellectuals, philosophers, teachers, administrators, 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 that it is (4) 'Natural' and thus cannot be fought against, reformed or negotiated with.

    Hence, a world-view that helps rationalise 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 this wing of ruling-class ideology 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' underlying appearances) is ascertainable from thought alone, and therefore can be imposed on reality dogmatically and aprioristically.

    ["Aprioristically" means that these ideas can be inferred in advance of any evidence. A genuine a priori idea might be the following: despite the fact that you will never have experienced this, you know that ten billion marbles plus twenty billion marbles equals thirty billion marbles (although, I prefer to call this the application of a rule). A bogus a priori idea would involve, for example, an attempt to prove the existence of 'god' from 'his/her/its' definition. Another would be an attempt to show that everything is governed by 'contradictions' -- based only on a similar 'linguistic argument' (as Hegel attempted).]

    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 in that abstract world that told them that change was inevitable, and was part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that ruling-class mystic, Hegel. Hence, the dialectical classicists were happy to impose their theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up"), since, to them, because of their socialisation and education, it seemed quite natural to do this; that's what 'genuine' philosophy is -- or, so they thought.

    Again, because of their education and socialisation, their faith was in this invisible world, accessible to thought alone. It provided them with the same sort of consolation that religion provides believers, since this invisible world guarantees that history is moving their way, despite appearances to the contrary.

    They also need this 'world-view' to justify their leading role in the revolution, since only they 'understand' dialectics, and no one else does.

    Of course, if the facts end up contradicting DM, they can safely be ignored, since this hidden world not only "contradicts" appearances (so we are told), it's more real than anything genuinely material.

    And that is why DM-fans bury their heads in the sand: their faith lies in this hidden world -- and that's not surprising, either, since this idea was pinched from a Christian mystic.

    Finally, these comrades imported such alien ideas into Marxism unwittingly. They knew no better; their petty-bourgeois being determined their petty-bourgeois consciousness.
    So, this theory is neither innocent nor useless; it has had, and continues to have, massively negative effects on comrades.
    Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein; 11-28-2011 at 11:38 AM.

  13. #13

    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    what is the difference between dialectics of ancient greeks and modern use of dialectics exactly?

  14. #14
    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    In Ancient Greece dialectic was associated with disputation, where those involved in each argument attempted to reduce an opponent's opinions to absurdity, or show they descended into contradiction.

    In Hegel's hands it was transformed into a metaphysical theory about how the universe worked.

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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Hey Rosa,

    An aside: does Capitalism operate under some similar but different philosophical system that has made it so successful?

  16. #16
    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    There were and are many and varied philosophical theories (aka 'Political Theory') that have tended to 'rationalise' and 'justify' class power under capitalism -- begining with Hobbes and Locke, through Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hegel and Mill, and down to Rawls and Nozick (among many others), but underlying all these have been two main camps: empricism and rationalism, which variously endeavoured to rationalise bourgeois individualism, liberal democracy and/or some form of bourgeois absolutism -- depending on the balance of class forces at the time and any local or global crises in economic reproduction.

    Both of these philosophical traditions were based on the idea that fundamental truths about the universe, human beings and/or the state could be derived from language/thought alone, but I think it would be difficult to trace the economic and political success of capitalism back to such theories on their own, even though its ideologcal hegemony is a direct consequence of the work of such thinkers (as part of the "ruling ideas of the age").

  17. #17
    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Comrades might be interested in a debate about dialectics, involving yours truly and several UK comrades (many of whom were abusive from the start), that has been going on for several weeks over at Lenin's Tomb:

    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/...-strategy.html

    [In the comments section at the bottom. The software there is rather difficult to use. That explains the odd formatting of many of my replies!]

    Don't forget to sort the comments 'oldest first' -- mine begin about a quarter of the way down.

  18. #18
    Senior Voting Member KC's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Dialectics is largely irrelevant. I've argued with Rosa about this before in the past, and I do think that Rosa is wrong in their arguments, but I don't really care enough to get into it again, and neither should anyone else. You get more out of picking up a history book than you do some deep abstract discussion on dialectics. This is also why Marx never really wrote a treatise on his method.
    "I do not claim that every incident in the history of empire can be explained in directly economic terms. Economic interests are filtered through a political process, policies are implemented by a complex state apparatus, and the whole system generates its own momentum."

  19. #19
    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Well, you and I might think dialectics is irrelevant, but the vast majority of revolutionary Marxists on the planet consider it a core part of their theory.

    Now that theory has screwed with out movement for far too long, so this is not an irrelevant issue.

    Here is what I posted at Revleft a while back on this:

    (1) It is easy to show DM makes no sense, and so cannot be used to change the world (but it does succeed in confusing comrades).

    (2) It has undeniable roots in ruling-class thought, and thus represents a non-working class view of the world (which explains its other faults; see below).

    (3) Because it makes a virtue out of 'contradiction', it can be, and has been used to defend all manner or counter-revolutionary and anti-Marxist political doctrines, and their opposites, sometimes 24 hours later by the very same individual. No theory (other than Zen Buddhism, perhaps) can be used in this way.

    (4) It insulates militant minds from the facts (thus preventing the scientific development of Marxism). For example, because it teaches that surface 'appearances' 'contradict' underlying reality, it prevents dialectically-distracted comrades from acknowledging the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism. In many cases, because it encourages comrades to see failure as its opposite, its 'contradictory', as 'success' (or 'success' about to happen any day soon), they refuse to admit (they won't even countenance the possibility) that their core theory (dialectics) has anything to do with this. So, even though dialectics teaches that everything is interconnected, apparently, the only two things in the entire universe that are not linked in any way at all are: a) the long-term decline of Dialectical Marxism and b) its core theory!

    (5) It exacerbates (but does not cause) sectarianism. This is connected with points 3) and 4): because it can be used to 'prove' anything and its opposite, DM is an ideal tool in the hands of sectarians who use it to 'justify' and 'rationalise' anything they like, and thus condemn anything and anyone they like.

    (6) Because it is a source of consolation for the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism (for reasons outlined in (4) above), its acolytes cling on to it like grim death, and become highly irrational and emotive in its defence. [Check out the way I was treated by the vast majority of DM-fans over at RevLeft -- they even succeeded in banning me since I was far too effective.]

    There are other reasons why this mystical creed is deleterious to Marxism, but these will do for now.

    More details here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm
    *
    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%20010_01.htm

    In fact, I have already covered some of this ground above:

    http://www.revforum.com/showthread.p...ull=1#post2796

  20. #20
    Senior Voting Member KC's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is dialectics?

    Quote Originally Posted by RL
    Well, you and I might think dialectics is irrelevant, but the vast majority of revolutionary Marxists on the planet consider it a core part of their theory.
    Sure, but they're irrelevant, too. I'm just agreeing with Amoeba in that you're wasting a lot of time on a completely silly and irrelevant issue.
    "I do not claim that every incident in the history of empire can be explained in directly economic terms. Economic interests are filtered through a political process, policies are implemented by a complex state apparatus, and the whole system generates its own momentum."

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