As it turns out, the reason why the majority of revolutionaries not only accept the alien-class ideas encapsulated in MD [Materialist Dialectics], but cling onto them like terminally-insecure limpets, is connected with the following considerations:
(1) Marx's own 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 theory 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.
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, A Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel's Philosophy Of Right
, p.244. Bold emphases added.]
Of course, no one is suggesting that Dialectical Marxism is a religion -- but it does function in way that is analogous to one.
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, have not come from the working class. Even worker-revolutionaries when they become full-time or 'professional revolutionaries' become de-classé, or even petty-bourgeois Marxists as a result. Since the social being of these comrades can be traced back to their class origins and current class position, it's no great mystery that such comrades have allowed "ruling ideas" to dominate their thought.
However, the allegation that these comrades have appropriated ruling-class 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 analysis.
[Sure, they often subject the ideas of their opponents and enemies (both Marxist and non-Marxist) to some form of impromptu class analysis, but not the general appropriation of boss-class thought-forms by virtually all Marxists, and certainly all leading Marxists.]
This suggests that dialecticians see themselves as exempt from 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 ruling-class ideas -- even if they are unaware of this fact --, and this they do for at least four reasons:
: 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.
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 is 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 a priori
'logical' principles relating to that 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 theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up") since that is how they had been taught 'genuine' philosophy 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 common sense'.
Fortunately, history had predisposed the dialectical prophets to ascertain the truth about reality on their behalf, which meant these individuals 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 were hopelessly 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.
: Because Dialectical Marxism has been so catastrophically unsuccessful, and for so long, revolutionaries have had to convince themselves that (a) this isn't really so, and that the opposite is in fact the case, or that (b) this is only a temporary state of affairs. They have to do this otherwise many of them would just give up. In view of the fact that they also hold that truth is tested in practice, they have to conclude that either or both of (a) and (b) are the case. Because dialectics teaches that appearances are "contradicted" by underlying "essences" it is able to fulfil a unique and specific role in this regard, motivating and/or rationalising (a) or (b). In this way, it supplies comrades with much needed consolation in the face of long-term 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 almost invariably respond with a "Well that doesn't prove dialectics is wrong!"
So, 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', who will make all things well in the future, dialecticians can 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 prevents them from examining that theory, inviting yet another generation of failure by masking these facts.
Apparently, the only two things that aren't interconnected in the entire DM-universe are the long term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory!
You just couldn't make it up.
Just like the Bible, which provides its students with ample excuse to accuse others of not 'understanding the Word of God', DM, with its sacred texts, provides dialecticians with an obscure theory that 'allows' them to claim that other DM-theorists do not 'understand' DM,-- or that they ignore and misuse it -- and that only they comprehend it
. This then 'allows' them to anathematise and castigate 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 device that is capable of proving anything at all and
its opposite (often by the very same theorist), because it glories in contradiction
: As noted above, it provides dialecticians with an exclusivising tool that sets them above the common herd (or those who are lost in the banalities of 'commonsense', or who, like Marx, trust ordinary language
), which simply confirms them in their self-appointed, pre-eminent role in the class war. In short, DM is the ideology of substitutionist elements in Marxism.
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:
"The 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, The Algebra of Revolution
, pp.173-79. Bold emphases added.
It's 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 toward the search for a mystical explanation for the serious set-backs Russian Marxists had witnessed after 1905. Plainly, that search provided these comrades with some form of consolation -- just as Marx had alleged of religious belief pure and simple
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 which he had largely ignored up until then
. 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 'objective' Mysticism
Nevertheless, Lenin's warning shows that revolutionaries themselves are not 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 'satisfied' such needs, could enter the workers' movement from the "outside" at certain times.
Except he (and others since) failed to apply this analysis to himself.