Dialectical Materialism and Marxism.

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Jan 3 2012 12:31
Dialectical Materialism and Marxism.

How can people categorise themselves as marxists if they do not also consider themselves DM's, surely to be a "scientific socialist" you would need to be one?

Do Anarchists subscribe to dialectics or dp they only uphold historical materialism?

Is dialectics everything, or does applying it to everything make it redundant?

I have heard that Stalin did not negate the negation LOL, can someone explain?

I always thought of myself as a DM as for example I see the struggle between opposites the workers/ruling class, conditions create ideas etc etc but feel I need to study it more.

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Jan 3 2012 12:54

In my opinion the least scientific thing about Marxism is the idea of dialectical materialism. In honesty though I would not be able to give you a good definition of dialectical materialism, although I also think that very few people would.

I think that Marxist theory provides good tools for theoretically unmasking ideological forms e.g., found in the media. I don't think that Marxism is very good at understanding the "fundamental contradictions" in capitalist society which lead towards communism. In society there are antagonisms, conflicts of interests: there are not contradictions. If there are contradictions, they can stay there, there is no reason why they must be resolved or tend towards being resolved.

I cringe when Marx uses the word contradiction. What is he talking about? How is there a contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production? As I see it there is simply a state of affairs here; to call it contradictory is only to impute one's own imagined state of affairs.

As I see it Marx's dialectical materialism goes against the basis of most of the political work discussed on this site. The latter seems to work on the basis that we fight for small reforms, better wages, against austerity, etc., in order to build up working class consciousness. Dialectical materialism suggests that capitalism heightens social contradiction in such a way as to lead towards a revolutionary situation. If we look at Capital, we find Marx, on the subject of the “immense impetus given to technological development by the limitation and regulation of the working day”, writing that

Quote:
By the destruction of small-scale and domestic industries it destroys the last resorts of the 'redundant population,' thereby removing what was previously a safety-valve for the whole social mechanism. By maturing the material conditions and the social process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the element for forming a new society, and the forces tending toward the overthrow of the old one. (p. 635, Penguin, trans. Fowkes)

The removal of safety valves as the path to social revolution is the precise opposite of what most libcoms seem to be into.

I recently read Lukacs - The Destruction of Reason, where he heralds dialectical materialism as the greatest achievement of science and talks endlessly of social progress, and I have to say that it was one of the most dogmatic, worthless wastes of intellect I have ever encountered. What precisely is scientific about the idea of dialectical materialism is something that entirely escapes me.

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Jan 3 2012 13:28

Dialectical materialism is an outdated philosophical world-view based on 19th century science and a very peculiar interpretation of Marx's writings (who wrote extremely little about "dialectics", let alone "dialectics of nature") characteristic of the 2nd International.

The whole terminology and taxonomy of "dialectical" and "historical" materialism as complementary components of "Marxism" as a grander theory was only developed after Marx's death (and even after Engels' death, to a great extent), mostly (but not only) by the Russian wing of social democracy (Plehkanov and later Lenin and Soviet philosophy). There's no reason why every marxist should be a dialectical materialist. Similarly, not every marxist today subscribes to Lenin's analysis of imperialism, to Engels' views on the history of commodity production, or even to Marx's views on the national question.

I'd even go as far as to say that in order to be a "scientific socialist" (I, for one, do actually entertain the notion that Marx's critique of political economy is partly a social-scientific enterprise and hence would consider myself a "scientific socialist"), you have to reject dialectical materialism. First of all, it's mostly a metaphysical theory – though not without a few interesting insights, I admit – based on a crudely materialist ontology, three eternal laws of motion, a monstrously pre-Kantian view of cognition, all illustrated on banal examples. A seed grows into a tree; the seed is thus negated; but then the three itself sows seeds from which new trees will grow; hence "the negation of negation" ad nauseam. Or: water doesn't boil until it reaches 100 °C, but when it does, it begins turning into vapor, hence quantitative changes lead to qualitative ones, etc. Really, you can apply this to anything, but from a scientific point of view – in terms of explaining and predicting phenomena – it's completely useless and science can do pretty well without it (as it in fact does). It's just a way of subsuming disparate phenomena under one grand world-view which can supposedly "explain" everything from the growth of trees to social revolutions.

Moreover, dialectical materialism is ridden with elements completely alien to Marx's thought (at least in my view). At its worst, it subscribed to an extremely mechanistic view of nature, thought and human action (which neatly underpinned the Leninst/Stalinist views of class consciousness, the role of the party, the character of the USSR etc.). The better versions tried to cope with this and, at the same time, remain true to their Leninist origins, but only at the price of some very complicated compromises.

DM also acted as an active force preventing real scientific research (think Lysenkoism, google Vavilov's biography), even (quite paradoxically) into Marx's writings (google Ryazanov).1

As far as Stalin is concerned, in his famous exposition of dialectical and historical materialism, he omitted the law of "the negation of negation".2 There were many discussions later on about why he did this, what it amounted to etc. But still, with or without this supposed "law", DM is a load of crap.

All this, however, does not mean that the concept of "dialectics" is completely useless. As I've argued on another thread, I think most uses of it are in fact rubbish, but I believe it can be fruitfully applied in an analysis of the method Marx employed in constructing his theoretical writings. But this sense of "dialectics" has nothing to do with laws of nature and very little to do with "dialectical materialism". (It has quite a lot to do with Hegel's Science of Logic, though.)

For some interesting views on DM, see this translation of Ingo Elbe's text (part one of a series) and, for example, Lucio Colletti's essays in From Rousseau to Lenin.

  • 1. That is not to say that nothing interesting ever came of the "dialectical materialist" paradigm in the USSR and the Eastern bloc, but it was always in implicit or explicit opposition to the established ideology – think Pashukanis, Bakhtin, Voloshinov, Rubin (to a certain extent), Vygotsky, Luria, Ilyenkov etc. All of the mentioned got in some pretty serious trouble for their endeavors. In the late 80s, there were efforts in the Soviet Union to catch up with the rest of the world philosophically (e.g. Lektorsky's Subject, object, cognition), but these did not amount to much due to the lack of time.
  • 2. I should add that this "famous exposition" published in 1938 was an expression of the complete demise of interesting philosophical discussions in the USSR and the final establishing of a single philosophical canon against which noone could argue (without risking arrest). On the development of the canon, Georges Labica's Der Marxismus-Leninismus is a nice summary.

    Curiously enough, there are some people today – even here on libcom – who consider Stalin's text a "good introduction" to dialectics. In fact, this makes for another nice example of the "identity of contradictions" smile.

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Jan 3 2012 13:43

Jonglier makes the mistake of attributing dialectical materialism to Marx, when in fact he

- never ever used the term;
- actually wrote very little that can be viewed as confirming dialectical materialism (in the sense of a materialist ontology + epistemology).

What Jonglier seems to have in mind is what used to be termed "historical materialism". Marx never used the term, and although some of his writings (the 1859 Preface to A Contribution… is an obvious example) seem to confirm the orthodox intepretation, the matter is (fortunately) not that simple. On forces and relations of production and the common misconstructions of Marx as this technological determinist or whatever, Derek Sayer's The Violence of Abstraction is excellent (as are Colletti's essays that I already mentioned). On Marx's changing (towards the unorthodox) views of precapitalist relations, Theodor Shanin's Late Marx and the Russian Road and especially Kevin Anderson's recent Marx at the Margins are very useful.

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Jan 3 2012 18:02

jura - even if Marx never uses the term 'dialectical materialism', his Capital vol. 1 strikes me as being awash with claims that contradictions in capitalism tend towards resolution. See for instance the quotation in my post above. As I say, I cannot define dialectical materialism but it does strike that as I crudely understand it, the seeds and outline of it are there in Marx's Capital.

Marx writes in the Postface to the Second Edition of the text mentioned:

"My dialectical method is, in its foundations, not only different from the Hegelian, but exactly the opposite of it. For Hegel, the process of thinking, which he even transforms into an independent subject, under the name of 'the Idea', is the creator of the real world, and the real world is only the external appearance of the real idea. With me the reverse is true: the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind, and translated into forms of thought." (Penguin, trans. Fowkes, p. 102)

This quote is relevant to this discussion mainly for the simple reason that Marx here states that his method is dialectical. I don't see why the fact that he didn't use the dialectical materialist term himself indicates that it is an inaccurate categorisation. We can if we want consider that yes, his method is dialectical, and yes, he is a materialist, and maintain these two fact without relating them to each other, but it also does not seem unreasonable to me to draw from the truth of both descriptions the conclusion that "dialectical materialist" is a fair description of his position. I'm not saying that we should do so, and I am not committed to the idea that Marx is a dialectical materialist. It doesn't strike me as clear that he isn't, however.

It doesn't seem surprising that what is now termed dialectical materialism has developed under the influence of Marx's work, in any case. What is your opinion, jura, of such passages as the one I quoted earlier? For instance when he says-- "By maturing the material conditions and the social process of production, it [, technological impetus,] matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the element for forming a new society, and the forces tending toward the overthrow of the old one."

It strikes me that during the course of his economic analysis--the primary substance of his materialist turn from Hegel and the other young Hegelians--he is always keen to find contradictions.

p.231- "This contradiction between the quantitative limitation and the qualitative lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his Sisyphean task: accumulation."

p.236- "In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and their value-form, money, is raised to the level of an absolute contradiction."

p.490- "At a certain stage of its development, the narrow technical basis on which manufacture rested came into contradiction with requirements of production which it had itself created."

And with regard to the conversion of quantity into quality:

p.423-"..the possessor of money or commodities actually turns into a capitalist only where the minimum sum advanced for production greatly exceeds the known medieval maximum. Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel, in his Logic, that at a certain point merely quantitative differences pass over by a dialectical inversion into qualitative distinctions."

As I say, my ideas on this subject are not clear, a state of affairs not helped by my lack of good definitions for either dialectical materialism or historical materialism. Furthermore, my knowledge of Marx's mature economic writings is limited to Capital vol. 1, so I am by no means in position to formulate a good answer to this question.

I would be interested jura to hear your opinion on the place of dialectics in Marx's work and the relationship of his dialectical method to his materialism.

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Jan 3 2012 19:16

Jonglier, thanks for this thoughtful post.

jonglier wrote:
This quote is relevant to this discussion mainly for the simple reason that Marx here states that his method is dialectical. I don't see why the fact that he didn't use the dialectical materialist term himself indicates that it is an inaccurate categorisation.

In my first post, I said that as far as questions of Marx's method in Capital and elsewhere are concerned, I think the concept of a "dialectic" can be used fruitfully (in a very specific sense of the term relating to a certain mode of argumentation and theory construction, coming back to Hegel) to look at what Marx is doing. I absolutely agree that "dialectics" play an important role in Marx's writings. The question is, though, whether what Marx meant by "dialectics" is the same as what Engels, Lenin, Lukács or Stalin meant.

I would also agree that Marx is a "materialist" in a very broad sense of the term which could be summarized in a few points, although perhaps "naturalist" or "realist" would be a more appriopriate and contemporary categorization. Marx certainly never left any sort of exposé of his metaphysical views in the style of Engels' Anti-Dühring. Anyway, some of the claims of the later "historical materalism" are clearly incompatible with much of Marx – a famous example is the "asiatic mode of production" or his writings on the Russian "mir" (both of which the Stalinists tried to brush under the carpet for decades). Similarly, I don't think Marx's views on the subject's role in cognition (expressed already in the cryptic Theses on Feuerbach) and Lenin's "copy theory of knowledge" can be made compatible.

Moreover, "Dialectical materialism" is not just a combination of "dialectics" (which itself is a concept with a myriad of meanings stretching back to ancient Greece) and "materialism". It is a distinct philosophical doctrine – for a clear exposition of its most widespread form, see Lenin's "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism". The fact that Marx considered himself a materialist (while clearly rejecting what he considered crass materialism, very much reminiscent of the later materialism of Lenin & co.) and often referred to dialectics (while rejecting both Hegel and those who sought to reduce dialectics to a few simple omnipotent formulae, like Proudhon or Lasalle, or later Stalin for that matter) in his works does not automatically mean he subscribed to this specific philosophical doctrine (with its "copy theory of knowledge"). But even if he did, I'd have no problem with rejecting it as nonsense and keeping what's sensible in Marx.

As far as "contradictions" are concerned, you are absolutely right to point out that they play a key role in the structure of Marx's theory as well as in his view of capitalism. However, I don't think we can jump from here to the conclusion that Marx was a "dialectical materialist" in Lenin's sense of the word, or even that he accepted Engels' philosophical views on motion. Unfortunately, Marx never even clearly explained what he means by a "contradiction" (hence the decades-long discussions in the USSR whether Marx is compatible with formal logic and its law of noncontradiction, whether there can be contradictions in a "socialist" society,1 etc.). For me this is an extremely difficult topic so I'm asking for charity when reading what follows smile.

Fairly recently, there was a discussion here on libcom where I tried to explain my views on Marx's dialectical method. If you're interested, it's here. If you'd like a more scholarly treatment of the question, I'd recommend Ingo Elbe's excellent overview (in German) or Dieter Wolf's book called "Der dialektische Widerspruch in Kapital" (overtly long though and, unfortunately, only in German).

Anyway, a short summary would be: a contradiction for Marx in Capital is the relationship between two mutually exclusive determinations (characteristics) of a category (and the social relationships expressed by the category), which is expressed ("played out") in the actions of people within these relationships and determines these actions. In Marx's presentation, the contradictions create paradoxical situations which can only be solved by introducing a new category, a more complicated ("concrete") relation. The contradiction of use-value and value is a good example (which I will present in a very simplified way – see the beginning of Ch2 in Vol1 for the full thing): in order for a commodity to be realized as a use-value, it has to be exchanged, i.e. first realized as a value. But in order to be realized as a value, it must be a use-value. Without a sort of mediation between these two poles of the contradiction, the commodity economy can't work. This is the way that Marx introduces money (a more complex, "concrete" category than the "abstract" beginning, commodity) in Chapter 2.

I don't want to make this too long, so I'll only try to comment on two examples of contradicitons you quoted:

Marx wrote:
"This contradiction between the quantitative limitation and the qualitative lack of limitation of money keeps driving the hoarder back to his Sisyphean task: accumulation."

I. e. Money as a universal equivalent is limitless, it can potentially buy anything. But every sum of money is quantitatively limited. To preserve wealth in its absolute, universal form, the hoarder saves money from circulation, but as there is no quantitative limit, this has to go on and on. This, however, creates a problem: money outside circulation is useless, it can depreciate (inflation), etc. Hence the move in Ch4 to capital (again, a more "concrete" category which requires us to leave the sphere of simple circulation) as self-valorizing value.

Marx wrote:
"In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and their value-form, money, is raised to the level of an absolute contradiction."

I.e. the antithesis between commodities, qualitatively different use-values which cannot be directly exchanged, and money which can differ only quantitatively ($10 > $5, but it's still the same stuff, money) and is immediately exchangable for any commodity. The contradiction is in the mutually incompatible determinations: qualitatively different vs. qualitatively homogenous, not immediately exchangeable vs. immediately exchangeable. This contradiction expresses itself in everyday transactions: the first phase of circulation, C – M, is the "salto mortale" of the commodity. Whether and on what terms will its sale succeed is a problematic question. On the other hand, M – C is a much more simple operation in that under normal circumstances, money can be immediately exchanged for any C.

In a liquidity crisis, for example, the contradiction between commodity and money reaches its height: only liquid money is accepted as a means of payment, the chains of delayed payments "in kind" or credit arrangements no longer work (there's a whole nice passage on this in Ch3).

And finally:

Marx wrote:
"...the possessor of money or commodities actually turns into a capitalist only where the minimum sum advanced for production greatly exceeds the known medieval maximum. Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel, in his Logic, that at a certain point merely quantitative differences pass over by a dialectical inversion into qualitative distinctions."

When I previously said that there are very few passages in Marx that can easily be interpreted as a confirmation of dialectical materialism, this was one of those I meant smile. So yeah, obviously "dialectical materialism" did not emerge in a vacuum and there are elements in Marx which apparently confirm it. As Marx never wrote much on this topic, we can only guess what he really thought. For all I know, "dialectical materialism" is an outdated ideology that is of no use to revolutionaries, and of no use when trying to understand Marx's critique of political economy. Moreover, Marx can be plausibly interpreted without recourse to DM, and I'd say the resulting interpretation is much more in line with contemporary views of (social) science.

  • 1. One of the views was that there are "non-antagonistic contradictions" between the working-class, the peasantry and the intelligentsia. You can't make this stuff up.
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Jan 6 2012 14:23

Jura, thank you for you informative and interesting post. I have not read Lenin's work that you mention but I will do so. I am happy to accept that dialectical materialism is a specific philosophical doctine and not an automatic result of a thinker being both dialectical and materialist in method. This said, what follows will probably have more relevance to dialectics (in Marx) than to dialectical materialism. I find it strange that Marx uses the notion of contradiction and I would like to unpack two of these examples further.

jura wrote:
The contradiction of use-value and value is a good example (which I will present in a very simplified way – see the beginning of Ch2 in Vol1 for the full thing): in order for a commodity to be realized as a use-value, it has to be exchanged, i.e. first realized as a value. But in order to be realized as a value, it must be a use-value. Without a sort of mediation between these two poles of the contradiction, the commodity economy can't work.

In this case what occurs to me is that there is no contradiction. I can see the point but it does not strike me as contradictory. For example if a number of hammers have been produced as commodities to be exchanged on the market, they clearly have use value both before and after an exchange takes place. It is true that for them to be realised as use-values, in accordance with the intention with which they were produced, the exchange must first take place. From the way you have presented this argument (which I'm sure is accurate), however, it appears that the reason for the contradiction is that until the exchange takes place, the hammers are not use-values. …“in order to be realized as a value, it must be a use-value” – this is true, but is not in contradiction with the claim that only through exchange are the hammers realised as use-values. The fact that they are intended for sale and thus will only through sale realise the intention with which they were made does not alter the fact that both before and after sale they possess use-value. For them to be exchanged (sold), they do not need to have realised the initial motive for their production, but only to physically possess use-value.

In terms of the actual process of production and exchange, then, I cannot find a contradiction: the hammers are produced, possessing use-value immediately, well before they are in possession of their final owner (if the producer of thousands of hammers has a sudden need for one, he can decide not to sell one piece of his stockpile and it will undoubtedly serve his purpose). There is a buyer well aware of the fact that the hammers possess use-value. The buyer buys the hammers from the producer and, in most cases, sells them on individually to consumers for whom the use-value is then realised. In my opinion Marx inserts the idea of contradiction into this process for some reason which is not immediately apparent from a materialist observation of what goes on, and I do not see how the insertion of this contradiction improves our understanding of the process.

jura wrote:
I.e. the antithesis between commodities, qualitatively different use-values which cannot be directly exchanged, and money which can differ only quantitatively ($10 > $5, but it's still the same stuff, money) and is immediately exchangable for any commodity. The contradiction is in the mutually incompatible determinations: qualitatively different vs. qualitatively homogenous, not immediately exchangeable vs. immediately exchangeable. This contradiction expresses itself in everyday transactions: the first phase of circulation, C – M, is the "salto mortale" of the commodity. Whether and on what terms will its sale succeed is a problematic question. On the other hand, M – C is a much more simple operation in that under normal circumstances, money can be immediately exchanged for any C.

Thus can we say that it is a contradiction for a commodity to possess a use-value incommensurable with any that of any other commodity and yet for a value to be ascertained for it to determine its exchange with another commodity? I would say that commodities possess a number of different characteristics. One characteristic is use-value and it is true that use-values cannot be meaningfully compared, that there is no objective way of comparing the value of use-values. Another characteristic is the amount of socially-necessary labour time required for their production and this according to Marx is the basis of their value in the capitalist economy. Commodities possess both of these characteristics and one result of this fact is that depending on the perspective one chooses to adopt, one could say that they are non-exchangeable or exchangeable. From the perspective of use-value one might say they are non-exchangeable, whereas from the perspective of value (or exchange-value: I'm not clear on the difference) one can say that they are exchangeable. These two claims are not contradictory, however, since they refer to different things. The “exchangeability” is not the same referent in both cases, denied in one and affirmed in the other. Instead the non-exchangeability of use-value refers to the entirely subjective question of what people prefer, whereas the exchangeability of value refers to the numerically ascertainable (objective) characteristics common to qualitatively different commodities (commodities possessing different use-values).

Marx describes a state of affairs here and points out different characteristics which are perceptible from different theoretical perspectives from which one can consider commodities. In no sense is the simultaneous non-exchangeability and exchangeability of commodities, as described by Marx, equivalent in the sense of being contradictory with a statement such as -- “It is raining and it is not raining”. “It is raining” and “it is not raining” make claims about the same referent, from the same theoretical perspective: these conditions are necessary for the contradiction to be present.

As I say I am happy to accept that Marx is not a dialectical materialist, and these remarks are more to with dialectics in Marx. I had formerly equated Marx's dialectics with dialectical materialism and I shall read up on dialectical materialism in order to prevent the repetition of this mistake.

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Jan 6 2012 18:06

Jonglier, the case of the hammer is actually very simple and looking at it now, I didn't present it very well. Please bear with me as I try again. I apologize to everyone for the length of this (I have trouble expressing things succintly in English).

So, again, in order for a product to become realized as use-value (= consumed), it first has to be sold, realized as value. This is the way things work in a capitalist economy. But at the same time, in order to be realized as value (in order to be sold), it has to possess a use-value for the buyer. In other words, the buyer must be interested in acquiring the specific product. Let's abstract from money and try to work out how this structure we've set up would work.

If the whole economic intercourse of a society was to be based on exchange and production for exchange, this would be a problem. For every transaction between producers A and B exchanging their products P and R, it would have to hold that:

1. A is willing to exchange his product P for B's product R, i.e. R is an use-value for A

and

2. B is willing to exchange his product R for A's product P, i.e. P is an use-value for B.

In mainstream economics, this is known as the "double coincidence of wants" problem. To put it simply and without Marxian terms, in order to buy a thing you want, you would always have to go look for someone who has the thing you want and wants to buy the thing you're selling. Clearly a society based on generalized commodity production, a society in which the dominant part of products is produced for exchange (capitalism), could not work like this. We have arrived at a sort of a paradox. In a society where wealth universally takes the form of commodities, everybody has to exchange, but without money they're paralyzed. This is one of Marx's (several) arguments for the necessity of money in such a society (to connect this with another thread, this is absolutely essential to Marx's critique of "labor money" and the petty-bourgeois socialism of Proudhon).

Now, in Marxian terms, money solves the paradox by being a universal equivalent whose use-value as such is "to serve as a mediator of exchange", as a representation of wealth or value. As a universal equivalent, money is a use-value for everyone (under normal conditions – of course in a crisis things can be different) in that it can be used to buy anything. Whatever your specific needs are, in a capitalist economy you can always make use of money. Hence with money thrown in the situation, you don't have to look for that specific buyer interested in your product who at the same time sells a product you want. You just go find any buyer, you sell them your product for money, and then take the money and buy whatever you want at a seller.

This has some interesting aspects which I'd like to mention, even though it's a diversion. But perhaps it will make the "contradiction" of use-value and value clearer. Even with money, things are not that simple. The thing is that under generalized commodity production (i.e. capitalism), only labor the products of which are successfully exchanged on the market counts as useful labor. The hammers may well be use-values in an abstract sense, i.e. have the potential to satisfy human needs, but unless there is "effective demand" for hammers and these objects are actually sold, they don't count as useful at all (neither does the labor that produced them). This may happen for several reasons. Perhaps there is a lot of people who want hammers, but these people are in the unfortunate situation of having no money to buy them. The producer of hammers can't do much about this. Or there are too many hammers on the market and the demand is already saturated. Again, the producer can't do much about this (he can limit his future production, and this roundabout way is in fact precisely how a capitalist economy "regulates" itself, but it won't affect the hammers he's already produced – this, by the way, has to do Marx's most basic explanation of how generalized overproduction is possible).

In both cases, what happens is that at least a part of all the hammers produced (or even all of them, depending on the circumstances) is not sold and left to rot. So the demand, unless it's effective, is not satisfied. And then the labor (or a part of it) of the producer of hammers is not counted as useful, not counted as part of total social labor. What this means for the producers is that his production costs (or a part of them) are not compensated. So the whole process of sales and purchases is (for Marx, as opposed to virtually every other economist before Keynes) very fragile – there are no guarantees that needs will be satisfied (even if the products are there) and costs compensated (even if the needs are there).

And Marx would say that this is precisely because of the contradiction between use-value and value: yes, commodities are useful things, but can only be made useful to you if you can pay for them (and the social relationship on which this payment is based on has nothing to do with the qualities of the thing itself!). And yes, you may be a very skilled producer of hammers or whatnot, but whether you'll survive in this economy does not depend as much on the usefulness of your hammers as on the decisions of your competitors (who surely can make good hammers as well, but what happens if all of you produce too much of them?) and on the income of consumers (which has nothing to do with their needs... or with hammers for that matter). To anticipate the analysis of capital, it's needs versus profits, profits versus needs, profits over needs.

For a very real example, think about wheat. It is often the case that when there is too much wheat on the market and it cannot be sold profitably, it is rather sold to power plants at a slight profit and used to produce energy – even though there surely are a lot of people around the world who could use some wheat for producing food. They just don't have the money. (There goes the notion that the "market" is the most effective way of relating needs to the means of satisfying them. In fact, what Marx does is to critize this classical notion not in a moralistic way or by pointing out individual deficiencies, but by showing that the deficiencies are structurally a part of generalized commodity production. The analysis of a commodity into use-value and value and how this works in the process of exchange is, as I hope is evident now, crucial in this respect.)

Now, the general thesis behind all this is that in capitalism, total social labor of the whole of society is constituted through the process of exchange of products of private labors of independent producers. In this society, the originally private labor (which you'll probably agree is the opposite of social labor) has to somehow become social, socially acknowledged as useful. And Marx's big theorem is that without money, this would not be possible at all, because money functions as the representant of directly social labor. Other societies didn't need money, markets, derivatives and the rest of the intricate stuff because the problem of social labor was solved otherwise. You had the ruling class directly expropriating the surplus from the producers by violent means. You had tribes deciding colletively on what they're going to do. And hopefully we'll have a free association of free producers who will consciously and collectively decide how to run modern industry and to what purposes.

Now, on contradictions in general.

Jonglier wrote:
Thus can we say that it is a contradiction for a commodity to possess a use-value incommensurable with any that of any other commodity and yet for a value to be ascertained for it to determine its exchange with another commodity?

It is in fact a "contradiction", but you are absolutely correct to point out it's not the same as a contradiction of the "A & ~A", "It is raining and it is not raining" kind. The contradictions Marx is talking about are not logical contradictions. Marx is not incompatible with formal logic, he does not breach the law of noncontradiction.

Rather, Marx's contradictions are mutually exclusive determinations or aspects of an economic object or a social relationship. The use-value of a product are its qualitative properties. Wheat is a use-value because it has a specific chemical composition which makes it nutritious (and it also burns quite well). Thus, use-value has to do with natural properties of the thing (and it does not even have to be a product of labor).

As opposed to this, there is nothing natural about value. As Marx says, "not an atom of matter enters" value. Value is really a social relationship between the labors of producers in a commodity economy. You can't see or touch or taste value – and in this sense it's "immaterial" – but it's still objective in that it determines human actions, even quite independently of what the agents think they're doing. But in any case, what the agents see is never value but only its forms and expressions like price, wage, interest or profit.

So a commodity is, one the hand, a thing possessing definite material qualities (a use-value), and on the other hand an object possessing a purely social characteristic (value) which makes it comparable and exchangeable for other commodities. A hammer and a sickle are two very different things in respect to their qualities, but readily comparable in terms of their values (x hammers = y sickles). Hence a commodity is, in one respect, a natural thing, and, in another respect, a social thing. There is nothing logically contradictory about saying that commodity is both a natural and a social thing. However, it would be logically contradictory to say, once we have defined value as a social relationship, that value is natural. But that's not what Marx does.

Marx does several other things. First of all, he points out, again and again, how political economy has confused the two aspects and committed some very serious errors. When the early mercantilists, for example, thought that gold is wealth and money because it's gold, i.e. because it is a shiny yellow metal with certain natural properties, they were confusing use-value and value, the natural and the social (and hence the transhistorical and the historically specific, but let's not get into that right now). The idea that "capital equals results of previous labor" is a related error. Or the idea that ground rent is determined by the fertility of the land. So in a sense, Marx is a very rigorous (and "logical", in the sense of formal logic and not some "dialectical" hocus-pocus) critic of political economy.

Another thing Marx does is that he shows how these different, mutually exclusive aspects of a commodity express themselves in human intercourse in a capitalist economy and in fact determine it or pose as barriers to it. An example was the hypothetical situation of generalized exchange in the absence of money. There are many others. In fact, all of Marx's Capital can be interpreted a successive analysis of different forms of the "contradictory" relationship of use-value and value and how this contradictory relationship is resolved. The analysis of the production process as a labor process (producing use-value) and a valorization process (producing value and surplus-value) is an example.

What interests the capitalist is, by definition, surplus-value (which he sees in the form of profit). But in order to realize surplus-value, the things he (or rather the workers he employs) produces have to be use-values (you can see how this implicitly leads to problems of effective demand I've mentioned). He must be able to sell them in a market. The capitalist, therefore, must be attentive to the nature of the labor process, he must provide tools and raw materials of adequate quality etc. If he doesn't, he won't be able to profitably sell the resulting crap products. But he must not be over-attentive to the use-value side of the process, to the labor process, or he'll find that his workers expend more than the necessary labor time or that he spends way too much more on raw materials and tools than his competitors.

Moreover, every capitalist knows that if he can manage to push down wages, it will increase his profits. On the other hand, one capitalist's workers are other capitalist's consumers. Abstracting from class struggle for the sake of analysis, if all capitalists push wages down too far (which, of course, they normally have a permanent tendency to do), they'll cut down effective demand for all commodities, leading to a crisis. What works for one capitalist can have terrible consequences if all capitalists overdo it. Hopefully it's plain to see how the two aspects of a commodity – use-value and value – reappear here on a sort of different level of analysis.

One of the things Marx sometimes does is to present such contradictions in a consciously paradoxical, antinomical way. Take for example, Ch4 of Vol1, where he says that, on the one hand, surplus-value can't emerge in circulation, but on the other hand, it must emerge in circulation. On the face of it, this is a clear breach of law of noncontradiction. Marx, who in the early 1840s contemplated a career of a teacher of logic, was not that stupid, though. This antinomy is simply a way of proceeding to a different stage in the investigation – from simple circulation, which takes place on the surface of bourgeois society and is readily visible, to an analysis of production, which takes place beyond the "No admittance except on business" sign.1 Marx presents the antinomy in order to arrive at its rational (and completely logically consistent) solution which is not possible on the basis of the relationships characteristic of simple circulation. (At the same time, he uses the antinomy to make fun of political economists.) To explain surplus-value, you first have to look at the production process, where surplus-value is extracted from workers. And the following analysis shows that capital is indeed a unity of production and circulation (with circulation as circulation of capital only properly taken up in Vol2). Surplus-value as unpaid surplus-labor is extracted in the production process, but can only be realized by selling the produced commodities (i.e. in circulation). From the point of view of Ch4, this must appear as an antinomy, because we don't know anything about the production process – the categories are not there yet (this of course is analogous to how money is introduced in Ch2; generalized exchange was impossible as long as money is "not there"). From the point of view of the rest of Vol1 + Vol2, it's not an antinomy at all.

So there is nothing logically contradictory about saying that capital is a unity of the production process and the circulation process. But still, production and circulation are different spheres of the economy which have different determinations or characteristics. They express different aspects of the economy. And the two corresponding spheres can come into conflict. All the time capital strives to shorten circulation time, because the longer the circulation time, the longer the period before the advanced capital + profit returns to the capitalist and accumulation can continue. So the capitalist employs an advertising agency to shorten his circulation time, but this can create new problems (rising expenditures etc.) for both him and his competitors. Or he borrows the required capital in the meantime from the financial sector. But what if eventually his commodities don't sell? You see, Marx's contradictions which sometimes take the form of paradoxes and antinomies (i.e. logical contradictions proper) are really a way laying bare the conflictuous structure of the process of social reproducion in capitalism, which is always in inbalance, always trying to overcome barriers in order to face new ones.2 Hence capital is, for Marx, the "living contradiction".

I hope it's clearer now, but feel free to criticize or ask more questions!

  • 1. Obviously, essence and appearance have a great deal to do with Marx's method, but I won't go into that right now, even though it's essential to an understanding of all this. Similarly, I won't say anything about the abstract and the concrete. All of this is therefore a very simplified and one-sided presentation of Marx's method.
  • 2. This is not to imply that capitalism or capital really "does" something. Of course only human agents "do" things. What Marx does is he lays down the basic, essential structures which make up capitalism and present possible courses of actions, as well as the barriers to these actions, of ideal rational agents. A rational capitalist will constantly try to outrun his competitors by introducing new machinery. But if all capitalists do this, it may under certain circumstances have the opposite effect for everyone, a fall in the profit rate. "Capital" "does" nothing, but its contradictory characteristics are expressed in the actions of economic agents and their results.
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Jan 6 2012 17:58

And one more thing, an attempt to define what Marx's dialectic is: it's a theoretical method of presenting a whole interconnected network of very complex social relationships and processes, which feed back one into another. This network is expressed by a network of concepts, economic categories, which are the proper subject of the method. The dialectic proceeds in constructing the conceptual network of categories by identifying fundamental, mutally exclusive aspects of a category and positing them in the form of paradoxes or antinomies, with the goal of solving the paradox in a rational way.

Each solution of a paradox or antinomy requires bringing new categories into investigation, enhancing the existing network of concepts and thus enriching knowledge. Therefore, additions of important new categories are justified (i.e. demonstrated as necessary) with respect to previous categories. This process of problem-positing and problem-solving continues until the network conceptually reproduces the essential characteristics of the society under investigation, i.e. achieves the theoretical reproduction of capitalism "in its ideal average" (Marx's expression).

Two related points:

- the method proceeds from more abstract ("simple") categories to the more concrete ("complex") categories, i.e. from categories which have less determinations (characteristics) to categories which have more determinations. The method therefore has a rational, justified beginning.

- the method proceeds in a complicated and "circular" (Marx's own expression) sequence of essence (not empirically given, accessible to theoretical analysis by means of abstraction only) and appearance (empirically given). Therefore, the method enables a critique of appearance as expressed in the everyday consciousness of agents and in the theories of political economy. It's not simply a matter of going from essence to appearance or vice verse, though, there are arcs and sub-arcs going in both directions.

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Jan 6 2012 18:30

People use words all kinds of ways. It seems to me that someone who wants to say "other people shouldn't use that word that way" needs to present an argument for it - like "you shouldn't say you're a marxist unless you're a dialectical materialist, for the following reasons..."

Beyond that it seems to me that the actually existing marxist tradition has no essential core, if we understand it historically - actually existing marxism as a political and intellectual movement. The project of drawing lines to sort out real marxists from fake marxists seems to me a mistake. It's really useful in political arguments, of course, because one can write someone else out of the tradition quickly and so discredit them, but I don't see what other use it serves. As long as we're willing to say that some marxisms are politically wrongheaded or reactionary, then I don't think we gain anything by insisting that some people who call themselves marxists aren't actually marxists. The interesting and relevant question, I think, is not "is this person/organization actually a marxist?" but rather "what are the merits and shortcomings of this person/organization's ideas and politics?"

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Jan 8 2012 16:19

jura, for the moment I will just say thank you very much for your last posts, they explain things very clearly and are of immense help to me in understanding what Marx means by contradiction and what his dialectic is. There is a lot for me to get my head around so any further questions I have will be forthcoming.

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Mar 6 2012 01:52

In response to the OP, here is an article I had published in Weeky 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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:

Quote:
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:] 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:

Quote:
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?

[I]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]:

Quote:
"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:

Quote:
"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).

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

As far as Das Kapital is concerned, I have already shown in another thread that by the time he came to write that classic work, Marx had abandoned Hegel root-and-branch:

http://libcom.org/forums/theory/marxs-dialectic-26012012#comment-471557

Over the next couple of days, I will add a few more comments about some of the specific claims made in this thread.

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Mar 6 2012 02:20

ah fuck, who woke Cthulhu?

Oenomaus
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Mar 6 2012 03:36

Yeah, I've searched this subject many times on libcom, and I would say it has been done to death. For the best threads on the subject, look at these:

http://libcom.org/forums/thought/marx-misinterprets-hegel-12092007
http://libcom.org/forums/thought/dialectics-29072006
http://libcom.org/forums/thought/was-marx-hegelian-19022008
http://libcom.org/forums/thought/unity-identity-of-subject-and-object-in-marx
http://libcom.org/forums/thought/thesis-antithesis-synthesis
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/kropotkin-dialectic-06052009

To the OP, it's so vague even what hell "dialectical materialism" is supposed to mean, so I think jura answered most of your questions much better I could. However, I can say in answer to your first question that Marx neither called himself a "Marxist," "scientific socialist," "dialectical materialist," nor any of these labels mostly Engels and orthodox Marxists gave him. Why? Because Marx was very clear himself he wasn't trying to create some kind of "worldview" or "philosophy." That's pretty much why, and why I don't see why anyone else should either (except perhaps for "Marxist," but even that has its limitations).

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 04:33

Revol68,

Yes, that's about the sort of level I'd expect from you.

So pleased you didn't disappoint... smile

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revol68
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Mar 6 2012 05:05

What level is this you speak of? Do you mean on a vertical plane? If so I can only say that I can't really do anything about my shortness.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 05:49

Oh, so pedantic...

LBird
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Mar 6 2012 06:10
Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:
However, nothing here should be read as an attack on Historical Materialism, a theory I fully accept.

Rosa, I've read a few of the threads that you've participated in on here and visited your site, but I don't pretend to really understand 'dialectics'. At least part of the problem is that those who apparently uncritically support the use of 'dialectics' won't explain clearly what they mean by this term.

I'd appreciate it if you had a read of this thread below, and gave me some critical comments, as I still think some sort of 'dialectics' can be useful for Communists, as you will see from the thread.

http://libcom.org/forums/thought/dialectics-29072006

If you think that my attempt to salvage 'dialectics' is mistaken, or that what I suggest on that thread isn't actually 'dialectics' in any sense (as I think jura suggested), then I'm keen to learn.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 09:53

Ok, will do.

I'll get back to you...

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 10:54

Ok, as far as I can see, this is the relevant post of yours:

Quote:
Dialectics: What it is

1 Monism, unity of consciousness and nature in matter
2 Humans, consciousness and understanding
3 Philosophy of internal relations
4 Epistemology – partial knowledge of real world, partial truths
5 Materialism and Scientific Realism
6 Essences of reality hidden, uncovered by theory, deduction
7 Heuristic method – does not explain, prove, predict or cause
8 Theories pose questions to be asked
9 Answers come through empirical research
10 Theories can be amended or rejected if conflict with research
11 Seeks oppositions, tensions, reciprocities, transformations
12 Recognises Qualitative levels based on different organisation
13 Evolutionary change leads to Revolutionary change
14 Theory, research, clarification, explanation, feedback
15 Object of inquiry is Systems and change
16 Holistic
17 Whole is greater than the sum of its parts
18 Complexity
19 Interdependent relationships, interactions
20 Synthetic
21 Higher levels, irreducible to lower levels, with emergent properties
22 Novelty, qualitative change, evolution leads to revolutionary leaps
23 Quantitative and Qualitative
24 Dynamic, fluid, change, discontinuity
25 Development, regression, variability, growth, decay, history
26 Processes, time periods, multi-generational eras
27 In historiography, mainly How and Why explanation
28 In sociology, mainly structures and classes, macro

Well, it seems to me this is just a list of a priori philosophical theses imposed on nature and society.

The mods here don't like long posts, but their guidelines suggest I add a link to an external site that allows for such long posts. So, here is an essay I published at RevLeft last year which shows why all philosophical theses are non-sensical -- including any that attempt to defend dialectics:

http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.php?p=1995528&postcount=1

But, let us suppose I am wrong, even then, if we needed a theory that attempted to explain points 1) - 28) above, I'm afraid dialectics wouldn't even make the bottom of the reseve list of viable candidates. That's because it is far too confused for anyone to be able to say if it is true or false.

Now, that list is far too brief for me to be able to say if your version falls foul of the above, so if you have expanded on these points anywhere, please let me know. In the thread in question, I couldn't see whether or not you had done so. If so, please post a link to that comment, and I'll check it out.

However, having said that, there doesn't seem to be anything in that thread that makes me want to change my mind.

Here is a brief statement (taken from one of my introductory essays) why I object to all forms of a priori dogmatics -- or, as some call this, all 'world views':

Marx famously claimed:

Quote:
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 individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. [The German Ideology. Bold emphases added.]

Now, as is easy to show, Hegel (the Idealist originator of dialectics) 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 alien-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:

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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.]

The founders of our movement weren't workers; they came from classes that educated their children in religion, the classics 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 seeing things was invented by ruling-class ideologues. They did so 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 proportion of "opinion formers", bureaucrats, judges, bishops, generals, intellectuals, philosophers, editors, 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 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, and never will, you know that ten billion marbles added to twenty billion marbles will amount to 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 on a similar 'linguistic argument' (as Hegel attempted), and nothing more.]

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 latched onto this theory and were happy to impose it 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. After all, that's what 'genuine' philosophy is -- or, so they had been socialised to conclude.

Of course, if the facts end up contradicting 'materialist dialectics', 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 dialecticians bury their heads in the sand, and ignore anything and everything that contradicts their theory: their faith lies in this hidden world.

That's not surprising, either, since this idea was pinched from a Christian mystic.

Finally, these comrades imported this alien theory into Marxism unwittingly. They knew no better; their petty-bourgeois being determined their petty-bourgeois consciousness.

But, as should seem obvious from the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, this importation has to be reversed.

Otherwise, comrades, we can look forward to another 150 years of glorious failure...

LBird
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Mar 6 2012 12:03

Rosa, thanks for your prompt reply.

I’ve had a brief look at the link you posted, but it’s very long and I’m afraid something else you’ve written has caught my eye first!

RL wrote:
Well, it seems to me this is just a list of a priori philosophical theses imposed on nature and society.

Yes, that’s the scientific method, isn’t it? At least, as recent philosophers of science have it?

RL wrote:
Here is a brief statement (taken from one of my introductory essays) why I object to all forms of a priori dogmatics -- or, as some call this, all 'world views':

Are all forms of a priori theories, by definition, ‘dogmatic’? What if they are tested empirically, and appear to work?

RL wrote:
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.

Well, can’t another conclusion be that some of dialectics is part of previous ruling ideas, and some part is useful to the proletariat? After all, we don’t reject all bourgeois thought, do we? We’re not proletkultists, who think that the proletariat has to start from ‘Year Zero’ (hmmm… now who recently has espoused that concept – Democratic Kampuchea?).

RL wrote:
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.

Doesn’t modern critical realism hold that this is true, too? And Einstein maintained that ‘the theory determines what can be observed’. Isn’t reality complex, hidden and stratified?

RL wrote:
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…

But as long as the specification of this ‘hidden world’ is subject to the democratic accountability of the proletariat (an issue which I broached, at the end, in the thread I linked for you), which makes ‘science’ itself a mass, social activity, then this ‘hidden world’ can’t be used to fool workers, as you so rightly say has been done in the past. Isn’t ‘science’ always ‘political’?

Of course, none of this gets us to ‘dialectics’ yet, but I think I need to interrogate your ‘worldview’ of science first, before moving onto a discussion of ‘dialectics’, which seems to be (trying to be?) a subset of ‘science’.

FWIW, I think Lakatos’ ideas of a pre-existing ‘hard core’ of theory is needed to ask questions of the real world. Do we need to discuss Lakatos, and my perhaps limited understanding of his work, first? Do you see yourself as a ‘critical realist’, as I do?

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 13:20

Thanks for that.

LB:

Quote:
Yes, that’s the scientific method, isn’t it? At least, as recent philosophers of science have it?

No, the scientific method is based on evidence. There is no way that philosophial theses can be confirmed or refuted by such evidence. I go into this in detail in that longer post you did not read.

Quote:
Are all forms of a priori theories, by definition, ‘dogmatic’? What if they are tested empirically, and appear to work?

Well, give me an example.

Quote:
Well, can’t another conclusion be that some of dialectics is part of previous ruling ideas, and some part is useful to the proletariat? After all, we don’t reject all bourgeois thought, do we? We’re not proletkultists, who think that the proletariat has to start from ‘Year Zero’ (hmmm… now who recently has espoused that concept – Democratic Kampuchea?).

I agree, we don't reject ideas because of where they came from, that's why I always add this rider to my essays:

Quote:
"I am not arguing as follows: Dialectics is in error since it is based on ideas lifted from ruling-class theorists. My argument is: dialectics makes not one ounce of sense, and is far too confused for anyone to be able to say if it is true or false. So, when we find it originated in mystical Christianity, it's no surprise, therefore, to find it makes no sense at all, and thus does not work."

LB:

Quote:
Doesn’t modern critical realism hold that this is true, too? And Einstein maintained that ‘the theory determines what can be observed’. Isn’t reality complex, hidden and stratified?

Which is, of course, why Marx said the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling class. Quoting characters/theorists who agree with you merely confirms that observation.

Which is also why I added this comment to one of my essys:

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As will soon become apparent, for all their claims to be radical, when it comes to Philosophy DM-theorists are surprisingly conservative -- and worryingly incapable of seeing this, even after it has been pointed out to them. At a rhetorical level, this conservatism is camouflaged behind what at first appear to be a set of disarmingly modest denials --, which are then promptly flouted.

The quotations recorded Note 1 (reproduced below) show that DM-theorists are anxious to deny that their system is wholly or even partly a priori, or that it has been imposed on the world and not merely read from it -- since that would brand it as an idealist theory. However, the way that dialecticians actually phrase their ideas contradicts these superficially honest-looking claims, showing quite clearly that the opposite of this is in fact the case.

This inadvertent dialectical inversion -- wherein what DM-theorists say about what they do is the reverse of what they actually do with what they say -- neatly mirrors the distortion to which traditional philosophy has subjected language for the last two millennia (outlined in Essay Three Parts One and Two, and in Essay Twelve Part One).

However, unlike dialecticians, traditional metaphysicians were quite open and honest about what they were doing; indeed, they brazenly imposed their a priori theories on reality and hung the consequences.

Because dialecticians have a novel (but nonetheless defective) view both of Metaphysics and FL, they are oblivious of the fact that they are just as ready as traditional metaphysicians ever were to impose their ideas on the world, and equally blind to the fact that in so-doing they are aping the alienated thought-forms of those whose society they seek to abolish.

Naturally, this means that their 'radical' guns were spiked before they were even loaded; with such weapons, it's small wonder then that DM-theorists fire nothing but philosophical blanks.

[FL = Formal Logic; DM = Dialectical Materialism.]

Dialectics is a conservative theory precisely because its adherents have adopted the distorted methods, a priori thought-forms and meaningless jargon of traditional Philosophy.

And here is what Note 1 says:

Quote:
Here are several quotations from different DM sources to that effect. The first few are from Engels:

"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Bold emphasis added.]

In Essay Seven we will find him commenting thus on the 'laws' he says he derived from Hegel:

"All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis alone added.]

Indeed, Engels even went as far as to say that science (and that must include DM) should be verified by experiment wherever possible:

"We all agree that in every field of science, in natural and historical science, one must proceed from the given facts, in natural science therefore from the various material forms of motion of matter; that therefore in theoretical natural science too the interconnections are not to be built into the facts but to be discovered in them, and when discovered to be verified as far as possible by experiment.

"Just as little can it be a question of maintaining the dogmatic content of the Hegelian system as it was preached by the Berlin Hegelians of the older and younger line." [Ibid., p.47.]

But, as we will see in the present Essay, this is exactly what Engels did: dogmatically impose DM on nature.

From recently published Preparatory Writings for Anti-Dühring, we find the following seemingly reasonable comment from Engels:

"The general results of the investigation of the world are obtained at the end of this investigation, hence are not principles, points of departure, but results, conclusions. To construct the latter in one's head, take them as the basis from which to start, and then reconstruct the world from them in one's head is ideology, an ideology which tainted every species of materialism hitherto existing.... As Dühring proceeds from 'principles' instead of facts he is an ideologist, and can screen his being one only by formulating his propositions in such general and vacuous terms that they appear axiomatic, flat. Moreover, nothing can be concluded from them; one can only read something into them...." [Marx and Engels (1987), Volume 25, p.597. Bold emphasis added.]

And yet, as we will see, Engels is himself guilty of doing precisely what he has just accused Dühring of doing.

John Rees argued similarly:

"[The laws of dialectics] are not, as Marx and Engels were quick to insist, a substitute for the difficult empirical task of tracing the development of real contradictions, not a suprahistorical master key whose only advantage is to turn up when no real historical knowledge is available." [Rees (1998), p.9.]

"'[The dialectic is not a] magic master key for all questions.' The dialectic is not a calculator into which it is possible to punch the problem and allow it to compute the solution. This would be an idealist method. A materialist dialectic must grow from a patient, empirical examination of the facts and not be imposed on them…." [Ibid., p.271. Bold emphasis added.]

Likewise, Trotsky pointed asserted that:

"The dialectic does not liberate the investigator from painstaking study of the facts, quite the contrary: it requires it." [Trotsky (1986), p.92.]

"Dialectics and materialism are the basic elements in the Marxist cognition of the world. But this does not mean at all that they can be applied to any sphere of knowledge, like an ever ready master key. Dialectics cannot be imposed on facts; it has to be deduced from facts, from their nature and development…." [Trotsky (1973), p.233. Bold emphasis added.]

"Whenever any Marxist attempted to transmute the theory of Marx into a universal master key and ignore all other spheres of learning, Vladimir Ilyich would rebuke him with the expressive phrase 'Komchvanstvo' ('communist swagger')." [Ibid., p.221.]

George Novack argues as follows:

"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 (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

Here is Cornforth:

"Our party philosophy, then, has a right to lay claim to truth. For it is the only philosophy which is based on a standpoint which demands that we should always seek to understand things just as they are…without disguises and without fantasy….

"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.14-15.]

[I have removed several other quotations from DM sources (which appear in the original essay) in order to make this post shorter.]

As noted above, it could be objected that scientists make general statements about reality all the time, so why aren't they guilty of dogmatism, too? On this, see Note 3, below. More will be said about the difference between science and dogmatic metaphysics (of the sort indulged in by dialecticians) in Essay Twelve Part One and in Essay Thirteen Part Two (which is wholly devoted to science and DM, to be published sometime in 2012/13).

Refrences can be found here, along with abundant evidence that dialecticans en masseimpose their ideas on nature:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2002.htm

And here is note 3:

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Moreover, an appeal to the scientific method --, as a way of defending the a priori claims advanced by DM-theorists --, would be to no avail, either. The mountains of evidence scientists amass in support of their ideas, and the vastly superior nature of scientific theory, dwarfs the pathetic molehills DM-fans have constructed, just as it shames their sloppy approach to detail.

And, as will be agued in Essay Eleven Part One, and in other Essays posted here, DM is not a science, nor is it even remotely like a science. [In fact, I describe it in later Essays as "Mickey Mouse Science"; that is, it a 'science' in name only, and a joke at that.]

Finally, scientists do not go about the place "demanding" and "insisting" on this or that feature of reality (which is what DM-theorists do all the time), nor do they talk about the "eternal development of the world" --, still less do they derive their ideas from mystics.

LB:

Quote:
But as long as the specification of this ‘hidden world’ is subject to the democratic accountability of the proletariat (an issue which I broached, at the end, in the thread I linked for you), which makes ‘science’ itself a mass, social activity, then this ‘hidden world’ can’t be used to fool workers, as you so rightly say has been done in the past. Isn’t ‘science’ always ‘political’?

I'm all for democratic control, but when it comes to this hidden, abstract world, which isn't capable of having its a priori theses confirmed, since they are non-sensical, I must register my implacable opposition.

And, I don't argue that this hidden world fools workers, since they in general know nothing about it, and show few signs of wanting to know anything about it, but that it provides the managers and bureaucrats of this oppressive system with the theoretical means by which they can rationalise the status quo. It also provides Dialectical Marxists with a similar theory by means of which they can rationalise substitutionism -- i.e., substituting the party for the working class.

Quote:
Of course, none of this gets us to ‘dialectics’ yet, but I think I need to interrogate your ‘worldview’ of science first, before moving onto a discussion of ‘dialectics’, which seems to be (trying to be?) a subset of ‘science’.

I don't have a world view of anything, least of all of science, and nor do I want one.

Quote:
FWIW, I think Lakatos’ ideas of a pre-existing ‘hard core’ of theory is needed to ask questions of the real world. Do we need to discuss Lakatos, and my perhaps limited understanding of his work, first? Do you see yourself as a ‘critical realist’, as I do?

In fact, I am a nothing-at-all-ist (but do not confuse that with nihilism) since I reject all philosophical theories as non-sensical.

I am all for scientific theory, but that's not at all the same as philosophical theory.

LBird
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Mar 6 2012 13:36
Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:
I don't have a world view of anything, least of all of science, and nor do I want one.

Hmmm...

RL wrote:
In fact, I am a nothing-at-all-ist (but do not confuse that with nihilism) since I reject all philosophical theories as non-sensical.

And a 'nothing-at-all-ist' isn't a 'worldview'?

RL wrote:
I am all for scientific theory, but that's not at all the same as philosophical theory.

How can 'science' be outside of 'philosophy'?

Anyway, thanks, Rosa, for your contribution, but I think my basic starting point on 'science' is very different from yours. I'm a critical realist, and it doesn't look like you are.

That's OK, of course, but it precludes us moving to what I would consider a meaningful Communist discussion of the problems of 'dialectics'.

Which is a shame, because I too think much, if not most, of it is hocus-pocus!

Cheers.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 14:00

LB:

Quote:
And a 'nothing-at-all-ist' isn't a 'worldview'?

No more than having nothing to eat is having something to eat.

Quote:
How can 'science' be outside of 'philosophy'?

Er, where did I say it was? I merely said they were not at all the same.

Now, unless I repost here that long essay from RevLeft (thus annoying the mods), or you actually read it, you will never know my reasons for saying that all philosophical theories make no sense at all.

And the reason it is so long (in fact it is a summary of a 100,000 word essay at my site!) is that I am challenging deeply held ideas which have (according to Marx) dominated western thought for over 2000 years -- ideas which have sailed over the heads of some of the greatest minds in human history. [I claim no originality for this, except in the manner of its presentation, since I have derived this way of looking at traditional thought from the work of Wittgenstein.]

So, because these ideas have sunk so deep, it's not possible to challenge them in a short, and trite article and hope to do so successfully.

Anyway, here is a short piece I posted at the Kapitalism 101 site (in response to an interview with Bertell Ollman about abstraction and 'internal relations'), which will give you a flavour of my method:

Quote:
Unfortunately, the alleged ‘process of abstraction’ (which even to this day remains shrouded in mystery) would destroy knowledge. Here is why: given any two randomly selected abstractors, it would surely be impossible for Abstractor A to decide whether or not he/she possessed the same general idea of anything as Abstractor B. This isn’t just because no one has access to the thoughts of anyone else, but because it has yet to be established that A and B (or, indeed, anyone else) share the same idea of “same”. And how might that be determined for goodness sake?

They would have to possess this concept before they possessed it!

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or ‘concepts’ like “Substance”, “Being”, and “Nothing”, or even “man”). And definitions can’t help here, since they also contain ‘abstractions’ which are subject to the very same problems. For how could Abstractor A know what Abstractor B meant by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can’t point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can’t use an ostensive definition (i.e., definition by pointing), to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too. If so, the same ‘difficulties’ will confront these general terms, and those definitions. Moreover, no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny.

If this is so, no one could share his or her knowledge of anything with anyone, which would, of course, mean there was no such thing as objective/inter-subjective knowledge.

But we can go further: as we have seen, abstractionism can provide no secure or ‘objective’ foundation for knowledge. But worse still, it threatens subjectivity, too. That’s because Abstractor A would have no way of knowing if the fresh deliverances of today’s abstractions were the same as, or were different from the those arrived at only yesterday. Memory would be of little help here, for it too is subject to the same insurmountable problems we saw above — since memory would also have to use/have access to these alleged ‘abstractions’. Indeed, how, for example would A know if he/she meant the same today as yesterday even about the word “same”? And if that word is in doubt, then it can hardly provide a secure basis for remembering the ‘same’ abstractions from earlier.

Of course, none of this is surprising since this ‘process’ was invented by Ancient Greek Idealists and mystics.

[This isn't to call into question the use of general terms in ordinary language -- nor language itself -- merely the theoretical employment 'abstraction' in philosophy.]

The other things Professor Ollman says — in the interview and in his books — are no less misguided, but I think I have said enough here to show that as Marxists, we’d be unwise to continue to import ideas, jargon and concepts from card carrying mystics and defenders of class society (like Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus and Hegel).

However, for anyone interested I have subjected Professor Ollman’s comments about ‘abstraction’ to lengthy criticism and refutation, here:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_02.htm#Ollmans-Traditionalism

I will be doing the same for his take on ‘internal relations’ in a future essay.

Rosa!

http://kapitalism101.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/bertell-ollman-interview-dialectics-abstraction-internal-relations/

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jolasmo
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Mar 6 2012 14:19

Rosa, please stop gravedigging every thread on the site with Dialectics in the title to make the same tired argument that nobody cares about over and over again. Thanks,

~J.

LBird
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Mar 6 2012 14:58
Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:
Now, unless I repost here that long essay from RevLeft (thus annoying the mods), or you actually read it, you will never know my reasons for saying that all philosophical theories make no sense at all.

It's a shame you can't precis your work and engage in a discussion, held in bite-size chunks suitable for the to-and-fro of an internet board, because I'm sure I could learn something from you!

I just haven't got the time for huge essays, amongst my other work/interests.

Thanks anyway, Rosa.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 16:08

Well, as I said, that 'long essay' is already a precis of a 100,000 word article. I'll try and cut it down further, and post it here.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 17:57

Jolasmo:

Quote:
Rosa, please stop gravedigging every thread on the site with Dialectics in the title to make the same tired argument that nobody cares about over and over again. Thanks,

I 'gravedug' one thread, and you throw a wobbly!

Now, you might be an expert in everything I have ever said or written, but many here plainly aren't.

Finally, you plainly aren't interested in these matters, others are.

So, it'd be a good idea if you refrained from posting in threads to which you have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 16:20

Duplicate post!

revol68's picture
revol68
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Mar 6 2012 17:09

your life is a duplicate post

Rosa Lichtenstein
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Mar 6 2012 17:56

As usual you offer no proof of this latest baseless allegation.

But, you mystics don't do proof, do you? Just personal abuse, eh?

That's cool; it leaves the field free for me to further demolish your failed 'theory'.