Summary of Essays Seven And Fourteen

 

 

Essay Seven: Engels's Three 'Laws'

 

This Summary is now badly out of date; a new Summary of Essay Seven is now available here.

 

In this Essay, Engels's so-called "three Laws of dialectics" are analysed and shown to be riddled with confusion.

 

 

'Law' 1: Never Mind The Quality -- Just Repeat the Mantra

 

 

Engels depicts his First 'Law' thus:

 

"…the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, 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." [Engels (1954), p.63; emphasis added.]

 

Exactly how Engels knew that it was impossible to "alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion" he annoyingly kept to himself. This worry is made all the more acute when we recall that for Engels, matter is an abstraction -- so it seems energy must be too. If so, how can anything be altered by the addition (or subtraction) of an abstraction?

 

However, Engels did at least try to deny that these:

 

"...laws [have been] foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them." [Ibid., p.62.]

 

But, this precipitous deduction of a necessary law (i.e., one that uses the word "impossible") from only a handful of cases (largely drawn from certain parts of chemistry, buttressed by a handful of quirky anecdotal examples) is a neat trick only dialecticians it seems (and, of course, traditional philosophers) are capable of performing.

 

Less partisan observers might be forgiven for concluding that Engels either did not know what the word "foisted" meant, or he hoped no one would notice when he actually indulged in a little of it himself.

 

Nevertheless, this 'Law' is at best only partially true; as we shall see, many processes in nature disobey it, so it cannot be a law (in any sense of that word).

 

For example, as the quantity of books and articles on DM increases year on year, their quality stays depressingly the same. A less impertinent example is perhaps the following: as the quantity of electrons passing along a wire increases, the electrons themselves do not change in quality. Of course, it could be pointed out that in these examples no energy has been added to either the books or the electrons (but then, that depends on how one defines that 'dialectical abstraction'), but DM-theorists themselves use examples where no energy has been added, but where only the number of items considered varies. For instance, they claim that this 'Law' is exemplified by the loss of hair which creates a bald head; and yet no energy seems to have been added here, either -- there is merely a quantitative reduction in hair. If it is then pointed out that hair is really energy, then so are electrons. Of course, no matter how much hair there is, it stays hair, and heads remain heads. So, whether or not this 'law' works seems to depend on how it is worded, which makes it eminently subjective.

 

It could be objected that Engels did not say that all quantitative changes pass over into qualitative, just that the latter can only be induced by the former. However, the vice versa codicil attached to this law seems to contradict this. But, who can say? Engels's First 'Law' is so vague, it could allow the creation of matter and energy from nowhere. [On this, see below.]

 

Anyway, things are not quite so simple. Many things change qualitatively without going through a DM-inspired "nodal point" -- or even so much as a tiny "leap". [Engels (1976), p.160.]

 

These include the following: melting or solidifying plastic, metal, rock, sulphur, tar, toffee, sugar, chocolate, wax, butter, cheese, and glass. As these are heated or cooled, they gradually change, with no nodal point in sight. There isn't even a nodal point with respect to balding heads! In fact, it is difficult to think of a single phase transformation from solid to liquid (or vice versa) that exhibits just such "nodal points" -- and this includes the transition from ice to water (and arguably also the condensation of steam). Even the albumen of fried or boiled eggs changes slowly (but non-nodally) from clear to opaque white while they are being cooked.

 

Now, since the duration of a "nodal" point remains undefined (or even so much as mentioned), dialecticians can safely indulge in some sloppy, off-the-cuff, a priori Superscience here (as they all seem to do -- nary a one fails to come up with their own favourite/idiosyncratic example, tested, of course, only in the laboratory of the mind, and studiously un-peer reviewed; remember this is Mickey Mouse Science).

 

These days a favourite example is Steven Jay Gould's theory of Punctuated Equilibria. However, our amateur dialectical palaeontologist friends forgot to note that the alleged "nodal" points involved in Gould's theory last tens of thousands of years, at least. This is a pretty unimpressive "leap" -- it's more like a painfully slow crawl. If it took that long for water to turn to steam -- or for Capitalism to turn to Socialism -- we would all die of boredom, or global warming, or both first. This particular watched dialectical kettle would never boil.

 

Another recent favourite is Catastrophe Theory. Some comments on this will be added to Essay Seven at a later date.

 

The difficulties the First 'Law' faces do not stop here; when heated, objects change in quality from cold to warm and then to hot, with no nodal point separating these particular qualitative stages. Moving bodies similarly speed up from slow to fast (and vice versa) without nodal punctuation marks affecting the transition. In like manner, the change from one colour to the next in the normal colour spectrum is continuous, with no nodal points evident at all -- and this is also the case with the colour changes that bodies experience when they are heated to red or white heat. Sounds, too, change smoothly from soft to loud, and back, in a node-free environment. In fact, with respect to wave-governed phenomena in general, change seems to be continuous rather than discrete, which means that since the majority of particles/objects in nature move in such a manner, most things in reality seem to disobey this aspect of Engels's unimpressive 'Law' -- at least at the macroscopic level.

 

[The application of this 'Law' to microscopic/quantum phenomena will be considered in Essay Seven (added at a later date).]

 

Unfortunately for DM-apologists, if we now mischievously apply this non-nodal aspect of the First 'Law' to Capitalism (as dialecticians themselves do, but only with respect to the liquid/gas phase change, in a bid to illustrate by analogy the revolutionary transformation from one Mode of Production to another, as quantity allegedly builds into quality), then since Capitalism is clearly not a liquid, but a solid of sorts, the transition to socialism should go rather smoothly (as it does with phase changes experienced by most solids).

 

Interpreted that way, it looks as if the First 'Law' is of little use to revolutionaries since it clearly suggests that they are not needed, and that Capitalism can be reformed away non-discontinuously -- a bit like the way a rock, say, can slowly melt to form lava, or heads can slowly turn bald as they lose hair. Sure enough, if dialectical revolutionaries are not needed, their antiquated theory isn't either.

 

In that case, this aspect of dialectics appears to be responsible for issuing its own auto-redundancy notice.

 

This would be a long overdue, but internally-generated and welcome change.

 

Moreover, the same number of molecules at the same energy level can exhibit widely differing properties/qualities depending on circumstances: think of how the same amount of water can act as a lubricant, or have the opposite effect, say, on wet clothes; the same amount of sand can help some things slide, but prevent others from doing so; the same amount of poison given over a short space of time will kill, but given over a longer period it could benefit the recipient -- Strychnine comes to mind here. To be sure, the effects of quantitative stasis of this sort (supervenient on qualitative change) are sensitive both to temporal constraints and to levels of concentration; but the extremely vague First 'Law' said nothing of these. And, try as one might, it is not easy to see how such eminently material aspects of nature can be accommodated to the Ideal dialectical universe Engels inherited from Hegel.

 

However, other recalcitrant examples spring rapidly to mind: if the same colour is stared at for several minutes it can undergo a qualitative change into another colour (several optical illusions are based on this fact). Something similar can happen with regard to many two-dimensional patterns and shapes (for example the Necker Cube and other optical illusions); these undergo considerable qualitative change when no obvious quantitative differences are involved. There thus seem to be numerous examples where quantity and quality do not appear to be connected in the way that DM-theorists suppose.

 

In fact, there are so many exceptions to this 'Law' that it would be wise to demote it and consign it to a more appropriate category, perhaps along with the trite rules of thumb that sometimes work -- a bit like "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", or even "A watched kettle never boils". Indeed, given the fact that this 'Law' has no discernible mathematical content it is rather surprising it was ever called a "law" to begin with.

 

Nevertheless, the situation is even worse than the above might suggest; there are countless examples where significant qualitative change can result from no obvious quantitative difference. These include the qualitative dissimilarities that exist between countless different chemicals for the same quantity of matter/energy. Isomeric molecules (studied in stereochemistry) are a particularly good example, especially those that have chiral centres (i.e., centres of asymmetry). Here, the spatial ordering of the constituent atoms, not their quantity, affects the overall quality of the resulting molecule (something Engels said could not happen); a change in molecular orientation, not quantity, affects a change in quality.

 

So here we would have, change in geometry, change in quality.

 

To take one example of many: (R)-Carvone (spearmint) and (S)-Carvone (caraway); these molecules have the same number of atoms (of the same elements), and the same bond energies, but they are nonetheless qualitatively distinct because of the different spatial arrangement of the atoms involved.

 

This un-dialectical aspect of matter is especially true of the so-called "Enantiomers" (i.e., symmetrical molecules that are mirror images of each other). These include compounds like (R)-2-chlorobutane and (S)-2-chlorobutane, and the so-called L- and D-molecules, which rotate the plane of polarised light the left (laevo) or the right (dextro)) -- such as, L- and D-Tartaric acid. What might appear to be small energy-neutral differences like these have profound biochemical implications; a protein with D-amino acids, say, instead of L- will not work in most living cells since practically all life on earth uses L-organic molecules. These compounds not only have the same number of atoms in each molecule, there are no apparent energy differences between them; even so, they have easily distinguishable physical qualities. Change in quality, identical quantity.

 

Moving into Physics: if two or more forces are aligned differently, the qualitative results are invariably different (even when the overall magnitude of each force is held constant). Consider one particular example: let forces F1 and F2  be situated in parallel (but not in the same line of action), diametrically opposed to each other. Here these two forces can exercise a turning effect on a suitably placed body. Now, arrange these same two forces in like manner so that they are still parallel, but act along the same line. In this case, as seems clear, these forces will have no turning effect on the same body. Change in quality with no change in quantity. Since there are many ways to align forces (as there are with other vector quantities, like velocities and accelerations, etc.), there are countless counter-examples to this rather pathetic First 'Law' here alone.

 

[Some might object that moving a force requires energy, so these examples are not energy neutral. However, the arrangements listed above could exist side by side. Here, we would have a qualitative difference for no extra quantitative input, something this terminally vague 'Law' does not rule out. And the said forces could be operating in a conservative field, which means that the energy budget could be zero. Naturally, this 'Law' could be tightened to exclude these and other awkward counterexamples out, but then it would cease to be a law, and would rather become narrow convention. Can you imagine what would happen if Physicists did the same with any of their Laws, altering them as the awkward facts mounted up?]

 

Perhaps more significantly, this 'Law' takes no account of qualitative changes that result from (energetically-neutral) ordering relations in nature and society. Here, identical physical structures and processes can be ordered differently to create significant qualitative changes. One example is the different ordering principles found in music, where an alteration to a sequence of the same notes in a chord or in a melody can have a major qualitative impact on harmony, with no quantitative change anywhere apparent. So, the same seven notes (i.e., tones and semi-tones) arranged in different modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolean and Locrian) sound totally different to the human ear.

 

Another example along the same lines concerns the ordering principles found in language, where significant qualitative changes can result from the re-arrangement of the same parts of speech. For instance, the same number of letters jumbled up can either make sense or no sense -- as in "dialectics" and "csdileati" (which is "dialectics" scrambled up).

 

Perhaps more radically, the same words can mean something qualitatively new if sequenced differently, as in, say: "The cat is on the mat" and "The mat is on the cat" --, or even worse: "It is impossible to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic", and "It is impossible to understand Hegel's Logic, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Marx's Capital." What are odds that Engels would have tried to alter his First 'Law' to neutralise this awkward fact?

 

There are many other examples of this phenomenon, but a few more should suffice for the purposes of this summary: a successful strike (one that is, say, planned first then actioned second) could turn into its opposite (if it is actioned first and planned second). The addition of no extra matter or energy here can turn successful action into disaster, if the order of events is altered.

 

There are literally thousands of everyday examples of such qualitative differences (with no obvious quantitative changes), so many in fact that Engels's First 'Law' begins to look rather pathetic in comparison. Who for example would put food on the table then a plate on top of it? A change in the order here would constitute a qualitatively different (and more normal) act: plate first, food second. Which of us would jump out of a plane first and put their parachute on second -- or cross a road first, look second? And is there a sane person on the planet who goes to the toilet first and gets out of bed second? Moreover, only an idiot would pour 500 ml of water slowly into 1000 ml of concentrated Sulphuric Acid, whereas, someone who knew what they were doing would readily do the reverse. But all of these have profound qualitative differences if performed in the wrong order (for the same energy budget).

 

How could Engels possibly have missed examples like these? Is dialectical myopia so crippling that it prevents dialecticians using their common sense? [However, given the response to Essay Seven so far, it looks like modern day DM-fans are in dire need of an appointment at the Opticians.]

 

Pushing these ideas further, context can affect quality in a quantitatively neutral environment. So, a dead body in a living room has a different qualitative significance compared to that same body in the morgue (for the same energy input). A million pounds in my bank account has a different qualitative feel to it if compared to the same money now in your account (and vice versa). "Ceci n'est pa une pipe" has a different qualitative aspect when appended to a picture of a pipe, compared to when it might be attached to a picture of, say, a cigarette.

 

Indeed, "Ceci n'est pa une pipe" itself can change from qualitatively false to true depending on how it is interpreted. Hence, as a depiction of what the painting by Magritte is about (i.e., a pipe) it is false. But, despite this, it is also literally true, since manifestly a picture of a pipe is not a pipe! Change in quality here, but no change in quantity.

 

Furthermore, qualitative change can be induced by other qualitative changes (contrary to Engels's claim):

 

"...qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion..." [Engels (1954), p.63. Emphasis added.]

 

For example, in a 1:1 mixture of paint, one litre of brown can be made by mixing two half litres each of red and green, but the same qualitative effect can be achieved by using less or more of both (say, 2 litres of each), but in the same ratio. Here a change in the quantity of mixed paints has no effect on the qualitative properties of the mixture (i.e., its colour), while the qualities mixed do. In this case, two qualities (two colours) will have changed into new quality (a new colour) when mixed. Not only do the same amounts (and proportions) of red and green paint exist before and after mixing, for any fixed amount of each, the two former qualities have merged into a single one.

 

Of course, it could be argued that the mixture contains more paint than before (which means that there has been a quantitative change), but this is not so. In general, prior to mixing there were n litres of each colour (and 2n litres of both) preserving the 1:1 ratio; after mixing the same amount of paint still exists, namely n litres of each (and 2n litres of both, for any n), still preserving the 1:1 proportion. The qualitative change in colour has nothing to do with the quantities involved, but everything to do with the mixing of the two previous qualities in the same ratio. Of course, if the ratio of the mixed paints were changed, a different qualitative outcome would emerge, but as noted above, even this does not happen nodally, and so it seems to be of little relevance to the First 'Law'. But if the ratio is kept the same, we would here have a change in quality created by qualities, but not by an increase in quantity. Something similar can be achieved with the mixing of most chemicals, as it can with light, sound and taste.

 

Matter in general is thus reassuringly non-dialectical.

 

Other instances of qualitative change where there is no implied change in quantity include the following: the 'Big Bang' (if it actually happened) led to the formation of a whole universe of qualitative changes, with no overall increase in energy or matter (in the universe). Now, here we have a massive change in quality (with Galaxies and planets, and all the rest, emerging out of the original debris) with no overall change in the quantity of energy (in the universe), unless we alter the energy conservation law to save DM's neck.

 

Of course, if the 'Big Bang' is rejected, and an infinite universe is postulated, since there can be no increase in energy in the entire universe, any qualitative changes in nature will occur with no increase in universal energy.

 

More examples rapidly stack up:  a child living in, say, Paris can become an orphan (qualitative change) if both of its parents die in South Africa (meaning that no quantitative change will have happened to that child -- unless, of course, we are meant to re-interpret a change in a distant geographical/familial relation as a quantitative change).

 

A cheque drawn, say, in New York will become instantaneously worthless (qualitative change) if the issuing bank in Tokyo goes bust (meaning that no quantitative change will have happened to that cheque).

 

A Silver medallist in, say, the Olympics can become the Gold Medal winner in an event (qualitative change) if the former Gold medallist is disqualified, say, because of drug-taking (meaning that no quantitative change will have occurred to that Silver Medallist).

 

Two identical "Keep off the Grass" signs can mean something different (qualitative change) if one is posted on a garden lawn and the other is positioned near a stand of Marijuana plants, at the same height above sea level (thus with no change in energy).

 

A circle looks like an ellipse (qualitative change) when viewed from certain angles for no change in energy.

 

The same three mathematical (or physical) points can undergo a qualitative change if, say, from being arranged linearly they are re-arranged as the corners of a triangle (hence, there would be a qualitative change with no quantitative change). There are, of course, a potentially infinite number of examples of that sort of change imaginable for 2-, or 3-dimensional shapes, for n points (be they mathematical or physical -- so this is not necessarily an abstract set of counter-instances).

 

Worse still, the "vice versa" codicil attached by Engels to this 'Law' renders it totally useless -- if not completely crazy --, for it suggests, for instance, that qualitative change can effect quantitative material change. Consider this example of Trotsky's:

 

"A housewife knows that a certain amount of salt flavours soup agreeably, but that added salt makes the soup unpalatable. Consequently, an illiterate peasant woman guides herself in cooking soup by the Hegelian law of the transformation of quantity into quality…." [Trotsky (1971), p.106.]

 

But, if the vice versa codicil is to work here, a qualitative change from, say, unpalatable soup to tasty-soup should in effect produce a quantitative pay-off: it must cause soup to have more salt in it! Clearly this magic trick will be of interest to those who still foolishly think that matter and energy cannot be created ex nihilo. And yet, there seems to be no other way of reading this vice versa codicil except as a of metaphysical blank cheque of this sort. [Dialecticians should consider cancelling it, perhaps.]

 

The other hackneyed examples DM-theorists regularly trot out to illustrate this 'Law' (i.e., boiling water, balding heads, Mendeleyev's table, the alleged fighting qualities of Mamelukes, and, of late, Chaos Theory), also only seem to work because of the way that the word "quality" has been defined (but then oddly ignored) by dialecticians.

 

For example, in the case of boiling water, the increase in quantity of one item (i.e., heat) is reputed to alter the quality of the second (i.e., water). As noted above, "quality" in DM-circles is defined in Aristotelian terms (i.e., as that property which is essential to a substance/process, without which it must change into some other --, or as "determinate being", to use the Hegelian jargon; on this, see Inwood (1992), pp.238-41). And yet, by no stretch of the imagination is liquidity an essential property of water (except, perhaps in an everyday or pre-scientific sort of sense). And even if it were, increased amounts of water do not seem to change that particular quality (i.e., its liquidity) into anything else; it takes an increase in something other than water to alter its state (namely heat). So, this 'Law' should perhaps be re-written in the following way:

 

E1: An increase in the quantity of one item leads to a change in what is perhaps not one of the essential qualities of another.

 

With that, much of the 'metaphysical bite' of this 'Law' disappears; in fact it becomes rather toothless.

 

In addition, it seems rather odd to describe an increase in heat as an increase in quantity when what happens is that the relevant water molecules just move about faster if energy is fed into the system. Of course, it could be objected that this is precisely Engels's point; since energy can be measured (here as an increase in heat, say), then that increase in heat is indeed an increase in quantity. But, the original idea appeared in Hegel at a time when heat was regarded as a substance, Caloric. We now know that what really happens is that molecules just move faster after having interacted with still other faster moving molecules. [This is something Engels admits anyway; see Engels (1954), pp.63-64].

 

So, when Engels speaks here of an increase in energy, he was either using a  façon de parler, or he had not quite abandoned the old idea that heat is a substance. Nowadays we might want to call this phenomenon "energy" if we so wish; but that would plunge this part of the First 'Law' into complete darkness, since the word "energy" (if it is not a façon de parler, too) is not the name of an identifiable substance that can be qualified in this way.

 

Furthermore, using "quantity" to depict the change in motion of molecules is somewhat dubious. Certainly, we speak of an increase in velocity here, but there is no such thing as a quantity of velocity that could be increased. Velocity is not a substance either, and although we use numbers to depict it, we certainly do not refer to anything called the "quantity of velocity" (except again, perhaps as a façon de parler). Since velocity is a vector, its magnitude is given by a scalar, but velocity itself is just that scalar operating in a that direction. To call the magnitude of a vector a "quantity" would be to confuse a vector (or indeed a direction) with a substance.

 

Nevertheless, even if it were appropriate to depict things in this way, neither the heat nor the faster molecules change in quality themselves. Any amount of heat still stays as heat; motion is still motion. Hence this 'Law' does not seem to apply to them. It should now perhaps be re-written along the following lines:

 

E2: An increase in the quantity of one item (e.g., heat) leads to no qualitative change in that item, while it can help alter the quality of another item (e.g., water), which will in turn have changed in quality while undergoing no quantitative change itself -- but which qualitative change is inadmissible anyway since it is not a quality definitive of the latter (e.g., water).

 

This is not an impressive 'Law'.

 

As far as balding heads are concerned, it is difficult to believe that someone with, say, n hairs on his or her head is hirsute, when the same person with n-1 hairs is objectively bald -- even if at some point or other we all might subjectively change the words we use to depict either.

 

Now, if it could be shown that anyone with n-1 hairs (for some n) is always objectively bald, and that this is an essential defining quality of baldness or of bald people (in the Aristotelian/Hegelian sense just mentioned), so that a change from n to n-1 hairs, for some n, always results in baldness, and true for all hirsute human beings, then this 'Law' might have some life left in it in just this one instance. It could then be a dialectical 'Law' that applies on to hairy parts of nature, but nothing else.

 

Nevertheless, this is not so; with respect to baldness, human anatomists (or even hairdressers) have as yet to define hair loss in such Aristotelian terms. Unfortunately for DM-fans, they have so far failed to categorise all follically-challenged individuals this precisely, declaring that anyone with n-1 hairs, for some n, is essentially bald, whereas anyone with n hairs is thus non-coot. Until they do, there are no nodal points here, just as there seem to be no particular (Aristotelian/Hegelian) qualities definitive of bald human beings for dialecticians to latch onto. So, in this case it is impossible to see how an 'objective' example of this dialectical 'Law' could apply, merely a 'subjective' impression, and one that has to rely on quirky application of the already vague Hegelian 'definition' of a quality.

 

So it seems that the change in quality occurs, not in the person going bald, but in the one describing him/her/it as bald. Hence, with reference to human balding, change in the quantity of hair on one person's head changes the quality of someone else's opinion of him/her, and it does so subjectively and non-nodally.

 

There isn't much here to base a dialectical 'Law' on, not at least anything that would fail to brand this part of DM as a fringe science, at best.

 

This 'Law' can be made to work in a few selected instances if we bend things sufficiently (and if we fail to define either "quality",  "node", or "leap" -- and if we ignore Hegel's own definition of a quality into the bargain); in contrast there are countless examples where this 'Law' does not apply, no matter how we try to twist things.

 

It might perhaps help dialectics if its supporters can be persuaded to change the quantity of their own 'Laws', from three to two, in a vain (but nodally-appropriate) attempt to improve the quality of their ailing theory.

 

 

'Law' 2: The Interpenetration Of Error With Even More Error

 

This is badly out of date; a new Summary of Essay Seven is now available here.

 

Nevertheless, the other two 'Laws' of dialectics fare no better. The doctrine that change only occurs through internal contradiction is analysed in detail in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two; however, the thesis that everything is a UO -- which is intimately connected with it -- has not yet been dismantled.

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

 

Engels depicted this 'Law' as follows:

 

"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 62.]

 

Lenin put things this way:

 

"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]

 

However, DM-theorists (like Lenin and Engels) are decidedly unclear as to whether things change because of (1) the relationship between their internal opposites, or because (2) they change into these opposites, or even whether (3) change itself creates such opposites.

 

Lenin's words merely illustrate this confusion in an acute form -- where he declares, for instance, that: "the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other…" take place in nature. Engels is equally unclear: "[M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other...." The same can be said of Plekhanov:

 

"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…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]

 

This seems to suggest that objects not only change because of their internal opposites, but that they change into them (and all of them!) and that they also produce these opposites while they change, or as a result of that change. As we shall see, all this presents DM-theorists with some rather nasty dialectical headaches.

 

We will see in Essay Eight Part Two, that Hegel attempted to delineate such opposites very precisely, but his reasoning was defective from beginning to end.

 

Leaving that aside and ignoring for the moment the question of how Hegel, Engels, Lenin and Plekhanov knew this 'Law' was true of everything in existence (this topic is examined in more detail in Essay Two), it is worth pointing out that some things seem to have no internally interconnected opposites. For example, electrons, which, while they appear to have several external opposites (but not only it is not clear what the opposite of an electron is -- is it a positron or is it a proton? --, electrons do not seem to turn into either of these), electrons have no internal opposites as far as can be ascertained. In that case, they must be changeless beings -- either that, or if they do change, it cannot be as a result of "internal contradictions", and neither do they change into their alleged opposites. Admittedly, electrons had only just been discovered in Lenin's day, but that just makes his dogmatism even more puzzling (especially when it is recalled that it was he who insisted that all knowledge is provisional and relative).

 

Despite this, it is difficult to believe Lenin and the others are serious in claiming that everything is a UO -- just as it is impossible to give credence to the idea that "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…."

 

Are we really supposed to believe that, say, a domestic cat is a UO? But, what is the opposite of a cat? A dog? A tulip? A tin of beans? A 'non-cat'? And yet, if a 'non-cat' is the opposite of a cat, it would mean that if everything does indeed change into its opposite, cats must change into everything that they are not -- that is, they must change into any one or more of the following 'non-cats': oak trees, sandy beaches, cuff links, dog baskets, rift valleys, stars and galaxies, to name but a few.

 

Not only that, but according to Lenin cats must contain all these things if they are indeed unities of their opposites (or, they must be "internally related" to them in some way) -- i.e., they must presumably be a unity of cat and 'non-cat' --, especially if the latter opposite causes the cat to change. Is, therefore, each unassuming domestic moggie a repository of all its myriad opposites, and do these opposites contain their own sets of opposites, ad infinitem, like glorified Russian dolls?

 

Well, it seems they must if, according to Lenin: "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…." If change is the result of an internal struggle between opposites (declared above to be an "absolute" by Lenin), and everything changes into everything else, then cats must both contain and change into (at some point) a host of things, which must in turn contain and change into even more (or back into cats).

 

It is little use complaining that these are ridiculous conclusions; if everything changes into its opposite, then they must follow. Those who still object should rather pick a fight with dialecticians -- not me -- for championing such a crazy view of reality.

 

So, if cats do change, as they do, then they must change into their opposites. But where are these 'opposite cats', and how do they feature in and cause the changes they produced in the original animal?  On the other hand, if they do not do this, does this mean that feline parts of nature are not subject to dialectical law?

 

Now, Engels did try to answer these fatal objections by arguing that we must learn from nature what the actual properties of objects and processes are in each case, and hence, presumably, what each can legitimately change into (he made this point in relation to the First and Third 'Laws', but there is no reason to believe he would have denied this of the Second 'Law'). He also said that and that dialectical negation is not annihilation. [Engels (1954, p.63 and (1976), p.181.]

 

However, nature is annoyingly ambiguous on this score. For example, lumps of iron ore can turn or be turned into many diverse things (with or without the addition of labour, etc.). These include: hematite, magnetite, taconite, countless ferrous and ferric compounds (including rust, Ferrous and Ferric Sulphides, Fools Gold, etc., etc.), car parts, aeroplane components, ships, magnets, cutlery, anchors, scaffolding, chains, bollards, cranes, tubes, engines, ornaments, girders, weapons, tools, instruments, coils of wire, furniture, gates, railings, railway tracks, wheels, doors, bars, handcuffs, scaffolding, bullets, iron filings, steel wool, cytochrome nitrogenase, and haemoglobin -- again, to name but a few.

 

Are we to believe that all of these reside inside each lump of iron? If not, what exactly is the point of this 'Law'? Again, if these items don't exist inside each lump of iron (or even if they do not confront them as antagonistic external opposites), how is it possible for human labour and natural forces to turn iron into many of these things, and remain in conformity with 'dialectical Law'? Does human labour counteract or work with the 'Laws' of dialectics? If a lump of iron does not contain, say, a carving knife, how is it possible for human beings to change iron into carving knives dialectically? Are there changes in reality that are not governed by DM-principles?

 

Are these iron 'Laws' not in fact applicable to iron itself?

 

In that case, exactly which opposites are united in iron ore? Of course, it could be argued that the above considerations completely misconstrue the nature of this Law. No one supposes that cats and nuggets of iron ore contain their opposites.

 

However, if nature works in pairs (at least), what is the paired opposite of a cat that causes that animal to change? If cats have no opposites, then it must be the case that feline parts of nature (at least) do not work in pairs. But, what applies to cats must surely apply to countless other things in reality. What then are the external or internal opposites of Giraffes, Snowy Owls, Mountain Gorillas, Daffodils, Oak trees, Chinese Puzzles, broom handles, craters on the Moon, copies of Anti-Dühring, and the question mark at the end of this sentence? Now all of these are subject to change, but not it seems because of any obvious oppositional pairing. [Is a question mark really locked in a life and death struggle with other items of punctuation?]

 

It could be objected to this that in the case of cats (and many of the other objects listed above), the opposites concerned are plainly "male" and "female". But even if that were so, these are manifestly not "internal opposites" (and neither are they "internally related" to each other -- they are causally, historically and biologically related, to be sure; sexual diversity is not a logical feature of reality), so change here cannot be the result of 'internal contradictions'. But, do males and females always conflict? [Anyone who has, for example, seen Leopard Slugs mating might be forgiven for thinking that these fortunate creatures have had a dialectical exemption certificate encoded into their DNA at some point. They do not 'conflict'!] And, manifestly, males do not change into females, nor vice versa.

 

Moreover, while it is true that cats are able to reproduce because of well known goings-on between males and females, cats themselves do not change because of the relationship between male and female cats. If they did, then a lone cat on a desert island would be able to live forever. Hence, just so long as this eternal (and miserably celibate) moggie stays clear of members of the opposite sex it should be able to look forward to becoming a sort of feline Methuselah.

 

But, what are we to say of those organisms that do not reproduce sexually --, and worse what are we to make of, say, hermaphrodites? Are the latter an expression of some sort of cosmic bourgeois prejudice against DM?

 

And what should we conclude about things like broom handles and copies of Trotsky's IDM? Do they change because of the tension created by their own inner/outer opposites? But what could these possibly be? Is the opposite of IDM, Mein Kampf or Stalin's Problems of Leninism? It might even be this Essay!

 

[Does this mean, therefore, that IDM will change into one of my Essays? Perhaps TAR will, since this work was originally set up specifically in opposition to that book. In that case, had this work not been undertaken, would TAR and IDM have been changeless beings?]

 

[IDM = In Defense of Marxism, i.e., Trotsky (1971); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

On the other hand, if cats change not as a result of the machinations of their external opposites but because of their 'internal contradictions', then factors internal to cats (and broom handles, etc.) must clearly be responsible. Should we now look inside cats for these illusive opposites? If so, do these appear at the level of this animal's internal organs? But what is the opposite of, say, a cat's liver? If it has none, is it an everlasting liver?

 

Maybe we should delve even deeper into the inner workings of these annoyingly awkward feline aspects of 'Being'? If cats' livers have no opposites, then perhaps their liver cells do? But once more, what is the opposite of a cat's liver cell? A kidney cell? A blood cell? (An onion cell?)

 

If we ferret deeper into the nether regions of feline inner space, perhaps these 'misplaced' opposites will appear at the molecular or atomic level? Some dialecticians seem to think so -- but they are only able to do this by ignoring their own claims that all of nature works in pairs [We have yet to be told what, say, the River Amazon is twinned with, let alone what the Oort Cloud's dialectical alter ego could possibly be.]

 

Nevertheless, it could be argued that internal opposites actually involve the relations that exist between sub-atomic and inter-atomic forces and processes at work inside lumps of iron, cats, and much else besides.

 

But, if each thing (and not just each part of a thing), and each system/process in the Totality, is a UO (as we were assured they are by the above DM-classicists), then cats and iron bars (and not just electrons, π-mesons (Pions) and positrons, etc.) must have their own internal and/or external opposites -- if they are to change.

 

So, for a cat to become a 'non-cat' -- which is, presumably, the 'external' opposite it is supposed to turn into --, it must be in dialectical tension with that opposite right now if the latter causes it to change. If not, then we can only wonder what dialecticians imagine the forces are (and from where they originate) that cause cats and lumps of iron to change into whatever their opposites are.

 

And even if molecular, inter-atomic or sub-atomic forces actually power the development of cats, the latter will still have to change because of their paired macro-level opposites (whose identities still remain a mystery). It is not as if each cat is struggling against all the protons, electrons and quarks that exist beneath its skin. Nor are they conflicting with their internal organs, fur or even whiskers.

 

And even if these sub-atomic particles are locked in a sort of quantum wrestling match themselves, one with another, the changes they allegedly induce in the average dialectical moggie must find expression in macro-phenomena. But what on earth could these be?

 

Furthermore, if change is to be found ultimately at the quantum level, then what are sub-atomic particles changing into? Many are highly stable. But even if they weren't, then whatever they are changing into must exist right now to cause them to change into it. And yet, if their opposites already exist, the original particles cannot have changed into them. The best that could have happened, given the truth of DM, is that these 'opposite particles' have merely replaced the originals. In that case, things do not change, they vanish.

 

[The idea that there are internal opposites of 'fundamental particles' is discussed in more detail in Essays Seven and Eight Part One.]

 

Moreover, if the forces that cause change are solely internal to cats, then as far as their mutability is concerned, cats must be hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world (as must everything else -– this dire dialectical difficulty is examined in more detail in Essay Eight Part One, and Essay Eleven Part One and Part Two), otherwise change would not be internal to cats. If, on the other hand, the causes of feline change are external to cats, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into 'non-cats', and we are back where we started.

 

The same applies to sub-atomic particles: if the forces that cause change are solely internal to such particles, then as far as their mutability is concerned, they must be hermetically sealed off from the outside world, otherwise change would not be internal to these particles. If, on the other hand, the causes of particulate change are external, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into a 'non-whatever'.

 

In the macro-world, this would seem to mean that when a cat gets run over, say, that cat actually self-destructs, and the car that hit it had nothing to do with flattening it. One might well wonder then why nature produced such suicidal beasts. [Is this perhaps an example of natural de-selection?]

 

Of course, it could be argued along Leibnizian lines that had the cat been internally strong enough it would have survived this unequal tussle with the car. So, the real cause of the cats changed shape is to be found inside that cat. [This argument is outlined here.]

 

There is something to be said for this argument, but luckily not much. Whatever it is that causes a cat to alter when run over is not whatever it is that maintains its anatomical integrity from day  to day. Something must have upset this 'balance' in order to alter that cat's shape; cats do not spontaneously flatten themselves. Few of us would be happy to be told by a Leibnizian drunk driver that it is not their fault that the family pet is spread half-way across the road because the cat itself is the cause of its radically new shape. Here we have a clear case of interacting causes for the demise of this cat, none of which can be put down solely to events internal to that unfortunate animal.

 

Whatever their commitment to this 'Law', one supposes(!) that no dialectician still in command of her or his reason would excuse, say, a policeman for inflicting on them actual bodily harm on the grounds that nature unwisely failed to incorporate into the heads of militants the ability to withstand Billy clubs. Once again, dialectics would be disproved in practice; gashed heads are not produced by "self-development".

 

Alternatively, if the causes of feline (or cranial!) mutability are both internal and external, then change cannot be the sole result of 'internal contradictions', and things would not be self-developing, as Lenin alleged.

 

Furthermore, if "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…", that would suggest that everything (and every property) must change into every other property!

 

Thus, heat, for example, must change into, say, colour, hardness and generosity (and much else besides); liquidity must transform itself into brittleness, circularity and inquisitiveness (and much else besides); gentleness must mutate into velocity, opacity and bitterness (and much else besides); squareness must turn into arrogance, honesty and duplicity (and much else besides), and so on.

 

Is there a single person on the planet not suffering from dialectics who believes any of this? Once again, if these bizarre changes are not the case (as they plainly are not!), and if such things are not implied by these terminally vague 'Laws'  and by what Lenin said, what is the point of him asserting that this is precisely what everything does?

 

If it is further complained that in many of the above examples, it is human interaction that changes things that occur naturally, then what about substances that did not exist (so far as we know) before we made them?

 

Is plastic, for instance, governed by dialectical 'Law'? But, what then is the natural opposite of polyethylene? Is it the same as that of Polypropylene, polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polymethylpentene (TPX)?

 

If not, has humanity made things above and outside this 'Law'? If not, and each of these has its opposite (or they would not change), how did humanity manage at the same time to make each of these plastics along with its opposite, too? By default, as it were? But if we can turn these substances into all manner of things, do they not therefore have countless artificial (or is it natural?) opposites? [I.e., as many opposites as the things we can change them into.] And were all these artificial opposites created the moment the original substances were manufactured? All of them?

 

Moreover, if these opposites only pop into existence when these plastics are changed into them, how was it possible for those non-existent opposites to contradict the existent unchanged plastic so that the plastic could be changed into them?

 

But worse, if the 'opposite' of PVC causes it to change, how then does human labour feature anywhere in the transformation? What is the point of building factories and studying polymer chemistry if the opposite of PVC changes lumps of PVC into plastic buckets all by itself? When human beings work on PVC to change it into all the many things they do (using complex techniques and expensive machinery), are they merely onlookers, not part of the action, just viewing things that would have happened anyway -- naturally?

 

Or have the capitalists discovered a way of by-passing dialectical 'Law' (perhaps as part of their hatred of Marxism)? Is all plastic reactionary?

 

More importantly, have the Sparts produced a policy document on this?

 

Furthermore, is it really the case that everything turns into its opposite, as Hegel, Engels, Lenin and Plekhanov said? To be sure, certain states of matter do change into what we might conventionally call their "opposites" (e.g., a hot object might change and become cold; something above might later be below, and so on -- but here, these opposites do not causes even these changes!), but this is certainly not true of everything. Do men, for instance, turn into women, fathers into sons, brothers into sisters, left- into a right-hands, the working class into the Capitalist class, forces of production into relations of production, use values into exchange values, negative numbers/electrical charges into positive numbers/electrical charges, electrons into positrons, and matter into 'anti-matter'? If not, what is the point of saying that everything does do this? And why claim that objects and processes have internal or external opposites if in most cases they feature nowhere in the action, or, again, if many things do not turn into them?

 

Of course, that was the point of the observation made earlier about dialecticians vacillating between the idea that UO's cause change and the belief that things change into their opposites -- sometimes veering toward the doctrine that change produces these opposites. The first of these alternatives is examined in Essay Eight Part One, but if the second alternative were correct, we would surely witness some bizarre transformations in nature and society as men changed into women, cats into dogs, banks into charities and the Capitalist Class into the Working Class -- and then back again.

 

Naturally, if change merely creates these opposites then, plainly, that could not have been the result of a tension between a pair of opposites that existed simultaneously -- clearly so, since at least one of them would not yet exist. Hence, with respect to objects in the latter category, change would create them, not them it.

 

This completely scuppers the DM-account of change for it is now clear that there is nothing in the DM-scheme-of-things that could cause the many different sorts of change we see in nature and society.

 

In which case, if change occurs then dialectics -- the much vaunted science of change -- could not explain it.

 

 

Single-celled Reactionaries?

 

However, turning to specifics, Engels claimed that:

 

"…life consists precisely and primarily in this -- that a living thing is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly asserts and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to and end, and death steps in." [Engels (1976), p.153.]

 

But what is the contradiction supposed to be here? Is it: (1) that living cells contain dead matter? Or: (2) that life is a constant struggle to avoid death? Or: (3) that life can only sustain itself by a constant struggle with dead matter? Or is it even: (4) that the contrast and/or conflict between these two (processes), life and death, creates the dynamism we see in living things? But, what on earth is this (5) "something else" that each living thing is supposed to be, or to become, according to Engels?

 

As far as (1) is concerned, the contrast between living and dead matter seems to depend on the obsolete idea that there is an intrinsic difference between living and dead molecules -- that there is a 'life force' at work in nature. While it is unclear whether Engels believed this or not (in fact, in several places he seems to have rejected this notion, e.g., Engels (1954), p.282), it is reasonably clear that subsequent dialecticians do not accept it. So, this cannot be what underlies the contradiction in this case.

 

With respect to (2) then, while it is undeniable that most living things constantly strive to stay alive, it is still unclear what the alleged UO is supposed to be. If a living cell is a UO, and the scene of a bitter struggle between life and death -- in the sense that each cell contains both life and death inside its walls, slugging it out, as it were --, what form do these mysterious processes/beings take? It is not as if we could identify either or both -- as we can with, say, magnetic or electrical phenomena. There, the presence of apparently opposite poles and/or charges is verifiable and measurable. Here (with respect to life) there do not seem to be any easily identifiable opposing forces.

 

But, if DM-theorists are correct, and everything is a UO, each living cell should (it seems) contain death within its walls, and not just have it confronting it externally. But what material form does 'death' take? Are we to imagine that a black, shrouded figure, sickle in hand, inhabits every living cell? If not, how is 'death' to be conceived? Indeed, what form does 'life' take? Is it an incarnation of the Archangel Gabriel? Or, Louis Pasteur, perhaps?

 

On the other hand, if this UO is a set of opposing processes (or indeed, if they are to be regarded as a special sort of interaction between certain forces), as options (3) and (4) seem to suggest (these here picturing living systems as constantly battling against disintegration, the latter perhaps manifested in catabolic reactions), then we are surely on firmer ground.

 

But why would anyone want to call such a set-up a UO? What exactly are the opposites that are struggling here? It is not as if inside each vibrant cell there is another older (or even a decaying) cell waiting to emerge, nor yet one that is fighting the host cell all the time, stabbing it 'inside the back', as it were. Nor is it credible to believe that the products of catabolism and anabolism are themselves locked in constant struggle. Indeed, it is not even easy to see catabolism as directly 'contradictory' to anabolism (howsoever the word "contradiction" is understood). These processes do not oppose one another by preventing the other working, or by immediately picking apart what the other has produced; they just work in different ways, often in separate parts of the cell.

 

So, anabolic and catabolic processes do not confront one another in normal cells, opposing whatever the other does. To imagine such processes as contradictory would be about as intelligent as, say, believing that a group of men digging a road up somewhere were 'contradicting' ("opposing" or "struggling against") another group mending or extending that same road a few hundred yards down the way. And, even if it were accurate to describe catabolism as undoing the results of anabolism, that would still not amount to either of them 'contradicting' each other. Undoing is not 'contradicting' -- if it were, then doing would be tautologious!

 

Of course, if someone were to insist that, despite the above, such processes are contradictory, they would owe the rest of us an explanation of the literal nature of the contradiction involved here. In that case, it would be pertinent to ask how either process could possibly be "gainsaying" the other.

 

[It is worth recalling at this point that literal contradictions involve just such a gainsaying.]

 

But even if this were true, DM would still not be out of the non-dialectical woods. While we might have 'opposites' here that are internal to cells, we do not as yet have opposites internal to anabolic or catabolic processes themselves. So, if either of these two cause the other to change, that would clearly be another example of an externally-motivated transformation. But, all change is internal, and everything develops of itself, according to Lenin:

 

"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921), p.90.]

 

And yet, since anabolic processes certainly involve objects (i.e., molecules), if they undergo development, that cannot be the result of an interaction with catabolic process (because that would be an external influence once more). On the other hand, if they do, then Lenin's "demand" will have to be withdrawn.

 

Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, DM-descriptors look decidedly figurative -- except, in this case it is not easy to see what the figure could possibly amount to. But, this might be all to the good; it would at least allow the interpretation of the contradictions uncovered in this 'Law' to be interpreted poetically. No one minds if poets contradict themselves (e.g., Walt Whitman).

 

Even if the word "struggle" were substituted for "contradict", the situation would not change noticeably. Since literal struggles can only take place between agents, that would mean that this part of DM could work only if biochemical reactions in vivo were personified, or if they were under the control of an agent of some sort. In that case, this use of the word "struggle" would clearly be figurative, too. [More on this here, and here.]

 

There thus seems to be no other way of interpreting living cells as UO's other than in a poetic or figurative sense -- as a sort of throwback to the romantic era in Biology, but otherwise of little relevance to modern science. And yet, once again, this is no real surprise given that the ideas found in DM originated in mystical Hermetic Theology (which occult belief system we know for a fact did have a profound influence on the aforementioned Romantics and Natürphilosophers of Hegel's day, and thus on Hegel himself; on this see Essay Fourteen (summary here)). This part of dialectics, therefore, clearly depends on obsolete mystical ideas, not on modern science.

 

So, no literal sets of internal opposites are apparent here; DM-UO's are at best figurative. But, are these dialectical figures of speech of much use to DM-theorists keen to parade their scientific credentials? Indeed, are they of any assistance to revolutionaries in their effort to understand both the development of Capitalism and how it can be overthrown?

 

Well, once again, given the fact that dialectics has been tried out in practice for over a hundred years, and Marxism has enjoyed legendary lack of success all the while, the only viable response to the above questions must be a resounding "No!" If practice is a test of truth, dialectics stands condemned out of its own contradictory mouth. In that case, it is clearly of no use to revolutionaries in their endeavour to understand Capitalism, or in their desire to end it.

 

In fact, these figures of speech are not even good ones. As we have already seen, workers do not contain capitalists (their alleged internal 'opposites') literally or metaphorically; the same is probably true vice versa. And, even though Capitalism contains both workers and capitalists, as entire classes they do not seem to change into each other. More or less the same can be said of the forces and relations of production and of the alleged 'contradiction' between use and exchange value. Do factories, power lines and transport systems literally 'struggle' against mill owners, bankers, unions and/or bourgeois politicians? Do they even do this figuratively? Does the hypothetical use value of, say, a sugar spoon 'struggle' against its monetary (or exchange) value? Does the actual use of an escalator in a shopping mall 'struggle' against…, well, what? Do any of these objects collectively or severally have the wits, brains or brawn to 'struggle' against anything? Do any turn into one another?

 

[Certainly, these and other things cause capitalism to change all the time, but not by 'contradicting' anything, for the reasons given above, in Essays Five and Eight Parts One and Two, and those summarised below.]

 

This is to deny neither the reality of the irrationalities found in Capitalism nor the horrors we see every day, but since agent-orientated verbs like "contradict", "struggle", "oppose" (etc.) are clearly out of place in the study of inanimate matter (save we use them figuratively or perhaps animistically), these comments will strike those with a reasonably secure grasp of ordinary English (and who are fortunately do not assent to an animistic view of nature) as entirely uncontroversial.

 

And this is not to claim that HM cannot account for these things either; indeed it can, but it needs no help from Hermetic ideas to do so.

 

However, the fact that these assertions will sound controversial only to DM-fans suggests that linguistic naivety could be their only defence.

 

 

Living Things Change Into...What?

 

As far as (5) above is concerned -- the  "something else" that each living thing is supposed to be, or to become, according to Engels, i.e., whatever it was he imagined living things were supposed to change into --, no obvious candidates come to mind. Engels was perhaps appealing to the alleged fact that the LOI does not apply to living matter, and that living things are constantly changing into "what they are not" -- that is, that at any moment a living thing is "A and not A" (etc.). But, this must mean that whatever livings things "are not" must already be present in or near each of them if they are UO's and they all change into what they "are not".

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

In this instance, one suspects that Engels has confused a logical principle with an empirical fact: since anything that changes must change into "what it is not" (as a mater of discursive logic, although there are exceptions even to this rule) -- either in whole or in part -- Engels clearly thought that this general (I would say grammatical) point applies to every living thing (or to anything) as it changes.

 

Now, this brings us back to the problems we noted earlier about the confused way that DM-theorists picture change outlined above in the case of domestic cats. These hapless animals, it seems, must undergo some sort of dialectical change into what they "are not" (or they would remain the same, clearly). And this is just the logico-verbal trick DM-theorists put to no good, having inherited more than their fair share of dubious ideas from Hegel's rather shaky 'logic'.

 

However, as with other examples of metaphysical word-juggling (found throughout traditional Philosophy), this one has a tendency to strike back, especially at those who use it unthinkingly. In that case, since living things are clearly not cars, not calculators, not mountains, not Quasars, not sewage systems, not volcanoes, not books on DM -- meaning, of course, that all of these (and more) are "what living things are not" --, Engels's formulation that living things are constantly changing into "what they are not" must imply that all living cells are constantly changing into cars, calculators, mountains, Quasars, sewage systems, volcanoes and books on DM. The fact that living things do not do this (to anyone's knowledge) suggests that they do not actually change into "what they are not", or anything remotely like it. Here, material reality once again refutes another dotty piece of dialectical chicanery.

 

It is no good complaining that this makes a mockery of Engels's claim, since his confusion of a logical principle with an empirically determinable fact invites such ridicule. Dialecticians have no way of neutralising the above objection that leaves this piece of quirky Hegelian logic intact. If it is logically true that everything changes into "what it is not", and what an object "is not" is everything that it logically is not, then it must change into everything in the universe that it logically is not.

 

[The idea that all things are somehow paired with their Hegelian "other", to use the jargon, ruling the above out, is defused here.]

 

If this is not so, then things do not change because of logical principles magicked into existence as a result of Hegel's tenuous grasp of clear thought.

 

On the other hand, if Engels's formulation does not mean this (i.e., that things change into what they "are not"), what then does it mean? While it might look profound, no sane content can be attached to it.

 

Once again it could be objected that this makes a nonsense of Engels's claims, not because they are confused, but because of the repeated refusal of the present author to interpret him in a sympathetic way. Well, quite apart from the fact that dialecticians are not known for their sympathetic reading of their opponents' writings (a quick leaf through Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism should amply confirm that accusation -- as should a five minute 'debate' with a dialectical clone on an internet discussion board), the above account actually takes Engels words seriously, and literally. Doing that shows that no material sense can be made of them. Anyone who still disagrees is welcome to make of them what they can.

 

[They would then of course be the dialectical equivalent of those who still think sense can be made of the Trinity.]

 

However, whatever sense can be made of Engels's enigmatic prose, it is quite clear that dialecticians have totally misconstrued the LOI. As will be argued in detail in Essays Six and Eight Part Two in relation to the LOI, if a living thing changes, then anything identical to it will change equally quickly. That, of course, makes identity no enemy of change.

 

With that observation alone, much of DM falls apart.

 

But, if we absolutely must view nature mystically/poetically -- as DM-theorists seem impelled to do given their acceptance of the Hermetic ideas they inherited from Hegel -- it could now be argued against them that nature is not in fact driven by "contradictions"; it is actually powered by 'dialectical tautologies' (as noted above).

 

As a result of my own incautious (but temporary, and wholly insincere) dalliance with metaphysical Superscience/Poetry, and no little word-juggling to boot, this observation can easily be confirmed by the way that each living thing changes: Every single one that we know of changes identically quickly as it itself does, and each and every one of them alters into something which has changed just as much as each itself has, and which is identical to the thing it has just changed into. Now, this 'thesis' is apparently tautologious -- or it is at least poetically so -- we might even call this new sort of word-juggling: Dialectricks.

 

Anyway, the words used can easily be 're-defined' on sound and 'consistent' dialectical lines so that the above 'thesis' becomes "tautologious" -- of course, with the latter term understood in a special and permanently unexplained sort of way, rather like the way that "contradiction" in DM has its own special and unexplained sort of sense -- or, indeed, we could insist that just as "contradict" means "conflict", "harmonious" means "tautologious", and dig our heels in, as DM-fans do.

 

Once again, this (temporary) a priori 'theory' of mine has the advantage of being consistent with every conceivable observation -- unlike those dubious DM-'contradictions'. Whether things stay the same, or change (fast or slow, it matters not), they do so no faster than they themselves manage to do it, and they all change into things that are identical with whatever they have changed into. That, naturally, makes this tautologically-poetic 'theory' of mine far 'more scientific' than DM.

 

I have no doubt that Marxism would be no less unsuccessful if we adopted it.

 

[Those still unconvinced by this 'innovative logic' clearly do not 'understand Dialectricks', probably because they suffer from too much lack of tenderness for things.

 

And those impatient with this sort of crazy logic perhaps need to turn an equally critical eye on the same sort of lunacy found in DM all the time.]

 

 

'Law' 3: NON-Sense

 

This is badly out of date; a new Summary of Essay Seven is now available here.

 

The 'Negation of the Negation' [NON] fares no better than the first two 'Laws'. Indeed, as with other DM-theses, the NON is itself based on a confusion of logico/linguistic categories with objects and processes in material reality, an ancient error Engels copied from Hegel, who in turn learnt it from earlier mystics. [More on this in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summary here, and here).]

 

Nevertheless, the few examples that DM-theorists have dredged up to try to illustrate this 'Law' fail to work even in the way they were intended. For example, Engels argues, concerning grains of barley, that:

 

"[T]he grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place there appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain… It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened, the stalk dies, is in its turn negated…." [Engels (1976), pp.172-73.]

 

Leaving aside the confusion noted earlier (about whether plants (or whatever) actually change because of an internal "struggle of opposites", or even whether they change into their opposites), if each grain is indeed a UO (i.e., a union of grain and 'non-grain', i.e., the plant it becomes -- where that plant is itself the negation of the grain), the grain must also contain the plant, not potentially, but actually. If this were not so, the grain itself would not be a union of these opposites -- and hence there would be nothing to cause it to change, and nothing for it to change into.

 

However, this 'plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism must for the same reason contain its own opposite, yet another plant (i.e., a 'plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism, if, according to Lenin, the 'plant inside the grain' is itself a UO), which must likewise contain its own opposite, yet another grain (i.e., a 'grain-inside-the-plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism), and so on, forever.

 

This objection cannot be neutralised by arguing that the opposite of the 'plant-inside-the-gain' is in fact the grain itself, for if this were the case, the 'plant-inside-the-grain' would turn onto the grain, if all things turn into their opposites. For the 'plant-inside-the-gain' to develop into a plant it has to be in some sort of internal struggle with its opposite, that is, with what it has to yet to become (i.e., a plant), which in turn has to be internal to that 'plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism. Moreover, this 'plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism is not itself changeless. Hence, if it is to change into its opposite (which I have surmised to be a 'grain-inside-plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism -- but, that is just my guess), that opposite must already exist for it to change into, or this would be a change with no DM-cause behind it. The rest follows.

 

Now, this must be so if all things are UO's as Hegel and Lenin said they were. In that case, Engels's NON (at least as far as barley is concerned) seems to imply the actual existence of an infinite set of organic plant-and-seed 'boxes within boxes', as it were, which is about as believable as that painted by 18th century preformationist/ovist biologists. This is because it would mean that every grain that ever there was must contain, and must be contained by, every subsequent plant that ever there grew, with each of these organic mega-Russian Doll type organisms complete with its own grains and plants within grains and plants…, etc, to infinity.

 

Of course, dialecticians (perhaps, however, mostly those of the Low Church tendency) who accept Engels's seed analogy will reject the above analysis. According to them, the UO is what we see as barley seed (with all its inner processes) changing that seed into a plant which somehow reveals the aforementioned 'negation' -- the latter of which does not destroy the grain as such, but "sublates" the original negation/seed (it is not too clear which) to produce a plant from it. So, the original seed does not contain the subsequent plant in any way, just whatever opposites this natural process requires for it make that plant grow from that seed. [It is worth pointing out that this get-out of a metaphysical-hole-free-card is withdrawn from circulation here.]

 

But what exactly are these "opposites"? And why do these dialectical worthies say that things change into their opposites, because of an internal struggle between those very opposites, which must already exist for this to happen?

 

"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 62.]

 

"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]

 

"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…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]

 

This can only mean that barley grains contain the plants they subsequently  become; so they are like Russian dolls. There does  it seem to be any other way of reading this 'Law'.

 

Ignoring this difficulty for the present, what NON-sense can be made of the claim that a plant is the negation of a seed? This idea seems to depend on the ancient belief that all words, including the negative particle, are names.

 

Since no DM-theorists has actually given this 'Law' much thought, it is not easy to follow the 'reasoning' here. Perhaps it goes something like this?

 

If we have a negative particle in language, and it corresponds to something in reality, then it must name that something. So, since negativity appears in language it reflects real negativity in nature. [I have yet to see anything more sophisticated than that in DM-writings. Lenin's feeble attempt in this regard will be examined in Essay Thirteen.]

 

But if this is so, it would become rather difficult to rectify incorrect naming and/or identification (something that is easy to do in the vernacular).

 

Thus, if "not" were incorrectly identified as the name of something else -- say, it was taken to be the name of "or" --, then it would be impossible to point this out. One could hardly say: "Not is not or", which, if the DM-Identity Theory of Predication were true, would mean that "Not = not or", and the first "not" would now name something other than not, namely "not or" with which it is newly identical.

 

Moreover, negation in language typically attaches to propositions (or clauses; however, see here), and if they too are names (in that they allegedly name the true, or the false, or facts, or whatever), then it seems that any named thing can be negated. This certainly accounts for the nominalisation of the word "negation" in DM-circles, where the word slides imperceptibly between its nominal and verbal form (one minute it is the name of negativity, or of a subsequently sublated opposite, next minute it is a process that creates novelty). Of course, it is this slide that causes the problem. Negation is something we do in language; treating it as the name of something in the physical word would therefore amount to its fetishisation. [More on this in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Well, even if this slide represented a sound piece of Stone Age Logic, negation would still only apply to words, not things. Or, to put this another way, if negation applies to objects and processes in the world, DM-theorists have been remarkably coy about how this claim could be substantiated. [Further ruminations along these lines are explored here. More details will be given in Essays Twelve and Thirteen.]

 

Engels just assumed that things themselves can be negated, but his only 'proof' seems to have been the fact that it is possible to negate sentences and clauses. To be sure, in Hegel's system it makes some sort of crazy sense to suppose things can be negated (since the line between reality and language in his scheme-of-things is even thinner than George W's stated excuse for invading Iraq), but in a materialist theory no physical meaning can be given to this odd idea. On a similar basis, one might just as well think that conjunctions can attach to objects in reality just because we can speak about cats and dogs (which thus allows us to claim that reality contains objects called "cats-and-dogs" that the natural process of "conjunction" can turn them into -- no doubt under the operation of the Fourth 'Law' of dialectics, the 'Conjunction of the Conjunction' -- just as we might think DM-style that it contains "negated-seeds"). Or that nature contains "and"'s, or that things are glued together by 'andivity'.

 

Of course, the motivation for thinking that reality contains negation (and that it does not contain conjunctions) was purely 'logical'; it derived from Hegel's defective 'analysis' of the LOI, and from his odd belief that the negation of this 'Law' implied a contradiction. This 'argument' has been picked apart here.

 

However, this 'secondary argument' (that the world must contain negativity if we have a word for it in language) fails too, for as we have seen, if this were a sound argument, then reality would contain adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and expletives (among other linguistic things).

 

We saw in Essay Three Part One (and will see in more detail in Essay Twelve (summary here), that the idea that inferences like this (from language to the establishment of fundamental principles that govern reality) is a dodge that ancient mystics invented to account for the link between 'God's' word and 'His' creation --, and, ipso facto, to rationalise the 'legitimate' rule of the State (in that it supposedly reflected the divine/logical order).

 

Moreover, if the structure of language allowed us to infer a priori truths about reality then we might just as well openly accept the Ideal nature of the world, and be done with it. In that case, the material flip Hegel's system was supposed to have undergone will in fact have been through 360 degrees, and not the claimed 180.

 

However, the main objection to the idea that the negative particle finds a counterpart in reality is based on the nature of empirical propositions, and will be aired in Essay Twelve, too (summary here).

 

 

Terminator -- The Rise Of Monsanto

 

Engels argued that as things stand in nature, the development of grain into barley is a natural process, and so the plant that subsequently grows from each seed is its natural negation. But, many things can 'naturally' happen to seeds. For example, they can be eaten and thus subsequently be turned into flesh of some sort, or be burnt as energy. But they can also rot, ferment, burn, dry out and be thrown at weddings. In fact, since anything that happens in nature must be natural (it is surely not supernatural), all such processes must, it seems, be governed by these and other DM-'Laws' (if they are laws, that is).

 

Nor can it be agued that the "natural" development of objects and process is whatever would happen to them if they were 'left alone' to develop naturally; this is because nothing in the DM-universe is ever 'left alone', everything is part of the allegedly interconnected DM-Totality. Whatever happens in nature must have been 'mediated' to do so by some DM-'Law' or other, if DM-theorists are to be believed.

 

It could be argued that if seed are left to develop according their own 'internal contradictions' the NON will assert itself. In that case, the above examples (of seed being crushed, or eaten, etc.) are not relevant to this 'Law'. However, quite apart from the fact that the phrase "internal contradiction" is itself as clear as mud (and has yet to be explicated by a single DM-theorist, as Essay Eight Part One and Two show), dialecticians themselves appeal to 'external contradictions' to account for change (since, without these, their theory would imply that everything in nature is either self-moving, or is hermetically sealed-off from the rest of the universe; on this see Essay Eight Part One, again). Anyway, several of the above examples involve 'internal change': rotting and fermenting grain, for instance. And once inside an animal, its 'internal' regime will take over, and the grain will 'naturally' develop into food. Moreover, 'internal' to a wedding celebration, the 'contradictions' inherent in the bourgeois institution of marriage will surely prompt someone to throw grain at the luckless couple.

 

So, exactly where the boundaries of this 'Law' are is somewhat unclear too, DM-theorists not having given the fine detail of their own theory much thought.

 

Unfortunately however, the advancement of science and technology often confronts older theories with unexpected problems, so Engels was not to know that one day a company like Monsanto would develop its so-called "Terminator Gene". This is a gene that can by all accounts can stop certain plants from producing seeds (and which thus seems capable of halting the NON in its tracks), forcing farmers to buy all their grain from Monsanto, etc.20 Is, therefore, the NON so weak and ineffectual that a large corporation can countermand its inevitability? Or, is the NON still at work somewhere in all this, 'negating' the rights of Third World farmers behind their backs, as it were, so that they will no longer be able to produce their own seed --, if, that is, Monsanto change their minds, ignore public pressure, and go ahead with this gene? Are Monsanto potential negators of the NON? Or have they learnt how to control it?

 

In this case, therefore, have we now got a sort of 'seed-plant-non-seed-non-plant' type of NON-development here? Should we now rename Monsanto, "NONsanto"?

 

But, we needn't wait until Monsanto change their minds and produce this NON-starter; anyone who buys fruit these days knows about seedless grapes. In fact most fruit nowadays does not come from seeds; it is produced by propagation from grafts and cuttings.

 

The question now arises: how come the NON is so easy to by-pass? Countless processes in nature seem to be non-NON-events of this sort as human beings 'upset' the 'natural' order.

 

And what are to say about genetic engineering in general? Is this an interference in the operation of the NON, and an infringement of the 'dialectical law' that all change is internally generated? Or is it a natural process, in view of the fact that none of the scientists or Capitalists involved are supernatural beings (so we are led to believe), and are eminently natural objects themselves?

 

In that case, if all the above are natural processes then it can truly be said that no grain is an island. Anything that happens to grain inside the universe must be natural.

 

Hence, even if barley is dropped into the sea, crushed by a falling tree, genetically modified, or hit by American 'friendly fire', all these (and many more) are natural events (and are supposedly governed by DM-'Laws'). In that case, there doesn't seem to be a single thing that could be or could act as the natural negation of a grain of barley. So, does it have one? Clearly, given the supposed universal dominion of the 'Laws' of dialectics (DM-fans tell us that these govern everything in reality, and that they are the most general laws there are), there must be countless "natural" negations of anything and everything.

 

It now seems that anything and everything could be the natural opposite of grain -- especially, if according to Lenin "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…." If so, and we apply this overly-generously open-ended 'Law' to Capitalism once again, it should be possible for the latter, too, to change into a grain of barley, and vice versa. And it is no use saying that this sort of change has never been observed, since, according to the above, anything could be the opposite of grain and/or of Capitalism.

 

So, since barley is "not-Capitalism", and Capitalism can only change into what it "is not", profligate 'logic' of this sort means that revolutionaries will need to revise their plans. Instead of the struggle for socialism, they should perhaps struggle for…, well, er, sowing. Clearly this suggests that our slogans will need to be revised somewhat --, perhaps to: "Capitalism digs its own herb garden", or  "You have nothing to lose but your daisy chains", or "There is a tractor haunting Europe",  or maybe even "From each according to his ability, to each according to his seed".

 

Now, those who object to the above off-the-wall conclusions should direct their ire at that 'Law' and at those Hermetic 'Law'-givers, not at this piss-taker.

 

Either that, or they should say clearly, and for the first time ever, what NON-sense there is to this 'Law'.

 

 

Socialism Brought From Without -- Perhaps By Aliens

 

Nevertheless, and despite the above, as far as the descendants of barley plants are concerned, little development seems to take place; barley stays barley for countless generations -- unless change is externally induced (on this, see below).

 

More interesting, however, is the fact that based on this sort of botanical stasis --, and if the NON is to be used as the DM-model for social change (as dialecticians often so enlist it) --, Marxists should all now become staunch conservatives, since, in the majority of cases, the NON is itself impressively conservative. So, the NON as applied to barley (and everything else, it seems, in the living world), implies universal stasis (unless, once again, change is introduced from the outside). Hence, anyone foolish enough to use this 'Law' as a metaphor for social change should be committed to the idea that society must develop peaceably, naturally, slowly -- possibly cyclically -- with no overall change at the end (unless, again, this is induced from the outside).

 

However, since organisms develop as a result of mutations (mostly in response to violent, externally-induced interruptions to the 'natural' order of growth and reproduction) this process cannot it seems be reconciled with the above NON-inspired, but staid view of change (or lack of it). If, on the other hand, the superior, 'externalist' model of change is adopted (wherein the facts of nature are allowed to speak to us for a change, and speciation is recognised as being largely externally motivated), and used as such a model (not that I am recommending this!), then the revolution, if and when it does occur, should result from the intervention of Aliens, or other NON-humans (as external causes) -- if, that is, we insist on using the NON as a metaphor for revolutionary change. It thus looks like its 'internal contradictions' are not enough to rid the world of Capitalism -- since they are far too conservative -- if Engels's analogy drawn against barley seeds is to be believed.

 

It could be argued that some mutations are internally-generated. Perhaps so, but they are errors of replication and can in no way be seen as negations (they are more like random spelling mistakes). Moreover, the random nature of these internal copying errors is difficult to square with a law-governed process. Not only are most mutations highly lethal (whether they are internally-, or externally-caused), they are not the least bit directional. So, at one particular point in history a particular mutation might be of no use to an organism, or population (in terms of natural selection); at another, it could be a species-saver. There does not, therefore, appear to be much here that can be squeezed even into this NON-boot.

 

In addition, it is not easy to see how this NON-theory is applicable to other natural life-cycles. What for instance are we to make of the development of moths and butterflies? These insects go through the following stages: adulteggpupachrysalisadult. Which is the negation of which here? And which is the NON? 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 NON?

 

Are such "splitters" enemies of dialectics -- or just natural sectarians?

 

Indeed, there appear to be countless processes in nature that are NON-defying: for example, how does the NON apply to such things as the periodic extinction of life on earth (by meteorites, or other ambient causes)? When a comet hits the earth (if it does), which is the negation and which the NON? And where is the development here? Do meteorites develop into anything new after they slam into the Earth? Is the  resulting crater creative?

 

Furthermore, when a planet orbits a star, is there even a tiny sliver of space for the NON to gain a toe-hold? That planet may continue to orbit for hundreds of thousands of years with little significant change (in mass, speed, inclination to the ecliptic, etc.). Again, where is the development?

 

All this shows that this 'Law' is not just the scrag-end of a poor theory, as an account of the natural world (and much else besides) it is a definite NON-starter.

 

 

Same Tune -- Different Words

 

Finally, with respect to each of these three 'Laws', it is worth pointing out yet again that DM-theorists have been quite happy to derive acres of Superscience from a few square millimetres of obscure terminology -- only this time these Supertruths have been obtained from badly garbled, less than half-formed musings and seriously botched 'thought experiments'.

 

 

Summary Of Essay Fourteen -- Dialectical Mysticism

 

In this Essay (when it is published sometime in 2007/8), the Hegelian/DM-view of reality will be traced back to its real roots; these are not to be found in the ordinary lives of working people, nor yet in the everyday experience of the revolutionary party. This lineage stretches back in the mists of time to mystical Hermetic thought, to doctrines that expressed ancient ruling-class theories about nature, and their own 'rightful' divinely ordained place in it.

 

Although others have made somewhat similar points, these connections are pushed much further in this Essay, and are based on an entirely new approach, coupled with far more evidence.

 

Indeed, it is shown here for the first time: (1) Just how and why this ancient mystical perspective actually developed; (2) Exactly how it was linked to wider ruling-class interests and priorities; and (3) Precisely how this alien thought-form was (inadvertently) smuggled into Marxism 150 years ago.

 

In support of these claims, texts from ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, China, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome are quoted at length. In addition to this, the relevant (surviving) works of pre- and post-Socratic thinkers  -- such as, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Zeno, and Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle -- are introduced as main exhibits for the prosecution.

 

Moreover, the ideas of NeoPlatonic, Stoic and Hermetic theorists (for example, Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the shadowy figure Hermes Trismegistus 'himself') are linked to the ideas and doctrines of medieval/early modern thinkers -- such as, John Scotus Eriugena, Albertus Magnus (St Thomas Aquinas's teacher), Meister Eckhart, Raymond Lull, Nicholas of Cusa, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Henri Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd, John Dee, Johannes Reuchlin, Paracelsus, Sebastian Franck, Valentin Weigel, Jacob Böhme, William Law, Emanuel Swedenborg, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger.

 

Finally, the views of these assorted mystics are then linked to the works of authors who directly influenced Hegel (i.e., Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Hölderlin, Goethe, Schelling and Novalis). The impact on DM of this mystical hotchpotch is set out in detail.

 

Of course, these are no mere speculations; Hegel admits them himself, and acknowledges his debt to many of the above mystery-mongers; here are his odes to NeoPlatonism, Gnosticism and the Kabbalah, to the Y-Ching -- and here to Boehme.

 

[An outline of these influences on Hegel can be found here.]

 

In fact, Hermeticism was highly influential on German Pietism (through Boehme and his followers) -- which was itself a version of Lutheran Protestantism beloved of German Kings. Not only was Hegel brought up in the Pietist tradition, but Engels's father was a Pietist, and he too was raised in this faith. In fact, we find Engels himself speaking positively about Pietism in an early work: Reports From Bremen. [A copy is posted here.]

 

Hence, Engels's later trajectory back into Hermeticism (under the guise of Dialectical Hegelianism) is not the least bit surprising.

 

Indeed, anyone who thinks that Materialist Dialectics lies at the cutting edge of modern thought/science should read the Kybalion, the third most important book of Hermetic Philosophy, so we are told. Even though it was first published in 1912 (and had three authors who were all Masons), it summarises the core beliefs of this mystic creed. In many places it is not easy to tell the difference between DM-theses and the Hermetic doctrines this text outlines. Doubters are encouraged to check here --, but more specifically here, here and here. [Subtract the overtly mystical language, and you have the covertly mystical jargon of DM.]

 

Similar boss-class bona fides can be found in Chinese, Indian, Tibetan and Japanese thought. These are also outlined in this Essay. Indeed, in many respects, Daoism is virtually identical to DM -- which fact Maoists used to 'good effect'. The same can be said for parts of Buddhism.

 

All this helps refute the claim (found in TAR -- for example, on p.6) that although DM shares with mysticism a belief in Totality, mystics do not try to account for change by appealing to 'internal contradictions', nor do they see the Totality as a process.

 

The reverse of this is in fact the case. Rarely do mystics fail to appeal to opposites (and unities of opposites, too) -- or to terms that are analogous to contradictions and contraries; indeed, they speak about "conflicts" in nature almost exactly as they are depicted in DM (often appealing to the same trite examples in support), to account for reality and change. Moreover, mystical systems in general (e.g., Hermeticism and ancient Chinese Daoism, again) picture reality as a process, powered by these mysterious 'opposites'.

 

[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

There are, however, comrades who acknowledge this; but, they regard it in a positive light, since they clearly think that the appearance of the 'dialectic' in a 'mystical' form (in ancient religion) indicates that it is correct!

 

Unfortunately for them this merely underlines the fact that the continuity that exists between ruling-class mysticism and DM situates both in the same tradition of anti-materialist, anti-democratic alien-class thought.

 

Incidentally, this also helps account for the fact that the Nazis appealed to similar ideas to justify their anti-democratic and murderous system.

 

It is not too clear if this means that the mystical ideas under-pinning National Socialism (i.e., Ariosophy) are viewed in the same light by such comrades. [On this, see here, and here.]

 

Mystical doctrines like these originated, so we are told, in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Creation stories from these civilisations see the world as an extension of the 'Divine' word, called into existence by means of language. Similar ideas also pervade Chinese and Indian myths (as they do other ancient theologies, and Theogonies). Such beliefs have cast a long shadow (in one way or another) across all forms of ruling-class thought. They reappear today in the most unexpected places, which is no surprise really for anyone who takes Marx's claim seriously that ruling ideas are always those of the class that rules.

 

Given this unsavoury background, the many similarities there are between Hermetic (and/or) NeoPlatonic doctrines and those found in DM are not just coincidental. The historical links outlined above show that it is indeed part of an ancient, boss-class tradition.

 

DM is thus exposed as a modern-day Deistic Myth.

 

This helps explain why Dialectical Marxism is so spectacularly unsuccessful: its core theory reproduces the thought-forms of those classes who have up till now been vastly more successful at extending and preserving their own power than our side has been been at ending it.

 

The adoption of such mysticism thus solves the mystery of our own impotence: if we think like them, small wonder that we end up acting like them.

 

As should seem obvious: it is not a good idea trying to end class rule while emulating our enemy's most tried and trusted ideology.

It is even less clever to bury one's head in the sand when a comrade tries to point this out!

 

In order to short-circuit accusations that this commits the so-called 'genetic fallacy' (i.e., that DM is incorrect just because it is a ruling-class theory), it needs adding here that I am not claiming that the provenance of this mystical theory is sufficient to invalidate it. What has been established in my Essays is that DM is far too confused for anyone to be able to say whether it is correct or not.

 

The point of tracing DM back to its mystical roots is to expose the role it has played, and still plays, in screwing with our movement. Hence, it is no surprise that DM had helped turn Dialectical Marxism into a long-term failure.

 

Word Count: 16,400

 

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© Rosa Lichtenstein 2008

 

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