Essay Nine Part Two: Dialectics -- The Opiate Of Petty-Bourgeois Revolutionaries
This Essay was written long before the recent crisis in UK-Respect blew up, as well as that which is building inside the UK-SWP, but both crises were predictable given the things you will read here -- as are the many more we will witness on the left in the coming years unless its lessons are learnt.
Anyone who cannot be bothered to plough through all this material (this Essay is after all over 82,000 words long!) can use the Quick Links below, or go to the summaries of key points I have posted here and here.
A very basic summary of my overall views can be found here, and the reasons why I embarked on this project can be accessed here.
Those worried about the unremittingly hostile tone I have adopted (toward dialectics) should read this first.
Readers need to make note of the fact that this Essay does not represent my final view on any of the issues raised; it is merely 'work in progress'.
This particular Essay has suffered more than most for being published far too early. As I noted on the opening page:
"I am only publishing this on the Internet because several comrades whose opinions I respect urged me to do so, even though the work you see here is less than half complete. Many of my ideas are still in the 'infancy' stage, as it were, and need much work and time devoted to them to mature."
However, anything I allege here will be backed-up with evidence, or it will be withdrawn.
Nevertheless, this Essay was written from within the Trotskyist movement, but because I have found that my work is being read by other Marxists, I have had to incorporate an analysis of the influence of dialectics on Communism and Maoism. Since I am far less familiar with those two traditions, much of my comments in this regard are more tentative. I will add more material as my researches widen.
A word of warning: this Essay should be read in conjunction with Essay Nine Part One, where many of the things that I seem to take for granted here were discussed in detail --, and Essay Ten Part One, where this part of the story is concluded.
It is important to underline what I am not doing here: I am not arguing that 'Materialist Dialectics' has helped ruin Marxism and therefore it is an incorrect theory. The reason this Essay is well down the list of those I have so far published is that my argument is in fact the reverse: because 'Materialist Dialectics' makes not one ounce of sense, it is no wonder it has helped cripple our movement. Nor am I blaming all our woes on this theory (note the italicised word "helped" in the previous sentence!) -- anyway, that is the topic of Essay Ten Part One.
[Earlier Essays posted here (i.e., Essays Two through Eight Part Three) were aimed at showing why I think 'Materialist Dialectics' makes no sense at all.]
Once more, this Essay is over 82,000 words long; a summary of its main ideas can be found here.
Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections:
(1) Are Leading Marxists In Effect Class Traitors?
(2) Alienation And Its Dialectical Discontents
(a) The Dialectics Of Consolation
(b) The Dialectics Of Defeat
(c) The UK-SWP 'Discovers' Dialectical Materialism
(d) Dialectical Myopia
(e) The Dialectical Mantra
(f) Reality 'Contradicts' Appearances
(3) The Opiate Of The Party
(a) Method Into Methadone
(b) Fragmentation And The Petty-Bourgeois Personality
(c) Militant Martinets
(d) Trotsky's Quasi-Religious Fervour
(e) Bukharin Too
(4) Lack Of Power Corrupts
(a) Dialectical Druggies Snort The Correct 'Line'
(b) The Road To Dialectical Damascus
(c) Defeat And Dialectical Druggies
(d) Disaster Central
(e) The Socialist Soothsayer
(f) Social Psychology Does Not Apply To Dialecticians
(g) Designer Dialectics
(h) A Curious Anomaly
(5) Dialectics And De-Classé Marxists
(a) High Versus Low Church Dialectics
(b) In The Lurch
(6) Substitutionism Once More
(a) Dialectics And Revolutionary Practice
(b) Non-Sense And Practice
(c) But What About 1917?
(d) The Dialectics Of Mystification
(e) Installing The New Program
(7) Case Studies
(a) Dialectics Compromises Communism
(b) Dialectics Messes With Maoism
(c) Dialectics Traduces Trotskyism
(d) Spot The difference
(8) Refuted In Practice
(a) Dialectics: The Rotten Fruit Of A Diseased Tree
(b) Official: Dialectical Marxism Has No Cult Of The Saints
(c) Mao's 'Theory' Implodes
(10) Appendix A -- The Finances Of The WRP
Abbreviations Used At This Site
This Essay deals with some of the background reasons underlying the long-term failure of DIM. This explanation is a continuation of the argument developed in Essay Nine Part One, and is further elaborated upon in Essay Ten Part One, where the usual replies given by dialecticians to my criticisms are neutralised and more general theoretical issues are aired. In the latter Essay, among other things, I also try to show why the claim that DIM has been such long-term and abject failure is no exaggeration.
[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist; DM = Dialectical Materialism; HM = Historical Materialism.]
Cut To The Chase
This Part of Essay Nine follows on from the conclusion of Part One and aims to show (1) How and why DM has been detrimental to Marxism, (2) How it has assisted in the fragmentation of our movement, (3) How this had contributed to the long-term failure of DIM, and (4) How dialectics helps convince comrades that there is in fact no problem, and that even if there were, dialectics (the core theory!) has nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Now, Part One of this Essay demonstrated that DM not only does not, it cannot represent a generalisation of working class experience, nor can it express their "world-view", whoever tries to sell this theory to them. Worse still, it cannot even be a generalisation of the experience of the revolutionary party.
In addition, it was shown in Part One that DM cannot be "brought" to workers "from the outside" (as Lenin seemed to indicate), and that is because this theory has yet to be brought to a sufficient level of clarity so that its own theorists can even begin to understand it themselves before they think to proselytise unfortunate workers.
In that sense, therefore, dialecticians are still waiting for their own theory to be "brought" to them -- from the "inside"!
Are Leading Marxists In Effect Class Traitors?
It was alleged earlier (in Essay Twelve Part One, and in other Essays posted here, here and here) that DM is a form of Linguistic Idealism (LIE) and as such, reflects key features of ruling-class ideology.
However, what has not been established yet is how it is even conceivable that generations of leading revolutionaries with impeccable socialist credentials could have imported into the workers' movement ideas derived from the class enemy --, or at least from Philosophers who gave theoretical voice to the interests of that class. Surely, this alone shows that the allegations made in these Essays are completely misguided.
Or so it could be argued.
Of course, even its own most loyal supporters cannot deny that dialectics had to be introduced into the socialist tradition from the outside; neither Hegel, Feuerbach, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, or Trotsky were proletarians. Moreover, there is no evidence that workers in the 19th century were all that interested in Hegel's Logic. [The claim that Dietzgen, for example, was an exception to this rule was batted out of the park here.]
As is well-known, Hegel's system is the most absolute form of Idealism ever invented, and it is one that is situated right at the heart of an ancient ruling-class tradition (aspects of which are examined in detail in Essay Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here)).
Lenin admitted as much, perhaps without realising the full significance of what he was saying:
"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.
"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]
Despite this, the importation of Hegel's ideas into Marxism is often justified by comrades along the lines that he lived at a time when the bourgeoisie were the revolutionary class, and so his ideas were not ideologically-tainted to the same extent as those of later thinkers.
Now this excuse might work with theorists like Smith and Ricardo, but it cannot work with Hegel. Not only did he live in politically backward Germany, where there was no such revolutionary bourgeois class, his ideas represented both a continuation of ruling-class thought and a throwback to earlier mystical ideas about nature and society. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part Five and Essay Fourteen Part One (links above).]
Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination were his ideas scientific, unlike those of Smith and Ricardo.
Nor can it be argued that Marx derived HM from Hegel; the fact is (as Lenin himself half admits) that both were influenced by the Scottish Historical Materialists, Ferguson, Millar, Hume, Steuart, Robertson, Anderson, and Smith.01 If anything, Hegel's work actually helped slow down the formation of Marx's scientific ideas, mystifying them.
It could be argued that Marx derived other important concepts from Hegel (such as alienation, and species being), but these (or one's like them) can be found in Rousseau, Fichte and Schelling (far clearer thinkers). Moreover, these concepts are easy to replace with materialist analogues -- which explains why Marx subsequently dropped these terms, but adopted others. [On this, see White (1996).]
Finally, no dialectician, as far as I know, would argue the same for other figures who were writing at this time, and who were much closer to the class action (as it were). Does anyone think this of Berkeley? And yet he lived in and around the leading capitalist country on earth at the time. Or of Shaftesbury and Mandeville? Slap bang in the middle those two. And it is little use pointing out that this pair wrote shortly after the reaction to the English Revolution, since Hegel did so too, after the French. Nor is it any use arguing that these two were card-carrying ruling-class hacks, since the same can be said of Hegel. Or even that one of them was an aristocrat; it may be news to some, but Hegel was not a coal miner!
Indeed, the only reason Hegel is chosen for special treatment is because of contingent features of Marx's own biography. Had Marx's life taken a different course, or had Hegel died of typhoid forty years before he actually did, does anyone think we'd now be bothering with dialectics? It is no surprise then to find Marx himself moved away from Hegel all his life. [These controversial claims are substantiated in Part One of this Essay.]
In that case, and contrary to what Lenin said, we might want to exclude Marx himself from the above seriously compromised ruling-class pedigree.
Independently of this, it could be objected that this allegedly class-compromised background is not sufficient reason to condemn DM/Materialist Dialectics. After all, it could be argued that the advancement of humanity has always been dependent on practices, concepts and theories developed by those freed from the need to toil each day just to stay alive -- for example, on the work and ideas of scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, technologists, and the like. Surely, this does not automatically impugn every idea drawn from outside the workers' movement. Neither does it mean that such philosophical notions are in general of no use to revolutionaries. Indeed, denouncing certain beliefs just because they are alien to the working-class is inconsistent with key ideas found in HM itself. In that case, the fact that Materialist Dialectics is based on Hegel's system does not automatically malign it, especially if the latter has been given a materialist make-over (as Marx himself argued), and has subsequently been tested in practice.
Furthermore, the origin of Materialist Dialectics goes back many centuries, and is related in complex ways to the development of class society itself. Admittedly, this implicates this process in the formation of ideas representing the theoretical interests of former and current ruling-classes. But, even granting that, such ideas have also featured in the overall development of human knowledge -- indeed, many of these have been integral to the advancement of science itself. Considerations like these do not compromise Materialist Dialectics in any way; on the contrary, as Lenin noted, this complex set of connections (with the very best of human endeavour) constitutes one of its strengths. Dialectical thought is thus not only part of the theoretical maturing process of humanity, it is a vital component in its future development.
Or so it could be maintained, once more.1
However, dialectics is not quite so easily exonerated.
First, DM-theses make no sense. Anyone who thinks otherwise is invited to say clearly (and for the first time ever in well over a hundred and forty years of its adherents' not trying all that hard) what sense they do make. As the Essays posted at this site show, anyone who attempts this modern-day labour of Sisyphus will face an impossibly difficult task.
Second, DM-ideas hinder the development revolutionary theory and practice. We saw this in more detail in Essay Ten Part One -- for example, in connection with Lenin's advice relating to a certain glass tumbler. [Other examples will be given below.]
Third, DM is locked into a tradition of thought that has an impeccable ruling-class pedigree. No wonder then that it hangs like an albatross around our necks, to say nothing of the negative effect it has had on generations of comrades (these are detailed below, too).
Fourth, although many claim that science is intimately connected with earlier philosophical and religious/mystical forms-of-thought, this is in fact less than half the truth. Indeed, materialist and technological aspects of science have not been as heavily dependent on such ruling-class ideas as many believe. [That bold claim will be substantiated in a later Essay.]
Fifth, DM-concepts undermine ordinary language and common understanding; this means that workers have to have its alien ideas inserted into their heads against the materialist grain, as it were. As such, DM fosters substitutionist ideology and exacerbates sectarianism.1a [More on this below, and in Part One.]
Sixth, the materialist flip allegedly performed on Hegel's system, so that its 'rational core' may be appropriated by revolutionaries, has been shown in these Essays not to have been the 180 degree rotation, as claimed, but a full 360. [On this, see especially Essay Twelve Part One.]
Finally, and more importantly, DM has played its own considerable part in not only rendering DIM the long-term failure we see before us today, but also in exacerbating the serious personal and political problems that generations of petty-bourgeois importations into revolutionary socialism have brought in their train.
These are serious allegations; those that have not already been substantiated (in other Essays) will be expanded upon and defended in what follows.
In spite of all this, it could be argued that the above counter-response does not in any way account for the fact that some of the best class fighters in history have not only put dialectics into practice, they have woven it into the fabric of each and every classic Marxist text. How could this be even remotely possible if the above accusations are correct? And what alternative theory and/or literature (that has been tested in the 'heat of battle', as it were) can Ms Lichtenstein point to, to recommend her ideas as superior to those found in this proven tradition, one stretching back now over 150 years?
Most of the above response is demonstrably wrong; the link between 'Materialist Dialectics' and (successful) practice was irrevocably severed in Essay Ten Part One, and will be undermined further below.
Moreover, very few of the 'classic' Marxist texts (that is, outside the DM-cannon) mention this 'theory' (except in passing). Indeed, as Part One of Essay Nine showed (here and here), Das Kapital itself is largely a 'Materialist Dialectics'-free zone. But, even if this were not the case, the fact that DIM has been such a long-term failure ought raise serious questions about the malign influence that 'Materialist Dialectics' has had on HM.
Indeed, if Newton's theory had been as spectacularly unsuccessful as DIM has been, his ideas would have been rejected from the get-go.
In addition, a commitment to dialectics just because it was good enough for the 'ancient worthies' of our movement (and for no other reason) is itself based on the sort of dogmatic and conservative faith one finds in most religions.
There is, indeed, something decidedly unsavoury in witnessing erstwhile radicals appealing to tradition alone as their only reason for accepting such ideas from the past -- especially those that have not served us too well, and which remain unexplained to this day.
Which brings us to the next point.
Alienation And Its Dialectical Discontents
As it turns out, the reason why the majority of revolutionaries have not only unwittingly accepted the alien-class ideas encapsulated in 'Materialist Dialectics', but have clung to them like terminally-insecure limpets, is connected with the following considerations:
(1) Marx's own analysis of the nature and origin of religious alienation.
(2) Lenin's warning that revolutionaries may sometimes respond to defeat and disappointment by turning to Idealism and Mysticism.
(3) The personal biographies and class origin of all leading Marxists and/or dialecticians.
(4) The fact that this theory helps mask the long-term failure of DIM itself, and provides consolation for unrealised expectations and dashed hopes.
[Other counter-claims recorded in the previous section will be tackled later on in this Essay.]
And Consolation: The Irrational Kernel Hidden Beneath A Quasi-Religious Shell
Item One: Concerning religion, Marx famously argued that:
"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." [Marx (1975b), p.244. Bold emphasis alone added.]
Of course, no one is suggesting that DIM is a religion -- but it functions in ways that make it analogous to one. That serious allegation and the materialist background to it will now be explained.
Plainly, revolutionaries are human beings with ideas in their heads; moreover, and every single one of them has a class origin. The vast majority of those who have led our movement, or who have influenced its ideas, have not come from the working class. Even worker-revolutionaries, if they are full-time or 'professional revolutionaries', have thereby become de-classé, or even petty-bourgeois Marxists. And yet, as experience has shown, the accusation that all such comrades harbour ruling-class ideas for the same sorts of reasons that the religious hold onto their beliefs -- and that this is partly because of their class origin or current class position -- is regarded by dialecticians as so obviously wrong, it is treated with contempt, with the one making this allegation often counter-accused of "crude reductionism". Furthermore, as far as I am aware, no dialectician has subjected the origin of DM, and the reason for its acceptance by the vast majority of Marxists, to a class analysis.
This suggests that dialecticians see themselves as exempt from a Marxist analysis of the origin of their own ideas, and that they thus think they are somehow immune from the material constraints that affect the rest of humanity.
Nevertheless, it will be maintained here that the above comrades do indeed hold on to ruling-class ideas -- even if they are not aware of this fact -- and they do so for at least two reasons:
First: because of their petty-bourgeois or non-working class origins, and as a result of the superior education they generally receive in bourgeois society, the vast majority of Marxists have had "ruling ideas", or ruling-class forms-of-thought, forced down their throats almost from day one. [More on this below. See also Essay Two, and in Essay Three Parts One and Two.]
Second: because DIM is so unbelievably unsuccessful, revolutionaries have had to convince themselves that this is not so, that the opposite is indeed the case, or that this is only a temporary state of affairs --, otherwise they'd just give up. Because dialectics teaches that appearances are "contradicted" by underlying "essences", it fulfils a unique role in this regard since it is able to provide comrades with much needed consolation in the face of such long-term failure, telling them that everything is peachy, or that things will change for the better one day. This 'allows' DIMs to ignore such long-term failure, rationalising it as a mere "appearance" and hence false, or illusory. So, faced with any and all set-backs, revolutionaries almost invariably respond with a "Well that does not prove Marxism wrong!".
So, just like the religious, who can look at the evil in the world and still see it as an expression of the 'God of Love' who will make all things well in the future, dialecticians can look at the last 150 years and still see the 'Logic of History' moving their way, and that all will be well in the end, too. This means that the theory that prevents them from looking at reality objectively is also the theory that helps guarantee another generation of failure by masking it. [This theme is developed below, and in Essay Ten Part One (where the usual objections to this way of seeing things are neutralised).]
Despite this, it might still be wondered how this relates to anything that is even remotely applicable to the theories entertained by hard-headed revolutionary atheists. Surely, it could be argued, any attempt to retrace a commitment to Materialist Dialectics to its alleged origin in alienated fantasy is both a reductionist and an idealist explanation?
Fortunately, Lenin himself supplied a materialist answer to this apparent conundrum, and John Rees kindly outlined it for us when he depicted the period following the failed 1905 Russian revolution in the following terms:
"[T]he defeat of the 1905 revolution, like all such defeats, carried confusion and demoralisation into the ranks of the revolutionaries…. The forward rush of the revolution had helped unite the leadership…on strategic questions and so…intellectual differences could be left to private disagreement. But when defeat magnifies every tactical disagreement, forcing revolutionaries to derive fresh strategies from a re-examination of the fundamentals of Marxism, theoretical differences were bound to become important. As Tony Cliff explains:
"'With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion….'
"Philosophical fashion took a subjectivist, personal, and sometimes religious turn…. Bogdanov drew inspiration from the theories of physicist Ernst Mach and philosopher Richard Avenarius…. [Mach retreated] from Kant's ambiguous idealism to the pure idealism of Berkeley and Hume….
"It was indeed Mach and Bogdanov's 'ignorance of dialectics' that allowed them to 'slip into idealism.' Lenin was right to highlight the link between Bogdanov's adoption of idealism and his failure to react correctly to the downturn in the level of the struggle in Russia." [Rees (1998), pp.173-79, quoting Cliff (1975), p.290. Bold emphases added. (However, I can find no reference to "dialectics" in Cliff's book.)]
As Cliff goes on to argue:
"With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion. And in the absence of any contact with a real mass movement, everything had to be proved from scratch -- nothing in the traditions of the movement, none of its fundamentals, was immune from constant questioning.
"...In this discussion Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, Bazarov and others tried to combine marxism with the neo-Kantian theory of knowledge put forward by Ernst Mach, and Richard Avenarius. Lunacharsky went as far as to speak openly in favour of fideism. Lunacharsky used religious metaphors, speaking about 'God-seeking' and 'God-building'. Gorky was influenced by Bogdanov and Lunacharsky....
"Lenin's reaction was very sharp indeed. He wrote to Gorky, 'The Catholic priest corrupting young girls...is much less dangerous precisely to "democracy" than a priest without his robes, a priest without crude religion, an ideologically equipped and democratic priest preaching the creation and invention of a god.'" [Cliff (1975), pp.290-91. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
It is quite clear from this that the experience of defeat (and the lack of materialist input from a mass working-class movement) redirected the attention of certain revolutionaries toward Idealism and to searching for a mystical explanation for the serious set-backs Russian Marxists had witnessed after 1905. Plainly, that search provided these comrades with some form of consolation -- just as Marx alleged of religion pure and simple.
But, there is another outcome that Rees and others have clearly failed to notice: this major set-back turned Lenin toward Philosophy and dialectics, too. These were subjects which he had largely ignored up until then. While it is true that Bogdanov and the rest turned to Mach, Berkeley, Subjective Idealism, and other assorted irrationalisms, is equally clear that Lenin too reverted to Hegel and 'objective' Mysticism.2
Nevertheless, Lenin's warning shows that revolutionaries themselves are not immune to the pressures that lead human beings in general to seek consolation in order to counteract disappointment, demoralisation and alienation. As we have seen, Lenin was well aware that alien-class ideas (which 'satisfied' such needs) could enter the workers' movement from the "outside" at certain times.
Is it possible then that revolutionaries of the calibre of Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov and Trotsky were thus tempted to seek metaphysical consolation of some sort? Is it conceivable that they opened themselves up to the alien-class ideas that later found expression in 'Materialist Dialectics', and for these reasons?
As we have seen in other Essays posted at this site (especially Essay Three Parts One and Two, Twelve Part One, the rest of Essay Twelve, and Essay Fourteen Part One (summaries here and here)), and as Lenin himself admitted, dialectics is shot-through with ideas, concepts and modes-of-thought borrowed from traditional Philosophy (which ideas, concepts and modes-of-thought were in turn invented by theorists who undeniably had material interests in rationalising the status quo). Indeed, in many places it is hard to tell the difference between DM and open mysticism (as Essay Fourteen Part One will show (summary here)).
All this strongly suggests that the above accusations are not completely wide-of-the-mark. On the contrary, as we will see, they hit the bull's eye every time.
But, is there anything in the class origin and background of leading comrades that pre-disposed them toward such an unwitting adoption of this rarefied form of ruling-class ideology? Does defeat automatically lead to DM?
Does DM in fact stand for Demoralised Marxists?
The Dialectics Of Defeat
The first of these questions can be answered quite easily by focussing on item Four above, and then on the periods in which revolutionaries invented, sought out, or returned in a big way to the classical concepts found in DM. Upon examination, a reasonably clear correlation can be seen between periods of downturn in the struggle and subsequent 're-discoveries' of Hegel and DM by avid dialecticians (with the opposite outcome tending to happen in more successful times).3
Most (if not all) of Engels's work on the foundations of DM was written in the post 1860s downturn -- after the massive struggles for the vote (up to the Reform Act of 1867) in the UK, following on the demise of the Chartist Movement and after the Paris Commune had been defeated in 1871.4
Similarly, Lenin's philosophical/dialectical writings were largely confined to the period after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, and before the short-lived successes of 1917.
Trotsky's dialectical commentaries (including his Notebooks and his wrangles with Burnham) date largely from the 1930s, after the major reverses that took place in the post 1917-1923 period in Europe (and internationally in China), and later in Spain, and following upon his own isolation and political quarantine in the 1930s.5
Stalin himself only became obsessed with dialectics after the defeat of the Deborinites post-1929, and after the failure of the Chinese and German revolutions. Likewise, Mao himself discovered a fondness for this Hermetic creed after the crushing defeats of the 1920s.6
More recently, the obsessive devotion shown by certain OTs toward the minutiae of DM follows a similar pattern. Because OTs invariably adopt a catastrophist view of everything that happens (or is ever likely to happen) in capitalist society, they cannot fail to be disappointed all the time. Naturally, such levels of constant disillusionment require regular and massive doses of highly potent DM-opiates. To take one example: even an OT of the stature of Ted Grant only succeeded in 're-discovering' hardcore DM (alongside Alan Woods, which took form in RIRE) after his own party booted him out, which itself followed upon the catastrophic collapse of the Militant Tendency.7
[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; NOT = Non-orthodox Trotskyist; RIRE = Reason In Revolt, i.e., Woods and Grant (1995).]
This regressive doctrine does not just afflict the minds of OTs, NOTs show similar, but less acute signs of dialectical-debilitation.
For example, the overt use of DM-concepts in the SWP-UK (a NOT-style party) only began in earnest after the downturn in the class struggle in the late 1970s, and more specifically right after the defeat of the National Union of Miners in 1985. In this respect, therefore, TAR itself represents perhaps the high-water mark of this latest retreat into consolation by leading figures in the SWP-UK. The fact that this newfound interest in DM has nothing to do with theoretical innovation (and everything to do with repetition, consolation and reassurance) can be seen from the additional fact that TAR adds nothing new to the debate (on DM), it merely repeats significant parts of it, albeit from a different perspective --, but for the gazillionth time.8
Given the overwhelming experience of defeat and set-back that has been faced by the international labour movement and the revolutionary tradition over the last 150 years, these correlations are quite striking (even if they are not the least bit surprising) -- for all that no one seems to have noticed them before!9
If our movement has known little other than defeat (as Essay Ten Part One shows), then it becomes vitally important for revolutionaries to account for and re-interpret this depressing history.
[IO = Identity of Opposites; NON = Negation of the Negation.]
Among Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists (OTs and NOTs alike) this tactic has often assumed a thoroughly dishonest form, one that has frequently sought to re-classify defeats as hidden victories (involving a novel use of the IO dodge, and a quasi-religious use of the NON ploy; examples of these will be given below). Clearly, this has allowed factors other than the subjective failings of the parties involved to be blamed for any of the setbacks our side has faced.
As should seem obvious, a movement cannot learn from its mistakes if it 'never' makes any (or never admits to making any)! Amazingly, from the record, it certainly looks like DM-theorists are the only sentient life-form that not only does not, but cannot learn from recalcitrant reality. As we will see, the NON and the belief that appearances contradict underlying "essences" stand in the way of most dialecticians emulating the rest of sentient life, in that most of it does manage to learn from its mistakes.
Even Amoebae seem to learn quicker than dialecticians!
Figure One: A Non-Dialectical Fast Learner
Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the aforementioned dialectical dodges have meant that significant parts of our movement have engaged in a deliberate inversion of material reality in order that their version of Hegelian Idealism can remain on its feet. Instead of rotating Hegel, material reality has been up-ended so that it now conforms to certain ideas held about it.
Hard-headed Marxists have thus flipped reality through 180 degrees, stuck their own theoretical feet in the air, inserted their heads in the sand, and, despite the fact that virtually every aspect of revolutionary practice has failed, and in the face of the grim reality that the vast majority of workers ignore 'Materialist Dialectics', proclaimed that DIM has been tested successfully in practice and now represents the "world view" of the proletariat!10
Marx once claimed that Philosophy stands in relation to the sciences as masturbation does to sexual love. Clearly, overindulgence in Dialectical Masturbation has not just made revolutionaries short-sighted, it has rendered them theoretically blind.
The Dialectical Mantra
Theoretical Onanism of this level of intensity has unsurprisingly encouraged a headlong retreat into fantasy (of the sort noted above, and worse). Such flights-of-fancy have been amply reinforced by the profound narcolepsy induced in comrades by the constant repetition of the same old formulae and hackneyed phrases. Simple but effective Dialectical Mantras, internalised and regurgitated by all serious adepts (such as the constant repetition of the claim that Capitalism is riven by 'contradictions', even though not one of those who intone this mantra seems able to say why these are indeed contradictions -- on that, see here), have helped insulate radical minds from material reality fro generations. In such a traditional-dominated and Ideally-constructed world, annoying facts are simply ignored -- or turned upside down to become their opposite.
Anyone who doubts this should try the following experiment: chose any randomly-selected, dialectically-distracted comrade and attempt to persuade her/him to acknowledge the long-term failure of their own brand of Marxism. Unless you are extremely lucky, you will soon discover how deep this particular head has been inserted in that particular sand dune.
[On the excuses usually given for the failure of DIM (that is, where this is actually acknowledged!), see Essay Ten Part One.]
To that end, stock phrases will be dusted-off and given another airing, almost as if they are still in mint condition. Even a cursory glance at the debates that have taken place over the last five revolutionary generations or so will reveal the spectacle of theorists mouthing slogans at one another as if the ones on the receiving end had not heard them a thousand times already, and the one chanting them had not intoned them even more often.11
This helps explain why we still encounter the constant rehearsal of the same tired old examples in DM-texts, involving the following hardy perennials: balding heads, John and his manhood, boiling water, Mendeleyev's Table, wave/particle duality, contradictory motion, "A is equal to A", a character from Molière who has spoken "prose all his life without knowing it", "Yea, Yea" and "Nay Nay", seeds negating plants, living/dying cells, Mamelukes, who have a somewhat ambiguous fighting record against the French, and so on -- despite it having been pointed out many times (and not just in these Essays) that none of these specially-selected examples work to begin with.
Reality 'Contradicts' Appearances
Alongside this there is a correspondingly robust refusal by dialecticians to face up to reality. In my experience, this ostrich-like characteristic is found most glaringly among OTs, but it is similarly represented to varying degrees throughout the rest of the revolutionary/communist movement (with Maoists probably winning the Silver Medal in this event).12
As already noted, a good example of this is the knee-jerk quotation of the phrase "tested in practice" in support of the supposed (but imaginary) universal validity of 'Materialist Dialectics'. Although reality tells another story, we regularly encounter this sort of 'whistling in the dark' type of argument:
"There is no final, faultless, criterion for truth which hovers, like god, outside the historical process. Neither is there any privileged scientific method which is not shaped by the contours of the society of which it is a part. All that exists are some theories which are less internally contradictory and have a greater explanatory power…. [I]f the truth is the totality, then it is the totality of working class experience, internationally and historically which gives access to the truth…. [A theory's] validity must be proven by its superior explanatory power -- [which means it is] more internally coherent, more widely applicable, capable of greater empirical verification -- in comparison with its competitors. Indeed, this is a condition of it entering the chain of historical forces as an effective power. It is a condition of it being 'proved in practice.' If it is not superior to other theories in this sense, it will not 'seize the masses,' will not become a material force, will not be realized in practice." [Rees (1998), pp.235-37.]
[More of this sort of stuff here.]
However, the fact that DIM (never mind Dialectical Trotskyism) has never actually "seized the masses" -- except briefly in Germany and perhaps Italy and France, it has never even got close to lightly hugging them (not even in Russia in 1917!) -- that fact is not allowed to spoil the fun or interrupt the daydream. So, this inconvenient aspect of reality is simply inverted and the opposite idea is left standing on its feet (or it is simply ignored).
Failing that, of course, the happy day when 'Materialist Dialectics' finally manages to captivate the masses is projected way into the future, where it becomes a safe 'fact', insulated from easy refutation.
Of course, beyond blaming the mass of the population for their own failure to appreciate this wondrous theory (a rhetorical tactic beloved, for example, of Maoists), few DM-fans have ever paused to wonder why the overwhelming majority of workers/human beings stubbornly remain locked in 'un-seized' mode, so deep in the sand is this collective Hegelianised brain now wedged.
Since 'Materialist Dialectics' is regarded as the very epitome of scientific knowledge (an "Algebra of Revolution", if you will), the fault cannot lie with the theory, so it must be located elsewhere. The 'solution' is no less difficult to find: the masses are to blame! They are gripped by "false consciousness", trapped in a world dominated by inadequate, everyday "formal" thinking. "Static" language and "immobile categories" dominate their lives, this sorry state of affairs compounded by the "banalities" of "commonsense". Indeed, they have been seduced by "commodity fetishism", or have been bought off by imperialist "super-profits".
Material reality is once more inverted so that a comforting idea is allowed to remain on its feet. A vanishingly small fraction of humanity is in the right here, the vast majority of working people are wrong --, this peremptory judgement itself justified by a theory that not one of its acolytes can explain!
Such is the deleterious effect on Marxists of a diet rich in Silicates.
Figure Two: The DIM Guide
Naturally, this means that dialectics must be brought to the masses "from the outside", whether they like it or not.
[Up to present, however, the signs are that this has been a consistent "not".]
But the conclusion is never drawn (it doesn't even make the reserve list) that workers will never accept a theory that clashes with their materially-grounded language, and which runs counter to their understanding and experience -- and which, because of this, is not even a materialist theory!
To be sure, it could be argued that in a revolutionary situation, daily experience and commonsense aren't sure and safe guides to action. Hence, a revolutionary party needs a theory, one that transcends the immediate.
But, HM itself provides us with just such a theory. Even better: its concepts clash neither with the vernacular nor with common understanding. Quite the contrary, HM depends on them.
On the other hand, with respect to concepts drawn from DM, the above rejoinder is as misguided as it can be. As Part One of this Essay has shown, not one single thesis drawn from DM relates to anything a human being, let alone a worker, could experience. In that case, it cannot express the experience of the party. Moreover, as Essay Twelve Part One and subsequent Parts show (summary here), DM is based on concepts derived from centuries of ruling-class thought.
Small wonder then that DM fails to mesh with material reality, and hence that it can't be used to help change it.
Nor, it seems, has anyone even considered the effect that DM has had on the standing of revolutionaries in the eyes of ordinary workers, or on the latter's respect for Marxists, whose parties are now widely regarded as little other than a joke, comprised of nothing but warring sects dominated by obscure and irrelevant ideas.
Still less thought has gone into the extent to which DM (with its appalling logic) has undermined Marxism's claim to be regarded as a science, just as precious little attention has been paid to the fatally-compromised credibility of anyone who accepts DM.
Well, would you listen to and respect the opinions of those who accept the theoretical equivalent of flat-earth 'science'?
However, as noted in the Introduction, revolutionaries are unlikely to abandon DM in spite of the noxious effect it has had on their thought, or the steady blows that yours truly rains down upon it.
Whether or not DM spells the Death of Marxism is obviously of no concern for those held in its thrall. This is hardly surprising: it is difficult to see clearly with your head stuck in the metaphorical equivalent of the Gobi Desert.
The Opiate Of The Party
Method Transformed Into Methadone
It is maintained here that DM satisfies the contingent psychological needs of certain sections of the revolutionary movement: those comrades who, because of their class origin/position and because of the constant failure of DIM, cling on to DM in a way that makes a drowning man look positively indifferent toward any straws that might randomly drift past.
As noted earlier, this is because dialectics works in a manner analogous to the way that religious dogma comforts believers: that is, DM acts as a form of consolation for unrealised hopes, a defence against disillusion and as a handy way of re-configuring defeat as its opposite -- similar to the way that religionists persuade themselves that suffering is beneficial and confirms the goodness of 'God'.13
In other words, DM is the "opiate" of the Party, the heart of a seemingly hopeless cause.
For those Marxists who live in a world that is divorced from the day-to-day lives of ordinary workers -- i.e., revolutionaries who are removed from the material world of toil --, HM is clearly not fundamental enough. In fact, Marxists who (for whatever reason) are cut-off from the material world of labour plainly require their own distinctive world-view, one that has itself been abstracted (cut-off) from the world of 'appearances', and thus from material reality, too.
This theory must be one that adequately represents the (now) alienated experience of these erstwhile 'radicals'; it must be divorced from material language and working class forms-of-thought. Moreover, this theory must underline and confirm the pre-eminent position held by such 'radicals' -- that is, their status as self-appointed leaders of the class --, and hence it must be a theory that they alone "understand".
In that case, what better way to fit the bill than adopt the incomprehensible theory that Hegel dreamt-up?
DM is thus beyond workers' experience -- not by accident --, but because it is meant to be that way.13a0
Naturally, that not only makes this theory immune from refutation, but it also makes it well-suited to the task of getting things the wrong way round (or indeed upside down). It is in fact an ideal tool for keeping 'reality' Ideal. In addition, this 'theory' also helps insulate militant minds from the setbacks revolutionaries constantly face.
DM is thus not just the opiate of the party, it expresses the soul of the professional revolutionary. Abstracted not just from the class, but also from humanity itself, this faction within the labour movement finds abstraction conducive to the way it sees the material world -- and to the way it regards workers (as the objects of theory, not the subjects of history).
That explains, at least, the motivation for the fairy-tale that DM is the "world-view" of the proletariat -- because these 'workers' are members of an abstract class of proletarians!
Of course, that accounts for its long-term minority appeal among workers.
Fragmentation And The Petty-Bourgeois Personality
All of this is connected with the way that such comrades find their way into the revolutionary movement.
Unlike most worker-revolutionaries, 'professional' revolutionaries have joined or have been recruited into the socialist movement (by-and-large) as a result of their own personal commitment, as an expression of their rebellious personality, because of individual alienation from the system, or for some other contingent psychological reason --, but not as a direct result of the class war (i.e., not through participation in collective action, in strikes (etc.) at their own places of work -- since they do not work).
This means that from the beginning (again, by-and-large), because of their class position and upbringing such comrades act and think like individuals. This colours the ideas they form, affects their activity inside the movement, and slants the relationships they form with other revolutionaries.
Indeed, no less an authority than Lenin quotes Kautsky to this effect:
"The problem...that again interests us so keenly today is the antagonism between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. My colleagues [Kautsky is himself an intellectual, a writer and editor] will mostly be indignant that I admit this antagonism. But it actually exists, and, as in other cases, it would be the most inexpedient tactics to try to overcome the fact by denying it. This antagonism is a social one, it relates to classes, not to individuals. The individual intellectual, like the individual capitalist, may identify himself with the proletariat in its class struggle. When he does, he changes his character too. It is not this type of intellectual, who is still an exception among his class, that we shall mainly speak of in what follows. Unless otherwise stated, I shall use the word intellectual to mean only the common run of intellectual who takes the stand of bourgeois society, and who is characteristic of the intelligentsia as a class. This class stands in a certain antagonism to the proletariat.
"This antagonism differs, however, from the antagonism between labour and capital. The intellectual is not a capitalist. True, his standard of life is bourgeois, and he must maintain it if he is not to become a pauper; but at the same time he is compelled to sell the product of his labour, and often his labour-power, and is himself often enough exploited and humiliated by the capitalist. Hence the intellectual does not stand in any economic antagonism to the proletariat. But his status of life and his conditions of labour are not proletarian, and this gives rise to a certain antagonism in sentiments and ideas.
"...Quite different is the case of the intellectual. He does not fight by means of power, but by argument. His weapons are his personal knowledge, his personal ability, his personal convictions. He can attain to any position at all only through his personal qualities. Hence the freest play for his individuality seems to him the prime condition for successful activity. It is only with difficulty that he submits to being a part subordinate to a whole, and then only from necessity, not from inclination. He recognises the need of discipline only for the mass, not for the elect minds. And of course he counts himself among the latter...." [Kautsky quoted in Lenin (1947), pp.121-23. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
However, Lenin forgot to note that this class analysis also applies to him and other petty-bourgeois Marxists. [More on this later.]
These comrades thus enter the movement committed to the revolution as an idea, as an expression of their own personal integrity, idiosyncratic alienation and personal goals in life. They are not revolutionaries for proletarian-materialist objectives, that is, as a result of their direct experience of collective action, or as a direct consequence of working class response to exploitation, but for individual reasons.
So, when these comrades encounter DM, it is quite 'natural' for them to latch on to its a priori theses. This is because their class position has already rendered them atomised individuals, with no collective identity, and they have had their heads filled with "ruling ideas" (often as part of the 'superior education' they receive). In which case, they appropriate the dogmatic theses found in dialectics with ease. The thought-forms this theory encapsulates seem at once to be both certain (i.e., a priori, and thus self-certifying) and radical (because they originate from within what looks like a radical philosophical/political tradition -- alas, here they are quite happy to accept appearances at face value!).
Manifestly, dialectical concepts could only have arisen from traditional ideological sources (workers do not dream up such nostrums), which sources had already been tainted by centuries of ruling-class theory. This is because not only is traditional thought the only source of developed 'high theory', it contains the sort of ideas to which these erstwhile radicals are most susceptible. The background and education of such comrades means that ruling-class ideas already dominate their minds. This new, Hermetic batch, therefore, hardly raises an eyebrow. Indeed, it alights on ready soil.
As I have put this elsewhere:
The founders of this quasi-religion
[DM] weren't workers; they came from a class
that educated their children in the classics and in philosophy. This tradition
taught that behind appearances there is a hidden world, accessible to thought
alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.
This way of seeing things was invented by ideologues of the ruling-class, who viewed reality this way. They invented it because if you belong to, benefit from or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.
The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).
Another way is to persuade the majority (or a significant section of "opinion formers" and administrators, at least) that the present order either works for their benefit, is ordained of the 'gods', or that it is 'natural' and cannot be fought, reformed or negotiated with.
Hence, a world-view is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling in the same old way. While the content of this ruling ideology may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth is ascertainable by thought alone, and it can therefore be imposed on reality dogmatically.
So, these non-worker founders of our movement, who had been educated to believe there was this hidden world behind 'appearances' that governed everything, looked for principles in that invisible world that told them that change was inevitable, and part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of a ruling-class mystic called Hegel.
That 'allowed' the
founders of this quasi-religion to think of themselves as special, as prophets
of the new order, which workers alas could not quite grasp because of their
defective education and reliance on ordinary language and 'common sense'.
Fortunately, history had predisposed these prophets to ascertain the truth about reality for them, which meant they were their 'naturally-ordained' leaders. That in turn meant these 'leaders' were also teachers of the 'ignorant masses', who could thus legitimately substitute themselves for the unwashed majority -- in 'their own interests', you understand, since the masses were too caught up in 'commodity fetishism' to see the truth for themselves.
Initially, very little specialist knowledge is needed to 'comprehend' this theory; indeed, no expensive equipment or time-consuming experiments are required. And yet, within hours this superscientific 'world-view' can be grasped by most eager novices (since it relies on thought alone, and thus appears to be 'self-evident'). Literally, in an afternoon, an initiate can study and learn a handful of theses that purport to explain all of reality for all of time. Just try learning Quantum (or even Newtonian) Mechanics that quickly!
One only has to look at certain revolutionary internet sites, for example, to see how they claim to be able to reveal nature's deepest secrets (which are true for all of reality, for all of time) in page or two of loose phraseology, homespun 'logic' and Mickey Mouse Science --, for example, here, and here.
Contrast that with the many months, or years of hard work it takes to grasp the genuine science of Marxist economics, for example. Contrast it too with the detailed knowledge one requires in order to understand, say, the class structure and development of the ancient world, or medieval society. No 'self-evident' truths there!
Moreover, because this 'theory' is connected with wider historic or even romantic aims (explored briefly below), such comrades soon become wedded (nay, super-glued) to this doctrine. They become converts.
This subjective response to such an easily accessible 'door of perception' now connects dialectics with the revolutionary ego, for it is this theory that guarantees for each one that their existence, their anger at injustice and all the hard work they devote to the cause are not in vain.
On the contrary, this theory guarantees that the life of each adept is capable of assuming cosmic significance. Dialectics places the militant mind at the very centre of the meaning universe -- for it seems to give such social atoms universal meaning, with a set of eternal 'truths' to prove it. We might even call this the "Ptolemisation of The Militant Mind" [PTMM], since around it now revolves all of reality, put into neat logical order by a few trite a priori theses.
The heady romance of being a revolutionary and an active participant in the cosmic drift of the entire universe now takes over. Indeed, for all the world, these comrades seem to fall in love with it! [This is revealed by the irrational and emotional way they all defend it -- see below.]
But, the revolutionary ego can only ascend to the next blessed level if it becomes the willing vehicle for the tide of history, a slave to the dialectic.
The dialectic now expresses in its earthly incarnation cosmic forces that have governed material reality from the beginning of time and which are thus written into the fabric of nature, like the word of 'God'. A Dialectical Logos, if you will.
Or, at least, that's how the DM-Faithful picture it to themselves (on that, see here).
The dialectic governs the nature of everything in existence, including even the thoughts of these, the 'least' of its servants -- a process otherwise known as "subjective dialectics".
By becoming slaves to the mysterious 'mediations' that emanate forth from the "Totality" (which, like 'God', cannot be defined), through revolutionary 'good works' ("activity") and pure thoughts ("non-Revisionism"), by joining a movement that cannot fail to alter fundamentally the course of human history, the petty-bourgeois ego is 'born again' to a higher purpose, and with a cosmic mandate.
The dialectical novitiate now emerges as a professional revolutionary --, sometimes even with a shiny new name to prove it. But, certainly with a new persona.
The scales now drop from its eyes.
The Hermetic virus has found another victim.
As Max Eastman noted:
"Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it."
This now provides such comrades with well-known social psychological motivations, inducements and reinforcements. These, in turn, help convince these Hermetic victims that:
(1) They as individuals can become key figures in history -- actually helping to determine the next direction social evolution will take.
(2) Their personal existence is not meaningless or for nought.
(3) Whatever caused their alienation from bourgeois society can be rectified, reversed or redeemed through the right sort of acts, thoughts and deeds -- reminiscent of the way that Pelagian forms of 'muscular Christianity' taught that salvation might be had through pure thoughts, good works, and severe treatment of the body. [Which explains all that emphasis on "activity".]
Dialectics now takes on a role analogous to which religion occupies in the minds of the masses, giving cosmic significance and consolation to these, its very own petty-bourgeois victims. Same cause, similar palliative drug.
However, because they have not been recruited from the working class, social atoms like these need an internally-generated unifying force -- one provided by a set of self-certifying ideas -- to bind them to the international workers' movement. As such, they need a Cosmic Whole to make sense of their social fragmentation. This is where the mysterious "Totality" comes into its own -- but, just like 'God', so mysterious is this 'Being' that not a single one of its slaves can tell you of its nature, even though they all gladly bend the knee to its Contradictory Will.
In stark contrast, those involved in collective labour have unity forced on them by well-known, external material forces. These compel workers to combine, they do not persuade them to unite as a result of some theory or other. Workers are thus forced to combine out of material necessity, unity being externally-imposed upon them --, which means, plainly, that this is a material, not an Ideal force.13a
In contrast, once more, in the case of petty-bourgeois revolutionaries, while history has shown that the class war drives workers to unite, it also reveals that it forces these comrades apart. In that case, dialectical theory has to replace material struggle as their sole unifying principle; petty-bourgeois/de-classé Marxists are thus supposedly united by a set of ideas. The forces that operate on them are thus quintessentially individualistic, unquestionably ideal and dangerously centrifugal (as we will soon see). But, without this 'theory', the rationale underlying the romantic idea that these comrades stand right at the philosophical centre of the dialectical universe [PTMM] would disappear.
Moreover, because dialectics provides them with an apparently coherent, but paradigmatically traditional picture of reality (i.e., as an a priori theory, dogmatically imposed on reality), it supplies each one with a unique set of motivating factors. Indeed, because this theory is represented individualistically inside each brain, it further helps divide each 'dialectical disciple' from the next (for reasons explored below).
Dialectics, the theory of universal opposites, goes to work on militant minds and helps turn each into an inveterate sectarian and dedicated faction fiend.
Collective discipline is paramount inside Bolshevik-style parties. But, the strong-willed, petty-bourgeois militant that this style of politics attracts is not used to this form of externally-imposed regimentation (since these comrades are attracted by internally-processed and self-certifying ideas), and so fights soon break out, often over minor, even personal issues.14
Since childhood, these comrades have been socialised think like social atoms, but in a revolutionary party they have to act like social molecules (which is a psychological feat that lies way beyond their class position). Hence, personal disputes are easy to re-configure as political differences (once more, these are differences over ideas), which require and are soon given theoretical justification.
[If you listen to how these comrades argue, they are always complaining that everyone else's analysis suffers from a "lack of politics".]
Unfortunately, these individuals are socially-conditioned egocentrics who, in their own eyes, have a hot-line to dialectical truth (hard-wired into each brain by those self-certifying Hegelian ideas, once more) -- and they cannot help but exploit that fact since this is what defines them as a revolutionary.
In such an environment, driven by ideas, the DM-classics, just like the Bible and other assorted Holy Books, soon come into their own.15
Ruling-class theorists have always made a name for themselves by criticising the ideas of other theorists; this is, after all, part of establishing a reputation, and it is an essential component in promoting a career -- or, indeed, for defending a patron or some other beneficent section of the ruling-class. Petty-bourgeois capitalists have rely on their individual skills to make their way in the face of Big Capital; in like manner, these unfortunate characters have to ply their trade as individual theorists --, but armed only with ideas. And, petty-bourgeois dialecticians trade in similarly soiled goods. So it is that they have brought with them (into Marxism) this divisive, individualist ruling-class trait. In the market for 'Marxist' ideas, often those with the best critical and inventive skills float to the top. [On this, see this quotation from Kautsky which Lenin used.]
The fact that such individuals have very strong characters (otherwise they'd not survive) merely compounds these problems. In order to make their name, and advance their 'revolutionary careers', it becomes important that they disagree with every other theorist, which they then almost invariably proceed to do. And, what better theory could there be that is capable of initiating endless disputation than one that is as contradictory and incomprehensible as 'Materialist Dialectics' is? Or, indeed, one that informs all who fall under its hypnotic spell that progress (even in ideas) may only be had through "internal contradiction"?
In that case, it becomes almost a mortal sin not to follow the dictates of this divisive gospel. After all, if you "understand dialectics", you just have to start contradicting everyone.
For these social atoms, the drive to impose one's own views on others also becomes irresistible. Doctrinal control (i.e., the control of all those inner, privatised ideas lodged in every other atomised party skull) now acts as a surrogate for external control by material forces.
Indeed, this desire to control has even been given the grandiloquent name: "democratic centralism" -- a nice 'contradiction-in-terms' for you to ponder.16
But, just as traditional religionists soon discovered, mind-control like this is far easier to secure if appeal is made to impenetrably mysterious doctrines that no one understands, but which all must accept and which all must repeat constantly to dull the critical faculties.
Hence, because the party cannot reproduce the class struggle inside itself, and thus force materialist unity on its cadres externally, it can only control political thought internally (in each head) by turning it into a mind-numbing mantra, insisting on doctrinal purity, and then accusing all those who do not conform to such ideal standards of not "understanding" dialectics.
In this milieu, an authoritarian personality-form soon emerges to enforce ideological orthodoxy (disguised as part of an endeavour to keep faith with "tradition", which is, un-coincidentally, a noxious trait shared by all known religions). This now becomes a watch-word to test the doctrinal purity of party members -- especially those who might stray too far from the narrow path which alone leads the select few toward revolutionary salvation.17
This naturally leads to more disputes and thus more splits.
[History has indeed shown that the inter-atomic forces of repulsion that exist between dialectically-distracted comrades far out-weighs their frequent calls for unity, and they dominate the entire movement.]
All this explains why, to each DM-acolyte, the dialectic is so personal, and so intimately their own possession, and why you can almost feel their hurt when it is comprehensively trashed, as it has been here.
Hence, any attack on this 'precious jewel' is an attack on the revolutionary ego itself, and must be resisted with all the bile at its command.
And that explains, too, all the abuse you will get if you think to challenge the dialectical doctrines of a single one of these Hermetic Head Cases.
Trotsky Gets His Priorities 'Right'
George Novack records the following meeting with Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937:
"[O]ur discussion glided into the subject of philosophy.... We talked about the best ways of studying dialectical materialism, about Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and about the theoretical backwardness of American radicalism. Trotsky brought forward the name of Max Eastman, who in various works had polemicized against dialectics as a worthless idealist hangover from the Hegelian heritage of Marxism.
"He became tense and agitated. 'Upon going back to the States,' he urged, 'you comrades must at once take up the struggle against Eastman's distortion and repudiation of dialectical materialism. There is nothing more important than this….'
"I was somewhat surprised at the vehemence of his argumentation on this matter at such a moment. As the principal defendant in absentia in the Moscow trials, and because of the dramatic circumstances of his voyage in exile, Trotsky then stood in the centre of international attention. He was fighting for his reputation, liberty, and life against the powerful government of Stalin, bent on his defamation and death. After having been imprisoned and gagged for months by the Norwegian authorities, he had been kept incommunicado for weeks aboard their tanker.
"Yet on the first day after reunion with his cothinkers, he spent more than an hour explaining how important it was for a Marxist movement to have a correct philosophical method and to defend dialectical materialism against its opponents!" [Novack (1978), pp.169-70. Bold emphases added. Spelling changed to conform to UK English.]18
Given the content of this Essay -- and Marx's own words --, Trotsky's semi-religious fervour, his emotional attachment to the dialectic, and his irrationalism become much easier to understand.
Stalin Gets His Priorities 'Right', Too!
For all their differences, Trotsky and Stalin both loved the 'dialectic'.
Ethan Pollock records a revealing incident in the Kremlin just after the end of World War Two:
"In late December 1946 Joseph Stalin called a meeting of high-level Communist Party personnel.... The opening salvos of the Cold War had already been launched. Earlier in the year Winston Churchill had warned of an iron curtain dividing Europe. Disputes about the political future of Germany, the presence of Soviet troops in Iran, and proposals to control atomic weapons had all contributed to growing tensions between the United States and the USSR. Inside the Soviet Union the devastating effects of the Second World War were painfully obvious: cities remained bombed out and unreconstructed; famine laid waste to the countryside, with millions dying of starvation and many millions more malnourished. All this makes one of the agenda items for the Kremlin meeting surprising: Stalin wanted to discuss the recent prizewinning book History of Western European Philosophy [by Georgii Aleksandrov -- RL]. [Pollock (2006), p.15. Bold emphasis added.]
Pollock then outlines the problems Aleksandrov had experienced over his interpretation of the foreign (i.e., German) roots of DM in an earlier work, and how he had been criticised for not emphasising the "reactionary and bourgeois" nature of the work of German Philosophers like Kant, Fichte and Hegel --, in view of the fight against Fascism (when, of course, during the Hitler-Stalin pact a few years earlier, the opposite line had been peddled). Pollock also describes the detailed and lengthy discussions the Central Committee devoted to Aleksandrov's previous work years earlier at the height of the war against the Nazis!
It is revealing, therefore, to note that Stalin and his henchmen considered DM to be so important that other more pressing matters could be shelved or delayed in order to make way for discussion about it. In this, of course, Stalin was in total agreement with Trotsky and other leading Marxists.
Once more, Marx's comments above make abundantly clear why this is so.
Bukharin Makes His Peace With The Dialectical Deity
We can see something similar occurring in the case of Nikolai Bukharin. Anyone who reads Philosophical Arabesques [Bukharin (2005)] will be struck by the semi-religious fervour with which he defends dialectics. In view of Bukharin's serious predicament, this is hardly surprising. But it is nonetheless revealing, since it confirms much of the above: this theory holds the dialectical personality together even in the face of death.
The old saying, "There are no atheists in a foxhole", may be incorrect, but it looks like there might not have been many anti-dialecticians in the Lubyanka waiting on Stalin's mercy. Even hard-headed dialecticians need some form of consolation.
As Helena Sheehan notes in her introduction:
"Perhaps the most remarkable thing about his text is that it was written at all. Condemned not by an enemy but by his own comrades, seeing what had been so magnificently created being so catastrophically destroyed, undergoing shattering interrogations, how was he not totally debilitated by despair? Where did this author get the strength, the composure, the faith in the future that was necessary to write this treatise of Philosophy, this passionate defense of the intellectual tradition of Marxism and the political project of socialist construction?
"Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a tragic true believer...." [Sheehan (2005), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added.]
Once again, Marx, I think, had the answer:
"Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.... Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification....
"...Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions...." [Bold emphases added.]
The fact that this doomed comrade chose to spend his last weeks and days expounding and defending this Hermetic theory (albeit, one that had been given a bogus materialist flip) -- pleading with Stalin not to destroy this work --, just about says it all.
Lack Of Power Corrupts
Dialectical Druggies Snort The Correct 'Line'
Lord Acton was wrong when he said:
"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
This gets things completely the wrong way round. As Tony Cliff remarked (in a talk), it is lack of power that corrupts. It corrupts the working class, and that in turn allows the members of the ruling-class to get away with whatever they can, thus corrupting them in return.
Similarly, a passive working class allows revolutionaries (or, rather, their 'leaders') to get up to all kinds of dialectical mischief. So the latter become corrupted, too.
Among the many different forms this corruption takes is a fondness for the lack of any sort of democratic control (on such 'leaders').
To this end, small now becomes beautiful -- nay highly desirable. This is because it allows for maximum thought-control. Plainly, in small parties, the 'purity' of the 'revolutionary tradition' is easier to enforce.
Sectarianism is thus an intrinsic feature of the political and organisational practice of socially-engineered atoms such as these.
Indeed, this is what Hal Draper had to say about the situation in America thirty odd years ago:
"American socialism today has hit a new low in terms of sect fragmentation. There are more sects going through their gyrations at this moment than have ever existed in all previous periods in this country taken together. And the fragments are still fissioning, down to the sub-microscopic level. Politically speaking, their average has dropped from the comic-opera plane to the comic-book grade. Where the esoteric sects (mainly Trotskyist splinters) of the 1930s tended toward a sort of super sophistication in Marxism and futility in practice, there is a gaggle of grouplets now (mainly Maoist-Castroite) characterized by amnesia regarding the Marxist tradition, ignorance of the socialist experience, and extreme primitivism. The road to an American socialist movement surely lies over the debris, or around the rotting off-shoots of, this fetid jungle of sects." [Quoted from here.]
The aforementioned Authoritarian Personality ensures that democratic accountability is at best merely formal, soon becoming an early casualty in this polluted backwater of the class war. Democracy is, after all, an external constraint, favoured by the majority for obvious reasons, but equally feared by this Idealist minority, and for the same reasons.
In petty-bourgeois, dialectically-dominated parties, democracy threatens the internally-enforced control that the professional revolutionary invariably prefers.
This is, after all, why Capitalists themselves need the state to impose bourgeois rule on otherwise democratic workers (and why they also need to call upon various idealist nostrums to convince the recalcitrant that all this is 'for their benefit'). It is also why DIMs need the "centralist", but not the "democratic" part of democratic centralism, and why the latter is dispensed with so readily and so often.
Naturally, these political tumours do not grow independently of external forces. As noted above, the malignant features of Dialectical Dementia tend to dominate when the materialist counter-weight provided by the working class is much more attenuated, or when it is totally absent (in periods of defeat or "downturn"). This is, of course, exactly when Dialectical Druggies tend to 're-discover' this 'theory', and when all of them attempt to snort along the same correct party line.19
Small wonder then that these victims cling on to 'Materialist Dialectics' like drunks do to lampposts -- just like religionists cling on to their opiates.
'Materialist Dialectics' now dominates and shapes the personal and party identity of such comrades. Any attack on this sacred doctrine is an attack not just on the glue that holds each one of them together, but on the glue that holds the party and the whole Marxist "tradition" together.19a
The implication of all this is that in their own eyes these professional (petty-bourgeois) revolutionaries are special; they live -- no they embody -- the revolution. They have caught the tide of history, they must keep the faith. Commitment to the revolution on these terms now creates militants who, for all the world, appear to suffer from the dialectical equivalent of a personality disorder -- chief among which is the Leader Complex.
All this helps explain why, among dialecticians, disagreements become so personal so quickly, and why factionalism is so rife -- and why strong characters, like Ted Grant, Gerry Healy, Michael Pablo, Tony Cliff, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Lambert, and host of others, formed splits and divisions almost from the get-go.
As noted above, fragmentation is now virtually synonymous with DIM itself (witness the well-aimed jokes in Monty Python's Life of Brian about the Judean People's Front, etc.).
DIMs soon become Militant Martinets, ostracising or expelling anyone who fails to tow the 'correct line'. Often these individuals have very powerful personalities, something they can use to good effect in the small ponds they invariably patrol and clearly prefer. Expulsions, splits and bans thus keep such grouplets small, and thus easier to control.
The petty-bourgeois revolutionary ego thus helps keeps our movement fragmented, small, insular and ineffectual --, in preference to its being democratic, outward-looking and effective.
Another ironic dialectical inversion for you to ponder.
The Road To Dialectical Damascus
Each dialectical ego imagines that it alone has direct access to the exact meaning of the dialectic, thus displaying the sort of individualism that mirrors petty-bourgeois Protestantism, where believers have to find their own way to 'God' via the Bible and endless disputation. This accounts for the intense and interminable debates over vacuous Hegelian concepts (again, rather like those that exercised the medieval schoolmen), whether this or that thesis is "abstract", "positivist", or "one-sided", or something else.20 This, of course, helps explain why each supplicant thinks that no one else "understands" the dialectic.
[Since no one does understand this mystical theory (on that see Essay Nine Part One), that is a very easy claim to make, and one which is impossible to refute.]
Thus, every opponent is branded in the same way (on this see below, and Note 19a): all fail to "understand" the dialectic -- that is, all except the blessed soul that made that claim!
It is almost as if such comrades had received a personal visit from the Self-Developing Idea itself. Indeed, the Road to Damascus and the Road to Dialectics have more in common than just a capital "D".
Defeat And Dialectical Druggies
In defeat, such comrades turn once more to Dialectical Methadone to insulate their minds from reality and constant failure. And by all accounts this opiate does an excellent job. Hence, anyone attempting to argue with any of these Dialectical Druggies would be far better occupied head-butting a Billy-goat for all the good it will do. [That allegation is easily confirmed; check this out.]
However, narcoleptic stupor of this level of intensity -- and the lack of clarity required to maintain it -- only helps engineer yet more splits and then defeats, thus creating the need for another sizeable hit. And so the Dialectical Merry-go-round lumbers on into this new millennium.
No wonder Marxism is to success what religion is to peace on earth.
DM has thus infected our movement at every level, exacerbating sectarianism, factionalism, exclusivism, unreasonableness, dismissive haughtiness (this endearing quality displayed most notably by the High Church Faction), extreme dogmatism (bordering, it seems, on clinical paranoia in some cases), all topped with layers of abuse, (peppered with delightful phrases like "rant", "diatribe", "screed", "sh*t", "cr*p", and worse), which dialectical vices have introduced into each and every tiny sectlet an open and implacable hatred of practically every other sectlet, and in some cases, every other comrade -- especially those who dare to question this sacred creed.
If faults such as these were to afflict an individual, they would provide sufficient grounds for sectioning under various mental health acts. Unsurprisingly, the result of all this is that the ruling-class do not need to divide us in order to help consolidate their rule; we are quite capable of making a first-rate job of that ourselves.
Everyone in the movement is painfully aware of this predicament (some even joke about it -- again, along Monty Python lines!); others excuse it or explain it away with yet more 'dialectics'.21
But, no one confronts it at its poisonous source in the class origins of the petty-bourgeois personality with its fondness the divisive doctrines of latter-day Hermeticism.
The Socialist Soothsayer
If Doctrinaire Marxism is the final outcome of this mystical creed, it needs a Guru to interpret it aright, rationalise the constant failures and justify the regular splits -- and, of course, to create yet more of the same.
Enter the cult of the personality with all its petty, nit-picking, small-minded, little pond megalomania. Enter the "Leader" who knows all, reveals all, expels all (and in notorious cases, kills all): the Dialectical Magus.
As observers of religious cults have noted, even the most mundane and banal of statements put out by such leaders are treated with inordinate respect, and a level of deference that would shame orthodox Roman Catholics -- almost as if they had come down from off the mountain itself and were thus possessed of profound mystical significance.
Witness then the inordinate respect and sickening awe shown for the dialectical meanderings of Mao or Stalin -- here is Lin Biao on Mao, in 1966:
"Chairman Mao is a genius, everything the Chairman says is truly great; one of the Chairman's words will override the meaning of ten thousands of ours." [Quoted from here.]
Here Stalin is praised to the rafters, and beyond:
"Thank you, Stalin. Thank you because I am joyful. Thank you because I am well. No matter how old I become, I shall never forget how we received Stalin two days ago. Centuries will pass, and the generations still to come will regard us as the happiest of mortals, as the most fortunate of men, because we lived in the century of centuries, because we were privileged to see Stalin, our inspired leader. Yes, and we regard ourselves as the happiest of mortals because we are the contemporaries of a man who never had an equal in world history.
"The men of all ages will call on thy name, which is strong, beautiful, wise and marvellous. Thy name is engraven on every factory, every machine, every place on the earth, and in the hearts of all men.
"Every time I have found myself in his presence I have been subjugated by his strength, his charm, his grandeur. I have experienced a great desire to sing, to cry out, to shout with joy and happiness. And now see me -- me! -- on the same platform where the Great Stalin stood a year ago. In what country, in what part of the world could such a thing happen.
"I write books. I am an author. All thanks to thee, O great educator, Stalin. I love a young woman with a renewed love and shall perpetuate myself in my children -- all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. I shall be eternally happy and joyous, all thanks to thee, great educator, Stalin. Everything belongs to thee, chief of our great country. And when the woman I love presents me with a child the first word it shall utter will be: Stalin.
"O great Stalin, O leader of
Thou who broughtest man to birth.
Thou who fructifies the earth,
Thou who restorest to centuries,
Thou who makest bloom the spring,
Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords...
Thou, splendour of my spring, O thou,
Sun reflected by millions of hearts."
Did Hitler ever receive such praise?
And few need to be reminded of the cult of Kim-II-sung, Kim-Jong-iI and Enver Hoxha. Note, too, the adulation of comrade Healy (by prominent members of the old WRP). In fact, Healy was well-known for fomenting strife among comrades (with added violence, so we are told) to accentuate the 'contradictions' in his 'Party' --, on 'sound' dialectical grounds. Witness also the wholly un-merited and on-going worship of that mediocrity, Bob Avakian.22
Compare this with Marx's own stated attitude:
"Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves -- originating from various countries -- to accord me public honour, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity, nor did I ever reply to them, save with an occasional snub. When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules. (Lassalle subsequently operated in the reverse direction.)" [MECW, 45, p.288, Marx to Wilhem Blos, 10/11/1877.]
This phenomenon also helps account for the personal and organisation corruption revolutionary politics has witnessed over the years (ranging from Mao's use of female comrades to the same with respect to Healy -- but there are many other examples), which is partly the result of the noxious effect this doctrine has had on otherwise radical minds.
How else could one internally rationalise the pragmatic contradiction between the abuse of female comrades and a formal commitment to women's liberation, except by means of this contradictory theory: DM?23
In this way, we have seen Marxism replicate much of the abuse -- and most of sectarianism -- which is found in all forms of religion. And no wonder: both were spawned by similar alienated patterns of ruling-class thought and social atomisation --, compounded, of course, by a cultic mentality, further aggravated by a divisive Hermetic 'theory' that rationalises the lot!
Social Psychology Does Not Apply To Dialecticians
As far as the DM-'faithful' are concerned, all this will fail to go even in one ear, let alone straight out through the other. This is because they refuse to accept that any of the pressures that bear down on the rest of us ordinary humans could possibly have any effect them, the DM-elect. In that case, social psychology does not apply to such demi-gods.
However, dialecticians are quite happy to reduce their opponents' ideas to their class origins; indeed they do this all the time. In contrast, any attempt to do the same with respect to their own philosophical ideas --, which trace the fondness leading dialecticians have for Philosophy back to the class origin and class position of these individuals --, is rejected out-of-hand as "crude reductionism"!
Indeed, Lenin was quite happy to 'reduce' his opponents' politics to their class position:
"In a word, Comrade Martov's formula will either remain a dead letter, an empty phrase, or it will be of benefit mainly and almost exclusively to 'intellectuals who are thoroughly imbued with bourgeois individualism' and do not wish to join an organisation. In words, Martov's formulation defends the interests of the broad strata of the proletariat, but in fact it serves the interests of the bourgeois intellectuals, who fight shy of proletarian discipline and organisation. No one will venture to deny that the intelligentsia, as a special stratum of modern capitalist society, is characterised, by and large, precisely by individualism and incapacity for discipline and organisation (cf., for example, Kautsky's well-known articles on the intelligentsia). This, incidentally, is a feature which unfavourably distinguishes this social stratum from the proletariat; it is one of the reasons for the flabbiness and instability of the intellectual, which the proletariat so often feels; and this trait of the intelligentsia is intimately bound up with its customary mode of life, its mode of earning a livelihood, which in a great many respects approximates to the petty-bourgeois mode of existence (working in isolation or in very small groups, etc.). Nor is it fortuitous, lastly, that the defenders of Comrade Martov's formulation were the ones who had to cite the example of professors and high school students! It was not champions of a broad proletarian struggle who, in the controversy over Paragraph 1, took the field against champions of a radically conspiratorial organisation, as Comrades Martynov and Axelrod thought, but the supporters of bourgeois-intellectual individualism who clashed with the supporters of proletarian organisation and discipline." [Lenin (1947), pp.66-67. Bold emphasis added.]
And later on, quoting Kautsky on the social psychology of his opponents, Lenin argued:
"One cannot help recalling in this connection the brilliant social and psychological characterisation of this latter quality recently given by Karl Kautsky. The Social Democratic parties of different countries suffer not infrequently nowadays from similar maladies, and it would be very, very useful for us to learn from more experienced comrades the correct diagnosis and the correct cure. Karl Kautsky's characterisation of certain intellectuals will therefore be only a seeming digression from our theme.
'The problem...that again interests us so keenly today is the antagonism between the intelligentsia and the proletariat. My colleagues [Kautsky is himself an intellectual, a writer and editor] will mostly be indignant that I admit this antagonism. But it actually exists, and, as in other cases, it would be the most inexpedient tactics to try to overcome the fact by denying it. This antagonism is a social one, it relates to classes, not to individuals. The individual intellectual, like the individual capitalist, may identify himself with the proletariat in its class struggle. When he does, he changes his character too. It is not this type of intellectual, who is still an exception among his class, that we shall mainly speak of in what follows. Unless otherwise stated, I shall use the word intellectual to mean only the common run of intellectual who takes the stand of bourgeois society, and who is characteristic of the intelligentsia as a class. This class stands in a certain antagonism to the proletariat.
'This antagonism differs, however, from the antagonism between labour and capital. The intellectual is not a capitalist. True, his standard of life is bourgeois, and he must maintain it if he is not to become a pauper; but at the same time he is compelled to sell the product of his labour, and often his labour-power, and is himself often enough exploited and humiliated by the capitalist. Hence the intellectual does not stand in any economic antagonism to the proletariat. But his status of life and his conditions of labour are not proletarian, and this gives rise to a certain antagonism in sentiments and ideas.
'...Quite different is the case of the intellectual. He does not fight by means of power, but by argument. His weapons are his personal knowledge, his personal ability, his personal convictions. He can attain to any position at all only through his personal qualities. Hence the freest play for his individuality seems to him the prime condition for successful activity. It is only with difficulty that he submits to being a part subordinate to a whole, and then only from necessity, not from inclination. He recognises the need of discipline only for the mass, not for the elect minds. And of course he counts himself among the latter....
'...The typical intellectual à la Stockmann regards a "compact majority" as a monster that must be overthrown....'
"Just such feeble whining of intellectuals who happened to find themselves in the minority, and nothing more, was the refusal of Martov and his friends to be named for office merely because the old circle had not been endorsed, as were their complaints of a state of siege and emergency laws 'against particular groups', which Martov cared nothing about when Yuzhny Rabochy and Rabocheye Dyelo were dissolved, but only came to care about when his group was dissolved.
"Just such feeble whining of intellectuals who happened to find themselves in the minority was that endless torrent of complaints, reproaches, hints, accusations, slanders, and insinuations regarding the 'compact majority' which was started by Martov and which poured out in such a flood at our Party Congress (and even more so after).
"The minority bitterly complained of the 'false accusation of opportunism'. Well, it had to do something to conceal the unpleasant fact that it was opportunists, who in most cases had followed the anti-Iskra-ists—and partly these anti-Iskra-ists themselves -- that made up the compact minority, seizing with both hands on the championship of the circle spirit in Party institutions, opportunism in arguments, philistinism in Party affairs, and the instability and wishy-washiness of the intellectual." [Ibid., pp.121-24. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
In that case, for dialecticians like Lenin, it is quite alright to 'reduce' one's enemies' and opponents' ideas to their class position, but not one's own.
If that is so, the only conclusion possible is that it must be a sheer coincidence that revolutionary parties the world over have replicated, time and again, practically every single fault and foible that afflicts the god-botherers among us -- even down to their reliance on an obscure book about an invisible 'Being' (i.e., Hegel's Logic).
So, while all these faults and foibles have well-known material causes when they descend upon the superstitious, they apparently have no cause whatsoever when they similarly grace the sanctified lives of our very own Dialectical Saints. These faults and foibles can thus safely be ignored, never spoken about in polite company.
Until, that is, such comrades are caught with their dialectical pants down -- and even then this can be brushed aside as yet more "bourgeois propaganda".
Unsurprisingly, this just means that the Dialectical Merry-go-round can take another spin across the flatlands of failure, its participants ever more convinced of their semi-divine infallibility.
In order to boost further its hypnotic power, DM must claim to be able to explain everything (which is indeed precisely what the DM-classicists avow; on this, see Essay Two) -- even if it never actually delivers a single comprehensible thesis, predicts not one novel fact and has no discernible practical applications.
To that end, we have the insistence on "Totality" (which is left conveniently undefined, if not indefinable), on "Infinities" and on assorted "Absolutes" (both of which are left theologically obscure).
'Materialist Dialectics' must not only be capable of weathering defeat, it must be able to 'foresee' future victories in each set-back -- so, we have UOs everywhere, all under the watchful eye of the NON. Since that 'Law' alleges that everything inevitably turns into its opposite, failure (that is, if it is ever acknowledged) cannot help but turn into success -- one day.24
[UO = Unity of Opposites; NON = Negation of the Negation; DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Dialectical Marxist.]
'Materialist Dialectics' must therefore be able to re-configure each defeat as a 'victory waiting in the wings'. Hence, and to that end, we are told that appearances "contradict" underlying "essences", meaning that the long-term failure of DIM can be ignored (since it is not really real, or it can be blamed on anything but the theory that has delivered this comforting message to the unfortunates whose brains it has colonised.
DM must therefore transcend the limitations of ordinary, 'formal thinking', which is one reason why the attainment of 'absolute truth' has to be placed at the end of an infinite asymptotic meander, thus insulating it from the present and hence from easy disconfirmation. This also helps explains why DM-fans ignore awkward facts that do not fit the Ideal picture Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky (etc.) have painted for them.
[On all these, see Essays Two through Eleven Part Two. On the lengths to which dialecticians will go to ignore things they cannot explain, or have never even thought about, see the links indexed here.]
In addition, 'Materialist Dialectics' must encourage a level of tactical flexibility that places it way beyond the normal canons of reason and of reasonableness, enabling its more skilled adepts to change direction (anti-democratically, opportunistically, and/or inconsistently) at the drop of a negative particle. To that end, regular appeals are made to the contradictions this theory tells us can be found everywhere --, and that includes this theory, too! [Exactly how dialecticians have put this word to misuse, see below.]
Moreover, this theory must lie way beyond all possible doubt, so that if anyone attempts to question it they can be ignored on the grounds that they do not "understand" dialectics --, which is, once more, a pretty safe accusation to make since no one understands dialectics! [On this, see Part One of this Essay.]
If there is no settled view of DM (or if it is couched in sufficiently equivocal terms, and left in that state for generations, frozen in a nineteenth century time-warp), anyone who disagrees with the latest line can be accused of "deviation" or "revisionism", and hence of betraying Marxism.
Even better: this theory must be impossible to refute. This is a neat, but convenient implication of the Hegelian dialectic we have already met, where every attempt to oppose it or reveal its contradictions it is viewed further proof of its correctness, and yet more grist to the Hermetic mill. Hence, any putative 'refutation' merely doubles up and paradoxically returns as confirmation of a system that glories in just such contradictions. The more heads you cut off this Hydra, the more it grows.25
Dialectics thus cannot disappoint, nor can it fail its acolytes since, according to another of its tenets, humanity will never actually possess the complete picture of anything (not even of a common-or-garden glass tumbler!), let alone everything. So, like the will of God, the DM-Absolute (the "Totality") moves ever onward, and in mysterious ways, its twists and turns capable of being 'fully comprehended' only by our "glorious" leaders (who, up to now have found themselves incapable of explaining it to a living soul).
Consequently, what might at first sight appear to be an engagingly modest admission (i.e., that no one knows the final truth about anything, and that all theories are "partially true", etc., etc.), soon flips and becomes its opposite. It is transformed into a stick with which to beat the opposition. Hence, if no one knows the full-truth, then neither does an erstwhile critic. Only the Party (with its Doctors of Dialectics) can be relied on to interpret this infinitely plastic theory aright -- by appealing, naturally, to "tradition" and authority.25a
Thus is created the cult of the Central Committee; on that is built the cult of the individual, the Dialectical Guru. With that arrives the accompanying doctrine that only a few (oracular) individuals (or committees) are to be seen as fountains of truth, and can be quoted as such, and are quoted as such, over and over again to confound the infidels.25b
In such a topsy-turvy world of silicate-loving, 'dialectical ostriches', the one with his/her head buried deepest in the Sahara is deemed first-rate leader material.26
However, the spurious superiority of 'Materialist Dialectics' over 'ordinary consciousness' is secured by means of several exclusivising tricks: the use of obscure jargon that no one understands, or seems able to explain (without the use of even more jargon, of equal prolixity); the appeal to authority (sometimes called the "real Marxist tradition");27 the use of sacred DM-texts (of a level of intelligibility beyond the capacity of mortal mind), all linked to an orthodox interpretative tradition, now ossified in constantly recycled creeds -- the aforementioned Dialectical Mantra.28
To that end, as we have seen, 'Materialist Dialectics' must harmonise at the deepest level with other alien-class ideas, since it has to emphasise the continuity and progress of human knowledge "through contradiction". In that case, there must be an IED between 'Materialist Dialectics' and Metaphysics, or there could be no such continuity. This helps explain why these erstwhile radicals are so disappointingly conservative when it comes to philosophy.
[IED = Identity in Difference (i.e., 'Improvised Explanatory Device').]
In that case, in the eyes of the faithful, the provable link that exists between 'Materialist Dialectics' and the mystical thought of previous generations does not in fact count against it -- as one would imagine ought to be the case with any theory that proudly proclaims its materialist credentials.
Hence, the fact that virtually all DM-theses find echo in most forms of mystical thought is paradoxically regarded as one of its strengths, not one of its weaknesses.29
This theory must also maintain an insistence that in spite of a formal acceptance of the Heraclitean Flux, its core ideas should remain hermetically sealed against change -- and so they are. In that case, over the last century, there has been so little innovation in dialectics. [This allegation will be substantiated in a later Essay.]
Indeed, those with their heads buried in it, cannot afford a theory that shifts with the Heraclitean sands.
Furthermore, the theory must be the source of boundless optimism, so that despite numerous defeats, and in spite of the way things might seem to those lost in the mists of "commonsense" and "formal thinking", the NON guarantees that the underlying, fundamental tendencies at work in nature and history favour the dialectical cause -- even if they sometimes need hurrying along with human intervention.29a
Dialectical Militants will indeed inherit the earth one day; they just have to believe intently enough in Negativity.30
DM has thus served as a reliable source of reassurance for generations of party cadres, telling them that, despite appearances to the contrary, reality is in essence the opposite of the way it might seem, and that it is just as it is depicted in DM -- the tide of history is flowing their way.
Dialectics provides all of the faithful with some of the above, and some of the faithful with all of it. This helps explain its universal acceptance, its longevity, and the almost neurotic loyalty it engenders in those whose brains it has colonised.
This also helps account for the fact that for over a hundred years adherence to DM has become the test of orthodoxy within the movement -- and why this theory will never be abandoned.
DM-fans would rather die with their heads buried in these obviously Parmenidean Sands than face Heraclitean reality with even a smidgen of radical courage -- or honesty.
A Curious Anomaly
However, this does help explain a rather curious anomaly: as the working-class daily grows bigger, the influence that Dialectical Marxism has on it seems to dwindle all the more.
Parallel to this, but not unrelated to it, our movement continues to splinter, and thus 'enjoys' steadily decreasing influence on the class struggle. Moreover, the fact that workers ignore our movement en masse means that the materialist counter-weight they could bring with them into Marxism in fact has no influence precisely where it might count: on our ideas.
The dearth of active socialist workers means that the unifying force of the class struggle by-passes the revolutionary movement, which, because it is dominated by petty-bourgeois individuals, does little other than fragment.
So Marxist Idealism lumbers on as its theorists think of new ways to make these awkward facts disappear.
DM And De-Classé Marxists
The class origin of the majority of professional revolutionaries (who for all or most of their lives do not share the lives and struggles of ordinary workers) means that dialectics strengthens their sense of exclusivity. Indeed, that is why this theory appeals to petty-bourgeois and de-classé revolutionaries -- most of whom populate the higher echelons of our movement and thus control its ideas.
Only if Marxists become aware of this is there any hope that the movement can extricate itself from this ideological morass.
Unfortunately, as is the case with other forms of drug addiction, clarity of vision is the last thing one can expect of those with a serious dialectical-opiate dependency problem. As these Essays have shown, and as experience confirms, this is indeed what we find.
High Church -- Low Church
There are in fact two main types of dialectician (which groups can, of course, overlap at the edges):
(1) Low Church Dialecticians [LCDs]: Comrades in this category cleave to the original, unvarnished truth laid down in the sacred DM-texts (written by Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, or Mao). These simple souls are highly proficient at quoting endless passages from the holy books as an answer to everything and anything, just like the faithful who bow to the East or who fill the gospel halls around the world. Their unquestioning faith is as impressive as it is un-Marxist.
They may be naive, but they are at least consistently so.
[FL = Formal Logic.]
In general, LCDs are blithely ignorant of FL. Now, on its own this is no hanging matter. However, such self-inflicted and woeful ignorance does not stop them from pontificating about FL, or from regaling us with its alleged limitations -- charges based on ideas they unwisely copied from Hegel, surely the George W Bush of Logic.
Figure Three: Advanced Logic
Class At Camp Hegel
LCDs are, by-and-large, active revolutionaries, committed to 'building the party'. Alas, they have in fact conspired to do the exact opposite, helping to keep parties small because of the countless splits and expulsions they engineer. Here then is a rather fitting pragmatic contradiction that the 'Dialectical Deity' has visited upon these the least of its slaves.
Of course, these individuals cannot see the irony in all this (even when it is pointed out to them -- I know, I have lost count of the number of times I have tried!), since they too have not taken the lens caps off.
This has meant that despite the fact that every last one of these sad individuals continually strives to "build the party", and urges others to do likewise, few revolutionary groups can boast membership roles that rise much above the risible. In fact, all we seem to have witnessed since WW2 is the creation of more and more fragmented sects -- but still no mass movement. [Anyone who doubts this should look here, here, here and here. Or now, here.]
Has a single one of these individuals made this connection (which, for comrades who claim that everything is inter-linked, should be an easy connection to spot, one would think)?
Over and above blaming everyone and everything else for this sorry state of affairs -- are you kidding!?
The long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory (i.e., 'Materialist Dialectics') are the only two things in the entire universe that are not interconnected, it seems.
(2) High Church Dialecticians [HCDs]: These Marxists are in general openly contemptuous of the 'sophomoric ideas' found in most of the DM-classics (even though many of them seem to have a fondness for Engels's first 'Law').
More often than not, HCDs reject the idea that the dialectic operates in nature, sometimes inconsistently using Engels's first 'Law' to justify this 'leap' (which tactic allows them to claim that human history and development are unique), just as they are equally dismissive of these simple LCD souls for their adherence to every last word in the classics.31
[Anyone who knows about High Church Anglicanism will know exactly of what I speak.]
HCDs are mercifully above such crudities; they prefer the mother lode -- direct from Hegel, Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks and/or the writings of assorted latter day Hermeticists like Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Tony Smith, Tom Sekine, Robert Albritton, Chris Arthur, Bertell Ollman, or Slavoj Zizek --, sometimes cut with a few kilos of hardcore jargon drawn straight from that intellectual cocaine-den otherwise known as French Philosophy, or, perhaps, from that hot-bed of systematic confusion: the Frankfurt School.
Or, even worse, that haven of intellectual heroin: the work of Heidegger.
HCDs are generally, but not exclusively, academic. Tortured prose is their forte, and pointless existence is their punishment.
Figure Four: The Sisyphus College Recruitment Poster --
Aimed At HCDs Seeking A More Useful Existence
At least LCDs try to pretend that their ideas are relevant to the class struggle.
High Church dialectics, in contrast, is just good for the CV.
[And clearly, the latter sort of dialectics is not an "abomination" for that section of the bourgeoisie that administers Colleges and Universities.]
Both factions are, however, well-stocked with conservative-minded comrades, happy in their own small way to copy the a priori thought-forms of two-and-a-half millennia of boss-class theory, seldom pausing to give any thought to the implications of such easily won knowledge. If knowledge of the world is a priori, and based solely on armchair speculation, reality must indeed be Ideal.
[It is worth adding, though, that there are noted exceptions to these sweeping generalisations -- some academic Marxists do actively engage with the class struggle; the point is that very little of their 'high theory' is at all relevant to that struggle.]
In The Lurch
This has meant that the baleful influence of Hegelian Hermeticism becomes important at key historical junctures (i.e., those involving defeat or major set-back), since it acts as a materialist-sounding alternative to mainstream traditional philosophical theory.
Dialectics (especially those parts that have been infected with the HCD-strain) thus taps into thought-forms that have dominated intellectual life for 2500 years -- i.e., those that define the boundaries of theoretical 'acceptability', and thus those which are centred around a priori thesis-mongering and the invention of increasingly baroque, dogmatic theories.
Hence, because of its thoroughly traditional nature, DM is able to appeal to the closet "god-builders" and dialectical mystics that revolutionary politics seems to attract -- and who, alas, appear to congregate mostly at the top of this ever-growing pile of long-term failure.
Substitutionism Once More
Another unanswered question is this: how is it even conceivable that the vast majority of revolutionaries have adopted this allegedly alien-class ideology? At first sight, it seems impossible to believe that leading socialists like Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky -- comrades with impeccable revolutionary credentials -- could have maintained a consistent socialist stance if the account of the origin and nature of 'Materialist Dialectics' given in these Essays is correct. An ideological compromise of this order of magnitude would surely have had major, if not disastrous effects on revolutionary practice; indeed, it would have rendered it totally ineffectual.
In fact, and contrary to the ideas advanced at this site, it could be argued that 'Materialist Dialectics' has actually been successfully tested in practice for well over a hundred and forty years.
These considerations alone seems to make the claims at this site impossible to accept.
Or so it could be maintained.
DM And Revolutionary Practice
However, in spite of constant claims to the contrary, DM in fact has no practical consequences (other than the negative ones outlined above, and again below).
This does not mean that revolutionaries haven't continually toyed with DM-phraseology in some of their tactical deliberations. Certainly, DM-theorists can talk the talk; they are indeed experts jargonisers.
But, as we will see, it's impossible for them to walk the walk.
Admittedly, books outlining revolutionary theory are packed with claims that purport to show that dialectics has played a central role Marxist politics since its inception. But, what revolutionaries might claim they have put into practice and what they are actually capable of doing, thinking or acting upon is an entirely different matter.
The Essays posted at this site have shown time and again that DM-theses make no sense at all, just as they have shown that DIM is to success what a chocolate condom is to sound family planning. [Details in Essay Ten Part One.] This means that while dialecticians may write (or, indeed, constantly repeat) DM-phrases, it is not possible for them to form a single coherent thought on that basis, and thus act upon it.
Of course, that places dialecticians in no worse a position than other metaphysicians (whose theories are similarly bereft of material import); no worse perhaps, but certainly no better.32
If a sentence that purports to express something is itself non-sensical, then no one uttering or writing it can mean anything by it (over and above perhaps certain contingent consequential effects; for example they might mean to confuse or startle their interlocutors). [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
Words used in such sentences cannot represent anything that could become the content of a coherent thought, and hence motivate a corresponding set of actions (trivial examples excepted, of course).33
To be sure, dialectical phrases can be, and have been wheeled out to 'justify' or 'rationalise' political decisions which have been taken for other reasons (which tactic is rather similar to the non-sensical phrases that assorted priests, Bishops and 'holy men' have used over the centuries to 'justify' such things as war, royal privilege and gross inequality). [We will see many 'dialectical' examples of this sort of thing below. Incidentally, the word "non-sense" has been hyphenated since I am using it in a special sense explained in Essay Twelve Part One.]
However, as noted in Essay Twelve Part One, because DM-theses are non-sensical, they cannot reflect anything in the material world, or indeed anything underlying it. In that case, they cannot help change it.
These might appear to be rather dogmatic claims since it seems plain that if something can be uttered or written down it is capable of being thought, and hence acted upon.
We encountered a similar problem earlier (again in Essay Twelve Part One), connected with Lenin's attempt to specify what could or could not be thought concerning matter and motion.
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
It turned out that what Lenin wanted to 'say' vitiated the content (or, rather, the lack of 'content') of what he appeared to mean by it. In the end, it turned out that he could not actually think what he claimed he thought he could, since this sentence fell apart in the very act of 'thinking' whatever it was he imagined he wanted to claim by means of it. So, in saying that motion without matter is "unthinkable", he had to do what he said could not be done (i.e., he had to think the words "motion without matter..."). This implied that there was in fact nothing that Lenin intended to say, nor was there anything in his words that he could have communicated to anyone so that it was capable of being put into practice -- or which could have had any implications for practice, other than negative.
To see more clearly how this relates to the issues raised in this Essay, consider the following sentence schema:
S1: NN thought that p.
If "p" is taken to be a schematic letter replaceable by an empirical proposition (such as "George W Bush is taller than his wife"), then clearly the sense that that proposition already has will enable it to become the content of a thought that NN could entertain. However, if the sentence substitutable for "p" makes no sense, then not only would the words it contains not express a proposition, it would not be possible for NN to think a thought by means of them (once more, as we saw was the case with Lenin):
M2: NN thought that motion without matter is unthinkable.
Howsoever M2 is repackaged, it is incapable of making any sort of sense.
It is worth reminding ourselves that it is not an 'act of thinking' that gives a sentence its sense. If this were so, then anything could mean anything, and the phrase "act of thinking" would itself become problematic.34
Consider the following illegitimate substitution instance of "p" in S1:
S2: NN thought that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared on before, if grinder.
S2a: The speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared on before, if grinder.
S2a makes no sense, and so while NN might attempt to mouth this set of words he would not be able to form (in S2) a coherent thought by means of them (assuming, of course, that they are not some sort of code).35
The problem with S2a is not connected with a lack of imagination. It is not that we can form no idea of a primary colour that is connected to a "speed mice inconsiderable sunset", which has a pH value close to 7, twice, but only (Tarquin?) on (?) "between three o'clock…". There is no such thought to form. In turn, this is not because of the facts of chemistry, chromatology, or rodent biology -- or even because of the rules we have for telling the time of day --, it is because S2 represents a radical misuse of language, as should seem plain.
While S2a is a clear case of arrant non-sense, DM-doctrines require a little more encouragement before they self-destruct (as we saw with M1 and M2).
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
M2: NN thought that motion without matter is unthinkable.
As already noted, this is because DM-theorists (just like other metaphysicians), at the very least, misconstrue the legitimate rules we have for the use of words as if they picture substantive features of the world. On top of that, dialecticians compound this error by the adoption of ideas they lifted from mystical theology, burying the results under several layers of impenetrable Hegelian jargon. And, as if that were not enough, they further aggravate the situation by the disdain they show for the material language of ordinary life --, certain principles of which are partially codified in FL.
[These allegations have been substantiated many times in other Essays published at this site, and will be given a more comprehensive analysis in Essay Twelve Parts One to Seven (summary here).]
However, the disguised nature of the sort of non-sense condensed into a typical DM-sentence does not affect the present point. Disguised or not, if it is not possible to explain the sense of a single DM-thesis (as the Essays posted here have shown, and as DM-theorists themselves have confirmed by their failure to do just that over the last 140 or so years), it is not possible to think its content either -- since it has none.
In that case, trivial examples excepted, it is not possible to act upon a single dialectical thesis.35a
This means that any sentence token substitutable for "p" in S1 has to make sense independently of the immediate context of utterance if it is to form the content of a legitimate thought. [This is based on the observation that language is a social phenomenon, the significance of which idea will be explored at length Essay Thirteen Part Three, and briefly in Essay Twelve.]
Hence, S2a (or whatever finally replaces "p") does not acquire a sense just because it is prefixed with the sentential operator: "NN thought that…."36
Consider these examples:
S1: NN thought that p.
S2: NN thought that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset the colour red was twice acidic, but not Tarquin on between three o'clock recidivist it squared on before, if grinder.
S3: NN thought that Being was at the same time identical with but different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming.
S3 does not report a coherent thought that NN could form since the phrase "NN thought..." cannot turn gibberish into sense.
So, despite claims to the contrary, metaphysicians and religious mystics cannot think the truth (or falsehood) of anything they say (in these areas), either. [As we will see in Essay Twelve Part One, sentences like S3 cannot be made sense of, no matter what is done with them.]
Naturally, this partly accounts for the uselessness of such doctrines, and thus for the appeal they have for those in power -- or at least the appeal they have for their ideologues. This is plainly because a 'profound-looking' metaphysical thesis is more likely to convince a wealthy patron (and/or assorted toadying on-lookers) that the one concocting it has hit on something deep if no one appears to understand it. Clearly, this is the philosophical equivalent of the apocryphal story of the Emperor's New Clothes.37
This serious drawback applies equally well to the sorts of things DM-theorists often come out with, which naturally means that if what they say cannot be thought (in the sense indicated above), then it can have no practical consequences, nor can it form the basis for any course of action. That is, it cannot do so any more than would be the case if someone uttered the following sentences and imagined they meant something by them, or expected others to act upon them:
S4: Make sure that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic, or the scabs will break the strike.
S5: Don't forget that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic, so we must organise the march for tomorrow.
S6: The fact that the speed mice inconsiderable sunset of the colour red is twice acidic means that we shall have to form a larger picket.
S7: Being is at the same time identical with but different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming, so the latest pay offer is unacceptable.
S8: Motion without matter is unthinkable, so you had better print more strike leaflets.
S9: Change is the result of internal contradictions, so don't forget to turn up on time for the paper sale.
Of course, S4-S6 are obviously malformed, but they were quoted to make this point clear. No one supposes that dialectically-induced propositions are quite so syntactically-challenged (on that see, for example, here), but they also fall apart alarmingly quickly for other reasons (as these Essays have shown).
However, as S7-S9 also demonstrate, DM-theses form no coherent basis for action. [Sceptical readers can insert their own favoured DM-thesis (but not HM-thesis!) into any one of S7-S9, the result, I predict, will not be any different.]37a
Non-sense And Practice
So, when it is claimed that ideas specific to DM have actually formed the basis of revolutionary practice it is reasonable to expect some sort of explanation of how this is even possible -- and one that advances beyond the usual hand waving and bluster --, especially when no one seems to be able to say what the said DM-doctrines actually mean.
Indeed, and because of this, it is equally reasonable to suppose that DM-ideas could only ever have succeeded in clouding the issues -- hindering revolutionaries in their attempt to develop clarity --, and further that they could only have led to serious tactical blunders and pointless time-wasting arguments, just as they should help foster sectarian in-fighting and sanction the post hoc rationalisation of regressive political decisions that would be impossible to justify otherwise (as we will soon see).38
Of course, this is not the only secret behind DIM's spectacular record of failure over the last 150 years -- a record un-matched by any other major political creed in human history. But, it is one of the reasons.
Without doubt, this truly appalling record has much more to do with the general nature of capitalist society, the fragmented condition of the working-class -- when this is set against a relatively better organised, and ideologically more coherent ruling-class --, among other things. Indeed, the idea that dialectics (allegedly the core theory of Marxism) has had nothing whatsoever to do with this long-term failure is bizarre in the extreme. [More on this in Essay Ten Part One.] In fact, we can only absolve this Hermetic 'theory' of any consequent blame if we acknowledge it has had no subjective impact whatsoever on previous generations of revolutionaries, and has never been used by them at any time in the entire history of Marxism.39
Pull the other one!
But, What About 1917?
When confronted with the above unwelcome facts, DM-fans sometimes respond with a "Well if dialectics is so dire, how come the Bolsheviks were able to win power in 1917?"
[Non-Leninist DM-fans, of course, do not have even this to point to as a 'success'!]
Oddly enough, as a Leninist myself, I find this 'objection' remarkably easy to answer: the Bolsheviks were successful because they could not and did not use dialectics (either in its DM- or in its 'Materialist Dialectics'-form). To be sure, this claim is controversial, but only because no one has thought to question the role of dialectics before.
In fact, the material counterweight provided by working class soviets prevented the Bolsheviks from employing this useless theory. Had they tried to propagandise/organise Russian workers with slogans such as: "Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing...", "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts...", or "Matter without motion is unthinkable" (and the like), they'd have been regarded as complete lunatics, and rightly so.
On the other hand, they could and did use ideas drawn from HM to help organise the soviets. [All this was covered in detail Part One of this Essay.]
And it is no use arguing that dialectical concepts were used 'implicitly' (or that they 'informed' the tactics that Lenin and his party adopted, somehow operating 'behind the scenes'). As we will see below, since dialectical concepts can be employed to justify anything and everything (being inherently and proudly contradictory), had they been employed, they could only have been used subjectively since there is no objective way to tell these incompatible applications apart.
Anyone who takes exception to the above will need to show precisely how Lenin and the Bolsheviks explicitly used dialectical-concepts --, as opposed to their actual employment of HM-concepts (the latter based on a concrete class analysis of events in 1917, and on years of experience relating to the working class). They will thus need to produce documented evidence of the Bolshevik's use of dialectical ideas/theses, and then show how they could possibly have been of any practical benefit to workers in revolutionary struggle --, or even how they could have helped the Bolsheviks comprehend what was going on and know how to intervene successfully.
Now, I have trawled through the available minutes and decrees of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party (from August 1917 to February 1918), and have so far failed to find a single DM-thesis, let alone one drawn from 'Materialist Dialectics' put to any use, or even referred to abstractly! [Bone (1974).] To be sure, it is always possible I have missed something, but even if I have, this Hermetic creed hardly forms a prominent part of the day-to-day discussions of active revolutionaries.
Added later: I have now gone though the available documents line by line twice -- still no sign of this Hermetic virus!
In fact, it is conspicuous by its absence.
Hence, the evidence suggests that active revolutionaries made no use of this 'theory'.
Added later still: I have now checked the Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of The Third International [Holt and Holland (1983)], and the only sign of dialectics is a couple of dozen occurrences of the word "contradiction" in relation to capitalism (etc.) in over 400 pages. No other examples of dialectical jargon appear in the entire volume, and even then this word is not used to explain anything, nor does it seem to do any work. Furthermore, most of the uses of this word were made by Zinoviev; as far as I can tell, Lenin does not use the term anywhere in this book.
Moreover, in Trotsky's The Third International After Lenin [Trotsky (1974)], dialectics is mentioned only fourteen times in nearly 300 pages, and then only in passing. The theory does no work there either.
And it is even less use someone requiring of me to produce proof that Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not use dialectical ideas, since there is no written evidence that he/they did, as the above indicates. Hence, the contrary case goes by default. Of course, all this is quite independent of the proof offered in these Essays that not one single dialectical concept is useable; after all, as we saw earlier, even Lenin got into a serious muddle when he tried to play around with such ideas, let alone when he attempted to apply them.
As we will soon find out, when dialectical ideas are in fact deployed, they can be made to justify anything whatsoever (no matter how contradictory that "anything whatsoever" might otherwise appear to be; in fact the more contradictory it is, the more 'dialectical' it seems to be!) -- and it can be, and has been used to rationalise any course of action, and its opposite, including those that are both counter-revolutionary and anti-Marxist.
In fact, shortly after the revolution, many younger comrades and Russian scientists began to argue at length that all of Philosophy (and not just dialectics) is part of ruling-class ideology (which is in fact a crude version of my own thesis!). It was not until the Deborinites won a factional battle in 1925/26 that this trend was defeated (and this was clearly engineered to help pave the way for the further destruction of the gains of October). More about this later.
[On this, see Bakhurst (1991), Joravsky (1961), Graham (1971), Wetter (1958).]
So, 1917 cannot be chalked-up as a success for this strain of Hermetic Mysticism.
However, we will see that the disintegration of the results of 1917 can partly be put down to dialectics.
And, even better, I have the evidence to prove it.
Naturally, this leaves out of the account the influence DM has had on substitutionist ideas at work in the revolutionary tradition, which brings us to our next topic.
DM And Mystification
I will be devoting a whole Essay to this topic later on, but for present purposes we need merely sum up the result so far:
In Part One it was shown that ideas exclusive to DM cannot be used to educate, propagandise or agitate the working-class. Moreover, dialectics cannot even represent a generalisation of the experience of the Revolutionary Party, since not one single DM-fan understands it (or if they do, they have kept this well hidden for over one hundred and forty years) --, and neither does the target audience: workers. And, there is no evidence that revolutionaries have used this 'theory' in their practical interface with the class.
On the contrary, the history of this theory clearly reveals from where every single DM-concept originated: not from the experience of the party, or from that of the class, but from a tradition possessed of excellent ruling-class 'bona fides', one that prefers to peddle an Ideal view of reality and of a hidden world that supposedly underlies material appearances, accessible by thought alone.
In this Part of Essay Nine, it has been argued that ideas unique to DM can have no practical impact (other than negative), since they are devoid of sense. Not only do they not relate to workers' experience, they have to be imposed on workers' thought 'against the materialist grain', as it were. By way of contrast, HM can and does have practical import; it represents the generalisation and systematisation of workers' (and humanity's) collective experience and understanding.
However, in the analysis above, the connection between DM and substitutionism was left somewhat unclear.
Substitutionist ideas in general (in this context) originate from the belief that workers are incapable of organising themselves (that is, over and above developing merely a 'trade union form of consciousness', or the like), or are too few/weak to do so -- and thus of bringing about a revolutionary change in a particular society.
Of course, substitutionism is not based on free-floating ideas, nor is it monolithic. It springs from various class ideologies and material interests, but it only becomes problematic at certain historical junctures. It largely maintains its grip (when it does) because of the fragmented nature of the working-class --, which condition it helps prolong, or even exacerbate. Nevertheless, as is well-known, substitutionist ideas manifest themselves in the general belief that workers actually need someone, or some group, to lead them (both theoretically and practically), and that they are incapable (for whatever reason) either of leading themselves or of transforming society through their own activity, etc., etc. [More on this in Essay Nine Part One.]
To be sure, this is not the whole story, and it is possible to link substitutionist ideas to other reactionary beliefs and theories, not just these. That will not be attempted here.40
Installing The New Program
Among revolutionaries (at such times), the ideological justification for substitutionism can assume many forms, nurturing perhaps the belief that 'objective' factors prevent workers themselves from creating a classless society, or from prosecuting the struggle to attain one. It can also be used to motivate the belief that workers are incapable of comprehending their own interests, or they have been "bought off" (indeed, these appear to be ideas that circulate among MISTs, for whom the masses seem to exist as a passive lump just to be "taught" socialism by their leaders, or who have been corrupted by imperialist "super-profits").
However, in connection with the theme of this Essay, dialectics plainly encourages the idea that workers cannot grasp the fundamental 'scientific' and/or 'philosophical' principles that underlie everything in society and/or the entire universe. In that case, so the argument goes, workers will of course need someone else -- or some group -- to do this, or to understand that for them.
This belief now transforms Marxists into latter day prophets (which also helps explain not only the personality cults, but the negative comments one hears about "workerism", and "economism").41
Nevertheless, this does not exhaust the possibilities. As it turns out, these additional considerations are connected with the familiar claim found in traditional Philosophy (echoed in DM) that there is a fundamental distinction to be drawn between "appearance" and "reality".
It is no accident then that this particular view has traditionally been accompanied by a haughty disdain for ordinary language and common experience. Hence, if reality is different from the way seems to be, then workers -- who, according to this view, view nature and society only superficially -- clearly require someone not only to uncover nature's secrets for them, but to lead their thinking and to act as their brains. Indeed, if the material language that workers created is inadequate in this regard (that is, it cannot be trusted "beyond certain limits"), then it needs to be replaced -- or at the very least, it requires supplementation with Hegelian jargon. Since common sense and ordinary language are inter-linked (on this view), and both are undeniably connected with communal life, this 'replacement language' must be based on philosophically- and scientifically-sound representational principles -- but not on the vernacular, which is governed by 'unreliable' and 'crude' communicational or communitarian principles.42
Moreover, and because of this, the jargon that constitutes this new 'revolutionary' language/theory must assist the initiation of each acolyte into its inner mysteries, which will in the end reveal (to those not lost in the mists of 'commonsense') nature's underlying "essences", uncovering secrets that lie way beyond the reach of "vulgar consciousness".
Figure Five: Dialectician Looking For
Hence, according to this way of seeing things, workers need teachers who are prepared to substitute into their heads a new set of ideas in place of the socially- and materially-grounded beliefs they already have -- a new set which, incidentally, and undeniably, has been lifted from the class enemy, and which contains concepts drawn from the very worst forms of mystical Idealism.
Workers' minds must therefore be up-ended, and their materialist ideas replaced with inverted Idealist concepts. These erstwhile subjects of history must become the passive objects of theory. They must be intellectually pacified by being theoretically knocked off their feet.
At this point, it needs stressing that it is not being maintained here that revolutionaries should adopt a romantic or naïve view of workers or their ideas --, i.e., that their thoughts aren't fragmentary and inconsistent, that racist or sexist notions do not enter into their heads, that they always and infallibly know how best to further their own interests, that they have the requisite organisational structures adequate to that end -- or even that they understand the nature and source of their own oppression and exploitation, and so on. [None of these are cast in stone, anyway! How workers transform themselves with the aid of the party will be examined in a later Essay. Nevertheless, those who still think ordinary language is inadequate in some way should read this, and then think again.]
Neither is it part of the argument here that workers do not need a revolutionary party drawn from their own ranks, which has established deep links with them (forged in their struggles), and which has thus learnt from them.43
On the other hand, because HM represents a generalisation of workers' experience, when it is introduced to them it augments what they already know; in that case, it does not need to be substituted for their own ideas -- even though it might change many of the latter for the better. As, noted in Essay Nine Part One, because HM meshes with workers' own experience, and speaks to their exploitation and oppression, it is introduced to them from the 'inside', as it were.
Nevertheless, the only issue of immediate concern here is the influence DM-ideas have had on the attitude revolutionaries have adopted toward workers. Indeed, the issue concerns the connection between 'Materialist Dialectics' and the petty-bourgeois, substitutionist mentality that is endemic in professional revolutionaries (because of their class position)
Hence, in relation to tactics, and with regard to the theoretical understanding of the relationship between party and class, the question posed in this section is whether ideas drawn from what are demonstrably ruling-class sources, which reflect the priorities of the boss-class (e.g., mystification, fragmentation, control and disdain), when adopted by revolutionaries, may have unsuspected, but inevitable substitutionist consequences -- that is, for dialectical concepts to be used to try to legitimate substitutionism.
[Indeed, in Essay Nine Part One, it was concluded that 'Materialist Dialectics' is the ideology of substitutionist elements in Marxism.]
[As noted at the beginning of this Essay, the next three sub-sections form the most incomplete part of this Essay. More supporting evidence will be added as my researches continue, and as I regain access to my books and papers.]
The remarks in the first half of this Part of Essay Nine were largely theoretical. What is needed now are concrete examples of the deleterious effects on Marxists of dialectical concepts.
Fortunately, because of the long-term failure of DIM, these are not too difficult to find -- in fact, it is rather surprising that no one has noticed them before (which in itself confirms the narcoleptic effect that Hegelian concepts have had on the minds of the vast majority of revolutionaries, and on those who write the history of our movement).
In that case, what follows is, I think, the first study of its kind.
Three preliminary points however need making:
(1) The following section will need far more attention devoting to it before its conclusions can be regarded as definitive. I will, however, add more detail and evidence as the months and years unfold.
(2) The search for evidence has been hampered by the fact that every single Marxist history I have read of the periods I am about to analyse (indeed about any period in our history) omits all mention of 'Materialist Dialectics'/DM as in any way to blame (partially or otherwise) for the defeats and set-backs our side has suffered since the 1860s. As far as I can determine, this 'theory' does not even get a mention in this regard!
That in itself is quite revealing given the centrality of dialectics to all that revolutionaries are alleged to have said, done and thought.
Why then is there such selective blindness?
The answer is pretty clear; as Marx suggested: to blame this theory in any way at all for the long-term failure of DIM would be to undermine the only source of consolation available to dialectically-distracted comrades. Hence, this theory has never in fact been tested in practice (in the sense that practice has never been allowed to deliver its unambiguous verdict).
(3) Any Stalinists and/or Maoists who disagree with my assessment of their respective traditions are encouraged to shelve any knee-jerk reactions they might experience (when they read what I have to say) until the end of this main section, by which time they will see the point of it all.
[Fellow Trotskyists will already have switched off anyway; experience has taught me that they are among the most closed-minded of comrades, often warning others not to read these Essays for fear the pristine purity of their ideas might be 'tainted' as a result.]
In the details I have posted below, I have included lengthy passages from dialecticians in order to show how deep Hegelian concepts have seeped into our movement, exposing the pernicious effect they have had on every aspect of revolutionary theory and practice.
Apologies must be offered in advance for this, but there is no way these objectives could have been attained otherwise.
Long experience has taught me that dialecticians tend to deny certain allegations unless they are backed-up by chapter and verse. Even then, with passages from Engels, Lenin or Mao staring them in the face, many comrades remain locked in 'deny-everything-mode'! [An excellent recent example can be found here.]
I propose therefore to consider three 'case studies': the effect DM has had on (1) The increasingly Stalinised Bolshevik Party post 1925; (2) Dialectical Maoists from the early 1930s onward; and (3) the Trotskyist movement post-1929.
There are other clear examples that I could have chosen (indeed, I might consider including these here at a later date, perhaps in an Appendix to this Essay), but given the fact that these three cover periods when workers (and others) were entering upon arguably the biggest wave of revolutionary activity in human history, and given the further fact that all this energy was squandered by the activities of dialecticians, these should be enough to prove to all but the most rabidly partisan, or the most heavily dialectically-doped of comrades, that 'Materialist Dialectics' is among the very worst doctrines ever to have colonised the human brain.
When the working class was ready to move, Dialectical Marxists screwed up badly.
We will be lucky if they ever trust us again.
DM/'Materialist Dialectics' was used by the Stalinised Bolshevik Party (after Lenin's death) to justify the imposition of an undemocratic (if not an openly anti-democratic and terror-based) structure on both the Communist Party and the population of the former USSR (and later, elsewhere).
The catastrophic effects of these moves hardly need underlining.
This new and vicious form of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' was justified by Stalin on the grounds that, since Marxist theory holds that everything is 'contradictory', intensified central control was compatible with greater democratic freedom. The "withering-away of the state" was in fact confirmed by moves in the opposite direction: ever-growing centralised power. So, paradoxically, less democracy was in fact more democracy!
Indeed, that very contradiction illustrated the truth of dialectics!
As Stalin himself put it:
"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27,1930. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
And, he went on to add this rather ominous note:
"Anyone who fails to understand this peculiar feature and 'contradiction' of our transition period, anyone who fails to understand these dialectics of the historical processes, is dead as far as Marxism is concerned.
"The misfortune of our deviators is that they do not understand, and do not wish to understand, Marx's dialectics." [Ibid. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
As many prominent comrades were later to find out, Stalin was not joking when he said this.
Indeed, this too was part of Stalin's justification of his line on the National Question, specifically linking these two issues in the previous quotation. He then added:
"Lenin sometimes depicted the thesis on national self-determination in the guise of the simple formula: "disunion for union". Think of it -- disunion for union. It even sounds like a paradox. And yet, this 'contradictory' formula reflects that living truth of Marx's dialectics which enables the Bolsheviks to capture the most impregnable fortresses in the sphere of the national question." [Ibid. Bold emphasis added.]
This allowed Stalin to claim that the merging of all national cultures (in the former USSR) into one was at the same time to show respect for, and to preserve their differences! I am sure the Chechens and the Cossacks appreciated his subsequent concern for them.
Earlier he had argued as follows against Trotsky's demand for "inner party democracy":
"Consequently, we have here recognition of freedom for factional groupings in the Party right up to permitting political parties in the land of the dictatorship of the proletariat, disguised by phrases about 'inner party democracy', about 'improving the regime' in the Party. That freedom for factional squabbling of groups of intellectuals is not inner-party democracy, that the widely-developed self-criticism conducted by the Party and the colossal activity of the mass of the Party membership is real and genuine inner-party democracy -- Trotskyism cannot understand." [Ibid. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Greater democracy from less democracy; all eminently contradictory, all quintessentially 'dialectical'.
Moreover, it was possible to 'justify' the idea that socialism could be built in one country by, among other things, the dubious invention of "internal" versus "external" contradictions, later bolstered by the concoction of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions, along with the highly convenient idea that some contradictions were, and some were not, "antagonistic". Hence, the obvious class differences that remained, or which soon emerged in the former USSR were in either non-existent or were in fact "harmonious"; the real enemies (i.e., the source of all those nasty "principal" (or perhaps even the "antagonistic") contradictions) were the external, imperialist powers.
As Stalin argued:
"If the possibility of victory of socialism in a single country means the possibility of solving the internal contradictions which can be completely overcome in a single country (we are of course thinking about our own country), the possibility of the definitive victory of socialism means the possibility to overcome the external contradictions between the country of socialism and the countries of capitalism, and these contradictions can only be overcome thanks to the victory of the proletarian revolution in a certain number of countries". [XVth conference of the CPSU. Quoted from here.]
[How 'contradictions' can be "overcome" is, of course, a deep mystery that we will have to pass over in silence.]
Nevertheless, as Tom Weston has shown in a recent article in Science & Society [Weston (2008)], the distinction between "antagonistic" and "non-antagonistic contradictions" [henceforth, AC and NAC, respectively] cannot be traced back to Lenin, as many suppose:
"Antagonism and contradiction are not at all the same thing. In socialism, the first will disappear, but the latter will remain" [Lenin, quoted in Weston (2008), p.433. This was in fact a marginal note Lenin wrote in his copy of a book by Bukharin!]
Weston goes on to say:
"This note has often been treated as evidence that Lenin accepted or even invented the NAC concept (e.g., Mitin and Mao), but it surely does not show this. Like Marx, Lenin distinguished contradiction from antagonism, and this raises a philosophical question about the relation between the two. Lenin did not answer this question, however, and he did not claim that antagonism is a special kind of contradiction." [Weston (2008), p.433.]
[Incidentally, Weston, who knows his logic (after all, he teaches the subject!), is remarkably accommodating here. For example, he nowhere asks why 'dialectical contradictions' are indeed contradictions to begin with. As we have seen (in Essay Five, Eight Part One, Eight Part Two (here, here and here), Essay Eight Part Three, and Essay Eleven Part One), little sense can be made of the term "dialectical contradiction". Nor does Weston ask how Lenin could possibly have known that "antagonism" and "contradiction" aren't the same, or that one will disappear under socialism while the other won't. (The answer is, of course, that Lenin couldn't possibly have known this -- unless he was imposing these views on nature and society, contrary to what dialecticians tell us they never do.)]
Weston goes on to point out that the idea that there are NACs and ACs in nature and society began to take shape in the work of Bukharin and Deborin, but the first explicit appearance of either notion was in 1930, in an article that appeared in the Party's theoretical journal Bol'shevik written by Nicolai Karev (who was later to play a role in Boris Hessen's demise):
"The theme of this article was a critique of Bukharin's and Alexandr Bogdanov's conceptions of contradiction and equilibrium. As part of his argument that antagonism of classes is not analogous to antagonism of physical forces acting in different directions, Karev gave the following definition: 'Antagonism is in general that type of contradiction in which the opposite sides have become completely isolated from one another and externally confront one another'". [Ibid., p.440. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
However, it is quite clear from what Weston says that these two forms of 'contradiction' were introduced in order to rationalise the CPSU claim that there was no class war in the former USSR, and that workers and peasants were neither oppressed nor exploited, even if they had conflicting interests, and to 'justify' the murderous collectivisation of the land (and subsequent purges):
"From the 1930s, the most important application of the NAC concept was the soviet policy toward the peasantry...." [Ibid., p.436.]
Production by peasants was based on privately owned small-holdings, and there would naturally arise conflict between the peasantry and the urban working class over the prices they charged for their produce. However:
"The Bolsheviks...considered the poor and middle peasants and agricultural workers to be allies of the urban working class, forming a 'bond' which was the official basis of the soviet state." [Ibid., p. 437.]
This was not so with respect to the "kulaks" and the urban traders (the so-called "NEPmen"), who were regarded as enemies -- whose ACs were soon 'resolved' (i.e., these groups were eradicated -- no man no problem -- yes, I know Stalin probably didn't say this!):
"The...official view was that the contradiction of the labouring classes versus the kulaks tend to become more intense, while the contradictions inside the 'bond' tend to die out. Stalin wrote that inside the 'bond', there existed 'a struggle whose importance is out-weighed by...the community of interests, and which should disappear in the future...when they become working people of a classless society'.... Similar claims were made for the contradictions between manual workers and the soviet 'intelligentsia'...." [Ibid., p.437. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]43b
[STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]
Nevertheless, a couple of generations later and STDs were still arguing the same line. Here is Cornforth (also misusing Lenin!):
"In general, social contradictions are antagonistic when they involve conflicts of economic interest. In such cases one group imposes its own interests on another, and one group suppresses another by forcible methods. But when conflicts of economic interest are not involved, there is no antagonism and therefore no need for the forcible suppression of any group by any other. Once class antagonisms are done away with in socialist society, all social questions can be settled by discussion and argument, by criticism and self-criticism, by persuasion, conviction and agreement....
"So Lenin remarked that 'antagonism and contradiction are utterly different. Under socialism antagonism disappears, but contradiction remains' (Critical Notes on Bukharin's 'Economics of the Transition Period')." [Cornforth (1974), pp.105-06.]
Hence, under 'socialism' strikes are 'unnecessary'; in which case they should not happen, but when they do they must be both denied and suppressed --, and so they were, with a level of violence rarely seen anywhere else outside of openly fascist states. [On this, see Haynes (2002) and Kozlov (2002).]
Any attempts made by workers to rebel (e.g., Hungary 1956) were blamed on "external forces", or agents outside the working class (a familiar excuse used by ruling classes the world over to account for, and thus ignore the significance of strikes and riots -- all caused, of course, by the ubiquitous "external agitator"), i.e., in this case, "imperialist powers", "fascists", or even Tito (but not ordinary workers fighting for and on behalf of their own interests), once more.44
We will merely note, alongside Cornforth, the calm way that the NACs in Hungary (in 1956) were resolved by Russian tanks (i.e., using "discussion and argument...persuasion, conviction and agreement").
To be sure, howsoever hard one tries, it is difficult not to be "persuaded" by an armoured column.
Figure Six: Hungary 1956 -- How To Resolve
'Contradictions', The STD Way
Cornforth also tried to defend the idea that socialism could be created in one country, referring his readers to Trotsky's counter-claim, allegedly based on "abstract" and fixed categories:
"After the proletarian revolution was successful another scheme was propounded -- this time by Trotsky. 'You can't build socialism in one country. Unless the revolution takes place in the advanced capitalist countries, socialism cannot come in Russia.' Lenin and Stalin showed that this scheme, too, was false....
"In all these examples it will be seen that the acceptance of some ready-made scheme, some abstract formula, means passivity, support for capitalism, betrayal of the working class and of socialism. But the dialectical approach which understands things in their concrete interconnections and movement shows us how to forge ahead -- how to fight, what allies to draw in. That is the inestimable value of the Marxist dialectical method to the working class movement." [Ibid., pp.79-80. Bold emphasis added.]
Since the USSR is no more, with the benefit of hindsight one should rightly conclude that Cornforth ought to have remained loyal to Lenin's own 'fixed' and 'abstract' scheme that the revolution would have to spread or die:
"The facts of history have proved to those Russian patriots who will hear of nothing but the immediate interests of their country conceived in the old style, that the transformation of our Russian revolution into a socialist revolution, was not an adventure but a necessity since there was no other choice; Anglo-French and American imperialism will inevitably strangle the independence and freedom of Russia unless the world-wide socialist revolution, world-wide Bolshevism, triumphs." [Lenin, quoted from here. Bold emphasis alone added.]
"We always staked our play on an international revolution and this was unconditionally right... we always emphasised...the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution." [Lenin, Sochineniia, 25, pp.473-74; quoted from Cliff (1991), p.90. Bold emphasis added.]45
Anyone who thinks these comments are prejudicial to Stalinism should reflect on the fact that the contrary idea --, that socialism could be built in one country --, has been refuted by history.
The additional fact that not a single proletarian hand was raised in defence of the 'workers' states' (in the former USSR and Eastern Europe) between 1989 and 1991, as they were toppled, merely confirms Lenin's assessment. Indeed, many workers actually helped overthrow these 'People's Democracies'.
Furthermore, the dire political consequences of the idea that socialism could be built in one country can be seen in the subsequent use to which dialectics was put to defend and rationalise this counter-revolutionary idea, and to try to limit (or deny) the catastrophic damage it inevitably inflicted on the international workers' movement, and on Marxism in general.
And this is where DM came into its own: short-term and lunatic policies sold to party cadres (world-wide) by the use of dialectics -- a 'method' that 'permits' the justification of anything whatsoever, and its opposite, sometimes in the same breath. And similar ideas are still being peddled to us on the same basis. Trotskyists, of course, argue for the exact opposite conclusion using equally sound 'dialectical' arguments to show how and why the revolution decayed, among other things. [On this, see below.]
Dialectics can thus be used to defend and rationalise anything you like.
Indeed, Stalinism and Trotskyism (rightly or wrongly) parted company largely over of their differing views on internationalism. Of course, this rift wasn't just about ideas! Hard-headed decisions were taken for political reasons, but in order to rationalise them and sell them to the international communist movement, they were liberally coated with dialectical jargon.
Those who know the history of Bolshevism will also know of the incalculable damage this deep rift has inflicted on Marxism world-wide ever since.
Later on, 'Materialist Dialectics' was used to justify/rationalise the catastrophic and reckless class-collaborationist tactics imposed on both the Chinese and Spanish revolutions, just as they were employed to rationalise/justify the ultra-left, "social fascist" post-1929 about-turn by the communist movement. This crippled the fight against the Nazis by suicidally splitting the left in Germany, pitting communist against socialist, while Hitler laughed all the way to the Reichstag.45a
This 'theory' then helped 'excuse' the rotation of the Communist Party through another 180 degrees in its next class-collaborationist phase, the "Popular Front" --, and then through another 180 (in order to 'justify' the unforgivable Hitler-Stalin pact) as part of the newly re-discovered 'revolutionary defeatist' stage --, and through yet another 180 two years later in the shape of 'The Great Patriotic War', following upon Hitler's predictable invasion of the "Mother Land" -- "Holy Russia".46
In attempting to justify these overnight about-turns, and specifically the criminal Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939, all that Ragani Palme Dutt, for example, could say was:
"We are told that the Soviet-German pact has also strengthened Nazi Germany. The process is of course dialectical, but fundamentally Nazi Germany has been weakened by the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact and is more weakened every day as this [dialectical -- RL] process is continuing and is beginning to become clearer to more and more people." [King and Mathews (1990), p.75. Bold emphasis added.]
Once more, it seems that to strengthen the Nazis dialectically is to weaken them! We can see how accurate that analysis was by the fact that the dialectically "weakened" Wehremacht was able to conquer most of Europe within two years, and large sections of the former USSR in six months! It was only Hitler's incompetent generalship that saved the USSR from annihilation.
More 'dialectical contradictions' --, more dead workers.
Post-1945, one more dialectical flip saw the invention of "peace-loving" nations versus the evil US Empire. History was now the struggle of "progressive, peace-loving" peoples against reactionary regimes, the class war lost in all the dust kicked up by so much dialectical spinning.
[Indeed, and by now, Marx would be doing much more than 180 degree flips in his grave!]
Every single one of these 'somersaults' had a catastrophic impact on the international workers' movement. Collectively, they have cast a long shadow across the Communist Party worldwide, reducing it to the sad, reformist excuse that we see among us today.
However, and far, far worse, as noted above, these 'contradictory' about-turns helped pave the way for fascist aggression and the Third Reich. In that case, this 'theory' has played its own small, shameful, but indirect part in the deaths of millions of workers and countless millions of Jews, Gypsies, Russians and Slavs -- alongside the many hundreds of thousands of mentally-ill and handicapped victims surrendered to the Nazi death machine.
Because of their continual, dialectically-inspired twists and turns, STDs in effect all but invited the Nazi tiger to rip European humanity to shreds.
And, it was only too happy to oblige.
The negative effect of all this on the reputation of Marxism among the great mass of workers cannot be over-estimated, howsoever hard one tries.
Talk to anyone about Marxism (and not just Communism), and you will be regaled with much of the above. Thus, these days, everyone 'knows' it "does not work", and stands for heartless oppression.
We can only put all this down to "capitalist propaganda" if we want to see yet more of the same.
Of course, none of this is the sole fault of this mystical theory; but it is undeniable that it was a major factor in helping to rationalise the above political gyrations (for whatever other reasons they were in fact taken), and in helping to sell them to party cadres. Over the years, this has had an inevitable and seriously demoralising effect.
Moreover, no other theory (save perhaps Zen Buddhism!) could have excused with such ease the adoption of continual, almost overnight, changes in strategy and tactics --, or have rationalised so effectively the pathetic reasons that were given for the criminally unacceptable political about-turns imposed on the Communist Party internationally by post-1925 Stalinism.
Nor, indeed, could any other theory have so effortlessly licensed the grinding to dust of both the core and periphery of the old Bolshevik Party in the 1930s, as scores of leading (and thousands of ordinary) comrades were put on 'trail' on trumped-up charges, and then executed -- or just summarily shot.
And you will still find communists defending the execution of these "wreckers" and "fascist" spies (the core of the party leadership!), along equally crazy dialectical lines.
Millions dead, Bolshevism in tatters and Marxism a foul stench in the nostrils of workers everywhere.
'Materialist Dialectics', tested in practice? A resounding success?
Indeed, yes -- but only for the ruling-class!
Anyone who knows anything about Maoism will also know that MISTs are serious Materialist Dialectic-oholics, and will brook no compromise.
[This might have something to do with the fact that Daoism shares much with Maoism. More on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]
Nevertheless, such profound dialectical devotion meant that the anti-democratic and class collaborationist tactics adopted by the CPSU were also copied by the CCP under Mao (even if for different reasons). For example, the use of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions to justify the suicidal alliances with the Guomindang, the use of UOs to rationalise one-party, autocratic rule, and the reference to "leaps" to excuse the lunatic and murderous "Great Leap Forward".
Maoists are among the most fanatical anti-Revisionists, but have they given Mao a hard time for revising Hegel, Marx, Engels and Lenin (who knew nothing of such 'contradictions')?
Once more: are you kidding?
Consider the first of these: class collaboration. Dialectical arguments favouring class-collaboration and the centralisation ("concentration") of power were not confined to CPSU theorists. In the mid-1930s, the abrupt change from out-right opposition to the Guomindang, to the policy of forming a united front with them was justified by, among other things, yet another dose of contradictory DM-concepts.
This whole sorry affair is well documented in Werner Meissner's detailed study, and the reader is directed there for more details. However, a few choice examples will illustrate the influence of dialectical mayhem on the minds of CCP theorists. Consider the argument of CCP-theorist Ai Ssu-ch'i (whose work was highly influential on Mao):46a
"The law of identity is a rule of the abstract, absolute unity; it sees in identical things only the aspect of absolute identity, recognising this aspect alone and disregarding its own contradictory and antagonistic aspects. Since an object can only be absolutely identical to itself, it therefore cannot be identical to another aspect. One expresses this with the formula: A is not Not-A, or A is B and simultaneously it cannot be Not-B.... For example, 'retreat is not attack' (A is Not-A (sic)), concentration is limitation of democracy (A is B), one cannot in this case develop democracy (simultaneously 'not is Not-B' (sic)). In this definition, an object (concept, thing, etc.) is confronted absolutely with another object, which lies beyond the actual object, a consequence of which is that an object (A) and the others (Not-A) have no relations at all with each other.... The law of identity thus only recognises abstract identity, and the law of contradiction only recognises an absolute opposite." [Ai Ssu-ch'i, 'Formal Logic And Dialectic', quoted in Meissner (1990), p.107. Bold emphasis added.]
We have already had occasion to note the sloppy syntax found throughout the writings of these 'superior' dialectical logicians, but here is yet another example. For instance, the "A" above at one point is "retreat" while "Not-A" is "not attack"!
[In addition, it has already been shown that the above 'conclusions' only seem to follow because everything has been turned into an object of some sort.]
Despite this, Ai Ssu-ch'i continues in the same fantastical vein:
"The law of the excluded third specifies: either there is an absolute identity (A is B) or an absolute opposition (A is not B); an object cannot be simultaneously identical and at the same time be antagonistic. For example 'concentration' is either limited democracy or unlimited democracy; it cannot at the same time be limited and a developed democracy. A government in which the people participate is either a democratic organ or it is not a democratic organ. It cannot be simultaneously democratic and insufficiently democratic. Therefore the law of the excluded third only recognises opposition or unity, and struggles against the 'unity of opposites'. This meant that it ['formal logic'] and the dialectic are diametrically opposed." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]
Meissner summarises Ai Ssu-ch'i main points as follows:
"1. What is the meaning of 'Retreat is not attack'? As we will see in more detail below, this formulation referred to the strategic principles of the long-protracted war....
"For Mao Tse-Tung...the defence of Wuhan had no special meaning. Instead he advocated surrendering the city and building up the resistance in the countryside. Ai Ssu-ch'i thus defended Mao's tactics, in that he dismissed the phrase 'Retreat is not attack' as 'formal logically'. To consider the 'retreat' from Wuhan solely as a retreat or non-attack corresponded, according to Ai, to the first law of 'formal logic' and was in no way seen as 'dialectical'. On the other hand, Ai wanted to show that the retreat was at one and the same time both a retreat and not a retreat.... The retreat thus contained an attack.
"2. The explanations of 'democratisation' and 'concentration' were also a criticism of Wang Ming's concepts of setting back 'democratisation' in favour of the 'concentration' of all political and military forces, and of attempting to commit the CCP exclusively to the support of the national government. Behind this was hidden the consideration that a possible 'democratisation' of Kuomintang control could lead to an impairment of the military effectiveness of the United Front. Ai criticised this view a 'formal logically', because 'democratisation' and 'concentration' were seen as mutually exclusive contradictions....
"3. However, Ai Ssu-ch'i' made a further observation concerning the relationship between the CCP and the Kuomintang by speaking of the 'unification of several objects identical to themselves' and by characterising them as a 'formal-logical' combination of independent, mutually unrelated objects, which thus represented a state of rest. The 'formal-logical identity' served him as an example of how the relationship between the two parties should not be constituted....
"Through the example of the 'law of identity', Ai also grappled with the question of how far the CCP should acquiesce in the Kuomintang's demand to base itself on the 'Three principles of the people', without endangering the independence of the CCP....
'Since the law of identity only recognises the absolute aspect of identity, one can maintain in the United Front that all parties and factions have now already given up their independence and have only one goal; consequently, many people say that the CP has given up Marxism. Since, on the other hand, the law of contradiction only recognises the absolute opposite, some people advocate the view that every party and faction must retain its own independent programme and organisation'. [Ibid.]
"Ai characterised the adherents of the first view as 'right deviationists' and those of the second as 'left deviationists'.... Both groups...are, according to Ai, 'formal-logical' in their thought; they consider one aspect of the whole and make it absolute.... 'Formal logic' recognises only attack and/or retreat, only concentration and/or democracy, only the 'three principles of the people' and/or communism. However, it is not capable of comprehending the existing relationships between those respective pairs of objects....
"Thus, in concrete terms, 'dialectical logic' can be explained thus: the United Front is accepted and at the same time rejected, in that the struggle against the Kuomintang is to be continued within the United Front." [Meissner (1990), pp.107-110. Bold emphases added.]
Anyone interested in this sort of material can read page after page of this lame-brained 'logic' (and not all of it from the writings of Ai Ssu-ch'i), summarised for us in Meissner's book. In these writings alone we can see how dialectics 'allowed' its acolytes to see the world any way they liked, and how it insulated them from material reality at the same time.
Consider next the second of these examples: the 'contradiction' between centralised state power and greater social and democratic accountability. Dialectical dodges similar to those employed by Stalin were used by Mao and his acolytes to rationalise this "paradox" by an appeal to the alleged 'contradictory' nature of 'socialist' democracy.
Mao himself tried to justify class-collaboration as well as the contradictory combination of autocracy with proletarian democracy (the latter along the same lines as Stalin):
"The contradictory aspects in every process exclude each other, struggle with each other and are in opposition to each other. Without exception, they are contained in the process of development of all things and in all human thought. A simple process contains only a single pair of opposites, while a complex process contains more. And in turn, the pairs of opposites are in contradiction to one another.)
"That is how all things in the objective world and all human thought are constituted and how they are set in motion.
"This being so, there is an utter lack of identity or unity. How then can one speak of identity or unity?
"The fact is that no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation. Without its opposite aspect, each loses the condition for its existence. Just think, can any one contradictory aspect of a thing or of a concept in the human mind exist independently? Without life, there would be no death; without death, there would be no life. Without 'above', there would be no 'below').... Without landlords, there would be no tenant-peasants; without tenant-peasants, there would be no landlords. Without the bourgeoisie, there would be no proletariat; without the proletariat, there would be no bourgeoisie. Without imperialist oppression of nations, there would be no colonies or semi-colonies; without colonies or semicolonies, there would be no imperialist oppression of nations. It is so with all opposites; in given conditions, on the one hand they are opposed to each other, and on the other they are interconnected, interpenetrating, interpermeating and interdependent, and this character is described as identity. In given conditions, all contradictory aspects possess the character of non-identity and hence are described as being in contradiction. But they also possess the character of identity and hence are interconnected. This is what Lenin means when he says that dialectics studies 'how opposites can be ... identical'. How then can they be identical? Because each is the condition for the other's existence. This is the first meaning of identity.
"But is it enough to say merely that each of the contradictory aspects is the condition for the other's existence, that there is identity between them and that consequently they can coexist in a single entity? No, it is not. The matter does not end with their dependence on each other for their existence; what is more important is their transformation into each other. That is to say, in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects within a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite. This is the second meaning of the identity of contradiction.
"Why is there identity here, too? You see, by means of revolution the proletariat, at one time the ruled, is transformed into the ruler, while the bourgeoisie, the erstwhile ruler, is transformed into the ruled and changes its position to that originally occupied by its opposite. This has already taken place in the Soviet Union, as it will take place throughout the world. If there were no interconnection and identity of opposites in given conditions, how could such a change take place?
"The Kuomintang, which played a certain positive role at a certain stage in modern Chinese history, became a counter-revolutionary party after 1927 because of its inherent class nature and because of imperialist blandishments (these being the conditions); but it has been compelled to agree to resist Japan because of the sharpening of the contradiction between China and Japan and because of the Communist Party's policy of the united front (these being the conditions). Things in contradiction change into one another, and herein lies a definite identity....
"To consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dictatorship of the people is in fact to prepare the conditions for abolishing this dictatorship and advancing to the higher stage when all state systems are eliminated. To establish and build the Communist Party is in fact to prepare the conditions for the elimination of the Communist Party and all political parties. To build a revolutionary army under the leadership of the Communist Party and to carry on revolutionary war is in fact to prepare the conditions for the permanent elimination of war. These opposites are at the same time complementary....
"All contradictory things are interconnected; not only do they coexist in a single entity in given conditions, but in other given conditions, they also transform themselves into each other. This is the full meaning of the identity of opposites. This is what Lenin meant when he discussed 'how they happen to be (how they become) identical--under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another'." [Mao (1961), pp.337-40. Bold emphases added.]47
Hence, for Mao, as it was for Stalin, less democracy meant more democracy!
[As we have seen, the idea in the passage above that things "struggle" with and then turn into their opposites can't work. This means that dialectics cannot in fact account for change! On this, see here, too.]
Now, such wacky ideas have been shown up for what they are in other Essays posted at this site, but those recorded above were included to demonstrate how Maoist versions of 'Materialist Dialectics' corrupted not only Mao's thought processes, but also the strategy and tactics of the CCP.
DM: tested in practice?
Once again: indeed so! And we can see the results today in that model 'socialist state': China.
Of course, at the very least, this means that approximately 20% of the population of this planet cannot now (and might not in the foreseeable future ever) be won to any credible form of Marxism, since the vast majority have been inured to it, having seen the dire consequences of this contradictory theory, which preaches 'proletarian democracy', but won't actually trust them with it, alongside the "mass-line", while practicing mass oppression --, these dialectical 'contradictions' rationalised along sound Stalinist lines.
Chinese workers and peasants do not need anyone to inform them of the results of "practice"; the vast majority can see for themselves the political and social consequences of this 'theory'.
[And now 'Materialist Dialectics' is being used to justify the existence of 'socialist' billionaires!
But, it is no use you complaining that this is a contradiction in terms. You clearly do not "understand" dialectics!]
Once more, anyone who thinks the above is prejudicial to Mao, need only reflect on the fact that, since Maoism has been ditched, China has turned into one of the most successful economies on earth. A rather fitting unity of opposites that!
[Recall an earlier assertion: Anyone can justify any conclusion they like, and its opposite, using 'Materialist Dialectics'. So, if the above looks contradictory or misguided to you, dear reader, you just do not "understand" anti-dialectics...]
Trotskyism has similarly been cursed by the Dialectical Deity; its founder succeeded in super-gluing his followers to the crazy dialectical doctrine that the 'socialist' regime in the former USSR was contradictory. In that case, it made perfectly good dialectical-sense to suppose that the ruling-class (i.e., the proletariat) exercised no power at all, and were systematically oppressed for their pains, even while they were still the ruling class! [This is the Trotskyist equivalent of the "Retreat is attack" claim of Ai Ssu-ch'i, we met earlier.]
"The bourgeois norms of distribution, by hastening the growth of material power, ought to serve socialist aims -- but only in the last analysis. The state assumes directly and from the very beginning a dual character: socialistic, insofar as it defends social property in the means of production; bourgeois, insofar as the distribution of life's goods is carried out with a capitalistic measure of value and all the consequences ensuing therefrom. Such aictory characterization may horrify the dogmatists and scholastics; we can only offer them our condolences." [Trotsky (1977), p.54. Bold emphasis added.]
Hence, because 'Materialist Dialectics' appeared to demand it, all good Trotskyists were required to defend the USSR as a workers' state --, albeit degenerated/deformed. As Trotsky argued at length [in Trotsky (1971)], only those who failed to "understand" dialectics would disagree:
"Is it possible after the conclusion of the German-Soviet pact to consider the USSR a workers' state? The future of the Soviet state has again and again aroused discussion in our midst. Small wonder; we have before us the first experiment in the workers' state in history. Never before and nowhere else has this phenomenon been available for analysis. In the question of the social character of the USSR, mistakes commonly flow, as we have previously stated, from replacing the historical fact with the programmatic norm. Concrete fact departs from the norm. This does not signify, however, that it has overthrown the norm; on the contrary, it has reaffirmed it, from the negative side. The degeneration of the first workers' state, ascertained and explained by us, has only the more graphically shown what the workers' state should be, what it could and would be under certain historical conditions. The contradiction between the concrete fact and the norm constrains us not to reject the norm but, on the contrary, to fight for it by means of the revolutionary road.... (p.3)
"The events did not catch us unawares. It is necessary only to interpret them correctly. It is necessary to understand clearly that sharp contradictions are contained in the character of the USSR and in her international position. It is impossible to free oneself from those contradictions with the help of terminological sleight-of-hand ('workers' state' -- 'not workers' state'). We must take the facts as they are. We must build our policy by taking as our starting point the real relations and contradictions.... (p.24)
"The present political discussion in the party has confirmed my apprehensions and warning in an incomparably sharper form than I could have expected, or, more correctly, feared.... The attitude of [Shachtman and Burnham] toward the nature of the Soviet state reproduces point for point their attitude toward the dialectic.... (pp.60-61)
"...Burnham and Shachtman themselves demonstrated that their attitude toward such an 'abstraction' as dialectical materialism found its precise manifestation in their attitude toward the Soviet state.... (pp.61-62)
"Last year I was visited by a young British professor of political economy, a sympathizer of the Fourth International. During our conversation on the ways and means of realizing socialism, he suddenly expressed the tendencies of British utilitarianism in the spirit of Keynes and others: 'It is necessary to determine a clear economic end, to choose the most reasonable means for its realization,'. I remarked: 'I see that you are an adversary of dialectics.' He replied, somewhat astonished: 'Yes, I don't see any use in it.' 'However,' I replied to him, 'the dialectic enabled me on the basis of a few of your observations upon economic problems to determine what category of philosophical thought you belong to -- this alone shows that there is an appreciable value in the dialectic.' Although I have received no word about my visitor since then, I have no doubt that this anti-dialectic professor maintains the opinion that the USSR is not a workers' state, that unconditional defense of the USSR is an 'out-moded' opinion.... If it is possible to place a given person's general type of thought on the basis of his relation to concrete practical problems, it is also possible to predict approximately, knowing his general type of thought, how a given individual will approach one or another practical question. That is the incomparable educational value of the dialectical method of thought.... (pp.62-63)
"The definition of the USSR given by comrade Burnham, 'not a workers' and not a bourgeois state,' is purely negative, wrenched from the chain of historical development, left dangling in mid-air, void of a single particle of sociology and represents simply a theoretical capitulation of pragmatism before a contradictory historical phenomenon.
"If Burnham were a dialectical materialist, he would have probed the following three questions: (1) What is the historical origin of the USSR? (2) What changes has this state suffered during its existence? (3) Did these changes pass from the quantitative stage to the qualitative? That is, did they create a historically necessary domination by a new exploiting class? Answering these questions would have forced Burnham to draw the only possible conclusion -- the USSR is still a degenerated workers' state.... (p.68)
"It is not surprising that the theoreticians of the opposition who reject dialectic thought capitulate lamentably before the contradictory nature of the USSR. However the contradiction between the social basis laid down by the revolution, and the character of the caste which arose out of the degeneration of the revolution is not only an irrefutable historical fact but also a motor force. In our struggle for the overthrow of the bureaucracy we base ourselves on this contradiction.... (p.69)
"...Dialectic training of the mind, as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercises to a pianist, demands approaching all problems as processes and not as motionless categories. Whereas vulgar evolutionists, who limit themselves generally to recognizing evolution in only certain spheres, content themselves in all other questions with the banalities of 'common sense.'
"A vulgar petty-bourgeois radical is similar to a liberal 'progressive' in that he takes the USSR as a whole, failing to understand its internal contradictions and dynamics. When Stalin concluded an alliance with Hitler, invaded Poland, and now Finland, the vulgar radicals triumphed; the identity of the methods of Stalinism and fascism was proved. They found themselves in difficulties however when the new authorities invited the population to expropriate the landowners and capitalists-they had not foreseen this possibility at all! Meanwhile the social revolutionary measures, carried out via bureaucratic military means, not only did not disturb our, dialectic, definition of the USSR as a degenerated workers' state, but gave it the most incontrovertible corroboration. Instead of utilizing this triumph of Marxian analysis for persevering agitation, the petty-bourgeois oppositionists began to shout with criminal light-mindedness that the events have refuted our prognosis, that our old formulas are no longer applicable.... (pp.70-71)
"Tomorrow the Stalinists will strangle the Finnish workers. But now they are giving -- they are compelled to give -- a tremendous impulse to the class struggle in its sharpest form. The leaders of the opposition construct their policy not upon the 'concrete' process that is taking place in Finland, but upon democratic abstractions and noble sentiments.... (p.74)
"Anyone acquainted with the history of the struggles of tendencies within workers' parties knows that desertions to the camp of opportunism and even to the camp of bourgeois reaction began not infrequently with rejection of the dialectic. Petty-bourgeois intellectuals consider the dialectic the most vulnerable point in Marxism and at the same time they take advantage of the fact that it is much more difficult for workers to verify differences on the philosophical than on the political plane. This long known fact is backed by all the evidence of experience.... (p.94)
"The opposition circles consider it possible to assert that the question of dialectic materialism was introduced by me only because I lacked an answer to the 'concrete' questions of Finland, Latvia, India, Afghanistan, Baluchistan and so on. This argument, void of all merit in itself, is of interest however in that it characterizes the level of certain individuals in the opposition, their attitude toward theory and toward elementary ideological loyalty. It would not be amiss, therefore, to refer to the fact that my first serious conversation with comrades Shachtman and Warde, in the train immediately after my arrival in Mexico in January 1937, was devoted to the necessity of persistently propagating dialectic materialism. After our American section split from the Socialist Party I insisted most strongly on the earliest possible publication of a theoretical organ, having again in mind the need to educate the party, first and foremost its new members, in the spirit of dialectic materialism. In the United States, I wrote at that time, where the bourgeoisie systematically in stills vulgar empiricism in the workers, more than anywhere else is it necessary to speed the elevation of the movement to a proper theoretical level.... (p.142)
"This impulse in the direction of socialist revolution was possible only because the bureaucracy of the USSR straddles and has its roots in the economy of a workers' state. The revolutionary utilization of this 'impulse' by the Ukrainian Byelo-Russians was possible only through the class struggle in the occupied territories and through the power of the example of the October Revolution. Finally, the swift strangulation or semi-strangulation of this revolutionary mass movement was made possible through the isolation of this movement and the might of the Moscow bureaucracy. Whoever failed to understand the dialectic interaction of these three factors: the workers' state, the oppressed masses and the Bonapartist bureaucracy, had best restrain himself from idle talk about events in Poland.... (p.163) [Trotsky (1971). Bold emphases added.]
All this helped cripple the politics of the Fourth International in the run-up to WW2 (and subsequently) -- whose cadres, even while they were advocating a principled anti-imperialist stance, were quite happy to defend Stalinist imperialism. All so contradictory, all so dialectical!
And, as if to compound this monumental error, Trotsky used dialectics to justify the murderous Stalinist invasion of Finland!48
Post-WW2, this prompted them to argue that red army tanks could bring socialism to Eastern Europe in the absence of a worker's revolution (a line that was in agreement with the analysis concocted by the Stalinists!). Substitutionism justified by another dollop of dialectical double-dealing.
More dialectical practice --, more dead workers. More ordure heaped on Marxism.
Do you begin to see a pattern here?
After Trotsky was murdered by a Stalinist agent, the application of 'scientific dialectics' to the contradictory nature of the USSR (and its satellites in Eastern Europe) split the Fourth International into countless warring sects, who have continued to fragment to this day.
Indeed, this is the only aspect of practical dialectics that Trotskyists have managed to perfect as their movement continues to splinter under its own 'internal contradictions'.
Unfortunately, Trotsky's heirs could not quite agree which was the more important principle: loyalty to their founder's 'dialectical method', or to Marx's belief that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. However, if the latter is indeed the case, the emancipation of the working class cannot be an act of the Red Army (in Finland, Eastern Europe or North Korea), of 'Third World' guerrillas (in China, Cuba, Nepal, Peru, etc.), of nationalist/'progressive' dictators, or even of radicalised students, to name but a few of the groups that have been 'dialectically substituted' for the working class by assorted Trotskyists over the last sixty years or so. Indeed, if it were possible to create workers' states in this way (deformed/degenerated or not), then Stalinism is "progressive", and Pablo was right...
And it is little use complaining that this contradicts Trotsky's belief that Stalinism is inherently counter-revolutionary (as these comrades try to do, again on sound 'dialectical' lines), for, if everything is contradictory, then on equally sound 'dialectical' lines, so is Stalinism. On such a basis, the former USSR is both counter-revolutionary and 'progressive' all rolled into one -- as we saw yet again when they invaded Afghanistan. [This link leads to an article which is plainly the Spartacist equivalent of the "Retreat is attack" claim of Ai Ssu-ch'i, we met earlier.]
Dialectics has been used, and is still being used, to justify every conceivable form of substitutionism. To take one more example: dialectical dissembling allowed Ted Grant to invent yet another contradictory idea -- "Proletarian Bonapartism" -- in order to account for the fact that the Stalinist regime in the former USSR, and the Maoist clique in China, was actually oppressing the supposed ruling-class: i.e., workers! [The ghost of Ai Ssu-ch'i lives on!]
All this dialectical wavering has fatally wounded Trotskyism. It might never recover. At present the signs are not good. The difficulties recently experienced in UK-Respect are just another indication of this long-term malaise.
Here are two paragraphs taken from a recent letter written by the CC of the SWP in New Zealand to the UK-SWP:
"'The critics of the [UK] SWP's position have organised themselves under the slogan 'firm in principles, flexible in tactics'. But separating principles and tactics in this way is completely un-Marxist. Tactics derive from principles. Indeed the only way that principles can become effective is if they are embodied in day-to-day tactics.' [This is a quote from the UK-SWP.]
"In contrast, Socialist Worker -- New Zealand sees Respect -- and other 'broad left' formations, such as Die Linke in Germany, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the PSUV in Venezuela and RAM in New Zealand -- as transitional formations, in the sense that Trotsky would have understood. In programme and organization, they must 'meet the class half-way' -- to provide a dialectical unity between revolutionary principle and reformist mass consciousness. If they have an electoral orientation, we must face the fact that this cannot be avoided at this historical point. Lenin said in 'Left-Wing' Communism that parliamentary politics are not yet obsolete as far as the mass of the class are concerned -- this is not less true in 2007 than it was in 1921. The question is not whether Respect should go in a 'socialist' or 'electoralist' direction, but in how Respect's electoral programme and strategy can embody a set of transitional demands which intersect with the existing electoralist consciousness of the working class." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Tactics from principles, or flexible tactics from inflexible principles? WTF does this mean? From which stone tablets have these verities been lifted?
Internal Bulletins/Documents are full of empty, but radical-sounding rallying calls like this, which are then used to berate whoever has fallen foul of the CC member who invented them (or who has just remembered them from the last faction fight) -- this frame of mind aggravated by far too many years of "dialectical training" than is good for any human being to have to endure, just as Trotsky advocated. [Several more examples of this sort of thing are given in Essay Ten Part One.]
So, even in the Trotskyist 'tradition', dialectics is still rearing its ugly head. Clearly, comrades just do not learn.
So, if truth is tested in practice, the clear message of history is:
Please, comrades -- no more Dialectical practice!!
Spot the Difference
[This section should be read by un-orthodox Trotskyists like myself just as it was intended. However, any Maoist or Stalinist readers who have made it this far should perhaps read it as yet more proof of the extent to which dialectics can, and has been 'misused' by us 'trots' -- although, it might not be easy to provide an objective criterion that distinguishes its 'proper' use from its 'misuse', nor tell the one from the other.
OTs should make of this what they can. They will have given up on these Essays long ago, anyway -- even if a single one of them has ever started reading them --; hence they are unlikely to get this far! Indeed, if the past is anything to go by, such 'scientifically'-minded souls will be busy warning the unwary to avoid casting their innocent eyes on these heathen pages lest they be led astray by my "elitism", "empiricism", and "formal thinking" (the OT equivalent of smallpox). [Those who do not believe me, check this or this out -- or several of the links posted here.]
[NOT = Non-Orthodox Trotskyist; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; MIST = Maoist Theorist; STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]
Either way, this section will show that as far as dialectics is concerned, all four 'traditions' share a common liking for the same clutch of mystificatory jargon, rhetorical flourishes (mostly physically copied from Engels and Lenin), sub-Aristotelian 'logic', and Mickey Mouse Science, using this infinitely plastic theory to justify almost anything, and its opposite -- as we saw was indeed the case in the previous section.
In fact, as far as the dialectics of nature is concerned there is little difference between the views of MISTs, STDs, OTs and NOTs. Why is this? Marx, once again, had the answer.]
At this point, it is pertinent to ask the following question: why did the ruling-classes of the former Stalinist states (particularly the USSR) find DM so conducive to their interests? Why were they such avid fans of 'traditional' Marxist Philosophy? A clear answer to this query is all the more pressing because of the way Marx himself described the dialectic:
"In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything (sic), being in its essence critical and revolutionary." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added.]
The only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that: (1) The ruling-classes of the former Stalinist states were not part of the bourgeoisie, or (2) Marx was wrong.
It could be replied that in the hands of STD hacks the dialectical method had become wooden and formulaic; it was little more than the "cynical and self-serving creed of a new and brutal ruling class." [Rees (1998), p.196.]
While that description of the nature of the Stalinist ruling-classes will not be questioned here -- or anywhere else, for that matter --, by the present author, the rest of what Rees says is highly questionable.
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]
It is worth pointing out here that even avowedly Stalinist versions of DM emphasise change through contradiction (often in terms indistinguishable from those found in TAR and OT-texts -- anyone who doubts this should read, for example, Shirokov (1937)). This, of course, helps explain why, for example, UK-SWP outlets (such as "Bookmarks" in London) find they can sell copies of books on dialectics written by openly Stalinist and rabidly anti-Trotskyist writers like Cornforth (among others), and why some OTs openly appeal to the writings of Ilyenkov (for example). [The old WRP were, for instance, rather fond of his obscure work.]
Indeed, up until a few years ago, OTs, STDs, NOTs and MISTs could one and all read and study classic texts published by Progress Publishers and Foreign Languages Press (Stalinist and Maoist publishing houses).
Why were such State Capitalist/Stalinist/'Socialist' regimes busy churning out classic works on dialectics by the container load? Surely that would be rather like Dracula running a garlic farm, or Superman a Kryptonite factory?!
Figure Seven: Kryptonite -- An Abomination To The Bourgeoisie?
This also helps account for the fact that books on 'Materialist Dialectics' are often published by capitalist publishers, too -- indeed, TAR was itself published by Routledge, Bertell Ollman's Dance of the Dialectic was published by the University of Illinois Press, and Raya Dunayevskaya's The Power of Negativity was published by Lexington Books, and so on. How can such capitalist concerns publish a theory which is an " abomination" to them?
All this becomes explicable if, as is argued here, DM is in fact part of a long tradition of ruling-class thought. It is inexplicable otherwise.
It could be argued that such outlets also sell books on HM, too. However, since I am not committed to the truth of Marx's claim (I merely quoted it to embarrass NOTs, and HCDs, among others), I am not committed to the idea that DM or HM is an anathema to the ruling-class, or to any capitalist publishing house. Clearly they sell such books to make a profit, just as they sell books on mysticism. [What was that Lenin said about ropes?]
Nevertheless, the actual differences between these three strands of dialectics (Stalinist, Maoist or Trotskyist) are considerably more difficult to spot than are their similarities. Indeed, the truth of that particular comment is itself easier to see if a handful of quotations (which have been lifted from a selection of STD and non-STD sources -- more will be added at a later date) are compared, the identification of which will be left until the end to assist in their non-biased appraisal:
 "Its conception of the inter-relation of Theory and Practice, is the vital essence of Marxism and is that one aspect of its many-faceted unity in which the significance of Dialectical Materialism is most clearly seen…. This unity is a unity of inter-relation: it is Materialist in that it is based on the primacy of practice, and Dialectical in its postulation of the indispensable precondition for both the practice and the unity….
"Its world-conception is Materialist alike in its Objectivity and in its Activity -- in that the world is conceived as a totality, and by means of its inseparably connected and never ceasing interacting movements.
"And it is Dialectical in that these inter-acting movements are recognised as begetting, of necessity, a perpetual self-transformation of the Universe as a whole -- a universally inter-connected series of processes in which old forms, formations, and inter-relations are constantly being destroyed and replaced by new forms…."
 "Materialist dialectics was born of the generalisation of scientific achievements and also of mankind's historical experience, which showed that social life and human consciousness, like nature itself, are in a state of constant change and development….
"Every system in the world is formed through interaction between its constituent elements. In exactly the same way all bodies acquire their properties through interaction and motion, through which their properties are manifested. Interaction is universal…."
 "Dialectics is the logic of movement, of evolution, of change. Reality is too full of contradictions, too elusive, too manifold, too mutable to be snared in any single formula…. Each particular phase of reality has its own laws and its own peculiar categories…. These laws and categories have to be discovered by direct investigation of the concrete whole; they cannot be excogitated by mind alone before the material reality is analysed. Moreover, all reality is constantly changing, disclosing ever new aspects of itself which have to be taken into account and which cannot be encompassed in the old formulas, because they are not only different from but often contradictory to them."
 "Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as just an agglomeration of things, each existing independently of the others, but it considers things as 'connected with, dependent on and determined by each other'. Hence, it considers that nothing can be understood taken by itself, in isolation….
"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics considers everything as in 'a state of continuous movement and change, of renewal and development….'
"The dialectical method demands, first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnection with other things."
 "The dialectical [method]…involves, first and foremost, three principles: totality, change and contradiction….
"Totality refers to the insistence that the various seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to one another….
"In a dialectical system, the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole. The part makes the whole, and the whole makes the parts….
"Totality alone is not, however, a sufficient definition of the dialectic….
"Change, development, instability…are the very conditions for which a dialectical approach is designed to account….
"A dialectical approach seeks to find the cause of change within the system…. If change is internally generated, it must be a result of contradiction, of instability and development as inherent properties of the system itself."
 "Marxist dialectics…examines the world in constant motion, change and development….
"To gain knowledge of objects and phenomena, it is necessary first of all to study their constant change and development. To really know an object we must examine it in its development, 'self-motion', change.
"…Dialectics sees the sources of development in the contradictions inherent in objects and phenomena….
"The material world is not only a developing, but also a connected, integral whole. Its objects and phenomena do not develop of themselves, in isolation, but in inseverable [sic] connection or unity with other objects and phenomena….
"One of the most important aims of materialist dialectics is the study of the world as an integral connected whole, the examination of the universal connections of things."
 "Dialectics is also the totality of the forms of natural and socio-historical development it its universal form. For this reason the laws of dialectics are the laws of development of things themselves, the laws of development of the self-same world of natural and historical development. These laws are realised by mankind (in philosophy) and verified by the practice of transforming both nature and socio-economic relations."
 "Everything is not only part of the great world process but is essentially a process. Its 'nature' cannot be understood apart from the form of change it undergoes, that is, inherent in it….
"But this development is not something that proceeds in an automatic fashion, without cause…. Development is always the result of internal conflict as well as of external relations, themselves including conflict. It can only be explained and rationally grasped to the extent that the internal contradictions of the thing have been investigated."
 "[Dialectics] is a critique of static, fixed categories usually used in science -- categories valid within certain limits, which differ according to the case, but which prove inadequate to fully grasp the nature of reality….
"[A] further characteristic typical of processes of change is the 'negation of the negation' -- development through a new synthesis emerging which surpasses and transforms the elements of the 'contradiction'."
 "Dialectical thinking analyses all things and phenomena in their continuous change…. Hegel in his Logic established a series of laws: change of quantity into quality, development through contradictions."
 "Dialectics is the logic of motion, development, evolution…. Engels, following Hegel, called those who think in absolute and unchanging categories, that is, who visualize the world as an aggregate of unchanging qualities, metaphysicians….
"In these abstract formulas we have the most general laws (forms) of motion, change, the transformation of the stars of the heaven, of the earth, nature, and human society….
"Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world -- completely without exception -- not as a result of creation, of a sudden beginning, the realization of a plan, but as a result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development….
"Thus, 'the materialist dialectic' (or 'dialectical materialism') is not an arbitrary combination of two independent terms, but is a differentiated unity -- a short formula for a whole and indivisible worldview, which rests exclusively on the entire development of scientific thought in all its branches, and which alone serves as a scientific support for human praxis."
 "Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard Nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things…are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other.
"The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in Nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena….
"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that Nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development….
"The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being….
"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of Nature…."49
Admittedly, edited quotations taken out of context can be highly misleading, but the extent to which these sources agree it quite remarkable, whatever the context.
Virtually indistinguishable passages like these can be multiplied by several orders of magnitude -- with ease --, as any reader possessed of inordinate patience and plenty of Prozac may readily confirm. The extreme and mind-numbingly repetitive nature of the above quotations (along with the many thousands not posted -- the vast majority of which agree with each other down to the minutest of details, and which use almost exactly the same words and sentences (often these are just physically copied from Engels or Lenin)) confirms the claim made several times in this Essay: key DM-theses are about as changeable as protons.
In many ways, these passages not only resemble, they also function like ritual and liturgical passages the god-botherers among us intone week in, week out: it's the repetition of set phrases like these that is more important than their content. Hence, in books and articles in dialectics (especially those in the LCD tradition), the actual words used are more a sign of orthodoxy than they are a genuine contribution to socialist theory -- or to science.
However, it is important to add here that it is not being suggested that Stalinism, Maoism and Trotskyism are at all similar in any other respect (indeed, in relation to their commitment to international revolution, the difference between the latter and the previous two could not be more marked). And yet, in relation to their adherence to DM-phraseology, it is hard to slip a party card between them.49a
Nevertheless, the question still remains: How was it possible for the Stalinist ruling-classes/bureaucracies of the former USSR, Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere to adopt a supposedly revolutionary theory (i.e., DM), which is identical in almost every respect to that espoused by revolutionaries (or non-revolutionaries, depending on who is reading this), if dialectics is claimed to be an "abomination" to all members of the ruling-class and their hangers on? Even an allegedly "wooden and lifeless" version of DM (with its emphasis on Totality and change through contradiction, etc., etc.) should be no less "abominable".
The standard explanation why DM is accepted by counter-revolutionaries (like Stalinists) and by revolutionaries is (i.e., that the Stalinist version is "wooden and lifeless", whereas the revolutionary strain is 'vibrant' and 'un-dogmatic') highly implausible, especially since both versions seem to be equally wooden and lifeless, and practically indistinguishable from one another on the page/screen. It is not as if when OTTs (or even NOTs) write the very same words as STDs (or MISTs) their use is somehow less wooden and lifeless. Not, that is, unless Trotskyists use a special sort of ink, paper or computer screen.
[OTT = Orthodox Trotskyist Theorist; DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist.]
Even so, it could be objected that it's the use to which dialectics is put -- not the phraseology -- that distinguishes Stalinist/Maoist from Trotskyist versions of DM. Hence, when it forms part of a genuinely revolutionary movement (as opposed to its being used cynically by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy/'clique') the 'dialectic' is vibrant and alive. [This passage can be read the same way by supporters of each and every version of DIM.]
However, the above response still assumes that the 'dialectic' has a practical role to play in a genuinely revolutionary movement. This idea has been subjected to sustained criticism in this Essay and throughout this site. The onus therefore is on those claiming this 'theory' has some sort of use/role to play to show how the 'dialectic' has featured in a positive way anywhere and at any time in the entire history of Marxism.
But, even if this could be done, it would still be worth pointing out that in the hands of the STDs and MISTs (or, OTTs and NOTs, if you are a MIST or an STD yourself) the dialectic was also put to use, too, but to derive conclusions that contradicted -- not without some irony -- those drawn by other revolutionaries from other wings of Marxism. As we have seen, STDs and MISTs (or OTs and NOTs) used dialectical concepts to justify everything from the denial of party democracy, to the accusations made against the German SPD (that they were "social Fascists"), to the about-turn in the Popular Front, to the pact with Hitler and the subsequent war against the Nazis, to the fight against Trotsky, to the argument in favour of socialism in one country, to the repeated invasions of Eastern Europe (and to the opposite conclusion of most of these). In addition, we have even seen how Trotsky scandalously used it to justify Stalin's invasion of Finland, and how the application of this theory to the allegedly 'Deformed and/or Degenerated Workers' States' in the former USSR and Eastern Europe split the Trotskyist movement into countless warring sects. Finally, it has also been used by NOTs to justify the theory of State Capitalism -- and then by OTTs to debunk it, in order to show how "un-dialectical" it is!
Given such a shameful, opportunist history, one would have thought that serious Marxists would want to disown anything that remotely resembled the 'dialectic' -- especially if their particular version is indistinguishable from the lethal STD ("wooden" -- or "revisionist"/"abstract" MIST/OT/NOT, depending on which one of these traditions the reader belongs to) strain.
Finally, the quotation from Marx that opened this section simply said that the dialectic was an "abomination" to the Bourgeoisie. He did not qualify these words. He certainly did not rule out wooden versions of it as no longer 'abominable'. What he wrote has to be modified considerably to make his words fit the picture the above counter-claim wishes to paint.
To be sure, Marx did say that "in its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie". But wooden forms can be rational. Anyway, this response begs the question as to what the "rational" form of the dialectic is. If, as these Essays have shown, DM (or even 'Materialist Dialectics') has no "rational" form -- just a rotten core --, then wooden, plastic or concrete, there is no difference.
These observations similarly apply to the usual reason given why DM is almost universally rejected by ruling class hacks -- which is that DM is an "abomination" since it shows that all social forms are subject to change, etc. But, if in reality ruling-class hacks reject DM because it threatens their ideological belief that certain social forms are unchangeable (or, which are 'natural'), then why didn't the Stalinist ruling class reject it on similar grounds? Why did they become its most enthusiastic supporters and proselytisers? [Or, if you are not a Trotskyist: why do "revisionist" OTs and NOTs also accept the dialectic?]
The reason is pretty clear: DM allowed STDs to justify any old line coming out of the Kremlin, and its opposite the very next day!
[Naturally, these questions are all the more pressing when we recall that DM cannot account for change, anyway!]
However, in general that answer to these questions is not difficult to find. It has been maintained here (especially in Part One of this Essay) here that DM is the ideology of substitutionist forces within Marxism; that is, DM/'Materialist Dialectics' is the theory of petty-bourgeois and de-classé revolutionaries. If this is so, one should expect to find that only those ruling-classes (i.e., those comprising petty-bourgeois professional revolutionaries, or the bureaucratic elements that have descended with modification from them) --, which have themselves arisen as a result of the degeneration of a proletarian revolution (etc.) --, would find DM/'Materialist Dialectics' conducive to their interests.
Hence, other ruling-classes (those that have no pretension, need or desire to substitute themselves for the working-class) would not wish to adopt DM/'Materialist Dialectics' since they have theories of their own that justify their position, thank you very much.
In other words, DM/'Materialist Dialectics' found its place in STD-theory -- not because it was wooden and lifeless in their hands -- but because it helped them in their drive to render the working class wooden and lifeless -- and therefore all the more easily substituted for, and thus removed from their active role in history. Since DM/'Materialist Dialectics' is the theory that ideologically justifies such forms of substitution, it is hardly surprising that it fails to appeal to those not wishing to substitute themselves for workers (i.e., the non-Stalinist Bourgeoisie).
Now, if you are a MIST or an STD reading this, the answer is equally clear: one would expect Trotskyist 'wreckers' to adopt dialectics too. What better theory for them to appropriate if they want to argue that the former socialist states (the USSR, Eastern Europe and Maoist China, for example) were not permanent, but would disappear one day (as they have), than the dialectic?
"In its rational form it is a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen [i.e., Trotskyists, if you are a MIST or an STD -- RL], because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well...." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphases added.]
It could be objected to this that STDs and MISTs (NOTs and OTs) also accept HM. Hence, based on the above argument, HM would similarly be compromised.
To be sure, the amalgamation of 'Materialist Dialectics' and HM has undoubtedly been to the detriment of the latter. HM is only acceptable to Stalinists (for example) because it can be rendered inoffensive by burying it under several layers of Hermetic jargon. HM is not an inherently metaphysical theory: it is testable, it actually makes sense (when those alien Hegelian concepts have been excised), and it both arises from and generalises workers' experience (as Part One of this Essay argued). HM only becomes metaphysical and wooden when combined with DM, to form Dialectical Mahogany.
When HM is distanced from DM, it becomes a genuinely scientific theory of use to revolutionaries. This is why, of course, the Stalinists (or the others) never in fact separated the two --, but that does not stop us genuine materialists from doing so.50
On the other hand, if you are not a Trotskyist (i.e. if you are an STD or a MIST), the answer is plain too: any petty-bourgeois element of the workers' movement -- be it the OT or NOT variety -- will have perfectly good, class-based reasons to choose a theory that rationalises their own substitution (or that of other groups) for the working class, analysed earlier.
Incidentally, this also explains why revolutionaries almost universally accept DM, and why any attempt to criticise it is resisted with no little vehemence. For such comrades, DM works not only like a drug consoling them for the repeated 'failure' of the class they champion, it rationalises their pre-eminent position in the movement.
Ditching dialectics demotes dialecticians.
For Stalinists in power, on the other hand, DM also functioned as a means of legitimation and ideological control, as a handy device for mystifying power, and as a neat way of rationalising the oppression and exploitation of workers, by the use of semi-casuistical 'dialectical' arguments. The wooden nature of the Stalinist dialectic is derived from the nature of the class that held (or in some cases still holds) power. On the other hand, 'lively' Trotskyist dialectics arises from sections of DIM that have to generate quasi-religious fervour as a form of consolation for their own lack of power. [This makes them the Charismatic Wing of Marxism/the LCDs, if you like.]
Finally, it is not being suggested here that the author of TAR, or any other NOT or OT, is in any way associated with the crimes of Stalinism -- far from it. As one comrade so aptly put it a few years ago (Sheila McGregor, if memory serves me right): there is a wall of blood separating Stalinism from Trotskyism. And I know which side of that wall I am on.
Nevertheless, TAR itself was clearly written from a revolutionary perspective; that is its strength. Alas, that is also what makes its author's acceptance of 'Materialist Dialectics' so regrettable.
Refuted In Practice
Dialectical Marxism: The Rotten Fruit Of A Diseased Tree
If DM represents a serious inroad of alien-class ideas into the revolutionary movement -- brought from the "outside" by those who borrowed them from Hegel --, then one should expect it to exacerbate the sorts of problems that revolutionaries inevitably face in the course of struggle -- for it to foster and aggravate mystification, fragmentation, sectarianism and substitutionism. The fact that professional revolutionaries are, unlike workers, militants because of personal peccadilloes (hence, unlike workers, they are not natural materialists), means that in the hands of such socialist prima donnas, DM soon translates into Dogmatic Marxism.
To this end one would expect DM to enhance the drift toward centrally-promulgated dogma, foster 'theological' disputation and casuistry, encourage the branding of rival tendencies as 'heretical' (in their interpretation of this or that arcane and incomprehensible dialectical thesis), motivate the promotion of 'DM-experts' who arrogate to themselves the semi-miraculous ability of comprehending the secrets of Hegelian esoterica, and to assert of others that they do not really "understand" dialectics -- or, indeed, that they cannot master Das Kapital until they have thoroughly studied and understood all of Hegel's Logic (a claim, it is worth underlining, that not even Marx made of his own work!).
In addition, one should expect DM-advocates to use its ideas to defend counter-intuitive doctrines (which thus "contradict commonsense", or even common understanding)51 and to justify on a post hoc basis rapid and inconsistent tactical manoeuvres and/or theoretical switches simply because the 'dialectic' allows for it.
Finally, one should expect DM-acolytes to use DM as a device to convince recalcitrant workers that they are acting in their best interests --, which the latter would, of course, appreciate if only they "understood" dialectics. In short, one should expect DM to function as an ideological justification for substitutionist thinking.
[OTG = Orthodox Trotskyist Group.]
Every single one of the above 'expectations' can be (and has been) seen in the history of the various tendencies located in the revolutionary movement (let alone its Stalinist and Maoist forms) -- many times over, as we have seen.
From Lenin's claim that no one fully understands Marx's Capital who has not fully understood all of Hegel's Logic, down through the wranglings between Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg,51a on to the attempt made by Trotsky to justify the revolutionary defence of the old USSR as a "degenerated workers' state" (along with his scandalous defence of Stalin's invasion of Finland!), to the interminable use of 'dialectics' within OTGs to justify the latest tactical change (on the basis that such switches are 'dialectical' -- i.e., openly contradictory -- and that this was something that recommended them!), and on to the haranguing of every other revolutionary group for failing to see things the same way (in view of the fact that everyone else adheres to an "abstract"/"wooden" version of dialectics) --, to the use of dialectical ideas and DM-inspired forms-of-thought to rationalise this or that bout of sectarian point-scoring. And then on to the use of the same theory to 'justify' the centralisation of power in the former communist states, on the basis that everything is contradictory anyway, to the regular and over-night 180 degree changes in policy -- and finally down to TAR with an ill-advised use of the word "algebra" in its title.52
Although substitutionist tendencies within Bolshevism act, indeed, like the proverbial bacteria in a dead or diseased body, it is important to be aware of the ideological source of this infection: an ancient ruling-class philosophical tradition.
Given all that has gone before, unless we are clear that DM has played its own significant part in preventing Marxism from being "seized by the masses" (on this see Part One of this Essay, and Essay Ten Part One) -- and hence in exacerbating the chronic sickness of DIM itself -- unless we are clear about these things, dead bodies are all we can ever expect for our efforts.
Followed, of course, by a Dead Movement -- DM: the final negation of these Hermetic negators.
01. Marx made this plain in the German Ideology:
"The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry." [MECW 5, p.42.]
On this see Meek (1967), and Wood (1998, 1999), who underlines how influential Kant's work was in this area.
1. Standard DM-accounts of the origins of materialism (in the West, in ancient Greece) are highly misleading. I do not propose to substantiate that contentious claim here. More comments will be posted in Essay Twelve.
1a. It is worth pointing out that I am using the word "sectarianism" in a wider sense than is often used in Marxist circles, and more akin to its use in describing the many and varied splits that occur within and between religions. On that, see here.
The Marxist.org glossary characterises it thus:
"Sectarianism and Opportunism are the twin errors which may befall any organisation formed in pursuit of some principle.
"The Sectarian emphasises the absolute truth of its principle over any other, finds in every small disagreement the seeds of fundamental difference, see the most deadly foe in the closest rival, puts purity of dogma over tactical advantage, refuses to compromise or modify their aims and is proud of being against the stream. Simply put, sectarianism is the breakdown of solidarity.
"The Opportunist is always ready to adapt its principles to circumstances, minimises the significance of internal disagreements, treats even opponents as 'the lesser evil', puts tactical advantage ahead of being true to its principles, is too ready to make compromises and is all too ready to follow the current of the stream.
"Not surprisingly, the sectarian or opportunist invariably repudiates being labelled as such, and instead reverses the claim. Meanwhile, these labels are all too easily thrown against minority positions in the attempt to invalidate their opinions as 'anti-party', simply because they are different and challenging.
"Naturally, real differences exist within groups and between different organisations. When these are fundamental differences, opposition and conflict is to be expected when a common course is attempted. The trouble with sectarianism is that it behaves as if fundamental differences exist when they do not; while opportunism actively ignores real differences. Thus, when for example Anarchists and Socialists attempt a common action, one can expect some areas of conflict.
"Some confusion arises because the very nature of a Communist is to support the working class as a whole, which includes parties, unions, organisations, etc. Such a purpose is an arduous one and a fine line is sometimes walked between helping increase class consciousness and the sectarian slide of dictating to workers that their interests are not workers' interests! Thus, mutual respect and thorough going solidarity are two steadfast principles of real Communists.
"Sectarianism and Opportunism exist in all things; but they are no more dominant in the working class movement than they are in religious organisations or capitalist governments. In the United States for example, the Republican and Democratic parties have been in deeply sectarian battles over how best to rule a capitalist government for over 100 years. While they see one another as fundamentally in opposition (though we clearly know that they are not), they do have the tolerance to the extent that they recognize the need for one another in order for their government to survive. Thus, to eradicate sectarianism is impossible (an attempt we saw in the Soviet Union, accomplished with the most brutal of results), but to control it within certain boundaries can be a source of great strength." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling errors corrected.]
This is closer to the meaning of the term as I have used it, but it still fails to come to grips with the reason for the highly fragmented nature of Dialectical Marxism [DIM], which is surely as afflicted in this regard as Christianity (but particularly Protestantism) is --, indeed as the article concedes. According to one estimate, there are 34,000 different Christian groups on the planet! Well, there might not be quite that many Marxist/Far Left denominations, but there certainly are many hundreds, possibly thousands. [Per head of believers, DIM is probably far worse off in this regard, however.] On that, see here.
This phenomenon plainly requires a sociological explanation. The beginning of one will be attempted in what follows in the main body of this Essay.
It is also important to note at the start that I am not arguing that everything that workers do or believe is sacrosanct, and that therefore they should be tail-ended by Marxists; quite the reverse in fact. Hence, this is not an apology for opportunism. However, since the politically backward and uneven nature of workers, and the need for a Leninist Party have been studied in detail by other Marxists, whereas the sociological and ideological roots of sectarianism haven't, I will be concentrating on the latter, not the former, in this Essay. [The former topic was in fact dealt with in Essay Nine Part One. Also, see Note 13a, below.]
2. This is not to suggest that Lenin did not mention this 'theory' at all before 1905. Clearly he did (for example, in One Step Forward Two Steps Backward), but it only assumed such a centrally-important role after 1905.
Evald Ilyenkov (in Ilyenkov (1982b)), argues that Lenin had in fact been interested in dialectics all his mature life (p.9ff.), and cites Krupskaya's memoirs in support.
"In the evenings Vladimir Ilyich usually read books on philosophy -- Hegel, Kant or the French materialists -- and when he grew very tired, Pushkin, Lermontov or Nekrasov." [Quoted from here.]
This does not in fact support Ilyenkov's assertion that Lenin studied Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, and the "classics of world philosophy" (p.10). At best, it provides only weak support for Ilyenkov's claim that Lenin was interested in dialectics in general back then. Even so, this "interest" was clearly sparked after his arrest and during his exile in Siberia. Hence, given the line taken in this Essay, it is hardly surprising that Lenin looked for philosophical consolation in Shushenskoe in 1897. So, if anything, this confirms the thesis being maintained here (that dialectics becomes important in times of defeat and set-back, whether personal or organisational).
3. Indeed, Hegel's work itself can be seen as a response to the failure of the French Revolution, prompting his own retreat into "Dialectical Mysticism". There is an admirably clear account of the process of demoralisation among intellectuals that swept across Europe at the turn of the 18th century -- in TAR itself (pp.13-54)! Clearly, John Rees failed to notice the obvious connection between Hegel's own demoralisation and his search for consolation in the sort of Christian Mysticism that he was able to conjure out of "Nothing" (literally!), subsequently appropriated (and given a full 360 degree (not 180) flip) by dialecticians.
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]
However, episodes similar to this are to be found among subsequent generations of revolutionaries, which reveal the historical and ideological connection between German Mysticism and DIM itself -- that is, between the class-origin of the DM-classicists and their predilection for traditional philosophising.
Indeed, and as a matter of fact, these classicists were exclusively drawn from petty-bourgeois and/or intellectual circles. Of course, on its own that is no defect. But, the founders of Marxism did not live in air-tight containers, hermetically sealed-off from surrounding social and ideological influences; the latter clearly found a ready echo in their own theoretical work.
Hence, early communists (living in semi-feudal Germany, dominated by Idealism) found themselves in a society with no developed or assertive working class from which to learn. More importantly: workers themselves could not provide a materialist counter-weight to the Idealist inclinations of these early intellectual militants. This would mean that the theories developed by the very first DM-classicists would automatically bend far too much toward ideas that have always dominated traditional thought, toward ruling-class concepts current in Germany and Europe at the time. Workers in Germany and Russia were far too weak, disorganised, and certainly too few in number in the nineteenth century to mount a significant challenge to the confident ruling-classes of their day -- or impact on the concepts that early DM-theorists began to form.
Moreover, ever-present disappointment with the very class upon which the hopes of European and Russian radicals were pinned must have been a constant factor influencing revolutionary thought during this period. Repeatedly dashed hopes that a revolutionary workers' movement would emerge (in mid-to-late 19th century Europe) meant that the tendency to seek consolation in certain forms of Philosophy clearly became irresistible.
And this is not just mere speculation; we know that this is precisely what happened -- and is still taking place. These facts are clear from the biographies of European radicals (including those of Marx and Engels, and later those of Lenin and Trotsky -- and even later in the lives and thoughts of more recent dialecticians).
Their unshakable faith in workers, coupled with an ever-present trust in their revolutionary potential and a belief in the proximity of the revolution (which is clear for all to see in the Marx-Engels correspondence, and elsewhere), alongside the certainty that there would be a terminal crisis of Capitalism in the near future -- all these ideas had to face disconfirming material reality many times over, month in month out, and then for decades.
Naturally, such a wide disparity between theory and reality would require some sort of an explanation. If reality (in essence, as it is supposedly represented in theory) differed so markedly from appearances, then a theory that based itself precisely on that premise, which argued that the surface view of things is misleading and that underlying essences are not as they appear to be, they are in fact upside down (that is, in their Ideal form they are the opposite of how they materially seem to be), would naturally be attractive to anyone subject to such long-term disappointment and demoralisation. And this would be all the more so if, because of their education and socialisation (as part of the petty-bourgeois world), ruling-ideas had already been inserted into their heads, and which thus predisposed them to think this way about high theory and low appearances.
Nevertheless, an explanation of defeat is one thing, but the enormity of the events as they unfolded needed something a little stronger: an industrial strength palliative. Constantly dashed hopes would require something far more soothing and consoling, something absolutely reassuring; those subject to permanent disappointment would need a concentrated dose of 'Dialectical Methadone' provided by a doctrine that thrives on the alleged contradiction between appearances and reality.
In this way, to change the image, the gravitational pull of the Black Whole of Hegelian Idealism would become irresistible --, as Hegel himself foresaw:
"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is carried out." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55; §316.]
How else are we to account for Engels's own late re-discovery of dialectics, after a brief initial youthful dalliance and subsequent rejection of it (alongside Marx) in the early years (the 1840s)? How else can we make sense of an analogous course taken by Lenin and Trotsky?
Admittedly, it is not easy for Marxists to accept this picture of the founders of our movement, in view of the almost god-like stature these comrades have assumed in their eyes. That, of course, is part of the problem; it prevents revolutionaries thinking for themselves (lest they be called "Revisionists"). Nevertheless, this accounts for Engels's life-long drift back into Hegelian Idealism; in his case, it accounts for the use of the latter as a "master key" to unlock all of material reality, even while he denied he was doing just that.
This also helps account for the fact that subsequent generations of revolutionaries have uncritically accepted a demonstrably, and lamentably weak theory (a theory whose weaknesses surely rival anything concocted by David Icke).
These theorists and activists have in truth displayed a level of gullibility that is hard to explain -- especially in view of the fact that elsewhere they think and behave like hard-headed materialists --, except we appeal to extra-logical factors, such as their class origin.
Since these comrades were, and still are, subject to the sorts of pressures that weigh upon ordinary human beings (in addition to those introduced by the aforementioned continually dashed hopes), the need to invert material reality to fit an Ideal image clearly was, and still is, irresistible. Decades of defeat and set-back, the almost total failure to win over even a significant minority of the toiling masses, splits, betrayals, sectarian in-fighting, bureaucratic inertia and implacable opposition from the class enemy -- to say nothing of the other alienating forces at work in capitalist society --, all these have taken (and are still taking) their toll on generations of the very best revolutionaries.
The almost universally irrational response these Essays (and my ideas in general) have received is in fact further testimony to this fact.
DM has such comrades in its grip because, given their material and social circumstances, it represents the way they have been taught to see the world: as ultimately Ideal. In this way ruling ideas have been introduced into our movement; this is because, given their education, petty-bourgeois dialecticians see nothing wrong with a priori thesis-mongering. In fact, nothing else would count as 'genuine' Philosophy, since this has been a core feature of the tradition that had dominated Western thought for 2400 years. And it is literally impossible to shake them from their devotion to such thought-forms. [This is just a recent example of the phenomenon.]
Moreover, DM-theorists find they just cannot abandon the traditional idea that Marxism needs a Philosophy -- indeed, they defend this belief with no little vehemence, waxing indignant (if not abusive) with anyone who thinks to question it.
As noted in Essay Two, traditional thought finds is most avid fans, and stoutest defenders among those who claim to be committed radicals!
[This topic will be explored at greater length in Essay Three Part Six, and Essay Twelve (summary here), where the usual reasons dialecticians give as to why they need such a priori theses and why they still think Marxism needs a Philosophy (despite Marx's trenchant criticism) -- will be examined, and neutralised.]
Small wonder then that revolutionaries seek reassurance to the effect that the most fundamental laws of 'Being' are on the side of (or they are strongly pre-disposed toward) their cause. Such a commitment, once made, would be one to which comrades would desperately cling; few would want to cut the cord that bound them to their Dialectical Mother.
This is, of course, something that is predictable from Cognitive Dissonance theory. [On this, see the classical account in Festinger (1962), and Festinger et al (1956). There is a useful summary here.]
This syndrome was dramatised a few years ago in a 'true-to-life' film, Promised a Miracle (1988), the story of an evangelical couple who believed their diabetic son could be cured by faith alone. These two unfortunates continued to believe this even as he was dying, and they accounted for his apparently worsening condition by reasoning that the Devil was falsely creating certain symptoms to test their faith. Even after their son had died, they continued to believe he would come back to them on the fourth day (to mimic the return of Lazarus). The more their beliefs were shown to be mistaken by events, the more powerfully they believed the opposite.
In this case, their minds were controlled by one form of mysticism; DM-fans merely rely on a different brand of the same product.
In relation to the vehemently negative (if not arrogantly bigoted) attitude dialecticians almost invariably display toward contrary ideas, it is also worth consulting the work of Milton Rokeach on open and closed minds (which was itself partly based on Adorno's Authoritarian Personality -- i.e., Adorno (1994)); cf., Rokeach (1960).
4. On this period, see Paul Foot's magnificent book, Foot (2005), pp.125-70.
5. On this, see below.
6. On this, too, see below.
7. The former WRP were past masters in the art of dialectical disputation. Long articles by Gerry Healy (or one of his sidekicks) regularly regaled readers of Newsline with detailed solutions to questions that constantly vexed ordinary workers -- such as: whether motion precedes matter, or the other way round. [Perhaps the "either-or of formal thinking" corrupted the minds of these hardcore dialecticians; surely the 'dialectical' answer is: both!]
[MIST = Maoist Theorist.]
The WRP were fanatical defenders of every last dot and comma of dialectics (of a sort that surely puts to shame most MISTs) -- along with practically everything Trotsky had ever scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet. [Proof? Read Healy (1982, 1990); much of this material can now be found here.]
The extent of this devotion can be seen, for example, in the review of Callinicos (1982) in Labour Review, Volume 6, number 1, May 1982, pp.40-48 [i.e., Pilling (1982a)]. There, the reader will encounter the same tired old clichés and articles of faith, dusted-off and given yet another spin around the yard, almost as if they had been discovered only the night before -- and as if Callinicos had never heard them a million times already. [See also: Labour Review Volume 6, number 2, July 1982, where Geoff Pilling tries to defend MEC -- Pilling (1982b). On MEC, see Essay Thirteen Part One.]
[One of the spin-off organisations of the fragmented Healy franchise is no less dialectically-devoted. That should help seal its fate...]
However, now that the Militant Tendency has self-destructed, it seems that (until his recent death) Ted Grant has assumed the mystical chair left vacant by the departure of Healy, and had donned the Dialectical Mantle as a purveyor of modern 'scientific' thought (based on ideas that were notoriously unscientific 200 years ago!). [Alan Woods now appears to be Grant's successor as dialectical-pontiff, on hand to pass the sacred word down to anyone ready to listen -- unsurprisingly so far: rather few workers.]
Scant consolation, one might feel, for the failure of 'Entryism' into the old UK Labour Party. These two comrades have written a book celebrating the glitzy scientific nature of DM by, among other things, repackaging the mystical 19th century musings of Hegel and Engels, and with no hint of irony. [Cf., Woods and Grant (1995/2007), and Woods (ND).] [Some of their ideas have already been discussed here, here and here, and their work will become the topic of a special Essay to be published at this site sometime in the future.]
8. The UK-SWP 'Discovers' DM
The UK-SWP's 're-discovery' of DM is more recent, however. The line taken in Socialist Review in the early 1980s, for example, was that while there might be a dialectic operating in class society, there isn't one at work in nature.
As Ian Birchall put things:
"The trouble with…[the 'negation of the negation' and a 'dialectics of nature' -- RL] is that [they] oversimplif[y] and mystif[y]…. To derive the laws of dialectics from inanimate nature leads to denying the role of human agency in the historical process." [Birchall (1982), pp.27-28.]
Even Chris Harman did not think DM important enough to mention in print (as far as I am aware) until the late 1980s. For instance, in his reply to an article written by Alex Callinicos [Callinicos (1983b)], Harman largely restricted his use of the term "contradiction" to the following (adding other revisionary comments to Alex's take on Althusser):
"Contradiction then becomes contradiction inside capitalist society. The transformation of quantity into quality becomes the way in which bourgeois society itself throws up new elements it cannot control. The negation of the negation becomes the creation of a class by capitalist production which is driven to react back upon that production in a revolutionary way." [Harman (1983), pp.73-74.]
Harman was strangely silent about the 'dialectic' in nature in this article, as were Alex Callinicos and the late Peter Binns in the same debate. Harman pointedly restricted dialectics to human social development (which is an indefensible fall-back option, anyway, as I hope to show in a later Essay (until then, see here)). [Cf., Callinicos (1983b) and Binns (1982).]
This is quite inexplicable if we are now supposed to accept the current line that DM is central to Marxist Philosophy. Indeed, it is even more puzzling when it is recalled that Alex Callinicos had been severely critical of several core DM-theses in the book under discussion [i.e., Callinicos (1982)]. Comrades in the SWP-UK might not have noticed it, but WRP writers certainly picked up on this and laid into Callinicos's 'anti-Marxist heresies' with no little vehemence, as noted above. But, why didn't Peter Binns or Chris Harman spot these glaring dialectical infelicities in that work?
Furthermore, Tony Cliff's earlier work, as far as I am aware, does not mention DM, and his political biographies of Lenin and Trotsky are deafeningly silent on the issue.
In fact, as this thread confirms (specifically here), Cliff mentioned this execrable theory in print only 3 times in 60 years (and even then only in passing)!
[However, since writing the above, I have discovered a handful of references to dialectics (the 'materialist dialectics' version, applied to society, but not DM, applied to nature) in Cliff's classic book, Cliff (1988); on this see here. Even so, dialectical concepts are nowhere near as prominent in his work as they are in, say, Ted Grant's. (On the latter, see below.) However, I am assured by older members of the UK-SWP that Cliff used to lecture on DM in earlier decades -- but apparently he did not think it important enough to put these ideas into print. The point is that DM only became an overt mantra in SWP publications after 1984/5.]
The same goes for other SWP theorists. For example, Duncan Hallas does not mention this 'theory' at all in any of his writings. All this is rather odd if DM is as 'central' to SWP thought as some now maintain. Cf., Cliff (1975-79, 1982, 1988, 1989-93, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003); Hallas (1984).
[Correction: I have come across one mention of DM in Duncan's writings --, an article, oddly enough, on sectarianism! Anyway, he is merely quoting Trotsky, and does nothing with the term himself.]
The change in line was heralded by two short articles; one was written by Chris Harman and appeared in Socialist Review in 1988 [Cf., Harman (1988)], the other was authored by John Molyneux, and appeared in Socialist Worker (see below).
Since then, several other comrades have joined the stampede back to the ancient past: John Rees [Rees (1989, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2008)], John Molyneux [Molyneux (1987); see also his blog], Paul McGarr [McGarr (1990, 1994)], and Phil Gasper [Gasper (1998)] (although, now that the US wing (the ISO) of the IST has been expelled, Phil is no longer an SWP/IST-theorist!). Cf., also Paul Kellogg's review of a recent book on Engels, 'The Demon Marxist', and subsequent letters. See also my letter to the International Socialist Review, in response to an article by Brian Jones. [Jones (2008)]. Comrade Jones attempted to mount a weak and rather superficial defence of dialectics, to which I have replied here. [Readers need to be made aware of the fact that my response was based on a typed copy of comrade Jones's response to me posted at RevLeft by another comrade who made several typing errors. A more considered version of that reply has been published here.] A similar letter sent to Socialist Review by a supporter of this site was not published. It can be accessed here.
Even Alex Callinicos has softened his anti-DM stance of late. [Callinicos (1998) and (2006); on the latter, see here.] Before this, he had been openly critical of DM; see, for example, Callinicos (1976), pp.11-29; (1978), pp.135-84; (1982), pp.55, 112-19; (1983a), pp.54-56, 61-62; (1987), pp.52-53; (1989a), pp.2-5.
It is quite clear that the downturn in the movement since the 1970s has meant that the above comrades have felt a pressing need to enrol themselves on a sufficiently powerful Dialectical Methadone programme.
Mercifully, DM has yet to appear in Socialist Worker on a regular basis. As far as I am aware, it has only featured once in the paper in the last 20 years -- in an article written by John Molyneux (the reference for which I have unfortunately lost, although Petersen gives it as January 1984) -- subsequently reprinted in Molyneux (1987), pp.49-51. [Cf., Petersen (1994), p.158. Petersen also references a letter to Socialist Review written (by a comrade and old friend of mine, Paul Jakubovic), in response to Harman's article, pp.160-61.]
At one level, this is difficult to explain -- at another, the opposite is in fact the case. Given the fact that workers are 'supposed' to assent to DM readily when confronted with it, or they are said to use its concepts unwittingly/"unconsciously" all the time -- according to Trotsky --, this omission is highly puzzling, especially if DM is as central to revolutionary theory as SWP-theorists would now have us believe. Why then hasn't Socialist Worker assumed the Dialectical Mantle once worn so proudly by Newsline?
The answer to this is not difficult to work out. The editors of Socialist Worker are not idiots, unlike their counterparts at Newsline; they surely know that DM is a complete turn-off for workers. Even Socialist Review largely ignores this allegedly central tenet of Marxism -- probably for the same reason. [However, in November 2008, Socialist Review published an article on "Quantity and Quality" by John Rees (i.e., Rees (2008). More about that later.] But, if DM is to be brought to workers, how might this happen if their revolutionary press totally ignores it? It is not easy to see how DM could one day "seize the masses" if Socialist Worker omits all mention of it.
International Socialism now appears to be the only SWP publication 'radical' enough to expound DM-ideas. Admittedly, few workers read this otherwise excellent journal -- and that probably explains why the editors find they can (sometimes) retail dialectical theses there.
In addition, meetings at Marxism (the annual SWP theoretical conference) regularly discuss this 'theory'. [Some of this material can be found here. A report of the discussion of dialectics at Marxism 2007 can also be found here.]
This is less easy to explain -- except perhaps: this is probably a gesture toward orthodoxy. However, to be truthful, there are relatively few such meetings, and their content relates to little of the political content of other meetings (which, given the criticisms advanced here and in Part One, is not surprising). Nevertheless, the contrary view (i.e., anti-dialectics) is certainly not allowed adequate time to mount an effective case for the prosecution (or any at all).
[Added by a supporter of this site ('Nemesis'): At Marxism 1990, I was given two, three minute impromptu slots. It is only possible to make highly superficial points in such short intervals, ones which, because they challenge fundamental beliefs, are quite easy to dismiss. However, the level of argument in response to what I had said was lamentable; in fact it was difficult to believe that one comrade (Seth Harman) had listened to a word I had said, given the irrelevant comments he made. (Indeed, at the end after the meeting had finished, I put him on the spot by shouting across the auditorium: "Hey, Seth! Is that the best you can do?")
The main speaker (John Molyneux) even took it upon himself to interrupt me several times at the start of my first three minute spell, until I silenced him with a joke. In my opening remarks, I was in the middle of saying that my attack on DM was not an attack on HM, when he interjected loudly over the microphone that it was. I denied it. He re-asserted it. I denied it again. He re-asserted it once more. I then turned to the audience and said "There you go, comrades, a contradiction within the first thirty seconds!" The subsequent laughter drowned out any further response John thought to make.
However, the reception I received for my brief intervention (a loud and prolonged applause --, upon request, the audience even voted for me to be given an extra minute) suggested that there were many comrades in the SWP who held similar views to me. There is no way I'd experience such a reception these days.]
Of late (i.e., circa 2003-8), even International Socialism has dropped this hot topic (except for this article written by Chris Harman in his review of a recent book by Alex Callinicos, i.e., Harman (2007a), and possibly this one, too -- i.e., Harman (2007b)).
[Added March, 2009: See also Harman's comments about a recent article (by Carchedi) on Marx's mathematical manuscripts. Harman is clearly unaware of the serious flaws in Marx's analysis (as is Carchedi); on that, see here.]
This is probably because of the international situation brought on by a resurgence of US and UK Imperialism, and the massive anti-war response this has produced. It is hard to argue with newly radicalised youth that "Being is identical with but at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming..." and hope to appear relevant.
And yet, one would have thought that this would have been an ideal opportunity to bring DM to the masses. In which case, it is even more difficult to explain why Socialist Worker is currently silent about DM. The masses are on the street, why isn't their paper informing them of John's universal masculinity, the friable fighting skills of Mamelukes, seeds which negate plants, and the logical tryst between 'Being' and 'Nothing' -- with 'Becoming' acting as a sort of metaphysical Cupid?
The question answers itself; DM is an irrelevance. [On that, see here.]
One should be able to predict that, as the recent wave of radicalisation declines, and as the fortunes of recently fragmented Respect, and the hastily-formed Left List, continue to fade, dialectics should rear its ugly head in SWP publications again. The above reappearance in International Socialism (and those recorded below) are an early conformation of this trend.
Hence, of late dialectics has re-surfaced in Socialist Worker! [The details can be found here.] Once more, this is probably a result of the fact that the UK-SWP has not made a significant political break-through, despite their prominent role in the UK Anti-war movement, and because the latter is in steep decline. Another example is a recent article on Engels by Simon Basketter. [Basketter (2008). I have already sent a letter into the paper about this -- we'll see if it's published. (No luck there, either. In fact, my e-mails have been blocked!)]
Idealism, too, (evidenced by this example of the 'triumph of the will') is once more on the rise, it seems!
[On that, see the discussion here, where usually saner and sober comrades are happy to eulogise the sort of stunt we normally associate with anarchists!]
9. This is not strictly true. Since writing this I have come across similar (but far less detailed) conclusions in Max Eastman's work. And Eric Petersen has also made this point; cf., Petersen (1994). [I will add an exact reference when I can access my books!]
10. I do not propose to document the history of every attempt made by STDs and OTs to invert reality to accommodate theory (or to save face) -- but see below.
Fortunately, the UK-SWP -- easily the most honest and self-critical tendency in this tradition (no sarcasm intended) -- is willing to admit its own errors. [Cf., Cliff (1999 and 2000).] Whether this means that the DM-credo will ever be abandoned is anyone's guess (but I, for one, will not be holding my breath).
11. Several studies document this ritual. Helena Sheehan's book is perhaps one of the best (Sheehan (1993). [See Note 38, below.] Cf., also Bakhurst (1991), Graham (1971, 1987, 1993), Joravsky (1961), Krementsov (1997), MacIntyre (1980), Pollock (2006), Reé (1983), Vucinich (1981, 2001), Werskey (1988), and Wetter (1958).
12. As noted above, with respect to OTs, this is well illustrated in Cliff (1999 and 2000).
Nevertheless, here are few (of the literally thousands of) on-line references to this 'theory' (and its truly miraculous powers) from various wings of Marxism: Mao, Maoists, Canadian Trotskyists, the CPGB, the CPUSA, Weekly Worker, CPI(M) (ironically, this link is to a republished Soviet Communist journal -- The Marxist -- celebrating the fact that Marxism has been successfully tested in practice in the former USSR; it should on that basis alone be re-named The Fantasist), the Bulgarian CP, the DSP, the SWP(US) (posted on the website belonging to a group that has broken away from the Sparts -- but without an ounce of irony), the Indian branch of the ICM, Fourth International OTs, the RCP/US (Maoist), the League for the Fifth International (these comrades clearly going for fifth time unlucky), more Fourth International OTs (who have not yet noticed they have been out-flanked by the 'splitters' from the Fifth International) --, and a spilt (already!) from the Fifth International [Is this the Sixth International in the making? Must we run out of ordinal numbers before workers in their droves queue around the block to sign up for their party cards? Will any of these groups stay together longer than Britney Spears and her latest partner?] --, the CPA, Italian Maoists...
Each of these, of course, has the correct and the 'orthodox' dialectical line on everything from the Big Bang to the price of pork.
And, as luck would have it, the fact that they all contradict one another is cast iron proof that they are all Dialectically Mad.
Book space for your head in the Saharan sand dunes now, comrades; there will soon be no room left!
[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist.]
With so many parties and tendencies testing their theories in practice (but ignoring oddly enough the results), and deciding in their own case they are 'god's' personal gift to success (whereas the rest are all abject, anti-dialectical failures), one would be forgiven for thinking there should be a few more 'worker's states' on the planet than there actually are -- which was zero, at the last count.
What's that old saying: If wishes were horses, Bolsheviks would rule...?
13. Admittedly, this is not the first time this particular accusation has been levelled against revolutionaries. However, on this occasion it is worth noting the following significant differences:
(1) It is claimed here that only DM (not HM) functions in this way.
(2) DM is not a religious doctrine; it merely acts analogously to one. Just as religious alienation finds theoretical expression in Theology, so revolutionary political alienation finds it in 'Materialist Dialectics'.
(3) There are other respects in which DM is like Theology: both are examples of (or both utilise) metaphysical thought, both contain dogma that no one dare question (and which even fewer can explain), and both have doctors of divinity/dialectics who not only help preserve the faith, they are skilled at complex sectarian disputation.
(4) These accusations are not being advanced by an enemy of Marxism, but by a comrade with serious concerns about the influence these Hermetic ideas have had on our movement, and how they will help impose on Marxism further long-term failure. The aim of this critique is not, therefore, to rubbish Marxism, but to prompt those who suffer from this form of dialectically-induced madness to cure themselves by kicking the habit.
However, since religious belief will only be terminated by the removal of its causes (in class-induced alienation), the infatuation shown by the majority of comrades for this mystical creed will only cease when the working-class succeed in changing society for them.
Dialecticians will thus have to have their heads extracted from these mystical sands for them by workers after a successful revolution. My Essays can no more do this than we can hope to argue the god-botherers of this world out of their faith. This means that, like religionists, dialecticians require a very real material cure, not an ideal one. So, these Essays will only make sense to them when the Owl of Minerva has finally been shot, plucked and stuffed by future workers' soviets, should these ever come about.
Nothing short of this will end the alienation that encourages comrades to become lost in dialectical daydreams. Of course, if this never takes place, dialectical mystics will probably continue practicing their ostrich impersonations right up until the point where the planet finally sinks into barbarism. These Essays will not shift them in the slightest, for such comrades cling to dialectical irrationalities non-rationally. [On that, see here, here and here.]
13a0. This might sound rather Machiavellian, and in some ways it is. Nevertheless, anyone who finds this comment unacceptable is encouraged to shelve their qualms until later, where I seek to justify this serious allegation. [It is also worth adding, however, that much of the basis for this claim was laid down in Essay Nine Part One.]
13a. Worker revolutionaries, if and when they too become déclassé, clearly remove themselves from the collective discipline of the workplace, and can quickly fall victim to this regressive creed.
However, it could be objected here that this paints an incorrect picture of the dynamic inside the working class. As Cliff argues:
"In Lenin's view...capitalism tended to organise the proletariat for the class struggle. However, it also constantly disrupted the unity of the working class, creating centrifugal forces. The daily struggle for immediate economic demands constantly unites sections of the class, but this does not last; quite often, in fact, it prevents the unity of the class as a whole. The dialectical contradiction between the unifying and disruptive tendencies creates the need for a revolutionary party which embraces only a minority, perhaps a very small one, of the working class. Without such an organisation, with its clear ideological demarcation and discipline, the socialists will tail-end the class, with all the variety of views influencing it, with the great majority dominated by the prevailing ideas in society, in other words bourgeois ideas. There is nothing élitist, or substitutionist, in Lenin's view of the revolutionary party." [Cliff (1989), p.58.]
Several points are worth making about this:
(1) Both Lenin and Cliff emphasise the material roots of the forces that move workers to unite and/or divide, but neither of them even so much as mentions the material forces that similarly operate on non-working class sections of the party. To be sure, worker revolutionaries will come from the advanced battalions of the class, and will have had democratic ideals imposed on them by struggle, which they will bring with them into the movement. But, what about the dominant non-working class elements? What material forces are at work on this social layer? Now, from what we can read about them (and from what is written by them!), they seem to be superhuman beings who are moved solely by progressive ideas (which have either descended from on high, or which have been culled from earlier ruling-class theorists who were somehow similarly blessed). In that case, unless we are prepared to accept an idealist view of such non-working class comrades (arguing that they are moved solely by pure and untainted ideas), we are forced to look elsewhere for the material origin of their tendency to split and divide, which feature of the far left is so well-attested it is in need of no further proof. I have attempted to outline what these are in this Essay.
(2) Cliff does not say how Marxist intellectuals and non-working class elements in the party are able to resist, almost heroically, the influence of bourgeois ideology. From what he says, it seems that workers are naturally duped in this regard. In that case, do we not now have to appeal to a sort of Marxist version of the Immaculate Conception of Ideas to find a source that is pure enough for such non-working class comrades to rely upon? Have their ideas descended from the sky, untainted by ruling-class ideology? Are these comrades the only individuals in human history to whom Marx's famous words (i.e., "social being determines consciousness") do not apply?
But, we already know where these layers found their core philosophical ideas: from a well-entrenched, mystical and ruling-class tradition. These elements in the party not only admit this, they glory in it. [This theme will be expanded upon in Essay Fourteen, Part Two.] Hence, from its inception, this wing of Marxism has already been knobbled! Moreover, when workers join the party (and are largely innocent of these ruling-ideas), they have these alien-class doctrines rammed down their throats. In which case, it is a bit rich pointing to the ideologically-compromised 'consciousness' of workers when the party itself is a cess pit of alien-class ideology, sporting doctrines petty-bourgeois comrades will defend to the death (of the movement and/or of the planet), if necessary!
We also already know about the fragmentary and individualistic nature of the petty bourgeoisie, from which class most leading Marxists have entered the movement. So, unless we are prepared to argue that such comrades were "born again" when they became revolutionaries -- the effects of their "social being" having somehow been miraculously wiped from their memories and from their behavioural traits --, we are forced to apply a Marxist analysis to reveal the effect such alien ideas have had DIM in general.
Once more, only Idealists will take exception to this.
[It is worth pointing out that this is not to adopt a naive view of workers, nor is it to adopt spontaneism; but this was discussed in more detail In Part One of this Essay.
14. One of the best recent examples of this can be found in the implosion of the old UK-WRP. Another is the collapse of the old Militant Tendency (the relevant mud-slinging can be accessed here and here). Moreover, documents relating to the recent punch-up in the IST (which also seems to be based on a catalogue of misunderstandings and false accusations) can be found here. Somewhat similar events overtook the Australian ISO, and the subsequent formation of Socialist Alternative (which later split -- big surprise, there!).
A further example can be found in the split in Spartacist League (International Communist League) a few years back to form the International Bolshevik Tendency. In addition, the Fifth International also split with no little rancour in 2006, with both sides making the by now familiar claims and counter-claims.
Another excellent recent example can be found here (in the 2007 split of the US Communist League), complete with the by now clichéd accusations and counter-accusations.
The latest example is the caustic punch-up that developed recently in UK-Respect, which seems to have progressed along well-worn left-wing lines: claim and counter-claim, allegation and counter-allegation, calls for unity on the back of manoeuvres to split, compounded by gossip treated as fact, lies, innuendo and distrust. All so delightfully novel and refreshing. And yet, despite this latest debacle, comrades still refuse to look at the class origins of those engaged in the split or examine their core theory for any clue as to this ever-present propensity to form such rancorous splits every few years or so. They will not even so much as entertain the idea! [More on this here.]
[As of February 2008, it also looks like a serious feud is developing in the Maoist RCP-US. All justified 'dialectically', of course.]
More examples can be found in Tourish and Wohlforth (2000), and Tourish (1998), and here.
[I distance myself, however, from Tourish's comments about Leninism.]
15. This accounts for the ubiquitous presence of the sacred Dialectical Mantra, and why so few question its banalities. [For example, at RevLeft, in the Dialectical Materialist Group, one will find Left Communists, OTs, NOTs, STDs, and MISTs all agreeing over these core theses, while being bitter enemies over practically everything else! On this, see Note 17 and here.]
16. Don't get me wrong; I am here referring to the Stalinised aberration, not democratic decisions openly agreed upon and collectively implemented.
Having said that, the difficulties revolutionary parties face in endeavouring to be fully democratic can be seen, for example, by the problems the SWP-UK are facing right now (June 2009) over deciding how to reform their inner-party structure, and in particular the election of the next Central Committee [CC]. At present, the current CC presents the party (in fact, its annual conference) with a slate chosen by the CC, which many inside the SWP feel is part of the reason why (1) a "top-down", semi-authoritarian regime has descended on the party and (2) the recent Respect debacle was so badly handled. As one delegate put things:
"There was a common feeling [at the January conference] that the crisis round Respect revealed a culture of top-down leadership".
The problems connected with setting-up a new system for electing the CC were outlined as follows:
"The longest and most controversial discussion was over how the CC should be elected. Under the existing system the outgoing CC puts forward a recommended slate for the new CC during annual conference.
"This system has hardly ever led to contested elections and all agreed that it needed changing.
"However, members of the Democracy Commission had been unable to agree a new system and two competing proposals were debated.
"The first was presented by Alex from the CC and the DC. He put forward a modification of the existing system that would still use slates.
"Alex said, 'To make contested elections easier, the CC should announce a provisional slate at the start of the pre-conference discussion. This would allow scrutiny of who was being proposed.
"'The CC is a working group. To organise itself it has to operate as a unit. A slate system is necessary for that.'
"Alex argued that the second proposal would make CC elections, 'depend on atomised individual decisions. It is open to becoming a popularity contest.' He argued it would make it harder for people in unpopular jobs, such as treasurer, to get re-elected or for new and relatively unknown people to advance onto the CC.
"John from Portsmouth, who was also on the DC, moved proposal two. He argued for a system which began with slates, but where the final selection was done by voting for individual candidates. He said this 'makes it slightly easier to contest slates and more possible to have real elections'.
"He said that under proposal one, anyone who put forward an alternative slate would appear to be taking on the whole CC. Proposal two would make it possible for individuals to step forward.
"'The CC will still have a slate and three months to argue for it. This is not about strong or weak leadership. Members of the CC will be stronger if they have been elected.
"'Nor is it about Leninism. The Bolsheviks used individual voting to elect their CC.'
"In a lengthy debate there were an equal number of speeches for each proposal.
"Several delegates argued that individual elections would produce factionalism and an incohesive leadership. Others said that arguments demanding a cohesive leadership were really opposing any kind of election.
"Estelle from central London argued that she could, 'realistically look at 12 people and weigh up the options of whether they would make a balanced leadership.'
"Karen from Manchester said, 'Individual elections don’t solve the problem of members not being able to have their say in the party. There is a risk that a minority can put someone on the CC that the majority do not want.'
"At the end of the debate proposal one received 130 votes and proposal two 88 votes. Three delegates abstained. The modified slate system will be used to elect the SWP CC in the future." [Socialist Worker, 2155, 13/06/09, p.10. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Which nicely illustrates the bind in which all revolutionary parties find themselves when they aren't mass parties, and are divorced form the unifying forces within the working class. Here, comrades can't trust the membership not to fragment (as noted in the main body of this Essay, and so have to ignore their own democratic instincts to rely on the majority to decide who leads them. The need for a "cohesive" CC (i.e., one that won't fragment) means that the membership cannot be trusted. So, the balance between autocracy and democracy constantly tips in the direction of the former. There is no solution to this that does not on the one hand threaten to allow the party to fragment, but on the other does not catapult it back into the 'top down' sort of regime that helped cripple Respect.
Of course, the above vote was open, but we have no way of knowing if, or to what extent, the CC packed the meeting with those it could trust to vote the 'right' way (a widely used tactic in the Respect split -- and elsewhere, and not just by the SWP-UK).
Again, having said this, to its credit, the SWP-UK is almost unique in openly reporting such matters.
17. This accounts for another odd fact (one that all who question this mystic creed will know anyway): each and every anti-dialectician is issued with a dire personal warning that to abandon the dialectic will lead anyone so foolish away from the true faith. [Yet another trait the dialectical faithful share with religionists.]
This is even though the one making such a prediction will belong to a vanishingly small group, and who will roundly condemn all those who are not of like faith (in every other such tiny group) for 'abandoning' Marxism, and even though all those who have been so easily dammed, one and all actually accept 'Materialist Dialectics', too, and will condemn (in like manner, and in return) this censorious comrade, and everyone else, and for the same reason: abandoning 'Materialist Dialectics'!
Anyone who doubts this allegation can test it in a small experiment; the very next OT you meet, try telling him/her that the Stalinists also use the dialectic. Then, the very next Stalinist you meet, try telling her/him that OTs use the dialectic, too. Extend this impromptu survey and permute the name of every group you can think of and tell each of them that their opponents also use the dialectic. Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will be told the same thing over and over: "Those other guys misuse/distort/ignore the real dialectical method; they are all wedded to formulaic abstractions...". [Several examples of this are given below. Here is a randomly-selected recent example of this, concerning the use made by the late Maurice Cornforth of the 'dialectic', and my response (which, I can safely predict, will be ignored).]
[Compare this with the way that sectarian Christians and Muslims accuse each other, and everyone, of similar 'crimes'.]
This means that for any randomly-selected dialectician, there are countless thousands or renegade 'dialecticians' who have 'betrayed' Marxism, but which accusees plainly have not (in their own eyes) actually abandoned the 'dialectic' --, namely, all those not in that randomly-selected accuser's particular sect. Hence, there are thousands of dialecticians who have 'betrayed' Marxism (in the eyes of every DM-fan out there), but who are all in fact card-carrying dialecticians in their own eyes!
But, do any of these censorious comrades draw this conclusion?
Are you serious!?
So, the lesson here is that it's not the dialectic-as-such that one should never abandon, but the exact identical copy of the dialectic that this randomly-selected censorious comrade has used -- which, as it turns out, is indistinguishable from all the other versions adhered to by every other censoriously-condemned comrade!
Indeed, I double-dog dare you to put this to one of these rationally-challenged comrades.
If you are brave enough to accept this challenge, let me warn you in advance to expect plenty of scatological abuse, at the very least.
A list of anti-DM theorists (many of whom do not go as far as I do in this direction), and who did not abandon Marxism, can be found in Petersen (1994), pp.164-70.
And, of course, there's always Plekhanov -- a diamond studded, platinum coated, 23 carat gold dialectician -- who adopted Menshevism --, and who clung to this 'theory' all his life. [Accusations that he abandoned the dialectic are without foundation, except in the 'censorious' sense outlined above. Similar objections that he did not "understand" the dialectic must also be over-ruled on the grounds that no one actually understands it.]
Finally, Max Shachtman was a keen dialectician -- who later abandoned Marxism -- while James Burnham was an anti-dialectician who did the same. So, adherence to DM is no guarantee that the one involved will always remain 'saved'.
18. The accuracy of Novack's memory is supported by the following comment of Trotsky's:
"...It would not be amiss, therefore, to refer to the fact that my first serious conversation with comrades Shachtman and Warde, in the train immediately after my arrival in Mexico in January 1937, was devoted to the necessity of persistently propagating dialectic materialism. After our American section split from the Socialist Party I insisted most strongly on the earliest possible publication of a theoretical organ, having again in mind the need to educate the party, first and foremost its new members, in the spirit of dialectic materialism. In the United States, I wrote at that time, where the bourgeoisie systematically in stills (sic) vulgar empiricism in the workers, more than anywhere else is it necessary to speed the elevation of the movement to a proper theoretical level. On January 20, 1939, I wrote to comrade Shachtman concerning his joint article with comrade Burnham, 'Intellectuals in Retreat':
'The section on the dialectic is the greatest blow that you, personally, as the editor of the New International could have delivered to Marxist theory.... Good. We will speak about it publicly.'
"Thus a year ago I gave open notice in advance to Shachtman that I intended to wage a public struggle against his eclectic tendencies. At that time there was no talk whatever of the coming opposition; in any case furthest from my mind was the supposition that the philosophic bloc against Marxism prepared the ground for a political bloc against the program of the Fourth International." [Trotsky (1971), p.142. Bold emphases added.]
And further support comes from Max Eastman's testimony:
"Like many great men I have met he [Trotsky] does not seem altogether robust. There is apt to be a frailty associated with great intellect. At any rate, Trotsky, especially in our heated arguments concerning the 'dialectic' in which he becomes excited and wrathful to the point of losing his breath, seems to me at times almost weak. He cannot laugh at my attacks on his philosophy, or be curious about them -- as I imagine Lenin would -- because in that field he is not secure....
"...Yesterday we reached a point of tension in our argument about dialectics that was extreme. Trotsky's throat was throbbing and his face was red; he was in a rage...." [Eastman (1942), p.113. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Anyone who has discussed dialectics face-to-face with certain leading comrades alive today (whose names I will not divulge, to save their blushes), and who has challenged this 'theory', will no doubt recognise in the above something all too familiar: the highly emotive and irrational response one gets from dialecticians when the source of their 'opiate' is attacked. [This follows my own experience, recorded here.]
However, Eastman is surely wrong about Lenin; anyone who reads MEC, for example, can see how irrational he, too, was in this area. [On this see, Essay Thirteen Part One.]
Faith in this theory is not confined to the past; here is part of the Preface to the new edition of RIRE (published in the summer of 2007):
"Ted Grant was an incorrigible optimist all his life. Marxists are optimistic by their very nature because of two things: the philosophy of dialectical materialism, and our faith in the working class and the socialist future of humanity. Most people look only at the surface of the events that shape their lives and determine their destiny. Dialectics teaches one to look beyond the immediate, to penetrate beyond the appearance of stability and calm, and to see the seething contradictions and ceaseless movement that lies beneath the surface. The idea of constant change, in which sooner or later everything changes into its opposite enables a Marxist to rise above the immediate situation and to see the broader picture." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]
It looks, therefore, like this rather low grade opiate is continuing to do its job, finding new pushers and yet more junkies by the week.
[RIRE = Reason In Revolt; i.e., Woods and Grant (1995).]
19. I will say much more about this topic and why Leninism was able to chalk up a major success in 1917, and how that success turned to disaster in Essay Fourteen Part Two. However, in the meantime, I have added a few comments on this here.
19a. This helps explain another puzzling feature of DIM, certainly one that had me foxed for some time: on discussion boards (and the best examples of which can be found by following the links listed here) comrades from every wing of Marxism will defend DM in almost exactly the same sort of way, supporting and quoting each other against attacks (from me, or from others), despite the fact that those comrades disagree about almost everything else. Thus an out-and-out Stalinist will agree with a Trotskyist, a Maoist will agree with a member of the IST, 'Libertarian Marxists' will concur with the most Neanderthal of Hoxhaists, supporters of the Juche Idea will welcome the thoughts of ISO-ers, Sparts will line up with CWI honchos, and so on. At other times, and over practically every other issue, they will be, and almost invariably are, at each others throats.
Indeed, on other occasions, each and every one of these sad souls will point their sectarian fingers at all the rest and claim that not one of them "understands" dialectics!
Even worse, when the above is pointed out to these characters, they all deny they share the same ideas on the dialectic, even while they are all agreeing on that very issue!
You just could not make this up...
20. As pointed out in Essay Three Part Two, DM-epistemology has copied bourgeois individualist theories of knowledge (based on the sort of ideas invented at, or about the time of the last major change in class power, 300-400 years ago). Now we see can see why. [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
21. Check out this talk by Mark Steel (located about 1/3rd of the way down the page at this link); in less than an hour he makes two such cracks, which go down rather well with his Marxist audience. [Mark has now left the SWP-UK. On this, see his recent book, Steel (2008).]
22. A good recent example can be found here. And this is what has just appeared (August 2008) at the Revcom website:
"We are proud and thrilled to announce the posting of important new talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP/USA, on bobavakian.net and revcom.us. These talks are truly pathbreaking explorations in communist theory and its application to a breathtaking range of questions, including political questions which are urgently and sharply posed in today's situation. They are also living laboratories in the communist method and approach to the world. There is a scope and a depth to each talk, and the talks as a whole, that is really unprecedented and extraordinary." [From here. Bold emphases added.]
Anyone who looks at the above and then at the banal material Avakian regularly churns out will only scratch their heads in disbelief, and then perhaps shout: "Away with these gods!". [For more examples and some analysis, see here.]
Click on the website of practically any Christian or Muslim sect to find similar language, pictures and servile sycophancy -- only there directed at much more ancient deities and holy men/women.
23. Any MISTs who have made it this far should, I think, avert their eyes at this point, since I am about to remind them that Saint Mao was no saint, and used female comrades as others use paper handkerchiefs: on this see Zhisui Li (1996).
[This probably part of the reason why Maoists tend to rubbish Zhisui Li's book.]
Indeed, one commentator summed Mao up in the following terms:
"As Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out in Revolutionaries, the widespread belief that there is some connection between social revolutionary movements and permissiveness in sexual behaviour actually has no basis in fact. Indeed, there is by contrast a strain of Puritanism in many revolutionary movements. This seems to be particularly true in the Maoist forms of revolution, since they have tended to focus on the movement (as represented by for example the Chinese Communist Party or the Angkar of the Khmer Rouge) taking the place of the family. The young Chinese Communists who supported Mao Zedong as he emerged as the leader of the movement were in fact positively forbidden from any kind of personal intimacy. Despite the constant threat of death or serious injury, not to mention capture by the enemy, the young men and women had to endure without physical comfort from each other.
"This restriction did not, of course, apply to Mao himself. Anchee Min's Becoming Madame Mao describes the sound of passion coming from Mao's quarters, as he made love to the young actress who was to become the terror of the Cultural Revolution, quite unnerving the young guards posted outside. Mao of course was by then onto what was to become marriage to his third wife. However, these marital liaisons were but one part of his sexual life. Throughout the period of his ascendancy, as reports of his personal life have made clear, young and virgin girls were brought to his bed on a regular basis. Agents, they might equally be termed pimps, roamed the Chinese countryside searching for suitable girls and explained the situation to their parents. They were sold the idea that a great honour was being provided for them and their daughter. Perhaps financial or material inducements were also provided at need. Presumably, there are a number of these women living still in China with Mao's children, although this is not a subject which is discussed very much in the public sphere.
"As for Mao himself, an endless series of young girls and a sense of entitlement would be strong enough inducements for most men but, in his case, he did seem to have a genuine intent to reach an advanced age, which he managed to achieve to a reasonable extent. There has been a longstanding belief in Chinese society that men can reinvigorate themselves by absorbing life energy from younger women through sexual contact. In fact, older women could receive the same favour from younger boys but, apart from the Empress Wu and her like, much fewer have been able to take advantage of the possibility." [John Walsh, quoted from here.]
Now, Gerry Healy was a far more substantial dialectician than Mao ever was, but with respect to female comrades, he appears to have treated them no better. On this, see here.
[MIST = Maoist Theorist.]
24. This is, of course, the dialectical equivalent of the 'pie-in-the-sky' myth that Christian preachers feed gullible.
Naturally, the argument is never put as crudely as this, but it is implied by the sorts of things DM-classicists do assert. How and why this is so will form much of the content of Essay Three Parts Three and Five, and Essay Fourteen Part Two..
25. Examples of this tactic will be given below. There, we will see that, in the eyes of believers, the fact that, for the faithful, 'Materialist Dialectics' is contradictory constitutes one of its most convincing selling points!
The same property is, however, regarded as a fatal weakness when it appears in rival theories, even in those that have been put forward by rival dialectical dogmatists. For example, we will see below Maoists accuse Stalinist of being contradictory, even while they proudly announce how contradictory their own theory is! We will also see the same is true of Trotskyists, as they accuse fellow Trotskyists, as well as Maoists and Stalinists, of the same sins --, who for their part return the same barbs in like manner to these Trotskyists, and to each other, and at anyone whom their favoured guru has expressed disapproval.
After all, what could be more contradictory than to claim that being contradictory is both a fatal weakness and your 'Ace in the Hole'?
[This is indeed how Buddhists (particularly Zen Buddhists) deal with the many contradictions there are in their beliefs. Examples of this can be found in McFarlane (2002), where, oddly enough, this irrational weakness is also seen as one of Buddhism's abiding strengths.]
A dialogue found in Price (1990), nicely illustrates the bankrupt rationality illustrated here (otherwise called "Nixoning" in Essay Eight Part One):
"Me: 'Fred is in the kitchen.' (Sets off for kitchen.)
"You: 'Wait! Fred is in the garden.'
"Me: 'I see. But he is in the kitchen, so I'll go there' (Sets off.)
"You: 'You lack understanding. The kitchen is Fred-free.'
"Me: "Is it really? But Fred is in it, and that's the important thing.' (Leaves for kitchen.)" [Price (1990), p.224. I owe this reference to Grimm (2004), p.70.]
Arguing with DM-fans is rather like this, and many of them regard this tactic as some kind of recommendation!
Two recent examples of this phenomenon can be found here, and here. Even more recently, we find Chris Harman, for instance, doing something similar here. [I.e., Harman (2007b), pp.113-15. More on this below, and in Essay Eleven Part One.]
25a. On a personal note, I have lost count of the number of times dialectically-distracted comrades have said the me: "Who are you, Ms Lichtenstein, to question Engels/Lenin/Trotsky...?" Of course, this is the dialectical equivalent of "If it's good enough for my Grandfather...".
25b. A particularly good example of this can be found in Healy (1990), where it is sufficient for Healy to quote Lenin, Engels or Trotsky to settle an argument (even with non-Marxists!). Of course, Healy was following in a tradition consolidated by Lenin himself, who, at the beginning of MEC thought it acceptable to argue as follows:
"1. Does the lecturer acknowledge that the philosophy of Marxism is dialectical materialism?
"If he does not, why has he never analysed Engels' countless statements on this subject?
"If he does, why do the Machists call their 'revision' of dialectical materialism 'the philosophy of Marxism'?
"2. Does the lecturer acknowledge Engels' fundamental division of philosophical systems into idealism and materialism, Engels regarding those intermediate between these two, wavering between them, as the line of Hume in modern philosophy, calling this line 'agnosticism' and declaring Kantianism to be a variety of agnosticism?
"3. Does the lecturer acknowledge that recognition of the external world and its reflection in the human mind form the basis of the theory of knowledge of dialectical materialism?
"4. Does the lecturer acknowledge as correct Engels' argument concerning the conversion of 'things-in-themselves' into 'things-for-us'?
"5. Does the lecturer acknowledge as correct Engels' assertion that the 'real unity of the world consists in its materiality'? (Anti-Dühring, 2nd ed., 1886, p. 28, section I, part IV on world schematism.)
6. Does the lecturer acknowledge as correct Engels' assertion that 'matter without motion is as inconceivable as motion without matter'? (Anti-Dühring, 1886, 2nd ed., p. 45, in part 6 on natural philosophy, cosmogony, physics and chemistry.)
"7. Does the lecturer acknowledge that the ideas of causality, necessity, law, etc., are a reflection in the human mind of laws of nature, of the real world? Or was Engels wrong in saying so? (Anti-Dühring, S. 20-21, in part III on apriorism, and S. 103-04, in part XI on freedom and necessity)...." [Lenin (1972), pp.1-2. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
It's hard to believe that someone as sophisticated as Lenin was capable of thinking that this sort of challenge would have an effect on anyone other than the simple-minded.
26. There is No Cult Of The Saints In Dialectical Marxism
This partly accounts for the almost god-like status that certain 'Leaders' assumed among Stalinists, Maoists (in particular), supporters of the Juche idea (North Korean Dogma) and in some OTGs (e.g., the old WRP). The correlation between the cult of personality and the extent to which DM is accepted as unquestioned dogma by revolutionary tendencies is quite striking; the two seem to be directly proportional to one another.
Naturally, this aspect of the cult of the individual is more often than not closely linked to political expediency (as it was/is in, say, Stalinist Russia, Eastern Europe, Cuba, China, and North Korea). Having said that, the mystical nature of 'Materialist Dialectics' certainly helps it function as a highly effective ideological legitimator of the exalted and remote status of such 'heroic' 'Leaders' in movements supposedly 'of the people' --, since, as is the case with assorted Popes, Grand Imams and Dalai Lamas, such 'Great Helmsmen' have a unique hot-line to dialectical truth.
To be sure, there were (and still are) political reasons for these national cults (the details surrounding which I will not enter into in this Essay -- but on that, see here); the point is that dialectics certainly helped rationalise such anti-Marxist developments, just as it helped cloud the critical faculties of those held in their thrall --, and to such an extent that these sad souls either fail to notice this trait, deny it exists, or refuse to be told. [Up until recently, I had a link to a Marxist discussion board frequented by individuals who illustrated this tendency, but it has now folded. But this unhealthy phenomenon is not difficult to confirm. Here is one recent example, along with my response.]
Anyone familiar with 'Marxist' iconography (particularly the images of the Dialectical Magi that adorn the banners carried by Stalinists, Maoists and Kim-Jong-il-ists) on parades will know of what I speak.
Figure Eight: There Is No Cult Of The
Saints In Dialectical Marxism
Figure Nine: Any Suggestion To The Contrary Is A Bourgeois Lie!
Figure Ten: As The Above Clearly Shows
Figure Eleven: So Let's Hear No More About It!
Just as they will know about 'Socialist Realism', with its craggy-jawed, muscle-bound proletarians, striking heroic poses, or sporting permanently ironed-on smiles -- especially when they are reading the world-shattering 'thoughts' of Chairman Mao.
Figure Twelve: Daily Life On Planet Dialectics
Figure Thirteen: A Workers' Paradise -- But, Alas, Only For Body-Builders!
27. This, of course, becomes a self-certifying response: if revolutionaries have always adhered to 'Materialist Dialectics', then -- as the argument goes -- it must be correct. So, no genuine socialist will think to question it. In that case, it must be unquestionable. Hence, if anyone has the temerity to question it, they must be questionable socialists with ulterior motives.
The full weight of this class-compromised and servile tradition is then dropped on such unfortunates from a great height.
In fact, the latter accusation is often the first to be levelled: the targeted doubter is automatically regarded as guilty for even thinking to question the ideas of the founding fathers. [Here is a recent example, along with my replies. Here is another even more recent example.] But, it never occurs to those pointing this rather shaky finger (at critics like me) that the best way to dishonour the memories of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxembourg (to say nothing of the countless ordinary revolutionaries who have contributed to -- and died for -- socialism), the best way to dishonour them is to adhere slavishly to a monumental error just because it is traditional to do so.
Now, that would be to spit on their graves.
28. This also explains why the DM-classics are among the very worst literary products in the Marxist cannon. Despite that, these works are treated with the sort of reverence normally reserved for the sacred texts adored by the genuine god-botherers amongst us. These include Dialectics Of Nature, Anti-Dühring, Materialism And Empirio-Criticism, Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, large parts of Trotsky's In Defense Of Marxism, as well as the many hundreds of secondary works that feed off these, or are similar to them -- such as the writings of Plekhanov and Dietzgen. [On this, see Note 30.]
29. This will be tackled more thoroughly in Essay Fourteen Part Two. In the meantime, the reader should check this and this out.
29a. Anyone who doubts this should read the revolutionary press (particularly that put out by OTs). Protests are always "growing"; anger is always "intensifying"; movements always "building". So, when 300 comrades are gathered together in an obscure hotel in a god-forsaken town in the middle of nowhere (and over 150 years after the Communist Manifesto was published), it is hailed in the following glowing terms:
"In the first week of August 2004 a meeting of almost 300 Marxists from 26 countries, including Venezuela and Cuba, met in Spain to discuss the world situation and the tasks of the international revolutionary Marxist tendency. This was for many reasons an historic turning point that registered a qualitative advance of the forces of Marxism on a world scale." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]
More on this in Essay Ten Part One.
30. The uncritically reverential attitude adopted by revolutionaries toward the third- and fourth-rate works listed in Note 28, above -- in inverse proportion to their real worth -- is one of the most remarkable features of DIM, the worst aspect of which is that those smitten by it seem quite incapable of recognising this craven attitude for what it is: servile devotion to tradition in a movement that boasts its own healthy opposition to tradition.
None of this sits at all well with Marx's favourite aphorism -- recorded by one of his daughters --, which was: "Everything should be doubted" (reported in Wheen (1999), p.388). This spirit of scepticism certainly harmonises badly with the way his writings (and, even more so, the writings of Engels and Lenin on dialectics) have been ossified into Holy Writ by subsequent generations of DIMs.
31. The rationale behind this idea is difficult to grasp: why should Hegel's 'logic' apply only to human affairs and not to nature in general? This would seem to mean that humanity is not part of nature.
Reference to Marx's humanistic method aside (which itself should surely be based on something more substantial than Marx's towering authority alone), to what can the average HCD appeal to justify the break in continuity here -- except Engels's dubious 'First Law'? That is, these comrades will have to appeal to the idea that during our evolution, as the complexity built into our species increased (both biologically and socially), at some stage, a new sort of being came into existence. At that point, there was a "leap", and modern human beings suddenly emerged. [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
If this is not so, and humanity is held to be continuous with nature (i.e., if there was no such "leap"), and if DM applies to our species, it must also apply to nature. Now, in order to forestall that inference, the only principle HCDs can appeal to is this rather shaky 'Law', once more.
Unfortunately, the consequences of taking that line of defence are equally damaging to HCDs and 'Systematic Dialecticians' alike, should they choose to do so, as we will now see.
If we assume for the sake of argument that this shaky 'Law' is 100% water-tight, then if it applies to the linking stage between humanity and whatever came before the aforementioned "leap", then that 'Law' must apply (one supposes) to both sides of that "leap" (or we might have to stop calling it a "law", or even a "leap").
Now, let us call whatever it was that existed on the 'far' side of the "leap", "PH1" (short for "pre-human1"), and whatever emerged on the 'near' side "H1" (for "human1", of course). So, the first 'Law' must have applied to the transition from PH1 to H1.
But, in that case, what governed the transition from whatever preceded PH1 (say, PH2) to PH1 itself? If there was no "leap" here, then the nature of these two stages must be qualitatively the same (one supposes), and, once again, if this 'Law' applies to PH1 it must also apply to PH2, too. [If it didn't, then these two stages would plainly not be qualitatively the same, since this 'Law' would apply to one, and not the other.]
However, if this is not so, and this 'Law' does not in fact apply to both, then there must have been a transition (another "leap") from PH2 to PH1 (since these two stages cannot have been qualitatively the same), which "leap" means that this 'Law' must apply here, after all!
The reader will no doubt be able to see where this is going. If Engels's shaky 'Law' applies anywhere, it applies everywhere (if we extrapolate the above back far enough). On the other hand, if this 'Law' applies nowhere, then HCDs will have no 'law-governed' explanation for the uniqueness of humanity, or for the emergence of such a qualitatively different social and biological stage, H1.
In that case, if this 'Law' does not apply to the development of H1 then the dismissive attitude HCDs normally show to their lowly LCD brethren is disingenuous, even if only here. At least LCDs have a shaky 'Law' which they apply consistently. HCDs simply have plenty of jargon, but no 'laws' (in this instance).
The reader must not assume I have suddenly 'seen the light', back-sassed, and now at least accept the validity of this one area of Hermetic Hokum. The above dilemma was based on the assumption that Engels's shaky 'Law' makes an ounce of sense. Assuming that it does, this 'Law' was then used to put pressure on the ability of HCDs to explain where human uniqueness came from. And that in turn was done to show that the adoption of a single Hegelian idea spells doom for any theory that has been unwisely compromised in this way.
Of course, if this shaky 'Law' makes no sense at all (as Essay Seven shows), then none of the above objections will apply. However, in that case, the entire Hegelian baby can be thrown out with the Hegelian bath water (along with the Hegelian bath, the Hegelian soap, the Hegelian towel, the Hegelian water pipes, the Hegelian reservoir...), since Hegel's whole system is based on even worse inferences than this, all based on impenetrable jargon, to theses supposedly true of everything, everywhere and for all of time. If truth is the whole, then so is its rejection. Once we reject Engels version of DM for his sloppy apriorism, Hegel's own mystical strain cannot survive, and neither can those that have descended from it with or without modification -- especially if one and all are predicated on a handful of Hegel's egregious logical blunders.
[Incidentally, the above argument can be extended to cover other Hegelian principles which HCDs also apply exclusively to human society. If I can summon up the energy, I will demonstrate why that is so here at a later date.]
32. This is amply illustrated by the numerous quotations taken from DM-sources given in previous Essays, none of which make sense -- and so cannot be acted upon.
33. I do not want to enter into this complex issue in any detail here (more will be said in a later Essay). Briefly: if a putative 'thought' is expressed by a sentence that violates certain rules (i.e., normed social practices) which we ordinarily follow/observe in the formation of sentence tokens, then extensive stage-setting and/or 're-interpretation' will be necessary before any sense can be attached to it. The extent to which this will have to be done clearly depends on each case.
[Incidentally, this is one of the few places where circumstances determine sense -- or, rather, where they allow it to be determined. More on that in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
If the linguistic expression of such an 'empirical thought' is apparently in the indicative mood, but that expression is itself incapable of being either true or false (or if one of those options is closed-off), then that apparent mood is plainly misleading. Clearly, this would make such a sentence problematic if it is still to be taken literally, in that mood. In that case, exactly what 'thought' (if any) is attributable to the one uttering this string of words is no longer the sole right of its originator to decide (coded sentences aside).
For example, if someone uttered the following sentence: "The Tower of London is in my calculator's will", insisting that they really meant: "Today is your birthday", then, once more, coded messages aside, we would not be able to understand such a person (save we attribute certain incidental aims and intentions to such a person -- such as, a desire to confuse his/her hearers). No more, that is, than we would be prepared to countenance the Crab Nebula, say, as payment for a year's subscription to The New Statesman, the existence of "off-side" in chess, or a close and loving relationship between a human being and Clostridium botulinum. Typically, individuals can no more establish the sense of a sentence than they can set the value of a commodity. [On this see, Hanna and Harrison (2004). Also see Essay Twelve Part One, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
34. This idea will be examined in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.
35. This will also be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.
35a. An example of a trivial case here would be if, say, someone read M1 and actually tried to think it. Perhaps not noticing that it falls apart upon actually being thought, they might then recommend it to a third party.
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
Now, it could be objected that this is a caricature of the complex way in which Marxists actually argue and reason dialectically.
However, that is precisely the point at issue. No one doubts that Marxists can and do argue in a more sophisticated manner using ideas and concepts drawn from HM. The question is: Does a single dialectical concept add anything of practical/rational import to such deliberations?
For example, here is David North trying to illustrate the practical use of dialectics:
"The ICFI doesn't simply talk about the dialectical method. It seeks to apply it as an instrument of political analysis. For example, in a lecture on the nature of trade unionism given in Australia in 1998, I sought to demonstrate how dialectical logic sheds light on the nature of this complex social form:
"'It must be kept in mind that when we set out to study trade unionism, we are dealing with a definite social form. By this, we mean not some sort of casual, accidental and amorphous collection of individuals, but rather a historically-evolved connection between people organized in classes and rooted in certain specific relations of production. It is also important to reflect upon the nature of form itself. We all know that a relation exists between form and content, but this relationship is generally conceived as if the form were merely the expression of content. From this standpoint, the social form might be conceptualized as merely an outward, plastic and infinitely malleable expression of the relations upon which it is based. But social forms are more profoundly understood as dynamic elements in the historical process. To say that "content is formed" means that form imparts to the content of which it is the expression definite qualities and characteristics. It is through form that content exists and develops.
"'Perhaps it will be possible to clarify the purpose of this detour into the realm of philosophical categories and abstractions by referring to the famous section in the first chapter of the first volume of Capital, in which Marx asks: "Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from the form itself." That is, when a product of labour assumes the form of a commodity -- a transformation that occurs only at a certain stage of society -- it acquires a peculiar, fetishistic quality that it did not previously possess. Once products are exchanged on the market, real social relations between people, of which commodities are themselves the outcome, necessarily assume the appearance of a relation between things. A product of labour is a product of labour; and yet, once it assumes, within the framework of new productive relations, the form of a commodity, it acquires new and extraordinary social properties.
"'Similarly, a group of workers is a group of workers. And yet, when that group assumes the form of a trade union, it acquires, through that form, new and quite distinct social properties to which the workers are inevitably subordinated. What, precisely, is meant by this? The trade unions represent the working class in a very distinct socio-economic role: as the seller of a commodity, labour power. Arising on the basis of the productive relations and property forms of capitalism, the essential purpose of the trade union is to secure for this commodity the best price that can be obtained under prevailing market conditions.
"'Of course, there is a world of difference between what I have described in theoretical terms as the "essential purpose" of trade unions and their real-life activities. The practical reality -- the everyday sell-out of the most immediate interests of the working class -- corresponds very little to the theoretically conceived "norm." This divergence does not contradict the theoretical conception, but is itself the outcome of the objective socio-economic function of the trade union. Standing on the basis of capitalist production relations, the trade unions are, by their very nature, compelled to adopt an essentially hostile attitude toward the class struggle. Directing their efforts toward securing agreements with employers that fix the price of labour power and determine the general conditions in which surplus-value will be pumped out of the workers, the trade unions are obligated to guarantee that their members supply their labour-power in accordance with the terms of the negotiated contracts. As Gramsci noted, "The union represents legality, and must aim to make its members respect that legality."
"'The defense of legality means the suppression of the class struggle, which, in the very nature of things, means that the trade unions ultimately undermine their ability to achieve even the limited aims to which they are officially dedicated. Herein lies the contradiction upon which trade unionism flounders. [Marxism and the Trade Unions, accessible on the World Socialist Web Site, here.]'" [North (2007), pp.22-24. Bold emphases added; italic emphasis in the original. Spelling altered to conform to UK English; quotation marks emended to agree with the conventions adopted here.]
However, apart from the clichéd reference to "contradictions" near the end, no 'dialectics' appears to have been employed here.
It could be argued that those parts of the above passage which have been highlighted in bold (and perhaps others) show where dialectics has been applied, but that is not so. An Aristotelian or even a Kantian could have written these passages. Once more, there is nothing unique to 'Materialist Dialectics' in this quotation -- and even the alleged 'contradiction' isn't one! [On that see here.] To be sure, concepts from HM have been used, but HM is not the same as DM. In that case, we have still to be given an example of the practical use of dialectical concepts (as opposed to the use of HM-concepts). Indeed, if North wanted to make sense, as he plainly did, then he found he had to use HM-concepts. Had he tried to rephrase this using Hegel-speak, no one would have been able to follow him. [Compare North's clarity with that of Gerry Healy, who regularly talked in Hegel-speak.]
[Those who think HM and DM are one and the same should read this, and then think again. Incidentally, anyone who still thinks they are identical after having read it has clearly not "understood" dialectics, since, according to the Dialectical Prophets, nothing is identical with anything else, so HM and DM cannot be the same!]
Of course, it is the purpose of these Essays to show that DM-theorists not only do not, they cannot use concepts and theses from DM in their practical deliberations and political activity in the class war, except negatively. Indeed, it will be claimed that dialectical concepts in fact (1) function as window dressing, and (2) proof of 'orthodoxy', and that they (3) serve as in-group/out-group identity markers, and (4) are thus often used to make purely sectarian points. In addition, these concepts function as a means for (5) justifying substitutionism, (6) defending opportunism, (7) excusing political treachery and double-dealing, and (8) rationalising the sort of oppression we witnessed in the former 'socialist' states (and in those that still exist). In other words, and in addition to the confusion it creates in the minds of otherwise alert comrades, dialectics can only have negative practical effects. [Evidence for all these will be presented later on in this Essay, and in other Essays (especially Ten Part One). See also, Note 37a, below.]
36. These comments should not be read as a denial that context doesn't matter, they are merely aimed at reminding us that the use of the words "NN thought that…" cannot perform magic and turn non-sense into sense. See Note 33, above.
37. This controversial claim follows from all that has gone before in these Essays. Again, this will be examined in more detail later.
37a. It could be objected that these examples are far too crude; no militant in his or her left mind would use them. This is doubtless correct, but that just shows how useless DM-theses are in relation to the class struggle. Since this was discussed in more detail in Essay Nine Part One, the reader is referred there for more dialectically-depressing details. [See also Note 35a, above.]
38. A survey of the history of theoretical arguments over the precise nature of 'Materialist Dialectics', which disputes have dominated Marxism for over one hundred years, can be found in Sheehan (1993). Sheehan inadvertently confirms the monumental waste of time that DIMs have inflicted upon themselves by the adoption of this 'theory', as well as the pointless and destructive consequences Hegel's ideas have had on the entire movement (although the latter are, of course, my conclusions, not Sheehan's). [On this, see below.]
39. As far as can be ascertained, the negative effect on workers of all this bickering has largely been ignored by those too busy (infighting) to notice how un-seized "the masses" have been by all this. And much of this bickering was, and still is, fuelled by obscure differences over minute changes of emphasis given to the wording of this or that sacred dogma. I mean, who gives George Dubbya whether opposites are "identical" or "united"?! [Detailed examples of this sort of 'dialectical casuistry' will be given below.]
Much of this resembles yet another scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian: Should we follow the gourd, or remove a shoe?
Shoe Follower: He has given us... his shoe!
Arthur: The shoe is the sign. Let us follow His example.
Arthur: Let us, like Him, hold up one shoe and let the other be upon our foot, for this is His sign, that all who follow Him shall do likewise.
Shoe Follower: No, no, no. The shoe is...
Shoe Follower: ...a sign that we must gather shoes together in abundance.
Girl: Cast off...
Spike: Aye. What?
Girl: ...the shoes! Follow the Gourd!
Shoe Follower: No! Let us gather shoes together!
Shoe Follower: Let me!
Elsie: Oh, get off!
Youth: No, no! It is a sign that, like Him, we must think not of the things of the body, but of the face and head!
Shoe Follower: Give me your shoe!
Youth: Get off!
Girl: Follow the Gourd! The Holy Gourd of Jerusalem!
Follower: The Gourd!
Harry: Hold up the sandal, as He has commanded us!
Arthur: It is a shoe! It is a shoe!
Harry: It's a sandal!
Arthur: No, it isn't!
Girl: Cast it away!
Arthur: Put it on!
Youth: And clear off!
Shoe Follower: Take the shoes and follow Him!
Girl: ...all ye who call yourself Gourdenes! [YouTube]
Admittedly, the dialectical debates between Marxists are in general more sophisticated than this, but the craven psychology is no different.
To be sure, internecine warfare like this has genuine social and political roots, but dialectics has made these disputes not only vastly more poisonous -- as will be demonstrated below --, but also permanently irresolvable.
Indeed, this theory has allowed anti-Marxist tactics and theses to be sold more easily to supine cadres.
While not significant in itself, this sort of squabbling cannot fail to have affected the view that many workers have formed of Marxism -- and more specifically of STDs, MISTs, NOTs and OTs. At the very least, this bickering has diverted and/or seriously diverted the energy of the vast majority of revolutionary theorists/parties into empty disputation (on a par with the apocryphal tale that medieval philosophers and theologians debated how many angels can dance on the point of a pin), thus surrendering the minds of the proletariat to our class enemies -- who possess far less confused ideas and a much more focussed agenda.
[STD = Stalinist Dialectician; MIST = Maoist Theorist; OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; NOT = Non-Orthodox Trotskyist.]
40. Naturally, such 'leaders' could be either groups or individuals.
41. This otherwise edifying homily should not be news to Marxists; however, substitutionist ideas have other ramifications, to be outlined presently.
42. This theme (i.e., that which concerns two incompatible views of language: the traditional representational or individualistic theory versus the more modern, Marxist or Wittgensteinian communicational or communitarian approach) will be explored at length in Essay Thirteen Part Three. [Several aspects have already been addressed in Essay Twelve Part One.]
43. In short, I accept the classical Leninist theory of the party; I just reject the dialectical-dogma that is usually superimposed upon it.
43b. Weston goes on to list many other dialecticians, who, in the 1930s, concurred with and elaborated upon this new, and convenient re-definition of the word "contradiction" (p.441).
At his site, Weston has very helpfully posted English language translations of numerous STD-texts from the 1930s (etc.) which illustrate many of the claims made in this Essay (i.e., how dialectics was used the rationalise contradictory decisions taken for more hard-headed political reasons). I will add several of these to this Note over the next few months.
Here is the first, which manages to rationalise both the class war with the kulaks and the economic and social compromise Lenin had to make (in the NEP) to stabilise the Russian economy, while succeeding in criticising Bukharin and Trotsky (who plainly did not "understand dialectics") into the bargain:
"Thus all development is reduced to a 'triad,' the triad is reduced to equilibrium, its disturbance and re-establishment, and synthesis is reduced to the reconciliation of opposites. It is understandable that Bukharin does not solve the problem of the new. We already know what political conclusions his theory of equilibrium and reconciliation of opposites led Bukharin toward. The theory of a snails pace on the path to socialism, the growth of the kulak cooperative nests into socialism, equilibrium in the struggle of the two sectors in the USSR, reconciliation in the class struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie -- this is the historical synthesis, which also had to denote a new basis of development. Under the first successes of socialist construction, which evoked furious resistance from the class enemy, rightists began to shout about the disturbance of equilibrium and of the necessity of its re-establishment. Synthesis must happen on a new basis. This “new” basis, in the opinion of the rightists, was a return to the NEP [New Economic Policy] of 1923. In reality such synthesis is a reactionary justification for the necessity of remaining in the old framework and merely touching up the old....
"Negation of the negation, synthesis, the new -- these arise not by means of simple unification, agreement, reconciliation, or combination of opposites. This mechanical interpretation of synthesis is nothing other than eclecticism. When Lenin describes the discussion on the trade unions and brings out two basic struggling points of view, he clearly emphasizes eclecticism of Bukharin, who made the proposal to unify the thesis approved by the Central Committee and Trotsky’s thesis. Lenin pointed out that the essence of the question was not in the means to unify the two points of view. Every object and phenomenon has many contradictory sides and definite characteristics. However, in a concrete situation it is important to find the new, that leading element that enters into the interaction of these sides. An eclectic does not know how to reveal this new, leading source.
"Synthesis is historical synthesis. Only a concrete analysis can show how opposites are overcome in synthesis and to what extent they are “preserved.” Analyzing the theory of knowledge of dialectical materialism, we are convinced that it is not at all a synthesis of empiricism and rationalism. Dialectical materialism overcomes the one-sidedness of empiricism and rationalism, pulling apart the experiential and logical moments of a single process of cognition. Dialectical materialism does not negate the empirical and rational moments in cognition, but by no means preserves empiricism and rationalism as tendencies. It is quite characteristic of Menshivist (sic) idealism that, while criticizing those who saw “triadness” in the law of the negation of the negation, it did not manage to pose the question of synthesis correctly itself.
"Thus the essence of synthesis consist in this, that it expresses the origin of the new. The new arises through a jump. The negation of the negation also expresses this break in continuity, manifesting new developmental tendencies, which overcomes the old form of the contradiction. The old contradiction is overcome in synthesis.
"The NEP was the negation of War Communism. But the NEP did not mean the negation of socialist construction, but only a particular form of its development. Socialism in its developed form overcomes a contradiction, and signifies the negation of the negation. But if the negation of took place on the basis of the developmental tendencies of the transition period, then the negation of the negation means the transition to new developmental tendencies, those of socialism."
"Selections on the concept of synthesis, from Dialekticheskii materializm [Dialectical Materialism], by A. Aizenberg, K. Egorova, M. Zhiv, K. Sedikov, G. Tymianskii, and R. Iankovskii, under the general editorship of A. Aizenberg, G. Tymianskii, and N. Shirokov, Leningrad: ORGIZ-Privoi, 1931, written as a textbook. This work was translated into Chinese by Li Da and Lei Zhongjian in 1933, and studied by Chinese Marxists, including Mao Zedong." [These are Weston's comments, not mine. Quoted from here. Incidentally, this links to a PDF.]
This is in fact very similar to a more lengthy presentation in Shirokov (1937), pp.359-87. Shirokov, however, adds for following ominous note:
"In NEP, the contradictions of the transitional period are fully developed, because a fierce class struggle still goes on for the final eradication of the class enemy.... As the energizing negative of the contradictions of NEP, socialist reconstruction emerges, negating in its the very movement the given form of its development. i.e., NEP. The entry into the period of socialism is the entry into the period of final resolution of the basic contradictions of NEP. Whereas the 'negation' of war communism proceeded on the basis of the law-systems of NEP, the 'negation of the negation' denotes the transition to the new law-system of socialism, on the basis of which the movement of the whole system of social relationships in the USSR is proceeding, the capitalist classes are being liquidated and the edifice of socialist society is being raised". [Shirokov (1937), p.378. Bold emphases added.]
Readers will no doubt note that it is the contradictory nature of this theory (or 'reality', or both) that 'permits' these authors to derive whatever they want to from it.
Anyone who knows anything about the sophistical argumentative gyrations of Protestant Millenarianism (where every line of the Bible is interpreted as if it foretold whatever these groups and their leaders have done, or are about to do) will recognise the similarities with the above, and with other DM-texts quoted in this Essay.
A particularly good on-line example of this phenomenon are The Lord's Witnesses (henceforth TLW, a break-away sect from the Jehovah's Witnesses; incidentally, the latter group are equally adept at this form of post-hoc adaptive sophistry). I have been following the interpretive antics of TLW for several years, and every minor twist and turn in their own fortunes, and those of the world around them, are squeezed into the interpretation of some obscure biblical text or other. When their predictions fail to pan out, as they always do, these are then skilfully re-interpreted so that this "new truth" fits, too. [This is precisely what one would expect from Cognitive Dissonance Theory.]
Readers are encouraged to check the TLW link out for themselves -- begin here (but sink a bottle of wine first!), where they will no doubt recognise many familiar dialectical twists and turns (of a less ominous nature) for themselves. [This is hardly surprising; such antics originate from the same petty-bourgeois mind-set analysed earlier. After all, 'The Lord' works in no less a mysterious way than does the 'The Sacred Dialectic'.]
44. A 'dialectical' analysis in the hands of Stalinophiles allows them even now to reject Hungary 1956 as an example of a workers' revolt. Only those who do not "understand" dialectics will, of course, disagree.
Here is a selection of passages from STD-texts, which demonstrates that Cornforth's 'analysis' is not merely his own.
Beginning with Sheptulin:
"The following types of contradiction are usually distinguished: internal and external, essential and non-essential, basic and non-basic.
"The interaction of the opposite aspects inherent in one and the same phenomenon is called an internal contradiction, whereas that of the opposite aspects inherent in different phenomena is called an external contradiction....
"Contradictions between classes or other social groups that have opposite interests are antagonistic.
"Contradictions between slaves and slave-owners, peasants and landlords, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are antagonistic, while contradictions between the working class and the peasantry, and between various socialist countries are non-antagonistic.
"Antagonistic contradictions are characterised by the fact that when they are resolved the unity within which they existed is eliminated. Thus, the resolution of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie brings about the transformation of capitalism, in which this contradiction was inherent, into socialist society.
"The situation is quite different with non-antagonistic contradictions. Their resolution does not eliminate the unity within which they existed, but rather strengthens and consolidates it....
"Since irreconcilable class interests underlie antagonistic contradictions, the latter, as a rule, have a tendency to intensify. It does not follow, however, that this tendency manifests itself in all cases, under all circumstances. Conditions may obtain which paralyse this tendency and the antagonistic contradiction, resolved step by step, will ease off, rather than intensify. The development and resolution of the antagonistic contradictions between the national bourgeoisie and the working class in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a relevant example. The above contradictions ease off as they are gradually resolved.
"In contrast to antagonistic contradictions, non-antagonistic ones do not tend to intensify. On the contrary, since the social groups representing the aspects of these contradictions are interested in ensuring society's further progress, the contradictions tend to ease off, smooth out and become resolved, without reaching extreme forms.
"Antagonistic contradictions are resolved through acute class struggle, whereas non-antagonistic contradictions are overcome by persuasion, criticism and self-criticism. This in no way means that such methods cannot be employed under certain conditions to resolve antagonistic contradictions. When the bourgeoisie realises the senselessness and futility of resisting the advance of society toward socialism, the antagonistic contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat may be resolved by peaceful means, by resorting to persuasion and re-education on a wide scale of that section of the bourgeoisie that accepts socialist transformation and cooperates on a voluntary basis with the proletariat and other groups of working people. The experience of transforming private capitalist enterprises in the German Democratic Republic and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam are examples of the widespread use of persuasion and re-education in overcoming antagonistic contradictions." [Sheptulin (1978), pp.268-73. Italic emphases in the original.]
Lest you are tempted to think this completely undermines the distinction between ACs and NACs, or you conclude that the distinction between them -- and that between "internal" and "external" contradictions --, is entirely subjective, may I remind you that if you were to voice such concerns, you would be in serious danger of being accused of not "understanding" dialectics. So, tread carefully!
[And it is also worth warning you not to allow the word "reformism" to cross your mind when reading the last paragraph of the above quoted passage!]
However, Sheptulin and the other STD-worthies quoted here, offer their readers no materialist explanation as to how, or why, such contradictions behave the way they say they do.
In fact, the idea that contradictions can be "overcome" is foreign to Marx, Engels and Lenin (however, Hegel seems to have pictured them this way; on this, and Marx's view, see Weston (2008), pp.428-33). Not that this is a decisive factor in itself, but it does weaken somewhat the claim STDs often make that their theory is faithful to the ideas of the dialectical classics, while those of, say, OTs (most of whom reject this classification of contradictions, anyway) are not. [More on this below.]
Despite this, STD- and MIST-theorists distinguish between the above sorts of contradiction to account for the wide diversity of changes that occur in nature and society. But, because they say they do not adhere to "fixed" and "rigid" dichotomies (even while they do -- but, that's Diabolical Logic for you!), this allows them to adapt as the circumstances demand. [This is otherwise known to those who fail to "understand" dialectics as: "opportunism".]
Now, the fact that the resulting theory turns out to be of great use to opportunists and class-collaborators of every stripe is, I am sure, just another amazing coincidence.
Cynics must not assume that this is the real reason these convenient distinctions (which, incidentally, have no other rationale) were in fact concocted.
The very idea...
Unfortunately for STDs and MISTs, the accuracy of the above cynical conclusion has been confirmed by the disappearance of most of the former communist states -- and not least by the fact that the "German Democratic Republic" (referred to by Sheptulin) has now ceased to worry the gods of dialectics, having self-destructed, too.
In that case, the "Capitalist Roaders", the surviving elements of the bourgeoisie, were plainly not convinced by the "arguments" they were given, and the resulting contradictions were not "overcome", as Sheptulin assured us they had been.
In like manner, too, the 'Socialist Republic of Vietnam' has adopted various forms of the market economy in the years since Sheptulin qualified as a dialectical clairvoyant, capable of foreseeing the future.
But, is this an example of "reformism" in reverse? Or, might it not be the un-negation of the "negators"? Or, is it even the re-appropriation of the "expropriators"? Has the spectre that used to haunt Europe/Asia finally been exorcised? It certainly looks like it (given Sheptulin's version of this 'theory').
This is no doubt because the proletariat in these former 'socialist' states must have preferred the older forms of class-war-driven ACs to the cuddly and fluffy NAC Stalinist varieties on offer. And since the working class is the ruling-class in all such Stalinist states (so we have been led to believe), the communist regime (which runs, for example, the 'Socialist Republic of Vietnam' on behalf of the ruling-class, the workers) plainly did as it was told by the working class, and enacted the required market reforms. Or, have I missed something here...?
All of these 'reforms' were, of course, based on 'argument' and 'discussion' (as Sheptulin assured us they must be), and were in no way a response to the pressure of world capitalism --, nor were they even the result of the un-reconstructed class nature of these states.
Perish the thought, once more!
Here is Spirkin:
"Contradictions are resolved, overcome in struggle. They and their resolution stimulate motion. The interaction of opposites, as a contradiction and its resolution, is what awakens every seed to growth and every bud to unfold as a leaf, a flower, or a juicy fruit. Contradiction and its resolution lend motion to things great and small and are revealed in the regular 'reasonable' order of the universe. They account for the unity of life and death, the beating of the pulse, the motion of forces released in crystals, in plants, animals, human beings, society, and in the whole universe. Unless resolved, contradictions do not 'spur on' development, they are a necessary but not sufficient condition for development.
"There are many ways of resolving contradictions and they depend on various conditions, including the character of the contesting parties in the case of contradictions in the life of human beings and society. In some cases one side of the contradiction perishes and the other triumphs, in others both sides perish, exhausting themselves in the struggle. There may also be a more or less prolonged compromise between the contestants. The resolution of a contradiction may be complete or partial, instantaneous or by stages. Let us take, for example, the present age. It is full of contradictions of every type and variety. On the socio-political plane the situation is dangerously tense because of the unrestrained arms race initiated by imperialism, which forces the socialist countries to take measures to strengthen their defences. Relations between some countries are badly strained. A fierce ideological struggle is going on between the countries of socialism and capitalism. What do the peoples of the world desire? What is their main concern? Everyone knows what it is and it was stated in full at the 26th Congress of the CPSU -- to achieve detente. The Soviet leadership has affirmed by positive action that it is seeking not to build up contradictions between the world of socialism and capitalism but to resolve existing contradictions by peaceful political means....
"The character of contradiction depends on the specific nature of the opposed sides and also on the conditions in which their interaction takes place. Internal contradictions are interaction of opposite sides within a given system, for example, within a certain animal species (intraspecific struggle), within a given organism or society. External contradictions are the interaction of opposites related to different systems, for example, between society and nature, the organism and the environment, and so on. In the final analysis, the decisive contradictions in development are the internal ones.
"Antagonistic contradictions are interactions between implacably hostile classes, social groups and forces. As a rule, they build up to the point of conflict and are resolved in social and political revolutions. Non-antagonistic contradictions are interactions between classes whose basic interests and aims coincide. The socialist revolution resolved and thus eliminated antagonistic contradictions, but it did not eliminate contradictions in general. Socialism has its contradictions, for example, those between developing production and increasing demands, between the advanced and the backward, between creative thinking and dogmatism. The main contradiction is the one which in a whole set of contradictions plays the decisive role in development." [Spirkin (1983), pp.147-48. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Similar comments were advanced by Afanasyev:
"External contradictions can facilitate development or impede it, lend it different shades of forms, but usually are unable to shape the main course of a process or of development as a whole. The victory of socialism in the Soviet Union, for example, was ensured by correctly resolving the internal contradictions, above all the antagonism between the bourgeoisie, which has been overthrown but not yet fully abolished, and the proletariat. But the advance to socialism was also affected by the external contradictions between the Soviet state and the capitalist countries, which did everything in their power to restore the capitalist system in Russia....
"Non-antagonistic contradictions are contradictions between classes and between social groups whose fundamental interests coincide. These contradictions are gradually eliminated and are not resolved though a social revolution....
"The Communist Party of the Soviet Union approaches the contradictions of social development concretely, takes into account historical conditions, singles out the chief contradictions and employs the main forces and resources to resolve them. In the first years of Soviet power the contradiction between the advanced political system established in the country and the backward economy inherited from tsarist Russia made itself felt very strongly. This contradiction was resolved in the process of industrialisation, but as the industrialisation made headway, the contradiction between socialist industry and peasant farming became more and more acute. This contradiction too was resolved by the efforts of the people and the Party through the organisation of the peasants in collective farms. The elimination of these contradictions was of decisive significance in building socialism in the Soviet Union." [Afanasyev (1968), pp.99-104.]
More of the same sort of material can be found in Kharin (1981), pp.132-35, 192; Konstantinov et al. (1974), pp.146-52, 588-89; Kuusinen (1961), pp.91-99, and Yurkovets (1984), pp.96-100.
We also find the following gems on the internet -- quoted here to show that the sorts of things argued for by earlier generations of STDs and/or MISTs (in support of the idea that socialism could be built in one country, etc.), are still alive and well, and just as contradictory:
"One reason for the advanced workers to oppose the claim that Trotskyism is the 'Leninism of today', stems from our determination to uphold dialectical logic. Anyone who upholds dialectical reasoning and practice cannot simultaneously argue that Trotskyism represents Leninism, or take Trotsky's side in the theoretical disputes, which divided the communist movement after the death of Lenin. This letter will briefly outline the general features of the two important issues of the immediate post-Lenin period. At the heart of the post-Lenin disputes in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was the question of whether or not to pursue a dialectical or non-dialectical approach regarding the nature of the world revolutionary process.
"Unlike Lenin, Trotsky's theory of the world revolutionary process was of a pseudo-leftist character, having certain similarities with Lenin's position, although a different theory. The simple procedure of applying dialectic logic to the world revolutionary process compels Marxist-Leninists to reject the either world revolution or socialism in one country thesis of Trotsky and his followers....
"Whatever one may think of Trotsky's version of the theory of permanent revolution, it is clear that Trotsky's either/or methodology is a repudiation of dialectics in that it applies an anti-dialectical method to a dialectical process.
"Regardless of the views that some people may have of Stalin, he led the grouping that maintained a Leninist dialectical approach to the world revolutionary process, in which the part, socialism in one country, was never separated from the whole, i.e., international revolution.
"Following the death of Lenin in 1924, Trotsky sought to polarise, or split communists on an anti-dialectical basis. This is to say that the arguments he used were not based on Leninism or dialectics.
"Trotsky wanted communists to take sides, or choose between what he considered two diametrically opposed lines. For Trotsky, this was 'either' you support socialism in one country, or you support world revolution (i.e., Trotsky's permanent revolution theory). Trotsky saw socialism in one country as opposed to world revolution. On this issue, dialectics never came into his thinking at all.
"Later, the whole international Trotskyist movement based itself on a fundamental repudiation of dialectical logic, failing to see that it was never a question of socialism in one country versus world revolution....
"The 'either' socialism in one country 'or' world revolution position was clearly to apply an anti-dialectical approach to a living dialectical process. If matter moves dialectically, how can one apply non-dialectical concepts to it and hope to capture the real movement. It is the dialectical movement itself that should, and does, suggest a dialectical approach.
"I believe that dialectical logic, the dialectical approach, is the foundation of both Marxism and Leninism, and it is clear from his writings that Trotsky only began to study dialectics at a very late date in his political evolution. (See Trotsky's: In Defence of Marxism).
"Although dialectics is the foundation of Marxism and Leninism, this does not preclude communists making mistakes, but we should all be guided by dialectics. This is why it is necessary to oppose Trotsky and those who have been blinded by him to viewing the dialectical world revolutionary process in a non-dialectical way, as socialism in one country or world revolution. Simply put, socialism in one, or several countries and the world revolution are different sides of the same coin. The Trotskyists toss this coin and call out head or tail, but in reality, both sides are inseparably linked.
"It was wrong and counterrevolutionary to needlessly split, or try to split, the international communist movement on an argument based on a repudiation of dialectics. The heads or tails approach cannot be applied to the dialectical process of world revolution.
"For the dialectician it can never be a question of 'socialism in one country or the international revolution'. Thus, only people not versed in elementary Marxist-Leninist dialectics could countenance Trotsky's approach.
"The world revolutionary process unfolds through the particular transforming itself into the universal. Hence arises the possibility of socialism in one country, resulting from uneven development, leading on to the international, or world revolution.
"Without a doubt, Marxism-Leninism has been vindicated as regarding the dialectical nature of the world revolutionary process.
"Only those who reject dialectical logic, or perhaps are unconscious of it, would oppose Lenin, who dialectically viewed socialism in one country as an integral part of the world revolutionary process. The slogan of the CPGB (Weekly Worker) or the SWP, that socialism is 'either' international 'or' is nothing stems from a profound rejection of dialectics. Such slogans have nothing to do with Leninism or dialectics....
"Because for Marxist-Leninists, the world revolutionary process is a dialectical process, whereby the particular, socialism in one country, is transformed into the universal, i.e., world revolution, this dialectical world revolutionary process requires dialectical thinking. Lenin, correctly, had earlier warned against those who neglected dialectics in his remark that:
'Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the "aspect" of the matter (it is not "an aspect" but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.' (V. I. Lenin: cw.vol.38; p.362).
"As already pointed out, Trotsky rejected the dialectical nature of the world revolutionary process; demanding communists make a choice between world revolution and socialism in one country. Had the Soviet leadership made such a choice it would have constituted a crass repudiation of both Leninism and dialectical logic and practice....
"The whole essence of Stalin's struggle against Trotskyism in the Soviet Union can be summed up as the struggle to silence Trotskyist/Menshevik defeatism about the possibility of building socialism in the Soviet Union. Certainly, Stalin derived a great deal of Kudos from the fact that Lenin had indicated that it could be done. Who can doubt that all those siren voices protesting against the possibility of building socialism in the Soviet Union were in fact serving the interest of the bourgeois counterrevolution, even if some of them did so unconsciously?
"Stalin defended Leninism, not Trotskyism, and this included the question of the dialectical nature of the world revolutionary process. Stalin was perfectly correct, from the standpoint of dialectics, to oppose Trotsky's either/or methodology. To side with Stalin on this issue was therefore to side with dialectics." [Tony Clark, 2004. Bold emphases added.]
This comrade is clearly a Maoist, and is therefore probably not amenable to reason, so he might not have noticed that history has in fact vindicated Trotsky's 'non-dialectical' approach to world revolution. Indeed, Clark's own implicit adherence to the eminently un-dialectical formula -- either socialism can be created in one country or it can't -- is, in the event, doubly ironic.
Naturally, the impertinent answer to this and other such dialectical corkers is, of course, "both".
Impertinent, yes -- but no less apt.
[Incidentally, this comrade's reference to Lenin's alleged support for Stalin's line is neutralised here and here.]
Here is more (again, from yet another MIST):
"Trotsky spoke in favour of dialectical materialism, but he frequently made use of undialectical ways of reasoning and judging political events. This is notable among Trotskyists to this day. They replace dialectics with a mechanical way of reasoning, and they replace investigation of the concrete circumstances of a situation with appeals to what's true of the world situation in general.
"Trotsky recognized materialism in theory, but negated it in practice.... Thus, his adherence to materialism was skin-deep, and he pooh-poohed materialism in practice....
"Perhaps the key dialectical aspect of dialectical materialism is that it focuses attention on the internal contradictions that in large part determine the character of a thing or process. For example, a country, a party, a government, and so forth are affected by other countries, parties and governments that oppose them, and this is recognized by mechanical materialists as well as dialectical materialists. But dialectical materialism highlights the internal conflicts and opposing forces that exist inside a country, party and so forth, and that account for why they react to external pressures the way they do. Mechanical materialists often overlook such things, and in a number of crucial situations, so did Trotsky.
"For example, seeing that the old ruling class was overthrown and thus had lost its control over the state sector, Trotsky regarded that the state sector of the Soviet Union was inherently socialist. He didn't see the importance of the internal contradictions in the state sector....
"Trotsky repeatedly denounced the idea of 'democratic dictatorship' of the workers and peasants as an algebraic formula, for example, he might say that it had 'a certain algebraic quality, which had to make way for more precise arithmetical quantities in the process of historical experience', this arithmetic allegedly showing that the idea was wrong. Thus he contrasted algebraic formulas to good old, time-honoured, solid arithmetic.
"It has since become something of a shibboleth of Trotskyist reasoning to refer to certain political terms as 'algebraic formulas'; this is usually meant as a denunciation, but it is also conceded that certain demands must, alas, have an algebraic character for the time being. But the difference between algebra and arithmetic is precisely that algebra is more dialectical than arithmetic. So Trotsky's elevation of arithmetic over algebra is about as close as one can get to seeing someone who claims to be a dialectical materialist attack dialectics." [Joseph Green. Bold emphases added.]
Still attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable -- i.e., proletarian democracy with increased centralisation -- by the use of dialectical-concepts, on sound Stalinist lines, we find this additional (MIST) critique of Trotsky:
"Contrary to what is often thought, democratic centralism concerns questions of elaboration of the party line and leadership more than questions of organisation. A centralised party is necessary to unify and co-ordinate all the people's struggles, to centralise and systematise them after studying the correct ideas of the masses, to mobilise the masses around slogans corresponding to the tasks of the moment, to assess constantly the experience gained in the struggles as a whole, and to educate the masses in the spirit of scientific socialism so that they can carry through the revolution to the end. None of these objectives can be achieved if this leadership is not carried out democratically.
"Trotsky's positions on this issue varied considerably during his life. We see him oscillate from one extreme to another because of his inability to grasp the dialectical link uniting these pairs of opposites: the distinction between the party and the class and its fusion with it; the authority of the centre and its monitoring by the militants; the need for statutory rules and the fact that they must be subordinated to 'revolutionary opportunity', as Lenin said....
"We have just alluded to the mass line, the developed form of democratic centralism. Here is how Mao Tse-tung defines it:
'In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily "from the masses to the masses". This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action.... And so on, and over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.'
"It follows from this text and from all the others in which Mao formulates his idea of the mass line that democratic centralism presents a dialectical contradictory unity: 'Within the ranks of the people, democracy is correlative with centralism and freedom with discipline. They are the two opposites of a single entity.'" [Kostas Mavrakis. Bold emphases added.]
[We will have occasion to look at Mao's own attempt to reconcile the dictatorship over the proletariat with 'proletarian democracy', later on.]
On the role that 'principal' contradictions play (in rationalising class compromises..., er, sorry, alliances), we find this tortuous dialectical-argument:
"Studying the revolutionary process from the point of view of diachrony, Trotskyism emphasises continuity and the possibility of making non-stop progress: 'The living historical process always makes leaps over isolated "stages" which derive from the theoretical breakdown into its component parts of the process of development in its entirety'; and also the interpenetration, the 'telescoping' of stages, since, according to it, socialist transformations are the order of the day even before the tasks of the bourgeois revolution are completed. Lenin, on the contrary, as a good dialectician, has the correct priorities, putting the emphasis on discontinuity.
'Of course, in actual historical circumstances, the elements of the past become interwoven with those of the future; the two paths cross... But this does not in the least prevent us from logically and historically distinguishing between the major stages of development. We all contrapose bourgeois revolution and socialist revolution; we all insist on the absolute necessity of strictly distinguishing between them.'
"If this is not done it is no longer possible to distinguish between the principal contradiction and the secondary contradictions, it is impossible to determine the class alliances required by the tasks of the stage, the location of the line of demarcation between friends and enemies; the result is that it is impossible to carry out a correct united front policy which assumes that the contradictions which are secondary objectively are kept so by making concessions to one's allies; thus the proletariat is prevented from taking the leadership of the united front, it is isolated and condemned to impotence.
"Trotsky's unilateral emphasis on continuity is the sign of the incomprehension of the Marxist dialectic which led him to ignore the essential implications of the law of uneven development. This law signifies not only that the imperialist powers and monopolies grow at an unequal rate, but also that, in each social formation, the economic base and the political and ideological superstructures evolve at an unequal rate and by leaps, that these instances possess a relative autonomy and a peculiar temporality, and that in each of them the contradictions and their aspects shift (are transformed into their opposite). The revolution explodes when the principal contradiction reaches an explosive phase. The displacement of its aspects then brings about a restructuration of the whole. This contradiction is the nodal point where all the others converge. That such a convergence occurs in the sense of a rupture is rare, as will be clear, and all the more so in several countries at once. This is why, according to Lenin, the victory of the proletariat in one country is the 'typical case', while revolution in several countries can only be a 'rare exception'.
"In 'Results and Prospects', Trotsky prophesied the extension of the revolution throughout Europe when the victorious Russian proletariat called on its brothers throughout the world for 'the last fight'.... For Trotsky, society has a simple structure in which the principal contradiction 'de jure' (proletariat-bourgeoisie) is always and everywhere principal 'de facto' during the whole period of the transition. That is why he saw only the world revolution (and also saw it 'sub specie aeternitatis'). He imagined it as unfolding in a continuous and homogeneous socio-historical time-space. The underground work of the 'old mole', the structure and the articulation of the strata which it has to get through were invisible from the ethereal heights he occupied.
"The Trotskyists are ignorant of the dialectic of continuity and discontinuity which is as necessary for an understanding of history as it is for one of microphysics. They roar with laughter when they hear talk of the uninterrupted revolution by stages. For them, it is a contradiction in terms. We know that the concept of the 'break' which Althusser borrowed from Bachelard was inspired in the latter by that of 'discontinuity' in particle physics. If one cannot even grasp the universality of contradiction demonstrated by the unity and opposition of continuity and discontinuity in all the sciences, how could one penetrate its specificity in historical materialism?
"It was clear at the time of the campaign which the Trotskyists launched in 1971 against China's international policy that they approached problems in an absolutely unilateral, metaphysical way. They do not understand that a state like Cambodia before Sihanouk's overthrow, or Pakistan, can have a dual nature: progressive, in so far as it defends its autonomy against the superpowers; reactionary, in that it oppresses the people. For them, reactionaries are reactionaries and it is not permissible to apply different policies to them, taking into account their differences so as to isolate the principal enemy of the moment." [Kostas Mavrakis. Bold emphases added.]
This comrade (no doubt unwittingly, once more), failed to note that the concept of "principal" and "secondary" contradictions is foreign to Lenin (and Engels, and Marx, and Hegel). Does this make comrade Mavrakis -- shock, horror! -- a Revisionist?
It is also worth pointing out that the only substantial arguments the above comrades can put together against Trotsky are those based on yet more dialectics, just as we will find the same -- in reverse -- is true of Trotskyists, who make the exact same complaints against NOTs, STDs and MISTs, arguing for the opposite conclusion from equally 'dialectically-sound' premisses.
Anyone with a cast iron stomach can read more of this stuff here -- in this case inflicted on humanity by no less a person than Charles Bettelheim, who, as a MIST-meister extraordinaire, was keen to reveal to an expectant world exactly why Ernest Mandel, the doyen of Trotskyist dialecticians, was wrong to ignore 'principal' contradictions, among other things.
[This might be because Lenin ignored them too -- just a thought.]
And here is yet more dialectical double-think (mercifully, this example constitutes perhaps the reductio ad absurdum of this entire dialectical/sectarian genre):
"Too frequently, the question of the nature of the Soviet Union and 'existing socialism' (perhaps it should now be called 'previously existing socialism') is approached in a mechanical and metaphysical manner: the Soviet Union either is socialist, or it is not; its bureaucracy either is a ruling class, or it is not. The antidote to such thinking, of course, is dialectics. The Soviet Union both is, and is not, socialist; its bureaucracy both is, and is not, a ruling class. 'Existing socialism,' in other words, must be viewed dialectically, not just in terms of what it is, but what it has been and what it is becoming, and in terms of its interconnections with the global sweep of modern social change." [Eugene Ruyle.]
There is plenty more of this stuff on the internet, just as there are countless pages of similarly mindless Trotskyist diatribe arguing along equally sound dialectical lines for the opposite conclusions. [On the latter, see here.]
45. Unfortunately for STDs, Stalin himself adopted this Leninist line (in the first edition of his Foundations of Leninism):
"The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism - the organisation of socialist production -- remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient -- the history of our revolution bears this out. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.
"Such, on the whole, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution." [Stalin. Bold emphasis alone added.]
So, either Lenin changed his mind posthumously, or Stalin dropped an inadvertent clanger -- or, even more likely, he accurately depicted Lenin's position until it became politically expedient to make a U-turn and misrepresent him.
John Molyneux explains the background:
"By far the most important such amendment was the theory of socialism in one country, first promulgated by Stalin in autumn 1924. The introduction of this theory needs to be considered from a number of angles: how it was done, why it was done, the social interests it served, and its consequences.
"First Stalin's method. 'Socialism in one country' marked a dramatic break with the internationalist position formulated by Marx and Engels as early as 1845 and 1847, (94) and tirelessly repeated by Lenin in relation to the Russian Revolution. (95) It also contradicted what Stalin himself had written in The Foundation of Leninism as late as April 1924:
'The main task of socialism -- the organisation of socialist production -- still remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible.' (96)
"Stalin 'solved' this contradiction by rewriting this passage to read the opposite ('After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society' (97)) and having the first edition withdrawn from circulation. There was no new analysis, simply the assertion of a new orthodoxy (retrospectively grafted on to Lenin). Indeed, apart from this one passage the rest of the text was left unchanged, including passages which clearly reflected the earlier perspective. (98) Only later were 'analyses' concocted to justify the new line.
"This procedure was not an isolated example, rather it was typical. When Social Democracy (according to Stalin) changed from an ally (1925-27) to 'the main enemy' (1928-33) and then back to an ally again (1934-39), the change of line was not based on any new analysis of Social Democracy. It was simply a fiat to which analysis had to accommodate itself afterwards. The 'secret' of this method is not that Stalin had no analysis but that the analysis he had could not be spoken publicly, because its real criteria, and real purposes, had ceased to be those of the theory whose language it retained.
"What then was Stalin's reason for introducing socialism in one country in 1924? Clearly it was a response (a defeatist response) to the failure of the German Revolution in 1923 and the relative stabilisation of capitalism that followed. Stalin had never been much interested in world revolution (he was by far the most insular of the leading Bolsheviks) and now he wrote it off entirely, but this alone does not explain why he didn't simply continue to pay lip service to the old internationalism. The answer is that socialism in one country fitted exactly the needs and aspirations of the bureaucrats now dominating the country. They longed for business as usual, uncomplicated by international revolutionary adventures. At the same time, they needed a banner around which to group themselves, a slogan defining their goal. As Trotsky put it, socialism in one country 'expressed unmistakeably the mood of the bureaucracy. When speaking of the victory of socialism, they meant their own victory.' (99) It was to the bureaucracy what 'All power to the soviets' was to the working class in 1917.
"As we have seen, Stalin introduced his new theory with the minimum of fuss (precisely to disguise its newness) yet in reality it marked a decisive shift in orientation which had the most far-reaching consequences. The Soviet Union was isolated in the face of a hostile capitalist world -- a world which had already demonstrated its eagerness to strangle the Revolution by its intervention in the Civil War, and which, as Lenin emphasised, remained economically and militarily stronger than the young workers' state. The strategy of the early years of the Revolution -- the strategy of Lenin and Trotsky -- included, of course, the most determined military defence but ultimately it relied on stimulating international revolution to overthrow capitalism from within. The policy of socialism in one country changed this emphasis. It replaced reliance on the international class struggle with reliance on the power of the Soviet Union as a nation state, and this decision had its own implacable logic.
"The defence of the Soviet state demanded armed forces equal to those of its enemies and in the modern world that meant an equivalent industry and an equivalent surplus. Engels had already grasped this crucial fact of 20th century economics and politics in 1892:
'From the moment warfare became part of the grande industrie (iron clad ships, rifled artillery, quickfiring and repeating cannons, repeating rifles, steel covered bullets, smokeless powder etc.) la grande industrie, without which all these things cannot be made, became a political necessity. All these things cannot be had without a highly developed metal manufacture. And that manufacture cannot be had without a corresponding development in all other branches of manufacture, especially textiles.' (100)
"Stalin's grasp on this reality was no less firm:
'No comrades...the pace must not be slackened! On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities.
'To slacken the pace would mean to lag behind; and those who lag behind are beaten. We do not want to be beaten. No, we don't want to. The history of old...Russia...she was ceaselessly beaten for her backwardness.... For military backwardness, for cultural backwardness, for political backwardness, for industrial backwardness, for agricultural backwardness....
'We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us.' (101)
"But Russia was poor, compared with its rivals desperately so, and its productivity of labour was low. To industrialise it required massive investment and without international aid there was only one possible source for this investment, the labour of its workers and peasants. A massive surplus had to be extracted and ploughed back into industrial growth. But with the majority of the population living not much above subsistence level there was no way such a surplus could be extracted and set aside voluntarily by collective decision of the associated producers. It could be done only through forcible exploitation and that in turn required an agency to apply this force -- a social class freed from the burdens, but reaping the benefits, of the process of capital accumulation -- a class playing the same historical role as the bourgeoisie had done in western Europe. Thus the consequence, in practice, of socialism in one country was its direct opposite, state capitalism in one country.
"Socialism in one country also had theoretical consequences. It could not be confined, much as Stalin may have wished it, to a minor amendment to the orthodoxy. In Russia the overwhelming majority of the population were not workers but peasants. Marx and Lenin, although they recognised the possibility of a revolutionary alliance between workers and peasants to overthrow the capitalists and landlords, always insisted that the peasantry was not a socialist class. 'The peasant movement...is not a struggle against the foundations of capitalism but a struggle to cleanse them of all survivals of serfdom.'  But if Russia, by itself, was to accomplish the transition to socialism, then this attitude to the peasantry had to be revised. So for a period Stalin (and his ally Bukharin) advanced the notion of the peasantry 'growing into' socialism. In practice of course the peasantry was crushed by the forced collectivisation of 1929-33, for it constituted an obstacle not only to socialism but also to state capitalism, but not before the blurring of the distinction between the working class and the peasantry had passed into Stalinist ideology....
"Finally the logic of socialism in one country played havoc with the Marxist theory of the state. By 1934 Stalin was claiming that socialism had been established in Russia. This was on the basis that with the transformation of the peasantry into state employees, classes no longer existed -- the bureaucracy of course was not a class for Stalin. According to Marxism, the state, as an instrument of class rule, was destined to wither away under socialism, but Stalin's state had not the slightest intention of withering away, and this was a fact that no amount of propaganda could hide.
"Stalin fielded this particular contradiction by asserting that Marx and Engels had expected the state to wither away because they viewed socialism as an international phenomenon, whereas when socialism existed only in one country the state had to be strengthened.  It was the kind of circular argument that works well when anyone who points out the circularity is a candidate for the firing squad.
"But if this argument justified the existence of the state it still left unsolved the problem of the class nature of this state. It could not be a specifically workers' state if Russia was a classless society -- and precisely this was involved in the claim that Russia was socialist. The only solution was the notion that the Soviet state had become a state of 'the whole people', a thoroughly bourgeois view of the state vigorously attacked by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme and by Lenin in The State and Revolution. Moreover it was a view of the state adopted by the Stalinist bureaucracy for exactly the same reason that the bourgeoisie has always viewed their state as a state of the whole people, namely its refusal to acknowledge its own existence as a ruling class." [Molyneux (1983), pp.30-33. Bold emphases added.]
Of course, Molyneux forgot to mention that Stalin's line makes perfectly good dialectical sense (as does its opposite), just as he neglected to mention that this is precisely how this counter-revolutionary ideology was sold to the communist party world-wide.
But, that omission is only to be expected, since Molyneux is also a dialectician.
The best discussion of this is, of course, Trotsky's Revolution Betrayed; i.e., Trotsky (1977), especially pp.291-308.
45a. There are many histories of this dark period of our movement, but the best is, I think, Gluckstein (1999) -- who, alas, also fails to note the impact this contradictory 'theory' had on the contradictory policies the KPD adopted.
46. We find also this 'dialectical' justification for the Popular Front (in direct 'contradiction' to what had gone before):
"Others argue that, since the establishment of the united proletarian front meets in a number of countries with the resistance of the reactionary part of Social-Democracy, it is better to start at once with building up the People's Front, and then develop the united working class front on that basis.
"Evidently both groups fail to understand that the united front and the anti-Fascist People's Front are connected by the living dialectics of struggle; that they are interwoven, the one passing into the other in the process of the practical struggle against fascism, and that there is certainly no Chinese wall to keep them apart." [Georgi Dimitroff, General Secretary of the Communist International, 1935. Bold emphasis added.]
Here is the CCP (in 1956), with yet more dialectically-aggravated bickering:
"Such naive ideas seem to suggest that contradictions no longer exist in a socialist society. To deny the existence of contradictions is to deny dialectics. The contradictions in various societies differ in character as do the forms of their solution, but society at all times develops through continual contradictions. Socialist society also develops through contradictions between the productive forces and the relations of production. In a socialist or communist society, technical innovations and improvement in the social system inevitably continue to take place; otherwise the development of society would come to a standstill and society could no longer advance. Humanity is still in its youth. The road it has yet to traverse will be no one knows how many times longer than the road it has already travelled. Contradictions, as between progress and conservatism, between the advanced and the backward, between the positive and the negative, will constantly occur under varying conditions and different circumstances. Things will keep on like this: one contradiction will lead to another; and when old contradictions are solved new ones will arise. It is obviously incorrect to maintain, as some people do, that the contradiction between idealism and materialism can be eliminated in a socialist or communist society. As long as contradictions exist between the subjective and the objective, between the advanced and the backward, and between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between materialism and idealism will continue in a socialist or communist society, and will manifest itself in various forms. Since man lives in society, he reflects, in different circumstances and to varying degrees, the contradictions existing in each form of society. Therefore, not everybody will be perfect, even when a communist society is established. By then there will still be contradictions among people, and there will still be good people and bad, people whose thinking is relatively correct and others whose thinking is relatively incorrect. Hence there will still be struggle between people, though its nature and form will be different from those in class societies. Viewed in this light, the existence of contradictions between the individual and the collective in a socialist society is nothing strange. And if any leader of the Party or state isolates himself from collective leadership, from the masses of the people and from real life, he will inevitably fall into rigid ways of thinking and consequently make grave mistakes. What we must guard against is that some people, because the Party and the state have achieved many successes in work and won the great trust of the masses, may take advantage of this trust to abuse their authority and so commit some mistakes.
"The Chinese Communist Party congratulates the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on its great achievements in this historic struggle against the cult of the individual (sic!). The experience of the Chinese revolution, too, testifies that it is only by relying on the wisdom of the masses of the people, on democratic centralism and on the system of combining collective leadership with individual responsibility that our Party can score great victories and do great things in times of revolution and in times of national construction. The Chinese Communist Party, in its revolutionary ranks, has incessantly fought against elevation of oneself and against individualist heroism, both of which mean isolation from the masses. Undoubtedly, such things will exist for a long time to come. Even when overcome, they re-emerge. They are found sometimes in one person, sometimes in another. When attention is paid to the role of the individual, the role of the masses and the collective is often ignored. That is why some people easily fall into the mistake of self-conceit or blind faith in themselves or blind worship of others. We must therefore give unremitting attention to opposing elevation of oneself, individualist heroism and the cult of the individual." [The Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Bold emphases added.]
"In his way of thinking, Stalin departed from dialectical materialism and fell into metaphysics and subjectivism on certain questions and consequently he was sometimes divorced from reality and from the masses. In struggles inside as well as outside the Party, on certain occasions and on certain questions he confused two types of contradictions which are different in nature, contradictions between ourselves and the enemy and contradictions among the people, and also confused the different methods needed in handling them. In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counter-revolution, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished, but at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted; and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counter-revolutionaries. In the matter of Party and government organization, he did not fully apply proletarian democratic centralism and, to some extent, violated it. In handling relations with fraternal Parties and countries, he made some mistakes. He also gave some bad counsel in the international communist movement. These mistakes caused some losses to the Soviet Union and the international communist movement." [On The Question of Stalin. Bold emphases added.]
Here we see, once again, how dialectics is used to rationalise political decisions taken for other reasons, and as the only decisive weapon of criticism -- simply because of its commitment to the existence of 'contradictions'.
There are 66 pages of the following rather odd article (mostly about the obscure idea that there is an "identity" between "thinking" and "Being" -- which, if that were so, would mean that both of these were objects of some sort -- here bizarrely linked to Mao's "Great Leap Backwards"):
"Between 1949 and 1964, three major struggles of principle took place on China's philosophical front, centring around the question of China's economic base and superstructure, the question of whether there is identity between thinking and being, and the question of one divides into two or 'combine two into one.' These struggles were provoked one after another by Yang Hsien-chen, agent of the renegade, hidden traitor and scab Liu Shao-chi in philosophical circles, at crucial junctures in the struggle between the two classes (the proletariat and the bourgeoisie), the two roads (socialism and capitalism) and the two lines (Chairman Mao Tse-tung's proletarian revolutionary line and Liu Shao-chi's counter-revolutionary revisionist line). They were fierce struggles between dialectical materialism and historical materialism on the one hand and idealism and metaphysics on the other, and were a reflection on the philosophical front of the acute class struggle at home and abroad....
"Yang Hsien-chen arbitrarily declared: 'Identity between thinking and being is an idealist proposition.' He raved that 'identity between thinking and being' and 'dialectical identity' did not mean the same thing, that they belonged to 'two different categories.' Viciously distorting Marxism-Leninism, he tried to set the identity between thinking and being against the materialist theory of reflection, alleging that, with regard to the question of the relationship between thinking and being, 'materialism uses the theory of reflection to solve it, while idealism solves it by means of identity.'
"Materialist dialectics teaches us that the law of the unity of opposites is universal. The identity of opposites, that is, their mutual dependence for existence and their transformation into each other, is undoubtedly applicable to the relationship between thinking and being. By denying the identity between thinking and being, Yang Hsien-chen was denying that the two opposite aspects of the contradiction, thinking and being, depended on each other for their existence and could transform themselves into each other in given conditions. If Yang Hsien-chen's assertion were true, the law of the unity of opposites as taught by dialectics would not be universal.
"Yang Hsien-chen metaphysically negated the interconnection between thinking and being, regarding them as absolute opposites. Thus he sank into dualism and, from there, into subjective idealism. He denied the dynamic role of revolutionary theory and opposed the revolutionary mass movement. He exaggerated the non-essential and secondary aspects of the revolutionary mass movement to the point of absurdity. He concentrated his attack on one point to the complete disregard of the rest, closing his eyes completely to the essence and the main aspects of the revolutionary mass movement. He even had no scruples to palm off his counter-revolutionary subjective perceptions as the objective reality. He did all this in a vain attempt to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat and restore capitalism.
"By denying the dialectical identity between thinking and being, Yang Hsien-chen was, in the final analysis, opposed to arming the masses with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and using it to actively transform the world, that is to say, he was trying to hoodwink the masses with counter-revolutionary revisionist ideas and attempting to transform the world with the reactionary world outlook of the bourgeoisie. It was precisely this reactionary theory of Yang Hsien-chen's that provided the 'theoretical basis' for Liu Shao-chi's slavish comprador philosophy and his doctrine of trailing behind at a snail's pace.
"Backed by Liu Shao-chi, Yang Hsien-chen started preaching this reactionary theory in 1955. In 1957, he went so far as to flagrantly demand that those opposing his trash and consistently advocating the identity between thinking and being be labelled 'Rightists.' In 1958, he knocked together his sinister article 'A Brief Discussion of Two Categories of "Identity,"' branding as 'subjective idealism' the scientific thesis that there is identity between thinking and being; then he ordered his men to write articles to propagate his reactionary theory. Chairman Mao sharply pointed out the reactionary essence of Yang Hsien-chen's fallacy in October the same year, but the latter resisted for all he was worth. Also, when giving lectures in November 1958, Yang Hsien-chen vilified the theory of the identity between thinking and being as 'sheer nonsense and out-and-out reactionary theory.' And between 1959 and 1964, in close co-ordination with Liu Shao-chi's counter-revolutionary activities for capitalist restoration, he repeatedly waged counter-attacks against Mao Tsetung Thought on this particular question. But all these schemes fell apart one after another under the crushing blows from the proletariat....
"Chairman Mao pointed out: Chairman Mao's brilliant thesis that one divides into two is a penetrating and concise generalization of the law of the unity of opposites; it is a great development of materialist dialectics.
"Acknowledging that one divides into two means acknowledging the existence, in socialist society, of classes, class contradictions and class struggle, the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, the danger of capitalist restoration, and the threat of aggression and subversion by imperialism and social-imperialism. To resolve these contradictions, it is essential to continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat....
"The three major struggles in the field of philosophy all ended with resounding victories for Chairman Mao's philosophical thinking. But class struggle has not ended. The struggle between materialism and idealism and between dialectics and metaphysics will always go on. We must carry on deep-going revolutionary mass criticism of the idealism and metaphysics spread by Liu Shao-chi and other political swindlers, and eradicate whatever remains of their poisonous influence....
"In 1958, Chairman Mao formulated the general line of going all out, aiming high and achieving greater, faster, better and more economical results in building socialism. He issued the call to do away with all fetishes and superstitions, emancipate the mind and carry forward the communist style of daring to think, speak and act. Again and again he stressed that we must persevere in putting politics in command and give full play to the mass movement in all our work. The people's revolutionary enthusiasm and creativeness were enormously mobilized by Chairman Mao's revolutionary theory and revolutionary line. And the great leap forward emerged all over the nation and people's communes were set up throughout the rural areas. The great victory of Mao Tsetung Thought aroused mad opposition by the class enemies at home and abroad. Answering their needs, Yang Hsien-chen racked his brains to systematize his 'there is no identity between thinking and being' rubbish and came up with his reactionary article 'A Brief Discussion of Two Categories of 'Identity.'" In it he opposed the Marxist theory of knowledge and attempted to deny fundamentally the general line, the great leap forward and the people's commune." [Three Major Struggles on China's Philosophical Front. Bold emphases added.]
Gerry Healy, eat your heart out...
It is hard to believe that intelligent human beings can produce such guff, but similar material poured out of China for decades. Small wonder then that even the Chinese working class ignored it.
In that case, 'Materialist Dialectics' certainly was an "abomination" to this 'ruling-class': i.e., Chinese workers!
But please do not try telling a Maoist this or you risk yet more abuse ("You running-dog, imperialist lackey, and Capitalist-Roader..." Yes, I know, even dialectical abuse remains the same year in, year out!).
46a. On this, see Chan (2003), Knight (2005), and Tian (2005). [It is worth noting that these authors anglicise Ai's name to "Ai Siqi".]
47. Mao also tried to justify class-collaboration with his invention of "primary" and "secondary" contradictions:
"1. As the contradiction between China and Japan has become the principal one and China's internal contradictions have dropped into a secondary and subordinate place, changes have occurred in China's international relations and internal class relations, giving rise to a new stage of development in the current situation.
"2. China has long been in the grip of two acute and basic contradictions, the contradiction between China and imperialism and the contradiction between feudalism and the masses of the people. In 1927 the bourgeoisie, represented by the Kuomintang, betrayed the revolution and sold China's national interests to imperialism, thus creating a situation in which the state power of the workers and peasants stood in sharp antagonism to that of the Kuomintang, and, of necessity, the task of the national and democratic revolution devolved upon the Chinese Communist Party alone.
"3. Since the Incident of September 18, 1931 and especially since the Northern China Incident of 1935, the following changes have taken place in these contradictions:
"(1) The contradiction between China and imperialism in general has given way to the particularly salient and sharp contradiction between China and Japanese imperialism. Japanese imperialism is carrying out a policy of total conquest of China. Consequently, the contradictions between China and certain other imperialist powers have been relegated to a secondary position, while the rift between these powers and Japan has been widened. Consequently also, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people are faced with the task of linking China's anti-Japanese national united front with the world peace front. This means that China should not only unite with the Soviet Union, which has been the consistently good friend of the Chinese people, but as far as possible should work for joint opposition to Japanese imperialism with those imperialist countries which, at the present time, are willing to maintain peace and are against new wars of aggression. The aim of our united front must be resistance to Japan, and not simultaneous opposition to all the imperialist powers.
"(2) The contradiction between China and Japan has changed internal class relations within China and has confronted the bourgeoisie and even the warlords with the question of survival, so that they and their political parties have been undergoing a gradual change in their political attitude. This has placed the task of establishing an anti-Japanese national united front before the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people. Our united front should include the bourgeoisie and all who agree to the defence of the motherland, it should represent national solidarity against the foreign foe. This task not only must, but can, be fulfilled.
"(3) The contradiction between China and Japan has changed matters for the masses throughout the country (the proletariat, the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie) and for the Communist Party, and it has changed the Party's policy. More and more people have risen to fight for national salvation. The policy proclaimed by the Communist Party after the September 18th Incident was to conclude agreements with those sections of the Kuomintang which were willing to co-operate with us for resistance, subject to three conditions (stop attacking the revolutionary base areas, guarantee the freedoms and rights of the people, arm the people), and it has developed into a policy of establishing an anti-Japanese united front of the whole nation. This is the reason for the following steps taken by our Party: in 1935, the August declaration and the December resolution; in 1936, the abandonment of the 'anti-Chiang Kai-shek' slogan in May, the letter to the Kuomintang in August, the resolution on the democratic republic in September, and the insistence on a peaceful settlement of the Sian Incident in December; and in 1937, the February telegram to the Third Plenary Session of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang....
"(5) In terms of relative political importance the development of the national contradiction between China and Japan has demoted the domestic contradictions between classes and between political groupings to a secondary and subordinate place. But they still exist and have by no means diminished or disappeared. The same is true of the contradictions between China and the imperialist powers other than Japan. Therefore, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people are faced with the following task -- to make the appropriate adjustments with regard to those internal and external contradictions which can and must be adjusted at present so as to fit in with the general task of unity against Japan. This is the reason for the Chinese Communist Party's policies of peace and unity, democracy, bettering the life of the people and negotiations with foreign countries that are opposed to Japan....
"11. For the sake of internal peace, democracy and armed resistance and for the sake of establishing the anti-Japanese national united front, the Chinese Communist Party has made the following four pledges in its telegram to the Third Plenary Session of the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang:
"(1) the Communist-led government in the Shensi-Kansu-Ningsia revolutionary base area will be renamed the Government of the Special Region of the Republic of China and the Red Army will be redesignated as part of the National Revolutionary Army, and they will come under the direction of the Central Government in Nanking and its Military Council respectively;
"(2) a thoroughly democratic system will be applied in the areas under the Government of the Special Region;
"(3) the policy of overthrowing the Kuomintang by armed force will be discontinued; and
"(4) the confiscation of the land of the landlords will be discontinued." [Mao (1937a), pp.263-69. Bold emphases added.]
Class collaboration makes eminent good sense if one accepts 'Materialist Dialectics'. Eric Petersen's criticisms are thus well aimed:
"Mao's criterion of truth has the undisguised purpose of revealing the falsity of the 'Left Opportunists' with whom Mao had some disagreement in either 1937 or 1950, or both. The context of this disagreement was the drastic change of CCP policy between the Soviet Period (a period of CCP-led armed insurrections in 1928-29) and the Yenan Period (when the Red Army merged with the army of Chiang Kai-shek). Opponents of the change are, to Mao, 'dogmatists who will not change their position....:
'In a revolutionary period the situation changes very rapidly; if the knowledge of revolutionaries does not change rapidly in accordance with the changed situation, they will be unable to lead the revolution to victory.' [Mao (1937b), p.306.]
"...This essay gives no real explanation of the relation between practice and knowledge. It boils down to this: Japan has invaded; let's form a United National Front with the Kuomintang against Japan;...but don't listen to the dogmatists who go on about the Kuomintang being murderers and butchers.
"The essay 'On Contradiction' is also directed against the dogmatists....
"[There] the dialectic is a
battle between contradictions, one of which wins. The contradictions, instead of
comprising each other in a continual state of flux and development, are in Mao's
view rigidly defined and separated. In this viewpoint the result of the struggle
of opposites is not an eventual transcending of the dialectic and its
replacement by a new one -- as is the viewpoint of Lenin -- but simply the
victory of one side....
"What is the purpose of this analysis?
'The question is one of different kinds of contradiction.' [Mao.]
"What different kinds? These include, for example, Universality of Contradiction and the Particularity of Contradiction, and the distinction between Primary contradiction and Secondary contradiction.
"Particularity means more than the concrete material content of any particular contradiction. It means that dialectics, as a law of movement and development has no consistent meaning at all. It means in practice that a particular contradiction can be redefined by giving it a different political label....
"As Mao further describes these 'different kinds' of contradictions, we see that he has turbulent recent history to explain:
'...[W]e must not only observe them in their interconnections or their totality, we must also examine the two aspects of each contradiction.
'For instance, consider the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. Take one aspect, the Kuomintang. In the period of the first united front, the Kuomintang carried out Sun Yat-sen's Three Great Policies of alliance with Russia, co-operation with the Communist Party, and assistance to the peasants and workers; hence it was revolutionary and vigorous, it was an alliance of various classes for the democratic revolution. After 1927, however, the Kuomintang changed into its opposite and became a reactionary bloc of the landlords and big bourgeoisie. After the Sian Incident in December 1936, it began another change in the direction of ending the civil war and co-operating with the Communist Party for joint opposition to Japanese imperialism.' [Mao.]
"Thus 'each aspect' can freely change and even reverse its nature if Mao requires it. The class content of the Kuomintang is in Mao's view determined by its policy -- particularly by its attitude to the CCP. The Kuomintang, in historical fact, never ceased to be an alliance of landlords and prospective industrialists, resentful of any move by the Chinese peasants and workers that could threaten their methods of exploitation. In Mao's philosophy, however, the criterion is not what the Kuomintang is, but what it says." [Petersen (1994), pp.119-21. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Once more we see how political decisions, taken for other reasons (in this case, those involving class collaboration and the consequences this brought in its train), were 'justified' by dialectics.
Mao's 'Theory' Implodes
But, how can contradictions themselves change? Presumably, if they do, they too must be UOs.
[There are dozens of quotations here that attest to the fact that Mao and other DM-classicists believed that change was the result of (1) the struggle between opposites, and (2) that objects and process turned into their opposites. As this argument demonstrates, this 'theory' cannot work. The argument below is just a particular application of the general points made at the aforementioned link.]
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Let us assume then that the 'principal' contradiction P1 changes into 'secondary' contradiction S1.
But, what brings about this change?
Given the DM-theory of change, P1 must itself be composed of at least two further opposites, say: P* and P**, one of which P1 must turn into (since, as we saw, it is part of this theory that all things change into their opposites).
Hence, P1 turns into, say, P**.
[But do not try asking what happened to P*! As we will see, it's not that simple.]
But, once more: why did P1 change into P**?
Well, this must be because there is a 'contradiction' between P* and P** (or, perhaps, between P1 and P**).
But, in that case, if all things turn into their opposites, P* must change into P**, too! But, P** already exists, so how can anything turn into it? [Similarly, how can P1 turn into P** if the latter already exists?]
For this to work it seems there must be two P**'s -- say P**a and P**b, for both of these (i.e., P1 and P*) to turn into, collectively or severally.
So, one or both of P1 and P* turn into one or other of P**a or P**b, while P** remains the same (or, it becomes one of these two, too -- who can say?).
But, that means that P** is either changeless (shock! horror!) or it too changes into one of the options that have already been selected for P* or P1 to become -- that is, P** must change into one or both of P**a and P**b.
But, once more, P**a and P**b already exist, so P** cannot change into these either!
Putting that 'difficulty' to one side for now, this can only mean that P1, which used to be made up of at least P* and P**, must turn into P**, while P* turns into P**, too --, or it turns into something else (but into what -- and how?), or it either disappears or does not change.
So, either P1 and P* merge into one entity (as they both become P**) or they turn into one or other of P**a or P**b -- or, maybe a third P**-sort-of-possibility (call this P**c) pops into existence as they (both?) change into it!
But if that is so, it is not easy to see how P1 could be part of the action. It must 'contain' all these things (as 'internal opposites') if it is to turn into them, and yet that can only mean that it turns into one of its own parts! Once more, how can it do that if they too already exist?
[It is worth recalling at this point that dialecticians are equally unclear whether or not 'internal' opposites are logically-'internal' to, or topologically-internal to, objects and processes. This was discussed in detail in Essay Eight Part One. The argument here leaves these issues unresolved; it can however be re-jigged so it applies to both options. That won't be attempted here.]
Putting this to one side, too, the changes wrought in P1 and P* can't have been the result of a 'struggle of opposites', since this new opposite (i.e., P**c) does not yet exist!
On the other hand, if that opposite (i.e., P**c) does exist (so that it can 'struggle' with one or both of the other two, and thereby cause the given change), neither P1 nor P* could change into it, since it already exists! So, these two cannot change into it, either.
Either that, or there must be something else for one or both to change into. But, even then the same problems simply return. [The reader is left to work these out for herself.]
In that case, this 'theory' seems to imply that things either merge, disappear, or are created ex nihilo -- or they do not change!
Anyway, why should anything change from a P-type-, into an S-type-contradiction, to begin with?
On this theory, that could only happen if, say, P1 already 'contained' (as an 'internal opposite') an S-type contradiction for it to change into.
[Recall that on this 'theory', internal opposites cause change, and things also change into their opposites!]
But where on earth did that S-type 'internal contradiction' come from?
Given the above reasoning, for this to happen, P** (from earlier) must be an S-type contradiction, otherwise P1 (or P*) could not change into it! But, as we saw, P** already exists, so nothing can change into it!
Once more, these seem to be the only options available to MISTs:
(1) Either P1 (or P*) merges with P**, or,
(2) It (they) disappear into thin air, or,
(3) There are at least 3 versions of P** (i.e., P**a, P**b and P**c) for one or other to change into.
But these three (P**a, P**b and P**c) cannot exist, since if they did, P* and P1 could not change into them. And, if they don't exist, they cannot struggle with anything in order to bring about the required change!
So, yet again, on this theory, nothing actually changes (or nothing causes it!).
In that case, not only can this scenario not work, we still do not know why anything should alter from the one into the other sort of contradiction, or, indeed, why anything should change into anything else at all.
And these difficulties do not go away if concrete examples are substituted for the schematic letters used above.
So, for example, if we ask: why did the "principal contradiction" between China and Japan (referred to by Mao) itself change? On sound dialectical lines, it could only have done so as a result of its own 'internal contradictions'. In that case, this "principal contradiction" --, call it C/J --, must have had internal opposites, say, C/J* and C/J**.
But then, the rest follows as before.
[Here, using "C" for China, and "J" for Japan, and "/" for the 'contradictory' relation between them.]
This argument is worked out in more detail here (where several obvious (and several non-obvious) objections are neutralised).
Finally: this does not deny change, just that if and when it occurs, Mao cannot explain it.
Nevertheless, Petersen goes on to argue that had this change been caused by actual events, but had not been the cause of them, then it might be possible to call this a materialist sort of explanation. Yet, for Mao:
"Kuomintang policy is the determinant of its contradictions:
'For instance, in the period of its first cooperation with the Communist Party, the Kuomintang stood in contradiction to foreign imperialism and was therefore anti-imperialist; on the other hand, it stood in contradiction to the great masses of the people within the country -- although in words it promised many benefits to the working people, in fact it gave them little or nothing. In the period when it carried on the anti-Communist war, the Kuomintang collaborated with imperialism and feudalism against the great masses of the people and wiped out all the gains they had won in the revolution, and thereby intensified its contradictions with them.' [Mao.]
"When the other aspect of the contradiction, the CCP, is discussed, the interpretation is entirely idealistic:
'...it [the CCP] courageously led the revolution of 1924-27 but revealed its immaturity in its understanding of the character, the tasks and the methods of the revolution, and consequently it became possible for Chen Tu-hsiuism, which appeared during the latter part of this revolution, to assert itself and bring about the defeat of the revolution. After 1927, the Communist Party courageously led the Agrarian Revolutionary War and created the revolutionary army and revolutionary base areas; however, it committed adventurist errors which brought about very great losses both to the army and to the base areas. Since 1935 the Party has corrected these errors.' [Mao; Petersen's added emphases.]
"Mao's criterion for correctness or error is very appropriate to his own version of events. The CCP's military insurrections after 1927 were dictated by the short-term desire of the Stalin-Bukharin leadership of the Russian Communist Party to cover up for the disaster of the CCP-Kuomintang alliance, [which] were beyond the objective possibilities in China at that time, and were doomed from the start.... Those responsible for the disastrous policies of 1924-1927 are excused. Then the loss of military base areas is dumped upon 'adventurists' instead of upon Chiang's extermination campaigns (the Kuomintang has become 'vigorous'). Moreover, the 'adventurist errors' have been corrected since 1935 when Mao became leader.
"Mao's description of 'the two aspects of a contradiction' allows any subjectivist interpretation of the contradiction to be made because neither aspect is determined by its objective material base. This treatment of contradiction is not a mere vulgarisation of Engels. It is an attempt to justify with philosophical authority the actions of the CCP, and to blame past disasters upon scapegoats (including Chen-Tu-Hsiu who opposed the disastrous strategy of alliance with the Kuomintang) whose ideas...allegedly caused the defeat of the Red Army.
"The division of contradictions into Principal, 'whose existence and development determine or influence other contradictions' and Secondary is...unique to Mao. What criterion...separates contradictions into 'Principal' and 'Secondary'? This is unexplained. However, the practical effect of the distinction is made clear by the example given:
'When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position.' [Mao; I have corrected Petersen's transcription errors.]
"Mao having said that contradiction is everywhere, has introduced a distinction that allows him to ignore most of those contradictions (e.g., those between classes); only the Principal (the war against Japan) matters.
"It is however a historical fact that some members of some classes still want to fight the Secondary class war. Chiang Kai-shek for example fought Chinese trade unionists with greater ferocity than he fought Japanese armies. Why does he ignore the Principal contradiction? The causes are subjective not material:
'Chang Kai-shek's betrayal in 1927 is an example of splitting the revolutionary front.' [Mao.]
"This raises more questions that it answers. Who or what distinguishes between Principal and Secondary? How and why does a Principal suddenly revert to a Secondary? Why do some betray? Mao cannot answer this at all, though a historical materialist approach would suggest the explanation that Chiang's class consciousness always told him that 'the main enemy was at home'. Why call anyone a traitor for placing the interests of their class above the alleged interests of a nation that contains antagonistic classes?
"...After discussing various 'types' of contradiction 'On Contradiction' concludes that they can and should be 'resolved'. This idea was a recent invention at the time [this] essay was written. It came into general use in the official Russian philosophy of the late 1920's. (Such an idea was unknown in the dialectics of Hegel and Marx.)." [Petersen (1994), pp.122-24.]
As Petersen goes on to point out, the only contradictions that matter are those of concern to the CCP, just as he argues that no materialist reason was given by Mao as to why some contradictions are "antagonistic" while others are not.
However, this allowed the CCP (just as it allowed the CPSU -- after 1917, in the USSR, and after 1949, in China) to ignore the class tensions (that remained after the revolution) between their position as part of a new ruling-class (post 1928 in the USSR, though) and the working class, or rather to pretend to ignore them, and simply carry on as before, oppressing and exploiting the working class.
It also allowed those who resisted the CCP to be re-classified as "enemies" (or as "right-" or "left-deviationists"), and for their opposition to be called "antagonistic". In this way it helped scupper any form of socialist democracy.
"Mao's definition of antagonistic class contradictions in contemporary China, Hungary or Russian is tautological: they are antagonistic because they cannot be ignored and need handling or 'vigilance'" [Ibid., p.127.]
Readers are encouraged the consult the rest of this chapter in Petersen's book for the political background which made the adoption of dialectical concepts so useful to the CCP. [It must be added, however, that Petersen does not see things the way I do -- although his view and my own appear to be about 90% the same. For example, Petersen accepts that there is a dialectic at work in human history, but not in nature.]
Nevertheless, this sort of contradictory MIST-approach to theory and practice makes perfectly good sense to those who believe that everything in reality is contradictory.
[The best account of Mao's China is Harris (1978) -- the most relevant section to the aims of this Essay (Part IV) can be found here. I must however distance myself from the philosophical remarks made by this author. Also worth consulting are Hore (1987 and 1991).]
48. The invasion of Finland is still defended to this day by OTs. A recent example of tortured OT 'logic', used to explain away the class treachery of the Hitler/Stalin pact, can be found here:
"One final instructive historical debate that highlights the role of the dialectic occurred within the [US-]Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in 1939 and 1940. Up until that time the generally accepted position of the party called for the 'unconditional support of the Soviet Union.' This orientation flowed from an analysis that concluded that the Soviet Union was a 'workers' state,' meaning that the economy had been nationalized so that capitalists could no longer operate. However, the Soviet Union was also categorized as a 'deformed' workers' state because Stalin had crushed all democratic impulses, instituted a totalitarian regime, and stifled dissent. In a genuine socialist society workers as a class control the state so that the majority truly rules, and with that crucial stipulation absent, the SWP was not prepared to designate the Soviet Union a 'socialist' society. The concept of a 'workers' state' signified that a crucial step had been taken in the direction of socialism with the nationalization of the economy, but only a step. Consequently, the SWP defended the Soviet Union with respect to its nationalized economy but at the same time called for a political revolution to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and institute a state democratically controlled by the working class.
"But in 1939 the SWP was convulsed by internal debate, prompted by the Hitler-Stalin pact, which included the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union. This historic event triggered the creation of a minority within the SWP, led by Shachtman, Burnham, Abern and Bern, who challenged the party's established position on the Soviet Union on several different fronts. Their position demanded that, because of Stalin's pact with the devil, as it were, the party must cease defending the Soviet Union, despite the nationalized economy. This conclusion was also based on the conviction that the Soviet Union had become 'imperialist.' However, they disagreed among themselves on the question of whether it was still a workers' state. Burnham argued that it was not, on the grounds that genuine workers' democracy was absent. Shachtman was prepared to retain the designation of 'workers' state,' but with the attached provision that it was imperialist.
"Trotsky, who was very close to the party, vigorously defended the established line of the SWP. In the course of the debate he accused the opposition of failing to approach the questions at hand dialectically. His opponents countered that dialectics was either irrelevant or inimical to a scientific analysis. It will be instructive to examine these charges and counter charges more closely. As we shall see, although both sides appear to be using the same words, they were speaking two fundamentally different languages.
"Trotsky's position rested on the conviction that the achievement of socialism is a protracted struggle. Burnham, demanding instant results, refused to applaud even partial steps in a progressive direction, and in this respect his analysis was undialectical. Because the Soviet Union was not a consummate socialist society, it was not one at all. But profound transformations are never linear. The construction of a revolutionary society with a new culture at times will encounter setbacks, especially when the bourgeoisie is struggling desperately to regain power and the world imperialist powers are threatening at the gates. In fact, the Soviet Union had already been invaded by western imperialism, with the United States in the lead, shortly after the revolution, contributing to a bitter civil war. The west also slapped an economic embargo on its revolutionary enemy that at times paralyzed the economy. Having lost many of its most dedicated revolutionaries during the civil war, the Soviet Union could not help but falter as it staggered forward toward the dawn of a new historical period. Burnham, however, remaining blind to this larger context, was content to dispense judgments as if the course of the revolution flowed directly and exclusively from the moral fibre of its leaders.
"Shachtman, while maintaining that the Soviet Union was a workers' state, argued persistently that it was nevertheless implementing an imperialist agenda and for this reason should not be defended with respect to these kinds of adventures:
'It is entirely correct, in my opinion, to characterize the Stalinist policy as imperialist, provided, of course, that one points out its specific character, that is, wherein it differs from modern capitalist imperialism.... Stalin has showed himself capable of pursuing imperialist policy. That is the fact.... Like every bureaucracy, the Stalinist is interested in increasing the national income not in order to raise the standard of living of the masses but in order to increase its own power, its own wealth, its own privileges.'
"In order to understand why this is not a dialectical analysis, one must return to the classic Marxist theory of imperialism, which Trotsky championed. Marx argued that because capitalists compete with one another, each must strive to minimize production costs. This means procuring the cheapest labour and raw materials available. When these assets are located in less developed countries, capitalists from advanced industrialized nations readily resort to military force to seize control of them, thereby assuring their survival in the face of intense competition. In other words, the contradictory interests among capitalists propel them onto the road of imperialism, making imperialism the logical consequence of capitalism.
"Shachtman conceded that what he called Soviet imperialism was fundamentally different from all other examples of modern imperialism since it was not linked to capitalism. But when it came to giving this designation some kind of historical footing, Shachtman was at a complete loss. He could only explain it in terms of psychological impulses, such as the bureaucracy's desire to 'increase its own power, its own wealth, its own privileges,' impulses that could conceivably arise at any time in history. There was no grounding of this analysis in a historically specific economic base. There was no attempt to organically link it to other social domains. Instead, the term dangled alone, detached, and so simply became another way of referring to the greed of specific individuals, which hardly amounts to an analysis at all. In this respect, the approach was entirely undialectical.
"Like Burnham, Shachtman seemed incapable of understanding the Soviet Union in light of the larger imperialist context. Although the major western capitalist countries were prepared to fight among themselves over the acquisition of colonies, they were united in their determination to destroy the Soviet Union. Even the best of Soviet governments would have been compelled to play one capitalist government off against another, simply in order to stall for time in the hope that other revolutions would break out in advanced industrialized countries, enabling it to escape its isolation. Stalin's pact with Hitler for the division of Poland was certainly in part an effort to keep German imperialism from taking all of Poland, which would have brought it flush with the Soviet border. It was as if the minority was intent on condemning an individual for running a few stop signs while failing to take into consideration the car had been hijacked and a gun was pointed at the driver's head.
"Trotsky's analysis, consistent with the Marxist emphasis on the economic foundation of society as the propelling force of historical change, placed the primary contradiction between western capitalist-imperialist countries on the one hand and the Soviet Union with its nationalized economy on the other, the fundamental historical struggle was being waged between these antagonists. Although Trotsky condemned the Hitler-Stalin pact, he nevertheless situated it within, and subordinated it to, this broader context and was thus still prepared to defend the Soviet Union in relation to imperialist aggression. The Shachtman opposition, however, ignored this broader historical struggle in favour of a moral condemnation of the Soviet Union's foreign policy. Hence the Hitler-Stalin pact offered sufficient grounds in the eyes of the minority for abandoning the defense of the Soviet Union altogether. In this way the minority failed to provide any analysis of the fundamental contradictory forces at play at this historical conjuncture, including any indication of the direction in which events were likely to unfold. In fact, they viewed calls for consideration of this historical context as a kind of dodging the question of the significance of the Hitler-Stalin pact, upon which they launched their attack. For them, the crucial question was posed in these terms: 'What is the character of Russia's role in the present war -- not the war as it was foretold on this or that occasion, and not the war into which this one may or will be converted, but the present war?'
"So the members of the minority, instead of viewing themselves as part of a historical process, withdrew themselves from the collective struggle and assumed the role of the spectator on the sidelines, dispensing moral pronouncements as they pleased. Although many have found such a role to be egotistically gratifying, they seldom, if ever, contribute to the advance of history. Here the isolated ego becomes the point of departure for all judgments, not humanity in the process of creating a better world, and for this reason the chasm between Trotsky and the majority on the one hand and the minority on the other became unbridgeable. The latter soon split altogether." [Ann Robertson, quoted from here; bold emphases added. Spelling altered to conform to UK English; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Of course, readers will have noticed the "undialectical" approach of comrade Robertson, who seems to think Imperialism is an unchanging feature of the world (so that Marx's analysis is rendered eternally valid, frozen in theoretical space), just as they will no doubt have registered the fact that the only rationale offered by Robertson for her defence of the imperialist aims of the former USSR is predictably dialectical.
It is worth adding that, in later years, the US-SWP also split many times --, as has the tendency to which comrade Robertson belongs. An appeal to dialectics is thus no guarantee against fragmentation; if anything, it helps make it more likely.
Also worthy of note is the fact that Shachtman was (at the time) also a keen dialectician, and fully capable of using this 'theory' to justify anything he liked, as was Trotsky --, and now Robertson.
However, it is not my place to defend Shachtman; but I for one can find no 'moralistic' analysis in what he wrote; in fact, it would be interesting to see what comrade Robertson imagines were the motivations that guided the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Hatred of workers/democracy/dialectics, perhaps?
Contrast that with the materialist analysis given by Cliff.
In fact, OT critics of Cliff's theory of State Capitalism, for example, were quick to refer him to dialectical concepts (which they seem to think he ignored, even though he, too, referred to them!) by way of 'refutation'.
Here is Ted Grant:
"In the transition from one society to another, it is clear that there is not an unbridgeable gulf. It is not a dialectical method to think in finished categories; workers' state or capitalist state and the devil take any transition or motion between the two. It is clear that when Marx spoke of the smashing of the old state form in relation to the Commune, he took it for granted that the economy would be transformed at a greater or lesser pace and would come into consonance with the political forms. We will see later in relation to Eastern Europe that Cliff adopts the same formalistic method....
"Thus, one can only understand class society if one takes into account the many-sided dialectical inter-dependence and antagonisms of all the factors within it. Formalists usually get lost in one or other side of the problem....
"The whole contradiction, a contradiction within the society itself and not imposed arbitrarily -- is in the very concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. If one considers the problem in the abstract, one can see that this is a contradictory phenomenon: the abolition of capitalism yet the continuation of classes. The proletariat does not disappear. It raises itself to the position of ruling class and abolishes the capitalist class....
"...To abstract one side must lead to error. What is puzzling about the Russian phenomenon is precisely the contradictory character of the economy. This has been further aggravated by the backwardness and isolation of the Soviet Union. This culminates in the totalitarian Stalinist regime and results in the worst features of capitalism coming to the fore -- the relations between managers and men, piece-work, etc. Instead of analysing these contradictions Comrade Cliff endeavours as far as possible to try and fit them into the pattern of the 'normal' laws of capitalist production....
"This whole formalistic method is the fatal weakness of Cliff's case. It would have been impossible for Trotsky in the early stages to deal with the problem in the abstract. He had to deal with the concrete situation and give a concrete answer. But the further degeneration posed the problem in an entirely different way. Once it had been established that it was impossible to reform the Stalinist party, that it was impossible to reform the Soviet state (we assume that Cliff also believes this was the task since up to 1928 since he says Russia was a degenerated workers' state), then the question had to be viewed in a somewhat different light. It is foreign to the Marxist method to search for isolated contradictions, real or apparent. What is required is an examination of a theory in its broad general development, in its movement, and its contradictions...." [Ted Grant. Bold emphases added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
As was also the case with Trotsky, and apart from a reference to the state ownership of property (see below) -- a weak argument in itself --, the only criterion that Grant can appeal to is 'the dialectical method' once more (and thus the 'contradictory' nature of the Soviet state) in support of his argument against Cliff who, as already noted, had similarly appealed to dialectical concepts in his famous book to argue for the opposite conclusion!
For example, we find Cliff arguing thus:
"Dialectical historical development, full of contradictions and surprises, brought it about that the first step the bureaucracy took with the subjective intention of hastening the building of 'socialism in one country' became the foundation of the building of state capitalism." [Cliff (1988), p.166.]
"The regulation of economic activity by the state is, in itself, a partial negation of the law of value, even if the state is, as yet, not the repository of the means of production.
"The law of value assumes the regulation of economic functions in an anarchical way. It determines the exchange relations between the different branches of the economy, and explains how relations between people appear, not as direct, crystal clear relations, but indirectly, lost in mysticism. Now, the law of value holds absolute sway only under conditions of free competition, i.e., when there is free movement of capital, commodities and labour power. Therefore, even the most elementary forms of monopolistic organisation already negate the law of value to a certain extent. Thus when the state regulates the allocation of capital and labour power, the price of commodities, etc., it is most certainly a partial negation of capitalism....
"State capitalism and a workers' state are two stages in the transition period from capitalism to socialism. State capitalism is the extreme opposite of socialism -- they are symmetrically opposed, and they are dialectically united with one another." [Ibid., pp.171, 174.]
"History often leaps forward or backward. When it leaps backward, it does not return directly to the same position, but goes down a spiral, combining the elements of the two systems from which and to which the society passed. For example, because in the state capitalism which is an organic, gradual continuation of the development of capitalism, a form of private property would prevail in the ownership of shares and bonds, we must not conclude that the same will apply to state capitalism which rose gradually on the ruins of a workers’ revolution. Historical continuity in the case of state capitalism which evolves from monopoly capitalism, is shown in the existence of private property (bonds). Historical continuity in the case of state capitalism which evolves from a workers’ state that degenerated and died, is shown in the non-existence of private property.
"The spiral development brings about the synthesis of two extremes of capitalist development in Russia, a synthesis of the highest stage which capitalism can ever reach, and which probably no other country will ever reach; and of such a low stage of development as has yet to demand the preparation of the material prerequisites for socialism. The defeat of the October revolution served as a springboard for Russian capitalism which at the same time lags well behind world capitalism." [Ibid., p.188.]
"From the standpoint of formal logic it is irrefutable that if the proletariat cannot gradually transform the bourgeois state into a workers' state but must smash the state machine, the bureaucracy on becoming the ruling class also cannot gradually transform the workers' state into a bourgeois state, but must smash the state machine. From the standpoint of dialectics, however, we must pose the problem differently. What are the reasons why the proletariat cannot gradually transform the bourgeois state machine, and do these continue as an immovable impediment to the gradual change of the class character of a workers' state?" [Ibid., p.194.]
"The historical task of the bureaucracy is to raise the productivity of labour. In doing this the bureaucracy enters into deep contradictions. In order to raise the productivity of labour above a certain point, the standard of living of the masses must rise, as workers who are undernourished, badly housed and uneducated, are not capable of modem production. The bureaucracy approaches the problem of the standard of living of the masses much in the same way as a peasant approaches the feeding of his horses: 'How much shall I give in order to get more work done?' But workers, besides having hands, have heads. The raising of the standard of living and culture of the masses, means raising their self-confidence, increasing their appetite, their impatience at the lack of democratic rights and personal security, and their impatience of the bureaucracy which preserves these burdens. On the other hand, not to raise the standard of living of the masses means to perpetuate the present low productivity of labour which would be fatal for the bureaucracy in the present international situation, and would tend to drive the masses sooner or later to revolts of despair." [Ibid., pp.271-72. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
There are many other passages that could have been quoted from Cliff's classic text. [However, I have yet to find in any of Cliff's writings a quotation that commits him to a dialectic in nature. Even so, those who knew him well tell me that he did indeed believe there was a dialectic in nature.]
Not happy with just this, Grant invented another suitably contradictory idea: the belief that regimes (like those in the former USSR and China) were "Proletarian Bonapartist"!
"The question of the class nature of Russia has been a central issue in the Marxist movement for decades. Now, with the collapse of the USSR and the movement in the direction of capitalism, this question assumes an even greater importance. It is not possible to grasp the processes that are taking place in Russia from the point of view of formal logic and abstract definitions. In elementary chemistry, a simple litmus test is sufficient to reveal whether a substance is acid or alkaline. But complex historical processes do not admit such a simple approach. Only the dialectical method, which takes the process as a whole and concretely analyses its contradictory tendencies as they unfold, stage by stage, can shed light on the situation. Endless mistakes occur when we attempt to base ourselves on chemically pure abstractions instead of real historical processes. Thus, we know what a trade union and a workers' party is supposed to look like. But history knows of all kinds of weird and wonderful variants, of the most monstrously bureaucratised trade unions and corrupt reformist parties. A workers' state is roughly like a trade union in power. Under conditions of extreme backwardness, such a state can experience a process of bureaucratic degeneration. Stalinism, as Trotsky explains, is a peculiar variant of Bonapartism -- a regime of proletarian Bonapartism....
"Likewise, the political counter-revolution carried out by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia completely liquidated the regime of workers' Soviet democracy, but did not destroy the new property relations established by the October Revolution. The ruling bureaucracy based itself on the nationalised, planned economy and played a relatively progressive role in developing the productive forces, although at three times the cost of capitalism, with tremendous waste, corruption and mismanagement, as Trotsky pointed out even before the war when the economy was advancing at 20 per cent a year. The problem which we now face was also faced by Trotsky in the 1920s and 1930s, when he had the task of analysing the phenomenon of Stalinism. For certain ultra-lefts, the problem was a simple one. The Soviet Union, in their opinion, was already a new class society as early as 1920. All further analysis was therefore superfluous! There was a fundamental difference between this formalism and the careful dialectical method of Trotsky. He painstakingly traced the process of the Stalinist counter-revolution through all its stages, laying bare all its contradictions, analysing the conflicting tendencies both within Soviet society and within the bureaucracy itself, and showing the dialectical interrelation between developments in the USSR and on a world scale....
"What defines the class nature of the state from a Marxist point of view is undoubtedly property relations. However, here too, the relation is not automatic, but dialectical....
"There were many turning-points on the road of the bureaucratic counter-revolution in the period 1923-36. This was by no means a preordained event. The final victory of Stalin was not determined in advance. As a matter of fact, up till 1934, Trotsky held the position that it was possible to reform both the Soviet state and the Communist Parties, a position that led to frequent conflicts with the ultra-lefts. Trotsky's dialectical method was one of successive approximations, which followed the process through all its stages, showing concretely the relation between the class balance of forces in Russia, the different tendencies in the Communist Party and their relationship to the classes, the evolution of the world situation, the economy, and the subjective factor. It is true that he varied his analysis at different times. For example, he initially characterised Stalinism as bureaucratic centrism, a formula which he later rejected in favour of the more precise proletarian Bonapartism. These changes do not reflect any vacillations on Trotsky's part, but only the way in which his analysis accurately followed the process of bureaucratic degeneration as it unfolded....
"In the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx explained that the sum total of the relations of production constitutes the real foundation upon which all aspects of social life -- the state included -- are grounded. Property relations is merely a legal expression for these relations of production. However, this relationship is neither direct nor automatic. If that were the case, revolutions would not be necessary. The whole history of class society proves that this is not the case. On the contrary, for long periods the superstructure can stand in open contradiction to the demands of the productive forces. Nor does the state at all times directly reflect the ruling class in a given society, as we saw in the first part of the present work. The relationship is complex and contradictory, in other words dialectical....
"The Soviet Union is a good example of this dialectical relation. The nationalised planned economy was in contradiction to the bureaucratic state. This was always the case. Even in the period of the first Five-Year Plans, the bureaucratic regime was responsible for colossal waste. This contradiction did not disappear with the development of the economy, but, on the contrary, grew ever more unbearable until eventually the system broke down completely...." [Ted Grant. Bold emphases alone added.]
However, the bemused reader will search in vain through Trotsky's writings for this mis-begotten concept.
Alex Callinicos's comments thus seem rather apt, therefore, in the circumstances:
"Orthodox Trotskyists outside the USFI have attempted similar balancing acts to Mandel's, with equal lack of success. When the British RCP anticipated the FI's development by declaring the Eastern European 'buffer zone' workers' states in 1947–8 (see Section 2.2 above), Ted Grant had formulated the concept of 'proletarian Bonapartism'. This was an interesting example of what Lakatos (1976: 20ff., 83ff., 93ff.) called 'concept-stretching', where a theory is defended from refutation by the extension of its concepts to cover apparently aberrant cases. Marx had coined the term 'Bonapartism' to describe regimes where the state, while not controlled by the bourgeoisie, acted in the latter's class interests (Draper 1977: Bk II). Grant (1989: 231), following but developing formulations of Trotsky's, extended the concept from capitalist to workers' states, and advanced the general proposition that '[f]or quite a lengthy period, there can be a conflict between the state and the class which that state represents'. 'Stalinism', Grant (1989: 302) argued, 'is a form of Bonapartism that bases itself in the institution of state ownership, but it is different from the norm of a workers' state as fascism or bourgeois Bonapartism differs from the norm of bourgeois democracy'. On this basis, Grant (1989: 350) was more generous than the USFI about the successes of 'proletarian Bonapartism' in the Third World, in 1978 describing China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Syria, Angola, Mozambique, Aden, Benin, and Ethiopia as deformed workers' states. Although criticized by other orthodox Trotskyists, the list reflected Grant's relatively consistent use of statization of the economy as the criterion of the existence of a workers' state. He resisted, however, the temptation to welcome the makers of these revolutions into the Trotskyist camp -- for example, in 1949 attacking the IS's treatment of Tito as 'an unconscious Trotskyist' (Grant 1989: 298). The pressure towards substitutionism nevertheless found political expression. Having joined the Labour Party with the rest of the RCP majority in 1949, Grant became the principal figure of the Militant Tendency, which emerged as the strongest organized left grouping inside the Labour Party at the end of the 1970s. Practising a far more long-term version of entrism than anything envisaged by Trotsky, Militant supporters expected catastrophic economic crisis to radicalize the Labour Party and provide mass support for a left government which would effect '[a]n entirely peaceful transformation of society' by means of large-scale nationalization authorized by Parliament through an Enabling Act (Taaffe 1986: 25 and passim). On this scenario, a transformed social democracy would play the kind of role which other orthodox Trotskyists thought some versions of Stalinism would perform (McGregor 1986)." [Callinicos (1990), pp.48-49. References here. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Similarly, Ernest Mandel laid into State Capitalist theory, putting its errors down to:
"A schematic system of thought which only operates in black and red and which is the prisoner of outrageously simplistic abstractions incapable of handling the categories of 'transition'. of combined and uneven development' and of 'contradictory reality'. In other words, such thought is undialectical." [Mandel (1990), p.54; Mandel and Sheppard (2006), pp.28-29. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
The problem is, of course, that the former USSR economy was "hybrid and contradictory", which SWP-UK theorists inexplicably failed to notice (some hope!!).
Mandel used this critique to justify third-world revolutions (and, unsurprisingly, those which weren't led by workers) as legitimate examples of Trotsky's theory of Permanent Revolution (in contrast to Cliff's revision of the same), the bottom line of which is that forces other than the working class can be substituted for that class in the struggle for socialism.
Substitutionism justified by dialectics, just like Grant.
Several more examples of the use of dialectics to justify substitutionism will be posted here at a later date.
In the next quoted passage, we will see it argued that the contradictory nature of the former USSR is consistent with its being a capitalist regime! Same theory, but now being used to derive opposite results:
"The problem of determining the nature of the USSR was that it exhibited two contradictory aspects. On the one hand, the USSR appeared to have characteristics that were strikingly similar to those of the actually existing capitalist societies of the West. Thus, for example, the vast majority of the population of the USSR was dependent for their livelihoods on wage-labour. Rapid industrialisation and the forced collectivisation of agriculture under Stalin had led to the break up of traditional communities and the emergence of a mass industrialised society made up of atomised individuals and families. While the overriding aim of the economic system was the maximisation of economic growth.
"On the other hand, the USSR diverged markedly from the laissez-faire capitalism that had been analysed by Marx. The economy of the USSR was not made up of competing privately owned enterprises regulated through the 'invisible hand' of the market. On the contrary, all the principal means of production were state owned and the economy was consciously regulated through centralised planning. As a consequence, there were neither the sharp differentiation between the economic nor the political nor was there a distinct civil society that existed between family and state. Finally the economic growth was not driven by the profit motive but directly by the need to expand the mass of use-values to meet the needs of both the state and the population as a whole.
"As a consequence, any theory that the USSR was essentially a capitalist form of society must be able to explain this contradictory appearance of the USSR. Firstly, it must show how the dominant social relations that arose in the peculiar historical circumstance of the USSR were essentially capitalist social relations: and to this extent the theory must be grounded in a value-analysis of the Soviet Union. Secondly it must show how these social relations manifested themselves, not only in those features of the USSR that were clearly capitalist, but also in those features of the Soviet Union that appear as distinctly at variance with capitalism....
"The more sophisticated Trotskyist theorists have criticised the method of state capitalist theories of the USSR. They argue it is wrong to seek to identify an abstract and ahistorical essence of capitalism and seek to identify its existence to a concrete historical social formation such as the USSR. For them the apparent contradiction between the non-capitalist and capitalist aspects of the USSR was a real contradiction that can only be understood by grasping the Soviet Union as a transitional social formation....
"We shall return to consider this question of 'empty capitalist forms' later. What is important at present is to see how the Trotskyist approach is able to ground the ory appearance of the USSR as both capitalist and non-capitalist in terms of the transition from capitalism to socialism. To this extent the Trotskyist approach has the advantage over most state capitalist theories that are unable to adequately account for the non-capitalist aspects of the USSR. This failure to grasp the non-capitalist aspects of the USSR has been exposed in the light of the decay and final collapse of the USSR." [Quoted from here; bold emphases added.]
There is plenty more material like this on the Internet.
In 2006/07, a dialectical punch-up broke out in one of the US wings of the old ICFI (although it seems to have been brewing for several years); details here, here and here. Anyone reading these documents will see that each side openly accuses the other of not using or of not "understanding" dialectics, exactly as predicted in this Essay.
[Once more, this is because this 'theory' can be used to justify anything, and its opposite.]
The main political beef here seems to be over internal party democracy (surprise, surprise!), but expressed in arcane philosophical terms. I will post more details when I have had time to read and digest the relevant documents.
However, an earlier dialectical dog-fight has been recorded in detail for posterity in North (1988, 1991), Healy (1990), and Slaughter (1974a, 1974b, 1974c, 1974d, 1975a, 1975b). Here, various factions/individuals of the highly friable ICFI all argue that every other faction/individual has an insecure/'abstract' view of dialectics in contrast to the 'correct' view entertained by each given accuser.
I will now add a few passages that further illustrate this seemingly universal dialectical phenomenon. For example, in his study of the political decline of Gerry Healy, David North had this to say of the "opportunism" of the former Socialist Labour League (SLL) -- the forerunner of the old WRP:
"The political retreat of the [SLL] from the struggle against opportunism led to a decline in the theoretical level which had been established during the fight against the SWP-Pabloite reunification. Increasingly abstract references to the necessity of a struggle for dialectical materialism became a substitute for the actual development of revolutionary perspectives. Moreover, as the pressure of petty-bourgeois radicalism produced signs of political divisions within the International Committee and the SLL, the formal invocation of dialectical materialism became more and more a means of avoiding concrete issues which confronted the Trotskyist movement. The WRP leaders utilized the phraseology of dialectics while engaging in practices which were inimical to the critical spirit of Marxism. The 'holding fast of opposites', a phrase which Healy had extracted from Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, was converted into an organizational principle which justified all sorts of rotten compromises within the central leadership. Thus dialectics was converted into a system of sophistries which provided an imposing cover for the evasion of political responsibilities and the betrayal of principles.
"By the early 1970s, the SLL began developing a theory of 'dialectical cognition' which reflected and justified the drift toward opportunism. Healy played a significant role in this enterprise, but the revisionist innovations which led to the 'practice of cognition' were, like the positive work of the previous decade, the outcome of a collaborative effort involving the principal leaders of the [SLL]. As we have previously noted, Slaughter asserted following the split with the OCI that the experiences of party building in Britain had demonstrated 'that a thoroughgoing and difficult struggle against idealist ways of thinking was necessary which went much deeper than questions of agreement on program and policy.' He argued that the 'fight for a deepening of the understanding of dialectical materialism as the theory of knowledge of Marxism' meant that it was necessary 'to redirect the movement towards the fundamental questions involved in the nature of consciousness. of what is meant by a "leap" in consciousness...' (Slaughter (1975b, p.83).
"The content of the consciousness-raising exercise proposed by Slaughter emerged in the polemics produced after Alan Thornett was expelled from the WRP. The party proceeded to mystify the essential political issues underlying the split by presenting the dispute as an epic battle between irreconcilably opposed epistemologies. Banda's magnum opus Whither Thornett? was largely devoted to 'exposing' Thornett's 'total rejection of the Marxist theory of cognition,' as if the Cowley auto worker was a renowned disciple of Bertrand Russell or Ludwig Wittgenstein....
"Anticipating what was to become the standard fare of Healy's future lectures and writings, Whither Thornett? presented abstruse descriptions, weighed down with Hegelian phraseology, of the 'moments' of the cognitive process, starting with 'living perception' of nature and ending with practical action....
"These and other passages of the book were certainly incomprehensible to most members of the [WRP]. The use of pretentious and all but incomprehensible jargon was itself an indication of a shift in the class axis of the WRP. The document was not written to clarify either the membership or the advanced workers who studied the political literature of the WRP. The mystifying language was intended to obscure the really opportunist implications of the new philosophical positions being staked out by the WRP. Few suspected or were in a position to understand that concealed within the pretentious and mystifying jargon employed by Banda, Geoff Pilling and Slaughter was a bitter denunciation of the political priority which the Fourth International has traditionally given to the defense of its program." [North (1990), pp.80-82. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
While North notes the unique way that dialectics -- via the '"holding fast of opposites" -- can be used to justify "opportunism" and political compromise (more on that later), he failed to note that all dialecticians use this 'theory' to justify whatever they like (more on that later, too). To be sure, the use of dialectics by the old WRP was an extreme case of obfuscation, but this just underlines the case advanced here: no other theory is as well-suited for use in this way. That is why all dialecticians use it and why they cling on to it like grim death.
As North goes on to point out (pp.69-74), this plunge into the deep-end of dialectical dissembling 'allowed' Healy to rationalise his adulation of prominent members of the Arab ruling classes (such as Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein -- on this, see Appendix A):
"The more Healy turned away from the basic task of resolving the crisis of leadership in the working class and depended upon alliances with nonproletarian forces, both inside and outside the party, the more obsessed he became with acquiring vast resources -- presses, motorbikes, vacant buildings, and all sorts of expensive electronic gadgets and security paraphernalia. He had convinced himself that all the contradictions within the party and the difficulties it confronted in establishing a strong base within the mass organisations of the working class could be overcome simply through the growth of the party's assets, regardless of how they were acquired. Indeed, Healy no longer recognised the essential historical link between the growth of the revolutionary party and the development of Marxist consciousness in the working class. Rather the perpetual accumulation of resources was seen as a substitute for the training of a working class cadre." [Ibid., p74.]
The slide finally culminated in Healy's rapprochement with de-Stalinised Stalinism (in the form of 'Glasnost') and his infatuation with Gorbachev. He had come full circle, as North accurately describes: from his indefatigable opposition to the Stalinisation of the ICFI (under Pablo and then the US-SWP) in the 1950s and 1960s, to accommodation with the last dying embers of Russian Communism. Indeed, North (1990) is largely devoted to this theme. And yet, North fails to note, once more that dialectics is uniquely placed to 'excuse' any number of U-turns (as we saw was the case with the old CPSU, and CCP) and ideological compromises.
[Incidentally, this is just one more example of the use of dialectics to justify substitutionism. Healy (1990) is almost totally devoted to this, and Lotz and Feldman (1994), is an extended hagiographical attempt to defend this line dialectically. See also Redgrave (1994).]
But, how did Healy respond to these attacks? You guessed it: he appealed to dialectics! For example:
"In the 'split' that took place in the [WRP] in the late autumn of 1985. the opportunist attempt was made to split the dialectical from the historical. It was falsely alleged that the author of these articles on the 'Theory of Knowledge' was guilty of the 'crime' of Hegelianism in his work on materialist dialectics; that he 'ignored' historical materialism. Such a division between dialectical and historical materialism was not accidental. In the case of Slaughter and the American D. North, they had never participated in the day to day practice of Party building, either the [ICFI] and the [WRP] or, in the case of North, a party in the United States. Slaughter, from 1966 to the time of the split, adopted an eclectical attitude towards theory whilst he completely evaded practice of any kind towards the building of the [WRP].
"The American, D. North, when he became General Secretary of the section of the [ICFI] in the USA, acquired a section with well over 100 members, which was built mainly by Wohlforth, who deserted to the US State Department controlled [SWP-US]....
"The attempt by the Banda, Slaughter, North clique to separate dialectical from historical materialism was a most reactionary approval of subjective idealist image making. These were to be pasted over the objective reality of the world class struggle as it is now unfolding....
"Hegel analyses such a process in a philosophical concrete way when he turn to the writings of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814):
'The infinite limitation or check of Fichte's idealism refuses, perhaps, to be based on any Thing-in-itself, so that it becomes purely a determinateness in the Ego. But this determinateness is immediate and a limit to the Ego, which transcending its externality incorporates it; and though the Ego can pass beyond the limit, the latter has in it an aspect of indifference by virtue of which it contains an immediate not-Being of the Ego though itself contained in the Ego.'
"Let us now analyse this paragraph sentence by sentence so that we may understand the subjective idealist method of Fichte, the Bandas, Slaughter, Hunter and Co.
a) 'The infinite limitation or check of Fichte's idealism refuses, perhaps, to be based on any Thing-in-itself, so that it becomes purely a determinateness in the Ego.'
"Here Fichte was determining his Ego in word forms which were empty without any Thing-in-itself for content. For over three decades the Bandas and Slaughter assembled their word forms to the requirements of the historical propaganda needs of the [ICFI], the [SLL] and the [WRP], which was founded in 1973.
b) 'But this determinateness is immediate and a limit to the Ego, which transcending its externality incorporates it; and though the Ego can pass beyond the limit, the latter has in it an aspect of indifference by virtue of which it contains an immediate not-Being of the Ego though itself contained in the Ego.'
"The empty word form 'is immediate and a limit to the Ego', because it does not contain a content. Nevertheless, the Bandas, Slaughter, Hunter and Co. carry on stringing together 'empty word forms' in requirement with historical and propaganda needs of the ICFI and the Party.
"What they fail to realise is that these empty word forms contain a content of 'Not Being' -- the everchanging world economic and political crisis, whether they are aware of it or not. The build-up of such countless 'not-beings' have their revenge when the multitude of 'empty word forms', without them being able to recognise their 'not-Being' content blow up in their face [sic], leaving them totally unprepared....
"Then they rush to form a 'clique alliance' with the American pragmatic hustler, North, who immediately see the opportunity to do some pragmatic leg-work for the 'good old USA'! They dispatch him on a tour of a handful of German pragmatists whilst he is in constant contact with an equal handful of Ceylonese and Australian pragmatists. At the Tenth Congress of the ICFI in January 1985, it was disclosed that in the 1984 November General Elections in Australia, they took state aid to help finance their election expenses. When this was criticised by Banda and Slaughter using their usual 'empty word forms' of criticism, Mulgrew, Beams and Co. admitted the gross opportunism of their action.
"After the split was over the pragmatist North lined up the small groups of pragmatists from West Germany, Ceylon, Australia and, of course, his own 80 members and proceeded to expel Slaughter and Band for being accomplices to 'immorality'. In this case it was a win 'on points' for US pragmatism over Fichtean subjective idealism." [Healy (1990), pp.49-52. Bold emphases in the original. Punctuation errors corrected.]
Well, I am sure that put this "clique" in its place, all the while totally refuting those peremptory accusations of 'Hegelianism'!
Even so, anyone who reads this material will scratch their heads and wonder how on earth the ICFI wasn't a monumental, world-wide success, and be completely mystified why workers in their millions totally ignored these losers.
Healy made an even more pointed attack on this 'clique':
"When North speaks of establishing through the class struggle in the [USA] the revolutionary independence of the great American working class, these are just 'left' words. They have absolutely no content. North as a petty bourgeois is incapable of building a section of the [ICFI] either in the USA or in any country of the world....
"Both North and Slaughter have one thing in common -- both are abstract propagandists who are utterly incapable and totally unable, because of their abstract propagandism, to penetrate the working class and the youth....
"North, Slaughter and the Bandas are now retreating so rapidly from the effects of the world capitalist crisis that they have collectively embarked on a course of liquidating the WRP into the Labour Party as rapidly as possible and virtually abandoning the class struggle. The have abandoned the dialectical materialist method of training and have replaced it with 'left' opportunist propagandism....
"The political instrument for the destruction of the WRP and the [ICFI] is the characterisation of their opponents as 'Hegelian idealists'! It is a lie from beginning to end....
"A new WRP is already well under way to replace the old. Its cadres will be schooled in the dialectical materialist method of training and it will speedily rebuild its daily press. It will be a new beginning, but a great revolutionary leap forward into the leadership of the British and the international working class. It will be a revolutionary leap forward for the [ICFI]." [Healy's 'Interim Statement' 24/10/1985. reproduced in Lotz and Feldman (1994), pp.334-36. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
H=Just how great a "leap" forward, and just how effective these re-born Dialectical Apostles proved to be can be judged from the fact that the 'new' WRP soon split again, and then again, and is now tiny sectlet of impressive irrelevance. Do these highly "trained" Dialectical Prophets draw the obvious conclusion, that this theory has repeatedly been tested in practice and has left behind it a consistent record of long-term failure, and this has been refuted by history? Some hope! Indeed, they proclaim its undying relevance all the more.
"The Norths, Slaughters and Bandas have come to the end of the opportunist, propagandist road. The teachings of Leon Trotsky were throughout his life on the dialectical materialist method of training. A brief glance at In Defence of Marxism will demonstrate this beyond question. Let Trotsky answer North, Slaughter, the Bandas and Co....
[There then follows a page and a half of quotes from the Dialectical Gospels which I won't inflict on the reader.]
"When North, Slaughter and the Bandas speak about 'historical materialism' their method is that of the opportunist impressionists which means the abandonment of the of the dialectical materialist method of training and empirically reacting to the objective situation as they drift rightwards to political disaster...." [Ibid., pp.336-38. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Apologies are once again owed the reader for the mind-numbingly repetitive nature of this stuff; it has only been reproduced here to underline the nature of this 'theory' and the effect it has on these sad individuals (Healy being perhaps the saddest). However, the reader should spare a thought for yours truly; over the last twenty-five years I have had to trawl through this guff time and again, in the hundreds of books and articles I have read that are devoted to this 'theory' and its use in sectarian point-scoring.
Alas, more of the same to follow...
Another (this time Maoist) dialectical dog-fight has just flared-up (2007-08) in the US-RCP over Mike Ely's 'Nine Letters'; details here and here (the latter links to a PDF). I will post more details when I have had time to digest the contents of these documents, too.
Clearly the recent downturn after the massive radicalisation of the anti-war movement of 2003-05 has had its effect on comrades world-wide, requiring sizeable hits of dialectical cocaine as the movement begins to fragment (again!). The split in UK-Respect is just one more example -- although dialectics does not appear to have had a lot to do with it in this instance; much of the problem did, however, centre around allegations of inner party democracy (by the break-away Respect Renewal), as might have been expected (based on the analysis given in the main body of this Essay).
Of course, it's not all bad news; in Australia, three former splinter groups from the IST have just re-united.
Bets are now being taken for how long that will last...
49. These were quoted from the following:  Jackson (1936), p.626;  Konstantinov, et al. (1974), pp.126-27;  Novack (1971), p.70;  Cornforth (1976), pp.71-72;  TAR, pp.5-7;  Afanasyev (1968), pp.84-89;  Ilyenkov (1982a), p.160;  Guest (1939), pp.52-53;  McGarr (1994), pp.153-55;  Trotsky (1971), p.65;  Trotsky (1986), pp.86-97;  Stalin (1976b), pp.837-40. In this brief selection, we have at least seven Stalinist and five Trotskyist quotations. Spot the difference!
49a. Indeed, as noted earlier, at RevLeft, unreconstructed Stalinists, Maoists, Left Communists, OTs and NOTs, and others, have all joined the Dialectical Materialism Group. However, when it comes to politics, these comrades disagree over practically everything, but with respect to dialectics, they are all singing from the same sheet!
50. 'Materialist Dialectics' has to be consigned to the dustbin of history first; only then may reconstructive surgery start being performed on ailing HM. More about that later.
51. The phrase "common understanding" must not be confused with "common sense"; it will be explained in a later Essay.
"Comrade Luxemburg commits exactly the same basic error. She repeats naked words without troubling to grasp their concrete meaning. She raises bogeys without informing herself of the actual issue in the controversy. She puts in my mouth commonplaces, general principles and conceptions, absolute truths, and tries to pass over the relative truths, pertaining to perfectly definite facts, with which alone I operate. And then she rails against set formulas and invokes the dialectics of Marx! It is the worthy comrade's own article that consists of nothing but manufactured formulas and runs counter to the ABC of dialectics. This ABC tells us that there is no such thing as abstract truth, truth is always concrete. Comrade Rosa Luxemburg loftily ignores the concrete facts of our Party struggle and engages in grandiloquent declamation about matters which it is impossible to discuss seriously. Let me cite one last example from Comrade Luxemburg's second article. She quotes my remark that the way the Rules of Organisation are formulated can make them a more or a less trenchant weapon against opportunism. Just what formulations I talked about in my book and all of us talked about at the Congress, of that she does not say a word. What the controversy at the Party Congress was, and against whom I advanced my theses, she does not touch on in the slightest. Instead, she favours me with a whole lecture on opportunism...in the parliamentary countries!! But about the peculiar, specific varieties of opportunism in Russia, the shades which it has taken on there and with which my book is concerned, we find not a word in her article. The upshot of all these very brilliant arguments is: 'Party Rules are not meant in themselves [?? understand this who can!] to be a weapon of resistance to opportunism, but only an outward instrument for exerting the dominant influence of the actually existing revolutionary-proletarian majority of the Party.' Quite so. But how this actually existing majority of our Party was formed Rosa Luxemburg does not say, yet that is exactly what I talk about in my book. Nor does she say what influence it was that Plekhanov and I defended with the help of this outward instrument. I can only add that never and nowhere have I talked such nonsense as that the Party Rules are a weapon 'in themselves'." [Collected Works, Volume VII; quoted from here. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
It is quite apparent from this that despite saying "understand this who can!", Lenin's last few words:
"I can only add that never and nowhere have I talked such nonsense as that the Party Rules are a weapon 'in themselves'." [Ibid.]
indicate that he understood perfectly well what Rosa Luxemburg was saying and was simply point-scoring. Be this as it may, the reader will note once again that dialectics is used by both sides in this dispute to 'prove' that the opposite view is incorrect.
52. The infelicity of the word "algebra" may have escaped the readers of TAR -- as it seems to have done its author. Perhaps if they reflect on the attitude that most workers have toward algebra (when at school, and subsequently) the unfortunate connotations possessed by this word might become more apparent.
However, the title of TAR is unfortunate in other ways. Alan Wood [not the same person as Alan Woods!] brings this out well:
"The terms 'dialectical method' and 'dialectical logic' are apt to mislead. Neither in Hegel nor in Marx is dialectical thinking really a set of procedures for inquiry, still less a set of rules for generating or justifying results. Only harm can be done by representing dialectic as analogous to formal logic or mathematics (witness Alexander Herzen's famous but asinine description of the Hegelian dialectic as the 'algebra of revolution')." [Wood (1981), p.190.]
The problem with the phrase "the algebra of revolution" is that it does indeed suggest there is a body of theory that is clear and precise, which possesses a rigorous proof structure and supplies determinate results. None of these is even remotely true of dialectics. Any reader searching through TAR (or the vast majority of DM-texts) hoping to find anything even vaguely algebraic (or systematic) will look long and hard, but to no avail.
[Several vain attempts to construct one such 'algebra' (e.g., Kosok (1976)) will be examined in another Essay.]
Perhaps worse still, the word "algebra" implies that the results of the revolution can be calculated in a formal manner before the event has taken place, and that all the steps leading up to the final QED at the end determine the result -- even if the author of TAR might strongly repudiate such implications.
If it doesn't imply this, why use the term?
On reflection, therefore, Rees might have thought better of the title he gave his book.
Indeed, because of its links with German mysticism -- mediated by DM -- a better and more accurate title might have been: "The Alchemy of Revolution".
[This has been quoted
here. Formatting has been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site;
spelling and other minor errors have been corrected, and made consistent with UK-English.
Anti-Leninist sentiments have been omitted. Recall, all of this was 'justified' by WRP
hacks using dialectics. It is important to add that the Healyites rejected all
this 'proof' as lies and fabrication.]
THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED
Tom Burns, Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Elsewhere in this issue, in a dramatic exclusive, we publish a damning extract from the secret report of an internal inquiry into corruption within the Workers Revolutionary Party. The full report, which has been leaked to us, chronicles an astonishing tale of abject perfidy by leading members of the group. In this article, Tom Burns gives the background and comments on the inquiry's extraordinary findings
We publish this document in the interests of political hygiene. It consists of about half of the confidential internal interim report on Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party prepared by a "commission" of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Following his expulsion from the on October 19 1985, Healy and his supporters were expelled from the ICFI in December 1985. This was as a result of allegations of sexual abuse, even rape, of women in the party, physical assault on other members, and the establishment of a "mercenary relationship" with a number of Arab despotisms (see Solidarity issue 11).
The text deals with the 's financial and other dealings with their foreign backers. It is largely self-explanatory, but a few background details may be helpful. The commission was set up at the insistence of David North, long-time chieftain of the Healyite Workers' League in the United States. North, together with the anti-Healy coalition inside the headed by Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter, was instrumental in the summer of 1985 in the ousting of Healy.
The ICFI inquiry had the reluctant support of the Banda-Slaughter , who correctly foresaw that an exposure of the facts could be a means of bringing pressure to bear to transfer control of the IC to North. (Indeed, the was suspended by the ICFI on December 16, the day this report was submitted.)
The commission nevertheless had an interest in protecting the reputations of Healy's erstwhile supporters, since they had all been aware (to some extent) of what had been going on. One result of this was that the report as circulated to the 's leadership in late 1985 was censored. The names of those who had taken sides against Healy, together with those of Arab politicians and intelligence agents, were suppressed, and the copies of the documents from Healy's files which were attached to the original report as exhibits were removed.
The commission only had access to fragments of the documentary evidence. On October 9 1985, when the crisis in the came to a head, Mike Banda and his anti-Healy supporters walked out of the party offices in Clapham. This left Healy's acolytes in control of the premises for about forty-eight hours, during which time they removed large quantities of the most sensitive documents. This report is therefore based on the few documents they overlooked, plus some material from other files and accounts.
Healy of Arabia
Even these remnants disclose payments of over a million pounds to the from Arab regimes and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The report clearly shows that for nearly a decade the acted, quite literally, as the paid agent of brutal and oppressive foreign powers. This lasted from at least as early as 1975, when the first contact was made with the PLO, until 1983. During this period a series of agreements was concluded with the Libyan regime and the 's political perspectives were amended to suit their paymasters.
The document alleges that the acted -- through Gerry Healy, Alex Mitchell, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, and a number of others -as a collector of information for Libyan Intelligence. This function had, as the report puts it, "strongly anti-Semitic undertones". Put plainly, they were Jew-spotting in the media, politics and business. The Khomeini revolution and the Iran-Iraq war -- in which the 's efforts to support both sides soon collapsed -- put paid to their employment by the regime of Saddam Hussein. But before this disaster the 's connections with Iraq clearly generated more than the £19,697 identified in the report.
The Iraqi connection had sinister aspects. From 1979 on, the provided the Iraqi embassy with intelligence on dissident Iraqis living in Britain. Since Saddam Hussein's dictatorship does not scruple to arrest the relatives of opponents, to use torture on a vast scale, or even to murder children, it seems likely that the were accomplices to murder.
One example of the depths to which these corrupt practices drove the party occurred in March 1979, when with only one dissentient the central committee of the voted to approve the execution (after prolonged torture) of more than 20 opponents of the Iraqi government. One of the victims, Talib Suwailh, had only five months earlier brought fraternal greetings to the conference of the 's own front organisation, the All Trade Unions Alliance (see the Slaughter group's News Line, 20 November 1985).
In addition to the £1,075,163 identified by the document as having come from the Middle East and Libya between 1977 and 1983, the report gives, in a section dealing with the 's internal finances which we do not print, breakdowns of a further £496,773 received between 1975 and 1985 from other sections of the International Committee, almost entirely from North America, Australia and Germany. This raises further questions about how additional Middle Eastern money may have been recycled to the via other IC sections; it is known, for example, that the Australian section received at least one substantial payment from Libya.
The death agony of the
The 's fission products included, at last count, six organisations plus a large number of dispersed and semi-detached individuals. On the anti-Healy side, in early 1986 Slaughter's was expelled from North's International Committee; it in turn ejected North's British supporters, led by Dave and Judy Hyland, who then formed the 'International Communist Party. Mike Banda was also expelled with a more politically disparate group who established a short-lived discussion circle, Communist Forum; Banda himself repudiated Trotskyism completely, and a number of his associates have joined the Communist Party.
In the summer of 1986 the began negotiations with the LIT, Nahuel Moreno's Argentinean-based international apparat, (notable mainly for their enthusiastic support for the Argentine junta's invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas). These talks have, in turn, generated yet another internal opposition (Chris Bailey, Gerry Downing, David Bruce, et al), who face expulsion if the marriage is consummated.
It is certain that the anti-Healy camp know far more about the dirtier aspects of the 's past than they have so far publicly admitted. Indeed, their coyness about the past is one of the few things which unites the warring factions. Probably none of them know the full story, but virtually all of them know more than they have revealed so far. These include North, who has resolutely chosen not to make public even the skeletal information we publish; Cliff Slaughter, who for many years was secretary of the International Committee; and Dot Gibson, who was responsible for running -- and falsifying -- the accounts of the and its companies. Silence denotes consent.
Healy and a number of his supporters are even better placed to be held accountable for the despicable practices which this report alleges. It states, for example, that Alex Mitchell and Corin Redgrave were as deeply involved as Healy himself in the dealings with Arab governments. So was Vanessa Redgrave, whose personal finances are alleged to have merged with the inflowing money.
One part of the document not published here states, "It was learned from cde [name suppressed] that one large IC donation of $140,000 to the party was never recorded. Under instructions from G Healy it was given to Vanessa Redgrave who had run into tax problems."
The pro-Healy which emerged from the October 1985 schism has also had its problems. From the beginning Healy had an uneasy relationship with Sheila Torrance, who ran the organisation and the restarted daily News Line. In the summer of 1986, Mitchell suddenly quit, returning to Australia, and the association between Healy and his showbiz 11 on the one hand and Torrance on the other deteriorated. The break came in December. Torrance kept a majority of the remaining membership and News Line, which by now had a circulation in the low hundreds.
Healy, the Redgraves, and a small rump, resurfaced in August 1987 as the Marxist Party, which has discovered a new messiah in Gorbachev, apparently due to lead a political revolution in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in early 1987 yet another faction, headed by Richard Price, broke away to refound Trotskyist orthodoxy as the "Workers International League". Torrance, with what remains of her , is currently embroiled in a tussle with yet another group led by Ray Athow over the party's remaining assets. Tedious, isn't it?
Their morals and ours
One important aspect of the corruption of the not covered by the report is the mercenary relationship it established with certain local authorities. For example, the financially scandal-ridden Lambeth council was effectively dominated by a group of councillors who were covert members or supporters of the party (one, at least, received a party salary and car) with all that implies in terms of jobbery and corruption.
The Labour Herald, an important journal of the Labour "left" and formerly co-edited by Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, was financed and controlled by the . The party also had important influence in, and access to, the highest levels of the GLC. We hope in future issues of Solidarity, with the help of our readers, to explore this further dimension of corruption. Incidentally, the was far from being the sole beneficiary of such influence....
What is relevant about this tale is not that the was led by a monster (or monsters) -- after all, there are plenty of those around -- but that numbers of intelligent, self-sacrificing, and idealistic people (but what ideals?) accepted such a regime for decades. Psychiatry as well as ideology is needed to explain such a phenomenon. Masochistic party or leader fetishism is only one facet of the problem....
THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY PARTY
Extract from the Interim Report of the International Committee Commission, December 16 1985
From Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
Here, published for the first time, we extract four key pages of the 12-page report on corruption in the , prepared by a special commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International
Relations with the colonial bourgeoisie
The Commission was able to secure a section of the correspondence relating to the Middle East from the files in G Healy's former office. The documents examined by the Commission are seven relating to Iraq, four relating to Kuwait and other Gulf states, 23 relating to the PLO and 28 relating to Libya. The following report bases itself mainly on these documents.
From internal evidence in the documents under our control, it is obvious that much more material must exist, which was either taken out of the centre when the rump was in control or kept elsewhere. Therefore the actual amount of money received from these relations and the extent of these relations must be considerably bigger than what we are able to prove in this report. The documents at our disposal clearly prove that Healy established a mercenary relationship between the and the Arab colonial bourgeoisie, through which the political principles of Trotskyism and the interests of the working class were betrayed.
In late June 1976, the ICFI was informed for the first time that the had established official contacts with non-party forces in the Middle East. These contacts were with the PLO, a national liberation movement. However, in April 1976, two months earlier (and more than a year before a public alliance was announced between the and Libya), a secret agreement with the Libyan government was signed by [name suppressed in original] and Corin Redgrave on behalf of the (exhibit no 5). This was never reported to the ICFI. The Commission has not yet established who in the leadership of the , beyond the signatories, knew of the agreement.
This agreement includes providing of intelligence information on the "activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere" by "Zionists". It has strongly anti-Semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position. This agreement was connected with a demand for money. The report given by the delegation while staying in Libya included a demand for £50,000 to purchase a web offset press for the daily News Line, which was to be launched in May 1976. The Commission was not able to establish if any of this money was received.
In August 1977, G Healy went himself to Libya and presented a detailed plan for the expansion of News Line to six regional editions, requesting for it £100,000. G Healy also discussed the Euro-marches with the Libyan authorities and responded positively to a proposal to have the "Progressive Socialist Parties of the Mediterranean" participate in the marches. This would have included PASOK, a bourgeois party in Greece. These plans did not materialise. G Healy reported this in a letter to Al Fatah leader [name suppressed] (exhibit no 6).
This letter and a number of further letters to [name suppressed] (exhibit no 14) demonstrate that the relations with the PLO -- which according to the claims made by the before the ICFI were supposedly based on the principled resolutions of the Second Congress of the Communist International -- were cynically used to make the PLO an instrument for obtaining money from the Arab bourgeoisie, thereby destroying any chance of building a section of the International Committee among the Palestinians.
The complete political opportunism of the relations to the Arab colonial bourgeoisie is most clearly revealed in a redraft of the perspectives signed by G. Healy (exhibit no 7). This document was presented to the Libyan authorities during a visit in April 1980. It reconciles the perspectives with the Green Book. Instead of the "working class" we find "the masses" and the Libyan Revolutionary Committees are identified with Soviets. The criterion of the class character of the state is completely abolished. Like almost every document found by the Commission relating to the Middle East, it ends with a request for money.
G Healy lined up publicly with the reactionary forces in the Middle East. During a visit to Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March-April, 1979, G Healy, V Redgrave, and [name suppressed] met with the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh Sa-ad, and some of the ruling bourgeois families. When they were invited however to have dinner "with a group of left oppositionists led by the Sultan family," according to their own report "the delegation declined to accept this invitation as we did not wish to intervene in the political matters in Kuwait" (exhibit no 8). The sole purpose of this trip was to raise money for the film Occupied Palestine.
The trip ended finally by the delegation urging the feudal and bourgeois rulers to censure a journalist of the Gulf Times who had written an article on the real purpose of their visit. The delegation finally received £116,000. In October 1979, Vanessa Redgrave visited Libya and asked for £500,000 for Youth Training (exhibit no 9). As of February 1982 the had received "just over 200,000 pounds" from Libya for Youth Training (exhibit no 10). In addition to this a £100,000 fund was raised in the British working class. While approximately £300,000 was raised for this project, the real cost for the purchase, legal and building expenses for seven Youth Training Centres as of May 21, 1982 was £152,539.
In April 1980 a delegation led by G Healy visited Libya, presenting his redrafted perspective and asking for more money. From March 8 to 17, 1981 G Healy made a further visit to Libya, putting forward demands totalling £800,000. The Commission found a report in Healy's handwriting of this (exhibit no 11). This report contains the following statements: "In the evening we had a two hour audience with [name suppressed]. We suggested that we should work with Libyan Intelligence and this was agreed. ... March 13. The delegation was visited by [name suppressed] from the intelligence". This has a special significance, considering the fact that the Libyan Intelligence has excellent relations with the German Special Branch (BKA).
The Commission has not been able to establish to whom in the leadership, if anyone, this written report was shown. The same applies to all other written reports and correspondence.
At that point G Healy had considerable difficulty getting all the money he was asking for. The report goes on: "March 15th. We were told that [name suppressed] had promised £100,000 which we said was welcome but inadequate. ...April 9th. Met [name suppressed] for the first time since he returned from Tripoli. He had no news but paid up £26,500 to pay for youth premises already decided. This brings the total to date paid from the promised £500,000 to £176,500. It looks as [if] our visit made no impact whatsoever".
In May 1981, G Healy's letters asking for the money became more and more desperate. On April 15th he writes a letter, marked "confidential", to [name suppressed] of the People's Committee in the Libyan People's Bureau (exhibit no 12) urging him to give the money. On May 17, 1981 a "private and confidential" letter is sent to "dear [name suppressed]" (exhibit no 13) through Alex Mitchell.
On August 25th Alex Mitchell asks PLO representative [name suppressed] for an immediate meeting to discuss "the very grave questions which have arisen regarding our revolutionary solidarity work in the Middle East". He informs him that "with the full agreement of the Political Committee, our Party's proposed visit to Beirut and Tripoli has been cancelled".
In a Memo to G Healy, Alex Mitchell reports that [name suppressed] proposed to write a letter to Gaddafi and forward it through [name suppressed] of Libyan Intelligence. On August 28th, G Healy writes a letter to [name suppressed] in the name of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, complaining that he didn't get the money from Tripoli and blaming the Libyans for the price raise in the News Line (exhibit no 14). The same day G Healy writes another "private and confidential" letter to "Brother [name suppressed]" (exhibit no 15).
The last document in the hands of the Control Commission is a letter from G Healy to the secretary of the Libyan People's Bureau, dated February 10th, 1982, under the heading "Re: 1982 Budget" (exhibit no 10).
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the right-wing turn of the Arab bourgeoisie led to the drying up of the finances coming in from the Arab colonial bourgeoisie. Only a few documents could be found on the relations with the Iraqi bourgeoisie, although we know that many trips have been made there. The relations came to an abrupt end when the Iran-Iraq war started in 1980. The total amount obtained through these relations, according to the available documents, is listed below.
The Commission has not yet been able to establish all the facts relating in the case of the photographs that were handed over to the Iraqi embassy. We do know the two members were instructed to take photos of demonstrations of opponents of Saddam Hussein. One of the members, Cde. [name suppressed], refused the order. A receipt for £1600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in the possession of the Commission.
Money received from the Middle East
The following report on monies received from the Middle East was put together by the Commission from a careful analysis of many documents and cash books. We were told repeatedly that Healy wanted no formal record kept of the money coming in. A full list and graph of what was found is in exhibit no16.
A list by year shows the following amounts coming in:
Analysed by country, where it is possible to distinguish, the amounts are:
Abu Dhabi £25,000
Unidentified or other sources £261,702
The Commission was told by both [name suppressed] and [name suppressed] that frequently cash was brought to the centre which would not be immediately banked. Therefore, it was possible for large sums of cash to come and go without ever being recorded.
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