The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

"Dialectical" Diversions December 4, 2005 by RedStar2000

Here is a fairly lengthy collection of my most recent posts attacking the superstitious content of "dialectics".

This is a subject concerning which many otherwise rational Marxists have an unreasonable reaction to critical discourse.

It is regarded as heresy to argue that Marx and Engels could have possibly been wrong about such a "major part" of their theoretical work.

In the eyes of my critics, Marx's explicit injunction to "doubt everything" does not evidently apply to Marx's own works.

The 20th century Leninists "used dialectics" in the same way as a ruling class uses religion: to provide "cosmological justification" for anything they wanted to do.

The Stalin-Hitler Pact of 1930, for example, was "dialectically correct".

If the Nepalese Maoists succeed in overthrowing the monarchy there and replace it with a bourgeois republic, they will tell people that their "correct understanding of dialectics" justifies their failure to keep their "socialist" promises.

And so on.

Thus my advice to the reader: when confronted with some highly dubious or suspicious political proposition that is "justified" "dialectically", you may freely reject it at once!

"Dialectical" babble has become a clear indicator of "left" charlatanism.

It is pure quackery masquerading as "science".


I have discussed that wretched intellectual fraud known as "dialectics" at interminable length...and hope very much that I may avoid it unless some new arguments are offered on its behalf.

This seems unlikely. Among Leninists, "dialectics" has the approximate status of transubstantiation...a "miracle beyond human understanding".

Particularly irritating are the clumsy efforts of the "dialecticians" to cloak themselves in shreds and tatters of "scientific" costuming. They are, in fact, no more "scientific" than astrologers!

If you wish to plunge into the muck and see for yourself, here are the links...

On "Dialectics" -- The Heresy Posts

Disputing Dialectics

Dizzy with "Dialectics"

"Dialectical" Drivel
First posted at RevLeft on November 4, 2005


Yet without dialectical logic on what does Marxism stand?

Empirical observation of material reality, of course. That's what the word science means!


...we cannot understand dark without light, nor can we conceive of a working class without the bourgeoisie.

Typical "dialectical" mysticism. We observe the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie based on their conflicting material interests.

We can see that no compromise in the long run is possible.


If there is no inherent, moving inconsistency, how does the Marxist not only explain historical change, but also posit the existence of a material absolute, in which antagonism is eliminated?

Historical change is based fundamentally on changes in the means of production...and those changes result from the fact that humans are inherently innovative in their "struggle with nature" to make a living.

Changes in the means of production change consciousness. Our "mental picture" of "what is possible" in the real world changes as our understanding of the real world grows more accurate.

To inject "dialectics" into this process simply generates endless confusion...and temporarily pumps up the reputation of intellectual con-men like Hegel and his contemporary heirs.

Marx and Engels did not realize that their best insights into human history did not need "dialectics" was an accidental "fifth-wheel" resulting from Marx's German education at a time when Hegel enjoyed far more intellectual esteem than he deserved.

Surely we have now advanced far enough to scrape away from Marxism the irrelevant encrustations of 19th century romanticist philosophy.

Hegel himself was a reactionary windbag...and his methodology shows it.
First posted at RevLeft on November 5, 2005

It's interesting and may even be significant that this thread was moved to the Philosophy forum.

Properly speaking, it's really where it belongs...for what is "dialectics" but a footnote to the history of philosophy?

Those who wish to argue over the merits of this footnote -- and perhaps even elevate it to the main body of the text -- are free to do so here without bothering people who have more important things to concern themselves with.

First posted at RevLeft on November 6, 2005


I think redstar is pissed off at the fact that he couldn't understand/grasp what dialectics really is.

Possibly true...everyone who professes to support "dialectics" always claims that it has some mysterious "inner truth" that escapes the grasp of mere mortals like myself.

Unfortunately, their claimed "mastery" of this "inner truth" doesn't seem to help them much in the real world.

On the contrary, they "blunder along" just like the rest of us...seeking truth about objective reality through empirical investigation.

Unless, of course, they choose to regard the real world as irrelevant to their philosophical priorities. It's an "occupational hazard" when one begins to take theological questions seriously.


Marxism is not merely an empirical science - it is a theory to change the world.

Of course it is...but so is the entire scientific project.

Scientists may not be aware of this in the course of their own labors. But real science does change the world.

When you understand how "nature" works, then it becomes possible to change it to suit human preferences.

And make no mistake about it, human societies are just as much a part of nature as atoms or galaxies.

We've had close to a century for all the Leninist "masters of the dialectic" to show us what their "better way of thinking" can produce in the way of real change.

Results: 0.0000

Meanwhile, look at what science has achieved over the same period of time. Consider how human life has changed since 1917.


Conventional logic can't deal with change or contradiction.

Except, of course, that it does so in the real world every minute of every day.

Your dissatisfaction with many of the "standard models" that are widely accepted by contemporary scientists may, someday, be justified by further developments.

But those new models in science will necessarily involve large amounts of empirical research...a project in which "dialectics" will play no role at all.

The people who, for example, actually figure out "why the big bang theory is wrong" (if it is) will have never heard of "dialectics". Instead, they will point to problems with the mathematical models that "big bang" proponents can't "fix". They will discover observable phenomena that make it impossible for any version of "big bang" theory to be true.

To be sure, much of "cutting edge" science these days consists of mathematical speculation. Why are scientists predisposed to favor such "speculations"?

It has nothing to do with philosophical idealism. Quite the contrary!

The history of science contains a remarkable number of examples where such "speculations" turned out to be true as soon as our instruments had developed enough to test those "speculations" against the real world.

The math said "something should exist" even though there was no empirical evidence to support that particular something's existence.

Once we knew "where to look" and had some hypothetical idea of "what to look for" and, most of all, the instruments that might actually find it, then...we found it!

Right where the mathematical "speculation" said it would be!

It's kind of ironic, when you stop and think about it. All the alleged powers to comprehend reality that the supporters of "dialectics" claim...well, those "powers" do exist.

In the realm of mathematics!

Both "dialectics" and mathematics can be used to make predictions about the future behavior of real world phenomena.

The "dialecticians" (after Marx and Engels) have all been spectacular failures.

The "math geeks"...well, they've posted some rather impressive successes.

Indeed, I think there's a strong probability that the "next Marx" will be a "math geek".

He or possibly she will "re-cast" Marxist theory in rigorous mathematical terms based on equally rigorous empirical data.

And perhaps by then we will have heard the last of all "dialectical" babbling.

At least we can hope so!
First posted at RevLeft on November 9, 2005

quote (Mao):

The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

Well, one should remember that Mao was a "middle peasant" with scant knowledge of the complexities of the history of philosophy.

One can broadly distinguish between materialist and idealist "philosophical explanations" of reality...but it doesn't seem as if Mao was even aware that "dialectics" is idealist.

To reduce any material phenomenon to "a struggle between two opposites" is not only a drastic oversimplification but, even worse, simply imposes a philosophic construct (or idea) on reality without any empirical justification whatsoever.

That's not materialism!

It's idealism!

It's long been a philosophic conceit that the task of philosophy was to "discover" the "underlying reality" of observable phenomena. "Dialectics" was, in the past, one of the approaches to that task.

Now we have real science -- something which Mao had only the haziest notion of.

Especially in 1937!

quote (Mao):

The dialectical world outlook emerged in ancient times both in China and in Europe.

Indeed it did...and it worked no better then than it does now.

Because it is inherently idealist...despite even Marx's efforts to "modernize it" by incorporating materialist data.

Marx's real contribution was his rigorous historical materialism. He really understood the material roots of all philosophical "explanations" of social phenomena.

He didn't need "dialectics" -- he simply incorporated "dialectical" terminology because that's how he was educated!

In his youth, to "be revolutionary" was to be "a left Hegelian"...and he never escaped that youthful enthusiasm for "dialectics".

It is indeed an unfortunate "accident of history" that the dead hand of Hegel oppressed living revolutionaries throughout the last century.

And even more so that some sincere revolutionaries still waste their time and energy on this romanticist superstition.

This thread is accordingly moved to the Philosophy forum...and unless there is strenuous objection, that's going to be the fate of all threads about "dialectics" from now on.

In fact, I hope that within a few years, it will be possible to move "dialectics" threads to the Religion subforum.

It's where they really belong!
First posted at RevLeft on November 9, 2005


The impossibility of having a reasoned debate on this issue is quite clear.

No one is arguing against science, or against math, and dialectics is not complicated or mystical.

Read the book, that's all that I have to say anymore, since you insist on not reading what I have to say.

As you wish. It seems to me that I responded very specifically to some of the points that you raised...and I could elaborate further if required.

But I do confess that I don't have much time for "holy books" any more.

If you wish to wallow in such muck, suit yourself. Consult the enormous list of pure blather posted in this thread...some of which I've actually had the misfortune of wasting my time reading.

Better you than me! *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on November 10, 2005

Surely a bit of reflection on any real world phenomenon suggests at once a variety of causes, influences, factors, etc.

Consider a problem of pressing interest to all those who desire the overthrow of capitalism.

What are the required conditions of massive revolutionary proletarian insurgency?

Or, why do uprisings take place here and not there and why at this time and not some other time?

This is a problem that is so complicated that we do not have, at this point, more than a few scraps of a "theory". We look at past insurrections empirically and try to formulate some "explanations" that make at least minimal sense.

But, realistically speaking, we are in the same position as some 18th century scientist trying to "explain" hurricanes.

Of course, all the self-anointed "masters of the dialectic" claim that they "know the truth" of these matters and can not only successfully "predict" revolutions but even "lead" and "guide" them.

Sensible people scornfully dismiss such conceits...but it cannot be denied that there are still a few people that accept such claims in plain denial of the massive evidence against them.


The philosophy of science is dialectical.



The problem is that the dialectical method is used so commonly that it often isn't even recognized.

I'm afraid this is a typically shabby verbal maneuver regularly offered by the "dialecticians".

Faced with the indisputable fact that the overwhelming majority of working scientists have never heard of "dialectics", they claim that whenever a scientist reaches a correct conclusion from his/her research, they were being "unconsciously dialectical" in their thinking.

Scientific errors, on the other hand, are universally attributed to "bourgeois empiricism" or "static, linear, logic" or some such "inferior mode of thinking".

This obviously self-serving crap should remind us of what the Christians say when reproached for their atrocities..."Oh, those bad people weren't real Christians." And should an avowed and public atheist do something they admire, they'll say "Oh, God must have moved his heart to do the Christian thing."

Perhaps the appeal of "dialectics" becomes clearer by these examples: you can use "dialectics" to say anything you like as if it were really true.

That's idealism!


Well, we have here again this intellectual arrogant who postures to be "the person who knows all things" and thinks as if he's smarter than Marx himself.

quote (introduction to the redstar2000papers):

I am obviously not "Marx" or even "Engels" -- but I try, to the best of my limited abilities, to look at social reality in the same critical sense that they did.

You have a problem with that? *laughs*


Marx combined dialectics and materialism (that henceforth became to be known as dialectical materialism) as his tool for analyzing things.

I am well aware that Marx thought he was "standing Hegel on his head" by grounding "dialectics" in material reality.

But I don't think the oxymoronic term "dialectical materialism" was ever used by Marx himself. I've seen sources that suggested it was first used by either Engels or by an anonymous early member of the German social democratic either case, after Marx's death.

The substance of the question remains: did Marx need "dialectics" to make his materialist analysis "work"?

The answer, in my view, is obviously negative.

If he didn't really need it, then why do we?


It is not "reducing any material phenomenon" but, rather, the essence of things or such material conditions. Here, Mao explained that in every thing (matter) there lies within it the contradiction of two things, and such contradiction make up its very essence. As such, these two forces contradicting within make up the condition for this thing to advance to a higher stage of existence until its eventual decay. Without this contradiction, a thing cannot progress.



RedStar, you make one claim after the other about dialectics, firstly that it is meaningless and really just used to justify tyranny, secondly that if it is common sense, then why the need to formulate it? and now even that it is idealist, which I will now ask you to substantiate.

It is idealist because it has no real world significance.

In all but the very simplest phenomena, there are "more than two" causes in operation...some which "oppose" each other and some which "reinforce" each other.

Figuring out the real causes of "what this is" or "why this happens" generally involves enormous and laborious research into reality and uncovers a multitude of factors that interact with each other in very complex ways.

"Dialectical" word-spinning is just a way to avoid confronting real world complexities.

It's also really useful to those who wish to disguise their own real world ignorance while projecting an image of erudition...following in Hegel's own footsteps, so to speak.
First posted at RevLeft on November 10, 2005


Consider the different aspects of a gas I just described. Sure enough, I didn't need "dialectics" as a terminology to express them. However, the certain stages in the gases development CAN be expressed in terms of quality/quantity or totalities or contradiction.

Very revealing!

"Dialectical terminology" is infinitely can, if one wishes, express anything "dialectically" without regard to its truth or falsity.

But "dialectics" does not "explain" why certain molecules behave in a particular way under specific conditions.

You have to really know something about physics and chemistry to describe what really happens and why...including a good deal of mathematics.

Just waving the "magic wand" of "dialectics" doesn't really explain anything. One could, with the same level of justification, "explain anything" as "the Will of God".

I assert once again: "dialectics" is idealism!
First posted at RevLeft on November 20, 2005


Perhaps, but you continue to set the limits of the debate in such a way as to make all your arguments truisms.

Well, would you prefer "falsisms"?

I try to "get it right" as best I can...what more can anyone do?


You define the debate as one of religion against science, and so there is no room for debate here.

It does strike me as I hear the "arguments" in support of "dialectics" that they have a theological character.

Reality "is dialectical" because we say so.

When I see "dialecticians" attempt to use natural phenomena to "show the truth of dialectics", it reminds me of theologians "using nature" to "prove" the "wisdom" of "God's designs".

In the last analysis, they are all metaphorical "arguments"...that tell us nothing really useful about nature at all.

And accordingly, it is my wish to strongly discourage the wasting of people's time and energy in such futile mental gymnastics.


There is something strange, then, in persons who insist that science has no need of if someone had said the opposite.

Dialecticians, like theologians, are not required to be consistent.

But it does seem to be the general consensus among them that "only dialectics" is "really scientific".

Empiricism, formal logic, experimentation, etc., are all condemned as "static" or "partial" or in some other way distinctly "inferior" methods of understanding objective reality.

This sort of thing is implied even when it's not explicitly stated. Any scientist who figures something out correctly is, at once, praised for his "dialectical thinking". A scientist who reaches an erroneous conclusion must have "failed to grasp the dialectic".

The fact that a scientist who "got it right" and a scientist who "got it wrong" both never heard of "dialectics" goes conveniently unmentioned.


What this is about is whether a revolutionary politics can rely on the science produced by Capitalist society (valid and all as that science is) as a SUFFICIENT basis for the kind of theorising necessary to inform the practice of revolutionary politics.

Well, it's all we have that works.

At such time as we wish to develop a revolutionary theory, it can only be based on the best available empirical evidence.

There's just no substitute for that!

The fact that the origins of modern science are closely associated with the rise of modern capitalism cannot exclude the fact that the scientific method works...while all other methods of both investigating reality and changing it have been abysmal failures.

As Marxists, we "discount" bourgeois "social science" and bourgeois "economics" for obvious reasons. The class bias and ideological prejudice make much of it completely useless.

But some of the data might be useful if carefully examined from a Marxist perspective.

That was, when you stop and think about, Marx's own approach. He carefully examined every scrap of empirical evidence he could locate on how capitalism actually worked.

What, then, of "dialectics"? It cannot have escaped your attention that it is precisely in the realm of "informing revolutionary practice" that all of the past and present "masters of the dialectic" have been ignominious failures!

Hell, even astrologers probably have a better "track record" than "dialecticians" do.

And no rational person thinks that there's anything "scientific" about astrology, right?

So yes...the revolutionary project demands the scientific method.

Nothing less will do.


If we know that the cohesiveness of our society facilitates certain thinking and blocks other types of thinking, we have to ask ourselves if the hypothesised scientific method (which btw the philosophy of science has been unable to model in a manner consistent with the history of science), can inform political practice where that practice is revolutionary.

Well, the history of actual scientific practice shows the impact of a multitude of material and ideological one would not expect it to closely conform to the details of an abstract model.

But "we know it when we see it"...and when we don't!

When the capitalist class attempts to justify its dominant position by arguing that their domination is "scientifically justified", we know that they've "hired some hacks" to do some very bad "science".

Likewise, when some "Great Leader" tells us that "the science of dialectics" upholds the "historical necessity" of his personal despotism, we know that this sort of self-serving bullshit has nothing in common with science at all.

Science is not an "oracle", of course. It does not necessarily provide "infallible" answers. On occasion, it can be grossly mistaken.

But what I've called the "scientific attitude" really is, I think, an absolute requirement for informed revolutionary practice.

We must be skeptical of "revealed truths" or anyone who speaks "as if" such things exist. We must demand empirical evidence and rational argument in support of any proposed course of revolutionary practice.

In particular, we must demand transparency in all forms of revolutionary decision-making.

And therefore we must decisively reject all notions of "masters of the dialectic" who "know better than us" because they "think better" than we do.


The dominant forms of science are not conducive to effective revolutionary thinking.

That may be true...but the required response to "bad" science is better science and not the mystical banalities of 19th century German romanticism.


It ["dialectics"] is scientific in the German idealist sense of being an organised and disciplined body of thinking which aspires to self-criticism and consequential development.

Some astrologers say the same thing!


Hidden within that insistent contrast - but an aspect brought out by someone like Max Eastman, who supported this scientistic view - is the somewhat incredible claim that science can - and maybe even will - provide a sufficient basis for revolutionary politics while funded by the academia of capitalism.

That may have been Eastman's view but it's not mine. The results of academic research may be useful to us...but it's not the "only science" there is.

Can we not "do science" to develop revolutionary theory?

Especially given the vast amounts of empirical data available on the internet?

Perhaps that sounds "too hard".

But it beats the hell out of flopping on our bellies before some Hegelian con-man, doesn't it???
First posted at RevLeft on November 12, 2005


I've copied and posted it all so you can be able to read it entirely.

You needn't have bothered.

Neither I nor, in all likelihood, anyone else will plow through Engels' obsolete account of late 19th century science.

In fact, Dialectics of Nature is not really "a book by Engels" at all.

Engels wanted to write such a book but did not complete it in his lifetime. It was "put together" by scholars in the USSR (if I'm not mistaken) from the notes that Engels had written in preparation for such a book.

Of course Engels was -- along with Marx himself -- an enthusiastic defender of "dialectics".

That doesn't mean that "dialectics" is true.

Marx and Engels were just plain wrong about "dialectics".

Even "really smart people" who were "right about a whole bunch of things" can still be wrong about some things.


In the same way, the fact that I have to know something about the nature of the forces involved in a system's evolution does not make dialectics any less relevant.

Sure it does. If you understand what is really taking place, then you don't need "dialectics" at all.

And if you don't understand what is really taking place, then even an infinite amount of "dialectical" babble will not advance your understanding of what is really taking place a single nanometer.


You have twisted what I said to suit you.

Something of which I have been accused of on many occasions.

But I cannot "twist" what has not already been said.

What you do is exactly what "dialecticians" always do -- attempt to re-phrase ordinary knowledge discovered through perfectly ordinary investigation, logical reasoning, etc., in "dialectical" if that "proves" that reality "is dialectical" or even that "dialectics works".

And as I pointed out, any theologian could and often does exactly the same thing...only they openly use the language of superstition.


OK, I used the logic of dialectics to show how a gas behaves and refuted your argument that complexity in a system rules out the possibility of resolving forces into two contradictory actions.

I have no doubt that you imagine that you've "refuted me"...but it would be more reasonable to leave that judgment to the reader, would it not?

Of course, modesty is not a characteristic of "dialecticians", is it?


There are instances though where departure from dialectics leads to catastrophic mistakes.



To observe from the perspective of the individual instead of the totality is the reason bourgeois economics became unstuck; to be unable to see that quantity transforms into quality and to instead to believe its opposite, that quantity can develop at a steady pace without there ever being a qualitative turning point is called "evolutionary socialism" in the field of socialist politics and was the specialty of Bernstein.

Bourgeois economics has not really been a science in a reasonable sense of that word for a very long time.

It borrows some of the mathematical tools of science and sometimes actually researches empirical reality.

But, above all, it has been an ideological tool to "justify" capitalism itself.

"Honest" bourgeois economists frankly admit that what they do has no relationship to the real world.

What makes bourgeois economics so unreliable is not its failure to incorporate "dialectics"'s the fact that "an accurate understanding of the real world" is not its purpose.

I think this was suspected even during Marx's own lifetime.

Moreover, Bernstein's theory of "evolutionary socialism" did not stem from "a failure to grasp the dialectic".

Bernstein empirically observed as far back as 1900 or so that the general political character of German social democracy was evolutionary in orientation -- inspite of the "official Marxist rhetoric".

He "got in trouble" for the "crime" of suggesting that the rhetoric of German social democracy should be changed to conform to its actual practice.

Bernstein's understanding of Marxist methodology was, in reality, superior to that of his "orthodox" critics.

Of course, Bernstein has been demonstrated to be entirely wrong about the possibilities of capitalism "evolving" into socialism or communism.

But in his own era, Bernstein's theory was not only a plausible hypothesis but one that was widely accepted throughout the 2nd International by the same people who denounced him for saying what nearly everyone was doing!

What was, after all, the 2nd International's infatuation with bourgeois electoral politics if not "evolutionary socialism" in practice?

Bernstein's critics -- including all the famous "masters of the dialectic" -- somehow managed to overlook the real political nature of the 2nd International until after 1914.

Curious, is it not?


I have not denied the value of empirical evidence. But I am stating that empirical evidence is insufficient. Bernstein or Adam Smith had a wealth of empirical evidence at their disposal. Certainly this was not Marx's advantage over them. That they did not understand the world entirely is proof enough that mere observation does not fully explain how things are interconnected.

Understanding the world "entirely" is a metaphysical goal. In fact, it illustrates -- yet again! -- what is wrong with "dialectics".

We understand (or fail to understand) historically specific aspects of the real world.

"Dialectics", like all superstitions, is "a theory of everything".

It may be possible that we are not far from a real "theory of everything" least some modern physicists are pursuing that goal.

But if one is discovered and "really works", I'll happily wager the rent money that "dialectics" will have no role in it at all.

In fact, what will happen is that "dialecticians" will try to "summarize" it in "dialectical" words. *laughs*

And their efforts will be even less successful than Engels' efforts.

No one cares about 19th century romanticist superstitions any more.
First posted at RevLeft on November 12, 2005


Your analysis of Bernstein on the other hand is truly remarkable and appears to me to be a justification for revisionism, which almost drove Luxemburg to suicide, on the basis that it seemed ok at the time.

Do you think then that Bernstein's revisionism was "unjustified"? That perhaps it stemmed from Bernstein's "personal villainy" or some such thing?? That Bernstein "wanted Luxemburg dead" and "that's why" he wrote his books???

Bernstein said in plain words what everyone else was doing while the leadership of the 2nd International was still using Marxist "revolutionary rhetoric".

Why do you ascribe such "evil motives" to the guy who said it while being so discreetly silent about the common practice of the 2nd International?

Do you imagine that the European proletariat became "social patriots" as a consequence of some "dialectical miracle of transfiguration" in August 1914?

Look rather to what the leadership of the 2nd International had been telling the proletariat through its practice from the very beginning.

The social democrats in every European country behaved like revisionists. To the extent that their practice "molded" the consciousness of the European proletariat, social patriotism was the logical and expected consequence.


HA HA! You tell me that empirical observation, of a discrete moment in time, was a methodologically correct thing to do and that he was theoretically above Luxemburg.

Well, who figured out what was really happening first? Who took the trouble to actually look and see what was happening?

Laugh all you wish...that does not change history.


The regression in socialist ideas egged on by Bernstein was sufficiently good because to seek the entire truth is hopeless. We will never know the "Ding an Sich", will we, redstar?

The "thing in itself"? Probably least in any sense that a German philosopher would recognize as "knowing".

What we do seem to able to learn is how a "thing" behaves under specific conditions. No doubt philosophers find such "knowledge" to be "unsatisfying".

But it's fine with me. I'll happily leave to others the search for "Absolute Truth"...especially since those interested in that search seem to be almost always theologians of one sort or another.


All you are good at is playing word games.

I regret that the force of my rational arguments against "dialectics" has proven so inadequate in your eyes.

But I am not "playing games" here...when I assert that "dialectics" is nothing but superstitious crap, I mean it!


You have not referred to a single methodological flaw that could not be applied to the entire world of ideas itself.

The "world of ideas" in isolation from objective reality IS HOPELESSLY "FLAWED".

It is only when ideas are tested against the real world that they may become interesting...and even accurate.

Otherwise, what's the point?
First posted at RevLeft on November 12, 2005

I wrote this...

quote (redstar2000):

Bourgeois economics has not really been a science in a reasonable sense of that word for a very long time.

The "dialectician" transforms my statement into this...


Reducing Smith and Ricardo much more swiftly to the position of "personal villainy".

Did I actually suggest that Smith and Ricardo were "not scientists"?

Of course not...but "dialecticians" are never inhibited by so vulgar an obstacle as reality.

It's "not my field", but my impression is that bourgeois economics became an ideological construct and left science behind with the emergence of the "Austrian school".


His [Bernstein's] revisionism was scientifically unjustified, after all, it is the method of scientific analysis we are looking at here.

Well, that is now known and agreed upon. The point that I was making is that he made a valid empirical observation...something that all of the "masters of the dialectic" of his time somehow "overlooked".

He "saw through" the rhetoric of the 2nd International and correctly perceived its social reality...something that "dialecticians" have a real problem with.

Probably because to them, rhetoric is reality. Indeed, a really literal interpretation of contemporary western Maoism illustrates this: to them, "a correct line at the top" is far more important than any objective material conditions.

Idealists value ideas "above all things".


Bernstein also systemised his ideas to fit in with this particular situation which had arisen, without any care for the fact that capitalism, and less than that, social democracy itself is in flux.

Bernstein spotted the trend and, no doubt, wished to become one of its "leaders".

You or I may deplore such "vulgar careerism"...but "things were different" in those days. It was quite possible to make a pretty decent living in the 2nd International...not "luxury" but reasonably comfortable -- especially if you could get a seat in a bourgeois parliament.

Beyond this, it seems to me that Bernstein took the position that he did because he thought Marx "was wrong" about proletarian revolution...and indeed about the whole way that capitalism would "evolve" and "develop".

You imagine that if Bernstein "had grasped the dialectic" then he wouldn't have "made the mistakes he did".

But how then can you explain all of the gross blunders of those who claimed to be "masters of the dialectic" then and now?

Has no one ever "properly grasped the dialectic"? Is it "beyond human understanding"?

Like the "Mind of God"?

Then why are we bothering to discuss this useless crap?
First posted at RevLeft on November 14, 2005


Yet revolutionary politics lacks the financial and cultural resources to fund and support the kind of original scientific work, dislocated from the dominant practice that is then required.

At this particular time, you are unquestionably correct. But must/will it "always be so"?

In our era, revolutionaries in the "west" are few and scattered...and rather incoherent as well.

What will be possible in 2015? Or 2025?

If we have as our objective an empirical understanding of social reality, I think we can and will do far more than we think is "possible" now.


Short cuts must be taken. Politics is an insistent reality. I strongly believe that a careful study of the dialectical tradition (hard to get) will give you indispensable assistance in taking those short-cuts without losing your way and that revolutionary politics can support its theoreticians to that extent.

I disagree. There is no "short-cut", in my experience, to informed political action. "Dialectics" can't "fill in" for not knowing what you're doing.

The history of revolutionary groups in the 20th century illustrates this quite convincingly, in my opinion.

Worse, anyone who becomes convinced that "dialectics" is an "acceptable substitute" for empirical knowledge is vulnerable to any political con-man who can manipulate "dialectical language" to his own advantage.

"Dialectics proves that you should flop on your belly when I speak!"

"Dialectics proves that you need people like me to lead you."

"Dialectics proves that we must sometimes ally ourselves with reactionaries in order to achieve real progress in the future."

And, for that matter...

"Dialectics proves that we should store our groceries in the stove and cook our food in the refrigerator."


I caution you and all readers of this discussion to be especially skeptical of anyone who promises you a "short-cut" to liberation from wage-slavery...especially if they're frantically waving the "magic wand" of "dialectics".

They are probably up to no good.

At least, not your good.


...but hey, what do I know?

Not very much at this point.

A condition from which we all suffer...and for which the cure is both known and readily available.

There is already critical discussion of "dialectics" on my site. A new site is presently under construction featuring the works of a young graduate student far more knowledgeable about philosophy than myself...which I will start plugging as soon as material begins to be posted there.

The main thing is not to be distracted by mere claims -- measure what the "dialecticians" claim against the value of what they actually produce...both in theory and in practice.

That's how we really learn.
First posted at RevLeft on November 14, 2005


The debate is one about how best to reclaim science from the mumbo-jumbo of the "selfish gene" and gradualist evolution crap, by approaching it with a different philosophy perhaps.

Would you like to "frame the debate" in these terms? That's fine with me!

Accordingly, I assert that the remedy for bad science is better science!

You cannot refute the "selfish gene" nonsense or any other example of "bad science" that you might have in mind with philosophy.

You must produce evidence that Dawkins and his co-thinkers are objectively wrong about the genetic sources of human behavior.

This process is already under way even as we speak. For example...

Alas, Poor Darwin; Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology edited by Hilary Rose and Steven Rose

Just "waving the dialectical wand" is as utterly pointless in this controversy as it is in any other. You will not convince any rational person that Dawkins is wrong by simply asserting that he is "undialectical".


It is simply a question of adopting a consciously materialist philosophy when interpreting results, or formulating your questions.

The scientific method is "consciously materialist" (setting aside the small number of "scientists" who like to sprinkle godbabble through their published articles in order to secure a grant or prize from some religious group).

A reputable scientific journal would not publish an article that even hinted at non-material "causes" or "factors" in a natural phenomenon.

The "supernatural" is no longer legitimate in the eyes of modern science.

This is, of course, as it should be.

As to whether "dialectics" may be "useful" in formulating questions, conducting research, or interpreting results...I think only a very small number of working scientists claim to have found it so. (In fact, I've heard of only two in the U.S....but there may be a few others.)

But science does not care about your "philosophy" -- it is only concerned with the empirical validity of your research and its conclusions.

And this is also as it should be.


The dialectic is [a] rationally powerful tool in understanding complex systems that have various effects. confers the self-delusion that you "understand" a complex system without the tedious labor required to really understand it.

To really grasp what is happening in a complex system is hard work...perhaps lasting a lifetime.

"Summarizing" what you imagine "must be happening" in "dialectical terminology" is easy and can be done by an experienced "master of the dialectic" before lunch.

And who will have the nerve to call you on it? Who's going to stand up and say flatly that you don't know what the fuck you're babbling about!?

Surely not the real scientists who are actually doing the real research. They don't have time to waste on "philosophic" babblers.

Neither do we!


Dialectics is justified by the primacy of practice, dialectics [by itself] justifies nothing.

Precisely! And all the practice derived from "dialectics" has not amount to a warm puddle of piss!


For formal thinking, light must be either a wave or a particle; but the truth turned out to be dialectical – light is both wave and particle.

I knew it!

Sooner or later, I predicted, some "dialectician" would claim that wave-particle duality "proves that reality is dialectical".

Very well...let's speak a little about wave-particle duality.

First of all, let it be understood that the scientists who discovered this were trained in "formal logic" and "empirical research"...none of them ever heard of "dialectics".

Secondly, let's at least mention something of what it is we're actually talking about here.

It was learned back in the 1920s that light will display "particle-like" properties or "wave-like" properties depending on how an experiment was designed and what it was designed to detect/measure.

As the decades of the last century passed, this turned out to be true (in varying degrees) of all matter/energy at the atomic/sub-atomic level.

Crudely put, the more massive an atomic/sub-atomic entity is, the more "particle-like" and less "wave-like" it is.

At the atomic/sub-atomic level, it is really incorrect to speak of "particles" or "waves" -- the term wavicle has actually been proposed as a substitute.

But, most important of all, the only way to speak accurately about "wavicles" is in the language of mathematics.

Words, even "dialectical words", are simply not good enough!

Now imagine trying to understand anything as complicated as human societies and how they change in accurate detail.

"Dialectics" is about as useful as teats on a bull!
First posted at RevLeft on November 15, 2005


I find it odd how anti-dialecticians refuse to even read works on it, yet they continue to argue about it anyway.

Come now! I was exposed to that crap back in the 1960s and 1970s...I was even in a "study group" that read and discussed Mao "on dialectics" at interminable length.

It was just awful!

Now I would regard being compelled to read anything defending "dialectics" as cruel and unusual punishment!

The reason I participate in threads on this subject is to actively discourage young revolutionaries from wasting a fucking second of their valuable time on that useless crap.

There is so much to learn about the real world that it's almost criminal to see the "dialecticians" still spreading their 19th century superstition if it were some kind of "super-highway to truth".

And not the dead end that it actually is!


You don't have to know about dialectics in order to use them, redstar.

Nor, we are told, do we need to know about the "Holy Spirit" to be "moved by it" and "do God's Will".

Is this not fantastic??? A "mode of superior thinking" that one "doesn't have to know about" in order to "use it"?

Why all the persistent pestering then? Why all the incessant bullying of us: if you don't understand dialectics, then you can't possibly figure out how to make a revolution, blah, blah, blah!


Sometimes science needs to be critiqued when it is abused as in sociobiology and such critiques need to be carried out not only within the scientific community and within its languorous timescales, but also more widely in society for reasons to do with the cultural standing of science that should be too obvious to need articulating.

I quite agree...but what is the best way to do that?

The "dialecticians" would presumably suggest that the masses be informed of the "undialectical shortcomings" of ideologies like "sociobiology".

I prefer an explicit political criticism, myself. It was obvious at the time that "sociobiology" was fundamentally "racial science rebranded" for the "modern consumer" (of racism).

Now it's called "evolutionary psychology"...and has the same ideological purpose.

It is no more "scientific" than a 15th century feudal lord's "theory" of "noble blood".

I think this is a criticism that "everyone" could understand. To combat modern racist mysticisms with 19th century "dialectical" mysticisms seems to me to be inherently self-defeating.


There is some evidence that at a critical point in the development of Capital, Marx relied on a re-reading of Hegel's logic that pushed his work forward in crucial ways.

I cannot imagine how something like that could be known unless Marx explicitly said a letter to Engels, perhaps.

I suspect -- though I do not know, of course -- that Capital would have been a much clearer work had Marx been educated in France or from the Hegelian obscurantism that permeated German universities of his time.

That's my "hypothesis", at any rate. Perhaps some brilliant young Marxist will someday re-write Capital in modern language, using contemporary evidence, and purge it of all "dialectical" mysticism.

Imagine the impact of that great work if people could actually read and understand it.


Kautsky relied on dialectics as he understood it, in developing his best work that informed a generation of socialists.

The "verdict of history" suggests that misinformed might be a better choice of words.


Lenin relied on his studies of Hegel to inform the April theses.

Could not anyone who took the trouble to look see that the Petrograd masses were more revolutionary than the vanguard party?


Trotsky undoubtedly consciously relied on dialectics in his attempts to understand the character of the USSR.

And missed badly, didn't he?


However, it would be even better if people weren't so inclined to make such ridiculous hypotheses in the first place, and those are formed out of more than just the available data, but the philosophy of the observer in question.

At the risk of seeming to take refuge in "vulgar Marxism", it seems to me that the making of such "ridiculous hypotheses" has nothing to do with philosophy of any kind.

In science, one is taught more than just "advanced physics" or "advanced chemistry" or "advanced biology" in graduate school and in "post-graduate" positions.

Scientists are just as aware of the need to "get a good job" as any of the rest of us. People communicate, formally and informally, about "who is researching what" and "what kind" of person they're "looking for".

And I expect that "ideological preferences" are fairly explicit.

Scientific hypotheses, like all other ideas, do not "fall out of the sky" but have their roots in the material world.

To be crude, no one is going to get a research grant to study the benefits of cigarette smoking. Not even the tobacco companies would put up the money.

But there's money "out there" and "available" for "research" of a rather dubious character...and scientists, like the rest of us, have to eat.

Dawkins' thesis, put in plain language, is that existing elites "really are genetically superior"...language "too plain" for him to actually use in public. But his publishers, his university colleagues, and those who give him grants for his research and writing know damn well what his message really is...and they whole-heartedly approve of it.

So why wouldn't he come up with a "hypothesis" that would please his masters?

Surely not "because" it would be "undialectical"? *laughs*


The point should not be whether or not people have adopted it, it should be "is there an advantage to adopting dialectical materialism as a philosophy to guide hypotheses and interpretations?"

None that I can see...or even imagine.

But I am not a working scientist myself...and you'd have to ask them if they thought there was anything to it.

And as we have seen over the course of this and previous threads on "dialectics", I think they would conclude -- as I have -- that there's nothing to it at all.

If you'd like to put this to an empirical test, I recommend that you join these two message boards composed of bright young scientists and ask them what they think of "dialectics".

PhysOrg Forums

Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum

I "predict" that they will think the whole idea absurd...but hey, see for yourself.
First posted at RevLeft on November 16, 2005

Before I get into anything about the value of materialist dialectics as a scientific method (not a science, a scientific method), let me ask RedStar: What is your view on "chaos theory"?

I have only a "layman's" understanding of "chaos theory" at this time.

As I understand it, it offers two propositions for our consideration.

1. The outcome of "chaotic phenomena" is highly dependent on initial conditions. Differences in those conditions -- even ones that are "too small to measure" -- will produce wildly varying outcomes over time.

2. There appears to be, at least in a limited sense, a kind of "order" that "spontaneously emerges" in "chaotic phenomena".

I do not know if anyone has yet attempted to "apply chaos theory" to human societies and "how they change over time". It may be that the theory is "too new" to be useful for that purpose.

But there is a small body of empirical evidence that seems to be supportive of the general concept...and I look forward to further developments with interest.

I also note that some "popular" accounts of chaos theory are clearly absurd. The movements of butterfly wings in China do not "cause" hurricanes in the Caribbean.

I've said elsewhere that there certainly are a host of "micro-causes" in history that are responsible for many or even most of the details in historical events. Perhaps "chaos theory" might someday prove useful in explaining how these micro-causes produce "a Napoleon" or "a Hitler".

But I don't think "chaos theory" is a "challenge" to the Marxist paradigm with regard to the "big causes" in human history.


Well, shit!, RedStar. That just about explains everything. I'd probably despise "diamat" too if I had to sit through that.

Personal experience does have a marked tendency to "drive a lesson home". *laughs*

But I think my criticisms of "dialectics" rest on more serious arguments than simply having an unhappy encounter with its "masters".

And, after all, if the Maoists are "not real masters of the dialectic", who is?

Who "understands" the "dialectical method" so thoroughly and comprehensively that they can "use it" to produce consistently reliable and useful results?

If we are to "cultivate" a "new way of thinking", then is it unreasonable for us to demand that this "new way of thinking" produce better outcomes than our "normal" way of thinking?

We know, for example, that science is better than revelation in producing consistently reliable and useful results.

Where is today's "master of the dialectic" who consistently comes up with better ideas than his "undialectical" rivals?

Or any useful ideas at all?


You don't have to know what empiricism is in order to use it. But since religious freaks claim that you can "be touched by the Holy Spirit" without knowing it, then everything that can be used without its knowledge must be bad, right?

Empiricism is a "self-evident" method for investigating reality. It's one of those things that may really be "in our genes" -- all mammals exhibit pronounced curiosity about their environments.

When "dialecticians" argue that people use "dialectics" "unconsciously", then I am, admittedly, deeply suspicious of such claims.

It looks to me like an easy way to "claim credit" for any discovery that turns out to be true.

Just as the superstitious claim that "any good thing" that happens is "evidence for" a "benevolent" and "loving deity".



Let me ask you this, redstar, how do you choose your words, are all the sayings you suggest scientifically verifiable?

I wish!

I attempt to speak within the context of what is presently known to be "scientifically" true.

That doesn't make me any "smarter" or "more learned" than anyone else...but it often does turn out that I have a more accurate explanation for phenomena than those who steadfastly assert that "science doesn't/can't know everything".

You see the problem? Those who claim that there are "other and better" sources of truth than science end up with propositions that turn out to be self-evidently false.

And, on occasion, a lot worse than "just false".

Scientifically speaking, there's no such thing as a "witch". To assert otherwise is false.

But when you consider what was done to people (mostly women) charged with "witchcraft", then you should understand that we are not simply dealing with "a difference of opinion" or an "intellectual controversy".


I'm curious; do you say "thank you" or even "hello" to people? Because what comes after these responses is dialectical thinking. Ahh, but this interaction is crap because science has not even attempted to define it. So why do you think of things that science cannot define? Tell me objectivist, tell me. Then let's verify what is crap? We will see what really matters for truth. Scientifically what does it mean when you blatantly announce something is misinformed? And a further question. What does it mean to have a "verdict of history"? Choose your words, I only want science.

The general tone of your post suggests that it is not science that you "want". What you wanted to do was rant...and I think you achieved your goal.

The "short" answers to your questions...

Someone is "misinformed" when they perpetuate error in the name of truth. Kautsky, for example, was fundamentally wrong about a host of things in the period after fact, he ended up as nothing more than a vulgar quisling for the German bourgeoisie.

That's "the verdict of history".

A "verdict of history" refers to the common consensus among serious historians about "what really happened" and "why".

Of course there are many historical controversies...and new evidence is always being searched for and new interpretations of existing evidence are always possible.

But that's what it means to be "scientific" about historical events.

If you are uncomfortable with this approach, you may always retreat into the "comfort" of the traditional alternatives -- "great man theory" or "divine intervention", for example.

Or "dialectics". *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on November 17, 2005


As for chaos theory, a butterfly cannot cause a hurricane obviously, but the example is meant merely to express this: that when a system reaches a certain point, anything, no matter how accidental, could become the "straw that broke the camel's back".

But in what sense is such a re-statement of the obvious really useful to us?

I'm sure the idea of "so much and no more" was part of the pragmatic understanding of the proto-engineers of ancient Egypt. As soon as you start to build anything more complicated than a mud hut, you run into the concept of stresses and load-bearing capacity. By "trial and error" you learn that you can pile on "this much weight"...but more than that and the structure will collapse.

Only in the 20th century have scientists learned how to use the tools of mathematics to actually calculate "how much is too much". And even those calculations are still primitive -- we still have structural failures due to excessive loads or stresses.

But at least what we do have in this regard is real knowledge that is actually useful in practice.

Chaos theory would seem to suggest that "tipping points" are much smaller than we are accustomed to considering. That it really is "a straw" that "breaks the camel's back" and not another 200 kilograms of rugs for the royal palace in Istanbul.

Perhaps this is true in some aspects of material reality.

But is it a "cosmic truth" that "prevails throughout reality"? Is it really an "example" of the "universality" of "dialectics"?

It seems most unlikely to me.


Marx's argument against empiricism in the 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse should not need to be laboured here. The concept of 'empirically observed' is naive and doesn't reflect the reality of either a) the actual practice of science or (more importantly) b) the requirements off revolutionary practice.

Well, I consulted the Introduction to the Grundrisse. The interested reader may find it here...

It certainly does criticize the "naive empiricism" of the political economists of his era.

But it seems to be equally harsh -- if not more so! -- on those who, with Hegel, think that concrete reality "arises from ideas".

It would be a very foolish "empiricist" who would try to argue that a simple "inspection of reality" conveys "all we need to know" about anything. Scientists construct paradigms -- coherent theoretical frameworks in which to arrange empirical data in an orderly fashion -- precisely for the purpose of determining "what we really know now" and "where to look for additional knowledge".

Marxism is just such a scientific paradigm...or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it is a potential paradigm -- provided, of course, that it can be purged of all its turgid 19th century German philosophical "dialectics".

I see nothing to stand in the way of achieving that goal...except that curious "faith in dialectics" that lingers among those who "want to be Marxists".

Historical materialism -- Marx's greatest intellectual achievement in my opinion -- can stand alone without "dialectical assistance".

It "meets the test" of empirical confirmation in a fashion that's simply "unthinkable" for "dialectics".

As to "the requirements of revolutionary practice", what "more" do we need aside from the accumulated body of knowledge within the historical materialist paradigm?

It would be incredibly useful to be able to make "short-term" political and economic predictions with a high degree of reliability.

"Dialecticians" claim to be able to do this...but we know how that's turned out.

It seems to me that if we are ever to discover methods to do this that actually work, then they will only be found through a rigorous investigation of empirical reality.

"Dialectical" banalities are irrelevant to such a project.


Maoism's understanding of dialectics was abysmal...

Perhaps...but who then "got it right"? Who has told us something useful that they could only have used "dialectical reasoning" to discover?


Marx's Critique of Political Economy as worked up in Capital did not seek to predict the detail of the future pattern of capitalism.

Except in very general terms.

I don't see how it could be reasonably disputed that Marx had a fairly clear idea of the "future path" that capitalism would "inevitably" follow...leading to its own destruction.

That's a "falsifiable" proposition...if capitalism does not land itself in a "final crisis" that it cannot surmount, then Marx was wrong.
First posted at RevLeft on November 18, 2005


You may not like this fact, but the reality is that you presented the propositions put forward through chaos theory in a generally dialectical manner -- and in a clearer manner than most "logical" scientists do.

I blush at such praise...perhaps I am destined to be the next unconscious "master of the dialectic".

My "verbal empiricism" merely disguises the "deeply dialectical" character of my thought.

It is monstrously unfair to argue in this fashion. For what is to keep a Christian theologian from libeling me in a similar way.

Redstar2000 claims to be a "Marxist revolutionary" but he's really just translating the Christian Message into secular terminology

And how could I coherently reply to that?



As well, I also agree with you that chaos theory is not a "challenge" to the "Marxist paradigm", by which I figure you mean dialectical theory.

No. As I said explicitly before, the Marxist paradigm is one of historical materialism and has no need of "dialectics".


Finally, as for the application of chaos theory to human society, we can only hope that the bourgeoisie will never be able to accomplish this task.

Well, that may turn out to be a vain hope...if it turns out that chaos theory will provide useful insights into social behavior.

The thing about real science is that anyone can use it who takes the trouble to learn it.

The purposes for which they use it can differ widely...and class is often a or even the crucial consideration in this regard.

For what it's worth, my impression is that the American ruling class is "turning away from science" with regard to social policy. Their old "faith in reason" seems to be "coming apart".

Indeed, their most strident ideologues descend almost to the level of fascist mysticisms when they "lay out their plans" for the future of the Empire.

I'm not sure that they're capable of "rational policy-making" any more.

Thus, even if "chaos theory" did have practical social uses, they might not be able to "use it".

Perhaps the working class will be able to use it. Once a computer program is written that will "do the math", who knows?


But I think it's a rather subjective question to ask who are the "real masters of the dialectic".

How is it different than asking, for example, "who are the leading evolutionary scientists of our time and how is what they have said measured up against empirical discoveries?".

That question has real answers that can be checked against indisputably accurate historical data.

We'd find that those guys have excellent "track records"...their ideas are "robust".

To be sure, asking "who are the real masters of dialectics" is, as well, a "loaded question".

It deliberately implies an equation...

mastery of "dialectics" = revolutionary success

And since that success does not exist anywhere today in any significant sense, I already "know the answer" and am inviting the reader to reach the same conclusion that I have.

"dialectics" = 0.0000 revolutionary success


That is because virtually any comrade here who is a member of an organization that claims to utilize dialectics as a method will say their theoreticians are "masters".

Well you did...and others might. But that invites the question: where's the success?

All "dialectical" organizations in the U.S. today put together wouldn't fill up a minor league ballpark. If they are so "good at dialectics" then how is it that they've performed so poorly?

As I recall, the old American Communist Party could, at one time (the late 1930's), fill up New York's old Madison Square Garden (a sports arena) with its supporters. Were they "masters of the dialectic"?

When an SDS-organized student strike at Harvard University took place (1969 or 1970), they had to hold their meetings in a football stadium.

Was "dialectics" responsible?


Ultimately, though, history and the proletariat itself are the judges of who or what movement has acted "masterfully" in the application of dialectical theory. That will be determined in the course of struggle, not in a thread on RevLeft.

An appeal to real world experience is always in order. Up to now, the "best" that can be said about "dialectics" is that no one has "applied it correctly".

It is at least possible in principle that someone or some group will emerge that reverses this long chain of failures and "gets it right"..."proves" that they "know what they're doing" by their successful practice.

But after what has happened during the last century of "dialectical practice", I ain't holding my breath on this one.

My expectation is that the next risings of the "western" proletariat will take place in complete ignorance of "dialectics".

It will, by then, have become as meaningless as "post-modernism", "evolutionary psychology", or any other once fashionable intellectual fad.

Threads on RevLeft don't "decide" anything at all...but they are "part of the revolutionary process" nevertheless. Every genuine revolution is preceded by a period of intense discussion about "the shape of the future"...and that is known to have some effect on what actually happens.

First posted at RevLeft on November 18, 2005


You are still on about this 'Masters of Dialectics' nonsense!

I regret that my neologism does not commend itself to you.

The coinage is mine...and probably originates from phrases commonly heard in Maoist circles in the 1960s.

In order to be good communists, we must "master the dialectical method".


It ["dialectics"] is a critical aid to clearer thinking, which IMPROVES the capacity of revolutionary organisations and theoreticians to formulate ideas that express the dynamic of capitalist society and critique the multitude of fetishizations in the dominant ideology.

But that is precisely what is in dispute. Where is the evidence for your statement?

The "dialecticians" do not write clearly...and I read that as evidence that they do not think clearly.

Engels, for example, was a remarkably clear writer...until he decided to write "about dialectics". The turgid "Germanic" prose of Dialectics of Nature may not be as utterly impenetrable as Hegel...but it tries!

And you've perhaps run across the German idiom describing such English, it could be translated as They do not permit themselves to be read.


Your claim that the materialist conception of history is capable of a non-dialectical formulation which retains Marx's key ideas is itself subject to effective (if complex) empirical falsification by the convoluted history of analytical Marxism, which tried [to do] just that and could not retain Marx's key ideas in an analytical format.

Here, you have the "advantage" of me...I am not a "student of philosophy" in the academic sense of that word. Your assertion about the failures of "analytic Marxism" cannot be refuted by me due to my own ignorance.

But that's a separate discussion (among those more learned than myself) and has no relevance to my criticisms of "dialectics".

Historical materialism looks valid in my eyes. "Dialectics" appears to be an intellectual fraud used by those who seek to establish their "credentials" for rulership over the "vulgar rabble".

Not on my planet!
First posted at RevLeft on November 19, 2005


There is an entirely benign interpretation of what you suggest which simply observes that specialist material is turgid and unclear to the non-specialist.

For me, for example, much conventional economics is profoundly unclear and turgid. The insistence on formalisation is very difficult for me to follow (I can, just about, with effort), it is ideologically driven and contributes to preventing these writers saying anything nuanced. Yet I respect the scientific discipline and I will not judge their work by that impression.

For you Philosophy, particularly dialectics, is similar in character.

For me that is not so - but in this regard I benefit from doctorate-level specialisation in German Idealism. Thus, after years of work, I can read Hegel with RELATIVE ease. (I don't want to overstate this !!) But I can't read Einstein to save my life.

Yes, it is a commonplace observation that "specialist material is turgid and unclear to the non-specialist".

The justification for this statement is often painfully obvious. I have read Stephen Hawking but I would never be so bold as to claim I understood what he was saying. His thinking is of an altogether higher level than my own and I am not even marginally fluent in his language...which is mathematical.

But here we are not speaking of anything so esoteric as cosmology or particle physics.

We are speaking of human societies and how they change over time. One important thing that distinguishes history from many other disciplines is the relative absence of specialized terminology. It is accessible to the "non-specialist" in a way far different from modern physics, etc.

"Dialectics" is proposed as a way to understand human history...and even to "guide us" in shaping the future.

I do not accept this claim...nor can I see any compelling reason to accept an additional claim that my lack of familiarity with their "specialized material" invalidates my rejection.

The record of human history is readily accessible for critical need not "learn a whole new language" in order to "see what actually happened".

Granted that it took a genius -- Marx -- to develop a coherent paradigm for understanding human history. Once formulated, it became "obvious" to anyone who thought at all seriously about the matter. By now, every competent historian is a materialist -- and pays tribute (sometimes most reluctantly) to the existence of classes and the struggles that take place between them.

In the same sense that every competent biologist is an evolutionist.

I do not see why "dialectics" cannot be challenged to meet the same test. And if it is so challenged, then it seems to me to have failed that test.

If "dialectics" was really "the key" to "understanding reality", then everyone by now would be consciously "using" it. Some would be better at it than others -- and, for all I know, might legitimately claim to be "masters of the dialectic".

But it would be part of the "common understanding" of least in all those parts of the world where people are taught to read and write and not to be afraid of ghosts and witches.

Not only is that not the case but I see no evidence that it will ever be the case. Only people still working within the Leninist tradition even care about "dialectics" any more...and, of course, they continue to fail in practice.

As to "Philosophy" in general, I don't have a high opinion of it as a "pathway" to understanding. It does not seem to me that they've accomplished all that much...though I concede that here and there, one of them made a "lucky guess" that later scientific research actually confirmed.

Philosophy was "what humans used" before we had science. It was self-evidently superior to revelation.

But now?


Then on to the (possibly) empirically verifiable idea that dialectics does help, when available. Showing this is very difficult. You and I would have to agree on what was an admirable and complex set of ideas that Marxism advocates and then test whether dialectics contributes to that. Here the issue becomes circular, because the 'value of an idea' is not a simple verifiable test.

What I would want to see demonstrated is that the "valuable idea" could not have been thought of without "dialectics".

It's my view that Marx's basic ideas could have been conceived without "dialectics" at all. Indeed, I think "dialectics" got in the way when he sat down to express what he had discovered.

As if a modern physicist wrote a paper for a professional journal but "just for the hell of it" decided to format his numbers in Babylonian "base 60" mathematics. The numbers would "still be right"...but even his peers would have considerable (and unnecessary) difficulty in grasping his point.


If, for example, I say that the architecture of Marx's Capital is inescapably dialectical, in order to test that we would have to agree on the content and value of Capital (particularly Volume Three).

That is, in part, a historical question. We know that only Volume I of Capital was finished in Marx's "own hand". Volumes II and III were put together by Engels from the enormous number of notes, sketches, etc. that Marx left when he died.

I'm not sure if any scholar has ever actually "deconstructed" the authorship of Volumes II and III -- how much of Engels is "in" those two volumes and how much is what Marx himself actually thought.

Those two guys worked so closely together throughout their lives that "most" of Volumes II and III almost certainly reflect Marx's views.

But one wonders?

Particularly about Volume III.


But what happens with people who oppose dialectics is that they fall into Ricardian interpretations of Capital to avoid its dialectical methodology...

If you say so. *laughs*

But if you are hinting at the problems associated with the "labor theory of value", I don't think "dialectics" is "the issue".

The problem appears to be that Marx's equations don't work mathematically. Something's wrong...and no one has discovered yet how to correct it or even if it is something that can be corrected.

"Dialectics" (once more!) is completely irrelevant to this very important problem in Marxist theory.
First posted at RevLeft on November 19, 2005


Your rejection of dialectics is an aspiration to the doctrine of the Enlightenment.

I thought that this, in a way, is one of the most interesting and revealing criticisms of my views.

For one thing, we associate that historical period with the emergence into social prominence of the capitalist class...the entry of "commoners" onto "the stage of history".

It was asserted that not only did "commoners" possess the capacity for reason but that they could use it to change the world.

This idea was bitterly attacked by resentful aristocrats and clerical obscurantists as soon as it was first articulated.

But all of the 19th century reactionaries hated it as well. In our own time, even the bourgeoisie have largely abandoned the "enlightenment project".

And what is the Leninist paradigm, after all, but an "anti-enlightenment project?"

Let us costume our aristocratic superiority in "dialectical" drag...and the commoners will follow us.

Except, it's not working.

Indeed, the further the discussion proceeds, the more "dialecticians" resort to theological assertions -- such as "Historical materialism is itself an application of the dialectical method".

And "Jesus really is God". *laughs*

Or simply become abusive...


The difference, though, is that those "intense discussions" take place in the real world, among people actually engaged in struggle, not among terminal jockeys trying to prove their cyber-penis is larger than all others.

People who come here and criticize "dialectics" are "really" just trying to prove "their cyber penis is larger than all others".

A proposition that illustrates the "real power" of the "dialectical method", no doubt. *laughs*

I think you fellows have just run out of any arguments more sophisticated than it's true because I say so.

And I'm "just a cynic" for disputing the weight of your "intellectual authority".

Ok, have it your way.

But, as long as I physically can, I will "blow the whistle" on your "dialectical" conceits and fabrications every time I catch you trying to pass off that absurd superstition as "revolutionary theory" on this board.

And when I get "too old and feeble", I think there will be plenty of young comrades to take my place.

The janitor is, after all, a crucial figure in the development of revolutionary theory.

Someone has to take out the trash!
First posted at RevLeft on November 19, 2005


And here is what bothers me the most about this. In his great struggle to denounce dialectics, RedStar presents himself as attempting to develop a "new word" -- a new method of looking at the world. He may not be fully conscious that he is doing this, but nevertheless he is. Everything he is doing is aimed at attacking dialectics, while at the same time promoting his own "new" method.

But here's the kicker: It's not "new", and it's not an alternative to dialectics. IT IS DIALECTICS -- REDSTAR STYLE! Or, more to the point, it is dialectics without being called dialectics and without any reference to those who pioneered the development of this method. In a sense, what we have in RedStar's "new word" can best be called post-modernist dialectics: dialectics without any historical or societal underpinnings.

Let this be a lesson to anyone who wants to write (if you haven't already learned it).

Nothing is more common than to be monumentally matter how clearly you attempt to make your points.

At no time, of course, have I ever suggested that there's anything "new" about "my way" of looking at the world. I completely rely on my understanding of the scientific developed over the last three centuries.

Empirical evidence, rational arguments, theories that are both plausible and coherent, etc.

Nothing "special"; nothing that I personally "invented"; nothing that anyone can't inspect and judge for themselves...provided they are willing to make the effort to "learn the basics" of a particular controversy.

In fact, I have frequently had the experience of discovering that something that I thought might be "new" with me was often anticipated by some historical political figure.

I'm not an "innovative genius" of any kind whatsoever.

My "strength" (if such it really is) is as a critical reader...I demand that political ideas make sense and absolutely will not accept "erudite" obscurantism as a "substitute" for rational argument.

This upsets some people now and then...but so be it.


Historically, when others have attempted to recast philosophical doctrines as "new", without any reference to their forebearers, it is often for the purposes of presenting themselves as the new guru of a movement. I don't think this is necessarily RedStar's goal, but I also don't think it matters what his intentions are. Such movements are not always organized top-down, so to speak, but emerge from those who take the philosopher's ideas and propagate them.

Of course such are not "my intentions" nor have I ever sought to be regarded as a "philosopher".

Needless to add (one would think!), the last thing I would ever want to happen is for people to go around saying "Redstar2000 is the red sun in our hearts" or any such stupidities.

What I would want to see, and try to encourage in every way I can, is a proletariat characterized by a deeply critical attitude towards all aspects of social reality.

I don't think we have to "be Marx" to do this...we nearly all have the potential capability to "think like he did".

Indeed, our "educational" system goes to considerable efforts to discourage us from ever doing that.

But it's not working as well as it used to...and the rise of the internet is promoting the acceleration of critical thinking.

Sure, it's mostly still "crap"...but I contend that in the contest between accurate perceptions and crap, it's the crap that loses in the long run.

Indeed, I've seen that happen on this board...much to the dismay of those who defended crap. I see no reason why that will not happen everywhere.


As much as he is attacking the Maoists and others for their penchant toward personality cults and great leaders, he has set himself up for such a role by attempting to recast dialectical theory in his own image.

But if "dialectics" was "really true", what difference would its "image" make?

It's not true at all, of course. Anyone who tried to cast me as "their source" for "dialectical understanding" would be guilty of misunderstanding at best and outright lying at worst.

Looking back on all the deliberate and conscious distortions of Marx's ideas, I suppose that if it happened to someone as great as him, why shouldn't it happen to an ordinary guy like me.

Perhaps I should hope that I will never become "important enough" to be deliberately lied about. *laughs*


But what has he done, outside of the Internet, to put his ideas into practice? I think we all agree that all of this talk about theory is nice, but it is not a substitute for actually organizing and building a movement for self-emancipation of working people. But what has RedStar done on this issue outside of RL and his own website -- i.e., in the real world? I think it's a legitimate question.

Well, you know that I'm an "old guy" now and my physical limitations essentially make an active role in the struggle no longer possible.

My period of active involvement in the struggle lasted from about 1962 to about 1985. It would have lasted longer than that...but I was unable, despite my best efforts, to locate a political group that I felt comfortable with (and who felt comfortable with me). I did have a series of brief encounters with some groups in San Francisco from 1985 up until 1992...but it became clear in the course of those meetings that we "would not get along together".

You may attribute this "inactivity" to any cause that occurs to you -- I can only say that I was never one to passively tolerate nonsense simply because it was costumed and perfumed to "look revolutionary".

Since the mid-1990s or so, my age (or mis-spent youth!) has "caught up with me" and I am no longer physically able to maintain the "pace" of active political work.

What I can still do is pass on what I've learned to the new generation of revolutionaries. There's no "dialectical law" that says that they "must repeat" the mistakes that I made...or that were made by others during my life in radical politics.

This seems to me to be a "fitting way" to spend the last years of my life.

My critics can take heart in the realization that those years will almost certainly be very limited in number. Indeed, one more big hurricane should "finish me"...and I am only 35 miles from the gulf coast.

But they will still be disappointed even when I am no longer around to "plague them". Younger and healthier revolutionary critics of "dialectics" have already emerged and they will be heard.

No "con" works "forever".
First posted at RevLeft on November 20, 2005


According to RedStar's own writings, he believes that dialectical methodology is unnecessary and even a hindrance. For him, materialism provides enough of a grounding to understand the world. To an extent, he is right; materialism can be all that is needed in order to understand past, historical events -- i.e., things that have already happened. But what about things that are currently in process -- i.e., things happening now? Moreover, what about the future development of things?

It is precisely in this arena that the claims of the "dialecticians" have been decisively falsified

Ordinary "generic" historical materialism is, by the way, the only useful tool we have for analyzing what is going on "right now"...even though we are hindered in that effort by the possible lack of crucial information.

But predict the future in useful detail?

The "track record" of the "dialecticians" is no better than that of bourgeois economists, astrologers, or any other bunch of con-men.


...the only real argument he has against dialectics is that those who have claimed to use the method have failed in their efforts, and therefore the theory itself must be junked.

Yes, that's the test of a real science...theories that fail get junked!

That's why science is better than all other "paths to truth".


If we were to extend the logic of this argument, then not only should dialectics be junked, but also the concept of the class struggle, the overthrow of capitalist rule, the view that the working class is the only really revolutionary class, the struggle for liberation from exploitation and oppression, etc. After all, this same crop of "losers" that RedStar uses as his justification for scrapping dialectics also adhered to these concepts.

I make a distinction between Marx's "core ideas" and all the crap grafted onto his ideas by Lenin and all of his self-designated heirs.

Yes, I think the whole Leninist paradigm turned out to be the advanced capitalist countries, of course.

And it should be junked!

On the other hand, I think there is considerable empirical evidence that Marx was right in his analysis of capitalist economics, class struggle, the working class as the only revolutionary class, the possibilities of abolishing wage-slavery altogether, etc.

What Marx did not realize was "how long things would take" before material conditions matured to the necessary degree to make proletarian revolution and communism possible.

He lived through the birth of modern capitalist societies and did not foresee the "long life" ahead of this "new form" of class society.

I think he was right about how it will die...but at least a century or two wrong about the "time-frame".

Considering the 80-100 centuries of class society, an error of a century or two may reasonably be considered marginal. *laughs*


RedStar ambles from one theory to another, switching them in and out like a coach switches players on the playing field.

Quite true...and I consider this "criticism" to actually be a compliment.

I have no "special regard" for anyone's "special theory". To me, like to that coach, my concern is which theoretical model is most useful for dealing with this particular problem.

What theory gives me an answer that I can actually use which will really work?

I need not elaborate further on the failures of "dialectics" in particular or Leninism in general.

Their "answers" do not work.

Indeed, I think they are both examples of what happens to theories that have become "disconnected" from material reality altogether. They become superstitions...believing that mere words can "change" reality.

As if something that's "true in words" must be true in reality.

We know that reality is "dialectical" because Marx said so.

Marx really did say that...but that doesn't make it a true statement.

We know that the working class requires the leadership of a vanguard party to become emancipated because Lenin said so.

Lenin really did say that...but that doesn't make it a true statement.

And so on.

My critics have made much of my "cynicism"...that is, my flat refusal to accept statements from "recognized authorities" as "inherently valid".

I am indeed guilty of this "crime" and decline to show any "remorse" whatsoever.

"Worse", I think everyone should do likewise!
First posted at RevLeft on November 21, 2005


I must be some kind of masochist. Why I keep putting up with RedStar's abuse -- of me, of Marx, of history and of the real world -- I do not know.

Perhaps it's a taste for self-dramatization. Every reader of this thread knows I have not "abused" you in any way whatsoever.

Quite the contrary, in fact. Your serious article on what happened in the USSR actually won my explicit praise and I posted a link to it in the Resources Forum.

The reference is here...

It probably helped a lot that you made no explicit reference to your "dialectical understanding" in the text. *laughs*


In detail enough to prepare for what's likely to come, yes. We've been doing it with considerable success. You may find something in there to warrant another screed of abuse, but you can only use that tactic for so long.

Rather than "abuse", I will simply ask for a demonstration of your claim.

You know the drill. A text that can be reliably dated prior to the predicted event and an objective account of the event itself.

Moreover, you can't just do it "once" (because that could be a lucky guess). You have to put up a consistent "track record" of "getting it right" over an extended period of time.

When "psychics" are confronted with this test, they probably claim they are being "abused". *laughs*

I suggest a "benchmark" to measure your success. Consider the record of the National Hurricane Center in predicting the course and intensity of hurricanes.

They are very good at what they do...and even when they miss, the margin of error is small. In place of "dialectics", they use nine different (and rather elaborate) computer models to process the empirical data gathered by aircraft, satellites, ground weather stations, and ships at sea.

Those models are based on hurricane data gathered over the last 20 or 30 years...empirical descriptions of what each hurricane did under specific weather and water conditions.

Human societies in their actual day-to-day existence are far more complicated than hurricanes, of course. It would not be fair to hold your own "dialecticians" to the high standards set by the National Hurricane Center.

But if "they're as good" as you claim they are, we should see some evidence to support that claim...and, over time, a "track record" that begins to approach the performance of the NHC.

By the way, if your "dialecticians" really do put together an impressive record, they should prepare themselves to be anointed as celebrities by the mainstream media. Indeed, they will receive some fabulous offers from corporations that could make money from accurate forecasts of political and economic events.

They may "lose interest" in proletarian revolution.


According to the "Intelligent Design" people, evolution is a failed theory that deserves to get junked.

If the evidence supported their assertion, then they'd be right!

It doesn't.


Finding empirical evidence after the dialectically-guided predictions were made and confirmed means nothing.

Ah, would that I could rise "above" such earthly concerns as evidence and breath the Olympian air of "pure truth".

Then I too could dismiss evidence as a meaningless consideration...utterly beneath the dignity of a "real philosopher".

Alas, I am "unqualified" for such a lofty residence. I persist in my vulgar conviction that one really competent engineer is worth more than 10,000 philosophers.

You know...that stuff about "changing the world". *laughs*


In other words, the underpinning for all of your eclecticism and sophistry is pragmatism -- "whatever works", even if it really doesn't.

Yes, I believe the technical term is "vulgar American pragmatist" spoken in as scornful tones as you can manage.

I have been "put in my place" by seem to be a "beginner" at this sort of thing.

Well, I can no more "rise above" my own specific historical experiences than anyone else. I was born in the U.S. and have always lived here. I absorbed the lesson from childhood: what works is better than what doesn't work.

Capitalism didn't work very well for me...and thus I began my search for a better way.

You may find such a motive "alien" to your own concerns...that's not something I can do anything about.

But I think when you actually talk to ordinary working people about what you propose to do and how you propose to do it, you should prepare yourself for the question.

Will this work?

It's "a part of the culture" here and is unlikely to "just go away".

I don't think it should.
First posted at RevLeft on November 22, 2005


Today, according to you, I'm a "con artist" peddling "religion" and other assorted "crap".

No, I did not accuse you personally of being a "con-artist" peddling "religion" least specifically.

I do think that the people you are defending may well be worthy of such descriptive nouns...though I have no way of knowing "for sure".

We can't see "inside people's heads" -- not even "dialectically" -- and know when they are guilty of well-meaning error and when more dubious motives lie beneath their assertions.

I am completely convinced that Hegel was a no-good proto-fascist bastard, for example. And I think his "dialectics" are a perfect reflection of his mystical opposition to any form of emancipation of the "vulgar masses"...

Slaves deserve to be slaves because they are incapable of risking their lives to become masters!

This is just one example of his vile anti-enlightenment "philosophy".

The attempts by Marx and Engels to purge "dialectics" of its reactionary attributes were both commendable and symptomatic of the "intellectual era" in which they lived and worked.

Not all that different, if you stop and think about it, from a couple of bright kids in our own era who might attempt to put together a "Marxist version" of "post-modernism".

Could we condemn their "good faith" effort "out of hand"?

Or would it be necessary to patiently explain why it's not possible to "transform" a reactionary philosophy into a progressive one...not even "dialectically".

Perhaps my own attempts at "patient explanation" are "not patient enough". Perhaps my harsh condemnation of "dialectics" has simply made some comrades feel like I am "attacking them personally" as "conscious frauds".

Perhaps this more "impersonal" critique of "dialectics" by Rosa Lichtenstein will "get past" your personal feelings...

The Three Laws of Dialectics


I do not intend to publish the minutes of internal discussions that take place in the League.

Why not? Surely they could be edited to disguise the identities of the participants and any information that would be "sensitive" -- references to specific workplaces could be altered or deleted, etc.

Has it escaped your notice that the era of "secret meetings" where people "really speak their minds" is "withering away"?

In fact, someone has already raised the demand for "political transparency" in the revolutionary movement...and others have agreed.

This is not a call for naive carelessness with regard to personal information or details that should not be brought to the attention of the agents of repression.

Instead, it says that ordinary people have the right to know how a revolutionary movement decides political questions! What kinds of arguments were raised...and refuted or accepted?

Needless to add, the absence of any confirming evidence for your League's "dialectical" predictions amounts to asking us to accept your "claims of success" on faith.

Want to speculate on how far you're going to get with that these days? *laughs*


When all else fails, attempt to class-bait.

I was not "class-baiting" you and, in fact, I'm generally opposed to that line of "argument".

I was making a simple empirical observation drawn from my own direct experience.

American working people, by and large, have a distinct bias in favor of practicality. They are, for the most part, "pragmatists like me" and want to know "will this work?".

Even on this board, there have been a surprising number of threads in the Theory forum and elsewhere on "how will we do X in a classless society?".

Even though most of these discussions must perforce be speculative at the present time (we don't know yet what the conditions near, during, and immediately after proletarian revolution will actually be like) -- I think they usually reflect a healthy outlook.

No one is satisfied any more with answers based on faith...not even "dialectical" faith.

What do we want to do and how do we propose to do it?

Will it work?
First posted at RevLeft on November 22, 2005

Applying "dialectics" to natural phenomena is not without humor.


The transformation of water-ice to water-liquid is a negation because liquid and solid are two opposed states of being.

Emphasis added.

We use the words "liquid" and "solid" to describe two different possible states of matter.

But can one say -- with a straight face -- that those states are "opposed" to each other???

Does matter in a solid state "struggle" with matter in a liquid state until one decisively overcomes the other?

Does it make any kind of sense to "personify" inanimate matter in such terms?

Only to "dialecticians". *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on November 23, 2005


For instance, say many Socialists and Communists were voted into [U.S.] offices, and their first measure of agitation is to call for the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act: The dialectician, would observe what has happened, and what will happen using the three laws?

"Dialectics" might indeed be quite "useful" for discussing purely imaginary situations.

The strange notion that bourgeois elections are "fair and honest" with regard to parties that even claim some sort of pro-working class bias is a metaphysical concept...something that someone might put into a novel.

In the real world, "Taft-Hartley" will only be "repealed" when millions of workers defy it!

Indeed, it's been pretty much the case since the end of World War II that any major "reform" originates as a consequence of massive protest and defiance...not in the "hearts and minds" of "progressive" legislators.

Bourgeois "democracy" is fake...something that historical materialism can easily demonstrate.

You need not be a "dialectician" to "predict the future" of impossibilities. *laughs*

There will never be a time when "many Socialists and Communists are voted into offices", period. We will never "take over" the existing government and "use it for our purposes".

There will come a time when all those "offices" and the entire state apparatus of which they are a part will be completely demolished.

I don't know when that will happen...but then again, neither do all the "masters of the dialectic".

But after it happens, I expect that the few remaining "dialecticians" will all claim to have "predicted the whole thing". *laughs*

Don't believe them.
First posted at RevLeft on November 24, 2005


You can argue to say it was a vehicle of explanation for his time, or it's like silver hubcaps on car--yet I still fail see any proof how or why it's useless.

A bit "fuzzy" on the scientific method, are we?

Ok, here's how it works.

Whenever someone makes a positive assertion about objective reality, the burden of proof rests on the person who made the assertion...not on those who are skeptical of the assertion's validity.

"Dialecticians" assert that "reality is dialectical".

The alleged "proof" of this assertion consists entirely of "recasting" ordinary materialist explanations of natural and social phenomena into "dialectical" terminology.

By simply using different words, you claim to have discovered a "new way of thinking", a "new understanding of reality", even a way "to reliably predict future events in useful detail", etc., etc., etc.

When we turn to look at the actual performance of all those who've claimed to have "mastered the dialectic", what do we find?

Their "predictions" were just plain wrong. Their political practice was, for the most part, a succession of blunders. Their "superior understanding" of social reality was hopelessly inadequate.

Only the prestige of Marx's name has kept "dialectics" still "on the table"...otherwise it would rest undisturbed in the dusty corner of a German village museum.

Marx was a mortal man...and even geniuses can make mistakes. Don't forget that Isaac Newton actually took the Book of Revelations seriously.

But modern physicists, however much they respect Newton's genius, do not sit around trying to "calculate when Jesus will return".

Is it so much to expect, then, that modern revolutionaries who respect the real discoveries that Marx made, should not discard his follies?

So that's your real problem. "Dialectics" has been demonstrated in real world practice to be utterly wrong and therefore useless.

More precisely, useless for revolutionary purposes.

It does have "other uses"...verbally intimidating those unfamiliar with its terminology, for example.

Old-fashioned royalty used to proclaim their decisions "in the Name of God".

Leninist royalty in the 20th century proclaimed their decisions "in the name of the dialectic".

Both were lies!

So, it's time to "blow the whistle". People who sincerely want to understand Marxism and engage in revolutionary practice are having their time and energy wasted by a big fake!

That should no longer be permitted.


You can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Vulgar mythology...though perhaps typical of "dialecticians".

Scientific research has demonstrated that "old dogs" (like me!) can learn "new tricks".

It simply takes us a bit longer.
First posted at RevLeft on November 26, 2005


You know what would be interesting, guys ? If Rosa Lichtenstein/RS2K responded to CL's arguments.

It's unfair that RL came in, posted a link, and got away with baiting the workers and got away with ignoring everything CL posted before hand.

Petit-bourgeois charlatans.

I have responded to CL's arguments at considerable length. You might want to consider reading the thread before making such an "off-hand" comment.

It's true that Rosa did not respond explicitly to each of CL's posts...but you should at least attempt to read what she has written and posted on her site. Unlike myself, she is a real student of philosophy and her critiques of "dialectics" are extremely detailed and analytical.

Aside from the bourgeois neo-Hegelians, my understanding is that no modern schools of philosophy even bother to take "dialectics" seriously at all. So you should, in fact, welcome the attentions of someone who takes it seriously enough to write about it in such detail.

As CL has pointed out, I am a "pragmatist"...I rejected "dialectics" because I observed that it simply had no relationship to the real world and consequently didn't work.

Rosa explains why it doesn't exhaustive detail! She exposes the conceits and fabrications of "dialectics" in a way that I've never seen anyone do before.

Those who believe in "dialectics" react, as one might expect, in a hostile fashion and resort to vulgar personal abuse in place of argument.

You might want to ask yourself: who are the real charlatans here?
First posted at RevLeft on November 27, 2005

There is actually a very large amount of substantive discussion in the closed thread on this topic.

But if it is felt useful to have a "fresh start", I am happy to oblige.

"Dialectics" purports to be a "different" and "better" way of "thinking" (conceptualizing?) about reality.

Can this be demonstrated to be true?

Not just in words...but in actual revolutionary practice?

Do all (or even any) of the 20th century "masters of the dialectic" have anything useful to say to us?

About anything?

No one denies their skill in manipulating obscure Hegelian terminology or intimidating the uninitiated.

But as I have done repeatedly on this board, I am calling their bluff!

I am saying bluntly: where is the evidence to support your claims?

The responses to my challenge have varied somewhat...but I think it entirely fair to characterize their general tone as theological.

It's true because we say it's true!

For a century or more, that was "good enough". Especially since the ghosts of Marx and Engels and later Lenin and Mao could be summoned up to offer the same assurances.

It's not good enough any more. The scientific skepticism that was so rare in 1850 or even 1950 is now becoming more wide-spread. The internet has accelerated this process to an unprecedented degree.

People on this board are very familiar with my attitude towards superstition of all kinds. I am extremely "intolerant"...and proud of it.

"Dialectics" makes no appeal to the "gods". But it does claim a kind of "order" in the universe that cannot be empirically demonstrated except in words.

They take natural (and sometimes social) phenomena and simply substitute "dialectical" terminology for the ordinary materialist language that we use to describe those phenomena.

This, they claim, gives them "greater insight" than that of ordinary people using ordinary language.

But I've seen no evidence that their "insight" exceeds that of ordinary people...and considerable evidence to suggest that they usually fall well short of the standards set by ordinary people using ordinary language.

Consequently, I've recently taken to describing "dialectics" as a superstition...that is, a paradigm that's completely divorced from material reality as it really exists.

At best, it reminds me of Ptolemaic cosmology...undoubtedly "clever" but factually wrong. Perhaps Engels was up to that level.

It's gone downhill since then...and no small distance, either.

In the 20th century Leninist parties, it was used as a tool to "justify" whatever the party leadership decided to do at a particular moment. It could be readily used for that purpose because of its inherent lack of precision.

You can "use dialectics" to prove anything...all that's required is familiarity with a few "laws" and some skill at verbally manipulating the terminology.

It was mostly used, in fact, to "justify" one form or another of capitulation to the bourgeoisie.

Those who now wish to rescue "dialectics" from its accelerating descent into historical obscurity sound a note of desperation in their responses...ranging from "we can really do it right, honest" to "the 20th century Leninists were actually pretty good at it and we need to learn from them".

The former is just another unsubstantiated claim while the latter simply provokes mirth and derision.

Perhaps the question should be rephrased.

Should young revolutionaries pay any attention to "dialectics" at all?

Or should they shitcan their "dialectical" texts as they have the "holy books" that they were given as children by their pious relations?

I vehemently endorse the latter option. Every hour spent "studying dialectics" would better be spent in sleep. There is no more to be gained from "dialectics" than from a close inspection of the collected speeches of any randomly chosen bourgeois politician.

It's all crap.

In the closed thread, it was asserted that the sharpness of my attacks on "dialectics" somehow "called into question" the personal motives of those who were defending that folly.

In fact, I did not intend to do so nor do I have that intention now. There are still people around who grew to political maturity in a period when "everyone believed" that "communists are dialecticians". This is an unfortunate accident of history and not a sign of personal perfidy.

People still "believe" in "dialectics"'s part of their "political heritage" and "tradition".

What I wish they could do is stand back and subject "dialectics" to the same critical examination that they easily apply, for example, to capitalism as a system.

But I am not particularly hopeful in that regard. If one has been taught that one holds "the magic key" to "understanding everything", then giving that up is rather say the least.

But...we'll see.
First posted at RevLeft on November 28, 2005


After all, there are opposing forces acting on the structure of a building and therefore before the maths are calculated, there needs to be a recognition of these opposing forces.

In this sense couldn't it be said that dialectics compliments the mathematical process and therefore dialectics is a useful philosophy on which to base further scientific exploits.

Of course there are "opposing forces" that affect the structural integrity of any building.

But this is something that ancient engineers learned through practice...the math came considerably later (and is still "a little shaky in spots").

To simply re-phrase this understanding in "dialectical terminology" serves no purpose.

We already know that there are many material causes of what exists and what will exist...and that their effects on one another are complicated.

Not only does it not help to rephrase this understanding "dialectically", it can actually interfere with our understanding.

Most things involve more than two causes.

When you try to "cram" the complexity of real world phenomena into a model that "demands" that everything must be reduced to "two opposing forces", you can't help but end up generating grossly over-simplified and inadequate hypotheses.

For example, if you try to speak intelligently about modern class struggle as simply a struggle between "the proletariat" and "the bourgeoisie", you will end up with vague and essentially useless platitudes.

In reality, it would be far more accurate to speak of proletariats and capitalist classes.

Because it is those "sub-divisions" that actually explain what actually happens.

To be sure, that's a lot more work. You'd actually have to know something about different sections of the working class or the ruling class and what they perceived was in their direct material interests.

You'd have to empirically investigate the real couldn't just "theorize" your way into an understanding.

Rosa Lichtenstein has pointed out in one of the essays on her site that there's a kind of "general characteristic" of all forms of philosophic reasoning: that truth can be attained simply from the correct handling of words.

I am not knowledgeable enough to know whether what she says is "true in general"...but I do think it applies to "dialectics" with special forcefulness. By simply naming this or that the "primary contradiction", you can "logically" continue to any destination you please.

It's that flexible!

And, consequently, as useful as a ruler made of very soft rubber.

What's the distance between two points? It's whatever you please.

How can something like that be considered useful in any reasonable sense of the word?
First posted at RevLeft on November 28, 2005


Whatever, I'm never going to get a response on why the leftist-youth of today must totally disregard the dialectic without even knowing what it is.

Isn't it obvious?

Do you recommend to young people wanting to become revolutionaries that they should carefully study Plato? Or Aristotle? Or Cicero?

Or any of hundreds that might be named who have nothing of interest to say?

If you wanted to learn something about evolution, would I tell you to consult the collected works of some fundamentalist theologian?

Relevance is the matter at issue here.

People who are already interested in 19th century philosophers would, of necessity, have to read Hegel...and quite a few other guys as well.

People who are already interested in 20th century Leninism would, of necessity, have to read Lenin...and quite a few other guys as well.

People who simply want to be revolutionaries in this century do not need to read any of that old crap.

What they do need to read is Marx and Engels. But not everything they wrote is relevant or useful.

The historical materialist works of Marx and Engels are enormously relevant...a good deal of that material reads as if it were "written yesterday".

In sharp contrast, their "philosophical" works -- including those concerned with "dialectics" -- read very the 19th century philosophical works that they are.

Time imposes constraints on us all. We can't "read everything"...even if we wish we could.

I propose a frankly utilitarian approach to the self-education of young revolutionaries. Read the stuff that will really help you and don't waste your time on anything else (except, of course, the stuff you might read just for personal enjoyment).

Above all, don't be bullied into thinking that if you haven't "mastered dialectics", then you "can't" be a "real Marxist" or a "real communist" or a "real revolutionary".

Because, as was set forth at considerable length, those claims have turned out to be utterly worthless.
First posted at RevLeft on November 29, 2005


Yet, those who have adopted pragmatism, empiricism,, have generally strayed from 'far left' to the right - James Burnham, [Max] Schactman, Sidney Hook, and likely many others. So, maybe, it is rejection of dialectics that indicates something - like the greater or lesser likelihood of removing oneself from Marxism or the Marxist worldview.

Since the three gentlemen that you mentioned were Leninist-Trotskyists, I challenge your implication that "rejecting 'dialectics' = rejecting Marxism"...since I consider Leninism an idealist distortion of Marxism to begin with.

Those middle-class academics realized, I think, that the despotism of capital paid higher wages than the despotism of the party...and acted accordingly.

That's not particularly remarkable...and is certainly irrelevant to the "merits" of "dialectics".


It's almost as though [we were] arguing in Latin, with the exception that math is a tool rather than a language.

I tend to think of mathematics as "both" a tool and a language.

You can actually say things in math that simply cannot be expressed accurately in the words of any other language.

Of course, there may be many things that cannot (yet) be expressed in mathematical "words"...but it seems, like all living languages, to be remarkably "flexible" and able to "express new ideas" with considerable agility.

It's a very difficult language to learn, of course...and has something of the kind of "super status" that Latin had in the medieval period.

People have even told lies in the language of mathematics...and can impress the mathematically "illiterate" until such time as another mathematician translates the lie into the words of our common language and exposes the mathematical lie for what it is.

What is most astonishing about the language of mathematics it that it seems to be able to describe the real universe with unprecedented and unequaled precision.

"Dialecticians" claim that "reality is dialectical".

Theologians claim that "reality is spiritual".

Mathematicians claim that reality is mathematical.

The "math geeks" can back up their claim with an astoundingly successful track record.

Neither "dialecticians" nor theologians are even "in the race".

Doesn't that "count for something"?
First posted at RevLeft on December 2, 2005


Here is an extract from Chapter 5 of The Holy Family written by Marx in 1844.

It is a very sharp criticism of speculative much so that, in my opinion, Marx almost escaped the mystical swamp of Hegelian "dialectics".


If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea "Fruit”, if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea "Fruit”, derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then in the language of speculative philosophy — I am declaring that "Fruit” is the "Substance” of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be a pear is not essential to the pear, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea — "Fruit”. I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi, of "Fruit”. My finite understanding supported by my senses does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences inessential and irrelevant. It sees in the apple the same as in the pear, and in the pear the same as in the almond, namely "Fruit”. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is "the substance" — "Fruit”.

Having reduced the different real fruits to the one "fruit" of abstraction — "the Fruit", speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from "the Fruit", from the Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea "the Fruit" as it is easy to produce this abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction.

The speculative philosopher therefore relinquishes the abstraction "the Fruit", but in a speculative, mystical fashion — with the appearance of not relinquishing it. Thus it is really only in appearance that he rises above his abstraction. He argues somewhat as follows:

If apples, pears, almonds and strawberries are really nothing but "the Substance", "the Fruit", the question arises: Why does "the Fruit" manifest itself to me sometimes as an apple, sometimes as a pear, sometimes as an almond? Why this semblance of diversity which so obviously contradicts my speculative conception of Unity, "the Substance", "the Fruit"?

This, answers the speculative philosopher, is because "the Fruit" is not dead, undifferentiated, motionless, but a living, self-differentiating, moving essence. The diversity of the ordinary fruits is significant not only for my sensuous understanding, but also for "the Fruit" itself and for a speculative reason. The different ordinary fruits are different manifestations of the life of the "one Fruit"; they are crystallisations of "the Fruit" itself. Thus in the apple "the Fruit" gives itself an apple-like existence, in the pear a pear-like existence. We must therefore no longer say, as one might from the standpoint of the Substance: a pear is "the Fruit", an apple is "the Fruit", an almond is "the Fruit", but rather "the Fruit" presents itself as a pear, "the Fruit" presents itself as an apple, "the Fruit" presents itself as an almond; and the differences which distinguish apples, pears and almonds from one another are the self-differentiations of "the Fruit" and make the particular fruits different members of the life-process of "the Fruit". Thus "the Fruit" is no longer an empty undifferentiated unity; it is oneness as allness, as "totality” of fruits, which constitute an "organically linked series of members”. In every member of that series "the Fruit" gives itself a more developed, more explicit existence, until finally, as the "summary” of all fruits, it is at the same time the living unity which contains all those fruits dissolved in itself just as it produces them from within itself...

Speculative philosophy has as many incarnations as there are things, just as it has here in every fruit an incarnation of the Substance, of the Absolute Fruit. The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of "the Fruit", this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind. Hence what is delightful in this speculation is to rediscover all the real fruits there, but as fruits which have a higher mystical significance, which have grown out of the ether of your brain and not out of the material earth, which are incarnations of "the Fruit", of the Absolute Subject. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, "the Fruit", to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of "the Fruit" in all the manifestations of its life — the apple, the pear, the almond — that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each one of them "the Fruit" realises itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of "the Absolute Fruit".

The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind "the Fruit", i.e., by creating those fruits out of his own abstract reason, which he considers as an Absolute Subject outside himself, represented here as "the Fruit". And in regard to every object the existence of which he expresses, he accomplishes an act of creation.

It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, "the Fruit"

In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method.

Everything in italics is from Marx. The bold emphasis is mine.

We can only wonder how things would have been different had Marx vigorously pursued this line of reasoning. We might never have had any concern with the supernatural abstractions of "dialectics" at all.

For a much more philosophically sophisticated explication of this point, see abstraction -- part one: the heart of the beast by Rosa Lichtenstein.
First posted at RevLeft on December 27, 2005
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