Thread: dialectics and political theory

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    Default dialectics and political theory

    Well, I left for a while because I found the discussions sometimes so polarized and personal that participating was clouding my judgement rather than clarifying anything. Anyway after some reading and thought I'd like to comment on the vexing question of the dialectic.

    If you take capitalism as your starting point you can make out a case for dialectics fairly easily. Capitalism is an economic system that contains two major classes, the capitalists and the workers. These two classes have opposed historical interests - the defense of, or abolition of, private property. Not only that. Capitalism is a system of crisis meaning that the two classes are perpetually thrown into conflict and, accepting the law of value, at some point the crisis will be so severe that either the workers win and we will create socialism/communism or we'll be plunged into something called 'barbarism.'

    So you can argue that capitalism ('the totality'?) contains an irreconcilable contradiction that will result in the its own abolition. Thus the driving force behind historical development is the resolution of contradiction at a higher level (or maybe lower).

    The first problem though is that this analysis can not be used to describe feudalism (for example). Feudalism contained two major classes with opposed economic and social interests but not opposed historical interests - the peasantry were a product of feudalism and they had no role to play in the development of a future society. The capitalists developed over a long period of time inside feudalism and only at a certain point did their interests and those of the aristocracy come into conflict. This doesn't seem to me to fit the dialectical model but perhaps someone can explain how it does.

    The second problem comes when you try to apply the dialectic to nature. It's simply impossible to prove or test and it assumes that there's a process taking place that is outside of human control - ie we are not just victims of circumstance (which we are) but also part of a process we're powerless to affect or change.

    The third problem is that the dialectic suggests it's possible to construct a theory that stands outside of historical development. Social change generally takes place through opposed classes battling it out - why do we need to transform this observation into a schema that explains everything that happens in the universe?
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    Hi, Louise:

    So you can argue that capitalism ('the totality'?) contains an irreconcilable contradiction that will result in the its own abolition. Thus the driving force behind historical development is the resolution of contradiction at a higher level (or maybe lower).
    But, why is this a 'contradiction'?

    You can describe and analyse capitalism with the vocabulary of Historical Materialism and ordinary language. You do not need the obscure terms Hegel bequeathed to us (upside down, or the 'right way up').

    Indeed, as is easy to show, the importation of Hegelian terms into Marxism actually prevents us explaining anything, including change.
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    But, why is this a 'contradiction'?

    You can describe and analyse capitalism with the vocabulary of Historical Materialism and ordinary language. You do not need the obscure terms Hegel bequeathed to us (upside down, or the 'right way up').

    Indeed, as is easy to show, the importation of Hegelian terms into Marxism actually prevents us explaining anything, including change.
    I agree you don't have to call it a contradiction but it doesn't seem to me to do any harm to do so as long as you are not claiming to describe a 'law' of historical development. I don't see the terminology as a problem - it's the idea that there's a universal process that applies to everything that happens that's the problem.
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    Louise:

    I agree you don't have to call it a contradiction but it doesn't seem to me to do any harm to do so as long as you are not claiming to describe a 'law' of historical development. I don't see the terminology as a problem - it's the idea that there's a universal process that applies to everything that happens that's the problem.
    But it does considerable harm when dialecticians use this word to 'justify' all manner of sell-outs, about turns, substitutionist compromises, and anti-Marxist tactics, on the grounds that such contradictiory behaviour is in line with Marxist Dialectics.

    Evidence here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm

    [Use the 'Quick Links at the top to go to Section Seven, 'Case Studies'.]

    This is quite apart that the use of this word actually prevents Marxists explaining change:

    Quotes:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...0&postcount=76

    Argument:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...1&postcount=77

    Anyway, your last comment puzzles me; do you suppose that human beings are not part of nature? It strikes me that those who go the whole hog and believe this 'theory' applies to everything in the entire universe are the more consistent. Half hog dialecticians seem to me to believe that human beings are not part of nature.
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    But it does considerable harm when dialecticians use this word to 'justify' all manner of sell-outs, about turns, substitutionist compromises, and anti-Marxist tactics, on the grounds that such contradictiory behaviour is in line with Marxist Dialectics.
    This gives the words or terminology a magical quality. I don't suppose that when the second international justified supporting the German war effort the German workers went along with it because of some talk of the dialectical development of history. It may help Marxists to explain their sell-outs to each other but I don't think the workers are interested in dialectics at all.

    Anyway, your last comment puzzles me; do you suppose that human beings are not part of nature? It strikes me that those who go the whole hog and believe this 'theory' applies to everything in the entire universe are the more consistent. Half hog dialecticians seem to me to believe that human beings are not part of nature.
    I don't understand this question. Of course I don't think human beings are not part of nature.
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    Louise:

    This gives the words or terminology a magical quality.
    Not really; this vocabulary allowed the likes of Stalin, Mao and assorted Trotskyists to use readily accepted words to 'justify' to party cadres, not workers, the sort of contradictory things I mentioned earlier. This is no more 'magical' than the use of any other words is, except, in this case, these words are unique to Dialectical Marxism (and perhaps certain forms of Buddhism).

    I don't suppose that when the second international justified supporting the German war effort the German workers went along with it because of some talk of the dialectical development of history. It may help Marxists to explain their sell-outs to each other but I don't think the workers are interested in dialectics at all.
    I agree, but then that just shows how useless dialectics is.

    Of course I don't think human beings are not part of nature.
    If so, those who accept full-blooded, whole hog dialectical materialism, will want to know why the rest of the universe cannot display 'contradictory forces'. What is so unique about human beings?
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    Not really; this vocabulary allowed the likes of Stalin, Mao and assorted Trotskyists to use readily accepted words to 'justify' to party cadres, not workers, the sort of contradictory things I mentioned earlier. This is no more 'magical' than the use of any other words is, except, in this case, these words are unique to Dialectical Marxism (and perhaps certain forms of Buddhism).
    But what is important the word or the deed? The compromise with the KMT or the explanation of it? Why is the way it's explained more important than what actually happened. I don't know much about this but I believe the popular front action resulted in lot of revolutionaries being shot by the KMT.
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    I don't think dialectics are useless since they made me a communist
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    Muzk:

    I don't think dialectics are useless since they made me a communist
    Well, then you became one under false pretences.
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    Louise:

    But what is important the word or the deed?
    Of course, words are deeds.

    The compromise with the KMT or the explanation of it? Why is the way it's explained more important than what actually happened. I don't know much about this but I believe the popular front action resulted in lot of revolutionaries being shot by the KMT.
    I'm not sure what you are getting at.
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    I should begin this post by stating this is my first time posting, and I should be a bit more circumspect that I probably will be, but hell, I've made it this far in my life, so...

    So I'll say I found this site while reading the debate Rosa was having on the MHI site regarding dialectics vs. formal logic.

    I should also so I'm no philosopher. I've read Marx, Feuerbach, Hegel, Russell, Wittgenstein. Mostly Marx, then Hegel...

    OK I'm no philosopher. Neither was Marx, although unlike Marx, I never studied the subject formally.

    My take on Rosa's debate is a little unusual, if not for others and/or Rosa, certainly for me. First-- I am more than sympathetic of Rosa's argument that there is no such thing as dialectical materialism, I am in complete agreement. Those who think there is a "dialectical materialism" to Marx's work are taking a giant step backward. Marx is not creating a new philosophy, a philsophy of the universe, a philosophy of science or nature or anything else. He is, in the beginning grappling with...he is grappling with what he or Engels call the "rational core" that he extracted from Hegel. And that core is the real content of human history.

    What Marx finds in Hegel, in the Hegel's presentation of "spirit," "consciousness" making itself manifest in the world is an alienated expression for the real content of history. And what is the unalienated expression, what is that real content? For Marx, it is the social organization of labor. The materialism is history. The materialism is social.

    But my take is, as I said, unusual, in that I think Marx clearly takes over words, methods, "tactics," from Hegel in his analyses of contradiction, necessity, immanence in capital's existence.

    What is the "dialectical contradiction" Marx explores? Philosophy has proven itself incapable of answering that, and we must, to be consistent with Marx find the answer in history, in the social organization of labor. That contradiction is the relation of capital and wage-labor. Each exists only in the organization of the other.

    Capital, to be capital, more organize labor in a specific form in order to access, appropriate surplus value. To do this, the means of production must be monopolized by the class of [emerging] capitalists-- but they are monopolized in a manner that makes them essentially useless when not yielding exchange-value and profit. For that to occur, labor itself must be organized as useless, as offering no mechanism for the laborer to subsist, save in the exchange of the ability to labor in return for the means of subsistence [or the medium for their purchase]. So while capital belongs to the capitalist as private property, the private property can only exist with a specific social organization of labor.

    Capital can nowhere without dragging this, wage-labor, its complementary opposite with it.

    Now for capital to aggrandize greater portions of the source of the surplus value, it must not only organize, aggrandize labor as wage-labor, it must simultaneously aggrandize and expel such labor from the production process. The more capital accumulates, the more it exchanges itself with wage-labor, the less, relatively, of itself it exchanges with wage-labor. And it is this contradiction, perhaps dialectical contradiction, that leads to the overproduction of capital and the decline in the rate of profit.

    The more capitalist property expands, the less that property is capable of providing the return that is necessarily the end, and the beginning, the realization and the extinction of capital's circuits.

    Now these processes of capital are historical, material, social processes. Marx wasn't making philosophical inquiries, no more than he weas making a "new" political economy. Capital is no work of political economy. It is the history of capitalism's internal metabolism, almost like a teasing-apart of the strands of DNA to find the patterns of replication. Economics is nothing but concentrated history. History is the social organization of labor.

    Marx really is, or supposed to be, the end of philosophy and political economy. I think Marx makes this breakthrough most evident not so much in the Theses on Feuerbach, but in two later works, Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, and, IMO, the 2nd greatest work of historical materialism ever produced, The 18th Brumaire... (Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution being number 10).

    Anyway, for that all is worth.

    S. Artesian
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    Hey,

    Sorry for all the typos in the previous reply. Someday I'll get it right.

    sa
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    S.Artesian, thanks for those comments, but:

    My take on Rosa's debate is a little unusual, if not for others and/or Rosa, certainly for me. First-- I am more than sympathetic of Rosa's argument that there is no such thing as dialectical materialism,
    I never made that argument, since there is indeed a theory called 'Dialectical Materialism'; how could anyone deny it! What I have argued here and elsewhere is that it makes not one ounce of sense.

    He is, in the beginning grappling with...he is grappling with what he or Engels call the "rational core" that he extracted from Hegel. And that core is the real content of human history.
    As I have shown here, it has no 'rational core':

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...4&postcount=73

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...6&postcount=75

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...&postcount=114

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...&postcount=124

    What I think you refer to as the 'rational core' is, of course, Historical Materialism (with Hegel completely excised), a theory Marx derived from Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical Materialists (Smith, Ferguson, Millar, Hume, Stewart), but not from Hegel.

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/showpost.p...9&postcount=57

    I agree with much of the other things you say, however.
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    And, by the way, welcome to RevLeft!
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    Right, right, I forgot the importance of language-- of course there is such a "thing" as dialectical materialism, it just is not at all what Marx's work is all about. Dialectical materialism just isn't "Marxist," which it proves time and time again when it comes to making a concrete analysis of an actual class conflict.

    And most importantly, ok, maybe not most importantly, but importantly, Marxism isn't about analyzing the laws of motion, unified field theories, higher mathematics, quantum physics-- any of that stuff.


    Regarding Hegel, you may not think Hegel has a "rational core," and you might be right, but I think the issue is what Marx thought, what he was accomplishing through his critique of Hegel, and I think from reading Marx's early works, he is extracting a "grounding" not for philosophy but for concrete analysis of history. Clearly Hegel's influence, work, vocabulary, is important for Marx, but it is Marx's opposition to Hegel that defines the real measure of that influence.

    I have never bought into the separation of the "early Marx and the late Marx" but really find his work to be-- uh oh, is this going to be Hegelian language?-- of the whole, that is to say connected, unified, in all its different chronological presentations by its social-ism.

    Let me check this for typos...
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    S.Artesian:

    Regarding Hegel, you may not think Hegel has a "rational core," and you might be right, but I think the issue is what Marx thought, what he was accomplishing through his critique of Hegel, and I think from reading Marx's early works, he is extracting a "grounding" not for philosophy but for concrete analysis of history. Clearly Hegel's influence, work, vocabulary, is important for Marx, but it is Marx's opposition to Hegel that defines the real measure of that influence.
    Well, as I have shown in several threads at this site, a very strong case can be made for aguing that Marx had abandoned Hegel when he wrote Das Kapital.

    In addition to the links I added above, check out many of the posts in here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/why-people...914/index.html

    And the last few pages in here:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/nti-dialec...349/index.html

    I have never bought into the separation of the "early Marx and the late Marx" but really find his work to be-- uh oh, is this going to be Hegelian language?-- of the whole, that is to say connected, unified, in all its different chronological presentations by its social-ism.
    Well, neither have I, but it is implausible to argue that Marx did not change his views as he matured.

    His steady movement away from Hegel, is, however, quite clear.
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    Capitalism is an economic system that contains two major classes, the capitalists and the workers. These two classes have opposed historical interests - the defense of, or abolition of, private property.
    I am a bit late for this discussion but I had to point one thing out.
    At least in the western world, even the working class does not support (or defend) the abolotion of private property.
    Their struggle, to create the luxuries that imbue their lives with a sense of accomplishment, being all for naught is mostly unacceptable.
    Blind as they may be, a lifetime of hard work will make one stubborn.

    This complicates things.
    Last edited by hefty_lefty; 3rd October 2009 at 00:51. Reason: Spelling
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    Sure Marx changed, developed his views. That's not at stake. But there is no "rupture" between the "young Marx" usually identified with the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and the "mature Marx" associated with Capital.

    There certainly is no "epistemological rupture" because Marxism is not an epistemology.

    The connections in the change, development, and continuity between young and mature are, IMO, quite evident in the Grundrisse.

    But I'm interested in your view that Marx "moved away" from Hegel as he developed his work-- and by moved away, I take it you mean, abandoned any connection with dialectic. Is there anything explicit in Marx's work where comments on this? If I remember correctly, there is some correspondence between Marx and Engels where Marx talks of rereading Hegel's Science of Logic [a tough task, that. More than tough. Enough to bring tears to the eyes of the innocent]while either preparing to or in writing Capital, and how useful he found it to be. My memory is no longer a dead cinch lock, except when it comes to numbers, so I might have it wrong. I'll check the Marxist Internet Archives.
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    I'm sure somebody has pointed it out before, but check the letter from Marx to Engels, 22 June 1867, available online at the Marxist Internet Archive.
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    Rosa,

    Of course, words are deeds.
    Alright, but saying and doing in real life are quite distinct things. I don't dispute that dialectics has been used to justify all manner of betrayals. All I'm pointing out is that it's the act of betrayal that really matters not how it's justified.

    If nobody had ever thought of dialectics Stalin would have used some other theory to explain socialism in one country and he would still have made a pact with Hitler.

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