Dialect Talk

Dialectics is one of the two theoretical pillars of marxism, the other being Materialism. Taken together, they are known as Dialectical Materialism.

Materialism is the idea that the real world is a solid, consistent place, existing independent of our thoughts, governed by physical laws and definable forces. Knowledge comes from practical interaction with the real world, not from political authority, religious revelation, or armchair speculation.

Dialectics is the theory of how this material world changes, not abruptly in jumps, but constantly and smoothly. This means the categories we use to conceptualise the world break down because when something is partway through a process of change, it straddles two or more incompatible categories, giving it a blurred, undefined feel.

Dialectics is conceived as a form of reasoning that both includes and supersedes aristotelian logic, goes further than multivalent and fuzzy logics, and describes not just the way the physical or social world changes, but any form of change.

Most marxists either embrace dialectics and use it extensively, or ignore it and get on with campaigning. A few though, actively reject it while still calling themselves marxists, and someone going under the name Rosa Lichtenstein is one of these.

She(?) argues that the failure of marxism to become a significant force in either academia or the political arena is due to several factors, one major factor being the acceptance and use of dialectics by marxists.

On the introductory page of her site, she makes a number of related points:

Given the fact that dialecticians assure us that truth is tested in practice, and that "materialist dialectics" is the main-spring of all they do, this can only mean that their 'theory' has been tested and shown to fail.

Firstly, marxists have never claimed that dialectics is the sole wellspring of their ideas and actions. To build a bridge you need both mathematics and steel - each is useless on it's own. Likewise to act politically you need both a sound method of analysis and a lot of people - and even then, success can be partial, or nonexistent.

Secondly, her popperian reading only works, even in strictly popperian terms, if she can show that the acceptance or rejection of dialectical reasoning was the sole determining factor in all (or any) past defeats. That, for instance, the failure of attempts by the German left to stop the rise of naziism were a test of the dialectic, and of nothing else.

Oh, and thirdly, she seems to think that overthrowing all the governments of the world and replacing them with worker's states is the only goal of marxism, and because this has not happened there have been no successes.

...there is a close connection between the class-origin of the ideas found in DM and the rabidly sectarian nature of revolutionary politics.

I take this to mean that marxists are mostly middle class, and Dialectical Materialism is a doctrine which both stems from and legitimises the worldview of this class.

It may (or may not) be true that most leaders of marxist groups and movements are middle class - in the marxist sense of the term, obviously. Lichtenstein seems to think being middle class predisposes you to thinking in terms of blurred boundaries and shifting categories. In my experience, the opposite is true.

dialectics is an important part of the reason why revolutionary groups are in general vanishingly small, neurotically sectarian, studiously unreasonable, consistently conservative, theoretically deferential (to 'tradition'), and almost invariably tend toward all forms of substitutionism.

Substitutionism is the notion that, seeing as the workers aren't engaged in the struggle that's in their interests, we've got to do it for them. It is a common pseudomarxist idea among small marxist organisations.

It's certainly true that marxist groups tend to be small, authoritarian and given to fighting each other. But it's a complete mystery to me why belief in the dialectic should be the cause of this.

Differential Calculus is a branch of mathematics which deals with change in a way that resembles dialectical logic, but we don't see organisations of mathematicians publishing screeds against each other or expelling members for expressing doubts.

A lot of christian groups behave like the revolutionary cadres Lichtenstein talks about - but there's nothing dialectical about their beliefs.

...all the major theses advanced by dialecticians do not stand up to close scrutiny.

I can't comment on this yet, because I haven't yet read Lichtenstein's close scrutiny.

the criticisms dialecticians make of Formal Logic and the so-called 'Law of Identity' are as ill-informed as they are misconceived.

This is just silly. If you want to know about First-Order Logic, Aristotelian syllogism theory, or the work of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, Tarski and Quine, ask a marxist who's made extensive study of dialectical logic.

...bitter experience over the last twenty-five years 'debating' with the DM-faithful tells me I am talking to Marxists with stoppered ears.

In other words, "They don't listen to me because they're scared". I'll have to reserve judgement on this one.

Three billion or more workers cannot be wrong; we can't keep blaming our failure on their "false consciousness". Dialectics is not the "world-view of the proletariat", since they know nothing of it, never have, and never will.

Strawman. No one has ever claimed the workers are instinctively dialectical. To say that marxism is derived from what is in the interests of the workers is not to say it comes from what the workers are interested in.

Lichtenstein expands on a justifies these points in many essays, and promises many more to come. I'm not terribly impressed with the arguments she gives in the overview, but I'll be reading more of her work when there's time.

Dialectology (so to speak) is a surprisingly neglected field, given how central it is to several schools of philosophy. Chris Arthur has written articles and a book on the subject, and there's John Rees' "Algebra of Revolution", plus of course works by Engels. I think we could use more, and Rosa Lichtenstein is one of the few writing about it.

As a footnote, a google search on Chris Arthur (Who I met briefly at a conference on...dialectics) bumped me into this this site. Myths and legends of Marxism - looks promising.

12 comments:

  1. Kapitano, among the many fabrications you try to pull, is this:

    "Secondly, her Popperian reading only works, even in strictly Popperian terms, if she can show that the acceptance or rejection of dialectical reasoning was the sole determining factor in all (or any) past defeats."

    I am not a Popperian, never have been, and never will be.

    Nothing at my site even remotely suggests that I am.

    Further, not only do I not claim that dialectics is the cause of Marxism's long-term failure, I go out of my way to make it clear I think it is one among many causes.

    And nowhere do I say this (nor would I):

    "That, for instance, the failure of attempts by the German left to stop the rise of Nazism were a test of the dialectic, and of nothing else."

    Just like other Dialectical Mystics who attempt to 'take me on', you can only do so by making stuff up.

    Just as I predicted in those parts of my site you did not bother to check.

    As for this:

    "Differential Calculus is a branch of mathematics which deals with change in a way that resembles dialectical logic...."

    I am a mathematician, so this won't wash with me (indeed, I trash this idea in Essay Seven.

    And here you expose your ignorance:

    "This is just silly. If you want to know about First-Order Logic, Aristotelian syllogism theory, or the work of Frege, Russell, Whitehead, Tarski and Quine, ask a Marxist who's made extensive study of dialectical logic."

    Dialecticians, almost to a robot, have shown repeatedly that they are logical incompetents, as was Hegel.

    Don't believe me? Then read Essay Four, where I demonstrate this in extensive detail.

    "In other words, "They don't listen to me because they're scared". I'll have to reserve judgement on this one."

    I do not assert this; as I also show, such comrades stop their ears for the same reason you have: you/they can't answer my arguments (except you/they have to make things up to attribute to me that I neither believe nor say).

    “Strawman. No one has ever claimed the workers are instinctively dialectical. To say that Marxism is derived from what is in the interests of the workers is not to say it comes from what the workers are interested in.”

    Another incorrect inference; I claim that workers ignore Dialectical Marxism for other reasons. Check out Essay Nine.

    Stay away form my site if this is how you are going to read what I have to say.

    [I will however, link to this blog as yet another example of the deleterious effect of Hegel's Logic ion fellow comrades.]

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  2. I won't presume to demonstrate my ignorance by commenting, but by God, it sounds interesting!

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  3. Since my Essays will long outlast you, I have immortalised your self-inflicted public humiliation here:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/Kapitano.htm

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  4. That link should be:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/Kapitano.htm

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  5. Looks like I can't post that link!

    You can find it on the opening page of my site.

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  6. Kam, if you nip over to RevLeft, you will see what mayhem I have been causing to our mystical friends right across the world (in the Philosophy section); you can find all the links if you scroll to the bottom of page one, and follow this link:

    "Check out how unreasonable Dialectical Mystics can be here."

    I'd post them directly, but they do not seem to fit on this page!

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  7. For one who's sick of debating with us dimwitted DM-apologists, your response was certainly quick and spirited.

    I'm slowly reading through your essays, because I'm interested in the question of the dialectic of nature - as in "is there one or not?".

    It is possible that you're one of those thinkers whose style of writing misleads the reader. Not an obscutantist, but one of those like Richard Dawkins more concerned more with rumbunctious rebuttal than careful phrasing.

    In "The Selfish Gene" he repeatedly slides into language which suggests the teleological interpretation of evolution that the book seeks to combat.

    You certainly didn't read my blog entry carefully. I specifically wrote that you regarded acceptance of the dialectic as one major cause of socialism's troubles.

    Anyway, I'm not going to stay away from your site, because from what I've seen so far, you're either the clearest thinker (though not the best writer) on the dialectic that I've come across, or a blithering nincompoop and a fraud. And I'm interested in both kinds of people.

    See you, Rosa.

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  8. Kapitano now:

    "You certainly didn't read my blog entry carefully. I specifically wrote that you regarded acceptance of the dialectic as one major cause of socialism's troubles."

    Kapitano before:

    "Secondly, her popperian reading only works, even in strictly popperian terms, if she can show that the acceptance or rejection of dialectical reasoning *was the sole determining factor in all (or any) past defeats.* That, for instance, the failure of attempts by the German left to stop the rise of naziism were a test of the dialectic, and of nothing else."

    A nice Union of Opposites if ever there was one.

    "Anyway, I'm not going to stay away from your site, because from what I've seen so far, you're either the clearest thinker (though not the best writer) on the dialectic that I've come across, or a blithering nincompoop and a fraud. And I'm interested in both kinds of people."

    I prefer you to think I am the latter two than have you read my work, if that's Ok with you.

    As I noted in that Intro you miread, I do not wish to communicate with clowns.

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  9. So much traffic! Does it have to do with Christmas time or is it just a consequence of dialectical reasoning? Socialism is in «bad sheets» indeed...

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  10. The Lichtenstein syllogism:

    Major Premise: Dialecticians are clowns.
    Minor Premise: I do not communicate with clowns.
    Conclusion: I communicate with them to tell them they're clowns.



    I wrote:
    "She(?) argues that the failure of marxism to become a significant force in either academia or the political arena is due to several factors, one major factor being the acceptance and use of dialectics by marxists." (emphasis added)

    You wrote:
    "...not only do I not claim that dialectics is the cause of Marxism's long-term failure, I go out of my way to make it clear I think it is one among many causes."

    Yes Rosa, that's what I wrote.



    I have yet to read any part of your work which details the other factors which cause marxism's failure. You mention the smallness, infighting and dogmatism of marxist groups many times, and sometimes seem to be saying this is caused by acceptance of the dialectic, and sometimes that the dogmatism is the cause of this blind acceptance. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course - they can reinforce each other.

    In any case, I am mostly concerned with arguments against dialectical logic, and dialecticians responses (if any) to them. There aren't many places where such discussions take place, and your site is one of them. That's why I'm reading it.

    Incidentally, I've rarely read a site which contains so many admonishments not to read it. And the others have been religious.

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  11. Oh dear, stuck in the old (but in this case, invalid)logic are we (except 'major' and 'minor' premisses should be quantified propositions of some sort, and you have an unassigned indexical in premiss two, and the 'conclusion' -- has diabolical logic nuked your brain?):

    "Major Premise: Dialecticians are clowns.
    Minor Premise: I do not communicate with clowns.
    Conclusion: I communicate with them to tell them they're clowns."

    Glad you admit it.

    "I have yet to read any part of your work which details the other factors which cause marxism's failure."

    Well, since the published work so far amounts to over 650,000 words, and will end at about 1.5 million or so, in several years time, this is hardly surprising. And since the main Essays where I detail this have yet to be published (although I have posted summaries) this is even less surprising.

    But, why let that stop you jummping to conclusions?

    [A bit like those who read, say, Capital Volume One, and then complain that Marx never explained why the rate of profit should fall.]

    So, on the basis of a summary of a few hundred words you conclude stuff like the above and this:

    "You mention the smallness, infighting and dogmatism of marxist groups many times, and sometimes seem to be saying this is caused by acceptance of the dialectic, and sometimes that the dogmatism is the cause of this blind acceptance."

    The opening pages are just that; they were designed to be controversial to draw people in, and to confuse clowns.

    "Incidentally, I've rarely read a site which contains so many admonishments not to read it. And the others have been religious."

    Don't then.

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