Can I get a cross-section view of Left-Marxists attitudes to Dialectics please

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Vlad The Inhaler's picture
Vlad The Inhaler
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Jul 4 2018 13:44
Can I get a cross-section view of Left-Marxists attitudes to Dialectics please

SPGB, Autonomist and Left-Com responses all welcome.

Does Dialectics underpin the entire Marxist method of scientific Socialism and Historical Materialism or can one draw out a Marxism without recourse to this most unproletarian science.

I've mentioned elsewhere my ongoing disillusionment with the mystifications of Modern Marxism (by modern I mean Marxism post Marx's death, once clarification from the guy himself was impossible and everything became disciples and apostles interpreting what the guy probably/definitely meant.)

I'd be very interested to know what view of history you take. Your view on just how mechanical historical development is. How predictable and true to historical laws human groups and societies are.etc

I'll leave asking Anarchists for another time, as I really want to drain the swamp, so to speak, and see if there is actually anything hiding there underneath the putrid mysticism of Leninism and the other assorted Utopian mystics of deterministic historical materialism. I'm fed up of taking sh*t on faith and thinking, well I guess it'll all make sense one day. If I just read this next book (there's always another one) by some obscure theorist of this long forgotten tendency formed out of this long forgotten schism as a result of this long forgotten minor disagreement over some long forgotten remark by some other long forgotten theorist who was a product of yet more...you get the picture.

Much obliged my fine comrades.

p.s - I'm not having a nervous breakdown, I promise.

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Khawaga
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Jul 4 2018 18:45

Dialectics is a method for presentation, not a science. I can say much more on it, but the first mistake many Marxists make is to overstate the significance of the dialectics, referring to it as some secret mystical force without actually knowing how Marx used it.

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Vlad The Inhaler
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Jul 4 2018 19:03
Khawaga wrote:
Dialectics is a method for presentation, not a science. I can say much more on it, but the first mistake many Marxists make is to overstate the significance of the dialectics, referring to it as some secret mystical force without actually knowing how Marx used it.

Please do.

I don't want to reject Marxism if there's something to save but I'm reaching the point when it feels like there isn't. The dialectic, at least the way I learned it from the broad Leninist/Orthodox Marxist movement, was always a spectacularly nebulous thing to me, that seemed to be wheeled out whenever a decision or position that made no sense was laid down. I'd scratch my head and think, "well, it must make sense, I guess. Must just be me being dumb."

If there is a substantive truth in there somewhere I want to know about it because I'm just about at the point where I'm ready to start looking for answer elsewhere.

Mike Harman
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Jul 4 2018 19:31

Pannekoek's 'Lenin as Philosopher' is interesting on this. I'm not really into philosophy though so not going to try to sum it up.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1938/lenin/index.htm

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LeninistGirl
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Jul 4 2018 22:04

I agree with what Khawaga said, to give some readings as well and my thoughts,

I don't think the line should be drawn on Lenin or the Second International, but at the stalinist distortions of dialectics as something it's not. I think Bordiga is pretty good at explaining it in his text On the dialectical method but also in Party and Class, echoing a lot of what Engels wrote in part one of Anti-Düring,

Quote:
What in fact is a social class according to our critical method? Can we possibly recognise it by the means of a purely objective external acknowledgement of the common economic and social conditions of a great number of individuals, and of their analogous positions in relationship to the productive process? That would not be enough. Our method does not amount to a mere description of the social structure as it exists at a given moment, nor does it merely draw an abstract line dividing all the individuals composing society into two groups, as is done in the scholastic classifications of the naturalists. The Marxist critique sees human society in its movement, in its development in time; it utilises a fundamentally historical and dialectical criterion, that is to say, it studies the connection of events in their reciprocal interaction. Instead of taking a snapshot of society at a given moment (like the old metaphysical method) and then studying it in order to distinguish the different categories into which the individuals composing it must be classified, the dialectical method sees history as a film unrolling its successive scenes; the class must be looked for and distinguished in the striking features of this movement. In using the first method we would be the target of a thousand objections from pure statisticians and demographers (short-sighted people if there ever were) who would re-examine our divisions and remark that there are not two classes, nor even three or four, but that there can be ten, a hundred or even a thousand classes separated by successive gradations and indefinable transition zones. With the second method, though, we make use of quite different criteria in order to distinguish that protagonist of historical tragedy, the class, and in order to define its characteristics, its actions and its objectives, which become concretised into obviously uniform features among a multitude of changing facts; meanwhile the poor photographer of statistics only records these as a cold series of lifeless data. Therefore, in order to state that a class exists and acts at a given moment in history, it will not be enough to know, for instance, how many merchants there were in Paris under Louis XIV, or the number of English landlords in the Eighteenth Century, or the number of workers in the Belgian manufacturing industry at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Instead, we will have to submit an entire historical period to our logical investigations; we will have to make out a social, and therefore political, movement which searches for its way through the ups and downs, the errors and successes, all the while obviously adhering to the set of interests of a strata of people who have been placed in a particular situation by the mode of production and by its developments. It is this method of analysis that Frederick Engels used in one of his first classical essays, where he drew the explanation of a series of political movements from the history of the English working class, and thus demonstrated the existence of a class struggle. This dialectical concept of the class allows us to overcome the statistician’s pale objections. He does not have the right any longer to view the opposed classes as being clearly divided on the scene of history as are the different choral groups on a theatre scene. He cannot refute our conclusions by arguing that in the contact zone there are undefinable strata through which an osmosis of individuals takes place, because this fact does not alter the historical physiognomy of the classes facing one another

I.e it is not a force of sorts or something that tells you the exact future, it's a way to try and understand society as something that is moving and developing both in the now and historically, looking at how movements interact and clash. I think "marxists", or socialists in general, who just assume that all class struggle in the past as having been this static propertyless versus property owning class, which is something I've come across a lot, will quickly lose the plot while looking back at pre-capitalist history, also not understanding actors in civil wars as representatives of a class and mode of production. Like, in Sweden the "national liberation war" from the danish ruled Kalmar Unionen is often seen, even in the left, as just a nationalist project and something removed from class struggle while in reality it was a war between the Swedes and Hansa representing merchant capitalism while the danish represented feudalism. In this case the propertyless do not play any leading role, if they did the capitalist vanguard would have lost because the propertyless and poor peasants formed armed bands and fought for the danish. If we go further back in Swedish history again, there was a struggle between the slave owners, representing a mode of production based on slavery and the church, representing feudalism. The free farmers sided with the slavers under an anti-church program, while the plebeians and alike had no solid alliance.

Quote:
Pannekoek's 'Lenin as Philosopher' is interesting on this

I've always wondered where the idea that leninism means a vanguard of intellectuals that commits coups separate from the working class, something I've seen from a lot of councilists, came from,

Quote:
Here we see the possible significance of Lenin’s book for the future working-class movement. The Communist Party, though it may lose ground among the workers, tries to form with the socialists and the intellectual class a united front, ready at the first major crisis of capitalism to take in its hands the power over and against the workers. Leninism and its philosophical textbook then will serve, under the name of Marxism, to overawe the workers and to impose upon the intellectuals, as the leading system of thought by which the reactionary spiritual powers are beaten, Thus the fighting working class, basing itself upon Marxism, will find Lenin’s philosophical work a stumbling-block in its way, as the theory of a class that tries to perpetuate its serfdom.
ajjohnstone
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Jul 5 2018 02:31

"SPGB, Autonomist and Left-Com responses all welcome."

I'm scared of complicated words like dialectics and without being simplistic the SPGB has a easy-to-read pamphlet all about what causes change.

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlets/historical-materialism

But from our A-Z

Dialectic. For Socrates, it was teasing out the threads of an argument by asking questions. In Hegel's philosophy, it was the development of the idea through history. With Marx and Engels, however, there is some dispute as to what their version of the dialectic means, or even if they were both talking about the same thing. This apparent confusion is compounded by Plekhanov's term ‘dialectical materialism’, a phrase not used by Marx or Engels, yet this was designated the official philosophy of state capitalist Russia in the years after the Bolshevik revolution.

For Marx, it seems that his dialectic has two main features. Firstly, it is a philosophy of internal relations. Capitalism is a system constituted by its social relations of production, and a change to one relationship will have consequences for the whole system. This philosophical viewpoint tries to understand that process. Secondly, it is a method of abstraction. The key social relationships of capitalism (e.g. value, commodity, class) depend upon, but are not reducible to, material objects. They can only be comprehended as abstractions but they are nonetheless real and can affect our lives profoundly when they mean that profit-making takes priority over human needs. According to Bertell Ollman:

‘Dialectics is not a rock-ribbed triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis that serves as an all-purpose explanation; nor does it provide a formula that enables us to prove or predict anything; nor is it the motor force of history. The dialectic, as such, explains nothing, proves nothing, predicts nothing, and causes nothing to happen. Rather, dialectics is a way of thinking that brings into focus the full range of changes and interactions that occur in the world.’

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Khawaga
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Jul 5 2018 17:05

That's a pretty good explanation you posted aajohnstone. I like Ollman's book on the dialectic (Dance of the Dialectic) andwhat you quote really cuts through the mystical bs of diamat as the official religion of M-L. If anyone ever tries to trump an argument saying it's "undialectical", you know they are believers in the dialectic rather than just understanding it's a method of presenting the messy interactions and relationships of social life.

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Jul 5 2018 17:48
LeninistGirl wrote:
I've always wondered where the idea that leninism means a vanguard of intellectuals that commits coups separate from the working class, something I've seen from a lot of councilists, came from,

By quoting the very last paragraph of that book (also hosted on libcom), I take it that you read whole thing? Do you find it to be an unsatisfying analysis of Lenin's own views?

Vlad The Inhaler wrote:
I don't want to reject Marxism if there's something to save but I'm reaching the point when it feels like there isn't.

I would recommend reading Michael Heinrich's short essay "Je ne suis pas marxiste" which "argues that Marx was not after a “Marxism” as an identity-defining “truth.” Rather, he was more interested in the critical business of undermining certainties". Other pieces written in similar vein include 'Between Marx, Marxism, and Marxisms - ways of reading Marx's theory' by Ingo Elbe, and 'Marx? Which Marx?' by Anders Ramsay.

Also written by Heinrich (but isn't tagged to him) is a piece titled 'Invaders from Marx: on the uses of Marxian theory, and the difficulties of a contemporary reading'. In this one, he writes the following:

Quote:
A serious reading of Marx must not only take the textual context seriously; preconceived judgments concerning Marxist theory, mediated by school, the media and dealings with “Marxists” must also be called into question – starting with “-ism.” Contrary to the widely circulated talk of a “Marxist system”, Marx not only brusquely declared himself to be no Marxist[1], in his “Notes on Wagner” he also contested the allegation that he had created a “socialist system.”

The small-mindedness and distortions of the Marxist system builders, especially of many “Marxist-Leninists,” were too blatant. Hence today there are hardly any Marxisms without an appendage: there are only “non-dogmatic”, “open”, “pluralistic” or other such Marxisms. But all of these nice attributes cannot cover up the fact that the construction of an “ism” demands a criterion for distinction, which must either be dogmatically set, or so vague and undefined that it no longer says anything.

Spikymike
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Jul 9 2018 20:03

The linked short review of this book is worth a read on it's own. See here;
https://libcom.org/library/behind-crisis-marxs-dialectics-value-knowledge-guglielmo-carchedi

Edit :just to link this with one of Vlad's other questions, I'd point out that whilst LBird might dismiss Carchedi's defence of 'dialectics' in his work the review I mention here does indicate Carchedi's distinctive view of 'science' as not being class neutral in opposition to the views of Engels, Lenin and Gramsci and in opposition to Engel's attempted basing of 'dialectics' in nature and arguments that favour the claimed 'inevitability' of socialism.

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spacious
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Jul 10 2018 13:02

Instead of only being a matter of presentation, I think it makes sense to see dialectics as a set of investigative views of the world, based on the notion of continual change. Metaphysical thought divides the world into categories that it thinks of as stable, self-identical essences, to be catalogued once and for all to describe the world. In contrary, dialectical thought in principle sees all phenomena as transient and containing opposites, or opposed forces, of which the phenomenon itself is only a temporary balance. This gives all phenomena (as parts) and the totality they make up a certain definite volatility, and a tendency to fall apart and to be superseded by new things, new unities as well as new opposites. Concepts and historical reality are seen as part of single, complex process of ongoing change.

I think there's a lot of wankery surrounding the term dialectics (not exclusively the result of the co-option of its terminology by state capitalism and its apologists) but this seems a fairly good starting point for investigating the world, social relations, the surpassing of capitalism, and so on.