Dialectical materialism vs Marx's original concepts

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sampath
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Oct 4 2012 10:07
Dialectical materialism vs Marx's original concepts

1.) I'm somewhat new to Marxsism, I heard Marx did not introduce the concept : "dialectical materialism" instead it introduced by Russian philosophers much later based on works basically done by Engels and Lenin. Can someone please explain Marx's impact on "dialectical materialism" ? Also can we consider DM as a miss-interpretation of Marx's concepts ?

2.) What are the current interpretations about DM by current Marxists philosophers ? I mean now whether the DM considered as a integral basis of Marxsism or considered as a extension ?

3.) Is there any difference among dialectic concept used by Marx and Hegal ?

Ogion
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Oct 4 2012 18:29

Not a problem. Here's probably the best and most concise summary on libcom as to what dialectic means in Marx's writings: http://libcom.org/forums/thought/dialectics-29072006?page=1#comment-4484.... As jura points, almost all of what Marxists talk about when it comes to "dialectical materialism" has nothing to do with Marx. I would private message him directly on here if you have any more questions, too, or he might just take a peek at this thread. smile

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georgestapleton
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Oct 5 2012 10:40
sampath wrote:
1.) I'm somewhat new to Marxsism, I heard Marx did not introduce the concept : "dialectical materialism" instead it introduced by Russian philosophers much later based on works basically done by Engels and Lenin. Can someone please explain Marx's impact on "dialectical materialism" ? Also can we consider DM as a miss-interpretation of Marx's concepts ?

Yeah the term 'Dialectical Materialism' was introduced by to Marxism by Plekhanov, (I think originally but putting in section headings to a Russian edition Engel's Socialism Scientific and Utopian). However, that doesn't mean that the dialectic isn't important for Marx. It is. If you want to read something on it Sayer's "Violence of Abstraction" is good and I understand Bertell Ollman's book is good to.

However, my advise is to ignore all of this and just read Marx. Understanding his 'dialectical method' independently of understanding him is pretty much impossible. So work on understanding Marx and then later have a look at the discussion of his methodology.

LBird
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Oct 5 2012 10:59
georgestapleton wrote:
Understanding his 'dialectical method' independently of understanding him is pretty much impossible.

It should be said, though, that some, me included, don't agree with george's view.

The discussion linked to by Ogion, above, makes that clearer.

georgestapleton wrote:
So work on understanding Marx and then later have a look at the discussion of his methodology.

So, surely it's not 'pretty much impossible' to independently understand Marx's 'dialectical method'? If he has a 'method', why can't it be understood as a method, and employed independently of Marx's own work?

This is a genuine question.

LBird
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Oct 5 2012 11:52
revol68 wrote:
the whole point of Marx's dialectical method is that is arises from the thing he is investigating.

Presumably, then, we could also state that 'the whole point of revol68's dialectical method is that it arises from the thing he is investigating.', or that 'the whole point of LBird's dialectical method is that it arises from the thing he is investigating.'.

This leaves us in a very 'individualist' position, doesn't it, about what constitutes a 'dialectical method? Perhaps you're aware, from the earlier thread linked to by Ogion, that I argued for a 'proletarian democratic' stance on dialectics.

revol68 wrote:
Talking about dialectics in the abstract is metaphysical guff.

So, you don't think a 'method' can be separated from the 'actual activity' of an individual? Does this mean you agree with georgestapleton, or do you have another position?

LBird
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Oct 5 2012 12:33
revol68 wrote:
Why are you talking about just individuals?

Because, in the context of trying to fathom whether there is a 'dialectical method', you mentioned an individual's name: ie. Marx. I merely asked whether this applies to all cases of 'dialectical method' (like yours or mine), or whether a 'dialectical method' can be understood outside of the particular individual (eg. Marx) using it.

revol68 wrote:
And I don't understand this "proletarian democratic" stance on dialectics, it sounds a bit odd...

Yeah, perhaps, but it was part of the discussion on the other thread, which if you're interested you can read and decide further if you think it has any merit.

revol68 wrote:
...I'm weary of any notion that theory should be "democratic", science and truths are not about consensus or majority positions...

For my part, I'm wary of any notion that 'science and truths' are outside of proletarian understanding and control (especially democratic control), because I think that leaves us open to the 'translation' of 'truth' by an elite for the uncomprehending mass. Stalinist 'diamat', perhaps?

In a Communist society, I'd prefer our classes' control of science and truth, rather than someone else's control (perhaps a party's).

revol68 wrote:
I also don't think it's that fruitful for me to even say "Marx's dialectic" as if it is his individual property divorced from the social relations he was investigating and existed within.

No, I agree. I'd rather identify a 'dialectic within social relations': hence 'proletarian dialectics'.

But that obviously can be separated from Marx's work in itself, even if he is an inspiration for it.

andy g
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Oct 5 2012 12:40

I think george was making the point that Marx never wrote a " treatise on method", despite his references to wishing to render what was rational in Hegelianism "comprehensible to the ordinary intelligence". As has been said many, many time before, that leaves anyone looking to understand Marx's method having to do so by piecing together his asides, parenthesis and sometimes plain ramblings on it in works on other subjects or, more importantly, observing it at work in the development and structure of the concepts developed in Capital.

that said I have a strong aversion to the word now, born of too many unthinking repetitions of it and far, far too many occasions where it is used to give crap positions an intellectual veneer.

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Railyon
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Oct 5 2012 12:55
georgestapleton wrote:
Yeah the term 'Dialectical Materialism' was introduced by to Marxism by Plekhanov, (I think originally but putting in section headings to a Russian edition Engel's Socialism Scientific and Utopian). However, that doesn't mean that the dialectic isn't important for Marx.

Then again, there is a distinction between dialectical materialism and the materialist dialectic. One is metaphysical rambling about the nature of matter and the other is a perfectly rational method of inquiry (or abstraction if you will)1 and 'ideal reflection' (I think that's what Marx called it)2. See how Capital starts with the commodity and unfolds from there.

  • 1. "Of course the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different forms of development, to trace out their inner connexion. Only after this work is done, can the actual movement be adequately described. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is ideally reflected as in a mirror, then it may appear as if we had before us a mere a priori construction."
  • 2. "My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought."

    Both quotes from the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital

Android
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Oct 5 2012 13:16
georgestapleton wrote:
Yeah the term 'Dialectical Materialism' was introduced by to Marxism by Plekhanov, (I think originally but putting in section headings to a Russian edition Engel's Socialism Scientific and Utopian). However, that doesn't mean that the dialectic isn't important for Marx. It is. If you want to read something on it Sayer's "Violence of Abstraction" is good and I understand Bertell Ollman's book is good to.

I am not sure about this. I know it is the conventional view from Clarke and others. But I remember reading a paper by Tony Burns which argued that the term was first used by J. Dietzgen and that the conceptions contained in his and Plekhanov's work were not equivalents. He makes the point if I remember correctly that it was not an accident that Pannekoek drew on Dietzgen given that at the time a lot of Marx's writings that are available today were not at that time.

And yeah, Sayer's work is good.

andy g
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Oct 5 2012 14:44

sorry if this is a derail but does anyone know much about Della Volpe? Seems he attempted to give a anti-Hegelian reading of Marx and a version of "the dialectic" that rejected a priorism and was consistent with empirical science. his Logic as a Positive Science is on my to read list but won't bother if it's naff

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jura
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Oct 5 2012 14:52

It should be interesting, especially as regards abstraction. Della Volpe was an influence on Lucio Colletti, who is one of my favorite marxists. He also seems to have influenced some of the early operaists. I've seen plenty of references to Della Volpe's books in various texts (even in some written in the Eastern bloc!) but never managed to get hold of one.

There's a chapter about Galvano Della Volpe in Martin Jay's Marxism and Totality which makes him sound interesting.

In other words, you should read it and report back to the libcom forums. smile

andy g
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Oct 5 2012 14:54

Aye, aye Sir!

mikus
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Oct 5 2012 20:23

Della Volpe is one of those people who sounds interesting (if only because of his influence on Colletti), and then when you try to read him you realize that he doesn't really make any sense at all. Stick to Colletti, he actually makes sense for the most part.

Ogion
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Oct 5 2012 21:21
Lbird wrote:
It should be said, though, that some, me included, don't agree with george's view.

The discussion linked to by Ogion, above, makes that clearer.

I agree with george's view, for what it's worth. I don't think there's really any way around it other than by looking at the few places where Marx discusses it and then trying to make sense of it by seeing how it’s applied, and that’s all that the writers of secondary literature have done. That’s why I think the secondary literature is indeed “secondary.” I think a lot of people here would agree that reading something about Marx’s theory has its limits compared to reading the actual thing.

And that’s why I’m aware that sampath still isn’t really going to understand what dialectic means in Marx’s writings, and still won’t get much out of it until reading Marx despite the link -- I only linked a very brief and incomplete summary on libcom to give him at least a little bit of an idea of what to expect since he’s new to Marx, and that’s all anyone on a forum like this can do besides giving the advice george gave.

andy g
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Oct 5 2012 21:35

cheers mikus - have glanced through the book and it does appear a bit "dense". lots of references to other philosophers I haven't read either..... may still give it a go when feeling particularly masochistic

Ogion
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Oct 5 2012 21:43
andy g wrote:
cheers mikus - have glanced through the book and it does appear a bit "dense". lots of references to other philosophers I haven't read either..... may still give it a go when feeling particularly masochistic

Heh, usually when I want to torture myself, I try to read Hegel, not his critics. I guess it's the master-slave dialectic kind of thing... groucho

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Railyon
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Oct 6 2012 00:48
jura wrote:
Lucio Colletti, who is one of my favorite marxists.

Guess being a good philosopher doesn't mean you can't just join the right-wingers later on in life, eh? wink

What would you recommend by Colletti, Marx and Hegel I presume? (If so I'd also appreciate pointers to scans, couldn't find this one)

S. Artesian
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Oct 6 2012 01:38
Ogion wrote:
andy g wrote:
cheers mikus - have glanced through the book and it does appear a bit "dense". lots of references to other philosophers I haven't read either..... may still give it a go when feeling particularly masochistic

Heh, usually when I want to torture myself, I try to read Hegel, not his critics. I guess it's the master-slave dialectic kind of thing... groucho

Word. Science of Logic brought me to tears first two times I read it. Then, for the third time, I imagined it as a Lenny Bruce monologue.... and no more tears!

andy g
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Oct 6 2012 06:25

have tried Hegel a few times over the years. never inhaled though....

usually ended up with headache or waking up to find face planted into desk and weighty tom e still propped open at page 4

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jura
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Oct 6 2012 07:43

Railyon, nope, haven't read Marxism and Hegel. I think his introduction to Marx's Early Writings is great, as are some of the essays in From Rousseau to Lenin.

LBird
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Oct 6 2012 07:55
Ogion wrote:
I agree with george's view, for what it's worth. I don't think there's really any way around it other than by looking at the few places where Marx discusses it and then trying to make sense of it by seeing how it’s applied…

‘it’? But if Marx discusses ‘it’, and we can wrestle with ‘it’ in its application, surely we need to identify just what ‘it’ is? Why can’t we extract a ‘method’ from its usage?

I find this kind of conversation very similar to any on ‘dialectics’ – people rave about ‘Marx’s method’ and ‘Marx’s dialectic’, but when asked to specify what either ‘method’ or ‘dialectic' (or, indeed ‘dialectical method’) actually means, an impenetrable fog of specialist vocabulary, arcane sources like Hegel, and incomprehensible secondary commentators are deployed by those who apparently do understand these mysteries, with the result that most workers (and even academics like Chomsky) end up none the wiser and give up trying to understand. This has been going on now for generations.

Ogion wrote:
And that’s why I’m aware that sampath still isn’t really going to understand what dialectic means in Marx’s writings…

They’re not the only one, by a long chalk!

Ogion wrote:
I only linked a very brief and incomplete summary on libcom to give him at least a little bit of an idea of what to expect since he’s new to Marx, and that’s all anyone on a forum like this can do besides giving the advice george gave.

Which was:

georgestapleton wrote:
However, my advise is to ignore all of this and just read Marx. Understanding his 'dialectical method' independently of understanding him is pretty much impossible.

Do we then call this the ‘biographical’ method of understanding? Seems very individualist and elitist for Communists to recommend this view.

Surely we can extract the ‘rational kernel’ from Marx’s method? And having extracted it, then discuss, criticize, amend and employ it for ourselves?

The alternative is that the ‘dialectical method’ remains esoteric knowledge, held as a possession within a priesthood. Bit like DiaMat, eh?

andy g
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Oct 6 2012 09:13

TBH don't recall anyone "raving" about "Marx's dialectic" or anything else for that matter. Nor do I recall anyone arguing that it is in principle impossible to offer opinions on Marx's method in Capital - after all, as you say, people have been doing so for decades. The reality is, though, that this is an abstract debate and involves difficult concepts and those concepts are bitterly contested. I guess that's where rev is coming from with the "metaphysical guff"

As I said, I am almost now of the opinion that we would be better of leaving "the dialectic" behind us as a minefield of obscurantism and historical baggage.

as for a priesthood guarding the secrets of the dialectic as a source of power - I don't see how anyone can characterize this thread or others here in that manner with a straight face

LBird
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Oct 6 2012 09:55
andy g wrote:
as for a priesthood guarding the secrets of the dialectic as a source of power - I don't see how anyone can characterize this thread or others here in that manner with a straight face

Well, you're entitled to your opinion, andy, but you know from other threads just how highly I rate your (often offensive, as can be seen from the tone of your post) opinions.

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Railyon
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Oct 6 2012 11:16
andy g wrote:
As I said, I am almost now of the opinion that we would be better of leaving "the dialectic" behind us as a minefield of obscurantism and historical baggage.

I don't know, I'd say this all depends on how one uses it.

Case in point would be Dieter Wolf's Der dialektische Widerspruch im Kapital ('The dialectic contradiction in Das Kapital'), the first pages are full of this "priesthood guarding the secrets of the dialectic as a source of power" as you say, highly abstract and it makes absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn't studied Hegel, but when the actual book starts on the importance of abstract labor in pre-capitalist societies, and the contradiction between use value and value, that's when the good stuff happens.

So it's not clear-cut. Though if your point is that we are better off leaving arguments about the dialectic aside, that's something I can agree with.

andy g
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Oct 6 2012 13:45
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So it's not clear-cut. Though if your point is that we are better off leaving arguments about the dialectic aside, that's something I can agree with

that's more where I'm coming from. As I said I've yet to come across many (any?) abstract expositions of "the dialectic" that are worth the effort taken reading them. actual analyses of stuff, be it critique of political economy, historical research etc I find much more enlightening.

LBird, knowing you don't hang off my every word breaks my heart. Truly. I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice your usual devices emerging, again. Emphasis on the "proletarian" character of your views, advocacy of what appear to be very definite ideas in unelaborated one-liners followed by endless permutations of the same question etc etc.

What exactly does a "proletarian dialectic within social relations" look like anyway?

Ogion
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Oct 6 2012 15:36
Railyon wrote:
Case in point would be Dieter Wolf's Der dialektische Widerspruch im Kapital ('The dialectic contradiction in Das Kapital'), the first pages are full of this "priesthood guarding the secrets of the dialectic as a source of power" as you say, highly abstract and it makes absolutely no sense to anyone who hasn't studied Hegel

I've been meaning to read this book, but you can't get a hold of it anywhere here and my German is still crappy. Do you mean in the beginning of the book he's trying too much to map Marx's categories onto Hegel?

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jura
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Oct 6 2012 16:09

Ogion, Wolf is doing exactly the opposite of what you are describing (and what people like Chris Arthur love doing!). He is very careful to distinguish Hegel's dialectic from Marx's, as well as different stages in the development of Marx's notion of dialectic (Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right as opposed to Capital). He's also very much against mistaking dialectical "contradictions" with logical ones (p ∧ ¬p). Briefly, a dialectical contradiction is for Wolf the relationship between two different, mutually excluding aspects or determinations of a unity (e.g., a commodity is the unity of use-value and value).

BTW, I promised to scan Wolf's book a few months ago. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to do that, but it's still on my to-do list.

LBird
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Oct 6 2012 18:04
andy g wrote:
LBird, knowing you don't hang off my every word breaks my heart. Truly. I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice your usual devices emerging, again.

'Usual devices'? That's what's known in my neck of the woods as 'critical thought', mate. Perhaps you're not familiar with that, comrade?

jura wrote:
Briefly, a dialectical contradiction is for Wolf the relationship between two different, mutually excluding aspects or determinations of a unity (e.g., a commodity is the unity of use-value and value).

jura, I know you'll think that I'm taking the piss, but truly I'm not. I don't understand what this means. I can't stress enough that I'm keen to comprehend, but it just doesn't 'click' with me. It seems to me that any other example that I try to give, of a 'mutually excluding aspect of a unity' will meet with you calling me a troublemaker or a troll.

Perhaps I can tentatively begin by asking 'what constitutes a unity?'. What is the definition of a 'unity', that any worker is able to employ?

andy g
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Oct 6 2012 18:14

do I really need to trawl through and link all the posts where your posts have followed the same pattern of evasion, misrepresentation, the tedious "I'm every worker, it's only me" themes and the like? hope not cos really can't be bothered...

I'm a worker too and I find your "talk down to me" tone quite patronising - AFAIK "any worker" can employ any definition they like.

still waiting on an explanation of "proletarian dialectic within social relations" BTW

RedHughs
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Oct 6 2012 20:01
revol68 wrote:
the whole point of Marx's dialectical method is that is arises from the thing he is investigating. Talking about dialectics in the abstract is metaphysical guff.

So how does this work?

It seems natural to assume that if you investigate something, you are using a method of investigation (well, normally). Surely can then another person analyzing your investigation can talk about the method you use and that would seem to be considering the method "in the abstract".

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Railyon
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Oct 6 2012 22:01
Ogion wrote:
I've been meaning to read this book, but you can't get a hold of it anywhere here and my German is still crappy. Do you mean in the beginning of the book he's trying too much to map Marx's categories onto Hegel?

As jura says, he's engaging authors who mistake Marx for Hegel, basically. And this deeper examination of who made what mistake and why is what makes the book kinda hard to read at times.

Then there are more general parts pertaining to marxian value theory (where the book really shines and you're like, woah now it all makes sense - I'd compare it to Rubin's Essays on Marx's Theory of Value, just with the dialectic of value at its focus), though in my opinion the book could have done without Wolf criticizing Hegelians and obscure philosophers, among others... though I guess it does serve its purposes. Still hard to digest though.

I wish this book would see an English translation... Angelus?!

jura wrote:
BTW, I promised to scan Wolf's book a few months ago. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to do that, but it's still on my to-do list.

This book makes it hard for me to overcome my bourgeois inhibitions of intellectual property. Since Wolf is still actually alive I kinda fear he'd kick my butt if I scanned that one, lol...