by Rosa Lichtenstein
No matter how deep, long-term or devastating the refutations history delivers, and despite the cogent arguments ranged against it in my Essays, the DM-faithful remain hopelessly mesmerised by their 'theory'.
Why is this? And why have revolutionaries of the stature of Engels, Lenin and Trotsky sold their radical souls to this conservative thought-form? [Marx was an exception; on this, see here and here.]
The historical origin of the philosophical system underlying DM is not in any doubt (a summary can be found here), and neither are the class origins of DM-classicists (like Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky). In that case, dialectics itself has impressive alien-class credentials.
It is important to note, however, that it is not being alleged here that the above comrades imported these alien ideas knowingly or duplicitously; it is being asserted that they did this honestly but unwittingly.
Honestly, because they genuinely thought that the movement needed a Philosophy; unwittingly, because the only theories on offer in their day were those that had already been compromised by ruling-class concepts and forms-of-thought (which these comrades failed to appreciate). [More on that below.]
This does not of course mean that only workers can be good socialists, but it does mean that we should be alert to the class-compromised origin of the ideas that DM-classicists brought with them into our movement -- before the working class could provide them with an effective materialist counter-weight.
Today, a hundred or more years later, there is no longer any excuse for continuing to import these ideas, since that counter-weight now exists.
However, this does help explain a rather curious anomaly: as the working-class daily grows bigger, the influence that Dialectical Marxism has on it dwindles ever faster.
Parallel to this, but not unrelated to it, our movement continues to splinter, and thus has decreasing influence on the class struggle. Moreover, the fact that workers ignore our movement en masse means that their counter-weight has no influence where it counts: on our ideas.
So Marxist Idealism lives on, as its theorists think of new ways to make such awkward facts disappear.
The lack of active socialist workers means that the unifying force of the class struggle by-passes the revolutionary movement, which, because it is dominated by petty-bourgeois individuals, does little other than fragment (for well-known social-psychological reasons; on this, see here).
Hence, the same social forces that compel workers to unite, drive professional revolutionaries in the opposite direction, and toward fragmentation.
A rather ironic 'dialectical' inversion in itself!
But, are these accusations enough to condemn DM? Clearly, not on their own.
DM is demonstrably flawed from end to end (as my Essays show); that fact alone is enough to condemn it. But, the dubious class-origin of both "materialist dialectics" and its originators explains why this theory has had such a deleterious effect on militant minds, rendering our movement all but impotent. It also helps account for the disastrous effect it has had on post 1920s Marxism.
But why do hard-headed revolutionaries cling to this lamentable theory like drunks do to lamp posts?
Marxists are aware that in defeat the tendency (even among revolutionaries) is to turn to mysticism both as a means of explanation and as a source of consolation. This was indeed one of the main reasons why Lenin wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.
Alas, Marxism has faced little other than defeat and set-back for most of its history.
However, the theory that played an important subjective role in engineering this catastrophic state of affairs also enables its adherents to ignore it.
This it does in at least two ways:
1) The NON[Negation of the Negation] informs believers that any and all retreats are only temporary; the onward march of Marxism is assured by the underlying logic of history. [We saw this surface in Excuse Four, above.]
2) DM-epistemology teaches that appearances contradict underlying "essences" -- i.e., how things appear to be is the opposite of the way they really are. This being so, what might seem to be (i.e., to the dialectically untrained eye) a series of defeats, is really part of the long-term success of Marxism --, or, perhaps, part of a run of successes about to begin, any day soon...
Hence, the theory that has helped engineer these set-backs also says that they have not really taken place, that they are other than they seem, or that they do not matter.
Anyone who doubts this should try telling any randomly-selected, dialectically-distracted comrade that Marxism is highly unsuccessful. Unless you are extraordinarily unlucky, you can expect to be subjected to some ludicrously tortured logic that will attempt to prove otherwise.
The latter will include a convoluted explanation as to why, when 99% of the working class ignores Marxism --, and has done so for many generations --, and all four Internationals have gone down the pan, and the vast majority of the former 'socialist' states have gone into reverse, and Marxist parties (especially the Trotskyist variety) everywhere are a by-word for splits and divisions (indeed they are a standing joke in this regard),2 and even though practically every communist party on the planet has embraced open reformism, meaning that we are now further away from establishing a Workers' State than the Bolsheviks were in 1921 --, that none of this matters, or has actually happened, or is really now happening, or is any part of the particular 'tradition' to which this sad soul belongs.
You see, the other "sects" are to blame; it's a failure of revolutionary "leadership" -- their failure, you understand, not ours.
Alternatively, the "objective circumstances" ploy will be dusted-off, and given another spin around the dialectical exercise yard.
Nevertheless, you will probably then be informed of the good news that the latest stunt, conference, intervention, split, or expulsion that the 'party' (to which this sad dreamer belongs) has just pulled off (or is about to stage) heralds the long-awaited turning-point for the international proletariat.2a
Without a hint of irony -- still less of embarrassment --, this comrade will pronounce such verities on behalf of at most 0.00001% of the working class (this being the entire membership of his or her tiny grouplet (formed largely of non-workers)), some of whom, anyway, are about to be expelled from this 'Worker's Party' --, probably for failing to 'understand' "materialist dialectics"!
And, as sure as eggs are not dialectical eggs, this comrade will fail to see the connection between such facts and such failures --, and give you a hard time for even thinking to question the sacred gospel.
Or, if you belong to another "sect", you can expect to be called a "bourgeois stooge", or worse.
Those familiar with Marxist/revolutionary papers will already know of their unsinkable optimism -- how almost all claim to be the only one that is "leading the class", and how Capitalism is once again entering its "final crisis" (it apparently having more lives than a lorry load of cats).
But, all that this will confirm is how unreasonable dialecticians can be, and how they are prepared to bend every rule in order to protect the semi-divine dialectic.
So, Dialectical Marxists cling to this 'theory' because without it their entire world-view would fall apart, and their sole source of consolation would disappear. In short, they are super-glued (crazy-glued) to dialectics for the same reason that religious folk cling on to their faith. [More on this here.]
That, of course, explains the mind-numbing, mantra-like repetitiveness of DM, the pathological fear of the "R" word ("Revisionism" -- which attitude conveniently forgets that no science is beyond revision), the sacred books, the appeal to 'orthodoxy', the heroic pictures of the dialectical saints carried on parades (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che, Kim Jong-il, etc., etc.), and the inexplicable adherence to the Stone Age Logic found in a thinly-disguised work of mystical theology that celebrates the goings-on of an invisible 'Being' (i.e., Hegel's 'Logic').
If this wasn't quite so serious, you'd laugh.
For more about Dialectics and why this theory should be dumped, visit Rosa Lichtenstein @nti-Dialectics for Absolute Beginners.