Dialectics, class consciousness and the philosophy of praxis


02/07/2017 by socialistfight

a serious reply needed here.

International green socialist


I’ve been intending to embark on a project to clarify the meaning of the noun dialectic and the adjective dialectical for many years because I believe that for many in the movement, these words are either obscure or misunderstood. Understanding these terms properly, is in my view at the very heart of being able to fully grasp the works of Marx and his collaborator Engels without which we cannot properly call ourselves Marxists.

My premise is this: that in the one and three quarter centuries since Karl Marx began to publish his exceptional insights into the motion of human history and then proceeded to lay bare the laws of motion of capital, the roots of this exceptional breakthrough have largely remained metaphorically in the soil and in fact more soil has been shovelled over them obscuring them further.

These theories are not mine they are there to be rediscovered…

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7 thoughts on “Dialectics, class consciousness and the philosophy of praxis

  1. stephenrdiamond says:

    The beginning of this piece seemed promising. I agree that the dialectic is often referenced without being understood. But I think is the main intellectual barrier to understanding: the limitation to the original language of Hegel, the failure to explain the dialectic in contemporary language. All I find in this piece is the ususal stock Hegelian phrases, and the very trite argument limiting the dialectic to the human sciences. Well, if you can’t see the dialectic in simple processes in the physical sciences, how are you going to see them in society?

    To my understanding (which is likely only partial despite my giving considerable thought to the subject), the essence of the dialectic (as Lenin repeatedly said) is the “leap.” The existence of qualitative change based on a history of quantitative change. This is the only contention in discussion of the dialectic that I find in the least controversial. The rest is, as typically presented, banal. Of course, maybe some Marxists think the dialectic is a banality that nobody bothered to notice or explain before Hegel. The idea that matter changes, that events are complexly interrelated, or that change is sometimes very rapid. (This seems to have been Stephen J. Gould’s concept of the dialectic as punctuated equilibrium.)

    The existence of leaps, on the other hand, is a very contentious question. It is, you could say, the philosophical difference between revolutionists and reformists, although neither is always philosophically consistent. A true leap, a true discontinuity, is something that scientists are rightfully loathe to recognize because it is fraught with paradox. A liquid water molecule changes into an ice molecule *instantaneously*, and this can’t make sense to the nondialectician. At no time is the molecule “not water nor ice” and at no time is it both water and ice. How can that be. Quantum mechanics has only deepened the significance of qualitative leaps in science. We are told by physicists it is impossible to understand, but the paradoxes of the collapse of the wave function are dialectical. (This has led to the proliferation of a mechanical materialist interpretation of quantum mechanics, the outlandish “many worlds” theory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stephenrdiamond says:

      “scientists are rightfully loathe to recognize”

      Loathe is too strong. Better put: scientists rightfully resist imputing qualitative change. And I would go so far as to say that, in politics, the dominant error is not in failing to recognize qualitative change but in seeing it when it isn’t there. Trotsky invoked the dialectic in the discussion of the Russian question because the petty bourgeois opposition claimed that the Russian state had undergone a qualitative change where in fact the change was only quantitative.

      A good example of declaring a qualitative change at every sharp turn is the WSWS, where we have a new stage every other day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. igseditor says:

    This is all very nebulous. Marx gives us a further description in his Poverty of Philosophy (the critique of Proudhon’s Philosophy of poverty. This description is brilliantly put by Marx:

    “So what is this absolute method? The abstraction of movement. What is the abstraction of movement? Movement in abstract condition. What is movement in abstract condition? The purely logical formula of movement or the movement of pure reason. Wherein does the movement of pure reason consist? In posing itself, opposing itself, composing itself; in formulating itself as thesis, antithesis, synthesis; or, yet, in affirming itself, negating itself, and negating its negation.

    How does reason manage to affirm itself, to pose itself in a definite category? That is the business of reason itself and of its apologists.

    But once it has managed to pose itself as a thesis, this thesis, this thought, opposed to itself, splits up into two contradictory thoughts – the positive and the negative, the yes and no. The struggle between these two antagonistic elements comprised in the antithesis constitutes the dialectical movement. The yes becoming no, the no becoming yes, the yes becoming both yes and no, the no becoming both no and yes, the contraries balance, neutralize, paralyze each other. The fusion of these two contradictory thoughts constitutes a new thought, which is the synthesis of them. This thought splits up once again into two contradictory thoughts, which in turn fuse into a new synthesis. Of this travail is born a group of thoughts. This group of thoughts follows the same dialectic movement as the simple category, and has a contradictory group as antithesis. Of these two groups of thoughts is born a new group of thoughts, which is the antithesis of them”

    This is Marx’s explanation of Hegel’s dialectic, the one he abstracts from the Absolute spirit or the brain of Hegel the philosopher and places in the real living material brain of the real living matrerial subject. You see the dialectic in society because society is the composite of the real living social individual. This makes far more sense than any Engelsian empiricist hocus pocus of dialectics operation in stuff.


    • stephenrdiamond says:

      If I hear the phrase “real living” again, I think I’ll puke. What a substitute for actual thought!

      If anyone is interested in the scientific dialectic, let me suggest one short piece for further reading. Infinitesimals: Another argument against actual infinite sets ( http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/2013/01/192-infinitesimals-another-argument.html ) It isn’t expressly Marxist but frames what I think is the correct interpretation of the physical dialectic in modern terms. The dialectic is equivalent to the rejection of infinitesimal and actual infinite quantities. This shows exactly how the dialectic allows resolution of Zeno’s paradox and why the calculus alone fails to resolve it. This explanation was unavailable to Hegel and Marx because no one prior to Einstein understand how the universe could be finite.


  3. igseditor says:

    “Real living” is stressed in order to remind readers that thought is not just a the phenomena of material Brains but that these brains live in constant communication back and forth via the senses with the external environment. Also that this thinking brain is situated in a human subject with an actual life experience. If you want dialectics of infinitesimals then that’s fine by me but that in no way resembles the Hegelian dialectic from which Marx extracted the rational kernel.


  4. I am doing the serious reply. it is a big project, I am afraid.


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