A Defence of the Relationship between the Marxist Dialectic and Revolutionary Practice


20/07/2017 by socialistfight

Reply to Joanne Telfer’s Dialectics, class consciousness and the philosophy of praxis

By Gerry Downing 20-7-17



This piece by Joanne [1] is fundamentally wrong because it denies that dialectics is a natural phenomenon. Her theory of praxis is philosophically idealist and non-revolutionary as a consequence and the work is shot through with dualism between subject and object. She says in her conclusion:

Hopefully, we’ve demystified the dialectic and the dialectical. Not laws of motion belonging to material science, there are no equivalent dialectics of nature. There are processes happening in human brains and because we are social animals, with the complexity of communication, also in human society (the hive brain). We are actually creatures of dialectical reason and with that conclusion, dialectics is demystified but must be added to our awareness and materialised.

But a quick skim through Trotsky’s Notebooks 1933-1935 yields this:

Hegel’s absolute idealism is directed against dualism-against the thing-in-itself of dualism, Isn’t the recognition of the reality of the external world outside a cognizing consciousness and independent of it a return to dualism? Not at all, for cognition is in no respect an independent principle for us, but a specialized part of the objective world. [2]


Although Trotsky’s views in ‘this passage seem quite precocious, they were not that unusual for Russian revolutionaries. For Bukharin, for example, recognition of the dialectical law of the transition from quantity into quality, a transition characterized by an interruption of a gradual evolutionary process and by a sudden leap to a new state of the phenomenon, was a token of a revolutionary, Marxian vision of nature and society: “Sudden leaps are often found in nature” and the notion that nature permits of no such violent alterations is merely a reflection of the fear of such shifts in society, i.e., of the fear of revolution. The contradictory nature of evolution, the question of cataclysmic changes, is one of the most essential theoretical questions.” [3]

Her dialectics are the ‘dialectics’ taken from her chosen advocates, György Lukács, Antonio Gramsci and Jean Paul Sartre, refugees from revolutionary practice all, Stalinist opponents of Trotsky and Trotskyism, the revolutionary Marxism of the 21st century. And Louis Althusser gets a favourable mention also, “Also of notable significance is Louis Althusser who defended orthodox Marxism by correctly raising the importance of the unity of subject and object.” Well, we might query just how orthodox it is to raise the unity of subject and object without raising as equally important their difference in contradictory conflict?  And all this under the guise of an anti-Stalinism which reveals itself as anti-communism as we shall see below.

Significantly in her 7,583-word analysis of the dialectic both Lenin and Trotsky get two passing mentions without serious treatment. The dialectic was developed by Marxism from the time of Marx, she says, “through Lenin and the Russian revolution, through the dark era of Stalinism, where much of this was lost or confined to the margins (apart from independent work by Lukács and Gramsci) until it resurfaces in French radical circles of the nineteen sixties”. If Lenin developed it we are left wondering how. Trotsky or Trotskyism has no place in this scenario as the aforementioned ‘Western Marxists’ stood head and shoulders above him and Lenin, apparently. See the commentary of the Permanent Revolution website of Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner on Trotsky’s Notebooks. [4] And the following extract shows his sophistication and anti-reductionist approach to the subject/object contradiction as understood by Marxism:

The identity of being and thinking according to H[egel] signifies the identity of objective and subjective logic, their ultimate congruence. Materialism accepts the correspondence of the subjective and objective, their unity, but not their identity, in other words, it does not liberate matter from its materiality, in order to keep only the logical framework of regularity, of which scientific thought (consciousness) is the expression. The doctrine of the teacher is taken up only in ready-made results, which are transformed into a pillow for lazy thought. [5]

Nonetheless, “Trotsky certainly had a firm grasp of the Marxist dialectic” we are pleased to learn but what his unique contribution was, like with Lenin, we are again left wondering apart from the implication that he agreed with Gramsci because they initially learned their Marxism from “Antonio Labriola (1843 – 1904) who was one of the first to coin the phrase “philosophy of praxis” and who also influenced Gramsci”. And so, Trotsky is tarred with the brush of the “philosophy of praxis” despite the fact, that, like Marx, Engels, and Lenin he never treated the word or the concept of a “philosophy of praxis” seriously at all. For instance, we might take the brief review by Fredric Jameson of the book The Philosophy of Praxis, Marx, Lukács and the Frankfurt School, by Andrew Feenberg to see just what kind of a ‘revolution’ the “philosophy of praxis is” concerned with:

The origins of “Western Marxism”: The early Marx called for the “realization of philosophy” through revolution. Revolution thus became a critical concept for Marxism, a view elaborated in the later praxis perspectives of Lukács and the Frankfurt School. These thinkers argue that fundamental philosophical problems are, in reality, social problems abstractly conceived. Originally published as Lukács, Marx and the Sources of Critical Theory, The Philosophy of Praxis traces the evolution of this argument in the writings of Marx, Lukács, Adorno and Marcuse. This reinterpretation of the philosophy of praxis shows its continuing relevance to contemporary discussions in Marxist political theory, continental philosophy and science and technology studies… “Feenberg’s subtle and wide-ranging study of Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness reaches forward to Marcuse and the Frankfurt School and backwards into Marx’s 1844 manuscripts. The book offers a whole new framework in which to grasp the history of Marxist theory, at the same time restoring Marcuse’s centrality in it.”

There is no place for Engels, let alone Lenin or Trotsky or the very real Russian Revolution in this schema, just a ‘revolution’ in the minds of the petty bourgeoisie, a ‘leap’ of …. the consciousness of their own ego. We aim to prove that, far from Marxism, the works of Lukács, Gramsci and Sartre and the “French radical circles of the nineteen sixties” were anti-Marxist subjectivists and idealists, to a greater or lesser extent, whose chief concern was their own ego and lifestyle and the forging of a ‘philosophical’ justification of the anti-social outlook of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia in general. And the father of their anti-Marxism was Martin Heidegger (‘the greatest philosopher of the 20th century’!), who developed phenomenology, the subjective idealism of Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche and his own teacher at Freiberg, Edmund Husserl, into a philosophical outlook which was completely compatible with that of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party – apart from Hitler’s anti-rural idyll love of technology, cities and modern industry – and justified all their actions, including the Holocaust.

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Cliff Slaughter

 Dialectics is the science of all movement and change

The great error in Joanne’s piece is not understanding that dialectics is the science of movement and change, how all things, including our own thoughts, move, how and why they change. Cliff Slaughter was quite right on this matter in 1962:

“Lenin very specifically says that the self-movement of things through the struggle of opposites is the science of dialectics. This is the logical consequence of the understanding that dialectics is the self-movement of reality, and of the concepts reflecting reality, and not an external logic which imposed its own distinctions and comparisons on reality. Dialectics is the theory of how reality sorts itself out, with growing human knowledge seen as the latest development of this reality, rather than a way of sorting out reality. Hegel is quoted by Lenin to this effect: “Thinking reason, however, sharpens, so to say, the blunt difference of diverse terms, the mere manifoldness of pictorial thinking, into essential difference, into opposition. Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction to they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity.” [6]

Absolutely central to that is the recognition of movement as a property of matter; there is no movement without matter, there is no matter without movement. Self-movement is a property of matter and does not require an outside force to set it in motion or to stop it; matter has always moved and it always will. The source of movement is the unity and conflict of opposites within every phenomenon, natural and human. Thought itself is a natural phenomenon, matter which thinks via the movement of micro electrical impulses between brain cells, not a mysterious process only understood as a gift from a god in the sky. [7]

All things are only at rest relative to one another; they appear so because they are moving at the same rate and in the same direction. Rest on the planet earth is relative whilst that planet is hurtling through space. Equilibrium in the class struggle and in human class consciousness is a dynamic equilibrium which inevitably will break to reveal its essence at certain points under certain circumstances. Accident, i.e. the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party in 2015, his re-election in 2016 and Labour’s consequent record-breaking surge in the 2017 general election, is how necessity reveals itself.

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And if we are not satisfied with how Marx and Engels dealt with this most essential of philosophical concepts for Marxism let Lenin speak on what he did contribute; On the Question of Dialectics:

The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation…”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

In mathematics: + and —. Differential and integral.
In mechanics: action and reaction.
In physics: positive and negative electricity.
In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms.
In social science: the class struggle.

The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self – movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” – movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics, there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry, the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute (the boldings are ours, the italics are Lenin’s). [8]

Joanne asserts dialectics is merely the laws of thought as developed by Hegel and ‘stood on their feet’ by Marx – i.e. he accepted the dialectical laws of Hegel but saw him as an objective idealist who understood the origins of thought in the ‘Absolute Idea’. Marx only accepted them as laws of thought alone, we are urged to believe. [9] But that revisionist Engels in his book The Dialects of Nature illegitimately extended this to the whole of nature. This book was written between 1878 and 1882, while Marx was still alive but not published until 1925 in Russian and German in the USSR. Because it was not published while Marx was still alive that was how Engels got away with it until Jean-Paul Sartre tumbled to the scoundrel in 1960 in his book Critique of Dialectical Reason and finally exposed the fraud for what he was, supposedly. It was true that the fraudster smuggled some of this stuff past Marx himself in his book Anti-Dühring published in 1878, five years before Marx died. Joanne explains:

“It’s important to note that this (Dialectics of Nature – GD) was not published during his lifetime and was unfinished but what Engels is clearly trying to do here is to take the Hegelian dialectical method and claim that this is the same process governing physical reality. It’s true that within natural science there are opposites, acid and base, metal and non-metal, prey and predator but not only do these opposites in the material world not behave dialectically, nothing useful can be obtained by attempting to apply dialectical logic to them. Jean Paul Sartre writes at length about this, remarking that even if there are some sort of dialectical laws at work in natural science, there is as yet very little information to back this up. Others including Lukács and Gramsci were aware that this was a mistake but significantly Engels’ manuscripts were discovered and published by Soviet researchers during the Stalinist era… This approach also appears in the section devoted to dialectics in Anti-Dühring …. Engels had ceased work on his dialectics of nature in order to write a polemic against Dühring at the request of Marx who was preoccupied with writing Capital. Clearly some of Engels’ postponed project crept into this polemic but whether or not Marx actually agreed with this approach to dialectics we may never know. Marx’s health by this time was failing and impeding his own progress”

It was a little more than some revisionist stuff that “crept into this polemic” which Marx was supposedly too ill or stupid to recognise. This was a division of labour, not only did Marx correspond with Engels on Anti-Dühring in several exchanges of letters but he edited the entire work and wrote Chapter 10: From Kritische Geschichte in Part II: Political Economy. And that stuff on dialectics was very specific; it is quite famous as part of the popular pamphlet Socialist, Utopian or Scientific, which every serious Marxist must study. And it was not the only piece. In fact, the entire work is permeated with this outlook which Joanne is attempting to make us believe the dullard Marx just failed to spot. Here is some of that stuff which is extraneous to Marxism, we must believe:

“When we consider and reflect upon nature at large or the history of mankind or our own intellectual activity, at first, we see the picture of an endless entanglement of relations and reactions in which nothing remains what, where and as it was, but everything moves, changes, comes into being and passes away. This primitive, naive but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away.

…To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. “His communication is ‘yea, yea; nay, nay’; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” [Matthew 5:37. — Ed.] For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.

…Nature is the proof of dialectics, and it must be said for modern science that it has furnished this proof with very rich materials increasing daily, and thus has shown that, in the last resort, nature works dialectically and not metaphysically. But the naturalists who have learned to think dialectically are few and far between, and this conflict of the results of discovery with preconceived modes of thinking explains the endless confusion now reigning in theoretical natural science, the despair of teachers as well as learners, of authors and readers alike.

An exact representation of the universe, of its evolution, of the development of mankind, and of the reflection of this evolution in the minds of men, can therefore only be obtained by the methods of dialectics with its constant regard to the innumerable actions and reactions of life and death, of progressive or retrogressive changes. And in this spirit the new German philosophy has worked. Kant began his career by resolving the stable solar system of Newton and its eternal duration, after the famous initial impulse had once been given, into the result of a historic process, the formation of the sun and all the planets out of a rotating nebulous mass. From this he at the same time drew the conclusion that, given this origin of the solar system, its future death followed of necessity. His theory half a century later was established mathematically by Laplace, and half a century after that the spectroscope proved the existence in space of such incandescent masses of gas in various stages of condensation.

And there is in Anti-Dühring, in the whole of Part I, the section on philosophy, chapters 3 to 8, which we must believe also escaped Marx’s attention: Chapter 5: Time and Space, Chapter 6: Cosmogony, Physics, Chemistry, Chapter 7: The Organic World, Chapter 8: The Organic World. (Conclusion). All that stuff is not about the human brain at all or at least not about the functioning of the brain as a separate thing from nature itself. Chapter 5 ends amusingly thus:

Herr Dühring admits that absolute identity cannot of itself effect the transition to change. Nor is there any means whereby absolute equilibrium can of itself pass into motion. … so long as present-day mechanics holds good — and this science, according to Herr Dühring, is one of the most essential levers for the formation of thought — it cannot be explained at all how it is possible to pass from immobility to motion. But the mechanical theory of heat shows us that the movement of masses under certain conditions changes into molecular movement (although here too one motion originates from another motion, but never from immobility); and this, Herr Dühring shyly suggests, may possibly furnish a bridge between the strictly static (in equilibrium) and dynamic (in motion). But these processes take place “somewhat in the dark”. And it is in the dark that Herr Dühring leaves us sitting.

This is the point we have reached with all his deepening and sharpening — that we have perpetually gone deeper into ever sharper nonsense, and finally land up where of necessity we had to land up — “in the dark”. But this does not abash Herr Dühring much. Right on the next page he has the effrontery to declare that he has “been able to provide a real content for the idea of self-equal stability directly from the behaviour of matter and the mechanical forces” {D. Ph. 82}.

And this man describes other people as “charlatans”!

Fortunately, in spite of all this helpless wandering and confusion “in the dark”, we are left with one consolation, and this is certainly edifying to the soul: “The mathematics of the inhabitants of other celestial bodies can rest on no other axioms than our own!”.

In a passage which attempts to rubbish the dialectical ideas of motion and change Joanne tells us:

“With the negation of the negation rendered controversial (a controversy which continues to this day) and the transformation between quantity and quality being merely an example of a dialectical relationship, what we are left with is the interpenetration of opposites, that we can wear around our neck in a Tao symbol. Stalin’s official dialectic and thus the official Soviet philosophy and the one handed down through the entire Third International is reduced to Heraclitian (Heraclitus circa 500 BC) philosophy “everything flows”.

Marx’s authentic dialectic becomes lost in this fog because he situates it not in the abstract fantasy of an Absolute spirit (as in Hegel) and not in the general motion of matter as in Engels but in the historical journey of living human subjects in tandem with their natural and constructed environment. To situate in in context and appreciate its real relevance we need to rediscover it within the concept of historical materialism where it really applies and in order to do this we must situate it within a philosophy of praxis.

Of course, all serious Marxist dialecticians defend the triad as set out by Engels:

It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed, they can be reduced in the main to three:

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;

The law of the interpenetration of opposites;

The law of the negation of the negation.

All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally, the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought. If we turn the thing round, then everything becomes simple, and the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday. [10]

Lenin regarded Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC) as a founder, with Plato, of dialectics, certainly not one whose study would cause “Marx’s authentic dialectic” to “becomes lost in this fog” as Joanne would have it. Here we see Lenin on Lassalle and Heraclitus in his Philosophical Notebooks in 1915:

Lassalle emphasises and rehashes the idea that Heraclitus not only recognises motion in everything, that his principle is motion or becoming (Werden), but that the whole point lies in understanding the processing identity of absolute (schlechthin) opposites” (p. 289 and many others); Lassalle, so to speak, hammers into the reader’s head the Hegelian thought that in abstract concepts (and in the system of them) the principle of motion cannot be expressed otherwise than as the principle of the identity of opposites. Motion and Werden, generally speaking, can be without repetition, without return to the point of departure, and then such motion would not be an “identity of opposites.” But astronomical and mechanical (terrestrial) motion, and the life of plants, animals and man—all this has hammered into the heads of mankind not merely the idea of motion, but motion precisely with a return to the point of departure, i.e., dialectical motion.

This is naïvely and delightfully expressed in the famous formula (or aphorism) of Heraclitus: “it is impossible to bathe twice in the same river”—actually, however (as had already been said by Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus), it cannot be done even once (for before the whole body has entered the water, the latter is already not the same as before).

And the words of Heraclitus: “The world was created by none of the Gods or men, but is eternally living fire and will always be so” (ibidem). [11]

But there was a good reason to repudiate Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on dialectics (and pretend the idiot Marx just didn’t understand), it seems. Joanne had already indicated where she was going with her dialectics above:

“Jean Paul Sartre writes at length about this, remarking that even if there are some sort of dialectical laws at work in natural science, there is as yet very little information to back this up. Others including Lukács and Gramsci were aware that this was a mistake but significantly Engels’ manuscripts were discovered and published by Soviet researchers during the Stalinist era”.

Well both the USSR and China published vast quantities of the unpublished words of Marx, Engels and Lenin together with cheap reprints of classis Marxist texts which educated whole generation of Marxists and marks them out as progressive social formations, despite their counter-revolutionary Stalinist leaderships. You go with Lukács, Gramsci and Jean-Paul Sartre, with a nod to Althuser and a distorted Karl Marx, Joanne, I’ll oppose them with the properly-understood works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

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Heidegger, the Father of Western Marxism

 And here we come to the genesis of truly modern “sixties French’ philosophy because Heidegger’s readings of Plato and Aristotle in his lectures of Winter 1924/1925 forged the modern existentialism so beloved of Sartre and his ilk. Hannah Arendt attended and here the early relationship between Zionism and Nazism began to blossom. By 1924 Heidegger was so thoroughly disgusted with capitalism itself, with modern technology which upset his idealistic, rural norms, that he sought a way out from this nightmare. The German imperialist state was humiliated, France had invaded the Ruhr coalfields the previous year because she could not pay the Versailles war reparations and hyperinflation had now ruined the entire German economy; middle class as well as working class. Coming from a right-wing Catholic petty bourgeois background the spectre of socialist revolution appalled him so he sought an individual escape in his own head from this situation by studying, and substantially distorting, classic Greek philosophers, Aristotle in particular. Thus, he developed his irrationalism and his nihilism.

That Zionist-Nazi relationship ideologically survived the war and Holocaust for Arendt and other Zionists. She wrote to Heidegger in 1958 in relation to her book, The Human Condition: “You will see that the book has no dedication. If things had ever worked out properly between us then I would have asked you if I could have dedicated the book to you. It grew right out of the first days in Marburg and so is in all respects indebted to you.” Marlin Heidegger called Hannah Arendt ‘the passion of his life’ despite his own well-documented Nazism and anti-Semitism, highlighted again by the release of his Black Notebooks in 2014. As we wrote in response to the editor of The Heidegger Review in 2014:

Steiner’s works in the WSWS of April and November 2000 supply a great deal more proof than this to leave the issue of Heidegger’s Nazism beyond doubt. But perhaps his defenders are correct and there is no connection between his politics, which developed from right wing Catholic populism to fascism, and his philosophy. These include the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre the structuralists, post-structuralist and deconstructionists, Claude Levi-Strauss, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. And the postmodernists Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. Not to mention his Jewish student lover Hannah Arendt. [12] [13]

Seyla Benhabib, in The Reluctant Modernism of Hannah Arendt shows us in the following analytic passage how it was possible for Heidegger to ignore the Holocaust and the slaughter of WWII, why Arendt agreed with him and assisted in developing the modern ideology of Zionism which ‘in the public realm’ and ‘private sphere’ justifies the brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the state of Israel:

The preceding chapters of this work have been concerned to analyse the existential roots of Arendt’s thought to document the ‘formative intellectual currents of her philosophy, namely the search for a political homeland for the Jewish people as well as, German “Existenz philosophy” of the 1920s, in particular the thought of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s readings of Plato and Aristotle in his lectures of 1924 and 1925 left indelible marks upon Arendt’s thinking, which she was all too ready to acknowledge. … Arendt views the social realm as a threat to both the private and the public realm. In order to provide for the needs of everyone, it must invade the private sphere, and because it makes biological needs a public matter, it corrupts the realm of free action: There is no longer a realm free from necessity).

… Without a doubt, and however one interprets it, Heidegger’s neglect of crucial features of Aristotle’s teaching of ethics and politics was a meaningful omission, and one that did not escape the notice of his best students such as Hannah Arendt and Herbert Marcuse, who, each in his or her own way, went on to revive the missing concept of “praxis”. Whereas Arendt re-read Aristotle so as to reveal the ontological features of ethical and political action, thus gaining access to the notion of a “web” of human affairs” Marcuse read Aristotle’s concept of praxis in Marxian terms as world-constitutive and historical labouring activity. If one way to judge a philosophical doctrine or interpretation in retrospect is the depth of readings and creative misreadings it can give rise to, then there is little question that Heidegger’s phenomenological appropriation of Aristotle remains one of the most significant chapters in the history of twentieth-century philosophy.

So here we have the two conceptions of ‘praxis’ contrasted, Arendt’s subjective, individualist concerns with self, invading her ‘private sphere’, the ‘biological’ needs of the poor not to starve to death is now a ‘public matter’ i.e. the welfare state feeds them, and this ‘corrupts the realm of free action’ of the capitalists and wealthy professionals by taxing them to feed the Untermensch. And Marcuse, despite and his political limitations, recognised revolutionary Marxism and activity as the real ‘praxis’ that we must assert and practice.

Heidegger stands in a line of a long list of anti-Marxist, anti-working class philosophical idealists. These anti-materialist reactionary philosophers include Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Schelling, Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche [14], Søren Kierkegaard and later disciples of Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. These emerged as a reaction not only by the adherents of the ancient regimes but also by the rising bourgeoisie after the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, the ‘springtime of peoples’. 1848 bore an explicitly working-class content; an uprising of the unemployed of Paris in particular. The ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity of the French Revolution had set in motion these forces via the Radical Enlightenment thinkers and doers, Baruch Spinoza [15], Thomas Paine, Gracchus Babeuf [16], etc. The notion of freedom was redefined subjectively by the nihilists as an inner state that can be maintained despite the vicissitudes of political life. This was combined with a deep pessimism toward the ability of human agents to create a more humane society. The name of Arthur Schopenhauer will forever be linked to this strand of subjective idealism. [17]

Heidegger joined the Nazis in 1933 and never left it until it was dissolved in 1945 after the death of Hitler and the surrender of Germany. He made many pro-Nazi speeches like this address to 600 unemployed workers drafted into the ‘National Socialist Labour Service’, i.e. slave labour work camps, in January 1934: “This will… must be our innermost certainty and never-faltering faith. For in what this will wills, we are only following the towering will of our Führer. To be his loyal followers means: to will that the German people shall find again, as a people of labour, its organic unity, its simple dignity, and its true strength; and that, as a state of labour, it shall secure for itself permanence and greatness. To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer Adolf Hitler-a three-fold ‘Sieg Heil!” And “The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law.” He never apologised for his Nazism and never denounced the Holocaust. The de-Nazification hearings at Freiburg University in 1945 found that he “made an essential contribution to the legitimation of this revolution in the eyes of educated Germans.” And that was his view of ‘freedom’; he was banned from teaching at the third level until 1951.

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György Lukács, the Mother of Western Marxism

 Lukács is portrayed in certain circles as a left-wing alternative to Stalinism, who, like Joanne and Sartre, was forced to deny to the dialectics of nature and repudiate the Stalinoid Engels to forge this alternative. Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism deals with Lukács in his well-titled chapter, György Lukács: reason in the service of dogma, pp. 253 to 307. On page 301 he recounts the contents of a letter to Alberto Carocci in 1962: “In principle, Stalin was right as against Trotsky, but Stalin himself subsequently pursued a Trotskyist policy instead of a Leninist one”. Whatever one makes of this gibberish Kolakowski correctly portrays Lukács as an abject apologist for Stalinism and all its crimes, for the suppression of internal party democracy and for despotism on the spurious claim that there were only two camps, the USSR and the West and he fully accepted Stalin’s self-serving argument that whoever criticised him must be in the pay of imperialism, never mind all that ‘objectively’ stuff, or acknowledging that they might be sincere opponents. There were no sincere opponents of Stalin, we all know. Of course, we repudiate Kolakowski’s anti-communist position that the politics and political practices of Lenin and Trotsky inevitable led to Stalin and Stalinism. We sharply differentiate the revolutionary violence of the revolution and Civil War with the counter-revolutionary violence of Stalinism, always used to maintain their own corrupt privileges and to curry favour with imperialism.

Kolakowski says that “although he (Lukács) thought Stalin wrong on many points he did not engage in opposition, not only because it was physically impossible to do so but because any opposition could easily have degenerated into support for Fascism. In short, Stalin might have made mistakes but, he, Lukács, was right not to oppose Stalinism.” (p.303) This is in line with his entire history of political cowardice. When Lenin criticised him in one of his essays in 1922 as a “purely verbal Marxist”, [18] he immediately recanted as he did again in 1924 when Zinoviev criticised him at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern.

In 1928 he attempted to influence events in Hungary in his Blum Theses in which he proposed the readoption of the Leninist formulation of the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry discarded by the April Theses, which was really an early expression of the class collaborating Popular Front. But 1928 was the year of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern where the lunatic third period policy of social fascism was adopted. Proposing any type of united front against Fascism was pure class treachery, according to Molotov at al. So, proposing class collaboration with the ‘democratic capitalists’ against the fascists was out of the question for the next six years. Lukács immediately recanted and explained that he did so to fight fascism more efficiently. So, the wrong policy that assisted in bringing Hitler to power could not be opposed. Of course, he never reassessed the Popular Front theory even after its disastrous results in France in 1936 and Spain in 1939.

Daniel Morley, writing in 2008 in In Defence of Marxism correctly assesses Lukács:

Unable to understand the objective course of events, and how this may lead to revolution, his subjectivist theory had to put its faith in the will of the subject – the Stalinist party. In History and Class Consciousness Lukács explicitly states that, according to his theory (and we must admit here that his logic is consistent with itself) the working class can never attain more than a ‘Trade Union consciousness’, and therefore needs the guiding hand of the revolutionary party, “It [the proletariat] cannot travel unaided.” (Lukács, op. cit. p.197). So much for the ‘identical-subject-object’ of the non-reified class-conscious proletariat! Lukács, while spending most of his time exaggerating the role of the class-conscious working class into some sort of all-seeing-eye, then in practice reduces its role to that of a passive, localised and historically short-sighted class.

The only way Lukács can unify this passive working class with his abstract ‘identical-subject-object’ is to assign the latter to the revolutionary party. Now we are beginning to see the political results of subjectivism in Marxism – arguing that dialectics cannot apply to nature, far from leading us away from the ‘dogmatic’ and ‘mechanically deterministic’ world of historical materialism, actually takes us right into the heart of Stalinist dogmatism. [19]

Lenin’s formulation in What is to be Done is:

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.

And Lenin later admitted that in this formulation he ‘bent the stick’. And all supporters of bureaucratic centralism like Lukács, all Stalinists and the majority of so-called Trotskyist groups who seek to substitute the party for the working class and do not attempt to operate dialectically by understanding the reciprocal relationship between the revolutionary party and the working class favour the original formulation and ignore Lenin’s self-correction.

 As we explained in In Defence of Trotskyism No. 3, Class Consciousness and the Revolutionary Party:

For Lenin in 1904 in What is to be Done the spontaneous element represents nothing more than consciousness in an embryonic form. The primitive strikes that resulted in the destruction of machinery in Russia up to the 1870s represented one level of revolt against authority; the systematic strike waves of the 1890s represented a higher level of consciousness that began to put forward various political demands, etc.

The problem with this is that we will find that in the earlier strike waves the workers were under the influence of certain political tendencies, perhaps only half formed but nonetheless present. In the later waves, the precursors of our friends the Economists and others were present. So, what might appear on the surface to be spontaneous, we would discover, was the result of (and produced) internal conflicts where a political vanguard urged the class forward against those who represented the bosses’ interests. Therefore, always the class consciousness of the workers developed as a conflict of opposites, with definite political trends fighting both the backwardness of the workers’ consciousness and the bosses.

All these political trends were both a part of the working class and an opposition to it at the same time. And the more backward they were the least influence the Marxist intellectuals had on them. The Economists themselves arose, Lenin explains because the police arrested all the older, educated Social Democrats and the youth who replaced them were not versed in the fundamentals of Marxism.

Lenin admits that in his controversial formulation he ‘bent the stick’ somewhat to strike blows against the Economists. The Economists were a political tendency within the Social Democrats at turn of the century. Most joined the Mensheviks in the split in the Social Democrats after the 1903 Second Congress. They believed the economic struggle of workers of itself would produce revolutionary consciousness. Trotsky also never agreed with Lenin’s formulation and pronounced it ‘biased’ and therefore ‘erroneous’. This is how Lenin put it:

The major difficulty with Lenin’s formulation is that it is schematic, one sided (‘biased’ as Trotsky said), that is it is undialectical. This does not mean he was totally wrong, just that he had stressed over much the ‘bringing in’ by the Social Democrats alone and directly equated the subjective desires of the masses for revolution with the intervention of the Social Democrats.

He conflated two levels or types of revolutionary consciousness, the subjective will of the masses to make revolution with Marxism – scientific socialism – a highly complex and developed discipline. The LRP (League for the Revolutionary Party, a USA group) continue to make exactly the same error, though from the opposite side. They have not understood at all his self-correction so they now allege that his opponents were totally correct – the working class is spontaneously revolutionary they badly asserted in 1985. Lenin says that the economists were claiming that the masses could spontaneously come to ‘social democratic’ consciousness of their own accord. The modern day ‘economists’ are usually less crude. Most state capitalist and anarchist groups and others claim that the working class will come to the understanding that the state needs to be violently overthrown by revolutionary action spontaneously of their own accord by more militancy on economic issues – (wrong] and that was all that was necessary and sufficient to lead a successful revolution (doubly wrong).

In the great revolutionary upheaval in Spain in 1936, it was surely the Anarcho-syndicalists, the centrist POUM, the left Socialists under Largo Caballero and even some of the Stalinists who prepared the masses for the great revolutionary upheaval. The genuine revolutionaries, Trotsky’s followers the Bolshevik-Leninists, were small in number. Nevertheless, there was far more of this type of elementary mass revolutionary consciousness in Spain in the late 1930s than in Russia in 1917.

If Lenin was correct in his 1902 formulation than 1905 should not have been possible. Likewise, Spain 1936 should have been impossible. Similarly, in Bolivia in 1952 and 1974 it was the POR, the Revolutionary Workers Party, self-declared Trotskyists who were by then obviously centrists, who had prepared the workers to go to the barricades, arms in hand, to fight the state forces. Did not the working class in South Africa approach this level understanding at a few points from the mid-1970s on? And who was mainly to ‘blame’ but the dreaded ANC and the South African Communist Party’?

As Lenin pointed out in What is to be Done:

The working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism; nevertheless, more widespread (and continuously and diversely revived) bourgeois ideology spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class to a still greater degree. [20]

Hungary is removing a statue of philosopher György (Georg) Lukács – He was Marxist and Jewish, Removing a statue of a philosopher? You may expect something like this to happen in Nazi Germany in the 1930s but not in Budapest in 2017. A couple of weeks ago the Budapest City Council decided that the statue of György Lukács (above) will be removed from a Budapest park in the 13th district. The renowned philosopher’s statue is currently in Szent István Park, a peaceful urban park in an area that once served as the International Ghetto where many Jews survived World War II in “protected houses.” It will be replaced by a statue of Saint Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state.

Brian Williams in Socialist Action on 10 February 2011, makes the following case against Lukács in his article, Lenin versus the early Lukács:

Unfortunately, however, Lukács collided with Stalin in this process. As he recalled in 1967: ‘In the debate in the Russian Party I agreed with Stalin about the necessity for socialism in one country, and this shows very clearly the start of a new epoch in my thought’ (Lukács, 1967, p.xxviii).

‘When I heard from a reliable source that Bela Kun was planning to expel me from the Party as a “Liquidator”, I gave up the struggle, as I was well aware of Kun’s prestige in the International, and I published a “self-criticism”. I was indeed firmly convinced that I was in the right but I also knew – for example, from the fate that had befallen Karl Korsch – that to be expelled from the Party meant that it would no longer be possible to participate actively in the struggle against Fascism. I wrote my self-criticism as an “entry ticket” to such activity’.

Not merely did this reveal a total lack of the human qualities that are needed to make a political leader – try telling a Left Oppositionist of the 1930s, dying in a labour camp, murdered by the GPU, or even merely struggling to produce a newspaper, that such a prospect of merely being expelled from the party was too much to ask anyone to bear – but it was political bankruptcy. The idea that the political line of an organisation is fundamentally wrong but that this can be compensated for by personally valuable work is, in the strictest scientific sense, a typical concept of petty-bourgeois individualist intellectualism. As to what Lukács really bought an ‘entry ticket’ to, this was well summed up in one of the obituaries following his death in 1971: ‘Lukács recanted… because a refusal – an act of resistance – would have resulted in his expulsion from the Comintern. If this were to happen… he could not join the “anti-fascist struggle”. What concrete insight! What brilliance! We are well acquainted with the Comintern’s brilliant record in the “anti-fascist” struggle. The string of its victories echoes with the hollow laughs of gravestones in the history of the proletariat – Germany, Spain, France’ (Rosemont, 1973).[21]


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Gramsci – Stalinist opponent of Leon Trotsky

Gramsci is an entirely overrated ‘Marxist’ whose central ideas were Stalinist and bureaucratic to the core. His Prison Notebooks were used by the Eurocommunists against the hold-out ‘Tankies’ in the 1970s and 1980s. The hold-out Stalinists were referred to as ‘Tankies’ by the Euros because they supported the Warsaw Pact perchance for invading wayward neighbouring communist states like Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Euros, the ‘Gramscians’, mainly in Italy, Spain and France but represented in Britain by Martin Jacques of Marxism Today, repudiated not only Stalinism but the aspiration to communism itself and even the organised working class. Most leading advocates went over to the defence of imperialism itself. But Gramsci is favoured by various leftists like John Rees of Counterfire and the Socialist Workers Party in general, who also lionise Lukács. Famously in 1960 Cliff Slaughter wrote a long pean to Gramsci. [22] [23] James Robertson, the leader of the Spartacist League, was very impressed by this article, but we hear that even though Gerry Healy opposed the elevation of Gramsci as a serious Marxist he welcomed the central message of the Slaughter piece. Because it described the role of the revolutionary party in a bureaucratic centralist manner and not in its essential dialectical relationship with the working class.

Gramsci’s prominence is due to the outcome of the 1926 Lyons Congress [24], the centre won almost all the votes in the absence of much of the left, who were unable to attend as a result of fascist controls and lack of Comintern support. Bordiga was not able to attend and Gramsci and Togliatti now took control as the direct agents of Stalin’s Comintern. The main purpose of the Lyons Conference was to defeat the left, Bordiga in particular, and to ‘Bolshevise’ the party, i.e. to reduce it to a mere mouthpiece of Stalin’s bureaucracy in the period of the United Opposition of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who fought Stalin’s disastrous policy on China; Chiang Kai-shek, the butcher of the Shanghai Soviet in 1927, was an honorary member of the Presidium of the Comintern on Stalin’s and Bukharin’s invite at that time.

The party now fell into in the hands of Gramsci and Togliatti by this unprincipled manoeuvre. Gramsci began producing the newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo from 1922 to 1924 when the ‘orthodox’ L’Unità, under Stalin’s control with Gramsci as editor, appeared. The left attempted to continue in opposition, mainly from abroad producing a newspaper called Bilan, which was a monthly theoretical bulletin. Trotsky attempted to cooperate with Bodega several times during this period but communication was very difficult.

The ‘Bolshevisation’ of the party was accomplished by the adoption of the document, The Construction of the Communist Party as a “Bolshevik” Party part of the Lyons Theses. Thesis 24 explains that, “The Italian workers have learnt from their experience (1919-20) that where the leadership of a Communist Party, built as the party of the working class and as the party of revolution, is missing, no victorious outcome of the struggle to overthrow the capitalist order is possible,” Thesis 25 explains, “The Communist Party needs complete ideological unity in order to be able at all moments to fulfil its function as leader of the working class. Ideological unity is an element of the Party’s strength and political capacity; it is indispensable, to make it into a Bolshevik Party.”

Of course, anyone who knows history the Bolshevik party in 1917 knows that if this rule applied there would have been no October Revolution. Lenin’s April Theses were opposed by the majority of the leadership and he continued his struggle against “complete ideological unity” of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev until he defeated them and won the argument for the second revolution.

So, we can see where all this is going; oppositions are not to be tolerated, the much-vaunted bureaucratic centralism so common in Stalinism and degenerate Trotskyism has triumphed. Thesis 25 goes on, “However, it did not find in the history of the Italian workers’ movement any vigorous or continuous current of Marxist thought that it could invoke.” In other words, you will have to get your Marxism from Uncle Joe because there is no one there to ask in Italy who has a theoretical thought in their heads.

Thesis 26 attacks the ‘rights’ and proclaims that; “The same pessimism and the same deviations lead to an incorrect interpretation of the nature and historical function of the social-democratic parties at the present time. They lead to forgetting that social-democracy, although it still to a great extent conserves its social base in the proletariat, must so far as its ideology and the political function it fulfils are concerned be considered, not as a right wing of the working-class movement, but as a left wing of the bourgeoisie, and as such must be unmasked in the eyes of the masses” (our emphasis). This foreshadows the ultra-left lunacy of the third period of social fascism but has not got that far yet.

But the main target of this section, Theses 27 and 28, is the left and Bordiga in particular who is named as the leader of an ultra-left tendency who is opposed to the party line. Of course, we are aware that there is a certain truth in this charge and Lenin held this view of Bordiga. But even if we accept that Bordiga had not altered his views, and Trotsky thought he had, the entire thrust of this is against the left in general who retained some critical theoretical independence. Because of the early illegalization of the Italian party since 1922 Stalinisation. i.e., ‘Bolshevisation’ had not progressed as far in Italy. The majority of the party were still subjective revolutionaries, albeit with some ultra-left tendencies. Stalin was a cynical centrist by 1926.

The Theses say:

Ultra-leftism was the official ideology of the Italian party in the first period of its existence. It is advocated by comrades who were among the founders of the party and made a very great contribution to its construction after Livorno. There are, therefore, factors which explain how this conception was for a long time deeply rooted in the majority of comrades. It was not so much critically evaluated by them in any thorough-going manner, as it was the consequence of a widespread state of mind. It is thus evident that the leftist danger must be seen as an immediate reality; as an obstacle not only to ideological unification and refinement, but to the party’s political development and the effectiveness of its activity. It must be combated as such, not just through propaganda, but through political action and, if necessary, through organizational measures.

So, some truth here is used to impose a Stalinist line of conformity. It is instructive to examine Gramsci’s line the 1926 situation as outlined in his letter to the Comintern, which Togliatti never delivered as related by Joe Cleffie in International Socialist Review:

Gramsci rose to be the head of the PCI and led the party in its difficult attempt to organise the underground in Fascist Italy. As a leader of an important section in the Comintern he often had to weigh in on issues affecting other sections including the Communist Party of the USSR. One instance of this that resulted in much controversy is a now famous 1926 letter written to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR in which he sided with the rising Stalinist bureaucracy against Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and other members of the Left Opposition (United Opposition, in fact, not the Left Opposition – GD) who were fighting for democratization of the CP and Russian society.

Gramsci saw this time as a precarious moment in the international Communist movement. He worried that a split in the Russian party would more than likely lead to splits in parties in most countries and would result in a catastrophic setback for the workers’ movement. Unity was of paramount importance. In his letter, he agreed that Trotsky was the main threat to this unity but differed with hard-liners on three main points.

One, he was for reintegrating the opposition, whom he regarded as good revolutionaries, not enemies. Two, he thought unity must be won by persuasion, not brute force. And three, he reminded everyone that “Comrades Zinoviev, Trotsky, and Kamenev have contributed powerfully to educating us for the revolution, at times they have corrected us very energetically and severely, they have been our teachers.” He called for a unity that “cannot be mechanical and forced, they must be loyal and expressed out of conviction, not those of an imprisoned or besieged enemy detachment.” [25]

So, no problem here with capitulation to bourgeois nationalism in China which led to such disastrous consequence. We must suppose Gramsci would have voted for Lenin’s expulsion from the party in 1917 because he did not follow the party line but had the brass neck to oppose, change the wrong line and lead the Russian Revolution.

But what happened to Gramsci’s partner in the 1926 coup that ousted Bordiga from the leadership of the PCI? Here is the story of how Togliatti, on Stalin’s instructions, betrayed the post-WWII revolutionary situation in Italy as recounted by Gerry Downing in Socialist Fight:

No less controversial than the Warsaw uprising is the Italian Resistance and the revolutionary potential of that movement. Its growth was spectacular and uncontrolled. It was only 4,000 strong in November 1943 when Mussolini fell but it had grown to 250,000 when the Nazi-backed Salò Republic was overthrown in April 1945 (Socialism and Nationalism pp.88-9). Most of northern Italy was then in the hands of the partisans, dominated by the Communist Party (PCI). But Churchill was determined that Italy would not ‘go communist’ and he found powerful allies – the ‘Communists’! In September 1943, the King and Badoglio (one of Mussolini’s Generals) fled to the south, proclaiming themselves the Royal Government, with Allied support. The CCLN, the council of the left parties in Rome, the PCI, PSI and Pd’A, ‘sought to deflect their ‘groups of armed men’ away from any notions of a class war against the backers of Mussolini and towards participation in a national ‘union sacrée’.

However, the CCLN refused to deal with the Royal Government and when Palmiro Togliatti broadcast from Moscow instruction that they ‘must collaborate with an expanded Badoglio government’ the Central Committee seriously considered replacing him as leader of the PCI. But when he returned to Italy on 1 April the deal was consummated, ‘it is the Communist Party, it is working class which must carry the defence of the interests of the nation’ he explained. In other words, we will hear no more talk of revolution. The expulsions and murders of opposition revolutionaries, mainly Bordegist, from the ranks of the PCI was a grisly business. In France the Communist Party, although it controlled the majority and most active part of the resistance, meekly accepted General de Gaulle’s instructions to disarm when much of the country, including self-liberated Paris, was controlled by armed militias. Communists joined governments in France, Italy, Austria, Finland, Belgium and Norway to defuse the anger of the working class at the collaborationist capitalists and to dissipate aspirations for revolutionary socialism. [26]


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The Praxis of Jean-Paul Sartre

Joanne further explains:

Following the death of Stalin in 1956, (1953, misplaced comma? – GD) an uprising in Hungary was brutally crushed. This in itself was a complex historical event that I’m not going to go into except to suggest that it sent shock waves through the third International and assisted in provoking intense discussion especially among the French left, inspiring Jean-Paul Sartre to write his Critique of Dialectical Reason. This is an intense and difficult work to read but it singles out Engels for particular criticism with regard to his Dialectics of Nature. Dialectics in my view (and I’ll elaborate on this in due course) do not belong in material science. Engels produced many excellent works but this was published posthumously from draft notes, first going into print in 1925.

So Jean-Paul, supported the Stalinist French CP but he was “anti-hierarchical and libertarian”, he said, and they didn’t like him. He turned tail after the 1956 invasion of Hungary. This rejection of Stalinism was not a renewal of Marxism in any way (the nonsensical “synthesis of existentialism [27] and Marxism”) but a rejection of communism and socialist revolution in general, just as Max Shachtman and James Burnham had used the invasion of Finland by Stalin in 1939 to abandon Marxism (albeit the genuine Trotskyist version, not the bogus Stalinist alternative), philosophically in the beginning by disowning dialectical materialism and then joining the camp of imperialism, Burnham almost immediately and Shachtman after a decade or so most infamously by defending the 1961 CIA-organised Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Sartre’s was the headlong flight of the petty bourgeois intellectuals from the problems of providing revolutionary leadership to the working class under fire from the anti-communist propaganda of the capitalist establishment and its defenders.

Up to 1956, Sartre was quite a faithful follower of the PCF but they were annoyed at him because of his existentialism; it was too explicitly a rejection of Marxism. This he learned from the fascist philosopher Martin Heidegger who managed to separate theory and practice to such an extent that he remained a Nazi even after the Holocaust. No problem there for Jean-Paul or indeed for the Zionist woman, Hannah Arendt, who was his lover before she had to flee for her life from the Nazis after 1933 (she was 19 and he 35, married with two children when the affair began). There was no defence of her, or of Husserl, his own teacher or any of the other Jews who lost their academic posts and fled the Nazis in those years. After the war, she resumed her relationship with the unrepentant Nazi.

After 1956 Sartre decided that the PCF was not his desired leadership for the French working class and after the 1968 revolutionary events he became a Maoist, an even more barbaric form of Stalinism with a more explicit form of peasant ideology, which managed, along with other heinous international betrayals of the world working class, to endorse Pinochet’s neo-fascist coup and subsequent mass execution of the leadership of the Chilean working class in 1973 because they were all ‘Soviet imperialists’ don’t you see. [28] At the end of his life he began calling himself an anarchist: “If one rereads all my books, one will realise that I have not changed profoundly and that I have always remained an anarchist.” Now, who would not take the philosophical meanderings of such an appallingly unstable individual seriously or rate his philosophical?

Ella Downing aptly summed up the relationship between Sartre and Marxism in her BA theses in 2008:

Sartre claims to have becomes a Marxist towards the end of his career, claiming in his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960) and Search for a Method (1962) that to have reconciled his Existentialism with Marxism. By considering Sartre’s early work, this essay deals with two basic problems which might contradict this statement. Firstly, his reasoning is not sufficiently Dialectical, rejecting the nothing of synthesis. Any attempt to reconcile his approach with either the Hegelian or Marxist Dialectic is therefore futile. Secondly, his depiction of ‘self’ and privileged position of the individual in his philosophy is arguably non-Materialist and therefore at odds with Marxism. We take Hegel as Marx’s major formative influence, and Heidegger as Sartre’s, arguably the students incompatible notions of ‘self’ and the individual originate in their masters’ competing philosophies. Finally, this essay hopes to show that Sartre’s early writing, whilst not being Marxist, has certain Marxist sympathies which pave the way for his eventual attempted conversion. [29]

Andy Blunden supplies us with and excellent analysis of the Critique of Dialectical Reason and the appalling consequences to which it leads. If Heidegger was the philosopher of Nazism then Sartre was the philosopher of Stalinism, justifying it as an objective necessity whilst feigning to oppose it:

The touchstone of this approach has to be Sartre’s analysis of the Russian Revolution. His conclusion does not rely on any contingency of the twentieth century, the isolation of the Revolution in backward Russia, the death of Lenin, the devastation of the War, the betrayals of social-democracy, the prematureness of the Revolution, the mistake of a dictatorship of the proletariat or any such thing. Sartre both justifies the Stalinist bureaucracy and the barbarism of the Purges, and deduces them as an ahistorical logical necessity.

“the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was an optimistic notion, constructed too hastily through misunderstanding the formal laws of dialectical Reason: there was once a time when it was too soon for such dictatorship in the USSR: the real dictatorship was that of a self-perpetuating group which, in the name of a delegation which the proletariat had not given it, exercised power over the bourgeois class which was in the process of being destroyed, over the peasant class and over the working class itself. From the point of view of the masses the sovereignty of this group was neither legitimate nor illegitimate: its practical legitimation was due to the fact that the sovereign constructed his own illegitimacy by his mistakes and crimes. This is the judgment of History. Today it is too late, and the problem which really arises is that of the gradual withering-away of the State in favour of broader and broader regroupments of other-directed serialities.

“And the reason why the dictatorship of the proletariat (as a real exercise of power through the totalisation of the working class) never occurred is that the very idea is absurd, being a bastard compromise between the active, sovereign group and passive seriality. Historical experience has shown quite undeniably that the first moment in the construction of socialist society — to consider it at the still abstract level of power — could only be the indissoluble aggregation of bureaucracy, of Terror and of the cult of personality. This first stage seems to be approaching its end, despite some terrible setbacks; and, in any case, wherever a new socialist regime is established today, the developing socialisation of half the world will produce this new revolution in a conjuncture and historical totalisation quite different from those which characterised the revolution of 1917. From our point of view, the impossibility of the proletariat exercising a dictatorship is formally proved by the fact that it is impossible for any form of group to constitute itself as a hyper-organism. Bureaucratic terror and the cult of personality are just another expression of the relation between the constituent dialectic and the constituted dialectic, that is to say, of the necessity that a common action as such (through the multiple differentiation of tasks) should practically reflect upon itself so as constantly to control and unify itself in the untranscendable form of an individual unit. It is true that Stalin was the Party and the State; or rather, that the Party and the State were Stalin. But his violence is an expression, in a specific process, of the violent contradiction between the two dialectics.” [p. 662, bold added] [30]

These extracts show a complete idealist and anti-Marxist contempt for the working class and its capacity to make revolution and build a communist future; it was not isolation, poverty caused by the failure of the revolution to spread but Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of the socialist revolution.

Finally, let us quote again Alex Steiner on Heidegger in the WSWS article in 2000:

Sartre and the French existentialists adopted from Heidegger the themes of loneliness and alienation as well as the corollary notion of a heroic and resolute voluntarism in the face of an absurd world. Fritsche maintains that whatever the merits of their own works, the existentialists misunderstood Heidegger. Fritsche’s argument for reading Heidegger as the philosopher of National Socialism is impossible to summarize here. It relies on a very sophisticated historical and philological analysis of the text of Being and Time. After reconstructing the actual content of Being and Time, Fritsche compares it with the writings of two other notorious right-wing authors who were contemporaries, namely Max Scheler and Adolf Hitler. Fritsche demonstrates that the political content of Being and Time and Mein Kampf are identical, notwithstanding the fact that the first book was written by a world-renowned philosopher and the second by a sociopath from the gutters of Vienna.

One of the myths Fritsche exposes is that Heidegger’s notion of authenticity bears some relationship to the traditional conception of individual freedom. Fritsche demonstrates that for Heidegger achieving “authenticity” means precisely the opposite of exercising freedom. Rather it means that one answers a “call” to live life according to one’s fate. The fate whose call one must answer has been preordained by forces that are outside the scope of the individual. Answering the call is therefore the very anti-thesis of any notion of freedom. In support of this thesis, Fritsche quotes the following passage from Being and Time:

“Dasein [Heidegger’s term for human being] can be reached by the blows of fate only because in the depths of its Being Dasein is fate in the sense we have described. Existing fatefully in the resoluteness which hands itself down, Dasein has been disclosed as Being-in-the-world both for the ‘fortunate’ circumstances which ‘comes its way’ and for the cruelty of accidents. Fate does not arise from the clashing together of events and circumstances. Even one who is irresolute gets driven about by these—more so than one who has chosen; and yet he can ‘have’ no fate.” [31]

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Gerry Healy and the Dialectic

It would not be right to finish this essay as a former member of the Workers Revolutionary Party under Gerry Healy without mentioning his influence, how this affected me and how I have sought to supersede that legacy. In Chapter 4 of the WRP Explosion I tackled that problem and quoted favourable from Dave Bruce’s A Charlatan is Exposed, August 1985 [32] on Healy’s book Studies in Dialectical Materialism:

Bruce systematically takes the first Chapter of ‘Studies’: ‘Subjective Idealism Today’ and demolishes it totally. Bruce claims on page one that: “The book is a fraud. The central tenet of the philosophy is a caricature of subjective idealism with all its vices and none of the virtues of honest philosophical debate. But this is not the point. We are not dealing with a wrong philosophy, an idealist outlook or even an eclectic mishmash. We face the degeneration of thought itself, right at the heart of Trotskyism”.

It is worth quoting some of this work at length in order to compare it with manifestations of the same method in WRP leaders before and since. He quotes from Healy’s ‘Studies’: “Dialectical Materialists get to know the world initially through a process of Cognition”.

He observes:

“Which is to say ‘Dialectical Materialists cognise the world initially through a process of cognition.’ How the rest of unfortunate mankind manages to avoid falling under the first bus to pass their door remains a mystery.

But it is more than a careless slip. If cognition is the province of the dialectical materialist alone, then the cult of infallibility is assured. We can pronounce on any subject we like and how are the rest of humanity – subjective Idealists to a man jack – to prove us wrong? Leadership is – in the last analysis – answerable to nobody. What criteria establish entry into the hallowed circle of the dialectical materialists? It certainly appears that education is inimical to thought. Take paragraph 3 page 14:

‘The most enthusiastic purveyors of such class filth are, of course, the upper and the lower middle class who are groomed for the job in those schools and universities that make the whole affair seem positively decent and respectable from the stand-point of their grubby individual needs’. Perhaps if bourgeois culture in any form has little to offer, then maybe the day to day experience of party work selects the chosen few?

“The very students who are resisting change, by either failing to respond to change or are, indeed, going into further retreat away from a desired change, must produce the knowledge of how change will be made out of their actual practice in resisting change” (Page 77) Studies’.

Engels’ enjoinder to develop the art of thinking in concepts and categories by studying the history of philosophy; Lenin’s insistence that Marx’s great work on dialectics was ‘Capital’ itself and his recommendation to study Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Mehring; Trotsky’s drawing attention to the importance of studying the first four congresses of the Comintern – none of these rates a mention. [33]


We feel we have accomplished out central task of defending the correct dialectical materialist approach of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, Marx’s agreement with this approach and Lenin and Trotsky’s development of that method. We exposed the “philosophy of praxis” as a non-Marxist approach of the pro-Stalinist and anti-Marxist ‘Marxists’, Lukács, Gramsci and Sartre. Their ‘praxis’ was not only cowardly politically but bureaucratic to the core and lacked all aspiration to revolutionary practice themselves, never seriously seeking to build a revolutionary leadership to take the working class to power. The distinction made in the philosophical idealist approach of Hannah Arendt to Aristotle via Heidegger and Herbert Marcuse’s approach to Aristotle who wrote, “in Marxian terms as world-constitutive and historical labouring activity”. Whatever our criticisms of Marcuse his approach was materialist and so essentially correct here.

On Gramsci the use Cliff Slaughter made of him in that 1960 article referred to above was undoubtedly a signal to Gerry Healy that he was now his ideologically lieutenant in reimposing the bureaucratic centralist regime Healy enjoyed before the 1956 glasnost regime he allowed in order to recruit from the crisis-ridden CPGB following Khrushchev’s secret speech and the suppression of the Hungarian revolution. Brian Behan, despite his political limitations and later degeneration, was nonetheless correct, the building of a rank and file opposition to the trade union bureaucracy was a vital necessity and the 1958 rank and file conference of 500 militants showed the possibility was there to challenge the trade union bureaucracy and their Stalinist supporters. The Sunday Times, no less, observed that 1958 conference was not the threat many employers feared because no follow-up meetings were planned and no structures formed to carry forward that work. It was just a recruiting exercise by Gerry Healy.

Lastly a comment on Trotsky’s Notebooks of 1933-1935 and a small and limited sop to Joanne. It is, of course, true that the development of dialectical materialism did not stop with Marx and Engels, or indeed with Lenin. With the latter, there was a development of the material conditions that put some flesh on the bones of the dialectics outlined correctly by its founders. The organised working class emerged as a mass force from the late 1880s and early 1890s, in Britain, the USA and in Europe in general. And in 1905 the emergence of the Soviets, the workers’ councils, showed the form that a nation and a world ruled by the working class would look like; direct democracy with instantly recallable delegates reflecting the revolution aspiration of the whole working class. That is the content of that marvellous 1915 piece by Lenin on Dialectics, from which we quoted above,

“the distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics, there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry, the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.”


Richard Day, in his essay, Between Hegel and Habermas: the political theory of Leon Trotsky, makes the following analysis and claim:

Trotsky considered evolutionary theory to be one-sided and ‘less concrete’ than dialectics because it failed to incorporate consciousness as a ‘specialised part of the objective world’. History could only be comprehended by recognising humanity’s imprint. As Trotsky declared, ‘the psyche, arising from matter, is “freed” from the determination of matter, so that it can independently – by its laws – influence matter’. Human consciousness always played ‘an autonomous, that is, within certain limits, an independent role in the life of the individual and the species’. If consciousness did not play such a role, then, said Trotsky, ‘it is unnecessary, useless; it is harmful because it is a superfluous complication – and what a complication!

For Trotsky, the distinguishing role of thought in history was its pursuit of ‘certain practical outcomes’. It was impossible to speak of historical causality without acknowledging teleology, or purpose, as ‘a partial aspect of the cause’. Determinism, as a theory of objective causality, denied the salience of human intervention. Pure materialism and objective determinism suggested the impossibility of political practice, whereas Trotsky believed it was precisely through political life that quantitative social change becomes qualitative. Human history did not happen; it was made. And politics grew out of economics for the purpose of reconstituting economic relations. ‘Living people’ used political institutions as superstructure ‘levers’ to impose their own subjective ends upon the objective world. Trotsky’s philosophical differences with the tradition stemming from Engels distinguished him clearly from the mainstream of Bolshevik thought. [34]

Although his summary of Trotsky’s approach is excellent we differ with Richard Day’s conclusion here. And the comparison between Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks and Trotsky’s Notebooks of 1933-1935 show a development and not a rejection of Marx, Engels and Lenin. This passage by Day describes exactly what Lenin was saying at the end of the extract quoted just above on the distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics. And the Cliff Slaughter quote repeated from 1962 above is correct:

Lenin very specifically says that the self-movement of things through the struggle of opposites is the science of dialectics. This is the logical consequence of the understanding that dialectics is the self-movement of reality, and of the concepts reflecting reality, and not an external logic which imposed its own distinctions and comparisons on reality. Dialectics is the theory of how reality sorts itself out, with growing human knowledge seen as the latest development of this reality, rather than a way of sorting out reality.


[1] Joanne Telfer, Dialectics, class consciousness and the philosophy of praxis, http://www.thepointhowever.org/index.php/the-big-idea/351-dialectics-class-consciousness-and-the-philosophy-of-praxis

[2] Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism, p.48

[3] Ibid, p.98

[4] See the commentary of the Permanent Revolution website of Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner on Trotsky’s Notebooks, 1933-1935: Writings on Lenin, Dialectics, and Evolutionism Foreshadowing, In Defense of Marxism, Trotsky’s Philosophical Notebooks: Trotsky’s Philosophical Notebooks is one of the most important discoveries to emerge out of the wealth of material included in the Trotsky archives at Harvard. They were accidentally discovered by Philip Pomper while he was embarked on a project for a book about Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. Pomper, a historian affiliated with Wesleyan University, had previously written several books on Russian revolutionary history. The Notebooks were translated and eventually published by Columbia University Press in 1986, with a lengthy introduction by Pomper and annotations in Russian by Yuri Felshtinsky. http://www.permanent-revolution.org/archives/trotsky_notebooks.pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cliff Slaughter, Labour Review: Lenin on Dialectics, An Introduction to The Philosophical Notebooks of Lenin Source: 1962, Labour Press: https://tinyurl.com/y96q9yzq

“[7] THE AWAKENING – Quantum Mechanics of the Human Brain and Consciousness: “The brain consists of about 1.3 kg. of grey matter which is made up of hundreds of billions of specialized cells known as neurons which have electrical properties akin to those of transistor circuits in computers. Like in transistor circuits these cells are interconnected and there are trillions of such neuron-neuron connections in the brain. Like in transistor circuits electrical signals are transmitted through neurons by unidirectional electrical pulses which are excited, modulated, or inhibited by pulses in other neurons, and passed on to other neurons.” https://endgametime.wordpress.com/the-awakening-quantum-mechanics-of-the-human-brain-and-consciousness/

[8] Lenin: On the Question of Dialectics, Collected Works, 4th Edition, Moscow, 1976, Volume 38, pp. 357-361, https://socialistfight.com/2017/07/11/lenin-on-the-question-of-dialectics/

[9] A Marx quote demonstrates that he did not separate object and subject as Joanne alleges. Marx-Engels Correspondence 1867, Marx To Engels, In Manchester, [London,] 22 June 1867. “You are quite right about Hofmann. Incidentally, you will see the conclusion to my Chapter III, where I outline the transformation of the master of a trade into a capitalist — as a result of purely quantitative changes — that in the text there I quote Hegel’s discovery of the law of the transformation of a merely quantitative change into a qualitative one as being attested by history and natural science alike [See Capital, Chapter XI].” (our bolding). http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/marx/works/1867/letters/67_06_22.htm

[10] Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, II. Dialectics, (The general nature of dialectics to be developed as the science of interconnections, in contrast to metaphysics.), https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch02.htm

[11] Lenin, Conspectus of Lassalle’s Book, The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus, Collected Works, 4th Edition, Moscow, 1976, Volume 38, pp. 337-353

[12] Alex Steiner, 3 April 2000, The Case of Martin Heidegger, Philosopher and Nazi, Part 1: The Record, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a03.html, Part 2 https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a04.html Part 3, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a05.html

[13] See, G. Downing, Heidegger the Nazi: Reply to John Minahane, https://socialistfight.com/2015/07/20/heidegger-the-nazi-reply-to-john-minahane/

[14] Alex Steiner, Heidegger, Part 3, here Nietzsche celebrates the defeat of the 1871 Paris Commune, the first occasion when the working class seized power and inspired workers everywhere; “that international hydra”: “The mood of the German petty bourgeois immediately following the defeat of the Paris Commune was captured in a letter written by Nietzsche: “Hope is possible again! Our German mission isn’t over yet! I’m in better spirit than ever, for not yet everything has capitulated to Franco-Jewish levelling and ‘elegance’, and to the greedy instincts of Jetztzeit (‘now-time’) …. Over and above the war between nations, that international hydra which suddenly raised its fearsome heads has alarmed us by heralding quite different battles to come.”


[15] See Why Socialist Fight is launching a series on Marxist philosophy; “That was Spinoza’s standpoint, a circumstance that seemingly gave Engels grounds for replying categorically and unambiguously to Plekhanov when he asked: ‘So in your opinion old Spinoza was right in saying that thought and extension were nothing but two attributes of one and the same substance?’ “Of course,” answered Engels, “old Spinoza was quite right”.’ https://socialistfight.com/2015/02/23/why-socialist-fight-is-launching-a-series-on-marxist-philosophy/

[16] Famous quotes by Babeuf, guillotined by the reactionary Napoleonic Directory with his comrade Darthé on 27 May 1797: “Society must be made to operate in such a way that it eradicates once and for all the desire of a man to become richer, or wiser, or more powerful than others.” And “The French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last.”

[17] From Alex Steiner, 5 April 2000, Part 3, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a05.html

[18] Lenin V, Kommunismus, 1920, p.165, ‘Its Marxism is purely verbal; its distinction between “defensive” and “offensive” tactics is artificial; it gives no concrete analysis of precise and definite historical situations; it takes no account of what is most essential’.

[19] Daniel Morley 26 February 2008, In Defence of Marxism, Georg Lukács, the ‘Dialectics of Nature’ and the ‘free creation of history’, http://www.marxist.com/georg-lukacs.htm

[20] In Defence of Trotskyism No. 3, Class Consciousness and the Revolutionary Party, https://socialistfight.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/in-defence-of-trotskyism-no-3.pdf

[21] Brian Williams, Socialist Action, 10 February 2011, Lenin versus the early Lukács, http://www.socialistaction.net/Theory/Marxist-Theory/Lenin-versus-the-early-Lukács.html

[22] Cliff Slaughter, From Labour Review, Vol.5 No.3, October-November 1960, pp.93-96 & 105-11, What is Revolutionary Leadership?, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/slaughter/1960/10/leadership.html

[23] Let it be recorded that it was Peter Fryer and not Cliff Slaughter who introduced Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks to the English-speaking world as Socialist Fight recorded in re-posting the International Communist League’s post with their foreword which observes: “Fryer stressed that dialectical materialism “is above all else a tool in the hands of the working class for use in refashioning society, and whoever blunts the keen edge of this tool, no matter how slightly, is doing a disservice to the working-class movement.” As Fryer indicates, he had to make use of the 1955 French edition of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks (a section of which first appeared in French in Cahiers de Lénine sur la dialectique de Hegel [Paris: Gallimard, 1938]), which had not yet been translated into English. Therefore, it was Fryer who introduced this seminal work to the English-speaking world. The complete edition of the Notebooks (Volume 38) came out in English only in 1961, prompting a series of three articles by Cliff Slaughter in Labour Review (Spring 1962, Summer 1962 and Winter 1962-63). Slaughter’s articles, which later appeared as a pamphlet titled “Lenin on Dialectics,” are inferior to Fryer’s earlier polemic. By then, Fryer was persona non grata. He had quit the Healy group in 1959 when it launched the Socialist Labour League (SLL), disgusted by the bullying of members and the lack of political debate.” https://socialistfight.com/2013/07/24/n-defense-of-dialectical-materialism-lenin-as-philosopher-by-peter-fryer-with-icl-foreword/

[24] Gramsci; Togliatti, The Italian Situation and the Tasks of the PCI, “The Lyons theses”, Lyons, January 1926, http://marxism.halkcephesi.net/Antonio%20Gramsci/1926/01/lyon_congress/lyon_thesis.htm

[25] Joe Cleffie, International Socialist Review, issue 98, The political development of Antonio Gramsci, http://isreview.org/issue/98/political-development-antonio-gramsci

[26] Gerry Downing, Trotskyite Economism? No, the methodology of Revolutionary Communism, A reply to Jack Conrad and the CPGB 30/11/2006, Weekly Worker Issue 651, https://socialistfight.com/2015/08/24/trotskyite-economism-no-the-methodology-of-revolutionary-communism/

[27] Victor Farias, Heidegger and Nazism, Temple University Press, 1989, p. 287, “Marx criticised previous philosophy, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it”. Existentialism is a conservative, idealistic ideology which is mainly concerned with the self and life styles and treats the social human being as an anathema. For them, philosophy is a justification of their desired way of life and therefore accepts the status quo of capitalist exploitation or, in extremist, accepts the horrors of capitalist war and even the Holocaust as long as it does not impinge on their way of life too much. Heidegger was so opposed to modern technology, which upset his idealistic, rural norms, that he proclaimed in his December 1949 Bremen lecture, “Das Ge-Stell” (the second lecture of a four-part series) that: “Agriculture is now a motorized food-industry—in essence, the same as the manufacturing of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of the countryside, the same as the production of the hydrogen bombs.

[28] See Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism, Vol. 3, The peasant Marxism of Mao Tse-tung, Pp 494-522.

[29] Ella Downing, May 2008, Sartre and Marxism, or How Jean-Paul Sartre tried and failed to become a Marxist, https://socialistfight.com/2017/07/15/sartre-and-marxism/

[30] Andy Blunden, 2005, Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, http://home.mira.net/~andy/works/sartre.htm

[31] Alex Steiner, Heidegger, Part 3, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/04/heid-a05.html

[32] Dave Bruce, A Charlatan Exposed, August 1985, A Reply G Healy’s Studies in Dialectical Materialism, https://socialistfight.com/2014/11/28/a-charlatan-exposed-a-reply-g-healys-studies-in-dialectical-materialism-david-bruce-august-1985/; And in Permanent Revolution, http://forum.permanent-revolution.org/2011/04/charlatan-exposed-reply-to-gerry-healys.html

[33] G Downing, 1990, WRP Explosion Chapter 4: Problems of Philosophy, https://socialistfight.com/2015/07/03/wrp-explosion-problems-of-philosophy/

[34] Richard Day, The Trotsky Reappraisal (Terry Brotherson and Paul Dukes [Editors]), Between Hegel and Habermas: the political theory of Leon Trotsky, pp. 131-132.

12 thoughts on “A Defence of the Relationship between the Marxist Dialectic and Revolutionary Practice

  1. igseditor says:

    Quotes from Trotsky’s notebooks.

    First quote: This doesn’t contradict my position. Trotsky says: “not at all for cognition is in no respect an independent principle for us, but a specialized part of the objective world”.

    No disagreement.

    Second quote: ““Sudden leaps are often found in nature and the notion that nature permits of no such violent alterations is merely a reflection of the fear of such shifts in society”.

    This is simply the wrong way round. Transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa is in the first place a conceptual one which uses boiling kettles and tectonic plate shifts as figurative examples. Marx’s commodity is at one and the same time a use value (quality) and an exchange value (quantity). This is it’s correct use and nature does not in practice simply add or subtract atomic components in order to build atoms or CH2 groups in order to build molecules.

    Yes I’ve chosen certain proponents of the philosophy of praxis, wary that some of these people would be denounced because they can be criticised in other areas but then that’s the ad hominem fallacy. The real question is whether praxis is important or not. Human beings do not just think but they act. A philosophy of praxis is clear in the early Marx, his Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts. These works were not accessible to Lenin, nor is there any evidence that they were ever read by Trotsky. They were certainly known to Althusser who dismissed them as Marx’s immature humanism.

    None of the article was in any way intended as a critique of either Lenin or Trotsky. The fact that little is said about either is that they cannot be expected to have things to say about works of Marx which were not published in their life time. As a matter of fact I would entirely agree with the quote from Trotsky’s notebooks . Especially here where he says: “The doctrine of the teacher is taken up only in ready-made results, which are transformed into a pillow for lazy thought”. This is what I’ve referred to as a priori knowledge in my article and it’s only through praxis (practical activity), experiential learning, struggle, that we gain knowledge independent of the ruling bourgeois ideology.

    What I am trying to get away from is the presentation of modern Marxism as a religion with its infallible prophets and re-situate the dialectic as Marx intended. I have few problems with Dialectics as described in Socialism Utopian and Scientific. Here Engels uses phrases such as “dialectics as the highest form of reasoning” and “this mode of thinking”. Where I’d disagree is on minor points such as “Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically”. This is amateur 19th century science from Engels. Of course nature doesn’t act metaphysically but it doesn’t act in accordance with laws extracted from Hegel”. Much of the natural world is governed by Darwinian natural selection, the world of Chemistry acts in accordance with the laws of Physics which obeys Relativity and Quantum mechanics. We can argue about this instead of about heresy!

    In Anti-Duhring I’ve highlighted the parts of a sentence I have problems with. But at this stage the difference between Marx and Engels is slight and subtle. The real gulf emerges with the posthumous publication of Dialectics of Nature from Engels’ notes and the job that Stalin did on the rich dialectic of Marx reducing it to the philosophy of Heraclitus.

    Most of the rest of your reply Gerry is an ad hominem on my sources which is entirely consistent with a quasi religious approach. I’m am not advocating in total the ideas of Sartre, Lukacs, Gramsci, and especially not the cynical spokesmen of the Frankfurt school.

    If you want to seriously reply to the points raised in my article then you need to deal with the crux of the matter: you need to prove that the 3 Engelsian laws, actually operate in material science and that practical activity, labour, experiential learning, struggle etc are only of marginal importance. That the Marxist dialectic is not situated at the point of contact between inner minds (the phenomena of material brains) and that part of nature which is situated outside of any particular human subject or group thereof.


    • nature does not in practice simply add or subtract atomic components in order to build atoms

      How do you suppose atoms were formed if not by assembling components? At the universe’s inception, subatomic particles are all that existed. The atomic theory is actually a dramatic confirmation of dialectic, in the instantaneous change of one element into another after the addition of a quantity of energy.

      Does true qualitative change occur in nature or not? Or do you consider the very question irrelevant?

      How does a physical dialectic make “praxis” irrelevant? Dialetical materialism instructs that we can only learn about the material world by acting on it – another dramatic prediction confirmed by quantum mechanics.

      If the manuscripts were so important, why didn’t Marx see that they get published? The attitude toward them of Marx and Engels suggest these documents represented an intermediate phase. Their stylistic obscurity (so beloved by academics) suggests Marx hadn’t crystallized his ideas.

      Engels, by the way, was well-versed in the sciences, not a promoter of “amateur science,” which is a deep slur on his character.

      Liked by 1 person

      • igseditor says:

        The elements are forged in stars Stephen by both random collision and radioactive decay, they’re not neatly constructed by adding particles until quantity turns into quality. These things are governed by fundamental forces and chance not some sort of metaphisical dialectical magic. And yes Engels was quite well versed in 19th century science.


      • stephenrdiamond says:

        Regardless of where they are forged, particles are conglomerated in accord with dialectics – that is, there are qualitative differences in the elements that result from quantitative differences in energy levels. Whether the construction is “neat” is utterly beside the point.

        You consider the possibility of qualitative change in nature “metaphysical.” Can you say why?


      • igseditor says:

        Stephen Diamond. If you want to conceptualise atomic physics as the dialectic of quantity into quality and vice versa then I have no objection to that but this conceptualisation doesn’t add anything to any understanding of atomic physics, whereas in politics the use of the dialectic throws a great deal more light on the problem than formal reason because human agents are decision makers that can be yes, no, yes and no, no and yes all at the same time, as well explained by Marx in his Poverty of Philosophy.


  2. K.s.radhakrishnan says:

    My book which has published by Amazon is a good book,a signature on ethics’.


  3. I know it is a long piece but there are many more substantial arguments in the text. In particular the line of philosophical thinkers who are anti-Marxist, anti-Trotskyists and anti-materialist. The most spurious claim is by Jean-Paul Sartre that he was unifying Existentialism and Marxism. Just simply a farcical endeavour which could not and did not work. I would refer you to Ella Downing’s essay on that which she wrote in 2008 posted on this website a few days ago.


    • igseditor says:

      That’s just ad hominem on sources Gerry. And a straw man. Where exactly am I promoting Sartre’s attempt at synthesising Existentialism and Marxism because I’ve done nothing of the kind.


  4. Joanne writes a piece called “Dialectics, class consciousness and the philosophy of praxis”, praxis being an amalgam of theory and practice. I insist that the practice referred to must be revolutionary practice or else that theory is neither revolutionary nor dialectical. I point out that all four practitioners mentioned by Joanne Telfer are counter-revolutionary Stalinists and political cowards to boot in their practice and that is “ad hominem” attacks because their practice has nothing to do with their theory or at least it is not the determining factor in how we judge them!

    And the two great revolutionary socialist giants of the 20th century, Lenin and Trotsky, who led the greatest revolution in human history and whose dialectical materialism was totally opposed to these four are only worth passing references with no political appreciation whatsoever.

    If we do succeed in making revolution we will have to deny the capitalists class the right to mobilise the state against us by whatever means necessary. Joanne understands. A left reformist political current is now rapidly advancing in Britain after it was devastated for long years by Thatcher and Blair. This is a welcome thing with which serious revolutionists should cooperate on a comradely basis.

    Joanne seems to be politically a revolutionist but philosophically a reformist.

    Here is the link to Ella’s piece on Sartre:



    • igseditor says:

      It’s amusing how scientific socialism (as practiced) is the only science where all reference sources have to be on the approved list, based on their whole life like some sort of Egyptian “”Weighing of the Heart” ritual.

      You can of course judge people by their deeds and perhaps should but if you quote from someone’s remarks on thermodynamics you don’t say well that’s all very eloquent but this person killed their next door neighbour and tortured stray dogs. Having a limited list of approved thinkers has far more in common with religion than science.

      Lenin and Trotsky by the way were exceptionally good in their application of dialectical reason but didn’t write to any great extent about exactly how the dialectic and practical activity were related, hence the early Marx and Lukacs were quoted and not them. If you think all praxis is revolutionary praxis then this suggests you think class consciousness emerges only at the start of a revolution which of course is absurd.


    • stephenrdiamond says:

      Joanne seems to be politically a revolutionist but philosophically a reformist.

      Frankly, Gerry, this comment amazes me. Is not the call for the security state to repress alleged terrorists reformist in the worst possible sense?

      I agree that it is significant that all the great Marxist revolutionaries were dialecticians, and the enemies of dialectics were often reformists. Significant but not central. Weak evidence, one might say, for dialectics. But to advance the study of dialectics further, the main thing that’s needed is study and argument concerning its relevance. (A project that isn’t furthered by telling Joanne that she’s politically revolutionary!)

      Dialectical materialism comes into its own most clearly perhaps in the analysis of the class nature of the workers states and former workers states. Socialist Fight has actually invoked dialectics explicitly in the analysis of the Chinese state. Roughly, you say it is a capitalist state because the character of a state is determined by whether its policies are directed toward strengthening capitalism or socialism. It would be instructive to look at how dialectics is involved in your analysis. Does a state necessarily have a clear policy on socialism versus capitalism? Why can’t its policies be deeply contradictory, even with respect to goals? (Stalin’s bureaucracy was in fact politically heterogeneous.)


  5. And via email from John Manahane:

    I’m not in Slovakia. I got out of it a month ago when it was 32 degrees every day, and I won’t be going back till mid-August. I’ve been some of the time in West Cork, today I’m going back down there.
    Once again you’re shooting from the hip at Heidegger. You say he justified the Holocaust. I don’t believe that people should be accused of justifying great massacres unless they at least identify the enemy group and demand or support ruthless measures against that group. There were plenty who did just that. When did Heidegger do anything of the kind?
    During his year of active membership of the Nazi Party he made no public anti-Semitic statements, despite being warned by Nazi bigwigs that he ought to, that anti-Semitism wasn’t optional. His famous Rector’s Speech in 1933 is about how Germans need a change in their souls, they need to reconnect with what was happening in ancient Greece 2,500 years ago. It’s a call to relate differently to living, or the universe… or however you understand Being. It doesn’t have a single word about Jews.
    If the Nazis had accepted Heidegger’s philosophical leadership, from your point of view it might have been the last word in Luddite or De Valeraite reaction, but there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust. But Heidegger was a hopeless failure as a Nazi, totally ineffectual. He contributed nothing to the movement and didn’t influence its course.
    You mention casually that Hitler was fascinated with technology and had no time for Heidegger’s “rural idyll”, as if this were a small point. It isn’t a small point, it’s crucial. A few years after the war Heidegger gave a lecture where he said that the monstrous abuse of the Earth by mechanised agriculture went in parallel with the mechanised mass murder of millions in the gas chambers. This is denounced all the time as tasteless and outrageous, and of course reactionary. It came as something of a shock to me too, because I grew up on a farm taking mechanisation for granted to some degree, i.e. I didn’t question tractors. Though I did hate it when the community-centred threshing machine was replaced by the inhuman, utterly antisocial combined harvester.
    Heidegger has a point, unfortunately. Modern technology first of all makes it practically possible to do the most frightful things. Then, because of modern man’s perverse relationship with technological power, it makes it possible to compartmentalise and specialise those horrors and largely hide them (as the Holocaust was hidden from the great majority of Germans), or sanitise and trivialise or otherwise falsify them (as with all the great bombing campaigns of the great bomber nation America).
    But I read your article with interest. In revenge, I enclose a current article of mine on the Gaelic Church, or reviewing a book on that.



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