Three Points on Dialectics

Dialectics must be approached as a difficult and yet both simple subject in covering. As Engels said in the Dialectics of Nature it is process that “any child can understand”,  but because of the dominant forces existence in today it is not something that people can grasp in dealing with the difficult nature of Marxist tomes. In a conversation with one of the writers of Maosoleum he described dialectics as a “lifelong struggle” that  “even Engels sometimes got it wrong, Marx less so. Dietzgen is the gold standard”. With this in mind what is dialectics and what makes it so hard?

The idea of dialectics spans at least 3,000 years to Taoism in China. But it is not limited to just China. The Ancient Greeks, Aztecs, Lakota and the Dogon people all had an understanding of dialectics as well. This form of philosophy became discarded for the most part due to the rise of Aristotelian Syllogism which Aristotle describes as such in this formula: “Classical reasoning assumes the principle of logical identity: A = A or A is not non-A”,  in layman terms it is a conclusion drawn from at least two premises. This mode of thinking is called formal logic.

Thomas Aquinas depicted in stained glass

The Roman Catholic philosopher Thomas Aquinas applied this formal logic to his “proof” of the existence of God in the Quinque Viae in which he puts forward five reasons that lead him to his conclusion. They are summarized as follows:

  1. Since everything that moves is moved by another nothing can move “by itself”, therefore there must exist an “Unmoved Mover”.
  2. The causes of the creation of the universe must have a “First Cause.”
  3. Since all things in the universe depend on other things for existence, there must exist at least one thing which is not dependent, therefore there must be a “Necessary Being”.
  4. Since all things can be compared and described in their degree of goodness there must exist something that is an “Absolutely Good Being”.
  5. The complex existence and process of nature implies that a “Great Designer” exists.

Syllogism has become the dominant way of thinking in the Western world being adopted and spread by the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval ages and down to this day. It is the manifestation of a rigid and dogmatic way of thinking not open to any change despite a changing world. It was not until the emergence of Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel who marked a return to dialectical thinking, albeit in an idealistic interpretation.  Later, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would come to save dialectics from this idealism. This is not to say that formal logic is not dominant in the bourgeois mode of thinking, because it is. Capitalism as the “end of history” is the manifestation of this rejection of dialectical change.

We can cover three basic points of dialectics:

  1. There exists contradiction in all things.
  2. Quantitative change leads to qualitative change.
  3. The negation of the negation.

The first point stresses that every single thing in existence is formed from opposing forces that keep it together. This is the “unity of opposites” as Hegel puts it. This can be shown through the existence of gravity which serves to hold the Earth around the Sun’s orbit, as well as all things on Earth to Earth’s atmosphere. There is no victory without defeat, there can be no poverty without wealth and there can be no proletariat without the bourgeoisie. In capitalist society the opposing forces are the proletariat and its allies and the bourgeoisie and its allies. In the Dictatorship of the Proletariat the roles of the proletariat and bourgeoisie are reversed. The proletariat itself comes to dominate society becoming the ruling class and the bourgeoisie becomes dispossessed and becomes the “oppressed” in a simplified way of speaking.

“The dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy form a unity of opposites. Democracy operates within the ranks of the people, while dictatorship is exercised over the enemies of the people; the unity of contradiction of these two aspects is the dictatorship of the proletariat. To rely on the masses of the people and to strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat are two sides of one and the same question. Proletarian democracy cannot, in any sense, be set absolutely against the dictatorship of the proletariat or confused with bourgeois democracy.”
The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is Dictatorship by the Masses” Peking Review Vol. 11, #44 November 1, 1968)

The second point of dialectics illustrates as Engels put it “quantitative change leads to qualitative change”. Let us take an ice cube to demonstrate this point. The more heat we apply to an ice cube on a stove melts it and turns it into water. If we apply more heat to this water it boils and turns into steam. Physicist Michio Kaku in his book Hyperspace describes this change through even more application of heat:

“Now continue to heat the steam to enormous temperatures. Eventually, the water molecules break up. The energy of the molecules exceeds the binding energy of the molecules, which are ripped apart into elemental hydrogen and oxygen gas. Now we continue to heat it past 3,000 degrees K, until the atoms of hydrogen and oxygen are ripped apart. The electrons are pulled from the nucleus, and we now have a plasma (an ionized gas), often called the fourth state of matter (after gases, liquids, and solids).”

At first the minor increases are unnoticeable until they reach a certain point. For example, the melting point of snow is at 32º F at which point it turns to water, with the boiling point of water at 212°F at which point it turns into steam. The boiling frog metaphor is a perfect example on the seemingly unnoticeable changes that occur until they reach a certain point. With this in mind anything from 200°F to 211°F in water is hot but apply just one more degree of heat and it will boil. Kaku goes on to describe the further application of heat until:

“Finally at a fabulous 1032 degrees K, gravity unites with the Grand Unified Theory force, and all the symmetries of the ten-dimensional superstring appear. We now have a gas of superstrings. At that point, so much energy will have gone into the pressure cooker that the geometry of space-time may very well begin to distort, and the dimensionality of space-time may change. The space around our kitchen may very well become unstable, a rip may form in the fabric of space, and a wormhole may appear in the kitchen. At this point, it may be advisable to leave the kitchen.”(Michio Kaku. Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, 1994, page 212)

The third principle of dialectics is the “negation of the negation”. Change in dialectics is moved through spirals not a circle. That is to say there is a progression of movement (evolution) that does not return to where exactly it started. History does not repeat itself. We are all changing constantly, there is never a stagnation in our experiences that do not change us from day to day. A child is born from two parents carrying the DNA of both yet is very different from either one, the same with this child’s siblings. Every millisecond in the life of a person is both a growth as well as a process of decay, we are never going to return to the point physiologically we were one day ago. When the French imperialists reacquired their colonies in Indochina from Japan they could never rule as they did before the war. There are certain revisionists who wish to “return” to the old days of the Soviet Union but given the context of its collapse and the implications of carrying out such a feat would be impossible applying the exact same conditions which lead to it’s formation. Although capitalism was restored in Russia it was not the same as pre-Soviet Russia. The “Negation of the Negation” and recognizing it’s importance in capitalist restoration is said by Mao Zedong:

“This kind of reversal is also possible in socialist countries. An example of this is Yugoslavia which has changed it’s nature and become revisionist, changing from a workers‟ and peasants‟ country to a country ruled by reactionary nationalist elements. In our country we must come to grasp, understand and study this problem really thoroughly…otherwise a country like ours can still move towards it’s opposite. Even to move towards it’s opposite would not matter too much because there would still be the negation of the negation, and afterwards we might move towards our opposite yet again.”

(Mao Zedong “Speech At The Tenth Plenum Of The Eighth Central Committee” Selected Works of Mao Tsetung Vol. 8)

These three principles manifest themselves in our movement. The “negation of the negation” and the “unity of opposites” in terms of social systems states that the social system which negates the negative (capitalism from feudalism and socialism from capitalism) will assume a positive factor but that overtime it will transform into it’s opposite as a new progressive force begins to challenge it, which shall be formed within this formerly progressive system. In other words as Capitalism overcomes Feudalism it is also forming the means which it too will be overcome: The proletariat. As Capitalism dismantles the feudal bondage in the countryside it enlarges the class of the proletariat and also creates a massive army of the unemployed. These are all formed as a process which brings any given nation and the world closer to socialist revolution.


One thought on “Three Points on Dialectics

  1. Reblogged this on maosoleum and commented:
    Interesting post from the Red Banner MLM blog – in particular, the observation of dialectics as historically accessible from non-European cultures and societies is a point not often made – and which contradicts definitively both the views that hold dialectics as “Eurocentric” and the Eurocentric views that speak of dialectics as uniquely European. Glad to see the emergence of more Maoist blogs willing to tackle this in North America.

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