Friday, October 3, 2014

The First Law of Dialectics

A small group of revolutionaries stood, listening in on the discussion between Elizabeth and John. The striking warriors ignored them. They really didn't care about dialectics... at all.

John looked at the spectators, feeling pleased that most of them were ardent dialectical materialists. He had Elizabeth outnumbered and that made him feel confident. So long as the other activists were on his side, he knew that he was right.

John: The problem with you Liz is that you fail to see how dialectical materialism accurately explains reality.

Elizabeth: Reality now? Using it to fail to explain social conditions isn't enough for you?

John: Dialectics was read from reality and shown to apply to social conditions. You ought to know that by now.

Elizabeth: Please John, there is no reason to assume that any description of physical phenomena can explain social phenomenon. That would be like using Newton's first law of motion (that an object in motion stays in motion) to explain the advance of the working class.

John: Could you let me finish? If you would let me explain the three laws of dialectics, you would see, so long as your blinders are off, their truth.

Elizabeth: Fine, but I do have a proposal.

John: Yes?

Elizabeth: I think we ought to discuss each of these laws in turn-

John: Agreed.

Elizabeth: -so that you can keep track of my objections more easily.

John: ...Fine, whatever helps your ego.

John cleared his throat and began.

John: The first law of dialectical materialism is the transformation of quantity into quality. According to this law no change can occur without the addition or subtraction of matter or motion. As a system has an increase in either matter or motion, it reaches a nodal point and it suddenly changes. To make this clear, think about a glass of water. At the temperature changes, the motion in the water increases or decreases accordingly. At a certain temperature, the water changes in quality and becomes either ice or steam. What do you say to that Liz?

Elizabeth: I have a few problems with that law. First, I have a question. How do you define quality in that example?

John: I define quality the same way that Hegel does in his Logic. A quality is a property that, if changed, the object is changed.

Elizabeth: What essential property changed in the water?

John: I don't follow. It started as a liquid, but then it became either a solid or a gas.

Elizabeth: Let me make this clear for you, water is H2O. Agreed?

John: Agreed.

Elizabeth: Your Hegelian definition of quality is one that Hegel borrowed from Aristotle. According to your own understanding of quality, states of matter are accidental properties, they are not essential properties. Much in the same way that melted wax is still wax, water, ice and steam are all H2O.

John: How does that defeat the transformation of quantity into quality?

Elizabeth: Because by your own definition of quality, your example of water fails to count.

John: You just don't understand what quality means.

Elizabeth: Actually you don't. I was using your definition. Until you provide another definition of quality, then your example doesn't work.

After a moment of silence, Elizabeth went on.

Elizabeth: Another object I have is related to nodal points. How long is a nodal point?

John: What do you mean? A nodal point is sudden.

Elizabeth: Sudden compared to what? Glacial movement? Quantum events? How long it takes you to shit? You have given no length of time that a nodal point is supposed to last.

John: Its just sudden! You're being a pedantic ass.

Steve: Pedantic? She is asking you something that any scientist would be able to answer. Scientists define their terms in precise detail. If you want dialectical materialism to be anything but mystical bullshit, you have to act like a scientist.

John: Well I am not a scientist-

Steve: That much is clear.

John: -I am an activist. I will leave it to the scientists to define these things.

Elizabeth: Well since you gave up that point, then you have given up on a key feature of the transformation of quantity into quality. I didn't even have to point out how things like butter and iron melt smoothly and not suddenly, or that isomers differ in quality without any addition or subtraction of matter or motion. They are different simply because of their structure.

A Voice from the Crowd: You haven't proven anything Liz! Shut up!

Elizabeth: The insults have already started. A bit earlier than usual. Well, I propose we move onto the next law.

John: Sure, if you say so.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Did Marx use Dialectical Materialism?

Just outside of Seattle at the Boeing plant the strike was on. All seemed to be going well. The strikers were out enforce and had been joined by numerous revolutionary leftist groups. Newspapers were sold, conversations struck up with workers who were receptive and the rumor was that most of their demands would be conceded. Things couldn’t have been going more smoothly.

Elizabeth had just finished telling a striking worker about her organization. He had been receptive and had wanted information on when a meeting was next taking place so that he could sit in. She was in a good mood. It wouldn’t last.

From within the crowd a greying man came up to her.

Steve: Liz! They’re at it again.

Elizabeth: What?

Steve: John. He’s trying to recruit a worker using dialectics. The guy looks confused as fuck and John just keeps on blabbing.

Elizabeth: Again? Lead the way, enough is enough.

The two of them went off into the crowed. A short distance later they saw John holding a newspaper and talking to a very confused looking worker.

John: ...which is what we call the negation of the negation see.

Worker: I don’t know. It sounds kinda like you’re talking out of your ass.

Elizabeth: Well put. That nonsense does sound like he’s talking out of his ass.

John: Oh God.

Elizabeth: No, no it’s just me.

John: Liz can’t you see I’m trying to talk to this guy. Can’t you just go talk to someone else? I really don’t want to hear your bullshit today.

Elizabeth: Not while you keep talking that mystical gibberish.

John: That “mystical gibberish” as you call it is Marx’s science of dialectics! Seriously, I don’t know how you can be a Marxist and not accept the method that pervades his work.

Steve: And just because Marx said it you take it unquestioningly? Really, all of Marx’s theories can be derived from basic scientific method. No dialectics is required. If he bought that theory he was mistaken.

Elizabeth: Anyway, you have no reason to really believe that Marx accepted or used dialectical materialism.

John: Oh really? What about what Engels said? He claimed that Marx agreed with him.

Elizabeth: Sure, Engels claimed that. That doesn’t make him right. Perhaps you can tell me where it was that Marx outlined his method?

John: That’s easy. I’ll give you two places. The German Ideology and Das Kapital. That’s where you can find his method.

Elizabeth: That’s not right. In The German Ideology Marx set up historical materialism not dialectical materialism. I know that you know there is a difference. And he actually never mentions dialectical materialism in Kapital.

John: Even if he doesn’t explicitly say it, I know that Kapital has dialectical materialism as its undercurrent.

Elizabeth: Well then you had better take up your case with Marx because he seems to have a different opinion about his work.

John: What on earth do you mean?

Elizabeth: I mean in the afterword to the second edition of Kapital Marx laid out his method. Well, technically, he didn’t lay out his method, what he did was cite reviews whose views he endorsed. According to him his method is similar to the English economists. In fact, he goes on to quote a lengthy review of his method. Guess what it contains.

John: What?

Elizabeth: It contains an explanation of historical materialism. There is no mention of any dialectical concepts! It reads, in many ways, like the scientific works of Aristotle and the Scottish materialists. You would think that if it were oh so important that Marx would have mentioned it. Of course, he could be fucking with you.

John: Well I also know that afterward. He also says in it that his is a disciple of Hegel, the father of dialectics. And he calls that method the dialectical method!

Elizabeth: Maybe you should learn to read. First off, Marx calls that method the dialectical method like you say. That means that he accepts historical materialism without the mystical nonsense as his dialectical method. And second, Marx says that because people were treating Hegel as a dead dog he avowed himself a disciple of Hegel. That’s in the past tense. Further, he is pointing out that only because Hegel is being treated as a dead dog that he avowed himself a disciple. Marx was an iconoclast, he liked being contrary. He was messing with people. Anyway, if you read the whole quote he claims that he uses Hegel’s terminology to tease in Kapital, even in the chapter on value. He’s just fucking with everybody.

John: Well maybe you really ought to try to take Marx seriously.

Elizabeth: I am. You don’t.

John: What’s his method then?

Elizabeth: We already went into this. He is a historical materialist.

John: I don’t buy it.

Elizabeth: Well I’m not selling. I’m distributing based on need to the best of my ability.

John: Even if you don’t think that Marx held dialectical beliefs-

Elizabeth: Which he didn’t.

John: -you still can’t deny dialectics. I can prove them to you.

Elizabeth: Please do so. I’m soooo excited.