Dialectics – what is it, what are examples of it?

KM

 

 

I learned from this philosophical discussion of dialectical materialism in 2004 when it was published at the lastsuperpower site, and thus reprint it now for readers’ consideration and comment.

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Question “The only experience that I have with dialectics is a horrible essay that I had to write at university about Mozart and Beethoven. I’ve never really understood what dialectics means, except that it’s a great word to use when pretending to be intellectual over a cup of coffee. Most other people don’t really seem to understand the concept either, but would prefer not to admit it. I know this as I regularly drop it into conversations and no one has pulled me up on it yet.. see emperor’s new clothes post!”

Dialectics – What is it, what are examples of it?

by Keza 2004

I mentioned in The relation between materialism and idealism topic that materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett doesn’t mention the word dialectics – so in reading Dennett I’ve been looking out for what language he uses when describing concepts that are dialectical.

I’ve found one instance – he uses words like paradoxical to describe the problem and then in detailing his solution says things like, “this is not paradoxical at all”

An example is that Mother Nature / Evolution has no foresight and yet has managed to create humans who have foresight.

• Re: progress and dialectics

Posted by keza at 2004-12-28

The best laid plans of mice and men…. if practically everything that we do results in something not intended then why do we plan, why do we struggle, why do we try to move the world in a certain direction?

When Engels wrote that consciously willed actions often result in quite unintended consequences I think he was disputing the Hegelian idea that history is “the gradual realisation of ideas”. His point was that what happens in history comes about not as a direct result of abstract ideas, wishes, intentions (and so on) but is governed by ‘inner laws’ – ie what is possible (and therefore real and rational) in a given epoch. Movements don’t arise just because someone comes up with a good or bad) idea and manages to convince lots of people to follow them. Movements for change arise out of material conditions – the possibility for change is present and that opportunity is seized. The ideology in which the movement is clothed is (somewhat) secondary.

“The distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production … and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic — in short, ideological — forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”

Marx: Contribution to the Critique of Political Philosophy (1859)

An example is the idea of “equality” in the bourgeois democratic revolution. The idea that “all men are created equal” stood in direct opposition to the feudal belief that all men are most definitely not created equal. The growth of capitalism made it not only possible but also necessary for the idea that rulers are made rather than born to take hold. Thus on a conscious level the motivation for bourgeois revolution was belief in ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’ but at a more fundamental level, the revolution was driven by the necessity to liberate the productive forces from the constraints of feudalism. That reason (or motivation) was only dimly appreciated however.

Friedrich Engels wrote in 1893 that:

“Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or seeming motive forces.

I don’t think this means that bourgeois revolutionaries didn’t really believe in liberty, equality, fraternity – or that the battles they fought weren’t really for these things. We all know (except perhaps for the pseudo left) that as a result of the democratic revolution we have freedoms and rights that were hardly even dreamed of previously. However the ideas themselves weren’t the driving force – these ideas could only take hold because the material conditions were crying out for them (so to speak).

I think what bothers a lot of people is the feeling that perhaps this means that what they as individuals actually do doesn’t really matter – that somehow we are all carried along by a tide of “underlying forces” , that we are seized by ideas rather than seizing them ourselves etc etc. Engels refuted this when he said “freedom is the recognition of necessity” (Anti Duhring?) … once we come to understand “how things work” – “the rules of the game” then we do have a real chance of using our understanding to influence the course of history. Engels’ Letter to Franz Mehring in Berlin is interesting in this respect.”

He starts by pointing out that both he and Marx tended to neglect the role of ideas/ consciousness in bringing about change…

“Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. That is to say, we all laid, and were bound to lay, the main emphasis, in the first place, on the derivation of political, juridical and other ideological notions, and of actions arising through the medium of these notions, from basic economic facts. But in so doing we neglected the formal side – the ways and means by which these notions, etc., come about – for the sake of the content. This has given our adversaries a welcome opportunity for misunderstandings and distortions…..”

and later:

“Hanging together with this is the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent historical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction. These gentlemen often almost deliberately forget that once an historic element has been brought into the world by other, ultimately economic causes, it reacts, can react on its environment and even on the causes that have given rise to it.”

No time to write any more now!! I’ll finish with a quote I quite like though:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living…. “
(Marx: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napolean)

end Keza

Posted by kerrb at 2004-12-19 01:54 AM

More about the usefulness of dialectics, being a bit more specific about it than in my previous reply to sally.

1) socialist / not socialist dialectic

A few years ago (maybe 20) I went to a debate where someone from the pro-Soviet so called communist party was arguing that the Soviet Union was still a socialist country. This person was so wrapped up in the details and scope of his argument that I could see that no single point could be made in question time that could possibly persuade him that he might be wrong. I wanted to support the case that the Soviet Union wasn’t socialist and so was racking my brains for a question that might get through, if not to the speaker, then at least to the audience.

What I thought of and asked the pro-Soviet speaker was: ” Are there any possible circumstances that might arise in the future which would persuade you that the Soviet Union was no longer socialist?”

To the amusement and bemusement of some of the audience, he replied, “No, the Soviet Union will always be socialist”

2) progressive / reactionary dialectic

I think a similar sort of point can be made to the pseudo-left in connection to the US invasion of Iraq.

In my view it’s pretty straightforward that the US has led a campaign to overthrow the fascist government of Saddam Hussein and is now proceeding to help Iraqis create a democratic government. That has to be progressive.

Because historically US Imperialism has been very reactionary, as exemplified by the Vietnam war and much more, there are now many people in the world who seem incapable of conceptualising that the US could possibly do something progressive. It’s always possible for these people to point to bad things that the US does – there is no shortage of examples.

Maybe part of the problem is that they have an ingrained black and white, non dialectic world view, which implicitly denies the very possibility that the US could do something progressive.

I’m not saying that thinking dialectically is a substitute for studying the details of processes in detail – including the details of what the Soviet Union became historically and the details of what is happening in Iraq and the Middle East. But that having the concept of dialectics (the coexistence of opposites in things) might help prevent falling into the rigid black and white thinking illustrated in the two examples above. If some people can’t even conceptualise that it might be possible for US Imperialism today to do something progressive then no amount of detail is going to change their mind about Iraq. Their thinking is dogmatically stuck at another level to do with their whole world view. I’m arguing that studying dialectics is useful because it helps us keep our minds open to these possibilities.

Here’s a paragraph from Dennett:

“One of the standard (and much needed) correctives issued to those who study evolution is the old line about how natural selection has no foresight at all. It is true, of course. Evolution is the blind watchmaker, and we must never forget it. But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Mother Nature is well supplied with the wisdom of hindsight. Her motto might well be “If I’m so myopic, how come I’m so rich?” And while Mother Nature is herself lacking in foresight, she has managed to create things – us human beings, preeminently – who do have foresight, and are even beginning to put this foresight to use in guiding and abetting the very processes of natural selection on this planet. I occasionally encounter even quite sophisticated evolutionary theorists who find this paradoxical. How could a process with no foresight invent a process with foresight? One of the main goals of my book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” was to show that this is not paradoxical at all. The process of natural selection, slowly and without foresight, invents processes or phenomena that speed up the evolutionary process itself – cranes, not skyhooks in my fanciful terminology – until the souped up evolutionary process finally reaches the point where explorations within the lifetime of individual organisms can affect the underlying slow process of genetic evolution, and even, in some circumstances, usurp it.”
– Freedom Evolves, page 53

So, this illustrates that one can think dialectically without formally studying dialectics or even using the word dialectic. Dennett’s ability to do this would presumedly arise out of his deep study of the science of evolution combined with his materialistic philosophy.

In dialectical language no foresight and foresight would constitute a unity of opposites and in the process of development one can transform into the other. I think this way of looking at it is preferable to Dennet’s apparent paradox that turns out not to be a paradox.

But it’s probably more important to really study the topic deeply (in this case, evolution) than just to be able to spout the magic words. But I also believe that it’s important to study dialectics itself (Mao, Hegel etc.) because this creates an awareness or sensitivity to possibilities of things turning into their opposite that we otherwise might not even notice – it has the potential to make our thinking more fluid and flexible.

end post

Posted by kerrb at 2004-12-19

Dialectics is the co-existence of opposites in everything, nature, mind, society. I’ll explain by reference to something said in The Emperor’s New Clothes thread:

Think of all the people scared to speak in public, or scared to admit how they feel about something, or someone! I know for a fact that my private side is very different from my public face. So in my opinion this is a ‘problem’ that stretches right across the board, it’s not just in intellectual circles. People in general are afraid to speak their minds! Me too, so afraid that I don’t want to post this, but I will anyway.

What you are saying here is full of dialectics IMO. You talk about fear of speaking out and feeling compelled to speak out coexisting in your mind. Both of these opposites co-exist side by side. In some circumstances the fear might be stronger and you don’t speak. In other circumstances the compulsion to speak out might be stronger.

I think it’s fair to say that these opposite tendencies exist in everybody and so we are talking about something that is universal.

So, by contrast, what would be a non dialectical way of looking at this? We might view some people as always speaking out, the sort of people we wish would shut up sometimes. We might view other people as never speaking out, the sort of people that we don’t know what they are thinking. We might form black and white opinions about people with these extreme tendencies and as a result lose our curiosity, for example, not notice that a normally garrulous person has gone quiet in certain circumstances.

But of course there are no people like either of these two extremes. Although some people speak too much and others hardly at all these are just tendencies across the spectrum of possibilities. In reality, the two opposite tendencies coexist within everyone.

I’ve just taken one example of dialectics here from something you wrote in order to explain the idea. But whatever you are thinking about or studying I would argue that you can always conceptualise opposites that coexist within that thing. At the least I think it’s a very handy way to think about things because it can open up new ways of looking at something.

No such thing as a ‘watermelon’. Why the Green world outlook is not left-wing.

Andrew Bolt and John Pilger both agree that there is something ‘red’ about being Green. Bolt claims that the Greens include those who are really red – hence the ‘watermelon’ metaphor – while Pilger sees them as being on the side of progress and the left. Both are wrong and in this article, which I originally wrote for ‘On-Line Opinion’ in 2008, I explain why.

* * * *

In the political discourse around green issues, the world outlook associated with various green groups is portrayed as left wing. This is largely because the green world outlook generally opposes capitalism, its leaders frequently use the rhetoric of the Left, are promoted as being left wing by the mainstream media, and usually identify themselves as being of the Left.

Moreover, many green leaders and activists were radicalised in the 1960s and 1970s and have genuinely left wing backgrounds. They see the green movement as a continuation of their previous left wing radicalism.

The measure of whether an outlook is on the Left needs to be assessed against criteria based on core values that have given meaning to the concept historically. Left wing traditions have never been green and, I would argue, the identification of the green outlook with left wing politics has only been possible over the past few decades because of the decline of the Left.

Contrary to what right wing commentators declare, the green movement is not the Left in new form but a product of its absence as a significant force in contemporary politics. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Green ideology has filled the vacuum created when the Left went into hibernation in the mid 1970s, after a spectacular rise during the second half of the previous decade.

What then are the core values that determine a left wing outlook, and what are the traditions of the Left in regard to nature and the non-synthetic environment?

The values of the Left are based on two interconnected qualities: opposition to oppression and tyranny (i.e., support for democracy and freedom); and enthusiastic support for material progress, for a world of (as we used to say in the communist party) “abundance for all”. These values have defined the Left since 1848, when Karl Marx issued the Communist Manifesto.

Marx, and the genuine Marxists, wanted to overthrow capitalism, not because it was supposedly bad for the natural environment, but because the key contradiction within it – between the social nature of production on one hand and private appropriation on the other – stood in the way of personal freedom for the workers and a real unleashing of the productive capacities of human beings.

Marx believed that wage slavery was based on exploitation and alienation, and that the workers should rise up and seize the means of production for their own ends rather than for the profit of the small group of owners. In a sense, Marx was a real supporter of “free enterprise”: but for the producers rather than the owners. There is nothing green at all in a Marxist position.

Marx’s comrade, Frederick Engels, compiled the booklet ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’ precisely to defeat the influence of the “greenies” (i.e. utopians) of his time. Marx and Engels established a left wing tradition that fully embraced – indeed waxed lyrical about – modernity and the achievements of industrial capitalism.

Their opposition to capitalism, I repeat, was based on an analysis that saw it as retarding social and material progress. Their views on the relationship between progress and nature were consistent with the “Age of Reason” and the scientific revolution: nature, to the Left, has never been something with which to seek harmony and balance – let alone with which to live “sustainably”.

The classical Marxist view was expressed at the left wing lastsuperpower website in the following way:

The whole history of humanity is that we are a species that does not adapt its lifestyle to its environment but develops “unsustainably” in ways that require transforming our environment, our technological forces of production and our social relations of production. Our unsustainable development has already terraformed most of this planet so that it is no longer a “wilderness”, substituted “synthetic” for “natural” products for everything we live on (including ancient things like domesticated wheat and other food staples) and will go much further both intensively here and extensively across the universe and at the same time it has totally transformed the way we relate to each other and will continue to do so.

Throughout our history there have been progressives wanting to speed up the movement forward and reactionaries demanding that we should live within our means. These ideologies are closely connected with the fact that ruling classes fear the instability and threat to their domination that goes with changes undermining our old mode of life while oppressed classes always want more from life than what their exploiters think they should live on.

* * * *

According to Engels, the struggle for human liberation required the overcoming of the limitations placed on people by the natural environment. Science, technology, and politics were ways by which humans constantly created something new, rendering the old “unsustainable”.

It’s hard to imagine a more reactionary and conservative notion than “sustainability”, but it has permeated the psyche of the populations of the advanced industrial nations and has become a mantra. It is a buzzword, basically meaning let’s not take risks, let’s get cosy with nature rather than continue to transform it for our own benefit; as we have done since the harnessing of fire.

The green outlook’s opposition to capitalism does not qualify it as being on the Left because its opposition is to the industrial and social advances ushered in by capitalism. The greens look backwards to small-scale production, to a social system based on village/community life, to a society in which humans were more in touch with nature. This type of society has existed, prior to capitalism, during the feudal era. However, capitalism, as Marx enthusiastically asserted:

… has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations … Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kin. ( See: Karl Marx, Chapter 1, Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Support for turning back the clock to small-scale production based on village/community life found expression in Australia in the 1940s, with the publication of B. A. Santamaria’s ‘The Earth, Our Mother’. Santamaria was on the far right of politics and never renounced his support for Mussolini and the Italian fascists. It made sense that someone on the right would support such a backward social system, and bemoan the liberating consequences and direction of modernity because this was the tradition of the right.

Leftists are the ones who want to “overcome nature” rather than be submissive before it. We are the ones who want to reach for the stars!

To understand just how completely opposite to the left wing position Santamaria’s view was, and how completely opposite to the left wing view the green world outlook is today, one can consider Engels, writing in ‘Anti-Duhring’ (1877). Engels speculates about the radical consequences of man finally confronting the material conditions of existence, and understands humanity’s mastery of nature as the key to its social liberation: the leap from the “kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom”.

… for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature because he has now become master of his own social organisation. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man’s own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, with full consciousness, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the humanity’s leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.

Not surprisingly, there are left wingers around the world who speak out against the green outlook. Their views are rarely heard in the mainstream media but their critiques can be read at sites such as Spiked Online, and Strange Times (which archives of the old LastSuperpower site). Both are basically Marxist when it comes to the green issue. The UK-based editors of Spiked Online previously ran the journal ‘Living Marxism’. There are also occasional anti-green Marxist-influenced books, such as Austin Williams’ ‘Enemies of progress: the dangers of sustainability’ and David McMullen’s ‘Bright future’, but these receive minimal publicity in the mainstream compared to the voices of doom and gloom.

* * * *

Conclusion

OK, so there’s no left wing green tradition, and the greens are antithetical to left wing values. Who then are these green ideologues who are described as, and claim to be, left wingers?

To me, a new concept is needed to understand their politics and that concept is “pseudo-left”. The concept has been around for a few years now and has been used by public intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens and Nick Cohen. In Australia it was promoted at strangetimes/lastsuperpower. It is time for the “pseudo-left” descriptor to be taken up by many more people, so that the green outlook can be situated where it rightly belongs.

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Hegel, Engels, and the pseudo-left… “All that is real is rational, and all that is rational is real”

The following is a discussion from the Lastsuperpower site in 2003 about the philosophical basis of pseudo-leftism. The two contributors are ‘Albert’ and ‘Keza’. It stands up very well ten years on, and had a big impact on me at the time. – c21styork

Revolutionaries are historical optimists who stress the inevitability of progress. Pseudo-Leftists are reactionaries who merely denounce how bad things are and actively reinforce the idea that they cannot be changed. But when revolutionaries reject the irrational obscurantism and moralistic posturing of pseudo-Leftists and line up together with the ruling class against them, by asserting that “all that is real is rational”, they are also implicitly saying “all that exists deserves to perish”

Author: albert

Date : Jun 15, 2003 4:48 am

“All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real”

Hegel’s remark “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real.” is central to understanding the philosophical outlook of communism.

It’s worth carefully studying Engel’s explanation of this seemingly paradoxical position, as it sheds a lot of light on some aspects of the problems with pseudo-Leftists and other reactionaries conservatives.

Fundamental to the genuine left is this concept:

“Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so; a perfect society, a perfect “state”, are things which can only exist in imagination. On the contrary, all successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher. Each stage is necessary, and therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin. But in the face of new, higher conditions which gradually develop in its own womb, it loses vitality and justification. It must give way to a higher stage which will also in its turn decay and perish.”

One aspect of that is the idea that “each stage is necessary, and therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin”. Pseudo-Leftists assert the opposite. They are able to present themselves as more “militantly opposed” to the status quo than revolutionaries because they refuse to “understand” current reality as “necessary” and “therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin”. Instead they simply denounce it from an ahistorical perspective as contrary to some absolute morality.

Anyone critical of the status quo is bound to highlight its negative features and denounce them as intolerable. But by denying that those negative features had their own rational basis the pseudo-Left obscures the rational necessity for inevitable change to the status quo arising from new circumstances that obsolete the justification for the old reality and necessitate a new reality.

Revolutionaries are historical optimists who stress the inevitability of progress. Pseudo-Leftists are reactionaries who merely denounce how bad things are and actively reinforce the idea that they cannot be changed. But when revolutionaries reject the irrational obscurantism and moralistic posturing of pseudo-Leftists and line up together with the ruling class against them, by asserting that “all that is real is rational”, they are also implicitly saying “all that exists deserves to perish” as explained by Engels:

“And so, in the course of development, all that was previously real becomes unreal, loses it necessity, its right of existence, its rationality. And in the place of moribund reality comes a new, viable reality — peacefully if the old has enough intelligence to go to its death without a struggle; forcibly if it resists this necessity. Thus the Hegelian proposition turns into its opposite through Hegelian dialectics itself: All that is real in the sphere of human history, becomes irrational in the process of time, is therefore irrational by its very destination, is tainted beforehand with irrationality, and everything which is rational in the minds of men is destined to become real, however much it may contradict existing apparent reality. In accordance with all the rules of the Hegelian method of thought, the proposition of the rationality of everything which is real resolves itself into the other proposition: All that exists deserves to perish.”

__________________________

Hegel and the pseudo-left

Author: keza

Date : Jun 21, 2003 3:00 am

After reading Albert’s Hegel message I got a bit interested in Hegel and tried to find out what he was on about. The following message results from that. It’s not really finished but I’ve had enough of it for now…

In his Australian article ‘Not in Your Name Indeed’, Barry York described the politics of the pseudo-Left as a “mish-mash” , a “jumble of prejudices”, “more akin to a sub-culture than a political movement”.

I think these words captured something very important about the pseudo-left – in particular its atheoretical and ahistorical nature. Pseudo-left ideology lends itself well to bulleted lists of things to oppose and things to support. At the same time, events in the world are classified according to surface appearance rather than in terms of what underlies them. The pseudo-left may talk of the “underlying reasons” for something like the war in Iraq but this talk is always of “hidden agendas”, “secret motives” and is quite different from studying such events in light of the underlying flow of history.

Hegel’s statement: “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real” asserts that history makes sense: “the phantom of a world whose events are an incoherent concourse of fortuitous circumstances, utterly vanishes”.

In contrast, pseudo-left ideology attributes only the most superficial rationality to what happens in the world.

Indeed it seems to me that the pseudo-left has an essentially folk-loric version of how the world works. There is evil and there is good. (Or there is God and there is Satan). Being “good” means being pure and true and perfect and this comes down to opposing the dark forces of evil. It’s an abstract, ideal position which is capable of generating protests but has no serious orientation toward actually changing the world. The feel-good slogan “Not in My Name” captures its nature rather well.

The Hegelian conception of history exerted an enormous influence on both Marx and Engels. Although Hegel was an idealist, his view of history was one in which humans were seen as becoming progressively more capable of controlling their own destiny. He saw history as always progressing in the direction of greater freedom – driven by the dialectical opposition between what is actual and what is potential.

Hegel was an idealist because of his adherence to the idea of the supremacy of “Spirit” (akin to mind) over matter (which he saw as inert – “its essence outside itself’.:

“Spirit knows itself. It involves an appreciation of its own nature, as also an energy enabling it to realise itself; to make itself actually that which it is potentially. According to this abstract definition it may be said of Universal History, that it is the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially. And as the germ bears in itself the whole nature of the tree, and the taste and form of its fruits, so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole of that History.”

and

“The life of a people ripens a certain fruit; its activity aims at the complete manifestation of the principle which it embodies. But this fruit does not fall back into the bosom of the people that produced and matured it; on the contrary, it becomes a poison-draught to it. That poison-draught it cannot let alone, for it has an insatiable thirst for it: the taste of the draught is its annihilation., though at the same time the rise of a new principle.”

Engels pointed out that “according to Hegel certainly not everything that exists is also real, without further qualification. For Hegel the attribute of reality belongs only to that which at the same time is necessary: “In the course of its development reality proves to be necessity.” “.

This qualification is important, otherwise Hegel’s statement could be taken as no more than the assertion that the status quo (being “real”) is always rational and therefore justified. Such an interpretation would contradict his view of history as a process of progressive change in which what is actual loses its necessity and gives way to its own potential: “It certainly makes war upon itself — consumes its own existence; but in this very destruction it works up with existence into a new form, and each successive phase becomes in its turn a material, working on which it exalts itself to a new grade.”

Getting back to the pseudo-left …it seems to me that their political outlook is characterized by a denial/ignorance of both necessity and rationality (and therefore of reality). Opposition to US imperialism turns out to be an unchallengeable, immutable, stand-alone principle of some sort. The idea that Bush et al could intend to democratize the Middle East – that their old policy is no longer rational (ie that in the current world situation it has lost its necessity) is seen as strange and nonsensical. How could it be possible for US imperialism to do such a thing?

It’s easy to appear as very revolutionary and militant if your stance does not include any appreciation of current reality and necessity. And the opposite is also true – it’s easy to attack those who are being (correctly) radical and militant. Basically you don’t have to feel responsible for anything that happens because such a stance does not involve actually trying to change the world.

In “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific”, Engels said this about Hegel:

“This new German philosophy culminated in the Hegelian system. In this system — and herein is its great merit — for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process — i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development. From this point of view, the history of mankind no longer appeared as a wild whirl of senseless deeds of violence, all equally condemnable at the judgment seat of mature philosophic reason and which are best forgotten as quickly as possible, but as the process of evolution of man himself. It was now the task of the intellect to follow the gradual march of this process through all its devious ways, and to trace out the inner law running through all its apparently accidental phenomena.”

Pseudo left ideology does not encourage people to use their intellects to grasp the nature of what is happening in the world . On the contrary it propagates the idea that the truth can be hidden – (and sometimes) that there’s really no such thing as truth, that intuition and “gut feeling” are superior to logic, that the people who rule the world are stupid/irrational enough to “let things get out of control” and so on.

Anyway I’m getting tired of writing this ….

___________

Comments :

(by albert on 06/20/2003)

Thanks for the excellent article!

I’m getting inspired to read up on Hegel again too (also philosophy generally and have started reading Marx’s Notebooks on Epicurus to shed some light on why he wrote his doctoral thesis on atomic physics 😉

One point I’d stress is that it isn’t just the pseudo-Left which suffers from the various problems described. What distinguishes the pseudo-Left is often merely that it dresses up conventional ruling class ideas in a “militant”, “radical”, “leftist” but essentially a “pseudo” guise.

The basic idea that Engels finds appealing in Hegel is “the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process — i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development”. That dialectical emphasis on a process of progress and development is especially problematic to a decaying, moribund, parasitic ruling class.

Although some sections of the bourgeoisie still sing “Happy Days Are Here Again” and present themselves as at least complacent, if not progressive or revolutionary, the dominant mood is full of doom and gloom – literally terrified of what the future might bring (with a corresponding emphasis on “terrorists” as only one aspect of that).

As Marx pointed out, in any class society the ideas of the ruling class are of course the ruling ideas. That can easily be said glibly but it stands in direct opposition to such views as Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent”.

The ruling ideas, those that dominate education, culture etc, are thoroughly pessimistic and stress the hopelessness of any struggle for change. That is especially the case for state sponsored education (“post-modern” university departments of doom and gloom) and culture (national broadcasters such as the British BBC and Australian ABC bringing daily sermons that everything is going from bad to worse).

The pseudo-Left has been let off the hook because it has been challenged only by the complacent right, which accepts the pseudos self-image as something “radical”, “militant” etc (by denouncing them on that basis, in support of the status quo).

Instead the pseudo-Left must be exposed as a direct reflection of ruling class ideology delivering exactly the official line – that nothing positive can be done to challenge the ruling class since even though they are obviously hopeless, no better alternative is possible.

That is what strips away the “radical” veneer. For example when faced with the usual diatribes against “consumerism” from greenies, these should just be treated as obviously a proposal to reduce real wages and discussed seriously on that basis. “Ok, so you want people to consume less. That’s easy – simply reduce their incomes. So I guess what you would need would be more unemployment – both to reduce incomes directly and to add to the pressure for reducing wages indirectly. That would explain a lot of green policies. I guess if we used less technology that would pretty well guarantee a sharp reduction in productivity and therefore in incomes and consumption. Hmm, interesting approach. Must be appealing to governments and corporations so they would give you a lot of funding. But aren’t you up against History – isn’t there something unstoppable about people’s desire to live better than before?”

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