RE: [OPE] Recent serious theoretical discussions: reply to Dogan

From: michael (
Date: Fri Apr 04 2008 - 09:42:09 EDT

Jerry wrote: 


"I think that even the most
"systematic dialecticians" on the list (like Chris A, Tony S, Geert, 
and Mike W) would agree, but they, of course, should correct me
if they disagree."


I may (although it is no claim to fame) have coined the notion that
'dialectics' acts as the 'too-difficult' tray on some Marxists' desks.
Certainly I think the Devil's Dictionary definition of 'Dialectics' (that
appears at the top of a published paper of mine) as 'what Marxists do when
you catch them lying' is not only very funny but definitely catches
something about how many Marxists have de facto used the concept.


On the other hand, I have used 'systematic dialectics' successfully in my
own work as a tool for developing appropriate concepts. There are many
interesting aspects that would bear further investigation, not least around
the usefulness or not of dichotomizing actuality and concept in the social
sciences. This current thread then is potentially useful and insightful - as
long as we all resist the temptation to deliver methodological and/or
political karate chops to those with whom we are debating.


I retire from full time academic employment at the end of August - so
perhaps I will thereafter be able to get back to some of these issues (and
partake properly in some OPE-L discussions.)



(aka Mike W)



From: []
Sent: 04 April 2008 14:21
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Subject: RE: [OPE] Recent serious theoretical discussions: reply to Dogan



[Jurriaan wrote:]

In his writings on the "philosophical tendencies of bureaucratism", Leon
Trotsky explained how, after riding to power and privilege over the backs of
the workers, the Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats develop a certain fondness and
propensity for discoursing about "dialectics".  In this respect,  dialectics
offers the advantage that any premise can be flexibly deduced from any other
premise to suit one's purpose; any idea can be connected "dialectically" to
any other. However, Trotsky recognized this kind of dialectics is
totalitarian. Why? Because the bureaucrat defines his vision of the totality
in advance, so that his inferiors may be cajoled to conform to it and think
accordingly - the whole purpose is to impose that totality on the workers,
like it or not. Thus, this "dialectical totality" is merely the
philosophical justification and rationalization of bureaucratic power. It is
a sad thing when modern Marxists succumb to the same nonsense - and I say
this as someone with a lengthy experience of bureaucratic absurdities.

[Dogan replied:]
         Obviously you do not understand much of dialectics. This is
Popperian nonsense.




It's not "nonsense": what Jurriaan is saying above is , I think, is
an important and valid historical  observation - namely, that bureaucracies
- and all sorts of atrocities - have been rationalized with reference
to the language of 'dialectics'. 
To take one example which Dave Z referred to recently: the Khymer
Rouge rationalized mass killings by noting that there were dialectical
"contraditions among the people" which needed to be resolved.
I agree with Jurriaan that it's a sad (tragic, in many cases) thing when 
Marxists sucumb to this, but it's not merely "nonsense": it is a 
form of discourse and language which has been historically utilized
to rationalize totalitarian rule.
None of the above is an attack on the merits of dialectical thought
as such; it is rather a recognition that "dialectics" (note quotation
marks) has been mis-used and abused by many Marxians both 
historically and at the present time. I think that even the most
"systematic dialecticians" on the list (like Chris A, Tony S, Geert, 
and Mike W) would agree, but they, of course, should correct me
if they disagree.
In solidarity, Jerry

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