Outline on technology and progress

– written October 1979 by Arthur Dent, who was then Albert Langer

This was referred to in a recent discussion on another thread. The political points made are still very relevant to our critique of the pseudo-left. It also has some further historical interest in that computer technology has come a long way since then. An old but still relevant response and an answer to that response has been omitted for now, since the opening argument is longer than a normal blog post, but is available here (scroll down) for those interested in further elaboration of the argument. (these introductory comments written by Bill Kerr)

The following outline for an article is unfinished, incomplete, out of sequence and lopsided in emphasis. A major section or companion article on Braverman’s “Labor and Monopoly Capital” has not been prepared yet.

1. Objections to the trend of modern technology and economic growth may be summarised under the following headings:

a) Eco-catastrophe

b) Environmental degradation

c) Limits on Growth

d) Third World Dependency

e) Wasteful Consumption

f) Technocratic Priesthood

g) Centralisation

h) Unemployment

i) Commercialisation and rat race

j) Degradation and Deskilling of Labor

2. These themes are all part of the very fabric of “left wing” and “radical” thinking in Western countries. Reference to them, often in a glib and trendy way, has become a trade mark to distinguish “them” (“the establishment”) from “us” (“the radicals”). Rejection of these themes is generally considered heretical and a sign of impending desertion to the other side.

3. Nevertheless, Third World revolutionaries actually engaged in armed struggle against imperialism, the classic founders of scientific socialism and the leadership of socialist countries have never stressed these themes in the same way. This paper will challenge the widespread assumption that emphasis on these themes reflects a more “advanced” conception than other “simplistic” views, and will show that a polemic against opinions that are now most fashionable among the “left” was a central feature of the development of scientific socialism (by which I mean “orthodox” Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism).

4. This paper has nothing new or startling to say but will simply try to raise the banner of a position of whose existence most “radicals” seem quite unaware, without undertaking a comprehensive defence of that position. Since in surveying the literature I couldn’t find a single article advocating the position I hold, and which I understand to have always been the “orthodox” Marxist view on these questions, I felt obliged to write one myself. Any assistance from readers who can point me to relevant material would be most appreciated.

5. The major trends among Western “radicals” on issues concerning technology and progress can be summarised as follows:

a) Outright opposition to modern technology and nostalgia for the past, summed up in the slogan “Small is Beautiful”.

b) Acceptance of modern technology if society was socialist, but Luddite hostility towards it in capitalist society, summed up in the slogan “For Whom”.

c) Acceptance of modern technology in present day capitalist society but a rejection of the social relations that have developed together with it and a romantic “nostalgia for an age that has not yet come into being”, where the dignity of craft skills will prevail.

The dominant view is of course an eclectic mixture of all three, sometimes even combined with views taken from the pro-technology, pro-growth camp.

6. In the camp which rejects the main objections to economic growth and modern technology listed above, and which criticises the reactionary, Luddite and romantic assaults on modern society, the dominant trend is straight forward bourgeois complacency or Liberalism, which explains the unpopularity of pro-technology, pro-growth views among the “left”.

Closely allied to Liberalism, and subordinate to it, is a Social Democratic trend which dresses up much the same analysis of society with a few Marxist phrases about promoting the revolutionisation of society by developing the productive forces. This has more support than Liberalism within the “left” because it is more critical of modern society and therefore closer to the anti-technology, anti-growth camp on issues unrelated to technology and economic growth.

The dominant ideology in such allegedly “socialist” countries as the Soviet Union, post-Mao China, and Albania, reflects a mixture of Liberal and Social Democratic attitudes and therefore adds to the unpopularity of pro-technology, pro-growth views within the “left”.

7. But also in the pro-technology, pro-growth camp, is a quite different position, which I would call the “orthodox” Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, or scientific socialist view. This fundamentally agrees with the Liberal and Social Democratic trends in opposing reaction, Luddism and romanticism (as Lenin agreed with Struve and the “legal Marxists” in fighting Narodnism in Russia). But it fundamentally breaks with these trends in its analysis of the revolutionary implications of modern technology and economic growth. While joining with the anti-technology, anti-growth camp in rejecting modern society, this rejection is positive in contrasting the present with the future and not negative in trying to retard the further development of modern capitalist society.

The views of this trend will be found in various works by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tsetung, many of which are explicit polemics against romanticism etc.

8. Let’s review the various anti-technology, anti-growth themes one by one. The first eight, which tend to attack modern technology and economic growth as things in themselves, will be dealt with rather quickly. The last two, concerning Commercialisation and the Rat Race, and the Degradation and Deskilling of Labor raise more serious issues about capitalist social relations, and will be dealt with more fully when analysing romanticism and commenting on Harry Braverman’s “Labor and Monopoly Capital“.

9. a) Eco-catastrophe

Various scenarios for the catastrophic destruction of humanity if present trends continue have been put forward by the more extremist opponents of modern technology and economic growth. These range from the “population explosion” to the long term effects of heat pollution, carbon dioxide or the break up of the ozone layer. Although in one sense a “lunatic fringe”, these ideas do have some real influence within the “left” and people often fall back on them (without necessarily knowing any of the details) when otherwise stuck for arguments.

Detailed refutation of the various theories is not appropriate here. But its worth noting that some people actually want their disaster theories to be true because they want there to be some barrier to the further development of industrialisation. Feelings of “doom” are widespread because the present social system is in fact doomed, but instead of correctly identifying exactly what is doomed, people tend to transfer their feeling to anything convenient. Catastrophe theories are not being put forward by scientists who believe in technical progress and economic growth and are worried because they have come across some phenomena that might threaten this. These theories are put forward by people (whether scientists or not), who already want there to be a barrier and go out looking for it.

They do not understand Marx’s proposition that “the only barrier to capital is capital itself” and they look for some external obstacle to the further development of capitalism, lying outside capitalist society itself.

There is even a kind of “eco-fascism” with ideas and solutions remarkably similar to those of fascists in the 1930s, particularly in regard to population control.

10. b) Environmental degradation.

This theme is also taken up by people who want there to be some external barrier to the further development of capitalism. It is really only relevant to the technology and growth debate insofar as some catastrophe is predicted. Insofar as one is talking about incidental environmental degradation, the classic answer given by Liberals cannot be refuted:

“It is easier to modernise plant and equipment (e.g. to incorporate pollution control mechanisms) and to engineer structural readjustments to the changing pattern of economic activity in a growth context than otherwise. More fundamentally, economic growth implies that the stock of resources (including technology) which the community has at its disposal is continually expanding… Nowadays we have the opportunity that comes with growth to opt for a more pleasing environment. If that opportunity occurs in an expanding economy, opting for it need not involve an absolute reduction in presently enjoyed standards in other respects. In short, ‘growth’ entails a positive contribution to pollution control in a way which a ‘stationary state’ cannot…

…If pollution control standards are set to high that the costs of control clearly exceed the resulting benefits, resources will be wastefully diverted from other purposes – including perhaps other forms of environmental improvement. Moreover, it is already apparent – with the technology of pollution control only beginning to develop – that even modest expenditure can have large effects in reducing pollution.

In summary the damage from environmental pollution in a large and growing economy with effective pollution control standards certainly need be no greater and in practice is likely to be far less than the damage in a small and slower growing economy operating in the same area without effective pollution control measures. The quality of the environment can be improved much more – and more quickly – by measures to counter pollution than by steps to contain economic growth. It is doubtful in any case whether action of the latter kind will be deliberately attempted, and if it were, and the improvement in living standards were slowed down as a result, the resistance to applying resources to control pollution would be so much the greater.”

(Treasury Economic Paper No 2 “Economic Growth: Is it worth having?” June 1973, AGPS Canberra, p19 and p21)

Even leaving aside the difference between capitalist and socialist attitudes to the environment, it is clear that industrialisation has markedly improved the environment compared with pre-industrial societies. Not only was the life of the “noble savage” something “nasty, brutish and short” but even in feudal times the environment can be summarised in this jingle:

In days of old, when knights were bold,

and lavatories weren’t invented;

People laid their loads, beside the roads,

and went away contented.

Even the aristocrats, let alone the “solid yeomen” of pre-industrial society literally stank – and not only in the towns where the streets were used as sewers. Forests were denuded and dustbowls and deserts created, before modern agriculture began to reverse this process.

Over the last decade in particular (as a result of pressure from people concerned about the environment) we have seen a clear and definite improvement in environmental protection. The increasing concern with pollution controls today precisely reflects the fact that as industrialisation proceeds, higher standards not only become necessary but also possible and are demanded.

11. c) Limits to Growth

Depletion of non-renewable resources is another fashionable attempt to find some barrier other than capital itself. The Club of Rome’s project, and all derivatives, carry out exactly the same exercise as Malthus in comparing geometric growth of consumption to arithmetic growth of production and drawing tautologous conclusions.

Of course its true that any positive rate of growth, no matter how small, must eventually (and in fact quite quickly) exhaust any finite non-renewable resources. But if this spells doom for industrial society, then it should be added that any positive rate of consumption at all even if there is a declining rate instead of growth, must also eventually exhaust any finite non-renewable resources, though it may take longer. The issue is whether “resources” are “finite”. If they are then we are doomed, growth or no growth.

As Ehrlich points out, with any positive rate of population growth, humanity would eventually occupy a volume larger than the planet earth and expanding faster than the speed of light. But what does this actually have to do with the real and pressing problems of the world we really live in?

Again the Liberal answer to these themes is straightforward and irrefutable:

“As an historical fact, the long-term trend has been for the cost of mineral inputs to decline as a proportion of total production costs. Numerous studies of the available statistical data, spanning more than a century, have demonstrated that the tendency during this phase of unprecedented growth in the world economy and in the use of minerals has not been towards scarcity but towards abundance. In the United States the real cost of minerals output was less than one-half the average 1870-1900 level by 1929; and by 1957 it was less than one-half the 1929 level…(ibid p33)

…Such resources may be being ‘used up’, but they are also – and as an integral part of the same process- being ‘created’. It is in the twentieth century that the essential uniformity of energy and matter has been discovered, that the development of new synthetic materials has become almost commonplace, and that technological advance has become virtually continuous, each improvement creating new opportunities for further advance. The extension of knowledge about the world has not only confounded past predictions of resource scarcity but has been in directions which make such predictions less and less defensible as time goes by.” (p39)

Since such predictions are less and less defensible, why are they also more and more popular? It seems clear that the degree of rejection of this “bourgeois optimism” is not related to the degree of one’s knowledge of industrial processes, but to the degree of one’s rejection of modern society. Those who recognise there is a barrier, but do not fully understand the barrier is capital itself, look for that barrier in something else, like “Limits to Growth”.

12. d) Third World Dependency

This theme has been adequately refuted by Bill Warren, who belongs to the Social Democratic rather than purely Liberal trend. As a Social Democrat, Warren tends to defend imperialism, playing down its contradictions in a Kautskyite way opposed to Leninism, although some of this can be excused as iconoclastic shock treatment against the excesses of “dependency theory”. Warren’s refutation of the “radical” conventional wisdom about the Third World is quite crushing and no serious attempt has been made to refute him.

It is a historical fact (not emphasised by Warren) that the development of technology and economic growth has been extremely uneven, with imperialist exploitation of the poor nations by the rich (just as internally too, industrialisation has meant the exploitation of the poor by the rich and polarisation of society).

But it is equally a historical fact (denied by dependency theorists), that imperialism has meant the more rapid spread of capitalist social relations throughout the world and that far from becoming more and more dependent, the backward countries are proceeding very rapidly along the same path of commercialisation and industrialisation that Europe undertook a few hundred years ago.

The world is becoming more polarised, with even imperialist “second world” countries joining the Third World in suffering from superpower exploitation and domination, but it is doing so in the course of a rapid progressive social development – just as the internal polarisation of capitalist societies into a smaller and smaller handful of exploiters (the Rockefellers and such) against a larger and larger proletariat including the ruined middle classes, was also part of a progressive social development.

Lenin’s classic work “The Development of Capitalism in Russia” described this process, which is now taking place in most Third World countries,as it took place in the then backward agrarian and semi-feudal Tsarist Russia. Answering the Narodnik “dependency theorists” of his day:

“The Russia of the wooden plough and the flail, of the water-mill and the hand loom, began rapidly to be transformed into the Russia of the iron plough and the threshing machine, of the steam-mill and the power-loom. An equally thorough transformation of technique is seen in every branch of the national economy where capitalist production predominates. This process of transformation must, by the very nature of capitalism, take place in the midst of much that is uneven and disproportionate: periods of prosperity alternate with periods of crisis, the development of one industry leads to the decline of another, there is progress in one aspect of agriculture in one area and in another aspect in another area, the growth of trade and industry outstrips the growth of agriculture, etc. A large number of errors made by Narodnik writers spring from their efforts to prove that this disproportionate, spasmodic, feverish development is not development.” (Collected Works Vol 3, p597)

Precisely because the Third World is industrialising, its importance in world affairs is greatly increasing, to an extent that has not been recognised by most Western “radicals”. This profound social change which is affecting some two thirds of the world’s people is obviously of enormous importance and cannot simply be dismissed.

We have lived through the post-war decolonisation and have only recently experienced the defeat of the USA by Vietnam, as well as the general rise of the Third World in the United Nations. It is quite clear that economic growth and technical progress has not reinforced the conditions for dependence, but has been abolishing the situation which made it possible for backward regions to become colonies or “mandated territories” of the “civilised countries” who bore the “white man’s burden”. “Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution”.

On an international scale, the trans-national corporations are creating and uniting an international proletariat to be their grave diggers, as earlier the bourgeoisie broke down local boundaries and created nations with a national proletariat, In defending national independence and other democratic rights, it is no task of the “left” to support protectionism and try to retard the integration of the world capitalist market. We can only support “Free Trade”, not oppose it – but in the same revolutionary and critical spirit that Karl Marx did.

13. e) Consumerism

Instead of the “old-fashioned” socialist critique, which condemned capitalism, even in England, the richest capitalist country of the time, for holding down the living standards of the masses, we have a “new” critique which condemns it for inundating us with “useless” and “wasteful” products. Although often coupled with moralising lectures about the poverty of people in Third World countries, this is really quite irrelevant to the issue and the “new” theme bears a strong resemblance to the old “barracks communism” of Weitling.

Certainly some quite useless and even harmful products are sold because of advertising and this should be opposed. But people who make “consumerism” their theme are talking about something more fundamental than that, and calling for a far reaching change in Western consumption patterns towards a “simpler” and allegedly more “wholesome” lifestyle based on “necessities” and with less emphasis on “unnecessary” consumer durables, “gadgets”, motor vehicles etc.

It is not clear whether these changes are to be compulsory, with restrictions to prevent people from buying the dishwashers, cars or electric toothbrushes that our “radicals” disapprove of, by inhibiting their production. Or is it to be voluntary, with a massive propaganda (advertising) campaign to dissuade people from buying products the “radicals” don’t like?

Either way involves an enormous elitist contempt for the common sense of ordinary people. Part of this is a reaction against the political backwardness which has led many people to accept the continuation of capitalism without revolt, in exchange for the post-war “affluence” (a mess of potage). Understandable as this is, it is still elitist.

People are entitled to want, and to be satisfied to get, access to things that used to be regarded as luxuries. There has been a very substantial improvement in mass living standards since the 1930’s and it is hardly surprising that while the post-war boom continued, the capitalist social order was relatively stable. Not only material standards, but also the “quality of life” with access to culture, education etc has improved with the rise in real wages (even if the value of wages in terms of labour time has declined, exploitation increased and the social position of workers worsened). There are even some progressive aspects to the way capitalism stimulates new “wants” to expand its markets.

The higher standards of living which have been achieved involve an increase in people’s expectations and their determination to defend the greater dignity that they have won. It is sheer arrogance to condemn all this as “consumerism”. People will revolt when they find that the existing social order cannot provide them with what they want, not when some “radical” persuades them that they shouldn’t want it. Now that living standards are again starting to decline, we will see whether the generation that was brought up on “consumerism” will put up with more or less shit from capitalism than their parents did in the last Great Depression. From general attitudes towards “authority” etc, it seems likely that the “consumerist” generation will be more ready to revolt, not less.

At least Malcolm Fraser’s proposal to reduce living standards by cutting real wages is more democratic than the “radical” attacks on consumerism. Why can’t the radicals who oppose “wasteful consumption” settle for demanding a general wage cut? This would leave people free to choose for themselves without manipulation what they regard as necessary and what “wasteful” items they could do without.

Of course I’m not saying we’ll all still have private cars after the revolution despite the various social problems that go with them. We’ll have helicopters.and spaceships. (“We want bread and roses too…”)

14. f) Technocratic Priesthood

The very term “priesthood” evokes images of barbaric societies in which the mass of the population were ignorant of natural phenomena and paid homage to a minority elite who were sufficiently literate to be able to pass on knowledge about the seasons, tides and other matters essential to production as well as culture.

To believe that such a priesthood rules society today, requires considerable imagination. It is perfectly obvious that power in our society is held by capitalists and stems from their wealth and not from any monopoly of technical knowledge. In the more backward capitalist countries like the Soviet Union and China, one might confuse the ruling Party bourgeoisie with a priesthood because of superficial resemblances in forms of organisation and alleged service to a “Marxist-Leninist” religion. This may have something to do with the survival of more backward semi-feudal relationships. But there is clearly nothing “technocratic” about it and the interrelationship between wealth and power and the role of managers and bureaucrats is quite similar to more advanced Western capitalist countries.

Scientists and engineers are employed by the ruling class and work for wages like the rest of us. They too have no monopoly on technical information, which is widely diffused among the literate population and can be readily acquired in libraries and even newsagents. The mythology about a “technocratic priesthood” is most widespread among liberal arts graduates who have gone through school and university doing only “humanities” courses and have thus been denied the basic technical education which is acquired by most school and University students in our society.

There is no excuse for this one-sidedness however, since any literate person can pick up the fundamentals of modern technology by just browsing through the “How and Why” type of childrens’ encyclopaedias readily available in every newsagent.

Nuclear power is held up most often as an industry where the dangers of a “technocratic priesthood” are greatest. In fact it is the most publicly regulated industry with the least initiative in the hands of technocrats. The whole technology down to blueprints and detailed engineering reports is completely in the public domain and there is no mystery about it whatever.

The average worker today has far more grasp of basic industrial technology, and is given a far more “theoretical” education than in earlier times. If some liberal arts graduates feel left behind and overawed by modern technology, they would do better to learn something about it than to continue writing speculative nonsense about a “technocratic priesthood”.

15. g) Centralisation

Socialists have always welcomed the centralisation of capital as a progressive development paving the way for Communism. In everyday practical terms, most people understand that the big multi-nationals have more “enlightened” management, produce better products and pay better wages than the smaller “sweatshops”, that supermarkets are a better place to do one’s shopping, that family farms are on the way out and so forth.

But many “radicals” actually stake their hopes on retarding monopolisation, propping up the small businessmen, shopkeepers and farmers against the multi-nationals and so on.

Fundamentally the complaints about “centralisation” reflect an awareness that wealth and power in our society is concentrated in the hands of a very tiny elite, but with a conservative reaction to try to turn the clock back, instead of pushing forward to socialism and communism.

But in its most absurd form, we even get complaints about the large scale and “centralisation” of the means of production themselves, and not of their ownership. Thus in arguments about nuclear power, we are told to beware of oppression by the controllers of big, centralised power stations. Apparently the theory is that if all power comes from a central source we have less control over our destiny than if we have smaller, local power stations. Taken to an extreme, some people are mad keen on windmills, solar panels, methane generators etc and hope to combine these with vegetable plots, mud brick construction and what have you to create a life style in which one can escape the clutches of capitalism as completely as possible by avoiding all buying and selling and isolating oneself from the market economy.

While I have no objection to other people tinkering with such things if they really want to, personally I prefer being able to obtain electric power at the flick of a switch and without tinkering with anything. This does not “alienate” me in the slightest and I am quite sure most people feel exactly the same way. We have simply never felt oppressed by power stations (except by the bills which are of course much lower than they would be with less centralisation).

It is difficult to even imagine how centralisation of power stations could be used as an instrument of oppression. Is it suggested that in a crisis the embattled bourgeoisie might take refuge in the power station and threaten to turn it off if we didn’t return to wage slavery? On the contrary, they seem concerned to ensure that “essential services” are not disrupted during major strikes. In any case the electricity grid that links power stations in every industrialised country is about as “decentralised” as one could ask.

It is hard to imagine a more direct reversal of traditional socialist attitudes towards the implications of large scale industry. The point is not to refute this wooly thinking about “centralisation” but to ask what process of mental atrophy could produce such patent nonsense, repeated so often with such authority?

The only answer I can see is that the extinction of Marxism by revisionism during the period of capitalist re-stabilisation has been so complete that most “radicals” have never even heard of Marxist views and have had to re-discover for themselves all the pre-Marxian socialist theories. (This certainly seems to have been the case with the “New Left” that grew up in the middle sixties, even when Marxist phrases were used.)

16. h) Unemployment

It is a well known proposition of Marxism that as capitalism develops with an increasing organic composition of capital, the size of the industrial reserve army increases and this is particularly manifested in mass unemployment during crises.

The obvious conclusion is that capitalism should be abolished so that people are not “employed by” capital but instead “employ” means of production to satisfy their own requirements.

Instead we have extraordinary proposals from “radicals” to freeze technological development, or at least control and retard it, so as to “safeguard jobs”. The whole trend of most “left” analysis of technology and unemployment involves an acceptance of capitalist irrationality as permanent, and a willingness to restrict the growth in productive forces and therefore living standards so as to adapt them to this irrational economic system (without mass unemployment).

Surely the most elementary socialist consciousness would involve welcoming Labor saving technology and demanding its speediest and widest adoption. If the social and economic system can’t cope then that’s its problem! It is very strange to see “socialists” arguing that since capitalism can’t cope with new technology without unemployment, we should keep the capitalism, but do without the technology. Yet that is exactly what is implied when people complain about Labor saving technology. They are even prepared to put up with having to work longer hours to produce fewer goods, just as long as they can keep their precious capitalism!

Ricardian economics long ago accepted that the introduction of new technology can be against the real immediate interests of workers who lose their jobs because of it. But its a long way from there to adopting a program that tries to inhibit new technology. In fact it has always been when technological change is most rapid that the scope for expanded capital accumulation is greatest and new jobs are created soaking up the reserve army and raising wages. Stagnation simply means a larger and larger reserve army.

Actually most remarks about technology are prefaced by a reference to “the current economic climate”. This reflects awareness that technological change and the accompanying destruction and creation of jobs is a permanent factor of capitalism, both when there is “full employment” and when there is mass unemployment.

Obviously the fact that mass unemployment suddenly started to develop throughout the Western world a few years ago cannot be attributed to any equally sudden change in technology and must be attributed to the particular stage in the capitalist business cycle that was reached then. So why do people persist in blaming a process of technological change that has been going on all the time?

It can only be because they don’t want to face up to the implications of capitalism as the source of our problems. Its easier to fight “the machines” than “the bosses”, or at any rate it is more respectable to do so.

17. Let us now review the major “radical” trends and their attitudes to these issues.

18. The ideology of the “soft technology” trend is well expressed in the journal Resurgence whose Editor Satish Kumar has summarised its aims thus:

“The breaking down of our over-large and over-centralised political and economic structure into smaller autonomous units in order that institutions should become responsive to the needs and desires of everybody and that everyone should thus feel involvement with and responsibility for the conduct of affairs.” (“Time Running Out? Best of Resurgence”, Prism Press 1976)

The belief that smaller autonomous units guarantee responsiveness to the needs and desires of everybody is somewhat quaint in view of the history of feudalism. Nevertheless, in one form or another, this whole approach is still extremely popular in “left” circles. It seems that Marxism never did defeat anarchism after all.

Although many adherents of this trend are very nice, gentle people who would probably find themselves on the right side of the barricades if it came to that (even if only as stretcher bearers), the ideological content of this trend is undiluted reaction against modern society.

The best known exponent of this trend is E.F. (“Small is Beautiful”) Schumacher, whose social views are not radically different from B.A. Santamaria’s and are based on the same papal encyclicals (ibid p103). But Resurgence points out Schumacher should be paired with Professor Leopold Kohr in a “Kohrmacher”, like the “Chesterbelloc” of the last generation’ (an interesting comparison with another pair of religious medievalists)(ibid p1).

To show just how openly reactionary this trend can be, without the admiring disciples even noticing, we need not consider the promotion of Zionist kibbutzes as a model for the new society (p108). Let us just take an article by Professor Kohr on “The Economics of Progress” (p18).

Kohr starts with a conversation between two college professors discussing how to wash their shirts, and also “plumbing, floor polishing and cooking, glorying in the fact that progress had so simplified matters that all these things could now be done by themselves”.

But one of them sighs and declares:

…fifty years ago we would have had maids. Instead of having to wash, plumb, and cook like unspecialised pioneers, we might have been better engineers and economists. Moreover, our shirts would have looked pressed, and our meals have tasted better. And instead of discussing housework at a party of scholars, we might have discussed our subjects.

According to Kohr:

“The experience of the two professors is shared by an increasing number of people. On one hand, we witness the gigantic pace of progress and continuously rising output figures. But on the other hand, we have the strange feeling that, instead of getting ahead in life, we have to give up every year something we could afford when, according to living standard experts, we must have had less”.

To support this conclusion, Kohr notes that:

“When I was a student in the early 30’s, I drove a racy sportscar”. (During the Great Depression).

Now as a University Professor he rides a bus.

“And the income classes above me have fared still worse… Mr Dupont had to abandon his palatial residence.. Now it is a museum…Where are the people who have become richer as a result of Mr Dupont having become poorer? On the contrary, most seem to be carried along the same road: downhill… Those who previously drank wine with their meals now drank water, and those who had maids now have none.”

“As to maids, it is frequently said that their disappearance is precisely a sign not of decline but of rising standards. For maids of former days are now housewives or businesswomen. Quite. But why should maids have aspired to these higher levels except in the hope of having maids themselves?…

“And workers seem to have fared only outwardly better. True, they have record incomes and record quantities of goods to spend them on. But if all is taken into account, can they really be said to be better off than workers of earlier times? They can write and read. But what is their main literature? They can send their children to college. But what has college education become under the levelling impact of intellectual mass production made necessary by the unprecedented numbers of those now able to afford it?…With so many other workers going to school, higher education, already intellectually sterile, seems without added material benefit, having become the competitive minimum requirement for almost any job.”

(Exactly the same point is made by Braverman, but dressed up as “Marxism”)

“As a result, what has actually risen under the impact of the enormously increased production of our time is not so much the standard of living as the level of subsistence. We swim in more water, but we are still in it up to our necks, In addition, along with the rising water level, many who previously enjoyed the luxury of the dry shore, are now up to their necks in water too”.

(Braverman makes a similar point to this too).

“…the problem is…no longer how to foster growth, but how to stop it..”

The above is not a distortion of Professor Kohr’s views, but an accurate picture of the introduction to an article that goes on with the usual theme of the need for smaller, more decentralised communities.

It is perfectly clear what section of society this “aristocratic socialism” speaks for – that part of the financial aristocracy being ruined as the proletarianisation of society proceeds (just as the old feudal socialism spoke for the declining feudal aristocracy).

To his credit, Professor Kohr does not attempt to conceal this in the slightest. But why are his views, or those of “Kohrmacher” nevertheless perfectly respectable in “left” circles?

Since a critique of Braverman’s romanticism necessarily includes a critique of this even more reactionary opposition to modern society, I will leave the matter there.

19. A second major trend, which may be called “Luddite” has closer connections with genuinely working class and socialist movements, and is in part a theoretical reflection of the ideas naturally arising in the course of trade union struggles to safeguard the rights of workers affected by automation.

This trend is not opposed to modern technology in itself, and emphasises the benefits that could flow from it in a socialist society. But it has a negative attitude towards the introduction of new technology within capitalist society, seeing this as a means of doing workers out of jobs and strengthening capitalist control.

The question “For Whom?” is repeated continuously and with enormous self-satisfaction as though it throws some penetrating light on the issues at stake, although in fact it obscures the question “What are the social implications?”. Since the answer to “For Whom?” in capitalist society is naturally “For them” (the capitalists), it is rare to find people who ask this question actually in favour of any new technology being introduced now.

20. Typical of this genre is a pamphlet called “Computers vs Journalists who wins?” (40 cents from Box 175, P.O. 367 Collins St Melbourne 3000)

Under the subhead “Problems, Problems, Problems…” we read:

“Sub editors are particularly affected, as the new technology not only means removal of some existing skills, but makes it more difficult to perform many traditional ones. ‘Casting off’, or determining the length of a story, can be done automatically by computer, making redundant a skill acquired over a long period by subs…The skill in writing a headline, which “fits” will be greatly de-valued because the computer can reject those which “bounce” before they are set in type.

Some subs will welcome the job of casting off, or headline counts being made easier, but by transferring the skills involved from men and women to a computer the human component involved in the highly-skilled task of good sub-editing is weakened”.

The appeal here is unmistakably conservative. One can imagine similar warnings about moveable type being addressed to monks in defence of their highly skilled craft copying manuscripts (which was indeed completely destroyed by the new technology).

It has not even occured to the writer that it might be an advance for a machine to do routine counting operations while the human sub-editor concentrates on the content of the material sub edited. Obviously one should fight for people whose skills have been made obsolete by new technology to be re-trained, re-employed and not to suffer in the slightest. But this preference for human labour when something can be done as well by machine is really quite different, and quite reactionary. It means using people like machines.

The conservatism involved is made quite explicit when the pamphlet quotes approvingly from an agreement between the Swedish Unions of journalists and Graphic Workers, recommending similar agreements between Australian unions:

“GF and SJF agree that the introduction of the new technology shall not affect the traditional basic principles of a division of labour among the categories of employees concerned. Thus, mechanical production tasks fall to the lot of graphic workers, while journalistic tasks are the domain of the staff members. Special importance must be attached to the workload of the staff, which must not be increased in such a manner that creative journalistic work is made to suffer. Nor may the tasks of graphic workers be made to include functions embracing journalistic work of a creative or decision-making nature”.

This desire to preserve “the traditional principles of a division of labour” against a new technology that tends to break down those divisions can only be called reactionary. Why shouldn’t journalists set their own copy? Why shouldn’t printers’ jobs include work of a creative or decision making nature?

The other side of this coin is attempts to prove that a new technology is deepening the division of labour and therefore should be opposed, when in fact like most new technology the actual effect is to break down that division.

Word processing is a classic example. No serious person could argue that a typewriter with editing and correcting features is in itself worse for humanity than one without these features (although some people have tried). Yet from all the “left” literature on the subject, one would think that the main social impact of word processing under capitalism would be to reduce the status of typist/secretaries to the level of the typing pool, and reinforce the division between “executive” and “clerical” Labor.

Naturally some reactionaries will try to take advantage of any change in work methods to make things worse for the workers by introducing typing pools and what have you. Although it is easier to maintain word counts and so forth with a word processor, there is nothing inherent in the technology that would make it easier for bosses to impose typing pools and other worse conditions on the workers, and in fact they have not been successful in doing so.

While word processors are still new and expensive, there is some tendency to try and achieve maximum utilisation of the machine and so attempt tighter control over the Labor using it (especially since such intensification of labour is feasible in the present economic climate of increasing unemployment). But the inherent trend of the technology is in the opposite direction (as will become clear, when word processing keyboards and VDUs become cheaper than electric typewriters and replace them on a one for one basis – with a separate printer shared between several typists).

The actual impact of word processing has been and will be to reduce the total requirement for typing Labor, especially by eliminating the repetitive typing of similar documents with minor variations (“personalized” form letters with different addresses, revised drafts etc). These are precisely the applications where typing pools have been common, and they are being eliminated, so typing pools must be declining.

The jobs previously done by “secretaries” are now being done by smaller numbers of “administrative assistants” on the one hand, and word processors on the other. This elimination of the Executive’s personal secretary/body slave is a clear-cut upgrading in job status (except for the Executive’s some of whom are complaining) and a break down in the division of Labor. As has already happened with printers and journalists, the next logical step is for all “word originators”, whether “Executives” or not, to do their own typing, since no special manual dexterity is required with the new machines and the difference in wage levels does not “justify” specialisation. These trends will be accelerated, with similar impacts on the Labor presently required for filing and other clerical work, as communication between word processors on different desks, and direct access to mass data storage is developed. Even for purely “typist” Labor in typing pools, the use of a machine with editing and correcting facilities is a clear upgrade in job function.

People who are afraid to confront bosses with the simple demand that there be no intensification of Labor under cover of the new technology will rationalise this fear by pretending that the new technology, rather than the bosses, are the source of the pressure for Labor intensification. But most workers know how to fight such pressures and have been successful in doing so (although the degree of Success or failure always ultimately depends on the state of the Labor market and the ease of transferring between jobs, hence on the overall economic climate, rather than on the militancy of struggle in individual workplaces).

This awareness that one’s fate is bound up with that of all other workers develops in the proletariat and helps develop its consciousness as a class for itself. It seems to be sadly lacking in many “left” writers about the “Labor process” who picture the class struggle as unfolding in particular workplaces rather than on a national scale, and seem to be under the illusion that workers are tied to their particular employers for life.

21. Leaving aside the overall struggle for a new society, even within capitalism, the natural reaction of socialist toward new Labor saving technology should be to demand its speedy introduction and a share of the benefits. Thus the earlier replacement of handicrafts by machine industry prompted agitation for a shorter working day in the factories, and so should the latest stage in automation promote agitation for a shorter working day.

Instead we have the modern Luddites repeating the mistake of the earlier Luddites who tried to prevent the new machinery replacing handicraft Labor in the.first place. An attempt as futile as it is reactionary.

22. This term “Luddite” is not used here simply as a form of abuse. It is admitted by representatives of this trend themselves, despite the whole history of scientific socialism since the Industrial Revolution. Here is Chris Harmon of the UK Socialist Workers Party in a pamphlet titled “Is a machine after your job? New Technology and the Struggle for Socialism“. (p21)

“… the Luddites were a group of workers suffering from miserably low wages and facing a destruction of their jobs by new working methods. Their attempts to fight back by destroying machines may not have been successful (although they did succeed in holding down a bigger army than the Duke of Wellington had in the same years to fight his war against the French in Spain).

“But the result of their failure was not something good. It was grinding desperate poverty for hundreds of thousands of people, enduring for a whole generation…

“…Our response has to start from the same suspicion of the way the new technology is being used that motivates those who simply say “No”. We are on the same side as the Luddites, not against them .”

The “microprocessor revolution” promises (not “threatens”) to have as big an impact on the Labor process as the development of automatic machinery in the earlier industrial revolution. Just as the dexterity of human fingers was for most purposes replaced by machinery, so now some higher functions of control and supervision will also be replaced (although not yet much in the way of actually creative intellectual processes). It is truly amazing that instead of the further development of Marxism, which based itself on a theoretical comprehension of the social consequences of the age of machinery, we should see a revival of earlier and cruder varieties of socialism that have long been discredited in favour of Marxism, by the history of modern society.

Once again, since a critique of Braverman’s romanticism necessarily embraces a critique of modern Luddism, I will leave the matter there. But I should stress that this “theoretical” difference does put me on the opposite side to modern Luddites on strictly practical questions. When they are agitating against the introduction of word processors, I would be agitating for workers to demand their immediate introduction and refuse to operate obsolete typewriters that haven’t got all mod cons.

23. Before turning to Braverman and romanticism, it may be worth pointing out the important differences between the Liberal and Social Democratic defence of modern technology and economic growth on the one hand, and the Marxist view on the other, since so far we have been mainly talking about the similarities.

Both the similarities and differences are made clear in an article on “Technology and the Left” in the CPGB organ Marxism Today of May 1979. Here Ian Benson, a British Labor Party and trade union activist, makes much the same criticisms of “romanticism” and the CPGB’s line (similar to the CPA’s), as would be made by Liberals on the one hand and Marxists on the other.

24. After quoting Lenin’s analysis of the socialisation of Labor, Benson argues:

“From this perspective the simple classification of technology into exploitative and non-exploitative is seen to contribute little either to the raising of the cultural level of mankind or the solution of the political problems of establishing democratic control over the means of production.

The defence of particular skills amounts to an attempt to freeze the existing division of Labor, and defers the satisfaction of material and cultural needs by the rest of the population which would be met by automation. The principled opposition to centralisation on the grounds of the alleged greater democracy of decentralised production, is both contrary to the need for further integration of the world economy as a prerequisite for the breakdown of skill, class and national barriers, and offers nothing to solving the problem of establishing democratic control over the economy as a whole.

A socialist technology policy with these ends must be based on an analysis of the constraints on the development of science as a productive force, “preparing the ground for the dissolution of human alienation”.

This whole approach is so foreign to the romantic outlook that dominates most “left” thinking that people replying cannot even grasp what is being said. Consider this from a reply titled “What Type of Technology do we want” by Dave Elliott in the same issue of Marxism today:

“…Benson believes that science and technology somehow develop independently from other forces in society. They are “neutral” resources of knowledge and techniques which can be applied either to the benefit of society generally (under socialism) or for the benefit of a few (under capitalism).”

Manifestly Benson does not believe that at all.

He quite clearly treats technology as a positive force which pushes society forward and helps transform it from capitalism to socialism. This is a view common to Social Democrats and Marxists. But it is so unthinkable to romantics that the worst accusation they can fling at the pro-technology camp is that we view technology as merely neutral, which we do not!

I have seen numerous articles loftily criticising the “old fashioned”, “economic determinist” and “simplistic” view that technology is neutral and that a socialist society could simply take over the previous technology and apply it to more humane ends. This “neutral” view is often attributed to Engels, Lenin and Stalin although Marx and Mao are often claimed to have been more sympathetic to the romantic school. But I have hardly seen any material directly confronting the “unthinkable” explicitly pro-technology view which was in fact articulated loud and clear by Marx as well as the rest.

What this “criticism” proves is simply that the critics are quite ignorant of the views of their opponents, let alone being in a position to advance on those views from a more comprehensive understanding.

It is rather like accusing atheists of the Protestant heresy because we will not pray to the virgin Mary, when in fact the problem is even more serious!

26. The differences between the Marxist and Social Democratic approaches to the social implications of modern technology are made clear when Ian Benson proceeds “Towards a Socialist Technology Policy”:

“It should call for the removal of all barriers to the full development of science and technology in the interests of society, through a programme of radical institutional, scientific and political reforms.”

Benson then outlines a program of reforms to promote “re-skilling,”Democratic Control”, “Social Ownership”, “Development of Science” and “Socially Useful Production” – all with the aim of “liberation of science”.

What this omits is precisely the Marxist concept that the main “institutional” barrier to the full development of science and technology in the interest of society, is the capitalist mode of production based on commodities and wage labour itself. This has been obsolete since the age of electricity (never mind micro-electronics) and needs to be swept away by revolution (not reform).

Social Democrats share with Marxists the fundamental concept that the development of the productive forces, modern technology and economic growth, is the positive dynamic factor which pushes forward the transformation of social relationships. But they stand this conclusion on its head by calling for reforms to push forward new technology and economic growth (which are dynamic and pushing forward spontaneously anyway), instead of concentrating on the obsolete social relations which are the passive factor that has been left behind and is acting as a brake on further progress. In fact in an era such as this, where the social relations are obsolete, it is precisely by social revolution that the productive forces can be unleashed for further and more rapid development (and in the act of social revolution, the relations of production temporarily assume the role of the most active dynamic factor).

Although the terms “productive forces” and “relations of production” have been turned into an almost meaningless cliche, once grasped, the concept is almost tautologous in its simplicity.

27. Economic growth, and especially technical progress, is essentially cumulative. New developments, even if quite useless, or only capable of being used in a harmful way, always add to the range of possibilities open and never shut off possibilities that were open before. We still spend most of our waking hours “Making a living” and our social relationships are formed in the course of doing so. It is hardly surprising that the continuous opening up of new ways of making a living should continuously leave behind and render obsolete the old social relationships founded on the basis of obsolete ways of making a living.

28. The whole point about the productive forces being the active dynamic factor, is that they have an in-built tendency to develop spontaneously, which the relations between people do not.

Whenever an enterprise improves its production technique, or an individual worker improves his or her lot (eg. by obtaining a more responsible position), there is a development of the productive forces. But it is not automatically accompanied by any corresponding change in social relations. Under capitalism such developments are proceeding spontaneously all the time, indeed they are a necessary condition for the expansion of markets and the possibility of re-investing surplus value in the expanded reproduction.

29. The social relations of production can get left behind as the productive forces develop, so that today for example, we still have essentially capitalist relations between people, based on commodity exchange and wage labour, which were appropriate to the petty production of the middle ages but are no longer compatible with large scale machine industry (let alone being compatible with the latest developments).

30. Just as the institutions of slavery and serfdom once held back the further development of the productive forces and had to give way against the slave and surf revolts, so the institution of wage labour is now holding things back and giving rise to revolts. Eg. apart from the obvious contradictions between capitalism and economic growth expressed in business crises, there is the day to day stifling of the enormous creative energies of the workers themselves, which could be unleashed in a system where they had an interest as masters of production, instead of a direct interest in sabotaging it and “conserving” their jobs. Then scientific and technical innovation would not only be unhindered by mass unemployment and crises, but would be the conscious activity of the majority instead of the province of “management control”.

31. It follows from this analysis that the critical task facing society is to smash the obsolete social relations as the only way to liberate the productive forces or “liberate science” as Benson puts it.

32. Quite politically conservative people like businessmen or revisionist party bureaucrats can contribute to social progress by developing the productive forces, but only revolutionaries can tackle the central issue of overturning the obsolete social relations.

33. Therefore in every society in transition from capitalism to communism, whether a capitalist society like Australia or post-Mao China, with the bourgeoisie in power, or a socialist society like Mao’s China, the central political issues are often expressed in terms of whether to focus on developing the productive forces or on transforming the relations of production

34. The representatives of the old capitalist relations, the bourgeoisie, the conservatives, whether they be “businessmen” or “party officials” share much the same rhetoric in calling for “hard work” to “make more cake” and in dismissing the workers struggle to transform social relations as an interference in that process. It is interesting to note how Ian Benson appeals to both the Czechoslovak Communist Party Program of Dubcek’s time, and the “four modernisations” stuff coming out of China today, in support of his views. The only difference between Social Democrats and Liberals in this regard is that Social Democrats place greater stress on making necessary concessions to the workers: “share the cake more equally and don’t waste it”.

35. In opposition to the Malcolm Fraser’s and Hua Kuo-feng’s, the representatives of the new communist relations of production the proletariat, the radicals, raise the question of “all power to the cooks”. This (after a certain amount of cake-mix spoiling due to confusion among the cooks), is the only way to really transform cake production.

36. Unfortunately the Marxist analysis of forces and relations of production can only be grasped by the majority in communist society where the majority of humanity are consciously engaged in changing themselves. If it was the dominant view, even among the “left”, and did not have to continuously fend off assaults from reaction, Luddism, romanticism and Social Democracy, then we would have already have had the revolution.

24 Responses to “Outline on technology and progress”


  1. 1 jad

    That is an excellent post.

    However, I do find the “McMansion Marxism” on this site a bit self-deluding. A “bright future” is not inevitable. Far from it.

    Also, I think if you all spent spent some days (or weeks) exploring the site below it would be a good step in eradicating the “dialectical disease” which is rampant here:

    http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/

  2. 2 informally yours

    Hi Jad,

    I agree that the article ‘Outline on Technology and Progress’ is excellent. I recommend you also read “Technology and the Future of Work.” There was a series of these articles I published in 1994 when I was Editor of Empire Times the Flinders University Students’ Association news paper. I will start work reproducing the follow up article and a response from Jeff Richards from Green Left.

    As to the disease of dialectics here I at least plead guilty as charged as I have just been re-reading Marxist Leninist philosophy to understand dialectics more deeply, and also Mao On Contradiction.
    I checked out your link and can’t say I am particularly impressed but I will look further, though I suspect that it is covering old ground that we debated in ET in 1994. I am totally aghast as to why a revolutionary leftist would want to discard it. I am becoming more rather than less convinced that although it might be difficult it is nevertheless important to come to grips with. Without a solid foundation we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. I’ve been thinking how lucky we are to have dialectics on our side to help us understand how things turn into their opposites; about qualitative and quantitative change; the negation of the negation etc..

    Off to transcribe De Ta Fabula Narratur (This Story is about you)

  3. 3 informally yours

    I have looked around and cannot find ‘Technology and the future of Work’ online so I guess I’ll get that up as well.

  4. 4 informally yours

    This panexperientialism theory lacks a full understanding of the interconnectedness of placebo and nocebo effects. (dialectical approach) Thereby interpreting differential human experiences in medicine/pharmaceuticals based upon the emotions/feelings rather than upon the subconscious state.

  5. 5 informally yours

    Have been unable to locate the articles in a digital form and so will need to retype etc., and it will therefore take a bit longer than i hoped. I will get onto it.

  6. 6 informally yours

    “The reason a cosmology based on scientific materialism cannot provide such an explanation is that the abstraction on which this materialism is based involves precisely the removal of mind from nature.” David Ray Griffin

    Not convinced of any of these being other than anti-communist God botherers. Materialism is not based upon the removal of mind from nature it is based on the integration of the mind/body split so this person David Ray Griffin is on the same wrong track as Whitehead. Time to do the hard yards on the primary sources and not derivatives/or politically motivated naysayers.

  7. 7 Justin

    Arthur

    Sorry that reference was to a book, not an article. Here is an article that summarises his position:

    http://www.anthonyflood.com/griffinpanexperientialism00.htm

  8. 8 Justin

    Well done informally yours.

    David can breathes easy no and I am staying quite put.

    I have to got but if you like you can skim the following posits and let me knw your thought?

    http://panexperientialism.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/does-physicalism-entail-cosmopsychism.html

    http://panexperientialism.blogspot.com.au/2008/08/case-for-intelligent-design.html

    http://panexperientialism.blogspot.com.au/2009/11/panpsychic-marxism.html

    Also, hit me with a quote from the Antichrist

    Best Wishes

  9. 9 Justin

    excuse the typos in my last post – I am in a great rush…..

  10. 10 informally yours

    This panexperientialism etc. is just a ‘rehash’ of the early 20thC positions that Lenin called ‘sensationalism.’ If we can’t stand on the shoulders of giants we are doomed to repeat errors. A Dialectical approach doesn’t render things unknowable/confused it shows how things are interconnected and internally contradictory and how they move. For instance, atoms are not either positively or negatively charged they carry the capability to be either, and to change into their opposite.

  11. 11 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Informally yours:

    “I am totally aghast as to why a revolutionary leftist would want to discard it.”

    Here are a few reasons:

    1) Dialectical Materialism makes not one ounce of sense, as my Essays show. Begin here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why%20I%20Oppose%20DM.htm

    2)If DM were true, change would be impossible:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2007_03.htm

    3) This theory has presided over 140+ years of the almost total failure of Dialectical Marxism (notice I am not saying Marxism has failed; the non-dialectical version hasn’t been road-tested yet).

    Proof here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm

    And I rather doubt you have discussed the objections to this theory that I have raised. Most are unique to my site.

    Of course, if you think otherwise, I’d be interested to learn where they have been discussed before.

  12. 12 informally yours

    Rosa,

    Since we last ‘met’ at Lastsuperpower, when you posted a similar few lines to link to your antidialectics pages expounding your ‘unique’ thesis, I was interested to have a look at what you had to say. However, I quickly became disinterested after seeing your so-called ‘evidence’ for statements such as this; ” If DM were true, change would be impossible:”.

    What you take as ‘read and understood’ is typical Trot drivel, like your condemnation of the winter war, or Stalin and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact; and your general rant against Mao for not being as brilliant as all the Trot [counter]-revolutionaries that have won revolution after revolution, and the 2nd WW along the way! NOT

    Too bad Mao had to live out his life on a Chinese Island protected from the Chinese masses by the largest naval forces in the world hey!! What an incompetent revolutionary he turned out to be. Nothing to learn from there!

    As we see from the philosophical heights you’ve scaled… you solve problem after problem every year as the revolutionary transformation of the world unfolds – and you make breakthrough, after breakthrough from other Trot perspectives that claim to operate on a dialectical basis!? NOT

    Take your ‘support’ for the ‘people’ of Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, or Syria. What ‘breakthrough in understanding’ from your ‘unique’ perspective gives any comfort to those people? Other Trots have made breakthroughs – such as Christopher Hitchens or, the cruise missile Trots from the Drink Soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For War (DSTPFW)in Britain; and later in the U.S. some from the initial North Star who at least after the event supported U.S. / NATO Libyan intervention and made a small breakthrough in their thinking; but from you?? nothing, nada, zip!

    Fact is you haven’t changed anyone’s view with your approach to politics, or philosophy and I would bet that you couldn’t provide instances on international questions where your approach has led to any breakthroughs.

    Are the actual facts more that you haven’t adopted any substantively different positions of any real note from most others who inhabit your strange pseudoleft world? Point THESE out if this is not the case. Just don’t come here not engaging with an issue like Technology to remind us of your obsession. We won’t be playing.

    Any Marxist accepts that the point of philosophy is not only to understand the world but to change it. Quite frankly you manage neither. Mao and Stalin demonstrated an understanding of the world by and as they changed it. You as a purported Marxist want to straighten Marxism out from the 140+ years of failure to make revolution, but as we see you agree with every bog standard failed Trot political stance on every international issue.

    You are not a breakthrough thinker you are an obsessional f-wit facing the wrong direction and definitely requiring a reality check.

    In China, after “cash my check” launched his unprovoked killing spree, the Japanese and Japanese collaborators also tried to kill Mao and his kind and so they ran away when they had to and fought back when and as they could. Mao took to philosophy to save himself and his homeys. (Sorry I’ve been watching ‘The Wire’) Guess what? He won (for his lifetime) and created the People’s Republic of China, I wish you luck in your attempts to top that by putting your ‘unique’ theories to the service of helping the oppressed overcome the oppressor anywhere in the world. Revolutionaries do not expect eternal victories.

    I know that my approach has changed since that first exchange, but I can’t see yours has as you are still posting links to unreadable pages (both in content and format) and loudly denouncing the so-called anti-democratic nature of Stalinists, or Maoists and purporting to participate in necessary discussions of the pressing international issues of the day.

    As we can see from the carry on of the liars and censors over at sites like TNS, and Kasama none of you in the Peace, Stop the war, anti-imperialist, Neverland milieu are going anywhere but out the back door.

    I’d rather look at the work of the Nepalese revolutionary communists in bringing democracy to Nepal, than put up with 5 minutes more crap from no-hoping and always predictable Trots like your self obsessed self!

  13. 13 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Thanks for at least trying to respond, but I note you confine much of your reply to making personal attacks on me and/or my ideas as opposed to actually producing a single argument in refutation of my proof that if dialectics were true, change would be impossible.

    The rest of your ‘reply’ raises issues the relevance of which is hard ascertain. Whether or not I have made any ‘break-throughs’, or us Trotskyists are right or completely wrong (and may I remind you, I get the same sort of abuse from Dialectical Trotskyists, who, like you, have uncritically swallowed this theory), the fact remains that I have demolished your core theory (Dialectal Materialism), and you have no effective response to it.

    Of course, if you think otherwise, I am sure you’ll be only too happy to reveal where I have gone wrong.

    But, like so may other Maoists with whom I debated this, the most I can expect from you is another ‘reply’ full of invective and abuse. You seem to think that you can respond to a philosophical demolition job by attacking its author, when all that would reveal is the fact that you have no answer.

  14. 14 Rosa Lichtenstein

    I’m sorry, there were one or two rather glaring typos in my last post; here is the correct version:

    Thanks for at least trying to respond, but I note you confine much of your reply to making personal attacks on me and/or my ideas as opposed to actually producing a single argument in refutation of my proof that if dialectics were true, change would be impossible.

    The rest of your ‘reply’ raises issues the relevance of which is hard ascertain. Whether or not I have made any ‘break-throughs’, or us Trotskyists are right or completely wrong (and may I remind you, I get the same sort of abuse from Dialectical Trotskyists, who, like you, have uncritically swallowed this theory), the fact remains that I have demolished your core theory (Dialectical Materialism), and you have no effective response to it.

    Of course, if you think otherwise, I am sure you’ll be only too happy to reveal where I have gone wrong.

    But, like so many other Maoists with whom I debated this, the most I can expect from you is another ‘reply’ full of invective and abuse. You seem to think that you can respond to a philosophical demolition job by attacking its author, when all that reveals is the fact that you have no answer.

  15. 15 informally yours

    Rosa,
    I have been revealing where Trots go wrong ever since I came up against them as a non-aligned leftist at Uni.. Always wrecking student meetings and developing “the line” in outside caucuses and working the numbers game rather than engaging in positive interactions with the student movement. Trots hijacked the agenda, time and time again, and so on a practical level I grew to despise the tendency. I suppose that shows.

    My first campus election was lost against an Australian version of Trotskyists, the Resistance group, (and SWP) which shortly after renounced their Marxist heritage and transitioned to the DSP and became the so-called Green-Left.

    What they have to say about technology and progress is by and large wrong and or incomprehensible. It was certainly not a viable group to look to for leadership and neither has it been since, especially with it trailing electorally on the coat-tails of the Australian Labor Party. (ALP)

    Your so-called philosophical ‘demolition job’, of your version of dialectical materialism doesn’t deserve 5 more minutes of my time. There is simply no point in writing at length on why you are wrong in a topic thread on technology. You have made no on-topic engagement and so any discussion here would be lost in the comments and is therefore a waste of both your and my time.

  16. 16 Steve Owens

    informally yours its a bit rich to castigate Rosa for posting about dialectic materialism on this thread when clearly you opened up the discussion about dialectic materialism with comments like
    “I’ve been thinking how lucky we are to have dialectics on our side to help us understand how things turn into their opposites; about qualitative and quantitative change; the negation of the negation etc..”

  17. 17 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Informally:

    “Your so-called philosophical ‘demolition job’, of your version of dialectical materialism doesn’t deserve 5 more minutes of my time. There is simply no point in writing at length on why you are wrong in a topic thread on technology.”

    Just like other fans of the dialectic, you have no answer.

    Here is a summary of my demolition:

    I begin by quoting the DM-classics; here are just two:

    “In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another….

    “All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute.” [Mao, ‘On Contradiction’, pp.340-42.]

    “Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, — under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, — why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” [Lenin, ‘Collected Works’, Volume 38, p.109.]

    [You can find dozens more quotations (that tell the same story) taken from Hegel, Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Mao, and a host of other DM-fans, at the second of the links I posted earlier.]

    From the above we can see that DM-theorists claim that all objects/processes change because of (1) A contradictory relationship and struggle between their internal opposites, and that they (2) They change into those opposites.

    This presents DM-theorists with some rather nasty dialectical headaches, if interpreted along the lines expressed in the DM-classics.

    To see this, let us suppose that object/process A is comprised of two “internal contradictory opposites” (or “opposite tendencies”) O* and O**, and changes as a result.

    [The same problems arise if these are viewed as ‘external opposites’.]

    But, O* can’t change into O** since O** already exists!

    If O** didn’t already exist, O* couldn’t change, for there would be no opposite to bring that about. That is because O* can only change if it struggles with its opposite, which, plainly, it couldn’t do if O** didn’t already exist.

    And, it is no good propelling O** into the future so that it becomes what O* will change into, since O* will do no such thing unless O** is already there in the present to make that happen!

    So, if object/process A is already composed of a ‘dialectical union’ of O* and O**, O* can’t change into O** since O** already exists.

    In other words, A can’t change if this ‘theory’ were true!

    And what applies to A applies to anything that changes.

    This isn’t to deny change, only to point out that if this ‘theory’ were true, change would be impossible.

    ——————

    So, where does this demolition go wrong?

    If it is quite as defective as you seem to think, you should find it easy to point out my mistakes.

    Moreover, as Steve Owens points out above, you raised this issue, so you can hardly complain if I respond.

    Finally, I once again fail to see what the alleged defects and misdeeds the Trotskyists (who, as I have pointed out, agree with you about ‘dialectics’, and who also give me a hard time for rejecting this ‘theory’, all the while failing to say where I go wrong — again, just like you!) have got to do with my demolition of your ‘theory’.

    But I can understand why you’d prefer to deflect attention from your plight by raising a totally unrelated subject.

  18. 18 informally yours

    First; Steve I didn’t raise the issue Jad did, and I foolishly engaged 18 months ago as a commenter with the panexistentialism links.

    Now I’m more focused on categorisation and archiving, I realise that if it’s not on topic it’s lost and therefore a waste of everyone’s time.

    Rosa, as I see it you are interpreting dialectics through a prism that’s been honed for finding dichotomy. (separation and difference rather than interconnectedness). Your so-called ‘demolition’ goes wrong because it goes along the lines of all dogs have four legs, my cat has four legs therefore my cat is a dog, thus leading to the ‘tyranny’ of misapplication/over-extending the usefulness, of formal logic.

    DM-theorists

    do not

    ‘claim that all objects/processes change because of

    (1) A contradictory relationship and struggle between their internal opposites, and that they

    (2) They change into those opposites.’

    As a concrete example, an egg can develop life but will not develop without external influences! It is the process of interdependency of internal and external forces, whereby heat changes an egg into a chicken, whereas no amount of heat will transform a rock into a chicken. YET, all life arises from a state of non-life, and therefore ’emerges’ from transformed ‘rock’. At this level, we are all star dust.

    We define darkness by the absence of light and these concepts are interdependent, this is a unity of opposites. As is the example of the interdependence of the concept of normality if exploring deviance etc..

    Even though I said this is neither the time or place let us be distracted by this one last time.

    So, is it correct to say that ‘according to DM theory ‘object/process A is comprised of two “internal contradictory opposites” (or “opposite tendencies”) O* and O**, and changes as a result.’?

    Rosa says ‘O* can’t change into O** since O** already exists!’

    But O** both does and does not exist. For example, egg cell + sperm = 1 fertilized egg, then cell division produces 2,4,8,16 of the ‘same’ cell but always with the internal capacity to produce O**

    ‘Under what conditions’ does the always potential of O** turn into the reality of O**? It usually is the case that the dividing cells overcome the tendency to pull apart, and one individual eventually emerges, but external conditions often enough produces the other result and the process results in O* and O** ‘identical’ twins being born.

    O* could and did change because O** was there all along in potential but O** at one point clearly did not exist.

    O* changed because of the ‘internal struggle’ to hold together vs to pull apart. The one prevailed over the other in an environment where external influences can operate on those internal issues.

    O** is already there in potential in the present and was there if you track backwards all the way to the big bang.

    “Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be, and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, — under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, — why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” [Lenin, ‘Collected Works’, Volume 38, p.109.]

    Object/Process A = Life forms on Earth emerging from non-life and further changing from non-seeing, to seeing life, until life as we know it once more disappears when the Sun extinguishes Earth.

    so…
    “All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute.” [Mao, ‘On Contradiction’, pp.340-42.]

    “In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another….

    We materialists accept that there was on planet Earth no life, and then at some point there was matter that was self replicating. Non- life had transformed into life, which then transformed a tendency to not see into one oriented to see.

    None of us deny change and accept that ‘what applies to A applies to anything that changes.’

    A is comprised of two internally contradictory opposites.

    I am sure that both Dialectical Materialists and Materialists who oppose the method of Dialectics both agree that at one time there was no object called an eye on planet earth. So to move on from there, there was no sight and yet plenty to see.

    We all agree that there was an Object called light (now that is an enormous contradiction) and that after the point where a process transformed non-life into life and another process could begin transforming non-seeing into seeing. That proceeded, via mutation and natural selection to develop over the ages the diverse range of ocular capacities we are all familiar with. So life came into being and did so prior to sighted life forms, but never was there non- life that could see.

    Both types of Materialists accept that all is change only change is changeless.

    How doesn’t (even this minimalist explanation of) dialectics explain that? The non-life matter already contained all the fundamental building blocks from which all life and all eyes are built but not the developed materials that deliver the sight.

    Process A did not exist eternally, but rather came into being at the same time that O* (blind life) came into being, that then had the potential for O** (sighted life) but O** did not exist.

    Then O** did exist so un-sighted transformed into it’s opposite.

    I am not convinced of DM because of any doctrinaire adherence but through practice. We could discuss this further in more suitable topics, or panexistentialism in another thread but no-one has so far requested this and I’m not sure that it isn’t just a time consuming diversion away from the international questions this site is known for discussing.

    A communist Party can’t change into the ruling party because the ruling party already exists? Thus,the Kuomintang rule forever and that is all there is to it? History has shown that’s not correct.

    Rosa can roam around the interwebs trying to convince others to discard what works and instead adopt her own pet non-Marxist, Marxist theory. But what is telling for me is that there is not an actual policy change that has to be fought out with the pseudoleft for her.

    If I am wrong Rosa will reveal how she HAS broken with the usual suspects over something other than DM. If not then I say she is still trapped in Neverland and her supposed philosophical superiority is worthless.

    Just try to focus on the following for a change!

    “1. Objections to the trend of modern technology and economic growth may be summarised under the following headings:

    a) Eco-catastrophe

    b) Environmental degradation

    c) Limits on Growth

    d) Third World Dependency

    e) Wasteful Consumption

    f) Technocratic Priesthood

    g) Centralisation

    h) Unemployment

    i) Commercialisation and rat race

    j) Degradation and Deskilling of Labour

    2. These themes are all part of the very fabric of “left wing” and “radical” thinking in Western countries. Reference to them, often in a glib and trendy way, has become a trade mark to distinguish “them” (“the establishment”) from “us” (“the radicals”). Rejection of these themes is generally considered heretical and a sign of impending desertion to the other side.”

    Now where do you stand Rosa?

  19. 19 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Informally:

    “DM-theorists do not ‘claim that all objects/processes change because of

    (1) A contradictory relationship and struggle between their internal opposites, and that they

    (2) They change into those opposites.’”

    I have just quoted Mao to that effect; here he is again:

    “In speaking of the identity of opposites in given conditions, what we are referring to is real and concrete opposites and the real and concrete transformations of opposites into one another….

    “All processes have a beginning and an end, all processes transform themselves into their opposites. The constancy of all processes is relative, but the mutability manifested in the transformation of one process into another is absolute….

    “The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics….

    “As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development….

    “The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end….” [On Contradiction, pp.311-42.]

    Here is Engels:

    “For a stage in the outlook on nature where all differences become merged in intermediate steps, and all opposites pass into one another through intermediate links, the old metaphysical method of thought no longer suffices. Dialectics, which likewise knows no hard and fast lines, no unconditional, universally valid ‘either-or’ and which bridges the fixed metaphysical differences, and besides ‘either-or’ recognises also in the right place ‘both this-and that’ and reconciles the opposites, is the sole method of thought appropriate in the highest degree to this stage. Of course, for everyday use, for the small change of science, the metaphysical categories retain their validity.” [Dialectics of Nature, pp.212-13.]

    Here is Plekhanov:

    “And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite….” [The Development Of The Monist View Of History, p.77.]

    Here is Lenin:

    “Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, — under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, — why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.”

    “The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. 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…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing…. 

    “The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute….” [Philosophical Notebook, pp.109, 221-22, 357-58.]

    Even you accept this idea:

    “Without a solid foundation we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. I’ve been thinking how lucky we are to have dialectics on our side to help us understand how things turn into their opposites; about qualitative and quantitative change; the negation of the negation etc..” [Quoted from this page.]

    You will find dozens of other DM-fans who say the same thing quoted here:

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2007_03.htm

    So, you don’t seem to know your own theory!

    I’ll deal with the other things you say in my next post.

  20. 20 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Informally (I dealt with all these obvious objections in that Essay you didn’t read, so you could have saved yourself from this further refutation had you done so):

    “As a concrete example, an egg can develop life but will not develop without external influences! It is the process of interdependency of internal and external forces, whereby heat changes an egg into a chicken, whereas no amount of heat will transform a rock into a chicken. YET, all life arises from a state of non-life, and therefore ‘emerges’ from transformed ‘rock’. At this level, we are all star dust.”

    However, according to the DM-classicists I quoted in my last post (you even quote Mao to this effect, too!), an egg can only develop by struggling with its dialectical opposite, and it also changes into that opposite. Label that egg “E” and its opposite “E*”, So E both develops into E* and it struggles with it. But that can’t happen since E* is already there! If it weren’t, E couldn’t struggle with it and hence change.

    So, ‘dialectical’ eggs can’t in fact change or develop, as I alleged.

    But you have a reply:

    “It is the process of interdependency of internal and external forces, whereby heat changes an egg into a chicken, whereas no amount of heat will transform a rock into a chicken.”

    However, the DM-classics are quite clear; every process/object in the entire universe both struggles with its opposite and changes into that opposite, hence those forces you mention (in this case ‘heat’) must be the opposite of that egg. In which case, the egg in question must change into heat, and heat must change into an egg. Has anyone ever witnessed this miracle? Have you?

    You add:

    “We define darkness by the absence of light and these concepts are interdependent, this is a unity of opposites. As is the example of the interdependence of the concept of normality if exploring deviance etc.”

    In that case, for darkness to change into light, they must struggle with one another, and they must co-exist, too, if the DM-classics are to be believed. But how can darkness struggle with light? Do photons slug it out with…er., what? And if they do co-exist, if light co-exists with darkness, it can’t be dark to begin with — since it is plainly light! If it weren’t, darkness would have nothing to battle against.

    You have another reply:

    “But O** both does and does not exist. For example, egg cell + sperm = 1 fertilized egg, then cell division produces 2,4,8,16 of the ‘same’ cell but always with the internal capacity to produce O**”

    In that case this egg must struggle with its opposite — the fertilised egg it is to become! But, it can’t do that since the latter hasn’t been fertilised yet!

    Or is it the sperm this egg fights against? If so, the egg must become a sperm, and the sperm must become an egg!

    If this is so, you stand to win a Nobel Prize if you can write this innovative theory up and get it published.

    Again, you have a reply:

    “‘Under what conditions’ does the always potential of O** turn into the reality of O**? It usually is the case that the dividing cells overcome the tendency to pull apart, and one individual eventually emerges, but external conditions often enough produces the other result and the process results in O* and O** ‘identical’ twins being born.

    “O* could and did change because O** was there all along in potential but O** at one point clearly did not exist.

    “O* changed because of the ‘internal struggle’ to hold together vs to pull apart. The one prevailed over the other in an environment where external influences can operate on those internal issues.”

    If so, and if the DM-classicists are to be believed, then the ‘potential of O**’, call it P(O**), can only change into O** by struggling with it. But, O** does not yet exist, so no struggle can take place. On the other hand, if O** does already exist, P(O**) can change into it since it is already there!

    Either way, ‘dialectical potentials’ can never actualise, as I alleged.

    But you add:

    “O** is already there in potential in the present and was there if you track backwards all the way to the big bang.”

    In which case, this egg can only develop if it struggles with the Big Bang! Watch out the next time a ‘dialectical egg’ tries to develop, the universe might explode again!

    You now add:

    “We materialists accept that there was on planet Earth no life, and then at some point there was matter that was self replicating. Non- life had transformed into life, which then transformed a tendency to not see into one oriented to see.”

    Well, I am a materialist, but I reject this theory of yours since, if it were true, no life would have developed.

    Call a lump of lifeless matter “M”, and the living matter that develops out of it “M*”. According to the DM-worthies, M can only change into M* if they struggle with one another. So M has to both struggle with M* and develop into it. But, we hit the same non-dialectical brick wall: M* already exists, so M can’t develop into it! If M* didn’t already exist, there would be nothing for it to struggle with.

    Hence, if this theory of yours were true, life would never have evolved.

    You add:

    “I am sure that both Dialectical Materialists and Materialists who oppose the method of Dialectics both agree that at one time there was no object called an eye on planet earth. So to move on from there, there was no sight and yet plenty to see.”

    No one doubts this. I even said in my last but one post my objections do not question change or development; the only thing is that if your theory were true, the above couldn’t have happened. So, it is no good you referring us to all the changes we now know happened, since they wouldn’t have done so had DM been true.

    You then attempt to side-step my demolition:

    “Process A did not exist eternally, but rather came into being at the same time that O* (blind life) came into being, that then had the potential for O** (sighted life) but O** did not exist.

    “Then O** did exist so un-sighted transformed into it’s opposite.”

    But, according to the DM-classicists, Blind Life (BL) could only change into Sighted Life (SL) if they struggled with each other. If so, SL must have co-existed with BL, and hence can’t have developed from it! On the other hand, if they did co-exist, then BL couldn’t have changed into SL, since it already exists!

    We hit the same non-dialectical brick wall!

    [This isn’t surprising since my demolition was quite general.]

    You now ask:

    “A communist Party can’t change into the ruling party because the ruling party already exists? Thus, the Kuomintang rule forever and that is all there is to it? History has shown that’s not correct.”

    Indeed, but that just confirms DM can’t account for this development, since if your theory were true, the CP would have to have changed into the Kuomintang, and the Kuomintang into the CP. Did this happen? If so, historians must have missed it.

    You now add this personal remark (I predicted you’d stoop this low, again):

    “Rosa can roam around the interwebs trying to convince others to discard what works and instead adopt her own pet non-Marxist, Marxist theory. But what is telling for me is that there is not an actual policy change that has to be fought out with the pseudoleft for her.

    “If I am wrong Rosa will reveal how she HAS broken with the usual suspects over something other than DM. If not then I say she is still trapped in Neverland and her supposed philosophical superiority is worthless. ”

    1) I don’t have a theory, nor do I want one. Nor do we need one.

    [By ‘theory’ here, I mean ‘philosophical theory’, of course.]

    2) I may or may not be your philosophical inferior, but at least I haven’t uncritically swallowed a theory that would make change impossible. If that consigns me to the depths of philosophical ignorance/depravity, or if it leaves me in ‘Neverland’, I am happy to accept my fate.

    3) On the other hand, you, because of your acceptance of this theory, aren’t an Heraclitean about change after all, but a Parmenidean! I’ll leave others to decide if that represents an advance to a ‘superior’ philosophical position –, or not…

    You end:

    “Now where do you stand Rosa?”

    I’ll be happy to tell you, just as soon as you can show me how and why your theory doesn’t mean change is impossible.

  21. 21 admin

    So Steve are you now satisfied that this woman is obsessed and won’t participate with a proper exchange? PS I am currently mining the Lastsuperpower site dialectics thread from around the last time Rosa came a visiting. So the good news is that there will be more about dialectics coming up.

  22. 22 informally yours

    From Rosa at Lastsuperpower

    “Arthur, as I said to Keza, I did not come here to debate Iraq, nor will I.

    As to this:

    While you would not agree with the author of that, I had the impression that part of your critique of “dialecticians” was that they tend to spout mystical theories instead of concretely analysing concrete conditions.

    Whether concrete or abstract, I claim, with abundant evidence, that dialectics makes no sense at all.

    I will not return to this site again, since associating with those who in any way can justify an invasion to steal Iraqi oil, and in the process kill over 650,000 civilians, leaves a dirty taste in my mouth. I have to say, I only discovered the pro-Imperialist stance voiced here after my first post.
    Had I discovered it before I had posed my first message, I would not have done so, and would not ever have returned here.
    (ed. emphasis)

    According to the “Preliminary Points” in Rosa’s Introduction:

    So, it is alleged that dialectics is an important part of the reason why revolutionary groups are in general vanishingly small, neurotically sectarian, studiously unreasonable, consistently conservative, theoretically deferential (to “tradition”), and almost invariably tend toward all forms of substitutionism.”

    I claim, with abundant evidence, that these charactistics are not confined to those pseudo-leftists that claim to support dialectics but are equally common among those who openly reject dialectics. Rosa might be somewhat unique in claiming to be a Marxist and Leninist and being interested enough in the subject of dialectical materialism to write 600,000 words rejecting it, rather than simply ignoring it. But there are at least as many people claiming to be on the left who have similar views to Rosa on political issues like the Iraq war or the end being nigh, who make no pretence of being influenced by dialectics as there are who do make such a pretence.

    In the same place Rosa added:

    “I sincerely hope I am wrong in this, but bitter experience over the last twenty-five years “debating” with the {Dialectical Materialist}-faithful tells me I am talking to Marxists with stoppered ears. Internet “discussions” have merely confirmed (if not greatly amplified) this opinion.
    Not one seems capable of entering into fair debate.”

    Anyone willing to spend 25 minutes, let alone 25 years talking to people with stoppered ears is likely to find their opinions confirmed by the experience, regardless of what those opinions are. One has to be very fond of one’s own opinions indeed to keep talking about them to people who obviously are not listening.

    I claim that people incapable of entering into fair debate are inherently incapable of grasping dialectics sufficiently to either support or reject it since the necessary concepts are closely connected with the “dialectical” process of dialogue.

    Both those with stoppered ears claiming to support dialectics and those with stoppered ears openly rejecting dialectics are in facts adherents of dogmatics, not dialectics. They are certainly neither Marxist nor revolutionary. Just “neurotically sectarian, studiously unreasonable, consistently conservative” etc.

    I rest my case. It did not take 600,000 words accumulated over 25 years.

    End Arthur

    Then this from Bill a fine introduction to other aspects of historical materialist dialectics.

    • Re: Dialectics

    Posted by Bill Kerr at 2007-10-04
    Some principles (selected quotes) about dialectics from Mao’s “On Contradiction”

    Dialectics

    The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing.

    Qualitatively different contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods

    This dialectical world outlook teaches us primarily how to observe and analyse the movement of opposites in different things and, on the basis of such analysis, to indicate the methods for resolving contradictions

    Particularity
    Lenin … said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions … Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction

    … in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and “mediations”. We shall never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity (Lenin quote)

    Fundamental contradiction

    The fundamental contradiction in the process of development of a thing and the essence of the process determined by this fundamental contradiction will not disappear until the process is completed; but in a lengthy process the conditions usually differ at each stage … the fundamental contradiction becomes more and more intensified as it passes from one stage to another in the lengthy process. In addition, among the numerous major and minor contradictions which are determined or influenced by the fundamental contradiction, some become intensified, some are temporarily or partially resolved or mitigated, and some new ones emerge; hence the process is marked by stages

    Principal contradiction

    There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions … in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction

    Unevenness

    In any contradiction the development of the contradictory aspects is uneven. Sometimes they seem to be in equilibrium, which is however only temporary and relative, while unevenness is basic. Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be principal and the other secondary. The principal aspect is the one playing the leading role in the contradiction. The nature of a thing is determined mainly by the principal aspect of a contradiction, the aspect which has gained the dominant position…. Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium

    The new superseding the old

    We often speak of “the new superseding the old”. The supersession of the old by the new is a general, eternal and inviolable law of the universe. The transformation of one thing into another, through leaps of different forms in accordance with its essence and external conditions–this is the process of the new superseding the old. In each thing there is contradiction between its new and its old aspects, and this gives rise to a series of struggles with many twists and turns. As a result of these struggles, the new aspect changes from being minor to being major and rises to predominance, while the old aspect changes from being major to being minor and gradually dies out. And the moment the new aspect gains dominance over the old, the old thing changes qualitatively into a new thing

    At certain times in the revolutionary struggle, the difficulties outweigh the favourable conditions and so constitute the principal aspect of the contradiction and the favourable conditions constitute the secondary aspect. But through their efforts the revolutionaries can overcome the difficulties step by step and open up a favourable new situation; thus a difficult situation yields place to a favourable one

    Identity of opposites

    Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical–under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another,–why the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another (Lenin quote)

    It is only the reactionary ruling classes of the past and present and the metaphysicians in their service who regard opposites not as living, conditional, mobile and transforming themselves into one another, but as dead and rigid, and they propagate this fallacy everywhere to delude the masses of the people, thus seeking to perpetuate their rule

    Antagonism

    … antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites
    _________________________
    Bill Kerr

  23. 23 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Admin:

    “So Steve are you now satisfied that this woman is obsessed and won’t participate with a proper exchange?”

    1) You mean like Karl Marx was ‘obsessed’ with capitalism?

    2) On what legitimate basis do you assert that I “won’t participate with a proper exchange”?

  24. 24 Rosa Lichtenstein

    Informally, thanks for the post (or is it Bill’s post?), but I am far from sure how it answers the points I raised — perhaps you have given up trying to defend this defective ‘theory’ of yours, and are content merely to post yet more unfounded dogma? Which seems to make a mockery of this earlier comment of yours:

    “I am not convinced of DM because of any doctrinaire adherence but through practice.”

    Which is an odd thing to say about a theory that has presided over 140+ years of almost total failure, and which is based on the dogmatic writings of as Christian Mystic (upside down, or ‘the right way up’).

    A couple of points:

    1) I was right to assert that I have been debating with comrades with stoppered ears (now for 30 years, as opposed to the earlier 25), since it looks like I have found a new batch here — who are more content to make personal remarks about me and my ideas rather than engage with what I have to say.

    Indeed, as I predicted, and will again predict. That is because my demolition of this ‘theory’ is final and definitive, and you have no answer to it other than launch personal attacks.

    2) I promised not to return here, but that was to debate the support this site gave to the invasion of Iraq. I asserted no such thing about dialectics.

    3) I am not too sure why you have reproduced all that material about dialectics, since it is freely available all over the internet (and in mind-numbly repetitive detail, with little discernible difference between Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists, Hoxhaists, Non-Leninist Marxists, Left-Communists…). I can only see it therefore as an expression of your continued faith, a mantra you have to repeat when thought goes out of the window, a bit like Born Again Christians who endlessly quote the Bible.

    You plainly can’t defend this ‘theory’ of yours so you find you have to repeat familiar catechisms (daily?).

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