I have been holding back from this debate because it was very thoroughly
thrashed out to the point of exhaustion previously. Lots of examples were
gathered of Marx's dialectical attitude to the natural world.
The biggest example of Marx's dialectics in Capital, particularly volume 1,
itself. I would suggest that anyone who reads it and does not accept from
page 1 that for Marx iron, paper, diamonds, dozens of watches, yards of
linen and tons of iron, all have a dialectical nature - is doomed
ideologically to corrupt themselves and others.
I confess I find the anti-dm position as baffling and as incredible as
Andrew Austin (formerly of this list) used to denounce the dm supporters.
That does not help to convince of course, but I simply do not understand
what mixture of prejudice, misunderstanding, or possibly fear of ridicule,
leads to such an entrenched attitude.
It seems to me that in essence those who restrict marxism to historical
materialism are making profound errors about the role of conciousness in
life, and have a sort of vitalist view of human activity, in distinction to
the rest of the animal kingdom and the universe.
It is as if Marx begins and ends with the following proposition from the
Manifesto which the anti-dm group read as purely a conscious political
"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and
journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant
opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now
open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary
re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the
Now this passage is clearly a core example of historical materialism. But
those who are opposed to dm, I suggest are forced to read this to refer
only to conscious political movements. However Marx and Engels are clear
that politics and other features of the superstructure are only partially
independent and coherent. Ultimately they are reflections in consciousness
of the material economic base.
Marx's marginal notes on Wagner make clear that for Marx, humanity is an
animal species and there is a continuous development from animal to man.
Now the anti-dm group would presumably say there are qualitative changes on
the way. But I would say not in this fundamental respect: that large
aspects of human social life process is non-conscious. Similarly I suggest
that Marx's comments on animals and men, are quote open to the new
understanding that animals too are sentient beings.
Now is this just a diversionary argument about consciousness? I suspect
not. Because if the anti dm group say dialectics are restricted to the
human world, they must be saying that dialectics consist of only
*conscious* oppositions, eg of serf against landowner, proletarian against
capitalist. But just because we consciously use dialectics to analyse the
world does not mean that the contradictory nature of the world is
restricted to human activity which is conscious.
So I would ask the anti-dm critics to say why dialectics are manifested in
the human world and not in the animal and inanimate world, if they do not
argue it is to do with conscious processes. Yet Marx's political economy
clearly deals repeatedly with processes that are at best often only
What possible motive could Marx have for finding dialectics in human
society but not in the structure of aliphatic carbon molecules??
What the dispute is not about is treating Engels' schema as a dogma. Not
even Stalin did that.
I have to assume that the passion of the anti-dm group is in a belief that
they must save marxism from loony Hegelianism.
I on the contrary believe that if we are to use marxism in the renewed
fight against capital we must go to the core ideas of marxism, the citadels
of the law of value and dialectical materialism, and then we must apply
them again non-dogmatically to the external world.
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