Bhaskar dialectics

Ralph Dumain rdumain at
Tue Feb 21 19:14:10 MST 1995

I can't tell you all how stimulated I am by this discussion.  I
only wish I had time to bone up on this field, which interested me
vitally a few years back.  Don't let my Olympian pontification
fool you into thinking I think I am a big authority in this area.
I'm just giving you the bits and pieces I know or can remember.
For now I'll respond to recent posts collectively.

Hans Despain says I criticized his post on the Grundrisse &
Phenomenology for not being sufficiently helpful.  Not so.  It was
very helpful.  I just suggested directions the discussion ought to
go in.  Despain's latest remarks are even more helpful.

>I believe that it is too strong to say that Hegel did not
>practice what he preached, although a weaker statement may very
>will capture what is being pointed out here.  In fact what he
>preaches is the problem, it is too committed to his practice and
>employment of the dialectic.

Yes, you put it much better than I did.  You mentioned identity
and idealism as the kernel problems.  I suspect you are right.  To
understand all this is to be precise and insightful about what
happens when Marx turns Hegel on his head.  (Ron Press, please
follow carefully.)  Everyone quotes this phrase, but nobody knows
what it implies.  They think it is obvious, but it is not.  One
doesn't just turn Hegel upside down, one transforms logical method
and structure in the process.

>Maybe Chodos or Dumain could further explain Wood's notion of
>self-transparency.  Is this the same as level or degree of self-

I don't think they are the same, at least not in the first
instance.  "Self-transparency" I think is the wrong term; Wood
means "transparency of social relations"; full consciousness,
without mystification, of social structure and social relations.
I don't think this is the same as self-consciousness, unless you
want to say that it is self-consciousness about one's relation to

Despain's remarks and references viz. Ollman and Tony Smith are
very helpful.  I don't have anything to add to them.  I don't know
what you mean by Ollman's "pragmatic interpretation", but I think
I was trying to say the same things that you did.  As I recall,
Ollman's presentation doesn't get too much into Hegel, the nature
of dialectical contradictions, the concrete evolution of Marx's
thought, or the specifics of his social analyses.  It seems Ollman
is trying to abstract out the covert logical structure of Marx's
thought, which is a legitimate and necessary task, but sometimes
it does seem floating in air.  In the final section of DIALECTICAL
INVESTIGATIONS, Ollman tries out some applications.  I think there
are more vital applications to be pursued in depth.

BTW, to the extent that Althusser started out to do the same, I
would support him too, but he shot himself in the foot from the
very beginning, by cordoning off his abstractions from living
reality, even from a richer dimension of thought, and them
covering his tracks with nonsense about the theory of theoretical
practices, and even worse, by defining philosophy as class
struggle in theory.  What an asshole!  First, this crap about the
epistemological break (is Bachelard turning over in his grave?) is
a foundation-stone of Althusser's falsification of Marx in general
and the nonsense about Marx's abandoning philosophy for science.
Secondly, I hate him for his big lie about THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY as
the turning point in the development of theoretical anti-humanism,
which not only denies the historical development and concrete
meaning of this work, but reverses its very intentions, which
include precisely a theoretical defense of Marx's humanism against
the pretensions of Max Stirner.  In fact, the neglected Stirner
section of THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, relegated to the dust-bin of
historical curiosities for specialists only by the very Stalinists
who finally published it, is a fundamental condemnation of the
metaphysical foundations of Stalinism before Stalin's grandpa was
even a sperm cell.  A pox on Althusser.  Morte la France!

I agree with Howie's reservations:

>I am wary of a "dialectic of nature" that unfolds according to
>its inherent contradictions independently of our awareness....

The real problem is that one can't really understand objective
dialectics until one has understood subjective dialectics.  Put
simply: how can one understand what a "contradiction" in nature
would be until one understands the nature of what such apparent
contradictions mean in thought?  Bertell Ollman understood this
problem quite well, which is why his fundamental point of
departure is the nature of abstraction.  His concentration on
"internal relations" sidesteps this descent into the thicket of
"contradiction".  I don't recall him pursuing the problem of
contradiction to any conclusions.  Another problem with the
dialectic of nature is not so much that it is wrong or harmful but
that such discussions are shamefully shallow, as are expositions
of the three dialectical "laws".  There is a much deeper logical
structure to this whole problematic that goes unplumbed due to the
dogmatic repetition of banalities.

>This tends to pose dialectics in opposition to "formal logic"
>and has in the past been used to erect it, dogmatically, into
>the sole possible Marxist philosophy.

You are correct.  How little any of these people understand the
proper role of Aristotelian logic, let alone the developments in
formal logic and mathematics over the past century.  I am
sympathetic to people who go along with popular expositions of
"dialectical logic", which at least tries to grasp the world as a
whole in process and explain it to ordinary people, something that
analytical philosophy never could and never would do.  It seems
only Marxists try to do this.  There is a plausibility to these
popular expositions.  It is shameful that few professional
philosophical Marxists have bothered to do a better job in
producing popularizations than the crap that has been handed down
to us.

>the working hypothesis I favour would be that dialectics covers
>situations where two mutually irreducible categories are the
>conditions for each other's existence

I struggled (when I had time) for years on the proper way of
putting what dialectics is about.  Coincidentally, nowadays I put
it in almost the exact same terms as you do.

Ron Press is an obvious victim of the ill-effects of popular

>the main difference between Marx and Hegel as far as dialectics
>is concerned is not that they approached dialectics so very
>differently but that Hegel was an idealist and Marx was a

Please see my comments above.  Your statement is not so much wrong
as that it doesn't tell us anything.  Perhaps being a materialist
instead of an idealist (methodologically as well as ontologically)
implies an unstated difference in one's approach to dialectics.
The amateurish level of popular textbooks on Marxism consistently
obscures this issue.  This is not an issue for highfalutin
academics alone; not only do the masses deserve the very best, but
they cannot possibly understand the Marx-Hegel relation without it
being treated with some insight.

>However there is a lot of material published in the past in the
>Soviet Union. Some of it is very worth reading.

Most of it is crap, but some is worthwhile.  Remember, I said I
did not believe in these hard and fast dichotomies -- harmful and
tiresome cliches -- between "Western Marxism" and
"orthodox/scientific Marxism".  One should read the better stuff
the Soviets produced and not flush it along with the rest of the
Stalinist excrement.  Soviet Marxism was a fraud through and
through, but some real results were produced in the areas of
philosophy of science, because that was the one area in which real
creativity was permitted and sometimes encouraged and did not
threaten the survival of the system.

>"Dialectical Logic"  and "The Dialectics of the Abstract and the
>Concrete in Marx's Capital", by, E.V. Ilyenkov

Ilyenkov was the best.  I haven't read it, but David Bakhurst
wrote a book on Soviet philosophical culture that you will
undoubtedly find most enlightening.

Thanks to everyone for some great discussion!

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list