Dialectics: Engels, Marx, Bhaskar

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Sat Jun 17 00:02:20 MDT 1995

I agree with Ralph D. that Engels does offer something to a
discussion of (Marxian) dialectics.  However, I would still suggest
that Engels has a different thurst than does Marx.  The evidence
supports that Marx generally did not have a dispute with the general
Engelsian position.  I do not question the relevance of Engels to the
era, but would argue that his relevance for an understanding of
Marx's employment of dialectics is highly limited.

Marx seems to explicate epistemological dialectics and relational
dialectics.  The former being dialectics of organizing and
structuring thought itself, for example Hegel's *Logic*, much of his
*Phenomenology of Mind*, Marx's section of "method" in *Grundrisse*,
and the structure of *Capital* as argued by Tony Smith.  Relational
dialectics describe how particular relations define and constitute a
"thing" (or human being).  In my previous post I gave the example of a
mother being defined by a relation to a child; and Marx's defination
of capitalism requiring the categories of wage-labor and capitalist.
Also, central for understanding Marx is his notion of the nature of
human beings as requiring socio-psychological interaction with one
another.  This is the thrust of *German Ideology* along the critiqes
of Max Stirner's "egoism" etc.  Coupled with the critique of Stirner
and Feuerbach is a conception of human nature which argues that part
of the human constitution is an innate bio-psychologcial necessity or
need for human interaction and connectedness.  This was emphasized by
Lukcas, dubed "internal relations" by Ollman, refered to as the
organic totality model of human nature, or more broadly refered to as
"historical materialism."

It seems that ontologically the *German Ideology* is the most
explicit Marxian commitment to dialectics.

Engels of course co-authored *German Ideology*, hence, certainly
must also have been committed to the same thought.  However, in his
later writings (ontological) dialectics of nature seem his main focus.
Marx always seems to have an *implied* ontological commitment.  The
materialist dialectic, as Marx's mentions numberous times, is
ontologically distinct from Hegel's.  But there is great ambiguity to
exactly what this is.

Engels' three dialectical laws: quantity into quality;
interpenetration of opposites; and the negation of the negation; are
extermely vague, and his course of argument, or method of
establishing relevance suspect.  For Marx, like Hegel, the dialectic
is necessarily a (transcedental) method that organizes and structures
our thinking and understanding about the world.  For Engels, the
dialectic seems to be an *a priori* truth.  A way to generalize about
empirical phenomena.

The (Marxian) problem, however, is there is no other (Marxian)
explicit ontological commitment that is offered besides Engels'.
Which has proving to be a cause of great trouble in defining and
understanding the materialist dialectic.  But, it seems that this is
exactly the significance and importance of Bhaskar's *dialectical
critical realism*, and it's "logic of absence."

The (Marxian) dialectic is especially a way to understand
contradiction, in the Bhaskarian sense, "as a metaphor (like that of
force in physics) for any kind of dissonance, strain or tension"
(Bhaskar 1993:56).  Where the concept of contradiction "ranges from
contraints to conflicts.  External should be distinguished from
internal contradictions, which include the 'inner complicity'
arguably necessary for; and dialectical form logical contradictions,
which intersect (when grounded in a common mistake) but are not
coterminous.  Dialectical contradictions are mutually exclusive
internally related oppositions, conveying tendencies to change.  Most
but not all dialectics are consistent with the formal logical form of
non-contradiction" (Bhaskar 1993:396; 1994:256).

Moreover, and more general than contradiction is Bhaskar's ontological
status given to "absence."  Where the "positive [is seen] as a tiny,
but important, ripple on the surface of a sea of negativity" (Bhaskar
1993:5).  And that the both the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic is
"driven" by an *implied* "absence" (Bhaskar 1993:38).  However, the
Hegelian dialectic's negation of the negation attempts to absent the
concept of absence (Bhaskar 1993:151).  The materialist negation of
the negation demonstrates or reveals, rather than resolves,
contradiction or absence.  Hegel's Book of Essence in *Logic* also
does this, but the Book of Notion takes this a step beyond, and
"resolves" the contradction and the negation of the negation re-
establishes the positive (thus as Tony Smith, Patrick Murray, and
Reuten and Williams have aruged Marx employs Hegel's Book of Essence).

Engels' third law of the negation of the negation remains within the
materialist version, critical of the Hegelian re-affirmation of the

Thus, I would argue that Bhaksar's logic of absence (explicitly re-)
defines an ontological commitment dialectics.  It better constitutes
a commitment to dialectics in general.  Not only is dialectical
critical realism important for understanding the science of Marx, but
to understand the normative ethics which drive his more positive
presentation.  For example, Dialectics, especially *relational*,
demonstrate that not only do women have an interest and stake in
womem's liberation, so do men; not only do minorities benefit from
extended civil rights, but the majority as well; not only do
homosexuals gain further freedom from a sexual revolution,
heterosexuals themselves achieve liberation.  Not only do the
"Greens" benefit from environmental commitments, but the entire
world.  In short: "In seeking to satisfy my desire ... In absenting a
constraint I am thus committed to the removal of all dialectically
similar constraints ... This is the basic form of the dialectic of
agency" (Bhaskar 1994:141-142).

Hans Despain
University of Utah
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu

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