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Dialectics

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A: djadal, dīyālīktīk. — F: dialectique. — G: Dialektik. — R: dialektika. — S: dialéctica. — C: bianzheng fa.

The «Algebra of Revolution» was the name given to the Hegelian dialectic by Alexander Herzen , and the materialist dialectic is often called, particularly following Lenin, the «living soul» of Marxism. Dialectics is a key to the philosophic thought and the linguistic-aesthetic production of Brecht , who named it the Great Method. What dialectics means is contested, and the dispute concerning dialectics has always been at the same time a struggle over the correct way to proceed.

«In its mystified form» – that is, the Hegelian – «dialectics became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things»; in the form which Marx gave it and which he named in the Afterword to the second edition of Capital (1873), «its rational form», «it is a scandal and an abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors». It is «a scandal and an abomination» because it is subversive , because it brings movement into the dominating order as the order of domination, «because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every form in the flux of movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary» (MECW 35, 20; trans. modified). – Dialectics practised in this sense also became a «scandal and an abomination» to the ruling order of state socialism.

It appears almost impossible to speak about dialectics without speaking un-dialectically , and thus, as the dialectician Brecht warned, to transform «the flux of the things itself into a static thing» (Journals 6.1.48; trans. modified). On the other hand, if dialectics is meaningful, it is quite impossible to speak correctly about the things themselves without speaking about them dialectically, and thus to bring the fixed things back into flux. The possible meaning of dialectics must therefore be demonstrated by what all of the articles of a Marxist dictionary can contribute to dialectics in practice, how, that is to say, dialectics appears in the presentation of «the things themselves».

Marx practised dialectics at first negatively against metaphysical thinking, by which he understood a static mode of thought which assumes fixed divisions, which is dualistic, and which attributes to things a fixed being, instead of comprehending them in movement and transition, in conflict and interaction. His version of dialectics opposed any form of thought which, particularly when it turned its attention to human things, did not direct its attention to their becoming and passing away, conflicts and contradictions, relations of domination and their subversion. Three aspects in particular are to be considered: 1) in terms of the history of philosophy , it is necessary to think the breaks and continuities in relation to the previous traditions of dialectical thought; 2) in terms of epistemology , it is necessary to examine what dialectics concretely achieves for the theoretician and scientist Marx; 3) in terms of the history of its effects , it is necessary to think the nearly complete reversal, the lack of dialectics, which, taking up above all Marx’s talk of «laws» of dialectics, occurred in the official main currents of Marxism, and to contrast it with examples of liberating productivity.

Overall , we are concerned to present the dialectic of the versions of dialectics in the history of Marxism.

1. Marx took up dialectics from Hegel, but also directly from ancient philosophy, which was the subject of his dissertation.

1.1 Heraclitus, who declared the uncreatedness of the world, universal becoming and passing away and the unity of opposites, is commonly regarded as one of the pre-Socratic dialecticians. This would not have seemed to be the case to the ancients, however. The aphorisms of Heraclitus appear like dark puzzles in direct opposition to common sense, closed off from any discussion or dialogue (durchsprechen , «talking sth. through»), while this was exactly what the word «dialectics» meant: the word «dialectics» is derived from the Greek verb légô (to talk) and the preposition diá (through); the middle form dialégesthai means just as much as to discuss or dialogue, the mutual discussion of something, «often used in conversation, thus practising dialectics, by Socrates and his students» (Benseler); from this is derived the adjective dialektikós , («to dispute, pertaining to dialectics, proficiency or skill in dialectics», (ibid.)).

1.2 Socrates, or rather, Plato in the form of the Socrates of his dialogues, practised dialektikê téchnê (Phaidros , 276e) as a competence in conversation, conducted in the form of a question and answer game aimed at consensus [homologeîn] regarding truth. This version of dialectics was directed against rhetorikê téchnê as a form of public speaking. Rhetorikê téchnê was concerned immediately with the means of speech, in order to win votes from the assembled masses in the institutions of the attic democracy: peíthein tà plêthê (Gorgias , 452e). Rhetoric aimed at obtaining power by persuading the masses. Practised professionally and taught (for money), rhetoric was literally a demagogic argumentative technique, i.e. public speaking which strives after leadership of the people [the demos], otherwise named eristic [téchnê erístikôn]. Its mission was the correct organisation of the polis.

Plato spoke out against this argumentative technique with the claim to overcome, by means of dialectics, political conflict and thus also eristic itself. He named this project Philosophy. One can, therefore, speak exactly of a birth of philosophy from the spirit of dialectics. – Of course, it is assumed, that dialogue (talking-through) must not fail to be appropriate to the matter under investigation. Nietzsche named that the «optimism of dialectics» (KSA 7, 134). The «discoverability» assumed here implies a coherent composition of «things» and of the relation of thought to them: «Hence the metaphysics of logic: identity of thought and being» (ibid.). – It is to be observed, however, how this doubled coherence (without the detour via labour and socially transformative praxis) could be claimed by Plato only by force. The «technical» dialectic fell prey to a dialectic of technique and was transformed into its opposite. Certainly, Plato sought to realise a reorganisation of thought with the help of the «what is» question, which was supposed to lead to a non-contradictory sphere of ideas. But thus arose, out of dialogue oriented towards consensus, a view which, imposed in an authoritarian way, was «un-dialectical» or even inexpressible. What should have ended the argument once and for all was transformed into an institution of the war of position. Nietzsche characterised in this way the fourth (and last) period in the genealogy of Greek philosophy: «Dialectics as the great security. Without knowledge, no competence. Philosophy becomes reformatory and imperative and aggressive» (KSA 7, 388).

1.3 In the first book of the Metaphysics , Aristotle credited Plato, in opposition to the Pythagoreans, with the «introduction of the Forms… due to his inquiries in the region of definitions»: hê tôn eidôn eisagogê dià tên en toîs lógois egéneto sképsin (Met I.6, 987b 31 et sq.). He added: «the earlier thinkers had no tincture of dialectic»: hoi gàr próteroi dialektikês ou meteîchon (ibid.). But in the fourth book he threw the Sophists and Dialecticians together in the camp opposed to Philosophy: dialégontai dè perì hapántôn , «They talk about everything», «sophistic and dialectic turn on the same class of things [perì mèn gàr tò autò génos] as philosophy, but this differs from dialectics in the nature of the faculty [tô trópô tês dunámeôs] required and from sophistic in respect of the purpose of the philosophic life [tês dè toû bíou tê proairései]» (Met IV.2 1004 b 17). Dialectics, which was supposed to remove ambiguity, now symbolised ambiguity itself. The opposition to rhetoric was undone. – During the Hellenistic period, dialectics was ranked among the seven liberal arts. In the early middle ages, the formula grammatica + rhetorica + dialectica = logica had currency (HWPh 2, 166).

1.4 The birth of modern experiment-based science and its philosophy in the post-medieval world had to destroy this articulation. For, Francis Bacon claimed, the demonstrations «we have in logic [in dialecticis] do little else than make the world the bond-slave of human thought, and human thought the bond-slave of words» (The New Organon I, Aph. 69, 66). «On the basis of the consideration that logic is supposed to operate essentially formally and not materially, and should deduce definite and not merely probably correct conclusions, the designation of logic as dialectics has been given up since the seventeenth century» (W. Risse in HWPh 2, 167).

1.5 Nevertheless, even Kant still encountered dialectics in the sense of a «general logic» which was misused falsely as an instrument to produce objective claims and which thus became a deception (CPR , B 85). The Socratic differentiation between dialectics and rhetoric was not honoured by Kant. Rather, he explained ancient Greek dialectics without further ado as a « logic of illusion », «a sophistical art of giving to ignorance, and indeed to intentional sophistries, the appearance of truth» (B 86). In opposition to this, Kant’s critique had as its object «the safe-keeping of the pure understanding» or the «critique of this dialectical illusion», which was produced by the border-crossing or «unrestrained use» of the understanding (B 88). For him, it was the (unhistorically represented) «ideas of pure reason, which become dialectical only through heedlessness and misapprehension» (B 708). For example, «unity of nature» is a «regulative principle» of reason; «to take it as being a constitutive principle… is simply to confound reason» (B 721). However, Kant now transformed the expression «dialectics» from the name of an illusory logic to that of a theory of illusion, insofar as, because of the nature of our capacity for knowledge, this is natural and inevitable (B354) (and inasmuch as it is so, it is transcendental), and has to be brought under control. Kant distinguished the transcendental illusion from empirical illusion (for example, the optical A295) and from logical illusion, which consisted in the «mere imitation of the form of reason», and was thus «the illusion of fallacies» which disappeared as soon as one came upon it (B353). Not so the transcendental illusion, which was based on the «delusion» that subjective necessities are objective (ibid.). Kant named this element of his theory of knowledge the «transcendental dialectic».

1.6 Hegel sublated formal logic once more into a material logic, demolished the Kantian divisions and transformed dialectics into the «moving soul» of thought. He articulated dialectics doubly, at the same time subjectively and objectively, in terms of the experience of consciousness and the development of the thing itself (which were, for Hegel, in the last analysis, one and the same thing). In the Phenomenology of Spirit , consciousness develops through experiencing itself in the thing: actively extending, it fails in its particular intention and through this experience it is forced to undergo a «leap of levels». «Dialectics» signifies here no mere method in the possession of an unchangeable subject. Rather, it indicates the progression through contradictory stages of experience, in which the subject «forms» itself. What is valid for thought is also valid for the object which it investigates: the claim of dialectics consists in developing the «Idea», that is, «the rational factor in any object of study», «out of the concept, or, what is the same thing, to look on at the proper immanent development of the thing itself» (PR , N2, 14). «The Dialectical principle constitutes the life and soul of scientific progress, the dynamic which alone gives immanent connection and necessity to the body of science» (Enz , §81).

What needs to be examined is what that concretely means «in practice», if it is supposed to be more than the «metaphysics of logic» which Nietzsche detected in Plato: on the one hand, Hegel was concerned with «those common dialectics of life, coming into being, growth, passing away and re-emergence from Death», as happens «in almost all realms of natural and intellectual life» (his examples are drawn from life cycle of plants: bud, bloom, seed etc., and also seasons as symbols of stages of life – Ästh [Bassenge 1955], 352 et sq.). The graphic nature of the content predestined this natural-cycle paradigm for a popular reception. On the other hand were the schemata which seemed to be perfectly suited for the (superficial) intellectual reception: the game of thesis, negating antithesis, and the synthesis that negates this negation and sublates the opposition.

Beyond organic images and triadic formulae, however, Hegel was also concerned with the shadow which thought itself throws on the object, because, fixated with the mobility of the thing and in its isolation, it fails to recognise their connections. Hegel can therefore say: «But it is far harder to bring fixed thoughts into a fluid state than to do so with sensuous existence» (PS , Preface , 20). (This is the keyword for Marx’s definition of dialectics as comprehending «every form in the flux of movement» (MECW 35, 20)). While Hegel defined the Science of Logic in the Preface to the first edition (1812) as «metaphysics proper or purely speculative philosophy» (SL 27), and in the Introduction as «the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind [Geist]» (50), as «the realm of shadows, the world of simple essentialities freed from all sensuous concreteness» (58), the Preface to the second edition (1831) hints at a paradigm change in the late Hegel (which, however, was not further developed in terms of content): as thought forms are the material of logic, language now becomes the matter of discussion. Spontaneously a «natural logic» prevailed whose «use of categories… is unconscious» (35). On this terrain, Spirit, in the instinctive efficacy of thought, is «enmeshed in the bonds of its categories and is broken up in to an infinitely varied material» (37). Hegel now articulates the programme of the 1831 Logic in this way: «to clarify these categories» (which «as impulses» «are only instinctively active» and initially «enter consciousness separately and so are variable and mutually confusing»), and through these categories «to raise mind [Geist] to freedom and truth» (37).

Dialectics would now be, therefore, according to this immanently transforming view of the late Hegel, the liberation of thought out of the immobility of its supposition of an essence and out of its unconscious inhibition in the categorial net of language, thus becoming an adequate mental agility.

1.7 Against Hegel’s dialectic of Absolute Knowledge, Feuerbach claimed to re-introduce dialectics back into the dialogical situation [ins Dialogische des Durch-Sprechens] : «The true dialectic is no monologue of the solitary thinker with himself , it is a dialogue between me and you » (Grundsätze einer Philosophie der Zukunft , §62). Plekhanov responded to this rather unconvincingly that, firstly, dialectics in Hegel did not «have the meaning of a monologue of the single thinker with himself», and secondly, that Feuerbach had «correctly determined the point of philosophy with his anthropological materialism, but not its method», an omission which, according to Plekhanov, was supposed to have been filled by Marx and Engels (26 ). However, neither of the keywords materialism and method are to be encountered in Marx’s change of terrain as it is expressed in the Theses on Feuerbach.

2. Marx inherited the Hegelian legacy on the condition of a radical critique and re-articulation. In opposition to all speculative dialectics he was concerned with «scientific dialectics» (1865, MECW 20, 29). Proudhon’s attempt «to present the system of economic categories dialectically» was criticised by Marx because of its speculative philosophical foundations. «In place of Kant’s insoluble ‹antinomies› , the Hegelian ‹contradiction› was to be introduced as the means of development». The categories for Proudhon had been transformed into Ideas, instead of comprehending them as «theoretical expressions of historical relations of production» (ibid.). Marx translated dialectics into history, whereby all preconceived notions were abandoned. This categorical claim of a rational secularisation of dialectics makes Marx’s relation to Hegel, his stimulator, problematic.

2.1 At the time of his dissertation, Marx was still under the spell of Gramsci. « Death and love are the myth of negative dialectic, for dialectic is the inner, simple light, the piercing eye of love, the inner soul which is not crushed by the body of material division» (MECW 1, 498). – The break with Hegel was, therefore, experienced as a liberation, after which the situation appeared, at least negatively, clear: «Who annihilated the dialectics of concepts, the war of the gods that was known to the philosophers alone? Feuerbach » (MECW 4, 92). – But what replaces «the dialectics of concepts»? Marx spoke mostly about a «dialectical method of development» (MECW 42, 390), or simply of a «method of development», concepts which he sometimes used synonymously with «dialectics» (ibid., 544). But wherein lies the difference with Hegel?

2.2 Marx announced that he wanted to present the difference of his version of dialectics from Hegel’s in his own words. While he was working on the Grundrisse (1858), he wrote to Engels that «What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel’s Logic » which he had «flicked through again» by mere accident: «If ever the time comes when such work is again possible, I should very much like to write 2 or 3 sheets making accessible to the common reader the rational aspect of the method which Hegel not only discovered but also mystified» (MECW 40, 249; trans. modified). Ten years later (9.5.68) he wrote to Dietzgen:« When I have cast off the burden of political economy, I shall write a ‹Dialectic›. The true laws of dialectics are already contained in Hegel, though in a mystified form» (MECW 43, 31). In what, then, does this non-mystical form of dialectics consist?

Even though there are a number of texts criticising Hegel, especially in the early works of Marx, much remains implicit, and the explicit formulations consist of metaphors (inversion, placing on feet, freeing the rational kernel from its mystifying shell, etc.) which are ambiguous and misleading, and whose inappropriateness has been criticised by, for instance, Korsch (1932, 174) and Althusser (FM , 93 et sq.). Thus, for example, Marx declared Hegel’s dialectic to be «the basic form of all dialectic, but only after being stripped of its mystical form» (MECW 42, 544); its difference from the «rational form» (MECW 35, 19), which Marx claimed to have given dialectics, was explained by him in that he was a «materialist, and Hegel an idealist» (MECW 42, 544).

On the occasion of a praising reference by Lange (Über die Arbeiterfrage…, Winterthur 1870), Marx wrote to Kugelmann that Lange, under the influence of Darwinism, «subsumes all history under the phrase ‹struggle for life›», understood nothing about Hegel’s method «and, therefore, second, still less about my critical manner of applying it» (MECW 43, 528). Lange praised Marx for the fact that he moved in the empirical matter with a rare freedom, without suspecting, as Marx noted, «that this ‹free movement in matter› is nothing but a paraphrase for the method of dealing with matter – that is, the dialectical method » (ibid.). Thus, in the face of the emerging social Darwinism, the difference from Hegel was reduced to the critical application of his method = dialectics.

When one investigates the writings, or rather the passages dedicated to the critique of Hegel, above all in the 1844 Manuscripts (MECW 3, 326 et sqq.), Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s « Philosophy of Right ». Introduction (MECW 3, 3–129), or less directly, in the Introduction of 1859 (Gr 100 et sq.), taking into account also the Theses on Feuerbach and The German Ideology , one discovers that Marx carried out, in a series of phases, a complete change of terrain, an epistemological revolution, in which nothing of the old remains or, rather, ought to remain. Marx even says exactly this in the Afterword to the second edition of Capital , where he claims that his version of dialectics is «not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite» (MECW 35, 19). In this context, however, he appears to say that this «direct opposite» consists in the fact that, against Hegel’s transformation of the thought process «under the name of ‹the Idea›… into an independent subject», Marx opposes a materialistic gnoseology, for which «on the contrary, the ideal is [supposed to be] nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought» (ibid.). This introduces more confusion than it removes, because everything which goes beyond mind as the decisive instance of practical realisation – labour, activity, praxis – that is to say, exactly that which since the Theses on Feuerbach had been for Marx’s thought the specific terrain of praxis in the ensemble of social relations, remains excluded. Strictly taken, this formulation cannot be differentiated either from the sensualism of Feuerbach or from the mechanical materialism of a Hobbes, or even from the criticism of a Kant. Because Hegel turns thought into the «demiurgos of the real world» which «is only the external, phenomenal form of ‹the Idea›», the dialectic «with him… is standing on its head», Marx continues, clothing his critical appropriation in the only apparently clear metaphor of «inversion» (ibid.).

A longside this are further unclear formulations. The Russian reviewer Kaufman remarked that, «At first sight, if the judgement is based on the external form of the presentation of the subject, Marx is the most ideal of idealist philosophers» (qtd in MECW 35, 17, trans. modified). Marx responded by claiming that it was necessary to differentiate between research and presentation, while admitting that the latter could give the impression that one was dealing with an a priori construction (ibid., 19). But it is neither explained why the presentation is allowed to be like an a priori construction, nor whether dialectics is merely a question of presentation or if it also plays a part in research. On the basis of such unclear formulations, the question of Marx’s relation to Hegel, which is so important for an understanding of Marx’s version of dialectics, has lead to the formation of controversial and opposed interpretative traditions. Against the popular interpretation of explicit formulations, it has continually been attempted to make explicit the operative dialectics which are contained, above all, in Marx’s scientific masterpiece, Capital.

3. In order to treat Marx’s version of dialectics, one must examine: 1) for what it is necessary; 2) what it concretely achieves; 3) what its forms of articulation are; 4) where its boundaries are and what, consequently, its epistemological status is.

3.1 If Marx described the achievement of his version of dialectics in passing as the interpretation of «every form in the flux of movement», then corresponding to that is the problematic to which it is supposed to respond: the question concerning the connection of that which at first appears to be without connection , the connection at the point of origin of the phenomena which appear as disparate in the result. The most general problem of the critique of political economy: the dissolution of the «mutual independence and ossification of the various social elements of wealth» (MECW 37, 817). As a goal of knowledge, this is not, at any rate, specific to the critique of political economy. Rather, classical political economy also sought «to reduce the various fixed and mutually alien forms of wealth to their inner unity by means of analysis and to strip away the form in which they exist independently alongside one another». Classical political economy also wanted «to grasp the inner connection in contrast to the multiplicity of the forms of appearance» (Marx 1972, 501 et sq.; trans. modified). The difference lies in the mode of comprehending and resolving the question of connection. Classical bourgeois economy resolved it in the form of the analytic reduction of «all independent forms and titles under cover of which the non-workers participate in the value of the commodity, to the one form of profit», which in its turn was reduced to surplus-value (ibid.). Marx observed that classical political economy occasionally contradicted itself in this attempt: «It often attempts directly, leaving out the intermediate links, to carry through the reduction… It is not interested in elaborating the different forms genetically» because it «conceives… production designed to appropriate other people’s labour not as a historical form but as a natural form of social production» (ibid.). In this formulation the specificity of the Marxist critique of political economy is indicated: genetic reconstruction instead of analytic reduction, historicisation of forms instead of leaving them unanalysed in their natural apparent immediacy. The primary question of knowledge is that of the «genetic presentation, of grasping the real, formative process in its different phases» (ibid.).

3.2 Many passages support the view that when Marx called dialectics a «method of development», he used the term «development» in the sense of a presentation of the results of research. Research attempts by means of critique «to take a science to the point at which it admits of a dialectical presentation». Excluded, on the other hand, is the application of «an abstract, ready-made system of logic to vague presentiments of just such a system» (MECW 40, 261). Dialectics finds expression, then, in the construction of the presentation, in the sequence of the treated categories and in the transitions from one to the other. – A by-product of his «dialectical method of development», Marx noted, was that «it is constantly setting traps [for its bourgeois critics], which will provoke them into an untimely display of their idiocy» (MECW 42, 390). Of course, even Marxists are not immune to blundering into such traps.

3.3 That commodity production forms an inner unity which is torn apart and therefore moves and reproduces itself in «external antithesis» (MECW 35, 123), that such contradictions are comprehended as the driving force of development, for example, by making themselves a «form of movement» (cf. MECW 35, 113), are forms of articulation of dialectics often used by Marx. Especially important is the figure of «transformation» [das Umschlagen]. In these terms Marx analysed, for example, how «the laws of appropriation… become by their own inner and inexorable dialectic transformed into their very opposite» through the repetition of the valorisation process and in the transformation into capital of at least a part of the surplus-value, in which «each single transaction invariably conforms to the laws of the exchange of commodities» (MECW 35, 582, trans. modified): under capitalist conditions, appropriation by virtue of one’s own labour becomes appropriation of the «unpaid labour of others» (ibid., 583). – Rosa Luxemburg praised this analysis as «a masterpiece of historical dialectics» (GW 5, 222), which required «the powerful dialectic of a scientific analysis» (ibid., 397). – In a letter to Engels, Marx pointed out that in the third chapter of Capital , Volume I , in the transition from craftsman to capitalist, he cited «Hegel’s discovery of the law of the transformation of a merely quantitative change into a qualitative one as being attested by history and natural science alike» (MECW 42, 383). In the 32nd chapter of Capital , Volume I , Marx used Hegel’s formulation of the negation of the negation for the supersession of the capitalist mode of production as the expropriation of the expropriator (MECW 35, 751).

3.4 In the Introduction of 1857, Marx noted warningly that he was dealing with dialectics «whose boundaries are to be determined, and which does not suspend the real difference» (Gr 109). Viewed from the position of Hegel, that is tantamount to a step backwards in the direction of Kant, for whom the «real difference» – particularly of «the thing for us» and «the thing in itself» – cannot be abolished and is epistemologically fundamental (cf. Colletti). Historical-materialist dialectics are thus supposed to guard against falling back into the speculation of a philosophy of identity.

The question of the function and status of dialectics for Marx became an issue of controversy for the first time through the attacks of Dühring, who reproached Marx with having fabricated the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation, «in default of anything better and clearer», with «Hegelian verbal jugglery» like the negation of the negation (qtd in MECW 25, 120). In Anti-Dühring , Engels declared that «Herr Dühring’s total lack of understanding of the nature of dialectics is shown by the very fact that he regards it as a mere proof-producing instrument» (MECW 25, 125). «Only after [Marx] has proved from history that in fact the process has partially already occurred, and partially must occur in the future, he in addition characterises it as a process which develops in accordance with a definite dialectical law» (ibid., 124). – Engels here appears to restrict the status of dialectics to a retrospective interpretation of scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, he adds: «Even formal logic is primarily a method of arriving at new results, of advancing from the known to the unknown – and dialectics is the same, only much more eminently so; moreover, since it forces its way beyond the narrow horizon of formal logic, it contains the germ of a more comprehensive view of the world» (ibid., 125). – For the Engels of Anti-Dühring , dialectics provides, therefore: 1) retrospective interpretation of scientific results; 2) the function of a heuristic guide, comparable to Findekunst , the form in which Aristotle had comprehended Plato’s dialectics; 3) the initiation of a Weltanschauung. Engels did not make the relationship of the three functions explicit.

The scientifically most important function appears to be the heuristic, which equips the researcher with determinate investigatory questions and expectations, which of course are to be worked out according to all the rules of historical experiment-based science. Nevertheless, Engels himself exceeded these limits of dialectics and thus inadvertently ushered in the process of the dedialecticisation of the Marxist version of dialectics.

4. The formulation of the «application» of dialectics, also used by Marx, was extended by Engels to the systematisation of that which, from the 1880s, was called «Marxism». «The materialist conception of history and its specific application to the modern class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie was only possible by means of dialectics» (MECW 24, 459), he explained in 1882 in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. In his «Outline of the General Plan» of Dialectics of Nature he had affirmed dialectics already in 1878 «as the science of universal interconnection» and had codified three «Main laws: transformation of quantity and quality – mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes – development through contradiction or negation of the negation – spiral form of development» (MECW 25, 313).

4.1 Instead of leaving things «in their isolation» (MECW 24, 299), dialectics showed them in the context of their coming into being and efficacy. Thus far, Engels respected the limits of dialectics which had been indicated by Marx, but only immediately to exceed them: «Nature is the proof of dialectics» (ibid., 301). After the death of Marx, Engels explained in 1885 that he had taken advantage of his retirement to study mathematics and the natural sciences in order to «convince myself also in detail – of what in general I was not in doubt – that in nature, amid the welter of innumerable changes, the same dialectical laws of motion force their way through as those which in history govern the apparent fortuitousness of events; the same laws which similarly form the thread running through the history of the development of human thought» (MECW 25, 11). Dialectics was turned into a universal law of being. Nothing was changed by the fact that Engels affirmed, after just as before, that for him «there could be no question of building the laws of dialectics into nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it» (ibid., 13). In his studies of dialectics in nature, only long after his death fabricated as a «Work», Engels specified the criterion to the point that «an external side by side arrangement is as inadequate as Hegel’s artificially constructed dialectical transitions. The transitions must make themselves, they must be natural. Just as one form of motion develops out of another, so their reflections, the various sciences, must arise necessarily out of one another» (ibid., 529). With that, dialectics was closed up into a universal cosmology.

4.2 Dialectics was regarded by Engels henceforth as the science of the «two sets of laws which are identical in substance, but differ in their expression in so far as the human mind can apply them consciously, while in nature and also up to now for the most part in human history, these laws assert themselves unconsciously, in the form of external necessity, in the midst of an endless series of apparent accidents. Thereby the dialectic of concepts itself became merely the conscious reflection of the dialectical motion of the real world» (Ludwig Feuerbach , MECW 26, 383).

4.3 A consequence in terms of the theory of knowledge of the thesis of the «two sets of laws», of which the second was the reflex of the first, was the appearance of the Abbildtheorie [theory of the image]. Moreover, dialectics had thus become an evolutionary Weltanschauung , involving universal development and relativity, and departing from the «great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things , but as a complex of processes , in which the apparently stable things, no less than their mental images in our heads, the concepts, go through uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, for all apparent accidentality and despite all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end» (MECW 26, 384). Engels adds that these ideas have, since Hegel, « so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality they are now scarcely ever contradicted» (ibid.; trans. modified).

5. Among the Marxists of the first generation after Marx, the positions of Kautsky, Bernstein, Plekhanov and Labriola are the most important.

5.1 Georg Lukács accused Karl Kautsky of «the deformation of revolutionary dialectics into a peaceful evolutionism» (Werke 2, 591). If Steinberg could say that Kautsky had «consequently banished the ‹Hegelianism›» from his presentation of the «economic doctrines» of Marx, he could do so because by Hegelianism he understood the «dialectical structure of Marx’s argumentation» (XVII in Kautsky). Kautsky’s « non-dialectical mode of presentation» (ibid.) constituted, according to Steinberg, the secret of the wide international reception of his book. Lukács struck upon the matter more accurately: Kautsky had declined into a vulgar Hegelian evolutionism.

«Undialectical» evolutionism was manifested already in Kautsky’s The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx: exemplary, for instance, is the transition from money to capital. For Marx, an abyss of discontinuities must be leaped over, since this transition is the «the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production» (MECW 35, 179) in which alone the condition for the possibility of the appearance of the free wage-labourer «comprises a world’s history» (ibid., 180). Kautsky, on the other hand, simply claimed: «It develops with time», etc. (52). The analysis of the form(s) of value, and the genetic reconstruction of its sequence, a classic example of dialectical presentation in Capital , Volume I , escaped Kautsky.

5.2 Bernstein made explicit that which Kautsky had only performatively implied: «Hegelian dialectic» was regarded by him as «the treacherous element in Marxist doctrine, the pitfall that lies in the way of any logical consideration of things» (36). Against the late Engels, he problematised the metaphor of «placing the dialectic upon its feet» with the not to be simply dismissed argument that, if one followed «the laws of dialectic, as laid down by Hegel, one ended up «once again enmeshed in ‹the self-development of the concept›» (ibid.). He was aiming to criticise Marx, but managed only a caricature of his version of dialectics (cf. 35).

5.3 The Italian philosopher Antonio Labriola, who became important for Gramsci, saw the key to understanding Marx’s break with Hegel in a change of terrain to a «philosophy of praxis », which he comprehended as the «central point of the historical materialism» of Marx. The way of Marx’s philosophy of praxis, which leads «from labour, which is knowledge through action, to knowledge as abstract theory» contains «the secret of a formulation of Marx on which so many a head has broken themselves, namely, that he inverted the Hegelian dialectic» (318). – In other places, however, Labriola described the theory of historical materialism as the «dialectical view or the evolutionary or genetic Anschauung , or however one wants to describe it» (348), and in Capital he praised «the particular agility and souplesse of spirit, namely the aesthetic of dialectics» (337). Apparently, he saw no further need for clarification regarding the combination of these diverse approaches. Nevertheless, with the determining status of praxis, in the sense outlined in Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach , the course had been set for a reception of dialectics that was as much non-metaphysical as it was anti-naturalistic.

5.4 In Russia, Georgii W. Plekhanov, who exercised a decisive influence upon Lenin’s philosophical formation, resumed Engels’s arguments in the sense of a philosophy of dialectical materialism. He saw the essential difference of dialectics with the vulgar theory of evolution in Hegel’s thesis of sudden transformations in development (28). In Mutationstheorie (DeVries, 2 Vols, Leipzig 1901-1903), Plekhanov saw the «dialectical leap» now also recognised by biology, though misunderstood in a teleological sense, and celebrated as dialectical the neo-Lamarckian doctrine of the «Sensibility of Matter», because it represented, «properly understood, only a translation into modern biological language of Feuerbach’s materialist doctrine concerning the unity of being and thought, of object and subject» (29). «In Hegel’s system», Plekhanov explained, «dialectic coincides with metaphysics. For us, dialectic is buttressed upon the doctrine of nature. In Hegel’s system, the demiurge of reality… is the absolute idea. For us,… only an abstraction from the motion by which all the combinations and all the states of matter are produced» (118). Plekhanov still saw, at least, that movement («fundamental fact of being» (113)) is a contradiction only as a concept in the context of a system of coordinates (112), and thus that one of the fundamental problems for the necessity of dialectics must be sought exactly in the non-identity of thought and «being».

6. For the second generation of Marxists, who emerged around the turn of the twentieth century (Luxemburg, Pannekoek and Lenin, among others) and for those of the third generation, who were drawn to Marxism through the experience of the October Revolution (Gramsci, Mariátegui, Lukács, Korsch, Bloch, etc.), until the generation of Brecht and Benjamin, the reception of dialectics carried a left-wing, revolutionary sense. For Adorno, confronted by the totalitarian horrors of the century and the increasingly apparent failure of the revolutions which followed in the wake of 1917, dialectics withdrew into a negative Hegelianism of «inner resistance», while at the same time, in the lands of command-administrative-socialism, a version of dialectics converted back into metaphysics was enforced by the official ideology.

6.1 Rosa Luxemburg condemned harshly «applications of historical materialism which did not use Marx’s dialectics», without however defining what was meant by «dialectics» more exactly. It was precisely in economic history that she saw those who regard themselves as being outside of ideology producing «that raw derivation of the most abstract ideological forms directly out of the soup tureen» (GW 1 / 2, 470). In Sismondi she praised «the broad horizon of the dialectical approach», because he historicised the capitalist mode of production, comparing wage-labour with other forms of unfree labour and declaring that it was possible that an age would arrive which would feel just as barbaric as this one (Accumulation , 183). Dialectics, for Luxemburg, was not something which could be formulaically applied, but rather, the sense for – that is, the heuristic orientation towards – contradictoriness. Thus she opposed the romanticisation of the village community: «The Russian peasant beaten by his own neighbours in the service of Tsarist absolutism with birch-rods – that is the cruellest historical critique of the narrow restraints of primitive communism and the most obvious expression of the fact that also this social formation is subject to the dialectical rule: reason becomes unreason, and a good deed becomes a curse» (GW 5, 687). Against Tugan-Baranowski who, among others, declared Marx’s analysis of accumulation to be contradictory, Luxemburg responded: «One only needs, however, to translate into historical dialectics the apparently rigid contradiction, as it corresponds to the spirit of all Marx’s theory and way of thinking, and thus the contradiction of the Marxist schema becomes the living mirror of the global career of capital, its fortune and end» (GW 5, 518). It is a matter here of the «dialectical contradiction, that capitalism needs non-capitalist social organisations as the setting for its development, that it proceeds by assimilating the very conditions which alone can ensure its own existence» (Accumulation , 346). Marx’s accumulation schema thus posited, «precisely in its insolubility, the exactly posed prognosis of the economically inevitable downfall of capitalism as a result of the imperialist process of expansion» which, though, as she immediately added, thus avoiding an economistic theory of collapse, «is a theoretical fiction, particularly because the accumulation of capital is not a merely economic, but rather, political process» (GW 5, 519).

Nevertheless, Luxemburg demonstrated herself to be an important dialectician more in her practical theory than in her theoretical praxis: for example, in her mediation or doubled supersession of revolutionism and Realpolitik in the concept of revolutionary Realpolitik , or of necessary centralism and its anarchistic rejection in the orientation to the « self-centralism » of the masses. (cf. GW 1 / 2, 429).

6.2 Anton Pannekoek also reclaimed dialectics for the revolutionary Left in 1909. His discourse, though, did not actually order the positions dialectically, but rather as a dichotomy: « The proletarian point of view is materialist , the bourgeois , ideological. But dialectical and materialist belong just as much together as ideological and undialectical. For the proletariat, material powers which lie outside the domain of any individual dominate development; for the bourgeoisie, the creative power of the human spirit. Material reality is dialectical because it can only be grasped fully as a unity of opposed concepts» (60). – Lenin opposed Pannekoek and at the same time joined him in such dichotomous thought paradigms.

6.3 For the young Lenin, the «dialectical method» of Marx and Engels was «nothing else than the scientific method in sociology, which consists in regarding society as a living organism in a state of constant development» instead of «as something mechanically concatenated» (LCW 1, 165). When he later invoked «the materialist dialectic, the doctrine of development», which, he claimed, had been used by Marx (cf. SR , LCW 25, 471), it was not differentiated in the slightest from the conventional rhetoric of the Second International, from Karl Kautsky to Otto Bauer.

Following Engels’s notion of «two sets of laws», Lenin interpreted its reflex category causally: «dialectics of things produces dialectics of ideas» (PN , LCW 38, 196). Dialectical thought comes at best onto the traces of the connection of movement and efficacy of things, but the nature of this connection does not make it easy. The mistake lies not in the answer, but rather, in the question: in the Theses on Feuerbach , Marx, from the standpoint of praxis, had blown open the philosophical grammar of the «two sets of laws» and of that which Descartes called commercium mentis et corporis. Labriola was correct: whoever misunderstands this demolition, also misunderstands Marx’s version of dialectics.

Lenin summarised practical dialectics in four laws. 1) Comprehensiveness (almost Kantian in the sense of a regulative idea: «That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity»). 2) Examination of the object «in its development, in its ‹self movement› (as Hegel sometimes said), in its transformation» (noticing that this rule could not be applied meaningfully to an isolated object, Lenin replaced it with the thought that the object could change «its connection with its environment»). 3) «a full ‹definition› of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indicator of its connection with human wants». 4) Never to forget, «that ‹truth is always concrete, never abstract›, as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel» (LCW 94). – These rules obviously do not amount to concrete methodological steps, more a general framework of orientation, almost a disposition.

The theoretician Lenin, who, as such, remained the student of Plekhanov, fostered the re-Hegelianisation of Marxist dialectics. Not so much through his insistence on organising «the systematic study of Hegel’s dialectic from a materialist standpoint» (LCW 234), but rather, through remarks formed through taking up formulations from Marx such as the following: «Marx applied Hegel’s dialectics in its rational form to political economy» (PN , LCW 38, 178). Or even through his explanation in the fragment «On the Question of Dialectics»: «Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism» (ibid., 362).

An evolutionist paradigm can be observed when Lenin comes to speak of Marx’s Capital: in his analysis of commodity exchange as the cell of bourgeois society, Marx showed, precisely, «the germs of all the contradictions» and, further, «the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society… from its beginning to its end» (ibid., 361). Dialectics has here lost all reference to the unexpected or the discontinuous, and denotes exactly a type of knowledge, derived from the «philosophy of history», regarding the predetermination of the future. Reading Hegel’s Logic , Lenin coined the concept «the logic of capital», which was later to form the foundational category of a tradition of interpretation of Capital. «In Capital , Marx applied to a single science logic, dialectics and theory of knowledge of materialism (three words are not needed: it is one and the same thing) which has taken everything valuable in Hegel and developed it further» (ibid., 319). Especially full of consequences was the following notice: «Aphorism: It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital , and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!» (ibid., 180). Here is one who, in the exuberance of a reading of Hegel, feels himself to be the first (or rather, the second, after Marx) to catch a glimpse of a new world.

The explicitly «philosophising» Lenin, however – similar to Luxemburg– is to be differentiated from the historically influential politician. His discussion of dialectics («dialectical logic unconditionally demands… teaches… requires» (LCW 32, 94) is more conventional than his action. In political-tactical, as in communicative praxis, he was able to demonstrate another uncommonly agile side, directed to the concrete. Here is a masterly dialectician in the perception of the game of many-sidedness, of contradictions, of interdependency and latent potentials, of relationships of power and timely moments for intervention. The perception of unexpected applications is, though, the other side of a voluntaristic, seemingly zigzag, method in politics. After Lenin’s political art came Stalin’s politics of violence.

6.4 Under Stalin dialectics were codified into 4 «essential features» or «guiding principles»: 1) unity of nature; 2) universal movement in the sense of becoming and passing away; 3) «An onward and upward movement… as a development from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher», which, «rapidly and abruptly» but not «accidentally», rather «as the natural result of an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes», lead to «qualitative changes»; 4) internal contradictions of natural things and the struggle of opposites as the driving force of this higher development. (Dialectical and Historical Materialism , 838 et sqq).

6.5 Mao’s writings on dialectics represent a special case. In his catechistic writing On Contradiction of 1937, he took up Lenin (though filtered through Stalin), translating him into easy to remember formulae in which he combined «Marxist terminology always more strongly with the content of traditional Chinese ‹native dialectics›» (Klimaszewsky / Thomas 1972, 1213). This was possibly the element which encouraged Brecht to greet emphatically the publication of this text in German in 1954 and to use it for his own purposes (cf. Schickel 1968, 150 et sqq.). Contradiction was treated by Mao as a universal law of being, in which he differentiated the «Principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction» (On Contradiction , Mao 1953, 34): they determined all «secondary contradictions», and «the aspects of each contradiction develop unevenly» (ibid., 36). Mao named above all the virulent contradiction between the old and the new, which ended with the supersession of each (a «universal, forever inviolable law of the world» (ibid., 37)). The practical meaning of this was Mao’s teaching of the omnipresence of conflict between the old and the new, in which victory was supposed to be guaranteed to the latter. He illustrated the «law of identity and struggle of opposed aspects of a contradiction» with the following example: «to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat or the people’s dictatorship is precisely to prepare the conditions for liquidating such a dictatorship and advancing to the higher stage of abolishing all state systems» (ibid., 45). The dialectic thus functioned as a form of rhetoric affecting the masses, legitimating contradictions between ends and means, theory and praxis.

If, however, contradictions were omnipresent, then at least contradiction in socialism became discussable. Mao did precisely this in his 1957 text, «On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People» (Mao 1977, 384–421). In contrast to earlier formulations he now discovered that «the contradictions… between the exploited and the exploiting classes have a non-antagonistic as well as an antagonistic aspect» (385). The contradictions between the People and Enemies of the People were construed as antagonistic. But the meaning of People and Enemy, and certainly that of contradictions, regularly changes, and Mao recounted the changes which had occurred since the 1920s. Concepts do not signify essential differences, rather they derive strategic differentiations and oppositions out of the concrete situation. Contradictions also exist in socialist societies, contradictions which in and for themselves are not antagonistic (that is to say, they are resolvable within the system), but can become antagonistic through false treatment (cf. 391). Schematically, Mao claimed that within capitalism, on the other hand, the antagonistic contradictions are irresolvable within the system (388). – In 1964, in «Conversation about the Questions of Philosophy» (Mao 1974), Mao undertook a revision of Engels’s doctrine of the three laws of dialectics. The foundational theme was announced straightaway at the outset (in terms of its influence on Althusserianism, see Balibar 1977): «Only when there is class struggle is there philosophy. It is a waste of time to discuss epistemology separately from praxis» (212). «The juxtaposition, on the same level, of the transformation of quality and quantity into one another, the negation of the negation, and the law of the unity of opposites is ‹triplicism›, not monism. The most basic thing is the unity of opposites, the transformation of quality and quantity into one another is the unity of the opposites’ quality and quantity. There is no such thing as the negation of the negation…. in the development of things, every link in the chain of events is both affirmation and negation». For example, slave society negated pre-class society, but was an affirmation in relation to feudalism (226). Dialectics is «the continual movement towards opposites». One must therefore accept death in life and death and passing away as moments of life.

6.6 After the 20th Party Conference of the CPSU there was a discussion of contradiction in areas under Soviet influence which began from the recognition of the existence of contradictions in socialism and affirmed that they were the driving force of socialism. The law of the negation of the negation, which had been abolished under Stalin, was also reintroduced in the wake of de-Stalinisation (cf. Stiehler 1960, 3). Nevertheless, this discussion remained relatively without consequence as it was not accompanied by any politics of contradiction. The political leadership regularly supported research into dialectics which, however, was severed from reality. The triumphal tone still dominated the official ideology: «Materialist dialectics prove irrefutably», declared the chief ideologue, extending one of Lenin’s phrases to the point of caricature (cf. LW 22, 108), «that the antiquated… capitalist society bears a passing character, that its dissolution by a new, more perfect social order is mature» (Suslow 1974, 48).

Official Marxism-Leninism stagnated in the shadow of such a regression of dialectics back into vulgar metaphysics. Robert Havemann found himself in 1964 «surrounded by fossils which have absolutely no real content any more» (168). «The gentlemen who taught dialectical materialism from the professorial chairs of the Soviet Union have gone back to the positions of vulgar materialism and of mechanical materialism. All dialectics in their words is only to be regarded as a coy alibi before the classics» (ibid., 12). – Vaclav Havel explained in 1966 that the cause for such a regression of dialectics into an «a priori and fundamentally abstract dialectical schema» (174) – that is to say, into a new metaphysics – was the «precedence given to the theoretical principle over concrete praxis» (176). Against the triumphal manner of speaking («sovereign domination and application of dialectics» (cf. Stiehler 1960, 5)) and irreplevisable claims («the principle of the comprehensiveness of analysis» (cf. Wallner 1981, 636)), he spoke out ambitiously in favour of a «new, higher dialectic», a «dialectical dialectic» (175), the sober, liberating truth: «a comprehensive Anschauung is nonsense» (179).

While the «passive dialectic» (Haug 1985) overtook the Communist project, there arose on its margins and in its gaps pluralistic dialectical thought, beginning afresh. Repressed in theory and political praxis, dialectics returned above all in literature and art.

6.7 Despite all the institutional hindrances, a series of discussions of dialectics (discussions of logic, of praxis, and of dialectics as method (cf. the overview in Bogomolow 1974)) took place throughout the history of the GDR. The final results of these debates, however, were a great disillusionment. – Initially, dialectics were defined «with Lenin, briefly, as ‹the doctrine of development›», whose meaning, however, was «constant progress, the unsuspended development of productive powers», etc. (Redlow et al. 1971, 182). Correspondingly, materialist dialectics was taken for a method which was «incessantly perfecting itself…, a weapon which becomes ever more powerful with each of its deployments» (Rosental 1974, 6). But did this development therefore recognise no decline, defeat, regression, no destruction? Is not dialectics for the classics of Marxism related to the thought that nothing lasts for ever, that everything also passes away? Does there not exist, therefore, a contradiction between such optimism of progress and dialectics? – For Hermann Ley, dialectics functioned as a successor to theodicy when he said that «the dialectical standpoint justifies coming into being and passing away as moments of continual becoming», and when he thought to see «realised dialectics», with Engels, « in the transitory character of the solar system, the earth and humans» (1977, 765). As if he wanted to confirm Nietzsche’s judgement of the optimism of the dialectic, he declared that the specific achievement of dialectics was «that no pessimistic conclusions are presented by the knowledge of nature» (766), etc. Wolfgang Eichhorn (I) interpreted Lenin’s paraphrase of Engels–« dialectics of things produces dialectics of ideas» – in the sense of an ontology of diverse spheres: dialectical laws are the most universal, under which fall the dialectics of both spheres with a parallelism of interpellation and prestabilised correspondence, with the slight reservation: that they «must agree on the whole» (1973, 13). For Kosing and others, this means «that dialectics in general exists in two fundamental forms: as objective dialectics which are immanent in nature and society, and as subjective dialectics which reflect objective dialectics in the theory of dialectics and the dialectical method which is derived from it» (1981, 32). Here the whole was closed up into a «system», in the sense «that the whole forms an independent phenomenon which imbues all parts and confronts them as their determining moment» (Redlow et al. 1971, 185). – In its late phase, the leading themes of such a theory of dialectics, both scientific and in terms of the history of philosophy, went through a terrain-shift to, on the one hand, a system of thought (cf. Warnke et al. 1977 a & b), and, on the other, a theory of development (cf. Redlow / Stiehler 1977).

M. Wallner sensed the elimination of the necessary effort from such a philosophy of identity. In 1981 he went over to a long-disputed fundamental position of the «analytical theory» which was predominant in the West: one must distinguish between (prescriptive) method and theory, otherwise there results «the construction of ‹ideal centaurs› which are at the same time knowledge and instructions for action» and which imply an abstract subject «whose action is exclusively determined by knowledge of objectivity and which thus comports itself in reality without interest» (633). The assumption of direct reflection was also now charged with being mechanistic because it eliminated interests, and thus the relation of the subject to the object (635 et sqq.). Methodology was ultimately seen in relation to the subject as «the ideal concept of activity» (637 et sq.).

The operative sense of «dialectical method» was treated in investigations of the «ascent from the abstract to the concrete» (cf. Ilyenkov 1969), of the relationship of the logical and the historical (cf. Gropp 1970, Ilyenkov 1974) and in Narski’s study of Marx’s treatment of aporia etc. (cf. Bogomolow 1972). Nevertheless, no real clarity reigned. According to E. Thomas the function of «the foundational laws of dialectics» consisted in the fact that through them «the investigation… is fixed theoretically in a general form» (1976, 161). It would perhaps be helpful to add: in a provisional theoretical framework with heuristic function. G. Pawelzig ascribed to the «law of the negation of the negation in Engels’s presentation of historical processes» the functional status of taking up «the leading, guiding form of presentation in the structure of method when it is a matter of imparting historical understanding and thus allowing activity oriented to the future» (1981, 135). That appears, rather, to be a didactic-propagandist («ideological») function. When Götz Redlow declared that «the dialectical method is a universal method which in the first instance, in principle, is applicable to any and everything… but not in the sense of a master key…, since the objective universality of dialectics exists only in its concrete individuality» (1979, 10), Wallner countered with the question: «How does a universally applicable method function, if not as a universal skeleton key?» (1981, 638). That condemns all attempts «to represent the dialectical-materialist method as an instrument which solves concrete research tasks alongside specialised methods» (639). Herbert Hörz was correct when he wrote that dialectics «is not a method ranged alongside others, but is, rather, suitable for the comprehension of the coaction of these methods» (1976, 344). Thus the conscious application of dialectics was finally restricted to directing «the selection and the combination of more specialised methods, so that as a result a methodology is established which is able to reveal the objective dialectics of the relevant field of investigation». Wallner named this the «subordination» of specialised methodologies, while conceding, however, that this is also possible «without the scientific application» of the dialectical method, inasmuch as the single scientist correctly combines the more specialised methods correctly» (ibid.). If it had become apparent that dialectics was «no ‹paralogical wonder-weapon›» (ibid., 640), this amounted to a revaluation of the spontaneous dialectics of (competent) scientists, which is otherwise named «instinct» or «intuition».

7. Western Marxism. In the emphatic moment of 1917, young intellectuals all over the world moved towards revolutionary Marxism under the aegis of dialectics. The Bolshevisation of the international communist movement presented them all, sooner or later, with alternatives: either to pay lip service to the rising orthodoxy, to fall into silence or to develop their projects outside of the countries of state socialism and the parties connected with them. For the pluralistic theoretical culture which developed outside of Stalinism the (misleading) name «Western Marxism» has gained currency. Lukács, Korsch and Gramsci are regarded as its «real originators» (Anderson 1976, 29; cf. Haug 1985, 234–59).

7.1 In 1919, Lukács directed his critique (which later, due to History and Class Consciousness , exercised a many-sided subterranean influence) as far back as Engels, who he accused of having «extended the [dialectical] method to apply also to nature… following Hegel’s mistaken lead». Lukács declared himself to be firmly for dialectics’ limitation «to the realms of history and society» (H&CC , 24). – Sartre, in the Introduction to his Critique of Dialectical Reason , developed the tendency of this argument regarding the effects of the regressive dialectics of Engels’s position (cf. 15 et sqq, 27 et sqq, 33 et sqq). – Lukács’s second fundamental critique was aimed against Engels’s objectivism. The October Revolution had allowed the proletariat to appear to Marxist theory as «both subject and object of knowledge» and allowed «theory in this way to intervene immediately and adequately in the revolutionary process of society». Inasmuch, therefore, as the unity of theory and praxis was made possible for the first time, the way to theory’s knowledge of «its theoretical being – the dialectical method» was open for the first time. (H&CC 3; trans. modified). This idea is lacking in Engels, according to Lukács:« He does not even mention the most vital interaction, namely the dialectical relation between subject and object in the historical process » (ibid.). «The difference from ‹metaphysics› is then no longer sought in the necessity for any ‹metaphysical› treatment to leave the object unchanged, while for the dialectical method the central problem is the transformation of reality » (ibid. trans. modified). Otherwise «the virtues of forming ‹fluid› concepts [would] become altogether problematic» (ibid.), and dialectics would appear as «a superfluous additive, a mere ornament of Marxist ‹sociology› or ‹economics›…, as an empty construct in whose name Marxism does violence to the facts» (H&CC 4). – Similarly, Ernst Bloch turned against the type of «dialectics which have all too often become pure decoration or even a schema» (GA 11, 393). – When he was isolated from «praxis», dialectics for Lukács become a form of totality-thinking, which Althusser later challenged in his critique of the expressive totality.

7.2 Against the thesis, defended by Franz Mehring and others, which claimed that method could not be separated from analysis of the matter, August Thalheimer explained in 1923 that «the development of a version of dialectics is ‹a pressing need›, among other reasons because ‹the need for the creation of a comprehensive and strictly ordered world view has presented itself to the most advanced sections of the world proletariat›». Karl Korsch, who cited these words, accused Thalheimer of positivism-idealism in 1924 and reaffirmed «the total error of the idea of the possibility of an independent ‹system› of materialist dialectics. Only an idealist dialectician can attempt to consider the totality of thought-forms (determinations of thought, categories)… as a particular subject matter for itself» (176). In 1930 Korsch extended his critique to Lenin, in whom Korsch found dialectics to be one-sidedly placed in the object and the dialectic of theory and praxis destroyed, due to the Abbildtheorie (62). According to Korsch, Lenin saw his chief task not in dialectics but in the «defence of the materialist position , which has not really been seriously attacked by anyone» (65).

«The dialectical method used by Marx in Capital » points, according to Korsch, to «the inner restlessness in all that which exists» (1932, 177). Nevertheless, he insisted increasingly upon a clarification of the terminology of dialectics. In particular, contradiction «exists not as such, but rather, only through a simulated, symbolically abbreviated or unclear (due to other reasons) manner of expression» (ibid., 197). Already himself now under the influence of logical empiricism, Korsch declared in 1932: «The logically and empirically flawless clarification of all these concepts which are still used unthinkingly today, and a good number of further ones, is one of the most important tasks for the future of the socialist-proletarian science which appeals to the authority of Marx» (ibid.). – His later intellectual development saw him break with Marxism; but for his «student» Bertolt Brecht, both the sense for dialectics and the sense for its non-speculative deployment remained living forces.

7.3 Brecht – Like Korsch and other Marxist intellectuals from 1917, Brecht was a Leninist. It was precisely for this reason that he understood what sort of a degeneration the «Leninism» institutionalised by Stalin represented. In 1926 / 27 Brecht noted «an enormously characteristic episode: When Lenin had died, someone tried to gather together his immortal sayings and phrases. But there weren’t any. All that was found were slips of paper with practical instructions scribbled on them»; consequently, the slips of paper were to be examined, to see if «changes of world-historical significance» could be made of them (GA 21, 179). In a letter to Korsch from 1934 (Brecht 1983, 185 et sqq.) Brecht announced that the «good old dialectic» was «not yet so vanquished and antiquated» and attributed its «deterioration» to the weakness of the workers’ movement. In a similar fashion, he later gave priority of place in his critique of Stalinism to the «withering away of the dialectic» (GA 23, 417).

7.3.1 Around the same time as Korsch turned away from dialectics, Brecht sketched his programme for a «dialectical drama» (GA 21, 431 et sqq.). It is a philosophy of praxis under antagonistic conditions , related to that of Gramsci, which emerges and is dialectical inasmuch as it avoids speculative abstraction, closeness and over-generality and not only claims agility, but makes it the very criterion of its expression. The capacity to describe something is founded upon the capacity to transform it. The idea of historical «necessity» is criticised in that it conceals «contradictory tendencies which have been decided upon pugnaciously» (GA 21, 523). Dialectics is necessary because of the unbridgeable difference between thought and reality, and because of the necessity of finding an orientation for action according to this condition. «In reality, processes do not come to an end in reality. It is observation which requires and establishes conclusions» (ibid., 523). Brecht elaborated a reversed uncertainty relation [Unschärferelation] : it is not intervention which makes an image unclear, but rather, the lack of possibility to intervene: «Situations and things which cannot be transformed by thought (which are not dependent upon us) cannot be thought» (ibid., 521). – In a letter to Erich Engel in 1949 Brecht proposed «to study» the materialist-dialectical «way of thinking as a way of life», with the consequence «that dialectics must not be derived or refuted from the previous way of thinking alone, just as the new way of thinking, in any case, cannot be derived» from previous thought forms: «a leap is necessary, or (possibly more auspiciously) a fall is due [ein Fall ist fällig]» It is «wiser to comprehend dialectics from its political applicability, that is, to derive the new concepts [die neuen Begriffe] from attempts to grasp [aus den Griffen]» (Brecht 1983 [619], 591).

«Dialectical criticism» for Brecht consisted in bringing points of view «into crisis» «by means of their results» (GA 21, 520; GW 20, 153). In this sense, he showed the crisis of the Soviet censorship régime, by confronting it with its results: «The state damages literature which is in favour of the state when it oppresses literature which is opposed to the state, it incapacitates literature’s voice, it pulls its teeth and derealises it» (GA 22.1, 132).

7.3.2 Norman Levine’s claim that dialectics for Marx was «the unifying concept, the central vision» (1) is equally the case for Brecht. He adopted the expression «turning point [Wendung]», used by Lenin in the context of self-criticism and reorientation, in the subtitle of his Me-ti: Buch der Wendungen. In this «small handbook» of dialectical morals, or rather, dialectical manners, dialectics is named «the great method». Dialectics is concerned «to recognise processes in things and to use them. It teaches the art of asking questions which make action possible» (GW 12, 475). Brecht transferred Hegel’s dictum of the identity of identity and non-identity into the impulse of things «to go beyond» the categories of previous thought (ibid., 493) and into a dictum of difference: things do not remain true to themselves, concepts do not remain true to the things they sought to comprehend. «Things are happenings. States of affairs are processes. Events are transitions» (ibid., 517). Brecht comprehended dialectics anti-ideologically: subversive, against every and any ideological eternity of an established order. «Deployment of dialectics for the destruction of ideologies» (GW 20, 157).

Brecht felt a paradox in the liberation of the Germans from national socialism by a defeat: «Once again this nation is swindling its way to a revolution by assimilation» (Journals 6.1.48). Without materialist dialectics, the situation in Germany could not be comprehended: «for its unity can only be achieved through continued rending asunder, it will have freedom dictated to it etc etc…» (ibid.). – He noted the danger that with the swindling of the revolution emerged a perverted dialectics, transformed back into metaphysics: this pseudo-dialectic, «which stirs everything up in order to calm it down, which transforms the things in flux into something fixed, ‹elevates› matter into an idea, is just the bag of magic tricks for such shit-awful times» (ibid.).

7.3.3 The theatre which Brecht directed in the GDR was strongly oriented to dialectics. «Everything connected to conflict, clash and struggle cannot be treated at all without materialist dialectics» (GA 23, 376). The theatre «is able to make dialectics a pleasure. The surprises of logically progressing or leaping development, the instability of all states of affairs, the wit of contradictoriness and so forth, they are delights in the liveliness of humans, things and processes, and they raise the art of living just as much as the joyfulness of life. All arts contribute to the greatest of all arts, the art of living well» (GW 16, 702). The reception of dialectics in the theatre was not always positive. Cautiously formulated: «the entry of dialectics into the theatre triggered a perceptible shock among those who accepted dialectics in other areas» (Journals 25.12.52).

7.4 In the Prison Notebooks , Gramsci developed his version of dialectics above all in his critique of Bukharin’s « objectivist disfigurement of Marx’s theory of history» (Schmied-Kowarzik 1981, 116) and in his confrontation with the idealist dialectics of Benedetto Croce.

7.4.1 Gramsci attacked Bukharin precisely in that place where he presented the theoretical structure which had been developed by Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin, and which was later canonised by Stalin. Therefore, this critique can be understood as a critique avant la lettre of Stalinist «Dialectical Materialism». Gramsci saw the foundational problem in the assumption that «the philosophy of praxis has always been split into two: a doctrine of history and politics, and a philosophy, which Bukharin says is dialectical materialism and no longer the old philosophical materialism» (Q 11, 22; SPN 434; trans. modified). «But if the question is framed in this way, one can no longer understand the importance and significance of the dialectic» (ibid.). Expressed in positive terms: «The true fundamental function and significance of the dialectic can only be grasped if the philosophy of praxis is conceived as an integral and original philosophy which opens up a new phase of history and a new phase in the development in world thought. It does this to the extent that it goes beyond both traditional idealism and traditional materialism, philosophies which are expressions of past societies, while retaining their vital elements. If the philosophy of praxis is not considered except in subordination to another philosophy, then it is not possible to grasp the new dialectic, through which the transcending of old philosophies is effected and expressed» (ibid., 435). Gramsci saw in the pre-Stalinist «theoretical grammar» of Bukharin, which posited and gave precedence to a foundational materialist philosophy which determined historical materialism, also a capitulation before common sense [senso comune] : «It is felt that the dialectic is something arduous and difficult, insofar as thinking dialectically goes against vulgar common sense, which is dogmatic and eager for peremptory certainties and has as its expression formal logic» (ibid.). Referring to the third of the Theses on Feuerbach (MECW 5, 3), he continued: «The uneducated and crude environment has dominated the educator and vulgar common sense has imposed itself on science rather than the other way round. If the environment is the educator, it too must in turn be educated, but the Manual does not understand this revolutionary dialectic» (Q 11, 22; SPN 435).

The reclamation of dialectics, according to Gramsci, consisted in the critique of evolutionism and all views which supposed an unbroken, goal directed, predictable development, and which were not able to recognise «the dialectical principle with its passage from quantity to quality», a passage which «disturbs any form of evolution and any law of uniformity understood in a vulgar evolutionist sense» (Q 11, 26; ibid., 426). Against the objection that if this was the case, dialectics could not even be conceived, Gramsci answered: «But a theory of history and politics can be made, for even if the facts are always unique and changeable in the flux of movement of history, the concepts can be theorised. Otherwise one would not even be able to tell what movement is, or the dialectic, and one would fall back into a new form of nominalism» (ibid., 427).

7.4.2 Croce was accused by Gramsci of 1) having regressed from Marx’s real dialectics to ideal dialectics («in becoming does he see becoming itself or the ‹concept› of becoming?» (Q 10.II, 1); and 2) of having gone to great pains «to reduce the antithesis and to split it up in a long sequence of moments, that is, to reduce the dialectic to a process of reformist evolution of ‹revolution-restoration›, in which henceforth only the second term is valid, because it is concerned to repair continually (from the outside) an organism which does not have its own sources of recuperation within itself» (Q 10.II, 41.XVI).

Gramsci saw this liberal-conservative domestication of Hegel’s dialectics in the sense of a reformist «passive revolution» (cf. ibid.) above all in the «dialectic of distincts», which Croce «introduced in addition to a dialectic of opposites» (Q 10.II, 1). «The philosophical error (of practical origin!) of such a conception consists in the mechanical assumption that in the dialectical process the thesis must be ‹conserved› by the antithesis, in order not to destroy the process itself. The dialectical process is therefore ‹foreseen› as a mechanical, arbitrarily, pre-arranged repetition into the infinite…. In real history the antithesis tends to destroy the thesis, the synthesis is a sublation (Aufhebung). However, this does not mean that it can be established a priori which elements of the thesis will be ‹conserved› in the synthesis, nor that the blows could be ‹measured› a priori, as in a convention-ally organised ‹boxing ring›. That this in the end actually occurs is a question of immediate ‹politics›, because the dialectical process in real history breaks down into countless partial moments» (Q 10.I, 6). Gramsci allowed that Croce’s « dialectic of distincts» was a «purely verbal solution of a real methodological requirement which is to be criticised» (Q 10.II, 41.X): «There is a real requirement in the differentiation of oppositions from distinctions, but there is also a contradiction in terms, because there is a dialectics only of oppositions» (ibid.). Here is disputed, above all, the Marxist differentiation between base and super-structures. Croce thought the relationship speculatively , while Gramsci comprehended it in realistic terms with the concept of an «historical bloc» (cf. ibid.).

7.43 Gramsci reconstructed dialectics from active behaviour in nature and thus avoided reducing dialectics to subject-object dialectics. He sought a path between objectivism and subjectivism. He noted an indirect critique of the objectivist Plekhanov when he was making excerpts from a neo-Thomist text in which dialectics was comprehended as a part of formal logic and rhetoric: Plekhanov, in The Fundamental Problems of Marxism , defined dialectics, departing from a classification of objectivity and disregarding the primacy of praxis, «as a part of formal logic, as the logic of movement in distinction to the logic of stasis» (Q 11, 41; cf. Bogomolow 1974, 236).

Regarding Lukács’s view «that one can speak of the dialectic only for the history of men and not for nature» (Q 11, 34; SPN 448; cf. H&CC 24), Gramsci argued that «If his assertion presupposes a dualism between nature and man he is wrong because he is falling into a conception of nature proper to religion and to Graeco-Christian philosophy and also to idealism which does not in reality succeed in unifying and relating man and nature to each other except verbally. But if human history should be conceived also as the history of nature (also by means of the history of science) how can the dialectic be separated from nature? Perhaps Lukács, in reaction to the baroque theories of the Popular Manual , has fallen into the opposite error, into a form of idealism. Certainly, there are many notes in Engels (Anti-Dühring) which can lead to the deviations of the Popular Manual. It is forgotten that Engels, even though he worked on it for a long time, only left behind sparse materials for the promised work, which is supposed to prove that dialectics is a cosmic law. Furthermore, it is exaggerating to claim the identity of thought of the two founders of the philosophy of praxis» (ibid.).

7.5 Étienne Balibar opened the dialectics conference in the research institute of the French Communist Party in 1975 with the notion, following Mao, of a double relation of dialectics to the class struggle: «At the same time, dialectics has the class struggle as its primary (if not its only) object…; and, on the other hand, dialectics is itself a product, or better, a particular form of class struggle», namely, a revolutionary form of class struggle (1977, 21). Balibar detected two opposed «deviations», whose interplay of permanent «transitions» and «corrections» was, however, essential for the process of Marxism: 1) objectivism (in the chief form of a dialectics of nature and of evolution and of a universal ontology; and the secondary variant of positivism, of formalism of a theory of knowledge or of a dialectical methodology); and 2) (not symmetrically opposed) constitution of a philosophy of praxis or a materialist historicism (with the weaker variant forms of subjectivism, a philosophy of freedom and of the subject, a theoretical humanism, etc.) (25).

The most important form of the philosophy of praxis is «not that which thinks praxis as the praxis of a subject […] but rather, that which thinks praxis itself as anonymous internally split ‹subject› of the historical process » (by means of categories like: relations of power, forms of organisation, the ruling ideology and the opposed proletarian ideology) (35). The opposition of objectivism and historicism embodied in Engels and Gramsci is « immanent to materialist dialectics» (40). This opposition will therefore not disappear. Its maintenance is the very life of materialist dialectics itself: no fixed definition can be given of it, however, inside materialist dialectics, there is a complex theoretical struggle for the same (41). Balibar intervened in the struggle of these opposites with two complementary corrections: first, «There is only objective dialectics, dialectics is the contradictory movements of the things themselves and not the things ‹as they are reflected in consciousness›, let alone a mere movement of thought» and second, «There is only dialectics from the standpoint of praxis or rather, from a practical standpoint , a standpoint which subordinates theory to practical determinations» (38).

balibar regarded as foundational for materialist dialectics «the thesis of the ‹unity of opposites›, the thesis of the universality of contradiction and of the specificity of contradictions» (60). If one grasped dialectics, on the other hand, as the doctrine of movement, etc., it remained within the criticised metaphysics and ontology. Dialectics is the theory of the emergence, development and resolution (not reconciliation) of contradictions: «for no contradiction is ever ‹stable›, ‹eternal›, even though the contradiction, the contradictory character of the ‹essence of things› is, as such, eternal or rather absolute » (ibid.). – «Specificity» had already been demanded by Brecht:« For example, the dictum of ‹transformation› is simply castrated, if one quality is simply transformed into another. The dictum then becomes a mere platitude, that is, a trivial, ineffective truth. What is possibly needed is a conceivable, expectable incident, in which a new quality, of a quite specific type, emerges due to changes in a certain concentration; while that out of which the new quality has emerged was not able to be treated in this specific respect, that is, it was better to not name it as a quality at all» (Letter to Erich Engel 1949 in Brecht 1983 [619], 591). To make the things under consideration «treatable» in a practical-transformative sense is the meaning of Brecht’s postulate «to derive the new concepts [die neuen Begriffe] from attempts to intervene [aus den Griffen]» (ibid.). – Balibar developed his version of the specificity of contraires as an interpretation of Engels’s « reflex thesis» (the thesis that subjective dialectics are a «reflex» of objective dialectics): that does not mean that there are two dialectics, whose relationship would have to be studied, but rather «that there is one , single, objective dialectic whose development of thought, of knowledge, is likewise a specific aspect and consequently a determinate effect ». Reflex signifies «that knowledge develops as itself an objective process» (29). Thus Balibar could stand by the thesis of the universality of the contradiction, even though there are only ever specific oppositions or contradictions which appear only for and in praxis.

Obviously influenced by Lenin’s way of thinking, Balibar ended with the dictum: «Dialectics is for the theory of the proletariat the same as the party is for the praxis of the proletariat, its organisation or its ‹concentrated form›» (63). The sentence became an historical signature: four years later, the practical-theoretical political culture in France in which alone such a claim could be made collapsed.

7.6 Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik comprehended the «self-foundation of materialist dialectics» (1981, 210) as a philosophy of praxis, which he reconstructed from Marx’s critical sublation [Aufhebung] of Hegel’s philosophy. His attention was directed to the practical-materialist «pre-dominance [das Übergreifende]» which he saw in production , understood in the broadest sense. He developed the concept of «pre-dominance» from the Introduction of 1857, in which Marx wrote «The conclusion we reach is not that… [the determining moments] are identical, but that they all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity. Production predominates not only over itself, in the antithetical definition of production, but over the other moments as well [distribution, consumption]. The process always returns to production to begin anew… A definite production thus determines… definite relations between these different moments. Admittedly, however, in its one-sided form [as a moment alongside the others], production is itself determined by the other moments» (Grundrisse , 99). Schmied-Kowarzik saw here the «central idea of Marx’s materialist dialectics» (1981, 97). Production is for him human self-production, at the same time production of human alienation [Entfremdung] and production of the tendency, to be realised practically, of the sublation [Aufhebung] of this alienation (cf. ibid., 116). With Ernst Bloch he comprehended the idea of dialectics of nature in a new way, under the condition that «nature is posited not only as an object of social production» (206). He concluded «that the dialectical predominance of social production, which represents always and necessarily the starting point of dialectical materialism, is itself dialectically included in the predominant dialectics of nature. The dialectics of nature, however, for its part, can only be fulfilled and defined by social praxis, that is, by a moment over which it has predominated» (210).

8. The post-Communist situation is characterised by blind dialectics, which is subject to little theoretical study or investigation. Dialectics as a foundational concept of Marxism-Leninism appears to be discredited. In the ruins of the Soviet Union, all that which was once thought remains indifferently buried, and the traditions of Western Marxism are threatened by abandonment.

8.1 Analytical Marxists such as Erik Olin Wright, among others (1992, 6), claim, in a fashion similar to that of Karl Popper’s intended liquidation of dialectics in 1940 (cf. Habermas’s 1963 «Nachtrag zur Kontroverse zwischen Popper und Adorno» («The Analytical Theory of Science and Dialectics», Habermas 1976]), to have found much «obscurantism» in the discourses which claim a methodological «distinctiveness» for Marxism, above all in the «notoriously unclear» and «widely repeated» claim that it is dialectical. «It does seem that the skilful use of dialectical metaphors can serve worthwhile heuristic purposes» (6). Nevertheless, the mastery of a «suggestive idiom» is something other than the deployment of a distinctive methodology, particularly since «dialectical accounts either restate what could perfectly well be expressed in less esoteric ways, or else they are unintelligible» (ibid.). That there still is not a concrete, exemplary analysis of operative dialectics is taken by them as a «reason for holding that there is no dialectical method at all» (ibid.). What they at best concede is «a way of organizing and directing thinking at a pre-theoretical level, which, in some cases, facilitates the discovery of insights that can be well expressed in terms consonant with the norms of scientific culture» (ibid.).

That this judgement corresponds not only to a scientistic or positivistic narrow concept of method is indicated by the fact that the historian Edward P. Thompson similarly judged the thesis that for Marx dialectics was a method and «that this method lies somewhere in the field of dialectical reason» and «constitutes the essence of Marxism». If Marx had found this «clue to the universe», he would have written it down on paper. «We may conclude from this that it was not written because it could not be written ». Thompson comprehended Marx’s dialectics, in contrast, as «a practice learned through practising. So that, in this sense, dialectics can never be set down, nor learned by rote» (306). – Richard Gunn called for the recognition in principal of a «basic distinction between concept and object, between interpreting and changing the world…; between, in short, the teleological or purposive and the causal», and wanted to admit, at most, the conceptual as the primary field of application of dialectics, which he found, at any rate, to be «animistic and anthropomorphic». Thus historical or social dialectics at the best can be understood «in relation to the (true or false) awareness of the concerned actors» (1977, 48 et sq.). «A dialectical materialist monism is a contradiction in itself» (49).

On the other side, dialectics is reduced ad absurdum as soon as it is represented (for example, by Hans-Heinz Holz (1986, 11)) as a «system of statements about the structure of the world» and reinforced as an «ontological theory», which functions secondarily as a «meta-theory of thought» (cf. Narski 1973, 83). In 1990 Holz projected «the development of an ontological foundational model of principles, categories and guiding principles of theoretical construction» (562). Following Stalin’s conception of the equivalence of both orders – the logical and its «ontological correlate» (563) – he could say that «the theory of reflection [die Widerspiegelungstheorie]… represents the foundation of dialectics out of itself» (564). – An exceeding of the boundaries of dialectics of a different nature can be observed in the work of Peter Ruben, when, taking up the concept derived from the philosophy of nature of natura naturans , he proposed «to think nature in its totality as its own site of production » and argued that «It is precisely that which constitutes dialectics» (1978, 70). Since the « self -movement of the whole» thus appeared as the theoretical problem of dialectics, Ruben regarded the concept of «interaction [Wechselwirkung]» as unsuitable (ibid., 82).

8.2 «Warning: not to be misused» – Thus Theodor W. Adorno entitled his reflections on dialectics in Minima Moralia (Nr. 152): «A mode of discussion stemming from the Sophists», «whereby dogmatic assertions were shaken», dialectics «subsequently developed, as against philosophia perennis , into a perennial method of criticism, a refuge for all the thoughts of the oppressed, even those unthought by them. But as a means of proving oneself right it was also from the first an instrument of domination, a formal technique of apologetics…. Its truth or untruth, therefore, is not inherent in the method itself, but in its intention in the historical process» (244). Unexpectedly for Adorno, this lays the accent upon orientation and commitment. Years later, in 1966 in Negative Dialectics , the accent had slipped. Dialectics were now regarded as «the self-consciousness of the objective context of delusion; it does not mean to have escaped from that context. Its objective goal is to break out of the context from within. The strength required from the break grows in dialectics from the context of immanence; what would apply to it once more is Hegel’s dictum that in dialectics an opponent’s strength is absorbed and turned against him, not just in the dialectical particular, but eventually in the whole» (406).

In the same year (1966), at the Prague Hegel conference, Herbert Marcuse presented the thesis opposed to Althusser’s, that «materialist dialectics is also still under the spell of idealist reason, remains in positivity, so long as it does not deconstruct the conception of progress according to which the future is always already rooted inside the present, so long as Marxist dialectics does not radicalise the concept of transition to a new social stage, that is, so long as it does not build into its theory reversal, the break with the past and the existing state of affairs, the qualitative difference in the direction of progress» (1969, 186). Marcuse registered a structural transformation of social dialectics: «To the extent that the antagonistic society closes itself up into an immense, repressive totality, the social location of negation ‹misplaces itself›, so to speak. The power of negation grows outside of» and «is today concentrated in no class» (190). Determinate negation is therefore, for Marcuse, historically overtaken (cf. 1954, 370 et sq.).

8.3 Dialectics would therefore be relevant for an orientation which combines agility and wisdom; although it does not give up its secrets in a methodological formulation, it would nevertheless be relevant as method in an elementary sense, understood as heuristics [Findekunst]. Both functions are connected to a conception of the world which allows a contradictory, moving context to be thought. – «Perhaps it is not too bold, in a Brechtian sense, to define the Sage as the quintessential location in which such dialectics may be observed» (Benjamin, qtd in Ruoff 1976, 39). The ability to practise dialectics is, finally, an art. «Being a dialectician means having the wind of history in one’s sails. The sails are the concepts. It is not enough, however, to have sails at one’s disposal. What is decisive is knowing the art of setting them» (Benjamin, 473).

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WolfgangFritzHaug

Translated by Peter Thomas

abstract / concrete, Althusser school, analysis / synthesis, analytical Marxism, antagonism, anti-ideology, anti-philosophy, application, beginning, camera obscura, capital logic, class struggles, composition plans, concept, consciousness, contradiction, crisis, critical theory, critique, debate on positivism, Della Volpe school, development, dialectical image, dialectical materialism, dialectical theatre, dialectics of nature, doubling, empiricism / theory, ensemble of social relations, genesis, guiding thread, Hegel-critique, Hegelianism, historical-logical, image, interaction, intervening thought, language, limits of dialectics, logical-historical, Marxism, mediation, metaphysics, method, movement, negation of negation, ontology, philosophy, positivism, research / presentation, revolutionary Realpolitik, stupidity, sublation, system, theory / praxis, thought-form, Umschlag, Western Marxism, Weltanschauung

Abbild, abstrakt / konkret, Althusser-Schule, Analyse / Synthese, analytischer Marxismus, Anfang, Antagonismus, Antiideologie, Antiphilosophie, Anwendung, Aufbaupläne, Aufhebung, Begriff, Bewegung, Bewusstsein, Camera obscura, Darstellung / Forschung, Della-Volpe-Schule, Denkform, Dialektischer Materialismus, dialektisches Bild, Dialektisches Theater, Dummheit, eingreifendes Denken, Empirie / Theorie, Ensemble der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse, Entwicklung, Forschung / Darstellung, Genese, Grenzen der Dialektik, Hauptwiderspruch, Hegelianismus, Hegelkritik, Kapitallogik, Klassenkämpfe, Krise, Kritik, Kritische Theorie, Leitfaden, Logisch-historisch, Marxismus, Metaphysik, Methode, Naturdialektik, Negation der Negation, Ontologie, Philosophie, Positivismus, Positivismus-Streit, revolutionäre Realpolitik, Sprache, System, Theorie / Praxis, Umschlag, Verdoppelung, Vermittlung, Wechselwirkung, Weltanschauung, westlicher Marxismus, Widerspruch.

Ir arriba


Artículo: Dialectics

Autor: Wolfgang Fritz Haug

Traducción al inglés: Peter Thomas

Publicado en inglés en: Historical Materialism, volume 13:1 (241–265); © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005;

Título del original en alemán: Dialektik; publicado en el Historisch-Kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Tomo 2, 657-693; Argument Verlag, Hamburgo, 1995; ISBN 3-88619-432-9.