Dialectical Materialism -For the Earnest
Very Short Course
Is and What Can Be
Our present situation will not long endure. It has historical roots
and now a myriad of factors point to a substantial change--from which there
will be no retreat.
The world is still apparently divided into three spheres: secondary
economic powers like Germany and Japan, the massive military-economic power
of the United States which grows almost solely from technological superiority,
and a third world which now also comprises most of the old Soviet Union
What is new about this situation is that the secondary economic powers
lack military clout and face a world-wide depression while the military
power, the United States, faces a collapsed industrial base and an economic
crisis rooted in the steady deterioration of the banks, an unraveled social
service net, massive constant unemployment, a tightening noose of corporate
mergers, and over-production.
Beneath the facade of national borders grows a more significant divide
between those who own and those who do not.
The ruling elites of the economic and military powers also must confront
rebellious indigenous populations, demonstrated in the integrated Los Angeles
insurrection in 1992. The third world simply faces massive starvation and
hosts a few insurgent groups like Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path of
Peru, the rebels in areas of the former Soviet Union, the fascist Taliban
movement in Afghanistan, or the rebellious armies which control, today,
about one-half of Columbia.. Despite claims of the end of history and ideology,
the class war roils in every nation.
This situation will inevitably transform each nation, the people who
now hold power, and those whose labor creates all value. The economic powers
will surely continue to arm to protect and extend their profits. The military
powers must re-industrialize (at the cost of ever-greater sacrifice from
working people in taxes and reduced wages) and create a loyal, if divided
and uncritical, citizenry that can be counted on to attack their working
class counterparts in other nations. This requires an intensive campaign
of racism, mysticism and calls for all-class unity: nationalism. Whether
power is bounded by hemispheres or national boundaries, Fortress America
versus the world or the United states versus Germany for example, makes
little difference to those whose lives will be ruptured by ruthless competition.[(1)]
For North American workers in schools and social service agencies, for
students and their parents; this has meant a continuing crisis--a series
of attacks on our lives. Social service recipients have been driven off
welfare in a period when there are no jobs. Unemployment benefits are slashed.
At the same time, welfare workers see their caseloads skyrocket, their
colleagues laid off, some to be forced to return to work for welfare grants
rather than wages.
Teachers face the intensified stratification of the children they serve
by class and race and sex, related efforts to stratify their wages their
wages, rising class sizes, and a systematic effort to minimize their impact
on the curriculum through the use of textbooks and standardized examinations-which
require rote forms of teaching. There is much talk of teacher empowerment,
little real power ceded to teachers.
Students are subjected to very material insults, big classes, locker
searches, metal detectors, apartheid school systems, and more and more
standardized tests in a period which claims to be student centered.
There can be no hope in an incoherent universe. To the contrary, if
we can make sense of our world and develop ways to change it, we can forge
a sensible form of optimism that recognizes that what we do counts. This
short pamphlet seeks to provide a weapon, a method for thinking and action,
for these difficult times. Dialectical materialism (which, for brevity,
I will call diamat [(2)]) offers a process
to understand reality. It is a way to explore for answers--and better questions.
There are no built-in answers to every question in diamat, nor in this
and Karl--Birds of a Feather
In a letter to J. Wiedemeyer (3-5-1892), Karl Marx said, "What I did
new was to prove:
1. That the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production.
2. That the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat and,
3. That this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to
the abolition of all classes and to a classless society." [(3)]
Many academics assert that Marx' key contribution was the discovery
of surplus value---that is, the value left over in the hands of the owner
once the price of the workers' reproduction and the price of state power
is met. Others suggest that the humanist Marx, who entered his studies
through the lens of alienation, the loss of control of human creativity
and life, made his great contribution through the elaboration of the study
of commodity fetishism (worship of money, etc.).
I believe, however, that Marx' key contribution was to work out a world
view which he didn't even name, but which he consistently used: dialectical
Everyone has a world view--a vision of how things work, why things and
people exist, what's next, and so on. In the United States we see an odd
situation in which people who think about their world view are called "philosophers".
They're considered to be people who think but don't act--and are usually
a little atilt.
The rest of us, even though we have a world view, aren't encouraged
to think about it much. So we're left with ideas that are somewhat disjointed,
unsystematic, even incoherent. Most of us want a better world, and to do
as little damage as possible to the one we have. Most of us want to leave
things a little better than when we arrived. But we aren't sure what came
before us, whether history might make sense, and how we can best contribute.
To achieve that, we need to become activist philosophers.
What we will explore here is a world view that is designed to make sense,
not by relying on appeals to faith, but by tests in social practice. Dialectical
materialism calls itself into question, insists people can understand and
systematically influence their environment, denies the existence of mystical
beings in charge of life and reality, and recognizes its own partiality---yet
points toward new ways of discovery.
Dialectical materialism is a partisan paradigm, designed as a shield
and sword for people who propose to make change, not simply study it. This
is a world view for those who have a stake in retarding social transformation.
This philosophy takes sides. Because there is nowhere in the world that
this view of the world is supported by a powerful nation, it is necessarily
a guerrilla philosophy--fighting for its life against the grain of power
and culture. [(5)]
Dialectical materialism argues that truth itself is a partisan question--that
it is in the interest of elites who wish to retain power and privilege
to obscure reality (say by promoting the madness of racism or perverting
the use of technology by developing moon rockets in the midst of massive
social decay). Dialectical materialism argues that it is only in the struggle
for equality and social justice that truth can be realized.
To sum up its parts, dialectical materialism is the study of change
(dialectics) in the real world (materialism). Or, conversely, this is the
study of our habitat--matter in motion. In the old Greek, dialectic meant,
"talk between". It refers to, specifically, two aspects in every thing.
Teachers change people. It's the job. Social workers are ordered to
change people. Actually, everyone tries to change everybody. There's nothing
wrong with that. Every contact we have with people changes each of us.
It's just important to understand how that works--and to take responsibility
for understanding and changing our lives.
That's why it's worth while to understand that dialectical materialism rejects faith as a final test, but relies on practice. Praying over an apple will not help you understand it. Biting it will.
Things do not drift toward better days, nor do youths just drift into
literacy or critical thinking. People don't just up and quit taking drugs.
It takes planning, criticism and re-direction, based on concrete knowledge.
In other words, to apply dialectical materialism, unlike any other world
view, you do not have to give up your ability to learn, your intelligence,
to an unearthly authority that might not exist, nor do you need to pay
anyone to interpret the worlds messages for you.
The crux of the philosophical battle of the 20th century is whether
or not things exist--and whether or not they change. In this, three ideas
have driven the debate of the last century--a debate that has been backed
These ideas, communism (the idea that the vast majority of people, poor
and working people, should control the government and establish a system
of equality so a rich few won't live off the labor and misery of the many),
racism/sexism (the idea that a given group of people is less than human
because of their skin, gender, nation, or culture), and irrationality (the
idea that we cannot comprehend our world and hence nothing much matters
except looking out for yourself) are woven through this short paper.
I also try to include comments on debates between revolutionary philosophers. More concretely, I try to show how the ideas here might apply to organizers and workers connected to human service institutions like schools, and social service agencies. It's my hope that this will be especially useful to unemployed people, teachers, students, and social service workers.
Dialectical Materialism says you can understand and you can act--and you can think critically to make decisions on your own which will be for the common good. Lets examine the parts of this philosophy, beginning with the question of materialism.
Properly put, an idealist world view is not one which is hopeful or naive, but one which claims that ideas determine reality--that what is in our minds is primary to the external world.
Religions are, therefore, idealist. God rules, decides and creates everything.
But god is a creation of the mind. The is no evidence of god, and no way
to test for god other than faith--a form of willful irrationality. More
concretely perhaps, the view that racism is a merely system of evil notions
spread from generation to generation is an idealist position. How do these
ideas spread? Genetically? There is no gene for racism. Or is racism linked
to a system that finds profits in the belief that some people are less
than human? This is the kernel of the contrasting materialist view.
In the long run, idealism can only result in despair on the one hand,
faith on the other--all rooted in a system of irrationalism. If racism
is passed on by our genes, we can't do much about it--other than genetic
engineering. Or if racism is just a contagion floating about in the atmosphere,
probably only a thorough exorcism will get rid of it. If racism is a system
of ideas tied to social structures, then we can change those structures--and
our ideas as we engage in making the change.
Materialism is a word that's misused a lot too. It doesn't mean the philosophy of greed. Materialism, in opposition to idealism, argues that the material world is primary to the mind, being determines consciousness, not "I think therefore I am, but "I am and therefore I think".
Either, "In the beginning was the word" (John I-1) or, "In the beginning was the world, then came humanity and the struggle for subsistence, and then the word as a reflection and re-creator of the world". (Zhu De) To believe that ideas come first is to finally deny the existence of the world before people. [(6)]
Brief (very) History
Diamat has roots going back into ancient China. The Chinese understood
that change and two-sided-ness lies at the heart of understanding the world.
This was symbolized in the drawings of the yin and yang which now appear
on the windows of many martial arts studios today. Later on, the Greek
Heraclitus developed a system of dialectics on his own.
Much later, the British monarchist philosopher Hobbes, on the heels
of Bacon, proposed a materialist hypothesis that argued for the primacy
of matter over mind. Another Britisher, Locke (following Newton's discoveries
in physics) later modified that position to argue that the material world
may be there, but that it is only interpreted by our minds. Since our minds
can never sufficiently comprehend the infinite particularities of the material
world, our ideas can never fully comprehend reality--and hence there must
be a god and a ruling class to explain reality and maintain order.
Thus, Hobbes serves as a benchmark in materialist philosophy. And Locke,
who incorporated a taste of Hobbes' materialism but abandoned it in favor
of idealism, represents a fork in the road. Lots of people found rewards
in going up the wrong path. Locke finally let himself out in service to
a class which wanted to retain excuses for power and religion.
Following Hobbes and Locke came a stream of philosophers who argued
that reality is only in our minds, either as a singular but rather large
hallucination, or as a system of symbols which can never actually be an
accurate substitute for what is there. One group, then, argued, that reality
is not there at all. The other group argued that we can just never know
whether or not the objective world is around us. Not too surprisingly,
both these groups of philosophers lived pretty well--as modern priests.
Materialism insists that the objective world stands apart from, and
above, the intellect. One the one hand, there is sufficient evidence that
the world existed before humans and, on the other hand, if only the intellect
exists, then it is only an individual intellect (MY intellect) that can
be shown to exist. And if that's true, I'm writing for myself. [(7)]
Even so, this is not to say that what we think is not also a material reality. More on that below.
For unemployed people and social workers, materialism has special meaning.
The position of most social service agencies is that unemployed people
have something wrong with their minds or culture. That's why they're jobless
and poor. Materialism argues that capitalism requires unemployment, that
joblessness exists in every capitalist country and that unemployment is
necessary to capitalism, both to drive down wages and to serve as an example
to those who might want to risk fighting for change.
Minimal unemployment levels in the U.S., taken alone, are often presented
to refute this thesis. But unemployment abides, along with underemployment,
a society where people work long hours for small gains. In addition, capital
knows no bounds. The high employment levels in the U.S. can only be understood
in combination with the levels of massive unemployment, and social collapse
in the Third World.
For teachers and students, materialism answers the question as to why
kids of color do so poorly on achievement tests. It's not because the kids
are dumb. It's because the tests are rigged. The tests simply measure how
white and middle class you are, parental income and race, not how smart
you are. The tests do not measure some peculiar form of abstract intelligence,
they measure how well you've learned to play by the rules of people in
power. White middle class live in the midst of people preparing them for
those kinds of tests every day. But if they were required to live through
a test of how to survive in the midst of a crack epidemic, they might not
do so well in comparison.
Teaching methods themselves demonstrate materialist or idealist positions.
The idealist vision induces a teacher to assume that knowledge is based
in her mind, a commodity to be delivered to students who, in turn, will
accept the commodity, come to possess it, and show their hold of it by
repeating it in some way--perhaps a multiple choice test. The materialist
view recognizes that knowledge is a process of exploration, socially constructed-not
property-and that reality is external to both the student and the teacher:
it is through joint inquiry, recognizing the importance of leadership,
that one explorer can help another to go even farther. Moreover, an idealist
approach would isolate language and literature from its historical context,
a materialist approach would insist on understanding the surroundings that
produced the document.[(8)]
This is not to argue that classrooms can be small utopian communities
standing outside social inequality, racism, and the often irrelevant demands
of institutions like schools. They cannot. But teachers can take steps
to increase the possibilities for honest exploration, minimizing the importance
of grades, avoiding standardized tests, creating a curriculum from the
surrounding community rather than a textbook for example.
For organizers, it's imperative to know the material world you're working
in--as well as the ideas of the people in it. You need to know: who owns
the big businesses and what's made there--and how, what differences in
pay scales might split workers, what women are paid in relation to men,
what's the history of struggle in the community, how much do the union's
officials earn, is the work force integrated, do the people of many races
socialize, what businesses are connected to the school or welfare boards?
When your country goes to war, it will probably do so under the banner
of democracy, for the good of the people in the other country, against
an evil dictator, or in the interest of peace. A materialist viewpoint
suggests that you look more carefully. What raw materials (plutonium, oil,
rubber, etc.) exist in the enemy nation? What are workers paid there? What
is the country's strategic location? Does this country sit in key shipping
lanes? Are other countries competing to sell goods there? Will this war
divert attention from big domestic issues? Why this country? Why now? Who
gains? Who is hurt?
If being determines consciousness, if what you do (not what you claim) is the key to what you are; what are the main things an organizer might look for in evaluating another person?
Everyone's vision is tempered by their class background, what their
parents did, their race, sex, job, and desires. Does she want to become
a principal? A supervisor? Does she have friends? Are any of them of another
race? Is she stable?
How might a teacher begin to study a student? Not by evaluating past
test scores, but by examining the material conditions of the child's life.
Was Mom in jail yesterday? Is the child allergic to chocolate? Can the
child read signs but not print?
Dialectical materialism does not contend that matter is fixed and the
mind insignificant. People change. Dialectics, the study of the unity and
struggle of opposites, insists that reality is dynamic, that things exist
but things CHANGE, and, moreover, that the intellect itself can influence
material reality--and is part of it.[(9)]
Truth, in this paradigm, is the accurate reflection of the material
world--the correspondence of consciousness with the features of the objects
reflected. So truth is concordance of intellect and the material world.
However, truth, as noted above is tentative, reality humbling.
Since change is the essence of the material world which itself is infinitely
complex, and since practical knowledge can only trail change, our understanding
of material reality is always somewhat behind the reality itself. This
demonstrates the simultaneous reliability and partiality of dialectical
materialism. Knowledge is both relatively accurate and absolutely incomplete.
Through practice, our understanding becomes more rich and we are able to
deduce patterns which, over time and through tests, we can apply as principles.
We can quickly learn that jumping off a balcony and flapping our arms will
not put us in flight. But as I gain a richer understanding of flight itself,
people together can create a machine which flies-because of all the work
that took place in the past to make this breakthrough possible. Each new
understanding creates new problems. I can fly, but can I immediately reverse
The partiality of diamat is displayed by what I do not know--plenty.
I don't know if there is an undiscovered form of energy around us. I don't
know what causes HIV-AIDS. I don't know all the differences in people that
lead some folks to resist and others to collaborate--why some kids snitch
and others don't. I don't know all the ideas and experiences that help
an organizer or a teacher persevere, cheerfully. I don't know all the factors
that suddenly combine to light up a student with understanding; or exactly
how to transform the anger that lies behind depression into resistance.
But my experiences lead me to believe diamat can help to find out.
Uncertainty, doubt, and criticism are important. Still, only in action
is there real discovery and enriched theory. Marx created a philosophy
which did not seek to place a template on objective reality but sought
to study the material world and draw lessons of relative consistency from
it. He concluded that the motive force of social change was the contradiction
between the private ownership of the means of production and the collective
nature of the mode of production.
While but a few people owned nearly everything and appropriated privilege and power, the many joined together in work to create value. Yet the many attained only a decreasingly miserable wage, while the few got the bulk of the rewards, recognition and formal education.
From this fundamental inequity comes the realization of social classes
with ever competing interests, people who own on one side, people who must
sell their labor to survive on the other. The split of private ownership
and collective production serves as the base on which all society is built.
This is important for organizers and teachers. It's easy to see how
part of the job is done when you arrive. Workers are already organized
in production units. Moreover, they have probably already organized themselves
and chosen leaders for their social and ideological activities. Who organizes
the bowling league or the happy hours? Who do workers see when they're
in trouble on the job? Who directs conversations around current events?
The task is to demonstrate that working people are not merely naturally
organized, but can take action to control the value they create.
People who work for state institutions, teachers and social workers
in particular, often lose sight of the value they create (in each instance,
above all, a political construct related to a sense of hope for those served)
and how it is they create it. It takes dozens of school workers, custodians
to teachers to cooks to librarians, to educate a kid. Value is created
collectively. Only by understanding clearly what it is we do, and how we
do it, can we reach good decisions about how to control what we create.[(10)]
From the breach of classes comes the state (government) as a weapon
of those who own, hegemony (cultural domination) as a cultural shield,
and alienation as consequence of the cleft of competing interests in the
intellectual struggle for what is true and the inability of the worker
to gain the full value of her labor. From this division also flows the
creation of capital, imperialism, racism, sexism, and war.
The unjust relations of production turn people into things. You become
a commodity. You must sell your work, your time, to live. To prop up profits,
people can never be paid the full value of what they create, nor can they
ever be given full control over the what, when and why of making things.
Instead, people become products themselves, in the case of state institutions,
welfare recipients or students. Mental illness becomes a big business.
Children become stock in school. Some union officials see the union's members
as suckers, people to be hustled for their dues. Women become objects to
be possessed, evaluated on their marketability as socially attractive meat,
not human, and violated at will.
Elites retain power through ideology (often constructed in schools)
which says our current stage is the highest imaginable stage of human development,
through their ability to divide people who would otherwise be allies (racism,
sexism, etc.) and through force (the courts, police, jails, strikebreaking,
cuts in welfare grants, etc.) The base of their power is material: property,
money, law, cops, troops. The superstructure of their power is their ideological
ability to paralyze and divide. [(11)]
Marx took his materialism from Bacon and Hobbes. But, as we can see
from the development of his ideas above, Marx also recognized the importance
of things changing. After all, Marx was a revolutionary: for a big kind
of change. [(12)]
The system of how things change, called dialectics, Marx drew mostly
from a German philosopher named Hegel. Interestingly, Hegel had worked
out a philosophy of change rooted in the belief that change occurs solely
in the mind--and drifts toward a state of pure reason. Hegel was a quarterback
of idealists. But his careful study of change helped Marx figure out how
things move in the real world--with labor as his central category. [(13)]
In order to capture things in motion, to create a frozen moment for
the purpose of examination, dialectical materialists create a series of
axioms and postulates that are helpful in analyzing a given object, person
or situation. Keep in mind that these convenient principles and categories
are themselves interrelated, interdependent and contradictory. It follows
that there is some overlap, some stumbling, one banging into the other.
Moreover, each law or category is composed of internal contradictions in
Comprehending reality is a matter of recognizing the balance and imbalance
of many contradictions. For example, if we overestimate the material realities
around us, the power of those in charge rooted in fear, their ability to
divide others and an ideology that says change is impossible and undesirable;
we might decide to go into deep hiding. Or, if we say that the class struggle
is inevitable, and therefore we can sit back and watch. We get the same
result. Nothing happens.
If we decide that motion is everything, change is easy, we might conclude
that it doesn't take much work or discipline to get things done. All we
have to do is run about a lot--look busy and make plenty of noise. Not
much will come of that either.
A correct understanding of contradictions, in contrast, can help us
take reasoned, but militant and intense, action to change the world. We
can win. But we must be smart--and active.
Let's take a look at some early ideas about how things change. Hegel's
diagram of contradictions is commonly presented like this: thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis
It is far more useful and accurate to picture dialectical development in multi-dimensional spirals.
Again, this world view says that all things are interrelated, interdependent,
and interpenetrating. And things change, all things are always in the process
of transformation. Chopping down a rain forest hurts the entire environment.
Racist unemployment drives down the wages of white workers. Lowering welfare
benefits, or making eligibility for assistance more difficult, really lowers
the minimum wage. Literacy is related to power. History is related, inseparable
from, science and languages. Inequality in school systems rises from a
system that requires inequality: capitalism-and then recreates it. Standardized
curricula eventually require standardized exams, at high-stakes.
Political systems like democracy or fascism do not stand alone but rise
out of the concrete economic, cultural, and social relations in a given
nation. Both ideas and force influence politics. This understanding is
the base for what follows.
Principles of Dialectics
Over time, people who use this study of change (dialecticians) have identified three key principles, all intertwined but one flowing from the next, that are helpful in gaining an understanding of our surroundings.
1. All things are composed of contradictions. A contradiction
is: the unity and struggle of opposites. This is the first law.
Simple examples of unified polarity borrowed from Lenin include:
a. Anatomy---the thumb and forefinger
b. Mathematics--addition/subtraction; multiply/divide
c. Education--nature and nurture
d. Music--major/minor keys, or sound and silence
e. Literature--The best of times, the worst of times.
f. Mechanics--every action a reaction
g. Politics--bosses and workers, the state versus the citizenry
j. Architecture--strength through stress
k. Human sexuality--left to your imagination
l. Art--darkness and light
m. Philosophy--freedom and necessity,
n. Economics--profit and loss, rich and poor
o. Journalism--ads vs. truth, objective vs. subjective
p. Astronomy--gravity and centrifugal force
q. Agriculture--weather and human action
r. History--made by God, heroes, or people?
s. Pedagogy--leadership or commands, theory/practice, freedom/rigor
t. Social change--reform and revolution
u. Ethics--truth, honesty, lies
v. Motion--time and space
w. Business--profit and loss
x. War--strategy and tactics/advance-retreat
y. Linguistics--signification, reflection and reality
z. Organizing--leaders and the masses
1. Class struggle--communism and fascism
2. Parties--centralism and democracy
3. Mental Health--materialism and irrationalism
4. Spiritualism--god versus the unknown[(14)]
All unity is temporary.
Struggle is permanent, the primary aspect of any contradiction.
This is the study of motion, which itself is a contradiction, a polarity
of being there--and not there. You cannot stand in the same stream twice,
as the Greek Heraclitus said. You and your boss may be tied to the same
work place, but you have permanently conflicting interests.
Even so, to posit polarity and not recognize the complex interstices
between the poles, the spaces between opposites that have considerable
influence, is to grossly over-simplify, and mistake, what's at work here.
Bosses and workers are at opposing ends of the spectrum, but there are
dramatic waves of struggle between masses of organized workers ready to
take on their boss--and the monolithic boss backed up by the government.
There's a lot of room to work in between.
Where there is domination, there is resistance. Welfare policy, therefore,
is not just a reflection of the generosity of those in power, but more
importantly, evidence of the level of struggle among poor and working people.
The welfare law is not a reflection of an abstract idea of justice but
a mediation of the social realities, the needs of the powerful pitted against
the struggle of the oppressed. That's why, for example, it was possible
for the Reagan administration to abolish many civil rights and labor principles.
The level of struggle was low.
Resistance in school sometimes goes to students just opting out, refusing
to participate in the struggle to gain and test knowledge at all. This
kind of refusal is resistance, but simply regenerates the levels of oppression
that are already in place. This leads to a brief discussion of the similarity
of this mis-directed refusal to most reform work.
Reform work which seeks to improve and not finish capitalism, like demands
for higher wages, shorter hours, free universal health care, full employment,
affirmative action; all needs to be viewed in a framework of its potential
and impermanence. The potential in these struggles lies in the lessons
people learn about the nature of the state and about capital itself, our
ability to unite and demolish the splits in our ranks before they're used
to demolish us, the usefulness of militancy, the depth of our solidarity
and, most importantly, the necessity of revolution. It is not possible
to hold on to the reforms we win without considerable organizational power--and
finally the power of the state. Significantly, the understanding people
gain in making reform needs to be linked to understanding the nature and
transitional character of capital since at some point peoples' understandings
will need to leap ahead of their experiences if capital is to be radically
addressed at its roots. [(15)]
Organizers who ignore reform work and dream only of big revolutionary
actions combine several mistakes: they overestimate those in power and
underestimate those who might resist; they give too much weight to the
material developments which weaken elites, like the deteriorating economy,
and they have too little confidence in the potential for ideas to influence
people to take action. There is no revolution without reform work. Reforms
cannot be sustained without a mass base of active citizens prepared to
defend them in actions well beyond electoral work.
Terrorists try to use bombs to substitute explosions for a mass movement
of people serious about change. They mistake spectacles for reality. Liberals,
too, avoid substantive action. They build movements around media heroes,
refuse to call into question the unjust relations of property, and fail
to analyze how it is that incremental change can become fundamental change.
In this sense, liberals and terrorists are folds in the same cloth--nothing
much changes because of their work.
The Chinese Red Army understood the importance of the struggle of opposites.
In advice that would serve many organizers, they said, "When the enemy
attacks, we retreat. When he concentrates we divide and harass him. When
he rests, we attack. We give him back his ground and take up his troops".
School workers can win important reforms (real caps on class size, abolition
of standardized tests and textbooks, integrated classrooms, etc.) which
inherently raise key issues about the state, racism and sexism--lessons
that will last beyond the fight itself. Social workers can direct similar
action around grants and caseloads. [(17)]
The Internal Over the External
While external factors create the conditions for change, the motive
force of change is the internal contradiction. In biology, mutation occurs
primarily internally yet the conditions for mutation are set externally.
The conditions for a seed becoming a flower are first the life of the seed
and its internal development, next the water and ground around it. Freezing
water is possible because of the unique internal properties of the combination
of hydrogen and oxygen. [(18)]
The concept of self-movement, the internal nature of change via contradiction,
works against the grain of the notion that external sources, like god,
are the source of change. Internal movement is superior to existing conditions.
In the study of slavery, it becomes clear that it was primarily the
actions of black people, often slaves, which finally burst through to greater
freedom. In the American civil war, the activity of black people in fighting
slavery from the north and in the south was the pivotal action of the war.
This is especially important for teachers who should bear in mind the
dictum that explanation kills motivation and who, rather than supplying
answers, should seek to demonstrate the why and how to learn, to focus
more on their method of critique and analysis rather than ego-centered
Social workers and organizers need to understand that the missionary
form of doing things for people must be replaced by the people choosing
to do things on their own--and having the right to make mistakes in doing
Drugs are external to the addict. Social relationships can establish
a reason to get clean. The decision to quit is internal.
In the development of social movements, while the external conditions
are important (is the movement illegal in your country like unions were
in the U.S. for many years?); the decisions and actions that are chosen
internally are key. The African National Congress, the National Liberation
Front of Vietnam, and many American unions survived, and thrived, despite
years of illegality. Within this, the question of leadership is key. Nothing
is transformed without leadership--the boldness and audacity required to
say we should do this, now.
In the development of social systems, capitalism rose within feudalism.
The merchants, industrialists and bankers were once relatively powerless--but
became powerful through a series of battles which, in objective terms,
the feudal lords could not finally win. Capitalism defeated feudalism through
the strengths then inherent in capitalism--scientific advances, production
advances, control of the mercantile realm--and the ability of the merchants
to convince working class people, in the language of freedom and liberty--to
fight and die for capitalists. People abandoned their kings in hopes of
a better world.
Find the Main Contradiction
While things are composed of many contradictions, united opposing poles,
one contradiction is principle to the rest--and one side of a contradiction
is principle to another, one ascends while the other declines. In a student,
an important contradiction might exist between the ability to read signs,
like a stop sign, and the ability to read print. However, the main contradiction
might be between that student's affective relationship with her mother,
and her relationship with school.
In the structure of schools, the key contradiction is between students
and administrators (including people on school boards, elected officials
and so on). This plays out in the ideological realm through the struggle
to control the curriculum (people do not create history, racism is merely
a series of nasty ideas, theory and practice are unrelated, things are
too complex to understand, you're stupid) and in the material realm (huge
classes). Battles over class size and control of the curriculum hit at
the central issues in schools--and can unite students, teachers and parents.
It is no accident that the teacher wars over collective bargaining in
the late sixties and early seventies trailed well behind student actions
in the civil rights and anti-war movements.
In social service agencies, the main tension is between recipients and
administrators--and state officials. The key ideological thrust is that
recipients are at fault for their own predicaments. The material issue
is usually low grants, bizarre regulations, etc. A fight for lower case
loads and higher grants makes a good deal of sense here.
Even so, no organizer can mechanically apply these ideas as a fixed
pattern and expect to succeed. It may be that, on a given day, an unplowed
parking lot is the issue that unites everyone for action. With children
in schools the teachable moment might arise because a good time was had
on the playground.
When we seek to build an organization to either make reform or revolution,
we frequently face the contradiction of centralism versus democracy. While
the goal should be to build a mass base of activists, committed organizers
capable of fighting on their own yet deeply tied to the people, it remains
that we need an organization that is not so democratic it is dysfunctional
(let's vote on everything) and that is not so centralized that it's impossible
to gain entry.
The balance, the space to work, must be found in social reality. While
it is wrong to make a fetish out of centralism (only the leaders have sufficient
information to make good decisions); it's equally true that the need for
security might make democratic internal activity impossible. Too much weight
on the side of centralism is easily recognized--the group begins to shrink,
cannibalizes its leaders or makes them super-heroes, turns inward instead
of addressing external problems.
Democracy is no substitute for being correct. The Nazi party, after
all, was popular. Democracy is an important tool to bring people into an
organization, to give them the tools, in a step by step fashion, to help
them become leaders (to think on their feet, make responsible decisions,
assume increasingly important positions). Affirmative action may or may
not be democratic, but it is the only way to sufficiently integrate the
work force so that minority leaders can come forward and help direct the
struggle with the special understanding that the sharpest forms of oppression
will give them.
Democracy, after all, can be a mere abstraction. U.S. referendums on
the war in Vietnam never gave the Vietnamese a vote. Just as centralism
absent democracy leads to paralysis, so does democracy unbalanced by centralism;
deciding everything as a group versus commanding the group. Only social
reality can serve as the standard for the balance. When security needs
dictate it, become more centralized. When the political situation is such
that we can expand internal democratic activity--we should do it. As always,
the test is practice. Is there organizational growth? The testing and reflections
on the testing represent a continuing spiral of struggle, which can be
measured against the test: do people better understand that they can comprehend
and change the world?
Unity is relative. The concept of harmony is meaningless without a practical
grasp of strife. Only those on top of an inequitable situation gain from
calls to end strife and wishes to halt turbulence. In contradictions, there
is no peace--only, finally, antagonism. While Mao and Stalin argued otherwise
(out of their own material needs), there is no such thing as a non-antagonistic
contradiction. There are, however, a lot of ways to resolve tensions. [(20)]
2. Quantity becomes quality and around again--qualities become quantities. This is the second law. The motive force of change within contradictions is the addition of specific quantities which cause change. For example, adding degrees of temperature to water creates a new quality, steam. Adding years to life creates a new quality. Adding salt to food, nearness to friendship, cold (cryogenics) to Walt Disney, velocity to a bullet, instruments to a band; all makes something new.
Incremental change, then, is accompanied by qualitative, revolutionary
change--an apparently sudden leap. The quantity must be the right quantity.
Adding rocks to water does not help our analogy about steam.
Organizers seek to unite people-often starting with people who have
a following, friends, a sense of collectivity, ideas driven by anti-racism/sexism,
and discipline. In any work situation, there are likely to be people who
take the lead in social situations, and others who steer things in political
situations, union work for example. Bringing these people together in a
systematic way can transform a work place.
One angry welfare recipient probably won't get a broken refrigerator
replaced these days. A thousand angry welfare recipients, supported by
welfare employees and community people, can probably get a refrigerator--and
Fluency in any language requires quantities of time and effort, effort
of the appropriate sort. Kids watch others read. They read for meaning
rising out of their own worlds. They make small steps toward literacy and
finally learn to continue to learn to read words and, one hopes, their
In a classroom it takes a mix of uniting theory and practice, rigor
and freedom, tolerance and respect, timing and attention to detail, and
collectivity and individual attention--all to transform a kid's understanding,
and to support curiosity.
In exercise, quantities of daily work-outs can lead to good physical
condition, sharpened senses and a strong body--important prerequisites
for people serious about social change. Too much of the wrong kinds of
exercise can lead to injuries.
Consider bulimia or anorexia. Turn a string on a piano. Count snowflakes,
consider water into ice. Finish another semester. Get a degree. Vacuum
one stroke at a time. Count your chews. Count sheep. Smoke. Get cancer.
The vital importance of this law of dialectics to teachers and poor
and working people is that it drives home that what
we do counts--even when our cumulative actions are not immediately
visible. For example, it took hundreds of thousands of leaflets, distributed
one at a time, to convince most Americans that the U.S. should get out
of Vietnam. The Vietnamese made millions of quantitative and qualitative
sacrifices to drive the U.S. military out of their country--and their courage
made the leaflets possible.
The African National Congress did not appear overnight. It took many
noteworthy, but small, efforts to build it into the formidable force it
is today. 50% of good teaching is showing up. If each one of us brings
one more person to the demonstration, we can make real change.
Given that racism is pervasive and systematic, it takes a planned, persistent
effort to combat it. That means speaking out against racist comments, raising
the issue of racism when it is not raised, and finding ways to organize
people to fight the racism that is often unnoticed around them. What we
do counts because quantity does turn into quality.
As noted above, it's characteristic of liberals to insist that simply
adding a series of quantities, we reach a new quality. They're partially
right. Without quantitative additions, there is no change. But nibbling
away at improving health care, within a system that requires an ever-increasing
gap of wealth, is like or running up and down inside a train going the
wrong direction. To get anywhere new, you must leap off. [(21)]
Capitalism can never provide people with an equitable education system.
Schools can only become, over time, more and more stratified by class.
To merely fight for community control of the schools, without also raising
the question of economic equality, is to guarantee racist school systems,
segregated by geography, income, and race--with goals of the curriculum
targeted for each group. Worse, community control without a serious battle
for wider equality, merely involves more people as instruments of their
Perhaps more to the point, dialectical materialism allows us to be sufficiently
comfortable inside a car on the train that we always have a good idea of
where the train is headed. You're inside and out, making big changes and
small, all at once. That leads us to our next law.
3. The Reinvention of the New. This third law is usually called
the "negation of the negation", but that doesn't make much sense. All this
means is that any new quality carries forward aspects of the old, yet the
new quality is entirely new and comes to birth through a leap, a fundamental
change, and the process, think of a spiral, begins again. From the beginning:
the material world exists, nothing comes from nothing, everything changes,
nothing entirely disappears.
At a certain point, after much literacy work, we have a fluent or literate
person, essentially different yet also the same person with many of her
old qualities intact, but already in the process of further transformation.
Steam has the properties of water, but is not water, and cannot become the same water again.
The mass struggles of the sixties caused welfare policies to expand.
Hundreds of thousands of people became eligible for assistance who had
been ineligible before. Most social service departments stopped carrying
out the midnight raids on welfare recipients homes which had been commonplace
before (usually trying to catch a man--but sometimes simply to find out
if the family was attending church!)
For years, the civil rights struggles had added quantities upon quantities.
Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in actions like demonstrations
which taught them important lessons and which indeed influenced changes
in some principles. But at the heart of these demonstrations was a serious
flaw: pacifism, the idea that there is a peaceful method to change the
minds of those in power. Power rarely changes its mind, except in the face
In the mid-sixties, thousands of people abandoned pacifism and anti-racist
rebellions broke out in the largest cities in the United States, from Watts
to Detroit to Newark. This was a dramatic change.
Those in power responded almost immediately with a series of changes
in welfare policies which made thousands of people eligible for assistance
who had been previously ineligible. Corporations offered up thousands of
jobs to inner-city people; jobs for which black people had never before
been seriously considered. The federal government came up with free breakfast
programs for kids, and school programs to help out young children.
While the rebellions in the cities expanded the policies, and hungry
people got fed; it remained that the system itself was both the same and
different. Social services was still a trap.
School still taught many people they were no good. And after time the
principles and policies people had won were set aside. But no one who lived
through this has forgotten what took place has forgotten what happened--and
many of the programs, like Head Start, are still in place.
What some liberals hope to deny is that incremental change does not
necessarily cause qualitative change. At some point, there must be a leap--a
dramatic change with particular causes and a designed direction. Things
will change. They'll get dramatically worse or better. Ask any steel worker
who lived through the collapse of the industry while the steel union protected
the interests of capital.
Our vision of how the world works, will influence how we act.
The U.S. loss to the Vietnamese represented a qualitative shift in the
development of world political relations. The U.S. entered the war as a
creditor nation and left in disgrace as the world's biggest debtor. Before
Vietnam, the U.S. had the world's most powerful industrial base. Not too
long after the war, that base collapsed. During the war, American citizens
learned to distrust their government, discovered that the military was
willing to murder thousands of working class kids from both sides and destroy
the ecology of a country--all to protect privilege. Things have been more
different than the same ever since.
So we see quantities becoming qualities, a turbulent transformation
and something quite new formed which carries forward some characteristics
of the old.
There is wisdom in recognizing the importance of this contradiction
to many people. The British Army, when it replaced horses with tanks, called
the new tank corps: cavalry. [(22)]
Organizers, teachers and social workers all share a common moment when
it's necessary to stop intervening in another person's life--and cut them
loose. A good organizer tests her work, finally, on her ability to leave,
with a functioning organization having a life of its own left behind. Good
teachers know that advice and direction, no matter how gentle, are limited.
At some point a student must head off in her own direction. Social workers
know that addicted people can't be sheltered. They have to find their own
way to live on the streets--without your help. Knowing when the quantitative
work has become qualitative, when the change has been made and only ego
and interference remain, is a mark of a professional.[(23)]
In the Soviet Union and China, socialism failed. But the revolutions
which sought to create a more equitable society, to end war and racism,
can never be entirely reversed. It is true that capitalism is restored
in both countries. But it is also true that the lessons from these revolutions
will never be forgotten. Threats to bomb humanity back to the stone age
were never accurate. People have learned lessons which will never be erased--even
if most of us cannot make a light bulb.
Hence, history does not move in circles or a series of disconnected
levels--but in a flow of spirals and leaps overlapping several dimensions.
Educators take part in these forms of change all the time. Teachers
change people. It takes many school workers, each with particular strengths,
to educate a kid. And that kid carries some of our ideas to other people--and
Ideas become material forces when they are understood and acted upon
by masses of people. If only you understands what a stop sign is, it means
nothing. But when we all understand, we quit running into each other.
The American Civil War cost more than 500,000 lives. It defeated slavery--but
a new kind of oppression was quickly put in place. Even so, the sacrifice
made things qualitatively better.
To link dialectics to a practical and theoretical outline of experience
in instruction, we try to prove the existence and impact of any curriculum
in qualitative (review the voices of the parents, school workers, and students)
and quantitative ways. (What is the class, race and gender composition
of classes? What forms of instruction are offered working class kids? How
many kids are in a class?) In brief, we try to demonstrate the inseparable
link between quantity and quality in the material world and show how one
becomes the other.
Educators who wish to remain employed frequently lighten their efforts
to describe the truth, or even ways to aim for it. As a partisan vision,
diamat insists that it is in the interest of minority classes in power
to shroud these principles of development (if things must and will change
then perhaps rule is impermanent, the highest stage of human development
On the one hand, elites hope to camouflage the injustice of the material
world by denying its existence or primacy and, on the other hand, the powerful
must present reality as a frozen element not subject to change. Their position
is: things may not exist, life is inexplicable, nothing changes, everything
disappears. It is the ultimate cynicism--organized hopelessness.
Dialectical materialism is a threat. It says the world exists. It's
not fair. We know why. We intend to change it.
The three principles of dialectics, as noted at the start, are interrelated
and interdependent. Now, as we attain a clearer picture of matter in motion,
we turn to a set of categories which are, like the principles, efforts
to freeze a mili-second in time and observe objective reality. Zeno, the
Greek philosopher, likened this to understanding the moment to moment progression
of an arrow as it flies through time and space.
In order to grasp anything, to study its structure and function, we
need to capture it at a given moment and systematically test its aspects.
To do so, knowing that we necessarily trail reality, we apply categories
Categories of dialectics are in themselves contradictions and as such,
one aspect of each contradiction is primary over the other. It is interesting
that elites usually have an interest in inverting the principal sides of
the contradictions in these categories. I will note what I believe is usually
the key side.
A. Appearance and essence---Knowledge
moves from the outer to the inner aspects of a thing. To understand any
thing we must grasp its appearance and essence, yet what is profound is
"You can't judge a book by its cover". "Please don't throw me in the
briar patch!" What are the real and claimed purposes of school? "All that
glitters is not gold". "Beauty is skin deep". "Still waters run deep".
Is what is verbalized always more powerful than what is not? Does literacy
or language instruction have a covert, political, purpose? Are school children
quietly sitting in rows with folded hands learning important things? If
we name reading groups Hawks, Eagles, and Falcons, but divide kids in ability
groups (usually based on class and race), how long will it take them to
get the main message?
Structural linguistics suggests that there is an underlying code in
language, which all who engage in it must operate within. So, like Freudian
psychoanalysis addresses the unconscious, these people suggests that it
is critical to move from the linguistic appearance to the essence of language.
"Being two-faced", "Be flexible--except in matters of principle". "I
don't think with my skin". "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." "Your
mind is your best sex organ".
All knowledge moves from appearance ("What kind of clothes is she/he
wearing?") to essence ("What kind of person is this?")
Capitalism, which seeks to mask its basic injustices, wants us to believe
in the appearance of democracy. For who? In all matters? What about electing
our bosses and voting on our salaries? Why does the Bill of Rights stop
at the work place door? What if we vote for free health care? Other than
the rich, who really enjoys democratic rights like free speech, assembly
and so on? What good is democracy without considering the more important
essence: equality. "Why do we do all the work and he reaps all the benefits?"
Capitalism prefers appearances, or as Debord suggests, spectacles, which
divert attention from the domination of commodity oppression and become
commodities in their own right.
It is not possible to fully discuss "American democracy" without examining
what props it up: income from fascist dictatorships all over the world
beholden to U.S. support. The South Africans, El Salvadorans, Chileans,
Guatemalans, and many others know what it is like to suffer under a totalitarian
government supported by U.S. troops, money and intelligence agencies while
American presidents talk about "Human Rights". [(24)]
The South African regime appears powerful but is indeed quite weak,
brittle. The fact you receive regular bank reports about your account might
indicate stability, but the realities of overproduction, massive unemployment
and inequality, and war on nearly every continent, indicates a certain
instability as well.
The U.S. may appear technologically advanced, but the sewer systems
are collapsing. Black children, who survive under monstrous conditions,
do poorly on standardized tests--and get called "learning disabled".
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. is displayed as a moving
tribute to over 50,000 working class American kids who died--for what?
There are no similar tributes to the million plus Vietnamese dead. The
appearance is innocence. The essence is politics.
It may appear that there is a crime wave in a given area of town, but
actually the police create crime waves. The police simply arrest people
for crimes the cops previously ignored. The portrayal of people of color
on television as either violent, athletes or musicians concocts an important
appearance that has nothing to do with the reality of life. Welfare fraud
statistics have nothing to do with authentic fraud (particularly the fraud
involved of massive permanent unemployment--or the money stolen by doctors
in medicaid scams) and everything to do with changing the ways the statistics
Rich people acquire the appearance of respectability through their ownership
of culture and legitimacy through their control of the law. But beneath
this is the fact that there is nothing respectable about living off the
labor and misery of others. Gentlemen farmers can be genteel because migrant
workers pick the crops. And the law is only a velvet glove over the iron
fist of a system dependant on violence, terror and fear. When working people
resist in serious ways, during strikes or community rebellions; the niceties
of the law go away and the stockades open up.
In addition, some of us believe that only special people can direct complex technology. It's true that technology is complex but real genius is the impudent assumption of power. Whether we exercise it over a school or a welfare office, we quickly discover that the genius of the workers is what originates value in our society. and we can quickly learn to control what we produce--better.
Appearance is important. It's important, for example, that social service
workers and teachers dress in a way that demonstrates respect for students
or unemployed workers. But it's still quite possible to be a lousy teacher
or worker in a suit. In contrast, the slogan, "Dress like a banker, talk
like a lunatic", works for some people.
B. Form and Content---In
school we seek to link the forms of education with our goals. Egalitarians
will frequently circle desks, authoritarians use podiums and platforms.
But can't activists lecture?
All language and communication is influenced by its form which, even so, is only a vehicle for content. Is it not possible to circle desks--and lie? What is the message of school architecture?
The whole language movement stresses form, processes which involve kids
with each other and their world. But whole language also frequently denies
its own insurgent, political nature. It's not sufficient to learn to read
to be a better employee. It's necessary to read injustice as clearly as
words. Alienation is finally overcome in schools by a struggle toward the
truth, not just a struggle. [(25)]
Is there a clear notice sent from all those ugly welfare offices.
The enslaved sing--about what?
The popular press is heavier and heavier with form, less and less with
substance. MTV. "Terminator". Disco bars. Rap. Reggae. Rock and roll. The
form is interesting, even captivating. But the content is the same: racism,
sexism. Fashion is designed only to prove that the fashionable do not work.
The very use of space is an meaningful signal about the importance given
to certain activities. Many universities have seating in their football
stadiums superior to their classrooms. Suburban communities often have
no sidewalks because people are expected to be able to afford to drive.
The dramatic expansion of prison systems in the U.S., which has more prisoners
per capita than any nation, is a clear indication of the weakness and continuing
stratification of the social structure.
Bosses like window offices--on corners. Entire sections of newspapers
are devoted to sports--when it's impossible to get news from China. How
Ads link smoking and sex.
Teachers and social workers are inundated with calls from administrators
to join together as a team. Students are told they should "get" school
spirit, as if the school was a basis for unity with the principal. Teachers
are offered empowerment plans by administrators. "Come cooperate on my
web", says the spider to the fly.
Form is important. It influences content. Few people will take an ugly
leaflet seriously--unless they've only seen beautiful leaflets.
But content is key. Kids under capitalism do not learn to read--even
in schools with heat and food. During the revolution, kids in China learned
to read in caves. Perhaps those who have a why to learn can bear almost
C. The Relative and
are simultaneously relative and absolute, a thing's existence is absolute
yet meaningful only in relation to other things. In math, a number is both
itself yet only itself in relation to other numbers. How does your vision
of grades in school apply here?
"The courts, in their majestic wisdom, make it equally illegal for a
poor man and a rich man to sleep under a bridge."
"The wolf and the lamb do not agree on the nature of freedom".
If you draw a line on a chalk board and try to make is shorter, you
can either erase parts of it--or draw a longer line.
A dictionary proposes to absolutely list the words in a language. But
those words are only relatively to the point. Languages change. And while
each word is absolutely there, it only has meaning in relationship to other
words--and the world.
On one hand, absolutism asserts that nothing can change. On the other,
relativism claims that no enduring solutions to the social problems of
capitalism are possible--since one idea, or action is finally as good as
the next. Better to stay home than worry that through.
Conservative wings of Post-modernism, lost in idealist relativism, claim one world view is as virtuous as another, since, after all, everything boils down to what is first structured in our minds: signification, intuition, location and individual identity. If any issue is as good as the next, if sex always dominates questions of class, and if most of the issue is constructed first in our minds, then we may all may just as well wander off, form shifting alliances among temporal groups which meet the needs of our ever shifting identities, and stare inward. Today's post-modernists are nothing new. They're yesterday's Mensheviks, social-democrats, Guomindang. More on point; they're the Democratic party: conservative pluralists.
All of today's issues flow from the struggle between the classes--the
rich versus the international poor, dispossessed and working classes. Fights
against racism or sexism which do not address the question of class will
only succeed, at best, with replacing one group of bosses with another.
There is irrationality, madness lying at the base of struggles directed
otherwise. Class struggle, because it is rooted in reality, one of the
key issues of life, is a path to sane action. This is not to say that it
is possible to conduct class struggle in the absence of fights against
racism and sexism. It is not. These issues are inseparable.
For postmodernism in its right-wing form, truth is absolutely relative.
In fact, truth as a social construction, is simultaneously relative and
In some communities, teachers and welfare workers have the only steady
jobs. Even so, relative to other degreed workers, those jobs are paid fairly
Many teachers get fooled by 30 year pay-scales which move people up
year by year. These educators compare their wages to other teachers--with
more or less seniority--rather than making relative and absolute comparisons
in other regions or with comparable jobs. This allows school districts
to withhold wage payments for years, actually drives down career pay, and
makes it possible to divide the work force along clearly defined lines
on the scale. Better to serve an apprenticeship--then have everyone make
an equal salary.
Support workers, like secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, etc., hardly
get subsistence incomes--while the superintendents and principals often
make two and three times the wages of the work force. Remarkably, so do
many union officials. But they make peanuts compared to corporate big-wigs.
Equality, that goal of human progress, is both relative and absolute.
This is what makes good sense of, "From each according to his abilities
to each according to his needs".
Truth is relative and absolute at the same time, as noted above and
as we shall see.
D. The Finite and the
Infinite---Things do exist but "things change". We can teach
only a finite number of kids but their influences on others are infinite.
When we teach a language as a property of class-dominant whites, we spread
that view to an infinite audience.
Our lives are finite, of a definite length. But life is infinite. Any
number, a finite reflection of a thing or idea, can be added to infinitely--simply
by adding a zero. Things infinitely come into, and go out of, being--proving
The universe, or the many universes, reach into infinity. But we occupy
a finite place within it. And what we do can influence all of it--infinitely
Things are infinitely complex--and finitely comprehensible. We cannot
possibly understand every aspect of a social event--like a dice game--from
the interaction of a zillion molecules to the complete background of every
participant. But we can see who roles seven.
It might seem, from time to time, that this social system is infinitely
powerful and flexible and likely to last forever. But nothing lasts forever.
No social system secured only by injustice is eternal.
D. The Possible and
the Actual---Things are simultaneously what they are at the
moment and what they can become. The potential of anything is limited by
its internal makeup and the conditions around it.
Johnny cannot fly but Johnny can learn to read--which may help to make
a flying machine. An unemployed worker can be restricted by bookcases full
of rules in a welfare office, but she also can organize other workers to
change the system.
It may be that an employer is indeed very powerful, owning a big chunk
of a town, controlling the courts and the local paper, etc. To be attacked
by an enemy that is, actually, quite strong, may appear to be a bad thing.
But the attack, if skillfully maneuvered as in aikido, can be turned into
something good. By using the motion of the opponent, we can unite the work
force, students, or service recipients and actually prove to them that
the elites live off their work--a dangerous realization. [(26)]
A seed can become a flower--but not a Big Mac. The arsenal on the ground
and in the air said the U.S. could not lose the war in Vietnam. But the
potential of people is greater than the potential of machines.
"A puppy grows into its feet." In reverse, " A bird in the hand is worth
two in the bush".
Good teachers, social service workers and organizers all look to the
many good and bad qualities a person might have--and then build on their
strengths. They let the potential play against actual weaknesses, and when
this strategy is aligned with action in harmony with sensible struggle,
For example, it's not odd to find a union leader who is simultaneously
honest in limited ways, representing the interests of the rank and file
against the bosses, anti-racist, and sexist (either chauvinist or chauvinized).
The crux of the issue is to demonstrate how that person's remarkable strengths
are unlinked by sexism, how they're terribly vulnerable and open to all
kinds of personal attacks. Conversely in the extreme, it would do little
good to denounce this leader to the work force.
There is little potential for an employer to become so concerned about
his work force that he throws away his profits. One treats enemies differently
Illiteracy in the U.S is higher than 30%, but in the midst of struggles
many people gain a reason to learn to read. A drug addict can become a
general--as did Zhu De, leader of the Chinese Red Army. A bad teacher can
become a good teacher. But a boss cannot become a trusted ally--unless
he stops being a boss. MANY things can happen--but not ANYthing. [(27)]
For the philosophers: While Habermas' idealistic system of language
poses that anything can happen--even within the bounds of capitalism, Foucault's
undialectical vision of hegemony diminishes real possibilities for resistance.
A one-sided examination of the potential for change in education would,
in most instances, follow one of the same patterns.
E. Chance and Necessity---All
things necessarily change but the means of their change can appear to be
accidental. Sperm meets the egg (or vice versa), pollen the seed, the "bad"
kid and the "good" teacher.
"Freedom is understanding necessity--and deciding to transform it".
"Somebody's going to win the lottery. Why not you?" Well, actually because
the odds are better for bank robbers (one out of three get away, better
than most baseball batting averages). The negative chances far outweigh
the necessity. Better to bet your friends that they will not win. Better
still, to take your chances with serious struggle on the job.
Consider the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. rebellion, the 51st day at Rancho
Apocalypse--and the day of the South African leaders Chris Hani's mass
funeral. Sooner or later things like these would happen. Why they did they
happen when they did?
Over millions of years, through the combination of millions of elements,
finally two substances combined to form the basis of life.
What are the better odds: Elvis lives or God lives. Actually, there
is greater probability that a zillionaire could fake his death. The wrong
choice here is a form of dogmatism, virtually clinging to superstitious
or frozen hopes. [(28)]
In language instruction we transmit a multitude of messages, unsure of what message will be grasped by an individual student--but reasonably sure we'll find a basis of understanding.
Organizers understand that persistent agitation can spark social change,
but it's often difficult to predict when that moment of change will arrive.
People will eventually resist oppression. When they will do it is a question
answered by both external circumstances (one firing too many) and internal
preparation (notices that previous firings were unjust). There's nothing
mystical about this. It's just that many situations are so complex it is
nearly impossible to see them in their entirety.
F. The Particular and
which does not understand its milieu, which merely observes the crab's
shell and never gets to the crab, rings like a hollow bell.
Research must understand the general situation as well as its particularities.
In investigating a community, it's important to know both the number of
people in it and the major employers; the people's wages and their hang-outs.
Research which does not investigate the particularities of a thing in
relation to the broad social situation has no hope for validity, actualization
in the world.
Idealists seek the general without the particular. Empiricists (people
who count the beans but don't ask who eats them) build the particular without
the general. Languages are traditionally taught as grammar translation
but a holistic, historical, indeed political approach proves more effective.
Learning disability specialists often focus on neurology and ignore racism
in the environment.
For organizers, this means listening carefully to the people's issues, adopting them as your own, discovering how those issues fit into your general plan and asking questions like:
"How will these issues carry forward lessons that are worth learning?
How can we demonstrate the importance of solidarity, the pivotal nature
of racism and sexism, the question of the neutrality of the government?
"What step by step plan can we initiate so that we can build an ever-growing
movement; not just create a spectacle and go home?
"Who has the best understanding of these issues and how can we help
"What is peculiar about the terrain that must be known? Where are the
"What here can unite the most people without abandoning our principles?
"What tactics can we use here that will simply be fun?"
Inexperienced organizers tend to think the general is far more important
than the particular. They don't want to do the main thing an organizer
must do: listen. Why? What happens?
In contrast, some of their experienced colleagues believe that all there
is is details. And rather than listen, they too want to tell the people
all the details they know. They forgot their ideals.
Is the result of these two kinds of emphasis any different?
The deeper your social and political ties in a community are, the more
thorough your investigation of your surroundings, the easier it will be
to answer the questions. Spend time with a systematic plan. If you are
comfortable with your mode of analysis, and with yourself, if you respect
the people and their understanding of their environment; knowledge of the
terrain comes simply. Quantity into Quality.
Philosophically, as a general abstraction "free speech" sounds pretty good. But we can apply this category, the particular and the general, to get a better understanding of what that means.
No speech is really free. In our society, effective communication is
expensive. The ideas presented in the media, in schools, and even in union
newspapers are largely ideas which support things as they are. Newspapers
and television news programs, themselves owned by corporations whose motive
is profit--not truth--routinely support the interests of the privileged
at the expense of people who work--especially their own employees.
School workers are portrayed as skillful but greedy, welfare recipients as tricky but lazy, organizers as outside agitators with foreign agendas. On campuses, racism, sexism, self-advertising, fear about grades, tenure, promotions, careers; prohibits much serious struggle for the truth. There is cost involved in getting out ideas that flow against the mainstream.
In addition, any kind of speech involves an analysis of things as they are and some call to action. Racist speech isn't just talk. Backed by dominant realities, it's a call to violence.
School workers apply this concept of the particular and the general
in literacy instruction when we link the rules of grammar with the local
environment and the interests a kid might have in reading and writing.
More broadly, it is necessary to work simultaneously with an entire classroom--and
"An injury to one is an injury to all". The demands of some states that
unemployed workers take jobs in order to be eligible for their welfare
checks is related to an effort that will drive down everybody's wages--and
that fits a pattern of racism and sexism.
The scientists who wanted to focus on a particular effort, splitting the atom, soon learned that they were also involved in a very general project--not world peace but a new method of war.
To many teachers, the pivotal question is, "How do I maintain my ideals
and still teach?" The answer lies in linking the particularities of disciplined
tactical struggle to the general direction ahead.
The particular and the general are inseparable. For agents of change, what's more important?
Our goal, to paraphrase the Soviet educator Lunacharsky, should be to
be able to hear and understand the whole orchestra, but to play one instrument
G. Likeness and Difference---All
people are generally alike but they have specific differences. Languages
are simultaneously alike and different. Cultural imperialism involves using
colonial power to insist on a likeness of language and the destruction
Racism confuses both sides of this contradiction--as does much of multi-culturalism.
Racism says everyone of the same skin is alike, and inferior. Multi-culturalism
does much the same thing--raising the differences between groups of people
to a principled question of diversity. Multi-cultural approaches which
emphasize differences in human groups are at variance with inter-cultural
approaches which emphasize commonalities among class groupings. Culture
begins first with class, then nation, race and sex, each intersecting,
Social workers who believe that all recipients are alike fail to recognize
the infinite real differences (sex, race, age, experiences) between people.
Yet to elevate these differences above the fact that they are all unemployed
workers means to simultaneously make it impossible to create the unity
required for a struggle for change and to mistake the reality that the
unity of the unemployed is based in fact--class struggle.
Are Republicans and Democrats both competing organizations with serious
differences, or are they both just representatives of the rich? Is Ross
Do most women have more in common with working men or Jackie Onasis?
Elites gain from our errors in using this scale. We are divided from
one another if we overbalance on one side, united with the wrong people
when we put too much weight on the other.
H. Cause and effect---All
events are results of definite causes. Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing
simply falls from the sky. Most events have many causes, some more important
than others. Causes can become effects, SAT scores, rather than the results
of measuring class, sex and race bias, can become the cause of further
Over time, when the same effect repeats from the same combination of
causes, we begin to arrive at pattern to predict future effects.
It is no mistake that the president of the American Council for the
Teaching of Foreign Languages is the former provost of the Defense Language
Institute---a CIA front? Was the war in Vietnam an accident? The murder
of Chris Hanni? The discovery of causes, always an attack on gods, is critical
to a partisan understanding of reality.
School textbooks and welfare policies "discovered" people of color after
urban rebellions, not because some publisher or governor happened to notice,
but because they wanted their cities to stop burning.
Ideas have consequences. The philosophy of eugenics, which tries to
trace human behavior and intelligence to genes, is the backbone of Nazi
thought--and it's wrong, not because it's nasty but because it's both unscientific
(there is NO genetic basis for intelligence) and it's the precursor to
racist action. Racist talk leads to racist murder. Incredibly, eugenics
compose the cornerstone of IQ tests.
There is a relationship between the fact that a tiny minority of people own most of the world--and the fact that you rarely find a cop beating a factory owner over the head for causing a strike.
If we raise welfare benefits and limit eligibility requirements, wages
If we rely on subjective grading systems to evaluate kids understanding, kids will learn to lie.
If people believe the earth is flat, explorers are nervous. If the sun
goes around the earth, then the church is safe. If God created people just
after she created the world, then maybe our ideas are actually her ideas,
and maybe our ideas created the planet. But if the earth is millions of
years older than people, then...
I. Objective and Subjective---The objective is external reality. The subjective is our attempt to understand it. When they coincide, a new reality is formed. When they do not, we face setbacks: Custer at Little Big Horn, the atom bomb, your estimate of a child and instructional success.
In research, education, journalism, and social work we often hear about
the debate between those who want to keep their work "objective" and those
who say it cannot be done. Dialectical materialism argues that there is
only partisan, political, work--that politics and power drive everything.
Indeed, all but politics and power is illusion.
No reporter, no historian, is objective. She selects something to report
and omits other things--by necessity and by the way her world view is shaped
by her class. There is no neutral teaching. All pedagogy is driven by a
view of the past, an evaluation of the present, some hope-and a call to
action-- for the future--all of which is influenced by the class, race
and sex of the teacher. In this, the least one can expect is that the researcher
reveal her political view.
J. Theory and Practice---"From
living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice---such
is the dialectical path of cognition of the truth, of the cognition of
objective reality." [(30)]
The link of theory and practice is critical to learning activities in school and the work place.
Practice is the beginning and the end of the cycle of knowledge. To
truly know a thing, we must change it: practice. While theory and practice
are inseparable, practice is first. The systematic isolation of theory
and practice is a characteristic of capitalist schools---interestingly
graduated on a scale sweeping away from reality as the class background
of the students slips away from the ruling class.
"He talks a good game but...", "Money talks, BS walks".
This category is helpful in analyzing the relationship and origins of
particular theory and practice. We all know teachers who seem to be hypocrites,
who teach one thing and do another. Is it not possible to more carefully
examine their philosophy to see if there might be some hidden unity, a
way that the theory might lead to the practice, or vice versa?
"All knowledge comes from practice of three kinds, the scientific experiment,
the class struggle, and the struggle for production." (Mao, "Where Do Correct
Ideas Come From?")
All theory is merely a guide, not a blueprint. Empiricism, with its skeptical rejection of theory, and mysticism, with its rejections of practice are simply two sides of a coin which rejects the unity of theory and practice in sharpening an understanding of reality. Opportunism and sectarianism, idealism and mechanical materialism, all are characterized by the separation of theory and practice.
Dialectics and Idealism
Today there is a resurgence of irrationalism, as is often the case,
from the "left". There is a whole school of people who have discovered
that classes do not exist, there is no working class, there is no need
for revolution; all that can be certain is one's own vision or "discourse",
the idea that language determines life and the path to justice is paved
These people have, like many before them, decided that there are no
watershed issues in the world, that what is important is talk and ideas,
not action and social change. What change can come will rise out of us
working in small groups, depending on our self-defined racial, class and
sexual identities; and taking spontaneous action. For the most part, this
is the vanguard of the middle class in crisis, whining about the destruction
of their own class, offended by what they see as the crudity of the working
class, terrified by their fear of rich elites. The scenario they offer
up would make any shark smile at the guppies.
They cannot be ignored. Their project paralyzes a mass of young people--to
deny the working class the leadership of youth who would otherwise by active
and effective. Moreover, they are wrong. Is there no working class? Just
who builds all those tanks? Whose hands fashion those computers? If there
are fewer industrial workers in your country, it simply means workers are
more cruelly exploited somewhere else.
Typically, under the guise of post-modernism, the new idealists fight hard against dialectical materialism. But reality intervenes. Post-modern claims that the Gulf War was only a semiotic (series of signs on television) event expose the nature of their claims. But there is plenty to be lost from their efforts. Their multi-culturalism which elevates difference in race and sex over class hurts the unity necessary for justice. In short, to evaluate the viability of an analysis; it is important to insist on the dimension of practice; what is your project, just what do you want to do, who shall we unite with, what is our goal? [(31)]
Partisan Weapon to Mold the Future
Dialectical materialism is both a compass and investigative tool. It's helpful in deciding what to look for, and where you're headed. For welfare workers, dialectical materialism recognizes that welfare systems cannot be merely the result of the generosity of the rich. Welfare systems are the consequence of struggle, the shifting synthesis of domination and resistance. Food stamps, for example, are both the result of mass demonstrations for food for the unemployed and the needs of the agricultural industry which wanted control over how allocated money would be spent.
This analysis requires a recognition of the material basis of the existence of food stamps, and the dialectical relationship that food stamps have with the struggle against oppression.
A similar example applies to school. Schools don't simply exist to educate
kids for democratic activity in later life. School are the moment to moment
result of the struggle of parents, kids, school workers, labor groups,
the privileged--all in contention for control of the schools at many levels;
as baby sitting sites, as locations for the distribution of outdated ideology,
as places to reproduce labor as well as the class/race/sex distinctions
in our social system, as sources of cheap labor, as markets to sell stuff
in, and as places where both real and false hope is constructed. Schools
have a material basis, and they embody the tensions of class struggle.
This understanding should lead to a more accurate assessment of schools
or welfare systems--and ways to act on them. If schools have stratified
goals, if we can demonstrate that working kids are trained for labor while
rich kids are taught to rule; then we can debunk the idea that "a rising
tide raises all boats" in education. The point would be to nourish and
organize young leaders for social change, not talk about just creating
more sophisticated citizens.
Schools and social service systems are not monoliths. More than most
work places, they're full of opportunities to struggle--and potential to
win. They're central cites where millions of people come into contact with
each other everyday. Together they're the key agencies of social control--if
we leave them alone.
But we need to know what has come before us and where we are going:
a vision of the past, analysis of the present, a plan for the future. In
each instance, we need to understand in the most profound ways possible
what value is created, how it is forged, by whom, who gains, and what actions
best lead people to truly control, intellectually and materially, what
The penetrating analysis of matter in motion should lead us to correct
mistakes that have been made by those who fought before us. For example,
Soviet and Chinese leaders believed that it was necessary to have material
abundance before it would be possible to have social equality. They drew
this idea from, I think, a narrow reading of Marx who said, in brief, that
the productive (industrial) forces of a society had to be sufficiently
developed, actually overdeveloped, before social change could occur.
Marx said, in part, that the productive forces (industrialization) had
to reach a point that there would be a crisis of over-production (so much
being produced that the workers couldn't buy it), that change comes through
technological and productive leaps.[(32)]
But the Soviet and Chinese leaders didn't understand that Marx was writing
in response to attacks from people who argued that the material world and
the relations of production have nothing to do with social change. He was
under attack by idealists who had considerable influence. In this situation,
Marx emphasized the development of material reality far above the development
of ideas. But in other writings, and in his daily life, he gave terrific
weight to the development, and forcefulness, of struggle and ideas.
In any case, both the Soviets and Chinese revolutionaries decided that
in order to gain maximum industrial production, it was necessary to restore
capitalist relations--even after their revolutions. They felt they needed
the technical expertise of old bosses, and material incentives to reward
hard workers, to go forward. [(33)] While
they had made the revolutions and won two civil wars with armies which
were run on the principle of equality; they chose to restore inequality
to get things done faster. Not surprisingly, after awhile, the biggest
beneficiaries of this unequal distribution were party members--who ran
the shops and the schools and the government. The party became an exploiting
What can we learn from this? Abundance will never lead to equality.
A party which claims to speak for the mass of people, but which gains privileges
off their work, is a party which will soon restore the inequitable relations
which many people sacrificed to end. A party of elites which does not incorporate
a sizeable minority of the people (no revolution ever involved everyone)
is a party which will finally turn foul. A party which does not draw substantial
leadership from minority communities is demonstrating a lack of willingness
to construct the unity needed for victory. We can learn that ideas too
are material forces and that we do not have to be unfair to be fair, to
build inequality to gain equality.
In sum, this time we need to fight for authentic equality and an organization
whose leadership and membership is ready to sacrifice, get less than the
mass of people--not more. In a world run on the basis of dialectical materialism,
we should have the right to criticize and doubt everything--as we act.
The goal is a mass movement of conscious people.
Moreover, it is a persistent problem in the practice of activism that
we concentrate too much on the question of who will own the means of production
(us) and too little on how we will structure the mode of production: who
does what work, who decides what, who gets to lead, whose decisions count
Clearly, women and people of color repeatedly get pushed to the background
in the old answers to these questions. And many of our organizations repeat
the old mistake of letting the powerful coopt our leaders.
The key division in our ranks, other than race and sex, is the split
between our leaders and followers. We must create embryos of our new world
within the old. Our organizations themselves should be egalitarian. We
all must learn to think and lead. That's why it is valuable to study dialectical
materialism--and put it into practice.
Leadership is a vital philosophical and practical question. Within the
set of ideas presented above, leadership plays a key role in the internal
development of the movement for serious social change. Leadership often
is the critical factor in the difference between hegemony (sheer cultural
and political domination) and revolution. Nothing happens without leaders.
Yet the history of leadership in organizations designed for change is
riddled with both heroism and abuse. Many brilliant and courageous leaders
have succumbed to the temptations of becoming too heroic, having cults
built around them or becoming pawns of the press.
Remarkably, it is probably easier to run a revolutionary organization
whose leaders are extremely low profile than it is to operate a reform
organization with leadership in the background. One organization is likely
to have a membership more prepared to understand at least the need for
Reform groups often need charismatic people to keep them moving. How,
then, shall we run a revolutionary organization whose leaders are not too
well known (if only to keep them alive) while we don't fall into the trap
of making it impossible to dislodge those unknown leaders? This is not
a simple debate between the need for centralism and democracy. It's a debate
that involves complex questions of how change is nurtured within and organization
that is designed itself to make change.
On the other hand, how do we guarantee reform organizations whose leaders
are sufficiently well-know to keep the groups alive and growing, but not
so enraptured with their own press that they cannot contribute beyond building
Dialectical materialism embodies optimism--a material reason to be hopeful--even
considering these warning signs. It represents a struggle for the truth--which
is indeed there and available. Having a coherent grasp of our surroundings
in a period driven by profits, lust and madness is in itself somewhat satisfying.
What motivates people who are serious about change is not merely a battle
for the abstraction of the truth, nor the hatred of injustice. What inspires
change agents is a deep love and respect for the knowledge, integrity and
value of the mass of people who make everything of value that we see. Our
common struggles in difficult times are what link us together with a solidarity
and sense of freedom through resistance that cannot be matched by feelings
Still, just as more and more of us are drawn together in work and economic circumstances, so does the fragile nature of the system that is controlled by so few become exposed. And so does that structure necessarily weaken itself. As it now stands, the most powerful force elites possess is their ability to convince masses of people that democracy and equality are unlinked and not winnable. Dialectical materialism demonstrates through its calls to practice that there is every reason to believe that we will win. Things change. We do, after all, have a superior understanding of the terrain. But our victory can come at terrific cost. Every day, there is a lot to be lost. In this, what you do counts. That, I think, is the truth.
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1. Political economy is worth investigation. I found Corey, Eaton Leontiev and Wang to be very helpful. Corey is the assumed name of Louis Farina, one of the founders of the American Communist Party. He later became, without a degree, a professor of economics at Antioch--on the strength of his book.
2. The Soviets originated this term, and many like it, during the early stages of the Russian revolution. I am aware that many feel the Soviet experience, which never attacked the roots of capital in alienation or surplus value, poisoned the use of the word "diamat." I seek to recapture it.
3. Marx, K. 1990, Collected Works, Letter to J. Weidemeyer, p163 International Publishers, N.Y.
4. Plekhanov, G, 1985 "The Development of the Monist View of History", International Publishers, M.Y. Plekhanov named diamat.
5. For an interesting view of the ineluctable nature of social change, see "Domination and the Arts of Resistance" by James C. Scott.
6. The debate of idealists and materialists has a long history. I think the best summary is found in Lukacs', "Destruction of Reason".
7. I believe the best discussion on this matter is still that demonstrated by Lenin in "Materialism and Empiro-Criticism".
8. Paulo Freire, an educator whose beliefs I believe are primarily idealist, nevertheless introduces the kernels of a materialist, inquiring, method of teaching in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." I think his best interpreter is Ira Shor whose "Critical Teaching and Everyday Life" is most instructive.
9. For an interesting discussion of the comparisons of idealist and materialist positions, see Appendix A, a chart created in one of my Language and Literacy classes in 1993.
10. Schools exist as huge baby-sitting centers, as markets, and centers of hope. The history of the value created in school is well presented in Shannon, Cuban, Liston, Carnoy, and Bowles and Gintis.
11. The classic on the nature of the state, government, remains Lenin's "State and Revolution".
12. Many people ignore Marx's fighting nature or seek to split his revolutionary practice from his theoretical work, just as they seek to split his sense of human agency from his insistence that economy is, in the final analysis, determinative. For an illuminating discussion on this point, arguing for the unity of Marx's vision, see Alan Gilbert, "Marx's Politics".
13. Those who want an easy but sufficient entre into the philosophical history which is grossly abbreviated here might enjoy "Philosophy for Beginners" by Richard Osborne.
14. I think the most complete discussion of dialectics is to be found in Gollobin's "Dialectical Materialism" from which some of this is drawn.
15. At base, reformers make the theoretical error of inverting the proper relationship of unity and struggle. The place the former over the latter. However, only an idealist would believe that reformers errors are always the result of bad theory. Many union leaders, for example, are simply corrupt, materially gaining from bad theory. See, for example, William Serrin's "The Company and the Union".
16. For a brief introduction to the dialectics of warfare, see Sun Tzu, "The Art of War", the primer used by Mao Tse Tung and, today, the Navy Seals.
17. While I was saddened by their conclusions which simply urge people to vote away their problems, the best discussion about welfare remains Cloward and Piven's "Regulating the Poor".
18. There is a continuing debate over whether dialectical materialism applies to social situations and the natural world, that is biology, physics, etc. I found the best argument for the over-arching nature of diamat to be in Bohm's "Causality and Chance in Modern Physics".
19. See Foner, "Reconstruction", and Dubois, "Black Reconstruction in America".
20. Diamat too rises only out of history. As such, the philosophy has suffered from the opportunism of some of its main proponents. Stalin, for example, simply wiped out the dialectical category of the Negation of the Negation. It vanished from Soviet texts. Mao pressed the idea of non-antagonistic contradictions to buttress his position to restore capitalism after the revolution, and to explain his shifting alliances with the Guomindang during it. For interesting discussion on this issue, it is helpful to turn to enemies of the philosophy like the priest Gustav Wetter in his "Dialectical Materialism". Wetter also points to the not terribly important but interesting proposition that Mao and Stalin took most of their work from relative unknowns like Ai Ssu Chi and Mark Mitin, issues further discussed in Weiner Meissner's "Dialectical Materialism" and Fogel's "Ai SSu Chi's Contributions to the Development of Chinese Marxism".
21. For a discussion of mechanical materialism, the idea that simply adding quantities within a fixed system is the basis of change, see Bohm, "Causality and Chance in Modern Physics" p 37 and 57.
22. For a discussion of this vision in the military see Griffith, "On Strategy".
23. Saul Alinsky's, "Rules for Radicals" is a nice handbook for organizers who want to enrich their knowledge of this concept. It's similarities to Freire's work is striking.
24. Fascism is the corporate state, the direct rule of wealth untrammeled by workers organizations, parliaments, etc. Hyper-Nationalism and racism become public policy. The two key works on fascism are Dutt's and Dimitrov's. Their debate was carried out in the 1930's in the Comintern. Dimitrov argued that fascism is an aberration, the result of evil sectors in the ruling class seizing power. Dutt argued that fascism is a logical and necessary result of capitalism in decay. Neither concluded that fascism and capitalism are inseparable. Dimitrov, supported by Stalin, prevailed in the Comintern. The better piece on the Comintern is Claudin's.
25. For a list of questions, inquiry beyond appearance, which help to take apart texts, see Appendix B which was designed by one of my classes in 1993. The students, it should be noted, relied on work initiated by Jean Anyon.
26. Joe Hyam nicely describes the relationship of martial arts to social practice in "Zen in the Martial Arts".
27. For profound analyses of the Chinese revolution, see Hinton, "Fanshen" and Snow, "Red Star over China". Beyond reading Chu Teh and Mao Tse Tung, the best abstractions of there work come from Stuart Schram.
28. Appendix C is a chart developed by Professor Alan Spector and me which seeks to trace, for student use, the differences of dialectical and dogmatic thought.
29. For a fine take on post-modernism and multi-culturalism, see Sivanandan, "Communities of Resistance" or Woods', "Retreat From Class". Historians will enjoy the turn in Palmer's, "Descent Into Discourse".
30. Lenin cited in Gollobin p381.
31. For an analysis of post-modern denials about the Gulf War, see Chris Norris, "Uncritical Theory".
32. Marx, "Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" p19.
33. See Stalin, "Historical Materialism".
34. There is also
a very fine bibliography at the close of Ollman's "Dialectical Investigations".
A. Nothing comes from nothing. Things exist and they have a history.
1. The physical world is primary to the mind, yet the mind is part of the physical world. "I am, therefore I think." Ideas are a reflection of the material world and are themselves a material force when acted on by masses of people. Ideas refract and recreate matter.
B. All things are interrelated, interpenetrating, interdependent. Nothing is random, nothing isolated.
C. Key historical material reality is production and the struggle for knowledge which rises from social practice.
II. Dialectics (the study of contradictions--how things change).
A. Things change. Matter is in constant motion. All things are also processes. All things are composed of contradictions.
1. "Principles" of Dialectics (which are interrelated too).
a. Unity & Struggle of Opposites (one becomes two)
1. Struggle is permanent, unity temporary.
2. Internal motion is primary over external.
3. Find the main contradiction and the primary side of that contradiction (which will prevail?).
b. Quantity becomes Quality
1. Quantitative change adds up to a qualitative LEAP. Quantitative change has limits which, exceeded, become qualitative change.
c. Reinvention of the New (Negation of the Negation)
1. Change is irrevocable, not circular, but carries forward aspects of the old--a spiral--
currently the contradiction between collective nature of production and private, individual ownership of what is produced. This gives rise to privilege, social classes, and class struggle.
2. Categories of Dialectics (to enrich analysis)
a. Appearance and essence
b. Form and content
c. Relative and absolute
d. Finite and Infinite
e. Possible and Actual
f. Chance and Necessity
g. Particular and the General
h. Likeness and Difference
i. Cause and Effect
j. Objective and Subjective
k. Theory and Practice
and categories are convenient structures placed on reality which is infinitely
intricate and ever-changing. Every analysis captures a moment which is
complex--and gone. Hence, all ideas are partisan, stamped with the interests
of class. Our grasp on reality is tested and enriched only through practice.
This is the only vision of the world which calls for a rational examination
of itself by human beings. @ Richard Gibson
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