Marxism and Rationalism are Incompatible.
(The following is a note published in face book group named Rationalists by Dr. Viswanathan.C.
Since some friends who follow posts on this blog may not have joined face book, It is being published here for their benefit.)
Rationalists are children of enlightenment- a movement that brought about a “fundamental change in temper that questioned the validity and methodology of the knowledge of the natural world inscribed in myth, theology and inherited traditions”. Enlightenment revolutionized “what reason meant and what role it had in how humans related to nature and to each other.” “"The purpose", wrote Diderot, the author of the encyclopedia, the remarkable compendium of the European enlightenment, "is not only to provide a certain body of knowledge but also to bring about a change in the mode of thinking". This "change in the mode of thinking" lay broadly in a change from contemplative , deductive reasoning from intuitively grasped, god and tradition sanctioned a priori beliefs to an insistence on deriving any claim regarding nature's order from the data of experience alone. Knowledge was no longer to proceed from concepts and axioms to phenomenon, but vice versa."1
In this note, I propose that Marxism and Enlightenment rationalism are incompatible.
Lenin listed 'three component parts of Marxism' :Dialectical materialism, Historical materialism and Marxist economics. Of these three components, I would restrict the present discussion to Dialectical materialism, especially dialectical materialist claims regarding the working of nature. Through such discussion, I hope to demonstrate how Marxism and enlightenment rationalism involve two different 'modes of thinking' which are mutually incompatible.
The Laws of Dialectics
"..all the elements in Marx's philosophy which are derived from Hegel are unscientific, in the sense that there is no reason whatever to suppose them true." (Bertrand Russell: History of western philosophy.p.754.Routlegde edition 1993)
In “Dialectics of nature’, Engels says:
“It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed they can be reduced in the main to three:
The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;
The law of the interpenetration of opposites;
The law of the negation of the negation.”
These three 'laws' were formulated by the German philosopher, Hegel (1770-1831).Hegel famously “developed a comprehensive philosophical framework, or "system", to account in an integrated and developmental way for the relation of mind and nature, the subject and object of knowledge, and psychology, the state, history, art, religion and philosophy.” (Wikipedia) We need to know something about the methods of this philosopher, if we are to assess the real worth of his ‘laws’. This is what Karl Popper said about Hegel’s ways:
"Hegel achieved the most miraculous things. A master logician, it was child's play for his powerful dialectical methods to draw real physical rabbits out of purely metaphysical silk-hats. Thus, starting from Plato's Timaeus and its number- mysticism, Hegel succeeded in 'proving' by purely philosophical methods (114 years after Newton's Principia ) that the planets must move according to Kepler's laws. He even accomplished the deduction of the actual position of the planets, thereby proving that no planet could be situated between Mars and Jupiter (unfortunately, it had escaped his notice that such a planet had been discovered a few months earlier).Similarly, he proved that magnetizing iron means increasing its weight, that Newton's theories of inertia and of gravity contradict each other (of course, he could not foresee that Einstein would show the identity of inert and gravitating mass) and many other things of this kind..."2
However, Engels was thoroughly impressed by the ‘laws of dialectics’ propounded by Hegel , and had this to say about this intellectual feat of Hegel. “But to have formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of nature, society, and thought, will always remain an act of historic importance”.3
.In the chapter titled ‘Dialectics’, Engels says that his aim is "showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of development of nature, and therefore are valid also for theoretical natural science". The way he does this is, like in all pseudo scientific enterprises, by parading an array of confirmations.4
Thus, the first law, "The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa" is 'proved ' by using analogies from fields like physics and chemistry, often using the same physical rabbits Hegal had earlier materialized from metaphysical silk- hats. See this, from ‘Dialectics of nature’, for example: "Thus, for instance, the temperature of water is first of all indifferent in relation to its state as a liquid; but by increasing or decreasing the temperature of liquid water a point is reached at which this state of cohesion alters and the water becomes transformed on the one side into steam and on the other into ice. (Hegel, Encyclopedia, Collected Works, VI, p. 217.)"
We will now discuss the first law in more detail, to demonstrate the pseudoscientific nature of Dialectical materialism:
A Marxist educational website explains the first law as below:
"The law of quantity into quality (and vice versa)
"It has been said that there are no sudden leaps in nature, and it is a common notion that things have their origin through gradual increase or decrease," states Hegel. "But there is also such a thing as sudden transformation from quantity to quality. For example, water does not become gradually hard on cooling, becoming first pulpy and ultimately attaining a rigidity of ice, but turns hard at once. If temperature be lowered to a certain degree, the water is suddenly changed into ice, i.e., the quantity - the number of degrees of temperature - is transformed into quality - a change in the nature of the thing." (Logic)
This is the cornerstone of understanding change. Change or evolution does not take place gradually in a straight smooth line. Marx compared the social revolution to an old mole burrowing busily beneath the ground, invisible for long periods, but steadily undermining the old order and later emerging into the light in a sudden overturn. Even Charles Darwin believed that his theory of evolution was essentially gradual and that the gaps in the fossil record did not represent any breaks or leaps in evolution, and would be "filled in" by further discoveries. In this Darwin was wrong. Today, new theories, essentially dialectical, have been put forward to explain the leaps in evolution. Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge termed their dialectical theory of evolution "punctuated equilibria". They explained that there were long periods of evolution where there were no apparent changes taking place, then suddenly, a new life form or forms emerged. In other words, quantitative differences gave rise to a qualitative change, leading to new species. The whole of development is characterized by breaks in continuity, leaps, catastrophes and revolutions."5
Their path to knowledge is different
What Marxists right from Engels down to present day internet educators engage in is contemplative, deductive reasoning from a priori beliefs. Here, axioms come first, from which 'knowledge' is derived through deductive reasoning. Thus, starting with the axiom that ‘Change or evolution does not take place gradually in a straight smooth line’, Marxists arrive at the conclusion that one of Darwin’s ideas ( “evolution was essentially gradual and that the gaps in the fossil record did not represent any breaks or leaps in evolution”) can only be wrong. (The same axiom also leads them to the pernicious belief in “the inevitability of a violent revolution”6. However, I do not wish to discuss this aspect at present.) From the same axiom, they deduce that in organic evolution, “quantitative differences gave rise to a qualitative change, leading to new species”. And, like all believers, they stick to their positions, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Thus, they prefer to look away from the fact that “it is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species”7. Darwin’s idea that "in a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point where the term "man" ought to be used."8remains as the accepted biological opinion in this regard. However, intent on saving their fundamental axioms, Marxists stick to the old illusion regarding discontinuous species. They go on to argue even today that "qualitative transformation (at a particular stage of quantitative change) is ubiquitous. Speciation is one such point in biology " .Apparently, only “the discontinuous mind is ubiquitous"7 (Dawkins). Obviously, the idea that speciation is a 'point' in biology where a qualitative transformation happens at a particular stage of quantitative change is factually wrong. Unfortunately,Marxists never tire of 'foisting' Marxist ideas on nature. (In this, they are in league with all ‘religious sciences’)
Foisting ideology on nature, in fact, is hallowed Marxist tradition. Engels’ 1876 article “The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man’ is the prime example. The idea of quantitative differences giving rise to a qualitative change and leading to new species is applied here by Engels to paint a picture of Human evolution. (In words that would remind votaries of Islamic /Hindu science, Marxists of today make tall claims about the scientific accuracy of this fairytale account of human evolution by Engels. Here is a sample: “….modern science has validated the argument presented by Engels in his essay of the 1870s.
The prescience of Engels demands that we in the 21st Century continue to profit and learn from his writings.”)
In this article, relying entirely on the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarck) Engels argued that labour is responsible for ‘the transition from ape to man’. In his account, labour first modified human hand, and the change in hand “reacted on other parts of the organism” through ‘law of correlation of growth’ (Darwin). (See the relevant portion, quoted in full as note (9) below. Also note how much Engels has contorted the idea of Darwin to fit it into the Marxist ideological straightjacket)
And, inheritance of acquired characters remained an article of faith for Marxists right into 1940s.Weismann, who in 1883 experimented cutting off the tails in 21 successive generations of rats and subsequently proposed the germplasm theory was thus a persona non grata for 20th century Marxist orthodoxy.
Stalin wrote in 1947: “About the theoretical situation in biology, I believe that Michurin position is the only correct scientific approach. Weissmanists and their followers, who deny the inheritance of acquired characteristics do not deserve to be discussed.”10
Predictably, in soviet union, Genetics was soon condemned as a ‘bourgeois pseudoscience’. Many Geneticists were executed and many were sent to prison where many (like Nikolai Vavilov) perished. Tribal beliefs surely can cause great human suffering, but when they become official policies of a modern state, their damaging potential becomes enormous!
The enlightenment mode of thinking
Earlier, we mentioned the contemplative, deductive reasoning from a priori beliefs that characterize pseudosciences like dialectical materialism, astrology and homeopathy. The change in mode of thinking, brought about by enlightenment involved “an insistence on deriving any claim regarding nature's order from the data of experience alone. Knowledge was no longer to proceed from concepts and axioms to phenomenon, but vice versa."
…..'If there was a dogma of enlightenment, it was that there were to be no dogmas, no a priori truths and no privileged sources of affirmation. All dogmas could be queried by private citizens, who have the right to come together in the public sphere, as equals, to pursue truth through open critical debate." 11
Dialectical materialism, hailed as “the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party”12 is a pseudoscientific intellectual enterprise. (Certainly, nobody can prove it false, because its laws and predictions are unfalsifiable.) The mode of thinking that it involves is diametrically opposite to that of enlightenment rationalism.
Thus, I conclude that a person cannot be a Marxist and a rationalist at the same time. And, this is just one reason to say that Marxism and rationalism are incompatible. There are a lot of other valid arguments that lead to the same conclusion.
1-All the quotes in this paragraph are from Meera Nanda’s great essay, “Breaking the spell of Dharma: A case for Indian enlightenment”.
2- Karl Popper-Open society and its enemies.P.30-31
3-Engels: Dialectics of nature http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/don/ch02.htm
4-Karl Popper says: “I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still 'un-analysed' and crying aloud for treatment.”http://bertie.ccsu.edu/naturesci/PhilSci/PopperArticle.html
6-Lenin-State and revolution. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch01.htm#s4
7 Richard Dawkins:Gaps in the Mind
8- Quoted in Dawkins. 'The greatest show on earth' p.196
9- available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1876/part-played-labour/index.htm
“Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Only by labour, by adaptation to ever new operations, through the inheritance of muscles, ligaments, and, over longer periods of time, bones that had undergone special development and the ever-renewed employment of this inherited finesse in new, more and more complicated operations, have given the human hand the high degree of perfection required to conjure into being the pictures of a Raphael, the statues of a Thorwaldsen, the music of a Paganini.
But the hand did not exist alone, it was only one member of an integral, highly complex organism. And what benefited the hand, benefited also the whole body it served; and this in two ways.
In the first place, the body benefited from the law of correlation of growth, as Darwin called it. This law states that the specialised forms of separate parts of an organic being are always bound up with certain forms of other parts that apparently have no connection with them. Thus all animals that have red blood cells without cell nuclei, and in which the head is attached to the first vertebra by means of a double articulation (condyles), also without exception possess lacteal glands for suckling their young. Similarly, cloven hoofs in mammals are regularly associated with the possession of a multiple stomach for rumination. Changes in certain forms involve changes in the form of other parts of the body, although we cannot explain the connection. Perfectly white cats with blue eyes are always, or almost always, deaf. The gradually increasing perfection of the human hand, and the commensurate adaptation of the feet for erect gait, have undoubtedly, by virtue of such correlation, reacted on other parts of the organism. However, this action has not as yet been sufficiently investigated for us to be able to do more here than to state the fact in general terms.”
And, this is what Darwin says about the “law of correlation of growth”:
“I will here only allude to what may be called correlation of growth. Any change in the embryo or larva will almost certainly entail changes in the mature animal. In monstrosities, the correlations between quite distinct parts are very curious; and many instances are given in Isidore Geoffroy St Hilaire's great work on this subject.. Breeders believe that long limbs are almost always accompanied by an elongated head. Some instances of correlation are quite whimsical; thus cats with blue eyes are invariably deaf; colour and constitutional peculiarities go together, of which many remarkable cases could be given amongst animals and plants. From the facts collected by Heusinger, it appears that white sheep and pigs are differently affected from coloured individuals by certain vegetable poisons. Hairless dogs have imperfect teeth; long-haired and coarse-haired animals are apt to have, as is asserted, long or many horns; pigeons with feathered feet have skin between their outer toes; pigeons with short beaks have small feet, and those with long beaks large feet. Hence, if man goes on selecting, and thus augmenting, any peculiarity, he will almost certainly unconsciously modify other parts of the structure, owing to the mysterious laws of the correlation of growth."
10 Roy Medvedev, Zhores Medvedev: The Unknown Stalin. P.193
(11) Meera Nanda: Breaking the spell of Dharma: A case for Indian enlightenment.
(12) J.V.Stalin 1938: Dialectical and historical materialism