Marxism: All the dialectical laws are right, they are all tautologies.

Marxism. Dialectical Laws

Marx's and Engels' dialectics is taken from Hegel, with some modifications. An important part of the dialectics is the dialectical laws. What's so great about them is that they are always right because if they are not right it doesn't count.
The three most important dialectical laws are:
1) The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa.
2) The law of the interpenetration of opposites.
3) The law of the negation of the negation.

Transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa says that merely quantitative changes beyond a certain point pass into qualitative differences. An example is that when water gets cooler, there is a point where it is transformed from liquid to solid form.

To Engels, water is either frozen or not frozen. He is looking at it in isolation, apart from its connection with the vast whole. Had he instead watched it in its change, in its interaction with its environment, he would have seen it differently.
If you look at a freezing lake, it is not either frozen or not frozen. It starts at the shore with a thin layer of ice that spreads over the lake. It gets thicker but most lakes never freeze all the way down to the bottom. If you are a Marxist dialectician, you could say it is both solid and liquid.

Of course, we also have the complementary law, the law that says there is no specific point where quantitative changes pass into qualitative differences. It is surprising that Engels did not discover this law as he himself gives us examples:

It is not possible to discover a point where a fetus becomes a living being. It is not possible to determine absolutely the moment of death.


When Dühring claims that Marx lets quantity change into quality because of Hegel's law, he's got it all wrong. On the contrary, when Marx shows that a sum of values can't become capital until it has reached a certain size, this proves the correctness of Hegel's law:

So let us see what Marx says:

Assume that a worker labors for twelve hours a day. The capitalist gets £3 for the product and pays the worker £2. He has to employ two workers to live as well as his workers. As a capitalist, he has to use some of the money as capital, he must put some money aside to increase his wealth. If he uses half of what he gets as capital and half for living, he must employ eight workers to live twice as well as the worker. This shows the correctness of Hegel's law that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.

Where is this certain point? In Marx's example, it should be where the capitalist gets eight times the pay of the worker. Between 7.99 and 8.01 there should be a sudden qualitative change, like when water freezes to ice. I would like to know how Marx found this point. To me his choice seems pretty arbitrary, it looks more like it should be a gradual transition. Of course, this would show the correctness of the law that there is no certain point where a quantitative change passes into a qualitative change.

Engels has another example, on the same topic but still different. Here he refers to another chapter of Capital.

In Capital, Marx proved with absolute clarity that at a certain stage of development, the production of commodities becomes transformed into capitalist production:

And what does Marx say?

The capitalist buys, employs workers, sells, collects profit (surplus value), invests, repeats those steps and gets rich.
But this is not how it always was. At first we had an exchange of equivalents, one worker exchanging his product for something else. The rights of property seemed to be based on the worker's labor. With capitalism, property turns out to be the right of the capitalist not to give the worker everything that is paid for the product.

This is Marx's absolutely clear proof: Marx describes, correctly or not, a course of events. To call this a proof, an absolutely clear proof, seems a bit silly. It is like Marx telling you that the capitalist makes money, and Engels claiming that Marx with absolute clarity proved the capitalist makes money.

Of course, you can give the law a more loose interpretation. Instead of focusing on a certain point, you could say there is a law that says some changes are important, some are not.

The interpenetration of opposites

As long as we consider things at rest and alone, we find no contradictions. We find qualities that are partly common to, partly different from, and even contradictory to each other, but which in the last-mentioned case are distributed among different objects and therefore contain no contradiction within. If we consider things as they move, as they interact with each other, we immediately become involved in contradictions.
Although it seems absurd, in differential calculus under certain circumstances straight lines equate curves. The same thing can have opposite attributes. This is The interpenetration of opposites.

If you look at a small segment of a curved line, it is not as curved as the whole line. If you make the thought experiment that the length of the segment approaches zero, you can treat the segment as a straight line. This is used in the development of differential and integral calculus. Thus according to Engels one of the basic principles of higher mathematics is the contradiction that in certain circumstances straight lines and curves may be the same.

A line can be both straight and curved, just like a mouse can be both small and big. A mouse is big if compared to a mosquito. It is small if compared to an elephant. It is a question of what context you choose. A context of a curved line or a context of a small part of a curved line. A context of mosquitos or a context of elephants. It has nothing to do with life and interaction. A dead mouse is big when compared to a dead mosquito. It is small compared to a dead elephant.
The meaning of the word changes with the context, the mouse and the curve changet not. Engels' contradictions tell us something about words. They tell us nothing about the world.

A language is a collection of conventions, with some structure imposed by the brain. It is not a theoretical construction made for clarity, it is a practical convenience made for communication with others.
This is not how the Plato looks at things. Like Marx, he searches for what lies behind what we perceive as the real world. For Plato there exists, in some supernatural way, a world of Forms. A word that can only be understood by reason. A world that has to be explained. In this world every concept, man, justice, bed, has its own Form, a Form more "real" than what we perceive. Every bed you perceive is a representation, more or less true, of the bed's Form. When the artist makes a drawing of a bed, he makes a representation of a representation.
In a similar way, although maybe not as permanent, there exists to Engels a more "real" world, a world with a "real" form for the concept "curved", a "real" form for the concept "straight". If he did not believe in some archetype "curved", some archetype "straight", he would not find it so remarkable that a line can be both at the same time. That is why he cannot understand that words are conventions, that his dialectics is nothing but a play with words.

If you look at a big segment of a curve, you can see it is not straight. Then if you let the segment get smaller, the curve gets less curved (although the radius of curvature changet not). At last, although you cannot say when, you can regard the curve as a straight line. It is the same thing with the mouse. Compare it to a number of objects growing in size, from the size of a mosquito to the size of an elephant. At first the mouse is big. Then it is equal in size. At last it is small, and you cannot say exactly where it changes from big to equal to small.
The law of the interpenetration of opposites can be seen as an example of the law that there is no certain point where a quantitative change passes into a qualitative change; there is no certain point where big changes to equal or equal to small.

The negation of the negation

It really is not very difficult. Let us say you have something, anything, abstract or concrete, we can call it Thing1. If Thing1 changes in a way you think is important, you can say it has become its own negation and you can call it Thing2. Now if Thing2 also changes in a way you think is important, you can say it one more time has become its own negation; you can say it has become the negation of the negation of Thing1, and you can call it Thing3.
Let us say you can find some similarity between Thing1 and Thing3. Let us say you can also find some similarity between Thing2 and Thing3. Then you can say Thing3 is a synthesis of Thing1 and Thing2. If you think Thing3 is better than both Thing1 and Thing2, then you can say Thing3 is on a higher level. And what have you got? Thing3 is on a higher level a synthesis of Thing1 and Thing2.

If you sow a grain of barley, it germinates, it ceases to exist and instead we get its negation, a plant. The plant grows, it produces grains of barley and when these have ripened, the stalk dies, it in turn is negated. As a result of this negation of a negation, we do again have the grain of barley but now as a multiple, it is on a higher level.
What if someone objects that this is not a real negation? That I negate a grain when I grind it. Objections like that only demonstrate the narrow-mindedness of the metaphysician uttering them. For the negation of the negation, I have to arrange the first negation so that a second negation is possible.

Let us say you negate the grain by grinding it. Of course there is a second negation possible. You get flour and you can use it to make bread. Making bread is negating the flour, and on a higher level the bread is a negation of both the grain and the flour. You can always find a second negation. Perhaps not always on a higher level but even that should be possible with a little dialectic.

If you expect something to follow a law, you are a narrow-minded metaphysician. The law is only valid if it is valid. Even should the law be absolute and general, it is only valid as long as it is not modified for some or other reason.

From world to law

If you believe dialectical laws say something about the world, you are wrong. Engels is very vehement about this: it is a mistake to apply the laws to nature. It is forcing the universe to follow some arbitrary laws. If we turn things around everything becomes clear. Instead, we should find the laws by watching nature and history and from this deduce the laws. The law about Transformation of quantity into quality can be proved by water freezing and by hundreds of other similar facts, from nature as well as from human society.

Every time you see a red thing, it confirms the dialectical law that things are red. It should be easy to find hundreds of things to confirm the law. Should you protest that there are things that are not red, it only demonstrates the narrow-mindedness of your thinking. Of course this law is only valid for things that are red. Instead, every time you see a thing that is not red, it confirms the dialectical law that things are not red. Every time you see a thing that is partly red, it confirms the dialectical law that things are both red and not red.

Engels attributes Mendelejev's discovery of the periodic system to his unconscious application of the law of the transformation of quantity into quality. He is right. Just like every time you paint something red, it is your application - maybe unconscious - of the law that things are red.
Is this not, as Mr. Cutler of the Staffordshire branch of the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things - a society dedicated to the application of the dialectical law that one thing is placed on top of another thing - puts it, a bit silly?

Maybe the transformation of quantity into quality will be declared as something quite self-evident, trivial, and commonplace that has long been employed. 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.

Of course. Formulating something that does not say a thing is an act of historic importance. No matter how trite, trivial, tautological it is. All the dialectical laws were formulated thousands of years ago, when Heraclitus said that everything floats. When he said that things change.

Trends and the inevitable

Marx talks about laws as trends, as tendencies working with iron necessity towards inevitable results.
He talks about the fall of bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat being equally inevitable.
He also talks about class struggle always ending in a revolutionary reconstitution. Or in the common ruin of the contending classes, that is in not ending in a revolutionary reconstitution.

So the victory of the proletariat is inevitable unless something else happens. The only thing that remains inevitable is that things will change.
It is a mantra Marx has: It does not matter that things don't follow the laws because the law is a trend. This is his method, as simple as it is ingenious, to solve the problem with the reality that does not follow the theory: he disregards reality.

The problem is you cannot use trends as proof because trends are broken. Marx should have known. The transformation of quantity into quality says that trends are broken. The negation of the negation says that trends are broken twice. Even the law of the interpenetration of opposites can be seen as a law that says that trends are broken.

The dialectical laws are purely retroactive, it is in their nature that they can only find trends in the past. Using them to say something about the future cannot be anything but guesswork.

Quantities are transformed into quantities if they are transformed into quantities. Opposites are interpenetrated if they are interpenetrated. Negations are negated if they are negated. Things are red if they are red. The dialectical laws are all tautologies.

© Anders Floderus