Monday, December 15, 2008

My expulsion from the Steiner/Brenner group

Just as I was being expelled from the SEP I contacted Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner of www.permanent-revolution.org. I thought they could help in my situation, but that didn't really interest them, they instead wanted me to read their polemic. While in the SEP I was neutral toward their polemic, but afterwards I came to agree with several of their positions.

Their polemic can be summed up very briefly, the SEP has failed to provide a consistent leadership for the working class. The failure to lead and engage the working class can be shown in many examples from Iraq war, the protests in Mexico, the 2008 elections, etc. The SEP has fallen back into a contemplative mode, most party work is devoted to commenting on events on the World Socialist Web Site.

This retreat can be explained in good part from the personal circumstances of the leading members and also the political conditions during the 80s and 90s. Over the years they have become burnt out on political work for which they have seen few results, at the same time they have grown to be more middle class and comfortable. They still show up a picket lines from time to time but not with serious intent to provide leadership.

It is wrong to suggest that the retreat is result of the adoption of certain philosophical conceptions. I would say instead that the SEP's embrace of objectivism and determinism is a rationalization of their retreat. I think that Steiner and Brenner are both wrong when they accuse the SEP of abandoning dialectics, Steiner and Brenner and the SEP share the same muddle headed conception of dialectics. The problem with the SEP is not their ability to cite the "law" of quantity of quality. Both the SEP and Steiner and Brenner miss the fact that dialectics was a critical method for the last three thousand years, even for Marx.

Supposing one agrees with Steiner and Brenner's political criticisms, the vital question remains, what is to be done? Do we wait year after year until the SEP finally sees that they are mistaken? Even if the SEP took every criticism to heart, would this then necessarily resolve the question of leadership within the working class?

Steiner and Brenner paint a bleak picture of the SEP, for them, the political line of the SEP on Iraq and the lack of involvement in working class struggles suggests an advanced state of degeneration. If the party has abandoned its orientation to working class to the extent that Steiner and Brenner suggest, what remains that is worth saving? At what point should a political alternative be put forward?

I think Steiner and Brenner leave far much to the imagination about what they would do differently. It has become clear in course of many correspondences that real political activity does not interest them. They want to be known and remembered for contributing to the creative development of Marxism, but to me that seems like an egotistical end. Would anyone remember James Cannon if he did no more than write polemics against the Communist Party from which he was expelled?

For a few months Steiner and Brenner have had their own discussion group for their supporters. There have been some interesting and productive discussions, but mostly there has been a repetition of points already made in the Steiner/Brenner polemic. The fatal comment for which I was removed was the suggestion that Trotsky had been fetishized by the SEP. What I meant by this was that Trotsky was praised and idolized within the SEP in a ritualistic and empty way. The way the SEP had treated Trotsky had turned me away from him, and I also made clear that I was won to Trotskyism and began to appreciate Trotsky's work when I started corresponding with Frank and Alex.

For me Trotskyism is a perspective, I made clear that I didn't have feelings of devotion toward Trotsky or any emotional entanglement. I explained that what was important was not our individual feelings toward Trotsky but our understanding of history and our desire to change the world. My further explanation only intensified the conflict. The discussion ended with Frank citing a comment of mine from the SEP's letter of expulsion to supposedly prove that I renounce Trotskyism, and Alex declaring that I was not a Trotskyist. In their methods of removing me Steiner and Brenner are no more principled than the SEP.

To suggest that to be a Trotskyist one must respond to history with a certain set of emotions is to be even more narrowly sectarian than the SEP. I have to think there were other factors behind my removal, which brings in doubt whether Steiner and Brenner are serious about their criticisms of the SEP. I think they are too wrapped up in nostalgia for the old Worker's League of seventies, with its forms of political activism, its studies of Lenin's dialectics, its veneration of Trotsky. It is almost as if they want orthodoxy for the sake of orthodoxy. My novel perspective on philosophical issues and my focus on the here and now and what is to be done does not seem to fit with their conceptions of party life.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A comment on the North vs. Steiner/Brenner polemic

I was surprised to see that David North of the SEP had finally replied to the document "Marxism Without its Head or its Heart" by Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner.

Steiner and Brenner were members of the party in 1970's and were regular collaborators in the late 90's. Steiner had reapplied for membership in 1998, but his request was ignored by the leadership. Both of them know most of the present leadership personally. While they have adopted some novel positions, their perspective is grounded in Trotskyism. The claim that they are trying to smuggle alien ideas into the movement is both dishonest and false. In evaluating the SEP today they have a very clear reference point. They know the traditions of the party going back to Cannon and are arguing for a return to those traditions.

The SEP today has departed significantly from the theory and practice of Marxism. In its theory it has abandoned dialectical materialism, and in its place it has increasingly adopted methods based on pragmatism and positivism. Corresponding with its decline in theory, the party has undergone a decline in its practice. The party has abandoned the struggle for socialist consciousness in the working class and has abstained from intervening in major political events such as the New York transit strike, mass protests in Mexico, and the Iraq war.

As Marx's Theses on Feuerbach make absolutely clear, Marxism is not a contemplative science. Marxism as a science is transformative, it seeks not only to accurately cognize the objective world, but also to transform or change it. The SEP today is objectivist, because while it can often report accurately the objective world situation, it has no conception of its own place in transforming that situation. The SEP today believes that objective conditions will cut a path to socialist consciousness in the working class, and workers will automatically be drawn into the SEP when the conditions are ripe. This theory entirely neglects the role of the party in transforming the objective situation, and represents a one sided understanding of how socialist consciousness develops.

The objectivist theory of the SEP has led an abandonment of fight to build socialist consciousness in the working class. Journalism and political exposures are only one component of the fight to politically educate the working class. The working out of transitional demands as a bridge to socialist consciousness as embodied in "The Transitional Program" was an cornerstone for Bolshevism and Trotskyism in the fight to politically educate the working class.

Also part of the fight to build socialist consciousness in working class especially among the youth is to explain the possibilities that will arise under socialism. This is all that is behind Steiner and Brenner's call for the revival of utopia. The party has portrayed this call as advocating a return to pre-Marxian conceptions of socialism, but this is entirely false as anyone can tell from a careful reading their material. Utopian conceptions or "useful dreaming" as Lenin called it, have a long history in the Marxist movement, which includes Cannon's "What Socialist America Will Look Like" and Trotsky's "If America Should Go Communist."

The party's objectivist theory manifests itself in practice. The main practice of the SEP is the publication of the World Socialist Web Site. When the party does intervene, it is in a journalistic capacity. The party is completely unserious in its attempts to lead workers in their struggles. In the case the New York transit strike in 2005, the party made no demands until a day before the strike. It called for the formation of strike committees but did absolutely nothing to prepare for them and gave no guidance to the workers on how they would operate. After the strike was over the party abandoned the story of the transit strike even while opposition among transit workers grew, which led to a vote to reject the contract.

As Steiner and Brenner point out, the practices of the party in the days of Cannon were a great deal different. In the Minneapolis Teamster strikes of 1934, Trotskyists played a leading role in the preparation, organization, direction of the strike. Cannon himself flew to Minneapolis so that he could provide daily guidance to the workers in the course of the strike. Steiner and Brenner maintain that the primary way that workers become politically consciousness is in the course of their own struggles, and that showing workers how to win their battles is crucial to building socialist consciousness in the working class.

In 2006, there were massive demonstrations in Mexico to protest election fraud and demand a recount in the Mexican presidential election. At one demonstration, over a million people participated, making it the largest demonstration in Mexican history. Revolutionary sentiments were widespread among the mostly working class participants. Under these conditions, the SEP made no intervention, did not hold any meetings on the perspective for revolution in Mexico, and made no programmatic statements.

During the period of mass protests the party's activity was again limited to journalism, and out of the dozen or so articles posted only one was posted in spanish. The party was well within its means to send a reporting team to Mexico given that many comrades in the US, including Bill Van Auken, speak spanish. The party has charged Steiner and Brenner with advocating "adventurism", but such a charge is nonsense. Nowhere do Steiner and Brenner advocate that the SEP lead an insurrection or anything that would put comrades at risk. At the very least, the party could send a correspondents to the scene, as they have done in similar cases in France and elsewhere.

In the case the Iraq war, the SEP has adapted itself to the bourgeois nationalist movement led by Sadr and abandoned the theory of permanent revolution as a perspective for the Iraqi working class. Under conditions of religious and ethnic divisions and colonial domination, the working class was the only force capable waging a consistent struggle against imperialism. During the course of the war, the SEP has never fought to develop a socialist program and perspective for the Iraqi working class. Such a fight would also mean countering religious backwardness and ethnic prejudice and exposing leaders like Sadr in subordinating the working class to the perspective of bourgeois nationalism.

Steiner and Brenner have documented how the WSWS has uncritically championed the Sadr and Sadrist movement in Iraq. The WSWS line on Iraq is especially significant considering the historical attitude of the Trotskyist movement toward bourgeois nationalism, and the attitude of the party in the past and even today toward bourgeois nationalist leaders such as Chavez. The attitude of the WSWS toward Sadr is not far from the positions of Hansen and Cannon in championing Castro and Guevera as "natural Marxists" during the SWP's period of degeneration in the 1960's.

What does North have to say about all this? Absolutely nothing. After complaining about a lack of documentation in regard to decay of the SEP political line, North now has nothing to say about the political line of the SEP! Instead he has engaged in an extended attempt at character assassination directed personally at Alex Steiner. North's latest reply demonstrates his own theoretical and political bankruptcy (and I might add, his dishonesty), and confirms in large measure the criticisms contained in "Marxism Without its Head or its Heart."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Clarification

I would like to respond to some false claims that are apparently being made about me within the SEP. There may be others, but I no longer participate in the internal life of that organization so I can't know to what extent my views have been distorted or events are misrepresented. The truth of events is many sided, it is not always expressed by a single view point. This is a concept entirely foreign to the SEP where the opinion of the leadership is for all time the only valid and correct interpretation of events.

The SEP claims that I was not expelled. This is simply not true. According to common dictionary definitions, expel means "to force to leave; to deprive of membership", and this is certainly a valid description of what occurred. I did not resign or quit the SEP, the SEP revoked my membership rights and removed me from the ISSE steering committee. Those actions certainly do constitute expulsion from the group. I can no longer attend branch meetings and I was prevented from attending the congress. During the week of the congress the SEP went so far as to claim that I was a security threat and barred another member from attending because he had met with me. The SEP would even like to prevent me from attending public events.

The SEP offers a bureaucratic argument that a "provisional member" cannot be technically expelled from their group. Even if one accepts this argument, which no one should, what does it say about an organization that denies full membership rights to an active productive member of the group for more than two years? The SEP never explained the difference between a provisional member and a full member or the respective rights of each or how one becomes a full member. I was actually told twice that I was full member, and that seemed reasonable given my contributions to the election campaign in 2006 and my high level of agreement at that time. From there I was appointed to the steering committee of the ISSE, I wrote articles for the WSWS, I started an SEP chapter at my school. To promote a "provisional member" into the leadership of the ISSE, and collaborate as they did with me, would only reveal the SEP to be an opportunist organization. The alternative is no more favorable, if I was a "full member" as I was the told, then the whole "membership review process" was nothing more than a bureaucratic sham to suppress free discussion within the organization.

The other claim is that I called the SEP diseased. That is true, but that comment is stripped from its context and presented in a false way, specifically it is said that because of this I don't think much of the SEP or its members. I originally made this remark in email to my branch. I was commenting on a discussion that had taken place on the ISSE internal forum, I also forwarded those exchanges to my branch members. Obviously I did not intend to say that my branch was diseased or that the party as a whole was diseased, I was commenting only on the discussion within the ISSE. Several ISSE members were attacking me as if I were a political opponent, they had misrepresented my views, and went so far as to equate my views with known opponents of Marxism. Even if I was mistaken in my views, I thought that this was no way for a discussion to proceed within the party. From that discussion I concluded that the party was not in good health. The email to my branch was a complaint, I was hoping that someone would intervene or at least recognize that a problem existed. The response by the party was the very opposite, they enlisted even more people to confront my views using the same tactics.

My remark about the party being diseased was not an attempt to condemn the membership or the party. At that time I still had great respect and admiration for certain party members. There were only a few members that I thought little of, appointed leaders with no real accomplishments. Since being expelled I would say my view of the party has declined substantially. I feel personally betrayed by many party members. Only one member actually defended me that I know of, and he was in the Canadian section. None of the American comrades apparently bothered themselves, I don't whether this was out of fear, apathy, or personal opportunism.

Personal matters aside, it clear to me now that the SEP exists in a state of degeneration and my own expulsion was merely a product of that degeneration. This degeneration is manifested in the practical work of the party, the political line, the theoretical development, and even the kinds of people that are promoted to leadership positions. This subject has been dealt with extensively in the polemic "Marxism Without Its Head or its Heart" by Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner. The politics of the SEP is one of desperation, they clearly do not have a secure footing. The 2008 elections would seem to present immense opportunities for a socialist party, given the crisis confronting the capitalist system, yet the SEP can only muster a write-in campaign about a month and a half before the election. Furthermore, as my report makes clear, this is a campaign which barely touches upon programmatic issues and does not present the SEP as a credible alternative to the problems facing workers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

SEP 2008 election campaign

I got a chance yesterday to see David North of the Socialist Equality Party speak in Ann Arbor. The SEP has abstained from the 2008 elections, and instead launched a series of lectures a month and half before the election. These events are for most part staged on college campuses, and North was in Ann Arbor speaking to students of the University of Michigan. I wasn't particularly anxious to go to the event, since I am well familiar with SEP's politics, and the leadership of the party had treated me so poorly, but I thought it was important to at least confirm for myself what kind of organization the SEP has become.

First of all it was clear that the SEP did not want me at the event. As I was entering the building, I got a rather cold greeting from one former "comrade." As soon as I took my seat in the room, Larry Porter and Jerry White quickly convened a meeting outside the room to determine what to do with me. Both came back, and Larry stood over me, and in a very threatening tone said that I had no business there, that I had called the party diseased, that I told people I had been expelled when I had not been expelled. I corrected him, I said that I had been expelled. He said I that I was going to cause a scene and that I should leave. I said I just wanted to observe. He said more loudly, "Leave now!" There are some good reasons to fear Larry
physically, but I decided to stand my ground, I asked Larry why. Finally, David North intervened and said that I could stay if I wanted to. I respect North for letting me stay, but I think this incident speaks volumes about the SEP's real stance toward democratic rights and freedom of discussion.

As for the content of North's presentation, it was roughly divided into three parts, a report which consisted mostly of facts and figures on the economic crisis, the size of the bailouts and so forth. Then North moved onto the cause of the crisis with details on sub prime mortgages, high risk loans, and consumer dept. Finally there were some vague predictions about what is to come. Briefly, at the very end, he predicted that the working class would become an active force and class struggles would play a larger role. There was essentially nothing significant in North's remarks, one could obtain much of the same information from following the bourgeois media day to day. Of course, North has a presentation style that could fool someone into thinking that he had said something profound, and indeed most SEP members in attendance probably thought they did hear something profound.

What it is striking about this presentation is that this is supposedly a campaign election event, yet there was virtually no mention of the SEP's own election campaign, or how the SEP would solve the crisis and so forth. Jerry White was in the audience but made no remarks, and was not introduced. In the Q/A session, the campaign was briefly mentioned by North, but he noted that the candidates were not even on the ballot. This evoked a chuckle from Larry, who was standing in the back photographing North and others. It is clear that the SEP does not take its own election campaign seriously. At the very end of the event, Joe Kay introduced himself as Joe Kishore and asked everyone to donate to the SEP's election campaign. At that point, I and probably others were thinking, "what election campaign?" You would think that the national secretary would have more of a public presence than to simply ask for donations for a non-existent election campaign.

Speaking from a theoretical perspective, the content of North's report and his responses during the QA were thoroughly objectivist. For a socialist, this means to adopt a contemplative stance toward events and to downplay or even neglect the role of leadership. He stated several times that objective conditions would cut a path to socialist consciousness in the working class. He said that the working class would advance its own solutions to the crisis. Anyone familiar with Trotskyism should be thinking: "What is the role of the party? What is the purpose of a program?"

Something must be said about the context of this event. The University of Michigan is where the most privileged sections of the population send their children, and I might add, many SEP sons and daughters attend. The school has an endowment of 7.8 billion dollars, which is the third largest of public universities in the US. U of M, along with a handful of other elite universities, are the training grounds for the intelligentsia in the US. The degree of isolation of this layer from the general working population was expressed in one students question, "Does the working class exist?" This is the layer that SEP is very consciously appealing to. Larry had even told me once that strategy of the SEP is to win a layer of the intelligentsia to the SEP through the ISSE. Supposedly the ISSE is to turn the students to the working class, but the SEP conducts no real work within the working class. What are these students to do other than participate in sterile discussion groups, and listen to more objectivist lectures?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Against Sectarianism

In the second part of their statement of principles the SEP emphasizes the importance of Trotsky's Transitional Program and of transitional demands. I wonder how many in the SEP have really read the Transitional Program closely. If they did they would encounter the section "Against Sectarianism" directed against exactly the kind of practices found within the SEP. I have emphasized parts of this section to make it clear.

"Under the influence of the betrayal by the historical organizations of the proletariat, certain sectarian moods and groupings of various kinds arise or are regenerated at the periphery of the Fourth International. At their base lies a refusal to struggle for partial and transitional demands, i.e., for the elementary interests and needs of the working masses, as they are today. Preparing for the revolution means to the sectarians, convincing themselves of the superiority of socialism. They propose turning their backs on the "old" trade unions, i.e., to tens of millions of organized workers – as if the masses could somehow live outside of the conditions of the actual class struggle!

They remain indifferent to the inner struggle within reformist organizations – as if one could win the masses without intervening in their daily strife! They refuse to draw a distinction between the bourgeois democracy and fascism – as if the masses could help but feel the difference on every hand!

Sectarians are capable of differentiating between but two colors: red and black. So as not to tempt themselves, they simplify reality. They refuse to draw a distinction between the fighting camps in Spain for the reason that both camps have a bourgeois character. For the same reason they consider it necessary to preserve "neutrality" in the war between Japan and China. They deny the principled difference between the USSR and the imperialist countries, and because of the reactionary policies of the Soviet bureaucracy they reject defense of the new forms of property, created by the October Revolution, against the onslaughts of imperialism. Incapable of finding access to the masses, they therefore zealously accuse the masses of inability to raise themselves to revolutionary ideas.


These sterile politicians generally have no need of a bridge in the form of transitional demands because they do not intend to cross over to the other shore. They simply dawdle in one place, satisfying themselves with a repetition of the same meager abstractions. Political events are for them an occasion for comment but not for action. Since sectarians as in genera every kind of blunderer and miracle-man, are toppled by reality at each step, they live in a state of perpetual exasperation, complaining about the "regime" and the "methods" and ceaselessly wallowing in small intrigues. In their own circles they customarily carry on a regime of despotism.
The political prostration of sectarianism serves to complement, shadow-like, the prostration of opportunism, revealing no revolutionary vistas. In practical politics, sectarians unite with opportunists, particularly with centrists, every time in the struggle against Marxism.

Most of the sectarian groups and cliques, nourished on accidental crumbs from the table of the Fourth International lead an "independent" organizational existence, with great pretensions but without the least chance for success. Bolshevik-Leninists, without waste of time, calmly leave these groups to their own fate. However, sectarian tendencies are to be found also in our own ranks and display a ruinous influence on the work of the individual sections. It is impossible to make any further compromise with them even for a single day. A correct policy regarding trade unions is a basic condition for adherence to the Fourth International. He who does not seek and does not find the road to the masses is not a fighter but a dead weight to the party. A program is formulated not for the editorial board or for the leaders of discussion clubs, but for the revolutionary action of millions. The cleansing of the ranks of the Fourth International of sectarianism and incurable sectarians is a primary condition for revolutionary success."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Theoretical education

One overall striking feature of my experience with the SEP, is the party's attitude toward answering theoretical questions. In terms of my own situation, how much conflict could have been avoided if the party took the approach of patiently explaining theory, answering every question as it arises, and carefully and thoughtfully pointing out mistakes? While the process might be time consuming, it is necessary for the education of not only the individual but the party as whole. Just because these questions do not arise in the normal course of party life does not mean that party as a whole has a common or adequate understanding of such questions. In fact, I know that comrades in the ISSE did not have an understanding of the issues that I raised and probably still do not. When the party instead treats every theoretical question or criticism as if it were an act of treachery, how many members are going to come forward with their own questions? I don't believe that either Cannon or Trotsky would take such an approach. I think they would, as I do, look at every question as an opportunity for the education of cadre.

The hostility toward my own questions and positions comes from the fact that the party is utterly incapable of thinking through theoretical issues. On questions of theory, the party is thoroughly scholastic. Individual members can quote from Trotsky or Lenin, but they have failed to assimilate the full meaning of those quotes and the theoretical understanding that formed the basis for those quotes. Therefore any question that falls outside the sphere addressed by quotations can not be answered. To appreciate Trotsky or Lenin, and to really embody the spirit of their practice, you need a deep appreciation of Marx. Trotsky's In Defense of Marxism can only be fully understood and appreciated once one has an adequate understanding of Marxism itself.

The lack of theoretical understanding is not just confined to the younger members, leading members of the party, ones with over thirty years of experience, show an inadequate understanding of basic concepts such as dialectics. Some of the older members simply defer to David North, or worse, Joe Kay, for answers to theoretical questions. While the former is simply inaccessible to most members, the latter actively works to suppress discussion.

Theory should not be the exclusive province of one or two members in the party, a basic theoretical education should be a part of every member's training. Questions should be encouraged, and the party should work to patiently and thoughtfully address the questions of newer members. Theory does affect practice. I plan on publishing a new article soon which should explain the importance of dialectics for revolutionary practice, something the party was simply incapable of explaining to me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

James Cannon on party democracy

"Probably the hardest lesson I had to learn from Trotsky, after ten years of bad schooling through the Communist Party faction fights, was to let organizational questions wait until the political questions at issue were fully clarified, not only in the National Committee but also in the ranks of the party. It is no exaggeration, but the full and final truth, that our party owes its very existence today to the fact that some of us learned this hard lesson and learned also how to apply it in practice.

From that point of view, in my opinion, the impending plenum should be conceived of as a school for the education and clarification of the party on the political issues involved in the new disputes, most of which grew out of earlier disputes with some new trimmings and absurdities.

This aim will be best served if the attacks and criticisms are answered point by point in an atmosphere free from poisonous personal recriminations and venomous threats of organization discipline. Our young comrades need above all to learn; and this is the best, in fact the only way, for them to learn what they need to know about the new disputes. They don’t know it all yet. The fact that some of them probably think they already know everything, only makes it more advisable to turn the plenum sessions into a school with questions and answers freely and patiently passed back and forth.

The classic example for all time, in this matter of conducting political disputes for the education of the cadres, is set forth in the two books which grew out of the fundamental conflict with the petty-bourgeois opposition in 1939-40.[2] I think these books, twenty-six years after, are still fresh and alive because they attempt to answer and clarify all important questions involved in the dispute, and leave discipline and organizational measures aside for later consideration."

...

"Not the least of our reasons for remaining alive for thirty-eight years, and growing a little, and now being in a position to capitalize on new opportunities, was the flexible democracy of our party. We never tried to settle differences of opinion by suppression. Free discussion - not every day in the week but at stated regular times, with full guarantees for the minority - is a necessary condition for the health and strength of an organization such as ours.

There's no guarantee that factionalism won't get out of hand. I don't want to be an advocate of factionalism - unless anybody picks on me and runs the party the wrong way and doesn't want to give me a chance to protest about it! The general experience of the international movement has shown that excesses of factionalism can be very dangerous and destructive to a party. In my book, The First Ten Years of American Communism,[5] I put all the necessary emphasis on the negative side of the factional struggles which became unprincipled. But on the other hand, if a party can live year after year without any factional disturbances, it may not be a sign of health - it may be a sign that the party's asleep; that it's not a real live party. In a live party, you have differences, differences of appraisal, and so on. But that's a sign of life."

...

"I believe that these considerations have more weight now than ever before in the thirty-eight-year history of our party. In the present political climate and with the present changing composition of the party, democratic centralism must be applied flexibly. At least ninety percent of the emphasis should be placed on the democratic side and not on any crackpot schemes to “streamline” the party to the point where questions are unwelcomed and criticism and discussion stifled. That is a prescription to kill the party before it gets a chance to show how it can handle and assimilate an expanding membership of new young people, who don’t know it all to start with, but have to learn and grow in the course of explication and discussion in a free, democratic atmosphere."

http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/fit/dontstrangle.htm

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My expulsion from the SEP

In response to my Open Letter, I have been asked to clarify the events leading up to my expulsion. In the letter I have already explained part of my background. I was a member the ISSE steering committee and attended the initial meetings of the committee over a year ago. Shortly after the creation of the ISSE, we had created an online discussion board for giving reports making proposals or raising concerns. Discussion was mostly confined to reports on the work of various campuses and online work. I was initially a part of the subcommittee for online work.

In October or so of last year, I started a discussion about Marx's method. It was my contention, and still is, that the method of Marxism was misunderstood, and this was partly the result of Engels's Anti-Duhring and the Dialectics of Nature. I saw in Engels work, the imposing of certain Hegelian conceptions onto material reality. I saw this as counter to Marx's approach which was formulate conceptions from the study of material reality much in the same way as a natural scientist. To support my case, I had quoted from the German Ideology. In retrospect, my understanding of Marxist science was somewhat in error. These errors in my understanding have been gradually corrected as I began to understand more deeply the content of Marx's work.

This discussion turned very sharp almost immediately. I was accused of having the same positions as known opponents of Marxism like James Burnham. I was also accused of holding various points of view from pragmatism, postmodernism, positivism, idealism. These labels were applied without any explanation, and did nothing to advance the discussion. The utter hostility that was present in the discussion led me to a conclusion that party was not healthy. In an email I referred to the party as diseased, a statement which I had soon apologized for.

Earlier this year, an educational subcommittee of the ISSE was formed of which I was one of the four members. The committee met every week to discuss the construction of a curriculum for the ISSE. From the start, there was conflict over how to approach the construction of a curriculum. I had argued for an assessment to be made of the body of Marxist works, this was opposed by other members already familiar with my positions. This opposition took an undemocratic form when one member of the committee decided to publish the first report of the committee over my objection. This report was to determine how the committee was to proceed, and absent was any conception of making an assessment.

In my protest against the decision to publish the report, I had made the statement that the various texts were being treated as religious texts, that the committee was against any attempt to rationalize its selections to explain why this or that text should be read as part of a comprehensive whole. In the next meeting of the steering committee my remarks were taken out of context in an attempt to condemn me.

When it came to selecting the texts themselves, decisions were made outside of committee meetings. Selections I had made from the German Ideology and the Holy family were excluded. The exclusion of these texts was itself never formally voted upon by the committee. After it became clear that my input was being consciously excluded, I ended my participation in the committee.

Just about this time, I was informed in my branch, that according to party records I was never made a full member of the party, I was provisional member and that my membership was going to be reviewed. The circumstances for the review of my membership were highly dubious, as I was already told that I was full member, and the timing corresponding with my conflict within the educational subcommittee.

The letter written to me by the political committee was almost exclusively devoted to the most offensive statements that I had made, statements made in the course of heated conflict. There was no objective or balanced assessment of my record as a party member. Some of past differences about the nature of the Soviet state were raised in the letter, but as my Open Letter makes clear, these differences were in no way irreconcilable.

The letter extended my membership by three months. I was given three months to agree with the party on questions dialectics and soviet state. I was also warned about my behavior. On the questions of dialectics and soviet state I fully intended to work through my differences with the party. I have never thought that my differences with the party on these question were fundamental, I thought the way to reconcile my differences was to arrive at a more nuanced position.

I wrote the article on dialectics to explain Marx's dialectic by explaining the forms of dialectic that preceded Marx. This article was met by intense hostility. The article has been denounced as "shoddy," "eclectic," "slapped together without proofreading." Aside from a few questions, the article went weeks without anyone actually dealing seriously with its content. The editorial board of the WSWS refused to publish the article, and did not offer any suggestions as to what would make the article publishable.

In the course of steering committee meetings, certain members of the committee consciously distorted my views saying that my position was an idealist position based on single quotation from me taken out of context. This member in particular, was the same member who had taken my remarks out of context about the way in which the educational committee had proceeded. I had called this act out for what it was, an instance of fraud. Also, in an email written against me, one member tried to make me out to be an opponent of Trotskyism and made several obvious distortions of my positions. I called these distortions lies, because this member in particular continually distorts my positions to the point where a definite a pattern can be seen.

Just about this time, I was informed that the three month extension of my membership had expired, and my branch was to decide on my membership. The decision was made to revoke my membership. This decision was adopted by the political committee, which in turn removed me from the steering committee. The letter written to me by the political committee completely evaded a discussion of the political issues and instead focussed on my conduct. It said that I accused members of being "liars" and "frauds", but that was not the case. I showed that members had committed instances of fraud, and made deliberately false statements. The point of exposing these acts of fraud and lies has always been to put a stop to them by making other members conscious of these methods.

In retrospect, it seems that I may have been deliberately provoked by certain members who are not only members of the steering committee but also members of the political committee. In the course of making various statements, I was never warned about the conduct for which I was expelled. It was never clear to me that in making these statements that I was providing ammunition to political opponents within the political committee to use against me. The provocation against me and my expulsion appears to be simply a tactical consideration of the leadership. At the time that my membership was first being reviewed, I was told by a leading member of the party, that concerns were being expressed within the political committee that I would form a faction. It seem that the leadership considers me to be so great a threat that it decided to expel me from the party.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Open letter to the ISSE

Dear comrades of the ISSE,

As some of you know I've been expelled from the SEP. The move to expel me without any attempt to resolve or even state the political and theoretical differences that prevent my membership was an unprincipled action by the leadership. The leadership has instead focussed exclusively on my 'conduct', however the 'conduct' that I have been singled out for is nothing more than fighting against deliberate distortions and misrepresentations of my views. The process by which my membership was brought up and reviewed was a sham, considering that I had already been told that I was a full member more than once during the 2006 election campaign.

As a party member, my record was quite good. In 2006, I campaigned to get our candidates on the ballot in Michigan, Illinois, New York, and California. I wrote numerous articles on the World Socialist Web Site. I responded to almost any request for help, whether is was petitioning, campaigning, interventions at the Detroit teachers strike, the GM strike, the American axle strike. On my own initiative I started and established an ISSE presence on the campus of Oakland University. I held and organized successful meetings on the question of a war with Iran, and held multiple successful showings of 'Tsar to Lenin', showing the film three times on my campus. I had never missed a branch meeting. Despite claims to contrary, I have never violated the party discipline. I have always maintained the party line, even while expressing disagreements on certain issues such as educational work or dialectics.

During my experience with the party I have noticed several disturbing signs. Whether or not the party consciously intended to force Joe Hargrave out of the party, the main effect of North's action at the steering committee meeting has been to intimidate and serve as a warning to members of the committee of which I was a part. Every step in Hargrave's subsequent degeneration has been absurdly celebrated by the leadership as if this were somehow a confirmation of the political perspective of the SEP and therefore equally a warning against anyone who would dare express differences over the practice of the ISEE.

In reality, the degeneration of a weak individual like Hargrave only confirms that the party as a collective is stronger politically than a lone individual with limited political experience. Given that Hargrave had a religious background and had reportedly shown rightward tendencies prior to resigning, his political evolution was not all unpredictable. Any socialist who has not yet renounced religion is clearly not standing on his own two feet politically. The way that the party has sought to continually measure itself against a weak individual like Hargrave is a real act of desperation on the part of the leadership. This has even taken the form of making jokes about Hargrave at aggregate meetings, which is not only an appeal to the worst in the membership, but is a real sign of sickness within the party.

The desperation of the party leadership is also shown in the organization of the founding ISSE conference. Prior to the conference, the party denied admittance of several of Hargrave's contacts unless they sided with the party in the correspondence between Hargrave. After the conference, at my branch meeting, one of the leaders boasted that there was no Hargrave faction at the conference, this was after the leadership had already taken conscious steps to prevent such a faction from forming!

When seen in the context of the party's handling of Hargrave and his contacts, the decision by the leadership to expel me from the party is not at all surprising. When intimidation and bullying fail, the SEP has no problem with expelling anyone with a critical and independent view. My expulsion is another attempt to suppress critical discussion within the SEP.

Of course, there have been other issues. I have raised theoretical differences in the past, but these differences in no way make me an opponent of Trotskyism as some have tried to maintain. I have questioned Trotsky's terminology of calling the bureaucracy a caste rather than a class, and his definition of Soviet Union as a worker's state. These issues are ones that are entirely legitimate topics of discussion for someone new to the party. At this point, I am very close to agreement with Trotsky.

I have also asked the party about its position on Tony Cliff's theory of state capitalism. To this date, the party has made no analysis of Cliff's theory. I have recently reread parts of Cliffs work, and while Cliff fills in some important gaps in how workers control was eroded in Soviet Union, his labeling of bureaucracy as a capitalist class was incorrect given the lack of individual property rights and the right to inheritance. State property was an achievement of the revolution, the prerequisite for workers control, and a constraint on the actions of the bureaucracy.

I have disagreed with pseudo-application of dialectics by certain members, and have sought to explain Marxists dialectics in a concrete way. I wrote an article which was intended for publication on the World Socialist Web Site, and was intended to educate the membership. While there may be problems with my article, no one can claim that my article is somehow hostile to Marxism or Trotskyism. My article could easily be used to reinforce Trotsky's position that dialectics is important in understanding the attitude of the revolutionary party toward the Soviet Union. If the SEP were a healthy party, it would welcome an investigation into the foundations of Marxism as part of its theoretical development.

As it should be clear to anyone, my differences with the party were not at all irreconcilable as some have maintained. My expulsion from the party is not just an attack on my own democratic rights within the SEP, it is more fundamentally an attack on the democratic rights of all members. I don't think it is a coincidence, that the party to this date lacks a constitution and its leaders never stand for election. Leaders in the SEP are appointed, and not for any outstanding individual qualities, but for an expectation to echo North's views. At aggregate meetings, documents are sent out less than a day before hand, giving members little time to review the material or raise criticisms. The lack of democracy and the hostility of the party toward theoretical discussions is symptomatic of deeper problems within the party.

I am addressing this letter to members of the ISSE, because it is up to the younger members in the ISSE and SEP especially to think critically about political and theoretical questions, to ask questions and raise criticisms. The leadership at this point consciously works to suppress critical discussion and add confusion to the debate. My own capacity is limited, now that I've been expelled from the party, but I am willing to engage in discussions or meet if you happen to be in the Detroit area. I have also started a blog where you can find at the moment my unpublished article on dialectics:

http://socialism-science.blogspot.com/

I hope that you give the issues raised by my expulsion a serious consideration, and I ask that you forward this letter to comrades in the ISSE that may not have received it. Please contact me if you support any of the criticisms that I have raised, or if you have questions.

Sincerely,
Mark

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Marx's dialectical method

I am posting an article I had originally intended for publication on the World Socialist Web Site. The article is intended to clarify long standing confusions within the Marxist movement with respect to Marx's dialectic. The article was rejected for publication on the World Socialist Web Site. I have included the article also the response from the editorial board.

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Dear Mark,

The WSWS Editorial Board has reviewed your article and has decided not to publish it. A review of the history of dialectics would require a much more serious study of philosophy and the history of the Marxist movement. If you are interested in these questions, I would encourage you to make a close study of such works as Engels' Anti-Duhring, Trotsky's In Defense of Marxism, Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and the current polemic with Steiner and Brenner.

Best regards,

Jerry White

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Marx's dialectical method

By Mark Rainer

Within the Marxist movement few understand Marx's dialectic. Marx's dialectic is commonly understood as the opposite of Hegel's dialectic, yet the term dialectic is not understood, and few can point to concrete examples of Marx's dialectic. Often Marx's dialectics is associated with Hegelian concepts like, quantity into quality, negation of the negation, and the unity of opposites. While Marx makes passing reference to such Hegelian conceptions in Capital, his dialectic has a fundamentally different basis.

To understand Marx's dialectic it is helpful to be aquatinted with the earlier forms of the dialectic.The dialectic has been known at least since the times of ancient Greece, and finds a systematic exposition of its form and workings in Aristotle's Topica. In Book I of Topica Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of reasoning. Aristotle writes:

"Reasoning is a discussion in which, certain things having been laid down, something other than these things necessarily results through them. Reasoning is demonstration when it proceeds from premises which are true and primary or of such a kind that we have derived our original knowledge of the through premises which are primary and true. Reasoning is dialectical which reasons from generally accepted opinions."

Demonstration establishes new scientific knowledge by means of the syllogism. The syllogism is a rule by which a conclusion can be drawn given certain premises. The first premises or first principles, premises that are true and primary, are themselves undemonstrable. They are the base upon which all other knowledge rests and must be established by the means of induction, that is, positing a universal principle by generalizing from several particular examples. The human faculty by which induction proceeds is intuition.

Aristotle's treatise on the syllogism, the Prior Analytics, is the first systematic study available of what we know today as formal logic. Modern logic developed in the 19th century with the works of Pierce, Frege and Boole, and has seen its greatest development and growth in the 20th century. Formal logic is the foundation for mathematics and computer science, and therefore is indispensable for the natural sciences. Everywhere that computers are applied, from the internet and climate models, to all sectors of the economy, one finds the application of formal logic.

Mathematical knowledge is also based on demonstration. The concept of a mathematical proof is the same as the philosophical concept of 'demonstration'. In mathematics, theorems, or true mathematical statements, are shown to follow logically from other theorems or from axioms using rules of deduction. Axioms are the same as the 'first principles' of Aristotle's logic.

The other form of reasoning for Aristotle is dialectical reasoning. The dialectic involves at least two participants, the questioner, or dialectician, and an answerer. The dialectic proceeds from a thesis that merely expressed a commonly held view, or a view of distinguished person. Every thesis has an opposite or anti-thesis, and there is rigid dichotomy between thesis and anti-thesis, either one or the other is true, but both cannot be true.

The object of the dialectician is to obtain a concession from the answerer or opponent that the thesis does not hold and therefore the opposite of the thesis does hold. The dialectician achieves this by securing a number of premises from which a contradiction to the thesis must necessary follow. The dialectic proceeds by dialectical propositions, questions which can only be answered either yes or no.

The art of the dialectic consists of the dialectician concealing the conclusion that will follow in the process of securing necessary premises. Aristotle gives advice about how questions should be arranged and how to approach different opponents. A good questioner will make the answerer give the most paradoxical replies. A good answerer will make it seem that the paradoxical is not his or her fault, but a problem with the initial thesis, from which point the answerer may advance another thesis to correct the flaw. The new thesis, called the synthesis, is regarded as a refinement of the original thesis; it preserves the truth of thesis while canceling the error or problem.

Aristotle's treatise on dialectics, Topica, examines the different kinds of propositions that one encounters in a dialectical argument. The examination of a thesis is part of the preparation for a dialectical argument, the discovery of the necessary premises from which the thesis can be refuted. Of course, the dialectical argument, or dialogue, is not in itself necessary to show that the opposite of a thesis is true. All one needs to do is show that a contradiction to thesis must result from established facts and knowledge.

In mathematics, a proof by contradiction proceeds in exactly this way. One begins by making an assumption and shows that a contradiction must result from the given assumption, and therefore the opposite of the assumption must be true. Euclid's proof that there are an infinite number of primes is one the earliest examples of a proof by contradiction. Euclid begins by assuming the opposite, that there are only a finite number of primes, and shows that a contradiction must result from this assumption, and therefore the opposite must be true, that there are an infinite number of primes.

Both the dialectic and proof by contradiction rest of the principle of excluded middle. This principle states that for any proposition either the proposition is true, or its negation or opposite is true. There is, in fact, a third possibility - that the proposition in question is paradoxical in which case it must examined and shown to be paradoxical.

A paradoxical proposition is one in which assuming the proposition is true leads to the conclusion the opposite proposition is true, and vice versa. The classic example of a paradox is called the liars paradox, which considers the following question: "A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?" Suppose that the man is lying, then his admittance that he is lying is a true statement and therefore he is telling the truth. Conversely, supposing that he is telling truth, his statement that he is lying is a lie, therefore he is lying.

The dialectic was popular in ancient Greek philosophy. Plato's philosophy was presented as series of dialogues between Socrates and various distinguished opponents, with Socrates playing the role of the dialectician. As the dialogue progresses the knowledge of the subject for the participants becomes expanded and refined. Generally the dialectic accurately reflects the way that knowledge develops, through contradiction and refinement.

The dialectic resurfaced in German philosophy in the works Kant, Fitche, Schelling and Hegel. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant had demonstrated that for certain metaphysical propositions, both the proposition and its opposite are equally valid, he called these opposed propositions antimonies. Kant gives the example of four such propositions in the field of cosmology, he gives a proof of each and their opposite using proof by contradiction. However the existence of such proofs implies the original proposition is self-contradictory, or paradoxical. Kant's solution, and his application of the dialectical method, was to show problems with underlying conceptions employed, and to reject both the proposition and its opposite as false.

The antinomies of Kant made a deep impression on Hegel. Hegel felt that "the Antinomies are not confined to the four special objects taken from Cosmology: they appear in all objects of every kind, in all conceptions, notions, and Ideas." In other words, every concept is self-contradictory, every concept considered valid gives rise to its opposite considered equally valid, the contradiction that results requires a new concept or synthesis; this is the generating principle in Hegel's Logic.

Among Hegel’s criticisms of Kant was that his categories of pure thought were not deduced. Hegel felt that philosophy must be a system, Hegel wrote: "Unless it is a system, a philosophy is not a scientific production. Unsystematic philosophizing can only be expected to give expression to personal peculiarities of mind, and has no principle for the regulation of its contents."

Hegel believed that philosophy as a branch of science required its own method different from that of the empirical sciences and mathematics. In philosophy nothing should be presupposed, every concept should be deduced and shown to be necessary, and further, philosophy should show the connections between concepts. For Hegel the dialectical method was the scientific means for elaborating the system of philosophy.

Every logical entity or category in Hegel's Logic has three sides or 'moments': " [a] the Abstract side, or that of understanding; [b] the Dialectical, or that of negative reason; [c] the Speculative, or that of positive reason."

Hegel's Logic proceeds from lower to higher, with the lowest category being the simplest and most the abstract and highest category the most complex and concrete. Hegel begins with the simplest conception of reality Being. From the concept of Being he deduces the concept of Nothing. The incompatibility of Being and Nothing gives rise to Becoming which represents the passage from Being into Nothing, and from Nothing into Being. The final category in the Logic is the Absolute which fully comprehends reality and completes the Logic.

Comparing Hegel’s dialectic with that of ancient Greece the first two moments can be regarded as the thesis and antithesis respectively, and the third moment as the synthesis which reconciles and incorporates the first and second moments. The synthesis preserves the truth of the prior categories, and in this way categories assume a more concrete form or rather they acquire more content than the prior categories. With very few exceptions, Hegel's entire system is developed using this triadic form, with each synthesis giving rise to its own opposite which in turn needs to be reconciled.

Hegel believed that his philosophy incorporated and preserved every other prior philosophy as moments in his Logic. He believed that the "same evolution of thought which is exhibited in the history of philosophy is presented in the System of Philosophy itself". Hegel's philosophy therefore has been aptly called a logic of philosophy, showing the necessary development of philosophic thought.

It has been commonly thought that Hegel denied the principle of non-contradiction. In fact, Hegel's dialectics like every other form dialectics deserving of the name rests on the principle of non-contradiction. If it were not the case, the third moment, or synthesis, which reconciles the first and second logical moments would not be a required step in Hegel's Logic.

It should be mentioned however that, considering only the dialectical principle of construction, Hegel's Logic is not without fault. In his book “What Is Living And What Is Dead Of The Philosophy of Hegel”, Benedetto Croce shows that Hegel made fundamental philosophical errors in his application of the dialectic method. Charles Sanders Peirce, one of the founders of modern logic and an admirer of Hegel wrote: "But never was there seen such an example of a long chain of reasoning, – shall I say with a flaw in every link? – no, with every link a handful of sand, squeezed into shape in a dream."

Under the criticism of Feuerbach, a German materialist philosopher, Hegel’s dialectic had lost its legitimacy among left circles in Europe. Marx wrote his “Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844” that: “Feuerbach both in his “Thesen” in the Anekdota and, in detail, in the Philosophie der Zukunft has in principle overthrown the old dialectic and philosophy.” Marx wrote in the Holy Family that the speculative construction of Hegel's philosophy was sophistry, but felt that Hegel often managed to give a real presentation of the subject matter despite the false construction.

Marx was socialist revolutionary and a materialist, and was strongly influenced by French materialism. Marx wrote in the Holy Family: “There is no need for any great penetration to see from the teaching of materialism on the original goodness and equal intellectual endowment of men, the omnipotence of experience, habit and education, and the influence of environment on man, the great significance of industry, the justification of enjoyment, etc., how necessarily materialism is connected with communism and socialism. If man draws all his knowledge, sensation, etc., from the world of the senses and the experience gained in it, then what has to be done is to arrange the empirical world in such a way that man experiences and becomes accustomed to what is truly human in it and that he becomes aware of himself as man.”

For Marx, however, all materialism, including Feuerbach’s, was one sided. Marx wrote in his Theses on Feuerebach: “The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.”

The existing materialism neglected the role of human consciousness in actively changing human circumstances. Likewise, Hegel’s idealism neglected the role played by material circumstances in the development of thought. Marx’s great advance was to recognize that both are incomplete parts of whole in determining the course of society. For Marx, as a revolutionary, theory went hand in hand with practice. To change society one must become conscious of society as a law governed process. For Marx, the development of this theoretical work, including his economic works was a necessary consequence of his work as a revolutionary.

In the German Ideology, Marx together with Engels came to develop what they called the materialist conception of history, as opposed to post-Hegelian idealist view of history that came to be prominent in Germany. In contrast to Hegel, who had shown that there was historical and necessary development of ideas, Marx and Engels intended to show that it was the necessary economic development of society which gave rise to the ideas of each epoch. The German Ideology is the first fully developed account of the materialist conception of history and gives crucial insight to Marx's methodology and general approach.

Summarizing the materialist conception of history, Marx wrote: "This conception of history depends on our ability to expound the real process of production, starting out from the material production of life itself, and to comprehend the form of intercourse connected with this and created by this mode of production (i.e. civil society in its various stages), as the basis of all history; and to show it in its action as State, to explain all the different theoretical products and forms of consciousness, religion, philosophy, ethics, etc. etc. and trace their origins and growth from that basis; by which means, of course, the whole thing can be depicted in its totality (and therefore, too, the reciprocal action of these various sides on one another)."

In the German Ideology Marx demonstrates his basic method and approach by explaining the development of the division of labor and forms of property (tribal, ancient, feudal). Marx emphasizes the empirical nature of his method in contrast to the idealist speculative method of the post-Hegelians, he writes: "In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises."

In explaining the how society develops, Marx offers a dialectical theory of development. For Marx, the problems in society, or the irrational conditions in which people live, represent contradictions in society. The rational side of human beings can not tolerate those contradictions and demands that they be solved. Again, Marx recognizes the active role of human consciousness in the development of society through the recognition and solving of societal contradictions.

Marx explains that social contradictions are the result of the contradictions between the development of the productive forces and the relations of production. Through the development of the productive forces, the relations of production become irrational and hinder the further development of the productive forces. The contradiction that develops demands a solution, or rather a new form of intercourse.

Marx writes: "These various conditions, which appear first as conditions of self-activity, later as fetters upon it, form in the whole evolution of history a coherent series of forms of intercourse, the coherence of which consists in this: in the place of an earlier form of intercourse, which has become a fetter, a new one is put, corresponding to the more developed productive forces and, hence, to the advanced mode of the self-activity of individuals - a form which in its turn becomes a fetter and is then replaced by another. Since these conditions correspond at every stage to the simultaneous development of the productive forces, their history is at the same time the history of the evolving productive forces taken over by each new generation, and is, therefore, the history of the development of the forces of the individuals themselves."

Of course contained in Marx’s conception of development is not just an evolutionary conception of economic development but also a revolutionary one. Marx writes: “In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class.”

While Marx had already outlined his dialectical theory of societal development in the German Ideology, it was only later that Marx adopted an explicitly dialectical method in the presentation of history. Frederick Engels writes in his review of Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), that: "Marx was and is the only one who could undertake the work of extracting from the Hegelian logic the nucleus containing Hegel's real discoveries in this field, and of establishing the dialectical method, divested of its idealist wrappings, in the simple form in which it becomes the only correct mode of conceptual evolution. The working out of the method which underlies Marx's critique of political economy is, we think, a result hardly less significant than the basic materialist conception."

Marx's dialectic corresponds to a real historical process, however, in practice Marx abstracts from the historical process and presents history in a simplified form to show only the most essential moments in the historical process. Engels calls this mode of presentation 'logical' in contrast to 'historical'. As Engels explains in his review: "Even after the determination of the method, the critique of economics could still be arranged in two ways — historically or logically. Since in the course of history, as in its literary reflection, the evolution proceeds by and large from the simplest to the more complex relations, the historical development of political economy constituted a natural clue, which the critique could take as a point of departure, and then the economic categories would appear on the whole in the same order as in the logical exposition. This form seems to have the advantage of greater lucidity, for it traces the actual development, but in fact it would thus become, at most, more popular. History moves often in leaps and bounds and in a zigzag line, and as this would have to be followed throughout, it would mean not only that a considerable amount of material of slight importance would have to be included, but also that the train of thought would frequently have to be interrupted; it would, moreover, be impossible to write the history of economy without that of bourgeois society, and the task would thus become immense, because of the absence of all preliminary studies. The logical method of approach was therefore the only suitable one. This, however, is indeed nothing but the historical method, only stripped of the historical form and diverting chance occurrences."

Marx's dialectic method of presentation can be seen in practice in his exposition on the value-form in the first chapter of Capital. Marx uses the dialectic to show the development of the relations of production in response to the development of the productive forces. Development is shown in it logical moments, each representing a stage in the development of a social relation. Contradictions which result in a particular moment of the relation necessitate the advancement to the next more complex moment of the relation.

Unlike Hegel, Marx abandoned the triadic form. There is no logical moment representing the opposite of a social relation. Each moment, except for the first, can be understood a synthesis which arises from the contradiction of the prior moment, where contradiction is understood in the sense explained by Marx in the German Ideology. In form and not content, Marx’s dialectic bears a closer resemblance to the dialectic of ancient Greece where the thesis develops through contradiction and refinement into the synthesis.

Marx considered commodities as having two essential properties a use value, and an exchange value. Products of labor that have utility are commodities only if they are produced for exchange for others to consume as use values. The value-form, or value relation, is a social relation that arises and develops out of the process of producing and exchanging commodities. Marx shows that the most elementary relation of value gives rise to money, where money is a commodity for which every other commodity can find an expression of its value.

The first moment in Marx's dialectic of the value-form is the Elementary or Accidental form of value. This relation arises out a barter or exchange of quantities of just two different commodities; Marx gives the example of the exchange of 20 yards of linen for one coat. By analysis, Marx's shows that in the equality or identity established in the barter, each commodity plays a different role: "The linen expresses its value in the coat; the coat serves as the material in which that value is expressed. The former plays an active, the latter a passive, part. The value of the linen is represented as relative value, or appears in relative form. The coat officiates as equivalent, or appears in equivalent form."

When a commodity like the linen is increasingly exchanged for different commodities besides coats, the first form of value becomes inadequate expression of value. A contradiction results between the old relation and material practice that necessitates an advance of the value form. This is the first transition in the dialectic; a transition to what Marx calls the Total or Expanded form of value. Instead of single relative expression of value in terms of coats, the linen finds its value expressed in several different commodities.

In Marx's example the 20 yards of linen is now expressed as 1 coat, or 10 lbs. of coffee, or 1 quarter of corn, or 2 ounces of gold or 1/2 a ton of iron etc. Instead of speaking of the value of the linen in terms of coats, we can also speak of the linen's coffee-value, corn-value, gold-value, iron-value, etc. Such a state of affairs is undesirable, since the linen no longer has uniform expression of its value. The problem, or contradiction, can be remedied by changing the roles of commodities, to make the linen play the role of the equivalent for which every other commodity finds and expression of its value.

Logically this leads to the next moment, what Marx calls the General form of value. The value of every other commodity is now expressed in terms of the linen, and the linen becomes the universal equivalent form of value. However, a universal equivalent is really the same as money. Through a process of exclusion a single commodity takes its place as the universal equivalent, and becomes socially recognized for its special role in relation to every other commodity. In Marx's exposition, gold takes the place of linen as the universal equivalent, and realizes its place as money.

Of course, Marx's exposition on commodities and the development of the value form is far richer than I have presented here. Marx shows that the labor theory of value is implied through the act of exchange, how the relative form of value can fluctuate in response to changes in conditions of production, and that labor as a general abstract concept arises only when exchange of commodities has developed to a high degree. I have omitted much of the detail, so as to lay bare the essence of Marx's dialectic, to show its basic form, and to show the logical transition between different moments and how contradictions arise.

In understanding Marx's dialectic It is important to recognize the original contributions of Marx, that he didn't simply invert the dialectics of Hegel to obtain his materialist dialectic. The development of Marx's dialectic is intimately bound with the materialist conception of history. I have given an overview of Marx's approach, I would suggest for a more thorough study to read the Theses on Feuerbach, the first chapter of the German Ideology, the Grundrisee (The method of political economy), and the first chapter of Capital.