Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: Marxist Dialectics - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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4.: Marxist Dialectics - H.B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed 
The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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© 1962 by H. B. Acton. The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by H.B. Acton’s estate. It is reproduced here by permission and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
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It is a remarkable feature of the Marxist philosophy that, although it discards Hegel’s speculative idealism, it retains at least some of the terminology of his dialectical method. Marxists must therefore think that the dialectical method is compatible with the methods of the empirical sciences, even if not actually identical with them. Yet it is perfectly clear that Hegel does not use the methods of the empirical sciences in his major discussions of nature, man, and society. Fortunately, however, Stalin, in the fourth chapter of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,15 has given a general account of the Marxist theory of dialectics which goes some way toward solving the puzzle. According to Stalin, “dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics.” Now the word “metaphysics” is today most often used to mean the same as “speculative philosophy,” so that it would be natural to suppose that Stalin, in this sentence, is opposing dialectics to speculative philosophy as practiced by Hegel or Leibniz. If this were so, then dialectics would be linked with the scientific method in opposition to what is regarded as idle thinking that evades control by experience. I have no doubt that this association helps to recommend dialectics in some “progressive” circles, but in fact Stalin’s usage is taken from Engels’ Anti-Dühring, in which the following passage occurs: “To the metaphysician, things and their mental images, ideas, are isolated, to be considered one after the other apart from each other, rigid, fixed objects of investigation given once for all. He thinks in absolutely discontinuous antitheses. His communication is ‘Yea, yea, Nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ For him a thing either exists, or it does not exist; it is equally impossible for a thing to be itself and at the same time something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another; cause and effect stand in an equally rigid antithesis one to the other. At first sight this mode of thought seems to us extremely plausible, because it is the mode of thought of so-called sound common sense. But sound common sense, respectable fellow as he is within the homely precincts of his own four walls, has most wonderful adventures as soon as he ventures out into the wide world of scientific research. Here the metaphysical mode of outlook, justifiable and even necessary as it is in domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the object under investigation, nevertheless sooner or later always reaches a limit beyond which it becomes one-sided, limited, abstract, and loses its way in insoluble contradictions. And this is so because in considering individual things it loses sight of their connections; in contemplating their existence it forgets their coming into being and passing away; in looking at them at rest it leaves their motion out of account; because it cannot see the wood for the trees.”16 Taking this use of the word “metaphysics” for granted, Stalin, in the work just cited, mentions four ways in which the Marxist dialectic is opposed to metaphysics. In the first place, whereas in metaphysics things are regarded as joined in “accidental agglomeration” and as “unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of each other,” according to the Marxist dialectic things are “organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by each other,” and can only be properly understood as such. In the second place, according to the Marxist dialectic nature is in “continuous movement and change,” so that a proper understanding of things requires them to be grasped “from the standpoint of their movement, their change, their development, their coming into being and going out of being.” The implication is that according to metaphysics nature is in a state of “rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability.” The third proposition of Marxist dialectics mentioned by Stalin is that “the process of development” is one in which there is passage “from insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open, fundamental changes, to qualitative changes; a development in which the qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, taking the form of a leap from one state to another; they occur not accidentally, but as the natural result of an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes.” The implication is drawn this time that according to metaphysics processes of development take place “as a movement in a circle,” as “a simple repetition of what has already occurred” (see page 69 below). Finally, Marxist dialecticians hold that “internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature,” and that “the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes.” By implication, therefore, the view of metaphysics is that struggle and contradiction are not inherent in everything.
Summarizing, we may say that according to metaphysics, as expounded by Marxists, things are independent of one another, both static and gradual, and non-contradictory, whereas according to Marxist dialectics they are organically interconnected, dynamic, sudden, and contradictory.
It is, of course, obvious that these contentions are of special importance in the social sphere. Marxists, however, believe that they are basic principles that apply to inanimate nature as well as to human societies. In the next following sections I shall be concerned with their general bearing on nature as a whole rather than with their bearing on the merely human part of it.
[15. ]Pp. 106–9. As the quotations that follow come from these pages, there is no need for us to give references to each one. This chapter is reprinted in Dialectical and Historical Materialism, Little Stalin Library, No. 4 (London, 1941).
[16. ]Anti-Dühring, pp. 27–28. It will be noticed that, now that Engels is talking about dialectics, common sense, so important in establishing realism and materialism, is put down somewhat. There is a difficulty here for Marxism.