Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9.: Status of the Dialectical Laws - The Illusion of the Epoch: Marxism-Leninism as a Philosophical Creed
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9.: Status of the Dialectical Laws - 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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Status of the Dialectical Laws
We have not so far discussed the proposition that all things are “organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by each other.” That things are not so connected is the thesis of “metaphysics,” in Engels’ sense of the word. What sort of unity of the world, then, do Marxist philosophers assert? It is easy to see that, on their view, nature is one, inasmuch as it is fundamentally material—there is nothing in nature that is not based in matter. A further suggestion of the view is that everything, including human societies, is subject to natural laws. Again, Marxists believe in universal determinism. Perhaps it is believed that all the sciences form a single continuous system, within which all scientific laws are of the same fundamental type. (Yet this would hardly be consistent with the theory of emergence.) “Dialectical materialism,” writes Mr. Mitin, “is against one-sidedness in science, it insists on the examination of natural phenomena in all their connections and interactions.”33 The practical bearing of such a statement would seem to be that scientists should interest themselves in borderline problems, and aim at comprehensive views. Marxist philosophers also hold—as do non-Marxists too—that no single scientific truth is absolute, but is subject to modification in the light of later scientific developments. On the face of it, this might seem like Hegel’s theory that “the truth is the whole,” that only when Reason has completed the structure of philosophy can the partial truths of departmental knowledge be seen in their proper perspective. Hegel, however, was a speculative philosopher, and Marxists reject speculative philosophy. It is difficult not to conclude, therefore, that Marxists have used the language of speculative philosophy to express the methodological commonplace that any statement of empirical science is subject to the possibility of correction.
There is no doubt as to the Marxist account of the status of the laws of dialectic—the Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality, the Law of the Interpretation of Opposites, and the Law of the Negation of the Negation. The Marxist view is that these laws are scientific laws of a high degree of generality. According to Engels, “Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of Nature, human society and thought.”34 “Nature,” he also says, “is the test of dialectics.”35 That this continues to be the Marxist view may be seen from a recently compiled outline for a Soviet History of Philosophy where the “three laws of dialectics” are described as “Marx’s and Engels’ generalization on the data of natural science.”36 This being so, one would have thought that these laws would be subject to revision as the sciences progress, just as other generalizations are. One does not get the impression, however, that this is likely to happen. On the contrary, they appear to have got so deeply imbedded in the Marxist terminology that any future discoveries in the natural sciences would have to conform to them. This is not surprising when we consider the extremely wide range of cases to which the laws are already alleged to apply. The Law of the Negation of the Negation is already general almost to the point of evanescence when it is applied to such very different things as the formula −a × −a = a2, and the growth and reproduction of barley. When it is extended to include the passage from capitalist to communist society the only point of likeness appears to be the words employed. Indeed, it seems to me that the important thing about these laws is that they are formulae which may be used to express any state of affairs that it is desired to bring within their ambit. They are thus modes of expression rather than generalizations, etiquette rather than science. But they are a peculiar sort of etiquette, not of the drawing-room, nor even of the laboratory, but of the scientific journal or, more important still, of the scientific conference. Once these formulae are adopted as modes of speech which men of science are expected to use, then science itself may come to be regarded as absorbed into Marxist society. The conquest of a people’s language becomes a conquest of their thought as etiquette develops into custom and custom into morals. Allez à la messe; prenez de l’eau bénite. Repeating the formula may transform scoffers into devotees.
[33. ]M. Mitin, “Twenty-five Years of Philosophy in the U.S.S.R.,” Philosophy, 1944, p. 80.
[34. ]Anti-Dühring, p. 158.
[35. ]Ibid., p. 29.
[36. ]A Soviet History of Philosophy, translated by William Edgerton, Public Affairs Press, Washington 8, D.C., 1950, pp. 38–39.