Reformism or Revolution: 2. Philosophy and science

The crisis of the capitalist system is reflected in a crisis of bourgeois values, morality, religion, politics and philosophy. The mood of pessimism that afflicts the bourgeoisie and its ideologues in this period is manifested in the poverty of its thought, the triviality of its art and the emptiness of its spiritual values. It is expressed in the wretched philosophy of post-modernism, which imagines itself to be superior to all previous philosophy, when in reality it is vastly inferior.

Crisis of modern philosophy

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.

(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii)

The crisis of the capitalist system is reflected in a crisis of bourgeois values, morality, religion, politics and philosophy. The mood of pessimism that afflicts the bourgeoisie and its ideologues in this period is manifested in the poverty of its thought, the triviality of its art and the emptiness of its spiritual values. It is expressed in the wretched philosophy of post-modernism, which imagines itself to be superior to all previous philosophy, when in reality it is vastly inferior.

Reformism or Revolution
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In its youth the bourgeoisie was capable of producing great thinkers: Locke, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Adam Smith and Ricardo. In the period of its decline, it is only capable of producing intellectual pygmies. They talk of the end of ideology and the end of history in the same breath. They do not believe in progress because the bourgeoisie has long since ceased to be progressive. When they talk of the end of history it is because they have ended in an historical dead-end and can see no way out. When they talk of the end of ideology it is because they are no longer capable of producing one.

The modern bourgeois philosophers imagine they have killed off the old philosophy (or "metaphysics", as they contemptuously call it) but their imagined victory is like that of Grimm's brave little tailor, who "killed seven at one blow." The seven victims of the tailor were, in fact, flies, not men. And our modern philosophers are, to use a German expression, mere flea-crackers. Modern bourgeois philosophy amounts to the total dissolution of philosophy, reducing it entirely to semantics (the study of the meaning of words). This endless discussion of the minutiae of meanings resembles nothing so much as the interminable debates of the medieval Schoolmen on such fascinating subjects as whether angels had sex and how many of them could dance on the head of a pin.

This comparison is not as absurd as it may seem. Actually, the Schoolmen were not fools and made certain advances in logic and semantics (as do their modern equivalents). The problem is that in their obsession with form, they forgot the content altogether. As long as the formal rules were obeyed, the content could be as absurd as one liked. The fact that all this fussing and fiddling and playing with words could be given the name of philosophy at all is a proof of how far modern bourgeois thought has declined. Hegel wrote in the Phenomenology: "By the little with which the human spirit is satisfied, we can judge the extent of its loss." That would be a fitting epitaph for all the bourgeois philosophy after Hegel.

Modern bourgeois philosophy claims to have solved all the great philosophical problems of the past. How has it accomplished this mighty feat? By analysing words. This victory puts all the battles of the First and Second World Wars, together with Austerlitz, Waterloo and every other battle completely in the shade. But what is language but ideas that are expressed in speech? If we say we can only know language, we are only restating in a different way the old, worn-out notion of subjective idealism that we can only know ideas, or more correctly, I can only know my ideas. This is a philosophical blind alley, which, as Lenin explained long ago, can only lead to solipsism, that is, the notion that only I exist.

The worker works with tools and the raw materials furnished by nature. With the aid of these material things men have always transformed the world and controlled their environment. And by changing the world around them, men have also changed themselves. They have gradually lifted themselves above the level of animals and become human. It is this ceaseless human activity - this creativity that springs from collective human labour - that has made us what we are. It is the basis of all human progress, culture and knowledge.

The bricklayer works with bricks, the painter with paint, the ironmonger with iron and the carpenter with wood. But the intellectual works only with words. They are what earn him his daily bread, they fill his life and provide him with work and pleasure. They raise him up or dash him down, give him a reputation, or take it away. They act as a magical charm for charms and spells have to be uttered as words. They also give him power over other human beings. In the most primitive societies certain words were taboo, just as they are now. The ancient Israelites were not permitted to utter the name of their God. Nowadays we are not allowed to utter the word capitalism but must instead say "the free market economy".

This is itself a product of the development of the productive forces and the material conditions for human social development. Once the means of production develop to a certain level a surplus is produced. The division of labour (already present in early society in an embryonic form) is the basis upon which arises a class of individuals who are freed from the need to work to produce food but can devote themselves to specialized activities. With the further development of the productive power of society comes the further intensification of the social division of labour, expressed in the rise of castes and classes.

Society is divided into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited. At this point consciousness acquires an independent life of its own. A gulf opens up between mental and manual labour. The priests and scribes of ancient Egypt became conscious of the material power of ideas and words, which gave them an authority and a power over their fellow men. The division of society into thinkers and doers dates from that time, as Aristotle points out in his Metaphysics. From the earliest times those privileged layers who enjoyed a monopoly of culture have held manual labour in contempt.

For the intellectual, the only reality consists of words. For him, it is really the case that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." The idea - or more correctly, the prejudice - of the intellectual that imparts to words a supernatural significance, is merely a reflection of the real conditions of existence of the intellectual. In postmodernism narrative is everything, and we can only know the world through the words of individuals. Here language appears not as a phenomenon that connects people with the world and each other but something that separates and isolates. It is a barrier, beyond which we can know nothing.

The intellectual's mystification of words is therefore not new. It has its roots in the division between mental and manual labour. But it has acquired its ultimate expression in modern bourgeois philosophy. That is hardly surprising, given the fact that the gulf between rich and poor, haves and haves-not, "learned" and "ignorant" is greater now than in any other time in history. The masses have been expropriated, not only physically but also morally and culturally. The language of science is completely inaccessible for the great majority of educated citizens, never mind the uneducated ones. And the situation is even worse with philosophy, which has become utterly bogged down in a morass of terminological obscurantism, compared to which the language of the medieval Schoolmen appears a model of clarity. The prose of Professor Dieterich is a perfect specimen of this literary genre.

The need for dialectics

Modern bourgeois philosophy has become arid and stultified. It is remote from reality and shows a complete disregard for the life of ordinary people. So it is no wonder that people in turn treat it with contempt. At no time in history has philosophy seemed so irrelevant as at present. The total bankruptcy of modern bourgeois philosophy can be explained in part from the fact that Hegel carried traditional philosophy to its limits, leaving very little room for the further development of philosophy as philosophy. But the most important reason for the crisis of philosophy is the development of science itself.

For thousands of years humans have tried to make sense of the world in which we live. This constant search after the truth is an essential part of being human. But for the great majority of our history, this attempt to understand the workings of the universe was deprived of the necessary tools. The insufficient development of the productive forces, science and technology meant that the only instrument available to us was the human brain - a truly wonderful instrument, it is true, but quite inadequate for the immensity of the task.

It is only in the two centuries or so since the Industrial Revolution that the development of science has provided us with the necessary tools to place the study of nature on a sound basis. In particular, the spectacular advances of science and technology in the last fifty years have put every other period of human advance in the shade. In such conditions, the old philosophical speculations about the nature of life and the universe appear as naïve and even ridiculous. Surely science has once and for all freed itself from philosophy? To this question Engels answered in the affirmative, but he added that what remained valid in philosophy was formal logic and dialectics. Science still needs a methodology that will permit it to waste the least possible amount of time and make the fewest possible mistakes.

In the philosophical writings of Marx and Engels we do not have a philosophical system, but a series of brilliant insights and pointers, which, if they were developed, would provide a valuable addition to the methodological armoury of science. Unfortunately, such a work has never been seriously undertaken. With all its colossal resources, the Soviet Union did not produce it. The marvellous insights of Marx and Engels on philosophy and science were left in an undeveloped state. Does this mean that dialectics has been totally absent from the development of modern science? Not at all, the latest developments in the theories of chaos and complexity have a clearly dialectical character.

Dialectics teaches us to study things in motion, not statically, in their life, not in their death. Every development is rooted in earlier stages, and in turn is the embryo and starting point of new developments - a never-ending web of relations that reinforce and perpetuate each other. Hegel already developed this idea in his Logic and other works. Dialectics teaches us to study things and processes in all their interconnections. This is important as a methodology in areas such as animal morphology. It is not possible to modify one part of the anatomy without producing changes in all the others.

It is impossible to understand history without the dialectical method. This can be seen in the history of science itself. A major advance in the application of the dialectical method to the history of science was the publication in 1962 of T.S. Kuhn's remarkable book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. This demonstrated the inevitability of scientific revolutions and showed the approximate mechanism whereby these occur. "All that exists deserves to perish" holds good not only for living organisms but also for scientific theories, including those which we currently hold to be of absolute validity.

A dynamic view of the world

Dialectics is a method of thinking and interpreting the world of both nature and society. It is a way of looking at the universe, which sets out from the axiom that everything is in a constant state of change and flux. But not only that - dialectics explains that change and motion involve contradiction and can only take place through contradictions. So instead of a smooth, uninterrupted line of progress, we have a line which is interrupted by sudden and explosive periods in which slow, accumulated changes (quantitative change) undergoes a rapid acceleration, in which quantity is transformed into quality. Dialectics is the logic of contradiction.

The fundamental proposition of dialectics is that everything is in a constant process of change, motion and development. Even when it appears to us that nothing is happening, in reality, matter is always changing. Molecules, atoms and subatomic particles are constantly changing place and form, and always on the move. Dialectics is thus an essentially dynamic interpretation of the phenomena and processes that occur at all levels of both organic and inorganic matter. It is, to quote Engels, the most general laws of nature, society and human thought.

When we first contemplate the world around us, we see an immense and amazingly complex series of phenomena, an intricate web of seemingly endless change, cause and effect, action and reaction. The motive force of scientific investigation is the desire to obtain a rational insight into this bewildering labyrinth, to understand it in order to conquer it. We look for laws that can separate the general from the particular, the accidental from the necessary, and enable us to understand the forces that give rise to the phenomena which confront us.

The bourgeois critics of Marxism (and also the revisionists) have concentrated their attacks on dialectics, which constitutes its methodological foundation. A key part of this attack is the assertion that Engels based himself on old-fashioned science, the science of the 19th century, which has been entirely displaced by the discoveries of modern science (relativity theory and quantum physics). This argument, which is repeated by comrade Dieterich as part of his general assault against the basic principles of Marxism, is entirely false. In the first place, Marx and Engels were by no means uncritical of the science of the 19th century, and in many ways were ahead of their times. In the second place, the results of modern science have entirely vindicated the dialectical approach. All this is a book closed with seven seals to our Heinz who shows that his understanding of modern science is just as poor as his understanding of Marxist philosophy.

Comrade Dieterich likes to quote Hegel. He does this, as usual, in order to impress the reader with his colossal erudition. The great German philosopher was a towering genius of thought who made important discoveries and developed dialectics to a new and higher level. But in Hegel dialectics appears in a mystified, idealist form. The Hegelian dialectic was, to quote Engels, the greatest abortion in the history of thought. In order to rescue what was important in Hegel's dialectic, Marx had to strip it of its idealism and place it on a firm materialist basis. Hegel already worked out the laws of dialectics in detail in the first years of the 19th century.

However, it was Marx and Engels who first gave dialectics a scientific, that is to say, materialist basis. "Hegel wrote before Darwin and before Marx," wrote Trotsky. "Thanks to the powerful impulse given to thought by the French Revolution, Hegel anticipated the general movement of science. But because it was only an anticipation, although by a genius, it received from Hegel an idealistic character. Hegel operated with ideological shadows as the ultimate reality. Marx demonstrated that the movement of these ideological shadows reflected nothing but the movement of material bodies." [1]

In the writings of Hegel there are many striking examples of the law of dialectics drawn from history and nature. But Hegel's idealism necessarily gave his dialectics a highly abstract and arbitrary character. In order to make dialectics serve the "Absolute Idea," Hegel was forced to impose a schema upon nature and society, in flat contradiction to the dialectical method itself, which demands that we derive the laws of a given phenomenon from a scrupulously objective study of the subject matter as Marx did in his Capital. Thus, far from being a mere regurgitation of Hegel's idealist dialectic arbitrarily foisted on history and society as his critics often assert, Marx's method was precisely the opposite. As he himself explains:

"My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e. the process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of ‘the Idea.' With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought." [2]

The reader who wishes to study the laws of dialectics and see how they are applied to a wide range of subjects should read Engels' Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature. In my book Reason in Revolt. Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science, which President Chávez has commented on positively on several occasions, I have attempted to show, with examples from modern science, how dialectical materialism has been completely vindicated by the latest discoveries of physics, chemistry, biology, palaeontology, geology and genetics.

The laws of dialectics can be reduced in the main to three:

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;

The law of the interpenetration of opposites;

The law of the negation of the negation.

In The Dialectics of Nature, Engels writes: "All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought. If we turn the thing round, then everything becomes simple, and the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday." [3]

In recent years the crisis of bourgeois ideology has been expressed, among other things, by a general drift towards idealism, mysticism and superstition. Thus, philosophy has a great importance for politics, as well as science. In order to expose the reactionary nature of bourgeois ideology, one must have a consistent revolutionary ideology, a revolutionary philosophy. Having briefly expounded the basic ideas of Marxist philosophy, let us now turn to the entirely new and original philosophical views of comrade Dieterich.

The ‘philosophy of praxis'

Since comrade Dieterich has invented an entirely new and original socialism, he must also invent an entirely novel philosophy to accompany it. This he calls the philosophy of praxis, which is a question of no less than constructing a "New Historic Project (NHP) for the liberation of mankind." We are further informed that "in its rational or cognitive kernel the NHP must resolve three complex strategic dimensions of human evolution: the scientific-critical, the ethical, and the aesthetic." Nobody knows where this New Philosophy of Praxis came from. There is no mention of this in the speech of President Chávez, which comrade Dieterich was supposed to be commenting on. Whatever this so-called New Philosophy of Praxis may or may not mean, we are assured that it "requires the concurrence of the best forces and intellects of humanity" [4] - starting, of course, with Heinz Dieterich himself.

Do we need a new philosophy? That would imply that dialectical materialism is no longer valid. Nowhere does comrade Dieterich tell us why this should be the case. All the most recent discoveries of science, from Stephen Jay Gould's Punctuated Equilibria in the field of evolution to the latest advances in chaos theory have confirmed the complete validity of the dialectical method. This is therefore yet another of Dieterich's gratuitous remarks that display precisely a frivolous and irresponsible attitude to theory. Despite having invented the entirely new philosophy of praxis, Dieterich continues to refer to dialectical materialism. But in all his writing there is not a single atom of materialism - his whole approach is purely idealist in the worst sense of the word. Nor is there even a hint of dialectics - unless we mean the dialectic of sophism, that is, empty playing with words.

Once again his claim to be new and original turns out to be not entirely correct. The term "philosophy of praxis" is copied from the celebrated Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who used it only to avoid the attentions of the fascist censor. Later on certain petty bourgeois intellectuals in Europe found the word "praxis" irresistible (because nobody knew what it meant) and began to repeat it like a flock of chattering parrots. Our Heinz is now carrying on in the same noisy tradition. We therefore know what it is called, but we do not yet know what it is. This is quite consistent with 21st Century Socialism in general. It is neither fish nor fowl, like Mistress Quickly in Shakespeare's Henry IV, whose sex is so indeterminate that "a man knows not where to have her."

In fact, he does not adhere to any method in particular but takes bits and pieces from different sources (none of his thought is original) and throws them all together like an apprentice cook making a stew out of yesterday's stale leftovers. His whole approach and method (insofar as we can speak of a method at all amidst all this shapeless meandering) is thoroughly impregnated with the method of modern bourgeois philosophy. This shallow eclecticism is presented to us as something entirely new and original!

We shall show how this so-called philosophy has nothing in common with the revolutionary Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism. It is neither new nor original but is taken directly from the most superficial and emptiest of all the modern bourgeois philosophical schools, namely postmodernism. At first sight, this seems strange, because on more than one occasion, Dieterich has criticized postmodernism. But, as we know, his motto is: one of sand and one of cement. Here is what Heinz writes about postmodernism:

"In fact, a strange intellectual fashion has gripped much of the global thinking class and the leaders of the ‘left', which makes them swing with cheerful frivolity between the positions of a crude 19th century empiricism and the recent fallacies of postmodernism enriched with old quasi-anarchistic formulas and a false pose of agnostic scepticism." On the harmful influence of postmodernism, we are in complete agreement with comrade Dieterich, who, we note, does not include himself as part of the "global thinking class" - whatever that may be. Our Heinz continues his diatribe against postmodernism and all its works: "The second pole of the alleged contradiction, the prescription of not falling into ‘grandiose long-term global prophecies', has made us suddenly regress to the ideology of ‘metanarratives' and the ‘grand narratives' of bourgeois postmodernism which, with its complete lack of substance, does not merit further discursive consideration." [5]

Like the Inquisitors of old, Heinz casts the postmodernists into the flames of eternal damnation, where they will come to a well-deserved end. But to the reader's great consternation, having kicked postmodernism out of the front door, it is readmitted immediately by the tradesman's entrance. Although he does not even consider them worthy of any discursive consideration, he quietly appropriates the language, method and content of the postmodernists as part and parcel of the philosophy of praxis, as we shall soon see. This method reminds us of the Japanese proverb about a dishonest butcher: "You hang out a sheep's head and sell dog's meat!"

No more ideology?

Since Heinz Dieterich has long ago abandoned the Marxist standpoint, he is influenced by all the latest "trendy" bourgeois ideas - including postmodernism. He has borrowed the idea of the "end of ideology" from post-modernism without even acknowledging it. In his writings he talks about "postcapitalist" society and he clearly regards himself as the leading proponent of "postcommunism" and "postmarxism". However, nobody, except Heinz Dieterich, has the slightest idea of what this consists of. This convinces him that we are very mediocre people, since we lack the ability to recognize genius even when it stands revealed before us.

In La disyuntiva de Cuba: Capitalismo o nuevo socialismo Dieterich states that ideology in general - that is, all ideology - is a "false consciousness", and attributes this erroneous idea to Marx, who said exactly the opposite. If we accept this idea, we inevitably land up in a reactionary bourgeois position. In its youth, as we have seen, the bourgeoisie had a revolutionary ideology. In England and France it stood for materialism (in England this took the form of empiricism) and subjected the reactionary medieval-feudal ideology to a merciless criticism. But now, in the epoch of its senile decay, the bourgeoisie is incapable of producing great ideas. It is only capable of producing mediocre thinkers producing mediocre ideas.

Is it true that Marx considered all ideology as "objectively false consciousness"? No, it is not true at all. Marxism is itself an ideology and one that represents a consciousness that accurately and truthfully reflects reality. Tendencies in society find their reflection in ideology, including science. Reactionary ideas can be expressed in science, for example, reactionary theories in genetics that attempt to provide a scientific basis for racism. Marx explains that the ruling ideas of every epoch are the ideas of the ruling class. But in every epoch there are also other ideas (including ideologies) that express the aspirations of the revolutionary class that is striving to assert itself. The fact that the bourgeoisie in the first decade of the 21st century has exhausted its progressive role and has become a brake on the development of civilization is precisely expressed in the poverty of bourgeois culture. This, in turn, expresses itself in the complete absence of any school of bourgeois philosophy worthy of the name. Incapable of any great thoughts, the bourgeois comes to the conclusion (perfectly logical from a bourgeois point of view) that no great thoughts are possible.

This narrow bourgeois outlook finds its expression in the so-called philosophy of post-modernism, which is merely a tedious repetition in philosophy of the idea of the end of history, expressed as the end of ideology. All of Heinz Dieterich's books and articles are thoroughly impregnated with the spirit of this bourgeois philosophy. And this is no accident. The petty bourgeois intelligentsia (as long as it does not break with its class standpoint and pass over to that of the working class) tends to reflect the ideas and moods of the bourgeoisie. Academics who live in the rarefied world of the universities give these ideas and moods - which are a distorted expression of the real relations in society - an abstract and "ideological" form (that is, a fantastic form). They then return it to the bourgeoisie, which puts this university "wisdom" to good use, deceiving and disorienting the student youth and erecting a new barrier between the latter and Marxism.

"No more ideology!" is the new slogan of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals. "The old ideas are out of date!" (This applies particularly to the "old ideas" of Marxism, of course). "Give us new ideas!" they shout in a deafening chorus. They shout so loud and repeat the same idea so often that they hope nobody will notice that the famous "new ideas" are conspicuous by their absence. We are sternly ordered to pay no attention to the "old ideas" but when we ask for some evidence of the new and startling ideas that will completely transform our lives, we are met with a contemptuous stare. "Don't be so vulgar! We are still looking for the new ideas. And if we never find them it doesn't' matter, since ideology is only a false consciousness!"

‘False consciousness'

From a Marxist point of view, insofar as it is possible to speak of "false consciousness" it refers, not to ideology in general, but only to a specific type of ideology that exists in the consciousness of exploited groups and classes and serves to justify and perpetuate their exploitation. The best example of false consciousness is religion, a very powerful influence in the lives of men and women, based on a completely alienated and distorted idea of the relation of humankind with nature. Idealist philosophy is also a form of false consciousness (in fact, all forms of idealism eventually lead back to religion).

The ruling class makes use of this kind of ideology to perpetuate its class rule. In order to combat the reactionary ideology of the ruling class, it is necessary to defend an alternative, revolutionary ideology. Marxism, based on dialectical materialism, is precisely such a revolutionary ideology. But even before Marxism there were advanced thinkers who attempted to fight against the reactionary ideas of the ruling class and defended a revolutionary ideology, such as the great materialist philosophers in pre-revolutionary France, who, with their bold revolutionary ideas, prepared the way for the fall of the Bastille.

The great advantage of using the term "false consciousness" is that it can be used as an insult. In university circles one does not use such vulgar terms as "scoundrel" or "imbecile", which sound too plebeian. But one can always describe someone as having a false consciousness, which means approximately that they do not know what is in their own best interest- but you do. That is to say, one can call someone an imbecile without abandoning the strict criteria of good taste.

Dieterich wrongly attributes the expression "false consciousness" to Marx, who never used it. Engels used it only once - in 1893, in a private letter to Mehring. He used the term to explain how he and Marx had not given sufficient emphasis in their writing to the role played by thought in determining social action. In 1920 Lukács introduced the notion of false consciousness as a concept in order to explain why the working class is not revolutionary. He defined "false consciousness" in contrast to an "imputed consciousness," a juridical term meaning what people themselves would think if they were to have sufficient information and time to reflect, what they "ought to know," so to speak. In his essay On Class Consciousness we read:

"It might look as though [...] we were denying consciousness any decisive role in the process of history. It is true that the conscious reflexes of the different stages of economic growth remain historical facts of great importance; it is true that while dialectical materialism is itself the product of this process, it does not deny that men perform their historical deeds themselves and that they do so consciously. But as Engels emphasizes in a letter to Mehring, this consciousness is false. However, the dialectical method does not permit us simply to proclaim the ‘falseness' of this consciousness and to persist in an inflexible confrontation of true and false. On the contrary, it requires us to investigate this ‘false consciousness' concretely as an aspect of the historical totality and as a stage in the historical process."

At least Lukács used inverted commas whenever he used the term "false consciousness". We had to wait for the arch-revisionist Herbert Marcuse and the other intellectual snobs of the so-called Frankfurt School to revive "false consciousness". How could one explain the stability of capitalism in the early 1960s? Marcuse did not see the pernicious role of the Social Democratic and Stalinist leaderships of the working class. Instead he blamed the European working class for allegedly being "bourgeoisified" and "Americanized" in books like One-Dimensional Man.

These profoundly anti-Marxist ideas expressed the intellectual disorientation and pessimism of the petty bourgeois radicals in European universities at the time. They completely wrote off the working class in Europe and instead looked to "other forces" as a vehicle for the revolution, such as the students (i.e. themselves!), the lumpenproletariat and the peasantry of the Third World. They looked with undisguised contempt at the working class in their own country, with whom they had no contact and about whom they had absolutely no understanding.

These pseudo-revolutionaries were completely divorced from reality - then as now. They lived in a dream world inhabited by phantom revolutionary parties composed of three men and a dog. They passed their days at universities talking endlessly about revolution and engaging in endless debates about this or that obscure theory. As Hegel once said: "From nothing, through nothing, to nothing". That is a very apt description of these student radicals of the 1960s who mostly ended up as the worst kind of bourgeois reactionaries and cynics. The falsity of these ideas was completely exposed by the magnificent revolutionary general strike of May 1968 in France. The working class moved to occupy the factories. Although there were fewer than four million workers in unions, ten million occupied the factories all over France.

The ruling class was taken completely off guard. The "strong man" De Gaulle was demoralized. He told the US ambassador: "all is lost and in a few days the Communists will be in power." This should have been the case, but the Stalinist leaders of the French Communist Party betrayed the movement and the possibility was lost. This is not the place to enter into details about the French general strike. Suffice it to say that all the nonsense about "false consciousness" and the supposedly non-revolutionary character of the working class so assiduously repeated by Marcuse and accepted by people like Ernest Mandel and Heinz Dieterich was exploded by the reality. Despite this, forty years later, Heinz Dieterich repeats the same nonsense - and he has the audacity to attribute it to Marx!

Geniuses in short supply

The main problem facing humanity in the first decade of the 21st century, according to Heinz, is, on the one hand, intellectual mediocrity, on the other the chronic shortage of geniuses. Having paid tribute to Chávez in a few rhetorical phrases, he can do no less than to say a few nice things about the founders of scientific socialism. He generously pats them on the back, but then laments: "Unfortunately there is no Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels in sight who would have the genius to conceive in hardly three months the critical route to postcapitalist society, as they did in The Communist Manifesto, in 1847." Who, then, can help us out of our difficulties, even if he takes a little longer than three months to do it? The reader has to think long and hard before arriving at the answer. In the meanwhile, Heinz continues to lament the chronic shortage of geniuses in the 21st century:

"Neither is there an Albert Einstein, who in the same space of time in 1905 established the foundations of the postnewtonian world, with his papers on quantum theory (March) and on the theory of relativity (June)." [6] And he concludes, with a heavy sigh: "Lacking these extraordinary thinkers, who in a time of record management resolved unknown fundamentals of a virtual reality - the anti-system future - which the rest of the scientists had not even posed, we the mortals, have to lay our hands on the World Spirit, Hegel's famous creature. We are not, of course, speaking of theologized or esoteric phantoms, but of the Collective Spirit of Humanity in its empiric concreteness." [7]

From Marx through Einstein, we now return to the worldview of Hegel. The great German philosopher was undoubtedly a genius, whose works contain many brilliant and profound insights into history. But Hegel's worldview also had a weak side, impregnated with idealism and a mystical view of history. Marx said that in Hegel he found the dialectic upside down. He therefore placed it on its feet. How does our Heinz approach Hegel? He takes the old man firmly by the collar and places him back on his idealist head!

The whole approach of Dieterich to all questions is thoroughly "Hegelian" - in the negative sense of the word. Just as in economics and politics he wants to push us back to the antiquated, pre-Marxian ideas of the utopian socialists, so in philosophy he wants to push us back to the swamp of idealism and mystification. It is the weak idealist side of Hegel, and not the rational kernel of his thought, that impresses our Heinz. The Hegelian "World Spirit" is precisely an example of his idealism, his mystification of history. It is precisely this Hegelian esoteric phantom that appeals to the Founder of 21st Century Socialism:

"But how do we use the recourse to the World Spirit in practice? How do we ‘lay hands on it'? And what is the functional scientific equivalent of the mystical divine communions of the Catholic prayer and the Eucharist, in this mission of evolving the socialist theory of the 21st Century?" At this point we can only exclaim: Hegel help us! Our Heinz did not require three months, but only a split second to pass from Marx to Einstein, from Einstein to Hegel and from Hegel's World Spirit to the Catholics' prayer and the Eucharist! If there is the smallest atom of logic or coherence in this convoluted reasoning, it would take a genius like the Founder of 21st Century Socialism to discover it! He continues his rapid descent into delirium with the following:

"Marx said that humanity only poses tasks which are in a condition to be solved. This affirmation is correct, because ‘hidden' in the conscience or pre-conscience which permits the question, we will find the answer." [8]

Whatever Marx said or did not say, it is very doubtful that we will find the answer to any question in the writings of Heinz Dieterich. Our friend imagines that all history is determined, not by objective factors but by Historical Projects that, it would seem, are "hidden in the conscience or pre-conscience". We will examine comrade Dieterich's theory of history later on. But first we must ask a question. We know what conscience is, but what on earth is "pre-conscience"? If it means anything at all, it must mean an embryonic stage of consciousness, like the mental process of a newborn baby. A baby, as we know, is unable to think coherently and can only express itself in meaningless babble, which is all we have here.

As we know, Heinz considers himself to be an expert interpreter, the only problem being that his interpretations are usually wrong, and this is no exception. As usual, he does not present Marx's ideas correctly, but gives us a Dieterichesque interpretation. This is what Marx actually wrote in the well-known passage from the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, which comrade Dieterich paraphrases and in the process misquotes:

"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or - this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms - with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

"In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic - in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

"Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation." [9]

Yes, Marx said that humanity "only poses tasks which are in a condition to be solved", (to use comrade Dieterich's paraphrase). But it was not at all because the answer is "hidden" in the conscience or "pre-conscience" (whatever that might be). It is not a question of consciousness at all but of the level of development of the productive forces, which at a certain stage enters into conflict with the existing legal and social conditions ("the framework of the old society"). Here again Dieterich either misunderstands or distorts Marx and makes him say exactly the opposite of what he actually did say.

"The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." That is perfectly clear and unambiguous, is it not? Yet Heinz Dieterich manages to turn it completely on its head. Instead of making consciousness depend on the development of the productive forces, he makes what is "hidden in consciousness" the basis of all human history. In other words, he turns Marx into a hopeless idealist.


Heinz refers to the mediocrity of the social sciences and of philosophy in the "countries of historical socialism", which, he informs us, "is intimately linked to the present problem of Cuban transition". In fact, he tells us, "it constitutes, together with the cybernetic problem of Party-state, one of their two deeper roots". [10] So here we have it. The fall of the Soviet Union was due to the mediocrity of its social sciences and philosophy. Here the idealist method of Heinz Dieterich stands out in all its crudity. Let us gently correct him on this question by administering a slight dose of materialism: It was not the mediocrity of the social sciences and of philosophy that caused the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR but the bureaucratic degeneration that caused the mediocrity of the social sciences and of philosophy in the USSR and the other so-called countries of historical socialism.

A bureaucratic totalitarian regime is mediocre by its very essence. The essential feature of any bureaucratic machine is routine. The official likes to pursue his work without any interruption, without annoying questions and unwelcome scrutiny by the public - that is to say, by people outside the narrow ranks of the Mandarins. The bureaucrat likes rules and regulations, and insists on seeing them observed to the letter. The world of free thought, broad philosophical generalizations or artistic imagination is completely alien to him.

The living spirit of art, literature and science is the freedom to discuss, to experiment, to make mistakes and to learn from them. The stifling of free discussion imposes severe restrictions on the development of science and is the death of all true art. Insofar as art and science made notable advances in the USSR (which they did) this was thanks to the colossal stimulus that the October Revolution and the nationalized planned economy gave to education and culture in general. But these achievements were made in spite of the bureaucracy, not thanks to it. The same thing can be said of the planned economy in general.

This is true of any bureaucracy, even in the most democratic state. But in a state where the bureaucracy has seized power and constitutes itself a ruling caste, these rules become absolute laws. In Stalin's Russia, the bureaucracy controlled everything and demanded absolute obedience to its rule. The Cult of Stalin, the Great Leader and Teacher, was only an expression of this. The bureaucracy prostrated itself before the Leader, and in turn they expected the masses to prostrate themselves before the State - that is, the Bureaucracy. The caste of usurpers saw any manifestation of free thought as subversive. Toadyism, cronyism and mind-deadening conformism was the rule. The negative effects of such a regime on art and science are self-evident. No part of cultural or intellectual life escaped the attention of the bureaucrats. In the absence of opposition parties or tendencies, they looked for any traces of critical thought in other fields: philosophy, economics, art, literature, even music. Every aspect of cultural life was policed by inquisitorial bloodhounds like Zhdanov.

When comrade Dieterich complains about mediocre thought in the USSR, he should explain the material basis for this. He does not do so. He cannot do so, because he approaches the whole question not as a Marxist materialist but as an idealist of the most superficial sort. Having failed to explain anything about the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union, our friend then goes on to claim that this same mediocrity exists also in Cuba, and threatens to undermine the Cuban Revolution. The present writer is not sufficiently well acquainted with Cuban social sciences and philosophy to express an informed opinion as to its merits. But all my dealings with Cuban intellectuals have not given me the impression of mediocrity. Quite the opposite, the impression I have is one of a vibrant intellectual life, a thirst for ideas and a willingness to discuss and debate.

It is true that in the past the colossal intellectual potential of the Cuban intellectuals was limited by all kinds of petty bureaucratic restrictions and censorship. A layer of bureaucratic officials made it their business to stifle debate and discussion and to force Cuba into the straitjacket of Stalinism, on the lines of the USSR. But things have changed a lot lately. At the start of 2007, when one of these old Stalinist censors was interviewed on Cuban television there was a spontaneous reaction with protests of hundreds of Cuban writers, artists and intellectuals who, in the presence of the Minister of Culture, demanded that there be no return to the bad old days. No sign of "mediocrity" there! However, Heinz Dieterich assures us that they are decidedly mediocre, and he should know. What is the reason for this sad state of affairs? Comrade Dieterich informs us that: "The reason for this mediocrity it shares with Latin American philosophy: Both are born of the mystification of the historical truth. They are, in Marx's sense, ideology, that is, objectively false consciousness." [11]

Horror of horrors! It is bad enough to be made aware of the lamentable state of the social sciences and philosophy in Cuba, but it seems that the same horrible situation exists throughout the length and breadth of the Latin American continent. We are informed that the entire continent is infected with the same mediocrity, which is apparently born of a "mystification of the historical truth" and ideology, or "objectively false consciousness." Latin American philosophy, he says (with only a few exceptions) "is the daughter of the foundation myth of the Creole elite, which is based on three great historic lies: a) the ‘discovery' by the Europeans; b) the homo novo produced by the mestizo-culture; c) the evangelising mission of the Catholic Church." [12]

Which Latin American philosophers is Heinz referring to? We do not know and he makes no attempt to enlighten us on the subject. Since he cites no sources, we are obliged to take his word that the entire content of Latin American philosophy (with only a few exceptions, which unfortunately are also not named) is mediocre, "mystification of the historical truth" and ideology, or "objectively false consciousness." Dixit Dieterich! Dieterich has spoken, and we must all accept what he says without question, or else stand accused of mediocrity, mystification, or even more disagreeable things. As we now know, this is quite typical of Dieterich's method: make an unsubstantiated statement (the more outrageous the better), then insult anybody that questions it, then pass on to the next unsubstantiated statement. We do not know whether this is mediocre or not, but it is hardly the best example of scientific rigour one could think of.

Is Latin American thought ‘mediocre'?

In Latin America, as in any other part of the world, there have always been two ideologies: the ideology of the ruling class and the ideology of the oppressed masses and the men and women who defended their interests and fought against reaction. The continent has produced many revolutionaries and advanced thinkers, not only Marxists but brilliant revolutionary democrats like Martí, Bolívar, Miranda and others. Were all these thinkers mediocre? Did they stand for a false consciousness? This seems to be the opinion of comrade Dieterich. Unfortunately, we are unable to agree with him. Latin America has produced some very brilliant and original thinkers.

We know little of the earliest thought of the continent. But from what has survived the cultural holocaust, we know that the indigenous cultures, particularly the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and Tupi-Guarani, produced interesting and sophisticated thought systems long before the arrival of Europeans. Indigenous cosmologies contained many subtleties and complexities and many insights into the phenomena of the natural world.

The Inca ruled the largest empire on Earth until their last emperor, Atahualpa, was murdered by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. The Inca civilisation of the Andes was extremely advanced, but it was long thought to have no writing, other than the elaborate knotted strings known as khipu. Archaeologists thought them to be the only major Bronze Age civilisation without a written language. The khipu was thought to be only a rough system for remembering accounts. However, Professor Gary Urton, an anthropologist at Harvard University, and a specialist in Pre-Columbian studies questions this view. In his book Signs of the Inka Khipu Professor Urton argues the Incas invented a written language disguised in the form of a seven-bit binary code to store information more than 500 years before the invention of the computer.

The Mayans, in addition to their beautiful temples, complex hieroglyphic writing, exquisite jewellery, advanced sculptures, fine pottery and sophisticated works of art, made amazing scientific discoveries, which are just as interesting as those in ancient Egypt. These people had an amazing knowledge of the planets and the solar system. Their mathematics had great precision. The Mayan counting system was ahead of that used in Europe. They used zero and they created a vigesimal system (based on 20) separating the digits in groups of five.

The surviving manuscripts show that the Mayans had calculated the movement of Venus around the sun (584 days). They also calculated the earth year to 365.242 days. This was more accurate than the Gregorian calendar in use in Europe at that time. Unfortunately, not many of these brilliant manuscripts survived. The Spanish Bishop, Diego de Landa consigned all the Mayan manuscripts and works of art that he could find to the flames, because he thought that they contained nothing but suspicion and lies of the devil. What little we have left reveals what the world has lost as a result of the cultural vandalism of the Church.

The destructive activities of the Spaniards soon reduced the once proud peoples of Mesoamerica to an abject condition of servitude and despair. Physical slavery was accompanied by demoralization, disease, depression and alcoholism. But the genocide of the Native Americans did not stop at physical extermination. It also involved an attempt to destroy their art, religion and culture. In order to eradicate all traces of the native culture the Spaniards built Christian churches over the remains of their pyramids and cult centres. We can appreciate the perfect execution of Mexican art from before the conquest, but we can only dimly appreciate the idea that lies behind it. These works of art are more than mere representations: they are religious symbols. These impressive stone images of gods contain an idea. The snake, for example, represented rebirth, through the shedding of its skin: as the crops grow and experience rebirth annually, so does the snake.

But here immediately we find a contradiction. The snake's huge jaws are gaping open, ready to swallow anything in its reach. Within is darkness and destruction - the end of all things. This is a representation of the eternal cycle of death and birth. It is a perfect artistic representation of the unity of opposites, portraying the balance of nature. Life cannot exist without death. In fact we begin to die the moment we are born. This contradiction lies at the heart of the art of Mesoamerica. We see a constant recurrence of opposed pairs: life and death, day and night, death is the sun when it sets, etc. In a primitive and mystified form, here we already find the undeveloped elements of dialectical thought. It is a naïve way of expressing the real contradictions that exist at all levels in nature, thought and society. It is the dawn of genuinely human consciousness, striving to understand the workings of the universe. This striving has not yet freed itself from religion. At this early stage, art, science and religion are really different aspects of one and the same thing.

After the conquistadors had enslaved the Aztecs with fire and sword, the hordes of fanatical priests descended upon them like hungry locusts, greedy for captive souls. Not content with robbing the Native Americans of their lands and wealth, they set about destroying their souls. The agony of this remarkable people is conveyed in the poignant verses of an Aztec poet:

"Smoke rises, the mist is spreading.
Weep, my friends and know that by their deeds
We have lost our history."

Philosophy and action

The German poet Goethe wrote: Am Anfang war die Tat (in the beginning was the deed). One of the peculiarities of philosophical and social thought in Latin America is that from its earliest beginnings it was linked to action. Whereas in Europe philosophy developed in the tranquil atmosphere of the cloister and the university, in Latin America to a great extent it developed in struggle. The contrast between the "man of thought" and the "man of action", so clearly defined in the European tradition, is radically abolished. The sharpness of social contradictions made such a clear distinction all but impossible.

Academic philosophy began in the 16th century when the Catholic Church began to establish schools, monasteries, convents and seminaries in Latin America. As early as the 16th century Latin America produced remarkable and original thinkers. One of them was the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas. Although he was born in Seville, he became famous for his work in the New World. He was both an original thinker, with ideas far in advance of his age, and an early progressive who defended the rights of native and African peoples and their culture. The enlightened ideas of this great man immediately stepped outside the stillness of the cloister and entered the world of society and politics.

It is true that from the 17th century onwards, philosophy and academic thought in general was used to maintain the status quo. Scholasticism was the dominant trend and the main task of official "science" consisted in justifying and protecting the Catholic faith against Protestantism and science. However, even at that time, there were several remarkable philosophical figures, such as Antonio Rubio, whose studies on logic are remarkably advanced for his day. And what do we say about Juana Inés de la Cruz? Despite all the problems faced by women at that time, she was not only a fine poet but she had a brilliant philosophical mind and may, with justice, be considered one of the earliest feminist thinkers in America.

In the middle of the 18th century the fresh winds blowing from pre-Revolutionary France, where the Enlightenment was in full swing, reinvigorated thought in Latin America. This had an influence inside the Church in Latin America, where ever since De las Casas, there was always a progressive trend, as well as a reactionary one. A generation of Jesuits tried to break with the thought of Aristotle in order to modernize it, but the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 cut across this, and set back the development of philosophy in Latin America.

The 19th century was dominated by the "men of action" - the Liberators. The explanation is quite clear. What was on the order of the day was the liberation of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean from the yoke of foreign rule. This could only be achieved by revolutionary means - through revolutionary war. Brazil was the only Latin American country whose independence was acquired without war. There were outstanding figures like José de San Martín, José Miguel Carrera, Antonio José de Sucre, Bernardo O'Higgins and José Gervasio Artigas. They were mainly drawn from the ranks of the criollo bourgeoisie (local-born people of European ancestry, typically with Spanish or Portuguese ancestors). In every case they were influenced by liberalism and advanced political and philosophical ideas from Europe.

A revolutionary war differs from an ordinary war because it is inseparable from ideas. In order that the oppressed should free themselves from slavery, they must be aroused by a great idea. A revolution without a revolutionary ideology is a contradiction in terms. The Liberators were men of action, not university eunuchs, but they were all inspired by an idea. That idea came directly from the revolutionary ideals of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816), regarded as a forerunner of Simón Bolívar, conceived a visionary plan for the liberation and unification of all of Spanish America.

Simón Bolívar, "El Libertador", (the Liberator) was a talented general but also a politician, revolutionary and a visionary man of ideas. Simón Rodríguez, Bolívar's tutor and mentor, was a philosopher and educator. Rodríguez lived in Italy, Germany, Prussia, Poland and Russia. He would later say of this time: "I stayed in Europe for more than twenty years; I worked in an Industrial Chemistry Laboratory [...] attended some secret socialist-oriented meetings [...] studied a little literature; learned languages and directed a Reading and Writing School in a small Russian town".

Conducting revolutionary activity a few decades later, Ezequiel Zamora, the leader of the Federal War (a national peasant uprising in the 1840s and 50s), was well aware of the ideas of utopian socialism, which had been brought to Venezuela by exiles of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Under the slogan of "Tierra y hombres libres, horror a la oligarquía" (Free land and men, terror to the oligarchy), he led the peasant masses inspired by the ideal of social equality. His vision was one of a world in which ‘there will be neither rich nor poor, neither slaves nor masters, neither powerful nor disdained, but just brothers who without bowing their heads will treat each other as equals'. This was a primitive form of socialism, which could not go beyond its limits in the agrarian Venezuela of the mid 19th century. However, Zamora's vision of a peasant revolution continue to inspire today the Venezuelan peasants in their struggle against the oligarchy, the same oligarchy that betrayed Zamora, killed him treacherously and buried his ideals in the Treaty of Coche.

The Cuban Jose Martí was not just a revolutionary fighter but a thinker, writer and poet. In many literary circles he is considered the Father of Modernismo, predating and influencing other poets such as Rubén Darío and Gabriela Mistral. Some of his "Versos sencillos" seem to contain a premonition of his death:

Que no me entierren en lo oscuro
A morir como un traidor
Yo soy bueno y como bueno
Moriré de cara al sol

May they not bury me in darkness
To die like a traitor
I am good, and as a good man
I will die facing the sun

Considering these great Latin American revolutionaries it is impossible to separate their actions from their ideology, which was that of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. Here we have the revolutionary unity of thought and action. It is possible to say that in most cases, their actions were far in advance of their ideas and that the former had more permanent results than the latter. But nobody can say that they were mediocre.

Simon Bolívar and his contemporaries were great revolutionaries and they stood for the most advanced ideology of the period in which they lived: the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. But the epoch in which we now live is the epoch of the proletarian revolution - the epoch of socialism. One would look in vain in the writings of the early Liberators for such an ideology, because its time had not yet come. At most one can find some influence of the early socialist utopians, that is to say, socialist ideas in an undeveloped and embryonic form. The ideology of socialism was born after most of the Liberators had passed away. But as soon as it emerged, Marxism found a fertile ground in Latin America because it accurately describes the reality of the continent. From the beginning Marxist philosophy has always had a big influence in Latin America, reflecting the revolutionary aspirations of the masses and the revolutionary youth and intelligentsia.

The Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui was an original Latin American Marxist thinker internationally respected for his profound grasp of the ideas and philosophy of Marxism. He was the first one to attempt a Marxist analysis of Peruvian society. He mistakenly thought that the Inca Ayllú (the common property of the land in the village) was primitive communism. In reality, above the Ayllú stood a state apparatus similar to the formations of the Asiatic Mode of Production. However, his idea that the Ayllú could serve as a basis for socialism in the countryside, provided that the workers took power in the cities, is strikingly similar to the comments made by Marx to Zasulich regarding the Russian Mir. He was not only a profound thinker, but also a revolutionary man of action, founding the Peruvian Socialist Party (which joined the Communist International), the first trade union federation and the first peasant's federation of Peru.

Other revolutionary thinkers and activists from the same generation (before the Stalinist degeneration of the Latin American Communist Parties) include Julio Antonio Mella (founder of the Cuban Communist Party and defender of the theory of permanent revolution in Latin America), Farabundo Martí (founder of the Central American Communist Party and the Communist Party of El Salvador, shot dead for his part in the revolutionary uprising of 1932 in this country), and Luís Emilio Recabarren (founder of the Chilean Socialist Workers' Party which then joined the Communist International), amongst others.

Last, but by no means least, we have the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro and the Argentinean Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Did they make no contribution? Che Guevara, in particular, showed a keen interest in Marxist theory and developed a criticism of the bureaucratic Soviet model while Heinz Dieterich was still a fervent admirer of "really existing socialism". Were these thinkers all "mediocre", as our Heinz suggests? We may disagree with some of their ideas, but on no account would we describe them as mediocre. That is an epithet that some might say could be applied with far greater justification to the writings of Heinz Dieterich himself.

Heinz Dieterich and the universe

Heinz likes to think of himself as a scientist and he frequently provides us with scientific examples and analogies drawn from an impressively wide field: physics, cosmology, biology, genetics, etc. This creates a most favourable impression and immediately reassures us that we are in the presence of a most erudite person. As usual, he uses a most complicated and difficult terminology, which deepens still further our sense of awe and respect. This lowers our guard and nullifies our critical faculties. For who are we to argue with such an Authority?

In one of his books (Identidad nacional y globalización. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales), he affirms gravely that it is impossible for anybody to express any opinion on any subject whatsoever unless he has understood that we live in a cylindrical universe. This implacable affirmation eliminates at a single stroke at least 99.9 percent of humanity from the discussion of 21st Century Socialism - or anything else.

Heinz bases himself on a very respectable authority - Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity. This brings to mind the following story. Someone once pointed out to the celebrated English scientist Eddington that it was said that there were only three people in the world who understood Einstein, to which he replied: "Really? And who is the other one?" Now we all know that it was Heinz Dieterich, who, it seems, is able to write on everything under the sun - and a few things besides. The intention is to impress the reader with a breadth of knowledge unequalled since Leonardo Da Vinci. But this initial impression is somewhat spoiled by a closer examination, which reveals some less than perfect formulations. This leads us to suspect that our Heinz's acquaintance with physics, mathematics, cosmology and biology is perhaps not always as impressive as he would have us believe. For instance, on page 32 of El socialismo del siglo XXI he writes:

"1) The universe has only two modes of existence: as substance (matter) and as energy."

Dieterich thinks that matter and energy are two different things. This is wrong. Einstein's theory of special relativity states that energy and mass are in reality equivalents. This is a striking confirmation of the fundamental philosophical postulate of dialectical materialism - the inseparable character of matter and energy the idea that motion ("energy") is the mode of existence of matter. Matter and energy are not just "interchangeable", as dollars are interchangeable with euros; they are one and the same substance, which Einstein characterized as "mass-energy". This idea goes far deeper and is more precise than the old mechanical concept whereby, for example, friction is transformed into heat. Here, matter is just a particular form of "frozen" energy, while every other form of energy (including light), has mass associated with it. For this reason, it is quite wrong to say that matter "disappears" when it is changed into energy.

Einstein's discovery of the law of equivalence of mass and energy is expressed in his famous equation E=mc2, which expresses the colossal energies locked up in the atom. This is the source of all the concentrated energy in the universe. The symbol E represents energy (in ergs), m stands for mass (in grams) and c is the speed of light (in centimetres per second). To give a concrete example of what this means, the energy contained in a single gram of matter is equivalent to the energy produced by burning 2,000 tons of petrol.

Heinz's acquaintance with Albert Einstein is clearly not as intimate as he would have us believe. This is confirmed, as we have seen, by his reference to the "cylindrical universe" which, he assures us, is the cornerstone of all human knowledge. In the Bible Jesus informs us that unless we have faith and become as little children we shall never enter the Kingdom of God. And Heinz Dieterich informs us that unless we believe in the Cylindrical Universe we shall never gain admittance to the realm of 21st Century Socialism.

Heinz claims to base himself on Einstein's equations. He assumes that only one kind of universe can be deduced from Einstein's equations. But as a matter of fact, a number of different universes are allowed by Einstein's equations, not one as our Heinz imagines. Einstein's initial idea was that the universe was spatially spherical ("the surface of a 4D hypersphere") and unchanging over time - leading to a cylindrical universe in space-time. However, the solution of Einstein's equations depends on unknowns such as the average density of the universe. All are based on the assumption that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic. Depending on your assumptions (whether there was or was not a Big Bang, and whether there is or is not such a thing as dark matter, etc.) you can get many different answers.

According to Einstein, the real universe can have one of three different types of evolution, depending on its average density and the strength of the universal repulsion that Einstein hypothesized (the cosmological constant). According to this view, it can expand from a point of singularity and contract back to it; it can expand indefinitely from a point; or it can contract from infinite size to a minimum diameter and re-expand. Three different shapes in space are also allowed. The local density of the universe determines the local curvature of space-time. Supposing that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic (which is supposing a lot) it would be theoretically possible to deduce the global geometry of the universe, which could be closed like a sphere, flat like a plane or open, depending on the average density.

However, all this has a highly speculative and theoretical character. Contrary to what Heinz Dieterich thinks, the equations of Einstein on their own tell us nothing about the topology (or the global geometry) of the universe, a question about which there exists no consensus among scientists. Later theorists have come up with different shapes, so there is no one shape that could be said to be the prevailing view. This book is not the place to explain the philosophical attitude of Marxists to the latest theories of cosmology. I have attempted to do this in Reason in Revolt. What is clear is that complex questions like the topology of the universe, its past and future, remain highly controversial and have not yet been settled by current cosmology.

But all this is a matter of supreme indifference to our Heinz. He wants a cylindrical universe and he is determined he shall have one. And if anyone dares to disagree with him, he is automatically prohibited from expressing an opinion, not just on the shape of the universe, but on any other subject whatsoever. In Britain there is a Flat Earth Society, composed of harmless eccentrics who are convinced that the earth is flat. We invite Heinz Dieterich to form a Society of Cylindrical Universalists. It is sure to have at least one member.

Is materialism irrelevant?

In another part of his book Identidad nacional y globalización. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales, Heinz Dieterich tells us in so many words that the "old philosophy" (though not, of course, his philosophy of praxis) is as dead as the dodo:

"The discussions on idealism and realism or materialism more and more acquire the character of academic extravagances, before the evidences elaborated by science: before the wonderful discovery of the Big Bang about the origin of the macrocosm, made up of visible and invisible matter (dark matter), crossed by gravitation waves (Einstein), with ‘stellar, constant times' of expansion (Hubble) and black holes; the microcosmic deciphering of the plans of construction of biological systems, written in the chemical language of four characters (A, T, C, G) of DNA; the logic of the chaotic behaviour of the individual gas molecule that nevertheless coexists perfectly well with the macroscopic laws of perfect gases; the logic of the behaviour of human social systems that resembles the quantum logic of the behaviour of microcosmic phenomena to a great extent; the cylindrical form of the universe and the interaction between space-time-gravitation discovered by Einstein; the visibility of an atom under the electron microscope and the observation by means of techniques of crystallography of an AIDS virus attacking a cell of the human organism; the imagenology [imagenología ?!] of mental processes and the passage of qualitative or conceptual analyses of mental states, like joy, anger, humour, depression, etc.; towards quantitative biochemical analysis (and remedies); the calculation of time by means of clocks that register, the cesium atoms that vibrate 9.2 billion times per second; in short, before the accumulation of that objective knowledge of reality, the insistence of the old discussions of the philosophers only can seem nonsense." [13]

Here Dieterich's break with Marxism is clearly exposed. He considers the "old" discussions on idealism and realism or materialism to be mere "academic extravagances" and even "nonsense". Thus, with a single stroke of the pen, our Heinz imagines he has liquidated over a thousand years of philosophy, and, in passing, he has also "liquidated" Marxism, which is based on the philosophy of dialectical materialism, and therefore incompatible with idealism of any kind. In the last analysis the refusal to defend materialism against idealism represents a surrender to bourgeois ideology. And there is absolutely no doubt that Heinz Dieterich has gone down that road.

In one of his last major works, On the Significance of Militant Materialism (1922) Lenin sharply criticised those who "retreated in quest of fashionable reactionary philosophical doctrines, captivated by the tinsel of the so-called last word in European science, and unable to discern beneath this tinsel some variety of servility to the bourgeoisie, to bourgeois prejudice and bourgeois reaction." [14]

In the same article Lenin writes: "For our attitude towards this phenomenon to be a politically conscious one, it must be realised that no natural science and no materialism can hold its own in the struggle against the onslaught of bourgeois ideas and the restoration of the bourgeois world outlook unless it stands on solid philosophical ground. In order to hold his own in this struggle and carry it to a victorious finish, the natural scientist must be a modern materialist, a conscious adherent of the materialism represented by Marx, i.e., he must be a dialectical materialist." [15]

We believe that Lenin was right and comrade Dieterich is wrong on the question of philosophy. It is true that the astonishing advances of science have resolved in practice many of the questions that occupied the minds of philosophers in the past (let us recall that Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of the 18th century, described himself as a philosopher). The old speculations about the nature of the universe have been largely settled by the results of observation and experiment. Therefore, according to comrade Dieterich, the discussion between materialism and idealism is no longer relevant.

Is this correct? No, it is not correct. It is true that science and technology have developed to an unheard of extent in the last two hundred years. But under capitalism the real potential of science cannot be realised. The advances of science and technology are entirely subordinated to the greed for profit. The interests of the big transnational companies prevail over the needs of humanity and science. Scientists are made to serve the interests of gigantic military machines producing weapons of mass destruction instead of new medicines and technology that would benefit humanity.

In the period of the senile decay of capitalism we are witnessing a resurgence of primitive ideas, superstition, religious fanaticism (fundamentalism), mysticism and obscurantism. These reactionary philosophies have even penetrated the world of science. Geneticists in the USA have used and abused science to justify inequality, racism and gender discrimination. Some physicists have tried to use developments like quantum physics to defend idealistic, mystical and reactionary views.

Faced with such phenomena, should Marxists merely shrug their shoulders and adopt the position of philosophical neutrality that comrade Dieterich advocates? At a time when the ruling class is organizing a ferocious onslaught against Marxism and materialism, and when idealism and mysticism are spreading like a poisonous epidemic, is it legitimate to advocate a philosophical truce, on the grounds that "the discussions on idealism and realism or materialism are academic extravagances"? Isn't this frivolous and irresponsible in the extreme?

Science and philosophy

It goes without saying that the advances of science are of paramount importance. But it is by no means the case that science can dispense altogether with philosophy. Hegel pointed out long ago: "It is in fact, the wish for rational insight, not the ambition to amass a mere heap of acquisitions that should be presupposed in every case as possessing the mind of the learner in the study of science." [16] Hegel knew what he was talking about. Scientists study facts, but the facts do not select themselves. One must make hypotheses, and it is not a matter of indifference how these hypotheses are arrived at and by what method.

Science cannot separate itself from society, and scientists can be influenced by incorrect political and philosophical ideas. Let us take just one example from the science of palaeontology and the study of human origins. For about a century the study of human origins was completely undermined by the prevailing idealist philosophy. Following the idealist notion that the brain determines everything, it was assumed that our earliest ancestors would necessarily have a big brain. The search for the "missing link" therefore reduced itself to the search for a humanoid fossil that would display this trait.

So convinced were the anthropologists of this that they allowed themselves to be deceived by the so-called Piltdown Man, which was later exposed as a crude forgery, in which the cranium of a human was combined with the jaw bone of an ape. In fact, by basing itself on idealism, science had been following the wrong track for a hundred years. The exact opposite was the case. The brains of the earliest anthropoid apes were the same size as the brain of a chimpanzee. Frederick Engels already predicted this over a hundred years ago in his remarkable work, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. He explained that the earliest ancestors of man first separated themselves from the other apes by the upright posture, which freed the hands for labour. This was the precondition for the development of humankind. But the real qualitative leap was the production of stone tools. This was responsible for the development of society, language and culture that decisively sets us apart from all other animals. The late Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that if the scientists had paid attention to what Engels had written, they would have saved themselves a hundred years of error.

What was the problem here? It was a philosophical problem: most scientists were following the prevailing notions of philosophical idealism and therefore they formulated an incorrect hypothesis. There have been many similar cases in the history of science, and this still continues to be the case, as we shall see when we come to examine the Big Bang theory. Lenin commented on the relevance of dialectical materialism to science thus: "Modern natural scientists (if they know how to seek, and if we learn to help them) will find in the Hegelian dialectics, materialistically interpreted, a series of answers to the philosophical problems which are being raised by the revolution in natural science and which make the intellectual admirers of bourgeois fashion "stumble" into reaction.

"Unless it sets itself such a task and systematically fulfils it, materialism cannot be militant materialism. It will be not so much the fighter as the fought, to use an expression of Shchedrin's. Without this, eminent natural scientists will as often as hitherto be helpless in making their philosophical deductions and generalizations. For natural science is progressing so fast and is undergoing such a profound revolutionary upheaval in all spheres that it cannot possibly dispense with philosophical deductions." [17]

It is surprising that of all the marvellous discoveries of modern science he might have cited, Dieterich chooses the one area where there has been the greatest controversy and where the most mystical and idealist speculation predominates. We refer to the so-called Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. Needless to say, Heinz Dieterich is a firm adherent of this theory:

"With the paradigm of the Big Bang that explains and dates the existence of the universe in the region of 16 billion years [...] with this set of knowledge, the insistence on the priority of the idea in the behaviour of the universe - or as a quality ontologically separated [sic!] from the substance is simply infantile. In scientific terms, God is a placebo, produced by the existential anguish of the human being and in no way different from other forms of autosuggestion and mental projection of homo sapiens. That this placebo has become good business for the theological bureaucracies who live on it or, also, for many philosophers who live on mysticism, does not change the situation at all." [18]

The Big Bang theory is a model that is said to answer many questions about the universe. But we must bear in mind that it remains a hypothesis, and that it certainly does not answer all the questions, as Dieterich imagines. Indeed, as time goes on, ever more questions and discrepancies appear. There is plenty of evidence against the Big Bang. The big bang is supposed to produce energy on a vast scale out of nothing. This contradicts one of the best-tested laws of physics: the conservation of energy. To throw away this basic conservation law in order to preserve the Big Bang theory is something that would never be acceptable in any other field of physics. Yet it is uncritically accepted here.

First of all, let us note that it is not correct to refer to "the big bang theory". There have been at least five different theories, each of which has run into trouble. Lemaître, Gamow, Robert Dicke and others, have all tried to rationalize this theory, but it remains an unproven hypothesis that is open to serious objections. Most of the work done to support it is of a purely theoretical character, leaning heavily on mathematical formulae. The empirical evidence in support of the big bang theory remains quite tenuous. The numerous contradictions between the preconceived big bang schema and the observable evidence have been covered up by constantly moving the goal posts in order to preserve the theory.

The big bang theory relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities: things that we have never observed. The theory cannot survive without assuming all kinds of things such as the inflation field, dark matter and dark energy. Without them, there would be fatal contradictions between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious questions about the validity of the underlying theory. But Dieterich has no doubts whatsoever and asks no questions.

Despite his fervent admiration for the Big Bang, he cannot even express the theory correctly. According to the latest version of the theory (known as inflation theory), there can be nothing in the universe older than 14 billion years - not 16 billion as our Heinz affirms. But there is evidence that contradicts this proposition. In 1986, Brent Tully of Hawaii University discovered huge agglomerations of galaxies (superclusters) about a billion light years long, three hundred million light years wide and one hundred million light-years thick. In order for such vast objects to form, it would have taken between eighty and a hundred billion years, that is to say four or five times longer than what would be allowed by the big bangers. Since then there have been other results that tend to confirm these observations.

The history of science shows that even such an apparently secure and all-embracing theory as Newtonian classical mechanics, which was universally accepted as the last word by scientists for a very long time, was eventually shown to be incomplete and one-sided. At a certain stage small discrepancies emerge that cannot be explained. These are initially dismissed as trivial or irrelevant, but eventually lead to the overthrow of the established theory and its replacement by a revolutionary new theory, which remains in force until in turn new discrepancies emerge, and so on.

There is no reason at all to suppose that the present situation in cosmology and theoretical physics will be any different. Especially if we bear in mind that the study of the universe involves a tremendous number of unknown factors. We are basing ourselves of necessity on partial observations of the visible universe, and many errors may creep in as a result of lack of information. To some extent this can be made up for by resorting to abstract mathematical models and the results provided by particle physics, etc. But in the last analysis these results must be checked by experiment and observation. They cannot serve as a substitute for the latter.

There have been many theories in the past that were accepted unquestioningly by scientists because they appeared to explain things, but turned out to be false - for example phlogiston and ether. There is a striking comparison between these theories and the idea of dark matter which has been posited by the supporters of the big bang theory in order to explain away the fact that there is simply not enough matter in the visible universe to fit in with the theory. Naturally, our Heinz accepts this idea without question. He refers to "the wonderful discovery of the Big Bang about the origin of the macrocosm, made up of visible and invisible matter (dark matter)". Unfortunately for him, after many years of attempting to discover this dark matter, they have failed to do so. The only dark matter that exits is to be found in the brain of Heinz Dieterich, where it serves as the source of thoughts far more obscure than anything known to science or even to science fiction.

Marx, Engels and science

"It was indeed the rejection of Marx and Engels of the application of Newtonian determinism - that is suitable for the description and explanation of mechanical motion, which is the simplest of all changes, but not for explaining a complex dynamic system (SDC) like society, which allowed them to develop a political-scientific perspective sui generis, which was the only one possible to obtain their extraordinary striving after a New Historical Project of the majorities of their time." [19]

Marx and Engels warmly welcomed all the advances of science in their day, but they did not adopt the uncritical attitude of Heinz Dieterich. The dominant theories of physics in the 19th century were those of mechanism, and were heavily influenced by the ideas worked out in the 18th century by Sir Isaac Newton. Marx and Engels (following Hegel), were extremely critical of this mechanical approach to the workings of the universe. Unlike our Heinz who takes as good coin the Big Bang and all the other bits and pieces he has taken over from modern science and vulgarised, the founders of scientific socialism were prepared to reject some of the prevalent views of the science of their day, and many years later, they were shown to have been correct.

In the correspondence of Marx and Engels we find frequent criticisms of Newton's mechanistic method. Emphasizing the dynamic nature of modern materialism Engels wrote: "...the motion of matter is not merely crude mechanical motion, mere change of place, it is heat and light, electric and magnetic tension, chemical combination and dissociation, life and, finally, consciousness." Engels sharply criticized the limited nature of Newton's philosophical views, his one-sided over-estimation of the method of induction and his negative attitude to hypotheses, expressed by him in the well-known words "Hypotheses non fingo" ("I do not invent hypotheses"). He referred to him as "the inductive ass Newton". [20]

In the preparatory writings on The Dialectics of Nature we read the following: "Newtonian attraction and centrifugal force - an example of metaphysical thinking: the problem not solved but only posed, and this preached as the solution." And immediately afterwards: "Newtonian gravitation. The best that can be said of it is that it does not explain but pictures the present state of planetary motion. The motion is given. Ditto the force of attraction of the sun. With these data, how is the motion to be explained? By the parallelogram of forces, by a tangential force which now becomes a necessary postulate that we must accept. That is to say, assuming the eternal character of the existing state, we need a first impulse, God. But neither is the existing planetary state eternal nor is the motion originally compound, but simple rotation, and the parallelogram of forces applied here is wrong, because it did not merely make evident the unknown magnitude, the x, that had still to be found, that is to say in so far as Newton claimed not merely to put the question but to solve it." [21]

These lines prove conclusively that Marx and Engels did not merely regurgitate the commonly held views of 19th century science, but had a critical and independent standpoint. Long before the revolution in physics brought about in the early years of the 20th century by the discoveries of quantum physics and relativity, they had decisively rejected the prevalent ideas of mechanism from the standpoint of dialectical materialism. In many ways they were in advance of the scientists of their day.

A good example of this is the important field of evolution. Marx and Engels greatly admired the work of Charles Darwin, and Marx even wanted to dedicate Capital to the great English scientist. But even with regard to Darwin, they did not adopt an uncritical attitude. In particular they were critical of Darwin's gradualism, which rules out the possibility of leaps in nature. Darwin viewed evolution as a slow, gradual process, uninterrupted by sudden changes. In fact, he regarded nature in the same way that Heinz Dieterich regards society.

The remarkable American scientist Stephen Jay Gould challenged the gradualist theory of Darwin. In the field of palaeontology Stephen Gould's revolutionary theory of punctuated equilibria - now generally accepted as correct - has completely overthrown the old view of evolution as a slow, gradual process, uninterrupted by sudden catastrophes and leaps. Gould was influenced by the ideas of Marxism, and in particular by Engels' masterpiece The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, which he warmly praised. In his book Ever Since Darwin, he refers to Engels' essay:

"Indeed, the 19th century produced a brilliant exposé from a source that will no doubt surprise most readers - Frederick Engels. (A bit of reflection should diminish surprise. Engels had a keen interest in the natural sciences and sought to base his general philosophy of dialectical materialism upon a ‘positive' foundation. He did not live to complete his ‘dialectics of nature', but he included long commentaries on science in such treatises as the Anti-Dühring.) In 1876, Engels wrote an essay entitled, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. It was published posthumously in 1896 and, unfortunately, had no visible impact upon Western science.

"Engels considers three essential features of human evolution: speech, a large brain, and upright posture. He argues that the first step must have been a descent from the trees with subsequent evolution to upright posture by our ground-dwelling ancestors. ‘These apes when moving on level ground began to drop the habit of using their hands and to adopt a more and more erect gait. This was the decisive step in the transition from ape to man.' Upright posture freed the hand for using tools (labour, in Engels' terminology); increased intelligence and speech came later."

Gould understood the limitations of Western thought when he wrote that a "deeply rooted bias of Western thought predisposes us to look for continuity and gradual change." He pays warm tribute to Engels for anticipating the discoveries that were to transform the face of palaeontology and evolution a century after his death. Engels was able to make this breakthrough because he based himself on the method of dialectics. This is not new but rather old. It is older than Marx and Engels, and older than Hegel. It is as old as Heraclitus - and that is pretty old. Yet it is far more contemporary than the so-called philosophy of praxis that, in practice, turns out to explain nothing and anticipate nothing.

Dieterich versus Marx

Dieterich's now turns his attention to the founders of scientific socialism. In Identidad nacional y globalización. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales he presents us with a scheme, which, in his habitual scholastic manner, occupies a complete page. It compares the scientific revolution of Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, and Gell-Mann with respect to Newton to his own "Theoretical Socialism of the 21st Century" with respect to Marx. The only good thing about this is that it represents a clear admission on Dieterich's part that his theory is quite different from Marxism both in form and in content. Here at last is something on which we find ourselves in complete agreement with him!

"In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish between limited statements of regional and temporary scope (decimonónicos), and universal statements. In addition to that evaluation in space and time it is necessary to take into account, secondly, that new objective realities exist that either did not exist in the days of Marx and Engels or were relatively unimportant (e.g. ecology), and that, therefore, must be integrated into the New Historical Project of the majorities. Thirdly, the advance of the sciences and their epistemology allows us to determine the correct methodology of the analysis of Marx and Engels, without violating the structural elements of the procedures of the most advanced contemporary science and not from the scientific interpretations of the reality of the 19th century that Marx and Engels had at their disposal. Fourthly, it is necessary to develop a new discourse (‘un nuevo discurso'), not only as far as content is concerned, but with respect to its forms. Finally, it will be necessary to integrate the arts, aesthetics, et cetera in the transforming of the New Historical Project of the majorities of the 21st Century." [22]

Comrade Dieterich believes that Marx and Engels were "striving after a New Historical Project of the majorities of their time." That is to say, they were attempting to do exactly the same as Heinz Dieterich. The difference is that their NHP was only fit for "the majorities of their time." but not, of course, for the 21st century. In other words, their ideas are old fashioned, antiquated, and out of date. And in any case, they were only "striving after a New Historical Project", whereas our Heinz has actually found one. Naturally, the NHP and Socialism of the 21st Century is immeasurably superior to The Communist Manifesto, Capital and all that old stuff.

The word "decimonónico" in Spanish has two possible meanings: pertaining to the 19th century or antiquated. We have no doubt that Heinz Dieterich regards the ideas of Marx and Engels as pertaining to the 19th century and therefore antiquated. By contrast, Heinz Dieterich is not antiquated at all, but very modern. He has not only invented an entirely new and original 21st Century Socialism, but also an entirely new and original 21st Century Language. He claims that Marx and Engels also "developed a new discourse" - "discourse" being one of the fashionable words beloved by the postmodernists who have caused such a profound impression on our Heinz. But the "discourse" of Marx and Engels was not new at all: it was good, plain, old-fashioned German that any person of average intelligence could read and understand.

On the other hand, the "new discourse" of the Founder of 21st Century Socialism is so convoluted that nobody can understand it, except Heinz Dieterich himself - and even that is doubtful. It is to be hoped that eventually every citizen of 21st Century Socialism will be happily conversing with each other with this new and universal discourse. They will discuss in depth not just the Economy of Equivalence but Art and Aesthetics and many other interesting matters. Moreover, they will do all this without "violating the structural elements of the procedures of the most advanced contemporary science" and will carefully avoid making any limited statements of regional and temporary scope. In short, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible 21st Century worlds.

Science or pedantry?

On page 65 of the same work we read: "Related to this problem of the abolition or trivialization of the great questions of philosophy, this problem of the complexity of the great paradigms of the natural sciences that makes their adequate philosophical interpretation practically impossible for people who do not have a deep and solid formation in the physical-mathematical sciences and, increasingly, of molecular biology. It is obvious that to be able to infer on [sic] the not strictly scientific implications of knowledge such as the cylindrical form of the universe, the concept of space-time, the curvature of space-time by fields of gravitation, et cetera, one has first to dominate the respective scientific disciplines."

Translated into plain language this means: modern science is very complicated and difficult for ordinary people to understand. It is even more difficult to understand when it is expressed in the new language of the 21st Century. What other pearls of wisdom do we have here? We are informed that in order to understand science it helps to have studied it first, which is also true of many other human activities, such as cookery, carpentry, flower arranging and dancing salsa. At the moment we are attempting to study the most difficult subject of all, namely the mental meanderings of Heinz Dieterich. This has already taken us through the curvature of space-time by fields of gravitation to the very edge of the cylindrical universe, and beyond it, where we shall doubtless find the same inscription they wrote on the old maps of the world: "here be Monsters." But we shall bravely tread where no man has gone before. Forward march!

"Only on the base of a solid knowledge of this type is it possible to try to transpose the logics [sic], concepts and interpretative methods used, as it were, in theoretical physics, to other fields of investigation like, for example, the sciences of society. Not to dominate the complex physical-mathematical paradigms and to give, nevertheless, lessons and lectures on its implicit meaning for politics, aesthetics [and] ethics, means simply, to want to take the second step before taking the first; a procedure that can only finish in the quackery of nebulous speech, senseless analogies and a pretence of precision, where the pseudo-knowledge reigns." [23]

Without intending it, comrade Dieterich has here given a very precise characterization of his own work. But let us deal with his central proposition, which is this: that in order to express an idea about society, economics and politics, it is first necessary to have a complete domination of mathematics, physics and molecular biology. Now, we would be the last ones to deny that such knowledge would be extremely useful. The problem, which has just been so emphatically stated by our friend, is that every one of these important spheres of knowledge is highly complex. In order to completely dominate even one of them would involve a lifetime of work and study. To dominate all three would require the kind of genius that only comrade Dieterich claims to possess. As a matter of fact, it would be too much even for him.

The very idea that it is impossible to speak about society and politics unless you have a doctorate in theoretical physics is preposterous nonsense. It is quite typical of the quackery of nebulous speech, senseless analogies and pretence of precision that fills every page of comrade Dieterich's books. And his foolish attempt to pose as an expert in all these fields leads us precisely to a place where pseudo-knowledge reigns, for real knowledge here is conspicuous by its total absence. Nobody doubts the colossal importance of the discoveries of modern science. But in the first place, it would be foolish to imagine that science has said its last word, for example, on the nature of the universe (our Heinz thinks it has and is making himself comfortable in his corner of the cylindrical universe).

In any case, it is not at all the case that the same laws are applicable to every case. The laws that govern physics are not necessarily the same as those that govern biology, chemistry or geology. In each case, the laws of different natural phenomena must be derived from a careful empirical investigation of the facts. The dialectical relationships in nature and the different levels of complexity find their reflection in the different branches of science. It is not possible to apply the same scientific theories to the movement of sub-atomic particles and the movement of galaxies. That is why Einstein developed two entirely separate theories, the theory of special relativity, which deals with non-accelerating systems, and that of general relativity, which deals with accelerating systems, including the effects of gravitation on large objects like galaxies.

This is, of course, all the same to our Heinz. But it is decidedly not all the same for scientists. One can know a lot about relativity theory but be ignorant of quantum physics. Atomic interactions and the laws of chemistry determine the laws of biochemistry, but life itself is qualitatively different. Can anybody imagine that it is possible to express the complexity of life in all its manifold forms in terms of chemistry? No, the two are different and that is why they are two entirely separate fields of study. The laws of biochemistry can explain all the processes of human interaction with the environment. And yet human activity and thought are qualitatively different to the biological processes that constitute them. Each individual person is a product of his or her physical and environmental development. Yet the complex interactions of the sum total of individuals, which make up a society are also qualitatively different. In each of these cases the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and obeys different laws.

Is it possible to understand the laws that govern society by studying the individual psychology of every one of its citizens? It is only necessary to state the question to see its completely absurd character. One can be an expert in psychology and understand absolutely nothing about economics, sociology, history and other social sciences. It is not possible to derive the laws of society from the laws of physics, as comrade Dieterich imagines. It is true, of course, that in the last analysis, all human existence and activity are based on the laws of motion of atoms. We are part of a material universe, which is a continuous whole, functioning according to its inherent laws. And yet, when we pass from the movement of atoms to society, we make a series of qualitative leaps, and must operate with different laws at different levels.

Society is ultimately based upon biology and biology is ultimately based upon chemistry and physics, but nobody in their right mind would seek to explain the complex movements in human society in terms of atomic forces. Complex systems such as human societies have emergent properties that cannot be deduced by looking at the simple rules of interaction of the component parts of the system. It is precisely this crude reductionism that has led some to reduce the problem of crime to the laws of genetics, as reactionaries habitually do. Such reductionism is without any scientific basis whatsoever. Whoever attempted such a thing would be rightly considered a fool and a charlatan by a real scientist.

Therefore, when comrade Dieterich informs us gravely that unless we are aware that the universe is a cylinder, we cannot express a useful opinion about society and the class struggle, we can only shrug our shoulders. This is just the kind of empty and pretentious pedantry that we have come to expect from this particular source. On the contrary, we are quite convinced that it is entirely possible to arrive at a scientific understanding of society without entering into the kingdom of the cylindrical universe or studying its laws, although we do not doubt that these will be the obligatory field of study in every primary school once we are living under 21st Century Socialism.

Genetics and socialism

With his characterisitic pedantry, Dieterich spends several pages of his book Socialism of the 21st Century talking about science, the Universe, matter and energy, evolution and other deep matters. In no more than six pages, he takes us on a quick tour of the Universe from the atom passing through the cell, human organisms, and the cosmos "among other phenomena". We are driven at breathtaking speed from bacteria to the invasion of Kosovo. Even the most superficial reading of this material is enough to raise some doubts in our minds concerning Heinz Dieterich's knowledge of science and sociology. By a most peculiar logic, Dieterich argues that one of the main reasons for the collapse of the USSR was that the human genome had not yet been discovered. He writes:

"The historical attempts to build fairer societies have been in a sense attempts against common sense. Without knowing scientifically the main building block, the human being, the desire to establish a just society amounted to attempting to build the roof of a building (superstructure), before having the foundations and walls.

"There was not, of course, any another way possible. Faced with ignorance about ‘human nature', good intentions, and religious and metaphysical speculations, and, in methodology, the advance through ‘trial and error' had to take the place of the firmer basis of a conscious and planned evolution of society. Despite this stick and string way of progressing, limited to the wisdom of empirical experience and just one step ahead of the thinking of a ‘savage', the last millennia have seen considerable progress in many aspects of human existence. Today, however, the task can be addressed more efficiently, with more realism and optimism than at any time in the past, because we have begun to systematically understand the two key elements of the human enigma: its genome and its neural system." [24]

What does all this mean? Only this: that for the last two thousand years it was not possible to establish a "more just society" (we imagine he means socialism) because the human genome had not yet been discovered. Therefore, all the attempts of Lenin and the Bolsheviks to change society were doomed to fail, since they did not understand "the two key elements of the human enigma: its genome and its neural system." If only they had had the patience to wait another 90 years!

The human genome is indeed enormously important for socialists - but not for the reasons put forward by Heinz Dieterich. The discoveries made by the Human Genome Project have dramatically confirmed the position of Marxism. For decades, a large number of geneticists have argued that our genes determined everything from intelligence to homosexuality and criminality. This was a very good example of how science cannot be separated from politics and class interests, and how the most eminent scientists can be pressed - consciously or not - into the services of reaction. Now, however, the human genome project has completely exploded the myths of racism. There is very little difference between blacks and whites, Chinese and Indians.

Genes undoubtedly play an important role, but they are no more than the raw material out of which human character develops. The main role is played by society and the social interactions between human beings. There is no such thing as a super-historical morality. Morality is socially determined and changes continually throughout history. A recent documentary on the BBC World Service programme, Science in Action ("A Good Lie"), dealt with the research of an American anthropologist into lies. Since he also worked with the CIA to help them with interrogation techniques, he can hardly be accused of left-wing bias. His research showed that people are both very bad at lying and terrible at detecting lies. Lying is something humans have to learn. The investigator also did research on isolated Amazonian tribes and found that they do not lie. He postulated that in early cooperative human society that if you lied or cheated you were just shunned by the rest of the clan. As humans are fairly defenceless animals in isolation this was effectively a death sentence. Therefore there is no evolutionary basis for human dishonesty; it is something we learned through class society.

It is the same with such things as individualism, egotism, lack of solidarity, selfishness and indifference to the suffering of others. These are traits that would have been a sure recipe for the extinction of the human race in the Palaeolithic period, but are now considered to be quite "normal" in the inhuman conditions of modern capitalism with its dog-eat-dog mentality. Margaret Thatcher, that supreme embodiment of bourgeois morality, declared: "there is no such thing as society", and held greed and selfishness up as an ideal for people to follow.

Twenty years later the British bourgeois wonder why there is an epidemic of crime, cruelty and senseless murders. They ought not to be surprised: this is only the expression of the rotten morality of bourgeois individualism put into practice on the streets of London. Since morality is only the reflection of social conditions, it is futile to make appeals for men and women to be better than they are. It is futile to expect people to be fair, honest and just in a society that is manifestly unfair, immoral and unjust to the majority. In order to achieve a different morality it is first necessary to change society.

Marxists, of course, accept that genes play a most important role. They provide to some extent the raw material out of which individual humans are developed. But they represent only one side of a very complex equation. The problem arises when certain people attempt to present genes as the sole agent conditioning human development and behaviour, as has been the case for quite some time now. In reality, genes ("nature") and environmental factors ("nurture") interact upon each other, and that in this process, the role of the environment, which has been systematically denied or downplayed by the biological determinists, is absolutely crucial.

The revelations of the human genome project have decisively settled the old "nature-nurture" controversy. The relatively small number of genes in humans rules out the possibility of individual genes controlling and shaping behaviour patterns such as criminality and sexual preference. The most reactionary conclusions have been drawn from these assumptions: for example, that black people and women are genetically conditioned to be less intelligent than white people and men, that rape and murder are somehow natural, because they are genetically determined; that there is no point in spending money on schools and houses for the poor because their poverty is rooted in genetics and therefore cannot be remedied. Above all, they conclude that the existence of inequality is natural and inevitable, and that all attempts to abolish class society are futile, since it is somehow rooted in our genes.

There is therefore no question that this is a very important moment in the history of science. But is there any reason whatsoever to claim that the discovery of the human genome is the secret that will open all doors to human progress, and that, moreover, its discovery makes possible the achievement of socialism? This is just what Heinz Dieterich says. According to him, socialism was not possible before because men and women did not know these things. Presumably this also was one of the causes (if not the cause) for the collapse of "really existing socialism". If only Gorbachov had had access to the human genome, all history would have been different!

Here we once more enter the mystical realm of idealism in its crudest form. It is true that the human genome has created the conditions for a spectacular advance of human progress. It enables science to cure diseases that were hitherto considered incurable. It will mean that within our lifetime the blind will see, the lame will walk, and other feats that were previously the domain of religious miracles, will be able to be achieved on a routine basis by science. In the future, we may even become masters of our own genes and determine, at least to some extent, our biological evolution. This can have important implications for such things as space travel and the survival of the human race in changed conditions, as the planet becomes a less hospitable place to inhabit.

Yes, all that is true. But similar claims could be made for many other important scientific discoveries. Does this mean that we are nearer to socialism - to humankind's leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom? In one sense, it does. The spectacular advances of science and technology create the material basis for a cultural revolution and for the complete mastery of the environment, for tackling the next great frontier facing humanity - the conquest of space. Yes, all that is true as a potential. But a bare potential by no means provides us with the anticipated results. The existence of the lottery means that I can become a multi-millionaire. But between a multi-millionaire in potential and a multi-millionaire in reality, there is a slight difference, a fact that a quick glance at my monthly bank balance makes painfully clear to me.

In the period of senile decay of capitalism, the advances of science and technology do not guarantee the advance of civilization but, on the contrary, threaten its very existence. What ought to mean the increase of human freedom in practice signifies the increase and intensification of slavery. Let us take just one example. The introduction of new machinery serves to increase the productivity of labour. And it is the increase of the productivity of labour that lays the basis for all human progress. One of the main causes for the collapse of the USSR was that, although the Soviet economy achieved spectacular results, and actually overtook the West in the production of such things as steel, cement, coal and electricity in absolute terms, the productivity of labour in the Soviet Union lagged behind the West.

The reason for this difference was not that the human genome had not yet been discovered, or that the USSR did not have sufficient computers. It was because the Stalinist bureaucracy formed a corrupt ruling caste that suffocated the nationalized planned economy and clogged its pores, creating colossal bungling, waste and mismanagement at all levels. In the first five-year plans, the Soviet economy grew far more quickly than the economies of the capitalist West, but in its last two decades the rate of growth slowed and fell behind. In the end, despite the huge advantages of the nationalized planned economy, the bureaucracy could not get better results than the West. This meant that in the long run it was doomed to fail. This is a striking example of the truth of the basic postulate of Marxism that in the last analysis the viability of a given socio-economic system is determined by its ability to develop the productive forces.

Genes change only very slowly. We have the same genes that our ancestors had 10,000 years ago, and even 100,000 years ago. That is to say, the physical and mental potential of humans has not changed substantially all through history. We have exactly the same potential as men and women in the Neolithic period. The question is: why has this potential not been realized? The answer to this question has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with the level of development of the productive forces.

Hegel once wrote: "When we want to see an oak with all its vigour of trunk, its spreading branches, and mass of foliage, we are not satisfied to be shown an acorn instead". [25] An acorn is not an oak tree, but only an oak tree in potential. Whether or not that potential will be realized depends on many factors: the quality of the soil, the availability of sunlight and water, and whether the acorn will end up inside the belly of a foraging pig. Comrade Dieterich does not even offer us an acorn, but only the idea of an acorn; not a real programme for establishing socialism, but only the New Historical Project; not the substance but only the shadow.

If one plants a real acorn it can, under favourable circumstances, grow into a healthy oak tree. But if one plants only an ideal acorn, it will produce only an ideal oak tree - that is to say, an imaginary oak tree that exists only in somebody's brain. Under the shade of this imaginary oak tree of Socialism of the 21st Century, one can sit for hours, dreaming of a society in which capitalists and workers rejoice together in an economy of equivalence, in which profits have disappeared, where circles have a circumference of 362 degrees, where the universe is a cylinder, where lions lie down with lambs, and pigs can fly.


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[1] Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, The ABC of Materialist Dialectics, p. 66.
[2] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, 98.
[3] Engels, The Dialectics of Nature, Moscow 1954, chapter II. Dialectics, p.83.
[4] Dieterich, The World Revolution Advances Through Hugo Chávez
[5] Dieterich, Entre topos y gallinas. La bancarrota de la “izquierda” y sus intelectuales.
In Rebelión, 28/2/2004.
[6] Dieterich, Hugo Chávez y el Socialismo del Siglo XXI, p. 46.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., pp. 47 and 46.
[9] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol.1, Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, pp. 503-4.
[10] Dieterich, The Alternative of Cuba: Capitalism or New Socialism, April 12, 2006.
[11] Dieterich, La disyuntiva de Cuba: Capitalismo o nuevo socialismo.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Heinz Dieterich, Identidad nacional y globalización. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales; Editorial Nuestro Tiempo; México, 2000; pp 63-64.
[14] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 228
[15] Ibid., p. 233.
[16] Hegel, Philosophy of History, III., Philosophic History § 13.
[17] Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 234.
[18] Heinz Dieterich, Identidad nacional. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales, pp. 64-65.
[19] Ibid., pp. 58-59.
[20] Engels, The Dialectics of Nature, Natural Science and Philosophy, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p. 486.
[21] Engels, The Dialectics of Nature, Mechanics and Astronomy, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p. 551.
[22] Dieterich, Identidad nacional y globalización. La tercera vía. Crisis en las ciencias sociales, p.61.
[23] Ibid., pp. 65-66.
[24] Dieterich, Socialismo del Siglo XXI; p.67-8.
[25] Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind Preface; on scientific knowledge §12.