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« Tuna 3 / 2016

Accursed Dialectics

Something decidedly perverse, false and inhuman was concealed within Soviet cultural policy that took shape in the Stalinist era. Its whole “point” lay in the fact that in principle, it implicitly prescribed the criminality of all manner of intellectual and spiritual work; the potential criminality of any kind of idea, storyline or style. And — paradoxically — that “point” was achieved precisely by the fact that more was permitted in Soviet theory (for instance in the theory of socialist realism) than in any other theory. To be exact, the boundary between what was permitted and what was forbidden was left open, but thereafter permission and prohibition was dealt with according to needs “arising from specific situations”. Thus intellectuals were constantly being judged in court but new “laws” with retroactive effect were disclosed only prior to the next subsequent court session. In effect, this meant unlimited power over creative personalities.

The specific means of Soviet cultural policy was a method of intellectual and spiritual manipulation that was hypocritically referred to as dialectics, higher “scientific” logic. This in particular made it possible to accuse someone of adhering to two logically contradictory positions at one and the same time, placing him in an inextricable predicament because by denying one “sin” he had to unintentionally admit his guilt in terms of the other “sin”. Dialectics in particular was also what made sudden qualitative “leaps” possible in assessments of people and social phenomena, in the rapid replacement of boundless trust with complete distrust, the arrest of today’s leader tomorrow, and the prohibition of a currently favoured position at the next moment. Violence in Soviet society was founded on the abuse of dialectics. Hence Soviet totalitarianism could also be referred to as dialectic totalitarianism.

This essay discusses the gradual transformation of G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectics as an elitist way of thinking into an ideology of the abuse of logic, referring to examples from the writings of K. Marx, F. Engels, G. Plekhanov, V. Lenin, A. Deborin, N. Bukharin and J. Stalin. The ultimate objective was to channel dialectics into direct social practice, to apply it as necessary as a means for the constant ideological cleansing of proletarian culture. The dialectic grip of Communist Party decisions — which relied on the vulgarly and cynically presented schemes of unity and struggle between opposites, of the transition to a new quality of quantity, and of double negation — laid the foundation for the “dialectic latitude” of the repression of creative intellectuals as well as other strata of society.

On the other hand, dialectics could be used both before and after the high point of the Stalinist reign of terror as a weapon of ideological resistance against dogmatic thinking (V. Bibler is highlighted as an example). This admittedly made it possible to relativise every postulate and slogan but ultimately did not provide support for the generation of alternative views of the world.