One of my frustrations with contemporary Marxist philosophy is the way in which the word ‘dialectical’ is often employed like a magical wand to sanctify various relational phenomena. Such vague employment is reflected in radical theory adjacent to Marxism as well where theorists pepper their work with the term ‘dialectical relationship’. Why such relationships are precisely dialectical is usually never explained, nor is the precise meaning of dialectical reason. This leaves me with the impression that dialectical and relational are taken to be synonymous––that the term ‘dialectical relationship’ is a tautology. In this context, Torkil Lauesen’s The Principal Contradiction is something of a breath of fresh air since it is concerned with centering and demystifying dialectical reason and, specifically, its iteration as dialectical materialism.
What makes The Principal Contradiction refreshing is that it partially resembles the kind of text that would be produced by a revolutionary study group. Indeed, it was inspired by Lauesen’s past participation in such a study group when he was ‘a member of Denmark’s Communist Working Circle’ (7) which would eventually lead to his own revolutionary activity––as a part of the so-called ‘Blekingegade Group’––and thus his eventual incarceration. Hence, due to the author’s past as a revolutionary and political prisoner, the book is driven by the sensibility that ‘[d]ialectical materialism is a philosophy, but not just for intellectual pleasure in ivory towers.” Rather, dialectical materialism is “a tool for changing the world.’ (7) The lucidity of the text is largely due to Lauesen’s correct conviction that the dialectical reason of Marxism has to do with revolutionary transformation.
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