This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
An Introduction to DiaIecticaI MateriaIism
by Robin CIapp
Why have a PhiIosophy?
"The phiIosophers have onIy int erpret ed t he worId, in
various ways; t he point is, however, t o change it ."
(Marx:'Theses on Feuerbach')
AT THE dawn of t he 21
cent ury, one-f if t h of t he world's populat ion
lives in absolut e povert y on one US dollar a day or less, while t he
asset s of t he 200 richest people are larger t han t he combined
income of t he poorest 2.4 billion on t he planet .
Yet mat erial prosperit y has increased by more in t he past 100 years
t han in all t he rest of human hist ory. Thus t he basis already exist s
pot ent ially f or undreamed-of progress of human societ y, provided
t he cont radict ions creat ed by capit alism it self can be swept away by
t he world's working class.
The capit alist s t hrough t heir cont rol of t he judiciary, t he milit ary,
educat ion and t he media are always seeking t o prevent workers and
yout h f rom drawing t he conclusion t hat capit alism can be changed.
Ìn t he popular press, comment at ors occasionally rail against t his or
t hat sympt om of t he syst em's sickness while drumming home t he
mant ra t hat market economics represent s t he only show in t own.
At t he same t ime more serious just if icat ions f or capit alism are
produced. The collapse of t he Soviet Union in 1989-1992 gave a
massive boost t o t his branch of lit erary lies, allowing bourgeois
philosophers t o claim t hat capit alism had emerged t riumphant in it s
hist oric st ruggle wit h socialism.
Every ruling class t hroughout hist ory has sought t o give it s regime
t he st amp of permanence. Never mind t hat t here have been many
f orms of class rule including slavery and f eudalism, t oday's smug
apologist s f or capit alism believe t heir way of running societ y is best
and represent s t he Everest of achievement .
Tony Blair has sneeringly denounced Marxism as "an out moded
sect arian dogma." His sole cont ribut ion t o philosophy has been t o
best ow credit on Ant hony Gidden's Third Way t heory ÷ t he very old
and discredit ed idea t hat t here can be a middle way bet ween t he
market and a planned economy. Most capit alist leaders believe t hey
don't require a philosophy. Making money is all t hat mat t ers and t hey
embrace t he idea t hat if it works, it 's good. They are largely empirical
in t heir approach, responding pragmat ically t o new challenges and
rarely bot hering t o underst and t he relat ionship and connect ions
bet ween policies and event s, cause and ef f ect . Ìn t he spheres of
polit ics and economics, t heirs is t he complacent philosophy of
t hinking t hat what has gone on bef ore will cont inue largely
unchanged int o t he f ut ure.
Ìn t he 1990s t hey were sure t he dot com boom would just keep on
growing. When it crashed t hey were ast onished, but learning not hing,
scrat ched t heir heads, said t hey'd predict ed it all along, t hen went
back t o t he comf ort -blanket of believing capit alism would get bet t er
This pamphlet will show t hat having a philosophy t hat correct ly
int erpret s t he world and provides a compass f or changing it is
Dialect ical mat erialism, t he basis of Marxist philosophy is st ill t he
most modern met hod of t hought t hat exist s.
As Leon Trot sky observed in Marxism in our Time: ".if the
theory correctly estimates the course of development and
foresees the future better than other theories, it remains the
most advanced theory of our time, be it even scores of years
Marxism is t he science of perspect ives - looking f orward t o ant icipat e
how societ y will develop - using it s met hod of dialect ical mat erialism
t o unravel t he complex processes of hist orical development .
Ìt endeavors t o t each t he working class t o know it self and be
conscious of it self as a class. Dialect ical Mat erialism ÷ t he science of
t he general laws of mot ion and development of nat ure, human
societ y and t hought ÷ was and remains a revolut ionary philosophy,
challenging capit alism in every sphere and subst it ut ing science f or
dreams and prejudice.
MateriaIism versus IdeaIism.
"It is not consciousness t hat det ermines exist ence,
but sociaI exist ence t hat det ermines consciousness."
(Marx & EngeIs: 'The German ideoIogy.')
People have always sought t o underst and t he world t hey lived in
t hrough observing nat ure and generalising t heir day-t o-day
experiences. The hist ory of philosophy shows a division int o t wo
camps ÷ Ìdealism and Mat erialism. The Ìdealist s argue t hat t hought
(consciousness) is paramount and t hat people's act ions st em f rom
abst ract t hought , devoid of hist ory and mat erial condit ions.
Ìt was Marx and Engels who f irst f ully challenged t his concept ion,
explaining t hat an underst anding of t he world has t o st art not f rom
t he ideas which exist in people's heads in any part icular hist orical
period, but f rom t he real, mat erial condit ions in which t hese ideas
Nat ure is hist orical at every level. No aspect of nat ure simply exist s; it
has a hist ory, comes int o being, changes and develops, is
t ransf ormed, and, f inally ceases t o exist . Aspect s of nat ure may
appear t o be f ixed, st able, in a st at e of equilibrium f or a short er or
longer t ime, but none is permanent ly so. For Trot sky:
"Consciousness grew out of the unconscious, psychology out
of physiology, the organic world out of the inorganic, the solar
system out of the nebulae."
Marx and Engels based t heir mat erialism upon t he ideas and pract ice
of t he great mat erialist philosophers of t he 18
cent ury. The
'renaissance' in t he 16
cent ury wit h it s spread of cult ural and
scient if ic enquiry was bot h a cause of and an ef f ect of t he early
growt h of capit alism. Ìn EngeIs' words: "Science rebelled against
the Church; the bourgeoisie could not do without science, and
therefore had to join the rebellion."
Ast ronomy, mechanics, physics, anat omy and physiology were
f everishly developed as separat e disciplines, wit h t he consequence
t hat age-old belief s in an inviolable god were rocked. Galileo f or
inst ance began t o discover some of t he physical propert ies of t he
universe and revealed t hat t he planet s revolved around t he sun.
Lat er, Newt on's t heories of gravit y and laws of physical mot ion
uncovered t he myst eries of movement and mechanics.
The philosopher Hobbes declared t hat it was impossible t o separat e
t hought f rom mat t er t hat t hinks. Marx observed t hat t his
'enlight enment ' had "cleared men's minds" f or t he great French
revolut ion and t he age of reason.
But EngeIs added t hat "The specific limitation of this materialism
lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as
matter undergoing uninterrupted development."
He and Marx were t o f use t he brilliant scient if ic advances of
mat erialism wit h dialect ical t hought , creat ing t he most revolut ionary
and f ar-reaching t heory f or explaining and changing our world.
The German philosopher Hegel, who resurrect ed dialect ics f rom
ancient Greek learning in t he early 19
cent ury, was a proponent of
t he Ìdealist approach. To him t he t hought s wit hin his brain were not
t he more or less abst ract images of act ual t hings and processes, but
on t he cont rary, t hings and t heir development were only t he realised
images of t he Ìdea/God exist ing somewhere f rom et ernit y bef ore t he
world exist ed.
Marx t urned t his conf usion on it s head. "To me the idea is nothing
else than the material world reflected in the human mind."
Marxism t heref ore bases it self upon a mat erialist view of hist ory. The
mat erial world is real and develops t hrough it s own nat ural laws.
Thought is a product of mat t er, wit hout which t here are no separat e
Flowing f rom t his it is clear t hat Marxism must reject universal t rut hs,
religions and spirit s. All t heories are relat ive, grasping one side of
realit y. Ìnit ially t hey are assumed t o possess universal validit y and
applicat ion. But at a cert ain point , def iciencies in t he t heory are
f ound. These have t o be explained and at a cert ain point new
t heories are developed which can account f or t he except ions. But
t he new t heories not only supercede t he old, but also incorporat e
t hem in a new f orm.
For example, in t he f ield of biological evolut ion, Marxist s are neit her
biological nor cult ural det erminist s. There is a dialect ical int eract ion
bet ween our genes and our environment .
Recent ly t he 'human genome project ' has enabled t he complet e
mapping out of t he st ruct ure of t he genes which are passed on f rom
one human generat ion t o t he next . Some biologist s have assert ed
t hat t his would reveal individual genes shaping behaviour pat t erns
ranging f rom sexual pref erence t o criminalit y and even polit ical
A consequence would be t hat a person's posit ion in societ y would
be largely pre-det ermined and unalt erable.
However, any at t empt t o 't ag' individual genes f or 'int elligence' has
f ailed and t he at t empt t o def ine social posit ion as genet ically
det ermined has been exposed as a pure consequence of t he
ideology of t he biologist s involved.
A breakt hrough t hat has revolut ionised our underst anding of human
behaviour, scient ist s recent ly discovered we possess f ar f ewer
genes t han previously t hought , revealing t hat environment al
inf luences must be vast ly more powerf ul in shaping t he way humans
What is diaIecticaI thinking?
" Men t hought diaIect icaIIy Iong bef ore t hey knew
what diaIect ics was, just as t hey spoke prose Iong
bef ore t he t erm prose exist ed." (EngeIs: 'Ant i-
Dialect ics is t he philosophy of mot ion. The dialect ical met hod of
analysis enables us t o st udy nat ural phenomena, t he evolut ion of
societ y and t hought it self , as processes of development based upon
mot ion and cont radict ion.
Everyt hing is in a const ant st at e of f lux and change; all realit y is
mat t er in mot ion.
The root s of dialect ical t hought can be t raced back t o t he ancient
Greeks who, just because t heir civilisat ion was not yet advanced
enough t o dissect and analyse nat ure in it s separat e part s, viewed
nat ure as a whole, in it s connect ions, dialect ically. Not hing in lif e is
st at ic. Ìn t he words of t he ancient Greek philosopher Heraclit us: "AII
t hings f Iow, aII change."
Around us in t he nat ural world are illust rat ions of t he dialect ical
development of our Eart h and space it self . Ast ronomers are
t ransf ixed as super-t elescopes allow us t o wit ness t he birt h and
deat h of dist ant st ars, while no geologist or vulcanologist can
f unct ion wit hout having an underst anding of t he basic and int erlinked
laws of t he dialect ic ÷ t he law of quant it y int o qualit y, t he
int erpenet rat ion of opposit es and t he negat ion of t he negat ion.
Ìn mat hemat ics a dialect ical approach is indispensable. Ìn everyday
lif e we of t en need t o dist inguish bet ween curved and st raight lines.
But mat hemat ically a st raight line is merely a special sort of curve.
Bot h can be t reat ed using a single general mat hemat ical equat ion.
We also learn how at a specif ic t emperat ure, solid ice changes t o
liquid wat er t hen at a higher t emperat ure t o st eam ÷ a gas ÷ and
t hat t he t hree apparent ly dif f erent subst ances are act ually dif f erent
manif est at ions of t he mot ion of t he same wat er molecules.
But t hough capit alist or bourgeois societ y uses t he dialect ical
met hod in it s pursuit of scient if ic advance, in t he f ields of philosophy
and economy it st ubbornly seeks t o ref ut e dialect ics, clot hing it self in
t he st raight jacket of met aphysics (f ormal logic). Met aphysics
t ranslat ed int o polit ics becomes a just if icat ion f or t he st at us quo,
t he idea t hat evolut ion proceeds unchangingly at a snail's pace.
Ìt is not hard t o see why. Explained in a Marxist manner, t he
development of all past and present f orms of societ y would show
t hat at cert ain periods in hist ory when t he mode of product ion has
come int o acut e conf lict wit h t he mode of exchange, wars and
revolut ionary movement s have f ollowed. The f orms of class st ruggle
have changed t hrough dif f erent hist orical epochs, but t he
f undament al st ruggle over t he division of t he surplus value bet ween
exploit er and exploit ed f orms a cont inuous line f rom t he early slave
societ ies t o t he present day.
The capit alist class or bourgeoisie (as Marx described it ) must
t heref ore hide t he mat erialist concept ion of hist ory f rom us, ext olling
inst ead t he act s of great men (and occasionally women!) who it is
claimed have changed hist ory. Great social revolut ions are at t ribut ed
not t o t he st ruggle bet ween classes, but t o t he mist akes of t yrant
kings and t sars and t he bloodt hirst y ambit ions of rut hless men like
Cromwell, Robespierre and Lenin t o name t hree of t heir special bet e
Met aphysical t hought is of t en described as t he science of t hings, not
of mot ion. Basing it self upon rigid classif icat ion t echniques and
seeing t hings as st at ic ent it ies, it is a usef ul t ool in our day t o day
lives, but does not let us see t hings in t heir connect ions.
The f ormal logician operat es wit hin t he limit at ion of t hree laws:
The Law of Ìdent it y ÷ where A is equal t o A
The Law of Cont radict ion ÷ where A cannot be equal t o
The Law of Excluded Middle ÷ where A must be equal t o
A, or must not be equal t o A.
Formal logic sees cause and ef f ect as opposit es, but f or Marxist s
t he t wo cat egories merge, mix and melt int o each ot her all t he t ime.
Trot sky compared f ormal logic t o dialect ics using t he analogy of a
phot ograph and a moving f ilm. The f ormer has it s uses, but as soon
as we go int o complex quest ions f ormal logic proves inadequat e.
For inst ance we can say ours is a capit alist societ y and all will agree.
But viewing it dialect ically as a bourgeois societ y in an advanced
st age of development , we have t o add t hat it st ill possesses
remnant s of f eudalism, while more import ant ly it cont ains in it s
t echnological pot ent ial, t he seeds f or a Socialist planned economy.
This example is not abst ract .
Marxist s use t he dialect ical met hod in order t o clarif y perspect ives. All
realit ies have more t han one side t o t hem.
What st age has Brit ish capit alism reached, what charact er will t he
recession have, how powerf ul is t he working class, what is t he role of
New Labour, where and when do we expect big indust rial st ruggles t o
break out . all t hese quest ions and many more can only be
answered by analysing societ y dialect ically.
The Iaws of the diaIectic
"DiaIect ics is not hing more t han t he science of t he
generaI Iaws of mot ion and deveIopment of nat ure,
human societ y and t hought ." (EngeIs: 'Ant i-Duhring.')
BASED UPON t he laws of mot ion, dialect ics enables us t o see t hings
in t heir connect ion. Our bodies and our t hought s are cont inually
changing. From concept ion t o deat h t here is never a moment when
our physical development is st ill. Neit her are our t hought s and
ment al growt h. We are always evolving our ideas.
But how specif ically do dialect ics apply in relat ion t o a st udy of
societ y? What are t he general laws of dialect ical mat erialism beyond
t he primary idea t hat everyt hing changes? Ìf dialect ics is t he
t heoret ical t oolkit of Marxist s, what do t he t ools look like and how
do t hey assist us in challenging capit alism and changing societ y?
Marx and Engels elaborat ed t hree broad and int erconnect ed laws of
dialect ics, each of which is cont inually at work and give us t he insight
int o how societ y develops and what t heoret ical and pract ical t asks
conf ront us as revolut ionaries seeking t o build t he f orces t o
overt hrow capit alism.
The Iaw of quant it y and quaIit y
Just as a scient ist is f amiliar wit h t he concept of t hings alt ering t heir
qualit y at cert ain quant it at ive point s (wat er int o st eam at boiling
point ), so t oo an observat ion of t he evolut ion of class societ ies
illust rat es t he same law.
Societ y does not develop in a slow, evolut ionary manner. The f rict ion
bet ween t he classes can and does creat e episodic periods of
sharpened st ruggle leading t o polit ical and social crises, wars and
revolut ions. For a whole period t he class st ruggle may appear t o be
at a low-ebb, low levels of indust rial act ion, apparent disint erest in
polit ical st ruggle, et c.
Marxist s however view event s in an all-sided manner. On t he surf ace
t here can be apparent st abilit y, but a quant it at ive build-up of
f rust rat ion and ant agonism t owards capit alism can break out
suddenly, creat ing ent irely new condit ions f or st ruggle and cat ching
t he bosses and t heir New Labour echoes complet ely by surprise.
This law is vulgarly recognised by even some bourgeois philosophers
who, usually af t er t he event , ref er sadly t o "t he st raw t hat broke t he
Ìt has enormous consequences f or Marxist s. We analyse t he build-up
of class conf lict and at all t imes int ervene in t he workers' movement
t o build t he ideas of Socialism t o t ake advant age of t hese sudden
changes and sharp t urns.
The law does not always denot e a progression of course. For many
years we charact erised t he St alinist bureaucracy in t he f ormer Soviet
Union as a relative f et t er upon t he growt h of t he planned economy.
By t his we meant t hat despit e t he wast e and corrupt ion of t he
bureaucrat s, t here was st ill a pot ent ial f or t he planned economy t o
grow, albeit less ef f icient ly t han had t he working class been in charge.
By t he 1960s command-st yle rule f rom t he Kremlin was st ruggling t o
cope wit h t he f resh challenges of a more t echnically advanced f orm
of economy. Trot sky's maxim t hat a planned economy needs
workers' cont rol as a body needs oxygen became more relevant t han
ever. We observed t his change and concluded t hat t he bureaucracy
had gone f rom being a relat ive f et t er t o an absolute f et t er. Quant it y
had t urned int o qualit y.
From a st udy of all t he declining economic st at ist ics coming out of
t he USSR we began t o draw t heoret ical rounded-out conclusions.
A societ y in economic, polit ical and social crisis where t he
bureaucrat ic cast e has become absolut ely incapable of f urt her
playing any progressive role cannot st ay in absolut e st asis. A point
was being rapidly reached where eit her t he working class would have
t o overt hrow t he incubus of bureaucracy and carry t hrough a polit ical
revolut ion, or t here would occur a social count er-revolut ion leading
t o t he rest orat ion of capit alism; t his possibilit y was predict ed by
Trot sky over 50 years earlier. The t riumph of t he lat t er wit h Yelt sin
undoing all t he remaining gains of t he 1917 revolut ion marked a
qualit at ive def eat f or t he working class in Russia and everywhere
The Int erpenet rat ion of Opposit es
Dialect ics applied t o t he class st ruggle does not have t he same
degree of precision as it does in t he science laborat ory. The role of
individuals, polit ical part ies and social movement s is not scient if ically
pre-ordained. A t rade union leader might be a repect ed lef t -winger,
but may capit ulat e when f aced wit h a det ermined onslaught f rom t he
bosses. A moderat e t rade union leader may surprise himself or
herself however and become much more "milit ant " t han int ended,
when f aced wit h mass pressure f rom below.
There are no absolut es in t he class st ruggle! We of t en st ress f or
inst ance t hat boom and slump are not ant it het ical cat egories as
crude GCSE t ext books proclaim. Wit hin every economic growt h of
capit alism are t he seeds of f ut ure recession and vice versa. Ìt is not
slump alone, which causes workers t o rebel against t he class syst em.
The very opposit e may be t he case, wit h workers f eeling int imidat ed
by t he t hreat of widespread unemployment .
Ìn a boom, workers can go on t he of f ensive not only in order t o
recapt ure past gains t hat have been lost , but t o win new vict ories
around pay and condit ions.
Trot sky illust rat ed t his law in his analysis of t he f orces which made
t he Russian Revolut ion in 1917: "In order to realise the Soviet
State, there was required a drawing together and mutual
penetration of two factors belonging to completely different
economic species; a peasant war - that is, a movement
characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development - and a
proletarian insurrection, the movement signaling its decline. That
is the essence of 1917". (History of the Russian Revolution.)
This "combined and uneven development " illust rat es t he complex
manner in which societ ies develop. Applicat ion of t he law of
int erpenet rat ing opposit es is crucial in our clarif icat ion of t he st age
at which capit alism has reached, it s f ut ure direct ion and our
The Negat ion of t he Negat ion
Described by Engels as "an ext remeIy generaI, and f or t his very
reason ext remeIy f ar-reaching and import ant , Iaw of
deveIopment of nat ure, hist ory and t hought ", t he negat ion of t he
negat ion deals wit h development t hrough cont radict ions which
appear t o annul, or negat e a previous f act , t heory, or f orm of
exist ence, only t o lat er become negat ed in it s t urn.
Capit alism's economic cycle illust rat es t his law. Great wealt h is
creat ed in t he boom, only t o become part ially dest royed by episodic
crises of over-product ion. These in t urn creat e af resh t he condit ions
f or new booms, which assimilat e and build upon previously acquired
met hods of product ion, bef ore once again coming int o cont act and
being part ially negat ed by t he limit s of t he market economy.
Everyt hing, which exist s, does so out of necessit y. But everyt hing
perishes, only t o be t ransf ormed int o somet hing else. Thus what is
'necessary' in one t ime and place becomes 'unnecessary' in anot her.
Everyt hing creat es it s opposit e, which is dest ined t o overcome and
negat e it .
The f irst human societ ies were classless societ ies based on t he co-
operat ion of t he t ribe. These were negat ed by t he emergence of
class societ ies basing t hemselves upon t he developing mat erial
levels of wealt h. Modern privat e ownership of t he means of
product ion and t he nat ion st at e, which are t he basic f eat ures of
class societ y and originally marked a great st ep f orward, now serve
only t o f et t er and undermine t he product ive f orces and t hreat en all
t he previous gains of human development .
The mat erial basis exist s now t o replace t he bosses' syst em wit h
socialism, t he embryo of which is already cont ained in class societ y,
but can never be realised unt il t he working class negat es capit alism.
DiaIecticaI MateriaIism as a revoIutionary
"DiaIect ics, so-caIIed object ive diaIect ics, prevaiIs
t hroughout nat ure.." (EngeIs: 'DiaIect ics of Nat ure.')
Ìn t he realm of science, explicit ly or implicit ly, t he dialect ical met hod
cont inues t o vindicat e it self as a vit al t ool f or progress. Apparent ly
unrelat ed scient if ic disciplines have come t o share visions and
met hodologies ref lect ing t he real connect edness of our living
Even t he idealist philosopher Kant , writ ing bef ore t he t ime of Marx
and Engels and who believed in a supreme being, was f orced by
experience t o arrive unconsciously at a dialect ical posit ion. He argued
t hat if t he eart h was somet hing t hat had come int o being, t hen it s
present geological, geographical and climat ic st at es, it s plant s and
animals t oo, must be somet hing t hat had come int o being. Ìf t his was
t he case, t hen eart h must have had a hist ory not only of co-
exist ence in space but also a succession in t ime.
Ìn part icular, Darwin's t heory of evolut ion, t he revolut ionary
signif icance of which was immediat ely underst ood by Marx and
Engels, has it self become enriched and a more prof ound
conf irmat ion of dialect ics of nat ure as a result of f urt her st udy and
Darwin demonst rat ed how evolut ion develops t hrough nat ural
select ion, creat ing out rage among t hose f or whom "God"
det ermined all. But while he argued t hat "nat ure does not make a
leap", t he debat es now raging among neo-Darwinist s are about
whet her or not leaps t ake place and t he nat ure of t hem.
Ìncorporat ing t he science of genet ics, new concept s such as
MUTATÌON (t he spont aneous f ormat ion of new variat ions in genet ic
make-up), GENE FLOW (t he int roduct ion of new genes int o a
populat ion by immigrat ion of breeding individuals) and GENETÌC
DRÌFT (random gene changes in a populat ion due t o it s limit ed size)
as well as nat ural select ion, have begun t o be st udied.
Ìn a brilliant endorsement of dialect ics as t he science of sharp t urns
and sudden changes as opposed t o gradualist development , it is
now widely accept ed t hat rat e of evolut ionary change can vary
enormously. The t heory of PUNCTUATED EQUÌLÌBRÌA t akes t his idea
a st age f orward, maint aining t hat t he development or appearance of
a new species can be, in t erms of geological t ime, inst ant aneous
breaking an apprarent ly st able equilibrium.
This t heory deals wit h rapid and sudden speciat ion and mass
ext inct ion of species, in t he same way as Darwin spoke of t he
st ruggle f or exist ence of individual variet ies wit hin a single species.
Modern scient if ic t heories rest on a dialect ic view of nat ure.
Quant um mechanics, t he t heory on which all modern t echnology is
based, rest s on a unif icat ion of t he t wo classical (apparent ly
cont radict ory) concept s of wave mot ion and part icle mot ion t o
produce a new deeper underst anding of t he nat ure of realit y.
Theories of f undament al part icles f ind t hemselves working on
concept s which bridge t he cont radict ion bet ween mat t er and t he
space-t ime in which mat t er moves.
Towards a SociaIist WorId.
" .t he f inaI causes of aII sociaI changes and poIit icaI
revoIut ions are t o be sought , not in men's brains, not
in man's bet t er insight int o et ernaI t rut h and just ice,
but in changes in t he modes of product ion and
They are t o be sought not in t he phiIosophy, but in t he
economics of each part icuIar epoch." (Engels:
'Socialism: Utopian & Scientific.')
DÌALECTÌCAL MATERÌALÌSM is not a dull t heory t o be pondered over
by erudit e academics in t heir st udies. Ìt is a guide t o act ion. For
young workers and st udent s seeking t o underst and capit alism and
more import ant ly change it , it is an indispensable t ool.
The so-called New World Order is daily proving t o be less
harmonious t han t he old one. Of t he six billion people on Eart h,
almost 3.6 billion have neit her cash nor credit t o buy much of
anyt hing. A majorit y of people on t he planet remain, at best , window
shoppers. Alt hough t he development of giant corporat ions st raddling
cont inent s and t he exist ence of comput er t echnologies underline
t he pot ent ial f or t he world planning of product ion and t rade,
capit alism remains a syst em based on wast ef ul compet it ion bet ween
nat ion st at es where rival mult inat ionals f ight t o improve market
share, product ivit y and prof it at our expense.
Great social revolut ions in t he past have been carried out by
emerging minorit ies who best art iculat ed t he new economic and
polit ical needs of t he rising class. Hist ory is made by conscious men
and women, each driven by def init e mot ives and desires. The
st ruggle f or Socialism is qualit at ively dif f erent as it involves t he
conscious part icipat ion of t he majorit y ÷ t he world's working class
and oppressed masses. St anding in our way is diseased capit alism.
Our t ask is t o harness t he indef at igable energy of t he workers
worldwide t o t hrow of f our exploit at ion, t hrough t he building of a
might y Socialist f orce. The dialect ical met hod applied t o every st age
of t he class st ruggle, illuminat es our pat h, assist s us in t urning our
ideas int o a mat erial f orce and brings closer t he day when men and
women can pass over f rom t he realm of necessit y int o t he realm of
human f reedom.
The f ollowing works are recommended, t he f irst f our being most
1. The ABC of Mat eriaIist DiaIect ics (15/12/1939) from "A Bourgeois
Opposition in the Socialist Workers' Party" and An Open Let t er t o Comrade
Burnham (07/01/1940) both included in Trot sky's collection " In Def ence of
2. "On t he quest ion of DiaIect ics" - Lenin.
3. "An int roduct ion t o t he Logic of Marxism" - George Novack.
4. "The part pIayed by Labour in t he t ransit ion f rom ape t o man"
5. "Ant i-Duhring" - EngeIs.
6. "Mat eriaIism and Empirio-Crit icism" - Lenin.
7. "DiaIect ics of Nat ure" - EngeIs.
8. "Fundament aI ProbIems of Marxism" - PIekhanov
In the spheres of politics and economics. allowing bourgeois philosophers to claim that capitalism had emerged triumphant in its historic struggle with socialism. This pamphlet will show that having a philosophy that correctly interprets the world and provides a compass for changing it is indispensable. Dialectical materialism. Every ruling class throughout history has sought to give its regime the stamp of permanence. scratched their heads. then went back to the comfort-blanket of believing capitalism would get better again. said they'd predicted it all along. it's good.com . the basis of Marxist philosophy is still the PDFmyURL. Never mind that there have been many forms of class rule including slavery and feudalism. Tony Blair has sneeringly denounced Marxism as "an outmoded sectarian dogma. At the same time more serious justifications for capitalism are produced. cause ana effect. ffliey are largely empiricall lintlieir approacli. responaing pragmaticall'i to new cliallenges anal rarel'i bothering to understand the relationship and connections loetween policies ana events. Most capitalist leaders believe they don't require a philosophy. theirs is the complacent philosophy of thinking that wliat nas gone on oefore will continue largel~ uncnangea into tlie future. When it crashed they were astonished. In the 1990s they were sure the dotcom boom would just keep on growing." His sole contribution to philosophy has been to bestow credit on Anthony Gidden's Third Way theory . The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1992 gave a massive boost to this branch of literary lies. Itodals smug apologists for capitalism oelieve their way of running society is best ana represents tlie Everest of acliievement. Making money is all that matters and they embrace the idea that if it works. but learning nothing.the very old and discredited idea that there can be a middle wa'i between the marKet ana a plannea economy.mantra that market economics represents the only show in town.
Materialism versus Idealism..Idealism and Materialism.looking forward to anticipate (now society will aevelog .tne science 011 the general laws of motion and development of nature. material conditions in which these ideas PDFmyURL. human tSocietyana tnougnt . The Idealists argue that thought (consciousness) lis paramount and that geople's actions stem from aostract tnought. "It is not consciousness that determines existence.." (Marx & Engels: 'The German ideology.. but from the real." Marxism is the science of perspectives . ifthe theory correctly estimates the course of development and foresees the future better than other theories.. As Leon Trotsky observed in Marxism in our Time: . it remains the most advanced theory of our time.most modern method of thought that exists. tt was Marx and Engels who first fully challenged this conception. Dialectical Materialism . challenging capitalism in every sphere and substituting science for dreams and prejudice. be it even scores of years old.') People have always sought to understand the world they lived in through observing nature and generalising their day-to-day experiences. but social existence that determines consciousness. The history of philosophy shows a division into two camps .com .using its metnoa of aialectical materialism Ito unravel the complex processes of historical development. Itt endeavors to teach the working class to know itself and be conscious of itself as a class.was and remains a revolutionary philosophy. aevoia of nisto[y ana material conaitions. explaining that an unaerstanaing of tne worla nas to start not from the ideas which exist in people's heads in any particular historical period.
mechanics." Astronomy. Galileo for instance began to discover some of the physical properties of the universe and revealed that the planets revolved around the sun. and therefore had to join the rebellion. staole. physics. in a state of eguiliorium for a snorter 017 Iiongertime. with the consequence that age-old beliefs in an inviolable god were rocked." He and Marx were to fuse the brilliant scientific advances of materialism with dialectical thought. it Inas a nisto[J'. But Engels added that "The sp-ecific limitation olthis materialism lay' in its inaoilitY-to coml2rehena the universe as a I2rocess. ASRects of nature ma~ aRRear to oe fixea. is Itransformea. the bourgeoisie could not do without science.-undergoing uninterrul2ted develol2ment. who resurrected dialectics from PDFmyURL. For Trotsky: "Consciousness grew out of the unconscious. the solar system out of the nebulae . psychology out of physiology. Later. out none is Rermanently so. finally ceases to exist. Newton's theories of gravity and laws of physical motion uncovered the mysteries of movement and mechanics. The philosopher Hobbes declared that it was impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks.com ." Marx and Engels based their materialism upon the ideas and practice of the great materialist philosophers of the 18th century. ana. creating the most revolutionary and far-reaching theory for explaining and changing our world.Nature is historical at every level. anatomy and physiology were feverishly developed as separate disciplines. iNo aSRect of nature simRly exists. comes into being. The German philosopher Heqel. as matte. the organic world out of the inorganic. Marx observed that this 'enlightenment' had "cleared men's minds" for the great French revolution and the age of reason. cnanges ana aeveloRs. In Engels' words: "Science rebelled against the Church. The 'renaissance' in the 16th century with its spread of cultural and scientific enquiry was both a cause of and an effect of the early growth of capitalism.
ancient Greek learning in the early 19th century. ffnese nave to De explainea ana at a certain point new Itneories are aevelogea wnicn can account for tne excegtions. For example. Flowing from this it is clear that Marxism must reject universal trutns. religions and sgirits.(t\1I heories are relative. ffhought is a groduct of matter. Bu~ the new theories not onl~ sugercede the old. grasging one side 011 t reality. things and their development were only the realised images of the Idea/God existing somewhere from eternity before the world existed. "To me tne iiJea is notning else than the material world reflected in the human mind. But at a certain point. There is a dialectical interaction between our genes and our environment. Marxists are neither biological nor cultural determinists. Some biologists have asserted that this would reveal individual genes shaping behaviour patterns ranging from sexual preference to criminality and even political preference! A consequence would be that a person's position in society would be largely pre-determined and unalterable. was a proponent of the Idealist approach. Marx turned this confusion on its head. Recently the 'human genome project' has enabled the complete mapping out of the structure of the genes which are passed on from one human generation to the next. any attempt to 'tag' individual genes for 'intelligence' has PDFmyURL. deficiencies in the theory are found. To him the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract images of actual things and processes. " (Marxismtnerefore l5ases itself upon a materialist view of nistocy.Tne material worla is real ana aevelogs tnrougn its own natural laws.com . without which there are no segarate liaeas. in the field of biological evolution. Initially they are assumed to possess universal validity and application. However. but on the contrary. but also incorgorate Itnem in a new form.
dialectically. the evolution of society and thought itself. just because their civilisation was not yet advanced enough to dissect and analyse nature in its separate parts. viewed nature as a whole. The dialectical method of analysis enables us to study natural phenomena. !Everytning is in a constant state of flux ana cnange." Around us in the natural world are illustrations of the dialectical development of our Earth and space itself.iNothing in life is 'Statio. What is dialectical thinking? " Men thought dialectically long before they knew what dialectics was. as processes of development based upon motion and contradiction. in its connections." (Engels: 'AntiDuhring'. The roots of dialectical thought can be traced back to the ancient Greeks who.) Dialectics is Ole RnilosoRn~of motion.com . just as they spoke prose long before the term prose existed. all change. while no geologist or vulcanologist can function without having an understanding of the basic and interlinked PDFmyURL.Astronomers are transfixed as super-telescopes allow us to witness the birth and death of distant stars.In the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: "All things flow. all reality is matter in motion. revealing that environmental influences must be vastly more powerful in shaping the way humans act. A breakthrough that has revolutionised our understanding of human behaviour.failed and the attempt to define social position as genetically determined has been exposed as a pure consequence of the ideology of the biologists involved. scientists recently discovered we possess far fewer genes than previously thought.
clotning itself in Itne straigntjacKet of metagn1'sics (formal logic). lin matnematics a oialectical approacn is inoispensaole. But matnematically a straiglit line is merely a special sort of curve. Robespierre and Lenin to name three of their special bete noirs. But t(nougli cagitalist or oourgeois societ~ uses tne aialecticall method in its gursuit of scientific advance. the development of all past and present forms of society would show that at certain periods in history when the mode of production has come into acute conflict with the mode of exchange. tt is not hard to see why. Explained in a Marxist manner. in the fields of ghilosogh~ ana econom~ it stuol5ornl~ seeKs to refute aialectics. Great social revolutions are attributed not to the struggle between classes. We also learn how at a specific temperature. out tne !fundamental struggle over the division of the surglus value between exgloiter ana exgloitea forms a continuous line from tne earl~ slave tSocietiesto tne gresent oa1'. PDFmyURL.laws of the dialectic . solid ice changes to liquid water then at a higher temperature to steam .a gas . Metagn1'sics translated into golitics becomes a justification for the status guo. [he cagitalist class or bourgeoisie (as Marx described it) must therefore liiae tlie materialist concegtion of liistory from us. the interpenetration of opposites and the negation of the negation. Both can be treated using a single general mathematical eguation. but to the mistakes of tyrant kings and tsars and the bloodthirsty ambitions of ruthless men like Cromwell.the law of quantity into quality. extolling linsteao tne acts of great men (and occasionally women!) who it is claimed have changed history. wars and revolutionary movements have followed.and that the three apparently different substances are actually different manifestations of the motion of the same water molecules.com .ln everyoaJ1 (lifewe often neea to aistinguisn oetween curvea ana straignt lines. the idea that evolution proceeds unchangingly at a snail's pace. IT" lie forms of class struggle (navecliangeo tnrougn oifferent liistorical egoclis.
where A cannot be equal to non-A The Law of Excluded Middle . what is the role of New Labour. This example is not abstract. but for Marxists Hie two categories merge. but as soon as we go into complex questions formal logic proves inadequate. how powerful is the working class. or must not be equal to A.com . where and when do we expect big industrial struggles to break out. What stage has British capitalism reached. (Marxists use tne aialectical metnoa in oraer to clarif~ gersgectives. but does not let us see things in their connections. Trotsky compared formal logic to dialectics using the analogy of a photograph and a moving film. PDFmyURL. Eormallogic sees cause and effect as oggosites. .Metaphysical thought is often described as the science of things. what character will the recession have. The formal logician operates within the limitation of three laws: The Law of Identity . we have to add that it still possesses remnants of feudalism. the seeds for a Socialist planned economy. not of motion.where A is equal to A The Law of Contradiction . while more importantly it contains in its technological potential. For instance we can say ours is a capitalist society and all will agree.where A must be equal to A. But viewing it dialectically as a bourgeois society in an advanced stage of development. The former has its uses.. all these questions and many more can only be answered by analysing society dialectically. Alii realities have more than one side to them. Basing itself upon rigid classification techniques and seeing things as static entities. mix ana melt into eacn otner all tne time. it is a useful tool in our day to day lives.
etc.com . each of which is continually at work and give us the insight into how society develops and what theoretical and practical tasks confront us as revolutionaries seeking to build the forces to overthrow capitalism. aggarent aisinterest in golitical struggle. But how specifically do dialectics apply in relation to a study of society? What are the general laws of dialectical materialism beyond the primary idea that everything changes? If dialectics is the theoretical toolkit of Marxists. human society and thought. what do the tools look like and how do they assist us in challenging capitalism and changing society? Marx and Engels elaborated three broad and interconnected laws of dialectics. The law of quantity and quality Just as a scientist is familiar with the concept of things altering their quality at certain quantitative points (water into steam at boiling point). wars anal revolutions." (Engels: 'Anti-Duhring. Neither:are our:thoughts and mental growtn. Society does not develop in a slow. so too an observation of the evolution of class societies illustrates the same law. For a wnole gerioa tne class struggle maY' aggearto De at a 10w-eol5. We are always evolving our ideas. From concegtion to aeatn tnere is never a moment wnen our:gh]'sical develogment is still.The laws of the dialectic "Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature.') BASED UPON the laws of motion. On the surface PDFmyURL.low levels of inaustrial action. Our bodies and our:thoughts are continuall~ cnanging. Marxists however view events in an all-sided manner. ifne friction between the classes can and does create egisodic geriods 011 tSnarpeneastruggle leaaing to political ana social crises. dialectics enables us to see things in their connection. evolutionary manner.
creating entirelY'new conditions for struggJe and catching the bosses and their New Labour echoes completely by surprise. By this we meant that despite the waste and corruption of the bureaucrats. Quantity had turned into quality. This law is vulgarly recognised by even some bourgeois philosophers who. From a study of all the declining economic statistics coming out of the USSRwe began to draw theoretical rounded-out conclusions.com . frustration ana antagonism towaras capitalism can oreak out 'Suddenly. The law does not always denote a progression of course. We analyse the build-up of class conflict and at all times intervene in the workers' movement to build the ideas of Socialism to take advantage of these sudden changes and sharp turns. Trotsky's maxim that a planned economy needs workers' control as a body needs oxygen became more relevant than ever. A point was being rapidly reached where eitherthe working class would have to overthrow the incubus of bureaucracy and carry through a political revolution. orthere would occur a social counter-revolution leading to the restoration of capitalism.The triumph of the latter with Yeltsin undoing all the remaining gains of the 1917 revolution marked a PDFmyURL. For many years we characterised the Stalinist bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union as a relative fetter upon the growth of the planned economy. A society in economic. usually after the event. there was still a potential for the planned economy to grow. political and social crisis where the bureaucratic caste has become absolutely incapable of further playing any progressive role cannot stay in absolute stasis. albeit less efficiently than had the working class been in charge. refer sadly to "the straw that broke the camel's back. this possibility was predicted by Trotsky over 50 years earlier." tt has enormous consequences for Marxists.there can be apparent stability. By the 1960s command-style rule from the Kremlin was struggling to cope with the fresh challenges of a more technically advanced form of economy. but a guantitative ouila-up of. We observed this change and concluded that the bureaucracy had gone from being a relative fetter to an absolute fetter.
(History of the Russian Revolution. The very opposite may be the case. Trotsky illustrated this law in his analysis of the forces which made the Russian Revolution in 1917: "In order to realise the Soviet State. but may capitulate when faced with a determined onslaught from the bosses. It is not slump alone.A trade union leader might be a repected left-winger.that is. [here are no absolutes in the class struggle! We often stress for instance that boom and slump are not antithetical categories as crude GCSE textbooks proclaim. A moderate trade union leader may surprise himself or herself however and become much more "militant" than intended.Application of the law of interpenetrating opposites is crucial in our clarification of the stage at which capitalism has reached.ana a I2roletarian insurrection.) This "combined and uneven development" illustrates the complex manner in which societies develop. In a boom.qualitative defeat forthe working class in Russia and everywhere else. its future direction and our PDFmyURL. a l2easant war_. which causes workers to rebel against the class system. That is the essence of 1917". The Interpenetration of Opposites Dialectics applied to the class struggle does not have the same degree of precision as it does in the science laboratory. tne movement signaling its aecline. but to win new victories around pay and conditions. a movement cnaracteristic of tne aawn of 6ourgeois aeve/ol2ment . The role of individuals. Wittlin evef'i economic growttl of. there was required a drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different economic species. with workers feeling intimidated by the threat of widespread unemployment. workers can go on the offensive not only in orderto recapture past gains that have been lost. when faced with mass pressure from below. political parties and social movements is not scientifically pre-ordained.com . C&Ritalismare the seeds of future recession and vice versa.
Capitalism's economic cycle illustrates this law. which assimilate and build upon previously acquired methods of production. orform 011 existence. The material basis exists now to replace the bosses' system with socialism. These in turn create afresh the conditions for new booms.But eve[J'thing geristies. only to become partially destroyed by episodic crises of over-production. which is destined to overcome and negate it. Great wealth is created in the boom. law of development of nature. history and thought". The first human societies were classless societies based on the cooperation of the tribe. the embryo of which is already contained in class society.com . before once again coming into contact and being partially negated by the limits of the market economy. now serve only to fetter and undermine the groductive forces and threaten alii Itne grevious gains of numan aevelogment. Dialectical Materialism as a revolutionary PDFmyURL. or negate a grevious fact. These were negated by the emergence of class societies basing tnemselves ugon tne aeveloging materiall (levelsof wealtn. Tnus wtiat is 'necessary' in one time ana glace l5ecomes 'unnecessary' in anotner.responses. wtiicti are tne l5asicfeatures 011 class society ana originally marKeaa great steg forwara. theo[J'. and for this very reason extremely far-reaching and important. The Negation of the Negation Described by Engels as "an extremely general. only to Detransformea into somettiing else. iEve[J'thing.which exists. but can never be realised until the working class negates capitalism. iEve[J'thingcreates its oggosite. Moaern grivate ownersnig of tne means 011 groauction ana ttie nation state. does so out of necessitY'. only to later Decome negatea in its turn. the negation of the negation deals with Clevelogment tnrougn contraaictions wnicti aggearto annul.
Darwin's theory of evolution. But while he argued that "nature does not make a leap". PDFmyURL. new concepts such as MUTATION (the spontaneous formation of new variations in genetic make-up). geographical and climatic states. If this was the case. then earth must have had a history not only of coexistence in space but also a succession in time.com . writing before the time of Marx and Engels and who believed in a supreme being. must be something that had come into being. its plants and animals too. In particular.theory "Dialectics. Incorporating the science of genetics. so-called objective dialectics. was forced by experience to arrive unconsciously at a dialectical position. have begun to be studied. GENE FLOW (the introduction of new genes into a population by immigration of breeding individuals) and GENETIC DRIFT (random gene changes in a population due to its limited size) as well as natural selection. has itself become enriched and a more profound confirmation of dialectics of nature as a result of further study and practice. prevails throughout nature ..') In the realm of science. explicitly or implicitly. the revolutionary significance of which was immediately understood by Marx and Engels. Apparently unrelated scientific disciplines have come to share visions and methodologies reflecting the real connectedness of our living universe. Even the idealist philosopher Kant." (Engels: 'Dialectics of Nature. He argued that if the earth was something that had come into being. the dialectical method continues to vindicate itself as a vital tool for progress. then its present geological. the debates now raging among neo-Darwinists are about whether or not leaps take place and the nature of them. creating outrage among those forwhom "God" determined all. Darwin demonstrated how evolution develops through natural selection.
This theory deals with rapid and sudden speciation and mass extinction of species.In a brilliant endorsement of dialectics as the science of sharp turns and sudden changes as opposed to gradualist development. " . the theory on which all modern technology based. but in the economics of each particular epoch. For vouno workers and students seekinq to understand capitalism and PDFmyURL. in terms of geological time. not in men's brains. it is now widely accepted that rate of evolutionary change can vary enormously.com .. Quantum mechanics. but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. The theory of PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIA takes this idea a stage forward." (Engels: 'Socialism: Utopian & Sctentitic:') DIALECT ICAl MATERIALISM is not a dull theory to be pondered over by erudite academics in their studies. tt is a guide to action. rests on a unification of the two classical (apparently contradictory) concepts of wave motion and particle motion to produce a new deeper understanding of the nature of reality. not in man's better insight into eternal truth and justice. the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought.. is Towards a Socialist World. in the same way as Darwin spoke of the struggle for existence of individual varieties within a single species. maintaining that the development or appearance of a new species can be. Theories of fundamental particles find themselves working on concepts which bridge the contradiction between matter and the space-time in which matter moves. They are to be sought not in the philosophy. instantaneous breaking an apprarently stable equilibrium. Modern scientific theories rest on a dialectic view of nature.
each driven by definite motives and desires. almost 3. productivity and profit at our expense. The so-called New World Order is daily proving to be less harmonious than the old one.more importantly change it. at best.6 billion have neither cash nor credit to buy much of anything." . Although the development of giant corporations straddling continents and the existence of computer technologies underline the potential for the world planning of production and trade. Ourtask is to harness the indefatigable energy of the workers worldwide to throw off our exploitation. Reading List The following works are recommended. it is an indispensable tool. window shoppers. the first four being most accessible. Standing in our way is diseased capitalism. Of the six billion people on Earth. illuminates our path. assists us in turning our ideas into a material force and brings closer the day when men and women can pass over from the realm of necessity into the realm of human freedom. The dialectical method applied to every stage of the class struggle. capitalism remains a system based on wasteful competition between nation states where rival multinationals fight to improve market share.A majority of people on the planet remain. through the building of a mighty Socialist force. Great social revolutions in the past have been carried out by emerging minorities who best articulated the new economic and political needs of the rising class. The ABC of Materialist Dialectics (15/12/1939) from "A Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers' Party" and An Open Letter to Comrade Burnham (07/01/1940) both included in Trotsky's collection" In Defence of PDFmyURL.the world's working class and oppressed masses. History is made by conscious men and women. The struggle for Socialism is qualitatively different as it involves the conscious participation of the majority .com Marxism. 1.
Engels. "Ant i-Duhring" . "The part .com . "On 3.2. Lenin. played by Labour in the transition from ape to man" 5. "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" "Dialectics of Nature" Engels. 7.Engels. "An introduction to the Logic of Marxism" - 4. 6. 8. the question of Dialectics" - Lenin. George Novack. "Fundamental Problems of Marxism" - Plekhanov PDFmyURL.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.