Dialectical materialism: the foundation of Marxism

The cover of Josef Stalin’s book, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, which is quoted in this article. This is honestly the only semi-decent photo I could find when looking up “dialectical materialism” through a search engine (not Google)

The concept of “dialectical materialism” is important for understanding the world as it currently stands. While commonly used websites express some of the meaning, a general idea can be more accurately garnered from the Marxists Internet Archive, defining the concept as a “way of understanding reality; whether thoughts, emotions, or the material world…[a] methodology [that] is the combination of Dialectics and Materialism…[serving as] the theoretical foundation of Marxism.” This article aims to explain this important concept, which Curry Malott of the PSL’s Liberation School calls a “theory that grasps how many of the competing social forces driving the movement of society are often hidden or mystified, and that gives us a way of uncovering them.”

Defining the concept of dialectical materialism

In order to define the concept, it is best to look at the text itself. The concept was implied in Frederich Engels’s 1883 book, Dialectics of Nature, in which he writes about the eternal cycle, through which matter moves, and dialectics, while also saying that “it is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself.” It was also expressed by Engels in his 1886 book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in which he wrote that “with each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, it has to change its form; and after history was also subjected to materialistic treatment, a new avenue of development has opened here, too.” He added in later chapter that the “dialectic of concepts itself became merely the conscious reflex of the dialectical motion of the real world…[a] materialist dialectic…[has been] for years has been our best working tool and our sharpest weapon.” Others say the concept came from Anti-Dühring or German Ideology. Regardless, the fact is that dialectical materialsm was not fully defined as a concept until later. In 1895 it was mentioned by G.V. Plekhanov whom defines the concept:

…Modern dialectical materialism does not ignore…the influence of geographical environment on the development of society. It only ascertains better in what way geographical factors influence “social man.” It shows that the geographical environment provides men with a greater or lesser possibility of developing their productive forces, and thereby pushes them, more or less energetically, along the path of historical progress…Dialectical materialism reveals that such an argument is unsatisfactory, and that the influence of geographical environment shows itself first of all, and in the strongest degree, in the character of social relations, which in their turn influence the views of men, their customs and even their physical development infinitely more strongly than, for example, climate. Modern geographical science… fully agrees in this respect with dialectical materialism. This materialism is, of course, a particular case of the materialist view of history. But it explains it more fully, more universally, than could those other “particular cases.” Dialectical materialism is the highest development of the materialist conception of history…Modern dialectical materialism is incomparably more fruitful in this respect. It is of course a particular case of the materialist view of history but precisely that particular case which alone corresponds to the modern condition of science…Modern dialectical materialism cannot discover the mechanical explanation of history [an editorial note says that “Plekhanov’s statement is radically at variance with the basic principles of Marxist-Leninist dialectics. Dialectical materialism has never aimed at reducing all natural and social phenomena to mechanics, at giving mechanical explanations of the origin and development of species and of the historic process. Mechanical motion is by no means the only form of motion”]…Dialectical materialism says that it is not the consciousness of men which determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness; that it is not in the philosophy but in the economics of a particular society that one must seek the key to understanding its particular condition.

Basically, he is saying that dialectical materialism ascertains how the geographical environment influences humans by providing them with a possibility of “developing their productive forces” and that it influences social relations which influence people’s views, customs, and physical development even more than the climate. He is also saying that this concept posits that the “social being” of humans determines their consciousness and that in economics of a society, rather  than philosophy, one must “must seek the key to understanding its [society’s] particular condition.”

Two years earlier, G.V. Plekhanov used the term “dialectical materialism” but only said that this concept works to “overcome idealism” and that its task  was “determined in advance.” More than Plekhanov, Vladimir Lenin defined the term, which is important since he was able to put it in action as a successful Russian revolutionary who led the Soviet Union for many years.

In 1908, Lenin became aware of dialectical materialism, apart from his writing about “the conceptions of many modern scientists and of their metaphysical (in the Marxist sense of the term, i.e., anti-dialectical) views” the same year, remarking on A. Deborin’s book, Dialectual Materialism. Reprinted below are the comments on dialectical materialism from Deborin himself:

As a world outlook, dialectical materialism provides an answer—not an absolute one, of course—to the question of the structure of matter, of the world; it serves as the basis of a most brilliant historical theory; on the basis of dialectical materialism, politics and morality become in a certain sense exact sciences. Being foreign to all dogmatism, dialectical materialism—correctly understood, of course—introduces everywhere a fresh stream of theoretico—cognitive criticism. In this article we intend to call the reader’s attention only to the theoretico-cognitive aspect of dialectical materialism, which in this case does not, as a method, as a guiding principle of investigation, provide absolute solutions to problems, but primarily assists in their proper framing. As a theory of knowledge, dialectical materialism falls into a formal, or logical, part and a real, or material, one…Categories, i.e., pure universal concepts, such as time, space, or causality, are, from the point of view of dialectical materialism, logical definitions, on the one hand, and real forms of things, on the other….Dialectical materialism attains the “absoluteness” and universality of cognition by declaring the forms to be universal, objectively realperceptions.” On this rests the possibility of mathematical, or “geometrical” if you will, i.e., exact, cognition of reality. “Geometrical” space and “pure time” are universally real perceptions, and constitute the premise for the “mathematical” cognition of the sensuous world….But at the same time dialectical consciousness shows an ability to rise to the “conception” of nature as a “whole,” to the conception of the necessity, of the inherency, of the universal order of nature….Man cognises to the extent that he acts on, and he himself is subject to the action of, the external world. Dialectical materialism teaches that man is impelled to reflect chiefly by the sensations he experiences as he acts on the external world….Proceeding from the consideration that it is possible to dominate nature only by submitting to her, dialectical materialism calls upon us to coordinate our activity with the universal laws of nature, with the necessary order of things, with the universal laws of development of the world….Dialectical materialism puts material substance, the real substratum, at the basis of being. It has looked upon the world “as a process, as a substance, which is developing continuously” (Engels). The metaphysicists’ immutable and absolute being becomes mutable being. Substantial reality is recognised to be mutable, and changes and movements are recognised to be real forms of being. Dialectical materialism overcomes the dualism of “being” and “not-being,” the metaphysically absolute antithesis of the “immanent” to the“transcendental,” of the properties of things to the things themselves. On the basis of dialectical materialism, it becomes possible scientifically to connect the thing-in-itself with phenomena, and the immanent with the transcendental, and to surmount the incognisability of things-in-themselves, on the one hand, and the “subjectivism”of qualities, on the other, for “the nature of the thing,” as Plekhanov observes with very good reason, manifests itself precisely in its properties.”…From the point of view of dialectical materialism, the thing-in-itself is an object such as it exists in itself, and “for itself.”…Only on the basis of dialectical materialism, with its recognition of the external world, is the possibility presented of building a purely scientific theory of knowledge. He who rejects the external world also rejects the cause of our sensations and arrives at idealism. But the external world is also the ||principle|| of uniformity…Dialectical materialism by no means predetermines the question of the structure of matter in the sense of an obligatory recognition of the atomistic or corpuscular theory, or of any… And if the new theories of the structure of atoms are triumphant, dialectical materialism will not only not be confuted but, on the contrary, will be most brilliantly confirmed…hence, together with matter, also dialectical materialism, which considers matter as the sole  reality and the only suitable ||tool|| for systematising experience….To sum up. From the formal aspect, dialectical materialism, as we have seen, makes universally obligatory and objective cognition possible thanks to the fact that, from its point of view, the forms of being are also forms of thinking, that to every change in the objective  world there corresponds a change in the sphere of perceptions. As for the material aspect, dialectical materialism proceeds from the recognition of things-in-themselves or the external world or mailer. “Things-in-themselves” are cognisable. The unconditional and absolute is rejected by dialectical materialism. Everything in nature is in the process of change and motion, which are based on definite combinations of matter. According to dialectics, one “form” of being changes into another through leaps. Modern theories of physics, far from disproving, fully confirm the correctness of dialectical materialism.

In summary, Deborin says that dialectical materialism provides an answer to the structure of matter (what all material things are made of, occupying space and perceptible to the senses in some way) of the world and the basis of the “most brilliant historical theory,” being Marxism of course, assisting by properly framing problems. Categories like time (indefinite or unlimited duration in which things are considered to be happening in the past, present, or future; the entire period of existence of the known universe), space (three-dimensional, continuous expanse which extends in all directions and contains all matter), and causality (interrelation of cause and effect, connected with the principle that nothing happens or exists without a cause) are defined using “correct reasoning”  with “valid induction or deduction,” while the “real forms” of these things (distinguishable entities) take on universal forms (shape, outline, or configuration of something). [2] As such, this rests on possibility of an exact perception (mental grasp of objects, qualities, and other aspects, by the main senses; comprehension; awareness) of reality with space and time being real (existing or happening as in fact, being actual or true), which contributes to one’s perception, in the broadest sense, of the “sensuous world.” Dialectical materialism, as he puts it, also shows the ability to conceive nature as a whole which has a universal (present, occurring everywhere or in all things) order, with humans subject to the action of the external world, and can only “dominate nature only by submitting to her” meaning that humans must “coordinate our activity with the universal laws of nature, with the necessary order of things, with the universal laws of development of the world.” Furthermore, it puts “material substance…at the basis of being,” looking upon the world as a developing process, with changes and movements all the time. There is further a dualism (theory that the world is composed of two basic entities: mind and matter) of being or not being, meaning it becomes possible to scientifically “connect the thing-in-itself with phenomena,” with the “thing-in-itself” existing as “an object such as it exists in itself, and “for itself”” [3] With this, it is possible to build “a purely scientific theory of knowledge,” recognize the “cause of our sensations,” and reject idealism, while not predetermining “the question of the structure of matter.” He writes that this concept considers matter as “the sole reality and the only suitable” way  for “systematising experience” on Earth for humans and nature. As such it makes “universally obligatory and objective cognition possible” since it means that “forms of being are also forms of thinking” since “every change in the objective  world…corresponds [to] a change in the sphere of perceptions.” In terms of the material aspect, it “proceeds from the recognition of things-in-themselves,” rejecting the “unconditional and absolute” since everything in “nature is in the process of change and motion, which are based on definite combinations of matter,” with one form of being changing into another “through leaps.”

We then get back to Lenin. In 1908, he wrote about the “spirit of dialectical materialism” and Engels’s meaning of the term. In the same publication, Materialism and Empirio-criticism, he wrote that

…dialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another, which is to us apparently irreconcilable with it, and so forth. However bizarre from the standpoint of “common sense” the transformation of imponderable ether into ponderable matter and vice versa may appear, however “strange” may seem the absence of any other kind of mass in the electron save electromagnetic mass, however extraordinary may be the fact that the mechanical laws of motion are confined only to a single sphere of natural phenomena and are subordinated to the more profound laws of electromagnetic phenomena, and so forth—all this is but another corroboration of dialectical materialism… The “essence” of things, or “substance,” is also relative; it expresses only the degree of profundity of man’s knowledge of objects; and while yesterday the profundity of this knowledge did not go beyond the atom, and today does not go beyond the electron and ether, dialectical materialism insists on the temporary, relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the knowledge of nature gained by the progressing science of man. The electron is as inexhaustible as the atom, nature is infinite, but it infinitely exists. And it is this sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature’s existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism.

Bascially, Lenin is saying that dialectical materialism insists on no absolute boundaries in nature, with matter moving from one state to another, transforming, with the laws of motion and “electromagnetic phenomena” corroborating this concept. He is also saying that the essence of things, or its substance, is “relative” in that it expresses “only the degree of profundity of man’s knowledge of objects.” He also says  that dialectical materialism insists on the “temporary, relative, approximate character of all these milestones in the knowledge of nature” which has been gained so far, with this concept distinguished from “relativist agnosticism and idealism.”

In 1914 he broached this subject once more. He wrote that the elements of dialectics are firstly, “determination of the concept out of itself,” secondly “the contradictory nature of the thing itself…[and] the contradictory forces and tendencies in each phenomenon,” later expanded by Mao Tse-Tung, and thirdly “union of analysis and synthesis.” More specifically, he defines the elements of dialectics to be:

  1. objectivity of consideration”
  2. “entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.”
  3. development of this thing [or]…phenomenon…[with] its own movement, its own life”
  4. “internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing”
  5. “the thing (phenomenon, etc.) as the sum and unity of opposites
  6. “the struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings, etc.”
  7. “the union of analysis and synthesis—the break-down of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.”
  8. “the relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process, etc.) is connected with  every other
  9. “the unity of opposites [and]…the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other”
  10. “endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.”
  11. “endless process of the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence”
  12. “from co-existence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal
    dependence to another, deeper, more general form.”
  13. “the repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties, etc., of the lower and the apparent return to the old (negation of the negation)”
  14. “the struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content”
  15. “transition of quantity into quality and vice versa

Lenin mentioned the term “dialectical materialism” in another work the same year, but only talked about it in terms of dialectics and materialism, not the concept itself.

The following year, 1915, Lenin wrote about this topic again, saying that:

the splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics…the correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics…usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples…and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)…The identity of opposites…is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites… The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects…Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc…Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a “nucleus” (“cell”) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism…Dialectics as living, many-sided knowledge (with the number of sides eternally increasing), with an infinite number of shades of every approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade)—here we have an immeasurably rich content as compared with “metaphysical” materialism…From
the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated…development (inflation, distension) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge, into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature…Human knowledge is not (or does not follow) a straight line, but a curve, which endlessly  approximates a series of circles, a spiral. Any fragment, segment, section of this curve can be transformed…into an independent, complete, straight line, which then…leads into the quagmire, into clerical obscurantism (where it is anchored by the class interests of the ruling classes). Rectilinearity and one-sidedness, woodenness and petrification, subjectivism and subjective blindness—voilà the epistemological roots of idealism. And clerical obscrutantism (= philosophical idealism), of course, has epistemological roots, it is not groundless; it is a sterile flower undoubtedly, but a sterile flower that grows on the living tree of living, fertile, genuine, powerful, omnipotent, objective, absolute human knowledge.

Six years later, in 1921, Nikolai Bukharin, wrote on this topic. He sided with Josef Stalin and Soviet power from 1923 to 1928, while also serving as an editor of Pravda from 1918 to 1929, expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1929 for his anti-Soviet thoughts, and tried in 1938 in one of the Moscow trials. Even so, he is considered a person who had a tireless dedication to “theoretical economics…and he was…one of the principal theoreticians of the Bolshevik Party.” He devoted chapter 3 of his 1921 book, Historical Materialism: A System of Sociology, to dialectical materialism, writing that:

In our consideration of the question of the human will, the question whether it is free, or determined by certain causes, like everything else in the world, we arrived at the conclusion that we must adopt the point of view of determinism. We found that the will of man is not divine in character, that it depends on external causes and on the conditions of the human organism. This brought us face to face with the most important question that has troubled the human mind for thousands of years – the question as to the relation between matter and mind…Let us try to consider it from as many standpoints as possible. First of all, we must bear in mind that man is a part of nature. We cannot know for certain whether other more highly organized creatures exist on other planets, although it is probable that such do exist, for the number of planets seems endless. But it is clearly apparent to us that the being called “man” is not a divine creature, standing outside of the world, projected from some other, unknown, mysterious universe, but, as we know from the natural sciences, he is a product and a portion of nature, subject to its general laws…we know that man has sprung from other animals, and that, after all, “living creatures” have been in existence on earth only for a time. When the earth was still a flaming sphere, resembling the sun today, long before it had cooled, there was no life on its surface, nor thinking creatures of any kind. Organic nature grew out of dead nature; living nature produced a form capable of thought. First, we had matter, incapable of thought; out of which developed thinking matter, man. If this is the case – and we know it is, from natural science – it is plain that matter is the mother of mind; mind is not the mother of matter…”mind” does not appear until we already have matter organized in a certain manner…Man’s brain, a part of man’s organism, thinks. And man’s organism is matter organized in a highly intricate form…it is quite clear from the above why matter may exist without mind, while “mind” may not exist without matter. Matter existed before the appearance of a thinking human; the earth existed long before the appearance of any kind of “mind” on its surface. In other words, matter exists objectively, independently of “mind”. But the psychic phenomena, the so called “mind”, never and nowhere existed without matter, were never independent of matter. Thought does not exist without a brain; desires are impossible unless there is a desiring organism…[as such] psychic phenomena, the phenomena of consciousness, are simply a property of matter organized in a certain manner, a “function” of such master…Now man is a very delicately organized creature…the state of “mind” of the consciousness, depends on the state of the organism…[there is] the dependence of consciousness on matter, or in other words, “of thought on life”…We have seen that psychical phenomena are a property of matter organized in a certain manner. We may therefore have various fluctuations, various forms of material organization, and also various forms of mental life. Man, with his brain, is organized in one manner…a true consciousness…On earth, this consciousness appears only when matter has been organized, as in the case of man, with his most complicated instrument, the brain in his head. Thus, mind cannot exist without matter, while matter may very well exist without mind; matter existed before mind; mind is a special property of matter organized in a special manner...It is not difficult to discern that idealism…is simply a diluted form of the religious conception according to which a divine mysterious power is placed above nature, the human consciousness being considered a little spark emanating from this divine power, and man himself a creature chosen by God. The idealistic point of view, if pursued to its conclusion, leads to a number of absurdities, which are often defined with a serious face by the philosophers of the ruling classes…Of course, the senile bourgeoisie, now drooling about God like a soft-brained old man, regards materialism with hatred. It is easy to understand that materialism necessarily will be the revolutionary theory of the young revolutionary class, the proletariat…But we have seen above that idealism involves an admission of the independence of ideas from the material, and of the dependence of these ideas on divine and mysterious springs. It is therefore obvious that the idealist point of view involves a downright mysticism, or other tomfoolery, in the social sciences, and consequently leads to a destruction of these sciences, to their substitution by faith in the acts of God or in some other such conception…Human society is a product of nature. Like the human race itself, it depends on nature and may exist only by obtaining its necessities from nature. This it does by the process of production. It may not always do so consciously; a conscious process is possible only in an organized society, in which everything proceeds according to a plan. In unorganized society, the process goes on unconsciously…the spiritual life of society must necessarily depend on the conditions of material production, on the stage that has been attained in the growth of the productive forces in human society. The mental life of society is a function of the forces of production… Materialism is therefore in a position to explain the phenomena of “mental life” in society, which idealism cannot, for idealism imagines “ideas” developing out of themselves, independently of the base earth…Even a hasty glance at nature will at once convince us that there is nothing immutable about it…The race and appearance of men are subject to change with everything else in the world…Evidently, that there is nothing immutable and rigid in the universe…Matter in motion: such is the stuff of this world…The world being in constant motion, we must consider phenomena in their mutual relations, and not as isolated cases. All portions of the universe are actually related to each other and exert an influence on each other. The slightest motion, the slightest alteration in one place, simultaneously changes everything else. The change may be great or small – that is another matter – at any rate, there is a change…All things in the universe are connected with an indissoluble bond nothing exists as an isolated object, independent of its surroundingsIn the first place, therefore, the dialectic method of interpretation demands that all phenomena be considered in their indissoluble relations; in the second place, that they be considered in their state of motion…everything in the world is in a state of change, and indissolubly connected with everything elsewhile we may not always observe growth, there is always motion and alteration, though it may end in destruction or dissolution...It follows, in the first place, that we must consider and investigate each form of society in its own peculiar terms. We cannot throw into a single pot all epochs, periods, social forms…In the second place, each form must be studied in its internal process of change...In the third place, each form of society must be considered in its growth and in its necessary disappearance, i.e., in its relation with other forms...The basis of all things is therefore the law of change, the law of constant motion…The transformation of quantity into quality is one of the fundamental laws in the motion of matter; it may be traced literally at every step both in nature and society…Revolutions in society are of the same character as the violent changes in nature….They are prepared by the entire preceding course of development

In 1931, Bukharin, whom had  fallen out of favor in the Soviet Union, again wrote on the topic of dialectical materialism, saying that “the crisis of present-day capitalist economy has produced a most profound crisis in the whole of capitalist culture; a crisis in individual branches of science, a crisis in epistemology, a crisis in world outlook, a crisis in world feeling.” To this, he added that

…both theory and practice are the activity of social man. If we examine theory not as petrified “systems,” and practice not as finished products–i.e., not as “dead” labour petrified in things, but in action, we shall have before us two forms of labour activity, the bifurcation of labour into intellectual and physical labour, “mental and material,” theoretical cognition and practical action…In actual fact we have in every class society divided labour and, consequently, a contradiction between intellectual and physical labour–i.e.. a contradiction between theory and practice. But, like every division of labour, here too it is a living unity of opposites. Action passes into cognition. Cognition passes into action. Practice drives forward cognition. Cognition fertilises practice…Practically–and, consequently, epistemologically–the external world is “given” as the object of active influence on the part of social, historically developing man. The external world has its history. The relations growing up between subject and object are historical…For, if the objective world is changed through practice and according to practice, which includes theory, this means, that practice verifies the truth of theory; and this means that we know to a certain extent (and come to know more and more) objective reality, its qualities, its attributes, its regularities…Cognition, considered historically, is the more and more adequate reflection of objective reality. The fundamental criterion of the correctness of cognition is therefore the criterion of its adequateness, its degree of correspondence to objective reality…Production is the real starting point of social development…just as development in natural history changes the forms of biological species, the historical development of society, with the movement of productive forces at its foundation, changes the socio-historic forms of labour, “social structures,” “modes of production,” together with which there changes the whole ideological superstructure, up to and including the “highest” forms of theoretical cognition and reflective illusions… In complete opposition to this comprehensible development, young Socialism is arising–its economic principle the maximum of technical economic power, planfulness, development of all human capacities and requirements its cultural-historical approach determined by the Marxist outlook: against religious metaphysics advancing dialectical materialism: against enfeebled intuitive contemplation, cognitive and practical activism: against flight into non-existent metempirical heavens, the sociological self-cognition of all ideologies: against the ideology of pessimism, despair, “fate,” fatum, the revolutionary optimism which overturns the whole world: against the complete disruption of theory and practice, their greatest synthesis: against the crystallisation of an “elite,” the uniting of the millions. It is not only a new economic system which has been born. A new culture has been born. A new science has been born. A new style of life has been born. This is the greatest antithesis in human history, which both theoretically and practically will be overcome by the forces of the proletariat–the last class aspirins to power, in order in the long run to put an end to all power whatsoever.

In 1937, Mao Tse-Tung (called this using the Wade–Giles romanticization system for Mandarin Chinese, often called “Mao Zedong” in the West) wrote on this topic in his well-known essay, “On Contradiction“:

The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics…Lenin often called this law the essence of dialectics; he also called it the kernel of dialectics… Throughout the history of human knowledge, there have been two conceptions concerning the law of development of the universe, the metaphysical conception and the dialectical conception, which form two opposing world outlooks…the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it…As a matter of fact, even mechanical motion under external force occurs through the internal contradictoriness of things. Simple growth in plants and animals, their quantitative development, is likewise chiefly the result of their internal contradictions. Similarly, social development is due chiefly not to external but to internal causes. Countries with almost the same geographical and climatic conditions display great diversity and unevenness in their development. Moreover, great social changes may take place in one and the same country although its geography and climate remain unchanged…Changes in society are due chiefly to the development of the internal contradictions in society, that is, the contradiction between the productive forces and the relations of production, the contradiction between classes and the contradiction between the old and the new; it is the development of these contradictions that pushes society forward and gives the impetus for the supersession of the old society by the new…materialist dialectics…holds that external causes are the condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change, and that external causes become operative through internal causes… The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end…The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist. Contradiction is the basis of the simple forms of motion (for instance, mechanical motion) and still more so of the complex forms of motion…the universality of contradiction [manifests itself]…on mechanics [as] action and reaction…in physics [as] positive and negative electricity…in chemistry [as] the combination and dissociation of atoms…[and] in social science [as] the class struggle…In war, offence and defence, advance and retreat, victory and defeat are all mutually contradictory phenomena. One cannot exist without the other. The two aspects are at once in conflict and in interdependence, and this constitutes the totality of a war, pushes its development forward and solves its problems…Contradiction is present in the process of development of all things; it permeates the process of development of each thing from beginning to end. This is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction… the contradiction in each form of motion of matter has its particularity…Every form of society, every form of ideology, has its own particular contradiction and particular essence…Qualitatively different contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods…There are many contradictions in the course of development of any major thing…In studying a problem, we must shun subjectivity, one-sidedness and superficiality… In studying the particularities of the contradictions at each stage in the process of development of a thing, we must not only observe them in their interconnections or their totality, we must also examine the two aspects of each contradiction… It can thus be seen that in studying the particularity of any kind of contradiction–the contradiction in each form of motion of matter, the contradiction in each of its processes of development, the two aspects of the contradiction in each process, the contradiction at each stage of a process, and the two aspects of the contradiction at each stage–in studying the particularity of all these contradictions, we must not be subjective and arbitrary but must analyse it concretely. Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction…contradiction exists in and runs through all processes from beginning to end; motion, things, processes, thinking–all are contradictions. To deny contradiction is to deny everything. This is a universal truth for all times and all countries, which admits of no exception…in capitalist society the two forces in contradiction, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, form the principal contradiction…But in another situation, the contradictions change position…Hence, if in any process there are a number of contradictions, one of them must be the principal contradiction playing the leading and decisive role, while the rest occupy a secondary and subordinate position. Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to funding [finding?] its principal contradiction…while we recognize that in the general development of history the material determines the mental and social being determines social consciousness, we also–and indeed must–recognize the reaction of mental on material things, of social consciousness on social being and of the superstructure on the economic base…Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium…no contradictory aspect can exist in isolation…There are two states of motion in all things, that of relative rest and that of conspicuous change. Both are caused by the struggle between the two contradictory elements contained in a thing…In identity there is struggle, in particularity there is universality, and in individuality there is generality…We may now say a few words to sum up. The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook. It represents a great revolution in the history of human knowledge… In studying the particularity and relativity of contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the principal contradiction and the non-principal contradictions and to the distinction between the principal aspect and the non-principal aspect of a contradiction; in studying the universality of contradiction and the struggle of opposites in contradiction, we must give attention to the distinction between the different forms of struggle.

With that, we can move onto what Mao wrote the following year in an essay titled “Dialectical Materialism.” Within it, he said that

All philosophical theories have been created by men belonging to a definite social class. The ideas of these men have moreover been historically determined by a definite social existence. All philosophical doctrines express the needs of a definite social class and reflect the level of development of the productive forces of society and the historical stage in men’s comprehension of nature…The distinguishing characteristic of Marxist philosophy — i.e., dialectical materialism — is its effort to explain clearly the class nature of all social consciousness (including philosophy). It publicly declares a resolute struggle between its own proletarian nature and the idealist philosophy of the propertied class. Moreover, it subordinates its own special and independent tasks to such general tasks as overthrowing capitalism, organizing and building a proletarian dictatorship, and edifying a socialist society… Idealism considers spirit (consciousness, concepts, the subject) as the source of all that exists on earth, and matter (nature and society, the object) as secondary and subordinate, Materialism recognizes the independent existence of matter as detached from spirit and considers spirit as secondary and subordinate…The recognition that matter exists independently and apart from consciousness in the external world is the foundation of materialism… Marx, Engels and Lenin all explained materialist dialectics as the theory of development… Materialist dialectics is the only scientific epistemology, and it is also the only scientific logic. Materialist dialectics studies the origin and development of our knowledge of the outside world. It studies the transition from not knowing to knowing and from incomplete knowledge to more complete knowledge; it studies how the laws of the development of nature and society are daily reflected more profoundly and more extensively in the mind of humanity. This is precisely the unity of materialist dialectics with epistemology… The very first condition for belonging to the materialist camp consists in recognizing the independent existence of the material world, separate from human consciousness — the fact that it existed before the appearance of humanity, and continues to exist since the appearance of humanity, independently and outside of human consciousness. To recognize this point is a fundamental premise of all scientific research… The first fundamental principle of dialectical materialism lies in its view of matter…principle of the unity of the world…Dialectical materialism…considers that rest or equilibrium are merely one element of movement, that they are merely one particular circumstance of movement…The causes of the transformation of matter is to be found not without, but within. It is not because of the impulsion of external mechanical forces, but because of the existence within the matter in question of two components different in their nature and mutually contradictory which struggle with one another, thus giving an impetus to the movement and development of the matter. Dialectical materialism investigate the development of the world as a progressive movement from the inorganic to the organic, and from thence to the highest form of the movement of matter (society). What we have just discussed is the theory of the movement of the world, or the principle of the development of the world in accordance with dialectical materialism. This doctrine is the essence of Marxist philosophy. If the proletariat and all revolutionaries take up this consistently scientific arm, they will then be able to understand this world, and transform the world.

Finally there is Josef Stalin, writing an essay in 1938 titled “Dialectical and Historical Materialism.” Since he covered similar ground to Mao, this makes him effectively his ideological contemporary, as you could call it. In this essay, Stalin writes that

Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party. It is called dialectical materialism because its approach to the phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is dialectical, while its interpretation of the phenomena of nature, its conception of these phenomena, its theory, is materialistic. Historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of social life, an application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the phenomena of the life of society, to the study of society and of its history…Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate….This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature, as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature. In its essence, dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics…Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with, isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected with, dependent on, and determined by, each other…Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development, where something is always arising and developing, and something always disintegrating and dying away…dialectics does not regard the process of development as a simple process of growth, where quantitative changes do not lead to qualitative changes, but as a development which passes from insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open’ fundamental changes’ to qualitative changes; a development in which the qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, taking the form of a leap from one state to another; they occur not accidentally but as the natural result of an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes. The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development should be understood not as movement in a circle, not as a simple repetition of what has already occurred, but as an onward and upward movement, as a transition from an old qualitative state to a new qualitative state, as a development from the simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher…Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying away and something developing; and that the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes. The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development from the lower to the higher takes place not as a harmonious unfolding of phenomena, but as a disclosure of the contradictions inherent in things and phenomena, as a “struggle” of opposite tendencies which operate on the basis of these contradictions…If there are no isolated phenomena in the world, if all phenomena are interconnected and interdependent, then it is clear that every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from the standpoint of “eternal justice” or some other preconceived idea, as is not infrequently done by historians, but from the standpoint of the conditions which gave rise to that system or that social movement and with which they are connected…Marx’s philosophical materialism holds that the world is by its very nature material, that the multifold phenomena of the world constitute different forms of matter in motion, that interconnection and interdependence of phenomena as established by the dialectical method, are a law of the development of moving matter, and that the world develops in accordance with the laws of movement of matter and stands in no need of a “universal spirit”…Marxist philosophical materialism holds that matter, nature, being, is an objective reality existing outside and independent of our consciousness; that matter is primary, since it is the source of sensations, ideas, consciousness, and that consciousness is secondary, derivative, since it is a reflection of matter, a reflection of being; that thought is a product of matter which in its development has reached a high degree of perfection, namely, of the brain, and the brain is the organ of thought; and that therefore one cannot separate thought from matter without committing a grave error…Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice…whatever the character of the relations of production may be, always and in every system they constitute just as essential an element of production as the productive forces of society…the productive forces are not only the most mobile and revolutionary element in production, but are also the determining element in the development of production…Five main types of relations of production are known to history: primitive communal, slave, feudal, capitalist and socialist.

A rough definition of dialectical materialism

Combining the ideas of Engels, Plekhanov, A. Deborin, Lenin, Bukharin, Mao, and Stalin, we can come to a rough definition of dialectical materialism, serving as a distinguishing characteristic of Marxist philosophy by attempting to explain the class nature of all social consciousness, which is a sharp weapon for the proletariat. Before giving a definition, it is worth saying that it overcomes idealism and stands opposed to the ideas of metaphysics. Mao adds that one should recognize the recognizing the reaction of mental on material things, social consciousness on one’s “social being” and the superstructure on the economic base in society, and that one must have a strong concrete analysis since, if the proletariat and all revolutionaries can take up this concept, they can understand and transform the world. [4] The definition I have come up with, from combining the thoughts of each of these theorists, to give a general idea of the term itself, due to its importance in class struggle against the bourgeoisie, as as follows:

This concept frames problems by defining of time, space, and causality (interrelation of cause and effect), using valid deduction or induction and correct reasoning. The real forms (shape, outline, or configuration of something) these things, or distinguishable entities, take on, are universal in that they exist or happen in reality. This concept also posits that these things, and others have internal contradictions (things are contrary/opposition to each other), one of which has a major role, like tensions between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, and are dualistic, with a temporary/ transitory/conditional unity of opposites and inter-relation of things to each other. Furthermore, matter (what all material things are made of, which occupy space and are perceptible to the senses), which objectively exists apart from consciousness, has organized itself in a certain way with perfection and intricacy, as manifested in the “mind” of beings such as humans. As such, while the mind cannot exist without matter, matter can exist without a mind. While, this mind-matter distinction is present, the world is always changing and developing, with matter moving through an eternal cycle, with no absolutes, with forms changing from one into another since nothing is rigid or immutable. In such a universe, all matter and the Earth, for example, are in constant motion or movement, with all portions of the universe inter-related, exerting an influence on each other. As a result, no one object or thing is independent from its surroundings, with everything connected to everything else, with all phenomena are interconnected and interdependent. As for humans, they have the ability to conceive nature as a universal, in that it occurs everywhere or in all things, with humans as part and products of nature. For example, a geographical environment influences humans and social relations, a person’s will depends on external factors and internal conditions within a human, while appearance and race of humans can change over time. Additionally, human society, the highest form of matter’s movement, is a product of nature, with a conscious process occurring in societies which are organized, and nothing in the world developing absolutely evenly. As a result, every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated from the standpoint of the conditions which gave rise to that system or that social movement and with which they are connected. At the same time, this concept means that the world and its laws are fully knowable, since we know objective reality to a certain extent, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, disclosed by efforts of science and practice. This means that we need to understand development of a thing, by studying it internally and in its relations with other things, with each thing interrelated with and interacting with the things around it. In sum, human knowledge follows a curve or a spiral which can be transformed into an independent, complete, and straight line.

This is much more simple than what Sandino Morazan wrote in Anti-Conquesta, which defines itself as the “Communist Party of the Latin American and Caribbean Diaspora…[which is] dedicated to exposing and fighting the capitalist-imperialist system…[providing] analysis of the region’s current events and history from a communist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, Third Worldist and pan-Latin American perspective.” Morazan wrote that the biggest error, of too many, is failing to “properly study Marx’s writings and those of his ideological successors,” instead relying on “solely on watered-down interpretations by bourgeois “scholars” who misread Marx and have never done anything tangible for the world.” He continue by summing up dialectical materialism as “an approach to understanding and changing objective reality, both in nature and society.” He then defined the concept itself. [5]

Proof of dialectical materialism

After defining this concept, it is important to provide proof in the world (and universe) as a whole, when it comes to human and animal actions. It is because, as Stalin pointed out in 1938 (as quoted earlier in this article), the application of the principles of dialectical materialism to social life, to a study of society and its history, is historical materialism, basically a subset of dialectical materialism. That will be covered in a later article in detail. With this, we begin the proof!

In humans, the inner ends of the eyebrows are raised, a “thing” which is part of the human body, and corners of the mouth are depressed when a person is suffering from anxiety or grief. [6] The same is the case for different muscles which come into action due to other emotions. This shows the inter-relation of things to each other. This is especially the case since muscles are connected in intimate ways, with “sympathy between ears and eyes,” which can be said to constitute the “unity of opposites,” as ears and eyes have different (but related) functions, which is part of dialectical materialism. At the same time, the closest relatives of humans, apes, have similar facial muscles, this means that it is “very improbable” that these muscles, for humans, serve exclusively for expression. Not only does this show interconnection of beings, apes and humans in this instance, but it means that nothing is rigid, immutable, or has an absolute. As Charles Darwin put it, “as long as man and all other animals are viewed as independent creations, an effectual stop is put on our natural desire to investigate as far as possible the causes of Expression.” As such, humans and other animals (and all animal life on Earth, along with in the universe as a whole) are not “independent creations” but are part of nature, inter-dependent and interconnected with each other. Furthermore, movement of body features of humans to express emotions are the same across races, while “conventional expressions or gestures” may be different. With this, it is clear that humans, and their social relations, are influenced of their geographical environments. Darwin further writes, in his 1872 book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals that

Certain complex actions are of direct and indirect service under certain states of mind, in order to relieve or gratify certain sensations, desires, etc…certain states of the mind lead to certain habitual actions…when the sensorium [parts of the brain that receive, process and interpret sensory stimuli] is strongly excited, nerve-force is generated in excess and in transmitted in certain definite directions, depending on the connection of the nerve-cells, and partly on habit. [7]

This shows the inter-related nature of the parts of the body, with nothing independent of its surroundings. As for other animals, they have similar strong behaviors. When a dog approaches another strange dog or human in a hostile frame of mind, he walks stiffly and upright, with a slightly raised head, a tail which is erect and rigid, with hairs along the neck and back bristling, and pricked airs directed forward, with a fixed stare toward his enemy, with the intention to attack. In preparation of such a move, a dog puts out a growl, with uncovered canine teeth. [8] This shows the awareness of other beings by the dog, the connection of the realities of different beings. Similar to the dog, a cat, when it is threatened by a dog, arches its back, erects its hair, opens its mouth and spits, intending to attack its enemy. As Darwin adds elsewhere, the “power of intercommunication is…of high service to many animals,” between their own species, and evidently with other species.

There are other instances of inter-relation between parts of the human body. Secretions of the alimentary canal and certain glands, like the liver and kidneys, are “effects by strong emotions.” [9] At the same time, the vaso-motor system, regulating the diameter of small arteries, is acted upon by the sensorium, including when a human blushes from shame.

That’s enough summarizing of Darwin’s work. We can move onto Riane Ensler’s The Chalice and the Blade in which she describes the uniqueness of humans and their power over the little blue planet (Earth):

Of all the life-forms on this planet, only we can plant and harvest fields, compose poetry and music, seek truth and justice, teach a child to read and write—or even laugh and cry. Because of our unique ability to imagine new realities and realize these through ever more advanced technologies, we are literally partners in our own evolution…yet [our]…species…seems bent on putting an end…to its own evolution…[and] that of most life on our globe, threatening our planet with ecological catastrophe or nuclear annihilation. [10] Clearly, there is a conscious process occurring here, as in all organized societies, as posited as part of dialectical materialism.

In terms of human knowledge following a curve or a spiral, this relates to what Eisler talks about: a cultural shift from ancient societies when there were societies which were not “male dominant, violent, and hierachic” to those which were the opposition, worshiping the power to “take rather and give life,” establishing and enforcing domination. She also writes that the way “we structure the most fundamental human relations…has a profound effect on every one of our institutions…our values, and…the direction of our cultural evolution, particularly whether it will be peaceful or warlike.” As such, this connects to the concept of dialectical materialism.

On a related note, is the difference of language among humans, as noted by David Crystal. Indigenous peoples are not disabled by their language when they use it within their own community, even though some thought, in racist terms, that such peoples only spoke “simply” and Europeans spoke more complexly. [11] At the same time, for all humans, language is used for emotional expression, social interaction, controlling reality, recording facts, instrument of thought, or expression of identity, showing that language is not static, which is important as its formal properties, such as “word order and sentence sequencing” constitute the medium through which our “connected thoughts can be presented and organized.” Such a reality fits with dialectical materialism completely.

What about the claim that human society is part and product of nature? Well, in the long perspective of world history, humans are newcomers to the historical scene, since life on Earth reaches back 3 billion years, with birds and mammals appearing about 130 million years ago, with modern humans (homo sapiens) not appearing until 250,000 years ago, at most. [12] Furthermore, humans descended from ape-like species, with the home of early hominids being equatorial Africa and quickly spreading across the world, with the ability of humans to adopt themselves to environmental changes of the ice ages of the Pleistocene era serving as a “crucial factor” in their survival and in their ability to dominate other species in the years to come. It would not be until 8,000 BCE that humans would begin to “select, breed, domesticate and cultivate various species of plant and animal.”

This brings us to another claim about humans, as posited by dialectical materialism: that appearance and race of humans can change over time. The former is undeniably the case. This is because, as the Smithsonian Institution put it, on their page about human origins:

For millions of years all humans, early and modern alike, had to find their own food. They spent a large part of each day gathering plants and hunting or scavenging animals.  Then, within just the past 12,000 years, our species, Homo sapiens, made the transition to producing food and changing our surroundings. We have been so successful that we have inadvertently created a turning point in the history of life on Earth.

Apart from that, scientists discovered that just in the last hundred years, humans have become taller, but also fatter and live longer than any time in human history, with these changes due to differences in “nutrition, food distribution, health care and hygiene practices.” With this, it is no surprise to say, with certainty, that human evolution is not over. Apart from these changes over the past 100 years, the human brain has changed over time, as noted by John Hawks, University of Wisconsin–Madison anthropology professor, in Scientific American:

…Across nearly seven million years, the human brain has tripled in size, with most of this growth occurring in the past two million years…For the first two thirds of our history, the size of our ancestors’ brains was within the range of those of other apes living today…The final third of our evolution saw nearly all the action in brain size…From here the species embarked on a slow upward march, reaching more than 1,000 ml by 500,000 years ago. Early Homo sapiens had brains within the range of people today, averaging 1,200 ml or more. As our cultural and linguistic complexity, dietary needs and technological prowess took a significant leap forward at this stage, our brains grew to accommodate the changes. The shape changes we see accentuate the regions related to depth of planning, communication, problem solving and other more advanced cognitive functions. With some evolutionary irony, the past 10,000 years of human existence actually shrank our brains. Limited nutrition in agricultural populations may have been an important driver of this trend. Industrial societies in the past 100 years, however, have seen brain size rebound, as childhood nutrition increased and disease declined. Although the past does not predict future evolution, a greater integration with technology and genetic engineering may catapult the human brain into the unknown.

What about the change in race of humans over time? It is already clear that a human’s melanin is responsible for a person’s skin color or pigment. At the same time, the skin color given to a person, through their melanin, is “primarily determined by genetic inheritance” but can also be altered by sunlight. As Dennis O’Neil of the Behavioral Sciences Department of Palomar College in San Marcos, California notes:

Human skin color is quite variable around the world.  It ranges from a very dark brown among some Africans, Australian Aborigines, and Melanesians to a near yellowish pink among some Northern Europeans. There are no people who actually have true black, white, red, or yellow skin.  These are commonly used color terms that do not reflect biological reality. Skin color is due primarily to the presence of a pigment called melanin, which is controlled by at least 6 genes. Both light and dark complexioned people have melanin. However, two forms are produced–pheomelanin, which is red to yellow in color, and eumelanin, which is dark brown to black.  People with light complexioned skin mostly produce pheomelanin, while those with dark colored skin mostly produce eumelanin.  In addition, individuals differ in the number and size of melanin particles….Hair color is also due to the presence of melanin. Melanin is normally located in the epidermis, or outer skin layer.  It is produced at the base of the epidermis by specialized cells called melanocytes. These cells have photosensitive receptors, similar to those in the eye, that detect ultraviolet radiation from the sun and other sources.  In response, they produce melanin within a few hours of exposure…Before the mass global migrations of people during the last 500 years, dark skin color was mostly concentrated in the southern hemisphere near the equator and light color progressively increased farther away, as illustrated in the map below.  In fact, the majority of dark pigmented people lived within 20º of the equator.  Most of the lighter pigmented people lived in the northern hemisphere north of 20º latitude, where ultraviolet radiation is much less intense on average.

As for race, the dominant position in scholarship is that the concept of race is a “modern phenomenon, at least in Europe and the Americas” while some scholars think that racism, “even absent a developed race concept, may have existed in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.”

This brings us to a number of other claims about humans, which are posited by dialectical materialism. Within the Aristotelian traditions, for one to “act in accordance with nature means to take into account the real definition of each thing when dealing with it,” which connects with the idea of nature as universal conceived by humans. As for a person’s will depending on external factors and internal conditions within a human, I turn to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. [13] This is because he coined the term “will,” saying the closest we will ever come to having a direct experience of a manifestation of cosmic energy is our own act(s) of will, which we experience from within the “otherwise inexplicable go, drive, force, energy” which is “instantiated in physical movements.” It is something, as he puts it, with no personality, mind or intelligence, no aims or goals.

And what about the claim that the mind cannot exist without matter? For one, it is clear that everything humans experience are made of molecules, with humans made up of 7 octillion atoms which are “mostly empty space” but never touch each other. Secondly, every atom in in a human body is billions of years old, meaning that humans are basically stardust as some have been saying for years, and are carbon-based lifeforms. [14] At the same time, much of the control of a person’s action comes from the unconscious part of the brain. With this being the case, since stardust, or even carbon, is a form of matter, it means that matter forms the mind.

A related claim is that matter can exist without a mind. This is undeniably the case since water is needed for the human body to function properly, constituting a form of matter, apart from the mind:

…Water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. …the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%…Water’s “stickiness”…plays a part in our body’s ability to transport these materials all through ourselves. The carbohydrates and proteins that our bodies use as food are metabolized and transported by water in the bloodstream. No less important is the ability of water to transport waste material out of our bodies.

What about the claims that no one object or thing is independent from its surroundings, with everything interconnected and interdependent, interacting with the things around it? For humans, this is clear. Just look at the 1993 book, The World’s Best Anatomical Charts. The first page, on the muscular system, shows muscles working together. The same is clear on the next page, on the skeletal system. This is similarly the nervous system, the lymphatic system, and the digestive system, with other systems, like the respiratory system, concentrated in specific parts of the body, not the body as a whole. This relates to what Carl Sagan wrote in Dragons of Eden about organisms, mammals, and humans on Earth and gives a warning, talking about an ever-changing world:

Most organisms on Earth depend on their genetic information, which is “prewired” into their nervous systems, to a much greater extent than their extragenetic information…for humans, and indeed for all mammals, it is the other way around. While our [human] behavior is still significantly controlled by our genetic inheritance, we have, through our brains, a much richer opportunity to blaze new behavioral and cultural pathways on short time scales…human beings have, in the most recent tenth of a percent of our existence, invented not only extragenetic but extrasomatic knowledge: information stored outside our bodies, of which writing is the most notable example…we live in a time when our world is changing at an unprecedented rate. While the changes are largely of our own making, they cannot be ignored. We must adjust or adapt and control, or parish. [15]

He also writes, later on, that the workings of the brain, which is sometimes called the mind, is the consequence of the action “of the components of the brain, severally or collectively,” with some processes being the function of the brain as a whole.

With these claims of dialectical materialism proven, it brings us to a number of other claims: that the world is always changing and developing, forms changing from one into another, with all matter, across the universe, and on Earth, in constant movement or motion. Sagan addresses this in his first chapter, writing about how the Earth is “very old” and humans “very young,” proceeded by an “awesome vista of time,” adding that

…we are able to date events in the remote past. Geological stratification and radioactive dating provide information on archaeological, paleontological and geological events; and astro-physical theory provides data on the ages of planetary surfaces, stars, and the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as an estimate of the time that has elapsed since that extraordinary event called the Big Bang—an explosion that involved all the matter and energy in the present universe. The Big Bang may be the beginning of the universe, it it may be a discontinuity in which information about the earlier history of the universe was destroyed. But it is certainly the earliest event about which we have any record. The most instructive way to express this cosmic chronology is to imagine the fifteen-billion-year lifetime of the universe…since the Big Bang…compressed into the span of a single year. Then every billion years of Earth history would correspond to about twenty-four years of our cosmic year, and one second of that year to 475 real revolutions of the Earth about the sun…[under this model] the Earth does not condense out of interstellar matter until early September; dinosaurs emerge on Christmas Eve; flowers arise on December 28th; and men and women originate at 10:30 P.M. on New Year’s Eve. All of recorded history occupies the last ten seconds of December 31; and the time from the waning of the Middle Ages to the present occupies a little more than one second…it is clear that what happens on and near Earth at the beginning of the second cosmic year will depend very much on the scientific wisdom and the distinctly human sensitivity of mankind. [16]

This shows that the concepts inherent to dialectical materialism saying that all portions of the universe inter-related, exerting an influence on each other, and that time is universal since it exists or happens in reality are accurate. This also relates to what he writes later: that the contention that half or more of the brain is unused is false, with the reality, being, instead, that there is “localization of brain function,” with brain sites concerned with balance, thermal regulation, appetite, blood circulation, breathing, and precision movements, with certain parts of the brain more important than others. [17] In terms of fish, sharks are the smartest of all, consistent with “their ecological niche,” Sagan writes. He also writes about possible civilizations on other planets, if they even exist. He says, on page 230, that the number of advanced civilizations in the Milky Way depends on many factors, but that their evolutionary path would be different from that which is taken on Earth. Hence, the universe does not have a static nature.

This brings us to a number of other claims, of dialectical materialism: that nothing in the world develops absolutely evenly, and that things have internal contradictions (and are dualistic). On the first claim, this should be profoundly evident. As The 21st Century Atlas notes, just by looking at its world maps, on page after page, there are different geographical environments across the world, including different bodies of water and mountain ranges, plateaus, and other natural features. [18] There are also over 190 countries, numerous different time zones, varied overseas territories/dependencies of certain countries (Australia, New Zealand, UK, U$, France, Denmark, Portugal, Netherlands, and Norway), differing international organizations, broad language and religious distribution. Clearly, nothing in the world can develop evenly with these factors! In terms of things having internal contradictions and being dualistic, consider an atom. It has electrons, negatively charged, protons with a negative charge, and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom itself. As such, protons and electrons repel each other, serving as a contradiction, while neutrons are “electrically neutral” meaning they do not have a charge, with protons and neutrons much larger than electrons. In terms of one contradiction taking precedence over others, this would be the case in the atom’s nucleus, which consists of much of the atom’s mass, since it “carries a positive electrical charge” and electrons move around outside the nucleus.

That brings us to a number of other claims. The first of these is that forms of time, space, and causality become universal when they exist or happen in reality. Carl Sagan tackles this straight on another of his books, writing that

We live in an expanding Universe, vast and ancient beyond ordinary human understanding. The galaxies it contains are rushing away from one another, the remnants of an immense explosion, the Big Bang…our own Universe is about 15 billion years past its origin, or at least since its present incarnation, the Big Bang…Our Universe is composed of some hundred billion galaxies, one of which is the Milky Way. “Our Galaxy,” we like to call it, although we certainly do not have possession of it. It is composed of gas and dust and about 400 billion suns…the Universe is expanding; all the galaxies are running away from each other…if it [the Universe] contains a great deal of matter, the gravity exercised by all this matter will slow down and stop the expansion. An expanding Universe will be converted into a collapsing Universe…if there is not enough matter, the expansion will continue forever. [19]

This connects us to another other claims of dialectical materialism: that the world and its laws are fully knowable, since we know objective reality to a certain extent. These scientific “laws,” which some don’t like to call laws, including, but not limited to: Isaac Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation (called Law of Gravity for short), Law of Conservation of Mass, Law of Constant Composition (also called the Law of Definite Proportions), Newton’s Laws of Motion, Hubble’s Law of Cosmic Expansion, Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion, Laws of Thermodynamics, and have a basis in the universe. Related to this is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Archimedes’ Buoyancy Principle, the Big Bang Theory, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, since none of these are scientific laws.

Stephen Hawking mentioned this in a Brief History of Time, saying that there are laws telling us how the universe changes with time and it is “equally reasonable to supposed there are also laws governing the initial state.” [20] Even without a unified theory for the entire universe, laws still govern the universe as a whole, with the universe having a beginning and an end as implied by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, with Einstein never believing the universe was “governed by chance.” With this, one can see that no things in the world (or universe) are unknowable, only that there are things which are as yet not known, disclosed by efforts of science and practice.

Concluding words

While none of those mentioned so far is Marxist, their ideas prove the reality of dialectical materialism in the world today! In sum, dialectical materialism can clearly be applied to human society. What comes next is a discussion of historical materialism, inter-related and connected to dialectical materialism, as noted earlier.


[1] It is more than how dictionary.com and Wikipedia/New World Encyclopedia define it: as a Marxist theory or expression of Marxism, saying that Marxism is a “materialist worldview with a dialectical method” which maintains “the material basis of a reality constantly changing in a dialectical process and the priority of matter over mind.” Others, particularly the thefreedictionary.com, encyclopedia.com, infoplease,  and culturalstudiesnow declare it is the “Marxian interpretation of reality that views matter as the sole subject of change and all change as the product of a constant conflict between opposites” which arise from internal contradictions, that it is inter-related to historical materialism (Marxist theory holding that social institutions and ideas develop as the “superstructure of a material economic base” as dictionary.com says), that the term was coined by “G. V. Plekhanov, the Russian Marxist…in an article published in 1891,” that it is “meant to provide both a general world view and a specific method for the investigation of scientific problems” since it  believes that “everything is material and that change takes place through the struggle of opposites” or that it “drives social change through the reciprocal relations between contradicting social factors, factors which have to do first and foremost with material considerations of economy and class, with ideology is a product of these considerations.”

[2] Page 284 of Webster’s New World College Dictionary (fourth edition), defines cognition as “the process of knowing in the broadest possible sense, including perception, memory, and judgment” and  the “result of a process; perception, conception.” I have combined both definitions above. The phrase “defined using “correct reasoning”  with “valid induction or deduction,” used above derives from page 844, of the same book, for “logical,” but in the text Deborin used the term “logically.” The phrase “what all material things are made of, occupying space and perceptible to the senses in some way” derives from page 888 of the same book, which defines matter, also saying that “in modern physics, matter and energy are regarded as equivalents.” The phrase “interrelation of cause and effect, connected with the principle that nothing happens or exists without a cause” derives from page 233 of the same book in a definition for the word, causality. The phrase “three-dimensional, continuous expanse which extends in all directions and contains all matter” derives from page 1372 of the same book in a definition for the word, space. The phrase “indefinite or unlimited duration in which things are considered to be happening in the past, present, or future; the entire period of existence of the known universe” derives from page 1499 of the same book in a definition for the word, time. The phrase “existing or happening as in fact, being actual or true” derives from page 1193 of the same book in a definition for the word, real. The phrase “distinguishable entities” derives from page 1488 of the same book in a definition of the word, thing. The phrase “shape, outline, or configuration of something” derives from page 555 of the same book in a definition of the word, form. The phrase “present, occurring everywhere or in all things” derives from page 1563 of the same book in a definition of the word, universal. The phrase “mental grasp of objects, qualities, and other aspects, by the mans of senses; comprehension; awareness” derives from page 168 of the same book in a definition of the word, perception.

[3] The phrase “theory that the world is composed of two basic entities: mind and matter” derives from page 439 of Webster’s New World College Dictionary (fourth edition), in the definition of the word, dualism.

[4] This connects to Stalin’s contention, deriving from other Marxist theorists, that there are five main types of relations of production are known to history: primitive communal, slave, feudal, capitalist and socialist. The latter is hopefully on the way! Also Bukrarin, as quoted above, says that “we must consider and investigate each form of society in its own peculiar terms. We cannot throw into a single pot all epochs, periods, social forms…each form must be studied in its internal process of change…each form of society must be considered in its growth and in its necessary disappearance…in its relation with other forms…Revolutions in society are of the same character as the violent changes in nature….They are prepared by the entire preceding course of development.” Stalin, as quoted above, says that “historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectical materialism to the study of social life, an application of the principles of dialectical materialism to the phenomena of the life of society, to the study of society and of its history.”

[5] For this approach, in his view, materialism means a “philosophical view where matter is the primary and determinant substance in the natural world” with all “things, including ideas and consciousness, are a result of interactions between matter,” maintaining that “interactions between material substances in reality determine ideas and consciousness,” guided by “science and objective reality.” As for dialectic, it is a “philosophical method of understanding the way things are and how they change” which was for Marx and Engels, adopted from “their ideological predecessor, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel” and updated with a “materialist understanding of reality.” The dialectic is basically grounded in “scientific principles applied in quantum mechanics and astronomy,” maintaining that “all things that exist in the universe are interconnected processes in constant motion,” meaning we live in a universe of processes, not “things.” Furthermore, he adds that a “dialectical approach to studying human development recognizes that humans are extensions of nature and are constantly evolving and changing based on their material conditions,” meaning it is “ideologically bankrupt to create universal value judgements about humans while different standards of living exist.” Connected to this are “three central laws of the dialectic” which are “unity of opposites…passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes…[and] the negation of the negation.” The first of these means that “all processes that exist in the universe contain two contradictory elements that form a larger totality…[which] are diametrically opposed to one another, they are also co-dependent on each other” which in a “dialectical relationship between polar opposites, one element is dominant over another.” The second of these means that “when one component of a particular process increases in quantity and becomes the dominant component, a qualitative shift occurs in the totality of the process.” The last of these “explains the cycle of development that all processes undergo,” maintaining that when “all processes come into being, wither away and later come back in a new, higher and evolved form.” He then adds  the importance of the combination of dialectics  and materialism into a concept called dialectical materialism, which “Marx and his ideological successors” applied to society specifically, developing the idea of historical materialism. As such, he divided the “entirety of human history into six eras: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism and socialism,” with a “change in material conditions gives rise to increased conflict between two opposing classes,” within each era, with the last era the one to come. He ends by writing that: “Materialism demonstrates that changes in material conditions lead to social revolutions, forcing society into new eras of struggle between two contending classes. This has been the case in all preceding eras of society…the dialectic explains the nature of these societal changes, especially as it relates to their composition and motion…The dialectical law of the unity of opposites also explains how within each era of society, two diametrically opposed classes are dependent on each other…the dialectical law of the negation of the negation explains how humans are and have been transitioning from communalism to class society (slavery, feudalism, capitalism) to socialism and communism…In summation, dialectical materialism is the science of Marxism that produced the theory of historical materialism, which serves as a guide to what’s possible for humanity. Ultimately, it is a guide for carrying out global revolution and liberating the workers and oppressed peoples of the world, especially in the Third World.”

[6] Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965, originally published in 1872), pp 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 17.

[7] Ibid, pp 28-29.

[8] Ibid, pp 51, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61, 63, 64. Pages 52 and 54 show a dog in this state, with 58 being the same for the cat.

[9] Ibid, pp 68, 69.

[10] Raine Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future (New York: HarperCollins, 1988, paperpack edition), pp xiii-xiv, xvi, xvii, xviii, xix.

[11] David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1987), pp 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

[12] The Times Concise Atlas of World History (ed. Geoffrey Barraclough, Maplewood, NJ: Hammond Incorporated, 1982), pp 2, 4, 6.

[13] Bryan Magee, The Story of Thought: The Essential Guide to the History of Western Philosophy (New York: Quality Paperback Bookclub,1998), pp 140-141.

[14] Brian Clegg, “20 amazing facts about the human body,” The Guardian, Jan 26, 2013; S.E. Gould, “Why Are Humans Made Of Carbon? Chemist Points To Electrons, Molecular Bonds,” HuffPost, Nov 13, 2012.

[15] Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (New York: Random House, 1977), pp 3-4, 7.

[16] Ibid, pp 13, 17. The whole chapter is pages 13-17, with a number of graphics, including one of the “cosmic calendar” on page 15.

[17] Ibid, pp 30-31, 33, 38.

[18] The 21st Century Atlas (Italy: Trident Press International, 2000), pp 22-47.

[19] Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (New York: Random House, 1997), pp 45-46, 51.

[20] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books,1988), pp 9-10, 12-13, 29, 34, 56, 115,144, 175.


One thought on “Dialectical materialism: the foundation of Marxism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.