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Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism, synthesizing Hegel's dialectics, which proposes that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions and weaknesses that contribute to its systemic decay. Philosophically, dialectical materialism — that Man originates History through active consciousness — was originated by Moses Hess, and developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Moreover, Joseph Dietzgen developed the hypotheses of dialectical materialism independent of Marx, Engels, and Hess.
The term dialectical materialism was coined in 1887, by Joseph Dietzgen, a socialist tanner who corresponded with Karl Marx, during and after the failed 1848 German Revolution. As a philosopher, Dietzgen had constructed the theory of dialectical materialism independently of Marx and Friedrich Engels. Casual mention of the term is also found in the biography Frederick Engels, by Karl Kautsky, written in the same year. Marx himself had talked about the "materialist conception of history", which was later referred to as "historical materialism" by Engels. Engels further exposed the "materialist dialectic" — not "dialectical materialism" — in his Dialectics of Nature in 1883. Georgi Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, later introduced the term dialectical materialism to Marxist literature. Joseph Stalin further delineated and defined dialectical and historical materialism as the world outlook of Marxism-Leninism, and as a method to study society and its history.
The exact term was not used by Marx in any of his works, and the actual presence of "dialectical materialism" within his thought remains the subject of significant controversy, particularly regarding the relationship between dialectics, ontology and nature. For scholars working on these issues from a variety of perspectives see the works of Bertell Ollman, Roger Albritton, and Roy Bhaskar.
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Dialectical materialism originates from two major aspects of Marx's philosophy. One is his transformation of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's idealistic understanding of dialectics into a materialist one, an act commonly said to have "put Hegel's dialectics back on its feet". Marx's materialism developed through his engagement with Ludwig Feuerbach. Marx sought to base human social organization within the context of the material reproduction of their daily lives, which he calls sensuous practice in his early works (Marx 1844, 1845). From this material context men and women develop certain ideas about their world, thereby leading to the core materialist conception that social being determines social consciousness. The dialectical aspect retains the Hegelian method within this materialist framework, and emphasizes the process of historical change arising from contradiction and class struggle based in a particular social context.
Dialectical materialism is essentially characterized by the thesis that history is the product of class struggles and follows the general Hegelian principle of philosophy of history, that is the development of the thesis into its antithesis which is sublated by the Aufhebung ("synthesis"), although this three-part process was not explicitly characterized in terms of a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis in Hegel's writings. The Aufhebung was indeed a central part of his thought. The Aufhebung conserves the thesis and the antithesis and transcends them both (Aufheben — this contradiction explains the difficulties of Hegel's thought). Hegel's dialectics aims to explain the development of human history. He considered that truth was the product of history and that it passed through various moments, including the moment of error; error and negativity are part of the development of truth. Hegel's idealism considered history a product of the Spirit (Geist or also Zeitgeist — the "Spirit of the Time"). By contrast, Marx's dialectical materialism considers history as a product of material class struggle in society. Thus, theory has its roots in the materiality of social existence.
Materialism in dialectical materialism
Marx's doctoral thesis concerned the atomism of Epicurus and Democritus, which (along with stoicism) is considered the foundation of materialist philosophy. Marx was also familiar with Lucretius's theory of clinamen.
Materialism asserts the primacy of the material world: in short, matter precedes thought. Materialism is a realist philosophy of science, which holds that the world is material; that all phenomena in the universe consist of "matter in motion," wherein all things are interdependent and interconnected and develop according to natural law; that the world exists outside us and independently of our perception of it; that thought is a reflection of the material world in the brain, and that the world is in principle knowable.
"The ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought." —Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. 1.
Marx endorsed this materialist philosophy against Hegel's idealism; he "turned Hegel's dialectics upside down." However, Marx also criticized classical materialism as another idealist philosophy due to its transhistorical understanding of material contexts. According to the famous Theses on Feuerbach (1845), philosophy had to stop "interpreting" the world in endless metaphysical debates, in order to start "changing" the world, as was being done by the rising workers' movement observed by Engels in England (Chartist movement) and by Marx in France and Germany. Thus, dialectical materialists tend to accord primacy to class struggle. The ultimate sense of Marx's materialist philosophy is that philosophy itself must take a position in the class struggle based on objective analysis of physical and social relations. Otherwise, it will be reduced to spiritualist idealism, such as the philosophies of Kant or Hegel, which are only ideologies, that is the material product of social existence.
Dialectics in dialectical materialism
Dialectics as represented in dialectical materialism is a theory of the general and abstract factors that govern the development of nature, society, and thought. Its principal features are:
- The universe is an integral whole in which things are interdependent, rather than a mixture of things isolated from each other.
- The natural world or cosmos is in a state of constant motion:
- "All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change." --Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature.
- Development is a process whereby insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes lead to fundamental, qualitative changes. Qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly, as leaps from one state to another. A simple example from the physical world is the heating of water: a one degree increase in temperature is a quantitative change, but between water of 100 degrees and steam of 100 degrees (the effect latent heat) there is a qualitative change.
- "Merely quantitative differences, beyond a certain point, pass into qualitative changes." --Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1.
- All things contain within themselves internal dialectical contradictions, which are the primary cause of motion, change, and development in the world. It is important to note that 'dialectical contradiction' is not about simple 'opposites' or 'negation'. For formal approaches, the core message of 'dialectical opposition / contradiction' must be understood as 'some sense' opposition between the objects involved in a directly associated context.
For the application of the dialectic to history see Historical materialism.
Engels' laws of dialectics
- The law of the unity and conflict of opposites;
- The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes;
- The law of the negation of the negation
The second law Hegel took from Aristotle, and it is equated with what scientists call phase transitions. It may be traced to the ancient Ionian philosophers (particularly Anaximenes), from whom Aristotle, Hegel and Engels inherited the concept. For all these authors, one of the main illustrations is the phase transitions of water. There has also been an effort to apply this mechanism to social phenomena, whereby population increases result in changes in social structure. The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes can also be applied to the process of social change and class conflict. .
The third law is Hegel's own. It was the expression through which (amongst other things) Hegel's dialectic became fashionable during his lifetime.
In drawing up these laws, Engels presupposes a holistic approach outlined above and in Lenin's three elements of dialectic below, and emphasizes elsewhere that all things are in motion.
Lenin's elements of dialectics
After reading Hegel's Science of Logic in 1914, Lenin made some brief notes outlining three "elements" of logic. They are:
Lenin develops these in a further series of notes, and appears to argue that "the transition of quantity into quality and vice versa" is an example of the unity and opposition of opposites expressed tentatively as "not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]."
Also, in his essay "On the Question of Dialectics", Lenin stated that " Development is the “ struggle ” of opposites." He stated that " 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. "
History of dialectical materialism
In Materialism and Empiriocriticism (1908), Lenin explained dialectical materialism as three axes: (i) the materialist inversion of Hegelian dialectics, (ii) the historicity of ethical principles ordered to class struggle, and (iii) the convergence of "laws of evolution" in physics (Helmholtz), biology (Darwin), and in political economy (Marx). Hence, Lenin was philosophically positioned between historicist Marxism (Labriola) and determinist Marxism—a political position close to "social Darwinism" (Kautsky). Moreover, late century discoveries in physics (x-rays, electrons), and the beginning of quantum mechanics, philosophically challenged previous conceptions of matter and materialism, thus Matter seemed to be disappearing. Lenin disagreed:
'Matter disappears' means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter disappears, and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are disappearing that formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary, and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole 'property' of matter, with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up, is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside of the mind.
Lenin was developing the work of Friedrich Engels, who said that "with each epoch-making discovery, even in the sphere of natural science, materialism has to change its form." One of Lenin's challenges was distancing materialism, as a viable philosophical outlook, from the "vulgar materialism" expressed in the statement "the brain secretes thought in the same way as the liver secretes bile" (attributed to 18th-century physician Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, 1757–1808); "metaphysical materialism" (matter composed of immutable particles); and 19th-century "mechanical materialism" (matter as random molecules interacting per the laws of mechanics). The philosophic solution that Lenin (and Engels) proposed was "dialectical materialism", wherein matter is defined as "objective reality", theoretically consistent with (new) developments occurred in the sciences.
Georg Lukács, minister of Culture in the brief Béla Kun government of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919), published History and Class Consciousness (1923), which defined dialectical materialism as the knowledge of society as a whole, knowledge which, in itself, was immediately the class consciousness of the proletariat. The first chapter "What is Orthodox Marxism?", defined orthodoxy as fidelity to the "Marxist method", not fidelity to "dogmas":
Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations. It is not the "belief" in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a "sacred" book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth, and that its methods can be developed, expanded, and deepened, only along the lines laid down by its founders. (§1)
Lukács philosophical criticism of Marxist revisionism proposed an intellectual return to Marxist method. As did Louis Althusser, who later defined Marxism and psychoanalysis as "conflictual sciences"; that political factions and revisionism are inherent to Marxist theory and political praxis, because dialectical materialism is the philosophic product of class struggle:
For this reason, the task of orthodox Marxism, its victory over Revisionism and utopianism can never mean the defeat, once and for all, of false tendencies. It is an ever-renewed struggle against the insidious effects of bourgeois ideology on the thought of the proletariat. Marxist orthodoxy is no guardian of traditions, it is the eternally vigilant prophet proclaiming the relation between the tasks of the immediate present and the totality of the historical process. (§5)
Moreover, "the premise of dialectical materialism is, we recall: 'It is not men's consciousness that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness'. . . . Only when the core of existence stands revealed as a social process can existence be seen as the product, albeit the hitherto unconscious product, of human activity". (§5) Philosophically aligned with Marx is the criticism of the individualist, bourgeois philosophy of the subject, which is founded upon the voluntary and conscious subject. Against said ideology is the primacy of social relations. Existence — and thus the world — is the product of human activity; but this can be seen only by accepting the primacy of social process on individual consciousness. This type of consciousness is an effect of ideological mystification.
Yet, at the 5th Congress of the Communist International (July 1924), Grigory Zinoviev formally denounced Georg Lukács's heterodox definition of orthodox Marxism as exclusively derived from fidelity to the "Marxist method", and not to Communist party dogmas; and denounced the Marxism developments of the German theorist Karl Korsch.
Dialectical materialism as a heuristic in biology and elsewhere
Some evolutionary biologists, such as Richard Lewontin and the late Stephen Jay Gould have employed dialectical materialism in their approach, playing a precautionary heuristic role in their work. For example, from Lewontin's perspective,
Dialectical materialism is not, and never has been, a programmatic method for solving particular physical problems. Rather, a dialectical analysis provides an overview and a set of warning signs against particular forms of dogmatism and narrowness of thought. It tells us, "Remember that history may leave an important trace. Remember that being and becoming are dual aspects of nature. Remember that conditions change and that the conditions necessary to the initiation of some process may be destroyed by the process itself. Remember to pay attention to real objects in time and space and not lose them in utterly idealized abstractions. Remember that qualitative effects of context and interaction may be lost when phenomena are isolated". And above all else, "Remember that all the other caveats are only reminders and warning signs whose application to different circumstances of the real world is contingent."
Stephen Jay Gould shared similar views regarding a heuristic role for dialectical materialism. He wrote "Dialectical thinking should be taken more seriously by Western scholars, not discarded because some nations of the second world have constructed a cardboard version as an official political doctrine." Further
when presented as guidelines for a philosophy of change, not as dogmatic percepts true by fiat, the three classical laws of dialectics embody a holistic vision that views change as interaction among components of complete systems, and sees the components themselves not as a priori entities, but as both products and inputs to the system. Thus, the law of "interpenetrating opposites" records the inextricable interdependence of components: the "transformation of quantity to quality" defends a systems-based view of change that translates incremental inputs into alterations of state; and the "negation of negation" describes the direction given to history because complex systems cannot revert exactly to previous states.
This heuristic was also applied to the theory of punctuated equilibrium proposed by Niles Eldredge and Gould. They wrote "History, as Hegel said, moves upward in a spiral of negations," and that "punctuated equilibria is a model for discontinuous tempos of change (in) the process of speciation and the deployment of species in geological time."  They noted that "the law of transformation of quantity into quality", "holds that a new quality emerges in a leap as the slow accumulation of quantitative changes, long resisted by a stable system, finally forces it rapidly from one state into another," a phenomenon described in some disciplines as a paradigm shift. Apart from the commonly cited example of water turning to steam with increased temperature, Gould and Eldredge noted another analogy in information theory, "with its jargon of equilibrium, steady state, and homeostasis maintained by negative feedback," and "extremely rapid transitions that occur with positive feedback."
Lewontin, Gould and Eldredge were thus more interested in dialectical materialism as a heuristic, than a dogmatic form of 'truth' or a statement of their politics. Nevertheless, they found a readiness for critics to "seize upon" key statements and portray punctuated equilibrium, and exercises associated with it, such as public exhibitions, as a "Marxist plot".
- (French) Pascal Charbonnat, Histoire des philosophies matérialistes, Syllepse, 2007, p.477
- "Karl Kautsky: Frederick Engels (1887)". Marxists.org. 2003-11-23. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
- For instance, Plekhanov, The development of the monist view of history (1895)
- as discussed in his 1938 article, Dialectical and Historical Materialism 
- Walter Kaufmann (1966). "§ 37". Hegel: A Reinterpretation. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-268-01068-4. OCLC 3168016. "Whoever looks for the stereotype of the allegedly Hegelian dialectic in Hegel's Phenomenology will not find it. What one does find on looking at the table of contents is a very decided preference for triadic arrangements. ... But these many triads are not presented or deduced by Hegel as so many theses, antitheses, and syntheses. It is not by means of any dialectic of that sort that his thought moves up the ladder to absolute knowledge."
- In particular, see Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, chapter II, first observation, where he uses this formulation. Hegelians tend to attribute this formula to Marx's teacher - Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus - a Kantian who conflated Hegel's dialectic with the Fichtean triad thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It is suggested that after Marx's use of the phrase, Hegel has always been associated with the triad, which he rejected (cf Jon Stewart, ed. (1996). "Introduction". The Hegel Myths and Legends. North-Western University Press. Retrieved 2007-12-27.). However, one might cite Marx's explanation of the development of the dialectic in the cited passage of The Poverty of Philosophy: "This new [synthesis] unfolds itself again into two contradictory thoughts" which appears to be reaching beyond the limits of this misleading external triad to an inner inherent unfolding, more along the Hegelian lines.
- Bhaskar 1979
- Engels, F. (7th ed., 1973). Dialectics of nature (Translator, Clements Dutt). New York: International Publishers. (Original work published 1940). See also Dialectics of Nature
- "It is in this dialectic as it is here understood, that is, in the grasping of oppositions in their unity, or of the positive in the negative, that speculative thought consists. It is the most important aspect of dialectic." Hegel, Science of Logic, § 69, (p 56 in the Miller edition)
- "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. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter." Lenin's Collected Works VOLUME 38, p359: On the question of dialectics.
- cf, for instance. 'The Doctrine of Flux and the Unity of Opposites' in the 'Heraclitus' entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Carneiro, R.L. (2000). The transition from quantity to quality: A neglected causal mechanism in accounting for social evolution. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences. Vol 97, No.23, pp.12926 - 12931. http://www.pnas.org/content/97/23/12926.full
- Biel, R. and Mu-Jeong Kho (2009) "The Issue of Energy within a Dialectical Approach to the Regulationist Problematique," Recherches & Régulation Working Papers, RR Série ID 2009-1, Association Recherche & Régulation: 1-21. The discovery that heat was actually the movement of atoms or molecules was the very latest science of the period in which Engels was writing in his late period, in which what today we would express in terms of "energy" was just beginning to be grasped.
- "Lenin's Summary of Hegel's Dialectics". Marxists.org. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
- Lenin's Collected Works Vol. 38 pp 221 - 222, written while reading Book III, Section 3, Chapter 3 of The Science of Logic — "The Absolute Idea"
- Lenin : On the Question of Dialectics
- Frederick Engels. "Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy". Marxists.org. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
- Louis Althusser, "Marx and Freud", in Writings on Psychoanalysis, Stock/IMEC, 1993 (French edition)
- Beatty, J. (2009). "Lewontin, Richard". In Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis. Evolution: The First Four Billion Years. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 685. ISBN 978-0-674-03175-3.
- Gould, Stephen Jay (1990). "Nurturing Nature". In …. An Urchin in the Storm: Essays About Books and Ideas. London: Penguin. p. 153.
- Gould, S.J. (1990), p.154
- Gould, Stephen Jay, & Eldredge, Niles (1977). "Punctuated equilibria: the tempo and mode of evolution reconsidered." Paleobiology 3 (2): 115-151. (p.145)
- Gould, S. J., & Eldredge, N. (1977) p.146
- Gould, S. J. (1995). "Stephen Jay Gould: "The Pattern of Life's History"". In Brockman, J. The Third Culture. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 60. ISBN 0-684-80359-3.
- Gould, Stephen Jay (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-674-00613-5. In his account of one ad hominem absurdity, Gould states on p. 984 "I swear that I do not exaggerate" regarding the accusations of a Marxist plot.
- "Castro: 'No One Has Been Slandered More Than the Jews' - Jeffrey Goldberg". The Atlantic. 2010-09-07. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
- Dialectical Materialism, Alexander Spirkin
- Spirkin, Alexander; Translated from the Russian by Sergei Syrovatkin (1990). Fundamentals of Philosophy (DjVu, PDF, etc.). Moscow: Progress Publishers. ISBN 5-01-002582-5. Retrieved 2011-01-22 This systematic exposition of dialectical and historical materialism was awarded a prize at a competition of textbooks for students of higher educational establishments; first published in Russian as "Основы философии".
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- Dialectics For Kids
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- Oizerman : Dialectical Materialism and the History of Philosophy
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