Dialectical materialism

NewtonΠάντα ῥεῖ [Everything flows]

Dialectical materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. Every political movement, party, or even statement of any kind bases itself, consciously or unconsciously, on some sort of philosophy or world outlook. Marxism is concerned with effecting a radical change in society, and therefore requires an exceptionally clear, thoroughgoing, and systemic set of philosophical principles.

The ideas of dialectical materialism, based on the best traditions of philosophical thought, are not a fixed dogma but a system of tools and general principles for analysing the world materialistically and scientifically.

The basic tenets of dialectical materialism are: that everything that exists is material and is derived from matter; that matter is in a process and constant change; and that all matter is interconnected and interdependent.

If we are to understand society in order to change it, this cannot be done arbitrarily, since the human will is not master of nature; rather, our ideas and thoughts are reflections of necessary material laws. Instead, we must seek to understand the laws of how human society changes. 

In developing this philosophical outlook, Marx based himself on great thinkers that had preceded him, but went beyond them in developing further those ideas and providing new insights. He developed his dialectics from Hegel, the great German philosopher. Here Ann Robertson in the USA provides an interesting examination of the development of dialectics from Hegel through to Marx.

As advertised recently, Wellred Books have just republished that classical work of Engels Dialectics of Nature. Here we publish the Preface to the book, in which Rob Sewell outlines some of the most advanced discoveries in scientific study that confirm that dialectics is nothing more than the philosophical expression of the way nature works. Matter, science and society evolve, in which revolution is a natural and essential element.

This text was originally written by Alan Woods as a part of the book Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science, but eventually the book became too long and this part had to be left out. Therefore this history of philosophy is published here for the first time. With chapters on: Do we Need Philosophy?, The First Dialecticians, Aristotle and the End of Classical Greek Philosophy, The Renaissance, Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, and Philosophy in the 20th Century.

We are publishing the first of what will be a series of Marxist study guides. The purpose is to provide a basic explanation of the fundamental ideas of Marxism with a guide to further reading and points to help organise discussion groups around these ideas. We are starting with dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism.

When we discuss the method of Marxism, we are dealing with the ideas which provide the basis for our activities in the labour movement, the arguments we raise in the discussions we take part in, and the articles we write.

We have received quite a few e-mails from our subscribers asking about the attitude of Marxists to religion, relating not only to Marxism and Christianity, but also to Islam. For example, we have received several communications from sympathetic people who support liberation theology, in the Philippines. We are also in contact with groups who describe themselves as Islamic Marxists. This is clearly an interesting and important question, which deserves serious treatment. As an initial contribution, we are publishing an article by Alan Woods which is actually based on his replies to such letters.

The latest discovery of a fossil skull in Kenya, more than three million years old, once again demonstrates the complex evolution of humankind. The following article examines the evidence and sees how it fits into the ideas of human origin formulated by Frederick Engels more than 100 years ago.

We are reproducing a slightly edited version of What is Marxism? by Rob Sewell and Alan Woods, last published in 1983 to celebrate the centenary of the death of Karl Marx. The three articles on the fundamental aspects of Marxism, Marxist Economics, Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism were originally published separately in the 1970s. These articles are a good, brief introduction to the basic methods of Marxism and can serve as a first approach to the ideas developed by Marx and Engels.

At first sight it may seem that the republication of The Communist Manifesto requires an explanation. How can one justify a new edition of a book written almost 150 years ago? Yet in reality the Manifesto is the most modern of books.

Over the past period, especially since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there has been a systematic and vitriolic attack on the ideas of Marxism. From the citadels of higher learning to the pulpit, from free market institutes to the gutter press, a deafening torrent has rained down on the Marxist viewpoint. In order to confuse and disorient the class conscious worker, nothing is spared by the arch defenders of capitalism to discredit scientific socialism. But given that capitalism has meant the return of mass unemployment and the social ills of the inter-war period, a layer of workers and youth are searching for answers to their problems. Increasingly they are driven by the harsh

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Trotsky's 'ABC of Materialist Dialectics' is a brilliant short explanation of Marxist philosophy. It was written as part of a defence of Marxism against a middle class revisionist tendency in the American Trotskyist movement in the late 1930s, which attempted to challenge its basic principles. As opposed to pragmatism and empiricism, Trotsky defended dialectical materialism as a richer, fuller, more comprehensive view of society and life in general. Originally published 8 December 1939.

The essence of Marxism consists in this, that it approaches society concretely, as a subject for objective research, and analyzes human history as one would a colossal laboratory record. Marxism appraises ideology as a subordinate integral element of the material social structure. Marxism examines the class structure of society as a historically conditioned form of the development of the productive forces.

Ever since Engels' arrival in London in 1870, he was keen to write a comprehensive work on science and dialectical materialism. The notes and studies for such a work make up the present volume, originally published in 1925. It is an essential read for all those who want to develop a deeper understanding of Marxist philosophy.

"A short, coherent account of our relation to the Hegelian philosophy, of how we proceeded, as well as of how we separated, from it, appeared to me to be required more and more. Equally, a full acknowledgement of the influence which Feuerbach, more than any other post-Hegelian philosopher, had upon us during our period of storm and stress, appeared to me to be an undischarged debt of honor. I therefore willingly seized the opportunity when the editors of Neue Zeit asked me for a critical review of Starcke’s book on Feuerbach." (Engels)