Dialectical materialism


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. 

This book is aimed specifically at newcomers to Marxism. A bestseller now in its second edition, it comprises introductory pieces on the three component parts of Marxist theory, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics: dialectical materialism, historical materialism and Marxist economics. Complementing these introductions are key extracts from some of the great works of Marxism written by its most outstanding figures – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have questioned the workings of the natural world around them and their own place in the Universe. Through a long process of investigation over millennia, mankind has built up an understanding of Nature and the wider cosmos. Each successive generation has expanded the horizon of our knowledge and in the process extended the boundary of the known Universe. From Ptolemy and Copernicus and through to the modern day, at every stage scientific discoveries have refined and redefined our picture of the Cosmos and our place within it.

Quantum physics occupies a fascinating place at the cutting edge of modern scientific research. First developed in the early 20th Century, quantum theory is allowing today’s scientists to plumb new depths when it comes to matter and motion. A new book, Quantum Social Science, by Andrei Khrennikov and Emmanuel Haven argues that applying the logic of quantum theory to social systems can take our understanding of human society to a whole new level.

The ideas of Marx have never been more relevant than they are today. This is reflected in the thirst for Marxist theory at the present time. In this article, Alan Woods deals with the main ideas of Karl Marx and their relevance to the crisis we're passing through today.

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question”. (Marx, Second Thesis on Feuerbach.)

Alan Woods, editor of the In Defence of Marxism website, speaks about the history of philosophy at the UCL Universiy Marxist Society in London.

Capitalism is in its deepest crisis in its history. It is an economic, social and political crisis, which is now expressing itself in political turmoil and growing class struggle across the globe. While the ruling class attempts to bury Marxism, it has in fact never been so relevant as it is today. In this updated article Alan Woods explains the essence of Marxism and its role today.

Dialectical materialism is the philosophy of Marxism, which provides us with a scientific and comprehensive world outlook. For those prepared to take the time to study this way of looking at things, they will discover a revolutionary outlook that will allow them an insight into and understanding of the world we live in.

Lukács was an important influence on what is called 'western Marxism'. This was seen as a 'humanist' alternative to the dominant stalinist orthodoxy of the inter-War period and later. One of Lukács' most significant arguments was that (contrary to Engels) there can be no dialectics of nature. Dan Morley examines the debate and goes into the contradictory relationship between Lukács' interpretation of Marxism and Stalinism.

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.

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.

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.