Dietzgen, Joseph

Dietzgen, Joseph


Born Dec. 9, 1828, in Blankenberg; died Apr. 15, 1888, in Chicago. German tanner; philosopher who independently arrived at the idea of materialist dialectics.

Persecuted for his revolutionary activity, Dietzgen emigrated to the USA in 1848. He later lived in Russia (1864-69), working as a foreman in a tanning factory in St. Petersburg. In 1869 he returned to Germany. He acquired his philosophical erudition through self-education. His materialism and atheism took shape primarily under the influence of L. Feuerbach and, after 1867, of K. Marx and F. Engels. He was a member of the Social Democratic Party from 1869 and organized a section of the First International in Germany. Between 1870 and 1888 he contributed to social-democratic newspapers in Germany and the USA. His first philosophical effort, The Essence of Human Mental Work (1869; Russian translation, 1902), was evaluated highly by Marx and Engels. He was the author of a number of works on philosophy and political economy (see Melkie Filosofskie Stat’i, 2nd ed., 1913). He devoted the last years of his life primarily to the development of a theory of knowledge. In his works he emerges as a militant materialist and an enemy of philosophical metaphysics and religion. However, his philosophical constructs were not always consistent, and in the context of the theoretical struggle within the Second International this fact gave philosophers influenced by Mach a foundation on which to counterpose “Dietzgenism” to Marxist philosophy (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 261). Thus, in a number of instances he formulated an identity of matter and consciousness and the a priori nature of certain concepts; exaggerating the degree of relativity of knowledge, he was led to agnosticism. Dietzgen’s dialectics did not make up an integral system; he did not succeed in revealing dialectics as a theory of knowledge. While criticizing Dietzgen’s errors, Lenin valued him highly as one of the “… most eminent German social-democratic philosophical writers” (ibid., vol. 23, p. 117).


Sämtliche Schriften, vols. 1–3. Stuttgart, 1920.
Ausgewahlte Schriften. Berlin, 1954.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannye filosofskie sochineniia. Moscow, 1941.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. (See index of names.)
Andreev, N. “Dialekticheskii materializm I filosofiia losifa Ditsgena.” Sovremennyi mir, 1907, no. 11.
Volkova, V. losif Ditsgen. Moscow, 1961.
Mentioned in ?