dialectical materialism

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dialectical materialism

dialectical materialism, official philosophy of Communism, based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as elaborated by G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. In theory dialectical materialism is meant to provide both a general world view and a specific method for the investigation of scientific problems. The basic tenets are that everything is material and that change takes place through “the struggle of opposites.” Because everything contains different elements that are in opposition, “self-movement” automatically occurs; the conflict of opposing forces leads to growth, change, and development, according to definite laws. Communist scientists were expected to fit their investigations into this pattern, and official approval of scientific theories in the USSR was determined to some extent by their conformity to dialectical materialism (see Lysenko, Trofim Denisovich). Use of these principles in history and sociology is sometimes called historical materialism. Under these doctrines the social, political, and intellectual life of society reflect only the economic structure, since human beings create the forms of social life solely in response to economic needs. Men are divided into classes by their relations to the means of production—land and capital. The class that controls the means of production inevitably exploits the other classes in society; it is this class struggle that produces the dynamic of history and is the source of progress toward a final uniformity. Historical materialism is deterministic; that is, it prescribes that history inevitably follows certain laws and that individuals have little or no influence on its development. Central to historical materialism is the belief that change takes place through the meeting of two opposing forces (thesis and antithesis); their opposition is resolved by combination produced by a higher force (synthesis). Historical materialism has had many advocates outside the Communist world.


See G. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism (1958, repr. 1973); A. Spirkin, Dialectical Materialism (1983); I. Yurkovets, Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism (1984).

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dialectical materialism

the consolidation of MARX and ENGELS’ main ideas as a ‘scientific philosophy’. This scientistic rendering of MARXISM combined a Hegelian emphasis on MATERIALISM in asserting the DIALECTIC (contradiction and resolution) as the fundamental general law underlying all forms of development: in nature, in society and in thought. Whereas Marx employed the dialectical method as the basis of HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, focusing exclusively on socioeconomic change, it is Engels (e.g. in Dialectics of Nature) who can be seen as taking the first step in formulating dialectical materialism, although he never used the term. It was the successors of Marx and Engels, including Plekanov (1856-1918) and LENIN, who formulated dialectical materialism in a fuller form. This became the ‘official’ version of Marxist doctrine under STALIN, and was a main source of the dogmatism, and economic determinism which characterized much Marxism in this period.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dialectical Materialism


the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism; a scientific world view; a universal method of cognition of the world; the science of the most general laws of the movement and development of nature, society, and consciousness. Dialectical materialism is based on the achievements of modern science and advanced social practice; it is constantly developed and enriched as they progress. It constitutes the general theoretical foundation of Marxist-Leninist teaching. Marxist philosophy is materialistic, since it proceeds from the recognition of matter as the sole basis of the world; it views consciousness as the attribute of a highly organized, social form of matter’s motion, a function of the brain, the reflection of the objective world. It is called dialectical because it recognizes the universal interrelationship between objects and phenomena and stresses the importance of motion and development in the world as the result of the internal contradictions operating in the world itself. Dialectical materialism is the highest form of modern materialism and the sum total of the entire preceding history of the development of philosophical thought.

Origin and development. Marxism as a whole, and dialectical materialism, a component of it, emerged in the 1840’s, when the proletariat’s struggle for its social liberation imperiously demanded some knowledge of the laws of development of society. This was impossible without materialist dialectics and the materialist explanation of history. The founders of dialectical materialism, K. Marx and F. Engels, subjected social reality to a profound, thoroughgoing analysis, critically reworking and assimilating everything positive that had been achieved previously in the areas of philosophy and history and creating a qualitatively new world view that became the philosophical basis for the theory of scientific communism and for the practical activity of the revolutionary workers’ movement. Marx and Engels were developing dialectical materialism in a sharp ideological struggle against various forms of the bourgeois world view.

The immediate ideological sources of Marxism were the basic philosophical, economic, and political doctrines of the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. Marx and Engels creatively reworked Hegel’s idealist dialectics and earlier philosophical materialism, particularly the doctrine of Feuerbach. They revealed the revolutionary aspects of Hegel’s dialectics—the idea of development and its source and motive power, contradiction. Also important in the development of Marxism were the ideas of the exponents of classical bourgeois political economy (A. Smith and D. Ricardo), the works of the Utopian socialists (C. H. Saint-Simon, F. M. C. Fourier, and R. Owen), and the works of French historians of the Restoration (J. N. A. Thierry, F. P. G. Guizot, and F.-A.-M. Mignet). The achievements of natural science of the late 18th century and the 19th century played an important role in the development of dialectical materialism. (Dialectic was spontaneously forcing its way into the field of natural science.)

The essence and basic features of the revolution in philosophy achieved by Marx and Engels consisted of extending materialism to include the cognition of the history of society, of substantiating the role of social practice as the basis of the development of human beings and their consciousness, and of organically unifying and creatively developing materialism and dialectics. “The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all of political economy, from its foundations up; its application to history, natural science, philosophy and to the policy and tactics of the working class—that is what interested Marx and Engels most of all. It is there that they introduced what was most vital and newest, that was where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 25, p. 264).

The supreme achievement of human thought was the development of historical materialism. Only in the light of historical materialism was it possible to achieve a scientific understanding of the fundamental role of practice in social being and in cognition of the world, to resolve in a materialistic way the question of the active role of consciousness. “Theory … becomes a material force once it seizes the masses” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 422). Marxism views social being not only as an object counterposed to human beings, but also subjectively, in the form of practical activity of human beings in its concrete historical context. Thus, Marxism overcomes the abstract contemplativeness of preceding materialism, which underestimated the active role of the subject, whereas idealism makes an absolute of the active role of consciousness in the belief that consciousness forms the world.

Marxism theoretically substantiates and practically implements the conscious unification of theory and practice. Deducing theory from practice, it subordinates the former to the interests of the revolutionary transformation of the world. This is the meaning of Marx’ famous 11th thesis on Feuer-bach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (ibid., vol. 3, p. 4). The strictly scientific prediction of the future and the orientation of humanity toward attaining it—those are the characteristic features of the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism.

The difference in principle between the philosophy of Marxism and all preceding philosophical systems lies in the fact that the ideas of Marxism permeate the masses of people and are realized by them; Marxist philosophy in its turn develops precisely on the basis of the historical practice of the masses of people. “Just as philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapons in philosophy” (Marx, ibid., vol. 1, p. 428). Philosophy oriented the working class toward the revolutionary transformation of society and the creation of a new, communist society.

After the deaths of Marx and Engels, much work in developing the tenets of dialectical materialism—primarily in propagating and defending it and in struggling against bourgeois ideology—was done by the most outstanding of their disciples and followers in various countries: in Germany, F. Mehring; in France, P. Lafargue; in Italy, A. Labriola; and in Russia, G. V. Plekhanov, who criticized idealism and philosophical revisionism, displaying great talent and brilliance. Lenin valued Plekhanov’s philosophical works of the late 19th and early 20th century as the best in the entire international philosophical literature of Marxism.

The theoretical activity of Lenin constituted a new, higher stage in the development of Marxist philosophy. With Lenin, the creative development of dialectical materialism and the defense of dialectical materialism against revisionism and the onslaught of bourgeois ideology were linked in the closest possible way with the development of the theory of socialist revolution and the development of the doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolutionary party, the alliance of the working class and the peasantry, the socialist state, the construction of socialism, and the transition from socialism to communism.

The elaboration of dialectical materialism was organically combined in Lenin’s works with the application of the dialectical method to a specific analysis of the achievements of natural science. Generalizing the most recent achievements of natural science from the standpoint of dialectical materialism, Lenin explained the causes of the methodological crisis in physics and pointed out the means of overcoming it: “The basic materialist spirit of physics, as that of all modern natural science, will overcome all crises, but only by the indispensable replacement of metaphysical materialism by dialectical materialism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 324). Developing dialectical materialism in the struggle against idealist orientations in philosophical thought, Lenin deepened the conception of the basic categories of materialist dialectics and above all of the category of matter. Summarizing the achievements of science, philosophy, and social practice, Lenin formulated the definition of matter as the unity of its ontological and gnoseological aspects, emphasizing that the sole property of matter whose recognition is basic for philosophical materialism is its property of being objectively real, of existing outside of our consciousness.

Lenin worked out the basic problems of the theory of reflection and creatively developed Marxist doctrine concerning the role of social practice in the theory of knowledge, stressing that “the standpoint of life, of practice, must be the first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge” (ibid., p. 145). Analyzing the main stages of human cognition and viewing practice as the foundation of the cognitive process and the criterion of truth, Lenin demonstrated that cognition proceeds from living contemplation to abstract thinking and from abstract thinking to practice.

Based on the critique of Machism, which maintained the standpoint of subjective idealism and relativism, Lenin further developed the Marxist doctrine of objective, relative, and absolute truth and demonstrated their dialectical interrelationship. In Lenin’s doctrine of truth, the problem of the concrete nature of truth is central: “that which constitutes the very gist, the living soul of Marxism—a concrete analysis of a concrete situation” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 136).

Lenin formulated a proposition on the unity of dialectics, logic, and the theory of knowledge and determined the basic principles of dialectical logic. He stressed the necessity for critical study and dialectical treatment of the history of human thought, science, and technology. The historical method, according to Lenin, is the very heart of dialectical materialism. “The whole spirit of Marxism, its entire system demands that every proposition be viewed (a) only historically; (b) only in connection with other propositions; and (c) only in connection with the concrete experience of history” (ibid., vol. 49, p. 329).

The theoretical and practical activity of the communist and workers’ parties is of great importance in the development of the Marxist-Leninist world view and its theoretical basis, dialectical materialism, in the struggle against any distortion of this world view, in its translation in the practice of the workers’ movement and also into the construction of socialism and communism. At the present stage, dialectical materialism is the result of the creative activity of Marxists in many countries.

Matter and consciousness. All philosophical doctrines, no matter how diverse, have as their theoretical starting point, overtly or in less obvious form, the question of the relationship of consciousness to matter, thought to being. This is the basic, or supreme, question of any given philosophy, including dialectical materialism. It is rooted in the fundamental facts of life itself, in the existence and interrelationship of material and spiritual phenomena. All philosophers are divided into two camps, materialism and idealism, depending on whether they recognize the primacy of matter and the derivative nature of consciousness as being in materialism. Proceeding from the principle of materialist monism, dialectical materialism maintains the view that the world is matter in motion. Matter as objective reality cannot be created; it is eternal and infinite. Characteristic of matter are such general forms of its existence as motion, space, and time. Motion is the universal mode of existence of matter. There is no matter without motion, and motion cannot exist without matter.

The world represents a picture of inexhaustible diversity: inorganic and organic nature; mechanical, physical, and chemical phenomena; the life of plants and animals; the life of society; and human beings and their consciousness. But with all this qualitative diversity of the objects and processes making up the world, the world is one, since all its components are only various forms, species, and varieties of matter in motion, subject to certain general laws. All the components of the material world have histories of development— for example, within the bounds of the planet earth, a transition has occurred from inorganic to organic matter (in the form of plant and animal life) and finally to human beings and society.

Matter existed prior to the appearance of consciousness, possessing in its “foundation” only a property similar to sensation, the property of reflection; whereas on the level of living organization, matter possesses the capacity for irritability, sensation, perception, and the elementary intellect of the higher animals. With the origin of human society there arises a social form of the motion of matter, the bearer of which is the human being; as a subject of social practice, the human being has consciousness and self-consciousness. Achieving a high level of organization in its development, the world retains its material unity. Consciousness is inseparable from matter. Consciousness and the psyche constitute a special property of highly organized matter; they emerge as a higher, qualitatively new link in the chain of the different properties of the material world.

According to dialectical materialism, consciousness is a function of the brain, a reflection of the objective world. The process of achieving awareness of the world and mental activity in general arise and develop out of the real interaction of the human being with the world through his social relations. Thus, outside of the sphere of gnoseology, consciousness does not stand in opposition to matter, and the “difference of the ideal from the material … is also not unconditional, not überschwenglich (’excessive’—ed.)” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 29, p. 104). Objects, their properties, and their relations are reflected in the brain and exist there in the form of images, as the ideal. The ideal is not a special substance but rather the product of the brain’s activity. It is the subjective image of the objective world.

In contrast to agnosticism, dialectical materialism proceeds from the fact that the world is knowable and that science penetrates ever more deeply into the laws of being. The possibilities for achieving knowledge of the world are boundless, given the infinite nature of the cognitive process itself.

Epistemology. A basic aspect of the epistemology of dialectical materialism consists of the materialist resolution of the question of the relationship between thought and being and the recognition of social practice—that is, the interaction of the human being with the surrounding world under the concrete historical conditions of social life—as the basis of the cognitive process. Practice is the source and basis of the formation of knowledge, the fundamental stimulus and goal of cognition, the sphere of the application of knowledge, the criterion of the truth about the results of the cognitive process, and an “indicator of an object’s connection with human wants” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 42, p. 290).

The cognitive process begins with sensations and perceptions—that is, at the sensory level—and rises to the level of abstract logical thought. The transition from sensory cognition to logical thought is a leap from knowledge of the isolated, the fortuitous, and the superficial instance to a generalized knowledge of what is essential, what is governed by law. Qualitatively different levels of cognition of the world, sensory perception, and thought are indissolubly linked together, forming steadily ascending links in a single cognitive process.

Human thought is a historical phenomenon presupposing the inheritance from generation to generation of acquired knowledge, and consequently the possibility of securing that knowledge by means of language, with which thought is firmly linked. An individual’s knowledge of the world is comprehensively mediated by the development of knowledge of the world by humanity as a whole. Thus, the thought of contemporary humanity is the product of the sociohistorical process. The necessity of the historical method, which is in dialectical unity with the logical method, ensues from the historical nature of human cognition and above all, the historical nature of the object of cognition.

The indispensable means of cognition are comparison, analysis, synthesis, generalization, abstraction, induction, and deduction, which reveal themselves differently at the various levels of cognition. The results of the cognitive process, insofar as they are adequate reflections of things, their properties, and their relationships, always have objective content and constitute objective truth.

Human knowledge cannot completely reproduce and exhaust the contents of an object right away. Every theory is historically conditioned and thus contains not complete but relative truth. But human thought can exist only as the thought of past, present, and future generations, and in this sense, the possibilities of knowledge are limited. Cognition is a development of truth, and the latter emerges as the expression of a definite historical level of the never-ending cognitive process. Proceeding from the acceptance of the relativity of knowledge, in the sense of the historical conditionality of the limits of the approach toward complete knowledge, dialectical materialism rejects the extreme conclusions of relativism, according to which the nature of human knowledge precludes the recognition of objective truth.

Along with general features, every object also has its unique characteristics; every social phenomenon is conditioned by the specific circumstances of place and time. Thus, along with the generalized approach, a specific approach to the object of cognition is essential. This is expressed in the principle: truth is always concrete, never abstract. The concrete nature of truth presupposes, first of all, the comprehensive, integral way of consideration of an object and recognition of the fact that it is constantly changing and therefore cannot be correctly reflected in static categories. Warning against errors resulting from non-concrete methods of approaching the truth, Lenin wrote that “any truth, if it is made ’excessive,’ … if exaggerated, or if carried beyond the limits of its actual applicability, can be reduced to an absurdity, and is even bound to become an absurdity under these conditions” (ibid., vol. 41, p. 46).

Categories and laws. Categories are the most general, basic concepts and at the same time the essential definitions of the forms of existence and relationships of things; categories express the universal forms of existence and cognition in a generalized manner. All the preceding cognitive experience of humanity that has passed the test of social practice is accumulated in categories.

In the analysis of categories, dialectical materialism is based on the principles of the Marxist-Leninist theory of reflection and dialectics. Every category occupies a particular place in the system of materialist dialectics, being the generalized expression of the corresponding stage of development of knowledge about the world. Lenin regarded categories as stages, or focal points for the cognition of the world. At the foundation of the historically developing system of materialist dialectics there must be a category that requires no premises and that is itself the starting premise for the development of all other categories. Matter is such a category. The basic forms of existence of matter— movement, space, and time—follow the category of matter.

The study of the infinite diversity of forms of matter begins with the isolation of an object and the ascertaining of its being—that is, its existence—and has the goal of uncovering the object’s properties and relations. Each object appears to the active person in its qualitative aspect. Thus, cognition of material things begins right with sensation, “and in it, there is inevitably also quality” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 29, p. 301). Quality is the specific character of a given object, its peculiarity, its distinction from other objects. Awareness of quality precedes cognition of quantity. Any object is a unity of quantity and quality; that is, a quantitatively determined quality, or measure. In revealing the qualitative and the quantitative specificity of things, humanity simultaneously establishes their differences and their identity.

All objects have external aspects that are comprehended immediately in sensation and perception and internal aspects, knowledge of which is achieved in a mediated fashion by means of abstract thinking. This difference in stages of cognition is expressed in the categories of the external and the internal. The formation of these categories in the human consciousness prepares for the comprehension of causality, or relationships of cause and effect, the correlation of which had been initially conceived only as the succession of phenomena in time. Cognition proceeds “from coexistence to causality, and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form” (ibid., p. 203). In the subsequent process of the development of thought, humanity began to comprehend that cause not only gives rise to effect but also presupposes it as reaction; thus, the relationship of cause and effect appears as reciprocity, that is, as a universal connection between things and processes that is expressed in their mutual alteration. The reciprocity between things and the reciprocity of aspects and moments within a thing are expressed in the struggle of opposites and are the universal cause of the change and development of things, rooted in the nature of the things; change and development are achieved not as the result of external stimulus as one-sided action but by virtue of reciprocal action and contradiction. The internal contradictoriness of any object lies in the fact that in one object there is simultaneously mutual penetration and mutual exclusion of opposites. Development is the transition of the object from one state to a qualitatively different state, from one structure to another. Development is simultaneously a continuous and discrete process, both evolutionary and revolutionary, occurring in leaps.

Every link that appears in the chain of phenomena includes its own negation—that is, the possibility of transition to a new form of being. Thus, it becomes clear that the being of things is not restricted to their present being, that all things include a latent, potential, or “future being”—that is, potentiality, which until its transformation into present being exists in the nature of things as the tendency of their development. In this regard, it appears that reality contains various potentialities, but only those for which the indispensable conditions of realization exist are turned into actual being.

A profound realization of the connection between the external and the internal is revealed in the categories of form and content. The practical interaction of people with a multitude of similar and different things served as the basis for the development of the categories of the unique, the particular, and the general. Constant observation of objects and phenomena in nature and in productive activity brought people to an understanding of the fact that certain connections are stable and of a constantly repetitive character, whereas others appear rarely. This serves as the basis for the formation of the categories of necessity and chance. Comprehending an essence, and at a higher stage of development disclosing an order of essences, means disclosing the foundations for change that are contained within an object as it interacts with other objects. Cognition of phenomena means disclosing how the essence reveals itself. Essence and phenomenon are revealed as moments of reality, which presents itself as a result of the emergence of actual being from real potentiality. Reality is richer and more concrete than potentiality, since the latter constitutes only one of the moments of reality. Reality is the unity of realized potentiality and the source of new potentialities. A real potentiality contains the conditions for its emergence in reality and is itself a part of reality. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, forms of thought and categories are the reflection in consciousness of the universal forms of the objectdirected activity of the social human being, who works to transform reality. Dialectical materialism proceeds from the assertion of the unity of the laws of being and of thought. “Our subjective thought and the objective world are subject to the same laws” (Engeh,Dialektika prirody, 1969, p. 231). Every universal law of development of the objective and the spiritual world is, in a certain sense, a law of cognition, as well: any law reflecting what exists in reality also indicates how one should think correctly about the corresponding area of reality.

The sequence of development of logical categories in dialectical materialism is dictated first and foremost by the objective sequence of the development of knowledge. Each category is a generalized reflection of objective reality, the outcome of age-old sociohistorical practice. Logical categories “are stages of distinguishing, that is, of cognizing the world, focal points in the network [of natural phenomenon, of nature—ed.] which assist in cognizing and mastering it” (Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29, p. 85). Any logical category is defined only by methodically tracing its connection with all other categories, only within the system of categories and by means of that system. Explaining this proposition, Lenin notes the general sequence of development of logical categories: “First of all, impressions flash by, then something emerges; afterwards the concepts of quality … (the determination of the thing or the phenomenon) and quantity are developed. After that, study and reflection direct thought to cognition of identity—of difference—of Ground—of the Essence versus the Phenomenon—of causality, and so forth. All these moments (steps, stages, processes) of cognition move in the direction from the subject to the object, being tested by practice and arriving through this test at truth” (ibid., p. 301).

The categories of dialectics are indissolubly linked with its laws. Every area of nature, society, and thought has its own laws of development, but there are certain general laws of development in the world because of its material unity. Their effects extend to all spheres of being and thought, developing differently in each of them. It is precisely the laws of every sort of development that dialectics studies. The most general laws of materialist dialectics are the transformation of quantitative to qualitative changes, the unity and struggle of opposites, and the law of negation of the negation. These laws express the universal forms of development of the material world and of cognition of it; they constitute a universal method of dialectical thinking. The law of the unity and struggle of opposites is based on the fact that the development of the objective world and of cognition are carried out through the bifurcation of an entity into mutually exclusive opposing moments, aspects, and tendencies; their interrelationship, the “struggle” and resolution of contradictions, on the one hand characterizes a given system as something integral and qualitatively determined, and on the other hand constitutes an internal impulse for the system’s change, development, and transformation into a new quality.

The law of reciprocal transformation of quantitative into qualitative changes reveals the most general mechanism of development: a change in the quality of an object occurs when the accumulation of quantitative changes reaches a certain limit, and a leap—that is, the replacement of one quality by another—occurs. The law of negation of the negation characterizes the direction of development. Its basic content is the unity of forward movement, progress, and continuity in development and the emergence of a new and relative recurrence of certain previously existing elements. Knowledge of general laws serves as the guiding principle for the study of specific laws. In turn, the general laws of the development of the world and of cognition and the concrete forms in which they are manifested can be studied only on the basis of and in close connection with the study and generalization of individual laws. This interrelationship of general and specific laws constitutes the objective foundation of the interdependence of dialectical materialism and the individual sciences. An independent philosophical science, dialectical materialism provides scientists with the only scientific method of cognition, which is adequate for the regularities of the objective world. Materialist dialectics is such a method “for it alone offers the analogue, and thereby the method of explaining the evolutionary process occurring in nature, interconnections in general, and transitions from one field of investigation to another” (Engels, see K. Marx and F. En-gels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 367). Of course, the general properties and relations of things reveal themselves in different ways, depending on the specific character of an area studied by a given science.

The specific sciences. The historical mission of dialectical materialism lies in the creative development of the scientific world view and the general methodological principles of research in the sphere of the natural and social sciences, in a correct theoretical orientation of the practical struggle of progressive social forces. It is based on the firm foundation of all of science and social practice. Dialectical materialism, as Engels noted, is “a world outlook which has to establish its validity and be applied not in science of sciences standing apart, but in the positive sciences” (ibid., p. 142). Every science studies a qualitatively definite system of regularities by which the world operates. However, no specialized science studies the regularities that are general to being and thought. These universal regularities are the subject of philosophical cognition. Dialectical materialism overcame the artificial break between the doctrine of being (ontology), the theory of knowledge (gnoseology), and logic. Dialectical materialism is distinguished from the specialized sciences by the qualitative uniqueness of its subject and its universal, all-embracing nature. There are different levels of generalization within any specialized science. In dialectical materialism, the generalizations of the specialized sciences are themselves generalized. Thus, philosophical generalization rises to the highest “floors” of the integrating work of human reason. Dialectical materialism integrates the results of investigation in the various spheres of science into a unified whole, thus creating a synthesis of the knowledge of the universal laws of being and thought. The subject of scientific cognition determines the nature of the methods applied in approaching it. Dialectical materialism does not use the special methods of the individual sciences. The basic tool of philosophical cognition is theoretical thought, based on the aggregate experience of humanity and on the achievements of all the sciences and of culture as a whole.

Possessing a definite specificity, dialectical materialism is at the same time a general science, playing the role of a world view and a methodology for specific areas of knowledge. In various areas of scientific knowledge the internal need, constantly and as time goes on, increasingly arises for scrutinizing the logical apparatus, cognitive activity, the character of theory and the means of building it, the analysis of the empirical and theoretical levels of cognition, the assumptions of the science, and the methods of comprehending truth. All this is the direct duty of philosophical investigation. The solution of these problems presupposes the unification of the efforts of exponents of the specialized sciences and of philosophy. The methodological significance of the principles, laws, and categories of dialectical materialism must not be understood in an oversimplified way, in the sense that it would be impossible to resolve even a single problem without them. With regard to the place and role of dialectical materialism in the system of scientific cognition, the question is not one of individual experiments or calculations, but rather of the development of science as a whole: the advancement and substantiation of hypotheses; the struggle of opinions; the creation of theories; the resolution of internal contradictions within a given theory; the exposure of the essence of the basic concepts of a science; the understanding of new facts and evaluating the conclusions drawn from them; and the methods of scientific investigation. In the contemporary world, the revolution in science has become a scientific-technical revolution. Under these conditions, Engels’ words recalled by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-criticism are particularly timely: that “with each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, materialism has to change its form” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, p. 265). The transformations in contemporary science are so profound that they affect even its theoretical-cognitive foundations. The needs of developing science elicited substantial changes in the treatment of most of the categories of dialectical materialism—matter, space and time, consciousness, causality, the part and the whole, and so forth. The increasing complexity of the subject of scientific cognition sharply complicated the methods, and the procedure itself, of cognitive activity. The developments of modern science had not merely put forward a multitude of new facts and methods of cognition, posing more complex tasks for human cognitive activity, but also advanced a multitude of new concepts, and in addition often demanded a radical rethinking of previous positions and ideas. The progress of science does not merely pose new questions for dialectical materialism but also focuses the attention of philosophical thought on new aspects of old problems. One of the symptomatic phenomena of contemporary scientific cognition is the tendency to turn a number of specialized concepts into general scientific and philosophical categories. These include probability, structure, system, information, algorithm, constructive object, feedback, control, model, simulation, and isomorphism. Actual contacts are being established between Marxist philosophers and exponents of various other spheres of knowledge. These contacts contribute to advances, in both the formulation of questions and the solution of a number of important methodological problems of science. Examples include the explanation of the peculiarities of statistical regularities in the microscopic world and substantiation of their objectivity; the demonstration of the unsoundness of indeterminism in modern physics; the demonstration of the applicability of physics, chemistry, and cybernetics in biological research; the clarification of the man-machine system; the working out of the problem of the correlation between the physiological and the psychic; and the clarification of the cooperation of separate sciences in the study of the brain. One of the tendencies of modern science is the increasing abstraction of knowledge, the “flight” from the perceptible and demonstrable. Dialectical materialism shows that all sciences develop along the path of gradual withdrawal from descriptive methods of investigation to ever greater use of precise methods, including mathematical methods, not only in the natural sciences but also in the social sciences. In the cognitive process, artificial formalized languages and mathematical symbolism play an increasingly greater role. Theoretical generalization becomes increasingly indirect and multilevel, revealing ever more profound objective ties. The principles, laws, and categories of dialectical materialism play an active part in the synthesis of new scientific notions, in the closest connection, of course, with the empirical and theoretical notions of the corresponding science. In recent years, the heuristic role of dialectical materialism in the synthesis of the contemporary scientific picture of the world has been thoroughly manifested.

Party spirit. Dialectical materialism has a class and a party character. The partiinost’ (party spirit) of any philosophy is above all its affiliation with one of the two main philosophical camps—materialism and idealism. In the final analysis, the struggle between them reflects the contradictions between the progressive and conservative tendencies in social development. The partiinost’ of dialectical materialism is manifested in the fact that it consistently adheres to the principle of materialism, which is in complete accordance with the interests of science and revolutionary social practice.

Dialectical materialism arose as the theoretical basis of the world view of the revolutionary class, the proletariat, and it constitutes the general ideological and methodological basis of the program, strategy, tactics, and politics of communist and workers’ parties. The political line of Marxism is at all times and in all issues “inseparably bound up with its philosophical principles” (Lenin, ibid., vol. 17, p. 418). The ideologists of the bourgeoisie and the revisionists exalt the non-partiinost’, setting forth the idea of a “third line” in philosophy. The idea of non-partiinost’ in a world view is a mistaken one. Lenin emphasized that there can be no non-party “social science in a society based on class struggle” (ibid., vol. 23, p. 40). The revisionists assert that partiinost’ is incompatible with the scientific approach. Actually, partiinost’ is incompatible with the reactionary world view, but it is fully compatible with the scientific approach where the progressive world view is concerned. Communist partiinost’ means also a genuinely scientific approach to the phenomena of reality, since the working class and the Communist Party, whose goal is the revolutionary transformation of the world, are vitally interested in the correct cognition of the world. The principle of partiinost’ demands consistent, uncompromising struggle against bourgeois theories and views, as well as against the ideas of right and “left” revisionism. The partiinost’ of dialectical materialism is based on the fact that it is precisely this world view that consciously and purposefully serves the interests of the great cause of the construction of socialism and communism.

Dialectical materialism develops in the struggle against various currents in contemporary bourgeois philosophy. Bourgeois ideologists, seeing in dialectical materialism a fundamental obstacle to the spread of their views, present criticisms of dialectical materialism with increasing frequency, distorting its essence in the process. Certain bourgeois ideologists strive to deprive materialist dialectics of its revolutionary content and in this form adapt it to their own needs. The majority of present-day bourgeois critics of dialectical materialism attempt to interpret it as a variant of religious faith, to deny its scientific nature, and to find features common to dialectical materialism and Catholic philosophy, in neo-Thomism. These and other “arguments” are used also by various representatives of modern revisionism in their attempts to revise and “correct” specific propositions of dialectical materialism.

Revisionists of the right and the “left” in fact deny the objective nature of social laws and the necessity for a revolutionary party to act in accordance with these laws. This relates also to the laws of dialectics. Reformists and right-wing revisionist ideologists recognize not the struggle but rather the conciliation of opposites; they deny qualitative changes, defending only “flat” evolutionism, and do not recognize the law of negation of the negation. In turn, left-wing revisionist theoreticians consider only antagonistic contradictions and their chaotic “struggle” to be real; they deny quantitative changes, fighting for continuous “leaps” and endorsing the complete negation of the old without preserving what was positive in it. For the reformists and right-wing revisionists, this serves as a methodological basis to justify opportunism, while for the “left” revisionists, their methodology is the basis for extreme voluntarism and subjectivism in politics.

In its struggle against bourgeois philosophy, as against contemporary revisionism and dogmatism, Marxism consistently adheres to the principle of the partiinost’ of philosophy, viewing the philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism as a scientific weapon in the hands of the working class and toiling masses who are struggling for their liberation from capitalism and for the victory of communism.


Marx, K., and P. Engels. “Nemetskaia ideologiia.” Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Marx, K. Tezisy o Feierbakhe. Ibid.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring. Ibid., vol. 20.
Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18.
Lenin, V. I. Tri istochnika i tri sostavnykh chasti marksizma. Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. Filosofskie tetradi. Ibid., vol. 29.
Morochnik, S. B. Dialekticheskii materializm. Dushanbe, 1963.
Rutkevich, M. N. Dialekticheskii materializm. Moscow, 1961.
Marksistsko-leninskaia filosofiia: Dialekticheskii materializm. Moscow, 1970.
Osnovy marksistsko-leninskoifilosofii. Moscow, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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