Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist
party. It is called dialectical materialism because its approach to the
phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is
dialectical, while its interpretation of the phenomena of nature, its
conception of these phenomena, its theory, is materialistic.
Historical materialism is the extension of the principles of dialectical
materialism to the study of social life, an application of the
principles of dialectical materialism to the phenomena of the life of
society, to the study of society and of its history.
When describing their dialectical method, Marx and Engels usually refer
to Hegel as the philosopher who formulated the main features of
dialectics. This, however, does not mean that the dialectics of Marx and
Engels is identical with the dialectics of Hegel. As a matter of fact,
Marx and Engels took from the Hegelian dialectics only its "rational
kernel," casting aside its Hegelian idealistic shell, and developed
dialectics further so as to lend it a modern scientific form.
"My dialectic method," says Marx, "is not only different from the
Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, ... the process of
thinking which, under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an
independent subject, is the demiurgos (creator) of the real world, and
the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea.' With
me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world
reflected by the human mind and translated into forms of thought."
(Marx, Afterword to the Second German Edition of Volume I of Capital.)
When describing their materialism, Marx and Engels usually refer to
Feuerbach as the philosopher who restored materialism to its rights.
This, however, does not mean that the materialism of Marx and Engels is
identical with Feuerbach's materialism. As a matter of fact, Marx and
Engels took from Feuerbach's materialism its "inner kernel," developed
it into a scientific-philosophical theory of materialism and cast aside
its idealistic and religious-ethical encumbrances. We know that
Feuerbach, although he was fundamentally a materialist, objected to the
name materialism. Engels more than once declared that "in spite of" the
materialist "foundation," Feuerbach "remained... bound by the
traditional idealist fetters," and that "the real idealism of Feuerbach
becomes evident as soon as we come to his philosophy of religion and
ethics." (Marx and Engels, Vol. XIV, pp. 652-54.)
Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate. In
ancient times dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by
disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and
overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient
times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and
the clash of opposite opinions was the best method of arriving at the
truth. This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the
phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of
apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in
constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of
nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature,
as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature.
In its essence, dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics.
1) Marxist Dialectical Method
The principal features of the Marxist dialectical method are as follows:
a) Nature Connected and Determined
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard nature as an
accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with,
isolated from, and independent of, each other, but as a connected and
integral whole, in which things, phenomena are organically connected
with, dependent on, and determined by, each other.
The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in nature can
be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomena,
inasmuch as any phenomenon in any realm of nature may become meaningless
to us if it is not considered in connection with the surrounding
conditions, but divorced from them; and that, vice versa, any phenomenon
can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable
connection with surrounding phenomena, as one conditioned by surrounding
b) Nature is a State of Continuous Motion and Change
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not a state of
rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of
continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development,
where something is always arising and developing, and something always
disintegrating and dying away.
The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be
considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and
interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement, their
change, their development, their coming into being and going out of
The dialectical method regards as important primarily not that which at
the given moment seems to be durable and yet is already beginning to die
away, but that which is arising and developing, even though at the given
moment it may appear to be not durable, for the dialectical method
considers invincible only that which is arising and developing.
"All nature," says Engels, "from the smallest thing to the biggest. from
grains of sand to suns, from protista (the primary living cells – J.
St.) to man, has its existence in eternal coming into being and going
out of being, in a ceaseless flux, in unresting motion and change
(Ibid., p. 484.)
Therefore, dialectics, Engels says, "takes things and their perceptual
images essentially in their interconnection, in their concatenation, in
their movement, in their rise and disappearance." (Marx and Engels, Vol.
XIV,' p. 23.)
c) Natural Quantitative Change Leads to Qualitative Change
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics does not regard the process of
development as a simple process of growth, where quantitative changes do
not lead to qualitative changes, but as a development which passes from
insignificant and imperceptible quantitative changes to open'
fundamental changes' to qualitative changes; a development in which the
qualitative changes occur not gradually, but rapidly and abruptly,
taking the form of a leap from one state to another; they occur not
accidentally but as the natural result of an accumulation of
imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes.
The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development
should be understood not as movement in a circle, not as a simple
repetition of what has already occurred, but as an onward and upward
movement, as a transition from an old qualitative state to a new
qualitative state, as a development from the simple to the complex, from
the lower to the higher:
"Nature," says Engels, "is the test of dialectics. and it must be said
for modern natural science that it has furnished extremely rich and
daily increasing materials for this test, and has thus proved that in
the last analysis nature's process is dialectical and not metaphysical,
that it does not move in an eternally uniform and constantly repeated
circle. but passes through a real history. Here prime mention should be
made of Darwin, who dealt a severe blow to the metaphysical conception
of nature by proving that the organic world of today, plants and
animals, and consequently man too, is all a product of a process of
development that has been in progress for millions of years." (Ibid., p.
Describing dialectical development as a transition from quantitative
changes to qualitative changes, Engels says:
"In physics ... every change is a passing of quantity into quality, as a
result of a quantitative change of some form of movement either inherent
in a body or imparted to it. For example, the temperature of water has
at first no effect on its liquid state; but as the temperature of liquid
water rises or falls, a moment arrives when this state of cohesion
changes and the water is converted in one case into steam and in the
other into ice.... A definite minimum current is required to make a
platinum wire glow; every metal has its melting temperature; every
liquid has a definite freezing point and boiling point at a given
pressure, as far as we are able with the means at our disposal to attain
the required temperatures; finally, every gas has its critical point at
which, by proper pressure and cooling, it can be converted into a liquid
state.... What are known as the constants of physics (the point at which
one state passes into another – J. St.) are in most cases nothing but
designations for the nodal points at which a quantitative (change)
increase or decrease of movement causes a qualitative change in the
state of the given body, and at which, consequently, quantity is
transformed into quality." (Ibid., pp. 527-28.)
Passing to chemistry, Engels continues:
"Chemistry may be called the science of the qualitative changes which
take place in bodies as the effect of changes of quantitative
composition. his was already known to Hegel.... Take oxygen: if the
molecule contains three atoms instead of the customary two, we get
ozone, a body definitely distinct in odor and reaction from ordinary
oxygen. And what shall we say of the different proportions in which
oxygen combines with nitrogen or sulphur, and each of which produces a
body qualitatively different from all other bodies !" (Ibid., p. 528.)
Finally, criticizing Dühring, who scolded Hegel for all he was worth,
but surreptitiously borrowed from him the well-known thesis that the
transition from the insentient world to the sentient world, from the
kingdom of inorganic matter to the kingdom of organic life, is a leap to
a new state, Engels says:
"This is precisely the Hegelian nodal line of measure relations in which
at certain definite nodal points, the purely quantitative increase or
decrease gives rise to a qualitative leap, for example, in the case of
water which is heated or cooled, where boiling point and freezing point
are the nodes at which – under normal pressure – the leap to a new
aggregate state takes place, and where consequently quantity is
transformed into quality." (Ibid., pp. 45-46.)
d) Contradictions Inherent in Nature
Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions
are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have
their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying
away and something developing; and that the struggle between these
opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which
is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is
disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal
content of the process of development, the internal content of the
transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes.
The dialectical method therefore holds that the process of development
from the lower to the higher takes place not as a harmonious unfolding
of phenomena, but as a disclosure of the contradictions inherent in
things and phenomena, as a "struggle" of opposite tendencies which
operate on the basis of these contradictions.
"In its proper meaning," Lenin says, "dialectics is the study of the
contradiction within the very essence of things." (Lenin, Philosophical
Notebooks, p. 265.)
"Development is the 'struggle' of opposites." (Lenin, Vol. XIII, p.
Such, in brief, are the principal features of the Marxist dialectical
It is easy to understand how immensely important is the extension of the
principles of the dialectical method to the study of social life and the
history of society, and how immensely important is the application of
these principles to the history of society and to the practical
activities of the party of the proletariat.
If there are no isolated phenomena in the world, if all phenomena are
interconnected and interdependent, then it is clear that every social
system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from
the standpoint of "eternal justice" or some other preconceived idea, as
is not infrequently done by historians, but from the standpoint of the
conditions which gave rise to that system or that social movement and
with which they are connected.
The slave system would be senseless, stupid and unnatural under modern
conditions. But under the conditions of a disintegrating primitive
communal system, the slave system is a quite understandable and natural
phenomenon, since it represents an advance on the primitive communal
The demand for a bourgeois-democratic republic when tsardom and
bourgeois society existed, as, let us say, in Russia in 1905, was a
quite understandable, proper and revolutionary demand; for at that time
a bourgeois republic would have meant a step forward. But now, under the
conditions of the U.S.S.R., the demand for a bourgeois-democratic
republic would be a senseless and counterrevolutionary demand; for a
bourgeois republic would be a retrograde step compared with the Soviet
Everything depends on the conditions, time and place.
It is clear that without such a historical approach to social phenomena,
the existence and development of the science of history is impossible;
for only such an approach saves the science of history from becoming a
jumble of accidents and an agglomeration of most absurd mistakes.
Further, if the world is in a state of constant movement and
development, if the dying away of the old and the upgrowth of the new is
a law of development, then it is clear that there can be no "immutable"
social systems, no "eternal principles" of private property and
exploitation, no "eternal ideas" of the subjugation of the peasant to
the landlord, of the worker to the capitalist.
Hence, the capitalist system can be replaced by the socialist system,
just as at one time the feudal system was replaced by the capitalist
Hence, we must not base our orientation on the strata of society which
are no longer developing, even though they at present constitute the
predominant force, but on those strata which are developing and have a
future before them, even though they at present do not constitute the
In the eighties of the past century, in the period of the struggle
between the Marxists and the Narodniks, the proletariat in Russia
constituted an insignificant minority of the population, whereas the
individual peasants constituted the vast majority of the population. But
the proletariat was developing as a class, whereas the peasantry as a
class was disintegrating. And just because the proletariat was
developing as a class the Marxists based their orientation on the
proletariat. And they were not mistaken; for, as we know, the
proletariat subsequently grew from an insignificant force into a
first-rate historical and political force.
Hence, in order not to err in policy, one must look forward, not
Further, if the passing of slow quantitative changes into rapid and
abrupt qualitative changes is a law of development, then it is clear
that revolutions made by oppressed classes are a quite natural and
Hence, the transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation of
the working class from the yoke of capitalism cannot be effected by slow
changes, by reforms, but only by a qualitative change of the capitalist
system, by revolution.
Hence, in order not to err in policy, one must be a revolutionary, not a
Further, if development proceeds by way of the disclosure of internal
contradictions, by way of collisions between opposite forces on the
basis of these contradictions and so as to overcome these
contradictions, then it is clear that the class struggle of the
proletariat is a quite natural and inevitable phenomenon.
Hence, we must not cover up the contradictions of the capitalist system,
but disclose and unravel them; we must not try to check the class
struggle but carry it to its conclusion.
Hence, in order not to err in policy, one must pursue an uncompromising
proletarian class policy, not a reformist policy of harmony of the
interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, not a compromisers'
policy of the "growing" of capitalism into socialism.
Such is the Marxist dialectical method when applied to social life, to
the history of society.