Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

Dialectical Materialism and Karl Marx


Clearly, the influence of Karl Marx’s philosophies on world has been greater than any other philosopher’s. He brought a big deal of change and the second most important political d of ruling a country. However, not only did this socio-political method prove influential but it was also able to form the second super power that later collapsed. When one begins studying Karl Marx and his ideas behind communism he easily traces the link between dialectical materialism and communism. All the studies and work done on Marxism involves the study of Dialectical Materialism. It is the indispensible tool that lies at the root of Marxism and Communism.

Karl Marx never coined the term Dialectical Materialism and even though his Communism is based on this tool he randomly mentioned it in his work. He did plan to write on Dialectical Materialism but he died before he ever stepped into the writing procedure. Friedrich Engels further took it as his responsibility to write on Dialectical Materialism but he was engaged with the compilation of ‘Capital’ after Marx’s death. And after he was done he died shortly.  Therefore, the only person we are drawn to now, who did thorough work on the dialectic and made it the centre of his philosophical study was G. W. F. Hegel. Very interestingly, Hegel’s dialectical is somewhat 180 degree different from Karl Marx’s but nonetheless useful. Hegel, as an idealist, kept ideas and concepts at the centre of his dialectic. Marx, even though an admirer of Hegel’s work, shifted the centre to matter. His dialectic focuses on matter changing instead of ideas. This derived Marx to his communism shortly.

The study includes how Marx studied Hegel’s dialectic and then formed his own version of the dialectic, later called Dialectical Materialism, and used it to show the economic struggle of the society. He discussed society the most in his writings and his aim was clearly to affect the system of the society and how it works. He believed in improving the system of the society. He used Hegel’s concept of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, derived from the dialectic theory to justify communism and its inevitability.  The work includes how an economic injustice is created in the society and with the passage of time this injustice is eradicated by parts of the society that come together in doing so and it all occurs through the process of dialectic. Dialectical Materialism is therefore the strict scientific social theory that is the basis of the Communist Society.


Dialectic is the logic of change. It tells you that there cannot be absolute and fixed categories in nature or society. The classification system was formal logic, brought up by the modern science but it soon fell on its back. Soon, the system proved limited and classification of specie in a rigid system became impossible. Darwin explained how through evolution one specie becomes another through change and it could not fall into a fixed category. For instance, the duck-billed platypus is hard to place in mammals when it can produce eggs.

“The fundamental flaw in vulgar thought lies in fact that it wishes to content itself with motionless imprints of reality which consists of eternal motion.”

Dialectic system of reasoning goes as back as the Ancient Greek period when it was thought, by some great philosophers, that dialectical reasoning is an excellent method for deducing conclusions from arguments. These arguments were therefore presented in forms of dialogues so the method can be used well. The dialogues were not meant to form a debate of two different ideologies but they were practiced in a manner that one would be teaching the other person. The teaching was made proper and thorough due to the deep reasoned questioning. This would derive people to the best conclusions.

“Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion or motion without matter nor can there be.”

This statement is from Marx’s speech that was written by Friedrich Engels. He is clearly asserting the importance of dialectic. Marx believed that nature could be explained in terms of dialectic. He believed that matter is prior to ideas and concept. The concepts and ideas belong to us and we belong to nature so they are a part of nature too. This way everything can be explained in terms of dialectic but the study of society is the study of nature and this makes us conclude that to study nature material should be our priority. Thus we are clear that for Marx dialectic is “the science of the general laws of motion, both of the external world and of human thought.”

Hegel’s Dialectic

“Wherever there is movement, wherever there is life, wherever anything is carried into effect in the actual world, there dialectic is at work.”

Hegel’s dialectic was based on idealism. He believed thought, idea and concept to be the nature of everything and his dialectic was explained through idealism too. Hegel quotes, “thought in its very nature is dialectic.” Therefore, the change is so constant for Hegel that he explains how every idea in nature is changing and not changing at the same moment. This is the dialectic of Hegel that purely focuses ideas. Hegel’s theory is that humans are in a state of constant philosophical conflicts. He was a pure idealist who believed that achieving the highest state of mind is only possible if you can attain a state in which your ideas are in a constant change of conflicts and resolutions. He believed that negation and conflict are powerful and they are what can take mankind to the next spiritual level. Whoever wants to grow spiritually has to be in a constant state of changing ideas in his mind.

The Opposing Forces

Hegel is of the view that everything that exists in time and space is opposing something. Contradiction is in nature of everything and everything has opposed forces. Hegel speaks of contradiction very appraisingly. He studies contradiction in three helpful layers that are Being, Essence and Notion. The concept of “being” as the meaning implies is that two concepts or ideas that are present in the world, exist and they are so the word being is used for them. They have quantity and quality and therefore they are. The term Essence implies that the two concepts lying have meaning that is interrelated and therefore defining one would be defining the other too. The next level of contradiction called Notion is what gives the concept a higher sophisticated meaning with the concept of either universality or particularity involved.

Hegel continues explaining understanding of the world through dialectic by Universal, particular and Individual. Universal is the abstract form of an idea. A form has nothing particular but a plain idea with a lot that can be explained and pinpointed. But as we advance towards understanding it is important for us to identify the characteristics and be particular with the idea. What Hegel points out here is again the importance of negation in contradiction that the Universal exists in contradiction to the Particular.

“The beginning, the principle, or the Absolute, as at first immediately enunciated, is only the universal. Just as when I say ‘all animals,’ this expression cannot pass for zoology. So it is equally plain that the words, ‘the Divine,’ ‘the Absolute,’ ‘the Eternal,’ etc. Do not express what is contained in them; and only such words, in fact, do express the intuition as something immediate.”

Hegel asserts that the world of common sense is static and it evaluates everything as static and unchanging while everything in the world is moving and flowing into one another. He further tells us that the particulars that are characteristics of the universal are in contradiction with each other and also the universal.

Triadic Structure

Hegel used the terms Immediate, Mediated and Concrete to explain his triadic structure of dialectic. This was adopted by Marx to explain his communism later. The words used for the triadic structure now are different from Hegel’s but more popular; thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The constant dialectic change of Hegel was explained therefore by this process that idea goes through. First, there is an immediate idea or a thought that is incomplete and unsatisfactory, called Thesis and it gives rise to another thought in negation called the antithesis.  The antithesis gives us a Synthesis of a new thought or idea but then since the dialectic is the form of nature the synthesis is negated again and the resolution is contradicted again and again.

Hence, change is spiral and not circular. The thesis, antithesis and synthesis derive to a different conclusion every time and keep in motion.

Quantity to Quality

Another important part of Hegelian Dialectic is to understand what this phenomenon meant. Karl Marx’s communism can be best understood by Hegel’s Triadic System and this phenomenon of change Quantity to Quality. With this phenomenon Hegel describes how change takes place. The common notion that change occurs through a gradual process is actually false according to Hegel and he states.

“But there is also such a thing as sudden transformation from quantity to quality. For example, water does not become gradually hard on cooling, becoming first pulpy and ultimately attaining a rigidity of ice, but turns hard at once. If temperature be lowered to a certain degree, the water is suddenly changed into ice, i.e., the quantity — the number of degrees of temperature – is transformed into quality a change in the nature of the thing.”

Other references used to describe this change of quantity to quality include the beginning of life. The beginning of life is determined by the sudden emergence of single-cellular life in the ocean. Then, the next revolution that brought about the beginning of a multi-cellular life came to be another qualitative step. Similarly, other emerges kept taking place.

This phenomenon can be explained and will be explained later in terms of society and the economic conditions. The qualitative changes that took place and will take place will be discussed.

Karl Marx’s Dialectical Materialism

“The process of thinking, which, under the name of ‘the Idea’, he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurges of the real world. With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human minds, and translated into forms of thought.”

Marx rejected idealism and called it a mere reflection of matter. He was adamant that matter is the higher form of nature and not ideas. Marx wanted to give matter more credit than it was ever given and he explained how matter is not just “stuff” by which material objects are made but it is the principle of interaction between the material objects. Marx concept of matter is a process and economics is the basic process through which he studies class struggle. Economics, the means of production and the relation of productions are all that constitute matter. Marx concept of human nature is that of society; a society that is dialectic (i.e. in process and material). He believes they are no different and Marx’s society constitutes of matter in motion. He believes that science is a study of matter and the human mind that we use is matter. This matter is prior to ideas because ideas originate after the origination of the human mind. The processing of mind forms ideas and that processing of material is matter or dialectical materialism. And these minds construct societies and the contradictions that follow. Therefore matter is prior to ideas.

Karl Marx was critical of materialists who supported a mechanical view of matter and through his work Marx tried to explain how matter is dialectic and ever-changing in form, not mechanistically rigid. He explained how matter is a process and not rigid.

“The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.”

Quantity changes to quality for Marx are the very same as Hegel describes them but Marx as a philosopher wants to bring a change in the society. If there is a strike in the factory it is not because of any tension from the external sources but the conditions within the society are responsible. No matter how small the cause is, it can bring a qualitative change. This is one example where the quantity of workers can cause a qualitative change. Marx emphasis on the working-class and their rights that need protection from the bourgeoisie is immense.

However, see that Marx is more of a philosopher than an activist. As an activist he believes in uniting the working class of all the nations and therefore the last sentence of The Communist Manifesto is “Proletarians, of all countries, unite!” However, the philosopher Marx explains the society and class struggle in terms of dialectic. This means incorporating the renowned triadic system in the class struggle.

Historical Materialism

This ideology of Karl Marx can help us best to see how societies have evolved in history; the changes societies went through. Marx and Engels believed Historical Materialism to be the ‘Science of History’ or the ‘Science of the Development of Societies.’ Marx used this philosophy to explain the material dialectic of the forces of production and relations of production and these are the factors that determine historical development. History occurs through dialectic and dialectic is explained by a class of opposing forces. Marx believed that on one had there is the means of production; the natural resources, technology and land, and on the other hand are the social relations of production. He also explained that within any society the mode of production changes. It went from the feudal mode to the Capitalist mode in the European society. The Capitalist mode of production allows great production and it is the most revolutionary class in history because of the way it revolutionizes the modes of production. The means of production change more rapidly than the relations of production. This mismatch becomes the main reason for social conflict and contradictions.

People sell their labour-power for low price and accept any compensation they get in return. They do not sell the product but they sell their work. The money they receive is their only chance to survival and this forms a class of people called ‘proletariat.’ The class that buys this labour and owns the means of production are capitalist, ‘bourgeoisie.’ Marx foresaw that soon the capitalist society would invest more in technology and less in labour. And also, the surplus value appropriated from the labour is the source of profit so the profit will fall when the economy will grow. This will make the price of labour fall even more. And also, a thing about capitalist is that they compete with one another in bringing down production cost. This will make the working class to lower its price. In a nutshell, it all means an absurd class difference will be created. Capitalism will make the rich richer and poor will become poorer.

Class Struggle

It is obvious that in a society, striving of some people contradicts with the striving with others. Rather wars and revolutions take place because of these contradictions. These contradictions may be between nations or parts of the society. Marx emphasises on this contradiction between parts of the society that goes on in every culture and every nation.

“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

The bourgeoisie and their methods of concentrating property and centralizing power have been discussed in great detail in the Communist Manifesto. This is through dialectic and the change in society which brings about the strength of bourgeoisie. They develop heavy taxation systems, loose provincial governments, destructive armed forces and they are all in interest of the bourgeoisie. The established industries become monopolies and like savages the bourgeoisie controlling the Multinational Companies hunt for cheap labour; labour that they exploit for their benefits. Worker rights have gone down so much that they have become negligible. Rather, some societies have such little consideration for rights that bonded labour is a common thing. Machines are replacing the proletarians.

The important thing that Marx points out is that nobody but the bourgeoisie brought this on themselves. They gave the weapons of their destructions in the hands of the proletarians and their decline is inevitable.

“The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself. But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class — the proletarians.”

Marx believed that communism is a social inevitability. Societies move in a manner that they move towards a revolution that brings communism. Communism is when the proletariats overthrow capitalist bourgeoisie and step up to form a dictatorship that is more just.

Triadic Structure of Social Dialectic: Conclusion

Interestingly, what Marx has pointed out, in a nutshell, is that dialectic caused an economic class difference. The economics is the process that is matter and matter goes through constant change that can be called dialectic. Hence, the dialectic of the economics is what brings the class difference. The ‘class of proletariats’, which is matter again, through undergoes a class struggle that overthrows the bourgeoisie and forms an inevitable communist society. A communist society is the result of the capitalist society.

If this is put in the triadic structure of Hegel, capitalism is the thesis that can be characterized by the class difference. This difference is the life of a bourgeois in comparison to the life of a proletarian. Now the antithesis or the contradiction arises when the proletariats stand up for their rights. The revolution that takes place when a capitalist, unfair system is overthrown is the antithesis that is an opposing force to the capitalism.  The synthesis that comes to origin, when the thesis and the antithesis combine, is the communist society; a dictatorship formed by the proletariats that is just and protects worker rights.

Hence, the triadic structure of Hegel, an illustration of the dialectic, shows us how the economic injustice created in the society by dialectic falls on its back and self destructs by the emergence of the inevitable communism. This is the thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Economic injustice is created by dialectical materialism, an antithesis forms contradictory to it, according to the dialectic and then a synthesis of the communist society will break the economic injustice. All this can be explained and can be justified by dialectical materialism that Marx explains.


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This entry was posted on May 24, 2011 by in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , .
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