marxist theory dialectical materialism


How Spud Guns Work

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Spud Gun Theory

marxist theory dialectical materialism

The two basic types of spud gun -- combustive and pneumatic -- each use a rapidly expanding volume of gas to move a potato. Both types of guns are typically made of PVC pipe, although some people use acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), aluminum or other piping materials.

All spud guns have the same basic components:

  • A chamber in which gas reaches a high pressure
  • A barrel for the projectile
  • Some type of firing mechanism

Typically, the sharpened end of the barrel acts as a barrel knife , which shaves off the excess potato during loading.

The method for creating high-pressure gas is what differentiates combustive and pneumatic spud guns. "A combustion-based spud gun," says Suprise, "uses a flammable have a fuel-air mix in a chamber, and then you have an ignition source, typically an electric barbecue sparker, something of that nature, which will ignite that flammable mix." When the vapor ignites, the resulting explosion creates a large volume of hot gas , which forces the potato down the length of the barrel and out.

A pneumatic spud gun uses compressed air rather than flammable gas. Suprise explains:

In the next section, we'll examine the differences between combustive and pneumatic guns and how each generates the pressure needed to fire the potato.

Although PVC and other pipe materials are often pressure tested, they are not intended for use in building projectile launchers. People who build spud guns do so at their own risk . They also must take certain precautions, such as drilling holes only through couplings (where the material is twice as thick) to reduce the risk of shattering during use.

Many spud guns are barrel loading. The user forces a potato all the way down the length of a barrel using a pole or rod. However, some designs are breech loading, meaning that the user can open the gun near the chamber and insert the potato there.

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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. 

For a structured approach to reading about the topic we have created this comprehensive reading guide about Marxist philosophy .

marxist theory dialectical materialism

In Defence of Materialism – Alan Woods

How do we acquire knowledge? Is there a real world beyond our senses? And if so, what is our relation to it? In this important theoretical contribution, editor Alan Woods mounts a defence of materialism against idealism and the obscurantist, postmodernist subjectivism popular on university campuses today.

marxist theory dialectical materialism

New edition of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism: available now from Wellred Books!

Wellred Books proudly presents the new edition of Lenin’s  Materialism and Empirio-criticism . In this classic text, Lenin brilliantly explains the fundamental principles of the materialist philosophy of Marxism. This edition contains a new introduction by Alan Woods, In Defence of Materialism , which is presented here . The book is available here , and also in ebook format here .

marxist theory dialectical materialism

In Defence of Hegel

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born 250 years ago on 27 August 1770 into a petty-bourgeois family in the German city of Stuttgart. A towering genius with an encyclopaedic mind, Hegel revolutionised every field that he dedicated himself to. The impact of Hegel’s ideas cannot be underestimated, and as Marxists we owe him a tremendous debt.

marxist theory dialectical materialism

[Audio] Artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness

In this talk from the Revolution Festival 2018, Daniel Morley of the Socialist Appeal editorial board examines one of the most long-standing questions of philosophy: what is consciousness?

[Video] Dialectics: from Hegel to Marx

In this talk from the 2018 Revolution Festival, Hamid Alizadeh looks at the ideas of Georg Hegel, the German thinker who resurrected the philosophy of dialectics.

marxist theory dialectical materialism

Introduction to the Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism

The following is an introduction to the latest publication by Marxist Books, The Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism , by the editor of In Defence of Marxism, Alan Woods. This new selection of writings on dialectical materialism is now available for purchase at a special launch price on .

marxist theory dialectical materialism

[Video] The Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism: book launch with Alan Woods in NYC

Alan Woods, editor of In Defence of Marxism , launched a new book, The Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism , at the 2018 Northeast Regional Marxist School in New York City. This selection of writings on dialectical materialism, with an introduction by Alan, is available on at a special launch

[Video] Marxist philosophy: dialectical materialism

Speaking at a 2018 'Marx in a Day' event, celebrating Karl Marx's 200th birthday, Alan Woods (author of 'Reason in Revolt') discusses the philosophy of Marxism - dialectical materialism. 

marxist theory dialectical materialism

Of Marx, mice and Alberto Garzón

On 3 August, Alberto Garzón, the leader of the Spanish United Left (Izqierda Unida, or I.U.) posted an article entitled " Is Marxism a scientific method? " Under the guise of presenting a 'scientific' critique, Garzón was preparing a break with Marxism. Like every revisionist in history, he disguises this break with the excuse of 'modifying' the ideas of Marx. In reality, he was jumping on the bandwagon of those 'left' leaders who are making a dash for the 'centre ground'.

The Revolutionary philosophy of Marxism

[Book] The Revolutionary philosophy of Marxism

Dialectical materialism is the logic of motion, development, and change. By embracing contradiction instead of trying to write it out of reality, dialectics allows Marxists to approach processes as they really are, not as we would like them to be. This selection of writing on Marxist philosophy aims to arm the new generation of revolutionary socialists with these essential ideas.

marxist theory dialectical materialism

Scientific revolution and materialist philosophy

In this article, Ben Curry explains the development of scientific thought from a Marxist perspective. Ben introduces the dialectical materialist outlook, explains how it applies to the natural world and demonstrates how the ancient philosophers of Greece and Rome laid the foundations for modern science. Science is always rooted in class society, and the lack of a dialectical materialist perspective has led some modern scientists back to the idealism and mysticism that the bourgeoisie railed against in its revolutionary phase.

[Video] Idealism vs materialism: mind and matter

Ben Curry provides an in-depth history of the contrasting philosophies of idealism and materialism.

[Video] The Marxist Critique of Postmodernism

In this video from the 2017 October Revolution festival, Daniel Morley (of the Socialist Appeal Editorial Board) discusses the theoretical differences between the philosophies of Marxism and postmodernism.

[Book] Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science

A growing number of scientists are becoming discontented with the old outlook. The rapid rise of the theory of Chaos and Complexity is one of the most significant developments in science at the turn of the new millennium. Many of the ideas expressed by this new trend are strikingly similar to the theories of dialectical materialism worked out by Marx and Engels over 150 years ago. A significant part of the present work is devoted to an exploration of the relationship between Marxist philosophy and the new theories. Will this encounter provide the basis for a new and exciting breakthrough in the methodology of science?

[Video] Materialism and Dialectics in Ancient Greece

In this talk from the Revolution 2016 weekend school, Hamid Alizadeh discusses the history of philosophy in Ancient Greece, looking at the early developments in terms of dialectics and materialism - the foundations to the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism: dialectical materialism.

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MIA : Encyclopedia of Marxism : Glossary of Terms

Di   Dialectical Materialism Dialectical Materialism is a way of understanding reality; whether thoughts, emotions, or the material world. Simply stated, this methodology is the combination of Dialectics and Materialism . The materialist dialectic is the theoretical foundation of Marxism (while being communist is the practice of Marxism). "It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of being conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation. A cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. Fredrick Engels Dialectics of Nature Introduction "Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, or motion without matter, nor can there be." "Change of form of motion is always a process that takes place between at least two bodies, of which one loses a definite quantity of motion of one quality (e.g. heat), while the other gains a corresponding quantity of motion of another quality (mechanical motion, electricity, chemical decomposition). "Dialectics, so-called objective dialectics, prevails throughout nature, and so-called subjective dialectics (dialectical thought), is only the reflection of the motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites and their final passage into one another, or into higher forms, determines the life of nature." Fredrick Engels Dialectics of Nature But dialectical materialism insists on the approximate relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another, that from our point of view [may be] apparently irreconcilable with it, and so forth. Vladimir Lenin Materialism and Empirio-criticism With each epoch-making discovery even in the sphere of natural science, materialism has to change its form; and after history was also subjected to materialistic treatment, a new avenue of development has opened here, too. [ Ch. 2, The End of Classical German Philosophy ] "For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything; nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher." Fredrick Engels The End of Classical German Philosophy An example of dialectical materialism applied is the materialist conception of history . 'Dialectical Materialism' was coined by Karl Kautsky and popularised in the Second International after the death of Marx and Engels. See also: dialectics , materialism , Historical Materialism and Political Economy .   Dialectics Dialectics is the method of reasoning which aims to understand things concretely in all their movement, change and interconnection, with their opposite and contradictory sides in unity. Dialectics is opposed to the formal , metaphysical mode of thought of ordinary understanding which begins with a fixed definition of a thing according to its various attributes. For example formal thought would explain: ‘a fish is something with no legs which lives in the water’. Darwin however, considered fish dialectically: some of the animals living in the water were not fish, and some of the fish had legs, but it was the genesis of all the animals as part of a whole interconnected process which explained the nature of a fish: they came from something and are evolving into something else. Darwin went behind the appearance of fish to get to their essence . For ordinary understanding there is no difference between the appearance of a thing and its essence , but for dialectics the form and content of something can be quite contradictory – parliamentary democracy being the prime example: democracy in form, but dictatorship in content! And for dialectics, things can be contradictory not just in appearance, but in essence . For formal thinking, light must be either a wave or a particle; but the truth turned out to be dialectical – light is both wave and particle. (See the principle of excluded middle ) We are aware of countless ways of understanding the world; each of which makes the claim to be the absolute truth , which leads us to think that, after all, “It’s all relative !”. For dialectics the truth is the whole picture , of which each view is a more or less one-sided, partial aspect. At times, people complain in frustration that they lack the Means to achieve their Ends, or alternatively, that they can justify their corrupt methods of work by the lofty aims they pursue. For dialectics, Means and Ends are a unity of opposites and in the final analysis, there can be no contradiction between means and ends – when the objective is rightly understood, "the material conditions [ means ] for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation" (Marx, Preface of Contribution to a Political Economy ) An example of dialectical reasoning can be seen in Lenin's slogan: “All Power to the Soviets” spoken when the Soviets were against the Bolsheviks. Lenin understood, however, that the impasse could only be resolved by workers’ power. Since the Soviets were organs of workers’ power, a revolutionary initiative by the Bolsheviks would inevitably bring the Soviets to their side: the form of the Soviets during the time (lead by Mensheviks and SRs) were at odds with the content of the Soviets as Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Councils. Formal thinking often has trouble understanding the causes of events – something has to be a cause and something else the effect – and people are surprised when they irrigate land and 20 years later – due to salination of the land, silting of the waterways, etc – they have a desert! Dialectics on the other hand understands that cause and effect are just one and another side of a whole network of relations such as we have in an ecosystem, and one thing cannot be changed without changing the whole system. These are different aspect of Dialectics, and there are many others, because dialectics is the method of thinking in which concepts are flexible and mobile, constrained only by the imperative of comprehending the movement of the object itself, however contradictory, however transient. History: Dialectics has its origins in ancient society , both among the Chinese and the Greeks , where thinkers sought to understand Nature as a whole, and saw that everything is fluid, constantly changing, coming into being and passing away. It was only when the piecemeal method of observing Nature in bits and pieces, practiced in Western thinking in the 17th and 18th century, had accumulated enough positive knowledge for the interconnections, the transitions, the genesis of things to become comprehensible, that conditions became ripe for modern dialectics to make its appearance. It was Hegel who was able to sum up this picture of universal interconnection and mutability of things in a system of Logic which is the foundation of what we today call Dialectics. As Engels put it: “the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process – i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development; and the attempt is made to trace out the internal connection that makes a continuous whole of all this movement and development.” [ Socialism: Utopian & Scientific ] It was in the decade after Hegel’s death – the 1840s – when Hegel’s popularity was at its peak in Germany, that Marx and Engels met and worked out the foundations of their critique of bourgeois society. Hegel’s radical young followers had in their hands a powerful critical tool with which they ruthlessly criticised Christianity, the dominant doctrine of the day. However, one of these Young Hegelians, Ludwig Feuerbach , pointed out that Holy Family was after all only a Heavenly image of the Earthly family, and said that by criticising theology with philosophy, the Young Hegelians were only doing the same as the Christians – Hegel’s Absolute Idea was just another name for God ! For Feuerbach, ideas were a reflection of the material world and he held it to be ridiculous that an Idea could determine the world . Feuerbach had declared himself a materialist . Marx and Engels began as supporters of Feuerbach. However, very soon they took up an opposition to Feuerbach to restore the Hegelian dialectic which had been abandoned by Feuerbach, and to free it from the rigidity of the idealistic Hegelian system and place the method on a materialist basis: “Hegel was an idealist. To him, the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realized pictures of the ‘Idea’, existing somewhere from eternity before the world was. This way of thinking turned everything upside down, and completely reversed the actual connection of things in the world. ” [Fredrick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific ] Thus, for Marx and Engels, thoughts were not passive and independent reflections of the material world, but products of human labour, and the contradictory nature of our thoughts had their origin in the contradictions within human society. This meant that Dialectics was not something imposed on to the world from outside which could be discovered by the activity of pure Reason , but was a product of human labour changing the world; its form was changed and developed by people, and could only be understood by the practical struggle to overcome these contradictions – not just in thought, but in practice . Further Reading: [The Science of Dialectics] , by Fredrick Engels, Dialectics of Nature , by Fredrick Engels, an example of dialectics in: The Metaphysics of Political Economy , by Karl Marx; The ABC of Materialist Dialectics , by Leon Trotsky; Lenin's Summary of Dialectics . See also the Sampler for multiple definitions; Dialectics Subject Section . For examples of Dialectics: references to Examples from History and Society and Examples from Personal Life in Hegel’s Logic ; and see the definition on Taoism for a look at an ancient process of dialectics.   Dictatorship Dictatorship means the imposition of a rule on others who do not consent to it. Sometimes ‘dictatorship’ is wrongly used in contrast to ‘democracy’, but ‘democracy’ implies the imposition of the will of a majority, i.e., a dictatorship, on a minority. The word originates from the dictatura of the ancient Roman Republic, an important institution that lasted for over three centuries. The Dictatura provided for an emergency exercise of power by a trusted citizen for temporary and limited purposes, for six months at the most. Its aim was to preserve the republican status quo , and in the event of a foreign attack or internal subversion of the constitution. Dictatura , thus had much the same meaning as “state of emergency” has today. Julius Caesar gave the dictatura a “bad name” by declaring himself dictator for life. Right into the nineteenth century, ‘dictatorship’ was used in the sense of the management of power in a state of emergency, outside of the norms of legality, sometimes, but not always, implying one-man rule, and sometimes in reference to the dominance of an elected government over traditional figures of authority. The French Revolution was frequently referred to by friends and foes alike as a dictatorship. Babeuf’s “Conspiracy of Equals” advocated a dictatorship exercised by a group of revolutionaries, having the task of defending the revolution against the reactionary peasants, and educating the masses up to the eventual level of a democracy, a transitional period of presumably many decades. It was this notion of ‘dictatorship’ that was in the minds of Auguste Blanqui and his followers who actively advocated communist ideas in the 1830s and ’40s. In general political discourse in the nineteenth century, however, it was quite routine to describe, for example, the British Parliament as a ‘dictatorship’. Given that in most countries the franchise was restricted to property-owners, this usage was quite appropriate, but it was also used to attack proposals for universal suffrage, which, it was held, would institute a dictatorship over the property owners. Modern usage of the term begins to appear in connection with the Revolutions which swept Europe in 1848. The Left, including its most moderate elements, talked of a dictatorship, by which they meant nothing more than imposing the will of an majority-elected government over a minority of counter-revolutionaries. Terrified by the uprising of the Parisian workers in June 1848, the Provisional Government handed over absolute power to the dictatorship of General Cavaignac, who used his powers to massacre the workers of Paris. Subsequently, a state-of-siege provision was inserted into the French Constitution to provide for such exigencies, and this law became the model for other nations who wrote such emergency provisions into their constitutions. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the word ‘dictatorship’ was associated with this institution, still more or less faithful to the original Roman meaning — an extra-legal institution for the defence of the constitution. It was only gradually, during the 1880s, that ‘dictatorship’ came to be routinely used to mean a form of government in contrast to ‘democracy’ and by the 1890s was generally used in that way. Prior to that time, throughout the life-time of Karl Marx for example, it was never associated with any particular form of government, everyone understanding that popular suffrage was as much an instrument of dictatorship as martial law.   Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie The most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class by the bourgeoisie, for the suppression of the working people by a handful of capitalists. Even in the most democratic bourgeois republic "freedom of assembly" is a hollow phrase, for the rich have the best public and private buildings at their disposal, and enough leisure to assemble at meetings, which are protected by the bourgeois machine of power. The rural and urban workers and small peasants – the overwhelming majority of the population – are denied all these things. As long as that state of affairs prevails, "equality", i.e., "pure democracy", is a fraud. "Freedom of the press" is another of the principal slogans of "pure democracy". And here, too, the workers know – and Socialists everywhere have explained millions of times – that this freedom is a deception because the best printing presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists, and while capitalist rule over the press remains – a rule that is manifested throughout the whole world all the more strikingly, sharply and cynically – the more democracy and the republican system are developed, as in America for example... The capitalists have always use the term "freedom" to mean freedom for the rich to get richer and for the workers to starve to death. And capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion. In this respect, too, the defenders of "pure democracy" prove to be defenders of an utterly foul and venal system that gives the rich control over the mass media. They prove to be deceivers of the people, who, with the aid of plausible, fine-sounding, but thoroughly false phrases, divert them from the concrete historical task of liberating the press from capitalist enslavement. V.I. Lenin First Congress of the Communist International See Also: The same government: Bourgeois Democracy , save put in the perspective of the ruling class; and Democracy in general.   Dictatorship of the Proletariat Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it; and today, too, the forms of state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the "freedom of the state". Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx/Engels Critique of the Gotha Programme Part IV This dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. This dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people. Rosa Luxemburg The Russian Revolution Democracy and Dictatorship What, then, is the relation of this dictatorship to democracy? We have seen that the Communist Manifesto simply places side by side the two concepts: "to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class" and "to win the battle of democracy". On the basis of all that has been said above, it is possible to determine more precisely how democracy changes in the transition from capitalism to communism. The dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing the oppressors, cannot result merely in an expansion of democracy. Simultaneously with an immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags, the dictatorship of the proletariat imposes a series of restrictions on the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must suppress them in order to free humanity from wage slavery, their resistance must be crushed by force; it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence. V.I. Lenin The State and Revolution Chpt. 5: The Economic Basis of the Withering Away of the State The real tasks of the workers' state do not consist in policing public opinion, but in freeing it from the yoke of capital. This can only be done by placing the means of production - which includes the production of information - in the hands of society in its entirety. Once this essential step towards socialism has been taken, all currents of opinion which have not taken arms against the dictatorship of the proletariat must be able to express themselves freely. It is the duty of the workers' state to put in their hands, to all according to their numeric importance, the technical means necessary for this, printing presses, paper, means of transportation. Leon Trotsky Freedom of the Press and Working Class See Also: The same government: Proletarian Democracy , save put in the perspective of the ruling (working) class; and Democracy in general.   Difference Difference is part of the very first stage of Essence in the genesis of a Notion in the grade of Reflection. Difference is the negation of Identity. The identity of something is defined by what is deemed to be not-equal to it, different. But Difference soon cancels itself through the discovery that 'everything is different', which is the "maxim of Diversity" (inessential difference). Difference is only meaningful where the objects considered are also in some sense identical, and thus passes over into Opposition (essential difference) and Contradiction , the unity of identity and difference. In recent European philosophy, especially Derrida, quite of lot is made of Difference, but it is noteworthy that Difference is given a systematic development by Hegel in the earliest, most abstract part of the Logic . Marx can be seen developing the concept of Difference in Chapter 3 of Capital . Further Reading: Hegel on Difference in the Shorter Logic .   Direct Action Direct Action refers to the tactic whereby workers bypass established forms of mnediation, and act directly on their own behalf to solve an immediate problem. The term originated in the first decade of the twentieth century and according to Tom Mann came to the British labor movement from France. Some Marxists of that time, such as Harry Quelch , opposed the obsession with direct action among syndicalists, claiming that direct action needed to be combined with Parliamentary action. The practice of people staging a riot as a cover for helping themselves to food during times of shortage stretches back centuries and is an example of direct action avante la lettre. Further, the term is not restricted to workers; both the employers or other groups of oppressed people may bypass legal norms and negotiation to take direct action. It is the bypassing of mediators (which may include workers' own union leadership or legal arbitration courts), and the implication that the mediators are part of the problem, which is characteristic of direct action. Advocates of direct action argue that, as stated in the Rules of the International : “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves,” and consequently, direct action is not only necessary but the essential component of emancipation. However, obsession with direct action, which seeks to confine the workers to direct struggle for immediate demands, blocks the path to organising struggles on a wider basis and consolidating gains in legislation. The means of mediation are themselves, after all, products of the workers' struggle.   Direct Struggle A theory set out by the People's Will party in Russia. The theory stipulated that revolution could be instigated through terrorism, called a "direct struggle" against the government apparatus. Direct Struggle aimed to show, through terrorism, an "uninterrupted demonstration of the possibility of struggling against the government, in this manner lifting the revolutionary spirit of the people and its faith in the success of the cause, and organising those capable of fighting." (from the Programme of the People's Will, 1879)   Discrete Discrete is a synonym for discontinuous, denoting breaks in development, "leaps" in Nature, matter in the form of distinct objects or particles, counting-numbers as opposed to indefinitely divisible magnitudes. See Also: Continuity and Discontinuity .   Distribution and Exchange Distribution is the process whereby the total social product is divided up among the population. Exchange is the practice of trading of different products of equal value, between different individuals or organisations. In this relation, distribution is determined by the community, exchange by the individual, but the individual is able to exchange only what has been allocated to her in the process of distribution. Distribution and exchange only arise on the basis of a division of labour which creates a separation between production and consumption , and requires a socially determined means of mediating between the two. But distribution and exchange do not only mediate between production and consumption: they are themselves forces of production . For example, it is the system of distribution which creates the propertyless labourers and it is the system of distribution which is then needed to realise the surplus value acquired by exploiting them. Thus, the system of distribution and exchange is inseparably bound up with the development of the productive forces themselves. Distribution and exchange are not just external appendages of the labour process, but its life blood. A system of distribution which provides for the concentration of a social surplus is the fundamental precondition for the development of civilisation; a system of distribution which creates a class of people who have nothing to sell but their labour power and a class of people who own the means of production as their private property is the fundamental pre-condition for the development of bourgeois society. Socialist society, on the other hand, implies a system of distribution which eradicates social inequality and transcends the need for exchange. Exchange begins as a marginal and incidental practice at the periphery of self-sufficient communities based on Collaboration , and gives rise to the genesis of the form of value which takes on an independent form in money , and on the basis of money arises a developed system of distribution as well as an elaborate social division of labour which is the foundation for the development of all modern forces of production. The exchange relation is the essential relation of bourgeois society, and Marx takes it as the starting point of Capital in terms of the commodity . Increasingly relations of exchange, and even distribution, penetrate into the labour process itself as a result of the process of socialisation . See Exchange .   Diversity, the maxim of The maxim of Diversity – ‘There are no two things completely like each other’ is attributed to Leibnitz . This maxim is dealt with in Hegel's Doctrine of Essence as part of a series of “Laws” beginning with the Law of identity - ‘everything is equal to itself’, the Maxim of Diversity (or Variety), Opposition, Contradiction and Ground, in which understanding of the essentially contradictory sides of a concept is successively deepened. Further Reading: Hegel on the Law of Identity in the Science of Logic and Trotsky's ABC of Materialist Dialectics ; and Essential Identity .   Division of Labour The division of labour is a specific mode of cooperation wherein different tasks are assigned to different people. Division of labour is as old as labour itself, stretching back to the birth of the human race. “This division of labour is a necessary condition for the production of commodities , but it does not follow, conversely, that the production of commodities is a necessary condition for the division of labour. In the primitive Indian community there is social division of labour, without production of commodities. Or, to take an example nearer home, in every factory the labour is divided according to a system, but this division is not brought about by the operatives mutually exchanging their individual products. “... In a community, the produce of which in general takes the form of commodities, i.e. , in a community of commodity producers, this qualitative difference between the useful forms of labour that are carried on independently of individual producers, each on their own account, develops into a complex system, a social division of labour. “... Wherever the want of clothing forced them to it, the human race made clothes for thousands of years, without a single man becoming a tailor. [ Capital , Chapter 1 ] More than anything else, human history is characterised by the ever-increasing complexity of the division of labour. The form of the division of labour changes however, passing through a number of distinct phases. “The various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership, i.e. the existing stage in the division of labour determines also the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument, and product of labour.” [ German Ideology ] Prior to the rupture of society into classes , the social division of labour was almost exclusively based on kinship relations, within a relatively closed circle, wherein the character of an individual’s labour was determined by their age, sex and position within the family. This division of labour based on kinship relations continues up to the present day, but with the collapse of tribal society and the formation of social classes there began a new kind of division of labour, based on class relations, including the division between mental and manual labour. The division of labour has the most profound effect on the forms of consciousness predominating in a given society since such forms can only be, after all the internalised forms of social activity. During the whole feudal period, the division of labour is still determined along kinship lines, but now on a much wider class encompassing social classes. With the development of manufacture however, division of labour takes a big step upwards: “That co-operation which is based on division of labour, assumes its typical form in manufacture, and is the prevalent characteristic form of the capitalist process of production throughout the manufacturing period properly so called. That period, roughly speaking, extends from the middle of the 16th to the last third of the 18th century. “Manufacture takes its rise in two ways: “(1.) By the assemblage, in one workshop under the control of a single capitalist, of labourers belonging to various independent handicrafts, but through whose hands a given article must pass on its way to completion. ... “(2.) Manufacture also arises in a way exactly the reverse of this namely, by one capitalist employing simultaneously in one workshop a number of artificers, who all do the same, or the same kind of work [ Capital , Chapter 14 ] All subsequent developments in the forces of production correspond to qualitative changes in the social division of labour. In the last hundred years, the most significant markers in the development of the social division of labour are the successive management ideologies which achieved dominance: Taylorism , Fordism and Toyotism . Up till the present time, the development of the social division of labour has tended to channel individuals into narrowly defined occupations, situating them in a well-defined position in the social division of labour for a life-time. That is to say, no-one is a person , she is rather a labourer in this or that occupation . Nowadays however, in the developed capitalist countries, it is rare for someone to work in a specific line of work for more than a decade without being obliged, if not by their own will, to change occupation. In a socialist society of the future, there would remain of course a highly developed social division of labour, but it is likely that a person who is one day an artist, will be on another a tourist guide, on another a teacher and on another a machinist. It is in this sense that Marx and Engels said: “In the present epoch, the domination of material relations over individuals, and the suppression of individuality by fortuitous circumstances, has assumed its sharpest and most universal form, thereby setting existing individuals a very definite task. It has set them the task of replacing the domination of circumstances and of chance over individuals by the domination of individuals over chance and circumstances. .... This task, dictated by present-day relations, coincides with the task of organising society in a communist way. “... the abolition of a state of affairs in which relations become independent of individuals, in which individuality is subservient to chance and the personal relations of individuals are subordinated to general class relations, etc. - that the abolition of this state of affairs is determined in the final analysis by the abolition of division of labour. We have also shown that the abolition of division of labour is determined by the development of intercourse and productive forces to such a degree of universality that private property and division of labour become fetters on them. We have further shown that private property can be abolished only on condition of an all-round development of individuals, precisely because the existing form of intercourse and the existing productive forces are all-embracing and only individuals that are developing in an all-round fashion can appropriate them, i.e., can turn them into free manifestations of their lives. We have shown that at the present time individuals must abolish private property, because the productive forces and forms of intercourse have developed so far that, under the domination of private property, they have become destructive forces, and because the contradiction between the classes has reached its extreme limit. Finally, we have shown that the abolition of private property and of the division of labour is itself the association of individuals on the basis created by modern productive forces and world intercourse.” [ German Ideology ] Further Reading : [In the Iron Age] the second great division of labor took place: handicraft separated from agriculture. The continuous increase of production and simultaneously of the productivity of labor heightened the value of human labor-power. Slavery, which during the preceding period was still in its beginnings and sporadic, now becomes an essential constituent part of the social system; slaves no longer merely help with production -- they are driven by dozens to work in the fields and the workshops. With the splitting up of production into the two great main branches, agriculture and handicrafts, arises production directly for exchange, commodity production; with it came commerce, not only in the interior and on the tribal boundaries, but also already overseas. All this, however, was still very undeveloped; the precious metals were beginning to be the predominant and general money commodity, but still uncoined, exchanging simply by their naked weight. The distinction of rich and poor appears beside that of freemen and slaves -- with the new division of labor, a new cleavage of society into classes. The inequalities of property among the individual heads of families break up the old communal household communities wherever they had still managed to survive, and with them the common cultivation of the soil by and for these communities. The cultivated land is allotted for use to single families, at first temporarily, later permanently. The transition to full private property is gradually accomplished, parallel with the transition of the pairing marriage into monogamy. The single family is becoming the economic unit of society.... [In overview:] At the lowest stage of barbarism men produced only directly for their own needs; any acts of exchange were isolated occurrences, the object of exchange merely some fortuitous surplus. In the middle stage of barbarism we already find among the pastoral peoples a possession in the form of cattle which, once the herd has attained a certain size, regularly produces a surplus over and above the tribe's own requirements, leading to a division of labor between pastoral peoples and backward tribes without herds, and hence to the existence of two different levels of production side by side with one another and the conditions necessary for regular exchange. The upper stage of barbarism brings us the further division of labor between agriculture and handicrafts, hence the production of a continually increasing portion of the products of labor directly for exchange, so that exchange between individual producers assumes the importance of a vital social function. Civilization consolidates and intensifies all these existing divisions of labor, particularly by sharpening the opposition between town and country (the town may economically dominate the country, as in antiquity, or the country the town, as in the middle ages), and it adds a third division of labor, peculiar to itself and of decisive importance: it creates a class which no longer concerns itself with production, but only with the exchange of the products -- the merchants. Hitherto whenever classes had begun to form, it had always been exclusively in the field of production; the persons engaged in production were separated into those who directed and those who executed, or else into large-scale and small-scale producers. Now for the first time a class appears which, without in any way participating in production, captures the direction of production as a whole and economically subjugates the producers; which makes itself into an indispensable middleman between any two producers and exploits them both. Under the pretext that they save the producers the trouble and risk of exchange, extend the sale of their products to distant markets and are therefore the most useful class of the population, a class of parasites comes into being, "genuine social icbneumons," who, as a reward for their actually very insignificant services, skim all the cream off production at home and abroad, rapidly amass enormous wealth and correspondingly social influence, and for that reason receive under civilization ever higher honors and ever greater control of production, until at last they also bring forth a product of their own -- the periodical trade crises.... Fredrick Engels Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State With commerce the prerogative of a particular class, with the extension of trade through the merchants beyond the immediate surroundings of the town, there immediately appears a reciprocal action between production and commerce. The towns enter into relations with one another, new tools are brought from one town into the other, and the separation between production and commerce soon calls forth a new division of production between the individual towns, each of which is soon exploiting a predominant branch of industry. The local restrictions of earlier times begin gradually to be broken down.... The existence of the town implies, at the same time, the necessity of administration, police, taxes, etc.; in short, of the municipality, and thus of politics in general. Here first became manifest the division of the population into two great classes, which is directly based on the division of labour and on the instruments of production. The town already is in actual fact the concentration of the population, of the instruments of production, of capital, of pleasures, of needs, while the country demonstrates just the opposite fact, isolation and separation. The antagonism between town and country can only exist within the framework of private property . It is the most crass expression of the subjection of the individual under the division of labour, under a definite activity forced upon him -- a subjection which makes one man into a restricted town-animal, the other into a restricted country-animal, and daily creates anew the conflict between their interests. Labour is here again the chief thing, power over individuals, and as long as the latter exists, private property must exist. The abolition of the antagonism between town and country is one of the first conditions of communal life, a condition which again depends on a mass of material premises and which cannot be fulfilled by the mere will, as anyone can see at the first glance..... Marx and Engels German Ideology -- Section 3 How far the productive forces of a nation are developed is shown most manifestly by the degree to which the division of labour has been carried. Each new productive force , insofar as it is not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known (for instance the bringing into cultivation of fresh land), causes a further development of the division of labour.... Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the "general interest", but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man's own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society , where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now. Marx and Engels German Ideology -- Section 1 The great progress of the division of labor began in England after the invention of machinery. Thus, the weavers and spinners were for the most part peasants like those one still meets in backward countries. The invention of machinery brought about the separation of manufacturing industry from agricultural industry. The weaver and the spinner, united but lately in a single family, were separated by the machine. Thanks to the machine, the spinner can live in England while the weaver resides in the East Indies. Before the invention of machinery, the industry of a country was carried on chiefly with raw materials that were the products of its own soil; in England, wool, in Germany, flax, in France, silks and flax, in the East Indies and the Levant, cottons, etc. Thanks to the application of machinery and of steam, the division of labor was about to assume such dimensions that large-scale industry, detached from the national soil, depends entirely on the world market, on international exchange, on an international division of labor. In short, the machine has so great an influence on the division of labor, that when, in the manufacture of some object, a means has been found to produce parts of it mechanically, the manufacture splits up immediately into two works independent of each other. Karl Marx The Poverty of Philosophy   Index of the Letter D | Encyclopedia of Marxism

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Dialectical materialism

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Dialectical materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. We must seek to understand the laws of society and nature in order to change them.

In Defence of Marxism

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.

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Marxist classics & books.

Marxist philosophy reading guide

A reading list with three different levels created by Alan Woods to help to orient those readers who wish to obtain a knowledge of Marxist philosophy.

What is Dialectical Materialism?

An introduction to Marxist philosophy by Rob Sewell, alongside a collection of extracts on dialectics from Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

ABC of Materialist Dialectics

As opposed to pragmatism and empiricism, Trotsky defends and explains dialectical materialism as a richer, more comprehensive view of society and life in general.

An Introduction to Dialectical Materialism

Originally published in the 1970s, this article is a good first introduction to the ideas developed by Marx and Engels.

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Scientific revolution and materialist philosophy

Ben Curry explains the development of scientific thought throughout history from a Marxist perspective, and explains how it relates to materialist philosophy.

The revolutionary philosophy of Marxism

This introduction by Alan Woods to this new selection of writings on dialectical materialism comes well recommended to grasp the philosophy of Marxism.

A history of philosophy

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.

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Reason in Revolt

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This book on Marxist philosophy aims to arm the new generation of revolutionary socialists with the ideas of dialectical materialism. A selection of writings by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Plekhanov, and Luxemburg, and Alan Woods. Available from Wellred (also as an ebook ).

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Alan Woods explains why it is vital for revolutionaries to have a philosophy; why we need to examine nature and society from a scientific perspective; and how the ideas of dialectics help us to understand the processes of change going on around us at all levels.

Marxism basis itself on a materialist outlook, which understands the material world as being an objective reality, consisting of matter in motion, governed by dynamics that are knowable and discoverable. Idealism, in its different guises, asserts that ideas and thoughts are primary; the world around us is only an imperfect reflection of these ideas.

Hegel's ideas provided a profound leap from the mechanical and rigid outlook of those who preceded him. His dialectics were the basis for the revolutionary philosophy of Marxism – dialectical materialism. But in order to make sense of Hegel, Marx and Engels had to turn him upside down, taking his philosophy from the realm of idealism to that of materialism.

Postmodernism denies the very idea of historical progress. Scientific truth is also sidelined in favour of a ‘subjective’ emphasis on language, experience and identity. Where do these ideas come from, and what does Marxism have to say about them?

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Dialectical Materialism and Historical Dialectics of Karl Marx

Research paper (undergraduate), 2011, 12 pages, grade: a, mbogo wa wambui (author), table of contents, introduction, marx on dialectical materialism.


Karl Marx was born in 1818, at Treves in Germany. Treves had been influenced by the French during the revolutionary and Napoleonic era hence, it was much cosmopolitan than most parts of Germany. Marx’s ancestors had been rabbis though his parents became Christians when he was a child. Karl Marx married a gentile aristocrat. At the University he was influenced by Hegelianism. He also tried journalism but the Rhenische Zeitung 1 , a radical publication was suppressed by the authorities. In 1843, he went to France to study socialism. There, he met Engels, the manager of a factory in Manchester. From him, he came to know of English labor conditions and English economics. After taking part in the French and German revolutions of 1848, he sought refuge in England in 1849 from where he wrote and amassed knowledge. The stimulus to his work was the hope of a social revolution in his lifetime or in future. Unlike British classical economics who aimed at the welfare of the capitalists, Marx worked to represent the interest of the wage earner. This is best represented in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. 2 Marx called himself a materialist, though under Hegelian influence. This paper seeks to explain Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism and historical dialectics.

Before delving into dialectical materialism and historical dialectics as espoused by Karl Marx, it is important to explain something about the Hegelian dialectic method. G.W.F Hegel (1770-1831) begins the argument of his logic by the assumption that ‘the Absolute is Pure Being’; we assume that it just is, without assigning any qualities to it. Pure Being without any qualities is nothing; therefore we are led to the antithesis: ‘The Absolute is Nothing’. From this thesis and antithesis we pass on to the synthesis; the union of Being and Not-Being is becoming, and so we say: ‘The Absolute is Becoming’ 3 .

This process is essential to the understanding of the result. Each later stage of the dialectic contains all the earlier stages. None is wholly 4 superseded, but is given its proper place as a moment in the whole. It is therefore impossible to reach the truth except by going through all the steps of the dialectic. We shall see this dialectic as having influenced Karl Marx’s philosophy.

The seeds of Marx’s theory of history were present in the Manuscripts of 1844, but achieved their final form after research into the science of political economy in polemical writings such as the Communist Manifesto (1848) and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 5 . For Marx, Hegelian philosophies of history and Hegelian theory of self-consciousness were inextricable.

Marx’s lifework consisted it the attempt to overcome the intellectual difficulties that stood in the way of expressing Hegel’s vision ‘materialistically’. Marx’s philosophy was later to be called ‘dialectical materialism’. Of his influence by Feuerbach, Marx in his work ‘founded genuine materialism and positive science by making the social relationship of “man to man” the basic principle of his theory.’ 6 Karl Marx argued that only man has species-life since only man finds his nature, through the recognition of himself as a social, and therefore socially determined, being.

According to Marx’s theory of self-consciousness therefore, the self is constituted only through its social essence which was a material and not a spiritual reality like in Hegel. This essence resides in the collective activity which Marx was to identify as ‘labor’ 7 . From this conception, Marx derived his Theory of history. We shall first explain Marx’s dialectical materialism and then his historical materialism.

Karl Marx is a reviver of materialism giving it a new interpretation and a new connection with human history. But what is dialectical materialism? To understand this, it is important to first of all define dialectic and also materialism. Dialectic 8 in philosophy is the art of discovering and telling truths in discussion and logical argument. Materialism 9 on the other hand is the theory or belief that only material things exist.

Dialectical materialism, in Marxist Theory argues that political and historical events are due to the conflict of social forces caused by man’s material needs. Marx called himself a materialist. In his view, all sensation or perception is an interaction between subject and object; the bare object, apart from the activity of the percipient, is a mere raw material, which is transformed in the process of being known. Knowledge in the old sense of passive contemplation is an unreal abstraction; the process that really takes place is one of handling things. 10

Dialectical materialism is an abstraction of general laws of change that takes place in the physical world of nature. It postulates that the perpetual change occurring among natural phenomena follows certain designed scientific laws which operate on a linear pattern in the form of thesis, then antithesis to form a synthesis which then becomes a new thesis.

This philosophy borrowed from Hegel, goes that, contradictory things in nature, change nature. Hegel had argued that in contradictions in nature, man strives to higher stages of purity. Therefore, in material nature, before a new thesis is formed, the old must be destroyed. The synthesis thus formed, is the new thesis.

In interpreting Marx, the process which philosophers have called the pursuit of knowledge is not constant. Subject and object, knower and the thing known, are in a continual process of mutual adaptation. Marx calls this process ‘dialectical’ because it is never fully completed. Essential to this theory is to deny the reality of ‘sensation’ as conceived by British empiricists.

What happens, and what they mean by ‘sensation’, would be better called ‘noticing’, which implies activity. Marx would contend that we only notice things as part of the process of acting with reference to them, and any theory which leaves out action is a misleading abstraction. 11

Stemming from Hegelian contradictions, in Marx’s dialectics, three main contradictions take place. In the first contradiction, there is the exchange of or interaction between man and nature in the social aspect of labor. For example, new material results from two old materials. In the second contradiction, it starts with appearance of contradiction between new productive forces and old productive forces. The third contradiction results from contradiction between new product relations and the old superstructure.

1 Bertrand Russell; A History of Western Philosophy , 2004; Pg. 706.

2 Ibid , Pg. 707

3 Roger Scruton, A Short History On Modern Philosophy , 2002, Pg. 221

4 Ibid , Pg. 222

5 Ibid , Pg. 221

[6] Ibid , Pg. 223

7 Bertrand Russell, A History Of Western Philosophy , 2004, Pg. 664

8 Cowie, A.P (Ed); Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current Philosophy , 1992; Pg. 331

9 Ibid, Pg. 768

10 Op. Cit , Pg. 707

11 Ibid , Pg. 708

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