Excerpts from the Classics: Dialectical Materialism

November 9, 2002

4. Dialectical Materialism

This section is organized in a sequence similar to a textbook on dialectical materialism. After discussing the nature and role of philosophy, the quotations focus on materialism and the basic conflict with philosophical idealism, then on the nature of dialectics, the three laws of dialectics and some categories (less important laws), and finally the theory of knowledge, the nature of knowledge and how to gain knowledge.

“As philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapons in philosophy.” Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.

Jan. 1844, MECW, Vol.3, p.187

“Marx’s philosophy is a consummate philosophical materialism which has provided mankind, and especially the working class, with powerful instruments of knowledge.”

Lenin, Three Sources & Three Component Parts of Marxism, March 1913, CW, Vol.19, p.25

“The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all political economy from its foundation up, its application to history, natural science, philosophy and to the policy and tactics of the working class – that was what interested Marx and Engels most of all, that is where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought.”

Lenin, The Marx-Engels Correspondence, 1913, CW, Vol.19, p.554

“From this Marxist philosophy which is cast from a single piece of steel, you can not eliminate one basic premise, one essential part, without departing from objective truth, without falling a prey to bourgeois-reactionary falsehood.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, Feb.-Oct. 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.326

“…by following the path of Marxian theory we shall grow closer and closer to objective truth (without ever exhausting it); but by following any other path we shall arrive at nothing but confusion and lies.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, Feb.-Oct. 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.143

“The great basic question of all philosophy, especially of modern philosophy, is that concerning the relation of thinking and being – spirit and nature…which is primary, spirit or nature…The answer which the philosophers gave to this question split them into two great camps. Those who asserted the primacy of spirit to nature and, therefore, in the last instance, assumed world creation in some form or other…comprised the camp of idealism. The others who regarded nature as primary, belong to the various schools of materialism..”

Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy, early 1886, MESW, IP, 1977, p.603-04; MECW, Vol.26, pp.365-66

“Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.130

“…all matter possesses a property which is essentially akin to sensation, the property of reflection…”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol. 14, p.92

“Dialectics as the science of universal interconnectedness.”

Engels, Dialectics of Nature, 1873-1882, MECW, Vol.25, p.313

“Dialectics is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought.”

Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1876-1878, MECW, Vol.25, p.131

“Motion is the mode of existence of matter…There is no matter without motion, nor could there ever have been.”

Engels, Anti-Duhring, 1878 (First Ed), FLPH, Moscow, 1954, p.86; MECW, Vol.25, p.55

“Motion, as applied to matter, is change in general.”

Engels, Dialectics of Nature, 1872-1882, unfinished, FLPH 1954, p.328; MECW, Vol.25, p.527

“The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existencies…In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion.”

Engels, Dialectics of Nature, FLPH 1954, p.93; MECW, Vol.25, p.363

“Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of… Marxism.”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “On the Question of Dialectics”, 1915, CW, Vol.38, p.362

“[With dialectics, the world is seen not] as a complex of ready- made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable…go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidentality and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end…”

Engels, Feuerbach & End of Classical Ger. Philosophy,1886, MESW, p.620; MECW, Vol.26, p.384

“An exact representation of the universe, of its evolution, of the development of mankind, and of the reflection of this evolution in the minds of men, can…only be obtained by the methods of dialectics with its constant regard to the innumerable actions and reactions of life and death, of progressive or retrogressive changes.”

Engels, Anti-Duhring. FLPH 1954, p.37; MECW, Vol.25, p.24

“All successive historical systems are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society from the lower to the higher.”

Engels, Feuerbach & End of Classical Ger. Philosophy, 1886, MESW IP 1977, p.598; MECW, Vol.26, p.359, MESW, Vol.3, p.339

“The two basic. ..conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation). “In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive remains in the shade (or this source is made external – God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of ‘self’-movement.

“The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living.”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “On the Question of Dialectics”, 1915, CW, Vol.38, p.358

“[to use dialectical method soundly] objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergences, but the Thing-in-itself)…Firstly, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and ‘mediacies.’ That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in ‘self-movement’ (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…Thirdly, a full ‘definition’ of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indicator of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical logic holds that ‘truth is always concrete, never abstract’…”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic”, 1914, CW, Vol.38, p.220, Vol.32, 94

“Views on social phenomena must be based upon an inexorably objective analysis of realities and the real course of development.”

Lenin, The Heritage We Renounce, 1897, CW, Vol.2, p.531

“The whole spirit of Marxism, its whole system, demands that each proposition should be considered a) only historically, b) only in connection with others, c) only in connection with the concrete experience of history.”

Lenin, Letter to Inessa Armand, Nov.30, 1916, CW, Vol. 35, p.250

“…[this approach requires] not to forget the underlying historical connection, to examine every question from the standpoint of how the given phenomenon arose in history and what were the principal stages in its development and, from the standpoint of its development, to examine what it has become today.”

Lenin, The State, July 11, 1919, CW, Vol.29, p.473

Laws of Dialectics

“Proletariat and wealth are opposites; as such they form a single whole. They are both the creations of the world of private property. The question is exactly what place each occupies in the antithesis. It is not sufficient to declare them two sides of a single whole.

“Private property as private property, as wealth, is compelled to maintain itself, and thereby its opposite, the proletariat, in existence. That is the positive side of the antithesis, self- satisfied private property.

“The proletariat, on the contrary, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines its existence, and which makes it proletariat. It is the negative side of the antithesis, its restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property.”

Marx & Engels, The Holy Family, Sept.-Nov. 1844,MECW, Vol.4, pp.35- 6

“…The condition for the knowledge of all the processes of the world in their ‘self-movement’, in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the ‘struggle’ of opposites.

“…The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.

“…Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects.” (pp.253-54)

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks: On the Question of Dialectics, 1915, CW, Vol.38, p.358-360

“In nature…qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion.”

Engels, Dialectics of Nature, FLPH 1954, p.84; MECW, Vol.25, p.357

“Any development, whatever its substance may be, can be represented as a series of different stages of development that are connected in such a way that one forms the negation of the other…In no sphere can one undergo a development without negating one’s previous mode of existence.”

Marx, Moralizing Criticism & Critical Morality, Oct. 1847, MECW, Vol.6, p.317

“[Negation of the negation is a] development that repeats, as it were, stages that have already been passed, but repeats them in a different way, on a higher basis.”

Lenin, Karl Marx, July-Nov. 1914, CW, Vol.21, p.54

“The kind of negation is…determined, firstly, by the general and, secondly, by the particular nature of the process…Every kind of thing therefore has a peculiar way of being negated in such a manner that it gives rise to a development, and it is just the same with every kind of conception or idea.”

Engels, Anti-Duhring, FLPH, 1954, p.196; MECW, Vol.25, pp.131-32

“From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, – such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic”, 1914, CW, Vol.38, p.171

“Save through sensations, we can know nothing either of the forms of matter or of the forms of motion; sensations are evoked by the action of matter in motion upon our sense-organs.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.302

“To regard our sensations as images of the external world, to recognize objective truth, to hold the materialist theory of knowledge – these are all one and the same thing.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.130

“From the standpoint of modern materialism, i.e., Marxism, the limits of approximation of our knowledge to objective, absolute truth are historically conditional, but the existence of such truth is unconditional, and the fact that we are approaching nearer to it is also unconditional.”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.136

“The standpoint of life, of practice, should be first and fundamental in the theory of knowledge. And it inevitably leads to materialism…”

Lenin, Materialism & Empirio-Criticism, 1908, CW, Vol.14, p.142

“Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract – provided it is correct -…does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, of a law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short, all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely.”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic”, 1914, CW, Vol.38, p.171

“The concrete concept is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, thus representing the unity of diverse aspects. It appears therefore in reasoning as a summing-up, a result, and not as the starting point, although it is the real point of origin, and thus also the point of origin of perception and imagination. The first procedure attenuates meaningful images to abstract definitions, the second leads from abstract definitions by way of reasoning to the reproduction of the concrete situation.” Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,

Aug.1857, IP 1970, p.206; 1. Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange, Circulation,MECW, Vol.28, p.38

“[Emphasizing the unity of analysis and synthesis] The union of analysis and synthesis – the break-down of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.”

Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks, “Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic”, 1914, CW, Vol.38, p.221

“Induction and deduction belong together as necessarily as synthesis and analysis. Instead of one-sidedly lauding one to the skies at the expense of the other, we should seek to apply each of them in its place, and that can only be done by bearing in mind that they belong together, that they supplement each other.”

Engels, Dialectics of Nature, IP, 1940, p.204; MECW, Vol.25, p.508

“In every comparison a likeness is drawn in regard to only one aspect or several aspects of the objects or notions compared, while the other aspects are tentatively and with reservation abstracted.”

Lenin, On Confounding Politics with Pedagogics, June 1905, CW, Vol.8, p.454

back to top

back to content page




Related Party Information

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer