It is very common to hear people say that “Marx’s ideas are beautiful in theory, but they don’t work in practice,” but it is almost universally the case that those who express this opinion have not actually read Marx – and have little or no understanding of his real philosophy.
Besides revealing the mechanism of capitalist exploitation, Marx’s truly great gift to human knowledge was his philosophical method – his “revolutionary dialectics”, as Lenin called it – which not only applies to the general study of thought and knowledge, but has profoundly influenced all other fields of scientific study – from the study of the natural world (the natural sciences) to the study of society and its history (the social sciences).
The revolutionary implications of Marx’s dialectics are not lost on our exploiters, the capitalists. It is for this reason that Marxism has become a taboo in ‘polite’ society – in our media, and in state and educational institutions. For all of these are controlled by the capitalist class – directly and indirectly, but most assuredly and effectively. Still, Marx’s ideas have revolutionised every branch of human learning, and cannot be ‘undiscovered’ any more than can Darwin’s evolutionary theory.
It is just these ‘dialectical-materialist’ ideas applied to human society that all workers must understand if we are to combat our exploiters effectively and win our freedom.
It is just this approach to socialism – the science of changing society to meet the needs of the mass of working people – that has transformed our movement for workers’ freedom from a dream – a utopia – to a reality.
Applying dialectical principles to the study of human history in all its detail allowed Marx and those who came after him to gain a far deeper understanding of the apparently inexplicable forces driving the development of society, bringing out that which was most essential. As a result of this groundbreaking work, today anyone who learns how to apply Marx’s method is able to recognise which forces are impelling society’s development and which ones are holding it back; which forces are rising and developing and which ones are decaying and dying.
This new understanding allowed Marx to reveal how the working class would be able to bring a socialist world into being – not in idealist dreams, but in concrete reality – out of the chaos and destruction that is capitalism. It is this application of the dialectical method to the study of social history, of class society and of political economy that allows us to talk of Marxism Leninism as being scientific socialism.
Yet despite the importance of this work and its relevance to our struggle for liberation, precious little material is available to explain this revolutionary outlook and its philosophical basis to workers, even today.
We hope this modest contribution will go some way towards explaining and popularising the understanding of dialectics. It is certainly a useful introduction. We would, however, encourage all our readers and viewers to study the key texts for yourselves: get hold of copies and read them alone; form a study circle and increase your understanding together – great things may yet happen!
In the words of Marx: “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climbs of its steep paths, have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” (Preface to the French edition of Capital, 1872)
What are dialectics?
Marxism is ‘dialectical’ in its approach, in its method of studying natural phenomena, while its interpretation of those phenomena, its theory, is materialistic.
The word dialectics comes from the Greek ‘dielago’ meaning to debate, to discourse. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that the best way to advance their understanding was by argument between opposite points of view – thesis and antithesis. This process would reveal weaknesses, inconsistencies or ‘contradictions’ in one or both arguments.
In this way, the principle features of a problem would be revealed, allowing their combination – synthesis – into a more complete and accurate idea; a more ‘truthful’ approximation of reality.
Dialectics developed into a way of describing and understanding the world around us. It regards nature as being in a state of continual movement, of constant change, which is brought about by the continual interactions between opposing forces.
Dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics, which views phenomena as being static and studies them in isolation.
Put simply, dialectics is a set of laws of motion of matter. Because all things are composed of more or less complex forms of matter, the patterns observed by dialecticians manifest themselves everywhere one looks – from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from physics to biology, from palaeontology to human history. With a dialectical approach, all things become clearer and all human knowledge gains a context and perspective that amplifies its power exponentially.
When scientists and researchers in all fields of study are properly educated in the dialectical method and are freely able to apply it in their work, humanity will suddenly find itself able to make great leaps in knowledge that will be truly astounding.