The Categories of Dialectical Materialism: Contemporary Soviet Ontology

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Dialectical materialism; a historical and systematic survey of philosophy in the Soviet Union,.


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Advanced full-text search Advanced catalog search Search tips. Search HathiTrust. Tools Cite this Export citation file. Published Dialectical and historical materialism. Author Stalin, Joseph, Author Planty-Bonjour, Guy. Author Wetter, Gustav Andreas, Published Marx's philosophy is thus inextricably linked to his critique of political economy and to his historical interventions in the workers' movement , such as the Critique of the Gotha Program or The Communist Manifesto , written with Engels who was observing the Chartist movement a year before the Revolutions of Both after the defeat of the French socialist movement during Louis Napoleon Bonaparte's coup and then after the crushing of the Paris Commune, Marx's thought transformed itself.

Marxism's philosophical roots were thus commonly explained as derived from three sources: English political economy , French republicanism and radicalism , and German idealist philosophy. Although this "three sources" model is an oversimplification, it still has some measure of truth. On the other hand, Costanzo Preve has assigned four "masters" to Marx: Epicurus to whom he dedicated his thesis, Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus , for his materialism and theory of clinamen which opened up a realm of liberty ; Jean-Jacques Rousseau , from which come his idea of egalitarian democracy ; Adam Smith , from whom came the idea that the grounds of property is labour ; and finally Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Marx developed a comprehensive, theoretical understanding of political reality early in his intellectual and activist career by means of a critical adoption and radicalization of the categories of 18th and 19th century German Idealist thought. Of particular importance is Hegel's appropriation of Aristotle's organicist and essentialist categories in the light of Kant's transcendental turn. Marx builds on four contributions Hegel makes to our philosophical understanding.

They are: 1 the replacement of mechanism and atomism with Aristotelean categories of organicism and essentialism, 2 the idea that world history progresses through stages, 3 the difference between natural and historical dialectical change, and 4 the idea that dialectical change proceeds through contradictions in the thing itself. On the contrary, Hegel argues for the organic unity between universal and particular.

This latter has import for Marx's own conception of law and necessity. Observing an acorn on its own, we can never deduce that it is an oak tree. To figure out what the acorn is - and also what the oak tree is - we have to observe the line of development from one to the other.

The Categories of Dialectical Materialism by Guy Planty-Bonjour, J.E. Blakeley | Waterstones

Looked at purely formally, human society has a natural line of development in accordance with its essence just like any other living thing. This process of development appears as a succession of stages of world history. Human history passes through several stages, in each of which is materialized a higher level of human consciousness of freedom.

It is delivered by means of the actions of men which spring from their needs, passions, and interests. Hegel distinguishes as Aristotle did not between the application of organic, essentialist categories to the realm of human history and the realm of organic nature. Natural and historical change, according to Hegel, have two different kinds of essences. Some accident from the outside might come along to interrupt this process of development, but if left to its own devices, it proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner. Society's historical development is internally more complex.

Dialectical Materialism Explained In 6 mins

As humankind's essence reveals itself, that revelation is at the same time the subversion of itself. Spirit is constantly at war with itself.


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  • In the development of a natural thing, there is by and large no contradiction between the process of development and the way that development must appear. When change in the essence takes place, as it does in the process of evolution, we can understand the change mostly in mechanical terms using principles of genetics and natural selection.

    The historical process, however, never attempts to preserve an essence in the first place. In the historical process, however, what exists, what is actual, is imperfect. What is trying to come into existence - freedom - inherently negates everything preceding it and everything existing, since no actual existing human institution can possibly embody pure human freedom. So the actual is both itself and its opposite as potential. Marx did not study directly with Hegel, but after Hegel died Marx studied under one of Hegel's pupils, Bruno Bauer , a leader of the circle of Young Hegelians to whom Marx attached himself.

    However, Marx and Engels came to disagree with Bruno Bauer and the rest of the Young Hegelians about socialism and also about the usage of Hegel's dialectic. Having achieved his thesis on the Difference of natural philosophy between Democritus and Epicurus in , the young Marx progressively broke away with the Prussian university and its teachings impregnated by German Idealism Kant , Fichte , Schelling and Hegel.

    Along with Engels, who observed the Chartist movement in the United Kingdom , he cut away with the environment in which he grew up and encountered the proletariat in France and Germany. He then wrote a scathing criticism of the Young Hegelians in two books, The Holy Family , and The German Ideology , in which he criticized not only Bauer but also Max Stirner 's The Ego and Its Own , considered as one of the founding book of individualist anarchism.

    Max Stirner claimed that all ideals were inherently alienating , and that replacing God with Humanity, as did Ludwig Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity , was not sufficient.

    DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM

    Marx also criticized Proudhon , who had become famous with his cry " Property is theft! Marx's early writings are thus a response towards Hegel, German Idealism and a break with the rest of the Young Hegelians. Marx, "stood Hegel on his head," in his own view of his role, by turning the idealistic dialectic into a materialistic one, in proposing that material circumstances shape ideas, instead of the other way around. In this, Marx was following the lead of Feuerbach. His theory of alienation , developed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of published in , inspired itself from Feuerbach's critique of the alienation of Man in God through the objectivation of all his inherent characteristics thus man projected on God all qualities which are in fact man's own quality which defines the " human nature ".

    But Marx also criticized Feuerbach for being insufficiently materialistic, as Stirner himself had pointed out, and explained that the alienation described by the Young Hegelians was in fact the result of the structure of the economy itself. Furthermore, he criticized Feuerbach's conception of human nature in his sixth thesis on Feuerbach as an abstract "kind" which incarnated itself in each singular individual: "Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man menschliche Wesen , human nature.

    But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. Thereupon, instead of founding itself on the singular, concrete individual subject , as did classic philosophy, including contractualism Hobbes , John Locke and Rousseau but also political economy , Marx began with the totality of social relations: labour, language and all which constitute our human existence.

    He claimed that individualism was the result of commodity fetishism or alienation. Some critics have claimed that meant that Marx enforced a strict social determinism which destroyed the possibility of free will. In the same way, following Babeuf , considered as one of the founder of communism during the French Revolution , he criticized the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as a "bourgeois declaration" of the rights of the "egoistic individual", ultimately based on the "right to private property", which economism deduced from its own implicit "philosophy of the subject", which asserts the preeminence of an individual and universal subject over social relations.

    On the other hand, Marx also criticized Bentham 's utilitarianism. Alongside Freud , Nietzsche , and Durkheim , Marx thus takes a place amongst the 19th century philosophers who criticized this pre-eminence of the subject and its consciousness. According to Marx, the recognition of these individual rights was the result of the universal extension of market relations to all of society and to all of the world, first through the primitive accumulation of capital including the first period of European colonialism and then through the globalization of the capitalist sphere.

    Such individual rights were the symmetric of the "right for the labourer" to "freely" sell his labor force on the marketplace through juridical contracts, and worked in the same time as an ideological means to discompose the collective grouping of producers required by the Industrial Revolution : thus, in the same time that the Industrial Era requires masses to concentrate themselves in factories and in cities , the individualist, "bourgeois" ideology separated themselves as competing homo economicus.

    Marx's critique of the ideology of the human rights thus departs from the counterrevolutionary critique by Edmund Burke , who dismissed the "rights of Man" in favour of the "rights of the individual": it is not grounded on an opposition to the Enlightenment 's universalism and humanist project on behalf of the right of tradition , as in Burke's case, but rather on the claim that the ideology of economism and the ideology of the human rights are the reverse sides of the same coin. The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered.

    Dialectical Materialism

    In the market he stood as owner of the commodity "labour-power" face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no "free agent," that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him "so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.

    In place of the pompous catalogue of the "inalienable rights of man" comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear "when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins. Quantum mutatus ab illo! But the communist revolution does not end with the negation of individual liberty and equality " collectivism " [6] , but with the "negation of the negation": "individual property" in the capitalist regime is in fact the "expropriation of the immediate producers. The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production , produces capitalist private property.

    This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labor of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i. What distinguished Marx from Feuerbach was his view of Feuerbach's humanism as excessively abstract, and so no less ahistorical and idealist than what it purported to replace, namely the reified notion of God found in institutional Christianity that legitimized the repressive power of the Prussian state.

    Instead, Marx aspired to give ontological priority to what he called the "real life process" of real human beings, as he and Engels said in The German Ideology :. In direct contrast to German philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh.

    We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process. The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises.

    Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, along with this, their real existence, their thinking, and the products of their thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. Also, in his Theses on Feuerbach , in which the young Marx broke with Feuerbach's idealism, he writes that "the philosophers have only described the world, in various ways, the point is to change it," and his materialist approach allows for and empowers such change.

    This opposition between various subjective interpretations given by philosophers, which may be, in a sense, compared with Weltanschauung designed to legitimize the current state of affairs, and effective transformation of the world through praxis , which combines theory and practice in a materialist way, is what distinguish "Marxist philosophers" with the rest of philosophers. Indeed, Marx's break with German Idealism involves a new definition of philosophy; Louis Althusser, founder of " Structural Marxism " in the s, would define it as " class struggle in theory".

    Marx's movement away from university philosophy and towards the workers' movement is thus inextricably linked to his rupture with his earlier writings, which pushed Marxist commentators to speak of a "young Marx" and a "mature Marx", although the nature of this cut poses problems. A year before the Revolutions of , Marx and Engels thus wrote The Communist Manifesto , which was prepared to an imminent revolution, and ended with the famous cry: " Proletarians of all countries, unite!

    Marx thereby modified his theory of alienation exposed in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of and would later arrive to his theory of commodity fetishism , exposed in the first chapter of the first book of Das Kapital This abandonment of the early theory of alienation would be amply discussed, and several Marxist theorists, including Marxist humanists such as the Praxis School , would return to it.