After reading this article you will learn about the definition, nature and basic laws of dialectical materialism.
Definition and Nature of Dialectical Materialism:
According to Stalin:
“Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist- Leninist Party. It is called Dialectical Materialism because its approach to the phenomena of nature, its method of studying and apprehending them, is dialectical, while its interpretation of phenomena of nature, its conception of these phenomena, its theory is materialistic. Hence, the process or method is dialectical and the object is materialism. To interpret the matter, to know the nature of matter the dialectics is used”.
Lenin has summed up the essential idea of dialectical materialism in the following words:
“The idea is the recognition of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature. That is, in all phenomena and processes of nature there are diametrically opposite forces or tendencies and they are at clash or conflict and this continues until a solution is reached. This alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything in existence. It alone furnishes the key to the leaps, to the break in continuity, to the transformation into the opposite, to the destruction of the old and emergence of the new. In its proper meaning dialectics is the study of the contradiction within the very essence of things”.
The idea of materialism or matter was first used by Feurbach who challenged the traditional concept of religion or unearthly ideas.
He said that religion or related concept which has no factual or material basis cannot be regarded as the basis of analysis of worldly ideas or topics. This view of Feurbach highly impressed both Marx and Engels and they began to study society materialistically which finally constitutes materialism.
Then they developed it into a philosophical theory of materialism and kept aside its idealistic-religious, ethical encumbrances. Basically Feurbach was a materialist, but surprisingly he objected to the use of the word materialism or materialist.
Remembering this Engels once said that Feurbach was within the fetters of idealism. Joseph Stalin, a great interpreter of Marx’s and Lenin’s philosophy, has stated some of the important features of dialectical materialism and we now turn to them.
(1) Dialectics does not regard nature as an accidental agglomeration of things, of phenomena, unconnected with and isolated from and independent of each other, but as a connected and integral whole. Phenomena are organically connected. The action of one reacts upon another, and vice versa. This idea of Marxian dialectical materialism differs from metaphysics. The dialectical materialism clearly states that all the phenomena of the modern world are inextricably connected with each other.
Naturally any analysis of the material world or the society we live in must be taken as a whole. The isolation of one phenomenon from another is impossible. The dialectical materialism treats all the phenomena together and starts analysis. Isolation of one phenomenon from another will not help understanding the dialectical materialism. Failure to do this will make our attempt to analyze nature a meaningless venture.
(2) The nature is not a stable or stagnant state and because of this continuous change is taking place. There is a constant conflict between the negative and positive forces and out of the conflict emerges a new force which is also unstable till the final end is reached.
In the process of continuous change something new is coming out and old things or forces are dying away. Hence, the dialectical materialism is characterised by interconnection among the various parts but also by the continuous movement. Engels wrote “All nature from the smallest thing to the biggest, from grains of sand to sun, from protista to man, has its existence in eternal. Coming into being and going out of being, in a ceaseless flux, in un-resting motion and change.”
(3) The process of change and development which dialectics assumes is not simple and uniform. It does not proceed along a predetermined path. The development passes from insignificant and imperceptible to open and fundamental changes, also to qualitative changes.
The changes in dialectics are never smooth and gradual but rapid and abrupt. The change does not move in a circle but it is onward and upward. Engels wrote “Nature is the test of dialectics and it must be said for modern natural science that it has furnished extremely rich and daily increasing materials for this test, and has thus proved in the last analysis nature’s process is dialectical and not metaphysical, that it does not move in an eternally uniform and constantly repeated circle, but passes through real history.”
(4) According to Stalin final feature of dialectics is that contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature. Everything or phenomenon of nature has negative and positive sides.
All the elements of nature have two features negative and positive which implies that there is a conflict between these two and this conflict leads to the death of the negative element. But the conflict does not stop at this stage.
Conflict is a continuous process and it is also natural. Stalin says “The dialectical method holds that the process of development from the lower to the higher takes place not as a harmonious unfolding of phenomena, but as a disclosure of contradictions inherent in the things and phenomena.” Lenin once said “In its proper meaning dialectics is the study of the contradictions within the very essence of things.”
The development of society and also of the idea is caused by the existence of two opposite forces. The development comes through the struggle. Matter and dialectic are two important issues and one cannot be separated from the other.
Marx and Engels took the help of dialectics for the explanation of the materialist condition that is, the development or evolution of society. The Marxist dialectical method teaches us to understand the processes of development.
Basic Laws of Dialectical Materialism:
1. Law of Transformation of Quantitative to Qualitative Change:
The authors of the Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy write “Dialectics, the most complete, comprehensive and profound theory of development, is the heart and soul of Marxism-Leninism, its theoretical foundation. The universal-laws of dialectics reveal the essential features of any developing phenomenon, no matter to what field of activity it may belong”. The dialectical materialism does not treat the nature or universe as stable or immobile the concept of development lies in this notion.
There is a continuous struggle between the opposite forces and this struggle, according to Marx and Engels, is the key to all sorts of progress. Dialectical materialism further states that the change or evolution from lower to higher, from quantitative to qualitative is never slow or gradual or smooth. It is sudden or abrupt. The real development of society envisages such a transformation.
A. P. Sheptulin remarks “The totalities of properties that make a particular thing what it is, is called its quality. The totality of properties indicating a thing’s dimensions or magnitude is called its quantity. Dialectical materialism is not content with asserting that everything develops. The development or transformation is from quantity to quality.”
Now let us explain what is meant by quantitative and qualitative change. The first basic law of dialectical materialism is that transformation of change may be quantitative or qualitative. All change has a quantitative aspect. That is there may be decrease or increase of the thing. But quantitative change decrease or increase cannot go indefinitely.
It has its limitation. After certain point the quantitative change may turn into qualitative change. When the water is being heated it becomes hotter and hotter and after some time the water is converted into vapour. This conversion of water into vapour is qualitative change.
Similarly, when the water is cooled and the temperature is brought down to the freezing point the water becomes ice. The water is converted into ice but both are not the same. Quantitative changes occur constantly and gradually.
What about qualitative change? Qualitative changes in a thing are a result of accumulated quantitative changes in it. So quantitative and qualitative changes in a thing are, in a sense, matter of stages. After a particular stage quantitative change does not occur. Again, qualitative change assumes the form of leaps.
There is a break or discontinuity which is absent in quantitative change. Leap is a form of development that occurs much quicker than the continual development. Leap form of development is characterized by intensity. It is really a breakthrough. Quantitative change is gradual, qualitative change is abrupt.
Let us summaries what we have just now said about the transformation of quantitative change to qualitative change. The law states that there is an interconnection and interaction between the quantitative and qualitative aspects of an object thanks to which small, at first imperceptible, quantitative changes, accumulating gradually, sooner or later upset the proportion of that object and evoke the fundamental qualitative changes which take place in the form of leaps and whose occurrence depends on the nature of the objects in question and the conditions of their development in diverse forms. Knowledge of this law is vital to the understanding of development.
It provides a guideline for examining and studying phenomena as the unity of their qualitative and quantitative aspects, for seeing the complex interconnections and interactions of these aspects, and the changes in the relationships between them.
Engels borrowed the concept of quantitative-qualitative change from science and applied it to society. With the rapid growth of industrial capitalism wealth in the form of money is accumulated in the hands of few and the number of property less proletariat begins to rise and this proceeds unabated. When enough people have proletarianised to make capitalism mature quantitative change gives rise to qualitative change.
2. Law of Unity and Struggles of Opposites:
A. P. Sheptulin defines opposites and contradictions in the following words:
“Aspects in which changes move in opposite directions and which have opposite trends of functioning and development are called opposites, while the interaction of these aspects constitutes a contradiction”.
Every phenomenon is characterized by certain opposites and contradictions. This is the property of the phenomenon. For example, in capitalist society there are two antagonistic classes bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The interests, objectives, attitudes of these two classes are diametrically opposite. But they exist side by side and this is due to the interdependence and interconnection and interpenetration of opposites.
The opposites have different aspects of functioning and development and have different directions of change. But in spite of this the opposites do not eliminate each other they co-exist in an unbreakable unity and interdependence. This is an interesting characteristic of all opposites. Let us illustrate our point. In all class societies, Marx and Engels have said, there are mainly two class’s proletariats and bourgeoisie or capitalists.
There are conflicts and contradictions and in spite of these both the classes exist side by side and this coexistence is inevitable. One cannot exist without the other. But a situation arrives when the coexistence becomes absolutely impossible and this finally leads to revolution or class struggle.
It has been claimed by Marx that after the revolution the proletarian class will establish its supremacy and create a classless society which is called a communism. Whether a communist society will bring about an end of contradiction is a debatable issue. But Marx and Engels have explained the matter from the standpoint of historical materialism.
The law of dialectics states that the struggle of opposites cannot be underestimated. Rather, it is the motive force of social development. Lenin once said, “Development is the struggle of opposites.”
This development or motion is self-development or self-motion. That is, the development resulting from the struggle of opposites is not caused by external forces. This motion is quite relevant to dialectical materialism. This principle of dialectics has its own laws of motion. This to be carefully remembered.
The contradictions are not immobile or immutable. Once they have arisen they develop and pass through definite stages. For the disappearance and replacement of contradictions two conditions are to be fulfilled.
One is contradictions must be fully revealed, and the other is, they must be fully developed. When these two conditions are fulfilled a situation for the leap will emerge. The old phenomenon will disappear and will be replaced by a new which will be qualitatively higher or better than the earlier.
There are two stages of this development. First is a contradiction will unfold themselves and then they will be resolved. The contradiction first appears in the form of difference. Then this deepens into manifest contradiction.
In order to maximise profit the capitalist develops his productive system. Wealth, in the form of money, is concentrated in the hands of the few. Workers are more and more proletarianised.
Contradictions deepen. Ultimately demand is raised for the replacement of private property by the socialist property. When is such a demand made? The contradictions will arrive at a critical stage and the struggle between the opposites will reach the ultimate point. This is the stage of resolution of contradictions. Dialectical materialism attaches a good deal of importance to the resolution of contradictions.
In order to explain the law of struggle of opposites Cornforth cites an example. A cord will break when excessive load is put upon it. The qualitative change takes place as a result of the opposition set up between the tensile strength of the cord and the pull of the load.
Another example is when spring wheat is transformed into winter wheat, this is result of the opposition between the plant’s “conservatism” and the changing conditions of growth and development to which it is subjected; at a certain point the influence of the latter overcomes the former.
“The internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes consists in the struggle of opposites.”
3. The Law of the Negation of Negation:
Marx has said “In no sphere can one undergo a development without negating one’s previous mode of existence.”
Negation is an inevitable and logical element of development. Marx and Engels have said that a very powerful precondition of social development is the negation of previous existence. Now the question is what is negation?
The authors of the Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy have defined it in the following way:
“In ordinary consciousness the concept of negation is associated with the word “no”, to negate to say “no” or to reject something.” But dialectical materialism looks at the concept from different angle. Negation is an important element of progress. So it has deeper connotation. According to Engels “Negation in dialectics does not mean simply saying no, or declaring that something does not exist, or destroying in the same way one likes.”
In the opinion of A. P. Sheptulin “Dialectical negation is objective. It is the negation of one qualitative state and the formation of a new one. It stems from the development of the internal contradictions of a phenomenon and result from the struggle between internal opposite forces and tendencies; it is a connecting link between lower and higher”.
Dialectical negation is an important factor of progress or development. This is a feature of dialectical negation. Another feature is it combines old and new. That is it is a connection between the two. The negation of the old force by the new removes the obstacle on the way of development. Once development appears the new force does not stand disconnected with the old force. In this way a chain of connecting continues to exist.
The negation carries with it the potentialities of new force. Otherwise the negation is meaningless. It performs the function because it has the ability to create something new. Lenin wrote “Not empty negation, not futile negation, not sceptical negation, vacillation and doubt is characteristic and essential in dialectics which undoubtedly contains the elements of negation and indeed as its most important element no, but negation as a movement of development retaining the positive”.
The law of negation of negation is a law whose operation conditions the connection and continuity between that which is negated and that which negates. For this reason dialectical negation is not naked, “needless” negation, rejecting all previous development, but the condition of development that retains and preserves in itself all progressive content of previous stages, repeats at a higher level certain features of initial stages and has in general, a progressive and ascending character.