Marxist Philosophy and Dialectical Materialism

QUESTION: Marxist Philosophy – Dialectical Materialism


The notion of dialectical process was modified and polished into a broad-based philosophy by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who died when Marx was thirteen years old. The dialectical process is not a creation of Marxist philosophy. Instead, Marxists combine the theory with materialism, creating a hybrid philosophy—dialectical materialism. Marx and Engels simply adopted Hegel’s ideas (which were built on an idealistic foundation—that is, the dialectic was thought to be a mental construct) and redesigned them to fit into a materialistic scheme of reality. Thus Lenin could write of the “great Hegelian dialectics which Marxism made its own, having first turned it right side up.”1

Gustav A. Wetter summarizes the Hegelian dialectic: “In Hegel’s sense of the term, dialectic is a process in which a starting-point [a thesis, e.g., Being] is negated [the antithesis, e.g., Non- Being], thereby setting up a second position opposed to it. This second position is in turn negated i.e., by negation of the negation, so as to reach a third position representing a synthesis [e.g., Becoming] of the two preceding, in which both are ‘transcended,’ i.e., abolished and at the same time preserved on a higher level of being. This third phase then figures in turn as the first step in a new dialectical process [i.e., a new thesis], leading to a new synthesis, and so on.”2

Frederick Engels best sums up the fundamental perspective with regard to dialectics: “The world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made [created] things, but as a complex of [evolutionary] processes.”3 This notion is inherent to the dialectic, which views all of life as a constantly evolving process resulting from the clash of opposing forces.

Marxist Philosophy – The Dialectical Process
In the dialectical process, the thesis must always attract an antithesis, and this tension must always result in a synthesis, which in turn becomes a new thesis. This new thesis is always more advanced than the last thesis, because dialectics perceives the developmental process as an upward spiral. Simply stated, dialectics sees change or process due to conflict or struggle as the only constant, and this change and conflict always lead to a more advanced level.

Marxists believe the proof for dialectics is all around us. Engels notes, “When we reflect on Nature, or the history of mankind, or our own intellectual activity, the first picture presented to us is an endless maze of relations and interactions.”4 These interactions are always in the process of thesis/antithesis/ synthesis. This constant development or process of evolution implies that the world (indeed, the universe) is always in motion—always moving, always changing.

Now we can begin to see how dialectics affects the materialist view. In Marxist philosophy, we can understand matter only when we understand that it is constantly involved in an eternal process of change. The evolutionary process best illustrates this idea—life on earth has been undergoing changes throughout time, beginning with simple living forms and evolving onward and upward to more advanced states. Engels says, “Nature is the proof of dialectics.”5

Marxist philosophy fixes evolutionary theory as a universal law for both organic and inorganic matter, as Engels makes clear: “All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun, from the protista [the primary living cell] to man, is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change.”6


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, 45 vols. (Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers, 1977), 7:409.
2 Gustav A. Wetter, Dialectical Materialism (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), 4.
3 Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1974), 44.
4 Lenin, The Teachings of Karl Marx, 27.
5 Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1935), 48.
6 Frederick Engels, Dialectics of Nature (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1976), 13.

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