Marxist Philosophy – Introduction
Frederick Engels delivers the core of Marxist philosophy: “The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved...by a long and protracted development of philosophy and natural science....But if the...question is raised: what then are thought and consciousness, and whence they come, it becomes apparent that they are products of the human brain and that man himself is a product of nature, which has been developed in and along with its environment.”1
The philosophy of dialectical materialism is the Marxist-Leninist approach to understanding and changing the world. Many of the attributes we as Christians ascribe to God—eternality, infinitude, an uncreated being, indestructibility, the Lawgiver, the Life, and the Mind—Marxists-Leninists ascribe to dialectical matter. Marxist philosophy affirms matter as ultimately real, rather than God. Thus it is a godless philosophy.
Karl Marx wrote in a letter to Frederick Engels, “[A]s long as we actually observe and think, we cannot possibly get away from materialism.”2 Engels explained his epistemology by writing, “The materialist world outlook is simply the conception of nature as it is.”3
Marxist Philosophy – Materialism
Marxist philosophy holds that the matter we see in nature is all that exists. This materialistic interpretation of the world is an essential ingredient of Marxist thought.
Lenin wrote, “Matter is primary nature. Sensation, thought, consciousness are the highest products of matter organized in a certain way. This is the doctrine of materialism, in general, and Marx and Engels, in particular.”4 Lenin further contended that matter is a philosophical category denoting objective reality—people, plants, animals, stars, and so on. “Matter is the objective reality given to us in sensation.”5
When Lenin says that matter is primary, he means that matter is eternal and uncreated, that life spontaneously emerged from non-living, non-conscious matter billions of years ago, and that mind, thought, and consciousness eventually evolved from it.
Marxist Philosophy – Epistemology
When it comes to Marxist philosophy, science plays a crucial role in the Marxist theory of knowledge. According to Lenin, “The fundamental characteristic of materialism arises from the objectivity of science, from the recognition of objective reality, reflected by science.”6 Marxist epistemology, like that of the Secular Humanists, places faith in the truth of science and denies all religious truth claims. Putting their faith in science as the infallible source of all knowledge logically follows from Marxist beliefs about reality. According to Lenin, “Perceptions give us correct impressions of things. We directly know objects themselves.”7 The objects Lenin speaks of are strictly material—“Matter is...the objective reality given to man in his sensations, a reality which is copied, photographed, and reflected by our sensations.”8
In contrast, anything supernatural lacks objective, material reality, so according to Marxism we have no means of perceiving it or of gaining knowledge about it. Thus, Marxists deny the supernatural. They distinguish between knowledge of the material world and what they term true belief in an attempt to allow for scientific speculation while ignoring speculation about God. “What we call ‘knowledge’ must also be distinguished from ‘true belief.’ If, for example, there is life on Mars, the belief that there is life on Mars is true belief. But at the same time we certainly, as yet, know nothing of the matter. True belief only becomes knowledge when backed by some kind of investigation and evidence. Some of our beliefs may be true and others false, but we only start getting to know which are true and which are false when we undertake forms of systematic investigation....For nothing can count as ‘knowledge’ except in so far as it has been properly tested.”9
Therefore, Marxist epistemology declares that we can never know belief in the supernatural as “true belief” because we cannot test it scientifically or empirically. We can determine as true beliefs only our speculations about the material world because only these can undergo systematic investigation. Thus, knowledge can apply only to the material world.
Marxists believe that practice—testing knowledge throughout history—is also a valuable tool for gaining knowledge. We can test knowledge by applying it to our lives and society, and this application will eventually determine its truth or falsity. By examining history, we can determine which beliefs are true and which are not.
Marxist epistemology is inextricably tied to Marxist dialectics. In fact, it is virtually impossible to separate Marxist materialism, dialectics, and epistemology. This is true largely because Marxists claim that dialectics operates in the place of metaphysics in their philosophy.
Marxist Philosophy – Conclusion
Dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism, contains an epistemology, a cosmology, an ontology, and an answer to the mind-body problem. For the Marxist, science and practice refine knowledge; the universe is infinite and all that will ever exist; matter is eternal and the ultimate substance; life is a product of this non-living matter; and the mind is a reflection of this material reality. But the Marxist philosophy embraces an even broader view of the world than is generally meant by the term philosophy. In truth, dialectical materialism is an entire method for viewing the world—it colors the Marxist perception of everything from ethics to history.
Marxist philosophy as a worldview must be understood by anyone who claims to support the Marxist cause. “One cannot become a fully conscious, convinced Communist without studying Marxist philosophy. This is what Lenin taught.”10 Why? Because, according to Marxism, the dialectic can explain every process and change that occurs. Marxist philosophy is process philosophy. This process is written not only within the metaphysical make-up of our matter, but also in the evolution of humanity and the evolving social and historical context of our existence. This materialist belief affects the Marxist view of history, causing Marxists to view the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as thesis and antithesis, clashing to form a synthesis. This clash is in essence an evolutionary struggle. While evolutionists believe that animals evolved certain physical characteristics to aid in their survival, Marxists believe their philosophy of dialectical materialism evolved to meet the needs of the proletariat.
Every knowledgeable Marxist recognizes this and is prepared to act in accordance with dialectical materialism. While many philosophies are chiefly theoretical, Marxism is concerned with theory and practice. Dialectical materialism is a worldview and a philosophy of evolution and revolution—the call to action is implicit in its makeup. Every good Marxist understands his philosophy and is prepared to act upon it, because Marx himself requires it: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”11
Unfortunately from a Marxist point of view, all such change is merely transitory, because each new synthesis (including the long-anticipated communist classless society) inevitably becomes a new thesis in the never-ending process of dialectical materialism. Even the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat will be but a brief moment in evolutionary history. Communist dialectics decrees that communism itself is transitory. The synthesis of communism today will become the new thesis of tomorrow, and new struggles will evolve according to the laws of dialectical materialism.