Dialectical Materialism

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1 of 3: Introduction

A well- known revolutionary philosopher of nineteenth century (Karl Marx) claimed to have found the underlying principles of revolutionary change having universal application. He, however, admitted that he borrowed these principles from an earlier philosopher (G.W.F. Hegel) who had propounded them under a term “dialectics”.

It would not be out of context to point out that G.W.F. Hegel was greatly influenced by an ancient Indian spiritual book called “Bhagvad-Gita”, which book itself is but a small part of “Mahabharat” an ancient Indian epic in Sanskrit language. Hegel wrote extensively on the Gita in his long two-part essay entitled, “On the Episode of the Mahabharata Known by the Name Bhagavad-Gita by Wilhelm von Humboldt.”  This essay is a detailed critique of not only the Indological work of Humboldt, but also of the philosophical foundations and teachings of the Gita itself.

  Dialectics of Hegel was a process that consisted of three parts: Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. Thesis is the starting point and can be considered to take place at any point and every point in everything or object under study in the whole process. By virtue of its very nature Thesis always contains a contradictory element within it, that is, its antithesis. The existence of Antithesis along with Thesis is the very condition of the existence of Thesis. The conflict and contradiction between Thesis and Antithesis bring changes and give birth to conditions and things that are incompatible with Thesis and cannot be reconciled within its legitimate confines. Over a period of time these irreconcilable contradictions go on accumulating and at a certain point of time a drastic change takes place resulting into a new harmonious Synthesis that reconciles the contradiction of Thesis and Antithesis. And, this Synthesis – reconciling the contradictions of Thesis and Antithesis – takes the place of a new Thesis. Thus goes on the universal dialectical process in Nature bringing an unceasing change in a forward movement, Hegel claimed.

  Hegel in his understanding of universality of Existence, to the extent it is possible to understand it by Mind, is very close to Divine Lord, Supreme Master (Sachchiddananda). He puts his understanding of the matter in his Philosophy of Law and Right proposition No. 21 in these words:  “The truth, however, of this formal universality which is by itself indeterminate and receives its determination from each material to which it is applied consists in a universality which determines itself, which is the will, is freedom. Since this will has the universality, has it itself as the infinite form, as its content, its object and its end, it is not only the will which is free in itself, but also the will which is free for itself- the true Idea.”

  Idea- that we may refer to as Divine Lord, operating through history has been put beautifully by C.F. Friedrich thus:  “History is seen as the march of freedom through the world. This march of freedom is interpreted as what the world spirit wants, as it seeks to realize itself. And in its effort to realize itself, it employs peoples, world-historical peoples to do its work.”

  According to Hegel the movement of universal Idea in its effort to realize itself through the history follows this pattern of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. What is this “Idea”? What does Hegel say about this “Idea”? Its nature, its property, its ‘color’? Ultimately, what is this “Idea” in its essence? Hegel has no clue. Why? Because, Hegel is talking all along with his “mind”. It is a pure mental speculation and nothing more. One who could not “mentally” calculate that “mind” is not the ultimate product of life’s evolution, cannot understand anything “beyond mind” with the aid of his mind. There have been – and there are – people who have attained the stage of consciousness that can know and that can have the living experience of a consciousness that is “beyond mind”. Hegel never had that capacity and his all talk of the supreme “Idea” is nothing but useless mental exercise. However, he mentally observed the working of a dialectical process in Nature.

Karl Marx borrowed these Dialectical principles from Hegel to explain change in human history and thus to prove the inevitability and justification of impending economic, political and social change.

  However, Marx claimed that Dialectics of Hegel, where ‘Idea’ is made supreme and universal, was standing on its head and he had turned it upside down where ‘Matter’ – and not ‘Idea’ – was supreme and universal out of which ideas, thoughts and mind originated.

  Marx has admitted that he stumbled upon the concept of dialectics, on which his entire philosophy is founded, while he was a student of Hegelian Philosophy of History. He claimed that with Hegel this Dialectics was standing on its head and he simply made it stand on its feet. Hegel maintained that it is the Idea, the Spirit, that is real and there is conflict between two irreconcilable contradictory elements inherent in this Idea. This conflict is between thesis and antithesis, and their conflict is resolved by emerging synthesis. Out of this conflict – this contradiction – human history is evolved. Therefore, the history, with all its evolved institutions, is merely an unfolding of the Idea.

  Marx says that he retained the dialectical process of Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis as propounded by Hegel but replaced his concept of “Idea” with “Matter”. When this Dialectical process based on “Matter” was applied to the human history, Marx made the “historical material conditions” the real thing and the “Idea” a mere reflection of these material conditions in human mind, in his thoughts and his culture. Marx transposed the philosophical concept of the contradiction between “Thesis and Anti-Thesis” with the social contradiction between “two social classes”. Through out the history of human society (except in the initial stage of tribal society, which he called Primitive Communist society), there have been two antagonistic social classes. He said, out of these two classes, the ruling class needed to suppress the ruled-class and therefore the instrument of State was invented to perform this task. He said, State with all its organs like military, police, jail, courts, laws, bureaucracy etc. is an instrument of suppression of one class by another. The presence of State in any society shows that in it there are two antagonistic classes and class struggle.

Hegelian invention was an accidental discovery by Marx and its correction by introducing “Matter” in place of “Idea” was his genius.

He also very frankly admitted that he discovered the principles of capital-working from the study of British economy and he learnt the revolutionary element in his philosophy from the French revolutionary Communes.

It was his brilliant mind that integrated all these three diverse elements into a harmonious philosophic edifice that logically explained human history, economics and culture, and gave hope to the exploited millions in their salvation.

By systematically applying the dialectical concepts of Thesis, Anti-Thesis and Synthesis, Marx explained the working of human history starting from the primitive tribal stage (which he called the Primitive Communist society), to Serfdom (or the slave-owning society), to Feudalistic (land-owners and tillers of that land) society, to Capitalist (capital-owners and capital-less workers) society. By further applying these dialectical principles of “contradiction between the Thesis and Anti-Thesis (or Capitalists and Workers) to the capitalist society, Marx emphatically declared that the Capitalist society is bound by the force of natural laws (or material conditions) to come to an end and to be replaced by a new form of society.

This society will be a system where “all means of production – like land, machines etc. – will be owned by people collectively” and termed it Socialist Society. He pithily observed that this Socialist Society will be a transitory stage and in due course will be transformed into “Communist Society”, which is the higher stage of Socialist Society. Marx predicted that in this new society, there will be no classes and, hence no class struggle, obviating the need of State machinery.  State as an instrument of suppression of one class by another class will wither away in this communist society.

Marx said that in the Socialist Society the governing principle would be: “Work would be done by people according to their capacity and reward/return would be given to them according to their work”. However, in the Communist Society the governing principle would be:”Work would be done by people according to their capacity and reward/return would be given to them according to their needs”. In Socialist or Communist society, there is no scope of owning the “private property” by individuals (or their groups like companies). By predicting the impending arrival of the Socialist (and thereafter Communist) society, Marx and his philosophy stirred the hearts of millions of exploited people across the globe culminating into revolutions in many countries.

2 of 3: Principles of Dialectics

Marxian concept of dialectics in its abstract form may be summed up thus:

  • There is nothing in Nature that may be called an absolute truth; all human concepts about natural phenomena are relative in their contents.

  • Whole Nature is in motion; no part of it is static.

  • This motion is generated by a mechanism that is brought about by the inherent irreconcilable contradictions inherently present in every entity, or constituent, of Nature.

  • These contradictions give birth to conflicts that distort the harmonious structure of that entity. These conflicts accumulate in the quantitative form in that entity up to a certain limit. This limit is the critical point up to which these conflicts can be accommodated by that entity without changing its nature or quality. The moment these conflicts cross this critical limit, the quality of that entity changes or an upheaval takes place and the old entity becomes qualitatively different thing.

  • This process of change never stops in Nature, whether one likes it or not. This process is termed by Marx, and his friend F. Engles, ‘Negation of Negation’. Here, a thing comes into being or takes its birth by negating a  thing that was having a well-established place and this new thing, after enjoying a well- established place for certain time, is itself negated by a new thing. Over a period of time this pattern of change appears to human mind as spiral evolution.

  • This dialectical process is an integral part of Nature’s function. Though the general principles of dialectics operate with mathematical accuracy, in their detailed applications they operate in very flexible manner, depending on so many factors; nonetheless, in overall contours they always operate with mathematical accuracy. This faithful accuracy of its basic principles and their universality in operation make it possible for dialectics to forecast and predict. These two philosopher revolutionaries devoted their entire life in applying these dialectical principles to physics, anthropology, society, economics and, even, military science. They created a brilliant philosophical edifice called Scientific Socialism or, better known as, Communism.

  3 of 3: Some observations on Dialectical Materialism  

Fredrick Engles says:  “Outlines of the General Plan (for the application of dialectics to Nature): (1 ).. (2)…. (3) Dialectics as the science of universal inter-connection. Main laws: transformation of quantity and quality – mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes – development through contradiction or negation of the negation – spiral form of development.”

  He further says: “And indeed they (laws of dialectics) can be reduced in the main to three: The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa; the law of the interpenetration of opposites; the law of the negation of the negation.”

  The founders of Marxism claimed that the dialectical process was a universal one, governing from material natural phenomena to the evolution of human society. F. Angles in his “Dialectics of Nature” says:  “We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics, but only with showing that the dialectical laws are real laws of development of nature, and therefore, are valid also for theoretical natural science.”

  Therefore, it was claimed that the predictions made by the application of these laws were accurate and scientific. By applying these “laws” to capitalist society, prediction was made that this society would transform, as of necessity under the natural process, into Socialist society and this view of Socialism was dubbed as Scientific Socialism. It was claimed that in due course of time, when old habits of capitalist mentality die under the new social system, Socialism would transform into Communism and state would wither away. It was explained that in socialist society “each would work according to his capacity and get according to his work” while in communist society “each would work according to his capacity and get according to his needs.”

  ‘Dialectics’ as conceived by Hegel and applied to ‘material world’ by Karl Marx is a ‘mental construct’ and it has all the limitations, which mind has.

  When dialectics is applied to material world in general and history of mankind in particular, a dialectician is faced with the problem of an irreconcilable nature: the problem of reconciling the ‘human will’ with the ‘dialectical determinism’. To reconcile the irreconcilable ‘will and determinism’, it was proposed by F. Engles and K. Marx that dialectical principles operate in the ‘general’ way and not in ‘specific individual’ instances.

  When this explanation is applied to social history of mankind, the time scale of operation of dialectics is extended to centuries, if not millennia. In this situation, though the past (of human history) seems to be explained by dialectics in logical manner, the future changes predicted by dialectics may not be verifiable in decades or centuries.

  The dialectical model has a peculiar component of spiral form of its (evolutionary) movement. When dialectics is applied to human history, it predicts that the ‘primitive Communism’, or the first stage of social evolution of history, would be repeated at higher level of the ‘spiral’ in the form of “scientific Communism’. Marx pointed out that in primitive Communism, there is ‘direct’ struggle of people with Nature as there are no two contradictory social classes but only two elements: Nature and mankind struggling with this Nature. As there are no two warring social class, there is no social conflict and owing to this absence of social class-conflicts, there is no ‘wastage’ of human energy in the form of social conflicts.

  Likewise, in the ‘modern’ or ‘scientific Communism’ also there would be ‘direct’ struggle of people with Nature as there are no two social conflicting classes here and no wastage of human energy.

  Then, the question arises, how the ‘modern Communism’ would progress further in the dialectical terms? How the ‘modern Communism’ would become the ‘thesis’ and would give birth to a ‘contradictory’ element within it? When this question was put to Marx, he simply evaded the answer by saying that this question would be answered by those people who would be living under the communist social order. It is no answer. When the communist experiment has failed in Soviet Union, China and all other so-called Socialist countries, we can again ask this question and demand its answer in terms of dialectics and its working principles. We ask: Would the ‘modern Communism’ embark on an ‘uncharted’ course of new human evolutionary history? Humans are a product of evolution and if they have a full circle of a social evolution – from ‘primitive communism’ in cave-living animal stage to ‘modern communism’ of technology savy humans travelling in space ships to distant planets of universe – what would be the starting point of their ‘new’ social evolutionary journey? Would they be a ‘new’ humans, or a new qualitatively higher race than humans? Would the ‘direct’ struggle of people with Nature affect the very constitution of mankind, or in other words, would it change the human race into a new and higher race? The application of dialectics and its principles to humans and their society opens many startling possibilities.

  These are profound questions that are thrown open by the dialectics, if that be the working mechanism of Nature.

  Then, setting aside dialectics for a moment, there are many other questions and possibilities. For example: Is it possible that the capabilities of modern science and technology would make the ‘direct’ struggle of humans with Nature a simple thing and would bypass the social mechanism of Capitalism and Communism both? In any way, in the dialectical scheme of things, modern ‘Communism’ is the ‘dead end’ of social evolution. Would this ‘dead end’ usher in the first stage in a new social evolutionary course of a race of beings that must be higher than humans, is an open question to be answered by the adherents of dialectics and socialists.

  These are some of the thoughts that spring up in one’s mind when faced with the vehemence of claim that dialectical materialism is a ‘scientific’ law of social evolution.

  However, the truth may not be so simple in its operation in Nature. Today, the scientific investigation of Nature reveals the concept of ‘dialectics’ being an oversimplification of Nature’s working. Nature is much more complex in its constitution and movements, and, continuous strides of modern science tell us, our knowledge of this complexity goes on changing without stop. Perhaps, the only scientific attitude today is that one should always be open to change his rigid view of Nature and its laws. And this flexibility is in the interest of truth, whatever it might be. Hegel had understood the movement of Nature in a way better than Marx and Marx by turning his dialectics upside down has distorted it.

  In fact, Karl Marx made Dialectics stand on its head by claiming supremacy and universality of matter and Divine Lord – Idea of Hegel – a mental thought being a mere product of matter.

  However, despite the conflicting positions held by Hegel and Marx over the supremacy of idea or matter in Nature, the dialectical nature of change remains identical in its operation in Nature. These dialectical principles of change fall under three heads.

  • Firstly, there always exist universal and irreconcilable contradictions in every thing.

  • Secondly, these contradictions bring about a change in the thing concerned. This change at a critical point takes the shape of transformation of quantity into quality of the thing resulting into forward movement at a qualitatively higher step, or revolution.

  • Thirdly, the forward movement follows a spiral pattern where lower stages are repeated again and again at ever-higher levels. This dialectical process of forward movement may be understood as spiral evolution.

  Mind is a powerful tool to understand truth at the disposal of life and it is a model of evolution constructed by mind. However, mind itself is the product of life-evolution and is not capable to realize real truth lying masked behind appearance. Till one goes beyond mind and realizes truth of the existence in the light of higher consciousness, mind is his useful guide. Mind is illumined by non-other than the sole Divine light, though in its receiving it distorts this light much.

  Mind, as though through haze, gropes for and receives in return some rays of light – of truth. Therein lays the usefulness of this mental concept of revolution and evolution. We leave it to the reader to discern for himself any sign of its operation in Nature’s life cycles. If found so operating, human mind in this may get one more extra reason in support of the impending unique spiritual revolution in human history and India being the strongest candidate in the world for its leadership.

  Universe is infinite in its dimensions and depth. Mind, even in its best representative, being a tool of limited capability, still remains unable to penetrate the veil of matter to go behind the appearance and realize the ultimate or supreme truth of the existence. However, mind being a transitory product of life-evolution and this evolution being still ongoing, it is sure to be replaced by a better tool in the form of a higher product of evolution. All things, and that includes life and its products also, are unconsciously or consciously moving from the lower to the higher plane. From the moment of its emergence out of matter- and it may be in the form of unicellular living beings- life is marching towards its Divine destination.

  All life is Yoga, as said by Sri Aurobindo. If this march is unconscious on the part of the individual concerned and simply controlled and shaped by Nature, it is Yoga of Nature. But if there is conscious effort on the part of the individual to give a direction to this universal march, it is Yoga of the individual.

  However, mind still remains a powerful tool for the ordinary millions- the people with scientific reasoning and outlook to understand world and its problems. And there is nothing wrong with this. Mind – and the science based on Mind – is the lever of evolution that multiplies the force – the momentum – and thus accelerates the human evolution. Mind may well withdraw from the futile exercise of comprehending infinite and instead concentrate itself on a limited field of Nature.

This document is systematically sequential. Read NEXT here.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: (2) Relook at Marxism/Communism in 21st century | Indian People's Congress
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