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Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science that serves as the philosophical basis of orthodox Marxism. Developed by communists — notably Vladimir Lenin — as an extension of the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, it applies the general Marxist idea of the existence of “contradictions” to a broader context than the social "class struggle," emphasizing that all things are in a state of constant change (dialectics) and possess an objective physical existence (materialism). While dialectical materialism is associated with Marx and Engels, neither coined the term. Marx described his theory of historical and social development as historical materialism or the materialist conception of history and wrote very little about the theoretical basis of his more general philosophical convictions. Engels, on the other hand,
had way too much time on his hands attempted to write a book called ‘’Dialectics of Nature’’ which he could have just as easily named ‘’Dialectics of the Material World’’ because he thought there was no semantic difference between these two terms, and which would evidently be a lot closer to “dialectical materialism”. Dialectical materialism is influenced by Hegel's dialectical thinking — borrowing from it the seeming rejection of the law of non-contradiction — while explicitly rejecting any pretensions of idealism.
Is dialectical materialism anti-rational?
Given that dialectical materialism seems to, in some sense, reject the law of non-contradiction, it's fair to ask the question: is it anti-rational? Not necessarily. It's debatable whether or not dialectical materialism requires one to truly and systematically reject the law of non-contradiction (that is, to reject it and hold one's self to this rejection). If this were to be true, it would simply be a sloppy doctrine which basically endorses that under some circumstances it makes sense to not hold one's self to the law of non-contradiction and in other circumstances to take only one side of a pair of contradictory sentences (A and not-A) as obviously the true one. The claim could also be not so much a rule for good thinking, or for thinking that coheres to the objective world as it actually is, but more that (at least on Lenin's account) when left to its own devices, thinking just already works by way of affirming contradictions. This view isn't entirely foreign to the Western philosophical tradition, and even has some legitimate (albeit controversial) proponents in contemporary research on mathematical logic. Nevertheless, in its crude Marxist form, it is easy for this view to become an all-purpose argumentative cudgel for those pesky
bourgeois reactionaries non-dialectical thinkers where they can repeatedly be accused of not grasping the 'dialectical character' of whatever it is you're talking about.at this point why would we want to?
Dialectical materialism and science
When dialectical materialists like a branch of science, they'll blandly describe its current state, then append "Therefore, dialectics!" to it. When they don't, you can expect to see it branded bourgeois pseudoscience. The explanation of quantum wave nature is a quote by Engels that during motion, an object is at multiple places at once. The first problem in this is that everything in the Universe is moving, so every object must always be in wave number. The second problem is that that it makes zero sense.
Sometimes dialectical materialists like a branch of science, but dislike actual scientists' approach to it. While dialectical materialists like quantum mechanics, they chide scientists for their apparent obsession with finding the smallest possible particles — because the dynamism required by dialectics means there can never be any fundamental particles, rather, science will continually find smaller and smaller sub-particles. (Also, they really like punctuated equilibrium — big dynamic events are apparently more dialectic than gradual change.)
As state ideology
When communists came to power in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, dialectical materialism was effectively made into a state religion in communist countries, and was developed extensively by philosophers in the Second World.
In the 1920s, there was a philosophical debate in the USSR about whether Marxist philosophy must follow science or vice-versa. The dialecticians emphasized that dialectics is fundamental to science. (And what is not dialectical is Pseudoscience.) Needless to say, Stalin chose dialectics officially in 1931. Independent philosophical debate was extinguished.
In the Soviet Union especially, all fields of science had to be policed to ensure conformity with what was called "dialectical materialism", and many fields were found wanting, including genetics, quantum mechanics, and sociology.
Some later thinkers, including Stephen Jay Gould, have attempted to distance themselves from Soviet-style dialectical materialism, advocating its use as a methodology but not an ideology.
- Lenin, V.I. (1977). Materialism and Empirio-critcism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
- Lenin, V.I. (1976). Lenin's Collected Works Vol. 38. Moscow: Progress Publishers. p. 357-361.
- See "Does Mathematics Reflect Reality?: Part Four: Order Out of Chaos": § "Mandelbrot’s Fractals", which wraps up a discussion of fractals by declaring the triumph of dialectics.
- Part Two: Time, Space and Motion — Revolution in Physics. Marxist.com
- Cambrian Explosion How Life Arose: The Cambrian Explosion. Marxist.com