Historical & Dialectical Materialism: The Science of Revolution (2006)

The tool of analysis is for us a further development of the historical materialist method, the dialectical method. We will not even waste our time debating the values of Marxism with those who are essentially hung up on white people – hung up to the point of ideological blindness. We understand the process of revolution, and fundamental to this understanding is this fact: Marxism is developed to a higher level when it is scientifically adapted to a people’s unique national condition, becoming a new ideology altogether. Thus was the case in China, Guinea-Bissau, Vietnam, North Korea, the People’s Republic of the Congo and many other socialist nations [during the revolutionary era of the 20th century]. For Black [New Afrikan] people here in North Amerika our struggle is not only unique, but it is the most sophisticated and advanced oppression of a racial [and] national minority in the world. We are the true 20th [and now 21st] century slaves, and the use of the dialectical method, class struggle and national liberation, will find its highest development as a result of us. This dialectic holds true not only for Marxism, but for revolutionary nationalism as well; it holds true for concepts of revolutionary Pan-Afrikanism; it is true on the theoretical basis in developing revolutionary [New Afrikan] culture. All of these ideological trends will find their highest expression as a result of our advanced oppression.

– Message to the Black Movement: A Political Statement from the Black Underground – CC – BLA


Karl Marx developed the scientific method of analysis, which came to be called Dialectical Materialism (DM) by those who came after him. As an analytical tool, DM provides a method for understanding the laws of material existence and for changing material conditions by acting within these laws. Historical Materialism (HM) is the application of DM to the study and understanding of social development and history.

Marx’s Teachings

Marxism developed during an era of struggle between the philosophical schools of rationalist versus materialist thinking. Marx was able to merge the best of both schools, drawing dialectics (study and analysis) from the rationalists and materialism from the materialists.

The most advanced rationalist thinker during Marx’s time was George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the most advanced materialist then was Ludwig Feuerbach. But both schools of thought were tied up in and hindered by traditional idealistic and theological influences.

Marx’s Dialectics

Hegel saw the “idea” as an absolute and as the creator and center of the material world. From Hegel’s thinking Marx seized on the pertinent role of the “idea,” but found it to be “nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.”

Marx understood that the brain – the very medium of our thoughts and ideas – is itself a material construction, it grows and develops with and as a result of material conditions without which it would cease to be and could not generate thoughts. Purged of metaphysical influences, dialectics regards nature as a connected and unified whole, as a combination of organically bound phenomenons that are interdependent and affect each other’s development. Therefore, no activity in nature can be understood if it is isolated from surrounding phenomena.

Metaphysics teaches that nature exists in an absolute and unchanging state. The dialectical method teaches that nature remains in a state of constant change, development and renewal. This can be seen through scientific and even general studies of nature and natural processes. Nothing remains the same.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

“Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The phantoms of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations….”

“One has to “leave philosophy aside” … one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers.”

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, ie: the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit] of his thinking, in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.” — Karl Marx

Everything is in a state of either growth, relative equilibrium or decline, but is never stagnant. All matter is in a state of constant motion through increases or decreases in quantity.

But dialectics doesn’t merely see things in a state of motion where there is only increase or decrease in quantity without fundamental changes in quality. This means that phenomena moves and develops not in straight lines but in spirals. These qualitative and overlapping changes are seen as leaps. An example of change from quantity to quality can be seen in how all matter changes in quality, according to the quantity (increase or decrease) of temperature, from gas to liquid to solid.

In recognizing the continual growth and development of all material processes, dialectics recognizes that at the root of all motion are internal contradictions – opposite forces operating inside of things, pulling back and forth between their poles for control. Such polar forces can be seen competing, merging and changing positions in everything; negative and positive, light and dark, sickness and health, hot and cold, birth and death, pain and pleasure, advancement and decline, old and new, contraction and expansion, electron and proton and etc.

This is the unity of opposites that operates within all phenomena large and small, known and unknown. Without one, the other could not exist, nor could the matter or phenomenon exist that they combine into. Because of the constant struggle between such opposite forces, everything remains in constant motion. Because of this constant motion and resultant change, dialectics recognizes that that there are no unchangeable absolutes, and therefore continual study and experience of these material processes is the only source of proofs, “truth,” and understanding.

Many people today see, in an abstract and unconscious way, the value of studying the history and development of things in order to determine and understand how they reached their present state, in order to attempt to determine what their potential for future change and development might be. But in order to really accomplish these ends, they must understand and practice this method in the comprehensive manner of Marxist dialectics.

Without proper analysis of material conditions and their internal and external contradiction, it is impossible to develop a proper understanding of them. Lenin stated:

“…in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and “mediations.” We never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity.”

This scientific method of all-sided analysis, which is not the method of lazy or idealistic minds, can be applied to all areas of existence; mental, emotional, social, physical, etc. Dialectics “…takes things and their perceptual images essentially in their interconnection, in their concatenation, in their movement, in their rise and disappearance.” (Marx and Engels)

The term dialectics comes from dialego (Greek) which means to debate or discuss, and was in times past the pastime of philosophers, who would engage in debates to overcome the arguments of their opponents that contradicted their own. The ancient philosophers who practiced this “art” thought such introspection and debate conducted without practice and experiment in the material world was the best method of discovering “truth.”

Most social, economic, political, cultural and historic theorists today continue in this tradition to a greater or lesser degree. However, the Marxist approach advanced dialectics as a method of understanding reality in relation to existing phenomena and its internal and external contradictions, allowing “truth” to be determined and proved through the test of material practice. In essence, Marx’s dialectical method is the opposite of conjecture, idealism and metaphysics.

Marx’s Materialism

Feuerbach’s materialism, rather than perceiving physical phenomena simply as it is, was, like Hegel’s concept of the “idea,” marred by traditional metaphysical idealism. But as Engels pointed out, Marxist philosophical materialism “…means nothing more than simply conceiving nature just as it exists, without any foreign admixture.”

Idealists claim only our consciousness really exists and the real world, therefore, exists only in our minds. However, Marxist materialism recognizes that the world of matter, nature and being is an actual world that exists independent of our consciousness. Matter is primary, since it is the source of all we know, feel and think, whereas consciousness is secondary, since it is a product of and reflection of matter that actually exists in the physical world. The brain is of material construction. Without it, we’d have no thoughts and no mechanism with which to process thoughts into physical actions – so how can we separate or raise our consciousness above matter? “It is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks. Matter is the subject of all change,” – Marx

On a grander scale, there is a dialectical relationship between universal consciousness and physical matter. In physics, this unity of opposites was proven by the physicist, Albert Einstein, (who was a Marxist), in his famous formula E=mc2, or that energy is matter moving at great speed; light, electricity, magnetic force, etc. are examples of this. Indeed our brain signals, which communicate thoughts or messages – and can transmit them to be acted upon in the physical world – are electrical impulses of matter in motion.

Marxist materialism solved the problem that philosophers had long disputed – the relation of thinking to being, spirit to nature. “Matter is that which, acting upon our sense organs, produces sensations… Matter, nature, being, the physical – is primary, and spirit, consciousness, sensation, the psychical – is secondary.” (Marx)

“Is there such a thing as objective truth, that is, can human ideas have a content that does not depend on a subject, that does not depend either on a human being, or on humanity? If so, can human ideas, which give expression to objective truth, express it all at one time, as a whole, unconditionally, absolutely, or only approximately, relatively? This second question is a question of the relation of absolute truth to relative truth. …for dialectical materialism there is no impassable boundary between relative and absolute truth.

“From the standpoint of modern materialism i.e., Marxism, the limits of approximation of our knowledge to objective, absolute truth are historically conditional, but the existence of such truth is unconditional, and the fact that we are approaching nearer to it is also unconditional. The contours of the picture are historically conditional, but the fact that this picture depicts an objectively existing model is unconditional. When and under what circumstances we reached, in our knowledge of the essential nature of things, the discovery of alizarin in coal tar or the discovery of electrons in the atom is historically conditional; but that every such discovery is an advance of “absolutely objective knowledge” is unconditional. In a word, every ideology is historically conditional, but it is unconditionally true that to every scientific ideology (as distinct, for instance, from religious ideology), there corresponds an objective truth, absolute nature. You will say that this distinction between relative and absolute truth is indefinite. And I shall reply: yes, it is sufficiently “indefinite” to prevent science from becoming a dogma in the bad sense of the term, from becoming something dead, frozen, ossified; but it is at the same time sufficiently “definite” to enable us to dissociate ourselves in the most emphatic and irrevocable manner from fideism and agnosticism, from philosophical idealism and the sophistry of the followers of Hume and Kant. Here is a boundary, which you have not noticed, and not having noticed it, you have fallen into the swamp of reactionary philosophy. It is the boundary between dialectical materialism and relativism.”

— V. I. Lenin

Holding that thought is a product of matter, Marxist materialism understands that the material world and its laws are fully knowable. That by testing our knowledge of nature by experiment and practice, we can lean and know objective “truth.” Nothing is unknowable. There are only things that are as yet unknown, but which we can learn through the scientific approach of dialectical experiment and practice.

Marxist materialism therefore opposes idealism, which believes that the world is beyond our ability to know, and therefore we can never really grasp objective truths or change conditions. This idealist view is non-dialectical and non-materialist. It ignores the proofs of developing physical science and provides only a method of abstractly interpreting the world, but none to change it. It therefore ignores, avoids and fails to understand in worldly social relations the importance of “revolutionary, practical – critical activity.”

In essence, idealism leaves people feeling helpless to understand and change conditions. We can see the importance of Marxist dialectical and materialist philosophy to those who aspire to change and improve social conditions. It provides the fundamental approach for developing revolutionary theory based upon physical reality, instead of attempting to interpret the world idealistically, based upon creations of the mind and imagination that are unrelated to material reality.

Dialectical Materialism

DM is a scientific tool that allows us to consciously understand and change material conditions by coming to “know” the laws governing the physical world, and prove or disprove our knowledge by applying it through practice and experiment. As the scientist knows, it is the result of physical experiment that ultimately proves or disproves the “truth” of his/her theory – “the rat is always right!”

How indeed do scientists approach studying and solving problems in the material world? They begin with using their perceptual senses to observe some phenomenon and its internal properties as it interacts with its environment and other phenomena, and then they analyze the data accumulated from these observations. Through this process of observation, scientists accumulate a quantitative amount of perceptual knowledge about the object(s) of their study, and at some point, a qualitative leap takes place, and they begin to make conceptual connections and develop theories, ideas and predictions about the observed thing(s), its development and its nature.

In order to prove or disprove these theories, ideas and predictions, the scientists begin to design and perform experiments that will add to their conceptual knowledge. It is only by acting out their ideas in practice that “truth” can be determined. The science surrounding particular things or phenomena is then advanced. This is the essence of DM, the scientific approach to study and practice.

Likewise, any genuinely revolutionary people and/or party must base their revolutionary practice on study and application of the laws of social development, and not upon the conjecture, morals, reason or good intention of individuals. This is because social life in this material world is a material thing. And just as all material phenomena is knowable and changeable according to correctly understanding and acting within its governing laws and contradictions.

“Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract – provided it is correct – …does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, of a law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short, all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely.”

– V.I. Lenin

DM realizes that, like all processes, social development repeats stages previously passed through, but on a higher level – in spirals not circles. These leaps in cycles of development are the dialectical transformation of quantity into quality, namely revolution. They are the result of the contradictions within a thing or process that act on and are acted upon by external contradictions. It is the law of motion expressing itself. By understanding this law, we can act upon and within the internal contradictions of a thing – our society – to bring about fundamental changes in its quality – through revolution. As Mao Tse-tung observed: “Marxist philosophy holds that the most important problem does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world…”

Historical Materialism

HM is DM applied to the study and understanding of social development and history.  Marx saw that the past philosophical approaches to understanding history and social development were not scientific but were inconsistent and incomplete. He therefore applied DM to the study and analysis of society and history. In doing this, Marx saw that the very core of human society is the struggle for survival, which expresses itself in the systems of social production. These are the relations that a given people engage in to work up and extract survival necessities from nature for social consumption and use. In these productive processes, people become involved in definite relations that are necessary and independent of their will. These relations are the economic basis, the foundation, and root of every society. It is upon these economic foundations that the society’s social institutions or superstructure (political, legal, religious, ethical, cultural, etc.) are built.

“The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all political economy from its foundation up, its application to history, natural science, philosophy and to the policy and tactics of the working class – that was what interested Marx and Engels most of all, that is where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought.”

 – V. I. Lenin

Based upon advances in the technologies used to extract survival necessities from nature, the quantity of production increases (or has the potential to do so) and this creates a conflict with the existing social institutions, which have become a fetter on further development and represent outmoded social relations. This dialectical relationship (contradiction) between the developing productive forces and decadent relations of production and distribution creates a revolutionary situation.

In other words, when the economic foundation advances and changes while the social institutions and those running them attempt to remain conservative, and rigid, there inevitably develops a social-economic demand for overthrow of these old and outmoded institutions and those running them. New and progressive institutions and leaders are called forth which will be compatible with the changes in the mode of production.

Based upon these processes of social-economic development, HDM holds that humyn societies have developed through several transitional stages, beginning with the primitive communal, to the slave, to the feudal, to the wage-slave or capitalist system. Modern imperialism, or monopoly capitalism, is the highest stage of capitalist development. From here, society is ripe to make the leap to communism, or classless society, by passing through the transitional stage of socialism.

“[T]he history of one human group or of humanity goes through at least three stages. The first is characterized by a low level of productive forces – of man’s [and womyn’s] domination over nature; the mode of production is of a rudimentary character, private appropriation of the means of production does not yet exist, there are no classes, nor consequently, is there any class struggle.

“In the second stage, the increased level of productive forces leads to private appropriation of the means of production, progressively complicates the mode of production, provokes conflicts of interest within the socio-economic whole in movement, and makes possible the appearance of the phenomenon ‘class’ and hence of class struggle, the social expression of the contradiction in the economic field between the mode of production and private appropriation of the means of production.

“In the third stage, once a certain level of productive forces is reached, the elimination of private appropriation of the means of production is made possible, and is carried out, together with the phenomenon ‘class,’ and hence of class struggle; new and hitherto unknown forces in the historical process of the socio-economic whole are then unleashed.

“In politico-economic language, the first stage would correspond to the communal agricultural and cattle-raising society, in which the social structure is horizontal, without any state; the second to feudal or assimilated agricultural or agro-industrial bourgeois societies, with a vertical social structure and a state; the third to socialist or communist societies, in which the economy is mainly, if not exclusively, industrial (since agriculture itself becomes a form of industry) and in which the state tends to progressively disappear, or actually disappears, and where the social structure returns to horizontality, of a higher level of productive forces, social relations and appreciation of human values.”

– Amilcar Cabral

Class Struggle

Each of the social-economic systems, after the primitive communal and preceding communism, are distinguished by class divisions, and consequently class struggle.

“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes…

“The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

“Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possess, however, this distinctive feature: It has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” (Marx & Engels) The Communist Manifesto

This basic contradiction within the capitalist system, between a small exploiting class that privately owns the socially produced wealth and means of production (land, tools, factories, railroads, natural resources, and the labor power of the workers), and the exploited majority (who must sell their labor power to survive) who are the producers of society’s wealth, is the basic contradiction in capitalist society, manifested in the class struggle.

However, as Lenin pointed out, the capitalist class consolidated its forces and began to exploit the whole non-industrialized world to feed the industries of the imperialist countries with cheap raw materials and capture markets for their products, transforming the class contradiction into an international one.

Imperialism, as the highest form of capitalism, represents the concentration of the fundamental contradiction within capitalism; with the people and nations exploited and oppressed by the system at one pole and the monopoly capitalists and their henchmen at the other. Within the 3rd world countries, the struggles against colonialism and neo-colonialism take the form of national or “New-Democratic” revolution.

Whereas, in its ascendancy the bourgeoisie (capitalist class) was revolutionary, sweeping away pre-capitalist forms of exploitation and their accompanying superstructure through “Liberal Democratic Revolution,” under imperialism the bourgeoisie becomes thoroughly reactionary, promoting fascism and defending the remnants of feudalism, even slavery, under the banner of “Anti-Communism.” “Democracy” is no more that a window dressing to conceal its deeply reactionary essence. Therefore, the proletariat must lead the fight to continue to sweep away feudalism and patriarchy along with imperialist domination in order to set the stage for socialist reconstruction.

This has application as well for the internal colonies and oppressed nations and nationalities within the imperialist countries. Inside Amerika, the struggle against national oppression by New Afrikans, Indigenous People and others, is revolutionary class struggle and part of the international struggle to overthrow imperialism.

But even after socialist revolution, class struggle continues and in fact intensifies. Because socialism is a transitional stage from capitalism to communism, the class struggle can go forward or backwards to capitalist restoration. The continuance of aspects of the bourgeois mode of production and bourgeois social relations and culture regenerate the bourgeoisie, most particularly within the upper ranks of the Party and State.

These elements, together with the overthrown bourgeoisie, will stubbornly resist the advance towards communism as “going too far” and will attempt to rig up a new capitalist system under the cover “socialism.” Mao Tse-tung was the first Marxist-Leninist to truly recognize this phenomenon. This is what actually occurred in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, in other socialist countries, and in China after Mao’s death in 1976. But, Mao pointed to the Chinese Communist Party headquarters as the place where the most dangerous capitalist-roaders lay hidden and through which they could easily rig up a new capitalist system if not stopped.

This leap in historical and dialectical materialist understanding was the basis of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in which Mao urged the Chinese people, and particularly the youth, to “Bombard the Headquarters!” and continue the march towards communism.

Mao made several advances in Marxism by applying HDM to the particularities of his own country and the struggle of a colonized people against imperialism. While he acknowledged that the contradictions of capitalism made the proletariat the only class capable of leading genuine all-the-way revolution against the bourgeoisie, he saw that China was an overwhelmingly peasant society with only a very small proletariat. Therefore, he reasoned that the peasants must be the main force in the revolution but led by a revolutionary proletarian party. This approach deviated from earlier applications of Marxism-Leninism, which focused solely on organizing the urban workers.

Based upon the material reality of China’s prevailing mode of production (broadly semi-feudal with small capitalist enterprises under foreign imperialist domination), he led the Chinese people’s struggle for national liberation as a “New Democratic” revolution to achieve national independence and free the peasants from semi-feudal domination. Then with political independence achieved, he led the workers and peasants in the socialist reconstruction of People’s China.

Mao’s advances of Marxism-Leninism, which included developing the theory and practice of waging “People’s War,” are still relevant today. In Nepal, India, Peru, and the Philippines and other 3rd World countries, Maoist parties are leading “New Democratic People’s Wars” against imperialism, bureaucratic capitalism and the remnants of feudalism. All around the world, anti-revisionist communist parties and organizations basing themselves on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, as the concrete application of HDM in this epoch, are struggling to develop revolutionary theory and practice as part of a growing international united front against imperialism.

“The fortunes of the African revolution are closely linked with the world-wide struggle against imperialism. It does not matter where the battle erupts, be it in Africa, Asia or Latin America, the mastermind and master-hand at work are the same. The oppressed and exploited people are striving for their freedom against exploitation and suppression. Ghana must not, Ghana cannot be neutral in the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor.”

– Kwame Nkrumah

Like every existing thing, imperialism exists as part of and within a dialectical relationship: that relationship being characterized by overdevelopment and underdevelopment, by a new world order and a new level of chaos and disorder. Wealth is drained from the exploited 3rd World countries which lack an autonomous and independent infrastructure and are made dependent through debt to U.S-dominated structures like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While the U.S. itself has become the world’s greatest debtor nation and continues to borrow to finance its military aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mao characterized this period as one of “Great disorder under Heaven,” but he also predicted that “The future shall be bright.” Whatever setbacks that have or will occur, revolution is still the main trend in the world today.

We must therefore arm the masses with the correct and scientific method – HDM – so that they can analyze and determine how to arrive at that bright future, becoming the masters of their own destiny. Armed with this knowledge, they will become that conscious social force capable of taking history into their own hands and bringing an end to this epoch of exploitation!

“Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses!” — Marx and Engels

“Thought without practice is empty – action without thought is blind!” — Kwame Nkrumah

Dare to Struggle – Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!


Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *